The marble floor below echoed with their footsteps, candles lit all along the hallway. Though he had read some parts of the ‘Academy’ had electricity, there were larger portions that had not been rewired yet to allow for electricity. Only those with the money to pay for it had access to it, after all. The castle had obviously been built well before anyone had discovered the magic of electricity, light-bulbs, or anything else of that level, and Rafael could only hope the housing sections had actual running water, and plumbing. There was something to be said about functioning indoor plumbing which Rafael truly did not want to give up. He had lived life without it before- certainly- but it was now a sort of luxury Rafael had grown...fond of.
Rafael frowned, realizing he was losing himself in his thoughts, hearing his father’s voice scolding him for such flights of fancy. The ghost of a burning pain itched at his knuckles. He had taken to looking the hallway around him, and had fallen behind once again.
“What is your name?” Rafael asked, as he quickened his steps to keep pace with the old man. His voice echoed in the open, stony halls. The mousy servant did not slow, but he did turn to look at Rafael.
“William, Sir. William Bertram,” the servant seemed to hesitate, and then whipped his head around, the nervousness returning to his frame as he hurried forward. William, then. Rafael did not have much luck with those who bore that name. But Rafael tried to bury the immediate dislike he held for it, instead of resorting to such childish thoughts. “The Headmaster, Lord Filmore, likes to meet with all new arrivals. He is often not in residence, so generally it takes time to meet with newcomers. But he just so happens to be here today, so you are in luck.”
Rafael relaxed slightly as they walked, content to fill the empty air around them with conversation. There was nothing Rafael hated more than silence. “Lord?” Rafael questioned, surprised by the title. It was again, odd, that things were working out in this manner.
“Yes, Lord Filmore. Vincent Filmore, Headmaster of St. Ursula, head of the Filmore family….” William went on, sounding ingratiated to his Lordship. Rafael resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Bloodlines meant nothing to Rafael, and why they still carried weight in this day and age would forever baffle him. The world was changing, and the old blood was dying out. Only fools and sycophants still cared about titles that meant nothing anymore.
“I see,” was all Rafael said, eyes shifting from William’s back, to the hallway they walked. Old banners hung in the shadows of the hall. There were great windows lining the walls, which must have been splendid in fair weather; the glass was stained and colorful, though it looked dreary in the dark shades of the moment. Sadly for whoever built this place, the region didn’t see much sunlight or beautiful weather. Every once in a while a dazzling display of colors shifted through the hall, as lightning illuminated the world outside.
“This headmaster,” Rafael started, inherently opposed to using stuffy titles like Lord or Sir, “You said he isn’t often here?”
The servant gave him a baleful glare, and then shrunk back into his timid demeanor. This headmaster must have meant a lot to the stuttering man for him to dare give such a look to someone he certainly felt was ‘above his station’. Rafael had only had the not so fortunate - in his eyes- lucky of being born out of wedlock, but the only male child of his father. So, naturally...an heir had been needed. Rafael had certainly not been above this William in station for much of his life.
William muttered something under his breath, though Rafael couldn’t quite catch what he said, before the man spoke up a bit louder.
“Yes. Lord,” the man spoke with emphasis, and then gave a great, pathetic sniff, “Vincent is often called away to other duties. The Academy has a great many patrons and donors, those who are aware of St Ursula’s noble cause, and support it fully.” Rafael arched a brow. In other words, this Headmaster left frequently to entertain the rich nobles who dumped their children off to an obscure fate. Rafael was undoubtedly ecstatic to meet such a man. “You will understand upon meeting him, Mister Clark.” Rafael twinged inwardly at the name. The day that he had become a Clark had been the worst of his life. Or at least the start of a downfall from happy childhood, to one of bitter memories and misery.
“I suppose I will,” Rafael muttered under his breath, taking a moment to sweep a hand through his unruly hair. The humidity and wind had pushed his appearance beyond all hope, but he could at least try to salvage something. He did not quite care about this ‘Lord’ Filmore’s opinion of him. It had simply been hammered into him from childhood to never be seen less than one’s best, and his body resorted to the near mechanical actions in times of great stress. Which at the present, Rafael was under quite some duress. He smoothed down the front of his jacket, brows knitting together.
Rafael inhaled deeply, and then exhaled, eyes shifting to the walls again. An uncomfortable air of silence had descended upon the two, and as they walked Rafael felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise. For a moment, he faltered in his footsteps, eyes swinging to the side, glancing over his shoulder. He felt eyes upon them again, but as he looked, Rafael saw only darkness beyond. The lights on the walls merely flickered, as if shifting from a faint wind. The castle was old, and drafty, which would easily explain the flickering candles. But not the sense of being watched.
Rafael could see clearly down the hallway- dim, stormy light filtered in through the colored glass, casting shadows on the ground as rain pelted against them. But no other movement appeared, and Rafael felt his lips curl down into a frown. The feeling had passed after a moment, and Rafael simply rubbed the back of his neck, suppressing another cold chill. His fingers brushed against the cold metal around his neck, from the pendant that lay hidden beneath his shirt. Unconsciously, he sought comfort from the pendant his mother had given him before leaving for St. Ursula’s. A family heirloom of sorts- her mother had passed it to her, and hers had done the same before. Rafael had heard it usually went to the eldest daughter- but since Rafael was his mother’s sole child, she had given it to him instead. It felt good to have something of hers so far away, though he knew it was childish of him. He was past the age where he needed baubles and gifts to soothe his anxieties.
The building darkened as they moved deeper into the hallway. Bare walls were replaced with old paintings and tapestries. Some were famous and dead men and women, as one might expect in an Academic setting. But there were also various landscapes, and scenes of Romantic rebellion and patriotism. Having such artwork here was curious, but Rafael found it a mere curiosity. Likely it was simply the hobby of a rich noble to collect great paintings.
Eventually, William led him to a large set of doors, and stopped. The servant mopped his brow once again with a handkerchief, and turned his beady eyes upon Rafael. Rafael did his best to lessen the automatic scowl on his face as the man looked him up and down. There was a look of judgment in the man’s eyes, one that Rafael had grown accustomed to over the years. It frosted over any empathy that Rafael might have had for the man previously, and he allowed his gaze to harden.
William turned abruptly, and then cleared his throat as he faced the door. Perhaps he hadn’t expected Rafael to notice the look he was giving him. Whatever the case, Rafael doubted he would encounter the man much after this, and shoved any lingering insults aside. It burned his gut, and riled his ire, but he would simply have to keep his mouth shut. For now. Instead of glaring daggers into the back of the man’s head, Rafael focused his sight on the doors and set his suitcase down.
The wood was dark, though he couldn’t see any carvings like that one on the first set of doors. Though there was not much light in the hallway, Rafael could tell the wood was high quality; one might find it on any noble mansion back home. Certainly, it was newer than the rest of the castle. Rafael stood aside, watching quietly as William lifted a hand to knock. The wood gave off a somber echo and Rafael crossed his arms over his chest, eyes glued to the door.
There was no immediate answer, just the distant howling of wind and thunder- the splatter of rain on the windows behind them. Rafael frowned when William reached for the handle, giving the servant a sharp look. William seemed far too timid to barge in on his supposed Lord, and yet Rafael hadn’t heard any sort of response coming from inside. Rafael stepped a bit closer, straining his ears, but only silence met him. As the doors swung open, however, Rafael heard the gentle crackle of a fire, the wood popping every few seconds.
William turned to face him, eyes darting every which way as seemed natural for the man, before settling once more upon Rafael’s face. “The Headmaster awaits, Mister Clark…” William said, and stepped aside, backing away.
Rafael flickered his gaze from William, to the open doors. It appeared as though William was not entering the room with him, though Rafael did not particularly care either way. It wasn’t as if William was depriving him of any supportive presence by leaving. As the man left, Rafael reflected that no William had even done him any good, and his bias was so far completely justified. A childish thought, but Rafael allowed it to loinger some before pushing it away. Rafael grabbed his bag, and stepped into the room.
Now carrying his luggage once more, Rafael slipped into the room, the heat of the fire near overwhelming to him. It was sweltering, like the hottest summers he’d felt in Spain. Rafael frowned further as he swept his gaze across the room around him, taking in everything in the room, first. He hadn’t noticed any lights in the hallway leading up, but the office he had stepped into was lit better than the previous areas he had seen. It was almost like stepping into another world entirely- one stuck literally in the middle-ages, and the other a product of the modern era. A glass chandelier hung from the ceiling above, and a small lamp lay on a dark wood desk in front of him. A phonograph sat in the corner of the room, playing Beethoven at a quiet volume. Pathetique, if Rafael was hearing correctly.
Rafael glanced behind him one final time as the set of heavy doors closed with a thud. The room descended into near silence- the only other sound, aside from flames, was the scribbling of a pen upon paper that Rafael hadn’t noticed before. Tensing, he snapped his head forward, seeing a figure sitting on a brown leather chair. The man had not looked up yet, though he had to have known Rafael was there. Rafael scowled darkly, and set his luggage on the floor, not bothering to do so quietly.
The instant the luggage hit the floor, Rafael felt a spear of ice stab through him as he met the chilling gaze of the man sitting across the table from him. A pair of icy blue eyes held him in place, their piercing gaze seeing right through him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood for a moment as the man’s eyes dragged over him, judging him, sizing him up. Rafael felt utterly worthless before the man, his gut twisting in anger and frustration. But no words would come out, frozen in one moment of time as the man continued to stare.
So, this was Vincent Filmore.
Rafael swallowed hard, feeling sweat beading it his brow. The sweltering heat seemed to have died down somewhat. Perhaps it was the chill from the man’s cold gaze.
“Ah, yes. Rafael Clark, I had heard you would be arriving today,” The pale man gave a soft smile, which took away nothing from the piercing pair of eyes still burning into him. The smile didn’t reach the man’s pale eyes. Rafael finally breathed- only when the man broke eye contact. “Welcome to St. Ursula’s. It seems you have quite a bit to learn during your time here. But fear not, our staff are well equipped to handle any situation.” Rafael felt a bead of sweat roll down his neck as the man spoke, unsure if it was due to the fire or the cold dread that had settled in the pit of his stomach. Whichever it was, all of Rafael’s instincts screamed that this was not a man to be trifled with.