This story revolves around a loving relationship between two women, what that relationship is will be up to the reader to decide.

I'd like to thank my beta readers, LJ Maas, Patti, and Kamouraskan. I'd also like to thank the members of the Ex-Guards who are such an encouraging group of people. I look forward to hearing your feedback!


The Music Box

By Raine


December 12, 1863 - London, England

I walk across the cobbled steps, aware of the waning daylight. Soon night will descend,
and I will need to be home, else, she will come looking for me. If she finds me...

I mustn't think that way.

The waft of a lilting perfume makes it's way to my senses, and I cross the tiny street,
heading toward Mooreland's Bay, an establishment which specializes in the rare and
unique. As I open the door, and walk in, I first notice the warmth which wraps itself
around my chilled shoulders. This is my favorite store in London, one which I visit again
and again. Each time I visit Mooreland's I find something new, something that hadn't been
there before. It is a private thrill to search out my newest wonder.

Mr. Hutchinson, the manager of this fine store always greets me with a smile, and a warm
cup of honeyed tea. Today is not different, and as I see him, he offers me a kind smile, so I
respond in kind.

"Miss Perry, you look positively radiant," the old man says, greeting me warmly, as he
reaches behind him to pour me a generous cup of Earl Gray tea.

"Thank you, Mr. Hutchinson," I reply, my eyes already wandering around the display
shelves. "Anything new this week?"

"Ah, yes," he responds as he hands me the steaming liquid. "I have something very special
that just came in this morning. May I show it to you?"

I smile, delightfully as if a child again. "You may indeed."

He shuffles toward the back of the store, and disappears behind a door. I wait patiently,
fingering the fine glass figurines that line the oak cabinet beside the register. I look up just
in time to see Mr. Hutchinson come waddling back up the thin aisle toward me with a
small wooden box in his hand. He wears a proud grin, as he ceremoniously holds the box
up for my inspection.

I reach out tentatively, wondering what could be so unique and special about a small
wooden box. Mr. Hutchinson must see my puzzled expression for he smiles mysteriously
and leans his weight on the counter. "You're asking yourself what could be so
extraordinary about a simple music box, aren't you?"

"Why yes, I am, actually," I admit, turning the box in my hand, as I observe the careful
strokes with which it was carved. It is cedar, and I lean close, taking in the delicate smell
that reminds me of my childhood. I close my eyes with memory, before I come to my
senses, and remember that I am not alone. "What tune does it play?" I ask, curiously.

"A tune unlike any other, that is for sure, my lady. I'm not quite sure I could describe it
even if I wanted to. Why don't you open it and find out?"

And so I lift the fragile lid, anticipating the violins of London's symphony, or the chimes of
Wales’ shores, but instead I am quite surprised by what I hear. It is the sound of a gentle
wind that first touches my ears, followed by an ancient pipe. It is enchanting and
mysterious, but what I hear next steals the breath from my lungs.

Joining the serenity of the tranquil music, I hear the musical tones of children laughing. I
am swept away to a time long ago, and I am lost in memory. I can not remember the last
time that I laughed as carefree as these children I envision in my mind. Their laughter fills
my heart and mesmerizes my soul. I do believe that it is the sweetest sound I have ever

Once more I remember myself, and offer apologetic verdant eyes to Mr. Hutchinson who
eyes me carefully. "This is wonderful," I exclaim.

"I thought of you from the moment I saw it. Shall I wrap it up for you?"

"Yes, please," I answer, happily.

I look to the window, noticing the shadows of night. My pulse is pounding in my ears, and
I feel the butterflies of anxiousness fluttering in my stomach. I watch nervously as the
proprietor deftly wraps the box in colored tissue paper and places the bundle into a small
paper box. In a final flourish, Mr. Hutchinson ties a strip of navy ribbon around the parcel.
"That will be ten pounds," he announces cordially. I hand him a ten pound note with one
hand, and take the package with my other.

In a flurry of uneasy strides, I make a quick exit, stopping only to generously thank Mr.
Hutchinson for his kind attention. The clatter of my heels reverberates off the stone
buildings that line the narrow roads, and echoes in my ears. The sun has fully set now, and
it is all I can do not to run, which would not be proper behavior for a lady.

As I reach my father's manor, I take a moment to straighten my dress, which has twisted
from my flight home. As I breath a troubled sigh, I look heavenward, seeing the familiar
light in the second story window overlooking the front garden. I know it is her, and so
involuntarily, I shudder. It is time, I finally tell myself, as I walk up the path leading to the
manor door.

I knock lightly, and instantly the door opens, revealing a tiny silvered woman, whom I
adore and love. Her eyes crease into a gentle smile, before she chastises me for being late.

"I hurried, Lill, I did. Has father come downstairs tonight?" I ask, warily.

"No, my dear. Now, hurry upstairs and wash for dinner."

I wisely obey, taking the winding steps two at a time in a rush. As I near the top of the
stairwell, I look up only in time to keep from running head first into the immovable figure
of the one person I had so hoped to avoid. She stares through me with her cold blue eyes,
and I freeze in fear.

"Why is it, Miss Elizabeth, that you can't seem to make it home by curfew?" the tall
woman asks, menacingly.

"I am sorry Miss Wallace," I answer, submissively, hoping she will let me pass without

"What have we here?" the woman demands to know as she swipes the precious package
from under my arm.

I let a small whispered cry escape my throat, but it is enough to satisfy the woman. She so
enjoys seeing me weak. "It is just a small knick knack I picked up in town."

"I do believe I'll have to keep a closer eye on you from here on," she says with
intimidation sparking in her eyes.

I swallow hard at her words, knowing the torment my actions have brought. I knew the
curfew, sundown, and yet I delayed at Moorelands, buying the music box. My punishment
is my own doing. I nod contritely and hold out my hand, silently demanding her to return
my parcel. Our eyes meet in a daring show of wills. I keep my gaze steady, until finally she
hands the parcel to me with a defiant grin.

I wrap my fingers protectively around the package, and slip past the obtruding figure
blocking the hallway. As I brush past her, it's as though I can feel her warm breath
blowing on my neck, sending a shiver down my spine.

A moment more, and I am in the safe haven of my bedroom. She dares not come in here I
have learned. I exhale in a rush of relief as I close the door behind me, thankful that I am
alone. I am badly shaken from the brief conversation Ashton and I have had, and so I take
a moment to sit before the vanity. It is then that I notice the pale complexion I wear. Does
my fear of her hold such power over me, that I quake in her presence? I refuse to believe
that, I tell my reflection in the mirror. The image of the woman looking back at me doesn't
seem to believe the words either. Through the mirror, I see the almost forgotten package,
which I threw on my bed in my hurried frenzy to be away from my captor.

A secret smile curves my lips, and I stand, making my way across the hardwood floors of
my bedroom. I sit gently on the soft bed, and tenderly run my hands across the paper box,
appreciating the decorative finishings Mr. Hutchinson took time to adorn onto the
otherwise simple parcel.

With renewed delight, I unlace the ribbon, and pull the lid up off the box. The rich heady
scent of cedar assaults my senses again, and I delicately pull the music box from it's
container. Pushing aside the paper parcel, I pull my legs up under me, and place the music
box in my lap. Slowly, I open the box, taking time to study the intricate details of the
beautiful interior. The inner walls are lined with a crimson green velvet that feels silky and
strangely cool to the touch. There is no motor for the music as one would expect, and I
wonder briefly how the music plays. It is the hypnotic music flowing from the box that
finally interrupts my thoughts, and as the rich staccato of a pipe rises into the air, I am
floating on a cloud of joy. I close my eyes, in anticipation, and in response I hear the
beautiful laughter of a chorus of small children set in tune to the elegant melody of the
pipe, and together a symphony is playing only for me. There are other instruments playing,
but they blend together so beautifully that I can't make them all out.

Suddenly, I furrow my brows in disconcertion, for the tune I am hearing is very different
from the one I heard in Mooreland's store. Such a simple music box would usually only
play one tune, yet this one was different. Yes, it is different in many ways, I tell myself.
That is the exact reason I paid the handsome price of ten pounds for the treasure.

I smile again as I allow the music of my private symphony to lull me away from my
reflections, letting it take me to an existence far away from the one that dwells outside my
bedroom door. In what feels to be only moments later, a thunderous pounding breaks the
musical reverie, and I rise suddenly, hastening to answer the door.

I allow only a small crack in the door, as I stick my head out, feeling overly cautious in my
own home. It is her, Ashton, and I unconsciously shudder.

She smiles charmingly, and asks in a dignified manner, "Will the lady be dining with her
family tonight?"

I nod in reply, but she does not move. "Yes, of course, I'll be right down."

Her eyes are as ice, so cold is her stare. "Don't be long," she warns, before she turns to

I release a breath I didn’t even realize I was holding as I watch her walk purposely back
down the hallway toward the stairs. I quietly close the door, and stride across the
bedroom to the bed. Carefully, I place the music box back into its packaging, and slide the
parcel under my bed out of sight, and hopefully out of Ashton’s mind.


December 13, 1863

I sit here in the early morning light, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I must be up and
dressed quickly today, for Ashton is escorting me to the pier where I will met by brother
who has been long away at sea. I am excited to see Robert, but apprehensive, for
whenever my brother and father are together, argument and strife is sure to follow.

I walk across the cold wooden floor to the dresser where fresh water and towels have
been laid out. The cool water on my face feels clean and refreshing, and for a moment I
feel the most pointed moment of calm, like the eye of a storm. I look to the vanity mirror
and in the reflection I see the softly weathered face of my mother, her hair long and golden
as mine, and her eyes as green as emeralds sparkling in the midday sun. She has been gone
these past eleven years, and I think of her every day.

I sigh as I realize that I have let my thoughts shatter the calm I felt. Quickly I pull a bodice
from the corner closet, and tie off the laces with much difficulty. I could ask Ashton or
Lill for their help, but I refuse to ask for their kindness, especially Ashton, for I believe
that there is not a kind bone in her body. I fear her so, and I'm not quite sure why. She has
never in all of her ten years working for my father laid one hand on me, but somehow I
know that she is someone never to be crossed. My father has ordered her to do whatever
she must to keep me under control. It isn't that I'm rebellious, or troublesome, but that my
father wants my every step to be watched and guarded for fear that I may embarrass him
in the public eye. You see, my father, Tobias Perry, holds the prestigious office of
magistrate here in London, and his greatest fear is that his family will in some way threaten
his prominence in the town. Which is why at the tender age of seventeen my young
brother was sent to sea as a merchant's apprentice. He has been away for five years, only
returning home every six months when his journeys bring him into his home port. I am
now nineteen, much too old to be under my father's roof, or so he likes to tell me, and I
know that soon he will betroth me to one of the local men who have been offering dowries
for my hand these past two years. A part of me would love any excuse to escape this
house, and its jailers, but that part of me which promises common sense knows I will only
trade one warden for another.

A thought strikes me, and I remember the beautiful music box stashed beneath the ruffles
of my bed. I kneel gently, for the bodice is snugly wrapped around my body, and slide the
parcel out, lifting it up onto the bed. I long to hear the gleeful sounds of a child's laughter,
for I know that it is only as a child that one can laugh with such carefree abandon. It has
been a long time since I have laughed like that. I pull the cedar box from its wrapping once
again, and marvel at the simple elegance of the design. With great caution, I lift the lid,
and immediately I hear it, the music of joy.

A knock sounds at my door, and I know that I have only moments before Ashton will
open it whether I grant permission or not. She must be especially impatient today for she
immediately pushes the door wide open, as I throw my body over the box. She is
suspicious at once, for she trusts no one.

"What are you hiding Miss Perry?" she asks, cordially with her glacial eyes.

"Hiding?" I say, innocently. "I'm not hiding anything." It's time to fess up, I admit. "I was
only taking an extra moment to enjoy the music box I bought at Mooreland's yesterday. I
will put it up at once." I know it is too late. She will take anything from me that offers me

"Why are you not dressed?"

"I was just finishing up."

"What will you wear today?" she says, shortly.

"The blue velvet," I answer while my heart hammers in my chest.

"Here," she says in answer as she crosses the room, and takes in hand the dress in question
from the closet. "We must hurry, your father will be accompanying us today," she warns.
It is at these times that I believe Ashton may hate my father more than me.

With a gentleness I would never have expected, Ashton pulls the dress over my head. "Lift
your hair," she orders, as she fastens the buttons at the back of the dress. A chill travels
over my body as her fingers brush my skin. Her hands are steady and firm, yet tender and
soft too. I find that I am not recoiling from her as I normally would, and I wonder what
has changed.

As the last button is fastened, I gather myself and walk to the vanity to retrieve my brush.
I should have known better, but her tenderness has thrown me off guard. As soon as my
back is turned, Ashton reaches for the music box still sitting on the bed.

"No!" I cry out, unconsciously.

She looks to me curiously, with a grin widening on her lips. "Am I not good enough to
touch one of your treasures?"

"It's not that. It's just that it's new and fragile," I explain, hoping she will not see through
my lie.

"Don't worry, I'll be careful," she promises lightly.

I sigh uneasily, worried that she will take away the one thing that reminds me of what use
to be. Carefully, with vibrant curious eyes, Ashton lifts the lid. At first she is intrigued as
the pipe begins to play, but soon her eyes grow wide, and her breath comes quickly.
Suddenly, the box drops from her hands to the floor, where it lands with a thunderous
crack. The music stops immediately.

I cry out in horror as I watch the box fall, and as it hits the floor I too hit my knees. Why
are there tears running down my cheeks? I haven’t cried since my brother left for the first
time five years ago. I look back up into frightened eyes, as I hold the quiet music box in
my hands, for the music will not play.

Ashton seems to come to her senses finally, as she kneels down. I have never seen her like
this before, weak and frightened. Her hand is shaking as she reaches out and takes the box
out of my hands. “Where did you get this box?” she demands to know.

“At Mooreland’s.”

“I’m going to ask you again,” she says trying to sound intimidating, but instead sounding
desperate, “where did you get this box?”

“I promise you, Ashton, I bought the box at Moorelands. You can ask Mr. Hutchinson if
you must.”

“Why would you buy a box like that?”

“I loved the sound of children laughing,” I try to explain. “I’ve never heard anything like

“Laughing?” she asks, seeming confused. “Is that what you hear?”

Now, I’m confused. “Of course. What did you hear?”

“Never mind,” she says suddenly, as she rises to stand. Distractedly, she crosses the room,
and only turns back to me as an afterthought. “Hurry, and come downstairs. Your brother
awaits.” With that she is gone.

Tears come to pool in my eyes again. I angrily brush at my hair, pulling the tangles out in
painful pulls. I throw on a small silver necklace with matching earrings, and with a last
inspection in the vanity mirror I turn to leave, looking one last time at the empty wrapping
that still lays on the floor.


The carriage seems clumsy today as it bounces over the cobbled streets, and I’m thrown
up against Ashton several times. She doesn’t look at me once, nor does she look to my
father who is lost in his own world of politics.

Soon the carriage stops, and Ashton is the first to jump down, where she turns to take my
hand, gently helping me down from the steps. My father takes the lead as he walks quickly
through the busy fairway that leads to the Thames River pier. Ashton and I straggle
behind, though her mind does not seem conscious of me at all. She is strangely different,
and I know it is because of the music box, but I do not know why.

We continue to walk ahead, zigzagging through the pedestrians that roam the pier. I
gather my courage, and turn to look at the woman beside me whose skin has turned pale.
“What happened earlier my room?” I ask quietly.

She turns shocked blue eyes on me, and she seems utterly speechless. “Nothing
happened,” she whispers, as if in fear someone will hear.

I take that as my hint to forget my question, and soon we are standing near the river’s
edge. I stand up on tip toe looking for the familiar curly locks of my older brother, until
finally I see his beaming face not more than a few paces away. He turns a brilliant smile on
me, and I remember again how much I truly miss his presence.

“Hello, little sister!” he exclaims as he takes me into his arms and twirls me about. I throw
back my head, and laugh giddily, forgetting for the moment our somber onlookers. “You
are such a beautiful lass, I do swear,” he declares proudly.

“I’ve missed you, Robert!” I say before the sound of my father interrupts me.

“Son, you look well,” my father states as he puts out his hand, clasping my brother’s in a
cold welcome.

“And you, father,” Robert says respectfully.

Respecting my father is all well and good for my brother, but he will leave and be far away
from my father in a short week’s time, I on the other hand will remain here all the days of
my life. Robert’s mood immediately changes and he becomes quiet and sober. A shadow
covers his eyes, as we slowly walk back to the carriage which awaits our return. I know
that shadow well for it is the same one that covers my own eyes.


After dinner I walk back up the stairs toward my room, anxious for a moment of peace to
myself. It isn’t till I open the bedroom door, that I remember the unfortunate incident this
morning with Ashton, but as I look to the bed a surprised smile lights up my face. For
there sitting in the middle of the bed rests the music box, its crisp cedar filling the room
with a delicate fragrance that brings me to momentarily close my eyes in serenity.

I walk the short distance across the room to the box, and take it into my hands, relishing
the feeling of the cool wood against my skin. Hesitantly, I open the lid, preparing myself
to hear nothing, but I am happily delighted to hear the familiar sound of joyful children
laughing in time to a foreign pipe, and the soft rhythm of a blowing wind. It is music to my

It occurs to me then that Ashton must have repaired the music box, and laid it here in my
room to surprise me. It is so unlike her, and I don’t know what to think, except that I
must thank her at once. I walk slowly down the quiet dark hallway toward Ashton’s room,
until I am standing before the door. I tap lightly, unsure of what to expect, for I have
never sought out Ashton’s company before, and I wonder for a moment if I should even
be doing it now.

I wait a moment as the anxiousness builds in my chest, until finally the door opens and
Ashton is standing before me with cold curious eyes. I open my mouth to speak but words
will not come forth. Why does this woman always have this effect on me?

“Can I help you?” she asks me with a raised brow.

“I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you, but I wanted to take just a moment and thank you for
fixing the music box. You don’t know what this means to me, and I...”

She interrupts me abruptly, demanding, “What did you just say?”

“The box, you fixed it, and I...”

Again she interrupts my words. “The box? I didn’t fix that box, in fact it’s right here,”
Ashton says as she reaches to the bureau drawer. I stand still, afraid to intrude, as I clutch
the box behind my back.

“It was right here,” she declares as she continues to riffle through the contents of the

“Ashton,” I say softly, as she looks to me, “I have the box here,” and from behind my back
I present the box. She stares at it dumbfounded, as an angry menacing gaze creeps into her
azure eyes.

“Where did you get this?” she demands to know.

“I found it on my bed. Surely you must have put it there,” I answer, confused.

She shakes her head, and I see the truth in her eyes. She didn’t put that box in my room,
and if not her, then who? “It works,” I inform her.

Her breathing begins to come in quick short breaths, as she reaches to lift the lid. Again
her fingers begin to shake, and her face turns ghostly pale. The music begins to play, and a
soft gasp escapes her lips, as her face falls in despair. I step forward, afraid that she will
drop the box again. I rest my fingers beneath hers, and her eyes lift to mine. I am
overwhelmed by the fear and pain I see there, and it is all I can do to hold her gaze.

“What do you hear?” I beg to know.

“Terrible things,” she whispers desperately.

“What things?”

“I hear the bloody screams of people from my past.”

I shake my head, as I look from her to the box which still plays. “No, it is the sound of
children laughing,” I assure her.

“Can’t you hear it? They scream in pain,” she says, as her eyes grow moist.

I remove my hands from beneath hers, and I slowly close the lid, bringing the music to a
stop. Her whole body is shivering, and I wrap my arm around her broad shoulders, leading
her toward the bed, where I persuade her to sit. I am amazed at the chill upon her skin,
and the absent look in her eyes. Whatever she has heard has frightened her badly, which
scares me tremendously, for I have never seen Ashton fear anything before in her life.

I ache to ask her a thousand questions, but only one escapes my lips. “Ashton, what do
you mean people from your past?” She is silent for so long, that I have given up receiving
an answer, and I kneel before her on the hard wood floor, waiting for her to come back to

“I’ve killed many people in my past...many innocent people,” she says softly. “When I
open your box, I hear them scream as they die. Am I going crazy, Elizabeth?”

She looks to me for an answer, and I know not what to say. In an effort to give comfort I
take her hand in my own, and rub my thumb lightly over her skin. “Are you all right?” I
ask cautiously.

At that moment, Ashton seems to find herself, as she pulls her hand from my grip. “I’m
fine,” she says harshly.

I sense her discomfort, so I stand and take a step away from her. “If you didn’t repair the
box and put it in my room, then who did?” I ask, warily.

“I don’t know, maybe I should ask you that same question.”

“What are you suggesting, Ashton?”

“Only that it’s your box, Elizabeth.”

“I’ll take my leave now,” I state as I walk towards the door, but she is faster than me and
she is blocking the doorway before I can make my exit. “Let me go, Ashton,” I demand,
realizing how silly I must sound demanding anything of this woman.

“You haven’t answered my question yet.”

“The answer is I don’t know.”

“I’ll hold on to the box, for right now,” she declares, as she takes the box from my hands.

“What? You can’t do that.”

“I can, and I will.”

I attempt to intimidate her with my stare, but I am the only one intimidated, and so I
squeeze past her and retreat to the solace of my room. This has been a strange end to a
strange day, I tell myself as I ready for bed. I will get that box back though, and that is a


December 14, 1863

An anxious knock on my door awakens me at an untimely hour, and I notice that the sun
is not even up this early. I rise slowly, rubbing the stubborn sleep from my half closed
eyes. As I open the door, I inwardly groan, for standing there is Ashton Wallace, and she
is fully dressed, and I know that she will ask me to do the same.

“I want you up and dressed in fifteen minutes. I’ll be downstairs waiting for you.”

“May I ask why?”

“No,” she says curtly, as she turns to descend the stairs.

In my drowsy daze, I walk around the room, gathering a simple tunic, and long black
leggings. I pull on warm leather boots, and run a brush quickly through my hair. With a
hasty splash of water upon my face, I attempt to fully waken before I join Ashton
downstairs. A part of me is beginning to dread ever laying eyes on that box.

After a few short moments, we are traveling on foot down the narrow cobbled streets of
London as the first rays of dawn grace the shops as their doors begin to open. My favorite
pastime is perusing the shops down the aisles of market street, but today Ashton is with
me, and I know we are not here to window-shop.

“May I ask now why we’re here at this hour of the day?” I ask, as my patience is wearing

“We’re going to Mooreland’s where you will ask Mr. Hutchinson where he got that music

At this I am silent for there is no use in arguing with Ashton. We turn to enter
Mooreland’s and the familiar scents of exotic perfumes assaults my senses, delighting me
but annoying my rather irritated escort. Mr. Hutchinson’s smile beams at me approvingly
as his eyes light on me, until he notices Ashton behind me, at which time his brows furrow
in a cool manner.

“Miss Perry, what can I do for you today?”

“I’d like to ask you a question, if I could, Mr. Hutchinson.” He nods willingly, and waits
patiently as I take a moment to look back at Ashton, who gives me a nudge in the
shoulder, pushing me forward. “Would you happen to remember the wooden music box I
bought here earlier this week?”

“Oh, of course, a rare find indeed.”

“I was curious to know if you could tell me where you found such a box.”

“Actually, a traveling merchant sold it to me, a man named Timothy Mallard from Wales, I
do believe.”

Apparently, Ashton didn’t like the results we were getting from my questions, and she
took over, asking, “Did he say anything about the box?”

“No, just that it was from seventeenth century Ireland. Why, is there a problem with the

“No,” I intervene. “The music box is lovely. We’re just curious about its history, that’s

“Where might I find this Mr. Mallard now?” Ashton interrupts.

“Well, he travels quite a bit, but I believe he may still be here in London. He comes
through every few months, trading and selling, and he usually spends a few days in the

“Thank you,” Ashton says as she takes me by the arm and leads me out the door. I barely
have time to wave a proper goodbye to Mr. Hutchinson, before I am being led down the
cobbled streets.

“Where are we going, now, Ashton?”

“I have a friend who can help locate our friend Timothy Mallard.”

“Do you really believe that this man can explain what you heard?” I ask, skeptically.

“It won’t hurt to try,” she answers.

Several blocks later, we are standing before a guard’s tower, and I wonder briefly what
kind of friend Ashton is seeking, who is supposed to be able to help us. Ashton disappears
into the guard’s quarters, and I wait, watching the townspeople pass by. Soon I see her
come back out, and she is wearing a grin, telling me that she now knows where to find
Timothy Mallard. “Well?” I ask, expectantly.

“He is staying at the Leeman Inn over by the Thames,” she informs me, proudly.

“How did you find that out?”

“Let’s just say that someone who makes it their business to know every stranger in this
town owed me a favor.”

She leaves it at that, and we make our way through the now bustling roads toward the
Thames River. As we arrive at the Leeman Inn, I take note of the affluent building, and I
wonder, if only briefly, why a traveling merchant would choose such a costly inn. Ashton
opens the door for me, and we enter the establishment, our eyes scanning the large elegant

“How may I help you?” a thick low voice asks from behind us.

We both turn in sync, and we find ourselves looking at a short broad man wearing a thin
groomed mustache. Ashton immediately comes forward, “I’m looking to speak to one of
your guests, his name is Timothy Mallard.”

“Ah yes, Mr. Mallard, let me send a boy up to fetch him. May I say who is calling?”

“Just tell him we bought the music box, and we’ll see if it interests him enough to come
down, shall we?” Ashton answers, with a conniving grin.

“Ashton, what if he doesn’t even know what we’re talking about?” I whisper into her ear.

“I have a feeling he’ll know exactly what we’re talking about, Elizabeth.”

I look up to find a tall red haired man descending the stairs, his eyes sparkling with
curiosity. He approaches us, and bows before us. “Timothy Mallard at your service, how
may I be of help?”

Ashton stands, maintaining a menacing glare, and I realize that there are times when only
charm will get you what you want, and charm is my expertise. “Hello, Mr. Mallard. I am
Elizabeth Perry of the Perry Manor. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I say
with a curtsy as I hold my hand out expectantly, and like the proper gentleman Timothy
Mallard takes my hand in his and graces it with a soft kiss. I can almost feel Ashton’s eyes
rolling back in her head.

“We were directed to you by a Mr. Hutchinson of Mooreland Bay, and we were
wondering if we could ask you a few questions about an item that you sold to Mr.

“The music box?”

I watch Ashton’s brow arch, as she takes a step forward. “What can you tell me about the
music box, Mr. Mallard?”

“What would you like to know?” he asks, innocently.

“Firstly, where does it come from?” Ashton continues.

“I was told it comes from the prosperous Mackenzie family of Dublin. Perhaps you’ve
heard of them.”

Both Ashton and I shake our heads.

“The Mackenzie family was a powerful name in seventeenth century Ireland. Some said
that they must have owned the whole north side of the island. Mr. James Mackenzie, the
patriarch, had a young daughter named Molly, and she adored music. It is said that James
had a music box built that would play the tune of a person’s heart, how he acquired such
enchantment, no one knows for sure. For Molly, that meant hearing the calls of the swans
out on Shallot Lake accompanied by a beautiful pipe.” He stops, and bends near to us as
in a conspiratorial whisper, as he adds, “Myself, I heard the waves of the ocean on a
journey home. Beautiful it was.” His face sombers suddenly, and I wonder where his
thoughts have drifted. “One time I was told of a man who heard his deceased wife calling
out to him. It’s a truly haunting box either way, isn’t it?”

I nod warily, thinking of my own experience. I turn to Ashton, whose face has gone ashen,
and take her hand in my own, marveling at the coldness of her skin. She looks to the man
before us with a mixture of disbelief and incredulity in her hard blue eyes. “What do you
mean it plays the tune of a person’s heart?” she asks, warily.

“Well I believe that it means what is laying on the person’s soul, whether it be happiness,
anguish, or guilt.”

That last word seems to shake Ashton up badly for she steps backward until she bumps
into a lightly colored sofa where she drops heavily to sit. She lays her head in her hands,
and tries to steady her out of control breathing.

“Ashton, why don’t we go home. We got what we came for,” I tell her gently.

“Is there anything else you’re not telling me, Mr. Mallard?” she asks, shakily.

“There are many mysteries to the box, ones which even I do not know.”

“Mysteries?” I ask.

“Strange occurrences, I should say.”

“Thank you. We’ll be on our way.” There has been enough of oddity in this meeting
already, and so I help Ashton to stand, and lead her toward the door. “Let’s go home.”



December 28, 1863

Thinking of this house as home seems so strange to me, for isn’t home where the heart is?
It has been two weeks since the day Ashton and I last spoke of the box. The people here
are changing, and the worst part is that I don’t know why. Ashton avoids me, and while in
past times I would have been grateful, I now yearn to be with her. She is not who I once
thought her to be, and that unsettles me more than I can say. My father, if it is possible,
has become more aloof and distant than before, and his anger comes more quickly.

I wonder to myself if I have changed as well, and I come to the conclusion that yes, I
have. I have no fear left in my body, just this overwhelming sense of purpose, to leave this
house and this city before the new year chimes in on Big Ben.

The music box still rests on my vanity, next to the mirror. I see it each day as I enter my
bedroom, it is a constant reminder of the tune of my heart, as Timothy Mallard informed
us. I have learned that the laughter of children is the best medicine for a downhearted soul,
for the music box cures my ailments of despair each and every time I open its lid.

As I make my plans for escape, I look to speak to Ashton one final time. Tonight, after
dinner, I will go to her room, and demand that she speak with me...tonight.


Dinner has passed, and now I walk slowly, but purposefully up the stairs and down the
hallway past my own room to the room Ashton has stayed in for the last ten years. I knock
lightly on her door, preparing what I will say when I see her face. Finally there she is, her
eyes softer than last I remembered, but sadder than I’ve ever seen.

“Ashton, please, may I speak with you?” I ask, gently.

“Now is not a good time, Elizabeth,” she answers, as she turns away from me.

“Now may be the only time,” I tell her cryptically. She seems to understand at once for she
turns to me and holds me in an intense stare.

“Please come in,” she tells me finally.

I walk into the room, making sure to shut the door tight behind me, and I take a seat on a
bench near the window. Two oil burning lamps are all that illuminate the small room, and
its light casts a warm glow on Ashton’s soft skin. “You’ve been avoiding me,” I begin.
She nods affirmatively, and turns her attention to the sharpening of a small dagger in her
lap. “Why?” I ask, softly.

“I don’t know what to say to you, anymore. You know more about me now than I ever
wanted you to.”

“About your past?”


“But I don’t know anything, Ashton.”

“You know that I’ve killed, and that is enough.”

“Are you saying that you care what I think?” The question throws her off guard and she
does not answer. “I wish you would tell me more...about your past.”

“Why do you care?” Ashton whispers in response.

“Because you aren’t who I thought you were.”

“And who am I?”

“I realized in the last two weeks that for the last ten years of my life, you’ve been the only
person there, for better or worse. For a long time I thought of you as my jailer, but I see
now that you’ve been my protector, and for that I care about you,” I explain to her.

“I remember when you were just a little girl, your laughter would fill the halls of this house
with a joy I had never dreamed existed, but your father’s one order to me was to keep you
quiet else he would send you away. I am a hard woman, and I fear that I have spread my
unhappiness to you these last ten years.” This confession of feelings is the most I think
I’ve ever heard Ashton say all at once. I can tell how hard this is for her, and so I think of
something to say to lighten our moods. I can not deny that I believe her fulfillment to keep
my father’s wishes has broken my spirit, but I can say that her presence has been a rock to
me in a time of turbulent storms.

“Tell me of your past,” I implore her.

And so she does, for the next hour I sit while she tells me of her shattered youth, and the
overwhelming anger of her adolescence, but it is the bloodlust of her young adult life that
brings painful tears to my eyes. She told me of a time when at the young age of eleven, her
father died of the lung sickness that took many lives in the winter of 1843. Her uncle came
to Bethany, where she then lived, and took her to London to live with him in a shabby
meager shanty of a home. He made his living as a highwayman, thieving his way through
life. Soon he had Ashton working at his side, instructing her in the ways of his work. He
outfitted her with a muskett, and was delightfully surprised to see that she was a sharp
shot. They made quite a team, or so Ashton said, a thieving uncle and his unwilling niece.
Ashton has seen things of which my mind can not comprehend, and still within the core of
her being I see a gentle tenderness that takes my breath away. She admits to me her
devastating guilt over her past actions, a guilt that plagues her soul like a black disease
that eats away at the life force of a woman.

“The fact that you feel guilt just tells me how human you are,” I say in an attempt to

“But my punishment should be so much more than guilt,” she sighs.

Why is it that this woman can render me speechless so effortlessly? I cross to her, and
kneel before her on my knees, as I take the dagger from her fingers, and enfold her hand in
mine. “Guilt is a powerful thing, for I see what it’s done to you, Ashton. Focus on your
future, not your past. I know you are capable of great loyalty, courage,,” I am
able to say finally.

“When will you be going?” she asks me.

“Before the new year begins, I will be gone.”

“Then I too must soon be gone. Once your father finds you missing, he will surely have
me hunted.”

“Oh, Ashton, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize the burden he had placed upon you.”

“Don’t be sorry to be rid of your captors, Elizabeth. Where will you go?”

“I think I’d like to visit the new world, as they call it. People say it is a place for new
beginnings, and I would say that is certainly in order,” I say hopefully. A thought occurs
to me then, but I fear Ashton’s response should I say it out loud. It is then that I remember
the freedom I have felt from fear these past two weeks, and I gather my courage to speak.
“You could always come with me,” I offer quietly.

Her shocked eyes turn up from our linked hands to my face. I can see tears building in
pools of blue, and I use all the restraint I possess to hold back my own emotions. “I would
only hold you back, to a memory of this place,” she whispers, despondently.

“Let’s focus on our future, not our past,” I repeat my previous words again for my own
ears as much as hers.

“I would like nothing more than to have you be my future.” She blushes furiously, and
turns shy eyes away from me. I can not contain the smile that has jumped to my lips.
“Then we shall leave on New Year’s Eve...together,” I say delightfully.

“Together,” she repeats in an approving whisper.


December 31, 1863

Tonight is the night, when my future will begin anew. I have packed lightly, taking only
my most precious items, including the music box. I look around at my room, for what may
be the last time. If I strain I can still smell my mother’s perfume as she reads me a
goodnight story in this very room, and a stabbing pain erupts from my chest. I am thankful
that the good memories of my mother outweigh the bad memories of my father, else life
would be depressing indeed.

I take in a deep breath, as I quietly close my bedroom door behind me. As I descend the
stairs, I see a dark silhouette in front of the bay window that graces the living room. I
know that it is her, and my heart doubles its beat. Her silky whisper reaches out to me in
the quiet of the room. “Are you ready?” I am ready indeed, and so I nod, as she leads me
to the front door.

I walk over the threshold feeling my destiny unfolding before me, and the most wonderful
part is that I will not venture out alone, but hand in hand with someone I feel I barely
know. She is just now beginning to reveal herself to me in layers, and each time I am
amazed at the beauty I see.

As we walk down the cobbled streets of London, I can hear the sound of celebration in the
distance. The New Year is only moments away now. I pull from my bag the music box,
which causes Ashton to jump temporarily out of her skin.

“Why did you bring that thing?” she implores me.

“It’s special to me,” I say in explanation.

She takes it from my hands, and comes to a halt in the middle of the deserted road. I fear
for a moment that all of this is a dream, and reality will come crashing down on me. She
will break the box, and my father will appear from the shadows to take me home, but I
push the fearful thoughts from my mind, and place my trust in Ashton.

She runs her fingers delicately over the smooth wooden lid, and lifts the box to her nose,
where she takes in a deep breath of the intoxicating smell. She pulls the box back down
where she can look at it closely, and slowly, cautiously, she lifts the lid. I wait, anxiously,
prepared to see the look of familiar terror on her face, but instead a sweet smile graces her
full lips, and I can’t help but smile in return.

“What do you hear?” I ask, curiously.

She turns that glorious smile on me and says, “I hear the sound of horse’s hooves...on a
journey.” Tears spring to my eyes, and a sense of clarity falls around us as a blanket,
binding us together in an unpredictable future.

I wish I could say that Ashton had been freed from her guilt, but I think it more likely to
say that Ashton was released from the weight of that guilt. It is as if everything around us
is new, and unspoiled. Anything seems possible at this moment.

And so we are on a journey...together.



December 31, 1963

A little girl runs swiftly across the narrow street of uptown Charleston, taking in the sites
and sounds of the city. She looks in to each window display as she treads the sidewalk,
looking for the perfect gift for her mother’s thirtieth birthday. She holds only twelve
dollars in her pocket, but is assured that this will be enough.

As the day wears on, so her hopes wear down that she will find a gift before this evening’s
celebration. It is then, in the window of Wilson’s Antiques that she sees it...the perfect
gift, a beautiful, exquisitely carved music box.

She runs into the store, praying that her twelve dollars will be enough to buy the box. The
salesperson pulls the music box from the display, and allows the small girl to hold the
fragile box. She excitedly lifts the lid and hears first the sound of a blowing wind, followed
by the tune of a melancholy pipe. It is the sound of a soothing lullaby though, that
transfixes the child, and immediately she puts forward all the money she has known in the
world, twelve dollars.

The salesperson smiles, unable to resist the innocence of the child. They make their trade,
and the girl skips happily home.


The End?

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