For NaNoWriMo this year, I have decided to go with having a little fun. So I’m writing something that is a bit ridiculous and 100% for fun, rather than previous years when I wrote with the intention of editing the things someday. I haven’t done so yet, so nothing much is ready for publication.
However, since this year I can be much less concerned about whether something is worthy of publication, I thought I might just publish (relatively) finished segments on my blog. The end of this post will be the first four (short) chapters of my Sherlock Holmes fan fiction novella.
I may have mentioned in my previous post that I had been conflicted about doing a Sherlock tale, a romance book, or a zombie book. I went with Sherlock just because that is what is strongest in my mind, and makes me most giddy to work with. I had suggestions of doing all three in one story. Well, since I’m a hardcore Johnlocker, romance was always in the plan. I ended up getting an idea for a Regency romance with Sherlock and John, setting it well before their time, in 1815. John has returned from the Napoleonic Wars, injured, and Sherlock would have been dealing with a much, much more inept police system, though in an age of scientific discovery.
The twisted fangirl in me, though, has decided to go Alternate Universe, beyond the time period and setting, because I’ve introduced Sherlock and John to each other on the threshold of their arranged marriage to each other. Yep, Mycroft and Harry baked up a scheme to take their brothers off their hands and with an immense money exchange, John is a bought and paid for husband for flighty Sherlock.
All this, because, reasons. Just wanted to, no excuse. Sorry. 🙂
And while there won’t be zombies… precisely… I have figured out a brilliant plot and an awesome villain to go with. So cheer me on and make me work!!
Last notes: in England, civil marriage contracts were not made legal until 1836; until then, all marriages had to take place in an Anglican church. I chose to ignore this because, well, I’m ignoring the fact that it would have been more than a little strange to have two men contracted to marry each other in 1815, so whether they choose to do it in a church or as a legal contract is somewhat irrelevant. Also, I try to abide by the etiquette rules dealing with the forms of address for the aristocracy, but Jesus, it’s super nit-picky and makes my eyes glaze over. I did the best I could and said screw the rest. 🙂 So if anything is wrong, well, so much is deliberately wrong that you ought to just chill out and enjoy the story. 🙂
Captain John Watson, late of the 52nd Northumberland Fusilers, was in the upstairs sitting room when he heard his brother return from London. So much for the peaceful afternoon. John sighed and placed a marker in his book. He could sit here and wait for Harry to come to him, or he could confront Harry directly.
John’s elder brother Harry had been recently in London for business, he’d said, though John knew that business was primarily wooing a young woman named Clara. What Harry hadn’t mentioned before he left was that he’d taken the Gainesborough their Grandfather had bought with him. It wasn’t the only thing missing.
The attics were empty of anything salable, though John hadn’t thought to even look until he wandered into the Peacock Room, his mother’s old bedroom, and realized it had been stripped clear. Several other unused rooms were stripped of furnishings and antiques, things that had been on the Watson’s estate for three generations. John had found the silver cupboard nearly bare except for the things they used on a regular basis.
People had been missing, too, though not in a totally sinister way. When John was a child, the house was bustling with servants, guests, little entertainments. In the months he’d been home, there had been no guests, few visitors, and the staff had been cut back to those that were left behind when the family was not in residence. The stables were tended, though the horses kept were only the ones necessary to pull a coach. There were none left to simply ride, not that John could ride anyway, not with the stiffness in his leg, nor the fiery pains that occasionally erupted from hip to ankle.
Since John had not seen many of these things packed up and removed, he could only assume they’d been gone long before his return home. He’d been ill and confined to his room for two months with only the cook to nurse him, but he thought he would have noticed entire rooms being carried out the front door.
John had not expected this slow ruination after his interminable, miserable journey home from the Peninsula. He’d expected more of a welcome, more gratitude that he was alive, and a lot less heartbreak. Yes, Harry was glad his brother had not perished so soon after the death of their father, but John was a burden. John was doctor visits and medicine. John was questions about bare rooms and a mirror to the emptiness left behind.
John’s injury, illness, and sudden return home from war and career had been just another straw for the camel’s back, and clearly Harry was weakening. The man spent most of his time in his study, papers spread before him, draining a decanter.
But this, this last lie, was utterly abominable, so contemptible and dishonorable, John almost couldn’t fathom it.
Harry Watson had barely removed his greatcoat in the entryway before his younger brother came limping down the stairs, gripping his cane in one hand and the railing in the other.
“Not now, John.”
“How could you sell my house, Harry?” John’s grip on the stair rail was tighter than it needed to be for his support.
“It wasn’t yours. Father left it to me.”
“Father meant for me to have it. You knew that.”
“Father meant for me to allow you to live in it once you retired from the army. I had no knowledge that you would even make it back from the war. I needed the money. I sold it.”
John gasped and stopped just a few stairs from the bottom. This is the first time Harry had ever outright admitted he needed the money. John had known, he was not stupid, and had long since offered up the pittance paid by the government to its injured soldiers, but Harry had never once told him how dire his straits were.
“You hoped I would never find out.” I hate you, Harry Watson. How could you?
“No, John, I hoped you would never find out.” But Harry looked much more tired than vindictive when he said this. “Come into my study, John. We must talk.”
Captain John Watson sat in his older brother’s study. He no longer wore his uniform but he held himself with military precision.
“Yes, John,” Harry replied shortly. “I’d do it myself but Clara’s family has refused my suit.” Not that her family had the funds to dower their daughter enough to meet Harry Watson’s needs. He knew that, and somehow, they guessed that, too. They wouldn’t throw away their perfect daughter and her healthy, if not estate-saving, dowry on a wastrel like Harry Watson. The Watsons were without funds and, more recently, without connections. Harry felt more and more spurned with every trip to London.
Clara’s father’s refusal was not surprising, given the heavy whorls of exhaustion beneath Harry’s eyes and the ever-present glass of port or sherry or Scotch whisky beneath his hand. Harry picked one up now, port by the color and time of day, and took a gulp. It was never a refined sip.
“We need the money, John. The estate simply won’t hold together without an influx of cash. I had to borrow to pay the estate taxes when father died, and those loans are quickly coming due. I’ve tightened the household budget as much as I dared to keep up a good front, but soon I’ll have to borrow just to pay the staff that is left. I don’t even know that there is anyone else who will lend to me.”
Harry continued to get more worked up, as if John was fighting him. “Who do we let go next? Which tenants have to try and pay more rent? Which parcels of land do we sell off just to keep afloat, only to wonder where the payment is coming from next month? I could sell everything and we’d be debt free, but we’d have nothing left at all.”
“Harry, please, I’m not fighting. I understand.”
The look on Harry’s face told John that his acquiescence was almost worse.
“Of course you do, John. You were ever the dutiful one, the obedient one. You made father proud. If you hadn’t been off at war when he fell ill, he would have made you his heir instead of me. He didn’t trust me to take care of things, and here I am, proving him right.”
“Father didn’t take care of things properly, either, Harry, if he left the estate with enough debt to be bankrupted by estate taxes.”
“You’re just saying that to try to make me feel better, John. It won’t work. You were always his favorite and I was just his damned failure.”
John sighed. No matter what he said to Harry, he wouldn’t be able to win this age-old fight. Long before John had gone to university, to medical lectures, to war, he and Harry tended towards animosity. Harry hadn’t liked the shining golden boy born to his father’s second wife, and John hadn’t liked the unending roughhousing inflicted upon him by his elder brother since before John was able to defend himself. They’d been separated by age, school, and the army, but John was back at the estate now, with no one but Harry and the servants, contributing his meager army pension to the running of the household.
“So, which wealthy, illustrious family would willingly thrust one of their unfortunate children into such a household?”
Harry glared at him.
“Don’t be daft, John. One that needs a husband for their embarrassment of a second son.”
“Some scandal at university, perhaps. I have no idea. We are not of a level fit to gossip about it.” Harry sounded rather snide, as if he’d tried to find out details and been rudely rebuffed. “It hardly matters, with the amount of money they’re offering.”
John didn’t reply – it wouldn’t make any difference if he did. Harry had found a solution, somehow, and would cling to it desperately, through any sort of dissuasion. John could protest, refuse, be thrown out to fend for himself on his pension and his cane, and be reminded daily that he’d let everyone down. The livelihood of many people relied on the estate, and refusal would throw their fortunes to the wind.
“They’ll be in from London tomorrow afternoon,” Harry informed him, with a gesture of dismissal.
“Mycroft, I will surely die if you leave me to rot in this hovel.”
“The Watson’s estate is hardly a hovel. And before you spout off all the signs of neglect, do remember I am not blind.” Lord Mycroft Holmes knew better than to try to curb his brother into being civil.
Sherlock huffed, but kept his observations to himself.
The front door opened as their carriage pulled up. Sherlock trailed his older brother up the wide steps, past shrubbery that had not yet been either pruned or covered for winter. The steps had not been brushed of leaves this morning, and the stately butler at the door noticed, but tried hard to ignore the embarrassment that crept up in front of such distinguished visitors.
“I will wither away from boredom here. If you make me do this, I will never speak to you again.”
“Then do begin immediately, Sherlock.”
Sherlock sulked in response, following his brother into the foyer, his sharp eyes darting everywhere. Baroque vase, dust in the crevices. Either a lazy household or not enough maids to spare on the details. The house was quiet, no dogs barking at the unfamiliar carriage, no maids tittering at footmen, no ground crew raking the stones in the drive. The few paintings on the wall were amateur; talented, perhaps, but still amateur. Either the work was hung due to sentimentality for the artist or the more expensive works usually boastfully displayed were sold and the bare spots hidden with inexpensive flotsam. Combination? A lack of money. Obvious, given Mycroft’s long lecture (he said discussion) on the interminable trip here, so Sherlock kept his observations blessedly to himself.
A man started down the stairs, one hand grasping a sturdy cane, the other arm resting from elbow to fingertip on the bannister. His hair was a dark blond, his height average, boots polished. He held his head upright despite his reliance on both cane and bannister. He had a kind face, if stoic and serious. His eyes took in the two gentlemen in the foyer as he descended.
Another man, slightly older, darker haired, tired, no, hungover, entered the foyer from the left. Study door. They were meant to be announced, but the awkward timing of his brother on the stairs meant Sir Harold must greet them in the foyer to make proper introductions. Formality, ridiculous. Sherlock’s lip crooked up in a mild sneer. Appearances were worthless.
“Lord Sherrinford, we are quite honored by your visit.” Harry offered the elder of the two men in their foyer a short bow, getting little more than an imperious nod of the head in return.
“Sir Harold Watson, my brother, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” the elder motioned behind him where Sherlock was still busy taking in every minute detail of the entryway. Apparently he took in enough detail of the people in the room, as well, for his only words were directed at John, though they had not yet been introduced.
“Waterloo or Quatre Bras?”
The man who had finally descended to stand behind his brother started.
“You were ill.”
“Yes, enteric fever.” The eyes had opened in wonderment. Interesting, thought Sherlock.
“Lord Mycroft Holmes, Viscount of Sherrinford, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, my brother, Captain John Watson, late of the 52nd Northumberland Fusilers.”
Sherlock stared at John, taking in every detail of the small captain as he made his bow to his brother and shifted his cane from one hand to the other. His hand was steady when he stuck it out for Sherlock to shake.
“You left for war at least four years ago, for that is how long that particular waistcoat pattern fell out of fashion. Clearly the money for new was not available when you returned home, and your old clothes were not worn enough to justify replacing so you continue to wear them.
“You must have enjoyed being a soldier, for that length of service means you stayed when you could have been reassigned elsewhere. There was nothing for you at home, or perhaps you felt needed where you were.”
Sherlock had waited longer than typically polite before grasping John’s outstretched hand in greeting. John had been too surprised to pull it back when Sherlock had opened his mouth.
“Oh, a surgeon’s hands. That is the thing. You felt you were needed out there. Surely you were. Steady hands, steady nerves, skill with a scalpel and saw. Did you keep track of your success rate? I’d be interested to know.”
“No, sorry,” John stuttered. “Field hospital. It often went too quickly to keep track.”
Sherlock’s eyes moved over Harry and he opened his mouth again.
“Brother, perhaps your observations are better left unsaid for now,” Mycroft intervened. It wouldn’t do for Sherlock to spill what was so obvious about Harry and spoil the forthcoming contract negotiations.
“Yes, yes, please come into the downstairs drawing room. I’ll ring for tea, shall I?” Harry seemed spurred into action by Lord Sherrinford, burst out of whatever thoughts he’d been having. He gestured the two men into their receiving room, following and leaving John to limp along behind.
John descended the staircase slowly. The gentlemen in the foyer were striking, each more intimidating than the other. The elder was auburn-headed, with pale skin that would likely freckle if he let it, but something about his manner said that he’d never allow something as insignificant as the sun damage his skin that way. He had penetrating eyes, much like a hawk, bored but always on the watch for some sign of weakness. The younger was as fair of skin, but his hair was ebony and wild. As John watched, Sherlock whirled his greatcoat from his shoulders, and gracefully over the arm of their butler. Lack of coat revealed a long, narrow body; he was incredibly tall and his thinness only emphasized that fact. He seemed stretched, so thin and narrow, though tight breeches indicated he was quite fit. He had his brother’s eyes; they clearly missed nothing. The pair was quite astounding.
Harry burst in to make introductions in the foyer. Before the ritual of rank and introduction could be completed, the raven-haired man burst into words.
“Waterloo or Quatre Bras?”
John’s limp could have been anything, a childhood injury or deformity from birth. He could have been thrown from a horse or fallen down the stairs. The man in front of him simply wanted to know during precisely which battle he’d been injured.
“Quatre Bras,” he answered, amazed.
“You were ill.”
“Yes, enteric fever.”
Harry finished his introductions, clearly unnerved. The elder was Lord Mycroft Holmes, Viscount of Sherrinford. The younger was named Sherlock Holmes. Unusual names for those that must be quite unusual men.
John made his bow to Lord Sherrinford. The man seemed to inspect him up and down rather than bowing or nodding in return. John offered the younger brother a hand to shake, switching his cane to his left hand in the process. He faltered for a second, wondering if he ought to have bowed, though neither brother indicated that the younger brother as well held a title.
Sherlock Holmes did not take his hand. Instead he further proclaimed a half dozen facts, knowing… well, knowing John quite exactly. Then he took John’s hand in his and announced a few more.
Their odd conversation was interrupted by Lord Sherrinford’s disapproval and Harry took the break to usher them all into the drawing room.
And somehow, just then, John realized that this tall, bluff man was intended to be his husband.