“Thank you for the welcome, kind gentleman” Harry answered in some sarcasm as he stepped out and helped Seras down. “Now about my luggage.”
“One second, me lord” the coachman returned unkindly as he sneered at the unaffected young man.
In quick time the baggage was thrown from the roof and the coachman went on his way. Seras didn’t fail to notice, however, the last look he threw over his shoulder as he headed back down the road they had come.
His face showed a hidden triumph, as though he knew the last laugh would be his own.
“Well” Harry spoke as he broke the uncomfortable silence. “I shall be staying at one of the fine hotel establishments” he half joked as he turned to his shorter companion. “I suppose you shall be joining me for the night.”
“What?” Seras disingenuously replied. “Oh, no, I’m afraid not” she explained. “I’m expecting a carriage from the Hellsing manor to come for me.”
“The manor!?” a voice exclaimed from behind them.
The pair turned to see a wizened old figure emerge from the small building they had stopped near. The man wore an old coach station uniform and appeared to be of an extreme age as he shuffled toward them on unsteady legs. His wrinkled face was turned down in a grimace of terror and his sunken eyes were wide in apprehension.
“What business do ya ‘ave thar?” he questioned in an excited tone.
“I’m to be a new servant there” she truthfully informed.
Her words caused the man to shake his head. The tiny wisps of hair atop his otherwise bald scalp flitted to and frow with the movement.
“Ya shouldn’t go thar, miss” the man implored. “There’s no business thar that can do ya any good.”
“But I’m expected” Seras gently insisted. “Certainly they have some honest work there I can accomplish.”
“‘onesty has nothin’ to do with it, miss” he explained.
“Then why do you not want this young lady to perform her assigned duties?” Harry asked the old station master.
“What’s it to you, young fella?” the stranger quipped in return.
“Just trying to be of service to the lady” he replied. “Though may I ask the same of your intentions, sir...?” he intentionally trailed off.
“Will Higgens” the man proudly proclaimed as he straightened his bent back to his full height of five feet. “And I don’t like seein’ another pretty lass goin’ up to that manor without some warnin’.”
“But a warning against what, my good fellow?” Harry insisted. “So far I believe you’ve spoke only in riddles.”
“I’ve said all I’m willin’, and if she won’t heed me warnin’ to stay away, well that’s her business” he sniffed.
“Will you both remind yourselves I’m present” Seras sarcastically asked as she crossed her arms over her chest. She turned to the old man. “I appreciate your kindness, really I do Mr. Higgins, but I must take this job, even should hell await me.”
“That it might be” Higgins muttered as the young lady let out an exasperated sigh.
“But are you sure you want to wait here for hell?” Harry teased as he looked out over the hills. “The sun has set, and there appears to be no sign of your carriage.”
“Yes, much better that you put up with this fella at the hotel” the older man eagerly agreed. “The rooms aren’t so bad, and the f-”
Higgins picked up his ears at the distant sound of hoofs on the road. His eyes suddenly widened and he moved his feeble legs toward the building as Seras and Harry looked toward the direction of the sound. The pair didn’t realize his departure until the station door slammed shut behind him. They turned and heard the lock snap closed as the pounding grew louder.
Suddenly a black coach rounded the bend at the end of the street and came stampeding their direction. Both watchers thought perhaps the driver had lost control, but as it grew closer the coachman drew the reins and the wild beasts slowed to a halt with the coach door nearly at their feet.
Even before the dust had settled the driver had jumped down from his box and bowed deeply before the two onlookers.
His physical appearance would not doubt have been less stunning had they been able to glimpse more than the sharp eyes which took in their reactions to his arrival. He wore a long black overcoat to protect from the dust, and the collar shielded his face up to the bridge of his nose. Long black pants covered his legs, finished with surprisingly clean black shoes, and atop his head he wore a tall black hat which was more customary for city driver’s than country coachmen.
Seras could hardly be positive the driver was a boy if he hadn’t spoken.
“Miss Victoria?” the coachman asked in a voice older than either of them expected.
“Y-yes” she stuttered as she tried to glimpse more of the stranger’s features.
“I am here to take you to the manor” the man explained as he stepped back and opened the door of the carriage, all without breaking contact with the pair. “Do you have any baggage?”
“Well, only my bag” she admitted as she clung to her few belongings.
The inside of the coach was very dark, and the lights atop the coach’s front had not yet been lit.
“Then shall we be on our way?” he asked as he stood expectantly.
“I guess” she hesitantly replied as she slowly stepped up to the vehicle.
“Seras...” Harry called as he held out a hand to stop her.
She stopped and looked over her shoulder to give him with a kind and encouraging smile.
“Maybe during your stay you can visit me” she suggested as she turned and boldly stepped into the darkness.
The driver carefully shut the door and his gaze fell upon the woman’s companion who stood loyally at the side of the coach. His said nothing with words, but the expression in his eyes told of a visit not welcome to the manor’s lord.
Then the coachman swung himself up atop the box and set his whip to the horses as he turned the restless steeds around and flew back down the road. Harry watched the coach disappear from view with a sense of foreboding, as though he had allowed the young woman to step into a terrible fate.
Seras was nervous as she felt the coach retreat back the way it had come, and her worries were justified as the vehicle swung wildly about on the rough roads as the horses hurried along the way. She held tightly on to the handle closest to where she sat and her fingers grew numb with her frightened grip.
Seras managed to steady herself enough to pull aside the black curtain which hung across the small square window and peer outside. The night which now reigned allowed her to see little but trees and dark shapes passing by at a furious speed.
There was no way for her to tell in what direction they were headed, nor how to return.
After what felt to be an unbearably long while, Seras at last felt the coachman slow the pace of the horses and they soon came to a slow trot as she heard gravel crunch beneath the wheels. She released her hold on the grip and struggled to view anything outside the realm of the coach.
Then her new home came to view.
Seras’ mouth was agape in wonder as she viewed the grand Hellsing manor. To her the structure appeared to be more akin to a castle for a king than any customary dwelling for country nobility. The tall windows within the three floors were lit with candles, as though welcoming her arrival, and a lantern hung above the massive front entrance.
The entire structure was built with gray stone, roughly hewn from the nearby hills. Large trees flanked the manor and wild vines grew around the walls in jumbled masses of living and dead plants. The roof was created from the same stone as the remaining parts of the home, but crushed and smoothed to bear the weight of stone and the pelting of rain.
There was one item amidst all the splendor, however, which stood out starkly from the rest of the stately home.
In the rear of the structure stood a single tall tower capped by a wooden shingled roof and lording over the rest of the manor. The walls raised the tower a good floor above the third story were hewn from the same stone as the rest of the home, but the direction of the tower showed the fort had been constructed at an odd angle against the rest of the structure. There were no windows except at the very top where a thin, tall glass could barely be seen.
Seras heard the coachman jump down from his perch and soon the door was opened widely.
“Welcome to your new home, Miss Victoria” he greeted with a short bow.
Seras smiled at his welcome as she slowly alighted from the coach and looked at the impressive manor from the view of the ground. The home became more imposing at she approached, but she turned to her driver for a brief question.
“Excuse me” she softly asked. “But why are the windows lit?”
“The master keeps late hours” the coachman explained. “And he wishes that no hall should be without light to avoid accident.”
“I see...” she replied in disappointment.
So her arrival was not so welcome as she had hoped.
“If you will follow me” he instructed as he led the way to the large wooden door.
Seras briskly followed her strange guide as he stepped up to the portal. The man took the large brass handle in hand and easily swung open the door. With a wave of his hand he invited her into a brightly lit entrance hall decorated with old pictures and illuminated candles. Candelabra hung from the ceiling and she wondered why the need for so many lights.
Seras jumped as the door behind her was swung closed with a loud slam which echoed along the hall. She scarcely had time to notice the elegant stairs which led to a landing and branched off to join at the second story before she was again following the coachman.
He led her to their right through an open door and into a large library. The walls were lined with books and shelves filled with manuscripts and scrolls. A painting hung over a crackling fire against the wall to her left, but the shadows were too deep for her to decipher the contents. At the front end of the room which looked out upon the entrance road stood a large window with a desk before the glass.
Behind that desk sat an aged man with gray hair combed back. A gray moustache and beard covered his withered face, but his strangely bright eyes barely looked up from his work as they entered the room.
“Sir Hellsing” the coachman announced. “Miss Victoria has arrived.”
“Excellent” the man replied as he finished his papers, placed the quill in the ink well, and stood to his feet. He walked over to the nervous young woman and appeared to inspect his choice for maid. “I hope the journey was not hard for you” he finally asked after the long pause.
Seras felt the tone implied he was only being kind, and had little inclination to know about her long travel.
“It was uneventful, sir” she curtly replied, but then a sudden memory came to mind. “But I am afraid your townsfolk are rather strange” she admitted.
“Oh?” her master wondered as his interest was piqued. A strange smile spread across his lips. “I am sure they meant no harm, regardless of what was said.”
“Indeed, my lord” Seras agreed with less fervor than she could have given.
She hardly doubted the sincerity of the old station master’s words.
“But I am sure my manservant, Walter, has treated you well” Sir Hellsing rejoined as he looked to the coachman.
Seras turned in surprise at hearing such a title bestowed upon her mere driver, but as he stripped the coat and hat she could finally view the primp suit he wore beneath. He gave her a daring smile and bowed deeply upon the reintroduction.
“If nothing more can be said, then I propose you should retire for the night” her employer suggested.
“I am a little tired” Seras admitted.
The excitement from the travel and the last coach ride had exhausted her both physically and mentally, and rest was indeed was she desired.
“Then I shall allow Walter to show you to your room” he offered as he nodded to his manservant.
“Oh no, sir!” the new maid protested as she vehemently shook her head. “If I am to work for you, I must learn my own way around through instruction.”
Sir Hellsing slowly turned his cold blue eyes toward his new tenant, and Seras could not understand the reflection of dark humor shining in the depths of his orbs. She drew back as he let out a short, low chuckle.
“Perhaps you are right” he agreed as he waved his other servant away. “But I must confess your request may cause you some grief in this dark night.”
“Why is that, sir?” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Because I have given you the room in the tower.”