RJ

RJ Riibu Wed, 11/01/2006 - 23:25

Imagine a lovestory. This won't really be one.

Chapter One

Chapter One Riibu Wed, 11/01/2006 - 23:43

It was a sunny morning in Wrothvale and the weather was great for the tournament. There were hardly any clouds in the sky and no strong winds blew. The lords’ and knights’ many multicoloured flags flapped lightly in the breeze atop their poles. They showed all the people coming to enjoy the event who were the competitor’s in that year’s tournament. The commoners’ stands were already quite crowded and loud noises carried over the field. People dressed in expensive and colourful clothes were making their way to the nobility’s sheltered stand, producing their own loud chatter.

”Rosie!” someone called. A girl dressed in a modest forget-me-not blue dress turned her head from the flags she’d been looking to a man who was just coming next to her. Rosalie smiled at her father excitedly.

”Come now, we must hurry or we will lose the good seats.”

”Sorry, father. I was looking for our flag, where is it? It’s not on the commoner’s side, is it?” she asked while they walked towards the fine stand.

”No, it’s... It’s second last on our stand, see?” lord Theodore pointed for her.

”Ah!” Rosalie said and craned her neck to see the flag when they stepped the stairs to the stand. They made their way to the middle seats on the first row and got a good view to jousting ground. Rosalie bit her lip and grinned. This was the first time she’d ever been allowed to come see a tournament. Her father had insisted she was too young before, but she was fifteen years old now. She couldn’t wait for the competing to begin and knotted her hands together nervously.

Lord Theodore cried quietly as he noticed some friend of his and turned to talk to him. Rosalie took a quick look at the man his father was addressing but then turned to look around them. Rosalie frowned as she noticed the woman sitting on her right side. The woman was wearing a bright red dress, but as it had a very generous bodice the unsparing sight of her breasts made Rosalie snap her gaze back towards the field. She felt a small blush nearing her cheeks and she felt annoyed. To her horror the woman glanced at her and then leaned to whisper to her.

”Nothing wrong with them, my dear. You could always attract some more with yours as well. Never be ashamed of what you have I like to think”, she chuckled.

”I’m sorry, butI have no idea what you are talking about”, Rosalie said stiffly without turning her head. The woman laughed at this and leaned closer.

”Come now, girl. Like you would not want to gain the attention of a handsome nobleman. You use what you have. Trust me on this, it has always gotten me exactly what I want.”

”And some more, I’d say”, Rosalie hissed back. The woman leaned away a bit and raised her eyebrow at her remark.

”There are ways to deal with that, you know.” As Rosalie looked at her skeptically she straightened on her seat and smiled confidently at her.

”What’s your name, girl?”

”I am lady Rosalie Honora Arcelus. You are?”

”Oh, you’re a flower. How sweet! Your mother must have named you”, the woman chuckled again and looked at the field.

”My mother died giving birth to me, miss. My father’s decision to name me after my mother’s favourite flower was nice, I think.”

”Certainly. I’m sorry for your loss, lady Rosalie”, she said with a small sardonic smile.

”Thank you”, Rosalie replied coldly. She drew a breath and looked away hoping the woman would not continue speaking to her. The lady in red grinned and turned to talk to a woman on her other side. Rosalie slowly relaxed and soon began sighing to herself. Her father patted her hand and told her it would not be much longer until the tournament started.

Soon a pair of trumpets sounded and all the gathered people started to quiet down. Everyone looked at the small but high stand at the start of the jousting field, left from the fine stand and right from the commoners’ stand where a large man dressed in yellow livery was waiting. Once the level of noise had subsided enough he coughed to himself and began announcing.

”On this fine day in the year of 427 of our kindgom, our gracious host, the Viscount Morgan Samuel Ernest of Wrothvale, bids you all welcome to this event!” He paused as people cheered and then proceeded to pronounce all the lords whose knights would be competing in the tournament. Rosalie squealed quietly when the herald mentioned Count Theodore Mervyn Arcelus and the names of the four knights that had come with them. Behind the man sat lord and lady Ernest in fine seats and behind them was the table with the prizes guarded by three knights.

The herald finished and stepped off the stand as people cheered again. There was some general hussling as people settled down more comfortably to watch the tournament. At the back of the field several people in armor had assembled with their horses. Squires hurried to and fro preparing their masters. Then to a loud cheer two knights were helped on their horses and they rode out to the track.

Two knights rode the length of the track and stopped in front of lord Ernest’s stand. They raised their lances to greet lord Ernest who acknowledged them with a polite wave. A knight in a gray and white tabard rode to the end of the track and the other knight in an orange and white tabard stayed put. The crowds hushed as the knights faced each other. They lowered their lances and waited for the call to charge. A man with a flag approached the center of the track and raised it. He looked both ways and swished the flag down and scurried back. The knights charged. A second and their lances crashed, wood splintering in every direction. They dropped the broken lances and slowed their horses. The knights turned to applause and rode back to their respective sides.

”Neither one fell off, father”, Rosalie said confused. Her father leaned closer to her as he clapped and explained that such happened rarely.

”That’s not the goal, Rosie. They’re supposed to hit each other to break the lances. See, those people put up small flags to show how much they scored.”

”But there’s only one flag, for the gray knight. They both broke their lances!”

”Yes, but the knight in orange, see, his lance broke as it hit the gray knight’s saddle, whilst the gray knight’s lance broke on the orange knight’s armor. Hitting the saddle amounts for nothing. Hitting the other one’s torso is worth one point. Two points is for breaking the lance on the opponent’s helmet and three is for knocking your opponent down.”

”I see. Is three points the most one can get?” Her father nodded and she continued: ”Well, then isn’t that the goal? Getting the most points? And to do that I’ll bet they want to throw the opponent down. Is that the sign of a good knight, if they can unhorse the other one?”

”Well... Not necessarily, my dear. In jousting perhaps, but it’s usually just luck.”

”They’re not very lucky-” Rosalie said, but her words were drowned in a wave of cheering as the knights faced each other off again. As the applause died down Rosalie’s father pointed the point flags to her. The knights were tied.

”Best out of three”, he said, ”this one will decide which of the knights wins the round. The winner will advance to compete with other knights.”

”That part I know, father, thank you. I wish you’d told me these details beforehand. I feel like such a beginner here!”

”Well, this is your first time, my dear.” Rosalie grinned and shushed her father. They applauded as the knights charged one last time and ended up at a tie. Theodore explained to Rosalie that now neither of the knights could advance. The knights rode off the track and two others rode to greet lord Ernest in turn.

Rosalie watched interested at the jousting and she soon began to notice where the lances hit. She felt happy whenever she managed to predict a hit correct by herself. Knights passed,a few going by their stand and waving to ladies in the seats. The lady in red next to Rosalie blew a kiss to a knight in a brown and orange tabard. Rosalie snorted at this and glared at the knight.

She sat up straighter whenever one of their knights in their light blue and white tabards was on the field and even responded to a wave one of them gave as he passed by their stand. Their knights didn’t fare too badly, but the second to compete lost by two points to his opponent who was in a dark blue and purple tabard. As two knights replaced each other the lady in red suddenly cried quietly. A knight in a black and red tabard rode pass their stand. Rosalie flinched as the lady in red rose and waved excitedly at the knight who waved back at her. Rosalie noted that many other ladies in their stand waved at the knight too. Must be a popular one, she thought to herself.

The knights faced each other off. They lowered their lances. They charged. A collective ’ah!’ went through both crowds as the knight in the black and red tabard hit the other knight in his helmet and flung him off his horse also. The crowds erupted in cheer at the first unhorsing in the tournament.

”Oh, lucky one!” Theodore remarked and clapped cheerily.

The victorious knight raised the remains of his lance and rode back to his side to wait the other knight. When the other knight had been helped back on his horse and given another lance they waited their turns again. They charged and the knight in the black and red tabard hit the other in the helmet again. This time his opponent stayed on his horse though.

”Isn’t he talented?” the lady in red suddenly breathed excitedly to Rosalie. She was grinning and her cheeks were aflush. Rosalie did not respond, only raised her eyebrow at the woman. In her mind she did agree with the woman, though. The knight was either very lucky or talented, and the latter seemed more fitting as the knight hit his opponent in the helmet for the third time and flung him off his horse also. The crowds cheered wildly as the knight grabbed his helmet off, flew it on the ground and rode to and fro on his side of the field.

”I say, who is that knight?” Theodore laughed and turned to speak to a man near him. ”Who is he? He’s talented, he must be new, I don’t remember him from last year.” Rosalie listened only with half a mind. She was staring at the grinning knight. She blushed as the knight rode past them and waved at the audience. The lady in red squealed delightedly next to her and Rosalie couldn’t but smile herself. The knight was very handsome.

”Well, we’ll see if his luck holds. This was just the first round. I daresay that poor knight must not have been very good, to not have been able to block even one hit on his helmet. His head must be in agony now!” Theodore and the man laughed. Rosalie sighed and followed the knight eagerly.

”He’s such a talented man, that knight. Do you know him?” the lady in red asked Rosalie.

”No, I’ve never seen him before”, Rosalie said absent-mindedly.

”Ah, sir Jonathan Hearthwell. Very young, very good at what he does. I’ve met him a few times”, the lady grinned widely and nudged Rosalie.

”Oh? Jonathan...” Rosalie whispered to herself.

The tournament continued. Knights in variously coloured tabards fought and with every victory the amount of knights lessened. Only one of Rosalie’s father’s knights had managed this far, but his score total placed him fourth. Rosalie kept track of sir Jonathan’s score also and was surprised to realise she was pleased that he was third – ahead of their own knight.

Rosalie waited anxiously for Jonathan’s turn. It took her a moment to realise that the next match would be between their knight and Jonathan. She cheered eagerly when Jonathan won by one point.

”Well, that’s no prizes for us...” Theodore turned to Rosalie, who grinned back apologetically.

”That knight, sir Jonathan, father... He’s so good, it’s so wonderful to watch him ride.”

”Oh, I noticed. I agree with you, as do nearly everyone here apparently”, he said and clapped. ”Only one more fight left.”

”That’s between sir Ancar and sir Edwyn isn’t it? If they don’t score highly we might still have a chance. It’s going to be close, though!”

Three runs later the crowds cheered wildly again. Sir Ancar had beaten his opponent and the tournament was finally over. It was late in the afternoon and though it had been exciting to watch accidents, knights being carried off unconscious, sitting still for so many hours was terribly tiresome. Rosalie stretched as they rose from their seats. Their knight had just enough points to end up as fourth and they would be required to accompany the other winners’ lords in the fine stand with lord Ernest.

Rosalie stood behind his father and looked at the knights gathered in front of the stand. Their knight in his light blue and white tabard was last. Sir Edwyn was wearing a blue and black tabard and was holding his head frowning slightly. Sir Ancar brushed his green and yellow tabard and then gently touched a wound on his forehead, flinching. Rosalie blushed as her eyes stopped at sir Jonathan who had gathered enough points for first place.

Sir Jonathan was a tall young man. He had an easy smile and a grin was never far from his face. The competing had left his ash blond hair lank, but the excitement that shone out of his hazel eyes made him look attractive to Rosalie.

Lord Ernest congratulated each knight as he precented them their prizes. Rosalie kept glancing at Jonathan and when it was his turn to come up to the stand she stared at him freely. She reasoned since everyone else was looking at him, he wouldn’t notice her. Yet, as Jonathan turned to show off his prize to the audiences their eyes met and Rosalie quickly looked away. Jonathan paused for a moment and smiled at the blushing girl. Cute, he thought as he turned to grin self-confidently at the cheering crowds.

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His eyes are almost blue and almost green, but with some, like, orange in the middle... It shines like it’s gold when he smiles, I could tell... He’s got the strength of all the men and his bravery knows no bounds... He’s a true, valiant man and he’ll never notice a silly girl like me...! Rosalie finished her sweet thought about Jonathan in anguish. Rosalie was strolling leisurely behind his father towards their carriage, all caught up in thinking about Jonathan.

I bet he has a sweetheart somewhere... Although, maybe not, I don’t think he’s that type of man. He’s clearly above silly crushes. He’s a gentleman and his courtesy knows no bounds, and he’s... Right there. Oh dear lord. Is he looking at me? No, oh no, should I pretend like I haven’t noticed him? What if he is looking for me and he’ll be offended if I don’t look his way? Is he looking at me? He is definitely looking at me. Oh dear heavens, what should I do? What if he wants to talk to me? I can’t talk to him! Oh no, he’s coming my way, look natural! You are not nervous at all, you are perfectly at ease, he is coming your way and you will be absolutely nonchalant, and... he is so handsome...

”My lady”, Jonathan bowed and quickly took hold of Rosalie’s and placed a kiss on it. She was so surprised by his gesture she only managed to giggle at first. Then she mentally slapped herself and forced her face into a polite smile.

”Ah, sir... Hearthwell, was it?”

”Sir Jonathan Hearthwell, at your service milady. I am dreadfully sorry, but I do not believe I know your name.”

”Oh! I’m...- I’m Lady Rosalie Arcelus, Count Theodore Arcelus of Grathwood’s daughter.”

”Ah.” He stared at her in the eyes intensely for a moment and continued quietly, almost uncertainly: ”You have- such a beautiful name...” Rosalie blushed and smiled radiantly.

”Oh, I...! Thank you, sir Jonathan”, she said breathily and looked away. Jonathan, still holding her hand in his, raised it higher and pulled her ever so slightly closer to him, prompting Rosalie to look into his eyes again. Definitely green, the thought flashed through her mind.

”I don’t know what it is, but when I saw you... In the stand, I saw you and there was something about you... I had to come and say something to you. I hope you’re not troubled by this-” Jonathan leaned away from Rosalie who interrupted him and quickly reassured him she felt not troubled at all.

”Not a bit, sir... Jonathan...” What a regal name! she rejoiced in her mind. Jonathan laughed relieved and leaned back towards Rosalie happily. Rosalie jumped as her father suddenly called for her and she stepped backwards when she realised how close Jonathan was to her. When’d that happen? she wondered and looked away feeling embarrassed.

”Ah... I must go now”, she said. Jonathan opened his mouth to say something, but seemed to cange his mind and glanced behind him at Rosalie’s father.

”It was a pleasure to have met you, milady”, Jonathan smiled and kissed her hand once more. He held her hand and only let go reluctantly as she passed him by. He stayed there looking at her, as she noted when she glanced back at him a couple of times. Then she was at their carriage and she stepped in without a last look. She smiled innocently at her father.

”Who was that young man you were talking to?” he asked and motioned the driver to start. The carriage jolted a bit and they started home.

”Er, it was that knight who won the tournament. Sir Jonathan Hearthwell he said his name was.”

”Ah, yes, him. Yes, he was very talented, wasn’t he...?” Lord Theodore said and looked thoughtful. Rosalie shrugged and turned to watch the scenery going slowly by. She went over Jonathan’s words to her in her mind and absent-mindedly circled with her finger the place on her left hand where he had kissed her twice. Thinking about Jonathan seemingly liking her made Rosalie feel a little woozy in the bottom of her stomach, but it was such an interesting feeling and so she closed her eyes and thought about Jonathan’s eyes and his warm smile as he said her name out loud... She sighed a little melancholily as she realised that she most likely would never see him again. At least it’s been quite an incredible day, she thought dreamily.

Chapter Two

Chapter Two Riibu Thu, 11/02/2006 - 11:52

Two women were arguing about something in loud voices; some men were carrying sacks from a cart into a store; a group of people had gathered to watch an early morning brawl between two beggars. The first impression of the town near Grathwood’s castle was perhaps not the best the new recruits could have gotten. The knights comforted themselves with the reminder that guarding commoners was beneath them and so they would hardly have to spend much time inside the town itself. The rest of the men were guardsmen, retired soldiers already noting where the tavern was. The knights on their horses paid little attention to the people going about the cobbled streets, they expected people to make way for them, naturally.

The buildings were simply built, but many were even two storeys high and proved that this was a prosperous town, if not the most beautiful one. The men came to the town square. There were stalls scattered around the square and musicians filled the air with variously tuned sounds from their instruments. The mens’ progress was slowed, since it was already near noon and the square was packed with people. A knight in the lead gestured to some of the guardsmen to clear way for them. People muttered, but backed away and the men continued. They were going through the town to the castle.

One of the knights slowed down near a musician with a lute and listened with a faint smile on his lips. He reached for a purse and threw some coins for the musician before proceeding again. He got some skeptical looks from his fellow knights as he urged his horse back its place on the line.

”Why did you throw your money away? Players like that are many a dozen.”

”A few coins will not be the end of me, Martin. Anyway, I like music! It’s the best way to a lady’s heart. And- other places...” he grinned.

”That’s all you think about, Jonathan”, Martin snorted without really getting annoyed. He knew his friend afterall.

”And why wouldn’t I?” Jonathan exclaimed. ”Every man wants warm arms around himself in the night and a lady’s soft lap is the best there is. I know, I’ve had my share”, he laughed. Martin shook his head and rolled his eyes. He wouldn’t deny what Jonathan said of course. He was quite right.

----

It had started as a horse, but it had perhaps a bit too much green in it.

It could be a flower... Rosalie thought to herself and frowned at her embroidery work. She tried turning it upside down and considered it critically. Then she sighed and dropped it on the floor. She leaned against the back of her chair and looked out the window. It was a lovely spring day, she was inside the castle and she couldn’t stop thinking about Jonathan. Rosalie pouted and started twisting the strands of her long hair in her hands.

My hair feels really rough... I hope it doesn’t look as bad as it feels... Jonathan probably likes someone with really smooth hair. And rich. Like he has... He has such strong, beautiful light hair. Rosalie smiled and blushed as she imagined Jonathan riding to her on his horse and the wind tousling his hair, the sun’s shine making it like liquid gold.

Rosalie bit her lip and coughed trying to clear her mind. She decided she should go and try do something... something productive... But what? she thought darkly. Rosalie went to the window and leaned on the sill. Smoke drifted lazily upwards from the village’s chimneys and ever so faint hubbub of everyday life carried through the air to her. She sighed and pouted, and tapped the stonework feeling utterly bored. Then something on the road to the castle caught her eye and she glanced there.

Some riders in armor and a group or marching men were coming to the castle. Rosalie leaned out of the window and tried to look closer. She didn’t know they were getting any visitors and what other reason would there be for them? She waited until they were closer to the castle and then left her room delighted to have something to hold her interest for a while.

Rosalie reached the castleyard just as the riders and soldiers came through the gates. She and some others were standing on the steps to the doors to the castle watching the knights curiously. There didn’t seem to be any lords or ladies with them, but Rosalie recoqnised one of their own knights among the knights. No one else seemed familiar...

Rosalie gasped in surprise. Something fluttered in her something and even her heart jolted. Jonathan! Rosalie gaped at the handsome knight. She glanced furtively around her, but no one else seemed to have noticed. Rosalie quickly tried to see Jonathan again, where was he, he was just there... Panic gripped her. She turned swiftly and slipped through the doors inside the castle. Rosalie pressed her back against the door and drew a deep shuttering breath. He’d been looking straight at her. But it couldn’t have been him. It just can’t have been him! Why would he be here?

Rosalie’s heart thumped nervously and she tried to gulp a few times. Her throat had suddenly gone quite dry. Then she warily peeked outside from behind the door and quickly ducked her head back. The men were still there, but all the knights had gotten off of their horses. Rosalie realised they could be coming in at any time and if she wanted to avoid them she would have to go, now!

She almost stumbled a few times when she was hurrying further inside the castle. Midstride a thought came to her. She should go and ask her father if something was going on. At the least, her father would decide how long the knights were going to be allowed to stay in the castle. If she had a date, she could focus. On what exactly, she wasn’t sure.

Rosalie took a moment to calm herself down behind the door of his father’s study. She knocked and opened the door.

”Father?”

”Rosie? Morning my dear, what are you doing here?” Theodore smiled as he lifted his eyes from some papers he’d been scribbling on.

”Well... I was just wondering...” Rosalie stepped inside hesitantly. ”I just... Some knights just rode in here and I thought ’why?’”

”Oho, they’ve arrived now, have they? Most excellent. We must go and greet them”, Theodore said cheerfully and rose.

”Sorry? We were expecting them?”

”Didn’t I tell you? Ah! No, of course not! I forgot, I’m sorry my dear. This was supposed to be a surprise.”

”Ah. Quite a surprise it was too”, Rosalie smiled uncertainly.

”Well, my plan worked then, did it not? Come now, it mustn’t do to be late.”

”But father”, Rosalie started as her father came and took her arm in his, ”why are they here? Are they visiting us? Just... knights?”

”Oh no, Rosie. I have hired them. See, my dear, I rather liked the tournament, but our knights were just not up to it this year and sir Kane is getting a little too old to compete soon, so I thought some fresh blood would be good. Ah, and! Turns out that winner, that young man? He was serving no lord yet. The title came with the family, but apparently there was a disgrace or something with his father or grandfather... I’m a little hazy on the details and it doesn’t really matter. He’s very good at jousting and that’s what matters. It’s their own shame if they don’t get the best while they can. Now he’s ours”, Theodore finished happily. Rosalie felt the obligation to chuckle along with her father.

Oh my. They’re here to stay. Jonathan is going to live here. He’s going to... live here... Rosalie couldn’t decide whether she should feel happy, annoyed, excited or nervous about this. And she honestly felt all conflicting emotions fighting for the first place.

Rosalie was still debating with herself when they reached the castleyard. The knights were talking in a small secluded group and some of their own knights had joined the newcomers. The guardsmen were lounging about around the yard. Fortunately their superior was keeping a careful eye out and barked them a command when he saw lord Theodore.

Lord Theodore began addressing the knights and guardsmen, welcoming them. Rosalie tried to appear casual, but her nervousness was gaining the advantage. She glanced once, twice at the knights hoping to see Jonathan. If she’d just quicly skim everyone over, that couldn’t be interpreted as anything more than mild interest...

Well. He’s either looking at father, or staring at me.

I should’ve worn one of my better dresses...

Wonder how he looks under all that armor...

”- And this is my daughter, lady Rosalie. She is your mistress and any orders she issues you must follow. Rosie?” Rosalie snapped out of her thoughts and looked blankly at her father for a moment. Lord Theodore nodded at the men and raised his eyebrow wondering.

Rosalie stepped ahead and bowed her head slightly, greeting everyone modestly. She glanced in the knights’ direction and saw that Jonathan was, though smiling, standing respectfully in attention. She stepped back, nodded briefly at her father and turned to go back inside.

I’m like a fearful rabbit, continuously running for cover... she thought annoyed as she marched all the way back to her own rooms. She slumped in her chair and sighed. Then she sighed again as she noticed the discarded embroidery work on the floor. She attempted to kick it, but wasn’t near enough and she didn’t feel like getting out of her chair at all. Rosalie crossed her arms, pouted and slumped against the back of the chair.

A fine first impression I’ve made! All the knights probably think I’m some silly little girl... And I’m going to be sixteen this year, I’m not little! I’m not silly! And I should stop acting like I am! No, I just need to concentrate. It doesn’t matter if Jonathan likes me or not. He’s a knight and technically under my command, and I can- ... Well, no, I don’t think I’ll dare issue any orders to him. I’d probably just be unable to speak to him. Rosalie sighed yet again.

I just need to get over this. He’s just a man. Just - a - man. Just another knight in the castle, a handsome knight indeed... With his green and golden eyes and golden hair, and probably quite notable muscles... Rosalie settled in in her chair more comfortable and slowly started smiling as she imagined Jonathan taking her hand in his, almost trembling from the strong feelings he felt for her, and slowly pressing a kiss on the back of her hand. Rosalie blushed and giggled happily.

----

In the following week Rosalie did not see much of Jonathan. She kept from wondering around those parts of the castle where she might meet him, because she felt this would have been a little too inappropriate for her to do. Still, she did do more riding than usually, and much shorter trips out, just in case Jonathan would be around the stables looking for his horse, or something.

One afternoon as Rosalie had parted with a friend of hers outside their castle, she had taken her horse to the stables and tracked down her closest handmaiden to complain about an irritating itch. They were walking to Rosalie’s rooms so her handmaiden could apply some ointment in her leg when they turned round a corner and encountered Jonathan. The handmaiden stopped and bobbed a curtsy and so to Rosalie’s relief her own sudden standstill wasn’t so out of place.

”Sir Jonathan”, she nodded politely. Jonathan smiled in return and stared at her. He wasn’t dressed in armor this time and Rosalie was pleased to note that the simple tunic was tight-fitting enough for her to discern more of his bodytype. He was reasonably toned, but not terribly muscled. Jonathan was holding an apple in his hand and he’d in fact just been shining it against his tunic. Rosalie was looking appreciatively at his hands, when she was suddenly brought back to present by the handmaiden’s prudent cough. Jonathan was grinning at her.

”Ah, er- Good day, sir Jonathan”, Rosalie said quickly and hurried past him. The handmaiden started and followed her, nodding politely to Jonathan, who turned to follow their course thoughtfully while taking a bite of his apple.

When they reached Rosalie’s rooms she went straight for her bed and collapsed on it feeling like a failure. The maidservant closed the door and came to the foot of the bed to watch Rosalie expectantly.

”I was a complete idiot back there, wasn’t I? How long did I even stare at him?” Rosalie groaned and covered her eyes with her arm. She sniffed.

”I smell like horses and manure”, she added desperately. The maidservant shrugged and grabbed her legs to take off her boots.

”Now, you was just lost in contemplation there for a moment, nothing too final or terrible really”, the maid said as she started tugging Rosalie’s riding boots off of her.

”But did I stare at him for very long? It wasn’t too- obvious, was it?” The maid shrugged and pulled her other boot off.

”I couldn’t say, milady. Anyway, I don’t think he minded you watching him, if you don’t me saying”, the maid said as she wiped the boots some and took them outside the door. She came back to the bed and asked where the itch was as she reached for the ointment she’d placed on the floor. Rosalie pouted and rose enough to lean on her elbows.

”Mary. You cannot ever tell anyone, ever, about... You know... How I feel about... You know...!”

”About sir Jonathan, milady?” Rosalie nodded emphatically and sighed.

”I’ll never utter a word, milady, and that’s a promise that holds. Now, there’s not much I can do about it, but the itch I can help with.” Rosalie sniffed and rose to sit. She raised the leg of her riding pants and showed the pink patch on the skin. Mary sat on the floor and took Rosalie’s leg in her lap. She started covering the itchy spot with the ointment.

”That stings...” Rosalie pouted, but only got a snort from Mary.

”It’s supposed to, that’s how you know it’s working, milady.” Rosalie sighed and lay back on the bed. She stared at the canopy moodily, slowly twisting her hair in her fingers. She would have to do something about her feelings. It just wouldn’t do to go about blushing everytime she saw him. It wasn’t proper behaviour for a lady, and he was of a lower class as well.

----

Rosalie was feeling relaxed for the first time in over a week. She was wearing one of her favourite dresses and she was about to head for a walk with some of her handmaidens, perhaps to look for some spring flowers. She chatted with the other girls when she heard someone calling her and the already too familiar nervousness came upon her as she recognised the voice.

”Lady Rosalie!” Jonathan approached them. All the girls quieted down and turned to look at him. A few girls at the back of the group giggled, but Rosalie didn’t notice.

”Lady Rosalie”, Jonathan repeated warmly taking her hand and kissing it.

”A pleasure to see you, sir Jonathan. What is it?” Rosalie managed to say and was glad her voice didn’t shake.

”Your father feels you should not go out alone. I mean, without a man to watch out for possible danger. We are not that far away from the border afterall. Or there could be a bear out there. He sent me to accompany you, just in case”, Jonathan explained and smiled.

”Well... Are you, er- fully equipped to handle danger? You’re not wearing armor and anyway we’re not going very far.”

”Nevertheless, I am to attend you!” Jonathan declared grandly. He had been holding her hand in his while they spoke and now he changed hands, so that he was holding Rosalie’s left hand in his right. He turned to the other girls and said brightly: ”Shall we go then?”

Only after passing the gates of the castle did Rosalie remember to pull her hand free. Rosalie missed most of the chatting, didn’t gather nearly as many flowers as the other girls as her thoughts kept continually wandering to Jonathan, who never left her side.

Rosalie walked quietly along a path in the forest they’d headed for. Jonathan followed her just a few steps behind. Rosalie breathed in the mixed smell of the earth, trees and Jonathan. There was a masculine scent about him, full and rich. Whenever there was a large stone jutting out of the ground, or a small bump in the road he would reach for her hand and steady her, though she was in no danger of stumbling. Rosalie welcomed his unneeded help in any case, and enjoyed the feeling of his hands on hers. His hands were coarse after years of handling swords and lances, but still it seemed to Rosalie that they had a certain delicate power.

Lost in her thoughts she was after a time disappointed to notice that they were heading back to the castle, all too soon for her taste. She commented on this to one of the maidens who quizzically informed her they’d been walking for some hours already. Rosalie blinked in surprise. She hadn’t noticed the time pass at all. Jonathan came by her side, chuckled and took her hand in his.

”My lady, you seem to be somewhat scarce of flowers. Did their beauty not appease you enough? Or, perhaps if we were to find some wild roses you would gather them?”

”Oh! No, I just... I have enough flowers at home. These are just fine”, she lifted the few already wilted flowers in her hand. She blushed as she realised their condition. Biting her lip she glanced at the other girls and their pickings. Theirs were lush and plentiful. Jonathan grinned to himself and pulled Rosalie closer.

”You know, my lady, that the wild rose is the most beautiful of all flowers? It has a vibrant color, better than any you would find in the common garden. It’s scent alone is enough to bring you alive, even from the brink of death, I’ve heard say.”

”Really?” Rosalie looked into Jonathan’s mesmerising eyes. He pulled her hand closer and looked steadily into her eyes as he placed a kiss on it. Rosalie’s cheeks burned, her heart was beating wildly and she was completely enthralled. Then they were suddenly away from the cover of the trees and she had to shield her eyes from the glaring sun. Though it was still spring she felt hot all over and wished they would get back to the castle quickly. It would be hard to calm down after all this, and yet a part of her definitely wanted quite the opposite.

In the back of her mind, Rosalie wanted to spend more time with Jonathan. More time alone with him. Even just one night together, that’s all. But even that would have been too much. Rosalie felt anxiety rising in her and banished the thought from her mind. Nothing would happen, ever. She shouldn’t want it, and she should not worry about matters that were impossible.

----

Rosalie was bumping into Jonathan everywhere she went. She would decide to go for a walk and Jonathan would appear and insist he come along to protect her. If she felt like going riding Jonathan would saddle his own horse and ride next to her. When she stayed indoors, Jonathan eventually found his way close to her. In the library, in the great hall, even in the corridors, everywhere.

Each time Jonathan would speak to her about something, then reach for her hand and kiss it. And with every encounter he went a little further. He would put his hand on her arm and lightly stroke her as he talked. Not once did Rosalie mutter anything against this. She delighted in his closeness and the shivers his touch brought to her she yearned.

Once, when she’d been on her way to the kitchen to snatch some dainty he’d caught her and they’d laughed. Some men had approached and Jonathan had quickly pulled her into an alcove so they would not be noticed. Rosalie had thought it so amusing she had had a hard time not to giggle. But as the men were passing Jonathan had pulled her into his arms, they’d looked into each others’ eyes... And the men had passed, Rosalie could barely breathe, and he’d quickly kissed her on the cheek. Then he had gone and Rosalie had stood there petrified. She’d slowly, delicately touched her cheek with her fingers and breathed out. She’d closed her eyes and could not have thought of anything but his eyes on her, and his arms around her, and his lips touching hers... Shuddering, she’d eventually found the strength in her legs to walk out and go back to her rooms to collapse on the bed.

Rosalie forbade her from thinking about she was really doing. She was letting a man take advantage of her, but she tried hard not to think about it like so. She reasoned with herself that Jonathan was in love with her and that he would most likely express his true feelings for her sooner or later. She reminded herself that though she was the daughter of a count, Jonathan was a true knight and could earn a higher title through great deeds. Something he would obviously go through for her. So, she let Jonathan pull her behind a corner, or into a secluded and curtained alcove, and she would reach for him as he reached for her, and he would press his lips on hers as she clung tightly to him. There seemed to be a fire within her that demanded more each time Jonathan left, and more every time he came. A warm need and a want she could not - would not - control.

Then, lord Theodore sent most of the knights he employed out to check on the villages in his lands, and Jonathan went with them. Three days passed which Rosalie spent doing nothing much. She alternated between her bed and her chair, mostly just thinking about Jonathan and feeling bored. Her maids tried to interest her and get her to go outside and occasionally she did agree for a walk. But she didn’t enjoy the sunshine, or the singing of returning birds or the smell of the flowers the maids gathered. She’d looked at a beautiful pink flower and though that a wild rose would have been so much better.

One evening as Rosalie was getting ready for bed, her favourite handmaiden Mary was straightening her covers and then stopped to look slyly at her.

”What?” Rosalie frowned. Mary grinned at her. Rosalie repeated her question feeling annoyed.

”Oh, nothing milady”, Mary said airily and returned to making the bed.

”No, tell me. Now you’ve got me interested. A bit...!” Rosalie sighed and rolled onto her bed to sit infront of Mary.

”Milady, if you sit on the covers I can’t finish my work”, Mary admonished jokingly. Rosalie pouted, and then stuck out her tongue.

”What was that look you gave me, hmm? Do you have something in your mind? I hope you do, because I am tired of feeling like this. Please tell me you have an idea!”

”Oh, it’s not much”, Mary said as she turned away and waved her hands about. She continued and couldn’t stop herself from grinning a little: ”Some of the girls and me just had an idea of sorts... See, we’ve noticed your sad face and it’s troubled us to no end. We know what’ll cheer you up. Something like... old time’s sake”, she finished and winked at Rosalie.

”Aha, yes... Sounds promising...” Rosalie said expectantly.

”So you’ll come?”

”What??” Rosalie laughed surprised. ”Come where??” Mary smiled widely and held out her hand.

”The girls are waiting for us, come! I’ve got your robe ready, here. Just follow my lead, milday.” Rosalie giggled as she slipped into her robe. Mary opened the door and peeked into the corridor. There was no one there, their way was clear. Mary took Rosalie’s hand in hers and directed their wary walking. They stopped occasionally and some three maids joined them from where they’d been hiding. Once they’d been walking for a while Rosalie realised where they were going. Mary was leading her to the servants’ quarters and there was only one reason why they would all go there so secretly.

”Aha, I know what we’re doing...” she whispered to Mary. One of the girls tried to suppress a sudden excited giggle. The others shushed her amused and they sneaked on. They made their way to a kitchen and when a careful peak inside told them the kitchen was empty they rushed in and crowded into a pantry. They left the door slightly ajar, settled down in the dark and gathered their skirts under them so the cold stone floor wasn’t too uncomfortable.

”Shouldn’t take long now”, Mary whispered in general. ”Actually, we’re lucky there was no one here, I was sure someone would be-” she silenced abruptly as the door to the kitchen opened and two women stepped in. They sat down heavily on the chairs round the big table in the room and started talking in sour voices.

”Ah, finally some rest. My feet are killing me”, the other one grumbled.

”Hear hear. It’s always the same, every day, too much work, I say.”

”They expect us to do a thousand things in just one day and then when you can’t it’s all ’can’t be having with this slacking’ and ’you can expect a ”retribution”’. Them and their fancy words and impossible expectations.”

”And not a moment to relax, not even a breather!”

”I tell you, if it wasn’t for certain recompensations I would take my things and leave for the country. You know where I’d go? Back to my home village, yes. I’d go back there if it wasn’t for the- haha, good things”, the woman chuckled.

”Oh? Back there? Nooo... What’s the good thing still keeping you as my company, then?”

”Ah, it’s this one man! He absolutely goes out of his way to please. Has been going after me for some time now. Of course, I’ve not given him everything, but he comes to me nearly every night.”

”What? And you have not told me about this before? Some man is after you? An infatuation?”

”I doubt that. He just enjoys a woman’s company, you know the type.”

”Ah! I think I know who you are talking about”, the other woman laughed raucously.

”Yes, I’ve no doubt you do. He’s probably spoken to you also. Now, if he were anyone else I’d have throttled him for such behaviour, but he is rather influencing as it is. He’s quite endearing, really!”

”One smooth talker most certainly. Will charm your dress off if given the chance”, the other woman laughed again. In the pantry the girls listened eagerly to the women’s gossiping, hoping that the muffled sounds of their suppressed giggling didn’t carry over to the women.

”Indeed. But he’s not here now to brighten our day. Or night, more likely...”

”Is there anyone he isn’t after?” the other woman chuckled heartily.

”Probably not. I’ve noticed he’s chasing after our fine young lady too. And she doesn’t seem to be minding at all.”

”That little girl probably thinks he’s in love with her or something!”

”Just a few days ago I saw him kissing her quite greedily and they had not bothered to hide much at all.”

”I’m surprised lord Arcelus hasn’t done anything it about, though.”

”Ah, the lord is getting old. He doesn’t notice a thing even if it’s going on under his very nose. He’s spoiled that daughter of his and no less. He believes the young mistress is spending her time chastely doing who knows what the nobles waste their time with.”

”Nobles are all the same. Would do the world good to have them go through some real work for once!”

”I would pay to see that!” They quieted for a moment before the other continued again.

”So... You’ve spent nights with the knight, have you? Do tell. Was he any good?” The first woman snorted at this.

”Any good? He was... eager. But quite good, yes, if you must know. Insisted I let him stay the night. He snuggled all close to me and slept like a child. It was quite pleasant for a change, actually. Usually men just up and leave when they’re done. He is quite the gentleman too. Light-minded though. Going after the lord’s daughter will get him in trouble, you mark my words.”

”If he’s stupid enough to believe he’ll get away with it, he’s going to get a lesson or two. I hope it doesn’t cost him his life though, he’s such an endearing young man.”

”Not to mention handsome!” The women laughed. They continued to talk about Jonathan – for it was indeed him they meant - and his exploits with women whilst laughing uproarishly at the more racy stories they had heard. Eventually they grew too tired to continue and bade goodnight to each other.

The mood inside the pantry was sombre. The girls had had no trouble trying to keep giggling down after they’d realised who the women had talked about. Mary bit her lip and felt dreadful when she pushed the pantry door open so more light came in. Rosalie looked so wretched, like she’d shattered inside. She sniffed and tried to wipe tears off of her face, but the look of pity she got from the other girls was too much. She choked and grimaced as she started crying. Rosalie felt absolutely terrible. All that Jonathan had done for her, all that she had done with him, all actions and thoughts came crashing down on her. She digged her nails in her hands and tried to control herself.

Stupid, stupid, stupid... Why did I- Why did I- How could I have- have believed... Why didn’t I see it? she thought angrily. At that moment she hated herself for being so foolish. But somewhere inside her she still realised she did not hate Jonathan. She didn’t hate Jonathan, only herself. And if she was to blame, then it was her who had to do something about the matter. She would have to be hard on herself.

Hard! she thought and slapped herself. The girls gasped and looked uncertainly at each others. Rosalie glared at them so royally they cringed and were quick to nod eagerly when Rosalie told them to never talk about what they had seen. Rosalie was nearly seething rage at herself when they began walking back to her rooms. The other maids scampered their own way and poor Mary tried to go quietly so her mistress wouldn’t snap at her.

Tomorrow I must consider what I shall do about him. And when he comes back I’ll... Rosalie couldn’t finish that thought. But she knew this night had changed matters. And she would have to deal with that.

Chapter Three

Chapter Three Riibu Sat, 11/11/2006 - 20:42

The castle seemed to be full of busy people. Mary couldn’t hurry a few steps without someone calling for her, insisting she come and help them at once. She ran past everyone, quickly explaining: ”No time - must go wake up mistress - sorry!” She gathered her skirts up and skipped two stairs at a time.

She stopped for a breather at the top of the stairs and walked at a quieter pace to lady Rosalie's door. She tapped the door brusquely with her knuckles and wedged it open without waiting for a reply. The room was empty. The windows were covered and it was dark in the room. Mary walked right in and started opening the windows. She banged the covers open without much ceremonies and then went to another door in the room.

”About to time wake up, milady!” she called and knocked on the door. Mary put her ear to the door and listened for any sounds. She didn’t get a reply. Mary opened the door and looked in.

Though it was dark in this room, there was a candle burning on a nightstand next to a grand bed. Mary raised her eyebrow and sighed.

”Milady? I know you’re not asleep. You need to get up now”, she said and went to the bed. Someone grumbled from under the covers. Mary took hold of the mattress and yanked it aside. Rosalie’s pinched her eyes shut and whined, trying to reach for her covers to pull them back.

”Rise and shine, sleepyhead!” Mary said brightly. Rosalie kept her eyes shut, pouted and curled up in response. She swung her hand angrily motioning Mary to get out and leave her alone. Mary sniffed and went instead to open the windows in this room.

”Nooo...” Rosalie moaned quietly as the room was flooded with forenoon sunlight. She buried her head in her pillow.

”Milady... It’s a beautiful day outside. You can’t stay in bed all the time!” Rosalie mumbled something against the pillow.

”Now, you’re gonna have to speak up, milady, I didn’t quite catch that...”

”I said, I was fine the previous days and I shall be fine today also! I don’t want to get up!”

”You haven’t been doing anything the previous days, milady.”

”Exactly”, Rosalie grumbled. She sighed.

”I was such an idiot, Mary. I told you so...”

”Well... I wouldn’t say... I mean, we were all around you, we noticed, we should’ve- yeah... Er... Well, at least, now you know better!” Mary finished a little desperately.

”Know better!” Rosalie snorted. ”Knowing is half the battle”, she then muttered quietly.

”Milady?”

”I know he doesn’t care about me. But that doesn’t change things. I still want him, Mary, I want him so much...!” Rosalie rolled onto her back and flung out her arms on the bed.

”Oh, er...” Mary managed and stared at Rosalie with her mouth open.

”I know they’re coming back today. I don’t want to get up. I’d have to... I’d have to meet him and if he so much as looks at me with those gorgeous golden eyes of his, I will be lost! Lost, you hear?” Rosalie said and waved her arm dramatically.

”Lost, milady?”

”Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have him hold me now... Indeed”, she frowned and smiled by herself, ”what wouldn’t I give? To have him want me...” Mary coughed feeling uncomfortable by her lady’s words.

”What?” Rosalie looked at Mary absent-mindedly.

”Milady, you shouldn’t be saying things like that”, Mary stressed seriously. Rosalie snorted at her and rose to sit.

”I say what is on my mind. That’s how I feel! And you,” she suddenly pointed at Mary, ”you are under an oath to never utter a word about my matters, no matter who asks. Even my father. Even if someone were to come and hold a sword to your throat you will not, ever – ever – say anything what I’ve forbid from you!”

”Milady!” Mary cried out, frightened.

”I should be able to trust you at least, even if you did not warn me in any way about Jonathan even when you noticed!”

”I’m sorry, milady, I didn’t know! I didn’t know he was like that! I just thought he... I thought he liked you...” Mary finished sadly. Rosalie dropped her hand to her lap and looked away. She bit her cheek and tried to keep away the shameful tears. Her lips trembled, and she bowed her head. Mary stood still for a moment watching Rosalie cry, but started and slowly walked to the bed. She sat down on the edge of the bed and pressed her hand comfortingly on Rosalie’s shaking shoulder. Rosalie lifted her head and wiped some tears off. Her eyes had already gone red.

”I should’ve seen through it. I should have”, Rosalie shook her head. Mary didn’t know what to say so she settled for patting her shoulder. Rosalie sniffed and sighed.

”I don’t ever want to get up again”, Rosalie moaned and shook her head. Mary got up and put her hands on her hips.

”Well, milady, nevertheless you shall get out of that bed now.”

”You don’t command me”, Rosalie muttered angrily.

”I’m not, that will be your father’s wish, and sooner the more you linger there.” Rosalie hung her head and groaned, but sniffed and jumped out of the bed. She grimaced and started hopping on her place.

”Mary! The floor is cold! I want my shoes!” she pouted pitifully. Mary snorted and started gathering her mistresses’ things ready for her. Rosalie insisted she get to wear one of her more conservative dresses (”Every little counts.”) and went for a cream coloured high-necked dress. Eventually she deemed herself ready to face temptation and fare boldly against it.

Mary left to help around the castle and so Rosalie had to walk with nothing but her thoughts as company. She found her father in the grand hall waiting for news about the knights. Rosalie sat down next to him and greeted lord Theodore.

”Ah, Rosie. I haven’t seen you around much lately. You have been feeling a little off lately? Are you feeling better now?”

”Oh, I’ve just been a little tired than usually, but I’m better now, father.”

”Oh dear. I hope it’s nothing bad. I’d hate to see you get ill, my dear. Your presence in the castle is the life for me”, Theodore smiled and patted Rosalie’s hand.

”Thank you, father. I don’t think I shall fall ill any time soon though. I really am feeling much better now”, Rosalie managed to smile somewhat convincingly. Lord Theodore beamed and patted her hand again.

”Most glad to hear that, my dear. Now, remember, if there’s anything you need... Anything at all, you should just come to me. I will take care of it.” Theodore squeezed his daughter’s hand affectionately. Rosalie felt a little better and smiled sincerely to her father.

A man walked in to the hall and proceeded promptly to lord Theodore.

”Milord, the knights approach”, the man said and bowed.

”Ah!” lord Theodore exclaimed and rose from his seat. He offered his hand to Rosalie and pulled her up. Rosalie slipped her arm in her father’s and walked beside him as they left the grand hall. Lord Theodore snapped his fingers at a servant who’d been patiently waiting by the doors. The servant bowed as they passed and then left shouting commands to other servants around the hall.

Rosalie was nervous and her throat felt parched. She tried to cough inconspicuously as she thought what she would do when she saw Jonathan. There was a certain amount of dread in her for she didn’t know if she could handle staying away from Jonathan, and at the same time her stomach felt fluttery at the expectation of seeing the handsome knight again. Rosalie glanced at her father who walked on oblivious of her anquished, split thoughts. Rosalie made up her mind. She would not shame her father. For him, she would be cold to Jonathan and distance herself from him. No doubt Jonathan would leave her alone after a while. Rosalie drew a breath feeling a little comforted by her resolve and braced herself.

They stood on the stairs. Soon the pounding of hooves could be heard and in but a moment the knights had rode in to the castle. They halted their horses and took a moment to clamber off. Stable boys appeared and took the reins of the horses and started leading them away. The knights gathered in high spirits in front of the stairs and quieted down to watch lord Theodore expectantly.

Lord Theodore smiled and greeted the knights. Rosalie nodded to them at her father’s mark, and Theodore continued by telling them that a feast was laid ready in the grand hall. Then he took Rosalie’s hand in his again and motioned for sir Kane who had been leading the knights to come to him. He waved the other knights to go on and they quickly clambered up the stairs eager for the food. Rosalie slipped to Theodore’s other side so she wouldn’t have to see any of the knights face to face.

Lord Theodore began discussing with sir Kane. The knight told Theodore that the towns and villages seemed to faring quite well, but there had been sightings of some wolves in Threeleaf the previous week.

”The woodcutters in the next village, the... what did they call it again... the Crop. Yes, that was it-”

”The crop? I don’t remember a village like that.”

”Oh, I believe it is quite new actually. Has existed only about a year or so, milord. Don’t ask me why they named it Crop, but I suppose it sounds good enough for commoners. Anyway, the woodcutters there were most impolite and tried to insist we help them out with some problem about thieves. I didn’t really follow what the man was saying, I mean, it makes no sense. Why would anyone steal trees?”

”Tree thieving, eh? Isn’t that a little difficult?”

”Dare say so, milord. Perhaps they dug the tree up a little every night and then simply push it down and carry it off in the darkness.” Sir Kane and lord Theodore chuckled at this. Rosalie smiled dutifully.

”Well, apart from the mysterious tree thieves they had no problems so we continued our journey. The village near lord Maluard’s lands claimed they’d seen elves, but it seems infeasible. The elves would not dare to come this far into our lands.”

”And lord Alexander is certainly doing a good job guarding his part of the border. Must have been common paranoia of invisible beasts”, lord Theodore snorted.

”Indeed. We heard no such claims from other villages. Then there was some woman in the town up north beyond Grathwood, who was raving about her son being taken away from her or something. She seemed crazy, though, so we didn’t really find out if something had happened or not. Some of the townspeople said that the woman’s son had left to become a wizard, then returned and killed his father. I doubt it’s true, personally.”

”Really? Doesn’t seem too impossible to me...” lord Theodore sighed. ”You never know with them. Strange people.”

”I’m not saying it’s impossible, but from what we heard the people tell, it sounded more like a story made up to frighten children. Beware the evil wizard or he will come and cut off your hands-” Sir Kane interrupted as lord Theodore frowned at him. Rosalie tried not to snort too audibly. It was hardly the worst she’d heard, anyway. Lord Theodore and sir Kane continued discussing, but suddenly stopped as Rosalie’s stomach rumbled a little too hungrily.

”My, my... Should we go and join the feast, my dear? What do you think?” lord Theodore asked amused. Rosalie grinned apologetically, but nodded. She hadn’t eaten anything that day and was getting really hungry.

The mood in the grand hall was jovial. Sir Kane nodded, bid them good appetite and went to look for a place to sit among the other knights. Rosalie and her father walked all the way the length of the hall to the end of the grandest table, where their seats were. They passed Jonathan on the way, but Rosalie kept her eyes to herself, resisting the temptation to look and see Jonathan’s expression when she didn’t glance at him like usually.

Jonathan did look after Rosalie in confusion, but decided that the girl must be angry at him for being away so long. Jonathan turned back to his food and grinned as he thought of ways to make Rosalie forgive him. So many fun things he could do with her...

Rosalie managed to focus on her meal long enough to get through two courses before she glanced at Jonathan. She assured herself it was only by accident, but that didn’t matter when Jonathan happened to glance at her at the very same time. Rosalie averted her eyes, but then frowned and turned to glare at Jonathan briefly before looking coldly the other way.

That’ll teach him! she thought to herself. Then she thought again. Well... At least it’s a beginning... The rest of the dinner passed uneventfully to her relief. Rosalie spoke a little to her father, who then left to go discuss matters in more detail with sir Kane. Rosalie was about go get up and go ponder things herself, when Jonathan was by her side and offered her his hand. Rosalie stared at his outstretched hand for a moment, but then took it and rose.

Jonathan was about to kiss her hand when she pulled her hand free.

”Thank you”, she said and turned to walk away before Jonathan got over his surprise. Jonathan took a moment to compose himself, and then glancing back at all the other people in the hall followed Rosalie.

”Lady Rosalie”, he called. Rosalie stopped, and turned to watch him blankly.

”It’s been such a long time since I last saw you”, Jonathan started confidently and smiled his most affectionate. Rosalie rolled her eyes and said nothing.

”It was most rude of me to leave without bidding you a farewell, I know, but surely we haven’t been apart too long? I’m sorry, lady Rosalie.” Jonathan thought that perhaps an apology would be the best way out. It usually worked, unless the woman in question demanded a more clear apology in which case you had to first find out what it was you had done wrong.

”Sorry? For what?”

Damn, Jonathan thought. The tricky one.

”I feel like I’ve done something that has offended you, milady.” Rosalie actually snorted amusedly at this. Jonathan frowned.

”Oh, sir Jonathan... You most certainly have”, Rosalie lowered her voice and glared at Jonathan. Then she briskly turned and walked away, leaving Jonathan a little confused.

She can’t have found a new sweetheart in just a week...! This is probably some kind of test. Why do they always have to undermine all the good? She’s probably just playing hard to get, Jonathan thought to himself as he turned to go back into the grand hall. He grinned as he decided that he should just try harder then.

The next day Rosalie went riding. She felt a bit relieved when she didn’t see Jonathan anywhere, but when she had returned to the castle she was feeling sad again. Jonathan had been fun company, always had some story to tell, or a compliment to give.

Rosalie brushed back her hair as she made her way to her room to freshen up and change clothes. She’d ask Mary before she left to prepare a bath for her, so she could sink right in into the hot water. After she’d closed the door she started stripping out of her riding clothes. She flung the clothes on her bed without looking and hurried to the bathtub. It felt a little chilly in the room, especially when one was naked, so Rosalie managed to splash some water on the stone floor when she nearly dived in.

Rosalie sunk under the water briefly. She the straightened a bit, settled her head on the rim of the tub and tried to get comfortable. The water was delightfully hot and she hugged herself happily. Slowly she relaxed.

After a while Rosalie tried to reach for some soap, but couldn’t at first find any. She peered over the sides of the tub. The soap had fallen on the floor and Rosalie frowned. She didn’t want to get out of the water, the cool air would be unpleasant. She sighed and sunk a little. She pouted underwater and breathed carefully through her nose. Her breath created tiny ripples in the water and she amused by drawing some breath and blowing it out through her mouth. Then she gave in, raised herself from the tub and grabbed the soap.

After regaining the feeling of precious warmth again she started lathering herself with the soap. Only then did she remark that it was a brand new one. It had a different scent than the one she used to use, too. It was sweeter, but more rich. It smelled faintly earthy and yet had an afterscent much like roses. Rosalie decided she liked it.

Rosalie dropped the soap back on the floor thinking: That’s where you belong now... Then she licked her lips and narrowed her eyes. Her large, fluffy towel was on a stool near the end of the tub, but not close enough to reach without getting out first. She figured she should’ve pulled the stool close and ready before she jumped in, but there was no helping the matter now. She would have to get up and face the cold air before she went all wrinkly.

The water wasn’t so hot anymore. Actually, it was more lukewarm than anything. Rosalie sighed and finally got up. She quickly skipped to the stool and wrapped the towel around herself. There was another smaller, but equally fluffy towel underneath and she twisted that around her hair. Pleased, she thanked Mary in her mind.

Rosalie went to her bed and looked dissatisfied at the clothes she’d threwn on it. She pulled all the clothes down and wriggled under the covers herself. She could affort a little nap, and Mary would come eventually to nag at her to get up and clean after her anyway.

She jumped and cried out when something stung her shoulder. She pulled the covers and tried to see what was the cause. There was a vibrant, dark red rose near one of her pillows. Whe she’d crawled to her usual spot she’d scraped her should against it and the sharp thorns had stung her. There was a lavender ribbon around the rose and Rosalie lifted it carefully up, avoiding the thorns. She raised it to her nose and breathed in its heady scent.

A wild rose... she thought. It smelled too rich to be of the common garden quality. Her eyes widened as she realised who must have brought the flower there. Jonathan! And in her bed no less. She raised her eyebrows wonderingly. It was a lovely gesture, no doubt about it. And the rose was absolutely beautiful in colour. She smelled it again and closed her eyes contently.

Rosalie was close to nodding off when Mary finally came in. She closed the door with a bang and surveyed the room critically as Rosalie started and peered at her blearily.

”Now, don’t fall asleep yet, milady! It’s still broad daylight out too!” Mary came to the bed and began gathering Rosalie’s clothes.

”But I didn’t have want to walk around in the nude and you weren’t here to dress me”, Rosalie mumbled.

”Your wardrobe isn’t exactly terribly far away, milady. Anyway, you should’ve called for me”, Mary said and took the clothes away. Rosalie yawned and sat up, holding the covers to her chest with one hand. Mary went to her wardrobe and took out some udnergarments and put them on the bed so Rosalie could dress.

”What colour of dress today, milady?” Mary asked and checked the dresses in the wardrobe, keeping a careful eye out for any holes or bad creases.

”Umm... I think I shall have... Red. Deep, dark red, that which symbolises perfect love”, Rosalie sighed dreamily. Mary raised her eyebrow at her mistresses’ remark.

”You, err- You don’t have any dark red dresses, milady...”

”Why not?” Rosalie pouted and got the rest of the underwear on.

”Couldn’t say, milady. Perhaps your father has felt it a little... too much, for a young girl like you.”

”You’re only about three years older than me, you know”, Rosalie pointed out as she came to stand next to Mary.

”True, milady”, Mary sighed and smiled at her. Then she reached in to the wardrobe and took out a pink sleeve of a dress to offer to Rosalie.

”Not that one, it’s too childish. I want a serious, grownup colour.”

”Ah. Er... What sort of colour would that be, then...?” Rosalie looked up thoughtfully and waved her arms about a bit.

”I’m not sure. Shouldn’t you know? You’re older than me! Three years, even!”

”Indeed, milady...! Well...!” Mary turned the dresses aside and tried to think of something while Rosalie waited expectantly. Then a thought hit her.

”Err, milady... What sort of occasion are you looking for a dress here?”

”Oh! Oh...! Nothing...! Just want a pretty dress for a change!”

”Aren’t all your dresses beautiful, milady?”

”No! Not enough. They’re all old and worn. I need a new dress. A dark red one”, Rosalie grinned.

”Well, unfortunately I can’t find you one just now, so you’ll have to content yourself with... this... this green one!” Mary pulled out a light green dress with laces in the front and which left shoulders bare.

”Isn’t that a little too flimsy for this time of the year?”

”No?”

”Hmm. Maybe not. Okay, I’ll try it on and see how I feel!” Rosalie grabbed the dress and went to the middle of the room. Mary followed her and started helping her get into the dress, lacing it up for her. Rosalie swirled in place and looked at herself as best as she could.

”Mary, could you go get the mirror? I want to see how this looks, I haven’t worn this in... Hmm... You know, I don’t think I remember when the last time was.”

”Well, milady, neither do I. About time, then, hmm? How is it?” Mary asked as she held up the large mirror she’d fetched from the wardrobe. Rosalie examined herself critically and turned around to see her backside. She struck out her bottom at the mirror.

”Not bad”, Rosalie admitted. She turned and told Mary to leave the mirror up against the side of the wardrobe for now. Rosalie twirled happily around the room as Mary went to straighten the covers of her bed. Rosalie remembered the rose just a little too late.

”What’s this rose doing here, milady?” Mary asked surprised and nearly made Rosalie stumble. She looked at Mary and licked her lips trying to think of a plausible reason.

”Oh, that? I, uh... I don’t know. A rose, eh? Wow, I didn’t even notice!”

”Oh? You didn’t notice this dark red rose in your bed even when you must have been right next to it when I came in? Ah, dark red too... This isn’t- milady?”

”Alright, I give. It scratched me in the shoulder. It’s a wild rose”, Rosalie pouted. ”Yeah, Jonathan must have put it there while I was out riding.”

”Milady...” Mary said as she brought the flower to Rosalie who took it a little apologetically and smelled it.

”It’s a really nice rose, Mary...”

”And what, milady? You’ll just forgive him?”

”No! I’m not that stupid... It’s just- it’s a beautiful flower, it doesn’t mean anything!” Rosalie tried to reason.

”My mother told me that when a man gives you flowers, there’s only one thing they want. Do you know what that is?” Mary crossed her arms meaningfully as Rosalie rolled her eyes exasperated.

”I don’t know”, Rosalie muttered and frowned still staring at the flower.

”Lady Rosalie Honora Arcelus, look at me. Come on, look at me, your ladyship.” Rosalie glanced at the side of the room, but Mary coughed at her and Rosalie turned to look at her. She pouted.

”That flower is a gesture from him. Accepting the flower means you also accept his gesture and that you’re also ready to forgive him.”

”I know...” Rosalie mumbled.

”It’s a gorgeous rose, milady. But the giver isn’t worth it.” Rosalie nodded and sighed. She looked at the windows. Mary studied her for a moment and then went and opened one of the window covers. A breeze of air rushed in. Rosalie came to stand next to Mary and gave one last look at the deeply vibrant dark red rose. Then she threw it out of the window and turned to leave. Mary closed the shutters behind her.

Rosalie was sulking in the library of the castle. She poked the spines of the books uninterested as she walked by them. She passed books about plants, books about animals, books about fish, books about horses and books about histories of different noble families. She hadn’t ever actually really read any of them and had never been one to spend time in the library. Rosalie reasoned anyone would have a hard time to find her there.

She needed time to reason with herself. Jonathan still fascinated her. She couldn’t help but want his company. He was charming, witty enough to make her laugh, he was the sweetest man she’d ever met (not that she’d met that many men, sweet or not) and certainly worked to get in her favour.

But on the other hand, he was just playing around to get at her. He was a carnal, immoral man. It was like he emitted this feeling of lust to women around himself. It was in his looks and his smile, the way he looked at you with his wondrous eyes. Girls took a deep breath when he passed to ease themselves. They turned to look at him as he passed and pressed a hand to their chest to calm their poor, swiftly beating hearts. A sigh would escape their lips and he would turn around to grin affectionately. The girls could blush and know that yes, he wanted them too and would be more than glad to help them out a bit.

Rosalie closed her eyes and stood in one place drawing up the memories of Jonathan looking at her. He must have been a great liar because Rosalie could not imagine his look to have meant anything else than love. But if he did indeed love her, then why the other girls? The women? Why had he not, like a decent man and a knight, simply courted her? Why did he have to kiss her? She couldn’t ever forget how it had felt.

The way he had pressed his hands lightly on her hips, then slowly but surely slided them along to her back, to pull her closer to his strong chest and how she had eagerly pressed herself against him and it had felt so enticing, so tempting to just let go of everything and give herself to him completely. He had kissed her sweetly on the lips and pulled away to look at her again. He’d lowered his head and kissed her again, deeper, longer. He’d suddenly darted his tongue out a bit and run it across hers and she’d opened her mouth almost reflexively. The heady feeling in her head brought by the kiss and she’d forgotten the rest of the world existed. The hot pressure she felt in her body and she’d whimpered and she’d reached for more, so much more from him.

And so they had spent many a moment wrapped up together, their arms running down their backs, kissing like they could never get enough for satisfaction, hidden from others’ eyes. Tasting each other, delighting how sweet it was. How soft and warm, how complete they were together. How he’d ran his hand up her hip and back down her side again, given her this strange sensation and she’d nearly lost all her wits. How she wanted more-

Rosalie suddenly flung out her arms as her foot caught up and she fell down to the stone floor with a loud thump. She grimaced as a sharp pain shot through her elbow. Rosalie quickly got up and looked around blushing uncomfortably hard. Thank the gods no one else was in the library to see her fall over for walking around with her eyes closed. Damned dummy, she thought and rubbed her aching elbow. She pulled the sleeve of the dress to check on it, but fortunately it wasn’t bleeding, just a little bruised.

Rosalie sighed and kicked the floor. It was pointless to think about Jonathan. He did not love her. She had to stay strong. She had to just... Get over it. Stop thinking about it. This is not – the – end – of my life!

Rosalie sniffed and left the library in righteous indignation. She wasn’t going to take anymore false sweet-talking from Jonathan. She wasn’t going to fall for him anymore. This decision would hold, like steel. She would take a moment to say a few choice words to Jonathan and she would crush his largely enflated ego to the ground. And then she would stomp on it just foor good measure. And kick it. And he would beg her to forgive him and give him a chance, he could show he was a good man worthy of her...

”Milady”, Jonathan smiled and passed her in the corridor without another glance. Rosalie paused. She turned to look at Jonathan disappear around a corner.

That’s it? Who does he think he is?? Rosalie thought angrily. How dare he not even try to- try to... To talk to me? This is what I wanted, wasn’t it? Rosalie raised a finger to her lips thoughtfully. Well, I suppose this is a good thing. It really is a good thing. Yes, it is. Rosalie turned back to continue her way, but her annoyance had evaporated as suddenly as it had flared. She’d lost her certainty again. If it was such a good thing to have Jonathan politely ignore her, then why did she feel like she should chase him down and demand attention?

But then, why the rose? Was it a goodbye? A way of saying ’thanks, had fun’? But it was a wild rose, like the kind he told me about! Now I’m confused. Rosalie frowned as she went, trying to figure out what he was doing.

It was late spring, nearly summer. On such a beautiful, hot and sunny day Rosalie was just dying to get outside. She made ready with her maids to go for a walk. It’d been a while since she’d last gone just walking, since she’d been worried what might happen if Jonathan again insisted on coming along.

She met the girls in the castleyard. One of the girls asked if Jonathan was accompanying them again from Rosalie and some others giggled.

”No, of course not!” Rosalie said and glared at the girl, who quieted down and backed away. Another girl squealed suddenly nudging another one and pointed to the stables. Jonathan was coming out with his horse. He looked surprised when he noticed the girl group and after a moment of hesitation approached them. Rosalie bit her teeth together and turned to wait for him.

”Milady”, Jonathan said and stopped a little way off from her and bowed curtly. Rosalie just nodded once, sharply, not sure what she should say. The other girls grinned to each other and stared at Jonathan longingly.

”It’s a beautiful day, milady. Going for a walk in the forest?” Jonathan asked politely.

”Why, yes, sir Jonathan. How so?”

”Will you come also and protect us, sir Jonathan?” one of the girls piped in and blushed. Jonathan grinned shyly.

”Well, obviously-” Rosalie started icily, but Jonathan interrupted her with his casual reply.

”No, unfortunately I’m a little busy. I have to-”

What? Busy?” Rosalie in turn interrupted him. Jonathan turned to smile innocently to her.

”My horse needs exercise, milady. I’m going out riding. He wants to have a good gallop and, well, frankly you ladies go with a too leisurely speed. Enjoy yourselves!” he said and got on his horse before Rosalie could come up with something to say. He urged the horse and he rode out through the gates. The girls sighed and whined a little. Rosalie was wordless.

Again! What is he doing? Did he already give up on me? Why isn’t he interested in me anymore?

Wait, what am I thinking? That’s a good thing! He’s not interested in me anymore! Excellent! she frowned to herself. Rosalie looked at the slightly crestfallen looking girls and coughed pointedly.

”Well, we’ll just have to mind our fun”, she said airily and started walking. The girls followed her sighing from the bottom of their hearts. Jonathan was really great company.

Rosalie had made three of the girls carry flowers for her, and their arms were full. The other girls carried a smaller array of flowers they had picked themselves and looked gleefully at the three girls who’d been denied wandering and picking. Rosalie jumped at nearly every flower she saw, picked it and threw it carelessly into to the hands of one of the girls. They smiled forced smiles to her and settled for their parts. Another day and things would be different. They already longed for those times when Jonathan had come with them and took all of Rosalie’s attention. Someone, somewhere must have heard their unescaped sighs, for Jonathan rode to their group after a while.

”Lady Rosalie! Found many roses, yet?” he cheerfully asked from atop his horse.

”I don’t think roses bloom best at this time of the year”, Rosalie answered haughtily.

”Indeed? I saw some very beautiful ones when I was riding. They’re not very far away.”

”Really? Well, where did you see them?”

”There were some bushes that way”, Jonathan pointed to the direction he had come from. The girls ’oohed’ and chattered to each others’ that they should go there, for they loved roses. Rosalie ignored them and kept looking at Jonathan. Jonathan was patting his horse smiling to himself.

”Are you not riding anymore, sir Jonathan?” Rosalie crossed her arms and peered at Jonathan.

”I believe we will be heading to the castle now, actually, lady Rosalie. I just thought you might want to know about the roses, in case you had not found any yourself. They’re very lovely indeed. Deeply red”, Jonathan added and looked meaningfully at Rosalie. Her heart skipped a beat under his stare. Jonathan glanced at the girls who were still chattering animatedly and then leaned a little and offered his hand to Rosalie.

”I could take you there, if you’d like. We can ride slowly so they can follow us too”, he said and smiled warmly. Rosalie’s hand twitched, but she kept herself from reaching for his.

”I, uh... I’m not so sure that would be very appropriate, sir Jonathan.”

”Well, if you feel that way...” Jonathan shrugged and sat up straight. Rosalie suddenly wanted to jump him, but pressed her arms closer to herself. Control. Hard. Do not, don’t even think about it, he’s just... But he’s not interested in me. Is he? Rosalie felt she was actually getting a little tired and though she had picked a multitude of flowers, she would rather have one red rose than what the girls already carried.

”Well, now...! I said I’m not sure, but- I would like some roses. And- and, I am a little tired from walking, and... And...” she gestured vaguely at the girls. ”We... might not find that place... Unless- that is, unless you showed it to us...” she said slowly. Jonathan raised an eyebrow at her, but smiled. He got down from his horse and offered his hand at Rosalie again.

Rosalie took his hand uncertainly, but smiled back when Jonathan grinned encouragingly at her. Jonathan then helped her on the horse. She had to sidesit on the horse because of the dress. The girls watched carefully as Jonathan then got up on the horse and sat behind Rosalie. He reached around Rosalie for the reins and turned to the girls.

”Alright, let’s go find some roses, shall we? We’ll go easy on you”, he grinned. They started to go at a slow pace and the girls hurried to walk in a line behind them. In truth they were not at all tired yet, they hadn’t been walking for very long. Rosalie figured it would make a good excuse though, and she almost felt her feet tingling too.

Jonathan adjusted himself behind her trying to get a little more comfortable and just because he happened to push closer to her, well, that meant nothing. Just because his arms were pressed on her sides and she was leaning slightly to his chest didn’t mean they were in a questionable situation at all. So, Rosalie could have lifted her head, face Jonathan and kiss him, but she didn’t and that was the important bit.

Rosalie focused on staring at the ground as they rode. Jonathan glanced down at her every now and then. It was clear she enjoyed being there. His plan was going along greatly. Give her the same treatment as she’d given to him and she would panic. Just play hard to get and they’ll be running after you. But he was the more experienced player here, Jonathan reflected self-satisfied. The girl just couldn’t resist him. Jonathan couldn’t help a brief smug grin.

They arrived at the border of the forest. The girls were a little out of breath for they had had to walk faster than usually to keep up with the horse. Rosalie had been lost in thought, listening to Jonathan’s breathing contently. She looked around wondering how they’d gotten there so quickly. The land curved up and down gently and lush, bright green bushes grew in some ditches. The girls cried in delight and dropped some of their flowers. The three girls with Rosalie’s flowers nearly dropped theirs also, but stopped and looked guiltily at Rosalie.

Rosalie ignored the girls and slided down from the horse with Jonathan’s assistance. She waved impassively at the girls and walked to a rich bush. The three girls held onto the flowers and looked at each other uncertainly. Rosalie bend a little to smell a rose. Most were still just buds, with some starting to open. The roses were mainly red, with a few deeper colours here and there. A strong scent lingered in the air around the bushes, holding each girl under its marvelous spell. Rosalie picked a few choice flowers humming softly, brushing her fingers gingerly against the smooth, tender petals.

When Rosalie turned she raised her eyebrows at the three sullen girls. They made to drop the flowers they were holding on to and Rosalie shrugged. She hadn’t really cared about them that much anyway. Three small piles of assorted flowers ended on the ground and the girls hurried to the others to get their share of those beautiful roses.

”Don’t pick too many!” Rosalie told them without looking as she walked back to Jonathan who was standing by the horse. Rosalie lifted the roses to her face and breathed their scent deeply. She smiled absent-mindedly at Jonathan, who moved and cupped his hands so she could get on the horse again. Rosalie climbed up and settled down. Jonathan got up behind her again, and watched the girls squealing happily.

”They will probably be some time here, still. What do you say, shall we go on ahead and return to the castle?” Jonathan whispered to Rosalie, his breath tickling her ear pleasantly.

”Oh! But they don’t know the way back...” Rosalie said feeling suddenly nervous.

”Oi, ladies! The castle is to east of here. We will be riding back already, so just follow our way and you’ll get back there pretty quickly. The castle isn’t that long way away! Have fun”, he called to them before going off.

Rosalie held the roses to her chest, trying to think of something to do or say. Wasn’t this something she was supposed to avoid? Though they rode on quietly, it didn’t take long for them to be far enough from the girls so they were practically alone.

Fortunately, it seemed Jonathan was happy enough to just watch around them as they rode. Rosalie smelled the flowers again, feeling a little flustered. Then Jonathan casually let go of the reins with one hand and pressed it around Rosalie instead.

Damn, Rosalie cursed in her mind. She clenched the roses in her hands and frowned at them. Jonathan pulled her impossibly enough a little closer and pressed a kiss on her head. Jonathan would have liked to kiss Rosalie on the lips, or at least on the cheek, but he couldn’t quite reach that low, especially when Rosalie kept her head stubbornly bowed down. She’d also gone somewhat rigid in his arms and Jonathan turned his head to look at Rosalie’s expression.

She looked more mopey than angry, so Jonathan concluded that she was simply annoyed at herself for having lost the game. And he wasn’t entirely wrong either. Rosalie was silently cursing herself for not realising this had indeed been a match of wills and she had just spectacularly lost. She was supposed to stay distant to Jonathan and yet there she was, in his arms, in the middle of nowhere with no one in sight, being taken to who knows where! How stupid could she get, anyway?

Rosalie twisted her body so she could look forward them.

”How about we ride a little faster?” she asked loudly.

”I think this is a good pace to go”, Jonathan replied lightly.

”No, I think we should just get to the castle as soon as possible”, Rosalie said and her voice wavered a little.

”Are you sure?” Jonathan frowned at the back of her head. Was she going to sulk now like a sore loser?

Very sure, sir Jonathan”, Rosalie snapped. Jonathan sighed annoyed, but let go of her and urged the horse to gallop. The rest of the way was rather short and passed in sullen silence. It didn’t take long for them to see the castle.

”Wait, stop!” Rosalie suddenly said and turned to look at Jonathan. He eased the horse and they paused.

”Yes?”

”Get off.”

”Excuse me??” Jonathan exclaimed.

”I don’t want to ride into the castle with you grabbing me like that. Get off the horse and walk the rest of the way.”

”Lady Rosalie, my horse does not follow anyone else’s orders than mine. You wouldn’t get very far trying to ride her”, Jonathan said almost angrily.

”Well, then you may lead the horse. But you will not do so from behind me. That is an order, knight!” Rosalie stressed and cut off Jonathan who was about to start arguing with her. He snapped his mouth shut and glared at her. Rosalie pursed her lips and vowed to herself to not budge an inch. Jonathan snorted, but got off the horse. He took the reins and muttered something inaudibly to the ground.

”I’m sorry, knight- I didn’t quite catch that.”

”I said, ’yes, milady’”, Jonathan grumbled. Rosalie nodded and stared ahead stiffly. They went slower now that Jonathan had to lead the horse by foot. He wasn’t feeling particularly angry, just a bit irritated at the manner of his unhorsing. Well, she didn’t seem want to admit defeat so easily. Jonathan decided he’d show her still.

Eventually they got to the castle. Jonathan took the horse nearer to the stables before stopping. He didn’t offer to help Rosalie down and she would have declined in any case. Rosalie slided down to the cobblestones next to Jonathan who was still holding the reins and looking at her with a determined expression.

Suddenly Jonathan stepped in front of Rosalie and grabbed her. He pulled her hips against his, pinning her between him and the horse. Rosalie was too shocked to protest and too preoccupied with the sudden flush of heat she felt by his touch.

”This isn’t over yet”, Jonathan growled in her ear and kissed her on the side of her neck, making Rosalie shiver. She wriggled closer to Jonathan, closed her eyes before she even realised what she was doing...

And he stepped back, reached for the reins and took the horse to the stables. Rosalie blinked swaying in the spot a little unsteadily. She looked around wild-eyed, afraid that someone had seen what he had done, but there was no one nearby. That’s why Jonathan must have brought her this far, instead of letting her off at the actual castleyard and the main doors. She glanced back apprehensively and sprinted away. She slowed down to a seemingly calm walk when she reached the castleyard.

”Rosie!” someone squealed off to her side and Rosalie’s heart took a scaredy leap as she was tacklehugged.

”Cousin”, she grimaced as the girl hugged her uncomfortably tight. Lady Charlaine Wilhelmina Arcelus was the second child of Theodore’s younger brother. She was dressed in a loud pink dress and had a high coiffure. She also tended to overuse rouge. Rosalie soon pried herself off from her and inspected crossly her poor, nearly squashed roses. They needed a good vase and water, and quickly or they would be no source of pleasure for anyone.

”Cherry, what are you doing in here?” Rosalie asked smiling woodenly.

”Oh! To see you, my dearest of all friends, my most loved cousin!” lady Charlaine exclaimed joyfully leaning to grin at her. Rosalie withdrew from her and raised her eyebrows at her.

”But we almost missed you! We got here and the servants, they really do need some disciplining, especially that browny haired girl of yours, well, the servants you see, they held us here for much too long before telling that you were not even around!” lady Charlaine snorted indignantly.

”Ah, you mean Mary?”

”Oh, I never remember the servants’ names. They’re not really that important, don’t you think? Oh...!” she waved her hand and shook her head.

”I forgot...! Of course, you do care about them, don’t you? Oh well, silly of me. They’re just commoners in any case. We’re so much better”, she grinned happily and took Rosalie’s free hand into her own.

”We’re so lucky we hadn’t left yet! Were have you been??”

”I was on a walk, as you can see”, Rosalie showed Charlaine the suffering roses.

”Lovely”, Charlaine commented frowning momentarily. ”But have I got news for you! You’ll never believe it! I can hardly believe it myself!”

”Really? Sounds like good news-”

”Oh, it is! You see- oh. Why did you come from that way if you were out walking? Were you just around the castle? Did you servant lie to me??”

”No, a knight passed us and offered me a ride on his horse.”

”Ohh!” Charlaine squeaked, shocked. ”A handsome knight?”

He walked and lead the horse”, Rosalie narrowed her eyes at Charlaine annoyed.

”Ah. Well, that’s nice. Anyway, my news.” She shook her head a little, signifying she couldn’t believe how terrible a secret she was going to tell.

”Yes, your news... Shall we go inside, cousin?” Rosalie pointed at the main doors with the roses. Charlaine gasped and tugged Rosalie’s arm around hers.

”Oh, yes! Inside we will be comfortable and we can have some privacy! It’s not that my news are so awfully, well- secret, but it is just so amazing. I will just die if I don’t get to tell someone!”

”No, really? What a shame that would be”, Rosalie said quietly. Charlaine ignored her comment and continued chattering about the condition of the castle until they’d gotten to Rosalie’s rooms.

”We just got our grand hall refurnished. There’s now room there to hold large parties! The tables are smaller and there’s more of them, but they can lifted away more easily. It’s actually part of my news, you know.” They sat down and Rosalie asked Mary to bring them some tea.

”Well, Cherry. What are these ’news’ of yours? Won’t you finally spill it? I can tell you want to, so I’m a little surprised why you haven’t yet.”

”Well... In part, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.” Charlaine bit her lip and looked away, supposedly trying to look bashful. Rosalie waited for her to continue impassively.

”You see, you know I’ve always been a little worried about you. You’re younger than me, so, you know, I’ve always almost felt like an older sister to you”, Charlaine babbled and took Rosalie’s hand in hers, and patted it affectionately.

”I just think it’s such a shame you haven’t found a suitor yet. I mean, you’re going to be sixteen in the fall and I’m turning seventeen soon...! I was worried about myself too, but luckily- aha, luckily! Oh, Rosie...” Charlaine smiled warmly.

”You’re getting married?” Rosalie asked incredulously. Charlaine giggled and squeezed her hand.

”Yes! You’ll never guess to whom!”

”Yes, you’re right-”

”To sir Edmund Thomas Newdegate! You know him, right? He’s such a gentleman too... Or, so I’ve heard, obviously. He’s about a year older than me, I think he was born in the spring. I haven’t met him yet, since my father informed me only a week ago, but I just had to come and tell you immediately!” she beamed. Rosalie stared at her openmouthed. Then she remembered herself and coughed.

”Well! Congratulations then, cousin. When is the-”

”Oh! A month or so from here.”

”Isn’t that a little soon?”

”No, I don’t think so. I can’t wait to get married! I’ve been waiting for this all my life!”

”No kidding...”

”I remember when we were kids and we’d play weddings together and with cousin William being the priest... I had so much fun putting on all the different dresses. And you really didn’t seem to much care about wearing beautiful clothes, I swear! I sometimes miss those times so... You’ve grown up so much since then, Rosie dear.”

”That’s funny, I never cared much for having to be the groom, Cherry. You didn’t actually let me have any of the dresses, you know.”

”Oh?” she cried in hurtful tone. ”I don’t remember that.”

”Of course not, it was such a long time ago. Only about, oh, ten years, give or take a little.”

”Well... Kids, hmm?” Charlaine chuckled.

”But you’re getting married for real, finally. That must certainly feel good to you.”

”Oh, it does! Do you know what would make me feel even better, though?” she asked and looked doe-eyed at Rosalie.

”Getting married sooner? You haven’t fooled around and gotten pregnant hopefully, right?”

”Rosie!” Charlaine cried honestly angrily this time. ”I do not like what you are suggesting at all! How- how can you say something like that to me, when all I do is think the best about you?? You hurt me, Rosie! We’re family!”

”Calm down, Cherry. I wasn’t suggesting anything. I was merely joking. I admit, it was a poor jest. Forgive me, cousin.”

”I honestly can not believe you would even say such a thing. But I forgive you. Of course! You’re my cousin, you’ve always been so very dear to me! No, what would make me happier would be to see you get married also!”

”Me?”

”Yes! You’re of age! I’m surprised uncle Theo hasn’t looked for a suitor yet, I just can’t understand what he’s waiting for. A permission from you? You should tell him you want to get married.”

”Cherry, I really don’t think...” Rosalie trailed into silence. Get married? She should get married? She should get married off to someone of proper lineage...

”What?” Charlaine asked watching her pensive expression uncertainly.

”Hmm?”

”What don’t you think? You don’t want to get married?” Rosalie glanced at Charlaine and snapped her fingers.

”You’re absolutely right.”

”I am??” Charlaine forgot her usual eminent tones at Rosalie’s words. This was something she’d never heard before with so much sincerity, especially coming from Rosalie.

”Yes. I should ask my father to find me a husband. I can’t believe I didn’t think about that before”, she laughed quietly to herself.

”I’m not really surprised at all. You are quite young, of course, but it really does seem to be high time”, Charlaine managed to gather her usual manners. Rosalie nodded absent-mindedly, staring at nothing. She felt so excited to realise the brilliance of the idea. Get married, move away, have a husband and – well – no more Jonathan. He’s not coming along and when I’m married there’s not a chance I’d let him touch me ever again. I’ve got it now! she exulted in her mind and grinned. Charlaine frowned at her, not understanding why she suddenly looked like that.

”Something in your mind?” Charlaine inquired curiously. She felt that a little bit of good gossip always made the day better.

”Yes. Indeed. I must go and speak with my father. It was wonderful to see you again, Cherry”, Rosalie smiled almost affectionately and grasped Charlaine’s hands across the table. ”But you have to leave now. I will be busy. Have a good day”, she said pointedly and rose. Rosalie ignored Charlaine’s calls to her as she quickly left the room.

Rosalie passed Mary in the corridor and stopped her to tell her to take the tea away. She wouldn’t have any more time to waste for the likes of her cousin, and Charlaine would be leaving anyway. Mary blinked surprised at Rosalie as she brushed pass her. Mary looked at the tray she was holding in her hands, at the cups and the hot, fancy looking teapot. She decided it would be unreasonable to let them go to waste and made her way to the servants’ quarters instead, to pass some time with someone else. Tea would be very welcome there.

Rosalie rapped smartly at her father’s study’s door and peeked in. Lord Theodore was standing by the window and didn’t turn to look as he asked what they wanted.

”Father, it’s me”, Rosalie said as she slipped in and closed the door after her. Theodore turned and smiled brightly at Rosalie.

”Oh, Rosie! I was just looking at our quests. They seem to be leaving already.”

”Yes. Cousin Cherry visited me, but she was in a hurry”, Rosalie said as she came to stand beside her father and looked out of the window down to the castleyard. Lady Charlaine was standing on the stairs with her arms crossed, while she and the lackeys accompanying her were waiting for their horses and the carriage she’d arrived in. They couldn’t see her expression, but Rosalie guessed she must’ve looked pretty thunderous, since her lackeys were keeping their distance.

”Ah yes, Charlaine... You seem to be smiling though. Her brief time to speak with you was not enough to insult you, the castle, me and my way of raising you?” Theodore smiled crookedly as he turned to regard Rosalie.

”Oh, well, no. She did most of that, but she had some great news also.”

”Ah, let me guess. My brother has decided to usurp me so he can single-handedly fix every mistake I’ve ever made, heal the land and make the servants respect you properly?”

”Father!” Rosalie protested and laughed. She shook her head amused.

”Well! Then I’m stumped. Care to enlighten me, my dear?”

”She’s getting married.”

”That poor bastard”, Theodore frowned, but Rosalie could tell he wasn’t serious. There was a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

”Don’t swear, father. She said it was this... that young Newdegate. Edmund.”

”Him? He’s actually marrying her? Well, that is quite some news...”

”Yes, but father, she made an excellent point. I’m of age.” Rosalie smiled excitedly. But Theodore’s expression had suddenly turned more serious. He glanced at her.

”Well, you’re actually quite young still, my dear. No need to be hasty”, he muttered.

”Father, I will be sixteen soon. She’s sixteen and getting married. My friend Lillith, remember? She got married last year and she was just turning fifteen, and they have a child now. I’m old enough, father.”

”Well, yes, yes... But you don’t have to get married just- yet...”

”Oh, father, all my friends are getting married, most of them already are. If you make me wait more years all the best men will have been taken and I shall have to settle for a knight.”

”Well, now, we don’t have to worry about that...! No, perhaps all the foolish young men will have found themselves foolish young wives, but you, Rosie – you deserve someone better.”

”Thank you, father. Do you have someone in mind?”

”Me?” Theodore turned to look at Rosalie surprised. ”No, I didn’t really think it necessary. I haven’t really considered anyone...”

”Well, consider now.”

”Now, it takes a bit more thought than just that, my dear”, Theodore said waving his hand a bit and went to his desk frowning at the floor.

”But do you have a suggestion, father?” Rosalie insisted and followed to stand beside him again.

”Well...!” Theodore sighed. ”What about that, that...” he snapped his fingers trying to remember a name. ”Morgan’s son?” he asked hesitantly.

”Father, he’s two years younger than me. I don’t want to marry a child, even if he does look older than he is.”

”He is?” Theodore asked surprised. Rosalie nodded empathetically. Theodore sighed again. ”Well, I suppose I haven’t really paid that much attention. Morgan is quite an annoying man, full of himself and never leaving out a chance to belittle someone”, he snorted.

”I don’t really know many young men, suitable for marriage, Rosie dear.”

”Well, he doesn’t have to be young. I don’t mind an older man. What’s important to me, father, is that you feel he is good for me.”

”Really?” Theodore asked pleasantly surprised. ”Rosie, that warms my heart. Thank you, my dear. Does this mean you will not mind if I choose a husband for you?”

”Actually, I was going to ask you to do that. I don’t really know many men either, but I know you can find me someone good. I do trust you with this, father”, Rosalie assured her father and smiled a little. Theodore looked at her with affection in his eyes.

”Rosie, I want you to know that means very much to me. I know girls these days want to be independent and pick someone themselves, but they really are too young to know better. I’m so glad I’ve raised you better.” Theodore had such a sweet look, it almost brought tears to Rosalie’s eyes. Inside she wavered and felt a terrible pang of guilt and shame. She refused to let that show. She didn’t want to hurt her father’s feelings. Not ever. Rosalie smiled and nodded.

They looked at each other for a moment, before Theodore clapped his hands together and said: ”Well, my little girl is certainly growing up! I will start considering this as soon as I can. Does that sound good, my dear?” Rosalie nodded again and smiled wider. Theodore opened his arms after a moment of hesitation and they embraced.

”I love you, father”, Rosalie said quietly resting her head against his father’s chest.

”I love you too, Rosie”, Theodore said and stroked her hair gently. Then they broke apart and Rosalie turned to leave. Theodore watched her go and sighed sadly after she’d closed the door. He reflected that it seemed such a small time since she’d been just an infant in his arms. She’d been the only one left, after his beloved wife Angelique had died. Theodore sniffed and sat on his chair.

He leaned on the table with his arm and leaned his face on his hand. Was she really so old already? Would she be leaving him so soon? What would he do without his dear daughter as company anymore? Was he really ready to let go, both of her and the memory of his wife that was connected to Rosalie? Theodore sighed.

He gulped back the tears that threatened to fall. He suddenly felt very old and leaned on the desk with both his arms, so he could entwine his finger and moodily stare at his worn, wrinkled hands. They still had strength in them, but it had diminished for the many past years. Theodore wasn’t even fifty yet, but he felt like he was going past his sixties already.

And now his only child, his beloved daughter wanted to leave him all alone. He snorted bemused at that last thought and shook it out of his head. Well, his daughter had certainly grown up and he had to admit, she was of age. To him she even seemed more wise than her years should allow. There had been the time when her face had lighted with a smile at the sound of his voice and she’d gurgled happily, reaching to pull his whiskers as he bent to kiss her forehead. But she’d been a baby only for such a short time. She’d learned to walk, and talk and to capture his heart completely.

Theodore had spoiled Rosalie some. She hadn’t turned completely obnoxious, as Theodore did not allow her just about anything, but things she needn’t have, she’d gotten. Being her father meant a slightly skewed look, and Theodore never quite saw the details of Rosalie’s thoughts clearly. Her more questionable behaviour did not carry to him. To Theodore Rosalie would always be his innocent, little daughter.

He sighed and looked at the papers strewn about his desk. He lifted his eyes to study a map on a wall nearby. It was a large, with fancily written placenames and a small blue line marking the different areas each lord ruled. Theodore got up and went to contemplate the names on each area.

There were some good lords up north, whose lands reached the ocean, but he didn’t want to send Rosalie so far away. Also, he didn’t think much about them. The lords in the north had never been in war, they were a sort and a sorry bunch of nobles. The nobles to the east consisted of older men than he, their sons and Theodore’s relatives. Perhaps Rosalie could marry a cousin’s cousin? But they were all useless young men, only seen tournaments.

When Theodore had been young, he could have stayed in the castle and come to rule once his father passed, but he hadn’t. Instead theodore had left and joined another lord’s troops at the warfront. He’d been in the middle of combat and he’d fought to kill. It had toughened him considerably. Theodore just didn’t think the young, flimsy boys around their lands were men until they’d seen what war was like. Facing death made you appreciate what you had, and you wouldn’t risk those in any way. His son-in-law would not be abandoning Rosalie for anyone younger after a twenty years’ time, or spend their time looking for more women for company.

Theodore breathed evenly and reminisced the times he’d spent with the serious old lord Maluard. He’d been a solemn man, focused on his life’s task of protecting the northern reaches from their enemies. Theodore had respected the old man greatly. There had been someone anyone could look up to. Theodore remembered the lord did have children too. A daughter, closer to his age and a son. Now, how old would the young lord Maluard be nowadays... Theodore cracked his knuckles and thought back.

The daughter was about ten years younger than he was and the son about fifteen. He would be in his mid-thirties now. Theodore wondered if he’d gotten married yet. Now, if the young lord Maluard was anything like his father, he wouldn’t be such a bad choice for Rosalie. Theodore decided to take some time off to visit lord Maluard soon. He could say the cause of the visit was to reminisce the old lord. He’d see what the man was like (and if he was married yet) and then... Well, a plan was set. Theodore smiled melancholily as he sat at his desk to write a letter.

----

Two weeks had passed since Rosalie had asked her father to find her someone to marry. She’d come up with another plan to delay Jonathan’s advances. She would go everywhere with Mary and usually Jonathan let her be. Sometimes he’d come up with a reason to order Mary to go away, and Rosalie would barely manage to flee before things went too far. It was getting harder and harder though. Once she’d almost had to hide under her own bed, when Jonathan had briefly visited her rooms. Thank the gods he hadn’t stayed too long, or looked too carefully.

Rosalie was heading for the library for a change. She reasoned that if she had to spend time locked away in some room, it might as well be where she could also do things to pass time. Not that she still looked forward to reading any of the large, long and boring books. A servant bowed to her as she passed, but looked up suddenly and called to her.

”Oh, milady? The lord, your father has asked for you. He has news, he said, milady.” Rosalie nodded. News? Good news? Perhaps he has found someone! Rosalie smiled and hurried on her way. No library today, she rejoiced.

She was surprised when she entered her father’s study to see he was not alone. Another man was sitting on an armchair with a cup of tea. The man turned to look at Rosalie when she entered.

”You had asked for me father? Is this a bad time?” Rosalie asked uncertainly, glancing at the other man. He was tall and lithe, with dark hair.

”Not at all, Rosie. This is just the right time. I would like you to meet Alexander. This is my lovely daughter, Rosalie”, Theodore gestured at her and smiled at the other man. The man set the teacup down and rose from the chair. He stepped a little closer to Rosalie and bowed his head, smiling faintly.

”A pleasure to meet you, lady Rosalie”, he said. Rosalie smiled back and curtsied.

”Alexander is the son of old lord Maluard, if you remember what I’ve told you about him”, Theodore told Rosalie, whose face brightened after a moment of thinking. She nodded and smiled at Alexander again.

”He has to come to meet you, so we can decide when your marriage is going to be”, Theodore informed Rosalie. Alexander came to Rosalie and hesitantly took her hand in his. He raised her hand and kissed it gently while watching her carefully.

”Oh”, Rosalie managed to say softly. Rosalie and Alexander watched each other sheepishly. She was a little uncertain about him, though he seemed very polite. But he was more than ten years her senior. Would it be a good match? Then her brain kicked in and reminded her that a marriage was better than a stolen night with Jonathan. And Alexander lived far enough so she would never have to worry about seeing Jonathan again. Rosalie smiled widely and turned to her father.

”Do you have much to discuss, or should we... go for a walk?” she asked and glanced at Alexander.

”Well, that depends. What would you like Alexander?” Theodore in turn asked him.

”Perhaps a walk would be good. If you will excuse us?”

”Oh, you don’t need to be so formal to me, Alexander!” Theodore waved his hand and chuckled. ”You are afterall a marquess, while I am just a count.”

”But you are older than me, and therefore demand respect.”

”I’m not a whitehaired gaffer yet, milord. Now you two youngsters go on your way. Behave!” Theodore called as they turned to go. Alexander opened the door to Rosalie and she nodded in thanks as she passed him.

Chapter Four

Chapter Four Riibu Thu, 11/16/2006 - 22:01

Rosalie couldn't believe how busy she'd gotten in the past week. They'd settled on getting married at the beginning of summer. The date was less than two months away and counting, but from all the things they had to get ready it seemed to Rosalie they might as well be getting married in a week's time.

Rosalie ran a hand through her hair wearily and sighed. At least she didn't have to worry about everything herself. Alexander's older sister, lady Seraphine Patience Maluard, had arrived some days ago and promptly taken over most tasks. Rosalie had been too happy to hand over her responsibilities. All she had to spend time with now was the dressmaker and a multitude of giggling maids. They would go over every little part of the dress, every tiny jewel and pearl it was going to be endowed with and she had to spend hours and hours nearly every day just standing still.

Every now and then work would pause as lady Seraphine would come in and inform her of the choices she'd made for the food, the music, the decorations, every little thing. Rosalie nodded and didn't think of anything to complain about. She probably wouldn't have dared either, lady Seraphine was a strict woman. Rosalie didn't wonder at all why she'd never gotten married. No one would want to get stuck with a boring prude like her. But she was efficient, so Rosalie chastised herself quietly when the thought crept into her mind.

There had been a little spat earlier when lady Seraphine had demanded that she write the letter to the king's court asking for his presence at the wedding. Afterall, lord Maluard was a marquess and no less, and very involved in the warfront, protecting the country. Theodore had protested vehemently, pointing out that they not need bother the king himself and that any letter addressed to the representative of the court was to be written by him, not some woman. Lady Seraphine had acquiesced, but she hadn't been too happy. Also, personally Theodore didn't quite hold the king in high regard. The few times he'd met the man, he'd been disappointed at how negligible the king had considered the lords' efforts in the battle. Warring was never safe, and just because they'd managed to hold the line more or less stable for the many past years didn't mean it was easy.

But for now, everything is going well. I don't think I've seen Jonathan in- no, don't think about him. He has been leaving me alone, hasn't he? Well, that's not important. Must put him out of my mind, once and for all. I'm getting married and Alexander is a wonderful man... Rosalie smiled sweetly by herself. Then she winced when a maid poked her with a needle.

”Sorry, milady. Accident”, the girl squeaked. Rosalie ignored her and sighed. She went back to staring at the far wall in the room. The robust woman in charge of getting her wedding dress done was bustling about around the maids, correcting their holds and pointing out mistakes they were making. She kept coming a constant stream of chatter Rosalie had stopped listening days ago. She never waited – or needed, it seemed – for a reply. She was practically a five person conversation all on her own. Rosalie sometimes amused herself imagining what all the people in the woman's head looked like.

The vast kitchen of the castle was in a fevered action-filled state. The head cook hurried from person to another, commenting, tasting, criticizing.

”Wait, don't put those in yet! – More spices! – Throw all that in, after you've cut it! – Cleaner! – Out of the way...” the head cook took a tiny spoon from a belt which had all kinds of small utensils dangling from it. He bent and smelled a pot of soup. He narrowed his eyes as an apprentice cook watched apprehensively from his side. The cook sniffed and took some soup with the spoon. He tasted, the apprentice cook trembled.

”Too bland. Put in an onion!” the head cook snapped and moved on determinedly. The apprentice cook sagged with relief, and after a moment reached for a knife to continue his work. The head cook snapped his fingers at a girl, who'd been putting pastries on a large plate. She stepped aside and the head cook looked at the pastries critically. He smelled them, and then took one and took a bite. He chewed for a moment and then nodded.

”Could be worse, could have used more pepper... That's too many on a plate. Arrange them differently. In a circle!” The girl nodded quickly and bobbed a curtsy anxiously. The head cook hurried away again.

Two men came into the kitchens and stopped the head cook as he was going by.

”What?” the head cook barked annoyed from the interruption.

”The lady Maluard issued an order. She wants some fish with the meat so she can decide which one is better.”

”Fish! Fish! Where am I going to get fish this suddenly?!”

”Not my problem. And she said to try trout and bass. And for meat, no pork, but lamb instead.”

”Trout! Bass! And lamb?! Who the bloody hell does that woman think she is?!”

”Don't insult the lady Maluard! Just do as she says”, the other man yelled angrily. They left the kitchens leaving the head cook seething. The head cook turned and noticed all the people had stopped working to follow their exhange.

”What're you all think you're doing?! Get back to work!” the head cook bellowed and the people restarted their frenzied working.

”I don't believe this”, an apprentice muttered to another one. ”Why do we have to work this hard?”

”I know, I know. I think he wants to get out of here and into the king hisself's kitchens!”

”And we're the ones who have to do all the work, bloody tyrant!”

”The dinner isn't even held, bloody hell. All this for a first rehearsal, or something...”

”Crazy nobles”, the apprentice muttered angrily and the other nodded in solemn agreement.

It was only three days more for the wedding. Rosalie and her father sat in their carriage, on their way to lord Maluard castle where the wedding would be held. They weren't talking. Rosalie was feeling quiet and somehow a little nervous. She wondered again if this had been such a good idea afterall. The thought had already crossed her mind several times that day and hadn't left her alone. What if she couldn't do it? But it was too late to back off now. And it was a perfectly good idea. It was about time, it really was.

”Nervous?” Theodore leaned to ask. Rosalie smiled and shook her head before returning to her thoughts. Theodore nodded and looked outside. Neither spoke again for a long while.

Eventually the carriage started slowing down. The driver yelled they had arrived and soon the carriage went through the gates of the castle.

This is going to be my home, Rosalie thought as she looked through the carriage's window. The castle was more like an impressive and fortified manor inside thick stone walls. At parts the walls connected to the castle with walkways above the ground. Rosalie realised the walls were not in fact all that thick, they were hollow. There were guard towers at every corner, with enough space for a group of soldiers to sleep on their beds and eat at a table.

In case of attack the soldiers could quickly move around from their positions to elsewhere, even run through the castle to the other side, instead having to circle all the way along the walls. Rosalie didn't know this, but the walkways could also be collapsed, so if either the walls were breached or the castle was taken, people could escape either way and destroy the way from pursuers.

It was a bleak day when Rosalie arrived for the first time in the castle. The castleyard was larger than at her old home, but it did essentially go all the way around the castle here, instead of just being a moderately enclosed space. The castle here didn't have stairs at the doors that led in, but as they were opened from the inside Rosalie noticed that the stairs were in fact inside the castle. The floor was level for a brief way and then long, near flat stairs started to rise above. Lord Maluard, Alexander stepped out and hurried to greet Rosalie.

”Milady”, he said as he took Rosalie's hand in his and smiled at her. They looked into each others' eyes before Alexander remembered she didn't come alone and turned to greet Theodore. They shook hands and exhanged mornings. Another carriage came into the yard. Rosalie's handmaiden Mary was sitting next to the driver and jumped off as soon as the carriage had slowed down a little. She looked cross and hurried to stand near Rosalie.

”Why the frown, Mary?” Rosalie asked as Mary curtsied to her.

”That man wouldn't stop harassing me. Kept trying to put his arm around me”, Mary grumbled and continued to mutter something which sounded suspiciously like cursing to Rosalie.

”Didn't please you then?” Rosalie asked and chuckled amused.

”Would it please you, milady?” Mary asked in turn. Rosalie couldn't help suppressing a grin, but she did shake her head. Theodore and Alexander finished their talking and Theodore pointed at the carriage that had come after.

”Rosie's belongings”, he said and Alexander snapped his fingers at some men who had been standing a little way off waiting. They went to the carriage and started unloading all the chests and trunks. Alexander took Rosalie's arm in his and gestured at the castle.

”Shall I show you to your rooms? You may refreshen up if you wish. I hope you'll like your quarters.” Lady Seraphine was waiting for them at the foot of the stairs and she greeted Rosalie in her usual brisk manner. She turned to walk just a little behind Rosalie and Alexander, along with Theodore. Mary followed at a respectable way behind them.

”I'm afraid your rooms will be fewer than what they were back at your own castle, but my sister has assured me they are larger”, Alexander said to Rosalie.

”Oh, I don't mind that much”, Rosalie smiled.

They reached the top of the stairs. They were in a large hall and Alexander turned to Theodore and Seraphine.

”Lord Theodore, I'll show you to the rooms you may stay in. Yours are just over there”, Alexander mentioned to Rosalie and pointed to a hallway on their left. ”Seraphine can show you in.” They parted hands and Seraphine nodded at Rosalie to follow. They walked past the men and Seraphine lead Rosalie down the allway to a set of door. She opened the first one and stepped in.

”Well, this is it. Welcome to your new home”, she gestured at the room. There was a few sofas, a table with chairs and a bookcase in the room. A fire had been lit in the fireplace that was so very common in every room at castles. Seraphine went to a different door and went through that.

”Here's your bedroom and the door over there leads to your bathroom. I've had the servants make ready a bath for you. I'll have some come later to show your girl here where she'll stay. They should bring your belongings up soon”, Seraphine said.

”Thank you”, Rosalie said as Seraphine turned to go. Her bedroom was far grander than her old home. There was even a balcony. She could see it straight from the door they had come in, and a door leading back to the hallway was on their right. Rosalie went to open the balcony doors and she stepped on to the balcony. The castleyard was just below her balcony and she could see over the castle walls to the lands beyond. Rosalie came back into the bedroom when she heard noise. It was the men who brought her trunks and such. Mary started organising her belongings to their proper places at once. She took some choice clothes and put them on the bed.

”Once they've left, you can go have your bath, milady”, she said to Rosalie and pointed at the clothes she'd picked for her. Rosalie nodded and turned to watch out again. She leaned on the balustrade.

Her new home, she thought to herself. Didn't look too bad from up here. Beautiful rooms to stay in, her favorite handmaiden as her personal servant, good company with Alexander and Seraphine... It could have been worse. No Jonathan, first and foremost. He hadn't gotten to come along. No weddings for him. Rosalie sighed.

I'm never going to see him again... she thought mournfully. Rosalie allowed herself to dwell on the thought for a while, since it was perfectly unlikely she would ever see his face again. She'd start a new life with Alexander and she could look back at what she had had just a little bit. Then Mary called to her and she snapped back to reality.

I must think about Alexander only now. He's going to be my husband, Rosalie thought and felt a strange but pleasant pang of emotion at the last word. My husband, she thought again as she went to the bathroom and started undressing with Mary's help. I like the sound of that, she decided as she sunk in the hot, soapy water and grinned contently.

Rosalie focused on breathing levelly. In... Out... In... Out... If she didn't try and stay calm she'd start shaking and that would not do. She was grippingher hands so tightly her knuckles were pearly white. Rosalie muttered to herself her new mantra: ”In... Out...”

In just a few minutes she would be getting married. Rosalie's father stepped next to her and smiled nervously, but encouragingly at her. She ignored him and kept breathing.

”Time to go”, Theodore whispered to her and took her arm. Rosalie breathed deeply one more time and closed her eyes momentarily. Theodore lead her to a set of doors and knocked on the other one three times with a staff he was holding. The doors opened and a scene from the grand hall greeted them. Several people stood and turned to watch them as they walked along the aisle.

Alexander was waiting for them at a podium at the end of the hall. He extended his hand to Rosalie and Theodore placed her hand in his, then retreated a little way behind. Alexander pulled Rosalie next to him and both turned to a man dressed in purple.

The king's representatives were men who conducted all official events, including weddings. It was their word on behalf of the king which made everything official. Their word was the bond between contracts. There were no official religions in the country.

The king's man spoke at length of the virtues and duties of husbands and wives respectively. Most of his words passed on a steady drone. Some of the guests were nodding off already, but fortunately it was hard to fall asleep while standing. Then the king's man went on about politics and the lords' important efforts at the warfront for a while. Rosalie's nervousness had deepend onto a steady dense internal gut-wrenching feeling. She could imagine cold sweat running down her back as the man came closer and closer to the last part of the ceremony.

The king's man coughed and snapped his fingers at a servant. He paused while the servant brought him a cup of water and he drank some before continuing.

”Now it's time for you to say your promises to each other”, the king's man gestured and Rosalie and Alexander turned to face each other. Alexander spoke haltingly the speech he had prepared and smiled relieved at Rosalie when he was done. Rosalie's voice did not falter, although for a brief frightening moment she thought she wasn't able to speak. Rosalie finished and sighed happily. They turned to the king's man again.

”You are done? Good”, he gestured for them to join hands. ”With the authority our lord, the king has trusted to me, I pronounce you husband and wife. May your lives to be bountiful together. Long live the king!” the king's man shouted. Alexander grinned at Rosalie and leaned to kiss her. Rosalie closed her eyes. The kiss was brief, but sweet. The guests erupted in loud cheers. Rosalie couldn't help laughing out loud at the sheer relief that the ceremony was over.

The food had been eaten and the dances had been danced. Theodore had left early so that he could sleep the night at his own castle. Alexander and Rosalie had offered to let him stay the night, but he had insisted he go home and leave them to their own lives. Rosalie and Alexander had waved him off and then returned to speak with different guests. Rosalie had grinned mischievously and ran off to speak with her cousin Charlaine as soon she'd spotted her. After Charlaine and her husband to be had met, the wedding date had mysteriously been postponed to distant future.

Rosalie was busy gloating to her, when Alexander appeared next to her.

”I believe it is starting to be the time for us to retire, my dear”, he whispered to her. Rosalie gulped and blushed. She smiled at Alexander and then nodded at Charlaine who didn't look very happy at all. Alexander took Rosalie's hand and started leading her away. They nodded and said goodnights to all the people they passed.

Suddenly a loud bang echoed through the grandhall as the double doors were forced open. Alexander turned and frowned at the commotion. A man hurried in and paused to look around. He spotted Alexander and pushed through the crowds. Alexander let go of Rosalie's hand and put his other one inconspicuously close to his side where he kept a dagger, just in case.

”Milord!” the man shouted and bowed at Alexander.

”What is the meaning of this, soldier?” Alexander asked angrily.

”Urgent news”, the man gasped and tried to get his breath. ”Trouble at- the Sill, milord”, he managed and handed a rolled parchment to Alexander who took it immediately and rolled it open. The crowds had quieted down to follow the scene, as Alexander quickly skimmed through the parchment. He narrowed his eyes and cursed as he rolled the parchment back.

”What is it?” Rosalie asked.

”Troops gathering near the border. They're trying an invasion – for a change...” Alexander muttered. ”I'm needed there”, he said and frowned at the floor.

”But... It's our wedding night”, Rosalie managed to say, but Alexander was already moving away. The soldier followed him at a run. Rosalie stood in place unsure what she should do. The guests all looked at each other and there was noise as people whispered to each asking what was going on. Rosalie gathered the hem of her dress and hurried after Alexander.

Alexander was in his study room, which was full of notes and official looking papers. The walls were covered with different looking maps of mostly the same areas. Alexander was consulting a large map with the soldier and some other serious looking men. Rosalie peeked in by the door, but didn’t dare go in. She jumped when someone put a hand on her shoulder.

”Let them work”, Seraphine told her and pulled her away. ”They’ll sort things out. Come with me for now.” Seraphine took her back to the grand hall, wherein she told Rosalie to start telling the guests as politely as she could to begin leaving for home.

Rosalie smiled absent-mindedly and shook people’s hands as they slowly made their way out to the castleyard to wait for their carriages. She kept glancing to see if Alexander was coming so she could find out what was happening. Soon he appeared looking troubled. He pulled her aside.

”Uh... Rosalie. I’m not sure how I should say this...” Alexander hesitated. Seraphine noticed them and joined them. Alexander grimaced under their awaiting stares.

”I know this is unconventional, but I’m afraid I must leave at once. I will be gathering most knights and soldiers from the castle. We’re leaving for Stillholds immediately. The elves have amassed great troops there according to reports. I have to go there”, Alexander stressed and looked meaningfully at Rosalie. ”The country expects it. The king deems it. I’m going.” Rosalie didn’t know what to say, so she glanced away and nodded mutely. She blinked bewildered as Alexander went past her. Seraphine turned to look him go.

The guests had been ushered out of the way and the castleyard had been cleared of unnecessary people. Horses had been brought out and knights and soldiers were yelling as they went about organising themselves. Rosalie and Seraphine stood behind Alexander as he adjusted his armor and waited for his horse to be brought to him. Neither woman said anything. All too soon the soldiers had found what they needed, were in orderly lines and Alexander’s horse waited for him. He turned to speak with Rosalie once more.

”We will be away for quite a while most likely. Some months. I’m sorry for this, but... I’ll write to your father and ask he send some guards and possibly knights if he can spare here to look over the castle.” Alexander stopped to think of something more to say, but his thoughts were interrupted by a knight calling for him. He gestured at the knight and turned to Rosalie. He quickly kissed Rosalie on her forehead, nodded at Seraphine and climbed on his horse.

With great noise the knights and soldiers started moving out. It took them a long while for all of them to get out of the gates. After they were out the few older guards who’d stayed started closing the gates for the knight. Seraphine put her hand on Rosalie’s arm and patted her.

”You should be proud of him, Rosalie. There aren’t many men like him in this land. He’s true and valiant, always putting the needs of people ahead of his own. He’s very loyal. I hope you’ll be good for him”, Seraphine comforted Rosalie. She nodded and smiled a bit. Seraphine’s words hadn’t really helped her much. Her husband had just left her to go to war, on their very wedding night and the last thing he’d said was that he would ask her father to send some knights to the castle. Somehow Rosalie had a uncomfortable feeling Jonathan just might make his way to her afterall. She sighed and didn’t know what to think. They retired.

Chapter Five

Chapter Five Riibu Thu, 11/23/2006 - 13:30

Rosalie spent the following week anxiously fretting over Alexander, worrying about whether Jonathan would show up or not, and being utterly bored. She spend most of her time with Seraphine either crocheting or talking about politics. Rosalie had never been all too interested in politics, so usually it was just Seraphine voicing her opinions and Rosalie nodding passively every now and then. Rosalie missed her horse. She thought she should sent a letter to her father to ask for it soon. She couldn't even go for a walk, since there were not enough guards to accompany them. It was too dangerous to go out now, this close to border.

At times Rosalie realised she could be in danger and spent a moment feeling fear. She hoped nothing would happen to Alexander and she missed him already. Rosalie was staring into the distance moodily from her balcony. The sun was lovely and high, warming her almost too much. There weren't many woods near the castle. The road Rosalie and Theodore had travelled did go through a forest, but it was a long walk to get there from the castle.

There appeared a distant speck in the horizon and Rosalie frowned at it. She watched it, wondering to herself what it was. After a while Rosalie concluded that the speck had grown larger. Rosalie glanced at the guard tower. One man had just come up and was gazing carefully into the horizon. Then the man jumped back down inside the tower. Rosalie glanced at the speck again. Was it troops advancing towards the castle? Rosalie leaned to see one of the walkways which connected the walls to the castle. Soon a man hurried over it and into the castle.

Rosalie stared into the horizon. She noticed movement in the corner of her eye and looked at the watchtower. Two men had come up and were gesturing into the distance. Rosalie could see they were speaking, but she didn't hear anything this far. A group of guards hurried to the castleyard under her balcony. There came a knock on her door and Rosalie turned to go to the room. She was at the door when it was opened and Mary looked in.

“Milady, they want you to go join lady Seraphine. Says there's people advancing and they don't know if theyre hostile or friendly“, Mary said as Rosalie brushed past her. They hurried past the stairs and into the castle. They met Seraphine halfway and a few guards, and the whole group head quietly towards another set of stairs which lead steeply down. Seraphine lead the group.

They arrived in a musty hallway which had a few torches in their holds attached to the walls at long intervals. Seraphine grabbed an unlit torch from a pile beside the stairs and lit in from one from the wall. They proceeded further into the hallway, passing sturdy doors. Seraphine stopped at one, and drew a key she had kept hidden in a pocket. Seraphine opened the door, and everyone piled in.

The room looked comfortable, though it had no windows. There were chairs and a few tables in there. Three cabinets lined one wall. There was another door in the room, but Rosalie had no idea where it lead.

“Why are we here? What's this place?“ Rosalie turned to ask from Seraphine who was just closing the door. Seraphine handed the torch to one of the guards before answering.

“This is where we hide in case we're attacked. We can run away outside the castle if needs be“, Seraphine said grimly and paused to frown at Mary. Rosalie noticed her look and grabbed Mary's arm.

“She'll go with me“, Rosalie stated and looked defiantly at Seraphine.

“As you say“, Seraphine shrugged and walked past them to sit at a chair. “That door leads to a tunnel which can take us behind the castle walls“, she pointed at the other door. The guards were lighting candles with the torch and the room slowly came into much better focus. Rosalie noticed the walls of the room had a bit of moss growing on them, and she could feel the cool moist air that was so familiar in underground rooms. Mary hesitated, but drew a chair for Rosalie to sit on at the table where Seraphine already was. Seraphine watched impassively as the guards went to the cabinets and started checking on the equipment there.

Suddenly there was a bang at the door. Rosalie and Mary jumped, while Seraphine and the guards simply seemed to go completely still and focused. One of the guards looked at Seraphine who nodded minutely at him. The guard gestured at the others who raised their weapons. Rosalie took hold of Mary's arms frightened as the guards slowly walked to the door. The others backed against the wall and after a small moment the quard opened the door to a crack.

“All's well“, a voice came from the other side. The guard opened the door a little more after he'd seen to the hallway. He nodded at the others to lower their weapons as he pulled the door completely open. Another guard stepped in and bowed at Seraphine who'd risen up.

“There is a group of knights riding in for the castle. They carry lord Arcelus' colours“, the guard told them and when Rosalie heard this she sighed loudly in relief. Seraphine smirked at her before addressing the guards.

“Clean this place up some. You, escort us back up.“ The guard bowed as Seraphine turned to frown at Rosalie and Mary. Rosalie jumped up from the chair and let go of Mary's hand. She brushed her dress as she followed Seraphine and a guard back up again, Mary behind them.

“It seems my brother got the message to your father quite quickly. It is very fortunate that they arrive so soon. Not that we'd be in any danger, but this castle needs defenders“, Seraphine told Rosalie without looking at her as they climbed the stairs. Rosalie huffed as the reached the top and realised slightly dismally that neither Seraphine or Mary seemed to be out of breath at all.

They walked to the stairs that lead to the double doors and the guard before them. Mary excused herself and left to continue her work, whatever it was. To Rosalie's relief Seraphine lead their ascending slowly, enough for Rosalie to safely recover her breathing. The doors were already open when they reached the bottom of the stairs. A group of guards were standing at the castleyard. The gates were open and Rosalie could see the body of the riding knights approaching fast. Rosalie and Seraphine didn't have to wait long until the knights had slowed down and ridden in.

Rosalie was growing nervous again. The uncertain excitement that Jonathan might be with the knights bothered her. Yet, she looked carefully over every knight hoping unconsciously to see that dashing blond knight once more. She didn't him and to her endless chagrin some of the knights were wearing their helmets and she couldn't tell who they were.

Seraphine glanced at Rosalie and then narrowed her eyes when she noticed Rosalie's intent looking. Seraphine coughed to attract Rosalie's attention and gestured at the knights. One of the knights jumped off his horse and came before them. Rosalie remembered it was her duty to welcome the knights to the castle and she nodded at the knight as he bowed at her. The knight was still wearing a helmet, but took it off and Rosalie nearly bit her tongue as she realised it was Jonathan. He smiled at her. She was speechless. Her dream had come true. But was it a good dream or a nightmare? Something about Jonathan's seemingly innocent grin told her that the latter just might be more true.

Rosalie coughed and managed to greet the knights. She recognised most knights and concluded that Jonathan seemed to be the one in charge. Rosalie then gestured at Seraphine who stepped forward and started talking to the knights. She knew the castle and knew what to tell to the knights.

“You are all that lord Arcelus sent, then?“ she asked from Jonathan who shook his head.

“There are more men coming, mostly guardsmen. But they are on foot and will take more time before they arrive. I set a few knights to lead them. We hurried here as soon as we could, just in case, milady“, Jonathan explained.

“Very well“, Seraphine nodded satisfied. The knights started leading their horses to the stables and Jonathan gestured for one of the knight's to take his away also. Jonathan turned to Rosalie and stepped closer to her. Rosalie watched uncertainly as Jonathan smiled at her. He reached for her hand and kissed it in his usual sweet manner.

“Milady“, he breathed and glanced into Rosalie's eyes. Jonathan then reached into his cloak and pulled out a sealed envelope.

“A letter for you, milady. From your father“, Jonathan said as he handed the envelope to Rosalie who at first had looked at with apprehension. She took the envelope and mumbled thanks to Jonathan. Jonathan nodded at Seraphine and turned to walk to the other knights who were still trying to figure out how this castle worked.

Rosalie held the letter in her hands, but it wasn't on her mind. This was with Jonathan, she thought. Jonathan is here. I knew he'd be. He's here. He's here for me. Rosalie suddenly remembered she wasn't alone and she pressed the envelope against her chest as she turned to glance Seraphine uncertainly. Seraphine was watching her reactions with raised eyebrows, but the expression on her face was unreadable. Rosalie looked down, and hesitantly turned to walk up the stairs. She fastened her pace and left Seraphine to rise the stairs regally, but alone.

Rosalie had taken her time to reply to the letter her father had sent. The guardsmen had had time to arrive and start settling in in the castle. Rosalie had gone looking for a knight to command to deliver her letter on her own. She wanted to avoid Jonathan. Still, she kept meeting him around the castle.

“Milady“, Jonathan would smile delightedly, like it was a pleasant coincidence, as he passed her in the hallways. Once she had stopped him and demanded to know why he always seemed to be just around the corner.

“Why, I'm familiarising myself with the castle. I walk all around it every day!“ Jonathan had told her. She didn't have much to say to that.

Another time Jonathan was standing in front of a large tapestry depicting knights hunting for a bear, studying it closely. He'd greeted Rosalie and she'd nodded back, thinking that that was all as she was passing him. But Jonathan had suddenly grabbed her arm and stopped her by holding gently but firmly.

“Milady... You simply pass me by, without ever looking back“, he said with a serious face and pulled her slightly closer.

“And to think, the last time we spoke, we departed in such... unfortunate circumstances. I regret that now. I have always, always enjoyed your company so much. I miss you“, Jonathan whispered to her as he pulled her hand to his lips. Rosalie felt the warmth of his face, and the softness of his lips. How could she not yearn for those lips to be on hers, one more time?

“Oh, Jonathan“, she sighed and looked into his eyes. He looked so pleading, so sincere to just want to be close to her. Rosalie's heart pulled her to him and before she noticed doing so she was against Jonathan, closing her eyes, reaching for a kiss...

Rosalie jerked away.

“I- ... I'm married...! What do you think you're doing??“

“What I'm supposed to be doing“, was his quick answer.

“What?“ Rosalie asked, emptied of her annoyance when she did not understand what he meant.

“We were meant to be together, Rosie. But you were afraid to give yourself to someone like me. A mere knight, naught but a small title to my name. No lands, no riches. You want someone powerful rather than the one who loves you. You would turn down love for... for- lucre“, Jonathan finished disdainly and jabbed at the tapestry.

“I-“ Rosalie uttered and shook her head. She couldn't believe Jonathan was saying these things about her. How could she explain it wasn't true?

“Well, this all you have now. Is your life perfect yet?“ Jonathan snapped and turned to walk away. Rosalie wanted to call him back and make him understand, but she could hardly breathe, she was so wrought with emotions. She wasn't alltogether happy, no. She didn't marry Alexander because of his money or title or lands, afterall it was her father who'd picked him for her. She didn't think less of Jonathan because he was a knight, he was very talented. And... she did love him. And Rosalie knew she loved Alexander too, just... perhaps, a little less than Jonathan. For surely something that raised so much feeling in her, so much want and need could be nothing else than love?

If this isn't love, than what is? she asked herself and wasn't sure of the answer. But... Rosalie didn't know how to continue that thought. She turned to look at the tapestry. Alexander's grandfather had this made. It's been here ever since. It's good work.

And it's also mine... I'm married. I'm married to Alexander because of what Jonathan did! Am I forgetting that so soon? He- Rosalie paused while two thoughts fought for dominance. He spoke of love, Rosalie realised. But he doesn't act like he truly loves me.

Maybe he just doesn't know how... Nevertheless, I am married and I will not be an unfaithful wife! To- to hell with Jonathan! Rosalie shook her fist at the tapestry and nodded in defiance. She would stay strong. Jonathan wasn't worth it, knight or not.

Rosalie walked along musty hallways with a bunch of roses in her arms. She looked around herself, but there were no doors to walk through. The hallway continued and Rosalie's feet were cold. She noticed that she wasn't wearing anything else than a small nightie. The roses in her arms started withering and Rosalie hurried, knowing that she had to find water soon. Suddenly the roses started prick her and Rosalie droppen them out of fright. The roses broke as they hit the stone floor and Rosalie couldn't continue on anymore, or the shards of the roses would tear her bare feet up. Rosalie turned around, but all there was behind her was a hard wall.

Rosalie startled awake. She blinked her eyes for a moment, but it was dark in the room. Then she remembered where she was. In her own bedroom. Rosalie yawned and noticed she could hear voices coming from somewhere. Rosalie pushed her covers backwards and put her feet on the floor, giving a start by the stone floor's coldness. Rosalie decided she wouldn't be up for very long and stood up. She wrapped her nightgown closer around herself and tried to deduce where the sounds were coming from. There was shouting going on at outside. Rosalie went to her balcony and looked down at the castleyard.

Guardsmen were running back and forth and shouting something. Some knights hurried close to them and they gestured towards the gate. Rosalie lifted her eyes and looked beyond the castlewall to the land. She didn't see anything special, just country covered with the night's darkness. The guardsmen had barred the castle's gates and Rosalie saw how one knight motioned for a group of guardsmen, so that they formed themselves in the castleyard. A quick glance at the watchtowers confirmed her growing alarm. The were two knights on top of both towers, with bows in their hands. The castle was being attacked.

Rosalie gasped, frightened and turned to hurry back to her room. What should she do now? She should go where they'd went with Seraphine and others when the knights had come. But she didn't remember the way. Perhaps she should wait until someone came to get her? But maybe no one would come, but she was expected to make her own way. Maybe they were waiting for her by the stairs? But where were the stairs that lead down? Rosalie didn't know what to do. Maybe she should just hide under the bed and hope for the best.

Rosalie went to her bed and light a candle with shaking hands. Even though it might be stupid to go wander around the castle's halls when it was under attack, she couldn't just stay there. She would find a place to hide in. But what if the attack wasn't particularly serious and there wasn't any greater threat, and someone would find her hiding behind a tapestry? They'd laugh at her. Maybe nobody had gone anywhere and that's why no one had come for her. But the castle was being attacked! And they'd run for the safety at a mere hint of danger! No, she should just go and find someone and then...

Rosalie placed the candle in a small lantern. She checked that it was sturdily in place and went to the door. She gave a start when the door was knocked on loudly before she'd even gotten to it. Rosalie's hands shook as she stood in spot quietly for a moment. There came another knock on the door, harder. Rosalie stepped closer and opened the door to a crack.

“Are you alright, milady?“ Rosalie saw Jonathan's worried face and opened the door a little more.

“Nervous. What's going on? Is the castle under attack?“ Jonathan frowned and glanced around himself.

“Yes, but not with great troops. The knights should be able to hold the attackers off. I believe you are quite safe.“

“But shouldn't we go somewhere where I would be a little bit more safe?“ Rosalie asked and backed so Jonathan could come in. Rosalie's feet had been feeling the cold of the floor nastily for a while now and they were starting to go numb. Rosalie went to her bed and dug out a pair of soft shoes from under the bed. After she'd gotten them on her feet she felt much better. Jonathan had meanwhile closed the door behind him and gone to the balcony to check the situation, while waiting for her. Rosalie came to the balcony door and looked at Jonathan.

Torches had been lit on the surrounding castlewalls and the castleyard was lit. You could hear faint sough in the air as the guardsmen and the knights shot arrows at the attackers.

“Who's attacking us?“ Rosalie asked in a small voice.

“The elves“, Jonathan said and turned to Rosalie.

“Shouldn't you be leading the others?“

“They'll manage fine“, Jonathan muttered and leaned to the balcony's balustrade looking at Rosalie with a strange look in his eyes. Rosalie felt she was blushing under his stare and turned a little.

“I really think we should go there... there- where... To that room under the castle that leads outside. We went there when you were coming. Me and Seraphine, and Mary and some guardsmen...“

“No, that won't be necessary. Everything is under control. You're perfectly safe“, Jonathan said and the side of his mouth curved to a small grin. Rosalie didn't know what to say. The lantern in her hand started feeling heavy, her other leg was aching from the chill night air, and yet she felt uncomfortable, too warm, but too cold. Rosalie coughed and turned to go back inside. Jonathan followed her.

Jonathan took the lantern off of Rosalie's hand from behind her. As Rosalie turned Jonathan stepped a little closer and leaned to put the lantern on a small table next to Rosalie. Jonathan was so close to Rosalie he could've touched her. All he had to do was to lean slightly down and he could have kissed her.

“What do you think you're doing?“ Rosalie gasped and stepped backwards.

“Protecting you... What else?“ Jonathan smiled and leaned closer to her. Rosalie nudged him and pushed past. She had decided she wouldn't let Jonathan even try anything, and she felt anger igniting inside herself.

“How dare you!“ Rosalie hissed at him. Jonathan snorted and shrugged. He smirked a little as he turned to watch Rosalie, who'd paused to glare at him angrily some way off.

“This was meant to happen, Rosie. When we've finally gotten our chance to be together, shouldn't we use it?“ Jonathan asked allusively and stepped closer to Rosalie.

“Absolutely not! How dare you even say such things!“ Rosalie turned away from him. “You can't just show up in my room in the middle of the night, like that! The castle is under attack, you should be doing your job! I'm married!“ Rosalie ranted strongly at the floor. Rosalie looked at the door and took a deep breath.

“As a matter of fact“, she growled and walked promptly to the door. “You may take your leave this instant-“ Rosalie started saying as she pulled the handle of the door, which to her great surprise did not budge. She went entirely silent. Rosalie stared unbelieving at the doorhandle, and tried to push it. Nothing. The door was locked. Rosalie let go of the handle, feeling her anger evaporating, replaced by uncertainty and a hint of fear.

Rosalie turned to look at Jonathan, but he wasn't in the room anymore. Rosalie turned and saw Jonathan standing on the balcony, leaning easily with his hand to the balustrade and watching down at the castleyard. Jonathan lifted his other hand at the level of his face and glanced at the big key he was holding. He leaned slightly over the balustrade, and dropped the key down. Then he glanced at Rosalie and chuckled as he saw her terrified expression. Jonathan breathed deeply satisfied with himself and walked relaxedly back into the room.

“What- you...“ Rosalie managed to utter.

“Whoops“, Jonathan grinned and shrugged happily to her.

“You locked the door...!“

“Yes...!“

“And- the key...!“ Rosalie cried quietly.

“Dropped by accident. It was quite clumsy of me. Such things happen! I'm sure the guardsmen will find the key in due time. Meanwhile we can keep company to each other during this long night...“

“I'd rather you jumped off the balcony yourself! Tell them to fetch the key here immediately!“

“Why not tell them that yourself? The balcony's that way“, Jonathan gestured behind him.

“You... You're closer... And you dropped it! On purpose!“

“Never! Anyway, if it really troubles you so much, milady, just go to the balcony and shout to the guardsmen to find a key in the middle of castleyard, in the middle of the night because someone dropped it there after locking the door. I'm sure they would only think you a fool for a little while. Or perhaps you would like me to explain it to them? Well, they would perhaps understand a little better, though your reputation may... vary, slightly.

“Or- you could wait until morning. After a good night's rest anyone mind will work sharper and perhaps you'll come with a plausible reason. Or maybe you'll just find something to break the door down. In any case, we'll be spending some time together, so might as well just go along with it, hmm?“

Rosalie stared at Jonathan with her mouth open, completely stupefied. Jonathan looked at Rosalie for a moment, measuring her up and then walked the short way to her. Rosalie snapped out of her trance and backed away, but her back hit the wall and she couldn't get away from him. Jonathan leaned on the wall and smirked self-assertively at her.

“It would be quite nice, Rosie. I honestly don't see why you're making such a big thing out of this. Surely you're over the fright already?“

“I'm married...!“ Rosalie hissed desperately.

“Yes, exactly. That's my point. No one needs to know, and there'd be no problems. It's not like you'd get pregnant or anything, you've already been with that lord of yours“, Jonathan smiled condescendingly at her.

“I have not! I'm still a virgin!“ Rosalie cried angrily. Jonathan blinked at her not understanding.

“What? Are you serious?“

“Yes, I'm serious! We didn't have time to be together, because he had to leave for war!“

What? He didn't- you mean to say, that your husband, the lord, did not consummate his marriage with you, because he had to leave – for war? What the hell kind of a man is he?“

“Don't talk about him in that way! And yes, that he did! He takes his duties seriously! He protects this country and the people from their enemies who would kill all of us if they got the chance! He's risking his life out there, while you're here trying to- trying to...! To- ruin- his... marriage!“

“Not at all! I've done this countless of times, mostly with married women. They've always welcomed it as a refreshing change, really. Nobody gets hurt.“

“Except me! I don't want to start expecting a child for another man!“ Rosalie screamed and pushed Jonathan.

“You might want to lower your voice, I don't think all the attackers out there heard you quite yet“, Jonathan snapped and stepped back. Rosalie gasped and her hands flew to her mouth. She had been gradually shouting louder and louder, and no doubt her last words had in fact carried outside. She hoped that everyone would be too busy with fighting to notice what she'd been screaming.

“Although, yes, that might be a little troublesome“, Jonathan muttered and frowned. He thought for a moment and shrugged. “Well, we'll just have to settle for some kissing. How's that?“ he asked cheerfully.

“Why you...!“ Rosalie growled and made to slap Jonathan, but he deftly caught her hand and smirked at her.

“Well, you're certainly feeling a little feisty tonight, hmm? I'm afraid I really can't give you more than just kisses, my dear, I'm sure your husband would be very cross to find out I'd taken your virginity as well. Not that I'd minded, had you not gotten married so soon...“

Rosalie tried to pull her hand back, but Jonathan held it even tighter. She tried to hit him with her hand, but he easily caught that too and laughed lightly at her as he struggled to get loose. Then Jonathan drew a breath, waited and suddenly let go. Rosalie stumbled backwards in surprise and hit the wall. Before she'd slided down, Jonathan had stepped closer and pushed her to balance against the wall with his body. Rosalie was neatly pinned against him and the wall and hadn't an inch to move.

“I really think-“ Jonathan started lowering his head closer to her face, when he was interrupted by hard knocking on the door to the room.

“Now what?“ he growled and glared at the door.

“What is it?!“ Rosalie cried quickly, hoping Jonathan would back off. A guardsman's muffled voice came from the other side of the door, asking is everything was alright.

“No, the door's locked and the key's gone! You have to go tell someone to find it!“

“Okay, milady, we'll do that... It's just that, we were looking for sir Hearthwell, and one of the knights said he had said he was going to go and warn you milady, and no one's seen him since and we was wondering- well... if- err... if he would be there with you, milady.“

Jonathan sighed and leaned off of Rosalie some way.

“Yes, I'm here. What is it?“ he shouted.

“The attackers have been driven off, milord. We had no losses at all.“

“The attack is over, sir Jonathan. Isn't that lucky? I do believe I will be quite safe for the rest of the night and the guardsmen will have plenty time to find the key“, Rosalie told Jonathan. “Get every man to go look for the key, it should be somewhere in the castleyard, near my balcony!“ she yelled at the door.

“Yes, milady“, came an uncertain answer from behind the door.

“Well... It seems our time is cut short afterall. Still, I'm sure they might have some trouble finding the key. I mean, it isn't quite that large or particularly shiny and it is dark outside...“ Jonathan said quietly and leaned back towards Rosale.

“I don't think so“, Rosalie snapped and nudged Jonathan.

“You really think we should waste this little time we've been given to be together?“

“It's hardly waste, if I'm protecting my purity.“ Jonathan snorted at Rosalie's answer.

“And how very pure you are, milady, after spending so many fevered moments with me back at your father's castle. And almost right under his very nose, too. You are such a good little girl, aren't you?“

“I...“ Rosalie shook her head pleadingly. She didn't want to hear this, and fortunately she was spared for there was another loud knock on the door.

“Milady, we've found the key. Someone had stumbled on it earlier and taken it with him, and he gave it to us as soon as he heard. At least, I think this might be the right key. He said he'd found it underneath your balcony, milady. Should we try it on the door?“

“Yes!“ Rosalie pushed Jonathan away and this time he backed off, seemingly realising he would not be getting anything more tonight. There was some noises at the door, as the guards tried to first turn the key in the wrong direction, but they managed to get it open and they peeked inside.

Rosalie was still her back to the wall, looking slightly flustered, and an angry looking Jonathan glared at the guardsmen.

“Everything alright, milady? Sir?“ they added a little sheepishly.

“Under control“, Jonathan muttered. The guardsman took the key off the door and leaned to put it back on the other side.

“I'll just leave this here...“ he mumbled and fumbled with the key.

“Yes, fine, thank you. You may go now“, Jonathan motioned to the guardsmen impatiently.

“You may all go“, Rosalie said and glared at Jonathan, who turned to look at her meaningfully. He consented though, and nodded. Jonathan turned to go, and Rosalie sagged a little from relief. The guardsmen had disappeared behind the door, when Jonathan quickly turned around, grabbed Rosalie and kissed her. Then he let go and marched out of the room, slamming the door closed behind him.

Rosalie gasped and leaned against the wall.

How dare he! How dare he! That- thief! How dare he! I'll, I'll damn well show him for that! I'll get back at him! This has gone far enough! Rosalie thought angrily and clenched her fists.

Rosalie was pacing in her rooms. She'd spent mostly a sleepless night fuming over the kiss Jonathan had stolen. She was frowning, trying to come up with a way to revenge the theft. She felt so annoyed, she kicked a chair as she was passin, but only managed to hurt her toes. Wincing, she made her way to her balcony. She leaned on the balustrade and sighed, looking out to the country.

Somewhere out there, a long way away, was Alexander. Rosalie wondered what he was doing right now? Was he alright? What was the warfront like? She leaned her chin on her hand and wished Alexander hadn't had to leave. Her anger slowly ebbed away as she thought of Alexander. Feeling melancholy she idly wondered what life would be like come the end of war and Alexander returning. Rosalie sighed and glanced down at the castleyard.

The castle was lightly abuzz with servants going about their work. A few guardsmen sat on a cart watching people as they went by. A knight in armor came from the way of the stables and when he got closer to the main doors Rosalie saw it was Jonathan. Jonathan seemed to sense she'd noticed him and he glanced up towards the balcony. He grinned saucily and waved at her just as he passed and went below the balcony into the castle.

In but a second Rosalie's anger was back and she slapped the balustrade before storming back to her room. There had to be a way to show him his place. Some way to prove there was no messing with her, I'm married! she thought and snorted.

But if I actually do punish him somehow, like I could being a marchioness, he'll just tell everyone why... I can't let people know. Seraphine already seems to suspect me of something... And I haven't even done anything! I haven't! That damn Jonathan! I must get him out of here, somehow!

Rosalie paused to think carefully of this line of thought. How could she get Jonathan moved away from the castle? Perhaps she could order him to return to her father's castle, claiming it wasn't necessary to keep him there. But then wouldn't people wonder why only one knight was sent away? She couldn't hardly send all of them away, they did need protection. So, a group of knight - no – guards, with Jonathan as their commander and...

And then what? Rosalie couldn't think of any plausible reason to kick a bunch of men out of the castle. She turned when she heard commotion from outside, and hurried to her balcony to see what was going on. A large group of knights had ridden into the castle and they were calming their horses down. They had large green flags with a thick yellow zigzaggin line in the middle, symbolising a mountain range. One man in the middle of the throng was wearing very shiny, silvery armor. Rosalie recognised him as a vassal lord of Alexander's she'd met at the wedding.

I wonder what his name was...? They must be going to the war too, only stopping here... Wonder what reason- what reason? Not getting more men, are they? Rosalie slowly grinned. Looking for some stray knights, maybe...

“Convenient, though“, she remarked quietly to herself, before dashing back to her room. A quick check in the mirror that her clothes were fine and she looked presentable, and she left her rooms. Somehow she was soon terribly excited and she took a few deep calming breaths before welcoming the lord to the castle.

“We will not be staying here long, milady. Lord Maluard has asked me to bring my troops to the front, and he recommened I detour through here, to see if everything is okay and bring him news of your well-being“, the lord explained to Rosalie.

“You may tell my husband we are quite safe and sound here. There was, though, an attack on the castle. Last night as a matter of fact, but the knights and guards drove them away quite quickly. We owe it all to one knight who very courageously organised the men here. Without him the knights would surely have had more trouble.“

“Indeed? Then your father has certainly sent his best to protect you, milady. So, a group of elves attacked the castle last night? That is bad news... They should not have gotten this far into our lands. We must hurry to replenish the troops there“, the lord muttered, frowning.

“You could take a few men from here as well. I doubt the elves could manage another attack this far anymore. We will be safe even with sligthly less men, and if worst comes, there's always the passageway out.“

“I suppose that sounds good enough, milady... You have someone special in mind?“

“Well, you could take a group of guards and a few knights, I'm sure. I recommend sir Hearthwell, particularly.“

“Sir Hearthwell? Jonathan Hearthwell?“

“You know of him? He was the knight who saved us last night.“

“Really?“ the lord asked, looking very surprised. “I do know the name, but I was under the impression that sir Jonathan has never done more than jousting... I did not know he could actually fight“, he said skeptically.

“Oh, no, he's very good at jousting, but he knows his fighting too. It seems he has had skills just waiting for a chance to be revealed and proved. I think he would be an excellent asset to you and my husband, lord Alexander, at the warfront“, Rosalie said and smiled innocently.

“Well, it wouldn't hurt, certainly. I will have one of my men choose some guardsmen, if you do not mind, milady.“

“Not at all, pick who you want. You there“, Rosalie turned to address a guardsmen standing near them and told to him: “Go find sir Hearthwell and inform him he is going to go with them. Tell him to pack lightly“, Rosalie waved the guardsman off, who bowed and retreated.

“I'm afraid though, that we must leave as soon as he has come and we've packed ours ready.“

“I understand completely, milord. Do as you must“, Rosalie smiled. They shook hands and parted. The lord started shouting orders at his men, and Rosalie headed back into the castle, walking leisurely to her rooms.

And that's how you do it, she thought smugly. He would certainly think twice now, if he even bothered to return back... Rosalie rubbed her hands together in glee and paced her room again, this time waiting impatiently to hear the men leaving.

Eventually she heard the noise of horses snorting outside and she went to her balcony to look out. She waved politely to the lord, who'd turned back and had noticed her. Rosalie glanced through the crowd and stopped to sneer when she saw Jonathan. He looked distant somehow, and moody. As all the men started slowly moving out of the castle Jonathan glanced back and up. He stared at Rosalie incredulously, hardly believing she would do such a thing. It was just a kiss! he thought, but the knights near him were starting to give him some meaningful looks and he had to urge his horse to follow the crowd.

Rosalie leaned on the balustrade and watched as the men rode out, saying goodbye to Jonathan in her mind.

When the dust had settled down in the horizon she didn't feel so glad anymore. Just when it was too late, she realised just what she had done. She'd sent Jonathan to war, and he honestly didn't know anything about real fighting. He might get killed. And it was all Rosalie's fault. She felt a little sick and decided to spend to rest of the day in her bed, brooding over her actions.

Chapter Six

Chapter Six Riibu Tue, 11/28/2006 - 14:43

“Milady, you weren't at lunch. Is everything fine with you?“ Mary asked, watching her mistress dubiously.

“... 'm not hungry, Mary...“ Rosalie muttered. She was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling with a sad look on her face.

“Have you had breakfast? You aren't falling ill, are you, milady?“ Mary came and made to try Rosalie's forehead, but Rosalie frowned and lightly slapped her hand off.

“I'm not sick. I'm... I'm a bad person, Mary“, Rosalie mumbled, her lower lip trembling precariously. She felt tears well up in her eyes.

“Milady! What are you talking about? You're not a bad person at all...!“

“I am!“ Rosalie cried and rolled her back towards Mary to wail on her pillow. Mary sat on the bed next to Rosalie and feeling confused she reached out and vaguely patted Rosalie on her shoulder.

“There, there... What's happened now...?“

“He's going to die and it's all my fault! Oh Mary, I don't want him to die! I didn't mean to, I just- I didn't think- I don't know...! I don't want anyone to die“, Rosalie pouted sadly.

“Err... Who's going to die, milady?“

“Um... I, uh...“

“Yes?“

“Well, it's... it's like this... I'm worried- about... Alexander?“

“You don't sound like you mean that. Are you thinking about someone else? Is it Jonathan? I heard he left with the lord the previous day and they're going to the warfront. I also heard he did something concerning you, milady, the kitchen was buzzing about it, but nobody knew for sure what had happened, if anything... Did something happen between the two of you, milady?“

“Oh, Mary... I didn't mean for it to happen! He just...! He locked the door! I was afraid he was going to- that he would've...“ Rosalie tried to make her point cross with empathethic waving of her hands.

“Force you?!“

“Well...! I don't know, maybe not... Or, maybe, you know...“ Rosalie looked away awkwardly and shrugged.

“He did that??“

“Well, no...! He, er... He kissed me, but, Mary, he was just so...! So...! Cheeky- about it...“

“Oh. Well. Well! That certainly wasn't a good thing, you are a married woman now. Shame on him and all, but what does this have to do with him dying, and the war thing?“

“I convinced the lord to take him along. I said he was a great fighter who'd saved us all when the elves attacked.“

“That's... Not the truth... You lied to get rid of him, milady?“

“I knew I was a bad person. You hate me too“, Rosalie trembled and burst into tears again.

“Now, now!“ Mary sidled a little closer and hugged Rosalie. “I don't think you're bad person at all, milady. Just a little... Err... I don't think you're a bad person, at all.“

“Really?“

“Certainly! Now, how about a nice hot bath? Would do wonders for your mood, milady!“

“I don't want to have a bath, Mary...“

“No, I really think you should have one.“

“Why? Do I smell? Are you saying I smell bad?“

“No, but tomorrow you will. And you'll have to have a bath at some point, either today or tomorrow the latest, and right now it would do good for you. I'll call for servants to prepare the tub, milady. Alright? Now to turn that pout into a smile!“ Mary said and squeezed Rosalie, before hopping off the bed and hurrying off.

Rosalie sniffed on her pillow and continued to moodily stare into nothing in particular. She wished Jonathan hadn't kissed her like that, so she hadn't had to sent him away. She didn't know what she'd do if he died. Rosalie doubted she could go on just living without Jonathan. Then a guilty conscience reminded that she was married and she dutifully moped about Alexander's well-being too.

What if Alexander dies? she suddenly thought, and the idea was frightening. She could not go on living if her husband was dead. She didn't want to end up as a virgin windower at such a young age. She couldn't just stay in the castle and rule about things, Seraphine wouldn't let it happen. She'd take over completely, I mean, Rosalie and Alexander hadn't consummated the marriage. She was only the marchioness by one man's word, and it wasn't official until a night spent together. She'd have to return home and no one would have her then. She'd grow old and become a sad spinster like Seraphine and-

Rosalie threw her pillow away, got off the bed and glared at the wall with her hands on her hips. She really couldn't stand thinking about either one anymore. She had to do something, go out for a walk, or anything before she went crazy from worrying.

There was a knock on the door.

“Milady? A courier just came in and he had a letter from your father for you“, Mary said and came in to give the envelope to Rosalie. Rosalie opened it, feeling suddenly a bit more cheerful, and hopeful to hear some good news from back home. Mary waited close to her as Rosalie started reading through the letter. But her frown came back too soon.

“Father writes that he's not doing too well. He says he's stressed and tired all the time. Uncle has been pestering him about lands... With no male heir to take the title after him, uncle will get to rule his lands if he dies... Why is father writing me these things? This is terrible!“

“He has fallen ill, has he, milady?“

“Well, no, he doesn't say anything about that. But I don't like the sound of this letter. I think I should visit him. Yes, I should go visit old home. There's nothing to do around here and I can't stand to just sit around this blasted castle. I want to go back home and never leave father again...“ Rosalie sighed and folded the letter back up.

“Let's just focus on getting that visiting ready, okay, milady?“ Rosalie nodded. Mary left to go fetch some servants to start help with packing and after a moment of pondering Rosalie decided to go tell Seraphine what she was about to do.

Rosalie explained to Seraphine she was going to go back home for a while, and showed her the letter from Theodore. Seraphine glanced it through and frowned.

“I really don't think you should be leaving at a time like this“, she said and handed the letter back.

“What's wrong with this time? My father isn't feeling well, he needs me to go there and take care of him.“

“Your duties lie in this castle now. You can't just go and wander around the country like a vagabond.“

“I'd hardly wander anywhere! I'm going to go and see my father. I just thought I should let you know about it, Seraphine“, Rosalie snapped and turned to go. She could almost feel Seraphine glaring at her back when she left.

It took some time, but eventually her trunks were packed and she was ready to leave. Feeling slightly happier at the prospect of seeing old home again, Rosalie sat inside the carriage smiling and impatiently waiting for their departure.

All the excitement of previous days was all too much to bear for Rosalie. She really wanted to get away from thinking about Alexander and Jonathan. A visit to her father would be such a welcoming change. Maybe she could even ask for some advice on what to do... She couldn't tell her father all the details, she couldn't do that to her father. She'd just tweak the events a bit, he would understand. He would do something to make her feel better.

The man driving the carriage hopped on his place. There was some shouting as people made sure her escorts were all on their horses and ready to go. The carriage jolted a bit and they left the castle. Rosalie leaned to watch the coutryside go by through the window. Rosalie crossed her hands on her lap and yawned. With good speed, it shouldn't take more than a few days to get to her father's castle.

----

By evening they stopped at a fortified manor. They had stopped there when Rosalie and her father had been on their way to the wedding. It was owned by some lesser relatives of Alexander's, but there were not much men about. Most had left for the war. Rosalie spent a nice evening with the lady of the manor and her daughter.

The room she was given to stay at was much smaller than either of her own, but she didn't complain. The bed was possibly the comfiest she had ever slept in. She woke up refreshed to a bright late summer morning. There was already a hint of the coolness of autumn in the air. Rowdy winds ruffled the trees as Rosalie and her escort made ready to continue their travel. Rosalie thanked and bid farewell to their hosts. She waved at the lady from the window of her carriage as they rode out of the manor.

Some time in the afternoon they crossed the line between lord Maluard's and lord Arcelus' lands. Rosalie watched eagerly at the countryside, thinking she could almost recognise the trees much better, though she'd been through that particular patch of land only a couple of times. But it felt like home and that was the important bit.

In the evening they sent forth one man to request lodgings from a manor owned by Rosalie's distant relatives. The carriage and riders only arrived by nightfall and they were given rooms and beds to stay in immediately. In the morning they were offered a grand breakfast. The few knights and guardsmen were plenty here, and Rosalie chatted with both the lord and lady of the manor. Her father wasn't that involved with warring anymore, and the Arcelus' region was far enough from the border so that many did not feel the need to sent forces to the war. At noon they set out again.

They were travelling at a light speed, and they stopped one more time before getting close enough to the Arcelus' castle. Rosalie kept tapping her fingers on her knees, her boots on the carriage floor, and kept glancing out thw window if they were close enough already. Then the castle was visible in the distance. It grew larger as they came closer, ever too slowly for Rosalie's tastes. And soon it was close enough to sprint to, but Rosalie resisted jumping out of the carriage and going off at a run.

The carriage rolled into the castleyard and Rosalie banged the door open. She jumped off and ran up to the stairs, pausing only very briefly to note that her father wasn't waiting for her there. The double doors were open and sir Kane was waiting for her inside.

“Where's father?“ Rosalie asked, before sir Kane had had time to even greet her.

“Milady, your father has not been feeling well. He is in his bed- milady!“ sir Kane called after her, but Rosalie didn't stop. She ran through the castle, up some stairs and stopped to take a breather behind the door to her father's study door. She knocked and opened the door, but the room was empty. A quick glance showed her that the room had not been properly cleaned in a little while.

Rosalie closed the door and walked along the hallway to another door. This one lead to her father's personal quarters. There was a door between his rooms and his study, but the hinges on it had rusted shut some years ago, and he'd never quite bothered to get a carpenter to fix the door. He always said the little trip through the hallway was good enough exercise. Every little counted.

Rosalie knocked on the door of her father's bedroom and a faint voice called from the other side. The door was opened before her and she saw that a servant had been standing on the other side, ready. The servant opened the door and moved so she could come in. Theodore was half-lying, half-sitting on his bed, and his face broke into a smile when he saw her.

“Rosie...!“ Theodore lifted his hand and Rosalie took it into hers, coming to stand next to the bed.

“Oh, father, you look terrible“, Rosalie said and frowned.

“I'm just a little tired, that's all. I'm not sick“, he protested as Rosalie tried his forehead. The servant closed the door and settled to stand near the door.

“You can't be entirely healthy if you're tired at this time of the day, father.“ Rosalie pushed the covers aside slightly and sat on the bed, facing her father. Theodore smiled at her, squeezing her hand in his.

“You worry for nothing, my dear. I just need to rest for a little, then I will be better again. Just seeing you has made me feel better already.“ Theodore coughed and reached for a cup of water on the other side of the bed, taking a few sips before putting it back on the small table.

Rosalie carefully watched her father as he was drinking. She didn't think he'd had had so many lines around his face before. And had his hair always been so grey?

“What are you looking at, Rosie dear?“ Theodore asked, looking a little amused of her scrutiny.

“You look old, father“, Rosalie said quietly, and pouted a bit.

“Oho, thank you!“ Theodore chuckled. “I'm hardly that old yet, Rosie.“

“But...“ Rosalie said, but didn't know how to continue. Theodore sighed and suddenly looked much somber.

“Rosie, my dear... I don't deny it, I do feel old. Every day it's a little harder to get out of bed in the morning and you wouldn't believe how my back aches. It takes me a while to get going, because my feet are cold and I can't walk till I've got some blood flowing and warming them. I didn't have troubles like that ten years ago.“ He sighed before continuing quietly.

“My age has caught up with me, I'm afraid... Life just isn't the same without you living here, keeping my days bright and full of light.“

“I can move back, father. Alexander is-“ Rosalie started, but Theodore interrupted her.

“No...!“ he raised his hand and touched Rosalie's cheek. “I wouldn't dream of robbing you of your time together with him. You're married and you belong with him now. Your home is there now, Rosie.“

“But who will take care of you, father, if not me?“

“The castle is full servants, my dear“, Theodore said and gestured towards the man by the door, who took his cue and bowed respectfully.

“But... Well, I'm staying here for a while in any case. Alexander is at war, I'm all alone in the castle. I'll stay here for a week or so, alright, father?“

“What about Alexander's sister? That, what was her name again...“

“Seraphine, father. She's... not very, um, interesting company, father“, Rosalie pouted. Theodore snorted at her and shook his head, but he seemed amused.

“Well, if she's ready to handle your responsibilities while you're here...“

“Oh, she's ready. She knows what to do. She's been mistressing the castle much longer than I have. Really, she does a lot for me.“

“You mean she does things instead of you? Are you not holding onto your place as the lady of the castle? You and Alexander are doing well, though? Writing letters and such?“ Rosalie guiltily realised she hadn't written to Alexander or even thought about doing so at all. Still, she didn't want her father to feel bad...

“Yes, we're doing fine. He's safe and sound, so far. As far as duties go, I haven't really had much to do. And I'm sure when I get the hang of it all I will be doing much more than I have now...“

“Aha, good to hear. What about grandchildren? Will I be expecting to see grandchildren in the future, hmm?“ Theodore asked brightly and patted Rosalie's hands with his free hand.

“Well, I'm not sure, but I have been feeling a little off in the mornings...“ Rosalie smiled a little, telling herself that a little white lie wasn't so bad. It made her father happy, and it's not like she said she was expecting yet, just that she might, and she had been feeling off during the last days. Granted it was because of worrying about Jonathan, but... Her father did not need to know that. Theodore beamed at Rosalie when he heard this.

“That's so wonderful to hear, Rosie! It does make me feel so very old. I'm going to be a grandfather“, he chuckled. Rosalie managed to smile back. It did feel good to be with her father again, even though he wasn't quite his old self at the time.

Theodore took a deep breath and motioned for the servant to come closer.

“Yes, milord?“

“Go and tell servants to prepare my Rosie's old rooms for her use again.“ The servant bowed and left the room. Theodore looked at Rosalie and smiled happily at her.

“You know, my dear, I do feel much more alive now that you are here. Actually, a walk might do good for me. Would you like to help me get dressed more suitably, so that we could go for a stroll outside.“

“Yes, of course, father“, Rosalie said and stood up. She fetched him his tunic and his pants. She was looking for a pair of boots when the servant returned. The man frowned a little, but helped lord Theodore to get dressed. The servant followed them outside to the hallway, where Theodore stopped.

“Father, you're already out of breath“, Rosalie said and took her father's arm. “Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea...“

“Nonsense. I'm out of breath because I've been lying on the bottom of that damn bed for the past days. When we get out I will feel better. Now, I'm fine. Let's go then, shall we?“ They went slowly, taking one stair at a time, steo by step. Theodore was breathing heavily when they got outside, but the sunshine did seem to refresh him some. Rosalie was surprised to see her father in this poor condition. The servant had taken lord Theodore by his other arm, and though Theodore had at first complained a bit, he'd eventually allowed himself to be held by both arms.

“I'm not this unable yet“, Theodore grumbled lightly. They stood on the steps at the main doors to the castle. People hurried to and fro through the castleyard, pausing to bow to lord Theodore on their way. Theodore nodded at some of the passing and bowing knights politely.

“Ah, it does good to see the sun properly. No wonder I felt worse being shut in that stuffy room all day long“, he said and smiled. Theodore pulled himself together a bit, standing straighter. He shrugged off the servant's hold and stood easily on his own. He still let Rosalie hold him by his other arm, though. He pulled his arm towards his chest and patted Rosalie's hand.

“What marvelous strength I have found again. You really bring out the best in everyone, Rosie. I'm glad you're staying for a while. I can gain my health back“, he whispered to Rosalie, who grinned back to him as an answer. It was good to be back home.

After a very brief walk around the castleyard, they returned inside and went back to Theodore's rooms. He changed back into his underclothes and climbed to bed. Theodore complained a little that he wasn't quite that tired, but after some chatting he was starting to nod off. Rosalie promptly ordered him to just lay his head down and sleep some. Theodore snorted, but consented and was surprisingly soon asleep. Rosalie patted the covers in better place and left the rooms quietly. The servant behind, standing by the door, keeping ready for lord Theodore. Rosalie went to her own rooms and said thanks out loud when she saw that a bath was waiting for her. After being on the road for some days it was a pleasure to be home, with a real bed waiting just for her.

Rosalie spend the following day talking with her father. It'd been a long while since they'd really sat down and discussed things. They were both in his study and Theodore explained to Rosalie what it had been like, being in war all those years ago.

“I hope Alexander will be fine. We had such little time to be together before he left...“

“Well, one night certainly isn't that much, true enough. But I'm sure he'll manage, he's a dedicated and level-headed young man.“

“Young, father? He is twice my age...“ Rosalie smiled and raised her eyebrow.

“That's still young too“, Theodore waved his hand and looked at a map on his desk. He studied it and Rosalie watched him.

“Well... Father? You know, you said, or well, you have said more than once, that...“ Rosalie started uncertainly. “You know that, if... If I ever needed anything, that I could talk to you?“

“What is it, my dear?“

“Well, there's this one knight... At- err, Alexander's castle...Well, he's...“ Rosalie frowned and bit her lip.

“What? Has someone done something to you?“

“No! No...! But he has, um... Well, been... Sort of- rude... Not respectful. Lewd.“

“Well, have someone flog him. You are the lady of castle, they can't be allowed to be disrespectful to you.“

“Yeah, well, actually, he's at the warfront too now. It's just that, I don't really know how I should deal with it, I mean, I can't just order someone to be punished because they looked- um, dirtily at me.“

“You should inform Alexander. He'll know what to do with the knight once he comes back. Might even deliver some justice, since he's already there. But, my dear“, Theodore said and rose out of his chair. He came to Rosalie and took her hands into his.

“You must understand and know that no man is allowed to do so to you. Not to my daughter, and not to his wife. You are above them. Remember that...!“ Theodore smiled and squeezed Rosalie's hands, who nodded back at him.

“And now let's go get something to eat. I'm suddenly really hungry. Are you hungry, my dear?“ They chatted as they left the study.

Only a few days after being congratulated on recovery by many knights, Theodore was going down again. Rosalie had come to see how he was feeling, when he had not been present at the breakfast. Theodore was lying on his bed, holding his head and breathing heavily.

“Father, are you alright?“ Rosalie asked concerned and came next to the bed.

“I can- barely breathe... There's a- like, a pressure- ngh, in my chest“, Theodore mumbled in between breaths. “My head is so...“ he shook his head. Rosalie froze for a moment, not knowing what she should do, but she ran out of the room and yelled at a servant to fetch someone. The man who had been with lord Theodore in the past few days was quickly brought and he took over Rosalie. He quickly examined Theodore, asking him some questions, whilst some servants stood near the door behind Rosalie, all of them looking uncertain and concerned. Rosalie just watched helplessly at the man and her father, clenching and unclenching her fists.

“Alright, everybody out. Lord Arcelus needs to rest. That goes for you too, milady. Let your father be in peace for now. There's nothing you can do.“ The man ushered everyone out of Theodore's rooms, but stayed behind himself. Rosalie was last to leave and she reluctantly closed the door behind her.

Rosalie wandered around the castle, poking at tapestries and snapping at servants if they didn't move out of her way fast enough. She felt agitated to even consider thinking a thought that her father might not be getting better just yet.

But he was fine yesterday! He was just fine! He can't- Rosalie shook her head and turned around to walk back a hallway she'd just walked along. She refused to think that her father might be dying.

He's not. Not! Not. My father is fine. He's fine. He will be fine. He won't. Even in her mind she couldn't add that one word at the end. It seemed too much.

Theodore's condition worsened during the next two days. He wasn't seen at mornings, and he could hardly get out of bed. Rosalie remarked that her father looked like he was wasting away from inside. His hair looked more white than ever and even his skin's colour was closer to grey. He was coughing all the time and taking long, agonizingly shallow and wheezy breaths.

One morning when Rosalie was sitting at the table in the great hall, picking her breakfast moodily, not feeling hungry at all, she saw a servant come into the hall. Her father was absent again and Rosalie was annoyed to see the man who should have been next to her father's side to take care of him wasting his time wandering into the great hall. But the man had a somber look on his face and a heavy dread fell over Rosalie.

She silently pleaded that the man not come to her. She didn't want to hear anything. But her prayers went unheard. The man spotted her and approached.

“Milady“, the man stopped in front of her and looked at her sadly. “I'm sorry, but your father...“ he didn't need to continue. Rosalie looked away, tried shaking her head, but nothing she could do would change the way things were. There was nothing she could do. All the noise in the hall quieted down, and Rosalie cried. The tears just were there. They just didn't stop.

A week went by. Theodore was buried, but there was still a memory service to be held and relatives and other nobles started arriving. Seraphine came, bringing Rosalie some black clothes. She pushed Rosalie out of the bed and even went as far as to try and wash Rosalie herself when she refused to have a bath. Rosalie just felt too apathetic and Seraphine took over her and started ordering the servants to prepare everything for a funeral.

Summer turned into early autumn. Winds grew colder. The mood in the castle was subdued.

Rosalie sat on a chair as servants brushed her hair and hurried about in her rooms, making things ready for her leaving. The black clothes she was to wear were on the bed. The servants helped the indisposed Rosalie dress. Seraphine eventually showed up and pulled her out of the rooms by her arm.

People had gathered into the great hall, all dressed in various shades of dark colours. Many wore dark blue, and women held small white flowers in their hands. There was a low murmur going through the hall when Seraphine and Rosalie entered. Another king's man approached the two of them.

“Are you ready to begin, milady?“ the king's man asked Rosalie, but Seraphine stepped slightly in front of her and nodded at the man. The king's man motioned for a servant, who banged on the floor with a ceremonial staff. The crowd quieted down.

The king's man cleared his throat and began a speech. Rosalie wasn't listening at all. She was standing next to Seraphine, staring at an indeterminate spot somewhere ahead of her. Seraphine nudged her and hissed her to try and show some respect when the king's man was speaking. Rosalie glanced at Seraphine, but then went back to staring at nothing.

After the king's man was done the crowd politely clapped some. Then the murmur of chatting started again. Servants brought out one large table and started bringing out dishes of food. The chatting gradually grew louder as people started to relax now that the sad speeching was done. Seraphine grabbed Rosalie by her arm and walked her around the hall, whilst making small talk with a handful of other nobles. Rosalie followed, but uttered not a word to anyone. She barely even bothered to look at people.

Rosalie's cousing Charlaine and her father came and expressed their condolences to Rosalie.

“My brother was a good man and I'm sorry to see him gone. But, my dear niece, you need not worry. His lands will not fall into despair and unlawfulness. I will take over and care for everything“, Rosalie's uncle said, not sounding particularly sorry. Charlaine grabbed Rosalie into her arms and hugged her briefly, almost sobbing her words of sorry. Rosalie jerked away from her, but nobody seemed to care.

Then people started leaving. Some stayed over for the night. Rosalie spoke a little, voicing her wish that she be allowed to stay in the castle taking care of things for a while, but Seraphine told her to forget it. Rosalie's uncle was now the lord of Grathwood's region, and she didn't need to stay. Rosalie wasn't Arcelus anymore, but a Maluard. If Rosalie had had a brother, then perhaps the lands and castle wouldn't have had to go to Rosalie's uncle, but as it was, no girl was allowed to rule by themselves.

The uncle chatted with Seraphine while the servants were bringing down Rosalie's trunks and loading them onto the carriage the two of them would use during the travel back home. The uncle explained that he'd already decided he would give the castle to his son-in-law-to-be, as soon as Charlaine got married. Afterall, he couldn't leave a castle unattented, and he didn't want to more out of his own one. Rosalie climbed into the carriage to escape hearing what her cousin planned on doing in the castle once it was properly hers.

Seraphine kept glancing at her while on the trip, but said nothing. Rosalie mostly just stared out of the window, silently. It took them another four days to get back home. After they'd gotten through the castle gates, Rosalie jumped out of the carriage and walked right in through the double doors, hurried up the stairs, went to her and locked the door behind her. She fell on the bed.

A couple of times someone came to knock on the door, but she didn't rise to answer. Mary came twice asking her to open the door, but Rosalie just didn't care.

Mary's patient efforts in trying to get Rosalie out of her depression gave results eventually. When Rosalie finally let her in, she mostly just hugged her, not even trying to come up with empty things to say to her.

Mary convinced Rosalie to have a good long bath, get properly dressed and eat a healthy meal. Rosalie was still prone to fleeing suddenly to go cry in her room, but she was slowly getting more in touch with everyday life again.

Then news arrived from the warfront. A messenger came to lady Seraphine, since Rosalie wasn't there for a change. Seraphine smiled when she read the letter, thanked the messenger and almost ran to Rosalie's rooms.

“Rosalie! Rosalie!“ Seraphine called for her as she burst into her rooms. Rosalie lifted her eyes from a book she'd been skimming and frowned surprised at Seraphine.

“What?“ she asked, mystified why the usually so stoic Seraphine barged in like a bad-mannered commoner.

“He's coming back! They've won! Alexander is returning soon!“

“He is?“ Rosalie asked and smiled. It had been a while since that'd happened, too.

“Yes, he writes that he will be coming home in just a week.“

“That's the best news I've heard for a while... We must start getting things ready for his return!“ Rosalie said and put the book away. She felt energised and eager to do something worthwhile. She went to Seraphine and they joined arms, and left her rooms. They had so much to do. All sorts of food had to be gathered to be ready for preparing for a feast, the castle should be cleaned thoroughly and, oh! So much more.

Most of the troops and men would be returning a day earlier than Alexander. The knights would come some time during the afternoon, while Alexander wrote that they would ride during the night and arrive suitably at morning.

When the guards finally came and informed that they could see an approaching group Rosalie and Seraphine, along with some servants, all hurried to wait at the main doors.

The knights rode into the castleyard and most gave their horses to servants gladly. Rosalie and Seraphine both greeted them warmly and bid them they go straight to their lodgings in the castle to have a bit of a rest.

Rosalie had almost forgotten about Jonathan while she had been grieving her father, but all the feelings he'd raised in her on that night he'd locked the door came flooding back when she noticed him out of all the knights. But when the knighst started going on their way, some into the castle, some into the barracks near the back of the castle, Jonathan took the reins of his horse and disappeared into the stables. Since some knighst stayed there to exhange news with Seraphine, Rosalie could stay with them also to see more of Jonathan. But when he finally came from the stables, he simply walked right past them all into the castle, without even the smallest backward glance. Rosalie felt uncertain, but tried not to show it to anyone.

Why didn't he look at me? she wondered, and didn't dare think of the answer. But it was her fault he'd been sent to war and he knew it. Did he hate her now? It can't have been that bad...

But in the castle's great hall where there was otherwise great merrymaking as the knights enjoyed the rich dishes done for the occasion, Jonathan looked more serious than others and not once looked towards Rosalie. Rosalie kept glancing in his direction over the brim of her goblet. Indeed, most if not all of the knights were more subdued than before. What was it like in war? Rosalie hoped Jonathan did something more like he used to, just laugh, just smile at the other knights, at her... He spoke, but he didn't jest. He didn't smile. He wasn't himself anymore, Rosalie could see that. And her conscience called heavily upon her. It was her fault he was like this. She'd no doubt ruined his life now.

Her thoughts of his solemn face simply wouldn't leave her alone. She tossed about in her bed trying to think of anything else, but the thought that All my fault, all my fault kept coming back and on top of everything else possible. Rosalie gave up. She got dressed and set out into the castle. She was going to seek Jonathan out and... Apologise, perhaps. Something to ease her hard conscience.

After the knights and guards had arrived from Theodore, Jonathan had been given a whole room to himself, since he was supposedly in charge of the knights and guards. Apparently the rumours that he'd spent the night mostly locked in a room with Rosalie hadn't gone very far, and the room hadn't been given to someone else while he had been at the warfront. Rosalie sneaked through the hallways, peering around corners to see that the way was clear. She didn't want to be caught going about the castle in the middle of the night, with the intent to do things people might misunderstand and disapprove if heard about.

She stopped uncertainly behind the door to his room. She paused to think that what she was going to do was properly an incredibly bad idea. But she had to apologise and make sure Jonathan was okay... She breathed deeply briefly, gathering her courage and knocked on the door. At first she didn't hear anything and she almost thought relieved that Jonathan was asleep and she could go back to her room, sleep the night and speak with Jonathan in the morning, but then she heard him calling to enter from the other side.

She warily opened the door. Jonathan was standing with his arms crossed, his back towards the door, facing a fireplace with a crackling fire burning in it. It was the only lighting in the room. He didn't turn to see who was at the door. Rosalie coughed, still only halfway in. She hoped Jonathan would turn and she could say what she wanted to and leave as quickly as possible, but Jonathan just asked who it was.

“It's me, Rosalie...“ she said quietly and pushed the door open a little more.

“Ah. And what do you want?“ Jonathan asked, still not turning to watch her.

“I... I was just- worried... You don't seem like your usual self and...“ Rosalie muttered and stepped inside. Jonathan opened his arms and leaned on the mantle of the fireplace, looking down into the fire.

“Worried, were you?“

“Yes, very much. I couldn't even sleep-“

“So to ease your own feelings you've come here, hoping to make you feel good about yourself again, hmm?“

“No, it's not just that...!“ Rosalie protested and closed the door behind herself.

“But it is mostly that, is it?“

“No, I... I'm... I'm sorry, Jonathan.“ Jonathan raised his head at this, but still didn't turn around. He stayed quiet.

“You are... alright though, aren't you? Alive and well?“

“I am alive, I think“, Jonathan answered hollowly.

“Was it... Was it, at the warfront... Was it- bad?“

“You have no idea what it was like“, Jonathan said and turned to look at Rosalie.

“I'm sorry“, she whispered and turned her face away from him. Jonathan watched as Rosalie stood uncertainly in the middle of his room. Slowly his face lost the frown he'd been wearing since she'd spoken and began to take another look on. He contemplated her as Rosalie gently blushed and fidgeted with the hem of her shirt.

“Sorry for what?“ he finally spoke up. Rosalie lifted her gaze and frowned at him, not understanding what he meant.

“Sorry for what you said? For what you did?“ Rosalie didn't answer. Jonathan stepped closer to her and continued.

“Sorry that you sent me away? Sorry that because of you, I had to kill or be killed? Sorry that I didn't die? Sorry that I survived and came back?“ Jonathan asked quietly standing right in front of Rosalie, who had turned her face away, too ashamed to look at him.

“Hmm?“ Jonathan prompted, but Rosalie just shook her head weakly, without an answer. Jonathan crossed his arms behind his back and walked around Rosalie. He paused and for a moment they stood both with their backs to each other. Jonathan turned, looked at Rosalie and stepped closer. Rosalie could almost feel him, he was so close to her. Jonathan lifted his hand and gently touched Rosalie's hair. He leaned towards her, and Rosalie's eyes fluttered shut by his touch.

“Sorry that you love me?“ he whispered to her ear. Rosalie jerked away and rounded to face him.

“I don't- I can't...! I don't love you, I'm married...!“ But even as Rosalie said those words she knew she was lying.

“I can see, you know. I have eyes, right here. You're in love with me. Rosie-“ Jonathan said and took her hands into his. Rosalie tried to pull away feebly, but Jonathan squeezed her hands and looked into her eyes, demanding her attention.

“Rosalie... I'm in love with you. Don't you see?“ he gently said and smiled sweetly. He bent down and kissed her, and all the protests she'd been trying to come up disappeared away, and she gave into the kiss. Jonathan wrapped his arms around her, pressing her by the small of her back closer to him.

All those feelings she'd felt during the spring came back, stronger than ever. A thought flitted through her mind, Was it really that short while ago? but then all she could focus on was Jonathan's lips on hers.

Somehow she forgot to resist him. Somehow she just didn’t pause to remind herself she was married. They soon ended up in the bed and spent the night together.

[center]----[/center]

Rosalie stretched languidly and blinked. Jonathan was nuzzled against her, his arm around her. He was awake and watched her with a small smile on his face.

“Morning“, he mumbled and rose to lean on his other arm, still watching her.

“Morning“, Rosalie said back and grinned.

“And how are you today?“ Jonathan asked brightly, his voice a little gruff.

“Fine... You sound terrible. Is that your morning voice?“

“Yes“, Jonathan cleared his throat and grinned, glancing around the room. They stared into each others' eyes for a while, smiling contently. Then Jonathan rolled on his back and sat up.

“You should go soon, though. It's still kinda early in the morning. I was going to wake you up soon... You need to return back to your own rooms“, Jonathan said and distracted Rosalie by leaning in to kiss her.

“Mmhmm...“ Rosalie mumbled against his mouth, with her eyes closed. Jonathan paused and kissed her some more.

“Right...! That's it...! No more kissing, you have to go now...“ Jonathan informed, but apparently changed his mind because he decided to kiss her some more still. Rosalie slowly slipped away and rolled off the bed onto the floor with a thud. She stood up, gently touching her bottom. She turned to Jonathan who was amusedly watching her pat her own bottom.

“That looks nice“, Jonathan commented grinning as Rosalie bent to pick up her skirt. She straightened and stuck out her tongue at him and tied the skirt's band back up. She fetched her shirt and put it on, while Jonathan got out of the bed and came to stand in front of her again. When she got the shirt in place Jonathan grabbed and started kissing her again.

“I thought I was supposed to be going...“ Rosalie muttered in between kisses.

“Ye're not in a horrible hurry yet“, Jonathan mumbled and pulled her closer.

“Nuh-uh, I have to go now“, Rosalie giggled and pushed at Jonathan gently. He kissed her one more time, took a deep breath and let go of her. He stood in behind the door, opened it for Rosalie, and they bid byes, grinning sheepishly.

Rosalie hummed on her way, not bothering to hide about. She wasn't paying much attention to anything around her, just lost in thinking about Jonathan and their night together as she was. Then someone was ahead of her and she stopped to look who it was.

Her good feelings evaporated and a almost gut-wrenching, painful fear teared at her. Seraphine was glaring at her with so much hatred in her eyes it was surprising Rosalie was still alive under her ruthless stare.

“Seraph-“

“Don't you dare call me by my first name. To you I am lady Maluard, and no less“, Seraphine spitted out venomously.

“What, why are you...“

“I know what you were doing tonight!“ Seraphine cried out, with red angry splotches on her cheeks.

“What are you saying...?“ Rosalie squeaked.

“You... harlot...! Having an affair! In my brother's own home! His own wife!“

“I... No, I didn't-“ Rosalie shook her head desperately.

“I know what you've been doing all the while you were here! I've looked at you, watching that blond knight of yours! And I finally caught you! I knew you were with him all the time, I just had to wait my time...!“

“No, that's not it! You've got it wrong! I didn't do anything-“

“Spending the night with him, in the same room, and you claim you've done nothing?! How dare you!“ Seraphine screamed and made to come and hit Rosalie, but she stepped back, raising her arms in front of her protectively. Seraphine bit her lip and closed her eyes, to take a deep breath.

“I will make sure my brother hears of this travesty as soon as he comes back“, she snapped.

“No, please, you can't tell him...!“

“I will seek him out and tell him everything, you can be sure of that!“ With that said Seraphine eyed her with disgust one more time before storming off. Rosalie took quick, shallow breaths, gulping for air, fearing she might faint if she didn't manage to breathe. She trembled with fear and guilt. She suddenly shivered from cold, and she sniffed and started running back to her own rooms.

Mary was pacing her rooms looking concerned. She hadn't known where her mistress had gone and she had been worried to find her rooms empty when she'd come to wake her up.

“Milady, where have you- oh dear, milady, you look terrible! What's wrong? You look like you've seen a dragon, milady“, Mary said watching Rosalie go to her bed and collapse on it. Mary came to stand next to the bed, looking at Rosalie concerned.

“Milady, what's happened? Are you alright?“ Rosalie didn't answer. Instead she grabbed for her pillow, heaved a little and started crying, taking harsh quick breaths.

“Milady...?“ Mary whispered, watching Rosalie with growing panic when her mistress wouldn't explain what was wrong, and Mary didn't know what she could do to help. Rosalie buried her head in her pillow and her sobbing muffled a little. She shook and started rocking slightly backward and forwards. Mary twisted her apron in her hands, staring at Rosalie.

“Milady?“ Mary leaned closer to call for her. She hesitantly sat next to Rosalie and wrapped her arms around her mistress. Holding her gently, patting her and making calming noises Mary embraced Rosalie.

“I...-“ Rosalie managed to gasp out in between her breaths. She shook her head.

“Milady... Is something wrong? Your husband lord Alexander is coming soon, you will look terrible if we don't start getting you ready...“

Rosalie just started crying harder, in heart-wrenching sobs. It all hit her right there and then. How could she? Her life was just crushing down on her. Everything she'd done was a weight falling down upon her and she was too small to stand on her own. She was too weak.

Despite her despair Rosalie did eventually calm down enough to stop crying. She stood slumped as Mary quickly took out her clothes. Rosalie knew she had to do something. She had to tell Alexander herself. Right away, and hope for him to somehow forgive her. Mary helped her dress, watching her warily in case Rosalie might break down again and burst into tears. She kept coughing inconspicuously as she folded the night clothes away. Rosalie went to her balcony and looked out. Suddenly she abruptly tunred around and ran out of her rooms. Mary didn't have time to react to this in anyway, but after a moment of surprise she threw the clothes on Rosalie's bed and hurried after her.

Rosalie stood shivering at the main doors to the castle, waiting for the knights to arrive. She'd seen a group of people approaching from her balcony. She felt sick to the bottom of her stomach, and wanted nothing more than to go back to her rooms and hide forever and ever, but if she didn't tell Alexander what had happened herself, Seraphine would, and she wouldn't tell the truth. Seraphine didn't believe her. Rosalie had to make Alexander see the truth. She didn't mean for it to happen...

As the knights rode into the castleyard, Rosalie couldn't stand still anymore. She gathered her skirts and jumped into the fray.

“Woah there...!“ Alexander eased his horse to calm down and leaned towards Rosalie, thinking she was just very impatient to see him. He smiled a little confused, but came off his horse and a servant took the reins from him.

“Rosie!“ Alexander took Rosalie's hands into his own and was about to lean to kiss her on the forehead, when she moved away from him a little.

“Milord, please...! We must have a talk...!“ Rosalie looked at him pleadingly.

“Is something the matter? We have all the time to talk now...“

“Please, come right now, I- ... We- have to talk...“ Alexander bright face grew more serious at Rosalie's tone of urgency.

“This is something that cannot wait?“

“No, milord. Please“, Rosalie's voice broke and she breathed out, trying not to start crying there in front of everyone. Alexander glanced around, but took her arm into his and started leading her into the castle. Seraphine was waiting for him at the main doors, and sneered at Rosalie when she saw her.

“Brother, I must have a word with you“, she stepped in front of them.

“You also? Later, Sera, I will hear my wife first“, Alexander said and frowned. He walked past her, pulling Rosalie with him. Alexander lead Rosalie into his own study. He made to offer Rosalie a chair to sit, but she shook her head and waved for him to sit down. Alexander sat on his armchair and looked at her expectantly. Rosalie licked her dry lips nervously and wrung her hands.

“My lord...“ she started and cleared her throat.

“What is the matter?“

“I...“ Rosalie gasped, not knowing how ever she could explain her actions. Her hand shook as she raised it to her face, trying to hold the tears back. Alexander looked at her alarmed and rose from the chair, coming around the desk to her, but stopped when Rosalie lifted her hands palms outwards.

“Rosie...“

“My lord, please. I'm so sorry“, Rosalie gasped out. “I'm sorry... I- have not been...“ Rosalie stopped to gulp back tears, so she could speak. “I have not been- faithful“, she whispered and covered her face with her hands, sobbing. Alexander watched her crying with narrowed eyes, hardly believing what he'd just heard.

“What?“

“I'm sorry, my lord. I didn't mean for anything to happen. It's all my fault...“ Rosalie couldn't bear watch him, and kept her head down.

“You-“ Alexander uttered, but didn't seem to be able to continue. He opened his mouth a couple of times, but closed it again shaking his head. Alexander turned away, went a couple of steps off, but turned again.

“Look at me“, he growled. Rosalie sniffed with her eyes closed, covering before him. Alexander repeated his order, grabbing her arm forcefully. Rosalie yelped and looked at Alexander, looking scared and pitiful with her puffy eyes and red nose. Her lower lip trembled as she sniffed.

“You mean to say“, Alexander growled dangerously low, “that while I have been away, in war, you have...“

“It was just one night!“ Rosalie cried. “Please, my lord, you must believe me. I didn't mean for it to happen. It was just one night. It was just... last night...“

“Last night?! And you knew I would be returning in the morning! Was it something you just had to quickly do before I got back and you lost your chance?!“ Alexander shouted, clenching her arm painfully.

“No, please! I didn't mean to do anything!“

“But you obviously did! How am I to know you have not done more, then? For all I know you could be lying! Why are you telling me this?“ he snapped desperately, letting go of her. “Did you get caught? Well?“

“I...“

“This can't be real“, Alexander muttered and raised his hand to his forehead. “I just returned. I was waiting for my quiet life to begin now. This is not something I wanted to hear...“

“I'm sorry, my lord. Please- forgive me.“ Alexander didn't look at her for a moment. He wasn't sure how to answer. Then something came to his mind.

“Who was it?“ he asked hollowly, a look of deep anger on his face.

“My lord...“

“Tell me. Who – was it?“ Rosalie looked at him pleadingly, but bowed her head again.

“Sir Jonathan Hearthwell“, she whispered and sniffed. Alexander suddenly grimaced and punched a chair. It fell down with a loud clatter, startling Rosalie. Alexander leaned on the desk with both arms and closed his eyes, trying to breathe levelly.

“My lord... Please forgive me“, Rosalie whispered.

“I don't know what I'm going to do“, Alexander muttered.

“Please...“ Rosalie said again, her tears starting anew. She was so afraid he might not believe her, that he might not forgive her. Alexander sighed and turned away.

“I need to think on this for a while“, he muttered almost to himself and went to an adjacent door in the room, which lead to his personal quarters.

“Please-“ Rosalie gasped and stepped towards him, but Alexander opened the door and banged it close behind him. Rosalie fell to her knees and held herself, trying to stop crying. She winced and sniffed when she heard a crash from the other side of the door. Rosalie rocked herself on the stone floor for a long while before she could calm herself enough to rise and drag herself off to her own rooms, where she sat limbly on her bed, utterly miserable.

[center]----[/center]

On the same day, during the evening, there came a knock on Alexander's study's door.

“Who is it?“ he called grumpily. The door was opened and his sister Seraphine looked inside.

“Brother?“

“What do you want, Sera? Can it wait? Today has been an awful day“, Alexander muttered and pinched the bridge of his nose. He could feel a headache coming. Seraphine stepped inside the closed the door promptly. Alexander frowned wearily at the heavy thud.

“I have some news for you“, Seraphine said and crossed her arms on her chest.

“More bad news? I really am not in the mood for any more of those, Sera.“

“You will want to hear these. I don't know what that little chit told you, but I know for sure she's not telling the truth whatever it was.“

“Sera-“ Alexander said in a warning tone.

“She's lying! That little harlot has been having an affair behind your back, brother! I don't know what she said about me, but you can know for sure I have always-“ Alexander slammed the desk with his fist, making Seraphine start and pause speaking.

“I am not interested in hearing this, sister.“

“What? What did she tell you? You are not going to believe her-!“

“Be quiet, you! This is none of your business, sister, do you understand?! What happens between me and my wife is no concern of yours- shut up!“ he yelled when Seraphine was about to protest. She kept her mouth shut, but she was so angry her nostrils absolutely flared.

“You are not the lady in this castle anymore, do you understand? My wife rules over you. You do not speak that way about my wife, sister!“ They stared at each other angrily, Seraphine clenching her fists, standing rigid before his desk.

“Do you understand?“ Alexander repeated, rising to stand and leaning on his desk.

“As you say, brother“, Seraphine answered with a raised eyebrow.

“Do not talk about my wife. And get out, I don't want to hear you anymore tonight“, Alexander told her and sat down, dismissing her with a wave. Seraphine snorted quietly, but curtsied and left the room. She banged the door closed behind her and Alexander groaned a little. He settled back into his chair and sighed. He really needed to think and the headache wasn't making things any easier.

[center]----[/center]

“You had called for me, milord?“ the knight asked from the doorway, holding the door open.

“Yes, come in and close the door“, Alexander said. He was standing in his study, watching a map on his desk. The knight did as he asked and came to stand beside him. Alexander was frowning a little, and keeping quiet. The knight waited patiently.

“You're in charge of winter watch at the border, aren't you?“

“Yes, milord.“ The knight noted to himself that lord Alexander was looking terrible, pale and unshaved as he was. He'd heard rumours in the castle already, that the lord's new wife had been deceiving him when he had been doing his duty, risking his life at the warfront. Lord Alexander certainly looked bad enough to have know such. You couldn't trust the young and pretty ones. Girls just didn't care about what they did.

“Yes... There is someone I want you to take along.“

“Yes, milord.“

“And I want you to place him to watch over... this part of the border“, Alexander muttered and placed his finger on the map. The knight looked over and raised his eyebrow in surprise.

“That's a dangerous area, milord“, the knight said uncertainly.

“Yes. I know. And he may not be placed anywhere else, do you understand?“

“Milord?“

“Is this perhaps too difficult for you to follow? Should I have another knight appointed to your position?“

“No, milord. I understand. Who is the knight that...“ the knight waggled his eyebrows meaningfully and glanced at the map.

“Sir Jonathan Hearthwell“, Alexander said, narrowing his eyes darkly.

“Yes, milord. I will inform him of his departure immediately.“ The knight bowed and backed towards the door. He paused when lord Alexander spoke without turning around.

“Do try and make sure I don't have to be disappointed, hmm?“

“Yes, milord. I understand.“ The knight gulped and quickly got out of the room. Alexander rested his chin on his hand and continued staring at a name written with red ink in the map, next to a red dotted line. If Jonathan didn't get himself killed during the winter at the border, Alexander would make some more surreptitious orders, this time being more explicit to make sure that Jonathan was to die, no matter what.