Chapter Three

Submitted by Riibu on 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.