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.