“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...“
“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.
“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.“
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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?“
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.“
“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?“
“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.