CHAPTER II: DINNER WITH LORD VALFORT

A SANTHARIAN NARRATION

 
Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. Rose dines with Duke Edmond Valfort, her husband-to-be, and while she discovers him to be kind and warm, she notices a strange sadness about him. She wonders if he may still be sad for the loss of his late wife, Chrystine.

 

ose struggled, twisting her arms around herself, until she was able to tie up the back of her dress. It had been nearly half an hour trying to dress herself, and while her tears had subsided, a certain helplessness to the misery of her situation seemed to settle into her. She picked at her soft green dress, pulling the sleeves down a little, pulling down on the fabric at her waist, to make the wrinkles melt into a neat smoothness. She combed the locks of her hair, and then neatly and simply put it up, using two mirrors to help her view her work. All the while, a dread feeling of apprehension bubbled in her stomach.

When she had finished, she stood up, looked at herself once more in the mirror and opened her bedroom door to venture out. She jumped a little when she saw Ferka standing there beside the door. The woman turned to look at her, her critical eyes looking first into the face of the young woman, then at her clothes. “Are you ready?”

The question alone seemed to imply that her appearance had not given Ferka the impression that the young woman was prepared. Perhaps she should have worn a neater dress, her hair should have been more intricately done, but all Rose could do was simply nod and look ashamed. “Yes.”
 

Ferka filled her lungs with air in a way that supported the notion she disapproved of the girl’s appearance. “Come along, then.” They descended the stairs into the main hall, and the sound of their footsteps echoed over the walls, making the large room appear even emptier than it already was. “Duke Valfort is already in the dining room waiting for you.” Rose nodded, but was silent, stopping at Ferka as she reached the door to the dining room. “I suggest,” said Ferka in a disinterested, cold manner, “you not mention any subjects that might cause the Duke distress.” Rose met Ferka’s eyes - eyes that made her terribly uncomfortable. Ferka opened the door and, without another word between them, Rose slipped into the dining hall.

The room which had appeared so dead before seemed to now have an inkling of life of its own. The tall candles on the table flickered and the shadows moved over the walls. The table was decorated with food that somehow looked as though it were there for that purpose alone. In front of the table, with his back to her, was a man. He didn’t seem to be very big, definitely not as tall as she had secretly imagined him, although he still exceeded her. His frame was thin, and his hair had flecks of gray in it amongst the soft brown. When the door was closed behind her, he immediately turned around in a bit of surprise. His eyes were gray - gray as rain clouds, and her first impression within them was soft sorrow.

“Forgive me - I-I didn’t notice you had come in.” He approached her almost anxiously. He was much older than she, perhaps about two score, but he had a youth to him still, and a sort of boyish charm. He was neatly dressed, and his flecked hair was combed back. He seemed a little pale, though not so much as to stand out to any striking degree. “I was quite consumed by my own thoughts. I would like to formally introduce myself, if I may. I am Edmond Lynder Valfort.” He bowed to her in a most gentlemanly fashion, and she could not help but smile. His voice wasn’t deep like Durgen’s, but a mild tenor, soft and pleasing.

“Rose Alowyn Derindan.” She curtsied, and offered him her hand, as she had been taught to do. He carefully took her hand (she noticed how cold and soft his felt) and then he kissed it. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Duke Valfort,” she said quietly.

“Please, call me Edmond. And the pleasure is all mine.” He smiled at her, and she noticed how sad he seemed to be. There was something of pity in his eyes, perhaps for her, as though he knew, just by looking at her, how hard the change was, how frightening. “You must be hungry. Please.” Edmond gestured to her seat and she nodded. He pulled out her chair for her and she sat, thanking him quietly, and he sat opposite to her, on the other end of the table.

He rung a bell and a door behind Rose opened. Hurington and Fillona entered, carrying one plate each at the table. As Fillona sat the plate in front of Rose, the two girls caught each other’s eye, and Fillona smiled gently, but said nothing, as she, Rose assumed, was not allowed to speak. Hurington and Fillona left, leaving behind a plate filled with roasted taenish and redberry sauce, brown loibl bread with cheese, and other things with a delicious smell but whose identities were unknown to her, along with a cup of wine.

“I do hope the food is to your satisfaction,” she heard the Duke say from across the table as he spread his napkin across his lap.

“It looks delicious,” Rose said, and she smiled in a way that seemed to both ease and distress her host. The two of them ate in almost absolute silence. It made Rose nervous, and yet, she could think of nothing to say. She glanced up every once in a while, noticing the light across Edmond’s face that made him look older, and far more sad. Rose could not help thinking this sadness came from the death of his wife. Ferka had spoken of the late Duchess as being charming and beautiful. How difficult it must be for him to take another wife - no doubt a firm recommendation by his advisors to produce an heir.

When both of their plates were empty, Edmond rung the bell, and a desert dish was brought out of meldarapple pie and a small cake-like food that Rose could not make out. Dining went on with very few words between them - only compliments of how delicious the food was and gracious acceptances and denials.

When desert had concluded, the bell was rung twice and Fillona and Hurington took up the plates, leaving behind two glasses and a bottle of some sort of Stratanian desert wine in the center of the table. The Duke hesitantly rose and walked to Rose as she stood. “I’m sorry that dinner wasn’t… I mean, I hope you’ll forgive me for not being...”

Rose smiled. “I understand.” His awkwardness almost seemed to put her at ease. Compared to all the rigidness of the staff, his qualities made him seem human and someone she could relate to.
The Duke poured the desert wine left on the table into the two glasses and handed one to Rose. “I must admit that I am not quite used to new people, new faces, even those as charming as yours.” Rose blushed slightly and Edmond smiled softly and looked down, as though embarrassed at himself. “It’s why I tend to keep very few people around.”

“I understand. I am often nervous around new people as well.”

“Then certainly coming to Chrynna Dabney must be quite an adventure. I am sorry to have brought you here.”

“It was my father who chose me to go, as I am the eldest daughter.”

“You have sisters then? I have an older sister, though I have neither seen nor heard from her for quite some time. Last I heard she went to Ximax to study magic. She seemed to have a propensity toward water magic, although I cannot claim to be so gifted.” He leaned against the table a little, relaxing as he spoke.

“The daughter of a Duke going to Ximax?” Rose tilted her head, confused. “Why did your father let her go?”

“Oh, my father wasn’t a Duke.” Rose found herself a bit surprised at this. Edmond continued, not noticing her expression. “He was a graven, and a rich graven at that. I came to be a Duke through marriage. And my father didn’t let her go, really. She sort of… ran away.” Rose seemed even more surprised, and this time Edmond could not help noticing. “Yes. It was quite a scandal, though after I was married, everyone chose to forget her entirely. Everyone, of course, except me.”

“How terrible that you should not have heard from her! And that your father should choose to simply forget her! I should love my sisters always, no matter what they choose to do, even if they go into something like magic.”

Edmond sighed and nodded, and the two of them took their last sips in silence. “It is growing late. You have journeyed so far, and been through quite a lot today. You must be terribly exhausted. I do not wish to keep you from your sleep for too much longer. Besides, you have a very long day tomorrow: we both do.”

Rose nodded, having almost forgotten that they were to be wed tomorrow. It was true that she was tired, both from her journey to the castle and from the alcohol she had drunk, and yet conversation with Edmond had been so pleasant that she wished to stay a while longer and talk with him. She had not meant anyone else who seemed as open and sincere as him, and yet, no one in all her life who seemed so sad. “I suppose I should get to bed.”

“Perhaps - perhaps tomorrow, after the ceremony, we might take a walk together. You have not yet seen the castle grounds, and I would love to show them to you and enjoy your company. Would you mind?”

“No, not at all! It sounds absolutely marvellous.” Rose smiled, and Valfort smiled at her approval.

“Then tomorrow.” He began toward the bell. “I shall call Ferka to show you back to your room.”

“No! I mean, I think I can make it by myself.”

Edmond stopped and smiled at her. “It is too dark for you to not be shown there, but I understand that Ferka can be a rather intimidating figure at times, though I assure you the woman is quite harmless - she has worked here at the castle for as long as I have been here.” He paused a moment, then continued. “I will show you back to your room, if you’ll let me.” He offered his arm to her. She smiled in relief and took it, and together they walked to her room, and he let her off outside her door. “Tomorrow?” he inquired.

“Tomorrow,” Rose confirmed, and she disappeared inside her room, gently closing the door behind her. She leaned against the door until she heard his footsteps melt away into the quiet of the castle, then undressed herself and got ready for bed. What a relief it was to finally meet someone who seemed to care, who seemed human in a way that so many of the others in the castle were not!

She tossed and turned only very little that first night in Chrynna Dabney Castle, and soon enough fell asleep.
 


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