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
“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
“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,
“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.