dmond didn’t arrive back at the castle after three
weeks, as he would. In the last few days of Valfort’s absence, a terrible storm
hit the duchy and surrounding lands - one that shrieked and cried outside the
window. Whatever leaves still clung to the trees were ripped down, sometimes
along with their branches. Snow fell continuously for two days so thickly that
even two peds distance away appeared barely visible. The storm dyed the world in
grey and white and froze the countryside.
All members of the castle were confined within the castle walls, which seemed to
creak and sigh in fright at the storm churning relentlessly. The low howls of
the wind and the pounding of hailstones at the shutters and door kept many awake
in the castle, including Rose. The clouds of the storm, hidden by the falling
snow, blocked out the sun so that it was sometimes hard to tell the time of day.
When Fillona and the others were busy, Rose would walk the halls alone and
explore the rooms.
The lack of sunlight and the captivity indoors seemed to take its toll on
everyone, even after the storm had ceased leaving chest-high snow at the front
door. People became quiet, receding into their private souls and secrets as
though the bar to the outside was their bar to a world beyond their own
thoughts. The grey sky echoed in the hearts and minds of each of them, and to
Rose it was the ghost of Chrystine come to haunt them again.
Rose, like the others, retreated within herself, especially when the servants
were busy with their duties. She spent most of her free time in the library,
listlessly thumbing through books and journals, trying to find something,
anything of interest. When she found something that looked moderately appealing,
she would take it up to her room to read. It was one of these evenings when she
had found a book to her liking and had finished her ascent up the stairs that
her attention fell, as it often did, on the double doors of the West Wing.
The shadows that fell across the door seemed to entreat her to enter, and she
took a few timid steps toward them, her eyes glancing back to make sure the
castle was as empty as it felt. There was no one there, and slowly, as quietly
as possible, Rose opened one of the doors and slipped inside.
The room into which she entered
was large - larger than any room she had come across thus far. She found herself
in what looked like a meeting room, with a sofa and upholstered chairs of some
high quality satin that shimmered lightly in the filtered moonlight coming
through the far window. A bed at least twice the size of her own sat to the far
right, up a couple of stairs, and the canopy that hung around the bed looked
eerily translucent, and she half expected them to billow unnaturally in the
still room, but they lay neat and motionless, covering the exquisite fabric of
Rose walked quietly up to the vanity that sat across the room from the bed. The
piece was intricately decorated with vines and flowers that entwined the legs
and framed the mirror that reflected Rose’s image back at her almost with
distaste, as though the mirror had expected the fine countenance of Chyrstine to
emerge. A brush and several hairpins and nicely-kept pieces of make-up sat on
the clean surface, which Rose ran her fingers over, though no dust appeared
there. The room was clean, everything kept as beautiful and perfect as when the
last Duchess had been alive.
Rose glanced around the room, just in case someone was watching, but again, she
saw no one. Slowly she began investigating the drawers of the vanity, opening
them up and finding make-up, pins and ties, and other such things. The last
drawer, though, held in it a book, and Rose picked it up and slowly opened the
front cover to find “Chryssy’s Diary” written on the front cover. She flipped to
the date of the first entry and discovered that the diary must have been started
when the last Duchess was no older than 13. She began to flip to the end of the
book when she heard the doorway to the room slam shut.
Rose, in a single heartbeat, threw the diary back into the drawer and closed it,
then spun around to meet the cruel and cold eyes of Ferka.
“What are you doing here?”
“I-I was just…”
“Did I not expressly recommend you not enter this room?”
“Y-yes, but I just…”
“And look here! You have made a mess of the Mistress’s vanity!” Ferka walked
past Rose to the vanity where the sudden and violent closing the drawer had
caused the pins to scatter a little, and the make-up to become disorganized.
Ferka carefully began to put things all in their proper place, just as it had
been when Rose had entered the room.
Rose paused a little, then spoke earnestly to the woman. “I’m sorry, Ferka. I
was just… I was just curious.”
“The last Duchess was an astounding woman,” Ferka said, seemingly out of no
where, as she wiped a spot from the mirror.
“What?” Rose questioned, a bit confused at the suddenness of the remark.
Ferka looked back at her. “She was astounding.” Then she turned back to the
mirror and sighed to herself. “Every night she would sit here at the vanity and
tell me about her day whilst I combed her hair.” Ferka picked up the comb and
mimicked the strokes. “She had long, deep, black hair… darker than any I had
ever seen before and have ever seen since. And she would laugh - oh how she
would laugh - at the mannerisms of the noblemen. She told me everything -
Ferka slowly sat down the brush and walked to the bed. “I recall - I recall her
telling me about the scandals of the court, about one Duke’s courting another
Duke’s wife, about illegitimate children, about the men she flirted with to pull
the strings of power. She was powerful - powerful because she was sly, cunning,
and clever. Oh so clever!”
The woman never really looked at Rose as she spoke - it was as though Rose were
not part of the reminiscence that she found herself being drawn in to, and
hearing Ferka speak, watching the emotion and admiration in her eyes, filled her
with a kind of horror she had never known before. “And she would tell me of her
dreams for power. She was going to have, not only the duchy, but the entire
province wrapped around her little finger the same way she had the duchy.
Everyone feared her, admired her, loved her because she was more charming than
any woman that ever lived.”
Ferka walked to the window. “She knew everything: how to dance, how to sing, how
to play nearly every instrument, how to sail and how to hunt. She could speak
all the tongues of Santharia. She was brilliant, and of such noble upbringing
that no one could look down on her, and no one would dare! She could run the
castle and run the duchy with the same hand and still have time to throw a party
to woo and persuade men of power.” The woman stared out the window for a long
while, and slowly her expression returned to a coldness, though it did not
regain the self-control for which it had always been marked, and she turned her
glaring eyes toward Rose.
“She’s still here - don’t think that her murder has rid this house of her. She
lives here still, and she will be watching you from every corner, every shadow,
every crevice. You may be the new Duchess, but she will always be the mistress
of this house, and of the Duke’s heart. She still reigns supreme over all of
She slowly approached Rose, who cowered back. “You will never match her. You
will never be as powerful, as talented, as charming, or as beautiful. This house
was never yours, and it never will be. This house is hers! It is always hers!”
The final statement sent Rose reeling. She dropped her book and fled from the
room in panic, opening the doors and rushing across the way to her room, where
she slammed her door shut and burst into tears, hiding herself in the covers of
her bed as though to stop Ferka’s words ringing in her head.
Ferka had only watched coldly as the girl fled the room, then, taking one last
look around the room, picked up the dropped book and left to return it to the