CHAPTER VI: THE WEST WING

A SANTHARIAN NARRATION

 
Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. A winter storm keeps Edmond away from the forest, and the servants and Rose contained within the castle. When she secretly enters the West Wing, she suffers a frightening encounter with Ferka.

 

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 the bed.

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 - 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 it.”

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 library.
 


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