CHAPTER VIII: THE PIT AND THE POISON

A SANTHARIAN NARRATION

 
Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. After a couple suspicious events, Rose learns with horror that someone is trying to harm or kill her. Despite her fear, she insists these events be kept secret, particularly from Edmond, who has become reticent.

 

he Duke’s behaviour was inexplicable. Since his return to Chrynna Dabney a couple days ago, he had hardly been seen. He kept to his study, with the doors always closed. The only one permitted to enter was Durgen, who never questioned the Duke as to his thoughts. Rose would watch from the stair as Durgen left the study after delivering the Master his meal, but Durgen could not say what had come over him.

Rose was sure it must be Chrystine that haunted him. Perhaps she had tried to clear away the memory of Chrystine too quickly. Although Rose had promised to work on making a home for herself at the castle, she had halted her ambitions on account of the Duke, though the curtains remained open, even at night. Although she enjoyed them being so, there were times when she would feel a presence, even when alone, when she passed though the main hall after dark. The moonlight streaming in through the windows would dye the room a spectre-white and the shadows across the walls made her nervous.

Because the Duke had locked himself away, Rose was forced to tread the garden paths alone. A few days after the Duke’s return to the castle, she found herself so distraught over his behaviour that she went out into the chill to walk and think to herself a little. She walked carelessly around the hedges. Much of the snow had melted, and Gil had put out tree shavings to help soak up the water so the paths might not be so muddy.

The cold air and the clear sky made Rose feel light, and she thought about Chrystine, about what Ferka had told her in the West Wing that night: “You may be the new Duchess, but she will always be the mistress of this house, and of the Duke’s heart.” She stared down at the garden path and tilted her head slightly feeling the words burden on her: “…and the Duke’s heart.” It was true that Valfort had neither called on her in the night, nor visited her yet. Rose had never considered it before, but now wondered if his reluctance to produce an heir with her was somehow tied to Chrystine.
 

All at once, from in front of her, she saw Jaken and heard him shout, “Watch out, Milady! The pack comes from behind!”

Rose turned around to see the dogs rushing toward her on their way back to the stables. Gilmoren often took the dogs out to the nearby forest to help teach them how to hunt for shir, tarep, and other such game. Rose laughed and moved out of the way as the crowd of them galloped by, tongues out, bodies flying down the path. She looked back as they passed to see Gil, waving at her. His clothes were covered in mud, but he smiled nonetheless.

Suddenly, she heard a yelp and turned to see a hole in the garden walk she had not noticed before. Gil and Jaken, also having heard the yelp, rushed to the hole, though Rose reached it first. It had not been there before, but here it was, a hole at least a ped deep, and in it a motionless dog lay in the dirt. The dog had gone in bottom-first, and struck its head on the side of the hole with such force as to break its neck. Rose gasped, realizing the creature was dead, and backed away as Gilmoren and Jaken reached it and saw the dog that had fallen inside.

Gilmore got on his hands and knees and inspected the hole, and then he looked to Jaken. “Get the dog out of there. We’ll bury him in the back. I’ll walk Lady Rose back to the castle.”

Gilmoren, due to being caked with mud and dirt, didn’t touch Rose or offer her his arm, but walked with her side by side to the castle entrance. Rose was a bit shaken when she spoke. “I-I’m sorry about the dog. I… Thank you for walking me back. I didn’t even noti--”

Gil looked Rose straight in the eye. “Lady Rose, that hole was not there yesterday.” Rose looked at him in confusion, and Gil kept his vision straight. “Whoever dug that hole did so last night. Based on what was inside, someone covered it using sticks and some of the shavings I put out. I rarely walk those paths and Jaken stays to the stable.”

Rose shook her head. “What are you saying?”

“Lady Rose, whoever dug those holes didn’t intend it for a dog. They meant it for you. You often walk these paths, and the Duke has been indisposed since his return.”

The girl was speechless, falling back a little bit against the door of the castle. “But… who could have…?”

“I don’t know, milady, but you best be careful. If you had fallen in, you would have most certainly broken your ankle. Do you need my help? Are you all right?”

Rose nodded and looked to the side, thinking to herself. She took in a deep breath, and then looked to Gilmoren again. “Gil, please don’t let anyone know about what happened. I want to appear as though nothing at all happened. Don’t tell anyone, not even the Duke. We don’t know for sure, after all, that it was intended for me, and he seems distraught as it is. Will you promise me?”

Gilmoren nodded, and Rose entered the castle trying to pretend nothing at all had happened, but felt herself shaking inside with such violence that she thought her heart might come to pieces. Why would someone wish to harm her? Surely Ferka, despite her coldness, was not capable of something so terrible, and though she seemed to have upset the Duke, she knew he would not go this far, though she still did not wish to tell him about the incident. After all, he seemed to have enough to worry about.

She tried to rid herself of suspecting a ghost, but the thought haunted her - and the thought that whoever killed Chrystine might now be after her.

Rose told no one about what happened, not even Fillona, who assumed that Rose’s behaviour was due to the Duke’s. The Duchess carried on as best she could, though she could not help being suspicious of everyone in the castle, and of all the shadows that lingered in the castle. This suspicion soon led to a mild depression that caused her to spend most of her free time in her room. She did not go out to the garden to walk the paths anymore.

Rose did not leave the castle until she received a proposal from Jaken to go riding. He had remembered that riding had delighted her as a child, and both Gil and Jaken hoped that it would do so again. Jaken and Rose went out on the open fields on the west side of the castle, and Rose found her spirits lift to ride again. She cantered through the meadow and felt the wind in her hair and felt herself at peace.

“You ride well,” Jaken called to her, and Rose nodded her thanks, and then leaned down to pat her mare’s neck when the horse suddenly cried out and took off across the field.

Rose screamed as she felt the horse, seemingly without cause, gallop through the fields, and held tight to its mane as the only way to not fall and be trampled. She clung close to the horse, hearing the pant of its breathing, feeling the sweat on its skin, and sensing the fear that coursed through its strong, heavy form. Hoof beats like thunder shook her, quickening the beating of her heart. She felt her stomach in her throat. She closed her eyes, too frightened to cry.

Jaken rode his horse hard and fast to catch up to Rose’s. He grabbed the reins with a firm hand and pulled back on them, trying to slow both his and Rose’s horse simultaneously. Slowly, the horse calmed down, neighing and whimpering and shuffling anxiously, and Jaken noticed a small dart in the horse’s flank. He pulled it out, and Rose looked back at him and it, breathing hard from her racing heart. He put the dart in his pocket with a look of concern that he did not explain.

Jaken led Rose’s horse back to the stable and there she dismounted and walked to one of the stable posts to lean against it and collect herself. Jaken was leading the horses into the dusty stable when suddenly Rose’s horse collapsed. Jaken jumped back slightly in surprise as the beast went down on its knees, then rolled to its side, and Rose looked up to see the horse lying on its side breathing heavily, its nostrils flaring. She could see the muscles around its large, black eyes twitching.

“What’s wrong with her?” Rose asked, rushing to the fallen mare.

Jaken shook his head, kneeling. “I don’t know, I--” He stopped there and reached into his pocket to pull out the dart, then sighed and looked back at Rose. “Lady Rose, I think this was poison.”

The horse, after a few days, was walking again. The mare was large and seemed to be able to recover from the amount of poison injected into its system, although Jaken assured her that if the same amount of poison had been injected in to her, she would not have been as lucky. Jaken didn’t have to say it - Rose knew that dart was not intended for the horse, and she had Jaken promise to tell no one except maybe Gil. No others were to be told of these incidents.

Rose returned to the confines of the house and feigned sickness so that she would not have to venture out the next day. For three days she never left the castle, rarely travelling outside her bedroom, and saw almost no one except Fillona and her personal maid. During the day she would shuffle down to get books from the library. At night, she would try to sleep, but the trees that shook in the moonlight and cast their shadows dancing on the walls, the winds that whispered through the walls and windows, they were all the ghost of Chrystine, come to take her life.
 


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