Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. Rose Darindan, the daughter of a graven, arrives at the Chrynna Dabney Castle to wed the widowed duke, Edmond Valfort, but finds things not as she expected.


ears later, she would see the pathway in her dreams, overgrown with tangled vines and mist and tree branches that stretched out like the hideous arms of ghosts, leading to the stony and haunting façade of the Chrynna Dabney Castle, which loomed like the image of the dead whose memory still haunted the hearts and minds of the living. As she travelled the path now, though, the trees outside her carriage window were stunningly bedecked with crimson hues that nearly quelled the nervousness and apprehension trembling in her breast, and the vines were cut back to reveal the swept cobble road winding through the well-kept gardens. At the sight of the castle, though, with the sun glinting across the white stone walls, glinting across the windows adorned with curtains, the intricately-carved door, her heart nearly froze, and she sat in awe of the structure.

Rose Derindan, at twenty-two, had never seen a place so grand, though it was true that, though her family was wealthy and powerful enough for her acceptance as the new bride and second wife to Duke Valfort, she had never visited far from her estate, never gone to any large castle or even to Santhala, the capital of the kingdom. Already she felt her humbler beginnings like a chain strapped to her ribs, for how could any being as naďve as she come to be accustomed in so grand a place?

She knew very little about Duke Valfort, save that he had a previous wife who had died in a boating accident, though Rose could not imagine why a woman of such high status should ever be out in a boat. The Duke himself had always seemed to her a reclusive figure: her father, a graven, had little reason to ever mention his name or give his opinions of the man. He simply was, and in all his assumed stoicism he tended to be regarded more like a statue, like some sort of human machine, who collected taxes and ruled in such a way that he could not be called magnificent, though neither could he be called ineffective.

The carriage slowed as it rounded the path that drew it up to the entrance. Two well-dressed men stood there like rigid soldiers with eyes that seemed emotionless. They were both older gentlemen, though one seemed clothed in slightly fancier garments appeared to have a more aged countenance, perhaps having surpassed his sixtieth year. It was the younger one who opened the door for her, and helped her out. The soft mercoral fabric of her dress ruffled slightly as she exited the carriage, the sunlight falling on the locks of her chestnut hair. Her brown eyes peered around with an unfiltered yet quiet sense of awe, and perhaps dread. The castle seemed larger now, as she stood in front of it, the stony walls reaching up far past the highest birch or ashwude.

“Welcome to the Chrynna Dabney Castle, Miss Rose Derindan. We have been expecting you.” His voice was old and deep, like the voice of an old organ. “I am Durgen, the butler and manservant to the Duke. Beldon will see to it that your things are delivered safely to your room. If you’ll come inside, please, I’ll introduce you to the staff of the castle.”

He turned and ascended the steps leading to the door that stood high and ominous in front of them. Rose had no time to speak or even thank Beldon for taking her things in, and hurried about Durgen. He spoke as he walked. “The ceremony is to be tomorrow. I hope you’ll apologize for the ceremony not being done in a traditional manner, but the Duke is very busy, and due to previous engagements, can only have the marriage be done in this way.”

“I underst--” Rose was cut off by the sound of the heavy doors of the castle opening, sending shivers down her spine and into her heart. The brilliant sunlight of the castle gardens was deeply contrasted by the darkness of the castle: the windows were all covered, and though the place was clean, it had the atmosphere of being dusky and ancient like a tomb. She followed Durgen in and the doors closed behind her. Through the cracks of light that shone through the curtains and her eyes adjusting, she slowly began to make out that she and the butler were in a large room that extended out for several peds, doors leading off it, and then to two elegant staircases that hugged each wall yet curved with the delicacy and perfection of a melody - and how sad a melody entombed in darkness!

A tug on a thick, tasselled rope sent a low gong through the house, and out of the shadows figures appeared. They came from through the doors, out of hallways, and one woman arrived from out the west wing of the house, on the top floor, before descending the stair and taking her place among the rest who had gathered to be introduced to the Duchess-to-be. The woman’s hair was dark and pulled back tight into a bun at the back of her head. She wore a plain, black dress with white collar and cuffs, and her eyes seemed deadly cold and emotionless in a way that made Rose very uncomfortable. The woman stared at her, as though judging her - the clothes she wore, the way her hair was done, the size of her nose, the color of her eyes, the roundness of her chin, and Rose felt like she was falling short.

“These,” the sound of Durgen’s voice brought her attention back to him, “are the servants of the house.”

Rose smiled and suddenly noticed that there were only about ten people standing before her. “Why, there are so few of you! I suppose I expected more.” She felt suddenly abashed, as though she had somehow insulted them, and yet none of them showed even the slightest hint of anger or resentment - only stoicism.

“The Duke Valfort does not like to be bothered by a great many servants, and the castle never had need for them. From the left: may I introduce Hurington, the Castle’s main chef, and his apprentice Fillona.” The Chef was a man of no great weight of girth, but rather tall and stone faced. His apprentice, despite being so, was older than her, and had a certain light in her eyes that seemed to make Rose feel a little better. They both bowed and Rose nodded her head to each of them.

“The Head Gardener, Gilmoren. He has several assistants, but they are not permitted inside the castle.” Again, Rose nodded, as she did to each person to which she was introduced. As the list went on of certain servants to Valfort and people of the castle, she couldn’t hide the certain eagerness to know of the dark-haired woman whose critical eyes never left her.

“And this is Ferka. She is the Head Maid, in charge of all going-ons inside the castle, and is the highest authority below Duke Valfort.” Rose felt her stare more bone-chillingly than ever before. “And of course, you. She will be your personal maid.”

Durgen went on to introduce the various maids, and at the end Rose had a chance to speak, although intimidated, to all of them. “It really is a great pleasure to meet all of you, though I hope to get to know you better. I think that we can all be a marvellous team, working together. Thank you.” She smiled to hide her nervousness, but her smile betrayed her, she knew.

With a gesture from Durgen, all but Ferka left and returned to the various shadows and vanished like ghosts through doors. “Ferka will show you around and lead you to your room.”

“But when will I meet Duke Valfort?”

“Duke Valfort is indisposed right now with some business of state, and so he cannot meet you now. However, he has requested that you dine with him tonight. Now goodbye: we will see you at dinner.” Durgen turned and walked away, into the shadows like the others, and Rose turned to meet Ferka’s emotionless stare.

“If you’ll follow me, please.” She turned and walked to one of the doors of the east side, the left, and took out a ring of keys to unlock it. “Some rooms have been locked since the death of the last mistress of the house. All of them, however, will be unlocked by the time you have wed Duke Valfort.” The doors opened, and though it was late afternoon, the windows on the far wall showed that this room was full of sunlight in the morning, when the sun’s rays would cascade into the room, over the desk that sat there neat and clean save for an ink blot and quill, along with a few pieces of parchment. Shelves carved with vine-like designs were filled with lovely pieces of pottery and small statues. The desk followed suit, with carvings down the sides and across the drawers.

“This is the morning room.” Ferka smiled then for the first time as she entered the room. There was still a darkness about her that made her smile almost frightening, but a softness that didn’t make Rose feel she was in any harm, but rather calmed her a little. “The late Duchess Valfort would rise early in the morning and come here when the sun was rising.” She ran her fingers over the top of the desk and across the backing of the chair, looking down at these things. “She would sit here and compose all her letters - letters to family, noblemen, friends. She knew a great many people, as she was a very sociable woman. Extremely charming and exceedingly beautiful. Here she wrote and answered her letters, and saved those written to her in these drawers, neatly bundled and organized.”

There was a moment of silence as Ferka fell away from the present time and back to when her mistress would write in her elegant cursive those letters she spoke of. Ferka sighed and resumed her emotionless face, her steady eyes, and her rigid posture. “Now this room belongs to you. You may use it as you please, though it is asked you should not move anything in this room, or take anything out of it, or if you can, add anything to it.” Rose nodded. “Then come along. There is much more to show you.” Ferka walked passed Rose and out of the room, while the uncertain girl quickly followed behind.

The Head Maid showed nearly every room, save those of the Duke’s where he and his advisors met and kept their records, for those she should not be permitted to enter. However, she was introduced other rooms including the library, the maid chambers, and the main dining room, where she should be eating later that night. The dining room seemed a very plain sort of room, and it became obvious it was a room not often used, as the walls held no paintings and, save of the table and two chairs, the room was unfurnished.

Ferka and Rose ascended the staircase, the older woman a few steps in front of the younger. “I will now show you to your room. There, you may prepare for dinner. I will help you dress, if you like.”

“Oh, no, it’s all right. I think I can do it myself.” Rose quickly interjected. The last thing she wished was to be around this woman in her undergarments!

“As you wish.”

As they reached the top of the staircase and turned to the left, Rose could not help noticing the large double-door to the right side, where the shadows seemed especially heavy, and an air of forebode hung as heavy as Armeros’s hand. “What’s that room over there?”

“You must never go there!” Ferka quickly replied, turning to meet Rose’s eyes in a way that made the poor girl’s heart stop beating for a moment. “That is the room of the late Duchess. It is never to be entered by anyone except myself and the Duke…” Ferka seemed to force herself to regain control. “… and you, if you truly wish it, but I highly recommend you not. The Duke may become angered if you do.”

“I-I understand,” Rose answered in a fearful voice.

“This is your room,” Ferka said as she gestured Rose’s entrance. The room was simply decorated with an elegantly clothed bed with a canopy, a chest of drawers and a closet for her dresses, along with a vanity. The carvings on these things were light and delicate. A far window looked out to the south, and she could see that the sky had grown dark. “Your things should already be put away. I will obey your request to dress yourself. You may come down when you are prepared for dinner.”

With that, Ferka closed the door and was gone. Rose took in a breath with a shakiness that echoed her fear. Tears welled in her soft brown eyes and she quietly cried as she tried to dress herself for perhaps the first time in her life, wishing with all her might that she might wake to find herself at home once more.

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