Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. Following the wedding, Rose walks with her new husband through the gardens, who offers her good advice.


he wedding ceremony was a simple one. Most of those who attended seemed to be gravens and noblemen from the surrounding areas, and of course a few members of the castle were there as well, including Fillona, who winked at Rose as she made her way up to meet her new husband. It wasn’t exactly the wedding she had envisioned in her mind as a child. She had always believed she would get married in some very grand fashion, with a number of bridesmaids and flower girls - and of course, the groom would have been a bit younger.

She could not say she minded meeting Edmond, though. As she approached him, she noticed how soft his eyes were, how nervous he seemed, and how sincere. She did not love Edmond, but she liked him well enough, and he seemed to feel the same about her. It made the process of marriage all the easier for both of them.

When the wedding concluded, Rose pulled Fillona away to help her out of her wedding dress, and helped her take down her elegantly done hair.

“You looked so beautiful! It is a pity more people weren’t there!”

“You really think so? Sometimes it’s hard to know what the truth is. Ferka seemed to be glaring at me the entire time, and it made me feel as though a piece of my hair were coming undone, or there might have been a rip or stain on the dress.”

“Oh, never mind Ferka. You were gorgeous! So graceful! The Duke should have really hired a painter to immortalize you on canvas.”

Rose gasped. “The Duke! I am to meet him to take a walk through the gardens. Hurry - help me out of this heavy thing!”

Fillona helped Rose out of the heavy wedding gown and into a less intricate dress. After putting up her hair in a more practical fashion, the two girls parted with promises to see each other later that night. Rose hurried out of the room and flew down the stairs and through the shadowy main hall, too busy to notice Ferka watching her from upstairs, in the shadows that fell across the entrance to the West wing.

Rose found Duke Valfort in front of the gardens, watching as the final leaves descended from the nearby oak. He turned as he heard the footsteps of his newly wed wife tapping toward him, and smiled. The poor girl was breathless by the time she reached him. She seemed to try to speak, but could not manage between her gasps. The Duke Valfort almost laughed. “You did not have to hurry all the way here!” He touched her shoulder gently. “You must not think me so impatient! And, my dear Rose, I can’t enjoy your company so much if you are too tired to talk with me. Come, sit down over here and catch your breath.”

The two of them walked to the oak tree where Rose was able to recover from her dash from her room to the gardens. “I really am sorry. I almost forgot about our engagement. With all the excitement of the wedding, I suppose it slipped my mind. Thank the twelve gods Fillona accidentally reminded me of it.”

“Fillona? Then you have been making friends here! I’m so glad to hear it. I suppose if you were to make friends with anyone, it would be her. She is about your age, is she not?”

Rose nodded. “Yes, and she is far more cheerful than most of the people here.”

Valfort stood and offered her his hand to get up. “Not everyone here is as they seem, you know.” Rose took the Duke's hand and he helped her up off the ground. “You have met all these people only once or twice. Do not be so quick to judge their personalities from your initial meetings! You can’t judge a Brownie by his colour, after all.”

Valfort offered Rose his arm, and she politely took it, and together the two of them began their way through the garden paths. “I suppose you’re right, but they make me so nervous sometimes. They always seem to be glaring at me, judging me. It’s quite intimidating.”

Valfort lifted one eyebrow and looked at her with a knowing curiosity. “Has everyone been glaring and judging, or has Ferka?”

Immediately Rose blushed. She saw the Duke’s point, and her own shallowness greatly embarrassed her. “Again, you are right. I am just a little shy. I am not used to being so far from home, around so many people I don’t know. But I shall try, Duke Valfort, I shall earnestly try to make more friends here and not be so judging.”

“Good. And please don’t call me Duke Valfort. We are married now, and you are the Duchess of Chrynna Dabney Castle. Please, call me Edmond. If we are around noblemen, or gentlemen and ladies of rank, you can call me Duke Valfort, but when need doesn’t call, allow my name the gift of its utterance. Having lived so long as master of the house, I have missed being called informally by my first name.”

“All right, Edmond.” Rose smiled, pleased in the comfort they shared together.

The two of them tread through the garden, and Edmond spoke of the places he had been and the people he had met, and Rose listened eagerly. He had been all through the Santharian Kingdom, visited duchies throughout, and had even been to Santhala a few times and seen the king! He spoke of other races she had seen only in sparse number, if at all.

He had been inside elven forests and talked with an elegant fluidity of how beautiful their towns were, constructed into the natural light and beauty of forests, and of how astoundingly beautiful the race was. In many of the large cities he had met and spoken to dwarves. He even claimed to have seen an orc, which Rose marvelled at. And the more she heard, the more simple and provincial she felt, and she began to think of the late Duchess and how well she might have conversed to the Duke over such things.

Edmond seemed to note her tinge of unhappiness. “Why do you wilt so, my dear Rose?”

“Forgive me, Edmond.”

“Whatever for?”

“Forgive me for not being so worldly as you. Before my coming here, I had never been anywhere before. I have never visited the city of Santhala or heard the grand musicians and poets of Bardavous. I do not know the names of the elven tribes or where they live or what their customs are. I’ve only seen two dwarves in my life when they visited our estate once on their travels. I do not know how to dance the way the Shendar do.” Rose felt her eyes filling with tears as she spoke, and her voice breaking a little. “I-I don’t know very much of anything, really. I-I am sorry… I--”

“My dearest Rose, you speak such nonsense! Come now, do not cry!” Edmond pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her to wipe the eyes. The two stopped there on the path and Edmond pressed his hands against her shoulders. “Rose, I like you just the way you are. I think you are absolutely beautiful. I love your naivety, your innocence.”

“But why? Why should you wish for such a thing?”

“Because, Rose - it means you are not greedy for power. And your lack of greed makes you guileless. You are not deceptive. You are not treacherous. You are not vain or deceitful. You are pure and innocent and sweet. And this is the way I want you to be always. Never change, Rose. Never let this innocence in you die. Stay just as you are.”

Edmond’s voice seemed to almost hint at desperation as he spoke, and a sadness in his voice led him to stop there and embrace Rose gently, kissing her forehead. He took in a deep breath then backed away a little, and looked her in the eye with a smile. “Are you all right, now?”

Rose sniffled a bit, but handed back the handkerchief with a softly smile. “Yes. I am now. Thank you.”

The two of them continued down the path and, from then on, spoke of simpler things - family and friends, and occasions they liked. When they reached the place from which they had started, Edmond turned to Rose and said, “I am afraid I must get going. I have to leave in a few hours to go to a nearby duchy on matters of business.”

Rose looked a little surprised that he was leaving so soon, wishing he might stay. “What? How long will you be away? We have just been married! Surely you might stay away for a little while?”

“I’m afraid I can’t, Sweet Rose. But I will return when I can, perhaps in less than a week. I assure you I will be back as soon as I can. Perhaps you will be able to make a few friends whilst I’m away?” he offered.

“Perhaps, though even if I do, I will be very sad for your absence.”

Valfort smiled at her, admiring her almost child-like demeanour. “I promise I will be back soon.” He reached down and kissed her cheek gently, then walked up and into the castle. Rose sighed to herself, and, because there was still some light left in the sky, decided to walk to gardens a little longer. She kept thinking about what the Duke had said about loving her lack of culture and knowledge. Perhaps, she thought, he does not wish me to be too much like his last Duchess, as that will conjure up only sorrows that would depress him. This was the conclusion she came to, and by the time she finished her walk, the sun was nearly set, and she skipped into the castle.

That night, Fillona and Rose talked together about the wedding, making fun of the serious men and women who attended and mimicking their mannerisms and accents. Rose helped Fillona try on some of her nicest clothes, which fit surprisingly well. They spent the evening talking to one another about all sorts of things. When the night grew late, Fillona crept sleepily out of Rose’s room and retired to her own chambers.

Rose lay awake a little longer, the realization beginning to dawn that she was now a Duchess, but the realization didn’t fully strike her before the girl had fallen asleep.

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