Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. Emboldened after her conversation with Edmond, Rose befriends with the grounds-keeper stable-boy, and learns more about the mysterious Chrystine.


ose watched from the steps outside the front entrance to the castle as Valfort’s carriage rode away into the frigid darkness. She had arrived only two days ago, been married just yesterday, and already her husband was riding out on business. That night, she had trouble sleeping, not for fear or dread, but for a distinct feeling of loneliness. Fillona would be busy with her duties the next day, and she would have no one to talk to, or tread the garden paths with.

But with the morning sun, Rose felt her spirits rise. The light chill of the castle caused her to awake feeling refreshed, and the light coming through her window made her smile at the new day. She wrapped herself in a warm dress that would keep the chill out, and ventured down the stairs and into the morning room. She rung the bell for breakfast, and to her surprise, Hurington, not Fillona, brought her breakfast.

“Excuse me, but where is Fillona?”

“She is sick today, Duchess Valfort,” answered Hurington as he set out her place. Rose found it a little surprising to hear her title for the first time. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”

“No, Hurington. That will be all. Thank you.”

The news that her friend was sick dampened her spirits a bit. Valfort was away and Fillona was sick, and so she really was quite alone today. She sighed and took her time with her meal, pondering what she should do. After breakfast, she wrote a letter to her sister, though she was sure to not mention the rather strange murders of the castle, as she did not wish to scare her younger sibling.

That afternoon she walked the garden path. Although the leaves had withered and the trees were bare, the winter buds that were beginning to bloom against the empty vines gave the garden a charm of its own, and made her feel at peace. She thought to herself about the last Duchess, of whose memory she could not escape from, and whose murder seemed, in a way, to haunt the castle still.

As Rose rounded a corner, she saw Gilmoren, the gardener, kneeling in the soil, his clothes dirty and his face shining with perspiration. The way the sunlight fell upon his features made him look younger than he had appeared in the veiling shadows of the castle, although he was still much older than she. He was a man of short stature, though he was robust and strong, and he reminded her of how a hobbit might look. He seemed to be digging in the earth, and she had, almost instinctively, begun to quietly pass him by unnoticed, but then reconsidered. Valfort had told her not to judge people so quickly, and this was her time to introduce herself better. She walked timidly up to the gardener. “Gilmoren?”

The gardener looked up with surprise, and Rose tried to comfort him with a smile. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I… just wanted to compliment you. Although it is almost winter now, you have made the garden look so beautiful. I am very much enjoying my walk.”

Gilmoren smiled at her. “Well thank you, Duchess Valfort. I try my best - me and my assistants work very hard to keep these gardens looking nice.”

“And you do such a wonderful job. And you seem to be working so very hard! What is this you are doing here?” Rose peered at the small hole the gardener had dug, and noticed a small bucket of flower bulbs sitting next to him. The girl’s curiosity, that child-like part of her that Valfort had complimented so highly, seemed to put the old gardener at ease.

“I’m preparing for spring.” Gilmore took up his spade and began digging a little more as he talked. “I dig a hole like this and drop one of these bulbs in it.” He did this as he spoke, and covered up the hole with soil. “If Grothar gives us enough water and Foiros sends us warm rays early next season, these bulbs will hopefully grow into a rosemint bush. Do you know what they are?”

Rose shook her head.

“Then you will see when they grow!” teased the gardener.

“Oh, you must tell me what they look like. Do they have flowers?”

“Yes, they do.”

“What colour?”

Gilmoren picked up his bucket and spade. “You will see in spring when the buds bloom, milady.” He laughed at her expression, which was doubtless one of displeasure.

“Oh, that is no fair at all!”

“Sometimes even we gardeners don’t know what colour flower we will get.” Gilmoren read her expression. “It’s true, Duchess Valfort! Sometimes we collect bulbs, and we know what the flower may look like, how tall it is likely to grow and what the petals are shaped like, but the colour the flower blossoms - sometimes it’s a mystery. But it makes gardening all the more exciting. You plant a bulb and don’t know what you’re going to get.”

“Gardening sounds like so much fun. I can’t wait to see how the flowers will bloom in the spring. And you mustn’t call me Duchess Valfort! Call me Lady Rose, please.”

The Gardener smiled. “Lady Rose then. What a beautiful name, and quite to my liking.” He paused a moment as though returning to a train of thought. “Oh, have you visited the stables yet?” Rose shook her head. “Then you have not met Jaken! He is about your age, perhaps a little older. I am going that way anyway - I have some tools to pick up there. You really should see the stables, and perhaps go riding sometime if you know how. The Duke Valfort doesn’t ride often anymore, not since the last Duchess passed away.”

Rose bit her lip again, and a pause settled between them before Rose had the courage to answer the gardener’s earnest looks. “What… what was she like? The last Duchess?”

The Gardener sighed and stared off down the path, to the nearing stable. “She was very beautiful, and very bold. She was confident and had this power about her. She was very assertive, and it allowed her to run the castle and the state with a very firm hand. I supp--”

Gilmoren was cut off by the sound of one of the stable doors creaking open and a horde of panting, barking dogs bolting down the path toward both Gilmoren and Rose. Rose quickly ducked to the side of the path while the pack leapt upon her companion, nearly knocking him over. He laughed as the dogs, many of them puppies, jumped up trying to lick his face. “Welcome back, Gil!” laughed a voice from the stable.

Gil looked up and met the eye of a sandy-haired man who looked quite a bit younger than the gardener, then grinned a little. “You better be careful, Jaken! Your mutts nearly knocked me over, and probably scared the new Duchess half to death!”

“The new Duchess?” Jaken asked, suddenly a bit frightened.

Rose walked timidly back on to the path where she could better be seen, and Jaken made a whistling noise that called the dogs back to their place in the stable, then closed the door behind them. He ran to where Rose stood gently brushing her dress which had become dirty from the dust the dogs raised in their trample, and bowed a little. “I’m so sorry, Duchess Valfort. I did not know you were there, and--”

Rose laughed a little. “Think nothing of it. I’m perfectly all right. And please, as I have already told your friend Gil, just call me Lady Rose. You are Jaken?”

Jaken nodded. “Jaken Ferdel, stable master of the castle, though I am not allowed inside.”

“How many horses does the duke have?” asked Rose. When Gilmoren had straightened himself out, the three of them walked together towards the stable.

“Only twelve now. Before the death of the last Duchess, the Duke owned close to thirty horses, but he sold many of them because he found he didn’t need them. Most of the horses we have now are mainly used for pulling carriages. We have a few riding and hunting horses, but not nearly as many as we used to. Do you ride, milady?”

“Yes - a little. We had horses at my estate growing up, and I was quite fond of riding. I remember it always used to excite me so, although I haven’t ridden for quite some time. May we see some of the horses?”

Jaken, Gilmoren (who Rose grew accustomed to calling “Gil”), and Rose talked together most of the afternoon, and the new Duchess felt herself empowered by a new confidence. It seemed to her that, after five years of mourning the Duchess, many of the members of the castle were ready to move on, and sought for the spring following the winter, which had seemed as though it would never come. Now, finally, with a new face in the castle and in the gardens, it felt like something living was finally awakening in the castle.

Rose came back into the castle as the sun was beginning its descent, and met with Ferka as she was crossing the main hall into the maids’ chambers.

“Ferka, I know you have a great many things to do aside from waiting on me, so I would like to request an additional personal maid - one who can help me dress and put up my hair, and other things that you should not have to bother with. Do you think this can be arranged?”

Ferka looked at her with her icy eyes and told her that it could, and that she should send up a maid that evening to help her undress and prepare herself for sleep. This was done, just as Rose asked, and the following week went by rather well. By the fourth day of Valfort’s absence, Fillona had recovered from her illness and had returned to her duties and to Rose’s company, and by the fifth day Valfort was absent no more.

With Edmond back at the castle, Rose made sure to keep her schedule free for him, and they often walked through the gardens, and Edmond would tell her about the travels he had made and the people he had met, and Rose would wonder at him. However, it wasn’t long before Valfort’s business carried him away: this time to Santhala, though he told her that he planned to be back before three weeks had passed, and Rose once again found a loneliness in her as she watched his carriage begin its journey to the capital.

That night, Fillona and Rose talked in Rose’s room.

“Has he always travelled this much, Fillona?” asked Rose, laying across her bed on her stomach, hugging a pillow under her head as Fillona lightly brushed her chestnut hair.

“To be honest, this is actually pretty good for him. He stays at the castle much more often now that you’re here. After the last Duchess passed away, he stayed away from the castle almost entirely, and if he did visit, it was typically only an overnight stay before he left again.”

“Yet, even though I’m here, he stays away a lot. Maybe she still haunts him. Oh!” Rose lifted herself off the covers. “It seems like the memory of Chrystine is the only thing keeping everyone in this castle from being happy!”

That night, when Fillona had crept back to her chambers, Rose lay awake. “Three weeks,” she told herself. “Just three weeks.”

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