Vol.2, Ch.6, P.1
‘Twas a week since the screening for the post of chief adjutant, with not a day spent without great thought upon Rolf… namely, his hand’s refusal of my availing own. Anger, sorrow—they were as tyrants over my heart, with one handing its rule to the other at each turn of the day. ‘Twas when such a week was beginning to leave me frayed and weary that I received a particular missive.
The seal of House Mernesse was pressed upon it. And signed within: the name of a certain servant. And signed within: the name of a certain servant.
Writ was her desire to meet me and confide a matter of some import. Of course, I obliged. Maria was a handmaiden most dear to me, after all, a soul of no replacement. Though my time as a mareschal was precious, Maria was more so, thus I wrote back that she would be gladly received.
And indeed she was; some days afterwards, Maria arrived at the 5th’s gates. But to my astonishment, she was wholly unaccompanied not only when she had walked into my chamber, but through the entirety of her trip. The way stretched much between the Mernesse residence and this marquisate of Norden; that the little girl once so timid had grown quickly into a bold, young woman came as a sincere shock to me.
“Still, no damsel should endeavour so long a journey alone,” I told her. “I’ll send for escorts when you mean to return. They’ll keep you safe on the road.”
“M’lady, pray spare the trouble,” she tried to soothe my worries. “I went the way without incident; there is security enough in a stagecoach.”
“Nay, Maria. One so dear to me deserves the utmost,” I said, then sighing. “Would that Father is as precious with you as I…”
There in the mareschal’s chamber did we then sit ourselves on settees and share recent happenings over tea. From her words, Mother and Father were both hale as ever.
Things good and glad to my ears, but hardly the aim of Maria’s days-long trip. As our chat went on, her face ever so slightly furrowed more and more, as though the purpose of our meeting were a thorn deeply pricking the tip of her tongue. So much so that I, too, began to feel its sting, and so wishing to bridge the impasse, I enquired her of it.
Hesitation gripped Maria for a moment, but with eyes newly steadfast, she began to speak.
“I’ve heard tell of Lord Rolf, m’lady. To wit, his expulsion from the Order.”
My brows fell. “Then you’ve heard aright. He was exiled… on account of cutting a horse loose beyond his ken. ‘Twas a gift from His Majesty, to be sure, but… the incident caused more a tumult than it should.”
A topic bitter upon my own tongue. But for Maria’s sake, I minded it little. And so I related to her in full the scandal leading to Rolf’s discharge.
“Exile be a price too heavy for a sin so light. All we’d lost was a horse, after all, even if ‘twas the king’s own once,” I continued at length. “No… ‘twas Rolf’s refusal to apologise that tipped the scales against him. Remorse, reflection… he was fain for neither.”
Welling up next in my heart were memories of Rolf’s tight-lipped defiance. And muddying them: his sore absence from the screening just a week past. A chance given and turned away… Reminded, I felt then the all-too familiar teeth of anger and sorrow gnawing away at me.
Sighing again, I sipped a bit of tea.
“He who sooner cowers than confronts his faults ill-bears the burden of knighthood,” I went on. “Such a soul finds pale purpose in the Order… And so I had him leave our halls.”
Ending my account of the matter, I then found on Maria a downcast look, sombre and miserable.
“I’m sorry, Maria,” I tried to console her. “To see so long-fond a friend as Rolf lose his way… It grieves me no less than it does you.”
Rolf was a familiar face to Maria for many years. Small wonder, then, that she would ache for the wunderkind she once knew. One sent far away, after having realised so little of his childhood ambition.
“Yet knighthood chooses the knight, in the end,” I filled the silence. “Only those who suit the surcoat can rightly fly the knightly flag. ‘Twas Rolf’s dearest dream, truly… though I’m afraid some dreams are only for bedtime.”
I laid down my teacup. The tiny porcelain clink against the saucer was as a clap against the air, stifled and heavy in its emptiness. Such quietude rasped against our ears.
“Maria… I have hope for him yet,” I began again. “Given chance, he might change his ways. A chance I’ve well-given him, only—”
“Nay, m’lady…” An interruption, soft yet resolved.
I blinked. “M-Maria?”
“That’s not it at all,” she insisted. “When the horse had gone missing, Lord Rolf was long-away from these halls.”
Maria’s words were as lightning, striking away my every effort to comprehend them.
“M’lady… ‘Twas not he who had set it loose.”
Maria’s ensuing relation to me was not of explanation for Rolf, but herself. ‘Twas harrowing to discover that she numbered amongst the many victims of the Albecks’ loathsome sins. There was some measure of gladness, however, in knowing that she was spared of the worst, but that she told her story with much torment was evident that, to this moment, it all yet haunted her terribly.
“Oh, Maria… What turmoil you’ve known… I’m sorry.”
“You are ever kind, m’lady.”
Always had I known Maria to be rather reserved, even back when she was of years better spent in play than chores. During those days, I could on occasion glean some shade eclipsing her otherwise sunny visage. The pieces fell into place, then, knowing now that such a past was casting that darkness upon her all along.
By her words, ‘twas one coincidence after another that led to her safe flight from the Albecks’ grip eight years ago. The doom suffered by their other victims was cause for much grief, of course, but knowing that, at the very least, my dear Maria was alive to tell the tale earned my enduring gratitude for those miracles.
“And yet what bravery you’ve displayed, to have come to the 5th with not a friend in tow. Despite the shadows of your past…” I remarked, before shaking my head. “Nay. Absent such shadows, the long way is worrisome enough, not least for a lady unled.”
“I owe much to Lord Rolf for my resolve,” she said with some light to her words. “Without him, I would yet be a mouse, quivering in a dark corner.”
“Maria…” I said fadingly. The questions yet loomed. “I fear I don’t follow. Your past was a grave plight, indeed, but… how might it touch the topic of Rolf and the horse?”
“Yes…” she answered. And then, after a breath, “I shall explain in full, m’lady.”
From there did Maria detail all she knew, from start to finish.
‘Twas during a visit paid to the Mernesse home by the Viscount Albeck and his son when she’d spotted their faces. A sight awakening the old nightmare, as ‘twere, for in seeing them and knowing what devilry they concealed did Maria realise that I, too, would someday share in her despair… and more.
Yet in spite of it, she could not bring herself to tell Father.
“…At the time, the master was mired in many pains, appealing to viscount-houses your hand in marriage. And rightfully so…” she explained. “It decided much, the marriage. Of whether House Mernesse might continue… or crumble all to pieces. That very burden was full-borne by the master. How it weighed down his every waking hour was lost not even to me. And so to trouble him further… with what but a mere memory from my six year-old self… I… I couldn’t…”
“You feared Father would’ve ill-heeded your warning, fraught as he was,” I summarised for her. “I see now… a quandary, no doubt. And that’s to say naught of accusing another noble house of wickedness. A spark for commotion, ‘tis certain…”
“Indeed… Thus I begged Lord Rolf for his aid.”
And aid he lent, from her telling. In her hour of greatest need, Rolf gave Maria his unwavering trust. And from there did he head to the Albeck viscounty, but not before bidding Maria’s silence on this matter to everyone else.
My heart jumped upon the discovery. “W-wait, I was kept deaf of all this? Why?”
“House Mernesse might’ve known misery had m’lady been apprised of the plot. Such was Lord Rolf’s thought.”
A sound one, at that, thinking on it…
The aristocratic sphere is ever fickle. An ill-turn, and a noble house can be quickly spurned of its good graces, like a hidden dagger thrust into the belly, there to let the slow and agonising death run its course.
Had I, a mareschal of an Order, been found to be involved in prosecutions brought upon my own betrothed and his ennobled family, surely House Mernesse would’ve met a like fate, even should the charges be true and just.
Maria herself said as much, that my marriage to a viscount-house promised much foothold and security for House Mernesse. Just as Father plied himself to bring the marriage to fruition, so did I toil away at my duties as mareschal to maintain my desirability as a bride… all for my family, ever tottering towards ruin as we were.
Rolf was most wise to this, I’m sure. And so did he find it unthinkable to have me involved in all that followed.
“‘Tis ill that a maidservant keeps secrets from her mistress,” said Maria. “Pray forgive me, m’lady.”
“Oh, dear Maria… You’ve done naught that needs forgiveness,” I assured her. “But of keeping secrets—did Rolf speak further of this?”
“Yes. He apologised for bidding my silence, and vowed that all else would be his to handle.”
“I see…” My shoulders fell. My heart sank. “…That is very much like Rolf… isn’t it…?”
‘Twas from there on that he infiltrated the Albeck viscounty and the lord’s manor. In just one wheeling of the sun, Rolf brought both viscount and son to justice—all by himself.
“Drunken dalliance” was his excuse at the hearing, a stupor of such severity so as to leave him empty of much recollection. There were even those amongst the leadership who disparagingly proposed his patronage at some brothel, on account of him staying the night in town.
But that was not the way of it.
No, not at all.
Rolf was risking his life to save mine.
He had lent ear to Maria’s story and plea, made for the viscounty in the same evening, and before next nightfall, put an end to this tragedy.
One that had endured too long in the shadows.
One that had so needlessly taken countless lives.
All of it, unravelled and undone in just one day.
Rolf… Ever our paragon.
Ever gallant beyond all measure.
…Ever unsung in spite of all his sacrifices.
Thanks for the chapter.
Emilie starts actually hearing the truth, which is nice…If only she had been so interested for it before. But the question is, are we going to get an Emilie Moment from it, where she makes a breakthrough and then promptly forgets about it and the lessons it such have taught?