The butler closed the door behind the last maid carrying the remains of the dinner out. With only him and the earl left, the tension vanished as well. The earl seemed to deflate like a balloon, sinking deeper into his chair. The red eyes looked tired, as if he was dragging on with pure willpower earlier. A hint of desperation showed, before he closed them, leaning his head of white hair back against the wooden chair. Nothing was left of the person the maids deemed a demon. Only a tired youth overpowered by his fate.
Silence lingered in the corners of the big dining hall, so present, that it seemed to slow time itself. The room stilled, while the wind in front of the windows whispered of times long past. The earl though didn't remember any better years. There was no memory of the time before struggling to live. No good times, no sweet words, no smiles. Nothing. Why did he hold on still? He didn't know. Hope is the worst demon. It makes us try and try again while all common sense told us it was to no avail.
The butler disturbed the melancholic silence as he strode towards the earl, standing next to him. "If I may ask, what do you think of her? Is she fulfilling your expectations?"
The earl didn't move. Only his mouth shifted somewhat as he murmured: "She is. More or less."
Patiently the butler waited for more detailed information. After a few minutes the earl lifted his eyelids a bit, peeking at the butler. "Less helpful more amusing."
The old man nodded slowly, his expression rigid, but slightly approving. "I assume, this means, you won't overthink your decision about marriage. It is most likely the best for both of you. She's too young and impulsive to stay by your side, even after what happened to her. Furthermore, her status isn't fitting. You need her to stay and help, though."
The earl smiled without any emotion. "Place guards in front of her chambers. Under her window, too. She isn't going to get anywhere. Her cousin sold her with a condition after all: not to let her stray. Tomorrow we might want to invite her to a good show. Let's see what we can get off her."
"Of course. But first, please let me help you back to bed.", the butler changed the topic, although he didn't look pleased by thinking about how the earl wanted to trick the little girl. Really, she was just out of her baby shoes in terms of politics.
"Sam", the earl warned and slowly pulled himself to a stand, "You are an old man yourself." Implying that he could walk by himself.
Instead of feeling rebuked, sadness emanated from the butler. "And the old should be allowed to die first, don't you think so?" He watched the earl clutching his chair tightly with his black gloves while shifting around it to the second door of the room, directly behind the earls' seat.
Rays of the setting sun fell through the clouds and on his features. The rain had stopped. Under the bright rays the earls white and fair skin shined, matching the snowy hair. A straight nose sat over slim lips, which he had pressed together further in discomfort. His sharp jar spoke of stubbornness and had a little scar in it. Watching him in the fading light, some would think of this scar as his only token of humanity. He could have been an immortal otherwise. Pained, but nonetheless handsome like a god.
Of course, that was valid only for his face. His body, meanwhile, didn't seem to be in a good condition. Although he was tall and had broad shoulders, they were sunken in. His figure too thin and steps shaky. Sweat gathered on his forehead out of the strain of standing by himself.
It was not until he stumbled for the third time, nearly falling to the floor, that the butler stepped in and offered his arm to help. Grudgingly, the earl accepted it.
"Sure.", the youth took up the earlier conversation, nearly inaudible. His voice was getting hoarser by the second. "But, Sam, you'll live for a hundred years more, anyway. So that doesn't count."
A little smile lifted the old man's mouth. "Whatever, whatever", he sighed, thinking silently to himself that this suborn brat, who he served since the other was born, had always been a bit too sly for his own good.
Katherine in the meantime had followed a maid back to her chambers, where she changed her clothes and let Hazel wash the rabbit. His fur still a little damp, she sat it on her tights. She was pleased to see how trusting the little thing was, because throughout being washed and rubbed dry it didn't struggle once. Now, it began licking her hands again, snuggling closer. With this, it had won her heart completely.
"What should I name it?", she muttered to herself. It was Hazel, who answered her, giving a row of ridiculous names like "Blackie", "little devil" or simply "furball". But, no, she didn't want a description. She wanted a name. Lastly, she decided to use a common name out of the Dragsa kingdom. It would be her little part of home. "Foseti", she whispered and bend down to kiss its' head.
Hazel seemed downcast about the plainness. "What does that even mean?", she muttered to herself. Regardless, she respected her lady's decision.
After playing with the rabbit to her hearts content, Katherine let it sleep on a cushion next to her bed. The cushion was one of the things Katherine had sewed out of the red cloth while riding the carriage. Other were a simple nightgown, a handbag and some stuff animals.
After seeing the earl though, she doubted that she would use them in the near future. That damn eye color of his and the cold, pressing gaze had spoiled her liking for red things. He was pissing her off.
Mad again, she chose to let the nightwind wash her anger away, so she could sleep better. She opened the window and looked at the full moon peeking out between the clouds shyly, as if it still wasn't sure, how welcomed it was. The still wet grass glistened in the scattered light. A cool breeze drifted into the room, making her shiver slightly. Hazel, standing quietly beside her, passed her a white blanket and Katherine wrapped herself into it. With her red lips and black hair fluttering in the wind she could go for snow white.
In the distance she made out a forest, dark and eerie. It sprouted at the foot of a small mountain, overgrowing a valley and further out of her sight. Houses were nowhere to be seen.
A soft noise led her eyes down. Under her window, nearly merging with the dark wall, stood two tall shadows. Katherine stifled her shriek with the blanked and stepped back hastily. Who were these people? Why were they under her window? Had she offended someone?
But no. Besides the duke and the earl no one important knew, where she was. The both of them had no interest in silencing her as of now. Some other purpose maybe? Carefully, she sneaked closer again. Hazel was watching her incredulously. "Is something the matter, milady?"
"Shh!" Katherine put a finger to her lips, gesturing her to be quiet and hoped, the shadows hadn't heard her. There was a two-storey-distance between them and her and Hazel hadn't spoken too loudly. Inching to the window she looked down on them. They hadn't moved. Were they just guarding her then? Against what? She hadn't offended anyone, and dangerous animals couldn't reach the second storey. Nonetheless, as the moonlight touched them, she identified their grey uniform. They really were guards. Most likely from the earl. But if they weren't guarding against the outside, were they guarding against?
Frowning she backed away from the window. "A*****." Guarding her this strictly and still saying he didn't know, if he needed her? Damned liar! He obviously wanted something. And if he wanted something Throwing the blanket away, she decided to make high demands for even lifting a finger. Yes, she wanted to play nice at first. But now he should see what he got by offending her!