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The Laws of Love

Author: Silver
Rating: Moderate
Status: In Progress


Summary

It is in the Year of Our Lord 1294 when Blossom turns 15. Old enough to be betrothed to a man. Old enough to become a bargaining chip for more power for her father. When Nobleman Bartholomew, an alcoholic with serious chastity problems, becomes her husband, she does not want to go about in the matters that she should as a wife. 

Besides, Bartholomew has plenty of women for that. He doesn't care about her, nor she him. All that matters to him is that she is descendent of Saint Peter himself, her family is rich, and she is being called his wife. All that matters to her is that she has her maid, Agnes, her pet dog, Cerberus, and that her sister Clover visits when she can. 

Strange things are happening, though. Statues of Satan in the gardens, an out-of-bounds area with strange noises coming from it, and the mysterious "W", who Blossom longs to meet. Plus, the occasional crazy person who manages to sneak inside the gates. 

However, soon Blossom begins to realize more and more about court life, and with it, some of the ways to have a life you want. Sort of. Knights engage in "Courtly love", or courting a noblewomen for her favor. It is a way to have a romantic relationship with someone you actually love. Best of all, it's completely risk-free. As long as you don't have two knights in shining armor.

These are the laws of the court. The laws of the manor. The laws of love.

Chapter 1

I groan dramatically and flip my hair over my shoulder. There was no way I was going to wear that thing. It was bad enough that I had to attend this feast for my arrogant father. I can tell what he’s doing; by wearing this, I might found a “suitable man” to marry.

My maid, Agnes, smiles softly at my resistance, but with an apologetic look in her eye. “It is a pretty dress.” She tells me, “You should enjoy it.” I grimace, but get off my comfy bed. I’ve been picking at the mattress again; a feather pokes out. Agnes frowns, then helps me undress.

She slips the dress on over my head, then tells me to hold still while she does the ribbons that thread the back. I wince as they are pulled tight. After all, it’s sooo attractive to see girls unable to breathe correctly. Looks before health, after all. I keep that to myself, though. It was improper.

“Done.” Agnes tells me, before rummaging around the closet for the shoes that match perfectly. I study my reflection critically. It’s blue and purple, with golden accents. It’s real gold, and purple and blue are the most expensive color fabrics. It was obvious that my father was waving me around saying ‘I have money and she’s open!’

I see Agnes pulling my long, blonde hair up from behind. She tucks it into a bun—the latest fashion statement. Or how women must dress, depending on how you look at it. Personally, I hate it. I much prefer to have my hair free-falling, maybe with a decoration in. But, until this "fad" passes, I’m stuck with it. Kind of like the corset that’s trying to cut off my circulation. 

“Step into these.” Agnes orders. It’s ironic. If I wanted to, I could make her run laps around the estate, or have her walk around in her undergarments. She has no actual authority. However, I respect her. She basically raised me. What with my father, the ego-tastic, power-hungry nobleman, and my mother who was right along with him until she died last year, Agnes was the only one who actually knows anything about me.

Well, no, that’s wrong. My sisters and I are close. There’s Clover, who has pitch-black hair. She refused to marry, deciding instead to cut her hair short and take on the role of a warrior. I am not sure what drove her to do that, but I do not question it. She goes on raids in the name of our father and is a strong leader. She trains me, and although I’m not sure how it could be useful, I do it anyway. She is turning 17 in a month. That undoubtedly means another feast in her honor, when really father will be advertising me again. If I'm still even here. 

Most nobles would not stand for such a blotch on their name, except Clover is very good at what she does. She alone brought back more treasure and gifts to our father and residing nobles that no one cares.  However, he will only stand for one warrior female in our family. I’ve already asked. Although I do not like the idea of raiding and stealing, I like the idea of marrying a man a few times my age even less.

Then, there’s Rosalyn. She has flaming red hair down to her waist. Sweet and innocent, she is the perfect example of a princess. However, she’s brought home many stray animals and asked if she could keep them. Apparently, even her puppy eyes can’t convince our father. She is only eight, and too young to have to worry about things like husbands. I envy her.

Agnes touches my arm. I’ve been so distracted I didn’t even notice that she had finished preparing me. “Now, look,” Her eyes are proud, but not of herself. She’s proud of me. I gulp and look in the mirror. The dress brings out the color of my eyes, and the gold matches my hair. There is only one thing missing. I slip my ring onto my finger.

No one, not even my siblings, are allowed to touch this ring. It was made for me by people wearing gloves, and my father gave it to me in a box. It was made by the country’s finest blacksmith, and is a symbol of my place as a member of my family, which is descended from Peter, the saint, himself. That alone gives my family a divine right.

Tonight is going to be interesting.

Chapter 2

I walk down the stairs with my siblings towards the party. I flipped on my smile, and acted like I wanted to be here. Rosalyn is bouncing and waving to everyone. Clover, however, ignores the celebration, and her mouth remains a straight line.

I can feel the gazes of many men on me. Since I am now 15, I am fair game. Sure enough, not a second after we reach the bottom does a man ask for my hand in a dance. I look back at my siblings. Clover shakes her head at me, while walking over to her knights, all of whom have earned her respect, and she theirs.

Rosalyn is goofing around with a pet dog someone was foolish enough to bring. It is a young Belgian Malinois, probably only a few months old. Undoubtedly, my father will be angry. I sincerely hope that they will not be killed because of this. My father hates all animals, and rightly so. They are dirty beasts, only good for sustenance. However, seeing the dog lick Rosalyn on the chin, I can't help but smile. 

"Ahem," the man said, hand still outstretched. Putting on my smile, I take it. As soon as we hit the floor, he pulled me in way to close for comfort. I suppress a sigh, not that I could have done so anyway with my corset. When his hand begins drifting down my back, I "accidently" step on his foot. 

Frowning, he leans in and whispers, "I have money. I could make you and your father very happy." I smile, even as I say, "Yes, but I will not make you very happy. Now, get your hand off my ass or I will set my guards on you before you can bat an eye." 

His face blanched, and his hand immediately went back to its original position. As soon as the song ended, he thanked me, and I him, out of duty, before backing away as quickly as possible without being disrespectful. 

The next few hours were much of the same, until I had danced with every man here. Sighing, I sat down on a chair and grabbed a drink of the nearest table. I was about to take a sip when someone sat down and said, “As if. We are not having a drunk at this party.” I look up, unsurprised, to see my father looking –more like glaring- down at me.

“Okay. Do we have any boiled water here?” I ask. He rolls his eyes but nods, and hands me one off a passing tray. “Remember; I will be giving my speech in a few minutes. I will present you, and you will keep quiet and smile. It will be flawless. Is that clear? I will not have another,” He pauses and leans in. I smell the alcohol on his breath, “Another freak in this family.”

I knew he was going to say that, but I got angry anyway. “Oh really, Father? Did it ever occur to you that you are the embarrassment? Always drinking and pillaging; you are little more than a pirate. You use Clover’s strength for your own personal gain, while scoffing at it. She is twice the person you will ever be. If not more.” I keep my voice to a scream-whisper, so that no one can hear except for him and myself.

My father considers this, then takes the water from my hand. “We will discuss this later.” He growls, before striding away. Translation: he doesn’t want to look bad in front of everyone. Plus, he still needs someone to marry me. Can’t do that if they know how “rebellious” I am. I’m not rebellious; I just don’t like people ordering me around. Apparently, however, my being a woman in this time makes it so.

My father calls for attention, and the orchestra stops playing. Everyone quiets down, and turn to him. I am standing by his side, a little behind, in the perfect position. Enough for them to see me, but not so much that I distract from the wonderful noble speaking before them. My sisters are a little behind me. Clover has her sword strapped to her waist, and my sister is waving at everyone and grinning. A few wave back. A few smile. Everyone else is focused on my father.

“In the year of our Lord 1257, it is with great pleasure and joy that I celebrate this feast of our family’s ancestor, Saint Peter.” He pauses for effect as people realize what he’s saying. This family is descendant of the first pope himself! I can hear the whispers that are quickly quieted as he speaks again.

“It is also my pleasure to announce that my second daughter, Blossom, is old enough to be betrothed to a man. This man must come from good roots, be powerful, be strong, and be a good man.” In other words; he must have money. “If you would like to court this fine woman’s hand, you must have the courage to try and convince me to let you have her. It will not be easy; I do not wish to lose my daughter. But, if you want her, you must take her.”

He gestures to me. I give a knowing smile, blow a kiss in the general direction of the males (causing mayhem), and walk up the stairs after my father and sisters.

~~

It’s been a few days since the celebration. Men have come visiting my father, telling of their wealth, assets, and power. I keep away from all the chaos, choosing to stay in my room, and waiting for the bruise on my cheekbone to fade. Agnes has tried to cover it with my hair so I may go about, but I told her to leave it; I would be staying in my room for a while.

If the men are disappointed by lack of attention, they do not care. One tried to sneak into my room. Now, no one else does. The man took a small trip out the window into the pit. He was, well, better to not go into details. It was rather sickening.

Nevertheless, my father is dragging this out. I believe he is hoping to make a little more money before coming to his decision. Plus, he wanted to see how desperate people were for my hand; enough, and he could squeeze some more assets out of them.

The day when the man will win my hand is approaching far too quickly for comfort. Clover has come by more and more often, teaching me more skills. She is determined that I know as much as possible when I go to a new home. When I asked her why, she said, “In a new and unfamiliar place, you will know something ordinary and familiar.”

I guess I agree with that. In addition to fighting skills, she is teaching me other things. Like how to make weapons out of sticks and rocks, how to make bandages out of clothing and random objects, and how… most of all… how to get out a bad situation in which I am outnumbered. “Always get to a high position. Then you can pick them off as the come up.” She tells me one day.

Then, she wraps me in a hug and holds me tight. I am surprised. She does not give signs of affection very often. When she is proud of something, she gets this sparkle in her eye, and she maybe, just maybe, smiles. She is doing both. Suddenly, I feel a pang of longing. I may not see her again for a very, very long time.

Chapter 3

I stand to the left and a little behind my father. My siblings are forbidden from interfering, but I can see Rosalyn hiding behind the curtains, and I am sure Clover is standing among the guards that are here and there around the room. Sure enough, one of them winks at me. I bite back a laugh and turn my attention to the double doors as they begin to open.

Clover had snuck around and had her knights listen during conversations. From this she discovered that he was a noble, rich, older than I, and lives far from here; approximately fifty miles or so to the east. I can’t imagine being that far away from here. I have never even left the estate, except to go to Church.

My father always situates us in the front row, right in front of the statue of Saint Peter and Jesus Christ. He says it’s our divine right to sit up here. I personally would rather sit towards the back; not out of disrespect, but because I can always tell that everyone is watching us to make sure we live up to our name.

Afterwards the priest would always come by. Father would compliment his Homily, then they would chat about its meaning. I disliked this part of going to Church the most. Father John’s Homilies were all the same: he would preach about how we all need to be good to our parents and husbands by listening to and respecting them. He would turn a perfectly good story about selflessness into a tutorial on how to behave properly. Like the one about the woman and the well. It was about her kindness, not her unfaithfulness to her husband damning her to eternal punishment in the dark place. However, it was never an option to point that out.

I’m distracted from my reminiscing as my father announces, “Nobleman Bartholomew.” A man walks into through the double doors, and it’s all I can do to keep from running away screaming. He’s over thirty. No, in fact, he looked to be closer to forty. His clothes are nice and well-pressed, and he has a flower in his breast pocket. However, his wandering eyes and flask poking out of his coat pocket tell me all I need to know. This man is as old as my father! If not older!

I try to step back, but my father nonchalantly grasps my arm, holding me where I was. “It is a pleasure for you to be here.” My father says calmly. Speak for yourself. I think, trying to wiggle my arm out of his grasp. His hand tightens around my am, and I decide to stop, feeling the beginnings of a bruise forming. I can see Clover’s eyes narrowing, her hand resting on the hilt of her sword.

“So. I’ve been chosen for her?” Bartholomew asks, turning to my father. “Indeed. We have already discussed the family transactions. All that is left is for you to take her to her new home.” My father shrugs, holding out his hand to shake on it. With growing panic, I realize what’s about to happen.

“Father!” I suddenly say. They both freeze. I can’t change any of this.  I realize. “As a… a parting gift, may I take my maid?” I ask. Bartholomew throws back his head and laughs. My father frowns. “Blossom. You shouldn’t ask for such a thing. That is saying that he does not have maids. You insult him.”

Bartholomew shakes his head. “Of course not. The girl wants her maid, let her have her maid. It’s no difference to me.” My father shrugs. “Very well. You! Send for Agnes!” He orders to the closest guard. The guard nods and quickly leaves the room.

The two nobles shake hands. My fate is sealed. I look up at Clover. She is visibly shaking with rage. Not wanting her to make any moves, I look down at my feet, then back at her. Her eyes are blazing, and her hand is now gripping her sword. I wink at her, then look at her with my “Don’t you dare” eyes.

For once, she actually listens. Her hand relaxes, but her eyes stayed glued to me as I am led out of the double doors to the carriage that is waiting for me. For us. It could have been my imagination, but I can almost swear I saw a single tear track down her face. 

Chapter 4

I stroke the carraige seat. It's velvety and soft beneath my fingers. I can't help but smile; mother used to have a dress that was made of the fabric. She rarely wore it, instead choosing to flaunt the dresses rimmed with gold thread. However, whenever someone asked if she still wanted it, or if they could give it to the lower class, she would panic and say that of course she always wore it.

Bartholomew is staring out the window. I open my mouth to say something, then close it. I have nothing to say. We ride to his manor in silence. When it comes into view, I can feel his gaze shift to my face. I keep it in a straight poker-face, like the guards do. 

It's a nice enough place. It looks a few stories tall, with high windows and what looks like the edge of a majestic garden. The building is tall and in relatively good repair. From what I can tell, and am not surprised by in the least, Bartholomew has money. 

I keep myself from looking too impressed, but he presses me for an opinion. "What do you think, my lady?" "You have a nice estate, my lord." I say quietly, without showing emotion. He nods absently, and turns back to the window. 

The carriage rattles to a stop, and the door swings open. Agnes is holding the door, her prim smile already in place. She holds out her hand, and I take it as I step down onto the stone path. Agnes gives my hand a reassuring squeeze before letting go, and helping Bartholomew down. 

Once both of us have our feet firmly on the ground, the carriage clatters off. Bartholomew strides up to his home without looking back. Agnes pushes me forward gently, and we follow. 

The inside of the manor is even more beautiful than the outside, I grudgingly admit. Soft rugs underfoot, paintings along the walls, and a large chandelier dangling over the foyer. I stare at it for a moment, then turn away. I shouldn't look too impressed. 

As it is, when I saw the furniture, I stopped dead in my tracks. The tables and chairs were perfectly carved, with beautifully crafted lines and  intricate decorations. My fingers brushed the stairwell as we walked up, shocked at how flawless it was; there wasn't a single error in any of the carvings. Such skill... I wondered who the carver was. 

Bartholomew leads Agnes and me up the stairs to another hall. He opened a door. "Your room." He told me. To Agnes, he said, "The servants will show you where everything is." Then he goes to leave, stops, and turns back around. "The rooms in the East Annex are out-of-bounds. Do not enter them." 

I raise an eyebrow at his retreating back. Agnes says nothing, but I can tell she knows what I'm thinking: What's over there? 

My room is like the one I had before. A four-poster bed with curtains that draped around it against the West Wall. Frilly and white--ugh. Against another wall-the South-is a vanity. There is a closet against the North wall, and a full-length mirror hanging next to it. I can tell it was all made by the same person who did the other furniture. There are floor-to-ceilings windows on the East Wall, but other than that the walls are all the white that comes from the mixture used to keep the bricks in place. 

I walk over the the windows and look out. I can see the gardens, a part of the woods, and what looked like the edge of the stables. Turning away from the view, I walk over to the vanity and trace the carvings. Once again, it is so detailed it takes my breath away. Curls, like shoots, that burst into intricate swirls and curls, all of which continues up to the very edge of the wood. I smile at it, then turn to the mirror. Out of the side of it, I see the vanity. 

I freeze, and turn around. From afar, I saw something my hands did not. Carved right near the top is a W, formed out of the offshoots from the bottom. I trace the W, and wonder what it stands for. "Blossom?" Agnes asks, jolting me out of my reverie, "Shall I draw you a bath?" 

~~

For the next few days, I get the hang of the new manor. I venture the hallways, avoiding the East Annex... for now. Instead, I discover the kitchens, the dining hall, the ballroom, the tea room, and, most importantly, the library. As soon as I stumble into it, I look around to make sure no one was around, then grabbed as many books as I could carry. Although women technically weren't supposed to read, I was more advanced than even some of the guards. 

"I will not have an ignorant daughter." My mother would often say, getting me to quote books and explain passages of the Bible. I enjoyed learning, and it was one of the few times I actually appreciated my mother. Of course, every other moment of the day was spent by her at some event, so there wasn't much to compare to.

Once I had hid the books under my bed, and was trying to decide a better place to put them later, I heard a commotion outside. I quickly ran over to the window. It was nothing of importance--someone had knocked into a horse and ended up in the mud. However, as I watched this, I realized I hadn't been outside since I got here. Maybe I can see the gardens! I think excitedly, skidding down the stairs and to the front door. 

A guard, once seeing me, raised an eyebrow and coughed lightly. "Miss Blossom, are you... sure you wish to go outside dressed like that?" He was bright red. I looked at myself. I was fine except... my hair was down. But I really didn't want to go upstairs, call for Agnes, and have to wait while she fussed over my hair. By then, it might be dark out. 

"I'm sure." I say, and brush by him. He frowns, but lets me pass. I walk quickly to the gardens, then broke into a run. Wind was flying through my hair, blowing it out in a golden curtain behind me. I laugh, actually laugh. I'm not sure why. It just bubbles up from inside me until I can't breathe. I stop and lean against a fountain, laughing and gasping for breath. When I've caught my breath, I look up at my surroundings. 

"Wow," I gasp.

The fountain was high and arching. There was a statue of Hestia, with her hands held out, palms up. Water shot out of her palms, giving the illusion of flames rising out of her hands. The droplets that fell were like sparks. I stare, mesmerized, until a beam of sunlight hit my face. I close my eyes and take a step back.

Opening them, I see that the sunlight has bounced off the water coming out of Hestia's palms, making a rainbow stretch across her hands, like she was holding it. Looking back, I realize the sun is low in the sky. The sky above me is dark blue, before melting into a vibrant red-orange, At the horizon, it is a gold so bright it hurt to look at it. I glance back at Hestia before running back towards the manor.

I skid in front of the doors, and the guard lets me in. He nods a greeting to me, and I smile sheepishly at him, pushing my hair behind my ear. Then I walk up the stairs as fast as I can, before entering my room and ignoring Agnes' curious look. All that mattered was that I was exhausted, wanted to go to bed, and, tomorrow, explore the gardens more. 

Chapter 5

As soon as I wake up, I quickly sit up and push back my silken covers. Pulling open the curtains, I jerk back, surprised. There's a young woman standing in front of my bed, obviously waiting for me to get up. Agnes is standing off to the side, a half-frown and half-worried look on her face. 

"Hello," I say, pushing my hair away from my face. The woman dipped her head in greeting, but doesn't say anything. "Am I in trouble for something?" I ask politely. Manners are key. That was one of the first things mother taught me. 

"No, you are not, miss. Lord Bartholomew would like to remind you to wear your hair in the proper form when leaving your chambers. As the rules dictate." The woman pulls out a small quarto, and places it on my desk. "For your perusing. Lord Bartholomew has asked that you follow them, as you are in his household, miss."

"Yes ma'am." I say, half-grinning. The woman looks shocked, then shakes her head quickly. "Oh, no, miss, I'm not... I'm following orders, miss."

"I was just jesting." I say promptly. After a pause, I ask, "What is your name? And, pardon my asking, but what do you do?" 

"I am a maid, miss. I am to clean your chambers, give and carry messages, and anything else you would have me do, miss; I am at your service. And, miss, my name is whatever you wish to call me. You could call me an idle-headed dog, and I would still answer, miss." She flushed a deep red at these words, and stared hard at the floor. "I am sorry, miss. I did not mean to curse in such a manner-"

"It's fine. I do not care what I could call you. I asked you what your name is." I wave my hand, drawing her eyes up from the floor. 

"My name is Florence, miss. Florence." 

"Well, Florence," I say, "Why don't you read me the rules while Agnes dresses me?" 

Florence blushed again, and said, "I am sorry, miss, but I am nnot supposed to know how to read. I do know the rules, though." She brightened a little, "We learn them as a child. Miss." She adds the last word quickly after a moment of silence. 

"Well, then. could you tell them to me?" I ask. 

"Yes, miss." She nods, and begins reciting the rules as Agnes helps me to get dressed. 

"Rule one: You may not go to the East Annex. Rule two: You must be dressed appropriately at all times. Rule three: You do not leave the estate without express permission. Rule four..." 

it seems to go one forever. The entire time, Florence has her eyes closed, her hands folded behind her back. Her hair is a dark brown, nearly black, and coiled into a neat bun atop her head. Her clothing is standard maid uniform: a cotton dress almost to the floor, sandals, and a crest woven over her left shoulder. However, she is tall, probably around 5 and one half feet. it is a wonder how she takes up so little space, standing there. 

She is young, about my age, perhaps. Looking closer, though, I realize she is too young even for that. She is probably thirteen, maybe fourteen. Why would someone that young be a maid? I wonder. But, I immediately answer the question. In an estate this large, maids and workers can sometimes fall in love. And when that happens, children magically appear out of the air. Obviously, I know what actually happens, but it's horribly rude to say such a thing. 

In my estate, we didn't have very many younger maids and servants. Sometimes, though, during one of my lessons with Clover, a boy would be weeding the gardens, or a girl be watering the lilacs. Whenever this happened, Clover's expression would close off, and she would become extremely impatient with my jesting and playing. 'You are here to learn." She once told me sternly, "You cannot let your guard down."

That was after there was the boy that fell off the roof and broke his neck because it was raining, but Mother demanded that he clean off the leaves that instant. I remembered that boy; he used to be the one that would sometimes play little games with me to have me learn my lesson for the day. 

i'm jolted out of my thoughts when I feel Agnes prodding me. "Lift your foot, Blossom. You can't leave without you shoes." I step into the sandal, then the other. Florence is just finishing up. "Failure to comply with the rules results in punishment according to the infraction." 

Once completed, she opens her eyes and unfolds her hands. Her fingers are long and slender, and her eyes are a warm chocolate brown. "Was that satisfactory, miss?" She asked hesitantly. 

"It was fine." I said, then turned to leave. At the door, I paused. "Do not touch my bed other than to re-dress it." I order. I do not want them to find my books. Agnes raises her eyebrow, but nods. "Of course, Blossom." Even after all this time with her, she would not dare disobey a direct order. Florence nods, "Yes, miss. Anything else we should do?" 

I consider. "Do whatever you wish, as long as a warm bath is ready at the setting sun." Then I leave, before they can ask me anything more. As soon as the door is closed, I rush down the stairs, then slow down to a walk. Rule 6: No running. 

Still, I get to the garden as quickly as possible, and start off on the stone path. This time, I soak up my surroundings instead of running by them. The garden starts off with high bushes, but quickly turns into a land of color. Roses and flowers in red, white, pinks, purples, and yellows in every shade. Lush green shrubbery make the colors seem to be even brighter. Soon, I get to the statue. Instead of looking at it, I walk around it looking out. 

There is a clearing with stone around it, and, in the shade of a tree, a bench for sitting on. Suspicious, I run over. Sure enough, there is excellent craftsmanship... and a W. However, it is covered with dust and leaves. I wonder if anyone comes out here anymore. It's so beautiful, how could you not?

Apparently, however, you could. Everything was kept in perfect shape, although I doubt anyone other than those who clean the gardens had been here in a long time. Sighing, I turn away from the bench. I do not like to think about such things. I need to keep myself together; even if no one is here, I am still in public. I must be a lady. 

I can tell that the statue is in the center of the garden, so I follow a second path. This one is just as well kept, but there is less flowers, and more trees and shrubbery. Hesitating, I stop. Something about this place seems... off. Glancing over, I see a small marble statue, facedown and dirty. Bending down, I turn it over, wiping the dirt off of the face. 

Gasping, I drop it onto the ground. It rolls, but does not break. Backing away quickly, my hands over my mouth, until I am far enough away that I cannot see it. Then, I turn, and sprint back towards the fountain as fast as I can go. 

After all, no garden is supposed to have a statue of Satan. 

Chapter 6

I hurry to my chambers as fast as I can without flat-out running. As it is, some people give me strange looks as I pass. I can only imagine what they see: the lord's new wife, with dirty hands and wide eyes, racing up stairs. 

As soon as I get to the door I burst in. Florence and Agnes look up. Florence looks guilty, and Agnes looks upset. Agnes is holding the quarto that Florence had brought in, and there was a paper with scrawly letters on it. 

"Blossom, are you alright?" Agnes asks, jumping to her feet. I'm gasping for breath, and my eyes are still wide with terror. Florence rushes to Agnes, whispers something, and hurries out the door. 

By the time I finally calm down, Florence is back, carrying a tray with hot broth on it. She places it on the desk and gives me a cup. Between shaky sips, I tell them what I saw. They were silent, but their eyes got bigger and bigger. 

"How could this have happened?" Agnes asks, shocked. 

Florence tilts her head to the side. "Perhaps it was meant as a jest? A prank, mayhap?" She doesn't sound convinced. 

"However it happened, we must tell Bartholomew. He will take care of it." I say firmly, putting my cup back in the tray. Lifting my hands, I realize I have left dirt streaks all over the cup. "Oh, sorry." I say, and try to wipe it off. 

"It's fine," Florence told me, "I'll take care of it, miss." 

After washing my hands free of the dirt, I follow Agnes into the hall. "They gave me a map of the estate and told me to memorize it." Agnes explained as she took a left and continued down the hall. I recognized where we were going immediately, though. Sure enough, soon, we were standing outside of the large doors that led into the library. A guard was standing outside it. 

When he saw us, he said, "Pardon, but you can't go into the library. Women are not to enter the library or any learning institution without express permission: Rule 8." 

"I am Lord Bartholomew's wife, with an urgent message." I say, straightening my shoulders and giving him a level gaze. It was not a glare, more like a "I am your superior and do not make me turn it into a glare" look. 

His eyebrows shot up and he dipped his head in repect. "Miss, I am sorry. I did not recognize you. I shall call for him. Please, wait here." Then, with his face burning, he went into the library. 

A few moments later, he exited and held the door open for me. "Lord Bartholomew will see you, miss. However, you will have to wait outside." He told Agnes. "That's okay," She smiled. He closed the door behind me as I entered the library. 

It was even grander in the daytime. High, arching ceilings, with stained glass windows and tables with lamps with which to read by. I walked straight to Bartholomew. "My lord," I jump straight to the point, "I was enjoying a walk through the gardens when I saw a small statue in the dirt. When I brushed off the dirt so that it would be honorable, I discovered that it was... in fact... a statue of..." I trailed off. 

"A statue of what?" He asked, giving me his full attention. 

I swallowed, hard. "Of Satan, my lord." 

~~

Bartholomew, some guards, and a priest follow me along the path. I go straight by the fountain, and hurry across the second path. I can hear uneasy murmering, which increases when I point at a marble statue in the dirt. The priest approaches, looks at it, then pales. He backs away, making a sign of the cross, and announces, "Satan." 

The guards look uneasy, and Bartholomew's eyes are narrowed. The priest continued, "I will cleanse this ground, but you should search for other such defilements," he spat the word, "And dispose of them properly. Into the fire." 

Bartholomew nods, and barks an order. One of the guards puts down a bag, and places the statue inside. Then, he picks up the bag and walks back to the castle. Noticing that nobody was speaking to me, I follow him back to the manor. 

I follow the guard up the stairs. Where is he going? I wonder, The main fireplace is downstairs, in the foyer. My question is soon answered, though. The guard walks past my door and heads towards the East Annex. 

Frowning, I enter my chambers, closing the door smartly behind me. Agnes and Florence watch me as I stride over to my bed and flop onto it. "Miss, are you quite alright?" Florence asked hesitantly. 

"I want to talk to my sister, but I don't know how." 

Florence tilts her head to the side. "I know a way."

An hour later, I watch Florence leave the grounds in a carriage with a letter clutched in her hands.

I wait for what seems like hours. The sun I just beginning to set when I hear a knock at my door. I fling it open, and only see Florence's apologetic face before something, no, someone, smacks into me. I gasp in surprise and look down. All I can see is a mop of red hair and a green dress. "Rose!" I say, hugging her back. She finally pulls away and looks up at me. "When Clover got your letter, she invited me with her. Well, me and my dog."

I nearly choke on air. "WHAT? What dog?"

Rosalyn shifts from foot to foot guiltily, and looks at her feet. "Well, that dog I played with at your party. The man gave it to me, but Father wouldn't let me keep it."

I look up from Rosalyn, and noticed an expressionless Clover holding a wicker basket. "Clover!" I say, and run over to her, wrapping her in an embrace. Her demeanor softens, and she holds me tight. When we break apart, Clover places the basket onto the floor and opens the top.

A little Belgian Malinois pops out and jumps up, sniffing the room. I can't help but smile, and look up at Clover to see her barely restraining her own. "You like it?" She asked suddenly.

"Um, yeah, I guess." I shrug, watching it as it vigorously attacked the basket. "Great. It's yours." Clover smirks.

"What? What makes you think Bartholomew would let me keep it?" I ask, shocked into bluntness.

Clover's eyes narrow slightly at the mention of his name, but recovers so quickly that it may have just ben my imagination. "Well, you'll have to think of something. So, about your letter..." She trailed off, giving a pointed look at Rosalyn. Agnes catches on quickly, and comes to her aid.

"Come along, Rosalyn, why don't we go on a tour of the ballroom?" My maid asks, knowing full well what Rosalyn's answer is going to be. Sure enough, Rosalyn's eyes light up, and she nods quickly. She loves dancing, and is by far the best out of the three of us, although Clover is more cunning and I am more advanced in my learning. was more eager to learn knowledge, while Clover was always "playing" with the guards. Only, it was training, but Mother never noticed that.

Rosalyn skips out of the room, followed by Agnes. "You don't know the way, Rose..." Her voice trailed away, probably chasing after my rambunctious sister. Clover straightens once they are out of sight. She turns to Florence and said, "Please wait outside to ensure we are not disturbed." Florence nods and steps outside, closing the door smartly behind her.

After a moment of silence, Clover sits down on the edge of my bed. "What has happened so far?" She asked.

"Nothing."

Clover raises an eyebrow.

"Well, I mean, besides the statue, nothing's happened. I've figured my way around the manor... well, except the out-of-bounds." I amended. "And, the gardens. I haven't talked to Bartholomew since I got here, except the thing about the statue."

Clover smirks, then cocks her head to the side. "Well, seems like it's going well for you. Rose's gotten lonely without you, and has taken to hovering around with that infernal dog." She says the last part pointedly at the dog, which had now thoroughly dismantled the basket and was scattering the bits of it all over the room.

I smiled at Clover's obvious frustration. She was usually s level-headed: seeing her get angry at a little puppy was amusing. There was a knock at the door, and Clover immediately stood up, hand on her sword hilt. The door opened, and Florence, looking apologetic was standing behind...

"Hello, my lady, miss Clover." Bartholomew sweeps into the room. Clover dips her head, but remains where she is, "My lord."

"I was made aware that the two sisters of miss Blossom had come. I have made arrangements for you all to dine here tonight with me, and return home in the morning." Bartholomew said, "It is too dark to return home now."

"Thank you, my lord." Clover replied impassively, her face devoid of emotion. I see Bartholomew give her a once-over, then turn to me. "Your youngest, Rosalyn, is on her way back. Quite the ruckus she made, too. Nearly knocked over one of the guards."

I bit back a smile. Rosalyn had probably apologized, asked if he was okay, then keep right along going at the same fast pace, laughing and dancing. If the guard had kept up with her, she would've befriended him. If he couldn't, she would just keep going until she found someone who could.

We stand in an awkward silence until there was a loud bark, followed by the little dog scampering over to the door and scratching at it, whining. Bartholomew's eyes widen, and he looks up at us. "What is this?"

"It's Blossom's dog." Clover shrugs, sitting back down. She has apparently ditched the formalities, so I follow suit. The lord shakes his head in silent laughter. "What's it's name?" He asked.

I considered for a moment, then said, "Cerberus."

Both Bartholomew and Clover look surprised by this. "Why Cerberus? Is that not the name of the monster that works for the devil?" The lord asks, eyebrows rising.

"No," I say shortly, "I chose that because he's my guard dog, and because I felt like naming him that."

After a highly tense moment, Bartholomew nods, smiling slightly. He seemed to find my answer amusing. "Well, then, I will send for you when the room is prepared." Bartholomew left, just as Agnes and Rosalyn were entering, and the dog jumped into Rosalyn's arms. The three of us sat there, for a minute, petting Cerberus, sitting on the bed, for a few minutes. Whatever will happen tomorrow, there was still a moment with my sisters.

Chapter 7

I walked into the dining room, Clover to my right, Rosalyn to my left.

TBC

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