"My Last Duchess"
I knew what I wanted. It was a simple job, with payment expected around the corner… If I did things right, my purse will be jingling with new gold-faced visitors with my commonly copper ones. Not that that was necessarily a worry for me, for this was as easy as one, two, three. One, you get hired. Two, you romp around a lavishly furnished 'house' (mini castles are a more fitting name). Three, you proclaim him, or her, fit for the union. After all, it's none of my business about how the nobility live. They don't give me a second glance otherwise, so why should I?
We are just finishing, the Duke and I, the showing of the gallery, when he pulls, with a glimmer in his eye, a vast, voluptuous, velvet curtain. With gentlemanly manners I have come to expect, he offers me a chair, and then proceeds to tell the story of this fair maiden painting.
The scene he paints was rough and biased, with a work of passion not unlike the flowers of crimson depicting in Pandolf's representation of the Duke's last Duchess. Yet, as the story unfolds I caught a glimmer joyous, fresh, and innocent as the lady must habe been before circumstance and a jealous tongue lent a lifeless forever as she.
Wide-eyed with terror and dread, I wonder, with a growing realization of the responsibility that weighed at my shoulders, why he has freely told me his secret. I am shocked to stillness, I stared, startled, at the stilled life set in charming colors on the wall. So filled with life was she, even in something not living, that it was hard to believe that she no longer is… alive. Murdered. By the voice of her own husband.
What if…? No, I must not think of it. She is a small, delicate creature; doe-like in every way… She wouldn't come to harm… would she? I hesitate in mentally checking off the acceptance… or decline… What if…? The thought frightened me. Slowly I stood, becoming aware of the Duke's endless educated chatter, accidently marking off another check on the list for dedication to the Duchess-to-be…
I started, like a horse in a race, but with a cold, calculating hand, the Duke stopped my flight, encouraging me with a firm, fatal smile to take step with him down the stairs to meet the father… Count!
Nervously, we tread, step by step, down the cochlea of stairs, each footfall clanking criminally against the caliginous sound echoing against the dark stones of the walls. Lit dimly, by torches, each shadow became hidden assassins as I stumbled for the appropriate answer to the Count.
Entering into the brightly lit hall, I blinked rapidly, staring into the faces of the Count, his wife holding his arm with dignified grace, and their daughter, clasping the Count's other arm with a doe-like consternation. On her I stared a moment longer, mesmerized by her beautiful doe eyes. Finally, remembering courtly manners, I bowed, ever aware of the Duke's presence.
"Well, matchmaker?" inquired the Count, his silver brows flashing.
"I…" hesitation befell my tongue. A first I knew, but that wasn't what worried me. Remembering her deer nature, I continued, "I see no match between the lady and the Duke." I can feel the Duke staring dumbly at me, yet I know behind those obtuse eyes lay a calculating man, burning furiously within.
I will be nobody but an agent when they come…