VIII: Hidden

1647 –

An envoy has arrived. He wears Anjou's colors.

Clearly the Comte has not been made aware of, or has chosen to disregard, the recent tragedy that has befallen my house. Though, I would not have been surprised if the uproar in Champagne had been heard in the west.

He thinks to send me his youngest in a bid for wealth and connections. Apparently, she is the greatest beauty in France, with sunshine golden hair and skin like African ivory.

But I have no desire to be wed again. My last duchess remains with me, and shall stay with me until my dying day.

I draw back the heavy drapery. Her hair is the color of garnets, deep and silken; her skin fair with fading color high on her cheekbones. Her eyes are bright as she looks at me from her golden frame.

Someone knocks softly on the parlor door. "Monsieur," Jean, my manservant, enters, head bowed. "An emissary from Anjou has arrived."

The emissary in question is a small, unassuming man who wrings his hands nervously as he speaks. "My master has requested that you rethink your refusal and consider the benefits of joining your two families."

I smile wryly, amused by this thin, anxious man who seems more willing to jump out of the window than speak with me. "Tell the Count," I pause, "Tell him that if he wants me to reconsider his offer, he must visit me himself, where I shall enlighten him as to the circumstances of my refusal."

Jean flinches an imperceptible amount. The envoy backs hurriedly out of the room. "Yes, my Lord."

A long, drawn out whine sounds from the door as it slides slowly shut behind them.

Turning back, I notice something in her eyes. They look out at me from her wrought gold cage, almost reproachful, almost accusatory. But it is only in my mind, for here, she is still and flat, and completely without emotion.

I draw the curtain back across her face, shrouding her, concealing her. I smile, for there she will be forever.

Forever hidden.

Forever mine.

...

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