For this week, I am posting Chapter 07 of Marches. This chapter was the one that hooked me and made me, though I’ll admit I am not one hundred percent sure on the why. You might see as you read. This chapter will need a lot of cleaning up and clarification in the rewrites, but the soul of this chapter will remain the same. Little things such as changes to the reasoning she ends up in the snow, the introduction to the chapter, and similar will all be readjusted. But, I do like this chapter, even as it is, flaws and all. So, with that in mind, I hope you enjoy it. And let me know what you think!
A Meeting in the Snow
After Romi’s story and some additional meetings with the Astier family members, Mirabelle’s mind had fallen heavily on the upcoming decisions. She knew that winter was coming and soon enough she would have to make her choice, to pick whether she wanted to go through with this marriage or return home. She felt she didn’t have much of a clue on which direction she truly wished to go. As winter fell upon the village, and the weather turned bitterly cold, she found herself still enjoying her life here. The villagers were incredibly supportive of her, and as the first cold nights fell a great number of them would come to her manor with gifts of warm soups or drinks, freshly woven blankets, or even just simple supplies like firewood. She was incredibly well taken care of, but she felt like a member of the town. That was something she hadn’t felt on the Coast. She had always felt distant as if the people watched her from afar. Here people seemed to genuinely care for her safety. It made her like the idea of staying, at least with the people of the village.
On the night of the first real snow in the region, she found herself entertaining a few guests. She had invited Romi back a few times, and the two had become close rather quickly. The young noblewomen had few things in common in their background, but they were both visitors in this land and that gave them connection beyond the time they had known one another. Tienette and Cynewise had also come to the home and decided to stay after the snow began to set in. The four chatted about nothing. The three youngest carried the conversation, with Tienette often just listening to them chat. They shared warm teas and shared stories of everything they could think of.
The snowstorm had been come on quickly and laid down inches of snow without much warning. It was cold, but the roaring fire stoked by the servants of the manor kept the four comfortable. They expected to be stuck there at least until the sun was high in the sky the next day. So, they would make the best of it. It was hard to think of much better than the warm room, friendly chats and laughter, and safety they enjoyed. Coralie softly played her vielle, giving a light tune to back up the conversation. All in all, it was a nice night.
As the night began to stretch, though, there came a knock at the door. As late as it was, it was impossible to consider who it may have been. It was Tienette’s guardsman who went to the door and soon returned with a half-frozen rider. Crystals of snow and ice clung to the man’s furred cloak, but the blue colors gave him away immediately. As soon as his eyes fell on Mirabelle, he fell to one knee and lowered his head.
“Lady d’Argent, forgive this messenger his tardiness.” He spoke with a hoarse voice, his throat clearly as dry and frozen as his skin. “Your father bid me bring a message and a gift.” He spoke softly. “He asked I say but one thing. His words, if I may, my lady?” The man stretched out his arms and waited for a response.
Mirabelle was a bit flustered by the sudden entrance, a bit worried as to what it could mean. With the gift, though, it was clearly in relation to her marriage. “Of course, you’ve come all this way.”
“Your father says, he hopes that your choice is clear and that he knows you’ve will have made the right choice for the honor of your family.” He did not raise up or move at all from his lowered position.
“That’s all?” Cynewise spoke quietly, likely meant to go only to her mother, but it was heard by everyone.
Mirabelle just nodded and moved over to the messenger. “And the gift?” She asked.
The messenger pulled a small ash box from one of the satchels hanging from his hip, and without looking to her, he held aloft the gift. She took it and took a breath fighting back a bit of excitement.
She looked down at him and finally let a smile cross her lips, “Thank you, messenger. Coralie will see that you have a warm place to rest, and food and drink.”
“Right this way, sir,” Coralie spoke from the back of the room, having set aside the vielle in the seat she had been sitting in.
The messenger bowed lower, and then raised up. He nodded to Mirabelle, “Mercy, my lady.” He spoke quickly, before stepping away from the girl with a lowered head and moving back and into the home to follow her servant. As he walked, the strange phrasing caught everyone off guard and a few now watched him like hawks, eyes glued to his actions as he moved off towards the dining room with the handmaiden.
Then there was a clattering nearby. All eyes were back on Mirabelle, but she had dropped the gift and without a word darted out of the manor. Most were surprised, and all called after her. She looked like she had seen a ghost, her face pale and a clearly visible quiver in her lips as she fought to get out of the room before anyone could truly see her reaction.
Bastien was up and after her first, racing to the door to follow his ward. He likely would have caught her if a voice had not called for him.
“Sir Bastien,” Marquise Tienette spoke swiftly, “Let her go,”
“No, my lady, I need to…” He had paused to turn, to speak to the Marquise directly, when he saw her.
Tienette stood over the gift that had been dropped to the floor. The box had broken, letting its contents spill to the floor in the center of the room.
Bastien stood with his mouth agape, stunned silence his only response. Tienette just nodded and took a deep breath. She didn’t say anything for a moment, before finally letting out a sighing, “Oh, Mirabelle. I am sorry.” She said as she knelt next to the box and pulled the gift away from it. It was a small black stiletto, only a few inches long. She touched the blade, and her lips twisted to a disappointed snarl.
It had been a blur, but as he followed the path of footprints in the snow and dark, he heard a faint sound – sobbing. He moved towards it, following the path that had been taken by the other as best he could without stumbling. He walked through the brush and snow, and as he came to the edge of a hill he saw her. From the disturbed snow, it looked as if she likely slid down the side of the hill, at least halfway. With no light, she was lucky she wasn’t terribly injured.
“Mademoiselle, are you alright? Are you injured?” Sarus called down to her.
She turned her face up to see who was speaking, but the two had never met. Neither Mirabelle nor Sarus could have recognized one another. She responded, with a bit of a laugh at herself, “I am uninjured.”
Sarus took a breath and nodded. He waved a hand at his bodyguard, who stood down and waited just behind the top of the hill. “I’m coming down anyway.” He said, stepping over onto the slope and slowly but surely sliding down the hill with a torch in hand. As soon as he reached the bottom he moved over to where she sat, nestled near a frozen creek bed and under a young willow tree struggling under the weight of the snow. He knelt next to her, and for the first time, the light fell on her face.
The light fell on pale skin and silver hair, now damp due to the snow that had fallen on her during her hasty escape. He took a breath and offered the torch over to her. “Here, my lady, take the torch. It will help warm you if just a bit.”
“Thank you,” She said softly taking the offered torch and pulling it into her little willow hovel. She felt the fool as she looked at him. “And you are?”
“If I tell you, my lady, you will be upset.” He admitted as he smiled over to her, a nervous smile and one that was clearly unsure how to proceed.
“I am already upset, sir.” She shook her head.
“Fair.” He spoke, “My name is Sarus Astier,”
“No,” She spoke as fast as she moved, trying to back away from him and covering her face. “You can’t see me for another few months, my lord.”
“Lady d’Argent. I will absolutely leave if that is your request.” He said with a nod. “But, I can’t leave you out here in the cold.”
“You’ve already given me a torch, that would be enough.” She protested, still hiding her face.
“At least my cloak as well.”
She didn’t say anything in response for a moment. But she was cold. Freezing, even. It was stupid to run out here alone. She relented and gave a quiet nod.
“Very well,” He felt a bit odd not speaking to her, something easy enough to see from yards away as he fidgeted and almost struggled with the clasp of his cloak. “Is there a reason you ran out here into the dark and snow, my lady?”
“A message from my father.” She spoke, trying to keep her eyes off of him for the time being.
“I suppose the wedding is still on then,” He attempted a joke as he finally reached the clasp and pulled it off. She gave no response. “I’m sorry, that was crass of me. I try to joke when I’m nervous, you see.”
She shook her head. “No, it was fine. I just…” She let her eyes drift over to him for a moment. In the flickering light, she finally saw him for the first time. After years of his name in her head, she had a face. It wasn’t what she expected in the least. His father was somewhat scruffy, a traditional vagabond, his mother was the basilisk. She assumed he would have the same look to him. But he didn’t. He had a surprisingly strong jawline, that same dark hair as his parents but it was cut short and well maintained. His eyes were smaller than she expected, but that may have been from the squinting due to the torchlight. He did have some scruff, but she wasn’t disgusted. She shook her head. “I was still deciding.”
“Ah, yes. Mother said she gave you the option to decide whether or not you wanted to go through with it.” He nodded and offered over his cloak. “Here, wrap up.” She took the cloak and struggled to wrap it around her shoulders with the torch in hand. He reached over and pulled one side over her shoulder.
“Thank you,” She spoke softly.
“It is my honor, Lady d’Argent.” He replied with a succinct nod. “Once you’re warm, I’ll help you up the hill and we can get you back to the manor.” He paused a moment, “Can I ask which way you are leaning?”
“No.” She said sternly, looking away from him for a moment. She sighed, “I do love Milae, though.”
“They are loveable. But you miss the villages of the Coast and the people there. It must be com-“
“No, there isn’t a village at the Temple,” She interrupted.
“Wait, so just you and your family and servants?”
“Yes. Magi don’t administer to people in social matters. Not like the Astier do.” She said softly. “I’ve enjoyed walking with the people. Days and nights with just parishioners are a bit less engaging.” She paused for a moment, “This isn’t what I imagined as a girl.”
“Yeah. I know the feeling.” Sarus spoke with a nod.
She looked to him for a moment and then paused. “My father sent me a gift.” Her eyes welled up at the words, a little crack of her voice and quiver of her lip as she fought back another wave of sobbing.
“What gift drove you to the woods in the snow?”
“A black stiletto.”
Sarus swallowed and shook his head. He clearly didn’t know how to respond. “So, he said go through with it, or kill yourself?”
She whimpered out a small, “Yes.”
There was a moment they sat in the snow silently before Sarus spoke up again. “I’ll break it off, then, if you want. It saves you from either, and I doubt a little dishonor will sink my standing at this point.” He reached out a hand, “I don’t know you, but you don’t deserve to be forced into a life you hate just to fit the whims of our father’s.”
She didn’t say anything for a moment again before her hand reached up and took his. She shook her head. “No…” She spoke with a little choke, “I think I’ve made my decision. I think I had before tonight…” She said with a nod.
“I guess I’ll find out soon enough on that.” He spoke and stood, “Are you ready to head home?”
She gave a nod and stood with him, stepping back out from under the willow. “I am.” She shook her head a bit. “You weren’t supposed to see me until the wedding.” She added again as they moved towards the hillside and began the trek back up.
“I know. I won’t tell anyone.” He said as a joke.
“I’m sure they’ll find out one way or the next.” She responded, “You wyverns do have a knack for it.”
“True.” He paused to help press her up and over the edge of the hill, letting most of her weight press down onto his arms as she stepped up and across the bank. Then he was surprised as her hand was offered down to him. He gave a small smile and took the offer, and they reached the top. Then, joined by Sarus’ guardsman, they began the walk back to the village.
They didn’t say a word until they almost reached the outskirts when Sarus did finally speak up again. “My lady d’Argent,” He started, quietly and close to her. “I am serious. What your father did, I will never understand. But, if you feel that this is not the path for you, send word to me. I will end it.”
She paused, stopping both in the falling snow. “You are serious aren’t you?” She asked quietly. “I know the culture of the Wyverns, my lord. Do you?”
“So, you’d be willing to dishonor your family, never be allowed to marry, and have to repay my dowry… just to keep me alive.” She spoke plainly.
He never answered verbally. He just nodded. It was enough for her at that moment.
They had stood long enough. “We should get you in soon. I’m afraid this is where we need to part ways though.” Sarus spoke softly. “We can’t be seen together yet.”
“Of course.” She spoke with a smile and a nod, removing his cloak and offering it back to him. “Thank you for finding me, and making sure I was able to return safely.”
He took the cloak and nodded, “It is my honor, Lady d’Argent.” He gave her a low bow and stepped aside.
She then walked back to the manor alone, through the town of Milae. She hadn’t moved more than a hundred meters before one of the townsfolk rushed out of their home to her, with a warm cloak in hand. They draped it over her shoulders and walked with her. Soon enough, a militiaman had met up with them as well – and before she reached the manor it was a small cadre of citizens making sure she reached her home safely.
Before her father had sent her a message, before that hideous gift, if she was honest with herself, she had already made up her mind. Meeting Sarus didn’t change that. This was her duty to her family and his duty to his. If he was a brute she would still have her own name to fall back upon. Her father wanted to force her hand, but in truth, she had always wanted to be away from him. She was just lucky that this village was where she would end up. Milae had become like her home, her people driving her to want nothing more than to stay in the village. As she thought, she realized that wasn’t true. This place had become her home long ago.