Origins (Page 16)

"And pansies for thoughts?" I asked, remembering a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As soon as I said it, I realized it was a foolish statement. How would an uneducated servant girl possibly know what I was speaking of?

But Emily simply smiled. "No pansies, although my mistress did mention your love of Shakespeare." She reached into the basket and broke off a sprig of lilac, which she then pushed gently into my buttonhole.

I held the basket up and inhaled. It smelled like flowers, but there was something else: the intoxicating aroma that I’d only experienced when I was near Katherine. I inhaled again, feeling the confusion and darkness of the past few days slowly fade.

"I know everything’s very strange right now," Emily said, breaking my reverie. "But my mistress only wishes the best for you." She nodded toward the couch, as if inviting me to sit down. Obediently, I sat and stared at her. She was remarkably beautiful and carried herself with a type of grace I’d never seen before. Her movements and manners were so deliberate that watching her was like watching a painting come to life.

"She would like to see you," Emily said after a moment.

The second the words left her lips, I realized that could never be. As I sat there, in the daylight of the parlor, with another person rather than being lost in my own thoughts, everything clicked into focus. I was a widower, and my duty now was to mourn Rosalyn, not to mourn my schoolboy fantasy of love with Katherine. Besides, Katherine was a beautiful orphan with no friends or relations. It would never work–could never work.

"I did see her. At Rosalyn’s … at the funeral," I said stiffly.

"That’s hardly a social call," Emily pointed out. "She’d like to see you. Somewhere private. When you’re ready," she added quickly.

I knew what I had to say, what the only proper thing to say was, but the words were hard to form. "I will see, but in my current condition, I’m afraid I’m probably not in the best mood to go walking. Please send your mistress my regrets, although she will not want for company. I know my brother will go wherever she wishes," I said, the words heavy on my tongue.

"Y es. She is quite fond of Damon." Emily gathered her skirts and stood up. I stood up as well and felt, even though I towered a head taller, that she was somehow more powerful than me. It was an odd yet not altogether unpleasant feeling. "But you can’t argue with true love."

With that she swept out the door and across the grounds, the daisy in her hair scattering its petals into the wind.

Chapter 12

I’m not sure if it was the fresh air or the flowers Emily had brought me, but I slept soundly that night. The next morning I woke up to bright sunlight in my chambers and, for the first time since Rosalyn’s death, didn’t bother to drink the concoction Cordelia had left on my nightstand. The smell of cinnamon and eggs floated up from the kitchen, and I heard the snort of the horses as Alfred hitched them outside. For a second, I felt a thrill of possibility and the nascent bud of happiness.

"Stefan!" my father boomed on the other side of the door, rapping three times with his walking stick or riding crop. Just like that, I remembered all that had transpired in the past week, and my malaise returned.

I remained silent, hoping he’d simply go away. But instead he swung the door open. He was wearing his riding breeches and carried his black riding crop, a smile on his face and a sprig of a violet flower in his lapel. It was neither pretty nor fragrant; in fact, it looked like one of the herbs Cordelia grew down by the servants’ quarters.

"We’re going riding," Father announced as he swung open the shutters. I shaded my eyes against the glare. Was the world always so bright? "This chamber needs to be cleaned and you, my boy, need sun."

"But I should really attend to my studies," I said, gesturing limply to the volume of Macbeth open on my desk.

Father took the book and closed it with a definitive clap. "I need to speak to you and Damon, away from any prying ears." He glanced suspiciously around the chambers. I followed his gaze but saw nothing except for a collection of dirty dishes that Cordelia hadn’t yet cleared.

As if on cue, Damon strode into the room, wearing a pair of mustard-colored breeches and his gray Confederate coat. "Father!" Damon rolled his eyes. "Don’t tell me you’re on about that demon nonsense again."

"It’s not nonsense!" Father roared. "Stefan, I’ll see you and your brother at the stable," he said, turning on his heel and striding out. Damon shook his head, then followed him, leaving me to change.

I put on my full riding costume–a gray waistcoat and brown breeches–and sighed, not sure I had enough strength to ride or to endure another marathon bickering session between my father and brother. When I opened the door, I found Damon standing at the bottom of the curved staircase, waiting.

"Feeling better, brother?" Damon asked as we walked out the door and across the lawn together.

I nodded, even as I noticed the spot under the willow tree where I’d found Rosalyn. The grass willow tree where I’d found Rosalyn. The grass was long and bright green, and squirrels were darting around the tree’s gnarled trunk. Sparrows chirped, and the drooping branches of the weeping willow looked lush and full of promise. There was no sign that anything had been amiss.

I breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the stable, inhaling the familiar, loved scent of well- oiled leather and sawdust. "Hi, girl," I whispered into Mezzanotte’s velvety ear. She whinnied in appreciation. Her coat seemed silky-smooth, even more so than the last time I’d brushed it. "Sorry I haven’t come to visit you, but it looks like my brother’s taken good care of you."