tirsdag den 31. maj 2011

Chapter 5, part 3

Ingrid was placing the box in a drawer when Catherine entered. If she was surprised to see her there, she did not show it.

“Is there anything I can help you with, my lady?”

“Well, do you think you could just call me Catherine? I'm not actually a lady or anything. “

“I would rather not risk making a slip when we are in company, my lady. Either way, you will be a lady for now, so it might be good to get used to it.

“I see.” Catherine felt slightly defeated, and less happy with the politeness, but did her best to stay calm. “Then can you tell me what I will be doing here?”

“You mean how will you spend your days?”


“Well, usually you will be expected to join the others for conversations and entertaining activities as soon as you have finished your morning routines. I think it will be best if we get one or two maids to help us with that, and to have your breakfast served here in your rooms. That way you can start out easily later. At noon you will have to get dressed for lunch, then again for tea and supper, and one more time for the evening. I will try to be around to remind you when the time comes. You can always call for help by these bells, there is at least one in each room, and I will be here most of the time.

“There are no limitations to your budget, but His Majesty feels that you should wear slightly older dresses for now. I have arranged for some samples to be brought up here, then we can take a look at them and decide what you will feel more comfortable in.

“When you are with the others, you should try to seem interested in their conversations, make facial expressions and smile a lot. You want them to trust you, and since you will be pretending to have taken a vow of silence they are a little more likely to let you in on secrets. But most of them will suspect you in every possible way. Be sure not to do anything that could encourage suspicions.

“His Majesty will let you know through me when he wishes to speak with you in private. You should try to stay away from him at other times. Act polite - remember he is your father's old friend - but uninterested.”

Ingrid paused and looked at Catherine in a calculating way.

“You should really just join in where you can and see what happens. The rest will probably be easy. Are you good with names and faces?”

“Not really. I'm not bad at it either, though.”

“Good. You will need to concentrate on that. You wont have to speak to anyone directly of course, but if it is obvious that you have forgotten, you will insult someone.” Taking in Catherine's worried expression she smiled and reassured her. “I will do my best to be close by at all times. I'll be your close helper for the next many weeks.”

Catherine smiled gratefully. She was ready to ask about bedtimes and meals, but Ingrid was faster.

“Are you wearing much make-up today, my lady?”

“Uhm, I'm not sure.”

“There is a rather large bruise on your face that should be covered up by the time you go downstairs. It is very unladylike to engage in activities that cause physical harm, my lady.”

Catherine paled and turned towards one of the large mirrors on the wall. She had been to preoccupied with the thousands of things she needed to do and avoid that she had forgotten all about the injuries to her face. Her arm had not hurt since her wedding day, and it had been easy, apart from the weak muscles, to forget that it had ever been hurt. Looking down she realised a small bandage was still covering it. Ingrid followed her gaze.

“Oh my, you have been quite busy, haven't you?”

Catherine tried a polite laugh, but did not succeed.

“The arm's fine, though. I can take that off now.”

“That will be fine, then. Maybe we can have you holding a fan for a little while to make sure the rest is hidden. It would make it more difficult for you to show your facial expressions though. I would have you write on a small board, but His Majesty informed me that your handwriting needs a little practice first.”

Catherine frowned, not sure if she was insulted or not.

“No offence, my lady, but a young lady from the country would have had several years worth of practice, and we can not take any chances. Now,” she continued before Catherine could say anything else. “You can order your food any time you like, but you will always be required to be present at the normal meals. And you will not be missed in the evenings if you decide to retire early. It might even be a good idea to stay here the first few nights, so you can get used to keeping quiet with a smaller risk of forgetting yourself. Would you like to have some food?”

Catherine was overwhelmed by the endless streams of information from Ingrid's lips, but nodded at the mention of food. She did not look forward to eating in other peoples' company for all of her future meals, but she had never had the strength to stay hungry if given a choice.

Ingrid left the room with her efficient steps and a maid returned with a tray soon after. Ingrid had led Catherine into the dining room and the two of them sat next to each other. Catherine did her best to show proper table manners, but far from lived up to Ingrid's standards. Before long she began wondering if the woman would take offence if she asked her to leave. She did not have the courage to find out and continued to fight her way through the meal.

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mandag den 30. maj 2011

Chapter 5, part 2

Catherine nodded, happy that he had not had another fit of rage because of her questions. It seemed to be impossible to foretell what was going to make him mad.  The prince stood up and held out his hand.

“Now, Lady Catherine, it would be my pleasure to show you to your chambers. I hope they will be to your liking.”

Catherine sensed they shift in his tone, and braced herself. It was time to play along. She held out her hand the way he had instructed her to, and stood up, the way he had instructed her to. She allowed him to lead her, the way he had instructed her to, and walked through the doors he held open for her, the way he had instructed her to. She made sure to smile and nod instead of speaking, which made it a lot easier to concentrate on the calculated movements.

The rooms were beautiful and larger than she had ever imagined. She could not help compare the bedroom to the house she had grown up in. It was larger, and covered in marble, gold and fabrics that could only be satin or silk. She did not know which and she did not care. The bed was a whole lot larger than the one she had slept in before. It might be larger than Martha's sewing room. The most impressive thing in Catherine's eyes were the windows. They went from the floor and almost to the very high ceiling. The window sills were raised slightly above the floor and so large that most of them had furniture standing in them. It made the rooms look even less real.

The prince sent her a patient smile, clearly slightly annoyed with her awestruck gaping.

“I'll send a maid in soon, I'll let her know that you will need to ask her a lot of questions, and I'll make sure she helps you out. Her name is Ingrid, and I trust her completely.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied to his back. He whipped around and raised a finger. Catherine panicked for a second, remembering her supposed vow of silence, then nodded and smiled at him, as if she had never said a word. He returned her nod, finger still raised, and left the rooms.

Catherine went through the bedroom and looked around. There was what looked like a sitting room, an office with a few, nearly empty bookshelves, a large dressing room and a bathroom, a dining room, and a few more rooms that looked like sitting rooms, except slightly smaller. Her first enthusiasm went away as she walked back and forth in the enormous space.

She had always liked space, especially large spaces, but being inside and unable to touch a wall made her uneasy. It took her thirty steps to reach the end of the bedroom from the door, and almost as many to get through the hallway that led to the sitting room, which was even larger. Most of the space was just that, space.

There was plenty of furniture and it was all of a quality she had never seen the likes of, but in the large spaces, it looked like islands on the sea. She went back into the bedroom and entered one of the furnished window sills. It felt safer there, with the edges of the windows around her, but it was still very large. She sat down in a chair there and decided that she would try her best to spend her time there.

There were two comfortable chairs, a small table and a sofa. A vase with flowers on the table told her that other people had been in the rooms before, which made her feel even better. The window faced a large park, but the fact that she could see the sky and not the gigantic ceilings of the castle, made her feel a lot better about that fact.

She noticed a small group of women in colourful dresses in the park. They were too far away for her to see what they were doing, but she assumed they were some of the women the prince had brought there. She did not look forward to joining their little groups and pretending like she belonged.

A faint voice echoed through the rooms. Catherine stood up and turned around, then walked through the bedroom.

“Lady Catherine?” The voice sounded again. It was a female voice, polite and somehow soothing.

“Yes?” Catherine replied.

The two women met in the large sitting room.

“Ah, Lady Catherine, I presume?” A young woman dressed in a simple, black dress was looking at her from the other end of the room. She was a pretty brunette, but nothing out of the ordinary at the first glance. As Catherine came closer, she noticed how cool intelligence shone through the woman's brown eyes, making her look more attractive than she really was, and a whole lot scarier than her voice had suggested.

“Yes, I'm Catherine,” Catherine said. “Are you Ingrid?”

“I am, my lady,” Ingrid answered. “And I am very pleased to be of service. His Majesty has told me all about you, so you may speak freely, if you wish.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Catherine said, then felt stupid and regretted it. Ingrid smiled at her and nodded.

“Do not be worried, my lady. I am sure we can get you through this.” She held out the box of jewellery with poisons and antidotes in it. “His Majesty informed me that you would be needing these. Should I put them in the dressing room, my lady?”

“Thank you, but - “

“Excuse me for a second, my lady.”

Ingrid left, taking long, quick steps. Catherine was not sure if she was happy with her easy politeness or scared of her cool effectiveness. She stood awkwardly where Ingrid had left her for a moment, then followed her, trying to take light steps, as the prince had instructed her.

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søndag den 29. maj 2011

Chapter 5, part 1

“If the truth about you comes out, everyone will leave, and the magic will bind me to you. But who is going to believe the lie?”

“Your majesty,” Catherine whispered, her voice breaking off from fear. “Your majesty, if there is no other choice, then you will just have to try and hope for the best, wont you?”

“Hope? Ha! In battle, hope gets a sword plunged into your gut in moments! Hope never helped anyone do anything! Taking action is the only thing that will get a man anywhere.”

The energetic rage seemed to have left him again, and he sat down on the last chair left in the room, apart from the one Catherine had been seated in. She followed his lead and sat down.

“You speak too much, Catherine, that is the problem. As soon as you open your mouth, no one will believe you are anything but a farmer's daughter.”

Catherine wanted to correct him, but it did not seem to be the right moment for details.

“But then that might be the solution! If you do not speak, we might be able to fool them for long enough to forget about you. If you can last here for two or three weeks, they will get used to you.”

He stood up and went to one of the overflowing bookshelves. Catherine followed his indirect orders and kept her mouth shut. The prince looked through the pages of several large books, making small humming noises whenever he found something that seemed to please him. He put his fingers on a page and shouted out.

“Perfect! That is just so far away that no one will have heard of it! We just need to make up a few stories to cover up the family history.”

He grabbed a map off the table and came to sit next to her again, leather armour creaking and his hair a mess, pointing his finger to the paper.

“There is a small country quite far east from here, where I have a friend, a count, who has very few contacts outside his own house. You can pretend to be his daughter, I will send him a message to confirm if anyone asks. The place is tiny, so that will explain your lack of manners, and there is a tradition in the countries there for young girls to take vows of silence. It's very old fashioned, but then what else will anyone expect from a young lady from such a small family. We could even get you some older garments to go with the story. I am sure we have something.

“The vow of silence can be made for a number of reasons, usually to get some sort of wish granted. We could say your mother is sick and you want her to get well. Or that you will not speak before you are married or something. Maybe you want a horse. Nobody cares about these things. You will be considered childish and out of fashion, but there will be no reason for anyone to take offence at your status. I can even say it was an accident we met, because my friend did not know of my plans before it was too late. It is closer to the truth than anything else.”

Catherine nodded.

“You should still go by the rest of the things we covered, as much as possible. I am sure you can stay in your rooms today, but by tomorrow you need to be playing the part. Do you have any questions?”

“Well, sir, can I speak when we are alone?”

“How else would you be of any use. Just do not speak to any of the others, even if you are alone. It would seem very unconvincing if you were not serious about your vow. You need to gain the trust of these people, and tell me what they are up to, remember?”

“What do I actually do?”

“Well, try to get to know them. Do whatever it is you women do when you are alone.”

“I'm not sure what that is, sir.”

“What?” He furrowed his brows. “Well, I suppose you sit down and drink tea and listen to conversations about fabric and gossip.”

Catherine raised her eyebrows.

“Oh, just try to follow it, I am sure you will figure something out. Nod and smile, and try to look uninterested in anything that has to do with me. Make them think you are likely to refuse an offer of marriage from me, if they know you are here only because somebody wants you to be, they might be more likely to talk to you. The rest of the women here are present in spite of their families' expressed wishes. They must all be wanting someone neutral to speak with. Most of them are probably just very worried about their reputations and futures.”

“Why did you make them all come her, sir, if it's so bad for them?”

“I am not concerned with their reputations, they are. I never forced anyone's hand. And I do not see how this concerns you at all. But try to be alone with them, if they invite you to. Be patient, stay in larger groups for now.”

“How do I do any of this without speaking, sir?”

“You'll be surprised, my dear. It is an old trick to be silent and wait for your enemy to reveal himself. They will show you a lot about them selves just by what they assume about you. I'll make sure they all know about our story, no worries.”

“About the story, sir. Don't you think it's spread around how you came to get me? Someone must have said something?”

The prince laughed a little, then sobered.

“My unique position allows me to do such things with no large commotion. If you knew how often I had taken my men out and done something silly, you would be surprised. I doubt that anyone will pay any mind to one more rumour. Even if they do, it cannot spread to this end of the castle. I have made sure that all contact is minimised, and I have a way of knowing who I can trust among the staff.”

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lørdag den 28. maj 2011

Chapter 4, part 5

The carriage rolled past a few buildings and finally stopped in what seemed to be a more secluded area. It was built like a street with tall buildings on both sides, each building looking as though it could easily house several families, and a long, well kept strip of flowers, bushes and trees down the middle, paved with stones for people to walk on.

“I usually have this wing to myself when I am home. I'm afraid you will find the place rather crowded now, but there should still be plenty of options for the two of us.”

She forced a smile and nodded politely, still taking in the size of the place. She could fit every single person she knew the names of into the wing he insisted was crowded, and they would still have larger homes then they had now.

She noticed too late that the prince had started walking and hurried after him in a stumble that, she realised, probably was not very ladylike. He entered a gated guarded by uniformed men and strode through a small, pretty yard before entering the building itself, which was apparently larger than it had appeared on the outside. They were alone in a short hallway decorated with tiny tables and chandeliers, but clearly only meant for walking through. The prince went through it purposefully and began climbing the stairs that were at the end of it. Catherine had a very hard time keeping up with him, especially in her large, heavy dress.

She was relieved that they did not meet anyone before entering a room that seemed to belong to the prince himself. The furniture was designed more for comfort than beauty, and there were books and parchment rolls everywhere, along with things that seemed out of place, like pieces of armour and strange weapons, paintings of landscapes and banners.

“Do excuse the mess, Catherine. I do not let anyone enter my chambers, and I did not expect to make an exception with you,” the prince said, as he crossed the floor and started opening the drawers in his large desk.

“There is a few things we will need to take care of in private. First of all, you should carry this.”

He handed her a tiny belt with a dangerous looking knife strapped onto it. Catherine opened it and pulled it to its full length. It would not be able to go around her, let alone her clothes. The prince looked up at her from his continued search through the desk and smiled.

“It goes around your leg, my dear. Anything else would be too obvious. Here, this one can be concealed in your sleeve. If you release the hatch on the handle, the blade will spring out. Do be careful with that, it is a lot sharper than it looks.”

The second knife looked very odd, and very little like a knife, but it was indeed easily concealed inside her sleeve. When the prince looked back down she quickly held up as much of her skirt as she could manage with one hand and fastened the strap around her leg with the other.

The prince gave up his search in the desk and went to a large trunk by the window. He pulled out boxes and papers in an endless stream before finally pulling out a very pretty jewellery box. Catherine imagined the woman who would have owned something like that, then found herself confused as to why the prince would own it. It turned out to contain what very much looked like women's jewellery, which only confused her more.

“It might not be a bad idea for you to take this entire thing with you,” the prince said, looking through it. “Except it would be awful if you confused them. Please come look at these”

She stepped closer to him. The leather on his chest and arms was creaking when he moved. The box was full of pretty stones in all colours, fastened to chains of precious metals, as far as she could tell.

“The stones in this compartment all contain a small but deadly dose of poison. You should not use them unless you really do not have a choice. If anyone here is killed, it will likely start a war, so keep that in mind, please.”

Catherine went pale and nodded, biting back all her protests. She felt very sure that she would never use a single one of them, and did her best to remember what they looked like. The most prominent feature about them now seemed to be the fact that they were a lot less pretty than before. They reminded her of insects.

“These all contain a slightly magical antidote that will cancel many of the most common poisons. If you are very lucky, you will notice the poison, have the time to take the antidote, and it will work. It is not a sure thing, so be very careful where your food comes from.

“I will introduce you to the servants who work here, and you should remember their faces. If anyone else tries to serve you, feel free to refuse. I am also considering hiring a few young ladies to look after you alone, but I will have to work on that later. For now I do have one in mind who will be able to help you out.

“The stones down here are all different. You will find the descriptions attached to them, there are a few other antidotes as well, they might be useful. Look at it later and we will talk about it tomorrow.”

The prince sat down and ran his hands through his hair. He looked tired.

“This is madness,” he mumbled. He pressed his palms against his brow for a moment, then looked up at her with apathy.

“You have completely ruined what seemed to be the perfect plan. Just by showing up,” he said in a dead voice.

“I'm really sorry, sir,” she said. “Your majesty.”

“Yes, yes. You are sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry. But you are also a very young little peasant who is of no use at all.” Anger crept into his voice, increasing with each word. “You are nothing but trouble and I can not even kill you! If this plan goes wrong I might even have to marry you, and my kingdom will be lost!” He roared and smashed the chair he had been seated on into the fireplace. Pieces of it caught fire right away, other parts flew back into the room. The rest lay in the flames, causing a stinking, black smoke to flow into the room.

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mandag den 16. maj 2011

Chapter 4, part 4

He had risen from his chair and started walking across the floor in a show of frustration she had never seen the likes of. He still did not seem to notice that he was still speaking to her.

“This is highly inconvenient indeed. I will have to have someone look out for you, but they can not be obvious, that would only cause you even more trouble. There is no way you can keep a low profile unless we sneak around, with the risk of getting caught. Poison will also be a danger. We will have to find a solution to that, and even keep a doctor ready. But who? He would have to be loyal enough not to take a bribe and poison you himself.

“I will have to move to rooms closer to the guest apartments so we can stay close. Maybe I can find rooms that are connected. I'll need another piece of you clothing,” he said, turning around to face her from his current position at the other end of the room. Now Catherine stood up, unconsciously throwing her arms around herself.


“Oh, don't be ridiculous, girl,” he spat, all his attention returning to her. “I need something like that shawl you gave me to keep the magic from triggering a serious pull towards you again. What part of this confuses you so? You need to stop thinking so highly of yourself!”

Catherine shrank back and nodded.

“I'm sorry, sir,” she mumbled.

The prince let out an angry growl, pushed a chair to the floor and left the room. The door slammed behind him, sending white dust to the floor. Catherine hid her face in her hands and tried to breathe calmly. She had no idea what to do any longer. The question had seemed innocent enough, but it had started a chain reaction that was more scary than anything she had witnessed in the past week. Getting wed against her will and being taken to Alfred's house with his ill tempered housekeeper had been less frightening than the prince roaring at her.

He re-entered the room a few minutes later. When she heard the door open, Catherine stood up and did her best to school her features into something resembling polite interest. The prince scowled at her and picked up the chair he had thrown down.

“As much as I would love to leave you here to rot, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to get ready to accompany me back to the city. Do me a favour and get ready to leave in an hour.”

Catherine flinched at his words, but of course she obeyed. She went to the room she had stayed in and looked around. She was not sure how to prepare herself to leave. She was already dressed, and the weather was pleasant enough that she would not need any further warmth. She still informed the maid that she wanted to leave in the hopes that the woman would somehow just do what needed to be done and was not disappointed. Before the hour was up she had been dressed in a slightly more comfortable dress and had, probably to even out her appearance, had her hair pinned up in a slightly more uncomfortable way.

Her stomach was turning with nervousness as she went out to the front of the house. She fingered her sleeves, then remembered that she was no longer allowed to do so. No outward signs of fear were allowed. She stopped on a staircase she had been descending and took a few deep breaths. She imagined that she was going to the Peggs' to see Gabrielle and forced herself to believe it. She felt better, and was able to take the rest of the walk to the front door with a small smile on her lips.

When she came outside, she found the prince and a few servants getting everything ready. She noticed that the prince seemed less agitated than before, and allowed that fact to relax her further. The safest thing she could do was to pretend all was well.

He looked at her for a second, then nodded towards the four large, black horses. She followed his gaze and looked at the creatures. She knew as good as nothing about horses, but the little she did know told her that these were very fine specimens. Most of all they were large. She always forgot how large horses could be.

“Do you ride, Catherine?” His voice was almost as soft as on the ride there.

“I'm sorry, sir, I do not,” she answered.

“I'll have to teach you. We have wonderful horses at the castle. You will like the animals, I am sure of it.”

Catherine did not answer, but walked closer to him as he held open the door to the carriage. She remembered one of the things he had told her and allowed him to help her get inside. She felt too weak that way, as if she were a doll, but it was just one more thing on a list of thousands to get used to.

They sat in silence as the carriage drove to the city. Catherine watched the forest go by, and felt sad that she had not had the chance to go out and look at it. The prince looked through yet another book. He seemed to be very interested in books. She hoped he would not ask her to read with him. It would be embarrassing.
When the walls of the city rushed past the window, he put the book down.

“I apologise for my outburst earlier, Catherine. You say that you are doing nothing to cause this situation, and it is not very courteous of me to doubt your word. Do forgive me.”

“Of course, sir,” she said in a voice that sounded cheerful. Then his words sunk in. “You mean you do not believe me?”

“I mean I should not blame you, Catherine. It would be good if you call me majesty again when we are not alone. You will be the subject of much gossip as it is.”

Catherine nodded.

“Of course, your majesty,” she said, the last bits of her words dying on her lips as they entered the castle itself. She was awestruck by the pristine state of the walls and the beautiful ornaments on every roof. It looked as if several artists had spent their lifetimes decorating just the outer parts of the building.

“I suppose for a merchant's daughter this is rather a lot to take in at once, eh? Whether you are doing this on purpose or not; you are a very lucky girl.” The prince mumbled behind her, hints of laughter in his voice.

søndag den 15. maj 2011

Chapter 4, part 3

Catherine got up from the chair as quickly as possible without running and left the room. She was grateful for the opportunity to be alone for a few moments. She found the door to her rooms and was disappointed when it was opened by a maid. She realised that she would not be alone as soon as the woman politely asked her what she wished for and she was forced to ask for her to help her get changed for dinner. The request sounded ridiculous to her own ears, but the maid just nodded and soon had Catherine seated on a chair while she and two others picked a dress, then, apparently on orders from a fourth woman who entered the rooms soon after, started applying heavy make-up and jewellery to Catherine's face and hair, which they had combed and piled on top of her head.

When she was lead to the dining room in a large dress and smelling of perfume, she wanted to cry and run away. She felt embarrassed and exposed, and at the same time she was very unsettled by everything around her, most of all by how much a single wrong movement would cost her. She was absolutely certain that she could not count on her family to help her if she got into debt.

The prince greeted her politely and informed her that she was taking too heavy steps. Then he instructed her in how to make a gracious courtesy and how to greet the people in a room without having to actually greet them all. He corrected her when she tried to sit down at the table, and she had to wait while a servant drew out her chair. As soon as they seemed to have reached a small break between the thousand things she was doing wrong she caught his eye.

“Your m – Sir, this is all to much. I can't do all this, and I don't want to wear these dresses. Can't you send me out of the country?”

He looked her up and down for a moment, making her feel even more uncomfortable underneath the clouds of make-up, then pointed to her plate and told her what pieces of cutlery to use when.

“If in doubt, eat as little and as slowly as possible. You don't want to be seen with bad table manners.”

Catherine swallowed nervously and eyed the food that was being put in front of her. It did look overly complicated, and since the prince was just staring at her, she did not pick up a single piece of cutlery. After a few minutes of tense silence, he told her which things to use and started eating, allowing her to try her best to get a few bites into her mouth without making a fool of herself.

The prince seemed to take his task of educating her very seriously. Their meal considered of more tiny dishes than she managed to count, and each of them seemed to be somehow designed to stay on the plate. She was not sad when dinner was over, but was yet again to be disappointed in her hopes of spending the rest of the day alone. The prince spent more than an hour telling her details that she could not possibly hope to remember. When she was finally able to retire she fell asleep almost instantly.

She spent two more days in a constant state of confusion and embarrassment in the company of the prince. There was nothing easy about their interactions. Every time she looked up and saw his face, the enormity of the situation overwhelmed her. She had yet to get used to the ageing that was not apparent when he was further away, thousands of small lines signifying the time he had spent in battle and in contact with forces stronger than himself.

His face was terrifying. A scar that looked impossibly severe ran down the bottom of his cheek and across his neck. His eyes seemed to burn with dark fire and the set of his jaw told her that he was not a patient or friendly person. The calmness of his voice and the small jokes he had made with her the first day were long gone. Every hour she spent in his company seemed to anger him more.

She could begin to understand what he wanted from her and why she did not have a choice but to follow his orders, but the concept of being so much of a disturbance to such an important person was too much for her to even think about. She kept hoping that he would tell her to go somewhere else and let someone else give her further orders, but it did not seem to be a part of his plan to let her be away from him.

“Your – Sir?” she asked one morning when she was seated next to him in the small library.

He had asked her to join him, but up until that point his harsh features had been turned towards the book on his table. He turned towards her in a swift movement and seemed to give her his full attention for a moment.

“I was wondering why you are doing all this yourself? Would it not be more appropriate to have someone show me everything so you can do what you want?”

“Since you mention it, it would seem that you could use another session of practising your pronunciation. Try not to be so blunt, will you? As for your question, no it would not be easier. Did you not hear me tell you what it feels like when the spell leads me towards you?”

“You said it felt like being stabbed, sir,” Catherine answered, already wishing she had kept her mouth shut.

“Well, why would I send you out of the room I am in and risk triggering that again? It feels unpleasant enough to have you sleep in your own room, my dear girl.”

Catherine blushed and bit her tongue, trying to look as if she had simply accepted his statement as fact and was no longer thinking about it. The prince did not seem to pay her any attention any longer.

“We are wasting out time here as it is. I will not find an answer here no matter how long I search. As long as my only options are to marry or have you next to me, you will remain close by at all times. I suppose it would cause less jealousy if I introduced you as my cousin. But they would soon enough find out. Besides, if they know you are not a rival and still lives with them, they will understand that they need to show you their best sides. I do not wish for them to behave themselves. It might do you good to carry a weapon, however. You will not be entirely safe spending so much time at my side while posing as a rival to any of these women.

He swore loudly, causing her to jump. 

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lørdag den 14. maj 2011

Chapter 4, part 2

“I have a problem, Catherine,” the prince finally said. “And I hope you can help me with it. As you know, the king does not allow magic. In severe cases it is punishable by death. But if it is cast outside of the kingdom, he cannot persecute the caster, even if he is still affected by the magic when he returns.

“I decided to learn and use magic when I was performing my military duties, and before returning, I cast a spell that would have seemed as if it were the solution to many or all of my former problems. The king dislikes my use of magic, and he is looking for someone other than me to inherit his throne, something that I would very much like to prevent. And if I were to marry a powerful spouse and produce an heir for myself, I would be in a very good position to do so.

“The spell I cast is very old. It was used by royals all the time before magic was made illegal. Now, the problem is that I did not know just how isolated I would have to be when casting the spell. You see, it makes me feel a certain attraction to any woman who will suit my purposes, the stronger the attraction, the better the woman. At first I was surrounded by soldiers in my own employment and only spoke to male servants of the families whose daughters I wanted to meet. Any girl who did not fit could be sent home immediately, and the rest followed me to the castle, where I was planning to decide on one.

“As you can imagine, I am making myself a large amount of enemies this way, as most of the girls' fathers do not approve of their daughters visiting our humble country with a risk of being sent back home rejected, but it is the most effective way for me to decide what qualities I need the and who I feel the strongest pull towards.

“Unfortunately, since you decided to grace us with a visit, I can no longer concentrate. Where the magic feels like a tug on a sleeve or a pat on the shoulder with my other interests, the tug I am feeling towards you feels more like a being stabbed with a dull knife. And I am most interested as to why that is, since your heritage and age hardly speak for you. Now that I have been so very honest with you, I hope that you will do me the same favour and tell me what you have done.”

Catherine could not speak. She thought she did her best, but no matter how much she focused, she did not even succeed to open her mouth. The prince was looking at her expectantly and did not seem to grow any more patient with her silence. At last, she managed to get her voice out in a croak.

“I haven't done anything, I swear!”

The prince slammed his fist against the armrest on his chair, causing the old piece of furniture to creak. He looked both angry and thoughtful.

“I am unable to dispose of you, that is the problem. My sources quite clearly state that killing any of the women I feel close to will bend the magic with disastrous results. The only way to end the magic is to get married, but ever since you shoved up, I do not know how to proceed. Even if I was sure you are indeed my best choice and if the rules of the court allowed me to marry a commoner so easily, you are much too young – for my tastes. How did you get yourself involved with that old man in the first place? You might as well entertain me with your story, the more I understand of it the better.”

When Catherine was quiet again, the prince turned irritably towards her and studied her frightened expression.

“Did you not hear me say that I can neither dispose of you nor force you into yet another early marriage? There really is nothing to be scared of,” he stated impatiently. “Not as long as you tell me what I want to know, at least.”

Finally Catherine drew a deep breath and did her best to tell him how the fight with her sister had made her father decide to get her out of the house. She had to start over to include the problems with Martha, then her childhood in the family, then the story of her father's infidelity and finally a small description of Gabrielle Pegg. The prince did seem slightly shocked to hear that she had been working for her step mother instead of going to school and disgusted when he had made her tell him about the punishments that had resulted in her bony figure and broken arm.

“You should be grateful to be away from all that, then,” the prince stated, his face taking on a calculating look. “If that is the case, can I assume that you will repay me by giving me your loyal assistance in this? I will make sure you will not have to work for anyone else as soon as we are done.”

“Of course, sir,” Catherine mumbled.

“Very good. I think I will take you back to the castle in a few says. You can start out by getting to know my visitors. I will introduce you as some sort of nobility and you can keep an eye out for me and let me know if any of them seem to be scheming against me. They are a hostile lot, believe me. Terribly jealous.”

Catherine's stomach felt as if it had been turned into stone, but she nodded.

“How will I pass for a noble, sir?” she asked.

“Hm? Oh. Yes, you are right. That will be a challenge. I suppose we will have to work on that. I will do what I can for now, and you will attend lessons as soon as we return to the city. Why don't you start with retiring to your rooms to get changed for dinner? You will need to start doing so before every meal and once in the evening as well.”

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fredag den 13. maj 2011

Chapter 4, part 1

“That is a very impressive bruise you are sporting, Catherine,” the prince said. They were alone in the carriage, and had been silent for the first few minutes of the ride. She looked up at him. He was smiling slightly, looking as if he was feeling energized by the events of the day.

“I am very happy you decided to join me by the way. Sorry about the mess I created for you.”

Catherine could not think of an answer to any of the things he had said and looked at her hands.

“Do you know what I'm doing as well? You really do not have to be afraid if that is the case.”

“No. Your majesty. I don't know.”

“Oh? Good. You still do not have anything to worry about of course. I merely plan to talk to you for a bit. But for now it might be sufficient to get you cleaned up and maybe have someone look at your injuries.”

Catherine bit her lip and felt stupid.

“Thank you,” she mumbled.

“Don't mention it. Now, we'll be going out of the city for a week or so. I have a few very important questions to ask you, and I'm afraid my usual residence is slightly crowded. I hope you don't mind?”

“...No, your Majesty,” she said. It took all she had not to cry again. The prince seemed oblivious. He was a great deal friendlier than she had ever seen him, but she felt so uneasy in his company that his chatting and small jokes were more than she could bear.

“Oh, please don't bother with the majesty. I believe a sir will suffice for now. That is, unless you are more comfortable just calling me Alexander?”

“No, sir, I'm not.”

“Fine, fine. I say, you really are a frightful mess. Was this your wedding attire, bloodstains and all?”
Catherine sobbed, then started to cry. The prince stiffened, then handed her a handkerchief that felt as if it was made from silk.

“I'm sorry, Catherine. I forgot that this must have been an upsetting adventure for you. I'll leave you alone now.”

Catherine blew her nose in the fine fabric and nodded. She noticed that the cut in her mouth was still bleeding slightly. A drop of blood escaped her lips when she gasped for air. She thought she heard the prince murmur “priceless,” but she could not be sure.

They arrived more than an hour later at a mansion in the middle of a forest. The sun had begun setting, and Catherine was not sure she was still awake. Two female servants led her to a suite where they helped her bathe, something that made her feel very uncomfortable, but she did not have any energy left to protest their firm handling of her.

They dressed her in a new dress that was too lose, but otherwise fit her well. They took the time to comb through her long, messy hair while she ate a small meal, then helped her undress again and go to bed. Despite the strange environment she did not remember being awake after the two women had left the room.

Waking up in a large bed under soft covers and ornamental curtains was strange. Having someone dress her and help her with almost everything was worse. She felt like a newborn child. They took her to a pleasant looking room with a few comfortable chairs in front of a fire and full of bookshelves. The prince was waiting for her, looking more serious than he had in the carriage. He greeted her distractedly and rushed through a few niceties, making sure to ask if the bruise on her face was not causing her any discomfort.

“Now, you will have to tell me about yourself, in particular any form of education that you have received,” he said, as soon as she had assured him she was fine.

“I went to school once in a while to be taught how to read, but I'm not very good. Apart from that I was helping my step mother at home. And she was teaching me how to sew in the last two weeks.”

“You mean to tell me that is all?”

“Yes, sir.”

The prince stared at her intensely for a while. She was uncomfortable, but a little reassured by the fact that she was in the room and in the house by his orders. As long as she only followed what seemed to be expected of her, she could not really do anything wrong.

“Have you been doing anything at all to change your circumstances? Even just wishing for it? I promise I will not punish you, no matter what it is, as long as you tell me.”

Catherine felt faint, and started going through her entire life in the hopes of finding something she could tell him that would make him stop saying such scary things.

“I was sometimes daydreaming, sir,” she whispered.

“Very good,” he said, leaning forward and looking at her with renewed interest. “Tell me everything you thought about. From the beginning, please.”

“I – I used to go to a small park, when I didn't have anything else to do, and sit on a rock there. And then I'd imagine leaving the city and living on the road like a sort of gypsy. Maybe finding a forest and survive there on my own. Like, killing animals and building a hideout and lighting fires, sir,” she said, blushing at the ridiculousness of it all.

The prince sighed and rolled his eyes, and sat back in his seat. The crackling fire made the silence between them seem easier, but Catherine still felt like hiding. Everything around her made her feel uncomfortable. She would have felt as if she was dirtying the place if she had not been bathed and dressed in what seemed to be a very expensive dress. The knowledge that the clothes on her body were worth more than she would be able to pay if she were to ruin them or run away in them did little to relax her.

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onsdag den 11. maj 2011

Chapter 3, part 5

“Have you all lost your minds,” Catherine cried, but not loud enough for anyone to hear.

Martha pulled out a lovely black dress from a shelf and shook it.

“This will have to do. Put it on and I'll braid your hair.”

“No, I'm not marrying him! I'm barely sixteen years old, you can't force me to do this!”

“Of course I can. Lillian!”

She began tearing at the buttons on Catherine's dress and tried to pull off the sleeve around the bandaged arm without letting go of the other. Lillian came running into the room, saw what was going on and tried to help. They pulled the dress off of the weakly struggling Catherine and began heaping the other one on top of her head.

Catherine did not struggle as much, not wanting to suddenly run out of the room in her underskirts. Lillian roughly forced the sleeve unto her still healing arm, and Catherine hissed. The bone might be as good as mended, but it was painful none the less.

When she was dressed again, she readied herself to bold, and did her best to follow through. She threw herself with all her weight towards Martha, who fell over and allowed her free passage towards the door. Lillian must have been prepared. She had grabbed her by her long braid and pulled on it as hard as she could. Catherine fell on top of Martha with a shout of surprise, only to see the toes of Lillian's shoes fly towards her face.

She hit her jaw. The impact caused her to bite down hard on her tongue, and her mouth was filled with warm, salty blood. She opened her mouth to cry out, and blood dripped onto Martha's dress. Lillian looked triumphant, but covered it up as soon as Martha sat back up, looking in disgust at the red spot on her dress.

“Oh no, sister, I'm so sorry,” Lillian said. “You have to stop fighting. Don't you know how much if a privilege this is? Besides, you'll want to look pretty on your wedding day.”

Catherine tried to hit her, but Martha grabbed her wrist again.

“Stop it, both of you! Lillian, you will keep your mouth shut. Oh dear, this is such a mess. Catherine you look horrible!”

She did her best to braid Catherine's hair, but soon gave up when it became obvious that her hair would only get more messy the more they fought. Catherine caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and stopped. She looked like a wild beast.

The black dress was crumpled around her, her hair, partly loosened from an already messy braid was pointing in all directions. An impressive bruise was forming on her cheek, and her teeth and lips were red with blood. All of it on top of her pale, blotchy skin and red eyes.

“Fine,” she spat. “I'll go like this, but I will not say yes!” She felt a little triumph at the thought of herself getting into a chapel looking like that, refusing to actually get married. If anyone saw them, they would never forget the sight.

Jan was knocking on the door and shouting that a carriage had been rented for them. Alfred's angry face awaited them on the other side of the door. Catherine almost smiled when the men saw her. She had looked much prettier going in to the room, but at least the dress was new and clean. Alfred seemed to go purple for a second, then stormed out of the kitchen.

“Catherine, you should be ashamed,” her father sad sadly. She shot him an angry look and allowed them to drag her limp body into the carriage. The ride was more than unpleasant. She was surprised when they did not go to the chapel they would usually visit. A questioning glance at her father told her that he had a plan. She felt less sure of the plan she had made a few minutes earlier.

They arrived at a tiny chapel in a rather dirty street. The look of the priest told her that she would not be asked before the ceremony even began. It was very short, to the point of it being just the priest, her father and Alfred agreeing to sign, then signing, a small piece of paper. Less then half an hour later they were back outside.

“There,” her father said. “I'm sorry it had to be like that Catherine, but I don't see that we had a choice.”

Catherine was too busy sobbing to answer him. She would not have had anything pleasant to say to him as it was. She could not even remember what her new name was, not that she cared. She did not plan to act married, no matter what they had forced her to do.

Alfred pushed her into a carriage and told the driver to take them to his home. Catherine never stopped crying and Alfred did not try to console her. Her display of defiance had killed any warm emotion he might have been able to find in himself for her, and he did not want to look at her bloody, bruised, tear stained face or her incredibly unruly hair.

She did not fight him when he led her into the house and showed her to her bedroom. He had arranged for it to be furnished for her and now regretted putting so much effort into it. It was nicer than she deserved, he thought.

He sent Hilda up to help her find out where everything was and was slightly satisfied to her the old woman scold her thoroughly. Catherine was still sobbing, of course, but he would leave in a few weeks and expected to find her calmer when he returned later in the year.

He was considering this and pouring himself a well deserved glass of wine when the sound of trampling feet of the street alerted him to what was happening outside. He ran out of the house and stopped when he saw the army.

He assumed that it was in fact a lot smaller than a real army, but there were at least a hundred armed soldiers standing on both sides of the street. The blasted prince stood among them, facing Alfred.

“I'm sorry to interrupt you on suh a happy occasion,” the prince announced in a dark voice. “But I'm sure you remember the many warnings I gave you. The girl's family have been given a fine for forcing a child to marry. If you let her come with me this instant, I might be equally gracious with you.”

Alfred opened his mouth, not making a sound. He tried again.

“You cannot mean to take my own wife from me. Your majesty.”

“She is not your wife, old man, she is a small girl wed by a corrupt priest. Hand her over.”

Catherine appeared in the door, her sobbing had subsided, but her face remained unwashed. Alfred wanted to protest when she ran past him and towards the prince, who immediately handed her to a servant standing behind him and stepped in front of her.

“Very good. The sheriff here will let you know what amount you will have to pay for your crime. I'll have you know that I could have had you thrown into prison for a nice amount of years for this.”

He took Catherine, who looked like she was shaking, by the arm and helped her get into a luxurious carriage that had been waiting behind one group of soldiers. Alfred let out a sigh of relief when the soldiers followed the carriage down the street and only a few uniformed men stayed behind to talk to him. He was able to pay his fine right away, although it was a painfully large sum, and ignored the men's disgusted looks. He did not think he would have much contact with Jan Emerson once he had gotten the bride price back.

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tirsdag den 10. maj 2011

Chapter 3, part 4

“What can I do for you, your majesty?”

“His Majesty is here to see the owners of this house, the merchant Jan Emerson and his daughter,” squeaked a servant in a bright orange suit. Alfred ignored him.

“I am Catherine Emerson's fiancé,” he said. “And I don't think I want you to see her, your majesty.”

“Are you, indeed?” The prince asked. “Are you sure you're not her uncle? Or grandfather, perhaps?”

Alfred's face grew red. He clenched his fists and took a more dangerous stance, only to be hauled down the stairs by two bodyguards and held down on the cobblestones in front of the house. The small group entered the house.

“You are aware of why we are here,” the prince asked.

Jan nodded and stepped in front of them to keep them away from the women. Jasper followed him, trying his best to match the scowl on his father's face, not doing too poorly. Against the prince's bodyguards they looked ridiculous, however.

“Emerson, I don't think we have to take this to any extremes. If the girl is about to me married off anyway, I can hardly see how her absence will be a loss to you.”

“It's a question of honour, your majesty. Unless it's the king who orders me to give her over and shamelessly break the engagement, I won't do it.” The servant that had followed the prince inside scowled.

“I see,” the prince said dryly. “And the orders of your future king matter not?”

Jan did not answer, but also did not move. The prince sighed and rolled his eyes.

“I will pay you back any expenses you have had due to the wedding. Twofold. And I'll pay the groom off as well, if you wish. Your daughter will not come to any harm, but it is of great importance that she is not engaged.”

Jan shifted slightly, the prince smirked and Catherine felt dizzy. She had a very good chance of getting out of the marriage with Alfred. But then it involved a very uncertain future in the castle what ever that meant. She was unnerved by the way the prince kept looking at her and leaning forward.

“I see I have your attention, Mr Emerson,” the prince said. “So will you name me your price, or should I just make a guess?” Jan hissed and stood up even straighter.

“You are insulting me, your majesty.” The servant in the orange suit was beginning to look as if he would explode with anger.

“I will not sell you my daughter. We are honourable people and she is worth more than you can pay.”

Catherine was not sure if she was overjoyed that he was protecting her or very afraid of what the protection would cost her.

“And I will not give up so easily. I made you a most generous offer. You an accept it now or you can make yourself an enemy right here and now. I will not allow this girl to be married to anyone.”

Jan looked at odds with himself.

“I know,” he blurted. The prince raised an eyebrow.

“You know?”

“Your plans, that is. I know why you want her.” He looked as if he expected someone to cut their sword through him at any moment.

“I see.”

There was a moment of tension between them.

“If you will not accept my offer, I am afraid we will see each other again this evening. You will not be left a choice, but if you change your mind before then, do not hesitate to let me know.”

It took the large amount of people outside the house a long time to turn the carriages around and return, especially since they had caused a considerable crowd to gather outside the house. Jan did not move before the prince was far gone. By the, Alfred had come back inside, still completely worked up.

“We will get this over with right now,” Jan said to him. Alfred's brow furrowed.

“Now? I'm not sure I can do that, my friend. I see your point, but that's just so...”

“It's up to you, my friend, but I have already invested the bride price you paid, and I don't know how we can easily explain that she is gone.”

Catherine stared at them, her mind ringing with alarm, but unable to grasp the meaning of their discussion. She looked at Martha, but she seemed too caught up in her own thoughts to notice.

“What is happening?” Her voice was too small.

“No one can force you to divorce, Catherine,” Jan said. “If Alfred wishes to save his dignity, the two of you will have to get married right away.”

Catherine made a strange sound in her throat.

“I'm sorry, dad, but I don't want to! Not now,” she screeched.

“I have to agree, Jan. It's just no good to do it now.”

“It's your choice, Alfred.”

Just then, a man arrived at the door. He excused himself and announced that he came with a message for them.

“His Majesty the Prince gracefully offers Jan Emerson a payment of five hundred gold pieces fin exchange for the breaking of the engagement of his daughter Catherine Emerson,” he read. The held out a large bag in his hands.
“I'm supposed to give you this if you agree, sir,” he explained.

Alfred's face grew dark red again.

“This is an outrage,” he hissed. “Never mind about all that, this is too much. I will marry her right now.”

Catherine cried out again, suddenly filled with the desire to run out of the house and all the way to the castle to beg the prince to save her. A second thought about simply running out of the city and making a life for herself on the road occurred to her. That would probably be a lot safer. She did not trust the prince.
Martha grabbed her around the wrist and dragged her into the bedroom.

“Stop being such a baby,” she demanded. “We are going to put you in a nice dress, and then you'll do your duty and make up for this entire farce by giving that nice man your yes.”

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mandag den 9. maj 2011

Chapter 3, part 3

Catherine gulped and did her best not to let herself fall back down on the chair. Her mouth formed the polite answer she wanted to give him, but no sound came out. The man did not seem to care. He turned towards her father.

“Are you Jan Emerson, the merchant?”

“I am,” he answered, in a shaky voice. Martha's angry glance at Catherine told her that there would be no forgiveness for having somehow caught the attention of this man.

“Is Catherine Emerson your daughter?”

“Yes, my lord.”

The man turned towards her again and stared at her, then, seemingly unconsciously, took a step towards her.

“What is this about, my lord,” Jan sharply asked. Martha stared between them for a moment, then joined him.

“Did our Catherine do something, sir?” She cast another angry look at Catherine, who was breathing heavily. The man seemed to notice where he was again and drew his foot back towards her parents.

“Well, if you don't mind, that is what I am here to find out. I'm here to request that you allow me to take your daughter with me for a time.”

Jan looked confused, Martha just stared at him, and Catherine finally allowed herself to fall into the chair.

“My lord?”

“I can not offer you any further explanations, but I assure you it is a matter of great importance. To the court, I might add.”

“I'm sorry, my lord, but what is it that you need her for?”

“Like I said I can not tell you. She would stay … well, for now she would stay at the castle, and I can promise you that she would be safe enough.”

“But how long do you want her there? And why?”

“I can not tell you. Now, will you let her come with me, or will I need to persuade you with stronger arguments?”

“I can't just let you take my daughter with you, you must be able to see that!”

The man seemed to study him more carefully, then nodded.

“Very well. I will be back. I suggest that you consider the consequences well before we meet again. They will be dire, should you decide to cross me - the court.” He turned towards Catherine again and seemed to move slightly forward again.

“Catherine, I will see you soon.”

With that, he left, and the black carriage seemed to disappear within moments.

The inhabitants of the small house were very quiet for a long time. Catherine did not dare to look up or even breathe. Her fathers whisper seemed impossibly loud.

“What did you do?”

She still did not have the courage to look at him.

“I don't know. Gabrielle and I, when we were in the city, when I was - that day. We accidentally went unto the castle grounds. And when we were trying to get out - “

“You WHAT?” Jan was furious. “You went THERE of all places? Have you got no idea what you could get yourself into? Are you that stupid?”

Catherine's breath came out as a wheezing cough.

“He came out of nowhere and started asking me questions. He was acting so strange and drew his sword on me when I didn't tell him my name. But he said I didn't do anything illegal!”

Catherine was sent to the small living room, yet again having to listen to other people discussing her stupidity, actions and future without having a chance to speak for herself. Not that she knew what she would have said anyway. She was horrified and more than a little confused.

Alfred arrived after a while, and the tome of his voice suggested that he was getting very tired of dealing with her and her family. She spent more than two hours in the small room, consumed with guilt and fear. She had no idea what she had done or what the man wanted from her, but she did not expect anything good to come from it all.

Her father thrust open the door and ordered her out in the kitchen again. She had to retell the encounter in every detail three more times while Alfred and Jan loudly argued about the possible consequences and who the man might be.

Alfred insisted that he stay with them until they knew for certain that no one was coming to take Catherine away. Catherine slumped in her chair, feeling like a burden more than ever, and slightly offended that it was most likely his name and not her honour Alfred was so adamant to protect.

They were not surprised when carriages arrived early the next morning, filling the street with the sound of the horses and wheels, the shouted commands of the drivers and the cries of protest from the people who lived there.

“His Majesty the Prince wishes to speak with you,” was the message delivered by a young man in a luxurious uniform. Jan grabbed his hair in hist fists and stared out the window in disbelief.

“Didn't I know it!” He cried. “It's the prince!” A tormented sound came out of his throat and he turned an accusatory finger on Catherine.

“The prince is supposed to be out looking for a wife with magic tricks! Do you know what that means? Have you got any idea what he's going to want from you?”

Catherine hid her face in her hands and tried to shake her head at the same time. She did not know what that meant, and she did not know what he or anyone else wanted from her. It was just very likely to be something horrible.

“This is an outrage,” Alfred shouted. He opened up the door and took a step outside. The sight of at least twenty armed men welcomed him. He shrunk back slightly but did not go back inside. A few moments passed, then the group of soldiers parted slightly to allow the prince and a few bodyguards to pass through them. Alfred, to his credit, did not move from the spot to let them inside.

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søndag den 8. maj 2011

Chapter 3, part 2

She did not hear from the Peggs again soon. She suspected that Gabrielle would be in a lot of trouble for her part in Catherine's fiancé finding them on his doorstep. She did not have much time to worry about her friend in, however.

Martha had decided, out of the blue, that Catherine needed to learn her trade, and Catherine now spent every waking moment next to her in her parents' room sewing, hemming, and sticking the needle into her fingertips. She assumed that Martha had finally come to some sort of peaceful conclusion regarding both her, the broken arm, and her father, since the older woman seemed more than content sitting next to her step child and patiently showing her how to better make the needle go where she wanted it to go. Catherine was bored out of her mind. Compared to her former duties in the house, this was child's play, but the weeks spent with the Peggs had made grow accustomed to doing little at all. They had not made her participate in any of Gabrielle's chores, and she had spent her time walking around or looking at the work the others were doing.

Sewing was particularly difficult since she could hardly move her arm. Martha helped her thread the needles, and she could use her hand to hold on to the fabric without great trouble, but it forced her to sit in an awkward position that made her back ache.

She very much wanted to get up from her chair and leave the room. She still had not forgiven Martha for the incident, and she did not feel inclined to do so just because Martha was no longer bothered. But her guilt towards her father and Alfred kept her moth closed and her back bent. There was simply no denying that she had played a part in the events that led to the problems in the house since she had been ordered to stay in the barn for a good enough reason and had come back inside to be rude. There was also no denying that Alfred was doing her and her family a big favour by taking her in without insisting on marriage right away and by giving her father so much money that he was now planning how to get his business back to its former glory.

Catherine might not like Alfred’s cool friendliness or his money that were given out of pity, or even his old, rotten house and the woman living there, but she had no choice. She should not have accepted the terms if she had wanted to run away. She could not destroy the family's reputation or Alfred's name.

She woke earlier every morning, the pain in her back causing her movements around dawn to hurt her and wake her up. Her father still seemed very angry with her and her tired, drawn face only made it worse. She wanted to tell him that she was not being difficult and that she did not wear herself out on purpose, but she felt that no good would come out of her protests.

Her siblings stayed away from her most of the time. They both went to school in the morning and when they came home, they seemed to want to keep a low profile. Lillian must still be worried that her father scold her for getting Catherine into trouble, at least she was all smiles and politeness around both of them. Jasper was still relatively friendly when she ran into him, but he seemed to have adapted their father's cool distance.

Catherine felt lonely and defeated, torn between the shame and guilt that came from her stupid attempt to run, and the anger and spite her distant family members caused her to feel. The shame won out all the time, her cheeks burning whenever she remembered Alfred's astonished face and her own sobs. The desire to be angry just made her feel more ashamed of herself.

Two weeks had passed and Catherine had received a small note of apology from Gabrielle that assured her that she still had her friendship if she still wanted it. It had been short enough for her to read on her own, but Martha had been with her when she received it and had, in a surprisingly friendly tone, reminded her that she was not allowed to see Gabrielle any more. Catherine had nodded and let the small boy who had brought her the letter go with no reply. Another thing to feel guilty about.

It was early in the afternoon on a bleak, rainy day when a large, polished black carriage pulled up the street by four beautiful, black horses stopped in front of their house. Jan ran outside to find out what was going out, and his family observed him through the windows as he spoke to the driver.

He nodded a lot and jumped aside when the door sprung open and a man climbed out. Jan looked confused, but then seemed to accept something the driver said and ran back inside.

“There's some nobleman here to see us,” he said in a flat voice. Martha left her chair so quickly that it fell to the ground while the twins' questions immediately filled the air. Catherine was quiet, observing how the driver helped the man brush off his clothes and then led him towards the door with large gestures.

A growing suspicion caused her stomach to twist and turn. If she had had a place to run to, she would have. But it would not help her to run.

Martha came back into the kitchen, wearing her nicest hat and dabbing a perfumed lace handkerchief against her cheeks. She was staring at the door, then at Jan.

“What do they want,” she whispered urgently.

“They didn't say,” Jan answered. His voice must have carried through the door that opened up in that same moment. The driver holding it sent him a pointed look and turned towards someone they could not see.

“This way, my Lord.”

The man from the carriage, the man Catherine had run into at the castle, stepped inside, filling the room with a scent of perfume, leather, horses and sweat. He looked around at them, fierce black eyes studying each face without a greeting or even a smile. His damp, black hair hung down across his brow, making him look angry.

“Good day, Catherine,” he said, in a slow, deep voice, when he finally let his eyes rest on her.

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lørdag den 7. maj 2011

Chapter 3, part 1

They went back towards the edges of the city and soon the layout of the mansions made more sense, with obvious property lines and more people around to follow to kitchen entrances. The girls were both nervous, and Catherine was still horrified, when they went to the first door and knocked.

Another elderly woman opened, but this time her tone was warm and her facial expression full of friendliness when she asked them about their business. She seemed truly sad when she could not help them and suggested them another address where they might be more lucky.

Their second destination was similar. A young maid let them into the large kitchen where they were asked a few questions by a friendly man with a slightly self important air about him. Since Catherine had no education and was no blacksmith, they were still not lucky enough to find a job for her, but they left feeling optimistic. Catherine was beginning to forget about the strange man at the castle and was back to hoping that her future did not have to involve marriage to Alfred.

The third house they reached was smaller and looked as if someone had just recently moved in. There were a few hired men carrying large wooden boxes inside and the building looked horrible, as if no one had taken are of it for several years. They could only find one entrance that was not occupied with boxes, so the knocked on the door a few times and waited.

It took a long time before anyone opened, long enough for Catherine to lose her nerve again. Gabrielle stepped in front of her when a very old woman opened the door. Catherine began to wonder if there was a sign behind the amount of elderly housekeepers they were meeting that day while Gabrielle made the enquiries.

“Who is it, Hilda,” a man's voice sounded from somewhere inside.

“A young lady is looking for work, sir,” the old woman croaked. Catherine suddenly felt dizzy. The man who had spoken stepped into the light and looked at them.

“I take it you are the one,” Alfred asked Gabrielle.

“No, sir, my friend here is,” Gabrielle said politely, pointing to Catherine and only then realised that Catherine had slumped against the wall.

“Catherine?” she said, confused.

Alfred looked at her grimly.

“Really my dear,” he sighed. “Are you not aware of the amount of trouble I am having just to be able to accommodate you? This is how you were planning on paying me back?” He began to turn back towards the room he had come from. Gabrielle stared at him, understanding what what happening.

“No sir, I'm very sorry, this was all my idea! I forced her to go along with me. I - She told me all about you and I didn't want her to go through with it. I - I was jealous!”

“And now your jealousy is causing you to admit your mistake and defend her so I wont break off the engagement, I presume?” He raised an eyebrow.

“No, I - I just changed my mind, sir.” Gabrielle looked away.

“Catherine, I will not deny you another chance, but you must understand that it would be very embarrassing to me if I suddenly have to call off the engagement due to your running away. It would not be easy for me to find someone else with such a reputation, my dear.” His voice was cool. Catherine sobbed into her hand, then forced herself to look at him, her face a mess.

“I'm so sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. I didn't mean to upset you. Sir.”

“Don't all me sir, my girl. What nonsense. I'll take you back to your parents and make sure they keep an eye on you. We can talk about this when you move in. Hilda,” he looked at the old woman next to him, who had been following the scene with a frown on her face. “This is Catherine, whom I told you about. Catherine, this is Hilda, my housekeeper.”

Catherine did a sad, little courtesy and followed Alfred who took off in the direction of her childhood home. Gabrielle looked in all directions, unable to decide what to do, then took off in the same direction, running past both of them to reach her home as fast as possible. When she passed Catherine, who was a few steps behind her fiancé, she whispered an urgent apology.

Catherine watched her friend disappear and felt miserable. She walked a little faster so she was just behind Alfred.

“I am really sorry. I have no idea why I though it was a good idea. I understand that you are being very charitable, and … I'm really sorry,” she said, in as strong a voice as she could manage under the circumstances.

Alfred did not answer her. When she looked at him, his gaze was fixed at the horizon and his expression was sour. She sagged a few steps behind again, willing herself not to cry any more.

When they reached the house, she was ordered to stay in the small living room while the three others discussed in the kitchen. She was mortified to hear the story from Alfred's mouth. He made her sound so ungrateful, like she had spat him in the face. She supposed that was almost what she had done. It was not his fault that she was too proud to be helped by him.

When her father joined her alone, she already felt so ashamed of herself that nothing he could say would make her feel any worse. She accepted his order to stay in the house until she had to move to Alfred's and did not complain when he demanded that she never see Gabrielle again. A small part of her knew that she would soon be in a house of her own, and as long as the housekeeper was not allowed to rule over her, she would be able to see Gabrielle then. After all, Gabrielle was not to blame; she was.

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