The Duke pt.5

Marie tentatively pushed on the heavy wooden door, and poked her head out the crack. She could see no one about, so she stepped into the hall and gently closed the door with a soft click. Torchlight illuminated the long hallway, glinting off the numerous ancient weapons displayed on the walls and bathing everything in a warm orange glow. Marie strolled down the hall, treading lightly on the green rug underneath and peeking through doors that opened into rooms of various uses, a weaving room, a painting room, several unoccupied bedrooms, a comfortable sitting room, a room with a long table in it that must be used for feasts. Marie thought this all highly unnecessary; she had functioned quite well in her three room house back in town.
Then she rounded a corner and came across a large door, carved along the frame with all kinds of forest life, and a curiously smooth spot about a foot above the handle that indicated it was often pushed there to open it. It was slightly ajar, so she eased the door open and poked her head in just like she had done when she left her room.
Her breath caught in her throat at the enormous amount of bound books gracing the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lining the walls. Every shelf was filled, and stacks of books lay randomly about the floor. Marie had never been able to read much in her life so far, her family had never been rich enough to afford anything more than the necessities, and books were not one of them. What few stories she was able to borrow from neighbors and merchant friends she had devoured, and read several tens of times. Marie believed that this was quite possibly the most beautiful sight she had ever seen.
She stepped forward, drinking in the sight of the hundreds of books around her not noticing the eyes that watched her, not even hearing the first words that were said to her.
The Duke sat in a comfortably worn chair in a corner, the same chair he had sat in when he was a small boy reading about knights and princesses, with an open book in his hand and watched bemusedly as Marie, his chosen bride, was entranced by his library. It was not often nowadays that one could find a person that truly appreciates the beauty of the written word, just another thing about Marie that set her apart from the rest. “I see you have discovered my treasure trove.” He said.

When she didn’t react the Duke set his book on the floor and rose to his feet. He watched with amusement as she whirled around, taken by surprise by the fact that there was someone else in the room. When she saw who it was the color drained from her face and she could feel herself quivering.

How could I ever marry him when the mere sight of his stony eyes sets me shaking like a leaf?, Marie thought. She clasped her hands behind her back and forced herself to calm down, taking deep breaths while turning her gaze back to the books instead of those hateful eyes.

“Oh, I didn’t see you there,” she squeezed out. She didn’t know how her previous plan was possibly going to succeed now.

The Duke saw her blatant fear and decided he probably shouldn’t do anything to encourage it if he wanted her to like him. “Yes, I surmised that,” he said simply.

Now, in better circumstances, Marie found the Duke’s voice strangely compelling, a deep rumble that sent a shiver up her spine. But was that embarrassment in his voice? Of course not, Marie thought, but her body unconsciously relaxed.

Be nice, be nice, be nice, Marie thought, “Is this your library?” Of course it’s his library, it’s in his house!, Marie chided herself.

Act pleasant, act pleasant, act pleasant, the Duke commanded himself, “Yes, but most of it was collected by my grandfather and mother. Do you read much?”

“Whenever possible, and even that is not enough for me.” Marie found it much easier to speak to him if she didn’t make eye contact, and he was almost being civil.

“What have you read?”

“Oh, mostly just children’s stories I was able to borrow from neighborhood kids, but I managed to get my hands on Memoirs of a Queen last year,” Marie was thoroughly shamed by her sparse education in front of this obviously knowledgeable man, she could tell in the way he pronounced each syllable precisely and how straight his back was as he stepped forward and ran his finger along the spines of the books, eventually pulling one out and handing it to her.

“Is this the one?” The Duke queried.

Marie looked down at the book bound in red leather resting in her hands. Memoirs of a Queen was stamped in gold lettering on the front cover, and underneath that was printed, The true account of the life of Queen Taris, taken from her personal diaries and arranged by Princess Tarin. “Yes, this is the one. Weird, it looks exactly like the one I read.”

“I found it with a small book vendor and bought it right away. It’s quite a rare book you know, only a few hundred were printed by the Princess Tarin before she was married and whisked away across the continent.” The Duke realized he was about to start rambling and stopped immediately. Something about Marie set him at ease and loosened his tongue.

Marie wasn’t paying attention though, she had opened the front cover and discovered words scrawled in a corner of the first page, in a hand she would recognize anywhere. She didn’t need to study the writing to know it said, For my dearest heart, may you live long and find happiness.





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