Chateaux Devaneaux, 1548 - Spring
Winter had yet to release its hold upon the land.
Marielle Devaneaux shivered, drawing her shawl tightly around her shoulders as she peered out through the uneven glass. Behind her, the fire in the library had yet to take grip of the logs she had set. She had lit the fire less than fifteen minutes previously, and the tiny flames guttered fitfully, as if they, themselves, were cold.
The library was Marielle's favorite room in the châteaux. Even more than the stables and the horses, she loved the aroma and feel of the myriad books in her uncle's collection. For many happy hours, she would sit, a book in her hand, immersed in the meaning of the words. Even the tedious hours spent in here with her tutor could do little to dispel her fondness for the room and its contents.
Her uncle, an avid bibliophile, had spent many years amassing the collection, and the large room was nearing its capacity. Three of the four walls were lined with books, from floor to ceiling. The final wall, that contained the fireplace and windows to each side, held cabinets, and the few ornaments on display. The polished wooden floor was decorated with a scattering of rugs and several chairs, that jostled with a large recliner and a low table for floor space.
Beyond the glass, distorted by ripples and distance, the indistinct fringe of the forest meandered across the horizon, dividing the frozen grassland from the, only slightly lighter, lowering sky above. Even from this distance, the forest had a menacing, gloomy look about it but, Marielle told herself, that was probably because she had caught a glimpse of what lay within.
Again she caught herself thinking, not for the first time, about the man who had saved her. Almost a year had passed, and still there had been no news of Brand. Nobody she had asked, either the châteaux staff, or those living in the nearby villages, had ever heard of him. If it hadn't been for the loss of her horse, and the ring he had given her, she might have been tempted to dismiss the entire episode as a bad case of vapors, or a nightmare.
Marielle had told her uncle of the loss of the colt, saying that the beast had unhorsed her, and galloped away into the forest of its own volition. She had made no mention of her own foray into the trees, and, if asked, she could not have said why.
She told herself that she did not want her uncle to think any worse of her than he already did, for the loss of her horse. But, she knew; it was more than that. Something in the way Brand had spoken, when she mentioned meeting her uncle, had warned her that mentioning her savior to him might not be a good thing.
As the thought of Brand, her hand strayed unconsciously, as it always did, towards the top of her bodice, and to the ring he had given her. It now nestled against her bosom, hanging from a sturdy silver chain she had found in her jewelery box. As always, she was aware of the mild warmth emanating from the metal. Even on the coldest of days, such as this was, she could feel the warmth, and drew comfort from it. Somehow, she knew - as long as Brand was alive, the ring would retain its heat. Should it ever grow cold, well; Marielle did not want to think about what that might signify.
The soft click of a door opening behind her made Marielle turn. Expecting to see the stooped form of her uncle in the doorway, she was surprised instead, as her brother entered the room. His tall figure loomed in the doorway; as powerfully built as his sister was willowy. Maximilian's traveling clothes were mud-spattered and damp, his dark hair plastered against his head. A hawkish nose above a short-trimmed beard masked a mind that was sharp, and quick to find humor in most situations. Eyes that were, like his sisters, of a blue so dark as to be almost black, gleamed with sharp intelligence.