All That I Can Give, Part 1
Château de Selvilles
17 Cromeuille, 591 Année de Paix
The pair walked into the room: father and daughter. The child’s hand rested in the man’s, engulfed like a petal in a bear’s paw, and it took her some effort to keep pace with his long strides. Crimson and gold robes swirled around the father’s legs, rippling with complex eddies in the still air.
It was bright. The afternoon sun shone brilliantly on the pale limestone walls of the Château de Selvilles, illuminating rays of dust in patterns defined by the ornate windows of the palace. “Close the curtains, Papa,” said the child, covering her face clumsily as they moved through one such column of light. “Like you did when I was little.”
Jean-Pierre Challant, the Comte of Martoise, allowed a faint smile to cross his stone-chiseled face and reached out to pull shut the deep ruby drapes of one window. A single slit of brilliance remained on the wall opposite; with a second tug on the cloth he extinguished it.“Come sit, ma chérie.” Leaning back onto a velvet bench, the Comte patted the cushion beside him.
She sat. In years past, she would rest on his knee and giggle uncontrollably as Jean-Pierre bounced her about, humming a tune or telling a story that seemed to amuse her to no end. Now, nearly twelve years old, she had outgrown such games; they were reserved for her younger brothers. Jean-Pierre wished that the olden days could have lasted forever — the days when Arielle had been young and he had been healthy and there had been no troubles from realms abroad. But today came with today’s worries.
“Do you remember,” he said tenderly, “when your grand-père and I would sit here and talk politics, and you would play on the floor right over there? You thought we were infinitely boring.”
“I still think you are boring,” came the reply, along with a mischievous smile.
Jean-Pierre laughed and tousled her hair. “Well, that is why I do the governing and you help maman around the house. You would despise my job.”
She nodded emphatically in the way that children do when they want to seem important. For all his stony, noble airs, Jean-Pierre could not keep a sad glance from crossing over his face.
“There is something we need to talk about, Arielle. About the future.” He paused, taking a moment to consider his words. “You are old enough now to understand what will be expected of you as an adult. A lady’s role in society is nothing more than a pawn to be married off to another family. So it says in the laws of the Church, and so our family has done for hundreds of years. You cannot be my heir. I cannot even give you an inheritance.”
A pause. She stared at him with wide, dark, solemn eyes.
“Your maman and I have been discussing, and we have decided to send you to live at the Monastery — you remember, we visited two years ago. The nuns will take care of you, and we think that the knowledge you gain from them will be your best chance to make your way in the world.” Plus, the freedoms afforded to the Church are far greater than the freedoms afforded to any woman: an unspoken truth which the girl could not understand. He hoped she would understand in the future.
Another pause. “I want to stay with you, Papa.”
Jean-Pierre shook his head. “It cannot be so, ma chérie. I cannot change the laws of the Church. I want only what is best for you.”
“Then change the laws of Martoise. You are the Comte. You can do whatever you want.” There was a mix of hope and pleading in her voice, and she grasped her father’s arm tightly.
“That is impossible. I am sorry, Arielle. But we shall make these next few months together the best we have ever had, yes?”
The girl’s face fell, and her hand dropped from Jean-Pierre’s arm. The sun faded for an instant as it passed behind a cloud, then returned.
The Comte sighed. Then, he stood, pulling his cloak over his left shoulder and readjusting his epaulets automatically. Perfect posture, perfect manners. Subservient still to the Church. “Je t’aime, Arielle. We will talk more tomorrow.”
The oak door of the room closed, leaving behind a child bathed in sunlight.