A couple months ago, I responded to another prompt inspired by Clue, and delightfully unconventional characters named Anastasia and Arik were born. I decided to add another chapter to her story. I thought of what her own family might be like for her to have such disdain for nobility.
I offer the following in response: The Count's Offering
Anastasia clutched her shawl at her shoulders, peering through the pane at the dreariness leaking from the sky. Rain kept the week gray and her diary dismal, with no end in sight.
“The count’s man stopped by,” her brother slithered into the room behind her, “and left this parcel for you.”
She turned, suspicion bubbling in her lungs. “Are you completing my lady’s tasks now Edwin? Surely deliveries are beneath your station. Mother would not approve.”
His sneer was even more condescending than normal. Edwin visited her bedchamber far too often, eagerly expressing criticism of her dress or demeanor. The waistcoat and tails he sported were the same as last night’s manner of dress, and the look in his eyes disturbed her when she realized he had conquered another unsuspecting handmaiden. “Mother does not approve of a great many things. Thankfully, Father isn’t bothered by my antics.”
“His mistress keeps him happy, then?” she quipped. Anastasia had no room in her heart for anything other than disdain towards her father. She never had reason to speak well of him.
Edwin shrugged, “She must. He hasn’t banished her yet.”
A grin born of the devil smeared across his face. She dreamed of reaching out for the candlestick and bashing his thick skull in. “So, you’ve a parcel for me? I suggest you leave it then and vacate my bedchamber before your stench permeates the furniture.”
He laughed: an irritating sound that drowned the distant thunder. He placed a smartly wrapped box on her table. “As you wish, my dear, sweet sister.”
She waited for him to leave before she left her window to investigate the parcel. It was wrapped in a rich emerald velvet and trimmed with a delicate lace. Anastasia removed the top, pulling a note from the box. The cursive was concise as if written by a hand unaccustomed to decorative loops and swirls, quite the contrast to the wrapping on the box.
Do me the honor and wear this ring, the note commanded. It was signed Arik, with an awkward space trailing below, as if his combined noble titles and stations were an afterthought.
The ring itself was magnificent in its simplicity. Light reflected off the smoky striations of the cabochon-cut gem, a chatoyant green to rival the velvet box. Her heart jumped as she slid the ring on her finger. The fit surprised her. It was perfect.
Her lady-in-waiting announced her arrival with a brief knock. “Oh, your ladyship, that jewel is pure beauty,” she breathed.
Anastasia nodded, sighing wistfully. “It’s a pity I have to return it, Lynnette.”
“Return it?” Lynnette’s eyes glinted with confusion.
“Yes. One must refuse the first gifts of a count if one expects to wed him. It’s best to appear cold and distant than eager and yielding; else he becomes bored and moves onto a different conquest.” The light shifted, causing the gemstone to wink at her. “Still, it’s a lovely ring.”