The Blood Rose Assassin – Part 4
Sneaking in through the back of the manor, whilst guests flooded in from the front, was Isolde’s best bet. Even though the estate was completely fenced in, she and Niklaus had figured out how to climb up it from the back. She made her way through the back door, showing her face happily to a guard who looked at her with a perplexed expression. Isolde quickly sprinted away and hurried to her room at the topmost tower before he could utter a word.
A guard in the hall exclaimed in confusion and Isolde tilted her head. “What?” she said. “I just needed a bit of fresh air. I’ve got a bit of nerves.” She laughed softly and made her way into her room, closing the door slowly and letting out a deep breath. For a moment, she paused, relishing in the fact that she snuck in during a heavily guarded time, and then stood in front of her mirror.
Isolde did her best to fix a bit of her hair. How like Niklaus to think she looked passable. He was so sweet. She did her best to brush a bit of dirt from her dress, and with her hair tied back, curled, and braided, she felt she looked presentable. Her cheeks were still flushed, though that would be preferred. Her mother always pinched her cheeks to add color before an appearance, and she always hated it.
As if she had manifested the woman herself, her mother burst into her room. “Oh, Isolde, come now! People are here. It’s time for your dinner and Lord Umber is here!”
Isolde turned from the mirror and nodded. “Okay.” She forced a smile. “Let’s go—ow!” Her pinched cheeks lightly stung as her mother drew her hands away from her face.
“Perfect! Come along, now.”
Isolde walked alongside her mother out of her room and sighed in relief. She couldn’t imagine what would happen if she had gotten back a few minutes later. Her mother would’ve entered, seen she was missing, and sent the guards looking for her. Then, when she didn’t turn up, it’d be a manhunt just to find where she’d gone.
It’d happened before.
Down the hall and down the wide stairwell, guests stood on the polished floors, mingling, talking, and drinking whatever was being served. Though, the moment Isolde appeared, the guests turned to face her and clapped. Her father was at the top of the stairs and gave her a kiss on her cheek.
“Happy birthday, Isolde,” he told her.
“Thank you,” she said. Her heart started to race as she gave what she hoped was an easy smile and gracefully stepped down the stairs. The guests were ushered into the dining hall on the right, where a long table awaited with plates, goblets, silverware, and decorations. Isolde sat adjacent to the head of the table where her mother sat. Her father sat at the other end.
“Isolde,” her mother said as a man came to sit on her right. He indeed was old, maybe in about his fifties, with thinning grey hair and a wine gut. The man gave her a toothy smile and bowed. She tried not to vomit on the spot. “This is Lord Umber.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Isolde.”
His voice was high pitched, nasally, and sounded as if he were somehow trying too hard to be impressive and pompous. Her mother lightly tapped her shoulder, nudging her to greet him. Isolde swallowed hard and stood from her chair to curtsy halfheartedly. “Lord Umber,” she said, her voice soft and quiet.
He continued to smile at her, and she felt enormously uncomfortable. No matter how she tried to smile, it came out feebly, and she was quick to sit down again. For a moment, she stared straight ahead until the seat across her was filled by someone. Who even were these people? Why come if they didn’t really know or care, if not for the luxury a birthday party for a Lady may entail?
When the food came, everyone dug in. Polite chat filled the air. Everything seemed fine, though Isolde found it rather disturbing how the man beside her, the man who was to be her husband, ate so loudly. He smacked his lips as he bit into meat and chewed, all the while trying his best to strike up some conversation that couldn’t be any duller.
“The Umbers are in charge of fueling the kingdom with coal, you know. Do you know anything about coal? I’m sure not, you are a girl, after all.”
Isolde smiled tightly and tried to take a bite. Her appetite was nonexistent.
“Coal, you see, is used for heat, especially for blacksmithing…”
Isolde let him drone on and on. She couldn’t believe it. He was actually talking to her about coal, giving her a lecture on coal, even. They were to be married, and he was fucking talking to her about coal.
Her foot tapped impatiently, and she kept eating in small bites. At times, she would nod and offer a half-second smile and look at her food again so it would seem she was… somehow multitasking. She glanced at her mother, who gave her a hopeful smile and nod. For a moment, Isolde just stared at her. How could she be happy about this? At all?
Remarkably, dinner was over, and dancing would commence in the ballroom. While Isolde dreaded the dancing, it meant the night would be over soon enough.
Everyone gathered in the ballroom where musicians played a waltz. Lord Umber found her immediately. Foolishly, she hoped he wouldn’t ask.
“May I have this dance?” He bowed his head and held his gloved hand out for her. She sighed and forced another smile before taking his hand in her own. Isolde had to fight everything within her to keep from pulling her hand away. Even with the glove, it was sweaty!
He pulled her along and she faced him, placing a hand on his upper arm. His hand went to her waist, and they danced. She missed Niklaus’s messy, charming footwork. This was too polished, too perfect, and Isolde wished she were anywhere but there.
“My Lady,” he said, and Isolde looked up at him. “Soon we’ll be wed. What say you?”
“I say… we should wait for just enough time so that everything is sorted. There’s the dowry, and… well, I did just meet you, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but will you be happy?”
No, she thought. “I sure hope so.”
“Uncertain?” He twirled her, and Isolde was pulled flush against him. “Well, maybe this will change your mind.”
She froze in place as he leaned in to kiss her. But her hand… her hand had a mind of its own, reacting faster than she could comprehend what was happening. It lifted from his arm and smacked him hard across the cheek.
It was as if the slap, so loud, like a crack, could be heard all over the world. Everyone stopped, the music stopped, and all eyes were on her and Lord Umber.
Her mother and father swiftly hurried to them. “Young lady!” her mother said, eyes alight with fiery anger.
“My apologies, Lord Umber, it’s so unlike Isolde—” her father began, but Lord Umber cut him off.
“This is how you raised your daughter?!” The Lord bellowed, pointing an accusing finger at Isolde. Isolde’s heart raced, and she looked up at her mother, hoping the woman could just have some empathy for her right now.
“It was unwarranted,” Isolde said.
“He is to be your husband!”
Isolde couldn’t handle it anymore. She stepped back and glared. “So?! Could you imagine if you were my age and marrying someone more than twice your age?” She asked furiously, looking at her mother especially. “We’d just met! Are you out of your mind?!” She shot a quick glare toward Lord Umber. “I want nothing to do with you!”
There was a collective gasp from the guests. Yes, of course, how defiant of her. How damn right improper. How insubordinate to not immediately do whatever her betrothed said and wanted within an hour of meeting.
Lord Umber looked at her parents. “I have never been so disrespected in all my years as Lord of my House. You will rue this day, House Rydell.”
Her mother opened her mouth to say something, but Lord Umber stormed out of the ballroom, leaving the manor.
The look her parents gave her sent chills down her spine. Isolde took a couple steps back. “To your room,” her mother said, her voice slow and threatening as she pointed to the door of the ballroom.
Isolde could feel tears welling in her eyes. She looked at her father, who looked awkward, worried, and upset all at once. “Father—”
“Listen to your mother.” He looked away from her. “You have disgraced us.”
Disgraced. That was the last thing she had ever wanted to do. Something heavy sunk deep into the pit of her stomach and the tears slid down her cheeks. Everyone was staring at her, and people were whispering to each other, gossiping.
And worse, she knew they were all talking about her, as if they all hadn’t been her age and forced to marry some man they didn’t know.
Isolde sprinted from the ballroom, with Lord Umber’s warning and her father’s disappointment ringing in her head.
To be continued.