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Morning at Wolfenburg

Delphinia had dressed with care, in a gown of the latest empire fashion characterized by a high, ribbon-bound waist, tiny puffed sleeves and her preferred shade of rose blush. Pink roses adorned the cascade of her golden hair.

Due to her dawdling over her toilette the others at the breakfast table were finished and quickly deserting. She did not care particularly, as she had doubted Gauvain make an appearance, and she was not interested in conversing further with Adelia.

However as she approached Adelia and Oskar lingered, in an interchange of some kind, as Adelia was rising with her reticule and a slightly thunderous look on her face. Delphinia's gaze darted to Oskar's face, which was Pan-like as usual, his thoughts invisible behind the good-humoured if not assuming expression. "I invited Fraulein Brown to walk with me in the garden, but this morning she is otherwise occupied. Her color is high this morning. I thought the crisp autumnal breeze would cool her brow."

Delphinia glanced after Adelia's retreating figure. "Indeed, Herr Weisse?" My God, she thought, he cannot be perceptive enough to guess Adelia's condition, while she is not yet certain of it. That cannot be what he means. 

"Where is Christoph?" she asked.

His gaze grew even more insinuating. "You mean my rival? I cannot guess."

"He likes to wake early, or so I thought. No matter. Perhaps he will come down, and I'll have a companion. Don't let me detain you, Herr Weisse."

"Not at all, Lady Delphinia. I'm trying to have a word with my brother before he leaves for Baden Baden this morning."

Delphinia went hot, then cold, at the mention of him. She looked away from the staircase to deter herself from looking toward it, alert that any moment he might come. She resigned herself to silence and took her seat.

"He will be gone for a week," Oskar responded to her unasked question. His words blighted her irritation.

"A week?" she asked incredulously. "But Adelia has only just arrived. He cannot--"

She fell silent at the sound of a footfall. Gauvain descended the staircase laboriously as his handicap dictated, while Delphinia looked at her bone-china tea cup and plate with her hands folded.

When finally she lifted her gaze, she was disarmed to find he was staring at her directly. His eyes, the color of the glimmering Rhine, how different from Christoph, how different-- no laughter in these depths, no alertness to opportunities, no pride-- she felt herself falling into the impenetrable darkness.

"Lady Delphinia. Oskar." He nodded to each.

Delphinia bowed her head in acknowledgement, then glanced to the window, to look at the garden where butterflies were dancing over late-blooming roses. "I beg your pardon, sirs," she said quietly, then with her cane she rose and moved to the double doors.

It was too cool to be outside in the morning without a shawl, especially in her fashionably light gown, but she was discomposed and trembling. It was a week she would not see him, another week to plan her wedding, to listen to Adelia's problems, to deal with Oskar's caustic sarcasm.

On the other side of the garden Delphinia saw the maids doing the laundry. Attentively she stepped toward them, moving all the way to the fence to catch snatches of their conversation in German, whose words she did not understand, and see the cheerful expressions on their faces. She looked at them as though they were a painting in a gallery. She knew their lives held problems too; but the dream, oh, the dream, of ordered thoughts, of untroubled life, of happiness.

A shadow fell over her, but she did not move. Too late she registered the laborious, dragging gait, the height and breadth over her, and turned and pressed against the iron fence in panic.

The Markgraf faced her in silence.

Delphinia bowed her head. "My lord. Forgive me."

There was an answer in his eyes to a question she had not yet formed. She was elevated from the unpleasant excitation of panic to real interchange with the person who troubled her to the point of despair.

"Delphinia," he said, with a smoke and amber timbre that reminded her of the crackling fire in his library.

The next thing she knew his arms were around her. It was too fast for her to cry out or pull away. Gauvain's lips were on her own, briefly, his large hands crushing her curls and the roses in her hair. Just as quickly, he turned and hurried away in his uneven gait.

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