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Gervaise

1789


Gervaise was the first one to enter Delphinia's bedchamber.


Golden light spread through a crack in the white curtains, throwing a lacey pattern onto the silk-shrouded bed. Delphinia lay in the finest guest bedchamber in the castle. It had been converted from the room of the dowager Markgrafin upon her death.


Though Gervaise's entrance was not quiet, there was no stirring in the midst of the great bed. Gently Gervaise laid down the tray of chocolate and great cinnamon rolls and approached the bed, pushing aside the curtain to view the prone figure there.


Delphinia lay in a contorted state, her limbs drawn up against her protectively, looking like a frightened child, though she was in the depths of sleep. Her hair, dark-colored, the finer strands gilded and curling around her face and brow, was mangled, freed from its pins without a combing. She wore a loose white shift, no nightgown.


Gervaise was not offended by disorder or carelessness, but Delphinia's disarray gave her a sense of alarm as it was so atypical for the fashionable, well-groomed girl who had arrived at the castle weeks before.


Gervaise was overwhelmed with a sudden wave of sympathy and affection. Though their language barriers prevented free speech, she knew Delphinia's two major secrets: that she was lamed by an amputated limb, not mere frailty, and that she loved the Markgraf.


If Delphinia had looked more closely, she might have noticed that Gervaise's lion-colored hair was the exact shade of Gauvain's, that her narrow, cat-like eyes were the same as her master's, in shape if not color.


Gervaise's round, generous hands pulled Delphinia's tousled hair away from her face. It was then she noticed the deep bruising beneath Delphinia's eyes, the discoloration of her porcelain-like complexion. She was obviously ill.


She is alone in the world. Gervaise's heart was filled with pity for the beautiful girl, the princess-like creature who seemed only to want to love and be loved. Delphinia's betrothed was a shallow, pretentious fop who loved her as he loved a piece of horseflesh. His eyes roamed over the maidservants whenever Delphinia was not around. She had seen many men like this, who liked to look and eventually to touch. Gervaise was not slender or pretty enough to capture the notice of men like these, but she was content to be as she was, free to watch impartially and serve others without a sense of guilt.


Is there anything someone as powerless as me could do to help this lonely young girl? She wondered what would happen if she tried to speak to Gauvain. He had grown if anything more rigid since Oriente's death. He had not welcomed his half-brother into his life. He did not acknowledge Gervaise's status as his half-sister. At the rate he was going he would not bend to anything like love. If anything, he would be repelled by it and continue on his unswerving course to lifelong misery which he called duty.


There were even whispers that his betrothed Adelia had come to the castle carrying a child. If they wed before Gauvain knew, then there would be nothing he could do. A bastard could end up inheriting Burg Wolfram.


"Wake up, Liebchen," Gervaise said softly, shaking Delphinia slightly.


Slowly, reluctantly, Delphinia uncurled from her fetal position. Her face was pallid and strained. Her eyes, when they opened, were dull and confused. As she moved Gervaise heard a crumple of paper and reached beneath her. With shock she saw a drawing of Oriente Oskar had done years before. Why would Delphinia have this, and where would she have found such a thing?


"Ah. I am late," Delphinia said softly, peering at the rose-painted anniversary clock on the mantel. "I shall tell them-- no, I cannot tell them I am ill. I promised Adelia. I cannot move. I am so stiff. Gervaise--" Her voice sounded close to breaking.


"Allow me, mademoiselle," Gervaise intoned in labored French. "You did not rest properly. Your leg will be stiff this morning." She held Delphinia to set the prosthesis properly, then gathered her in her large, generous arms and helped her to the dressing table. She began the procedure of combing Delphinia's tousled hair as Delphinia stared dully at her reflection in the mirror.


Gervaise was pierced with a sense of uneasiness. Something was not well within this girl. She did not want to leave her this way.


Gervaise could hear sounds of Beatrice stirring in the next room and irritation pricked her. She had hoped to complete Delphinia's toilette before the old nurse entered the room. Her small, critical eyes missed no breach in Delphinia's deportment or composure. She was an astute judge of character and circumstances besides, and Gervaise felt the older woman noticed all too much about her own permissive nature and questionable heritage to be able to like her. What Gervaise considered giving Delphinia a life-line, Beatrice would consider corruption.


She is in love, Gervaise thought, and love comes easily to no one. But this girl loves deeply with a heart that was not meant to be broken. She is too fragile to withstand its breakage.



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