She stroked her hair with the brush with fervent care as she hummed a melodic tune for the millionth time. The summer sky blue comb streaked through her ebony hair that was as soft as a pillow and as smooth as silk. The vanity before her gave her as much justice as the human eye could for the fair maiden. She was, however, too engrossed in her humming to care for her physical visage. It was simple melody that the maiden was in love as much as she was in love with the one who had taught her the melody in the first place. She saw herself in his arms that held her so careful yet tightly that night. A kiss, a kiss was all he gave her before he left as mysteriously as the morning dew.
She ceased stroking her hair and sighed at her reflection with a wistful smile on her face. She wasn’t enchanted by his infallible charm or his rich and perfect looks, but rather his truthful heart and elegant words that spoke the words she thought everyone had forgotten out of fear of being accused of treachery. He was right when he had said that the king had been fool in dealing with the recent uprising, his lack of control over the nation was astounding! And the court of nobles itself was far too complacent to do anything about it. At least her father had managed to smooth things over with the common folk by fixing the taxes and allowing more trade from foreigners. Not that the king minded any, what with his own family trying to dethrone him which, as she and the handsome stranger had agreed, probably would have been better.
A knock came to her door. “Come in.” She called to whoever it was, not taking hers from her doppelganger. The door creaked open and her maid, Mina, stepped in with a tray of tea and two cups. “It’s tea time, Mistress Albuheim.” The young mistress turned her head to her humble companion with a surprised look. “Already?” She said incredulously. She stood from her vanity and walked over to the couch with the coffee table in front of it.
Mina placed the tray in front of her mistress and nodded. “Yes Mistress, you were very preoccupied it seems.” Mina poured a cup of steaming chamomile tea while the mistress huffed presumptuously. “Daydreaming more like it Mina.” She sighed as Mina put three scoops of sugar in, as desired by her mistress. “Mina, does love feel so wonderful? Or am I just star struck?” Mina placed the cup in front of her mistress before sitting beside her. The young mistress Albuheim took a sip from the cup and hummed in delight with her favorite beverage falling down her throat.
Mina placed a hand on her mistress’s shoulder, a very intimate gesture that only Mina could get away with, having been with the mistress for 4 whole years. “Is my mistress dazed by a particular gentleman?”
“Mina, please, there is no need for such formalities.” She said as she placed the cup down. Mina smiled warmly to her. “Yes, Mistre-, Irene.” Irene nodded to her and propped her head on her hands. “He was so handsome and charming but that isn’t what I love about him. No, he spoke so truthfully and with such confidence that he moved me beyond measure and…” Irene bit her lip and looked at the cup of tea with her blurred reflection. “He kissed me.”
Mina turned to Irene with excitement barely kept from her voice. “Now Mistress Irene, you know we servants are above such gossip but,” Irene saw the excited gleam in her eyes and knew that Mina the maid had left and Mina the romance novel reader was in. “What was it like? I mean this was your first kiss.”
Irene laughed heartily. “Mina, you never cease to obsess over your silly novels.” Mina looked a bit disappointed but Irene leaned in close and whispered, “It was the grandest thing you can ever feel.” Mina giggled and playfully shoved Irene. “Oh, you’re so evil Mistress!” They laughed like only sisters could. Mina had been with Irene long enough that they were might as well be sisters for how close they were. There wasn’t a thing in the world Irene couldn’t tell Mina and Mina wouldn’t tell a soul.
Mina and Irene managed stopped laughing after a moment. Mina grabbed a few locks of Irene’s hair and gasped. “Mistress! Didn’t your father tell you to cut your hair?” Irene yanked her hair out of Mina’s grasp and blushed as she ran her fingers through her long, long hair. Irene prided herself on her vigilant care of her hair that reached to the back of her knee which led to many a compliment on how beautiful her hair was. It grated her nerves after a while but thankfully they stopped after half of the nobles had complimented her on her hair.
“I know father said to cut it but,” Irene fiddled with her hair in silence for a second before continuing, “how far do I have to cut it?” Mina got up and walked over to the vanity. “Well you can at least trim it. Heaven knows your hair is wilder than half the things they put on the banquet halls’ tables.” Mina said as she turned with a pair of scissors. Irene sighed and pulled her hair close to her emerald dress. Mina crouched on the floor by Irene’s feet and the cloak of black hair. Mina carefully trimmed the hair, grabbing the errant strands and placing them on the table. After having trimmed the edges of the hair, Irene stood up and ran her hands through her hair that was now more proper looking but still had it’s natural vigor in it.
“Mina, do you think anybody finds me ugly?” Irene asked, curious as to her maids answer. Mina stood up and grabbed the strands of hair into her hand. “Oh I’m sure there some who jealous and think you’re ugly,” Mina said as she threw the hairs into a rubbish bin that was close by. “But I bet there isn’t a single man in all of the Albuheim estate who won’t testify to your beauty.” Irene walked over to her wardrobe and pulled out a white woolen shawl that had the Albuheim diamond on it. “That’s just it Mina, no man in the Albuheim estate, but what about others.” Irene had a slight hint of worry in her voice. “Are there those who think I’m not what they expected?” Irene pulled the shawl closer to body. “I mean, I just want to make everyone happy.”
Mina walked over to Irene hugged her briefly. “Mistress Irene, you have such a capacity to love and care for others even though you’ve never met them that I say that you live up to your title of ‘The White Diamond of Albuheim.’” Irene wrapped her arms around Mina in a tight embrace and smiled. “Thank you Mina, I needed that.” Irene gasped and ran over to the table and guzzled down the cup of lukewarm tea. “What a bother, tea time is ruined.” Irene said, a bit miffed over her tea having cooled.
Mina walked over to the wardrobe pulled out a silk dress that was as golden as the sunlight. “Well it’s about to get worse because the middle son of the Braveerus family is going to be here soon to meet with your father over trade deals.” Irene squealed with surprise, grabbed the dress out of Mina’s hands, ran over to the divider and got dressed into the golden dress. Irene was about to run out of the room but Mina was at the door with a pair of glittery golden slippers that Irene fit on with great haste.
Irene fixed her hair as best she could with Mina helping. Irene put her favorite white rose hairpin in her hair, pulled the hem of her dress and ran down the halls with Mina right on her heels. Irene heard voices in the foyer of her mansion slowed herself to a walk. She took a few deep breathes and gave herself another look over and hoped for the best.
Irene peaked out into the foyer and saw her father and the Braveerus middle child, Markus. He was cute and slightly tanned with his dirty blonde hair making it seem slightly dark then it probably was. He was a couple years older than her, 21 to be exact, and was dressed in the blues and greens of the Braveerus family that only served to increase his charm.
Irene’s father saw her peaking from behind the corner and motioned for her to come closer. Irene took a deep breath and stepped forward. Markus saw her smiled to her. “Ah, Irene, I do believe it has been, what, 2 years since we danced together?” Markus reminisced about the very first dance Irene had attended and as she remembered, she had done very well for a first time for a public appearance. She smiled and took Markus outstretched hand. “Indeed it has Markus.” Irene reaffirmed as Markus kissed her hand.
Markus rose from his bow and turned to her father. “Lord Utheran, I must say, your daughter is as beautiful and radient as when I first saw her.” Markus said courteously. Utheran nodded and smiled warmly to Irene. “She wasn’t named ‘The White Diamond of Abluheim’ for no reason.” Utheran chuckled. “Though her mother’s insistence probably had some sway in that matter.” Markus and Utheran shared a laugh and went on talking about trade markets and the like while Irene stood there and listened, trying to look as interested as possible. ‘Twas not an easy thing to do but she managed.
After a while, an unexpected quest came to their door. A knocking went off from the Albuheim front door and behind that door was the grizzled looking yet honorable Lord Braveerus. ‘This must be a gift sent from God because my mind can’t take much more of this drawling trade chatter.’ Irene thought as the Lord Braveerus talked with her father. Irene excused herself and walked off to the gardens.
“Well that could’ve gone better.” Mina stated simply as she appeared beside Irene. This didn’t surprise Irene however since Mina was always there when ever she was needed…which was now. Irene entered the gardens through the door that was in the kitchen. Irene breathed in the fresh air that seemed to exude from the flowers. The flowers were so varied; it was a challenge to name half of them without struggling. Irene however knew them all by name and tended them with as much arduous care as she did with her hair.
Irene bent down and stroked the petals of the various flowers and felt more at peace. “Mina,” Mina ‘hmm’d at her mistress. “Forget my question as to whether people think I’m beautiful. I think the real question,” Irene stood back up and looked at the vast plot of flowers. “Is whether they acknowledge me to be more than just a pretty face?”
“Well I can’t speak for everyone but I think that you are, perhaps, the grandest woman I’ve ever met.” Irene gasped and whirled around to see Markus standing there in his blue and green military dress coat. “M-Markus! I didn’t know you were there.” Irene’s voice broke under the pressure.
Markus chuckled. “Well I doubt it would’ve mattered any.” Markus stared at the garden with adoration and awe in his eyes. “Is this your garden Irene?”
“It was my mother’s but it was far smaller when she was alive.” Irene pointed to the rose bush in the center of the garden. “That was the only thing in this whole place that grew, aside from grass and the occasional weed.” Markus gaped at the garden with a look of awe on his face. “And you grew all of these?” Markus inquired. Irene nodded which prompted Markus chuckle in disbelief.
He turned to Irene and their eyes met. Irene’s sapphire blue eyes stared into his own hazel eyes. Irene stared at him speechless as he took a few steps closer to her. “Irene,” Markus’ voice was soft and careful, as if Irene was the most fragile thing in the world. “I have seen your beauty since we first met and it wasn’t the beauty of your hair or your fair face but the beauty of your heart.” He took her hands in his and caressed them in his course hands.
Irene saw where this was going and snatched her hands from his grasp and stepped away from him, shaking her head the whole way. “No…” her voice was barely a whisper. “No I-I can’t, I-” Markus advanced toward her slowly. “Irene,” Markus’ voice was still soft and caring as it was before. “I know you’re afraid but-”
“NO! I don’t love you! I can’t love you!” Irene ran out of the garden with Markus calling after her and like the sunlight she was dressed in, she was gone. Irene had run with her dresses enough times to know how to run really fast in them. By holding the hem of the dress up and taking as big steps as possible, you could get pretty far in a dress.
Markus was about to pursue Irene but Mina stopped him at the entrance to the garden. “I am sorry Master Braveerus, but my Mistress is not in a mood to hear from anyone.” Mina’s voice was as direct and blunt as a jab from a stick. Markus wanted to protest but knew she was right and sighed his defeat. Markus walked over to a bench by the one of the garden beds and sat down with his head in his hands.
Mina sat beside him and looked out to the celestial bouquet of flowers. “You know, she didn’t deny because of your own actions.” Markus looked to Mina with a disbelieving look. “Then what made her say that?” Markus asked with frustration hanging on his words. Mina’s mouth twitched briefly into a smile. “Not what, Young Master, who.” Mina replied cryptically.
Markus sighed deeply with despair. “She loves someone else.” Mina nodded. “Is she star struck or is this real?” Mina smiled to Markus warmly. “It is very much a fleeting love, but that doesn’t mean she is anymore ready for your proposal.” Mina reassured Markus.“Give it time Young Master, she’ll come around.” ‘I hope…’ Mina added mentally.
Elsewhere in the mansion, Irene was on her lavish bed, crying into her pillow. ‘I’m such a rotten person.’ She thought bitterly as she remembered how hurt Markus had looked when she had denied his confession of love. Irene was torn between a love that was born of a secret kiss and a love that was born of an unrequited feeling. Irene cried into her pillow for the remainder of the time the Braveerus’ were visiting. Mina walked in after they had left to comfort her Mistress as best she could. By the time night had fallen, Irene had tired herself out and went to sleep, hoping for peace in her dreams.
Outside her window, from a distance, watched one who had seen her tears and despaired at her sadness. Wanting nothing more than to cease her suffering, he came upon the conclusion to meet her once again and attempt to mend her grieving heart. It was the least he could do for her.