Krista basked in the warm glow of the morning sun as she made the mile-long walk to the shops of New Oxholme. She was in search of a new book and some sheet music. Krista loved visiting the village. As much as she adored her father, living alone with him in an estate of their size left her very lonely. And very bored.
Krista had spent her life trying to overcome boredom, and that had made her a very accomplished young woman. She could play the the pianoforte to an exceptional level, draw very well, and enjoyed dress-making and knitting. Among that, she had a delicate and sweet disposition with which she charmed many suitors, sometimes without even realising. Her father could not be more proud of her accomplishments, and tried to be attentive to her, but the stifling depression he succumbed to when Krista's mother died had never set him free.
It took less than an hour to reach her destination. As she reached the top of a rather steep hill, the village came into view, nestled between fields of crops and wildflowers. Once reaching the bottom, a familiar voice shouted out to her.
"Miss Lenz!" It was the voice of Jean Kirstein, a man of supreme self-confidence and blatant honesty, who was never willing to release Krista from his company on the rare occasion she made conversation with him. Jean was the son of the village reverend, and it was known across the area that he was in pursuit of a wife. "Would you allow me to accompany you?"
"Mr Kirstein," she curtseyed and allowed him to take her arm. "What business brings you into town today?"
"Nothing in particular," he said. "Youself?"
"I am simply looking for new sheet music; I seem to have exhausted my grandmother's collection."
"Well, you must come and play at the church again soon! Everyone enjoyed you immensely last time." Jean said. Krista blushed. "But I had imagined you would be designing a new dress; are you in search of supplies?"
"For what occasion would that be, Mr Kirstein?" Krista smiled, as they reached the little village. The streets were busier than usual, due to the warm weather and clear sky.
"My! Have you not heard?" He exclaimed. "Dr Jaeger and his wife are holding a ball in celebration of their son's return. Colonel Smith's brigade are returning."
"Well, then. If that's the case, then yes, I shall be in need of materials!" Krista laughed. "That's if I receive invitation of course."
The trip in the village was interesting, but Krista longed for the quiet in which she needed to find the things she wanted. But because she felt too shy to refuse Mr Kirstein's company, she spent the whole trip with him, although they did cross paths with her good friend Sasha Blouse.
She found some sheet music, and although not exactly to her taste, it looked to be a challenge. The fabric she chose was greatly admired by Jean. He made it clear that he should love to see her in it at the ball, and asked for her hand in the first dance. She accepted, rather reluctantly, but not wanting to seem rude.
Their ways parted on the trip home, and Krista enjoyed the silence as she admired the scenery of the country roads. The walk felt far longer on the way home, she found; without half the excitement to return home as she had enjoyed when leaving, the journey seemed to drag.
The estate on which Krista lived was a wealthy one, of which she was the sole heir. It had belonged to Jane Peters, Krista's mother, before she had married her father, Henry Lenz. Krista was now in the situation her mother had been: heir of the estate but with no siblings, nor male cousins to speak of; not a single uncle, only aunts; and although her father was a widower, he strongly refused the proposition of a second marriage, so there was no chance another heir could be born.
This refusal to remarry was deeply loathed by Krista's grandmother, an uptight, traditional woman, who valued accomplishments above all else, and was driven by money and estate. Since Krista had turned sixteen a few months prior, she has been dropping less-than-subtle indications that she wanted Krista to marry. However, she had yet to find a man she deemed worthy of her granddaughter's hand; Krista dreaded the day when she did.
Approaching the estate, Krista saw her grandmother's carriage parked near the stables. She sighed quietly before regaining her composure and making her way back into the house. She was greeted by the head cook, which still caught her off guard: after one of their maids had resigned from her position, there had been changes in their system. Krista made note to ask her father when a new maid would be appointed to their staff.
"Krista, my dear girl." said Elizabeth Lenz, as Krista entered the sitting room. She was sipping tea from a beautifully decorated china cup. "Been visiting the village again, have you? You ought to have taken the carriage. Once you have dealt with your purchases, I would like you to join me here. There's a matter I would like to discuss with you."
Krista curtseyed and left the room. When she returned, her father and grandmother were waiting for her. Her father gestured for her to sit.
"Krista," Elizabeth Lenz began. "I should like now to discuss the topic of marriage with you." There was no question in her words.
"Krista?" Her father urged upon the silence that ensued. "Have you anything to say?"
"No," she spoke quietly, not looking her intimidating grandmother in the eye.
"I believe to have found someone suited to you, my dear." She went on. "His name is Bertholdt Hoover, and he is in possession of a very wealthy estate but a hundred miles from here. I believe you have met once, when children, but I don't suppose you would remember."
Krista's eyes threatened to spill with tears. She knew that this had been coming, but not quite so soon; at least, she thought she would have time to prepare. Krista's father sat up a little straighter and smiled painfully at his daughter, an apologetic expression in his eyes.
"He is a perfectly amiable man, Krista. I've met him myself. He shares the same disposition as you do. And he very much enjoys listening to the pianoforte."
"How can you be so sure he would favor me?" She asked her grandmother, her voice barely audible, and wavering with the anticipation of tears. She managed to hold on to a false but convincing smile.
"My dear, he has no reason not to! An accomplished woman of your age, with such beauty? He would have to be a madman to refuse you. Look at that pretty blonde hair; you look just like your mother." She glanced at her son, a small smirk on her thin lips. "And once a man falls in love with a woman as beautiful as that, it can be difficult for him to love again. Isn't that so, Henry, dear?"
Krista's father's hand shook as he raised his cup to his lips. "Let us not speak of this now, please, mother."
"Very well." Her voice was strained. She turned back to Krista. "But we are discussing your marriage, my dear. Now, the perfect opportunity has arisen for your meeting. She leaned forward and presented an invitation. As Krista had expected, it was to the ball Mr Kirstein had informed her of, the celebration of the return of the brigade at Dr Jaeger's estate.
"Mr Hoover's closest childhood friend, Reiner Braun, is part of that very brigade, so he shall be attending with no doubt." Said Krista's grandmother. "As will you. Your first impression is crucial, especially in a public setting such as this. If you perform well, I have no doubt that you shall be engaged within the month."
Krista's eyes once again fell to her lap. A single tear escaped the confines of her false happiness and fell upon her dress, leaving a patch of discontent on the fabric. She had just a month. A month before she... She was taken away from her home and her family to go and live with a man she barely knew... Krista wanted to sob at the thought.
"Say, is that a horse?" The eldest Lenz turned attention from Krista to look upon the lawn, where a figure was riding down the path on horseback.
"Good, that must be her." Said Henry. "Apologies. I must remove myself from our discussion."
"Her? That's the new maid? Coming through the front door? How imprudent! Good Lord, son, who have you hired?" There was suddenly a loud knock on the door. "Henry! This is the woman you told me of?"
"The very same, mother. Please excuse me." The man got up from his chair and went to answer the door. Krista peered over to the doorway as her father let in the stranger. The stable boy went to tie up her dark-haired horse.
"Good evening." He smiled at the girl.
"Sir," she bowed. Krista's eyes briefly caught the girl's. They glistened with intensity; Krista was suddenly taken aback. The smallest smirk flickered on her face before turning back to Krista's father.
"Welcome to the Lenz estate," her father began.
"Henry! Bring the girl here. Address yourself!"
She was tall; far taller than Krista. Her skin was tanned, a sign of peasantry, but freckled, and her dark hair was pulled back, leaving two strands to frame her oval face. She carried only one small bag, filled, Krista guessed, with only the most basic necessities. She was without a doubt the strangest girl Krista had seen.
She curtseyed for such a long time that it was almost mocking.
"Mrs Lenz," her voice echoed through the room. "My name is Ymir."