When he detached himself from me and we continued walking, each employee made a deep curtsy in our direction and reverently greeted first him and then also me with our full names and titles.
I looked questioningly at Malachy from the side. He wrapped his arm around my waist and leaned down a little to whisper in my ear.
“I just want to make it absolutely clear how things work here from now on and who the new lady of the house is.”
We walked into Malachy’s private rooms without any detours.
As instructed, Andre was already standing in Malachy’s study.
When he saw us, a joyful smile crept onto his face.
“Sire, Lady Fleur de Lys, how was your stay in the mountains of Norha? I hope you had a pleasant time.”
Malachy grinned like a Cheshire cat and replied curtly, “very satisfying”.
I blushed like a tomato and Andre, controlled as he was, didn’t let his smile slip from his face for a second.
As if he hadn’t just made a salacious remark, Malachy continued to speak unconcernedly.
“Good thing you’re already here, Andre. There are a few things I need your help with.”
Andre became serious. “Of course, Sire.”
Malachy gestured in the direction of the suitcase with a nod of his head.
“There is a black bag in the suitcase, which’s contents you must burn in the fireplace. As we have just returned from our trip from the mountains and my fiancée is freezing, it is perfectly logical for you to light the fireplaces in my private rooms.
I think we have quite a chilly summer night tonight, if you know what I mean.”
Andre nodded nonchalantly. “Of course, Sire. Do I need to know what this is exactly about?”
“Of course, but not tonight. We’ll talk about it in the morning after breakfast, which, by the way, we’ll have as early as eight o’clock.”
Then he turned to me.
“My love, while we are about to eat, an allusion on your part that you are shivering a little would be quite helpful. That way you legitimise Andre’s work.”
I was a little worried that someone other than Andre might see the bloodstained clothes, though.
“What if someone comes in here and sees Andre disposing of the clothes?”
“Don’t worry, Maggie,” Malachy replied confidently. “No one but Andre and you, of course, are allowed in these rooms without my presence. Andre will not be disturbed.”
“Good.” I was visibly relieved.
“Are you ready for dinner then, or would you like to freshen up first?”
“I’m ready. We can go right away.”
No sooner said than done.
When we were seated next to each other in the large dining room, our meal was served immediately - a pasta dish with prawns.
I was delighted and let them know about it. Malachy laughed heartily.
“Well, enjoy it then.”
During the meal, we joked and kept touching each other as if we couldn’t help each other.
My eyes kept wandering unobtrusively to the maid who stood ready to be called in the corner of the hall, looking discreetly to the side, yet having huge eyes and ears, watching and eavesdropping on us closely.
As discussed, I mentioned that I was still shivering a little and Malachy was only too eager to mention that he was my hero in shining armour because he had already instructed Andre to light the fireplaces in his private rooms.
So this strategically important information had been placed, but an inconsistency then caught my eye.
“Malachy, it is great and honourable that you heat your private rooms, but my rooms will probably still be cold.”
At this point Malachy interrupted me with amusement. “Maggie, darling. You don’t think I’m going to let you sleep apart from me for even one night, do you? You belong with me and in my bed, which is also your bed from now on.”
I wanted to protest and disagree. I didn’t belong to anyone.
But he took my hand, shook his head and tenderly kissed my fingertips repeatedly between words. “I love you and I need you and your closeness like the air I breathe. Please move in with me, or I’ll take up quarters in your rooms.”
At these words, the maid gasped loudly.
We both had to laugh and turned our heads in her direction. This made her blush in shame.
Malachy now turned directly to her.
“At this point I would now like to take my fiancée in my arms and carry her straight from the dining room to my bed, however I fear that the sight may cause you to faint, so I will pull myself together.”
“Sire, thank you Sire,” the maid stammered sheepishly and Malachy burst out laughing.
He stood up from the table and held out his hand.
“Come love, I want you all to myself now.”
I stood up and he gave me a kiss before leading me out of the dining room. I could still feel the curious looks of the maid.
I had been wrong.
My guess was that we ate in the large dining room immediately after our arrival to demonstrate that we were back and ready to fulfil our social and political obligations.
In fact, Malachy planned on a publicised dinner to show his affection for me as publicly as possible - wasn’t he a sly one?
When we arrived at his rooms, however, he quickly proved that his big words in the dining room were not just that. We christened his big four-poster bed extensively that evening....
The next morning we got up early and ate a quick breakfast before letting Andre in on the drama that had taken place in Ignis exactly a week ago on Saturday.
We then drove to Ignis. At eleven o’clock, Soraya’s burial would take place there at the main cemetery.
It was a cloudy Saturday morning, which calmed me down a little. I always found it strange when funerals were held in bright sunshine. It always felt to me as if fate was smiling wryly, pointing out that things go on and the earth keeps turning, even when a loved one is no longer with us.
The loud beeping of my mobile phone snapped me out of my thoughts. It was a message from Darius.
“Darius has texted,” I said as I looked at the screen of my mobile phone.
“We are to meet at half past ten in front of the chapel, which is to the left of the main entrance.”
Malachy looked at the clock in the dashboard of his car.
“We’ll make that without a problem.”
Those were the last words spoken between us until we arrived at the cemetery in Ignis, each of us deeply in thought.