Chapter 1 - Under the Maple Tree
It was a cold, wintry afternoon. The sky was painted with a dull gray color; stratus clouds overlapped one another, covering the ray of the sun.
A vast empty field stretched a hundred acres at the back of the still-constructed Clave mansion. This field serves greater purpose during Spring for planting crops, mainly wheat and oats, but for now, the land was blanketed with soft snow.
There was a small hill located just a kilometer away from the current house of the Clave family. Standing alone in it was an adult maple tree that was branching healthily, but its leaves were turning into its famous red and orange shade rather oddly.
Under it, a girl of thirteen years old squatted, trying to dig up a hole no more deeper than a ruler’s length. The hole was meant for her dead pet. Yes. A king snake that was as long as her skinny elbow; with red, black and white bands on its scales. Its recoiled lifeless body was placed in a small wooden box, just resting next to her sandalled feet.
She had small freckles on her cheeks, but cheeks that showed a beautiful shade of pink. She had long black hair up to her waist; very smooth and shiny; and bangs that complemented her still-juvenile eyebrows. The locks played loosely on her shoulders as she focused herself on digging the hole.
“What are you doing girl?” A rich male voice asked from behind her. It was without warning, so the girl quickly jerked her head up and turned to the source of the voice. Surprise lit her face briefly.
This man had actually been watching the girl for almost twenty minutes now, standing on one of the thicker branches of the tree until he decided to come down from it. He had noticed her for the first time eagerly venturing out into the field alone, treading in a cleared pathway towards the small hill.
She had a satchel with her, he had thought at first its insides were some girly stuff. But no. To his surprise, what were inside it were actually a small wooden box, a metal spatula and a white candle.
He cared less of her presence at first and her innocent interruption of his nap, but he was however curious of what she was actually doing.
The girl frowned temporarily and diverted her attention back to the task at hand.
“Can’t you see that I am digging a hole?” she replied with sarcasm. For a thirteen year-old gal, she sure has a mature attitude.
The man’s brows flinched, irked by her disrespectful response. He almost thought that she would run down hill afraid of him being a stranger in her eyes. It did surprise him again that she did quite the opposite, and rather sprightly at that.
“I can see that, ” he said after a calming breath, inching closer, but stopping just an armslength away from her. “What I want to know is why?” he added.
She could feel the towering form of the man in her left side, but still she was undaunted. What she wanted to do was to finish her duty as a pet owner and the snake’s friend.
“I am making a grave for my dead snake, ” she answered without any eye contact with him, but inside her thoughts, she was mentally detailing his handsome visage: having a short unkempt brown hair with white highlights, brown eyes that seemed to glow with red, symmetrical nose and jaw, and finely-shaped eyebrows and lips. He especially looked in his late twenties judging from the built of his body and the smoothness of his face.
He must be a son of their neighbor a few miles away, taking his horse for a ride. That’s what she thought. But weird now however, she didn’t notice any horse grazing about.
This time, the man’s brows furrowed, surprised by her reply. “Oh? Why would you do that?” he asked, watching her scooping a mixture of soil and snow in her hands. “It is just a snake.”
Such a weird girl and he had at least three reasons to think of her that way.
One was because of her pet. Obviously, girls her age normally pets a rabbit, parrot, mouse, cat, dog or anything deemed to be ‘girly’ animals. But she actually owns a freaking snake! What a weird taste. Wasn’t she normally afraid of it?
Second was that she doesn’t even show any hint of being bothered by the cold -- to which she was supposed to be, since she was wearing a fancy dress with only a light coat to protect her from the cold. Was she an insensitive tiny human?
Third was the freaking blankness of her expression. She maybe attending an absurd burial of her so-called pet, but she didn’t even show any hint of remorse or regret, sadness or grief from it.
“The snake is my pet, Mister. It is not just a snake for me, ” said she with her tone clipped.
“Oh?” His brows raised, a mocking grin appeared on his lips but he quickly hid it.
This girl was so interesting indeed. Why would she show affection on such a hideous serpent thought to be the reason for the downfall of man?
He crouched near her but not before a blood red rose appeared out of nowhere on his right hand.
“Here. Take this then, ” he stated, handing her the long-stemmed rose. The girl tilted her head to the side and inspected not only the rose but his glowing red eyes. “It is my gift for your dead pet in the afterlife.”
She felt wary at first, but took the rose anyway. “Thanks. I guess.” She stated and laid its delicate petals on top the box.
For another 15 minutes, they were both silent. The girl went on her task, disregarding his quiet presence, while he continued on observing her.
She only did notice his disappearance only after she scooped the last of the moist soil to cover the hole with the wooden box in it.
‘Weird man.’ She thought in her mind as she stared at the blood red rose now planted on the burial ground next to the white unlit candle.
The young woman’s deep musings were cut off when she heard her name being called by her maid attendant. She was sitting in an open porch facing the newly-built gate of the Clave compound. Her eyes were fixed on a bouquet of blood red roses perfectly arranged in a porcelain vase placed on top the snack table. Staring at those petals reminds her of the man she had seen 10 years ago; a rather weird man that just suddenly disappeared without her noticing. Any girl could get infatuated with a man like that whose handsomeness borders on the realm of the Gods, but for Selene, it was his mysterious aura that attracted her. Well... at least that’s what she felt now. During that time, she was too engrossed with the death of her pet that she didn’t care to mind him at all, or even to feel a single emotion towards him.
“Your father calls for you.” Her maid attendant, Mrs. Latrice, stated bowing her head low at the same time.
“Right, ” Selene uttered softly as she stood up. Her hair was still the same waist length, wanting to keep it that way. It was without any adornments also. No hair clips or hats they dubbed as ‘fashion’ during their medieval time. She was wearing a long common pink dress, a low neckline with off-shoulder puffs.
“Say, Mrs. Latrice, ” she stated right after she stood up. The attendant looked up to glance at her. “I see that you have an unlimited bloom of roses.”
The older woman smiled. “I do have an errand man who likes to send a bouquet of these roses every now and then Milady. I don’t think that you love this specie of flowers but I take it upon myself to put it in the vase here.”
Selene eyed the bouquet again. “Hmmm... I see. Then tell that man that maybe he could stop sending the flowers? I certainly don’t like them.”
The maid attendant wasn’t surprised with her statement at all. She knew that the high-born woman wasn’t that much of a lover of anything sweet and pretty.
“Of course, Milady. I will.” She agreed. “Ahh.. would you like for me to throw the ones in here?”
Selene paused for a moment as if she was thinking. “No... just leave them be until they wilt. It is a waste anyway if you throw them when they bloom this beautifully.” She stated plainly and with that she exited the porch.
There was elegance in the way she glided along the ground foyer of the mansion, and calm and collected as she managed the tedious flight of stairs towards the second floor where her father’s study was located.
“Father?” she called, peeking into the slightly opened door after she knocked twice.
“Yes my dear, wait for me right there, ” said the first duke of Soren, Duke Wyndall. He stood up from his office desk and strolled out of the room. He was donning on an aristocratic ensemble.
“You called for me? What is it that you wanted to tell?” Selene asked, as she hooked an arm around his left elbow.
“Come with me into the fourth floor, ” he said with delight in his eyes. Her daughter only smiled and nodded.
As they walked along the hallway, the duke continued to talk, watching the interior of his mansion with happiness. “You know that our house is almost done with its construction -- after such a long time of waiting.”
Selene grinned and thought of the many difficulties they have went through just to realize his father’s dreams of having a mansion on top a mountain. “Yes, ” said she with relief.
“I want you to choose your own room, my dear. It is my special gift to you.”
“Are... are you serious father?” Her eyebrows raised in disbelief.
“Yes. Your mother and I have already decided it. Anyway, there are so many rooms in the house. I know you would want to choose a special room by yourself, ” he stated.
Yes. I do. I do would like that. She thought in her mind. Any room away from the parties and gatherings he is always throwing. Any room where she can be by her own self. Just any room away from the suitors that her mother has been introducing to her recently.