Amelia woke up by the sound of flapping draperies at the open windows. Her eyes opened and closed a few times, adjusting to the brightness of the sun already at its peak. She looked around and didn't saw anyone. And though her head hurt a little, she forced herself on her feet and went to the entrance of the adjoining room.
Peeking through, she didn't saw anyone either. The duchess seemed parched, but her fear got the best of her. She walked past the pitcher of water on her way back to her room. Looking around again, her eyes darted at the small clock, with intricately decorated borders, on her bedside table.
It's almost time for lunch.
The clouds gathered about, and the wind picked up, but there was no sign of rain coming. It was a good thing, Amelia thought. The last she wanted was for rain to stop by.
"Duchess?" Amelia jerked when Arabella suddenly spoke behind her. She was so absorbed in hoping that the wind would push the clouds away that she didn't hear the secret door opened. It's a room used by Amelia's attendants when she was younger. There's a door connecting the two rooms through the floor-to-ceiling closet. "How are you feeling?"
"Better? Did something happen?"
"Uh… you had a bad dream and fell from the divan."
"I—what? Fell on the divan?" Amelia's jaw dropped, and she immediately inspected herself, noting that her arm's clearly a little hurt, so it must really be true then. Arabella wouldn't tease her about such a thing, and she looked deeply concerned too. "Anything else? Did anything else happen? Did I said something?"
"Aside from the screaming, there's… none, duchess." Arabella gave a small dry smile and walked past her to fix the beddings.
Inhaling deeply, Amelia couldn't believe that she screamed again. What happened last night must've triggered something in her since it's already been months from her previous dream; the last wasn't really that bad that she'd end up screaming. But something's odd. The duchess couldn't put the finger on it, but she felt like she dreamt about something important. It's in the tip of her tongue, but it seemed as if words failed her. There's something more than what Arabella told her, she's sure of it, but the more Amelia tried to recall it, the more her head started to hurt.
The duchess gave up after a few more tries. Over the years, she learned that there's no point remembering what she couldn't on the first try.
"As much as I'm thirsty. I'd love to bathe first. Can you prepare my bath, Arabella?"
"Right away, duchess. I'll inform Laila and Christa so they can keep you company as I ready your clothes and your bath." Arabella was suspiciously curt as she lowered herself for a bow and was out the door the next.
By herself again, Amelia sat by the windowsill of an opened window. She leaned forward at the metal railings and looked down. Recalling the time when she was younger. Piers used to climb by the tree nearby and swing to her railings so he could sneak back in. The duchess had her own fun too, that's why the tree was cut down.
A smile emerged from the duchess. She was looking to the side where the tree used to be when a knock interrupted her.
"Pardon our intrusion, duchess." It was Laila and Christa, "How are you feeling? Arabella went and ordered the attendants about your bath. We also brought you some light snacks and fresh water."
"Perfect!" she said, clapping her hands, "Thank you, Laila. I am quite famished." Amelia stood up and tightened her robe about herself. She walked towards the ladies and followed them to the adjoining room, where Christa helped Laila set the small tea table. "Mr. Vance and the others?"
"Mr. Vance and Duke Mulford went to a meeting. They didn't specify where or about what, but I heard the duke's attendant sending a messenger to the duchy's council. As for Duke Clement, it seems that he went back to their manor for the meantime."
The duchess' brow arched, "Went back? Was Alexander here?" Amelia's eyes went from her lady-in-waiting to Marchioness Berdwell's daughter and took notice of their uncomfortableness.
Christa made a quick glance to Laila before answering, "The duke was invited by Duke Mulford for breakfast. We were supposed to have breakfast together, but… you had to rest."
"Was he here? Did he enter my room?" the duchess asked. If he was, and he happened to see her at her state earlier, it would be embarrassing. But wait, Amelia looked at the glass of water in front of her and asked herself, 'Why should I be embarrassed? He would know about it sooner, so he better be aware of it early on.'
"He was already at the dining hall when we came down for breakfast, after, uh… you had a bad dream." Amelia's eyes narrowed at Christa, but she didn't flinch, though Laila looked in the opposite direction, clearly trying to stay away from the duke's topic.
"Do you remember what you dreamt about, duchess?" Laila asked after putting the plate covers aside.
Leaning towards the table and resting her chin on the back of her hand, Amelia looked directly at her lady-in-waiting and sighed. "I don't think so. When I tried to recall it earlier, my head started hurting again. But no worries. It should come back soon—hopefully."
The other two looked at her worriedly. Amelia didn't ask or conversed any longer. She took the sandwich cut in bite-sized pieces so it's easier for her—and less messy—and popped one in her mouth. After a few minutes, Arabella knocked and excused herself; behind her were four maidservants who she instructed to ready the bath. Laila also excused herself, saying that she needed to prepare the dress Amelia's going to wear for the day. So, Christa was left at the table with the duchess.
Since it's the first time that Amelia's alone with the lady, she didn't know how to initiate a conversation. Unlike Sybil, who did most of the talking, it was easier for her to follow through. But Christa's different. She's just as silent as her, looking at the distant garden.
"So," Amelia finally tried to break the silence, "Was Piers a good dancer?" the duchess teasingly smiled, and she laughed shortly after seeing the flustered state of her companion. Christa was red up to her ears and hid her face by wandering her gaze around the room with both her hands on her lap.
The lady answered her in broken statements, and Amelia had her fun teasing Christa until she finished her snack. After quenching her thirst, the duchess stood up and went back to where her bed was. Stopping in front of the mirror by her dresser, she undid the braids of her hair and looked at the clothes Laila had spread on her bed.
Amelia nodded approvingly.
"Trousers?" Christa's pitch went a tad higher.
"They're lady's trousers. A friend of mine introduced them to me a few weeks ago, and I just love them up to the last stitch!" And by a friend, she meant Janina from Eglaire, Sybil's sponsored, seamstress.
A few weeks ago, she received a gift box sent from Eglaire with a note that said, "These are my new creations. Since you despise layered skirts, I hope you'd love these and would be of great use."
When the duchess opened it, three pairs of the so-called lady's trousers, all in earth tones, said to accentuate the season. Amelia loved the idea so much that she asked Janina to make her a couple more pairs. The trousers she used to wear all fitted her snugly made from stretchable materials for moving with ease. The trousers that were part of her knight uniform were also from a different material that's stiffer, so it holds its shape.
But the new trousers that Janina sent were all straight-cut made chiefly from cotton, making it easier to move, and at the same time held its shape well with minimal creases. It looked as casual as her usual outer dresses. Not to mention the ease of not always minding the hem of the dress every step she took.
It's also fashioned with a high waist to emphasize the duchess' long limbs and narrow waist. It's paired with a leather belt and plain white long cuffed-sleeves tucked in. It's not out on the market yet, but Janina and Sybil were almost through in making some preparations to make it available, and Sybil made sure that she's seen wearing it to her salon and on some casual occasions. The practicality of it, as well as looking fashionable enough, had some madams and other noble ladies wanting it, so it wouldn't be long until it's the new trend in Osmea, and probably the whole empire.
Amelia explained it further to Christa, but Arabella had to cut their conversation off and informed the duchess that the bath was ready. Again, the duchess bathed by herself, and when she finished and got dressed, she continued to passionately introduce her duchy's possible new product. It only ended when a knock was heard from the door.
When Laila came back from checking who it was, she informed the duchess that a manservant came by to tell them that lunch would be served shortly.
Since the three ladies have yet to get ready for the coming afternoon, Amelia ordered them to leave so they could tend to themselves, and they did so, bowing their heads before turning their back towards the duchess.
It's already been an hour and a half since she woke up. It's past lunchtime, but Amelia was still full thanks to the sandwich brought by her lady-in-waiting earlier.
Walking around the foot of her bed, she took off her heeled boots and laid down on the bed, bringing her arm over her forehead. Looking at the ceiling, Amelia took a few shallow breaths and tried to recollect what she dreamt about. Maybe after some time has passed, she'd remember.
Usually, she could easily recall what she dreamt about. And her dreams would either be that time in front of her burning house or the cabin. Sometimes she dreamt about other things too, but she always remembered most of it when she woke up. But the dream that made her scream and fall off the bed? She couldn't remember it all.
It also felt a little strange too. Like it wasn't the same as usual; it's somewhere at the back of her mind. If only she could remember, it would definitely make all the difference. But of course, nothing goes as planned because she wouldn't be marrying any time soon if it did.
Amelia turned to her side, grunting and frustrated. The side of her right eye twitched a little, and her head got heavier again. She's even hearing Alexander's voice calling her 'Cice' at a distance. She tried shutting it out, but the calls became frequent and a little louder than the former.
Almost curling herself to a ball, the duchess suddenly jolted from her bed when something hard hit against the metal railings of her window and rolled on the floor. Confused, the duchess looked at the small stone struggling to balance itself to stop and tilted her head. Not even a minute after, another one came rolling, successfully avoiding the metals.
"Cice! I know you're there," Amelia's brow furrowed as she quickly went towards the window, barefooted. "I have come to pick you up, my love," Alexander said in a low voice, flashing his sparkling smile. He then looked around, checking if there's someone near, before gesturing for her to come down.
"What are you doing here?!" the duchess asked almost in a whisper, bewildered.
"Come down before someone sees me here." Amelia could hardly hear Alexander from the great gap between them. His arms extended upwards as if telling her to jump and he'll catch her. "Let's have an adventure, Cice!" his eyes were squinting from the sun, and a mischievous grin stamped on his face
Amelia chuckled, and she unconsciously beamed down at the duke.
She loved how it sounded—adventure. It made her blood boil with anticipation.
But no matter how he made her feel, she wasn't some fool to jump off the window and into the duke's arms. That only happened in those romance novels Constance loved to read so much during her free time. She couldn't climb down either since there's nothing to climb down from. Tying a blanket on the railings seemed too fictional for it to even work too.
Glancing back, Amelia went towards her dresser to look for something. When she couldn't find it, she checked on the drawer of her bedside table and almost exclaimed when she saw pieces of parchment and ink.
There wasn't a quill or anything similar to write with, so the duchess improvised using a thinly folded piece of parchments that was stiff enough to use as a writing tool. When she was finished, she blew on the paper a few times before crumpling it and moving back to the window. But when she looked down, Alexander wasn't there anymore. She raised her eyes and looked at every spot her sight could reach, still nothing.
Her shoulders noticeably dropped, and a sigh left her.
"Not again," Amelia whispered but as soon as she turned around, another small rock hit the railing. It ricocheted slightly and almost hit her leg. Fortunately, she was quick to move her feet.
"A knight passed by. I have to hide." He reasoned, his hand on his forehead, shadowing his squinting from the bright afternoon. "Let's go," he extended his arms upwards again.
Flashing a small smile, Amelia dropped the parchment with a letter that said, 'Stables. Ten minutes.' Then she turned around, pretending not to hear Alexander below.
Amelia then grabbed another parchment and wrote, 'Gone out to town with Clement. Don't worry.' Other than feeling worried, for sure, Arabella would be more furious instead. Amelia just wished that Laila could keep the assassin calm—which was far from possible, but a wish could be as grand as the universe, right?—Word might also reach wherever Duke Mulford and her advisor were, but she'd be gone by then. She left a letter, and that should suffice, and moreover, the duchess settled her thoughts by telling herself that, if worse comes to worst, Alexander will shoulder more than half of the blame himself.
At least, she hoped it would be like that.
Shaking her head, Amelia placed the parchment on top of her dresser where someone could easily spot it, then she was off after checking if any of her ladies-in-waiting or Christa was coming anytime soon.
As soon as she was done with her own little preparation, Amelia went out of the door. Casually greeting those that she came across with. It was a good thing that Ancel wasn't there; neither was Sir Lewis and his knights. The ones guarding her room were all from House Mulford, and it didn't seem that they were instructed not to let her out of her room.
Since she spent part of her childhood in Duke Mulford's palace and always went with Piers sneaking out, Amelia had devised a shorter route to the stables. They'd use the small path used by carriages that came to bring supplies. She just wished that Alexander was reasonable enough to bring his horse with him, though.
Picking up the letter, Alexander smiled playfully. He crumpled it again and pushed it in his pocket. Glancing from left to right, the duke swiftly made his way to the stables. It was a good thing that Vernon and Vance were out of the palace, and the brothers too.
He didn't see the Whitt siblings also, so Alexander confidently strode through the courtyard, acknowledging those who greeted him. By the time he reached the stables, Amelia wasn't there yet. He peeked through the small crevices in the stable walls but couldn't find even a shadow or the ends of the duchess' hair. And for a second, he thought, what if she led him to believe that she was coming with him?
But Alexander shook his head, hopeful. Another smile drew on his face as he rummaged his satchel and fished out an ordinary hooded cloak he borrowed from the caretaker of the manor they were staying at. Though it was unfortunate that she had to go through nightmares of that hell of a night, Alexander couldn't be any happier that the duchess remembered him. After years of futile searching, he naturally distanced himself. Disappointed at his incompetence.
But not anymore.
It would be different this time around—or so he thought.
A fake cough alerted Alexander, and he quickly made his way around his horse and untied it. A few seconds more, and Amelia peeked at the entrance. When he saw her, he beamed, and the duchess quickly made her way inside, looking around.
"The others went ahead for a quick lunch, so there's no one here," Alexander said, handing over the cloak.
Amelia just nodded, but all Alexander saw was the fluttering of her lashes as her hands skillfully unfolded the cloak and wrapped it around her. He didn't mention it to the duchess, but he also noticed that she seemed a tad slimmer than he remembered.
"You've got quite a nice ensemble there, Cice. It looks good on you." The duke said, scanning Amelia from head to toe then back again. She blushed at the compliment and tried to hide it by pulling the hood over.
"I never permitted you to call me that."
"You call me Lex. I call you Cice." Bending a little, Alexander lifted Amelia's hood to take a good look at her, but he slightly panicked when she returned his gaze in the same way. "Or do you prefer that I call you my love?" the duke smirked, teasing Amelia, but he was in it for a good taste of his medicine when the duchess slowly caged his face with her hands.
Surprised, Alexander grew stiff when one of her hands trailed from his cheek down to his shoulders then onto his chest. His heart pounded against his chest so much that he'd bet that Amelia could feel it too. Then he heard the duchess said, "Would you prefer that I call you my love too?" almost in a whisper and Alexander swallowed hard just looking at her lips move.
In his mind, typically, what would happen next would be an unexpected kiss either on the cheek or on the lips. Well, since it's him, it would definitely be on the lips—one long, deep kiss. He could initiate the kiss, but Amelia would get mad. Plus, to be kissed rather than to kiss was something that would bring him even more joy. But, of course, that's wishful thinking. There's no way Amelia would do that at all.
Amelia's not that kind of lady. There's no way she would do something grand as to make a move on him first. But what irked Alexander a little was the fact that Amelia smoothly teased him—more like seduced him—and he expected that she'd shy away after a few seconds like she always did. But the warm hands still on his chest proved otherwise. Just thinking about her touching other men like so filled the duke with unreasonable jealousy.
Who did she touch? Was he clothed or naked? And for how long did they remained in the same position?
Annoyance with a dash of anger started to stir in the pits of Alexander's core.
"What is this?" Alexander asked, his breath controlled, and his eyes fixed on hers, "Are you suggesting—"
"Suggesting what?" Amelia took a small step forward, and Alexander cursed internally, straightening his stance. He looked the other way because he could almost feel the tip of her bust, and it's sending him mixed body signals. He glanced a little at her to see her expression but instead, his eyes darted straight to her breasts. And though she was already wearing the cloak, he could tell by the bump of it that it was bigger than he expected.
'No, no, no, Alexander. Get ahold of yourself.' The duke thought as he took another deep breath whilst frozen from where he was standing like some virgin who's bathing in the attention of a beautiful lady.
"I suggest that we go now—or else your ladies would come looking for you soon. And I don't like Arabella nagging at me." Alexander said in a hurry to turn around, pausing to breathe in between lines.
After hearing this, Amelia stared at him intently—lost in her own thoughts. Gone was the teasing smirk and playful eyes. He wanted to ask why the sudden change of mood, but Alexander couldn't bring it to do so.
"Are you okay?" he asked worriedly when he heard Amelia winced with her eyes closed. She swiftly turned her back towards him, bending forward a little, her hand holding on some wood for support as the other massaged the side of her head. "Hey," he softly called, walking towards her. Alexander then placed his hands on her stiff shoulders, lightly stroking them up and down. But Amelia was quick to brush his hands off. "Is it about your dream?"
"Dream?" Amelia looked back at him with an inquiring look.
"I was… I was told that you had a nightmare earlier." Alexander tilted his head. Did she forget about it? There's no way, right? She finally remembered him after all these years. There's no way that she would forget again after recognizing him earlier—right? "Are you, perhaps—do you remember something else from your dream earlier?" the duke asked softly, anticipating.
"Remember what? We're you actually there earlier?"