Richard thought it was a relief to see Corinne at dinner that evening. Until Corinne started to act in a way that seemed to serve to punish him for his earlier behaviour.
“Sit by me,” he called as she entered the room, happier than he could say to see her.
Wordlessly she nodded and walked over. Usually she sat opposite him at the curiously diamond-shaped table but tonight she obliged him by sitting at an adjacent side. She looked stunning, as ever, currently wearing a long cream dress with the design of a rose sewn onto it. Her hair, the colour of phoenix feathers, hung loose, caressing her bare shoulders, and a pearl dangled from each of her ear lobes.
Richard suddenly felt a strong desire to feed her her dinner, which was a ridiculous idea but appealing nonetheless.
All at once, Richard remembered his crime against Corinne’s character. His cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
“I apologise for earlier,” he murmured, averting his eyes, shamed to have thought of amusing the both of them. It was especially wrong, he considered, to have wanted to play a game that lovers might play, when he had declined to discuss his feelings with her.
Corinne tilted her head to the side.
“For what, my lord?” she asked, polite interest in her eyes.
That was when Richard knew that he had truly wounded her deeply.
The smile he had been wearing fell from his face.
“For withholding information from you,” he replied, dismayed.
“Am I one with whom you should share your secrets, my lord?”
“I ...” Richard faltered. ‘I would like it if you were,’ he had been about to tell her. But he still could not admit certain truths to her. Guilt washed over him like the tide over the sand at a beach. Had he really almost lied to her?
Corinne waited patiently for his answer, exactly as a maid would do, gazing steadily into his eyes. Richard had always thought that Corinne knew the exact nature of his heart because her lovely eyes saw all. He had always thought she understood him. But this evening there was a terrible quality to that oh so beautiful gaze. It was like she couldn’t see him. Richard imagined he could see a blank wall behind her gaze that was preventing her from seeing properly. It was grossly wrong and rather unnerving.
“Not in this instance,” he murmured, looking down again.
“Of course, my lord,” she responded, as if it were natural that he should have replied like this.
“I’ve told you not to call me your lord,” he reminded her, his voice very nearly stern.
“Oh, I forgot!” Corinne exclaimed, pretending to sound distressed. She was a fantastic actor. Richard looked up to find her rising to her feet. She knelt on the floor... -oh no, she wasn’t going to grovel, was she?
“Oh, Lord Dachshund, I beg your forgiveness,” she pleaded, eyes on the ground, hands clasped together as if she were praying. “I meant not to offend you!”
Any man who walked into the dining hall at this moment would think that Richard was a cruel master and Corinne a regularly abused slave.
“Corinne,” Richard said, wearily but firmly. “Stand up.”
Corinne obeyed, keeping her eyes averted from his face.
“Cease this behaviour at once, Corinne,” he ordered, surprised when his frustration didn’t pervade his tone.
“What behaviour?” she asked, her voice small.
Defiance... But then, Richard realised, everything she had done tonight had been to challenge his treatment of her.
Richard knew what to do this time.
He stood up from the table and regarded her.
She glanced up, a startled and slightly frightened look in her eyes, as if she thought he was about to beat her.
“I never intended that you stopped being defiant,” he stated calmly. “And I would love to disclose all the circumstances surrounding my feelings, but I am a lord and I have been trained to refrain from such communication of my personal problems. Also, I am selfish and do not wish to cause myself pain.”
Corinne looked surprised and confused. Richard could almost hear her thinking, ‘How do I respond to this?’
Richard turned from her, a little annoyed because Corinne still had no reason to forgive him.
“Yet do you not recall the night I invited you to live with me?” he asked. “It would be incorrect, and you know this, to say that I am a wicked, self-centred man.” He took a deep breath. He was coming dangerously close to declaring the three words that would make Corinne step towards him and expect the pair to become closer. “All I thought about that night ... was you.”
He turned back to see her eyes drop to the floor. When she spoke, her voice was low, carefully controlled as she communicated emotions that made Richard’s heart ache.
“You bade me to sit on your horse. You held me until all my tears had dried - and then some more. You whispered beautiful words in my ear. Oh, I remember that night, Richard. But it faded to a dream, as did every conversation that happened when I was your maid, as does every moment which causes me to think you truly care. It is fairly probably I am dreaming now. I wonder when I fell asleep.”
“Corinne!” Richard implored. He lifted her chin with a finger and stared almost forcefully into her eyes.
He let her see.
The depths of his heart rose up to his gaze - his oh so desperate gaze - and it was all he could do to stop himself leaning down and kissing her. For she must know though not know all, she must see but not understand everything, and their love had to be required though they must never act on it - all the care and the fear and the contradiction he showed her, though without explaining verbally what his feelings meant.
After seven long seconds of looking into the core of his being, Corinne looked away, sat down and began to weep.