Richard could not believe that Corinne had refused to come to the manor with him. Everything he had told her was the truth - he was willing to change for her. To change a mindset that he had had for the last seventeen years.
Had she truly fallen out of love with him?
When he returned to the manor, he was met by Keris Kingfisher.
“Did you find my daughter?” she asked coldly.
“Yes, my lady,” he murmured, bowing his head. “I am afraid she would not return with me.”
“Where is she?” Keris asked, alarmed.
“She is ... with another man,” Richard replied, trying to hide his wounded pride.
When she did not answer, Richard looked up. He was surprised that rather than distressed or angry, Keris Kingfisher looked ... thoughtful.
“Another man,” she repeated. “Hm. Is he kind?”
Richard nodded, though he was baffled by her response.
“And did she seem content with him?”
Richard nodded again.
Keris shrugged. “Well, I cannot blame her for wanting to escape the manor. She was hardly treated the way in which she wanted to be.”
Richard felt as if he had received a slap across the cheek.
“Why does everybody hate me?!” he exclaimed, striding away from the woman - who did not respond to this rather immature comment - and towards the staircase which would lead him to his bedchamber. He turned as he reached the base of the stairs, calling, “She says she will collect you, by the way. When she comes for her clothing and such.”
Again, Keris shrugged.
“She does not need to. I’ve recently been in correspondence with a relative of mine. If Corinne no longer intends to reside here, I don’t need to be here either.”
“You’d be welcome to stay,” Richard said, trying to be kind for the sake of the last shred of his nobility. It was difficult, however, to keep the pain out of his voice - the pain at feeling like people were telling him that he had never been meant to be with Corinne. “I took the both of you in, all those years ago.”
Keris shook her head. “This is not the place for me, young sir.”
With that, Richard turned once more and walked to his bedroom. Once there, he closed the door and took a deep breath. He turned and regarded the solitary ribbon on the table at his bedside.
Everything. He had been willing to change everything.
Richard sank to the floor and buried his head in his hands.
Seventeen years earlier, Richard had not been a closed off character. He had been open and happy and a normal ten year old boy. He had parents who loved him dearly and always bought him the best birthday presents and took him out for the greatest trips. But one day, his mother started coughing. Coughing in the most terrifying way, making wheezing noises as she coughed. She coughed and coughed and coughed...
His father started the next day. Miss Amber, his governess, shut him in his room and locked the door. He screamed at the outrage - he was going to be a lord some day and a lord should not be imprisoned in his chamber!
“Let me out!” he demanded.
No one listened to him. Each day, his meals were brought to him by a strong man whom he did not recognise, whom he had no chance of struggling against to be free of his chamber.
No one told him what was going on.
Even when he began to hear his parents screaming...
Richard woke up with a start, the memory of his parents’ screams echoing in his mind. He noticed that he was shaking slightly.
He had been willing to change...
He stood up quickly, pushing the haunting memories out of his mind. But a part of his mind reminded him that he would have to relive the past if he wanted to be a good husband to Corinne.
His awful past.
Richard shuddered and strode over to his bedchamber window. He stared out at the white blanket which covered everything, numbly watching tree branches moving in the wind that he could not hear. His chilling thoughts began to dissipate until his mind became as blank as the layer of snow over Periville.
A little later, Richard walked to the maids’ quarters to find one of his maids. He found Samantha. As she saw him, she rose to her feet quickly.
“Any news on the lady Corinne, my lord?” she asked.
Richard nodded. “She is found. But she does not wish to be here.”
The maid looked confused but didn’t press him for an explanation.
Richard moved on to the subject which had brought him here.
“Samantha, I’d like you to buy for me two bottles of brandy, of whiskey, of cider, of beer and of red wine.”
“Is there to be a celebration?” she asked quizzically.
Richard shook his head.
“No, Samantha. Please don’t question me. I’ll give you the gold for it. Come with me.”
The maid looked troubled but followed. Richard handed her a bag of gold coins, which was perhaps a little too much, and thanked her.
Two hours later he was sitting in his room surrounded by alcohol. Each time a painful image or sound entered his mind, he drank from one of the many bottles which seemed to serve as his sole companions in this prison he had created for himself. He was not sober for long.