Josephine was awoken abruptly with a shake. She looked up to see her violin instructor looking down her with a mixture of concern and irritation.
“Miss Jane,” Josephine frowned. “What are you doing in my room?”
“It is almost noon and you had not yet awoken. I was beginning to think you are ill, but you seem to be quite alright,” she said. “Come downstairs to the music room at once,”
“Yes, Miss,” she replied automatically. “Sorr- I apologize for my tardiness. I did not sleep very well last night,”
She looked at Josephine with confusion, before nodding her head and leaving her room. Josephine sighed, running her hands through her long blonde hair. Her hands got stuck half way through her hair, most probably because of the tangles resulting from the wind. Growling in frustration, she launched herself off her bed and to her mirror. Taking the brush, she violently ran it through her hair, yanking much of it from her scalp in the process. Sighing once again, she resigned herself to a tight bun at the base of her neck. Going to the bathroom, she washed her face and put on a dress.
“There you are,” her teacher frowned as she came downstairs. “Have you been practicing?”
“Of course, Miss,” Josephine replied softly.
“Straighten your back,” she snapped. “Your slouching is unbecoming of a young lady,”
She corrected her posture and opened her violin case. Taking out the shoulder rest, she fixed it onto the instrument. Reaching over to the underside of the lid, she unstrapped the bow from the ribbon holding it in place, and began to apply rosin on it.
“Josephine, why is your bow tightened?” she snapped.
“Oh,” she glanced down in surprise. Violin bows had to be loosened with the screw at the end, to ensure the best sound. “I am terribly sorry. I must have forgotten last time I practiced,”
“Alright, enough dillydallying. Play your scales,” she said curtly.
Josephine placed the violin on her left shoulder and adjusted her chin to rest on the chinrest. Lifting the bow, she extended her arm so it would reach the farthest string and began to play the first scale, the C Major scale. She truly hated playing scales; they were too automatic and technical. She was unable to portray any emotion or message through her playing, they were just a bunch of notes strewn together in patterns. Nonetheless, she played her way through all major and minor scales, and their harmonic and melodic versions. By the end, her shoulder was hurting from prolonged use, and she sat down in fatigue.
“That was decent,” her instructor said hesitantly. “But your melodic scales need to be improved. Your raised sixths are never raised enough,”
“Yes, Miss. I will continue to practice them,” she replied.
“Good. How is the Concerto in G Minor?”
“Um, which one?” she scrunched her face in confusion.
“The Vivaldi one, Josephine,” she snapped impatiently. “I gave it to you two weeks ago,”
“Oh! Yes, that one. I have it memorized,” she smiled. “I truly love that piece,”
“Alright. Play it,” she leaned back in her chair, watching her closely.
Josephine began to play, for the first time that day actually enjoying it. Her fingers flew across the strings like that was their sole purpose in life. The bow slid gracefully across the strings, creating melodious, euphonious sounds. She almost slowed down, approaching a part that she was not confident in, but forced herself to keep in tempo. Her concentration was unrivaled as her hand flew not only across the strings, but sliding up and down at inhuman speeds. Her bow furrowed into the string, like a dog digging for a bone. Sighing in relief as she got through the difficult part, she increased her bow lengths and played the final chord with a elegant and magnificent bow. Setting her violin on her hip, she beamed at her teacher. She knew she had done a good job.
“That was well done,” her teacher reluctantly gave her a small smile. “Just improve on the fast portion, your intonation was a little sharp in that section. In the meantime, I think you are ready to learn another piece. This one is a bit more difficult,”
“Alright,” she smiled, looking forward to the challenge. “What is it called?”
“It is the Summer section of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,”
“Oh! Alright, thank you,” she grinned. She had heard this being played at balls many times, and she thoroughly enjoyed it every time. “Is that all?”
“Yes, that is all for today. When I see you in two days, I want the scales and Concerto perfected, and Summer to have made progress,” she stated, gathering her belongings.
“Yes, I promise it will be. Thank you,” she curtsied and lead her out of the house.
Josephine resigned herself to her room. Sitting on a chair on her balcony, her mind drifted back to the previous night’s events. She so desperately wanted to go to the Raft again, but she was also angry at Katherine for abandoning her. She had no way of getting there without help though. Even though she was paying attention on her ride to and from the community, she was unable to mount a horse, let alone ride it.
Her maid came in her room, informing her it was lunch time. She followed her downstairs and sat at the table across from her father. Suddenly, she felt very nervous and anxious. What if he noticed her leaving? Could he tell she was guilty by simply looking into her eyes?
“I heard you play your violin. You sounded splendid,” her father smiled at her.
“Thank you, father,” she said politely. “I spent a lot of time on that song. It is beautiful.”
“Josephine,” he frowned. “Is something the matter?”
“W-what?” she stammered, her heart pounding out of her chest at his words. “What would be the matter?”
“You seem saddened by something. I will not intrude upon your life, but I am always here if you need me,” he said. “Whatever it may be, remember your place and act according to a fine young lady,”
“Nothing is the matter, father,” she said softly. “I am just tired, from a sleepless night,”
Her father nodded and said grace. They began to eat their lunch in silence. Josephine picked at her food, suddenly losing her appetite. Her father trusted her and loved her; he had given her everything. She was repaying him by sneaking out of the house at night with strange men, going to even stranger places, and acting most unlike a lady. Guilt reached out its thorned claws and slid its arms around her, slowly restricting and suffocating her. The more she tried to escape, the tighter its hold became.
After the table was cleared, Josephine rose from the table and ran upstairs without a word. Flinging herself onto her bed, she let the scalding liquid spill over her eyes and down her cheeks. She sobbed for a long time, shivering and shaking uncontrollably. She was so utterly consumed with guilt and grief at her actions. The more she thought about it, she came to the realization that she did not regret what she did. The experience exposed her to things she had never seen or felt before, and given the choice, she would do it all over again. The feeling of sneaking away and doing everything in secrecy, gave her a small thrill. This only deepened her sobs, for she was a horrible daughter. She sinned, but could not ask for forgiveness, since she felt no regret.
Josephine stayed cocooned in her bed for hours, and it seems that she had lost sense of time, because she awoke to the dinner bell. Frowning in frustration, and not wanting to speak to her father again, she told the servant that she already ate earlier that evening. She slept for a while more, feeling incredibly lethargic and unmotivated to do anything. She shot up in bed when she heard a knock at her window. Widening her eyes, she hopped over to the balcony door and opened it. A grin slowly made its way to her delicate face as she saw the man in front of her.
“Felix! You came!” she exclaimed.
“I don’t see how I wouldn’t have. Katherine bothered me the entire day about you,” he rolled his eyes. “She feels guilty for having left you alone last night,”
“She should feel guilty! She and Nate said they would come back for me,” she pouted.
“What, was my company insufficient?” he raised an eyebrow.
“It was subpar,” she replied. “I only liked you when we were on the horse,”
“I’ve meant to ask you that. Have you never been on a horse before?” he cocked his head to the side.
“Of course I have,” she scoffed.
“Oh? You had some trouble getting on the horse yesterday,” he stifled a laugh.
“That is because my first time was yesterday,” she winked.
“I don’t appreciate your attempt at being clever,” he frowned down at her. “Anyways, do you plan on staying here the entire night, or are we leaving?”
Josephine nodded at him absentmindedly, her mind trying to list the things she needed to take with her. She took her knapsack from last night, and chose a different coat today, one that was less adorned. She wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible. They climbed down the ladder and made their way through the clump of trees behind her house. This time, she was better at navigating her way around the branches that always seemed to appear out of thin air. While she did fall more than a few times, on roots and shrubs, she fell significantly fewer times than the last time. Unsurprisingly, Felix did not take any action to help her, instead simply moved at a slower pace, at least according to Josephine.
Once they got to the horse, she refused to allow Felix to help her. The first time she tried, she put her foot in the foothold rather awkwardly, causing it to be bent at a painful angle when she swung over. The second time, she missed the foothold altogether, and fell to the ground. Getting up and brushing the dirt off her dress, she glared at her companion, who was laughing at her. As they say, third time's the charm, because Josephine finally swung her body over properly, and looked over at Felix with triumph.
“You only attempted it three times!” he exclaimed sarcastically. “I’m so impressed,”
“Just get on,” she snapped. “I’ve never ridden a horse, leave me be,”
“I thought you rode one just yesterday,” he mumbled teasingly, getting on the horse.
The journey there was one of comfortable silence. She leaned her head on her back as they whipped through the countryside. The moon was a little less noticeable in the sky today, and it gave a rather ominous look to the farms they rode past. Soon enough, they reached the cluster of buildings that were bursting with energy.
“Josephine!” someone called.
“Katherine!” Josephine yelled accusingly.
“Look, I know you’re mad at me, but I can explain!” she pleaded. “Get inside and we can speak,”
“Alright,” she said, getting down from the horse. This time, she did so slowly, so she was able to land on her feet.
Katherine led her and Felix towards the building from yesterday, but stopped halfway there and went into another one. Josephine shot her a confused glance, but Katherine seemed not to have noticed it. They went inside and walked through many winding pathways; Josephine lost her sense of direction. Finally, they reached a room one door and no windows. It had two adjacent couches with a dingy coffee table in the middle. Across the small space, sat an old, worn out statue of a gargoyle.
“What is going on?” questioned Josephine. “This room is rather dismal, Katherine,”
“This room is safe. I’m sorry if it doesn’t meet your fancy standards,” retorted Felix bitterly.
“I did not intend to offend or insult you,” she replied softly. This only caused Felix to scoff and roll his piercing gray eyes at her.
“Enough,” commanded Katherine. “Josephine, I gravely apologize for leaving you alone last night. It was inexcusable. But, did you enjoy yourself?”
“I won’t forgive you until I have heard a proper explanation,” she frowned stubbornly. “I did have fun though, it was incredible,”
“I heard about the drinking and dancing,” she said, her eye sparkling mischievously.
“That’s fantastic,” Josephine snapped. “Will you please explain what you need to?”
“Listen, girl. She doesn’t need to explain anything. You’re damned lucky she even gave you the opportunity to see this place. You’re lucky she trusts you, because I sure as hell do not. I would send you back to your perfect life without a hint of regret,” Felix said angrily.
“Excuse me?” Josephine raised her eyebrows, becoming angry herself. “She insisted I come here. She left me alone when she was well aware that I don’t know anyone,”
“Josephine, Felix!” said a voice near the door. Nate walked inside the room and shut it tightly, before embracing Katherine intimately.
“Finally. What took you so long?” Katherine breathed.
“There was a quarrel at one of the bars. I was helping make peace before coming here,” he explained. “Hullo, Josephine,”
“Good day,” she bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement.
“So, I’d be willing to bet you’re wondering what the hell is going on,” he smiled kindly.
“Well, yes,” Josephine cocked her head to the side.
“I apologize for abandoning you last night,” he began. “Katherine and I had some business to deal with, regarding the package you delivered to us,”
“What was in the package?” she asked curiously.
“It is a-”
“Don’t tell her,” Felix cut in sharply. “Why in your right mind would you tell her?”
“I trust her,” he said simply, his dark eyes boring into Felix.
“Oh? You trust her, without even knowing her surname?” he said sardonically.
“Enough,” Katherine snapped, glaring at Felix. “Nate and I both trust her. I specifically told her not to look inside the package and she followed my instructions to the smallest word. If you don’t like it, you are welcome to show yourself out,”
“Anyways,” coughed Nate. “The package contained a priceless artifact, belonging to the Queen Victoria herself,”
“What!” Josephine gasped. “That’s treason! It’s punishable by death!”
“Not a soul will know of this,” Nate warned. “I swear, if you breach our trust, you will have hell to pay,”
“I took part in this too. I helped steal from the Queen,” Josephine murmured, staring off into space.
“You didn’t even touch the package” scoffed Felix. “Calm down, girl,”
“Felix, be respectful or leave!” Katherine glared angrily.
“Felix, stay. I don’t care if you don’t like her, just keep your mouth shut and listen,” Nate said, putting a hand on Katherine’s knee.
“In essence, this artifact was stolen by a group of Irish rebels who call themselves the Invincibles,” Katherine continued. “They bribed Lord Cavenish-”
“Isn’t that the man who was murdered in Dublin earlier this year?” Josephine interrupted.
“Yes,” Katherine looked taken aback. “I’m surprised you know that, considering your sheltered life,”
“I heard rumours of it at the ball,” she explained.
Katherine nodded her head in acknowledgment. “The chief secretary of Ireland, he was very recently appointed, was bribed with piles upon piles of gold,”
“To do what? Steal the artifact?”
“Close. They told him to masquerade a few of their men as servants when he visited the Queen in February,” Nate answered. “The operation succeeded, and the gold was delivered to the house of Lord Cavendish,”
“Why was he murdered?” Josephine said quizzically. “The transaction appears to be seamless,”
“Ah, but you are forgetting the inherent flaw in every plan, no matter how well thought out,” Nate smiled cryptically. “Human nature,”
“Humans are rather greedy creatures. Cavendish in particular. After about a week after the whole incident, when news of the missing artifact had reached the Queen’s inner circle, Cavendish attempted to place himself in the Queen’s good graces by providing information about the robbery,” Katherine continued.
“Allow me to hypothesize. The Invincibles were angry at his double crossing, and this resulted in his subsequent murder in April?” Josephine pondered.
“In May, actually. The news perhaps only reached the public by April,” Nate corrected. “You’re a very astute person,”
“Thank you. How did the artifact leave the hands of the Irish group?” she replied gracefully.
“Another group was hired to steal it from them,” Felix interrupted. “There was a bloodbath at their camp in Ireland, well hidden and away from the prying eyes of the public,”
“Was that you?" Josephine stared at Felix intently.
"Not me specifically, no,"
"We were the ones who hired to have it stolen," interrupted Katherine. "It was a mistake. They were well armed and there were too many lives lost,"
"It wasn't a mistake. If we hadn't done what we did, the artifact would still be with the Fenians, and probably being sold on the black market overseas," Felix said vehemently.
"Joshua died, Felix," she glared back, raising her voice. "That's not okay. How could you say that?"
"The safety of the country is more important than one life!" he yelled back.
"Alright, enough!" Nate said softly, pain in his eyes. "Josephine, the group we hired to take the camp gave the artifact to us and now fall under our protection. The man you met at the ball confused you for Katherine for some reason, but he was the man who was supposed to deliver it,"
"Who is Joshua?" she asked tentatively.
Felix abruptly got up and punched the wall, the impact causing his knuckles to bleed. Muttering to himself, he ran out of the room clutching his hand.
"Alright, scratch that. Why would a lost artifact threaten the safety of a nation?”
Nate sighed while Katherine got up and began pacing back and forth. “It was given to England by Lithuania as a token of appreciation. It will be on showcase at the next gala the Queen hosts, and if it isn’t, the Lithuanians will take offense,”
“The artifact is in good hands now, so why do you both look like someone is going to die?” Josephine raised her eyebrows.
“We do not know how to get it back to the Queen without raising suspicion. We can’t very well walk up to her palace and return it,” Nate replied.
“Josephine, it is time for Nate and I to meet with some people. Do you mind being at the inn you were at yesterday?” Katherine said.
“Alright,” replied Josephine, getting up.
She followed the two of them out of the building and into the street. They led her to the inn and Katherine hugged her goodbye. Josephine waited until they were no longer visible, then went inside. Pushing through all the people dancing and drinking merrily, she stood in front of the concealed door in apprehension. Turning the knob, she found the door to be locked from the inside. Just as she turned around to leave, an arm reached around her waist and pulled her inside the dark room.
“Who the hell are you?” he breathed, pinning her to the door with his body.
“Get away from me!” she exclaimed, squirming against him.
“Josephine?” he muttered. He grabbed her upper arm tightly and led up a flight of stairs. His pace was too quick for her, especially because it was dark and she was struggling with her dress, causing her to trip a few times. He became frustrated and simply picked her up and threw her over his shoulder.
“Put me down this instant!” she screamed, pounding against his back.
They entered what seemed to be a training room. The entire floor, and parts of the wall, was covered in mats, and there were punching bags hanging from the ceiling. He set her down on the ground harshly, causing her to wince.
“Felix?” she looked up at him in shock.
“What are you doing here?” he gritted.
“Excuse me? You dragged me up here and threw me on the ground against my will, and you have the nerve to ask me what I’m doing here?” she shot back, getting up.
“I meant what were you doing trying to open that door? If anyone was paying attention to you, they would be highly suspicious as to why you know this door exists, but cannot open it,” he argued.
“I- Um..”’ she stuttered.
“You what?” he said, walking dangerously close. She continued to back away from him until her back hit the padded wall. He put his arms on either side of her face, effectively caging her in.
“It does not matter. May I take my leave now?”
“Jo,” he said warningly. “Answer me, now,”
“I was just curious!”
“And I’m the Queen’s son,” he said, narrowing his eyes. His arms slid down to her waist and brought her closer, holding her body flush against his. “I’ll ask again. Why did you try to open that door?”
“Felix, let me g-go!” she said, breathing heavily. He only held her tighter in response. “Alright! I was searching for you, and since you were in this room last night, I thought-”
“Josephine, where I am and what I do is none of your business,” he said angrily.
“I apo- I’m sorry,” she hung her head, looking anywhere but at his steely gray eyes.
“I questioned your loyalty, Jo,” he scolded. “Your actions were highly suspicious,”
“You question everything, that is hardly my fault,” she muttered, not intending for him to hear.
“After what I’ve seen, I have every right to be suspicious. And to be clear, I do not trust you,” he said, leaning in close.
“I need neither your approval nor your trust,” Josephine replied cooly, regaining her composure. “Please, let go of me now so I may return,”
“As you wish, your majesty,” he sneered, stepping away.
Josephine wondered why he acted this way. He seemed amicable on the trip back yesterday, but turned hostile again today. She went back down the stairs, this time slowly and more carefully. Opening the door a little, she checked to see if anyone was watching, then quickly slipped into the lively room. As she was walking, a hand reached out and pulled her into the dancing crowd. She was exhausted from resisting temptation, and simply danced the night away.