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The snow came early, covering the meadows behind the de Jarjayes mansion. It fell through Rosalie's fingers when she tried to gather it. It was so quiet as it fell, not a single sound. It muted the noise in the city, but not like this, never like this.


She turned, slipping in the snow. Oscar was making her way towards her, fur-lined cloak trailing on the snow drifts.

If there had been any chance of hiding, Rosalie would have taken it, but there was nothing but snow around her. She waited with her head bowed.

"It's too cold to go out without warm clothes," Oscar said when she was near. "It gets much colder here than it does in Paris."

Rosalie hugged herself. The shirt did let the wind through. "I - I thought I'd only be a moment."

Oscar threw the edge of her cloak around the girl. "Come close. I'd think you haven't seen the snow before."

"It doesn't look like this in the city." Rosalie huddled close to Oscar, hiding her face in the furry trim of the cloak. "It goes grey as soon as it falls. And it melts soon, or people walk or drive over it."

"Here, you can catch your death if you stand around in the snow." Oscar was smiling. "Even if it's nice to look at. Didn't you notice the cold?"

"I was thinking," Rosalie said. "I - it will be Christmas soon. I just realised that, with the snow."

Oscar's fingers curled over her arm. "Your first Christmas without your mother."

Rosalie tried to smile. "It's - it made me remember her. We never had much, but we'd go to church for the midnight mass, and then we'd have a bit of meat with supper, and a piece of galette des rois that the baker's apprentices made as practice. Just - labourers' things," she said quickly. "Folk stuff from the city. I'm sure that important people have better things to do than Christmas."

Oscar's laugh shook them both. "I'd like to hear you say that to Her Majesty," she said. "She must have spent weeks selecting what she'll wear to the midnight mass and the menu for the supper afterwards. Versailles is all alight with greenery, and the grooms are complaining about the animals she'll put in the nativity scenes."

Rosalie looked up, wide-eyed. Oscar was standing very close, their hair mingling together.

"You'll be at Versailles on Christmas night?" Rosalie whispered.

Oscar shook her head, then lifted her hand to wipe snowflakes from Rosalie's forehead. "I'm leaving it in Girodelle's hands. No, we'll all go to the parish church at midnight, and Marronglace will start her baking for the Christmas supper any moment now. It's a special favour my father asked when I started my service at Versailles," she added.

"Because of Christmas?"

"Because of Christmas Day," Oscar said. "It seems that no-one wants to miss a chance to nag me about growing one year older."

Rosalie gasped softly, then blushed. "It's Lady Oscar's birthday?"

Oscar nodded, her eyes warm. "Father likes to celebrate it." She tipped Rosalie's chin up. "I think you'll like some of our holiday traditions. One is obligatory."

The girl stared at her, wide-eyed.

"The village snowball fight," Oscar said sternly. "I expect to see you at my side in the mansion's team. Now let's go get you dressed and we'll practice your aim!"

Rosalie laughed as Oscar dragged her back to the house. She was stumbling, and Oscar took her hand to steady her. Their fingers twined together. Even in gloves, Oscar's hand was warm.