Ghost of a Rose
Fleur woke from a deep slumber, feeling slightly disoriented. Sitting up, she found herself on her bed, still wearing her blue gown from the evening before. From the angle of the sun shining into her chamber she calculated that it must be almost noon. How could she have slept this long and why had no one come to wake her?
She quickly washed her face with rose-scented water and changed into a clean white linen gown. A freshly healed prick on her index finger caught her attention. It had stung briefly when she had dipped her hands into the water bowl on her dresser. Scolding herself for failing to wear gloves when picking up flowers from the garden, she resumed brushing her hair.
The castle seemed eerily silent when she ventured out of her room. Upon entering the solar, she found her mother seated in a chair by the window, her latest embroidery in her lap.
"Maman?" Fleur caught her attention.
Looking up, the older woman put her needlework into a basket beside the chair and rushed toward her daughter. "The Lord be praised. You are well?"
Slightly confused by the concern in her mother's voice, Fleur returned the embrace. "Why shouldn't I be, maman? What happened? Why has nobody called upon me? Now I've missed my lessons with Father Albert."
The Duchess de Brabant regarded her with a startled expression. "You don't remember? You've fainted last night in the garden. Nicolas carried you to your room. I was about to send for the apothecary from the village, but your brother assured me that you would be fine given sufficient rest."
Fleur's eyes widened. How could she have forgotten that her brother had come home! "Nicolas, where is he?"
"They left shortly afterwards."
Fleur's face clouded with disappointment. "They?"
"Are you sure you're all right, ma pétite? You do remember his travel companions?"
Fleur furrowed her brow. She vaguely remembered a beautiful lady. She was sure there had been someone else but she couldn't get a clear picture in her head. Shrugging it off, she asked, "Did Nicolas say anything before he left?"
"He promised to write."
Fleur nodded. She was looking forward to reading about his adventures, however scarce his letters might be. She was positive that her life would be good now, knowing that her dear brother had returned safely from the crusades.
* * * *
That evening after sunset, Fleur went to retrieve her favourite book from her chamber. However, upon entering, she noted that it wasn't in its usual place in the drawer of her nightstand. In its stead she found a pale yellow rose, cut from one of the bushes beneath her window. She didn't remember having placed the flower there.
After searching in vain for the book in her room, she returned to the solar. "Maman? I've misplaced my book about the stars. Have you seen it?"
"Last time I saw you taking it with you outside. Perhaps one of the gardeners found it?"
Fleur nodded. "Perhaps. I shall ask around immediately." Although it looked like storm clouds were gathering, keeping her from her new pastime of studying the heavens, she wouldn't rest until she had recovered the book.
* * * *
Toronto February 14, 1994
Lacroix sat alone in his library. His fingers caressed the worn cover of an old book in his lap. Usually, he would have mocked anyone as foolishly sentimental for clinging to a relic from the past. But this was one keepsake he had carried with him throughout the centuries. And, once a year, he allowed himself the sweet torture of remembering what he had lost. It was not so much the book itself he cherished – a quite accurate account of constellations in the Northern hemisphere by medieval standards. No, his true treasure lay inside.
He opened the book to a page marked by the remnants of a withered dried rose pressed between the leaves. He had been immensely pleased when he had taken the book as a memento in exchange for a fresh rose and discovered his previous gift carefully preserved inside. His eyes focused on one hardly discernible thorn that had once stood out from its counterparts by the darker colour on its tip. Closing his eyes, Lacroix inhaled deeply. Although the original blood had long dried and its scent faded, his perfect memory allowed him to recall the sweet taste of its owner, her purity and innocence. For a moment, he had believed he could preserve that forever. But that illusion had been shattered by Nicholas.
Nicholas, who had denied him his desire back then and who now denied him the companionship he craved. After all, Nicholas was the only link he had left to his precious Fleur. In his blood Lacroix could find memories of the childhood the siblings had spent together. Without that, all he had was a faded drop of dried blood on the thorn of a decaying rose.
With a frown, Lacroix closed the book and returned it to its proper place on the shelf.