“Captain Carson”, says Deirdre, looking up from her book. “How nice to see you again.”
The little man bows deeply to the young woman, allowing her a brief glimpse of a bouquet of flowers held behind his back. She sets aside the scripture and rises, giving the soldier a deep curtsy.
“Ummm…”, begins Carson hesitantly, glancing about the garden. “Pardon my intrusion, Sister Deirdre. I had hoped to find the Dawnsister and didn’t intend to disturb you.”
The young woman smiles and waves away the apology. “Think nothing of it, Captain. But I am afraid that the Duchess has not yet returned to Firenze, and I do not know when she might be back.”
Carson nods and looks disappointed. “I heard a rumor they had returned and hoped to be the first to welcome her back.” He produces the flowers from their hiding spot, allowing them to hang limply from his hand as he turns to go.
Deirdre speaks quickly as he turns to go. “I am sure the Duchess will be equally disappointed that she missed your visit.”
The small man turns back, his face brightening. “Do you think so?”
“Undoubtedly. I have seen that she brightens with your visits and seems less burdened with the stresses of leadership whenever she is able to enjoy your company.”
“Really? I was worried that I was unwelcome. She often hurries off to some errand when I visit the shrine.”
“Well, she is very busy, ensuring that the Duchy runs smoothly, trying to help tend The Sarenrae’s flock, finding time to remain rested and beautiful…”
“Yes…. Yes, I suppose that’s true. Do you really think she enjoys my company that much?”
“My good Captain. As a woman, I can assure you that I see many signs of affection and no evidence that she does not welcome or even look forward to your attentions. Still…”
“What? What is it?”
Deirdre sighs dramatically and sits down on the bench, turning slightly away from Carson.
“No, I should not say anything.”
Carson steps over, placing the flowers on the ground and kneeling next to the young woman.
“Please. If there is something important, I wish to know.”
The acolyte looks in the man’s eyes and swallows dryly, appearing to come to a decision.
“Oh, it’s nothing like that… It’s just that… I don’t wish to give you the impression that I am the Duchess’ confidant, or have some special knowledge of her true feelings. Quite the opposite, in fact. I fear that Scarlet dislikes me for some reason. That she would prefer to see me gone from this place and never return.”
Carson looks surprised, but sympathetic. “Why would you say that? What has she done?”
“Nothing”, says Deirdre, shaking her head quickly. “She has always been polite and proper. It is just a feeling. A sense of… something… when she is around. I worry that I have offended her somehow…”
“Perhaps I could speak to her. Sway her. Convince her…”
“No!”, interrupts the woman, gripping his hand tightly. “I would be so embarrassed if it was nothing, and if she truly does feel that way… I…” Deirdre shakes her head as her voice chokes up.
“What is it, Sister? What are you afraid of?”
“I… I… worry that with her new powers as Duchess, that she could… do me great harm.” She buries her face in her hands and sobs quietly.
Carson places a hand on her shoulder and speaks gently.
“Even if there were some small animosity, I’m sure the Dawnsister wouldn’t do something so rash and underhanded. She is wise and kind. Besides, are there not others who would speak out, to consel her away from such pettiness?”
Deirdre wipes away a tear and looks up hopefully. “I suppose you are right. Yes… Yes, even if I have done something to offend her without realizing, she wouldn’t… she couldn’t do something so terrible.”
The young woman rises, wiping her eyes on her sleeve and smoothing her robes. Bowing deeply, she smiles again at the little man.
“Thank you for your words of comfort, Captain. I am very fortunate to count you as a friend, and the Duchess is very lucky to have your attentions. I shall be sure to give your regards when I see her.”
Carson bows and strides from the garden, his flowers forgotten on the bench. Deirdre picks up the bouquet and inhales the delicate scent before tossing them under a nearby bush, smiling to herself.
Oh dear. I do hope the worst gossip in Firenze doesn’t tell everyone that the Duchess has an irrational dislike for the High Priest’s favored acolyte…