|The Bridge Between
Author: noelswonderland PM
Two lives are entangled for the sake of others; pawns in an elaborate game of chess that they never asked to play. Where time cannot heal all wounds, where there is no compromise, where the silence is pervasive – words become unnecessary. Claude x OCRated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Angst - Claude F. - Chapters: 8 - Words: 32,730 - Reviews: 53 - Favs: 62 - Follows: 59 - Updated: 01-13-13 - Published: 03-28-11 - id: 6854182
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter O4 – Always Watching
Adelaide had confined herself to her bed, hidden beneath the folds of her comforter. She dared not even peek her head out all night. Since her fear never abated, not even well into the morning when she could hear the birds outside her window, she never managed so much as a wink of sleep.
And even when she heard a knock upon her door, she fluttered not an eyelash at the noise. Nor did she answer it with a spoken word. She stayed, trembling, underneath her blanket. Everything that happened the night before was still churning in her head, the images rolling through her mind in replay.
Naturally, she was too preoccupied to hear the door crack open, so of course she did not notice the ensuing footsteps, echoing off the nearly empty walls. It was no doubt Claude approaching – coming to retrieve her. The king was supposed to be leaving, after all. Her duty was to see her father off like the loyal daughter she was.
Those gloved hands of his were reaching to peel away her duvet, she was sure of it. She could see the shadow of his arms outstretching over the top of her. Adelaide took a sharp inhale, nearly choking as she threw the blanket aside. Although she had expected to catch him off-guard, the black-haired man seemed unfazed, even as she directed a piercing glare in his direction.
"I could not sleep all night," she declared, as though he was somehow at fault for her inconvenience.
Yet regardless of the absurdity of that declaration, Claude merely folded his hands over his abdomen and regarded her with his usual bored gaze. Those gold eyes of his nearly bore a hole right through her forehead. "That is regrettable."
"You don't care," she accused testily. The foul mood Adelaide was experiencing, she attributed entirely to her lack of sleep. And she knew she would later regret being snappy. Of all people, he deserved it the least. If there was a person to whom she should direct her wrath, it was surely her "brother." The prince was detestable but doubly so after the previous night's events.
"Regardless of my sympathies, I have been instructed to ready you to observe the king's departure." Those sharp features of his were set in a solemn expression. It unnerved her that much more, to see for herself how Claude was yet another pawn of her brother's – set forth to act as a control over her. Just another way of supervising her every move. Perhaps this earned him some of her chagrin.
"I can ready myself."
Rather than seeming skeptical, it was as though Claude outright ignored her assertion. He turned his back toward her and gathered her garments, laying them out on her bed. Then he approached her, as though fully prepared to start undressing her himself.
Blushing furiously the moment she realized how close his hands were and how his figure towered so greatly over her, Adelaide promptly batted him away. "I-I told you, I am a lady, Sir! I do not require the assistance of a man."
For a moment he stared at her, as though evaluating the merit of her protest. At last, Claude lowered his hands. "Very well," he conceded, "I will send for a maid." He whipped around and with a flutter of coattails, he disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared in the first place.
Left by herself, the golden-haired female huffed to herself as she began undressing, allowing her gown to drop to the floor as she tried to maneuver herself into the corset – as though she had any clue what she was doing (which she did not). In the end, Adelaide was forced to loiter half-naked in the middle of her room until a maid finally came and rapped upon the door.
With the help of another female, rather than the callous and unfeeling Claude, she was able to prepare herself relatively quickly. Nevertheless, when she emerged from her room, the golden-eyed man ushered her to hurry to the front gate. He walked at such a quick pace that she was nearly sprinting to keep up with him.
"I should have protested this," she lamented along the way, purposefully loud enough for Claude to hear her. "I should have insisted that my brother find a proper woman for the job." Although, had he been female, she would have still disliked him.
It was in the courtyard that they lined up along with the other family and servants to bid the king farewell on his journey. Although he made this trek to Hanover annually, there was something about this time that left Adelaide feeling a little uneasy. Perhaps she could attribute it to the lack of sleep, or the unsettling belief that some monster lurked within the castle. Maybe that was all her imagination. Either way, the knots in her stomach left her feeling nauseous.
Forcing a smile at her father as he passed by in his carriage proved difficult. Yet she managed to chime in with the others, bidding him a safe journey. But her hand felt unusually heavy as she lifted it to give him a wave. Perhaps it was the circumstances surrounding Marie's death that weighed down on her.
In her preoccupation, Adelaide scarcely noticed that Claude was watching observantly just a few feet behind her. Those golden eyes of his, framed by those reflective glasses – they seemed to be trained on her.
After seeing to the departure of her father, Adelaide found herself escorted back to the study. She protested the whole way, insisting that the rumblings of her stomach far outweighed the import of morning lessons. Claude seemed his usual unaccommodating self by largely overlooking the validity of her argument. Nonetheless, once she was begrudgingly seated amongst the stuffy old book cases with her lesson material spread out on a table in front of her, Claude quietly informed her that he would retrieve some tea and a snack to tide her over until noon. She would have had breakfast, he reasoned, if she had not "dilly-dallied" so much earlier.
In the back of her head, Adelaide entertained the idea of sneaking out while he was gone to the kitchen. Considering that it would probably take him at least ten minutes to make the trip there and return, it gave her plenty of time to run off to some corner of the castle where he would not be able to find her.
Despite how cunning she thought herself, when Claude exited she heard the soft click of the doors locking behind him. He probably already read her mind and figured she would try to escape. Slimy snake.
She crossed her arms and leaned back in the chair, idly staring up at the ceiling. There were certainly times before when she felt caged within the castle, subject to the whims of people who claimed she had a "higher purpose than frolicking around with servants and goofing off in the garden." Adelaide hardly bought that this higher purpose meant anything more than being a tool of power for her brother. Even Claude – especially Claude – probably only saw her as a valuable pawn for her older brother.
Letting a frustrated sigh fall from her lips, Adelaide suddenly bolted up from her chair, nearly knocking it back. She traipsed across the intricate rugs and made her way over to the windows. Someone had latched them securely but she managed to pry them open. The wave of fresh air that hit her face was sobering. Far more refreshing than the morning tea that Claude intended to bring her. Adelaide took several gulps of air as though she had been suffocating before opening the windows.
As she stood there staring out at the expanse of rolling emerald hills, she pondered to herself. A devious idea entered her mind; a way to foil Claude's strict itinerary. At that same moment there was another subtle click before the double doors behind her suddenly swung open. Then followed the clinking of porcelain as Claude wheeled in a small cart with some pastries and tea, just as he had promised.
She smiled pleasantly at him, the first sign that something was awry. Claude immediately quirked a brow in response. Clearly he had already become accustomed to her tricky nature.
"Thank you," Adelaide told him, as though she felt any gratitude at his actions. She rounded the table, leaving the windows wide open behind her. Once she had settled in her chair, Claude set down a cup of fresh tea for her. Graciously, she picked the cup up, cradling it against the palm of her hand while sipping away at it. The piping hot liquid starkly contrasted with the cool wind blowing in through the open window.
Perhaps Claude noticed that the cold was flushing her skin. After setting her snack in front of her, he moved to close the windows. Adelaide glared at him disapprovingly but did not make a motion to protest.
The young girl kept her lips pursed even after the windows were securely latched and Claude had settled in a seat across from her. The stoic man did not even steal a glance at her; he had his eyes directed toward the books laid out in front of him. He fiddled with them, flipping through the pages and occasionally pausing to read as he waited for her to finish her tea.
Just to spite him, Adelaide purposefully prolonged finishing the bittersweet liquid, even as it cooled and the taste soured on her tongue. She wondered if these actions would provoke any kind of reaction from him, but alas he remained as indifferent as ever.
"Say, Claude," she called out to him without the usual respectable 'sir' or 'mister'.
Those sharp eyes of his suddenly snapped up, glaring at her through those square-shaped spectacles of his. He paused to readjust them on the bridge of his nose before answering in that monotone voice of his. "Yes?"
That glare of his was silencing and she gulped, hesitating before setting her teacup down. "Ah, well, I know I have been slacking with my studies a bit, but... Do you suppose you could get permission from my brother for me to go out horse riding later if I'm on my best behavior and put my utmost effort into studying?"
He studied her for a long moment, as though trying to decide if she harbored an ulterior motive and whether the request was even worth consideration. To Adelaide's immense relief, he gave an accepting nod. "Very well."
Perhaps she should have known better than to think that Claude would agree to her terms so easily. Apparently his definition of putting her utmost effort into studying far differed from her definition, because for the next five hours – with only a brief interval where they paused for one of the most disappointing lunches she had ever eaten – he became an absolute slave driver.
However when the time came and evening was beginning to approach, Claude finally closed Adelaide's last lesson book and announced that he would allow her to use the last hour of bright daylight to ride to her heart's content. Of course that came with a condition.
"I will be accompanying you."
At first she glared at him annoyance, outraged that he thought she was such a juvenile that she needed an adult to oversee her every movement but then Adelaide realized how she could use this to her advantage. Little did he know how much time she had spent mastering horseback. If she broke out into a full gallop with her steed, there was no way that he would manage to keep up. Adelaide was positive that she was the better rider, given her experience.
"Alright, Sir, I will agree to this condition of yours." That pleasant smile on her face was just as alarming as before and she accepted all too readily. It heightened Claude's suspicion, evident from the way his eyebrows peaked at her as though he doubted his ears.
With the details worked out, Adelaide led the way to the stables with a skip in her step. She held her head high, humming to herself all the while. Even though she suspected that the out-of-tune melody disturbed Claude's ears, he never spoke a word to suggest as much. Yet every action of hers was meticulously thought out with the intention to get under his skin. She was growing desperately curious to see some expression on his face other than that usual deadpan look of his.
"Sorry, my lady, but your father took your favorite horse with him for his journey. All that is left is a couple old mares but I think they will suit you just fine–"
"What about my brother's horse?" she interrupted during her conversation with the stable master. He was an elderly man with a gentle disposition that had catered to her since she was young. The way he treated her mirrored the favoritism she received from her father, no doubt spoiling her personality further.
The panicked expression that he gave her, however, when she mentioned the prince's horse was tell-tale. "My apologies, Miss, but I don't believe His Highness would approve of–"
Claude waved his hand in a dismissive gesture as if to allay the stable master's concern. "Please listen to the princess's request." The doubtful look on the other man's face prompted Claude to provide further reassurance. "I am sure His Highness would have no qualms with his beloved younger sibling borrowing his horse for a ride. No harm will come to either of them."
Although the stable master still seemed reluctant to oblige the two, he gave a resigned sigh. "Very well, Sir, but I hope you are well prepared if there should be any consequences." He said that with some measure of fear.
Everything turned out better than Adelaide could have possibly planned for. She settled into the saddle mounted on the back of her brother's stunning dappled white steed. It stood in stark contrast with the old, plain brown mare that Claude came sauntering out of the stables on.
"I hope you can keep up," Adelaide snarked at him, chortling quietly under her breath. Never would she have expected him to be so gullible.
"Don't ride ahead," he commanded her knowingly – as though he was naïve enough to actually believe that she would heed such a warning.
Once they had ventured a fair distance from the stable, Adelaide slowed her horse to a halt. Claude rode up beside her, glancing suspiciously as she adjusted her position – swinging a leg over the other side of the horse so that she had a leg on either side, straddling the animal's back. Despite his insistence that she ride "as a lady should ride," Adelaide had no intention of sitting on a horse with as much power as her brother's and just riding along at a slow-paced trot like one of those weak-willed court ladies.
Before Claude could edge in a word of protest and rebuke her for her actions, Adelaide snapped the reigns on her horse dug the heels of her shoes into its sides. "Let's go!" she exuberantly commanded.
The sound of its hooves beating against the grass reverberated in her ears. The wind whipped through her hair, stinging at her already rosy cheeks. All of the noise drowned out whatever nonsense Claude was calling out to her. No doubt with these actions she had finally managed to crack that annoying facade of his that led her to believe he felt no emotion. He had to be annoyed now. He had to be about ready to give up being her tutor. Where the maze had not been capable of working, this surely would.
As she ducked into the wooded area surrounding the hills around the castle, Adelaide heard the sound of pursuit dying down behind her. Had he already given up? Surely he knew that it would be impossible for his horse to keep up with hers. Given that, on top of that, Adelaide knew the terrain like the back of her hand, she was at an obvious advantage.
Navigating a little deeper in – just enough that she was sure Claude had lost all sight of her – Adelaide slowed her horse to a slow walk. "No sense exhausting her," she said to herself. "I can just linger out here for half an hour while Claude tries desperately to search for me then come back out. He should be panicked enough by then to give up."
Just to be sure that he wouldn't locate her, Adelaide started to direct her steed just a little farther in. It proved a boring ride, if only because she took it slow enough so as to keep enough on the edge of the woods that she could easily find her way back out.
Then, all of a sudden, amongst the bushes behind her, something suddenly moved. She saw it on peripherally but the rustling was enough to spook the horse. Adelaide caught it just in time, taking tight hold of the reins and yanking back to stop the startled steed from taking off. "Easy girl, easy." Adelaide received a perturbed grunt from the animal in response.
She paused, curiosity getting the better of her, and glanced back in the direction of the movement. While Adelaide expected to see nothing, she was shocked to see those two golden eyes again. And this time, in the dim light streaming through the yellowing leaves, she could see the outline of its robust, dark figure.
"S-S-Sp... spider..." There was a tremor in her voice as she managed to eke out the word. She blinked once, hoping it would wipe away the terrifying sight from her vision but alas – it did not.
In her own shock, numb to all other stimuli, Adelaide was not able to react fast enough when her horse suddenly reared with an echoing cry. She only felt herself flying through the air, reeling from the sudden propulsion. Her hair fluttered around her as she fell backwards. Moments later came the agonizing crash as her body met the ground with a loud thud. The jerking motion and the impact left her choking as all of the oxygen flooded from her lungs.
All coherent thoughts were scrambled from the fall and it took a moment for Adelaide to readjust and realize what had happened. By then her horse had already taken off in the distance, leaving only dust behind. She scrambled to get up but suddenly remembered what it was that she had seen behind her.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she stole a glance behind her to see if it was still there. To her relief, it was not. Whatever it was – a spider, she thought – it had taken off in the commotion. Perhaps it had been scared off as well.
Just as she was breathing that sigh of relief, however, she turned her head forward and recognized those golden eyes just a few feet in front of her. Too close; far too close for comfort. She let out a shrill scream as she crawled backward, desperately trying to put some distance between herself and the foreign creature that had suddenly managed to sneak up on her.
Yet just as she retreated, it advanced. Those eight, long hairy legs all twitched as the beast inched toward her. Its size was massive in terms of any spider that Adelaide had ever seen in her life. She was sure this was something straight out of a nightmare.
"C...Claude!" the name tore through her throat and came out as a bloodcurdling scream as she jolted up and started a full-fledged sprint in the opposite direction of the eerie creature. "Claude! Claude!" Adelaide ran as hard as she could, tripping and stumbling along the way, both because of the fauna and her attire that was ill-equipped for such terrain. The whole way she screamed his name, desperately hoping he was searching for her and would hear her calls.
As she tripped on a tree root, Adelaide was slung to the ground again. Her knees stung and her body ached. More than that, her adrenalin had taken her as far as it could. How long had she been running? How long had she been screaming? Already her voice had grown hoarse and she could no longer find the willpower to scream anymore. Instead of struggling to get up again, she curled in a ball – hugging her knees tight and closing her eyes shut as the tears streamed down her already dirt-covered cheeks. Just make it stop. Please make it stop. I'll do anything.
"My lady?" Just as she was beginning to lose hope, she heard his voice calling for her in the distance, followed closely by the sound of a neighing horse as the hoof beats grew louder. It was music to her ears.
Yet try as she might to call back, Adelaide's voice only cracked when she tried to use it. So instead she picked herself up. What little endurance she had left began to rapidly dissipate when she managed to stand on those trembling legs of hers. They managed a slowly, clumsy wading-like gait as she tried to move toward the sound of Claude calling out to her.
Please find me, she prayed.
When his horse came darting through the trees, immense relief swept over her. She was not sure if the spider was still in the area or if she had managed to escape it completely but all of that was irrelevant as she found herself staring at Claude's familiar face. He appeared as stoic as ever, unaffected by her appearance even as her rode up straight to her. There wasn't even a hint of concern as he gently dismounted
"My lady." That admonishing gaze of his was a clear indicator that he intended to chide her for her actions, but she didn't give him the opportunity.
Adelaide rushed at him before he had a chance to react and threw her arms around him. "Why did you come so late? Why weren't you here sooner?" She began sobbing against his chest, her entire body trembling from fear, exhaustion, as well as the cold.
Those golden eyes of his just peered down at her without any trace of emotion. His lips moved to speak but perhaps he thought better of it and pursed them. Instead he placed his gloved hands on her shoulders as though to push her away, but Adelaide wouldn't have it. She clung to him like her very life depended on it.
"It's your job to watch me. So don't let me out of your sight from now on. I'll tell my brother if you do!" Adelaide nuzzled her face against his chest to wipe away the tears still falling from the ducts of her eyes. It did not even register to her to be embarrassed about her behavior. All she could think of was how relieved she felt to be with him again – as annoyed as she had been earlier, it was far better to be under his watchful eyes than left alone to the darkness. Perhaps it was also the scent of his clothing that was soothing to her.
"Night will descend soon, My Lady. We need to return to the castle." With that, he withdrew from the embrace she had suddenly thrust upon him. Then, without another word, he reached for her waist and lifted her into the air with such ease that Adelaide wondered what strength he must possess to be able to handle her as though she were a doll. Claude set her up on the saddle of his horse before mounting on behind her. Soon after Adelaide found herself trapped between his arms as he reached for the reigns and gently nudged the horse back toward the castle.
Despite the compromising position, she leaned back into his chest. The warmth it provided brought great reprieve from the cool night's air. The feelings it stirred up were foreign to her. "Claude?" she called out his name before she even realized that it had rolled off her tongue. Perhaps it was because of her delirium.
"Weren't you worried? Angry? Annoyed?" The more she asked, the quieter her voice grew as though she were afraid of the answer. Adelaide's whole plan had been to drive him off but suddenly she feared her success in that endeavor.
Claude was quiet for a moment as they emerged from the wooded area and begin scaling down the hills back toward the stables. "No," he finally answered after that long period of silence. "I knew I would find you."
Those words, however innocently he had intended them, brought a bright blush to Adelaide's cheeks. "Really? How could you be sure?"
"I'm always watching you, Princess."
That elicited a smile from her, as she well knew that Claude was quite diligent in watching over her. But she was not quite sure why that brought her such unfathomable happiness. It was almost as though, and she shuddered to think it, that she was starting to have feelings for him.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed, my deepest apologies for taking so long to update. I am so utterly exhausted I cannot write anymore; I stayed up all night writing this. Hopefully it's coherent. My complete and utter gratitude to everyone who reviewed the last chapter; I would love reviews for this one as well. Now I'm going to go crash for a couple hours... Zzzz...