"It sure is pretty here." Gourry commented as he surveyed the grounds they were walking through. But not just any grounds. They were now at Maninstit. These grounds were now Lina's.
"I just still can't believe it's mine." Lina said as the manor house came into view.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"That even if we have to train fifty students I don't know what I'll do with all of that space!" Lina replied as she wondered if there had been some sort of mistake. Perhaps they were looking at the wrong house and any minute the smaller one would come into view.
"Well," he said quietly in his sweet manner, "You could marry me and we could fill it with children."
Lina continued walking for a few steps and then stopped as she turned to look at him. "What?"
"Isn't that what we're supposed to do now?" he asked cluelessly.
Lina pulled out her slipper and slapped him with it. "What?" he asked, "You don't want to get married?"
"Idiot!" she yelled, "When you phrase it like that it sounds like an obligation!"
"Does this help?" he asked as he held out a pair of bracelets before her, and Lina felt as though the wind had been knocked from her sails as she recognized the emerald jewel on the bracelets.
"Are those from the treasure chest we helped reclaim for the Duchess of Emels?" she asked.
"She gave them to me as a token of her appreciation. I had these made shortly thereafter." Gourry explained.
"But that was months ago." Lina replied as she stared at the bracelets and suddenly had to fight the urge to tear up.
He moved a bit closer to her and grabbed her hand, "I've been thinking about this for a long time."
"But you never said anything!" Lina protested.
"A decision like this deserves a lot of thought, right?" he asked, "Besides, it was important to me to meet your family first. I just wasn't expecting the reception to be so enthusiastic."
Lina laughed a little. "It has been overwhelming."
"That's why I wanted to ask you here, with no one around to pressure us." He explained.
Lina drew a deep breath as she reached out and grabbed one of the bracelets and admired the beauty of its simple design. She then offered him her hand, and he smiled a bit as his body relaxed as he took the bracelet back only to tie it around her wrist, and then he offered her his hand in return. Once she had tied the bracelet on his wrist she smiled coyly and said, "Well, you are right about one thing. These decisions shouldn't be rushed. I'll get back to you in a few months about what my answer will be."
"It's too late, Lina. You're already wearing the bracelet!" he pointed out as she started walking towards the manor.
"I'm just trying it on to see how I like it!" she replied flippantly.
"No returns, no refunds." He sang as he wrapped an arm around her. She cuddled up to him as they walked together, and then they both straightened a bit when they saw the door to the manor open and three people walk out, a man and two women, who went to stand along the side of the house.
"As far as welcoming committees go," Lina whispered, "This isn't too bad."
Gourry said nothing as they approached the group, and Lina realized she was about to learn if she was sorely mistaken about the house or not. But the man look at her and asked, "Lady Lina Inverse?"
"Lord Gourry Gabriev. I am Jeeves, your butler. Welcome to Maninstit."
"Thank you." Lina said as she tried not to look too impressed with what she saw.
"And this is the cook, Nelly, and the housekeeper, Alona."
"It's good to meet you."
"And you!" Alona said, "Come on in, Nelly just finished lunch, you're just in time."
Lina and Gourry smiled as they looked at each other, "Food sounds great."
Lina moved to follow the group into the manor, but was stopped as Gourry put a hand on her shoulder, and then he scooped her up in his arms. "Gourry?" she asked.
"Isn't it tradition?" he said as he carried her over the threshold.
"We're not married yet!"
"But it's the first time we're walking into our home!" he said, "So let's take it on the safe side.
Alona's response to Gourry's actions was drowned by a torrent of sadness that seemed to cascade through Lina without cause or reason as they crossed the threshold. It was so overwhelmed that tears started to fall down her face as she wondered if she would ever be happy again. And then, just as suddenly as it had struck, it vanished.
"Lina?" Gourry asked as he wiped the tears from her eyes. "You okay?"
"Oh, I hate it when that happens!" Alona said.
"What?" Lina asked, feeling confused and a little embarrassed as Gourry set her down. "I felt like I stepped in someone's grave."
"Well, you know how old houses are." Alona replied cryptically, "Come, the dining room is this way, and you don't want your lunch to get cold!"
"And here is your bedroom." Alona said as she finished giving Lina a tour of the house after she had eaten lunch.
Lina's eyes widened as they drifted to the balcony and then to the large bed piled high with pillows and comfy sheets. Growing up she'd shared such a tiny room with Luna, and she'd always expected something similar as an adult. And the inns she had stayed at were nothing remarkable, and they weren't even hers for more than a day. Yet now the room she had couldn't even compare to the palaces she'd stayed at as she had been relegated to the quarters for a bodyguard. Simply put, it was the nicest room she had stayed in during her entire life!
"Would you like me to draw you a bath?" Alona asked.
"That would be great, thanks!" Lina said as she set her stuff down and started to unpack.
"I can do that, dear."
"I'd much rather handle my stuff." Lina said as she suddenly felt strangely defensive about her privacy, "It is rather sensitive."
"I understand my lady."
Some of this is going to that lovely office I now have. I could ask Alona to take it down for me, but Lina felt strangely hesitant to follow through on it as she started pulling books, journals, and supplies from her bags. It would be strange having a different room for all of her stuff. She was used to doing her work in a room at a cramped inn before going to sleep, sometimes sliding the short distance from her desk chair to her hotel bed. Now she would have a separate space for work and sleep. What was she going to do with all this space?
Lina had finished putting her clothing into the drawers when Alona came out, "The bath is ready, my lady. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Thanks, kick your feet up until dinner, alright?" Lina said.
Alona left and closed the door behind her, and Lina walked over to the bathroom and felt her jaw drop when she opened the door. The tub was more like a miniature pool than a bathtub for one thing, and tiled with a beautiful mosaic of Ceiphied battling Shabranigdu. She grinned as she started to disrobe, eagerly anticipating a nice, relaxing soak.
Yet once Lina entered the tub, she found it strangely hard to relax. It was simply too quiet. The inns she had stayed at for the last five years of her life had been noisy and crowded, and the walls unbearably thin. While she would have thought that the silence would be welcome, strangely, she found the opposite to be true. After all, don't animals go quiet when they hear a predator? Lina suddenly found herself to on guard to fully enjoy the bath as she kept an ear out for any signs of an enemy.
Yet the attack never came, and eventually Lina got out, toweled off, and wrapped herself in her robe, which suddenly felt too shoddy for the house she was living in. I guess I'm going to have to go into town soon and update my wardrobe. Lina thought, and then she chided herself. She had been so desperate to get away from the crowds, and now she was looking for an excuse to go back!
Lina had just gotten back into her bedroom when a door, partially concealed behind the dresser opened and Gourry walked in. "Oh, hi Lina!"
"Hey!" she said as she went up and hugged him, happy to have someone to break the silence with. "How did you get in here?"
"Our rooms have a secret hallway that connects them to each other." He explained, "I was just seeing where each door in my room led, and this one took me here."
"Oh," Lina said as she blushed a little as she remembered the purpose of having hallways that connected the rooms of the master and mistress of the house. "Any other secret tunnels we should know about?"
"Not that I could find. Every other entrance to my room was accounted for." He said.
"But there could be secret passageways…with treasure." Lina said as she brightened at the thought of exploring this quiet, but suddenly rather intriguing house.
He grinned wickedly as he fingered the sash on her robe, "We could start by checking out your bed."
"What sort of treasures are you expecting to find in a bed?" she asked, though she had to admit, suddenly being in a silent, secluded house of her own was looking pretty darn appeasing again.
He leaned down to whisper in her ear, "You're not wearing anything under that robe, are you?"
Lina took a deep breath and steadied her nerves as she sat back on the bed, "I guess you're just going to have to come over and see."
Afterwards, Lina lay curled up to Gourry, holding him gently. The quiet seemed easier to bear when he was beside her and with his heart beating in her ear. She smiled a little as she stroked his chest absent mindedly and let herself enjoy the moment.
"Hey Lina," he said.
"What?" she asked.
"Do you think we made a baby?"
Lina's eyebrows shot up a little, but then she laughed a little, "No."
"You seem rather sure of that."
"Back in Saillune Amelia taught me a spell to get rid of my time of the month," she explained, "And it also prevents pregnancy."
He sat up a little bit, "But you can undo it, right!?"
"Well, I was young, and I just wasn't thinking that far ahead at the time and..."
He looked at her panicked for a moment, and then Lina laughed and punched him playfully on the shoulder, "Gotcha. Of course it's reversible. I just want to wait until everything is official. I don't want to walk down the aisle covering a bump with an oversized bouquet. And I'm not exactly looking forward to visits from Aunt Flo again."
"I didn't know you had an Aunt Flo." Gourry said. "You've never talked about her before."
Lina gritted her teeth, "Oh, I am going to be dealing with this idiocy for the rest of my life!"
"You know you love me." He said as he leaned forward to kiss her.
"You sure are sounding cocky there." She said, though she returned the kiss enthusiastically.
"Think we have time for another go before dinner?" he asked.
Someone knocked, and both of them jumped, and Lina had barely pulled the covers over herself when Alona opened the door. "Lady Inverse, Princess Amelia of Saillune is here to see you, along with her husband."
Both Lina and Gourry were flaming red with embarrassment, but Alona acted as though it was rather common for her to walk in on her employers during their more intimate moments. "Shut the door!" Lina managed to sputter. "We'll be right down!"
Alona nodded and closed the door as she left. Lina exhaled. "This is all going to take some getting used to."
"It's problems that we're lucky to have though, isn't it?" Gourry asked, though he was still about as beat red as Lina had ever seen him.
Lina smiled a little as she held his hand, "When you put it like that. Anyway, we should get dressed and see Amelia and meet her husband. Round two will just have to wait until after dinner."
I am not lost in my own home, I am not lost in my own home, Lina thought to herself as she navigated the unfamiliar layout and tried to find where Amelia would be. It didn't help that Alona hadn't told her which room they were in, and that Lina had been too embarrassed at the time to ask. And given how used to strange places Lina was it should be natural for her to get the layout of her house down easily. But the truth was she was walking blindly.
Eventually Lina found them in one of the house's many parlors, and she tried not to appear too relieved as Amelia practically jumped up and cried, "Miss Lina! This is so exciting!"
"Amelia!" Lina said, and she was surprised at how happy she actually was to see Amelia. But then, Amelia did know and understood just how hard and trying a lot of what she went through was, even if she'd never met Luke and Milina. "It's good to see you."
"You two look great!" Amelia said as her eyes trailed down to their wrists as her husband, a man who looked strangely familiar, came and stood beside her. "Are those bracelets bearing good news?"
"Oh," Lina said with a smile as she looked at Gourry, "Are we announcing it?"
"Why, when everyone already assumes that it's happening?" he said.
"So you are engaged!" Amelia said, "The Eternal Queen wasn't sure."
"We are now." Lina said, "You saw the Queen?"
"Yeah, she told me to go find you here." Amelia said, "And you two remember Zelgadis?"
"Of course," Gourry said, "You heard from him lately?"
But Lina's mouth dropped as it suddenly occurred to her why the man with Amelia looked so familiar. "You found your cure!" Lina stated.
"I was wondering if you'd notice." Zelgadis said.
"This is Zel?" Gourry asked. "Being human suits you!"
"Thanks!" Zelgadis said.
"And you two got married. Wow." Lina said, "I didn't realize you two were a thing."
"Well, you had a lot going on then." Amelia said, "And we weren't exactly open about it. There were so many barriers to being together."
"But you overcame them." Lina said.
"Congrats." Gourry said.
"Congrats yourself!" Amelia replied, "Knighthood, plush job, nice house even if it is a little creepy, upcoming wedding. There's plenty to keep us here until the news of our elopement dies down in Saillune."
"Watch what you're calling creepy!" Lina snapped as she suddenly felt defensive about her house, "Anyway, I guess I'd better tell Alona to prepare rooms for you. And we can go into town in a few days, I'll introduce you to my Sis and help catch you to speed on what we are doing here in Zefiel City."
"That will be nice." Amelia said.
"Tell me, Zel, how did you manage to do it?" Lina asked as they all sat down and started to catch up.
"Is there anything else I can help you with before I leave for the night, my lady?" Alona asked as she opened Lina's bedroom door after they had eaten.
"I think everything is fine, thanks. But you don't stay here?"
"Goodness, no!" Alona said, "I have my own house on the property. None of the servants stay here at night."
"But there's plenty of space." Lina said, surprised.
Alona shrugged, "Well, the residents just don't like it."
"Huh?" Lina said.
Alona frowned, and then she said quietly, "Mind the sad lady, she likes to stir up trouble. Everyone else is rather harmless. Goodnight my lady."
And before Lina could say anything else she had shut the door behind her. Lina stared at the door for a moment, a million questions on her lips, when Gourry suddenly came in from his own private entrance. "I thought she'd never leave!" he said as he got into bed with her, "You okay?"
"Oh, it's nothing. The maid here is just weird."
Lina's eyes shot open and she sat up in her strange bed and looked around the room. Beside her Gourry slept soundly. She took a deep breath and thought about cuddling closer to him when a chill went through her, causing a sensation of overwhelming sadness similar to the one she experienced when she entered the building to overwhelm her. And then a translucent figure flowed into the room through a wall. She was a middle aged woman wearing a style of dress that hadn't been popular for centuries, and she appeared to be very unhappy as she floated to the edge of the bed and whispered, "Get out!"
Lina screamed as she woke up, for real this time, "LIGHTING!" she cried as Gourry put a hand on her arm.
"It was just a dream." He said as Lina shot out of bed and started searching the room, the sense of sadness clinging persistently to her.
"There is something strange about this house!" Lina said.
"Huh?" Gourry said.
And then from down the hallway they heard Amelia scream. They exchanged a glance, and each threw on their robes as they ran to check on her. Lina knocked on the door, "Come in." Amelia said.
They came in and saw Zelgadis rub Amelia's back. "Bad dream?" Lina asked.
"Let me guess. Feelings of sadness?"
Amelia wiped the tears from her eyes and nodded as she said, "Middle aged woman crying 'get out?'"
"Damn." Lina said, and she wished her intuition had not been correct.
Suddenly, the ghostly echo of children's laughter rang through the house. "What the…" Gourry said, and he and Lina raced to where it came from and found themselves in the library, where small orbs of light went dashing through the room as if in play. There seemed to be about twenty of them, climbing at the curtains, throwing books off the shelves, and playing ball with a globe. Lina exhaled, and reminded herself to be thankful that she had a maid to clean up the mess in the morning. But still.
"Lina?" Gourry asked, "does this mean out place is haunted?"
"Oh!" Lina said as she pulled at her hair as Zelgadis and Amelia joined them. "This is just my luck! I get a lovely house of my own and it's haunted! Figures."