Transition from one situation to another is always a difficult thing. Then again, what in life is ever easy? Life is full of trials and tribulations and as human beings it is our burden to bear to suffer these tests of our spirit. For one young country girl, such a transition was occurring and she was finding it increasingly hard to adapt. It was bad enough to move to a large, noisy and unfamiliar city, but add to that all the additional pressures of learning all the rules of her new station...well, it was quite unbearable.

Aeris supposed there were a great many other circumstances she could find herself in that would be far more deplorable, but for the moment, she was content to wallow in self-pity. The last four weeks had been...unpleasant, if she had to be polite about it and she did have to be polite about it. In fact, she'd done nothing but be polite about most everything and it was fairly getting on her nerves. Every false smile she had to put on. Every single time she had to wave away a casual insult, she had to simultaneously reign in her desire to lunge across the table and throttle the object of her irritation. A most unladylike reaction but she couldn't help it. She'd never had to stand by and take such abuse. Now she had to and to make matters worse, she had to appear gracious and ladylike, taking it all with a polite little smile and a laugh behind a gloved hand.

It had come to her attention that her true heritage had been hidden, though her origins weren't. They'd taken away her last name, yet they allowed all to know where she'd spent the majority of her years. Now she shared the same surname as the Queen herself. She ceased to be Lady Aeris Gast and from the moment she set foot in Midgar, she became Her Grace, The Grand Duchess of All Nibelheim, Lady Aeris Gainsborough. Looking in the mirror from time to time, she had to admit with all the finery they stuffed her into, she surely did look like a Grand Duchess, though she didn't quite feel like one. No one really treated her like one and it was most aggravating.

The last four weeks, she'd been coached mercilessly on every sort of etiquette under the sun. Really, she had no idea exactly how many different kinds there were. There was formal and informal dinner etiquette, which differed from lunch etiquette. There was tea etiquette. And etiquette regarding letter writing and etiquette on how to receive visitors...all depending on whether you were there or not. There was etiquette for dancing, whether it was an informal gathering amongst family in the parlor or if you were attending one of the large, fancy balls or galas that were held. There was extra etiquette for her to learn for her own gala, because she was the party to be honored and the perceived hostess...so she had to learn a whole set of rules for that. Oh, and she almost forgot to include all the protocols regarding different ranks of people and how to address them, depending on her station and theirs. Lucky for her, there were few that actually outranked her, so she could be a civilly haughty as she deemed fit to be, which brought her no joy whatsoever.

There were rules on top of rules and Aeris was having a terrible time keeping them all straight. It didn't help that all her teachers were frightfully rude and seemingly exasperated with her at all times. The presence of Mrs. Shinra only made things worse, as she was a constant source of irritation. Honestly, she was beginning to think the horrid woman was haunting her. She followed her around like a vaporous apparition, constantly berating her every moment as if she had eyes planted in the walls themselves. Aeris was tired of the endless criticism. Her mother had always nagged at her for her tomboyish-ness, but never to this degree. She had always known she had flaws, but where she had come from, not many were quick to point it out. Or...if they did, it always somehow transformed into a compliment. Yes, she climbed trees and was quick with her opinion, but most people back home liked that about her.

Here, it made her nothing short of a social pariah. It was a flaw to either be hidden or fixed. Less than a week ago, Mrs. Shinra had berated her for disagreeing with one of her young suitors when he came to call.

Honestly, Aeris couldn't help herself. The young lord in question was a rather naive lad who'd come all the way from Wutai to court her. Lord Li Xiu Tseng was the son of an important daimyo in his home country and had been invited by the Queen herself in hopes of securing a treaty between Wutai and the Empire. After yesterday, Aeris was quite sure any possible hope for a treaty inducing marriage had gone up in a cloud of purple and blue smoke.

Young Master Li had made a comment regarding the recent upheaval in Cosairé, a country located southwest of Nibelheim. Being a desert country, Cosairé was known to have many disputes over the fertile portions of land that were sparsely scattered throughout the country. It was known as the Powder Keg of the West, as the various leaders and factions inside the country had tentative relations with each other at best. Recently, the two largest factions had been at odds; the Aman, a more peaceful tribe in central Cosairé which held their capital city and the Tsuni, often called the Turks by those ignorant of worldly events. It was this exact mistake that the young prince made and Aeris had taken it upon herself to gently correct him. Apparently it was so upsetting, that he immediately stood and left in a bit of huff.

Later, Mrs. Shinra had dragged her over the coals for the better part of two hours. The young Daimyo Li was one of their most promising choices for her future husband, as a marriage between Wutai and the Empire would create a powerful alliance between the two countries. Aeris, better than anyone, understood this, for she was a girl who was knowledgeable of world events. She knew very well that the Empire was on the verge of a full on confrontation with Wutai, and she'd tried her very best to impress the young lord. Despite the fact that he was overbearing and positively the most insufferable person she'd ever met.

His views on the roles of women were particularly archaic and downright insulting. Women, in his view, ought to be seen and not heard. Well, she'd never held with THAT notion and while women weren't particularly cherished in her own culture, they were certainly held with more respect than Wutanese ladies. Lord Li spoke about how women in his country never spoke to a man unless asked a question. They always walked three steps behind their husbands, brothers and fathers, even if they held the same rank as their male counterparts. And if a woman didn't hold to these rules, he told her that they'd be beaten most viciously, often in the public square. Interestingly enough, he'd told her that just after she'd corrected him before he'd stormed out of the sitting room, face turning several shades of red.

Aeris couldn't find it in herself to care. The very idea of treating any person in such a manner, it was barbaric. She'd politely endured such pronouncements for several days. By the night of her outburst, she had genuinely had enough. Alliance or no alliance, she would NOT be married to such a man and perhaps, subconsciously, she'd sabotaged her chances with him. Correction, she HAD sabotaged any chance she had with the Wutanese Lord. She'd just done it with such finesse that Mrs. Shinra couldn't rightly complain that she HAD done it on purpose.

All those years avoiding the marriage proposals of the simple country lords in Winhill had prepared her and she'd found that the cosmopolitan gentlemen of the city might put on a fancier veneer, but they were no different than their country cousins.

Mr. Shinra had mentioned that her intended would be picked from a number of suitable suitors and that she would have no choice in the matter. He also mentioned that they would be sure to pick someone she got on with at least somewhat well. As the possibility of an annulment in the event of an ill advised choice in marriage partner would be more disastrous than an outright refusal.

So, she had no choice in who they would pick but she could make sure of who they would NOT pick or so she hoped. However, this was not to be as Mrs. Shinra was exceptionally good at spotting a half truth. She knew all along that Aeris had purposely aggravated the Wutanese lord and she was NOT happy about it. After the incident she'd gotten an almost daily lecture on the mannerly behavior of a young woman who was inclined to marry. Mrs. Shinra had taken the time to remind her--ad infinitum-- of her previously precarious position and had soundly taken her to task for her apparent ingratitude.

Despite this, there was a bright patch when she'd met a young lord from the country that had gotten her in such trouble. Indeed, he was a Cosairé and a prince to boot. Fu'ad Hadi il Fayed was the eldest son of the current leader of the Aman though most referred to his as Frederick, as they couldn't pronounce his real name. She had spent a marvelous afternoon with him discussing all sorts of things. He'd taken a shine to her because she could speak his native tongue fluently. They had a good laugh about her earlier faux pas with the Wutai lord, which led to an interesting discussion regarding cultural misconceptions and the mispronunciation of foreign terms.

It was the only time she could say that she was even remotely content and she had to say, that if Prince Fayed were to be chosen, she would have no reservations about marrying him. As it was, there was little hope of that, as both of them had discussed. He was here merely for appearances sake. It was more likely that he'd marry a princess from his own land, though he mentioned he was quite glad he'd agreed to attend. She too, doubted that Fayed would be her match as the Empire wouldn't gain much from an alliance with the Aman. Surely, they had stood by their side in the recent rebellion, but the Cosairé had nothing the empire needed...at the moment anyway, and there were far more prosperous choices they could make.

It was a sad fact, indeed, though both of them agreed to continue to write to each other...because though marriage was unlikely, friendship was already assured. This bright spot had gotten her through the more disagreeable moments, but after a bit the high of it faded and she was left feeling as badly as she had before.

She didn't at all like being treated like a prized bauble. She didn't like the avaricious faces of all the boorish and unappealing lords who came to beg for her hand, merely because she was a relation to the Queen and they'd benefit by their association with her.

According to Mrs. Shinra, she had to endure it all and endure it gracefully, for if she were to gain a reputation for being stubborn or shrewish, it would make her harder to marry off. Instead of having her pick of the best of the best, she would most likely have to settle for whoever dared to take her hand.

And Mrs. Shinra did NOT intend for her to have to settle. She had told Aeris in no uncertain terms, she would get her the best husband come hell or high water.

It was a most intimidating display and after her dressing down, Aeris had found that any fire she tried to summon to fight against her fate had died. And so, the last four weeks had been perhaps the worst of her life. She'd endured the taunts of the other young ladies, who pretended to be her friends and yet they didn't hesitate to mention her country manners, especially in company. She had to stomach pompous young lords and industrial tycoons, who had no interest in her as a person and made jokes about taming that fiery spirit of hers...as if she were some beast of burden to be broken. Worst of all, she had to endure the never-ending glares of Mrs. Shinra, who now watched every move she made like a hawk, taking her to task for any mistake made.

Yesterday, she'd used the wrong fork. The day before, she stood up before her gentleman caller had entered the room. The day before that, she'd inappropriately addressed one of her guests at brunch. Last week she'd worn heavy silk evening gloves to an informal mid-afternoon tea social. The week before that, she had forgotten to bring her parasol out with her while strolling in the park.

The list was endless. She began to wonder if she could do anything right. The answer seemed to be a resounding no. And what was even more aggravating was that they'd thrown the timetable off again. They'd said that only two weeks were to be spent on the intricacies of etiquette and the protocols of position, but it had been four. Four weeks of this! It was unbearable. When she'd mentioned it to Mrs. Shinra, she merely waved it off, explaining that it seemed that she needed quite a bit more preparation than previously believed, which was a polite way of saying that Mrs. Shinra thought her to be a dull, country bumpkin with all the social skills of a spasmodic rat.

Consequently, Aeris was feeling more than just a little frustrated. She wanted to cry and often did in the privacy of her own room. Even that brought her no comfort. The rooms they'd given her were spacious but so cold. She felt as if she was living in a museum and she was often afraid to touch anything, lest she break it. To top it off, even the maids that were assigned to her seemed to resent her very presence. Not that they'd said anything. Well, in actuality, that was the problem. Neither of them said anything, even when she'd attempted conversation. She was so used to speaking freely with the help, that she could hardly understand why they looked at her with strange coldness when she tried.

Well, one of them seemed disposed to talking with her but was quickly silenced by the other maid with a glare. She'd only asked their names, for heaven's sake! The rude, glaring maid had answered curtly that her name was Brighid and the other girl was called Natalie. After that, not a word was said and she was forced to endure a long, awkward period of obtuse silence while they did her hair and helped her dress.

Later that night, she was again chided by Mrs. Shinra about her behavior. Apparently, talking with servants was verboten and she had to curse her own handmaids, as one of them had obviously informed Mrs. Shinra of her blunder. Apparently, the rude young ladies she spent most every afternoon with were the appropriate choices for future confidantes, rather than her own handmaidens. It made no sense.

So it was that Aeris found herself in an unfamiliar city, with unfamiliar routines and unfamiliar faces that were anything but friendly and welcoming. She had no confidantes. No safe place to retreat to. There was nothing but her cold, empty room and the unendurable torment that she was beginning to believe would be everlasting and eternal.

The only thing that made any sense in her topsy-turvy universe was the two hours she was allowed to herself to do anything she pleased. And the only thing she did that pleased her was a daily ride on one of the many chocobos kept in the Royal Midgardian Stables. Sadly, she hadn't been able to keep her own dear Mary Sue, but a chocobo had been assigned for her by the Queen herself. She was a lovely Gongagan blue named Hermia, who seemed to take to Aeris almost instantly.

Every morning since she'd gotten here, Aeris had gotten up early for a ride around the smallish equestrian arena near the stables. Her bird was relatively untrained and she had found it oddly soothing to guide it over the various obstacles in the arena. Gongagan blues weren't known for their speed, but they were strong birds with a fair amount of endurance. And...they were excellent jumpers with no fear of water, unlike Mary Sue, who was an Arcadian Grassland yellow. Yellows were quite fast, but tended to balk when they came to water hazards which had been a constant source of irritation for Aeris. She couldn't count how many times she'd been dumped into the drink because Mary Sue refused to follow her command. It was refreshing to have a bird that easily glided over the water without hesitation. Hermia could be forgiven any other faults for that one fact.

On this very pleasant late winter morning, she found herself once again riding in a pathetic attempt to relax her ravaged nerves. For the most part it was working. Last night, she'd almost done well and had received her first quasi-compliment from Mrs. Shinra...ever. She had been told she'd "fared passably" and if only she could manage to remember what fork to use and when, she could almost pull off the impression that she was an actual lady. Mrs. Shinra didn't seem to notice that Aeris hadn't taken kindly to her "compliment" and if she had, Aeris could imagine that she'd be befuddled by her reaction.

Aeris sighed as she settled on her mount, looking out over the obstacle course with glazed, unfocused eyes. The only reason she'd even passed through as well as she had last night was because she'd just given up. She had been quiet and passive, barely listening to what everyone was talking about. Aeris had played the part of a living porcelain doll. She only spoke when addressed directly or if she did take the initiative to comment, it was always short and to the point...and she was always careful not to even hint at an opinion that could be taken as personal. After all, a perfect lady let others think for her. It made her blood boil and her heart wail. She wasn't meant to be entrapped in like this. She was meant to be free and now that she could finally see the bars of the cage surrounding her it was hard to suppress the desire to knock against them.

Focusing, her eyes narrowed and she spurred her mount. The bird lurched forward into a full gallop, racing for the first fence she'd directed it towards. Mrs. Shinra hadn't been happy when she had found out exactly what it was she'd been doing with her free time. Chocobo riding wasn't something most young noblewomen did AND if they did, they always rode sidesaddle, doing neat little tricks on the dressing course. They never rode fast. They always rode slow and steady, for a young lady shouldn't be desirous of excitement.

With the heavy footfalls of her mount in her ears, she took her crop and slapped the animal's side to make it go faster. The world seemed to warp around her as she leaned forward and loosened its reins as she prepared for the jump. For a moment, she felt the giddying sensation of weightlessness as the bird cleared its first fence. Going into a sort of freefall before it hit the ground and continued on to the second fence. Her entire body was juddered from the force of the landing causing Aeris to laugh merrily, her eyes focused on the next jump and the one after that.

Yes, Mrs. Shinra had thrown quite the fit when she found out what she intended to do for those two free hours she was allowed. A Duchess in training that rode like a man on the jumping course no less! It was positively scandalous. For the first time since she'd gotten here, Aeris stood up for herself and she would not back down. Mrs. Shinra had fought back the entire time and had threatened to inform the Queen. Aeris had countered back, telling her to go and do just that. She didn't rightly care as she would have one thing all her own if she had to kill someone to do it.

So, she'd been given her two hours and her liberty. The only problem was, Mrs. Shinra had insisted she take these two hours in the early, early morning, thinking Aeris was like most young ladies. Normal young women of even minor birth didn't get up before ten o'clock. Only servants and maids got up before then, noblewomen had no reason to be up so early. Most women like this even lazed around for several hours before even getting dressed, not making a formal appearance until somewhere mid-afternoon.

Not Aeris. She'd always gotten up at the crack of dawn. So she wasn't unduly surprised at all when she'd been informed that she would have to wake at six in the morning in order to go for her scheduled riding time at the stables at six thirty. She supposed it was Mrs. Shinra's intention to discourage her from riding and it wouldn't work.

Nailing the next jump, Aeris let out a second, much wilder laugh as her cheeks reddened from the cold and the exertion. She spurred her mount on faster and faster, letting the last few weeks worth of stress and tension wash over and away from her. If anyone had seen her at that moment, she looked so wild and untamable. She looked free, with her long braid bouncing haphazardly behind her, only held in place by the soft velvet riding hat she wore. If she'd known that someone HAD been watching her, perhaps she would have comported herself in a more ladylike fashion but she didn't know anyone had been watching and so, she didn't. As it was, she made quite a spectacle of herself, a charmingly beautiful spectacle, but a spectacle none-the-less.

Tears almost threatened to form but somehow she held them at bay, urging the bird on even faster. The thunderous sound of its feet as it hit the ground resounded in her ears, only matched in intensity by the wind as it rushed past her. She felt the bird tense underneath her as it prepared to jump once more and she hunkered down in anticipation. Gravity was left behind and in that moment she truly believed she could have touched the sky if she had wanted. Her braid and her clothes lifted up behind her, following the pull of gravity and the ever constant wind brought by the breathtaking activity she was engaged in. The chocobo hit the ground with a solid thud, nailing the jump with ease before it ran on. She delighted in the feel of her long braid hitting her back once more. It was as if nothing at all had changed, like she'd turned the pages of time backward and she was home again.

And as the bird went faster and the jumps became higher, the strange sense of giddy sorrow overwhelmed her. With a watery smile, she brutally tugged her hat off her head, throwing it as an offering to the wind. It floated behind her and settled on the earth, forgotten and unwanted. She again urged the bird on faster, pushing it to its limits. She wanted to go faster, she needed to. It was almost like flying, what she was doing now. And if she could fly...maybe she could be free.

It was absurd, but undeniably tempting.

She couldn't take the restrictions any longer. If she had to hold her tongue one more time, she'd just explode. Longing, needing to be free, to have an emotional release of some kind, any kind, was necessary now. She couldn't hold it in. Frustrated, she tugged and pulled on her hair while simultaneously trying to guide the bird with her other hand. Her gloved fingers worked at the black silk ribbons that held her braid together and she wasn't satisfied until she'd torn them off. They slipped from her fingers and she let them fall. The feeling was nothing sort of glorious.

Her hair was now completely unbound and dancing wildly behind her, the large ringlets bouncing prettily with every movement made. Another jump and her hair cascaded around her. Aeris could only inhale deeply, taking it all in as she closed her eyes, finally noticing that she had been crying. Or perhaps she'd just been laughing too hard. Her thoughts and actions were so distracted that she didn't notice a blind turn that the bird had hesitated on before. Bird and rider followed the sharp curve of the course and just as she opened her eyes, she noticed the bird slowing. Alarmed, she tried to compensate for her lack of foresight much too late. The bird came to an abrupt and hasty halt, jerking her forward so harshly that she lost her balance and fell off.

Tumbling to the ground, she covered her head as she tumbled over and over again. The world was a whirling mass of blurred grays and browns coming to a sudden and crystal clear stop. She laid there for several minutes, just staring at the ground numbly, her breaths coming in slow and sharp.

It had been exhilarating. All of it.

Dizzily, she lifted her head and then her body, gazing out at the world that surrounded her. Lifting a hand up, she massaged her neck and closed her eyes. Something nudged her then, and she looked up at the chocobo that was looking right back at her. It trilled softly as it gently nudged her arm again. Aeris couldn't help but smile, ruffling the feathers on top of its head as a way of demonstrating that there were no hard feelings. Moments later, a stable-hand arrived. Without even being asked, he helped her up and guided both her and the bird back to the stables.

It had been routine for her to groom her own bird after her ride. To her, it had always been a way of building trust between man and beast. After all, how could an animal trust someone who displayed no kindness to it? The grooming at the end of the ride was her way of thanking the animal for all its hard work and patience. Even this routine of hers had been scrutinized, as ladies weren't supposed to groom their own mounts. That's what they paid the stable-hands for.

It was at worst, arrogantly degrading and at best just plain ridiculous.

For only the second time in the four weeks she'd been here, she used her position as a means of getting her way. So, she was allowed to groom her own mount and there was nary a soul in the entire stable who would tell her otherwise.

Aeris allowed herself to be led and settled into her comfortable routine once they'd reached Hermia's stall. She set about carefully clipping its wings as it hadn't been done in quite some time. It was a rather tedious task that required all her attention and after a period of several minutes, it was over and done. Yet it had seemed to take forever. Mostly because she'd accidentally cut a little too close on one feather and it had begun to bleed a bit. The bird, of course, became rather alarmed at this turn of events and had become upset.

She'd calmed it down, but even now she could tell dear Hermia was still a bit overwrought by the ordeal. It had been an adventurous morning to be sure. Holding the bird firmly by the bridle, she gently petted its beak whilst making soft cooing sounds that were meant to comfort it. The bird responded nicely, and was soon quite docile. Smiling, Aeris would have continued her ministrations but motion from just outside the stable caught her eye. Always curious, she let go of her bird, petting it distractedly before she stepped out to see whatever it was she thought she saw.

Her eyes were drawn to a figure that walked alongside a very large and impressive looking chocobo. If she had noticed someone watching her while she rode, she would have known it had been that very figure that retreated from her. Whether her luck on this matter was very bad or very good, not a one could say. Whichever it was, she hadn't noticed she'd been watched by the very person she now watched so intently.

Narrowing her eyes, she found herself, almost against her own will, walking forward to follow him. The figure was obscured by the darkness of the stable and she found herself squinting in hopes that somehow it'd make her sight keener. Despite her handicap, she noticed several things about this mystery figure immediately. One, he was quite tall. Two, he had very long hair, an unusual trait in young men these days, especially young men who lived in the city. Short hair was de rigueur in high society.

And this mystery figure had to be a noble or some other wellborn person to have a bird housed at these stables, which led to the third thing she'd noticed about him. The bird he was guiding. It was a Corsairé Thoroughbred...which meant he had to be royalty of some kind. Those birds weren't given out to just anyone, she knew this for certain as she'd conversed about Thoroughbreds quite extensively with Prince Fayed. His father would never let a single bird out of his country without his say so.

So...whoever that was had to be someone quite important indeed.

She was startled by the sheer amount of curiosity this fact aroused within her. Who was this man? Aeris was startled by her own thoughts and even more startled as the figure in front of her gracefully mounted his chocobo in one, single smooth motion. And with the same grace, he nudged it forward and it responded, breaking into a fluid run without the slightest hesitation. Her eyes went wide and for reasons that were beyond ever her own reckoning, she ran forward. Standing just inside the entrance to the arena, she watched the mystery figure as he took the first jump.

Her eyes widened as she noted the fourth and final trait of this mystery man. His hair was not only long but of the most unusual color she'd ever seen on a young person. For a moment, she had almost believed she'd been dreaming when she noted it. His hair...was silver and she had to look twice to make sure she was correct in this assumption. She even rubbed her eyes. But when she opened them again, she could still see him quite clearly. He was no doubt a young man, for his face showed no signs of age at all but his hair was undoubtedly silver. A pale silver, like newly polished dinnerware. She'd never seen the like and couldn't help but stare at him openly as he rounded another corner, completely oblivious to her presence.

Aeris was not quite sure how long she stared like this. Surely, her open mouth had gathered more than its share of flies watching the young man's turn around the course, his silver hair darting behind him like a school of fish. She barely noticed the commotion of one of her handmaids buzzing behind her. Not until she was shook severely from her pointless staring.

"Your Grace, we've been looking all over for you," the young maid gasped, trying desperately to catch her breath in-between words.

Aeris shook her head and stared at the maid blankly as her attention was now split between this new development and the man she'd been watching.

"Your Grace, begging your pardon, but you're late..." the maid said, rather exasperatedly.

"Yes, Brighid," Aeris said, before realizing her answer wasn't an answer at all, "Yes, I'm sorry, what...late for what?"

"For your afternoon appointment," Brighid supplied for her, becoming a bit annoyed when she saw the look of incomprehension on her lady's face.

"But it's so early."

"Yes, Your Grace, but...you are in quite a state...and...well..." Brighid said, trailing off as she gestured up and down in clear and uncomfortable observation of her mistress's condition.

Aeris took this opportunity to look down at herself and to her horror found out that she was quite disheveled. The light grey riding pants and the dark suit coat that went with it were soiled, covered in dirt and hay and god knew what. Her hair was loose and no doubt looked a fright. Sighing, she'd have to be bathed and dressing always seemed to take an eternity.

Aeris stopped quite suddenly, a rather unlikely idea popping into her head. Brighid had served at this location for quite some time. She'd heard the maid not two days ago complaining about it under her breath. Perhaps she'd know who the young man was. Not that it mattered to her...but she was curious. And just before they walked away, she asked her maid that very question.

Brighid glanced briefly out into the arena, and answered blandly, "Oh, him?"

"Yes, him," Aeris replied, clearly aggravated by her maid's continual insolence. Had she been a nastier person, she'd have mentioned it to Mrs. Shinra but she didn't. No one deserved such a fearful punishment.

The maid smiled enigmatically, pulling out a calling card from her pocket.

"I believe you'll be meeting him this afternoon, Your Grace. That is...if we can get you cleaned up and dressed in time..."

Aeris took the card and gave her maid a reproachful look, before turning her attention to the card. It was a half a page of useless pleasantries but the only thing that held her attention was the name at the bottom.

Il Nobile Conti Dei di Genoa, General S. Valentine de Medici.

She studied the card intently as she felt her hand being tugged by her maid. And as she let herself be led away, she could only wonder why it was that name seemed so familiar.


A/N--Il Nobile Conti Dei--a formal Italian title for an heir or successor to the title of Count, before said title is granted.