Chapter Four

Richard and Maria made their way back to the physician's room rather quickly, considering they had been "as far away as one could get" from it. As they rounded the corner, Couer DeNoir closed the door to the physician's room behind him with a dull click of wood on stone. Couer's eyes met Richard's quickly, and they goth froze, caught in some silent, invisible battle that Maria could neither understand nor ignore. Couer cleared his throat and with that the fight was over and the two broke their relentless gazes; Couer pushed past them, a huff grumbling through his teeth. Once he'd disappeared, Maria broke the silence. "What, exactly, was that?"

Richard's eyes continued to stare in Couer's path. "That man," he started, keeping his voice low. "He might be the head of the family, but he is no one to look up to." His nose twitched, much like a rabbit's, in a way that—had the situation been more light-hearted—would have caused Maria to giggle. "I never liked him. And neither did Robin." Richard helped himself to a seat on the floor and Maria sat down next to him, waiting for him to continue. She watched him cautiously as he began to remove his scarf, seemingly unaware of her eyes. As the dark gray fabric fell away from his neck, Maria saw a set of three bruises splayed out across his skin, visible even in the dim light. She opened her mouth to gasp, but at the last second, decided against it; she didn't want to alert him that she'd been staring. For a moment, she wondered if they were from an accident, or from an attack, or from something else that Maria knew she shouldn't think of. She swallowed whatever words she'd been thinking of and turned away. It wasn't until then that she felt Richard's eyes on her. "He wasn't always like that, you know. He used to be happy...or so rumor has it."

"Hm?" Maria's interest was captured, and she turned to Richard with an inquisitive look on her face.

"Yeah," Richard sighed, rubbing his hands—clad of course in fingerless kid gloves—over the marks on his neck. "According to the oldies around here, he used to be a great man. Until, that is, well, its not really my place to say." He looked at her with eyebrows raised and black eyes brimming with brazenness.

"But you're going to tell me anyway, aren't you?" Maria inquired.

Richard smirked. He picked up the edge of his scarf and held it between his hands, and for a moment, that small piece of fabric seemed to be the most interesting thing in the entire world. "Before Couer became the clan leader, we were in a time of peace. Sure, everyone was taught to hate the Merryweathers, and to hunt and find things in the forest. But, no one ever acted upon it. Their hatred of course, people exorcised their ability to hunt almost daily. But that's beside the point. Couer was married. His wife, well, what I remember of her anyway, was beautiful. She was tall. Her eyes were brown—light brown—kind of like Robin's, but a little lighter. Her hair. I remember hearing my mother talk about this woman's hair, and how she was jealous of it. It was curly, kind of like yours. But brown. And long. I don't remember her face much. But I do know that there was something different about it. Something that made all of the guys go crazy. And for some reason...no one really knows why...she decided to fall in love with Couer."

"Were she and your mother friends?" asked Maria.

Richard chuckled faintly. "Hardly. My mother was a true born DeNoir. She was born and raised here. In this castle. Robin's mother, on the other hand, was from the village. All DeNoir women, some more than others, have a sort of animosity toward women from other places. Its inevitable, really, for others to marry into the family. But they aren't welcomed at first."

"That must be difficult."

"It is." Maria could see Richard tense up. He dropped his scarf in his lap and pressed his fingers to his temples.

"I'm sorry."

"Trust is a terrible thing," Richard murmured. "Are you cold?" He held out his scarf to Maria, not really wanting her to take it. She shook her head, even though she was. Richard shrugged and draped the scarf around the back of his neck. The fabric fell over his shoulders and rested in folds in his lap, and for another moment or so, he was silent. Is everything alright? She wanted to inquire, but decided against it. Instead, she studied him for a few moments more. He was smart, she knew that not only because of their conversations, but because of the way his eyes sparkled when he surprised her. She wondered if his intelligence had been hindered because he was a DeNoir. They were sheltered and kept to themselves with whatever they had. They were selfish and terrifying. Any real sense of community and etiquette was long gone. They were not exactly civil. And all the while she was having these thoughts and looking at Richard, a boy as sharp as a needle in both wit and looks, who just happened to be one of these "sheltered" and "uncivil" people. Her mind dared to Robin, who was just behind a door, and yet was so far away from her. Despite all of the things wrong things that she could point out about the DeNoirs, she couldn't help but feel a special connection with him; the boy that had chased her, locked her in a jail, tried to kidnap her.

"You're in love, aren't you?" Maria asked, almost by accident. She and Richard looked at each other in the same moment and a rose of shame bloomed in her stomach, sending its prickly stems up her spine. Richard's lips were pressed together and his black eyes were staring directly at the air in front of her face. There was a little twinkle of longing in his eyes, much like the one that she had—unbeknownst to her—when he talked about Robin.

"I was." Richard's voice crackled just enough for her to know that she'd most definitely screwed up. He cleared his throat. "She...she died." When Maria didn't say anything, he said; "Love was what we were talking about before, right? Love and the tragedies that go along with it? Couer and Ophelia were married, and it wasn't too long after that that Ophelia had Loveday. I remember that's another reason that my mother hated her so much..."

"She was promiscuous?"

Richard chuckled at her formality. "She was a whore, Maria. You don't have to sugar coat it. There were stories...horrible stories that Loveday wasn't even Couer's daughter. But he would have nothing of it. He was in love. So blindly in love with Ophelia that he couldn't see what was plainly in front of him. Loveday was his pride and joy. She was daddy's little girl. And then, one day, it happened. She went out into the forest, just for a walk. Just like every other day. She couldn't have been too old...seventeen I think. Well, here's where the problem started. She met your uncle Benjamin. He was on his high-horse. Literally, I suppose. On a ride through the forest and had happened into DeNoir territory. They were immediately taken with each other. When he introduced himself as a Merryweather, she knew that he could never love her. That is, if he knew her true last name. She told him that she was a girl from the village, who was on a walk and had gotten lost. Loveday lived that lie for years. And then, just before they-"

"Just before they got married, she told him she was a DeNoir. And then they fought. And she ran away."

"If you would like to tel the story, by all means, go ahead, Princess." Richard gave her a look of annoyance. She pursed her lips and looked down at her lap, murmuring an apology. "Even before Loveday met your uncle, Ophelia found out that she was pregnant. But she was older now...seventeen years older...and she knew that it would be tough. Well, she—she didn't know. She got sick. Really sick, and for her whole pregnancy, she couldn't get out of bed. And then, she went into labor. Two months early. Mind you I was just a baby, so I'm just going by what I've heard. It was during this time that Loveday started to withdraw from the family, like most of us do at some time I suppose. She would disappear for hours and hours. As Ophelia's condition grew worse, Loveday started spending more and more time away. And the day that Robin was born, Loveday was gone. Couer couldn't find her. He was torn between fury and depression. He could see it in Ophelia's eyes..." His voice faltered. "She was dying, Maria."

Maria reached out to him and rested her fingertips lightly on his arm. "You don't have to."

"No. I do have to. I've already started. It's just not right if I don't finish it." He cleared his throat and scooched himself so that he was directly facing Maria. "Couer got it in his brain that Robin was the reason for Ophelia's death."