In his many dealings with the people of this wretched county, Victor had learned the truly infuriating value of gossip. In any other county or community, this could be disregarded as a vice for idle minds. He’d quickly found upon moving here, however, that gossip was not so much a malicious sin committed by nosy housebound creatures as it was a territorial pass-time. For as much as he loathed to admit it, this was one area that Mr. Gray seemed to excel at. There was little to nothing that these networks of busybodies couldn’t find and with enough patience and searching, there was a wealth of information to be found. Victor had developed his own set of contacts outside of those that Gray had just to be on the safe side but he knew for certain that there were no real secrets available to anyone. It was true that he always had to be careful of the information he got and he was generally able to cross check his sources well enough but it almost always paid off with something of great value. This was why it remained so puzzling that in all his searching and with all his resources, his efforts to unearth anything about Rosemary’s grandmother had failed.

It was a bit of a stinging issue for him. Victor knew that nothing that happened here went unnoticed and that Rosemary had ended up in the care of that toothless hag and no one could tell him why was offensive to him. It was also highly suspicious, given what he already knew of the woman. Granted, he had been able to guess anything he did know. Most of that information came from the only truly reliable source, that being Rosemary herself. He would not even entertain the thought of asking her anything. He’d seen it in her early in their communications that it pained her so to talk of what had become of her grandmother. He also knew that she’d come to Old Mary in a desperate state and when she first arrived here, she was a shadow of the child she was now. She’d come so far from the poor, sad girl with the haunted eyes. He couldn’t bring himself to see that horrible expression return on his account. He knew all too well the sting that such questions could bring and those wounds might be healing but the scars could be opened with so little effort.

Still, it bothered him greatly that such a woman as this mysterious grandmother should be so difficult to find out about. He simply could not believe that she’d been forgotten. No, there was no chance of that, the more he thought about it. Rosemary had said fleeting things to him about her and given the child’s own skills and knowledge, he couldn’t imagine that her elder had not taught her well in these ways. It meant that her own skill set must have been impressive. Victor could not imagine that such a woman wasn’t respected for her gifts as she must have been feared. Perhaps as feared as his own puppet master.

Victor knew what these women were. Their talents and their raw powerful gifts. He knew very well the reputations that they carried both with pride and like a stone-heavy burden that sat on their shoulders, capable of crushing them. Those of ill-repute, the ones with less skills, often fell to the laws that made their craft illegal. Still, there were those he knew of who were reviled and yet they held sway over entire cities for their abilities. Women like his own cruel mérère. In Europe, they were something of a curiosity but regardless, their power was something to truly fear. Their names were secrets that were not to be shared. There were always ways of finding these secrets, of course. That was, if they didn’t find you first. This had been Victor’s lot and his youth had drawn in the woman who held him in his position now. Victor had been told of men who had held such powers as well but the women were always the ones the rumors had circulated about. Their names passed through trusted circles like cherished heirlooms. They were many things but forgotten was never one of them. If Victor knew anything about the presence of these women, they never ever just disappeared.

So what had become of Rosemary’s dear grandmother? Surely, there was no way that she was truly forgotten. He knew there was more to this than he knew and it slowly gnawed at him.

“Victor?” a small voice called to him from the barely opened door to his room. He smiled, dismissing his thoughts immediately.

“You’ve caught me ruminating, chérie,” he said, warmly. He turned to see Rosemary enter wearing a a small floral dress. “Why Rosemary, you’ve brought spring’s flowers back before the snow’s even gone.”

“Paulette had some old fabric and she wished to make something of it,” Rosemary replied, showing the skirt pattern. She shrank a little as she looked up at him. “May I wear it after my chores are completed for the day?”

Victor made a small show of thinking it over. He was well aware that the fabric was not old but he knew better than to spoil their fun. He would allow Paulette her fibs as it made them both smile and with how dreary the weather had still been lately, a little sunshine might well make things a bit brighter for them all. He couldn’t help smiling as he watched her unconsciously twirling the skirt around. He couldn’t keep her in suspense any longer.

“Well, I think that the house needs a bit of cheer in it, don’t you?” he said, attempting to be more serious. “Why don’t you keep your belle dress on and put an apron over it if you are doing anything that might be messy?”

“Really?” she brightened with excitement.

“We must be able to appreciate all of Paulette’s lovely work,” Victor nodded. “She did such a lovely job and must have worked hard. It would be insensitive to hide that lovely dress where no one could see it, don’t you think?”

“Thank you, Victor!” she beamed as she hugged him. He couldn’t help smiling at her joy as she moved around the room, playing with the way the skirt of the dress moved around so freely. She looked up at him, happy as he’d ever seen her. “You must come for your dinner. The cook says that you’re getting far too skinny.”

“That is only because he samples everything he makes,” Victor replied. “I’m hardly in a position to keep up with him.”

“You have been working quite a bit these days,” she said, her focus now slightly distracted from the dress. She looked at him. “Your leg is getting better and you can climb now. Won’t you join us downstairs for your meal today? You could even stay down there. Paulette would make it comfortable for you.”

“I truly must work hard in these coming weeks, chérie,” he began. Her expression did not change much but he could see the edges of disappointment in her already. “Understand that what I do is important for things that I hope will be taken care of very quickly. I have no desire to stay up here all the time and I do appreciate the effort that you and dear Paulette make for my comfort. Believe me, chérie, I am lucky to have such people in my life.”

“Your dinner is ready, though,” she urged, taking his hand. She smiled at him. “Won’t you leave your work for now? Just for a little while?”

“You truly wish to have me downstairs, don’t you, Rosemary?”

“The cook said that your dinner is ready and he’d take no refusals,” she smiled, brightly. He could practically hear the man commanding it as he looked at her expression. “He said that if you don’t eat it all, he may have to force feed you so you don’t fade away.”

“Such measures won’t be necessary, I assure you,” Victor laughed. He mentally noted that he may well have to work up a bigger appetite soon or find a more reliable method of hiding his uneaten portions of his food. He hid his thoughts with a warm smile as he looked at her. “I see you leave me no choice in the matter. I will be joining you for dinner but only if you escort me there. I may need protection from my cook.”

She laughed and took his hand as he leaned on his cane and let her guide him out of his room.

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