Prunella's Quest: (Part Three of Three)
Buxom Nina, the eldest of her sisters, pursed her lips clearly annoyed at the visage before her. With a firm, but practiced grip, she straightened the purple feathered hat on Prunella's head. "Ma'am, you must carry yourself well before the scrutiny of this family. The impression you profer tonight may decide your very fate."
Instead of responding, Prunella plucked a feather from her hat to pick at a bit of food stuck in her tooth. Mrs. Brimley had hastily arranged a dining engagement at the estate and insisted Nina accompany her. Prunella was most displeased. How much more agreeable would the trip been, had Pinta accompanied her instead! Pinta was quite reasonable and certainly more engaging a companion. Besides, Nina made no pretense of her aversion to Prunella's appearance. Yet in a curious irony, the sight of the maid seemed to set off a digestive malady in Prunella, the very object of the woman's distaste, a malady likened to nausea. Indeed, the sight of the mole, that great black blotch upon the womans face sickened, nay, nauseated Prunella. And the way in which the black hair sprouting from the blotch, bobbed up and down when she spoke. . .
Horrified, or perhaps disgusted at the feather bobbing from her lady's mouth, Nina stared out the window, sullen-faced.
"Ah," Prunella successfully released the miniscule bit of meat wedged between her front teeth, and held it up for a better view. A wedge in the tooth would have presented a bother that would surely have impeded successful conversation with the obscure, but wealthy Lord Dromedary. The physical distraction successfully eliminated, a thought occured to her. Perhaps this maid knew more of the man than she or her sisters or even Mrs. Brimley had shared. She tapped Nina on the shoulder. "Tell me more of this man."
Nina swallowed her objections, though the taste of it must have been bitter by the sour expression she wore. "Little is known of him, but that he is the eldest of four brothers, the only one of which is not wed. The others were successfully matched to women of appropriate standing years ago. But as he is the eldest and their father, the elder Lord Dromedary has gone to his reward, this brother has hold of the estate and all its keep."
Her curiousity piqued, Prunella met her gaze. "He is wealthy. He welds great power." She raised her hands. "These are the strongest of attractions, but this fellow remains unwed and his brothers, with no true promise of such reward, are. What, pray tell is wrong with this fellow?"
"Wrong?" she smiled.
"He is not wed. Is there some disfigurement I should be made aware of? Is the gentleman of sound mind?" She sent the feather to the floor of the carriage, aiming the quill like a spear.
Nina examined her nailbeds, as if hoping a stray cuticle would hoist itself to attention. "No to the first inquiry and as to the second..." She shrugged. "I know not."
The carriage began to slow. Both woman leaned forth from the window for a clear sight of the estate. Instead of windows cheerily lit from the inside, Prunella grew alarmed by darkened aspect of the palatial home. Only two torches burned at the entrance and the emanance of a dim light glowed from somewhere within the home. Were they two women not expected? Why then was so little preparation or care given to a secure and comfortable arrival?
One of the carriage horses, snorted and stomped, as if uneasy. An aged footman emerged from the darkness of the grand entryway and approached as the carriage driver lowered a step for her and assisted her descent. Nina followed in silence.
Prunella sensed the woman's fear, yet wondered at her lack of it. By all appearances, the aspect of the property, surrounded by the bare skeletons of trees ravaged by winter, the spare greetings at the door--these alone would have been warnings of an ill-concieved rendevous.
The footman led them through the front door where a tall, stately figure stood as a shadow lit by light beyond. He stepped forward. A butler, tall as a cedar motioned for them to follow. He turned with the expectation that the two women would. Prunella stole a glance back at Nina, whose lower lip vibrated like a stringed instrument. The woman did not carry herself with the confidance she portrayed.
They followed the timbrous man, his gait always a breadth ahead of them, through foyer and cavernous receiving room, then down a hall of honor fitted with medieval armor, weapons and tapestries and banners of heraldry. Lit by torchieres, the elements displayed toward the heightened ceilings were shrouded in darkness. Prunella wondered at the sight of such a hall in the daylight hours.
Finally, they entered a grandiose dining hall, the walls panelled in rich woods, a long table set for two and laden with sumptuous delights. Candleabra, towered above the domed trays of food, radiating light. She detected a variety of scents--the fragance of saffroned meats, sizzled to perfection, of rich sauces and buttered glazes. Trays of fruits cascaded from raised stands, their delicate scents tantalizing.
A fire blazed brightly in a fireplace that, for its length and breadth, might serve as the gateway to Hades. A butler approached and showed her to the opposite end of the table. He removed her cloak and pulled to chair away to seat her.
The figure of a man, seated at the head of the table acknowledged her approach. Nina remained standing and maintained a respectful, but watchful distance from the table.
Prunella made scrutiny of the man at the other end of the table. Coils of honeyed hair surrounded a face as pleasing and glib as any knight or knave. Though the color of his eyes would remain a mystery for now due to the distance between them, she guessed them to be light. Perhaps blue? Perhaps green? But oh how the light of the fire danced in them.
"Greetings Miss Busby."
She bowed her head. "Lord Dromedary."
"May I--may I converse with you by your first name? Are you comfortable doing so?"
"Only if I may call you by your first name as well."
"That would be most agreeable."
"Then I must ask you a question."
"What is it, Miss Prunella?"
"You must make known to me your first name."
A peal of laughter rose, echoing through the room and down the great hall. "You are as direct as I was told." He raised a hand to clasp his clean-shaven chin. "Very well. My full name is Lord Rasmussen, Bevere, Raison d'etre, Trevor Dromedary the Sixth. But you may call me 'Trevor.'"
She nodded. "As you like it Lord, Trevor."
He held a goblet to the air. A butler on his end of the table filled it immediately as did a butler on Prunella's. Let us begin with a toast.
She lowered her goblet. "I am accustomed to commencing a meal with a grace."
He lowered his goblet as well. "Then by all means. It pleases me to accomodate you Miss Prunella. I am aware that it falls to the Adam and not to the Eve to offer such words to the heavenlies, but would you consider doing me the honor?"
She bowed her head. "Most heavenly Father. I offer thanks for the hospitality of this house and master thereof and pray your blessings upon it and him. Please bless this food we are to soon receive and accept our wholehearted thankfulness for it. Amen."
"Well done. Well done." He clapped. "Indeed."
With that, the two began to eat. Try though she might however, Prunella could not seem to eat much of the banquet set before them. She piddled with each forkfull, barely swallowing a third of what was on her plate.
"My lady," he shuffled in his seat, "might I inquire of you?"
"Is the food not to your liking? If not, I will call my kitchen staff to account. Whatever delicacy you wish will be yours. I promise."
She shook her head. "Oh no Lord Trevor. What an extraordinary feast you have arranged to be prepared in honor of my visit."
"Then what, pray tell bothers thee?"
Prunella met his eyes. "This meeting."
"Ah yes," he pushed his chair back slightly from the edge of the table. "Your directness."
He smiled. "But you make no apologies for it. I do like that." Leaning back in his chair, he slid to one elbow and scrutinized her. "Let us be direct. You are not a delicate woman, are you?"
She shook her head.
"And in fact, you stand quite tall, taller than most of the opposite gender. Unappealing to most, I would imagine."
He threw back his head in laughter. "You make no bones about anything, do you?"
"I prefer truth."
Lord Trevor leaned on one elbow. "Then let us speak it. You're wondering why a man of my influence is not wed. In all truth, you are wondering why a man of my position would even consider a woman like you to take as wife. Is this not true?"
She blinked. "Yes, it is."
"And I will give answer to your question quite soon. However, there is one thing I must say to you."
"Go on." Prunella braced herself for the dismissal she felt certain was to come.
He moved his head from side to side. "Though I was told you were quite plain, I was unprepared for your true appearance."
Her heart sank at his words.
"You are really quite lovely."
"Lovely?" She felt the heat of blood rush to her face.
"Lovely, love-lovely is not a word usually ascribed to my appearance."
He squinted. "I find that surprising."
She smiled. "I-I am surprised as well." Prunella heard Nina gasp and guessed that the woman was trying hard not to fall in a heap on the cold stone floor. What a shock it must be to hear that a man actually considered her attractive.
"In truth, I am taken aback by your candor--and your assessment of me. But do not think I have forgotten your offer of an explanation. I must know. I inquired about you aforehand as well, wondering as to the possibility of a disfigurement or. . ."
He paused. "You ask a valid question. Anyone would ask such a question, as would I." He motioned to the butler.
Prunella thought she detected the shine of tears in his eyes.
The butler pulled the chair back. At the same time, her butler pulled her chair back. She slid from her chair and stood. The butler motioned for her to stand beside the table.
Lord Trevor slid from his chair and--and disappeared. Or seemed to.
A moment later he stood opposite her. A man barely four feet in height, the size of a child, yet fully formed with the features of a man. Prunella ceased breathing for a time. She'd seen people of this sort before. The ones she'd witnessed however, had the features of children, not of mature adults. Yet she was not repulsed by him, nor by his height. The gold of his hair, the glint of his eyes, the manly chisel of his cheeks somehow endeared her.
She made a decision. Prunella took three steps in his direction.
The breath rose and fell in him. She witnessed his shock. Amazement. And he took three steps toward her. The two stood before one other, though most certainly not face to face. The room, utterly silent save for the crackling of the fire, his hand reached for hers.
"Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
She curtsied, lower than usual, until eye-to-eye, her face almost touching his. "Yes Lord Trevor. I would be honored to marry you and become Lady Prunella Dromedary."
And so the two married. Prunella a towering Amazon of a woman and Lord Trevor, a mere mouse of a man, yet the two lived happily ever after. Life at the House of Dromedary was never sweeter.