Rosamund Meets Hugo (A Fantasy Heroine Snippet)
For your general enjoyment, Currently Chapter Seven But Who Knows Where it Will End Up in the Final Draft.
Aka Rosamund meets Hugo.
Nineteen-year-old Rosamund Page pushed the heavy velvet aside, cursing wide-skirted ballgowns as she tried to flatten herself against the wall behind the draped fabric, safely out of sight.
There was a solid obstacle in the way.
‘Oof’ said the obstacle, and Rosamund jumped, the curtain falling from her hands. There was not a lot of space behind it, and most of it was being taken up by a dark-haired man in his early twenties who looked both aggrieved and somewhat panicked.
‘Are you all right?’ Rosamund whispered in Bevorian, conscious of the sound of approaching voices.
He grimaced. ‘Madam, I am hiding behind a curtain. What do you think?’
At least she’d guessed the right language in which to address him. ‘It seemed safe to assume that your evening wasn’t going well,’ said Rosamund, ‘but perhaps you just really wanted some peace and quiet?’
The man gave her a tiny, fleeting smile, seemingly in spite of himself, and then bowed slightly. Which was fortunate, as they were standing so close together that a full bow would have turned into a headbutt. ‘I confess: I really, desperately wanted to be alone. Hugo Hawkhurst, misanthrope, at your service.’
‘Rosamund Page. Sorry to interrupt your solitude, but...’ she paused, then continued carefully, ‘I also needed some peace and quiet.’
‘Do you make frequent recourse to curtains in ballrooms for this purpose, Miss Page?’
It was Rosamund’s turn to grimace. ‘Usually not. But sometimes sacrifices must be made.’
A hint of curiosity broke through the stiffness of his expression. ‘Who are you hiding from?’
Rosamund hesitated. Hugo frowned, and the silence that fell was made rather more awkward than normal by how close they were standing in their hiding spot.
‘Well,’ Hugo said at length, ‘I will tell you, even if you wish to keep your secrets, that I am back here to avoid making further acquaintance of one Lady Cecilia, who...er...’ he broke off, and looked away.
‘Who,’ continued Rosamund, who had met Cecilia before, ‘was perhaps keen to make your slightly too intimate acquaintance?’
‘She was...a little more friendly than I was anticipating.’
Rosamund’s grin was knowing.
Hugo sighed. ‘This is the part where you tell me that she’s your cousin, isn’t it?’
She giggled, remembered that they were supposed to be trying to be quiet, and shook her head. ‘I claim no kinship with Lady Cecilia, and she would not welcome the inference. But since you have been so honest, I am hiding from one Weston Mabry, apparently the second son of a Baron, but also the sort of man who shakes hands like it’s a competition and doesn’t bother to apologise if he treads on your toes while dancing.’ She looked up at him from under her lashes, and gave him a lopsided smile. ‘This is where you tell me he’s your cousin?’
‘Mercifully, no,’ Hugo said dryly, ‘but he is my neighbour, and his father is our liege lord.’
‘Are bad dancing and competitive hand-shaking geographical traits?’ She held out her hand to shake. It didn’t have to go very far.
She saw him try to surreptitiously wipe his palm on his coat before shaking it, which was a kindness. He, at least, could shake hands perfectly, and she told him so.
‘I’m gratified to hear it, since I’m a very bad dancer,’ he replied. ‘But I would at least be certain to apologise if I stepped on your feet. Which I’d do my best to avoid, but...well...’
‘You can’t be that bad at dancing.’
Hugo shrugged. ‘Haven’t really had much practice.’
‘Too busy hunting, shooting and/or fishing, Mr. Hawkhurst?’
‘I prefer reading, honestly.’
She gave him a sceptical look. ‘Favourite book?’
‘In what genre?’
‘The Epic of Fernisal. Yours?’
Rosamund smiled. ‘The same, actually.’
Hugo smiled back. ‘Ah, but perhaps you are just saying that to entrap me with your feminine wiles. Though, if you are, at least you’re being more subtle and thus more successful than Lady Cecilia.’
They were both silent for a moment, and Hugo’s face read like someone who hadn’t quite meant to say that aloud. Rosamund felt her cheeks warm.
‘Well then,’ she said, more lightly than she felt, ‘perhaps you should ask me my favourite book in some other genre, and then we will be even.’
‘Romance,’ said Hugo, and Rosamund was definitely blushing now. But then possibly, so was he.
‘Eye of the Moon.’
Hugo blinked. ‘One of mine as well. Did you enjoy the sequel?’ Rosamund wrinkled her nose.
‘Entertaining, but not a patch on the original.’
The conversation continued on similar lines for some time after that, until Rosamund remembered where she was and what she was supposed to be doing.
‘We are at a ball.’
He nodded with mock-seriousness. ‘I commend your powers of observation.’
Rosamund grimaced. ‘We are supposed to be meeting people. Specifically, we are supposed to be behaving like good little girls and boys and-’
‘-finding a suitable marriage partner from the correct country? Yes, but it’s so boring, not to mention loud. Besides, my Abrenian has rather gone by the wayside since I finished my education, and my accent was always atrocious.’
‘Many of the Abrenian ladies here were educated in both languages,’ said Rosamund gently, ‘so as you see, we are generally fluent enough in Bevorian not to embarrass ourselves.’
Hugo blinked. ‘I wondered if I recognised you from school.’
‘I don’t think I recognise you, but I’m not the best at faces.’ Rosamund shifted her weight a little, leaning back against the wall. ‘If you’re neighbours with Weston Mabry, we might be sitting near each other at dinner.’
She nodded. ‘I saw the plan for the place cards.’
‘Never you mind,’
‘That said,’ Rosamund continued, ‘if I’m sitting next to him I may end up committing murder, which would not be conducive to a pleasant evening, so...’ her eyes lit up, ‘I think a little creative rearrangement might be in order.’
‘Wait-’ Hugo began, but she’d already twitched the curtain aside and slipped out.
Once in the Great Hall, Rosamund made quick work of finding the place cards, which merely confirmed her worst fears. She returned to the curtain, checked to see no one was watching, and pulled Hugo out, slipping her arm into his. ‘Mr. Hawkhurst,’ she said softly, starting to steer him past the dance floor, ‘If you’re willing to take a quick walk with me, I think you’ll find it to our mutual benefit.’
‘Pray explain, Miss Page.’
‘Well,’ she whispered, as they continued their circuit of the Palace ballroom, ‘I have just been into the Great Hall, and I have good news and bad news.’
She saw Hugo brace himself.
‘The good news: we are sitting near each other. The bad news: I’m sitting next to Weston Mabry, and you are sitting next to Lady Cecilia.’
‘Do you have a proposed solution to this horrendous problem?’
She winked at him. ‘Come with me.’ And with that, she slipped through the half-open door to the Great Hall, pulling him along with her.
The room was currently empty, and much darker than the ballroom. The fireplaces threw off some light, but as Rosamund led Hugo down the side of the table nearest the east wall, every niche they passed was still in deep shadow.
They reached their places, and Rosamund dispatched Hugo to move Weston Mabry’s placecard down the table, while she took Lady Cecilia’s in the other direction. Spotting a place card for a ‘Cecily’, whom she thought she remembered from school, Rosamund swapped the cards and returned to Hugo, flush with success.
‘We don’t want to move them too far,’ she whispered, ‘in case we get the serving staff in trouble. But I swapped Cecilia with a Cecily.’
‘Great minds,’ he whispered back, ‘I swapped Weston with a Madeley. But we need to get out of here before someone spots us.’
They made their way back down the side of the table. They were almost at the ballroom when a door on the west side of the hall opened with a creak, and Rosamund squeaked as Hugo dragged her into one of the unlit niches, manoeuvring her behind a pillar to get her out of sight.
Rosamund was conscious that her pale skin, red hair and bright red gown were extremely conspicuous, even in the dim light, and Hugo seemed to have realised it too. He pressed her into the corner of the niche behind a pillar, trying to cover her body with his own. His green court dress and dark hair blended seamlessly into the dark, and she breathed out, trying to make herself smaller.
His mouth was right by her ear. ‘Sorry,’ he whispered, and she shivered, her pulse suddenly hammering in her ears. And not just because they’d nearly been caught.
The ridiculousness of the whole situation struck her then, and she stifled a giggle.
‘Miss Page?’ Hugo sounded uncertain.
She smiled, though she wasn’t sure if he could see it. ‘I was just thinking that this is a very particular way to make friends at a ball. And that Lady Cecilia must never know.’
‘If someone finds us in a...compromising position-’ he said quietly, ‘we’ll probably have to get married for decency’s sake.’ She laughed gently.
‘I am very sorry for you, sir, if that is the case.’
‘Why for me?’ They both froze as there was a noise from the south end of the hall. But then they heard a door creak, and silence fell again.
‘I regret to inform you that the Page family is not highly thought of in Abrenia.’
[and yet her sister marries the heir to the throne? -H]
[Yes, and the only reason it’s not an absolute scandal when Roland falls in love with Catherine is that Rosamund’s marriage has given them such a leg up on the social ladder. -C]
‘I’m really only here to make up the numbers.’ She shrugged. ‘I’ll probably end up married to whoever’s left over from the Bevorian side. I hear a lot of the matches have been decided upon behind closed doors already.’ After all, a situation in which aristocrats could marry off their children to other (albeit foreign) aristocrats as an act of patriotism didn’t stop them from seeking other, more tangible, benefits from the arrangement. ‘I should be out there dancing and flirting and trying to figure out who my best option is, but...’
‘You’re stuck in a dark corner with me?’
‘You’re not so bad, even if I can’t marry you.’
Hugo pulled his head back to look at her. ‘Why not?’
‘You...’ she blinked up at him, ‘you were hiding behind a curtain. I assumed you had been matched with Lady Cecilia, and were hoping that if you disappeared she might catch someone else’s eye before you had to announce it.’
‘A reasonable assumption, but no. I have no prior arrangement.’
‘You’re telling me,’ Rosamund said slowly, ‘that you have spent the last hour talking about books and rearranging place cards with me...and you haven’t even got a wife in mind?’
‘You-’ idiot was on the tip of her tongue, but instead she tried, ‘-don’t want to choose your own bride instead of being left with one of the brides nobody wants?’
He looked back at her, then, something sympathetic in his expression. ‘I’m told,’ he said gently, ‘by an impeccable source, that a certain Miss Rosamund Page is among the ‘brides nobody wants’. Which leads me to believe that everyone here is an utter fool, since she is quite the most charming woman I’ve ever met.’
There was another noise behind them, but neither of them paid much attention. ‘You know...’ Rosamund said, edging towards him a little, ‘you had a point earlier.’
‘Yes. When you said that if we were found in a...compromising position—’ she was radiating warmth, he could probably feel her blushing from here— ‘then it would probably be required that we marry.’
There was a long silence. ‘That being the case, Miss Page,’ he whispered, ‘may...er...may I kiss you?’
And Rosamund smiled. ‘I think I’d like that.’
They pressed their lips together, and it was tentative, and warm, and sweet.
When they broke apart, Rosamund frowned slightly, and Hugo winced, wondering what he’d done wrong. ‘Are you... all right, Miss Page?’
‘Well...first,’ she said slowly, ‘if there’s going to be kissing going on you should probably call me Rosamund. And second...’ she put her arms around his neck, and the smile she gave him was wicked, ‘while I’m not what you’d call experienced at this kissing business, I think we can do better.’
And then his hands were in her hair, and her body was pressed up against his, and it turned out that they could, in fact, do better.
Of course, that was the moment one of the servants came into the niche to light the lamp.
Neither of them noticed.
But then the memory became a dream, and the dream became a nightmare, and Rosamund was running but Hugo was falling, so far and so fast that she couldn’t catch him, and then she was falling too—
She woke up screaming.