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Wish Granted Chapter 1    

 Henrisk, the capital of Navia, was a busy place during this time of year, especially in the Commerce District. Spring was lacing the air with its addictive energy. The normally bland buildings had a rainbow's worth of flowers hanging from the windows. Joyful sunlight glittered onto the overpriced merchandise of hopeful salespeople. Customers haggled. Horses dutifully carried people and carriages to their destinations, their feet clopping against the streets.
 Threne was so fucking miserable that he wanted to die.
 But that was normal for him.
 The tall and lithe man sniffled and shuffled his way down the streets, hiding his body under a dark brown cloak in spite of the warm weather. One of his sinuses was always inflamed as if he had a terrible sinus infection. It often produced a headache so foul that most wouldn't be able to endure it, but he was able to, because he had been living with this condition for far too long.
 Threne's black colored eyes happened to notice a street stall selling tacky but heavy sausages. Then he remembered that he couldn't taste food. He didn't even need to eat. At least hunger wasn't one of his concerns. He sighed and tried not to let the delicious aroma of food cock-tease his nose.
 He spied a little woman with pale blonde curls looking down at the hem of her weathered gown as she walked on the opposite lane of the street, as if she was afraid to look anyone in the eye. She seemed to be well shaped and adorable. Then Threne remembered that he couldn't get an erection anymore.
 Damn, and she probably needed a good dicking too, unless she was the type to go after women only. Threne peeked back at her face. He couldn't see the color of her eyes, but her mouth was a perfectly rosy bud, not too large, but certainly not small at all.
 And she was just too timid. He knew because she accidentally bumped into him, squealed, and apologized so profusely, so meekly, and with such a frightened voice, that Threne actually pitied her. When he spotted a bruise just barely peeking out from under her long sleeve, he knew that someone had grabbed her wrist in a very inappropriate way. Someone must have been cruel to her.
 Threne told her there was no problem and went on his way. A moment later, he heard her voice again, calling out to him. He paused, turned around, and that pale haired woman was rushing towards him, holding out a pouch.
 That was his pouch! There was gold inside that thing!
 Awwww. Her eyes were a combination of blue and green, a sweet cyan. Her nose was small and lightly upturned. Her face was fairly round, except for her small jaw and delicately pointed chin.
 He took the pouch, thanked her, and stood in the street for a moment, watching her hurry away.
 He shrugged. Might as well try her out.
 Threne waited a few more minutes and then he followed the woman as discreetly as he could.
 Once she was inside her home, just outside the Commerce District, her father pulled her into the kitchen and put a pale blue gown over a wooden chair.
 "Hurry! Put this on, but be careful. It's the best I could afford." He said that while he wore his fine waistcoat and gold buttoned shoes.
 Danetta waited for him to leave her and then she worked on removing her everyday dress from her body. First she pulled her brown jacket over her head, which was discreetly pinned to a matching stomacher. Then she untied the single layer of a skirt and rid herself of it in a similar fashion. There was no over-skirt, sadly. She would have loved to have the variety of such a thing.
 Danetta made sure her cheap little bum roll was secure around her waist. Just because she was almost broke didn't mean she couldn't attain a fashionable skirt shape. Then she patted the old laces of the stays about her waist to make sure they wouldn't come loose. Her hands smoothed the knee length skirt of her chemise. Then she went to the blue gown her father had purchased.
 It wasn't made of a very high quality fabric. It was a pretty color, though. There was even an over-skirt. She almost smiled as she pulled the two skirts over her body and tied them at her waist. There wasn't a stomacher. The bodice was all one piece. She noted that, while the sleeves were long and fitted, there were slightly drooping, padded sections from just the beginning of the shoulder to almost at the elbow. That was unusually lavish for her. She also noted the neckline, which was almost as low as her chemise, displaying most of her bosom.
 Danetta knew exactly why this outfit had been chosen for her. A candidate would arrive soon.
 Her stomach turned sour when her father returned to the kitchen, his judgmental, gaunt face was scanning her body. "Your hair's disgusting. Tie it up."
 Her fingers reached behind her head to gather her voluminous curls into three separate strands. She braided her hair and tied it into a low, rounded knot.
 "It'll have to do." He adjusted an old pearl pin on the folded brim of his small, round hat. Danetta suspected that the pearl was false, because he was often careless with it. "His name is Vinsell Rothbeard. He owns a tailor shop, and he's been doing very well."
 She wanted to laugh at the poor man's unfortunate sounding name. She didn't. That would have been a bad idea. So, Danetta kept up her blank stare.
 When the guest arrived, Danetta ignored the fact that he was twice her age, because that wasn't important. What she couldn't ignore was how rude the man was. He was always licking his lips when he met her eyes, and he refused to call her by her name. He just called her, "His Little Lambkin."
 She reached a point where she couldn't stand it. She looked at him, curtsied, and said, "My name is Danetta Saivio, Mr. Rothbeard."
 Danetta knew she was in trouble when the candidate made a dismissive gesture with his fashionable cane. Once he had left the building, her father took his own fashionable cane and swung it as hard as he could onto her back.
 And again.
 And a third time.
 And a few more times.
 And she coughed and cried all the while.
 It always hurt. She could never get used to it.
 When he was done, he left her in the tiny family room, kneeling and heaving beside an empty fireplace. As he walked off, probably to get drunk and take a nap in his bedroom, she heard him say, "I'll have to sell you at the auction, then."
 Danetta squeaked out a tiny wail. Her fingers were pressed against a red, wet face. She shuffled over to a window and mindlessly let her eyes dart about the streets of the Inner Residential District. She nudged a latch aside and opened the window. She had only wanted some air, but she found something else.
 An old woman with a patched up cloak was calling out from across the street, "Free wishes! Free wishes! I shall pray to the God of Hope for your sake! All for free!"
 She was desperate enough to give it a good try. She hollered to the woman, "Is there a limit to the amount?!"
 The old woman looked both ways, and then she crossed the street over to the window. Her face had more lines than an angry potter's project. Her eyes were a pale gray.
 "There is a limit, unfortunately," the old woman said, but she smiled. She was missing most of her teeth. "You may have up to three wishes, and I will pray to the God of Hope for you." She curtsied like a very proper gentlewoman. "My name is Ilai. I'm grateful to meet you, Young Miss."
 Why in the world any god would listen to this old woman was a question Danetta didn't feel like entertaining. She wasn't feeling especially logical at that moment. Her voice changed to something quiet and delicate. "I only have two wishes, Madam."
 Ilai waved her hand around as if she were a wise priest, and then she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and turned her head to blow her nose. "I'm terribly sorry about that." As she folded her handkerchief and put it away, she said, "That's fine, simply tell me what your wishes are, and I will pray for you."
 Danetta gave a short laugh, wiping her face with her sleeve. "Well, first, I want my father to gain enough money to pay off his gambling debt."
 "Such a sweet little wish." The woman sniffed hard, as if she had difficulty breathing, and then nodded. "What's your second wish?"
 "I want a husband!" She paused, realizing that she had shown too much vigor. She shrunk back a little. "I mean, I want a physically strong husband that will respect me. He doesn't need to be rich or handsome. I only ask for strength and respect."
 Ilai clapped the backs of her hands together in an X shape, bowed her head, and mumbled something. Then she looked back up at Danetta with a firm expression. "I have prayed to the God of Hope! I do believe that he will eventually grant your wishes, because they were very modest."
 "Modest?" She shook her head, her fingers gripping the edge of the windowsill. "I thought I was asking for too much."
 "Your first wish was for the benefit of another," the old woman said, folding her arms. She nodded again. "Your second wish was for yourself, but it was a reasonable request. You didn't ask for a prince with ever flowing coffers of gold, now did you?"
 "You're a very kind person," Danetta said, reaching into her sleeve. Then she remembered that she was wearing a different gown than she was accustomed to. She held out her hand, fingers pointing up to the sky. "Please, wait here."
 She went to the kitchen to look into the sleeve of her old gown. She found her very small pouch and she fingered the inside in search of a copper coin. She knew she shouldn't be giving money away, since she honestly didn't have much of it, but she thought that this Ilai person probably needed the coin more than she did.
 She returned to the window and held out the coin for the old woman. "Please, take it," she said softly.
 Ilai's withered finger slid the coin away. Then she held out her other hand, which was a closed fist, and said, "I wish that every kind person in the world would be rewarded, but the world is far too cruel for my wish to be granted."
 Danetta thought that perhaps the woman wanted to give her something. She held out her pale hand and mentally ordered herself to be grateful for whatever it was, even if it turned out to be an offensive object, like a dead spider or a long thorn. For all she knew, this poor, dear woman could have lost a chunk of her mind.
 When Ilai's fist opened over Danetta's palm, what fell were two golden coins.
 "What?" Danetta stared at the money. "No! Madam, please! Take them back!" She tried to push the coins back to the old woman's hand, but the stubborn creature stepped away from the window and beamed at her, completely unashamed of her less than complete set of teeth.
 "I shall give you another reward," Ilai said, tilting her head.
 "Another one?" Danetta shook her head. Then she made a beckoning gesture. "Come inside, Madam! Have a cup of water!" She knew that this woman had to be insane, or physically ill, and she was willing to risk another beating from her father to try to nurse her, even if for a few precious moments.
 Witch-like, confident and eerie, the old woman cackled at Danetta, earning a few curious looks from nearby pedestrians. Still, nobody stopped to give her too much attention. Then she said to Danetta, "I will give you a small glimpse of the future. Go off to the Game Hall tonight, an hour after the sun sets. You'll find a friend who will guide you, and through him, you shall have happiness!" Her gray eyebrows wiggled.
 And not even waiting for a response, Ilai, who seemed to think she was a prophet to the God of Hope, zoomed down the street at an alarming speed for such an old woman. Danetta leaned out the window to try to find her, but she had basically disappeared.
 She looked back down at the two gold coins in her hand and briefly considered doing just as Ilai had suggested. It would be dangerous, though, to be a lone woman with few friends walking the streets at night, and off to the Game Hall, no less! Women weren't forbidden from gambling there, but they were often the wealthier sort, and they always had bodyguards.
 Well ... she could try to walk just a few feet in one direction, and then the opposite, just to peek around, in case someone interesting did show up.
 Ilai hurried to the nearest empty alley and waited to make sure that nobody was watching her.
 Then she was nothing but a black and red mass of oozing smoke.
 Then Threne was there, wearing his brown cloak, feeling incredibly excited. There was a challenge here! He held up his thin fingers and a small, diamond shaped jewel of a blood red color appeared, hovering over the tip of his middle finger.
 "Did you get that?" he whispered to the jewel. He was sniffing, but he was smiling. "That should be two years, right?" He rubbed his red nose with his free hand.
 He heard the little jewel drone out in an androgynous, boring, cold voice, "Wish one: to have her father gain enough money to pay off his gambling debt. Wish two: to have a husband that is physically strong and would likely respect her. All previously stated wishes are within the rules. If you grant these wishes, two years will be removed from your sentence. Do you accept these wishes?"
 "Fuck yeah."
 The jewel said, "Wishes accepted."
 He held up a finger with his other hand, as if he was talking to a person. "I'm so god damn bored that I need a challenge, so I want to add another wish. You remember that duke I used to work for? Did you record his wish?"
 "Wish one: to marry a woman that would likely respect him, preferably a woman that is physically attractive according to his standards, but not a requirement. The previously stated wish is within the rules. If you grant this wish, one year will be removed from your sentence. Do you accept this wish?"
 "You bet your nonexistent ass I do."
 "Wish accepted."
 "Alright then. See you later." The little red jewel disappeared. He almost missed it.

Wish Granted Chapter 2

 An hour after the sun set, fire had been placed in street lamps. A confused sort of determination had swollen in Danetta's throat. She checked on her father, who was in an ale induced sleep, and then she looked for an old pouch of hers that had a cord. She placed her two gold coins inside this pouch, put the cord over her neck, and shoved the pouch into the space between her breasts, under her clothing. She was wearing her average gown. That blue outfit should only be for special occasions.
 Danetta walked through the front door of the townhouse and looked about. Nobody seemed interested in her. She chose a path to her left and stuck to it for around ten seconds before someone collided with her. A hand took her arm and steadied her. She looked up.
 It was dark, but under the streetlights, Danetta was fairly certain that this man had black eyes. She had to tilt her head up to see them; he was very tall. Long dark hair peeked out from the hood of his cloak, and he was smiling at her.
 "I'm sorry. Are you alright?" He released her and stepped back. Then his eyes jolted with recognition. "Oh, you're the girl who returned my purse. Do you remember?"
 Danetta had to think for a moment, looking up at his thin face, trying to trace him. Then the memory came. His pouch had fallen from him. She had stopped, picked it up, and returned it to him.
 "Yes," she said, curtsying. She didn't want to seem rude. "My name is Danetta Saivio. I'm pleased to meet you, Good Sir."
 A quick bow from the man, and then he said, "Udin Turo. Is there anything I can do for you?"
 "I'm not sure." Gears were interlocking in her brain. Her eyes narrowed and her fingers laced together before her skirt. "Do you have a particular destination?"
 Mr. Turo nodded. "I'm off to the Game Hall."
 The face of the old woman who acted like a casual prophet ran over Danetta's vision. She wondered if she was bold enough to keep going. Her placed her fingers at her chest and asked, "Mr. Turo, would you care to escort me to the Game Hall?"
 The man gave a loud, uncomfortable sniff. He sounded miserably clogged up. "I don't see the harm in that. You really shouldn't go to such a place alone, anyway." His hand parted his cloak, and Danetta noted the average clothing he wore. He made a gesture suggesting that she should follow him, and she did so with curious thoughts haunting her.
 As they walked their way towards the Commerce District, Mr. Turo remained at her side and put her little hand on his arm. While he didn't seem like the sort of man who wrestled with bears, he didn't seem like a weakling either. The muscles of his arm were firm and a little bit intimidating for someone like her.
 "Do you live around here?" he asked with a very friendly voice.
 "Yes, Sir." She nodded even though he was looking straight ahead.
 "I used to live in a castle, can you believe that?"
 Danetta rolled her eyes and tried not to smirk. "Are you a destitute aristocrat?"
 "Oh no, Miss Saivio. I worked as a servant. It was very nice there, but I decided to leave. I'm not the type to stay in one place for very long."
 "Would it be fair to call you an adventurous man?" Danetta looked up at his shadowed profile and wondered if he would take her on an adventure. Maybe he would even marry her? She didn't want to be sold off. The concept of being a purchased bride bothered her. Then again, she didn't want to live in poverty because of her father's mistakes.
 "I'd say so, but I'm wondering about you, Miss Saivio." He turned his head and gave her what she thought was an honestly curious look. "Why does such a charming woman want to go the Game Hall?"
 "I thought that I might try my luck."
 "Are you very skilled with games?"
 She shook her head. "No, Sir, but I only plan to wager two gold coins. If I lose them, then I will stop playing."
 "Do you need money, Miss Saivio?"
 Danetta looked away. She thought that even when hidden in shadow, the man's stare was judgmental.
 "I know we're strangers, Miss Saivio, and I know it's rude of me to ask you about your financial situation, but I don't mind helping you to play well in the Game Hall. In fact, I think I already know what you should do after you've finished playing."
 Yes, he was a stranger. Yes, she shouldn't trust strangers. However, she was stupid enough to believe a prophecy, desperate enough to forget common sense. Her fingers tightened on Mr. Turo's arm, and she asked, "What do you have in mind?"
 "I think that after you've won a bit of gold, and I know you'll win, you should come with me. I'm going to visit my old home and reconnect with my friends there. I'd love to put in a good word for you, so you can find work." His voice was so sweet, so seductive, and Danetta wanted to hear every single word. "The Master there is kind. If you have any problems he would be glad to assist you."
 "What is this place?" She was so happy she was almost skipping.
 "Castle Adurant, the home of His Grace, Duke Erdgar Adurant, Lord of the Duvanu province."
 That was something of a familiar name. She was fairly certain that she knew of a noblewoman who was once betrothed to a man with that name, but she couldn't remember any specifics. She moved some of her loose curls away from her cheek. "Mr. Turo, how would you describe the servants of that estate?"
 "They're decent people, or they seemed that way to me, hardworking and happy."
 Danetta smiled. Maybe she could run away from her problems and find a life in pleasant servitude. If this duke was kind, then he might be able to hide her from any debt collectors. At the very least, he would be able to give her a way to work off the debt.
 Mr. Turo was kind enough to serve as an unofficial bodyguard, and he sat beside Danetta at a table where several players were tossing dice about, betting on the outcomes of each roll. Most people were losing. Danetta was discouraged, but her companion told her to remain seated.
 Mr. Turo didn't place any bets, and he told Danetta not to place any bets until he gave the word. When it was her turn to hold the crudely carved pieces of bone, Udin scooped them out of her hand and tested their weight with his palm. He bent over her and whispered in her ear, "These dice have been tampered with. But don't worry. I'll give you a kiss of good luck."
 Danetta blushed at the lecherous, yet impatient looks of the other players. They were all men, and none of them looked or smelled very clean. She looked up at Mr. Turo and whispered back, "I don't believe a kiss will alter the dice, and I honestly don't think you should be kissing me at all."
 Mr. Turo chuckled, low and hearty, and he took her hand in his. He kissed the back of it, and then he said, quite loudly, "There's your good luck kiss. Now place all your gold on the table and roll the dice." He handed the dice to her and nodded.
 Danetta didn't want to trust him. The dice were loaded! How could he do anything about that? She pouted and gazed down at the little objects in her hand.
 Well, if he was able to tell the dice were loaded, then he probably had some sort of idea of what to do. She shrugged. Then she reached under her neckline to take out her pouch. She removed her two coins and put then on the table, in the center of a square that had been drawn with chalk. She told the game master what outcomes she was betting on, and then she rolled the dice.
 Everyone gasped, including Danetta. She rolled exactly what she wanted to roll. She won two extra gold coins! She looked up at Mr. Turo. He had a wicked grin that showed off his crooked teeth. She wanted to ask him what he did, but she didn't think that would be a good thing to say in the Game Hall.
 The next few games she played had similar surprises in store for her. While she did lose at some card games, she won brilliantly at other games, especially the ones that involved random chance and physics. When her pouch was almost too full to close, she told Mr. Turo that she was finished, and she wanted to go home. Mr. Turo patted her shoulder and led her out of the building.
 Danetta was actually feeling pretty happy, confused, but happy. Although, what she had was nowhere near enough to pay off her father's debt. But if she decided to run away, this was a good bit of cash to have.
 Soon after they had started their walk on the street, Danetta felt a horrible tug on her arm, and she was pulled away from her companion and into an alley. Three frightening men were demanding her gold, holding knives over her body, and Danetta would have gladly given her money away. She didn't think her companion stood much of a chance. Her feet turned clammy, and her face heated, as she reached under her neckline for the money.
 One of the men was flung away, screaming and gargling. The other two were roughly slammed into each other, their heads connecting. Danetta's eyes were almost delirious as she slid down the side of a building, watching as Mr. Turo sunk a knife into one of the muggers. Then he kicked into the belly of another. She smelled blood. She heard the struggling cries of death. She heard laughing.
 Mr. Turo was laughing.
 When all three offenders were quiet and static on the ground, Mr. Turo was still laughing. Then he was coughing. Then he reached down, grabbed the sleeve of one of his victims, and loudly blew his nose on it.
 Danetta's mind was blank for a moment as Mr. Turo walked towards her, sniffing and muttering something about ridiculous people. Then she gathered her thoughts. "Thank you! Thank you, Mr. Turo!" She ran up to him, intending to hug him, even though that would have been quite brazen.
 Mr. Turo held out his hands to stop her, and he said with an unconcerned, cheerful voice, "Let's hurry. We shouldn't relax on the streets at night."
 When they were at her home, Danetta insisted on meeting him again, somewhere, anywhere. They agreed to meet at a coffee shop in the morning. Danetta planned to leave early, while her father would still be sleeping.
 Rain splashed down onto the roofs of the buildings and the hard streets as Danetta entered a small coffee shop, and she was pleased to see her new friend, Udin Turo, seated at a small table in a corner. With her thin gray cloak tight around her body, she quietly walked to the table. Mr. Turo was gentlemanly enough to stand up, pull a chair for her, and wait for her to take her seat.
 When Mr. Turo was seated again, he coughed into his elbow, and then he straightened his back. His brown hood was pulled back, and Danetta saw more of his face than she did last night. Bruised looking circles were under his black eyes and his nostrils were chafed. She imagined that the poor man had a cold. She hoped she wouldn't catch it, but she was willing to take the risk.
 "Have you considered my offer, Miss Saivio?" He was cradling a little cup of black coffee with his slim fingers.
 She nodded. "I would love to see this castle." She leaned over the table, lowering her tone. "What if there isn't a position for me there? What if I won't be hired?"
 Mr. Turo tapped the table's edge with the side of his hand in something of a negative gesture, and he shook his head. "You shouldn't worry. The Master is a very understanding person. If he can not find a position for you in his home, he will ask a business owner in Lealna to hire you. His word carries more weight than a whale."
 Danetta tilted her head. "Lealna?"
 "That's the city closest to the castle. Most of the neighborhoods in the Duvanu province are little villages and farming communities, but there are a few cities and towns. The Duvanu province is known for its delicious fruits. There are groves and groves of fruit there. The most beautiful flowers are also grown there. Rainbow roses are quite popular."
 Danetta had heard of rainbow roses, had even seen some on a few occasions, but they were expensive and she had never touched one before. She had always wanted to press one of the colorful blooms to her lips and feel the texture. The petals would certainly be irresistibly silky, perhaps even more so than an ordinary rose. This was only her imagination, of course.
 Her lips parted, and something almost wild grew in her eyes. She laced her fingers together and begged the man, "Oh please, Mr. Turo. Please tell me more of Duvanu." Her voice was huskier than normal, but she still sounded like a little woman.
 Mr. Turo's black hair slid around his shoulders, and his eyelids lowered, as if he was experiencing a burning pleasure. "A few silver mines have been discovered recently, and the price of silver in the province dropped, while the popularity grew. The locals love silver jewelry." He took a long sip of his coffee while Danetta's bent leg was impatiently bouncing. After he swallowed, he sighed and continued. "There are beautiful mountains to admire during your free time. During spring and summer, the mountains are so vibrant that the locals call them the Rising Jewels."
 Danetta sighed blissfully, imagining enchanting peaks dusted with flowers. "Everything about the place sounds extraordinary."
 "I have to leave within a few days," Mr. Turo told her. He drew more coffee into his mouth and gulped it down. "You'll need to make your decision soon. It'll take an hour and a quarter's worth of a carriage ride to get there, depending on the weather. Once you get in the carriage, it would be ill-mannered of you to say you've changed your mind halfway through the journey."
 Danetta knew that the next auction for people's services would take place in a month. That was the earliest time her father could hope to sell her. To appear prudent, she told Mr. Turo that she would wait two days to decide, but she knew she was going to go with him.
 A morning was chosen. Mr. Turo rented a carriage for them both, and they hurried into it just before the sun rose. They sat across from each other. Each person had their belongings in a square bag balanced on their laps as they lazily gazed out the vehicle's small windows. Danetta acted just as calm as her new friend, but deep inside, she knew she was edgy and aflutter. She couldn't remember the last time she had ever done something so naughty. An evil smile bloomed on her face.
 She wasn't going to take responsibility for her father after all. She was running away. This was truly delicious.
 The ride, while long and physically uncomfortable, was overall pleasant in Danetta's mind. Mr. Turo was able to keep her entertained with several word games and engaging conversations. He even performed a few little magic tricks with a deck of cards. Soon, though, she felt that she had to ask him about her luck in the Game Hall.
 "I'm not allowed to show you how I performed my tricks, Miss Saivio," he told her, offering her a wrapped meat pie for a quick breakfast, "but I will tell you this. I have a talent for forcing everything to fall just the way I want them to."
 When she tried to press him again, he held out a hand and refused to say any more on the matter.
 Once they passed the border to Duvanu, Danetta's excitement was kicking back in. Like an eager child, she was bouncing in her seat and hungrily staring at everything through the windows. There were mountains in the distance, and they were just as beautiful as Mr. Turo had described. She hoped she would get to touch a rainbow rose soon. She didn't want to steal any. She only wanted to touch one.
 Soon they were passing through a city. Mr. Turo told her they were in Lealna, and it wouldn't take very long to reach Castle Adurant.
 However, they didn't stop at the castle. They stopped a good walking distance from it. Danetta was confused, but she exited the carriage obediently. As she watched the horses pull the vehicle away, she asked, "Are we meant to walk all the way to the castle?"
 "Unfortunately, yes. It's the best way to get there." Mr. Turo patted her shoulder, slung his bag over his back, and jerked his head, signaling that she should follow him.
 Danetta swiped down her hair in a futile effort to flatten it. Then she expelled an annoyed breath and looked at the castle. It was a grand structure made of dark gray bricks, but it was on top of a cliff overlooking a river, and in order to get to the castle, they had to walk through a large forest. There was a lovely road waiting for them, but to Danetta's consternation, Mr. Turo ignored it. He took a random direction towards the trees.
 "Mr. Turo!" She held her skirt with one hand to keep from tripping as she ran up to him. "Mr. Turo! That's the wrong direction!"
 He didn't even turn his head. "This is a much better route. Trust me."
 Danetta didn't think she had any choice but to trust him.
 The morning air was invigorating. The weather was warm. The chirping birds and scampering squirrels were cute. The trees were lush. Danetta was frustrated. "What if bears are lurking about?" she asked after she nearly tripped over a rock.
 "What about them?" Mr. Turo said blithely.
 "We're essentially out in the wild! There could be bears, or wolves, or something worse!"
 He laughed, sneezed, and blew his nose, shooting a little bit of snot onto the ground. "Gah! Don't worry about those silly things. I won't let anything eat you."
 Reluctant, sweat dripping down her face and bosom, Danetta followed him in the woods a few minutes more. Then she complained again. "Mr. Turo, I hope you understand why I'm so upset."
 "I understand completely. Please, whine as much as you need to. I won't think any less of you." His fingers drummed on the belt attached to his bag. He started whistling.
 Danetta wiped her forehead with her fingers. "My goodness! Is there a secret passageway here? I can't think of another reason why you'd want to take this route."
 "There's a secret here, Miss Saivio," Mr. Turo said, stretching out his arms.
 Her fingers fidgeted with her bag's handle. Its weight was putting an ache in her arm. "There is? What is it?"
 "You'll find out soon." He ducked to avoid a low tree branch.
 Danetta sighed and remained quiet for a time. She put her bag in her other hand. Her feet were starting to hurt. She wasn't accustomed to such a wild terrain. Not only that, but her back was still bruised from her father's beating. In fact, there were some older marks there to worry over. All this exercise in hot weather and on rough ground only worsened her state.
 She was about to give another complaint when Mr. Turo stopped. He put his hand on a very thick tree and looked at its bark. Something was carved there, a name.
 "Erdgar?" Danetta said, looking at the characters on the tree.
 Mr. Turo's shoulders relaxed and he said, "I believe the lord of these lands carved his name in this tree years ago, when he was a child."
 He laid his bag against one of the tree's exposed roots. His fingers massaged the flesh under his tired eyes. Then his fingers lowered. His arms hung at his sides, and he screamed.
 He actually screamed. It was almost a roar. Danetta's bag fell to the earth. She covered her ears and recoiled.
 Then he roared out something else.
 Her body trembled. She almost urinated. She was frozen for few seconds. Mr. Turo reached out to her. She thought to run, but he was too fast. Her throat was seized, and by that fragile little throat, she was shoved into the ground.
 Danetta's heart was poking a rapid song of fear in her chest. Her feet kicked and her fingernails scratched at the man's face. She shrieked so much that her throat became inflamed in no time.
 She saw the man's blank face. Then she saw his fist.
 He punched her, and she couldn't see, couldn't breathe. Pain was shooting through all her nerves. The fingers around her throat constricted, and she thought she would die. She heard something made of fabric rip. Then something beating on the ground and approaching.

 A blast, there was a loud blast of a sound. Her ears seemed broken for a moment. Then Mr. Turo's weight was removed.
 She tried to get up. Her right eyelid was swelling up. She could only see out of her left. The muscles in her neck were practically on fire. Her good eye danced from one area to the next, trying to make sense of her suddenly mad world.
 "Miss! Miss!"
 Danetta didn't recognize that voice, but she was certain it was a man's. It was deep and heavy, like a cauldron of melted gold, but at the same time it was slightly muffled, almost hissing. Two knee length hunting boots came into her vision; a riding crop's handle was sticking out from inside one of them. She looked up at sturdy breeches struggling against thick legs, then up to a tan colored hunting coat stretching across a broad chest, decorated with several shiny buttons. He smelled like leather and horses.
 One of the man's knees lowered, and then he knelt down before her.
 A cold, emotionless mass of gray fabric met her vision. She couldn't see the man's face, or even his throat. She couldn't see any of his skin. His head was completely wrapped in cloth, aside from two holes for breathing through the nose and two very small holes for the eyes, which she couldn't quite make out anyway. She couldn't even see their color. The throat was hidden by his cravat, which was normal, but only added to the mystery.
 A breeze kissed her bosom, and her hand went there, expecting to feel her clothing. She felt bare skin, and her nipple, which hardened from both the breeze and her touch. Her face inflamed from the embarrassment, not necessarily because her nipples were exposed, but because her gown was torn. Sometimes, the most fashionable women would let their nipples peep out from their clothing, usually on formal occasions, and that was why nipple rouge was a thing to sell. Now if a woman's knees or back was exposed, especially if she was caught without her stays, that would have been absolutely scandalous.
 Nevertheless, it wasn't normal for Danetta to have her breasts carelessly hanging out like abandoned laundry.
 Danetta was in so much shock that she forgot she was injured. She only had two gowns, the one she wore and the blue one in her bag. Now this curious man was looking at her, likely making judgments about her attire. Tears blurred her already weakened sight.
 Smooth leather caressed her cheek.
 "Hm?" Danetta wiped her good eye.
 The man's hand was on her face, but it was covered by a dark brown leather glove. His voice sizzled out to her, "Can you hear me?"
 She nodded.
 His other gloved hand wavered before her good eye. "How many fingers do you see?"
 She creaked out the number three, and then she was coughing from the pain in her throat. She saw one of the gloved hands grip the handle of the riding crop. He pulled it out slowly, as if he was tasting the moment. Then he left her.
 Danetta studied the situation more carefully. There were a few unmounted horses, but they were saddled and obediently waiting for their humans. There were a few men too, and they had Mr. Turo, holding his arms behind his back.
 And Mr. Turo wasn't fighting at all. He was grinning like a maniac.
 The masked man with the leather gloves stood before Mr. Turo, and then he struck out at him with the riding crop. The sound was swift, cutting through the air and impacting the victim's face with a brutal, fleshy thump.
 Mr. Turo didn't yelp. His head barely moved from the force of the crop.
 "Under normal circumstances, I'd ask why you'd dare to trespass on my hunting grounds." That was the masked man. Danetta's toes wiggled and curled at the raw might of him. His power emitted from not only his voice, but his height, his muscles, his posture, and the way the men holding Mr. Turo looked at him. They were waiting for him to do something. Danetta could tell by their expectant faces that this masked man was their leader.
 "These aren't normal circumstances," continued the masked man. "I have no care for your excuses. You will die here, and your body will be left to the birds. But first," and here he rammed his gloved fist into Mr. Turo's nose, "I must release my anger." She heard cracking. She saw blood. Mr. Turo's nose ended up bruised and broken.
 And he was still smiling.
 The leader pulled a gray cloth from his coat's pocket and wiped the blood off his glove.
 Then he said a name. "Hansu."
 One of the men, who was probably named Hansu, he pointed a long and thin gun to the back of Mr. Turo's head. The other men backed away. The leader also moved from the scene. He went straight towards Danetta. She was distracted by him, and she didn't see when Hansu pulled the trigger. She heard it, though, felt the great sound vibrate in her ears, aching throat, bosom, belly, and legs. Then she heard Mr. Turo's body fall to the ground with a soft little thud. She still didn't look. She looked at the powerful man who was reaching out to her, palm upwards.
 She took the hand. The leather against her flesh was somewhat inhuman. As the fingers closed around her hand, she trembled and thought to pull out of the grasp. He was too quick. He seized her and pulled her to her feet with the most impressive strength she had ever felt. Then his hands went to her shoulders, holding her as if he expected her to collapse. Her gaze descended to the dirty toes of his boots.
 "Can you walk?" the man asked quietly.
 Danetta wasn't sure how to address him. So, instead of trying to come up with a proper term for him, she nodded and folded her arms across her chest.
 "Do you have a cloak?"
 Her head turned one way, then another, and she saw her bag on the ground. She nodded again, but she clarified with, "There's a cloak in my bag."
 The masked man left her and spoke to the men as she knelt and snatched up her bag. She considered herself to be a genius when it came to cramming things into bags and boxes. Not only did she have the pieces of her blue gown folded up inside, but she had her gray cloak, a spare pair of work shoes, a weathered pair of dancing slippers that used to belong to her mother, an old wooden comb, a thin sewing kit, a gray shawl of wool, and a few wooden hairpins.
 As she pulled out her cloak, she paused because she heard one of the men say, "Your Grace." Another called him, "Master." Danetta looked up at the men. The man with the cloth all around his head responded to them, and she understood that he must have been the lord of these lands.
 This man with leather gloves and a hidden face was Duke Erdgar Adurant.
 Why in the world was he concealing his appearance?
 With tense, quivering fingers, Danetta pulled her cloak about herself and tied it closed very slowly. When she tried to button up her bag she had to make a few attempts at it. She was chastising herself for being so rude to a nobleman. After all, she was technically trespassing. She inhaled her anxiety, nodded to herself, and walked over to the group of men, halting close to the leader.
 The cloth covered head turned in her direction, and then the man faced her. Danetta curtsied as low as she could, and she kept her face down as she said, "Your Grace, you have my deepest, deepest gratitude. I shall pray to the God of Hunting that your bullets will always hit their target. I shall pray to the God of Agriculture that the farmers among your people will always produce excellent harvests. I shall pray to the God of Medicine that you will live a long and healthy life."
 "You must not be very grateful, because so far you haven't offered to do anything useful for me."
 Her breath froze. One of her feet pointed inward and the corresponding knee buckled. His words stung her worse than any wasp could have. They were snug words, restless and uncaring.
 "I ... I must apologize. I have offended my sublime rescuer. I dare not say what my fate would be if you hadn't come to my defense."
 Duke Adurant's proportionally slim hips moved as he shifted the weight in his legs. "Why are you here?"
 Danetta's cheeks were flaming from embarrassment at herself. She really was a fool. "I'm ashamed to give the reason. It was entirely my own doing."
 "I'd love to hear why you think having a monster attack you was your own doing." Was that sarcasm in his voice?
 She took a nervous gulp of saliva. "The man, I knew him as Mr. Turo. We met in Henrisk. He told me he once worked for you, Your Grace, and he wouldn't mind helping me find a position in your estate. Once we were on your grounds, I stupidly followed him into the woods."
 "I've never seen that man before. He brought you all this way only to assault you?" He leaned to one side for a moment, his leather gloves making unpleasant swiping sounds against the back of his head as he seemed to rub something. "That sounds like pure asinine, but I've heard of offenders with worse sense." His body straightened, and Danetta thought she heard him mutter an offensive word.
 She lightly tapped the swelling flesh around her damaged eye. She imagined there would be a nasty bruise. Proper gentlewomen didn't show off black eyes with pride.
 Duke Adurant spoke to her again. "What's your name?"
 "Danetta Saivio." She curtsied again, but she tripped as she did so. She didn't stop herself. The nobleman did it for her. His secure grip assisted her immediately and without any hesitation, but Danetta couldn't sense any cruelty in those brown gloves. Her arms weren't in any pain from his touch. In fact, she rather liked the feeling of those gloves pressing onto her. She wasn't quite sure why. Maybe it was because she knew the hands inside were so strong. Maybe it was because those strong hands had just given that Mr. Turo a broken nose for her sake. Then again, did it really matter why she liked his touch?
 "Come to my home." His voice wasn't as harsh as it was before. "You should eat and rest there."

Wish Granted Chapter 3   

 Castle Adurant was a grand estate. The outer walls were impressively dense. The first gate they had to walk through had to be pulled by chains. A guard was always visible no matter where Danetta looked. Elegant dark blue banners hung about, all bearing the same family crest, a leaping mountain cat with pointed ears and red claws framed by a perfect circle of golden thread.
 The main entrance to the keep itself was a set of two massive doors of dark wood. An intricate pattern of squares and diamonds was carved from top to bottom. Guards pulled the heavy handles of the doors, and they groaned open like old men struggling to get out of bed.
 The foyer they walked in was so large, so empty, that despite the warm weather Danetta felt a coldness in the air. She wondered if it was her imagination. As she walked with the men, she looked down at the great blue rug their shoes made contact with. All of them had the decency to shake and kick dirt off their shoes before they went inside, but there was still a remorseful stone in Danetta's stomach when she stepped onto the rug.
 They passed rows of polished columns supporting a ceiling so high that Danetta's neck made a popping sound as she tried to look at it. A quick tap on her arm jolted her out of her position. She had actually stopped moving without realizing it. She blinked and turned to the source of the touch.
 It was Duke Adurant; his head was pointed at her. She could hear his breath, gentle but craggy. The fabric on his face was slightly rustled as his nose pushed air in and out.
 "Miss Saivio, the housekeeper should be here soon. Wait here with me."
 "Yes, Your Grace." Danetta lowered her head. The soreness in her body was more evident to her then. Her lips flattened in a wince and her good eyelids flickered. She wished the man wouldn't stare at her. The fact that his face was hidden didn't change anything. She knew, simply knew his eyes were focusing on her.
 An idea sprung up. She almost smiled at it. What if he thought she was pretty? It wasn't a ludicrous idea. She knew that at least some of her features were considered attractive. For example, she had a fairly clean and pale complexion. Her father knew better than to hit her face, even when he was angry. How could he find a wealthy husband for her if her face was scarred?
 Even though she was still shaken from Mr. Turo's betrayal, she was happy to have her savior think of her as pretty. Even with a forming black eye, which would heal eventually, Danetta thought she probably seemed comely. He saw her bosom, didn't he? He saw the creamy flesh there. He must have understood that once her eye healed she would be beautiful.
 It was best not to appear vain, though. Danetta's face rose only slightly, but she didn't offer any of the coy smiles she had seen more flirtatious women use. Nothing would come of him thinking she was pretty, because she was nothing more than a commoner.
 Well, he could always ask her to be his lover. It wouldn't be the first time an aristocrat proposed such an arrangement, but she had refused and she would still refuse a similar request from this masked duke. She'd rather have an ordinary husband and live an ordinary life. Such an ordinary relationship would have much less drama.
 A woman soon emerged, announcing her presence with a warm statement. "Ah! It's so good to see you home, Your Grace!" She had a wide smile on her round face. Her brown hair was slightly disheveled, and there were hints of gray at her hairline. Her outfit was neat and clean, and she seemed healthy. The curtsy she offered the man was quick and almost an afterthought. She then turned her eyes to Danetta and her cheer disappeared. She became something like a punctured sack of grain.
 "Oh my! Poor Dearie, what happened to you?"
 Danetta wasn't given the chance to answer her. The nobleman spoke for her. "Tilly, this is Danetta Saivio. A madman lured her onto my hunting grounds and assaulted her."
 A gasp, and then the housekeeper's eyes watered. "Oh, the poor, sweet little angel! Where's the brute now?"
 Duke Adurant replied very curtly, "Hansu shot him in the head."
 "Good man, then! Good man!" Tilly nodded. "Is this a guest, then?"
 The covered head nodded. "Of course. Her injuries need to be seen to. She should be given tea and cool water for washing, and a healthy meal. Her gown was damaged. Have it repaired. When she is settled, she may do as she pleases until dinner. She should be in the dining hall at that time."
 Danetta's head nearly spun as she tried to process all the information he so casually poured out.
 Tilly waved her hand up towards Danetta. "Follow me, then. We'll have you sorted out."
 Danetta complied, staying as close to the housekeeper's skirt as she could. She didn't want to fall behind and lose her way. The stairs and hallways she was led through were perplexing. She might as well have been in a labyrinth. Only when Tilly stopped at a tall door did she feel anything close to relaxation.
 The room inside was sparse, but still resplendent in Danetta's eyes. The bed had an indulgent canopy embroidered with flowery designs. There was a fireplace. It wasn't of much use in the warm weather, but it was shiny and well made. There were fur rugs on the stone floor, and there was a great window with a view of a vibrant garden a few stories below. Among the flowers outside, there was an elegant fountain. The main structure was a large bowl shape. Standing in the center was a statue of a graceful nude woman pouring water from a vase.
 "Such a beautiful room!" Danetta exclaimed, unable to contain her feelings. She remained at the window for a few seconds, analyzing the flowers, hoping to find a rainbow rose.
 "This is only one of the minor guest rooms," Tilly said, patting her back in a gentle attempt to take her away from the window.
 Danetta couldn't help it. She winced and puled.
 Silence. There was silence for approximately five seconds.
 Then Tilly said, "Rest your pretty little bones on the bed, Dearie. I'll soon return with some girls to help you."
 As the housekeeper exited, Danetta placed her bag on the floor. Then she flopped her belly onto the mattress, grateful for the benevolent texture of the soft blanket. This was the highlight of the day, and it was still early. She wondered how the rest of the day would pan out.
 Soon, though, she had to get up, because the housekeeper had indeed returned, and three maids were with her. First, they gingerly wiped her face and throat with room temperature tea instead of water, despite Danetta's gentle claims of being able care for herself. Then Tilly asked her if she had another dress.
 "I do, but it's quite formal," Danetta told the housekeeper.
 With a negative flick of her fingers, Tilly said, "That's not a problem, Dearie. None here will think less of you. Now why don't you come out of that gown?"
 Danetta was confused. Only the jacket and stomacher were torn. She tilted her head and said, "Madam, do you need my skirt too?"
 "I might as well take it." Tilly's cheeks had little dimples as she smiled. "We can't have you walking around with a skirt that doesn't match a bodice. I'll see if there's anything I can do to smarten it up while I have the opportunity."
 Danetta shook her head. "That's very kind of you, Dear Madam, but I'd hate to put more work to you. I'm certain you'd be engaged with more important duties." One of the lower maids muffled a giggle with her apron. Danetta wanted to stare at her, but she decided to look down at her fingernails.
 Tilly reached over and patted her hand. "Don't trouble yourself, Miss. Please undress."
 Overly stubborn people were one of Danetta's weaknesses. She sighed and agreed to remove her clothing. She wanted to fold each piece and put them on the bed, but one of the maids insisted on doing that for her. Once Danetta was in her chemise, bum roll, stockings, and stays, Tilly scooped up the folded bits of her gown and nodded.
 "Fine indeed, Miss," Tilly said as her skirt swished past the back of Danetta's stocking covered feet, but she paused.
 One of the maids asked, "What's the matter, Mrs. Tilly?"
 Danetta's toes vainly scratched at the floor. Her breath quickened.
 "There's something purple on your skin, Dearie," Tilly said in a hushed tone, standing right behind a very uneasy Danetta. "Did that monster in the woods beat your back like a prisoner?"
 She didn't want to lie. Lying wasn't usually good. Danetta shook her head.
 A maid looked closer at her. "Miss Saivio, you've got me crazed for an answer. Who beat you? Was it your husband?"
 Another maid corrected the first. "She's a Miss, not a Mrs. She doesn't have a husband. I think one of her parents beat her."
 "Is that true?" the first maid asked with big, sweet eyes.
 "Was it your Mama or your Papa?" the third maid asked.
 "Girls!" That was Tilly. Her face was stern.
 All three lower maids hushed up, but they gave Danetta pitying looks.
 Tilly made a smacking noise with her lips and said, "Can't be helped, can it? Let's get her naked and see what the damage is. If we don't see to her, and the Master finds out about it, he'll break something. Then he'll be upset because something's broken, and then we'll have to clean it up."
 The maids turned their heads back to Danetta, expecting her to begin unlacing her stays. There was no use in fighting it. Danetta plucked at the laces and gritted her teeth. When her stays were gone, they untied her bum roll, put it aside, and pulled her chemise over her head.
 Everyone gasped.
 Old and new, small and large, there were a variety of bruises down her back. There wasn't much to say about it. There wasn't anything anyone could have done to stop it.
 Tilly was the first woman to speak. "Soak her back in tea, then see to everything else. I'll patch this gown up in my room." The maids already had their hands on Danetta's arms.
 There was a damp tea bag strapped to her right eye and it was the strangest eye-patch Danetta had ever heard of. The fact that her eye was covered didn't help her at all with her predicament. She was lost. Every hallway, while gracefully adorned, was more similar than the last one, and she was so distracted by her panic at being lost that she forgot what her destination was. Eventually she swallowed her ridiculous shame and asked a passing servant for a way outside. She was led out with a smile and a bow. Then she remembered that she had wanted see a garden, preferably with roses. She found a familiar fountain and went straight for it.
 The garden Danetta found was more lush and more fragrant up close than it could have been from a window several stories high. The air was scrumptious. Her old shoes tapped on the smooth brick pathway as her good eye flitted from one section of magnificence to the next. When she found the beautiful fountain with the nude statue she seated herself on the thick edge of the base. Her fingers dipped into the clear water flowing from the woman's vase. Her fingers were soon chilled. She wondered if the water was safe to drink.
 She adjusted the skirt of her blue gown, took in a long, idle breath, and looked around for any witnesses. Finding none, she slid her gray shawl off of her neck and bosom. It wasn't the proper weather for such a thick shawl, but she didn't want to display the low neckline of her gown so easily. Perhaps later, at dinner, she might be more inclined to walk about without her shawl.
 But it didn't matter much, anyway. She was hot. The shawl had to go for a moment.
 Danetta reached back to the falling water, sunk more of her hand into the stream, and cupped her fingers. Then she splashed the water onto her face, her throat, and finally her bosom. The wet, crisp water soothed her heated flesh. She even rubbed the water in, as if using a luxurious cream. The only thing that could have increased her happiness was a delicious treat, or a rainbow rose.
 Her eye just happened to notice a few rose bushes a short walk away. Perfect! Danetta stood up and walked over there, singing an old song from her childhood. She even spun around at one point, as if dancing. When she was close the the roses, her smile widened. They were rainbow roses. Multiple colors were swirled and blotted on the petals of the perfume-like flowers. She didn't have the courage to pluck a flower. Instead, her fingertips stole a single petal with an almost inaudible snap.
 She was enjoying the sinful texture of the petal against her lower lip as she walked back to the fountain. It was better than silk. It was on a completely different level of softness. It was almost like flesh, cosseted flesh that knew the best creams. She almost wanted to eat the petal, but that would have been a crime in her mind. As her backside returned to the fountain's edge, she settled on letting her tongue dash out to the petal for only a second. It tasted like spring and luxury. A childish giggle bubbled out of her. She was certainly going to miss this place when she left.
 "You could've picked a flower. I wouldn't have minded."
 The petal fell from her lips and onto her lap. Her cheeks and nose flushed. Danetta looked to her right, found nobody, and then looked to her left.
 The lord of the province was there, still wrapped up in gray cloth, still wearing brown leather gloves. His outfit was different, though. His shoes were small with silver buttons. His breeches were black. The stockings were appropriately white, and his waistcoat was a pale green color. The shirt underneath the waistcoat was very clean and had a high neckline. The sleeves were tucked into his gloves. A dark green coat was over him, embroidered with small silver leaves, especially at the cuffs of the loose sleeves. A thick cravat was once again around the neck. There was no hat, but perhaps his habit of covering his head had him thinking he didn't need a hat. He seemed to have a problem with skin exposure. Perhaps sunlight irritated him?
 Despite the man's generosity with the roses, Danetta stood, curtsied, and said, "Sincerely, I apologize, Your Grace. It was wrong of me to damage anything belonging to you. I beg of you to punish me."
 "Didn't you hear me, Woman?" His great arms folded across his chest. "I don't care." His words were so impatient that Danetta wondered if she really had angered him. The head slanted to one side. "Have you asked anyone why I cover my face?"
 Her answer was prompt, almost mechanical. "I did not."
 "Has anyone offered an explanation?"
 She shook her head. "No, Your Grace."
 "Why haven't you asked, then?"
 Danetta's good eye discreetly searched for the lost rose petal. "I don't believe the issue is of my concern. It's not my place to inquire of the master's affairs."
 Duke Adurant's shoulders quirked up and fell back down. His head straightened up to its natural position. "If you won't ask, then I won't tell you."
 "Yes, Your Grace." Danetta curtsied again. The truth was that she was dying to know the reason why he concealed himself, but she had even less courage to ask than she had for plucking a rainbow rose.
 "There's a rumor dancing around the castle," the man said, stepping towards her, his shoes almost beating down the bricks in the ground.
 "Yes, Your Grace. Rumors are always present everywhere."
 His shoes were a few inches away from her skirt. There was a new scent about him, freshly chopped wood and silk. Was that a cologne?
 "Unlike you, Miss Saivio, I ask the important questions. I know it's often rude, but I don't care." She heard the leather of his gloves stretch and creak. "The maids have been whispering that you have several bruises on your body, and that your woodland assailant wasn't the cause of most of them. Please be honest with me, Miss Saivio. Is this true?"
 The only response she could think of was a nod.
 "If I send you back to your home, will you gain more bruises?"
 Her good eye shot up to the gray head. "Your Grace, as your fine servants tended to me, I considered my near imbecility and cowardice. I ran from my father, my only family. I completely abandoned the concept of loyalty. The only recompense I can give my father is to return to him and accept my fate, but I don't know if that would be enough to satisfy my guilt."
 "Return to him?" A scoffing breath huffed through the gray fabric. "Does he need you? He can't be an invalid."
 She shook her head so fiercely that one of her braids loosened. "Please, Your Grace, I beg you to lend me a carriage. I have some gold, should you demand compensation."
 "Ah ... pardon me?" That was Tilly's voice. Danetta turned to look at her. The housekeeper was close by, holding something wrapped up in paper and tied with a string. "I don't mean to interrupt."
 The back of Duke Adurant's hand seemed to slap something invisible. "It's fine, Tilly. What is it?"
 "I've mended the guest's gown." She held the package out, pointing it towards Danetta.
 "Excellent. Hand it over to her." Well, he certainly seemed a bit more cheerful.
 Danetta took the package and nodded to the housekeeper. "Thank you so much."
 Tilly's messy head peered over Danetta's blue sleeve. "Your shawl's gone and dipped itself in the water."
 Danetta hopped and turned around all at once. "Oh dear!" Her shawl was on the fountain, but half of it had fallen into the water.
 Duke Adurant was the one to pull it up and ring out the excess water. Danetta was concerned about his gloves. Wouldn't the water damage the leather? He folded the shawl into a neat square and placed it on top of the package Danetta held.
 She gave him a clumsy curtsy. "Thank you, Your Grace." Maybe he had a bottle of leather conditioner in a pocket somewhere. She decided it wasn't her place to worry over his choices. "I believe I should change into my other gown."
 Tilly rolled her eyes. "There's no need for that, Dearie. Why don't you come inside? I asked a maid to put a bowl of cherries out for you. I'll take your things to your room."
 Both women curtsied to the master of the estate, who responded with an irritated demand. "Stop bobbing like moles and go!"
 Danetta rushed into the keep. Tilly was much more leisurely as she obeyed the master. Then she led Danetta to a drawing room, where a beautifully painted bowl sat on a table, full of plump cherries.
 Dinner was peculiar to her. Not only was the dining hall huge, with a long table and a large amount of chairs, but Danetta was apparently meant to eat with the Duke himself sitting near her. He didn't have a plate. He didn't even have a beverage. Danetta could have had her meal inside her guest room, but apparently the Duke had been insistent on his guest's appearance in the dining hall.
 His position in his chair was strangely relaxed, almost slouching, and she wondered if he was ill, but she didn't want to pry. At one point, he seemed to forget anything resembling good manners, and he put his elbow on the table and rested his blank head on his hand. He even smelled different, like the fabric about his head was dusted with dirt or ash. Fortunately, it wasn't such a strong smell that she couldn't eat her food.
 Danetta tried not to take offense at his lack of protocol. Besides, she loved the food. She was smiling, inhaling the loving aromas. There were finely chopped pieces of venison, seasoned with rather expensive tasting spices, and tender pods of beans covered in melted cheese. Her beverage was lightly sweetened water in an elegant little glass. This was only the first course. Danetta was starting to feel special, and she wasn't sure if that was wise.
 She thought it would be best to let her host lead the conversation, but for a few moments he said nothing while she gingerly placed food into her mouth, occasionally looking up at him with her good eye. When he finally did speak, Danetta almost regretted not providing a subject in the beginning.

 "Miss Saivio, what will be your fate once you return to Henrisk?" he asked slowly, leisurely, his words foaming out of his head like a crawling fog. This was nearly the opposite of the brisk tone she had associated him with. Something was wrong with him.
 A few beads of fear ruptured in her throat, but she ignored her feelings and said quite politely, "Would Your Grace find fault in me for keeping such matters private, as they should be?"
 "Aaaaaahhhh! You silly nestling!" His gloves scratched about as he cracked the joints of his fingers.
 "I don't believe it would be proper of me." Danetta watched him silently fume at her as she ate the rest of the first course. The second course served to her consisted of thin slices of pork, a spicy fruit tart, a tiny and wiggling jelly confection, and another glass of the sweet water.
 She was halfway though the meal, blushing, when her host spoke to her again.
 "Damn, I'd love to have that, but I just ate."
 His indecent terminology startled her, and a scoop of her jelly slipped off her spoon, splattering onto her plate and nearly marking her dress.
 The duke kicked his chair back with a frightening screech. Then he stretched out his long legs and popped his joints again. "You should tell me about your father. Come now!" He was whining like a child.
 She found herself breathing out, "Will you ever let me be?"
 "No, I will not." He laughed, and it wasn't a heavy laugh. It was wheezy.
 Danetta sighed and dug up her jelly. "My father owns a small shipping company, but he hasn't been fairing well. He turned to alcohol and the Game Hall for comfort. Now he has a debt to pay, and his only option is to sell me at the next services auction. He believes I'll be worth more as a bride than a maid."
 There. It was all out. She had coldly and stiffly given him the facts.
 And, once again, she knew he was judging her. She looked down at her plate, finished off the second course, and waited for dessert to be served. A few servants silently went to her, cleaned up the area, and put a few tiny rectangles of cake before her. They were darling little creations, covered in sugary white frosting and tiny berries.
 She heard a razzing sound, as if he was shooting his breath between his lips. She was reminded of a parent putting messy, blowing kisses onto a baby's belly. When he stopped making those sounds, he was laughing again, his shoulders shaking, his chest heaving.
 "Woman, woman!" He spoke like he was trying to get her attention, but he already had it. "Do you see the path before you?"
 Danetta didn't understand the question. She popped one of the little cakes into her mouth to avoid speaking. The confection was very light and mellow, and the sugar enhanced the flavor. She knew it was an expensive treat, because the last time she had anything similar her mother was still alive.
 "You don't have any idea what's happening, do you?" He seemed to think she was funny. He certainly was laughing enough to make her think so.
 Danetta shook her head and put another cake into her mouth.
 He slapped the table with his hands, and he stood up. He bowed, chuckled, and straightened up. "I suppose I've bothered you enough. Sleep here tonight. I'd never allow a battered woman to travel, unless it's an emergency."
 "Your Grace!" She made to rise, but his gloved hand rose first, silencing her without any sound nor contact.
 "For the sake of propriety, I'll send a letter to your father. He has the right to know you're alive. If you still wish to go to him two days from now, then I'll offer a carriage."
 Her hands spread out and down her thighs, over her blue over-skirt, and she nodded weakly. "Your magnanimous compassion is overwhelming, Your Grace."
 On the following morning, the Lord of the Duvanu province retired to a private library. His favorite bodyguard, Hansu, knocked on the frame of the doorway and asked permission to enter. Adjusting the plain fabric over his head, the noble eased himself into a padded seat and told Hansu to come in.
 With a bow, Hansu stepped into the perimeter and said to his employer, "I regret disturbing your quiet, Master, but something has been troubling me, and I believe only your wisdom can put me at ease."
 "I'm not a wise man, Hansu, but I'm willing to aid you." He nodded and flicked his fingers at the man.
 Hansu straightened his back. "I revisited the tree with your name, where Miss Saivio was assaulted. I was curious to see if the scoundrel's body had been consumed by the animals."
 The duke popped his joints and groaned. A headache was coming. "Hurry it up, Man. What's the problem?"
 "The body's gone, Your Grace, and so is the man's bag."
 Under the wrapped fabric, the noble's eyelid twitched. A searing, throbbing pain he was unfortunately well acquainted with was spreading around his head. "A beast dragged him away."
 "Master, I had the same thought, but there were no dragging lines in the blood, nor in the dirt and grass. In fact, I examined the footprints. I recognized the marks of your shoes, the shoes of my companions, and mine. I also recognized the dainty prints of your esteemed guest. Then I saw the last set, which belonged to the assailant. The conclusion I have is insanity, Your Grace."
 A pause, Hansu's brow had lines of worry across it. The duke slapped his knees as he rocked his body impatiently. "Go on, Man!"
 "Master! It seemed as if the man simply stood up and walked away!"
 "Ridiculous. Don't concern yourself with that thought." He dismissed Hansu, but gently, and then he pressed his leather covered fingertips against his head.

Wish Granted Chapter 4   

 A vague sense of disorder assaulted her brain when she woke up. A couple of moments passed before she understood her location. Then images of the previous day rolled through her mind, and she sighed. She slid off the bed and dressed in her ordinary gown. A covered tray of food was already waiting for her on a nightstand. 
 She ate quickly. Then she walked to the window and combed her hair, admiring the weather. It was cooler than before, and it was raining. The sky was gray and cottony. The flowers were weighed down by pelting drops. The fountain was rippling. 
 Despite the likelihood of getting lost again, she decided to explore the castle. She didn't want to hide in her room all day. Her loose curls bounced against her back and skirt as she wandered the hallways. Whenever she saw a person, she nodded and smiled, but she kept her eyes away. 
 The roaring precipitation grew louder, and Danetta was curious about it. She went to a very tall window and watched the glass endure quite a beating. There was a whistling wind signaling to the world that it wanted to drench everything. She thought the sounds were pacifying. 
 Then were were other sounds, quiet little sounds, somewhere behind her. Her eyebrows pointed down. She turned around and waited. Perhaps she hadn't heard anything at all? She gathered the length of her hair and pulled it over her shoulder. Then, again, she heard the sound. It was like a newborn puppy's whine of youthful chaos, except maybe somewhat lower. Her eyes trailed the floor ahead of her, then a door. She stepped to it and put her ear against the wood. 
 The noise was louder. In fact, there was another sound, a soft humming, a hungry humming. Danetta wondered if she should open the door. What if whatever was going on behind the door wasn't something she needed to see? What if she was punished for it? But, what if someone was getting hurt? Or, what if there was a mouse or something eating up precious food?
 What if there was a purple dragon receiving a foot massage from a rabbit and smoking a pipe? 
 Danetta snorted out her amusement at her memories of children's books. She needed to stop thinking of childish concepts. 
 "You're so fucking beautiful," a masculine voice murmured from behind the door. 
 She shouldn't open the door.
 Curiosity shouldn't always be satisfied.
 She honestly shouldn't open the door.
 She opened the door, only a little bit, making a crack small enough for her eye to peek into the room.
 The room was small. It seemed to be a closet for storage. There were shelves loaded with crates and folded blankets, partially hidden by shadow. But, what truly gained her interest were two people. One was closely kneeling before another. The one kneeling had a skirt, and so it was likely a woman. The one standing close to her was a man. His slightly knobbly hands were delving into the lopsided, gray coiffure of the woman. His hips were thrusting against her head, and every movement gained a slurp or a gentle moan from the woman. 
 Upon further evaluation, Danetta saw that the man's breeches were unlaced, and his very erect penis was sliding in and out of the woman's eager mouth. She was taking in most of the shaft, and she didn't seem to be upset about it. Soon, one of her hands affectionately moved up the man's leg and thigh, kneading the muscles slowly. Then, the hand sunk into the breeches, cupping the gray set of testicles and making the man grit his teeth and curse. 
 Quietly, Danetta closed the door. Both hands, fingers closed, slithered up and down her pink cheeks. She stepped away from the closet and tried not to let the imagery duplicate itself over and over in her brain. Her feet hurried down the hallway. She wasn't sure where she was going. 
 Danetta had a vague concept of how genitals function, especially where pregnancy was involved. Penis becomes erect, then goes into vagina for a little bit until it spits out goo. Goo may or may not put a baby into the woman. That was it. She didn't know that one could put their mouth on a man's penis. She certainly didn't know that one could put their hands on the testicles. She had barely registered that testicles even existed. 
 Why would a man even want a mouth on his penis? Wouldn't the teeth hurt him? What if the woman had eaten something spicy? What if one of her teeth were rotten? 
 Her feet paused as a new thought rose. Does it really matter why a man would want a mouth on his penis? It didn't seem particularly harmful. And the way that man had called the woman beautiful ... well ... while the language was crass and uncouth, there was a lot of meaning in it. Danetta had heard the man's passion, his honesty, his urgent need to tell the woman how pleased he was with her. It was quite lovely, perhaps even thrilling. 
 She wandered off to a drawing room and sank into a cozy chair. Her thoughts turned to her future marriage. She had no idea who would have the highest bid. Her husband could be sympathetic or vicious. Everything depended on luck for her. Would her husband want her to put her mouth over his penis? Would he praise her? Would he disparage her? Would he feel some sort of guilt over wanting such contact, and then blame her for giving in to his demand? 
 If her husband actually insulted her as she performed such a task, she thought her heart might break. Danetta found herself chewing on the thought with metaphorically aching teeth. Her knees came together under her clothing, and she sniveled out quiet gibberish. Her fingers rubbed into her face, and she felt moisture. She had been crying without realizing it. 
 And just then, Duke Adurant surprised her again. He walked into the room and pointed his concealed face at her. Danetta stared up at him for a very overstrung moment, and then she remembered her manners. She stood up, curtsied, and greeted her host.
 "Who's harmed you?"
 She couldn't believe that was the first thing he said to her. Danetta shook her head. "Nobody, Your Grace."
 "You wept in my home. I can't let that go unquestioned." The man stomped his way over to her, shooting enough apprehension into her to force her to step aside and away. It didn't matter, though. His legs were longer and more athletic. He was on her soon, brown leather crunching into itself as his hands clasped her arms just above the elbows. It was not polite to just grab a person like that, especially a woman. He wasn't seeing to an injured person anymore. He was putting his hands on a person for nothing but pure emotion. 
 Context is everything, and his actions applied to this context were almost as frightening as the moment when Mr. Turo betrayed her. "Your Grace! Please!" Her head moved to one side, and even though she wanted to pull away, she was too afraid to try. 
 His voice seemed to fan over her in a relentless manner, like a hurricane spreading over a small neighborhood of poorly built houses. "I'm the only one meant to weep in this home. Has someone insulted you?"
 "No! I was only sulking!" Her little hands were shaking. Her face was burning from her previous thoughts, and her treasonous mind was wondering if this duke had ever had someone suck his penis into their mouth. 
 "Sulking? What was troubling you? Your father? Your future?" 
 That was a much more correct speculation. Still, she didn't want him to think that she was unwilling to go home. His intense, yet impolite kindness would have him holding her prisoner. 
 "What would you do for money?" 
 She dared to look up at him. To her, his question seemed to be unrelated to anything. Through the cloth about him, she felt something, something both questionable and unquestionable. She couldn't figure out how to describe it accurately in her mind. She couldn't even figure out what it was. 
 "I don't know the answer, Your Grace."
 His hands tightened, but instead of pain, Danetta felt a tingle in her arms. Her lips parted. There was a tiny, feminine gasp. Deep within herself, something inflamed her senses, and she didn't just wonder what the man looked like. She wondered what he tasted like. 
 "What would you do for love?"
 "Love?" Cold water poured over her senses. She blinked up at the passionless mask, which was so different from the man's heated personality. "I'm not certain, Your Grace, but I know I would do much more than what I'd do for money." 
 The gloves seemed to stroke her as they moved down the sleeves of her gown and then drew back, removing themselves from her person. An empty, cutting feeling remained, wounding her state of mind. 
 "You're not certain, but you're certain that you must go to your father. You don't love him, do you?" 
 Danetta felt like she was being accused of something. It wasn't fair. She was going to do the correct thing. She was going to do the proper thing. She was going to go to her father and let him sell her, just as a loyal child should do in such a situation. That is what society demanded. That is what her betters demanded. That is what this masked noble should demand. 
 Tears returned to her aqua colored eyes as she reminded herself that this was all her fault. She shouldn't have used up her mother's inheritance for her education, because it would have been better spent on her father's debt. She shouldn't have eaten so much food; she had always been so greedy. She shouldn't have been so uppity with that Vinsell Rothbeard person who had called her a lambkin. He might have married her and assisted her father. She shouldn't have believed a prophecy, especially from some street woman. She shouldn't have trusted Mr. Turo; that was so stupid of her. She shouldn't have ran away from home. She was such an ungrateful child! 
 The duke offered a quick bow to her, and then he said, "I'll let you indulge yourself in your wretchedness for now, but when you're finished, I hope you can accept my aid." 
 Dinner was a little bit cold, but otherwise delicious. Danetta's host, however, was not so pleasant. He sat near her, not eating, not drinking, and not saying much of anything. Meanwhile, she kept imagining what his penis would taste like. The closest taste she could imagine was her finger. 
 Sometimes, she'd try to get a small bit of food onto her hand, and then she'd place her napkin before her face to discreetly lick at her digits. Her tongue would always linger only seconds more than it should have. Her secret places between her thighs would buzz and hum with desire. 
 Danetta thought she was rather daring, thinking such wanton actions, sitting close to her object of curiosity. The taboo nature of the thoughts fueled her craving, and she knew her bosom, so lovingly exhibited by her blue dress' neckline, was rising and falling much more often than normal. Danetta hoped her host didn't notice, but she also hoped he did. 
 It wasn't until dessert was served that the duke said anything substantial to her. The back of his hand slid over the table, towards her plate, or perhaps towards her. He calmly asked, "Have you asked anyone why I hide my flesh?" 
 Danetta put down her fork. "No, Your Grace." 
 His fingers closed tightly. "Will you ask me?" 
 She wanted to, but she was reaching a point in her mind where she thought this was almost a game. She told him, "It's not my concern, Your Grace." Danetta wondered if he concealed himself even when visiting Henrisk. Then again, the current date was just at the beginning of the normal season for the fashionable ones to leave their country abodes and visit the capital in search of fast paced socialization. If the duke had wanted to partake in the seasonal balls, dinner parties, festivals, and sports, he should have gone to Henrisk by now.
 Duke Adurant's hand withdrew. "If you won't ask, then I won't tell you." 
 She imagined that even if she did ask, he might not tell her. If he wanted her to know, then logic demanded that he'd tell her immediately. 
 He bid her goodbye and left her to her dessert, strangely somber in his gait.
 The following day was pleasant, but mostly uneventful. In fact, the duke barely ever spoke to Danetta, and when he did, he asked her about whether or not she would inquire of his strange concealment. Again, Danetta told him that she shouldn't ask. 
 And on the morning after that, she was in a carriage, on her way back home. She would soon be sold off to a stranger. She supposed there were worse fates. The idea of courtship was a fairly recent one. It was once common, especially among the wealthy, to have one's parents or a matchmaker arrange a marriage for you. Even in the era Danetta lived in, many people didn't marry for something as ridiculous as love. While the bride and groom could freely choose each other, they often did so for varying reasons such as inheritances, alliances, and other similar concepts.
 When she arrived at her home, she didn't receive any greeting. Her father was coldly sitting in an old wooden chair in the family room, drinking a cup of water. Danetta didn't know if she should speak to him or not. She stood behind him, fiddling with a gathered section of her skirt, her heart nearly punching a hole in her chest. She thought she had remained in that position for two whole minutes before her father finally spoke. He didn't turn his head. He didn't get up. He only spoke. 
 "Papa's not angry. Go to your room and rest. Your body needs to be pristine when I put you before the men." 
 During the remainder of the month, as she waited for her turn to be sold in the Auction Hall, she mostly stayed in her room to heal. Duke Adurant had been kind enough to give her a packet of herbs and teas to assist in her recuperation. He also gave her a jar of white cream. He claimed it was supposed to encourage healing, but Danetta knew better. It was a cosmetic. It was meant to keep the flesh beautiful. She actually hoped that her skin would glow. 
 Highly strung feelings of incorrectness were constantly in the air during this time. There were plenty of moments where Danetta knew she had angered her father. He would give her the fiercest expressions and raise his cane, or even his hand, but something would always hold him back. Almost as if in pain, he would recoil and sternly order her to her bedroom. 
 Danetta tried to tell herself that he was remembering that her face needed to be beautiful. However, he could have beaten her back. He wasn't going to place her on the stage in the nude. And once she was married, there wouldn't be anything her husband could do about a marked back. He would have already paid the price at the auction. No refunds were allowed unless the seller outright lied about the product, and Danetta knew that according to the law, all her father needed to do was refrain from saying her back was bruised. He didn't need to outright say that it was. 

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