Hours passed, the evening meal came and went, more dirty dishes and utensils appeared. The door opened and Madame called from the hall.
“Aimée, your appearance has been requested,” she said. Aimée dropped her tools and left the maid on her own. The front of her dress was soaked with water. Her hair frizzed from the humidity and eyes red from tears. The Madame gave her a look up and down.
“Dreadful,” she commented under her breath. Aimée followed her obediently down the hall. Madame opened the door of the library and stared at Aimée. The girl of sixteen hesitated in the doorway of the dark room. The warm, glowing fire was the only source of light. She stepped forward and the door latched behind her. She approached the high-backed chair in front of the fireplace. The room was silent. She kneeled.
“Monsieur, please let me apologize. I am always your loyal servant. My errant strike was unintentional and I promise to focus more on my practice and control more so now than ever,” she pleaded.
“Unintentional?” a voice growled behind her. She jumped in surprise and slowly glanced cautiously over her shoulder. The Count came forward into the circle of light cast by the fire. Cloth bandages were wound around his head to cover his eye. He carried a wine bottle and two goblets in his hands.
“Yes, Monsieur,” she said quietly.
He had a slight swagger as he passed her and resumed his seat in the grand chair. He kicked out the footstool.
“Sit.” He putted the stopper out of the bottle and poured the wine. Aimée very slowly got to her feet and took her place on the footstool. He handed her a glass that she fidgeted with.
“Give me your hand,” the Count ordered. She offered her wounded hand that had been hastily wrapped in a kitchen rag. He pulled back the wrappings to expose the cut, red against the chapped, pink skin from scullery work.
“Unintentional?” he repeated. Aimée kept her eyes down and she nodded. Gilles pressed on the cut causing her to wince. She tried to pull her hand away, but his grip was too tight.
“Intentional,” he said. His voice was slow and even. “Why?”
“You told me I needed to use every advantage I have,” she whispered, “I did.”
“And what advantage is that?” Gilles released her hand with a flick of his wrist. He picked up his glass as he leaned back in the chair. Aimée shook her head as she stared at the rug.
“You set a trap. It was my mistake for falling for it,” he said. “I’d like to know what inspired your effort.” Aimée was reluctant to say and delayed the interrogation by sipping the wine.
“Is this new?” she asked. The wine on her empty stomach warmed her from the inside out. She could feel the flush in her cheeks.
“No. Answer the question, Aimée,” he ordered.
“Affection?” she posed her answer as a question in hope of softening the blow.
“Affection!” Gilles sneered, “How do you mean?” Aimée sat up straighter as her wine fueled courage grew. She studied the Count’s face as he scowled at the fire.
“Affection like between a tutor and student or master and servant…father and dau-”
“Damn it! Is that what you think of me?” The Count slammed his fist down on the arm of the chair. The girl flinched, a spot of wine leapt from her glass and landed on the fabric of her skirt. She watched in horror as he ripped the bandages from his eye. “You surprise me with your proficiency of twisting the hearts those around you with your feminine wiles.” She kept her eyes pinned on him, frozen, she couldn’t force herself to look away from the wound.
“I, who took you from that convent and gave you an education you never could have hoped for otherwise. To me, you do this.” Gilles gestured at the oozing cut that began on his cheek and traveled through his eye to his brow. “After all I have done.” Aimée was on her knees with tears streaming down her face. She clutched at his free hand as she pleaded for forgiveness. His fingers closed around hers and pulled her closer.
“Look at me,” he growled. Aimée tried to focus on his one good eye as he leaned towards her. “Never, ever deceive me again. Understand?” He gave her cut another squeeze.
“Yes, Monsieur, I will be always truthful. I swear,” she whispered. “Have mercy. I am nothing.
“Do you swear your obedience to me?”
“Yes, Monsieur. My undying loyalty.”
The Count smirked and released her hand.
“Good.” He leaned back in the chair. Aimée felt her way back to the footstool. “If it hadn’t been myself on the end of your blade…” Gilles paused and refilled his glass. “I would be proud.”
Madame barged into the room. She was in the habit of listening at the key hole and did not like the turn in the conversation.
“Pardon me, Monsieur, but it is late. It is unseemly to let the girl remain at this hour. Come, Aimée!” the woman said. The girl got to her feet. Gilles held up a hand to make her pause.
“I leave for Paris in the morning.”
“So soon?” Her voice betrayed her disappointment.
“I find myself in need of a better surgeon than there are around here.”
“Aimée,” Madame called. Her voice was stern. Her expression warned the girl to comply.
“Go on,” Gilles said, “And take better care of your hands. Gentile women don’t play with swords or scrubs pots.”
Aimée made a quick curtsy and hurried out of the room.