Deep inside the catacombs of the ancient Castle Rodney, Claudius rose back to his feet after placing a wreath on the grave of his deceased wife. He took a step back and examined the grave. It had been thirteen years, but it still felt like yesterday. He looked around the ornate chamber that contained nearly a millennia of House of Rodney family members. He was never comfortable down here surrounded by reminders of death, but his obligation prevented such worries from preventing his actions.
Htaere moved down the cold stone stair that descended into the bowels of the castle in search of Claudius after a family member informed her of his likely whereabouts. With a non-urgent bit of information for him, she was sure his father would find her tidings more interesting then he. With their terribly impaired vision in even the dimmest of light, the palm of her hand moved along the wall to guide her in the more reserve setting, the fingers of her other hand holding up the front of her dress slightly, lest she trip over it on the way down. At the very bottom of the stair, even in the dim, it became evident where she was, and she stood where she was, feeling very intrusive, and even more so when the form of her future husband came into view in front of a particular burial marker.
Oblivious to her arrival, Claudius dropped down again slightly to adjust the floral arrangement he had placed. He was uncomfortable and was prone to fidgeting about in such situations. He sighed and rose back up again, preparing to return back upstairs. As he turned he caught a glimpse of Htaere out of the corner of his eyes and immediately felt ill. It was almost as if he had been caught having an affair. "I didn't hear you come down," he explained as he stood nervously next to the grave.
Despite the inner turmoil at having invaded the sanctuary, she appeared composed. "I was told I could find you here. I would not have come if I had known..." she replied apologetically.
"It is no bother," Claudius explained, "Do not trouble yourself." He walked towards her slowly and formed a small smile, "Was there a reason you were looking for me?"
"It can wait" she answered respectfully with a singular nod before turning back up the stairs, ascending in the same fashion with one hand on the wall for guidance and the other lifting her dress for stability.
Claudius sighed and pursued her up the ancient circular staircase that led back to the lower levels of the Castle. "No," Claudius said as he approached, "It's alright. Really. What is it?"
Once back in the well-lit halls of the common levels she paused at the top of the stair to wait for him. "My mother contacted me. She would like to know where and when we should expect the dowry ship" she said, turning to look at him. By all accounts, carrying on with such a topic seemed inappropriate.
Claudius stared at her with a blank, puzzled expression. There was a long pause before he repeated her words as if it would somehow cause it to make sense, "...dowry ship?"
Htaere nodded again curtly, looking rather perplexed herself. "Well yes. Do not all marriages require dowries?" she asked curiously before her face straightened out to what might have been a half-frown. "And of course my mother has made it all the more worth your while for taking me off her hands" she added, with faint echoes of bitterness evident in her inflections.
"Please inform your mother that no such formality is required," Claudius explained to her, "I do not feel it is appropriate."
Htaere simply responded with a forced smile and let it go at that. It was a moot point. Her mother could not and would not be argued with, and Htaere dare not try. At present, it was not worth continuing. "Is there anything I can do for you before I retire?" she asked genuinely.
"No," Claudius said as his mind lingered on earlier events of the day, "Perhaps we should both turn in."
Htaere's head nearly bowed. "Good night Claudius" she said quietly with a meager grin before turning to make herself scarce.
"Goodnight," Claudius said as he watched her disappear into the upper levels of the castle.