✧One Last Gift✧
The air in Trosa island was already thick with the tension of war. The civilian evacuation order had already been issued. The officer families were all loaded onto transport ships and taken to the mainland. The docks were filled with teary eyed families saying goodbye to their loved ones.
Bastian disembarked from the small frigate and threaded though the throngs of people and headed for the headquarters building. The officers and sailors, their faces ashen, trailed silently behind him like eerie wraiths.
“Excuse me…Major. May I have a moment to say goodbye to my wife?” Lieutenant Caylon, the young officer he had given up his quarters for asked as they reached the end of naval port.
Bastian turned his head and froze at the sight of Caylon’s wife. Rivers of tears ran down her cheeks, as she stood frozen in place, gripping their trembling son tightly. His team felt the weight of the moment too; every inch of their skin was bright red as they valiantly attempted to keep their tears at bay; a stark contrast from when they had left with brimming confidence earlier that afternoon.
“You may go,” Bastian said as he turned away. His officers bowed their heads deeply to express their gratitude and dashed off to warmly embrace their families.
Bastian was almost relieved that he did not have anyone to say goodbye to, but then Odette’s smiling face swam through his thoughts.
The guards at the entrance to HQ saluted after checking Bastian’s identification. When the doors of the briefing room were opened for him by another guard, all the eyes turned to look at him enter. After making a formed greeting to all those important enough to warrant such, everyone turned their attention back to the map on the table they stood around.
“We have completed recon without you,” one officer said to Bastian. “It is believed that the main unit of the aggressors is located in this area. Close surveillance was not possible at the time, but we were able to penetrate far enough to asses an approximation of size.” The officer pointed to several locations on the map.
“The intelligence has been confirmed to be true” Bastian said. “The core forces Lovita’s Navy are converging in the North Sea. They are forming a blockade around Berg’s territorial waters.”
Admiral Ryan, the fleet commander, let out a heavy sigh and wipe his forehead with a hanky. The atmosphere in the conference room grew dark and heavy. Admiral Demel watched Bastian with narrowed eyes. Even though all the other veterans were nervous at the growing tension, Bastian remained cool. The way he answered and asked questions during the brief made him look heartless.
Admiral Demel swallowed a sigh. Bastian was taking in all the details of the enemies positions as they were pointed out. He couldn’t help but notice that on the finger where his wedding ring once sat, there was nothing but a faint band of skin.
He had learned from the Emperor himself that Bastian had planned to divorce Odette. Though the Emperor was unaware of the true reason, he said that Demel would need to handle the situation discreetly.
“The Lovita’s fleet is on full alert. We must prepare for open hostilities to break out at any moment,” Bastian declared with a solemn voice, his gaze as ice-cold as the depths of the ocean he was sworn to protect.
The devil’s hound has returned.
No matter what his reason may be, it would surely bring advantage to the country.
Though she had no lessons today, Odette was as busy as ever. There were plenty of chores that needed to be seen to, that had been neglected over the last couple weeks. It was a hot day and she sweated through all the jobs. Even before lunch she had pulled the weeds in the garden, scrubbed every pot in the kitchen, hung out the laundry and polished the floor, even though she was having it replaced next week.
Sweaty and tired. Her lunch was nothing more than a bit of buttered bread and some water. She knew it wasn’t good, but she didn’t feel like cooking anything. Perhaps the increasingly hot weather was to blame.
Odette stuffed a load of cleaning equipment into a bucket and went upstairs to make a start on the bedrooms. The house was already clean enough, all ready swept and scrubbed to perfection. Yet still, she began her silent task of cleaning once more. It was a kind of ritual that had been repeated on a near daily basis for the past fortnight. She had just opened the guest room door when she heard a sound.
There was nothing special about the noise, she had heard dogs barking on a daily basis, as owners took their pets out for walks across the fields of wile flowers. This bark was different, it felt familiar. She thought it was the bark of Margrethe.
No, pull yourself together. Odette said sternly, trying to compose herself as she stared off into the middle distance.
She changed the sheets on the bed. The floral pattern blanket brought back a flood of memories. She did not try to suppress them and felt like she could almost hear Bastian’s voice behind her. He had only stayed for five days, but it felt like he had always been there.
Odette hated it and cleaned with even greater intensity. As she was sweeping the floor, she thought she could hear the distinct barking of Margrethe again. It was like she was being haunted by the dog she had cared so much for.
I’m okay. She told herself.
She twisted the brush around and started scrubbing at them like she was trying to scrub away the indistinct pattern on the carpet. The doorbell made her jump out of her skin. With a dazed expression on her face, she looked out into the hallway. The doorbell rang again, she was definitely not hallucinating now.
She remembered Count Xanders had promised her he would come by that evening to relay the floor construction schedule, and it seemed the schedule had changed since they last spoke
Odette rushed down the stairs, taking off her apron as she went. As she reached the last step, she heard the barking again. She froze in the hallway, staring at her front door. She dared not open it, but some one was banging on the door impatiently.
When Odette finally opened the door, a ball of white fur pounced up at her, tail wagging frantically. There was no doubting it now, it was definitely Margrethe. Odette looked at the dog, tears springing to her eyes, Margrethe bounding up at her, begging for a hug.
Odette only just realised there was someone else stood in the porch. Of course there was, Margrethe wouldn’t be able to ring the door bell herself. Odette looked up and found a familiar face looking back at her.
“Yes, ma’am,” Dora said, bowing low. The two men behind Dora also bowed out of respect. Hans, Bastian’s driver and Bastian’s lawyer, who’s name Odette did not know.
“Oh, Margrethe,” Odette said, falling to her knees and hugging the dog as tightly as she dared.
“We have come to return her to you, as per my masters request,” said Dora.
“But, how, I thought Margrethe was…”
“No, its definitely Margrethe, ma’am. Please give her a hug.” Dora wiped away her tears and handed Margrethe.
Odette buried her face into the fur of the dog and let out a cry that was almost a wail. She didn’t care about the onlookers. All the turmoil was forgotten, her heart trembled as she hugged Meg.
Margrethe returned like a miracle.
At this moment, that little dog in her arms meant everything to her.
The tea had not been touched, left to go cold and forgotten. Odette watched Margrethe as she laid out on the huge dog bed, nursing three puppies. Even as she looked at them, Odette felt like she was in a dream.
“These are really Meg’s puppies?” Odette said for the third time.
“Yes, ma’am,” Dora nodded. “They were born not long after the Master came here for his vacation. “It took us by surprise when we found out that Margrethe was preganant. We were worried as her health wasn’t in the best shape, but thankfully, the delivery process went smooth without any hiccups.”
Dora had already explained how Bastian had found Margrethe, after hearing rumours of a stray, white dog. Bastian personally went to investigates. He did not stop searching for days, not once paying any attention to the tragedy set upon the Klauswitz household, he only focused on searching for the lost dog.
He would eventually find the dog the day after the Klauswitz’s family’s funeral. Margrethe being looked after by some tramp that made his home in the sewers. Bastian only had to call her name and she came running. The tramp had said that he had found the dog wondering lost and alone along the beach, tired and hungry. The servants did not believe it could have been Margrethe, not until Bastian washed and trimmed her fur.
“Bastian… How is he doing?” Odette asked, her voice trembling. Odette did not ask why he lied to about Margrethe’s death, and kept it from everyone except his butler.
She understood it the moment she heard it. Why he chose to be the villain, why he did not simply give up searching for Margrethe, even after burying another white dog. Why did he leave without saying a single word? Everything.
He was just that kind of man and that’s why Odette hated him.
Although she hated him, she was still thankful that he never gave up searching for Margrethe. On one hand, she felt sorry for him, for being such a burden, but on the other, she was upset that she didn’t even get the chance to say thank you.
“Master has gone to Trosa Island, there is some sort of big exercise planned,” Dora said.
“Yes, ma’am, he left just a few days after returning.”
Bastian assigned her the responsibility of returning Margrethe to its owner. Margrethe got a clean bill of health from the veterinarian and was ready for the journey. At the eleventh hour, Bastian made the surprising decision to have his lawyer accompany her to the Rothewein.
Odette watched the puppies nursing, deep in contemplation, which was only broken by the lawyer, who finally spoke up.
“Your divorce has been finalised, thanks to his majesties urge to get it sorted as soon as possible. The proceedings were swift and final.”
As the lawyer went into the details of the alimony, Odette felt her consciousness drift away and ringing rose into her ears, drowning out the lawyers words. Something caught her attention as she looked down at the slumbering Margrethe.
“This ribbon…” Odette said, cutting off the lawyer, who looked at Dora and Hans as if some great insult had been flung at him.
The pink ribbon around Margrethe’s neck had a name embroidered along its length, ‘Odette Von Dyssen.’ She had embroidered that stitching with her own hands. She had given it to Bastian when he went to the polo tournament. A hair tie she thought he had thrown away.
“That was masters, he thought it would look better on Margrethe. One last gift,” Dora said.
Bastian had kept the ribbon after all, but now he had returned it. A wailing broke through her thoughts, just as a knocking at the door came. A siren. Just as confused as the other three, Odette went to the door and found Count Xanders standing there, worry plastered across his face.
“Lovita,” he said, panting. “Lovita has declared war. Our Emperor had issued a general mobilization order.
“War,” Maximin said frantically. “War has broken out, Odette.”
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