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First Meeting.

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They’d first met when she married her husband. It was a grand affair, as expected. The great Feldmarschal, war hero, finally wed. Nobles came from far and wide to witness the spectacle, and part of her had swelled in pride that so many had come; she’d thought herself of such great import then. The second most powerful woman in all of Vienna, after the empress herself. And so she’d received her guests with all the arrogance of a newly mantled queen, determined to play her part.

"Congratulations, your highness," Rosina’s first words were guarded, hidden in the polite smile Marie Theres had seen time and time again and believed to be true.

"Why, thank you, Contessa Almaviva. Thank you for making the journey." She’d extended her hand, grasped Rosina’s in a firm grip. The countess kept smiling, but didn’t let go of her hand, kept it warm in hers with a gentle pressure even as she dipped in a curtsey.

"Would you care to join me for a drink?"

The countess’ eyes were warm, and inviting, and Marie Theres had had just enough of the Feldmarschal’s best wine to make her nod. Something flashed in Rosina’s eyes then, a warmth akin to relief, and the newly married Marschallin felt herself being tugged gently to an alcove. Nobles high and low swirled past them, a colourful stream that paid no heed to the missing guest of honour, too intent on preening, on showing the magnificence of their proverbial plumage.

"To your health," Rosina had said, blue eyes gleaming strangely in the shadows. Marie Theres accepted the toast, let the liquor warm her further. Rosina studied her for a moment longer, and then nodded, subtly.

"Yes. You’ll do."

Marie Theres frowned, set aside her empty glass as she leant close to her guest.

"Excuse me?"

"Nothing. I was merely curious as to whether you needed the advice i had wanted to give you. I thought you might have done, but perhaps… no. I’ll leave you to learn the lesson yourself."

A brief smile, and Rosina had turned to leave.

Marie Theres bristled, drew herself to her full height, glared down at Rosina. How dare she? Did this woman, this mere bourgeoise playing at nobility, pretend that she knew better than she, the Feldmarschallin?

"Stop."

Her guest faltered, still turned away from Marie Theres. She did not see the knowing smile that danced on Rosina’s lips, had not realised that she was acting just as Rosina thought she would.

"What was this… advice you wanted to give me?”

Marie Theres made sure her voice was pitched just so, a sneer that told the world plainly what she thought of this Rosina’s advice.

"It’s not much. Only that you should remember what you owe yourself, as a person, as a woman. Always remember… you have a choice.”

Rosina paused, boldly leant forward to press a kiss to Marie Theres’ cheek, fluttered fingers gently against the skin warm above her heart.

"When all else fails you, Bichette, let this lead you. Don’t come to regret the choices you make.”

Blue eyes that blazed with a sudden, fierce protectiveness regarded her once more; Marie Theres said nothing, reeled backwards from her guest’s sudden proximity. Rosina smiled, a small quirk of her lips that spoke of promise and some distant sadness.

And then she was gone, a whirl of powder blue damask and silk cleaving the crowd in ugly clarity.

Marie Theres frowned, touched absent fingers to her chest where she’d been touched as she contemplated Rosina’s words. She had not understood them then, nor when a note had been delivered to her that evening.

“You know where to find me.”

The invitation was clear enough, and Marie Theres had crushed it with trembling hands, flung it away from her into the fire. The Feldmarschal had come to her then, a lazy smile on his face as he drank in his youthful bride. He had been neither tender nor graceful, and Marie Theres had tried to convince herself it was merely the wine that drove him, that he was a far greater lover than that. For how could he not be, descended as he was from such ancestry?

 

It was not three months into their marriage that she discovered that he was tender and graceful; it had only taken the right woman to coax it from him, and he had found her, on her hands and knees and scrubbing the floors.

Marie Theres had raged, then, blind anger that made her hiss and spit fury at her husband. How dare he? What did he take her for, a fool? And a maid, no less. A maid.

He had laughed, long and cruel, when she flung her accusations at him, and dared to cradle her face in his hands, forced a mocking kiss upon her snarling lips. She fought, oh, how she fought. But all he had done was laugh again, and grin, a reckless baring of teeth that would have been handsome if it had not been thoughtlessly flung her way, like some scrap he expected her to cherish, as he walked out their bedroom door.

Fury and defeat burned in her veins as she sat, numb, staring at the fire. Night had fallen, and as she watched the dancing flames, she understood all at once that this - this was the lesson that Rosina had known she was going to learn. For this was what Rosina herself had endured, had allowed to shape and mould her into the woman that she was now. Marie Theres could not help but laugh, then, an ironic chuckle that loosed the tension from her limbs, quieted the blood that thundered through her.

Rosina had known, all along, that Marie Theres was to be betrayed. Absently the Marschallin trailed fingers over her chest, rubbed lightly where gentle fingers had pressed mere months ago. The fire in the grate crackled and leapt, and she turned from its amber warmth to the cool glow of moonlight, slanting shadows through her window. She stood, wandered over to her writing desk, placed a fresh page on her blotter.

“I understand now. Thank you.”

She wrote nothing else, simply sealed the missive in an envelope. With aching precision she etched the letters of Rosina’s name on its face, laid it down to dry in a pool of silver light. She stood, and stared down at it for a long moment. It would be delivered in the morning. Marie Theres smiled, briefly, and felt the same distant sadness she saw in Rosina’s smile touch her lips, and understood once more.

Her heart could wait for morning light, she thought, as she climbed into the bed she was supposed to share. For now, there was sleep to be had, and dreams of sure blue eyes and gentle fingers to be dreamt.