It was so quiet inside the chateau that Annabel could hear the panels of the wooden floor squeaking under her feet – the kind of noise that made you think of ghosts. The place was dimply lit with electric lights that were put into the candelabras instead of candles, and Annabel clasped Etienne’s hand tightly for fear of stumbling.
“Are we all alone in here?” she whispered.
“Don’t worry – I assure you that it’s perfectly safe.” Etienne put his arm around her. “I know the way well – we will not get lost.”
Within a matter of seconds Annabel’s apprehension evaporated as she became absorbed by the magnificence of the place: regal paintings in gilded frames, ornate fireplaces and antique furniture. It was like walking through time, but unlike most museums, this place felt alive, as though there were still people living there.
“Do you know that there is a legend about this place?”
“No – I have no idea. I don’t think I ever even saw the chateau mentioned in any of the guidebooks.”
“That is because it is still privately owned and is not open to public tours.” Etienne halted.
“Tell me about the legend,” Annabel urged him.
“Well, the legend goes as follows: the nobleman who originally built this castle was very rich; he was in love with one of the queen’s ladies in waiting – the girl was of a noble family, but she was an orphan and the queen had granted her protection, which really meant that the queen completely controlled her fate. The nobleman wanted to marry the girl, but the queen herself had an eye for the nobleman, and when he refused to be the queen’s lover, she married the girl off to an old count. The count was so old that he could barely walk, let alone consummate his marriage, but despite the being incredibly decrepit, he continued clinging to life. It was then that the nobleman ordered a five-mile underground passage to be dug under the chateau so that he could see his love in secret, and that was how they met for ten years, until the old bugger died.”
“And then what happened?”
“The nobleman married his true love.”
“And the queen did not object?”
“She was impressed by the purity of love between the nobleman and the girl – you see, the story of the underground passage only became known much later.” Etienne smiled. “Of course some say that this is nothing but a story and the secret passage was put in by one of the later chateau owners to see his many lovers behind his wife’s back – I guess people choose to believe the story they like the most.”
“I prefer the first story.”
They walked through a succession of rooms, each more opulent than the next until they reached a dining room.
At first Annabel proceeded to examine the room’s interior as she did with all the other rooms until she noticed that the long, rectangular dining table was set with food. She looked up questioningly at Etienne.
“I thought you’d never notice.” He grinned. “Shall we?” He motioned for her to take a seat at the table.
“You mean to tell me that this is for us?” she exclaimed in half disbelief.
“Guilty as charged.” Mischievous sparks danced in Etienne’s eyes – he was clearly enjoying the effect of his surprise.
“But is this even allowed? There are historical artifacts all over this place - what if food gets spilled or something?”
“Then we’ll just have to be very careful.” Etienne pulled out a chair for her and took his seat beside her. “First things first.” He reached for the bottle of champagne in the ice bucket and expertly popped the cork. Then, he filled Annabel’s glass as well as his own. “To a wonderful night.”