The Count prodded at an errant log with the toe of his gleaming hunting boot and steered it back into the monumental hearth. Around the stone mantel wildebeests, antelope and bison stared down neutrally; in a corner a huge brown bear stood on its hind legs, clawing at the air, complacent, glassy eyes belying its snarling mouth.
“Estates in Carpathia!” he spat. “Mother can you seriously consider aligning the most ancient house in Ruthenia to these whey faced yokels? All for a few thousand acres of scrub, bedevilled by diseased peasants and flyblown cattle. I am cousin to kings!”
His mother waved this aside with a bejewelled hand; she was not going to be deflected by mere bombast. The Count paced in front of the roaring fire, his hands clutched behind his back. He paused to pour himself a glass of Tokay, drank it in one impetuous gulp.
“It’s practically miscegenation,” he scowled into the flames.
His mother placed her hands together in her lap and drew herself up. “You will marry Anna-Sophia,” she stated, quietly, unequivocally. “She’s lumpen, docile and three months pregnant, if her doctor is to be believed, by any one of her brothers. Carpathian families are deplorably close.” She stifled his protest with a flick of the glove. “It will save you the burden of attempting it yourself.”
“I will not demean…” he began.
“You are a ham-fisted invert, whose sole interests are slaughtering wildlife and molesting farmhands. You are also the only man in the Empire who believes this to be a secret. Anna-Sophia, almost a total ignoramus, will be a dutiful and incurious wife.”
She smiled coldly at him as he dashed the Tokay glass into the fire, his shoulders heaving with despairing sobs. The family name was safe, for another generation at least.