It had been a fortnight since Enrico took over Vallebrion. Fearghill would have been brought to the capital by now. Would he be in the dungeons? Or had he been brought before the Prince? Was he--was he even still living? Prince Zarinel's justice was capricious. He might keep Fearghill locked up for years, or kill him on the spot. Either way, it was entirely her fault, and there was nothing she could do.
Enrico performed a pantomime of besotted suitor with relish, but he was no more besotted than a wolf with a sheep's carcass. His men lounged around the gates and stables, and watched Clara whenever she appeared in the holding yard. There was no escaping into the forest. She stayed inside.
Each day she thought, This will be the day he forces our hand. But when the day passed just like those before it, she thought of that first night, while she had been railing against his arrest of Fearghill, and she had shouted, "What do you want from me?"
"I want you to beg me to marry you," said Enrico.
Clara had spluttered with confusion and outrage. "It'll never happen."
He had smiled over his ale tankard.
* * *
"Father, can I speak to you?" said Clara, coming upon her father in a corridor.
Lord Alan turned around and frowned at her. Had he ever looked at her without a frown in his eyes? Or was she just a perpetual annoyance to him?
Well, she would be annoying then. "What is the difficulty Enrico released you from?"
Alan turned his back and began walking again. "What are you talking about, girl?" he said without looking back.
Clara jogged to catch up with him. "What do you owe him for?"
"That is a matter between men."
"Leave it, Clara. I'm warning you."
"I'm not going to. You're selling me to that man to pay off some debt. I have a right to know what it is."
Lord Alan ran his hand through his hair. "It was a card game," he said. "I got into some trouble; Enrico guaranteed my note of promise. He seemed like a decent type, so we got to talking. I told him about Vallebrion, about my worries for the holding when I am gone." Then he said, a touch plaintively, "I thought you would like him. I didn't think you'd turn it into such a mess."
"I'd turn it into such a mess," she echoed. "Did you know anything about Enrico when you brought him here?"
"He told me he was the first son of Castilsur, who had been bred up to be lord of that holding, but been cheated out of his inheritance by his sister. Fantastic, I thought. Someone who has been raised to run a holding. I felt lucky he was willing to consider marrying into Vallebrion."
"Do you now understand that you were wrong?"
Lord Alan bridled."I'm your father," he said. "You should obey me."
"Whoever I marry will be Lord of Vallebrion," said Clara. "Whatever you think, I take that fact seriously. I will not be saddled with the wrong husband. Like mother was!" Throwing this last at her father, Clara ran down the hall away from him.
When her father was far behind, Clara slowed to a walk and turned her steps towards the solar. As she was about the enter the room, the door swung open and out strode Enrico. His eyes blazed with fury, and when they settled on her, she felt the heat of it. Enrico strode towards her and grabbed her arm. "You will bend to my will, girl," he said.
"Lord Enrico, take your hands off my daughter," said Maitea, leaning against the doorway.
With a hiss, Enrico dropped her wrist and stalked away. Clara hurried into the solar and helped her mother to a chair. Then she slumped against the arm and put her head in Maitea's lap, feeling the tears welling in her eyes.
YOU ARE READING
The Forest's HeartFantasy
Vallebrion is one of the old places -- a forest where the old and new worlds lie side by side. Clara has grown up walking its shadowed paths and green glens, and one day the man she takes as husband will be Master of Vallebrion and the mysteries tha...