Chapter 1 - Betrothed to the King

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Chapter 1

Westair, 475
The Year of the Red Dove

Rose stared out the window into the dense fog, sighing softly before returning to her needlework. Father would be home soon, she reassured herself, and the boys would come with him. She hated all these secret meetings undercover of darkness, for darkness, she knew, had a way of melting into light, and in the light, the truth of what happened behind the closed doors of Morecliff Manor would be revealed, and then what? Nothing good could come of it, why did they take such risks? She hated it. Every single coded note, every day that brought something to take her father and brothers from the safety of home, and every strange man who came in the dark of night and left before sunrise.

In the vehemence of her thoughts, she jabbed too deep with her needle and pricked her finger. A dot of blood appeared on the rich silk embroidery. With a gasp of pain, she dropped her work and put the injured finger in her mouth to stop the bleeding. Maria had told her it was bad luck to bleed on a fine piece of embroidery, why hadn't she been more careful? A tap on the door startled her, and she got to her feet so quickly, she was almost overtaken by sudden dizziness.

"Come in," She managed, nervous flutters rising in the pit of her stomach.

"I'm sorry for disturbing you, milady, but your father is in the hall, he asked me to find you." Rose let out a breath, allowing a smile to crease her features. Father was always telling her she was far too superstitious.

Rising, she left the room, whistling for the two shaggy Irish Wolfhounds to follow her. Her father was not dead, everything was perfectly fine. She felt her heart beat ecstatically within her. She always worried too much.

"Rosy!" Her father exclaimed as she entered, holding his arms out to her. He was happier than usual tonight, things must have gone well for him. She went to his arms, hugging him tightly, relishing the feeling of his lips on her forehead. "You've been worrying again, haven't you?" He said as he held her at arm's length. She nodded with a blush. "There is no need for your fear," he tapped the tip of her nose with his finger. "We are safe."

"I know," She whispered. "I'm just glad when you get home."

"Well, I'm home now." He smiled, shrugging off his thick overcoat. She took his discarded things and hung them near the fire to dry. The snow had come early this year.

"I'll ring for some soup to warm you before you go to bed, this wet weather isn't good for your health." She chided gently, pulling the long bell rope that would summon one of the servants.

"You're just like your mother." Her father looked up at her with almost sad eyes, a smile still pulling at his lips as she went about the room making sure things were put to rights. "I received a letter today that should interest you," he said as she stirred the fire.

"Oh?" She said a little absentmindedly.

"Yes, from the palace." She paused in her work to look at him.

"Oh?" Her voice was a little breathless.

"Nothing to cause worry," he said quickly. "It concerns you, though." He looked at her with his steady, gray eyes.

"Me?" She frowned curiously at him.

"Dearest, have your wits so departed you that you can only answer with a single, questioning word?" Her father chuckled, and she flashed a blushing smile. "Anyway, it would seem King Henry is seeking a bride, and he has settled on you."

"What?" Rose stood quickly, her frown deepening. "He wants to marry me?"

"No, the maid down the lane," her father shook his head with a warm smile. "Of course you, my daft popinjay!" A throaty chuckle rose from deep within his chest. "Is it so hard to believe that King Henry would choose you, a young woman of noble birth, as his bride?"

"Yes," She shrugged, settling into a chair opposite her father. The two wolfhounds sat near her, and one licked her hand. "We don't know each other in the least, we've never met, how could he have chosen me? Why?"

"Well, when I say 'he', of course, I mean Regent Errol, he's the one really running the kingdom until Henry is of age. The marriage is an advantageous one for both our families. You are a young woman of good repute, fine breeding, and gracious nature, what better woman to sit on the queen's long empty throne?"

"Everyone knows Regent Errol runs the England, but I want to know what made him decide on me?" She sighed, shaking her head as she stared into the bright glow of the flames.

"The kingdom needs an heir, King Henry is a sickly boy, the people need surety, what better way to assure them than to choose a bride? You won't marry him until his sixteenth birthday, of course, but the people can rest in the assurance that something is being done."

"You mean you've accepted?" Rose's head jerked up in startled alarm.

"My dear, when one receives a request with the royal seal on it, one does not simply refuse it." Her father stood and stretched. "You will go to live in the palace until your marriage." He added as if on second thought.

"I can't stay here?" She queried pleadingly.

"Heavens! No, they'll want to be sure you're queen material before the ceremony.  Regent Errol requested you go to live in the palace by the end of a fortnight." Her father stretched again and heaved a yawn. "Tell cook to forget the soup, I'm too tired just now to eat it." He bent over and pressed his lips to her forehead. "Believe me, darling, it's all for the best." He whispered. "Don't stay up too late." And then he was gone.

Rose sat in her large chair as though she'd been turned to stone. In a fortnight, she was to leave the only place that had ever been home to her. She would have to live in the cold, unfamiliar castle for two years before she could marry, and then she would be wedded to a man who was nearly three years her junior. She would be forced to live the rest of her life away from those she loved.

It wasn't the thought of marriage that frightened her. She had always been open to the idea of marrying someone if they ever came to court her. She had even imagined how it would feel to be loved, and her imagination had run away with her as she imagined exactly how her husband would look, what he would do, how he would do it, and what he would say. She had always imagined there would be romance and friendship before her marriage, that it would be something for which she was excited, but this, this was terrifying! She didn't want to be the queen, she didn't want to marry the king and live in his castle.

She had seen the castle once before, she remembered, and she had been within its cold, confining walls, and she had hated every second of the experience. It was like sitting in a trap filled with smoke, rowdy people, and the rank smell of human flesh and animal dung. Just like that, with only the swapping of letters between two men, her world was going to be turned topsy-turvy. Her chin trembled slightly.

"Milady, you rang?" The tired voice of the young serving maid made her jump.

"Thank you," Rose surreptitiously dried her eyes. "But I won't be needing anything, his lordship's just gone up to bed." She smiled at the young girl. "Tell Maria I've gone up if you happen to see her." Without waiting for a reply, Rose whistled to her dogs and made her way back through the shadowy house for one of the last times, she realized, inwardly cringing at the thought.

The King's Bride - Book 1 of The Queen trilogyWhere stories live. Discover now