The King's Ladies

                                                          Chapter One

Edinburgh- Spring, 1403 A.D.

 

   Ian Lindsay, third son of the Earl of Crawford and aide to the Duke of Lanark, lifted his eyes from the candlelit page he’d just translated from Latin into Gaelic. Squinting into the darkness, he slipped the quill feather from his left hand to his right as heavy footsteps plodded down the hall toward him. Peering into the darkness beyond the candlelight, his heart thundered in his chest as he realized he had almost been caught. With many believing left-handedness proclaimed one in league with the devil, he needed to be more aware of who was where and not get so involved in his work lest he be sentenced to death by stoning. Setting aside his work, he shoved to his feet as Lanark stumbled into the room. 

   “Good eventide, Your-”

   “Rothesay’s nowhere to be found,” Lanark gasped as he collapsed into a padded chair near the peat burning fireplace. Leaning forward, the duke dipped his head and rested his forearms on his mud-splattered trews. “We’ve looked everywhere in this city for him, and we can’t find a trace,” he whispered, slowly shaking his head.

   Relieved the duke was pre-occupied with the missing Heir Apparent, Ian took a slow, deep breath and relaxed. “I know you’ve had your best men on this,” Ian said as he moved toward the Duke. “But the one thing I’ve learned while working with you and The King’s Men is that no one disappears. Not without leaving some small clue or someone seeing or hearing something they have yet to realize is significant.”

   “Aye,” Lanark said, straightening. “That’s in many ways why I’ve returned.  My commanders and I will be leaving in the morning to expand our search of the countryside. But before we go, I’m meeting with the Queen. I’ve promised her we will find her eldest,” he said, his voice growing stronger as he turned to face him. “I will also be informing Her Majesty that I will be leaving you in command of our operations here.”

   Surprise held Ian captive for a moment as blood roared in his ears at the unexpected news. “A-aye, Your Grace,” he said with a bow. Straightening, he clamped his jaw tight not about to utter his stunned objections aloud. Although he was grateful for Lanark’s endless confidence in his ability, he knew he still had much to learn about managing the various components of The King’s Men. “Anything you specifically need me to do while you’re gone?”

   “Do all the Queen requests,” the Duke said, pushing himself to his feet.  

   Swallowing the unease knotting his throat, Ian nodded. “Aye, Your Grace, I will.”

   “Good,” Lanark said, flashing him a tired smile. “Then its best we both toddle off to our beds.  Tomorrow could be a long day for us.”

   “Aye, Your Grace,” Ian said as he began snuffing out the candles on the desk.

   “Just remember, the Queen’s wish . . . is your command,” Lanark said, swiping a still lit candle from the desk. “We move heaven and earth to comply with her wishes.”

   “Aye,” Ian managed to get past the solid lump rising in his throat. He’d been warned numerous times by his brother John to stay away from anything remotely resembling a Queen’s request.  Three years ago, his brother had been caught in the Queen’s Royal Marriage Decree and had found himself married. Nay, he thought.  Forewarned was forearmed. He’d best remember that he decided as he followed Lanark into the hall.

                                                                   *  *  *

   A cold breeze swirled around Lady Kira Stewart’s ankles as she stood at the prow of her brother, James’ boat. Staring at the skiff bobbing alongside their cutter anchored in the Firth of Forth, her stomached churned as she lifted her gaze to scan the Edinburgh docks. No longer able to hide from the reality that she was about to be presented to the royal family as Rothesay’s bride, she leaned toward her eldest brother. She cleared her throat hoping to be heard above the noisy sea gulls circling and cawing overhead and the shouts from the crew loading her trunks into the skiff. Her chest tightened as she sought the courage to ask, “Which of the men standing on the dock is the Duke of Rothesay?”

   Her brother dropped his hand from shielding his eyes against the morning light’s glare on the water. “None of them.”

   She frowned as she detected a note of worry had rolled through his tone. “Are you telling me that the man who demanded we spend three fortnights traveling here hasn’t had the courtesy to meet us upon our arrival?”

   “Now lass, donna get ye cote in such a twist,” James said, turning toward her. “The man’s the Lord Lieutenant of Scotland. Ye canna expect him to be at ye beck and call every minute.”

   “Nay,” she said, striving for calm, “I don’t. But I do expect simple politeness from him.”

   “Aye, ye might have a point there,” her brother said, scratching his ebony beard. “But then Mather used to say, if’n ye expect nothing, ye get nothing.”

   “That’s my point,” she said. “I don’t want any of this.” 

   “Now lass,” he said, patting her shoulder as if attempting to calm a fractious colt.  “We’ve been through this afore. We must honor this agreement Da brokered with the old King. I know ye were just a bairn when this happened but if’n ye donna go through with this now, we’ll forfeit everything . . .  our land . . . our goods and our coin. Ye know what must be done.  Everything’s a riding on ye do’n it.”

   “I understand what I must do,” she said although she neither wanted to marry her distant cousin, Rothesay, nor to encounter her back-stabbing Cousin Aelfric at Court. “I don’t want us to forfeit a single thing to anyone,” she added with a shake of her head. Then she paused as guilt surged through her for causing her brother such worry. “But surely, there has to be a better way to fulfill our commitment than forcing me to marry a relative I’ve never met?”

   “Not after the English destroyed our crops, butchered our animals and stole all of our coin,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “What they couldn’t steal they burned. Our clan was left to starve.” He paused a moment, shaking his head. “Da knew he was dying from the wounds he’d received fight’n off the English. He knew with Mather dead, your brothers and I wouldn’t have the heart to force ye into marrying someone ye didn’t want. So, he bartered an agreement with the King for food, seed and animals to replace what the English had destroyed.”

   “In other words, he sold me,” she mumbled as a heavy weight pressed upon her chest. She blinked back the tears threatening to roll down her cheeks.

   “Don’t think like that lass,” he said patting her shoulder. “Da loved his wee lassie.”

If her brother thought a few pats on her shoulder would console her, he had a surprise coming.        “With love like that, I don’t need an arrow dipped in henbane to render me dead.”

   “Nay,” he said, shaking his head. “Nor do ye need to be so stubborn. I think the only way ye’ll change ye mind is if’n ye be forced to choose between loyalty and honor. Only then, will ye change courses,” he added withdrawing his hand from her shoulder. “And this is a matter of honor.”

   “How can either be a fault?” she asked. “As my laird, have I not proven my loyalty to you? For if you think being raised by five cantankerous brothers has been a stroll through a sunny meadow, then think again. I endured all you threw at me and more because I was forced to prove my worth to you,” she said. Hearing the heat of her words she bit her bottom lip, knowing she needed to temper her tone. Although she would never proclaim her thanks aloud, her brothers had taught her to be the master of her own fate. “But let’s not cover that old ground again,” she said. “Never fear, brother, I will honor Da’s agreement,” she added hoping to smooth away the frown wrinkling her brother’s forehead. A frown from James directed her way never boded well for her. A worried James became a devious James.

   “Glad to hear that,” he said. “I’ll be a setting ye and Maude ashore and seeing to the removal of ye trunks. By the time I get that done, Rothesay should’ve appeared, and I’ll be leaving.”

    Fighting the urge to dance a small jig at the mention he would be leaving her and her chaperone, Maude, in the care of the Queen, Kira glanced around wondering where her old nurse was. Slowly, she brought her gaze back to her brother. The poor woman had been seasick from the time she’d stepped on board. But right now, Maude wasn’t her main concern. “And if Rothesay doesn’t come?”

   “Don’t ye be a worrying, Lass,” he said. “I’ll see that ye and Maude get to the castle.”

   “That’s not what’s worrying me,” she said. “I’m a wondering what kind of man he is.”

   “Don’t matter none,” he said. “Near as I can tell, the only way to void the contract is if’n he refuses to marry ye.  And if that happens,” he said shaking his finger at her, “ye’ll be shunned and have no chance of ever mak’n a good marriage.”

   She paused. To her way of thinking if Rothesay refused to marry her, that wasn’t a punishment but a reward. But not about to give up her hope of negating the contract until she had gleaned every bit of information she could, she nibbled on her bottom lip. If only there was a way to convince Rothesay she was totally unsuitable to be his queen.

   Her breathe hitched in her chest as she realized that was exactly what she needed . . . to prove her unsuitability. Hoping her brother had been too busy to notice her distraction, she sputtered. “T-this isn’t fair.  Especially not when Rothesay would be the one withdrawing the offer.”

   “Then don’t let it happen,” James said, his stern tone rippling over her like a cold wind moving across the Firth. “Tis’ time lass, that ye be a learn’n life taint fair.”

   “I already know that,” she mumbled, then thinking she needed to wheedle more information from her brother, she asked, “So, remind me again what happens to our land and our people if Rothesay reneges?”

   “If he turns tail, the King would be have’n to declare the contract void. The Crown would be forced into forgiv’n our debt.  But that’s not somethin’ Rothesay would do,” he said shaking his index finger at her again. “So, ye might as well be a resign’ ye self that ye be a marry’n the next King of Scotland.”

   Kira gulped back the bile rising in her throat. “Heaven help the people of Scotland,” she muttered as her heart threatened to jump out of her chest. Turning, she scanned the docks once again, still unable to see a yellow and red flag that would indicate Rothesay’s arrival. Turning back to her brother to give a last reminder to check on the elders she had cared for, she noticed that only one trunk remained on deck. The rest had already been lowered into the skiff. Glancing at her brother, she noted his jaw had set into a hard line. She’d made her case and knew by her brother’s hard jaw that she’d best drop the subject of Rothesay and marriage. There was nothing more to be said. Although her knees wobbled like a bowl filled with Blanc mange, she forced herself to walk to the port-side railing.  

   Blinking away the tears pooling in her eyes, she reluctantly stepped through the door positioned beneath the raised railing. Turning, she descended to the bottom of the rope ladder and maneuvered into the bobbing skiff. Then not about to alert her brother to her churning emotions, she settled herself and glanced at the dock teaming with activity. Hardening her jaw, she knew if she showed even the slightest hesitation, her brother would alter his plans and stay in Edinburgh with only one aim . . . to ensure that her courtship went smoothly. And that wasn’t something she wanted him to do. Bracing her hand on the side of the skiff, she schooled her features into a semblance of calm. She needed to be rational and unemotional . . . to chase away her brother’s fears. She paused at the thought as a gem of an idea coursed through her as she waited for her brother and her nurse to join her in the skiff.

   What if she tried to please all? If she was a flibberty-gibbet . . . in all she said and did?   A bubble of elation filled her at the thought. And to begin her act, she could claim that she was so excessively nervous about meeting the Queen that she was petrified of making a mistake and offending everyone . . . that she didn’t know up from down.  She tightened her hold on the ledge of the skiff as she swallowed her excitement. That would sufficiently explain her behavior to Maude. It would also prove to all at Court that she wasn’t a good choice to be queen.

    She bit the inside of her cheeks, capturing her grin, not about to alert her brother to her thoughts. Although life on their Isle of Shetland was isolated, it also had its advantages in that few came to visit. The problem for her had come when she had accompanied her brothers to the mainland to attend the Conclave of Clans. She had been much too young and naïve to attend at age nine. But she’d insisted and James had finally agreed. She dipped her head as she remembered the humiliation she’d felt when running through the gardens, she’d lost the special heel built on her right boot. Albany’s illegitimate nephew, Aelfric had subjected her to an intense barrage of jeers and offensive slurs that remained fresh in her mind today. Although three of her brothers had taken care of Aelfric with their fists and extracted a promise he would leave her alone, she’d never again stepped foot on the mainland until now. She stared at her right leg that was shorter than her left as shame rushed through her.

   “To the docks,” her brother ordered as he helped their old nurse settle into the skiff.

   As he and his men began to row, she raised her chin and tightened her grasp on the sides as the skiff took off through the choppy water. Her blood roared in her ears as she realized no one at Court could know of her ruse. She had to make sure that her every word and action convinced her betrothed and his family that she was a horrible choice to be queen and that he needed to set her aside. For she had learned from Aelfric that no man would want a wife with one leg shorter than the other.

                                                               *  *  *

    Ian elbowed his way through the dense crowd waiting at the Edinburgh dock. He hated being given last minute tasks . . . and arriving late for anything. But, in this case Lanark had ordered him never to say ‘nay’ to Queen Annabelle. 

   With no sign of her son, Rothesay, and Lanark turning the daily operations of The King’s Men over to him, he’d been summoned to attend the Queen this morning. From the time he was five, punctuality had been drilled into him until he could spell the word backwards, along with the words ‘patience, honor, duty and always treating females with respect.’ He been taught those were the marks not only of a true nobleman but a chivalrous knight and essential characteristics to be exhibited always by the youngest son of the Earl of Crawford.

   As he wove his way through the crowded wharf, merchants shouted for people to “Move aside.” Ian motioned for Watt and Boyce, two of the King’s Men, to follow him with the wheeled cart they pulled. As he reached the end of the dock, he scanned the ships riding the waves and the skiffs rowing toward him. He hoped he was in time to carry out the Queen’s mission of retrieving her son’s intended bride. 

   Shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun dancing on the water, he spotted a skiff skimming across the water toward the dock. A giant of a man, like the description the Queen had given him, helped row the boat loaded with bags through the water. In the center sat two females. The older female appeared to be the chaperone while the other was garbed in a rough, nondescript garment, her face covered with a veil. He glanced around to see if the arriving Stewarts had garnered any attention. Finding no one paying any attention to them, he pulled the Queen’s small personal flag from his jupon and dangled it in front of his body. He expelled the air he held in his lungs as the skiff altered course and headed toward him.

   Motioning for Watt and Boyce to pull the cart forward, he waited for the Stewarts to dock. Now, all he had to do was load the cart with her bags, assist the lady and her chaperone to the larger cart waiting beyond the dock and escort them to the castle. All without giving an inkling that no one knew where her erstwhile groom-to-be had disappeared to. He took a deep breath and prayed he was up to the ruse.

   Stuffing the Queen’s personal flag into his jupon, he leaned forward and caught the rope the burly Stewart threw at him. Tying the skiff to the pylon, he bowed then straightened. “Laird Stewart,” he said. “The Queen sends her welcome and thanks you for this timely arrival.  Unfortunately, her son has been detained and is unable to meet you. I’m Sir Ian Lindsay, the Queen’s emissary and it’s my pleasure to escort her ladyship to the Castle.”

   “Thank ye for the welcome,” the laird said as he climbed the steps to stand on the wharf. Holding out his hand, he assisted the two females accompanying him onto the dock. “This is my sister, Lady Kira Stewart and her companion, Maude. As much as I want to remain with Kira at the castle, its planting time as I explained to the Queen in my missive,” he said extracting the rolled scroll and offering it to him. “Please tell Her Majesty that I and my brothers will return for the summer wedding.”

    Ian waved his men forward to begin unloading the skiff. “Rest assured, the Queen understands and looks forward to you and your brothers joining the royal family in that most joyous of occasions,” Ian said accepting the scroll from the laird. “It will be my pleasure to see that her ladyship and her chaperone get safely to the Castle.”

   “Then, I had best be say’n my farewells and return to my ship,” the man said. Turning toward his sister, he gathered her into his arms. “Remember what we discussed,” he said.  “We be a’count’n on ye.”

   “It is . . . what it will be,” she said as her brother released her.  “Safe journey,” she called as the last bag was placed on the dock. Returning to the skiff, the laird waited until Ian untied the rope and threw it to him. Catching it, the laird sat and took up the oars once again. Casting off, he joined in rowing the boat toward his ship.

   Ian glanced at the sniffling Lady Kira. Extracting a kerchief from her cuff, she lifted her veil and appeared to be blotting at her hidden face. Turning away to give the lady a few moments to gather herself, he busied himself in helping his two men tie the ladies’ trunks and bags to the cart. Then assisting the elderly chaperone to sit in the back of the conveyance, Ian held out his arm to Lady Kira. “My lady, tis time for us to go to the castle.”

    “Oh-h-h,” she said, her veil puffing out in front of her face. “I f-feel so f-faint,” she said splaying her hand over her chest. “I can’t seem to b-breathe. Oh-h,” she gasped as her shoulders slumped and she seemed to wilt. “This is too much for one frail female to take in.” With that, her knees bent, and she began to crumple into a fold.

   Quickly, Ian grabbed her elbow. As he did, a bolt of heat flashed through him. But refusing to acknowledge that unwanted spark of attraction, he forced himself to place his forearm under her arms. “Now, none of that, my lady,” he gently scolded. Then gritting his teeth against the assault of her white heather scent threatening to capture his senses, he snaked his free arm around her waist. Supporting her weight, he half-walked her frail form to the loaded baggage cart. “We need to make room for her ladyship,” he said, nodding at Watt, unable to decide how long he could withstand her captivating allure.  “It appears she is so overcome with emotion that she can walk no further.”

   “But, Sir Ian, there is no room,” Watt said, waving his hand in the direction of the loaded conveyance.

   “Then we’ll make room,” he said. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he realized the only reason he was so agitated was that helpless females not only irritated him, but they made him feel powerless. “Is there a small bag I can carry?”

   “Aye, but it’s heavy,” Boyce warned.

   “Dig it out and I’ll carry it,” he said, not at all thrilled with the prospect, but it would be better to lug the bag over his shoulder than carry the lady through the crowded quay. The gossiping Court would be sure to use the incident as fodder to ruin both of their reputations if he did that.

   Setting the small bag on the dock, Boyce stepped aside while Ian assisted Lady Kira into the cart to sit beside her chaperone. “Steady as you go,” he said, relieved to release his tingling hold on her. Feigning calmness, he added “If you still feel light-headed, your ladyship, lean back against your trunks and try to relax. It will take a few minutes for us to maneuver through this crowd.”

   “I h-hate to be s-such a b-bother,” she stammered, her voice rising an octave as if she were about to get overly emotional.

   “You’re no bother,” Ian quickly assured her, knowing he would have to add lying to the list of sins he confessed to the priest at his next confession. “Just relax.  Lift your veil and--”

   “Oh-h-h,” she wailed as if in agony. “I c-can’t do t-that. Everyone w-will see m-me.”

   Ian clenched his jaw, realizing her allure was quickly fading. The woman’s voice sounded like a honking gander. “I stand corrected, we definitely can’t have that.”

   He shook his head, wondering if the reason Lady Kira didn’t want to be seen was because she had a facial deformity or if she truly didn’t want any court gossip to mar her introduction to the royal family. Not that he could blame her. He’d lived all those years with his grandfather for a reason. He’d been a weak and sickly child that most in his family had believed wouldn’t live to see manhood. But thanks to his grandfather, he’d not only survived but he had thrived and regained his health while living away from the Highlands.  And while he wasn’t the warrior his brother, John was, he could defend and protect not only himself but those entrusted into his care.

   A cold shiver slid down his spine and he glanced around to note the crowd had thinned.  Ahead stood the large wagon hitched to a team of matched grays. Looking over his shoulder, he studied the woman he’d been assigned to assist. Lady Kira had settled against a bag and appeared to be resting. Good, he thought. At least he wouldn’t have to contend with a weepy female screeching in his ear, something he would readily admit he’d little experience with. He had no idea why he felt so inept and out of his element with Lady Kira, but her whiny voice agitated him as no other did.

   Kira hoped her ploy of nearly fainting had worked as she made a quick, involuntary appraisal of the Queen’s emissary. There was an air of efficiency about the man that fascinated her. Although she couldn’t see much of him through her veil, what little she could see, struck a vibrant chord within her. She liked his understated elegance. While his garments were superbly made, like what she had supposed most nobles wore, his clothing seemed not as flamboyant as the noblemen’s clothes her brothers had described to her. Made of the finest cloth, she wondered what it would feel like to stroke the nap of the tan super fine material circling his neck, move down his pristine white linen shirt and across to finger the front of his green velvet jerkin. She sighed then turned her attention from his sumptuous garments to study him. Her pulse skittered alarmingly. His brown hair tied in a queve cast glints of auburn. Above his Roman-like-nose, sat the most unusual blue eyes she’d ever seen. Enthralled, she leaned forward then remembered she was supposed to be as flighty as a butterfly and as irritating as a bee. Deliberately, she hardened her jaw, shutting out her awareness of him. “Are we there yet,” she whined as she pitched her voice an octave higher.

   “Aye, my lady, almost to the street.” Sir Ian said as he turned and smiled at her. She wondered if he was always this polite or if it was due to her exalted position as the bride of the future King of Scotland. She frowned at the sudden thought. What if because of her future position, people were afraid to say a word about her unsuitability to be their queen? Her breath hitched in her chest. Mercy! This just might turn out to be the most difficult challenge she’d ever faced. She paused a moment then squared her shoulders. But the alternative, if she failed, wasn’t something she could consider.

   “My lady,” Sir Ian said stepping close to her. “If you will allow me to help you from the cart, I will escort you to the royal conveyance.”

   “Oh-h,” she squeaked. Unable to deny the spark of excitement rushing through her at the prospect of his warm hands once again spanning her waist. “I’m not sure I have the strength to do this on my own.”

   “Then, if my lady will permit me,” Sir Ian said. “I will place my hands at your waist and lift you from the cart. Then I will assist you to your ride.”

   Before she could grant her permission, she found herself lifted from the cart and deposited to stand on the walkway leading to street. Then scooping his hand under her forearm, Sir Ian marched her toward the Royal conveyance without so much as an apology for their quick pace. 

   “Well,” she huffed, knowing she had to say something to rid herself of the dangerous tingling sensation. She realized that the feelings he stirred in her had nothing to do with reason but with what the elderly clan ladies had called, a ‘need to mate’. She shook her head, not about to admit that, not when she had yet to meet her groom-to-be. Then she noticed Sir Ian’s clean scent of mint and heather amongst the fish, brine and unwashed bodies of the people scurrying to and from the wharf.

   “And now my lady,” Sir Ian said as they reached the conveyance. “Are you well enough to climb in or do you need further assistance?”

Determined to carry on with her helpless ruse, Kira slumped like a blacksmith’s billows deprived of air.

   Once again, Sir Ian quickly spanned her waist with his hands. She noted the curious tingling current coursing through her again. What was it about this man that every time they touched, she felt this way? She sighed, thankful she’d thought of adding the veil covering her face. She had enough to worry about without adding ‘being a ninny’ to the list. But perhaps she couldn’t help it. For not only was Sir Ian handsome and spoke as a learned and refined nobleman, but he was also strong and had a fine set of shoulders she could cling to. But what was she thinking? Granted she found him curiously attractive, but she couldn’t forget that she couldn’t trust him . . . or anyone else for that matter. Trust would only lead to her failure and defeat.  And like the Prince, Sir Ian was a man. And no man wanted the humiliation of it being known that he’d been saddled with a deformed wife.

   “Oh, sir,” she gushed, hoping she wasn’t about to overplay her hand. “I’m so . . . incredibly grateful for your assistance. I truly . . . don’t know what I would’ve done had you not . . . arrived when you did.”

   “Tis my pleasure, your ladyship,” Sir Ian said as he set her on her feet and released his hold on her. “Lean on my arm,” he added, “and hopefully I will get you to your conveyance without any gossip circling the hall tonight.”

   Kira stiffened for a moment then relaxed. She realized if gossip occurred, she might be able to turn it to her advantage, but she knew it could be a two-edged sword. A man seldom accepted a woman for his bride if she’d dallied with another man. The very idea of a woman’s dalliance caused her brothers to take a step back from that woman. “Thank you for your concern for me,” she managed to say. “I’m sure tis not easy conforming to such exacting standards as those at Court,” she added hoping to glean a more accurate reaction from him regarding the lax morals she’d been told ran rampant amongst some of the nobles at Court.

   “Her Majesty is not only our queen but a mother as well,” Sir Ian said. “Let her guide you through the dangerous shoals you’re bound to encounter at Court.”

   “And what about you?” she asked as she felt his arm stiffen beneath her hand.

   “I attempt to do my duty to the Crown,” he said as they maneuvered their way along the quay. “I appear at Court functions only when summoned to do so.”

   She bit her bottom lip, then unable to stop her curiosity, she asked, “Is that because you prefer other amusements?” She injected a teasing note into her tone. “And you find Court proceedings boring?”

   "Neither,” he said, shaking his head. “I prefer to associate with those who are trustworthy and loyal to the Crown. And while many at Court speak of loyalty, they don’t live it . . . nor do they live the tenets of our faith. So, let the Queen be your guide in your acquaintances,” he added as she detected the sincerity ringing in his tone.

   She couldn’t decide if she should be sad or glad she’d worn the veil. While she could clearly hear the sincerity ringing in his voice, she would’ve liked to have been able to gaze into his eyes. Earlier she’d thought they were blue but this close she observed they were an unusual blue gray. She hoped the sincerity in his voice matched his eyes and that he was basically an honest man. Although someone had once told her that a person’s eyes reflected one’s soul, she would have to wait to judge if that was true regarding Sir Ian. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth.

   She only hoped living at the Castle with the Royal Family wouldn’t be as burdensome as living with her five brothers. There were times when she’d had no privacy at home at all.  And if she wanted to be successful in convincing the Royals of her unworthiness to marry their future king, then she would need time to prepare and rehearse her act. She had to be flawless in her performance. It was the only way she could possibly succeed. More than anything else, she wanted a marriage like her parents had had. One, the elders had told her had been built on love, respect and friendship, not one based on duty and convenience. She’d heard several foreign princesses had visited the court and Rothesay appeared to favor the French. She truly hoped that was the case, it would make her task to convince all that she was a poor choice to be queen that much easier.

   Most people would consider her foolish for not wanting the glamor and prestige that came with being queen. But what they didn’t understand was that she neither needed nor wanted that role. She didn’t want to be queen, the center of everyone’s attention. In fact, she feared it.  She feared change, the loss of her freedom to be herself. She was a private person, used to being with honest, hard-working people. She’d been warned about all the nasty intrigue and backstabbing that went on within the court. She’d been thrust into this by her father who was attempting to save their clan from extinction. She knew when one had one’s back pressed against a wall, you fought to save yourself. That was exactly what she planned to do. Years ago, she’d had no say in the matter, but she did now. She would fight for her right to choose. She would encourage Rothesay to follow his heart and chose the French princess.

   She understood Rothesay’s arrogance. He’d been pampered and favored all his life. But that hadn’t been her way of life. She’d scraped and scrapped for everything she’d gained. She knew nothing about, nor did she care to learn of womanly ways. That’s why she’d decided to model her behavior on the silly jester who used to entertain them when she was a child. She needed to be as flighty as a butterfly, giggle and wave and act as if she hadn’t a brain in her head.  For surely, then her intended husband and his family would never choose such a flibberty-gibbet as their next queen? And if that didn’t work, she might have to remove the extra piece attached to her right heel and reveal she had one leg that was shorter than the other.

   Her heart hammered in her chest at the humiliation she would be forced to endure. Her deformity would raise a hue and a cry throughout the Country. The church would condemn her, and the court would ostracize her. She would be branded an ‘undesirable’ and exiled. Gulping back her hesitation, she rubbed at her tightening chest. While her act of desperation would demonstrate to all that she was the wrong choice to be Rothesay’s queen, was she brave enough to follow through with her plan? And would it be enough to force the King to negate the contract made years ago with her father?