Here is chapter 6 of the Caradonia story! If you still haven’t been reading, check out the previous chapters first!
“Ariana. Lenora.” Thane Haraldr addressed his daughters after he had summoned them. “His majesty the king is to arrive tomorrow and I expect you both to look your best.”
“You can’t be serious, Father!” Ariana exclaimed, while her sister simply stared with mute horror. Her father gave her a sharp look.
“I certainly am serious,” Haraldr said. “The king is doing us a great honor by coming to us and I won’t have any of your nonsense, young lady! I’ve been far too tolerant of your sharp tongue and gallivanting about with the soldiers, but I won’t have you embarrassing me in front of the king. And I’m sure your sister won’t thank you for ruining her chances at being queen.”
“What?” Lenora exclaimed in surprise. Haraldr smiled indulgently at his youngest daughter.
“Yes, Lenora,” he said, “I believe the king has taken a fancy to you and that his purpose in coming to Aelbridge is to court you. With a little effort on your part, you may secure a throne for yourself.”
“Suppose Lenora doesn’t want to be queen?” Ariana boldly asked her father.
“Then she would be very foolish indeed,” Haraldr retorted. “But I’m sure Lenora knows better than to let such an opportunity pass. And don’t you go about putting such undutiful nonsense in her head!”
“I promise I won’t attempt to sway her either way,” Ariana said. She glanced at her sister, hoping Lenora would not allow herself to be bullied by their father.
“But Father,” Lenora said. “If I marry King Garrick, I should have to leave you.”
“All for the greater good, my dear,” Haraldr said, placing his hands on Lenora’s shoulders. “I shall indeed be sorry to lose you, but just think, Lenora. Queen of Caradonia!”
“Don’t you think it’s a little early to think of it as a certain thing, Father?” Lenora asked. “The king has by no means made any such intentions known, has he?”
“Perhaps you are right,” Haraldr conceded. “Though his admiration of you is quite evident. We shall watch his behavior toward you when he comes.”
“You’ve always handled our father better than I can, I must admit,” Ariana told her sister as they left Haraldr’s throne room.
“Your sharp retorts bring out his warrior instincts,” Lenora replied with a smile. “I try to be diplomatic.”
“I would not wish you to be so diplomatic you compromise yourself,” Ariana said. “Don’t make yourself miserable for the sake of our father’s pride.”
“I know I’m not as bold as you are,” Lenora replied. “But I hope you don’t think I’m weak and stupid.”
“I don’t think you’re either, Sister,” Ariana said. “I think you are very kind. So kind, in fact, that you may neglect yourself for others. But remember that you won’t be here to see our father’s happiness, but your own misery you will endure every day.”
“Ariana, I have no intention of marrying King Garrick,” Lenora said. “You ought to know that. You know I love Corin.”
“I know,” Ariana replied. “Speaking of Corin, we’d better warn him before the king’s arrival. You two will have to be extremely cautious during King Garrick’s stay.”
“I hear these woods are overrun with outlaws,” said the duke of Wythorn as he and King Garrick passed through the woods of Aelbridge.
“Well, we’ve had no trouble so far,” Garrick replied. “And surely, none of them would dare attack a royal coach.”
“Outlaws have no respect for blood or rank,” was Wythorn’s dubious answer. “They’ll attack anyone they think might have gold. If anything, the royal coach will make us a more conspicuous target.”
“Really, Wythorn,” Garrick said scornfully, “I think our guard can keep off a few pathetic outlaws. And I trust you and I aren’t totally deficient when it comes to defending ourselves against such riffraff. You know I, at least, am as skilled as any man with the sword.” Wythorn did not venture to reply, so Garrick continued. “What I’m more concerned about, Wythorn, is who I can trust. Have you thought any more about my problem?”
“I have, your majesty. And I think I’ve come up with a rather simple plan to discover who our allies are. I will make a round of visits to all the lords of Caradonia and play the traitor.”
“Play the traitor?”
“Yes. I’ll pretend that I’m attempting an overthrow of the kingdom and campaigning for allies. You will know who is on your side because they will warn you about my intended treachery.”
“Not a bad plan,” King Garrick said thoughtfully. “Except, what will I do when your so-called treachery becomes public? I don’t suppose hanging was part of your plan?”
“Perhaps you could put out word that I’m being imprisoned in the dungeon of one of your faithful lords,” replied Wythorn, who, if truth be told, was rather enjoying such speculations.
“Nonsense, Wythorn,” Garrick replied. “We shall have to have an example made of you. A public hanging. We shall have to find someone to hang for you. With his face covered, of course. It’s a pity I already had those two guards executed. The taller one might have passed for you. Especially wearing your clothes. Perhaps something with your coat of arms on it.”
“Yes, perhaps,” Wythorn said, a little hesitant. “But the time for that is past.”
“Oh, I’m sure someone will commit some petty crime before the time comes,” King Garrick said. “We’ll find a double for you. By the way, when do you plan to begin this experiment of yours?”
“Perhaps when we return from our visit here.” Wythorn hesitated. “Unless you think I should begin now, with Thane Haraldr?”
“Oh, you needn’t bother with Haraldr. I know the type. Weak, proud and foolish. He shall ally himself with whoever is in power at the time. But not to worry, I shall secure his allegiance by marrying his daughter. The honor of being father-in-law to the king is not one he’ll give up too easily.”
“Undoubtedly,” Wythorn mumbled. He was then silent, and King Garrick followed Wythorn’s lead and said no more as the coach drove through the quaint town of Aelbridge amidst curious stares and bows from the townspeople they passed. Finally, Wythorn spoke again, as the coach rolled into the courtyard of Thane Haraldr’s castle. “The carriage is slowing, your majesty. I think we’ve arrived.”
“Welcome, my lord,” said Thane Haraldr, coming forward from among a collection of guards and servants. On either side of Haraldr stood his two daughters, who both curtseyed. King Garrick gazed intently at his intended bride, who stared resolutely at the ground. The king, naturally, attributed this to maidenly modesty, and was too self-assured to recognize it for what it was—an avoidance of the gaze of a person odious to her sight.
Haraldr took no notice of any of this. “I trust your journey was pleasant.”
“It was as tolerable as any, I suppose,” King Garrick replied carelessly. “The Duke and I will require some refreshment, however.”
“Of course, your majesty, of course,” Haraldr said sycophantically, leading the king into the castle. “We have prepared the best chambers our castle has to offer, and there you will find the finest mead in the region. And when you have refreshed yourself, my cooks have prepared such an assortment of delicacies as has never been seen here.”
“I was most intrigued and honored by your letter,” Haraldr went on. “And of course most eager to welcome you to Aelbridge.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” King Garrick said. Then he turned to Lenora. “My lady Lenora. I look forward to your company at dinner this evening.” Lenora was forced to look up at this direct address.
“Thank you, your majesty,” Lenora replied with a curtsey.
“And I look forward to hearing about your capture of that thief,” Ariana said. King Garrick started at this and Lenora looked shocked at the boldness of her sister, but Ariana went on. “For I assume you have caught him. After all, surely a great king like yourself is not to be bettered by common criminal.” King Garrick momentarily recovered himself and replied,
“Alas, I fear you are mistaken, Lady Ariana. We have not caught him yet.”
“Hold your tongue, Ariana,” Haraldr said wrathfully. “Remember to whom you are speaking. Forgive us, your majesty. My eldest daughter does not always know her place. The result of too many freedoms from an indulgent father, I fear.” When King Garrick made no reply, Thane Haraldr continued. “Now my younger daughter is a dutiful a daughter as any father could ask for. And I have no doubt she will make an equally dutiful wife.”
“Father!” Lenora protested.
“I daresay your father is right,” King Garrick said to Lenora. “You would be an adornment to any man, of any rank.”
“Speaking of adornments,” said Ariana, becoming alarmed for her sister’s feelings, “My sister and I customarily spend some time in our own chamber before coming down to dinner. Is that not so, Father?”
“Yes, yes,” Haraldr said impatiently. “Go along and I shall have you called when it is time for the feast.” Ariana lost no time in hurrying her sister away before either the king or their father could derive some excuse for detaining them.
“What a pompous snake our king is,” she said when she and Lenora were alone. “I wish I could say he is as foolish as our father, but I fear he is shrewd. I doubt he will leave before securing your hand, if that is his object here. And I have no doubt it is.”
“What shall I do?” Lenora asked her sister in dismay. “You don’t suppose I should marry him, do you?”
“Of course not,” Ariana answered. “But I cannot immediately think of a solution. Not that I don’t think you would make a lovely queen. But no throne is worth marriage to such a man. You would be nothing more than a jewel in his crown. Neglected once the novelty has worn off. Of course, perhaps neglect would be preferable to attention from such a husband.”
“Oh, don’t!” Lenora wailed. “Don’t paint such a dreadful picture. Suppose I should be forced to marry him. No, I shan’t. I shall drink poison first.”
“Hush, Lenora!” Ariana said. “Your forebodings are worse than mine. Come, we’ll have no more talk of poison, or daggers, or anything else. Let us put our imagination to better use.”
“What a well-looking pair they make,” Sir Wilfred said to Corin as they entered the great hall. “Do you not think so?” At the head of the table, King Garrick was holding Lady Lenora’s hand as she sat down, after which Lenora quickly withdrew her hand. Corin turned to glower at Sir Wilfred, who registered Corin’s expression with a bit of amusement and then sighed. “Look, Corin. I know you fancy the Lady Lenora. But the time for fantasy is over. It was never a possibility that she should marry you. She is a daughter of nobility, and Thane Haraldr is a proud man. You ought to know that better than anybody.”
“So am I to be glad?” Corin asked Sir Wilfrid acidly. “Glad that her father is pleased to sell her to the man with the highest pedigree? Glad to see her as my queen, and knowing full well her marriage is a living death? Do not suppose me so heartless as to wish it on her. If I thought it possible she should be happy—but I cannot think it possible.”
“You had better be careful of your words, Corin,” Sir Wilfred told him reproachfully. “I would hate to see you hanged for such a speech. And how can you possibly know what Lady Lenora’s feelings are? To be queen is a grand reward in itself. Even if she is a little unhappy at first, I imagine the splendors of court will soon cure her of that. She will find sufficient amusement in her jewels and castle and gardens.”
“I am sorry you think so little of Lady Lenora’s understanding and her heart,” Corin retorted. “To imagine that jewels would be a sufficient reward for such a sacrifice to her father’s self-importance. And if I have to hang for speaking my opinion of the matter, so be it.”
“Calm yourself, Corin,” Sir Wilfred said. “I am sorry if I seem callous. Certainly I do not wish to see Lady Lenora unhappy. I wish her as well and happy as anyone could, I’m sure. But you must accept reality, Corin. We live in a world where you and I are of little importance compared to great men like Thane Haraldr and King Garrick. Think about it. What could you possibly offer her—especially compared to what the king can offer? When you are finally knighted, you might marry the daughter of a wealthy tradesmen or merchant. But you must give up the notion of Lady Lenora forever.”
“Thane Haraldr will never make me a knight,” Corin said bitterly. “I am the oldest squire here and it was against his inclination to make me even that. And I will never stop thinking of Lady Lenora until I can suppose her happy.” Corin turned and began to walk out of the hall.
“Where are you going?” Sir Wilfred asked him. “The feast is about to start.”
“I’m not hungry,” Corin said and stalked out of the hall. Sir Wilfred watched him as he walked away, shook his head sadly and took his place at the knights’ table.