Lord and Lady Bailey and their entire household assembled to greet me as I arrived at Mayfair Hall. As the Duke of Southfork helped me from the carriage, they all dropped to one knee.
Mayfair Hall’s name was deceptive. It was a centuries old fortress that guarded the Eastern Realm from invasion via the the west. Lord Rupert Bailey was the Earl of Mayfair and well trusted by my father as he was by my grandfather before him. Lady Esme Bailey had been one of my mother’s maid of honor, who came over with her from Verula. I walked over to my hosts on legs stiff from the long carriage ride and motioned for them to rise. “Lord and Lady Bailey, thank you so much for hosting me at your lovely home.”
Lord Rupert rose, “Your grace does our humble roof much honor.”
Lady Bailey stepped forward and kissed both of my cheeks. “Your journey must have left you fatigued, my lady. Please, allow me to show you to your chambers so that you can rest.”
“Thank you, Lady Bailey. You are too kind.” I allowed her to take my arm and lead me away. I could tell that Lord Rupert was angry at his wife’s lack of formality towards a royal visitor, but I had known Lady Esme for most of my life and I took great comfort in the simple warmth of her presence.
When my ladies had been shown to their chambers and Lady Esme, Saltsberry and I were finally alone, she sat down on the bed and whispered to us, “Something is happening. The Queen and Princess Meri have been removed to the Spires.”
The news did not surprise me in the least. The royal family often retreated to the Spires in times of war. The Spires was designed as a fortress. “Surely, that is normal and a prudent thing to do at a time such as this, Lady Bailey.” I said.
“A time such as this, my lady?”
“Yes, Lady Esme, with the country on the brink of war with the Augustinians. Surely you have heard. That’s why my engagement was cancelled,” I leaned in and whispered, “the king had reports that the Augustinians were mounting a seas invasion.”
Lady Esme looked first at me and then at Saltsberry. She opened her mouth to say something and then she closed it. She placed her hands over her face and when she removed the her eyes sparked with tears. “No, my sweet princess. I had not heard that rumor. The only rumor that the court is buzzing with these days is the news tat your father’s mistress was delivered of a baby boy last night.”
“My dear sweet goddess,” Saltsberry exclaimed and shrunk to the floor. I closed my eyes and began to feel the start of a headache behind my eyes.
“Lady Esme, it does not matter if that woman,” I could not bring myself to mention that harlot’s name, “gives the king a hundred bastard sons. She is not the queen. My parents have been married for nearly 20 years and the queen is pregnant.”
“You do not understand, my dear Madam. That is what scares me about the king removing both the Queen and the Princess to the Spires. I worry that if the Queen delivers another girl that he will do away with her and make the Bollard whore hsi queen and their bastard his heir.”
I dropped Lady Esme’s hands and stood up. Saltsberry began to cry. What Lady Esme had just mentioned was treason. It was treason to suggest that the king was capable of murder. I wanted to rage at Lady Esme, but I could not. I knew how desperate my father was for a son.
Pendland had only every had one female ruled and my father loathed the sound of her name. Bethesda was a queen who ruled with an iron fist. My father always referred to her as a tyrant and to her 20 years on the throne as the reign of terror. She rode bravely into battle and personally killed the cousin who challenged her claim to the throne. She was ruthless and deadly when dealing with rebellious lords. She had three husbands, but she never let any of them be granted the crown matrimonial. She lived long enough to see her eldest son, Hallory II reach maturity and he reigned after her. My father despised warrior women. He believed that all women should be refined, cultured, meek and docile like my mother.
The king believed that the had saved Pendland from the horror of female rule by siring Edourad. When he died, he recognized Meri as the heiress presumptive, but he never stopped longing for a boy. He was overjoyed when my mother announced that she was pregnant again. He threw a 3 day feast when her pregnancy had progressed past its most dangerous time.
“Lady Esme,” I tried to compose myself. “I am sure all of this worry is for nothing. My father would never harm my mother let alone, Meri.”
“I pray not. I am on my knees to the goddess every moment that I am able, but I felt the need to warn you just the same my sweet princess. I bid you a good night.”
The next morning as we prepared to leave, the Duke of Northfrk told me that for my safety it would be better if my party were reduced even further. I was saddened as my priestess, tutors and a few of my maids left me.