Esobella: Episode 1, Scene 5

Mayfair Hall

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.


Esobella: Episode 1: Scene 4

the forestThe Dukes drove us at a frantic pace, but given that we were almost in a state of war, I could hardly blame them. No doubt the frenetic drive through the countryside was meant for my protection. The journey to Wickhampshire  would take the better part of a week.  We traveled down the Ferryway in a large convoy of black coaches with no emblem to designate me as royalty. I was told to keep my windows shuttered for my own safety. I felt safer as the dukes’ heavily armed men rode ahead of us to scout for any bandits or Augustinian soldiers and the rest rode beside each of our carriages to keep us safe. Yet I still could not settle my nerves.

The last time Pendland had been at war with Augustine I had been nestled in my mother’s womb with my brother.  My father was leading the war on Augustine so he was forced to leave my very pregnant mother as regent.  In a famous tale, my heavily pregnant mother led the charge against the Augustinian king who thought to invade Pendland as my father and most of the Pendlish army were in Augustine.  My mother rallied the troops left at home and rode out with them in full battle armor to protect our country from invasion.  The Augustinian king had been killed in the ensuing skirmish. My mother had sent his bloodied battle crown to my father as a token of wifely affection and devotion.

I had been lucky to have had a childhood free from war or even the threat of war. Now I was quite unprepared for the fear that descended on me and refused to leave. Every flash of light in the distance was an army of Augustinian soldiers determined to rape and kill me and my ladies. Every delay in my party’s  progress meant a squadron of soldiers had discovered us and were attacking.

My ladies, my Mariahs, did little to soothe my ragged nerves. Lady Mariah Giscombe, who had been the one lady most eager to live in Augustine railed against them for a solid hour after we left the harbor.

“Those arrogant Jack-a-knaves! Vile savages!! I pray that the king exterminates every last one of them.  I say that the Augustinian race should be no more.”

“That’s interesting,” Lady Mariah Buttonwood interjected. “Just last night we were all excited at the prospect of landing dashing Augustinian husbands.”

Lady Giscombe blushed. “Well that was last night before they revealed themselves for the false friends that they really are.”

“Will both of you be quiet!” Lady Arendell snapped. “Let’s pray for peace and not an endless river of blood.” With that Arendell  took out her prayer beads and led us all in a prayer song of peace. The other Mariahs like to make fun of Arendell’s piety and her prudishness but I have to admit that her prayer songs always lightened my heart and reminded me of my connection to the goddess. My youngest Mariah, Lady Beaton, held my hand tightly.  I could see in her large brown eyes how frightened she was but not wanting to be chided for being a baby she was unsually quiet.

We drove through the night and only stopped once we saw the sun rising through the trees. My chamberlain sent servants in search of a suitable clearing and then had them set up a small meal for my party to break our fast. They laid a tapestry on the ground and my ladies and I sat down and dined on a meal of fish  marinated in coriander and ginger, an Elderflower and cheese tart and Lavender tea with honey. I felt better after I ate. The tea coated my throat and sent a warmth spreading  through my chest and into my belly. I let myself feel content for a moment.  I was tired, exhausted really.  I had not been able to sleep in the carriage that seemed to find every bump and twig on the road. Even my dear Saltsberry had been able to sleep, filling the carriage with very unlady like snores. I tried  to close my eyes for a few moments as I sat on the tapestry holding a cup of tea, but when I did the image of my mother rose behind my closed lids.

I was wondering how my pregnant mother was faring. Had she been so distressed at the prospect of war that she had gone into premature labor? Surely if that had happened there would have been some word from the palace? But what if there had been and the dukes were withholding it so as not to upset me? I also worried about Meri. Where had they sent her? Was she still in the capital with our mother and father or had she also been sent to the countryside for her protection?

The whole idea of war turned my stomach, but not as much as the idea that Jahn’s letters had been full of subterfuge and lies meant to deceive me and my country into lowering our collective guard.  I could not reconcile that Jahn with the sensitive young man who had sent me drawings of his pet turtle and wrote me about his favorite rooms within his centuries old castle. Jahn had promised to show me the catacombs that ran beneath them and led to the beach.  He had sworn that he had seen mermaids on the horizon when he was a little boy and that during every trip to the sea he always watched for them no matter how his younger brothers mocked him for a fool.  I did not want to believe that kind  young man was tricking me.  Perhaps his father had tricked both of us.

As we were packing up to leave, Northfork approached. “My lady princess, I am afraid that we have to split your household into two parties. Such a large party will attract unwanted attention.”

I moved to protest, but Saltsberry held me back. Saltsberry had always been weary of the man that she mockingly referred to as The Good Duke. “Whatever you think is best, your Grace.” I said and watched as half of my household was sent on ahead of me to Robart Hall.

Esobella: Episode 1 Scene 3

My ship was about to set sail when my chamberlain came below deck to notify me that the Dukes of Northfork and Southfork had an urgent message from the king. My stomach clenched into a tight hard fist. I was already so nervous to be leaving Pendland that I could not bear any more delays.  I prayed silently that their news was not in regards to the child my mother carried-a child all of the Pendland prayed would be a little boy. Both Dukes bowed. The Duke of Northfork spoke first.

“Forgive our instrusion, my lady Princess, but we have urgent news from the palace. It appears that the kingdom of Augustine is preparing their fleet for an invasion of Pendland. Obviously your engagement to Prince Jahn is over.”

“A war. . .they cannot mean it. My engagement to their prince has been planned for years. Surely. . .” I was at a loss. For two years I had prepared myself and my household to travel to St. Augustine to become the wife of their crown prince and to be one day their queen. I had learned Augustinian. I had exchanged letters with Jahn.

The Duke of Northfork continued. “My lady princess, the king and his privy council believe that the King of Augustine may have only agreed to the match to distract us from their preparations to make war against us.”

While my parents thought very highly of the duke, I never liked him. He was a stern old aristocratic soldier, with gray hair that fell down to his shoulders, sallow skin and dark black eyes. He was a man used to giving orders and having them obeyed without question. He was a Howland with a claim to the throne that nearly rivaled The Tailwinds and he strut about court as if he knew it. I much preferred the Duke of Southfork who was of an age with my father and who was his closest friend. He was jovial and warm like the king.

I had to sit down. I perched on the edge of the couch in my large and stately chamber and let my Mariahs cluck about me, offering words of comfort. Prince Jahn and I had exchanged letters through our respective ambassadors and he had always seemed so sincere and genuine. Perhaps he had not known about his father’s preparations for war against my country. “The king has never trusted King Francis.”

“Indeed not, my lady,” Northfork said, “and it seems that his concerns are well founded. In light of this new precarious situation, His Majesty wants you to remove yourself to Robart Hall. For your own protection.”

“Robart Hall? Where is that? I have never heard of that residence.”

The dukes exchanged a look that I could not interpret, “Madam, Robart Hall is located in Wickhampshire,” Northfork said.

“Wickhampshire?” I could not believe that my father wanted me to remove myself to the borderlands for my safety. The West was unconquered and unconquerable territory filled with lawlessness and fearful creatures. Thankfully Pendland was separated from it by a vast dessert. Yet some of that evil had managed to seep into the county of Wickhampshire, making it one of the most troubled and dangerous parts of the realm.

The Good Duke Southfork must have seen the look of trepidation on my face because he hurriedly said, “Madam, I can assure you that Robart Hall is secure and well defended. You and your household will be safe there.”

I was still hesitating when Northfork added, “These orders come directly from His Majesty, the King.”

I knew that I had no choice but to obey.

Esobella: Episode 1: Scene 2

Marisdon streets

The royal procession crested down Summer Hill and reached the gates of Marisdon. The Lord Mayor and the heads of each of the four guilds bowed and officially welcomed us into the city. It seemed as if everyone in Marisdon had turned out to watch me travel to Ginger Harbor and board the ship that would take me to my new home, my new life. The crowd erupted in thunderous applause as the battalion of guards gave way to the royal carriage and they were able to catch a glimpse of the king and queen. My father loved the adulation of his people and I hoped that this sign of their affection would put him into a good mood. Recently, the king had been so tense around my mother, sister and I. Not even my mother’s pregnancy and the prospect of a prince seemed to lighten his spirits.

I waved to the small folk as they called my name and threw little bouquets of flowers into my carriage. Marisdon and its inhabitants had always sickened me a little. The city always smelled of spices, horse manure and iron. The people of Marisdon always looked dirty to me with their smudged faces and clothing, yet I had to hide all of that as we processed through the increasingly narrow streets. The city had been decorated for the occasion; gold and blue streamers hung between the buildings.

In front of the Temple of the Holy Mother I knelt on a plush blue cushion as my aunt, the reigning high priestess, sang a prayersong of protection over me.  Her sister priestess presented me with a long ribbon of Pendlish lace to bind my husband’s hands on our wedding day.  In the front of the Farm Guild’s House I tried not to cry as a pageant with children depicted my birth along with my poor brother, Edouard’s.  In front of the Clerk’s Guild House I was presented with a gilded book of Pendland’s history, illustrated in brillant colors and edged in gold. I was pleased to receive it personally from my favorite tutor, Dr. Bettina Featherstone, and my father’s Lord Chancellor and friend, Tomas Moreweather. The children of the Merchant’s Guild sang a song honoring my beauty and wishing me a fruitful marriage. I thought the song to be impertinent, but I am biased against them. I believe that the Merchant’s Guild would sell our entire country if they received the right offer.

At Port Matilda, I had to say goodbye to my parents and to Meri. I bowed before my father and asked for his blessing. He raised me up and kissed me on both cheeks. He whispered, “No matters what happens, dearest, always remember how much I love you.” I felt warm inside as I walked away and bowed in front of my mother. When my mother raised me up and embraced me, I was shocked to find her trembling.

I loved my mother, but I never thought that she loved me or any of us, until I saw how Edouard’s death devastated her. My mother was always the perfect queen; hard, cold and strong as a statue. My father was the open and affectionate parent. But that day, my mother embraced me tightly, so tightly that I felt her child stir in her belly, and said, “Never forget who you are, my love. You are from a long line of kings and queens from not just Verula, but of Pendland as well. Never forget you are a princess.” I kissed my mother on both cheeks and patted her belly. I had been touched by her embrace, but I could not help but think that her last words to me were of politics and protecting the family honor.

I never wanted to leave Meri’s arms. I had the oddest feeling that if I were to let her go that I would never see her again. As she held me she begged me to write to her often and tell her of my new life in Augustine so that she could pretend that I was still with her. I did not know what I was going to do without Meri to guide me, to ensure that I did the right thing.

Once I was aboard the ship, I turned around and took one last look at my family. Meri and our mother stood together, arm in arm. My father stood off to the side and looked at them through squinted eyes. I should have had the sense then, that something was wrong.

Esobella: Episode 1, Scene 1

The City Palace

The procession began at The Royal Palace at the very top of Summer Hill.  In the long hall, all the members of the court and the royal household lined up to bow before my parents, the king and queen, my sister Meri, the heir to the throne, and me, the princess who was leaving them to marry a foreign prince.

I could not help but feel a little panic at the thought of marrying a man that I had never met before. As I looked at the young lords, turned out in their fine velvets and silks, I wondered why I could not just marry one of them and stay home. It was a question that I had posed to my parents more than once, as well as to my long suffering Lady Governess, Lady Saltsberry, and my patient, sweet sister, Meri.  It was Meri who finally gave me an explanation that had satisfied me somewhat.

While we were both at Chenoweth Hall, Meri had taken me riding one morning and explained why I was being sent away.

“Augustine is our ancient enemy. We have gone to war with them many times. Our father and King Francis have decided the only way to end the bloodshed is for you to marry the heir to the throne.”

I had let my horse walk a little ahead of Meri’s. I was attempting to keep my mouth shut and prevent myself from asking Meri the most  obvious question.

My sister had peered at me with our father’s light blue eyes. Her mouth trying to repress a smile. “I cannot marry Prince Jahn, Esobella. I am the heir to the throne and the people of Pendland would never accept an Augustinian as their king.” Then Meri had laughed, her deep, throaty laugh, which was almost as loud as our father’s and raced along the path ahead of me.

In the wake of our brother’s death, Meri and I had grown ever closer and it was her that I was most in despair of leaving.

It was late autumn and my maids had dressed me against the chill in the air. I wore a fine, white woolen shift beneath several skirts. Covering all of this was a robe of dark blue damask that opened onto a brilliant gold forepart studded with sapphires and rubies. I wore my sleeves long and trimmed with fur. I thought it was too much. After all it was not that cold yet, but my maids had informed me that the Queen had issued special instructions. My long auburn hair was pulled behind my neck and covered with An Augustinian hood and a long veil. I had been shown my image in the looking glass that morning and I had seen a very beautiful, if sickly pale, young lady looking back at me.

My parents rode behind a battalion of the royal guard in the state carriage bedecked in the Tailwind colors of blue and gold. Following them on white chargers were the members of my father’s privy council, high ranking aristocrats who advised the king on matters of state. Each member of the privy council had been paired with one of my mother’s senior ladies in waiting.   After the king and queen came the carriage where my sister, Meri, rode. Earlier that morning Meri had tried to convince my father that she and I should be allowed to ride together, my father had refused that request with more bluster than was necessary. If I had not known my father better I would have thought that he saw Meri and I as possible conspirators and that he wanted to keep us apart to prevent us from plotting. My father had grown every more watchful and suspicious after my brother’s death a few years before. Meri’s carriage bore her arms, a golden owl on a field of blue, on the door. Following her were her ladies in waiting.

My carriage had been designed and built especially for the occasion.  It was golden with white wedding flowers created from pearls embossed on the doors. I was instructed to wave to the small folk as we processed through the tight streets of Marisdon. My four ladies in waiting rode on black horses behind me. My ladies and I had been together since childhood. There were all named Mariah and came from the finest families in Pendland: Mariah Giscombe, Mariah Cobb, Mariah Holmes, and Mariah Beaton.