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.