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The Chancellor From Connier

 

The Chancellor from Connier

by Anna del C. Dye

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described here are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher.

 

The Chancellor from Connier

 

All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2017 Anna del C. Dye

Version 1.0

 

 

This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

www.annadelc.com

 

 

All Rights Reserved USA

 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Other books by Anna del C. Dye:

 

The Silent Warrior Trilogy:

The Elf and the Princess

Trouble in the Elf City

Elfs in a Conquered Realm

Curse of the Elfs

A Royal Elf of Abalon

Shahira & the Flying Elfs

The Roilden Stones of Elf Mountain

 

Once Upon Two Kingdoms

Kingdom by the Sea

A Golden Princess

 

And available only as an e-book:

Emerine’s Nightmare

Chapter One

The Wedding

It was a rainy evening. Two young people talked in the midst of its dark, watery curtains. After a triple-forked-lightning flash, Sestina shivered, although she realized the reason had nothing to do with the rain.

“I do not understand… you mean you will leave, just like that?”

“It is necessary for me to do so,” Ottin answered with his dark hair plastered over his face and his brown eyes low.

Was it to keep the rain from them or did he feel as bad as she did? Sestina pondered.

“My family will have the opportunity to be better off, if I do so,” he answered. His dark lashes finally rose to meet her wet face.

“Let me see if I understand you right…? You want me to stay here without you, while you go to another kingdom far way and who knows for how long?”

“It will be only for a few years, while Father and I establish ourselves, my love.”

He moved closer. However, Sestina’s broken heart made her step back and he froze.

“What about our wedding in two weeks?” she cried. “My mother just finished my wedding dress.”

The thunder competed with their conversation and she felt the need to be loud. She hugged her arms for comfort as a tremor consumed her body as fast as the drops falling down it.

“We will just postpone it… for a little while.”

“Just like that? Like your word and mine mean nothing to you?”

Through the pouring rain, her tears, rolling down her cheeks, were invisible.

“Sestina… I need to take this job in the palace at Connier. It will give me the chance to provide better for our future.”

“Is that all you care for… being better?” She stared at him. Yet, all she saw was the wonderful quiet, young man she loved. No, that was not the reason he wanted to leave, she knew him better than that.

“Your mother’s wish has finally come true,” she murmured between the raindrops still drizzling over them. “She has never liked me, or my lineage. I will never be good enough for you.”

“Please don’t believe that, Sestina. You know I don’t care about not knowing who your father is.”

“Then stay with me and let’s get married now. We’ll go to Connier together.” She touched his arms with hope.

“Sestina, I love you…. I would give anything for you to be with me. However, when I accepted my commission, the chancellors told me to be there in four days. So, I need to leave tomorrow. It would not look good if I do not show up on time.”

That tore her hope apart. There was nothing she could say to make him stay.

“You had it all decided before you came to see me, didn’t you?” Her pain was so great that she could not stay her tongue from running on with her feelings right then.

“Sestina, please… don’t accuse me of that.”

“I never matter in your plans,” she cried louder. “Your mother didn’t give me a chance to show her who I am. Fine then, you want to leave… leave! I don’t want to see you again.”

She spun about and left him outside in the rain, alone with his thoughts. The three-room shack that served her and her mother as their home lacked many comforts, although it abounded in love. However, at that moment, she didn’t feel it.

“What’s wrong, child?” Marine, her mother, queried.

Sestina couldn’t respond and hurried to the bedroom. The sounds of her disconsolate sobs were almost loud enough to cover the rain falling down on the thin roof of her house. Her mother followed her and sat to caress her hair, in silence. She had been unselfish like that for as long as Sestina had memories of her. How could she tell her that Ottin had chosen to leave her behind?

“It will all work out the way it should, my girl,” she heard her whisper, after a lot of tears. “Don’t try to force him to choose, Sestina. I tried that with your father and he abandoned me, with child.”

“He didn’t let me choose, Mother, he didn’t let me give my opinion.”

“It’s disheartening to see my life being relived by my daughter,” she replied. “Ottin belongs with his people in Connier. You knew that he would return there some day.”

“But, I thought he would take me with him, Mother.”

“He is from a good family and they want the best for him. You can’t blame them.”

“And I am not the best, am I?” she cried.

“A wife and children do change the future of a man, my daughter. It alters the possibilities and the places from which they can choose. You are young and have your whole life before you.”

“Isn’t he doing the same as my father did? He is leaving me for a better future.”

“He isn’t your father, Sestina. Your father did love me enough to marry me. He never thought out what would happen in our future after our rash actions. Ten years my senior, I left the thinking to him.

“Ottin has done a lot of thinking, about your future together. I suppose his parents have too, and their conclusion is what you are seeing now.”

“You educated me, Mother. I can stand by any of them and keep my ground.”

“Your father, the son of a chancellor, had more education than me, you see. I met him when he was stationed for two years as an ambassador to Kaloma. Before we were married he taught me how to be a lady, my letters, how to eat, sit and what and when to talk. I have passed all this on to you, to give you a better future.”

“Why didn’t you go to a better place, where you could use all that knowledge to help us and our future, Mother?” She sobbed a little more.

“I never left, in case he changed his mind and came back to us,” she answered. “With the passing of the years, I lost my hope for a father for you and the place you should have had in society.”

“Mother, please tell me who my father is. Is he alive? Why did he never help you give us a better life?”

“That information won’t change our future, my child,” the woman patted her hand. “I would never take his money. The truth is, I should have done some thinking then and I didn’t. I have no excuse for delivering you into this world without a father.”

“Life would have been quite different if Father had stayed with us, wouldn’t it?”

“At your age now, he could have found a great position in the castle for you,” she conceded.

“Does he know about me?”

“I don’t know. I never told him. His family would have claimed that you weren’t his child and you didn’t deserve that, my girl. There are people we both knew who saw me with child and later with you and they could have told him. I haven’t talked with him since he left me in this house.”

“Now, Ottin is doing the same thing to me,” Sestina cried. “He left me for a better station in the castle.”

Sestina couldn’t help but cry some more.

The next day, Ottin came to say good-bye. Sestina refused to see him.

That night, her mother developed a cough that steadily got worse with the passage of the days.

“You need to see the healer, Mother,” she told her, two weeks later. “I will get him for you tonight.”

“There is no need; I am doing better, Sestina. Besides, the honey you gave me is working, why bother the healer?”

“We do have a little money to pay him, Mother,” she insisted.

“Give me a few more days. If it doesn’t get better, we will summon him.”

“I need to go to work now, Mother,” she handed her a cup with warm honey and lemon. “Will you be all right?”

“I have some mending to do and that will keep me busy. Go, don’t worry about me.”

Chapter Two

A Real Job

Sestina’s normal work consisted of being a companion to an older couple whom she entertained by reading to them. That day the couple had a caller.

“I will get the door for you,” Sestina offered.

“Top of the hour to you,” she told the woman who waited at the other side of the door. “How may I help you?”

“My name is Mrs. Tearson and I heard you telling a story to someone. I wondered if you were reading it?”

“Yes, I read to my friends from these papers.”

“Do you know all the letters? Well, I should say you do. After all, I heard you myself. Are you employed, or would you like to earn some money by helping my sons read better?”

“I’d be delighted. When would you like me to start?”

“This instant. You only have two weeks to have them ready.”

“I see. May I know where you live?”

“An hour from here. You will have to move in for the time you work for us.”

“Who is us?”

“My husband and two sons. Eleven and nine.”

“Do they know their letters? Two weeks is not long enough to start from the beginning.”

“We had a tutor for them and they progressed well with him. We want them to get much better but we only have fourteen days to do so. I will pay you well, if you do a good job for us.”

“I don’t live here, though I can meet you somewhere in Lexin. It will take me an hour to collect my things and be ready.”

“I need to call upon the healer and I can meet you back here in an hour or so. If I’m not here, remain until I return. I shouldn’t be long.”

Sestina told the couple about her new job and they gave her their blessing. They were poor and usually paid for Sestina’s services with a little food.

“Mother, I have to leave for two weeks.” She hurried to her bedroom and took her two dresses out of a chest and folded them carefully. “Lady Tearson is giving me a job to tutor her children, and I will be paid for it. They live one hour from here and I will have stay with them for the two weeks.”

Her mother found her shawl and opened it on the bed, so Sestina could place her things on it.

“Praises be,” she cried. “I knew it would help you some day.”

“This could be a break for us, Mother. I will be able to find more work. Now I will be exposed to more opportunities with this family.”

“I am so happy, Sestina. Don’t forget your manners and be firm though kind with the children.”

“I will, Mother.” She hugged her tightly and left.

Sestina’s life soon became a ritual of attending to the children. They took turns reading for her while she corrected their pronunciation. They read in the parlor, seated on silk couches. Sometimes they retired to the garden when the days were warm and clear. They read in their chambers before they prepared for bed. When they ate, their father would have them read a page each before they could start their meal.

“Sestina, we are very pleased with your results,” her employer commented one night. “Our children will be the best when we visit our friends.”

“I am not sure I understand,” Sestina told her.

“You see, our friends so like to crow about their children doing this and doing that that this year we wanted to brag about our children knowing their letters,” the father explained.

“I am pleased you like their progress,” she told them. “How much longer will you have me help them?”

“Oh dear, I thought…” the mother looked at her husband.

“I thought you told her,” the father stared at the mother.

“Told me what?” Sestina asked.

“We leave in the morning. So, today we will give you your salary and say good-bye.”

“I recalled you had told me two weeks,” she replied. “I just wasn’t sure when the two weeks ended.”

“You are welcome to stay the night and travel back home in the morning,” the wife offered.

The next morning, with a letter of recommendation and a handful of currency in her purse, Sestina gathered her few belongings and travelled back to her mother.

“Mother, I am back,” she cried.

Not a sound did she hear.

“Mother? Are you here? Mother?”

A cough drew her toward the bedroom.

“No… Mother, what have you done?”

Chapter Three

A Death In The Family

On the dirt floor of her home, she found the prone form of her mother, splattered with blood. The older woman lay unresponsive. Sestina called for her neighbor’s son to run for the healer. By the time he came, Sestina had helped her mother into clean clothes and she lay asleep in her bed.

After examining her, the small man reproached, “You should have called me sooner.”

“She would not let me, when I resided here. I have been gone for two weeks and didn’t know she hadn’t requested your presence. Mother felt that we had spent too much money on my wedding dress. She thought we didn’t have more to waste on her.”

“Sestina, how old are you?”

“I am sixteen.”

“Are you getting married?”

“No, I…we split up a month ago.” The tears she hadn’t let fall flooded down her eyes and cheeks.

“I see. Do you have relatives close by?”

“No, my mother’s family resides far away and she doesn’t know if they still live. After my grandparents died, she married my dad and when he left us… she stayed here.” More tears fell and she dried her face with the back of her hands.

“By your accommodations, I gather that you are not well off.”

“We do well with what we make,” she responded.

“The two of you perhaps…. Sestina your mother is very sick…. She will not make it.”

She stared at the healer and closed her eyes before more tears fell.

“You will need a way to take care of yourself,” the man continued. “What can you do to earn a living?”

“I will manage,” she retorted, more sure than she felt. “How… long… does she have?”

“Very little, I will be surprised if she makes it through the night.”

Sestina dropped on the chair next to her mother and buried her face in her hands.

“I will tell the caretaker to come tomorrow,” the healer stated and moved toward the door.

She took some coins from her purse and handed them to him.

“Keep it,” he told her. “You will need it for her burial.”

Ready to leave, he glanced at her again. “I heard about a well-off woman who is looking for help with her children… perhaps she’ll agree to meet you.”

“Thank you, I would appreciate any help.”

Alone with her mother, Sestina took her hand in hers and cried.

“How can so many things go so wrong in such a short time?” she murmured. “First Ottin left me and now you will leave me too, Mother. What am I to do alone?”

“Sestina,” her mother whispered, bringing her back to her side. “I am sorry I didn’t get the healer.”

“Oh, Mother…, I love you. I will miss you so much.”

“Your father is Chancellor Draaaginnn.” After a small gurgling sound, she passed on.

The funeral and burial happened on the same day. It claimed all the money Sestina had earned from her tutoring lessons.

Chapter Four

The Governess

Just three days later, in a beautiful chalet near the sea, the healer introduced her to Lady Ramile.

“This is Sestina, the young woman I told you about,” the healer said with a bow.

“It is a pleasure, My Lady,” Sestina curtseyed.

“Do you know how to take care of two energetic children?” The proper woman seemed taken aback by her age.

“I learn quickly, My Lady, if you will teach me.”

“There is a terrace through those doors,” she motioned to her left. “Leave us alone for a moment.”

“As you wish, My Lady.” She curtseyed again.

“She appears clean and educated,” the plump woman noted, while Sestina was still within earshot. “Nonetheless, she has no experience with children…. My two sons are precocious and very active, I am not sure that she could handle them…”

Sestina’s shoulders drooped as she walked away from the conversation. She wandered through the well-kept gardens, since she was sure this would be her only chance to do so. Soon she heard the happy squeals of two small boys as they seemed to chase each other just ahead of her.

“Come back, you two,” an older voice came from the distance. “Where is your mother?” the tired and frustrated voice murmured in the background.

At that moment, Sestina descended the steps leading down from the terrace when…

“Oh, I am sorry, I did not mean to crash into you,” Sestina apologized. The older boy had bumped into her and lost his balance. “Are you hurt?”

“I am all right…. Who are you?” A set of brown eyes under thick, black lashes stared at her.

“I am Sestina, and you?”

“I am Teriel and I am five years old. This is my brother Marten, he is only three.” He pointed at the other little boy, who halted just in time to not bump into them.

“It is a pleasure to meet you.” She smiled when Marten hid behind his older brother and peeked at her with his honey eyes.

“Can you tell us a story?” queried Marten, still in hiding.

“Sabina is too old, and she can’t remember any stories,” added Teriel.

“I will tell you a story if you promise to listen without interruption,” she told them.

“We promise,” they chorused, their heads bobbing precariously over thin, long necks.

All three sat down on the secluded steps of the terrace and she started her tale.

Meanwhile, Sabina, the cook, could not hear the voices of children in the garden, so she entered the house to look for them there. She tried all their hiding places, including the chimney. After long moments, she had to admit that she had lost them for good.

“My Lady,” the old cook huffed as she entered the parlor in a rush. “They ran away from me…. I can’t find them.”

“Did you check in the garden and the house,” she asked, not in the least frazzled.

“Yes, and they are not anywhere,” the cook replied. “I can’t search any more or my heart is going to die in my chest.”

“Healer,” the lady turned to him with worried lines sketched in her forehead. “As you can see, I am afraid that the girl is not a match for my children. I will direct her back to you. Now, I need to look for my boys. Thank you anyway.”

Lady Ramile left the room followed by Sabina through the same door Sestina had left earlier. They were approaching the steps to the garden when she heard Sestina’s soft voice.

“It was then that the prince took the bad man to the castle and locked him in the dungeon,” Sestina said.

“Did he return for the princess?” asked Marten.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“He did, he would never leave her alone in the tower forever,” answered Teriel.

“Who taught you that tale?” Lady Ramile asked, startling them all.

“Pardon me, My Lady. I did not see you there. My mother, My Lady. She told them to me every night.”

“Mommy, Mommy,” chanted the boys, and ran to her arms.

“We want her to stay with us,” pled Teriel.

“She is pretty and not tired like cook,” Marten wrinkled his face at the older woman.

“Can she stay, please?” both cried at the same time.

“I have never seen my children this tranquil before,” she smiled.

“That is why I could not find them, My Lady,” the cook stated. “I listened for their noise and there was none.”

“Perhaps I was mistaken, Healer,” she glanced back to see him at the door. “She may be just what we need. Let us try for a while and see how it goes.”

“Yeahhhhhhhhhh!” the children cried and danced about their mother.

A few months had passed since Sestina moved in with the Straten family, when Lord Straten returned home in a state of fret.

“I tell you, My Lady, that it is imperative that I leave the city tomorrow.”

“Sabina,” called Lady Ramile.

“It is so sudden…. What is the matter, dear? Can you not tell me?”

“You summoned, My Lady?” The breathless cook arrived at their chambers.

“Send for the…”

“The trunk,” answered Lord Straten, his head in the wardrobe.

“This instant, My Lady… Sir.”

“And the two smaller suitcases too,” he cried before she disappeared from their room.

“The king has asked me to go to Ambela and handle a touchy situation. It is a secret…”

“Of course,” she understood that she must not question him further. “When will you be back, my dear?”

“I am not, Ramile… I will serve there for four years.”

“Oh goodness, we need to move our family…. What about the children; they are so perfect with Sestina. What am I to do without her?”

“I will let you know when I can arrange a home for us. Sestina can stay until then. I doubt she will want to go with us.”

“What about the rest of our servants?”

“If they do not follow us, we will have to find new ones.”

That night after dinner, Sestina gave the children their baths and, after a story, put them to bed.

“Sestina, please enter,” Lady Ramile called from the parlor as she passed by.

“Something unexpected has happened and Lord Straten will leave tomorrow to Ambela…. We will join him soon after.”

“I understand,” she murmured sadly.

“Sabina feels that she is too old to leave her family,” the employer mentioned.

“You may have even more ties to this place than Sabina,” Lord Straten added to his wife’s concern.

“You have been a great help to us, and we hate to lose you,” continued Lady Ramile.

“Does My Lord wish to know if I will move with his family, or is he giving me my notice of termination?” Sestina asked.

“Is there any chance that you could stay with us?” Mrs. Straten queried. “What is it child?” the woman had noticed her sadness.

“My mother died three days before I started to work for My Lady…. She was my only family. I have nowhere to go…. I was to be married a month before my mother’s death…. He changed his mind,” her eyes lowered with the weight of her sadness.

“I am so sorry, child,” the motherly woman patted her hand.

“Where is he, Sestina?” the Lord asked. “Is there a possibility that he will want you to stay here?”

“He is gone to Connier, Sir, and I haven’t seen him for months.”

“He was a fool, child, and you deserve better. Definitely come with us.”

Accompanied by Sestina, Mrs. Straten and her two children traveled to Ambela three weeks later. They had to reside in an inn for a week, but, thanks to Sestina’s power over the children, it was a pleasant stay. A couple of other servants also made the four-hour trip to Ambela with their belongings.

Tall towers and big windows welcomed them to their new home even farther to the north of Kaloma. Mrs. Straten’s pale green silk chairs enhanced the green parlor walls and a vase of flowers did the rest.

It didn’t take long for the whole family to pick up their normal pace as they welcomed their new surroundings and summer.

Chapter Five

The New Look

One day, Lady Straten summoned Sestina to join her in the parlor. The boys sat in the kitchen with the new cook, enjoying cookies and milk.

“Sestina, this is Madam Lerose and I have commissioned her to make a couple of new dresses for you.”

“That is so wonderful of you, My Lady. I thank you.”

“Now that we are in this city representing the king, we need to look our part. Lord Straten wishes to see you in something nicer.”

“Please forgive me; my clothes were made by my mother. I didn’t want to part with them,” she apologized. “I can have some made on my own.”

“They are very nice clothes, Sestina, and you can use them when we are alone in our home.”

“That is how it has been, Lady Straten. Is there going to be a change in our future?”

“Lord Straten will work with government delegations, and some will be entertained in our home,” she responded. “Since this is a requirement of his work, he will provide two new dresses for you. It would be wise to get a few more done.”

“I will, Lady Straten,” she curtseyed. “Though I would prefer to be excused from any formal affairs.”

“Madam Larose, see that she has a dance and an evening gown. Sestina, you may choose the material for the gowns.”

“It will be done, My Lady,” the seamstress curtseyed.

Later that night after the boys were in bed, “I suggest you have three more dresses made,” Lady Straten instructed. “One for morning and the others for day affairs.”

“If My Lady permits me, I can make my own gowns. I am afraid I can’t afford Madam Larose’s prices.”

“I understand, Sestina. The marketplace has lovely materials and we shall go the next time they set up. I will help you choose the best materials, and you can look about to get ideas of what ladies use in our day.”

“I will be quite thankful if you can advise me,” she assented.

“Three new dresses should give you all you need for a year.”

Less than six months later, Sestina was expected to attend her first ball. She couldn’t decide how she felt, excited or sad. Ottin had been on her mind lately and she wanted his mother to see her now. The woman had never given Sestina a chance to show her that she was good enough for her son. Still, she had advanced far on her own and his mother would have to concede to that.

“Are you sad?” Marten asked her.

Sestina’s eyes that had been glued to a mountain in the distance moved toward the little boy’s face.

“I am sorry. My mind took me to my past and the people I loved that are not with me anymore.”

“That can make you really sad, doesn’t it?” agreed Teriel.

“Let’s leave the past in the past and talk of what should we do today,” she ruffled both boys’ hair.

“We want to ride horses,” the oldest cried.

“I think that your riding tutor will be pleased to hear that,” Sestina assented. “Follow me, let’s change your outfits.”

“We want you to accompany us,” Marten whined.

“That would be unwise, for I have no experience with horses,” she answered. “Your riding tutor, on the other hand, is an expert and you will be safe with him.”

“I bet he’d like to give you riding lessons too,” Teriel pled.

“I see. Did he ask you to convince me to go with you?”

“Yes,” confessed Martin. “He told us he likes you.”

“I’ll tell you what, go get changed into your riding outfits and meet me here when you are done.”

She escorted the boys to the stable and encouraged them to help with their horses.

“It’s good to see you here, Lady Sestina.” The baritone voice belonged to the tall, curly-haired tutor.

“Sir Lebaren, I do not appreciate you sending little children to talk for you. If you have something to tell me, let’s hear it.”

“A thousand pardons, My Lady. I have admired you since I started to work here. I didn’t know if my station would be a problem to you. That is why I haven’t voiced my feelings for you.”

“Feelings, Sir? In my experience, men’s feelings change like women do their clothes. I am not in the habit of letting a man change me like a discarded gown.”

“My Lady has been hurt before… I am most sorry. Do you believe every man will do the same to you?”

“The future I know not. This I do know, if I stay away from men, I won’t be hurt any further. Since I have no desire or reason to change my thinking, I bid you good day, Sir.”

After that, she never heard from the tutor again. The night of the ball, she felt like a princess in her new party dress. The pink silk flowers over a light blue velvet gown reflected her almond-shaped green eyes to perfection. Her brown hair hung in ringlets about her face, while the rest settled over her shoulders.

The dinner, the music and the jovial people made it a special night. The only thing that would make it better would be for Ottin to be at her side. He had taken her to a ball where he introduced her to her parents. They were nice, though she felt his mother’s silent disapproval. It was that same night that he had proposed and the night that he met the chancellor from Connier who offered him a station in that kingdom.

“May I inquire why the sad face on such a beautiful night, My Lady?”

“I am sorry, Sir…?”

“Lord Brendon, My Lady…?”

“Sestina,” she answered. “I tarry for my escort to retrieve a drink,” she lied.

“I see. Though I noticed My Lady, when she came in and she didn’t have an escort.”

“Be that as it may, may I know why you waste your time in my behalf?”

“I have gathered my courage all night long to enquire if My Lady will permit me to become her escort?”

“My experiences have shown me that solitude is better suited for me. I thank you for asking. Good night, Lord Brendon.”

That night she hoped she would see no more of him. However, somehow, in the passing days he managed to show up every time she set foot outside her home. When she discovered that the cook accepted money from the man, she understood how he did it. One evening, she called on the kitchen after the boys were in bed.

“Is there something you need, Miss?” the cook asked.

“Have you heard of one of the servants giving information about my whereabouts to a Lord Brendon?”

“No, Miss, I swear it.” The cook’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets.

“Mrs. Straten told me to discover who it is so she can dismiss them from her services.”

“Oh my. I will keep my ears open fer you, Miss.”

“That would be quite helpful,” she replied. “I wouldn’t want to blame the wrong person.”

“No, that won’t do,” the woman curtseyed and hurried away.

Chapter Six

Memories

Four years passed from that conversation, but she never saw Lord Brendon again.

On this day, the Straten family and Sestina returned to the foot of the stairs that led to their old home close to the castle of Kalona. Sestina had served them all those years. The two boys, now nine and seven, loved her deeply. She had learned to be stern and soft with them, as her mother had advised her.

“Well, here we are,” exclaimed Lord Straten as he stepped down from the carriage to help his wife out. “It has been a long, dusty road.”

“It is nice to be home again,” his wife conceded.

“I do not like it here, Father,” Marten announced. He jumped down from the carriage to look all around at his old neighbors up and down the street.

“I don’t either,” echoed Teriel, who poked his head through the window while still in the carriage. He glanced at the silver-blue stone house at which his parents stared.

“This is our home, why would you not like it?” their father answered testily. He escorted his wife up the white and red mosaic stairs to the front door.

“Our friends are in Ambela, Father,” answered Marten.

“We don’t know anyone here,” echoed Teriel.

Lord Straten glanced at his wife for help; she just shrugged her shoulders and remained silent.

“Then it should be a great adventure for both of you,” Sestina said as she came to their side with a small bundle for each of them.

“What do you mean?” asked Marten after she give him his.

“That now you have the opportunity to meet other people and your friends will double. Is that not awesome?”

“I never saw it that way before,” murmured Marten.

“Wow! That will be very fun,” cried Teriel, already halfway up the steps to their home.

“Come help with your clothes, and let’s go inside to see what your rooms look like.”

Life returned to normal quite soon for the Stratens and, as promised, the boys found new friends. Sestina had more time on her hands now that the boys took lessons with other tutors. Being back in the city brought many memories of her childhood and Ottin back to her. She recognized quite a few familiar places, all of them she had shared with Ottin in a time when happiness filled their lives.

Months later, I thought I was ready to return, she mused at her feelings. She was walking between the stalls in the market and had halted at the dock, to gaze at the open sea. The smell of fresh fish filled the air and the noisy seagulls scouted for their meals.

“Is My Lady all right,” a male voice came to her ears after a moment of silent contemplation.

She twisted around to find a young man’s dark brown eyes concentrated on her.

Not again.

“Yes, I am fine.” She glanced the other way at the peaceful waves as they exploded over the white sand. Ottin and she had planned their wedding here, at this same spot.

“Why the melancholic expression then?” the man persisted, and approached her.

“I… better get back home,” she exclaimed before new tears spilled. She hurried back through the market, and gave one of the owners the address where to deliver her purchases.

That warm afternoon found Sestina in the kitchen for a cold drink at the Stratens’ home. At a moment when cook’s hands worked the dough so expertly, a knock came to their ears.

“I will open,” and she hurried to add, “it’s probably the food.”

“Thank you, Lady.” The cook smiled.

Sestina recognized the man who had talked with her on the waterfront.

“May I help you?” she queried.

“I have your groceries, My Lady.” The man bowed and pointed to the packages on a mule next to him.

“You are the delivery boy, person?”

“No, My Lady. I am Josen, the knight.”

“Why do you deliver our food then?”

“I paid the lad who was to deliver your groceries to let me carry them instead.”

“Why?” she asked in confusion.

“I wanted to see the sad lady again. I do not have your name.”

“It is not of your concern,” she answered, a touch crossly.

“Is everything all right, Sestina?”

“Yes, Lord Straten,” she told the man behind her. “The groceries are here…”

“Carry them in,” he called and opened the door wide. “Josen, what are you doing here?”

The two men started a conversation and Sestina used the moment to return to her charges.

She did not hear anything about the episode until late that night, after the children were in bed.

“It seems that Josen has taken a fancy to you, Sestina,” Lord Straten observed.

“I have done nothing to encourage it, My Lord.”

“It is not wrong to see him, child,” his wife told her.

“I have no desires to see anyone, My Lady.”

“You are young and pretty, Sestina. Many men will be attracted to you. It is the way life is supposed to be.”

“Not for me, Sir. I do not want to be included in their plans.”

“I see,” he murmured and glanced at his wife.

“Are you sure, child?” she asked softly. “A knight is paid well and our children will grow up one day. What will you do then? You will be free to make your life.”

“When my work for My Lady is done, I will beg for a letter to find a new placement for me.”

“I will keep my eyes open for you, Sestina,” she answered. “We have been most happy with your work. Our children have outgrown their mischievousness acts, thanks to you.”

“I understand,” she murmured and lowered her head. “I will get my things ready.”

“There is no rush, child,” Lady Ramile cried. “I am sure that we can delay it for a year,” she smiled. “We wanted you to know with time.”

“Thank you, My Lady, you have been most good to me. I really appreciate you taking a chance with me.”

Alone in her room that night, while Sestina put her heavy winter clothes away, she thrusted her hand in a pocket. There she found a handkerchief tied in a knot. She had forgotten about it. She opened it and sat heavily on her bed. It revealed a gold band with a single name on the inside. Ottin. He had saved for months to have it made for her. She caressed it in her fingers as her tears started to fall.

No, she hadn’t forgotten him at all and she never would. How could she start with another man? No, she couldn’t do it. Was she doomed to be a spinster? She couldn’t give her heart to anyone, she hadn’t felt her heart since the night she told him good-bye.

Chapter Seven

Her Father

She had a day off later that week and she recalled her mother’s bedside declaration, “Your father is Chancellor Dragin.” What did he look like? Her interest rose and moments later she entered the castle of Kaloma.

“Lady?” the guard asked when she approached him.

“Sestina, daughter of Marine. I wish to see Chancellor Dragin on a private matter.”

“Please wait here,” the man motioned to a chair and dispatched a servant with the message to the chancellor.

Moments later, she walked down a high hall, full of beautiful tapestries showing different scenes of daily life in her kingdom. The servant who escorted her knocked and a man’s voice called, “Enter.”

“Leave us,” he told the servant.

Taller than Sestina by a head, the man stared with light brown eyes at her.

“Who are you?” He didn’t take his eyes off of her.

“Sestina, daughter of Marine… your wife.”

“She married then?” He motioned for her to sit on a purple velvet chair.

“No. She lived in poverty all the days of her life caring for your child. She hoped to her dying moments, five years ago, that you would return for us.”

“She is dead, then?”

“That is what I told you.” Sestina remained standing.

“I have a family and I won’t disrupt my future in the court, with the news of a strange daughter.”

“I suppose that even the king would frown on a chancellor who abandoned his wife and child to their fate.”

“All I can do is give you money to keep quiet.”

He took a sack full of gold and put it on top of the white desk that separated them.

“I don’t want your money. It would just ease the guilt you should feel for condemning your own family to poverty.”

“If you don’t want money, why are you here?”

“I wanted to see the face of the coward who chose wealth over the most wonderful woman alive, and I wanted to see for myself what it was that you chose over us.”

“I can have you arrested for that,” he cried.

“Really, and you think I won’t go to the king and plead my case with him…? Who do you think will end up in the king’s dungeon after I tell him the crime you have committed against your own blood?”

“Take the gold and leave,” he commanded.

“Why, does it bother you to see me? Did you really think that you could take my mother’s life and then throw her away and then you would live happily ever after? The past has a way of coming to haunt us when we least expect it. Today your past is before your eyes.”

“What is it that you want from me?”

“I hope to see you suffer, like you caused my mother to do all those years. I have confidence that one day you too will pay for the suffering we endured. How it pained us to have to work hard for all we needed.”

“I didn’t know…”

“You didn’t care,” she cried. “You could have sent money to my mother to help with her expenses.”

“She didn’t want it. I dispatched a messenger with money for a few months. She sent it back each time.”

“There are other ways that you could have made sure she lacked nothing. The truth is that you were fond of your gold and found it easier to not insist and keep it for yourself. You are a selfish man and one day I hope you will pay for it.”

With that, she left him. She walked briskly back down the hall through which she had entered and out the palace’s front door. The man didn’t follow her.

About a year later, “Sestina,” called Mrs. Straten when Sestina strode by the library door, in route to her chamber. “My friend, Fruline, is the lady in charge of the princess’ ladies-in-waiting. She is in need of a couple of girls to be trained as such. It seems that she lost two girls to the knights in armor,” she giggled. “I suggested you for the position and she wants to meet you tomorrow.”

“A lady-in-waiting… to the princess…, My Lady, that is … thank you very much,” she hugged the woman.

“You are welcome,” Mrs. Straten hugged her back. “In the castle, you will see many more men than you are accustomed to, Sestina.”

“Have no fears, Lady Straten, I will not be entranced by the knights like the other girls.”

“You are a beautiful woman, and it would be a great idea if you use this time to find a husband.”

“I know you mean well, however, I don’t need a husband.”

“You have served us well for five years, Sestina. We had hoped that time would have healed your heart and you would find love there.”

“To be able to heal my heart, I would have to have a heart, My Lady…, I have none.”

Soon after, Sestina was saying good-bye to the Stratens and their children who were sad to see her go, even if they did not need a nurse anymore.

Chapter Eight

The Princess’ Accident

Once in the palace, she met the other ladies-in-waiting who accepted and were friendly with her.

“You are here to learn, not to socialize,” Lady Fruline told them repeatedly. “The routine of the castle can’t be disrupted because a lady-in-waiting has forgotten her duties.”

What with etiquette, horse riding, embroidering and instructions on how to properly attend to the princess’ needs, Sestina kept busy and was well paid.

After a few months, the whole castle became a blur of noise and work. The king had come back from a trip to the neighboring kingdom of Burahm where the princess had had an accident.

“The princess seems to be in a trance conjured of the darkest magic,” Lady Fruline declared, in tears, to the ladies-in-waiting.

“How is the king taking it?” one of the ladies asked.

“Not good,” Fruline answered. “He liked his drink before, and this has unsettled his mind to a frenzy full of dark spirits.”

“When you told us that the princess is in a black magic trance, what exactly did you mean?” asked Sestina.

“From what I have been told, she is in a sleep from which she hasn’t awakened for a week. Neither the healers from Burahm nor ours have an explanation for the malady that has befallen her.”

“I feel sorry for the king,” another of the ladies added. “If she doesn’t awaken he’ll have no successor to the throne.”

“What will happen to us if the king dies and there is no one to rule the kingdom?” another demanded.

“Stop your tongues,” Lady Fruline cried. “You are going to bring bad omens on the court with that kind of talk. The chancellors and the king have rules in place for such an event. We have plenty to do without having to deal with their duties.”

Two days later, the castle again became embroiled in an uproar when the princess woke up. She seemed to be well, that is until they discovered that she couldn’t move her legs.

“I know of no one who has gone through a trial like this before. Not a single kingdom has had to deal with a royal who couldn’t use their legs or arms,” Lady Fruline lamented to the ladies-in-waiting.

“Does the princess know?” an older lady asked.

“Yes, I understand that she cried when she found out.” Lady Fruline dried one of her own tears.

“I would too,” another of the ladies cried. “Why, no man would want me if I coudn…”

“Silence,” Fruline ordered. “I will not tolerate any of your pity toward our princess. She may not be able to move from her bed, but she continues to be our princess and it is still our duty to take care of her.

Sestina’s routine didn’t change much and a couple of days later, she saw her father on his way to the council chambers to meet with the princess.

He nodded to her when she crossed him on her way to the terrace. She ignored him and kept on her way. Just an hour later, when she returned to the ladies-in-waiting’s room, she found them in another uproar. They couldn’t sit still, and the chatter about the room made it impossible for her to understand what had happened now.

“I tell you, the princess killed him!” one of the ladies-in-training cried.

“It can’t be, she is in a chair and can’t move from there. How could she kill a grown man?” another argued.

“Silence,” Lady Fruline shouted from the door. “Gossip is not a ladylike occupation. Now, attend to your chores and be quick about it.”

“Yes, Lady Fruline,” they all answered and Sestina didn’t know who killed whom. Her curiosity rose during her chores that morning, and she couldn’t wait to hear more when she met her companions at lunch.

Before they were served their food at noon, Lady Fruline announced, “Today our princess has taken command of our kingdom. Changes will happen and we need to be ready for them.”

“Is it true then?” one of the ladies asked.

“Yes, you are correct. It seems that Chancellor Dragin attacked the princess in the council room today and she defended herself. After it all had happened, Chancellor Dragin lay dead by a knife thrown through his heart by the princess.”

“Oh,” many cried, however, Sestina just stared.

“Are you well, Lady Sestina?” the voice belonged to Lady Fruline.

Why did she question her like that? Had something happened to her that she didn’t remember?

“I, I am well… am I not?” Somehow, she lay in a couch covered by a soft blanket.

“You blacked out at the table,” Lady Fruline answered.

“I did? I feel fine, don’t I?”

“Sestina, when you came to me, I didn’t ask questions of a personal nature. I thought with time you would confide in me and tell me your story on your own.”

“There isn’t much to tell,” Sestina lowered her eyes to the blanket that covered her.

“Today you blacked out at the news that Chancellor Dragin was dead.”

Sestina flinched as she recalled the moment in her mind and sent a glance about the empty room, glad there were no witnesses to her reaction.

“He means something to you, am I correct? Don’t worry, I dismissed the girls to their chores. I told them you have worked too hard and need a break for the rest of the day.”

“Thank you, Lady Fruline.”

“Sestina you were born to live in a palace. Your manners are born with, not learned,” Fruline told her, “He had something to do with that, didn’t he?”

“My father was a Lord in the king’s court. He hoped his parents would accept his wife of common birth,” she started. “They had fallen in love while he was posted in Lexin. To this end, he taught my mother everything he knew about etiquette and her letters.”

“Who is your father, child?”

“I didn’t know until at my mother’s deathbed five years ago,” she answered. “When he returned here to his parent’s home, they threatened to disown him for marrying my mother. He took my mother back to Lexin and left her there. I was born six months later. My mother hoped he would change his mind and, to prepare me for that moment, she taught me everything she knew. She did not want them to be embarrassed of us.”

“Your father never came back, did he?” the lady asked.

“No, he didn’t and we suffered in poverty all those years, that is why I did it…” She started to sob and Lady Fruline gave her time to compose herself.

After few moments, Sestina’s tears lessened and the lady asked, “What did you do?”

“I came to the castle last year and confronted him. I told him what I thought of him and threw the money he offered me in his face. I hated him and I wanted to make sure he knew it.”

She started to cry again.

“Chancellor Dragin was your father?” the lady asked.

Sestina couldn’t talk, she nodded instead.

“I see. I won’t tell anyone about it and you had better do the same. Your station as lady-in-waiting could suffer if others learn of this. Take today to come to terms with his death and we’ll speak of this no more.”

“How can I do that, when I treated him so horribly?”

“You told the truth and he has paid for what he did to you both. He made that bed and now he lays in it,” she told her. “You were a good child and took care of your mother. That bed was made by you and look at the blessings you have received. Don’t lose it all because of a selfish man that gave you not a single thought in all his life. You don’t deserve feeling guilty, neither does your mother.”

“I understand,” she sniffled a bit. “I will follow your counsel.”

“Good! You are my best lady-in-waiting and I can’t lose you. Back to work tomorrow. Now go to your room and stay there. No more thoughts of nonsense.”

Many days passed and Sestina, although she couldn’t get her father completely out of her mind, did her best and never mentioned him again. She wondered how much better it would have been if Ottin could hold her and tell her that all would be well. She felt so lonely all the time.

Life at the palace also settled into a good pace. A year later, she had a knight and two lords who had noticed her all trying to woo her.

The knight would give her flowers and the lords jewelry as gifts. She didn’t accept any of it, and made the messengers take it all back without touching the gifts. After a few weeks, they got the drift and ceased coming around.

“They are so handsome,” the other girls would tell her.

“Why don’t you like them?” one queried one day.

“They are nice. I don’t love them and I don’t find it right to lead them on.”

“Could I keep one,” another girl chirped.

“Be my guest,” she answered.

“You are not going to choose one, then?” one lady asked.

“I thought you jested,” another stared at her.

“How can you refuse them?” someone cried behind her.

“You are out of your mind,” the first one added.

“Ladies, tomorrow is a big day and you need your rest. Good night to you all. Lady Sestina, a word please.” As soon as the ladies closed the door behind them, Lady Fruline continued, “I don’t mean to pry. May I ask why you don’t accept any of the men’s advances?”

“Once I had a suitor and I loved him dearly. Two weeks before we were to be married, he left me for a better future in Connier. I can’t trust another man, nor can I love them.”

“I understand… though, life is quite lonely when you are alone.”

Chapter Nine

The Princess Lady-in-Waiting

Another year passed and Lady Fruline gathered five of the ladies-in-waiting for instructions. “More changes have occurred in the palace…. Our princess needs a new companion…”

“What about Lady Misty?” one lady interrupted.

“If you let me continue, you won’t have to wonder,” she chastised her.

“I am sorry, Lady Fruline.”

“Now, where was I? Oh yes. Lady Misty is going to get married in Burahm. She is leaving on the morrow.”

“Oh, how romantic,” the girls chorused.

Sestina watched them and smiled. She knew the girls wanted to land a knight and be cared for. Though it sounded fine for them, she couldn’t imagine another man talking to her the way Ottin had. It had been many years, but still, once in a blue moon, her mind took her back to the familiar feeling she had with Ottin.

“I am going to go to the fair tomorrow,” one of the girls cried.

“Me too,” cried the other three.

“I bet there will be many cute knights for us to meet,” smiled another.

“The fact that our princess is not capable of moving her legs any more, doesn’t make her any different than any of you…” Fruline started.

“That was a horrible accident,” interrupted someone.

“She didn’t wake up for many days,” another mentioned.

“Times seemed hard when our king took to his goblet and left the running to Chancellor Dragin,” the older woman said.

“Then the princess took over…” the tallest one started to add.

“Ladies, we did what the king asked of us,” Fruline cried. “It is frightening to be with a person whose body doesn’t work completely. However, our princess needs us and we will respond.”

“It will be my honor to help her, Lady Fruline,” offered Sestina.

“Thank you, Sestina. You’ll meet with Lady Misty today and be instructed in the special care she needs.”

“On my way,” she responded, and left amidst complete silence.

“I will let the princess know,” Fruline added. She sent a look of disapproval at the other girls who hid their faces from her.

Mixed emotions made Sestina’s heart pound in her chest. The princess had talked with them a few times before, and she had a good heart. Still, the truth remained that she had killed Sestina’s father.

The first day with the princess worked well. Sestina felt better when she retired to her new room to the side of the princess’ chambers.

The next day progressed well until the princess told her to leave her unattended in the garden at sunset. She seemed taciturn and the feeling had washed over Sestina’s heart. She left the princess in the garden and wandered to be alone with her thoughts in a different part of the castle. The sun shone orange on the horizon, although the lady-in-waiting’s mind had travelled elsewhere.

“When we marry, I will build you a castle,” Ottin’s voice came from the past.

“Why would I want a castle?” she had asked.

“To live in it, for you will be my queen.”

“Ottin, you are a dear. Though I am afraid I would never see you if we lived in our own castle.”

“What do you mean?” He had looked puzzled.

“Well, I will have to do all the chores myself and won’t have time for you,” she laughed, and he had taken her in his arms and twirled her about.

“I love you so much,” he had murmured in her ears when he paused to kiss her.

“Oh, Ottin why did you leave me?” She hid her eyes in her hands as her shoulders shook. “I miss you terribly and that is not good. I need to forget you and let someone else take your place in my heart.”

Even the thought hurt more, and she just cried harder. “Mother will you forgive me for not being there when you needed me most? I miss you so much. I hope you are proud of me. Look at me, a lady-in-waiting to the princess… the princess.”

She ran inside and on her way to the garden where Princess Nyala should have been, she found the princess. The princess looked puzzled and seemed to not hear her apologies.

“I am so sorry, My Princess, the time escaped me, it will never happen again.”

“No harm done,” the princess answered. “Please take me to my room.”

“Yes, Princess. Will My Princess require another lady-in-waiting to take my place?”

“What are you talking about?” Nyala finally focused on Sestina’s face.

“I failed the princess and she should dismiss me and have someone who is more responsible at her side.”

“We are in the castle, Sestina. I should be able to be in my castle without any dangers assaulting me.”

“Thank you for your understanding, My Princess. It will never happen again. I will help My Princess with her nightclothes.”

The next morning, Sestina rolled the princess’ chair, down the hall toward her father’s study. The royal smithy had added wheels to one of the princess’ chairs for her. This permitted her to move about the palace.

The princess was a beautiful young lady with golden eyes, hair and skin. She looked like an idol of molten gold. A few years younger than herself, Sestina wondered how she could hold on so strong in the face of her trials. They seemed alone in the hall, until their path was barred by a big bucket of flowers. A young man’s voice came from behind it.

“Neither they, nor I am worthy of My Lady’s eyes,” he chanted. “They pale to My Princess’ beauty.”

He was on his knees in front of her, and the lady-in-waiting was not sure what to do. She stared at the princess for a cue.

“They are beautiful,” the princess admitted, and reached for them. “Thank you.”

All was good, they knew each other and she was to await further orders in silence.

“Sestina, please, put them in water and take them to my room.”

The young man wore a white shirt, open at the neck, with a black frock over it, she noticed. He was a white-skinned, handsome man with sky blue eyes.

“Yes, My Lady.” She tore her eyes from the stranger.

It had been so wonderful that the princess hasn’t mentioned anything about her mistake of the day before. She was a wonderful woman, though a sad princess. All Sestina could think was, she sees herself differently and that radiates to all who care for her. How sad not to be able to walk, however, she can do everything else.

No, she must not judge her princess. Things would go quite hard for her if she were to lose her leg movements one day.

A glass vase in the corner of the pantry looked perfect for the task.

“Do you finally have an admirer that you like?” one of the other ladies-in-waiting asked.

“What are you talking about?” Sestina stared at the girl.

“The flowers. You didn’t return them to the giver,” she explained.

“That is because they are not mine. They are Princess Nyala’s.”

“Where did you find all those flowers in autumn?” another lady wondered.

“The gardeners have some in the greenhouse most of the year,” an older lady told them.

“They are quite beautiful are they not?” Sestina remarked.

After her task was accomplished, Sestina returned to the hall where she had left the princess, but she wasn’t there. However, the head chancellor needed to talk with her.

“Is the princess not with you?” Chancellor Bodil questioned.

“I believe she is in her father’s study. I am on my way there presently. May I help you in anything?”

“Please inform her that we have two royal companies to meet her.”

“Immediately, Sir.”

After obtaining a few more details, Sestina knocked on the study door, as she found it closed. The young man opened it for her.

“My Lady,” she entered and walked toward the princess. “There is a prince from Shrelone and another one from Rodermy to see you. The chancellors took them to their rooms and they are being tended to as we speak.”

“Thank you, Sestina. Tell the chancellors I will see them after lunch.”

“Yes, Princess. Anything else, My Lady?”

“Please bring me my favorite drink and two cups,” she answered.

“At once, My Princess.”

She strode to find Chancellor Bodil and delivered the message on her way to the kitchen. Afterward, she returned to the study.

“Thank you, Sestina. Could you have the chambermaid remove everything from Sir Lythwyn’s room and place them in Lady Misty’s room?” the princess told her.

“It will be done, My Princess.” Sestina, poured the juice for them. “Do we need the room for someone else, My Lady?”

“Yes, Sir Nikko will move in there,” Princess Nyala pointed at the young man with her.

Chapter Ten

The Princess’ Mishap

It was not until that afternoon, that Sestina dared to take her place at the princess’ side.

“Everything has been moved to the other chamber, My Lady.”

“Thank you,” she replied. “We are on our way to the stables, please follow with the chair.”

“Of course, My Princess.”

She followed them as the young man carried the princess in his arms. The young couple rode on the princess’ horse and after a while it was obvious that something was quite wrong. The stablelord hustled toward the horse and so did she.

“Lady Sestina, run to the castle and take the healer to the princess’ room,” Sir Nikko cried.

“Yes, Sir Nikko.” She ran and found the healer in his tower.

“There is a problem with the princess, Healer. She needs you immediately in her room.”

“Do you know what is wrong?” Tamyle inquired.

“She was riding her horse and when she almost fell to the ground, Sir Nikko caught her. The last I saw her, she had blacked out from pain.”

They ran down the steps and a moment later they were in the princess’ chambers.

“Her body started twitching and she blacked out from the pain,” the young man informed the healer as soon as they cleared the threshold.

The princess lay with her eyes closed on the bed.

“We need to put her with her face down, across her bed,” the healer instructed and helped Sir Nikko to do so.

The healer took a towel from her washstand and put it about the princess head. He gave the ends to Nikko to hold.

“Sestina, take her feet and do not let go. Sir Nikko, you pull firmly, though gently.”

He did as instructed, while the doctor opened the back of her dress, and started at her tailbone to press softly with his fingers, all the way up to her neck.

“You can let go slowly now,” Tamyle told Nikko as he finished.

Then he looked at Sestina. “You too, My Lady. Cover her and do not move her until she wakes up and I have seen her.”

“Yes, Healer,” she answered.

It was exhausting for the lady-in-waiting to be in the presence of something so scary while she felt so powerless. She wished that something could be done so the young princess didn’t have to suffer any more.

That night, Sestina expected to sit by Nyala all night, yet the young man announced that he would watch her. She wondered about the propriety of it and consulted with the chancellors about it.

“We have no idea who he is or why the princess trusts him so completely so as to give him the room next to hers,” Chancellor Bodil commented.

“We will take care of him presently, Lady Sestina,” Chancellor Luckin replied. “Please, go to the princess and stay with her until we tell you different.”

“I will, Sir, thank you.”

“Lady Sestina, are you aware that one of your duties is to keep the princess safe?” Chancellor Bodil questioned.

“Most certainly, Sir. Though I wonder what am I to do if she asks me to leave every time she is with him?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Chancellor Luckin patted her arm. “Let us investigate Sir Nikko and then plan what to do and when.”

They accompanied her to the princess’ chamber and asked Sir Nikko for a word.

The princess continued in a deep sleep, just like when she returned from Burahm, the neighboring kingdom where she had her accident. She had slept for ten or so days and even the king had given up hope that she would live.

“I am sorry your burdens are so great, My Princess.” Sestina cleared the hair from her face and caressed the golden girl who looked so young and vulnerable.

The princess was the same age as she was when Ottin had left her those many years before. It had broken her heart, though she could continue with her life and responsibilities. She had her mother to help her, at least for a little while, and then the children to keep her mind focused, instead of consumed with grief.

“It would have been most different if I didn’t have mother and later the children to occupy my mind,” she murmured. “How similar our experiences have been My Princess. In the sense that you don’t have the use of your legs and your father became inebriated to the point that at sixteen you had to take charge of our kingdom. Your subjects have diverted your focus much like the children in my life have mine.

“Life certainly can throw a hard curve to anyone. It can completely change our life’s course, can’t it, My Princess?”

She caressed the sleeping girl’s face one more time. She stood at the princess’ day table and took the brush from the drawer. She returned to the side of the bed and undid Nyala’s hair carefully to brush her curls free.

She had just set the brush back in its place when a knock came at the door and she opened it to find Chancellor Bodil and Sir Nikko on the other side.

“Lady Sestina, please follow Sir Nikko’s instructions,” Bodil directed.

“Is everything in order then?” She glanced at Sir Nikko though his back was all she could see.

“Are you sure you won’t be more comfortable in your own room?” the chancellor asked him.

When Sestina looked back at him, he had already sat by the princess’ bed. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep, wondering how My Princess is doing. I will stay by her side and that will be best for me.”

“As you wish… Sir Nikko. May I remind you that you have no fault for the princess’ condition?”

“I suggested riding horses,” he seemed miserable with the declaration.

“You couldn’t predict her reaction to it,” Bodil countered. “Either way, it isn’t your fault.”

“I understand, although, seeing her in all that pain broke my heart.”

“If there is anything you need during the night, Lady Sestina occupies the room next door.”

“Just call and I will respond,” Sestina affirmed.

“Lady Sestina, I will accompany you to your room,” Bodil announced.

“Now, Sir?”

“Yes, now.”

She closed the princess’ door behind Bodil and herself as he pointed toward her chamber door.

“Lady Sestina, all is well with Sir Nikko’s presence in our kingdom.” Bodil gave no other explanation to her and she didn’t question him further. “You do your duties with the princess as normal and, if anything changes between them, let us know immediately.”

“I most certainly will, Sir. Good night.”

Nothing amiss happened that night. The next morning, Sestina came in to find her princess awake.

“Does My Lady desire her breakfast?” She noticed her face full of smiles.

“Yes, pleeeeeease, I am starving,” the princess cried and let her arm fall to the bed.

“Everything is ready for Her Majesty,” the cook told Sestina when she entered the warm kitchen.

“Thank you. I will take it to her. Although, my mouth turned to water with the smell of fresh baked muffins.”

“There is cheese, milk and scrambled eggs there too,” the cook chanted from the long table where she rearranged another platter of food.

“By the weight, enough for a small army,” Sestina jested.

“Nean, help the lady carry the things to the princess,” she ordered, and a girl obeyed. The maid followed her with napkins, cups and plates on another tray that had legs under it. They reached the princess’ door and the maid placed the things on the table by the door.

Sestina, however, entered with her tray, “Here it i… I am sorry, My Lady,” she apologized. The princess was cradled in the young man’s arms and they were about to kiss. “I should have knocked first.”

Chapter Eleven

The Handsome Young Man

She came further in, her eyes low and red cheeks. Two blunders in two days. That has to be a new record for any lady-in-waiting. She busied herself with the trays, while she dismissed the maid. She didn’t want her there if she was going to be reprimanded for her lack of manners.

“If I wanted it to be a secret, I would have locked the door, my dear Sestina,” the princess replied, to her relief.

“Yes, My Princess,” she answered.

“Let’s eat,” called Nyala as the young man set her back on her bed.

The princess was to stay in bed that day according to the healer. Sestina’s talent for tales proved once again capable to save them from boredom.

After supper, it became obvious to her how close her princess felt to the young man. Sad thoughts came to her mind while Sir Nikko told tales he knew. They seemed so happy with each other. The love that emanated from him had such a force that it bathed the whole room with happiness. After a few hours, Sestina’s sadness almost overwhelmed her and she sighed thankfully when the princess gave her a few errands to perform.

“The princess needs this dress washed and pressed,” she told the laundry crew.

“Tell us, Lady, is it true that a handsome man is with our princess, right now.”

“Don’t you mean Sir Nikko?” another bubbling girl clarified.

“Yes, Sir Nikko has been placed by the chancellors at the princess’ side.”

“Nean told us that he kissed her,” one blurted out.

“I didn’t see it. Nean needs to keep her mouth closed if she wants to keep her position in the kitchen,” Sestina cried.

“Alright, hold your horses,” the cook cried. “She means nothing, just conversation.”

“The truth is we had wagers to see who is right,” one explained.

“The odds say she will never marry, on account of her legs,” another blurted out.

“Do you want to bet?” a small, round woman asked.

“Never,” Sestina cried. “If the princess finds out, all of you will be out jobs. My suggestion is to keep your mouths shut about the princess.”

She left in a bustle, quite upset with them. How heartless they sounded about the princess’ misfortunes. She would never tell them how lovingly the young man watched the princess’ every move.

Later, glad for the night and the time for her to be alone, she left to her room. However, once alone, her happy thoughts for her princess switched into sad thoughts for herself.

How she missed the beautiful love that emanated from Ottin when they were together. She soared on eagles wings every time he entered her home. How wrong she had been. If his love were that strong, he wouldn’t have left her.

The following morning, the princess was allowed to get up. So, she wanted to go outside for some fresh air. Sestina helped her get dressed and brushed her long hair.

“Do you like to be out in winter?” Nyala asked Nikko once in the palace garden.

“I do; however, life gets busy as we grow old,” he chuckled.

“I know exactly what you mean,” she giggled too. “I would feel very old, if I were as old as you.”

Sestina joined in their happiness and added, “Does that make me a granny, My Lady?”

“What do you mean?” asked Nyala.

“I am twenty-five years old and you are sixteen… going on seventeen,” she added hurriedly before the princess could remind her again. “And you, Sir Nikko, how old are you?”

“I am in between the two of you,” he answered.

“See,” exclaimed Sestina. “I must be a granny,” and they giggled some more.

The lady-in-waiting had learned over the years that if she kept busy, she would not have time to miss Ottin so much. That is how she had achieved success in her every endeavor.

“A crisp though clear morning, My Princess,” Nikko commented.

Some of the gardeners were busy as they cared for the trees before winter. Others shaped them for the next spring. The head gardener recognized her and came to greet the princess.

“You should have waited until tomorrow, My Lady,” he bowed to her.

“Why do you say that?” she asked him.

“We will be done with our work in the garden and you could have seen it all pretty, instead of messy.” He swept his hand about in the direction of the clippings on the lawn.

“Well, that is a great reason to come again tomorrow and see the final results,” she smiled at him. “I do have to say that you do a great job, Jarede. I cannot wait for springtime to stroll here… on the other hand, I guess winter must come first. I know you will not let me down.”

“Never, My Lady,” he bowed deeply to her.

The princess called the gardener by his name and it surprised Sestina. Many of the courtiers did not care to be so close to the hired help. She bet all the servants would call her gracious. How special she felt at the side of a woman who tried to find the good in all.

“You are doing a great job, I thank you,” the princess told them all and left them to their work.

The next day, the princess’ young man had left. However, Lady Misty would be back with her husband, Asher, at any moment. Nevertheless, by the time the lunch hour approached, the princess seemed already forlorn.

“Everyone should have someone to love,” she murmured, and glanced at the princess to see if she had heard her. The thought came unbidden and she looked at the ring on her finger and felt sad for both of them.

“Not for me,” she sighed. Her tears threatened to fall and she forbade them to do so. She had decided to wear the ring Ottin had given her in hopes that no more suitors would intrude on her life.

That evening, Nyala stared at the fire chirping away without even a blink and missed Sestina’s plea. The book she had been reading lay abandoned on her lap.

“He is most special, My Lady,” Sestina commented. She touched the princess’ arm with her hand. “Will we see him again?”

“I hope so, he is certainly special,” she commented.

“Where is he from, My Lady?”

“We never talked about the past or the future. Not for he and I, I mean.”

“Are he and you a possibility, My Lady?” Sestina queried.

“I care tremendously for Prince Nicolao,” the princess confessed. “Although, I do not know if he cares for me the same way.”

“And Sir Nikko, My Princess, where does he stand in your heart?”

“He is most dear to me, although I have never thought of a life with him.”

“Mayhaps you have with the Prince?” she pressed.

“Yes, many times,” the princess answered. “I am scared that he will refuse me… since the accident.”

“And that makes you wonder if he still loves you. I suppose that he loved you before?”

“He asked me to be his wife two years ago,” she explained. “I asked him to delay until I was sixteen. However, right after my birthday, I had the accident.”

She felt sad for the princess and understood better how lonely she felt. Sir Nikko helped her fill the emptiness with his selfless care for her.

After Misty returned, Sestina wondered what her position would be.

“Lady Misty, will become my companion and be with me when she likes,” the princess answered her questions. “Nothing in your duties will change. You may have a bit more time for yourself now,” she smiled.

More time for herself wasn’t exactly what she wanted.

Chapter Twelve

The Delegation From Connier

A few months later, in the middle of the night, Sestina was awakened from her sleep by a loud voice coming from the princess’ room. A man was threatening her. She jumped from her bed with her heart in her throat and ran through the connecting doors.

The princess’ personal knight stood in the other door with a sword in his hand and his wife behind him. Sestina then stared at the intruder holding the princess in his arms.

She hurried to crank the lamps higher and flood the chamber with the light.

“Why, it is Sir Nikko,” she finally let out her pent-up breath.

“Please, Asher, put that away, he does not mean to harm me,” explained the princess.

Asher, openmouthed, stared at the man that held the princess in his lap.

“Misty, Asher, this is Sir Nikko,” introduced the princess, as if it was natural for a knight to be in her room at this time of night.

“It is a pleasure,” Nikko greeted them, with a big grin. “I am sorry I woke you.”

Misty and Asher did not answer; they continued to stare. Most odd, Sestina thought.

“It is wonderful to see you again, My Lord,” exclaimed Sestina “However should you not have waited for day to disturb Her Highness?”

“I have but a few hours to be with My Princess. I must head home tomorrow with the first light. I was passing close by and could not leave without seeing her.”

“You have been here before?” asked Asher. He finally sheathed his sword. “I have not seen you.”

“He was my knight while you were on your honeymoon,” answered Nyala.

“I see … and you forgot to tell us, My Lady?” reprimanded Misty.

She giggled, “Yes. I guess I did.”

“Do you plan to stay all night?” Asher sounded like he did not approve of this unseemly caller.

“If it is all right with My Princess,” he ignored him.

“He is,” she cried, too happily. “Now, go back to bed everyone.”

“Are you sure, My Lady?” asked Misty. She stared at the princess’ comfortably perched on the intruder’s lap.

“Yes, besides, Nikko will keep guard,” she giggled.

“I swore to protect My Lady to the end of time,” Nikko chanted. “Well, at least until tomorrow morning,” he chuckled clear and beautiful. Sestina had missed the love that emanated from the man and the princess had too.

The next morning, Sestina once again helped the princess get ready for the day.

Soon Lady Misty came in to declare, “A delegation from Connier is here to pay their respects.”

Sestina’s mind raced as fast as her heart did. “From Connier?” she cried. With red cheeks, she chastised herself for the slip. Think clearly, Sestina, her mind warned her. It has been so long, he is probably married by now…. No! That hurts too much.

“I am ready,” the princess answered. “Does their king look young?”

“I don’t know, My Princess,” Misty shrugged her shoulders.

“Does it matter?” I volunteered.

“No, I already got rid of two princely pests. I guess I can handle another.”

“It would be an insult to not receive them,” Misty advised.

“Let’s get it over with,” the princess gave in and Misty pushed her from the room.

As soon as Sestina finished in the princess’ chamber, she hurried to the throne room to see this delegation. The princess’ voice came to her as she cracked open a back door to the throne room and entered with her eyes low.

“Please give your king our congratulations. We are extremely happy for him,” Nyala’s voice came clear.

“Thank you,” a man’s voice came to her ears. “My Lady, this is Chancellor Salien. Once, he too resided in your kingdom.”

Sestina stared at the man to whom the duke pointed and her surprised breath murmured, “Ottin.”

Once again, she stared at the tall green-eyed man who once was her beloved. She didn’t hear much of the next words, for her mind took her to the last time she had seen him and the pain of that moment. After long moments, a chancellor touched her and brought her back to the room.

“My Lady’s chair,” he whispered.

Sestina hurriedly brought her chair, glad for something to do away from Ottin’s eyes. He had stared at her the whole time, and she felt confused and broken.

Asher sat the princess in it and Misty took hold of the chair. All of the sudden, Sestina found herself in company of Chancellor Salien, who had extended his hand to escort her. Decorum mandated that she accept his hand. With a small tremor, she politely consented, although she would have preferred to run from him.

“My Lady,” he murmured after a long silence. “May I please see you tonight?”

She glanced at him and didn’t answer.

“Please, My Lady, just a small moment of your time,” he pled.

The man with the chancellor started to talk to Ottin and he pivoted to hear him.

She didn’t know what to answer him and the interruption had given Sestina the opportunity to scurry away from the group.

“Traitor,” she murmured as she fled to her room for sanctuary. Her heart flipped with happiness and she felt betrayed at the same time.

Behind closed doors, she cried her eyes out.

He looked dashing like always. He had matured and that added to his charm.

How dare he talk to me like nothing happened between us? So calm and… lovingly. No, never. I must erect a wall against him. My heart will have to mind me and behave. She cried again.

Later that night, in the princess’ room, Sestina moved to get her ready for bed, although all she wanted was to go back to her room and rest her heart and nerves. The thought of seeing him again had frazzled them and she worried at every sound in the halls close to her chambers.

“Is My Lady ready for bed?”

“Not yet Sestina. Can you do something for me, though?”

“Name it, My Princess.”

“Change into that red velvet dress you have in your closet and return to show it to me.”

“Yes… My Lady.” What on earth? She stared at the princess, confused by her request. This was most odd, in particular at bedtime. Moments later, she had finished changing and headed to the princess’ chamber.

“I am ready, My Lady,” she announced.

“You do look quite nice in that color,” the princess complimented. “Do you not think so, Misty?”

“Yes. It is most becoming.”

“Thank you, My Ladies,” she responded, overwhelmed with their attention.

“Sestina, please accompany Misty to look under the fir tree. I must have left my shawl there.”

“Yes, My Lady.” Sestina looked puzzled.

Chapter Thirteen

Ottin

They both left and Sestina soon discovered Ottin seated under the tree, as if waiting for someone.

“All was going so well,” she murmured.

“Is something that matter?” Misty queried.

“Nothing at all,” she answered. Did the princess plan this? Calm down Sestina, her mind cried. The princess doesn’t know about Ottin.

“Good evening, My Ladies,” he stood up and bowed to them. “It is a beautiful night.”

“My Lord,” chorused Sestina and Misty.

“It is a pretty night,” commented Misty.

Sestina lowered her eyes a bit and remained quiet.

“I wonder if I might have a word with my Lady Sestina?”

“It is time for My Princess to go to bed,” she avoided his eyes.

“Oh, you do not need to worry,” cried Misty, “I can do that for her. You help Lord Salien with whatever he needs.”

“Yes, My Lady.” She wanted to scream, “Don’t leave me alone with him, please,” nevertheless she didn’t dare.

Misty retraced her steps to the princess’ room.

“I know that you do not have to see me, My Lady. I would even understand if you do not want to see me. Yet, I beg you to hear what I need to say, please?”

“I understood many years ago that we have nothing more to say to each other,” she responded, on the verge of tears.

“My Lady, please, I beg you to hear me out.”

She didn’t say anything, yet she didn’t leave, either. Why her feet didn’t run she couldn’t say. From the moment she had seen him, her body had refused to mind. Most unusual.

“I was young then and a fool to believe that I could live without you for more than a few days, My Lady. I have never forgotten you, nor have I seen another woman since then.”

Her heart started to pound, however, this time she didn’t want to run. He still had feelings for her and he was single.

“I searched for you. As soon as I could leave Connier, I returned to Lexin. You had moved and no one knew where.”

“You searched for me?” she stared. “I did not know that.”

“Yes, just five weeks after I left you. After that I tried, many times, all to no avail,” he answered. “I hoped I could tell you of my sorrow and have you join me in Connier.”

“I could not stay there any longer, after my mother died,” she murmured.

“I did not know about your mother…. I am most sorry not to have been there with you, My Lady.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, her eyes back on the ground. “I took a position with a family who took me to the north for four years. They helped me be appointed as a lady-in-waiting to the princess when we returned to Lexin.”

“Is My Lady… free?”” he asked.

That was too forward of a statement, and she had already told him much more than she should have.

“It has been a long time, Chancellor,” she kept her eyes low.

Her feelings for him should have been gone, though, here she stood in front of him, ready to melt in his arms.

He reached for her hands, which rested on the railing, and he took them in his. He kissed them so tenderly. She could feel the magic travel the length of her arms and it scared her. She pulled them away from him and with sad eyes he reluctantly let them go.

“Sestina, I love you… I loved you then and love you much more now.”

“Do you really believe that you can bounce back into my life after so many years and expect me to switch my feelings back on again?”

“No, My Lady. I only have a fool’s hope that perhaps you could still have some feelings for me. I am sorry that I hurt you so much. Please, forgive my impetuous manners. I had to tell you of my feelings before you discard me again.”

She retained well the memory that she had been the one who requested him to leave that night.

“If you could give me a small chance, My Lady, I would prove my love to you for the rest of my life.”

“I trusted you once… My Lord,” she murmured, and gave her back to him.

“Yes, I do recollect, My Lady. I wasted the chance you gave me then, and shall regret it forever. If there remains a small chance for us, would My Lady give us a try?”

“I do not know,” she answered. “I need to go. Good night.”

She left toward her room as he murmured, “Good night, my love.”

Her tears fell freely before she entered her room. She had heard his murmur as she left him, and it broke her heart to hear how sad he sounded. She cried softly on her pillow all night.

The next day, everything went as usual. She didn’t say anything to anyone about her conversation with Ottin. That day the lords from Connier journeyed with the princess’ woodsmen. She felt free to roam the castle at her pleasure until lunchtime.

“My Lord Salien did not go hunting?” asked Nyala, and Sestina watched him approach their table.

“No, My Lady,” he answered as he bowed to her and then to the other ladies. “I hope that I am not an interruption to you, in any way.”

“We are ready to have lunch. Please join us. Ladies, set a place for our guest.”

He sat to the right of the princess and, as Sestina feared, her place was to his right.

“Do you not like hunting, My Lord?” Nyala asked as the food-laden plates made their way to everyone at the table.

He glanced sideways at Sestina and then answered, “I am not good at the sport, Princess.”

“Would you like to accompany us this afternoon to our garden?” she asked him.

“It would be a pleasure, My Lady.”

“We may need a knight to protect us,” she smiled and the girls giggled.

“Protect you? From what, My Lady?” he replied absentmindedly.

“Oh, a toad trying to convince us that it is a prince.”

All of the girls giggled with her.

“I believe I could do that for you, My Princess,” he grinned at the tease, though his voice sounded polite, not relaxed.

Just as planned, the princess and five of the ladies-in-waiting disappeared in the beautiful gardens. Spring’s new growth showed its beauty everywhere they gazed. The tiny blossoms were out and many colors displayed the splendor of the season.

“Do you have such beautiful flowers in your kingdom, My Lord?” the princess asked.

“I do not believe we have them, My Lady…. If we did, I would recall them.”

“Perhaps it is the company that does not let you see them,” the princess responded. “Are you married, Sire?” she asked as he started to roll her chair again.

“No, My Lady, I am not.”

“A handsome man like you, come now. Let me see, you must be about twenty-seven…?”

“That is a good guess, Princess, though I am twenty-eight. Once there was someone in my life. She was most dear to me, although I did not know it then.”

“What happened to her?” Misty asked.

“I lost her due to my stupidity,” he glanced at Sestina for a small moment. She kept her eyes focused forward and didn’t glance in his direction at all. She had to avoid his eyes or she would break down in front of all of them. That she couldn’t handle.

“I am so sorry,” the lady with the pretty black eyes exclaimed. “Did you not search for her?”

“Yes, nevertheless, when I finally found her, I was too late. I had hurt her too much and she could not forgive me.”

“Did you give up on her then?” asked the princess.

“That would be impossible, My Lady. Once I found her again, I could not let her go.”

“I am not sure I understand you,” Nyala commented.

“I will be just a silent shadow to her, until she can trust me again or until the day I die.”

“Perhaps she will see that you have changed and that your love is true with time,” approved the maiden with brown hair.

“Why does she not trust you?” asked another lady.

“I had her trust once and all I did with it was leave her.”

“You left her? May we know why, My Lord,” asked the princess.

“We had planned to wed, and I changed my mind just two weeks before the wedding.”

“I see,” said the maid with the pretty black eyes.

“Does she live in your kingdom, My Lord?” asked the princess.

“No, My Lady, she lives in yours.”

“You just told us that you will stay with her…?” Nyala queried.

“That is all I can do, My Princess.”

“You are a chancellor to the king of Connier, that is such an important position… the prestige, the money, the kingdom…,” the princess continued.

“Life has been quite good to me, My Lady, this is true.”

“Yet, you just told us that you would give it all up for … what?” she asked. “If she has not forgiven you … you do not have her … I do not understand your logic.”

“A life without her…, My Princess, is not a life at all. I already tried it, all I found was just mere subsistence. That is what I am condemned to. True… it is of my own doing.”

At that moment, Sestina cleared her throat and exclaimed in a rush, “Please excuse me, My Lady, I will be back shortly.”

She ran to the castle and had to raise her hand to her eyes to dry them.

Chapter Fourteen

The Duke

It was not until later that night that Sestina regained her place by the princess. Thankfully, Nyala didn’t ask where she had been. That night Asher and all the dignitaries were back with pheasants for supper.

“Your land is blessed with plentiful game, My Lady,” complimented the duke over dinner. “I wish I could stay here for a couple of weeks. That would be enough to hunt many of the different types of game you have here.”

“My dear Duke, I will find it offensive if you do not stay for two or three weeks. Dispatch word to your king that someone has to teach us to care for such beautiful horses.”

“That is most true, My Lady. And there is no one better than I for that job,” he uttered, satisfied that she had thought of it.

“It is done, then,” she smiled. “You will go hunting the day after tomorrow for four days. My woodsmen will take you to the forest in the north of my kingdom and there you shall find deer.”

“Deer, My Lady… you have deer on your land?”

“There are many,” she responded. “They are pests to our crops and we need to keep them at bay or we do not eat. Now I will expect to eat deer stew for dinner upon your return.” She smiled at him.

“I will not disappoint you, My Princess. Though I will be gone for a week … how may I help you with the horses?”

“Don’t worry. I bet we can convince Chancellor Salien to teach us his secrets.”

“I will be an honor, My Princess,” he told her.

“He is good with the horses and will do a great job for you,” the duke conceded.

After dinner, Nyala asked Sestina to take her to the room.

“Yes, My Lady,” she answered, glad for the chance to get out of the dining room.

Asher came with them and managed her chair. They passed through a long corridor that spiraled to the second floor. It seemed festive with the many large, long banners that covered most of the walls off the hall. The colorful bands made the place cheery.

“Thank you, Asher. Please enjoy your evening with your wife,” the princess told him.

“I will, My Princess. Good night to you.”

“Sestina please help me get ready for bed,” the princess requested.

Sestina undid the ribbons of the princess’ dress and carefully lifted it over her head.

“Is everything all right? You have been quiet all day,” she questioned.

“Yes, My Lady. I may be fighting off an illness,” Sestina covered well the reason for her red eyes.

She retrieved Nyala’s nightshirt and placed it on her. She undid her hairdo and brushed the princess’ hair.

The princess’ eyes bored deep into her through her looking glass. Nyala didn’t believe her. What would she do if the princess pressed her? She had finished with the hair and the princess announced, “Tonight I want you to know a secret, although you have to swear to never reveal it.”

“I promise, My Lady.” What could it be? Still gladness filled her heart when the princess changed the subject.

The princess asked her to press a rock by the fireplace in her room. Sestina looked suspiciously at her until she saw the fireplace gave way to a door.

“Help me go in,” the princess instructed her.

Sestina reached for a shawl and placed it over Nyala’s shoulders.

“Is it safe, My Princess?”

“Yes. I have been there before. Your eyes will become accustomed to the dark pretty soon,” she told her.

“Where are we going?” she dared ask.

“You’ll see. Though we need to keep utmost silence when in here,” she told her.

“I understand,” Sestina murmured, not as sure as she made it sound.

They moved quietly forward and then halted. The princess gazed to the right and peeked through a dark niche and Sestina did too. On the other side, she discovered the duke’s chamber.

“The duke,” she murmured.

“Do not forget to keep quiet at all costs,” Nyala murmured back.

They could see him clearly, through the portrait, as the duke took one boot off. He was ready to do the same with the other when a knock came at his door.

“Ottin, enter,” the duke told him, with one boot in his hand.

“I need to talk to you about my plans,” Ottin told him.

“Yes…. I have not had a chance to inquire about what is going on with that lady-in-waiting.”

“Lady Sestina was my betrothed when I left to take the station in Connier’s court.”

“She was?”

“I hurt her deeply when I chose this position over her.” He paced the floor.

“So, what will happen now?” the duke stared at him.

“I have decided to stay in this kingdom,” he paused for the duke’s reaction.

“Did she refuse to return with you to Connier? You did inquire, I assume.”

“Yes, to both questions.” Ottin dropped in a chair near the duke.

“You are mad…. You cannot leave everything you have achieved for a woman.”

“I can, and that it is what I will do.” He sounded so determined that the duke didn’t say anything for a while.

“It is insane, I tell you,” he finally uttered.

“I left her once and I have regretted it ever since. I will not leave her again.”

“What will I tell the King? … He will not like the thought that you discard him and the kingdom for a girl, no matter how special she is to you.”

“I am sorry, I have made up my mind, and I will stay.”

“What will you live on here?”

“I talked to the stablemaster. He can use help with the care of the horses we gave them.”

“Ottin, son… you are a king’s chancellor. You are rich and powerful, if you go back to Connier. And you want to stay here to be a stableboy, for her?”

“I will be all right, do not worry about me.”

“Oh, I assure you that I do not…. It is Connier that I worry about.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you thought of the trouble you could cause between the princess and our king? He loves you like a brother.”

“I know that. However, my place is with her, wherever she is.”

“The king may think that the princess offered you more money, or something like that. He will try to get you back at all costs.”

“I do not understand. What are you talking about?”

“Are you ready to be the cause of misunderstanding or even a war between our kingdoms?” the duke inquired of him.

“I am sure it won’t come to that,” he told him.

“Please, Ottin, counsel with your parents at least,” the duke begged him.

“I don’t need to solicit anyone’s permission. It is my decision and I will stay.”

“Heaven save us, Ottin,” cried the duke, his hands in the air, “for you have gone mad.”

Chapter Fifteen

War?

At that moment, the Princess motioned that they should return to her room in silence. This didn’t help mask Sestina’s sobs. Once in her room and after the passage portal closed behind them, the princess glanced at Sestina.

“It is you he spoke about, isn’t it?”

“Yes, My Lady. He spoke about me.”

“You heard his plans and the consequences of them. If you desire that he leave, I will command my guards to escort him to the borders of our kingdom in safety. Yet, if he is determined, there is nothing I can do. The only way I can stop him is by a decree that declares him a risk to our security and gives my guards permission to kill him if he crosses into our lands.”

Sestina collapsed at the princess’ knees and cried disconsolately. “No, please don’t,” she cried.

“There is another option, if you leave, he would follow you, wherever you go.”

She cried some more. “Where can I go?” she asked.

“There is a third option…. If you still have even a small feeling for him, you could give him a chance and see if you would like to be together again.”

The lady-in-waiting answered nothing, just continued to sob.

“I realize that he hurt you, Sestina. On the other hand, you have to understand that his king can hurt a lot more of my people than just you if we go to war over this matter.”

She buried her face in her hands and sobbed some more.

“Sestina, it is not my intention to be hard on you, however, the safety of all my people is in your hands. I have to do whatever it takes to prevent a war. You will have to make up your mind by the time they leave. Chancellor Salien will have to leave with his company. There is no other solution,” she added.

The princess caressed her hair and the strokes soothed her soul. However, the princess spoke no more and sent her to bed to think on what she would do.

It wasn’t until after lunch that Sestina came to the princess the next day. “I am sorry that I was not able to help you this morning, My Lady. I was indisposed.”

“I understand,” the princess squeezed her hand. “The servants are cleaning my room today. Perhaps you could oversee them and make sure everything is the way I like it?”

“Thank you, My Lady. I will.”

She left, thankful that she didn’t have to be about and perhaps see Ottin today, for she was not ready yet. What with furniture moving and drapery washing, she managed to stay in the room all day. By the time the princess retired, her room looked immaculate and brilliant. Every chandelier and portrait stood proudly in their places.

The following morning Sestina didn’t feel good at all, and the healer came to pay her a visit. The princess had sent him to her room after she heard of her symptoms.

“You do not appear well at all,” Tamyle commented, as he examined her red eyes.

“I have felt better,” she answered him.

“Let me see if I can do anything for you.”

He finished his examination and stated, “Your stomach is unsettled and you have a bad case of the sniffles.”

“How long am I going to be like this?” she asked him.

“The problem with the stomach will go away in about three days. Meanwhile, you will need to stay isolated, for you are contagious. The sniffles…are just a spring cold.”

Sestina knew better, though, she didn’t share her knowledge with the healer.

“I do not feel like seeing anyone right now,” she told him in hopes that she would be alone.

“That is good. You need to rest and sleep if you can. I will have the servants deliver liquid and soups.”

“Thank you, Tamyle, I appreciate it.”

“Get better, I will return tonight to check on you,” he smiled.

That night, one of the servant girls brought her a bowl of clear soup, a message and a rose.

“Where did you get this?” she asked the girl.

“Chancellor Salien gave it to me to deliver to you, My Lady.”

She took the red, almost velveteen, rose in her hand and smelled its fragrance. It was freshly cut and so soft, however, she did not read the note. She put it on her nightstand and thought of the man she had loved so much, the one she couldn’t trust.

The next day came and she had all the time she needed to think about him. Why would he want to stay? Yet, he did say he returned for me, many times. Ottin asked me to marry him and then changed his mind. How can I trust him with my heart again?

That night, once more, a red rose and another note were delivered with her supper. This time she did not ask where it came from. It warmed her heart to think he would give her the roses.

That day was long and tiring as she tried to think of what to do about Ottin. She didn’t want to be the cause of a war. The princess had mentioned that if she left he would follow her. However, where could she go that his king wouldn’t find him? Though she did have some savings, they couldn’t keep her for more than a year and after that what could she do? The next evening came and the princess came to her room.

“How are you feeling,” Nyala approached her bedside.

“Now that I can eat again, much better,” she smiled.

“You will be able to get up and out of this room tomorrow,” the princess stated.

“That is what the healer told me, My Lady. He left just moments ago. I should be able to resume my duties at your side.”

The servant girl came in at that moment with her supper. She put it on Sestina’s lap and after a curtsey to the princess left.

Sestina lifted the beautiful red rose from the tray with a note that she read quietly.

“Do you have an admirer?” asked the princess.

“It is Ottin, My Lady. He has sent me a rose and a note every night.”

“May I know what he says?”

“That he loves me and hopes I will be well soon. The next one read that he is sorry that he hurt me, to please forgive him. And this one, that he loves me and to please give him another chance.”

“Have you answered any of his notes?” curiously asked the princess.

“No, My Lady. I do not know what to tell him. He seems so sincere though…”

“Why do you hesitate?” she prompted.

“When we were going to be married, his family was opposed to it and it was his mother that made him break up with me.”

“Do you know why?” the princess wondered.

“They thought he needed to make a life for himself first, and a wife would hold him back. It would be even more difficult if we started a family soon after.”

“That it is ridiculous,” the princess cried. “Yet, he did side with them.”

“Yes, two weeks before our wedding, he changed his mind and left me. Now, I am not sure they won’t do it again.”

“That is a valid worry. However, many years have passed and they could have changed,” she commented. The princess sat quietly for a moment and then asked, “If that were not an issue, would you give him another chance?”

“I would, My Lady,” she smiled for the first time in days.

Chapter Sixteen

The Letter

The next afternoon, Ottin saw her coming from the kitchen. He took her elbow and led her to the terrace.

“My Lady,” he greeted her and gave her another rose. “I have not seen you for so long that the sun refuses to shine for me.”

It made her feel very self-conscious to be there with his eyes gazing at her. She dared look back at him for a small instance.

I had forgotten how handsome he is. He has matured, yet has his family? her head warned her.

Ottin reached to hold her hands and she wished she had an excuse to leave.

“Please forgive me, I beg you,” he whispered from too close to her.

She stepped back a little and he tightened his grip on her hand as if to not let her go. That is when he noticed his ring on her finger. He kissed it tenderly.

She had forgotten to take his ring off. Embarrassed, she pulled her hands away to remove the ring.

“I meant to return this to you,” she handed him the gold band.

The hurt she inflicted upon him came through his eyes and that broke her heart. He took her hand, and put it back on her trembling finger.

“It was a gift, My Lady.” He gazed deep into her soul and she wanted him to stay there forever. “I had it made for you and no one else should have it.”

Her heart soared for some reason, as the pain of losing the ring left. It had been her only company for all those years and she had grown accustomed to its presence and company.

“Thank you.” And this time she meant it.

“Good night, My Love,” he whispered with a bow.

“Good night, Sire,” she murmured.

That night her mind played over and over the awesome feeling she had when he gave the ring back to her. The sadness in his beautiful eyes strayed to my heart and I cried. Can we have a chance at happiness after so many years apart?

This little scene was repeated for the next four nights as he brought her a red rose each time. They only talked for a short moment, yet Sestina look forward to the moments with him. Every night her hurt subsided a little more, as she became whole.

“Good evening, my love,” he greeted her, on yet another night.

He approached her with a rose and kissed it before giving it to her.

“Thank you, Sire,” she murmured, and felt so special.

“Would My Lady please consider calling me Ottin instead?”

“I am not sure that is proper,” she answered.

“I see. I have changed a lot, My Lady. Life without you has left its mark on my soul.”

“Tell me how is your family?”

“My parents live in Connier,” he told her. “My brother and sister died of a fever six and eight years ago.”

“I am so sorry,” she saddened. She had retained her memories of them well.

“It almost drove my mother mad. She has regretted that we never married as much as me.”

“Why? Has she changed her mind about me?”

“Yes, quite so, My Lady. When I came back to Lexin to search for you, after my siblings died, she gave me a letter addressed to you. I kept it, in hope that I might give it to you someday.”

He took a parchment out of his shirt, somewhat wrinkled by the sands of time, and put it in her hands.

“Thank you,” she whispered, as she took it with trembling hands.

“Will My Lady read it now?” he asked.

“I will read it later.” She set it next to her on the bench.

“I understand.” He seemed disappointed.

He stood up to leave and this time, she didn’t want him to go. “Have you read it?”

“Yes, My Lady,” he responded. He sat back down at her side. “The day she gave it to me, eight years ago. Do you hesitate because of what it might say, My Lady?” he guessed.

“Yes. She shattered our lives before, and I am afraid that she will do it again. How can I know that you will not leave me for her a second time?”

“I am not a child, Sestina…. I love you….” He cradled her hands in his and brought them closer to his heart. “I do not need my parent’s permission to love you. Please believe me.”

His begging gave her some courage to read the letter. She unrolled the parchment with a small tremor in her hands.

 

My Dear Sestina,

It has been a long time since we saw you last. I shall never forget that day and the shame I feel now is immense for what I have done to you and my son. Ottin has been most successful, as we predicted. Yet, he has never been happy without you.

Perhaps it is too late, although we now understand that you were to be his mate. I know he will never marry another. Without any other living children, we will have no seed for our family line. It is my fault and the punishment, though fair, is hard to bear.

I pray that you and Ottin may find each other someday and become the couple you were meant to be. I can only hope for your forgiveness for the wrong and the suffering I have caused you and him.

I cannot help but wonder how different life could have been with you at our side and perhaps little ones, too.

Sestina, I am so sorry, my child. May you find happiness in your life, is my sincerest wish.

With regret,

Lady Salien

 

Sestina finished the letter and with shaking hands rolled it back up again. She stared at Ottin and started to sob uncontrollably. He came to her and held her tightly in his arms. She let him, as her pain washed slowly away from her heart. He uttered not a word, just let her soul cleanse from all the fears she had built up.

Sestina pressed her face into his shoulder to muffle her cries. Without the fears between them, she realized how much she needed his love.

She finally calmed down and he caressed her hair away from her face. He looked deep into her eyes and whispered, “I love you so much.”

Between a few sobs, she answered with a soft, “I love you, too.”

“You do?” he moved her softly to arm’s length to stare into her eyes.

“Yes,” she answered, with a wet smile.

He closed his eyes and brought her closer. It had been so long, and Sestina wanted to savor this moment in her soul. He gently pressed his lips over hers and kissed her tenderly. In the sweetness of the moment, they could feel their sorrows melt away.

“I promise you that I will live to make you happy, My Lady.” He knelt in front of her with her hands in his.

“I believe I would like that,” she answered.

“Thank you, so much for taking this chance with me, Sestina. You will never regret it.”

There was so much love to catch up on that night that they held each other until morning. Most of the time they didn’t speak, just felt each other close. The sunrise was splendid that morning, brilliant orange and yellow. In the room above them, at that moment, Misty opened the curtains to the princess’ room and the couple glanced toward the noise.

“Oh my goodness, I forgot My Princess,” Sestina jumped up and ran. Ottin followed her.

Chapter Seventeen

Good News

“My Princess.” Sestina made a fast curtsey as her cheeks became pink once again. “I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I forgot the time, do you need anything?”

“Yes, I do. Go to your room and change for the day. We would not want anyone thinking anything improper of you.”

“No, My Lady,” she answered, her cheeks quite red.

She glanced back at Ottin, who had stayed at the door to the room.

“Chancellor Ottin,” Nyala greeted him, “enter.”

“Good morning, My Lady,” he bowed to her.

“Do you have good news for me this morning?”

“Sestina and I have talked all night, Princess. I believe we love each other enough to take a chance on a future together.”

“I know she loves you,” Nyala smiled at Sestina encouragingly.

“We have not decided what to do next…. I…we just held each other all night,” Sestina said.

“By my window, and murmuring all night. How dare you?” The princess threw herself back on her bed.

“I am sorry, My Lady, I did not mean to…” Sestina started.

“I could not hear a thing… all night you tortured me.”

The chancellor looked at her and the princess started to laugh.

“Thank you, My Lady,” they chorused as they realized that she was teasing them.

“Thank you for trusting me with your lady, My Princess,” Ottin bowed to her.

“Thank you for not failing me,” she answered.

They left to their own rooms. At breakfast, they had changed clothes and their faces wore huge smiles.

“Asher, where is the duke?” asked the princess. Asher and his wife sat on the other side of the princess.

“He left quite early this morning,” he replied. “Raul, the woodsman, told him about wild turkeys to the west the last time we hunted deer.”

“And he hastened to hunt turkeys,” she finished for him.

“Yes, My Lady. I would not expect him for two days.”

“Chancellor Ottin,” she called his attention from Sestina.

“He is extremely good at hunting, My Princess, almost as good as the king himself,” he responded.

“I am most impressed,” she told him. “Although, I am afraid that he will deplete my game greatly, if you do not take him home soon,” she laughed.

“I understand, Princess,” he too chuckled. “We will leave two days after his return. He requires a day or two to get his gear ready to go. He always journeys with his hunting gear.”

“I suppose you eat well while wandering in unknown realms,” she bantered.

“I will not complain, My Lady, we certainly do.”

After breakfast was over, Nyala called to Sestina to her side. “I want you to take today off. Do not return to me until tonight.”

“Thank you, My Lady,” she hugged her.

“I will expect a full report then,” she told them. “I do like stories with happy endings before my bedtime.”

They all laughed with her.

“We promise, Princess,” grinned Ottin. He extended his hand to escort Sestina out of the dining room and she took it.

That night, Sestina and Ottin were back, as promised, in the princess’ sitting room. Asher and Misty stayed to hear the details of their plans.

“My Lady,” started Ottin, “we are most thankful for your help. My Lady Sestina and I have decided to get married as soon as we get to Connier.”

“So, you are leaving us then?” the princess asked her.

“Yes, My Lady. We will leave with the duke and his party,” she added.

“Sestina, why delay until Connier to be married?” Nyala asked.

“His parents, My Lady. They do not have any more children to marry…. We want them to be part of it, too.”

“That is generous of you. Will they support you in this union?” she asked Ottin.

“Yes, My Lady. They will be most happy for us. Mother has regretted interfering with our decision for a quite a long time.”

“I believe, this way, she will see that I harbor no hard feelings toward her,” added Sestina.

“That is a noble idea,” said the princess. “Yet, I want you to know that if you change your mind at any time, you are welcome back. I will provide you with anything you need to be able to do so.” Nyala took Sestina’s hands in hers and added, “I want your solemn promise that you will request my help for anything you may need.”

“I promise, My Lady,” she answered. “Thank you.”

“Chancellor Salien, I will expect a letter, in my lady’s handwriting, two weeks after you leave. If it does not come, in three weeks you will have my troops at your castle.”

“I understand, My Lady,” smiled Ottin. “I thank you once again. I promise, if it is possible, that we will visit for your coronation.”

“I would love to see you then,” she told them.

“Sestina, I hereby relieve you from your duties as my lady-in-waiting. I want you to concentrate on what you need to do to get ready to go.”

“Oh, thank you, My Princess,” she hugged her again. “That will help a lot.”

“I will have Chancellor Bodil deliver your salary for the rest of this year. I want you to have everything you need.”

“That is not necessary, My Lady,” exclaimed Ottin. “I have more than she could ever need.”

“I know that, Chancellor,” the princess answered. “This is my gift to her for her services. What she does with it is solely her decision.”

“Thank you so much, My Lady,” said Sestina.

“I have just one more thing to say to you, Chancellor. I expect your utmost respect for her, not only before you marry her, but always.”

“On that point, Princess, she and you have my promise.” He bowed to her and his soon-to-be bride.

“Well, all that is left to be said is, congratulations to both of you,” Nyala hugged her.

“Thank you, My Princess,” Ottin told her. “Thank you very much.”

“We wish you the best,” added Asher and Misty.

The trip to Connier proved wonderful as the duke was overjoyed that the couple had traveled home with him. He spared nothing for her comfort and the best catch of each day belonged to her.

“Is My Lady happy?” Ottin asked on a quiet walk after supper a day before their arrival in Connier.

“Yes, my love, so happy I will burst,” she answered.

He gathered her in his arms and they just held each other for a long moment.

“There, a falling star,” she cried.

“Did you make a wish?” he asked.

“No, my wish has already come true.”

“Sestina, I love you so much. I tremble to think I could have lost you forever.”

“Let’s not think of sad moments,” she pled. “We are together, and this time nothing will break us apart.”

“Nothing, My Lady, I swear it. Tomorrow we will be home,” he mentioned after a long pause.

“I still have doubts about your parents,” she confessed.

“No need, My Lady. Even if they oppose you, I will let no one take you from me again.”

“It would make me sad to know that you might quarrel with them.”

“Not me, My Lady. If something separates me from them, it will be them. I refuse to take charge of something they can prevent.”

“Thank you for telling me that. I feel much better now.”

“It is time to retire, my love,” he told her. “Tomorrow awaits a long trip to Connier. I can’t wait to start our life together.” He squeezed her tight.

“Neither can I,” she let him kiss her good night.

Chapter Eighteen

His Family

Late the next day, they arrived in Connier. The kingdom of stone houses and small gardens welcomed her with open arms.

Ottin and Sestina gave their farewell to the duke and the chancellor pointed her down a street to the right of the palace. Not more than a thousand feet along, they came to a halt by a single mansion with three floors. Beautiful long windows adorned its walls and soft-colored curtains hung from them.

A stable sat behind it, in addition to an orchard with trees of many sizes.

“Here we are, My Lady. This is my parent’s home. We will live here for now, and when we marry I will have our home ready for us.”

He dismounted.

“Do you think that will be all right with them?” she asked.

“Ottin… Ottin,” his mother ran outside to hug him. “You found her… you did find her.” She cried in his arms for a moment while his father came to help Sestina off the horse.

“Welcome, My Lady. Please excuse my wife, for we thought… we thought…”

“We thought we would never see you again, and we suffered for our mistake those many years ago,” his mother finished for her husband. The couple embraced and cried for a long moment before they could regain their composure.

“Sestina,” the woman murmured, “I am most sorry to have taken Ottin from you… please, forgive me.”

“He is a good son, although this once we wish that he hadn’t heeded our wishes,” the father added.

“Mother, Father,” Ottin embraced Sestina and she felt a bit more comfortable. “Sestina has accepted my request to be my wife as soon as possible. We need a place for her to stay until then, and I hope she can stay here.”

“You want to stay with us, oh my,” she cried. “Yes, of course you can stay. There is plenty of room.”

“Enis, Enis, we have guest,” she called to one of her servants. “Help me get a room ready for Lady Sestina.”

“Yes, My Lady.” The servant girl curtseyed.

“Please enter, my child,” Ottin’s father escorted Sestina. “Let’s get comfortable inside while we wait.”

“I don’t mean to be a burden,” Sestina finally found her voice.

“You have never been, My Lady. We thought you were. However, we were wrong. I am beyond happy to see you with our son. We have prayed for this miracle for many years.”

“Thank you for telling me that,” Sestina murmured. “I almost didn’t accept him, afraid you didn’t want my presence in his life.”

“Don’t tell us that, My Lady. My heart shudders at the thought of my son alone forever,” the father answered.

“Shouldn’t I help Lady Salien?” she asked.

“She will be back presently,” he smiled. “She hasn’t had anyone to fuss about for a long time. It does her good to fuss over you.”

Another servant brought drinks and Ottin gave her a crystal cup full of red liquid.

“It is from a sweet fruit native to this kingdom,” his father told her. “It grows close to the dirt in a bed of green leaves.”

At that moment, Lady Salien came back and her husband offered her a cup.

“To our beautiful future,” Ottin toasted.

“Hear, hear,” the older couple cheered.

“You must be tired from your trip, my dear,” his mother offered. “Let me take you to your room to refresh and we will talk more later.”

“Thank you, Lady Salien.”

Ottin’s mother had received her well, at least in front of Ottin. Now on their own, she wondered if she would still feel the same.

“Here you are,” his mother opened the door to a sizable room decorated in different tones of lavender. Large tapestries depicted gardens embroidered in brilliant colors to compliment the lilac tone of the walls.

“How lovely,” Sestina gushed.

The woman sighed loudly. “I am so glad you like it. We do have others if you prefer something different,” she commented.

“I am sure you do,” Sestina answered. “However, I do like this one.”

“The servants are readying hot water for your and Ottin’s baths,” the mother added. “If you need anything, tell me.”

“Tell you, not the servants?”

“I will make sure all is perfect for you,” the woman answered. “The servants are dears, though it is not the same.”

“You don’t need to go to all this trouble, Lady Salien.”

“It is no trouble at all, I assure you. I just want to make sure your stay is perfect.”

“All I need is Ottin for my life to be perfect, My Lady.”

“Oh child, thank you for telling me that. I wondered if you loved him or…”

“Or what?”

“It crossed my mind that you could be here to revenge yourself from what we did to you. Not that I would blame you, although my son doesn’t deserve it, I know we do.”

“Please don’t think that. I would never hurt you in such a diabolic manner. I love Ottin, I always have. We have a second chance for a future together and I refuse to waste it in revenge.”

“You have forgiven us, then?”

“Yes, we have all learned much in our lives. I want to see our future together and forget the past.”

“Say no more, child. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

Later that night, after supper, they sat in a blue room with a ceiling covered in white stars. A more magnificent home Sestina had never seen.

“Ottin commissioned a man from another kingdom to paint the stars in this room,” his father commented while she studied them.

“It is breathtaking,” she murmured.

Ottin said, “The last time I saw you, it was a stormy night. Every time I closed my eyes I saw you and the storm about us. I needed something to combat the loneliness I felt and a clear night with clusters of stars came to my mind.”

“May I know who chose the lavender in my room?”

“Our daughter,” the mother answered. “She told us it reminded her of friendship and the lilac garden where you used to meet her.”

A sadness seemed to take over until the father broke it, “We will always have her in our hearts, my wife, and that is the perfect place for both of our children.”

“I understand your feelings, Lady Salien. Mother died a month after your family left Lexin and I feel her absence every day.”

“It distresses me to know you were all alone at such a time, moreover that I had something to do with your suffering.”

“We decided there will be no more negative talk of the past. Do you recollect?” Sestina hugged her.

“Thank you, child. You are so kind to us.”

“May I know what your brother chose for his room?”

“My brother chose to capture the sea in Lexin. His bedroom has a scene of the fishermen at the beach.”

“It must be breathtaking then,” she responded.

“We will give you a tour tomorrow, my dear,” his mother offered. “Today let’s get reacquainted with each other.”

“May we know where you found her, son?” his father asked.

“Lady Sestina served as Princess Nyala’s lady-in-waiting in the palace.”

“You did?” his mother asked. “Oh, my goodness, child. To the princess herself? I’ll be.”

“Lady Misty married a knight from Burahm and so became her companion, and I was assigned as her personal lady-in-waiting.”

“She is a wonderful example of enduring,” his father added. “Or am I misinformed?”

“Not at all. She is well-rounded, caring and a most wonderful friend,” she granted.

“If I may, Lady Sestina, I cannot fathom why you are still single. Are all men in Kaloma blind?” his father questioned.

“We don’t mean to pry, Lady Sestina. Perhaps she has wed, my husband.”

“No, Lady Salien. I have never married. And no, men in Kaloma are not blind. I decided a few years ago that if I wore Ottin’s ring on my finger, their attention would be directed to others and not me.”

“We are most thankful for your insight, My Lady,” Ottin kissed her hand.

“Most grateful,” his mother repeated.

“Have you had a chance to make any plans for your future, my son?”

“We talked much on our trip here, Father. I’ll let My Lady tell you what she would like to do in and in what order.”

“As soon as I can, I would like to fix the dress mother made for our wedding. It is short for me, although otherwise perfect.”

“There is a place in the market that you can find anything you need for it, my child. Tomorrow they will open and we can go and see.”

“Don’t worry about the cost, Lady Sestina, we would love to pay for it.”

“That is not necessary, Father,” Ottin retorted. “I will take care of it.”

“I appreciate both of your offers. However, I have what I need and I will pay for it,” Sestina settled the topic. “I will need parchment to dispatch a message to the princess,” she added.

“Yes. We must not forget, My Lady, or the king won’t forgive me.”

“What do you mean, son?”

“The princess requires a message in Lady Sestina’s hand in two weeks or she will have her troops at the castle in three.”

“Goodness, she told you that?” His mother’s eyes doubled in size.

“I am afraid she did say that,” Sestina giggled.

“Most impressive,” his father observed. “She is a great friend to you, My Lady.”

“Yes, although we’d better take care of that message tomorrow.”

That night, Ottin escorted her to the door of her room. “Has My Lady had a good day?”

“Most wonderful, Ottin. Your parents helped me feel welcome and my fears are dissolving.”

“Good, My Lady. There is nothing more important to me than your contentment.”

“My dearest Ottin, just your presence at my side makes me blissful. There is nothing else I need.”

“Then that is what you will have, though…”

“Is there a problem?”

“In a sense, yes. You see, I am expected at the castle most days from mid-morning to late afternoon.”

“I understand, though, why is that a problem?”

“My Lady told me that she needs me at her side to be happy.”

“Oh, Ottin, I love you…. I will be all right when you can’t be with me.”

He chuckled and she hugged him tight. “Good night, My Lady. I will see you tomorrow.”

“Do you have to go to the castle?”

“Yes. The duke and I have to report to the king about our trip to Kaloma. I should be back by mid-day.”

“Are you going to tell him about me?”

“Most certainly, My Lady. He will want to know you soon.”

“Must I? I don’t know what to do or say to a king,” she fretted.

“It will be the same as you did and said to the princess or any of the Kaloma’s chancellors,” he told her. “My Lady will always do wonderfully well at my side, no matter where we are.”

“You are magnificent,” she squeezed his hand. “Thank you for thinking so highly of me.”

“That is exactly what I see in My Lady, and what everyone else will see too. You have no worries.”

“Good night, my love.”

“Until morning, my precious Sestina.”

After she changed into her nightshirt, Sestina crossed the hall to the water closet. On her way there, she overheard Ottin with his parents in conversation.

Their voices carried up the staircase and she sat to eavesdrop on their conversation. Her curiosity to know if they really had accepted her kept her on the top step.

“Ottin, I am overwhelmed with joy,” his mother gushed. “She is back in your life and you are complete.”

“We are so sorry for our callous view of your future, my son. We wanted the best for you and didn’t realize you already had it at her side.”

“I broke her heart. When I saw her again, she didn’t want to talk with me. In despair, I swore I would never come back, that I would stay there even if I had to be a stableboy.”

“Oh Ottin, we are so sorry we ever interfered between you two,” his mother cried.

“We certainly made a mess of things for you, son,” his father conceded.

“To tell you the truth, Mother, it was your letter that changed her heart toward me. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t be here today.”

“I meant everything I wrote, son. How terrible we have been to her.”

“She forgave you,” Ottin said.

“I am not sure we deserve it, my … son,” his mother choked on a sob.

“There, Mother. Everything has been pardoned.”

“Ottin, you mentioned that you will move to your own house when you marry,” his father started a new thought to change the forlorn feeling in the room.

“Yes. I will inquire as to availability of houses tomorrow and take Sestina to see whatever I find. We will pick the one she loves the most.”

“Your mother and I have talked … well we wonder…”

“If you would stay here with us,” his mother finished. “This is a big house for just the two of us. We promise to stay out of the way,” she added.

“That is quite kind of you, but I gave this house to you,” Ottin replied.

“We are not young anymore, son,” his father explained. “When we die, this house won’t have an owner that will know the love and dreams that make this home so beautiful.”

“It will get lost in the hands of strangers,” his mother added.

“I do understand. I too care for this home. As you mentioned it has my siblings’ spirits in it.”

“Then will you stay here?” his mother queried.

“My Lady Sestina will have the choice, Mother. I can’t promise anything.”

“We understand,” his father murmured. “One miracle at the time, my wife.”

“Yes, we are blessed to have her back. We will solicit nothing else,” his mother conceded.

Chapter Nineteen

The King of Connier

The next day at the marketplace, Sestina found a beautiful lace made by hand that matched her wedding dress.

“I can’t wait to add it to the dress,” she exulted.

“We can start this afternoo…”

“Is something wrong?” she asked, when Lady Salien halted without finishing.

“Ottin plans to take you see some homes after the noon meal. We can start whenever you want, my dear. If it is all right, I will help you and we will finish faster.”

“I would appreciate your help for sure,” she hugged her.

“Now, let’s get some groceries to last a few days and then go home. Oh, I forgot you need parchment.”

“We’d better not forget that,” she giggled.

“Do you need anything else, my dear?”

“Not that I know. I am sure I will next time… you know with the wedding meal and such.”

“We will make a list of what you want and we will return to get it…. When are you planning to marry, my child?”

“We have not chosen a date yet, Lady Salien. I will talk with Ottin about his preference tonight.”

At noontime, as promised, Ottin came home.

“Food is ready,” his mother called as a welcome.

“How was your morning, My Lady?”

“Most wonderful. We found what I need and the dispatch for the princess is almost ready.”

“Almost ready? When I told the king of her threat, he laughed so loud it echoed in the council room for a long time. He did counsel me to make sure I took care of it in a timely manner.”

“I wanted to include the date for our wedding,” she advised him.

“That is my lady’s choice. When will My Lady make me the most pleased man on earth and become my wife?”

“Lady Salien, may I know what is the etiquette for weddings in this kingdom?”

“What do you mean?”

“Would it be proper for us to marry in five days? I mean with me just barely arriving here and all.”

“Most proper, child,” she answered. “You have known each other for more than seven years and no one will find any wrong with that.”

“Does it set well with you?” she asked Ottin.

“Most well,” he replied. “Although, because of my position, many people in court will want to be included in our happiness and five days isn’t much time to prepare and distribute invitations.”

“I see. I seem to forget your livelihood and I mustn’t do that.”

“Let’s talk about it tomorrow, Lady Sestina,” his mother advised. “Let’s figure out all we need to do to make it a perfect event.”

“I will appreciate your help with that, Lady Salien. I have never prepared a party before. I don’t know what or where to start.”

“Don’t fret, My Lady,” Ottin hugged her. “It all will work out perfectly.”

Her disappointment had been noticed by them, and she felt selfish for some reason. Ottin’s station at court should take precedence over many things, and she would have to learn to like it.

“Would My Lady like to take a trip to the palace today?” Ottin enquired.

“I would love to,” she sighed.

“My Lady doesn’t have to agree to everything I suggest. You do know that, don’t you?”

She sighed again. “Not really,” she murmured. “I don’t know what is important in your life anymore, and I don’t want to cause problems for you or your responsibilities.”

“I see. I don’t want you to feel obligated to do all I suggest and forget what you would like to do instead.”

“This is not going to be easy, is it?” she offered. “May I know why would we want to spend time in the castle today in preference to some other day?”

“The king is most curious about you and wishes to meet you,” he answered.

“Well, that is most important for today,” she conceded. “It would be best to not disappoint the king. You won’t leave me alone with him, will you?”

“Not for an instant, My Lady,” he grinned. “Thank you, for understanding.”

“It would help me a lot, if you tell me why you ask things of me,” she explained. “Then I can make a reasonable choice.”

“Sounds like a perfect solution, if My Lady promises to not give up her hopes over my needs.”

Sestina changed her clothes with the help of Lady Salien to prepare to meet the king. A carriage took them to the palace doors where all present saluted Ottin and smiled at her.

She had never seen such a long, well-lit corridor as the one they walked through.

“These are some of the forefathers of the king,” Ottin pointed at the portraits sprinkled on the whitewashed walls. All had men and women with light-colored faces, unlike her deep tan tone.

“They are most distinguished,” she commented.

“Through this door is the council room. It is where we, the chancellors, meet alone or with the king.”

“Where are we meeting the king today?” she wondered.

“In his private chambers, My Lady,” he responded. “He thought the throne room was too much, and the council room too proper to meet with us.”

At that moment, a young man wearing dark pants and a belt over a cream-colored shirt came out of a room to their right.

“Ottin, it is good to see you. This must be Lady Sestina. My Lady it is a pleasure to meet you.” He took her hand and kissed it.

“It is my pleasure,” she answered and glanced at Ottin.

“I say, you didn’t have to bring her now,” the white-skinned man grinned. “I actually didn’t expect you to do so. Since you have… follow me, let’s visit in my chambers.”

He ushered them to the room from which he had entered and motioned to a chair next to a round window. The quite large room had an antechamber like a sitting room and through a door, a bedroom.

“My Lady wished to see the palace today. She needed a rest for a moment, you know how it is,” Ottin stated.

“Now that I am married,” he answered, “I do understand.” He patted Ottin’s shoulders. “Has the lady chosen a day for the ceremony?” he asked.

“I am not acquainted with the customs in this kingdom,” she said. “I wanted it to be in a few days. However, Ottin’s responsibilities demand that we wait.”

“Yes, we do have to follow a protocol, but mainly when the king is getting married,” Ottin granted.

“I imagined that would have to be so,” she admitted. “I saw some of it when I served the princess in Kaloma.”

“I didn’t recall that you had,” the fit man moved his green eyes towards Ottin.

“I didn’t have a chance tell you everything about her,” he replied.

“You are right,” the man consented. “If I didn’t know better, I would have called you untruthful, if you told me all the accomplishments of the young lady.

“However, come to think about it, you aren’t the king. So, the protocol can be bent to your advantage. Ottin, what would you say to a wedding in the cathedral in let’s say…”

“Five days,” she answered the man’s prompt.

“I would be delighted…. What are you contemplating?” Ottin asked.

“You’ll see.” The man pulled a cord and a page answered almost immediately.

“Get the scribe, the cook and the priest in here as soon as possible.”

“Yes, Sire,” the young man answered and left.

“He called you Sire,” Sestina’s eyes stared at the man in the room with them.

“My Lady, please forgive me. This is our king,” Ottin introduced him.

“Ottin and I are not so stiff as to use our titles in each other’s presence, My Lady. He and I have been friends since he moved to Connier.”

“I try to keep the decorum, My Lady. He doesn’t help me much in my endeavors.”

She giggled. “I thought you were a friend. I didn’t expect the king… I mean… I am not sure what I mean.”

“It is all right, My Lady,” Ottin kissed her hand. “He is a rebel at heart. If he is not in royal activities, he dresses like any other man in the castle.”

“Come now, I dress better than many, and certainly not like the older generation,” the king retorted.

At that moment, the page appeared with the cook and announced her to the people in the room.

“Sire, you need me?”

“Yes. You see, I want to have a wedding party in five days, could you handle it?”

“How many people will be there? And what is the station of the couple getting married?”

“Chancellor Salien and Lady Sestina, personal lady-in-waiting of Princess Nyala of Kaloma.”

“Congratulations, Chancellor Salien,” she curtseyed. “I have enough supplies in the kitchen to be able to prepare properly,” she answered. “What is it that the lady would like?”

“I actually had only thought of a private wedding with just four people,” she smiled. “I would appreciate your help with this. I don’t even know what you eat.”

“What Lady Sestina means is that she desires that you choose the food and surprise us,” Ottin clarified.

“Would you like to have a wedding cake?”

“If that is within your customs, it would be lovely.”

“What colors would you like?”

“Colors, I don’t know, what colors?”

“May I,” Ottin asked her.

“Please do,” she felt overwhelmed.

“Sea blue and lilac,” he answered.

“That would be lovely,” Sestina agreed.

“How many people for meal?” the cook asked.

She stared at the king with a blank expression.

“Shall we say one hundred?” he pressed her.

“Oh goodness… one hundred,” Sestina echoed.

“One hundred it is,” the king declared.

By that time, the priest and scribe arrived.

“Father Alin, Chancellor Salien needs the cathedral in five days. Shall we say at five in the evening?” the king asked the couple.

“That will do,” Ottin answered and glanced at Sestina, who nodded.

“What is the occasion, Sire?” the round-bellied man asked.

“He and Lady Sestina will wed that day,” the king answered.

“How fortunate, Chancellor. I will arrange it personally to be the best we have ever seen…. Well, not better than our king’s,” he bowed to the king.

Ottin and the monarch laughed at this and Sestina smiled.

“It will be ready by the appointed time,” the priest promised. “If you both can call on me, the day before, we will go over the ceremony.”

“I will appreciate your help, Father,” Sestina pled.

“Now for the invitations,” the king smiled. “Scribe, take note of the event to occur in five days. Deliver an invitation to all the chancellors and their wives, the nobles, Lords and Dukes and their wives. See to it that they are delivered by tomorrow night.”

“Yes, Sire,” the short man answered with a bow.

“You see,” the king told Sestina after everyone left, “it is that easy. Now, permit me to congratulate you on your wedding. I am most impressed with you, My Lady.”

“I am at loss for words, Sire. I never meant for you to plan my wedding, I would have…”

“You were overwhelmed with the details. It would have taken you weeks to prepare something big enough to satisfy the Court of Connier. I have done it for you. You see, being the king does have its perks.”

“I don’t know if you should, Sire. You are so busy and this is something I should do…”

“Say no more, my wonderful Lady Sestina,” Ottin took her hands in his. “The king likes to be impromptu in his decisions, you’ll get adjusted to it soon enough.”

“Do you mean that I should enjoy this wonderful gift, and thank your king for making my hopes a reality?”

“That is what I am suggesting,” he smiled. “Well, Sire, I too am thankful for your help. I fretted to think we would have to tarry long enough to plan for our union. We’d better let our… my parents know.” He took Sestina by the hand and they left the palace.

“Are you sure that it is proper to let him plan everything?” she asked him in the castle gardens.

“He sees it as a challenge, and he loves challenges,” Ottin explained.

“It is such a relief,” she replied. “What else do we need to do now?”

“I have a list of homes to see. Do you want to do that now?”

“That would be great,” she nodded.

They called at three different mansions. However, none inspired Sestina. And Ottin had to admit that they lacked the warmth his home had.

“I don’t want to be negative, my dearest Ottin. I appreciate all you do for me…. However, I can’t see us living in any of those houses.”

“I arrived at the same conclusion, My Lady. Let’s go home and talk with my parents…”

“Our parents,” she squeezed his hand.

“You are most gracious, My Lady. My, our parents will be overjoyed by your statement.”

“I feel safe and free with them. I believe it would be better if I change a bit for your… our parent’s sake.”

Chapter Twenty

Their House

Later that afternoon, they talked about houses and Lady Salien asked Sestina if she would like to have a tour of their house.

She showed her all the rooms starting on the top floor. Ottin’s siblings’ rooms were on that floor. Each was as luscious as she had seen them in her mind when Ottin told her about them.

On the second floor, there was a master bedroom and five other chambers. Two of Ottin’s walls were light blue, and they both depicted a drawing of Sestina and himself. One depicted their faces and the other their whole bodies. Both were great likenesses of them.

“Oh my,” she murmured when she entered. “This room is yours.”

“Yes, My Lady,” Ottin answered. “I had it done the second year I couldn’t find you. I didn’t want to forget any of your gorgeous features.”

“It is beautiful,” she murmured. “Oh, Ottin,” she sighed and hugged him tight.

“There is no problem, My Lady. If you wish, I will have it done differently.”

“No, please, don’t. I love it. How could we find a place more beautiful than this one to live, I don’t think that one could exist,” she declared.

“This house is too big for us, Lady Sestina,” his father explained. “We would love to have you and Ottin share it with us.”

“Would you? Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to make you feel that you have to,” she told them. “Although, this is the most warm-hearted home I have ever been in.”

“Then it is settled, you will stay with us,” Ottin’s mother hugged her. “Let’s continue to the rest of the rooms.”

“May I know where does this door open to?” Sestina had noticed it on the side of Ottin’s oversized bed.

“Open it and see,” his mother’s eyes twinkled with a secret they all shared, however she did not.

When she opened the honey-colored door, the light shone on a gold and yellow-walled room. The ceiling depicted small angels in between white fluffy clouds.

“It is breathtaking,” she murmured. “Why this could be a child’s room or a nursery.” Her cheeks became pink and Ottin chuckled.

“The cream crib matches the small bed on the other side of the room,” Lady Salien stated.

“Are the toys displayed on the shelves on that wall your children’s?” she queried.

“I collected them through the years,” Ottin admitted. “They are from different kingdoms where I have traveled.”

Pillows decorated the room and a rocking chair sat next to the crib, a small blanket folded over the arm rest. The lace window covers had orange-brown under-layers and Lady Salien closed them carefully. They spent a good deal of time in that room.

An office occupied the room to the left of Ottin’s bedroom. A water closet and a closet lay next to that room. On the other side, there were three bedchambers. All were painted in different colors, each equally sumptuous. A small library and a sitting room were also located on that floor.

“We could change one of these rooms into a kitchen and the other into a dining room,” Ottin suggested. “That is if you want us to eat separate from our parents. It is your choice, my love.”

“Well, if it is all right with you,” she pointed at his parents, “I believe, if we are to be a family, we should share at least every meal,” she told them.

Ottin’s mother’s eyes clouded with tears and his father cleared his throat before saying, “That would be most sensible, My Lady.”

Ottin took her in his arms and kissed her. “That is why I love you so much, my dearest Sestina.”

“I love you too.” Her cheeks became pink at his gesture in front of his parents. After a small moment, “I would like to help with everything,” she told his mother.

“We will talk about that after the wedding,” she answered.

“We do have servants, My Lady,” the father commented.

“Well,” Ottin sighed.

They started their descent on the stairs as he held Sestina by her waist. “I don’t know about all of you, but I am tired. We have accomplished a lot in just one day.”

“I see what you mean,” she concurred. “We planned our wedding, the food is taken care of, the invitations delivered, found a home for us and met the king. The only thing left is the message for Princess Nyala.”

“If you finish it, I will take it with me to the palace tomorrow and dispatch a messenger with it,” Ottin offered.

“That would be perfect,” she exulted.

Chapter Twenty-one

The Wedding

The next day, she spent all the time Ottin was at work in the palace lengthening her wedding dress. By late afternoon, they had it finished.

“It is a beautiful dress,” Lady Salien stated. “Your mother did a lovely job on it.”

“She wanted to have pearls to add on the bodice,” Sestina mentioned. “We spent more than we should have on the dress and we couldn’t afford it.”

Lady Salien left the room. When she returned, she had a box in her hands and a bundle over her arm.

“Open it.” She gave it to Sestina.

Inside, on a bed of green velvet, sat about a hundred cream colored pearls.

“This is astonishing,” Sestina murmured. “You can’t mean for me to have them. Why, they are expensive.”

“I bought them in the market, about five every month. I hoped to use them on my daughter’s wedding dress one day. I didn’t buy any after she died. Please used them and this also,” she opened the sheet on her arms. Inside lay a silky kind of off-white lace, thin and long.

“This is most gorgeous,” Sestina exclaimed. “May I know what it is?”

“It is a head shawl,” Lady Salien answered. “You put it on your head like this.” She seated one edge on top of her head and it trailed all the way back to the floor.

“Are you sure you wish me to use it?”

“I bought this for my girl too,” the older woman’s eyes again moistened. “I had so many plans for her wonderful future.” She blinked back a tear.

Sestina hugged her and kept her in her arms. “Please don’t cry, Mother. She isn’t gone, neither is your son, they will forever be in our hearts,” she murmured.

“Thank you, Lady Sestina. It is most wonderful to have you here with us. You help fill the void we endure at their absence.”

On the day stipulated, the cathedral seemed festive and alive with the bustle of the party goers. Some came out of respect for Ottin and others out of curiosity about who had finally taken the heart of the chancellor.

Sestina and Lady Salien had done a magnificent job with the pearls. They stranded the leftovers into a crown that fastened the head shawl on her head. When she entered the cathedral, the women collectively awed and the men wondered why.

When she halted next to Ottin, he whispered, “My amazing lady looks like the queen herself.”

She couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear.

“In the sight of God,” the priest started, “this man and woman are to become one, and, as one, continue to fulfil their roles as He intended. The man will provide for his family’s care and the woman for their every day’s sustenance while lovingly serving as a helpmeet to her husband.

“Ottin Salien, do you take this woman, Sestina Harlene for your wife before of all these witnesses and before God?”

“I do,” he answered. “I, Ottin Salien, declare my unconditional love to Lady Sestina Harlene from this day forward before God and men.”

“Sestina Harlene, do you receive this man, Ottin Salien, as your husband before God and all these witnesses?”

“I do,” she replied. “I, Sestina Harlene, declare my unconditional love and devotion to Ottin Salien from this day forward before God and men.”

“By the authority invested in me, I declare you, Ottin Salien, and Sestina Harlene, husband and wife.”

Epilogue

 

Nine months to the day after they were married, Sestina gave life to twins. A boy and a girl blessed their home, and not only their lives, but also those of his parents.

When PrincessZXCN Nyala became queen, the couple, their babies and the king of Connier, attended the coronation, to the delight of Nyala and many of Sestina’s old friends. The couple stayed for eight days to travel through many of the places they had shared together in Lexin.

Once, the king of Connier told her that Ottin had been amenable before he married her, although since he had certainly become a better man. His permanent sadness had been replaced by joy. Thus, his heart had opened up and he served better as a chancellor.

Ottin’s parents died of old age some twenty years later, most fulfilled and happy. They had met their four grandchildren and had helped the couple raise them. They had become a tight family unit and enjoyed the benefit of much love and success in their lives.


The Chancellor From Connier

The princess of Kaloma is distraught, if the chancellor doesn't return to Connier it will mean war, and that is a price she is unwilling to pay. Two weeks before Sestina planned to marry Ottin, he changed his mind. He begged her to wait for him, just a few years, until he could make a name for himself in the court of Connier. She sent him away and never looked back becoming the lady in waiting to the princess of Kaloma. Then one day he reappears as the chancellor of Connier and promises to stay forever, even though she refuses him. Now war darken the horizon of the two kingdoms.

  • Author: Anna del C. Dye
  • Published: 2017-06-01 04:20:16
  • Words: 27010
The Chancellor From Connier The Chancellor From Connier