Chapter 10 - The King of Virlinn
March 21, 1645
The Walled City of Arcadia, Capital of Ivaris
-King Seth Liam Ivaris XV-
I instantly bolted upright and wrenched the dagger under my pillow. I jumped down on my bed and faced my attacker.
“Forgive us, your highness!” a terrified maid squeaked. Two maids crouched down and picked up the broken ceramics from the floor. The carpet lay stained with tea and eggs and pieces of toast were scattered on the floor.
Then they stood up and almost dropped the tray again. They were looking at me with their mouths open and their eyes wide. Their gazes raked over me from head to toe and then back up to stop on my middle.
I looked down and realized I was naked as the day I was born with naught but a dagger in hand. “Dammit!” I cursed and then grabbed the nearest pillow and covered myself with it. The maids coughed and then lowered their gazes.
“Forgive us for barging in, your highness. We did not know you were here.” They said and discreetly moved out of the room. I looked around and realized I wasn’t in my room but at Adrienne’s!
I slept here the entire night!
Dammit. I made it a point never to sleep on any of my mistresses beds. Then images came to me of the night we shared. Adrienne underneath me, begging for my touch, the moment of glorious release, her skin flushed with ecstasy, her eyes wide as she gazed into me, and finally, me gathering her into my arms before I slept. And I slept like a log last night. I slept very comfortably with Adrienne’s lavender scent as my lullaby.
I looked towards the bed and there she was: grinning like a Cheshire cat. “What?” I asked.
“You sure did give the maids a fright with your... dagger.” She purred huskily as her eyes travelled downwards to a certain part of me that was standing at attention. I let go of the dagger and it fell towards the floor with a loud clang. Then, I threw the pillow I was using to cover up myself at her. She giggled and I rejoined her on the bed.
It was almost noon before I emerged from the room.
“Get the best seamstress from town and bring her to me immediately.” I told the footman and he nodded.
Bolts of fabric were strewn across the room. Ribbons of every color, pearls, the finest silks, buttons, ruffles, and other precious gems occupied most of my bed.
I was standing on a footstool while every inch of me was being measured and various cloths were draped across my skin to see if I would look good in it. The seamstress kept throwing dress suggestions towards me. I understood nothing of what she said and instead just nodded and smiled.
The seamstress told me that she was making me a new wardrobe courtesy of the King. Whatever I need it for, I do not know but the seamstress said that she was to finish everything in two days and that the King himself has demanded it.
The seamstress brought with her a team of ten ladies and all their equipment. Right now, everything is cramped here in my room. The moment I was fitted for a certain type of gown, the fabric was cut and the ladies began sewing as if their lives depended on it.
Two hours afterwards, they presented me with a gown colored purple. It had bell sleeves and a low-square neckline. It was tightly fitting at the waist and then flared out at the hips. It was magnificent! Then they also presented me with a nightgown made of the flimsiest material I’ve ever seen!
I stuck my hand through it and it might as well be transparent. I opened my mouth to protest but the seamstress smiled at me and gave me a knowing look. “The king will like it.” She declared and the room erupted in giggles.
I’m not going to wear it, ever.
After a few hours, the sun set and dozens of candles were lit. It was dark in the room but still the women continued sewing. The time for dinner came and they began to pack up. They told me that they would be sending the other gowns over tomorrow. When they left, my closet was a lot fuller.
The maids entered and brought in my dinner. I noticed that there was a lot of food and I couldn’t really eat them all! Still, more and more food came. More candles were lit and the table was set. I noticed that two plates were laid down.
“Why are there two plates?” I asked my maid.
“The king said he wished to dine with you.” The maid replied and then bowed.
When everything was in place, the servants exited and the King of Ivaris entered. He strode towards the table and then held out a chair for me. “Why are you dining here?” I asked. He sighed and then pulled the chair farther with great exaggeration.
I didn’t move a muscle and continued staring at him. He slammed his fist down the table. “For Gods’ sakes, sit!!!” he shouted loud enough for the whole castle to hear. I flinched and threw a deadly glance at him. I walked towards the chair and sat. He went towards his chair and sat too. “Must you always ask about everything I do? Can’t we just enjoy dinner together?” he asked with an exasperated sigh and I shrugged.
The King uncovered the trays and filled my plate with generous servings of everything. “I can’t eat all that!” I exclaimed and he laughed. “Try it. It’s so delicious you’ll find yourself wanting more.” He said. We ate in silence for a few minutes and I found that the food really was so delicious!
I helped myself to second servings and that was the time when the King glanced up from his food and smiled. “Are the new dresses to your liking?” he asked. “Thank you, you are most kind. But they are too extravagant to be used here in the castle.” I replied.
“You won’t be using them here. You’ll be coming with me.”
I dropped my fork and it fell with a clatter? “Where?”
The King picked up my fork and handed it back to me. “The Duke of Escrow will be holding his annual Harvest Ball. You are coming with me.” He declared. All my appetite fled at those words and I found myself staring at my food.
“You are not pleased?” he asked me.
“Why me?!?” I blurted out. The King was drinking his wine then and he suddenly coughed and sputtered. “What kind of question is that?!” he bellowed as he wiped the wine from his mouth. He glared at me as he did so.
“If you must know, I like your company and I’ve chosen you to be my partner during the ball. End of discussion. Eat your dinner.” he said with a wave of his hand.
March 26, 1645 (5 days later)
Escrow Lands, East of Ivaris
-King Seth Liam Ivaris XV-
The trumpets flared and banners were waved as me and my men entered the castle of the Duke of Escrow. People cheered and craned their necks to get a glimpse of our procession. I sat atop my stallion, Lightning while guards flanked either side of me.
Adrienne insisted on riding her own horse instead of being placed at a grand coach. I allowed her to until we reach the Escrow estate. From then on, I told her to ride the coach for people will be curious about her if they saw her by my side. Surprisingly, she conceded with little drama.
The three day journey from Ravenswood to Escrow was uneventful. We rode hard during the day and then settled at an inn during the night. I saw how sore and tired Adrienne was from riding but she never gave even one word of complaint. Also, I loved the way her eyes lit up when she saw something new during our travels. All the tiredness faded from her body because of her excitement and she took away my weariness too.
We entered the courtyard and I dismounted my horse. I went towards the coach and helped Adrienne down. All the servants bowed and the duke and duchess of Escrow made their way towards us.
“Your highness.” The duke said and he bowed. His duchess did an elegant curtsy. “Allow me to lead you to your room, milord.” She said in a sweet voice
I nodded towards them and took Adrienne’s hand. I was placed on my room first and then Adrienne was delivered to hers. Her room was an entire wing away from mine. No. That cannot be. I do not want to walk an entire wing just to get to her bed.
“She stays with me.” I said and asked the servants to bring all our things into this room.
“Why can’t I have my own room?” she asked.
“Because I said so.” I replied and then strolled out. Before I exited the door, I looked back and told her, “Get yourself ready for the ball later, I’ll send the maids in. I have to go and discuss things with the Duke. I’ll send someone to fetch you and we’ll meet for a drink before the ball starts.”
The Duke received me in his study and handed me a goblet of his finest wine. I handed it to my taster and when proved that it wasn’t poisoned, I drank it eagerly. “Your vineyard always produces the best wine.” I declared.
“Thank you, your majesty. That wine you’ve been drinking is a product of the harvest a hundred years ago. My ancestors fermented it perfectly just as I hope that we could also perfectly ferment the produce of this year’s harvest.” The duke replied.
“To your great ancestors.” I said and raised my goblet in salute.
“I trust harvest has been great this year?” I asked.
“Yes, my Lord. The goddess, Isolen, has blessed our lands once more.” The duke replied. I waved my hand towards my men and all of them exited the room.
“Enough with the pleasantries, Duke Escrow. I trust you know of the latest attempt to assassinate me. What do you know of this?”
The duke shuffled uncomfortably in his seat and then looked left and right. “I have heard rumours regarding a rebellion, your highness.” The duke whispered.
“Rebellion?” I huffed. “Who’d dare do such a thing against me? I have brought the Golden Age to Ivaris. I have conquered lands, won wars, amassed riches! I have the greatest army in all of the land. Who’d dare do such foolishness?”
“I know not of the people behind this, your grace. I do not even know if it is true. It’s just rumoured that there has been plots of a rebellion and a man has been approaching the lower members of the aristocracy: the barons, counts, viscounts.”
“How about you? Have you been approached by the said man?”
“No, your grace. I think they would not approach the higher nobles because power is what they offer and I am quite content with the power I hold.”
“Good. For if I find you together with those plotting against me, I assure you that there is a much harsher fate than the one Patrick Arrin, the Baron of Wexton suffered.”
The duke loosened his collar and downed another goblet of wine. “Yes, my Lord. You shall always be assured of my utmost loyalty.” He replied.
For the next few hours, the Duke showed me around his castle. I suggested some things regarding how to fortify his defences more and also on how to train his men. I promised to send one of my generals to oversee his men’s training.
When it came time to get ready for the ball, I had the servants fetch my things and I dressed in one of the unoccupied private chambers.
I wore a plain white linen shirt and a black doublet over it. The doublet was embroidered with gold threads but in a simple design. Over the doublet, I wore a black leather jerkin. Then I also donned black breeches and black boots.
“You there. Go and ask what color Lady Adrienne’s gown would be. Go. Now.” I instructed one of the footmen. He came back a few minutes later and told me that she would be wearing a green gown.
I retrieved the jewellery box I brought and selected the biggest emeralds and diamonds there. Then I handed it to the footman and said, “Tell the Lady it would honor me if she wears this.” I replied.
Then I retrieved another jewellery box and took out the golden circlet that was my crown. It was made of pure gold. The center contained a stone that was pale and looked as if it contained mist. The crown has been passed down from my ancestors and my father told me that the stone was a moonstone which came from the Gods themselves.
I placed it atop my head and then glanced down at the box and saw the other matching circlet. It was smaller, daintier and the design was carved intricately. On its center was a small teardrop shaped moonstone and it was meant to be for my queen.
Almira was supposed to be my queen but she was lost during the war. Some say she died but they never found her body. Maybe she’s still somewhere out there and I still have hope of honouring my mother’s last wish.
“Fetch Lady Adrienne and tell her I will be awaiting her down the hall for drinks.” I told the footman and then exited the room and headed towards the hall.
It felt as if my ribs were cracking with every tug. I was standing upright and my hands were braced on the wall as the maids tugged to tighten the corset. Gods, what torture!
“Can’t breathe!” I told them and they loosened the ties a little bit but it still felt as if my organs were being squished inside me. “It’s the price of being beautiful, milady.” One of the maids told me.
“Then I don’t want to be beautiful!” I retorted and they giggled. “Of course you would. You’re the king’s guest and everyone will be looking at you.” The other maid said and I groaned. Of all his mistresses, why did he choose me to take to this ball?
When my corset was in place, the maids placed my petticoats and then finally my gown. It was one of the new ones that the seamstress made for me. It was green and had a square cut neckline that gave a tantalizing view of my cleavage but not too much that it looked improper. The dress had long sleeves which reached my wrists. The cuffs were adorned with lace and so was the hem. On the neckline was embroidered some pearls and an intricate design was placed there using silver thread.
The maids tied up my hair in an elegant bun and left a few tendrils to curl around my face and neck. They placed some powder on my face and lined my eyes with kohl which made them look bigger. The maids crushed some red rose petals and they placed the tint on my lips. Then they both took a step back and sighed.
“I’ve never seen another lady as beautiful as you.” One of them said with a genuine smile. I smiled back and thanked them. “This wouldn’t be possible without your help.” I said even if I did not believe them with their compliments. I’m not beautiful. I look ordinary. The king had other mistresses which were more beautiful than me, Brianna for instance.
There was a knock on the door and one of the maids answered it. She came back bearing a small jewellery box.
“Milady, the king sent these for you to wear and he said that he would be honoured to see you in these jewels.” She said and then opened the box. Nestled inside the velvet was a diamond and emerald necklace. The stones were so big that if I sold this necklace, I’m sure I’d be able to feed an entire kingdom! Two drop earrings also filled with diamonds and emeralds accompanied the necklace and so did a pearl and diamond headpiece.
I nodded to the maids, signalling them to put the jewels on me for I couldn’t speak. I was still struck by the beauty and the lavishness of those jewels. First, they placed the headpiece on my hair, threading it towards the bun and the brown strands of my hair. Whenever I moved my head, the diamonds sparkled and the pearls made my face looked more radiant. The maids clasped the necklace and the earrings and then they stepped back and let me admire myself on the mirror.
I almost didn’t recognize the girl staring back at me. Her eyes were wide and her lips were red. She shined with every movement and she looked as elegant as a queen. I doubted that she was me but when I moved, she moved too.
I sighed and then braced myself. I could do this. I could go down to the ball and those nobles wouldn’t see a slave or a pauper but a queen. A queen wearing a beautiful gown and the most expensive jewels that her king bestowed her with.
I took another deep breath and there was a knock on the door. “Milady, the king requests your presence at the hall.”
I nodded and then took another deep breath and braced myself to face whatever this night would hold.
I went down the grand staircase and the receiving hall was filled with people who wanted to take some refreshments before going to the ballroom. I scanned the crowd for the King but I could not see him. I walked around the hall but then nervousness gripped me and I just stood on the far side of the wall and tried to make myself unnoticeable as possible. A servant passed bearing a tray of drinks and I grabbed one.
I was silently sipping my drink when a shadow fell and a voice whispered, “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting such a lovely lady.” I looked up at the source of the voice and a tall, blonde man stood in front of me.
He looked handsome and his lips were turned up in a smile. His eyes were the most beautiful shade of blue and they were so dark that they almost looked indigo. His hair was blonde with streaks of brown and his coloring was tanned as if he spent a lot of time under the sun. He was tall and heavily muscled. His build was much like the King and he too emanated power and authority.
“James Murray, King of Virlinn.” He said and did a small bow.
I released my glass quickly and fumbled with my skirts. I did a deep curtsy before him. “Adrienne, your highness.” I replied. I kept my eyes down in fear of insulting this king. I was surprised when he lifted my hand and kissed it.
My skin tingled at the contact and it seemed as if warning bells went off inside my head. I know I have not met this man anywhere but something inside me screamed that I should stay away from him. As far away as possible.
“Just Adrienne? No duchess of something? Or countess? Marchioness?” the king said and I shook my head at each of those titles. He smiled at me and he was so handsome that I almost drooled.
“So what is a beautiful woman like you doing alone on Escrow’s harvest ball?” he asked.
“She’s not alone. She’s mine.” The King of Ivaris interjected. He strode towards me and then pulled me to his side and kept a possessive arm around my waist.
“Ahhh. Seth. How nice it is to see you again.” King James said with a nod towards the King of Ivaris.
“James.” The king of Ivaris said and regarded him with a scowl. I looked up at him and he scowled deeper. His body was taught as if he was anticipating a fight.
King James turned towards me and his body relaxed and he smiled. “Forgive me, my lady. I asked for your title but it seems I was too arrogant and forgot to ask one.” He said. I looked at him in confusion. The King of Ivaris’ scowl deepened even further.
“What are you talking about?” the king of Ivaris hissed.
“I asked her for her name and asked what title accompanied it. I asked her if she was a duchess, a countess or a marchioness. She said no. I did not realize she was a queen. Forgive me for that, milady.” The king of Virlinn said.
“You are correct with your first assumption milord. Wrong on the second one.” I said with a soft smile. “I am no queen.” I replied.
“Ahhh...” he said and his blue eyes glittered with fascination. “You are not queen but you could be. I could make you my queen.” He said and my eyes widened with shock. The King of Ivaris let go of me abruptly and pushed me behind him then his hand flew towards his belt where his dagger lay.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Threatened the King of Virlinn.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“You wouldn’t want our countries to go to war because of your temper. I, on the other hand, will go to war for the love of a beautiful girl.” He said with a wink. The King of Ivaris’ hand tightened on his dagger and his face flushed red. His entire body was taut and he was ready to spring and attack anytime.
“Stop it please, your highnesses.” I pleaded. The King of Ivaris didn’t even bat an eyelid while the King of Virlinn’s eyes glittered with malice.
“Call me James, my dear. Virlinn isn’t as tight with societal rules as Ivaris is. You don’t have to go calling me ‘highness’ all the time.” He replied and the King of Ivaris tensed even further.
I heard a curse spill forth from his lips and then saw his body sprint into attack. “No!” I hissed and then jumped in front of his path. I placed my hands on his chest and then kissed him. His body tensed even further but nibbled on his lower lip and then when it parted in a gasp, I slipped my tongue inside and tasted him. His body softened and I grabbed the dagger from his hand and then slipped it back in its sheathe in his belt.
I felt the King’s body relax and then his arms went around my waist and he pulled me closer to him. Then it was he who was kissing me. After a few more seconds, I pulled back because I remembered that we were in a crowded hall.
I gave a shy smile at the King of Ivaris and then pulled a linen handkerchief from my clutch bag and dabbed it at his lips. “Forgive me, your highness. I seemed to have colored your lips red.” I said and then giggled.
The King of Ivaris smiled at me and he took my hand and placed it on the crook of his arm. When he wasn’t looking, I slipped an apologetic glance towards the King of Virlinn and smiled at him. I looked around the hall and saw that all eyes were trained towards us and that all the conversation has seized.
I raised my chin higher, threw a glare at them and raised an eyebrow in inquiry. All of them turned around at the shame of being caught eavesdropping and the King hauled me away towards the ballroom.
One hand clamped down on my wrist in a bruising grip. “I don’t want to see you talking to him ever again.” Hissed the King of Ivaris as he ran his other hand through his hair. I nodded. The King seemed to be able to control himself and let go of me abruptly. He soothed the tender skin with his thumb.
We stood in line at the top of the stairs waiting to be announced to the ballroom. There were many candles in the corridor and the moment I stepped into the light, the King stopped and looked at me from head to toe.
His jaw fell open but he immediately righted himself and started walking once more. “You look beautiful.” He whispered to me and I patted his arm. “You look rather dashing yourself, your highness.”
He sighed and then twined his fingers with mine. “You handled that incident on the hall very well.” He pointed out. “Of course I did. Not everyone is as good a diplomat as you.” I joked and I was surprised when I heard his deep laughter. The others turned back and stared and the king waved his hand towards them.
“The King of Ivaris and Lady Adrienne!” the announcer’s voice rang clear as we stood on the top of the stairs and then began our descent. All eyes turned towards us once more and they seemed to scrutinize every inch of me. The King just looked as if he was used to everything and that he didn’t even mind while I wanted the ground to just open up and swallow me whole.
I held on to the King’s arm and we were able to descend without me making a fool of myself. The King steered me towards the dance floor. “I don’t know how to dance!” I hissed in his ear. “Leave it to me. Just follow my footsteps.” He said. We took our place on the dance floor just as the first few notes of a waltz were heard.
The King instructed me to mimic his footsteps and I did that but in a stiff manner. He commanded me to relax and I did but I started stepping on his toes the moment I lost my concentration. After a few more dances, we were dancing and I was enjoying myself a lot.
When we got winded, the King pulled me towards a secluded corner and handed me a drink. “Enjoying yourself, so far?”
“Yes! I love the ballroom. And I love the way the people are dressed and the dance!” I said enthusiastically and he grinned. There was a long moment of silence before the King spoke again.
“Tell me more about yourself.” He said with a twinkle in his eye.
“If you tell me something about you too.”
“Agreed.” The king replied with a smile.
“I came from Amaranth. I used to live in Durnham Castle.” I said. That seemed safe and impersonal enough to impart.
“I was betrothed once. It was arranged by my parents to an ally they most trusted. I was younger then and I rebelled against the thought of marrying that I fled the castle and spent the night on town: drinking and whoring. Something my parents told me never to do.” He said.
He took a long drink of wine before he continued. “When I came back to the palace, the village lay in shambles and a lot of cottages and even a part of the palace was set on fire. I quickly went towards my parents’ bedchamber and found them both on the ground. My father’s head was chopped off and my mother had a dagger in her side. I thought that she was dead but then she opened her eyes. She told me that none if it was my fault and that she couldn’t have been blessed with a better son. Before she died, she asked me to promise her that I would marry the princess.”
I placed my arm above his. “I’m sorry for your loss.” He raised his cup and took another swig. “This is the reason why I cannot marry anybody else. It’s my mother’s dying wish that I marry the princess she chose and that is what I would do. I believe everything has been arranged but the day that I came for my bride, there was no one alive in their palace. I don’t know what happened but we suspect that it had been raided. We looked for her body but we did not find it and I hope deep in my heart that she has escaped and that she still lives.”
What a heartbreaking story... Twice, the king of Ivaris has found himself going to a ruined castle and finding great sadness within it. The first time was with his parents and the second time with his betrothed.
“I’ve been searching for her ever since.” He said and my heart twisted a bit after I heard those words. He shook his head and a melancholic expression filled his eyes.
He looked at me longingly and then picked up my hand and kissed it. “Why are you telling me this?” I asked.
“If everything didn’t happen as it did... If I wasn’t betrothed to a woman who’s been missing... If I haven’t made that promise to my mother... I... I-I think I would’ve married you and you would have made a fine queen.” He said and then his lips descended on mine in a soft, lingering kiss.
I sighed against his lips but my mind reeled at his words. He studied me for a long time and then said. “If I couldn’t find Almira in a year from now, I swear I’d marry you.” He declared. I stilled at his words. My breath hitched and the room swayed a bit.
“Almira?” I asked.
“Princess Almira of Amaranth. Her parents and my parents arranged for us to be married since she was born.” He replied. I felt as if a rug was pulled from under my feet and then I’ve been doused with a bucket of cold water.
No, no, no, no... I can’t be hearing this...
His eyes narrowed at my expression. “You know her? You know where she is?” he asked.
“N-no... I... I err... I heard the princess was lost when your army invaded Amaranth and wiped it off the maps.” I replied and cold sweat broke out across my brow. I wasn’t able to control my words and I am sure that the King would punish me now.
I stole a gaze at him and saw that his brows were creased together in a frown.
“My army? Invade Amaranth? Why would I do such a thing when I am betrothed to its princess?” he said
Now it felt as if my entire world was pulled under my feet and I fell down into an abyss then dropped into a frozen lake.
No. This can’t all be true.