The Defiant Bride(2)

By: Leslie Hachtel

“My lord, what can be so terrible? You have done nothing to raise the ire of the king. You are both loyal and innocent.”

“You must marry.” He stated this flatly, as if he spoke of the end of the world.

Dariana smiled in relief. “Is that all? You have been very patient with me. I hope you do not regret promising I could make my own choice.” She smiled at her sire. “Few would allow their daughters such generosity. Soon I will surely find a suitable husband whose lands are nearby so I will never be far away. Worry not of this. But what has this to do with the king…?” Her voice trailed off as she feared what he would say next.

He gave a mirthless laugh, then dropped his gaze to the stone floor, shaking his head.

“Surely I did not raise you to be such an innocent. Do you really believe the world is as this castle where your every whim is indulged?” Before she could protest, he continued, “You are to marry a Spaniard of the king’s choice, to further seal the alliance with Spain.”

It took a moment for the words to penetrate. Then her anger rose up and filled her head. “Why me? I understand not.” She tried to calm herself. Perhaps there was some sense to be made of this.

“There is no more to understand than what you have just been told. He chose you because he covets my lands and hopes you will disobey. You are a rarity, my girl. Most would be married with babes clinging to their skirts at your age. Henry has lately made demands for his own pleasure.” Her father scratched his head, as if pondering the will of the king. “It should be an honor for his majesty to intervene, but I do not think it such. It matters not. You are to leave in a fortnight and be married before the next full moon.”

Dariana’s head swam. Suddenly, she giggled. “You jest with me!” Looking into her father’s face and seeing the pain residing there, the laughter caught in her throat. She stared at him, waiting, breathless.

“If you do not comply, daughter, the king will confiscate my lands and my title and, if we are truly lucky, he will stop at that and not take my life as well. Do you not understand, child? There is no choice. I have indulged you far too long. Perhaps I could not face being alone in my dotage, so it suited me to have you remain unmarried. But now the matter is out of my hands.”

Anger rose again in waves and washed over her. “This is not possible. How dare he be as cruel as this? I am the daughter of an earl.”

“And he is King of England. He values alliances now above all else. He himself formed one between the houses of York and Lancaster when he married Elizabeth.” Her father’s voice was flat, defeated.

“He is a fool, an angry, greedy, bitter miserable man. I will not do as he demands.”

“Quiet! Speak you not of treason, foolish girl. We must do as we are told, and that is the sum of it. Now, go to your chamber and begin preparations. And never speak such words again. You are subject to the will of Henry and, if we are blessed, he will never come to know of the selfish, spoiled girl I have raised. Now go!”

She was shocked. Her father had never raised his voice to her. Before Dariana could protest, he dismissed her by raising his hand and turning away.

“I’ll die first!” She raced up the stairs to her chamber, tears blinding her.

“It is your only chance of escaping your fate,” her father called after her.

Dariana could not fathom what had just occurred. After a while, she calmed and tried to think with purpose. She needed advice. A friend to talk to. There was someone Dariana could trust. Tamara would offer a solution.

Lady Tamara, Countess of Westonbury, was at her writing desk when Dariana burst through the portal and threw herself into her open arms, sobbing.

“Child, child, quiet yourself. What can be so terrible to be worthy of all this misery?”

Lady Tamara, still lovely at nearly two score years with her pale blonde hair and eyes that missed nothing, was quite a bit older than the eighteen-year-old Dariana. In spite of that, their friendship had grown over the years.

It was no secret that the lady had no great love for the king. Tamara’s father had been unjustly accused of supporting the young pretender to the throne, Lambert Simmel. Subsequently, he had been stripped of his lands, and his remaining wealth confiscated by the crown. Even when it was clear he had not played any part in the traitorous scheme, the king refused to return what he had taken. Soon after, Tamara’s father had died a broken man.

Dariana tried to catch her breath and coughed, then slowly regained control of her emotions. Tamara put her arm around Dariana’s shoulders and led her into the great room, to a comfortable chair near the hearth. Tamara sat across from her and took both of Dariana’s hands. “Tell me all.”

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