The Defiant Bride(3)

By: Leslie Hachtel

Dariana drew in her breath and the words spilled out. “I must marry.”

Tamara smiled in relief. “Is that all? Of course you must marry, love. ‘Tis nothing to fear. A man would know himself to be blessed to have such a sweet and beautiful wife. You would, indeed, be a gift to any man. You are only unmarried as yet since your father has indulged you and allowed you to select your husband. Has his patience run thin?”

“You understand not. Henry has sent an edict demanding I marry a Spaniard to aid in the alliance.”

“Henry has done what?”

“I know not what I should do. I will not go to Spain with a man I have never even laid eyes upon. It is unthinkable. And he is certainly some hideous monster.”

Tamara stared into the distance for a moment. “No, love. It is not unthinkable. You have been lucky to have escaped the king’s notice for so long a time. But I do not blame you. I would feel the same. Perhaps we can find a solution so Henry does not win this battle.”

“What can we do? He is, after all, the king. And you of all people know his punishment for disobedience. I have even thought of taking my own life. I am so desperate.”

“What a wonderful idea!”

Dariana was shocked. “You wish me to die?” She could hardly utter the words. Her world had just dropped away and she was nearly breathless with the pain of it.

Tamara smiled. “No, love. You misunderstand my words. I would never wish for your demise. That is—not privately.”

Dariana gazed at her friend, confusion rampant in her thoughts. “I understand nothing you are saying. Do you love me so little?”

Tamara smiled again. “No, I love you so much. That is why you must die.”

She and Tamara spent two days formulating a plan that would seal her fate. It was simple. Dariana was sent home with an attitude of obedience. She was to act the perfect daughter while preparing for her departure. She was to tell no one, of course. Arouse no suspicions. There was much to do and precious little time.

Near the edge of the King’s Forest, yet well concealed, was an abandoned cottage that had once belonged to a caretaker. Since the forest was forbidden to all but the nobility and those they allowed to serve as keepers, few, if any, would pass nearby. The forest was reserved for the hunt; game was more plentiful in its depths. If she was careful, Dariana could take up residence there until it was deemed safe for her to reappear under some other identity. She would have to find some convincing masquerade to be above suspicion.

Tamara would meanwhile plant the seed that her husband’s niece might arrive in hopes of gaining a worthy mate. Or perhaps a nun from a nearby convent would visit. Still, Dariana knew her return was but a vain hope, considering the deception she was about to commit.

In the time allowed, the two spent each day together riding. Dariana had packed her belongings and appeared prepared for her inevitable journey, so her father did not object to the time she spent with Tamara. No one thought anything amiss since their devotion was known. Tamara had made no secret of the fact her dearest friend was being sent away. Happily, since the area between their homes was declared safe, they were permitted to ride within the confines of the adjoining lands without escort.

On their rides, they secreted provisions to furnish the small cottage in the forest. They would ride out, skirt the meadow, and then slip into the forest to deposit the bounty. They discovered a large kettle and a small table and chairs already present, as well as a strong rope cot. The cottage was happily in good repair. In a short time, it was supplied with a comfortable bed of furs, a stock of warm cloaks, woolen dresses, and cooking utensils. Lighting the hearth could prove dangerous in attracting unwanted attention, so they had prepared for the onslaught of the cold with additional clothing and blankets. Her father had taught her how to hunt for sport and Dariana had been adept with bow and arrow since she was a child. It was her weapon of choice, so those were supplied, along with several daggers. However, she didn’t give thought to how to prepare animals after hunting. Food had always appeared at proper times and not been a concern.

The excitement of planning made the truth of what they were doing less terrible. Dariana was committing an act that could cost her father’s life. The king would certainly demand retribution should he ever discover the truth. And her friend was helping her. What would Tamara’s punishment be? Dariana tried desperately to convince herself this was the only solution to escape a heartless royal edict.

Tamara had a family retainer who had served her father and moved with her when she married. Humphrey adored his mistress and his loyalty was unassailable. He was chosen to share their secret. He could come and go without challenge and could easily deliver food and other necessities without arousing suspicion.

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