The Defiant Bride(5)

By: Leslie Hachtel


“But you said his father was dead.”

“That matters little. His father never approved of him in life, but Henry wishes dearly to make him proud from beyond the grave. He is set on bringing about a return to Camelot just as his father desired. There will be pomp and ceremony and tournaments. There will be pageantry and rich clothes and—I am positively green with envy at the thought of the courtiers reveling in their celebrations.”

“Why can you not attend? No one knows you aided my—death. You would be certain to be safe from any scandal or accusation. Why not travel to court and be part of the excitement? I can only imagine the coronation will be something to behold.”

“Oh, I dare not even dream of such a thing. My Robert is too old and I could not travel to court without him. I have come to love my husband dearly.”

“Well, I will go with you,” Dariana stated, partly in jest and more in vain hope.

“You know that is not possible, love.”

“I know. Tamara, tell me truly. Will I ever be able to return to my life as it was?”

“We can always hope. You must remember we committed an act against the crown and such things are not so easily forgiven.”

“I do so miss my father. Does he fare well?”

“As well as can be expected. I paid him a visit some months ago and—I won’t lie—he feels the lack of your presence. But he is safe.”

Dariana’s eyes filled with tears that burned down her cheeks. “I am so sorry I ran away. It might not have been so terrible a fate and perhaps I could have found some pleasure in life in Spain. Now, though, I have sealed my fate. Did I do right?”

Tamara embraced her friend, then wiped away her tears. “Do not cry. The time for doubt has long since passed. Sometimes the hardest part of life is living with our choices. Think you this way. You have your freedom. And such a price as you paid is naught compared to what it might have cost, married to a man in a foreign land, among strangers, whose tongue you do not understand. I was told that your intended was to be the marques de Flores. It is said he is a misshapen, ugly wretch who wields his power viciously and without conscience. His first wife perished under mysterious circumstances, leaving him very wealthy. Therefore, the last Henry sought his favor. I have heard he is demanding a replacement for you from the new king. Count yourself among the truly blessed that your sacrifices are small in comparison to a life with such a man as that.”

“You are right—I am ungrateful. You have risked so much for my sake and I am not unappreciative. Forgive me?”

“Of course. Now let me tell you more of this new Henry. A traveling bard who had just visited court took his ease with us and had much to say. In exchange, I filled his belly and now wonder who got the better of the bargain. He stripped the pantry bare.”

Dariana giggled. “Tell me all. What is the new Henry about? Does he, too, desire a stronger alliance with Spain? I would hate to think another might suffer my fate, or near fate.”

“Nay. Unlike his father, he is content that his own marriage to his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, has sealed that bargain. I wonder, though, that he does not feel like the red-haired stepchild. His brother’s throne, his brother’s widow. But he seems bent on celebration.”





CHAPTER 2

Retribution! The word exploded in Dariana’s brain like a battering ram. Fear coiled in her chest like a living thing and made it hard to draw breath. When she heard the first horseman coming, hooves pounding out her fate, she knew it was her end. She sprinted behind a thick tree and flattened her back against the hard wood. And waited for hands to reach out and drag her to hell. There was a sound almost as if someone had fallen to the ground, but the horse rode off.

Dariana’s breathing had barely slowed to normal before two more horses hammered in her direction. Her mind screamed that it had all been for naught. She held her breath and waited, terrified. The horses stopped a few feet from where she was concealed. Feet hit the earth as a rider dismounted. Dariana had to stifle the urge to cry out. She was shielded from them, but felt as vulnerable as a newborn babe.

The still-mounted man spoke. “Is he dead?”

There was another sound, like a boot kicking something solid. “Do you see him moving?” Dariana wished they were not out of her view.

“You said your aim was true.”

“As it was. We can claim the reward for this good day’s work.”

The man remounted and the two rode of, sending clots of mud sailing through the air in their wake. She inhaled deeply, lightheaded. If they had not come for her, what then? They had said he was dead. He? They were not from the king seeking her capture? She was safe? Dariana’s breath rushed from her chest and she fell back against the sturdy tree in relief. Its solid strength felt good.

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