The Curdling of the Milk  

Chapter 1

Long ago in the kingdom of Kalebeth, there was a king with two sons. The elder, Lorenzo, was the heir to the throne, but the younger, Philippe, was given extensive lands within the kingdom and made the Duke of Chambertin. Though the succession depended on him, Lorenzo was in no hurry to marry, and spent his youth enjoying his wealth and freedom. His brother, however, who was more practical and ambitious, decided to settle down quickly and made a good match with the daughter of a local nobleman. She was very pretty, very quick, and very clever, and he was quite attached to her. Their first child was a son, Enrico, and Philippe could not have been more pleased. But the second child's birth he would have undone, had he been able. The duchess died only a few short hours after bringing the child, whom she called Federico, into the world, and Philippe, grief-stricken, never forgave the boy.

The children were raised in the same house, but with vastly different experiences. Enrico had everything he wanted -- no desire was too great or too small for his father's attention, and the duke gave him every advantage in his power, which was considerable. Federico, however, had nothing but his father's contempt. The older he grew, the more he was resented, for he was very like his mother in looks and temperament, and the duke could not look at him without being painfully reminded of his loss. The duke devoted hours and hours to his favorite son's education, but in the schoolroom, on the archery field, in the fencing studio, at riding practice, Enrico made slow progress. He was sure of his father's praise whatever he did and made no effort to make up for his lack of natural cleverness with study. Federico, though younger and without the benefit of a solicitous teacher, picked up everything his brother was being taught in half the time. Yet his father could not be bothered to acknowledge his successes. If anything, they contributed even more to the duke's resentment. And so the boys grew up, Enrico's wits dulled more and more by indulgence and indolence, and Federico's every day sharpened by nature and necessity.

The year Federico turned ten, the family spent Christmas at the duke's large estate in the north of the kingdom. It was an isolated spot, and Federico spent hours alone preparing a present for his father. Knowing the duke was fond of music, the boy built a lute and composed a song to play upon it. Surely his father would appreciate this! But when he presented the gift on Christmas morning, the duke merely glanced down at the lute and the sheets of music, muttered something that might or might not have been a "thank you" and turned to his eldest son with an expectant smile. Enrico handed him an ordinary looking pair of gloves, which he had told one of the maids to patch together the day before. Philippe gushed over the shoddy gift, not caring that he had let the lute crash to the floor. Federico slipped out of the house unnoticed, and went for a long walk in the dark and snowy solitude.

From that day on, Federico decided not to expend any more energy seeking to win his father's love, for it simply could not be done. Now everything he did, he did for himself -- for his own information, his own amusement, or the pleasure of annoying his father and brother. He became sneaky, and took to playing tricks on the servants, so that his father's routine would be disrupted or his well-organized household thrown into disorder. The boy's proudest achievement was forcing his father to get a new cook -- after a particularly insulting episode with the duke and Enrico, Federico stopped in the kitchen on his way to his room to dress for dinner.

Later on, during the meal, the duke took a large bite of his turkey leg, and began to cough and splutter. He quickly took a large gulp of wine, but this only made him splutter more. Enrico was suddenly similarly afflicted. Federico sat placidly chewing, and watching them. It was only after several minutes that they were able to recover themselves, but found they could stomach nothing else.

"What in the world is in my food?" thundered the duke. He called the cook into the dining room to account for it.

"To be sure, Your Grace," said the cook, "I don't know what happened! I swear there was nothing odd about it when I was preparing it!"

"Oh, come," said Federico. "I went down to the kitchen for something to nibble on while I dressed, and I saw a powder being put into my father's portion."

"If it was, you must have put it in yourself!" cried the cook. "I swear, Your Grace, I had nothing to do with it!" Federico smiled, and went back to his dinner.

The duke was outraged, however. "How dare you accuse a member of the royal house of such a thing!" he shouted. "You tamper with my food, and attempt to blame my son? You are dismissed, madam!"

"Yes sir," said the cook quietly, and with a parting glare for Federico, she left the room.

And so life went on in much the same way, until the boys became young men, and it was time for Enrico to go to university. The proud duke decided to show off his son by giving a grand ball on the occasion, and Romagnola, the capital city of the kingdom, was wild with anticipation.

When the day of the ball finally arrived Federico awoke in a dark mood. Why was it that his brother got so much attention while he got none? He did not like to admit jealousy, but he could not help but feel that there was nothing he could do to make his father see him. Enrico failed at almost everything he did while he himself excelled. He knew that he was only the lowly second son, but he must count for something.

Federico's dark mood was mirrored in the pouring rain and dark storm clouds moving in from the west. His father and Enrico had talked of nothing else but this ball for weeks and Enrico had spent hours upon hours with his tailor and dancing instructor. Federico had to laugh though because no matter how many silks and other ornate decorations, Enrico would still have a protruding stomach, pockmarked cheeks, and a very noticeable receding hairline. It was a wonder that so much attention was still bestowed upon him when Federico knew himself to be far more attractive, having taken after his mother. Federico had a perfectly sculpted body of which he prided himself by maintaining his athletic physique through a strict training schedule.

Every morning he would take his horse out for a ride, and then devote himself to sword work for a good hour. When his father had the brothers practice swords or archery together Federico would win the contests with ease and without breaking a sweat while Enrico would be left gasping for air and then not able to leave his bed for days. What his father saw in the poor excuse for a man, let alone man in line for the throne, he would never know, but every time Enrico was chosen over him. Enrico was finally going to University after many failed attempts that held him back that even though several years separated them in age, Federico would be joining him at school in the fall of next year.

Federico walked to the window and saw the line of servants standing out in the rain waiting for the numerous guests that would be staying the night to arrive. Federico decided that he would go crazy if he had to be in the house any longer with the his father and brother going on and on about how great Enrico was, so regardless of the rain and the absolute certainty of a storm Federico saddled up his favorite horse, a black stallion named Mars, for a ride. He rode quickly out of the barn and into the nearby field. There were no cows grazing because no creature would really want to be out in torrential downpour and possible storms. Federico did not care. Even as he saw lightning in the distance and heard the low rumblings of thunder he did not turn back. The water against his face helped to ease some of his tension and it felt good to be out in the elements.

After an hour or so he was thoroughly drenched and decided that if he were to be on time for the ball he better head back to the house, so he turned his horse back toward the hell that he knew was waiting him. He didn't know what was worse, being in the company of his father and Enrico for an extended period of time, or being in the company of a over a hundred people with enough self-importance to make even the nicest person shudder. He resigned himself to the fact though that at least the royal party was unable to come to the ball because of the King's ailing health. At least he would be spared from that pomp.

When he arrived back at the stables, there was no groom to meet him because they were all busy with the guests that were arriving in droves. Federico was instead forced to unsaddle his own horse, leaving him little time to dress and bathe before the ball. When he finally emerged in the great hall to take his place in the receiving line he was met with a stern look from his father.

"Federico!! Where have you been? What disrespect you show not only to your brother but also to our guests for not greeting them properly. Where have you been and why is your hair all wet. You look positively unfit to be seen. You know what an honor this day is for your brother. Why can't you take more care next time?" Federico ignored the comments of his father and took his place in line. Next to him his brother stood with more decoration than was possibly necessary. He looked like a peacock with all the brocade. He also could have sworn that he was wearing rouge on his face. They must make an ironic picture of opposites in line. One could easily pick out the black sheep in the family. Federico was fairly simply attired, although everything was expensive that he wore. He may not care to look like a dandy, but he certainly did like expensive things. He wore a black evening suit with a crisp white shirt, intricately tied cravat, and a deep burgundy colored vest. His dark hair and dark eyes added more to the picture to give him the look of a brooding but very handsome figure. He knew that he was popular among the ton, but he was still only the second son. Most of the station climbers went after his brother while only flirting with him. He was never without a female companion, but he knew that many of them used him to get to his brother. Everyone wanted to be the next Lady Chambertin.

When he was finally released from his duties he went to get some wine to help him get through the evening. He didn't think he could stand hours of flirting and speeches without it. After about the fourth glass, he was well on his way to being drunk. He laughed at the scene his brother made dancing with one of the many ladies. He frequently stepped on her toes or the corner of her dress, causing her to stumble. The scene was so funny in fact that he felt it was his duty to rescue the damsel in distress. He barged into the crowd of dancers and walked up to his brother and his partner. "Come now brother!! Is that any way to dance with a lady? Certainly those hours with the dancing tutor taught you better. I'm sure the lady will not be able to dance again all night after you. Or is that your object?" Federico winked at Enrico and slapped him on the back, causing him to wince. Enrico was enraged at his brother and excused himself from his dancing party. He took Federico to the next room where he berated him for embarrassing him in public. How could he act as if he had no respect for the name he had. His family was owed more than his degradation. Perhaps he would be happier without the luxuries he so easily had.

Federico could do nothing but laugh at his brother who seemed to turn more and more purple with rage. "Careful brother, you will pop a button on your vest." With that he got up and left to seek out more wine. After some time Philippe went to the front of the room and touched his fork to his wine glass.

"Ladies and gentlemen, loyal citizens of Kalebeth, I am deeply honored tonight to be in your company as we celebrate my son's entrance to the University of Romagnola. As you all know it took many years of study and excellence to get to this point and it is with great pleasure that I offer a toast to my son Enrico for many more years of success." Federico could not listen to this anymore. There is father was in front of everyone telling lies that everyone knew to be lies while Enrico stood at his side feigning embarrassment. It was enough to cause embarrassment at such a sight. He would have no more of it, so he got up and walked toward his father and brother, but before he could say anything his father spoke again. "Here comes my younger son Federico to wish his brother success in the future." Federico couldn't help but notice the emphasis his father put on the word younger. He knew that he was expected to say something, but he could not possibly say anything good about his brother. Whether it was the wine or something else, he didn't know what had overcome him, but before he knew it he was set in his tirade.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so much for honoring my OLDER brother by coming here tonight. It certainly took him long enough to reach this point so an opulent celebration was of course in order. As for me, the Younger son, I must do my father's will and congratulate the so called accomplishment of Enrico." Philippe and Enrico were enraged and Philippe spoke up before Federico could say anymore. There was laughter from the crowd at the words of Federico and his obvious swaying from drink didn't help the matter.

"Forgive my son. He knows not what he says. As you can see he is a little unwell, so will bid you all goodnight." Philippe forcefully led Federico from the room where he commenced on screaming and yelling at him until he was blue in the face. Federico sat there and laughed at his father, which only enraged Philippe more. "If you ever do such a thing again, I will disinherit you and turn you out of this house. Now be gone from my sight this instant." Federico left the room and laughed at the threat. What inheritance did he really have as the second son?

When Federico was gone, Philippe was about to enter the ballroom when a servant brought him an urgent letter. He was annoyed at first at being bothered with a missive during a ball, but when he saw the royal seal he tore it open.

My dear brother,

I am sorry to be bearer of bad tidings, but I must request your presence in
Romagnola at once. Our father the King has taken a turn for the worse and it is feared he will not survive the week. Please make haste to us as soon as possible. I know father would want you here with him.

Yours,

Lorenzo

Philippe told the servants to have their bags packed and then went into the room to tell his guests of the unfortunate news. He told them they were welcome to stay the night, but that he and his sons would be leaving in the morning for Romagnola.

 

 

Chapter 2

It was well into the afternoon when the Duke and his sons reached the palace. Philippe made his way directly towards the King's private apartments, leaving Federico and Enrico to their own devices. He found his brother Lorenzo in the sitting room outside the king's bedchamber, standing before the fire and looking down into the flames.

"Well, brother," said Philippe.

"Ah, thank goodness you've come!" said Lorenzo, turning around with a start.

"Can I see him?"

"Father is sleeping now, as comfortably as they can make him, but the physicians say he will not live. It is a matter of days."

Philippe sighed and sank into a chair. "Well, it's good news for you, at any rate, I suppose."

"How can you say such a thing?"

"You'll get to be king, and sooner than you expected."

"Thank heaven I was not born with such a mercenary mind. To have nothing but that sort of thought in one's mind at such a time!"

"If father is dying, poor man, there is nothing to be done about it. We must think of the future. Are you prepared to be king?"

"My younger brother, and you speak to me like this?"

"You will have to marry now, you know. It is more imperative than ever."

Lorenzo turned a little pink.

"What is the matter?" said Philippe, eyeing him shrewdly.

"I wanted to speak to you on just such a subject. I do intend to marry, very soon. I only want to know if I ought to tell father, or if it would only make him anxious, worrying about the details and settlements and whatnot. What do you think?"

"Are you actually engaged?" said Philippe sharply. "To whom?"

"There is something in the tone of your voice, brother, that I do not like," said Lorenzo coolly. "I do wish you would endeavor to correct it."

"Do you not realize that the fate of the kingdom rests on you now? Do you not realize the supreme importance of your decisions? Oh, if only I'd been born first! I have the proper sort of mind for this business. I would not be prattling on about tones of voice at such a time!"

"What, and have that sorry excuse for a man you call your son rule over this kingdom? Thank heaven that was averted."

Philippe stood up and gave his brother a stony glare. "I could knock you into the fire right now and then everything would be settled quite to my liking."

"You're too small."

The Duke raised his fist in anger, but then thought better of it, paused, and turned and paced about the room a couple of times before facing his brother again.

"Well," he said at last, coldly and calmly, "will you not at least tell me what lady you have honored with your choice? If you are asking my advice, you ought to tell me that much."

"Lady Julia Fountainebleu, the daughter of the Earl of Beufort. We have grown very close in recent months. She and I are quite attached to one another, and I mean to marry her."

"What?" cried Philippe, so loudly that they could hear the servants jump in the next room. "Her father is only an earl! They are a very good sort of people, I imagine, but she is not for you!"

"I think she is."

Philippe walked over to the wall, and softly banged his head against it. "Do you not realize that you have a royal bloodline to protect? Or do you not realize that with our border conditions so shaky, your marriage must make us a good alliance? Or do you simply not understand that as a public figure, your marriage must be for the public good? How you can talk such rot about attachments is beyond me!"

"I realize perfectly well that as king, I may do as I like."

"That is exactly the wrong idea. As king, you have no right to be so selfish."

"After my behavior to her, she has every right to expect I will marry her," Lorenzo said hotly. "I could not do otherwise and call myself a man of honor."

"Man of honor? And yet you put your feelings for this girl ahead of your duty to your family and your country?" Philippe cried. "It makes me ill to think of it -- the ruin you will lead us to, if this is the way you think! Well, in answer to your question, I think you had better not tell father. Not unless you wish to finish him off this moment." With that, he stormed out of the room, and into his father's chamber. Lorenzo in turn stormed out into the corridor, not noticing Federico, who had been lingering behind the door.

The king was awake, and welcomed Philippe with a shaky wave of his hand. "Well, my son, I am glad you came in time."

"How do you feel, father?"

"Bah! How do you think I feel? I heard you shouting out there, something to do with duty, and a woman, I think?"

Philippe sighed.

"Out with it!" said the king. "I haven't got the time."

"Lorenzo is planning a most unsuitable marriage."

"What? But I have been planning a marriage for him. Our neighbor, King Percival, has a daughter Beatrice. Lorenzo must marry, and I want him to marry her."

"Does he know this? For he certainly did not mention Princess Beatrice to me."

"No, I have not told him yet. I was going to send for him when you came in."

"He wants to marry Lady Julia Fountainebleu."

The king began to cough and choke, and Philippe was obliged hastily to give him a swig of his medicine.

"A mere earl's daughter? Good heaven! Well, Beaufort does have a great deal of land ... but that family has fallen a great deal from what it used to be. This Lady Julia is much too far removed from Lorenzo in rank! How does he even know her?" Philippe opened his mouth to reply, but his father held up his hand and said, "Wait, do not tell me, I do not want to know."

"What do you want me to do, father?"

"Well, this Lady Julia business has to be stopped. I will be under the ground by the end of the week -- Lorenzo must take things more seriously. There must be a marriage of alliance. I will not leave a shaky kingdom. Princess Beatrice is young and healthy -- there will be heirs aplenty in no time. You must support me in this Philippe -- you must be my agent. You were always the clear-headed one, to be sure. Sometimes I wish that you had been the firstborn. Though I pray heaven that eldest of yours will never sit on my throne."

Philippe clenched his teeth, but being the clear-headed one, as the king had said, he merely said, "I will support you, father."

"Good. Call Lorenzo in. We will take care of this nonsense right now."

The prince was duly called, and as soon as the door was shut his brother and father lit into him with all their combined strength. For an hour and a half without ceasing, they lectured him. They presented to him the inferiority of Lady Julia Fountainebleu's station, the necessity of a state marriage, the suitability of Princess Beatrice, the importance of duty, and so on until Philippe was hoarse and the king was too weary to continue and the physicians ordered his sons out of the room. One or the other of them Lorenzo might have been able to shout down, but he could not fight them both. He left the room with drooping shoulders, and without another word to his brother, went off to his own room to think.

Lorenzo didn't know what to do. Should he betray his family and his country for the woman he loves or should he do his duty? What was more important to him? He spent hours going back and forth in his mind. There had to be some way to make everyone happy, but what could that be?

As the sun started to break through the clouds in the early morning and the dew could be seen glistening on the grape leaves outside the window, Lorenzo knew it was time. He didn't know how he would be able to tell Julia what he had decided. He knew that she would hate him forever, but what was he to do. He was the heir to the throne and his happiness meant nothing when the happiness of millions was at stake. He left the note he had penned to his father with his answer. He would marry Princess Beatrice and do his duty to his country and to his family. With that final thought he went to the stables. He didn't want to bother any of the servants, as it was still quite early, so he saddled his own horse and road quickly away from the house. He didn't feel like seeing anyone at this time. He had a long ride to Julia's estate and he knew how torturous it would be. He could not bear to bring such pain to her, but he had to for her own piece of mind as well as his. He would not allow anyone else to tell her and he feared that if he waited long the news of his engagement would reach her. He needed to explain to her why he was doing what he was doing.

As the sun started to set he finally caught glimpse of Julia's home. He was glad that she was spending time at her father's country estate because it gave him more time to come up with the proper phrasing for his confrontation. He feared what he would say to Julia's father in excuse for his late and unexpected arrival, but he knew there was no turning back now. He rode up to the door and knocked. It was some time before a servant answered, but that was to be expected since it was far past the hour of calling. The family would be just sitting down to dinner. Finally the door opened.

"Oh your highness. We did not expect the honor. Please come in. I am afraid only Lady Julia is home this evening. The rest of the family has gone to visit a neighbor for the night. They will be back tomorrow. If you would wait just a moment, I will fetch Lady Julia." The butler bowed deeply and Lorenzo waited. He sat upon the settee, but he was quickly on his feet again. He paced in front of the fire and then stopped to stare into its depths. He saw flashes of the happy times he had spent with Julia. His father had indulged his fancy, but when it came down to marriage he would not be moved. Why did he have to be the heir to the throne? Life would have been so much easier had he been born to a poor farmer.

It seemed like hours had gone by when Julia finally made an appearance in the drawing room. "Oh Lorenzo my love, I did not expect you. What a wonderful surprise." She came toward him with a smile on her face, but it quickly turned to a questioning look when she saw the pained expression on Lorenzo's face. "What is the matter? Why do you look so sad? Your father has not taken a turn for the worse I hope?"

"Dear Julia. How can I ... I do not know what I shall do. I could never. My father..." Lorenzo stumbled with his words. The speech he had planned completely left his head.

"Lorenzo tell me what is wrong. I must know so that I can help to bring you comfort." Julia said with a worried look. She placed her hand on his arm, but he quickly withdrew it and walked to the window. "Lorenzo why are you acting in this way? Please I beg of you tell me what is wrong."

Lorenzo finally turned toward her. His face was set in a stern glare. He looked at Julia standing by the fire. He felt like he would blink and she would be swallowed up by the flames. He himself wanted to be swallowed by the flames.

"You are frightening me Lorenzo." Her words broke his trance.

"Lady Julia, I must tell you something which I know you will not like and I do not like saying it to you."

"Speak Lorenzo. Why are you being so cold to me?"

"It pains me to say this to you, but I wanted to be the one to tell you. I am to be married in three weeks to Princess Beatrice. I must do my duty to my country." At this Julia turned her back to him. He could see her shoulders shaking and he knew she was crying. It hurt so much to know that he was the cause of this. He had told her many times that he would always protect her, but he had broken that promise. Several tears fell down his own cheeks as he said the next thing. "I know I told you we would always be together, but I cannot sacrifice the happiness of so many people for my own selfish feelings. Please understand me."

With this she broke down. She thought that she could hold back until he was gone, but knowing he was there and could not be with her was too painful. She sunk to her knees and tried to stop the sobs that were coming from her body. Lorenzo watched her and his heart broke even further. He couldn't stand it. He had to leave. "I am so sorry Julia. I want you to know that I will always love you." He walked to the door and turned one last time. She was crouched on the floor with her face in her hands. She looked so helpless that Lorenzo started to shake. He couldn't leave her like this. He couldn't let her cry anymore. As painful as it was he walked towards her and put his arms around her. She cried and cried against his chest as she clung to his neck. Lorenzo cried also, more than he had ever cried before. Finally she stopped, her body still shook with the remnants of the tears but she looked into his eyes.

"I understand your duty to your family and I know it is wrong of me to say this. I should be angry with you and ban you from ever coming to see me again, but I cannot." Her voice was shaky and she stopped for a moment to make sure what she said came out right. "I know that you will always be my one true love and that I will never love another like I love you, so if I cannot have you for the rest of my life, let me have you tonight."

"I could not take your innocence. It would be wrong. You would be a fallen woman. I will not allow that." Lorenzo protested with vehemence.

"I don't care. This is my one request and if you have any decency you will fulfill it." Julia stood up from him and put out her hand. What was he to do? He wanted so badly to take her hand and to love her, but he knew it would be wrong. Or would it? If they both loved one another why should it be wrong? For once in his life he decided to listen to his heart because from that point on his heart would not play any role whatsoever in his love life. He took her hand and she led him from the room to her bedchamber.

Lorenzo knew that he must cherish every moment he had left with Julia, so he went as slowly as he could. He knew this was her first time and he feared hurting her. "Are you sure you want to do this?" She nodded her head and let him love her. When she cried out he stopped. "Are you alright? We can stop." He said with feeling.

"No, I am fine. Please love me." She smiled up at him and he kissed her. Tonight was going to be a night neither would ever forget.

The next morning, Lorenzo awoke early. He knew that he should leave, but he couldn't bear to let Julia go. She was so beautiful lying against his chest. How could he possibly give her up now? Just then his father and his brother entered his head with their lectures and talks of duty and honor. He saw all his people looking to him to help them and he knew what he had to do. He didn't think he could bear to say goodbye to her again, so he slowly and carefully removed himself from her embrace. He got dressed and went to her writing table. There he wrote her a short note.

My love,

I shall never forget you or stop loving you

He left the note on the bed next to her and brushed his hand against her cheek one last time before he turned to leave. He then walked to the door and left.

The next three weeks went by in a blur. Lorenzo went through the motions, but if asked to recall what he had done would not be able to remember. He was still to meet his bride, but it didn't matter. He could marry anyone now and it wouldn't matter. If he couldn't have Julia there was no one, so when the day of his wedding arrived he did not show any excitement. Everyone in Kalebeth seemed to have come to Romagnola for the festivities. People lined the streets to get a glimpse of the happy new couple, but Lorenzo didn't feel like being in public. As he rode in his carriage to the church he put on a smile, but those who knew him knew that it did not reach his eyes. His father and brother were in the carriage with him and the smiled and waved to the crowd. In the carriage behind them was the rest of the royal party. Enrico enjoyed waving to the crowd, but Federico just looked bored. He waved every now and then to a passerby, but he found all this ado rather boring. He knew that his uncle was unhappy at his marriage and he did feel for him a little.

The carriages pulled up to the church and they all entered. The ceremony would begin shortly.

 

 

Chapter 3

The ceremony was all that could be desired by the good people of Romagnola. The women shed their tears and the gentlemen smile approvingly at the new couple. For Lorenzo, he barely remembered anything of the ceremony. Sure his bride was beautiful and had a kind face, but he could not get the face of Julia out of his head. Before he knew it, he was walking arm and arm down the aisle a married man, he would never be with Julia again. He looked over to his father and brother who nodded approvingly in his direction. Next to his brother sat Enrico and Federico, his nephews. Two more different brothers, except for maybe himself and his own brother, there never were. Finally he looked over to his bride who to his surprise had tears in her eyes. Immediately he felt bad for being so rude and barely acknowledging her presence. She too was doing the will of her father regardless of her own feelings. He was determined to have a talk with her before they had to go to the wedding feast.

They entered the vestibule of the church and finally Lorenzo was given a chance to speak with his bride. "Princess, you must forgive my foul mood. I assure you that you are not the cause. I am proud to be your husband. You are truly very beautiful and I am lucky to be your husband. Our two kingdoms have a great alliance." Beatrice turned to her new husband and bowed her head.

"Thank you your highness. I will do all in my power to serve you and your kingdom. Please forgive my tears. They are not meant for you but for myself. I was overcome by all the sudden events and I fear life is moving more quickly than I anticipated. I am honored to be a part of you family."

"Please, do not speak of servitude. Though I am your husband, you are also my wife and I will endeavor to serve you as well. I look on this marriage as a partnership. I know it is not what is done, but I have always disapproved of marriages consisting of a leader and a follower. I believe we will be much happier if we work together. I will try to be the best husband I know how to be and I hope you will not feel uncomfortable in approaching me ever. I want no coldness between us." Beatrice smiled at this. She had feared that she was going to be lost forever when her father told her she was to marry Prince Lorenzo of Kalebeth. She was happy now that he seemed to be a kind and generous man.

"Thank you your highness. You have put my mind much at ease. I admit that I feared what was to become of me in my new country."

"Please call me Lorenzo, we are after all married and I do not believe in such formality between husband and wife. We must reserve such titles for the public. In private you would honor me by using my Christian name." Beatrice smiled.

"I would be honored to call you Lorenzo and you must call me Beatrice." A servant knocked on the door and told them it was time to join the rest of the guests.

"Well my dear, shall we face them together then?" Beatrice smiled and took Lorenzo's arm. Perhaps this marriage wouldn't be as horrible as she thought. The only thing left to fear would be the wedding night. Fear of the unknown is always greatest.

The wedding feast was very hectic for the new couple. Everyone wanted to pay his or her respects to the new princess. Lorenzo held Beatrice's hand through the whole reception and she was glad because he gave her the encouragement that she needed. Lorenzo watched his new bride and couldn't help but smile. He would never love her like he loved Julia, but she seemed very sweet and if he had to marry another he was glad it was her. He knew she was nervous about this evening and he couldn't help but admit nervousness himself, so when it came time for everyone to retire for the evening Lorenzo offered his arm to Beatrice as they walked out of the room to the sound of applause from everyone. They both blushed immensely and when they were finally in their own chambers they gave a sigh of relief. Lorenzo saw that Beatrice was very nervous, so he poured her a glass of champagne that she gratefully accepted. "Your rooms are right through that door. I believe your maid is already waiting for you. Please take all the time you need." Beatrice shyly bowed her head and left the room.

After she left the room, Lorenzo poured himself a drink and stared at the fire. He couldn't help but get Julia's face out of his head. He wanted to be a good husband to his wife, but his love was out there somewhere hurting as he was hurting. He shook his head and closed his eyes. He would not think of Julia on this night. This was his wedding night and all his attention would be on his new bride, so he went to his own chamber to get undressed.

With his marriage he had been given new apartments. There were several rooms at his disposal; his own bedchamber, dressing room, and study, as well as the master suite and rooms for his wife. There were so many changes in his life right now that he didn't know what to think about first. He quickly undressed, which is an understatement really because he was in his formal regalia for the wedding. It took quite some time to get all the medals, sword and sashes that he was wearing off. His valet helped him into his robe and then bid him good night. Once the valet left the nervousness really started to kick in. This was the moment of truth. He would go back into the master suite to await his bride.

He feared that he would have to wait quite a while in the suite because he knew that Beatrice would probably want to put off the inevitable as long as possible, so he was quite surprised when she returned to him twenty minutes later. She looked beautiful in her nightdress and he couldn't help but stare at her for a few moments. She blushed at his gaze. "You look beautiful Beatrice, truly."

"Thank you Lorenzo. It was a gift from my mother. I feel like I am wearing nothing at all in this." She blushed an even deeper red.

"Remind me to thank your mother in the morning." When he realized that he had spoken out loud he too turned a deep shade of red. "Forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive. You are quite a handsome man yourself and I would be dishonest if I didn't admire you." Lorenzo found his new wife charming. She was exactly what he would have wished for in a wife, well almost. He put his hand out to her and she hesitantly gave her hand to him. He kissed it and then turned it over so he could kiss her palm. He wanted to make sure she was as relaxed as possible.

"Would you like another glass of champagne?" he asked her as she shook her head.

"Thank you no. My head is already spinning enough." When she realized what she said she blushed again.

"Please do not be embarrassed. Come sit and talk to me for a while. I want you to be perfectly at ease." Whether that comment was more directed at her or to himself he didn't know. He led her to the chaise in front of the large fireplace where they sat down together. He asked her all about her family and her home and he in turn told her about his home. They found themselves much at ease in each other's company while talking about all things. The fire had started to die in the fireplace, and Lorenzo knew the time had come. He stood up and offered his arm to his bride and she tentatively took it. They walked over to the giant bed that took up most of the room. He drew the curtains around them to keep the warmth inside. It was quite dark and he was glad because then she couldn't see how nervous he was. She too was probably grateful for the darkness.

Tentatively he put his hand on either side of her face and brought her to him for a kiss. Their lips met and much of the tension fell away. He helped her into the bed and she helped him untie his robe. He in turn pulled hers from her shoulders. She shivered as he ran his hands down her arms.

You are cold?"

"Oh no, I am perfectly warm." Lorenzo smiled and then took off his dressing gown. He then helped her remove hers. There was now nothing holding them back, so Lorenzo kissed her again and she began to move her arms around his neck and gradually began to respond to his caresses.

The next morning, Lorenzo was the first to awaken. He looked down at Beatrice who was still asleep in his arms. She truly was very beautiful and had been a passionate lover. He watched her sleep for about ten minutes when he was interrupted by a knock on the door. Not knowing who that could be as he was assured that he would not disturbed he removed himself from his wife, careful not to awaken her. He put on his robe and left the warmth of the bed. He was immediately greeted by the coldness of the room. The fire had gone out completely over night and since he left instructions not to be disturbed, no servant had come to replenish it in the morning. He reached the door quickly and opened it to find his brother on the other side. This was a sight he did not expect. "Come to make sure I went through with it did you?" He said in a hushed but forceful voice.

"Lorenzo that is not the reason I have come, but from the sight of you I can tell that you have." Philippe said with a laugh. "I am afraid I have come on much more urgent news. "Father has taken a turn for the worse in the night. I think yesterday's celebrations must have been too much for him. The doctor is with him, but doesn't believe he will be in this world much longer. Please get dressed and join us. Father would like to speak with you." Lorenzo was shocked at the news. He may not have liked his brother and his father very much, but they were still family and he loved them. He shut the door and sat down in front of the cold fireplace.

"What is it Lorenzo?" He was startled when he felt Beatrice's hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her and she looked even more beautiful with her hair falling gently around her shoulders and on top of the blanket she had wrapped around herself.

"My father has taken a turn for the worse and it isn't expected he will live for more than a few hours. He wants to see me."

"Then you must go to him. Let me call for a servant to help you dress."

"No, no, there is no need. I will dress myself. Thank you, I will ring for a servant to bring you some food and prepare a bath for you."

"That won't be necessary. I too will dress myself. Please let me join the rest of the family. As your wife I want to be with you. She gently stroked his arm and smiled at him. He looked down at her and brought her into his arms. She could feel him shake with unshed tears and she gently rubbed his back until he was able to compose himself. "Now you go get dressed and I will do the same. Although I will need your help with my laces."

"I am at your service. Thank you, thank you for everything." He squeezed her hand and then went to dress quickly so he could help her. He did not know how to lace up a corset, so it was through much struggle that he finally got the laces right and she was able to put on her dress and pull back her hair in a simple bun. He offered his arm to her and they made their way to his father's chambers.

They were greeted by the whole family in the sitting room outside the King's bedchamber. Some food had been laid out, but from the looks of it had only been touched by Enrico who seemed to be gorging himself on a piece of ham and a buttered biscuit. Whatever was he going to do with his nephew? Federico was standing in the corner and had a dark look on his face that made him unreadable. He never really did understand his other nephew. Philippe came up to him and told him that the King wished to speak with him. Lorenzo nodded and followed his younger brother into the bedchamber. The King was lying in the middle of the great bed looking very pale.

Lorenzo was shocked to see such a change in his father from only yesterday. "Come here my son." The King spoke in a soft and strained voice. "Philippe please give us a moment." Philippe bowed and left the room.

"My son, I am sorry to have caused you pain by forcing you into marriage, but you must know that I had the kingdom in mind. I know that you will be a great king when I am gone and I want you to know that I am very proud of you. I know that I do not say it enough, but I love you Lorenzo." Lorenzo had trouble keeping the tears from pouring down his cheeks. He knew that he had to be strong for his father, but he was having a great difficulty. He took his father's weak and shriveled hand that was lying on the bed.

"Thank you father. I love you too. Beatrice will make a good wife and a great queen."

"Enough of this. I suppose my time is coming to an end. I feel like sleeping. Please go join the rest of the mourners who are counting the hours till they get their inheritance and let an old man sleep in peace." Lorenzo laughed and then kissed his father goodnight and left. When he entered the room the first person he saw was Beatrice who was looking at him with sympathy. He went to her and kissed her cheek then told everyone else that it wouldn't be long now. They all filed into the king's bedchamber and watched him sleep for what felt like hours, but was really only two hours. When he gave his last breath and the doctor declared him dead everyone one let out a breath.

"The King is dead. God rest his soul." The doctor then removed the signet ring from his hand and gave it to Philippe. Philippe then took the ring to Lorenzo.

"The King is dead, long live the King." He placed the ring on Lorenzo's hand and Lorenzo just stood there for a moment. He didn't know what to do. He was now the king and he had no idea how to run a kingdom. Beatrice saw that her husband was stunned so she stood up and kissed his hand. He looked at her and smiled then said, "Please ring for the servants. The bells must be rung to show the king's passing.


Julia had been sad ever since Lorenzo had left her. She didn't know how she would ever be able to continue on without her love. She knew that he was to be married this day and it broke her heart. She thought she could spend one night with him and that would be enough to keep her, but she was wrong. She didn't know how she would ever survive such sadness. When she heard the news that he was now king, she was happy for him, but sunk even further into depression when there was news of how loved the new queen would be. It wasn't until the fifth day where she woke up to find herself unwell that she found a way. Though it would be difficult to hide the true identity of the child she had growing inside of her, she knew that she would always have a part of her love with her. It would be her secret. She didn't know what she would tell her family, but it wouldn't be so bad now. She now had a reason to live.

It was a lucky thing that the expected child had strengthened Julia's spirits somewhat, for when the admission was finally drawn out of her by her parents, she needed all the strength she could muster.

"Julia," said Lord Beaufort, "you've been feeling ill for nearly a week. I am going to send for our physician."

"Oh, no, father!" she replied, a little too hastily. "You needn't do that."

"Why do you look so alarmed? You've always liked Mr. Norbury."

"No, no," she said. "It isn't that at all. It's only that ... I feel perfectly well. There is no need."

"What is the matter, Julia?" asked her father solicitously, taking her hand and gently leading her to a chair. "Your spirits have been so depressed lately, and now you seem suddenly anxious. Will you not tell me what is wrong?"

"Yes, indeed, Julia," said her mother, coming into the room. "We must have you in good health and good spirits by the time the season starts up."

Beaufort glanced sideways at his wife. "Season or not, Julia, your health is important to us."

"Oh, Papa," Julia cried. "Truly, I am not ill..." Unconsciously she rested her hand on her abdomen. Both her parents caught the gesture, but interpreted it in different ways.

"Do you feel sick, again?" said her father, with a sympathetic look. But Lady Beaufort's eyes suddenly filled with a suspicious gleam.

Remembering all the nights over the past month she and her husband had been away from home, she said sharply, "Why don't you want a doctor? Are you afraid of what he would discover?"

Julia did not have the presence of mind to affect innocence and confusion. Instead her eyes grew wide with fright. "Mama, I..."

"Julia! What have you done? You are with child, aren't you?" cried her mother.

"Margaret!" said Beaufort. "What in the world put such a thing into your head? Are you mad, to be accusing the child so?"

"She is not a child anymore," said Lady Beaufort, eyeing her daughter with distaste.

"Julia, surely..." Lord Beaufort stopped short, when he saw that his daughter was doubled over with tears. He gave his wife an angry glance, and knelt by Julia's side. "Don't cry, my dear. Your mother does not mean to be so cruel. She does not know what she is saying." He patted her hand.

But Julia lifted her head and whispered, "No, Papa, it is true. It is true!"

Beaufort reeled and sat back with a thud. "What! Who has done this to you? What blackguard has done this?"

She only shook her head.

"You must tell me his name, Julia," he said sternly. "If someone has imposed himself upon you..."

"He did not impose himself," said Julia, quietly but firmly. "I consented."

"What a shameless..." began Lady Beaufort, but her husband cut her off.

"Enough, Margaret. Julia, you realize that you will be letting him go free while you bear all the shame and trouble yourself? That is not noble; that is foolishness. You must tell me. I cannot let such a thing go unpunished."

"You shall have to, Papa. I cannot betray him."

"Foolish, foolish girl! Julia, my only daughter ... I..." he was too overcome to speak for a moment. Lady Beaufort merely gazed at her daughter with narrowed eyes. "Julia," resumed her father, when he found his voice again. "Well, you cannot stay in this house, of course. Although, if you were to reveal the name... but if you do not obey me, you will not remain under my roof."

"I understand, sir."

"Very well, then," he said at last, resignedly.

And in a few days, Julia was secreted far away at the country cottage of a farmer named Brown.


The king's funeral was a magnificent affair. The deceased monarch lay in state at the cathedral for many days, so that his subjects might come from far and wide to pay their respects. The day of the burial, the church itself and the streets around it were filled with mourners. King Lorenzo and Queen Beatrice sat beside the coffin, and Philippe and his sons sat nearby. Lorenzo gave the eulogy, praising his father's strength of character and concern for his country, and only the hardest-hearted were not moved by his speech. Even Federico was stirred.

When he again resumed his seat, Lorenzo gazed out at the multitude in the cathedral. The nobility were seated in the front, and he searched among them for one face in particular. She was not there, however. Both Lord and Lady Beaufort were present, and earlier in the week had expressed their sympathy very properly. But there was no sign of Lady Julia.

‘She must hate me now,' he thought to himself, ‘if she would not even come at my father's death.' He glanced to Beatrice at his side, and rebuked himself for thinking of Julia. He had no right to concern himself with her any longer. As king, all his attention must be on the needs of the state. And that included attention to his new wife. ‘Well,' he thought, ‘perhaps she is right not to come. We must lead our separate lives. It must all be forgotten. And if she can forget, so can I.' With that, he turned his mind back to the funeral, and held himself to the proper composure and sober state of mind throughout the rest of the ceremony, and the procession to the tomb.

 

 

Chapter 4

Enrico went off to university at the start of the term, as planned, and performed as poorly as expected. Federico followed in a year, and soon outstripped his brother in his studies, as he did in everything else. Even all Enrico's important connections could not undo his failing marks, and it irked the young man to no end to see his brother sailing idly through his classes, rarely bothering to attend lectures, and succeeding with ease.

Federico gained some enjoyment from the quest for knowledge, but he enjoyed his social life even more. He could be very charming when he liked, and got along easily with the other young men. But most of all, he got along with women. He was rarely without female company of an evening, and if he was, it was by his own choice, not because of a lack of willing partners. Being handsome, clever, and rich, he had his pick of all the barmaids, parlourmaids, tradesmen's daughters, and professors' daughters in the entire university town. His growing reputation as a rake made him all the more popular.

In another year or so, Enrico decided to leave school. It seemed to be a waste of time and money, and he was tired of watching Federico succeed while he himself failed so miserably. He was tired of people remarking that the younger son had obviously got all the talent in the family, or worse, asking him why he wasn't more like his brother. It simply wasn't right. He decided to go home where he would be appreciated.

Federico was not disheartened by his brother's departure; in fact, it barely gained his notice. His own life was growing rather more interesting at that time, and Enrico's concerns mattered very little to him. One afternoon, Federico was making his way through the town down a little street to his favorite tavern, when he heard a muffled cry off to one side. He glanced in the direction from which it came, and saw two people scuffling into a doorway. One was a young woman, and she was going against her will. Chivalry did not run rampant in Federico's nature, and under other circumstances, with friends and good wine waiting for him, he might have looked away and walked on. But something in her face arrested him, and he stopped short. She looked so small and frightened, and for an instant, he was taken with the strange notion that life could give him no greater reward than the opportunity to save her. He recognized the man, who had lodgings near his own, a clumsy brutish sort. ‘Going about it entirely the wrong way,' Federico thought to himself, as he approached. He put his hand on the man's shoulder and with one swift stroke wrenched him away from the girl. "Get out of here, Roquefort," Federico snarled.

Roquefort angrily took a swing at him, missed, and was promptly knocked flat by a return swing from Federico. When he pulled himself up, Federico raised a threatening fist again, and Roquefort turned and ran away.

"Are you hurt, miss?" Federico asked, turning to the young woman.

"No, sir, I thank you. You came just in time. I am very grateful to you."

"Think nothing of it," he replied, to his own astonishment. Ordinarily he would have suggested a way for her to pay the debt, but such a thing seemed callous now. "What is your name?" he asked instead.

"I am Madeline Brown," she replied, with such a smile that he was riveted to the spot.

"I am..." he stopped. "You may call me Federico."

"No," she said. "I know who you are. You are the son of the Duke of Chambertin. I am most honored, my lord. But you must not let me detain you. I know you must have many important things to do."

He laughed. "Not at all. Will you let me escort you on your way? I do not like to leave you till I have seen you safe to your destination."

She smiled that same lovely smile as he held out his arm. "Thank you." They chatted a little as they strolled slowly down the street. Miss Brown was the daughter of Professor Brown, who was filling in for another scholar who was abroad this term. Federico knew him -- he occasionally attended his philosophy lectures when he had nothing better to do. Miss Brown was in town to be secretary to her father -- run errands, copy letters, and the like. She had been on her way to post some letters when she had been stopped by Roquefort.

Federico gazed down at her as they walked. She had the loveliest smile he had ever seen! It was nothing like the coy and knowing smiles he was used to receiving from women. It was a simple, grateful, entirely pleasant expression. She seemed to see him not as an opportunity for money or fun, but simply as the knight who had saved her. No one had ever looked at him the way she did. She knew who he was, he thought to himself, surely she must know his reputation. But she seemed willing to give him the benefit of the doubt -- to assume the best about him, rather than the worst. She must trust him, if she was walking with him like this. And suddenly he wanted to gain and keep that trust.

After the letters were posted, they continued on walking together, arm in arm. They wandered down towards the river, and walked along beside the water, lost in each other's company. Federico marveled at himself. He had always avoided the innocent ones in the past -- they were too time-consuming and they always cried. But Madeline Brown did not strike him that way. She was innocent, yes, perhaps even a little naïve (‘She must be, if she trusts me,' he thought), but she was intelligent. Articulate, pretty, and kindhearted -- Federico had not known that such creatures existed, or that he could like them. But he liked Miss Brown, very much indeed, and she seemed to like him.

When at last they noticed the sun was setting, he brought her home, and asked if he might see her again. And so the riverside walks became a regular custom, and as the months went on, Federico, to his great surprise, found himself in what he supposed must be love. Madeline believed in him, and expected much from him, and with her, he was the best person he could be. He was unable to change completely from his old ways -- it was difficult to hold himself to her standards when she was not with him -- but he did what he could, for her sake.

"There is good in you, Federico," she said to him once, towards the end of that summer, as they were sitting sprawled on the riverbank in the late afternoon sun, "I know there is. I see it -- I wish you would let the world see it."

"The world has not been very good to me," he had replied, lightly. More seriously, he went on, "But you have. I know not what I am to the world, but you bring out whatever there is of goodness in me. It is all you, Madeline." He kissed her softly, then said, "Stay with me always, Madeline?"

She looked down, and brushed at an imaginary speck of dust on her dress. "As long as I can, Federico," she said. "But you know as well as I we come from very different walks of life. I am surprised it has lasted this long."

"Marry me, then."

"Don't tease me," she said, with tears beginning to form in her eyes. "That sort of thing only works in fairy tales."

"I am perfectly serious," he said. "Fairy tale or not, when have you ever known me to be kept from what I want?"

"And you want me?"

"More than anything," he said, looking her with intense dark eyes.

"Then I will," she said simply.

A few days later, she was called out of town with her father. Federico was in a sour mood whenever she was gone, and tended to fall back on his old habits without her steadying presence. His mood grew even more sour, however, when he received a terse letter from his brother:

F:

Come home at once. Urgent.

-E.

Federico grumbled to himself about being called away from university by his brother. Just because his brother cared nothing of his lessons didn't mean he didn't. His brother probably had a wardrobe emergency or something of that sort. Besides, he didn't want to leave Madeline. He thought back to the happy times she showed him. She was the first person to treat him with absolute kindness and love. Nobody in his family ever showed him that depth of affection. His brother's summons was taking him away from the only truly good person he had ever known. To make things worse, the temperature was quite cold and the skies looked like they were about to open up. He still had quite a bit a distance ahead of him to go and he feared that he would arrive in a very dark mood. He hoped whatever his father wanted was important.

Federico urged his horse into a quicker pace and pulled the collar of his great coat up higher to protect him from the wind. As he passed field after field of cow pastures and vineyards he only became more and more annoyed. As he was approaching the turn to the little village of Braford he tried to turn his mind from the cold wind that stung his eyes and face. He couldn't imagine how anyone would want to live in such a quaint little village. There were no amusements and he was sure no pretty women. Just as he was approaching the center of town his horse threw a shoe, angering him even further. Romagnola was still hours away and now he would be delayed even more by his horse. He dismounted and went in search of the blacksmith, but when he looked around the town seemed deserted. Where was everyone? He was cold and hungry and just wanted to be on his way again. He wanted to go back to the arms of his sweet Miss Brown, but he knew that he had to do his family's bidding and come to town. Madeline, before he left, had told him the most interesting news. She had been to her hometown to visit her mother just the week before and it turned out some young noble woman was staying with her who had gotten herself in the family way. Federico was sure that having the knowledge that a Lady Julia was with child out of wedlock would come in handy some day. He had a feeling that even though he didn't know whom Lady Julia was; he knew that there was something important about her. He chuckled to himself at what powers he could have with this knowledge. He then wondered if he had begotten any bastard children, but decided he wouldn't think about that. What did it matter any way. Little did he know that Lady Julia had indeed given birth to a healthy son whom she very shortly after had to say goodbye to as she was summoned to Romagnola as well. She was to be married to none other than Enrico, Federico's own brother.

Federico heard some noise down the lane and when he looked up he saw what looked to be the whole town behind a hearse. ‘So that was why nobody was here to tend to me,' he thought to himself. Who would think that the death of some little nobody would shut down an entire town? It was all rather annoying. Federico saw that there was a man walking alone behind the carriage with his head down. Not far behind him was an elderly woman carrying a small baby. The hearse passed Federico and he was grateful to see that the innkeeper did not follow it, but instead came back to the inn where Federico demanded a room to rest in while his horse was being tended.

"I'm sorry sir, but the whole town is at the funeral and the blacksmith won't be able to repair your horse until late tonight. Shall I fix up a room for you for the night?" The innkeeper said as he tried to stay as far away from the menacing man in front of him. He feared the man would hit him if he got too close.

"Don't you know who I am you insolent fool? I am the son of the Duke of Chambertin. My uncle is the King. How dare you tell me that I will have to spend the night in a town such as this?

"I'm sorry sir. Let me show you to the best suite and then I will have some wine and cheese sent up to you sir." The innkeeper hoped he would agree and was relieved when Federico nodded his head. He supposed it wouldn't hurt to have some food before he went about trying to get his horse's shoe fixed early enough for him to still leave that night.

Federico looked around at the small size of his chambers. He supposed they would have to do. He had to admit that the wine and cheese were quite good, so he did not even think about how much wine he had drank until he tried to stand up. The entire room spun and he decided he wanted the company of a woman, so he left his room in search of something to his taste. Not knowing where to go, he just walked and walked. He found himself walking by a small creek and was startled when he came upon a man sitting on the ground and staring into the cool water's depths. Federico jumped back as he came upon him, but due to his inebriated state, he slipped and fell right into the water. The man looked up and reached for Federico. When Federico realized what happened and saw the man with his arm out he grabbed it. "How dare you push me into this creek," he said angrily.

"Sir, you fell into the creek yourself. I am only trying to help you out again. I am Squire Perry. I did not expect anyone to come along here tonight. I am sorry if I frightened you."

"Frightened me ... Ha!! You didn't frighten me. You pushed me in for disturbing your solitude. To think that a peasant like you would push me into the water. Who do you think you are?" Federico slurred his words and Squire Perry had a hard time understanding him. The man before him was obviously too full of his own self importance to notice that he was quite drunk and had fallen on his own accord.

"I am sorry sir, but I was trying to find some place quiet to think. My wife was buried today and this was our favorite place to come." Squire Perry tried to hold back the tears that had yet fallen. All day at the funeral he knew that he had to be strong. He didn't even cry when his dear wife took her last breath. He still expected her to show up next to him as he waited by the water's edge. This was her favorite place. They had spent hours here. This was where he proposed to her and this was where she told him about little Annabelle. Now they would never share this place again. He didn't know how he had gotten here this evening. All he knew was that he had to get out of his house where he felt haunted. Kind Mrs. Brie had agreed to care for Annabelle while he got his affairs in order. His brother-in-law had gone back to town and he didn't want to be alone in his house. Instead he walked and walked and of course he ended up in this place.

"I don't care about your wife or you place. You pushed me in the water. I demand that you apologize." Federico said, interrupting Squire Perry's thoughts.

"Sir, I will not apologize for something I didn't do. Now let me help you out and show you the way back to the town." With that Federico pulled the man in the water with him. I'll show you how one should treat a nobleman. He held the man's head under the water, not noticing how Mr. Perry was thrashing about. When he finally stopped Federico released his grip and climbed out of the water.

"Insolent peasants who think they can attack a nobleman!" He then strode off toward the town and back to his bed.

The next morning Federico awoke with a horrible headache and groaned as he sat up. He must have had more to drink than he thought. He looked down and saw that he still wore his traveling clothes of the day before, but they were damp. He didn't know how they got that way, and assumed he must have spilled some water on himself. The last thing he remembered was sitting down for some wine and cheese in his room. He didn't bother spending much time thinking about what may have happened the evening before, so he rang for the innkeeper to bring him some food and to bring his horse around. He wanted to be off as soon as possible. The innkeeper said that his horse would be brought around when he brought up some food. Federico thanked him and tossed him a few coins. After the innkeeper left and he had eaten, he changed into fresh clothes and left the inn. As he was about to mount his horse he noticed a large group of people crowded around the fountain that stood in the center of town. He rode his horse over and stopped the first man he ran into. "What is going on here?" he demanded.

"Poor Squire Perry done killed himself last night. So upset he was by his poor wife's death. Now he done left his poor little girl all on her lonesome. Sad business it is." Federico shrugged and turned his horse the other way and rode out of town as fast as he could. He didn't want any more delays. Why anyone wanted to die for someone else he didn't know. He valued survival too much. He put all thoughts of Braford in the back of his mind and rode hard toward Romagnola.

 

 

© 2005 Copyright held by the author.

 

 

Back to Novel Idea