Category Archives: Serial Sunday

Serial Sunday: The Stolen Jewel – Episode Three

The Stolen Jewel

An Episodic Medieval Fantasy Romance

by

Kimberly A. Rogers

This is the third episode in The Stolen Jewel. Read from the beginning here.

20140628104241!Leighton-Stitching_the_Standard

Chapter Three

The Monster she knew or the laughing madman who stole her. What sort of choice was that? A simple one he claimed but she knew better. She was the one who would have to live with the decision. She was the one who knew the people the consequences of her decision would fall upon. “What of my father?”

Duke Ronan looked down at her, amusement still crinkling his eyes, and shrugged. “I’m certain he’ll be more than willing to return you to Mauger.”

Etain clenched her hands into fists then blushed as he raised an eyebrow and lightly squeezed her wrists. She had forgotten he was holding onto her. Still, she permitted frost to enter her voice as she raised her chin. “It is very easy for you to make such a jest. It was not your lands and people that Mauger threatened to burn and enslave if I attempted to flee this marriage.”

“Mauger will not carry out his threat if your father can convince him that he had no foreknowledge of my actions, which he did not. And that whining weasel Mauger keeps as his enforcer will have no choice but to attest that you were not taken until after the caravan had left Haderyn’s borders.” The duke bent his knees, dropping just far enough so they could look each other in the eyes. “This is your choice, my lady. I will not make it for you. And your father is not here to push your hand.”

Her choice. Etain looked away from his intense gaze. Her choice. She scanned the courtyard below. Most of the people, humans and gryphons alike, were watching them, watching her. What had he told them? Did they know that he meant to take her as wife? Or were they simply watching to see what his captive would do? Her father would demand she surrender to Sir Grimbol and his master. But . . . her father was not here. And if he were stronger, he would not have surrendered her to Mauger or, at least, he would have given her the chance to run.

She studied Ronan again. Mad fool, yes, but he had dared to defy Mauger. He had dared to defy the Monster of Cymru in one of the most blatant ways possible. She still was unsure of whether that made him brave or completely insane. Her choice. For once, it would truly be her choice about the direction her life took from this moment forward. It could also be her doom. But could it be worse than the doom that awaited her as the wife of the Monster of Cymru?

Etain looked up, searching Ronan’s eyes. They still crinkled with that hint of humor that vexed her so but now she looked deeper. She searched for the signs that would give away his cruelty, his malice, his lust for power and women, but there was none. His brown eyes didn’t show her everything but she could see beyond the humor an eagerness of some type and something stronger, something that was missing even from her father’s gaze. She could not find a word to give to that elusive trait but somehow she knew that he would not be the abuser Mauger was known to be . . . could she trust Ronan?

Perhaps, which was more than she could trust other men who would have dared to steal her away or even the man he had stolen her from. And for now that was enough. Etain uncurled her fingers, allowing them to rest on his wrists, no longer resisting. She nodded once. “I choose you.”

He grinned. “Excellent.” Then he turned to the gryphons and raised his arm. The magnificent creatures stepped back as he shouted, “Filbert!”

Etain flinched slightly, resisting the urge to cover her ears in case he decided to bellow again. But then she was distracted by the shuffling figure emerging from the shadows—the simple grey surcoat of Shaddai’s priests was too short for the lanky frame of its wearer and ended just below his knobby knees, his legs looked rather like twigs covered in matted dark brown moss and his broad feet were shod in worn leather sandals. The priest cleared his throat, drawing her attention from his scrawny frame to his face. Large eyes stared back at her, so wide that he looked startled but she suspected his rheumy blue eyes wore an expression of constant surprise. His mouth was thin and puckered, his nose was long and hooked at the end, while his ears stuck out and his dark hair had receded so his forehead seemed overly long. He offered a jerky bow that reminded her of a hunting stork. “Your grace?”

Ronan released one of her wrists but kept a firm hold of the other. “Come here, Filbert. The lady has given her consent. We will wed.”

Filbert blinked. His rheumy eyes turned to Etain, staring wildly. His large Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Her? When?”

“Now, Filbert.” The duke grinned, far too cheerful for a man whose own people were questioning his decision. “I’ll even ask Corydon to take you up for a brief tour of the citadel.”

The gryphon tiercel let out a loud screech that made the priest jump as though he were attempting to take flight or perhaps a child had pulled on his strings all at once. Etain could not help but think that neither the priest nor the gryphon was particularly pleased by Ronan’s offer. Filbert tugged at his surcoat, looking around wildly before his gaze once more returned to Etain. He looked her over, no doubt taking in her disheveled appearance, the rain had lightened to a steady drizzle but she probably still appeared half-drowned. “Perhaps the lady should change into-”

“Nonsense!” Ronan shouted jovially as he slapped the priest on the back of his shoulder with such force that the man bobbed awkwardly and flapped one arm to regain his balance. “None of this delaying and silly primping. We are simple, honest folk at heart. And this wedding shan’t be delayed a moment longer. There are witnesses aplenty and the sooner we complete the vows, the sooner we can seek shelter from the storm.”

The priest darted another nervous glance at Etain. She willed herself to present a strong and willing front. None could know that her knees quaked and threatened to give out as she allowed herself to wonder if she had made the right choice. She licked her lips then nodded. “Please. Let it be done without delay.”

She glanced at Ronan. This was her choice. She had given him her word when she chose him. She would not shirk it now. He was nodding to something the priest was saying but then he abruptly turned to her, the wide boyish grin from before back on his face. Then his grip on her wrist slid down so he gently cradled her hand in his, callouses making his touch rough but the pressure was light and would leave no hint of a bruise. “People of Aelwyd, hear me! This day I, Ronan of the house of Brynmor, do stand before you and in the sight of Shaddai to take as wife Etain of the house of Lugh.”

Her pulse was pounding so loudly that it became a dull roaring in her ears. She heard nothing that the priest said but everything Ronan said was as clear as if he were etching it onto her heart. Brown eyes held her gaze, amusement and something else flickering in their depths, as he rumbled, “Before Shaddai, I pledge to take you, Etain, as my wife. Through plenty and famine, joy and sorrow, sacrifice and reward, I will stand with you and in front of you as your shield. No harm will I allow to befall you if it is in my power to prevent it. I will give you my children, my lands, my every possession . . .” There was a pause but then he continued, completing the traditional vow, “and my heart.”

“My lady?” The priest’s voice squeaked a little, jarring her attention back to him and to the fact it was now her turn to pledge her life, her everything, to the strange man before her. He bobbed his head. “Repeat after me.”

Etain’s attention returned to the duke. His mouth was still curved by a lingering hint of the grin that made her want to smile back at him. She licked her lips then squared her shoulders and raised her chin, trying to look taller. Her voice was surprisingly steady as she recited the vows. “Before Shaddai, I pledge to take you, Ronan, as my husband. Through plenty and famine, joy and sorrow, sacrifice and reward, I will stand by your side. I shall keep your confidences and protect that which you entrust to my care—your lands, your possessions, your children, and your heart.”

“What is pledged before Shaddai may not be broken by any being. His blessings and grace shine down upon this marriage, may it bloom in love, prosperity, and children, and may the prosperity of your marriage spread to Aelwyd.”

She had done it. She had joined herself for life to the madman who dared to steal her away from that miserable caravan. Ronan’s grip on her hand tightened as he tugged her the scant step between them. His free hand touched the corner of her jaw and traced its line to her chin, making a shiver skitter down her spine. Fingers curling around her chin, he pushed until she titled her head back and then he captured her mouth in a kiss.

For a moment, just one thrilling moment, she lost herself to the kiss. But then the roaring of the crowd intruded on her senses, grating against her ears, and she stepped back, a fiery blush creeping up her neck and cheeks. Ronan maintained his grip on her hand, though. Her husband raised his free hand once more then shouted, “The feast has been laid in the hall. Let us enter and celebrate the return of our missing people and the arrival of my bride!”

The shouts climbed to a new deafening level as the gryphons added their own shrieks of delight. Ronan flashed her that grin of his and then he led her past the priest and across the walkway to a sturdy door too small for the gryphons to use. As they entered the corridor, Etain tried to keep track of the path her new husband chose but soon admitted defeat. Eventually they came to another door but when Ronan opened it, she gasped in unbidden delight at the sight of the large tub waiting only feet from the door. Steam rose in lazy plumes bearing the promise of the soothing embrace only a good bath could provide.

“I hope this means you will forgive me for making you stand in the rain for our wedding, my lady.”

Etain jumped then blushed. “My lord, I-”

“Ronan. We are married now, after all, and there’s no need to stand ceremony.”

“I didn’t know you knew how to stand on ceremony.”

As soon as the impulsive words slipped free, Etain wished them back. But Ronan tilted his head back and let out a hearty bark of laughter. “Oh yes, I think we’ll get on very well.” He grinned at her then bowed. “My lady, if you will forgive me, I must attempt to make myself look somewhat less disreputable before I return to your side. Clothes have been laid out for you once you have finished with your bath.”

He handed her a large key and then strode past the tub and the large bed beyond it to slip through a smaller door. It must have led to an antechamber since she caught the glimpse of a smaller tub before he pushed the door shut. Etain stared at the door until her stomach rumbled a complaint and she set her trembling fingers to undoing the laces of her soaked clothing. The tub and a change of clothes would set her physical appearance to rights. She was not so certain of what would straighten out the tangle of emotions she now felt within her breast. What path would her choice lead her down?

The Stolen Jewel Copyright © 2015 Kimberly A. Rogers and kimberlyrogerscfwriter.wordpress.com blog. All rights reserved. This story is a work of fiction and a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Illustration: “Stitching the Standard” by Edmund Leighton, 1911.

Serial Sunday: The Stolen Jewel – Episode One

The Stolen Jewel

An Episodic Medieval Fantasy Romance

by

Kimberly A. Rogers

The kingdom of Cymru is balanced on the edge of civil war. Tensions are high and cruel King Mauger intends to cement his rule with an heir but first he must take a wife, willing or no. Etain has no desire to wed the monster who wears the crown but when her father pledges her hand to him, she fears she is doomed to a life of misery. But raiders attack her wedding caravan and she is carried off by their masked leader. Duke Ronan’s boldness in spiriting away the tyrant’s intended seems half-mad to Etain, especially when they arrive at his keep to find a priest waiting to wed them. Ronan gives Etain a choice – she can wed him or he will send her back to her father . . . and the king.

20140628104241!Leighton-Stitching_the_Standard

Chapter One

“Father, no!” Etain clasped her hands against her waist to keep from clinging to her father’s tunic or twisting her own heavy velvet skirts. Her father did not tower over her by even a head but she still had to raise her chin slightly to meet his piercing grey eyes, her own pleading for him to find a way to deliver her from the horrid fate now awaiting her.

But the man who had always protected her, always listened to her requests, even if he did not always indulge her, only set his bearded jaw in a determined line. Though Lugh, Count of Haderyn, was not a tall man, he was broad. His square build was now cloaked in a scarlet doublet that strained across his chest and shoulders and contrasted with his close-cropped silvered brown hair. The bejeweled hilt of his sword in the shape of a rampant hippogriff matched the family crest emblazoned in silver on the jet clasp of his black frieze cloak. His boots were still caked in drying mud and his hunting gloves were yet clutched in his right hand, testifying that the news he bore had first interrupted his hunt. Now, though there was a hint of regret in his grey gaze, her father shook his head. “You have no choice, lass. I have no choice.” His deep voice gentled as he offered, “Mauger’s offer is a great honor.”

A shudder ran down the length of her spine. Disgust made her tone sharper than intended as she snapped, “He is a monster!”

“He is the king!” Her father stepped forward, shoving his leather gloves in his belt before engulfing her hands between his, as he hissed, “And as king, Mauger may lay claim to any maid in the kingdom. Even if I tried to deny him now that his eye has alighted on you, Etain, he would still have you as wife.”

Etain shook her head, recalling all too clearly the tales of butchery, overindulgence, debauchery, and cruelties too ghastly to be named. Everything in her recoiled at the thought of wedding the Monster of Cymru. “Please.”

The word was little more than a whisper but still Lugh cast a furtive look over his shoulder as though Mauger’s great brute of an emissary might burst into her chamber at any moment. Then he turned back to her, his solemn gaze now tinged with pity, and touched her cheek for a moment before he shook his head. “There is nothing to be done. If you fled, your attempted rebellion would lead to my lands being razed, our people slaughtered, and you would be paraded in chains to his fortress instead of travelling safely in a caravan that will cater to the comforts of Mauger’s betrothed. With his reputation, you should know that any attempt on your part to escape will only make his hand fall heavier on you when you are brought to him.”

She shuddered again, feeling as cold as if the fire burning merrily in the hearth was but an illusion. Everyone knew what had happened to Mauger’s last mistress. The daughter of a wealthy silk merchant whose only crime had been to wish an escape from the gilded cage Mauger had placed her in. The poor girl had been burned at the stake for treason after she defied a degrading command from the king. In her heart of hearts, Etain knew that Mauger’s wife would fare little better. But to escape was impossible and would cause even greater harm to her father and their people. The realization made her sink down into the chair from which she had sprung upon hearing her father’s news. Betrothed. She drew a hitching breath then slowly looked up at her father. However, there was no hitch in her voice as Etain quietly asked, “When will the caravan leave?”

“Tomorrow. As soon as the morning fast has been broken.”

She nodded, but did not permit herself to react. “I will summon Tura so we can pack.”

“According to the king’s emissary, you need only bring travelling clothes. When you arrive at Carchar, Mauger will give you a wardrobe fit for a queen.” Her father’s wan attempt at a smile failed to conceal his unease over the implicit command that Etain bring nothing of her old home, of her old life, with her. She wanted to bristle at the thought of leaving her precious books and the loom where her mother had taught her to weave the same tapestries that now brightened her father’s hall. But if she brought them, especially the books, she would no doubt be forced to watch as they were destroyed before Mauger punished her.

No. No, it would be far wiser to leave them here. She nodded slowly and murmured, “Tura will be relieved.”

The elderly lady’s maid was far more likely to huff and grumble about uppity lordlings even if the ‘lordling’ in question was the king. Her father gave a curt nod then moved to leave but he paused with his hand on the door handle. His silvered head was bent and he spoke in a rumbling whisper, “I never thought I would regret that you survived the fever last spring.” Lugh cleared his throat then stated in a louder voice, “Perhaps Shaddai has a plan for you to help reach Mauger, lass. This could be His will.”

His will? How could the sham of a marriage that Mauger would force on her be Shaddai’s will? Surely, He would not ask so much of her. Could there not be some way for her to escape without bringing Mauger’s wrath down on her father and their people?

Etain was careful to keep her thoughts from showing as her father glanced back at her. She offered a faint smile of her own as she spoke what she did not believe, “Perhaps it is, Father.”

As she watched him slip out, a mere shadow of the proud warrior who had led the charge against an invasion of trolls in 845, and the despise she felt for the Monster of Cymru grew. Whirling about, Etain crossed the chamber to the large window seat. Pulling her skirts up slightly, she clambered onto the worn cushions then leaned her forehead against the cool pane of glass and sighed. Perhaps, just perhaps, there was a way to escape. She simply couldn’t flee from her father’s home. Yes, a smile curved her lips as she contemplated the mud and puddles left behind by the night’s storm, mud that would no doubt slow the caravan’s progress, I will wait until the caravan crosses the borders of our lands and then I can run without Father being suspected.

The heavy oaken door slammed open, crashing into the stone wall and making her jump. She twisted around to see Mauger’s brute of an emissary leering at her. Standing, she watched as the hulking brute loomed in the doorway before he stepped inside. His small, piggish eyes squinted against the caressing rays of sunlight for a moment before he surveyed the chamber—covetousness creeping into his gaze when it fell upon the rich tapestries and furnishings and when he dared to open her jewelry box and draw out her mother’s emeralds before carelessly tossing them back in, a sneer curling his lip as he eyed the seven books spread across her writing table although she rather doubted the thug could read, and, most disturbing of all, sheer avarice mixed with a hungry light as he impudently raked his gaze over her from the top of her head to the hem of her bliaut. Etain raised her chin defiantly even as she shuddered inside and wished that the spring day were cold enough to justify wearing a mantle over the close-fitting gown. Nevertheless, she only allowed a hint of frost in her voice, knowing that Mauger’s pet thug had a long leash and his master had yet to call to him to heel. “Why have you entered my chamber, Sir Grimbol? My lord father and the king would not approve of your presence here. A lady’s chamber is sacrosanct, after all.”

Sir Grimbol’s beefy face crumpled in confusion for only a heartbeat but then his already wine-flushed complexion mottled as anger overrode desire. His surprisingly high voice came out in a whine as he snarled, “King Mauger wants all of his betrothed’s comforts to be met and he has sent you a present of two slave girls.” A contemptuous light entered his piggish eyes as he added, “They will be swifter than that hag the old man claimed was your lady’s maid.”

Horror tumbled and churned its way through her. She had heard the furtive whispers amongst the servants and her father’s men-at-arms before Tura shooed her out of earshot, but never had she imagined that Mauger would grow bold enough to openly parade slaves, much less ‘gift’ them to anyone. It was a breach of the inter-kingdom charter to own sentient beings, human or no. The other five kingdoms would rise against Cymru if they learned Mauger was now bold enough to declare people ‘slaves.’ But . . . who would dare to tell them?

Only when the girls were brought in, cringing and timid, by two hulking guards did Etain register Tura’s squawked protestations echoing up the stairwell. Her eyes flew to where Sir Grimbol was looming over the girls. He noticed her attention and a triumphant sneer curled his lip just before he backhanded the younger of the girls as she made the mistake of reaching for one of the books with a coarse oath that blistered Etain’s ears. She stepped forward to intervene but Sir Grimbol gave her a warning look just before he yanked the stunned girl up, his beefy fingers digging into her arm with bruising force, and then shoved her toward the massive wardrobe, ignoring her muted cry of pain when she tumbled into an open chest. His warning was too clear to be ignored. Any attempt on Etain’s part to interfere would only bring greater harm to the poor girls.

Frustrated at her own helplessness, Etain returned to the window. She watched as a wild gryphon, its jet-black wings standing out against the blue sky, floated lazily on the updrafts. She imagined what it would be like to ride on one, to fly far from Cymru and out of Mauger’s clutches. Once she had flown with her father on his hippogriff stallion but that had been before her mother died after some fool of a hunter shot down her hippogriff. Her father had restricted her to land-bound horses after that incident.

Sir Grimbol’s high voice filled the air, “Set a watch on the lady’s chamber until morning and the slaves are to sleep in here. King’s orders. And tell the old man that a hippogriff shall be served for dinner.”

Etain did not turn from the window. Despite the high offense of requiring her father to not only kill one of their prize hippogriffs but to also eat the very symbol of their house, she did not turn and she did not allow herself to react. It was what he wanted. Sir Grimbol was the sort who delighted most in watching victims squirm and thrash in their attempts to escape his master’s traps. Still her gaze fell to what she could see of the courtyard and the soldiers clad in purple tabards with a blood-red basilisk emblazoned on their chests, a score and five in number, milling about the courtyard and the hall. Members of Mauger’s royal guard, loyal to the Monster of Cymru alone and all as soul dead as him if rumor was to be believed, who had come to ensure that his intended reached his side.

Raising her eyes to the heavens, Etain once more searched for the gryphon but the jet-black creature had vanished. Like her hopes of escape. She would be locked in a gilded cage for Mauger’s amusement. She raised her chin slightly and silently promised herself that though she would be imprisoned, she would not become a victim.

The Stolen Jewel Copyright © 2015 Kimberly A. Rogers and kimberlyrogerscfwriter.wordpress.com blog. All rights reserved. This story is a work of fiction and a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Illustration: “Stitching the Standard” by Edmund Leighton, 1911.