Chapter 1 – The Chaos begins
When a young couple is about to be betrothed, it is customary in Frencolia to give wedding gifts. When both are royal, the gifts are expected to be extremely useful, necessary and expensive, or of historical value making them priceless.
On the day of the betrothal of the First Princess of Frencolia, Jobyna, to the Monarch of Reideaux, King Konrad, the reception chamber of Kings Castle in Frencberg, the capital of the Kingdom of Frencolia, overflowed with numerous practical items as well as valuable treasures of little use other than to be admired. The room became bedecked like an exhibition hall of valuable but randomly placed articles.
A procession of servants streamed in, bearing gifts both precious and rare. Once recorded by scribes, larger gifts were carried back to the foyer for display there.
Ten-year-old Prince Charles, the only royal male in the room, sat in the far corner, in front of an ornate bedside cabinet, one of the first gifts to have arrived. Obeying his father, he drew sketches, using a stick of charcoal with parchment wrapped around it except the drawing end. As he drew and the charcoal stick diminished, Charles peeled back the parchment, discarding it and wiping his fingers on an already blackened kerchief. He had written the corresponding name below before moving to a new piece of parchment. He was happy; this was something he could do of which his father approved and he sensed that his father was proud of his skillful accuracy. Two ‘minders’, Barnados and Melvahn, assigned to Charles by his father, stood outside the chamber, either side of the door due to the crush of guests inside. Gathering all the drawings, he stood and bowed towards his cousin Jobyna, the Princess of the day. She was surrounded by royal people and attendants. He left the chamber without being noticed.
Absorbed in the delightful pleasure of arriving and opening chests, boxes, bags, and cloth-bound parcels, passing the contents to waiting servants who carefully arranged the gifts in the growing collection, Princess Jobyna, Princess Maia and Lady Ellice, exclaimed their approval each time an article was presented. Guests yet to arrive would visit this chamber later to view the presents. Two scribes recorded each gift and the giver on parchment scrolls.
This is the day! —the thought in so many minds. In a few hours, King Konrad and Princess Jobyna would be betrothed. In these days, betrothal was like marriage, a contract complete, permanent and binding, although its purpose not yet fulfilled. The gifts were for the couple’s married life and future together.
Feeling excited, content and safe, Jobyna watched a scribe open a scroll to read the name of the donor of a beautiful highly polished metal vase. Inlaid gold roses, set into metallic emerald-green shone so brilliantly that reflections of people in the room, though distorted, were seen in the petals. In the middle of each flower, exquisite pearls, inset like seeds, glowed abalone colors. Truly the piece was magnificent. Exclamations came from all sides —such an ornament had never been seen. That it was real gold was beyond doubt, the weight of the vase proclaimed this. Simple in shape, the vase was about thirty inches in height.
Princess Maia giggled at the sight of her exaggerated nose and misshapen face. “I look like a pickled gargoyle; but isn’t it magnificent? You won’t put flowers in this, Jobyna! It’s just for looking at. Kenrik and I didn’t get a beautiful vase like this —perhaps we’ll get one for our wedding. I’d treasure it —I’d keep it in my private sitting room.” The princess stroked her palm down the cool metal then traced the gold roses with her forefinger. Her beautiful brown eyes clouded and her face wrinkled into a pout. Her voice whined a little, “I’m homesick already, thinking about that place. You’ll only go to Reideaux, Jobyna, but I’ll have to go all the way to Chezkovia!” Silence enveloped the chamber.
Few present would wish to live in Chezkovia. The Proburg princesses had bad memories of Chezkovia, due to their time in captivity there. The very name — ‘Chezkovia’ —brought chills of dread to most Frencolians who felt security in the great distance separating their country and that ‘enemy’ country. Only since Frencolia’s Princess Maia had been betrothed to the new czar had there been thoughts of alliance and friendship. Many wondered how long this alliance would last; Czar Kenrik’s betrothal to Princess Maia was compared to that of a meat-eating grizzly bear and a little white mouse. This comparison was based on Kenrik’s likeness to his late father, Czar Kievik. However, since meeting Luke and Jobyna, Kenrik’s core beliefs had changed and he was looking forward to an alliance-friendship with Frencolia and Reideaux.
“I’ll order a vase the same as this for you, Maia,” Jobyna promised cheerfully, “the colors will remind us both of Frencolia.” The older princesses’ eyes matched the emerald of the vase and sparkled just as brightly. “Who gave this gift?” she asked.
“Reeve Giles of Bruis—he apologizes for not being able to attend today, Princess,” the scribe said, passing a small scroll to Jobyna.
“He apologizes. Does he give an excuse?” Jobyna asked, adding, “Reeve Giles. Perhaps he’s sick or too old to travel…” She raised her eyebrows at the scribe who shook his head. Jobyna caught the somber stare of a servant-girl. “Do you know him? Is he very old?” she asked the girl. Caught off-guard because she did not expect the princess to notice her, and certainly not speak to her, the servant-girl’s eyes widened with fear. She faltered backwards as though the floor trembled beneath her feet. Shaking her head, she curtsied before reaching shaky hands for the vase, rearranging her posture, preparing to bear its weight.
“Leave it here; I like to look at it,” Maia ordered. The servant girl backed away and left the room. Her eyes scanning the chamber, Maia asked, of no one in particular, “Where’s our mother?” Realizing Princess Minette was not in the room, she complained softly, “She stays in our quarters so much. When I look for her, she’s not there, but later, she’s come out. She should be here now! Father won’t like it…”
Jobyna ignored Maia’s words, and she was much too excited and elated to worry about a reeve who wasn’t attending her betrothal. Her thoughts were happy thoughts of King Konrad and her future with him. Already in her vivid imagination she could see Kelsey Castle in Reideaux beautified with these lovely gifts. She remembered the furniture and furnishings to be old and worn. She turned her attention to a covered couch being carried into the room by two large men-servants. The velvet, quilted and luxuriously padded was the same blue as the Reideaux flag. Jobyna’s rose-pink lips curved into a glad smile; the blue also reminded her of Konrad’s eyes; eyes that probed deeply into her own thoughts; eyes that spoke of love and protection toward her. Evil King Elliad’s eyes were blue but his were evil, compassionless, merciless, heartless and cruel ... Jobyna’s mind did a flip as she remembered the kindness and care shown by ‘John’ the doctor. So deceptive… two different people inside him… she sought to halt her thoughts of him as she gathered her skirts in her hands and turned to sit upon the plush couch. Elliad’s dead and I won’t sully the beauty of this day with any remembrance of him. She forced her attention on the gift, asking, “Who gifted this beautiful couch?” She watched the scribe untying a green ribbon from the scroll.
He read, “Prince Dorai and Princess Minette, and family—there are six matching ones. Looking around, he added, “There’s no room for them in here, Princess, but be assured, they are all the same.”
“How splendid they are,” Jobyna said, taking Maia’s hand as her cousin sat beside her. “You’ll have to visit us in Reideaux, Maia. We’ll be living closer than if I was in Frencolia.”
Maia’s eyes were upon a small chest, now open on the table before the scribes. Gasps and facial expressions showed it was a gift of great value.
Jobyna turned to view the awe on the spectators’ faces. She felt like a child who was being handed the rainbow in exquisite segments. The scribe deftly cut the ribbon of the attached scroll and an attendant brought the small chest to Jobyna. Bowing before her, he presented the open chest to show her a flawlessly crafted diamond tiara. The jewels faceted from bright candle-lights in the chandeliers and sent showers of beautiful colors into the eyes that gazed upon them.
“Oh, how magnificent! Perhaps it’s from Cousin Luke…” Maia began; but Jobyna recoiled as if faced by an aggressive cobra.
It seemed, the rainbow turned to devour her, a monster with teeth. Jobyna cried, “Oh no!”
Hearing Jobyna’s gasp and her subsequent heavy breathing, everyone in the chamber knew the princess saw something abhorrent in this priceless gift.
“Where did this come from? What does that scroll say?” Jobyna demanded.
The scribe’s mouth dropped open. He handed the scroll to the older man seated at the desk. Frowning, Jarell read aloud, “To my beautiful Princess Jobyna...” his voice faded, and he read silently, then stammered, “from, from —what? —who? —No! It can’t be —I shouldn’t have spoken until I had read it. Who would imagine this? —Such diabolical claims!” With stricken eyes, he looked at the princess of the day.
“What is it Jarell? Who is it? Is it a joke? Who sent it?” Simultaneously, Jobyna and Jarell rose to their feet. “Here! —the scroll! —give it to me!” As she leaned over the desk, Jarell bowed and sidestepped.
“Excuse me.” Jarell fled toward the door, taking the scroll with him. Turning he called, “Bring the tiara!” This command was to no one in particular, therefore no one moved at first. Three attendants stepped forward to obey. Two foreheads crashed together as they leaned over the table. Maia giggled as the dazed men reeled drunkenly as though on a ship’s deck in stormy seas. The third man snatched up the chest containing the tiara and headed for the door.
“Why —so upset?” Maia asked.
“That... tiara,” Jobyna said, gulping a deep breath, trying to douse the flames of her ignited thoughts. “I shouldn’t be upset!” As if to remind herself, she said, “Elliad’s dead. I saw him dead…” Dragging in another deep breath while trying not to think of his death; she wanted to crush her flying thoughts but could not. “Someone’s got a sick sense of humor!” She felt the room surge, the walls pulsating. Dropping to sit on the soft couch, she realized that those in the room waited for her to speak. Fixing her attention on the stone floor, she explained, “It’s the tiara that Elliad gave to me, when, when we found the treasure in the cave. He made me wear it. I hated it. I hate it now.”
“Someone’s playing a senseless joke,” Maia suggested.
Searching her mind as to where she’d seen the tiara last, “It was in Chezkovia… at Baltic Castle,” she whispered. “But how? Who?” Her mind exploded with unwanted memories. I must forget the hurts of the past. I mustn’t think of it. I have today, I must live in the ‘now’… but the memories were too recent; the trauma, the torment, like unhealed wounds being slashed open.
Silence, broken by soft whispers gave Jobyna time to regain normal breath. She chided herself, searching her memory for an appropriate verse of Scripture, desiring comfort from a word of wisdom, but nothing came. A footman entered, setting a flat red case and a scroll on the table. Shrugging off thoughts of the tiara, Jobyna stepped over to open the scroll. A new gift would take her mind of that last one. She hesitated, wanting her thoughts to return to this special day. The scroll was sealed with red sealing wax, and at the sight of the initials, Jobyna cried, “It’s a continuing farce! Who would insult me… like this?”
“What is it?” Maia asked.
“The initials —E.J. —It can’t be, of course… someone alive must have these initials…” She looked around the room. No one spoke. Jobyna broke the seal and unrolled the scroll.
At the same time, Maia opened the case. “Look, oh! Look...” her joy faded as her she saw Jobyna’s ashen face. “This is lovely,” Maia said. “It must be priceless!”
At Maia’s description of the gift, Jobyna’s attention flew from the scroll to the piece of jewelry her cousin lifted from its case. A strange sensation that she was somewhere else swamped Jobyna. This chamber was not a real place. She was trapped in the past and somehow people from beyond the grave haunted the present, making her life impossible. How could she be happy with Konrad, when someone sent these ‘gifts’ and wrote such claims? Jobyna’s eyes moved back to the paper and she read aloud; “To my Princess Jobyna. You must not marry Konrad, for you belong to me. I will come for you. Elliad John.”
Fear seemed to melt Jobyna’s heart. “You... belong to me. I... I will come... for… you? —Elliad —John?” she repeated in dread. Her gaze turned to view the faces in the room; it was as if they turned to red rubies, their looks of dismay became jeers, mocking her for having a slave’s brand on her arm. In confusion, Jobyna glanced sideways at her dress sleeve, concealing the ugly brand-mark. Her rose-pink cheeks whitened, as pale as snow. “I’ll never be rid of the past; it haunts me —it’s an indestructible ghost…” The chamber distorted before her vision and she found her mind entangled in a web, with threads made from the appalling ordeals of the past. She fainted.
Chapter 2 – Eruption in the Throne Room
The youngest king who ever sat on the Frencolian throne, King Luke Chatelain, had turned seventeen several weeks ago while a captive in Baltic Castle. Around him, in a semi-circle of comfortable chairs carried from the reception hall to this chamber, sat various royal people including the Supreme Monarch to the Kingdom of Proburg, Prince Gustovas. King Konrad sat beside his prince brother, Mayer.
Meyer conversed earnestly with his young wife, Princess Ordella who refused to leave his side to be with the women as was custom. Mayer had also been a captive of the tyrannical Elliad and Ordella had not expected to see her husband alive again. Their young nephews—Gustav —now heir to the Proburg throne; Melvyn, Gunther, Guibert, and Conroy —all sat right on the marble-tiled floor, playing with a beautiful wooden ark. Prince Charles showed them pairs of tiny carved wooden animals; eight small people; and various other carved pieces. Charles eloquently explained the story of Noah’s ark, quoting verses from Genesis with accuracy, adding, “We all descend from Noah and his family.”
His father came over and drew him aside, chiding him for monopolizing the boys’ time, adding, “You will sit aside and finish sketching those in here; a much more worthwhile pastime!”
Charles moved nearer the wall, sketching his royal friends. The boys, in the meantime, played with the numerous animals, taking them in and out of the ark, two by two, recounting the story Charles had told.
Crown Prince Dorai, tall, lean, and sun-tanned, his shiny brown hair spread carefully over his balding head like numerous harp strings, stood beside Lord Jarman whose thick hair stuck up like bristles on a porcupine, his body short and stomach large and rounded. They discussed the construction of this magnificent throne room.
Behind the royals stood their respective officials and trusted counselors. Royal visitors from Strasland had yet to arrive. As reported by fore-riders, they were half-an-hour behind schedule. Few Frencolian roads were suitable for carriages and those that were, made the journey longer.
A young prince whispered ever so softly to his new friends that Charles’ father looked like a narrow-toothed comb while a Reideaux lord looked like a fat hair brush. Muffled giggles resounded in the perfect acoustics of the throne room as the children shared opposites like ‘bowl and fork’. Adults thought the children had discovered something amusing about the toys. When Prince Guibert declared his grandfather to be ‘a bucket’ and his Uncle Mayer ‘a spade,’ the laughter erupted. Adults frowned at their respective boys but comparisons continued as did the merriment.
It was a happy occasion; they were passing time in friendly conversations, eager for the morning to roll to the glad hour of the betrothal ceremony. Everyone smiled; there was no thought of animosity or hint of intrigue.
The children drew close to Charles, who, having sketched all the royal adults in the room, drew a scroll from inside his embroidered jacket and flattened it out. He’d decided to read before sketching more children. All the children gathered to listen as Charles read the words he’d copied so carefully from a German manuscript. The story was about the lost sheep. As the sound of his son’s voice permeated the chamber, such words being spoken in German, Prince Dorai strode across to his son, navigating his steps between the boys and snatching the scroll from Prince Charles’ hands, shaking his head and saying, “Carry on sketching, Charles.”
Crunching the parchment in one hand, he undid a toggle with the other. Tucking the compacted page inside his jacket, he strode toward the dais. A scribe, carrying two scrolls approached him. “This one’s about an inappropriate gift; the other’s from Leroy. Reading the first, Dorai bowed toward Luke, excusing himself and moving aside to read the other.
The attendant with the chest containing the tiara arrived. Dorai’s face darkened like a thundercloud. He feared he would utter the wrong words in front of their distinguished company, so strode out into the reception hall. A breathless messenger hurried to his side.
“There’s more, Your Highness; this ruby necklace came with this scroll. The princess fainted. Someone went for a doctor.”
Prince Dorai held the necklace closer. Remembrance of Jobyna’s declaration against it flooded his mind. Reading the second scroll, he raised his eyebrows, saying, “We mustn’t alarm our guests. If someone gave up such priceless jewelry, it’s not a joke —but where did they get this? It was in the royal treasury —I’m sure it was there. My niece didn’t want it.” He stared at the faces grouped around him and said, “This speaks of treason.” Stepping to a desk, the prince took up a quill, writing a few words, in code.
“Jarell; give this message into King Luke’s hands.” Turning, Prince Dorai spoke to a guard, “Find your captain, man, and have him report here at once. I want your company to discover where this case came from and who brought it... also, I want these scrolls examined to see if someone can identify the writing.” He frowned, already knowing that the writing matched the signature. “He’s has been very particular in making this authentic. I don’t doubt my niece would faint. The handwriting’s the same as the dead one’s! To do this now —he’s senseless!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Princess Helena, at the suggestion of her mother-in-law, Princess Rhaselle, pulled the stopper from a tiny porcelain bottle containing smelling salts and held the opening beneath Jobyna’s nose. Dragged into consciousness, Jobyna, protesting, pushed the hand holding the bottle away. Her words were incoherent to the Proburg princess and other hands helped restrain Jobyna so that the reviving fumes could be reapplied.
Feeling herself immobilized, Jobyna ceased struggling. What was bothering her? She tried to think, but a strange blankness replaced her feeling of confusion. What had happened? It doesn’t matter if I can’t remember, Jobyna thought, closing her eyes.
“She fainted again. Send someone to hurry that doctor along,” Princess Helena, still holding the smelling salts close, spoke in German and her sister-in-law, Princess Marianne, translated to Frenc.
Jobyna thought the inside of her head was dissolving in acid. She sat up and retched. Her watery eyes met with those of Lady Ellice who knew what would happen next. Being mute, Ellice could not command assistance. Instead, she reached around for a container. It was Reeve Giles’ gift that her hands found. She staggered with its weight.
“Please,” Jobyna gasped, her eyes on her friend.
Just in time with the golden vase, Ellice knelt before Jobyna, tipping it towards her. The sound and sight of the maiden losing her breakfast caused everyone but Ellice to move back and turn away. Drawing her handkerchief out for the Princess, Ellice waited until Jobyna finished retching.
Many women in the room reached for their handkerchiefs, covering their noses at the one-of-a-kind smell of warm digested food. Some of them swallowed, pulling faces, frowning, feeling ill.
“I’m sorry, it was silly of me,” Jobyna murmured. “Elliad’s dead! It’s someone else —some jester, returning my tiara.” But the vomiting drained her strength and closing her eyes, she sank back on the sofa. Unwanted memories crowded her mind and she knew she would have to deal with them but if only they’d present themselves one at a time…
Silence swathed the chamber as an attendant brought a large napkin, covering the top of the vase with it. Beckoning a pair of servants, he ordered they carry the vase, one side each and take it from the room to where it could be dealt with.
“Ugh! Don’t drop it or spill it,” Princess Maia said, adding, “I don’t want one of those vases! Every time I’d see it, I’d think of that, stuff, in it.”
“What if someone tripped them,” a younger princess called, giggling while trying to say, ‘Ew – ew – ew…’
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Luke, having read a message from his uncle asking him to join him in the reception hall and fulfilled the request, strode back into the throne room striving to radiate a pleasant countenance. He was angry and had charged an inexperienced captain to find the culprits or face demotion. Furious that such preposterous messages and ill-favored gifts had been presented to his sister on a day that should be festive, joyful and free from anxiety, he had declared to his uncle, “This tiara; that necklace; ‘gifts’ like these weigh like tombstones on a sensitive heart like Jobyna’s! It makes the receiving of gifts a punishment, not a pleasure.”
Scribes and attendants felt accused by Luke’s royal indignation, making the matter more serious. Prince Dorai shook his head, regretting that a newly appointed captain had been given this task. He summoned a senior knight who in turn charged three lesser knights to investigate the matter, beginning with the royal treasury and those who controlled its security. “Go along with them Captain and report back to me,” he ordered.
Smiling falsely, Luke’s mind buzzed with thoughts about the messages and the gifts; the diabolic declaration that his sister belonged to someone who was dead! He started at Konrad’s approach.
“You hide your concern well enough for those who don’t know you closely, Brother. We know better, don’t we?” Konrad whispered in Luke’s ear, asking, “Does it concern our betrothal?”
“We’ll speak of it later,” Luke said, his eyes upon a messenger approaching the throne. “Allow some space, Brother. We’ve matters to deal with.” Luke did not want to tell Konrad about the gifts until he could say that the practical jokers were in a dungeon. His instinct suggested that more than one person was involved in this travesty. He watched Konrad, composed and with a smiling countenance, move back to his chair. Konrad does that very well, Luke told himself, I must learn to conceal my inner emotions more, especially when it has nothing to do with these guests, at least I hope not...
Reading the scroll, Luke felt pleased it had been written and not verbally announced as was the usual. He was thankful for the discretion of those heading the enquiry. The message reported the discovery that several valuable items of jewelry were missing from the treasury, it was not just the ruby necklace. A man named Jules, a key-guardian to the treasury was also missing. All others involved in the security of the royal treasury were accounted for and had vowed they knew nothing about the theft. “Tell them to continue with the arrangements, and keep us informed,” Luke said loudly, then added in a soft voice, “the written message is appreciated, thank you, Antony.”
The messenger left with wings on his feet. The king called him by name! That it was ‘Anton’ and not Antony was of no consequence; everyone knew King Luke was not good at recalling names. He wondered who had told him. Then he knew. Princess Jobyna. She had asked his name and used it just the previous evening. He smiled. Princess Jobyna would be missed when she went to live in Reideaux.
For a few minutes, the atmosphere in the throne room reverted to benign small-talk. The children giggled as they tried to outdo one another with the ugliest grimace; the adults discussed mundane matters, learning small things about each other that proved they were all very human.
The announcement they had been waiting for came: “King Willem; Queen Anstice; Crown Prince Louis; of Strasland.”
When the formal greetings between Luke and the visitors were over, Prince Gustovas proudly introduced his grandsons to King Willem and Queen Anstice. Looking Prince Louis up and down, he slapped the boy on the shoulder with a flourish of his manicured hand, saying, “You’re old enough to be married, Louis.” Turning to the Strasland king, Prince Gustovas said, “Grandsons are the best kind, Will, but great-grandsons are even better. They keep one’s throne secure.” Catching Luke’s eye, he said in his broken Frenc, “You’re old enough too, Luke. Perhaps one of my grand-daughters?”
Discounting the Prince’s offer as small talk, Luke smiled. He was happy to see Prince Gustovas and King Willem together like this; it spoke of unity for the kingdoms.
“We’ve brought gifts for King Konrad and Princess Jobyna,” Prince Louis said, his young voice changing from low to high. He cleared his throat, turning as a line of slaves bearing long rolls that appeared to be carpets, entered the throne room. “Where’s the princess?” he asked, his voice deeper, staring from one person to the next, then he asked, “and the lovely Princess, Maia?” His voice changed pitch as he asked, “Where are they?”
“Princess Jobyna is in the front reception chamber, downstairs,” Konrad answered, frowning, thinking, they must have walked right past —why didn’t someone bring Jobyna here if this is where these gifts are to be presented?
“No; she wasn’t there,” Prince Louis asserted and cleared his throat again.
All eyes turned upon Luke. Konrad stepped towards the dais. Luke knew it was time to make an announcement.
“Princess Jobyna is resting. She had a slight faint.” He raised his eyebrows at Konrad, hoping the king would not question him further. Soft exclamations broke out; murmurs of sympathy. Luke continued, “King Konrad will receive the betrothal gift from our friends in Strasland.”
Twelve matched slaves bore four incredible tapestries upon their broad shoulders. Each creation portrayed a castle with its surrounding city. The capital of Strasland with its palace-like castle was upon the first to be unrolled. Everyone grouped around it, saying they had never seen such a beautiful tapestry. The colors of the kingdom were worked into a flag upon the highest turret of the castle. Five minutes passed by before the second tapestry was displayed. This was of Landmari Castle in Proburg. Prince Gustovas was dumbfounded. Deeply covetous, he craved to obtain such a tapestry for himself.
“Look at that, Konrad!” he said excitedly in his native tongue, pointing to the repairs depicted in the northern wall, “It’s so accurate. How did they learn of such detail? Look at the scale of the buildings in comparison to the castle. Amazing! It must have taken a score of hands months to work this!”
The third tapestry was of Frencolia; and while the Proburg royals were still enchanted with the wonder of the details on the Proburg tapestry, Konrad, Luke, Dorai and Frencolian dignitaries poured over Frencberg and Kings Castle, depicted upon a green and gold background. The monarchs from Strasland watched with increasing pleasure.
Peeved, Prince Louis addressed Luke, “You must send for your sister, and your cousin! I find it most vexing they’re not present! —We’re having one made for the czar in place of the Reideaux one —it’s of Jydanski Palace. I want to see the reactions of your two Frencolian princesses to our gift.”
The fourth tapestry was unrolled. Kelsey Castle, with its surrounding village stood on a background of blue. Konrad, already overawed by the other three, crouched on the marble examining this one with pride. His Kingdom. And he would take his beloved princess there. She would be Queen of Reideaux; Queen Jobyna. Just another hour or so, the betrothal would join them legally as they signed the contract papers. After that they would fix a wedding date. He turned to Luke who came to view the fourth tapestry. “Jobyna is all right, isn’t she?” Konrad spoke softly, but his deep voice was heard by all.
“Yes,” Luke spoke curtly, having seen Sabin enter at the back of the throne room and bow, then leave when Luke nodded towards him. He strode to the side of dais, mounted it and turned to face his guests. Loran and Granville tapped the bases of their spears, three times, on the floor.
When silence ruled, Luke began his announcement, “It is time for…”
Joining Luke’s voice, another announcement sounded, “Prince Haroun; Crown Prince of Bavarest.”
Everyone turned to view the Prince Haroun who had not been expected, but all knew that the invitation to the betrothal was open for royals.
Prince Haroun strode down the center of the Frencolian Throne Room. The throne was unoccupied but he was not looking for King Luke. His eyes searched for one person only. Ignoring the tapestries upon the marble floor, he walked right across the scene of Kelsey Castle, standing on the village green, his eyes confronting Konrad.
Luke’s body tingled. He perceived Prince Haroun was not here to bring gifts for his sister’s betrothal. The Crown Prince of Bavarest was alone and his face did not depict friendship and peace. What is it I see? Luke asked himself, He’s apprehensive. He walks as though on a precipice. His eyes search for someone —perhaps —Jobyna?
As though in answer, Haroun stepped closer to him, demanding, “Where’s your sister?”
Stepping down, Luke replied, “Princess Jobyna is resting until the ceremony...” He would have said more, but the prince drew one of his studded gauntlets from under his armpit.
“Never mind,” Prince Haroun said grimly, “at least I came in time.”
It seemed to Luke that the very air in the throne room froze.
Striding to Konrad, he said, “This is for you.” Haroun slapped the king across his cheek with the heavy glove then threw it on the floor. “I contest you, Konrad, King of Reideaux, for the hand of Princess Jobyna.”
Not taking his eyes off Prince Haroun’s face, Konrad deftly crouched and snatched up the gauntlet. With more force than was necessary, he slapped the face of his challenger. “I accept your challenge, Haroun, Crown Prince of Bavarest. What shall it be? Swords? Or are you for courting a mace-and-chain?”
“Your choice, Konrad.”
“The first to draw blood?”
Konrad bowed slightly, asking, “When?”
“Now —but outside of course. The betrothal ceremony need not be delayed; just a change in the person of the bride-groom-to-be; that’s all.” Prince Haroun’s eyes circled the tapestries upon the floor. He said, “We must commission a tapestry depicting my kingdom’s capital!”
Their faces not more than a foot from each other, their clothes almost touching, their breaths mingled as did their aristocratic antagonism. Both young men cultivated malevolent demeanors, preparing for the confrontation with their swords.
Luke’s mouth dropped open. He could not believe these two discussed a duel as though choosing what to eat for dinner —and in his throne room! Jobyna’s future was threatened! What if this prince from Bavarest won? How would Jobyna feel about it? I know how I feel… Luke pushed between the two men, facing Prince Haroun. “There’ll be no duel. My sister is promised to King Konrad,” he stated.
Prince Dorai moved closer to his nephew. Prince Gustovas circled to stand behind his son. The chamber began to divide.
“It’s done!” Prince Haroun cried. “You can’t interfere.” He could see that Luke did indeed mean to cancel his challenge. “It’s Kingdom Law!” He declared, his eyes ablaze. “How can you question Kingdom Law?”
“Luke,” Konrad said quietly from behind, “King Luke.” When Luke turned, Konrad said, “I can’t marry Jobyna without winning this duel.”
“You agreed to this?” Luke’s anger overcame him. “There’ll be no bloodshed to ‘win’ my sister!! She’s not a piece of jewelry to bargain over. We’ve had enough of that behavior!” He shot an ultimatum toward his friend, “Konrad. My sister is promised to you. We won’t allow this duel on Frencolian soil. Either you are betrothed to her, or you will leave!” He turned to Haroun, adding, “Both of you!”
An uproar of voices in Frenc and German broke out in the chamber. It was impossible to hear any one statement. Wide-eyed, the young princes stole closer to their respective relatives. Prince Dorai and Prince Gustovas moved to stand either side of Luke. Konrad also stepped closer.