Tuesday, February 10, 2015
My Lady Valentine, Part 8 by Patty Smith Hall
Elizabeth stood with her back to the looking glass the next evening as Mary, her maid fussed with the hem of her gown, a velvety mixture of emerald and gold her mother consigned the village seamstress to made for the celebration of Saint Valentine. A vain attempt to snare a husband, especially if the rumors of Viscount Nicolas’s arrival were true.
A scowl wrinkled her forehead. Nay, the viscount had laid in his grave these last two years, killed as he’d slain others, at the edge of another man’s sword. Then who was this imposter masquerading as Viscount Nicolas? What devious plot had resurrected him from his eternal sleep?
“Mi lady,” Mary rose, a bright smile lighting her wrinkled face putting a glow in the woman’s plump cheeks. “King Henry himself could not have a lovelier lady by his side tonight than you.”
The frustration that had plagued Elizabeth most of the day lifted slightly at the compliment. “Thank you, Mary, though I do not believe Queen Matilda would welcome such a comment.”
“Nor his majesty. It is said the king is quite besotted with his new bride.”
Elizabeth had heard such rumors also. “A love match as well as a political one.”
“A blessing from God himself.”
Unlike her own betrothal to Viscount Nicolas. Her father had arranged the marriage, certain it would provide stability to their keep as the war between King Henry and his brother, Richard raged around them. A warrior, her father had described the viscount, who would protect their joined lands, yet treat Elizabeth with kindness if not love.
Elizabeth had no such expectations. Word of Viscount Nicolas’s brutality, his violence against his own people had been whispered in the kitchen and stables of the keep, the fears of her father’s people growing as the wedding grew near, so much so, Elizabeth had taken her concerns to her father.
She drew in a deep sigh. Her father had been unmoved by her arguments. She was, he’d reminded her, simply a woman, not bound by the same responsibilities of his gender. The betrothal had been agreed upon by the king. Only death could release her from the agreement. When news of the viscount’s death reached their keep, the only emotion Elizabeth felt was blessed relief. She was free until another advantageous marriage could be arranged.
“Do you approve of your appearance, mi lady?”
Elizabeth turned and stared into the looking glass, a flutter of satisfaction sending a quiver feminine pride through her heart. The deep green folds of the gown fell into pleasant lines around her hips, the gold tunic she wore beneath peeking out at her bodice and swirling around her legs as she turned from side to side. Matching ribbons of velvety green and deepest gold held the thick ropes of her hair in a long braid, shards of light dancing along each curl.
Would Baron Drake think her comely?
She shook the thought away. “It will do.”
Disappointment flashed in the older woman’s eyes but quickly vanished as she fiddled with Elizabeth’s sleeve, the playfulness back in her gaze. “It’s said you’re to be partnered with Baron Drake tonight.”
An opportunity to silence any rumors before they took root. “Yes, though only as a favor to the duchess. She rest easier knowing the baron is at my side.”
“You looked to be enjoying the gentleman’s company as you worked together today.”
“Yes.” She had, more than she’d expected. Drake had been helpful, charming everyone from the kitchen maids to her aunt , asking Elizabeth’s opinion on matters of politics and faith, challenging her in a way no man had ever considered, pushing her to think in ways she’d never thought before. The sense of sadness when they’d parted this afternoon had caught her by surprise as did the softening of her heart when she’d turned back to look upon him one more time.
Elizabeth swallowed against the sudden knot in her throat. Affection was an emotion she could ill afford, not with her own responsibilities to her father’s people. No, she must spend this evening searching for the truth surrounding ‘Viscount Nicolas’s’ return.
And say good bye to Baron Drake.