The great hall and castle kitchen were filled with a blur of servants running back and forth. Footmen toted bottles of the Countess’s best wine up the stairs and set them out on the tables. The baker arrived carrying baskets filled with bread, pies, tarts, and sweets. Gus the farmer and his ward delivered crates of fresh fruits of veggies. Maids dusted, cleaned, beat rugs and tapestries, and laid fires in the twin fireplaces in the great hall. After a day of frantic preparations, the feast was prepared and Roxeter castle was ready to receive guests.
Queen Mary Julianna Stewart entered the great hall first, her cousin Vivienne, the Countess of Roxeter in tow. As they took their places at the head table, the Queen picked and nattered at Vivienne, voicing her despleasure with her. Vivienne had no choice but to meekly nod and accept the criticism. She desperately needed the Queen’s assistance.
Bryantt Sands arrived and Vivienne introduced him to the Queen. “Cousin, this is Bryantt Sands, the business man who has applied to be Warden.”
The Queen looked him over, from his head to his boots, taking his measure. “Ah, this is he. You have shown great initiative, and a boldness. I have received your request and will announce my decision tonight. Come Sir, sit beside me in a place of honour. I am grateful to you for saving the life of my dear cousin.” Bryantt smiled, encouraged and hopeful, and took his place beside the Queen as instructed. She asked him for an account of how he found the Countess, and was careful to pay close attention to him and be her most gracious self to him. She needed his cooperation. Everything would depend on it.
The hall filled with chatter as the guests ate the delicious food with enthusiasm, filling their goblets with wine. There was more food set out for this one meal than many of them had seen for a whole month. Lady Desire, the baker, basked in the many compliments she received for her baked goods.
Bryantt told the Queen that he thought something had spooked the Countess’s horse, causing it to rear and Vivienne to fall, banging her head. Vivienne herself had no memory of exactly how she had fallen.
The Queen resumed picking at the Countess, wanting to make Vivienne feel her displeasure, thinking it would make her more manageable later on in the evening. “Perhaps it knocked some sense into her.”
Vivienne could only meekly nod, “Yes Your Grace, I am sure it did.”
“I would hope so. Perhaps it will improve your judgement,” replied the Queen.
Anger flashed across Vivienne’s face at being scolded so publicly. She noticed Bryantt smiling at her, and she did her best to fire off daggers from her eyes at him when the Queen was not looking. He appeared to be trying hard not to laugh.
The Queen continued, “You have developed some bad habits, I hear cousin. I hear you like to play dice and are fond of whiskey. And riding into the woods alone, tsk tsk…”
At that moment there was a bold knock at the great hall doors. They swung open, and Squire Falcon boldly announced in loud and clear tones, “Sir Maverick Schism, Warden of the South March and representative of Her Majesty, Elizabeth, Queen of England, has arrived!”
Maverick Schism gave a respectful bow, just low enough to avoid the appearance of insolence. “Greetings Your Majesty.”
The Queen stood. “On behalf of yourself and your Queen, another cousin to me, enter and be welcome Sir Maverick.” She gestured to her left. “Please take a seat at the head table beside the Countess, in a place of honour. Our countries are at peace, and together we work hard to maintain that peace.”
Sir Maverick bowed his head slightly and replied, “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Chatter flowed freely, and moreso according to how much wine flowed into the cups. There appeared to be some tension building as Baylee started to throw verbal darts at Gus, the farmer sitting across the great hall from her. “Greetings Gus. Lead any lambs into the woods lately?”
Gus glared at the girl, and then bowed his head as if in prayer, muttering a curse on Baylee, asking the Triad to touch her with some disease common to women like her. He then turned his attention to the service laid out in front of him, not sure of what utensil to use for what. Nathan, the chemist sitting beside him, noticed his look of confusion and quietly whispered to him what to use and how.
Karissa and Baylee joked and chattered to each other. Every now and then Karissa looked up over the rim of her goblet at Bryantt, seated at the head table beside the Queen. Her cheeks flushed and pupils widened as she looked at him. She listen to the Queen compliment and praise his business sense and ability. BayLee nudged Karissa and snickered, “We work hard on our backs and he sits up there.”
At that moment, a knight entered the hall. He introduced himself as Sir Casper Addams. He took a seat and enjoyed the food and drink, listening to the banter. Occasionally he would make strange statements. “It is a good thing my father sent me here. I shall have to send a raven to my father to send more men.” After a bit he stood to make a bold proclamation. “I really shouldn’t tell you all now, but what I am about to share with you is to stay here in the castle. I am the Prince of England, and I am here to help with ye troubles. I do not wish to give any orders to those that are in charge, just help and serve.”
Silence fell in the hall. Everyone looked at the knight with blank expressions on their faces.
Vivienne felt pity for the man, obviously mad. Everyone knew that Queen Elizabeth was the sovereign of England, and she was unmarried and childless, although there was gossip of possible bastard children. Her father, Henry VIII was dead and had left only one son. Poor Edward died too young to have fathered an heir. The man spoke as if his father were King and alive.
The Queen was shocked and amused by the knight, but took pity on him and decided to ignore his strange claims and not throw him into irons. She rapped her knife against the goblet to get everyone’s attention. She stood and walked to the centre of the hall. “Thank you all for coming. I have an announcement to make tonight. Bryantt, rise and come to me.”
Bryantt stopped in mid bite and dropped his pastry, “Yes Your Grace.”
“You have written to me, offering your services as warden. You have proved your abilities and worth in your success as a business man, and also in the rescue of my foolish cousin. I grant your application and name you Warden of North March.”
Bryantt flushed and bowed to her, “Thank you Your Grace. You are too kind. I humbly accept your appointment.”
“You will work closely with Sir Maverick to keep the peace between our two lands and resolve conflicts across the border.”
The Queen turned to the Countess. “Vivienne, come here.”
Vivienne rose a bit unsteadily, having drank perhaps a tad too much wine, and obeyed the Queen.
“Vivienne,” said the Queen, “You have promised me that you will be guided by me in the face of your recent problems.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Vivienne replied.
The Queen turned toward Bryantt. “Bryantt, I have a request of you. Would you accept my cousin Vivienne’s hand in marriage?”
Shock registered on many faces in the great hall. Tears welled up in Karissa’s eyes and you could almost hear her heart break. Bryantt’s eyes widened, and he turned to Karissa, giving her a meaningful look. Gus ducked his head down and made some strange gestures with his hands. People smiled and snickered behind their hands.
Bryantt collected his wits and responded, “Yes, Your Grace. I would be honoured to have her hand in marriage.”
The Queen said to Vivienne, “And you accept Bryantt, of course.” It was more a statement than a question.
Vivienne stammered, “Y-yes, of course Your Grace.”
The Queen took Vivienne’s hand and Bryantt’s, and placed Vivienne’s hand in Bryantt’s. She smiled broadly, her agenda accomplished. “Good! Then my problems in the North March are solved. You have a warden Vivienne. Bryantt, your income will assist Vivienne in meeting the expenses of the castle. On your wedding day, I will award you the title of Earl, befitting the husband of a Countess.”
Bryantt replied, “Yes, Your Grace.”
Baylee whispered to Karissa, “Whose income is she talking about?”
Karissa’s face was red and her eyes sparked with anger. She whispered back to Baylee, “Not ours, that is for sure. Not one red cent will he see!”
The Queen leaned forward and placed her hand on the small of her back. “Forgive me, but my bones are rattled from the trip. I must retire.” With that she said her good nights and retired to the suite reserved just for her in the castle.
The mad knight moved toward the couple, asking to speak to them about his position and arrangements he would make with them. Vivienne dismissed him, telling him this was a night for celebration and not for business. Bryantt looked a Karissa and made a motion with his head toward the knight. Karissa glared at him, but all the same moved to take the knight’s arm, leading him away, offering him a room at the “inn.”
Sir Maverick rose and gestured to Falcon to come to his side. “My best wishes to the new Warden and his next of kin, I must return to the South before anyone else appoints himself prince of the land. Come Falcon.”
The musicians struck up their fiddles, pipes and drums, and the guests gathered in the centre of the room to dance and celebrate the events of the evening. Konstantin, the sea captain, demonstrated his dancing skills as enhanced by rum and wine.
Bryantt, being incurably gallant and charming, led Vivienne to a darkened corner of the hall, out of view of the others. He smiled, knelt down on one knee, gently took her hand and said to her, “Here, alone, I would ask you properly to be my wife, Countess. I have admired you from afar for a while, and I would be honoured to be your husband.”
Vivienne was caught off guard by the man. His charm, the wine, and the shock washed over her. She smiled at him and said, “Yes, I will be happy to be your wife.”
Bryantt stood and moved close to her, taking both of her hands in his. “Shall I call you love?”
Vivienne smiled, “Let us start with Vivienne and go on from there.”
As the night wore on, the gathering thinned as guests left the hall.
That night Vivienne dreamed again of being carried in Bryantt’s strong arms, her ear pressed to his chest listening to his heart beat. This time, she was dressed in white.