Vivienne, the Countess of Roxeter, was bored–utterly, terribly, and thoroughly bored. She was only two days into her house arrest imposed by the court. She had played cards and chess with her ladies. She had read, embroidered, and picked at food. She hated being confined to the castle. She ached to hunt or go to play dice at the tavern and have a few drinks. She wondered how she would survive five more days of confinement.
She heard heavy footsteps up the stairs to her suite in the Royal tower of the castle, and then a knock at her door. Lady Ethel answered the door, and Bryantt entered. She smiled at him, glad for any interruption.
He did not smile back. “Come,” he commanded, looking at her. “We have some things to talk about.”
She set her needlework aside and rose to follow him. He led her down the stairs, across the courtyard, and into his office. Inside Baylee and Karissa were seated, waiting, at his meeting table.
“Sit,” he curtly told her, indicating a chair. She sat, curious about this strange meeting.
Bryantt got to business without any pleasantries. “Baylee,” he began. “I am putting you in charge of all my businesses at the docks–the brothel, the provisioner, the warehouse, and the harbour master. Perrin will report to you. I have spoken to him already.”
Baylee wrinkled her nose, “That old salty man,” thinking the man should have been retired long ago. “He is nothing but a bag of wrinkles.”
“Yes,” Bryantt continued. “He will be your advisor. He likes you, and you will find him to be a good friend.
Bryantt looked first at Vivienne and Karissa. “You two are next. Countess, you have heard rumours and it is no secret that the Lady Karissa became a close friend to me when I came here to Roxeter–a very close friend. Before I was offered your hand in marriage by the Queen, I was to be handfasted to the Lady Karissa. The Lady Karissa was kidnapped as we were about to be handfasted.” He paused to watch Vivienne.
Vivienne listened in silence, not surprised that they were having an affair, but a little surprised at the news of the handfasting. She had heard rumours and had had her suspicions. She looked at Karissa who was fidgeting and squirming in her chair, clearly uncomfortable. “Is that so?” she said.
“Yes, it is so,” said Bryantt, “and I still plan to handfast the Lady Karissa. I am also still going to marry you. The Queen wants us to marry, and she will have what she wants, and I will have what I want.”
“Are you finished?” Vivienne asked coldly.
“No, I am not. If either of you don’t like that, you may walk out that door now.” He looked at Karissa. “If you walk out the door, Lady Karissa, I will not forgive the transgression you made against me.” He stopped and looked at Vivienne. “Countess, if you back out of our betrothal, I shall send a bill to the Queen for the moneys I have laid out to pay your debts and expenses. If you do not marry me, I am sure Her Grace will find another for you to marry, someone you might be most unhappy with.”
Baylee watched and listened wide eyed.
“May I speak now?” Vivienne asked, in an even voice.
“Yes, you may,” Bryantt said.
“I am first, foremost, and always a loyal subject to my cousin, Queen Mary. I will obey her wishes and marry you.” Vivienne said, and paused. “I will ignore whatever fluff you might choose to dally with. But…” and she paused, watching the three at the table as they tensely awaited her terms. “I have a few conditions of my own.”
Vivienne looked directly at Bryantt, ignoring the other two. “In public you will conduct yourself in a way that will not dishonour me. You will at least try to be discreet in your affairs. You will treat me with the respect and courtesy due my rank. You will not forget who I am.”
Byrantt murmured a low warning, “Careful…”
Vivienne continued, “You will recognize our children, and our children only, as your heirs. Give me that, and you may dally with as many trollops as you please.” She looked directly at Karissa as she said that last line, and smiled, practically able to smell the smoke coming from her ears.
“Do we understand each other?” she asked Bryantt.
Baylee could not contain her mischievious nature and asked, “Warden, does that mean you will visit me also?”
“You are the Countess,” Bryantt began. “Respect shall be shown to you at all times. I agree to your terms, but be careful…”
Bryantt frowned at Vivienne. “I have some demands as well. I will have the same courtesies afforded to me,” he said. Vivienne nodded. “And so will the Lady Karissa! Is that understood?”
Vivienne set her wine glass down on the table. “Surely you do not expect me to receive the woman here at the castle.”
“The woman has a name Countess. Lady Karissa if you please,” Bryantt said.
“She does not have any claim to be addressed as a Lady that I am aware of. How about Madame Karissa?”
Karissa could be silent no longer. “I am not a madame!!!”
“I know that you also have much to gain from the union,” Vivienne said to Bryantt. “Do not demand too much from me. You should also be careful. Asking me to address her as a Lady is too much. I will give you this much. I will treat her with courtesy in public. Not respect, not friendship, only courtesy. That is as much as I can do.”
Bryantt turned to Karissa, “Lady Karissa, do you have anything to say?”
Karissa gritted her teeth. “I will do my best to afford her the same courtesy that she shows me, and I do mean the SAME courtesy.”
Karissa muttered under her breath, “I will address you as I see fit.”
Bryantt stood and slammed his hand on the table, raising his voice, “You will both be civil! Am I understood?!”
“As you wish,” Karissa replied.
Vivienne smiled sweetly, “Of course, my love.” She lifted her glass and drank from it.
“Baylee,” Bryantt began. “As for your comment, you will always be prepared to accept a paying customer into the brothel, any paying customer. I am trusting you with my business. I know you will do well by me.”
Baylee smiled wickedly. “I will give you what you need the most,” she said, looking at Karissa and then Vivienne.
“Now then,” Bryantt said calmly. “I have been promised the hands of two beautiful women. Come ladies, to the great hall, and we shall celebrate with food and wine.”