Authors: S.L. Jesberger
Table of Contents
Aislin of Arianrhod
by S.L. Jesberger
Aislin of Arianrhod
Copyright © 2012 by S.L. Jesberger All rights reserved.
First Kindle Edition: October 2012
Cover and formatting: Streetlight Graphics
All rights reserved. This eBook is licensed for the personal enjoyment of the original purchaser only. This eBook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this eBook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are a work of fiction or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
This book is dedicated to those people who, for one reason or another, feel compelled to kick your life out from under you.
You are an inspiration in ways you can’t even imagine.
This book never would have seen the light of day, had it not been for an incredible network of friends and family.
My husband, Gordon, who never laughed once when I ran ideas past him, and who was always ready to help with a male perspective. Your encouragement made all the difference in the world. I love you very much.
My daughters Jaren, Kelly, and Kerry. There’s a little bit of all of you in Aislin.
Kerry Jesberger, for your amazing cover art and your patience.
Kelly Jesberger, for your incredible artwork on the map of Àlainnshire.
Thanks to Streetlight Graphics, LLC for letting me ‘borrow’ Kerry and for all of their formatting expertise. Tabatha Haddix, you gave me a little extra and it is much appreciated.
My cousin, Sharon (Hood) Gavin, who saw it first. Your attention to detail is nothing short of amazing. You pushed me to make it better. I hope I succeeded.
Jocelyn (Hamilton) Bash, for her time, encouragement, and for making perfect sense.
July 23, 1692
Kingdom of Arianrhod
SEE A FEW MORE UP there. I’m going up to get them,” said Princess Aislin.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that. You’re going to hurt yourself,” replied Devin, her assistant and right-hand-man-in-all-things.
Aislin kicked her shoes against the trunk of the tree and pulled the back bottom hem of her muslin skirt between her legs, tucking it securely into the waistband in the front.
“Really, Devin, you know the best apples...”
“...are always at the top.” He rolled his eyes and finished her sentence in unison with her.
Aislin gave a throaty laugh. “Hands, please.”
Devin sighed, threaded his fingers together, and held them down in front of her. She put her bare foot into the cup of his hands and braced herself on his shoulders. He gently hoisted her up and onto the lowest branch of the apple tree.
‘Remind me next time to wear something more suitable,” she called down to him. ‘I can’t climb trees properly in a skirt.”
“You said you weren’t going to climb the trees at all today,” Devin reminded her. He shook his head at her laughter.
“I truthfully intended to keep both feet on the ground, but how can I let these beautiful apples go to waste?”
Keeping Aislin out of the trees in the orchards of Arianrhod was impossible. She never called the harvest complete until she got every apple. This year’s crop had been quite abundant. Despite Devin’s best efforts, she’d spent more time with her workers in the trees than on the ground.
Devin shaded his eyes with his hand as he looked up at her, her lithe body draped over a branch and reaching for one last apple.
“Really, we have enough.”
“Well, Devin...” Aislin tossed the wayward fruit at him. “What if that was the last apple needed to finish a pie for you?” She grinned down at him as she pushed herself up off the branch.
Aislin began to climb down the thick and twisted tree. Swinging herself down from the lowest branch, she let her legs dangle just a second before she dropped in front of him and dusted her hands together.
“That should just about do it, I think. The storehouses are now full of fruit for the winter, and
will have all the pie and dumplings you can eat, my friend.”
The soft touch of her fingers as she pinched his cheek made his heart flutter for a moment. He turned away so she wouldn’t see his flaming cheeks.
He helped her pick several dozen apples from the sack on the ground and place them in a basket to take back to the manor house. She pulled the tie out of her golden brown hair and with a toss of her head, it settled and draped over her shoulders. She turned to him with a smile.
“I’ll drop these off with Cook, and we’ll have pie with supper tonight. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
Devin didn’t know many royal daughters who would help with the harvest, let alone climb trees to do it, but that was the enigma that was Princess Aislin. She was fine-boned and delicate, but surprisingly strong for a woman of her size. She was capable of picking up heavy burlap sacks of apples and carrying them to the cart as larger men struggled. She was the first one to roll up her sleeves and help with whatever she could, even if that meant birthing a foal or planting in the mud. She could just as easily sweep that shimmering hair into an elegant pile on her head and don silk and satin to sit in on one of Arianrhod’s government meetings. She was fearless and fun, and Devin had always been half in love with her.
The last ten and a half years had not been easy for her. Appointed regent at age 24 for her nephew, Aislin had given her all to keep the Kingdom of Arianrhod running smoothly.
She seemed to have boundless energy, but only Devin knew how many times he’d plucked her out of a soft chair in the library, worn out and sound asleep, and carried her to her bed. More times than he cared to count, he’d stood outside her door and listened to her cry. He had done everything he could to ease her burden. He would’ve gladly taken an arrow for her if necessary. Many arrows, in fact.
They walked along the dusty lane from the orchard and up the hill to the manor house. Devin opened the ancient metal gate, let Aislin in, and turned around to close it.
She stopped so abruptly in front of him that he almost ran into her. She drew herself up, her spine rigid, her shoulders tense as she gazed at the horse tied in front of the house.
“Were we expecting visitors?” she asked.
“I don’t think so. Whose mount is that?”
“The banner on that horse bears the blue and gray crest of Prince Jariath of Morrigan. I wonder if you know how weary I am of this game he plays with me.” Aislin looked up at him, a hint of fear in her amber eyes. “Stay with me, Devin. I may need you.”
Aislin pushed open the large wooden door into the entrance hall, her heart pounding with apprehension at having to face Jariath again. Instead, she found his assistant, Brock, waiting for her.
There was something about Brock that made her uneasy. She’d met him once or twice at the fruit market in Bellemeade. He was very thin, with pasty white skin and raven black hair slicked back on his head. He tilted his head as she entered, following her with his cold onyx eyes in a way that made her skin crawl. He tried to come across as amenable, but she sensed there was barely controlled violence under that docile exterior. It wasn’t hard to picture him crawling out of the swamp surrounding Morrigan’s castle.
Aislin set the basket of apples by the door, and turned to the dark, malevolent man standing in the center of the room. “Hello, Brock. It’s been a long time since anyone from Morrigan has dared to darken my door. Has Jariath sent you to plead his case?”
Brock met her gaze boldly with his own. “If I could just have a moment of your time...”
Aislin suppressed a shudder as his eyes roamed over her body.
“I do not have much time to spare, so state your business. I can assure you, my answer today will be the same as it has always been.”
“Is it possible to speak with you in private, Milady?” Brock asked, as he eyed the massive Devin.
“There’s nothing you have to say that Devin can’t hear. He has certainly been privy to Jariath’s ranting before.”
Anger swirled like smoke in his eyes, and Aislin caught her breath. She was glad she wasn’t alone. A vision of Brock’s long, bony fingers wrapped around her throat like a pale spider flickered through her mind.
He unexpectedly dropped his head in supplication and knelt before her. “Prince Jariath sends his regards and hopes that you are well,” he said mildly, as he pulled a parchment from his doublet.
Aislin arched an eyebrow at the kneeling man. “Indeed. We both know better than that, don’t we, Brock?”
Ignoring her, Brock cracked the red wax seal, opened the parchment, and began to read it.
“I, Prince Jariath of Morrigan, once again offer my troth of marriage to you, Princess Aislin of Arianrhod. It is quite clear that we would make a fine couple and it would be beneficial to unite the kingdoms of Morrigan and Arianrhod.”
“How interesting.” Aislin turned her back to the kneeling man. “Tell me—what has changed since his last offer when he pointed out that I might be a bit
past my prime
for a wife? That perhaps my best childbearing years were behind me?”
“I do not know, Milady.”
“Does he still understand that I’m holding Arianrhod in regency for my nephew Bryce, the rightful king?”
“I believe he does, Milady.”