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Authors: Mande Matthews

Betrothal

BOOK: Betrothal
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QUEEN'S HONOR

Tales of Lady Guinevere

 

B
OOK
I
:
B
ETROTHAL

  

By

Mande Matthews

  

  

  

 

    

     

     

PUBLISHED BY:

Guardian Tree Press

Queens Honor: Book I - Betrothal

Copyright 2012 by Mande Matthews

  

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

   

  

 

    

    
   
    

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Books by Mande Matthews

Queen's Honor – Book I: Betrothal – Available Now!

Queen's Honor – Book II: Quest – Available Now!

 

The Light Keepers – a ShadowLight Saga Prequel –
Available for Free!

Bonded – Book One of the ShadowLight Saga –
Available Now!

Broken – Book Two of the ShadowLight Saga – Coming Soon!

  

  

Dedication

 

I remember the first moment I saw you;

Like a magnetic pull from across the room,

My eyes lifted to meet yours,

And I was both lost and found

In you forever…

 

Inspired by my very own Sir Lancelot,

I am always and eternally yours.

   

   

 

   

    
  
   

   

QUEEN'S HONOR

  

Tales of Lady Guinevere

 

B
OOK
I
:
B
ETROTHAL

  

  

A Note

 

 

As I sit cloistered behind these stone walls, I have many regrets—regrets of Arthur, of not seeing him clearly, of words left unspoken, of time lost—but  most of all, I regret I did not recognize I possessed the power to change it all.

 

- Guinevere, Queen of Camelot

The 6
th
day of November in the year of our Lord 536

Written from the abbey at Amesbury

 

 

Chapter 1

 

- The 15
th
  day of May in the year of our Lord 533

 

 

I missed the warning signs: the smoke on the horizon, the absence of chittering birds as I snuck down the ramparts with my falcon on my wrist and Elibel on my heels and the meadow's hum underfoot as I raced for the freedom of the forest. None of these sensations signaled me to stop and return to the safety of Camelaird.

Once I reached the woods, I ran with my arms outstretched, catching the air against my skin as my feet pounded over the tangled forest floor beneath me. The scent of pine replaced the smell of smoke, and my heart thumped harder to keep pace. Aethelwine flapped his good wing, gripping his sharp claws against the leather glove strapped to my forearm. I curled my fingers tighter around his talons, steadying him so he wouldn't fall. His silver-blue feathers ruffled in the breeze as he stretched his neck out to meet the wind. He cried out—a long, sharp call—as excited as I was for our escape.

"Guin!" called Elibel from behind me. Her footfalls sounded softer than mine, and slower. "Guinevere! I cannot keep up!"

"You wanted to come!" I yelled back at my cousin.

The material of my gown bunched between my legs as I sprinted, threatening to trip me, but I had grown used to carrying the extra weight of a maiden's attire over the past few seasons and kept flying along at a quickened stride.

"You said you were taking Aethelwine for a stroll, not a race!"

Elibel's breath labored behind me and a pang of guilt over her frailty swelled in my chest. My limbs slowed, though they remained reluctant to come to a complete stop.

"Besides, your father would not be pleased in knowing you ventured this far from Camelaird without a proper escort."

I swiveled to face my cousin, with Aethelwine still riding atop my hand. The falcon twisted his head toward me, and blinked, questioning our pause.

My cousin stopped and bent at her waist, heaving for air. The shiny braid of her hair fell in front of her, reaching down past her knees in her stooped condition. Waves of black escaped around her forehead and neck like trailing ivy. Her emerald dress splayed over the ground, while a secondary skirt peeked from beneath it, matching the silver threads of her overdress. She glanced up at me, huffing, yet hiding her annoyance behind round eyes that overpowered the rest of her features; her mouth and nose looked tiny in comparison. I fancied her a fey in that moment, with the kind of beauty an otherworldly being possessed. And yet, it was my attractiveness—unjustly concocted—that the bards proclaimed to every Briton. In truth, next to my cousin, I appeared awkward and pale. My skin nearly glowed with its whiteness and my bark brown hair seemed dull compared to the satiny darkness of Elibel's.

"It's unfair to keep Aethelwine cooped up in that dreary fortress, forced to sit on a perch all day long."

"He's lame, Guin. He'll never fly. Why worry yourself so?" Elibel squeezed out between breaths.

"Just because one is broken in youth, does not mean they should give up on life," I said with annoyance as I turned from Elibel.

A stream babbled in the distance and I picked my way over fallen branches, toward the water. The noonday sun filtered through the treetops, streaming yellow beams through the pines as if lighting a path to the creek.

"Are you sure this is regarding Aethelwine?" Elibel called at my back. "And not the suitor who was in your father's court this morning?"

I shrugged, intent on reaching the brook, but her comment sent uncomfortable shivers up my spine.

Clear water pooled over rocks, creating a miniature waterfall. The stream collected in a pond a few paces down from where I walked. I hopped from stone to stone, balancing with my arms out as Aethelwine bobbed his head with each jump I made. The rush of the stream calmed my racing heart as I settled on a spot low enough to reach the pool without wetting my skirts—not because I feared a little dampness, but because I could do without the reproach from my father when I returned and he wondered what unladylike adventures I had indulged in. Not to mention, if a soiled dress betrayed my escape, he would double my guard.

Elibel caught up and settled next to me, arranging her own dress as if sitting for a painter. I lowered my hand; Aethelwine hopped down, and began pecking for bugs in the moss that glossed over the stones.

"Rumor says it was King Melwas who arrived to seek your hand this morn."

I shrugged again, staring into the murky depths of the pool.

"They say he's a handsome man—strong of build and tall of frame, with a comely face and his reign stretches across all of the Summer Lands."

A shaft of light shimmered on the surface of the pond. For a moment, the rocks beneath lit and I spotted a whirl of movement—three golden fish swished in and out of view.

"Did you see that?" I pointed to where they had vanished.

Elibel followed my line of sight, shaking her head. "Marriage would not be so terrible, Guin."

"In the pool," I said again, "three gold colored fish."

"Goldfish?" Elibel's eyes softened and she smiled. "There are only trout in these creeks, Guin. And, minnows."

Another wriggle. A flash darted through the murk. "There! See!"

Elibel searched the pond then shook her head again. "No, Guin. I don't see. But perhaps…"

"What?"

"I cannot say."

"Say what, Elibel?"

Elibel lowered her voice. "Your father has forbidden anyone to speak of it."

"You mean, of my mother?"

She nodded. Thick lashes swept downward, shading her enormous eyes from my view.

"You are my most beloved friend, Elibel. You can confide anything in me."

Rumors abound of the late Queen of Camelaird, her heritage, her hatred of my father, and mostly, of the circumstances of her disappearance from Camelaird eleven seasons passed. Of course these whispers were kept from my ears, spoken in low tones in dark corridors, or when my back was turned. I heard them anyway, though no one would speak directly to me on the subject.

Elibel's eyes darted with nervousness as if fearing we would be overheard. She whispered, "You have your mother's blood."

"Well, clearly!" I blurted and laughed.

Startled at my misplaced humor, and most likely reasoning that this was no light matter, Elibel's voice strengthened and her eyes steadied. "I mean the blood of the old ones runs through you, Guin. Maybe your ability to see fish that I cannot see means you…" She hesitated then added, "Such talk is blasphemous."

"You think seeing the fish means something?"

She shrugged.

"An omen, perhaps?"

Her shoulders hunched again, indicating her unwillingness to acknowledge the subject any further.

"Was my mother a druid?" The question had lingered on my tongue for years, though I never dared to speak it; now the words raced ahead of me before I could rein them back into my mouth. I am not sure that I even wanted to know the answer. If it were true, my father's protestations to the Church of Jesu and his strict adherence that I follow a righteous path made more sense; he feared immorality lurked within me. "I hear whispers, Elibel, that she descended directly from the House of Don. Was she a sorceress?"

"You don't remember her at all?"

Tightness formed in my chest as my memories hit blackness. "But you do, don't you, cousin?"

Elibel nodded.

"And you will not speak of her?"

She sought my face with her giant eyes, and I knew I could not press her any further. I would not be the cause of pain or punishment for her, or for anyone else for that matter.

Reaching down, I smoothed my hand across Aethelwine's feathers. He fluffed at my show of affection and softly pecked my hand with his beak in return.

"If it were up to me, I would never wed," I announced, changing the subject for my cousin's benefit.

"I fear it is not your choice, cousin." Elibel's tone weakened. "Why do you think marriage is such a dire fate?"

"If I were not a prize to be traded and sold for the price of kingship, or if marriage were based on the love of two souls then perhaps it wouldn't be. But I do not possess such liberties."

"You do not believe that love can grow from such an arrangement?"

Aethelwine released my fingers and switched his head side to side with a quick jerk and blinked, the centers of his eyes pinning. He let out a short cry.

"I speak of true love, Elibel—the undying passion the bards sing of, the kind of tenderness that gives without want. How would I ever know if I were loved without end or merely tolerated for my crown? Indeed, how would I even know if I were worthy of such affection?"

"If I were a man, I would care nothing for your status. I would love you because you are tender and caring." Mischief flashed across Elibel's eyes. "And a wee pigheaded," she added with a smile.

"Oh, I see. You love me because I am as stubborn as a pig?"

"No, because you are as filthy as one." She pointed to my skirts, which, regardless of my careful positioning, had fallen into the pool and bore a watermark stain above the hem.

"You love me despite myself, because I am your cousin! See! Even your love is conditional!" I laughed again, falling to one side and pressing into Elibel's shoulder. I reached around her and squeezed her as punishment for her banter. She returned a rigid hug, but I knew her aloof manner did not concern me. She was never comfortable with personal affection, so I hugged her all the harder.

Her limbs tightened at my touch.

"It's a hug, Elibel. Not a bite." I reinforced my statement by pulling her close.

Her lips spread into a thin line as her eyes widened with discomfort—so wide, I thought they would fill her entire face.

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