Life has been decidedly difficult lately. It's a blustery, gray, rainy day, and my headaches have been an absolute plague in recent days. So I've decided the best thing to do to break out of the doldrums is to share something with others. That's right, a peek at the still-unfinished first draft of The DeFord Chronicles, Part II (preliminary cover image by Elizabeth Layne at left, isn't it awesome?).
Without further ado I shall go to my trusty random scrolling method and give you a scene from Chapter *drumroll* 15! The scene: our hero, Chauncy DeFord is concerned about Lady Eleanor Boyd who has been recently widowed. Her husband had been a close friend of Chauncy's. The setting: Eilding Castle, home of Lord and Lady Ralston. Lady Ralston is the former Elizabeth Brighton, a girl who means more to our hero than he is comfortable with.
Chauncy watched Eleanor carefully. He had noted the change in her immediately upon seeing her. She was pale and thin and the light seemed to have gone out of her. She spoke when spoken to, but rarely initiated conversation. She was at her most animated with young Jocelyn, and she had been genuinely glad to see Chauncy and James but she was a far cry from her usual merry self. She had no appetite and took little pleasure even in the performance of the minstrels in attendance.
There was little Chauncy could think to do. If he was to learn anything more than the very little Eleanor had said he would have to speak with either Her Royal Highness, Princess Sophie, or with Lady Ralston. It would be far easier for him to approach Lady Ralston, yet he was loath to do so. He had thought he was prepared to see her mistress of Eilding, but he could not have been more mistaken. The sight of her sweeping toward them to bid them welcome had been like a blow to the stomach. When had he become so enamored of Elizabeth? When had he begun thinking of her as Elizabeth? Perhaps before she had wed Edward Ralston. He should have abandoned that practice after he had learned of their marriage, but he did not care to think of her as Ralston’s wife. The man did not deserve her.
Something was amiss in this household. He could not put his finger on it, but there was a tension in the air that was not entirely owing to his own presence. Remarkable how his name alone had the power to make life difficult even for others. Well he would be leaving in the morning with the prince, who was trying to catch his eye from across the great hall. He casually worked his way to his highness’s circle and joined them, which caused Ralston to withdraw.
“Pray excuse me gentlemen,” His Royal Highness said. “I have matters that need my attention.” Turning to Chauncy he continued. “Lord DeFord, would you accompany me?”
“I am at your service, my lord prince.” Chauncy acquiesced.
Prince Nicholas waited until they were a goodly distance from the great hall, on the way to his chambers to speak. “It is glad I am to see you. And so is Sophie. I do hope you enjoyed your visit with your cousin.”
“I did indeed, your highness.” Chauncy instinctively knew that they were not to discuss anything of import until they reached the prince’s chambers. “Jacqueline is ever the same.”
“What is she like, your cousin?”
Chauncy thought for a moment how best to describe her. “She is merry and clever, sweet and strong. Hers is a difficult position.” At a questioning glance from the prince, he continued. “Widow of the only son, mother of the sole heir. She has what could be considered a position of honor within the Baricaud family, yet she is also dependent upon their good will. They could not turn her out, but they could make her life very unpleasant.”
Lines of disapproval formed at the corners of Nicholas’s mouth.
“Yes, I imagine they could.”
“Fortunately, her son worships her. And as long as he does she is safe.” Chauncy added.
They had now reached their destination. Nicholas conferred briefly with his personal attendants before sending them out. He crossed to a cruet on a crystal tray. “Wine?”
“No, thank you, your highness.” Chauncy glanced around the room at the gaudy display of wealth. Gold was on every item possible and some that he had not known could be covered in it. Silks from the orient had been used for the upholstery. Everywhere he looked he saw the trappings of one to whom status was all and taste was in short supply.
Nicholas noted Chauncy’s disapproval. “Not to my taste either. The room positively reeks of Ralston, does it not?”
Chauncy should not have been surprised. It was customary for visiting royalty and higher ranking noblemen to be given the best sleeping quarters available and those were always the master’s rooms. He could not picture Elizabeth in the room without feeling faintly ill, so he turned his attention to the prince. He had not long to wait.
“I imagine you are curious as to why I brought you here.” Nicholas began.
“Indeed I am, your highness.” Chauncy replied.
“Please dispense with the formality and call me by my name.” The prince insisted.
Chauncy demurred. “I could not, your highness.”
“Yes, well, you may not always be of that mind.” He paused to sip is wine. “You know about Andrew Boyd.” It was not really a question, and as such did not require an answer. “And you also know that arrow was meant for me. I would give anything to have been the one in his place.”
“You must not say such things, your highness.” Chauncy objected.
Nicholas did not reply. He knew what Chauncy would say next, what everyone said. Think of the kingdom, of his family, his bride. He had not asked to be born a prince, and while he enjoyed the privileges of his rank, he hated that another had died in his stead—a man he respected, a man with a wife and child, a man among men who would have gone on to greatness if not for the fact that someone wanted the Crown Prince of Frandia dead.
Just at the moment when the prince’s thoughts were darkest, his princess arrived. His mood lightened at the sight of her, and improved still more as she embraced their guest.
“Lord DeFord, how pleased I am to see you again.” She smiled brightly at him. “I am sorry that I did not say so before.”
Chauncy bowed over her proffered hand. “You are too kind, your highness. I am certain you were occupied with far greater matters.”
“I should have made time for you.” She disagreed, but said nothing more about the matter. She went to sit by her husband and waited for him to speak.
Nicholas leaned toward Chauncy. “Do you know why I have brought you here? No, I can see that you do not. When Quinly arrived, was there anything in the message that seemed odd to you?”
Chauncy nodded. “The word ‘cousin’ caught my attention. I thought he must have heard incorrectly.”
“He did not.” Nicholas paused before adding “You and I share the same blood.”
And that is where the chapter ends. How do you think Chauncy will react to learning that he is somehow related to the royal family? And if someone wants members of the royal family dead, does that mean someone will want him dead too?