In the last week my spring headache rush has come. They always get bad this time of year. Could be allergies, or a reaction to the warmer weather, or perhaps merely the stress of anticipating the coming summer.
I was about ready to post and do some work on sprucing up the blog when the internet went out. Obviously not the entire internet, but mine certainly went down. Apparently people in twenty states were affected. Let me tell you, I am far more dependent on my internet connection than I realized. Oh sure, most of my social life is on here. And of course, my business is run 99% online. But I was a bit surprised at how very much I missed the internet. It's certainly a good thing that I didn't have to go longer than two days without service. And I did get more housework done than usual. :o)
Anyway, I thought I should give you all a taste of what has been keeping me from you. I'd ask how you managed to bear the deprivation of my company but I suspect most of the world didn't even notice I was gone. For those of you who did...a sneak peek at the raw and unedited (and disappointingly still unfinished) The DeFord Chronicles, Part II.
Out of the many subplots in the novel I have chosen this excerpt regarding a young lady who is in love with one man, but sadly about to be betrothed to another. At her first offical court ball she determined to prove herself an unequal match for the duke of Langdon. Unfortunately her success was not well-received by her scheming uncle.
That night as Gillian was readying for bed she thought over her performance at the ball. She had made a great fool of herself and embarrassed her uncle terribly. She had gone out of her way to prove that she would be a disaster as a duchess, using her inexperience and sheltered existence as the ultimate excuses for her behavior. It was true that she had not been to court before, and that a great many things had been kept from her in terms of knowledge of the world. That worked to her advantage. Since she had not attended any other balls, or events where the entire court was present, no one could say that she was not honestly unprepared for the night. Only she and a few others knew better.
She was brushing her hair in front of the glass when she saw her uncle enter the room. Her hand froze mid-stroke. He was most certainly not pleased.
“Out, all of you.” Everard commanded. “I would have words with my niece."
Gillian turned an anxious face to the retreating servants. Not one of them gave her even a glance of sympathy. They would not risk their master’s displeasure and thus their own employment.
He waited until the door was shut behind the last of them, then
stalked across the carpet and struck Gillian from behind with the back of his
hand, knocking her off of her chair.
“You think you are clever, do you?” He kicked the chair away and circled her menacingly. “Playing the ignorant country lass. Get up. Get up!” He hauled her to her feet, fingers biting into the flesh of her upper arms, and backed her against the hard stone wall. “A fine performance my girl but it was all in vain. Look at me.” When she failed to comply he grabbed a fistful of hair and yanked, forcing her head up until they were nose to nose, his wine-soaked breath as awful as his cruelty.
“You will wed the duke. I care not for your opinion on this or any other matter. You will wed him and you will promote me at every opportunity or I will make you suffer as you have never dreamed you could suffer. Do you understand?”
She nodded as best she could, eyes wide with fright, tears streaming down her face.
Everard released her and walked away. “Pleasant dreams, dear niece.”
Gillian heard the door close and slid to the floor, crying as quietly as she could. Her arms hurt and her head too where it had felt as if he would pull her hair right out. She loosened the bodice on her gown and pushed it down to look at her arms, purple streaks were already forming in the shape of fingers.
She had never loved her uncle. Now she hated him and wanted to see him ruined and broken. She should confess these wicked thoughts, but she was enjoying them too much. The hatred would give her strength to do what she must.
First she thought of sending a note, but none of her uncle’s servants could be trusted to deliver it. Gillian had no doubt he had ordered them to watch her carefully. The only reason he had not locked her in her chambers was that he knew she had nowhere to go. Who could she turn to for aid?
Duncan must not know. He would challenge her uncle, and much though she loved him, Gillian was not ready to believe him invincible, besides which Everard would not play fair. It would have to be a lady. Princess Therese might help her, but she did not wish to take advantage of their tentative alliance. And really, what could a girl of ten and seven do, even a princess?
She could not go to the queen. She tried to remember if any of the ladies at court had been companions of her mother’s but her mother had died when she was very young and her father not long after. There was no one in particular she could remember as one on whose sympathy and assistance she could rely. Having been raised in the country she herself knew no one at court, and it would be dangerous to approach just anyone. It was impossible for her to know who might side with her uncle, probably all of them. They would likely think her mad to spurn the possibility of becoming a duchess. She wished desperately for Duncan, but he more than anyone must be kept in the dark, for his own safety even more than for hers.
Suddenly she saw it. The only possible solution: a lady who was known for her tender heart and goodness, who was close to the queen, and whose husband and father were powerful men. She would go at once while the marks were still fresh. The hour was not too late, and as she was still dressed no one would pay any attention to her.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
“My lady there is a maiden at the door who wishes to speak with
Isabelle removed her rings and sat. “Who is she, do you know?”
“No my lady but she looks as if she has had an awful fright. She said you are her only hope.” The servant repeated exactly what Gillian had told her to say. The weight of the gold coin the girl had given her was a pleasure to feel in her pocket.
“Show her in.” Isabelle took off her bracelets and necklace then turned to receive her unexpected guest.
“Lady St. Robert. Please help me!”
Isabelle was moved by the plea, which she took to be heartfelt, but the falling at her feet and grasping her skirt was a bit much. She recognized the petitioner at once. Carlisle’s niece, who was to wed the duke of Langdon. “Calm yourself, child. Tell me, what manner of trouble are you in?” She hoped in her heart that she could help for the girl looked quite wild.
“I must escape my uncle. I cannot wed the duke and he will kill me if I do not!”
“Lady Gillian, you exaggerate. Surely your uncle only wishes what is best for you. Lady Gillian, what are you doing?” Isabelle stared as the girl pushed her bodice down. She stared still when she saw the marks, but her eyes had turned from shock to outrage. She touched one arm gingerly. “Who did this to you?”
Tears filled Gillian’s eyes. “My uncle.”
Isabelle looked into the girl’s eyes and knew at once that it was true. Dramatic she might be, but not dishonest. “Why have you come to me?”
“I have no friend at court. I do not know who to trust.” Gillian confided as a tear streaked down her left cheek. She brushed at it unhappily. “I have heard of your kindness. And I…”
“Go on.” Isabelle urged.
“I heard that your family is not on friendly terms with my uncle. I could not risk seeking help from anyone who is allied with him.”
Isabelle nodded. That was a very valid point. “From whom did you hear that we are not on good terms with Carlisle?”
“From your son Duncan.” Gillian’s eyes turned frantic. “He must not know about this, that my uncle hurt and threatened me!”
Oh dear lord! Isabelle thought. So that was the way of things. She had noticed a change in her eldest son. He was more thoughtful, seemed to have some purpose, was actually being responsible. Did the girl return his feelings? Yes, or she would not have been so adamant that he not know of what had occurred. Isabelle of all people knew her son’s impulsive nature. No, it would be best if he did not know of the incident.
Isabelle latched onto the later part of Gillian’s exclamation. “How did he threaten you? Come, sit over here.” She guided the girl to a bench closer to the light so she could get a better look at the bruises forming. The dark purple was a stark contrast to Gillian’s fair skin. These were deep bruises. Only a man intent on injuring could have made those marks. This was not the result of a rare fit of temper from a man who did not know his strength.
“He, he said…” Gillian paused to take a deep breath, fighting back the hysteria that wanted to surface. “That if I refused to wed His Grace the duke of Langdon that he would make me suffer as I have never imagined suffering before. He did not say how, yet I know he meant it. I can still see his eyes. He is evil, and he hates me. He will kill me, I know it!” She dissolved into tears and let Lady St. Robert soothe her as her own mother might have, had she lived.
“Hush dear. I will help you as much as I am able. I cannot promise anything now. But I will try.” Isabelle was not certain she believed Carlisle would actually murder his niece, but it was clear that he was not above inflicting pain. The poor girl clung to her and wept her heart out. When the tears had ceased, Isabelle stroked Gillian’s head and patted her hand. “Now, you must go back to your chambers. You must act as if nothing has happened. Can you do that?”
Gillian nodded. “I can do anything for Duncan.” She covered her mouth with her free hand.
“You need not be alarmed,” Isabelle smiled. “I had guessed it already.
You do not make things easy on yourself in choosing my son over a duke. Still, if you have the strength to fight, you shall never take for granted what you gain.” Gillian made to leave. “A moment, please.” Isabelle went to a large chest and rummaged through until she found a good sized brown pot filled with what seemed to be an aromatic goo. “I shall see to those marks before you go. This will take some of the pain away, and lessen the swelling.” She carefully smeared the salve on Gillian’s arms, talking to her all the while. She could sense a deep need for mothering in the girl. She knew that Eustace and Annora Carlisle had died when Gillian was quite young.
When the treatment was finished and Gillian’s bodice back in place, she hugged Lady St. Robert fiercely and then fled the chambers. Isabelle smiled. She liked this Lady Gillian who had stolen her son’s heart. It would be a delicate business untangling Everard’s web, but she would try. “Oh Duncan,” she sighed, “you never make things easy.”
That's all for now. I look forward to getting back in touch with the world, and resuming my participation in Weekend Writing Warriors. See you around the web.