The Queen’s Defense- Chapter One- Ripples
Two women’s deaths altered my life forever. The first toppled everything in an instant, while the second took a little longer to make its transformation.
My mother was content in her quiet life. She was peaceful, kind, and calm. She was friendly and wonderful with every person she met, but did not seek to be known among many. I was much like my mother that way: I preferred to be inconspicuous. She had loved our isolated home away from the crowds of the Royal City. She needed nothing else but her family and the trees. She loved the forest, the smell of the various trees and flowers, the songs of the birds and the peace.
My mother met and fell in love with my merchant father when she was a young woman. She had lived in the Royal City and met him while he was an apprentice. Her calm complimented his restlessness. His ease with people and ready laughter brought out her own sunny personality. They were perfect for one another, and her peaceful, cheerful, and quiet ways helped her bear the long periods of time that my father’s trade took him away from her. Giving birth to and caring for my younger brother, Jarrett, and me also helped fill the lonely times before Father would return, successful and overjoyed to be with his family again. He would remain home for as long as he could, until his love, our mother, died.
She fell ill with a debilitating disease that left her sicker and weaker with each passing month. I was eleven and Jarrett was nine when the healer first diagnosed her. My father cut his trips shorter and shorter leaving his trade with his apprentices more and more to be home with her. We were all devastated.
I knew my mother was frustrated with her ever- weakening condition, and even more frustrated to cause the family pain, but she rarely showed it. Her eyes still lit up every time we walked into her room. She continued to love her less frequent and shorter walks through the forest until she was confined to her bed. We would then read stories, sing, and laugh with her in her room. We’d play make believe and defeat monsters, dragons, and evil sorcerers. I took over being the woman of the house and cared for my brother while my mother did what she could from her bed. She stayed with us for two years, and then left us, her content life cut much too short.
My father was never the same. The light in his eyes faded. He returned to work full force and would stay away longer than he ever did before. When he came home there was only sadness in his eyes that would shift to guilt whenever he looked at us. He would then leave almost as quickly as he arrived. Jarrett and I were left with each other and our few servants, very well cared for monetarily, but not familiarly. We wanted our father back, and we no longer had our mother.
As the years flew by, my brother and I grew used to keeping ourselves occupied. We both were sent to school and my brother continued on to the Royal City. He wanted to become a man of the law and an advisor to the king and his cabinet, while I returned home after the four years of school for ladies. I became accustomed to the simple, solitary life once again, this time without my brother. I remained unmarried and found tranquility in music, books, and managing the house and my father’s affairs while he was away. I was satisfied in the quiet life, and despite my father and brother’s attempts at finding good suitors for me; they were few and did not work out. I was at peace with being alone. My quiet life, however, did not last.
I was nineteen when the queen’s death rippled through the kingdom. We did not hear of it until three days after the Royal City had announced it. The queen was elegant and very well liked by all her subjects. I had heard that she was kind, and many appreciated and admired her. I heard it from my regular spot on the window seat, with the story of a run-away maiden in my hands. Tara, our housekeeper, answered the door and I heard the solemn voice of the messenger relay the sad news. I shut the book and my hand clenched near my heart. It had been eight years since my own mother’s death, and I shed a few tears for the King and his daughter. The news impacted the kingdom, and brought back deep sorrow for me, but I had no idea that it would play a significant role in the rest of my life. Another five years passed before my life would once again be turned upside down.
I sat in my usual spot in the window seat of my room, twenty- four years of age and quickly approaching twenty- five. I had finished my duties for the day and was curled up with a fairy tale I had read hundreds of times. I smiled as I turned the worn pages of the book and bit my lip expectantly at my favorite part. No matter how many times I read it I still tingled happily. I twirled a strand of hair around my finger, shining more golden brown than its usual darker auburn in the late afternoon sun streaming through the window. My ears perked at a familiar yet rare sound. The faint patter of horse hooves and the creak of a cart’s wheels echoed against the trees on the road to our home. I dropped the book and sat up swiftly, my eyes scouring the road. My mouth curved into a wide smile and I ran out of my room toward the front door.
“Evalien!” Tara scolded as I raced by the sitting room. “What in the world . . .?”
“Father is home!” I called over my shoulder and tore open the door. I could feel her disapproving eyes on my back as I gathered up my skirts to speed across our courtyard to the road. I reached the cart and my father leapt down. I ran into his outstretched arms. “Hello my Evie.” He held me tight and waved his driver and assistants on.
We held each other for a long moment before he released me and took my arm gently to walk with me back to the house. “How was the journey?” I asked cheerfully.
He gave my arm a little squeeze. “Long as usual, but it was successful.” He smiled, his eyes tired. “I stopped in the Royal City on the way home with the intention of delivering that beautiful stallion to the King’s stable.” He pointed to the gorgeous chestnut steed tied to the back of his slowly retreating cart. My head cocked slightly, like I had seen a dog do, confused why the horse was still in his possession. He continued, “His Majesty was not there to receive him. I believe it must be a present for someone, for I was to deliver it only to the King. So, I wait for word.”
I raised my eyebrows in interest, knowing he was excited about his rise to being one of the King’s favorite merchants. “And you came home. I’m so glad you did.”
“I saw your brother.” His smile widened, proud. “He is doing well and told me something interesting.”
I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye.
“I understand the latest suitor did not work out.” He gave me a meaningful look.
I bit my lip and shrugged lightly. “He was not . . . quite what any of us expected.”
“Evalien . . .”
“Jarrett did not approve either,” I tried to point out. “Did he not tell you?”
“He told me.” His face had darkened slightly, and his eyes looked off in the distance.
I took the opportunity to quickly change the subject. “The . . . King was not at home then?”
“Ah, yes . . .” He gave my arm a pat. “When I arrived at the castle there was a message for me stating that the King was out and wanted to me look over his stallion a little longer. He is vacationing at his hunting lodge that is located a little further out in these woods.” He nodded toward the trees at the edge of our courtyard. “It is closer to our home than the Royal City so . . . ,” he paused and turned to me, putting his hands on my shoulders. “His Majesty is coming to our home in a few days.”
My eyes widened. “The King? He . . . is coming here?”
He patted my arm again. “Now don’t worry. I knew a letter would reach you as soon as I did. We have a few days. It will only be a quick visit . . .We will get this place fit for a King.”
“Father . . . why here? Why not have you deliver it to the lodge?”
He lifted his shoulders in a slow shrug. “I think he wants to visit the place and meet the family.” He avoided my eyes, which I thought was a little odd, but brushed it off at the time. “Or he may be checking up on me and see if I am who I say I am.” He chuckled softly. “Mostly, dear, I think he just wants to try out the horse, get out of the usual spots, and get me to take him to the best hunting locations I know. Do not worry.”
I gave his arm a squeeze. “I’m not worried, just surprised. The King . . . .” I shook my head slightly.
My father chuckled. He led me back into the house to relay the news to the servants.