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Historical Fiction

     Fayre sauntered into the great hall, her radiance disguising the sickly turmoil within her.

     How it aggravated her to see Cloridan meander about the great hall, mingling with the feast guests as if he were home in his own castle.  She wished everyone in the hall could share just a little of her hostility, that Cloridan might not look so arrogant and comfortable.

     Fayre moped about the hall, barely acknowledging any greetings offered her.  She knew her face was turned in a most unpleasant scowl, but she could not help herself.  This silly revelry, this celebration, bore away at her very nerves.  Where was the cause for celebration in this accursed betrothal?

     Her eyes glanced up towards the high table, where her own seat remained vacant.  Ethelred's big blue eyes followed her around the room, full of sympathy and compassion, and Fayre was almost inclined to return to the table for his sake.  But then, she saw the true cause of her unrest and abandoned that notion.  

     Fayre examined her future husband as she might examine a work of art.  An inherent strength and sensuality kindled Cloridan's excellent features.  His smooth skin was pulled taut over his elegant cheekbones, and his thin, firm lips frequently spread into the devilish smile which made his amusement with everything completely evident.  Two merry spheres of dark green sparkled from under the fringe of his thick, dark eyelashes.  Cloridan wore his silky black hair down to below his strong shoulders in the Saxon fashion, yet he was clean shaven like the Normans.  He cut an unmistakable figure in the gathering, towering over all other men and dwarfing the ladies.

     As always, Cloridan had dressed himself in scarlet for the feast.  Never had Fayre seen him wear any other color.  She figured he fancied scarlet for the way it complemented his fair complexion and raven hair.

     Fayre had admitted to herself long ago that the Count of Sussex was a handsome man.  But beauty counted for naught, she knew.  He was a Norman, and in her own mind, he therefore could not be trusted.  

     Cloridan raised his eyes to look across the hall, to gaze at Fayre, and she experienced a small victory as she watched his milky cheeks flush crimson.  He sought her eyes, he sought to make that contact with her, but Fayre would not allow it.

     "Fayre," spoke a furtive male voice from behind her.  Fayre spun around and greeted Alfred, her father's most competent courtier.  He did not look content.  "Your father and the Baron of Arundel have asked that you take your place with them at the high table."

     "My father is familiar with my discontent, and I therefore believe he will understand why I do not comply."  Fayre's laugh was icy.  "As for the Norman fiend, I do not follow his commands.  I am not his subject."

     "Please, Fayre.  Tis most awkward for Ethelred to preside over his daughter's betrothal feast without your presence.  Your father made his volition very clear to me, and I do not doubt I will fall under his great displeasure should I fail him."

     "Now that is wisdom--holding you responsible for my actions," Fayre muttered.  "Yet I would not see you get into trouble for my sake."  With that, Fayre followed Alfred to the head table.

     Ethelred leaned forward and looked past his wife, to his daughter.  "I am pleased that you would join us," he said in his gentle manner.  "I would not have that my beloved daughter be apart from me on this day."

     Fayre did not respond, for she was too well aware of the hungry eyes of the Baron of Arundel upon her.

     "Fie on you, Arundel!" Baron Godwyn of Penenden stormed into the great hall, his angry voice booming up to the eaves.  Cloridan cocked his eyebrow at the fur-clad intruder, but said nothing as Godwyn boldly approached Baron Cynewulf.  "Your daughter is pledged to me, Ethelred, and you know it well.  What travesty is this--that I hear you would hand your daughter to this dog de Bayeux?"

     Fayre clenched her fists, fuming silently as the people about her collectively sucked in their breaths.  She met Godwyn's agonized eyes for a moment, clearly communicating her distaste for her situation to him.  

     Ethelred breathed deeply.  "My dear Baron, I, like all of us, must act according to the express wishes of our king William.  'Twas he who ordered me to betrothe my daughter to the Baron of Arundel.  If you dispute the arrangement, I bid you travel to London and take up the matter with our king himself."

     But Godwyn was no longer listening.  He had turned his attention to Cloridan de Bayeux, and now stepped towards the towering man, attempting an air of menace.  "How dare you make a claim to what is mine," Godwyn hissed.  "You Norman dogs may claim our lands, but you have no business taking our fair Saxon maidens!"

     Cloridan dismissed Godwyn's ire with a quick shrug.  "Tis not so, quite simply.  The lady Fayre was an unclaimed maiden, whatever private designs you may have had on her hand.  She is free to wed, and her father, the king, and myself have reached a concord that she will marry me.  There is no more, Penenden."

     "Perhaps not to you."  Godwin turned again to look on Fayre, his eyes brimming with a desperate tenderness.  "I courted Fayre for my love of her, not for what alliances she could bring me.  We had agreed, she and I, to wed.  If Fayre gave me her hand by her own will, there is no claim greater."

     The Baron of Arundel coolly contemplated the young Saxon man, obviously thinking over Godwyn's words.  Yet he also was clearly of no mind to pay Godwyn heed on this matter.  "Even were I of a mind to relinquish Fayre, I could not," he finally spoke.  "The king has ordered this marriage."

     Fayre longed to flee the great hall, to retreat into the private haven of her chamber upstairs in the donjon.  She did not eagerly anticipate her inevitable encounters with either Arundel or Penenden.  Neither man was likely to let her slip away from this feasting without speaking to her, however much she wished to be left alone.

     But Cloridan de Bayeux had quickly taken leave from her father after the meal to come find her.  Hide as she tried, slipping her small, lithe form behind columns or guests, Cloridan followed her relentlessly.  Finally, she spun around to face him, placing her hands on her hips.  "Need I make my lack of interest any more evident to you, Count de Bayeux?" she asked flippantly, speaking in broken French.

     Cloridan burst into deep laughter, clearly delighted by her spirited outburst.  "Ah, Fayre, you are as fond of me as you have ever been.  It soothes my heart to see you have not grown docile."

     "Nor shall I ever, so if you are hoping to tame me in our accursed marriage, I invite you to part with such follies this instant.  Twould take a better man than you to curb my ire." 

     "On the contrary, I would weep piteously should you ever be tamed, my little Fayre," he replied coyly.  "But have you no kinder words for your future husband?  It is our engagement feast, after all."

     "No kinder words for one so arrogant as to remind me of my ill fortune!"

     Cloridan tisked, cocking his head cynically.  "Such wrath from my betrothed.  A lesser man than I would beat that wrath straight out of you."

     "He would need to catch me first," she replied proudly.

     With a twinkle in his eyes, Cloridan stood firm.  "I can catch you, Fayre."

     "Your conceit is tremendous."

     "It is true.  I have already caught you, you see."   

     "You have taken me from my proper betrothed," she hissed, her eyes aflame.  

     "Penenden is a mere boy," he retorted calmly.  "You of all women need more than a boy for your husband."

     "He is more a man than you!  At least he had the courage to court me openly, not cower and go to the king behind my back."

     Cloridan raised his eyebrows as he gave a quick shrug.  "Then he hasn't my wit, has he?  If he had gotten to William before I did and requested to marry you, his claim would have been assured."

     He grabbed her hand and pressed something cold into her palm.  "Though you scorn me, Fayre, I will treasure you," Cloridan uttered.

     Fayre looked into her palm.  There lay a breathtaking jewel, a brooch intricately worked of silver, cradling a luminescent stone.  "Tis a moonstone," she said in surprise.

     Cloridan nodded, lowering his eyes to gaze down at the alluring stone.  "I was very fortunate, actually.  On my way to Canterbury did I encounter a peddler of exotic wares.  I saw this brooch, and thought of you immediately.  Nothing of the ordinary would suit a lady such as you, I believed."

     In spite of herself, Fayre was warmed by the precious gift and by his words.  "Then I thank you for the brooch," she said in a civil voice.  "Tis a sweet gesture.  I have always wanted a moonstone."

     "I understand that the wearer of a moonstone will have clear sight into the future."  Cloridan met her slightly softened eyes.  "It is my wish that you might look into your future with me and find joy there."

Emilie J. Conroy


June 04, 2020 00:32

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1 comment

Maggie Deese
19:39 Jun 08, 2020

Beautiful story! I really enjoyed the world and characters!


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