A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 01byRedHairedandFriendly©
The eyes of Evette Adair, Fourth Queen of Vix, glazed over. No one in the Queen's bedchamber noticed. Everyone was focused upon the babe that had sprung from her loins just moments before. When the silence of the room was broken by the squall of the newborn, it was only then that the Queen's most trusted advisor and friend turned to smile at the new mother. The words of congratulations never left the young woman's lips, but a wail of deep sorrow did.
The physician gave the babe to another and rushed to the nineteen-year-old beauty's side. He hung his head in sorrow as he took in the lifeless royal. A sigh of displeasure rose from his aged figure and yet it was also a sigh of relief. He knew that if she'd not died birthing the child than she would have died in the garrison. Her child had been a girl and that was not what the King wanted.
The babe was wrapped in a thick blanket, which Evette had woven herself, and taken to the King. "Your daughter," the handmaiden said as she held out the young, wrinkly Princess.
King Richard stared down on the squalling infant and scowled. He gave her a name, but nothing else; even that he felt was more than she deserved. Evelyn was placed in the care of one of the wet nurses in the village. She was forgotten by her father and he married another woman and then another. No sons were born to King Richard and when he was finally laid to rest, young Evelyn was eighteen and had lived a peasant's life with little formal education.
Evelyn heard the smashing of twigs and branches while she sliced at the stem of a thick and well grown mushroom. She sighed, shaking her head in annoyance as she thought of all the harvest her friend was killing. When Cedric's feet finally came into view, Evelyn glanced up and stared into his eyes. Before she could offer him a greeting, he was on his knees gripping her arms. "Evie, you must come quickly!"
Her face contorted in a mask of confusion. "Cedric. What is it?" she asked, pulling herself free from his hold and rising. As she did she grabbed the strap of her carrying basket and hung it over her left shoulder.
"Evie, the King's dead. It's been announced. Did you not hear the bells?" Cedric asked. His face was pale and his blue eyes wide with excitement. "You are wanted at the castle. Immediately. Chancellor Benedict sent me to find you." He then looked up at the tree tops and shouted. "All of you!"
Immediately the woods seemed to come alive as three bodies emerged from somewhere inside the forest. One came down from a tree; two others moved from behind some brush. Evie frowned at the three guards. She'd never come face to face with them in all her eighteen years, but she had always been aware of them. Her foster family had told her they were her father's men, the King's loyal guards, put there by the Chancellor for Evie's protection.
When she was old enough to understand the reason behind having her own personal set of warriors, she began to speak to them. In time, though, she stopped, for not once did they ever answer her. They had always been there though, so Evie never feared for her safety. It was surreal to gaze upon the three faces for the first time, yet she wasn't allowed the luxury of feeding her curiosity before Cedric was violently shaking her.
"Evelyn!" he shouted, eventually bringing her back to the reality of the situation. It was only then that she realized she'd been staring mindlessly at the men who were standing next to her as if their appearance were common practice.
"What!" she yelled back, jerking away and pushing past her friend. "So he's finally dead, huh? And now I'm needed?" she hissed as she plodded her way back through the woods. "Well, perhaps I don't want to go."
Cedric ran up to her and grabbed her arm, jerking her to a stop and pulling her toward him. "Not go?" His voice as well as the slackness of his jaw showed his shock. "You have to. You're the Queen now, Evie. The Queen!"
Evelyn shrugged her shoulders and again freed herself from her friend's deathlike grip. "And what of it? Do you think I want to be Queen? Do you see me in all the finery that they will dress me up in? The stains on my knees and the dirt under my nails . . . Do Queens wear these to court now as powders to further enhance their beauty?" She glanced at the three men that followed behind them. "Do Queens relieve themselves in the eyes of their men?"
The three guards blanched and looked away. Evelyn glared and turned back, taking a well worn path to the village. She had stopped complaining a long time ago about her privacy being violated. She'd gone to her foster mother and begged her to send word to her father that the men in his charge were violating her with leers while she went through her morning absolutions. Each time however, Evelyn was told that no one was allowed to speak to the King about her unless it was to proclaim her in dire trouble or dead. Neither thing ever occurred since the men were true to their word and kept a strong vigil on the monarchy's only heir.
By the time Evelyn reached the edge of the village, her temper was short and her face flushed. She felt the eyes of her neighbors and friends on her as she made her way to her foster home. Cedric still followed, as did the guards. Her friend constantly pleaded with her to return to the castle with him. When she reached the threshold of the small cottage where she'd grown up, her mother was there, or at least it was the title she'd given the woman. "Is it true?" she asked. Her face searched for some sign that would speak against the words that had fallen from Cedric's lips.
"Evie," Sarah's soft voice reached into the sorrow that was filling Evelyn's mind. "Indeed your Father has passed. It is time. You must go and do your duty."
Evelyn's lower lip trembled as tears fell from her hazel eyes. The wet streams made a path down her dirty cheeks and her face grew blotchy. She caught the lump in her throat and swallowed it down. "I don't want to go," she whispered, feeling as if her heart were caught in the grip of some giant's fist. She looked to Cedric and then her Father's men before gazing back at Sarah.
"I'm sorry, Evie. I've tried very hard to prepare you for this moment. We knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time." Sarah reached out and Evelyn willingly went into her arms. The larger woman held her close, pulling her face to her shoulder, where Evelyn sobbed.
"Evie," Cedric whispered. His hand came to rest on her shoulder. "You need to go. Benedict insisted and already we've wasted too much time. You weren't supposed to come here. I was supposed to bring you to him directly."
Evelyn stiffened and pulled from her mother's warm embrace. "Then let's go," she hissed back. Her anger was evident as was her pain. She felt Sarah's hand on her cheek and pressed her wet features into it. "I'll return," she told her before turning away. She felt Sarah's eyes on her as she walked toward the three guards and followed them to a corral where several village mares were fenced in. The future Queen of Vix chose a dapple beast and waved off any assistance from Cedric or the guards. She looped a rope bridle over the speckled nose and then patted its soft cheek. "Ready, Brilliant?" she asked, and then kissed the animal's warm face.
Soon Evelyn was atop the horse; her serviceable dress of brown and gray rode high on her muscular and trim thighs. She thought nothing of the fact she was showing her skin to those that would soon pledge their loyalty to her. Cedric eyed her cautiously and Evelyn rolled her eyes. "I'm not Queen yet; get on," she muttered. He grinned and climbed up behind her. Soon the men who had protected her from varying degrees of danger were also mounted up on beasts that showed their strength and power with every rippling muscle.
The guards took flank of Evelyn much to her annoyance. They had never showed themselves all these years, but now since she was to be crowned they made sure all saw them. It was as if they were challenging anyone to dare harm the future monarch of Vix. In time the group made their way out of the village and back into the forest, this time weaving their way along a much wider path than Evelyn had used to gather her mushrooms. The worn path was smoothed from years of use. Evelyn studied the woods, trying to lock in memories of her youth, fearful that once she was behind the walls of the manor she'd lose sight of herself and all she'd grown to love.
Each step brought a new weight to her shoulders and a heaviness to her heart. She felt Cedric's body pressed against hers and sighed, knowing that even the intimate contact he was having with her now would end. Evelyn recalled the words of her mother and father, a couple chosen by the Chancellor to care for Evelyn until it became obvious she was no longer needed. They often spoke to her about how once she was Queen she would be required to act a lady, to be wise in her decisions, and to trust no one unless she was willing to stake her life on their loyalty. They told her that she would not be allowed to frolic in the woods, or gather herbs for the healers, attend to the sick or care for the animals of the Kingdom. Evelyn had frowned at all this and declared that "When I am Queen, I'll do whatever I want." Her father would sigh as would her mother and then they would return to discussing the upcoming crop or the newest foal that had been born.
Evelyn leaned back against Cedric and sighed. "What is Benedict like?" she asked.
"Aye, do you know of any other Benedict?" Her voice spoke of sarcasm and she heard Cedric chuckle, felt the shaking of his chest and his growl. "Well, what is he like?" she demanded.
"I've only seen him from a distance, same as you. At least until today when I was summoned to his side. He was loud, but that is not something new, is it? He was not kind, again such does not surprise me. He was furious that the Lord Chamberlain was not able to produce you, but instead shoved me in his face."
Evelyn gasped and tried to turn around. "Calm, Evie. He just pushed me to the floor and made me kneel. I wasn't aware one kneeled to a Chancellor."
"Nor was I," Evelyn admitted. "What happened next?" she asked. Her saw the turrets of the manor and slowed her mare down to a gentler stride.
"He glared at me and demanded I produce you immediately, or I would lose my head." Evelyn paled and pulled her horse to a stop once more as she twisted herself to stare into her friend's eyes.
"Evie," Cedric muttered. "He was not serious. He was angry and annoyed that you weren't there when he demanded it. I told him I knew of your whereabouts and it appeased him." This time the horse moved because Cedric jabbed its sides. Evelyn grimaced at the speed, not from the pace, but because it brought her closer to a life she was unprepared for.
They broke from the forest and its sheltering canopy. The rays of the sun fell down on them, but even its warmth could not deal with the shiver that danced up Evelyn's spine. She again stopped her horse as she stared at the mammoth structure. She'd seen the castle before, but had never gained entrance to it. The few times she had run up to the gate and demanded entrance she was pulled away by strong hands, laughed at, and shoved hard to the rocky ground beneath her feet. The last time she'd tried, she'd been twelve and she'd not been back to the castle since.
Without a word from either her lips or those of the men that surrounded her, she watched the gate open and the portcullis lift. A pair of thick heavy doors were pulled open and Evelyn's breath slipped out in a rush. Her fingers curled tighter around the rope bridal and only Cedric's urging of the beast's flanks set them into an easy gallop. They reached the manor and Evelyn's nerves were tied in knots as she watched several more guards appear, all of them eyeing her with unfeigned curiosity.
Once the group's horses were brought to a final stop and they dismounted, Evelyn was surrounded by more guards. Her hazel eyes grew wide in their sockets as she was prodded with unseen hands. Each step Evelyn took brought her closer to the stairs that led up to the main entrance of the manor. Her fingers were clenched tight; her face was pale and her pulse raced. Another set of doors opened and she stepped onto a balcony that overlooked the ground level of the fortress. A woman, wearing a long gray apron over a crisp green dress stood in the center of the balcony. Evelyn stared at the wise features that were lifted in a friendly greeting.
"Welcome home, Evelyn," the woman whispered as she stepped forward and opened her arms. She engulfed Evelyn, hugged her tight and wept into her tangled curls. Evelyn's arms came up and instinctively she embraced the stranger back, though her features showed her uneasiness. The woman released her and reached up to touch Evelyn's tear-stained cheeks. Evelyn jerked away and the invading caress was stopped before it was finished. "Pardon me, Your Highness. I should have restrained myself. I am Muriel. I was your mother's handmaiden. You're to come with me and meet with Chancellor Benedict. He is in the library. This way, please."
Evelyn noted the direction in which the Muriel indicated and nodded her head in understanding. She felt Cedric's eyes upon her and she turned to glance back at him. "Miss, can Cedric come with me?" she asked, licking her lips in nervous anticipation.
Muriel frowned. "If that is your wish," she answered, her gaze swiftly turning away from the ill-dressed lad and back to the stairs they would take to the third level of the castle. The three of them took the steps. Muriel's back was ramrod straight and the two young people behind her fell in line. Upon reaching the floor's balcony Muriel proceeded down the hall, pointing out the servant's quarters on the left and then stopping at a pair of intricately designed wooden doors. Strips of iron lay in a chess board pattern. Muriel rapped loudly on the door and waited for permission to enter.
The voice that sounded through the partition made Evelyn's knees buckle. She recognized the deep throaty growl that was often heard proclaiming damnation to all those that opposed the laws of Vix and its monarchy. Muriel turned and looked back at Evelyn, catching the fear in her eyes. "You're the Queen, remember that," Muriel told her, just before pulling one of the doors open and stepping free of the threshold.
"Come in, girl," the harsh voice called out. Evelyn glanced at Cedric, grabbed his grubby hand and walked into the room. In the center rested a desk and behind it a man that Evelyn would easily recognize from any distance. In this room, though, he seemed even more imposing. She swallowed the lump in her throat and jumped when Muriel closed the door behind her. Evelyn turned back and saw the woman waiting patiently inside the room, just behind Cedric.
"You're not much to look at, are you?" Benedict muttered, pushing away from the desk and walking around it to better look at the future Queen.
Evelyn felt a flush flood her cheeks as she stared back at the man before her. "I am what my Father wanted," she answered back.
"Oh?" Benedict countered. "Have you suddenly grown a bloodhorn?"
Evelyn gasped. Cedric coughed and Muriel stuttered out a whispered, "Your High Excellency!"
Benedict waved off the sounds as he moved closer to Evelyn. He reached her side, lifted her face with barely a touch upon her dirty chin. "You look like your mother." Evelyn jerked her head away and glared hotly at the man before her. "You were supposed to be here over an hour ago. What took you so long?"
Cedric stepped forward, dropped to his knees and paid homage to the man before him. "Your High Excellency, it was my fault, it took me quite some / time to find her. She was harvesting in the woods. I apologize for our tardiness," he answered. Not once did he lift his gaze from Benedict's feet.
"I wasn't speaking to you, boy," the Chancellor answered, turning away. "Muriel, take Her Highness to her rooms. She'll need to be cleaned and properly dressed. The ceremony will take place before the sun sets in the Banquet Hall. See how much work we have ahead of us. I fear we have a long road to travel in grooming her for the throne, as well as for presentation to the courts and Prince Drest."
"Yes, Your High Excellency," Muriel answered. "Your Highness, this way," she whispered and touched Evelyn's arm.
Evelyn wanted to speak to Benedict, but knew she had been dismissed. She knew by all rights she could address him, even force him to acknowledge her at most his equal, or at least act like it, but she did none of these things. Instead she turned to Cedric and told him to stand up.
"That boy will return to the village."
The proclamation brought a cry from Evelyn's lips. "He is my friend. I will dismiss him when I am ready," she answered back. Her eyes slanting as she stared at a pair of angry green ones. She saw the man's lips rise in a sneer as he studied her. Yet, Evelyn remained steadfast.
"He cannot accompany you to the bedchamber. I do hope that is not something I have to concern myself with," Benedict said with another raised brow. "Tell me, Evelyn of Vix. . .have you lain with this guttersnipe?"
Another gasp echoed throughout the room. "How dare you," Evelyn hissed as she took two steps toward Benedict. Only the quick reflexes of Cedric stopped the upraised hand from reaching its intended target.
"Evie, I'm going back to the village. Your parents will be worried and I have chores to take care of. Your High Excellency, Evie and I have never. . ."
"Cedric!" Evelyn hissed, jerking her arm away from him. She faced Benedict and answered his question. "I've never lain down with any man." With that she turned and took Cedric's hand, pulling him out of the room, with Muriel close behind.
Once they were back in the hall, Muriel smiled warmly at Evelyn. "You did very well, Your Highness" she said.
"Please, my name is Evelyn," she told the woman and then hugged Cedric tightly. "Go home. I will visit my family tomorrow." Cedric returned the sentiment before descending the steps.
Evelyn rushed to the top and called out to him. "Cedric, stop at the kitchens and fill a basket full of food for them, and your family, too. I will be Queen soon and that means our families will eat this night." Cedric's grin was wide. Evelyn felt her heart swell as she thought of the full stomachs her foster parents would have.
"Evelyn," Muriel said, pulling the young woman out of her reverie. "We really do need to prepare you."
Evelyn sighed, nodded her head and turned away, once more following the woman that seemed to want to be her friend. They traveled down a short hall, passing another set of doors that would take her back into the library. The thought of Benedict being that close to her sent a chill up her spine and renewed her anger. Her soft lips grew tight; she quickened her step and reached Muriel's side, just as the bedchamber doors were opened. "Your chambers," Muriel told her, again stepping back so Evelyn could enter ahead of her.
Evelyn stared at the bedchamber. Her jaw grew slack and no words escaped her parted lips. Muriel closed the door and nodded to a woman who had just entered the small sitting room from a door on the right. "Rebecca," Muriel said, offering Evelyn a moment to comprehend the lavishness she was suddenly surrounded by. "This is our dear Majesty. Evelyn, this is Rebecca. She will be your handmaiden and serve you as I had your mother."
Rebecca came forward and curtsied to Evelyn. "It is an honor to meet you, Your Highness," the young woman said. Her voice carried across the room;
"Please, call me Evelyn. It is a pleasure to meet you, Rebecca," Evelyn answered back. "Please rise. There is no need to curtsy." She heard Muriel cough and then sighed. "Well, inside these chambers when it is just us, you won't need too."