In the Year of Our Lord, 1684byTony155©
Sometimes during the course of history, unforseen events help shape the future of a country that otherwise might have taken longer to happen or never would have occurred at all. Such was the case of a little country called Ruudania, which was nestled in the vast Krumea valley and bordered by the Zaxon and the Mandes Rivers during the 17th century. It was during the year of our Lord, 1683, when this little tale begins.
Ruudania was at peace with all its neighboring countries during this time, something which could not always be counted upon. The ruler of this small duchy, King Aleksander IV, was very proud of this fact and did everything in his power to keep the peace. His eleven year reign saw his country become stable and prosperous, a stark contrast to the tumultuous and war-filled term of his father, King Ivan XII. It was but a short time after his father's sudden and mysterious death whereby Aleksander removed most of the ministers and replaced them with his most trusted and learned confidants. Some left quietly, while the rest, whom Aleksander suspected of foul play in his father's demise but could never prove it, did not. Fearing he might meet the same fate that of his father, he swiftly had them arrested, tried, and hung. Others, who saw his quick and decisive action, either resigned quietly or fell into line and gave their undying loyalty to him.
Aleksander quickly signed treaties with two of the warring countries in which they were involved. In another mess his father had started and not finished, Aleksander reduced property taxes in order to jump start their stagnant economy. Although some of his advisors were skeptical of this venture because they preferred to line their own pockets with the excess through bribes and threats, they soon saw the wisdom of their leader and his vision for the future of Ruudania.
And so, Aleksander looked upon his reign with pride and satisfaction. His duchy was a model for other such countries to follow and some did. Crime was low and poverty was unheard of. While there were poor people, and there will always be poor people, the poor and middle class outnumbered the rich by a great amount. He felt he was looked upon as a good leader, a true father of his country who cared deeply for his people.
In the year of our Lord, 1683, it was Aleksander's fiftieth year of gracing God's good earth. Now, no one lives forever and Aleksander was painfully aware of this fact. His own beloved wife, Katrina, had left his world three years earlier at the tender age of forty-three. She had lovingly bore him three sons and two daughters in their twenty-three years of marital bliss. Although their marriage had been one of political arrangement, they grew to love and respect each other soon after the grand wedding. Thinking back to that time, he now realized his only surviving son, Gregor, would need to begin preparations for marriage soon. He could not go on forever and Gregor would need the love and stability that marriage offered.
It had not been fair that Gregor be the one to succeed his father. Being third in line to the throne, Gregor was reasonably assured of living a life of carelessness and luxury upon his birth, but that was not to be. The eldest, Ivan, died in a freak hunting accident at the age of thirteen, while the second son, Sergei, a stupid and insolent adolescent, died of alcohol poisoning not too long after his mother departed the earth. Some would say he drank himself to death because of the loss of his mother, but ones who knew him best assumed it was but another excuse to imbibe too long and too hard. It was just unlucky he did not know his limits this time. Unlucky for Gregor, perhaps, but maybe very fortunate for the citizens of Ruudania who would be spared of Sergei's ineptitude as a person and a leader.
That could not be said for Gregor, who was his mother's image in looks, temperament and grace. Tall in stature and trim in size, Gregor had wavy black hair and pale gray eyes. He was considered handsome by most accounts and many young ladies of nobility hoped to catch the young prince's eye at various balls held throughout the year. He began attending these balls at the age of sixteen in the hopes of finding a young maiden who might catch his fancy, but none had done so as of yet. Keep in mind, he was but eighteen years young in the spring of 1683 and no one, save his father, was in any particular hurry for him to marry.
Aleksander had become uneasy with his fate soon after his fiftieth birthday. He was one of the few males in his family to have survived that long, his own father being one of them, and his intuition told him he was not to live much longer. How much longer? That, he could not tell. Therefore, he set about teaching his son the inner workings of their government. Many an hour went by as father and son sat in the great library pouring over books, documents, and treaties. Aleksander was overjoyed to find that Gregor appeared to absorb everything quickly and eagerly. His most trusted advisors were brought in to teach the young prince about law, finances, and government ministry. They, too, were pleased with his knowledge and understanding.
Weeks and months went by as father and son got to know each other better. Growing up, Gregor did not have the pleasure of his father's company very often. Now, in the twilight of his father's life, Gregor was taking advantage of their time together. When they were not discussing government or taxes, Aleksander showed great interest in his son's personal life. As was his custom, Gregor rarely expanded upon his interest in any of the fine maidens in their domain, let alone the fairer sex in general. As the Harvest Ball neared, Aleksander again felt the urgency to have his son married, and soon.
It was a beautiful August morning as the two had their heads close together in Aleksander's office. Pouring over a treaty his father had signed with the country called Haagendorf in the year of our Lord, 1674, Gregor shook his head in amazement at the simple, yet delicate handling of the writing within the treaty. Although Ruudania and Haagendorf were at a stalemate during their conflict, the document appeared to favor Ruudania in the long run.
"How did you get them to sign, father?" Gregor asked with interest. "It would seem we gained much from this and Haagendorf, little."
"At the time," his father explained, "it was advantageous for them to sign quickly. We had a stranglehold on their supply line to the sea."
"Should not we have crushed them and taken what was ours?"
"It was your grandfather's war and it had gone long enough. There would have been much more bloodshed and I did not want to see that happen. It was good for both countries."
Gregor nodded his approval at the wisdom of his father. Not only did both countries gain from the treaties, there had been nary a hint of hostility between the two since. In fact, they could almost be called allies, if such a term existed between two formerly warring countries. No, they would not invite the other over for cake and wine, but they no longer invaded the other's territories.
"I see," Gregor said. "So, it is not always the goal to defeat your enemy?"
"Only when a peaceful solution that is best for both countries can be worked out. It made no sense for us to continue killing each other when a peaceful solution was available."
Aleksander stopped and looked out the window behind them. The view was breathtaking and many a time, Aleksander would take time and just stare at its beauty. It overlooked the plush, rolling fields that surrounded his castle, fields that led to a majestic forest which bordered the Mandes River. Aleksander could see for miles in all directions from this vantage point and his country's beauty never ceased to amaze him. It was at the Mandes River where he received his first glimpse of Katrina as she stepped from her ship for her initial visit to Ruudania. Astride his black steed, he caught his breath in awe of her beauty. Totally captivated, it was not long before he proposed to her and she accepted. It mattered not to them that they were pawns between their warring fathers or that the engagement was already arranged. It only mattered what they felt in their hearts. Glancing back at his son, he could only wish the same happiness for him.
"The Harvest Ball is coming soon," Aleksander said as he turned away from the window.
"Yes," replied Gregor as he continued to study the treaty in hopes of learning more from it.
"It should be a grand time. We have had a very good crop this year. We are very fortunate."
"We are very fortunate," Gregor agreed.
"Have you anyone in mind to accompany you to the ball?"
"Why not?" his father inquired.
"Oh father," Gregor sighed as he put the treaty aside, "we have discussed this before many times over."
"Perhaps we need to discuss this more," Aleksander replied patiently.
"Why? What good would it do? I have met every duchess in the land and none have stirred me to the point of pursuing them. It is not their fault, but I do not wish to marry someone I am not in love with."
"Marriage?" his father laughed. "I do not believe I mentioned anything about marriage."
"Ah," his son admonished, "but it always leads to such."
"Only because the good people of Ruudania expect it. It has been a long time since they were able to celebrate a royal wedding."
"I will not marry just to please the people," Gregor said firmly.
"Will you marry at all?" he inquired. "It is unusual for someone your age not to be engaged or married. You are almost nineteen now and you have become a fine young man. You need a wife by your side when I am no longer here."
Gregor's eyes widened. "You scare me, father. You act as if you have not much longer to live!"
Aleksander looked at his son and tried to smile. "My bones are old and sometimes in my dreams I hear your mother calling for me. I am a realist. That is all. I will not live forever and you must be prepared for that event." He placed his hand on Gregor's shoulder. "I do not wish to rush you into an arranged marriage or marriage where you cannot stand the sight of the other. I feel I do not have many years left on this earth and you must understand the consequences. Our people will accept you as their leader much easier should you have a woman by your side. It is the simple truth and you can look through the annals of our history to prove it."
"A good, loving wife makes the troubles of leadership so much easier," the tired monarch continued. "Your mother's love was better than any elixir a physician could conjure up. I still miss her touch terribly."
Aleksander sat down heavily in his red velvet upholstered chair. It saddened him to discuss his mortality to his son, but he felt it was for the best. He had always tried to be honest with Gregor as he was with his sisters, Marta and Xenia. Both sisters were engaged to fine men of royal ties, but per custom, they were required to wait until the heir was married before they were allowed to take their vows. Neither wanted to say anything to their dear brother, whom they adored, but they were anxious, as were their beaus, to announce their nuptials. In their father, they confided their concerns and he tried to temper their angst.
"What do you suggest I do, father?" Gregor asked quietly, his heart heavy with sadness. "I have found no one here whom I would want to marry, nor is there any country nearby who would benefit from a marriage between our countries. I do not know what to do."
Aleksander had anticipated such a response from his son and from his anticipation, he had summoned a few of his advisors weeks before to gather their thoughts on the subject. From their conversations, Aleksander requested they make inquiries throughout the continent in hopes of finding a bride for the young prince. And so they did.
Aleksander spoke again. "I have already sent emissaries far and wide in search of a bride for you, my son. Minister Tschaikov has received various responses and now, he waits for my directive.
Gregor looked astonished, his face flushed in anger. "You have already started a search without knowing what I might want?"
"There was no harm done," his father explained. "If you do not want to pursue this, we will simply let them know our correspondence was a mistake and things will go on as before. But, sometimes these things work out for the best. Although it was not exactly the same thing, my marriage to your mother was similar. Our marriage was arranged and we could not break that arrangement, but I proposed to her nonetheless. It made it less...awkward... between us. We had no choice in the matter, however you do. You will be able to at least see a portrait of a girl and decide if you would like to meet her. We did not have that luxury. This is entirely up to you. I cannot and will not force you to do something of which you feel uncomfortable."
Aleksander sat back and folded his hands in front of him. He watched his son as he pondered all that was said. The king hoped his son would take advantage of the situation at hand and not be stubborn about it. It was he who said he found no one in the land whom he felt attraction towards, so why not try something else?
Gregor was still angered after his father's explanation, but he knew it would not last. The plan made sense, as did all of his father's plans, and there really was no harm done. He often wondered why he felt no particular attraction to any of the fairer sex in the kingdom. It was not because he found them unattractive. Ruudania and the surrounding lands were blessed with many beautiful women and yes, he found them to be very attractive. But when it came time to actually converse with them and discover more about them, he usually was disappointed. He could never pinpoint one certain thing that soured his thoughts, but it was always something about them he could not quite explain.
One thing was quite certain; Gregor was willing to look elsewhere. The one thing he did not particularly care about was that it had been done without his knowledge or consent, but he would overlook that as well. He knew his father was only looking out for his best interest and there was nothing wrong with that.
"I am sorry if I spoke out of line, father," Gregor said slowly. "I know you were doing what you thought was right. I am willing to listen to any proposals received."
Aleksander beamed with joy at his answer and for the rest of the day they talked with Tschaikov about the inquiries he had received.
Over the next six months, portraits were exchanged from lands far and near. Very few of the women pictured piqued his interest and there were some who no artist could paint to be even almost pretty. To Aleksander's amusement, one time Gregor was astonished and more than a little upset to discover it was he who was rejected by one of the plainer princesses.
One day, however, in the late winter of 1684, a portrait arrived with little fanfare. By this time, Gregor was resigned to the fact that perhaps he was being too strict and rigid in what he wanted from his future bride. At the Christmas Ball, he had met a princess from Fenwick named Anastasia with whom he danced several times. She was pleasing to the eye and somewhat witty and intelligent. He was mildly interested and looked forward to perhaps meeting her again at the Spring Ball to be held the following April.
Anyway, the portrait arrived and Tschaikov explained the girl portrayed was named Ingrid from Kesse, a small country 340 miles to the north.
"She has seen a portrait of you, my Lord, and she is anxious for your reply," he said. "I have not said this before about any of the previous women whose portrait you have seen, but from the information I have gathered, I think this woman would be a very good match for you."
"Well, let us see," Gregor replied, indicating the portrait, but not too enthusiastically. He had seen dozens of portraits and this was just another. He was, however, intrigued by Tschaikov's recommendation.
Tschaikov carefully unwrapped the package and showed it to the future heir. Gregor studied it for several minutes, his hand across his mouth and under his nose in deep thought. Before him was a pretty, but not beautiful, woman with red hair and china blue eyes. Her cheekbones were high and sharp and her smile was very pleasant. She appeared to be fairly tall and her build was slim. The dress she wore flattered her and the prince found he had trouble taking his eyes away. Gregor was intrigued and just as he had no clear reason for disliking some of the portraits he had seen, he could not pinpoint his attraction to her. He surmised it was her smile, which he found very warm and loving. It brightened her face and he assumed she could put everyone at ease with it.
"Tell me what you know about her," he said to Tschaikov.
It was late that evening and Gregor was still at his desk writing. He had gone through almost a dozen drafts of his first letter to Ingrid, partly because she spoke a different dialect than he and Gregor was not as proficient in her language as he would have liked, but mostly because he wanted the letter to be perfect. As the candles burnt lower and lower, he was finally satisfied. Gregor leaned back in his chair after putting his quill in the ink well and re-read his letter.
20 March 1684
My Dearest Ingrid,
This day, I have viewed your portrait for the first time and forgive me for being forward, but I find your likeness most appealing. Minister Tschaikov has been good enough to provide some information about you, but it is not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity. I would like to know more about you, your likes and dislikes, if you please. Anything you may provide me would be most appreciated.
You will find that although I am heir to the throne of Ruudania, I am a man of simple tastes and lifestyle. I am of even temperament and somewhat favor my dear, late mother, about whom no one had a bad thing to say. I drink very little and only weak wine at that. I love to read and you can find me up until early in the morning with my nose in a book or other manuscript. It is a wonder we have any candles left here!
I am a loving and caring person and from what Tschaikov has learned, you and I are similar in that regard. Though this land can be cold, my heart is warm and that will never change.
Know that I anxiously await your reply and perhaps we may meet someday soon.
Warmest Regards, Gregor
The next morning, Gregor's letter was dispatched with Aleksander's most trusted courier.
A brilliant sun shown over the royal dwelling of Kesse that late March morning. Princess Ingrid woke early as had been her custom for the past week or so, her heart waiting in anticipation for news from the south. Ever since emissaries had visited her father, King Wilhelm X, about the availability of his fair eldest daughter for marriage to Prince Gregor of Ruudania, she could scarcely keep a straight thought. No one of royalty had ever inquired about her, always showing more interest in her comely sister, Maria, who was already engaged. Some thought perhaps she was too old to be considered suitable for marriage, although she being nineteen was still thought of as being a perfect age in some societies of the time. Unfortunately, Kesse was a country where young maidens became unusable maids if they were not wed before their eighteenth birthday. Of course, Ingrid was aware of this, but there was nothing she could do should no one find her attractive.
In the meantime, she studied the history of Ruudania and received small bits of information about Gregor, whose portrait she admired very much. It was rumored, she was told, that King Aleksander was not in the best of health and perhaps Gregor would be the next king very soon. Now, Ruudania was not a large or grand country where the monarch's riches would be unbelievable and Kesse was not powerful enough for a lesser princess such as Ingrid to command such, but Ingrid only hoped to wed someone who was loyal and kind to her and perhaps even come to love her eventually. Although it was only a portrait, Ingrid saw warmth and kindness in Gregor's face and that was the main reason for her consent in the matter.