Chapter 3 : Ensnare a Heart
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Ensnare a Heart
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On the day Rowena Black was born, the kingdom of Alba broke into a triumphant cacophony of celebration. Ordinary people lined the stone walls of Alba’s most famous and breathtaking castle, the impenetrable Black Fortress, belonging to Rowena’s father, the formidable warrior king Bevan Black. He had darker skin and darker hair than most of his subjects, and amongst them he seemed an outsider, but he was immensely popular and his people adored him like they had adored no other king for centuries. His wife, the generous and loving Queen Emma was the apple of the people’s eyes, and they saw her as one of the most beautiful women of the age. They were celebrated throughout Alba and people worshipped them throughout the land, making them immensely popular and successful. From the poorest of peasants to the richest of merchants, the royal family was the embodiment of everything that was good and perfect in Alba and they would not change them for all the world.
There was only one problem that upset the Utopia that was the lives of the people dwelling inside the Black Castle. Queen Emma was nearing forty years old and King Bevan was a rotund man of fifty. They had first been married at the age of twenty and thirty respectively in a sumptuous wedding and they were heralded to be the beginning of a great new dynasty, as it was Emma who was the heir to the throne. However, after years and years of fruitless trying the marriage had produced no children. They loved each other dearly and devoted their lives to each other, but for all their trying their famous love could not produce an heir. Then finally, out of the blue after years of trying different forms of complex magic and herbal treatments, Queen Emma finally fell pregnant, and the triumphant news was met with feasts and dances throughout the land. The lords celebrated in their castles while the peasants danced in their shacks. While they were separated by their wealth and fortune, they were joined by their happiness at the news of a newly born heir.
Amongst the celebrating subjects of Alba who wrapped themselves round the castle walls, King Bevan had placed some of his best knights to stop the masses becoming unruly, wild and leaving the celebration as a bloody and violent riot. His knights used all their strength to push back the people who were clamouring for a small glimpse of the precious baby when she would be shown to the world. One of these knights who was squashed amongst the ordinary people was a fit athletic looking man going by the name of Sir Bedivere. He was tall with close cut brown hair and he was so physically intimidating that the ordinary people just shied away from him. He had an easy job because of his natural gift to strike fear into people’s hearts and nobody dared to come within two feet of him. For this fortunate luck he just spent his time just resting and watching the world go by. He enjoyed watching the peasants have petty squabbles over whether the new princess would have dark hair like her father, or be a blonde like her mother. As the crowd’s volume grew particularly quiet in the anticipation of seeing the new heir, another knight ambled over to Sir Bedivere to relieve him of his duties. Instantly noticing how fatigued he was from spending hours pushing people back, he decided to get some ale at a nearby tavern to help his relax.
Kicking the door open of “The Crown” tavern, he made quite an entrance into the little place. He arrived in the dirty tavern to find it empty apart from a grumpy bartender who was cleaning some grubby looking flagons behind the counter. Layers of dirty straw were strewn across the floor and the walls were layered with dirt but Bedivere decided this would be a cheap place to relax in. It was evident that the common men of the city were too enraptured with the news of the new princess to want a drink or even stay in the tavern, so Sir Bedivere swaggered over to the bar and ordered a large pint of cold beer to quench his thirst and put burn life back into his veins. Once the angry looking bartender had given him what he wanted, and he had been paid, Sir Bedivere went and sat on a table near the fire, taking long gulps of his beer to calm himself. The weather in Alba could chill you to the bone sometimes so he sat down with the good intention to stay there for as long as possible, warm against the fire.
He gazed into the fire for a moment, contemplating his life in the Black Castle in general but suddenly his thoughts were disturbed as the door of the empty tavern swung open with a loud bang. Bedivere snapped his head round quickly to see who was disturbing his peace and disrupting his thoughts. Silhouetted in the light there stood a very beautiful woman with cascades of honey blonde hair and silvery eyes like the moon. Bedivere thought she must be around the same age as him, her mid thirties, and her eyes showed that she had had a very tough life. Her belly was round with child and she wore rough clothes and wooden clogs, but this did not make her any less appealing to him. In one hand she grasped the tanned hand of a skinny little boy with a messy dark head of hair and his mother’s silvery eyes which seemed to illuminate his boyish face. He, however, seemed desperate to pull his hand away from his mothers and go and explore the empty tavern himself, but she kept a firm grip on him, and from the way her hand was tensed Bedivere sensed her grip was as strong as iron. In her other arm she clung to a little boy that was roughly three years old, with the same dark hair and silvery eyes as his brother. Both the boys were dressed in rags like their mother, and Bedivere instantly assumed they were beggars off the street.
“Antioch!” she cried shrilly, pulling him as close to her as she possibly could, “you can let go of my hand in a minute once we’ve got some food!” The woman marched over to the grumpy old bartender, dragging her scruffy son behind her, with a worried look etched on her tired face. “What is the cheapest food you have?” she asked bluntly, her voice hushed and nervous. The barman gave a gruff little laugh, almost like a dogs bark as he cruelly answered, almost making fun of her predicament,
“Three groats for a piece of bread,” he said looking at her raggedy dress and her dirty children, almost guessing that she would not be able to pay for even half a piece of the dirty bread. Bedivere watched as the woman’s pretty face fell in anger and disappointment as her mind whirred at what to do next. “Love, if you can’t pay I’d advise you to leave, I don’t give space to gypsies,” the barman said, beginning to clean up the flagons again. His brown eyes briefly flicked over Antioch and then returned to gaze into her silvery pools. He gave a small chuckle then turned his back on her completely, signalling that she and ‘her kind’ were not welcome in his tavern. The woman gave one angry look at the barman and a dejected sigh and then followed his command and turned to go. As she performed this action something clicked with Sir Bedivere. Something had taken over Bedivere’s heart, maybe it was human compassion, he did not know.
“Stop,” he began, his voice not its usual volume but considerably quieter, but loud enough for it to bit through the silence. The woman and the barman turned to face him, curiosity on their faces. “How much is it for three proper substantial meals, you know, meat, vegetables and gravy, the whole thing?” Bedivere quickly asked the barman, who looked instantly shocked at Bedivere’s unexpected kindness. The barman nodded and immediately asked for florins as he knew Italian money was worth far more than the Alban currency. Bedivere handed over the money to the barman whose black eyes flashed greedily. “There you go,” said Bedivere slowly, turning to face the woman, “two meals for you, one for me, a fair deal I say.” The woman watched him with her silvery eyes for a moment, a look of shock on her beautiful face, highlighting each one of her aquiline features.
“For free,” she stammered, obviously stunned at his kindness, “you’re going to give me two meals for free?” Her look of shocked innocence just made her all the more appealing to Bedivere. She seemed a sweet woman who had ample human emotion and was capable of great kindness. However, this did not explain everything, Sir Bedivere never did this, the great Sir Richard Bedivere never threw himself at a woman’s feet, but there was something different about this woman. She seemed intelligent, though she probably could not read a word, as if she would understand the whole universe if she was taught. Bedivere moved towards her as slowly as he could, normally this terrified women as he looked so big and brutish, but she stayed where she was, resolutely looking into his eyes.
“On one condition,” he whispered as tenderly as could as he gazed down at her. She raised one of her thin eyebrows, waiting for his request, a slight look of panic in her silvery eyes, “you dine with me as my guest and tell me your name.” The woman seemed shocked by the mere suggestion, but without protest she let Bedivere take her hand and direct her to his rickety table, even letting him pull out a chair for her. She placed her toddler on the floor beside her while her other son, Antioch seated himself next to his mother almost like a guard dog, giving Bedivere suspicious looks. Dropping down into the seat opposite her, Bedivere held out one of his large hands, to which she instantly shook.
“My name is Sir Richard Bedivere, a knight of King Bevan’s guard,” Bedivere said gazing at her with curiosity, “and you my fair lady, what is your name?” The woman gave him a small smile at his kindness and compliments and then threw back her long hair over her left shoulder, obviously trying to us her feminine wiles on his as she gently shook Bedivere’s hand for a second time, coquettishly batting her long eyelashes.
“My name, Sir Bedivere, is...is...” her smooth voice trailed off for a moment, she seemed as if the sound of her own name caused her soul the utmost pain, and Bedivere could see the words caught in her throat. Her magical eyes darted into her own lap at immense speed and her son Antioch immediately bolstered at his mother’s visible distress, and gave Sir Bedivere one of the most ferocious looks he had ever seen, one you would expect to see on a wild animal ready to devour its prey.
“Why did you upset my mother like that? She doesn’t like to talk about herself, not since father...” Antioch’s resolve seemed to fail as he turned to his mother for support, desperately not wanting to talk about his father. She lifted her head and looked up at Bedivere again, waving one hand at Antioch to hush him. Placing her hands on the table she began to speak, her voice sweet and hushed, as if she had some big secret that she wanted no one to ever hear, and was constantly scared it would be found out.
“My name is Cybele, Cybele Peverell,” she said the truthfulness of her words radiating from her eyes, “and this is my son Antioch, and my son Cadmus.” She pointed to each of her sons in turn and then gazed at Bedivere serenely as if she was at peace, “so, why are all the people turning into madmen at the castle gates?” Bedivere looking at her in a confused manner. Had she been living under a rock for nine months? The news of the new heir must have reached the four pillars of the earth Bedivere reckoned, so how did Cybele and her children no know.
“Our Majesty Queen Emma had just given birth to the heir to the throne of Alba. The people have waited twenty years for this day and now she’s finally arrived, so they are celebrating.” Cybele watched him for a moment, seemingly formulating an opinion on this piece of news. When she next spoke her words were tentative,
“She? It’s a little girl?” Sir Bedivere nodded cheerfully. Many people had felt slightly worried of the news of a female heir, but Sir Bedivere did not care in the slightest. She was flesh and blood of Queen Emma, a strong resilient woman and Bedivere was sure she would have no problem ruling this purely magical kingdom. Sir Bedivere looked at Cybele for a moment, studying her for the first time,
“Women can be as strong and brave as men can they not? I was sure you were one woman who has overcome many obstacles in her life.” Cybele nodded gently, a red colour rising in her cheeks. At that moment the grumpy barman came over and deposited plates brimming with meat and vegetables in front of Bedivere, Antioch and Cybele, and then he turned away to the bar, ignoring them once again. Antioch immediately leapt at his food like an animal, it was evident from his mad hungry eyes and skinny frame that he had not eaten in a while, so forgot all manners when consuming it. Cybele passed some food down to the little Cadmus and then began on her own food, still looking with interest at Bedivere.
“Have they named the girl yet?” Cybele asked politely in between mouthfuls. Bedivere nodded as he chewed some carrots. They watched each other as Cybele waited for Sir Bedivere’s reply. Once Cybele had finished chewing gently she said, “I imagine they would call her Emma, after her mother...or Alice...Alice is a good name for a princess.” Bedivere smiled warmly before finishing chewing and answering, it was good to be able to talk to someone, after all people usually ran away from him because of his large intimidating presence, “They’ve called her Rowena, Princess Rowena.”
Cybele smiled gently as Bedivere watched her. Her face clearly said that she was formulating a plan that would benefit herself and her children. Bedivere gazed at her as his brown eyes met her silvery ones, and in that moment, he knew he would do absolutely anything for her. She stretched out her arms along the table and she gave him a brilliant smile as she began to speak, “with a new princess running around the palace, surely they’ll need some more help, like a maid, or a seamstress and maybe even a new stable boy!” Cybele pointed one of her fingers at Antioch who nodded dolefully.
“I can help you,” said Bedivere happily, overjoyed that he could do something to help the lovely Cybele and her growing family, “I can get you jobs in the castle, I can get you jobs anywhere and the king will listen to me. After all with Princess Rowena, he and Queen Emma are going to need all the help they can get.”
King Bevan arrived in the entrance hall of the castle in a brisk fashion after showing the new Princess Rowena to the people. He had lifted her up on the battlements and the people had cheered in joy at the sight of her. People chanted for the angelic babe and Bevan finally felt that he could be a truly wonderful king. While the people chanted however, he knew that no one was happier about the birth than him and his beautiful and brave Emma. They had gazed at their child for what seemed like hours, the little baby with black hair like a midnight sky and shining dark blue eyes like a rippling lake. Bevan knew that little Rowena was the most important person in the whole world and he loved her with every fibre of his being.
The entrance hall was deathly quiet; all the courtiers were queuing outside his wife’s room to get a proper look at Rowena. All usual formalities of leaving the Queen alone after the birth had been forgotten in the joy of the newly born heir, the baby that had been waited for by so many people for so many years. Bevan enjoyed the peace, he had not slept for over twenty four hours and had craved it, but now he could let his mind rest.
Suddenly, a heavy wooden door that lead to the kitchens burst open to reveal a man with white blonde hair almost like snow and piercing electric blue eyes. Bevan recognised him immediately. His name was Bjorn Fjerstad and he was a visitor from the far flung country of Svalbard. His presence in Black Castle was all quick mysterious as he had appeared out of the wind and rain several weeks ago begging for hospitality. He had said he was here on urgent business from his master and friend Leif, the Jarl of Svalbard, but until now he had not made his business known. He said he had to wait for the right moment to carry out his task, and Bevan had mainly ignored him up to this exact moment, his mind focussed on preparing his wife for the baby.
But now it seemed, Bevan could ignore Bjorn no more as the second Bjorn saw Bevan; he gave him a deep respectful bow, his long nose almost touching the floor. Bevan gave a quick flick of the wrist to show his guest that he could stand up and Bjorn immediately complied, standing up to his full monstrous height. Bevan registered that he was taller than he previously thought him and he was fairly muscular making Bevan suspect he could pack a powerful punch. He held his wand in a belt around his waist and he fingered it nervously as he glided towards Bevan.
“My lord,” he began, obviously contemplating his words, “I have been here for the past few weeks living in the comfort of your hospitality and kindness because you believed I had urgent business to carry out.” His loud voice rang around the Gothic entrance hall, almost as if he was giving a speech, “I am now ready to impart my message to you.” Bevan nodded slowly waiting for Bjorn to say something that was worth listening to, “My message, my lord, comes directly from Leif the Jarl himself,” Bjorn cleared his throat quickly and then said, “my message could have taken two different routes, one route I would be heading back home this instant with nothing to say to you, but because of recent circumstances the Jarl and the honourable Lady Mikayla his wife would like to remind you that they have a six month old son by the name of Harald.”
Bevan was totally bewildered by what Bjorn had said, why on earth was the Jarl reminding him that he had a six month old son? Then it dawned on him, as clear as the morning son, the Jarl was already matchmaking and was eyeing up Rowena as a potential wife for his son Harald. Bevan’s anger began to boil, now was not the time to discuss wedding plans, and anyway, Bevan was sure that when it was time for Rowena to marry he would always consult her on her potential suitors.
“I do not believe that this is an appropriate time to discuss wedding arrangements for my daughter,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady but his anger rose regardless, “maybe in seven years or so, or do you want to start choosing the music to dance to at the feast afterwards?” Bevan eyed him with loathing and repulsion at the mere suggestion of already using his barely a day old daughter as a bargaining chip, like a prize to be won. Bjorn clearly understood his message and nodded, then lifted his great head up to gaze at Bevan.
“Of course my lord, I will return to Svalbard tonight to convey the news to my master.” With that Bjorn turned back to the door he came through and disappeared back down the passage, evidently making his way to his room to prepare for the treacherous journey back to Svalbard. Bevan sighed; he knew with a single daughter, the heir to the whole of Alba, every available man would be jumping at the chance of marrying her. Bevan also hoped that the man Rowena would marry would also be the one to ensnare her heart.
That night Queen Emma cried, not with grief or sadness, but with joy and relief. Emma had asked her servants to leave her and let her cry alone. She covered her midnight blue eyes with her hand as she sobbed, her heart lifting joyfully. For years she had not been able to give Bevan what he wanted, a child, and Bevan himself was getting restless. Even though it was Emma who was Queen and Bevan just her consort, Bevan had never been in it for the power. He happened to love her, whatever people said, and he wanted children. Emma knew that deep down in his heart he had considered leaving her, even though she had tried all she could to siilence these thoughts. But now they could be a family, now Emma’s life was complete with her dear little Rowena.
Emma had ordered she did not want a wet nurse, she was to do it all herself. She was determined to be a proper mother to her dear Rowena like she was a proper wife to Bevan. Emma held baby Rowena so close, just for a moment until the courtiers would finally have to be let in to see the tiny baby. Her little angel would be the most precious thing she had ever had to care for, and her heart beat in excitement of the prospect of herself and Bevan caring for the tiny girl.
The door finally opened to reveal Emma’s handmaiden, Agnes, who looked extremely flustered, burst into view. Her normally neat brown hair looked wild and it was evident she had had to physically restrain several people. She gave the Queen a pained look at which Emma finally relented; she couldn’t leave the courtiers standing out in the cold forever.
“Two at a time!” Emma demanded as she gazed lovingly at her daughter. Emma was so pleased that the courtiers loved her; hopefully they would love the baby just as much. She fidgeted for a moment and then something came to her mind that she couldn’t forget. “Agnes dear!” she shouted. Agnes’ head peeped round the door to look into Emma’s face, “please go and get my diadem, before they come in.” As Agnes left the room Emma let out a huge sigh, nobody apart from Agnes could ever see her without her diadem. The diadem was simply magical, in enhanced all her natural abilities and made her more intelligent and more beautiful. It also made people love her, and Emma was sure the diadem was the reason the people were crowding round the castle walls, not the baby exactly.
“My lady,” came Agnes for a third time, peering round the door, and her voice rough as she spoke. Emma cocked her head to listen to her handmaiden as the woman shuffled inside, her voice barely a whisper, and “my lord King Bevan wishes to see you.” Emma gulped loudly as her mind whirred; she could not see Bevan right at this moment.
“Tell him to wait, then get my diadem and once I have it on my head then he can come in.” Agnes complied as she left the room as Emma’s heart began to beat loudly in her chest. She remembered Bevan as a knight in her father’s guard, a brave and good knight who had saved so many people. Emma used to watch him from her bedroom window as he wandered around the courtyard always imagining that she could marry this handsome man. Then one day she had seen him meet a woman out in the courtyard, and they had kissed and embraced and Emma’s heart had frozen.
In a rage she had enchanted the diadem, making her heart’s true desire love her more than anyone else. When he had seen her wearing the fantastically beautiful diadem Bevan had totally forgotten the woman, who turned out to be Lady Diane, and they were preparing to marry. But no, Emma had taken Bevan away and she had him all to herself. She married him and he loved her all the time she wore the diadem, hardly ever taking it off in his presence. There were the times it was absent when he became confused and agitated, but Emma did not care, for when she put it back on he was as loving as ever. How else was she meant to ensnare his heart?
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