Megan Elder Evans
Berwick Castle, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Scotland
Earl Raegenhere Auenel stood on the eastern parapet of his castle and leaned against the wall, looking out over the town below. His dark blond hair, sprinkled with gray, brushed his shoulders in the breeze. His steel gray eyes shimmered in the mid-morning sun like the surface of the River Tweed that ran along the town. He smoothed his short beard as he watched the Comyn family gather in the nearby church graveyard to bury their fourteen-year-old son. Eni Comyn had taken a poisoned arrow in the thigh during the last battle with Northumberland three weeks before and had finally succumbed to the infection.
Raegenhere shook his head. Too young. How much more blood would be spilled before the war was over? At least no more of Berwick’s men would be lost, but the peace treaty would not bring back the Comyn’s son, nor the thousands of other sons killed over Scotland and England’s fifty-year war.
The Comyns surrounded a modest wood coffin and bowed their heads with the priest. Raegenhere bowed his with them as footsteps approached from behind.
“My Lord, a letter has just arrived.”
Raegenhere held up his hand, his head still bowed but his eyes trained on the priest. When the priest had made the sign of the cross, Raegenhere turned to face his army marshal.
“Thank you, Hereric. Who is it from?” He held out his hand.
“King David.” Hereric gave him the letter. He looked over the wall at the funeral. “One of our men?”
Hereric shook his head. “How many does he make?”
“One hundred, thirty-seven. Far too many. I pray I never have to be responsible for another of these funerals as long as I live.” Raegenhere slipped his thumb under the fold of the parchment and broke the wax seal.
Earl Raegenhere Auenel,
I have received your letter conveying the details of the peace agreement you have reached with Earl Edmund Garrard III, and you have my blessing to proceed. The sooner this war is over the better. This move may prove greatly advantageous to us in more ways than one. I understand Earl Garrard has no sons, only this one daughter. Upon the Earl’s eventual death, Northumberland could easily be brought into our nation, but that will be a discussion for a later time. For now, I wish you the best of luck in your upcoming nuptials, and I commend you for your valiant efforts to establish peace and independence for Scotland.
King David II
Raegenhere refolded the letter.
“My Lord, is it good news?”
Raegenhere pinched the edges of the letter. “King David approves of the peace agreement and expresses hope that we might absorb Northumberland into Scotland’s borders.
“That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? More land and resources for our own country.”
Raegenhere looked over his shoulder at the graveyard. The service was over, the priest gone, but the family lingered as the groundskeeper shoveled dirt over the coffin.
“It might also cause more bloodshed. England would not cede so much as an inch of land to her enemy.” He leaned against the wall and surveyed the town. “Tell me, Hereric, what makes us noblemen so hungry for power, land, and wealth? What makes any man, for that matter, desire more than he needs at the expense of others?”
Hereric shrugged. “Want of a better life, more happiness?”
Raegenhere shook his head. “If that were true, I would be a thousand times happier than that family.” He pointed to the Comyns. “No, I think a lack of fulfillment, and a lack of knowledge of how to gain it is what causes it. Constantly chasing something, thinking That’s what I need. We believe if we accumulate enough land and riches it will fill a hole in us, but it never does.”
“Why do you include yourself? I’ve known you my entire life, and I’ve never known you to thirst after power and wealth. I see no emptiness in you.”
Raegenhere turned to face Hereric. “You have never known me to give up those things either. The more I accumulate, the more detached I feel from the people I care about. You know that little hunting cottage I have in the woods just south of Kirkbale?”
“When I’m in that tiny house, no servants, only my own hands to get by, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Yet I still come back here. For what?”
“Your people depend on you for leadership.”
“I could easily transfer my responsibilities to you, cousin. No, there is something I want, and somehow I have made myself believe this lifestyle will give it to me.”
“Well, there is one thing you don’t have. Do you ever think a wife is that missing piece?”
“A woman who has been trained to bend to my every whim and have no thoughts of her own? Trust me, that is not it. Why do you think I’ve never married? Our women—noblewomen, I mean—have no minds of their own. They learn to embroider cushions, play music, draw, and dance for our entertainment. They are boring. Unfortunately, I seem to be coming into possession of one of those too.” Raegenhere rubbed his brow. “If it wasn’t so ridiculous, I might prefer a peasant for my wife. At least she might have some modicum of independent thought and a sense of humor.”
Hereric shook his head. “You must be the only man I know who actually wants a free-thinking woman. You would probably get a thrill if this Lady Cristiana told you to drown yourself in the river.”
Raegenhere grinned. “I might.” He sighed. “But I doubt I’ll have that luxury. She is probably like all the other noblewomen. How are preparations for our trip to Northumberland?”
“We are waiting for Immin and Osfrid to arrive. According to yesterday’s letter, they left King David two days ago. We can expect them tomorrow, and we will leave at dawn the following morning. We should arrive that afternoon if we waste no time.”
“Good. Make sure we take only the strongest steeds.” Raegenhere walked toward the southeast tower. “Come with me.”
Hereric followed Raegenhere down the tower stairs to Raegenhere’s private chambers. Raegenhere swung the door open and strode to his ebony-lacquered oak desk that sat in the center of his living hall. Rolls of blank parchment sat atop it in a neat pile beside a goose feather quill and ink well. He unrolled a sheet of parchment and dipped the quill.
To Earl Edmund Garrard III,
This letter is to confirm that I and my party will be arriving in Alnwick on the 14th of June, and to inform you that King David of Scotland has approved our treaty.
Earl Raegenhere Auenel
Raegenhere folded and sealed the letter before he handed it to Hereric. “Have this delivered to Northumberland straight away.”
“Of course.” Hereric bowed and departed.
When the door had closed, Raegenhere entered his bedchamber. His traveling case was already packed. There was only one thing more he needed. The ring. At the foot of his bed sat a large carved trunk. He opened it and removed a smaller gold chest. He opened the lid and peered in. His mother’s jewels were exactly as she had left them upon her death ten years ago, and atop the rubies, emeralds, and intricately woven chains of gold sat a gold ring tied to a silk pillow that had yellowed with age. At the center of the ring sat a diamond flanked on either side by a row of sapphires descending in size as they extended out from the diamond.
In the front room, the chamber door opened. Raegenhere clutched the ring and stood as a short, plump woman with gray hair knotted on top of her head entered the bedroom. Her arms wrapped around a basket of fresh linens.
“I’m sorry, milord. I did not know you were in here. I can come back later,” she said.
“Nonsense, Muriel. Come. I could use some cheering up.” Raegenhere leaned against a bedpost.
Muriel pulled the sheets from the bed and piled them on the floor. “And how might I cheer you up?” She cast a knowing glance at him.
Raegenhere grinned. “Marry me.”
Muriel shook her head. “And deprive your betrothed of the most eligible bachelor in Scotland? I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Come now. You would make a wonderful wife. You speak your mind, thanks to your late husband, you’ve already been a wife, so I would not have to train you, and you have a wonderful sense of humor.”
“I’m too old for you.” Muriel flung a new sheet over the bed.
“Age is all in the mind. What do you say?” Raegenhere wrapped his arms around her matronly waist.
She whipped a pillowcase at him. “Hands off, you foolish boy.”
Raegenhere laughed and let go. “Foolish boy? You sound like an old aunt scolding her nephew.”
Muriel stuffed a pillow into the case, never taking her eyes from him. “Old aunt? Well, you best keep your hands to yourself in Northumberland. You’ll harass the wrong woman and she will either die of fright or plant her fist in that devilish grin of yours.”
“Don’t be so concerned. You are the only woman I’ve ever harassed, and that is only because I know I can get away with it. So will you marry me?”
Muriel rolled her eyes and replaced the pillow on the bed. “No.”
“That is your loss, then.” Raegenhere held out the ring.
Muriel stared at it. “Your mother’s ring.”
“She wanted you to give that ring to the woman you love.”
“She did. But that woman has failed to make her appearance.”
Muriel stuffed the other pillows into their new pillowcases. “Won’t you give Lady Cristiana a different ring? Save that one for your heir to give to his bride, or if you have a girl, give it to her as an heirloom.”
Raegenhere pulled a ribbon and silk swatch from the chest. He wrapped the ring up tight and concealed it in a hidden pocket of his traveling case. “I had thought of it, but I will not deprive my wife, no matter who she may be, of the ring my mother wished to see me give to my bride. Lady Cristiana deserves at least that much. Besides, I doubt she is pleased with this arrangement. The least I can do is show her that I think of our marriage as if it were one based on mutual affection.”
“Aye, she should appreciate that.” Muriel tossed the dirty linens into her basket. “Well, I hope Lady Cristiana is everything you ever hoped for in a wife. Tomorrow is my day off, so if I do not see you, travel safe, milord.” She bowed and left.
Raegenhere sat on the bed. He rubbed his brow. Perhaps Lady Cristiana Garrard would be a wife he could love. If not, then at least he would have someone to give him children.
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Excerpt from Fate's Arrangement, Chapter 2