The Duke and the Duchess

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Summary

The further adventures of Nick and Elizabeth from The Lady and the Prince. This will be updated when the book is completed. The people of the Duchy of Sothalia were hard hit in the war with the Francks, Many were killed, the walled city of Sothalia was severely damaged, the castle mostly in ruins. As the new Duke and Duchess of Sothalia, Prince Nick and Princess Elizabeth have a big job ahead of them, but first they have to survive the winter. If they do, in spring they face the enforcement of the Anglian witchcraft law, which says witches must be burned at the stake; Prince Nick is a witch. Will the law be changed, or will Nick's brother Arthur, the new Warlord try to arrest him and take him back to Londinum for execution? More to come, and this will be revised as I get farther into writing the book!

Genre:
Fantasy
Author:
Jan Suchomel
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
18
Rating:
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 1

Prince Henry Nicholas Warwick, Duke of Sothalia, Prince of Anglia, and the only known living witch, warlock, sorcerer, mage, or whatever in the nation, stood on his tower in a stiff cold breeze. At one time the castle had had quite a few towers, but now only one remained. Invading Francks had destroyed most of the rest, leaving the main hall, winter kitchen and pantry, one corridor and one block of rooms standing, as well as the now detached tower.

The winter wind swirled through the remains of the walled town of Sothalia around him, whipping snow off of buildings to gather in drifts in the streets. There were threads of smoke rising from chimneys here and there, not much from the poorer areas but quite a lot from the multiple chimneys per house in the more exclusive enclave of the nobility. The prince imagined the wind blowing the smoke back into the mansions. Well, the servants would take care of it, and at least those people had heat; not everyone did.

When Franckish troops had occupied the town, the larger homes had been claimed as residences by senior officers and Franckish nobility. While artwork and other small items of value had often been stolen when they departed, the furnishings and housewares had nearly always been left undamaged and in place. The rest of Sothalia had been vandalized. Buildings had been partially or completely destroyed, everything movable stolen or used for fuel, wells fouled, and the streets littered with garbage, rubble, and worse. There was a lot of work that still needed to be done to return the town to its former condition.

Prince Nick and Elizabeth, his new wife, were doing what they could to help. Nick had used his magic to clean out at least some of the wells, repair the outer wall, and close up what gaping holes he could in what was left of the castle. Princess Elizabeth Mary Stratton Warwick , Duchess of Sothalia, doled out dried fish, potatoes, and firewood to those in need and provided what medical care she could to the poor in the absence of available physicians. But they both knew that many of the ordinary people who had survived the war were barely hanging on.

Looking across the remains of the town, the prince could see less smoke than usual from the poorer sections; most people saved their wood for the coldest nights and just wrapped up during the days. The winter was unusually harsh, deep snow making it difficult or impossible many days to gather wood or hunt or trap in the nearby forest. Even the largest, strongest men couldn't penetrate much beyond the edge of the tree line, since floundering through drifts without knowing what was underneath was both a struggle and dangerous.

At least the remains of the castle were more livable now. At Nick and Elizabeth's wedding the local nobles had seen that most of the castle residents were using camping equipment for furniture. When they returned after a polite interval to offer their fealty to their new duke and duchess, they had also offered odd pieces of furniture and housewares that were stored in their attics and cellars. So the castle now had mismatched tables, chairs, beds, dressers, chests, armoires and the like, and no one was still sleeping on the floor or eating standing up.

The door to the tower had been locked and was on the second floor, completely inaccessible once the Francks had pulled down large parts of the castle. So it hadn't been pillaged and was nicely furnished, although still difficult to access. The prince had to lift people in and out with his magic, which was inconvenient for everyone. A second tower door on the lowest level that opened into a large underground area was completely blocked due to the collapse of that area in the general destruction. Nick knew he needed to rectify the situation in the spring, although he had no definite plan yet. Spring was still months away.

The prince himself suffered not at all from the freezing wind. He blocked it easily with his magic, although he kept his gray hooded cloak wrapped tightly around himself. Even with the wind blocked it was still cold out, and while he could have heated the stones he stood on, it wasn't worth the energy expenditure for the few minutes he spent on the tower each day.

From there he could see most of the roofs and some of the streets and squares, enough to judge how his people were doing, at least in general. Today he couldn't tell much of anything aside from the quantity of smoke. The streets were mostly empty; anyone with any sense was indoors conserving their heat and strength. He soon went in too, through the roof hatch and down the ladder into his bed chamber, keeping out the wind and blowing snow with his magical shield.

He tossed his cloak aside, knowing his valet, Parker, would hang it up for him. He checked the two runes he had inscribed on the wall, one for heat and one for light, and found them still well-charged. A small amount of magic usually powered them for a week, although for the past month he'd had to recharge the heat rune every few days. He liked using the runes now that he had learned more about them, since anyone who knew how to touch them properly could turn them on or off. He had made sure Elizabeth, as well as her maid Sylvie, and Parker could operate them before he installed them on the upper four levels of the tower--the bedroom at the top, the dining and library level below it, the sitting room with the outer door, and the former kitchen at ground level. That room was slowly being converted to housing and work areas for Sylvie and Parker, although it couldn't be fully occupied until actual interior walls could be built and the servants could get to it without his help.

The lowest level of the tower held the tomb of an ancient sorcerer named Ozmond. There was currently no need for anyone to go down there since all it contained was his white stone sarcophagus on an elaborate bier. Eventually it might provide tower access if the collapsed area outside its exterior door could be cleared, but now most people avoided it as being "creepy".

Ozmond's ghost had projected anger at everyone in the area and taken over and controlled Prince Nick before he had found a way to send the shade on to wherever it should have gone in the first place. The prince knew absolutely the ghost was gone so he didn't mind going down to that level. Nick found the silver ring embedded in the stone around the bier interesting. It was something for future magical experimentation once the coffin had been removed and properly buried, another chore for spring.

Nick went from his bedroom down a level to his desk that sat buried under books, scrolls, and papers. The prior tower owner had been the magician Ozmond. When Nick had been named the new Duke of Sothalia after Duke Hubert and his family had perished in the war, he had inherited a wealth of magical texts as well as old histories and records of Sothalia from centuries past, although no recent paperwork at all; the Francks had seen to that. He delved into the magical scrolls and books whenever he had time, but he had to try to recreate Duke Hubert's tax structure, town and duchy records, and all the documentation the duchy required as well.

He settled into a chair and went over the figures again. He'd started keeping track of how many people came to the castle each day for food shortly after Elizabeth had started handing it out. They had only been able to purchase a very limited supply in the fall since there just hadn't been much available, and now it looked like they wouldn't have enough to feed everyone even minimally until spring. One dried fish, one potato, and one piece of firewood each per day were all they were able to provide for the indigent. Winter was only half over and already three quarters of their extra food was gone.

There was likely enough for his own people in the castle, and they had a little more variety in their diet. Nick was afraid Elizabeth would start handing that out too if they ran out of fish and potatoes. She knew she shouldn't, but he'd seen the way she looked at the ragged children who lined up with the adults and he wasn't sure he could keep her from giving away everything they had. He didn't like the children going hungry, or anyone else for that matter, but the winter had been unusually hard. The snow had come early and often, and it had quickly become too deep to go far to hunt or trap or gather wood. On days with better weather he saw people going out to get what firewood they could and set snares where the snow was trampled or the wind had blown it shallow. So some days the food line was shorter and he started thinking they would make it, and then the weather turned ugly and the line grew again.

He was the duke; it was his responsibility to take care of his people. The fact that he was only sixteen years old and had become the duke just before winter was irrelevant. He was officially an adult, and married. He'd had to grow up quickly after his brother Prince Richard was crippled by a malicious magical attack by three Anglian lords plotting a coup. He'd briefly been the official Anglian Head of Commerce and had done his best to replace his brother as Spymaster as well as fight in the wars against the Franckish invaders and the Anglian traitors.

That was all over now, the Francks had been defeated and the rebellious lords either killed or exiled. He had nothing to worry about except surviving the winter and whether or not his brother Prince Arthur, Richard's replacement as Warlord, would show up with an army in spring to arrest him for being a witch and drag him off to Londinum to be burned at the stake. The law against witchcraft was still in effect as far as he knew, although he was aware attempts were being made to change it to spare him. But his father, King William IV was wary of seeming to show him favoritism. Five of the king's nine Councilors had to agree with any law change and none of the five earls and dukes that survived the wars had been in favor of allowing magic in Anglia after having to fight sorcerers. As a duke, Nick was automatically a Council member and could vote pro-magic, but he didn't even know who had been appointed to replace the traitors.

But spring was still a long way off, and there was no point in even thinking about that now, other than his occasional wish he could use magic to cure Richard. All the magical books and scrolls he now owned said very little about using magic to heal, and he didn't know if any type of cure was even possible. Richard was his favorite brother, the only one who had taken time to teach him anything, and seeing that strong, active man reduced to lying in bed just made the young prince sad.

He resolutely turned his mind back to the food problem. At this time of year the only food source beyond what they had stored was meat. He could probably make it down to the stream that ran near Sothalia, melt off some of the ice and get some fresh fish, but everyone was sick and tired of fish, himself included. That would be a last resort.

Venison or boar would be extremely welcome. The Francks had cut a wide swath through the countryside with their army, but beyond that the land was relatively untouched and as soon as the humans moved out, wild animals started moving back in. The wild animal population in the local was certainly not as high as it had been, but the time or two he'd been out scouting he had seen tracks of various sorts.

But with the snow so deep it was difficult to hunt. A horse might plow its way through the drifts on the road or across a farmer's field, but couldn't go into the woods. Not knowing what was under the snow, a horse or even a man could flounder into holes, deadfalls, and who knows what and probably end up with a broken leg. That might result in horsemeat, but he had no animals to spare, just enough horses to pull a wagon and a few to ride. Replacing a horse would be very difficult since the Francks had taken or killed all of them in this area and most of Sothalia was likely stripped of usable animals of all kinds. He wasn't sure about that, the only part of his duchy he'd been able to see before winter was what was left of his capital city.

That was another chore for spring. He hadn't had time to even tour his lands; he'd never seen most of what he was supposed to be ruling. But as for now, if he went hunting he would have to go by himself. He could use magic to move himself along above the snow, but didn't have the ability to control enough power to carry multiple people plus return with large game animals.

Nick sighed and went back to his list, refiguring the average number of people who came for food each day and comparing it to the dwindling count of what was left. They had enough for thirty days at least, perhaps as many as fifty, but even with consistently good weather no more than that. He hoped spring would come early this year.

There was a shout from outside, and Nick went downstairs to the outer door in the sitting room, opened it and looked down. Parker and Sylvie were there waiting to come in and start their daily chores. Nick created his matter shield parallel to the ground and sent it down to them. It was nearly invisible, just a slight visual distortion marked its presence and the two servants stepped on it gingerly. He lifted them slowly and steadily, carefully keeping the shield flat and level until it reached the height of the doorway. They quickly stepped off into the tower, and he dissipated the shield.

"Good morning, Your Highness," Parker said as he passed the prince with a perfunctory bow. "Breakfast is ready below." As his valet, Parker ignored Nick's title of duke, having more status as valet to a prince. Sylvie just curtsied and then went past as well. They went down to their own level where tent partitions had been hung to mark off rooms and began their work keeping Nick's and Elizabeth's clothes clean, pressed and in good repair. Later they would go up to the bedroom and go through the wardrobes.

The prince went out the door, lowered himself to the ground and hurried to the closest entrance to the remaining portion of the castle, which was the kitchen door. He'd forgotten his cloak, but it was only a short way so he used a little magic to keep from becoming chilled.

The kitchen was warm and smelled wonderful. Their cook, Gwen Baker, was a marvel who could turn very little into something tasty. The few hens they had weren't laying much, but she always saved him an egg when there was one, added a little meat and whatever else was available. This morning as soon as he appeared she started cooking for him, frying a bit of ham, sliced potato, and a little chopped dried onion, then scrambling in the egg and melting in a little cheese at the last minute.

Elizabeth had come down earlier to do her handouts at the kitchen door. She had had the same breakfast that Nick was getting and was just finishing her food as the prince joined her at the small table they had adopted for their head table in the main hall. The other servants were sitting around a larger table finishing mugs of hot water flavored with a little wine and plates of fried ham, potato, and onion. There was only a little tea left, so it was saved for the duke and duchess, and they had it weak to make it last as long as possible.

As they ate, the servants finished, and Gwen's husband Reggie and brothers Harry and Vernon got up and went out to take care of the horses. There wasn't a great deal to do, but they kept the stable clean, filled the hay racks, broke the ice in the water buckets, and did their best to give the animals a little exercise when the weather permitted. Harry and Vernon were officially their only guards, but they did a better job as stable hands. Their father had been a smith so they'd been raised around horses, but when they returned to Sothalia after the war they had found the smithy stripped of anything usable and had been glad to get a job of any kind.

Laura, the newest addition to the staff, went off down the corridor to the block of rooms where most of them stayed. Her job was to keep the place clean which she did quite thoroughly by herself in spite of being pregnant; there just wasn't that much habitable space and Gwen took care of the kitchen herself.

Nick took responsibility for cleaning the tower magically. He'd learned how while the ghost of Master Warlock Ozmond inhabited his body. That, and the knowledge of how to relocate himself instantly had been the only good to come from the experience. But he'd quickly found that he couldn't safely transport to somewhere he couldn't see after arriving in the tower with his leg right next to a chair that was out of its usual place. A few inches over, and he would have been severely injured, perhaps even crippled as his leg tried to occupy the same space as the chair. Somehow Ozmond had been able to sense his landing place before he arrived, and Nick didn't know how he had done that. So transporting himself was not something he dared use except for short distances which severely limited it a useful ability.

As Nick started eating he asked Elizabeth, "How many this morning?"

She knew what he meant; they'd fallen into a morning ritual. "Thirty-seven."

Nick looked up sharply. "That's high."

"I know, but I can't very well turn them away."

"No," Nick agreed, "You can't. We need the weather to improve."

"We need more food."

"I know."

Nick ate in silence for a while; Elizabeth toyed with her nearly empty cup, then she said, "I see birds flying around, but I suppose they're too small."

Nick just nodded. If the ducks, geese, or swans had returned from their winter homes they might provide a food source, but sparrows and wrens wouldn't feed a cat, much less a person. Not that they had a cat, either. Besides, he liked the little birds and he knew Elizabeth did too.

"Fish?" she asked tentatively. The prince made a face and Elizabeth nodded in agreement.

He finished his food; he ate fast and very thoroughly. There was never a crumb left on his plate, and even though he was given the best food they had, he rarely got enough to satisfy his appetite. His growing teenage body wanted more than his share but his head knew the situation and he refused to ask for it. Of course he could command that he be given as much as he wanted, but that meant someone else would go hungry sooner.

"If the wind dies down I'll go after deer or boar," Nick said.

Elizabeth frowned a little. "Not by yourself?"

"I think it will have to be. The snow is too deep to walk; I'll have to ride on my shield. The more weight I try to carry, the faster I'll tire so I can't carry a second person. I may need to go quite a distance and if I'm successful I need enough energy to bring back the meat."

Elizabeth was tempted to tell him to be careful, that she would worry about him, but she didn't. He knew those things and being a little older, she had to be careful not to mother him. She smiled instead and said, "I hope you get something, even a few rabbits and squirrels would be welcome." That's mostly what he'd been able to get on previous hunting trips.

Nick just nodded and replied, "I'll do my best."

After breakfast Elizabeth wrapped up in a cloak and went out to the stable to check on one of the horses that Vernon had reported as limping a little. She didn't have much experience treating equines, but she knew a lot about herbal medicine and the basics of medical care for people so she was the only one who might have any idea what to do.

Nick went back to the tower to read and make himself available so when Sylvie and Parker completed their chores he could lower them to the ground. By late morning the wind dropped, and the prince sent the servants down so they wouldn't be stuck in the tower while he went hunting. He dressed warmly to conserve his energy, took his bow and arrows, hunting knife, water, and a little cheese and moved himself safely to the ground.

He went out of the front gate adjusting to the presence of the knife. He didn't like carrying it because his internal magic system reacted painfully to iron, but it was in a sheath so it wasn't more than an annoyance. If he got any game he would need it for field dressing the animal.

Near the city gate the snow was well trodden. As he went down the road, walking became more difficult as there were fewer tracks. He veered off on a path of trampled snow that led to the edge of the forest where people had gathered wood and set traps since the first snows. But he needed to go in; wild creatures would stay well away from anywhere frequented by people. He formed his shield flat and just above the snow, sat down on it, raised it up a little and then pushed forward.

He skimmed along slowly into the forest. He lifted himself up a little higher so that he could see further looking for tracks. Near the edge of the woods there were some partially snow-filled people tracks, and he saw empty snares half buried under the snow. Then he turned and glided deeper in among the trees.

There were no visible animal tracks larger than birds and small rodents this close to the edge. For an hour Nick located branches sticking out of the snow and dug out the larger limbs and dead trees they were usually attached to. He broke up and piled what he could on his shield and dumped several loads at the end of the path so others could reach the wood. Then he went hunting.

As the prince rode along he occasionally let the shield dip down to the surface of the snow to leave a unique mark. He didn't expect to get lost, but leaving a trail wasn't a bad idea even if he didn't really need one. Getting turned around was unlikely, since he could always raise himself above the trees if necessary to spot Sothalia, but that would take a lot of energy. Besides, when he bumped down on the snow it flew up behind him and his shield bounced up a little; it was fun. He heard a bird here and there, but no scrape of claws on bark that indicated the squirrels were out. The mostly hibernated during the winter, but a nice day would bring them out of their nests.

He munched on some cheese and took a drink as he came upon a trail left by a number of animals and studied them for a moment. The tracks were paw prints rather than hoof prints, and he couldn't think of anything he'd want to eat that left tracks like that. Wild dogs or wolves most likely, he wasn't skilled enough in tracking to tell the difference. He veered away from the direction the pack had taken; he'd rather not run into them.

Moving silently on his shield between the trees, he saw a small clearing and a rise on the far side with a half dozen deer feeding on twigs and evergreen branches. He slowed and drifted behind a the bare branches of a bush sticking out above the snow and stopped. He remained still when one of the deer raised its head and looked toward him, but after a moment it went back to pulling at a sagging branch. The deer were beautiful animals, but Nick couldn't afford to think of them that way. Right now they were just meat on the hoof.

The range was far for his bow, but he could magically move himself closer. He didn't have the distance Ozmond had had, and he had to be very careful where he landed, but the deer were within his transport range.

The prince lowered himself to the ground, packing the snow under his shield, and then grounded the shield energy. He stood up slowly and scanned the far hillside. The wind had swept most of the snow from patches of it; he could see the tops of dried grass protruding. He didn't really know what was under the snow, but if it was shallow it would be a small drop to the ground. Like air, snow was light enough to be pushed aside by his arrival, so he didn't need to worry about being high above it.

He nocked an arrow, raised his bow, and transported himself just above the snow a few feet from a large doe. He was ready for the jarring drop and fired as soon as he landed. The deer started when he appeared. He hit the ground solidly, but his arrow struck the deer mid-body instead of where he'd aimed, just behind the foreleg.

The doe jerked, leaped, staggered, and tried to run, but Nick wasn't watching it. As soon as he released the first arrow he nocked a second, spun and fired at another deer. The others were just taking alarm and he jerked the release a little in his hurry, but luckily hit the neck of a second, smaller animal that went down.

The remaining deer were gone. The small deer had fallen nearly where he shot it, and he dug a hole in the snow and laid the carcass head down on the snow bank he'd created. He cut the throat with his knife so the animal would bleed out, retrieved his arrow, and went to find the big doe.

It had traveled farther than he expected, but the blood trail led fifty feet to the downed but still weakly struggling deer. It was a good-sized animal, probably old and tough, but Nick was willing to take whatever he could find. He closed on it quickly, held it down with his magic shield, and ended its suffering with his knife.

The young prince worked quickly to gut the animals. The knife was beginning to make his hand ache, and the steaming mounds of entrails would bring predators and scavengers quickly. He lost no time creating a larger shield and getting the carcasses on board, and turned his heavily laden magical conveyance homeward.

He could lift three adults at a time up to his tower door, and the weight on his shield wasn't any more than that. But he'd been using his magic steadily most of the day and he had a long way to go. The sky was darkening with clouds that looked like they would dump more snow before nightfall, so he had to keep moving.

Nick finished his cheese and drank more water as he went, being careful to handle the packaging rather than the food itself. His hands were dirty from cleaning the deer and he definitely didn't want anything on them in his mouth. He was glad for the trail he had left; it meant he didn't have to think very hard to get safely home.

The prince heard yapping in the distance behind him. The entrails he had left had been found, and hopefully it would keep the local canines busy long enough for him to get out of the woods. He soon left the sound behind, or perhaps it ceased as they ate, he didn't know or care which.

Large white flakes began drifting down before he reached the edge of the woods. The forest was rather pretty with the snow falling, but he pushed himself and sped up. Heavy snow would blind him both on the ground and even high above the trees, and already his little marks on the surface of the snow were disappearing.

But he came on a place where just hours earlier he had pulled out a large dead limb and the disturbed snow from his wood gathering gave him an easy guide to the edge of the forest. He emerged into a field, crossed to the road, and headed toward Sothalia with some relief.

When Nick reached the well-trampled area he dismounted from his shield, unstrung his bow, and just walked alongside his floating game. It felt good to stretch his legs and reduced the amount of magical energy he was controlling. The steady use of magic was a different kind of strain on his abilities than tossing fireballs or lightning, and he would be glad to be done with it. The prince passed through the open city gate and shouted as he came within sight of the castle. Reggie, Harry, and Vernon ran out and took up the deer for him. Nick grounded his shield energy and went inside to warm up.

In the kitchen, Gwen gave him a basin of warm water to wash up in, and then made him sit down and have a cup of tea with a little honey in it. Nick was tired enough to just sit and sip it gratefully without protest. Elizabeth joined him at his table and the servants who were not processing deer gathered to hear him tell the tale of his hunt. There wasn't much excitement in it, which pleased Elizabeth, but months of living together had turned everyone's normal conversation a bit stale so his story was listened to eagerly and with great enjoyment.

The meat would have to cool and the deer skinned and carved up into usable pieces, so tonight they would have the end of the last ham, but tomorrow there would be venison for all. Nick was a little proud of himself for accomplishing that, but didn't spend much time letting everyone exclaim over his story and admire him for it. He was tired and hungry, and after supper he and Elizabeth removed themselves to their tower.

Princess Elizabeth set herself to her embroidery. Before she'd been brought to Londinum to marry Nick she had only done sewing as a necessity, patching her grandfather's and brothers' clothes, and altering out-of-fashion dresses given to her by her friends to fit her. But her embroidery had improved with practice, and she was determined to decorate Nick's best shirts lavishly. It was a contest of sorts among the ladies of the court, and even though Nick was the youngest of the four princes there was no reason he shouldn't have the handsomest shirts. Her three sisters-in-law were all better and more experienced at decorative sewing than she was, but she wanted to at least be competitive.

Nick add today's events to his tallies, estimating the deer meat weight. Accurate data from this winter would help them prepare better for next winter, although hopefully Sothalia would be in better condition by then and most people would be self-supporting. When he was done he picked up a faded scroll he'd been trying to decipher and sat down near Elizabeth. They each did their tasks in companionable silence.

When Nick seemed to be tiring of his scroll, Elizabeth commented, "I overheard Reggie talking about the deer you brought in. He was quite impressed you got two, but upset that you left behind the hearts and livers."

"Really? He wants the . . . the organs?"

"Hmm. Gramp used to save them too, but I never cared much for them. But if you have the chance, next time . . . ?"

"Sure, why not? Elizabeth, in the spring I'm going to send to Londinum for more coin. I have some left, but the castle needs rebuilding as do a lot of other buildings, and we need people to return here. To get them to come they have to have a way to make money, so I think I'll hire people to do some of the easier tasks. I'll probably be the main if not the only source of income for a lot of them."

"Not the only source, my dear. You'll never attract men here if there aren't women, and the women have to be able to buy household items, sewing materials, ready-made clothes and shoes, and children's things, which is what I'll be funding if there aren't any other vendors. Hopefully more of the business owners will return and rebuild, and the town will become less dependent on us. Which reminds me, have you given any thought to a school?"

"Uh, no. That's not urgent, is it?"

"Not as urgent as food and clothing, but a free or inexpensive school would attract families, and young people who can read and write become scribes, clerks, and better merchants."

"I just can't do it, Elizabeth!" Nick said sharply, jumping up and startling his wife. She looked up from her embroidery wide-eyed at her normally calm, rational husband apparently having a tantrum.

Nick threw the scroll in the direction of the desk and nearly ran down the stairs. He came back up with a bottle of wine in one hand and picked up a wine goblet with the other. He didn't look at her, but charged up the stairs to their bed chamber while Elizabeth just watched in bewilderment. What had she said wrong? A school was a good idea, wasn't it?

She continued to sew until their usual bed time, giving her young husband time to cool down. Then she put her embroidery away, turned off the light rune, and went up to see what condition Nick was in.

To her relief, the wine bottle was still three quarters full. She'd seen him drunk only once, but it hadn't been pleasant and she hoped he would never do that to himself again. He was sitting staring out a window with the shutters wide open. He could block out the frigid air as much as he pleased, but the flaring heat rune and cool draft told her he was letting a little of the night air in.

"Nick? I'm sorry if I said something to upset you."

"I'm sorry too. You're right, a school would be good." Nick turned to her. "But it's too much. I have to feed everybody, clear debris from the city, clean out the rest of the wells, rebuild the castle and stable and maybe parts of the town, and I need to see the rest of Sothalia. I have to reconstruct the tax structure, I need current maps, and who knows what else. Half the duchy's income is from the port and I have no idea what condition it's in, I may have major work to do there, too. And what about agriculture? Are the fields arable, how many animals survived and what do we need right away, like horses for plowing? I have magical abilities but you know I can't just wave my arms and fix everything. I can't possibly build a school too."

"Of course not, not right away. But it could go on a list of things to do, and when the more urgent tasks are done and we have time, it's something we could see to. You know you don't have to do everything personally, Nick. Other people will help."

Nick replied, "I hope so." He looked tired and depressed so Elizabeth went over to where he was sitting and kissed him on the temple. "I think, of all the Warwick princes, I was lucky enough to get the most handsome." She kissed him on the cheek. "And the smartest." She kissed him on the corner of the mouth. "And the most hard-wor . . ." her words cut off by Nick turning his head and kissing her on the lips.

When they came up for air, Nick said, "And I got the most beautiful, bravest, most patient princess that ever was. I hope you know how much I appreciate all the help you give me. And please, if you think of things that need to be done, tell me, even if I feel a little overwhelmed at times. However long the list becomes, we'll get it done eventually, somehow. Bed now?"

"Yes, Your Highness. That's always on the list, and near the top, too."

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Tasha: One very well written First in the series! It definitely evokes a wide range of emotions while reading! From love to sorrow and many more in between. Lucy fights for her life & the life she deserves. Definitely worth reading!

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amg60: Love the story line. Can’t wait to see what happens when he finds out about her fox!I would recommend this to my DaughtersI gave it this rating because it deserves it

gogihabtu24: Beautiful story ever!!

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.