Our Gracious Queen

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Defense

28 June 1392

Eleanor’s hands began shaking the moment she broke the seal on the letter from Morvenia.

She traced her fingers over the words, trembling as she read.

Your Majesty,

Obviously we are both aware that all the negotiations have been completed, and my daughter’s dowry has been settled. However, I feel it necessary to write to you as her father, not as a prince. I have been assured by many people, from my late wife to my brother, that you and your husband will welcome my daughter very cheerfully and will do all in your power to see to her happiness, and I am very pleased to hear this.

I will be sending my daughter Elizabeth to Gravonia, with her journey beginning on 20 July, with the aim of her arriving safely in Luvov on 25 July. Twenty good and reliable knights will be traveling with her, as protection, and I am assured by my brother the King that they will be provided for once they cross into Morvenia.

Elizabeth and her retinue will be traveling through Eagle’s Nest and will stop at the border to be met by knights and diplomats of the Crown of Gravonia, including the ambassador to Morvenia, Lord James Hallam, and by her new appointed ladies. I am sure she will be treated with all due deference, as she is a sweet, gentle girl who is very eager to please her new family. I have no doubt at all that she will be very successful, but her safety and happiness are of extreme importance to me and to the rest of her family.

Yours, etc.

Constantine

She carefully folded the letter and put it on the table before sitting down.

It had not really seemed real to her, until now, that her son was going to marry Constantine’s daughter. She and her former lover would actually share grandchildren one day—the irony of that was certainly not lost on her. The fact that it was a cruel, sad irony made her heart hurt and her eyes sting with tears, not just for herself but also for him and for poor, sweet Isabella.

It had been seventeen years. Seventeen years since she had seen Constantine face to face. She certainly couldn’t count her encounter with him and his brother, after the incident at Trask, as an actual meeting, as he had not seen her face. She could still recall every detail of his features—his eyes and his scars, his dark, unruly hair and his firm mouth, besides his lean, strong body.

Her orderly mind had to settle on the upcoming arrival of her future daughter-in-law. Her rooms had to be prepared, of course, and suitable clothes needed to be sent for her to wear after the traditional ceremony at the border, where the poor girl would be required to bathe and change into ‘good Gravonian clothes’. Eleanor couldn’t help but laugh at the memory of that experience—at the time, she had been humiliated, and if it hadn’t been for Count von Arklow’s courtesy she would have arrived in Luvov looking like an only slightly higher-end prostitute. By no means would she allow Elizabeth to feel uncomfortable the moment she set foot in Gravonia, and to that end she would send Clothilde and Agnes to meet her, along with the girls appointed to be the princess’s ladies-in-waiting: the former for good common sense and comfort, and the latter for riveting tales of vast wheels of cheese.

Alexander also had to be prepared. He required little coaching on good manners and how to at least make polite conversation, but Eleanor wanted him to be more than just courteous. She wanted him to congenial and welcoming, and to form a good friendship with his future bride. They shared many common interests and likes and dislikes, but words on paper did not always translate into such necessary things as basic physical attraction and meshing of personalities. She wanted her son and Elizabeth to complement one another as much as possible or their marriage would not be very happy.

Henry came bustling into the room, tracking mud on the floor and dripping more mud from his sleeves. He also brought in a terrible stench that made Eleanor’s stomach flip. “Good heavens, what happened to you?” she asked, standing up and beginning to help him out of his wet clothes, but it became obvious that his clothes weren’t going to come off easily.

“Alexander knocked me over while we were practicing sword fighting. Then, when I sat down at the table in the courtyard, the twins tied my bootlaces to the chair and I fell over again, along with the table, one of my knights and a deerhound.”

“You smell terrible,” she said, taking a step back and shuddering.

“Yes. The deerhound’s lunch apparently disagreed with him and in all the excitement he tossed his bloody dinner up all over me!” Henry was growling in frustration and squished around the room as he talked, making more tracks on the floor.

Eleanor sighed. “Those boys. They’re little angels apart and demons together.” She went in search of her scissors, and Henry backed away from her when she came back.

“Wait… wait a minute, I don’t know about this… ”

“Henry, those pants are leather. They will shrink as they dry. It’s not going to get any better, and the longer you leave them on the harder it will be to remove them. So just sit still and let me cut them off. Then you can take a nice warm bath while I think of a properly fiendish punishment to apply to your sons.”

“My sons? They’re mine when they’re bad and yours when they’re good!” Henry squawked, still trying to dodge her.

“All right, our sons then. Bear in mind they didn’t inherit their devilry from me. Now be still!”

“I don’t know about that. You’ve got a streak of wickedness in you—how d’ya suppose we ended up with six children?”

“We ended up with six because I’m still not sure we can cope with seven. Now stop acting like a child—you’ve been in sword fights and didn’t skitter about half this much after.”

Henry continued to dodge her. “Yes, but my opponents in fights didn’t have scissors and they weren’t slashing toward extremely sensitive territory.”

She laughed. “Believe me, Henry I have no interest or desire in doing any damage to your territory. We’d never have any fun again if I did. Now sit still.”

“Promise?”

“I promise. Come on.”

“Aside from that, you promise you won’t torment my poor boys, right? I mean, I suspect I’d’ve done the same at their age if I had had the opportunity. My father wouldn’t have been very indulgent, though, I admit.”

“I’ve yet to contemplate infanticide, however they’ve managed to enrage me at times.” She sat down and gestured to Henry to pull up a chair in front of her and give her a leg. The King sighed and brought a chair around, sitting down and extending his leg out. After struggling a bit to remove his boot, she grabbed his calf and began the careful process of cutting the leather pants off, nipping along the seams until at last she was able to tear the legging away. The King sighed and submitted to his wife’s ministrations to tear off the other legging, and he stood while she removed the remaining leather from his hips. When he made a grab for her, she dodged away. “Not ’til after you bathe.”

“Oh come on!” he whined. “We’ve had sex outdoors! In the grass!”

“But never in the mud. And you didn’t stink, and you weren’t covered with dog vomit. Go.” She pointed sharply at the privy chamber and the King sighed. He dragged into the room, looking bereft, and as soon as he was gone she threw the ruined strips of leather away and washed her hands before stepping out into the hallway. She waited a few ticks, knowing her sons would be coming upstairs to plan their next outrage out of earshot (they hoped) of their parents. She waited until she heard their footsteps on the downstairs landing and ducked back into her room, where she could hear Henry splashing and singing some bawdy ditty about a woman with breasts so large she kept tipping over.

All the lads did love her
She was so well-made
But alas she oft tipped over
So ’twas easy to get laid…


Eleanor rolled her eyes. She wished Lord Hallam had never taught Henry that song.


She heard whispers in the hallway, and sure enough she heard a floorboard creak as the twins began their dangerous trip down the hall toward their rooms. They could not get there, however, without passing their mother’s sitting room. She hid carefully behind the door, waiting, and soon she saw William’s head peeking nervously around the corner, and soon Harry joined him. They began to silently tiptoe along the passage, and Eleanor let them get past the door and think that they had made it to safety. As soon as their backs were to her and they both let out breaths of relief, she stepped out into the hall, wielding her scissors.

“I understand the two of you pulled another prank on your father the King.”

Both boys shrieked in terror, but they did manage to stand their ground.

“How many times have I told you to stop doing that?”

“But Mama, it was so easy,” William began. “I mean, he was sitting there with his boot right next to the table leg… what were we supposed to do? We’re only human!”

“What you’ll do now is translate the first ten chapters of the Book of Job into French.”

“Oh, Mama, no!” Harry wailed, and William looked positively bereft. “Not Job!”

“Get to it, and be glad it’s not Latin. You’ll have bread and water for supper tonight, too, while you’re at your chore. Go. I’ll hear no arguing. At fourteen, you’re old both enough to be able to resist temptation and you don’t even try. Failure to complete your assignment will result in you both getting a sound thrashing—be thankful I’m being so merciful! Go!”

The two boys hung their heads and shuffled miserably to their rooms—they knew that if they disobeyed her order, they would both have hell to pay. Eleanor sighed and went back into her room, and smiled at Henry when he emerged from the privy, a towel around his waist. He was as lean and vigorous as he had been on their wedding night, and Eleanor caught that familiar gleam in his eye. She just shook her head, laughing—sex tonight was definitely inevitable, though she couldn’t deny that she would enjoy it.

“I smell better now,” he said.

“You do clean up good, I must admit.”

“William and Harry have had their punishment meted out?”

“Justice has been served with all proper swiftness, severity and mercy.”

“Ah, good. So what news have you received today, sweetheart?” he asked, sitting down and beginning to rub his wet hair dry.

“Elizabeth of Morvenia, as you know, will be arriving here on twenty-fifth July.”

“Yes, the Council received a letter from King Philip this morning. You received a post as well?”

“Yes. From her father.”

Henry sighed. “Truly?” She handed him the letter and he read it before handing it back. “It must pain the man very much to lose his daughter. Though I’m sure he will visit her sometimes and you know he’ll be welcome any time. Particularly when the grandchildren start coming.” He grinned. He looked forward to being a grandfather and shamelessly spoiling his grandchildren and then handing them back to their parents.

Eleanor nodded, pushing away a stab of fear that made her chest hurt. “Yes. I hardly can think of it. I’ll be a grandmother, most likely, before I’m even forty.”

“Ah, now, you’re still young and fresh as a rose, and you’ll still be gorgeous when the great-grandchildren start coming along. And wouldn’t it be fun if we had another baby at the same time Elizabeth has her first child? We could get started on it right now… ”

She laughed and fondly kissed his cheek. “You just say that so you can see me naked. But I must go and see about setting up Elizabeth’s rooms. Her favorite colors are light blue and yellow—her aunt Catalina even showed me some samples of her colors, and I do so want her to feel comfortable here, with as little upset as possible when she comes. You know she will be very homesick.”

“Yes, I suspect she will be, poor little thing.” Henry grinned at her. “I look forward to having a daughter. We will do everything we can to see she’s happy and at ease here. You’ve selected her ladies?”

“Yes, of course. Lady Meg Seebolt, Lady Eleanor Bartolomeo and Lady Anna Hallam.”

“They’re all a bit young… ” Henry mused.

“They’re all Elizabeth’s age, or near enough, and Anna’s very mature, plus she is sweet and guileless and she’s a good listener, just like her mother. Lady Meg is intelligent and well-informed, without being even slightly haughty, and you know Ellie is the sweetest, more cheerful girl alive, and that’s what Elizabeth will need here—quiet, steadiness, cheerfulness and order.” Eleanor put her scissors away and checked herself in the mirror, patting her hair and straightening her dress a bit. “We’ll discuss more babies some other time.”

“Will we be naked?”

“We can never have serious discussions while naked, Henry.”

“You’re driving me mad, Eleanor,” Henry said, but that failed to move her.

“Consider it a means of keeping you interested. Now, would you please check on the twins and make sure they’re working on their translation of Job into French?”

“Dear God, you’re a cruel taskmaster!” Henry said, shaking his head. “I mean, reading Job is a good thing for us all, but translating it into French…”

“I want them to learn the consequences of their behavior. Job equals suffering… maybe it’ll sink in.”

“Yes, but Job didn’t do anything to deserve his suffering.”

“Well, see… we’re having a serious discussion and one of us was fully clothed.” Eleanor grinned at her husband and kissed him on the cheek. “I must go now. I’ll see you at supper.”

“Aw, come on… just a quickie?”

“Henry, we have never been able to accomplish a quickie. It always turns into a longie. Now behave yourself and we’ll have a serious talk tonight.”

He sighed and Eleanor left, and he could hear her laughing. The King pouted but could do nothing but endure his own suffering.


“One thing I insist you learn is how to defend yourself.”

Elizabeth took a wary step backwards from her father, clasping her hands behind her back. “From my husband?” she asked nervously.

“If your husband ever injures you, I’ll come kill him myself. What I’m talking about is anyone else who might try to harm you. Remember that someone attempted to assassinate Queen Eleanor, and as long as Beauchamp lives that danger remains. Once you marry Alexander, you’ll be considered the enemy of certain people, too.”

She swallowed. This was a reality of her life as a princess and a future Queen, but it didn’t sit well with her that people might actually want to kill her.

“I don’t mean to frighten you, Lili, but this is the life you’re walking into. You have to be prepared.”

“All right.” She nodded.

“Now… ” Constantine nodded to Philip, who frowned, not entirely pleased to be involved with his niece’s training. “Say someone attacks you from the front. What do you do first?”

“Scream and pee?”

“That would only be effective if you were a boy and had exceptionally good aim, but you’re not, which renders any possibility of good aim pretty much… moot. What you do is take assessment of your weapons.”

“I don’t have any weapons!” Elizabeth squeaked.

“Of course you do. You have your brain, your voice, your fists, your fingernails, your feet, and your knees.”

Philip didn’t like the sound of most of her weapons. She was a smart lass, but she was as tough as her father, though she didn’t look it. Those nails, fists, feet and knees could do some damage, and she might very well have inherited her father’s almost fiendish skills at spontaneous strategy. He looked around the behourd and it suddenly dawned on him that there were no other men around. Which meant that someone was going to be the one Elizabeth ‘practiced’ on, and it wasn’t going to be Constantine.

Elizabeth glanced nervously at her uncle, who managed a vague smile of encouragement.

“Go ahead, Philip. Attack her.”

“What?!” Philip squawked. “Are you crazy?!”

“I’m here aren’t I? Listen, she’s not going to learn any sooner, and who better to teach her than us? Now Lili, remember… your hands and your nails are very effective when defending yourself against a frontal attack. Hit with the heel of your hand, right between your attacker’s eyes. That can break his nose and render him incapable of anything but crying and possibly bleeding, which is your ultimate aim.”

“Now wait just a minute here… ” Philip said. “I’m to be her personal pell?”

“Yes. Now shut up and attack her.”

The King of Morvenia scowled at his brother for a moment before he finally moved toward his niece, trying to be as threatening as possible to her without actually terrifying her. Elizabeth stood her ground, and when he got close enough she hit him, hard, between the eyes with the heel of her hand. For a moment Philip saw stars and his eyes filled with tears. He wavered briefly and took a few staggering steps back, but remained upright.

“Very good, Smidgen!” Constantine said, clapping. “Now, an attack from behind is very different and requires different tactics.” He stood for a moment, thinking, then decided to demonstrate it himself. “All right, Philip, try and attack me.”

“You really have lost your bloody mind!” Philip said, still pinching the bridge of his nose. He wasn’t sure if it was broken, but it hurt like hell.

“What, you’re afraid of your little brother?”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” Philip growled. “You’re four inches taller and are at last fifty pounds heavier than me. It’d be like attacking a bear!”

“Aw… ” Constantine grinned, turning to look at his daughter, who was giggling. “Phiwip is afwaid!”

With murder in his mind and a sense of doom in his heart, Philip finally went at Constantine. The results were exactly as Philip expected—as soon as he got his arms around his brother’s torso, Constantine elbowed him hard in the center of his chest, then stomped on his instep with such force that it elicited a yowl of pain from the King. Constantine’s fist then slammed into Philip’s nose, though not with as much force as he would apply to anyone else, and finally he was kneed in the groin and Philip fell, moaning, to the ground.

“All right. Now that was more like it. See, Smidgen? That’s how you take your man down.”

“Could someone please call a doctor?” Philip wheezed. “I believe I may be somewhat injured.”

“Don’t be afraid to use any weapon you have at hand. Anything not nailed down can be a weapon. The element of surprise is also essential,” Constantine instructed, ignoring his brother, who finally managed to get back to his feet. “Anything sharp, a pot of water, a writing quill, a lit candle… doesn’t matter. Use it. Inflict as much damage as you can on your attacker. Go for eyes, ears, nose, mouth… genitals… ”

“But… I don’t want to really… hurt somebody,” Elizabeth said, giving her uncle an apologetic smile.

“Really? Because there are people out there who will have no qualms about killing you, just because you’re a princess and my daughter and also because you’re marrying King Henry’s son. There’s nothing wrong with defending yourself, and I’m certainly not advocating you kill anyone, but when you’re in a position like yours, sometimes you have to be… ” Constantine cast about, glancing at his brother.

“Efficient,” Philip nodded.

“I was thinking more along the lines of proactive, but it’s all the same. I don’t want you paranoid, but I do want you to be ready.”

Elizabeth nodded and Constantine gestured to Philip to try and attack Elizabeth from behind. The King sighed. “She’s gonna tear my nose off, Con.”

“Don’t tear his nose off,” Constantine gravely instructed his daughter. “After this, we’ll practice your skills at deflecting blows, flipping your opponent over, and your dagger-throwing skills.”

Philip’s eyes widened. “Beg pardon?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll put an apple on your head—she’ll be aiming for that.”


Alexander picked up the heavy broadsword, easily moving it from hand to hand and barely noticing its weight. He practiced daily at the pell and with his brother Frederick, and the two young men were excellent sword fighters. Frederick was definitely the more muscle-bound of the two, having inherited King Andrew’s bulk, but they were both equally strong, though Frederick was a bit more agile. Nonetheless, they both conceded that they hoped to never have to face each other in a battle.

Frederick parried his brother thrust, smacking his sword aside and grinning, stepping back and glancing over at the small group of young girls watching them practice. He saw Ellie Bartolomeo and smiled, and Alexander took that moment to his advantage, kicking his brother in the ankle and making him yelp in pain and almost fall down. “Hey! Bad form!”

“You’d’ve done that same to me,” Alexander grinned. He saw Ellie’s concerned expression and gestured to his brother. “Don’t worry, Lady Ellie, he’s suffered no damage aside from injured pride.”

Frederick glared at his brother, rubbing his sore ankle. “Aye, I’ll recover. You know I’m as hard as nails and twice as tough.”

“Except when it comes to Ellie,” Alexander murmured as she came closer. “You get all soft and goofy around her.”

“Shaddup,” Frederick muttered. “Hello, Ellie,” he said, smiling warmly. “How are you?”

“I’m very well,” she said with her usual sweet smile. “I do hope you’re not injured.”

Frederick grinned. “Of course not.” He stepped closer to her. “You’ll sit with me at supper tonight, won’t you?”

Ellie blushed. “Yes. If you like.”

“You know I would.”

She was a lovely girl, with dark hair and soft brown eyes, and she clearly considered Prince Frederick to be the center of the world. In response, he was gentle and careful around her, always speaking softly, and he often took her flowers and sweets. Anyone could see the two teenagers liked each other immensely, and few doubted that their mutual like could easily evolve into genuine love and a happy marriage some day.

The young girls began to leave, knowing they had to join their families for the evening meal in the Great Hall. Alexander nudged his brother, grinning. “Have you told Mama about what you’ve said to Ellie?”

“Of course not!” Frederick said, his cheeks reddening. “Not that I think she’d object. I think she’s always thought I’d marry… ” He shrugged, still blushing a little. “Anyway, it’s your marriage that matters most, and her mother won’t let Ellie marry ’til she’s eighteen.”

The two brothers had frequently discussed Alexander’s impending marriage to Elizabeth of Morvenia. The match had been agreed on years ago, and though Alexander had only vague memories of meeting her as a child, they were not unpleasant memories. Besides, her letters indicated she was an intelligent girl, and by all accounts she was also quite pretty. He looked forward to meeting her again, and he was also nervous about it. He wanted his marriage to be as successful and happy as his parents’, but he didn’t want to be dragged to the altar, and he did not wish to force Elizabeth, either.

“Your marriage will matter a great deal, too, Frederick,” Alexander reminded him. “You’re the first spare, y’know.”

Frederick grinned and they walked back to the palace, bickering cheerfully and looking forward to their meal.


19 July 1392

“You’re sure of this?”

The Captain of the Guard, Lord Niall Calley, nodded. “Yes, sir. There have been a number of robberies of travelers moving between Gravonia and Morvenia. We’re not sure if they’re Gravonian or Morvenian, but they seem to make no distinction between their victims. They’ve killed a few people, I’m afraid. The entire forest region between our two countries appear to be crawling with these bandits, and so far we have had little luck in finding them or their hideouts. The King of Gravonia’s own soldiers are also joining in the hunt for them, on their side of the border, and so far they have been very cooperative with our soldiers and we’re discussing joining forces.”

Constantine didn’t like the sound of that at all. He wanted to get Elizabeth across into Gravonia by the quickest route possible—through Eagle’s Nest, which was the first Gravonian fortress at the border, in the rugged Morvenian highlands. King Henry of Gravonia had built a line of fortresses along the southern border of Gravonia, not to defend against Morvenia, but to provide safety to travelers moving between the two countries. Eagle’s Nest was the largest and sturdiest of them all, and it often provided sanctuary for folks caught in storms or, lately, as protection against robbers.

“That’s a good idea—joining forces, I mean.”

“I’m certain you’re uneasy about sending your daughter through such potentially dangerous territory. I would suggest sending her east, sir, along the coast to Tygo and then north… ”

“No, I promised to have Elizabeth in Luvov on the twenty-fifth. I’m sending several excellent knights along with her… ” He paused, thinking. “I suppose for extra protection I should go along with her.”

“I’m sure she’d feel safer with you in the mix, sir,” Calley nodded, smiling. “I married my daughter Theresa off a few months ago and frankly I wanted to go along with her on her honeymoon, as protection, but she’d have none of that.”

Constantine grinned. “I’m sure her husband was relieved she put her foot down.”

Captain Calley laughed. “Aye, very true. So you’ll be going, too, sir?”

“Yes. I will add ten more knights to her retinue, and I will order extra arms as well. I won’t have my daughter’s life risked, not even for King Henry of Gravonia.”

“Very well, sir. The men will be ready at dawn tomorrow. May I wish your daughter all imaginable happiness, too, sir. She’s a lovely, sweet girl.”

“Thank you.” Constantine nodded and left the courtyard, heading back into the palace. He finally found his brother, recovered from his injuries after ‘attacking’ his niece, sitting on his throne in the Presence Chamber, reading over some dreary document and looking bored to tears.

“Little brother,” Philip muttered, putting the paper away.

“I’ve decided to go with Elizabeth to Gravonia. Bandits are making raids along the border and I feel it best to go with her, as extra protection. I’ll be taking ten more knights, too, and… ”

“Wait… you’re going to Luvov?”

“Yes.”

Philip swallowed. “Um… is that a good idea? I mean… uh… the fathers of princesses don’t travel with them to their new homes, you know, and…”

“This father does, and he will,” Constantine said. “I’ve never been much for stupid traditions, anyway, and it’s hardly unprecedented. I’m sure some fathers have traveled with their daughters to their new homes. It’s not like I’m going to stay there, anyway. Just long enough to vet this boy she’s marrying and see that she will be comfortable and why do you look like you’re on the verge of some sort of fit?”

“Fit? I’m not having a fit! I’m fine. I just… uh… ” Philip pressed his thumb between his eyes, pushing away a coming headache. “Might I give you a spot of advise?”

“Even if I said ‘no’ you’d still give it, so go on.”

“Stay calm.”

Constantine paused, brow furrowing. “Calm?”

“Yes. Stay calm. No matter what happens… in… in Gravonia, stay calm. I know you can stay calm. So I’ll not hear of you going on some rampage over something that displeases you. Do you promise to stay calm?”

“Sure. I’ll stay calm.”

“No, Constantine. I’m quite serious. I mean… you must stay calm.”

“Why do I get the feeling that something is going to happen there that might cause me to become uncalm?”

“Uh… well, you’re giving away your elder daughter and I know that will be very painful, and say you… uh… don’t really like the boy much or perhaps you don’t get on with his parents… that sort of thing. It won’t matter if you don’t like the boy or his parents—if Elizabeth likes the boy that will be all that matters, so long as he likes her mutually, and… and… you’ll have to let her go.”

“Calmly.”

“Yes!”

“Did Elizabeth punch you too hard the other day? Brain got rattled around in that thick skull of yours?”

“I have fully recovered from her blows, thank you, though I still have nightmares about her dagger-throwing skills. Or lack thereof.”

Constantine smirked and scratched his ear, thoroughly amused. “I’ve never heard anybody shriek like that.”

“I did not shriek! It was a throaty, manful… ”

“Squeal?”

“Shout!”

“All right. Whatever. She missed you by an inch, and an inch is as good as a mile in my book. And yes, I will remain calm. But you could try taking some of that advise for yourself, I think, because right now you’re acting stranger than usual. We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning. Elizabeth’s things are already packed and I think she’s finally stopped crying. She was drinking lots of water when I left home, so perhaps she’s finally hydrated again.”

“She’s nervous,” Philip said, rubbing his face, feeling pretty nervous himself. “I don’t think she’s afraid of going to Gravonia—she wants to go. She likes Alexander, so far, and looks forward to being useful there. But she’s going to miss her brothers and sister horribly, and this change in her life will be hard.”

“You think I don’t already know that?” Constantine said with a testy scowl. “She sat up all night with her brothers and Charlotte, crying and talking and playing Siege.” He didn’t like admitting he had sat up all night, too, and that he had shed more than a few tears at the idea of sending his poor daughter away. He didn’t want to think about how he would handle riding away from her.

He knew how he would feel though: as though his heart was being ripped out and shredded. It would be the worst pain he would feel since the day he had learned Eleanor Reeve died, and even more than the day Isabella had died. He gave his brother a good glare, nodded, and left.

Philip sat in his chair for a long time, then closed his eyes and exhaled. “This… might not go well,” he said, looking up at the ceiling. “Dear God, please make him stay calm.”

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