Elizabeth sprang up in her bed, sweat pouring from her forehead, her heart pounding so fast she believed it might explode.
Flashes paraded through her mind—one after another. Men with torches. A roof engulfed in flames. Screams of those trapped inside.
She had never had a vision before—wasn’t quite sure if what she’d just experienced was one of them or a nightmare.
But what she was sure of was that the home engulfed in flames belonged to the Morgans.
She threw her covers aside and hurried out of her room and into the hallway, bothering with neither proper dress nor shoes.
But by the time she arrived at the farm, common sense had overridden her foreboding sense of panic and she realized that she’d come here with no real proof other than what she was beginning to believe was a dream.
The chill of the early morning air was starting to seep through her thin nightgown. She clutched at the mane of the random horse she’d taken from the royal stables. It had been unbridled and only having learned the basics of riding, she hadn’t wasted time with attempting a saddle.
Elizabeth took a deep breath and thanked herself that she regained her senses before pounding on the Morgan’s door for no reason at all. She kicked the horse and tugged the hair in the direction she wished the animal to turn.
When she faced the road, her heart stopped. In the distances, she made pin pricks of light moving towards her. Torches.
Men with torches.
Terror seized her, paralyzing her body for a brief moment. When they drew even closer, she launched herself off the horse and fell to the ground, landing badly on her right ankle.
She limped to the front door and started banging on it, tossing a glance over her shoulder every moment or so, watching in terror as those torches drew closer.
It was while she was looking over her shoulder, that the door opened and she felt herself pitching forward.
“What is going on?” Jason demanded as he caught Elizabeth under her arms.
“Torches. Men,” Elizabeth gasped. She clutched his shirt in her hands. “Coming to burn your home.”
He blinked and focused over her shoulder at the sight of the men on horses. It was before dawn—the sun had not even cast gray shadows over the land. There no reasons for such men to be galloping towards their home with torches.
Unless they were going to be burn down the home as Elizabeth had told him.
He set Elizabeth firmly on her feet, not even noticing her wince as her weight landed on her injured ankle. “Mother!” he called.
“What is going on?” Susan asked, emerging from the hallway that led to their bedrooms. Alexander and Chloe spilled out behind her.
“There are men with torches coming down the road.” He thrust Elizabeth into Alexander’s arms. “Stay here,” he told her before he and Susan disappeared outside, shutting the door behind them.
Chloe ran to the window. “They are coming closer!” she cried.
“What in the world is happening?” Alexander demanded of the petite brunette. He swept his eyes over her dusty and now grass-stained nightgown before focusing on her rapidly swelling ankle. “You look as though you have been through hell.”
“I—I came as fast as I could,” Elizabeth wrapped her arms tightly around upper torso. “I did not stop for shoes, saddle or coat.”
“They are at the gates!” Chloe screamed. Alexander yanked his little sister from her position and watched as his mother strode forward and lifted her hands to the sky.
Lighting flashed and thunder crackled as the heavens above them opened up. Rain pounded down. Heavy, thick rain that instantly extinguished the torches of the approaching men. They reined in their horses and paused at the gates.
Alexander watched as a heavy gusting wind propelled them back and after a few gusts such as that, they turned their horses and moved back down the road. “They are leaving.”
Adrenaline drained from her body and now spent, Elizabeth sank to her knees. After having spent twenty minutes on a galloping horse, terrified of being thrown every minute…
“How did you know to warn us?” Chloe asked suspiciously, her mind settling on other matters now that the danger had passed.
“I—” Elizabeth did not know how to answer. The door blew open and Jason hustled his mother inside.
“You must change into something dry immediately,” Jason told her. “Chloe, go with Mother. Alexander, take the rifle and stand guard on the porch. The storm will keep them from returning with their torches but I do not want to take any chances.”
Alexander nodded and lifted the rifle from its position over the door and disappeared outside.
Sensing Jason would like to be alone with their savior, Susan led Chloe back into the hallway and a moment later a door shut.
Jason helped Elizabeth to her feet. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“My ankle,” she murmured. “I twisted it getting down from the horse.”
“I cannot believe you came all the way here on a horse,” Jason remarked as he wrapped an arm around her waist and led her into the kitchen slowly. She limped every step of the way, wincing in pain.
“I cannot believe it either b-but I did not have a choice.” Elizabeth gratefully sank into a chair. “I am so thankful that I arrived in time.”
“How did you know to come?” Jason asked curiously as he knelt in front of her to study her swollen ankle.
Elizabeth pressed her lips together as she wondered how to answer the question. “I had a dream,” she admitted finally. “And before I could talk myself out of it, I was in the stables.”
“A dream?” Jason repeated, studying her with her open curiosity. “Or a vision?”
Her face paled. “No. It—It could only have been a dream.”
“In which you saw the future.” Deciding that it would be safe for his mother to heal her ankle, he stood and took another seat at their kitchen table. “Elizabeth, words cannot express how much it means to me that you risked your life to come here this morning. If those men had thrown those torches…I cannot say with any certainty that any of us would have survived.”
“I—” Elizabeth was unsure what to say in reply. It was the most emotion he’d never shown her and she did not want to compromise the newfound trust in her he seemed to have.
“I sent Chloe back to her room for the rest of the night,” Susan said as she stood in the door frame. “Good morning, Elizabeth. You look quite disheveled from your ride.”
“She has sprained her ankle, Mother,” Jason informed his mother. “I think it would be safe to heal her as I suspect she has the same abilities as you.”
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise before turning her eyes to his mother as Susan took an empty chair from the other side of the table. She set it in front of Elizabeth and sat down, drawing her ankle into her lap.
“So she had a vision and came to warn us,” Susan murmured. “No one has ever told you that visions are not sent to us so that we may keep things from happening?” she asked Elizabeth.
“I did not have a vision,” Elizabeth protested softly. Her eyes filled with tears. “Please do not repeat that to anyone.”
Susan touched her Elizabeth’s ankle with the fingertips of her right hand. Elizabeth felt a strange warmth tingle throughout the limb. “There.” She set Elizabeth’s foot on the ground and smiled “Move it. See if I did it thoroughly.”
Elizabeth hesitantly rolled the joint, slightly amazed at the absence of pain or discomfort. “Thank you.”
“Jason, leave us for a moment. Keep Alexander company on the porch. I will call for you in a moment.”
Jason obeyed his mother and left the room. Susan cleared her throat. “You need not hide from me, Elizabeth. What you experienced tonight was a vision. We enchantresses only receive such signs when the events in them connect to people that we care about. The sorcerers can use herbs and incantations to call forth visions and relate only facts but enchantresses feel the emotions. Has no one trained you?”
“There’s nothing to train me in,” Elizabeth said nervously. “Mrs. Morgan—”
“I see that I have misunderstood.” Susan stood and crossed to one of the cabinets to remove a loaf of bread. “My mother kept me from the work camps because she herself had the abilities. She trained me. I assumed that your mother is an enchantress or at least, she loved you too dearly to part with you. It is dangerous for a young girl not to be trained, Elizabeth.”
“I do not possess any powers and my mother harbors no affection towards me. If you will please…I would like to return to the palace now.”
Susan started slicing some meat. “You will stay. Jason will show you where you might clean up and we will give you one of Chloe’s dresses. We will eat and we will all go. Alexis must be informed of this morning’s events.”
“No!” Elizabeth sprang from her chair. “You must not tell anyone!”
The older woman eyed her with a trace of amusement. “If it was just a dream, Elizabeth, why does it matter who knows?”
“You cannot say a word to anyone about this morning,” Elizabeth said softly. “Please—I must have your word.”
Susan set her knife aside and wiped her hands on her apron. “You truly are terrified.”
“I—I have the powers but no one knows outside my family. My parents, my brother and Michael. No one else can know. They will send me away.”
“You have nothing to fear from me, Elizabeth.” Susan sighed. “But you need training. The abilities are so closely linked with your emotions—you must learn how to control them.” She patted Elizabeth’s cheek. “Now, go tell Jason to show you where to clean up and ask him to fetch a dress from Chloe. I told her to sleep some more, but I doubt that she has. He will see you home and I will leave you out of this morning’s events. No one needs to know you were even here.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said gratefully.
“It is morning—you must go.” Summer Holloway started to pull away from his warm embrace though she loathed for their night to end. Lucas could so rarely escape the watchful eye of his parents and the council to steal time with her and those rare nights when he was able to spend the entire night with her in her room—those were the nights she lived for.
Lucas shook his head and wrapped his arms around her nude torso. “I do not wish to leave just yet.”
She giggled and let him pull her back into his arms. “Lucky, I must show my face in the kitchen soon or I will be fired and we shall never see one another.”
He pressed her to her back and rose over her. “I have something to tell you—but I was a little distracted last night.”
Summer’s smile dimmed and she frowned. “Oh no…your family found another betrothal? So soon?”
“Yes,” Lucas confirmed. He kissed the tip of her nose. “Do you know that you are the only one who calls me Lucky?”
“You told me that your nanny called you that when you were young and you preferred it over your own name.” Summer shook her head. “Why are you speaking of such inane things? Who are you to marry?”
“You.” Lucas kissed her collarbone and let his mouth rove down her soft skin. Summer’s hands twisted in his dark hair as he closed his lips over her pouting nipple.
“Wait, wait,” she panted. She braced her hands on his shoulders and pushed him away. “What did you mean?”
“I told my father about you. He talked to Lord Corinthos and it was brought up at last night’s council meeting. They approved a marriage between us.”
Summer sat up abruptly and stared at him. “Between us?” she echoed his words. “You wish to marry me?”
Lucas frowned. “Summer, I told you that I loved you. Did you not believe me?”
The doubt in her blue eyes pained him and he sighed. “I did not say those things to convince you to let me in your bed. I love you, Summer, and I wish to marry you. Have a family with you.”
She shook her head. “I am not the kind of woman you marry, Lucky. I am a chambermaid—”
“This is your last day of work. Lord Corinthos is already clearing it with the Queen,” Lucas informed her.
She moved from the bed and grabbed a dressing gown to wrap around her naked body. “How could you do such a thing without even discussing it with me?”
Lucas rose slowly and reached for his pants. “Summer, are you saying that you do not want to marry me?”
“That’s not what I’m saying—” she took a deep breath and dragged her hands through her tousled blonde hair. “I just—we have never discussed marriage or anything beyond the moment. You can imagine the shock of finding out the council has given a marriage their approval when you have not bothered to propose.”
“I did not realize my father would go to Lord Corinthos, Summer. I never expected to have his support much less have him petition the council. I rushed to tell you the moment my father told me—but you kissed me the moment I arrived and I just—all thoughts flew out of my head.”
She flushed. “It has been so long since we were able to spend any time together—I could not help myself.”
He stepped forward and took her hands in his. “I love you, Summer and I am not content to spend a night here or there with you. I am not content in having to hide my love for you. We have been granted an extraordinary chance to be together for all of our lives.”
He lowered himself to one knee and kissed her palm. “Summer Holloway, I love you. Will you be my wife?”
“Yes,” she whispered. A tear slid silently down her cheek. “I love you, so much.”
Alexis did not bother dressing or making herself presentable. The moment one of the servants informed her that her sister and the children had arrived and requested her immediate presence, she hastily wrapped a dressing gown around the nightgown and rushed barefoot to the foyer.
“Susan! What is wrong?” Alexis embraced her elder sister. “It is far too early for a visit.”
“I’m afraid it is nothing good. I ask that Alexander and Chloe be given a room to sleep in.” She touched her daughter’s shoulder. “They were both woken early and I fear the ride in from the farm has tired them.”
“Mother, I am fine,” Alexander began.
“You will sleep,” Susan said sharply, her piercing eyes silencing him immediately.
“Of course.” Alexis turned to one of her maids who had been awoken by the arrival of the Morgans. “Simone, please show my niece and nephew to the guest wing and make sure that they are comfortable.” She looked back at her sister. “Where is Jason?”
“He will be along shortly,” Susan said. “Come, we must speak.”
Once they were seated in the sitting room and Alexis had asked another one of the maids to bring them tea, Susan began to explain. “Jason woke earlier than usual this morning and was on his way to barn to check on one of our animals when he noticed there were men approaching the farm. Upon further scrutiny, they were carrying torches and their horses were in a gallop.”
“Torches?” Alexis repeated, mystified. “Why would they need—” The realization set in and she pressed her lips together firmly. “I see.”
“I, of course, caused a storm immediately which doused their torches and they turned back.” Susan’s hands were almost trembling as she reached for the silver tea cup. “But I fear they will return and I cannot have my family harmed.”
“Of course not. You will stay here until we sort this out. There is a meeting this morning and I will bring it up—”
“No.” Susan shook her head. “This was about Jason, not about the land or anything else. It is too convenient and—” she broke off, unsure how to explain. She knew it was connected to Jason or Elizabeth would not have received a vision about it. “I cannot divulge my reasons at this time but it was about Jason.”
“You think it might have something to do with the Dawning,” Alexis decided. She nodded. “You may be right. And the only people who know the identity of those chosen are their families and the council. I will speak only to Michael about it and see how he wishes to proceed.”
Susan nodded. “Thank you.”
“Now, you must tell me—where is Jason?” Alexis sipped her tea.
Susan sighed. “Alexis, please do not press me for more information. I cannot tell you.”
“I am your sister and your family,” Alexis cajoled. “If you cannot trust me, whom can you trust?”
“Yes, but it is not my secret that I would be divulging but of someone who does not trust easily and I do not wish to break my word.”
Alexis tilted her head to the side and pursed her lips. “Jason is not here but he will be here shortly and your words about Jason rising early to check on an animal ring false with me, sister. And you say that you are protecting someone.”
“I know that the Princess possesses powers,” Alexis said bluntly. “Michael told me years ago after she accidentally blew up part of the royal stables. Mirielle was so enraged that she locked the poor girl in her room until her eighteenth birthday and nothing Michael said could change her mind.”
Susan could not find the words to respond at first. “You are saying that you, the head of the council and the royal family were fully aware Elizabeth is an enchantress and rather than training the girl, you allowed her mother to lock her in her rooms?”
“I could say nothing for Michael had sworn me to secrecy and Michael could not order her to change her mind for Mirielle threatened to reveal Elizabeth’s nature and you know what happens when something like that is revealed. Elizabeth would have been shipped away.”
“What sort of mother treats their daughter like that?” Susan asked, clearly disgusted. “To treat the girl as though she had a contagious disease. Do you know that she was so terrified of someone finding out, she denied it even after I told her about my own gift?”
“That is why I believe this marriage is the best thing that could have happened to Elizabeth. Jason will be good to her and she will finally be free of her mother.”
“Well—Elizabeth experienced a vision last night and came to tell us. She wanted no one to know of her involvement so Jason took her home.”
Alexis nodded. “That was a wise decision. Michael has been working for years to lift the laws against enchantresses and until he does so, no one must ever know about Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth closed the door behind her and clasped her hands nervously. “Thank you for making sure I arrived back at my rooms.”
Jason nodded. “I do not want anything to happen to you as a consequence of coming to the house this morning.”
“Your mother has given me her word that she will leave me out of it.” She looked away. “And I must have yours that you will not say anything to anyone about the dream.”
“Vision,” Jason corrected quietly. He stepped towards her. “You can trust me, Elizabeth. My mother has the gift as well. I know enough about her to recognize it in another.”
She frowned and tilted her head to the side. “You call it a gift. You truly are blessed.” Elizabeth sighed and crossed the room to peer out the window. Dawn had arrived—shooting streaks of pink, red and orange across the sky. The sun had not risen fully and she could not see it from the side of the palace where her rooms were.
“I told you that my mother kept me in my rooms because she worried for my safety but that was a lie.” Elizabeth glanced at him before turning her eyes back to the window. “In truth, my mother worries for herself. She does not love me. She fears me.”
“Fears you?” Jason repeated. “Because you have the gift of healing? Of foresight? That is no reason to fear.”
“I blew up part of the stables when I was twelve,” Elizabeth admitted. “Before then, I was not given much notice. I went where I wanted, I said what I wanted and sometimes my mother came and brushed my hair before bed. But I was locked in my rooms for six years after that night. I saw no one but my brother and my uncle in all that time.”
“She locked you in here for six years?” Jason questioned. He stepped towards her. “That is what you meant when you said I was more fortunate than you, that I had no idea what kind of life you had led.”
“It does not matter. Soon—soon I will be free. And I will never have to see that woman again if I do not wish it. She is no mother.” Elizabeth pressed her lips together and sat on the sofa. “After the incident with the stables, I did not allow myself to use my powers for more than healing a cut or a bruise and until last night, I had never experienced a vision. I believe your mother was quite disappointed that I had had no training.”
“My mother was trained from the time she was a little girl until her marriage. I think she was a little saddened that my sister showed no signs of the gift. She would train you if you ask.”
“I would rather pretend that I do not have these powers at all.” Elizabeth cleared her throat. “You should go before Alexis begins to wonder where you are.”
“Elizabeth,” Jason began hesitantly, “yesterday, I believe that I hurt you. When we were in the barn a-and I said those things to you.”
“It is all right. I spoke with my brother and I believe that I understand.” Elizabeth paused. “He said that you were uncertain about what would happen if you were to kiss me again. Since such behavior is not acceptable outside of marriage. It was unfair of me to ask and I apologize.”
“That is part of the reason but it was more of what a kiss could lead to if you are not careful.” Jason’s cheeks were bright red as he struggled to put his thoughts into words that were appropriate in the company of the woman he was to marry. “I have made that mistake once and I mean not to do it again.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brows. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I have had experience with a woman outside of marriage,” Jason attempted to explain.
“Oh.” Elizabeth flushed and she looked away. She had never discussed the intimate moments between a man and a woman with anyone else—beyond a little of what her brother would say. But she’d read many novels and she believed she had an idea of what was to happen on her wedding night.
“I care about you, Elizabeth and I am sorry that I hurt you yesterday. It is not always easy to know the right words or the right way to say something.”
“If you do not know the right words then perhaps you should just say what you think or feel.” Elizabeth peered up at him. “It is not wrong to trust what you feel.”
He nodded and looked away. “You were right—I should be going.”
She stood. “Thank you again. I hope that Alexis will know what to do about those men. Who do you think sent them?”
“I do not know but I doubt it is the last trouble we will see.” He moved towards the door but she called his name. “Yes?”
“I…I just wanted to say that I care about you too,” she told him softly. She stood on her tip toes, placed her hand on his shoulder for balance and pressed a chaste kiss to his lips.
“I think that we will be spending most of the day here so I will try to see you again before we return home.” He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the tips of her fingers. “Until then, Elizabeth.”
The early morning council meeting had been nothing more than a check-in with preparations for various Dawning parties and research. Jasper Jacks and Skye Chandler reported their progress—of which they had made nearly none while Monica Quartermaine informed the council that all wedding plans had been made in the utmost secrecy and all that remained was the official announcement.
Laura Spencer reiterated her objections to her son’s marriage while her husband told the council that his son had come to see him that morning to report that Summer had accepted his proposal.
Barbara Jones remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the early meeting while Scott Baldwin announced that the kingdom’s official sorcerer would be retiring at the end of the year—which coincidentally, fell on the last day of the fifteenth month of Avril—of which the first day was the famed Aurora Dawning.
Michael told Scott—the official council liaison to the sorcerer—to contact the training school to send over their three top students. They would choose the new one after the Dawning.
Alan Quartermaine and his cousin Ned were in charge of the palace’s official Aurora Dawning ball and were keeping most of the plans under wraps. They would only say that it would be the most extravagant event in years.
AJ Quartermaine and Caroline Benson darted nasty looks at each other throughout the meeting as Caroline reported that the prince had sent a messenger early that morning, presenting plans for the west wing of the palace to be renovated. She speculated that he and his wife were planning on starting their family and that the prince wished to have the wing to himself.
AJ had been assigned to work with Jasper and Skye but had nothing to contribute to their words as he’d blown off every meeting except for the one Caroline had attended yesterday—but no one mentioned that. The Quartermaine heir’s odd pursuit of the young woman had been a source for gossip but never brought up at a meeting.
With the meeting adjourned, Alexis watched as Barbara Jones left the room as quietly as she had walked in. She noted the behavior for future reference as Barbara never did anything quietly.
She waited until the room was deserted and only Michael remained as he gathered up the council member’s various reports. He had noted Alexis’s distracted behavior throughout the meeting and knew she had something on her mind. So when she cleared her throat and asked to have a moment with him, he agreed and led her back to his rooms for privacy.
As soon as the door was shut, Alexis informed him of her sister’s arrival that morning. She included Elizabeth’s involvement as Michael was fully aware of his niece’s abilities and she left no detail out. Michael needed the full picture in order to proceed and Alexis knew this.
A long moment passed between the end of Alexis’s story and the time Michael spoke. He never acted without thinking, never spoke without considering all of his words and she knew when he told her what to do, the decision would be final.
“Your sister and her children must stay within the boundaries of the village until we have discovered the traitors,” Michael said. He set his papers down on his desk and clasped his hands behind his back. “I understand that they run their own farm and it cannot be left unattended. I will arrange for some workers to go out there and do the various chores. They will take their instructions from the Morgan boys to be sure.”
Alexis nodded. “I have more than enough room in my home and Susan brought several days’ worth of clothing. She knew that you might decide on such a thing.”
“As for my niece, I will not question her on this. I understand that she had sworn your sister to secrecy and I do not want to alarm Elizabeth. She is easily upset—her powers have been a source of worry for her since she was twelve. She does not know you know, Alexis, and I prefer to keep it that way. However, I think it would be prudent for Susan to begin training her.”
“Susan has expressed her disappointment that Elizabeth has not yet been trained and has already offered her services. But what will Mirielle say?”
“You leave my sister to me.” Michael rubbed the back of his neck. “The traitor must be within the council. No one outside of the council and the royal family know that Jason and Elizabeth are the chosen. Mirielle and Geoffrey are not happy that their daughter is marrying someone of Jason’s ilk, but they cannot disregard his blood line. Nikolas has no reason to argue with the decision and he is not the type to do something such as this—not when I have been told that Jason and Elizabeth have spent the majority of the last two days together without incident.”
“She has feelings for him of some kind or else she would not have received that vision,” Alexis said though she knew Michael had already come to that conclusion.
“You must leave the rest of this to me. The fewer people who know about this betrayal, the better,” Michael remarked. “You should return home and inform your sister that she is to remain in Rhigwyn until I say otherwise and that she will begin training Elizabeth once she and Jason are married and living back on the estate where they can conduct the training in relative secrecy.”
Geoffrey scratched his eyebrow and studied his quiet son across the table. He then turned to his advisors and waved his hand in dismissal. “Leave us.”
The men filed out silently while Nikolas raised his eyes from his papers. “Father?” he questioned.
“Have you seen your sister lately?” Geoffrey inquired. “I have not been able make time to visit with her since Michael told us about her role in the Dawning. Is she handling the news well?”
“As well as can be expected. I spoke with her last night.” Nikolas shifted in his seat. “Why the interest, Father? I cannot recall the last time you and Elizabeth were in the same room.”
Geoffrey narrowed his eyes. “I am the King of the realm; I do not have the time to socialize. Elizabeth is a girl. She has no need of me.”
“With a mother who locked her in her room for six years, I cannot imagine what need she would have for either of you.” Nikolas stood. “With all due respect, Father, when Emily and I begin our family, my only goal is to be a better parent than either of those I grew up with.”
“She was locked away for her own good. Who knows what damage a girl with her curse could do during her teenage years,” Geoffrey scoffed.
Nikolas exhaled slowly. “I wish that I had argued—that I had been looking out for my sister in the way that she deserved. Perhaps you might want to visit with your daughter before she marries Jason on Saturday and moves to the Morgan home and you never see her again.”
Gia was removing Elizabeth’s breakfast dishes when the door to the room swung open and an elegantly dressed Mirielle entered the room.
“Leave us, girl,” the Queen commanded coldly. Gia finished her chore and bowed to the two women before making a hasty exit.
Elizabeth stood from her table and tightened the sash of her dressing gown. “Mother. To what do I owe this morning visit?”
Mirielle wandered the room, her fingertips brushing across one of her paintings. “We have not spoken since my brother informed me of your betrothal. I understand that Jason Morgan has visited you?”
“Yes, he has,” Elizabeth replied warily. Mirielle turned back to her, her crimson taffeta dress rustling with the move.
“I thought it prudent to inform you that your father and I have been working busily behind the scenes to ensure you do not have to waste your life in a marriage with that peasant.”
Elizabeth blinked, her face draining of color. “But the Dawning…?” she remarked softly.
“Oh…once it is over, there is no reason for you to remain with the boy.” Mirielle dismissed the Aurora Dawning with a wave of her hand. “Your father and I intended to petition the council for a release from the marriage but I was informed this morning that Lucas has become engaged to one of my personal maids. Can you imagine that? The Captain of the King’s Guard also marrying a silly peasant?” Mirielle laughed, the sound sending cold prickles down her daughter’s spine.
“Michael would never grant it,” Elizabeth replied, trying to sound more sure than she actually was. Her only hope to escape these walls had been to marry Jason Morgan and it was though a candle was being slowly extinguished.
“I have my ways of getting what I want, daughter,” Mirielle said coldly. “I only tell you this so that you do not become unnecessarily attached to the boy, though I doubt you are capable of such emotions.”
“Not capable?” Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“Well—it has never been proven that…beings such as you are even capable of normal lives with normal emotions and futures.” Mirielle shrugged her slender shoulders.
“Beings?” Elizabeth echoed faintly. “Mother, I am a human—”
“You are not a human,” Mirielle said coldly. “You are just a silly little thing with powers that you cannot handle. If women were meant to have the sorts of powers of a sorcerer, there would not be a ban against them, would there?” She cleared her throat. “Now—do not get upset with me, Elizabeth. There is no reason to become irrational.”
She was afraid. Elizabeth could see it in her eyes. Her mother was afraid that Elizabeth would become angry at the words and do something to hurt her.
Anger was the last thing she felt. Hurt, sorrow—yes. But anger was something she could not associate with her mother any longer. It was not worth the effort or the energy.
Elizabeth nodded. “Of course. Was there anything else?”
“Well—yes. Your father and I are now in a position where there are no suitable men to marry you, too. AJ Quartermaine is a possibility but if he falls through…we have decided to send you to a convent after you are released from your marriage.”
“A convent?” Elizabeth whispered. Convent. Another name for the work camps enchantresses were sent to. “You cannot—”
“But I can. We will, of course, tell the public that you have been promised to another prince in a far off kingdom. But your father and I are tired of worrying when you might snap. We are taking it into our own hands.” Mirielle nodded at her. “Good day, Elizabeth.”
She swept out of the room, leaving Elizabeth feeling empty and cold. After nineteen years of being locked in these rooms—her parents were going to do what they must have wanted to do all along.
Send her to one of the dreaded work camps where she would be worked and starved until she died. Like so many other women with the powers.
Elizabeth sank back into her seat, staring blindly at the white tablecloth. She had not been sent away when she was born for it would not be wise to let people know that she was an enchantress. The public might believe the entire royal line was corrupted and unfortunately, by the time her powers had been discovered, it was too late to say that she had died in childbirth.
They must have been waiting all along until she was of marrying age so that they might send her away and pretend that she’d been married. Lucas—he might have been her saving grace after all. He would have controlled her—but she might have still breathed.
She was not sure how long she sat there before there was a hesitant knock on her door. It was not Nikolas or Gia for they would have merely entered. Elizabeth glanced out her window to see that sun had settled firmly over the hills, meaning it was midday.
“Who is it?” she called out dully.
“Elizabeth? It is Jason.”
She stood and pulled the door open. “I am not receiving visitors today,” Elizabeth said softly, keeping her eyes to the ground. “Please—come back another time.”
Jason frowned and shook his head. “No—I have come to tell you what Michael told my aunt.”
Elizabeth hesitated—she was curious as to what her uncle had said and perhaps if she told Jason what her mother was planning, he might help her come up with a way to thwart it.
But what if…what if he supported the idea? What if he was content in having to be married to her only because the council had ordered it? What if he would like the opportunity to escape a life with her?
Jason was not idly waiting for her to make up her mind to let him enter—he could tell by the tone of her voice and her posture that something had changed from earlier this morning when she had shyly confessed that she cared for him as well. There was sadness in her eyes. Hurt. Devastation.
After another moment of silence, he made the decision for her and stepped inside the room. “Elizabeth, what has changed since I left?” he asked urgently.
She shook her head. “It does not matter. What does my uncle say?” she asked, shutting the door behind him and resigning herself to this meeting.
“We are to remain in the village with my aunt until he discovers who was behind the attack last night,” Jason told her. “They believe it is someone on the council and that it is connected to the Dawning.”
“That makes sense.” Elizabeth wandered away from him and idly tightened her sash again, becoming aware that she was dressed merely in her robe. “It seemed somewhat convenient. Was that all?”
“From Lord Corinthos, yes, but—Elizabeth, will you not look at me?” Jason asked, unnerved by the way she studiously kept her eyes from looking anywhere but the ground.
“I—” Elizabeth faltered and hesitantly brought her gaze to his. Her eyes were swimming with tears now. How could she tell him her mother was working to part them before they even started their lives together? Would he be sad? Angry?
“Elizabeth.” He stepped towards and drew her hands into his, cradling them in his grasp. “Tell me what’s happened,” he pleaded.
“M-My mother was here earlier,” Elizabeth began. “She wanted to inform me that she and my father were petitioning to—to release us from this marriage after the Dawning.” She felt his hands stiffen and then tighten around hers. “You see—when they discovered that I was—that I am—that I have the curse—they could not send me away. They had already announced my birth and it would not have been wise for them to reveal the royal blood line had been contaminated by an enchantress.”
“I do not understand what relevance—” Jason began.
“She told me today that since Lucas is no longer available and since you are apparently not a suitable candidate—there is no one left but AJ Quartermaine and he is already pursuing Car—” she stopped. “Someone else.”
“I will tell my aunt to tell Lord Corinthos that he cannot let your mother do this,” Jason said firmly. “He seems to be a fair enough man—”
“My mother has a way of getting what she wants from my uncle,” Elizabeth broke in. “And she—she is sending me to a convent.”
“Convent?” Jason’s eyebrows drew together. “I do not know what it is.”
Elizabeth’s throat was so thick now she could barely speak but she forced herself to finish. “They will tell everyone else that I have married another prince from a distant kingdom while I am sent to what my mother has termed a convent. It is a word she uses to threaten me with in public. If I did not behave to her liking, she would send me away to a convent. She stopped that when I turned eleven and I believe that is when I was betrothed to Lucas.”
“But what is a convent?” Jason pressed urgently.
“It’s the work camp that enchantresses are sent to,” Elizabeth said softly.
Jason blanched and stepped back. “She wants to send you to the work camps?” he asked.
“I suppose—” she cleared her throat and tried to speak over the lump in her throat. “From your perspective, it might not be bad news. You—you could find someone better to marry—”
“Elizabeth—I thought that we had settled this. I do not want someone else. I want to marry you,” Jason said earnestly.
Her eyes flew up to meet his. “Y-you do?” she asked surprised. She blinked. “I—why?”
“Why?” Jason repeated, amused. “Do you not think we have more important issues to discuss?”
“No one in my life has ever wanted me around before,” Elizabeth admitted. “Perhaps with the exception of my brother so you can understand why I might be curious.”
“Elizabeth…” Jason hesitated. “I think that we should tell my aunt what your mother said. She might know how to proceed.”
Elizabeth slid her hands from his grasp and nodded. “I will get dressed and we will go see her, then.”
“Wait—” Jason grasped her elbow and pulled her back to face him. “I see that an answer to your question is very important to you. I do not have just one reason for wanting to marry you but I suppose the most important one is that you get me. You understand how much I love my family and my home.”
Elizabeth knew that it was important to him that she understand that but it was hardly the answer she’d been hoping for. She smiled anyway and nodded. “I will get dressed.”
He released her elbow and watched her disappear into bedroom—sure that he had not handled that all right.
Laura fell into step next to Barbara as the latter was en route to the library. Michael had assigned Barbara to Skye and Jasper’s project and she was to join Caroline in the library for further research. “The plan failed this morning,” Laura hissed.
“I rather gathered that impression when Michael mentioned nothing,” Barbara remarked wryly. “Perhaps you will give this plot up, Laura.”
“We must take a more direct approach,” Laura said instead. “I have had word from one of Alexis’s maids that the Morgan family has come to stay at the house. They arrived unnaturally early this morning and are expected to stay through the Dawning.”
“What do you suggest?” Barbara asked resigned. She darted her eyes around the empty hallways, paranoid that someone might overhear them.
“I suggest someone to take him on directly.” Laura thought for a moment. “The night before the wedding. He should sneak into the house and do it then.”
Barbara hesitated. “Laura—perhaps we should abandon this. We have caused no irreparable harm.”
“No,” Laura hissed. “Or do you wish for the whole world to know your shame?” the blonde challenged.
Barbara looked away. “Whatever you wish, Laura.”
Caroline tugged another dusty book from the shelves of the library and glanced towards the door. Barbara Jones was late as usual.
She hoisted it in her arms and set it on one of the mahogany table already covered with papers and books. This particular book held the genealogy of the realm. She was to look into possible later familial connections.
She opened the book to somewhere in the middle and started flipping through the pages until she found Harold Morgan’s entry in the book. He had been the first Captain of the Guard and his son, James, had been chosen a thousand years ago.
James Morgan had married one of the chambermaids to the Princess Patricia—a peasant girl of the name of Kylie Stevens.
When Caroline slid her finger down the entries of their children, she frowned—some of these names seemed familiar. All too familiar.
“What has you frowning so, my dear Caroline?”
She sighed and glanced at the smirking Quartermaine heir. “What is that you want?” she demanded scornfully.
“Barbara sought me out and asked me to take her place. She has received word Lady Robin is feeling ill.” AJ pulled out a seat and sat down. “Have you given any more thought to my invitation?”
“What invitation?” Caroline asked absently as she tried to concentrate on where she had seen those names before.
“To the Palace Ball on Saturday,” AJ answered.
“My answer remains the same.” Caroline shoved the book to him and pointed to the names of James and Kylie Morgan’s children. “Why do these names sound familiar?”
AJ studied them. “Adam Morgan, Eleanor Morgan-Brown—” his eyes widened and he glanced up at her. “You do not know of Nell Brown?”
“This is the same Nell Brown?” Caroline demanded. “She is the enchantress who assassinated the king?”
AJ nodded. “And she is the reason for the ban against women with the gift. She was not discovered until after her marriage so blame for the attack has never fallen to the Morgans. She had another sister—Mariette. When Nell was discovered to be one, they examined her younger siblings. Mariette was the only other girl and she was sent away to one of the first work camps.”
“The odds of two enchantresses in the same family?” Caroline remarked doubtfully.
“It’s more than just enchantresses. Adam Morgan was a sorcerer, as were his two brothers—Harold and John.”
Caroline yanked the book back and flipped towards the beginning, searching for Hugh Quartermaine and Princess Adelaide’s entry. “They had only two children. Wendall and Olivia.”
“They both had the gifts—the first in our family,” AJ reported. “Do you know what this means, Caroline?”
“It seems that the chosen always have offspring with the gifts.” Caroline pressed her lips together. “This is horrible, AJ. We must inform the council at once—”
AJ put a hand on her forearm to stop her from rising. “No. Do you not see that we cannot tell the entire council?”
Caroline frowned. “What do you mean?”
“There is something going on in that room—another agenda. Perhaps you do not see it but not everyone is working toward Rhigwyn’s greater purpose. By all means—tell Michael and Alexis. I believe that they are still trustworthy. But leave the rest out of it for now. Others share the view that enchantresses are evil and I do not think that one bad woman makes them all bad.”
Caroline stared at him for a moment. “Well who would have guessed it, AJ? You do have a few redeemable qualities.”
His grin was quick and for the first time, she found no trace of arrogance in the expression. “Does that mean you’ll attend the ball with me?”
She snorted. “Hardly. A few words do not wipe out the many ugly things you have said to me.” Her eyes darkened.
He exhaled slowly. “The seamstress shop,” AJ stated quietly. “Caroline, I know that apologies are not enough—”
“No, they are not. I know that I do not possess the beauty of other women—of the princesses, of your precious Keesha but a lack of beauty does not mean I do not feel.” She stood. “I must inform Michael of our conclusions at once.”
“Wait—” He stood to move after her but she was already gone.
Once Elizabeth had dressed, she’d insisted that they speak with her uncle rather than his aunt. Jason agreed—knowing that she was unaware Alexis knew of her gift.
They found Michael in his private chambers and if he was surprised at their arriving together, he did not show it.
“You were supposed to meet me last night,” he chastised his niece gently.
“It slipped my mind,” Elizabeth replied stiffly. “What did you want to speak with me about?”
“We will talk later. What did you wish to speak about?” Michael asked instead. He resumed his seat at his table and gestured for them to sit. “The kitchens have sent up too much food—you are more than welcome to join me.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I am fine.” She sat and Jason followed her lead, a little out of sorts at sitting in the private rooms of the man who was the Supreme Head of the High Council.
“I believe it is necessary to tell you that Jason knows I have the curse,” Elizabeth offered. “I trust him and I do not believe that he will say anything.”
Michael nodded. “It has always been up to you who to tell. But I presume that this is not the entire reason for this meeting.”
“No.” She glanced at Jason before relating what her mother had told her that morning.
“Jason and I have discussed it—a-and we hope that you will be on our side,” Elizabeth concluded. “We wish to be married and remain that way.”
Michael rubbed his index finger across his mouth, silently cursing his cruel sister. He knew that Elizabeth had related only the facts and none of the emotions she had felt, yet he could not escape the feeling that Mirielle had said something—something that put that guarded look in her eyes he knew was meant for him or Jason.
“When your mother informed you of this decision, did she say why she was telling you?”
Elizabeth hesitated and looked at her lap. She had said nothing to Jason of her mother’s words to her and she loathed to do it now. “Why does that matter, my lord?”
Michael shifted in his seat. “Elizabeth, please answer.”
“She said that she did not want me to become unnecessarily attached—even though she was not sure if I were capable of such emotions.”
“She did not think you capable?” Jason echoed tensely.
“My sister operates under the impression that she gave birth to a creature rather than a daughter,” Michael said sadly. “I have fought all of your life, Elizabeth, to keep you from hearing those words as often as I’m sure you did. I am only sorry I failed you so miserably.”
“That does not matter,” Elizabeth said briskly. “It is most loathsome that I must ask you for help but I will if you can offer assistance.”
“Your mother says she has a way of getting what she wants. Her way is threatening to tell the whole world of your powers,” Michael confided. “She is bluffing but she does not know I know that. She will never tell, Elizabeth. She fears public backlash far too greatly just so that she might get back at me. You do not have to worry, my dear. If you and Jason wish to be married, then you have my promise no one will interfere with that.”