The Duke of Keps

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


Duty or passion?

Submitted: January 17, 2018

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Submitted: January 17, 2018

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My mother was a lady-in-waiting to the queen. My father was captain of the king’s knights. They had grown up in the same village and always had a fondness for one another. It only seemed natural to everyone who knew them that they would marry. Unfortunately, my mother died in childbirth and my father begged the king to ward me. The queen was amenable to it, and the king agreed. And so, at a very young age, I became a part of the royal family.

My father and I did not have an intimate relationship. We knew one another, but I feel as though while he harboured a fondness for me, as his child, he held a vast amount of grief whenever he looked upon me, for I have been told, I look strikingly like my mother.

When I was ten years old, the king held a hunt and my father was invited. During the hunt, my father's horse was startled and bolted with my father still mounted. Even though he was a renowned horseman, his horse broke its leg in a misstep in a rabbit warren before it could be calmed. My father was thrown headfirst into a nearby tree and died instantly.

My ten year old self wept at the news, but I was young and recovered reasonably quickly. There were games to be played, after all.

My best and most consistent friend was the son of another knight: Kael was a squire to his father and always willing to help me into and out of mischief.  Even as we grew, and I was made into a lady fit for court, and he became a knight in his own right, Kael and I always made time for one another.  If the weather was nice, we would meet atop a certain parapet that was easy for the Watch to miss on their rounds.  I would smuggle a sweet roll for each of us and we would lie on the stone and watch the stars.  Of course, there were evenings when Kael had to take his own Watch and I would wait until he was off duty; occasionally falling asleep.  He would nudge me awake when he found me like this and make sure I made it back to my chambers before my absence was discovered.

The king and queen were ignorant of the relationship between myself and Kael, which was to the better, for if we had been discovered, we certainly would have been reprimanded.  I would surely have been under more stringent supervision and he more than likely would have been sent to another post in the kingdom.  However, my tutors, his fellow knights, and a majority of the other servants were not as insensible as our esteemed monarchs.  Where our mutual benefactors would have balked at our intimacy, our fellow citizens turned an indulgent eye to our antics.  We caused them no real trouble; no one thought any harm could come of our friendship.

 

I was fifteen years of age when I was summoned to the throne room.  This, in itself, was not an unusual occurrence.  As part of my unofficial role as a child of the crown, I was regularly charged with meeting dignitaries and attending royal functions.  On this day, the queen tasked me with an exciting meeting:

“We are expecting the Lord Lachlan, the Duke of Keps at the banquet tonight,” the queen told me from her throne.  I tried not to show any emotion, but glanced up at her briefly.  The Duke was known as practically a hermit.  No one that we, as commoners in the castle, knew had seen him for more than ten years.  The queen gave me a stern look and I returned my gaze downward while she continued, “and you will entertain him, Acushla.”

I curtsied and murmured, “of course, your highness,” and left the chamber.  I hurried to the barracks and found a squire to summon Kael to me.  This was big news!  When he emerged and I told him what I had discovered, the only surprise he had was that I was to play companion to the man in question.

“You knew the Duke of Keps was coming to the castle?” I berated him, trying to keep my voice low, despite my growing irritation.  It was not like us to keep things from one another.

“I did not think it was such a big piece of gossip,” he teasingly grinned at me.

I made a very unladylike sound and he laughed at me.  “I must go,” he patted my head, “we have company tonight.” He winked at me and returned to his post, laughing at me the whole way.  I sighed and turned back to the keep to ready myself for the evening.  I wondered about the Duke’s personality and why he was emerging after such a period of inactivity.

 

I was just emerging from my chambers dressed in a crimson evening gown when the criers announced the arrival of our most recent guests.  I attempted to unobtrusively descend the stone stairs, hurrying, while not making it appear as though I was, so that I could catch a glimpse of this rare creature of Keps.  When I came upon the party in question, I could not discern who was the Duke; there were many men of the age that I assumed a duke would be.  There was a young man in the party, not unattractive, but intense.  His intensity was not abated by the fact that he stared unabashedly at me until his party was addressed and directed to their chambers.  As they moved away, my heart was beating so hard that I had forgotten to contrive who was the Duke.  Instead, I made my way to the banquet hall and took my place, awaiting my introduction to Lord Lachlan.

 

When the time finally came, I attempted to disguise my eagerness as the guests entered.  Many of the members of the duke’s party filed in, including the intense young man who had noticed me in the entryway. He scanned the room, appearing to search for someone. I had a faint thrill of hope that he was looking for me. No, no, I chastised myself, I'm supposed to play attendance on Lord Lachlan.  The fascinating individual did not have time to catch me watching him before the king and queen made their entrance.

 

His Highness was once a beautiful light, lithe man who made the noble ladies swoon whenever he was near. He had not aged well. He was now beginning to bend with age and his hair was receding. He was still amiable and jubilant as ever. His wife was his opposite. As she had grown older, she had shown her steel and sobriety. She was the one who had chosen to take me in, out of duty. She was kind, in her own way.

 

The royal pair were seated and the nobles then were permitted to sit. To my astonishment, I was sitting between the intense young man and another, older gentleman, who I assumed was the Duke. I was itching to know who this young man was, but dutifully turned my attention to the older man and attempted to begin a conversation.

"What brings you to our region, milord?"

He looked at me and smiled, "I go where my benefactor requires me, my lady."

of my but was saved from having to reply by the arrival of the first course.  Throughout most of the meal, my companion was preoccupied with conversation from his other side, the captain of the knights, as they discussed border patrols and other things that did not garner my interest.  Since my attention was not required to my right, I stole a glance to my left.  The young man was staring straight ahead, apparently at nothing in particular, with an amused smirk on his face.

"And you, sir?  To what do we owe the pleasure of your presence in our fair part of the country?" I endeavored.

He slowly turned to look at me and stared, searching my face, for so long that I began to wonder if he had heard me or was going to respond.  When he did answer, he sounded as though he was laughing at me.  "My grandfather passed away a month ago and before he died, he decreed that I was to marry as soon as possible.  I am here to fulfill that promise."

I attempted to process this information as he took a long sip of his wine.  Was this the Duke?  "My apologies, sir, but we have not been introduced.  I am Iseault, foster-daughter of Queen Ethna and King Aidan."

He looked sidelong at me once again, "I am Conn, lord of Keps, from my grandfather upon his death."

My shock was palpable and I blurted without thinking, "But you're so young!  What about your father?  Would he not be more suited?"  I covered my mouth as I realized my insubordination.  "My apologies, milord, I was not aware...I am sorry for your loss," I murmured, turning my face away in embarrassment.

The amused look was back on his face, "My mother and father were taken away from me by illness many years ago.  I had been raised by my grandfather in isolation since I was young."  He turned to face me fully.  "It is quite difficult to govern when one is deceased."  I could feel my face redden.

"I am deeply apologetic for my words, my lord.  Please forgive me," I was embarrassed beyond restraint.  I had never made such a public blunder before!  What was I doing?  This banquet could not be over soon enough.  The duke merely shrugged and returned to his drink.  "It is nothing.  Their death was many years ago and I have garnered the same response from many, although," he glanced at me again, "most likely not so bluntly in my presence."

 

I was thoroughly embarrassed and sat in awkward silence throughout the remainder of the meal.  Eventually, the king and queen rose to leave and I released a sigh of relief.  I made my farewells and rose to depart when the Duke’s voice gave me pause, “It was a pleasure to meet you, Princess.”  I could feel the blush rising again, “Thank you, my lord,” I murmured, looking down to avoid his eyes.  “I apologize again for my crass behavior,” I curtsied and made my way out the doors.

Much to my relief, I did not have to dance attendance on the Duke over the next week, as the King had invited most of the nobles on a hunt.  I was consistently spared the invitation out of consideration of my father’s death.  I was especially pleased with this attention in this event, since it afforded me to regain my composure and avoid the one whose mere presence embarrassed me.  I could not contrive why it was that I was so embarrassed.  I should be able to continue my duties to the king and queen until the end of his visit without further incident.  However, I could not get my verbal misstep out of my head and every time I remembered our encounter, I grew flustered.  What was wrong with me?

It was during one of these reflections, that Kael found me.  He hurried over to me, glancing around.  “What is the matter?” I asked.  Kael never looked this disconcerted.  “I need to speak with you,” was all the answer he gave, as he grabbed my hand and pulled me into a secluded library.  I sat down on one of the upholstered chairs, waiting for Kael to speak.  He paced the length of the wall to wall rug, wringing his hands.

“Kael,” I said in exasperation.  He stopped, but stared at his hands.  “I’m leaving,” he whispered.  I leaped out of the seat, “What?!”  His long legs carried him to me and he grabbed my arms, finally looking down at me.  “I’m sorry.  But it will all make sense in the end.”  He wrapped his arms around me and I rested my head against his chest.  “You can’t leave me!  You’re my best friend.  What will I do without you?”  Tears came to my eyes and my voice choked.

Kael hugged me tighter, “But I need to accept this transfer to further my career and standing.”  He took a deep breath, “If I ever want to marry, this is the best move, and at a good time.”

“Marry?”  I pushed myself away from him, “Why are you considering marriage?  Have you set your sights on someone already?”  He looked sheepish, “It doesn’t matter if I do, unless I improve my position.”

At this, I grew angry and stepped further away.  If my friendship wasn’t enough to keep him here, then so be it.  Whoever this girl was, she was clearly more important to him than I was.  His expression turned confused as I put more distance between us.  “Ise…” is all I heard as I left the room and let the door shut heavily behind me.  I proceeded to my room, my mood dark and spent the evening crying angrily.

 

The next day, I was in no better of a mood and spent the day avoiding Kael.  I was unsurprised when I was summoned to the queen’s chambers.

The queen was facing her vanity, preparing for the evening meal as I entered.  She paused her administrations and watched me from the mirror.  “Iseault, thank you for coming,”

“Of course, your highness,” such formalities were not above us.

“How do you find the Duke?” she raised an eyebrow at my reflection.

“He is...not what I expected,” I replied, remembering back on his youth and amused expressions.

“Yes,” she smiled, “I was surprised to find the young Duke had stepped in for the elder upon his death.”  She shrugged, “Such as it is: the young succeeding the old.”  I had nothing to say on that matter.  I stood to gain nothing from anyone.  I was merely an orphan who was graced with the affections of the royal couple.  Upon their death, I would be nothing.  It was a depressing thought upon which I disliked to dwell.  The queen continued on, “You’ve done well as his companion, Iseault,” she turned to face me properly.  “We are pleased,” she paused, looking to the window.  “I’m sure that you are aware that your natal celebration shall be held at the end of this week.”

Surprise showed on my face, “No, your highness, I did not.”  A celebration?  For me?  How odd.  I had not had one of note so far.  It was my sixteenth birthday, was that the reason?  I clutched my skirts, drying my suddenly sweaty palms.

“Of course.  We will have a ball to commemorate your sixteenth birthday; you are of age, after all.  And it will not hurt that the Duke is here to partake,” she leaned closer to me, “Try to not dissuade him, dear,” and she turned away.  I was dismissed.

I left the room, astounded.  My mind was a blur of thoughts.  The whole castle was celebrating my birth with a ball!  What did she mean by my being of age?  Dissuade the duke from what?  I began to hurry to the barracks to confide in Kael.  I had not gone more than a few steps, when I halted, oh, I was not speaking to him.  He was leaving me.  I returned to my room to sort my thoughts alone, with no one else in whom to confide.

 

Dinner had been a quieter affair while the men were out, but they returned that evening.  To compound the situation, they entered the hall mid-meal.  They were loud, flush with excitement from their activities.  There was a great clamoring as seats and plates were rearranged to make room for the new arrivals, who were quite hungry from their journey.

The Duke took his seat next to me as King Aidan was telling the Queen, “We would have been here before the meal, however,” he nodded at Lord Conn, “Someone noticed a giant black boar as we were readying our departure.”

The duke lowered his head in acknowledgment, but said nothing.  “Did you catch the beast?” I asked him, remembering the Queen’s directive of not discouraging the duke.  I hoped I was doing the right thing.  The Duke shook his head, “No, he managed to elude us,” and avoided my gaze.  He did not seem to be in his usual spirits.

I could not think of further conversation, as I was still sorting my thoughts from this afternoon’s exchange with the queen.  Most of the rest of the meal had passed before we spoke again.  This time, it was the duke who attempted the first word, “I apologize for my curtness, Lady Iseault; I must not be feeling well.”

I nodded, “Of course.  No offense taken.”  The meal was over and we took our leave.  I returned to my chambers, only to be summoned to the queen’s shortly after.  Twice in one day was quite curious.  I wondered at the purpose.  When I arrived, both the king and queen were awaiting me.  They stood by the fire and asked me to sit.

I patiently waited for them to inform me as to why I had been called.  The king looked at the queen and queen looked at me.  I shifted in my seat, unsure of what was happening.

Finally, the King turned his attention to me and spoke, “You have received an offer.”

“An offer?” I replied, confused.

“An offer of marriage,” the queen sounded exasperated.  

“What?” I gripped the arms of the chair in surprise, “From whom?”  I was incredulous.  This was absurd!  I had nothing to offer anyone…  Unless they were hoping to use me to get closer to the king and queen.

The king glanced at his wife and continued, “Lord Conn Lachlan, the duke of Keps, has suggested a future engagement with you,” he paused.  “He was unaware of your impending birthday and would like to postpone a formal proposal until a later date.”  I was in shock.  I folded my hands in my lap and corrected my posture in the seat.

“I see.”  I did not see.  I did not understand the duke’s motives in suggesting such an alliance.  “Is the duke aware of my true station?”

The king and queen looked at one another.  “I did make that clear when he first approached me.  He seemed surprised, but undeterred.”  I do not recall the rest of the conversation.  The next thing I remember, I was outside the queen’s chambers, staring at my clasped hands in confusion.  Should I refuse his proposal?  Would I be allowed to refuse?  What did Lord Conn really want?  I ached to speak with Kael so much that my heart hurt.  Maybe I should find him and apologize?  No, that would not do.  He had made his decision to prepare himself for some future marriage, and here I was, on the verge of engagement.  How I needed my best friend!  I steeled myself as I smoothed my skirts.  At least there was still time.  Lord Conn had not yet made an official proposal.  Mayhap he would change his mind.  Or maybe I could discover his reason behind such a proposition.

Endeavoring to keep such thoughts from making me anxious, I took a walk through the gardens.  The rudy and the lewisia were blooming, which always brought a smile to my face.  I was inspecting the black roses when I heard from behind me, “Ah, too early yet for roses, Princess.”

I froze.  Why was the Duke in the gardens?  Would he not be more suited at the yard, watching the knights practice drills?  I straightened and took a breath before turning to face my unwelcome visitor.  “I am not a princess, your grace,” cutting right to the heart of the matter: he would not curry royal favor by courting me.

He smirked, still looking toward the rose bush, “I am aware, Princess.”  Now he was merely taunting me and I would not tolerate it.  “Excuse me, sir,” I made a slight curtsy and made to walk past him.

He stepped directly in front of me, barring my escape.  He looked down at me, his smirk now lessened, “What is wrong, Princess?” he seemed genuinely curious.  I paused in my distrust of the man and looked aside, “I was merely taking a reprieve and must return to my studies, my lord.”  Maybe courtesy would allow me to leave his company, instead of crassness.

“Ah,” he looked toward the garden again, “You have spoken with the king and queen.”  I was taken aback.  How had he garnered that?  He laughed quietly.  “You used to meet my eyes.  Now, you will not.  I take it that you are playing shy now that my interest has been shown.”

“Pardon me?” My face whipped toward his, “No, sir, you are mistaken.  I do not ‘play’ at being anything.  I did not ask for your attention and would not be discouraged if you were to reconsider your options.  I am no high lady to behave in such an insincere manner, as to pretend to feel what I do not.”  I am quite sure the blood rose to my face in the same capacity as my voice rose.

“Aha!”  he smiled, leaning closer to me, “Now you are looking at me again.”

I looked away.  He reached out his gloved hand to my chin when, “Excuse me, Lady Iseault, I need a word with you.”  Kael’s voice reached my ears and my heart leaped.  “Excuse me,” I stepped away from Conn and toward Kael, trying not to run to him in relief of my rescue.

Kael offered me his arm, and I took it thankfully, smiling up at him as we returned to the castle.  “I’m sorry if I interrupted anything,” he said to me, loudly enough for Conn to hear.  I replied, quieter than he, “Thank you for your interruption.”

 
 


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