Summary - Isabella is a handmaid to Princess Jessica, Daughter of King Aro. When a knight from a neighboring kingdom wins his choice of bride, Sir Edward bypasses the princess and claims the handmaid instead. Isabella suddenly finds herself married to a man she does not know, and is tossed into the middle of political plots and scheming nobles. Her life is further turned upside down when she is unable to give her husband the one thing he must have.
Rated M for themes and eventual citrus, of course
Disclaimer: All the Twilight stuff belongs to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. I'm just slurping in her saucer.
All right, here we go! Yet another adventure in my fantasy world! I attended Medieval Times while on vacation, and this little idea popped into my head. Besides - men in armor...yum! I hope you enjoy it!
This is going to be an angsty one - fair warning. :)
Thanks to DK for the beta reading!
"I offer as your prize," King Aro said, "the hand of any available maid in my Kingdom."
Chapter 1 – Covertly Strike
"Isabella! Get in here now!"
I draped the stockings I was mending over my shoulder and hurried to the other side of the changing screen. Cool autumn breezes blew through the open window at the top of the castle turret where I had served as a handmaid as long as I could remember. The Princess Jessica had been on edge all morning, though I didn't understand why. Today the Kingdom of Volterra would host the Grand Tournament, but we had attended plenty of tournaments and jousts presented by Jessica's father, King Aro, before. Granted, this one was a little more significant than others, and the number of knights from neighboring kingdoms of all sizes had been pouring in since daybreak, but there had been other important tournaments. Jessica hadn't been so particular about her wardrobe at those times. I finished helping her with her hair and pinned ribbons of black and gold at the top of her head.
I finished dressing her with the help of Angela, Kate, and Lauren – Princess Jessica's other handmaids. When we were finished, she looked as stunning as she always did. Kate pinched Princess Jessica's cheeks to redden them, and touched her lips with the juice of crushed raspberries to give them a deep hue. We all stood back, and Angela and I smiled at each other, pleased with our work, and followed dutifully behind the Princess and her flowing train.
"There are several princes competing today," Angela whispered to me. "Do you think she's trying to catch their eyes?"
I shrugged, not wanting to be caught gossiping. To be completely honest, I wasn't very interested in who was competing in the games today. I was used to my own, simple life. All the hustle and bustle of the nobles seemed very unnecessary to me.
By the time we reached the arena, many of the knights were already entering through the gates on tall, decorated stallions. Most of them I recognized, for they were well known champions of the kingdom, and stories of their legendary battles had been told time and time again. There were always a few new ones, and one in particular I noticed because of the coloring of his banner – black and gold. It was suddenly obvious whose attention the Princess Jessica was trying to capture. I couldn't see his face due to the helm, but I assumed the princess had likely seen him before.
Settling down on the bench behind the princess, I pulled out some of the sewing I had been working on prior to preparing Princess Jessica. I was not interested in the tournament itself – I had seen them before and thought them brutal and frightening. I kept my eyes down on the work in my hands as the knights galloped their horses towards each other, broke lances, and fought with swords. I knew this was only a game, like most tournaments, but there was always the danger of one of them being hurt or even killed. At least this wasn't one of the tournaments where death was quite likely, as the stakes were so high. I wondered to myself what the prize would be for the knight winning this tournament.
"Oh no!" Princess Jessica gasped.
I looked up for the first time in an hour to see the black and gold knight on his back, thrown from his horse, with Sir James riding up beside him with sword drawn. The blade connected with the knight's helm and sent him in a summersault over the sand. The helm flew off and rolled away, uncovering copper-colored locks, dampened with exertion. While Sir James rode in a large circle, turning at the end of the arena and heading back for another pass, the knight retrieved his helm and placed it back on his head.
As the knight righted himself, a page threw a long sword to his right hand and a shield to his left. The next time Sir James passed by, the black and gold knight flung his shield into Sir James' head, toppling him from his mount. They were on each other at once, and I could no longer watch.
When Princess Jessica began cheering, I could only assume the black and gold knight had defeated Sir James – no easy feat – and was victorious. I finally looked up to see the knight back on his stallion and riding with his banner held high in a large circle around the outside of the arena, both to cheers and cries of outrage.
Trumpets blared, and all eyes turned towards King Aro. He stood at the edge of the platform and held up his arms until the arena quieted enough for him to be heard.
"Sir Edward, good knight of the neighboring realm of Forks, we are honored today by your presence and your bravery! Come forth and name your prize!"
I watched Sir Edward as he rode past, removing his helm and dropping it to the ground for one of his pages to retrieve. His dark hair was plastered around his forehead with moisture, but despite his current appearance, it was easy to see why the Princess Jessica was so concerned with her own appearance this day. He was extraordinarily handsome.
As he passed by the Princess and her entourage, he looked up, and my eyes met his, though only for a moment. I quickly looked away, ashamed to have made eye contact with a Lord of our neighboring realm. I hoped it would not be considered an insult to either Sir Edward or King Carlisle.
I looked up again while keeping my head bowed and watched him approach the podium where the King Aro stood overlooking the arena. He bowed at his waist to both King Aro and Queen Renata, and the King repeated his request that Sir Edward name his prize.
"I trust in your judgment, King Aro," the knight finally spoke. His voice was clear and melodic. "I fight only for your enjoyment, and require no prize."
"I insist, Sir Edward," King Aro said. "Gallantry such as yours must be rewarded. Otherwise I may be considered a neighbor without graciousness."
"Then I shall accept whatever prize you consider worthy, King Aro," Sir Edward responded.
King Aro looked over to his Queen and spoke with her quietly. She nodded to him, and I noticed her eyes meeting with those of Princess Jessica before going back to her husband. King Aro turned to Sir Edward and smiled.
"I offer as your prize," King Aro said, "the hand of any available maid in my Kingdom."
Now I understood. The Princess must have known of this arrangement, and she planned to wed this Sir Edward, nephew of King Carlisle and heir to his throne. It would unite the two kingdoms quite neatly.
"That is very generous of you," Sir Edward chuckled. He glanced over in our direction. "Any available female? Any at all?"
"Of course, Sir Edward."
All eyes were on the knight as he scanned the ladies and princesses sitting prettily in a row. I watched the eyes of Princess Jessica as they watched the knight make his way over in front of her. His horse halted not ten feet from Princess Jessica's seat, and he looked back to the King.
"Any available female, sire?"
"I have already answered your question Sir Edward," the King scowled. "Choose your prize."
"Very well," Sir Edward's horse sidestepped to the left and the knight extended his arm. "I choose her."
My eyes were on Princess Jessica's face, and I heard the surprised gasps of everyone in the arena. Jessica's eyes swiveled to mine, her expression angry. I wondered if I had been mistaken, and she didn't actually want to be with him after all.
"The handmaid?" the King called out. "Is this a jest?"
Princess Jessica turned her head back to the knight, and then back to me again, her eyes narrowed. As the King's words slowly processed inside of my head, I turned to look at Sir Edward. He sat on his horse, looking directly at me. His hand was still pointing in my direction. I looked over to Angela, and her eyes were on me as well.
"Is she already betrothed?" Sir Edward inquired, turning to face King Aro.
"She is not, but..."
"Then she is available," Edward surmised. "And she is female, so she is my choice in prize."
He glanced back at me again, and I quickly looked down at my feet, trying to understand just what was happening.
"He means you, Isabella," Angela whispered beside me. "He's asking for your hand as his prize!"
"Me?" I heard myself stammer. There was no possible way a lord – heir to the throne as well – was suggesting a handmaid be taken as a bride. If he was asking for a night with me, I would have understood. Such a request would not be unheard of for a lord to demand. Perhaps he had misunderstood the King's offer. Perhaps we all had. "There must be a mistake…"
"If you wish to take her and use her as you like, please do not hesitate," King Aro said, his voice lowered and no longer carried across the arena. "Though I would think a modicum of discretion…"
"King Aro," Sir Edward's voice was deep and carried far. It made my ears hum. "You offered the bride of my choice. Are you changing the conditions of you offer?"
"Of course not," King Aro sneered.
"Good," Sir Edward turned back and held his hand out towards me again. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Was this knight seriously planning to take me as his bride? Why would he consider such a thing? I was not of noble blood, and my position was completely beneath him.
"Go, you stupid girl," Princess Jessica snarled, and I jumped out of my trance. "Before you are any more of an embarrassment!"
I looked back into the face of the mounted knight before me. With two fingers coiling back towards his chest, he beckoned to me. I stood on wobbly legs and made my way around the gaping onlookers and stood in front of the knight. His gloved hand touched mine, and he pulled me closer until he could reach my waist. With both hands, he lifted me easily from the stands and placed me in front of him on his stallion.
His arm circled my waist, and he pulled me tight against his chest. I could feel the cold steel of his armored breastplate against my back. I shivered, though not at the cold. I had never been touched by a man in such a way, and I did not know what to do, or even where I should hold on.
Sir Edward's other hand grasped the reins, and the stallion leapt forward. I cried out, grasping the knight's arm and holding on tight as he circled the arena twice. The second time around I felt him lean in close to my ear, and his nose brushed against the skin of my neck. I heard him take a deep breath before racing out of the gate at the far end. He did not slow until he reached the stables.
Sir Edward dismounted swiftly, then reached up to grasp me at my waist and lift me down from his steed. Once my feet touched the ground, he continued to hold me at my hips for a moment to keep me from falling. My hands gripped his forearms for balance.
"Look at me, handmaid," his melodic voice sang softly to me.
I looked up to his eyes and noticed how tall he really was. I barely reached his shoulder. His eyes were the brightest green, and despite the rough stubble covering his cheeks and neck and his hair plastered all over the place from the helm he had discarded, he was quite handsome.
I couldn't actually seem to stop looking at him. His eyes were not just bright, but intense, and I felt as though he could see right into my thoughts. My hands began to tremble, and I realized I was holding his forearms very tightly, though he did not seem to notice. I could feel the chain linked armor on his arm and hard muscles underneath.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Isabella, my lord," I responded, my voice with barely enough volume to be heard.
"Are you agreeable?" he asked, tilting his head to one side.
"My lord?" I questioned. I did not understand his question.
"Are you agreeable, Isabella?" he repeated, and then clarified. "Will you agree to marry me?"
My jumbled thoughts began to leap about in my head in all different directions. I did not know what I should say. A nobleman was standing before me, proposing marriage. Not just any nobleman, but heir to the throne in another kingdom. I had never even heard the name of King Carlisle's nephew before this day, and I certainly did not get up this morning with thoughts of marrying him.
The man before me was a future king, and I was only marginally of higher class than a serf. To refuse him would likely be considered of highest insult, both to his king and mine. It could even mean my death. But what would marriage to this man mean to me? Would I still be no more than a handmaid to him? I was not of noble blood, and would not know how to act with such people. Princess Jessica could be harsh, but I knew her ways and I knew my position with her. She could also be jealous and vindictive – how would she react if I turned down the man she obviously wanted? I shuddered at the thought.
I did not know this man. I didn't know his likes or temperament. Would he be kind and generous? Aloof and absent? He was a knight, and used to violence. Would he be cruel? Would he take pleasure in harming me?
"Isabella?" Sir Edward said, his finger touching gently under my chin, tilting my face towards his. "I would prefer to hear your answer without an audience, and we will have one soon. If your answer is no, so be it. I will not be unduly affronted. I will make another choice, but you must answer now."
Thoughts of a proposal with a ring and the love of my life down on one knee in the gardens fluttered through my head for a moment. I had never even had a suitor before, let alone been in love. It was more likely for me to either be promised to some older man as a second wife or remain a maid forever than for me to actually find a marriage of love. The possibilities of being wed to a noble were unheard of by those such as me.
And in all honesty, I feared the reaction of Princess Jessica and her father irrespective of my answer. Saying no meant the certainty of their tempers being directed at me. Saying yes was the potential to be removed from this place all together.
"Yes, my lord," I heard myself say.
"I will marry you, my lord," I said a little louder.
"Will you give your unwavering loyalty to me, my kingdom, and my God?"
"Yes, my lord."
"I'm pleased to hear you say yes, Isabella," Sir Edward said. The left side of his mouth curled up in a half smile, and his already handsome face was transformed into something truly stunning. The sound of booted footsteps approached. "Now be silent for a few moments. Do you understand?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Are you insane?" A knight in armor decorated with the head of a red dragon on the breastplate walked straight up to Sir Edward, his blond hair flowing out behind him. "Have you completely lost your mind?"
"Of course not, why would you say that?
"Are you trying to start a war, then?
"Don't be ridiculous. King Aro has neither the army nor the balls to declare war."
"Then what is this?" The blond knight motioned to me. "Your idea of a joke? You're no jester, Edward."
"And this is no jest," Sir Edward replied. "I'm going to marry her tomorrow."
"You have lost your mind."
"That imbecile thought he would trap me into marrying Jessica and he was wrong. Even if he had offered me the hand of his daughter, I would have chosen her sister."
"Gianna is a child."
"I'd still marry her first," Sir Edward exclaimed. "Offering me any available maid just made the selection a lot more interesting, and King Aro will understand our alliance cannot be bought by offering up that bitch of a princess in exchange for arms."
I gasped, for I had never heard anyone speak such words, and certainly not directed towards royalty. Sir Edward turned towards me and took my hand in his, raised it to his lips and placed a slight kiss on my knuckles. My skin tingled where his lips touched it.
"Forgive me," he said softly, then turned back to the other knight.
Before the words completely left his mouth, shouting could be heard at the stable doors. Sir Edward looped the reins of his horse around the handle of a stall door before turning back to me and offering his arm. I wrapped my fingers just below his elbow and he led me towards the ruckus, the blond knight standing to his right side and me on his left.
"How dare you?" King Aro was the first through the doors. He was followed quickly by Queen Renata, Princess Jessica, the other three handmaids, and two of the King's knights. "With my own daughter right in front of you, and you select some...some...servant wench!"
"Forgive me, King Aro," Sir Edward spoke in his fluid voice. All the anger he had been projecting was completely absent. "You offered the hand of any eligible female. If you had intended for me to wed the princess, perhaps you should have offered me her hand. I'm afraid now that Isabella has accepted my proposal, it would not be chivalrous for me to rescind."
"I haven't heard her response," King Aro snarled, looking straight at me. I quickly dropped my gaze.
"Are you doubting my word?" Sir Edward's tone was suddenly quite cold.
"I'm doubting your sanity," Princess Jessica piped up. "You come all this way for tournament and return to your own lands with a…a…a handmaid?"
"I will give you another chance, Sir Edward," King Aro said, effectively silencing his daughter. "We will pass off your stunt on the field as just that - a stunt. Take my daughter's hand, and we will set this right."
"Forgive me, King Aro," Sir Edward said. "But I will not be marrying your daughter. I have already stated a reason."
"It's not good enough," King Aro snarled. "You will set this right and do so now."
Edward raised himself up to his full height and looked down on the King.
"I will not marry the Princess Jessica," he stated.
"And why not?" the infuriated King roared.
"Because she is not a virgin," Sir Edward said simply.
"How dare you!" King Aro stepped forward, his hand grasping the hilt of his sword.
"Let her be tested then!" Sir Edward took a step forward, meeting the King's challenge. I did my best to remain behind him, but he did not release my hand from his arm and kept pulling me to his side. "If she's shown to be innocent, then I will marry her on the spot!"
"You bastard," I heard the Princess growl at him. "You dare to insult me in front of my own..."
"Princess Jessica," Sir Edward replied. "I merely spoke the truth. Are you prepared to have the nuns at the abbey...?"
"Enough!" she screamed at him. "Let him have the wench! I wouldn't consent to marry him anyway!"
Princess Jessica stormed away from her father with the other handmaids following quickly behind her. I started to follow, both reflexively and because I was unsure of what else to do, when Edward caught my arm and held me to his side.
"You no longer serve her," he said into my ear. He then turned back to the king. "Isabella will need two servants to prepare her. We will be married in the abbey tomorrow."
"She has no family," King Aro stated. "There is no one to provide dowry."
I dropped my eyes to the ground. It was becoming clear to me – no matter what, King Aro was going to find a way out of this position, and I would return to an angry and humiliated Jessica. She could be vicious and cruel – I had seen it many times, though it had never been directed at me. I should have thought through what I was saying when I agreed to marry Sir Edward. I must have had a lapse of sanity. How could I ever think something so implausible would happen to me?
"Dowry is not required," Sir Edward stated. "She is my prize. Now if you are done trying to weasel your way out of the reward you promised in front of your kingdom, I have some wedding plans to make."
Edward turned away from King Aro without a proper goodbye and pulled me by the hand behind him. The other knight, who had remained silent throughout the encounter with the king, followed closely behind us.
"I don't want to waste any time," Sir Edward said to the knight. "I'll not have King Aro come up with another dozen reasons why this cannot be done. We ride to the abbey immediately and entrust my fiancée to the nuns there until tomorrow. We'll have the wedding at sunset."
"Alice is going to kill you," the other knight said quietly, and without emotion.
"That is entirely possible," Sir Edward said with a nod, "but not enough to discourage me from my wedding."
He glanced down at me and offered that same crooked half smile. The hand of the arm I held pulled back and captured my fingers, slowly bringing them up to his mouth. As his lips touched the skin of my fingers, I felt my cheeks flame.
"Lovely," he murmured softly.
And that is how I found myself engaged.
Chapter End Notes:
So, what do you think? Am I off my rocker? Is Edward? How does Edward know Jessica isn't a virgin? ;) Drop me a review and let me know what you think of this little story so far. Next update will probably be around the second week of December, but will update regularly afterward.
For more information on my work, visit the blog at http:/shaysavage(dot)blogspot(dot)com/
Follow on twitter - savage7289 - for occasional updates and babbling. Well, mostly babbling.