As the first light of morning crept in through the gap in the heavy drapes, Isabella woke. She had been counting down to this day for what seemed like years and she could barely believe it had finally arrived. Today was her eighteenth birthday and nobody, not even her father, would be able to treat her as a child any more. Swinging her legs out from under her cosy furs she bounded from her bed almost running into Angela her maid as she entered the room.
'Birthday greetings Lady Isabella' laughed Angela, smiling warmly at her mistress, Bella beamed back at her personal maid, who had been her best friend and companion since they both began to toddle around the castle.
'Oh Angela, Thank you, I cannot believe that I've finally come of age. Father will have to listen to me now and let me have more freedom' Isabella enthused
Angela silently disagreed, but didn't want to be the one that broke Isabella's wonderful mood. She hadn't seen her friend this carefree for months, but knew that turning the grand age of ten and eight would not relax Earl Swan's rigid control over her life
Isabella's father, Earl Charles Swan of Northumberland had once been a kind and tolerant man. He'd inherited his title from his father at the age of seventeen and had ruled Alnwick Castle and his surrounding lands with honour and fairness. He was loved and respected by his people, and when he married Lady Renee and the people saw the love they had for one another, they welcomed her as their own.
They had been married only six months when Lady Renee found she was with child and the couple were complete when nine months later the Lady Isabella was born. Their world was happy and contented, the lady Renee loved to ride and had begun to teach her daughter as soon as she was big enough to sit in front of her on a horse. Seven year old Isabella was happier on a horse than off and had taken to it well, quickly becoming a competent rider. The day had been bright and sunny and loath to waste the glorious day, Renee took her daughter out for a ride and a picnic. Their day together had been wonderful and after they had finished their meal they slowly made their way back to the castle. Isabella was excited to be getting back to her beloved father, and in her childish impatience spurred her horse to gallop. Her pony not used to being used for speed, raced wildly. Renee in fear for her daughter, urged her horse quickly after her. In her panic for Isabella she didn't see the fallen branch, her mare tripped and pitched forward, throwing Lady Renee to the ground. The frightened horse rolled in its panic to right itself, trapping the Lady Swan underneath it and crushing the life out of her.
Since that day Lord Swan had never been the same, he had turned into a cold and bitter man and the person that affected more than anyone was his daughter Isabella. Until that day Isabella had been a joyous child, at times indulged, but always loved. When her mother died she lost the love of both of her parents, something that at the age of seven she could not have understood. Luckily for Isabella the people of Alnwick Castle had loved her, and after her mother died they continued to give her their love. Instead her father became distant and controlling, choosing to behave as if Isabella was nothing more than a child of one of his servants. He had no interest in her other than keeping her a prisoner in the castle, and she was forbidden to ride ever again.
What he didn't know though, was that Isabella continued to ride. Every chance she got she would sneak out of the castle, down to the stables, and with the help of Ben the stable hand she would enjoy the only piece of freedom she could. She had spent the past eleven years as almost invisible to her father, but today was her eighteenth birthday, she was now a grown woman, and she was going to finally be able to stand up to him.