I keep meaning to finish this prequel, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Here’s chapter one. As we go, I’d appreciate any feedback on this romantic novella, just as you feel led to share. Also, I’ll be posting this to Wattpad: Ismene & Othniel, so be sure to share with your Wattpadding friends.
Within the utterance of three words, this day had become a plague upon Ismene’s soul. She gripped the dark blue material of her dress and screamed one long, anguished cry that tore at her throat. The gilded autumn pasture swayed languidly, taking no notice of her crumbling world.
Freedom stood beyond the barrier of the mossy stone wall. All she needed to do was climb over and run. As insane as that plan sounded, Ismene could see herself doing it. She only hesitated out of mere indecision.
Two terrible choices were all she had. No matter what, she remained trapped in an unknown and unwanted future, whether she obeyed or escaped. What was expected of her was unfair, and Ismene rarely ever disobeyed her parents. But who in their right mind looked forward to marrying a complete stranger, let alone a complete stranger who also happened to be a prince?
He already had two marks against him. She would never have chosen to marry him, given a say. Not a chance. Ismene was sure any other girl, including her own sister, would be thrilled by the prospect, but not her. They were all out of their minds.
“Bride of Prince Othniel, heir to the throne,” she said, her throat tight with dismay. “Condemn me to an early grave.”
Even in the afternoon heat, Ismene shivered. She stared over the pasture and envisioned a flock of birds—her freedom incarnate—startled from the safety of the field only to be shot down by a host of whizzing arrows.
If she thought beyond the present, it remained clear, her life would not be her own. By marrying Prince Othniel, Ismene would be the future queen of Taisce. This revelation alone heightened her objections and caused her head to throb.
“My lady,” Helein said, her silent approach and soft voice startling Ismene. “Your father has sent me to fetch you.”
Ismene teetered, almost tumbling into the short rock wall. “Leave me be, Helein,” she said after a deep breath and amidst a huff of self-pity.
“But, my lady—”
“No. My father can cajole and order all he wants, but I’m not coming back to the house. Go tell him that.” Ismene practically spit the words over her shoulder.
A short silence broke with the maid’s heavy sigh. “Yes, Lady Ismene.”
When Ismene did turn, it was to see the retreating form of her personal maid. The girl’s slumped shoulders and slow walk sent a stab of guilt to Ismene’s heart, but she banished it, remembering it was not Helein who would ultimately receive the brunt of her father’s anger.
Lord Drake Tenbow was a shrewd man but carried a volatile temper with him wherever he went. Ismene would not escape his wrath or his love. Despite his disposition, he was a loving father. She tried to remember that much as she battled the urge to run away and never return.
Ismene wandered aimlessly along the wall, picking at dried stalks of grass. Being the daughter of a lord of Taisce meant these moments of solitude were few and far between; being princess of Taisce—wed to the future king no less—surely meant having none at all.
A trickle of tears slipped down her rosy cheeks; they blinded her, but she didn’t bother to wipe them away. She stopped and sank to the wall, leaning over to rest her head on her folded arms. Hot tears soaked through her sleeves. The rustle of swishing skirts edged closer, but she pretended to ignore it while she turned away to wipe her eyes.
“Ismene, my love, I’m so sorry.” It was her mother, Lady Victara Tenbow. “Helein told me where you were. Did you really send her to your father, Ismene? That was unkind. At least she had the sense to seek me out first. I spoke with your father, but soon we must go in and finish the conversation, dear.”
“Where were you, Mother, when he decided to drown me in this news?”
Victara wrapped her fingers around Ismene’s loose hair and slid them down its length. “We felt it best I not be there when he first told you, dear. He knows how I feel about arranged marriages. Sadly, for nobility, ’tis not a thing of the past but an inevitability that must be observed to protect and nurture the unity of the Realms.”
“‘You are betrothed.’ That’s it. He didn’t even ease in to the announcement. ‘You are betrothed.’” Ismene mimicked his words, enunciating each one with a hint of venom.
“Please try to understand, dearest, your father is not wholly pleased by the arrangement. He is relieved to not marry you to a lord outside Taisce. This was my only request when we discussed your future. Take heart, dearest, for Prince Othniel is a fine man who will be an equally fine king someday.”
Ismene’s half-hearted attempt to mask a scoffing huff was loud to her own ears. “What does that matter to me?”
Victara didn’t reply right away, but when she did a subtle hardness imbued her tone.
“I’m sure it doesn’t. You are our eldest child. Between that and your station in life comes much responsibility, Ismene. You knew you would have an arranged marriage, and this is one of great advantage.”
“Do not speak to me of advantage, Mother!” Ismene whipped around with such force, her dark hair flew about her in a mass of chaos. “I will not be my own woman if I marry the man destined to be king.” Tears rose just below the surface again.
“You will always be you, Ismene, no matter what you do or where you go. No one can take that away from you.” Victara wrapped her fingers around Ismene’s and gently tugged her up from the wall. “Come. We can discuss this more with your father, and this time I will be there. We will get through this together, my love.”
Ismene relented, allowing her mother to drag her back to the main house, but it was a short walk, not nearly long enough for Ismene to tuck away all her emotions over this travesty.
To be a daughter was difficult enough, with rules and etiquette, feminine expectations and restrictions. To her way of thinking, what with knowing all that was required of her mother as a nobleman’s wife, Ismene was sure that being a queen would remove all freedom from her world. There would be no end of duty, no end of parties, primping, and parading all to please people she’d never truly know or care about.
All she ever wanted was to be with her loved ones, ride her horse, and read every book, parchment or paper she could find. She had no desire to leave her family’s estate. Certainly she dreamed of love and romance; to be swept off her feet was what she longed for but not to be thrust upon a man because he offered her prestige and wealth, tying her family to the throne for security within Twelve Realms. It wasn’t fair.
“Inform Lord Tenbow we await him in the small salon,” Victara said to the manservant near the large, carved oak door of the main entrance.
The servant bowed and shuffled down the hall while Victara continued to pull Ismene along toward the salon. The gentle tug of her mother’s hand on her arm was becoming more and more urgent, as though she wished to impart some sort of message that Ismene couldn’t grasp.
Once they arrived in the room, Victara closed the door and let out an exasperated breath. “Really, Ismene, sometimes you can be such a child.”
“Forgive me for wanting to have a say in my own life, Mother.”
The two of them faced each other with matching looks of ire and indignation. Victara was the first to relent. She took Ismene’s hand and led her to the settee nearest the main window where they both sat together, their skirts overlapping in the middle.
“How can I make you understand that we have not made any decision concerning your future lightly, Issa? Almighty help us, but we turned away so many suitors over the last two years. I had begun to fear your father would rather see you an old maid than married with children of your own.”
“I can accept such a fate,” Ismene said, mumbling.
“I am not deaf.”
Ismene had the good sense to look embarrassed. “My apologies, Mother. But I want love. I want . . . a simple life.”
“You can have that.” She hesitated. “But it will have to be with the prince.”
“How?” Ismene asked, desperate for any reassurance.
“If you give it a chance.”
Ismene resisted the urge to roll her eyes and transferred her gaze out the window. How was it that her mother thought it could be so easy? How could Ismene be expected to love just anyone? Wasn’t love a grand and mysterious thing? She had no idea how to voice her questions without feeling a fool.
Her father stepped into the salon at that moment, and Ismene purposely missed the silent exchange passed between her parents. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see it because she already knew what they would say to each other with their eyes. Just the thought of their easy ways and obvious love made her jealous and angry. Why would they not let her have what they had?
Running away began to seem the best option. Her parents would never see reason, and she was doomed to a loveless marriage where duty to crown outweighed all else. Yes, she would run away, but for now she would endure.
“I understand,” she said, blurting it out. Ismene looked between the two with their shocked faces and let it sink in, surprising even herself. “I understand. I wish to discuss it no further. I care nothing for wedding plans. I leave that to you. May I be excused?”
She stood with her hands folded in front and her chin tipped with only a vague presence of defiance evident. Part of her wanted to smile at the look of consternation and confusion on her father’s face, but laughing at Lord Drake Tenbow would be a mistake, even for her.
He looked at his wife in askance, and Victara gave a miniscule nod from her perch on the settee.
“You may go, Issa,” he said, “but first I must ask. Are you truly displeased?”
His question caught her off-guard. His tone implied it mattered to him that she not be displeased. When she didn’t answer right away he stepped close and raised her chin to look him in the eye. It took her a moment more to formulate a reply.
“I-I am frightened, Papa. What if he dislikes me or I him? What if he is cruel? How would I ever be a good queen? I can’t even properly order a dinner party seating arrangement let alone run a castle.”
There. She’d said it. Fear of utter failure rested at the bottom of all her objections. How her father could pull the truth from her, she could never understand. The depths of his eyes were brimming with kindness, but most often it was masked under his thick brows and stern countenance. One real look and she melted. Oh, how she loved her father.
“Please don’t make me do this, Papa. I want to stay here with you and Mama. I could be content to never marry. Let the others carry on the name and make wealthy matches. I-I would be content. I promise.”
In a momentary show of affection, Drake pulled Ismene into his embrace and stroked her unruly russet hair. “Daughter, you are firstborn which carries much distinction in the Realms. Your marriage, especially such a one as this, offers your siblings greater opportunity for advantageous alliances that might otherwise never be. I ask you to do this for your family and for your kingdom. Taisce is our home, and you will be the wisest, most gentle queen she has ever known.”
Ismene’s heart sank at his words. It was clear she would get nowhere with him. Once Drake Tenbow’s mind was made up it was impossible to change. She sniffed and pulled herself from his arms, giving a diminutive nod before stepping around him and fleeing out the door.
She ran to the stairs and flew up to her room where she flung herself across the bed. Her tears seemed endless under the heavy weight she bore. Nothing would make her happier at that precise moment than to run away, but she loved her family too much to do it. No, for the sake of her sister and brother, she would go through with it, no matter the personal cost.
Here’s a cover I designed and decided was a perfect fit for this YA historical romance. 🙂