The beginning of the Chronicles of Frencolia. The meeting and marriage of Luke and Jobyna's parents. Medieval times, kings and queens, dungeons, castles, knights and in this first book, a competition; a joust; to decide the next queen of Frencolia. Mystery, Romance, unpredictable, page-turning plots and sub-plots.
Scribes Valley Publishing
The Frencolian Chronicles has six books in print ; the first three were first published by Horizon House back in the 90's and more recently have been published in electronic book form and in print by WritersExchange.com. Listed on Amazon.com. Also available in New Zealand for collectors in a special ribbon-bound larger print edition.
The runaway girl halted her horse on the rocky verge at the summit of the steep hill. Her heart raced with apprehension as she viewed the lonely path ahead, winding uninvitingly down into dense woods. Turning the horse, the beautiful fifteen-year-old gazed with misgivings back along the miles to the distant castle from where she had fled.
A deep sigh of guilty relief escaped from her rose-pink lips as she saw not a soul in sight, no one in pursuit.
Am I glad?—she wondered. Do I want to ride on? It looks so lonely ahead. Danger could lurk in the shadows of the trees. But, I’ve done it! I’ve escaped my dread foe, if I can call my brother a foe.
But no, Elissa mused, I haven’t escaped him. This is just a reprieve. Shivering in the late winter sun, she tugged her horse around, hoping to gain her destination before dark. The air she inhaled was chill, matching the numbness she felt within. Patches of melted snow lay in bleak, barren fields and along deserted roadsides.
Women did not ride alone in Frencolia and Elissa fervently hoped she would not encounter undesirable characters. Having achieved an undetected departure from her castle home was an incredible triumph!—She had not expected to get this far.
At home safe in the castle, the perilous journey from Leroy to Samdene had not seemed so formidable but now Elissa realized the danger of her reckless actions. Sensing her fears, Red Boy trembled beneath her. Gazing once more toward Leroy, the runaway almost hoped her brother was in view. Or someone who would command her safely home. But the road was clear.
Elissa’s brother, Dorai, had ridden north with a company of his soldiers for a rendezvous at the border castle and he was not expected home until the morrow.
That dreaded day loomed all too fast. Tomorrow must be delayed—at least her part in it. The runaway knew she could not ultimately escape her brother’s plans, but she could at least spend tomorrow in sympathetic company. At this thought, Elissa reined Red Boy around and urged him to canter towards the dense woods. Both needed warming, and she flicked the reins, pressing her boots into the horse’s sides, encouraging him to gallop, faster and faster. Trees flew by. They exited into milky sunshine and she breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Majestic Frencolian mountains still paraded heavy white winter coats, and Elissa did not wonder that Red Boy balked at the sight of the turbulent stream ahead. Elissa had ridden this way last summer when the stream was no more than ankle deep; but now, the agitated snow-fed waters swirled and foamed, warning with a fierce roar. The girl imagined, in some places, the water would reach Red Boy’s girth. Drawing a deep breath as if preparing to dive into glacial waters, she spurred her horse forward. Red Boy shied, almost throwing Elissa backwards but she clung tenaciously to his back.
“Come on Boy, we’re almost halfway to Aunt Jane’s,” she urged—then fiercely; “I’m not turning back now. Yah! Move!” The determination thrown from his mistress’ mouth forced Red Boy to obey and he reluctantly stepped forward. Hastened by the feel of icy water, the horse quickly made the crossing.
“There you are. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Elissa soothed, leaning forward to administer a reassuring pat on the sleek neck. “Now the worst is past. Just the cross-roads ahead and we’ll be more than half-way to Samdene.” Sighing, she flicked the thick black hood of her cloak back on her shoulders revealing her mass of long coppery curls. Hot now from the intensity of the ride, Elissa wished she could completely remove the concealing, masculine cloak, but she fought the temptation.
“Leroy—Valdemar—Samdene”—these three names carved into the strong wooden signpost were a welcome sight to the troubled girl. As Elissa guided Red Boy across the clearing towards the road to Samdene, the corner of her left eye caught distant movement along the road from Valdemar. A company approached. By the standard and color, she knew the men to be Frencolian military. At least Dorai won’t be riding with them—he went north, she thought.
The leader quickened the advance to a gallop. Flicking the reins, Elissa pressed her heels, indicating she wanted her horse to gallop. The fearful girl dragged the hood back over her hair, thinking, hopefully, the riders will take the road to Leroy. Just as well I traversed the crossroads before seeing them. I’ll stay out in front.
Elissa glanced furtively behind and saw the whole company in pursuit, and gaining. Emotions mingling with fright and anger surged through her as she realized she faced imminent confrontation, maybe even capture.
The path widened and Elissa spurred Red Boy on faster. Stealing a look backward she saw she was widening the gap between the majority of the company, just one rider, a knight, had gained.
How much longer can I keep Red Boy at this pace? Elissa asked herself. They’re the military and I’m supposed to give right of way. Perhaps when they see I’ve stopped, they’ll ride on—she hoped.
When Elissa reached a wider place along the road, she expertly guided Red Boy on to the grassy verge, drawing back on the reins. She hoped the company would ride past, that their haste was to gain a destination.
The leader-knight followed her action, reining his horse alongside hers. Within seconds, men in green uniforms surrounded Elissa. Three riders were knights with the large gold monogram ‘K.F.’ embroidered on their doublets. The leader wore a doublet covered with glittering brassards.
Although there were only thirty mounts, Elissa felt as if a thousand horses enveloped her. Their riders stared at her, waiting. Bowing her head, Elissa decided not to speak to these men. Her brother had over a thousand soldiers under him and she had been brought up to ignore them. They were soldiers, she was a lady. Lady Elissa Jane Dorai of Leroy Castle.
Her pride was shattered as her thoughts were rudely dragged back to her predicament by a hand, reaching out, dragging the hood back to reveal her long hair.
“A lady does not travel on her own in Frencolia!” the deep, commanding voice was a mixture of reprimand, scorn and concern. Elissa stared angrily at the knight who dared confront her. He wore a metal helmet and she could not recognize any part of his face through the grille at the front.
“How dare you! I’ve done no wrong! I was… out… riding my horse and have come too far...” Elissa had no difficulty in lying but hoped her voice sounded strong and convincing. Lifting her chin she defiantly claimed, “I must return to Samdene before nightfall!”
“Your parents will be worried...” as he spoke, the young knight lifted the lattice on his hood.
“My parents are dead.”
“You live in Samdene?” the man’s warm brown eyes met Elissa’s hazel gaze. A feeling that this man knew she was not from Samdene swamped the runaway with guilt. It was as though he read her mind through her eyes.
She thought, He will know if I lie again... In desperation, she tried to tear her eyes from his. Allowing her anger to rise as his eyes continued to hold her, she answered, “No, Sir. But I must hurry. Please allow me continue riding to Samdene. You must have better things to do for our king than to stop a lady who’s minding her own business?”
“You should not be out on the roads without an escort!” the knight’s tone matched the anger in hers, and he demanded, “Tell me your name!”
“It’s usual for a gentleman to introduce himself first!” this retort had barely escaped Elissa’s lips before she remembered, He is a knight and is answerable to none, save the king.
“I am Sir Louis.”
“I’m sorry Sir. You’re a Frencolian knight, a keeper of the kingdom and you weren’t obligated to give your name. I ... I am Lady Elissa Jane Dorai and am riding to Samdene, to my aunt—Lady Jane, of Sir Samuel’s castle.”
“Yes! I knew you were Dorai’s sister! You’ve ridden all the way from Leroy?” The young knight stared as she bowed her head again. He saw tears forming in her eyes, threatening to spill. His voice grew gruff, “We’ll escort you to Samdene.” With a flick of his head, the grille fell closed and he reined his horse around. Elissa noted his black stallion for the first time and drew a breath at the beauty of the shiny, sleek body and proud head. The horsemen parted, making way, and Sir Louis waited on the road until Elissa drew her horse near. He ordered ten mounted soldiers ahead and the rest to form a rear guard.
Elissa felt embarrassed and exposed. She had been intercepted and the folly of her flight displayed before strangers. If only she could have traveled to Samdene invisibly. She continued to hope her brother Dorai would not know of her escape until he returned in the morning. She had been so careful to feign sickness and lock herself in her room. Climbing from the window on linen tied together had been precarious but the get-away had been completed without incident. A note left in her room should not be read until tomorrow morning. Having taken a tray of food to her room that morning, Elissa had requested she not be disturbed. She said she wished to rest. Her request was not unusual and she knew that without her brother’s advice, the servants would obey. She had shut herself in her room before and believed the maids would not think her to be acting out of character. Like a thief, she ‘stole’ Red Boy from the stables and led him silently out the back way, moving furtively across the moat bridge. A guard at the gate had challenged her and she had replied that she was ‘going to the village to visit friends.’ If he thought it unusual for her to be riding alone, the guard did not say so and there had been no reason for him to question her further. A change in the guards before sunset would likely prevent her continued absence being detected tonight.
Sir Louis kept the pace up and Elissa felt Red Boy growing tired. At the crest of a hill, the knight led the horses off the path.
“Samdene,” Louis announced, indicating the castle ahead, surrounded by many houses and enclosed by high walls.
“I’ve been here before. My Aunt Jane lives at the castle.”
“Yes. I know.”
Sir Louis asked, “Why are you running away?”
Embarrassment flooded Elissa’s face and she looked at the two other knights who had drawn near. Speaking firmly, she said, “Please, Sir Louis. It’s a private matter.”
The knight unclipped his helmet and lifted it off. Nodding at his men, he indicated they move from earshot. Drawing his black horse close to Red Boy, he asked, “If I promise that it shall be between you and me alone, will you tell me?” he spoke earnestly, as though to humor a misbehaving child.
Elissa drew Red Boy around and walked him further towards the edge of the crest. As Sir Louis drew close again she scrutinized him. His sun-tanned skin advertised an out-door life—to have tanned skin after the winter snows must mean that he was out in the weather much of the time. His hair was wavy and sun-bleached, golden brown on top, darker beneath, as was his thick moustache, which sported a shade of auburn. But it was his eyes that held her. They seemed compassionate and tender towards her. Elissa felt attracted to him—he was very handsome. Retiring sunbeams made his warm brown irises glow like amber, and the runaway could see that this appealing stranger was eager to receive her answer. To prevent herself replying, she tightened her lips.
The knight turned to watch the sun sink into billowing gray clouds before he broke the silence by announcing, as though to the distant mountains, “We must continue on if we wish to arrive at Samdene before sunset.
“I know your brother, Dorai, very well, and I’m sorry I haven’t made your acquaintance before, Lady Elissa. I live further south.” Squaring his shoulders, he continued, “I’m a Senior Knight, and we’re sworn to protect the people of our kingdom. If you’ve been treated unjustly...” he ceased speaking and waited.
“No, Sir Louis. It’s not... entirely... like that.” Fiddling with the reins, threading the leather between her fingers, she said, “I scarcely know where to begin. It will sound... childish... to a man... a knight... like you...”
Their eyes met and she read his as saying ‘try me,’ so she continued, “I guess it began when my mother died a year ago, then my father, just three months ago. I was close to them, both... my father was very sick, and I helped... care for him...” Elissa felt hot tears slipping down her cheeks. A plaintive sob escaped her lips and her embarrassment felt painful now. How could she discuss her heart-feelings with a stranger? Collecting the reins together, she would have urged Red Boy around, but Louis’ hand grasping the leather prevented her.
He spoke compassionately, “I’m very sorry. I attended both funerals.”
Elissa shook her head, “I don’t remember seeing you. But I didn’t really see... anyone...”
“Please Sir—surely you do not want to listen to this?” Elissa’s voice was doleful and she watched as the sun descended from the clouds. The large golden orange ball sat above the distant mountains. Like a lone sentry, a border castle stood proudly to the right of the glowing circlet. She shivered, watching her breath freeze in the air.
“Yes Lady Elissa, I do. I want to know. And I promise it shall be between you and me alone.” Leaning to stroke Red Boy, the knight said, “He’s a handsome horse. What do you call him?”
“He’s almost the same shade as your hair.”
Avoiding Sir Louis’ appreciative eyes as they wandered over tumbling reflections of the sunset shining from her long, now unruly, curls, Elissa reached to stroke the neck of the black horse. “What do you call him, Sir? He’s very beautiful.”
“I named him ‘Blue.’ When he was born, his black coat looked blue. You’ll see it when he’s wet.”
Elissa wondered curiously, How will I see the horse’s coat ... when he’s wet?—But she did not ask. Maybe it was a slip and Louis said ‘you,’ instead of ‘I.’ Expelling a resigned sigh, she said, “I’m going to Samdene because I need someone to talk to, and my Aunt Jane is the only one I have.
“You know my brother, do you, Sir Louis? Well, I left him a note so he wouldn’t worry. He knows I’m an expert rider and Red Boy is such a reliable horse...” The knight’s questioning eyes searched hers as she spoke and Elissa wondered why it was so important that he know. Suddenly the answer came to her, and she exclaimed as in accusation, “You know Baron Chatelain, don’t you, Sir Louis?” Her eyes wide, she stared across at the mounted company, asking, “Is he one of them?”
“Yes to the first question, and no, to the second,” Louis smiled widely, and Elissa relaxed.
She asked, “What’s he like? Baron Chatelain, I mean?” Elissa waited, but Sir Louis did not reply and she wondered why he was silent. She asked, “Were you coming to Leroy for the Betrothal Ceremony tomorrow?”
“Yes. We were,” the knight answered. “Dorai invited us to join the celebration. Do you plan to return tomorrow morning so that YOU will be there, Lady Elissa? After all, it’s your betrothal.” If Louis’ voice had not been so gentle, Elissa would have imagined that he mocked her.
She answered, “I... it’s... unpleasant... for me... to be betrothed to someone I’ve never met.” The truth of the matter was finally out, and Elissa confided, “Dorai arranged it, but too soon after father’s death and I’ve not had the time needed to adjust.” Her frustration rose as she spoke more freely, “How would you feel Sir, if your parents had just died and you were expected to move from the home where you’ve lived all of your life?” Elissa felt more tears slide down her cheeks. Reaching under her cloak, into the sleeve of her woolen dress, she drew out a lacy handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. Sniffing, she mumbled, “Sometimes I feel that my horse is the only creature I can talk to.”
“Have you spoken to Dorai about this?” Louis’ concern was obvious in his husky voice.
“Every day, for the last month. I begged him to invite the Baron to Leroy so that I could meet him, but Dorai—he just teases me, torments me...” She tried to suppress a sob and turned away. “He’s right though. I’m an incessant cry-baby and I need to grow up,” she quoted her brother, unconvinced, adding his words, “I’m sickening, and temperamental.”
She opened her heart a little more, appreciating the kindness in his face, feeling she could trust him, that he cared, “I told him that growing up takes time, but he laughs at me and tells me that the Baron will help me to grow up. I get angry with him and he mocks me all the more.
“Please, Sir Louis, let me ride to Samdene where I can cry on Aunt Jane’s shoulder. She will be upset to know I’ve confided in someone else...” She would have said, ‘A stranger,’—but Sir Louis no longer seemed alien to her.
“It will be, as I said before, just between you and me. You need not tell your aunt you spoke to me.” Placing the reins in her hands, he asked, “And if you did meet this fellow, Chatelain, would that make a difference? Would you still go through with the betrothal?”
“There’d be no difference. The betrothal will go ahead—I don’t have any choice in the matter. I told Dorai in my letter that I expect him to continue with the ceremony. He’ll carry on and stand in for me as proxy.” She had ceased weeping and spoke with resignation, “I know he’ll carry on without me.”
Smiling weakly, she added, “I do hope I meet this Baron before we’re married.” Feeling his tenderness towards her, she asked, “What’s he like?—The Baron? How well do you know him?”
“I know him very well. What do you want to know about him?”
“How old is he?”
“That old!” She smiled again, unaware of the beautiful glow she radiated. “He’s seven years older. That’s a lifetime. You’d be closer than that to my age, I’ll wager, Sir Louis.”
The knight stared towards the sun, which slipped behind the mountains. The snow was pink and the clouds suffused with shades of scarlet turning to crimson. His face looked flushed and Elissa wondered if it were the color of the sunset reflecting on his skin.
“You could do something for me, Sir Louis,” Elissa’s voice took on a determined note, “you could travel to Leroy as you planned and tell Baron Chatelain, when he arrives tomorrow, that I truly wished to meet him before the betrothal. I needed that more than anything else in the world. It’s like being thrown into a deep dark lake, not knowing what he looks like!”
The knight’s attention clicked back, and he asked, earnestly, “Why didn’t you write to him? You must be able to write?”
“I wrote four letters, Sir Louis! One for each week since Dorai told me that I was to be betrothed. I still don’t understand why the Baron didn’t reply—it makes me upset. To be truthful, I’m angry! I tried to meet every messenger arriving at the castle, which was no small task! That’s another reason I am angry with Dorai! Yesterday, before he left for the Leroy border castle, he presented me with my four letters, still sealed. He’d intercepted them. Baron Chatelain never received one. Dorai torments me by saying that I don’t trust his choice. I told him to read my letters and he’d see that I accepted his choice, it’s just that I wished to meet the man I have to spend the rest of my life with. Is that too much to ask?” Seeing the dark cloud on Louis’ face, Elissa warned, “Remember, you promised not to tell Dorai. I believe you’ll keep it to yourself, Sir Louis. That is not the worst of it—Dorai told me that the Baron sent me three gifts, but I couldn’t have them until tomorrow. He told me that one of them had been sent to me before father’s death and also...” Elissa sat upright as Louis turned his horse. She had warmed to this kind-hearted knight and felt confident enough to tell him all her troubles of which she had scarcely begun. Closing her mouth mid-sentence, she wondered if he were bored with her story. His next words showed that he sympathized.
“I’m sorry, very sorry for you. I’d have done worse had I been in your position. Let’s ride to your aunt. I hope she’ll give you the comfort you need. It’ll be dark by the time we arrive.”