Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Melusine's Secret," based on the French fairy tale

Raymond opened his eyes. His head stung, his mouth was dry, and he was thankful the servants had the sense to draw the thick curtains the previous night. He half suspected if he groped around under the covers long enough, he might find one of his servants there...perhaps the young kitchen maid with the long braid of golden hair down her back. Or, if he was particularly lucky, he’d find the new stable hand, the one with broad shoulders and large hands who, despite his size, was incredibly gentle in the way he handled the horses.

His morning-after fantasies were rent asunder by a knock at the door. “Enter,” Raymond said, sitting up to assure himself he was truly alone in bed.

The door slowly opened. Gustav, Raymond’s trusted man-servant, stepped into the room. “Sir, I am advised we have a guest due to arrive today.”

“None that I know of,” Raymond grumbled.

“No, sir. We’ve only this morning been apprised of her impending arrival.”

“Her impending arrival?” Mentally, Raymond ran down the short list of females who might make a surprise visit to see him. “Good God, it’s not my mother, is it?”

Gustav chuckled slightly as he shook his head. “No, sir, though her visit may portend something just as ominous.”

Raymond was tempted to pull the covers over his head and pretend this day had never started. “Why don’t you just tell me who’s coming, Gustav?”

Gustav nodded. “The Lady Pressina, sir.”

Raymond brightened at the sound of her name. True, Pressina was one of the most powerful women—one of the most powerful beings, really—in western France. True, Pressina’s word was as good as law, and every noble worth anything bent over backwards to see that Pressina was pleased and that her wishes were followed. True, going against Pressina was like bringing a curse down on your lands. None of this meant that Raymond had anything to fear. He hadn’t done anything to anger or wrong Pressina.

“The Lady Pressina pays me a visit, and you call that ominous?” Raymond said. As he got out of bed, Gustav handed him the clothes left in a pile from the night before. Ever the discrete one, Gustav pretended not to notice the extra set of breeches on the carpet. “If anything, I’m honored with Pressina’s presence. Have the manor cleaned thoroughly, and send the girls to the woods to gather flowers.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, and tell the kitchen to prepare the most light and delicate meal imaginable.”

“Of course, sir.”

Raymond personally oversaw the preparations for Pressina’s visit. He didn’t want to risk offending her. When his legion of servants had finished preparing, the manor house was spotlessly clean and smelled of perfumed, fresh air and fine delicacies. Raymond took a bath and put on his new clothes at the same time the servants welcomed Lady Pressina and her maids to the manor.

“The Lady Pressina,” Gustav announced formally into Raymond’s receiving room. Raymond stood as the lady entered. Pressina was a tall, thin woman with large eyes but delicate features. She wore her hair loose. Its color was a silvery white-blonde, though in certain light it gave the distinct impression of being tinged with the same ocean blue as her eyes. She moved with an almost unearthly grace. Perhaps this was why when the common folk spoke of Pressina, they said she was descended from the fairies.

Her rosebud-pink lips smiled as she was introduced, filling Raymond with anticipation of blessings to come.

He held out his hand, and Gustav announced him formally. “Raymond, Count of Poitou.”

Pressina shook his hand. “Greetings, my young noble.”

Raymond kissed each of her cheeks. “And the same to you, Lady. You honor me with your visit to my home. To what do I owe such grace?”

He wasn’t expecting anything like her following words. “It is you who will honor me, Count of Poitou, by marrying my eldest daughter, Melusine.”

Stunned, Raymond said nothing. Pressina continued. “As you know, good Count, the region of Poitou is central to the lands under my protection. I’ll arrange for my middle child to marry a lord of the north, and my youngest child will marry a noble of the south. Yours must be the strongest link in the chain, of course, and this is why you must marry the eldest.”

To read more, go to http://www.amazon.com/Hearts-Tomorrow-Baker-Guesz/dp/1612351182/

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