by Ruth Davis Hays 2015
Meanwhile, in the lower mountains of eastern Verdiallia…
The heavily quilted interior of the coach did nothing to ease the jostling and jarring ride. Wheels groaned in protest to the unkempt roads. Lauralei slumped on the stale velvet cushion with her chin bouncing on the sharp cornered wood of the coach’s side window. She was being suffocated, not only by the pretentiousness of the afforded vehicle, but by her situation.
Tucked, bundled, and strapped into layers of traveling clothes, she had been shoved into her ride by an eager pair of parents who had spent the last several weeks administrating and officiating her marital bond with the Conte Monteforte of Jeullion unda Revota.
Lauralei sighed most audibly. So she was to be a Contes, head matron of the Jewel of the River? So what, she pouted. She had never asked for riches, land, or title. It had been her father’s idea of security and advancement for… oh, not her, for the family name. The bond would forever link the name of Khnyghtsyde with nobility. He could care less if the only reason that he was able to sell her to the old conte was because of her age and the carefully perpetuated myth that she was a virgin.
If only the old codger knew. Lauralei almost chuckled.
The thought brought an ache to her heart. She had not heard what the Fates had planned for her lost love, Dharromar, yet. Her parents had kept any news particularly close. All she found out was that his mother, Ammarron, had gone to the monastery and returned. Whether the young half-breed fae would ever be allowed back into their home, it was evidently not for her to know. Lauralei buried her mouth in her sleeve and stared at the treeless countryside rolling by outside.
This dismal land reflected her soul. Her passion for life had been ripped from her as surely as her lover had been ripped from her arms that night. The urge to leap from the moving carriage and run was a glistening moth flitting through her mind. It was incinerated by her recently acquired apathy.
Her father had tried to keep her and her Dharromar separated, but he was inside her, in her heart and her mind. He had gifted her his cynicism and cold stare. This would be the bonding day treasure that the conte would receive: a wife with no heart.
Lauralei’s eyes returned to the inside of the coach, to the insignia emblazoned on the backs of the seats. She was already the contes by law. The ceremony had been performed before she left home, the part of the conte done by proxy. She had been awakened two days ago, dressed, and placed beside her brother, Corian, as they spoke the oaths of Bonding. She felt sure, at the time, that this could not possibly be legal, but her hopes had been dashed when she spoke to her mother that evening.
Now, she had resigned herself to the part that she must play. After trying to wriggle out of the deal for days and weeks, she was simply tired. Why not just accept it? She sighed again.
Because you are Laure, a small voice in the back of her mind protested. You’re a Khnyghtsyde!
Would Dharromar want her to give up? She sat up straighter on the cushion. Would he want her to resign herself to being nothing more than some old man’s brood mare?
“No.” She thumped her gloved fist on the window frame. She may not be able to escape her situation, but that did not mean that her life was out of her control. Not totally, anyway. She determined then to make the conte’s life with her as contentious as possible…without endangering her head. There were rumors of how the nobility got rid of spouses that were too troublesome. But, she could be a little troublesome, she smiled to herself. Yes, she could.
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