Excerpt from Cornan: A History
…With the ascension of King Theodore the Great to the throne in 1532, the Treaty of Ronan was signed and peace once again settled over the kingdom of Cornan. Business bloomed as carpenters, masons, and every other sort of craftsman one might think of suddenly found themselves in high demand as the country began its recovery process from the war. Soldiers returning from the war found an endless supply of high paying day laborer jobs and the amount of apprentices craftsmen masters took on nearly doubled.
By 1534, the markets had settled to become slightly less prosperous than before, but much more stable. The next thirteen years are known as the Times of Plenty for nearly every man of working age within Cornan held a job with which to support his family. Politically, it was a time of very little turmoil or difficulty and instead, academic efforts were redirected towards the arts, sciences, and history. The University of Ronan was established in 1539 and many other places of learning and libraries followed.
In 1547, the fifteenth year of his reign, King Theodore the Great was inexplicably found dead in his bedchamber, supposedly of natural causes. While there were no signs of a struggle or poison and all investigations have suggested that his heart simply gave out in his sleep, circumstantial evidence begs to differ. Just minutes before the dead king was found, Queen Rachel was discovered, also dead, in front of the young Princess Arlea's bedchamber door. Dark purple burn marks around her neck suggest a magical demise. However, even more shocking than the two monarchs' deaths in one night was the disappearance of the seven-year-old princess from her own bedchamber, thus completing the obliteration of the royal family within one night.
The death of King Theodore and Queen Rachel shocked the country. Many believed the monarchy to be cursed after such a horrific event and promptly moved out of Cornan to the neighboring countries. Perhaps for the same reason, many foreign powers suddenly found reasons to cut off their trade with the Cornan, sending the economy once again into dire straights.
In a desperate attempt to prove this wrong and prevent a mass exodus, Lord Rylan Everhart, advisor and close friend to the late king, immediately decreed a royal investigation of the two monarchs' deaths and a search party for the princess. As no body was ever recovered after her disappearance, he felt it safe to assume the princess was still alive, perhaps kidnapped by the same people who murdered the queen and perhaps the king.
A review of King Theodore's will showed that Princess Arlea was next in line for the throne, but if the king passed before she was of age, Everhart would control the throne as regent until she was ready. Everhart's first decree as regent was to say that if Princess Arlea was not found by her twenty first birthday, her throne would go to her closest blood relative, her paternal uncle, Prince Richard so as to preserve the famous, fabled fairy lineage passed down through the royal family.
When no evidence of murder could be found in the king's death after a year and no one was ever charged for the queen's murder, Everhart was forced to give up the investigations. He fought to continue the search for the princess, but as no more clues had surfaced he was forced to give this up as well. In one last effort to keep the search for the princess active, Everhart offered the princess's hand in marriage to anyone that could find her.
Slowly, with Everhart acting as regent, Cornan began to move back towards normality. He proved to be skilled in economic dealings and deftly maneuvered the kingdom back to nearly its former glory.Chapter 1
Christopher was standing in the middle of a small clearing in the woods, gazing up at the giant trees around him. There was a fuzziness to them and everything else around that only came in dreams and the trees themselves seemed to tower above him, twice as tall as he had ever seen them before.
He was alone, a position he often found himself in while hunting. But today a shiver of dread rolled up his spine at the realization. As fast as he could, he turned and scampered through the underbrush, desperate to find another soul. The solitude felt wrong somehow as if he was breaking some sort of rule. What that rule was, however, was lost on him. Didn't he venture into the forest alone everyday?
The underbrush ended, depositing him at a stream bank where his father was crouched down low to the ground, his back turned to him as he examined something near the water.
The knot of dread that had been building in Christopher's stomach instantly disappeared as he spotted his father and he immediately stepped towards him, only to be waved off towards a fallen tree at the edge of the stream.
"Do you need help figuring out what kind of track it is, Father?" Christopher asked as he obediently took a seat on the log.
His father shook his head. "No, no," He stood up, kicking a few rocks and some of the ground as he did so. Then he looked at Christopher. The expression on his face was strange—it almost looked like a mix of fear and bewilderment. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Wait for me here. Don't move from that tree."
While he was confused by his father's antics, there was nothing he could do besides nod and obey. "Yes, Father,"
With a nod of his own, his father turned and made his way through the trees.
After a minute of watching his father disappear into the dark of the forest, Christopher turned his attention to the stream. It wasn't large, but it was still big enough to gurgle and let the water dance over the rock bottom. A grin slowly slid over his face and he eagerly kicked his shoes off and abandoned his seat on the log, stepping into the water. His father had told him to stay there, but surely it wasn't disobeying if he was only a foot away…
But what had his father been looking at?
The log completely forgotten, Christopher stepped out of the water and padded over to what had caught his father's attention. He hunched down in his father's much larger footprints, eager to see what it was. There were a few rocks scattered around, but that had been his father's doing. There weren't even any tracks leading to the spot that might have explained the strange behavior. He had been half expecting to see wolf tracks. After all, wolves were dangerous. It would have been easy to understand why his father didn't want him to follow if there were wolves around. But the only tracks in the dirt were a few old bird prints, maybe a blue jay or a robin. It was hard to tell the difference between small bird tracks. But they didn't mean anything anyways, so it didn't matter.
With a sigh, Christopher kicked one of the rocks into the water and returned to the log. He hoped his father would come back soon so that he could ask him what was so important that he had left him behind. Christopher glared at the dirt, wishing he could see it as well.
All at once the sun was setting and his father had still not returned. If they didn't leave by nightfall they would have to wait until daylight to leave the forest. Traveling through the forest during the night dangerous. It was much safer to simply make camp and wait for daylight. Christopher didn't particularly like the idea of camping, but still, he wouldn't leave without his father even though he was almost certain he could make his way back to their home by himself.
Seeing as the idea of spending the night in the forest was so unsatisfactory, there was only one thing to do. Whether he had been told to stay on the log or not, he had to find his father. He rose from his seat and wandered into the darkness, following the path his father had taken…
Suddenly his foot slipped on the uneven ground and he fell, rolling down an endless hill that he had neglected to see through the thick underbrush.
"Wake up already! Christopher! You've got to get up!"
Christopher groaned and rolled over in a desperate attempt to avoid the hands that were shaking him into wakefulness. Unfortunately it wasn't enough and the shaking persisted.
"I'm serious! You need to get up! It's your mother!"
As it was becoming increasingly apparent that his time for sleep had come to an end that morning, Christopher forced his eyes open, taking in the frantic expression on his fiancé's face. The night before when they had gone to sleep, she had been happily resting besides him. Now she was leaning over his bed in her shift, her unkempt blond curls falling over her shoulders and around her face.
"Lara," He let his hand fall over his eyes, blocking out the morning light. "My mother's at market until this evening. What are you talking about?"
"Maybe that's what she told you, but she's on the way down the road right now!" She jabbed a frenzied finger towards the tiny window in his attic bedroom. "I just saw her when I went to check the weather! She'll be in the house any moment!"
He shot up in bed, straining to see out the little window as well. Suddenly, sleep was the furthest thing from his mind. What would happen if his mother were to come home and find Lara in his room? Sure, their wedding was set for a Sunday only two weeks from the day, but that didn't change the fact that they were still unmarried at the moment. There were punishments for couples who spent nights together out of wedlock, no matter the circumstances.
Seemingly satisfied that Christopher was alert, Lara turned from the bed, yanking her kirtle off the chair in the corner where it had landed the night before pulling it over her head and yanking it into place.
Caught up in the sight before him, Christopher watched as she dressed, a look of awe on his face. He wondered for what seemed like the hundredth time how he had managed to find such a wonderful woman. Lara was beautiful, possessing a slim body and bright, intelligent eyes that accented her pale skin and blond curls so well. As far as Christopher was concerned, she was a goddess in human form.
"What are you waiting for," Lara demanded. She ran her hands through her hair, trying to smooth the curls down without the use of a comb. "Get up all the way! It only takes a person so long to put away a horse and cart and I do believe your mother'd find it strange if I was sitting alone downstairs while you lounged about in bed. Have you seen my stockings—ah!" She dove for the gray foot of a stocking that was poking out from underneath the bed.
Lara was right. Snapping out of the trance she had sent him into, he threw back the covers and jumped out of bed, doing his best to avoid Lara as she danced about the room, pulling on her stockings. He grabbed a clean pair of breeches out of set of drawers and pulled them on with as much speed as he could manage.
Half dressed, he turned back to her. "Have you seen my shirt?"
Lara looked up from wrestling with the laces of her shoes. "Yeah, it was with my stockings. Here," She tossed the shirt at him, before returning to the laces.
"Thanks," The shirt slid neatly over his head and he ran his hands through his own hair to neaten it. A quick look around the room revealed that his own shoes had landed in a heap next to the door. Shoving his feet into them, he flung open the door and hurried downstairs with Lara in hot pursuit behind him.
"Where's mother?" Christopher asked, leaping towards the hearth to rekindle the embers. If the fire wasn't going, they were sure to be caught. The first chore of the day was always to start the fire.
"In the barn," Lara responded, peering out the front window. No! Oh, God, Christopher. She just came out. Hurry!"
Christopher poked at the embers with all his might, teasing a little flame into being with a few sticks of kindling. As the flame finally popped into existence, he threw a log into the fire, coaxing the little flame to catch onto it and start a real fire.
Just as it did, the door swung open, revealing Christopher's mother. She was a petite, yet sturdily built woman with small dark eyes and dark brown hair that was beginning to turn gray with age. Although she usually kept her appearance respectable with crisp blouses and neat, wool skirts, she was currently covered in road dust from her travels.
"Surprise," She pushed the door shut behind her and walked heavily over to the kitchen table, falling gratefully into one of the chairs. "The produce and pelts sold a hell of a lot faster than I thought they would, thus me getting home now instead of tonight. There was no need for me to stay another day at market, so I got up early this morning and headed home."
She glanced towards the barely flickering fire, raising an eyebrow in surprise. "What, no porridge yet? I was depending on you having made at least something to eat by now. I'm starved from my travels. But no, nothing's on the fire. You're just like your father. Can't cook anything for your life. I suppose you didn't eat anything at all while I was gone yesterday, did you?"
"I cook plenty when I'm out in the woods," Christopher insisted, frowning. "I just got up late this morning, that's all. I was just about to start breakfast"
Her eyes caught on Lara, still standing near the window. "Did you now…"
"No!" Lara let out a nervous, high-pitched laugh. "Mistress Sarah, I just got here a few minutes ago. Actually, I just woke Christopher up. He'd probably still be sleeping if I hadn't come."
Christopher let out a quiet sigh of relief as his mother nodded, taking the story as truth. It never failed to amaze him how Lara could think so quickly on her feet.
"You're too good for him, you know that?" Sarah rose from her chair with a groan. Her bones cracked in protest, unused to the movement after her time in the wagon already that morning. "Be a dear and start the porridge will you? The boy says he can cook, but I don't trust him. I'll be out in the yard tending to the chickens he neglected with his oversleeping. When you're married, don't let him sleep his life away, you hear?"
"I wouldn't dream of it," Lara gave an easy chuckle.
With a final disapproving glance towards Christopher, Sarah walked back outside, leaving the two alone again.
They both relaxed, letting out sighs of relief as they reveled in what they had just gotten away with.
"Well!" Lara laughed and walked across the room to the fire. Christopher stepped out of her way so as to let her get to work.
"That was quite an adventure, wasn't it?" She grinned at him, grabbing the bucket of water from the side of the hearth and pouring its contents into the pot above the fire.
"Indeed," He raised an eyebrow at her, his tone a bit flat. She had always been far more adventurous than him, even when they had been children. She had been the one who had convinced him it would be fun to ride his father's big, new gelding that later resulted in him breaking his leg. It had also been her idea to steal a few of the neighbor's eggs for a late breakfast when they had been nine. Luckily they hadn't been caught, but they had been chased around the yard by the rooster until the neighbor came out and shoed it away.
These days, Lara had grown far too smart to take childish risks like those anymore, but staying at his house for a whole night of pleasure when she thought his mother would be away was right down her alley now. And of course, just like he had when they had been children, he had been happy to oblige her when she had presented the idea.
"You don't regret it, do you?" She placed the lid on the pot and spun round to look at him worriedly, her arms across her chest.
Christopher blinked, caught off guard by her question. "No!" He shook his head earnestly, shocked that she could have thought such a thing. They had taken a risk and almost lost, but he certainly did not regret what they had done. He wouldn't have regretted it, even if they had been caught.
"No, definitely not," He smiled at her reassuringly and stepped forward, pulling her into his embrace and resting his forehead against hers.
"I enjoyed every moment of last night," He gave her a quick peck on the mouth. "I enjoyed the kisses," Another peck. "Helping you out of your clothes," Peck. "All that practicing for after the wedding," This time the peck was accompanied by a raised eyebrow. "And everything else we did."
Giving her one last kiss and a quick squeeze, he released her.
Lara giggled and walked over to a nearby cabinet where she retrieved a jar of oats.
"You're awful," She said, grinning. She placed the jar on the kitchen table and sat down. "What ever am I going to do with you?"
He sat down in the chair next to hers, grinning back. "I have no idea, but I think it would be best to leave it up to you."
She rolled her eyes and leaned towards him to kiss him again.
Just as their lips were about to meet, the door burst open and they jumped away from each other, looking up in shock.
"You'll never guess who's coming down the road!" Sarah exclaimed. As she spoke, she shut the door and hurried over to the nearest window to gaze out into the front yard. "It's a royal messenger! He's wearing one of those fancy red uniforms and everything!"
Without another word, Christopher and Lara abandoned their chairs and crowded around the window as well, intent on seeing the sight for themselves.
Indeed, just like she had said, a man in an unmistakable red, royal uniform was riding a fine, brown horse straight down the dirt path that led to the cottage at the edge of the woods.
"Why do you suppose he's here?" Lara asked, breathless in excitement.
Forestshire was hardly a place where royal servant made a habit of appearing. It had been at least a year since the last messenger had come through. Christopher could only guess what sort of hubbub his appearance had caused in town. The visit would be the talk of the town for days. His mother would be in heaven, being at the center of all the gossip.
But still, it still didn't mean he knew what was going on. He shrugged. "No idea,"
The group dissolved into silence as they watched the messenger approach. It only took him a minute or so to reach the front gate of the cottage, but to Christopher it seemed to take hours. Why indeed was the messenger coming to their house? It wasn't as if they were important people. Sure, the townspeople depended on him for meat and on his mother for herbs, but there were other people in the town that could supply the same merchandise. They weren't unique in anyway. Just a small family that lived at the edge of the forest. An after thought of the town's.
Upon reaching the gate, the messenger dismounted and neatly tied his horse's reigns to the fence before opening the gate and walking up to the front door.
The moment the messenger stepped past the gate, Sarah sprung from her position at the window to hustle back towards the door. Before he could even knock, she had flung the door open.
"Messenger, it's such an honor for you to come to my home," she gushed, stepping aside so that he could come through the doorway. "Please come inside. I'm sure we can come up with something for you to eat and drink. You must be famished after a ride from the capitol!"
The messenger bowed and stepped through the doorway. "Thank you ma'am," He looked around the room and at all the herbs hanging from the ceiling almost in wonder.
"Please take a seat," Closing the door behind him, Sarah began to bustle around the room, tidying up and throwing orders around.
"Lara, dear, the water must be boiling by now. Check on it, will you? Christopher, a drink for our guest."
Watching the new arrival curiously, Christopher did as he was told, taking a cup from one of the shelves around the room and filling it with the remaining water from the bucket next to the hearth. Returning to the table, he placed it in front of the messenger before sitting down across from him.
"So, what's your name, traveler?"
"Andrew, sir," He reached gratefully for the cup and draining it in a few gulps.
Seeing this, Sarah gestured towards Lara and she grabbed the empty bucket, heading out the front door towards the well outside.
Sarah settled herself in a chair next to her son. "What's the news from the capitol then? We're a bit isolated out here. We never hear much of anything important."
Andrew shrugged, his hands held fast around the empty cup. "Not much, ma'am. Pretty uneventful in ways of disasters and other interesting talk. Regent Everhart makes sure of that, bless his soul. He's a wonderful man. Gifted ruler. They had a festival in the capitol just a month ago to celebrate his birthday. He paid the bakers to give out free bread to the people all throughout the city for the day. He knows what the people want. Isn't afraid to give it to them either."
"Free bread in Ronan, huh?" Sarah whistled. "Wish we'd have a festival like that around here someday. I've been hearing it's going to be a hard winter this year. Regent Everhart have anything planned for that?"
"Just last week he instructed the lords to prepare extra stores of grain for their people."
Lara returned with a full bucket of water. Placing it back at the hearth, she filled Andrew's cup before checking on the porridge and then taking a seat at the table as well.
"What about the rest of the country?" Christopher asked. "Have you heard any news about the other towns and cities?"
"Well, they're saying that Lady Margaret of Redlond is coming to court again sometime soon to present her daughter, Lady Vittoria. Lady Margaret's a Dutchess you know. A distant cousin of the late Queen Rachel. They say that Lady Vittoria looks just like Queen Rachel did. All the royal markings. Red hair, the cinnamon skin. She's supposed to be beautiful. Prince Richard's got his eye on her for a wife if he ends up taking the throne from Regent Everhart," He made a face and raised his cup to his mouth once more. This time he only took a few slow sips before lowering the cup again. "Don't tell anyone I said this, but it'll be a shame if he marries her. Prince Richard's nearly forty now and he's always been rather ugly. It'll be a waste on her part,"
Sarah nodded gravely in agreement, clucking her tongue. "Indeed it would be. Let me see if that porridge is ready. Believe it or not, but we haven't eaten our breakfasts either!" She laughed and walked back to the hearth. A moment later she gave a "Hmph!" of approval and Lara rose from her seat to retrieve bowls and spoons.
A minute later, everyone was back at the table, contently eating their meal. Andrew, who seemed just as hungry as he had been thirsty, wolfed down his bowl before the others had scarcely taken a third bite.
Lara cleared her throat and lowered her spoon back to the table. "So, Master Andrew, what message do you bring for us?"
"Oh!" Andrew fumbled with the scroll at his belt for a moment before unrolling it. He cleared his throat and began to read.
"His lordship, Regent Rylan Everhart requests an audience with Master Christopher of residence outside the town of Forestshire. Master Christopher should arrive at the soonest possible occasion in the throne room of the Great Castle of Cornan, in the capital city Ronan so as to discuss urgent matters of the state with the Regent. Signed by his lordship himself, Regent Rylan Everhart."
He rolled the scroll up and returned it to his belt. "I'm to escort Master Christopher to Ronan. Please permit me to stay in your home until he is ready."
It was silent in the cottage for a moment as the group processed what they had just heard. Then Sarah gave a high-pitched laugh of excitement. "Of course, of course! If his lordship wants Christopher at the castle at the soonest possible occasion, well then I'm sure Christopher can be ready to leave by noon, isn't that right, Christopher?"
Christopher, who had been staring at Andrew in amazement, let his attention snap towards his mother. "Uh, yes, right," he said, fumbling for the correct response.
He couldn't believe it. Regent Everhart wanted to talk to him of all people about matters of the state? He was just a hunter. The idea was preposterous. But then why was there a royal messenger at his kitchen table?
"Do you know why Regent Everhart wants to talk to me?"
"So that he can discuss matters of state with you apparently," Andrew shrugged. "Sorry, I'm just a messenger. They don't tell us anything important. They just give us the message and tell us where to go. But from the sound of the message, you won't have to wait long to find out once you get to the castle. Urgent, is well, urgent after all," He laughed, but the sound quickly died when no one joined in.
"Christopher, why don't you go collect your pack now?" Abandoning her porridge, Sarah grabbed a basket from off the far wall and began filling it with breads and cheeses. "It's rude to keep his lordship waiting. I'll make a bundle to keep you fed till you reach Ronan. It's what? A two day's ride to the city?"
"Three, ma'am," Andrew corrected.
She nodded. "Three. So why don't you hurry upstairs and get your pack? Lara, why don't you help?"
"Of course," Christopher gave a nod of his own and rose from the table, climbing the stairs to his room. Silently, Lara followed after him. She settled herself on his bed as he pulled his pack from its hook on the wall and began to stuff it with clothes and other such items he would need for the trip.
"What feats of great importance have you been doing behind our backs to merit an audience with the regent himself?" Lara asked, a smile toying on her lips.
"I haven't the foggiest," he admitted. He frowned as he stowed his money pouch in the bag. What had he done to catch the regent's attention? After all he was just a lowly peasant who made his livelihood by hunting in the forest and selling the game to butchers at market. The only reason he had been able to come up with for being summoned to the castle was that they wanted him as a royal hunter, but that hardly merited a meeting with the regent himself, let alone have it be considered an urgent matter of the state. Meat was important, but definitely not to that extent.
"You'll send a messenger if they want you to stay in Ronan, won't you?" The playful tone had disappeared, replaced with one of cautious worry.
Christopher stopped packing and straightened up. With a sigh, he sat next to her, carefully draping an arm around her shoulders. Their eyes met. "You're upset, aren't you?"
"Of course I am!" Lara insisted. She pushed his arm off her shoulders and jumped up. "We're to get married in two weeks and out of no where Regent Everhart is calling you to the capitol and no one knows why! What if he wants to send you away to some far away country? I might never see you again! Two weeks, Christopher! Two weeks! That's nothing! He's practically taking you away from me minutes before our wedding."
Christopher rose and placed a soft kiss on the top of her head. "You'll see me again," he assured her. "Like you just said, we're about to get married, aren't we?"
She sighed and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head against his chest"But if they send you away…"
"If they send me away then I'll call for you and you'll come with me." He gave her a gentle smile and touched her cheek tenderly. "I love you, Lara. No matter what Regent Everhart wants or what happens, you'll see me again."