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“It seems so easy,” I said lamely.
“That is politics,” Nora told me proudly. “You have to understand the basics of law. You find the loopholes. Each scenario is a manipulation of another one. Sometimes, you have to come up with logic to make it work. Now, do you remember the basic rights of very citizen in Klenard?”
“The faith of God, a fair trial in all things and protection from evil,” I recited.
“And a chance at happiness,” she reminded me. She took a deep breath. “You are marrying soon.”
Is she going to give me the same talk about the bed that Momma did? Is she going to defend James?
“Yes, and I am very excited for it,” I replied weakly. It seemed stupid and I tried to be more tactful. “Being married will be pure happiness.”
Nora frowned. I said something wrong. Before I said anything, she stopped me.
“My cousin is a catch,” Nora admitted, “but he has many flaws. The first you must know is that he has a mistress. There is a specific lady at court.”
I blushed. Constance.
“My uncle did not know that the two had grown close while they were imprisoned,” Nora continued. “Constance Paula was a comfort to James when his brother and mother died. She was with him when they were buried. I cannot blame him for clinging onto someone that held him through the darkest hours.”
I crossed myself. “I was not aware.”
“But he must understand that his duty lies with Klenard,” Nora argued. “It will be a slap to the face now that we announced the marriage.”
I nodded again.
“I want you to be understanding of James’s feelings,” the Queen instructed. “He did not expect to be married. He still expected his father to change his mind about Constance. This was done without his knowledge and the results were not…desirable.” She grimaced, remembering the day in the Library.
There was something else she was not telling me. “He has told you that he is not happy with me.” I felt small, like the child I was.
“There was a great argument in the Council chambers.” Nora sounded pained. “James told us that he was betrayed. He thought that he was in such favor that he could beg me and Char for the marriage of his choice. I told him that it was not possible.”
“Some towns give their heirs the choice of a bride. They can have an Earl’s daughter or nudge their neighbor Duke for a daughter. Brenton is important. It is the main base for border patrols. It is a merchant and farming community. It is also the seat of my mother’s family.”
“Has he been explained this?”
“Yes. Of course, we all turned blue in the face. When none of us budged, not even Father Alfred, James left. The next thing we learned, he tried to challenge us in court.”
“He did not win. I would have known by now. There would have been a scandal.”
“Yes, which is why it has been quiet. I wanted to tell you myself. We had to use some dirty means to win, Miranda. Char and I were not kind.”
My heart sank a little.
“We proved that James could not make the decision on his own, based on his time in the Dark Town,” Nora revealed with a heavy sigh. “We named Constance Paula as an influence to lust, based on stories we’ve heard too.”
James must be angry.
“Not to mention, the Holy One approved,” Nora finished. “His decree of the marriage arrived with the ambassador the other day.”
I tried sorting through all of this, but I could not. I was focused on my foe. “And Lady Constance Paula?”
“What about her?” Nora raised an eyebrow.
“What is going to happen to her? If she is unfit to be the wife of the future Duke of Brenton, then who shall she marry?”
“You are very perceptive, Miranda. Constance was given in marriage, today, in fact. Instead of being the Duchess of Brenton, she will be the Duchess of Olette. Lord Arnold Lee took her as his second wife.”
I was shocked. Constance, out of the way and Duchess of another town? It seemed like a dream come true! James will perhaps pay more attention to me. He can marry me and we will learn more about each other. As the years passed and the children came, we will build a better relationship between the towns and prepare for our time in the Council chambers. It was exciting to think that we could be a team!
Then, the dreams shattered. It was never going to be a happy ending and I knew it! James lost everything. He and Poppa Henry were the only survivors of the Dark Tower. And anybody who came out of there alive was subject to all sorts of torture. Even my new father was not immune to it.
And it was all my fault too! If Poppa controlled Arthur better and the treason was not committed, then James would have had Constance as his wife. Poppa would have picked someone else for me. Never mind that it could have been an old man with bad teeth!
I could have cried!
The Queen saw how conflicted I was. “We can speak of this later. Let’s talk about other things.”
Little by little, the mood turned official again. She began asking me to do some tasks for her. When I finished, she thanked me and I was dismissed.
Quickly, I stumbled out of her rooms and landed in the antechamber. Catherine was by the fireplace, reading a book. When she saw me, she closed it and hid it in the chair cushion. As people milled around us, she took me to a remote corner.
“What did she want?” She was curious.
I shrugged my shoulders. “To be a friend?”
“That is not always what the Queen wants. Did she play chess with you?”
“No. She talked about laws and politics and James.”
“She is making a blunder, you know,” Catherine blurted out. “She can’t turn back now.”
I was afraid to ask what she meant.
As Catherine released me, I decided that I was better ignorant.