The Kiss that Saved Her (Chapter 10, page 1 of 1)


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Chapter 10

Queen Joanna had been invited to a ball in honor of the Duke of Seine’s
birthday. The travel plans were like a military operation. It was understood that
safe passage would be given during special events so that the Royals could attend.
General Stuart was concerned because the eastern border had seen fighting that
spring. Most attacks had stopped since Joanna had signed an agreement with
Prince Samuel’s nation and the General believed that traveling with armed soldiers
would protect against any attacks. He had just gotten Queen Joanna back and
wasn’t about to lose her again.
After Joanna was informed Prince Samuel was on the guest list, she wrote to
him inviting him to stay at her villa. Prince Samuel had attended his cousin’s
wedding. Therefore, he had been away from Ott for a few months and she missed
him. She suggested that he break his long journey at her estate as his trip would be
nearly double the length of hers. Samuel wrote back and indicated he would attend
on his uncle’s behalf and was grateful for her offer. She knew there would be
gossip because of her bold invitation to him. However, she was certain that her
marriage to David had made her a target to those who liked to gossip anyway.
Inviting the Prince of Ott to rest from his journey at her estate was an act of
kindness to a gentleman who was worthy of her admiration.
As her carriage pulled up to the estate which had been her mother’s, she saw the
trellises and the harvested fields. After her stepmother married her father, trips to
the villa stopped.
The hills rolled along. The grasses were tall and the mountain in the distance
was rugged like a man. Rocks and trees formed the mountain — a single green
fortress above the hills. Joanna decided to spend more time in the timeless valley in
the future. She thought Samuel could be credited with making this region safe
again.
She took a stroll before Samuel arrived and forgot her wrap. She turned around
because she was cold and wanted to return to the warmth of the villa. She could
almost taste an earthiness in the air. The harvest was abundant and the staff had
worked especially long hours in the past few weeks. The house was in the process
of being closed for the winter months and half of the estate’s furnishings had
already been covered and rooms promptly closed off, then hastily reopened for her
visit. The hunters had worked all day to find game for the night’s dinner. The
smoke from the chimneys made the air seem apprehensive of the winter that would
begin before too long.
Joanna was walking toward the house when she saw Samuel in the distance
rapidly approaching. It had been a long time and she was full of joy at the sight of
him.
He waved, and she returned his wave. Joanna thought that he was the most unroyal
royal she had ever met in any kingdom, unless she considered herself.
Queen Joanna saw her soldiers bow and then Prince Samuel reached her. His
eyes glanced over her as if taking her in. She smiled broadly at him and if they
were alone she would surely have thrown her arms around him in greeting.
Samuel said, “Queen Joanna, how well you look. I hardly recognized you today.
You are so poised. You look like the queen you have become.”
“My dearest friend! How I missed you!” She settled for a compromised greeting.
Since she was in her eastern region, she would greet him in their fashion. She
kissed him on each cheek.
Samuel was surprised and pleased. His face displayed his merriment.
“I like this region!” he said.
Joanna laughed and added, “I am following custom.”
He knew that was an excuse but he didn’t mind. Her cheeks were rose colored
from the walking — which prompted him to admire her youth.
“It is a lovely day, are you returning to the house so early?” he asked.
“I am chilled, so yes, I am returning.”
Prince Samuel took off his wool coat to offer her its warmth. A sweet smile
appeared on her lips as he helped her with the coat, then he offered her his arm and
she took it. They proceeded back to the house, and passed the soldiers posted there
keeping watch over them.
*
Joanna insisted that the enlisted men that accompanied them should enjoy a fine
dinner. The Queen would allow generosity to rule in her kingdom instead of
protocol. The General, Samuel, and Joanna and her two ladies-in-waiting sat all
together. The oak table and chairs matched the beam that ran across the ceiling.
The white walls made the small room appear larger and the light oak tables
reminded Joanna of David. She could picture him shaving the wood smooth as he
made a table.
It was quiet in the end of the dining area where they sat. It was not proper for the
General to be seated with Royals; he at first declined Joanna’s offer to dine with
her and Samuel. She explained that given the fact that they were in a less formal
region away from prying eyes, nobody would know where he had been seated, and
he agreed at her urging. Prince Samuel seemed happy to have another military man
to converse with and he was at ease.
“Your Royal Highness, you are a kind soul! The men feast tonight,” General
Stuart proclaimed.
“The men deserve to eat well on a journey such as this,” she said.
“Are things quiet in the region?” Samuel asked as he folded his hands together.
The months of travel had not afforded him a true report.
“Yes, Your Highness, the peace has held,” General Stuart answered as a servant
took his plate.
“I do not believe our relations would attack us, especially as we journey,” Maria
said.
“I do not wish to rely on good will, Maria!” Joanna said.
The burst of laughter from the other dining room reminded them the armed
soldiers were close at hand.
“My Queen, I have only offered my best hope considering the Duke has
graciously invited us,” Maria said.
“Forgive my remarks,” Joanna said. “I forgot your brother is close to the Duke.”
She did not like Duke William, but Maria’s family held him in high regard,
although Maria seemed more interested in tales of his adventures than in defending
him.
“Yes, Your Highness, and my Papa,” Maria said.
“It is only a precaution to travel so heavily guarded, my lady,” General Stuart
told Maria.
“We are at peace and we hope it continues,” Prince Samuel said.
“Yes, Prince Samuel.” Maria said. “I only offer my observation that we are
going to a party with good will among kingdoms.”
After the meal was finished, Joanna retired. The journey was just halfway done
and they had to cross the ridge to get to Seine. Joanna remembered why she hated
to travel when she thought of the bumpy hills she had to pass through.
The General and Samuel lingered at the table discussing war strategy. They
discussed ancient battles and how the outcomes would have changed had the
generals tried a different tactic. It was a lively discussion but Joanna didn’t want to
discuss past wars; she had her own battle to fight with the Duke of Seine.
*
The Duchy of Seine was expansive. As her carriage pulled up to the castle she
took in the view of the lake. It reflected the autumn trees, which were as colorful as
the feathers of an exotic bird. The lake’s waters rippled in the breeze and made the
trees appear to dance on the water.
Duke William’s castle was made of sandstone and it looked like a big box with
its stones piled on top of the other. It was larger than Joanna’s castle and protected
by a moat, so the carriages had to stop and wait for the drawbridge to be lowered.
She strained to view Sable Castle. The bronze doors blended into the stones. She
exited the carriage and was greeted by the Grand Duchess. Duke Williams’s
Mother was of medium height and a bit round, although she had been the most
desired bride years ago, according to Maria. The Duchess greeted them with a
pleasant smile. Queen Joanna rather liked her despite her offspring.
The entrance hall contained a curved mahogany staircase. The staff escorted her
and her ladies-in-waiting to their bed chambers. The Duke’s staff made sure the
guests would feel at home.
The trip exhausted Joanna. She had hoped to see the lake and trees, but she had
arrived too late. There would be time later to see the leaves, she supposed.
The staff was extremely well organized and she appreciated their promptness
when she requested they draw up a bath for her.
As not all the guests had arrived, dinner would be served not in the Great Hall,
but rather in the breakfast area, and there was no expectation that their host would
dine with them that evening. After she had returned to the castle from living in the
cave, Joanna had wanted to get dressed by herself and to fix her own hair, but after
she was crowned Queen she found that every hour of every day was scheduled and
filled. Joanna had a romantic view of independence until reality of everyday life as
a monarch left her exhausted. Sometimes she only slept a few hours before she had
to get up. Queen Joanna hated the social aspects of her role as queen the most, yet
she was good at them just the same.
The next day arrived and she took a tour of Sable Castle. The tour group
climbed the mahogany stairs and the dark panels of wood surrounded them. The
tour twisted through the Duke of Seine’s home and it stopped in a private study.
Joanna was impressed with the castle’s opulence. Green marble adorned the
fireplace. An elegant painting of the castle sat on the mammoth mantle.
The tour included fourteen ladies. Six were young, including Joanna. The chatter
of women’s voices fluttered across the study and must have reached the private
gathering area of the Duke of Seine because a door opened and the Duke himself
appeared.
“Francois. I thought that I heard your exceptional dissertation about the fireplace
mantle,” quipped the Duke.
The man leading the tour bowed to the Duke. The young princesses giggled and
curtseyed when Duke William appeared.
“If you would permit me to continue, my lord, I was finished with this room and
want to move our guests on to the casemate, and then chapel area,” he responded.
“Certainly, continue, and I will join your group.” The Duke glanced at the
ladies.
“Very good, Your Royal Highness,” came the immediate reply.
Joanna thought the Duke seemed to find the attractive women wherever they
may be. The tour continued and the pretty princesses stayed at the back of the tour
near the Duke.
The tour moved through the casemate. The Duke whispered into the ear of a
very pretty young princess with dark curly hair. Joanna wondered who she was as
the girl glanced up at him. Clearly she enjoyed his attention. The Duke pointed out
the artwork as they traveled through a hall with many white arches making the
ceiling contrast with the wooden columns. The paintings in golden frames
delighted the viewer and Joanna wished she had paid more attention to her tutors
when she studied art. His collection was delightful. Duke William would need no
marriage to add to this wealth, she thought, for it was extensive.
The elderly ladies near Joanna asked countless questions which dragged the tour
on. Finally, the tour stopped before the double wooden doors that led into the
chapel.
The chapel was small and the group had to move in close to fit inside. The guide
remained in the back and commented on the origins of the stained glass windows
as the rear of the group squeezed into the room.
Joanna was surprised that the Duke took a spot beside her. His square jaw, dark
hair trimmed neatly, and dark day jacket impeccably tailored made him seem ideal
to most princesses, she supposed. His broad shoulders gave him an air of an
athlete. The other young princesses tried to stand near the Duke as the giggles and
whispers continued. Duke William ignored them and was silent. He looked up at
the window.
Joanna looked up at the window also and noticed that the red stained glass rose
up towards a descending dove. Sunlight tried to shine through the red glass but to
no avail. She traced the movement of the sun higher but still it could not be seen.
Then the sunlight reached the white dove and light shone through, illuminating the
group. The Duke seemed to drink in the light. Just as suddenly as the light
illuminated them, the sun moved under a cloud and the room darkened again.
The tour guide led the ladies out the doors. Duke William stepped toward
Joanna as the others passed by. His back brushed hers.
Joanna saw the pretty dark haired Princess move in front of the Duke and the
girl glanced at him as she exited the chapel. The Duke did not look at her.
Joanna watched with curiosity. The young woman clearly wanted his attention
and he refused to give it to her. The Princess was dressed in a white gown which
displayed her lovely figure but he did not appear drawn to her any longer. Her eyes
fluttered as she giggled, but he seemed indifferent, his eyes focused on the
window. Joanna knew he played a cruel game, yet she sensed his intentions were
honorable in the chapel. It was a curious thing. The girl almost sulked at his lack of
attention, and moved to the exit. Joanna noticed she looked back at him once more
before she left yet he remained aloof.
She glanced down at the stone floor and then she felt something brush her
shoulder again. It was the Duke’s arm which had brushed against her. Duke
William did not apologize, but rather he turned and looked directly at her and their
eyes locked. His gaze made her curious about his thoughts, which she only
imagined were unfavorable towards her. He turned and exited the chapel.
Joanna lingered a moment longer and she was the last one out. As she glanced
down the hallway she noticed the Duke had taken the arm of an elderly lady and
was chatting with her.
When Joanna reached the main gathering area that led to the guest quarters, she
saw the dark haired Princess again. Joanna was surprised that Prince Samuel was
engaged in an easy conversation with the Princess. Joanna had spent little time
with him the last two months and she wondered what had occupied his time.
*
The night’s dinner was overcrowded as the Duke was a popular host and it
seemed most Royals had accepted his invitation. Joanna imagined it would be
impossible to find anyone she knew there as the Duke traveled in much different
circles than she did.
She was a bit surprised Duke William invited the Prince of Ott, as he was not a
relation. Joanna supposed she had been invited because it was expected that family
would be included in any social event. Why William would invite a non-ruling
member of a distant kingdom she was not sure. At least their respective countries
were at peace.
Joanna’s hair was swept into an up do and her gown was blue like the ocean.
She wore a diamond studded crown which she only wore on special occasions.
Joanna and her lady-in-waiting, Maria, sat at a long table. They were beside
each other and whispered to one another. Dinner was served at seven o’clock and
the servants were exceptional at their jobs.
Joanna was seated near her elderly and distant relations who were hard of
hearing, so real conversation was nonexistent. The large room lacked any real
warmth and the white walls and paintings of foxes and deer seemed out of place in
a dining hall. The rectangular tables covered with white cloths added nothing to the
clumsy room.
The rest of the castle was grand except for this part and Joanna felt a room as
intimate as a dining room should reflect a quiet dignity, not a loud hallway. The
stone floor made the sounds echo. The banquet hall was so loud that no one could
hear each other and whispering into the ear was the only means to communicate
with Maria.
The elderly royals retired after dessert was served but Joanna was having a
merry time talking to Maria so she lingered. Joanna asked Maria to point out the
Royals that were strangers to her.
“See, Queen Joanna, the first table, on your far left, that is the Queen of Kane,
Diana. Do you see her? She is the round one with the brown hair,” Maria told her.
“And this is who Duke William will marry? I don’t believe that he will ever
marry her!” she confided to Maria.
“Oh yes, he saw her bank account, and he is very happy to marry her!” Maria
said with a giggle.
“Who is that seated next to her?” Joanna saw another royal who was perhaps her
own age.
“That is her brother, John Phillip; he is quite a handsome man. Are you
interested, my lady?”
“Oh no, I was just asking because I do not know him.”
Joanna never intended for Maria to take her curiosity in such a way. She was
hurt by Maria’s thoughts for a moment, and then she realized that Maria probably
didn’t know about her marriage to David. It was gossiped about, but Joanna hadn’t
admitted to it, at least not publicly. It felt untrue to David to be enjoying herself
and yet here she was at a party. Joanna had to remind herself, that she may be
enjoying the party, and yet the reason that she was there was to represent her
kingdom.
“You see, Queen Joanna, the Queen of Kane, she is seated at a place of honor,
don’t you think? We are not, as we are seated the farthest from the Duke.”
“I guess I made quite the impression on the Duke!” Joanna was quite amused.
“Not in a good way, my Queen.”
Joanna had thought that this was no ordinary ball, and she expressed her thought
to Maria. “Do you believe that Duke William will choose a wife?”
“Of course he will. The Grand Duke of Seine would never pay for such an
expensive event if he didn’t intend to make a grand announcement by the end of
it.”
“Who is the other girl at the first table? She can’t be seventeen even.”
“She is eighteen and she is from Ott, I think her name is Laura. I believe she is a
relation of your friend, the Prince of Ott, but something like a third cousin. There
are a lot of young Royals here.”
Joanna was happy the other princes from Ott were not in attendance, especially
Prince Henry. After seeing Laura, she decided Duke William invited the most
attractive ladies regardless of rank.
“She is pretty.”
“Yes, but she is not rich enough for William,” Maria said. “I think the Kingdom
of Ott usually has marriages between cousins. Do you think she might be intended
for your friend?”
“I never heard him mention her.”
“That would be something he would not discuss with you, my Queen.” Maria
studied her reaction.
“If the Prince of Ott does marry her, she will be very lucky indeed!” Joanna said.
Joanna could feel her face flush slightly at the mention of Samuel.
“The dark horse in the race to marry Duke William has to be the Princess of
Segal. Her name is Ella, and she comes from a small but very rich country that is to
the east of Seine.”
“Which one of them is she?”
“The one with the dark locks of curly hair, do you see, she is seated in the
middle of the first table. A place of honor, don’t you agree?”
Joanna recognized her from the morning tour.
“Oh she is very pretty, maybe even beautiful. How old is she?”
“She is the perfect age to marry — twenty, just like you!”
“I thought that your age, eighteen, was the perfect age to marry?” Joanna teased
her.
Maria smoothed her gown. “I suppose the men all believe so, but I believe that
no one should marry until they find someone who loves them for who they are and
not what they are. I want to marry someone I love, not someone my father chooses
for me.”
“I will help you if I am able, my dear Maria!”
The hall was beginning to empty out as the hour was growing late. Joanna was
beginning to see Royals that she recognized, and she spotted Samuel. He was
talking to his cousin, Laura.
“See, it is happening,” pointed out Maria.
“I am sure he is being polite and that is all. Will you marry us all off tonight?”
“Maybe — “
Maria was about to say something when Duke William appeared across the table
from them. He was dressed in black evening attire that matched his hair. Joanna
had been so deep in conversation that she had not seen him coming over.
“It is so nice to see you, Queen Joanna of Bow,” William said with a slight
smile.
Joanna nodded. “Please sit down, my gracious host.”
Joanna had not noticed the Duke of Seine until he reached her table, but he had
seen her at the beginning of the dinner. He had purposely waited until now to pay
her a visit.
William sat down across from her and Maria. Maria whispered to Joanna, her
hand covering her mouth to block the Duke’s view.
“Please excuse my lady-in-waiting, she is tired.”
“Of course you are tired. It is so good to see you again, Maria,” William said.
Maria rose and curtseyed.
“And are you enjoying your trip back to our country?” he asked Maria.
“Very much, my lord! I will see my Papa tomorrow.”
“Good. Give him my best.”
“You may retire, Maria.” Joanna gave her permission to withdraw from the
party.
She curtseyed towards her and left. Her shoes clicked and echoed through the
nearby door.
The Duke said, “I am happy that you honor me with your presence at my castle,
Queen Joanna.”
“I am happy to be here, and may I compliment you on a truly exceptional gala; it
is perhaps the best that I have attended.” She had to acknowledge that Duke
William was a perfect host.
“How do you like your seating arrangement?”
“This is a fine dining hall. I enjoyed the dinner very much.” She did not know
exactly what he meant with his question.
“Yes, well, it reminds me of your ball when those commoners were given the
place of honor,” he said.
She understood now. “How did you find your seating arrangement at my ball?”
“It was a bit like this one.” He glanced at the table then back at her.
“But wouldn’t you agree that my dining hall was a bit more, let’s say, elegant?”
she said. She stared back at William.
Her meaning was not lost on him but he chose to ignore it.
He said, “It is so good to see family again. Don’t you agree?”
“It is good to see that you are well.”
“I am well, and you look well indeed.” He leaned in a little towards her. “Have
you recovered fully from your unfortunate turn of events?”
Joanna smiled and told him, “I do believe that I am capable of ruling my
kingdom. I am sure that the peaceful border suits you as well.”
“Yes, it is a blessing that your army has fended off those attacks. I see the Prince
of Ott arrived safely. I believe that he traveled with your party?”
“He broke his long journey at my country villa at the border.” She touched the
back of her head for a brief moment then said, “You probably have stayed there
yourself, haven’t you?” She knew that he wanted information and she had nothing
to hide.
“Yes, I do believe that I have on two or three occasions. It is very quaint.”
He motioned to his servant. The servant approached him quickly.
He said, “I would like more of my special reserve, and the Queen of Bow will
have —” He looked at her.
“The same.”
“Yes, my lord.” The servant left.
Duke William continued, “What was it that you asked me? Oh, how many times
had I stayed at your villa.”
“I wanted to say that you are most welcome to join me there on our journey
home if you have the time to spare, or any other time you wish.” She was being
gracious to her old enemy.
The servant returned with the glasses. Duke William waited for the servant to
leave. He touched the top of the glass as he glanced down at it.
“So by your inviting me there you are saying that there is nothing between you
and the Prince of Ott?” He studied her reaction.
She almost gasped, but she was able to rein in her emotions.
“We are all honorable men and women, are we not? Why would I not invite you
to be my guest as well as Samuel?”
He grinned a long grin.
“You are marvelous. I can’t ever figure you out; just when I think I have you
pegged you surprise me once again.”
“Why, my lord, what do you mean?”
He said, “I see Samuel, the Prince of Ott — I do believe that you meant to
address him by his formal rather than familiar title when you mentioned him, but
nevertheless — the Prince that traveled with your party is in deep conversation
with his young cousin, the Lady of Wells. She is a fine young thing. So pretty! I
am sure he will find her very engaging indeed!”
Joanna at first was embarrassed by her slip-up. She should have used Samuel’s
title — how foolish of her! — but then she knew that William was playing one of
his games with her.
“You would be a better judge of her than I,” she said. She glanced over the room
as if to see the girl.
“I understand that it is their kingdom’s custom to marry their cousins.” His gaze
was fixed on her.
She returned his gaze and said, “I am sure that the Prince of Ott will be a
wonderful husband if he marries again. Will you be?”
Joanna shouldn’t have said it; it revealed too much and she regretted it.
“I must apologize to you, my gracious host; it is an unfair, unkind and far too
familiar question.”
“No, do not apologize. It is what I find so refreshing about you, Joanna — you
speak so plainly about what is on your mind. I plan to be an excellent husband
when I marry, but you will not know. Remember, my young cousin, looks can be
deceiving. You think a peace treaty with an outsider will save you? He will marry
that girl or another. But what you may fail to see is when he does marry again, then
what need will there be for a peace agreement?”
He got up to leave. She reached for him and grabbed his arm, and he sat back
down. He was angry.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“I do not wish to be your enemy!” She let go of his arm as if pleading.
“Then be my friend and not his,” he told her. William got up and left her at the
table.
She sat there not knowing what to do as she was left alone and it was a slight to
her that William had left her there alone.
She supposed she could get up and leave as there were only a few people
lingering to see her embarrassment. She wished she had been careful; she wished
that she would have stayed in control. William was the one person who made her
angrier than she thought justifiable. How she missed David, and her life back at the
cave.
She was pondering what to do when she looked up to see Samuel beside her. He
smiled at her.
“I wanted to come over earlier but I noticed that you were in deep conversation
with our host. But now I see he has left you quite alone, and embarrassed too, as he
has not offered to escort you out. May I do the honor?” He extended his arm. Yet
again Samuel was there to help her. She got up and took his arm.
“Our host is an exasperating man,” she replied as he walked her out of the
banquet hall and into the gathering room.
Samuel laughed and he added, “I could not have put it better myself. I wouldn’t
be too cross with him, though, you are a difficult woman to be in love with.”
Samuel glanced at her.
“You must be joking! That man knows nothing about love.”
“No, I am not joking. The Duke is used to women who fawn all over him. He
hasn’t met anyone like you before.”
“You mean a woman who despises him.”
“A woman who is his equal, who won’t give in to his demands. He is a tough
man to be sure, but you know, Queen Joanna, there is a fine line between love and
hate.”
“You must be teasing!”
“I am quite serious.”
Joanna had one question that she wanted to ask Samuel. Since there were few
people in the hall, she thought that it would be the most private time they would
have together for her to ask him about Lady Laura from Ott.
“Love seems to be a theme this weekend. Maria and I were playing a game to
see who we guessed would be married off.”
“That would be quite a game.”
“I do not shock you?”
“Any more than your past life events?”
Joanna stopped. This remark cut her sharply as a jab of a knife. She would
expect it from Duke William, but not Samuel. She had thought that Samuel was
her friend; what did this mean? She let go of his arm and turned to face him.
“Good night Prince Samuel, thank you so much for the escort. Considering my
past life events, why would walking across a silly hall alone embarrass me?”
Joanna turned and walked quickly across the gathering room and down a hall to
her bed chamber.
“Queen Joanna, I am sorry!” He called out as she left.
Samuel was upset with himself. Why did he tease her? He thought that she would laugh at the
humor. He did not care about her past.

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