The Throne - Preview
It felt like a dream. Gwendolyn stared at the cream-colored paper marked with death for many minutes, disbelieving that what was written in ebony couldn’t possibly be the truth. Her eyes blinked many times, not only trying to erase what was written and wake herself from what had to be the most terrifying nightmare she’d ever experienced but also trying to hide the tears welling up in her eyes. She didn’t succeed; the tears dripped. It was reality.
“We need your signature to proceed, Majesty,” Head Privy Council Advisor John Croker said and handed her the quill to sign the document in front of her.
Queen Gwendolyn took the quill and dipped it into the inkwell.
However, her unwilling heart stopped her as she neared the feather to the paper, and her mind drifted to better days…
FOUR YEARS PRIOR
Gwendolyn laid on her bed that frosty spring morning just the same as any other. She listened to the birds chirping outside her window and watched the sun as it rose through the trees and cast a shadow onto her bed. Gwen had always been one to wake early, preferring to lie in bed and enjoy the quiet of the morning where no one was there to disturb her.
“What a beautiful morning,” she said as she laid admiring the view. “Could life be any more perfect than this? What say you, little birds?”
The birds sang sweetly to respond, showing Gwen that life was in fact perfect, almost.
“Gwendolyn!” Her mother banged on the door of her bedroom chambers.
“Ugh… leave it to my mother to ruin the quiet.” After tossing a pillow over her head and taking a deep breath, she replied, “Come in!”
The Duchess Rosalind Ann Muirfield took her time walking into Gwendolyn’s chambers as she glanced around and criticized everything her eyes took in. From the dress that had been laid out to wear that day, to the art and paintings Gwendolyn had been working on in her spare time, the Duchess had turned on her internal critic.
“You need to prepare yourself for the day. Your uncle has invited us to dine with the Viscount Bramwall and his son, Lord William.”
“Oh, Mother. Please tell me we aren’t traveling all that dreadful way just to see that terrible young man and his callous boring parents.”
Gwendolyn sat up and wiped her hands her face, her eyes pleading with her mother not to take the day’s travel across the county.
“That is precisely what I am telling you. Their nephew is in from the north country and it would be good of the King’s nieces to pay him a visit.”
Gwendolyn groaned. “Why? Who is he to us?” She flopped her legs over the side of the bed as her mother rang for a chambermaid.
“Who is he to you? You are a princess! It is time you start acting like one! You might not be the immediate throne succession now that your uncle has plans to marry, but I will tell you, young lady, that you still have a reputation to uphold. If your father was still alive…”
“Well, he’s not.”
“Your reputation is very important and The Duke of Florence is very could be a good match for either you or your sister, though he is a tad bit older than both of you…”
“Whatever you say,” Gwen replied as she reached for her dressing robe and stood to tie it around herself.
The Duchess held her hand out to help Gwendolyn stand and looked her in the face, studying everything about her skin, eyes, hair, and lips.
“You are very beautiful, daughter. I don’t know of any man who wouldn’t appreciate any glance or notice of you.” The Duchess held her hand up to her daughter’s face for a moment and said, “You are young and there will be many men who seek your hand. Do not let your heart guide you; it will lead you down the wrong road. The heart is foolish and confused. Listen to the settled thoughts of your mind.”
The Duchess left the chambers without another word.
“The settled thoughts of my mind?” Gwen sat at her mirrored dresser and wondered as she brushed out her long, flowy hair. “What on earth does she mean? I never know what my mother goes on and on about. I wish my father were here. He would have sound advice as I begin to choose a husband.”
“It is Lily, Your Highness,” the chambermaid knocked at the door.
“You may enter.”
Gwendolyn studied herself in the reflective glass as the chambermaid was fixing her hair. She thought on her mother’s words about her appearance as they continued to perplex her. “I’ve just considered myself an average girl, not ugly, but certainly nothing men would stand in the corner and talk about.” She sighed. “Why does my mother go on the way she does? I’ll never understand her.”
“All finished, Your Highness,” the chambermaid said, interrupting Gwendolyn’s thoughts. “Shall we get you into a dress? I say you should wear the royal blue one. It brings out your eyes the best and I heard your mother talking about a Duke…”
Gwendolyn gave Lily a friendly but scolding look as the sternness in her eyes changed ever-so-slightly, and Lily held her finger to her lips to quiet herself as she went into the changing room to fetch the dress and a corset.
“Tell me about the Duke, miss,” Lily said as she began working on the laces of Gwen’s corset. “I could only ever dream of a man like that. You are living my fairytale for me.”
Gwen sighed. “I’m very certain he is nothing as you expect him to be. You imagine him to be handsome and charming, but none of the men ever are. If they are, they are cads and scoundrels, nothing any woman would want to call her husband. Most royalty is that way anyhow.”
“You aren’t like that, miss.”
“I’m not like most royalty, Lily, because I dream of a world other than that of my own,” she replied and stood to put on her gown.
“I do not understand why you wouldn’t want to be a princess. I wish I could have your life.”
Gwen thought on a life from a maid’s perspective and considered that her own life must be more enchanting no matter what man was given as a choice. She smiled and turned to slip into her gown, thinking on what the Lord-whoever was going to be like. In her mind she was certain she would look his way only once and never again as she always did.
“I would imagine any duke must be better than no duke to you. I will report back to you everything about him. I promise.”
Lily smiled. “Thank you kindly, Your Highness. My fairytale is fulfilled through you, don’t you know?”
Gwen laughed softly as Lily finished the laces and fluffed the gown. “All finished.”
“I’d better be on my way then before my mother comes and makes a scene.”
Lily giggled and nodded, agreeing to Princess Gwen’s statement.
“You look lovely, Your Highness. I’m sure whoever he is will find favor in you.”
“No need for that, now. I have no desire in the Viscount’s nephew.”
“Well, then you’re dressed the part of making a show of turning him away.”
“Hm, that does bring me satisfaction.”
She made one last look at herself in the reflective glass and smiled at the sight, pleased that she was certain she could make a show of turning away this Viscount’s nephew. Gwen headed out the door to meet her mother and sister to go to her uncle’s house to dine with the Viscount Bramwall, Lord William, and the Viscount’s nephew, Duke Whoever… certainly no one Gwendolyn wanted to meet. She’d had her share of dukes and lords, viscounts and earls, and she felt tired of life already at only 18 years old.
“You wore one of your best dresses, Gwen. Preparing to impress?” Princess Sophia, Gwen’s younger, sometimes nosy and bratty sister asked.
“Lily helped me decide. I just like the royal blue one.”
Sophia looked down at her pale pink one, feeling outdone in her choice and she said, “Your dress is lovely.”
“Come girls,” Duchess Muirfield said, hurrying her two daughters along. “Your uncle is expecting us soon.”
“I want to change,” Sophia said, eyeing the eyepopping color of Gwen’s dress. “I didn’t know Gwen was wearing blue.”
“You haven’t the time now. Pink will have to do.”
Sophia’s lips turned to a pout and they walked out the front doors of their manor.
The ride seemed longer than usual, and Gwen stared out the glass, watching the rain fall for hours. Her mind drifted to the day that her father died and her whole world changed.
“Gwen?” her mother said when she saw her tears. “What’s the matter dear?”
“I am perfectly well.”
“Keeping secrets?” Sophia asked.
Gwen glanced across the carriage and said, “I just get nervous…” and she pointed to the window and the rain coming down.
Her mother nodded. “I miss him too.”
Gwen’s gaze returned back to the rain outside and she focused on a few droplets that rolled down the window, leaving long trails of water behind them like maps to be able to find their way to where they’d begun. “Why did you leave us?” she thought as she watched the water make maps on the window. Gwen so badly wished she could take a water droplet map and use it to find a way to her father, who’d been gone almost 2 years now. She blamed herself, really, but it wasn’t her fault. It was no one’s fault. She supposed she could blame those droplets of water, but they weren’t to blame either. It was an accident. That’s all it was. Ever since, she was anxious to travel when it rained, and as her mother and Sophia slept soundly, she watched the rain fall.
After a considerable amount of time, at least 16 more miles, they gradually ascended to the top of a woodsy forest, where the trees ceased, Gwen’s eyes were instantly caught by Boris House—her uncle’s home away from the palace—which was rested on the opposite side of a small pond, where the road curved and wound around the pond back to the road. It was a large, beautiful, sand stone building, situated in front of a ridge of woodlands and next to a very vast and lovely gardens without any artificial appearance. Gwen was pleased at the sight for she had thought she was arriving to her uncle’s palace, which was a place she detested the mere sight of. Boris House, however, had more natural beauty than any other place she had ever visited and she felt nature had outdone itself and had been so little disturbed here by the presence of gawdy adornment. Her childhood memories of Boris House were etched in the back of her mind and as the carriage continued its ascent to the top of the road, her mind flooded with every good thought and praise or adoration for Boris House and continued until she stepped out of the carriage and into the crowds awaiting her.
“Duchess! Princesses Muirfield, how good it is to see you!” Sir Jeremy Newell said as he and his wife exited their carriage along with their spoiled daughter, Maggie, whose jealousy of Gwen was always very evident, especially when Count Haverly and his sons were present.
“Here’s to a long night of talking to people I despise,” Gwen whispered to herself as she stepped out of the carriage and noticed Maggie approaching the Haverly’s carriage where it was stopped in front of Boris House.
“What are you babbling on about back there?” Sophia asked as they walked up the long entry staircase of about 25 steps to enter the house’s tall double doors.
“Nothing. Just tired of life, really.”
“You’re only 18.”
“There is much to be tired of in the life we live. I think I’m bored of the same mundane things that we royals are always tasked with doing.”
“I rather like it,” Sophia said and grinned with a curtsey and a tilt of her head before hurrying her feet and catching up to her mother as she walked through the doors.
The large doors opened and they entered the beautiful home and were greeted by the footman, who showed them inside and to the parlor to the other guests.
“Right in here Ma’am,” the footman said and opened the door to the busy parlor.
“Welcome!” their Aunt called out as the Duchess and her daughters walked into the parlor.
“How are my favorite girls?” she said, looking to her nieces.
“We are well, Aunt Camilla. Where is Uncle Phillip?” Sophia asked.
Camilla hugged both girls and motioned with her hand to the door on the right. “He is in the ballroom with the guest of honor, the Viscount Bramwall.” Princess Camilla looked to Rosalind and whispered as the girls walked away to move to bigger crowds, “Let us hope Lord Doltham is impressed with one of them. He is an excellent match!”
Rosalind eyed her daughters as they whispered to each other and walked away, “Let us hope even more that Gwendolyn doesn’t say something to turn him off!”
“Duchess Muirfield, let me introduce you to my nephew, The Duke of Florence, Peter Doltham.”
Peter bowed his head to the Duchess extending his hand to her, “It is a pleasure, Duchess.”
“Indeed, it is,” she replied, noticing his handsome face, certain his green eyes and dark brown hair would surely catch the attention of one of her girls.
“Let me introduce to you my daughters, Princess Sophia,” she pointed to the younger of her two daughters.
“Nice to make your acquaintance,” he said, grasping the young 15 year old’s hand in his. His gaze was not kept there. Peter’s eyes were satisfied by the beauty that was Gwendolyn, and he said, “This is?”
“My oldest daughter, Princess Gwendolyn Violette Kostantopoulos Mayweather Muirfield.”
A smirk appeared on Peter’s face as he bowed his head to Gwendolyn. “Honored, Princess.”
The Duchess noticed his smile and decided to give the two some space. “There is no room for an old woman where young people are present. I take my leave.”
Gwendolyn watched her mother walk away and she said to Peter, “You laugh at me.”
“You have quite the name.”
“You are the kind of man who finds humor in things a person cannot control?”
“Not at all. Your name is beautiful. I do, however, find humor in everyday pleasantries. You would deny someone the happiness of finding pleasures in an everyday situation?”
Gwen smiled. “No. I admit I cannot deny you that. I also admit that my given name is ridiculous. Royals aren’t known for being precise in our introductions.”
“Indeed, you are not. So, Princess…”
“Call me Gwen.”
“Okay, Gwen. May I escort you to get a drink?” He pointed to the wine tables.
“Yes. I would be delighted.”
Gwen hadn’t anticipated finding pleasure in meeting the Viscount’s nephew; she wasn’t even expecting to want to hold a conversation with him. Yet, she stood across from him at the wine table and stared into his green eyes, feeling very entranced by merely the sight of him.
“Peter, tell me about your family,” she asked as the walked from the table, sipping their wine.
“Well, I have an older brother who is married with two children. I never fancied myself one for children, but I adore being an uncle. My niece and nephew are delightful. You could meet them sometime if you want.”
Gwen smiled and nodded.
“I also have a sister who is younger than I.”
“What are their names?”
“You might know my brother. He is in the court as I am.”
“You work closely with my uncle?” she asked and took a sip of wine, hoping the wine would calm her nerves as her uncle held a reputation for being very disagreeable and she didn’t want Lord Doltham to have the same image of her.
“Who is your brother?”
“Technically he is my half-brother. My father was married previously and his first wife died. Then he married my mother and had my sister and me.”
Feeling impatient, Gwen widened her eyes and pursed her lips, waiting for a response.
“His name! Of course. He is the Chief Privy Council to His Majesty the King.
“John Croker is your brother?!”
“As he lives and breathes, unfortunately. As I said, it’s only by our father.”
Knowing that John Croker was with her father the day he died and still feeling bitter about all the details surrounding his death, she needed to digest that information and began walking away to the refreshments table to take a few of the almond biscuits, which were her favorite.
“Princess Gwen!” he hollered and hurried to catch up, also attracting the notice of a few onlookers, including the Duchess Muirfield.
“Gwen,” he said again a little softer now as he approached the table. “I’m sorry if I said or did something to have offended you. Please, give me the opportunity to make amends.”
Gwen took a bite from the biscuit, thinking on what to tell him because she certainly couldn’t tell him that Gwen suspected his brother to be the one responsible for her father’s death or at least be closely linked to it. Surely not. She took her time chewing as Peter stared at her awaiting a response.
“It’s not you. I apologize. I was reminded of a terrible tragedy in my life.”
“My father’s death.”
“Prince Edward’s accident. My brother was there. I should’ve known.” He reached for Gwen’s hand and held it firmly in both of his
before he realized that he should’ve asked her permission.
“I apologize… my judgment was skewed.” He withdrew his hands from hers.
Looking down to where his hand was now rested on his hip, she reached hers out. “Apology unnecessary.”
“I’m so very sorry about your father.”
A small smile appeared on Gwen’s face as she realized that Peter wasn’t at all that she had thought him to be and that he might actually be someone she could fancy herself with after all.
“Tell me more about your family, Peter,” Gwen said as she reached for another almond biscuit.
“Well, you have the displeasure of knowing my brother.”
“I take it you two are not on happy terms?”
John nudged her in the slightest way and motioned to continue their conversation in the corner of the room.
“There aren’t too many people who are on happy terms with my brother, Your Highness.”
“Please, it’s Gwen.”
Gwen glanced around Peter’s shoulder to notice that the one person she was trying to avoid this evening was headed her way and she needed to think quickly.
“Ask me to dance,” she said and pointed to Lord Haverly, who was almost to them.”
“Well, I’m not much of a dancer.”
Gwendolyn took his hand in hers and a playful smile appeared on her face. “Well, I am and I happen to be a very good instructor as well.”
“If that is entirely the case, then would her Royal Highness honor me with a dance?”
Before even answering, she led him to the row of dancers. As they began a Scotch reel, she said, “It would be my pleasure.”
As they danced, his mind and eyes were hypnotized by this beauty that was across from him and he wanted every reason to see her after this night, but given Gwen’s high rank, Peter was unsure if that was even possible. His desperation for Gwen’s beauty—more specifically her lips and the curvature and delicacy of them and how the rosiness gave a burst of color against her pale skin but also her sparkling blue eyes—which gave him hope nonetheless.
“I would hope that I would have the pleasure of receiving you to the north country soon,” Peter said to Gwen as they finished supper and exited the dining room to the side hall for some privacy.
“It sounds lovely. Since the death of my father, my mother, sister and I have felt very cooped up in our home. We used to travel a lot with our father, but a widow doesn’t get too many invitations to stay places alone with her two daughters.”
“Well, you are welcome to visit Gladwell House, your mother and sister as well, whenever you like. We have plenty of room and my sister would love the company.”
“What is her name?”
“I will be there as often as I am able. I promise I will. It will be a delight to visit your family home, especially if your parents are as welcoming as you are.”
“I appreciate that, but it’s only me and my sister now. My father has passed on and his wife lives in arranged housing with her inherited living.”
Gwen reached her hand up and gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze. “I’m sorry to hear that. Losing one’s parents is very difficult.”
“Yes. My father was old and at the end of his life. I’m not as young as you are and I have an even older sibling, remember.”
Peter reached down and grasped Gwen’s hand in his as he thought of what else he could say to keep her a little while longer, wishing the evening hadn’t passed so quickly.
“Come for a walk with me.”
Peter took her hand and led her to the closest hallway away from peering eyes, and he continued to hold her hand.
“I must say, Gwen, that I never imagined the King’s niece could be so…”
Peter smiled. “Yes. I would’ve said enjoyable, but you understand my point.”
“My uncle is certainly not known for his hospitality as King.”
“No. Certainly not. You are so opposite of what your uncle appears to be.” He sighed and tightened his grip on her hand, pulling her closer to his side, staring into her eyes as the blush on her face increased.
“I have to admit to you, Peter, that I was dreading meeting you and wasn’t even expecting to even want to talk to you let alone like you at all.”
He brushed his hand up and down her arm and against her cheek. “Have I made all the difference?”
“I’ve never met a man who has made my stomach feel so…” Her eyes closed and she looked away with a smile.
“Gwen, would you be opposed to somewhere a little more private?”
“Follow me,” he said and led her down the corridor.
“Where are we going?” she whispered and looked around the hall to be sure no one was watching as he tugged on her arm, leading her further down the hall.
He stopped about halfway down the hallway and pulled her into a dark and empty room, closing the door behind them.
Gwen blushed and giggled, “Peter! What are you doing?”
“Tomorrow, you will be gone from me, and who knows when I will see you again. I’m making the most of today.” He reached forward and held her face in his hands, pressing his lips against hers for only a moment before she pulled away. Blushing deeply, she looked at the floor, trying to compose herself.
“Am I in huge trouble?” he asked.
Gwen shook her head but was still looking away. She recuperated herself and took a deep breath, finally able to look Peter in the eyes, who stood there nervously anticipating her reaction as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“I’ve never kissed a man before.”
“You’ve never had a kiss?” he replied.
“Well, no. I kissed a boy once when I was younger. But as for a man and experiencing my first real kiss? No. This is it.”
She looked him directly in the eyes as she gently played with his fingers where his arms rested at his sides. “Did you expect any different? I’m a princess and they keep me locked up as though I’m in a tower, waiting for prince charming to come and rescue me or something.”
“Hm. Should I be your Prince and come to your tower?”
Gwen moved closer to him, interlocking her hands fully in his as she wrapped them behind her back. “Or you could just rescue me today.”
Peter grinned at the idea and leaned in for another kiss.
PRESENT DAY- 1814
“We cannot delay, Majesty,” Chief Justice Hans Battersby said as Gwendolyn lowered her hand to the desk.
Nothing inside her wanted to send the only man she’d ever loved to the gallows to meet his death. Ultimately, she knew there was no choice. With the mountain of evidence against him, she had to sign the document for the conviction of his treason, sending him to be hanged.
“Majesty, your signature convicting Lord Doltham of treason.”
Queen Gwendolyn glanced to her sister, Princess Sophia— who was standing just to her right—and watched to hesitant look on the Princess’s face as Gwendolyn lowered the quill to the document once more.
“Sister,” Princess Sophia said, “If you believe this to be the wrong decision, now is the time to decide.”
Gwendolyn looked up to her sister, again noticing the reluctance in her eyes at the actions taking place. She wanted to ease her younger sister and let her know that everything would be alright. However, Gwen was feeling her own uncertainty in the situation. She bit her lip, lowered the quill to inkwell once more, and dipped.
As she whispered, “God have mercy on my soul. Peter, may you forgive my actions against you…” She signed the document.
The Privy Council Chief Advisor gave a satisfied smile and snatched it up before she even lifted the quill, and he rushed out of the Council Chambers before the queen could even drip a tear.
Several minutes later, Queen Gwendolyn looked to the Chief Justice and Prime Minister, and also her sister and said, “I want to see Pet… I mean, Lord Doltham.”
“Your Majesty, he will be hanged at dawn. It is nearly time for supper. John has already taken the signed document.” Both men bowed and walked toward the door.
“It wasn’t a request, gentleman. It was an order. I suggest you get a move on it.”
“We will do our best, Ma’am,” the Prime Minister said.
The men left and went in search of John, leaving Sophia standing with her sister.
“What are you doing?” Sophia asked.
“What I must.”
Sophia shook her head in disbelief. “It’s your loss then,” Sophia said, walking out of the room.
Gwendolyn watched Sophia leave and thought about her words, realizing it truly would be her loss when her beloved Peter was lost to the gallows. Reality struck her at that moment. She darted out of the council chambers and down the corridor, trying to catch the Chief Justice and Prime Minister. She dropped to her knees, sobbing when she reached the palace main gates and saw their carriage had already departed.
“Peter!” she cried out. “What have I done?! She sobbed, banging on the doors attracting the attention of palace guests and servants who wondered the unkempt place of the Queen. When Sophia caught up to Gwen, she flung her arms around Gwen, steadying her as she sobbed.
“I sent him to his death!” Gwen cried out.
“Yes, you did.”
“Fix this. I need you to fix this.”
“I’m not sure we can. Come. Let’s get you back upstairs for some rest.”
© 2020 Meg Sechrest All Rights Reserved
This is only an excerpt. This novel may soon be purchased in its entirety in either digital or paperback version.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.