thequeenandthearcher

King Uther of Lyonesse knows his health is declining and he is coming to the end of his reign, just as the Barbarian threat that he overcame by a near miracle thirty years before is rising again. And Uther’s daughter and heir, the Princess Rosamund, remains without a husband to lead her armies and guide her hand, a situation due in no small part to Rosamund’s haughty attitude and penchant for tantrums.

But then the Duke of Carlaeon grows weary of courting the elusive Rosamund and turns to treachery to gain the crown, and it is only through the courage and wit of a humble archer by the name of Will Scott that Rosamund escapes the trap which claims her father’s life. Almost before the naïve young princess knows what is happening, she finds herself in a desperate struggle to save both her kingdom and her life from the duke and his barbarian allies. But first the Archer must teach her common sense as the two of them wander desperately alone through the medieval landscape of Lyonesse, falling strangely in love. And if they survive this how can a queen marry an archer? And how can they survive anyway, given the odds against them?

The following is an extract from THE QUEEN AND THE ARCHER by Jane Fairweather

Published by Stormy Night Publications

“You sent for me, father?” the girl asked, slightly disturbed by the failure to address her.

The king coughed yet again. His daughter anxiously enquired after his health. The king spluttered that he could be worse; his physician would no doubt mix him something better. The girl glanced round the room. She wondered uncomfortably if the last visitor had been the duke of Carlaeon; certainly she had just passed him. She devoutly hoped she was not going to be expected to marry the dreadful Rhys of Carlaeon. Apart from anything else she did not find him at all attractive, but she also had profound doubts about the wisdom of an alliance with a man whose father had behaved so dubiously in the Danae War, a long time ago though that was.

Her suspicion that something important was going on was added to when she heard the king telling Cedric to shut the doors to his own chamber and the antechamber and stand outside in the corridor with the two lancers.

The king gestured to her to sit, which she did. Then there was an odd silence, which neither was quite willing to break, broken only by the king’s periodic coughing and sipping at his cordial.

In the end, the king said very deliberately, “I told you yesterday that your marriage came up in the council. And today I have been having further discussions with the duke of Carlaeon, which I feel it is only fair you should be told about.”

“Thank you, father.”

The king thought she looked surprisingly demure; surely she must have guessed what was coming.

“The council and I agreed that my age and state of health make your marriage urgent. Given the absence of a suitable candidate to be your husband from overseas, it was felt it would be best if a husband could be found from among the nobles of the council. Duke Rhys of Carlaeon has just proposed he should be that husband. Given that he is the premier noble of the realm, it is unlikely anyone will object, and given the urgency of the situation I feel impelled to give the suggestion my blessing. How would you feel about it?”

The face of the princess Rosamund flushed, and she said very loudly and angrily, “If in fact it is true that you are dying, father, which somehow I doubt, I would rather be free to choose my own mate when I am queen. And even if I were to agree to a marriage in your lifetime, I would not choose the duke of Carlaeon. His father, I seem to remember you telling me, was a traitor, and lucky to keep his head!”

The king half shook his head, but kept his temper and said very forbearingly, “Do bear in mind I am getting old and you could find yourself queen of Lyonesse before long, perhaps even before this year is out. And as I have already told you there is a real threat of another invasion from Danae. As I came in, so I must go out it seems. Without me you will need a man to fight your wars. Please just accept that.”

“Yes, but I will need a warrior, not this milksop, who has never deigned to give me a word worth hearing. He has always seemed to think I am a helpless female, which I am not. I was born to be queen of Lyonesse, and that I will be.”

“I am sure you will be a very good queen,” said her father soothingly, “but being a monarch, male or female, often means accepting the necessities of a situation.”

The princess for some reason imagined drawing back her right hand in a fury and slapping the duke’s cheek as hard as she could, before storming out of the room, screaming no one would induce her to marry this son of a traitor. That would be an eminently satisfactory way of disposing of the situation! However, the duke was not there to vent her fury on, so she said rather quietly by her standards that she felt no attraction to the duke whatsoever, and she did not in any case consider it a good match.

“It is the only one that is available!” said the king. “Are you saying that you are going to defy my wishes? We were talking about whipping posts yesterday, were we not? It would be a great sadness to me if you defied me over this to such an extent that one had to be used. I will do it if I feel the safety of the realm is at stake, don’t think I won’t.”

“Father, I really do not wish to marry the duke of Carlaeon.”

“So you are going to disobey your father?” came Uther’s seething reply.

“No, but I would really rather not marry the duke; I do not feel it is wise.”

“No doubt you would rather form an alliance with that idiot Edward of Gaunt with his stupid shoes and his gambling!” growled the king.

“Father, that is so unfair! I do not know anyone I want to marry.”

“Rosamund, are you going to obey me, or not?” demanded Uther with blazing eyes.

“In the last resort, yes, I will obey you, father, but I would much rather not marry Duke Rhys of Carlaeon.”

“Which I have just told you that you must do for the sake of the realm. Rosamund, open the chest by the fireplace and fetch me the willow canes,” said the king in passionate fury. “I am going to teach you to obey.”

Despite yesterday, it had never entered her head that this could end in a whipping. She stood rooted to the spot, quite bewildered.

“Father, I am too old, surely. Besides, this is too serious a matter to be decided by threats of punishment. Please, this is different from yesterday. That was about my being stupid and rude and I deserved it. This is ridiculous. Please!”

“I am going to be obeyed, Rosamund. Fetch the willow canes. The alternative is to have the whipping post brought in.”

She realized her father really meant it. She wondered if his illness was contributing to his bad temper, but it did not seem tactful to say so. Anyway, anything was better than a real whipping at the whipping post. She had never seen one, but she knew the victim was normally stripped naked before the lashing and she hated the thought of that. At least the anteroom was empty, so this would remain between the two of them.

“Well, do I have to go and get Cedric?” the king asked, pulling himself up from his chair.

“No, father, I’ll fetch the canes. Do you want all of them?”

“Yes! Don’t procrastinate, girl! Of course I want all of them; how am I to know which have survived nearly ten years of not having to be used without seeing them? It really is a great pity I am having to do this! You ought to be too old!”

She felt to reply would risk adding to her punishment, so she reluctantly walked over to the chest and pulled up the heavy wooden lid. In it were various often very valuable illuminated books, some spare clothes, and numerous odds and ends, including several richly embroidered cushions. The half-dozen willow canes of various lengths and thicknesses were right at the bottom; it took her several minutes of increasingly hysterical fumbling to find them. She realized that she had to find them, otherwise it was the whipping post! Eventually with relief Rosamund pulled them out of the very bottom of the chest, replaced the numerous items, and shut the lid. She wished her father would say something; there was something very horrible about this silence.

She walked across the room to where he was standing rather awkwardly, holding the back of his chair. She silently handed over the canes. He took them, wondering which of them would have retained their suppleness after all these years. He swished each rod several times and finally chose one of the longer, thinner ones. She found herself shaking and unable to take her eyes off the swishing rods.

“Hopefully this is the last time this will have to be done, but you have behaved disgracefully, refusing the advice of your father about your marriage, and I am going to be severe. Before you are whipped, you will promise to obey me in future. Go on, down on your knees!” Uther said, feeling himself propelled by some ancient tradition of fatherhood and kingship.

There seemed nothing for it, so Rosamund reluctantly knelt on the far-from-warm floor (she could feel the cold rising from the stone under the rich Oriental carpet, one of the few the castle possessed) and very formally apologised and promised to obey her liege king in future.

“Kiss the rod,” said the king unexpectedly, holding it out.

She felt extreme reluctance to do that; it seemed the ultimate humiliation and she had never had to do it in the past. Still, there was no alternative and she took it to her trembling lips and thought how revolting it tasted.

“Now pull up your skirts and bend over the chair.”

“Not again!” she thought, but she did not say it.

At least this time there was the further arm of the chair to grip. She could feel the warmth from the fire on her bare flesh, which was almost gratifying.

“How many am I going to get, father?” she asked, gritting her teeth.

“Just four on this occasion; that should make the point. But if you argue with me once more about this, it will be the whipping post for you, and more like forty than four.”

She decided very wearily she was just going to have to accept this wretched marriage, but perhaps she could spin it out and it might never happen. Her thoughts were interrupted by a beautifully timed swish of the willow cane into the middle of her fleshy posterior. She squealed as it stung incredibly, her bottom thrust down and then up, and she realized a large weal was rising on her backside.

Uther reflected that the art of the willow cane was not force, but timing, and complimented himself on choosing it over another spanking, which would have taken far more out of him. He sauntered round to the other side of the princess’s soft white bottom, gazing at it in the firelight as he did so. The large weal was very red and angry. He sauntered back to the other side of the chair and took aim again with the twist of the wrist that he knew was what imparted the real sting. There was an even louder howl as the stroke neatly crossed its predecessor. He realized that her legs were kicking up and down and she was blubbering her eyes out. He applied the third stroke just above the first two, producing a sharp yelp followed by sobbing. Still he had promised her four and she would get them. He stood back and applied the final stroke with a very high swing. She howled very loudly and jumped up and clutched her bottom.

He gave her a minute to calm down, then told her to go and stand in the corner with her hands on her head. He quietly put the canes away, deciding she was in no state to do it. He looked at her bottom in the firelight. The weals looked very angry. He wondered if she was going to be able to sit down for some while. But quite apart from that, how was he going to get her to accept this very necessary marriage? He sat down again and pondered.

Rosamund meanwhile was feeling intensely humiliated and embarrassed. It had hurt so much and her welts were stinging. And, oh God, she was going to have to marry the duke of Carlaeon.

“Take your hands off your head, pull your skirts back down, and come and let’s talk about it,” said the king briskly; having made his point, he felt almost benevolent to his brave lively daughter and he suddenly wanted to find a compromise.

She did as she was told and staggered back towards her father. She realized that he had put a large cushion out of the chest on her chair, for which she felt extremely grateful.

“It is obvious,” said the king dryly, “that you have some problems with marrying the duke. Would you accept a period of some months in which you both make every effort to get to know one another? From the duke’s point of view we will call it an unofficial betrothal, with the promise of an official announcement perhaps in late April or thereabouts and a marriage in the late summer or early autumn. He will be told it is a definite timetable. The interval of unofficial engagement can anyway be used for the no-doubt intricate negotiations about the dowry and so forth. However, by late April if you still have large reservations, I will find some excuse to call it all off. I can always say the terms of the settlement are lacking in some way. I would be much happier not to call the marriage off of course; I think the whole safety of the realm could turn on it and indeed the success of your reign. Now is that acceptable to you?”

“Yes, thank you, father, I will do my best for the realm,” she replied, wondering at the king’s sudden change of mood; it seemed so odd to give her the hiding of her life and then be nice to her.

“You were very brave, Rosamund, very brave indeed. If you are as brave as that when you are queen, this realm of Lyonesse will be fortunate. Most girls would have had to be held. I am not sure I am not giving you the benefit of the doubt because of your bravery. But equally I am never going to be defied! Do we understand one another?”

“Yes, father,” she replied, though she was not at all sure she did understand.

“Very well, you can go now. I will speak to the duke. I will tell you what he says.”

She rather ruefully walked through the door wondering what she should say to Lady Philippa and the other ladies-in-waiting. Perhaps a hard fall while running across some cobbles while in a hurry to give the news of her marriage would explain the bruises. She was not going to admit she had been whipped, not at twenty; it was too private and too embarrassing. But she could say quite openly that the duke was a candidate for her hand and the whole thing at the moment was rather unofficial, but there was a real possibility of something later in the year. For now she decided she wanted some ointment for her bottom.

End of extract

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