By Your Leave

By Eleine Kruez

Prologue

LyonCross, 1815

            "Do you think Mama would greet us brandishing the sword Papa kept when we arrive?" Victoria Elise Jacinth St. Clair asked, looking up from the novel she was reading and turned to the young woman across her. Her wide eyes were twinkling with mirth.

            The young maid smiled. "Perhaps, milady. Her Grace was wanting to keep you within the estate walls." Her expression was an interesting mix of mild amusement, honesty and a little bit of concern. At twenty and five, the maid had long gotten used to traveling with the young lady. It never failed to amaze her that someone who looked not a day beyond sixteen held so much power in her hands.

            The young woman she served was to be the next Duchess of Stanthrope. The title and the lands that came with it was granted to their family centuries ago for service to the Crown with Letters Patent and entails allowing the ladies, if there were no legitimate male heir, to inherit.

            Her dark ebony hair was kept in a simple and practical chignon while her unusual wide blue-gray eyes held so much wisdom that had she not been given her current position in society, she would have been shunned. Her full lips and smooth creamy white hands did nothing but offer comfort to those who had not been as fortunate as her, thus the extended excursion that weekend.

            They left the country estate to visit the neighboring village to feed the children and teach them the basics of education. But as they were leaving, a man called out to the Lady; his wife was down with fever and there was no doctor in the village, for he left when the first signs of poverty presented itself. Though already fatigued herself Victoria had smiled at the man and had asked him to show her where his wife was. They stayed with them until the woman felt well enough to sit up and eat the soup she had made.

            The young noblewoman across her leaned back on her seat. Closing her eyes, Vicky wondered as she often did why her mother woke her up in the middle of the night years ago to pack her clothes and leave the ducal countryseat, which had been her home since birth, and flee to a remote village in the North. She could still remember the hushed words her mother had spoken to her.

            "Wake up, my child," the Duchess of Stanthrope had hissed in her ear while she shook her gently. "Constance finished packing your valise. Hurry, Vicky, we shall make haste lest the guards be alerted of our taking leave."

            Vicky's eyes snapped opened. "Mama? It's late, what are you doing here?"

            Alicia shook her head and forced her daughter to sit up on the bed and hurried to the chair where the maid had set the gown. She gave it to her and looked at her in the eyes, confused blue-gray meeting with pleading blue. "We have to leave Montclair. We have to escape tonight."

            "But—"

            "Please," the older woman implored, crossing the distance between the bed and the windows in a few seconds. She pushed the apple green draperies aside and peeked. "I already arranged some of our most trusted servants to come with us. Vicky, we have to hurry or they might see us."

            "Who, Mama? Who will see us?" she asked, frowning as she started for the dressing room but her mother shook her head. "Hurry!"

            Vicky stared at her. This was only the second time she saw her mother in this state of distress. The first time had been three months ago when the ship both her father and older brother were in caught fire at sea.

            "Mama, you have to calm down," she said, her voice softening to soothe her as she wrapped her arms around the duchess. She closed her eyes and held back the tears stinging her eyes with the memory of her lost family members. They had always been so close that she knew it was hurting her mother more than it was hurting her. Alicia had been in love with the Duke and her son, who was to inherit his place in the House of the Lords, was her favorite child.

            "Victoria," Alicia said in a firm voice, "you will change out of the gown this second and put on the one Constance prepared for you. We are leaving this estate in not less that ten minutes, do you hear me?"

            "But, Mama! It is in the middle of the night!"

            "I will not let them take you as well, I will protect you."

            The conviction in her mother's voice had persuaded her to do as she was told. Perhaps it was also the intuition she felt inside that her mother was indeed protecting her from an unknown enemy they never talked about after that night. She had taken most of her valued possessions with her that night they left their home and hid themselves in the safety of the North.

            "It has almost been three years, is it not, Constance, when we left Montclair?" she said as she straightened the folds of her skirt and smiled at the maid who has been loyally serving her all these years.

            Vicky had grown used to the absence of the Society she grew up on that she was thinking that her mother's decision to remove her and her daughter from the London Society had been right. She was no longer subjected to silent ridicule for being a lady with all her wits rather than a "proper Lady" who knew nothing else outside the topic of the latest fashions and the juiciest gossip. She was a woman of action and she detested merely watching while life unfolded right before her eyes. And being part of the ton limited her from doing any of the things she would have liked to do. The people at the village saw her as a person who cared deeply for their welfare rather than a mere doll who wore beautiful gowns but cared naught for them. She never felt any freer than she did that moment.

            "I believe the flowers shall be in full bloom at this time of the year," Constance remarked, smiling at her lady. September was drawing closer and she knew how much the next duchess loved watching the landscape roll past the carriage window. The sun was starting to set and she immediately drew the curtains aside to let the young woman look.

            "We ought to plant more flowering trees," Vicky replied as she peered outside. Only to freeze in horror at the sight that greeted her. The sky was red-orange but at the distance, there was black smoke coming from the direction of the country estate. "FIRE!"

            She noticed the sudden change of pace in the Thoroughbreds pulling the carriage and frowned. What was happening? Did the coachman not know their lady was trying to rest until they arrived? "Where, milady?"

            "At LyonCross!"

Tbc

NOTES: Well, that's the first part. I'm not really that familiar with the Regency Era but I'm struggling to research and all, so give me a chance, okay? ^_^ I've yet to completely familiarize myself to the customs and whatnots of the early 1800's in London so…::shrug:: Please tell me what you think. That would really help.