I was a fool, a simpleton, who made a craven mistake!" The sandy haired boy struggled to get words out of his quivering mouth. His childhood friend was not sympathetic to his cause and she shook her head in disgust.
"What did you think would happen when the tavern wench enters your room in the middle of the night bearing wine and cheese," Edith would have been very amused if her own plotted future hadn't been decimated, "Alas, a fool you are indeed to further a meaningless tryst by marrying the common born woman. You are no better than our manor's jester."
"She insisted she was with child. What was I meant to do? I could not shame my family thus with bastard children," Unfortunately the young lord Sidmouth was an honourable man through and through.
"One night of pleasure does not always make a child and no midwife in the entire kingdom could predict a baby this early. You were deceived, my friend."
"It was not just I that suffered through deception. I have been a terrible friend to you, indeed," Sebastian looked down at his fiancé with saddened eyes, "Would you have continued our betrothal if I came back an impure man with just a silly rumour of a tryst?"
And her mind was unwittingly led to ponder on this particular scenario.
"No, I would not. " Edith knew her pride was not something she could have coaxed, not even for her childhood friend, not even for all the peace in the world. And peace it was that would now be disturbed by the upheaval of her fiancé's marriage and their parents' plans, "But such futile thought is all for naught. We must decide what to do next."
"I made my thorny bed and in it I must lie," Sebastian sighed as if the weight of the world was upon him.
As close as friends they were their betrothal was not a mutual decision between two young star crossed lovers but a treaty between their warring fathers. Both Lords had been at arms since the beginning of time and the King under whom both Lord's pledged their allegiance had been fed up by the unnecessary acrimony.
All children of the Lords of the realm had to be presented in the King's court as per an old tradition used to reduce thoughts of treason among the nobility to a minimum. The children were provided the best of teachers so they could leave the court as well bred Lords and Ladies. When the Queen had found the young lord Sidmouth and young lady Lambert playing in the mud together a plan had hatched in her mind which she had quickly whispered in her King's ear.
The fathers of the young children had grudgingly agreed to their King's command and had over the years grown accustomed to the idea. Now the idiot Sebastian Sidmouth had brought a whore for a wife and all the good of the past decade would soon been slaughtered by war cry.
Edith grabbed her friend's hand to transfer them someplace safe. Even the thick walls of the corridor had ears and their conversation was not one that needed to be repeated. As she was looking backwards to coax her downtrodden friend to move faster she bumped into something quite solid. Her nose ached at the impact and stepped backwards in panic.
"Ah, the young lovers," The familiar smarmy tone made the small hairs on the back of her neck stand.
"Lord Steele," Edith curtsied to the acerbic man. The original Lord Steele, her father's advisor, had been a genial, elderly man, a favourite of hers but the son who had only been appointed three years ago, after the passing away of the old man, was not someone she could count as friendly company.
As soon as the man had arrived he had thrown barbs her way finding fault in everything Edith did. Usually she found ways to retaliate but today the panic that he had heard the most private conversation stunted her conversational ability.
"W-we were just leaving," Edith stuttered as she thought of an acceptable lie and the man's eyes narrowed at her uncharacteristic hesitation.
"I see," He drawled, "Lord Sebastian looks drawn for a man meeting his fiancé after a long journey."
"He's delighted," Edith stepped on her friend's foot and Jeremiah Steele raised an eyebrow.
"She was the best thing that happened to me," Sebastian muttered still in a stupor.
"Was?" Lord Steele missed nothing in the strange exchange. Lord Sidmouth's son was like a veritable excitable puppy even on the gloomiest days but now he looked wane and lost.
"I am the best thing that happened to everyone in our lands; didn't you get the pigeon carried message?" Edith smiled like she was demon possessed and pressed forward, forcing Steele to back out of the archway, "I am amazing!"
The last bit had been punctuated by a hysterical cackle and Steele knew he had to investigate further. He would start by interrogating the newly arrived Lord Sebastian's guardsmen.
Three hours later there had still been no progress in her private sitting room.
"I apologize for all the pain I heaped upon you. You have been so kind to me during this ordeal in a way most women would have been not," Sebastian had uttered as soon as she threw him into the room and slammed the door shut.
He was right in his own way. Most women jilted by their fiancé's would have been bitter and vengeful. The truth of the matter was she did not love him. He was a good friend to her but nothing more. She was disappointed, though to see the future she had planned in her head swept away. She had been so lucky not to be sold off to some wizened, ugly lord who never left his castle like some of her childhood friends had. Sebastian had been a known quantity and he was as good-looking as he was noble. It had been no stretch of her imagination to see herself falling in love with him in the future.
There was knock on the door disturbing another plan she was plotting in her head but it involved dragons and their lack of existence was not going to help.
The maid entered the room hesitantly and she froze at her Lady's glacial scowl.
"I told you we must not be disturbed," Edith was incensed at the arrival though in the maid's eyes it must have looked like they were doing absolutely nothing of import. Edith was only at her fifth cup of tea while Sebastian was listlessly moping on the settee with a book covering his face.
"I apologize but your Lord Father has summoned you in the Great Hall."
"We're doomed," Edith gathered her skirts and stood, panic viciously gripping her heart.
"Why must you say so? You did nothing wrong. It is only my rear that will be rightfully flayed. I shall make sure of that," Sebastian vowed chivalrously. He held out his arm at her and she took it firmly.
As they entered the Great Hall the grim expressions surrounding her proved her correct. They knew. Even the jester was lurking in the background clearly unneeded and in one corner stood the entire group of servants and guards that had accompanied young Lord Sebastian. Lord Steele stood smugly in front of them and Edith wished she could bare her teeth at the hateful man.
"What is this treason I hear?" The Lord sitting on the stone carved throne demanded without any thought for formality or need for insinuations, "Is it true that a whore has taken the place you promised my daughter."
"I wish it were false but all the reports you hear are the truth. I have indeed taken a tavern girl for a wife," Sebastian got down on his knees not even defending himself.
"I shall have your head for your two faced ways. You broke your solemn vow. Does your father know of your deceit?" Lord Lambert roared.
"No, my father does not know. He will probably have my head when he hears."
"It does not matter if he knows not. You are Sidmouth blood and you betrayed the Lambert trust. Such treachery shall not be borne. I demand War horns be heard all over my lands as soon as the sun rises for morn," Lord Lambert announced just as Edith had feared. This slight to his daughter had been too grave to be ignored for her father's pride.
"Father, please, it is my fault. If he must be punished than I must too," Edith got down on her knees with her childhood friend letting the coolness of the stone floor seep through her dress.
"Sweet child how could you be responsible for any of this?" Her father's tone softened at the sight of her.
"But I am," Edith said, "The last time we parted I made the most unfortunate mistake a young noble woman could make. I revealed to my then future husband that I did not love him. Tell me which man in this court jilted in this fashion could stomach such a truth? Which man would not get drunk on his sorrows and make such a mistake?"
"Even so, how many marriages are carved out of love? No man no matter how delusional will expect to find a wife fully his, heart and soul."
"Not if your fiancé has a specific someone she admired and wished to call her own," Edith spoke the falsehood with as much true emotion as she could muster.
"Why did you not tell me sooner? Who is it? Is he a noble man of this court?" The paternal worry broke through the tough exterior her father projected in court.
Edith's eyes were blurry with unshed tears she knew not when they had appeared. She blinked and her vision cleared landing her eyes on one man who was unwed, unpromised to another and yet least likely to ask for her hand. She decided if her fate was to be ruined then it must be at her own hands.
"Lord Steele, father," Edith spoke clearly keeping her head bent.