The Kidnapped Bride – Jaye Peaches

The white lace of Juliet’s veil failed to obscure that his nose was crooked. She couldn’t stop staring at it, or the fried skin down one side of his face. According to her mother, he had been scalded with burning oil during a siege. Since Juliet was required to kneel before him, as all brides must during the wedding ceremony and indicate respect by lifting their eyes adoringly to the scenes of paradise painted on the temple ceiling, Juliet struggled to avoid looking up at his face. Also, her patience was wearing thin. The priest was chanting, preparing them for the declarations and vows, delivering his words painfully slowly. Behind her, the First Lady Katerina Lomarda sighed. It wasn’t the sigh of a delighted parent nor was it one of displeasure. First Lady Katerina Lomarda was bored, too. On the altar, the holy candle flickered. For a moment, Juliet thought it might expire, which would be a bad omen. In some respects, her marriage was already fated to be dire. The union wasn’t her choice. Some might say she had been coerced, others persuaded; her own brother used the term obligation. Juliet preferred forced, as in given no alternative but to marry a man she had never met and who lived hundreds of miles away.

The priest raised his voice and stuttered over her name. “Juliet, Second Lady of Lomarda, will you take Nardin, Duke of Barranto, as your husband?” She reminded herself not to fret. The ceremony was a formality. She wasn’t expected to touch the ugly man. “Yes, I will.” The red blotches cracked into a grin. “Will Nardin, Duke of Barranto, marry the Second Lady Juliet Lomarda?” “He will.” Her heartbeats quickened. Suddenly, the events of the last few days, the negotiations between her father and the representatives of the duke seemed distant and unreal. But this wedding was real, and she had no hope of escaping its consequences.

The scarred man snatched her hand up and held it out to the priest. The ring, a twisted band of gold that signified an unbreakable knot, was blessed, then the band was shoved over her white knuckle. More words were said; she barely heard them. He knelt next to her and the priest prayed over their heads. The veil remained in place, and for that she was grateful, because it meant he couldn’t see the misery in her sleepless eyes. The priest intoned the last prayer and the tiny congregation rose to its feet accompanied by a rustling of skirts and a creaking of leather boots. Everyone had risen except her; she remained on her knees as he hadn’t granted her permission to stand. What should she say to him, this uncouth nobleman who had said nothing to her until today? He stooped and grasped her trembling hand. His puckered lips kissed not the ring of obedience he had just placed on her finger, but the back of her hand. The wet smack was audible.

“Congratulations, my lady,” he said, and sneered inappropriately. “My brother is a lucky man. You may rise.” Still chuckling in his belly, he turned and walked away. Lady Katerina took Juliet’s elbow and steered her to a different door. “There, it is done. You are the Duchess of Barranto.” How could her mother smile? Juliet spoke with acidity. “I believe the contract states that I must be delivered to my husband within six months, then I will be the duchess.” The First Lady of Lomarda waved a dismissive hand.

“A formality. It won’t take six months to reach Barranto.” Juliet wished it might take a lifetime. Her father, who had stood without saying a word throughout the marriage ceremony, rested his hand on Juliet’s shoulder. “You do understand how important this is to us, to our citizens? We cannot afford to displease the duke. He has threatened us with war too many times. We need this alliance.” “I know you have performed your duty, Father. I am wed. I can only hope the duke is more pleasing to the eye than his brother, Jacop.

Why could the duke not come here, it’s most unfortunate.” Juliet was well versed in the reasons why but it still hurt that he hadn’t married her in person. The trio crossed the cobbled street. A few heads turned, eyes respectfully averted, a couple curtsied, and those that were too close to the small wedding party backed away. Her mother plucked Juliet’s sleeve. “My dear daughter, the duke is at war. He sent his brother as proxy to ensure the marriage happened swiftly. Once you are in Barranto there will be feasts and celebrations. Do not fret.” Her mother had misjudged her again.

Juliet wasn’t yearning for a sumptuous wedding banquet and the accompanying gifts; she merely wished to know whom she had married, for all she had was a small portrait and a letter from the duke extolling her virtues, and that he was a brilliant warrior with the physique of an athlete and the courage of a desert lion. He seemed very pleased with himself. “Why must I travel to Barranto by land?” she asked her father. “The situation hasn’t improved. The duke has spread the word that his bride is to make the journey by sea. This is a diversion. You will cross—” “Enemy territory—” “Neutral. The Umzard region has declared themselves neutral. So you will be quite safe.” She feared her father was lying.

Umzard was unlikely to win a battle against the duke’s army, and had backed down. However, there was little she could do to persuade her parents to postpone the journey. If she wasn’t in Barranto in six months, the duke could annul their marriage and she would be left stranded and dishonoured, and the people of Lomarda threatened by the most powerful man in the region. She was a sacrifice. No doubt the citizens of Lomarda would erect a statue to her in the city’s square and present tributes to her parents. Songs would be sung in her honour. Juliet’s veil stuck to her wet cheeks. “Jacop is staying in the city.” “What?” Juliet spun on her heel. She was surrounded by dresses, trying to choose what to take with her to Barranto when her father interrupted her packing.

He puffed out his cheeks. “He seems taken by the pleasures of our fair city and wishes to enjoy them for longer. Personally, being free of his brother’s choke chain is what truly appeals.” “Then who will escort me to Barranto?” “His captain of arms. Stefan Ilian. A lesser noble who lives on the borders of Barranto and Umzard.” She hadn’t heard of him. “When do I leave?” “Soon. Tomorrow.” “Tomorrow! But I haven’t decided on my wardrobe.

I have jewellery to pick and headdresses—” “He has specifically requested you take as little as possible.” Her father stiffened in anticipation of the screeching protest. “No! Why?” “Because of the risk of robbers. He would prefer to travel light, and in a manner that is plain and informal. No jewels other than your wedding ring. No excesses. You will have to discard this selection and start again, my dear. You will be plain Juliet and will be masquerading as his wife.” “Another proxy husband.” She huffed.

“I hope he is better looking than the last.” After her father left, Juliet sat before the fireplace, unable to move or think while her maid chose what she considered appropriate clothing for the wife of a captain. She was better suited to such decisions. “My lady, see, you can look beautiful in anything,” Oletta said. “And I will be with you. You’re allowed one lady’s maid for the journey.” The young maid wrapped her arms around Juliet and hugged her. “We’ll not be parted.” They had been together since Juliet was a small child. When not in the presence of Juliet’s parents, they acted as friends.

There would be little opportunity in the coming weeks for them to speak in private. Juliet patted Oletta’s arm. “You’re right. I mustn’t weep. I do this for the people. I will not bring war on them. I have to do my duty.” T C H A P T E R 2 he travellers gathered in the courtyard of the Lord of Lomarda’s impressive townhouse. There were a dozen men at arms mounted on horses with one covered wagon, and six servants, including Oletta and two of Jacop’s own men carrying messages for his brother. Jacop was absent.

As for their leader, Captain Stefan Ilian, he had yet to appear. Impatient for his arrival, Juliet rearranged her skirts across the side saddle and patted Meri’s black mane. She was grateful she had been allowed to take her loyal mare for the long journey. There was little else to appreciate. “What keeps the man,” she muttered. “Patience,” Oletta whispered, who was seated on the wagon with the food and baggage. Abruptly, the men on horseback straightened in unison and their sergeant saluted a man entering the courtyard. Juliet gulped. He was a giant, surely, or so it seemed from the way he strode across the flagstones with his black cape billowing in the light wind. She hadn’t expected a man so young or energetic.

She had assumed, wrongly, that her escort would be a weedy old soldier relieved to discover he was still of use. The new arrival paused by her parents and bowed low enough to indicate he was the lesser lord but not so low that it meant he wasn’t worthy of their acknowledgement. Once he was upright, he ignored their brief nods and walked straight toward Juliet. “My lady wife,” he said mockingly. “You are already mounted.” Juliet hated him already. “Here I am, as requested.” “Quite so, but not as a wife should be. Is it not the law of our lands, of Barranto, Umzard, and Lomarda, that a newlywed wife must at all times show her husband the same fealty she would give to a king or duke? Is it not required that you must be constantly meek and obedient in your manners?” “But you are not my husband and the laws of—” “For the purposes of this journey, you are my wife and this illusion is done to protect you from bandits and our enemies. If I were to arrive in Barranto without my duchess, my head would be on a spike.

And, as I suggested to your good father, you must be well practised in these acts of submission, for the duke is a keen proponent of the traditional Laws of Matrimony, something to which I note your lady mother, like many Lomarda women, has abandoned. We in Barranto are beholden to the code of the warrior lords who conquer, who bestow order and bring their women both comfort and protection. You will kindly dismount and to ensure you begin this journey in the correct frame of mind, you will make the appropriate gesture that a good wife does when greeting her husband.” Juliet grasped her reins tighter. “Father,” she called out. “This rude man insults me. Am I not a duchess?” The Lord of Lomarda approached the captain. She waited with a smirk for her father’s admonishment of the upstart soldier. “My apologies, Captain Ilian. We have not had the time to instil upon my daughter the danger she is in if she does not abide by the Laws of Matrimony.

My wife, in private, is naturally very obedient, but has become accustomed in public to newer ways. We border on lands where attitudes are changing. We have been unnecessarily influenced, and it is why I believe this marriage will ensure the traditions of our people, regardless of their fealties, are not forgotten. Dismount, daughter, and act accordingly.” She couldn’t, not after all that she had done for her family. It wasn’t as if she had sworn oaths like men do when called to battle. She had married against her wishes, and surely, that was sufficient proof of her obedience. This strange man with the copper skin of the south, coal hair, and ebony eyes was not worthy of her obeisance. “I shall not in the privacy of this courtyard. Maybe when we are in the company of strangers I shall do my best to act the role, but not here in front of my household.

” The captain reached up to her waist with two gloved hands and plucked her from the saddle as if she weighed nothing. He deposited her before him and folded his arms across the expanse of his armoured chest. The metal plating was polished so intensely, she could see the flush of her cheeks in her reflection. “Kneel,” he said coolly. She flinched. The voice wasn’t harsh or aggressive. She heard the tincture of sternness, the expectancy of obedience that came with his office. “I am not a soldier,” she said, and turned to look at her father, but he had backed away, his head lowered. “Father?” Lord Lomarda shook his head and said nothing. “Mother?” She reached with her voice to where the white-faced Lady Katerina stood.

“Kneel, daughter,” came the docile reply. “It is how things must be from now on. You are a Barranto now.” Her parents retreated to the far side of the courtyard, out of earshot, and so nearly out of sight, too. “And if I don’t?” She glared up to the square-jawed man. His eyes sparkled for a moment. “I will punish you. As it is written in our law.” Her lips trembled. “But… but nobody has done such a thing to me.

” “So I can tell.” The corners of his mouth curled upward. “Fear not, my duchess,” he said, lowering his voice, “These men are accustomed to rude manners, and will not consider it amiss if I strip you bare and take a switch to your bottom. As for your household, would they not respect you more if you did as you are told? Are you not their representative now? They fear their city and land will be overrun by worse men than I. Men who will show no pity, like I might show you if you are a good girl.” “I don’t want your pity,” she said brazenly. Beneath the sash around her waist, her stomach twirled into knots. He treated her with contempt, and yet, she was not afraid of him, as she should be. He had a rigid code of honour instilled upon him and she had to admit his unswerving attitude was strangely beguiling. A true warrior had courage beyond measure, something she admired.

He lowered his arms. “No, you don’t want pity. I see that. You are a brave maiden to stand so tall and proud. I vouch that has served you well these last years as a child, but now you are fully a woman, and need to make sacrifices. Make your obeisance. Now.” She sank to her knees, pinned down by his hard stare, and lowered her chin. Pain seared through her breast, as if she had been struck with a punch. The tension in the air was palpable.

If she had married out of choice, she would be doing this act with devotion and acceptance. It was not how she felt. Her dignity was gone, and nothing would ever be the same again. “You know that is not the complete act of submission.” He spoke quietly, so that only she heard the tone of his voice. “Is it not so that as my wife my cock is yours to worship?” She gasped. The crudeness of his language beyond anything she had ever heard. “Please, this is not the place—” “The law states that a wife must serve and worship her husband’s desires daily except in times of ill health or nursing. This is indicated by the appropriate kiss. In public, this may be made discreetly; in private, well, we are not truly married, so you need not worry about touching my flesh.

However, daily my men and those we encounter will expect a new bride to greet her husband so, until he is satisfied she is truly his wife. I am not satisfied, Juliet. Make the correct devotion or I shall cut a switch from the tree over there.” He meant it, she was sure, for he spoke with a calm authority for one closer to her age than her father’s. When she had turned from girl to woman, as decreed by those in authority, she had read the Laws of Matrimony, and therefore she was no innocent. The book, often given as a gift on the day of coming of age, was supposedly the only book she need ever read. The pictures clearly illustrated all kinds of devotional acts, described in a delicate language suitable for a lady. She imagined the book for husbands was blunt in its directions. There was nothing she could do for now to avoid this embarrassment. When they were on the road and away from the critical eyes of her parents, she would tell the arrogant captain that she was having none of his public displays of wifeliness.

Beneath the leather of his breeches, hidden away, was his manhood, and against the cloth, she was expected to press her lips sufficiently for him to feel the pressure of her devotional kiss. If her mother performed this symbolic act, she had only ever done it in the privacy of their bedchamber. Juliet was suffering the humiliation of doing so before those who had only ever known her to be a lady of rank and deportment. “It won’t bite,” he said softly. “You might think me severe, young lady, but this is nothing to what your real husband will expect from you. The duke will gift you pretty dresses and puppy dogs for your entertainment, but daily, you will be his, and mark my words, he is not a soft-hearted man.” The warning was delivered without malice, but soberly, and it galvanised her into making some kind of response. How far she was prepared to go with it, she wasn’t sure. Maybe she might slip to one side and kiss his thigh. Would anyone notice from where they stood that she hadn’t performed the complete act? But would he force his hand upon her and insist on the correct homage? It was as she leaned toward him that he touched the top of his head and ceased her movement with a steady hand.

Her pulse quickened. Was he about to force her to comply with a roughness that would humiliate her further? He spoke with the same calm tone. “I’d prefer you didn’t smudge the rouge on your precious lips. A willingness is sufficient for now. I will save you any further discomfort, and that of your household too, since they are not familiar with the duke’s expectations being so publicly displayed.” She spluttered an exhale, a muted cry of both anger and relief. Regardless of the intervention and the reprieve it had brought her, she still felt thoroughly degraded by being on her knees before a stranger. If he considered the intervention a suitable compromise, it arrived too late; he had taken advantage of the situation and offered her no apology for what he either considered a lesson in deportment or a test of her obedience. Probably both. She began to rise and he held out a hand to help her.

She ignored it. “There,” she said through gritted teeth. “You’ve made your point. You’re in charge, and I’m to do as I’m told. This nonsense of husband and wife will not apply when we speak in private. I am your mistress.” “Indeed, you are. But I shall enjoy pretending to be your husband.” He left her to mount to her horse with the aid of one of the household servants. Her mother waved goodbye from the gatehouse.

If she was sad to see her only daughter go, the tears weren’t showing on her face, but hidden away from sight. Juliet, still flushed from the shameful encounter with the captain, couldn’t look at her. For though her mother had been kindly to her as a child, she hadn’t prepared her sufficiently for this new life as a wife. Whether Lady Lomarda had done so to protect Juliet, or because she felt it wasn’t her duty to speak of such things, Juliet hadn’t been given the opportunity to ask. She wished she was marrying a lord from another country, one where the old practices had been abolished. Fate was not on her side; the further south they travelled, the more likely she would have to submit to more unsavoury traditions.

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