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Welcome to the kingdom of Lo’rel. Sitting on an ocean bank the prosperities city is known for its vibrant culture, military prowess, and its tight knit political drama’s! Tonight, we invite you to enjoy the story of one of it’s biggest political scandals that ever happen in the history the city; let us introduce the players shall we?
Slavery, freedom, war, carnage, to the young general of the Lo’rel army, his life has constantly been of suffering and blood shed. Taken from his homeland and sold to a group of people who had different skin tone than him, he was freed only when a conquering kingdom took over those who’d had enslaved him. But even than his life would not change for the better. Impressed into the army and forced to serve he saw war and blood. Given into fate the male decided to take all of his wage out upon the battlefield and prove himself.. Until eventually, through sheer luck, he’d found himself getting promotion after promotion.
Now, ten years later and into his late thirties the male finds himself becoming reward for his life long battle against his liberators enemies. With his noble status comes dignity, respect, and finally luxury. Gifted his own villa and slaves to do his bidding, the man is expected to assimilate into the climate which he’d been force to live in all of his life. The only dark skinned man with his position, the irony of being given the highest honor and still not viewed as lesser is not loss on him. Even the lowest soldier is held in higher regard because they will forever be white and he… a dark skinned.
Luxury, spoiled, and given everything she’d ever done, the daughter of the noble woman was born into a life of the richest. Despite the fact that her life was seemingly perfect on the outside, it was anything but peaceful on the inside. From the moment she first bleed and showed signs of a woman, offers came in from all around the kingdom of Lo’rel to wed her for her status, and privilege which came from it. Ashamed and tired of always being looked at as nothing more but a tool to climb the social ladders, she resigns her fate to forever being nothing more but a woman who’ll never have free will until..
She hadn’t meant to meet his eyes yet she did. Her eyes fell upon the imposing figure of the black man whom was promoted to that of head general of the Lo’rel army. Given a medal by the king himself, her eyes couldn’t help but see the hatred in his eyes or the longing of freedom he’d desire to break away from all which he’d been given. Curiosity plagues her mind as she slowly moves from the sight of her father and decides to try and ascertain if the male is the same as her. Longing to escape from his fate.
With the main stage set! It is time that we draw the curtains back and visit the first night where our drama begins!
- First things first, this is not a romance but a drama. Even though romance will play a slight part in it, this roleplay will mainly focus on racism, political issues, and how different people live by different morales as such this is a mature roleplay and so I ask that those who join by at least 18 and up.
- This role-play will be written from the first person perspective. I want to see inside the minds of the characters and see the way that they view the world, if writing in first person is a problem than this role-play might not be for you.
- Communication is key! Don’t feel afraid to shoot me a message and ask me what’s up. If you’re interested in anything that please let me know I love hashing out plot
- I expect this to be a slow burning role-play. Meaning, I don’t mind if post takes days or weeks. Just don’t like i said in rule number 4, don’t keep me hanging and let me know what your schedule is like.
- Even though this role-play does center around racism, I’d prefer no use of actually real life racial slurs. Fictional slurs are fine with me so is cursing. But due to roleplay cloud’s policy against racism. Any use of real life slurs will not be tolerate.
- Have fun!
I still remember it.
Despite the fact that in this moment I stand here, in front of a sea of white faces as their prized hero and savior, I still remember it. The heavy chain around my neck and the shackles which weigh down my wrist. The shiver cold which made me shiver as white hands traced the outline of my body and spread open my lips checking my teeth and tongue. As well as the red-hot lash of the whip upon my back and the burning of the rope as I tried so desperately to free myself from the sadism of an overseer. No matter how hard I pulled at the ropes the whipping post would not budge. The deafening sound of the crack of the whip made my head jerk back as I looked skyward cursing my fate as a lowly slave. Each lash etching into me the fact that I had lost my family, my nation, my name… all to the sea of white faces.
It had been nearly fifteen years when I was just fifteen years of age when the military of Lo’rel had invaded the kingdom of Novus. The very first thing the army had thought to do was destory the food supply to the army of their most hated enemy. I remember that day with a fondness for our masters who had pleaded with us to take up arms and defend them. As though we should be thankful for the many abuses they’ve put us through since they’d kept us alive to tend to the food they had us labor over. My stomach was barely full when I worked upon the planation and harvested food. Oftentimes I bore the lashings of the whip as punishment for stealing just a small speckle of grain I’d pick off the ground to feed myself. From the time I was ten years old till the time I was fifteen I do not remember a night I went to bed without my stomach growling and my hatred for these white faces. So when the chance came to liberate myself from the bondage of slavery I decide to take it and join the forces of Lo’rel.
I’ll never forget the look of surprise on the faces of those commanding officers who saw a slave that could speak their language. And elder general who’d also been enslaved with us was from the kingdom of Lo’rel. He had often filled my head with promises of freedom and that Lo’rel was a just kingdom that hated slavery and would see us free. So he’d offered to teach me their language so that when the opportunity came I would be able to use their skills. He’d died before he ever had a chance to make it.
When it was discovered that he spoke the language of Lo’rel the overseers on the plantation decided that he needed to be made an example for the rest of us dark skinned demons. It wasn’t enough that they’d whipped him viciously with every implement they could find use on the man in front of us. They started off with tree branches, then they brought out the cowhide, and the final whip was one which had stone and bone woven into the end so that it’d cut each and every time.. No, they then decided to make a cross and nail him to it. They all watch as they crucified this man just for speaking another language and then had the gaul to turn around and say that we were the animals.. That we were the demons. I’ll never forget the words of one overseer as he dragged me away to be flogged.
“You dark skinned hal’fiz we’re all created in the flames of hell. That’s why your skin is dark, it contains the evil of the devil in it. I can see it in your eyes, the evilness. So I’m going to whip the evil out of you.”
My eyes must have been overflowing with evil because every single week I found myself being hauled off to the whipping post to receive a dozen or two dozen lashes for the way my eyes look. And a ten days before Lo’rel had invade, the weekly floggings had become a daily occurrence. I couldn’t run or hide from the cowhide. It found me whether I was working in the field, enjoying a day off, or even in the middle of a dream I would find myself being kicked out of bed and jerked away to hands ripping my shirt off and dragging me out of the door of my cabin.
Two men would grab my wrist and stretch my arms out as I fought against them. Another would flick the whip and the sound of the whooshing of the cowhide would let me know that fire would begin to course through my body. The first lash would fall upon my back followed by the cries over the overseer. “I told you, you dark skinned bastard! We will whip the hellfire out of you!” Follow by another blow from the flogging. My body would jerk but I would not be release. Those hands would hold my wrist firm as the whip fell upon me with each lash cutting deeper into my flesh.
When I had been given my liberation I made sure to kill my oppressors as soon as I had the chance. In memory of the man who taught me the tongue of Lo’rel and for all the times I was told I was a demon born of hellfire that needed to be cleanse by the lashings of the whip.
Noble, strong, and amused the man who would be my liberator laughed when I told him of the reason I was flogged. He hadn’t expected me to survive my first battle, afterall there was nothing he could arm me with but a spear. The first weapon which these hands held. Taking hold of it, I praticed thrusting it in the air and was given meat and rice and told to sleep for tomorrow would be the beginning of the rest of my life. I had proven him wrong. I had proven to them all that I would not die so easily and when he’d seen my anger unleashed upon the battlefield my rage which was unbridle and uncheck he told me I see why they flogged you so relentlessly. You truly are a beast from the deepest bowels of hell. But we will use that to our advantage.
My anger was my refuge. In the midst of the carnage on the battlefield all I had to worry about was killing my enemies and making them feel the pain and rage I’ve felt throughout the ages. I was a beast with no name. Given tatter rags to wear and shoes that fit, no complaint left my lips and for months I was an infantry man. I was among the first to head into the battle, the last to get rations, and the one assigned to the grunt work. Burying the dead, tending to the wounded, shoveling human waste. When the war became more dire, I was no longer trusted with a weapon and my duties shifted from once more being a slave to the man who had once given me that spear. He’d promise me, promised that once this war was over he’d make me a good and proper soldier. And I thought that this was another lie to keep me docile. Little did I know that this was far from the truth and after the war was won I was brought to the military academy.
“And who is this? A cook?” the instructor had asked me.
In my time of service during the Lo’rel Novus war, I’d done plenty of cooking. I’d washed the bandages of the shoulders.. I was reduce to a lowly care take of men and often times these men were no better than the slavers who’d work me to the footsteps of death cultivating their food. I’d lost count of how often I’ve been slap around, spat on, been given the boot, and called a “Ogu.” little did I know that that word was the Lo’rel word for “beast” or “dog.” eventually that turned into “Nor Ogu.” meaning black beast.
I had forgotten my name, my worth, my pride. So for a moment I believed that “Nor Ogu” was my name. But eventually, I was corrected and told to stand tall and that from that moment on I would be known as Othello. I would be acknowledge as one of Lo’rel’s children. I would be given a home, I would be given a purpose and that would be as a soldier.
Life as a solider was hard, especially since I was illiterate. When those who were my teachers took notice of why I couldn’t read and heard my backstory they refused to believe such horrors were visited upon me. However, once my shirt was stripped and my back revealed no one dared to question my past and where I was from again. Instead they all resolved to teach me how to read. For the first year and a half that was my only purpose there. They refused to teach me anything about how to be a soldier until I could read. Read letters, maps, the stars in the heavens, the a compass, everything a man could be taught to read was taught to me. With it my intelligence grew, my wisdom grew, and eventually I found myself able to teach those who had once taught me. When they saw that I wasn’t stupid, I just needed to be taught, they believed my potential was endless and decided that to be a soldier would be a waste. Instead I was put on tract to graduated as a captain and was given my first squad of soldiers to prove myself to serve under a lieutenant. And from there I found myself growing. I was relentless in my battles against the kingdom of Lor’el I felt as though I could truly be a son to a nation. How foolish and stupid I was.
Four years ago, when I was up for promotion to colonel I found myself being dragged out of my by those who’d thought that this was a disgrace. A rope was tied around my neck and I was dragged through the streets, my fine clothes ripped and torn as spit and shit and other vile human excrement were poured on me. Taken to one of the water rings which connects us to the lower half of the city, I found my head pushed into the water. My attacks tried to drown me all because I was nothing more bore a black dog that had tried to soar above my fellow white brethren. I bore them no hatred. I understood what it was like to inferior to a superior being and I understood they hatred and desire to kill. However, when word got out of this attack it was decided that I would be moved to the upper parts of the city and given my own house and servants. I was told I’d been too valuable in disposing of Lo’rel’s enemy to be treated in such manners. And they were right.
When the final war broke out against our nation they had called upon me. I was put in charge of twenty-five thousand men and told to achieve victory. Within a span of four months I had done so with a casualty of only twelve hundred. When we arrived back into the city on horseback I was declared a hero and given quite the welcome. It hadn’t been my intention in the slightest, but my victory over the enemy had won the attention of the king himself and he’d had ordered me to attend him.
I had no clothing fit to entertain a king, I protested. I was too brash, too bitter, too unrefined to stand before such lavished company. But my protest fell on deaf ears. He sent for a tailor to make a custom suite for me and before I knew it I found myself in the company of royals and standing before the King of Lo’rel his eyes looking me up and down and smiling
That night I dined at the king’s table feasting on steam lobster, beautiful crab meat, and flavorful fish. Beautiful velvet wine went down smoothly and as I tried to act as noble as I could the king shooed the notion away and told me to act like myself. That he’d never seen a black man such as me, show such signs of intelligence. He’d ask about my past and how I’d come to learn their tongue and join the military.
When I told them of my mentor and fellow slave who had hope to see Lo’rel liberate us from Novus and of his fate the king jumped from his table and nearly fell into a rage. Such barbarism was something he’d never heard of happening. Especially to a fellow citizen of Lo’rel. That’s when he declared that skin color did not matter in the eyes of the king and that every man should be judge by what he’s done in service to this nation.Turning upon me he held out his hands and told me that he would make an example of this belief and that I would be proof that Lo’rel was different from the barbaric nation of Novus. Because Lo’rel would never engage in such acts of racism.
How naive and foolish the King was.
Adjusting the maroon blue collar around my neck my fingers softly traced the silkiness of it. It seemed a lifetime ago that another collar made of iron hung around my neck suffocating me. Now fate had found fit that the collar I now worn around my neck was made of fine fabric and given a golden silk woven into it. My eyes took in the sight of the nobles which raised a glass and toasted me for the accomplishments which I’d done and the life I’ve made for myself. Half a decade of slavery, followed by a year of being forced to serve underneath the banner of a foreign nation that had been at war with the one which enslaved me. Only for that to start me down the path of which would lead to me being elevated among my station. It was something which seemed all to be real to be true.
The sound of bows upon strings and the sight of people waltzing lift the fog of the past from my eyes. As a glass of wine is thrusted into my hand and a heavy hand clasps upon my shoulders I look up to see emerald eyes staring into mine. Red locks give way to it being my dearest friend who had been with me every step of the way and had proven to me that hard work and determination does have some merit in this world where all to easy life can go to shit.
“Othello!” He spoke as throwing an around my shoulder. Stumbling forward, I quickly did my best to catch ourselves as I look into his eyes and laughed. “All of the noble houses of our kingdom and the acquaintances of the King have come out to celebrate you and still you look so glum. Drink up! Why must you appear so crestfallen?”
His voice came out and I rolled my eyes. “They did not come in support of me; they came only to stroke their own egos.” I spoke as I took notice of the eyes which darted away from mine as I tried to look into them.
“Blah! They are just use to seeing black men as servants instead of lords just as them! Find yourself a foreign wife who matches your complexion and see them soften. A fearsome man is made less fierce when attached to his arms is a charming woman! And I’ve hear whispers of plenty of maidens who dream of being mounted by a black mare such as yourself!”
It was the wine which showed him drunk and made his speech come out in such a manner. Stumbling, he tried to offer his apologies and I shook it off laughing. A man such as him would never understand the myriad of reasons as to why such a thing was offensive to a man like me. However, what was I to do about it? Make a scene and prove those who’d think me animalistic and savage right? My curse of being a black man was that I hadn’t the luxury of losing my temper or retaliation. Oftentimes my only course was to be level headed and take the insult or find myself losing my life.
Placing a heavy hand upon my friend's head I shook him as I brought him closer to me and leaned into his face. “One can not fault a fool for having a foolish tongue.” At this jest he laughed and it is as though the insult was never passed between us. Being my guide among the noble houses he slowly walked me through the noble family by which he’d known. Andrew had grown up a son of a noble name. It was only by a whim that he decided to join the military of this nation. He was my junior by about three years but despite that he acted as though he were younger still. As we made our way throughout the party his finger stopped and as he pointed towards a young woman which was breath taken
Locks of dark brunette and eyes the size of does. Her skin was flushed and yet smooth and pleasing to the eye. I didn't mean to stare into hers, or find myself interested in her beauty. However, I couldn’t deny that she was an extraordinary thing to look at. Nudging Andrew leaned forward and whispered. “Ah, I’d steer clear of her. Ever since she came of age many men have tried to offer her hand only to be rejected. She is the daughter of one of the richest nobles in our kingdom. Her heritage and lineage stretches far back so anyone who can wed her would find themselves elevated above all overs!”
Elevated above all others? I had no intentions of soaring any higher than I’d already had. Afterall it was that desire to soar like the sun which led to icarus falling to his own doom. His father mourned and grieved for his loss and I was envious of that. Deep within my heart of hearts I knew that none would grieve me if I were lost to the darkness of the grave and forever closed my eyes. It was then that I felt a sudden jab in my gut only to find Andrew asking if I were lost in a morbid though again. Shaking my head, I shook him off as I began to move through the party.
Despite the fact that I could sense the animosity and hear the voices and whispers of the people that thought this was nothing more but a spectacle, there were also those who thanked me personally. Wives of soldiers who’d had their husbands returned safe to their arms. Fathers of sons that still drew breathe because of my command and wisdom in strategy and battle. They hands found mine as I shook them and leaned forward to tell them that I’d gladly do it again. All life to me was precious and soldier could never be replaced. I believed this to be firm truth and I always did my best to preserve and save lives instead of stupidly and needlessly send them to their deaths. That was why some found me beloved and nicknamed me the “beloved general.” I preferred that over the racial slurs which I was once called a life time ago
As the sound which had been playing in the background came to an end, we all clapped. Tonight had been a lovely affair but I couldn’t help but feel stifled. These ballrooms often had balconies which one could go out on and get some fresh air and that was my intention. Walking past the throng of people, I weaved in and out. Shaking hands, clinking glass, exchanging pleasantries till at last I found myself outside overlooking the city before. It was beautiful and exquisite. A breeze from the ocean caressed my skin as I look downwards and saw the ships being pulled in and out as people used it to travel to the lower rings of the city.
The city had several levels, each one surrounded by waters. With the castle residing at the top level where walls surrounded it to protect the elite and noble. Here the wealthy were able to party and live life without a care. Something which I still was having trouble growing accustom to. I rarely slept for the flashback and nightmares that came with it sometimes jostled me awake. There were times when I reached for the blade I kept at my bedside and stabbed at imagry hands, or screamed in fear of being dragged from my bed in the middle of the night and whipped unjustly just as my overseers had done during my time of slavery.
Or I remember the humiliation of being force to stand before a crowd of onlookers in nothing but chains as hands examined my body and treated me as nothing more but a lowly animal. Slavery left scars which nothing could erase. Not wine, not fine food, not war, and not a woman.. Speaking of a woman it’s the scent of perfume and the rustling of fabric which made me turn my head.
Here, on the balcony, was this woman who’d I’ve never met before. Yet, without doubt, it was the same one who had turned down many suitors in the past. Shifting my weight upon I felt uncomfortable in this state. The only women that were okay with me being left alone were the whores in the brothels. Oftentimes, they offered their services at a discount priced out of curiosity of laying with a black man. However, I suspect, that for me to be found alone with a daughter whom was on the open market would be a scandal. The king had already gone above and beyond for me and I refuse to be the object of his wrath.
Leaning forward I bowed to the lady and headed towards the door which led inside only to feel a tender hand upon my breast. I stiffen. I’d had this happen before, noblewomen curious about my skin and hair touch without permission. My hair was wooly, my skin dark and coarse. It was only natural for them to express curiosity but this felt different. “Woman..” I spoke
It came out as neither a command or a request. It came as something between a gruff response and a startle reaction. It was clear that the woman had drunk too much wine and was not in the right state of mind. Why else, pray tell, would she so eagerly place a hand to my chest and hold me out here in the middle of the night air. However, I smelt of wine on her breath. Her demeanor wasn't one who'd let alcohol control her. so what was it then? What made her hold me here with eyes that seemed to be filled with emotions which threaten to overflow into tears. If that were to happen and this maiden were to have been found crying than I would be royally and fucked.
So I didn't move waiting for her to dimsiss from her grasps so that I could attend the part that the king had set up for me. afterall I was his guest of honor, the beloved general. I had the duty to him and the people of Lo'rel to not cause a scandle.
The cold stone walls of Lo’rel Castle echoed with the hushed whispers of courtiers and the muted rustle of silk gowns. As I glided through the dimly lit corridors, the weight of my ornate gown tugged at my shoulders, a constant reminder of the expectations that draped around me like a heavy cloak. Lady Arelene they call me—a title draped in velvet and spun in gold, but one that offered little warmth in the frigid halls of nobility. One that came with expectation and duty as a noblewoman of the land.
The flickering candlelight cast dancing shadows on the tapestries that lined the walls, each thread telling tales of battles won and alliances forged. Yet, in the recesses of my mind, I longed for a personal tale that would not unravel on the loom of tradition. From the moment I was considered a woman rather than a child it has been as though my life no longer belonged to me, not that it ever did really. Noblewomen were simply pawns in a man’s world, there to consolidate alliances and build upon family fortune and to birth heirs for the protection of their husband’s future. It was an expectation that I was constantly reminded of by my father but even he had standards for the men who had asked for my hand in marriage over the years.
From the moment I drew breath within the towering stone walls of Lo’rel, I knew the weight of my lineage pressed upon my shoulders like the mantle of an ancient legacy. The lineage of men in the Ashdowns, as my family was known throughout the realm, had been known for being second to the King in these lands for generations, our name whispered with both reverence and trepidation. My father was not willing to allow just anyone to marry into such power and influence, but even the few I had proposed to me were rejected by myself for reasons that no one would ever understand.
My days were a delicate dance through the intricate web of courtly affairs. My father, a stern and imposing figure, groomed me to be the epitome of grace and diplomacy. Yet, amidst the polished courtiers, I yearned for more than the scripted performances of nobility. The walls of Lo’rel, though familiar, echoed with the distant allure of the world beyond—a world where my choices were not dictated by the rigid rules of inheritance; A world where I could be free.
I had always considered such thoughts selfish, especially considering many would have given anything to have been blessed with such a birthright but it came with assumptions. Many believed that I was a selfish woman for refusing to marry, that perhaps my standards were far too high, and I was refusing to fulfil my duty to my father. However, no one would ever be able to understand that choosing a suitor would be my one and only free decision that I would ever make in my life. Until this point my father had made all my decisions for me, and the moment I chose a husband, I would be bound to his will. I did not have free will of my own and I would not allow myself to give up my one chance of choosing something for myself.
As I stood on the precipice of womanhood, the weight of expectation pressed upon me like the clasp of a regal cloak. My existence unfurled with the promise of both duty and desire, weaving a tale that would etch itself into the annals of Lo’rel lore. It was too much for one person to hold upon their shoulders. Yet, another feast of the King meant that it was another opportunity for my father to weigh up potential suitors and so I was to be paraded around like the trophy I had been trained to be.
I had avoided the crowds for long enough and it was time to show my face before my father spent the rest of the evening chastising and lecturing me like he had so many times in the past. I did not need to hear how much of a disappointment I was tonight. So, I swallowed the growing anxiety and forced a smile upon my face as I made my way towards the Main Hall.
The air was alive with the melodic strains of minstrels and the clinking of goblets, a symphony of celebration that echoed through the vaulted ceilings. Tonight, the castle hosted a feast, a lavish affair that brought together nobles from far and wide and along with them, they celebrated the tales and success of a warrior the King had become fascinated with. I have too heard the tales so I was intrigued to see the man for myself.
As I descended the grand staircase, the train of my gown trailing behind me like a river of azure silk, the scent of roasted meats and spiced wines enveloped me. My fingers brushed against the cold stone railing, and I entered the hall with practiced poise, aware of every eye that turned to watch Lady Arelene make her entrance.
The feasting table groaned under the weight of succulent meats, jewel-toned fruits, and goblets brimming with the finest wines. The chatter of courtiers swirled around me like a gentle breeze, and the laughter of jesters added a whimsical note to the symposium. I did not dare eat with the tightness of the corset of my dress so instead I observed and spoke with those who greeted me until the celebration devolved into more dancing and less feasting. With people out of their seats and moving around the hall, I could camouflage myself better.
My eyes, accustomed to the glittering array of noble faces, caught on a figure that stood apart from the rest. A man, clad in attire that bespoke a certain rugged charm, speaking to a man who appeared to be his friend when observing their body language. The darkness of his skin gave away who he was as many as spoken of him on this eve and many before. His eyes, like shards of obsidian, met mine across the crowded hall.
In the dance of candlelight, his features were carved in shadow and mystery. His gaze held a glint of something untamed, a spirit unbridled by the courtly constraints that bound the nobility. Before long, his attention was elsewhere but that did not mean that I stopped watching him until he was out of sight. With him no where to be seen, I exchanged pleasantries with the assembled nobility. The revelry was infectious to many, and I wished to revel in the joyous ambiance too but there was something preventing me from doing so.
Amidst the merriment, a shadow lurked. I felt the weight of an unwelcome gaze on the nape of my neck, an unsettling awareness that tightened the muscles in my shoulders. Glancing discreetly over my shoulder, my eyes met those of Lord Bennett, a noble known for his wandering eye and less-than-honourable intentions.
As the evening progressed, Lord Bennett’s advances became more brazen. He approached with a sly grin, his eyes aflame with a predatory gleam that sent shivers down my spine. His breath reeked of wine, and the soft cadence of his voice bore a tone that brooked no dissent.
"Lady Arelene," he purred, his words slithering through the air like a serpent. "Such radiance gracing our humble feast tonight. Does your beauty rival that of the stars, I wonder?"
I forced a polite smile, my fingers tightening around the delicate stem of my goblet. The feast continued around us, oblivious to the tension that coiled in the space between Lord Bennett and me. His hand, calloused and presumptuous, brushed against mine as he reached for a platter of fruit.
His gaze lingered, and a lecherous smile played on his lips. "My lady," he continued, leaning in as if sharing a secret. "The night is young, and these walls hide many secret chambers. Would you care for a private audience?"
A chill crept down my spine as I realized the gravity of his proposition. The jesters' laughter and the minstrels' melodies faded into an indistinct hum. In that moment, I was not merely a Lady, but a woman whose dignity hung in the delicate balance between propriety and defiance.
Summoning every ounce of composure, I drew myself up, meeting his gaze with an unwavering stare. "Lord Bennett," I replied, my voice steady. “The halls of Lo’rel Castle may be vast, but my honour is not for the taking. I suggest you find another source of amusement."
With that, I turned away, the rustle of my gown echoing the quiet rebellion that simmered beneath the veneer of nobility. Tonight, the feast would continue, but within the hidden chambers of my soul, a silent resolve burned—a flame that refused to be extinguished by the darkness of unwarranted advances.
It seemed that Lord Bennett’s consumption of wine meant that he was unable to take my response as a refusal, but more an invitation for pursuit, and with a glance over my shoulder I noticed that he had begun to follow me. A panic filled my lungs as I made my way towards the balcony where I could see the figure of a man, not noticing who it was a first. With the cool air of the night sky, my lungs felt a temporary reprieve until the dark-skinned man turned towards me and swiftly began to make his way inside at the sight of my presence.
I do not know why I felt as though I needed him to stay but with Lord Bennett only steps behind me I could not allow myself to be alone with that man. I placed my hand on the chest of the stranger, a fear present within my eyes as I locked mine with his. The desperation on my face would have been obvious to anyone as the emotions I felt were beginning to become overwhelming. My corset suddenly felt tighter, and the air no longer felt cool.
His words hit me like a hand to the face and I realised that my hand still sat upon his chest. I did not have the time to feel embarrassed but as requested, I pulled my hand away from him but begged him with my eyes to stay. I looked behind me to see Lord Bennett nearing and I lowered my voice.
“Please do not leave. I do not feel safe.” I did not know why I felt like this man would help me. Perhaps he would not. He did not know me or owe me anything but I hoped that no man would have seen the fear in my eyes and decided against helping in whatever way he could.
It is her voice which arrested my attention and stopped me dead within my tracks. The slight quivering of it reminded one of a prey trembling before its predator. Oft times upon the plantation that was the same tone the light skinned and curly hair women carried when approached by an overseer. Lifting my gaze from the velvet skin and bright eyes of the woman who told me she was afraid to the gentlemen before me I stiffened. Andrew wasn’t wrong when he told of me being intimidating. I could strike fear into those when I so chose and this was one of those moments when I decided that to be intimidating was best. This noble, lord, man was foreign to me. I’ve met plenty of nobles in the past few hours for my friend Andrew. And so when the man came approaching me, his eyes looking up and down I could hear his voice softly speaking to her. It was dripping with want and desire, something which he didn’t even try to stifle.
“Excuse me, my good sir.” I spoke up. This wasn’t my place to be but far to often I remember doing nothing whilst the Masters of the field I worked in took advantage of the female slaves.
Looking to me I can see his face twist. Upon it is the man trying to find recognition and trying to place where he’d seen me. Despite the fact that the castle was washed with white faces, black ones did interrupt the sea of nobility. While Lo’rel claimed to not have slaves as the other kingdoms did, it did in fact engaged in the employment of indentured servants. A man who had been convicted of a crime might be forced to serve in someone’s employ or a captured enemy of war would be forced to do the same to prove him docile enough. I had come to learn this when a soldier of lower rank had heard that my back was hideously scarred. Curiosity got the best of me and he’d asked what crime did I commit to receive such violent treatment frequently. Looking him into the eyes I told him the simplest of truths. My singular crime was having a cruel master.
“Thank you, servant.” The man spoke as he came closer to the lady “for keeping Lady Arelene safe. Now return to your master and leave us be.”
“No.” I voiced loudly as I stepped closer to him as he tried to step closer to the lady.
The moment I came closer to the noble I could smell the scent of wine on him and see that clearly he was intoxicated. Smirking, he tried to push past me to get the girl but I would not budge. Whatever made it so that noble men felt themselves so entitled to women one could never know. But oftentimes, it is those who have elevated status and title and wealth that feel offended if a woman denies them their most based pleasure. As though all women were designed to please the most powerful and wealthiest of men. Again he tried and I refused to budge and that’s when it happen.
“Move you damn black dog!” He shouted before striking me hard in the face.
An audible gasp was heard all across the ballroom as voices turned to look at the scene which played out at the entrance of the balcony. The sting of his hand was nothing compared to the implements of torture which were used on me in the past. Before I had time to react or even defend myself the King Of Lo’rel and another man with whom I’d not even noticed came storming towards him.
“Lord Bennett! Have you any idea what you’ve done!” The king roar as the royal guards came flanking him.
“Apologies… I.. I didn’t know he was a servant of yours..” The noble man sputtered and that made the king even more furious.
“Servant! This is the very man who saved Lo’rel in the last war! The very man whom we gathered tonight to celebrate! The leading general of the entire army of Lo’rel Othello!”
Audible gasps slip through the audience as a ripple of whispers and murmurs spread throughout the room. “I will have your head!” The king sneered before I stepped in and smiled warmly.
“You Majesty.. A thousand apologies for being so bold, but you cannot fault this man. It’s clear that he’s partaken in too much wine otherwise such violence would not have happen in this hall tonight… it seems as though he was trying to woo this lady, and she, put off by his advances, called upon me for aid.”
Even more gasps and audible gasps filled the room and that was when another noble man came beside the king and looking to me called for the woman. As he turned to me he spoke. “You.. defended my daughter’s honor? I thank you.. Please, General, allow me to host you tomorrow at our place for dinner so that I can make up for the fact that that scoundrel struck you. Not all of the noble men in Lo’rel are as vile as he.”
Once again I was put in a position I would rather say no to. For I knew what this would begin; this would be the start of me being paraded around Lo’rel. No one longer would I be look to as a man who’d served this country. Instead I would be look to as an accessory, a decoration, and a symbol of one’s own piety and morality. A token to declare to the word that they were not racist. How could they be when they’ve invited a black man into their home to be celebrated. Yet… I’ve seen this noble men close to the king all night long. So I could not refuse him smiling I bowed my head and spoke.
“You honor me M'Lord. I will graciously accept your invitation.”
There was the briefest of moments where I considered that this man who was highly thought of by the King would not respond to my plea. After all, many men with honour would not wish to put themselves in harm’s way for a woman and many men avoided my presence out of fear of being wrongly accused of being indecent with a noble woman. Bennett did not care about such things though. However, I could see that the man recognised something within me that made him stay or perhaps it was the realisation of my pursuit. He did not need to say anything to me to confirm that he would not leave me alone with the Lord. The General’s eyes, pools of unwavering determination, met mine briefly before he interposed himself between the intrusive lord and me, shielding me from Lord Bennett’s reach.
It was clear that his arrival had caused the atmosphere shift. Fuelled by wine and arrogance, he approached us with the entitlement he bestowed upon himself, trying to get the man to step aside, even thanking him for keeping me safe on his behalf as though he was just going to hand me over; as though I was his property to begin with. When Lord Bennett addressed my protector as ‘slave’ I almost felt sick to my stomach. It was impossible to know whether it was the air tightening around my lungs that caused such a reaction or the fact that there were men who dared to address another in such a way.
The Great Hall that had once buzzed with the murmur of animated conversations came to a painful silence at the screams of derogatory slurs that would be able to cut deeper than the sharpest of swords if one were victim to it. While I had once enjoyed the thickness of the surrounding scent of burning torches and the rich aroma of spiced wines, I was doing everything within my power to not allow it to further the nauseating feeling coming over me.
Just as the situation reached its zenith, the man stayed strong as Lord Bennett struck him with a force that made me feel as though he had struck me. I could not muffle the gasp that escaped, like many others who had observed the altercation.
It was then that the King himself arrived at the scene, my father in toe as one would expect considering he was his right-hand man. I could see the look of confusion upon his face and then his features softened to concern when his eyes cast over my face, noticing the paleness of nauseating fear. There was a conversation that unfolded then but I was unable to focus on it. It was though the words were spoken in the far distance. This had happened to me twice before and I was no longer able to think straight or focus on what needed to be done to avoid what happened next. As Lord Bennett was dragged away by some of the King’s men and my father extended an invitation I found myself gasping for breath. My corset, cinched tightly in the expected fashion, seemed determined to squeeze the life from me. Each inhale felt like a struggle against the unyielding embrace of the laces. I tried to adjust my stance, hoping to find some relief, but the unforgiving garment resisted any attempt at comfort.
The flickering candles seemed to dance erratically, their glow dimming as if to mock my faltering strength. A flush of warmth surged through my cheeks, and I clutched the edge of the balcony for support. Everything seemed to spin around me, and a subtle murmur of concern rippled through the crowd as I struggled to draw a full breath and their focus shifted to me.
The relentless corset had become a vise, squeezing the air from my lungs.
My breaths came in shallow gasps, the corset proving an unyielding foe. I clutched at my chest, desperate for a reprieve, but the unforgiving laces held fast. A gasp swept through the assembly as I swayed, my strength waning. A woman was suddenly by my side, reacting swiftly, her eyes wide with alarm. "Milady, are you well?" she inquired, her voice a distant murmur.
"I fear not," I managed, my words strained. The world seemed to tilt as the corset tightened its grip, threatening to rob me of consciousness. With nimble fingers, the woman began the urgent task of loosening the corset laces. The crowd hushed; their collective gaze fixed on the unfolding drama. The cool rush of air against my constricted chest was a lifeline, but the battle against unconsciousness persisted.
The woman supported me as the corset relinquished its stranglehold. The symphony of the feast gradually came back into focus, the worried murmurs of the crowd fading into the background. I steadied myself, acutely aware of the embarrassment that clung to the air.
The nobility exchanged glances, torn between concern and the etiquette that governed their reactions. I, however, faced the crowd with a semblance of composure, gratitude in my eyes for the woman who had spared me the indignity of fainting in front of the crowd.
“I believe it is time to retire Lady Arelene.” Her words were soft and kind, letting me know that I had nothing to be embarrassed about, but that was not enough to save me from it. I nodded but turned towards the General as my father came to my aid, placing an arm around me to steady me.
“I thank you for your protection. I hope that I may be permitted to thank you properly someday.” I had not heard my father’s invitation amongst the chaos and I was very quickly being escorted back to the quarters that I often stayed in when we were expected to reside at the castle.
While most men where use to being within the presence of a noble woman, I've hardly had experience with it. Lady Arelene? That was her name if I were not mistaken, had leaned against the railing and was experiencing what I’d imagine to be a sense of dizziness. Whether it was from the tension in the air or the corset which she wore I was unsure, however what I was positive of was the fact that she was about to pass out. Stepping away from the scene I turned my head for I knew that often a corset was loosen in order to allow a woman to breath properly. The fabric which I were flowing freely and yet fit snugly against my body. However it was constricting as I imagine most corsets were.
Once she was taken care of and attended to I turned my head once more to hear her words mirror that of her father. Such delicate words that drifted into the air as though they were melodious notes of a symphony so sweet and reassuring. Cross an arm across my chest lower torso I slide one leg back and bowed to the lady bidding her a farewell and a good night. It was clear that in the excitement and the drama from the night she hadn’t heard her father inviting me to her house. So to save her form embarrassment I would allow her to leave without informing her that her father had already offered to pay her debt. Now with such things taken care of, the hands of the king were found around my own as he stared within my eyes and nodded.
The evening would still continue on as schedule and I wouldn’t be left to my own devices. The air ain the night was stifling. As faces looked on the sense of wonderment and entitlement was not lost. Some wonder how it had come to be that such a loathsome being such as I had come to become so close to the king. While others coveted my spot and burned with a fury wishing that it was they that stood in my place. Already I was preparing myself to be wary of those who would have nefarious intentions to bring about my downfall and bring about it swiftly in retaliation of the fact that I was so highly elevated above the status of other men.
Upon the center of the ballroom I was present to all men. Reaching for a wine glass and a metal spoon the king clinked it in his hand and all were made to turn to attend to me and his highness. Clearing his throat he set down the knife and raised the glass of wine tall so that all could see it. “As one can see, Othello has displayed all the characteristics which we in Lo’rel strive to uphold. A gentle spirit, loyalty and devotion to one’s nation, elegance, and even at a time.. Mercy to one's enemies. When the last war was wage upon us, he along with several other men, went out to face our enemies. But it was only under his command that we emerge the victors! Mark me, and mark me well! This is a true son of Lo’rel. He is a true friend of mine. Any who would seek to do him harm will have also harmed me! He may have been gifted with our fair skin, but that does not make him a beast. And even if he were, we have tamed the savage beast he was destined to be and transformed it into a civilized hero!”
With that cheers went up from the crowd and all raised a glass. Despite the fact that the wine was supposed to be sweet and fruity to me it wasn’t. As I choked back the glass it had lost all of its fragrance. It had become bitter.
Escorted back to my own villa I was greeted with a hoist of servants which shard my own complexion. The only time I found myself in the company of my “own people” was when I was in the walls of my own villa. another gift granted to me by the king. It was small compared to the other’s I’ve been to. Yet it still had a double stair-case that led up to the upper rooms. Bowing my head the servants took my short and one female even smiled at me and told me that my bath had been drawn. Today had been a long day and I needed to soak to let the stress of keeping my cool melt away.
Streaming into the bedroom are beams of light which draw a yawn from my mouth. Nothing was on the itinerary for this morning which finally offered one a chance to rest. Dressing myself in a robe and heading out of my room I’m greeted by a man twice my age and dressed fancy. A butler by the name which escapes me. Within his hand is an envelope with the seal of a nobility. Just as the lord had promise from the other night I was expected to dine with him tonight.
“Tell the coachmen to prepare for the trip to the Lord’s house. And have my tailor pick out something formal but not too fancy. I am only going to a dinner party..” My words came out softly as the butler nodded and got ready to do as I bidded
The day was filled with nothing more of note and when the appointed arrive came It was my time to prepare to head to the lord’s house. As carriage arrive at the door I stepped down from it and inhale nervously before exhaling. Again, I felt as though I was unworthy of this but I had given my word that I would attend. So as I wrapped upon the door I held my breath and watched as it was open. To no surprise I found a beautiful young woman standing before me, a gasps filled her lips as she looked upon my dark skin. Nervously she went to close the door before being stopped by an elder gentleman who’d asked what my business was and who’d sent me.
It never failed to make me laugh at how often I was confused to be a servant or unable to be my own master. Presenting the invitation both asked for my apologies and led me into the house where the Lord and his family greeted me. Bowing low I looked to the male, than to his daughter who I spoke. “It is a pleasure to meet you again.. Mi lady. And thank you for the invitation to your house Mi’Lord. Allow me to introduce myself.. My Name is Othell.. I have no family so apologies so I have such a simple and coarse name.” I explained before erecting myself once more. As the king introduce his family to me he then offered that we take things to the dining room to begin our meal for the evening.
The rustle of silk filled the air as I stood before the ornate mirror, adjusting the layers of brocade and velvet that cascaded down my form like a waterfall of opulence. Tonight's dinner promised an evening of stifling conventions, a masquerade of pleasantries that did little to mask the shackles of societal expectations. If the previous evening had not been enough to almost shatter my soul, tonight would promise to do so. Although, I did want to thank Othello for helping me with Lord Bennett yesterday. Othello was the name whispered to me as I was escorted out of the festivities the name before. If I were to believe any of the rumours that had been whispered in the halls of the castle, he had not exactly had an easy life compared most in Lo’rel.
My reflection revealed a facade of composure, but beneath the carefully arranged curls and the mask of courtly smiles, I felt an emptiness and a dread, one that I often felt when entertaining guests for dinner. It was expected of me to attend. I suppose I should have been relieved that this dinner was not about a potential courtship for once.
As my maid fastened the intricate clasps of my gown, I couldn't escape the echoes of my mother's dream—of a time when women would be revered for their intellect and courage. I yearned for the freedom that my mother thought we would once possess, not the stifling roles and whispered admonitions that governed my every move. Yet, such a future only seemed much further away with her gone. The golden cage of nobility glittered with false promises, and tonight's dinner felt like another link tightening around my aspiration for freedom.
The door creaked open, and my father's voice cut through the solitude, announcing the impending arrival of our esteemed guest. Straightening my shoulders, I suppressed a sigh. With each step towards the dining hall, I forced myself to push aside any hope for a future where a noblewoman could be more than an ornament, a future where my voice could echo with the resonance of change. Tonight, as I entered the stifling world of formalities, I carried within me the silent anthem of my desire for freedom.
Tonight's dinner was an intimate affair, a respite from the grandiosity of courtly gatherings, as my father wished to extend his gratitude towards an distinguished guest—the General of our kingdom's formidable army; the man who had defended my honour when a drunken Lord believed he had the right to ask me to permit him a private audience. I shudder at the thought.
As I entered the entrance way, my father greeted me with his usual embrace and lips pressed against my cheek and before long, the General, a man weathered by countless battles, both personal and literal, entered the room. His eyes, sharp and seasoned, met mine after greeting my father, and in that exchange, I sensed a silent acknowledgment of the struggles that transcended our disparate worlds.
“I must thank you once more for your kindness General. I do not know what would have happened if you had not been there. For that I will be eternally grateful.”
“Yes, yes – we owe you a debt Othello. Please, follow me into the dining room.”
As we were seated and waiting for the meal to arrive, I found myself stealing glances at the General, wondering if he, too, perceived the subtle dissatisfaction beneath my composed exterior. His eyes held much to be explored but I could not, nor would not assume that he understood me from more than a simply exchange of a glance.
The food arrived, I navigated the delicate dance of courtly etiquette, waiting to be spoken to until I was permitted to sleep, as were the expectations at such events.
“It is an honour to have you here with us. I understand that you must be inundated with invitations considering how highly you are regarded. I appreciate you agreeing to dinner. Do you have a wife General or have you been too busy protecting Lo’rel to court yourself?”
When you spend years being the center of attention you become painfully aware of eyes that linger too long upon your skin. Or the simply fact that people try to steal glances at you. All eyes were on me as I watched them bring in the beginning of dinner. First it was a simple soup and as I dip my spoon into it I closed my eyes and savored it. In my formative years I’d never dream that I could ever have something as good as this. Often times I found after working in the fields for long hours, all we had to make do with were corn, or wheat for bread that we’d make and bake ourselves, and if we were lucky fish or pork. Our masters fed us just enough that we wouldn’t starve and the food lacked taste and wasn;t enough to satisfy our aching bellies. Opening my eyes I stared back at my most gracious hoist and looked to the eyes of the woman whom I’ve protected. Her face told the story mine often told long ago, of a desire to break free of my fate.
As the first question was asked I simply smiled back at the the Lord whom was closest man to the King in our country. It’s taken a decade to master the art of speaking fluently in the word of nobles. Not letting on to much and also at the same time proving that you were able to keep up with whatever games they felt like playing. “No, it is you who honor me by graciously accepting me into your home for dinner. As for being held in high regard it is simply curiosity which why many ask me to come to their homes. The stories of wars and the foreign lands which I’ve travel to often makes for excellent dinner conversations. I’m sure that you must have questions about what it’s like being a soldier on the field and I’ll do my best to recount them.”
With the first question answer to his satisfaction, I had to compose myself when he asked if I were married. My love life was something nonexistent. How could I blame the women for not wanting me to be their beloved husband. My skin was wooly and it sat atop my hair unlike the other men of the country whose hair flowed and could be style in many fashions. My skin was marred with scars from both battle and slavery and lastly I was the same complexion of charcoal. One would have to lie and lie greatly to convince one that I was someone who could be considered beautiful. Yet, I was content because I’ve learned from an early age that beauty was a heavy burden.
“Unfortunately I am not. When you are a general and you can be called to defend your nation’s land at the threat of your very life being forfeited it’s hard to find a wife. Most women are scared that I would leave them a widow. As long as I am duty bound, a promise of a long life with children and happiness cannot be kept.” I spoke nothing but the truth and I hope that my guest did not find the truth to be anything offensive.
Placing my spoon down I wait for the next course to be brought out which is roast potatoes with ham freshly cut and dried dates along with bread and slices of two different cheeses and roasted greens vegetables. A fine dish indeed to be served. As I slowly cut into the ham I began to speak up. “A friend of mine, Andrew, tells me that Lady Arelena is seeing suitors. How is the lady fairing with such things? I’m sure that you must be find it hard to find a suitor to live up to your great expectations my Lord.”
I ask this question softly so as to shift the conversation away from me and towards something more light hearted than my eventual death.
As the conversation progressed, I could not help but wonder what the point was to my presence. I was not invited to partake in the conversation as I was not supposed to have an opinion on the matters of men, yet I was expected to remain at the table and listen. I found myself feeling sympathetic towards our company for a moment as he voiced his experiences of the invitations he had been offered. It was clear that he felt as though he was only invited for the entertainment of guests and that was something I could relate to. Although it was not my job to entertain, my presence was required because it was the role of a pretty woman to make their fathers and husbands look good.
My focus was on Othello as he spoke, his voice almost mesmerising. It was no wonder that people wanted to listen to him speak of his experiences, but I was intrigued to hear about his reply to my father’s inquest into his romantic life. His response filled me with sadness, but it was a loneliness that I could relate to in some ways. Even if I were to have a husband bestowed upon me, there would still be this emptiness as I was convinced this would only ever be fulfilled by real love; a notion my father did not believe in or care about.
There was a slight pause in the conversation as the plates and cutlery were cleared from the table to make way for the next course and as soon as the severs left the room the conversation returned but this time I was the focus of it. Once again, my company discussed me as though I was not even there and while this was something I had grown accustomed to, it did not sting any less to listen to people speak of me as though I could not speak for myself.
“Ah yes, you have heard correctly good sir. We have been inviting suitors to court Arelene but it is proving difficult to find someone suitable and of course my daughter has expectations for love. I do have to remind her that sometimes love is learned and not everything is supposed to be a romantic fairytale. Isn’t the right dear?”
I feigned a smile and a short laugh before allowing my gaze to focus on the food before me, not wanting anyone to see the emotion behind my eyes.
“Time is passing by quickly though and it is becoming a matter of priority now. I do hope that we can announce an engagement by the end of the month.”
I drop my fork from the shock, eyes darting towards me as I apologise from my clumsiness.
“We’ve spoken about this Arelene. It is your duty.”
“Yes father.” Is all I could manage without letting the emotion spill out of me.
As the dinner continues on I carefully observe my place in this conversation. My eyes flicker to the young woman as her father makes the announcement so sudden and her reaction says it all. Instantly I feel my heart ache; I was once in the same situation as she was. When one is led by the hands to a place where they do not wish to go it forever makes them have a severe distrust in the world around them. I tried my best to not let these darker thoughts take possession of my mind and it is all I can do to calm myself. I didn’t think I would be so upset after all this was not my daughter. This was not my life either. I was just a spectator in the way that this world worked and functioned.
The only thing that I could do was ease her burden. Normally I would not be one to act without thinking but my mouth ran without thought and I spoke up gently. “What are you thoughts on the noble man Andrew? Sure, he is young.. But already he is a captain in Novus army and is on his way to becoming a lieutenant. His family is well known in Novus to; his household is one of the oldest. Surely you’ve heard of them? The House of Aubert.”
I had not meant to recommend my friend but I knew that he was a good man. One who wasnt as lecherous as the other lord Bennet had been and I’ve seen how he acted around women. He was shy, reserved and treated them as though they were actually intelligent beings instead of nothing more but ornate meant to be hung around the arm. He’s sense of love and compassion was sweet and boundless as was his sense of duty and honor. Out of all the men I’ve met while serving in the arm of Novus he was one whom I held in hard regard.
“I forgive myself for speaking out of term. I meant no offense. It’s just.. In my opinion, a man whose spent his life serving one’s nation often makes the best. I know that I am biases because it was a general who served in the army himself, who saved me when I was a boy. He took me in and gave my life purpose and meaning.”
I want nothing more than to permit myself to leave the table and spend the rest of the evening in my room contemplating whether running from this was even an option. Even that decision was not mine to make. A woman had no freedom or autonomy when it came to such matters. Instead, I stare down at the plate of food before me that no longer appeals to my appetite, but I have nothing else I wish I wish to look at, so I simply use my silverware to push food around the plate to at least appear as though I was engaged with my food.
It was the General’s suggestion that made me look up from the plate. It seemed he too believed it was imperative that my hand was taken imminently. Why did he care? He would probably never see me again after tonight. Perhaps he was simply making conversation or trying to gain favour with my father like many others who often recognised his closeness to the King.
“The House of Aubert you say? They certainly do have an upstanding reputation. I do not believe that I have had the pleasure of meeting young Andrew. Perhaps you would be so kind as to arrange a meeting so that I can meet him for myself? If he is as you say then perhaps a courtship between him and my daughter can be arranged.”
I had not met Andrew myself, but I could only assume that he was the man who hovered around Othello for much of the evening. I had met almost a hundred men and my father had only deemed a handful to be fit enough for an introduction and he had always managed to find something wrong with them. For someone who was so desperate to marry me off, he was certainly very picky when it came to finding the right man. And he had the nerve to make me feel as though it was my fault I was not already wed with a child on the way, as is my duty.
“No need to apologise at all. You make a valid point. I am sure Andrew is a fine young man. I thank you for your suggestion.”
No one asks me for my thoughts. I do not think I would have been able to hold my tongue if they had. I cannot look at my father right now but my gaze find’s Othello’s briefly. Perhaps he thought he was helping me. I can see the pity in his eyes, and I wondered for the briefest of moments what emotions were fighting behind mine.
I’d wanted to have a chance to explain myself to the young lady who sat in perpetual silence between us. In the world of men and masters, those who were not either were never permitted to speak their minds freely. As her father spanked me for my suggestions I was about to open my mouth to say it was of no worries. That was till a knock was heard at the door. At first it was soft and barely registered. Than the knock became louder and louder as though it was demanding and unyielding in its advances. Both my eyes and the eyes of my host turned towards the door curious as to who had come to interrupt our dinner. I’ve not invited anyone else and it was clear neither had the Lord of the house.
As he offered an apology he left us alone for the briefest of moments. Turning towards Lady Arelena I looked to her with the softest of looks before I spoke to her. “It is never easy is it? Being told to hold your tongue whilst at the same time being forced to do things that you do not wish to do. I’ve noticed that being a woman in the society of Lo’rel is the same as being a slave where I was form..”
My words came out softly as though I was carefully trying to explain my situation. “I did not suggest my friend Andrew in order to gain his favor.. I know that he disagrees with me about how women are treated. He believes that women should have more freedom, a voice.. And… how.. I’m sorry I’m not sure how to express this properly or eloquently.” I faltered as I gave up trying to explain my intentions and my beliefs.
Whilst we had this moment alone with us I looked to the girl whom had just met the other night. I wanted to know what was on her mind and I wanted to implore her to please let me know what it was. But I dared not voice it. It was improper for me to speak to a lords daughters before I hope that my eyes conveyed what my voice could not.
I tried to distract myself from listening to the words of men by looking around the room, the food no longer appetising to me. The tapestries on the walls depicted scenes of medieval valor, their vibrant hues adding a touch of regality to the otherwise dimly lit dining hall. Yet, it seemed as though my father would not engage in further conversation straight away as it appeared that a rather persistent knock at the door demanded his attention, and he was quick to see to it.
The flickering flames in the ornate fireplace cast dancing shadows on the chamber's oak-panelled walls. A hint of tension lingered in the air, fuelled by the awkwardness of being alone with a gentleman while my father saw to a guest at the door. My palms rested against the embroidered fabric of my gown, and my eyes flitted toward the window, searching for the familiar figure of my father as I nervously awaited his return. Still, I could not help but allow my gaze to fall upon our guest who so boldly spoke to me as though he had no care for normal etiquette.
His words hung in the air for the briefest of moments as I tried to contemplate what he was saying to me. Did he really see me? For something more than a pretty ornament to hand upon a man’s arm?
“I must apologise. I am not sure what you mean.” Surely this must be a trap. Something to test whether I would be an obedient wife for his friend. “I am sympathetic towards whatever life you have lived but I am free enough that I could not possible compare my life to that of a slave.” I listened again for a moment as the General tried to explain why he had suggested that his friend should be considered as a possible suitor but again I listen with caution. I had learned that men were not to be trusted.
However hard I tried to verge on the side of caution, there was a raw honesty in his words, a resonance that echoed with a truth I seldom found in the polished utterances of courtly men. I leaned forward, my gaze locked with his. "I have met with hundreds of men, each with an ulterior motive when it comes to my father or my hand. What is it about you, General, that sets you apart from the others? Why should I believe your words hold any weight?”
Ulterior motives. The world of men was based on shifting notions and partnerships built to boost one’s own status. Oftentimes, I’ve had to smile in the face of men who praised me to my face only to curse me behind my back. A stranger to these games I was none for it had been several years earlier that jealousy was the reason why I’d once lost my life. Trust in a world were administering it freely could lead to one’s downfall was hard to give. I knew this all to well that the only reason why I sat at this table and not under the shackle and lash was purely because of luck. Reaching for the glass which was filled with a bitter wine I sipped from it savoring the complexities of it being both bitter and sweet. Setting it down before me I closed my eyes and tried to gage my words carefully.
“In truth, I can give you no assurance. It is hypocrisy that men claim women are shapeshifters when we often shape our own desires based upon a whim. I’ve been a victim of putting my trust in people who promised to be true but were false. I cannot promise that in secret, my beloved friend is the man who he presents himself to be.. But I can promise that even though we’ve only just met… I want you to be happy to your heart’s content. I don’t want you ensnared by the hands of lustful men like that Lord Bennet, or silence and told to act as a precious golden hen… as your father seems to treat you. I mean no offense and apology if my words do not sound noble. I am no noble. Regardless of how these people tend to parade me about as.”
The last phrase came out bitterly as I spoke. My life had taken many strange twists and turns and still I had no idea where it would continue to lead as I sat here in the house of the lord. It was then that shouting could be heard coming from the door. That loud voice I knew was all too familiar; it was that of Lord Bennett. Would this scoundrel never learn? Rising from the my chair my hand instantly went to my coat which held in it a dagger for my own personal protection. If the fighting escalated then I'd see to it that both me and the lady were protected.
For a moment we waited to hear see if what would come of it and pretty soon the shouts died down and the conversation returned to being barely audible for both me and the lady i was alone with. Taking my seat again I looked to her and offered an apologies explaining that I had to be ready for everything.
“If you can forgive me for being so bold than I would like to get to my point. I strongly believe that everyone has the right to persue happiness as long as it doesn't harm anyone. I'm what you'd called a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. I want the persuit of love to be true and natural, not something born out of necessity or political gain.”
Here I was, ensnared in the intricacies of a world dominated by the rules and expectations of men, being told by a man who I had just met that he simply wanted me to be happy. I could hardly believe what I am hearing. No man had ever said those words to me, not even my father. My father who the General badmouthed so easily without too much concern for consequences. Maybe I did have Othello wrong. Maybe Othello saw the world the way it was meant to be.
I adjust my position in my chair, trying to find a more comfortable stature for the embroidered corset, the layers of silk and brocade—they are not just garments; they are the chains that bind me to a fate dictated by patriarchal whims. I feel the weight of every societal decree, a relentless burden that denies me the very air I long to breathe.
He sees me. I am not a mere ornament to be paraded in the courtly dance; I am a woman with dreams as vast as the unexplored oceans. And he sees me.
“I do not understand why your desire is to see me happy. I am of no importance to you General.” My voice faltered slightly, breaking from the strength that I had tried to show when I initially challenged him.
Before he can offer me an answer I can hear my father’s voice, raised and angry and before long I hear the undesired sound of Lord Bennett’s voice. Othello must have seen the panic upon my face because he was out of his seat quickly and his hand went to his coat. Perhaps the General and brought a weapon into their home and perhaps I am glad for the fact in this moment.
The raised voices do not last long, and Othello seemed to settle with the knowledge of that, taking a seat once more and offering me an apologetic glance before offering me a response. The hushed sounds from the hallway do not fill me with security. I will not feel that until I know Lord Bennett is out of my home.
I looked Othello in the eyes then, listening to this man proclaim his desire for romance and the pursuit of love.
“Do you practice what you preach General?” I asked, challenging him one last time.
I spoke those words confidently as I stood up and understood exactly what it was that she meant. Without hesitation I offered her my hand and spoke to her quietly. “Where it is that you wish to go to escape this man I will take you. Even to the Palace of the king himself.” My words not empty promises that would result in nothing. Long ago I had resolved myself to protect all within my sight for the love I bore my country was passionate and something which could not be misplaced or forgotten. This country had given me something priceless; this country had given me something which would take an entire lifetime to pay back. Purpose, freedom, and a reason to live and not only that but flourish.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled from it an ornate pocket watch. I had asked my servant to come and pick me up at a certain time and the hour of that time was encroaching fast. As my hand was stretched out in offering to her I waited for her to grasp hold of it. The moment her palm slipped into mind I help her stand up and asked her if there was another way we could slip out for a moment. We would be safe in my house. I figured that Lord Bennett wouldn’t dare be seen hanging around the house of one who was dark skinned and seen lesser than. Not since he’d ambition to climb as high as he could and seize political power, wealth and fame.
As I followed her through her own house, I watched the way that she led me so determined and wanting my protection I could feel a heat rise within me. It was something foreign, not passion, but neither embarrassament. As we finally find ourself outside I breath in the fresh night air thankful for the coolness to soothe the rising heat I felt. Around the corner my servant would be waiting on us. I was vaguely familiar with this street despite it being dark.
Pulling away from her I spoke; “I apologize for touching your hand like that. But, now that we are free in the open do you wish to wait outside till Lord Bennett leaves? Shall I walk around the house and explain how he is making you extremely uncomfortable or… do you any better ideas?” Already she’d challenge me twice. Once with my beliefs and again with my actions. I hoped that tonight I had proven myself again a man of high morals and a man of solid actions
I watched in confusion for a moment as the man before me rose from his seat and when he offered his hand and spoke it was clear that he had misunderstood my question. I was not asking if the man would protect me from Lord Bennett. I was safe in this room. Yet, I was curious about where the General would take me or what he was willing to risk saving someone he thought had asked to be saved.
I contemplated the hand he offered for the briefest of moments as he checked a watch and rather than wait any longer, I placed my hand in his.
“I know another way out, yes.” And with that I started to lead the way, keeping my hand firmly gripped around his as I did. It was an exhilarating feeling escaping that dining hall with him and it made me wonder what it would be like to escape forever. I have often pondered over the idea of running away and living a life of simplicity in a world where I was unknown, but I knew of my father’s resources. It would take him a day at most to work out that I was missing, gather an army of men to search for me and have me returned home for proper punishment. It was not worth the effort.
Once we were outside, Othello was quick to pull from my grip and I watched in contemplation as he apologised for touching my hand. With an almost daring look, I took a step towards him and took hold of his hand once more, taking a moment to look it over, tracing the lines of labour upon the surface.
“Has anyone ever held your hand, General? The way a lover would?” Perhaps he would understand how much he had misunderstood my meaning soon. I look up from his hand, allowing my eyes to search over his face. “Has anyone ever kissed your lips?” I brushed my finger over his bottom lip for no more than a second before retrieving both my hands. A sigh escaped me.
“When I asked if you practised what you preached I was referring to the proclamation you made about the pursuit of happiness and love and I wondered if that was something you lived by, or whether you were being hypocritical.”
What have I done? Truly, what have I done? As I lied awake staring at the mahogany ceiling above my head, my hands traced the outline of my lips mirroring the touch of her fingers upon mine. There had been no nefarious intentions when I led her away for her own safety and had proven my chivalry as any gentleman should. Upon returning her to her father Lord Ashdown had bowed his head and thanked me for returning his daughter to him so kindly and apologize that the dinner had turned so bitter and sour. He’d promise that he would send for me in the afternoon so that we could once more enjoy tea and cake and have a discussion about my time in the army. He didn’t have the chance to hear of my romantic stories of valour and he was most curious about my background. Of course they’d been rumors of how I’d come to be in the service of His majesty but he insisted that those rumors couldn’t have been true at all. That he couldn’t imagine a mere slave rising to such an elevated status. I’d smile and thank him for his invitation and before heading home in my own carriage.
“Has anyone ever kissed your lips?” That had been the question asked of me as she brushed her fingers across my lips. Taking her hand in mine my eyes narrowed and the entire world slipped away. In this moment there was nothing but her doe eyes and ruby lips. Her softly velvet skin underneath the firmness of my rough coarse hands. Mahogany hands cradled the snowy cheeks of a young maiden as I felt my breath hitch in my chest. My life had been a difficult and bitter journey to come to the point of where I currently was. No one, not a single soul had even blessed me with such a thing as simple as a kiss. So I honestly came out at that moment. In that moment I’d felt myself turn weak and my desires turn hotter. “No. No one has ever kissed my lips. All my life none have seen me desirable in such delicate ways. I’ve always had to endure life’s harshness and its tragedies. But just for once, I’d like to fall for the illusion that I was desirable; I’d like to feel as a man should.”
Tilting her chin back, I found my fore-finger tucked underneath her chin pulling her close into me. If now was the time to resist I’d expect her to do so. Yet she’d offer not resistance. Instead her lips met mind and it was the sweetest moment i’ve ever experience. It left me entirely breathless and as I pulled away for a moment I hesitate before suddenly letting go of her. In that moment I felt like a thief and I stumbled through an apologize and spoke about how I needed to return her to her father.. That this wasn’t something a man like me should do. That she should be with someone who shared her complexion.
As my eyes drooped heavily and I felt the drowsiness of sleep encroaching I knew that tomorrow would bring with consequences. Of what they would be I did not know. I only knew that I was once again expect to come to the house of Ashdown and enjoy midday tea.
Last night I was unable to sleep. There was so much going through my mind, and I was unable to calm it. When I had challenged the General I did not expect that it would lead to moment of intimacy. I was simply questioning what his past was and whether he could truly stand for love if he would not permit himself to experience it. It had been his words that got under my skin; the belief that he did not see himself worthy or desirable. I had wanted so badly to show him that he was desirable, that he was too cruel when it came to his own image - his lineage even.
But, before I could say anything, the General had tilted my chin upwards. I should have expected what came next, but I had been so blind sided by his actions that they had stolen my breath, my ability to think and my ability to move. He kissed me.
I pulled the sheet on my bed over my head as I thought about it once more, my cheeks flushed from the embarrassment. He kissed me and then instantly regretted it. I was barely able to make out what he said through his stumbling apology because I was so mortified that I had somehow scared him away with my kiss that I was unable to process what was being said.
A knock at my door forced me to pull the sheets away from my face.
“It is time to get up Lady Arelene.”
“Must I? I do not feel well.” The woman approached me and placed a hand on my forehead, and I hoped deeply that she would tell me that I felt warm.
“Nothing a bit of fresh air will not fix. Now get up and let me help you dress.”
I let out a frustrated sigh, but I did as I was told, cooperating when I was asked to move so that she could fix my dress and my hair.
“I believe the General is coming back today. Your father has asked him to bring that friend of his. What is his name again? Alexander?”
“Andrew.” I let out another sigh. The last thing I wanted right now was to be paraded around to see if I was good enough to wife, especially in front of the man who did not even deem me good enough to share a kiss.
“She neither screamed or slapped you. Cursed you to your face or even called for her father to have you place in irons. When you’ve come to me dismayed and forlong, I thought myself ‘oh woe to Othello, for surely he’s been hurt and shamed.’ But a kiss! You’ve stolen a kiss from such a tender and sweet maid; that is cause for excitement. Yet you walk about as thought someone has ordered you to be hanged like a dog! For shame, man. For shame!” “Shush! Damn you, lower your voice! If word about this get’s out I fear not even the King’s favor can save me!”
Keeping my voice above barely a whisper I leaned back in the carriage only. My distress was met only with the beaming face of my friend with whom had been invited to the House of the Ashdowns. It’d been just my luck to want to confide in someone so eagerly foolish as to believe that I’ve been blessed by the Gods when I’ve been anything but. This, this was nothing more but a sentence of death! I’d not meant to recoil from her touch or act so rashly. I just felt an unquenchable thirst and for a brief second the only cure for that was the calming wetness of lover’s lips. Her first kiss was stolen by someone whom was viewed so lowly by her kinsmen. As we stepped from out the carriage and headed towards the front door of course the first person to greet us would be her and her father.
Bowing his head down lower the clean shaven redhead extended a hand outwards to grab hold of the lord before shaking it. He’d always been able to charm his way into any meeting no exceptions where made. It must have been because he was so kind and gave off a boyish charmed which, admittedly, I’d envy. Ushering us both into the house we were led outside to a garden where a midday tea set was with the finest of China.
Lord Andrew, my lieutenant in commander, gave me a wink as he turned towards his fellow noble man. Before I had time to protest he was charming Lord Ashdown away from me so that when Lady Arelene came down to present herself I, and I alone would be the first one to greet her. As she came down the steps, I felt the heat rise once again to my chest. Gulping all I could do was step back and bow my head slightly as I saw her arrive finally down below and before me. How? How was I going to explain last night and my sudden apologies? I didn’t want her to feel as though I was taken advantage of her or her naivety or that I wanted I was abusing her father’s kindness. The kiss we shared was so tender, sweet, it I’d wanted to enjoy a second one or a third.. Or..
Flushing it took all of my power to stop my thoughts from wondering where they ought not to. “Good afternoon Lady Arelene. Your father and my lieutenant are waiting for you… but before we go.. I..” My voice falter but I wanted her to know that I didn’t find her repulsive. Taking her hand in mind, I softly brought it to my lips and kissed it softly before whispered so that only she could hear me.
“I would love to kiss your lips again; society standing and constraints be damned. I want to get to know you and win your heart.”
Oh boy. What a doozy of a drama my General had gotten himself into. When it came to the pursuit of love and it’s passions, I believed a famous playwright once wrote the following: “If love be rough; be rough with love.” When it came to the affairs of the heart the dark skinned had no understanding of it at all. He was-unlike me,- shy when it came to pursuing the hearts of women. I, on the other hand, felt no reserve when it comes to such things. Why be abashed when fulfilling the desires of one’s hearts. These lips of mine had tasted honey and nectar plenty of times and these hands have traced the curves of multiple Aphrodites who had found themselves within the warmth of my bed. Whilst most men thought it improper for women to have carnal appetites; I fully encouraged the feast of lust and offered my body as the appetizer, meal, and dessert.
Such a tender and young girl such as Arlene deserved one whom would treat like the delicate flower she was. I was an experience enough love to discern the difference between the matters of the heart and the desires of the flesh. So as I charmed my way into the heart of Lord Ashdown and present myself man of honest and sincere intent I’d stole a glance to see Arelene with Othello. An odd couple some out claim but it was still beautiful in my eyes. My only hope was that in the limited time I bought between them that he wouldn’t blunder and find words to put to his feelings he’d for her.
“As I was saying earlier, Lord Ashdown.. A womanizer I am not! Such falsehoods simply stain a man’s reputation. I simply see a man who is lacking and inform the poor madam that if she would enjoy a sample of quality than I might be of assistance to her.” This, somehow, brought a laugh from Lord Ashdown as he clasps me on the back and gave me a wink. Remarking about how I’d made him miss his younger days he’d barely noticed the delay that was Othello and Arelene has they finally came to join us in the Garden for tea.
The last thing I wanted to do today was entertain another suitor for my father to make a decision upon the suitability of this match. I remember seeing Andrew at the celebration a few nights ago but I did not get the opportunity to speak to him as I had been distracted by the advances of Bennett and the tightness of my corset. How very different things might have been if Bennett had not approached me. Othello may never have been invited to dine at my home and last night might never have happened. I could not decide whether this would have been a relief or a disappointment.
I tried to savour the final few moments of peace before it was the expectation that I put on the performance that everyone expected from a woman who was trying to find a husband. In honesty, I was sure my father was not becoming desperate so I could only imagine that so long as there was nothing unnerving about Andrew, he may well become my future husband. That thought alone terrified me. The thought of my fate hanging in the balance and controlled by someone other than myself was far from what I believe I deserved.
“Your guests have arrived Lady Arelene. Your father is expecting you.” This was it.
I could already hear the introductions as I began to make my way down the hallway, and I stopped at the top of the stairs briefly to give myself a moment to gather my composure. I did not know what to expect when I see Othello again, nor did I know what to expect of the meeting. With a deep breath I began to descend the stairs only to find that Othello was waiting alone. My heart began to race, faster than I could ever remember but I forced myself to keep moving, knowing that if I stopped now I would retreat and disappoint my father.
“General…” I say, trying to ensure that my voice sounded as welcoming as always without a hint of the disappoint or confusion I felt from our interaction the day before. I nodded when he told me that his friend was waiting with my father and I turned with every intention of making my way towards them, only to be stopped by his words. I looked around briefly, unsure about whether we were being watched but it seemed we were being granted this moment to gain closure. My heart echoed in my ears as the General took my hand and pressed his lips against my skin, almost apologising for the way that things had been left yesterday. Perhaps I had not done anything wrong. Perhaps he did not find me so off-putting.
When his final words found me I was speechless. No man had every been so bold with their declarations and intentions. I could feel my cheeks flushing, betraying me to the man before me.
“I…I do not know what to say. I have been convinced that I did something to wrong. I thought that perhaps I did not please you.” I glanced around once more, noticing that Othello’s lieutenant was looking in our direction. I cleared my throat and yet again tried to compose myself best I could.
“We must go. I believe your friend is waiting on an introduction.”
“You do more than just please me..” Those words slip from my lips and hung in the air between us. There were words born of a most sincerest heart and as I looked delicately into her eyes I spoke softly in a whisper so that none could hear us. “I would very much like to be a thief once more and steal a kiss from you.. My fair maiden..” I’ve never been a poet but since I’ve found myself with an unfathomable amount of free time and a private library lately I’ve been reading. Reading the great works of the poets and novelist by whom Lo’rel had given its highest praise to. Absentmindedly my eyes had slowly wondered downwards to her lips which were as enticing. Not in an immodest way but in a way which held my attention and left me parched for another taste of her savory lips. Controlling myself, I stepped backwards as she spoke.
“We must go. I believe your friend is waiting on an introduction.” As I watch the way her lips move while form those words I can feel the heat flush in my face. Of course; I had not come here for my own gain. I’d come here because my friend wanted to see for himself the lady who had had made me lose my composer and become hot and bothered. Offering my elbow I turned to escort her toowards the garden where the meeting was to be had.
Once we entered into the garden for tea we were greeted with roaring laughter coming from the lips of Lord Ashdown. It seemed as though he’d taken to my friend and as he spotted me he stood up and asked where had I’d been hiding Andrew from him? Had he known how suitable and impersonal he was, it would’ve saved him more than enough trouble when it came to finding a suitable suitor for his daughter. Ushering us to the table I took my seat beside Andrew and lady Arelene across from him and I from across her father. On the table were biscuits and tea already waiting for us.
Reaching for the richly brewed drink I inhale it softly before taking it and sipping from it. Andrew had promised me that he would do the work from here on end and as he leaned forward he extended a hand towards the young lady and spoke. “Ma’dam, it is a true honor to meet you today at the house of Ashdown. I’ve heard so much about your beauty but words do not do you justice. Lord Bennett has already agreed that since I am the most suitable match that you should, for once, be able to speak freely and tell me if you find me agreeable. I know, I am young. But I do hope that you do not find me too disagreeable.”
Amazing. Shooting Andrew a look I couldn’t help be feel a twinge of envy. He’d done what was impossible for me to do. Win the trust of our fellow man instantly. Whilst I had to jump through hoops, fight literally battles and wars, and he’d manage to charm his way into anyone’s heart. It must be because he grew up a son of a noble man and was raised to be an aristocrat himself. I knew that his life hadn’t been easy. Why else would he flee the warmth of harm for the freezing of the battlefield? However, he’d adjusted fine it seemed to both worlds.
It was as though each passing second lasted a lifetime, his words hanging between us dangerously. If anyone was to overhear our conversation there may have been some serious consequences for the both of us. It was improper for a woman to invite the attention of a man without the intention of marrying and it was even more so to share a kiss with a man who was not her husband. I glanced around momentarily, just to calm my concerns and make sure that there was no one within earshot of us but I cannot pull my eyes from his when he declared that he wished to steal another kiss from me. I did not believe that my heart could possible beat faster until this moment and I found myself glad that my handmaiden had ensure that my corset was not too tight today. I was sure that I would have lost all composure if it had constricted my breath.
I was relieved when he took a step back from me, not because I feared him, but because I felt like I could finally breath again. I had never felt such an intense physical change in myself at being close to a man. But I knew that anything with this man would be dangerous for us. Whilst my father and the King of Lo’rel had welcomed him in ignorance of the darkness of his skin and liked to outwardly portray acceptance, I was not sure how far that acceptance would stretch.
I reach out for his arm, although the contact was not helping me steady my beating heart, but it was important to keep up an image. When we entered the garden it very quickly became obvious that Othello’s friend had charmed my father. I could not help but wonder what Othello was thinking bringing him here after declaring his intention to win my heart. Surely it would not be kind to either of them for something to be arranged.
We were led to the table and as soon as we were seated the man extended a hand towards me and my impeccable manners had mine instantly greeting his. It seemed that it was confirmed that my father intended to ensure this match was a success and I could not say that I was surprised. My father had been very difficult to please and it seemed that Andrew had performed a miracle with that regard.
“Lieutenant, I thank you for your compliment. I trust my father’s judgement.” I smiled before taking back my hand and reaching for the tea that had been laid out for us. Perhaps it would be able to offer me some comfort.
“I can assure you, Andrew, that my daughter had been raised well. She would make anyone a wonderful wife. She is dutiful and of the perfect age to bear children. And I’m sure you can see that her beauty far outshines any other maiden.” He spoke with pride, but it made me feel as though he was simply trying to sell me to this man. “She will be an obedient wife sir.”
The softness of her skin against mine was enough to send my heart racing. Leaning back against my chair I could see how she’d bewitched my dark skinned friend into dreaming of a romance between the two. Lady Arelene was as docile and innocent as a child. There wasn’t a nefarious bone within her own body and as her father spoke about her; I waved my hand. Turning on my own charming smiled I leaned forward and offered up a small laughter between him and I. “My Good Lord Ashdown, you’re trying to win me over to your side when I’ve already bended the knee and kissed the ring! Beauty, childbaring, youth, these are things any man can find in a woman these days. What your daughter possess is something so unique that you, yourself, have overlooked it. Ever since my father was taken from me due to the flu, my mother has been pressuring me to wed. I hesitated because I feared that if I did meet a woman the first thing she would do is take advantage of my mom being a widow and try to steal from her. Beauty, childbaring and youth doesn’t make a woman a wife. Gentleness, compassion, a moral compass, these are also things a man looks for in a wife. Othello, having commanded well over tens of thousands of men, have had the ability to look into the souls of others and discern their hearts.”
“When my beloved General told me that Lady Arelene struck him as a most compassionate soul I could tel that she was what I needed to help me through this wife. Now, how shall we go about making this arrangement and announcing it to the public? Shall we do it through a day time party? I can host it in my manner and provide refreshments?” As my words finish up I laced my fingertips together and gave a warming smile as I could see Othello look at me with a sympathetic gaze. Out in public I put on a brave face not letting anyone know the affliction I’ve faced at home. Most of the time I find myself burying my pain with a bottle of wine shared with a lover but it seemed as though those days were over. I knew, deep down, that what little love I had died when my father left us. A woman could never open understand my pain, thus, I was content with providing a cover for my friend so that he could explore the avenue which was painted as “love.”
Reaching for the cup of tea I took a sip from it and nodded my head enjoying its sweetness. It was refreshing and everything that I needed to keep my thoughts from darkening. For me this marriage would be nothing more but to elevate my house and ensure that all of my father’s estates were protected and no one would try and steal them from my widow mother now. As long as I remained single and had no promise of an heir, their would always be vultures plotting to steal from my family and steal the lands and farms which my Father had amass being a shrewed buisness man and having a wise men. I felt bad for praising this girl when knowing that I would be using her as a shield and nothing more.. But Othello would provide for her the love which I could never give. A love which I couldn’t afford at this moment.
It did not matter that the Lieutenant said that she was free to speak her thoughts and whether she found him agreeable. Whether she did or not did not change my father’s stance, nor did it change the outcome of this meeting. My kiss with Othello would be my first and last if this ended the way that I expected and I could not help but wonder what this might do to their friendship. I did not know them well enough to know how close they were but surely having a friend marry the woman you had just declared intentions of pursuit could not be an easy thing to comprehend.
I glanced over at the General, trying to gauge any emotion or thought but it seemed he was talented when it came to shielding his thoughts and feelings. I pull my gaze away from him when I hear Andrew talking once more, waiting to hear the usual, except Andrew did appear to be different. It was clear that there was a reason Othello had made this union a suggestion. I watch Andrew’s face, trying to detect whether there were any untruths in his words. I did find myself intrigued when he told my father he had overlooked one of my most unique qualities. I did not know what to expect from him.
It did sadden me to hear that he had found it difficult to find a suitable wife for the reasons he stated. I knew all too well from my observations of the high society just how greedy daughters and their fathers could be when it came to choosing a husband but due to my father’s status he had never been concerned with the wealth of another. He just cared about having someone who could take care of me. I was a pawn in his strategy to protect his mother and the inheritance that came with his family name. I could not disagree that his intentions were noble and if I truly must marry then I was glad that it was for an honourable cause.
My father clapped his hands together and let out a sigh of relief.
“A public announcement at a daytime party sounds like the best way forward. Lieutenant we will be honoured to have you become a part of our family and I can assure you that your mother and your inheritance will be entirely protected. You have my word.” He smiled and clicked his fingers until a servant came running forward. “Bring out our finest wine. We have much to celebrate.”
I smiled briefly before taking a moment to sip on my tea once more. Everything from this moment on would change now. I could not bring myself to look any of the men in the eye at that moment and it certainly did not take long for the staff of the house to catch word of my engagement as more servants came to get a glimpse at my suitor.
It was already set in stone and decided for all of the world to see. Sitting back against my chair I gave out my most charming smile to both the house of the lord and my new lady to be. There was much to be discussed and much to be talked about; I had to set my house in order. Turning to my general I spoke to him as a friend would; “Thank you so much for making this arrangement. Now, I truly must be off to prepare for the announcement tomorrow. I do pray that I’ll see you there; thank you again Lord Ashdown for hoisting us.” As I spoke those words I left and gave them a charming smile. I knew that in my absence Lord Othello wouldn’t mind at all. Tomorrow would prove to be a challenging day for us both.
How was it that so many could be so easily charming and not feel at all unease while doing so. I’ve found myself to be envious of the general for numerous reasons, and this was surely one of them. But, nevertheless, I could do nothing but accept my position in life. As depressing as it was. Not all of us were made to be masters; some were made to be servants. Some men were born to be artists, soldiers, lovers, scholars, and I was still trying to discover where I fit in. Looking back at it, my entire life was nothing more but decisions forced upon me and I trying to do what best I could to survive and be kept alive. Once more the tea turned bitter as I set it down and tried my best to smile at the two.
“I do hope that my lieutenant's sudden departure did not offend you. As military men we are taught to never… not. Hesitate.. That’s not the word i’m looking for.. Tally about, or, take too long to complete a task when it is set about us. Knowing Andrew he’s preparing an extravagant feast and procuring delicitable spirits for tomorrow's party. Your daughter is truly in excellent hands.” I spoke those words cooly ignoring the heat that was rising in my chest. Jealousy? It was foolish for me to feel such things when I had no right. I had no right.
It seemed that my fate was sealed. With a bottle of wine my entire future was decided for me.
My father had agreed to hand me over to Andrew as his wife and that would be final. Once all the preparations had been made, it would seem that I would simply move from the command of my father to the command of the lieutenant.
I looked up for the briefest of moments to try to read Andrew’s expression. While I may be a woman, I was not without intelligence and I usually found that I was rather good at reading people, but I was not able to get a read on him before he turned to Othello, thanking him for the introduction. I wondered how he felt – not that it truly mattered to either of us – because neither of us had a say in our future. I was a woman who had to marry a man of a certain stature for the benefit of the men involved and while a General was impressive, there was a whole history preventing Othello from being the man I might marry.
My thoughts were broken by the sudden departure of my fiancé and Othello was making apologies on his behalf. My father, clearly too lost in the charm, waved his hand dismissively.
“Not a bother Othello. There is a lot to organise. I understand.” He offered the man a smile and there was some polite conversation exchanged before my father decided that he also had to attend to some matters.
“I do hope that we will see you at the celebration tomorrow Othello, after all, you are responsible for this matrimony. It would be a shame for you to miss it.” He smiled once more and offered me his hand. “Come now Arelene, we must see to it that you are prepared for tomorrow.”
I took hold of my father’s hand and glanced towards Othello.
“Thank you, General – Sir, for your introductions.” I did not know what else to say to him, but I knew that there was nothing that could explain my disappointment that we might not get the chance to share in another moment again.
My duty to the family of the Ashdown was over and I was so easily dismissed. That was the world which I was born into; my worth, my value was little and only determined by how much a person could benefit off of my own blood, sweat and tears. Removing myself from the manor of the Ashdowns I dared to be a thief again. My eyes linger towards the sight of the beautiful Arelene and my eyes watched as she was led away. How beautiful, how enchanting, how utterly mesmerizing. My words fail to accurately convey her grace and as I disappeared from her house I wished, secretly, that I could linger a bit longer if only to steal the sight of her beauty once again.
Once more I found myself returning to an empty home filled with only servants who looked liked me. Loneliness. Utter loneliness. Placing an ebony hand to the glass reflection of myself, beady brown eyes stared into the face of a stranger unrecognizable and yet familiar all the same. Trembling, shaking, the heat from within me rises upwards and my hand rockets forward, beating against the solid glass. I’d halfway expect it to shatter but instead it only sends shockwaves of pain against my knuckles. My voice fills the house with thunder and my fist is a mighty hammer. Slamming down upon furniture, turning over tables, I rage and rage. My exhaustion is the only thing that stops my anger and I go down onto the floor and sob. My hands wrap around myself and my tears splash hotly around upon my face as I rock back to and fro. There is no meaning to this rage or reason to this sadness. It just exists and as I sob I try to console myself in vain.
I am a fool who has fallen in love.
“I apologize for my behavior last night.. It was very unlike me.” My words fill the void as I watch the servants set about cleaning the carnage from my rage. I do not know what birth forth the monstrous temper or what caused me to lash out but it happened. None met my glaze but my apology was noted and as they all scurried off to clean up the mess that was made I slowly went down to my carriage. The daytime party required me attention and I was expected to once again show up.
The rest of the day was quite a blur. I remembered that there were women fussing over my wardrobe and adjusting dresses to make sure they were in perfect condition as well as fit for purpose. It was important that I looked my best upon attending my own betrothal announcement. Others fussed over my hair, discussing what would be the best way to style it. It was all background noise to me as he was all I could think about. Not Andrew. Him. Othello.
The General had stolen my heart the moment he had stolen a kiss, and I did not believe there was any coming back from that. Instead, I would be condemned to a life married to his friend, likely seeing him around as he had the freedom to fall in love with other maidens. It seemed like a cruel fate.
I did not sleep well that evening, unable to curb the thoughts of Othello’s hand in mine, his lips against my lips, his breath against my cheek. It was something I would never be permitted to experience again, and so I ensured that I committed every feeling, every sensation to memory.
I did not have much time to allow myself to mope before I was once again surrounded by maidens who hoped to make me look my very best to be presented to my husband-to-be. Another blur of a morning ended in my being placed in a carriage beside my father as we trailed to the home that would soon become my own.
“Andrew is a good man, Arelene. He will treat you well and you will want for nothing.” I could feel his gaze on me but mine was firmly fixated on the passing scenery. “My dear, please look at me.”
A sigh escapes my lips and I look to him and I am aware that he is caught between feeling guilty for making me marry when I am clearly unprepared, and relief that I have someone who will take care of me.
“I’m not going to be around forever. You must understand that after losing your mother…” he paused for a moment and took my hand. “You are my pride and joy and I just want to make sure you are safe if anything were to happen to me.”
“I understand father. I know of your will, and I will not argue against it.”
“Arelene. Give Andrew a chance. You may learn to love him.”
“I will father. I’ll give him a chance.” I looked back out of the window to see the House of Aubert come into view. The home looks just as spectacular as my own. “The gardens look well-kept.” I at least must show my father that I will try."
It was cruel; I was being cruel to my beloved general and I knew this. The way he spoke of himself often betrayed that he felt so lowly of himself and who could blame him? He was the odd one out in this sea of white face and nobles crafted from fine birth. As I dressed myself in emerald and gold and ran fingers through my red locks, I paused for a moment to imagine what life for him must’ve been like. To had been forced to toil beneath the hot sun day in and day out. Never knowing the affection, or love of a mother or the stern scolding of a father. Stepping away from the mirror I blessed my reflection. I was fortunate that the gods favored me and I knew that though this evening would be hard it would be necessary in the long run. The long run would make everything worthwhile.
The first people to arrive early were none other than Lord Ashdown and his daughter. Bowing to greet them I smile as I take her hand in mind and place my forehead to it before stepping backwards. The manor which I’d stay in was similar to many others of the nobility. The only difference being my Garden had white roses instead of red. Mother was often more fond of the color white than any other and so we obliged her after father’s passing. As I looped my arm around hers I nodded to her kindly wanting her to know that she was in very capable hands. As we step inside of my manor I swept my hands around to show off the grand decorations which I’d carefully picked out. Indeed it was quite beautiful and lovely. I spared absolutely no expenses, none at all.
As the people from all Lo’rel started to pour in my eyes turned in search of the brown fellow known as Othello. His dark countenance was always the easiest to spot out yet, as I searched I found that he was nowhere to be seen. Not here or there. The announcement was about to be had. As I took lady Arelene’s hand in my I slowly started to head upwards towards the balcony as my eyes continued to scan the horizon for Othello, I noticed him down below and flashed him a solemn look. I could tell that he looked awful; I knew i was the cause for this. This facade would have to end soon if either of us were to be happy and indeed that was the one thing which i truly wished for.
“And now it begins..” I spoke lamenting the role that I must play in temporarily breaking my friends heart
As the carriage pulled up, my father greeted several footmen as I waited inside. It was not proper to leave without my father’s escort. As soon as he was done announcing our arrival he moved around to my side of the carriage and offered his hand so that I could climb down. Several staff members greeted me with a bow or a courtesy, clearly knowing that I was to become the lady of the house. It was strange to think that this would soon be my life, although how soon was still to be decided. Engagements in Lo’rel did not tend to last long and if they did it was usually only to hold off in case a better offer came along and, in this case, my father had already turned down all other offers. He would not be keen to wait much longer to have me wed.
“Come now, the Lieutenant will be waiting.”
We were led inside the home to be greeted by Andrew himself who was still as charming as he had been yesterday at my father’s table. I could only hope that such charm would not melt away when the deal was done. I smiled warmly as he took hold of my hand.
“Lieutenant. Thank you for your gracious host.” He took my arm in his and I glanced towards my father who gave me an encouraging look before he began to parade his home before me. It was clear from the outset that he was very proud of his achievements, and I could understand why he wanted to protect this home for the sake of his mother.
Soon enough, it was I who was paraded in front of the people of Lo’rel who had gathered to hear of the young man’s announcement and as the halls filled, it was clear that the time had arrived as he took my hand and led me to the balcony that oversaw the crowd.
That was when I see the man who held my heart. He did not look well but I could not ascertain the concern, although I could guess that this was not an easy thing for him to witness since less that 24 hours ago, he declared that he would try to win my heart.
My fiancé’s words pull my attention from him. “M’Lord?” I looked towards him, sensing unease. All I could do was grip the hand he held tighter to let him know that I was right there with him.
We All have a role to play within the tragedies of our own lives. Whether its because we are too naive, too determined, too jealous, or too pious, we all create our own tragic demise. As act one of our play draws to an end with the marriage proposal being announce between Lord Andrew and Lady Arelene.. And out hero Othello is left dismayed.. Let us watch and see how everything turns out. Of course; this is the but the beginning of the first act.
As the stage director of this play; I do hope that you, our viewer, are enjoying everything which you see thus far. Please; do keep in mind that not all of the cast has been introduced yet. We are still awaiting the entrance of one more character than everything which we’ve been building up to will be set in stone.
Now; as Othello enters; Andrew makes his scene.
“It’s nothing… I was only just caught in the moment.. Let us go ahead and make the announcement shall we?”
My eyes softly stare into the depths of Lady Arelene and despite how hard I try to see a woman by whom I’d love to live my life with… I do not. All I see is a child so young and still inept to adapting to the ways of this worlds. A purity hides behind those gentle eyes and it is not something I wish to be so keen on soiling. So as I led her closer to the balcony my eyes flicker all around the crowd to see the General standing within the middle. Just0 from this far away I can tell that his eyes are a cloud of emotion. I inhale before exhaling and slowly muster out as much courage as I can before smiling down at all of the individuals and giving them a cheerful smile.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and hoists.. General Othello….” I spoke nodding towards the the man who stands in the midst of our company. “It is my esteem pleasure to announce that the house of the Ashdowns and the house of the Aurberts will stand united as of this moment. I have invited you all to witness my engagement to the lady Maiden Arelene.. And our wedding will be two weeks hence!”
It was not my idea for the wedding to be so soon. Rather; it was decided upon by my mother. As sweet and as kind as she was, her greatest fear in this life was that she would pass without ever having to look upon the face of her grandchild. A disgrace it would be, she claimed, to pass on to the next world without ever seeing a reflection of my youth once again in my child. As I finished the my brief speech, I’m shocked to hear the loud booming voice of my general.
His eyes sparkling as he raises his glass and declares loudly.
“Let us all raise a glass in honor of this announcement! At last, my beloved lieutenant has find someone else to watch his back!” A mixture of applause and and laughs fill the room as i step back and enjoy the evening..
End of Act I
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