The Defiant Bride

By: Leslie Hachtel


England, 1508

“A fortnight, a fortnight,” Lady Dariana chanted as she galloped her gelding across the meadow toward the stream. “A fortnight, indeed. Well, I won’t do it. I won’t!” But she knew better. The king would not hesitate to seize all her father owned, and worse. He had forced stronger men to work in his kitchens, and had imprisoned and executed others who defied him. He could not allow disobedience from his nobles or there would surely be anarchy. She and her father would be punished, and in ways she had not even imagined. Perhaps the king could be reasoned with, though she was certain this was a vain hope.

She reached the rushing water and dismounted. The gray course stretched out in both directions. A recent storm had caused it to reach high up on the banks and tumble back on itself. Her horse occupied himself nibbling spring grass as Dariana walked to the edge of the jagged rocks. The water mimicked her mood; it crashed against the rocks and churned backward. She stood transfixed, the words she spoke earlier coming back like an echo: I will die first.

She hadn’t really meant it. Death was a dark tunnel one traveled never to return. The promise of heaven would be removed if she took her own life. Her eyes lifted to the cloudy sky and she inhaled the fresh air, praying desperately for an answer that would serve.

Dariana looked into the foaming water as it tossed itself against the rocks. She imagined herself on a high cliff, looking down into the sea. Maybe she could fly from that perch and end this agony, this torment. She wondered if there could be a worse fate than being torn from everything she had ever known, forced to live in a foreign land with who knows what kind of monster.

Hope sprang in her heart. Perhaps he would be kind and not too hard on the eyes. She dismissed the thought, knowing that a man of means and handsome of face would choose his own fate when it came to selecting a wife. Women were nothing more than property, to be used as a means of exchange, one thing for the other.

If she were to disappear, what would happen? Would Henry exact his revenge with confiscation? He saw treason everywhere and struck out against threats real or imagined. Suddenly, the misery was too much; hot tears burned her eyes and slipped down her cheeks.

Earlier this morning, she’d sat on the stone window seat, braiding her thick, black hair, her thoughts touching on one thing, then another, a sense of excitement filling her with hope. She’d inhaled deeply of the sweet air and wondered if she should spend her day riding the countryside or reading one of her beloved books. The thought of staying within the manor walls was unthinkable on such a fine day, although the chill in the air was a reminder that winter was not quite ready to move aside.

She looked out to the greening expanse and was startled to see a cloud of dust. A rider in the distance. It was unusual to have unexpected visitors. Dariana recognized the colors of the crown. She shivered as the king’s messenger entered the gate; this did not bode well. News from the king was never good these days. He no longer showed sympathy for his people since his beloved son and wife had died. To make matters worse, the rider reached for a scroll as he dismounted and threw the reins to a waiting stable boy. The horse was lathered despite the cool temperature, underscoring the man’s urgency.

Dariana was not surprised when, an hour later, her young maid appeared at the door. The girl curtsied quickly and spoke in a whisper. “Your father requires your presence, milady.”

“How bad is the news, I wonder?”

“I know not, my lady. Only that your father keeps biting his lips and shaking his head.”

Dariana straightened her gown and rose. In no great hurry to hear this edict from the crown, filled as she was with apprehension at its contents, Dariana walked from her chamber and down the stone steps of the old castle, her back rigid with anticipation.

Her father was pacing to and fro in front of the great fireplace, the flames crackling loudly as if in warning. He was a solid man, tall and strong. His eyes were an unusual shade of green. His moods were as visible in their depths as a compass telling direction. She could see he sensed her presence, but he merely continued his striding, back hunched, hands clasped behind him. Suddenly, he muttered, “Not good, nay, not good,” to no one in particular.

“Sir?” She spoke nervously, curiosity gnawing at her and warring with the fear of having that curiosity satisfied.

Her father moved to his chair by the hearth and sat heavily, his age showing in the deep lines of his face. He pated a stool next to him. Then he pierced her with his intense gaze. “Come sit, child. I have a message from the king himself.”

Obediently, Dariana sat where her father indicated and took his hand. She was overcome with the love she felt for this man who had seen to her all her life. Her mother had died of the fever when Dariana was but a babe and this man was the only parent she had ever known.