For Love of a Queen
Book Two of BY HONOR BOUND
by Kat Jaske
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Queen Anne of 17th-century France has been kidnapped.
Can Laurel and the musketeers find and rescue her without telling King
Louis XIII? And what happens to the musketeers and France if they fail?
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Prologue - 1639
The merest hint of spring rippled in the breeze as the sun
struggled to emerge from behind the voluminous layers of white clouds,
shining down on the bleak, sickly, green and brown landscape. Every here
and there clumps of dirty snow and slowly melting ice clung tenaciously
to withered vegetation, refusing to yield to the warmth of those feeble
rays of sun.
In that self-same breeze clung a tang of sulfur fused with
a dose of soot and the unmistakable stench of smoke. On the horizon hovered
an ominous grey cloud, staining the blue of the sky, a color that resembled
the desiccated skin of a porpoise.
Across the winter-scarred terrain a solitary horse galloped,
its hooves tearing up chunks of sod and trampling fragile buds as it went.
On the nut-brown animal’s back a rider swathed in a billowed, tan,
long coat leaned forward, his chest almost touching his mount’s
head. From the laboring horse’s nostrils the man almost thought
he could see the misty puffs of breath in the chilly air.
A moment longer the man permitted his mount to have its
head and then he reined in, and the beast came to a stop atop a hill that
overlooked the environs.
His eyes surveyed his surroundings with deceptive equanimity
and lingered on the grey film marring the sky. If he were feeling more
superstitious this morning, he would have accused the weather of having
been tailored to fit his bleak mood, and spring of deliberately delaying
Of course, it seemed to be the same story every year––spring
struggling to break winter’s icy grip. His nose crinkled as the
gust of wind brought the reek of smoke and sulfur to his nostrils. Though
the fighting was leagues away from his estate, the wind carried the dismal
reminder of stark reality to his senses.
Had there ever been a time that war had not been ravaging
his homeland? Apparently not in his lifetime. Even his earliest memories
bore the brand of war that continually plagued Europe and cost so many
good men their lives, limbs, or peace of mind.
As if sensing its master’s restiveness, the horse
pawed at the ground and tossed its head. The blond-haired man of roughly
twenty and four years spared a moment from his contemplations to try to
soothe the beast.
A backward glance toward his home, he stole. Erik was in
no particular hurry to return. The news was not likely to be favorable,
and the doctor had not held out much hope that his wife and the newborn
twins would last out the fortnight; that they had survived the past three
weeks had already been hailed a miracle. The assurance that his elder
son of two years was in good health, for the time being, brought little
solace to the turbulence of his heart.
Nor did it help that his ducal responsibilities frequently
drew him from home to Danzig or Königsberg or Berlin or whatever
other places service to the crown demanded he travel. Oft enough he found
himself fighting the ungrateful thought that he’d rather not wield
such tremendous power when it constantly threw him into worlds of political
intrigue and expediency that he had always preferred to avoid. Back his
mind drifted to his ailing wife and children and refused to let go of
the morbid picture. If only . . .
Vivid images from years earlier abruptly reappeared in his
mind, in gruesome detail: a man and youth toiling in the battlefield to
save the lives of wounded and dying men while guns and cannons clamored
around them, while screams and curses ceaselessly rent the air. It had
been a long time since he had thought of Thomas and the man’s son,
who had in reality been a daughter he had drawn into a tableau of suffering
and violence that Satan proudly would have called hell.
And regardless of the father’s and daughter’s
allegiance to a rival country, he wished that they—either one of
them—were under his roof this very day. When it came down to it,
he would trust his wife and children to their ministrations far more readily
than to any other so-called doctor, even one of good repute. Even if Thomas’
daughter were the only one present to tend to his family he’d feel
more inclined to hope for an auspicious outcome.
A sigh burst from his lips as he caught sight of another
horse and rider coming toward him. An instant he was tempted to turn and
flee from what was all too likely a harbinger of bad or unwelcome news.
Instead he silently watched the approach of the other man.
“Herzog?” The messenger glanced at
the duke as he spoke, and tried not to let concern for his master creep
into his voice. Few could have asked for a better master or better man
to serve than this one, and all too often Herzog Erik’s
life had been riddled with anguish, horror, and brutally dashed dreams.
Reluctantly, the young nobleman, who was usually of a far
cheerier disposition, signaled the messenger to speak. The other man cleared
his throat. “I am sorry to disturb you, but I did not think you
would wish to wait until later to hear.”
There was a marked pause. “My wife?” Erik finally
prompted as the muscles in his stomach clenched and a leaden feeling seized
his roiling heart.
“Welcome news, herzog, your wife and the
children have improved. The doctor believes there is a good chance they
will pull through, though your wife should never bear children again.”
Unspoken was the warning that should such a fate be tempted it would kill
her. Unspoken was the knowledge that even if she did pull through, her
health would always be frail.
“Then what does this concern?”
“There seem to be strange goings-on. Many rumors are
flying about possible all-out war with France, others about plots to kill
the king, kurfürst,” he amended, as technically there
was no king of Prussia, “or the prinz. The latest missives
seem to support the contention that someone is slowly poisoning the kurfürst.”
“Someone has arrived with news from Kurfürst
Georg Wilhem von Brandenburg himself then?” the herzog
The other man nodded. “He is worried about his son,
and what the prinz Frederick William might be getting embroiled
What mischief could the boy be getting up to in such a retreat
as Königsberg? Erik’s brow furrowed. He found the thought bizarre,
especially considering the very serious and thoughtful nature of the young
man. He was not one prone to getting himself into trouble. “Was
anything sent to be given to me?”
The messenger reached into his doublet and withdrew a sealed
letter and proffered it to the young nobleman. Without delay, Erik broke
the seal and read through the contents of the message. Georg was dying?
Unthinkable, and yet the verdict was no more than a year––not
that such intelligence was commonly known or completely accurate.
Erik’s eyes darkened as he continued to read. Worse
and worse; perhaps Georg had legitimate reasons to be concerned. He would
have to investigate, Erik concluded morosely, wondering why he was never
allowed to live a peaceable life of a father, friend, and family man but
ever had to be embroiled in foreign affairs and intrigue.
“I believe I will be doing quite a bit of traveling
in the near future. But for now, let us head back. There is much for us
to do here.” And much for him to get in order before he had to thrust
his nose into affairs he was sure were going to lead places he did not
want to go.