We’re very pleased to bring you an excerpt from the novel Unintended, by Justine Alley Dowsett!
The rolling hills and grasslands of Ismera were strange to her in the beginning. Now, after nearly a month of riding through them, they had begun to seem commonplace. What the High Clan Chief’s daughter was not prepared for, however, were the high turrets of the palace she was headed towards and the sprawling city of Ismer that surrounded it. Even more surprising than all that was the fanfare that greeted her when at last she reached the city’s high-walled gate.
A handsome man atop a white horse rode boldly out to greet her, without so much as a weapon drawn or a friend to watch his back.
They are much more trusting here of strangers than they are back at home, she noted. Unless, it’s only that they don’t consider me a stranger.
Mackenzie en Shareed of Haldoram straightened her back, instinctively preparing herself to make a good impression. She felt her breath catch in her throat as he came closer and she realized that the man before her, with his sunny hair, tanned skin and bright blue eyes, could be none other than the man she’d ridden all the way here to marry. She felt her usually flawlessly tanned skin flush an uncomfortable shade of red as she watched him dismount and walk the rest of the way to her side, a wide grin spreading across his face at the sight of her.
I didn’t expect him to be so handsome. Kenzie found that as much as she might want to, she couldn’t deny the pounding of her heart or the fluttering in her stomach. I’m very fortunate to be attracted to him so easily.
If he took notice of her discomfort he didn’t show it, bowing over her hand and kissing it lightly. “Princess Mackenzie, let me be the first to welcome you to the City of Ismer.”
Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Kenzie reached for the marriage bracelet she’d woven herself for this very occasion. Unhooking it carefully from her belt, she caught his hand before he could take it away and swiftly wrapped the small, white-flowered wreath about his wrist, tying it with a practiced motion.
She could see in her husband-to-be’s eyes that he was confused, but she didn’t have time to explain it to him now. That would come later, after they were entwined together in their marriage bed. Right now, only the ritual mattered.
I have to do this now, she affirmed silently. Once I enter this city of theirs and am completely surrounded by Ismeran culture and politics it will be too late to marry him in my own way, in front of my people and by our customs. It’s the only way I will feel comfortable with his arrangement. I can marry him in the Ismeran way afterwards.
The barest nod over her shoulder was enough to bring Seraphina over. Her mentor and friend had accompanied her this far and now she played her part of the wedding ceremony by bringing forth the wreath that Prince Kadrean would place upon her head, sealing their arrangement and making them man and wife.
Aging Seraphina bowed before the Prince, despite the aching old bones she always complained of, holding out the wreath before her in offering.
“Take it,” Seraphina urged him, her English much less accented than Kenzie knew her own to be. “You must place it upon her head and say the words.”
Looking as confused as ever, the Prince took the woven white flowers and did as instructed.
“What words, exactly?”
“I be bhur agus thu de agamsa,” Kenzie spoke in her native tongue, making sure to properly enunciate each syllable so he could follow along.
“I be burr…” he began, trying his hardest to stumble through the words that were foreign to him, “a Gus who de Gamsa.”
That’s good enough, I suppose… Kenzie frowned, regarding him. Though I thought that being the heir to these lands, he would have some knowledge of Gaelic.
“You may call me Kenzie,” she told him, dismissing her negative thoughts with a smile, before leaning in to kiss him, as was customary.
Seraphina and the other clanspeople who’d made the journey with her began to cheer, but their cheers were cut short when her new husband pulled back from her in surprise. “Whoa! I don’t know what’s expected between two strangers in the North, but here in the South it’s customary to save that kind of greeting for your husband.”
“Yes…” he agreed, searching her eyes as if to gauge how much of the language she understood, “so I have a fiancée and you have a Prince who’s waiting very anxiously to meet you up at the Palace.”
Kenzie suddenly felt ill and more than a little dizzy. “You are not Prince Kadrean…?” The golden-haired stranger she’d just married wore a look of concern mixed with confusion. “Then who are you?”
“Uh…” He cleared his throat, made a little uncomfortable by the stares of the clanspeople. “Lord Garron D’Arbonne…at your service, Your Highness.”
An uncomfortable silence fell over them and the clansfolk, but Kenzie couldn’t find it in her to break it or fill it with anything meaningful. Her entire focus was on keeping herself from hyperventilating.
I just married this Garron D’Arbonne…not the Prince. Not my intended. Kenzie was in full panic at the gravity of the error she had just committed. How can I fix this?! The marriage bond is forever, never able to be undone. A man can remarry, under certain circumstances, but can a woman? Would they even allow such a thing?
My father will be so disappointed in me. He wanted this treaty between our lands to work. I’ve only just arrived and I’ve already ruined it. What am I going to do?!
“Well,” Garron cleared his throat again, “we should be going. I’m sure Prince Kadrean is eager to meet you.”
Gesturing forward, her husband held out his arm for her.
No, I mustn’t think of him that way, she admonished herself. He is my husband, but he’s right, I’m supposed to marry Prince Kadrean. There is a treaty. Our marriage is law. It must happen.
I’m so stupid. I could have avoided this if I had just thought to ask his name.
Her mentor had spent long hours making sure she understood the nuances of Ismeran culture, so Kenzie knew what was expected of her now. She slid her arm into Garron’s, even though she felt very conscious about doing so, and her people’s cheers resumed.
“What’s that all about?” Garron leaned into whisper to her, which didn’t help her self-consciousness.
“My people are happy for us,” she did her best to explain, “Most of them do not know English.”
“Oh,” he answered simply, considering this a moment. “I’m glad they approve…but what are they happy about, exactly? Pardon my questions, but I feel as if I’m missing something here.”
Garron took hold of the reins of his horse as they reached it, and with Seraphina leading both Kenzie’s horse and her own they were now reaching the open gates of the city, where it seemed that more people waited to greet them.
“They approve of our recent marriage…” Kenzie meant to say the words clearly and confidently, but they came out as a whisper instead.
Unfortunately, Garron heard her. “Our what?” he demanded as the roar of the crowd and the renewed fanfare swallowed them and there was no more time for words.
For a moment, Kenzie was lost in the adoration of her newfound people and was surprised by the sheer number of Ismerans who had made the trip out to greet her. She understood that in Ismera people lived in cities, and in cities the homes were much more tightly packed together than they were in her own lands, but still there were far more people than she expected. They stood shoulder to shoulder just inside the gate, with the exception of a small path left clear for her to reach the waiting carriage that filled a sizeable space, and they were eagerly smiling and waving to her.
The embarrassment and shame she felt over what had just happened was still with her, but the crowd’s energy was infectious and she couldn’t help but feel her spirits lifted by their adulation. She smiled and waved back at them, feeling that it would be rude not to do otherwise. They did not need to know that she secretly dreaded meeting the man she’d actually came here to marry.
“Your Highness?” Garron’s voice drew her attention back to him. He was standing next to the ornate carriage and holding the door open for her. Somewhere in the shuffle he had handed his white horse off to someone else, or at least it was nowhere to be seen at the moment.
With one final wave to the crowd, Kenzie took Garron’s hand and allowed him to help her up into the carriage. She held her dark brown skirts out of the way to avoid tripping on the narrow carriage steps and took her seat, waiting for Garron to join her in the confined space and wondering how she was going to survive a whole carriage ride in such close quarters with him. Instead, Seraphina’s silver-haired head poked into the carriage, followed by the rest of her.
The older Saeguardian woman turned about and offered her hand to help Garron into the carriage. Garron’s amusement at this was written all over his face as he took the seat across from Kenzie and allowed Seraphina to shut the carriage door.
“You said something as we were coming into the city, Your Highness,” Garron began, pinning Kenzie with his blue-eyed stare as he attempted to pick up where they left off.
“Nevermind that now,” Seraphina interrupted, “we have bigger problems. In the eyes of everyone who came with us the two of you are married now…and that’s going to make Mackenzie’s engagement to the Ismeran Prince difficult. We need to figure out how to deal with this and quickly.”
“First off, call me Kenzie, not Your Highness and not Mackenzie, please,” Kenzie speared both of them with a disapproving look. “Second, the marriage bond is forever, and only Clan Chiefs have the right to marry more than one person.”
Garron’s eyes widened noticeably. “Let me get this straight. You’re both saying that I married…Kenzie…just now?” He looked as incredulous as he sounded. “Because of the flowers and the words?” He waited for their nods before continuing. “But it’s not like there was an officiant there…”
“My people witnessed our union,” Kenzie explained, “we are, in fact, married.”
He swallowed uncomfortably. “But…doesn’t there have to be a, you know, union for there to be a…union? I mean, wouldn’t we have to consummate the marriage?”
“Yes.” Kenzie blushed at the reminder and the realization that she was actually looking forward to the marriage bed if it meant that she got to lie with Garron. She was finding it hard to think straight with him only just out of her reach; the scent of him was intoxicating. “That would be expected.”
“I see.” More throat clearing. “Well then, it’s simple. We need only to avoid consummating our…marriage…and then you can marry the Prince as planned, right?”
“It’s not quite so simple, My Lord,” Seraphina interjected, “but it may have to become so. Treaties have been made that rely upon the marriage between Mackenzie and Prince Kadrean. Neither Mackenzie’s father, the High Clan Chief, nor King Raymundo of Ismer, would want this arrangement to fall through.”
“Simple?” Kenzie demanded, feeling more than a little hurt by the way both her trusted companion and her new husband were tossing aside the vows she had just made, never mind that they had been in error. “I can never speak those words to another man. What I have done shames myself and my family, and you want me to just forget it was done, and worse, lie about it?”
Garron looked surprised at her vehemence, but it was Seraphina who spoke. “No one is asking you to lie, child, but you may have to admit your mistake and accept what comes of it. Perhaps it will not matter so much that you have spoken the words of marriage in your tongue to this man when you have not consummated the marriage and do not intend to do so. If you ask his forgiveness for your error in judgement, King Raymundo may still allow you to marry his son and fulfill the obligations of the treaty that was signed.”
“The words mean something to me,” Kenzie insisted to Seraphina before rounding on Garron, “and marriage is more than just sex!”
To Kenzie’s surprise, Garron was shocked by her outburst and his face immediately flushed red as his shock combined with embarrassment.
“I…agree,” he said after a moment, “marriage is much more than physical contact. It’s…I mean, I would like my marriage to be with a woman I can love and respect, someone I can build a family with. But I’m engaged, same as you are, to someone else. Your soon-to-be sister-in-law, in fact, Princess Margaret. The details were just finalized last week. I owe it to her as much as you owe it to Prince Kadrean to follow through with the agreements that were made.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Kenzie told him, feeling frustrated that she couldn’t make her new husband understand something that was in her blood and in her bones. She’d grown up believing in the sanctity of the marriage bond and she’d been raised to know that she would one day say those words and mean it, serving her husband until her dying breath. “That’s fine if you can live a lie…but I am not a person who can do that.”
Not wanting to listen to any more of the conversation that only served to remind her of the gravity of what she had done, Kenzie stood, bowing over to still fit within the domed ceiling of the carriage. Wobbling with the rocking motion of the carriage, she made for the door which took all of one step to reach.
“What are you doing?!” Garron demanded, startled.
“Leaving,” Kenzie stated, throwing the door of the carriage open and immediately regretting her rash decision as soon as she saw just how quickly the ground was passing beneath them.
Garron stood, reaching out to stop her from launching herself out the carriage door, but as soon as he had done so the carriage jolted to a stop, sending Kenzie flying backward into Garron’s waiting arms.
The fanfare from earlier resumed, causing Kenzie to realize the reason for the sudden stop. We’re here.
A blush came to Kenzie’s cheeks as she realized where she was.
Struggling against Garron, she fought to regain her footing and her composure. After pausing to give her a look of warning, Seraphina stood to block the entrance of the carriage and the view of what was going on inside. Kenzie used this much needed moment to right herself and attempted to make herself look presentable. She could feel Garron behind her doing the same. It wasn’t long before she was ushered out of the carriage and into the light of day.
The palace was huge; it was much larger than she had dreamed possible and seeing it from a distance had not done it justice. The courtyard she stepped out onto was paved in cobblestones and there stood easily ten times the amount of people that had been at the city gate. These ones were dressed in such fine clothes they put Kenzie’s own brown dress to shame.
She found herself gawking like an idiot and feeling totally undeserving of the praise of these total strangers. Despite her discomfort, they continued cheering and hailing her as their much-anticipated future queen, as she awkwardly descended the narrow carriage steps.
In all the commotion, Kenzie hardly noticed the man who had somehow effortlessly made his way through the crowd. Out of all the others in the courtyard, he alone approached until he was standing before her. He was fairly tall, with olive skin and lustrous black hair over stormy grey eyes, and he wore elegantly simple black clothing of very fine quality.
“You’re Mackenzie en Shareed?” he asked, not mincing words. Something in his eyes combined with the partial smirk on his face told her that somehow this fact was amusing to him.
“It’s Kenzie,” she corrected him almost automatically.
“Kenzie, then,” he agreed. “Well, it seems that you and I are to be married,” he informed her, whether she already knew or not. “I’m Prince Kadrean.”
“Well, Kadrean,” Kenzie copied his tone, adding a bit more bite to it than she intended, “why didn’t you meet me at the gates like a proper gentleman?”
Kadrean was taken aback by this but he recovered quickly, licking his lips as he considered the circumstance and looking her up and down once, as if appraising a mare he was about to purchase.
“I believe you were offered exactly the amount of courtesy that you are due, all things considered.”
“Oh, I understand,” Kenzie drew upon all the anger she felt at herself for her failures so far today and funneled it into the most hurtful words she could think up, “you were too busy being pampered like a child to -”
“Prince Kadrean,” Seraphina interrupted, stepping up beside Kenzie, “we are so grateful to be welcomed to your home and pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m afraid your Princess is tired from her long journey and would do better meeting you after she has had opportunity to rest and rejuvenate herself. Please, can we come inside and be brought to some accommodations?”
“Of course,” Kadrean answered, his pursed lips the only outward sign of his displeasure. “Please, won’t you come inside?”
“Fine,” Kenzie allowed, still seething, “lead the way, Your Highness.”
Seraphina’s warning look this time was murderous. Ignoring her, Kenzie fought the urge to stick her tongue out at the Prince’s back, before turning her head around to see where Garron had gotten to.
He was right behind them, hurrying to fall in step with the procession, the white-flowered wedding bracelet shredded where it lay discarded by the wheel of the carriage. As Kenzie watched, the carriage started moving again and the perfect white flowers she had so painstakingly woven together from a rare out of season patch in her homeland were crushed and forgotten.