The rain plinked softly against the window. The grounds were verdant against the angled gray of the rain. A light mist rose from the open, slanted pane to caress her cheek. She watched as several of the groundskeepers took shelter beneath a large oak that stood silent vigil over the castle.
“Elinor? Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
She drew her eyes from the deluge and back to the dim interior of the room. Her father, Maxwell, Lord Hartley, stood there leaning his fists on the dark oak table that dominated the family sitting room. The fire behind him cast strange shadows over his frame making him appear larger and more imposing than usual. He sighed and pushing off from the table approached her. Taking one of her pale hands in his own calloused one he cast her a tender look.
“Elinor I know this news is not easy to bear but the Duke has never been a patient man. It seems his plans require our family’s union with that of Lord Tethras.”
She glanced away from her father and back to the rain, now dripping in rivulets down the diamond panes. Politics. It always came down to politics. Benjamin, her husband, had been killed in battle the evening after their wedding. She hadn’t known him well, it had also been an arranged match, but she’d come to like the tender way he held her in their short time together. His passing had been sudden and cruel. Now, barely a month since his death the Duke was demanding a new match be made. She looked back at her father, he was caught in this web as surely as she was. For a lord there was no gainsaying a Duke without consequence, even within one’s family there was little that could be done to circumvent a Duke’s will.
“I understand father, though he would be doing me a kindness to allow a proper mourning period. I cannot even be certain whether I carry Benjamin’s child yet. Does the Duke not care that I might bear a child not of the Tethras line before an heir of his blood?”
Her father sighed and releasing her hand strode to the sideboard where he poured himself a glass of mulled wine. He took a deep drink and Elinor glanced out the open pane, watching as the rain eased.
“The duke claims that any child from your previous match is unlikely given your short marriage and Lord Tethras is in agreement. Your mother wanted to know if they had taken leave of their senses.”
Elinor snorted softly. No doubt mother would have said far worse to the men in question had she been present for such statements. Mother was renowned for her sharp tongue and had more than once gotten herself into trouble for it. Elinor was not like mother and did not wish to be, she wanted a quiet life, a good husband, and peace within her household while mother was always pushing limits, testing boundaries and saying what she thought regardless of propriety.
“I agree with her on this point and told them as much but neither would be moved. The Duke and Lord Tethras came to this arrangement for the alliance and the Duke told me they would not be changing it. I’m sorry my dear.”
“No. It’s all right father. I understand, there really is nothing we can do against the Duke.”
She laid trembling fingers against the diamond pane and watched the rivulets race each other downward from the eaves. The scent of musty rushes on the floor mingled with the freshness of newly fallen rain, the familiar, comforting smell lent courage to her voice.
“I have but one question father, what sort of man is he?”
“Well Lord Tethras’ son, Thomas, is your intended, he’s eldest and therefore heir to the Tethras holdings. I met him but once during these discussions. He seemed an active sort. He has won distinction in several battles and has a reputation for being an honorable man and fair, even to his foes. My impression of the man was favorable but I cannot speak as to his character from the one meeting.”
He paused and Elinor watched as her father ruminated for a moment. His brows were knit in thought and the rather melancholy thought arose that she would miss that heavy glower when she was married and far away at the Tethras holdings. Benjamin had been a second son and since he had no holdings of his own she had remained her family home. Her father cleared his throat and his expression softened.
“My only mark of favor toward him is that he looked as bemused as I over his father and the Duke’s declaration that there was no possibility of pregnancy. He did not seem troubled by it though so I do not think it would be a point of issue.”
Elinor nodded, that at least was a relief, he appeared to have good sense at least in that regard. His character however would remain a mystery for her until their wedding she supposed.
“What day has the Duke chosen?”
“Sunday after next.”
“Yes. Hetty nearly burst a seam with irritation when she learned of the date.”
Elinor smiled slightly, Hetty, her father’s pet name for Mother, would definitely have had several things to say about so hasty a marriage. She shrugged her shoulders slightly and turned to look out at the now clear sky.
“I’ll have the maids pull out my dress and re-fit it in the morning. There won’t be time to make a new one.”
“I’m sorry my dear.”
Her father laid a hand on her shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze before walking from the room. The door thumped shut behind him. The diamond panes blurred slightly and Elinor blinked quickly to clear away the tears. At least she’d met Benjamin socially before their wedding. This would be a purely political arrangement with a first impression made on her wedding day. What a dreary prospect.