But first, since this Fate of the Gods installment is set in the 1400s, I thought some 15th Century music might be in order to set the mood. A little taste of what Eve might have heard in church or at a banquet, or maybe even danced to with the Marquis DeLeon. (As an added bonus, there's a lot of great 15th Century art in the accompanying video -- to check out when you're not too busy binge reading Taming Fate to these fantastic tunes, of course.)
Fate of the Gods: Book 2.5
For the first time in her many lives, Eve would rather be anywhere but home.
In 15th Century France, Eve would have burned as a witch if it hadn’t been for the too-timely arrival of the Marquis DeLeon to save her skin. But Eve didn’t ask to be rescued, and their hasty marriage is off to anything but a smooth start. As tensions in the town grow and plague threatens, Ryam DeLeon knows if he and Eve cannot find common ground, their first Christmas may be their last.
Previously published in the anthology A Winter’s Enchantment.
Chapter One (Excerpt)
The man who sat across the table was a stranger. Dark hair, dark eyes, his face so familiar, and yet so different. The Marquis DeLeon showed more affection to his dogs and his horses than he did to his wife. It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried, Eve reminded herself. That he didn’t still try. But from the moment she had not thrown herself into his arms, weeping with gratitude and relief, he had been at a loss as to what to do with her, how to move forward.
Oh, they’d married, of course. And even consummated their vows, not that the Church had not been known to ignore such evidence when it suited them. Which was why the Marquis wished to have children, as quickly as possible.
And he believed simply by saying so, by announcing this desire to her, for the security of their marriage and her own personal safety, she would welcome him unreservedly to her bed. And why shouldn’t she? Weren’t children the entire point of her existence? Shouldn’t she wish to carry on her line, expand her family? She pressed her lips together to keep them from curling at the memory of his words. His entire attitude.
Arrogant, pig-headed, insufferable man. From someone else, she might have expected it, but from a DeLeon—from her husband, when he knew her for what she was, knew she was more than just Anessa, daughter of some minor nobleman from Avignon—it was all the more frustrating.
“Will you go riding today?” he asked politely, tossing a bit of bread to the dog at his feet. A lean hound, tall and fast and elegant. She’d watched the Marquis working with it, sending it running after balls and sticks and the occasional servant, equipped with some sort of lure.
“I ride every day,” she answered, just as polite. A servant placed a plate of cheese between them, on the table. The last of the breakfast offerings, and more than she would have had elsewhere after St. Martin’s day. “Thank you, Robert. You needn’t serve us further.”
Her husband sat up, his eyes narrowing at her dismissal of the servant. But of course he didn’t contradict her. He wouldn’t, for appearances. She was, after all, the lady of the manor as his wife. And his dislike of her methods would not stop her from employing them. Not as long as he treated her with the same consideration he showed a brood mare.
“Anessa,” he began, after the room had cleared of servants. “You cannot truly mean to go on this way. Not permitting the servants to do their work, taking so much upon yourself. It is all well and good to give them some small holiday during Christmastide, but—”
“Christmastide is nearly here,” she interrupted. “And the running of this manor is mine, as your wife.”
“And what do you intend for Christmas itself? That we return from the mass and make ourselves some cold plate? It’s hardly a fitting way to end forty days of fasting!”
“The servants and maids have fasted too, all this time, and why shouldn’t they have some relief from their burdens?” The cheese was soft enough to spread, but she missed the butter they’d given up as an extravagance. For a religion neither one of them believed in. “I’ll cook the Christmas feast myself. For all of us.”
The Marquis opened his mouth, then shut it with an audible snap, his jaw tight. “And I suppose you insist upon this? That your mind is made up? You’ll not attend the mass yourself, then, either, I suppose.”
“Not if it can be avoided.” It wasn’t as if Christmas day was anything more than the church’s attempt to appease the pagans who would have celebrated solstice, even after their conversion. Jesus hadn’t been born in winter, and she should know. It had been her body which had brought him to term and birthed him, so long ago.
“Had I known you were such a stubborn thing—”
“What, my lord?” she demanded, the last thread of control over her temper snapping. “You would have left me to the inquisitor’s justice? Let me burn alive? Had it come to that, I would have survived, and it would have served as proof enough of my innocence. I never asked you to come for me. I never asked for this marriage. For any of this!”
“Nor will you ever need to ask for our protection, the protection of your own family,” he said tightly. “Why you insist on punishing me for doing my duty to you, I cannot understand in the slightest.”
“If you did not wish to marry me, you need not have bothered. You might have let the whole of it be a farce and left me to my own devices. I would have drawn no attention to myself as your ward. I have no need for position or power, you must know that.”
“And yet I chose to give it to you, all the same. To give you the respect you deserve beneath my roof. Oh, how I have wronged you!”
“Don’t be snide, my lord Marquis. It does not suit such a noble name.”
“And the lady of the manor roasting venison for le Réveillon does?” he mocked. “Or avoiding Christ’s mass, for that matter? I cannot protect you if you will make no effort to keep appearances.”
And this was what her family had become? Slaves to the Church, slaves to the King, when she had given up her innocence in the Garden, at the dawn of Creation, to make them free. The Church was as bad as Adam, crushing its people beneath its heels, and she refused to fear it. No matter how many times the priests threatened to burn her as a witch.
“This is my family, my lands, if I cannot be true to myself here, where might I find any whisper of freedom?”
He dragged his fingers through his hair as if he wished to tear it from his head altogether. “I do not mean to tell you that you cannot be free,” he bit out. “Only that some sacrifices must be made to avoid further difficulties. Turning the manor upside down with these strange customs of yours serves nothing but to draw attention to yourself and me. And once the Church notices, if your escape here is realized and the inquisitors are sent once more, there is little I might do to stop them from doing you harm, my lady.”
“They were bought once,” she mumbled, looking away. He was right, of course. Priests talked, and the absence of the Marquis’ wife from the midnight mass was not something that would be overlooked for any excuse. If word reached Avignon, the inquisitors would come.
All the more reason why they never should have been married.
“I did not buy an inquisitor,” he said gently. “I bought only a lesser priest, and it cost me a goodly fortune. The repairs to the palace in Avignon will not come cheap, nor does his silence on the matter.”
“Repairs to the palace?” She stared. “You can’t be serious, surely. I thought it was only some small stipend…”
His lips pressed together, forming a grim line.
“You are serious.” It was hardly believable, the expense, and for what? To prevent the inconvenience of her trial, the trauma of the result?
One of the blessings of being Eve was that she could not be killed. Not before her time. Not even by an inquisitor, invoking God. And even if by some miracle they managed it, she would be born again, live again for another life.
“Why, Ryam? It was hardly worth so much.”
“You are worth more, still,” he said. “Your safety is bound to my honor.”
“Ah,” she breathed. It all made so much more sense when he put it that way. He was sworn to protect her, and if he did not, he would be dishonored. Perhaps not in the eyes of any others but himself, his own family, but it did not matter. Any stain was too great. And in the end, it wasn’t about her at all.
“The estate can well afford it,” he went on. “I would not have you worry on that account. There is gold enough for three palaces, were it needed, I promise you. And better spent upon your safety than in any other pursuit.”
Better spent upon his honor. That was what he meant, whether he realized it or not.
Arrogant, insufferable, impossible man.
“Sadly, the fortune we’ve amassed is not near enough to buy Rome itself,” he was saying. “And even if they burn you and you survive, that will only bring you even more beneath her eye. You would have no peace, after. No peace until they had you crushed beneath their heel. Anything less only threatens them, and with all that has happened so recently—the popes and the renegades who claimed the title for themselves, the division of the Church in these last years—they can hardly risk another rallying cry. Surely you see that.”
Yes, she saw. She’d seen for some time that her very existence, were it known, threatened everything the fools had built. They pointed to their gospels and their letters, but she had lived it all. From the Garden, to the birth of Moses, to Jesus’ crucifixion. She knew the truth, and it had little to do with popes and palaces and midnight mass. But it would hardly have mattered if he had not insisted upon marrying her.
“You don’t believe any of it, and still you serve them.”
He stopped, hand half-way to his mouth with more bread, and met her eyes. He set the bread aside. “Unlike you, I will not survive if I am punished for heresy. And worse, I destroy the legacy you made for us. I am a Lion, my lady. Nothing matters more than that. If we ally ourselves with the powers of the land to ease our passage through time and maintain our heritage, at least we yet live.”
“Those powers are corrupt,” she said, lifting her chin. “And as long as you support them, you are painted with the same brush, stained by the same filth. If your honor is so dear to you, perhaps you ought to reconsider.”
His jaw worked, the muscles twitching beneath the skin as he struggled with his own self-control, and then he rose. “If you’ll excuse me.”
She watched him leave, but for some reason, it didn’t feel anything like victory.