Sara R. Turnquist

The Lady and Her Mission  Chapters 1-3 Sneak Peek


It is the year 1424, nine years after the martyrdom of Jan Hus for his outspoken challenges with the Catholic Church. This tragic loss, sparked his followers to rise up against the powers over them, thrusting off Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund’s tight grip. It has been a hard fought conflict, with the Royalist Catholics leading two anti-Hussite crusades into Bohemia, only to be beaten back. Not only that, there is in-fighting within Czech lands, creating even more difficulties. An offer of the Czech crown to Poland was met with interest. And Prince Korybut has journeyed to Bohemia to answer and lead the rabble.

With General Zizka leading their military efforts, the Third Anti-Hussite Crusade has been thwarted. But not without great cost. Pavel Krejik, en route to offer his sword to the Hussite cause, has been captured by Ulrich of Rosemberg, the man who murdered his father. Karin remains ignorant to this fact, but anxiuously awaits her husband’s safe return from battle.

Patricie and Stepan, having found one another under dire circumstances, have journeyed back to Hussite-controled Bohemia. They have professed their great love for each other, but time will tell if they can actually be togther in truth.

Patricie’s sister, Eva, and her husband, Zdenek, continue to make a way for themselves in the world, but do not have the one thing they want most—a child.

Zdenek and Pavel’s friend Radek found his happily ever after with Duke Novak’s daughter, Lady Hana, and they seek to discover where their place in the conflict lies.

Lukas, a friend from before the conflict began in their homeland, who was coerced into taking part in the plot to end Karin’s life, still awaits news of his imprisonment term. He is prepared to languish in a dungeon for his crime, but his family holds out hope that one of their appeals will be heard.

And now, the continuation…

Chapter One

Karin & Pavel

Pavel glared about the forest surrounding him. Through the night, he had managed to keep himself awake. He sensed the eyes of the knight stationed to watch him. Would there be respite?

The camp was more guarded and provisioned than he would have guessed for a man who had been on the run. What, after all, did Ulrich of Rosemberg want with him?

Would these next hours be Pavel’s last? He’d seen how little regard the man had for life as he snuffed out those of his men. And now he was here, alone, facing this foe with his unknown, but no doubt nefarious intentions.

Of what value could Pavel possibly be? Why, then, had he been kept alive?

His head bobbed, but he jerked upright. He would not lose his hold on consciousness. He was determined he would not. For should an opportunity present itself, he needed to be ready.

“If you will not sleep, perhaps we might continue on.”

The deep voice grated on Pavel’s every nerve ending. He cringed and met Ulrich’s gaze.

“What is it to you?”

“I cannot have you bedraggled. And unfit for travel. My men are taxed with your care as it is.”

“Pity.” Pavel looked to the dirt before him. How could the man think Pavel had a care for those guarding him? In fact, he hoped for a weak spot in the line of men taking turns.

“Come now, Lord Krejik, it is not so bad. If I thought you would accept my hospitality, I might offer you better accommodations. For what there is to be had, at least.”

Pavel fought back a sneer. He did not wish the man to be able to read his every thought. “What is it you want from me?”

He had asked this question a number of times since his capture. Each time to no avail, but he could hope…

“All in good time, baron. All in good time. There is, however, a bit of a loose end.”

Pavel jerked his regard toward the man, but kept his mouth sealed.

Ulrich waved a hand and one of his knights dragged a man into the light.

It was one of the knights from Krejik Castle. Did this mean Ulrich had somehow penetrated the walls and worked harm upon his family? Pavel pulled against his bindings.

“There now, Lord Krejik, no need to upset yourself.”

He narrowed his gaze and glared at the monster of a man, barely able to choke out the words. “What did you do?”

Ulrich chuckled.

The knight released Pavel’s man and he fell to the ground in a heap, clearly having suffered much at the hands of these men who were no better than common brigands.

“‘Tis no matter.” Ulrich gritted his own teeth. “I will have my due.”

What was he saying? His due? Had Pavel or the Krejik family somehow wronged him? Is that what brought the man’s ire against him now? And against his late father in the year past? Did the man see to it that Pavel’s…that his son had met with a swift end? And what of Karin? Pavel couldn’t bear it. He leaned against the oak that had become his prison, his breaths coming fast and hard.

Ulrich smirked at that, then unsheathed his sword and put a swift end to the already wounded knight.

Pavel wanted to balk at the barbarism, but he was too stricken after the fate of his family. The death of the men with him had been difficult to watch, this was just one more tally mark against the monster before him.

“Nothing. Not so much as a grimace for your knight?”

Pavel would not give him the satisfaction.

“Hm, perhaps you have more mettle about you than I thought.”

Pavel clamped his teeth together as he met the man’s steely gaze again. He would not betray his emotions, would not plead for his life, would not betray that he died inside at the thought of what Ulrich had done or may yet do to his beloved wife and child.

“So be it.” Ulrich spun and tossed toward the guard, “Wake me if he but utters a word.”

The mercenary nodded and settled eyes devoid of emotion on Pavel. “Aye, my lord.”

Pavel shifted away as much as he could. And worked to shove his pain, his heartbreak, and his fear far within himself. Or he might as well give up right now.


Karin gaped as she watched the man standing in front of her. It couldn’t be! How was Tomas here? Alive? It didn’t make sense. None of it. If this was really him, she could no longer know what was real and what was imagination. Perhaps this was some sort of apparition. A trick of her mind. And if not, where had he been all this time? All those days and nights that she had mourned him, missed him, grieved for him? Where did he go? And why?

Sir Marek moved to intervene. “My lady, I will see that this man is questioned. Thoroughly.”

Karin held up a hand, halting his progress. “No.”

There was a tremor in her voice. Indeed, everything about her shook. She stepped closer to the man claiming to be Tomas. Pulled, as if a moth drawn to a flame.

“No, my lady,”  Sir Marek stepped forward, directly into her path.

Karin waved him off, wishing she had the words, hoping her eyes said enough.

He stepped out of the way, but did not take his hand off the hilt of his sword. His muscles were clenched, as if he was poised to leap into action, prepared to protect his lady if necessary.

That was all the thought Karin could spare for the faithful man at arms. For everything in her was trained on the interloper. “How is this possible?” she muttered as she took another step. “You…died.” Her voice caught on the last word.

“Yes, I did…” Tomas’s voice was quiet, almost too quiet. “Enough for a hundred lifetimes.” There was something eerie about the way he spoke.

Karin closed the gap and reached forth to test the mirage.

Sir Marek made a sound, but Karin ignored him and pressed her fingertips to the side of Tomas’s face.

Tomas was as still as stone, but his skin was warm. Could it really be him?

“Is it you?” Her whispered words were harsh, her heart untrusting.

“Very much so.”

Sir Marek grumbled and shifted. His movements jerked Karin from her reverie. Only then did she realize that she still traced the side of Tomas’s features. It was highly improper for her to be touching a man not her husband so. How could she have lost herself even for a moment? She dropped her hand back to her side.

What would Pavel think? Would he understand? Pavel!

Had Tomas claimed he bore news of her husband? What was it he had said?

Karen’s eyes filled, and a tear slipped down her cheek. For Tomas? Or for Pavel? Even she was not certain.

She swallowed her trepidation, and a great many other things she felt, and looked into his eyes. “You came to warn me of my husband?”

Tomas took a step back, shaking his head. Was he, too, entranced by the moment? “Yes.” The word was firm.

“How…how did you come to know this?” Though many questions swirled in her head, she gave voice to the most immediate.

“That…is a long story, Lady Karin.”

Whether or not she wished to hear it, she must. “Please,” she said as she moved back across the room, keeping her back to Tomas. She couldn’t let him see how his sudden appearance affected her. Not any more than she already had. “Come sit with Sir Marek and I. We would very much like to hear it.”

She closed her eyes and thanked heaven for her return to sanity. All the answers would come, she hoped. In time.

“Baroness,” another voice came from the direction of the corridor.

What now?

A man barrelled into the Great Hall, one of her guards just behind him.

“My lord, you must be announced,” came the insistent plea of the guard.

“I will not be delayed.” The voice was familiar. It made a chill travel up her spine.

As the figure came more into the light, her breath caught. Before her stood another man she had not anticipated to ever cross paths with again–Stepan Dvorak.

Chapter Two

Patricie & Stepan

Patricie could hardly hold herself back. Any moment, she would be reunited with her sister. It had been too long since she had laid eyes upon Eva. And much had happened in that time.

Stepan had chosen her. Had saved her. And had decided to join the Hussite effort.

Though, what that looked like, she was not certain. What would his life be like now that he was a nobleman without an inheritance, disowned by his powerful father?

It mattered not. They had each other.

Movement at the edge of the village caught her attention. Yes—two horses bearing riders drew near. It had to be them!

Patricie ran a hand over her plaited hair and could not help the tremor of excitement that filled her limbs. It was as if she could crawl right out of her skin. She only wished Stepan was with her to receive Zdenek and Eva. But they had decided it was best she do this alone. He was on an errand of much import. Or so he said.

Soon enough, outlines became figures. And Patricie could hold back no longer, she rushed forward to intercept.

“Patricie,” Eva called out to her as she ran.
As Patricie reached her, she was dismounting and then gathering her taller, but younger sister to herself.

“I was so worried I’d never see you again.” The harsh whisper and thick words told that Eva spoke from the depths of her heart.

Patricie blinked back tears, as if that would stop them from coming. “I know.”

Eva leaned back, but did not release her hold on her sister. “You look well enough. And I am quite certain have a tale to tell.”

Patricie nodded, wiping at her face.
“And I want to hear everything. Each and every detail.”

Did there seem to be a hesitation about Eva? As if she would continue with a negating statement?

“I have set up a room for you and Zdenek at the inn.” Patricie waved a hand toward the modest structure. “I am sure you are much in need of solid rest.”

Eva moved toward her husband and nodded. “As if we haven’t slept in days.”

Zdenek smiled a greeting in Patricie’s direction, but he bore a strange bundle upon his person, holding it quite awkwardly.

“What is this?” Patricie’s curiosity got the better of her as did her inability to speak to herself. It wasn’t like her sister to take in a stray dog. Is that what they had done?

Eva bit at her bottom lip and held out her arms toward Zdenek.

He passed the wiggling mass to her.

She held it much more adeptly than he. And moved toward Patricie once more. “I want you to meet someone.”

Patricie held her breath. It couldn’t be. She hadn’t been gone long enough. Surely it wasn’t…

As Eva neared, she pulled back the top fold of the blanket to reveal a baby’s face. The curious gaze took in everything, flitting here and there, not truly resting on anything.

“Did you…?” Patricie managed.

Eva’s eyes widened. “The boy was left at the church in Prague. He needed someone to look after him.” Eva looked to Zdenek. “So we agreed.”

“You what?” Patricie needed to choose an emotion, but it was difficult with so many swirling within.

“Meet Michal.” Eva adjusted her hold so that Patricie could see the child better.

Patricie pushed past the stunned silence that had enveloped her and reached forth to touch the baby’s hand. As the small boy turned and Patricie got a full view of him face on, she had to catch herself.

He had a mark on the right side of his head. The mark of the devil.


Nothing could have prepared Stepan for what he found when he entered the Great Hall of Krejik Castle. Karin stood in the middle of the room, a knight quickly moving into his path. But that was not what disturbed him so. It was the other man looking longingly after the lady…the wife of Stepan’s one time closest friend.

It brought to mind the sting of the betrayal he had felt when she walked away from him. Would she cuckhold Pavel in his own desmense? A flare of anger swept through Stepan. So strongly that he was unable to keep it from his features.

Karin’s eyes went wide and her mouth gaped. Surely, she had not expected to be found out.

“Sir, you are not to approch the baroness.” The older knight threatened in word and body as he drew his sword and maintained his firm set stance in front of Stepan.

Was Stepan truly the one to worry with here? What of the lady of the castle cavorting with a man not her husband?

He tried to glance around the knight, but the man matched him move for move.

“What do you seek here?” the man spit out. “By my life and my honor, you shall not aggress upon Baronness Krejikova.”

The other man that stood farther back, stepped closer to Karin, as if preparing to defend her as well.

“I seek an audience with the lady…although I see that she already entertains one.” Stepan ground out the words, making no attempt to disguise his disgust.

The knight lifted his sword. “I will not have you speak thusly of the lady of this castle.”

Karin peered around the human barrier, setting a hand to the upper arm of the vile man beside her, pressing him to the side. “Stepan?”

He grimaced. “You would address me so informally?” Did her sins know no end?

She made a coughing sound as she moved closer. “What do you here, Lord Dvorak? I was quite certain…and determined that I would never lay eyes upon you again. As were you, as I recall.” Her eyes glistened as if emotion behind them threatened to spill over.

“And it was as I wished it to be. I come for the sake of your husband.” He pressed out through still clenched teeth. “Though I see much in need is he for eyes upon his property and his wife.” Shooting a glance at the man still behind Karin, Stepan lowered his brows.

Karin glanced between the stranger and Stepan. “Is that what you think? That I would…betray my husband?”

Stepan settled into his stance. “Do you deny it?”

She tossed a look at the man beside her. “Absolutely.”

Stepan grimaced. “You would dare.”

“I don’t answer to you,” Karin’s voice was even and yet still harsh. She turned to leave, taking long strides toward the stairs. Was she the coward she appeared?

The other man watched her move off. But soon set his gaze upon Stepan, making his own move in that direction. Would he threaten Stepan so?
Karin whirled. “You cannot possibly imagine that there are things you don’t understand, can you?”

This was not as he thought this would go. He had not anticipated a warm reception, but that didn’t mean he expected hostility. Though he hadn’t forseen catching Karin in such a compromising situation.

“Then perhaps,” Stepan called after her. “You can explain it to me.”

She set a hard gaze on him and an eyebrow piqued, as if she considered his challenge.

The knight that had blocked him took a step toward him. “Perhaps it is best you take your leave.”

“I will do no such thing.” Stepan stood his ground despite the threat the man’s movements with his sword made. Would Karin allow the man to visit harm upon Stepan simply to cover her own sin?

Karin folded arms over her chest. “As I will not have you spreading falsehoods about my innocence, I may just well tell you how you are wrong.”

Now there was that fire he knew, the spirit that moved just beneath her serene, carefully controlled surface. He guarded his expression, however. It was best not to give away his thoughts on the matter.

“This man is only a friend from my childhood. That is all.”

Stepan scoffed.

“And he bears news of my husband.”

News of Pavel? Had something happened? Stepan squared his shoulders and glared at the man. “What is this?”

The unkempt man’s own muscles tensed beneath a calm exterior, though his control was not as tightly held. There were cracks about his steely expression. Due to feelings he possessed for Karin? “For sake of the lady’s fine reputation, I will tell you,” the man fairly growled.

Karin was by his side in a moment, hand upon his arm. “No. He does not need to know. He does not deserve to know.”

“But I will have satisfaction in this,” Stepan said, his words edged with contained rage. How much longer must he play this game?

The older knight turned to Karin. “Shall I remove this man?”

She held up a hand. “No. I will not have him spreading lies.”

Stepan held his breath as she drew in air and pressed it out. But he held his tongue better than he did his patience.

She looked to the other man and bit at her lip before turning to Stepan. Would she lose her hold on her weaker feelings? It seemed as if she might.

“Lord Krejik is in danger,” the man beside her said.

“Tomas!” Karin’s tone held a rebuke.

“Danger? What do you say?” Stepan stepped forward, forgetting about the knight’s sword for the moment. The edge of the blade was upon his chest in a moment. His chest tightened at the news. Pavel? In danger? It couldn’t be. His former friend was quite capable enough to defend his person.

“You will maintain your distance,” the older knight grumbled.

Karin’s eyes misted, but all vestiges of harshness had abandoned her features. “There is much that is not known. And more that I would not tell you.”

Stepan wanted to shove the sword to the side, but he knew that would be a foolish gesture.

The tension in the man’s blade told of a strength that was remarkable for his years. He would not yield.

“And now, I bid you leave me be.” Karin turned yet again.

“Karin!” Stepan called out, unthinking of his address.

She spun, strain about the lines of her face.

“Lady Krejikova,” he amended, shooting a glance toward the knight and the man she called Tomas. “I have come to repent of my sins. And to seek absolution.”

Her brows furrowed as if she did not believe him.

“I have.” He strained against the weapon at his chest. “If you would but grant me a few moments, I shall prove it is true.”

There…a glimmer of hope in her eyes. She would give him the time he requested. He knew it.

The man, Tomas, spoke low to her at a level Stepan could not discern.

Karin shook her head and exchanged further words.

The man stepped to the side, glaring at Stepan over his shoulder, but only for a moment.

Karin moved forward. “Release him, Sir Marek.”

The knight did not move.

“I do not believe he means me any harm.” Karin held her ground and spoke with authority.

Sir Marek hesitated, and dropped his weapon but a few inches. “My lady, I must insist you—”

“I will insist, sir knight, that you bring Lord Dvorak to the solar.” She glanced about the room at the servants coming and going, preparing the hall for the nooning meal. “There are many ears about. More than I would care to overhear.”

The man’s mouth twisted as if he fought his own better judgement. But at last he spoke, “Yes, my lady.”

Karin whirled again and led the small contingency to the stairs.

Stepan didn’t know what would come of this exchange, but he was determined he would know the whole of it.

Chapter Three

Anicka & Lukas

Lukas stared at the stark gray wall. Well, it had become nearly black over all the years that the dungeon stood. Not that this mattered. It was a wall all the same. And it had been Lukas’s only companion for quite some time. He had lost track of just how long he had been confined as such. Long enough to have become addled. But he refused to give in. There had to be hope. Had to be. That was the only thing that allowed him to retain some semblance of sanity.

The clinking of keys against each other alerted that one of the guards drew near. For what purpose? Come to harass him again? He tired of these games, but they did bring some variety into his miserable life.

As the guard approached, he said, “Seems someone wishes to see you. Now.”

That certainly had not occurred. He had not had a visitor in some time. What could this mean? Who had come? And why was he being permitted to visit? Though he knew better than to pose any of these questions to his man. The guards only followed orders. They had little power when it came to these manner of decisions.

Lukas rose as the guard slid the key into the lock and turned it. But he did not step closer. He dared not. Even in this place, there were rules and accepted practices. And things one did not do.

The man scoffed as he moved to the side only slightly for Lukas to pass out of the cell.

It didn’t matter. Lukas had long since ceased caring about these things—asserting himself and demanding certain treatment. His will had been bent…but had it been broken? That remained to be seen.

He gathered himself and moved out of the cell, brushing a bit too closely to the guard for his comfort. This one could be belligerent if given any reason to be hard. Pulling in a breath, he waited for the repercussions of his actions to be visited upon his person.

But they were not. Had this guard sensed Lukas no longer had a care? Or did he only tire of taunting?

Either way, Lukas paused to give the man leeway to step in front and lead him.
“You know the way.” The gruff voice sounded impatient. As if they had been through this many times.

Lukas took a full minute before complying. Though he did worry his delay would be punished, the greater likelihood was that any viewed assertion on his part would be.

The guard jerked his head in the direction of the stairs farther down. “You need some kind of engraved invitation?”

Lukas shook his head and moved onward. He remained leery that the man might inflict some form of pain on him from behind, but as the seconds ticked by, the more confident he became that the overbearing guard would not.

As Lukas neared the top of the stairs, light filtered into the darkness. The starkness of it made him blink and wish to turn away. But he did little more than flinch, doing his best to keep any evidence of it from his body. He must never show any sign of weakness…nor prove that there were vulnerable places the guards had yet to exploit.

“Move,” the guard demanded.

Perhaps Lukas’s pause had been more evident than he’d thought. He stepped out of the dungeon and into the corridor.

More guards awaited him. One nodded to the man who had ushered Lukas up from the bowels of the castle and his progress found him flanked on either side, with an additional knight in the lead. These were not guards he had seen before. Were they better situated than the ones who had seen to his confinement and its condition?

Without a word, the leader moved toward what Lukas could only guess was the Great Hall. Would he have his audience there? He had not seen this much of the castle as of yet. But he halted all wishful thinking. He had gotten his hopes up too often for his own sanity. They likely brought him here to issue another pronouncement. Perhaps his most recent appeal—rather the ones his family insisted on petitioning—had been denied. Just as they all were.

Wasn’t he beyond caring? Hadn’t he resigned himself to this life? Though he prayed he had not. For once he gave up hope, all was truly lost.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t deserve every bit of this punishment. He had committed the crime he was accused of. He had been a party to the attempt on Lady Karin Bornekova…now Krejikova. He had let the Viscountess sway his better judgment, betraying his devotion to his family. Another vulnerability. One that he feared he retained. Not that he could do anything in his position to either protect or support them. It had become quite the opposite. They were taking care of him. As much as they were able.

The corridor gave way to what could only be the Great Hall. Servants bustled about preparing for the next meal. Many tossed glances in his direction. Did they know who he was? Did they know what he had done?

He told himself it was more due to the guards surrounding him. But as they all skittered out of the room, he could not convince himself that it was so.

“Good day, Lord Vitek.” A larger man stood at a table near the hearth. Was this a man of authority? He dressed as if he was so, but his manner gave hints that he was not.

Lukas faced him and gave a slight bow of his head.

“I am Count Joseph Hudek.”

The man paused as if Lukas were supposed to respond. But he knew not how.

The man shrugged. “I have received word about your appeal to the council.”

Lukas’s eyes widened. He had not been given leave to testify on his own behalf. This could not mean good things. Clenching his teeth, he awaited whatever may come with trepidation.

“You have been pardoned.”


Anicka turned the page over and pressed a hand to the words. Settling back into her favorite chair gave her reprieve from an aching neck. Perhaps from her leaning over so much. But as the chair squeaked on its joints, she frowned. This was her place of solace, but it did not mean she was invisible. And if Mother should come upon her…

She didn’t want to think about that.
Closing her eyes, she breathed out, trying to relax her shoulders as she did so. There was no reason to think that anyone knew where she was. Though she was daft to think so. Everyone knew she spent every free moment here. And that’s what she was afraid of.

But the last she knew, Mother had slipped belowstairs to attend to something in the kitchen. Then she planned to oversee the preparations of the hall for the evening meal.

Shaking off her lingering trepidation, Anicka scanned the written lines upon the parchment and picked up her quill. Then set it to the empty space to forward the world created for her characters. Should she place the heroine in peril yet again? What benefit was a story without trouble for those involved? That was real, and raw, and interesting. Not like her life—dull, boring, and mundane.

Though as long as she might be able to escape into her imagination, all would be well. That was where she truly longed to be anyway.
Poring over her words, the work of her hands, she continued to write. Before long, she had filled the page with the next happenings—another meeting, a happenstance of course, of her dashing knight and fair maiden. He was everything a brave, caring suitor should be. And she…needed saving.

“What is this?” a voice rang out over her shoulder.

She didn’t need to turn to know it was Mother. Anicka tucked the papers to her chest, but it was too late. Mother grimaced. Indeed, she had seen.

“Are you wasting your time with this nonsense again?” Mother reached for the thin parchment, but Anicka jumped up and stepped back.

“It is nothing. I but while away the time.” She wanted to reason with Mother, but of what use were her pleas?

Stepping to her daughter, Mother held out a hand, her face a mask of anger. “Give them to me.”

Anicka shrank back, crushing the writings to herself. She shook her head.

“Hand them over, Anicka.” Her mother was insistent. There was no hint of humor about her.

What could Anicka do but comply? Still, she hesitated.

Mother’s nostrils flared and her eyes lit with ire. “I will not have you wasting time better spent on developing useful skills.” The woman jabbed a finger toward the papers. “Now, give them to me.”

Anicka frowned. “I do try to work at my sewing and music. But I tire of it.”

“Yet you find the energy for such as this.”

How could Anicka expect her mother to understand? It was hopeless.

Still, she opened her mouth once more.
But Mother snatched at the papers, tearing several from Anicka’s grip. “You will not defy me so.”

With regret, Anicka loosened her grip and handed over the remainder of her work. “If you would let me read it to you, you might find it diverting.” This was a blind attempt. And one that made Anicka’s heart thump harder. For she had never read any of her writings to anyone. Nor could she imagine doing so. To share her heart, her very soul with another. Especially someone who could never understand her work, much less her.

“I am not interested in your flights of fancy.” Mother glared at her. “And you must learn that this is a fruitless endeavor.”

Would Mother take them and lock them away? Could Anicka plead enough to get them back?
Mother crossed the room and, without ceremony, threw the precious papers into the fire.

“No,” Anicka cried as she rushed forward.

Mother blocked her way to the flames. As if there were ever hope to retrieve them. “Anicka, you will hear me.”

Staring after her words, Anicka fought her overwhelming sadness. Letting Mother see that would only make things worse.

“You spend too much time with your head in a fantasy and not enough on making yourself into a worthy bride. Do you want to be alone forever? Depending on the good graces of your father to survive?”

Anicka wanted to lower her gaze, but could not tear her eyes from the precious pages that even then vanished. “No, Mother.” Her voice hitched as she spoke. The emotion threatened to press moisture from her eyes. She could fight it. She had to fight it.

“Then I suggest you mind your domestic skills and quit ‘whiling away your time.’ Your future will be more secure if you can make yourself somewhat a tempting offer for a fine lord.” With that, Mother tossed another glance at the fire.
Nothing remained of the pages—of Anicka’s heart—but soot and ash.

“Come, then, let us tend to the Great Hall.”
Anicka drew in a shaky breath, a slight sniffle accompanied her attempt.

Mother’s eyes were sharp as they jerked to Anicka’s face. “What?”

“Yes, Mother.” Anicka pulled herself from the hearth and took up step behind her mother.
But she wondered if she would, in fact, be successful in garnering a good marriage should she even try. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t. Perhaps if she had a prospect, she wouldn’t be so drawn to her stories. Perhaps.

It mattered not. Her mother would never give her the freedom. Her worth was in what manner of marriage she could make. And without hopes of a husband who would give her such leave…or even hopes of a husband at all, she was left with naught but to obey.

No matter how it rent her heart in two.