The Replacement Princess, p.1Katy Haye
The Replacement Princess © Katy Haye 2017
Cover design © Icy Sedgwick
The right of Katy Haye to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this ebook may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and should not be resold or given away to other people.
This story is a work of fiction. All characters and events depicted in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. No slur is intended on any nation or nationality in this alternate history story. I spent my honeymoon on Tiree and I highly recommend it as a holiday destination.
The Replacement Princess
For my sixteenth birthday I received the gift of a truce with the Scots, which I must bring about myself by marrying a complete stranger – and an enemy to boot.
I was a princess of England, not a fool; I had always known my life would not be at my own disposal. But with those few words, Papa the king triggered bars that seemed to spring up around me, like the cages my mother kept her song thrushes in. My childhood – such as it had been – was now over, and my future unrolled before me: I must go to a foreign country, charm a prince, please a nation that hated me on principle (the feeling was mutual) and produce a brood of children whose existence would cement peace between the two countries. I was sixteen. I accepted the decisions made for me. It was too much to expect me to be delighted about them.
“Is there a chance he will change his mind?” I meant the Scottish prince, of course; Papa never changed his mind about anything.
Mama gave me a cold look. “No one will change their minds in this matter.” I picked up a clockwork mouse from Mama’s bureau, toying restlessly with the key. I wanted to pace but Mama was already irritated. “The deed is as good as done, Myrtle.”
I held back the shiver that urged my shoulder blades together when she said that. “I understand. I just meant… The Spanish princess—”
“Prince James did not change his mind on that occasion, nor will he now.” She stared at the fire, her voice fading until I could barely hear it. “That poor girl drowned in the Channel, I have no doubt. And a betrothal cannot go ahead with no bride.” She looked up. “Nothing will go wrong for you, child. We cannot afford any missteps.”
I set down the mouse. It whirred limply, only one wheel turning so it twisted in a circle. I pressed my fingers against its back so it wouldn’t fall off the bureau as the mechanism clicked to a stop.
Mama smiled. “And you have two years to prepare yourself.” Because the prince was younger than me, only just fourteen, and a marriage would not take place until he was sixteen. Another shiver tugged at my shoulders. “I am sure you will be reconciled to the match by then.”
“Of course, Mama. I know my duty.”
Another stern look assessed the truth of that statement. I let go of the mouse, clasped my hands behind my back and lifted my chin. Mama appeared satisfied. “You will be a queen, my girl. It is all we could hope for.”
All she could hope for. My dreams ran in completely different directions. Beside me, the clockwork mouse had a burst of energy and whirred off the back of the bureau. There was a clunk as it hit the wall, but its fall to the floor was silent, cushioned by the carpet beneath.
“Oh, he is said to be very handsome!”
Clementine, the youngest and silliest of my companions, giggled behind her hand at the news. I gave her a cold look. He was a boy of fourteen; there could be little indication yet what the man would look like. And it wasn’t looking at the prince that I was likely to find difficult in my new role.
She dropped her hand and found a calmer expression. “Good looks can’t hurt, can they?” she demanded pertly.
“They will certainly never harm you, Clem,” I said.
She flushed. “Would you prefer it if he were ugly as a sweep?”
He could be ugly as the rear of a horse and that would make no difference to matters. I gave Clem my most superior smile. “My husband will be everything I look for in a man.”
An announcement was made to the country, confirming the agreement. Celebrations were held. The Government was relieved. Anticipatory congratulations flooded in to me from all corners of the country, and even further afield. I received notes from the King of the Low Countries, as well the Kings of Spain and Portugal. It seemed the whole of Europe was relieved at the news that England and Scotland would – finally – stop fighting.
The palace hosted a ball. The great and good of England vied to attend. The Scots didn’t make the journey. Too afraid of assassins. Or, that the prince and I would take one look at each other and revolt.
Harry, my eldest brother and the Prince of Wales, stood up for the first dance with me. “I’m proud of you, Myrr,” he muttered, under cover of the music. “It will be a relief to see an end to the war.”
Except that it wasn’t a war, not really. It was a series of scraps between villages on the border; places whose inhabitants couldn’t speak English clearly, even if that’s the nationality they held to. Places that made no difference to life whatsoever, whether they were marked on the map as Scottish or English.
“Of course,” I muttered, dutiful as ever.
His hands tightened on mine. “Don’t think I don’t understand your sacrifice,” he said. I looked up. My distant, adored big brother. I knew the weight of learning kingship and statecraft bore heavily on him and I was instantly ashamed of my sulk.
“We all have our part to play,” I murmured.
Our feet carried us through the steps of the dance. “The Scots will soon fall in love with you,” Harry promised. With his usual insight, he’d cut through the trivial to the fear that gripped my heart; the enormity of the job ahead of me.
“I hope they will.”
“Smile, look pretty, and most of the job is done.”
I twisted a smile as I looked up at him. I knew that half the girls in the kingdom sighed over handsome Prince Harry. “Is that the principle that guides you?”
Genuine amusement lightened his eyes. “Mama is full of advice for me, too, you know – she doesn’t save it all for you.”
“I can remember to smile, and nature took care of the prettiness; so there will be close to nothing to be done when I reach Scotland.”
Harry laughed. “That’s the spirit!”
Papa didn’t dance, and my younger brother Simon was too young to attend, but my uncles had both placed their names on my card.
Uncle Murgatroyd led me in the minuet. I was glad of my gloves forming a barrier between my hands and his. He made me uneasy, which I hoped he didn’t guess. There was something about the way his pale eyes looked through me, as though he knew something about me of which I was unaware – something unpleasant or shameful.
But I was a princess, and would eventually be a queen. I pasted a bland smile on my face and kept him at a distance with words as we trod the steps beneath the glittering friction chandeliers.
“I am pleased to see so many of England’s great families here tonight,” I stated. “The country is unified in our celebration.”
“Hmm. You face a grave responsibility, niece.”
That was his style. At a celebratory ball, he focused on the possibility of failure. I held on to my smile and looked over his shoulder. “But one that, God willing, I am equal to.”
“We will pray for matters to proceed smoothly.”
Whoever would pray for anything else? “Thank you, uncle.”
He bowed elegantly over my hand, and the key difference between them struck me. Uncle Ordwell made me feel like a princess. Uncle Murgatroyd made me feel like a coster-girl who’d somehow wandered into the wrong life.
“Ah, Myrtle. I remember your birth.” Ordwell began to reminisce as we took our places for the dance. “And now you are a woman grown and nearly a bride.”
“Not quite yet, uncle.” There was no need to hurry the next twenty-two months away. I steered him away from reminiscence. “Have you invented anything remarkable lately?” Uncle Ordwell’s hobby was mechanics. He had created the Ordwell Repeating Rifle which killed Scotsmen with such terrifying efficiency it had forced the Scots to sue for peace, bringing us to this point.
“Now peace is before us, I shall enjoy turning my attention to gentler creations,” he said. “Fewer guns and more machines to help in our homes and factories.”
“Swords into ploughshares, uncle?” I teased.
His fingers tightened on mine. “Exactly that, Myrtle.”
We fell silent and I allowed the pleasure of dancing to take me over.
Celebrations continued with gifts from my family. Papa bought me fine new dresses, and bolts of cloth for my trousseau, practical as well as pretty. Mama gave me a diamond parure and Harry chose a jewel-encrusted pen and letter-opener set, a gesture that made me smile at the thought of him dashing off a letter to his sister over the border. Eleven-year-old Simon was a little young for statecraft. His gift was a finely-embroidered pair of dancing slippers, which raised another smile. And then the smile became a lump in my throat. I would miss my brothers. I’d miss my whole family. Twenty-two months to get used to the idea seemed more like twenty-two months of loss hanging over me before the axe would finally fall.
I retired to the portrait gallery, my favourite place when I needed to think or be alone. Other people seemed to find the looming figures oppressive, but I liked them. These were my family, too. Hatchet-faced great-grandmama Honoria, and second cousin Pernille whose demure portrait gave no clue to the scandal that had outraged the royal family and the entire nation fifty years ago. My portrait wasn’t on the panelled walls. A family grouping was in the card room downstairs, but I’d never sat for an individual portrait. Yet. Perhaps Papa would commission a painting before I left for Scotland.
I was staring at cousin Pernille’s rosebud mouth when the sound of footfalls alerted me that I was not alone. I turned to find Lord Padry, Mama’s secretary.
“Your Highness.” He stopped and gave a stiff bow.
“My lord.” I dipped a brief curtsy. He made no move to speak and I realised with surprise that my recent betrothal outweighed my youth and meant that I would have to initiate conversation. “Would you care to walk a while?” I offered. I’d come to be alone, but Lord Padry moved like a ghost through the palace when he was about Mama’s business; he would not be a troubling companion.
“Thank you.” He fell into step beside me. “I hope you will accept my felicitations on your betrothal.”
“You are kind,” I murmured.
From the corner of my eye I caught his faint, tight smile. “The Scots are fortunate to gain such a rose to adorn their court.”
In all politeness, I could neither agree nor disagree with that. I made some sort of an encouraging noise.
“Your Highness, I hope you will not think me impertinent. I wondered if you might do me the great honour of accepting a small gift to mark this momentous occasion.”
I saw that he was holding a small box, which he offered to me, flipping the lid open to reveal a string of pearls such as might be given to a gently-born girl on the event of her debut into society.
“They belonged to my mother,” he explained, as though he thought my silence was framing a rejection. “If I had a daughter I would pass them to her, but I have not been so blessed. I would consider it an honour if you would accept them.”
Lord Padry ran Mama’s affairs impeccably and she was clearly fond of the man, although I’d always thought him a little eccentric. But he was well-meaning and always civil. For Mama’s sake if nothing else I would have accepted.
“That is very kind of you.” I looked up to meet his cautious brown gaze. “I am delighted to accept. Thank you.”
He smiled, gave another bow and retreated. “I will trespass on your time no longer, Your Highness.”
His footsteps tapped back across the floor. How odd, but how entirely in character for the man. I slid the pearls out of the box, the lustrous spheres smooth against my fingers. They had a pinkish glow. I had pearls of my own in the jewel box in my bedroom, but I preferred these. I had already spotted the jewels Mama had gifted me in two of the portraits in this room. I knew I wouldn’t find these pearls no matter how hard I looked. Perhaps there was a portrait in Lord Padry’s family home of his mother wearing them, but here they were unique. I slipped them back into their box. I would ensure they came to Scotland with me.
Gifts arrived from the Scottish royal family a few weeks later. I received a miniature portrait of the prince. It depicted a dark-haired boy with bland features that I didn’t think would set even Clem’s heart beating faster. He was definitely still a work in progress. They also sent me a small wooden casket of jewels. I wasn’t sure whether they thought I needed adornment or they felt a need to demonstrate their wealth. I would be surprised if they had much. Like us, I was sure their coffers had been comprehensively emptied by the war effort.
I was also sent a letter from the Scottish prince, James; the boy I must wed.
My father read it first, of course. When he found nothing to object to, it was passed to me, as though I might desire to sleep with it beneath my pillow, or some similar sentimental foolishness. I scanned through. The prince wrote a well-educated hand, which was a relief given the tales I’d been raised with about the barbaric Scots. The words were, mostly, formal and stilted. My eyes darted over them. He ended with a couple of sentences that seemed more heartfelt. “I am sorry I could not attend your ball. When you become my wife, Myrtle, I look forward to dancing with you at our wedding.”
That event was still twenty months ahead of us, but still… I look forward to dancing with you. I wondered if he’d been prompted to write that. Surely the Scots had spies competent enough to tell him my small pleasures.
I loved to dance. My father thought nothing of that; it was simply one of many accomplishments a royal daughter was expected to display. But the prince, my husband-to-be, liked to dance, and that was a very different matter.
The presence of a Scottish dancing master was engaged to ensure I would please my husband, and do credit to myself and my native country, when I danced at my wedding at the Scottish court.
Callum McAllister, youngest son of the Duke of Tiree, arrived two weeks later. When he walked into my sitting room, the place fell silent. Even Clementine had nothing to say. For several seconds. Then she leaned towards me and spoke behind her hand.
I expected a comment about the lack of trousers. His knees had certainly claimed my attention. But Clem had noticed something else. “Does he have lice, do you suppose?” The young man’s hair was cropped close to his skull, utterly different from the English fashion where men wore their long hair tied back in neat queues.
I hoped it was fashion and not a response to an infestation. McAllister had skin so pale it was blue-white, which unfortunately grew blotchy when he blushed, as he did in response to Clem’s spiteful and overloud words.
“I’m sure he was washed before he was allowed through the gates,” I muttered to Clementine and rose to meet my guest with a practised smile of welcome.
When he straightened from the low bow he greeted me with, I found a man younger than I’d supposed. He was close to my own age, his mottled skin unlined:
“What can this dreadful creature teach us?” Clem muttered behind me. I spared a moment to give her a glare. I would not have my companions embarrass me. Her cheeks flushed, redder than McAllister, but she held my gaze defiantly.
Her lips had been shielded by her hand, but McAllister – as perhaps suited a man selected for his musical ability – had sharp ears.
“I will teach you to dance, Mademoiselle.” He smiled politely, the angles of his face lifting like the sudden spark of a lamp turned on. “A lightness of foot is a pleasant accomplishment for any young lady to acquire. Almost as pleasing as a lightness of speech, don’t you think?”
My turn to stifle a smile while Clementine turned a dull pink. I thought I might like the addition of Callum McAllister to the court.
“Princess.” He extended a hand, bowing to me with an elegance equal to any of my countrymen. I took his hand and curtsied, a dip of the knees only, to make clear our respective stations. “Are you ready to learn the ceilidh, my lady princess?”
Ceilidh dancing. Because quadrilles and boulangers were not good enough for our Scottish neighbours. I pushed the thought aside. A dance was a dance, and I would not allow myself to be disparaging about Scotland. A lifetime of habit must – and would – be undone. I would learn to love everything about Scotland, the way I had to hope they would learn to love me.
And I would start by not being offended by Callum McAllister’s knees, nor his bizarrely short hair. I would focus on his quick wit instead. “Of course, sir.”
“Then let us start. To the ballroom!” When no one moved, he clapped his hands. “Come along, ladies. You are needed, too.”
My entire retinue trooped through the palace to the ballroom. A fiddle player and a drummer were already there, awaiting our arrival.
Some of my older ladies moved towards the seats at the side.
“No, no, participation is obligatory!” McAllister called. “There will be no sitting and watching, ladies. Pair up.”
A few quiet mutterings marked their displeasure, but everyone obeyed. McAllister signalled to the musicians, who struck up a tune much less sedate than I expected. My Scottish tutor took my hand to demonstrate the moves and the ceilidh began.
The Replacement Princess by Katy Haye / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 2.4 out of 5 / Based on34 votes