An Affair of Honour
The yearly Wellington ball was the biggest and most popular ball in the country. It was the first ball of the season and had royalty and important people showing the best attires and looks, in an attempt to set a trend for the new season. The Duke’s house was decorated with the best flowers and ribbons to show the commencement of the season. The garden in Wellington was large, and different flowers in variant colours had been grown to bloom exactly in time for the ball. There were hyacinths and roses, hibiscuses filled the garden and were used to decorate the dancing hall. The wardens were delighted that the ball was happening as they saw it as their chance get to meet influential people and folks of high station.
The hall was wide – spreading far with the roof bending in at the ends – and long. When it was built the Duke of that time had just come back from a trip to Greece and had ordered the construction of Corinthians fences at particular ends of the hall; it was not really the typical English design but an architectural appetizer all the same. The hall had cream walls with drawings of popular English wars on them. The room in itself was enticing to look at. It was a work of art.
William, the Duke’s son had also been preparing for the ball for a long time and had requested for an expensive but fitting attire for it. His best friend, Lord James requested the same attire so they match. They did almost everything together and were found with each other most of the times even though the Earl’s house was a good distance away from the house of the Duke.
When the ball started, the two friends had picked the Charlett twins as planned; asking each of them for a dance. As William was walked hand in hand with Meredith Charlett, the first twin sister, he saw Duke Nicholas, Duke of Buckingham and Chandos request his sister, Regina, for a dance and she had obliged him.
William looked back at Meredith. He couldn’t read minds but she seemed delighted to have the dance with him. She just wouldn’t stop grinning. William turned her sharply and pushed her close to him, rubbing her breasts on his chest. He heard her gasp.
“Is there something wrong my lady?”
“No, I was surprised at the type of dance step.”
William smiled. He knew she didn’t see the smile because his face was directly above her shoulders now. William turned his face to the side of her neck and drew in air, running a small current of air from her neck up to her ears. He was sure she felt it as a soft tingling sensation. He felt her grab tighter to him. Her nails bit into the flesh of his palm. But he was not done; he had much more designs for Meredith. He had promised his friend he would flirt with her during the dance, make her expect more then leave her asking for him; he was doing all that just for the fun of it too. He was still at the flirting part.
He turned her around, turning with her. He saw the steward to his father’s room standing behind them.
He obviously wants something.
William moved backwards from Meredith and held her still. He bowed to her and signaled that he needed to attend to the steward behind them. Meredith said nothing.
“Is something wrong?” William asked his impatience making him speak rapidly.
“Yes sir, the Duke has been in so much pain,” the steward replied.
“Then give him his draught,” William answered him.
“I cannot find it sir. Miss Regina gave him this morning; I was hoping you could get her to find it.”
William turned back to look at his sister. She was fully concentrating on her steps with the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.
“I’ll get her,” he told the steward, dismissing him.
William knowing the custom of dances waited till the end of the first dance before going to fetch his sister. Immediately the first tune died, William walked briskly to the Duke and her, before the next tune started.
“Your Grace, I request that you give leave of my sister. She is required in the inner chambers with utmost urgency,” William said, upon drawing near to the dancing couple.
His request drew a look of disdain, etched markedly across the Duke’s face. William wondered if he had done something wrong. The Duke sneered at him and faced his dancing partner, still speaking to her like no one was addressing him. William was surprised and spoke again but the Duke did not respond.
William could see his sister was at loss with what was happening. She looked torn between being rude to the Duke by leaving him or staying with him and disregarding her brother’s request. Due to the lack of a response from the Duke, William was starting to wonder if something was wrong in his manner of approach.
“I only ask that you give grant of her leave. Her presence is required in the inner chambers.”
“And I reject your offer. I don’t think the fair lady is willing to take leave in the middle of this dance,” the Duke replied icily.
William shook his head in disbelief. The Duke of Buckingham and Chandos was proving to be harder to deal with than a panicky horse.
“Your Grace, I ask that I be permitted to take my sister away to look for something important,” William repeated.
The Duke didn’t respond and continued speaking with Regina, completely disregarding William’s presence and request.
This is an insult; a cut direct, in the middle of the dancing hall. I can’t wait here for this man as he is stubborn and he doesn’t look like he’s listening to me.
He held his sister’s left hand at her wrist and drew her away from the discussion, very gently. The Duke said nothing but looked terribly incensed, his brows arched together, almost touching each other. William led his sister out of the hall, feeling the angry gaze of the Duke on him.
About thirty minutes later, William came back into the hall without his sister. William walked straight to his best friend, Lord James Pardew.
“Are you not going back to Meredith? She looks to be waiting for you. I have to commend you, she did look flushed when you left her,” Lord James said.
William laughed aloud, slapping his friend on his fore arm.
“I am not returning to her. Our venture together was only to last this dance. I’m more worried about my father. Regina had to leave now to attend to him.”
“And you wonder why everyone calls you a rake,” Lord James replied.
“I am still wondering,” William said, the dying twinkle of his previous laugh still lingering in his eyes.
William saw his friend’s gaze move behind him. He knew someone was about to interrupt their discussion because Lord James’ attention was taken by the incoming figure. He turned around just as the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos got to them.
“Where is the fair lady?” he asked William.
“She isn’t coming back for now. Her presence is permanently required in the house,” William replied.
“Is that the plea you made of me?” the Duke replied, visibly displeased at the turn of events.
“I did not tell that I would make sure she came back. I said she was required in the inner chambers. Your Grace, you seem to have made wrong inferences as to what I said,” William replied, his voice showing the strain of patience that he was exercising.
“William Marlow, you are not a man of honour. You break the customs and lead the lady out of the dancing hall, then you refuse to provide her allowance to come back,” the Duke said.
William was gravely insulted by the comments of the Duke. The man was refusing to understand what was going on and chose to be insulting for no obvious reason. He was not going to take that.
“Your Grace, you will be dismayed to find out that I will not take such an affront to my honour and the word of my mouth lying down. I request that you walk away or apologize for the statement that was just made,” William replied.
It was now obvious that other eyes were on them. The first dance had stopped and chatter was greatly reduced as many of the guests were watching the unfolding spectacle.
“I cannot and will not retract a fair statement. You are not a man of stable character, very whimsical and lacking in the carriage or methods of royalty,” the Duke continued.
William drew near to the Duke, saying his words directly into his face.
“This is not a request. This is the court of the Duke of Wellington, who happens to be my father. Everything you do is under my control here. You retract your statement or we settle things with an affair of honour,” replied William.
William was angry and refused to allow another man make ungentlemanly claims about his honour.
“An affair of honour it is, may the best man win,” replied the Duke before walking away in the direction of the door.
There was an audible gasp from most of the guests. William was surprised at the response of the Duke. He had never been beaten in a duel and had competed in many all over the country. The Duke was not going to beat him in one. William challenged the Duke on purpose to make the man bridle his rambling tongue but the Duke had been even more foolish than he expected; he had walked right into the den of the lions. William wondered how things got to this.
“Nothing, I said nothing wrong,” he repeated to himself.
“What did you say?” James said.
“I said I said nothing wrong. I remember everything I said when I was asking him to allow Regina go,” William replied.
James did not look convinced and shook his head in obvious dismay. He ruffled the golden curls of his hair and straightened out his black jacket. Easing his elbow from the hold of Julie Charlett with whom he had been discussing before the duel was called, he walked to his friend and spoke into his ear.
“That man is a Duke, William. Find a way to end this madness,” Lord James said.
“No one has to lose his life over a small personal squabble,” Lord James stated.
William nodded his head.
“You forget that the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos is renowned to be of great skill in swordplay. He will be better than the ordinary man,” William stated.
“Yes,” Lord James replied. “But you are younger, faster and you have practiced more lately. Remember that no matter the outcome, your father will not like this. This is meant to be a ball, not a court where people challenge themselves to duels.”
“Yes, I know. That is why I am going to end it as quickly as possible. There is no need for us to engage in a duel over an altercation so small,” William replied.
He saw the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos walking out into the courtyard and he touched his friend, signaling him to follow. They walked briskly, eager to catch the receding figure of the Duke before he got into his carriage. When William got to him, he stepped in front of him.
“Your grace, the duel is unnecessary,” he said.
“You called it. Or are you faint of heart now that you realize what you have declared?” the Duke said.
“Faint of heart? Never.”
“So why the sudden eagerness to cancel; I am an old man now, I’ll be easy on you,” the Duke said, grinning as he spoke.
The cocky attitude the Duke showed angered William more; he now wasn’t interested in stepping out of the challenge.
“I was only looking out for you. It is unheard of for Dukes to engage in duels, especially when the challenge was made in a public arena. You should know this,” William stated.
The Duke smiled, showing a small space where a tooth should have stood. He had removed his black jacket and given to his steward. He was in a white shirt and black trousers complete with black socks and shoes. The man was greying; age starting to take away some of his ravish handsomeness and mobility but obviously not his wit and stubbornness. William had heard stories of his whimsicality, cunning and headiness as a young man but he could not imagine that the man would remain as stubborn now that he was an old Duke.
Some people never change.
“I do. That is for me to worry about. Go and brush up on your swordplay William, you are going to be in need of it by the morrow. My driver will bring the letter for you later in the day; I don’t want your apology. Meet at the indicated location,” he replied.
“I will not spare you,” William said to him between seething teeth.
“I do not expect it to get to that,” the Duke replied.
The Duke then walked to this carriage and stepped in. He looked at William and smiled, a self-assured grin, before closing the door. The driver drove the carriage away from the courtyard.
William wondered why the man was so confident.
To what does he owe the braveness of his heart?
William watched the carriage go when he felt an arm on his shoulder. He spoke without turning his neck.
“His courage is of exceptional state, was he so good a swordsman so as not to be daunted in facing me?” William said, directing it to his friend.
“Will you accept the challenge when his letter arrives?” James said behind his friend’s ear.
“Is it heard of me that I reject a duel?”
“Think again, my friend. This is a man of shady character who seems exceptionally eager to fight you. You must be really prepared,” James answered.
“This man’s courage is daunting. We will have mock duels before the duel tomorrow. You are the only one skilled enough to make it a match around here so you have to train with me.”
“Of course I will. I’ll be at your duel on the morrow too; I’ll be your second. I don’t trust that man especially given the reputation he has,” Lord James said.
“I have never lost a duel James. I won’t lose one where the challenge was made in the public during my father’s ball and to a man almost as old as my ailing father. I will not lose,” William replied.
He turned and walked back up the stairs, his friend close behind him. William and Lord James took the back of the hall to avoid the Charlett sisters. They had no more designs for them than during the ball. The ball was still ongoing and people were talking and dancing in the hall; but it was over for them especially William.
His mother had always been like that silent and meditative. He imagined she would have been much sought after when she was young due to her calm persona and measured carriage. Her grace was tangible; she never reacted out of character and thought everything through. She was the perfect foil to his father who was impetuous and easily angered. William guessed he got his irascibility from his father but he got along with his mother much better. She didn’t turn to tell him to sit, saying nothing as he entered and greeted her.
“It seems yesterday’s ball was a success even though I couldn’t attend.”
William nodded his head but realizing she couldn’t see him in the darkness, he answered her.
“Yes, it was. The attendance was more than envisaged.”
“They say you had a cozy dance with Meredith Charlett,” his mother said.
She was keeping her voice even but William heard the minute raise in pitch. His mother was always interested in matching him damsels she saw as suitable.
“Cozy? Who told you this?” William asked her.
The Duchess shook her head, waving her hand in a small flicker simultaneously. She was telling him to forget who told her.
“Can anything be expected of the public affectations? Or you just did it because you do things like that.”
“Nothing,” William replied quickly. “It was just a dance mother.”
The Duchess laughed, it was a short sniff that signaled confirmation of what she was thinking.
She never leaves this issue of marriage. I am yet to see a damsel who will bring me up to scratch but she doesn’t see it this way.
“William, time is going. Stop playing around with women and pick one already,” she said.
William nodded his head and turned to leave, thinking that was what she summoned him for.
“I’m not done William. That is not the reason why I called for you,” she said.
William turned back to her.
“So why did you summon me?” William asked.
“I hear you challenged Duke Nicholas Hardwater to a duel yesterday at the ball,” she said.
William knew she would find out. His answer was curt.
“And he accepted.”
She turned around now, dark shadows enveloping some parts of her face. William couldn’t see her expression but he could tell she didn’t like what he had done.
“Your father will not hear of this behaviour. I don’t think he needs such disturbing news right now.”
She paused for a while before continuing.
“I would have told you to not send the letter or decline the letter that is sure to come but that would be a waste of time. You pride yourself on such petty and dangerous affairs. I’ll just remind you that Nicholas is a dangerous and cunning fellow. I knew him closely before I married your father. He courted me once, I refused his affectations. Nicholas will have a winning plan.”
William understood what his mother was saying; he expected tricks from the Duke.
“I am aware of his character; Duke Nicholas Hardwater is not an honourable man. But I will overcome,” William replied her.
She walked closer to him, the material of her night gown singing as it brushed the apron of her bed. She placed her hands on his neck and squeezed gently.
“Going away with your life matters far more than winning this bout. Your father is a sick man William, do not kill him.”
She kissed him lightly on his cheek and patted his neck twice. William turned left the room. He understood what she meant, if anything happened to him, his father would not be able to take it. He wasn’t planning on allowing anything happen to him.
By noon a horseman arrived with a letter from the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, it was the challenge to duel.
I, Duke Nicholas Hardwater of Buckingham and Chandos, challenge you William Marlow, son of Justin Marlow, Duke of Welllington, to a duel to the death or yield. Meet me at noon at the field after the wheat fields. Come with your second. To ensure fairness, swords have been provided at our point of duel. Accept and fight for your honour or reject and send a written apology for the unsavoury manner you conducted yourself and for tarnishing my honour.
William told the rider to go and tell Duke Nicholas that they would see at noon. William wondered why the Duke would provide weapons for both parties. Although it was done in some cases to ensure fairness, William wondered if Duke Nicholas could ever be fair.
William walked out of the house into the stable. There were three horses in it, a pregnant mare, a young colt and his favourite horse, a white chestnut stallion. He saddled the stallion, rubbing its neck as he prepared it. Then he mounted it and rode to Eusten.
He dismounted and gave his horse to the stable boy. One of the stewards had meanwhile gone to let Lord James know that his friend was around.
Eusten Court was not a big place. The gates were huge though, made of shiny steel with large arching rods at the top. James always reminded William that the gates had been built with a plan to intimidate. The courtyard was clean as always with the gardens in pristine condition. The flowers seemed to be in season as there was a splash of colours everywhere; their petals spread out as if to dry themselves in the sun. William was halfway up the staircase when he saw his friend come out of his front door. He was looking sweaty and strained; his shirt had large spots of wetness. He was smiling but his eyes were serious. William could see that he had been doing something important before coming out to see William. William waited for him at the bottom of the staircase.
“You look like you were very busy,” William said after they shook hands.
“I was busy but it had to do with you. I had been training,” James replied.
William looked into James’ eyes and smiled.
“Why are you training? I am the one doing the fighting,” William said, reaching across to cut an open red petal of a flower beside him. He raised it to his nose, taking in the strong scent before throwing the flower on the ground.
“You forget the rules of the duel, even with your mastery in fighting duels,” James answered him.
They had been going up the stairs as they spoke. When they got to the top step, James opened the front door but didn’t step in. William tried to step in the parlour but he was blocked by James’ outstretched hands. William looked at James, his brows raised in confusion. James said nothing, just gestured for William to continue what he was saying.
“What do you mean?” William said.
“In the advent that something happens to you that you cannot continue, I have to stand in for you,” James replied, giving William a look of incredulity.
William looked surprised. It was obvious he wasn’t aware of that. He stroked his jaw, looking into the open parlour before speaking.
“I didn’t know that but I think it’s because I have never been required of such. I have won my affairs personally and I have overcome. The same will turn out here,” William said.
James was looking into the mirror of the closed parlour window. William saw his golden hair, shiny and giving off as much light as it got. His face was still long, oval with its masculine angles. His eyes were brown and unassuming as they had been when William first saw him. There was a hint of stubble on his cheeks; William expected he would get rid of that once he wanted to go out. His cloths were simple. He had a soaking wet white cotton top with black shorts. James was still as handsome as he had been when William first saw him. Aging was good to him.
He looked lost in thought and William was about jolting him out of it when he looked back at William.
“I am just taking precautions,” James replied.
“Practice?” William asked.
“Yes, my problem was a sparring partner. But an able one is available now,” James said, touching his friend across the neck.
“The letter is here. Noon draws near; we don’t have much time left,” William replied.
He put his hand in his bag and brought out the letter. He gave it to James. James said nothing and scanned the page slowly from top to bottom.
“The field after the farms, is that place of good condition?” James asked.
“It is big enough. So I’m guessing it should be good enough. James you have to have your eyes open, I cannot risk my life while the other party is playing tricks,” William answered.
“Let’s go in and get ready,” James told his friend before stepping into the parlour. James didn’t stop and walked across the shiny floors, strolling past the wooden door separating the parlour from the inner chamber, leading his friend in. When he got to his bedroom he closed the door behind his friend.
“Why did you make us speak on the staircase? Matters so grave aren’t meant to be said in such a public place.
James nodded his head in response. He looked like he knew that.
“I do not trust my servants enough to believe they would not eavesdrop on our conversation,” James told him.
William nodded his head in agreement.
“Well said,” he replied.
“Allow me a moment’s leave; I need to have horses ready for us when we leave,” James said before walking out of the room.
He did not spend long before coming back with two swords in their scabbards.
“How about we have a mock duel before you leave?” James asked him.
William smiled and collected one of them.
“Of course, where is there space for us?” William replied.
“Follow me,” James answered.
He walked out of the room, down the corridor before turning to his left and taking a short staircase up. He pushed open the door at the end of the stairs to reveal a wide empty room. The walls were old and washed; there was a lingering smell about the place. William turned up his nose upon entering before asking his friend.
“What is this place?”
“It was once used as a piggery but that has long ended. You discover that the smell doesn’t leave easily if the room isn’t used for something else,” James answered.
“This was where I was practicing when you came,” he continued.
William jumped into the center of the room and removed the sheath from the sword. He sliced the sword through air and twirled in different directions through different angles.
“We have to be quick. We don’t want to be late,” William said.
“We should get there late, ruffle a few feathers. Let’s see if we can unravel a few of his tricks if we do get there late,” James replied.
William saw sense in what he said and turned to face him in an aggressive stance. James pointed his sword back at William before returning William’s bow.
James attacked first, the slice of his sword was sharp and quick, making a shrill clanging sound as William parried. William was known for his incredible footwork and quickness of mind in a sword fight and he was already trying to turn around James’ free side. As James turned with him, William flicked his sword at James’ head making James duck then in a sudden change of direction brought the sword to a downward stroke. James scrambled out of the way, losing his footing and ending up on all fours a few feet away from William’s shining sword.
“Stand up,” William said.
“That was close. You won’t get another chance like that,” James replied.
William smiled and nodded his head. He gestured with his other hand for James to come forward. James got up and walked to William, putting his sword forward as a screen for any of William’s probing flicks. William moved in two steps, slicing towards James’ midriff but he blocked it and pushed back, becoming the aggressor. James hit at William’s chest, a thrust that got blocked close to his chest but James was not done. He sliced his blade on the blocked blade, using brute strength to push William’s blade backwards. William had to jump backwards to prevent his own blade from digging itself into his chest. He took more backward steps as James rushed forward with what looked like fury. His swipes were everywhere, attacking William’s head, legs and midriff.
William seeing that his friend was pressing him, cutting off his space turned quickly to his right. He had moved out of the way of the blade instead of blocking it, freeing his blade to be used to attack. He skipped closer to James who was dragging his blade back towards William. William had other plans. He was within blowing distance of James and parried away James’ sword before kicking at James’ legs. James crumbled to the ground and was attempting rising up again but for the blade now at his throat.
“Yield or die,” William said, a smile creeping into his sweaty face.
James laughed back and swatted the blade away with his sword before putting it back into its scabbard.
“I see you haven’t lost your nimble feet,” James said.
“Did you want me to?” William replied while he sheathed his sword.
“I will take this sword along with me,” William said to James.
“Yes, I think you should. I did see that the Duke stated that swords would be provided for you. Make sure you get to pick your sword first,” James told him.
William using his sleeve to dab the sweat gathering at his forehead, answered his friend while walking out of the room.
“I will do that. Now let’s go. My duel awaits me,” William replied.
James said nothing. He followed his friend out of the room before leading him to the stable. There was a young boy attending to two brown stallions at the stable.
“Take this weapon. You do know where to keep it right?” James said to the boy.
The boy nodded eagerly and rushed out of the room. James led the horse out of the stable and mounted it, kicking gently into the side of the beast. William was already on his horse, gradually increasing the pace of the horse.
“Is it noon already?” William asked James.
James checked his time piece.
“It’ll be well past noon when we get there,” James replied.
“Good, I can’t wait to get over with this trumpery,” William replied.
They drove their horses into a run, kicking up dust behind them.
His Sword Broke
Duchess Henrietta Marlow was the daughter of a rich foreign aristocrat. Her father, Lucas Pabon was a political fugitive from France. He was a wealthy contractor who supported the reigning King Louis IX who was ousted from power by protests and demonstrations from the aggrieved proletariats. There was an overriding belief that King Louis IX set policies that favoured the bourgeoisie at the expense of the welfare of the ordinary people. The grumblings had gone on for a long period but the king never deemed it fit to douse the growing embers. He realized his mistake too late. Henrietta had never been there, her father escaping with his life, his pregnant wife and a coach with enough money to England three months before she was born. Her father did hear that he lost all that he left. The revolution was destructive and absolute. The French people were unforgiving and razed down any property suspected to be owned by an individual in the favour of King Henry.
Lucas Pabon rebuilt his business in England; building French style houses for sale and rent. His business grew and over time Lucas reestablished himself once more. Although her father lived in fear of the visit of the French people, it never came.
She was the first of four children, the only girl. Her mother whom had witnessed the power of a raging mob taught her children to be soft spoken and unimposing especially Henrietta, her daughter.
Henrietta was schooled in the best schools England had to offer, assimilating all the wiles and airs of a woman of court. Her mother always groomed her to marry into royalty and wasn’t surprised when heirs to Dukes and Earls designed to court her and seek her hand in marriage. Henrietta chose Duke Justin Marlow, Duke of Wellington, after a long period of courtship. He was quick to anger and a man of little patience but he had a good heart and put others first in a lot of things he did. Henrietta saw that as qualities necessary to keep control of one’s followers. Now they had two children; William and his younger sister, Regina. Henrietta loved her husband, which was unlike many royal unions, and always prayed for such love to happen to her son despite his tendency to drift from damsel to damsel.
She was very aware of the sayings of the society. She knew her son was popular due to his carriage and wits; his ability with damsels and his swordsmanship spreading the lore even more. She had given up on matching him with a suitable bride a long time ago. William was an unrepentant rake. He either repeatedly left the lady unattended or he started a courtship and broke it up suddenly. He preferred to roam from damsel to damsel, always claiming that he was yet to find a lady that would steal his heart. Henrietta had been forced to make many an apology on his behalf.
His father wasn’t like that. Where did he get that from?
Now William had gotten himself into another problem; managing to get himself into a duel. She had been aware of many duels her son had partaken in, he was a prolific swordsman. But she was worried for this one, William did not know the kind of man that the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos was. Duke Nicholas was as sly as a fox and Henrietta doubted such characteristics ever left a person. She wondered why a man almost as old as her husband would be eager to get himself into a fencing duel with a renowned swordsman like her son.
Nicholas was also a good swordsman.
She did remember that. But he was old now and her son had engaged in more sword fights than Nicholas ever could have. She was sure he wouldn’t be relying on just his swordsmanship to beat William; he had something up his sleeve. She needed to find out.
Her husband was down with an illness that looked like the flu but couldn’t be. He had been in bed for weeks now, unable to function unaided. She had gotten doctors to come over to treat him but no one had been able to find the right drug to be used for him. She looked across the bed to his ailing figure. His ragged breath pushed his ribcage up and down in a wavy movement. His skin was withered now; white and flaky to touch. Henrietta walked to his bed and sat down on the chair beside it, her favourite chair since he fell ill. She saw his eyelids flutter, they always did that but he never opened his eyes. Henrietta felt he was listening, it was a strong suspicion so she avoided saying bad news around him.
Henrietta looked at her time piece, it was almost noon. Duels were usually set for noon. She had to be there.
“I am coming back in a few hours Justin. I need to go check your son.”
She kissed him lightly on his lips then looked into the mirror. There were lines at the edge of her eyes now; those weren’t there three months ago. She rubbed at them, trying to smoothen the skin back to normal. They didn’t leave.
Henrietta smiled and sighed. She still saw herself as beautiful, only that she had gained weight over the years. She ran her fingers through her hair. It had as much grey as black strands now, she remembered when all she had was a thick dark mane. She remembered how stunning she used to look when she was young. She had hoped to find a bride as calm as she was for her son but he was unyielding. She left him to his own designs now.
She had called the house stewards early that morning. She needed to know where the duel was taking place and her son was not going to offer that information. She trusted that at least one person would be aware. So calling them one by one, she found out from two stewards where the duel was taking place. They hadn’t found out by eavesdropping or looking into the letter dropped, Henrietta found out that the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, unlike in the proper conduct of a duel, made public the venue of the affair. For something he could be summoned by the King for, Duke Nicholas was very open about it. The stewards assured her that the venue of the duel would be teeming with spectators. Henrietta hurried her feet more, more spectators only meant one thing, greater embarrassment. She feared that her son’s honour would be left greatly injured by this affair.
She couldn’t be seen at an affair like that, not as the Duchess of Wellington. She went into her robe room and found the oldest and gloomiest gown she had. She put it on. She picked a thick black shawl and wrapped it around her neck, covering her face up to her eyes. Then she walked out of the house into the stable. The stable boy was there, feeding the animals.
“Prepare a horse for me now,” she told him.
The boy looked at her strangely. She could see he didn’t know who was talking to him. She whipped the shawl off her face and repeated her statement.
“Prepare a horse for me now,” she said, glaring into his curious eyes.
The boy realized his error and ran into one of the sheds. He saddled the horse and dusted its back then dragged it out with its bridle and offered it to the Duchess.
“I am sorry ma’am,” he said, curtseying as he helped her mount the horse.
She didn’t reply. She kicked into the horse, throwing it into a run immediately. She couldn’t afford to be late.
She could only see Duke Nicholas at the center, there was a huge man beside him. Henrietta guessed that was his second. Henrietta turned to another spectator standing beside her horse. She touched his shoulder.
“Is the other party here yet?” she asked.
“You mean the son of the Duke?” the man replied.
“Yes, William Marlow.”
“He isn’t. It is said to be bad luck being late to a duel,” the man replied, turning back to face the center.
Henrietta knew her son well, if he was late it’s because he wanted to be late.
What plans do you have now, William Marlow?
Duke Nicholas didn’t look worried; he was on his horse and saying something to the man that stood beside him. He was pointing to the stewards at the back and it looked like he was about to turn his steed around when a noise arose from the crowd facing him. There was sudden great shouting; a path was opening in the middle of the crowd. A short while after two riders came out of the crowd. Henrietta could see her son and Lord James on brown steeds. William kept looking around as if he was looking for something.
He is surprised at seeing so many people. Son, I am sure this is the beginning of Nicholas’ treachery. I hope you are ready.
Henrietta could not contain her anxiety, she needed to get as close as possible. She led with her horse, nudging and pushing her way to the front of the crowd. She sat on her horse, deciding she could come to less harm that way. She saw William and Lord James ride to Duke Nicholas and the big man by his side. They stood close to each other; it was obvious they were confirming their stand on the duel. William dismounted and handed the reins of his horse to Lord James. She saw Lord James tap her son on his shoulder then turn his horse around and ride to the edge of the arena with her son’s horse. He stood just in front of the crowd. Duke Nicholas’ second walked to the other side, leaving only the duelers in the middle.
William unsheathed his sword and was taking measured steps backwards when she saw the Duke gesticulate to him. William stopped moving backwards but did not change his pose. The Duke turned around and one of his stewards ran to him with a tray.
“I can’t see what is in the bloody tray. Why is William giving his sword to them?” Henrietta said aloud to no one in particular.
She listened in to what the crowd was saying.
“Why are they stopping?” said a boy that looked too young to be witnessing a duel.
The older man beside him, his father or older brother, answered him.
“I hear that the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos has requested that he and his opponent use swords that will be provided by his stewards. He claims the quality of one person’s blade might give superiority to the wielder.”
“William agreed to this?” the boy asked, surprised that William would accept such a strange arrangement.
“William would beat the Duke even if he was armed with just a stick or a piece of straw. He is unbeaten, haven’t you heard the stories Edward?” the man replied.
The boy laughed and scratched his head as if to remove his forgetfulness.
“I have. William is the greatest swordsman in the history of England,” the boy answered.
“He is. I am only here to know how this mismatch would end. Would William have to kill the Duke or would the Duke yield to his sword mastery?” the man said.
Henrietta shook her head, fearing for her son. If this conversation was any evidence of what the rest of the crowd thought, then her son had even higher standards to meet than she first thought. Most people had forgotten that Duke Nicholas was an equally feared swordsman when he was young. He had led platoons in the Queen’s army before he became Duke. He was one of the few men to have killed more than one opponent in a duel and remain unpunished.
England has such a short memory.
“A Bluestocking for the Wicked Duke” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
William Marlow, the first and only son of the Duke of Wellington loves to set the ton ablaze. Known for changing women faster than bed sheets and adept in the swordplay, William thinks it is business as usual when the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos challenges him to a duel. To William’s surprise and that of every other spectator, this duel will not go as expected.
On a quest for vengeance, William plots out a path to the heart of young Joane, the Duke’s daughter. His fury and passion burn even hotter, when he realises that she is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. How will he manage to succeed, when he is constantly wrestling the temptation to take her in his arms?
On the other end, Lady Joane, the only daughter, and favorite child of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, is, to William’s surprise, a diamond of first water. Her beauty and wit are beyond measure. She is known as a bluestocking and isn’t eager to change that perception of herself, but when she meets William, her life and her “proper manners” are irrevocably changed. As much as she tries to avoid his touch, the walls around William’s heart are crumbling… and she’s in danger of falling, hard. But when the scandal unfolds, will she be able to put reason over her growing passion?
From the agonizing contest of swords to the duel of hearts between lovers, love grows even when forbidden. How will their hearts find their way back to each other?
“A Bluestocking for the Wicked Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.