The proofs have been accepted and the Jewel of the King is now in final edit. So here is the first chapter to get you excited!
Alias gripped the side of the boat tentatively as it rolled over the rough waves. His knuckles were white as he clenched the wood. They were sailing against the wind as they travelled south through the North Sea. The rain picked up soaking the deck as well as the sea spray. He breathed deeply trying to regain control of his nausea. With one last shaky breath, Alias left the side of the ship and made his way up to the royal quarters. He pulled down his hood as he reached the shelter of the royal quarters and flicked his soaked, blonde hair out of his eyes. The strength of the wind made it an effort to force stop the door from swinging open. Alias gripped the handle firmly and stepped over the threshold and pulled the door firmly shut behind him. He pulled off his waterlogged cloak to reveal his dragoon guard uniform. The rain had soaked through to the skin causing him to be chilled to the bone. The uniform with its dark blue material and gold embroidery was still a splendid spectacle even when it was drenched with rain and sea water. The symbol of the house of bourbon was embroidered onto his chest.
The French king was sailing back to Calais from Edinburgh. The water was rough and choppy, forcing their progress to be slow. They had not yet passed the English border with Scotland. King Louis sat in his quarters reminiscing about the visit to Scotland. King James had ascended the throne when he was young after his father had died. King Louis had also ascended the throne as a child when his grandfather died and Louis’s father had predeceased Louis’s grandfather fighting in the war with Spain. This left France close to bankruptcy and a young king who was not ready for the burden of the crown. The two kings had shared a unique kinship and the two countries were considered strong allies.
The door to the royal quarters opened once more as the ship rolled on a large wave, knocking a few delicate trinkets to the floor. Two more dragoon guards entered the royal quarters behind Alias. When the door was shut and water-logged cloaks were removed the three men knelt on the floor as the king’s gaze moved from the window to his visitors. He was gripping a book which had been gifted to him from King James. The book was lined with gold and King James had added additional notes to the pages himself. King Louis motioned to the men to rise and they stood at attention. It was very late at night but King Louis often called upon his guards at unsociable hours.
“Gentlemen, I have a request of you?” said Louis, who was flicking absent mildly through the pages of the book. “That singer who performed at the castle, I feel like she would be much more suited singing in the halls of Versailles rather than my dear cousin’s cold, dreary mountain house!” Louis finished, placing the book down on the table and enclosing his fingers thoughtfully in front of his face. He was a fine-looking man with striking facial features, the highest quality clothes and his long dark hair pulled back elegantly. He had an intense stare but his thoughts were comprehensible on his expression which left little in the way of secrecy.
“Shall we dispatch a request for her to visit Paris when we make port?” asked Alias quickly, trying to gain a notion of the King’s plan. Louis frowned at him over his fingers.
“No, I wish for her to be in Paris shortly after my return,” Louis said and became impatient at the blank expressions on the guard’s faces. “You will personally acquire the singer to perform in my court. I do not need to discuss the details of her acquisition with you,” Louis finished dismissively, the King’s impatient temperament demonstrate through his blunt words. “That is an order!” Louis finished and turned his attention back to the book on the desk in front of him. Without another word, the guards bowed and left the king in his quarters. They were used to following orders without any explanation or reasoning. It was their job to obey his orders and not ask any questions.
The ship was to make port in Newcastle before sailing on to Calais. The guards kitted up in plain outfits as the ship came into port. The French dragoon uniform would be too recognisable on Scottish soil. They disembarked when the ship made port at Newcastle and started their return journey north to Edinburgh. It would be a hard day’s ride, but the route followed the coastline north until they reach the mouth of the river which led to Edinburgh. The journey would not be very arduous.
The youngest of the dragoon guards stowed his pistols beneath his cloak and strapped his sword at his side. His plan was to keep his hat low to hide his tanned skin. Having just visited Edinburgh it was important that they would not be recognised on their return. This guard was named Alexandré, born in a tiny village in the remote southern countryside of France. He had dark hair and eyes to match his tanned skin, the typical features of Frenchman. He had left his village at fourteen and travelled to Paris in search of a more exciting life. Alexandré had fought his way up through the ranks to be in the king’s personal guard. He was one of the youngest soldiers to be honoured with such a role. Alexandré was a quick shot and a master of tactical plans.
Alias rode behind Alexandré. He was broad and lean, with shoulder-length blonde hair tied back beneath a sweeping feathered hat. He rode without a cloak which was a mistake as the Scottish weather hit them on their journey nearly as soon as they made their way out of New Castle. Alias was born in Paris to a wealthy noble family. As a young man, he had been caught duelling in the streets of Paris which was illegal. Instead of being imprisoned he was sanctioned into the king’s guards by request of his own father. His father thought it would teach him discipline and morals which could set him up for his duties in later life. It was fair to say that Alias had disappointed his father thus far as he was still headstrong and impulsive. Alias was handsome but rugged. With his deep voice, dark eyes and tall lean stance, he was intimidating to even the strongest of men. He looked more like a Viking than a Frenchman with his shoulder-length blonde hair but his roots went back far to Normandy and all the way to the aristocracy in Norway.
The third and final guard was called Eric. He had never explained the origin of that name. Eric was the sword master of the group, light and nimble with jet black hair and blue eyes. He would stand out in a crowd in any city. His king’s guard sword sat proudly on his hip as the three of them cantered towards Edinburgh. It had been a personal gift for his outstanding service from the king himself. Eric was the most prepared for the journey. As soon as the trio crossed the border at Berwick back into Scotland, Eric pulled back his thick, woollen cloak to reveal a train kilt resembling that of the clans surrounding Edinburgh.
“Why are you wearing that? asked Alias hysterically looking at Eric’s clothing choices after several hours of riding. The three of them crossed the narrow bridge over the River Tweed which marked the border between Scotland and England.
“I am wearing this to blend into the local population,” said Eric, proudly adjusting the material around his knees. Alias and Alex rolled their eyes at each other as they entered the town. The town was made up of a few dozen houses and no local residents were stupid enough to be out in the streets in this weather. The wind was starting to pick up as they rode through the quiet town. The sea was crashing against the cliffs, causing the horses to pace nervously beneath the men. The rain started to pour down, being driven in from across the sea. This was the same storm which had rocked the boat hitting the coastline with force. A mile out of Berwick, the three of them were soaked to the skin. Eric was shivering violently with his exposed knees. However, Eric and Alex were covered by cloaks giving them a little shelter from the wind. Alias was set to endure every lash of rain and scold of the bitter wind. However, his body was designed to withstand this weather, unlike his French descended comrades.
“Eric, if you want to blend in then you will have to stop shivering. I haven’t ever seen a Scotsman shivering from a little bit of rain,” Alex laughed as Eric turned pale as the rain soaked through his clothes. Alias laughed at Alex’s comment and kicked his horse forward into a canter, heading towards a distant tree line.
“They are probably permanently frozen from their winter that they are numb to the feel of the rain on their skin!” grumbled Eric as he and Alex galloped after Alias. They reached the edge of the tree line as the thunder rumbled in the sky and the sea was hit by a jagged bolt of lightning. The horses let out cries of fear, ready to turn and run but the men managed to keep them under control. They dismounted quickly and took shelter beneath the trees.
“How far is it to Edinburgh?” asked Alex, barely heard over the crash over thunder overhead.
“It’s at least another half day’s ride!” answered Alias. The thunder clapped overhead even louder than before. “It is not safe to venture out in this weather,” he nearly had to yell over the crack of lightning. The horses snorted and stamped where they were tethered.
“We should rest up and wait for the weather to calm there is no point venturing out and losing our way,” said Alex wisely.
“That may delay our return to Paris, I mean all we have to do is keep the sea to the right of us,” said Eric wearily. He looked out in the pitch black of the night and realised that may be harder than he suggested.
“So be it,” said Alias unfastening the saddle off his horse and pulling out a sheep fleece which he would usually sleep on. Instead, he covered his shoulder to try and retain some heat. “If we lose our way then god knows when we shall be able to return to France.”