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The Contingency Plan

By Addison Albright

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

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Copyright 2018 Addison Albright

ISBN 9781634866118

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs |

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All rights reserved.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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For Nell Iris and Amy Tasukada, whose beta reading talents are unmatched and deeply appreciated.

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The Contingency Plan

By Addison Albright

Prince Marcelo of Sheburat stared out the window of his bedchamber. The sky was a strikingly vivid azure-blue, broken only by a few scattered billowy clouds. Blackbirds and woodlarks sang their merry tunes, and the blossoms flowering in the grove of plum trees fluttered in the light breeze.

It was the sort of day his twin sister Marcela would have embraced. Yesterday’s beauty would have likely drawn her outdoors to race across the castle’s grounds on her beloved Pepin.

Usually surefooted, she wouldn’t have expected the horse to stumble and throw her. Marcelo could picture his sister’s wide smile as she encouraged Pepin to sprint across the yard, the wind whipping her loose hair into a tangled jumble.

He and Marcela hadn’t been close in years. Not true companions since their nursery days, and not in each other’s confidence at all since his time with the tutors had come to an end. Still, she’d been his twin, and he mourned her passing.

He turned from the window and sat staring at his hands, folded in his lap. How would her unexpected death affect the peace treaty?

Days…they’d been mere days from completing the final component in the treaty their mother, Queen Giselle, had signed eighteen years earlier with King Alnod of Zioneven. The timing of the tragedy, so close to Marcela’s wedding to the crown prince of Zioneven, might have made it suspect. But the accident had been witnessed by advanced riders of the Zioneven entourage as well as trusted Sheburat guards. All agreed there’d been no foul play.

It had been an accident. A particularly badly timed misfortune.

Unlike his twin, who’d been robust and athletic, Marcelo had a delicate build and features more typical of the rare male born into the royal family of this matriarchal sovereignty. With the smooth skin of his face and fine lines of his bone structure, visiting foreign dignitaries might be excused for assuming him to be a woman before taking a closer look. He raked a shaky hand through the silky loose ringlets of his shoulder-length strawberry-blond hair.

The castle was in an uproar with servants rushing to and fro. Doing what, Prince Marcelo wasn’t sure. He recognized the end results of the servants’ hard work but had no idea of the details of how most of it was accomplished. The incessant chatter as they hurried along the stone corridor outside his chamber drove him to distraction.

Of course, there’d been a contingency plan laid out in the treaty because there’d never been a guarantee that Marcela, the third daughter of Queen Giselle and Prince Consort Elmer, would live to see her eighteenth birthday. The two eldest daughters—the heir and the spare—had been excluded from consideration in the wedding arrangement portion of the treaty, so instead of marrying Marcela, the crown prince of Zioneven would now choose from among the younger daughters. Unfortunately, that would cause a delay until the newly chosen bride-to-be turned eighteen, and neither side would appreciate the postponement.

Still, in the larger scope of peace between these two lands, his twin’s death was a mere blip in the process. Queen Giselle, like Marcelo and his sisters, grieved on a personal level, but she had no real worries in regard to the treaty.

A light but persistent tapping on the closed door to his bedchamber wrested him from his melancholic thoughts. “Enter,” he called.

His personal servant, Erich, opened the door and stepped in. “Sir.” With a small bow, Erich announced, “Crown Prince Efren of Zioneven has arrived. You are expected to join your family in the great hall.”

Life went on.

“Thank you.” Marcelo stood and rolled his shoulders as Erich waited. More than twice Marcelo’s age, Erich had patience aplenty, borne of years of experience in service to the royal family. Marcelo briefly closed his eyes while he took a cleansing breath, then followed his servant from the room. Apparently, Prince Efren didn’t want to waste any time working out the details to the modification of the arrangement.

Marcelo arrived at the entrance to the great hall at the same time as his younger sister, Kemble. As the fourth daughter, a year younger than he and Marcela, she was Prince Efren’s likely choice as a replacement bride. Her grim expression confirmed she understood that.

Knowing from birth what her fate was supposed to be, Marcela had grown up coming to terms with her future. With her strength of character, she’d willingly, if not entirely cheerfully, accepted her imminent fate as wife to the future ruler of those boors to the north, often saying, “I’m proud to be the one who will cement the peace that’s finally come over our land.”

Bearing in mind how close they’d come to the wedding sealing the final deal of that long-ago treaty, Kemble was no doubt in shock at the realization that she would be taking her sister’s place in a year’s time. It was hard to say whether she’d use that time to fan the flames of her dread, or to pluck up her mettle.

Marcelo nodded and conveyed what he hoped was a commiserating expression.

She nodded briefly in acknowledgement, then entered the hall as a servant announced, “Her Royal Highness, Princess Kemble of Sheburat.”

Straightening his back, Marcelo stepped into place in the entryway. The servant proclaimed, “His Royal Highness, Prince Marcelo of Sheburat,” and Marcelo strode into the packed room.

The royal family and nobles of Sheburat lined one side, and the entourage from Zioneven flanked the opposite. Being male, he stepped into place at the lower end of the row of Queen Giselle’s offspring, rather than in age-order amongst his sisters.

Surprisingly, considering his whole life he’d heard whispers of what backward brutes the people of Zioneven were, they looked much the same as the people on the Sheburat side of the room. The ambassadors from Zioneven with whom he’d conversed at state dinners had been civilized enough, but he’d considered that an aberration—a skill and front that went with their position.

The men and women varied in size, and although the details of the styling of their clothing was distinctive, the basics were the same: long, silk-trimmed tunics made of a finely woven cloth with a colorful strong fabric belt. Coming from a chillier climate, their trousers were tailored tighter than those worn in Sheburat, and were leather rather than linen, but the leather footwear was much the same. Their cloaks were fastened at the left shoulder by a round brooch.

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