“Edward?” Madeline hissed the name as she approached a hedge of bright blue flowers. “Edward, are you here?”
There was a rustling and a squire appeared out of the bushes. “Princess Madeline,” he bowed, a cheeky grin on his handsome young face.
“Do you have it?”
“I do,” he said. “Fresh from the far isles, a blend unlike any other. It’s spiced…”
“I don’t care if it was dragged through dung.” Madeline sighed with relief. “Pack me a pipe, would you?”
She handed her favorite pipe to the squire, who wasted no time in packing the bowl with green leaves marked with bright orange streaks and little white crystals that reminded Madeline of the tale of manna from heavens.
“Princess,” Edward said, handing it back. “I will strike a light for you.” He took out an iron and flint and began striking it into a little bowl full of straw brought for the purpose. For long minutes, he worked the sparks. Finally one caught light and the straw began to burn. Madeline’s pipe was lit and she drew a deep smoke-filled breath into her lungs.
Coughing ensued, but along with it came a deep sense of well-being. The cares of the day slipped away ever so slightly. Madeline glanced upon the bowl and saw that there was much more yet to smoke. By the time she was done she would almost certainly be entirely free of concerns. With the squire by her side, the green grass beneath her feet and the sky hanging benignly above their heads, Madeline began to relax to the sweet song of sparrows flitting about the bushes.
All was well, until a deep male voice intruded upon the chirping of the birds. Someone had come upon them, someone as irritated as he was large. Madeline experienced him first as a large shadow falling over her shoulders from behind, then as an annoyed growl.
“I have told you before not to carouse with the maids!”
Edward was propelled away by a hard cuff to the back of his head, dealt by a giant of a man. Madeline turned with pipe still clenched between her teeth, the bowl supported by her pale, elegant hand. She may have been dressed in the clothing of a commoner, but she carried herself with undeniably royal comportment.
The man, who was evidently a knight, was far more angry with his squire than with her. Indeed, he had not properly noticed her as yet, he was too busy being towering and imposing.
“Sir Gregory, you do not understand…” Edward stammered as he tried to explain.
“I understand perfectly well, lad,” Sir Gregory replied. “You’ve always had a taste for loose women.”
“Loose?” Madeline was quite scandalized by the description, but amused too if the truth were known. She had been called many things, but loose was not one of them. Elizabeth’s alleged promiscuity was quite foreign to Madeline, who had never allowed herself to be seduced by anyone.
It was good to know that her disguise, though simple, was amply effective, for it had fooled the knight without question. Madeline bit the stem of the pipe and looked upon Sir Gregory with no small measure of enjoyment. He was a wickedly attractive man with long dark hair framing a wolfish face, all hard lines and strength. His nose was straight with a low profile, his lips well formed with attractive sensitivity. It was his size that she found most exciting; he practically dwarfed Madeline and for once, she felt quite dainty.
“Hush, girl,” Sir Gregory growled, still without looking at her.
“Sir Gregory,” Edward said, making another attempt to explain. “This is no loose woman. This is Princess Madeline.”
“Princess?” Sir Gregory turned and looked at her properly for the first time. A little smirk played over Madeline’s lips as the handsome man’s pale blue eyes narrowed, then widened in surprise. “Princess Madeline!”
“The very same,” Madeline said, gesturing grandly with the pipe.
The knight snatched it from her hand and emptied it onto the grass, stamping the smoldering embers beneath his oversized boot. “Surely you must know this dulls the mind and diseases the lungs.”
“I know that it is not the place of a knight to take anything from a princess,” Madeline said haughtily, holding out her hand. “Pack it anew and strike a fresh light if you please. Your infernal interference has put a damper on my afternoon.”
Sir Gregory shook his head curtly and held her pipe aloft. “I rather think I should take this to your father and let him see what amusements you find left to your own devices. Where are your chaperones? Where are your ladies-in-waiting?”
“I do not need to be followed about wherever I go,” Madeline said. “Besides, my father would not believe you.” A most smug smile spread over Madeline’s pretty lips. “He does not believe the reports of the ladies-in-waiting, why would he believe you?”
“Because I am not a chivvying lady, but a knight of his realm.”
“And I am his daughter,” Madeline replied.
“His insolent, misbehaved daughter,” Sir Gregory amended. “Who fraternizes with squires and shirks the duties of her station.”
His tone was scathing in the extreme, which Madeline did not take to in the slightest. Princesses were rarely chastised, and certainly never lectured by knights. Though she did not have his height or his stature, she matched his scorn in her expression and posture.
“Who are you to speak to me in such a fashion? I think it is you who has forgotten his place and duties,” she replied. “Now give me my pipe.”
“I will not,” he said. “And I suggest you moderate your tone.”
Speaking of tones, there was some threat implied in his, but Madeline did not care for that. He could glower and growl all he liked; she was a princess and he was merely a knight.
“I order you to give it back to me this instant!” She became more strident in her demand. Surely he would give in if she ordered him with sufficient authority.
“Princess, I would not give this back to you if the king commanded me himself,” Sir Gregory replied. “Rewarding your shrill and shrewish temper would be doing you the ultimate disservice. Take yourself back to your chambers, and do not let me find you consorting with squires again.”
Edward the squire had taken the opportunity to slip away during their argument, leaving Madeline to face the knight’s wrath alone. That did not concern her in the slightest. He might be a man of war, but her tongue could be as dangerous as any sword.
“Rather a squire than a puffed-up buffoon!”
Sir Gregory’s expression drew grim. “Princess, you are dangerously close to being thrashed.”
“Bwahahahaha!” Madeline laughed at him, clutching at her side, so great was her mirth. The very idea was completely out of the realm of possibility. The worst punishment Madeline had ever endured was being forbidden from the stables after being caught on the back of Lord Crawley’s stallion. She had long since found a way around that particular restriction thanks to the willingness of servants to lie in return for royal favors. “Give me what is mine,” she insisted, holding her hand up under his nose.
Instead of restoring her pipe to her, Sir Gregory took her hand and turned her about. She quickly regretted the ditching of her petticoats, for the relatively thin fabric of the servant’s dress offered hardly any protection at all against his palm, which landed across her buttocks with a hard slap, shocking and paining her in equal measure.
Madeline had never experienced physical chastisement before. She found it most unpleasant. Not only was it uncomfortable, but it was very embarrassing to be struck upon her hindquarters like some commoner. Shame flushed her cheeks as heat suffused her buttocks.
“Stop! In the name of the king, stop!”
Her cries were more plaintive than regal as she twisted in Gregory’s grasp, her slipper-clad feet dancing back and forth beneath the beating of his palm, which was now coming in steady unavoidable strokes.
“I will stop when you apologize for behaving in a manner unbecoming a princess,” Sir Gregory informed her.
“Apologize! For being treated brutally? Never!” Madeline squirmed around to face him. “You will pay for this with your neck!”
Gregory tugged her back around and slapped her bottom yet again, his strong hand sweeping back and forth through the air, landing over and over against her tender rump. He was thrashing her as if she were no more than some peasant scamp, showing little regard for the illustriousness of her person.
Nineteen-year-old Princess Madeline is not about to let anyone dictate who she can and cannot marry. She will settle for nothing less than a king, and her sister’s upcoming marriage to a prince is merely tedious—much like everything that goes on at court.
Madeline is used to getting her way, so when Sir Gregory—a mere knight—finds her making mischief and spanks her long and hard for her behavior, she is angrier than she’s ever been. To her absolute horror, after her encounter with Sir Gregory rumors begin to spread through the court that her virtue may have been compromised. Fearing a scandal and wanting Madeline off his hands, the king commands her to take the brave knight’s hand in marriage. But knights don’t inherit kingdoms, and Madeline intends to be a queen.
In an attempt to prevent the ruin of her plans, she flees the castle. Yet after Sir Gregory tracks her down and brings her home with a sore, well-spanked bottom, his firm-handed dominance proves to the feisty princess that, regardless of his station, his bearing is that of a king. She soon finds herself falling in love with her new husband, even though it means putting aside her dreams of a crown. But when an old and bitter foe attacks their homeland, both Madeline and Sir Gregory will need all their wits and all their courage to save their people.