Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Christmas King, Part 3

Are you wondering what Collingwood Castle might look like? In looking for the perfect setting, I came across the lovely Gwydir Castle in Snowdonia, Wales. It’s perfect—a combination manor house and a castle, full of ancient charm, and the perfect place to set a Christmas love story. Check out the pictures, and see if you can imagine Celyn and Edward falling in love here! ttp://www.google.ca/search?q=gwydir+castle&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=0o7QUJKrLKO1igLF2IDACg&sqi=2&ved=0CDsQsAQ&biw=1325&bih=843

Are you looking for Parts 1 and 2 of the story? Part One began on the website Ramblings From This Chick on December 12, 2012. Scroll down and Follow the link at the top of Part 2 to read the beginning of the story. Here's part 3. 
Part 4 will be up on Thursday, December 20.

Today’s Cornwall Christmas Carol:

On the Second Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me…


“What does mom want for Christmas?”
“The usual, books and turtlenecks.”
That conversation takes place at my house every year. My family complains that my Christmas lists are by far the least imaginative things I write.
The books take me places, transport me, and have always been my favorite gifts (along with Lego and Barbie Dolls). I remember the books I received best of all when I look back at Christmas gifts past—Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, Lord of The Rings, and even one year, my first romance, from an aunt, a book by Dorothy Spicer I’ve forgotten the name of, though I remember the story, a suspenseful love story set in Egypt.

Okay, maybe the turtlenecks are getting dull, but I get chilly when I write. I literally wear two sweaters—both turtlenecks, one over the other, a scarf, and some fingerless gloves I bought at Cawdor Castle in Scotland. I work better warm, I suppose I do look a bit like a turtle, only popping out of my layers for questions like “What do you want for Christmas?” And so it starts again…two turtlenecks, and a big pile of books.

“My lord?” Edward kept his eyes shut, clinging to the warm vestiges of sleep, though they were already dissipating, and he wondered who was calling him. The voice was soft, gentle, sweet as Christmas music—not a servant then, and his sisters didn’t have gentle voices. They screeched.
“Lord Wintercross?” Edward opened his eyes, remembering he was at Collingwood Castle, in the library. He must have fallen asleep in the chair by the fire. Celyn Beauchamp was standing beside him, staring down at him, her hand extended as if she were about to touch him.
She took his breath away. She’d tidied her hair. The long braid was gone, tucked up into a proper bun. She probably wished to look older, more matronly, but the severe hairstyle only served to emphasize the delicacy of her cheekbones and the length of her neck. Celyn Beauchamp was beautiful. He had the oddest desire to reach out and touch her cheek, take her hand and pull her down onto his lap and stay right where he was, but she lowered her gaze and stepped back, blushing under his scrutiny, as if she could read his thoughts.
He sat up, tasting the lingering pleasure of Mrs. Jones’s gingerbread on his tongue, and straightened his cravat. He was as much the master here as at any other of his estates. A prickle of warning climbed his spine. He’d come all the way to Wales to avoid feminine entanglements and marriage. Not that Celyn Beauchamp could be considered marriageable by any definition of the word, as a mere servant or former mistress. But beddable, yes. Would she…“What is it, Miss Beauchamp?” he snapped.
She stiffened. “I’ve come to announce that dinner is served. We, um—haven’t got a butler.”
“I’m not surprised, since there is a complete lack of any proper staff.” He watched a bloom of indignant color wash up over her cheeks.
“If you’ll follow me?” she said, indicating the way with a wave of her hand, her expression as flat and proper as a real butler. There was none of the joy on her face now that she’d shared with the lads outside. He frowned, feeling the chill of being shut out of the fun yet again.
He rose and smoothed a hand through his hair, over his stubbled chin. He’d be glad when his valet arrived, hopefully by morning. Or did Celyn plan to offer that service as well? Shoes shined, cravats tied, earls shaved—the idea almost made him laugh out loud. Those long slender fingers could probably tie very intricate knots in a man’s cravat, among other things.
He let her lead the way, trying not to stare at the sway of her hips. No, she was most certainly not a butler. He couldn’t remember ever looking at Beckwith and thinking he’d like to bury his nose in his hair to identify the perfume he was wearing.
Celyn opened the door and stood back, as a good footman might, and waited for him to exit.
Beyond the library door, the hall had been transformed. The laundry was gone, and the polished slate floor was now covered with the turkey carpet he’d seen rolled up against the wall. The tallow candles had been replaced with beeswax, and the fragrance of old wood and honey filled the ancient hall.
            “How old is Collingwood Castle?” he asked her.
            “The land was given to the first Lord Colley, a Welsh comrade of Henry Tudor’s. That Colley helped him win the throne and become Henry VII. He built the old castle,” she said. “Other earls have added to it over the years. Caradoc’s grandfather built the new wing, with modern apartments and bedchambers, and the grand dining room.”
            “It must be beastly to maintain,” Edward said, looking around, imagining the army of servants it took to keep his manor at Wintercross perfectly polished, properly repaired, and running smoothly to his exacting standards. Yet, even though Medieval arms hung on the walls here as decoration, instead of the Italian paintings that graced his own home, the floors were just as clean, the paneling glowed just as brightly, and even if the ancient tapestries were faded with age, they were free of dust. He looked again at Celyn’s delicate limbs. Surely she didn’t do it all herself.
She paused to straighten a framed piece of embroidery that hung on the wall, and cast him a sideways look, appraising his opinion of the place. “We do our best,” she said proudly, and he smiled a little at her vanity.
            They passed by a towering archway that led to a grand staircase. The oak banisters were carved with fanciful animal faces, and the snow light filtered through mullioned window of leaded glass, casting an eerie glow over the worn stone steps. He could almost see the first Lord Collingwood descending the steps, clad in his armor, ready to win the Wars of the Roses for his side.
“That leads to the tower, and the great hall, and the rest of the old castle,” she explained as she led him past the archway without pausing. “This hallway marks the divide between the oldest part of the castle and the newest.” He could se that—on his left, the walls were old stone, pitted and scarred by age and battle. On the right, brick and plaster and paneling. Celyn opened a rather ordinary oak door on the right hand side, a modern, recognizable oak door, without defensive iron studs or the black patina of age.
She stepped aside to let him enter a warm and well-lit dining room, every bit as modern and well appointed as his own. He found himself staring down the length of a polished mahogany table, set for just five people, though there was space for at least thirty. The place at the head of the table stood empty, waiting for him. Lady Arabella was seated to the right of his place, Louisa and another young woman across from her. Celyn crossed the room to stand beside the last empty chair as the two girls rose to their feet.
            Louisa was still grinning at him as if he were a candied torte, and the other girl, who looked to be about sixteen or seventeen, regarded him with wide eyes. 
            “Lord Collingwood, may I formally present Lady Arabella Niven, and Miss Phoebe and Miss Louisa Niven?” Celyn said, and the girls instantly dropped into the kind of deep curtsy meant for royalty. The old lady beamed, and tried to do likewise, but Celyn gripped her arm when she faltered part way down, and helped her back to her seat.
            Edward bowed and kissed each lady’s hand, and took his place. There were no surprises. Everything was perfectly correct, the silver polished, the napkins of pristine linen, the crystal glasses sparkling in the soft candlelight.
            “It is a pleasure to meet you all,” he said, unfurling his napkin. He wasn’t certain what to say after that. At Wintercross, he dined alone. At Kingscott, his sisters would have taken over the conversation and there would have been no need—or opportunity—for Edward to speak at all. Here, the silence lingered, and the ladies looked at him expectantly.
            “Lovely weather,” he said without thinking, resorting to the safest, most usual topic. He could have bitten his tongue at how foolish it sounded—no doubt by now there was another foot of snow piled up outside the door by now—but the girls continued to grin as if he’d said something utterly charming, and Arabella merely nodded her head with a faint smile. Only Celyn shot him a quizzical look before she turned to nod at a young maidservant waiting in the doorway. The girl entered with a terrine filled with something that smelled delicious. She was followed by the old man he now understood must be Aled. The former steward regarded him suspiciously as he bore the wine on a silver tray.
            “No footmen either?” Edward asked Celyn.
            “Not for some months,” she replied pleasantly.
            He watched as she gave the two servants the kind of subtle signals that would do an English countess proud. The girl served a rich stew, scented with wine and herbs, swimming with carrots and potatoes. “Rabbit stew, Your Majesty,” she murmured.
            The old man filled his glass with red wine. “Are you really the king?” he asked, squinting at Edward.
“No,” Edward said sharply, tired of the question.
The old man shrugged. “If you’re sure. I’ve heard the king is mad, and who else would venture out in a snowstorm like this one? Lovely weather indeed. It’s hardly that.”
“I’m not—” Edward began feeling his neck heating under his cravat.
“Will you be staying with us long, my lord?”  Miss Phoebe Niven asked, fluttering her lashes.
“I had planned to stay for the whole of Christmastide,” Edward murmured, though he was now weighing the potential perils of Christmas at Kingscott with Millicent against the problem of remaining in this unusual household.
“I must warn you that we’re used to a simple life and simple celebrations. It won’t be a grand holiday,” Celyn said.
He frowned. “Are you trying to get rid of me, Miss Beauchamp?”
“No, of course not. Collingwood is your—” she faltered, trying to find the right word to describe it. Was there one? It wasn’t his home. It was merely his property, another estate he owned. Yet somehow it did not belong to him, or he to it. It was—
“Not grand? Oh, but it is!” Louisa chirped, interrupting his thoughts. “There’ll be mince pies and plum pudding, and fruit cakes, and wassail, and taffy, of course. And we couldn’t possibly want you gone again when you’ve just arrived. You’re the answer to Celyn’s—”
“And the decorations!” Celyn put in. “The holly and ivy, and the boughs!”
“It will be lovely! Celyn’s been hoarding candles and sugar for months,” Phoebe said, her careful debutante’s mask slipping to reveal an eager child.
Edward looked at their shining faces and felt a pang of longing for Kingscott. His sisters would be doing exactly the same things.
“In Cardoc’s father’s time, there was a Christmas ball every year,” Arabella mused, her eyes misty. “Or is it my father I’m thinking of?” Her hands fluttered like dismayed birds as she tied to remember. “No, it was at court, I’m sure of it now.” She looked at Celyn. “Will we be giving a ball this year? I must find a gown—”
Celyn clasped the old lady’s hand, squeezed it reassuringly. “You can wear your red gown, the one with the French lace, and your pearl earrings. You’ll look lovely.”
Arabella’s wrinkled face unfurled into a bright smile. “Of course! We’ll sneak into the kitchen and add extra rum to the cakes, and still more to the punch!” she said, and turned back to her meal.
Edward studied Celyn. Was it his imagination, or did a hint of worry cross her face? Was it the idea of planning such a grand party, or perhaps the concern that Lady Arabella would forget something important, a noble neighbor’s name, perhaps? Maybe the old lady mistook everyone for the king, and was considered somewhat embarrassing, like his own uncle, who sang bawdy ale house songs when he was in his cups at this time of year.
“I think I’ll go hunting tomorrow. Davy Price says the weather’s going to clear,” Aled announced to no one in particular. Edward was used to footmen that stood silently by, and didn’t join the conversation, but Celyn did nothing to rebuke him for his outburst. Aled hooked his thumbs in his vest. “I hope to bring down a stag, or a boar. Perhaps even a wolf.”
The maidservant wrinkled her nose. “We can’t eat a wolf, Aled, not even at Christmas!”
“Not for eating—for the fur,” he hissed back. “A Christmas present.”
“I’ll go out with you, Aled,” Celyn said quickly. “I want to gather some nuts.”
“Nuts? In all this snow?” Phoebe asked.
He watched Celyn blush, her fair skin turning pink in the candlelight. “I need the fresh air, and I’ll be safe with Aled.”
“You mean he’ll be safe with you,” Phoebe replied, and Celyn’s blush deepened.
“Perhaps I shall go as well,” Edward said, and Celyn’s gaze flew to his like a startled bird.
“Oh, no, my lord, that’s hardly necessary! The weather—”
Edward smiled dryly at her. “Is supposed to clear, I understand. I wish to see the estate, and I’ve been cooped up in a coach for a fortnight. A day’s hunting will do me good. Have you horses?”
“Horses?” Aled goggled. “We go on foot! Not the terrain for horses, here.”
Edward considered. His boots would be ruined. He saw the hope in Celyn Beauchamp’s eyes that he would change his mind, and that made him all the more determined to go out. “What time do we leave?” he asked.
“Dawn,” she said.
 “Noon,” Aled said at the same time.
He smiled at her. “I’ll be ready.” Aled grinned and refilled his glass to the brim.
He heard a whisper, then a giggle, somewhere up near the ceiling. He looked at the carved moldings around the ceiling, expecting angels, or bats, perhaps.
He started in horror. There was a gallery that ran the length of one wall, up near the ceiling. It was entirely lined with children, their thin legs dangling, their faces pressed between the railings as they watched the party below. They didn’t flee when he took note of them—they stared back, their eyes bright with curiosity, like squirrels, or monkeys. He frowned at them, but it did no good at all. He glanced at Celyn, saw her regarding him with interest.
Arabella laughed and waved at them. “Oh, the children! Shall we invite them in to visit with us?”
“Shouldn’t they be in bed?” Edward demanded.
Celyn folded her napkin and rose. “You’re quite right. Will you excuse me, my lord?” She glided out of the room, her back as stiff as a governess’s. When he looked up again, the children were gone. The color seemed to have leeched out of the room, and he blamed that on Celyn’s absence, not the lack of living cherubs in the rafters.
“They were excited enough, what with the fire, and staying here in the castle, and Christmas coming, too, but now you’ve come, they’ll never sleep at all,” Louisa predicted brightly.
Edward frowned. “Where are their parents?”
Phoebe sipped her wine elegantly and slid her gaze to Edward. “Upstairs. But there are some rooms set aside just for the children. Mrs. Jones has twelve herself, and one more coming. Davy Price has four, and no wife at all. They couldn’t all stay in just one room.”
“Then there’s the Stackpooles, with seventeen—or is it eighteen?” Louisa said.
“The King has fifteen children,” Arabella put in. “Most of them named Fredrick, or Augustus, if I remember correctly.”
“Or George,” Phoebe added. “Will you tell us about the Prince Regent, and London society, my lord?”
She leaned closer, had that starry look in her eyes he was used to from London debutantes who saw him as a fortune, a title and a marriage prize. Was every girl of marriageable age taught that look? His sisters were experts at appraising a man’s worth at a glance, and then drawing him in with that hypnotic and uniquely feminine dewy-eyed gaze if he proved suitably rich.
 “Yes, certainly,” he said as he leapt to his feet before Phoebe’s look mastered him. “Tomorrow at breakfast, perhaps. Or luncheon. If you’ll forgive me, it’s late, and I have had a very fatiguing journey.”
He bowed left the room, and only once he’d shut the door firmly behind him did he realize that he hadn’t a clue where he was going, and had no idea in which direction the earl’s chambers might be.
He took a candle from sideboard and returned to the archway. He looked up the stone steps, which seemed to ascend forever into the darkness. There was a draft issuing down the stairs like a cascade of icy water, and he cupped his hand protectively around the guttering candle and began to climb. 

Celyn made sure everyone was comfortable, and the children were tucked into their beds, and warned to stay there, and be quiet. They were full of questions about the visitor, and she told them they would see him in the morning.
Celyn thought it was rather nice, having the castle so full of people and life, even if the new earl did not like children. It was a pity, since Caradoc had loved them, though he’d never had any of his own—well, just one. He’d never married, having found the love of his life too late, and discovered the lady was already wed to someone else. He’d never admitted it, never spoken her name, but Celyn knew his heart had been irreparably broken. Throughout his life, Caradoc had carried a small snuffbox, asked to be buried with it, though he’d never taken snuff in his life. The box contained a lock of shining dark hair.
Celyn shooed the children into their beds, and kissed the tops of their heads. How lovely it would be to have a grand Christmas celebration of the kind Collingwood used to see.
Caradoc told marvelous tales of the parties held in his father’s time. Once, visiting mummers and musicians, came for Christmastide. There was a party for the villagers, and a ball for the local gentry. The merriment and misrule went on for twelve days. Of course Caradoc himself did little in the way of lavish entertaining, and eventually, no one at all came to visit and the traditions died away.
She walked along the corridor, and opened the door that led to the old part of the castle. It was cold here, and dark. She took a lantern, and used a candle to light it. The long gallery crossed between the ancient great hall and the dining room, marking a kind of dividing line between the two parts of the castle, old and new. The builder had left the gallery open so one could look down into the great hall of the original castle on one side, and then cross to peer into the modern dining room on the other. It was here the children had come to get a look at the new earl, as mysterious a creature to them as if he’d come from darkest China. She looked down into the dining room herself, hoping to catch a glimpse of him at table herself, but he was gone, and only Catrin remained, clearing away the remains of the meal. 
He’d obviously retired for the night. She hoped Edward Kingsley found Caradoc’s apartments to his liking. They were comfortable, but probably not up to the elegant standards of an English earl used to the most modern conveniences and all the luxuries his money could buy. That was obvious by the cut of his coat, the quality of his boots, his very attitude that he was a man who enjoyed the privileges of his wealth. He wasn’t likely to remain long in the rustic charms of Collingwood Castle. She felt a twinge of regret at that. The old place deserved a master, and a mistress, for that matter, and children. She frowned and wondered what would happen to the place now he’d come. She loved it here, but it was the only home she’d ever known.
She crossed the gallery and stared down into the great hall. The ancient hammer beam roof was shadowed in the dark. The high windows let in the white light of the snow, illuminating battle flags and banners that still hung proudly from the ceiling. The huge fireplace took up the whole wall at the end of the room, and was once used on nights like this for roasting whole stags, and heating ale or wine punch while knights and ladies told stories and laughed in the firelight.
 Celyn could imagine the floor cleared, so people could dance, or perhaps the earl would sit at the high table on the dais, surrounded by his people, and listen to a bard’s tales, or watch a troupe of traveling mummers accompanied by pipe and drum. There’d be Christmas greens, and the pleasure of good company.
In later centuries no doubt, candles replaced the torches and firelight, and lit a very different scene—elegant ladies in silk, lords in embroidered satin coats and buckled shoes, swirling around the room to a gentle minuet. She’d loved to stand exactly here as a child, and picture the celebrations in her imagination.
They hadn’t used the great hall in many years. She glanced at the door tucked into the flanks of the fireplace, which led to the old kitchens, now filled with cows and livestock. Still, with so many people, it would make a grand place to hold a Christmas feast for the villagers— And the earl, if he wished to come, And if he didn’t, well, it would be almost impossible to hear the sounds of a party from his apartments. She smiled, picturing it now. They would gather extra greens, set up long trestle tables, eat and drink and celebrate the season. She smiled at the idea. It was just what everyone needed—a chance to push away the dark days of winter, and the horror of the fire, bring back hope and happiness. And it may very well be the last Christmas she spent here at Collingwood. She pushed the melancholy thought away.
She’d speak to Mrs. Jones in the morning, make plans, and ask Mrs. Stackpoole and the girls to help, too.
A wavering light came along the gallery, flickering, floating above the floor, glancing off the walls. Celyn gripped the wooden railing, remembering darker tales. Caradoc said the old castle was haunted. His ghost stories were her favorites. Who was coming along the gallery? Was it old Sir Lancelot Colley, perhaps, or Caradoc himself, coming to visit her on a cold, dark night? Icy fingers of fear crept up her spine.
Then, without any warning at all, the light vanished.

Enjoying the story? Part 4 will be here on Thursday, December 20! Please leave a comment if you have any questions! I’d love to hear from you!


  1. I want to know who Celyn is. I keep thinking that she's Caradoc's daughter, but I don't know how. Edward is a stuffed shirt and he isn't; I'm loving him.

    The castle looks perfect, and so if I understand correctly Collingwood is basically a combo between an old castle and new one additionally added?

  2. Hi Landra! 'm so glad you're enjoying the story...All the secrets will be revealed, and Edward will, of course, just have to let his hair down and enjoy Christmas, but there are plenty of surprises coming for him, and everyone else!

    Yes, Collingwood is a mixture of the old and the new, a symbol of tradition and change. I once had a friend who lived in a house her great grandparents had built, which had been added to by other generations of the family. There were stairs and nooks and odd little rooms that made it a charming house. I remember one of the bathrooms had a little window right next to the base of the toilet. I love odd old houses, and all the secrets they hold!