Chapter 6: Misery

Breakup (1)The kingdom of Tylwyth Teg slept quietly, unaware that the world had just shattered into pieces. No one noticed the tears streaming down Lord Arlwyn’s face as he prayed in church.

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No one heard the heartbroken sobs of the peasant girl, Flora. No one else knew of their misery.

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“I am a Roble…”

Arlwyn had no choice but to swallow his sadness. He was a Roble. Robles did what must be done, without complaint, without showing emotion. Whenever he began to feel the bleakness rise within him, he dug his fingernails into the palms of his hands and repeated the words to himself. “I am a Roble…”

He tried to push thoughts of Flora into the deep recesses of his mind, to focus on his studies, and on Lady Priscilla, his betrothed. But it impossible. When Priscilla droned on and on, Arlwyn’s thoughts drifted to Flora. When he took Priscilla out to see a play, or to visit his favorite fishing spot, he could not stop remembering his conversations with Flora in those very places. Arlwyn and Priscilla Breakup (2)

And when he discovered a very, very unusual egg one evening, while out walking, the first thing he thought was how much he wished he could run to Flora and tell her all about it. (He decided not to mention it at all to Lady Priscilla).

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Flora threw herself into her daily work, scrubbing, baking, and pulling weeds almost frantically, desperate to keep from thinking about Arlwyn, and the cold, hard sound in his voice when he had last spoken to her. But when the work was done, and Flora had time alone, she stumbled through the woods, half-blind from sobbing.

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One afternoon, in her desperation and grief, she made her way to a crumbling stone cottage hidden deep in the forest. It was the home of Hazel Thornbush, the toothless old midwife who was known for her herbal remedies.

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“Please, can you help me?” Flora’s voice shook. “Please.     I c-can’t lose him.”

"Please, can you help me?"

“Please, can you help me?”

“There there,” said Old Hazel in her deep, scratchy voice. She listened to Flora’s pain without saying a word. Then she sent the girl away with a list of instructions. “Be sure to follow it carefully, and while the moon is full,” the old woman called as Flora hurried home. Flora sad (4) Flora sad (6) Flora sad (5)

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Chapter 5: Duty-Bound

Arlwyn did not know what to do. For all his life, someone else had made his decisions. Someone else had chosen his clothing, told him what to eat, what to read, and what to believe. He had always accepted everything without question. Everything.

Arlwyn (17) Arlwyn (19)

But Flora Goode had shaken up his perfectly ordered world. He could not get enough of her. Whenever he could manage to sneak away, he met with her in secret, in quiet forest glades and hidden meadows, away from the curious eyes and wagging tongues of other people. It was indecent, he knew, as did Flora. But her soft voice, her delicate hands in his, her soft mouth kissing his – she was like a jug of sweet, cold water on a scorching day of summer.

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There was no doubt that he loved her. He loved her so deeply that he wanted to climb onto the roof of Roble Manor and shout it to the entire kingdom. He wanted to show up at the door of the crumbling, ramshackle cottage where Flora lived with her family, sweep her away, and make her his wife. He wanted to grow old with Flora Goode at his side.

Arlwyn and Priscilla

Arlwyn did not want to marry Lady Priscilla. But it was not his choice to make.

But it was impossible. His future was locked in place, like prison gates. He was to marry Lady Priscilla, and spend the remainder of his life listening to her superficial prattle.

“Please father,” Arlwyn begged at last, desperate to change his fate. “Can’t the betrothal be broken? Can’t I marry a girl of my own choosing?”

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“You are duty-bound to marry Lady Priscilla. The Roble family must always honor their commitments.”

“Unthinkable.” His father’s voice was firm. “The Roble family does not break its commitments. Lady Priscilla is a fine, upstanding young lady from a prestigious family. I will hear no more of this.” He dismissed Arlwyn’s pleas.

There was only one thing to do. It was something he knew must be done, though the very idea made his throat close with grief. He had to part with Flora so that they could both face the futures that awaited them. He did not know how to do it or what to say. But then, one day, Flora arrived at Roble Manor, unannounced.

“What are you doing here?” Arlwyn’s face drained with shock.

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Flora smiled. “I haven’t seen you in more than a week. Are you well?” Her gaze grew soft with concern as she studied him. Arlwyn pulled himself together. With a stiff, formal bow, he invited her inside his home. He felt as though a ball of lead sat within his heart, growing larger and heavier as he watched Flora walk around his home, marveling at the beautiful furnishings, the grand library, and the piano.

“Will you play?” she asked eagerly. Arlwyn closed his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to slide onto the piano bench and play the song that he had written just for Flora, to love her through music.

“I cannot,” I answered, opening his eyes at last.

“You cannot play?”

“I cannot – love you,” he said. “I can no longer be with you. I am betrothed to another. I – we must not see each other again.”

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There was a silence that filled the room for a long, long time. He could not look at Flora. He could not bear to see her heart breaking as his was at that moment. He stood in place, looking away, until the girl he loved rushed past him and out the door.

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Chapter 4: Falling

Flora knew that she and Arlwyn did not belong together. He was a wealthy, privileged boy from a powerful family. And she was nothing but a commoner – worse than a commoner. What would Arlwyn think if he were to see how she lived, toiling in the dirt, cooking and scrubbing until her fingers were almost too cramped to play her violin? The very idea stained her cheeks red with shame.

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She tried to focus on her work, and church, and family—anything but him.

Flora (8) Flora (15) But she could not stop her mind from drifting away and picturing the way his face glowed when he smiled, and the rich sound of his voice, as deep and gentle as the lake by which they had met. When she played her violin, she closed her eyes and imagined that each note was a melody just for Arlwyn Roble. Flora (9)Flora (11)

“What has gotten into you lately?” Her sister, Corinne, shook her head, a teasing smile on her lips. “Oh, let me guess. Could it be Timothy, from Devon  Hollow?”

"What has gotten into you lately?" her sister teased.

“What has gotten into you lately?” her sister teased.

Flora’s eyes widened. “No, of course not!” She shook her head furiously. “I was just – just daydreaming, that’s all.”

Months passed before she saw him again. She was walking toward town by way of the lake, on an errand for her mother. The lake was completely frozen over by then, and the winter air so cold and still that it was hard to recall that warm summer night and the songs of frogs and insects that had serenaded her and Arlwyn. She stepped carefully across the hard, icy surface, as she had done many times before. She was nearly across the lake when suddenly, one foot slipped out from beneath her, and she landed with a thud.

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Flora slipped on the ice and fell.

 

“Are you all right?” someone called from the shore. For a moment, Flora just blinked, unable to trust her own eyes. But it was true – the person walking toward her was none other than Arlwyn Roble.

“Are you all right?” he repeated, as he took her hands and helped her to her feet. Arlwyn and Flora (25) Arlwyn and Flora (23)

“Yes, my lord. Thank you,” she said, curtsying.

“Do you remember me?” he asked, his hopeful eyes searching hers.

“Of course.” Flora smiled. “How could I possibly forget?” Arlwyn and Flora (22)

It was in that moment that she knew. All was lost. The errand, her future, the rest of the world dropped away into an abyss, leaving her on an island, where nothing mattered but her and Arlwyn. Even the chill of the winter air was not a sharp enough distraction. Arlwyn and Flora (24)

As the hours raced by, the two of them stayed together by the lake, talking without cease, uncovering each other’s secrets one by one, and falling in love faster than the sun’s rays faded from the sky. And before they parted, Arlwyn kissed Flora softly on the lips, and murmured promises of love that they both knew he could not keep.

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Chapter 3: Sudden Music in the Night

Arlwyn's father arranges his betrothal to the lady Priscilla of Gaudon.

Arlwyn’s father arranges his betrothal to the lady Priscilla of Graudon.

 

In those times, marriage was hardly ever for love. Perhaps for the peasants, who did not have to worry themselves with status, riches , and power, marriage for love was one of the few luxuries they could afford. But for the noble families of Tylweth Teg, marriage was always little more than a business transaction between two families.

Arlwyn Roble was betrothed before he even understood the meaning of the word. His father made a deal with the Ellington family of Graudon, and the two families proudly announced the betrothal of the young Baron of Tylweth Teg to the lovely Lady Priscilla.

“Lovely? She laughs like a donkey!” Douglas teased. He began to guffaw in a comical imitation of Lady Priscilla’s laugh. Screenshot-82 (2) Screenshot-76 (2)

“Shut up,” said Arlwyn, scowling. “At least I’m not betrothed to Anne the baker’s daughter. She has as much charm as a sea slug.” This was true. However, the more Arlwyn got to know his betrothed, the more he began to wish he could have instead been stuck with Anne the baker’s daughter, who at least knew when to stop talking.

Lady Priscilla never quite seemed to know when to stop talking.Arlwyn (14)

Still, it could have been far worse. At least Priscilla was cheerful and charming. She had good manners and breeding, and would make a fine wife one day. By the time Arlwyn was seventeen years old, he had accepted his fate with mature dignity. Everything about his future was laid before him like a perfectly set table, with everything exactly where it belonged.

But one summer evening, everything changed. Arlwyn was enjoying some leisure time out in the country. After catching a few fish, he decided to cool off from the sticky heat by taking a dip in the river. He peeled off his clothes and dove in, unaware that he was not alone. Arlwyn and Flora (6)  A few moments later, he smelled smoke, then turned and saw a girl on the shore, warming her hands over a bright, crackling campfire. He did not recognize her. He crept out of the water and got dressed, then approached the girl.Arlwyn and Flora (5)

“Hello,” he said. The girl gasped and spun around, her eyes widening in terror. “Don’t worry – you’re not in trouble or anything,” he said. “This is a public beach.”

The girl just stood there, trembling like the slender grasses that surrounded the river banks. She had a fine, delicate face, and wore the drab, worn clothing of the lower classes. “What is your name?” he asked her. Arlwyn and Flora (2)

“I am Flora Goode, my lord.” She curtsied and dropped her gaze.

“Well Miss Goode, do you often take night walks without an escort?” She glanced sharply at him, and  he caught his breath. Her eyes were like the twilight sky, glowing stars dusted against an inky blue canvas.

“I like to walk in the evenings,” she said. “It is lovely, with the songs of frogs and night birds. Can you not hear them?” Arlwyn and Flora (3) And suddenly, Arlwyn realized that the air around them was indeed alive with  humming and buzzing — the night music of a million creatures. He wanted to stay there in the middle of it, talking with this fascinating and beautiful girl, for the entire night. 

Arlwyn and Flora (1)He could not, he knew, but he did remain there, getting to know Flora Goode, until the moon shone very high in the sky.

Chapter 2: Arlwyn the Tongue-Tied Baron

ArlwynArlwyn Roble was nothing like his twin brother, Douglas. Douglas was full of confidence and charm. He knew what he wanted to be and always knew the right things to say to make people like him.

Arlwyn's twin brother, Douglas, knew what he wanted to be.

Arlwyn’s twin brother, Douglas, knew what he wanted to be.

Arlwyn, on the other hand, was much less secure. Whenever he was supposed to make conversation with others, he felt as though some invisible hand reached inside his throat and stole the words away before he could open his mouth. When he did manage to speak, he often stuttured.

“H-h-hello. P-p-p-pleasure to m-m-meet you,” he would say when introduced to other children of nobility. Arlwyn (9)

“God, how pathetic,” Douglas would say, shaking his head. “Sometimes I cannot believe that you hold the title of Baron while I hold nothing.” This was true. As their father was Earl of Tylwyth Teg, Arlwyn, who was born first, had inherited the title of Baron.

Arlwyn's father held the title of Earl and was a man of great importance.

Arlwyn’s father held the title of Earl and was a man of great importance.

Arlwyn and his father sit in church together.

Arlwyn and his father sit in church together.

"It is fine to love nature and fishing, but your future is that of a nobleman, not a peasant."

“It is fine to love nature and fishing, but your future is that of a nobleman, not a peasant.”

“I did not ask to be a baron,” Arlwyn protested to his jealous brother. He did not relish the idea of becoming a man of importance like their father. If his future were up to him, then he would live in a quiet cottage in the country, catching fish and living off the land. But his future was already written. And so, he did as he was told. He spent long hours reading, studying Latin and French and German, playing the piano, and any other pursuits considered to be seemly for a boy of his stature.

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The Goode family holds a charity ball to benefit the poor orphans of the kingdom.

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One day, at one of his father’s parties, Arlwyn was introduced to the Lady Priscilla Veronique of Graudon; a plump, red-faced girl with a pig-like nose and a tendency to talk unceasingly. He politely listened to her prattle on and on about the great feast her father had thrown in her honor, then felt a great sense of relief when she finally moved on to bore someone else. He did not give much more thought to Lady Priscilla for the next few years.

Arlwyn is introduced to the Lady Priscilla.

Arlwyn is introduced to the Lady Priscilla of Graudon.

Chapter 1: The Wildflower of Tylwyth Teg

The Kingdom of Tylwyth Teg

The Kingdom of Tylwyth Teg

Long, long ago, the small kingdom of Tylwyth Teg  lay nestled in a lush valley of rolling, emerald hills. Like many kingdoms, there existed two classes of people – the peasants, who worked the land and served the wealthy while struggling to survive, and the nobility, who lived in luxury under the shadow of the royal family, and who all but ignored the struggling peasant class.

Flora Goode had not a drop of noble blood in her lineage. Her father farmed the large oat fields on the outskirts of their village, just as his father had before him. Her mother’s hands were reddened and chapped from the constant scouring and digging and gathering that constituted the life of a peasant wife, and her body was worn and tired from bearing seven children. Screenshot-4

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Flora Goode

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The Goode family lived together in a cramped but cozy stone cottage. Sometimes, life was content, and there was enough food to go around. But other times, there was not much more than a few mouthfuls of thin turnip soup, and the family went to bed with gnawing tummies.  Flora (5)

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There was not always enough food to feed the entire Goode family.

Flora had neither the responsibilities of her elder sisters, nor the complete freedom of her younger siblings. She always did what was expected of her with a quiet sense of duty, but on the inside, she ached to run off into the hills to play. “Sometimes I think that child is part wildflower, the way she is always out in the woods,” her mother once remarked.Flora (1)

The need to be one with nature was an uncontrollable urge for Flora. Even as she left childhood behind, she spent every spare moment walking through the hills or gathering flowers to place on the table at home. That was how she came across the violin, which someone had left behind, or discarded, or perhaps lost beneath the docks by the bay. The mahogany wood was still smooth, though perhaps not as lustrous as it had once been. Day after day, Flora returned to the docks and practiced the violin until her bow ceased to make it screech and began to make the instrument sing. Arlwyn and Flora (4)