Abighail lowered the latest issue of Health Science Journal onto her lap and stared at the ceiling. She had been cooped up in the family library since early morning, lying on a low, blue velvet chaise next to a window, twirling a lock of her hair, and reading. Or at least attempting to. Abighail checked the article title again and realized she had not absorbed a word of what she had just read.
She sat up and let out a long sigh. Mark had written to Dr. Dunn, a revered Bettonian surgeon, with a request to take Abighail as her apprentice, but there was no response from Dr. Dunn yet. Abighail ended up asking Mark to let her apprentice at his student research clinic because the summer was over, and with a month remaining until her final year at the Lankorn Institute of Medicine and Body Studies, her dean had demanded to know what her apprenticeship plans were. Grant, her betrothed, could not be happier that she would be staying home.
Abighail sighed again. The whole situation was utterly unsatisfactory. She found a way to learn from a legend in the world of medicine, but the way things were going, she would never be able to use that opportunity. She was left to float with the flow, and the lack of power to change anything left her wanting to climb the walls.
She flopped back onto the chaise, face down this time, and closed her eyes.
“Would you stop sighing?” Amelia, her younger sister by three years, asked from a different corner of the library. “Some of us are actually reading here.”
A sharp retort almost flew off Abighail’s tongue, but the library was Amelia’s domain. That aside, Amelia was the gentlest of the three Redwynn sisters. Any careless word could bring her to tears, and Abighail did not want that on her conscience that morning.
There was a knock on the door, after which Mr. Branbyn, their housekeeper, entered the library. “Miss Abighail, Dr. Tauten is here to see you.”
She remained as she was, face down. “Please bring him here.”
“One of those days?” Mark asked as he walked in, coaxing a giggle out of Amelia.
“That’s Abby for you,” she joked.
“Amy!” Abighail almost regretted going mild on her earlier.
“Sorry.” Paper rustled, followed by hasty footsteps. Amelia knew when to retreat.
Mark settled on the floor next to Abighail’s chaise. “I can’t believe you would mope like this.”
Despite herself, Abighail smiled at his endearing, brotherly tone with a hint of mockery. They had known each other pretty much since Abighail’s birth. Her older sister was friends with Mark and his brothers first, but for three years now Mark had been Abighail’s best friend and mentor at LIMBS.
“I’m not moping,” she lied, knowing he would see right through her. “What brings you here?”
“I got a response from Dr. Dunn.”
Abighail slid off the chaise and settled on the floor next to him. “What did she say?”
Mark flashed her an enigmatic smile, then stuffed his hand inside his jacket and pulled out the letter. “You read it.”
Heartbeat accelerating from excitement, she snatched the letter. “She said yes!” Abighail exclaimed a short while later. “She’ll take me on as her student. What did you tell her? How did you convince her?”
“Nothing special. Only sent her an updated version of the recommendation letter you used for your admission to LIMBS. Do you still want to go to Bettonia for your apprenticeship?”
Abighail jumped to her feet. “Are you serious? Yes, I still want to go! Come.” She tugged on his hand.
Mark rose to his feet. “Where to?”
“Father’s office. Now I have leverage that’ll help me convince him to let me go.” Abighail waved the letter above her head. “You know he disapproves of this idea. Bettonia’s dangerous, and why can’t I just apprentice with someone in Altok, and what about Grant and the wedding? His favorite argument, though, is that Dr. Dunn hasn’t even agreed to mentor me, so why should we discuss it? Well, now she has.”
“Don’t even think about it.” Mark dug his heels into the carpet. “I told you to deal with him on your own.”
Abighail looked at him with her sappiest eyes. “Please?” She would have convinced Father either way, but having support always came in handy. Plus, driving to the Senate Hall was much more pleasant with someone for company.
Mark shook his head. “You’re just going to beg me until I agree, aren’t you?”
She hugged his arm. “You know I am.”
Abighail had been to the Senate Hall many a time. A building of gray brick and white marble, it stood tall and imposing even on the most cheerful of days. An enormous Altokian flag, white with a half of a stylized blue lily on the side nearest to the pole, hung above the front entrance. Guards in dark blue uniforms and with emotionless faces stood watch throughout.
The Senate Hall was busy as usual, but Abighail and Mark also happened to come on the assembly day when most of the Altokian senators gathered together to discuss matters at hand while their assistants flew frantically through the hallways on their errands. Abighail and Mark climbed the wide marble stairs to her father’s office on the third floor. When they approached the guard at the doors, Abighail explained, “This is Dr. Tauten. He’s my mentor and a research associate at Lankorn Institute of Medicine and Body Studies.”
The guard nodded and let them through.
“Good afternoon, Miss Redwynn,” Mr. Dean, her father’s secretary, greeted as they walked in. Even though he was Mark’s age and looked rather unassuming in his beige suit, Abighail knew he was a model of efficiency and discretion, which is how he got his job in the first place despite being only twenty-three years old. His family connections probably helped too. The Dean Banner had a reputation for assisting and promoting political and otherwise influential figures.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Dean,” Abighail replied. “I need to speak to my father. Is he in?”
“He is, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. He’s meeting with a group of delegates from Bettonia.”
Abighail shot a look at the closed door to the discussion room, then looked at Mark. “Dr. Dunn is from Bettonia. Some will say coincidence. I say it’s Providence.”
He shrugged and made himself comfortable in one of the chairs in the waiting area.
She sat next to him. “Mr. Dean, are you allowed to say why the delegates are here?”
The secretary glanced up from his paperwork, his expression neutral. “It’s the Bettonian Minister of International Affairs’ yearly visit to Altok. They typically work out solutions to any disputes that exist between the Altokian and Bettonian governments and such. Although this year they sent the Deputy Minister. May I get you anything to drink?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine. Mark?”
Mark shook his head. “I’m quite all right as well. Thank you, Mr. Dean.”
They waited for more than two hours. The secretary carried on with his tasks as though they weren’t even there. Mark attempted to go and procure a newspaper or just walk outside in the hall to stretch his legs, but Abighail held onto him with an iron grip any time he moved.
“Why are you so high-strung?” he asked eventually. “Nervous?”
“Have you met my father? Of course I’m nervous,” Abighail hissed back at him.
“Then why did we come here?”
Abighail was about to give him another of her incinerating glares when the doors to the discussion room opened and people started coming out. She patiently waited until Father showed up in the doorway.
He frowned when he saw her. “Abighail, what are you doing here?”
She came to him. “Mark got the response. Dr. Dunn has agreed to mentor me.”
“Now is not a good time.” Father gently pushed her away from the door, his voice tired and somewhat irritated.
“I know you’re busy, but it is never a good time to talk about me going to Bettonia.”
His frown deepened, and he tilted his head slightly toward the back of the discussion room.
Mark materialized by her side and pulled on her arm. “Good afternoon, Senator Redwynn. We are so incredibly sorry to interrupt you. We’ll be going now. Right, Abby?”
Abighail glanced back and forth between them. Since when did Mark side with Father?
A deep, male voice came from inside the room. “Senator Redwynn, should we postpone our discussion until later?”
Abighail bit her lip and chided herself. In her haste to deliver the news, she had not checked whether everyone left the discussion room.
“Sorry,” she mouthed to Father.
He took a steadying breath and assumed a pleasant expression before turning around. “Not at all. My daughter has stopped by for a quick visit.” He indicated for Mark and Abighail to come into the room.
Once inside, Abighail found two men sitting at a large oval oak table piled with stacks of paper, ink pens, and empty water glasses. One of the men was fully gray-haired and properly old. The other one was in his late twenties, a captivating tall blond with hazel eyes and a small smile lurking in his left lip corner. She smoothed out the skirt of her fashionable, long, burgundy dress and made sure to stand straight. Both men rose from their seats and came closer.
“Please allow me to introduce my daughter, Miss Abighail Redwynn,” her father started. “And this is Dr. Mark Tauten, Abighail’s medical school mentor and research partner. Abighail, Dr. Tauten, please meet Councilor Gregory Beckett—he’s one of our diplomats to Bettonia—and Deputy Minister of International Affairs of Bettonia, Lyam Gable.”
Both sides delivered graceful bows of acknowledgment.
“Lyam Gable? As in Prince Lyam, nephew to the King of Bettonia?” Abighail had never met a member of Bettonian royalty before, but his face was familiar from the papers. A large gold signet ring with a yellow gem on his right hand and a leather, glove-like bracelet on his left served as further proof of his elevated status among the Bettonians.
The handsome blond smiled wider. “Guilty as charged.”
Abighail went cold on the inside. Father would definitely berate her later for interrupting that meeting. She took a small step back. “My deepest apologies for disrupting. We will be on our way now.”
“One moment, Miss Redwynn. Your father mentioned a medical school. Are you studying to become a researcher?” Prince Lyam asked before Abighail could turn around and walk out the door.
Mark shot her a warning look, probably worried about the indignation that tended to surface when people assumed she was studying theory only.
“Not quite, Your Highness. My daughter is studying to become a physician. She has only one year left of her initial training, too,” Father replied, astounding Abighail with the pride that carried in his voice. He had supported her when she announced she was going to study practical medicine, a skill restricted by tradition solely to men in the Honorable Republic of Altok, but his support caused him many a headache over the years. She had grown accustomed to him sighing and shaking his head when she talked about LIMBS, so his pride of her accomplishments took her by surprise.
“I don’t mean to sound rude, but that’s unusual for Altok, isn’t it? I hear that only men can be doctors here. You must be quite clever, Miss Redwynn. And persistent.” Prince Lyam sounded genuinely impressed. “Do forgive my curiosity and accidental eavesdropping, but did you say Dr. Dunn has agreed to take you on as her apprentice? Did you mean Dr. Fiona Dunn, our best surgeon?”
Abighail looked at her father, uncertain of what she should say. He looked back at her, his expression unreadable, then gestured with his hand that she should answer.
She resolved to keep her response to minimal details, just in case. “Yes. Dr. Tauten is an acquaintance of Dr. Dunn, and he had contacted her on my behalf to inquire whether she would consider teaching me. Which she agreed to do.”
“And are you intending to go?” the prince kept questioning.
She glanced at Father again. Providence had offered her an interesting choice. She could say she was going regardless of what anyone in her Banner said and possibly secure her chance of studying with Dr. Dunn because Father would not dream of being a liar in front of these foreigners. Or she could let him answer for her and gain favor with him through her obedience.
Father produced one of the warmest smiles she had ever seen, and said, “We’re still figuring out the particulars.”
Abighail realized she was holding her breath and slowly exhaled. Of course he would not give them anything definite.
“That is an incredible opportunity for your daughter, Senator Redwynn,” the prince pressed. “Dr. Dunn is famous across the continent for her surgical skills, and I’ve heard she is an excellent mentor. You are very lucky indeed, Miss Redwynn, that she is willing to teach you.”
Abighail’s enchantment with his vibrant looks melted away, and she smiled, entertained with his encouragement. She might be young, but she was still her father’s daughter. She was trained from her crib to know when people launched into political games. And, judging by a slight twitch of her father’s lips, he also knew that Prince Lyam was up to something.
“We are quite aware of that,” Father said. “And are very grateful.”
Abighail suppressed a chuckle. The prince was good at playing games as well. “It may be too late to arrange a trip to Bettonia for this school year. Dr. Dunn might teach me, but I’d need to find a host family, one that was vetted and safe, and all such things,” she answered.
“Quite right,” Father confirmed, approval in his eyes when they exchanged glances.
“And that is all?” Prince Lyam asked. “The Royal Family would be honored to host your daughter and provide her with anything she might need. And, of course, we would be personally guaranteeing her safety during her stay in Bettonia.”
Abighail’s struggle to not smile became almost unbearable when she realized she had suddenly become a bargaining chip in the power play between Altok and Bettonia.
“Your promises of her safety are exactly why I’ve been hesitant to let her go in the first place.” Father dropped his unaffected mask. “It’s one thing to discuss Bettonia’s efforts to eliminate the remnants of the uprising behind closed doors, and a completely different thing to send my own child to live among the people the Sanguine Tide is after.”
Abighail’s heart fell. For a brief moment she believed she would be going to Bettonia after all, but if Father was concerned enough about the people that rebelled against the Bettonian monarch some fifteen years ago to throw it in the face of said monarch’s nephew, then she never had a chance.
Prince Lyam, it seemed, needed more persuasion to give up. “I’m giving you my own word she would be safe. We will assign guards. She’ll never go anywhere alone. We’ll do whatever you deem necessary. You name it.”
Father smiled, but his eyes remained cold. “Why are you so eager to have my daughter come to your country, Prince Lyam?” He did not get his post as Presiding Senator by being soft and indecisive.
The prince kept smiling. “Let’s put it this way. We’re eager to prove that our efforts to eliminate the Sanguine Tide are successful. In fact, we’re so certain that things are going well, we’re willing to invite a beautiful daughter of an esteemed politician and, I hope, our ally to come and stay with us. And, if you wish, Miss Redwynn could report on anything she sees. I mean it. Anything.”
Abighail was so surprised by that offer that her breath caught in her throat and she coughed. Mark smacked her on the back a couple of times, so helpful and considerate. Father appeared quite taken aback as well—his jaw even dropped for a split moment.
Councilor Beckett chuckled. “That is probably the best offer we’ll ever get from the Bettonian Crown, Senator.”
Prince Lyam seized the opportunity to reinforce his invitation and stepped a little closer. “You’ve just been offered sanctioned, unsupervised political presence in our country. Sure, Altok has diplomats and other means of studying our political climate,” he glanced at Councilor Beckett, “but what can be better than a family member who’s aware of exactly what you want to know? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Anxious to the point of her bones itching, Abighail grabbed Mark’s hand. What would Father’s decision be?
He let out a contemplative sigh. “Tempting. Would you give me one day to consider it? I’d be happy to give my response tomorrow after we conclude our morning meetings.”
Abighail squeezed Mark’s hand harder. Even though Father hadn’t said yes, she knew him well enough to see that he was a breath away from accepting Prince Lyam’s invitation. It was too good an offer to turn down.
The prince nodded. “Fair enough.”
“We’d better go now,” Mark whispered to Abighail.
He was right. The discussion was over, and Abighail felt it would be in her best interest to disappear out of her father’s sight.
“It was a pleasure to meet you,” she said with another bow to the prince and the councilor. “I hope your visit will be productive.”
Prince Lyam flashed that confident smile of his at her again. “Thank you, Miss Redwynn. The pleasure is all mine.”
At that, Abighail and Mark slid out of the discussion room.
“I cannot believe that just happened!” she squealed to Mark after they left the Senate Hall.
“Me neither. You’re so lucky,” he replied, relief splashed across his face.
“Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends on what my father will have to say about it once he returns home.”
Mark nodded solemnly. “True. I hope you survive the night.”
“What have you done?” Father scolded her the moment he set foot in their house. Her location made it convenient. She had been waiting for him in the entryway since she had returned home.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was just so excited that I couldn’t wait.”
“Exactly. Your inability to be patient and control yourself has caused trouble again.”
“I am sorry,” Abighail repeated. Her triumph over Dr. Dunn’s agreement to have her as an apprentice dwindled upon seeing Father’s aggravated and exhausted face. Abighail knew she made his life difficult on many occasions. She had been endeavoring to stop being a nuisance for a while though. So much for that.
He gently tapped her nose with his finger. “Please, remember what happened today and don’t do anything like that again.”
“I will.” Abighail hugged him.
He pressed his cheek against her head. “You do realize that before I allow you to go, I have to bring this matter before the Banner?”
Abighail closed her eyes and restrained a curse. “Do you really have to?”
“Yes. And you do know they’ll pull the marriage card, don’t you? You’re betrothed. They’ll think you’re trying to get out of it by going abroad.”
She stifled a groan. He had to go and remind her of the archaic ways of their Banner. Redwynns were the most influential family in all of Altok, but due to the bloodlines or a curse, sons were rare. With that being the case, Redwynn girls were given less freedom to choose their spouses compared to the girls from other Banners. They were something that had to be guarded against outside influences and treated with care in order to gain stronger alliances and economic benefits that sons would normally secure. Their Banner also demanded that the husbands took on the new surname, not the wives, in order to carry on the Redwynn name. Eighteen-year-old Abighail had dodged an arranged marriage only because of her extraordinary academic achievements. If not for her graduation from the academy at fifteen and the subsequent admission to LIMBS, she might have been married off already. She was still shocked her parents managed to convince the Banner to let her marry Grant, an unassuming artist from a small Banner. Perhaps her older sister’s adventures were to thank for that. Aryen almost ran away from home when her family tried to force her to marry a man she didn’t love.
“I am not trying to get out of marrying Grant.” In fact, she was nothing but looking forward to it. He had a mild demeanor and relaxed attitude, and his passion for painting kept him busy. He would not try to hold her back. With him, she would be able to pursue her dreams no matter where they took her. As for love, having never been its victim, Abighail felt she’d manage just fine without it, especially since there were more important things to spend her time on. “Tell them Grant and I will marry a month after I return from Bettonia.”
Father raised a doubtful eyebrow at her. “Are you sure? Do you truly love him? You know I won’t force you into a marriage with someone you have no feelings for. Or to marry at all, for that matter.”
Abighail smiled to hide the flurry of doubts that rose within her at those words. He said he would not force her to marry someone she did not love, but he almost made Aryen marry for the sake of a political alliance. Father came into the Redwynn Banner through a union with her mother. Even though he hailed from a reputable Banner himself, he would spend the rest of his days proving that he was worth it.
But such bitter thoughts were not fair. After all, Aryen married the man she loved, Mark’s older brother, Ryan. And Abighail could not blame her father for his ambitions. She was just like him. She wanted a meaningful career. That aside, Father did constantly protect her from the Banner and the Altokian society by funding different LIMB projects he personally had no interest in and doing endless favors. That alone should be proof enough that he was on her side.
Abighail kissed him on the cheek. “I am sorry for the trouble. I promise this is the last time.”
He gave her a dubious look. “You didn’t answer my question. And don’t make promises you can’t keep, Abighail. We both know you’re prone to causing trouble.”
“True,” Abighail agreed, and they both chuckled.
“That being said, if you go, there will be rules. Many rules.”
Abighail nodded with enthusiasm. She expected as much. “I understand.”
“I’d love to hear about everything that’s going on up there, especially within the King’s Court, but you’re there to study and observe only, and under no circumstances are you to actively go around and seek out secrets or conspiracies. Is that clear? It’s enough for me to have the Royals thinking that you’re watching them. I don’t need any actual reports.” He gave it another thought. “Unless, of course, it’s something unusually interesting.”
She nodded again. “Got it. Observation only.”
“You will write to me every week, to report on how your apprenticeship is going and to keep up appearances.”
Abighail kept nodding. “Of course.”
“There will be other rules as well, but I’m too tired to think of them right now.”
“So, does it mean you’re going to tell Prince Lyam that you accept his invitation?”
Father gave her a long, pinched-lip look. “Are you absolutely sure it’s a good idea to go abroad instead of staying home for your apprenticeship?”
“It’s not about where I go. It’s about who I study with.”
“I know, I know. You need a female mentor. So be it.”
Abighail jumped from excitement a few times in one spot. “This means so much to me. Thank you!”
He smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “Just do your best. And stay safe.”
“I will,” Abighail reassured him. “I won’t let you down.”
Thank you for reading! To find out more, please purchase a copy.
© 2019 Ava S Quill
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are products of the author’s vision and are not to be perceived as real.
All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover design © 2019 by Varvara Jones