As all good stories start, this one begins with “once upon a time.” A time of kings and queens, horses and carriages, prisons, executions, rallies, churches, lords and ladies, and love. A time of betrayal and loyalty. War and peace. Humans and monsters. Magic and mystery.
This time is often called the Medieval Ages. There are many stories that compile into our history texts from this time. Kings and queens rise and fall. A prince takes his bride. A war swallows land. Power and greed and lust for more and more… Like a flowing river, never ending, rippling on, the pattern seems to repeat itself.
But there are stories that do not make it into our history books. I do not know why they are left out; perhaps humans are ashamed to add them. They do not want our children and grandchildren to remember some of the horrors that occurred. Most likely, however, they are not added, because we do not want the future generations to believe that monsters existed.
They did; once. The mystery, the ultimate question, is whether they still exist today, and that is unknown.
Humans seem content to leave monsters as myth. They hide the truth, and, oftentimes, we do not ask for the truth.
This book is about a war that raged in the Medieval ages between monsters and men. It is forgotten. We, as human, do not care to remember it. Why, you might ask. The answer is simple. It shows our tendency to look down on those who we think are inferior, even while we are more wretched than they.
During the reign of Queen Katharine Parr, in the 1500s, this war took place on the Sanguis Hills—the hills of blood—outside the kingdom, in the rolling lands of England. It happened over the period of less than a year, and any sign of it in old documents gets thrown away. Historians know it well, but they will not speak of it.
Finally, I realized that it needed to be shared with the world.
A world that longs for mysteries to be revealed, secrets to be told, and lies to be corrected. Those three things will come to pass in the following pages.
And, so, once upon a time, as the pink and orange sunrise glimmered over the tops of the green, England mountains, causing the dew to sparkle like diamonds, the story begins…
Ruby slid the brush through Elizabeth’s silky black hair, letting the soft curls drop back into her hand. She took another strand of hair and began again.
“Ouch!” Elizabeth cringed into the mirror, glaring at Ruby in the reflection.
“Sorry,” Ruby whispered. She eased the brush through the tangle.
Elizabeth sighed, folding her hands in her lap. “Are you getting dressed up for dinner too, Ruby?”
“Of course.” Ruby adjusted the curls so they evenly fell over the princess’ shoulders. They rippled gently over the white lace of her evening dress, contrasting sharply. Ruby walked to the white oak dresser that sat next to the vanity and opened the top drawer. Inside, hundreds of pieces of jewelry were arranged neatly in wooden boxes and velvet cases. Ruby selected two earrings, shaped like a triangle, studded with black diamonds. She held them up for Elizabeth to see.
“Do you like them?”
The princess looked over, curls gently bobbing, light, blue eyes lighting up. “Those are perfect.” She took them from Ruby and leaned forward, staring into the mirror as she put them in. “Did I ever tell you that you have wonderful taste in fashion?”
Ruby shrugged, watching the princess through the mirror. “I think so.”
“Well, I will say it again. You have a wonderful taste in fashion.”
The princess stood up, tossing her curls back over her shoulders and brushing out her dress. “You, my dear, can have pick of any of the dresses in my wardrobe.” She touched Ruby’s shoulder as she passed. “See you at dinner.”
Elizabeth crossed the shimmering wooden floor of her bedroom, heals clicking against it, and left, gently shutting the door behind her.
Ruby smiled at the door. Elizabeth was actually quite nice once you got to know her. Ever since Queen Katharine asked Ruby to become Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, no longer being in that position to her older daughter, Mary, Ruby was not sure she was going to enjoy it. Of course, that was not why she was truly there—to enjoy it. But that was a lovely bonus. Nevertheless, Ruby enjoyed serving Elizabeth, although Mary had come to be something like a sister.
Ruby sat at the vanity, running the brush through her own auburn ringlets. Tonight was going to be her first dinner with the entire royal family since she started serving inside the castle, seven years ago. Although she had come to think of the royal family as her family, butterflies fluttered in her stomach at the thought of sharing a fancy meal with them. After all, she was just a servant.
“A very privileged servant,” Ruby said to herself in the mirror. She was sitting at the vanity of one of the princess’, invited to her entire wardrobe, about to attend a royal dinner. There was no other servant in the entire castle with as much privileges as her.
She was blessed. It was true.
Ruby dabbed a little powder on her cheeks, then stood up to pick a dress. Across from the white oak dresser stood a white oak wardrobe, with looming doors that opened into a vast variety of beautiful dresses.
As many times as Ruby had opened those doors, her breath was always taken away when she did. And, now, all the dresses were hers to choose from. Whichever she wanted. It would not be too hard to pick; whenever Ruby opened it to pick a dress for Elizabeth, one always caught her eye.
She reached for it then. It was light blue, with white lace sleeves, a low neck, and soft, light fabric that touched the floor. It was perfectly elegant.
Ruby took off her purple dress, folding it carefully over the edge of Elizabeth’s bed, and slipped on the new one. It fell in an exact fit over her slim shoulders. She spun a little, watching it ripple like a stream around her feet.
She chose white, open topped shoes, and clear, diamond studded earrings. Then she sat back at the vanity and gazed at her reflection. The sky blue eyes, soft, red lips, and pale face that met her stare looked too old. There was not an eighteen year old girl looking back, yet Ruby Winsett, eighteen, looked in.
That is what losing your parents and growing up without an absolute truth did to a young person. Yes, the royal family took her in. Queen Katharine was somewhat like mother, Mary like an older sister, but it was not the same. They could never replace or fill the empty whole that threatened to eat her up.
A gentle knock on the wooden doors startled Ruby out of her musings. She half turned on the chair. “Come in.”
The door slowly opened, and Princess Mary looked in. Her long, dark hair was twisted into a bun with a few strands hanging loose by her hazel eyes. A dim purple makeup was dabbed on her lips, but that was it. Ruby always admired her simple, yet quietly extravagant beauty.
Mary entered the room, pausing just inside the door. She wore a wide smile. “Ruby, you look beautiful.”
Ruby stood as well, clasping her hands behind her back, returning the smile. “Thank you. Elizabeth allowed me to pick any dress I wanted. I have always loved this one.”
“It suits you.” Mary opened the door wider. “I came to tell you that it is time for dinner. We will be a little early, but that’s fine.”
Ruby took a breath and followed the princess out of the room. She hoped against all hope that the meal would make her feel like part of the family even more. Maybe, just maybe, she could feel whole again.
The dining room was stunning.
Maybe it was the fact that she never ate a meal there, or the fact that she never really had the time to stop and appreciate it, but Ruby paused at the gaping doorway that led into the room and just stared.
The high ceiling was adorned with an intricate crystal chandelier, illuminated by the light streaming in through two roof top windows that sat on either side. The walls were gray, covered mostly with huge, ornate paintings and colored glass windows. A soft, red carpet stretched across the floor, the nicest in all the land. And, as a centerpiece, the long wooden table sat in the middle of the room. A white table cloth tumbled over it and china dishes sat at each and every. Crystal goblets of wine also sat in the center of the table, along with a bouquet of roses. This was the royal family’s own, private dining room, and the table held only ten high backed chairs, four on each side, one on each end.
Mary paused half way to the table and smiled back at Ruby. “Come on in.”
Ruby nodded, stepping in closer. “Of course.” She followed Mary to the table, taking slow steps, gazing around at the decorated walls around her. He eyes met the ceiling again. It was so high, she had to look all the way back to see the chandelier. “This room is more beautiful than I remembered it.”
“Yes, it is lovely.” Mary stood behind the chair to the left of the end of the table and tapped the one next to her. “This is yours.”
Ruby followed Mary’s example and sat down. She folded her hands into her lap.
“Now,” Mary said, “we will wait for the rest of my family. They should be here soon.”
Almost exactly as Mary’s last word faded from the room, the same doors Mary and Ruby came in moments before, opened, and three forms walked into the room.
The first was Elizabeth. She was chatting with Edward and Atharid, the two princes. They were twins, both nineteen, and they were dressed in identical black suits. The conversation died as they neared the table and took their appropriate seats. Elizabeth sat next to Ruby, Edward sat across from Mary at the other end of the table, and Atharid sat across from Ruby.
Ruby looked up from the table when everyone was seated, and found Atharid’s light gray, almost crystal clear, eyes gazing at her. He mouth was parted slightly, like he was in awe. He glanced away, tightening his jaw, when he noticed Ruby watching him. To her annoyance, Ruby’s heart beat a little fast, and she was glad when the door opened again.
This time, it was Queen Katherine Parr who entered.
The princesses, princes, and Ruby stood up when she neared the table, waiting for her to be seated to once more sit down. When the queen was in her place, she nodded to the servants that quietly stood at the end of the room, and they walked forward, lifting the crystal jars of wine and filling each of the goblets.
Ruby watched the sparkling, smooth, red liquid fill her glass and knew nothing in the world would taste as delightful. After all the glasses were filled, Queen Katharine raised hers in the air, the others following suit.
Then the queen spoke, her smooth, soothing voice filling the room. “I would like to raise a glass to the prosperity and good health of this family. I also welcome Ruby Winsett into our meal. May she feel at home.” Queen Katharine lowered the glass, bringing it to her lips and taking a sip.
When the rest of the family had done the same, the meal had begun.
The cool wine slid down Ruby’s throat, and she closed her eyes for a moment, savoring the taste. It was probably the most elegant flavor she had ever tried. After she swallowed another sip, the warm aroma of freshly baked bread and warm, fresh ham filled the air. The servants brought out platter after steaming platter of fish, bread, fruits, cheeses, and various other meats.
The servants came around the table, serving each member one at a time. At last, when everyone was served, they began eating.
The room was quiet, filled with delicious aromas of meet and wine. Ruby ate slowly savoring every last bite. She concentrated hard on her food to take her mind of Atharid, who she often caught watching her. He always would glance away and continue eating, but not before she met his gaze for a second.
When everyone was finished, they rested back, enjoying another glass of wine. Queen Katharine smiled at Ruby. “It was so wonderful that you could join us this evening, Ruby. I do hope you enjoyed yourself.”
“Yes, it was absolutely perfect, your majesty. I have never tasted anything better.”
The queen folded her hands. “Well, then. It appears we will have to have you join us more often. Would you like that, dear?”
Ruby glanced at Elizabeth, who grinned back. “I would like that very much. If you all don’t mind.”
Queen Katharine shook her head and looked around the table. “I don’t think we would mind that, would we?”
Edward shrugged. “I don’t see why not.”
Mary nodded. “That is a brilliant idea, mom. Ruby is, after all, nearly a part of our family.”
Ruby smiled at Mary, a spark of joy flickering in her heart. She was truly wanted here. Here at the table of the queen.
There was silence again. The servants lit candles to provide more light around the table, pouring steaming coffee into each delicate china tea cup. They brought out soft jelly pastries and chocolates for dessert.
The coffee was strong and sweet, delicious. Ruby closed her eyes again, imagining always being able to enjoy this. Her parents would have loved it as well.
Elizabeth suddenly cleared her throat. She dabbed her mouth with the silvery silk napkin, folding it onto her lap. “I forgot, mom. I wanted to tell you some tragic news.”
The queen nodded.
“Earlier today, Edward sold Beauty. Can you believe that? He just up and sold her to a strange merchant who came by looking for horses.”
Ruby forgot about that, but, earlier, she had figured it would come up over dinner. Elizabeth spouted off her anger to Ruby that early afternoon, swearing that she would kill Edward for his foolishness. It appeared that she had cooled off a little over the afternoon, due to the fact that Elizabeth’s voice was rather collected.
The queen looked at Edward. “Is that true?”
Edward shrugged, a smug smirk crossing his lips. “Yes, it is. Beauty was only taking up room in the stable, and the merchant offered a lot of money.”
Elizabeth gaped at her brother. “Beauty was my horse, Ed. My horse! You had no right selling her.”
The queen held up her hand, silencing Elizabeth. She addressed Edward. “Who received the money for Beauty?”
Edward opened his mouth, then closed it. Then he spoke again. “Well, I did. I sold her.” His tone was a bit more hesitant than before.
Queen Katharine slowly nodded. “I am surprised at you, Edward. Elizabeth is right—Beauty was not your horse to sell.”
Elizabeth fought back a triumphant smile, and Edward’s eyes fell.
The queen continued in her steady tone. “Edward, you will give Elizabeth every last cent of the fifty-seven shillings you received for Beauty, and with it, Elizabeth, you may buy another horse. If that isn’t enough to buy one that replaces Beauty, Edward will happily help you purchase the one you would like. Am I clear?”
Elizabeth nodded, letting the smile finally appear. Edward clenched his jaw, but he nodded as well.
The previous silence resumed, now that justice was served.
After a few more minutes, Queen Katharine stood from her seat, black dress rustling with the movement. She smiled at each individual at the table. “I am going to retire now. Enjoy the rest of the night. Oh, just a reminder, tomorrow night is the ball in Mary’s honor.” She looked at Mary who managed a smile back. “I expect you all to be attending. Goodnight.”
The queen gracefully walked across the carpet and out the looming dining room doors.
As soon as they closed, Edward stood up. He pointed to Elizabeth. “You…” He shook his head, turning on his heal.
“Where are you going?” Atharid spoke up.
Elizabeth grinned. “He’s getting my shillings.”
“No, Elizabeth, I’m heading to bed,” Edward growled. “Goodnight.”
“Oh, come on,” Mary spoke up. “Don’t be like that, Ed. Let’s all go to the study and enjoy each other’s company.”
Ruby stood up, brushing a few crumbs off her dress. Atharid glanced at her. “Does that sound like a good idea to you, Ruby?”
Her eyes widened at her name. She looked over at Atharid, then at Mary, who watched her for an answer. “It isn’t my decision, but I think that sounds nice.”
“It’s decided then,” Elizabeth exclaimed. She stood up, and Atharid followed suit. Mary led the way from the dining room, and Ruby turned to stare at it one more time. She knew she would be here again, soon, hopefully. But, if, for some reason, that wasn’t the case, she wanted to remember its beauty. Of course, even though the walls and table and floor was stunning, the feeling of trust and acceptance and family was what really made the room as beautiful as it was.