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Derbyshire, the spring of 1838
She was so engrossed in the book she was reading that she didn't really hear the knocking on her door until it became pounding. Ariella started, curled up in a canopied four-poster bed, a book about Genghis Khan in her hands. For one more moment, visions of a thirteenth-century city danced in her mind, and she saw well-dressed upper-class men and women fleeing in panic amidst artisans and slaves, as the Mongol hordes galloped through the dusty streets on their warhorses.
"Ariella de Warenne!"
Ariella sighed. She had been able to smell the battle, as well as see it. She shook the last of her imaginings away. She was at Rose Hill, her parent's English country home; she had arrived last night. "Come in, Dianna," she called, setting the history aside.
Her half sister, Dianna, her junior by eight years, hurried in and stopped short. "You're not even dressed!" she exclaimed.
"I can't wear this gown to supper?" Ariella said with mock innocence. She didn't care about fashion, but she did know her family, and at supper the women wore evening dresses and jewels, the men dinner jackets.
Dianna's eyes popped. "You wore that dress to breakfast!"
Ariella slid to her feet, smiling. She still couldn't get over how much her little sister had matured. A year ago, Dianna had been more child than woman. Now it was hard to believe she was only sixteen, especially clad in the gown she was wearing. "Is it that late?" Vaguely, she glanced toward the windows of her bedroom and was surprised to see the sun hanging low in the sky. She had settled down with her tome hours ago.
"It is almost four and I know you know we are having company tonight."
Ariella did recall that Amanda, her stepmother, had mentioned something about supper guests. "Did you know that Genghis Khan never initiated an attack without warning? He always sent word to the countries' leaders and kings asking for their surrender first, instead of simply attacking and slaying everyone, as so many historians claim."
Dianna stared, bewildered. "Who is Genghis Khan? What are you talking about?"
Ariella beamed. "I am reading about the Mongols, Dianna. Their history is incredible. Under Genghis Khan, they formed an empire almost as large as that of Great Britain. Did you know that?"
"No, I did not. Ariella, Mother has invited Lord Montgomery and his brotherin your honor."
"Of course, today they inhabit a far smaller area," Ariella said, not having heard this last bit. "I want to go to the Central Steppes of Asia. The Mongols remain there today, Dianna. Their culture and way of life is almost unchanged since the days of Genghis Khan. Can you imagine?"
Dianna grimaced and walked to a closet, pushing through the hanging gowns there. "Lord Montgomery is your age and he came into his title last year. His brother is a bit younger. The title is an old one, the estates well run. I heard Mother and Aunt Lizzie talking about it." She pulled out a pale blue gown. "This is stunning! And it doesn't look as if you have worn it."
Ariella didn't want to give up on her sister yet. "If I give you this history to read, I am certain you will enjoy it. Maybe we can all go to the steppes together! We could even see the Great Wall of China!"
Dianna turned and stared.
Ariella saw that her little sister was losing patience. It was always hard to remember that no one, not even her father, shared her passion for learning. "No, I haven't worn the blue. The supper parties I attend in town are filled with academics and Whig reformers, and there are few gentry there. No one cares about fashion."
Holding the gown to her chest, Dianna shook her head. "That is a shame! I am not interested in Mongols, Ariella, and I cannot truly understand why you are. I am not going to the steppes with youor to some Chinese wall. I love my life right here! The last time we spoke, you were in a tizzy about the Bedouins."
"I had just returned from Jerusalem and a guided tour of a Bedouin camp. Did you know that our army uses Bedouins as scouts and guides in Palestine and Egypt?"
Dianna marched to the bed and laid the gown there. "It's time you wore this lovely dress. With your golden complexion and hair and your infamous de Warenne blue eyes, you will turn heads in it."
Ariella stared, instantly wary. "Who did you say was coming?"
Dianna beamed. "Lord Montgomerya great catch! They say he is also handsome."
Confused, Ariella folded her arms across her chest. "You're too young to be looking for a husband."
"But you're not," Dianna cried. "You didn't hear me, did you? Lord Montgomery has just come into his title, and he is very good-looking and well educated. I have heard all kinds of gossip that he is in a rush to wed."
Ariella turned away. She was twenty-four now, but marriage was not on her mind. Ever since she was a small child, she had been consumed with a passion for knowledge. Booksand the information contained within themhad been her life for as long as she could remember. Given a choice between spending time in a library or at a ball, she would always choose the former.
Luckily, her father doted on her and encouraged her intellectual pursuitsand that was truly unheard of. Since turning twenty-one, she had resided mostly in London, where she could haunt the libraries and museums, and attend public debates on burning social issues by radicals like Francis Place and William Covett. But despite the freedoms, she wished for far more independenceshe wanted to travel un-chaperoned and see the places and people she had read about.
Ariella had been born in Barbary, her mother a Jewess enslaved by a Barbary prince. She had been executed shortly after Ariella's birth for having a fair-skinned child with blue eyes. Her father had managed to have Ariella smuggled out of the harem and she had been raised by him since infancy. Cliff de Warenne was now one of the greatest shipping magnates of the current era, but in those days, he had been more privateer than anything else. She had spent the first few years of her life in the West Indies, where her father had a home. When he met and married Amanda, they had moved to London. But her stepmother loved the sea as much as Cliff did, and by the time Ariella came of age, she had traveled from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, up and down the coast of the United States, and through the major cities of Europe. She had even been to Palestine, Hong Kong and the East Indies.
Last year there had been the three-month tour to Vienna, Budapest and then Athens. Her father had allowed her this trip, with the condition her half brother escort her. Alexi was following in their father's footsteps as a merchant adventurer, and he had been happy to chaperone her and briefly detour to Constantinople, upon her request.
Her favorite land was Palestine, her favorite city Jerusalem; her least favorite, Algierswhere her mother had been executed for her affair with Ariella's father.
Ariella knew she was fortunate to have traveled a good portion of the world. She knew she was fortunate to have lenient parents, who trusted her implicitly and were proud of her intellect. It was not the norm. Dianna was not educated; she only read the occasional romance novel. She spent the Season in London, the rest of the year in their country home in Ireland, living a life of leisure. Except for charity, her days were spent changing attire, attending lavish meals and teas, and calling on neighbors. It was usual for a well-bred young woman.
Soon, Dianna would be put on the marriage market, and she would hunt for the perfect husband. Ariella knew her beautiful sister, an heiress in her own right, would have no problem becoming wed. But Ariella wished for a far different life. She preferred independence, books and travel to marriage. Only a very unusual man would allow her the freedom she was accustomed to and she couldn't quite imagine answering to anyone, not when she had such independence now. Marriage had never seemed important to her, although she had grown up surrounded by great love, devotion and equality, exemplified in the marriages of her aunts, uncles and parents. If she ever did marry, she knew it would only be because she had found that great and unusual love, the kind for which the de Warenne men and women were renowned. Yet at twenty-four, it seemed to have escaped herand she didn't feel lacking. How could she? She had thousands of books to read and places to see. She doubted she could accomplish all she wished to in a lifetime.
She slowly faced her sister.
Dianna smiled, but with anxiety. "I am so glad you are home! I have missed you, Ariella." Her tone was now coaxing.
"I have missed you, too," Ariella said, not quite truthfully. A foreign land, where she was surrounded by exotic smells, sights and sounds, facing people she couldn't wait to understand, was far too exciting for nostalgia or any homesick emotion. Even in London, she could spend days and days in a museum and not notice the passage of time.
"I am so glad you have met us at Rose Hill," Dianna said.
"Tonight will be so amusing. I met the younger Montgomery, and if his older brother is as charming, you might very well forget about Genghis Khan." She added, "I don't think you should mention the Mongols at supper, Ariella. No one will understand."
Ariella hesitated. "In truth, I wish it were just a family affair. I cannot bear an evening spent discussing the weather, Amanda's roses, the last hunt or the upcoming horse races."
"Why not?" Dianna asked. "Those are suitable topics for discussion. Will you promise not to speak of the Mongols and the steppes, or supper parties with academics and reformers?" She smiled, but uncertainly. "Everyone will think you're a radicaland far too independent."
Ariella balked. "Then I must be allowed absolute, ungracious silence."
"That is childish."
"A woman should be able to speak her mind. I speak my mind in town. And I am somewhat radical. There are terrible social conditions in the land. The penal code has hardly been changed, never mind the hoopla, and as for parliamentary reform"
Dianna cut her off. "Of course you speak your mind in townyou aren't in polite company. You said so yourself!" Dianna stood, agitated. "I love you dearly. I am asking you as a beloved sister to attempt a proper discourse."
Ariella groused, "You have become so conservative. Fine.
I won't discuss any subject without your approval. I will look at you and wait for a wink. No, wait. Tug your left earlobe and I will know I am allowed to speak."
"Are you making a mockery of my sincere attempts to see you successfully wed?"
Ariella sat down, hard. Her little sister wished to see her wed so badly? It was simply stunning.
Dianna smiled coaxingly. "I also think you should not mention that Papa allows you to live alone in London."
"I'm rarely alone. There is a house full of servants, the earl and Aunt Lizzie are often in town, and Uncle Rex and Blanche are just a half hour away at Harrington Hall."
"No matter who comes and goes at Harmon House, you live like an independent woman. Our guests would be shockedLord Montgomery would be shocked!" She was firm. "Father really needs to come to his senses where you are concerned."
"I am not entirely independent. I receive moneys from my estates, but Father is the trustee." Ariella bit her lip. When had Dianna become so proper? When had she become exactly like everyone else her age and gender? Why couldn't she see that free thinking and independence were states to be coveted, not condemned?
Dianna smoothed the gown on the bed. "Father is so smitten with you, he can't see straight. There is some gossip, you know, about your residing in London without family." She looked up. "I love you. You are twenty-four. Father isn't inclined to rush a match, but you are of age. It is time, Ariella. I am looking out for your best interests."
Ariella was dismayed. It was time to set her sister straight about Lord Montgomery. "Dianna, please don't think to match me with Montgomery. I don't mind being unwed."
"If you don't marry, what will you do? What about children? If Father gives you your inheritance, will you travel the world? For how long? Will you travel at forty? At eighty?"
"I hope so," Ariella cried, excited by the notion. Dianna shook her head. "That's madness!"
They were as different as night and day. "I don't want to get married," Ariella said firmly. "I will only marry if it is a true meeting of the minds. But I will be polite to Lord Montgomery. I promised you I won't speak of the matters I care about, and I won'tbut dear God, cease and desist. I can think of nothing worse than a life of submission to some closed-minded, proper gentleman. I like my life just as it is."
Dianna was incredulous. "You're a woman, Ariella, and God intended for you to take a husband and bear his childrenand yes, be submissive to him. What do you mean by a meeting of the minds? Who marries for such a union?"
Ariella was shocked that her sister would espouse such traditional viewseven if almost all of society held them. "I do not know what God decreed for womenor for me," she managed. "Men have decreed that women must marry and bear children! Dianna, please try to understand. Most men would not let me roam Oxford, in the guise of a man, eavesdropping on the lectures of my favorite professors." Dianna gasped. "Most men would not allow me to spend entire days in the archives of the British Museum," Ariella continued firmly. "I refuse to succumb to a traditional marriageif I ever succumb at all."
Dianna moaned. "I can see the future nowyou will marry some radical socialist lawyer!"
"Perhaps I will. Can you truly see me as some proper gent's wife, staying at home, changing gowns throughout the day, a pretty, useless ornament? Except, of course, for the five, six or seven children I will have to bear, like a brood-mare!"
"That is a terrible way to look at marriage and family," Dianna said, appearing stunned. "Is that what you think of me? Am I a pretty, useless ornament? Is my mother, is Aunt Lizzie, is our cousin Margery? And bearing children is a wonderful thing. You like children!"
How had this happened? Ariella wondered. "No, Dianna, I beg your pardon. I do not think of you in such terms. I adore youyou are my sister, and I am so proud of you. None of the women in our family are pretty, useless ornaments."
"I am not stupid," Dianna finally said. "I know you are brilliant. Everyone in this family says so. I know you are better read than just about every gentleman of our acquaintance. I know you think me foolish. But it isn't foolish to want a good marriage and children. To the contrary, it is admirable to want a home, a husband and children."
Ariella backed off. "Of course it isbecause you genuinely want those things."
"And you don't. You want to be left alone to read book after book about strange people like the Mongols. It is very foolish to think of spending an entire lifetime consumed with the lives of foreigners and the dead! Unless, of course, you marry a gentleman for his mind! Has it ever occurred to you that one day you might regret such a choice?"
Ariella was surprised. "No, it hasn't." She realized her little sister had grown up. She sighed. "I am not ruling out marriage, Dianna. But I am not in a rush, and I cannot ever marry if it will compromise my happiness." She added, mostly to please her sister, "Perhaps one day I will find that once-in-a-lifetime love our family is so notorious for."
Dianna grumbled, "Well, if so, I hope you are the single de Warenne who will escape the scandal so often associated with our family."
Ariella smiled. "Please try to understand. I am very satisfied with my unfashionable status as an aging spinster."
Dianna stared grimly. "No one is calling you an old spinster yet. Thank God you have a fortune, and the prospects that come with it. I am afraid you will have a great many regrets if you continue on this way."
Ariella hugged her. "I won't. I swear it." She laughed a little. "You feel like the older sister now!"
"I am sending Roselyn to help you dress. We are having an early supperI cannot recall why. I will lend you my aquamarines. And I know you will be more than pleasant with Montgomery." Her parting smile was firm, indicating that she had not changed her matrimonial schemes.
Ariella smiled back, her face plastered into a pleasant expression. She intended it to be the look she would wear for the entire evening, just to make Dianna happy.