“A richly woven talke of romance and intrigue laced with compelling characters, easy-to-hate villains, and deeds of derring-do.”
— Tristi Pinkston, author of Secret Sisters
At a time when royal infants are marked at birth, a royal advisor makes a terrible misstep — and an infant princess must be secreted away to save her life. Named Sarah by Miranda, the woman who agrees to raise the child as her own, the girl is unaware of her royal heritage — even though Miranda has done all she can to pair Sarah with the king's nephew, Lord Chad. But unexpected events prevent the expected betrothal.
Determined to fulfill her devoted mother's wishes, Sarah reserves her heart for Chad despite her growing affections for another man. But as plots against the crown unfold, someone accidentally discovers Sarah's mark of royalty — setting the stage for discoveries that will shake the kingdom to its core.
- Size: 6" x 9"
- Pages: 240
- Published: February 2011
About the Authors
Jennifer K. Clark grew up in the small mountain town of Monticello Utah where she is proud to say that she passed all of her English classes, and with fairly good grades too. At the time her writing aspirations didn’t go much beyond turning in her next essay on time, however, she did have a passion for fictional tales and inherited her father’s love of storytelling. Convincing neighborhood kids that their backyards lay over ancient ruins and stories to back it all up was part of daily routine. Made up languages, haunted houses, and tales of jungle adventures were also widely known among her friends. After graduating college, her interest in writing was sparked when she shared one of her made up stories with her sister, Stephonie Williams. Together they wrote their first novel, Mark of Royalty. Since then, Jennifer has fallen in love with the art of writing and has set out to learn the craft of combining the written word with storytelling. With veneration for the Renaissance time period, Jennifer loves to study history and attends festivals depicting that particular era whenever she can. She also finds the study of war strategies irresistible and enjoys reading about the great battles that have shaped history, using them as inspiration in creating the battle scenes in her own books. In her spare time she spends a lot of time with the animals on her farm and still takes time to spin yarns with her kids and other youth in her community.
1. The Secret
Apollo felt knots twisting in his stomach and his mind reeled with the possible consequences of his treasonous decision. As icy mists encompassed the night air, he shivered involuntarily and tugged at his cloak, protectively pulling the small bundle he held closer to him. Was he saving the child’s life? Or was he condemning her to death as well as himself?
He thought for a moment that trying to keep the baby a secret was hopeless. After all, in spite of his elaborate excuse regarding a sick friend, the servant must be suspicious at his request for a carriage in the middle of the night. And the bundle he held didn’t exactly look like a bread basket, nor a collection of herbs and medicines. At least she wasn’t crying anymore and had finally drifted to sleep. The driver pulled the horses to a halt in front of the castle’s entrance and eyed Apollo with unfeigned curiosity as he climbed in, careful of the bundle he held snugly in his arms. It would be only a couple of hours before they would arrive in the small village, and he hoped that the warm blanket and the rocking motion of the carriage would keep the little girl asleep until then.
He thought of the infant’s prospective new mother—the lovely twenty-four-year-old widow was as yet unaware of his plan, but he was certain she would agree. Miranda had married a fine man by the name of Antonio Benavente when she was nineteen, but he had died shortly after their marriage. She had no children and no family, which was fortuitous, he thought, because he would be asking her to take the baby and move far away. Not just far away, but to another country. Of course, he would pay her substantially to care for the child, but even he wouldn’t be able to have any contact with them. No, that would be too risky. There were already too many people involved, and he wondered how long the secret would last. It would be best if he didn’t know where Miranda would take the baby. He would have to be content knowing only that the child would have a good upbringing.
The sun was just starting to make its appearance, giving the horizon a faint glow when the carriage stopped at Miranda’s house. Apollo knocked on the door and wished that it would instantly open. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, firmly clutching the tiny bundle to his chest. Finally the door opened. “Is your mistress at home?” he asked the servant, trying to hide the urgency in his voice.
“Yes, sir,” the woman replied as she ushered him into the sitting room. “I’ll fetch her right away.” She looked at the bundle in his arms suspiciously and then left the room.
“Apollo, what a surprise! It is always wonderful to see you, but what is so urgent that it brings you here this early hour of the day?” Miranda inquired as she entered the room. “I haven’t had breakfast yet; would you like to join me?”
“No, thank you,” Apollo said anxiously. “My business with you is urgent and of a royal nature.”
Miranda raised an eyebrow. “At the very least you can have a drink with me while you explain. Please sit.” She watched her old friend curiously as he stood, shifting from one foot to the other. She knew not to rush him. Their friendship of many years had taught her that he was not a man to be pushed. It was one of the qualities that secured him the position as one of the king’s most trusted advisors.
“Are we alone?” Apollo asked in a whisper. “No one must hear what I need to say.”
Miranda’s curiosity piqued, but she calmly walked to the back of the house and gave instructions to her servants that would keep them in the kitchen.
Apollo nodded approvingly as Miranda reentered the room, then he nervously moved toward her and held out the bundle for her to take. She looked up at him with surprise, and then reluctantly took the bundle, clearly recognizing at once what was wrapped so carefully inside.
“The queen gave birth last night. Twins—a girl, then a boy.” He began to pace back and forth across the floor, the significance of his task weighing heavily on his conscience. “It was an extremely difficult birth. The physician was fearful of losing the queen, and she became quite incoherent during labor. The queen survived, but she doesn’t know of the girl.”
Miranda removed the blanket from the infant’s face, now just a few hours old. “Why bring me this child?” she asked, trying to mask the alarm in her voice.
“You know the great importance of the firstborn!” Apollo said as he kept up his relentless pacing. “The king’s brother himself has sworn to kill the queen’s firstborn if it be female. If this child had been the only one born, I could not have saved her from death, but as there was also a son. . . . It is better this way! You don’t know the difficulties the king faces—with the country on the edge of revolution, the need to produce a male heir, the traditions, the expectations, the prophecies . . . ” His voice trailed off.
Miranda looked at the sleeping child, unable to argue the point. It had been prophesied for years that if the country were to divide, it would be a prince, the firstborn, that would bring the people back together. And now that the country was on the verge of that separation, everyone had been awaiting the birth of that prince. She had also heard rumors about people who had sworn to kill any female child the queen might bear. These sinister plans had been justified and accepted by many as what was best for the country. But to take this child away from her mother. . . .
“Why not say that the boy was firstborn?” she asked.
Apollo glanced away nervously. “This child was wrapped when the physician handed her to me. I did not think to check. You know the prophecies—I assumed she was a boy. I . . .” he broke off, choking on his words.
Miranda looked up, alarm clouding her delicate face. “You marked her?”
Apollo didn’t answer, but turned his back to her and dropped his head.
Miranda’s voice rose forcefully, “Does she have the mark of the firstborn on her?”
“She was marked within minutes of the birth.” Apollo turned and looked at the little baby and Miranda, his eyes reddening. “Only after it was done did we discover that there was another child. Upon seeing that she was a girl, we decided to give the boy child the mark of the firstborn as well . . . and now I bring this babe to you.”
Miranda stood up and tried to place the baby back in Apollo’s arms. “I beg you; don’t ask this of me. This is a secret that cannot be kept! She will someday see the mark—someone else will see the mark. She’ll know!”
Apollo, refusing to take the infant, moved to a chair and sat down. “Miranda, I ask this of you only because I know that you have a good heart, and you are worthy of this trust. There is no one else I can turn to.”
Miranda sank into a nearby chair, her face ashen. “Who else knows of this?”
“The queen’s physician and the king’s other advisor, Master Samuel. They are both sworn to secrecy.”
“This will not stay quiet. You know this!”
“I believe there is a way to keep this secret.” He hesitated, then pressed on. “Miranda, I’m also asking you to leave—not just your home, but your country. You must go and never return. I’m prepared to give you a substantial amount of money, but you cannot stay here. If it is ever discovered that the queen had two children there will be a search. I will do all I can to prevent such a thing, but—”
“No, Apollo, I cannot do this! No matter where I go, the mark will still be there. What if a traveler—or a spy—were to see the mark and discover that she was truly firstborn? They would kill her, and what would happen to me? A life in prison? Execution? And what of you? This is akin to treason!”
Apollo reached out to touch her hand. “Leave those things to me. And to God. I believe this is the right thing to do, Miranda. Look into your heart and you’ll feel the same. Please.”
Miranda looked again at the sleeping baby and the tiny features pulled at her heart. How could she say no? If she returned the babe, the princess’s fate would certainly be death. And Apollo’s as well. He was right: in her heart she knew what she had to do. She sighed heavily as the child in her arms whimpered and turned her head toward Miranda. “Has she suckled?”
“No. We did not wish to risk discovery by hiring a wet nurse.”
Miranda instinctively began rocking the infant as she gently patted the bundle and then whispered, “Has she a name?” But she knew full well that no one would have given a name to a baby that was not supposed to have been born.
Apollo stood. “That’s best decided by you.” He pulled from his belt a large leather sack that clinked as he put it on the table. “Here is enough gold to move you to another country and to sustain you in comfort for many years.” He knew that Miranda was not extravagant and would not be quick to spend the gold.
“Please stay and eat,” she said more out of politeness than sincerity, knowing that she herself felt too unsettled to eat, given the weight of her new responsibility.
Apollo moved to the door. “No. I must return. And I admit, I have no appetite.”
Miranda gave him a half smile. “Nor do I.”
She stood and walked him to the door. They paused before stepping outside to embrace one last time, reaching around the infant still tucked in the crook of Miranda’s arm. Miranda choked back tears. Apollo was a remarkable man. If his first duty were not to his king and country, she thought he may have desired to court her. But a wife and family would be lost among his other duties. No, he would not ever marry. Not her, not anyone. He was destined to be alone in this world, and this secret would distance him even more. She felt numb as she watched her friend walk to the carriage and settle himself inside, hoping he had made the right choice.
- * *
Miranda knew that the infant would soon be awake and very loudly demanding food, so she reluctantly returned to the house, shutting the door behind her. She cooed to the newborn, who was beginning to squirm. The enormity of the situation caused a tightness in her throat and a sense of panic. She took a deep breath, trying to control the fear as she thought about how to explain the child to her servants. The baby began to fuss, and she began to rock her again as her mind raced to fabricate a believable story.
She can’t be a peasant child, or the king’s advisor wouldn’t have bothered with her, Miranda thought. A noble child? Perhaps, and how did she come by way of the king’s advisor? Oh think, Miranda, there has to be something else. Someone from the castle? A lady in waiting? Miranda stopped bouncing the infant and tipped her head to one side as she considered that thought. A lady in waiting? The queen did have several. Hadn’t she heard rumors that one of the queen’s attendants was with child? Instantly, she made up her mind.
“Rebeka, Adriana,” Miranda called loudly to her two servants as she walked over and picked up the bag of gold. It was terribly heavy, but she tucked it between herself and the infant, rearranging the blanket to conceal it. She could only imagine placing it into the folds of her skirt and having her skirt fall off because of the added weight.
“Yes, my lady?” Adriana appeared in the doorway with Rebeka right behind her.
Miranda nodded toward the fussing child in her arms and then spoke with as much conviction as she could muster. “I have been given a very special charge by way of the king’s advisor. This child’s mother, a favored lady to the queen, died in childbirth, and her last wish was that the child be raised among her own people in Farellden. The queen wants very much to fulfill these wishes by placing the babe in the care of a trustworthy woman.” She paused and took a deep breath. “The king’s advisor has bestowed this honor upon me.”
Miranda paused, wondering if her story was believable. She stared at Adriana’s and Rebeka’s faces and their wide questioning eyes. “I know it is unexpected, but I do want to do this. I need a change in my life. I need purpose, and this child brings that to me. You know how I have longed for a child of my own, and Master Apollo has given me an opportunity to satisfy that desire.”
Miranda watched her servants carefully, and she thought now would be a good time to distract them by giving them a task as her own concerns quickly turned toward the whimpering child whose cries were growing steadily louder. “First we must find a way to feed this child. It has been too long for her to go without food. Any suggestions?”
Adriana quickly responded, “Would you like me to send for a wet nurse?”
“No,” Miranda blurted out. She could just imagine another woman nursing the babe and discovering the mark on her shoulder. “No wet nurse. I wish to tend to this child myself.”
Rebeka spoke up. “When my aunt died we fed her newborn on goat’s milk. It was tedious, but he lived.”
Miranda raised an eyebrow. “Has Nicholas milked the goats this morning?”
“Not yet, my lady,” Adriana replied.
“Please have him do so immediately. And while you are at it, find something appropriate that we can wrap her in.”
Proceeding to her bedchamber with the crying child, Miranda carefully laid the baby on the feather coverlet, then quickly buried the heavy bag of gold inside a nearby storage chest. Returning to the infant, she gently unwrapped the blanket and was somewhat surprised that Apollo and Samuel had not even taken the time to wipe off the child, let alone dress her. The blanket was crusted with dried blood and the white creamy substance that covers newborns. Gently she pulled the blanket away from the tiny naked body, and when fully exposed, the baby wetted. “Now, that was not very ladylike, Princess,” Miranda whispered. She sighed softly as she tried to dry off the crying infant. “Now, what should your name be?”
Taking her softest shawl, she wrapped the baby and pushed aside the soiled blanket. She then picked up the girl, trying to hush her by gently bouncing her in her arms.
“Shhhh, Princess. Oh, we must have a name for you! A suitable name.” Miranda tried to calm the crying babe. “Catherine? No. How about Angelique? Well, you are not exactly being angelic right now. No, you need a name befitting your true rank, but something that will also befit your new life. Mary? Miriam? Sarah? Hmmm. My little princess.” She ran the names through her mind again. “Sarah. I like Sarah. Sarah Elizabeth. So you shall be named. Sarah Elizabeth Rankin Delacor. That will be your true and royal name. However, in this life with me, you will be Sarah Antonellis Benavente.” Miranda followed the custom of using both her maiden name and her husband’s surname. Somehow she would figure out how to get the child legally named and recorded by a clergyman, but she would worry about that later. Right now she had more pressing matters at hand. She bounced Sarah in her arms and wondered again what was taking so long; the child might lose her voice if she continued bawling like this.
There was a knock at the door. “Come!” The door opened slowly and in walked Rebeka with an armload of clean wraps, followed by Adriana and Nicholas. Nicholas approached timidly, his hat in hand. “I didn’t believe her,” he mused as he stared in awe at the infant, then presented a bull’s horn that was half-filled with creamy, warm goat’s milk.
Taking it, Miranda examined the highly polished horhorn, which featured a beautiful carving of a unicorn and was topped off with a piece of leather tied to the tip to simulate a nipple. “Thank you, Nicholas. This is beautiful.”
“I was going to sell it at this year’s festival, but I never got around to finishing it.”
Miranda nodded appreciatively and maneuvered the makeshift bottle so she could rub the soft leather tip against the cheek of the wailing child. Sarah turned her head toward the object that had touched her, and Miranda pressed the nipple to her lips. She took it instantly and hungrily began to eat as the four adults stood in wonder and watched her take in her first meal.
“Thank you,” Miranda said several minutes later as she handed the makeshift bottle back to Nicholas. “Please clean it for the next feeding, and would you please go to the village and tell a courier to come straightaway?”
Nicholas left and Miranda sent Rebeka and Adriana to prepare for the move. Her time was terribly short. Everything would have to be quickly packed, sold, or given away—a task that would normally take weeks, but needed to be done within the day.
While the infant slept, Miranda carefully rolled her onto her stomach and for the first time removed the piece of cloth covering the fresh burn mark on the baby’s shoulder. She shuddered at the sight of the reddened wound. It was the mark of royalty, one that was supposed to distinguish her as the firstborn of the royal family, but the crest, featuring a unicorn, now only resembled a terrible disfigurement of red and weeping skin on the tiny innocent baby. She wanted to cry at the thought of Apollo pressing the red hot metal against the skin of this defenseless child.
The ointment originally spread on the burn had already been absorbed by the skin. Miranda cupped a hand over her mouth and shook her head as she studied the burned flesh, then hurried over to her dressing table and selected a small bottle, checking the label to make sure it was what she wanted: comfrey cream. She wasn’t certain if this cream would prove as effective as what Apollo had used earlier, but it was good for scrapes, cuts, and sunburn. Miranda took a clean cloth, slathered the ointment over it, and then ever so gently applied it to the burn. Sarah whimpered, but Miranda continued and then gently bundled the tiny baby in clean wraps and laid her on the center of her large feather bed.
How would she be able to hide the mark? Would the princess be restored to her royal position sometime in the distant future? And what about herself? She was being forced to leave her life and everyone she loved behind. Miranda swallowed the mounting lump in her throat and began sorting through her personal belongings.
When the afternoon meal was served, Miranda sat down with Rebeka and Adriana in the dining hall. She preferred to dine with her servants. It made the meal less lonely since the death of her husband, but today it was unusually quiet. Miranda cleared her throat. “Thank you for your help today. We’ve accomplished a lot so far.”
The two women just nodded without a reply. She tried to start up another conversation but it was no use. It was as if a heavy suffocating blanket had settled over the entire household and the meal ended as it had begun—in silence. Miranda helped to clear the table. She had never been too proud to do some of the small tasks most would leave for the servants.
Soon everyone was once again working at a furious pace, when Miranda sat down at her desk and quickly began writing a letter.
My dear cousin Andrew,
I trust that this letter finds you and your family in good health and enjoying the happiness of this beautiful season. Cousin, I write this letter in urgency. I am to move to Farellden on urgent business. Since I must move to fulfill my responsibility, I look to you for help. I am reluctant to dismiss my faithful servants, for they have truly been devoted. And if you won’t take them on, then I must do that which I most regret.
I have many things with which I must part. I ask if you can find it in your heart, and if you have the means to do so, to assist me in finding a buyer for these items. I have very fine horses, as you know, and a carriage. I also have many fine household items that I cannot take with me. I beseech you, respond immediately, for I must go at once.
Miranda Secora Antonellis
She finished the letter and immediately started another one to the local magistrate detailing the allocation of her property.
Miranda was just sealing the envelopes with red wax when she heard the sound of an approaching horse through her open window. She looked out, and seeing the courier, she hurried out of her room. “Nicholas,” she called. It wasn’t long before he emerged from the neighboring room where he had been packing. “Give these to the courier.” She handed him the envelopes and a few coins for payment.
“Yes, mum.” He turned to go, but then paused and looked back at her. “Would you like me to send for a carriage to take you around so you can make your goodbyes?”
Miranda swallowed hard and then shook her head. She would not risk saying goodbye to any of her friends. She was not a good liar, and knew that she would jeopardize everything if she tried to explain her departure. It was best this way; besides, it was imperative that she leave as soon as possible. If the secret were found out, the castle would put out a search, and she needed to be far away.
She turned away from Nicholas and walked through the house. She was now beginning to realize how much she would have to leave behind. In the hallway she stopped and looked at the large painting of her beloved Antonio and put a hand over her mouth to muffle her crying. This all had been so unexpected. This morning had been just like any other, but from now on, nothing would be the same.
- * *
Apollo hung his head and listened to the carriage as it bumped along the road nearing the castle. His throat was tight as if he were being choked by an invisible force. He inhaled deeply, trying to relieve the ache, but to no avail. “What have I done? What in heaven’s name have I done?” he said as he roughly ran his hands through his thick shaggy hair. He then buried his face in his hands and felt the hot sting of tears. “Please, oh please! Dear God up in heaven, please forgive me for what I have done,” he pleaded. “And please! Please let the queen and Miranda forgive me too!” For a moment he had considered going back. How could he take this child from her mother and place this kind of burden on Miranda? His mind tried to wade through the deep emotions, the logic of his actions, and the reality of it all.
The sun had climbed much higher in the sky when the carriage entered the courtyard to the castle. He tried to ignore the noise created by the throngs of people and the music celebrating the birth of their prince and the fulfillment of the prophecy. The carriage slowly moved through the crowds and came to a halt. Apollo sat for a minute, reluctant to leave the confines of the carriage, but then the door opened, letting light pour inside. He laggardly raised his head and squinted to see who was intruding on him.
“My lord.” It was the driver.
Apollo nodded but made no pretense of moving.
“My lord, are you a’right?”
Apollo nodded, then waved the servant away. At length he pulled himself to the door and stepped out onto the stone paving, having to instantly steady himself. He tugged at his tunic, collected himself, and then began the long climb up the castle stairs.
He was traversing the last few steps when Samuel appeared and reached his hand out toward him, but Apollo waved away the gesture of friendship. Slowly he raised his head to meet the gaze of the other advisor, his accomplice in this terrible secret, and then he simply nodded once. Samuel let out a heavy sigh, and both men walked reluctantly to the castle’s entrance in silence, the subject on both their minds not to be discussed again.
by Customer - reviewed on January 31, 2011
I love this book so much, I enjoyed how it implied about us being God's children and him loving us and how we are all princesses. I love being able to picture myself as Sarah and finding my true love!!
by Danielle - reviewed on March 14, 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Would highly recommend to any age...
I loved this book so much I bought one for each of my daughters!
by Jennifer - reviewed on March 14, 2011
I would recommend this book to everyone! A must read and very well written!
by Katie - reviewed on February 14, 2011
I found this book very intriguing from the beginning. I was fascinated! The authors did a wonderful job of catching my attention and keeping it. It was a fast paced novel and it didn't drag. I loved the character development and enjoyed the sweet romance between Sarah and Alex. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes great writing style, complicated romance with a happy ending, a hint of political intrigue, and a wonderful message of divine nature.
by Dena - reviewed on March 26, 2011
I would classify it as a romantic-drama. The beginning was a tad bit slow, but by the middle of the book it becomes a page turner. I really liked the story. Teen and up would enjoy the book.
Warm and fuzzy read
by Customer - reviewed on February 28, 2011
This was a fun read. It seems to be meant for younger kids and teens, but I still enjoyed it. The hint of LDS theme was refreshing, but not over-whelming and all the loose ends were tied up nicely at the end. I would highly recommend this book for girls excited to read their first novels and families. Nicely done for a first novel.
by Customer - reviewed on June 24, 2011
I absolutely loved loved this book! It was so eye-catching and was a page turner! I couldn't put it down and re-read it several times! I also would recommend it to everyone! I am so glad I read it! Such good writing as well! Read it! It is worth it!!