The gravity of her situation did not set in until she began to show. Soon you will not be able to hide your shame, her mother had spat. Soon everyone will know you for the whore you are.
And her mother had been right. As she walked through the streets of the village, her belly swollen under her gown, even peasants who might've once averted their eyes in fear or respect gawked as she passed. Some stares silently screamed slut!, others were full of pity. She wasn't sure which she hated more.
And surely, an unmarried woman with child was to be pitied. Noble or not, she knew she faced a difficult road ahead. She thought back to her thirteenth year, the year she had become a woman. Her father had given her a beautiful, delicate tiara. It was shining and jeweled and wonderful. A diadem for my beautiful daughter, her father whispered as he placed it on her head. But her mother swept into the room and stole the moment away. No one will ever marry her if she doesn't pull her nose out of those books, her mother had said. Trinkets won't change that.
But her mother was wrong. A man had wanted to marry her. Tom, he was called, a handsome, kind shopkeeper in the village, but he was common and she was noble and it could never be, even if she carried his child. Her father had spared Tom his life, but she knew she would never see him again.
She held her head high, stubborn and proud, diadem shining bright in the sun. It gave her confidence, it reminded her of the love of her father, and it was her armor against all manner of attacks. I am Lady Rowena, each jewel said, and I will not be shamed.
As she approached the castle, her hand moved to cover her growing belly. It would give the peasants more to gossip about, but now and for the rest of her days, her only concern would be for the tiny life growing within her. She would not be cruel like her own mother. Her daughter (she was sure it was a girl from the moment she knew herself to be pregnant) would grow up loved, cherished, and educated.