A/N: I'm back again! :D And with another chapter! Look! It's for real *grins*. Anyway… I just wanted to say that this is now the second chapter of Enigma… for those of you who read the previous edition of this story, this is a completely new chapter… filled with lots of character development and relationship details… etc. All that good stuff. There isn't that much in it plot-wise, but I felt that the story needed a little time to pass before the next big development (which happens in the original chapter 2.) Well, I hope you like it! ~ melissa-grace
"Fight! Do not think that you are safe on these training grounds, your opponent is your enemy! It is your life or his, don't let it be the first!"
Lanson walked around his men shouting orders, encouragements, continuing to push them as far and as hard as they could go. The Illarian army was not the most feared among all the kingdoms of the land for no reason. Their crest depicted the profile of the lion, symbolizing bravery honour, and courage, as well as the profile of an eagle in flight, symbolizing sharp-eyed intelligence and quick agility.
The training grounds were on the opposite end of the palace as the gardens so as to provide the soldiers with as much privacy as could be found out of doors of one of the most famous palaces in the land. They were a series of sand-lined arenas backing onto the stone palace wall. An opening in the wall led through the corridors to the armoury, where the lightest, strongest armour was made for the soldiers, as well as where the majority of their weapons were kept. Of course, there were racks outdoors for easy acces during training sessions, but for the most part, the more dangerous weapons were kept within the palace walls for safety.
Surrounding the training arenas were deeply rooted trees, providing for a bit more privacy for the soldiers when they became overheated with the summer temperatures, and allowed them to remove their shirts without being gawked at by all of the public. However, as the times passed, the ladies became less and less timid, and soon many of them from the Elite could be found watching their beloveds train from the tree-lined edges, far enough away to remain safe, yet close enough to be able to approach the soldiers when they went to reach for a cool drink from the table beside them.
Today was no different. A group of five of the most prestigious ladies of the Elite were spending their day gossiping by the edges of the training arena, discussing none other than Lanson Dubord – one of the most handsome and most eligible bachelors in the kingdom.
"Mm, does he not just look so delicious, ladies?" A fiery red head asked. Her hair was in well-placed curls atop her head, with select few falling down to give the effect of nonchalance, except – they were all well-placed. Her outfit consisted of a deep green dress, with a slightly lower neckline than was custom in Illaria, and beautifully expensive gold trim along the edges with the same gold lining creating patterns all over the dress. It fit her body to her waist where the skirt gently fell outwards in a bell. Her sleeves were wider near the wrist, and a white lining could be seen within it.
The calculating emerald eyes raked over the sweating form of the general. He was now combating his own opponent, whom he was out-manoeuvring quite noticeably. Fighting on the same level as this soldier was easy for the experienced general, but he made it to seem as if the bloke was gaining on him a bit – to give him a little hope and a little encouragement to continue bettering himself. However, this was not what Alina noticed at all. No, she took in his physical attributes, and the fluidity of his motion, and pondered the thought that he would probably be extraordinary in bed.
After appraising the general quite thoroughly, she spoke to her companions once again. "Isn't he the finest?"
The ladies agreed in turn, each bobbing their heads or murmuring agreements of "Of course, Alina dear.", and the like.
Alina rolled her eyes as she watched the other soldiers. The ladies of the Elite were all the same – completely brainless. She supposed that they were merely testimony to the wonderful opportunities that a bit of money could bring about. She turned to speak with them face to face. "I don't suppose he would turn his attentions to me, once he's let go of that infatuation with Sapphira, would he?"
The four other well-dressed and well-made ladies eagerly reassured the princess that they thought he would definitely fall for her. They complimented her on her looks, and her sociability, two things that, according to them, Sapphira had none of. And there was also to mention the fact that Alina was the crown princess. Why would the esteemed general settle for less when he could have her?
Alina turned back to watch the soldiers train, and noticed that the object of her current discussion with the ladies was no longer present. She supposed he went back into the armoury to choose a different weapon, or something of the like. She shrugged, and lost no more time in moving her appraising eye to the other well-figured bodies of the Illarian soldiers. "I don't see why he should be so infatuated with Sapphira anyway. She can't even manage to hold a decent conversation with any gentleman, or lady for that matter. She spends her days roaming around the palace helping those pathetic servants, or daydreaming. She is such a humilia-"
Alina had turned to face her companions once again, as the one army member for whom she held interest was no longer present, and none of the other soldiers' bodies compared to his. But instead of seeing the faces of her ladies, she came face to face with none other than the general Lanson Dubord himself. He had come up behind the princess while she had been speaking with her ladies, but she had turned in the other direction to face the training arena again, so had not seen Lanson approach the rest of the way towards the table holding water for the tired soldiers. He had picked up on Alina's speech just as she started speaking of Sapphira's so-called short-comings, and was not at all pleased.
He was boring holes into her with his eyes, and it was not in a pleasant way. Judging by his stance, Alina could tell that he had heard what she had said of her sister. "Oh no, please do go on." He said in response to her comments of her sister, "What was it? Sapphira is such a humiliation? Or something of the like anyway."
Lanson waited for Alina to respond, but Alina was too shocked and embarrassed to say anything. "Well? Don't let my presence hinder you. I'm sure you have much more to share about the Lady's short-comings and faults, as seen by the 'proper' folk of the land. You seem to gain a great deal of pleasure in doing that sort of thing." Lanson then moved off to release his new bout of angry energy in sparring with his men.
Alina was still in shock as Lanson left her and her companions. When she looked at her ladies, they each turned their gazes away to stare at some particularly interesting sight in the very empty meadows. She could not believe that she had just made such a great blunder in front of the man she wanted to seduce. It was completely humiliating. Alina gave a short, bitter laugh at that thought. 'How ironic.'
King Ayran gazed at his dark-haired daughter from his position lying on the royal bed. At the moment, she was sitting in one of the elaborate chairs on his right that were constantly by his bedside these days, concentrating on her embroidery as she kept him company. He smiled, and reached for her hands. She reminded him so much of his late wife, the beautiful Queen Ehlana.
Sapphira glanced up when she saw her father reach for her, and placed her embroidery in her lap so that she could take up his right hand in hers. "What is it, Father?"
Her father, King Ayran, simply smiled at her and beckoned Sapphira to come closer so that he could reach her face. As she did so, he gently touched her cheek with his worn hands. "I love you, Blueberry."
Sapphira placed her hand on top of his, cupping her cheek, and smiled back at the nickname that her father had given her when she was little. Her favourite colour had always been blue, and from the time she had been introduced blueberries, there had been many instances in which she had been caught with a messy face and messy hands while growing up. "I love you too, father. What is it that is bothering you?"
"Nothing at all, dearest. Just thinking of your mother. You look so much like her."
Sapphira closed her eyes. She remembered her mother from when she was younger. To her, Queen Ehlana had always seemed so elegant, so composed. She had a look of exotic beauty, instead of the classic look that Illaria seemed to favour, but she still seemed to exude an air of elegance, and royalty. Her mother had always been the wise and calm one as much as her father had been the passionate one. Such a great woman, it hardly seemed possible to Sapphira that her father could ever compare her to Ehlana. When she opened her eyes again, they held a hint of sadness, being a shade darker than usual.
"I know," her father said, "I miss her too."
"I don't see how you can compare me to her. I am hardly the woman she was." Sapphira started, but her father was quick to shake his head.
"Oh but you will be." He removed his hand from her face, to lay it back on the bed, where he resumed holding his daughter's hands. "You might not see it yet, Sapphira, but one day you will be great. I know that you do not like appearing in public, much less speaking in public, but you must realize that there is much you can do for this land. You've attended the hearings of the Court since you were little, always speaking through those expressive eyes of yours. You've always possessed a quiet wisdom, just like your mother – a born leader. I regret that you never spent more time with those your age among the Elite," his eyes twinkled with unspoken laughter, "but we both know that it has probably done you a lot more good than harm, staying away from those bubble heads."
Sapphira giggled slightly at hearing her father speak of the Illarian high-class in such a way. She was grateful that he understood her feelings towards them. For some odd reason, she never had to explain herself to her father – not that she ever explained her anti-social behaviour to anyone. But she felt that her father sympathised with her discomfort around the Elite, and he had never pushed her into becoming more involved with them. That is, until Caleb.
"Your mother was such a good woman, Sapphira. She always knew how to calm me down when I was angry, and she always knew how to handle a situation so that no party would be left feeling as though they were not treated fairly. In some ways I feel like she ruled this kingdom far more than I did."
He smiled at the memories. Ehlana always did have a way with making suggestions in such a fashion that he felt that he had made them on his own. Her quiet, un-supposing presence and willingness to help and to guide was what he admired most, and was thankful that it had been passed on to at least one of his daughters.
"She was so different from everyone around us, and yet she never backed down from that. She always stood for what she was, and where she came from, and never once let the Elite beat her spirit. That is what I loved most about her…her gentle, yet strong and sometimes stubborn spirit."
Sapphira smiled. She loved the way her father's eyes would light up when he spoke of her mother. It was the one time when he was the happiest. She loved how her parents had managed to find each other, and were able to marry each other in a world where marriage to foreigners was not something to be looked upon well – even if they were royalty.
"Mother always did have an exotic air about her."
King Ayran nodded. "I suppose it's from her home land."
Sapphira agreed. "It must be… I know I was young when she died, but one of the things I remember most was how she used to talk about Renalda all the time. Sometimes, it felt like I had been there myself. I still have dreams of an exotic place like she described from time to time… Sometimes I can almost feel it."
The king looked thoughtful. "Maybe one day you'll be able to visit Renalda. That's the one regret I have of the time I spent with your mother… the fact that I was always too busy with bringing Illaria back to life that I never had the chance to take her back to visit before she passed away." His eyes took on a more haunted look.
Sapphira frowned at her father's change of mood. He was always talking in a way of regrets in his life, or happy memories that he'd had these days. It was as if he thought he wasn't going to have any more of them. She did not like it in the least.
Sapphira was about to speak her concerns to her father when Neava knocked on the open door and stepped into the room, so instead she turned to face her maid.
Neava curtsied to both the king and princess. "Forgive me, your Majesty, my lady, but the Duke of Orrington is here to see you, princess. I told him that you were otherwise occupied at the time, but he insisted upon speaking with you."
Sapphira gave an exasperated sigh. "Please tell him again that I am preoccupied. I am spending time with the king, my father, as I promised to him, and so will not be able to keep the Duke company this day. Send him my deepest apologies."
Neava nodded, and turned to leave when the king started to laugh. "Oh dear, Sapphira. We all know that you are not sorry in the least."
He started to cough, and Sapphira moved to help him sit up a bit. As his coughs subsided, he motioned for his daughter to sit down again, and moved to say what he had begun to say moments before. "You have spent enough time moping up here with an old man like me. Go out and spend some time with the young Duke. The fresh air will do you well, and you know how you enjoy the blue skies."
Sapphira protested, "But father, I do not enjoy spending time with the man, he is absolutely lacking of all manner and etiquette, not to mention he is an incorrigible brute!"
Her father only smiled and shook his head. "Go."
Sapphira sighed. If there was one thing she knew to do, it was to follow her father's advice. He usually knew what was best for her, though in this case, she knew not what in heaven's name it could be. She nodded her acquiescence, and turned to Neava.
"Neava, go tell the man that I'll be down in a moment, I need only some time to prepare myself and change into something more appropriate."
The king rolled his eyes. That was another thing Sapphira had inherited from her mother – her love of clothes. "Why keep the man waiting any longer? He's surely anxious enough as it is to see you if he insisted upon doing so even after being told you were previously disposed of."
Sapphira sighed again. 'Oh dear,' she thought. 'The stupid man has even got my father under his charm.'
"Yes, father." She answered. She placed a kiss on her father's cheek, put her embroidery on the bedside table, and headed out the door. As she moved out, she asked Neava to keep her father company for a while, and that she was alright with handling the Duke herself.
Neava moved to follow her mistress out the door, but the King motioned her to stay in the room. "Come keep an old man company, dear girl. I seem to have lost myself the company that had been planned for the day."
Neava was still a bit nervous around the legendary king, but nodded to his request as he had been a sort of father figure to her these past three years. "I suppose I could help with the cleaning a bit in here."
She moved to start dusting the various objects by the far wall of the bed, and the two lapsed into a comfortable silence.
The King smiled at the young maid's antics. Although her station only required her to keep Sapphira company, she always seemed to flit about helping with the cleaning when she was not needed, or helping her mother in some other way. He was glad that his daughter had her as a maid and confidante.
"Now I do believe that something is happening with my daughter and that Duke who's just come to visit her. Is there anything you might be able to tell me?"
Neava paused in her cleaning, and was wary. "You do know that young Mistress Sapphira has made it quite clear that she detests him. I'm not quite sure that I know what you speak of."
"That is exactly the point though, is it not?" The king laughed. "Sapphira does make it quite clear she does not like him, and if I know my daughter well, which I believe I do, she has never shown this kind of annoyance, or 'hatred' as she would most likely call it, for anyone else, no matter how much they might bother her. Usually she would just dismiss them from her presence, as she does with the rest of the Elite."
She had to ponder that thought. It was true that Sapphira was usually a lot more calm with her declinations of suitor calls from other members of the Elite. But with the Duke of Orrington, she had been quite vocal in her detest. Perhaps there was something there. Her mother always told her that there was a thin line between love and hate. Neava moved to fluff and rearrange the pillows on the settee across the bed. "I suppose she does, but what about General Dubord?"
King Ayran pursed his lips at the name. "I know he believes himself in love with her. He has come to me on more than one occasion, speaking of his intentions with Sapphira. I have a lot of respect for him, and that is why I made him my general at such a young age, but I do know that his responsibility and duty will be first and foremost for the army. That is his first thought, and his first care. Even though he thinks he loves my daughter, I do not think she would ever come before his soldiers. I have the feeling it is merely an infatuation."
Neava nodded her understanding. She knew of Lanson Dubord's excellent reputation as a fighter and a leader and could see how the king would think of the army as his first passion, rather than Sapphira. More and more, she became convinced of the compatibility of Sapphira with the young Duke of Orrington. "And how do you know that the Duke's intentions are honourable?"
The King took a while to answer her question, that Neava thought he had not heard her. "Your Majesty?"
"Hm?" He looked up, almost in a daze. "Oh yes. How do I know that the Duke is honourable in his intentions… I'm not quite sure you know. I am fully aware of his reputation as the charming heartbreaker, but for some odd reason, when I see the two together, I feel it is more than just another conquest. I know it is rash to push Sapphira to spend time with him, but I think this one will turn out all right. I just hope he realizes what he has and what he feels before he lets her get away." The king shrugged. Perhaps there was a little bit of bright magick left in his blood.
"So you believe that mistress Sapphira and the Duke of Orrington might indeed love one another?"
The king was quick to answer, "Oh, most definitely."
They both smiled.
"I don't see why my father continues to urge me to see you. It is not as if anything will come of these meetings. So do not get your hopes up."
Those were the first words out of Sapphira's mouth when she moved into one of the many parlours of the palace to meet Caleb Tessler as he rose from his seat to greet her. He could already tell this day was going to turn out well… being shot down before he had even opened his mouth to speak. Yes, this would turn out perfectly.
Caleb pursed his lips in slight annoyance at the princess's greeting. Perhaps it was the lingering of last night's ale, or merely the number of times that Sapphira had used her wit against him, but for some reason, this morn as he came to meet her once again, it bothered him that she was so hostile towards him. He knew it was all a game, and that he was supposed to act the part of the cheerful playboy, never being hurt by her insults, but this day, it really got to his nerves.
"Good day to you, my lady." He said, as he took off his hat and bowed towards her.
Sapphira was surprised at the Duke's calm actions. He had no come back for her this day, and she was slightly thrown off, but she only showed it for a moment. Instead of questioning it, she nodded, although a bit warily. "Good day to you too, sir."
Caleb was still giving her a stony look – far from the normal cheery playfulness he usually displayed. It was unnerving her.
"I was wondering on this fine day if you would be willing to join me on a walk around the palace grounds." Caleb offered, mechanically.
'It's not like I have a choice.' She thought. And she knew that Caleb knew it as well. She was now thoroughly suspicious with his formal tone and polite actions. What was happening here?
She nodded, and accepted his arm as way of replying in the positive. The two left for the meadows surrounding the palace gardens, that were never too crowded by the public. It would provide them with a bit of privacy and shelter from the ever-watchful eyes of the gossiping Elite.
As they strolled the beautiful grounds arm in arm, Caleb began to feel a little bit guilty for the cold manner in which he had acted towards the princess while greeting her. He decided he would try to make it up by being cheerful once again. It was not her fault that situations with his family's finances were not at their best.
"It is a lovely day, is it not?" He offered, "Although, not quite as lovely as the beauty I have the pleasure of spending this day with."
At once, Sapphira's heart was put to ease. He was simply up to his old games again, and smiled ruefully. "Yes, it is a lovely day. But I do believe it would be lovelier with the absence of useless flattery and different company." She bit back.
Caleb winced. At this point, he was beginning to believe that no matter how sincere he would ever try to be, the princess would always think his advances to be superficial, because of his reputation as a heart-breaker. He sighed inwardly. He did not blame her, but this reluctance just made his task all the more difficult.
He tried a different tactic. "How is the King these days?"
Sapphira was not amused with his attempts at being civil. Why would he care in the least about her father? "He is as well as he can be considering he has fallen quite ill over the past few months, or have you not noticed?"
He took his arm from hers, and gave off a frustrated cry, "For the love of the Gods!"
Sapphira merely sniffed at his actions and continued walking with a straighter back.
Caleb stopped her from walking too far ahead, and turned her body to face him squarely. "Look," he said while looking directly at her shocked face, "we both know that you would not have come to spend the day with me had you not been ordered to. If you think me to be fake by trying to be civil, I'll let you know it is only because I sympathize with your position, and although I do not share your disposition, I am willing to make it a little more bearable for you to spend your day with an abominable gentleman. I know that you dislike me intensely, but for what it is worth, I am genuinely interested in you, princess. Since you have been ordered to remain by my side for the remainder of the day, I suggest that you stop being so hostile, and try to make the best of it. Is that so hard to manage?"
As he spoke, Caleb's firm grip relaxed on Sapphira's shoulders, as he noticed that he had been holding her quite strongly. Slowly, he removed his hands, and apologized. "I am truly sorry for my actions, princess."
Sapphira slowly nodded her head as she was still a little dazed by the suddenness of Caleb's outburst. She shook her head. She knew that she had the power to have him punished for touching her that way, and speaking to her in that manner, but she also knew that she probably deserved it. Looking back now, she realized that she had been acting hostile towards the Duke for no reason. Admitted, he had been quite the flirt, when first trying to get her attentions, but as time went on, his advances became more cautious, and seemed a lot less outrageous… yet she still met them with the same ferocity of distaste. Sapphira was surprised at how easily she had lost her sense of reason when dealing with Caleb Tessler. She wondered why he had made her so angry so easily when she never showed her anger to anyone, yet at the same time, she was afraid of the answer to that question.
"No," she finally said as she shook her head, "It is I who should be apologizing. I realize that I have been acting like quite the child towards you, and I am sorry for that." She looked up at his face, to show that she was being sincere, and he nodded his acceptance of her apology.
"Very well, we are both sorry then, and we are both forgiven." Caleb held out his hand. "Shall we continue on?"
Sapphira, taking his out held hand into her own, for she thought that he simply meant a hand shake, nodded in agreement. The Duke then began to head towards one of his carriages across one of the meadow paths. She was a bit surprised when after a while, he had still not let go, but she shrugged it off. The feel of his hand holding her own was not that unpleasant after all.
A/N: That's the second chapter!! I hope you enjoyed it… It took a little bit of effort for it to come out of my head, nothing seemed to come out quite the way I wanted it to. It took me like, three minutes to plan a full page, single-spaced, of what I wanted to happen here, but for some reason, the words just would not come! It's actually a bit shorter than I originally planned, because I felt like this was a good place to end the chapter, and my other ideas can be used later on, to spread it out a little more so that the story isn't too fast-paced. Anyway… feedback is always welcome! And thank you to those reviewers who have already left their suggestions and encouragements to me! They are very appreciated! J
Special Thanks to Melody1, CaleeChanteuse03, and Khamron for being my first reviewers for this new edition! Your encouragement is very much appreciated. It's what will probably keep pushing me to write this story, so keep it up! :D I love that little "you have mail" sign.
That's it for now! Thanks again, ~ melissa-grace