Chapter Five: Affection
The kiss had lingered until we were both left breathless. We nearly jumped apart from each other when we had come to our senses. I couldn't wrap my mind around what had just happened. I couldn't make my mind do anything at that moment. All I could do was stare, and blush, which thankfully couldn't be seen, at least not seen well.
Wesley cleared his throat and offered me his arm, which I took, and led me back indoors and silently to my quarters. We parted ways awkwardly and at last minute, I kissed his cheek. I had to do something.
"What's that for?" Wesley found his voice.
"For not being a complete Jadeside. For agreeing to help me. We can make our empires great." I half muttered, half whispered. Suddenly, I didn't have the conviction that I had early in the evening.
"I know that, your Majesty." He whispered back taking my hands and kissing the tops of them. I realized, in that moment, that this was the Wesley his father wouldn't let him be. This gentle, but strong and idealistic young man I liked, maybe even would love so dearly.
"Please call me Lila. Your father must call me Majesty, but not you. Not after what happened in the garden, you presumptuous man," I felt a smirk dancing on my lips.
Wesley winced. "Please, don't make light of it. It wasn't something that I would ever do lightly."
I stepped out of his reach. "I wasn't making light of it. I was trying to be coy and flirtatious, obviously it didn't work on your Thean blood." The last bit came out a bit harsher than intended, but it couldn't be helped.
"Coy and flirtatious doesn't suit you," he reached out again and I stepped back once more.
"It always worked before. It suits me just fine. I'll show you, tomorrow, in court. I will be coy and flirtatious." I announced in my stubbornness that by now, he should have accepted.
Wesley sighed his usual tired sigh at my outlandish announcements. "I thought you'd be the stone queen, especially after that display earlier today."
I raised my chin. "I'll show you. Right now, even."
I pressed past him, knocking his shoulder in an honest accident and continued down the steps and corridors until I reached the hall where the Thean court, half drunk, was still dancing and laughing the night away. Wesley was on my heels, trying to stop me from throwing open the doors, but he didn't succeed in stopping me. Instead, he followed me in, trying to grab my hand.
"Oh, there you are my dear boy!" Russel cried out, half drunk and over exuberant. "We may have heirs after all, and without forcing the girl to bed. Excellent show in the gardens, Wesley. Almost wished I'd been the one," he winked to his confidantes, who laughed loudly.
I threw my head around to look at Wesley. I didn't know whether his red face was from embarrassment or anger. I turned and glared at Russel and took a few steps in his direction; I'd give him a piece of my mind.
"Oh, look, she's eager for some, boys!" Russel roared. "And I had thought we'd have to tie the wench to the bed post come wedding night. She'll go freely now that my boy has proven to be a man of… charm."
My mouth gapped open in shock. No one had spoken to me like that, and certainly I had never heard Russel Jadeside speak to me like that. "How dare you…"
Wesley brushed past me with a stride that I read as trouble in an instant. I moved to try and stop the younger man, but my reaction was far too slow. Wesley had reached his father and before I could cry out to stop him, punched the older man in the face. The crowd started forward with me as I ran to them. Russel, quick for his age, punched his son back with a force that sent him into my arms and to the floor.
I cradled Wesley in my arms for a moment as he touched his bloody lip and bruised jaw. "You punched him?"
Russel wiped his own lip fiercely and gave me the coldest glare he could summon in his drunken state. "You're coming between me and my son."
"You put me there!" I cried out helplessly, using the hem of my skirt to whip away the blood from the young man's face. "How can you punch your own son?"
"Just as he can punch me, your Majesty." He growled at her. "You'll see I can do as I wish here."
I was seething with hurt pride and raw anger. He had hit his son, something no respecting Opian would ever do. I helped Wesley to his feet and then left his side, striding toward the origin of my anger. "You bastard!" I raised my hand to slap him, but instead, he grabbed my throat and dragged me over to his ornate chair on the royal dais, up the steps and tossed me into the velvet seat.
"Yes," he sneered, "A bastard, but you will give me an heir of both Thean and Opian blood." He tossed aside his cup and grabbed my wrists, keeping me pinned there in the chair with his weight. I cried out in sudden fear. What would this man do to me now that I couldn't move? I should never have left Wesley's side.
"Stop! You're hurting me," I cried.
"I can do a lot more to you than-" He was cut off as two strong arms wrapped around his torso and lifted him away from me. With Russel's grip on my wrists, I followed them until I was thrown free and into the crowd of the Thean court.
"Get out of here, Lila. To your chambers and lock your room. Elize is there." Wesley yelled as his struggled with his father.
I hated to leave him, but my fear propelled me from the court and to my room in less time that it had taken me to arrive at the horrible meeting. I threw myself into my room and slammed the doors shut behind me and struggled with the locks until Elize came and calmly did it for me.
She led me to my bed and sat me down upon it as if it were just an ordinary day and then knelt before me. She grasped my hands gently and made me look at her. "What happened?"
"Wesley and I… and then I… and he… and Wesley," I sobbed incoherently. A pounding on the door made me yelp as I scrambled over my bed and to the opposite side, putting it between me and the door. "Don't open it!"
Elize glanced at me and then motioned for me to get down out of sight. "I have to answer it. They are my masters." Slowly, she opened the door. "Prince Wesley!"
My head popped up and I nearly cried out in shock. He looked horrible. I scrambled around the bed and with Elize's help, caught him before he fell. He cried out softly, and gritted his teeth.
"Elize, shut and lock that door. Let no one else in." I commanded, my strength of mind returning as I helped Wesley to my bed and helped to lay him upon it. "Lie still. Do we have cool water? And rags, we need rags."
Elize disappeared into my bathing chamber just off to the side and I moved to sit onto the bed and put a hand on either side of his torso on the bed. He winced and I jumped up, afraid I'd hurt him.
"My side. That bastard threw me hard against the railing. Why in the empire do you have those railings," he whispered breathlessly.
"Let me see. We'll put some cold rags on it and it will feel better." I told him gently, but I couldn't get his tunic off. "Elize! Get me my dagger."
"Your what?" She appeared in the bathing room doorway, a washtub and rags in hand.
"My dagger," I replied tiredly. "I keep it in my wardrobe, behind my dresses on a secret shelf. Get it for me." I pointed toward the tall wardrobe in the corner. I hated to give away my secret hiding place, especially since I kept so much more in there than a dagger.
Elize set the washtub and rags by my side on a little table there and went to the wardrobe. After a minute of searching, she came back with the dagger in hand. "If my king saw…"
"I know. Don't tell him. I was raised by a man. I know how to use this," I took the dagger and threatened her.
"What are you doing?" Wesley tried to sit up. "It's only a few bruises and cracked ribs."
"I know," I replied firmly, and pressed his shoulders back down onto the bed. "Now hold still or I'll end up getting you."
I took the hem of the tunic and cut upward with the dagger, splitting the material. I stopped as I got close to his neck and set the dagger aside. With the rest, I wrapped around my hands and pulled apart.
I stared at his bare chest in shock; both because I had never seen a young man without a tunic on, and from the dark, nearly purple bruises on his left side. "Oh, my empire!"
"It's nothing," he reassured. "I've had worse."
"From him?" I found his gaze for a moment, but he looked away from me. "I hate him."
"He's my father." He muttered into the pillows.
"All the more for me to hate the man." I watched him in a sort of pity before I turned to the washtub and retrieved a rag. I dipped it into the water and squeezed out most of the water before gingerly and gently pressing it to his side. He moved away at first, but then settled.
"How do you know how to deal with this? Most women…" He trailed off, watching her as I set a couple other clothes to rest on his chest and side.
"Close your mouth," I instructed as I brought another to his lip to clean. To think, only an hour before I had those lips pressed to mine. "I had a brother and he was injured in battle. Father trusted no one else with his care but me. I learned what I could from my nurse so I could help him."
I moved away from him, letting his lie there. I expected to find Elize nearby, but she was no where to be seen. Sighing, I moved to my window and sat on the ledge there, looking out at the slowly lightening sky. Was it morning so soon?
I wanted to cry. I was so afraid. I was afraid of my emotions, of how I felt toward this foreign man in my bed. Russel's actions tonight made me fear for myself with him. What would have happened had Wesley not been there? I wanted my father to hold me in his arms.
Suddenly I felt arms around me and for a moment I thought it was my father, still alive, if it were not for the jump in my stomach their touch sent through me. "You should be resting." I protested.
Wesley sat behind me on the ledge and drew me against him. "Sometimes a person needs the comfort of an embrace. I'm so sorry."
"So am I," I could feel the warm tears running down my cheeks and onto his shoulders. "I don't want to be a prisoner."
"Nor do I," his voice was soft as he rubbed the palm of one of my hands with his thumb. It was so gently and comforting that I slowly felt myself drifting off to sleep. With a start, I kept myself awake. "Go to sleep. You're safe right now." He kissed the top of my forehead affectionately and I cried myself to sleep in his arms as the sun slowly came up over the horizon.
Tomorrow, the war was about to begin…