By P. Kristen Enos
© 2012 – P. Kristen Enos (I own these characters and their drama.)
Originally meant to be for the book collection only, this was written as a self-contained story but I realized after plotting 75% of "Franchesca" that this story was an indirect prequel to that story.
The characters in this story are of a race that don't age past their prime – they're still mortal, but they don't suffering the 'withering' that curses humans.
Warning: Lesbian angst ahead!
For several minutes, only the sound of the trotting horses and their gear could be heard amongst the small group as they made their way through the forest.
Princess Cathryn glanced around from her lead but protected position to see that her bodyguards were indeed well out of earshot.
Seeing that their beloved princess wanted some privacy, the men made sure to guide their horses to widen the area of privacy around the two young women they flanked. And that was fine with them because their value was their exceptional beauty in their opposite ways.
At the age of sixteen, Princess Cathryn had elegant, graceful, lush features with sparkling green eyes and her long, bright blonde hair kept in an intricate braid down her back. She rode side-saddle in the perfect elegance of someone of pure royal blood and breeding. Her dress and mannerisms made her the deserved epitome of her citizens' pride of the current and future state of their royalty.
At her side was her best friend of the same age, Faye, who had the delicate features of someone of pure elfin blood. She had eyes with dark gray pupils and her long, black hair draped down her back. Her mannerisms were also noble and well-bred but true to a lady of the court, she was perceived as the ideal friend for their princess because she was always just a step outside of the royal spotlight.
Cathryn leaned over and said, "Thank you for humoring me."
Faye was genuinely confused. "What do you mean?"
"It's written all over your face in Faye Language how you don't want to be here. Or at least where we're going."
"I admit there are other things I'd rather be doing."
"Oh come on! Aren't you the teeny bit interested in seeing how someone teaches magic?"
"If I had a use for magic I would be."
"Who doesn't have a use for magic?!"
"I'm a princess! Of course I don't! I have subjects that should learn magic for me."
"Was that a hint for me to pay attention? Is that why you asked me to accompany you?"
"No, I just wanted your company. And I'm not pressuring you to do anything you don't want to do. I just know that you know why I'm going, and I would like you to get something out of this."
"If only your citizens knew how sensitive and needy you were."
"Oh, shut up! I just feel… awkward that you're not that impressed by Gerard.'
"I've never said any such thing."
Caught, Faye took a breath, cleared her expression, and then said with a measured formality, "I've witnessed every single suitor who has directly or indirectly tried to win your hand. I don't see what it is about him that has your interest above all others."
"He's like you." Seeing her friend's alarmed face, Cathryn added quickly, "He doesn't treat me like some delicate doll on a pedestal. Plus, he's handsome, has a very fine figure and very nicely placed chest hair."
"Stop, I don't need any more visuals," she commented with a slight scowl of disgust. "You've made your point."
The princess let out a triumphant laugh. "It's wonderful that you and I have completely different tastes in men."
"That is completely fucking stupid!" Gerard's voice suddenly bellowed from nearby.
Faye commented dryly, "That's one way of looking at it."
"This is totally suicidal!" Gerard roared as he towered over his would-be teacher as they stood in the forest clearing – their only other company being the horse and burro waiting off to the side. Even in his fury, he was strikingly handsome with short black hair and green eyes. "No one stands in the middle of a battle field trying to conjure up a spell when there are swords and arrows everywhere! And there are no stories of people winning a battle with magic!"
Though he was a man of letters, Simon wanted so badly to strangle the much younger man who could easily break all of his limbs without breaking a sweat. He took a measured breath, ran his fingers through his thin brown hair and fixed his spectacles before answering, "No one said you should use magic in the heat of battle. It's a tool to be used when needed. If needed. I would think you could appreciate learning how to produce a fire if you're stuck on a battlefield during the middle of a winter campaign."
"Look, we both know I'm only here because King Thomas challenged you to teach me magic. NOT to treat me like I'm some idiot!"
"Look, it's your own fault –" he paused when he noticed that the young man's attention was now over his shoulder, at something behind him.
He turned to see Princess Cathryn, her lady in waiting and guards all on horseback, waiting and watching curiously.
The two men immediately composed themselves and bowed in acknowledgement.
Simon flashed a wide and welcoming smile, "Your Highness! We weren't expecting you!"
She flashed a pleasant smile in return, the reserved amusement twinkling in her eyes. "Clearly. My curiosity got the better of me I'm afraid. I had hoped to see a magic lesson in progress, especially after your demonstration last night."
"Well, we – "
"We were done for the day," Gerard interrupted smoothly with a smile that had clear undertones of intimacy between them. "Would you like to go for a ride through the east valley?"
Cathryn looked intrigued but then gave a glance at her nearby friend in reluctance.
Unsurprised by the turn of the events, Faye said simply, "I have other things I can do. Go enjoy yourself."
Keeping his grumbles under his breath and beard, Simon watched the princess, her beau and the guards leave to go enjoy the day. Though he just realized that it meant he was left in the company of one of the most beautiful young women he had ever seen, and he's seen many, many women in his world travels.
Unfortunately, she seemed entirely unimpressed by his presence, however, she seemed reluctant to leave him, her own good manners coming to the forefront.
Faye looked at him and said, "I am heading back to the castle. Are you planning to go back too?"
He brightened at the opportunity and smiled. "If you don't mind my company, I would appreciate going back with you."
She merely gave him a mild smile as she watched him pick up the sticks and lit lantern that he had brought for the lesson. Once he had packed his materials into the saddle of his waiting burro, the pair started the long ride back to the castle.
As they rode in silence, Simon's mind raced in what he knew of the young woman, who never spoke in the few times he saw her this past week. So he had nothing to lose but to dive right in.
"You're a Dark Elf, aren't you? I didn't think your race came this far north."
"A forefather became an advisor to one of the king's forefather's long ago. The last of my family perished in the last occurrence of the Red Death."
"Oh, sorry to hear that."
"… So are you interested in magic too?"
"You think that because I'm an elf that I would be into magic? Isn't that racist?"
He blinked as he didn't know how to respond to that. But then he let out a laugh. "Well, you've got a little bit of a bite to you, Lady Faye! I can see why Her Highness values your presence."
She kept her attention focused ahead as if he merely pointed out something not worth commenting on.
How is it that such a young girl can make me feel so awkward?! I've been the court wizard of over a dozen kings!
"So what were you trying to teach him?" Faye asked, as if realizing she was being unnecessarily severe.
Simon brightened as her sudden curiosity. "The first step of fire manipulation by lighting a stick from an existing flame."
"I assume that you didn't get very far because none of your sticks are charred. Do you honestly think he has the ability to learn magic?"
"I believe everyone has the ability to learn magic – we all have an essence of magic within us; that's the force of life. It just takes time and the right circumstances. Some people require years of focused, mental training and others can do it just by being exposed to it once. Trust me, I've trained men with far less magic essence than him. However, he is by the far the least interested in it of anyone I know in magic – and thus that's where the real challenge is."
"Well, good luck with that. The only thing that has his interest more than his broadsword is Her Highness."
He couldn't argue with that observation. "So are they officially engaged?"
"No, but he keeps trying. And Cathryn is encouraging him. However, His Majesty always finds an excuse or obstacle. This magic lesson is the latest. Even though she's the only heir to the throne, His Majesty doesn't seem particularly anxious to give her hand away, especially to an outsider."
"I sensed something… complex under the discussions last night."
"There's always something complex here."
And it was then that Simon realized something else he had unintentionally observed in the past week of being in the company of these young people. Gerard and Faye never talked to each other. In fact, they barely even gave each other an acknowledging look, which Simon always thought was odd in a court where the pleasantries exchanged seemed genuine. This past encounter was just as blatant.
He thought for a moment if he could use this to his advantage for using an old trick for stubborn first time students.
"Would you be interested in a proposition?" he asked smoothly.
"Not if that's a dirty old man euphemism," she said flatly.
"Wait, that's not what I – " Simon stopped when he realized that she was kidding. At least he thought so. He let out a laugh.
"I mean helping me to get Gerard to approach his magic lessons seriously."
Faye was now genuinely bewildered. "How?"
"Well, he clearly has pride. And I've learned from experience that competition is just the thing to drive a boy like that. I can arrange it so that you appear to have learned the magic lesson of fire transference. I'm sure he wouldn't want to be bested by a girl such as yourself."
She said nothing as she kept her attention forward.
"Do you think he wouldn't be baited by such a challenge?" He tried to keep his tone subtle but provocative.
"Why is it so important to you that he learn magic?"
Realizing that she wouldn't be easily manipulated, he relented as honesty to be the best approach. "I've made a living of being in the service of kings. It's great food and board for years, until the crown changes hand to someone who no longer values my services. But you can't get such positions without proving yourself.
"And while it may sound deceitful start, I do firmly believe he can learn."
"… But you'll make everyone believe that I can do magic too."
Simon closed his eyes for a moment to feel her aura. He opened them and said, "I never noticed before that you have incredibly strong magic essence within you. There must be a magic user in your recent forefathers. Perhaps more than one. I can teach you for real… If you wish to learn it."
"But, if I may be so bold, I'm certain you wouldn't mind making him look mildly foolish in a harmless moment."
"… Let me think about it."
Simon regarded her profile with a different appreciation. It had been a long time since he had such an unexpectedly interesting conversation, and especially from such an attractive source.
He may get more out of coming to this city than he had ever dared dreamed possible.
Faye sat at her normal place at the head banquet table, her gray gaze focused on the princess whirling around the dance floor with her partner following at his awkward best. She had no expression on her face as she rhythmically tapped the rim of her wine glass with her finger tip. It would seem as if her beat was in conjunction with the tunes played out by the court minstrels. But she kept zombie beat through their breaks, keeping the same internal beat no matter what official song was being played.
She was so focused on the scene that she hadn't noticed someone sit down in Cathryn's once empty seat.
"Well, my Lady Faye," King Thomas said into her ear, "what do you think of our would-be suitor? Do you think he has the making of a king?" Even though there were several generations between he and the princess, his thick bright blond hair and beard and sparkling green eyes were undeniable traits of lineage.
"Cathryn seems to think so."
"That was not the question, my Lady Faye."
"… He has a certain self-confidence that reminds me of you, Your Majesty. In your more frivolous moods."
"Hmmm. I suppose so," he mulled as he scratched his beard thoughtfully. "But such confidence in one still in his teens can lead to dangerous decisions later on in life."
"Is that why you challenged him to learn magic?"
"I guessed it would be something that wouldn't come easily to him. A little frustration would do him good. So was I right? I don't trust Simon's assessment of how things are going."
"Now this is a dangerous pair!" Cathryn proclaimed as she stood over the two of them. "Plotting something?"
"We were just discussing the state of Gerard's magic lessons," he said pointedly. "I had heard you saw a bit of it this morning. How was it, my Dear?"
"I don't see him pulling a rabbit out of his ass any time soon. But it was his first lesson. Give him time. He can do it."
The King met her steady gaze in only the way two people who deeply knew, loved and respected each other could do.
He then stood to show he was done with the conversation. He kissed her forehead and said, "Well, I look forward to him performing a trick of any sort. I promise I won't make him do it in front of the entire court."
Once he was gone, Cathryn reclaimed her seat and said, "So I assume Simon must have an opinion on what happened this morning? Does he think Gerard can learn magic?"
"He seems to sincerely believe it's possible. He has this philosophy that everyone is capable of learning magic – just some have it easier than others."
"Really? Anyone?" Cathryn paused and then a wicked twinkle in her eyes. "You sure that was just a way for him to invite you to take lessons so you could spend more time with him?"
"What do you mean?"
"He seems to be quite taken with you. He kept looking at you throughout dinner."
"Oh… What time did you want to meet in the morning to finish the quilt?"
Cathryn looked blank for a moment and then smacked her forehead. "I am so sorry! I forgot and promised Gerard I would come watch him practice jousting with his pals. You can come join us and then we can do the quilt afterwards."
"… All right."
" – Why did you tell him I would learn magic?!" Gerard exclaimed as he sat up against his bed's headboard. The bedroom was lit with a single candle in the pre-dawn hours.
"Because I believe you can," Cathryn said simply as she stretched out in the pile of sheets and covers, enjoying the feeling of the warm air against her nude skin. "You don't think you can?"
He frowned and said, "I just think it's all bullshit. It's great for party tricks but there's no real use for it in a battle. Or there would be real stories that could be validated. I've talked to a lot of guys who have fought in wars and no one has ever witnessed anyone using spells or curses on a battlefield."
"That may be so but I think Grandpapa is testing you."
"There's nothing for me to prove," he declared. "I'm handsome, from a noble family, and can whip a man more than a head or two taller than me. I'd make a perfect king."
"Gee, I wonder why no one thinks you're humble."
"Well, you don't seem to have issues with how I am, or you wouldn't be in my room instead of yours. In fact, I should just tell His Majesty that I already share your marriage bed so we might as well make it formal."
"Do that and you will be the first beheading I will decree," she said, even though she enjoyed the vision of his naked form before her. "But what do you think of Simon? I think there's something starting between him and Faye?"
Gerard frowned skeptically. "You think so? Poor guy. I didn't think she was into men."
Cathryn glared at him in genuine fury. "You ever say or hint at something disgusting like that again and I will order your beheading for certain!"
He held up his hands to ease her wrath. "That's not what I meant! I'm just saying that I've never seen her speak a full sentence to another man, besides His Majesty. Everyone thinks she's a snob, and that's what I see. All things considered, Simon seems like a good guy. He's setting himself up for some heartache falling for a girl like that."
The Princess mulled over his comments, clearly like not liking them but not able to immediately make a solid defense of her best friend. "She's not a real snob. She just isn't very social, especially if it's around something she's not interested in. Which I admit are many things."
"Oh, you've really convinced me that my opinion of her is wrong," he commented dryly. "Look, it's almost dawn. You need to go before discovers you're not in your room."
"Are you kicking me out?!"
"I have too! I can't sleep when you're here!" he said with a lecherous grin. "And I have to joust in a couple of hours. I need to maintain my reputation that I can kick those guys' asses with both hands tied behind my back."
Cathryn rolled her eyes but rose from the bed to gather her discarded clothes. "At least think about being serious in your magic lessons. It only takes one spell to prove you can do it and Grandpapa should be satisfied with that."
He pointed at his lips and said, "Give me some incentive."
"I thought you said you wanted to sleep."
"Then don't give me tongue and get out."
Moments later, Cathryn snuck down the castle hallways, dodging the occasional servant. She straightened out her dress to be presentable in case she should have an encounter before she could get back to her room.
She had reached the long hallway of the royal suites and finally started to relax that she was in explainable distance from her goal.
The Princess let out a squeak of surprise but quickly recovered herself.
Dressed in a nightgown and a robe, Faye had been standing in one of the alcoves that had one of the best views of the city when the sun would rise in a few minutes. "What are you doing up?"
She swallowed as she tried to regain her composure and said, "Just a little restless. But going back to bed now. And you?"
"I couldn't sleep either." Though her tone was neutral, Faye's gaze clearly scanned the entire state of the Princess, who was dressed in last night's clothing though not definitely not as polished and presentable as she had been the night before. "Are you still planning to go watch the jousting?"
"Of course! I will see you in a couple of hours."
Cathryn proceeded on her way, trying to pretend not to see the elements of Faye Language that had appeared on her friend's face.
When the lantern's flame did not flicker yet again, Gerard snapped the kindling stick in frustration. He threw it to the ground and was about to let loose a stream of foul words when he was reminded of his watching audience of the Princess and her best friend sitting on a nearby blanket.
He calmed himself and declared to his would-be teacher and audience that he needed a moment alone. Without waiting for a response, he walked by himself to stand by a tree on the other side of the clearing.
Cathryn motioned for the other two to give them a moment as she stood to follow up.
As she approached him from the back, she glanced backwards to see if they would be out of earshot of the others.
"Hey," she said as she placed her hand on his broad back.
He jumped at her touch and whirled with a fist to strike her, his warrior's impulse on edge.
Cathryn stepped back to duck but was more struck by the realization that his eyes were red with barely suppressed tears of frustration. Her heart fluttered at seeing this side of him, a feeling she never felt before.
"Sorry," he mumbled as he wiped his red face in embarrassment.
"Faye and I should go," she offered gently. "Perhaps you'll do better without an audience."
"It's not going to make a difference. I didn't have an audience the first day. Week of days has not a difference at all… I just can't do this. I want to quit but I can't."
"I'll just talk to Grandpapa. He respects effort that is sincere."
"It's not just the magic, Cathryn. It's the only thing he's challenged me with and I can't do it. And he knows the only thing I want from him is you. What if he uses this as an excuse to not give you to me once and for all?"
"I won't let that happen. Thank you for being honest with me. I'm now convinced more than ever that I want you as my future king."
Simon sat himself down on the corner of the blanket as he carefully placed the lantern off to the side.
With a somber expression, Faye had been glancing at the couple talking at the edge of the clearing.
"He's talking of quitting," she said simply.
Simon looked at her questioningly since he couldn't hear anything.
She tapped the tips of her pointed elfin ears for explanation. Then for a brief moment she had an ashen look flicker across her face. "And she's trying to talk him out of it."
He sighed and said, "Well, I doubt he noticed it, but the flame did flicker a moment in his outburst."
"You really think he caused it?"
"I believe anyone can learn magic. I don't believe it can be done easily. He clearly needs a push and I don't know what else can be done."
" … What do you want me to do?"
Simon blinked in surprised but then leapt at the opportunity. He jumped to his feet and helped her up. "Just stand where he stood and hold the stick up. All you need to look like you're seriously concentrating and I'll do the rest. Trust me, I'll make it look good."
"What was it you had him chant?"
"'Flame, I beckon thee'… Though I'll be frank in admitting the only two reasons why someone needs to chant is if he need help in concentrating or he is asking for help from other forces. And that kind of magic I don't know. But my point being that if this were a real lesson for you, I wouldn't have you do it."
Faye glanced over and saw that they had an curious audience. "They're noticing we're up to something so I suggest we do it now while they're watching."
Simon took his spot and held up the lantern, opening it up so the flame had no obstructions.
Faye held the kindling stick in front of her as she stared at the flickering flame which seemed so tiny given what they were trying to do. So really driven to keep a straight face, she made her expression as grim as possible and solidifying her posture. She couldn't help but feel incredibly ridiculous but she knew that doing this meant it had to be done right.
She cleared her throat and started to say over and over, "Flame, I beckon thee. Flame, I beckon thee. Flame, I beckon thee…"
But then she felt a bizarre tingle throughout her entire body and she saw the flame start to flicker in her direction.
Suddenly wondering if her senses were betraying her, Faye focused herself and chanted harder as all feelings of embarrassment disappeared.
In the next instant, the flame shot out of the lantern in a bee-line at her outstretched kindling stick, and hopping from it to engulf Faye's face and hair.
The feeling of the slender, warm fingers clasping hers finally stirred her from the deep, peaceful sleep.
Faye peeled her eyes opened to see the ceiling of her bedroom as she was stretched out in her bed.
"Hello," a very relieved Cathryn said from her seat on the side of the bed as she squeezed the hand reassuringly.
Her best friend opened her mouth to speak but was caught by the rasp of dryness.
The Princess reached for the nearby goblet and pitcher. "You were out for three days. What is the last thing you remember?"
Faye tried to clear her head as she sat up, noting mildly that she mild tingling all over and she was naked. She emptied the entire goblet of water as she felt liquid spread through her entire body. "I remember that magic lesson and lots of flames and pain and screaming – "
"That was me."
"— and just darkness."
"Well, that might have been Gerard trying to smother your flames with the blanket."
She gingerly touched her face and everything felt all right. And the long drink of water felt unusually refreshing.
"Simon cast a spell and healed you. He even fixed your hair. But your dress is ruined. - And he feels awful about this by the way."
Just then, Faye heard crackling noises outside her room. The faint smell of brimstone curled her nose as there was a knock at the door. She knew it was Simon.
"Who is it?" Faye called out since she didn't trust her senses.
"It's Simon! Can I come in?"
"Just a minute!" Faye said as she realized she was definitely not clothed for the company of a man.
A now very pleased Cathryn fetched the robe from the wardrobe to address the issue.
"Come in," Faye called out as she remained sitting in bed and appropriately covered.
Having never been in her private chambers before, Simon cautiously peered in before opening the door completely for entry. Seeing that she was all right, the look of pure relief was evident on his face. "I sensed that you had woken up. I hope you don't mind I'm here."
"No, not at all," Faye said, though she did subconsciously tighten her robe.
Cathryn didn't bother hiding her pleased grin as she said, "Why don't you two chat while I let everyone know she's all right? And I'll send up some food as well as water for a hot a bath."
Once she was gone, Faye said, "She told me I was out for three days."
Simon stood awkwardly at her bedside and nodded. "I am so, so very sorry that happened. The flame shouldn't have been that strong. And I should have taught you some basics of protection magic just in case."
"It was an accident. And thank you for healing me."
He paused a moment and then said, "Frankly, it wasn't me. You healed yourself."
"However, I completely understand if you never want to do another magic spell with me again," he added sheepishly.
"Did it at least accomplish our intention?"
"Yes, yes. Gerard actually transferred the flame. Definitely not as powerful as what happened with you. But it's a start. And His Majesty is impressed. So impressed that he announced their engagement."
"And I really must thank you that His Majesty is interested in keeping my services. I couldn't have done it without you." He looked like he wanted to say more but no other words came so he ended with a goofy grin.
Distracted by the tightening pain in her chest, Faye gave him a polite smile and said, "You're welcome. However, I think I still need to rest and recover."
"Oh, of course! Silly me! We'll chat later!"
Once she was alone, Faye couldn't help but look at her hands. The tingling was still there, as if it needed to be released.
On a whim, she focused her attention on her fingers and concentrated.
A ball of flame plumed from her fingertips, but quickly disappearing with just the smell of smoke in its wake.
Though the tingling was now gone, the ache in her heart remained.
And Faye highly doubted that there would be any magic that could cure it.
- End Part 1 -