A/N : So, omg, just got my first review! I was starting to feel really awkward, not really getting any love, and I have only had a few followers and one favorite. But, getting that first review? It makes me want to post more!
Chapter Ten : If Only It Were That Simple
Eleanor's eyes flicked open and she felt a smile immediately go across her face. The entire night, she had dreamed of him. Thoughts of his hands holding hers, and when he wrapped his arms around her to hold her against him, and most of all when he had brushed his lips across her forehead still flickered through her mind. The entire night had been spent with those thoughts.
A happy sigh escaped her lips, and her cheeks burned from the blush of the thought of him kissing her elsewhere. She couldn't wait to see him again. She was going to ask him to go for a ride with her, and then have a picnic out in her field. From there, she would spend the entire day just staring at the clouds, and before the night was over, she would ask him to kiss her again, this time on the lips. She had dreamed of the time he kissed her since she was a child, and now, it would come true.
Sitting up on her bed, she noticed a vase full of daisys sitting on her dressing table. There was a note tucked into the flowers, and she burst across the room to read it. Had her Brandon really been thinking of her so much that he sent her flowers? The idea was too wonderful for her to have imagined it without seeing those flowers sitting there. She opened the note, and immediately her world came crashing down.
The Suitors. She had forgotten all about them. How could, for even one moment, she forget everything that was going on? She had to marry one of the three men running around her castle, and none of those three were Brandon. Almost immediately, her eyes filled up with tears. It didn't matter that he was her childhood crush, or even that she was in love with him. He didn't have what the others would bring to her marriage, and he couldn't become her King.
Break your fast with me in the room where we first met.
She read the note through a few times before throwing it to the ground and stomping on it. She didn't want to spend the day with him. While he was sweet, he had absolutely no confidence. She needed a confident man to be her King. Someone like Brandon…
No. She would not let a man rule her emotions. She couldn't cry over Brandon. She had shared a few sweet memories with him, and that was it. She had to move forward from there. No horseback rides with him. No holding hands or walking in the garden. No relying on him to comfort her when she felt weak. Worst of all, there would be no dancing with him at her birthday ball.
Her birthday! She had completely forgotten! She was born three-and-twenty years ago this very day. It was hard to believe that she was already that old. The years seemed to have just flown by. Somewhere the lessons to read and write had become lessons on leadership, and the little frocks she had worn as a girl became elegant gowns. It was hard to imagine herself as the same age her mother had been when she gave birth to her. It made her wonder how old she would be when she gave birth to a child. Of course, she had to have a husband first. And that husband couldn't be Brandon.
A knock came at the door, and she went to answer it. Where was Gayle? The woman would normally have woken up by now. Was the woman letting her sleep late since it was her birthday? But then, who had delivered the flowers?
"Yes?" she asked, noticing it was not one of her servants, but he still looked familiar. The guards had, however, let him pass, so he must be someone's servant.
"A message from His Royal Grace, Grand Duke Alexander, princess." Ah, that was where she had recognized him. She had seen him with Alexander the previous day at lunch.
She took the note from him and gave him a small smile. She opened it up and saw that a reply was necessary. "Thank you. You may tell the Grand Duke that I accept and shall meet him at the stables at half till eleven."
The servant nodded and bowed before her, and she shut her door, placing the note on her dresser beside the flowers. She was almost surprised that Phillip had not sent her a message yet, but at the same time, she suspected he was still out cold. The man deserved what had happened to him, and if he even dared to take revenge against William, she would let him taste the feel of her fist. She had meant what she said the night before. If anyone was going to skin that man alive, it would be her.
Walking across the room to the door down to Gayle's chambers, she was startled when the door opened once her hand reached the handle. A flock of servants immediately curtseyed to her, and she looked over them to see Gayle, pushing her way through. "Good morning, my princess. Forgive me, but you had a late night, so I allowed you to sleep a little later. Do you intend on going to meet with Duke William?"
Eleanor nodded and turned away from the servants towards her large wardrobe. Gayle came to her side and the two women stared at the dresses. The only noise in the room came from the serving girls dashing about to make her bed and pull out fresh linens. Eleanor pulled off her robe and night dress and handed them to the girl waiting by her side, and shook her head at the dress that Gayle pulled out. After a few more shakes, Eleanor finally nodded. The dress was a rosey pink with cream slashes throughout.
The dress was pulled on and she waited patiently for all the ribbons and cords to be tugged until she fit snugly in the dress. The sleeves were loose at her shoulders and tight further down her arms. Gayle already had a hairbrush in hand and started brushing out her hair while she glanced through her dresses, looking for something to wear with Alexander later.
"Gayle, will you please find my blue riding dress? The one with the divided skirts and pink embroidery; I can't seem to find it in here. I am to spend lunch with Grand Duke Alexander, and we are going riding." Gayle muttered from behind her, with a mouth full of pins, and Eleanor let the woman pin back a few pieces of hair from her face. It was rather basic, but her hair seemed to shine as it laid on down her back.
"Just make certain you are back from these events by five. I fully intend on having you in the bath by then."
Eleanor laughed softly and nodded. "Of course, Gayle, but I do think I know how to bathe myself."
The old woman rolled her eyes and clipped the pearl necklace around Eleanor's neck. A pearl stud went into each ear, and Eleanor chose out a small hairpiece with pearls in it. It clipped where the pins were already in her hair, and she did a double check in her mirror to make certain she looked fine.
"I will be back by eleven. I will need to shift dresses and put my hair up in that time. That gives you three hours to find my dress, Gayle!"
The woman rolled her eyes again and shooed the princess out. As she got to the door, Gayle spoke up again. "Happy Birthday, Eleanor."
Eleanor stopped in her steps and turned back to the old woman. It was rare that the woman called her by her given name, even though she had full permission to do so at any time. She gave her a smile in response, and then pulled the servant into a hug. The woman seemed to freeze in place for a moment before relaxing into the hug. "Thank you, Gayle. I shall be back in a few hours."
• • •
"My Lord, you have received a message from Grand Duke Alexander."
Brandon finished another two swings of his sword before stepping back from his opponent. The boy was a squire, but if he continued his training, he would soon take his test to become a Knight. Perhaps now that he was a Lord, he should take a Squire of his own. Many Knights did so, but Brandon had never felt compelled before. Now, however, he had his own keep and many responsibilities. A squire would be great help to him.
"My Lord? Would you like the message?"
Brandon groaned and took the towel that a page brought to him. Wiping the sweat from his face, he turned to the messenger and grabbed the message from his hand. Opening it up quickly, he scanned the words and cursed under his breath. Phillip was already awake and demanding to see Alexander? No wonder the Grand Duke had sent for him.
"Thank you. Tell the Grand Duke that I am on my way after I change."
The messenger nodded and bowed, turning to leave quickly. Brandon gave the towel he had just used back to the boy and turned his attention back to the squire. "You did well, Finn. Just remember, your strength, while a great weapon, can also be your downfall. Try and work on your speed for now."
The bulky squire nodded and ran off, seeming to sense the dismissal. Brandon went back to the bench he had tossed his scabbard and shirt. Sheathing his sword, he grabbed his shirt and pulled it on. Wrapped up inside the shirt had been one of the rings that Eleanor had given him the day before. It was the ring that marked him as the Lord of Equitan. The Council ring had been left in his room. That one, while an honor, was not the thing that brought him the greatest pride.
He was now a landed lord in Venaramine. No knight would ever expect that. Brandon stared at that ring for a moment before he slid it into place on his right hand. Eleanor had placed it on that finger. Now, if only he could slide a ring onto her finger.
Grabbing up his sword from the bench, he carried it with his thumb over the crossguard and the rest of his hand wrapping around the locket. He had no time to strap the blade to his back, especially when he would be needing to shift to having the blade at his side.
The journey to his room was longer than it used to be. The bed he had slept in the night before was far softer than he could have ever imagined, and being awoken by a servant with a tray of food had come as a shock. So, this was the life that the nobility lived? He could easily get used to it.
Coming into his room, he saw that the bed he had roughly made was completely redone and looked as though no one had ever touched it. He had not had anyone make his bed in a long time. Another thing he could easily get used to. A clean set of clothes were already laying out and his new manservant stepped up to help him get changed. In no time, Brandon went from looking like a knight training to a young lord.
He nodded goodbye to his servant then stepped into the hallway and made his way to the guest chambers. A few people bowed to him and Brandon had to remind himself to not look to see who needed the bowing. It was hard to believe that he was a Lord. Somehow, it just didn't seem right that they were bowing before him. They had always been respectful, as he had been a knight and then Captain of the King's Guard. Now, however, there was a new air about the way they looked at him. Almost as if he had done the impossible. At times, it felt as though he had.
Brandon found himself outside of Alexander's door and knocked once. The door almost immediately opened and Alexander stood there, shirt untucked and his face unshaven. Brandon went to bow, as this man was a Grand Duke, but Alexander instead grabbed him by his arm and pulled him inside. The door shut quickly and Brandon glanced at Alexander, raising an eyebrow.
"None of the formalities, man. In front of the court, we shall do as is required, but I won't take any of that from you in private. You and I are brothers of the sword. That continues in this castle."
Brandon chucked and nodded before glancing over at the papers covering Alexander's table. They looked to be maps and numbers. "It seems impossible to do, but I am planning a defence for my kingdom from another one. I still cannot believe my idiot brother is now king. We would all be doomed if he hadn't agreed to let me lead the army. As if I don't have enough worries."
Alexander then groaned and fell into his chair. "I need your help, Brandon. Phillip is demanding to see me. Goddess knows what he could possible want, but I don't trust that man in the slightest. I don't even want him walking around the castle unwatched, and I have to leave today to spend my time with Eleanor."
Brandon stiffened at those words. He liked the man, as he seemed to have a clear head and knew his military training. Alexander had been truthful in saying they were brothers in arms, and yet, he still couldn't forgive the man the fact he had a chance with Eleanor. At least the man seemed to respect her somewhat.
Alexander seemed to have taken notice of Brandon's reaction and eyed him warily. "Brandon, is there a reason as to why you defend Eleanor so passionately? Other than the fact that she is your Princess and soon to be Queen?"
Brandon turned away from the man, not able to look him in the face. Was he that obvious? If Alexander had figured it out, then had others? The Queen had caught them talking the day before in the hallway, and Gayle had caught them at the door to Eleanor's room. He had to be more careful than that. No one could know how he felt. It would compromise everything.
"You are in love with her, aren't you?"
Brandon turned back from where he had been standing and took two quick steps to grasp Alexander by the shirt. The man didn't even look scared. "Never say those words again. It would be treason for me to ever feel that way for the Princess."
Alexander returned the hard stare, and returned to his seat once Brandon released him. Brandon stepped back and fell into the chair opposite, his face already buried into his hands. He had threatened a Grand Duke. He really was losing his control. At this rate, he would kill someone before the day was out.
"Your secret is safe with me. I want an alliance with this kingdom, and that is as far as my interest with Eleanor goes. She is a beautiful girl, but I am not interested. I am only here because it is my duty. Given that she has promised an alliance without marriage, I am no competition to you."
Brandon groaned at those words. He would prefer that she marry him above the other three. "She can't know. I fear she already suspects, and I don't want her to send me away. I can't protect her if I am not here. I would rather suffer in silence than have her unprotected."
Brandon looked up to see a glass being held towards him. It was full of a dark brown liquid, and he swallowed it in one gulp. The brandy burned on the way down, but he wished for more already. "That is why I am taking her out of the castle for a bit. So she can get away from this stress. I overheard that she enjoys horseback riding, and I figure with all the commotion going on, she should get a break to go riding. She will be safe with me, Brandon. That, you can be sure of."
Brandon nodded and set the glass down on the table. "Thank you. You and I seem to be on the same page when it comes to Eleanor, Phillip, and this kingdom. It will be a pleasure to fight by your side."
Both men rose and grasped forearms, solidifying their newfound friendship. Alexander then poured more brandy into both their glasses and they raised them towards each other before drinking again. Setting his glass down, Brandon remembered the reason he had come in the first place.
"We should probably go deal with Phillip now."
"Ach, I say we let the man brood for a little while longer and just continue drinking."
Brandon gave Alexander a hard look, making the man put down the bottle. It was too early to start drinking that seriously, and they both had too much to do that day to truly relax.
"Alright, fine. Let's go deal with that idiot."
• • •
Eleanor smiled at the two guards that opened the door to her receiving room and was greeted with a wonderful smell. Stepping inside, she saw William jump up to his feet and give her a small bow. A table sat near the bookshelves, and on it were dishes filled with breakfast foods. The doors closed behind her and she gave the Duke a soft smile.
"Good morning, your grace," she said gently, then noticed his hand. It was all wrapped up, and she remembered that he had been the one to punch Phillip. "Is your hand feeling better this morning?"
William glanced at his hand then gave her a shy smile. The book he had been holding was set down on the sofa he had just been sitting on and she recognized it as one of hers. "My hand hurts, but I shall live. It was worth it to defend your honor."
The room was silent for a moment, before William jumped forward from the sofas and walked towards her. She stood there, waiting to see what he did, almost scared of what was coming. William then offered her his arm, and she took his, giggling softly as he escorted her the few steps to her chair. He pulled it out for her and she sat down, waiting for him to join her across the table.
"I hope you do not mind, Princess. I spoke to some of your servants and requested that they prepare a breakfast for you here. Did you like the flowers?" Eleanor remembered then the flowers he had sent to her.
"Oh yes, thank you, your grace. They were absolutely beautiful." She didn't have it in her to tell him that she preferred roses. She did like the daisies, but they were too soft for her. She loved the roses, so dark and rich, with their powerful fragrance and dangerous thorns.
She had always wanted to be so like a rose. She wanted to be enchantingly beautiful and have people drawn to her, but still be deadly when necessary to ward off unwelcome predators. The entire idea of it felt like poetry in life, but she knew that she could never be like a rose. No, most people saw her more like a daisy: she was something pretty to look at and had her uses.
Not wanting to dwell on that sad fact, she gave the Duke another smile, and they began to eat their breakfast in silence. They kept sharing soft smiles between the two of them, and once only her cup of tea was left to drink, Eleanor rose from her chair to sit at the sofa. William immediately jumped up and followed.
Sitting across from where William had been sitting before, she relaxed into the sofa and gave the Duke another soft smile. "Read to me a poem, Duke William?"
William gave her another shy smile and sat back, reciting a poem. His eyes held hers, and she forgot to even listen to the words as he spoke. He seemed to become alive in that moment, as he read. It was strange, to hear him so passionate about anything. It was like he became a new man when he spoke poetry.
She realized that he had finished speaking and gave him a smile. She hadn't recognized the words. "I haven't heard that one before, Your Grace. Who wrote it?"
"I did," the Duke said softly, then looked away and down into the book that he had been reading earlier.
"You did?" Eleanor was somewhat shocked. She knew that the man liked poetry, but to have written some? And something so beautiful and descriptive? She hadn't listened to all of it, but what she had paid attention to was beautiful.
"I know it is not proper, for a Duke to write poetry, but sometimes, I can find no other way to express myself."
Eleanor nodded, and then rose from her seat and went to the piano. Her fingers slid onto the keys, as though they belonged there, and she started to play. She felt a presence behind her, and once her fingers completed their dance, she looked back to see William standing there.
"Wow," he whispered. "That was beautiful. Who wrote that?"
Eleanor gave him a knowing smile and repeated the words he had spoken before. "I did."
William looked at her in shock. "You wrote that? Eleanor, that was amazing! Do people know that you write music?"
At that, Eleanor had to burst into laughter. William had returned to his confident self again that was seen when he recited poetry. So, poetry and music brought him out of his shell? She could easily spend the next two hours with him concentrating on just those two.
"A few people know, but I tend to only share my pieces with those I am close to. Come, read me another poem, and then I shall play for you. We shall share little bits of our souls with each other."
William laughed and sat on the sofa nearest her and began to recite more poetry. She paid more attention this time, and listened in earnest. They continued from there, her playing a little, then he reciting poetry.
• • •
"Come on, Phillip. We know you are in there. There are guards at your door with orders to not let you out, and I know they have not disobeyed. Let us in. You are the one that summoned me. Let's talk, if that was what you wanted."
Alexander was still banging on the door and Brandon stood beside him, waiting for Phillip to finally open his door. They had been at this for a few minutes, and they could hear noise inside the room.
"Dammit, Phillip, let us in or I shall break down this door."
Phillip seemed to be making more noise in the room, but the door still didn't open. Brandon finally spoke up from where he had been standing. "You really want to break it down? I don't think he will like us any more if we do that."
Alexander glared at him for a moment, before resuming his banging. "I'm serious, Phillip. Let us in, or else I shall be forced to break it down. Brandon is here with me, and between the two of us, we can make fast work of this door. With all the preparations for the ball, who knows when someone will have time to repair it."
That seemed to finally work, and they heard someone fiddling with the lock. Phillip opened the door, wearing only his breeches. "If you were going to respond to the damned message, then you should have been here two hours ago. I was attempting to sleep when you two idiots began knocking on my door. Now, what in the hell happened last night? Your guards won't let any of my men in."
Alexander and Brandon shared a look before Brandon stepped back outside. He had to laugh to himself, wondering if it was the guards that had kept his men away, or if the men themselves had avoided the lords. After a few questions, he realized that it had been a little of both. Regardless, Brandon would gladly take credit for creating that issue for Phillip.
"-and your face hit the table so hard, it knocked you out to the floor. Come, man, have you not seen the mark on your face? We had to carry you back here and have a doctor look at you."
It took all of Brandon's training to keep a straight face and he saw that Alexander was struggling to do the same thing. Phillip was staring at himself in the mirror at the bruised eye he had, and Brandon couldn't help but wonder when the man would run into William. Would William show the same fierceness he had the night before, or would he run off scared? And more importantly, would Phillip put William's broken hand and his bruised eye together to figure out they were lying?
"I guess I do remember drinking a little heavily last night. But, what about my men? Why are they not in here?"
Brandon stepped forward at that. "Please, forgive me, your Grace. I wanted to make certain that no one woke you up. After such a heavy hit, I wanted to be certain you were well rested and feeling better. I am guessing my instructions were somewhat misunderstood. I take full responsibility for that."
Phillip eyed him for a moment before seeming to accept the words. A bottle appeared from somewhere in the man's dresser and he was already drinking straight from the bottle. Alexander had glanced back and Brandon and they shared a look, knowing that Brandon would have his hands full keeping an eye on the Duke if he was already drinking that much before he had even gotten dressed.
"Is there anything else you needed, Duke Phillip?"
Alexander seemed as ready as Brandon to leave the room, and Phillip simply waved them away. They got to the door before Phillip spoke again. "Send my men in on your way out."
Brandon nodded and waved his hand back before stepping out into the hallway. Alexander shut the door behind him, and they headed towards Phillip's serving men, who were crowded around near the guards. Brandon walked up to the one that seemed to be the leader and grabbed him roughly by his shirt. Alexander had his arms crossed over his chest, and was glaring at the other men, as if daring them to make a move.
"Duke Phillip drank too much last night, got dizzy, hit his head on the table, then passed out from the hit onto the floor. We carried him here to let him rest in peace. Right?"
The man nodded his head quickly, and the others joined in in the nodding. Brandon released the man's shirt and nodded. "Good. Now, go get him cleaned up. He has to see the Princess today, so he needs to look his best."
The men rushed by to do as they were told, and Brandon was sure by the time they turned a corner walking that his sides were aching from holding in the laughter that was ready to pour out of them.
"I think you made one of them piss his pants," Alexander gasped between laughs.
Brandon responded with more laughter, and was almost bent over double while he clutched his sides. They continued laughing as they made their way back towards Alexander's room.
One of Alexander's servants greeted them at his door, bowing low. "My Lord, it is time for you to get ready to see the Princess."
The laughter stopped then. Brandon had a sober look on his face while Alexander muttered curses under his breath. They stared at each other for a moment before Brandon gave him a nod of his head. "I will keep her safe."
Brandon nodded again then turned to leave. Pausing for a moment, he turned back to his friend. "I know. If you were any other man… I know."
• • •
Eleanor was gliding her fingers across the piano again, William sitting beside her on the bench, when she heard a knock and the door open. Looking up, she saw one of her serving women there.
"My lady, it is now eleven."
Eleanor was surprised that it was so late already. She had truly been enjoying herself with William. The man was enjoyable to talk to, and they had shared their passion for poetry and music. She was shocked to have such passionate speech come from a man that she thought to be scared of his own shadow.
"Thank you, Eliza. I shall be up in a minute. Go ahead without me." The girl curtseyed then left the room, shutting the door behind her.
"Thank you, Duke William. This has been a very enjoyable morning, and all because of you."
William rose from his place on the bench and bowed low. "It has been my pleasure, Princess. I hope we can do this again sometime."
Eleanor gave him a smile, knowing that the only way this would happen again would be if she chose him as her husband. While she did enjoy their time spent together, she had spent none of it learning if he would make a good King, and what his plans were when it came to the impending war and fixing the economy. Somehow, she had gotten too wrapped up in enjoying herself to stay on the task at hand.
"Perhaps, your grace. Perhaps."
William took a step closer to her, and she gasped in air, not knowing what to do. His body was almost touching hers with how close they now stood, and his face was less than a hand width away. She watched as he leaned forward, and she couldn't help but to suck her lips in, pressed together, fearing that they were his target.
Instead, she felt a soft kiss come to her cheek. When the Duke pulled away, she left out the breath she had been holding in. William stepped back and bowed low again. Still bent, he spoke. "I know that I am not what you would consider a man to become a great King, but I would be a good husband, Eleanor. I would never interfere with your work."
William stayed bent, and she stepped forward to touch his chin and shift his vision upwards. He rose slowly from the waist until he was standing up straight and staring back at her. "I know, William."
Her words were soft, and she left her fingers where they were, touching his cheek. "If that was all that I needed in order to choose a husband, then my decision would be easy. Unfortunately, there is more things at work. Things that I have no control over, and that I must simply attempt to manage. Regardless of my decision, you will make a wonderful husband."
William nodded and raised his hand to touch hers where it rested on his cheek. He pulled the hand into his and cradled it between his fingers and kissed the top ever so gently. Releasing it, he took another step back, allowing her to now pass towards the door. She gave him one last smile, then headed to the door, ready to spend her lunch with another man that could possibly become her King.