Claiming an Ally Ch. 07bytitania123©
Arnold was dressing for the evening meal when a hurried knock rapped upon his chamber doors. His valet left his side to answer it. He returned quickly. "Sire, apparently the King Edrich, who left not an hour ago has entered the castle by force and rushed your daughter's room."
"What?" the king was baffled, taking a moment to process the information. "Surely it is a misunderstanding. Perhaps he..."
"He was apparently in quite a rush; pushing past the guards...he wouldn't wait to be announced..." The valet didn't attempt to hide his concern, hinting he thought the princess to be in some sort of peril.
The king, still confused, rushed out to find his daughter. Many servants were gathered along the long hall that led to her bedroom. They were whispering and peering towards her room. When they saw him approach, they stiffened against the walls and then bowed their heads before dispersing. Arnold walked through the open doors of his daughter's chamber and saw her clutched in the arms of the man who had refused to marry her.
"What goes on here?" Emera jerked from the comforting embrace at the sound of her father's voice. She reached to dry her face, relieved that most of the moisture had been absorbed into Edrich's cloak.
"Sire," Edrich cut in, standing, "upon contemplating your offer further, I found it wisest to stay for another night or two and discuss such arrangements with your daughter, as opposed to my previous thought of leaving altogether. I hope this meets with your approval." He gave a small bow.
The old man began beaming. "Why, I think that is a very wise choice, indeed. Emera, what say you? Will you welcome the king to dine with us this eve?"
"Not entirely certain what offer he is reconsidering, I am inclined to want more information on the subject, before committing to anything. However, yes, my initial response is that it would be most gratifying to host his Majesty as long as he desires to stay," she said softly, still overcome by his abrupt and unexpected return.
"Ha! Good then!" the king cheered, walking over to slap Edrich on the back. "Well, why don't you come with me and you may have your rooms back, I take it they were satisfactory before, though you were..." his voice trailed off as he led Edrich out of the room, allowing him only time enough to give a longing look back, crested by his heart-filling smile.
A rushing wave of joy surged in her, her body responding in quickened heart beat, flushed skin, and dizzied head. She twirled once, clasping her hands tightly together, squeezing them to her chest. Her face contained the widest smile of her life, her eyes filling from the overwhelming jubilation surging powerfully through her. She collapsed on her bed, laughing and crying for some minutes, thrashing about in tiring excitement. With a start, she realized the dinner hour was upon her and she was still in her riding clothes.
She rang for her maid. "Quickly, brush out this wild mane and do something with it," she said, straining to contain her giddiness.
"Yes, my lady," the young girl said. She set about brushing out the thick hair, waved by the plaits Emera had worn it in since early that morning. When her hair shone like the silk it was, she began a new braiding style that wove gently back away from her face, forming an intricate tangle of threaded hair. A few wisps fell to the side of her face and at the nape of her neck, turning in angelic curve.
"Always so lovely. Thank you. Now, bring me a proper dress for dinner while I wash up, yes?" She hurried off to the beautiful washroom. As the bell rang calling for diners, the thrill of her heart was making her feel light headed and she knew she was most certainly flushed. Emera descended the stairs, the perfect image of a refined princess, something she hadn't looked like in quite some time, she mused. As heir apparent to Adalynd, Emera should have always behaved as a queen, with grace and decorum, observing all the practices of a fine lady. However, Emera found at an early age, there was much lacking in a fine lady when considering qualities for a strong leader. She quickly took up other skills, besides needle work, like swordsmanship and archery. She was a voracious reader of her father's old scrolls detailing military exploits of her kingdom's history. She had much rather be riding through the neighboring villages, observing life and all the various issues that accompanied it rather than trimming roses in a private garden.
Because her concern for her people was evident, and she proved herself worthy of the skills and talents she pursued, no one ever considered criticizing the princess or her slightly less-than-common habits. Her natural beauty and grace went far in easing her way in the world as well. As such, she spent more time in riding clothes or hunting garb, than in fine silks and satins. The rare sight descending the staircase in floating silence stilled the room of all speech from the small circle of lords and ladies. Edrich, who had been speaking with Arnold, upon hearing the hush, turned to spy the cause. He stood mesmerized by the innocent enchantress.
Unaccustomed to being so blatantly stared at, Emera blushed as she approached her father and Edrich. She braved a glance at Edrich who quickly looked at the floor and then away.
"Emera, my dear, you look exquisite. If the king's presence was enough to get you into a suitable dress, I would have invited him years ago, if only to see you looking like the queen-in-waiting you are." Arnold reached out and took his beautiful daughter by the hands and kissed both her cheeks. Emera blushed at the insinuation she would do anything to please Edrich, even something so out of her character as to dress up.
"Thank you father, but I always dress appropriately when we dine with guests." She smiled, trying to lessen the strangeness of her actions. She glanced again at Edrich, but he was still looking off, seemingly distracted by something else. Before anything was further mentioned, the head butler, Andre, entered, declaring dinner ready.
Arnold, as was custom, proffered his arm to his daughter and led the way into the dining hall. Emera dared a look back. Her heart stopped when she saw Edrich finally look at her. The heat in his eyes inflamed her and she suddenly regretted she would be surrounded by others for the next hour, knowing she only wanted to be surrounded by him.
Increasing the severity of her discomfort even further, as he was the honored guest, he sat to the right of her. So close, she lamented. Though she ached to be near him, the current state of their closeness only served to distract her from appropriately hosting the small party.
The guests, the Lords and Ladies Macomb, Wayn, and Goun, were able to keep the entertainment high with constant questions of Emera's recent adventure. The princess felt more and more anxious with each passing minute. Her usually beautiful wit was in hiding under the pressure of being so near to Edrich, and yet unfulfilled, discussing her innocent intrigue in front of her accuser, and attempting to skirt around discussion of her torture sitting next to the very afflicter of her great anguish.
The retelling of her and Edrich's story forced the subject, but allowed no true discussion of the events. Although she attempted to detail only the basic outline of their time together, Edrich had to react quickly to answer diplomatically when Emera became flushed. While he wanted to alarm no one by speaking of her punishments, at both his hand and Jenner's, he didn't want to appear as a liar in front of her.
"You see, I failed. For years, I never quite trusted the man, and yet I never acted upon my instinct. I betrayed myself, my kingdom, and eventually Emera. I allowed myself to believe his lies instead of whole-heartedly seeking the truth. I am quite vain, and he used that against me." He looked to King Arnold across the table. "For that, I ask your Majesty for forgiveness." He bowed his head slightly.
Arnold, never one to linger on unpleasant things, stammered, "Well, the important thing is that you realized your mistake and my daughter has apparently forgiven you, so all is well."
The others at the table began speaking about the idea of spies and traitors, but none of their words found his ears when he felt thin, warm fingers slid up his thigh and grasp his hand. She was looking slightly askance down the table at Lord Goun, a fork in her hand. But her reassuring grasp in his own hand told him she sat alone in the room with him, no one else present. He squeezed it back, closing his eyes, feeling peace that only whole forgiveness can bring.
The anxiety of the discussion faded, but their growing hunger, despite their dinner, only increased throughout the evening. The fading hour was upon them, the others present having left for either their rooms or their own estates. Her father had fallen asleep with a book in his lap in front of the fire in the library.
They stood in the darkened hall, the chandeliers having been extinguished an hour before. The blue light of the moon cascading through the large windows competed with the soft, warm glow of the small candles in the sconces that ascended the walls. He stood only a foot away, his dark energy pulling at her like a drug. Slowly, she lifted her gaze to his, though his face was obscured by shadows of the night. Her breathing was increasing and she was finding it difficult to remember why they were standing thus.
In the lightness of her head, she knew she had words to say, but not what they were. In all suddenness, she only had desire and no words. She had need of strength and touch and lightning, but she had no words to voice it.
Edrich struggled to maintain his position. The overwhelming decree in his heart to haul her to him, take her to his room, to claim her forever rushed through him. Still he held back, even though barely, knowing, for countless reasons he could afford no such careless urgency. She was looking into him, her blue eyes darkened in the night, but also with desire. She quivered as she brazenly stared up at Edrich and licked her lips thoughtlessly. The shimmering full petal shivered delicately. Bewitched by the erotic sight, he took the small step to her and reached to cup her cheek. He would devour what she offered, knowing only her entirety would satisfy him all the while making him starve for more of her. But before he could lower his lips to hers, a voice interrupted their desire-ridden oblivion.
"There you are, my child. I was afraid you would have gone to bed before I could speak with you." Stifling a yawn, the bleary-eyed king approached them from the amber light of the library door. In his own oblivion, the old man failed to grasp the tone of the scene he had stumbled upon. In all innocence, he patted Edrich on the back. "Well, I am glad you are come back, Edrich. I hope we can soon make a new alliance of an altogether different meaning." He extended his hand for the man to shake. "Well, we won't keep you up any further. I'm sure you'll excuse us while I speak with my daughter."
In his own desperate need for Arnold's daughter, Edrich could only reply rather curtly to the unsolicited farewell. "Yes, thank you. Goodnight to the both of you." He bowed and stiffly ascended the wide staircase leading to his bedroom on the second floor.
"Well, my dear, what do you think of that? He returned for you! And I dare say you are quite lucky to be attractive to such a good king. Though, I am sure you are attractive to a great many people. You are quite like your mother in that regard. But a little more in the way of your mind. Always your best asset, I'm sure." Slowly he took his daughter's hand in his arm and led her up the two flights of stairs to their floor.
"Now, I am quite certain you understand that the king intends to offer you his hand in marriage. I've been very lax with you, applying no pressure to ever marry. Primarily because I have had yet to meet a man I thought that could be best for you and the kingdom. But also, I knew you would be a great leader regardless of who you married, and therefore did not see the urgency in it.
"As it is now, you have the best of all possible men, and I see how keen you are for him in return. Therefore, my daughter," he paused in front of her bedroom door and took both her shoulders in his hands, looking intently into her face, "If he does give you an offer, you know what your answer should be."
"Yes, father. I know," her voice breathed.
"Good, my child. Then, in that case, my mind at rest, I shall leave you to sleep. Rest well, my dear." He kissed her on the forehead and strolled back to his room, content that soon he would be the happy father of the queen that united two kingdoms. He chuckled to himself; he would love to have a grandchild or two, as well.
Emera's maid was waiting for her to return that late evening. She hadn't had a proper wash earlier before dinner and wanted to be the cleanest possible. The young girl drew the princess a warm bath and poured the milk in. Emera immersed in her large tub. She scrubbed herself quickly. Despite the urge to linger in the warm depths, a bubbling of anticipation hurried her along. Circling in her mind was the desperate hope she would not sleep alone. Dressed in the most gossamer gown she possessed, she lied in bed, her eyes keen on the handles of her doors.
The hush of the sleeping castle floated into her darkened chamber. The tension radiating from her clutched the silence in strained expectation. Her ears were tuned to every fall of sound. She waited, hoping. The seconds ticked away, the moments passed into the night, and yet she remained alone. At last, exhausted from her vigil and the emotional havoc of the day, Emera's eyes closed under their heaviness. She waited, listening in her blindness, arms open to her night visitor.
Edrich waited more violently tortured. He paced back and forth in his chamber, anxiously waiting, hoping beyond measure. He stood before his doors, looking at the handle, debating whether or not he should throw them open and march off to claim his love or patiently wait for her to come to him. He knew anything brash might rekindle the loathsome fear he already provoked upon her. He paced back to his bed and sat at the foot, clasping his hands together to rest his chin. He watched and waited and prayed.
Her expectation woke her as the dawn broke through her window. Though rested, she still carried the quiver of anticipation of what the day would bring. She looked at the pillow beside her, small disappointment creeping in at the lack of its use in the night. He hadn't come to her. Perhaps it was for the best. Though understandably eager to meld their flesh once more, they should discuss...well, everything.
She bounded out of bed and groomed herself. Her hair fell in its loose braid over her left shoulder, per the norm. Her cheeks were pinking with anticipation, and her gown, though finer than her typical dress, was still plain and practical. Its deep blue matched her eyes and seemed to warm her skin. Before long, breakfast was served and she bounded down the stairs and walked as calmly as possible into the breakfast room. The two kings were already seated; Arnold was leaning on his elbow closer to Edrich, his ear turned toward the younger, listening gleefully.
At the sight of her, the two stood and bowed. "Good morning, my dear," her father beamed.
"Good morning, father, Edrich," his name tumbling from her lips in pleasure. The blush of the night before had returned.
Will she always be that stirred to greet me in the morning? he wondered amused. Though he had waited for her until his body slumped and his eyes shut of their own accord, the shimmering sight of her refreshed him, renewing his desire and hope.
"Good morning," he replied, his deep, warm voice touching places covered by her clothing. "Your father and I were just discussing what a pleasant morning it is. A fine morning for a ride. After breakfast, perhaps you could show me the surrounding land." His eyes were glittering with hope.
The thrill of being alone with him at last excited her. She wanted to giggle at the tingling sensation. "Yes," she managed to say, though she still sounded breathless. "A morning ride would be quite nice. There are a few places that you may enjoy viewing."
"I do hope so," he smiled. Though Emera wanted to feel confident and free in Edrich's presence, she was overtaken by a giddy shyness, the likes of which she had never before felt. Edrich, anxious to uncover what transpired between them while he fell ill and Emera's feelings regarding the matter, contributed little to the conversation as well. That left Arnold to continue on his own, rattling away ideas of the recent and the newly budding alliances. Fetes, and contests, and merchant exchanges drifted around the table, though only one person was interested at the moment in discussing those aspects of collusion.
Edrich ate quickly, and Emera barely ate at all. Quickly, the two were finished with the meal. "Arnold," Edrich broke in the king's ramblings, "if you would allow, I would enjoy letting Emera lead me around for a bit."
"Oh, yes! Of course, of course. Well, off with the two of you then. A good ride, to the two of you. Enjoy your day, dear," he said as Emera leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you, father, you as well." She walked out to the stables, Edrich by her side. Quickly, their horses were saddled and mounted, and she led him to the meadow to the east. A thick forest lie just beyond sight of the castle, and Emera felt it was the safest route for privacy. They raced along, the thrill of reaching an unknown destination spurring them on. At last, the forest they reached split with a rushing white river. The bank was steep. Ecstatic to share one of her favorite spots with Edrich she smiled bashfully and slid off her horse.
The two walked slowly along the edge, their horses lingered behind to graze on the soft grass. Neither knowing where to begin, they remained silent, hoping the other would speak first. At last, the uncomfortable edge in the silence prodded Emera in to speaking.
"You came back."
"Why? I thought that was obvious. Your father has done an impressive enough job in announcing my intentions."
She smiled. "Yes. But that is not exactly what I meant. If you came back, with such intentions, why did you leave in the first place, and with no goodbye? The two actions do not seem to be those of the same man." She rubbed the back of her neck nervously, and then paused, realizing he had stopped walking. Turning to him, she waited anxiously for his answer.
"They are the choices of the same man, but the same man with different knowledge."
"I do not understand."
Edrich was reluctant to begin with the question or accusation that she had willingly given herself to him during his delirium and thus sought a different tact. "Perhaps I can explain if I am able to ask you a question, first."
Emera shrugged her shoulders and sat on an enormous log. "Very well. What do you wish to know?"
"Have your feelings for me changed? You no longer hate me, am I correct?" he ventured.
She nodded slowly and softly smiled. "That is correct. I-I might have held a justified animosity towards you, but...considering all things, I am no longer bound by such antagonistic feelings." Her admittance was bravely given, she thought, as the weaker in all things of their entire engagement she further made herself vulnerable. She looked at him with eyes of fear of his rejection, of need for his care.
Edrich approached her, kneeling down to look up into her eyes. "I deserve none of your goodness," he confessed. "I am humbled by your forgiveness." He sighed, uncertain where to lead from there. He turned so that he sat on the ground and leaned against the log, an arm propped over his bent knee. Her leg at his side provided a comforting perch for his head. "Emera, while I was sick...you stayed with me, yes?"