Princess Charming Ch. 02byladyofdark1981©
Prince Castor stood by his father with the guests slowly accumulating around them in the grand ball room. Castor's mind was spinning, his moment with Sir Axel had awoken something inside him that he knew nothing about. He chanced a look to the person who clouded his senses and befogged his mind, Axel whose lips were still swollen from their stolen moment. King Talus saw where his heir's eyes were focused, "Why do you look at the Knight so much my son?" He asked suspiciously.
Axel heard the question and shot a worried look at the Prince and then to the King. Castor froze, did his father know? "Well," Castor eventually answered, "I would like to give Sir Axel a title in our Kingdom."
The King chuckled, "He has a Kingdom," the Prince's suggestion sounded like a joke so the King treated it as such.
"He no longer is under the employment of the Count Gott due to a disagreement," Castor explained, "I was thinking an Earl or Baron."
"This is a surprise," the King mused, "But I am guessing that you want the Knight to be an eligible choice for your sister."
Castor conjured the best offended look he could muster, "I believe him to be a great soldier, someone Balany could benefit from if the tensions between us and our enemies ever erupts into all out war." Castor was impressed at his own quick thinking and hoped he sounded sincere enough to convince his father.
"Oraland will not be pleased if we poached their finest," The King sounded unimpressed, "And what of the man's family? Would they enter out Kingdom also?"
Castor had not thought of that, but figured it would be up to them, "Maybe we should ask Sir Axel."
The King laughed again, "My boy you have achieved something I have wanted for years," he slapped his son on the shoulder, "I have been trying to think of a way to get the world's best Knight on our side for some time, but I think the title of Duke would suit a general of Balany."
"You're giving him the Duchy of Anata?" Anata was the only available Duchy in the Kingdom and it was the ideal title for Axel, the one Castor wanted for him.
The King's mood changed as he saw his daughter was late again for another official greeting, "Please go see what is taking her so long."
Castor nodded and left in search of his sister. He did not look for long as he nearly ran her down, "Castor!" Athanasia cried, "Where did you come from?"
"I was sent to retrieve you," he responded as he bowed his greeting to Jelena, who was standing behind the Princess. Jelena's face flushed pink at the attention the Prince gave her. "You are late and father was getting," Castor paused contemplating the right words to use and still sound polite, "Worried."
Athanasia laughed, "Worried that I won't show up or worried that his choice of suitor would change his mind."
"You can ask him when we enter the ball room," Castor suggested and offered his arm to both women which they accepted without hesitation.
"Is the King very angry?" Jelena timidly asked, "For it was my fault that the Princess is late."
Castor shook his head, "Merely annoyed that his introductions are now taking up valuable meal time." Jelena laughed at the light-hearted comment.
"Admit it Castor," Athanasia smiled, "I am a third wheel here at this moment." She withdrew her arm from her brother's, "Jelena clearly would like to walk with you alone ... much to my surprise." The Princess gave a slight bow and confidently walked in the direction of the ball room leaving Castor and Jelena to talk. In truth the thought of her brother taking Jelena away from her hurt more than she was willing to admit but it was clear that Jelena was not so opposed to the idea of becoming his wife as she originally implied. Maybe she would do the same, find Sir Axel and stick with him until the proposal is uttered from his lips. She knew that her time with Jelena would end one day, their love was forbidden and she was always destined to marry for political reasons rather than love. If Sir Axel was as charming as he was good looking then life with him should be tolerable at the very least. She was yet to meet any other suitors but some of them must be coming back for another attempt at her affections.
Behind the Princess Castor and Jelena were held in an awkward silence, Castor had the moment he shared with Axel running through his mind but at the same time his hopes and desires for the young woman next to him made their presence known also. He was so very much in love with Jelena, her exotic golden skin and soft dark hair had filled his amorous dreams nightly yet his voice could not muster enough power behind it to speak to her. Eventually Jelena spoke, "Sire, you look at me as though I am a dish on the menu." The small grin that played on her lips caused his stomach to flutter.
"I am awe struck at your beauty dear Lady," he responded, "I do hope that one day I can show you what it is to feast on a woman such as yourself."
Castor had made an assumption, Jelena had blushed again but the Prince had thought it because of the suggestive nature of his comment and to some part it was true but she would never tell him that his own sister had taught her the meaning of such a phrase years ago. "I am a virtuous girl with only pure thoughts," she explained coyly, "If you continue to speak in such a manner I will glow scarlet for the rest of the evening."
"The colour in your cheeks enhances your loveliness," Castor spoke with an honesty that caused the girl to flush again, "I cannot help wanting you to look so gorgeous. Your natural elegance is the envy of all courtiers."
Athanasia entered the ball room with poise and grace. Her other brothers Devin and Marshall wasted no time chatting to a few of the courtiers, no doubt wanting to introduce them to the carnal pleasures the body can offer, they paid little attention to anything else. The potential suitors had all stood waiting for her to arrive and her father looked mortified that she entered alone. With a few quick steps he was at her side demanding an explanation. "I gave my lady-in-waiting a chance to get to know Castor," She explained calmly, "I heard that he was enchanted by her and I am not one to stand in the way of love." This comment appeared to anger her father which only confused her, she had been informed that her father had approved of the match but his reaction spoke otherwise. "Have I said something wrong?"
"No," King Talus waved the question off, "We cannot start until your brother has arrived as he is my heir." He gripped his robes tightly in restrained frustration, this was not unnoticed by the Princess.
"I am sure they will be here shortly," she offered, "They were not too far behind me." As though summoned the Prince and Jelena entered arm-in-arm, "See, here they are now!"
Talus grumbled something unintelligible in response.
"Father, please forgive my tardiness," Castor apologised and glanced down at his companion, "But in the presence of a beautiful Lady time does not matter."
Talus ignored Jelena entirely, "You have a responsibility to your sister and this Kingdom."
Athanasia stepped in, "I think what father is saying is that there is plenty of time later for that sort of thing," she winked at the two of them.
"Do not assume that you can read me my daughter," Talus growled at Athanasia.
The Princess chose not to argue with her father at that time, the room filled with dignitaries from the many Kingdoms would perceive this as a weakness and she did not want them to think such a thing. "My apologies father, I did not mean to insult you."
With a harrumph the King began his introductions, Castor moved to where he was needed leaving Jelena at his sister's side.
"I see a few familiar faces," Jelena commented.
"And a few new ones," Athanasia added, "And not all friendly in appearance."
As each man stepped up to offer greetings to Athanasia, the Princess would curtsy in a formal fashion and make a rude remark quietly to Jelena who would smile to hold the mirth inside. Once the formalities had passed the two maidens waited for their first dance partners to approach.
Castor quickly excused himself from his conversation to approach Jelena. She stood next to his sister swaying to the jovial tune played by the minstrels and giggling at something he could not hear. She was truly a gift from the heavens, her innocents and purity broadcast to all those around her.
He stood before her, deterring other would be dance partners from her side, "I am here to collect on a debt Lady Jelena," he grinned.
Athanasia cocked her eyebrow in askance of what her brother meant but received not reply as Jelena took the Prince's offered hand and joined him among the many dancers moving around the floor in time to the rhythm.
"You may have just angered my sister," Castor teased, "She does not like to be kept out of a secret."
"She holds so many of her own," Jelena replied demurely, "I cannot see why being left out of another's business would concern her."
The Prince laughed at her wit, "I should fill you in on our plans to rescue my sister from a fate worst than death."
"I am surprised you remembered the situation," the lady-in-waiting smirked, "Your eyes are wandering to places not suitable in public."
Castor chuckled and continued, "I have discovered who my father wished Athanasia to wed." He lowered his voice so only Jelena could hear, "King Baldassare of Galnoa is the man he made the deal with and that is very concerning."
"Why is that?" Jelena whispered back.
"I would not expect you to know the man's reputation as an evil sorcerer who imprisoned the rightful King and his entire family in a painting where they are trapped for all eternity," Castor quickly explained as they danced closer to the King in question.
Jelena held her tongue until they were away from him again, "How terrible!"
"No body has the nerve to oppose Baldassare so my counterparts in the north will remain imprisoned."
Jelena chanced a glance at the intimidating man whose eyes were focused on Athanasia, "I can feel his evil from here."
"Enough gloom my dear," Castor distracted her, "The other thing I must tell you is that Sir Axel will soon no longer be a part of Oraland as the King plans to offer him the Duchy of Anata."
"Will that make him suitable to marry Athanasia?"
"Indeed it will," Castor's voice held the confidence he felt at the way their little plan was unfolding, "I had suggested that he become an Earl but father admires him greatly and said that a great general should hold a position in court more suiting to his reputation so he will be a Duke."
"That is fantastic," Jelena dropped her head to Castor's shoulder, "Now all we need is for Athanasia to accept any proposal given by him. You know how obstinate she can be."
Axel watched the Princess standing alone on the side of the dance floor, she blankly stared over the mass of swirling people with a loneliness in her eyes. She waited silently for the suitors to approach but none seemed too eager.
The goodly Knight shuffled his feet, he wanted to approach however she shear presence was enough to intimidate any man. She held herself with honour and that dissuaded many potential suitors deciding to choose other dance partners and avoiding the Princess.
Athanasia's pained sigh was enough for Axel to move, he wove between those on the dance floor with the sole intention of taking the Princess in his arms and making her night. His feet carried him swiftly but he was not quick enough as Prince Ruben of Oraland beat him to Princess.
He hastily changed his direction and approached another woman waiting for a dance partner. The woman clearly was astonished at her dance partner but Axel paid no attention to her, instead he watched Ruben and Athanasia.
"Are you trying to snatch my fortune or an ally against your enemies?" Athanasia jested after a few moments of silence with the handsome Prince Ruben.
"I like the idea of seeing you in the Oraland Crown jewels when you are crowned Queen," he answered cheekily, "And preferably only in the jewels."
Athanasia feigned shock, "Sire, such talk is not becoming of a gentlemen."
Ruben pulled her in closer to his body, "I know, such talk should be kept to the bedroom," he leaned in close enough to whisper in her ear, "And I do plan to keep you in the bedroom until we have conceived an heir."
The Princess choked, "I hope the time is as enjoyable for me as it would be for you," she quickly recovered.
"I assure you Princess," Ruben allowed his hand to drop from her hip to the where her royal bottom would be under the many petticoats, "I will make you glad that you are a woman for you would be jealous of my skill if you were a man."
Athanasia let all that Ruben had boasted about to calm before she returned volley, "So the rumour of your desire to overthrow your father is a just that?" She raised an eyebrow in challenge, "A rumour?" Ruben's brilliant green eyes locked with hers, Athanasia noted a faint tinge of fear in them. When he did not answer she continued, "I jest You're Grace," she smiled sweetly, "Surely you do not take offence at childish rumours?"
Ruben laughed nervously, "No, do not be silly, it does not become you."
Athanasia grinned knowing she had confirmed the rumour she had heard upon his arrival the previous day. The song ended and the two parted with a slight bow.
Axel nearly laughed aloud at the expression on Prince Ruben's face, clearly the Princess had said something to ruffle his feathers and now he retreated to the sidelines to lick his proverbial wounds.
The Knight turned his attentions back to the Princess who now was approached by King Baldassare. Axel panicked momentarily and shot a look to Prince Castor whom had seen the same thing, he too had worry in his eyes.
Athanasia clearly was apprehensive around the Galnoan King but did as she was raised to do, be courteous and polite to the attentions the King gave her. Axel admired her determination and bravery in the face of such an ominous man.
The music took a dramatic edge when King Baldassare took Athanasia's hand, "I will not insult your intelligence by trying to flatter you with descriptions of your appearance in comparisons to inanimate objects," His voice was smooth like melted dark chocolate, rich with a sharp bite.
"An I will not bother with praising your vast power," Athanasia countered, "As I am sure you have heard it all before."
The Wizard King knew the instant he touched her skin that she was not the one he sensed when he arrived but she was in the room. "I probably have," he laughed, "But nothing of my devastatingly good looks."
The Princess smiled falsely, the man had an ego that rivalled her older brother. "I find that true attraction is from the soul," she tactfully spoke, "A package, no matter how beautiful, will never betray its contents until it's too late."
Baldassare did not care that she openly insulted him with such velvety words and voice, he had lost interest in her the moment he knew she was not his target, but his honour said that he must still be a gentleman to her and finish the dance. "You are most correct," he agreed, "The surface of a gift rarely hints at what sits just below the surface." His eyes scanned the crowed looking for who had the energy he could feel flowing through the room like a raging river in the dark. He knew it was there but could not see where.
"Who are you looking for?" The Princess asked curiously.
His eyes fell on Jelena who was standing next to the Crown Prince with a goblet of wine looking particularly nervous. "No one," he replied, bringing his attention back to her, "I am not use to such large gatherings of young ladies in one place." They glided through the dancers with such proficiency and grace that many of the bystanders applauded them. "Balls in Galnoa are rare and somewhat distasteful to the locals."
"If I were Queen of such a noble Kingdom," she smiled politely, "I would make them compulsory as I enjoy them immensely." She chuckled, "It keeps the nobles fit."
Baldassare laughed, "Perhaps I should implement a monthly ball," he laughed some more, "I have many fat aristocrats lounging around court."
The image of fat old men and women filled her mind and imagining them complaining at such a notion as to move to music. "If they are fat then perhaps daily balls until they are thin again?"
Baldassare felt slightly sad at the thought of a woman with a sadistic sense of humour was not the one he was looking for, yes her words were in jest but he knew that this Princess was hellfire when roused to fury. He had heard the rumours. He would have dearly liked to see her enforce nightly dancing among the nobles, perhaps with a big black leather whip in hand. "I would very dearly love to see you force them."
Axel kept glancing between Athanasia and Castor and Jelena, who returned the same worried expression. Baldassare seemed to be charming her, her face glowed with delight at the way the Galnoan King smiled and conversed. The Knight's heart threatened to jump out of his chest during the whole score until the music stopped and the two parted ways.
Castor approached Axel, "Why are you hesitating?" He asked concerned, "Does my sister not please you?"
"She is radiant," Axel replied, "More beautiful than anything I have ever encountered."
"So what is the problem?" Castor asked impatiently.
"I find that my courage is selective," he nervously explained, "A battlefield in action is easier to approach than her serine form."
"You fear her?" The Prince laughed, "Yes she is expressive and not afraid to show it however you yourself said that you are use to women like that."
"She has something about her that befuddles the brain," the warrior continued, "I do not know how to approach her."
Castor spotted Axel's former employer approaching his sister, "Watch what he does and do the opposite." He pointed to Dirk who tried, and failed, to look impressive.
The Princess forced her face not to grimace as the unpleasant Count approached her, "You grow more beautiful with each time we meet," he said as he bowed in respect.
"Thank you," she replied strenuously, "But I am puzzled as to why you persist." She really was, each of the eight times he tried to gain her favour she shot him down, with great respect for his rank.
"My heart says you are the one who will make me happy," he responded calmly.
"I find that highly doubtful, Sir," Athanasia attempted not to chuckle but a faint huff escaped her lips, "You are so focused on what others think of you, what would you be like with me at your side? Yes your self worth would have risen but your paranoia of wondering if any men were trying to steal me away would increase rapidly and you will be accusing men of inappropriate attentions toward me resulting in either you being responsible for many deaths or I becoming a widow before I grow use to a ring on my finger." The Count looked mortified at her logic, he had not thought about that, he always assumed he would be happy in the knowledge that he succeeded where others had not by winning the hand of Balany's ice Princess. "Dear Count, are you well?"
Dirk Gott felt that feeling one gets when one realises that the dream they had for years was well and truly crushed and it made him sick to his stomach, "I am afraid that I am not." He felt faint, "I think I will take a seat and a snifter of wine."
"Let me help you," Athanasia guided him to the nearest chair and haled a servant to bring some wine for him, "I must go as I have many who wish to dance with me." Dirk gave her a subtle nod and she left sighing in relief that she would never have to deal with that annoying man ever again.