The Last Princess of Lorrea Ch. 09bylong_legs2u©
She kept her eyes closed. Maybe it was just a nightmare. That was what Elena hoped her recollection of the previous evening had been. She prayed that she had not really asked about the cause of the war, that it wasn't all her fault.
But she knew, by the heaviness of her limbs, the tiredness of her eyes and the headache that accompanies too much crying, that it was not a dream. Her reality was in fact a real life nightmare.
Elena curled up into a ball, nuzzling into the source of warmth nearest to her. It came as no shock to her, that she was nuzzling into the naked flesh of a prince - she was beyond caring. All she wanted to do was fall asleep and escape the feeling of crushing guilt that had come rushing back as soon as the veil of sleep lifted.
"Princess," Henry's voice washed over her, soft and gentle as the rhythmic massaging of his hand on her back. "Princess," he repeated, brushing a strand of golden hair out of her eyes.
Elena moaned inarticulately in response, wishing he would just leave her be.
"Open your eyes darling, it's almost noon," he said, lifting her chin and kissing her tenderly on her lips. Elena's eyes fluttered open and she squinted against the brightness of the afternoon glare, turning her head away from Henry's lips, as a single tear leaked out of the corner of her eye and rolled across her cheek.
"How can you have any tears left?" He asked her quietly as he brushed the rogue tear away.
"There will never be enough tears," Elena said quietly.
"Stop that, you mustn't think like that," he said as he rolled out of bed.
"One can't hide from the truth," Elena said wretchedly, pulling the covers back over herself.
"You are tired, confused - come with me downstairs to the kitchens and have some something to eat," he said, as he started to dress himself.
"I'm not hungry," Elena said, her response muffled by the pillow she had pulled over her head. It was the truth, her stomach felt both laden with lead and at the same time as if it were writhing with snakes. Lead snakes, Elena mused.
Fully dressed now, Henry sat down on the corner of the bed and rubbed Elena's outstretched leg, his face filled with concern. "I'll bring you something to eat."
Elena didn't acknowledge his words or his leave. Her mind was not concerned with such mundane things such as sustenance and manners. Guilt filled her every thought, weighed down her muscles and joints and hung heavily in the air around her, suffocating her slowly. Gradually, she fell back asleep, her dreams punctuated with angry ghosts of her past.
When Henry returned an hour later, Elena was still sleeping, the blankets wrapped around her like a cocoon. He indicated to the young boy who had brought up a tray laden with food, to put it down on the rug. After the boy left, Henry walked over to Elena and sat down beside her, the mattress dipping from his weight. Elena stirred slightly and opened her eyes, peering at Henry with a faraway look.
"Come, I have sent for a tray of food for you. You must eat, my sleeping beauty," he said, brushing her hair out of her face.
"I'm not hungry," Elena muttered.
Henry frowned and wrapped his arms around Elena and pulled her towards him, causing her to grunt in annoyance, before he scooped her up in his strong arms, sheets and all, stood up and carried her over to the rug by the roaring fire.
Henry sunk to his knees, gently setting the princess down beside him. He pulled the platter of food towards them and snatched up a cluster of grapes, picking off a few and holding them before Elena in his massive palm.
"I told you, I'm not hungry," Elena croaked, pulling the sheets tightly around her.
"I know it feels that way, but sometimes just a few bites can get that feeling back," he said, offering up the grapes again.
Elena slapped his hand away, sending the grapes flying. "I told you, I don't want to eat. I don't deserve to eat!" she yelled at him, her voice hoarse from hours of nonstop crying.
Henry stoically remained where he was, letting her anger wash over him. He plucked a few berries from the plate and popped them into his mouth as he watched her settle down.
"I don't understand you," he said slowly. "Hours ago you were plotting to bash my skull in with one of my sculptures and now you're planning on starving yourself? How does that help Lorrea? I thought you wanted to help your people?"
"I've done enough," Elena said bitterly.
"You can do more," he urged, grabbing both her arms, shaking her slightly.
"Why do you care? I thought that a broken Lorrean princess fell neatly into your family's plans..." Elena whispered hoarsely, pulling her arms out of his grasp.
"I don't wish to see you broken," Henry said slowly, his brow furrowed, as though her words caused him physical pain. "Quite the opposite. Last night when you were laughing, that was... it was..." He stammered, looking down at his empty hands, as if the continuation to his train of thought was held there.
"Was what?" Elena prompted quietly.
"It was everything," he said wistfully, looking straight into Elena's blue eyes, as he reached for her hand.
A frown wrinkled her forehead as his hand squeezed hers. Her emotional turmoil did not leave much space for someone else's emotions in that moment. "I don't understand."
"Don't you see, that together we could do so much good in this decrepit world?" he said to her imploringly, jumping to his feet and pacing the length of the rug over and over again, as Elena followed his pacing with trepidation.
"We could end this pointless war! Bring peace to all our lands - Lorrea could be free!" he said, his hand movements adding flourish to his words as he paced rapidly.
"When you say TOGETHER..." Elena started to ask, looking up at Henry with genuine curiosity, his attitude and words shaking her out of her self imposed, grief stricken melancholy.
"Marry me Princess," Henry said, stopping his pacing and gazing down at her, wrapped in her cocoon of bed sheets. "Marry me Elena," he said, dropping to his knees in front of her.
Elena stared at Henry, surprise surging through every part of her body, her mouth slightly open in shock. She thought that she must have misunderstood him or else her hearing had become momentarily impaired. Henry did not just ask her what she thought he asked!
"Will you marry me, Elena Princess of Lorrea?" Henry asked, squeezing both her hands in his. "Will you do me the honour- our families the honour, of joining our houses in marriage?"
Time seemed to move extremely slowly in Elena's eyes. The silence between them thick with uncertainty and heavy with possibility.
"What say you, Princess?" Henry asked, squeezing her hands again.
Elena looked into Henry's dark eyes. "I... I..." she started to say, before a loud knock on the door interrupted her answer.
"Not now!" Henry roared in the direction of the door.
A muffled voice called through the thick wood. "My Prince, I bear an urgent message- it is a matter of life or death."
Henry let out a roar of frustration and got to his feet, strode over to the door and wrenched it open. "WHAT?!" Henry demanded of the messenger.
Elena could not hear what was being said, but she saw Henry's angry posture change suddenly, his grip on the door handle tighten, his knuckles turning white. "Take me to him," she heard him order, before he left the room without a backwards glance in her direction.
Elena sat mystified, her emotions swirling around her as if she were in the epicenter of a tornado. Her head hurt from trying to understand Henry's motives, she didn't know what to believe. He wanted to marry her? She wasn't sure what she thought of that. The polarity of his treatment of her confused her greatly, how could she trust him?
In her mind's eye, she could see the political sense of accepting his hand in marriage. Elena would regain control of Lorrea and improve the lives of many other neighbouring countries that were conquered by the Kravaolians.
Her heart however, was not sure at all. Henry proved he could be violent, he was callous - was this the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with? He was a handsome prince, no question about that, and he had a vulnerable side that he kept well hidden, but to give herself so completely to Henry, Prince of Kravaolia?
Elena sat stock still for hours, as these thoughts floated in and out of her mind, she sat gazing into the fireplace, staring into the flames yet not really seeing them.
It was later in the evening, when Henry finally returned to the bedroom.
Elena was sleeping in front of the fireplace, the remaining embers casting a soft glow over her skin as she lay wrapped in her cocoon of sheets on the fur rug.
Henry bent down and gently scooped her up, carrying her back to the bed. Elena stirred sleepily and looked up at Henry's face, taking in his pale complexion.
"What is the matter?" she asked slowly, noting that his eyes were somewhat bloodshot.
Henry set her down gently on the bed and sat down beside her, his back to her.
Henry leaned forwards, placed his elbows on his knees and cradled his head in his hands.
"What's wrong?" she asked of his broad back, sitting up slightly.
"My father is dead," he said in a shuddering gasp. Elena could sense that Henry was battling to keep his emotions under control.
"Oh," she said softly. "I'm so sorry."
Elena raised her hand to comfort him, but thought better of it and closed the hand that was hovering over his back, lowering it slowly.
"No you're not," he said in a low voice.
Too much sleep combined with an empty stomach was making logical thinking very difficult for Elena. "Of course I am, how can you say that?" she said softly, her tone trying to soothe his simmering anger.
"That's a lie, you hated him," he snarled, turning towards her suddenly, grabbing her wrists as he pinned her on her back, straddling her hips.
"Stop it! What are you doing?" Elena shrieked, terrified of this sudden change.
"You are happy that my father is dead, don't lie!" he said, his bloodshot eyes piercing her soft blue eyes in anger.
"I would never say such a thing! I know what it feels like to lose your father- I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy!" Elena cried, trying to buck him off.
Henry's furious expression stared at Elena for a few more seconds before changing into a look of pure agony. Suddenly, Elena felt a crushing weight- the Prince had collapsed on top of her, his muscular body shaking from what Elena imagined to be silent crying. Henry's face was buried in the hollow of her neck and shoulder, a slight dampness confirming her suspicions, that he was indeed crying.
Elena lay still for a moment, hesitating from the strangeness of her current situation. Henry, the Prince and her captor, was pinning her to the bed not by force, but by grief. She thought back to the time after she fled her family's castle, after the death of her father - what was it that she would have wanted most at the time of her father's death? She would want someone to wrap their strong arms around her and tell her that everything was going to be alright, she told herself.
Elena brought her trembling hand to the back of his neck and massaged it firmly as her other hand teased Henry's hair gently, running her fingers through his hair and petting him slowly. She wrapped her legs firmly around Henry's lower back, trying to mimic the sensation of an all encompassing hug.
"Shhh," Elena cooed softly. "It's going to be alright," she said over and over again, as she massaged his neck.
After a while, Elena noticed that Henry was no longer shaking from grief, but he was actually asleep in her embrace. She was exhausted herself, but she didn't have the heart to wake him, or the strength to move him off her, so she closed her eyes and allowed Henry's rhythmic breathing to carry her off to sleep.
It was early morning when Elena noticed Henry stirring. A rooster crowed somewhere within the castle walls, announcing the coming day before it had even arrived. She looked over at him from where she sat on the rug, in front of the fire.
Last night, before Henry learned of his father's death, Elena had fully intended to have a serious conversation with him about his marriage proposal. However, she now felt that Henry would be too emotional to discuss the matter with a level head, so she had decided that if he were to broach the subject, she would not decline nor agree to the proposal, instead she would ask for a few days to think it over. Truthfully, she was giving Henry a few days to get his emotions under control, for Elena had made her decision late last night, before she fell asleep.
Henry mumbled something in his sleep before rolling over and snoring loudly, jolting Elena from her thoughts. She sighed, adding another log to the already fiercely burning fire before her. She stood up and stretched her sore muscles, her neck cracking as she twisted one way and then the other. As she gazed out the window, watching the colour of the sky change from dark blues to lighter tones, she shivered, not from the cold, but from the consequences of her choices. Shaking her head, she tried to empty her mind of 'what if' -clairvoyance was not a skill that she possessed, so all the endless scenarios running through her mind about the future, were pointless. Stepping away from the window, she slipped back into bed, allowing Henry's rhythmic snoring and the occasional crowing of the rooster to wash over her, slowly silencing her own thoughts, little by little, so that eventually Elena was able to fall asleep.
For Elena, the days following the King's death went by quickly. She hardly saw Henry at all, he only came to his room late in the evening and was gone before she awoke. Elena knew that he did in fact return to the room, only because she woke up one night to find Henry muttering in his sleep, about "showing him."
She assumed that his sleep talking was what had woken her in the first place, but she couldn't make heads or tails of the meaning of his mutterings.
Henry had ordered his guards to escort Elena around the castle grounds should she wish to venture out. Elena didn't know if his absence was because he was exceedingly busy with the affairs of his father's estate and the running of Kravaolia or whether he was embarrassed to face her after the involuntary outpouring of emotions in the bedroom.
Either way, Elena was left mostly to herself, exploring the castle and it's grounds, her shadow of guards always lurking somewhere in the background. During the first few days Elena was wary of venturing outside the castle for fear of running into Lord Caspian, but the heavy mood of grief that filled every room of the castle, the mirrors covered with sheets and the staff speaking in voices only just above a whisper, drove her to brave the open air, where fortunately, Caspian was nowhere to be found.
One week after King Xander's death, Elena was sitting in the shade of the large tree, the skirts of her dress bunched around her legs as she stroked the fur of a grey kitten which sat purring contently in her lap. Today was the first day that the kitten had trusted her enough to allow her to pet it, after days of careful observation from the bushes and flower beds.
Elena noticed one of the guards from her protective detail start to make his way towards her, she sighed, thinking that he was about to suggest that she retire inside, as the storm clouds gathering slowly on the horizon started to seem a little more imposing than they did earlier. As the soldier drew closer, the kitten bolted from between Elena's hands, scratching the skin of her palm slightly as he darted away into the safety of a nearby bush.
"Yes?" she asked the soldier.
"The King is on his way, Princess, and he wishes to speak with you," he said in a gravelly voice.
"Oh... alright," she answered, pulling at the hem of her velvet bottle-green dress, smoothing out the many folds of fabric.
She watched as the guard turned around and rejoined his band of brothers. Elena pondered for a moment whether she ought to stand or remain seated. Her indecision made the choice for her, she remained seated as she watched Henry's tall figure emerge from within the castle and make it's way towards her. As he passed her guards, they all fell to their knees in a well coordinated bow, but Henry just walked right by them, acknowledging and dismissing them simultaneously with a wave of his hand.
Elena stared nervously at him as he approached, taking in his tired eyes and the short gait of his walk, born no doubt from lack of sleep.
Henry reached her and stood before her, towering over her. Elena's eyes roamed over his tired looking face before inclining her head slightly. "King Henry," she said in a gentle voice.
Henry looked down at her in surprise, yet he was pleased nonetheless. "Princess Elena," he retorted, as he lowered himself to the ground beside her.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the storm clouds grow in size as they moved slowly across the sky.
"I've been meaning to talk to you," he explained slowly. "But something else of a more pressing nature kept surfacing every time I tried to."
"I understand," Elena said quietly. "You've had a lot on your mind these past seven days," she said, picking up a twig and twirling it between her fingers.
"Indeed I have," he agreed. "Burying my father and being crowned King of Kravaolia within just a few hours of each other was quite unsettling," he explained. "Not to mention the constant stream of generals and politicians wanting to discuss this or that," he said with closed eyes, rubbing his temples with his fingertips.
"Such strange customs you Kravaolians have," she said softly, as she clasped her hands together in her lap. "I did not expect to see you wearing the medallion of the King so soon," she said, keeping her tone light.
Henry looked down at the golden symbol pinned just above his heart. "It is written in our laws, that when the king passes, his heir must immediately assume the throne in order to avoid conflict and assure his citizens that all is at peace," he said flatly. "It also sends a message to my enemies that the nation stands strong and undivided behind their king," he added, as he twisted a matching gold ring around his finger.
Elena bit back her sharp retort about 'the nation stands strong and undivided behind their king.' She knew that now was not the time, his emotions still raw. Instead, she nodded and said "I see."
Henry looked into her brilliant blue eyes. "I want to speak to you about the other night, that is to say, what was said a week ago."
"Yes, I imagine we need to talk about that," she said quietly, trying to discern his thoughts behind his dark eyes.
"I take it back, I apologize," he said abruptly, his ears turning pink.
"I'm sorry," Elena said, shaking her head in confusion. "I don't understand."
Elena's body began to tense in anger. He asked her to marry him, then disappeared for a week, leaving her to her own private storm of emotions, only to rescind his proposal?!
"Yes, I shouldn't have said that to you," he said, looking down at his hands.
"Is this your idea of fun? Toying with someone's emotions as if they were nothing more than a plaything for you to discard whenever you fancy something else?" she growled, no longer bothering to keep her tone in check, her nails digging into her palms as she balled her hands into fists.
"Princess," Henry said timidly, clearly startled. "I don't understand what perturbs you so, I only thought it prudent to apologize," he said, reaching for her hand as his face searched hers in concern.
"You think an apology would suffice?" she scoffed, pulling her hand away and getting to her feet.