Princess Charming Ch. 02byladyofdark1981©
As she re-entered the mass of dancers as they swirled about happily she caught Sir Axel's eyes, he was standing with her brother and Jelena and all three were looking at her. She gave them a smile and moved to the side of the dance floor.
"Go to her," Castor chuckled and gave him a playful shove, "She's all but begged you."
"What do you mean?" The Knight asked unable to take his eyes off her.
"Get over there, dance with her, ask her to marry you and refuse to let her go until she agrees," the Prince grinned turning his gaze to his sister's lady-in-waiting eliciting yet another blush from Jelena's cheeks.
Axel grabbed at a goblet of wine and downed it for added courage and made his way across the room to where Athanasia waited. Her glossy black hair cascading down her back in soft ringlets to where her dress flared at her waist. She was truly a vision to behold, to think that this woman caused many men to feel emasculated was baffling. Her amethyst eyes followed his movements like a hawk seeking its prey. Like a moth flying to a fiery doom he moved towards her, his feet carrying him of their own accord.
"I did wonder when you would come to me," She asked coyly the moment he stopped before her.
The Knight reached for her hand, "All that matters is that I am here now," he brought her hand to his lips for a gentle kiss, "And I do not wish to ever leave."
"Do you have something on your mind , Sir Knight?" Athanasia playfully asked.
"Your brother has secured a title for me," he explained, "For no other reason than to be eligible to ask for your hand, I am to be the Duke of Anata."
"That could be curse rather than a blessing, Sir Axel," the Princess cautioned, "It is said that the Duchy is cursed for the last seven Dukes have either been murdered or revolted." She gave him a smile that seized his heart, "You would be number eight of the cursed Dukes of Anata if you married me," she chuckled, "For I am not easy to live with. As my father reminds me constantly."
"A man with you as his bride would truly be blessed," Axel manoeuvred her to the dance floor, "Without the dowry."
Athanasia smiled slyly, "Are you implying that my fortune does not interest you?"
"Your fortune is exactly that, yours," he explained, "I may not have a penny to my name but I would not dream of taking anything from you."
"Even if I offer it willingly?" She baited with a raised eyebrow.
"I will be a duke," he shrugged, "I will have wealth in time."
The Princess laughed, "That you will, it is a wealthy Duchy with the mine and agriculture." She sobered then sighed, "Perhaps I should choose you for financial gain," her face split into a grin at his shocked expression, "I jest Sir Knight." In truth, she was overwhelmed at the knowledge of Axel's pending ascension to the rank of Duke. Finally a man who was amiable and of the right social status, now all she had to do was wait for him to make the proposal and foil her father's plan to marry her to some unknown man from a foreign land.
Axel felt strange, the beauty he first saw that morning had enraptured his heart but he could not help but make comparisons between brother and sister. Both had the vibrant violet eyes, iridescent black hair and eburnean skin, he wondered if their lips were the same. "Princess," he spoke just over the sound of the music, "Please join me on the balcony alone." His eyes pleaded in sympathy with his words and promised an untold reward if she were to oblige. He lifted her hand to kiss it gently and swiftly disappeared into the crowd.
Castor watched from the sidelines as Axel retreated from his sister after only a few moments of dancing. It looked like his sister and the Oraland Knight were showing a real connection when the Knight retreated without warning. The Prince had to find out why, "Dearest Jelena," he turned towards his demure companion, "I must leave your side and investigate our co-conspirator as to why he has withdrawn when it looked to be going splendidly." The elegant young woman simply smiled and nodded, "I will return soon." He kissed her hand and stealthily navigated to where Axel had disappeared to. "What are you doing?" he asked the Knight who was leaning against the stone guardrail with two goblets of wine with a baffled look on his face.
"I wanted the Princess alone," Axel admitted without hesitation, "It would not seem right to ask for her hand in a room filled with competitors." He watched the Prince's expression change from demanding to apologetic.
"You were going to ask her?" Castor stuttered out, "So soon?"
Axel grinned sheepishly, "That's what the wine is for." He gestured to the two jewelled goblets in his hands. "I have informed her of my ascension to the aristocracy."
"Good to know," Castor huffed in relief, "I should return to Lady Jelena before anyone tries to dance with her."
King Baldassare had been dancing with each of the ladies in attendance with the exception of one, the Lady Jelena, lady-in-waiting to Princess Athanasia. She had been glued to Prince Castor's side the entire night until now. She stood by a carved column and swayed to the music as she waited for the Prince to return, the invitation was too much to ignore. After negotiating a path through the whorl of dancers he stopped at Jelena's side.
Jelena had watched Castor slip through the silk curtains out to the balcony following Axel. Athanasia waited for a moment before following with a smile. Jelena was happy for her, finally she had a chance for happiness with someone who would want to be with her and not the fortune that would accompany such a marriage. She was so withdrawn in her thoughts that she did not notice who had approached her until a foreboding chill ran up her spine.
"Such a beauty should never be left alone," the Galnoan King grinned and offered her his hand, "Let me remedy that immediately." He could feel the power radiating from her like a raging fire, it was incredible.
"I am sorry Sire," Jelena bowed her head respectfully, "I am promised to Prince Castor and it would be inappropriate to dance with you."
Baldassare knew exactly what to say to motivate her into agreeing to his invitation. Leaning in close he whispered in her ear, "I feel your magic my dear lady," Jelena froze, "I seriously doubt the Prince would be understanding of your natural skills."
"Please," Jelena begged, panicking at the potential outcome if Castor were to discover her secret, "I beg you do not! I have hurt no one."
Baldassare's negotiated silently by sliding his hand to her waist and pulling her to the floor to dance.
Jelena had never felt such power from another, her natural magical ability dictated that she could detect another of her kind without effort, however that also meant she could not hide. She was afraid of this man who guided her every move.
Castor exited the secluded balcony to see his beloved in the arms of the sorcerer King and she looked paralyzed with fear and it distressed him to no end. He completely forgot about his sister and her Knight as he stalked the dancing King and Jelena around the room. There was something bubbling up within his soul, something dark, sinister and dangerous, something that would cause great diplomatic trouble of he lost control.
Baldassare was whispering something to her, how dare he get so close to her! The Galnoan King must have know they were being watched as he looked directly at Castor and grinned slyly. Castor became murderous, the Galnoan King was up to something and he had no idea what it was but he did not like it on little bit.
Baldassare found it quite amusing, Prince Castor actually believed that Jelena was his, how absurd! The moment he felt her astonishingly powerful aura she became his. No mere man could ever hope to wed such an omnipotent creature, if she were ever discovered in this land she would be put to death and that would be a terrible waste.
What Baldassare did not see was across the room sitting in an imposing throne with a glower on his face was King Talus and he was angry. His deal with the Galnoan King was that Baldassare wed his daughter not the lady-in-waiting! And where had that daughter of his disappeared to? She was mingling with all the men who wanted to try their luck with her but each left her looking disappointed which made him happy but the last man, his soon-to-be general and Duke Sir Axel Fletcher had appeared to succeed where multitudes of others had failed. He did not know what to think of the man now that he was showing a liking to his daughter, the man's loyalty would never be questioned but he wanted his daughter to solidify a treaty with another Kingdom, it was her duty.
Talus felt his mood sour considerably and demanded another goblet of wine and grumble to himself as he watched the Galnoan King enjoy the company of Lady Jelena.
Axel waited fretfully as Castor left, the music from inside drifted out and it only caused him to become more anxious. His nerves were at the end of their tether when the curtain was pulled back and the vision that was Athanasia appeared with a halo of candlelight. "I do apologise for making you wait," she gave him a small bow, "But I saw my brother enter and decided to wait until your business with him had concluded."
The Knight gazed upon her, she was the feminine opposite of Castor and equally beautiful and the very idea that he compared the two disturbed him. "Wine?" He offered the Princess one of the jewelled chalices with a slight tremble in his hand.
"Please," Athanasia accepted and took a dainty sip, "Thank you, I have been quite parched for most of the evening but wished to keep a clear head so I would not make a disastrous choice when it came to my life partner. One too many beverages and I could have ended up with your former employer."
They laughed at the image but it did not ease the turmoil Axel still felt, he found that any words he had planned to use to seduce the Princess caught in his throat and now feared that if he did try to speak he would only utter a garbled noise that would frighten her.
"Sir Axel," Athanasia finally said after a moment of silence, "I must confess that I find you handsome and intriguing." She took another sip of her wine, "If your words on the dance floor were truthful, that you want nothing of my dowry than I must ask what is your interest in me?" Her eyes seemed to be begging him to say something meaningful.
"I," he paused and placed his wine on the railing of the balcony, "I must confess that the initial reasons for my elevation into the ranks of the nobility was to make me eligible to ask for your hand." The Princess's expression did not show any shock at the revelation. "Your brother suspected that King Baldassare had come to marry you for nefarious reasons. When Lady Jelena approached Prince Castor pleading that he aide her in finding you someone ... me... to wed you after a dreadful piece of news that your father had made a deal with an unknown party." Still she did not show any surprise to the information. "Your brother and Jelena conspired to have the two of us wed." Her gentle nod was the first indication that she had paid any attention to his speech. "I agreed but found myself paralysed by your beauty," he tentatively moved closer, his lips barely brushing against hers, "I fear that if I continue like this I will find myself hopelessly in love with you." He pressed closer for a kiss that stole both their breaths.
Under the moonlight of the night sky both Knight and Princess lost themselves in the moment, it was the first time Athanasia ever kissed a man. The stubble that surrounded his mouth tickled her in a delightfully wonderful way, his tongue felt firmer than that of Jelena's. His arms encircled her waist and held her tightly to his battle-hardened body. She felt the familiar rush of heat she only ever got with her Jelena but this man almost demanded it and she had little resistance against his assertion.
"Dearest Princess," he sighed heavily, his voice growing husky, "Would you take a chance and become my wife?" Athanasia would have been lying to herself if she said she had not expected this, she was looking for a husband and Axel seemed to tick all the boxes when it came to attributes with the exception of one, she wanted to know if he was well endowed as the stories said. She ground her hips against his softly determining his size and to her pleasant surprise he was clearly feeling what she felt with a rod of steel greeting her that ran a good distance down his thigh. "That will have to wait until our wedding night," he whispered in her ear causing a flush of warmth to spread to her cheeks.
"I will be your wife, Sir Axel," she bit her lip and felt for his masculinity again, "I will give myself willingly to you and solidify your new rank of Duke and if all goes to plan my heart will quickly follow."
It was good enough for him, he had not expected the famous Princess to fall instantly in love with him but she certainly found him attractive judging by her bold sexual advance which, quite frankly, nearly had him whisking her away for a night of premarital debauchery that would have done neither of them any favours. He captured her lips again in a passion filled kiss filled with promises of more later. He let his hand explore up her back as it was one part of her body not covered in many layers of undergarments. Much to his astonishment he found her body firmer than other women, something exotic that had him wanting to encourage more hip grinding but restrained for decency's sake. So lost in her body, Axel had not noticed a distressed looking Prince Castor standing next to them.
"I take it she said yes?" He asked trying to sound casual. Both Axel and Athanasia jumped at the apparent appearance of Prince Castor who sported a smile but a few worry lines on his brow.
"Yes brother," the Princess responded with curiosity, "Your plan to have me wed to Sir Axel has come to fruition." She paused and looked over her brother again, "Something bothers you." She did not ask.
"The Galnoan King has shown an unwanted interest in Lady Jelena," he explained and drew back the curtain to show a distressed Jelena in Baldassare's arms as they moved around the dance floor. Athanasia first paled then flammeously glowed in rage. Neither men saw her reaction. "I need a way to rescue her without angering him."
"I have an idea," Athanasia smoothly spoke, hiding her anger at the way the man clung to her Jelena. She glided out after several calming breaths and approached the dancing couple. "I know it is not customary for my to cut in but I must as my lady-in-waiting has some neglected chores." The ruse appeared to work as Baldassare glowered but reluctantly released her to take Athanasia again.
Castor sighed in relief to see his beloved slink out of the room, "I am glad that both ladies are safe," he finally could congratulate the Knight properly on the successful plan to wed his sister before disappearing to join Jelena in the hall.
The night progressed well, Axel would not let Athanasia out of his grasp once she finished dancing with Baldassare who had congratulated her on her nuptial arrangement. Prince Castor had informed Jelena of the betrothal during their alone time behind one of the tapestries in a hidden alcove. "I am relieved," Jelena nearly cried, "I do hope he will make her happy."
"With what I saw," he chuckled, "They will have a very large family." He scooped Jelena into his arms, "Now to business," he grinned mischievously, "I believe I now have your permission to woo you."
Jelena shivered but nodded, "I have not been this close to a man in my life," She swallowed hard as Castor lifted her hand and pressed it to his heart.
"My dear," he softened to her hesitation, "We have all the time in the world to become comfortable with one another and I do not wish to cause you any distress." He dearly wished to kiss her, to hold her in a more intimate way but Jelena clearly anxious at the closeness of their bodies. "Did he hurt you?" Castor did not need to say his name, Baldassare made his displeasure known at loosing Jelena's company when Athanasia cut in by ending the dance quickly and retreating to wait for the young lady to return.
"No," Jelena finally replied unconvincingly, "He was just too ..." her voice faded at the anger she saw in the Crown Prince's eyes, "I do not like him, he makes me uncomfortable."
Castor would kill the man if he had the chance for any unease he caused Jelena. "He will be gone on the morrow and then you will be safe," Castor comforted her, "And perhaps we should celebrate my sister's engagement tomorrow with a picnic in the garden, just the four of us?"
Jelena smiled shyly and nodded, "That would be lovely."
"My I seal the arrangement with a kiss?" He asked hoping to persuade her with his charm.
Jelena blushed and trembled again, "Alright," she whispered and offered her hand which Castor ignored completely and caught her lips in a quick and playful kiss.
"Slap me if you must," the Prince chuckled as he dodged the swift hand of his lady, "But that kiss, however brief, is the sweetest thing I have ever had the privilege to partake in." His words appeased her somewhat and allowed him another chance for a kiss to her cheek, "Come, I am sure the main banquet of the evening is ready to be served in the dining hall."
With the dancing portion of the evening over the guests migrated to the dining hall and assembled to their assigned seats. Baldassare took the opportunity to see where the Lady Jelena was situated for the evening and slipped the content of his ring into her wine goblet and quickly moved to his seat on the other side of the room. Resorting to such underhanded measures felt degrading, however the importance of establishing his lineage to secure his right to rule in Galnoa required him to produce a powerful heir. Ideally the Princess would give his offspring the royal bloodline but the prospect of the power Jelena possessed was too tempting to pass up.
From his position on the far side of the dining hall at the other end of the main table he watched the object of his plans and the Princess sit down after thanking the Prince and Sir Axel who sat not too far away.
Athanasia reached for her wine and took a big gulp, her lips were swollen from the attention Axel gave her earlier. Her cheeks were in a permanent flush from the extra wine she had consumed since accepting Axel's proposal. She looked up at the handsome Knight and caught his eyes, her heart fluttered at the smile he gave her. She felt like she had escaped a fate worse than death only to have her dreams come true. She reached for Jelena's hand under the table and gave it a gentle squeeze, "Tell me my dear friend," she whispered behind her cup, "What has you face scarlet this eve?" Jelena responded with more colouring to her cheeks. "You vanished for some time with my dear brother, perhaps that has some factor in your current state?"
"He was a gentleman," Jelena finally spoke after sipping her wine, "He kissed my cheek but that was it."
Athanasia giggled, "So you are warming to my brother?"
"He will need to prove himself," Jelena insisted, "But he wishes to know me better before he tries sincerely." Jelena paused and yawned, "Oh goodness!" she exclaimed mid yawn, "I am so tired."
"Maybe you should retire early," Athanasia suggested, "We have had a big day." The young women chuckled.
"I still owe you from this morning," the lady-in-waiting whispered in the Princess's ear, "I am sorry."
"Do not fret," Athanasia consoled, "I will ensure that you make it up to me." She gave Jelena a squeeze of her hand to enforce the promise, "And I expect it to be good."
"Always, my lady," she began to feel normal again albeit drowsy, "I do hunger for something other than you at present." Jelena felt emboldened for an unknown reason, "But some honey for breakfast sounds delightful."