Enchanted Twelve: Aurelia Ch. 02byMagicaPractica©
Author's Note: There is no sex in this chapter, but I hope the titillation provided in chapters 1 and 2 will carry you through to the climax in chapter 3.
Colin and Aurelia were once again crossing the narrow end of the lake in a boat destined for the other shore, this time joined by Ariel and her admirer, Geoffrey. They were using a larger boat but Colin needed no help in rowing it so Geoffrey sat next to Ariel, holding her hand and attempting to make small talk.
Aurelia stared into the water they glided over. Colin had not tried to speak to her, preferring to wait until they had some modicum of privacy.
"That is a lovely dress, Princess Aurelia," Geoffrey commented on her rose gown, trying to draw her into the almost one-sided conversation he was having with Ariel.
"Thank you," came the subdued reply.
Geoffrey glanced at Colin and raised an eyebrow. They had both noticed over the past weeks that the women seemed rather unlike themselves as the journey across the water started, gradually coming to life as the boat neared the other shore. Their personalities were subdued at the beginning of the boat ride. They might talk and laugh but it was as if they were mere automatons, making the motions but not really alive. As they neared the far shore, they became more themselves, as if waking up. Added to the blankness in their eyes was a weariness that seemed to increase each night.
Geoffrey and Colin had bonded over their concern for the beautiful women who shared a birth date. They didn't know what to make of it, but agreed that something was wrong.
Ariel leaned her cheek against Geoffrey's shoulder and sighed. He squeezed her hand and she looked up at him. Some semblance of her normal warmth seemed to be returning to her eyes and she smiled up at him.
Geoffrey smiled back but he couldn't help feeling concerned. Something was very wrong and it was getting worse as the days wore on. He had an odd foreboding that even as he was getting to know Ariel better, she was slipping away from him. He slid his arm around her and pulled her tighter against his side.
They soon reached the other shore and Geoffrey hopped out to tie the boat to the dock with the rope Colin tossed him. He gave the women a hand out and as soon as her feet touched the ground, Aurelia swept haughtily away from them.
"Apparently, her feelings about last night have returned as well," Colin murmured to Geoffrey as he hurried past the other couple to catch up with Aurelia.
Geoffrey smiled and offered Ariel his arm. They would take their time getting to the castle where the night's fete would be held. They were in no hurry. They had everything they wanted right there.
Colin caught up to Aurelia and matched her stride, not a difficult feat in her slippers and gown. Colin was tall and long limbed as well as strong. Thankfully, they had a little ways to go, which would allow him time to try to speak to her, to make her see reason.
"Aurelia," he began.
"If this is to be a continuation of your arguments of why I should allow myself to become a wife, bound to a marriage and kept barefoot and pregnant, you can save your breath. I have no intention of any such thing in my lifetime. I am a princess and I shall live my life as I see fit. I will not be made into a broodmare as so many women are forced to in order to fend for themselves in this world. Sold off into marriage like so much cattle at auction."
"Aurelia, please, it is not like that for every woman!"
Aurelia laughed. She had spent many a day playing in the village as she grew, observing the lot of the poor women there. "Please do not talk to me of truuuue love. I've seen where that has gotten many a woman, pregnant and tied to a man that wants a clean house and a warm meal, and little else from a woman once she is past her prime."
"Aurelia, I do not claim that is not the lot of many women, but we can do better than that. I would do better than that by you. Surely, there must have been some happy couples in your experience?"
Aurelia thought about the couples she had observed, about her happy mother and father and the village smith and his wife. But her thoughts quickly turned to the orphans and how one of her own sisters had been misused by a man once, narrowly avoiding ruin. "They are precious few. I see no point in taking the chance."
Colin caught Aurelia by the arm, arresting her progress over the wooded trail to the castle and turning her to face him. "Love is the point, love is the reason and worth taking a chance on."
Her lip curled as she sneered. "I have seen men promise love before. It is a convenient term for them that conjures up emotions for women which suit their needs."
"Aurelia! What has wrought this black mood in you?"
Aurelia opened her mouth but then stopped and shook her head wearily. Truly, it was not like her. Though she had no intention of getting married or tied down to a man, she knew that they came in all manner, some full of kindness and some selfish. Why was she picking out the worst and holding it up as the common? It could be no more than half of what was out there. The world was a balance of light and dark.
"I am sorry, Colin," she sighed. "I do not know what is wrong with me. I am tired. Forgive me and let us speak no more on this now. The simple truth is that I cannot give you what you want and you will not give me what I want. Perhaps it would be best if we went our separate ways."
With that, she turned and left Colin staring at her back as she walked away. He followed after her, not trying to catch up but keeping her in eyesight for safety's sake. How would he ever convince her?
At the castle, Colin walked in after Aurelia and watched as she was immediately swept off to dance by one of the many men there without a partner. He made his way to the table of food and took a seat, taking in the rich array of foods available, roast capons and geese, succulent venison wrapped in bacon and roasted, legs of lamb. There were pickled herrings and smoked salmons as well as a variety of cheeses and fresh breads. Anything one might desire seemed available, but he had no appetite for it. The only thing he wanted was Aurelia.
Colin watched her dance with one man after another through the night, his frustration mounting. Most women would be glad of a man that wanted to be with them, heart and soul, for the rest of their life. He had to pick the one woman who wanted the exact opposite? Surely, this must be fear talking. She had seen couples who did not nurture their marriages as God given bonds. That was the problem. It must be. He picked up his courage to make another foray onto the battlefield.
As the dance ended, Colin stepped up to Aurelia. "May I have this dance?"
She sidestepped him neatly. "I believe I promised this dance to Sir Reginald."
She took the hand of a startled looking near-sighted gentleman who flushed and bowed over her hand.
Colin took a breath and gritted his teeth. "The next one, perhaps?"
"No, I am sorry. I have promised that to Prince Arthur and the next to Sir Benedict."
The music began and Aurelia moved away with Sir Reginald. Colin returned to his seat.
Truth be told, Aurelia was finding the evening adding to her confusion. With every new partner, she found herself comparing them to Colin and they continually came up wanting. She would stare off into space as she danced and Colin's visage would float before her eyes though she did not summon it. Whatever was happening to her?
"Oh, I am so sorry," Sir Reginald simpered as he mis-stepped again, colliding with Aurelia instead of dancing past her.
Aurelia narrowed her eyes. Had he done that on purpose? No, he was just completely inept. Why in heaven's name was he even trying to dance? The song ended and she curtsied to him then hurried away. She felt her sleeve plucked as she moved through the crowd.
"I believe this dance is mine?" a deep voice said.
Aurelia turned and found Prince Arthur at her elbow, smiling. She returned the smile. Here was a truly nice man. So what was it that made her heart beat faster when she was with Colin but not Arthur? They were both handsome, both kind, steady and seemingly reliable. She had not known one longer than the other, though she had spent considerably more time with Colin. Why then, did she find herself longing for Colin? Could it be love? Good God, could she have fallen in love with him?
The song ended and Sir Benedict was instantly at her side, with his smarmy smile. Why had she agreed to dance with him? Aurelia fought the urge to roll her eyes. To avoid Colin, of course. What foolishness. She smiled, gritted her teeth and let Benedict lead her in the dance, her mind wandering so that she did not even notice when he edged her outside through a doorway.
"What do you think you are doing? Unhand me, sir!" Aurelia kept her voice low. She did not want to cause a scene but she had no intention of going anywhere with Benedict.
Colin caught just the flash of Aurelia's dress as she and Benedict exited the room. Where was she going? He followed after her out the door and down the hallway. He turned the corner to find an angrily flushed Aurelia standing over Benedict, his hands clasped to his nose and blood seeping from beneath them.
Colin couldn't resist a snicker at the sight. "Are you alright, Aurelia?"
Aurelia brushed down her gown and smoothed her hair back. "Perfectly fine." She didn't need Colin to protect her. She just wanted him, she admitted ruefully to herself.
Aurelia started back toward the hall where the dance was being held and Colin followed. He laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Aurelia, please, could we just talk?"
She turned to him. Something in her ached to be held in his arms. She nodded and turned, starting down the hallway past the merry people and music. "Let us find somewhere more private."
Aurelia led Colin upstairs and took up a thick candle from a sconce that lit the hallway, peering into a bedroom to make sure it was empty. She walked into the room and motioned Colin in then set the candle down and closed the door.
"Aurelia, I understand that you are afraid of ending up in a loveless marriage but I swear to you, that will not happen with us. We would not let it."
As he spoke, Aurelia undid the ties down the front of her dress. It was deceptively simple to undo though it looked reasonably demure.
"Aurelia, what are you doing?" Colin asked incredulously.
She quickly slipped the dress from her shoulders and tossed it to a bench. She wore nothing beneath it. She'd always found the heavy dresses frustratingly overheating when dancing. It was much simpler to wear them with nothing else. Now naked, she stood before Colin, the meager candlelight glowing on her body. Her blond hair cascaded down over her white flesh.
Colin was nearly transfixed by the sight before him. "Aurelia... I... we... cannot..."
"Make love? I accept that, but there are other things we can do."
Colin licked his lips and swallowed. "Such as?"
Aurelia's generous lips curved in a smile. "Well..."
Colin swore and turned away from her. "This is entirely beside the point, Aurelia. I love you! I want to marry you. I want to share the rest of my life with you. I cannot bear to think of being parted from you. How can I make you understand that?"
Sadly, Aurelia picked up her dress and put it on, re-tying the stays in the front. "I do understand it Colin, but I do not think I am ready for it."