Enchanted Twelve: Quinn Ch. 02byglynndah©
Quinn watched the dancers from her usual seat in the gallery and counted along with the music. One. Two. Three. She supposed she could be down there dancing tonight - thanks to Jerome's patient help, she now knew how - but she still would rather be an observer to all the dancing this evening. When Jerome finished dancing with Angelina, she thought and then bolted upright, shocked by what she was seeing. Since when was Jerome dancing with anyone, let alone a Royal Princess! If he was going to dance with anyone, it should be her!
Jerome swirled and twirled Angelina across the dance floor and into the shadows ringing the ballroom. Jerome's head bent down to kiss Angelina's mouth as they disappeared into the dimness. Quinn leaned far over the balcony railing, trying to get one last glimpse of the two dancers as they vanished into a secluded corner.
"Jerome," she called softly. She leaned out even farther trying to see where they'd gone. She felt her leather soles of her new dancing slippers slide out from under her. She was seconds away from tumbling over the balcony railing onto the ballroom floor far below her.
"Quinn! Be careful!" She felt strong arms grab her waist and pull her none too gently from the railing. "You could have broken your neck!"
She knew that voice and that particular tone of exasperation - she'd been hearing it for as long as she could remember. "Jerome!" She turned and smiled up at him. "You're not dancing with Angelina."
"Of course not, Princess. I wouldn't dare." Jerome's voice sounded confused and vaguely shocked at the possibility of this. You're the only princess I'd want to hold in my arms as we danced and not down on that crowded dance floor either. He thought all this but said only "No, Quinn."
"But I saw you, or someone who looks just like you dancing just a minute ago." Quinn studied Jerome's face carefully.
"It couldn't have been me. I just got here. I ran up the steps just in time to see you almost fall. If I hadn't grabbed you..." Jerome shuddered to think of what might have happened then. Jerome let his hands linger for just a moment more and then dropped them from Quinn's waist and stepped back from here.
"You look pretty tonight, Quinn." Jerome complimented. Pretty enough to kiss and ...
"Do I really?" Quinn asked tentatively. She looked down at her dancing slippers peeping out from the hem of her ball gown. She shouldn't feel shy. After all, she'd known Jerome her entire life, but tonight was different somehow. Jerome was different. She was different.
"Yes, Quinn. You look very pretty. Why aren't you down there dancing this evening? You no longer have any reason not to."
I have one reason. I wouldn't be dancing with you. Quinn did not speak those words. She simply shook her head and said, "No, I don't think so. Do you know what I'd like to do tonight, Jerome?"
"Does it involve swords?" he smiled down at her.
"I would like to go to a quiet place and talk with you. I'd like to go back up to the top of the tower."
"Are you sure, Quinn? There is still time to dance. The music plays even as we speak," Jerome asked.
"I had such a good time there last night, Jerome. Would you go with me? Please?"
"Of course, Princess. The steps are through this door. Right?" he asked, opening the door they'd used the night before.
"It's not as dark as I remember it, but I still wish I had a candle."
"You don't have one in that satchel of yours?" teased Jerome.
"No," Quinn muttered. "I was so busy getting ready, and getting into this dress, I forgot to bring it."
"It doesn't matter, Quinn. I think I see one on this table by the door. Just a minute and perhaps we'll have some light."
"Table? There wasn't a table here last night."
A small flame flickered into life. Jerome held up the candle. "Quinn, this is obviously not the stairs. Let's take this light and find the right door."
As they turned to go, they both felt the rush of air and heard the soft thud as the door closed in front of them. Quinn reached out to turn the knob, only to discover that there was no knob. Indeed, there was no door. The wall in front of them was perfectly smooth with no sign of the door they'd used just minutes before.
"That's certainly a surprise," remarked Jerome. "Here. Hold this while I look for the door."
"Jerome, I don't think there is a door," Quinn said, raising the candle to shine as much light as possible near Jerome's hands as he tapped his way over the wall.
"Quinn," Jerome said, "we just walked through it. There must be a door."
"No. This is an enchanted castle. The door to the tower was enchanted last night. The door to this room is enchanted tonight."
"Quinn," Jerome began.
"And it is the same door, the right door. It just leads to different places." Quinn continued.
"No, that's magic, Jerome."
No, Quinn, you're the real magic. "Princess, perhaps you're right. We seem to be stuck here for the evening, but, at least, it's much warmer than last night's adventure. Let's light a few more candles and explore this place."
The additional candlelight revealed a cozy room, lined with bookshelves. Two comfortable chairs were angled in front of the fireplace whose coals began to glow, small flames flickering into life as they watched.
"Oh," Quinn smiled as she walked around the room; her fingertips brushing leather bound spines of books as she made her way around the room. "I could spend days in this room. Look at all the books!"
"Princess, perhaps you chose your words more carefully. After all, since there is no door, we may very well be spending days in here."
"There's a window, Jerome. We could always climb down if we need to."
"What's out the window, Quinn? That could be important."
Quinn looked out the window. "Let's see. Stars. Countless stars, Jerome."
"Quinn, look down. If we have to climb out, what's below us will be much more important."
Quinn leaned out the window and peered into the darkness. "Flower beds and a few small bushes. And it's not as far down as my window in the castle at home. We should have no trouble climbing down."
"Quinn, with you, I've learned there's always trouble," Jerome muttered to himself.
"Just stars and that same fog we saw last night and ..." Quinn's voice dropped to an awed whisper. "Dragons!"
"Well, if there's anyplace you'd be likely to see dragons, it's here."
"No. No. No. Real live dragons! Come and look, Jerome!" She beckoned him over to the window."
"Quinn, there are no such things as dragons. It's probably just night birds. Owls. I'll look if it makes you happy."
"Dragons!" Jerome stared in amazement. Silhouetted against that silvery mist were two great beasts. Definitely dragons, their wings outstretched as they glided in circles, drawing nearer and nearer to the castle. "Well, if there was ever a place you find dragons, it would be this place. It seems to be surrounded by magic."
"Jerome, someone's riding them! A man on that one and I think that's my sister, Merry, on the other. Oooh, I'd love to ride a dragon!"
They watched as the two dragons and their riders disappeared around the corner of the castle, out of sight.
"I wonder where they went. And how Merry found those dragons in the first place."
"Perhaps you could ask her in the morning, Princess. And as far as the riding goes, remember the goat?"
"Jerome, I was five! No one said I couldn't ride it."
"I think the goat made it abundantly clear." Jerome laughed.
"Oh, yes. I was bruised for weeks." Quinn smiled and touched her bottom, remembering the injury to her dignity.
"That was probably due more to Marta. She was very protective of her goats," Jerome said with a laugh.
Quinn looked hopefully at the door. "It's still not open. I was hoping to go back up there. It was so quiet and peaceful."
"It's quiet and peaceful right here, Quinn. The fire's burning nicely now. Why don't you curl up in one of those chairs and get some rest? I'll wake you if the door opens."
"I don't want to sleep, but with all these books, surely I can find something interesting to read."
A quiet rustling noise caught their attention. An open book lay on a table by one of the chairs; its pages slowly turning as if blown by an unfelt breeze.
"That certainly looks interesting. Let's see." Quinn crossed over to the book but Jerome's hand caught hers just as she was about to touch the volume.
"Careful, Princess. It could be bewitched," Jerome cautioned.
"Everything is bewitched here, Jerome. Nothing has harmed us. This book will not either."
"Let me, please," Jerome insisted. The noise of the turning pages stopped as he carefully closed the large volume so the cover could be seen.
"Look, Jerome. It's a painting of this castle. See. There's the boat dock and the tower where we spent last night." Quinn's finger touched the cover, pointing out each feature she named.
"I think this is our window. At least the flower beds below it look the same."
They both looked on in amazement as the dark square began to glow very faintly, a barely discernible grey at first, then brightening to pale yellow. A warm light filled the painted window.
"Oh, my! What a wonderful book!" Quinn carried the book over to the chair closest the fire. She sat on the arm of the chair and opened it on her knees.
"Quinn! I don't think that's safe. It's bewitched. Remember?" Jerome stood behind her chair, reaching for the book.
"No, Jerome. Not bewitched. I think it's enchanted. Come. Sit by me and we'll look at it together." She patted the seat of the chair and Jerome reluctantly sat. He was ready to snatch the book from her hands and throw it into the flames if Quinn would be harmed.
"How strange. That's Danielle's name." She pointed to the letters emblazoned on the first page of the book. "A picture of her, too. She's kissing a prince."
"But what's that dark shape just behind her? It looks like the shadow of a man."
"But not that prince," Quinn pointed out. "It's in the wrong place." They both watched as the picture faded away, leaving nothing but a faint tinge of pastel color on the page.
The pages rustled again, falling open once more. The name of another sister was written in flowing script.
"Yes, that's Ariel. What is she looking at? Oh, I see. There's a man over there. But what's he doing?" Jerome looked closely at the picture and realized at once the man was pleasuring himself. He glanced at Quinn's face, her cheeks pink with her blush, and knew she had, too.
"Jerome, do you ..."she began. And do you ever think of me?
"Princess," he interrupted. "There are some things a man keeps to himself." Jerome looked down at her innocent face, her shy smile and beautiful eyes, and sighed. "Perhaps I should hold the book," he said, gently taking it from her. He tilted the book towards the firelight and turned the page.
"It's yours, Quinn. Are you sure you want to look?" When Quinn nodded, he read the name. "Anne Aurora Westingfield. Funny. I'd almost forgotten that was your given name."
"No one calls me that. No one but Danielle and Aunt Angora. I was named after her, you know," Quinn said in a small voice, almost a whisper. "I heard the midwife talking one day. She didn't know I was listening and I heard the whole story."
"After I was born, Mother said I looked just like Aunt Angora and she wanted to name me after her. The midwife began filling out the papers, but Father snatched the quill from her hand. He was very angry and said 'I may have a daughter that looks like your evil sister, but I will not name my poor innocent daughter after her. This baby's name shall be Anne' and he filled the rest out himself."
"And now you're called Quinn," Jerome said. "How did that happen?"
"After I heard that, I didn't want to be called Anne anymore. There are too many "A" names in this family as it is. I was reading a book and discovered that 'quint' meant five. I wanted to be called Quint since I'm the fifth daughter. Mother objected, so we compromised with Quinn. I've been Quinn ever since."
"This is your picture, Quinn. Do you wish to look?"
"I want to, but I'm a little nervous. Could you look first, Jerome, and give me a hint?"
"As you wish, Princess, but I'm sure it will be nothing but good things." Jerome watched as the picture miraculously appeared, just as it had with the other sisters. Jerome smiled at the vision of Quinn, his Quinn, painted on the page. Her radiant face and smile brightened the room around her. His smile faltered and his heart sunk when the man appeared on the page with her. He held Quinn in his arms and his face could not be seen, but Jerome could see the crown on his head clearly enough. Quinn would find her man, her prince, in this castle, but it would not be him.
Quinn's voice interrupted his study of the picture. "Well, is it a good one, Jerome?"
"No, do not answer. I want to know, good or not." Quinn interrupted before he had a chance to answer her. Jerome turned the book so she could see, but the only thing left on the page was a foggy smudge of color. "I missed it," she said, the disappointment obvious in her voice. "Tell me one thing, Jerome. Was I happy in the picture?"
"Princess," he answered truthfully, his voice breaking along with his heart, "I have never seen you happier."
Quinn grinned up at Jerome. She knew, she just knew somehow, that she would be happy. No, she was happy right now and forever, because she would be with Jerome. The past two nights, and all the other times she'd spent tagging along with him, were the happiest in her life. Jerome smiled down at her.
You deserve to be that happy, Princess, he thought, and even though I'm not the man to put that wondrous look on your face, I will guard you, protect you, keep you from harm and yes, love you, until he comes for you. This is my promise to you, Quinn Aurora Westingfield.
"Another sister?" he asked, indicating the book he still held in his hands.
"No. I think that's enough for tonight. Let's just sit here and watch the flames."
Jerome placed the book on the table and glanced over his shoulder at the window. It was no longer black and starlit. Dusky purple streaks filled the sky. "It's almost morning. It will be light soon. I should look for the door once more." He began to rise, but stopped as Quinn's hand touched his.
"Stay with me. Please," she asked. "The world outside can wait for just a little longer."
"Very well, Quinn. We can stay, but just until the sun is up. We don't know how long the boat will wait for you."
"Wonderful!" she answered, "and I'm tired of perching up here like a gargoyle." With that, she slid on the arm of the chair until she was nestled on Jerome's lap. "This is so nice," she murmured as she drowsily watched the flames.
"Quinn, this is not a good idea," Jerome protested. I wish it was a good idea, Quinn. I wish it with all of my heart. I wish you belonged right where you are.
"No, Jerome," she insisted. "It is a very good idea."
He protested and yet his arms wrapped around her, cradling her as she fell asleep. He stayed there, savoring the moment, until the fire guttered out, flames falling magically into ashes once more and the door to the room creaked slowly open.
He gathered her up in his arms, still sleeping, and carried her down to the docks. He handed her to the boatman who did not see the tears falling from Jerome's eyes as he followed the boat from shore, seeing Quinn safely home once more.