Chapter Two : A Step In A Different Direction
Relaxing into the soft chair that matched her dressing table, Eleanor set her head back, allowing calmness to sweep over her as Gayle worked her magic in brushing out all of the knots and tangles that had accumulated during her ride earlier. Gayle had been her nurse since she was a baby and had long been a confidant. She was also the one that Eleanor relied upon to work wonders with her hair, choose her dresses, and match the jewelry to accompany. It was no wonder that Gayle always seemed to be with the Royal Dressmaker whenever Eleanor could not find her. The woman certainly had a gift when it came to decorating, whether it was in a home or on a person.
The long brown hair quickly became two long braids, which was then twisted up in pins to form a beautiful braided bun on the back of Eleanor’s head. Gayle held up a mirror to show Eleanor the wonderful creation, and Eleanor gave the woman a smile of appreciation. Gayle disappeared to continue working on the ensemble, allowing Eleanor a moment to bury her face into her hands, wishing that she could escape this decision.
Looking at her reflection in the mirror, Eleanor sighed again, ready to just get it over with. She was so anxious. What if the man was horrid? What if he didn't want to marry her? What if he was exactly what she needed? There were too many unanswered questions, and she feared that none of them would be answered for quite some time. She wished that she could just go to sleep and wake up, simply married to the right man with the kingdom in complete peace, but fortune would not allow her that.
Eleanor felt cold metal touch her skin, and she realized that Gayle was hooking a necklace to her. It was a simple chain with a ruby that dangled just above her cleavage. The matching earrings came on next, also with a simple chain and ruby, and the beautiful tiara was slid into her hair and pinned on. The tiara was one of Eleanor’s favorites, as she had numerous in this style. The simple silver band held a few stones in it to match whatever she was wearing, and the stones in this tiara were, of course, rubies.
“You are ready, my lady. Come, now, you must face this task head on, for waiting will only add more fear to your heart.”
Eleanor sighed loudly, knowing that Gayle was right. The woman always seemed to be full of good advice, which was why Eleanor relied on her so much. Of course, just because the woman had good advice did not mean that she wanted to listen. Rising from her chair, Eleanor slipped her feet into the simple slippers that matched her gown. The slippers and her over skirt and bodice were both a rich deep blue, with the underskirt and sleeves a simple white. The entire look, paired with the rubies, gave Eleanor confidence, knowing that she looked beautiful. Gayle truly did have a gift.
"Thank you, Gayle. You always do know how to make me look like a princess. And, just to note, I am not avoiding my fears. I am simply making certain that I am prepared to face them. Who even said that meeting him was a fear?"
Eleanor eyed her maid for a second before they both burst out into laughter. Giving the woman’s hand a simple squeeze, Eleanor turned toward the door, took as deep a breath as her bodice would allow her, and walked out the door.
• • •
The doors opened to her personal receiving room, and Eleanor stepped in and took a look around. Whoever it was that had come to visit had not arrived yet. Good. That meant she had another few moments of freedom. She looked around the room, making certain that it was in perfect condition for visitors. Far too often she had come down to this sanctuary to relax away the constant demands of ruling a kingdom. Whereas her study was covered with tactical maps, trade agreements, books on war and law, and covered in various clutter, this room was neat and organized and filled with the things she loved best.
Upon walking in, the wall to her left was covered in one long bookshelf; the shelf contained books of poetry, history, romance, and music. Opposite the door was numerous windows with window seats attached and covered in pillows for relaxing. To her right was a simple cabinet filled with liquor and glasses. Her mother might not approve of her drinking the hard stuff, but on occasion it was needed. In the corner beside the cabinet and the door was her piano, which gave her the greatest comfort of all. Eleanor wished that she was more accomplished at playing, but the moments that she could steal upon the beautiful instrument were some of her favorites.
In the center of the room sat a long sofa with a simple table and three chairs facing towards the sofa around the table. It was there on the sofa that she plopped herself after grabbing a book of poetry from the bookshelf. Spending a moment flipping through the book, she sighed and set it beside herself before walking towards the windows. Looking outside, she allowed the feeling of the sun to warm on her face before looking down at the stables. She could see a few of the stable hands walking some of the horses, and noticed that Moonbeam was, as always, giving the poor boy a hard time. They were trying to guide her around, which Eleanor had learned quickly to not do. Moonbeam knew where to go and what to do, and Eleanor just went along for the ride. Attempting to control the horse always resulted on landing flat on her backside.
A knock at the door pulled Eleanor from her thoughts and she glanced at the window, trying to see her reflection in the glass. Nodding in approval at her image, she moved from the window to one of the chairs and sat in it. Glancing at the book, she grabbed it in her hands and opened it up, wanting to look as though she had been reading. On second thought, the book was about poetry and would make her look weak. She slammed it shut and set it on the table as though it were a decoration, and then decided to instead be standing.
“You may enter,” she said regally, and waited for the door to open.
Expecting a man, she was disappointed when it was simply a servant. Eleanor sunk back into the chair as the woman curtseyed before her, and Eleanor gave her a nod, waiting to hear what she had to say.
“My lady, would you care for tea?”
Eleanor knew that she should probably call for some, as her guest might like some as well, but at the current moment, all she wanted was the liquid in the cabinet. Nodding her reply, the woman curtseyed again and left the room to go prepare a tea tray.
Eleanor sighed again loudly and went to the cabinet, opening it to find a bottle of strong brown liquid. Opening the top to the brandy, she grabbed a glass and poured a little in. Replacing the lid, she picked the glass up in her hands, ready to down it, before setting the glass back down. On second thought, she was going to need more than one swallow. She poured a few more swallows into the glass before replacing the bottle in the cabinet and took a large gulp of the brandy.
Swallowing it and cringing at the taste, she heard the door knock again. Thinking it was the maid, Eleanor invited the knocker in, and was surprised when it was instead a man. Eleanor was startled and immediately set her glass down. The man quickly bowed to her and she lowered herself into a graceful curtsey. After a moment, she rose from her position and the man did the same.
Leaving the glass where she had placed it, Eleanor stepped towards him, elegantly looking up through her lashes. She did not know whether she should be looking at her feet, as she would with her father, or staring at him, as she would with any other man. Settling for somewhere in the middle, she got her first good look at him.
He was strong. She could tell that much from just one glance. His muscles could easily be seen through the shirt and doublet he wore, and she noted that he was rather tall, although not so tall she would have to look up at him. His eyes were a deep green, almost like an emerald, and she noted that his hair, which was cut close to his head, was a few shades darker than her own. His jaw was strong, and his mouth looked set, almost as though he was a hard man. His face bore no scars, but she could see one on his neck and quite a few on his hands.
As he took her hand into his, she noted that they were slightly rough, and she knew that whoever this suitor was, he was not one to think, but to take action. He dipped his head to kiss the top of her hand, and she noted that his lips barely touched her skin before he pulled back. She wrinkled her nose for a moment, wondering why he was so quick to stop touching her. His hand was warm, but other than that, his touch was nothing special.
“Princess, I thank you for the invitation and warm reception I have received in your home. I am Prince Alexander, second son of the King of Bromaric.”
Ah, he was the knight. That explained much already. She knew quite a bit about the Prince and his kingdom, and knew that he was quite possibly the greatest benefit to her kingdom’s safety. Bromaric was well known for her military. It seemed to be the only border country that could easily protect it and was well known for having the greatest army, the most advanced weaponry and armor, and perfect military tactics. An alliance with him would result in peace being kept along the borders and protecting her kingdom for many generations.
As for the Prince himself, he was a well-known military commander. While other noblemen would simply assume the right to lead an army, he instead worked his way through the ranks, attained the rank of knight, and proved himself on the battlefield to eventually become the Commander of the King’s Cavalry. He was a battle hardened soldier and now the King was looking to form alliances by marrying off his sons.
Beckoning her hand towards the sofa, Eleanor gave the man a warm and inviting smile. “I am so glad that you came, Prince Alexander. I have long been awaiting our introduction. Please, won’t you join me for some tea?”
The prince offered her his arm and escorted her to the seats that were just a few steps away. It was as though he was following the guide to princely etiquette to the letter, but she wasn’t going to stop him. It was better than how she had seen some soldiers act. She took her seat all the same and he sat across from her. They eyed each other for a moment, and she wished that she could hear what he was thinking. There was so much running through her thoughts that she couldn’t make sense of it.
In this kind of situation, what was there to say? Welcome to my palace, I need to get married, why should I marry you? She knew the reasons for marrying into the country. It was a well-known fact that she needed Bromaric’s military secrets, and an alliance would solidify the shaky neutrality that had been in place for only a few generations. Every time either army neared the border between the two, it was as though every breath was held, waiting to see if an attack would come. Eleanor needed secure borders.
What she really needed to know was what would make him a great King. While she was the Queen by birthright, she needed a man to lead beside her. This was not her decision, of course. It was simply the law. And it was not a one sided law, either. The new monarch had to be married. The one with the royal blood ruled with the other being support, which meant she would not have to bow to her husband. Regardless, she wanted a strong man beside her, not one that would take over, nor one that would disappear after the wedding day.
A knock came at the door to knock them both from their staring contest, and Eleanor jumped at the noise. The prince looked away from her towards the window, and they sat there awkwardly for a moment. They had been staring at each other for quite a few moments, and she feared that blood was rushing to her cheeks. How could she have let her thoughts run away from her?
“You may enter,” she said simply, and was relieved to see the maid enter with the tea tray. The woman set it upon the table and went to the cupboard to clear away Eleanor’s brandy from earlier. “Leave it,” she said quickly, then waited till the maid left the room.
Looking back at the Prince, she noticed that he was eyeing the tea tray oddly. How foolish of her; this man was neither a noble nor a woman that relished in the thoughts of relaxing. He was a battle hardened warrior – he would want something much stronger than tea, and so did she.
"Would you like some tea, Prince Alexander, or would you prefer something a little... stronger?"
The Prince looked up at her in surprise at the question, and she already knew what his response would be. “Stronger-“ Prince Alexander cleared his throat, as it seemed almost hoarse, before repeating himself. “Stronger, if you have anything, Princess.”
Nodding to him, Eleanor rose from her seat and was delighted to see that he stood awkwardly as well. He did seem to have perfect manners. It was, however, not a requirement that he follow them while they were in private.
“Please, my Lord, you do not need to stand every time I move. You will find that I do not often stay in the same place for long, and I would hate for you to trouble yourself.”
Prince Alexander nodded, and she smiled again, moving towards the cabinet. Pulling the same bottle from it, she filled another glass halfway before replacing the bottle back inside. Taking both glasses back to her seat, she offered him his cup and took a small sip of her own.
"While I do not normally prefer to drink liquor so early in the day, I know that this situation is certainly different from the normal. I find that having alcohol so easily at my disposal allows me to properly entertain whoever is visiting. I may be a Princess, but I am also the future ruler of this Kingdom."
He gave her a simple nod. “I quite agree,” he said simply. Well, that was a start.
• • •
Brandon was completely lost in the moment as he swung his longsword with both hands, gripping to the hilt. His anger filled him and he attacked aggressively without giving the young knight any real chance of a moment’s rest. He was furious about his encounter earlier with Eleanor: how could he have allowed himself to hold her for so long? He knew better than to assist her for more than a moment and his cheeks would have burned had his blood not already been pumping through his body.
The knight fell to the ground and Brandon was brought back to reality. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Brandon offered a hand down to the young man that was staring up in fear. He silently cursed himself, thinking of how foolish he was to have lost himself in his training. He was not small or weak and could easily hurt any that he sparred against. It was amazing that the lad had lasted as long as he did, but it did not change the fact that Brandon had lost control.
The boy took his hand and Brandon pulled him back up to his feet. Shaking the boy’s hand, he released it and sheathed his sword. “You did good, lad. I am impressed you stood against me for so long.” The boy simply nodded in shock and let out a huge sigh. It was all Brandon could do to not laugh.
Turning away from the boy and heading back to his room to wash up, his mind travelled back to Eleanor. He hadn't meant to hold her like that. Looking down at the beautiful woman in his arms, he had wanted to pull her much closer than she already was. He had wanted to brush back a few strands of hair from her face, and stare into her eyes without her looking away. His fingers still tingled from the feeling of her soft hair, and he cursed silently to himself as he trudged into his room.
Slamming the door behind himself, Brandon took off his sword belt and leaned it up against the wall. His boots he kicked off his feet and he waited for the servant he had signaled as he walked in to bring bath water. It arrived quickly and Brandon finished pealing his clothes off before sinking into the water. It was one of the few perks of being a member of the King’s guard.
Splashing water on his face and running his fingers through his hair, Brandon settled back for a moment, thinking about his predicament. The men always said that the best way to get a woman off your mind was liquor, cards, and a cheap woman. Nothing could help his situation. The only thing that would calm the raging storm within him was Eleanor.
• • •
“As you can easily see, my lord, we take great pride in our various achievements, be it in military or trade goods, as well as maintaining border and domestic peace. I must admit, of course, that our military is nothing in comparison to yours.”
Eleanor took a sideways glance at the Prince on her arm, hoping that she would find some sort of pride within him. This was the fourth time she had complimented Bromaric to some form, and the most she had gotten was a nod. Once again, she got a nod, and Eleanor sighed again to herself. How was she supposed to get anywhere when the man hardly spoke or showed emotion?
Looking down the long hallway, she smiled at some of the portraits and statues. While it was called a hallway, it was much more like a gallery, filled with various markings of achievements throughout the kingdom. There were paintings of past monarchs and military commanders, pedestals with trade discoveries on them, and various weapons all decorating the hallway.
They reached the next long hallway, this one filled with portraits of kings on their horses with hunting animals to accompany. There were numerous animal heads that were mounted along the wall, and Eleanor took pride in this room. A few of the deer had been hunted down by Eleanor herself, with her taking the killing blow.
"Do you like to hunt, my Lord?" she asked softly, hoping that perhaps she could finally have a common interest with the man. She noticed then that he was not beside her, and turned to see that he was standing at the door still. He was looking at all of the various heads on the wall, and she could not read his face.
"Perhaps we could see the training yard.” It was not exactly what she expected to hear from him in response to her question, but if seeing the training yard would please him, then so be it. She just wished she could get some sort of real opinion from the man. He was solid on any sort of feelings or emotions and she knew that if they were to marry, she would need to find at least some sort of common ground. The benefits from a match would greatly benefit the kingdom, but she was not so certain that it would make her happy, or that he would even be a good king.
"But, of course. Please, follow me."
• • •
Even after his relaxing bath, she was all he could think about. He wanted to possess her in mind, body, and soul, and the thought that she was currently with her future husband drove him wild with jealousy. He had to get out of the barracks and do something, but being around others would only worsen his mood. A ride through the countryside, to the field where she spent all her time, was the only real possibility for peace.
Grabbing his sword from where it rested against the wall, he strapped it to his back over his simple clothes. The long sword had been his father’s and he much preferred it to the sword and shield he was often forced to wear in the field. It felt right, to hold the heavy weight in both hands and swing it back and forth. The simplicity of the weapon and the moves that accompanied it were what made the most sense to him.
Making his way out of the barracks and down to the training yard, he saw the angel that had been plaguing his mind. She was a beautiful vision in her rich blue dress and her hair pinned up. It almost took his breath away to see her, so close, but so far. She looked pale, however, and he wanted to pull her into his arms and ask her what could possibly be the matter and promise to make it better.
• • •
Making their way into the yard, Eleanor thought for a brief moment about Sir Brandon. Was he out here training right now? Would she see him? She ran her eyes across the men that were training, but saw none that were even close to his height. She sighed again inwardly and continued beside Prince Alexander.
Eleanor had completely run out of things to say. They apparently had absolutely nothing in common. She had tried discussing their kingdoms, discussing hunting, and was now trying her hand with her own military. Prince Alexander was looking around, and she could finally see a little light in his eyes. Perhaps they had finally hit the mark on his interest.
Looking around again, she saw to her side the man she had been looking for just moments before. Sir Brandon was wearing simple breeches, his boots, a loose shirt, and his large sword across his back. It was so simple and rugged, yet she was drawn to the sight of him.
• • •
Against his better judgment, he took a step toward her then stopped as he saw what had caused her to be so pale. She was talking to a man about his height walking beside her. He had a warrior's stance, and he knew that this had to be one of her suitors. Jealousy filled him for a moment, but he calmed himself, knowing that he had no right to be jealous. She was the future Queen, and he was just a knight of the realm. She could never know the truth. She needed to marry for the kingdom.
Wanting to turn away or run off, he glanced towards the stables, on the other side of Eleanor. There was no way he could get there without her noticing, and he almost hoped that she would see him. If he could be so close to her, to smell her lavender skin, it would drive him wild.
He was staring at her, ready to make his move towards the stable, when he saw her look up and stop. For a brief moment their eyes met. Brandon could feel his face flushing, but he could not look away. He could see that her face flushed as well, and a wonderful breeze came by, and he could smell the lavender of her skin.
• • •
They held each other's eyes for a brief second, and she lost herself in that moment. He had always been a handsome man that had caught her eye, and she knew of the way he stared at her, but in this moment, the distance between them seemed so large, and she still felt she could run to him in a few seconds and not turn back.
What was she doing with this Prince? Yes, it was the best thing for the Kingdom, but what about the best thing for her heart? The answer came as she felt the wind swirl around her, and she wished that their moment could last forever.
The Prince spoke, and she turned her attention back to him. Was he allowed to train out here? That had to have been what he asked. "Of course, my Lord. You are a guest here and are welcome to make yourself quite at home."
• • •
The man beside her spoke, and she looked away from Brandon. The jealousy flared up in him again, but he took the opportunity to go to the stables. Running behind her quickly and dashing into the stables, he grabbed his horse, pulled him from his stall, and slid up onto his back, without even a saddle. Kicking his heels into the stallion's side, Brandon raced off, needing to get the brown eyed beauty from his mind.
• • •
Prince Alexander apparently took that to mean that he could start right then, as he had turned around and gone back into the castle. Turning her eyes back to where Brandon had been standing, she saw that he was gone, and turned around quickly to see where he was. She saw him come out of the stables on his horse, riding fast. Eleanor almost called out to him to stop, but she paused and watched him go. And for a brief moment, she felt sad.