Chapter Six : Some Answers
Eleanor opened her eyes slowly and realized it was dark outside. There were no candles lit, wherever she was, but the light of the moon was shining in the window. She realized that whatever she was sitting on, it was not a chair or a bed, and then noticed a hand holding onto her shoulder. There was an arm draped across her lap, holding her waist tight. She could hear a heartbeat against her ear, and looked up slowly to see the sleeping face of Sir Brandon.
She tried to crane her neck back to look in the room, and realized that there was no way she could get up without waking the sleeping knight. She didn’t want to talk about her crying earlier, but she did want to know more about what her father had said. If she was about to become Queen, she needed those she trusted most around her. Eleanor knew that regardless of anything else, this was the man that she wanted to personally protect her.
Another worrying thought came into her mind. What if he was embarrassed about falling asleep with her? What if he regretted bringing her here? Was he going to be mad or disappointed that she had shown a moment of weakness and cried? That thought only brought her more worry. Why did it matter if she disappointed him? The only person she had only worried about disappointing was her father. Was she just trying to look for someone else to please?
And then, he shifted in his sleep. Whereas before she had been laying across his lap bridal shower with her head on his shoulder, she was now being held firmly against his chest with her butt sitting directly on his lap. His head and fallen forward and he seemed to breathing in the scent of her hair, and Eleanor longed to raise a hand and run her hands through his hair in response. She went to move her arm, then realized how stupid that was. He was asleep and surely didn’t realize who he was holding. Oh, but how she wished he was awake and repeating those actions.
On cue, his breathing sped up some, and he seemed to wake up. She looked up slowly from where her eyes had fallen to his chest, and their eyes met. His face was not hard and emotionless, as it normally was. Instead, he looked down at her with the same face that she often saw on her father when he looked at her mother. It was a face of compassion, caring, and love.
Neither of them spoke as he held her in his arms, and Eleanor could no longer resist. Almost as though her arm had a mind of its own, hear hand slowly moved from her lap to rest on his chest. Their eyes remained locked as her hand slowly slid up his chest to rest on his shoulder. The arm that was wrapped around her waist held her tighter, and she could feel his actual hand cupping her hip. Her hand continued to raise higher, delicately brushing his cheek, and his eyes closed suddenly. She watched as he leaned his face into her touch, and she felt her cheeks burning.
As her hand left his cheek, it continued to ride higher until her fingertips were gracefully dancing across his temple. His eyes opened again, and the hand that held her shoulder flexed slightly and then tightened to hold her closer. As her fingers made their first contact with his hair, she felt him lean forward and burry his face into the mess that her hair was. It was glorious, feeling his face buried in her hair as her fingers stroked through his. They held each other for a moment like this, and it felt so natural.
She could feel his kisses in her hair, and then suddenly she was no longer laying across his lap. Sir Brandon picked her up delicately in his arms and twisted his body so that his legs were no longer propped up on the window seat. He was now sitting there with her sitting in his lap, and she twisted her body so that she was facing him as best she could with all of her skirts. Her other hand reached up to run her fingers into his hair, and she could hear the clatter of pins hitting the floor as she felt his fingers running through her hair. Within moments, the pins all seemed to be gone, and his fingers were filled with her hair.
They simply stared at each other, relishing in the feeling of the other person, before Eleanor realized what was going on and where she was. Her entire body stiffened, and she knew that Sir Brandon felt it too. His hands slid from her hair to rest down on her back, and he slowly pulled away from her, staring down into her eyes. Her fingers held onto his hair for a few moments longer before she looked away and let her hands fall.
In one graceful move, Sir Brandon picked her back up again in his arms and rose from the seat, only to turn and place her back down. She was sitting where he had just sat as he went down onto one knee in front of her and bowed his head low. She simply stared down at him and he said nothing. The silence in the room was deafening.
Eleanor sat there, her hands resting on her lap and her feet barely touching the floor. Her eyes rested on the back of Sir Brandon’s head. She wondered what he was thinking about. She knew that the only thing on her mind was the fact that she had slept in his arms and woken up to finally touch his hair. The hair on her skin prickled at the memory of him running his fingers through her hair, and she could see the pins that were scattered around the floor below her. Her lips had been so close to his that she could still feel his breath on her skin, and she remembered the slight smell of mint that had come from him.
She didn’t know what to say, or what he was expecting. Sir Brandon looked as though he was swearing fealty to her or… he was awaiting judgment. He must think that she was going to punish him. But, what was there to punish him for? In her moment of weakness, he had rescued her. When she needed comfort, he had held her. When she had acted on her feelings, he had responded. There was no way in which she could be angry with him, except for the fact that he had dashed away so quickly.
“Uh, m, um, Sir Brandon, please.” She stumbled to get out the words, not really knowing what to say. He looked up at her with shock written across his face. “Please, just stand up; don’t do that, please.”
Sir Brandon jumped up quickly and stood before her, and they stared at each other for a moment before Eleanor jumped up too. They stood facing each other, so close she could feel the warmth coming from his skin, and she looked up into his eyes. If she had had trouble forming words before, it was impossible now.
Her feet ached to raise up onto the tips of her toes so that she could just be closer to him, but her brain ordered them to instead turn, and she twisted away from the knight quickly and walked towards her desk. Keeping her back to him, she started pulling out random drawers. Unable to find what she needed, she went over to a small cabinet next. Searching throughout, she still could not find what she needed.
Trying one last time, she went to the bookshelf and ran her hands behind a number of the smaller books. Her fingers touched glass, and Eleanor pulled out the bottle with a smile on her face, feeling victorious. Removing the lid quickly, she raised the bottle to her lips and took a quick gulp. The brandy burned as it slid down her throat.
Turning to Sir Brandon, she saw the shock on his face. So she wasn’t exactly the most normal of Princesses... what did he want her to do, faint? She offered the bottle to him, and he took a large gulp before offering it back. She wanted to drink more of it until she could forget the horrid day, but if she didn’t have time to act like a woman, she certainly didn’t have time to become a drunk.
Replacing the lid quickly, she set the bottle on her desk and thought about her next move. Sir Brandon opened his mouth as though to speak. She raised her hand quickly and gave him a look that stopped his lips, and she returned her hand back to her hips. Looking at him for a moment, she turned and looked at the bottle on her desk, then pivoted and looked at the door.
Tossing some of her loose hair back over her shoulder, she marched over to the door and opened it. Two guards stood outside. She knew that she most likely looked a horrid mess, but they made no reaction as they turned to accept her order.
“I require that someone goes and checks on my father. I want to know how his progress is and what preparations are being made. I also require food brought up.” She stopped and took a glance back at Brandon. “Two food trays brought up. After they come up, I am not to be disturbed unless it about my father.”
The guards nodded and one of them dashed off to fulfill her requests. She shut the door and turned back to Brandon, who simply stared at her in shock. “Sit,” she commanded, and pointed at one of the two chairs sitting in front of her desk. He stared at her for another second longer before lowering himself into a chair. She nodded to herself simply and then grabbed the bottle again and took another drink. It wasn’t very classy of her to drink straight from the bottle, but right now, it sounded like a good idea.
Realizing that she would need some messengers to send out letters she had to write, she went back to the door to see the single guard standing there. “I also need messengers, at least three of them. They are to all keep their mouths shut.” She shut the door again without waiting for a response and went to her desk.
Brandon was eyeing her from the chair and she realized she still had the bottle of brandy in her hands. Offering it to him, she handed him the bottle again then went over to a bookshelf to search through the books. Finding the one she was looking for, she flipped through it quickly before coming upon the page she sought.
Her eyes scanned quickly – she had grown up reading numerous documents, most of which were dull and boring – and she found the part that she wanted. There was no clause, no back way out. She had not expected her father to fall ill so fast, and she had to act quickly now.
Pulling out the first piece of parchment, she sprawled a message to one of the councilmen that interpreted the law, requesting him search for some way to save her. Her second, third and fourth pieces of parchment called for a council meeting. Her fifth piece of parchment went to the councilman that monitored the royal funds.
She next wrote out a note to the Royal planner to prepare for a coronation, and followed it with a quick notice to the Master of Training that all uniforms should be perfected. A note went to the Royal Tailor about a coronation gown and finally, she sent a note to the Royal Healer, notifying him of the upcoming ceremony.
The food had come while she had been. Eleanor sealed the last of the notes and went to the door and handed them to each of the messengers. “Tell no one of this,” she said simply, then shut the door and went back to her desk.
Sitting down, she sighed and flexed her hand. She could have used a scribe for that, but the less who knew, the better. Scribes were well known to be paid spies for others. If no one wrote for her, then no one would know her secrets. Letting her head roll back, she closed her eyes for a brief second before groaning and leaning forward.
Her eyes opened to see Sir Brandon staring at her from across the desk. They were both silent, before she sighed again. Taking one of the trays that was sitting in front of her, she grabbed up a biscuit and began nibbling on it, wanting to keep herself busy so she wouldn’t have to talk to him. Throwing the biscuit down after a few bites, she sighed and turned back to the knight.
“Well?” she asked. He had to know what she wanted to know. Her father was keeping some sort of secret about Sir Brandon from her, and she needed to know what it was.
“Well what, my princess?” he asked softly. His face was a mask of pure calm, and Eleanor had to control herself before she burst into laughter. The man knew exactly what she was talking about.
“What is it that my father knows, Sir Brandon? There is something you are keeping from me, and I will have it out of you.”
Sir Brandon looked away from her, and his cheeks flushed. Perhaps out of all the questions she should be asking him, that was not the right one to start with. Regardless, it was the one she needed answered the most.
“Brandon,” she said again, and his eyes snapped back to hers at the sound of just his name. “I won’t have secrets between the two of us. I have to have someone I can trust.”
Brandon nodded in response and then groaned. His fingers ran through his hair and her fingers tingled in response, remembering the feeling. “Princess Eleanor, I just don’t know what to say,” he said in response. He was looking away from her when he spoke, but his attention came back as she moved back to her desk.
“Brandon, I am about to become Queen. If there is something I need to know, you had best tell me now. Is the secret you keep from me dangerous?”
Sir Brandon stared at her for a moment then shook his head slowly.
“Are you a danger to me?”
Sir Brandon shook his head again and their eyes remained locked.
“Will you protect me, no matter what happens?”
“Yes, my lady,” came the quick response.
Whatever the secret was, it wasn’t coming out now. As long as she was safe, she would have to allow her father to keep it from her. The fact that there was some secrecy between them, especially on his death bed, burned both her pride and confidence, but it was just another thing she would have to let slide by.
“Alright, then. I shall take your word for it. If my father can forgive you for it, then I can let it go… for now. We have much to discuss and it will be a late night, so please, eat.”
• • •
They ate in silence. Brandon kept stealing glances at her, wanting to tell her the truth. She should know. She had a right to know. Regardless of how badly he wanted to tell her, he knew that she would respond poorly. There was no way of avoiding that. He just had to keep his mouth shut. Like she had said, if her father still trusted him, then she could as well. He didn’t want to lie to her, but telling her the truth was going to end badly.
“Sir Brandon.” Her words brought him from his own thoughts and he looked up from his soup to her beautiful brown eyes. “Please, excuse me, but I am going to be blunt with you. I have to be blunt with you.” He nodded quickly and set down his spoon.
“Of course, my princess. I hope that you can always be blunt with me.” Brandon wished for much more than blunt speech between the two of them, but this showed she trusted him. It was more than he could have ever hoped for. She even knew that he was holding a secret, and yet was still trying to have honesty between the two of them.
Eleanor seemed to be drawn into her thoughts, as her eyes were resting on her tray. Brandon wanted to reach his fingers out to graze her cheek or chin and bring those eyes to look into his again, but he feared the rejection that would accompany the meeting of their eyes. His luck already felt pushed for the day.
“Sir Brandon, within a sennight, I will be queen. That fact gives me no pleasure. You, of all people, know the pain that I currently endure…” Her words trailed off, and finally her eyes rose from where they had been settled on her tray.
Her eyes still looked red from the tears she had shed earlier, but there were no tears now. Instead, he saw the hardness that was so apparent in her father begin to slowly return to her face. She was trying to put on the look of the strong monarch, instead of the grieving daughter. In moments like these, he wished nothing more than to pull her into his arms and comfort her.
“I will not allow for fear to plague my people. The border has not been safe for generations, but war is on the edge. More than ever, my knights must be prepared. This kingdom will not be filled with ravaged villages, farms destroyed, and families broken. I mean to end this quickly and sufficiently, should it begin. With the rise of a Queen to our throne, we will look vulnerable, and I will not be taken advantage of.”
Brandon nodded to himself at her words. It had been many generations since a daughter had taken the throne. The last Queen to take the throne of her own right had taken it in a time of complete peace. While the economy had prospered and culture flourished, there had been no military struggles. Who was to know what would happen with Eleanor becoming Queen and how Archaria would react. The king was sure to take advantage of any perceived weakness.
“Of course, my princess. I understa-“
“No, Sir Brandon, I do not think you understand. War shall soon be upon us, and I may be quite alone in that venture.” Brandon stiffened at those words. Why would she be alone? She had to marry to take the throne. Surely she would wed the Prince of Bromaric. He could easily lead the knights to victory.
“I have not yet chosen the future king, and while I fear for the safety of our kingdom, military is not the only aspect I must take into account. I wish it was the only trial that I must face, but it is one of many. I need the knights prepared, and I need someone to lead them.”
If Brandon’s body had not already been tensed, he would be as stiff as a board now. Where were her words leading, and what did that have to do with his trust. He lost the courage to look at her any longer and glanced down back at his food. He dropped his hands from the tray and wiped his fingers clean on his pants, not knowing what to say.
“I also need protection. There is no heir to the throne. Should I die, the nobility will be in an uproar, squabbling over the absurd, and allow Venaramine to be ripped apart by our enemies. To be perfectly honest, I do not know which is more important- the protection of the boarders, or the protection of the Queen.”
Brandon looked up again and saw that Eleanor had let her gaze fall back onto her tray. This was one of those moments that he longed to hold her. He almost spoke to console her, but he could see her lips parting to speak again.
“Sir Brandon, I am frightened. Frightened of what is to come, and what I cannot control. I need every soul that can be counted on to stand by my side. Perhaps I am selfish in this, but I need you to be beside me when the time comes. You have long served my father as the Captain of the King’s Guard, and you will continue on those duties in an increased scale.”
“My father has always commanded the army. It has been the duty of the King for the past few generations. However, I cannot take that role. I need someone else, with the experience on the battlefield. I have decided to place Lord Erstein as Commander of the Army. His position on the council is important, but I need him on the battlefield far more. This will leave a vital role of the Council open.”
Brandon nodded to himself absently. Lord Erstein was a good choice. He had long served as King Juan’s second-in-command and had led men in to battle and victory countless times. He was by far one of the most battle hardened warriors and there was no one better to lead the assault on the borders. In taking up the place of second-in-command, the Lord had also received a great estate near the border. He could easily lead an army from there while still resting in his old age. Should the princess have asked him, that would be his choice as well.
Brandon saw her eyes reach his, and he realized the last of her words. This would leave the Council short one. There had always been five lords in the King’s council. There was a military strategist, a man that understood the laws and histories, someone trained in numbers and finances, a Healer from Goddess, and a representative of the Nobility. Was he asking for her help in choosing?
“You are being raised from Captain of the King’s Guard to a member of the Council. You will receive a title of nobility and the rank of Lord. You will be second on the Council to me alone and second in the military to Commander Erstein. You will stay by my side to guide and assist me, as well as protect me.”
All of his training could not prepare him for this moment. Brandon felt his jaw almost drop to the floor and stared at her in shock. Had she completely lost her mind? He could not become a Lord of the Realm. Why would she choose him to join the Council. He would be Second?
A giggle interrupted his thoughts, and he realized that Eleanor was laughing at him. She couldn’t seem to control her laughter either, and was almost doubled over. Was this some sort of a joke? She continued laughing and eventually caught her breath while Brandon stared at her. He stumbled for words while she kept chuckling to herself.
“My lady, are you-“ He couldn’t even ask. There was no way she could be certain of this decision. It was by far one of the worst decisions she could have ever made. There was no doubt in his mind now that his secret would have to remain that way.
Her laughing finally slowed and she took a few sips of her drink before speaking. “Your face… oh…” She laughed a few more times before it seemed she was ready to speak again.
“Forgive me. Your face was written with shock, and I could not help but to laugh. I think it might be the first time I have truly laughed in days.”
The smile that was spread across her face with her beautiful sparkling brown eyes was enough to make Brandon forget for a moment what they had been discussing. For the first time in so long, she looked alive. Her cheeks were flush from the laughing and her smile was wide while her chest raised and fell as she began to breathe again. Nothing else mattered to him when he saw that smile.
“Sir Bran- oh wait, no. My Lord Brandon, do you accept the position?” Her eyes looked full of hope, and he knew he could not deny her, regardless of all his reservations. He simply nodded, and her face broke into a wider grin. “Thank you. You will not regret this. I will not regret this. I need you now more than ever, my Lord.” The last words were accompanied with a sweet smile and he felt his heart skip a few beats.
He felt his smile start to grow, and for the first time in so long, he was smiling as well. Their eyes held the others, and he felt his heart begin to race again. He wanted to reach his hand forward to hold hers which was resting on the desk, but he feared ruining the moment. She had made him a Lord and Second-in-Command. While it was not official until the ceremony, it was as good as done. He was no longer a simple knight. As a Lord, he could go somewhere in life. As a Lord, he could pursue the thing he wanted most…
“Thank you,” he said simply, almost whispering out the words. She returned his smile and they both nodded to each other. Silence crept over them, and she suddenly looked away and let her hands fall to her lap. The moment seemed ruined and he wondered what was on her mind now.
“Brandon…” his given name on her tongue made his heart jump again. “Now, more than ever, I need my friends. I fear that war is coming, and this decision I must make in but a few days will be one of the easiest I shall have to make. Your life is about to change with the role you are now taking, and I worry that it may not be for the better and that you will resent me for the responsibilities and charges I am placing upon you. I can trust no one else to be honest with me.”
“My princess…” the words rolled off his tongue so easily. For so long, his heart had said the words MY princess, and he knew that the words from his mouth must sound the same. “you can trust in me.”
Eleanor seemed to be drifting off to her thoughts again and simply nodded before rising from her chair. Brandon jumped up to do so as well. “I know. I know.” She gave him a soft smile before yawning to herself. Shaking her head as if she was trying to shake the sleep away, she gave him another soft smile.
“Forget this. I will not drag you through policies and decision making this late. Go to bed, Brandon, and on the morrow, you shall move into your new rooms within the palace. I have already sent notice, but a council meeting shall be held after lunch. I expect you to be there. The official ceremony for yourself and Lord Erstein shall be held before dinner. We have another long day ahead of us.”
Brandon simply nodded to himself and then bowed low as she turned and left the room. He stared at her for a moment and felt his heart race again. She had called him simply Brandon quite a few times tonight, and she trusted him. She trusted him enough to make him her second. She trusted him enough to make him a Lord. Never in his life would he have seen this happening, and now, he didn’t know what to do, except thank the Goddess for the good fortune that had happened upon him.
• • •
As soon as she was in her rooms again, Eleanor shut the door and leaned against her. Her heart was still racing. What had she done? She hadn’t planned on any of what had occurred, but the thoughts had dawned on her all the same while writing out notices for the next day. She needed someone around to protect her and guide her, and the only person that she truly wanted nearby, if not her father, was her ever watchful knight. Lord Brandon… it sounded beautiful to her ears.
She also couldn’t forget the way he had said “My Lady” and “My Princess.” Eleanor had spoken with the same emphasis when she had called him “My Lord.” She knew that the simple flirtation between them was wrong and that her heart was simply searching for something steady given the rocky path that lay before her. What was she thinking, letting herself grow closer to the man?
The thought that truly made her heart race, however, was not the thought of his words nor the sudden decisions she had made. Nay, they were not the thing that set her skin on fire, or even the blow that knocked the breath from her body. It was her thought that had occurred while she stared into his eyes. Her body had finally betrayed her in its desires. For in that moment, while she stared deep into his eyes, she had wanted nothing more than for his kiss.