Chapter Seven : I Was Hoping For Better...
It was perhaps the most restful sleep Eleanor had had since her father had started falling ill. Her entire body was relaxed into her bed and she actually felt ready for the day. Whereas most mornings she had to drag herself from the bed, she found that this morning, she was up before Gayle had even brought up her tea. It was certainly a surprise, but Eleanor had a suspicion that it was because she felt at peace. She had made the first steps in having a strong and stable reign as Queen by raising Sir Brandon to a Lord and Council member. She just hoped that he had as much faith in himself as she did.
When Gayle walked in with her morning tea tray, Eleanor was already sitting at her dressing table and had just finished brushing her own hair. Giving the woman a warm smile, Eleanor noted the look of shock on her maid’s face from seeing the princess awake of her own choice. Giggling softly, she went ahead and prepared her tea while Gayle went about pulling a dress out.
Taking a small sip of the hot liquid, Eleanor savored the flavor for a moment before rising and letting Gayle pull the gown over her head. Whereas she normally wore gowns that were tight around the bodice with full skirts, Eleanor was instead wearing a dress that was tight around her bust and hung loose from there. She was going to have a long day with little time to worry about her wardrobe and would be walking about the castle trying to prepare. It was simply not a day to be wearing tight corsets and layers of undercoats. The sleeves were even loose, flaring gently from the shoulders, allowing her an ease of movements. Perhaps this would be the next fashion to catch on – Eleanor would gladly be the first to burn the tight bindings that normally held her.
Gayle continued to prepare the princess by braiding her hair back in a long simple braid with a few wisps of hair slipping out. A simple tiara was placed delicately in her hair and Eleanor chose a simple set of diamond earring studs to complete the look. The rich purple of the gown with the simple but sparkling ornaments would remind everyone today that she was more than just a princess, but also the determined heir to the throne.
Taking a few more sips of her tea before sliding into her slippers, Eleanor gave Gayle a nod to dismiss her and sat down for a moment at her window seat to relax. It was still a little early to head to the Council chambers. It was her right as future Queen to show up when she pleased, but showing up early would also allow the Councilors to question her decisions before she had time to properly announce them. She may have only seen Twenty years of life, but that was not enough of a reason to allow anyone to push her around. Her blood flowed with the blood of Kings and Queens of the past ages. Their strength was within her, and the Councilors could all be damned if they did not remember that fact.
The training yard below her window looked alive with activity. Servants and pages were rushing about while Knights barked out orders. She noted that Lord Erstein was down below in full robes commanding the knights to hurry their work. Could he possibly suspect the new position that was coming to him? The man was more like an Uncle to her than just a simple Lord or knight, and she knew that no one deserved the honor greater than him. Regardless of her choice of husband, this was the man that she trusted to lead Venaramine to victory.
When her father had been just a boy learning to use his sword for the first time, Erstein had been a squire to one of his uncles. He had been a guiding hand in helping the future king learn to use every manner of weapons. When the borders became overrun with enemies, the squire was quickly knighted by her grandfather for his fearless and wise moves upon the battlefield. It was no surprise that he continued training the soon-to-be Commander of the Army, and when her father had become King, Erstein was given a place of honor among his personal guard.
No one was more loyal to her father than Sir Erstein. He was a valiant knight that continued training and teaching. When the border wars had erupted during her father’s time, he was the first to battle and the last to leave, making certain that no man was left behind to suffer a slow death alone. He was compassionate, fearless, wise, and just. His place as a Lord on the Council was one that she wished could continue, but there was no one alive that had his wisdom of commanding a battle field. Not even Prince Alexander had the amount of real combat expertise.
It was why she had chosen Brandon to take his place on the Council. When Sir Erstein was raised to a Lord and settled into the palace, he had already found his next great student. At the time, the boy had been just a small lad, but was already showing promise. He had been a boy of no family or name and worked in the stables, Erstein had found him in the stable yard one night, attempting to swing one of the great practice swords. The King had been with him, and both agreed to allow the lad to train.
The boy had worked harder than any page and trained harder than any squire. When the time had come for his training to conclude, the King allowed him to test for Knighthood, and so Sir Brandon had found his place in the world. Eleanor could still remember that day he had walked out victorious. Not much was known about the testing to become a knight save for those who were knights themselves, but a great feast was always held after the trials. Both her father and Lord Erstein had been proud of the boy that they had watched grow into a man.
Now, that boy would follow in his adopted father’s feet and take a place among the council. No one had been trained in the ways of battle and leadership quite like him. After Sir Brandon’s training, Lord Erstein had taken no more pupils, instead continuing to teach the man. It was why he was such a large success as Captain of the King’s Guards. If he could not defend Eleanor and defend the castle against all attacks, then there was no one else that could. It was why she knew he was the best choice she had made in a while.
Almost as though her thoughts were coming alive before her, she saw Brandon join Erstein in the training yard. He was dressed in his simple pants and loose shirt with his boots. He was soon to be a Lord, and yet he still dressed for comfort. She almost envied that he had the choice. The two men looked to be in conversation for a few moments before they both turned to walk inside the castle.
Brandon paused for a moment, and Eleanor felt her breath catch in her throat. He turned and looked up and the window in which she was sitting. He made no other movement except to look towards her, and she did not move. Could he see her? Did he know that she had been thinking of him?
She pulled back from the window and looked down into her lap, sighing. What was it about this man that had her so flustered? Why did he seem to dominate her thoughts? If she could remember her dreams, she was certain that he would dominate those as well. It had always been like this. She would see him, and for the next few days, she would keep her eyes open for him. Regardless, it would be weeks before she ever saw him again. Her father always had him so busy or else he would be off training. It was only since her father became ill that she saw the knight regularly.
But once Sir Brandon became a normalcy in her life, she hadn’t thought too often on him. She was trying to block all thoughts and emotions and thought only on the tasks at hand. Of course, he had only ever seen her in the role of Princess. It had been since that day in the field… when he had seen her acting as herself. Since then, he had seemed to swarm her senses all over again, as they had when she was a child. It wasn’t something she should be worrying about, and yet here she was, allowing him to cloud her mind.
Sipping down the last of her tea, Eleanor rose from her window seat completely and decided to head to her study. Within the castle, there were four towers. One of the towers belonged to the star gazers. Another tower was used for the keeping of the birds. A third tower had been her father’s personal study. It now sat undisturbed. The third tower belonged to her. The front two towers always belonged to the monarch and their heir. Once it became apparent that her parents would have no more children, she had been given the key. No one had access without her permission, even to clean, and not even her parents.
The hallway between the stairs of both towers also lead to the Council chambers, which sat in the center. In this way, it allowed for the King and the heir to both come from their studies, without interruption from the palace below. Right of entry to even come up the stairs to this hall was given to only the guards, the Royal family, and the members of the Council. As the princess, she had a quick route to that stairwell.
Nodding to the guards as she went, she climbed up the first set of stairs and nodded to the guards that stood before the Council chambers. Walking past, she heard no sound coming from the room. Good. That meant she had more than enough time to relax for a while in her study. She already knew that she would arrive, but she didn’t want to miss the meeting all together.
Reaching the top of the next set of stairs, she saw that someone was sitting on the bench outside of her study. The two guards standing on either side of the study door were eyeing the guest warily, and when the person turned to face her, she knew why. What could Phillip possibly want this early in the morning? She was surprised that he was even awake at this hour, and clearly he had to be on a mission.
Stopping where she was at the top of the stairs, her smile disappeared and she cross her arms across her chest and shifted her weight onto one side, staring down at the man. It took all of her patience to not order him removed from the castle, and for a moment, she considered ignoring him and just going to her office. By protocol, he could not speak to her until she had spoken to him. Perhaps, however, it would be better to just get it over with.
“Phillip…” she said simply, and raised an eyebrow. “What do you need, why are you outside of my study, and how did you even get here in the first place?” He shouldn’t have even been able to access this level anyways…
The Duke already had a sly smile across his face. “Come now, princess. I have my ways. I am a Duke of the Realm, and your future husband. I have every right to be here, and should have been allowed entry to the study.”
Eleanor saw red. What right did he have to call himself her future husband. He and everyone else knew that she had three choices at the moment, and that all of them had an equal chance. And to presume that those facts alone should allow him entry to the most secure of areas… If he continued on with this behavior, she would have him thrown out.
Taking in a deep breath, she walked towards the door of her study past Duke Phillip and opened up the door. Turning back to stare at the man, who was glaring at her, she sighed again. Her hand fell from the door handle and she twisted her body to face him.
“If you have something to say, then say it now. I have matters to attend to this morning, and choosing a husband is not one of them.”
Phillip looked a little off balance at his words, but of course the man quickly recovered. “Of course, Princess; I was simply wondering why I was not invited to the Council meeting. If I am to be King-“
Her murderous glare stopped his words short. How did he know about the meeting? The messengers had been the most loyal to her and should have kept their mouths shut, as commanded. The councilors would not have shared their meeting with anyone, given that it was a matter of security. This meant someone was sharing her secrets. She would have to task Brandon with finding out who was the traitor.
“Duke Phillip, if you want to remain in this castle past noon, then I strongly suggest you find your way back to your room, and stay there until you are summoned.”
One of the guards beside her took the hint and stepped forward to escort Phillip away. The man looked ready to spit fire at her, and for a moment she wished that Brandon was beside her. He would have given her the strength to stare Phillip back down, but she simply turned away and walked into her office, slamming the door.
The gall of that man, to demand to attend a Council meeting… Her mother had never attended a Council meeting unless invited. Why would she ever invite her husband? It was the responsibility of the monarch by blood to lead the meetings unless they chose to pass the reigns, and she would never give up that right to Phillip, should she choose him. She was regretting inviting him more and more, but hopefully after the meeting, he could be out of the castle and back to his home.
Collapsing into her desk chair, she buried her face into her hands and groaned. Her morning had actually started off somewhat good, and now it just felt ruined. Just remembering that Phillip was in the country was enough to ruin a day, but having in only a few minutes away from her made her shiver. At least one of the Councilors had to have good news…
A knock came on the door, and she groaned. How had Phillip managed to convince the guards to bring him back to her study? She knew that the man was determined, but this was becoming absurd. She rose from her desk and jerked open the door, ready to start yelling obscenities at the man, but was started to see that it was instead Lord Estein.
Her face surely had to reflect shock, as the man also had shock on his face as well at her abrupt door opening. They stared at eachother for a moment while she tried to gather her bearings and then realized she had not invited him in.
“Please, my Lord, come in and have a seat.”
“Thank you, Princess. I promise to keep this brief.”
The Lord followed her inside and took sat down in a chair in front of the desk. Sliding into her own chair, Eleanor eyed the man, waiting for him to speak.
“Lord Erstein, if you have something to say, then please say it. You have always spoken your mind with my father, and I hope that you will continue to speak freely with me.”
The man nodded and gave Eleanor a half smile. “Of course, Princess. If there is one thing you shall never want more of, it will be my opinion.”
Eleanor returned the smile and nodded. Her father had often gone on and on about how Lord Erstein could never shut his mouth and stop giving constant critique and opinion. She had also heard her father say countless times that his opinions and friendship were invaluable to him.
“What are you doing with Brandon?”
The question shocked her for a moment, and Eleanor pulled back from how she had been leaning in a friendly manner toward the man. Of all the questions or reasons he could come to visit her for, this was not what she expected. Her face had to look the way that she felt – completely confused. What could the man possibly think she was doing with Sir Brandon that would prompt that question?
“Come now, Eleanor. If you want honesty from me, then you should also return it to me. I have known you since the day you were born. I have watched you grow and become a beautiful young woman. I have seen you shed both blood and tears as you reached for your goals, so I am going to ask you this again. What are you doing with Brandon?”
Eleanor stared at the man in shock, her jaw slightly dropped. What was she doing with Brandon? She had no idea what he was talking about. She stared at him for a moment, then noticed that her heart was racing.
Slumping down in her chair, she shut her mouth and stared down into her lap. Her heart was racing at the thought of Brandon. She had been looking for ways to spend more time with him. When she had needed comfort, he was the person she turned towards for solace. She had moved beyond the line of a royal and her guard. Brandon had become her strength when things became tough, and she was now pulling the strings to keep him nearby.
“I… I don’t really know. How could you tell?”
She looked up slowly and was met with gentle, sad eyes. Lord Erstein reached his hand across the desk toward her and she took it, letting him comfort her.
“There there, my dear child. I may be growing older in years, but I am still observant. It was kind of hard to miss that when your father grew worse, you and Brandon both disappeared. Add on the fact that you are raising him to a Lord and placing him on the Council, and of course the mess with him slamming a chair against the wall when Phillip arrived, it was rather obvious.”
Eleanor stiffened at his last words. Brandon had destroyed a chair when Phillip had arrived? She had seen that the knight had been angry when the Duke had arrived, but she did not realize how angry until now. She felt a soft smile to go her lips, then brought her attention back to the Lord.
“How about you tell me what in all is going on…”
So Eleanor did. She started at the beginning, telling Erstein about how she had always noticed Brandon when she was growing up. How she always looked for him after seeing him. How she had been spending more time with him once her father grew ill. She even mentioned the moments in the training yard and her father’s words on his sick bed. Lord Erstein looked a little upset when she mentioned that they had fallen asleep together, but he relaxed more when she told him about how Brandon had been chivalrous and asked for forgiveness.
“I don’t really know what in all is going between us. I feel so strong and confident when I am around him, and when he is not around, I miss him and wish that he was near. I fear that I am drawing all of my power from him, but at the same time, I need someone like that.” Lord Erstein suddenly looked uncomfortable, and Eleanor asked him why.
“Eleanor… I think you should listen to what your father said. Follow your heart. Other than that, I don’t know what else to tell you, except that I agree, regardless, with your choice of placing Brandon in my open spot on the Council. He will serve you well and will speak freely with you, if you give him the chance. He is also a good man to protect you. I would not feel safe leaving the castle with anyone other than him by your side.”
Eleanor nodded and smiled at his words. While she had had a great suspicion that was the way that the old man would feel, it was good all the same to be told she had made a wise decision.
“I thought the same, my Lord. And now, I fear that your time is up, as we have a Council meeting to attend.”
• • •
On his knees, Brandon prayed. He prayed for guidance, and wisdom. He prayed for strength, and for victory. Most of all, he prayed for Eleanor. He prayed that she would trust him, and that he would not fail her. And even though he prayed, Brandon feared that his fervent wishes were falling on deaf ears. The Goddess would never listen to a man like him.
Sighing in defeat, Brandon stayed down and buried his face into his hands. Even after Eleanor had dismissed him for the night, he could not return to his room. Instead, he had searched for sanctuary within the Temple. The Healers had come to his aid to see if he needed their Blessing, but he had instead asked for solitude. And so, that was how he spent his night. Even as the sun was peeking through the glass windows, he felt no better.
"Sir Brandon, if I may have a word..."
Brandon heard the voice behind him and turned to see who it was. He should not have been surprised as to who it was, however. No other Healer would have dared to bother the knight during his prayers.
"Healer Dominic, of course. I was just finishing my prayers."
The man nodded in response and stepped back, waiting for Brandon to rise. Brandon slowly rose and felt his knees crack slightly after being bent all night. He stretched them out for a moment before walking towards the Healer. The man looked half bent over with old age and was leaning heavily on his staff.
Even though he had just risen from his knees, Brandon went to take a seat again on one of the benches and beckoned for Dominic to join him. The man was well known for being far wiser than he should be and was a predominant member of the Council. Even still, the man always wore the simple robes of a Healer and had no item that would show his rank as one of the chosen few to advise the monarch.
"Does your heart feel lighter with the Blessing of the Goddess, my boy?"
Brandon shook his head immediately to the Healer's question. "While I am certain that the Goddess listens to some, she did not come to me this night and lesson the burdens of my heart. I fear that my sleepless night shall have to be simply that, and I shall have to tackle my problems on my own."
Dominic nodded in response and sat back on the bench. Brandon looked down from the man into his hands and sighed again. Brandon's lack of faith for himself had been a topic of much conversation between the two men for years. Dominic had always pushed the point that the Goddess listened to all those who searched for her guidance. Brandon believed that only the good received her Blessing. And no warrior was good, given how much death they caused.
"Brandon, I will not continue to argue this point with you. I will, however, say this. Whatever has caused you to spend the night on your knees praying proves that you are a good man. An evil man would not pray to the Goddess for her guidance. I just wish you saw the good in you that everyone else did."
Brandon shook his head no again. "I simply pray for the Kingdom and the King. My problems, as I have stated, are my burdens to bare alone. The Goddess will not support me in them, of that I am certain."
Dominic gave him a sigh in response and rose from where he was sitting, leaning heavily on his staff. Brandon jumped up to help the old man to his feet then followed him as they moved slowly towards the doorway of the temple. For a few moments, they spoke of Brandon's recent training and the page training that Brandon was overseeing. No matter how busy the old man got, he still discussed the simple coming and going of the training yard.
When they reached the main hallway, Brandon excused himself. He had to go clean up somewhat before going to the Council meeting. Dominic had not mentioned it, so Brandon kept it to himself. Perhaps the man did not know yet... or he was waiting for Brandon to bring his own doubts to voice before giving his wisdom. It seemed that all the great men around him were full of wisdom, and Brandon wished that he could say the same of himself. Instead, he was simply a man of action.
All of his posessions were already packed when he reached his room. He had asked a servant to simply bundle up all of his belongings to make it easier to move into the castle. Now, he couldn't believe how few items he actually owned. Other than the books and clothes, all he had was his sword. He had never needed anything else.
Splashing his face with water quickly and shaving his face, Brandon looked at his clothes for something to wear. He could put on his full uniform, but that reflected the rank of Captain, and he was not on duty. He could wear his armor, but this was a Council meeting after all, not battle. All that was left were his simple clothing. It suited him well enough, and even as a Lord, he would continue to dress as he really pleased. He needed to be comfortable and still able to move. Simple breeches, boots, and shirt it would be.
Wearing clean clothes, he told a passing servant to take his things to his new room in the castle. He wasn't sad as he left the room he had held for the past six years since he had become a knight. It was just a room, and in the castle, he would be closer to Eleanor...
Spotting Lord Erstein in the training yard, he went up to the man, who was wearing full robes. There was no way Brandon could ever dress like that. How would he protect his future queen in something that looked so heavy and bulky? Would she be offended that he did not dress like a Lord?
Brandon spoke with his mentor for a few moments about the pages training. He also said nothing about Brandon taking his spot on the Council. Had they not been told, or were they simply avoiding the topic?
Lord Erstein excused himself, and Brandon went to follow him, but felt a tug at his heart. Stopping, he turned and looked up towards Eleanor's window. The sun was reflecting on the glass, but he could still tell that someone was sitting on the window seat looking down. He knew that it was her.
The shadow moved and Brandon stared for a moment longer before going to follow the Lord. Once they stepped inside the castle, Erstein dashed away while Brandon went to find something to eat in the kitchens. A biscuit later, he didn't know what to do but head for the Council chambers.
Upon reaching the Council doors, Brandon was prepared to be turned away. He had never been inside the Council room except for when the King brought him to tell the Council some news about training or defense, but this was different. He was now a member of the group, or at least soon to be. Did people know? Would he be turned away? Had Eleanor made a mistake?
The guards did not bat an eye as they moved to open the door for Brandon, and he gave a simple sigh of relief. The room was empty of people and he stared out the window, waiting for others to join him.
• • •
Reaching the bottom of the stairs with Lord Erstein just in front of her, Eleanor paused. She was nervous. Yes, she had been in numerous Council meetings before. Before her father had fallen ill, he had had her sit in to listen to what was occurring. Once he became ill, she had led the meetings in his place and taken back the notes to him. This was the first time, however, that she would lead a meeting without his guidance beforehand and him making the final decision.
It made no difference. She was Princess Eleanor, heir to the throne of Venaramine, daughter of Kings, and Blessed by the Goddess herself. The Goddess would only allow a woman of great strength and wisdom to take the throne of any kingdom. She had to remember that she was Blessed. She would not fail her kingdom. She just had to show the Council that she was in control, and not let them overpower her.
Lord Erstein turned back and gave her a single glance before continuing his walk down the hallway. She watched as Healer Dominic and Master Tirwin, the Councilor of Finances, walked up to the door together, chatting randomly. The booming laughter that came from their direction told her that Lord Bohen was already in the Council room. She always liked Lord Bohen. A lesser ranked Lord that held land near to the castle, his family passed down the roll of representing the nobility on the Council. That meant the only two she was not sure of were Brandon and Master Torrell. Master Torrell was the longest standing member of the Council as a representative of Law. He had turned down any rank of nobility numerous times over, simply wanting to spend his time in the library and the archives.
When Lord Erstein reached the Council door, he turned back towards Eleanor and gave her a nod, letting her know that the other two were inside. She smiled to herself and began walking down the hall towards the door. With each step, she continued to tell herself to breathe. Reaching the door itself, she waited for the guards to open it. The men inside became visible to her and she put on a gentle smile and went to move inside.
A commotion came from behind her and she turned to see what it was. If it was Duke Phillip again, she was going to smack him. He was not going to ruin her council meeting. The person it was, however, surprised her.
"Prince Alexander? What is the matter?"
With a wave of her hand, the guards let him pass. The Prince bowed low before her and then stared at the men that stood shocked behind her. She hadn't noticed that the Councilors had left the chamber room and come out to join her in the hallway. The Prince looked out of breath and rather upset.
"Alexander. Look at me, not them. What is the matter?"
The Prince jerked his head back to the Eleanor and she waited for his words. "It is my father. They attacked Bromaric and my father went out to the battle. They used an assassin and killed my father. Archaria killed my father."
Eleanor stiffened at his words. Alexander was now second in line to the throne of Bromaric with his brother now taking up the place of King. She glanced back at the Councilors that stood there just as shocked as she felt. What could have possibly possessed the Archarion King to attack Bromaric. There was no way their fighting force could defeat them.
"Alexander, listen to me. Venaramine is at your side in battle. Do not worry yourself on that fact. Do you need to return to your brother? You have my leave to travel as soon as you are ready, if you so choose."
Alexander shook his head in shock and looked about to fall over. "No. No, I will stay here. For the sake of the treaty, I will stay here. Thank you, Princess."
And just as suddenly as he arrived, Prince Alexander turned and walked back where he had come from. As soon as he was out of sight, the Councilors burst into discussion behind her. She watched the stairs that the Prince had disappeared down before turning on her feet. Once she was looking at them, the six men stopped all their talking and watched her.
"Back into the Council chambers, my Lords. We have much to discuss."
• • •
"You all heard what Prince Alexander just said. Archaria has attacked Bromaric and the king is dead. There is nothing we can do at the current moment, so while I know it is forefront in our minds, there is other things that must be discussed first."
The men were all sitting around the table while Eleanor stood at the head. The table was an odd shape, in that it was a half circle. The men of the council sat around the circular side while the monarch sat on the flat side, or stood in Eleanor's case. They all nodded in agreement before Eleanor turned to the first order of business.
"Excellent. Now, I am certain you are all wondering why Sir Brandon is here, although you must all likely suspect the reason. Lord Erstein is now Commander of the Army and will lead us to victory against Archaria." No one made a sound but all of the men nodded. "Sir Brandon shall me taking his place on the Council and will be receiving the title of Lord and land in Equitan."
All of the men nodded again and Brandon looked shocked. Of course he would be. Equitan had some of the richest and most prosperous land in the kingdom. It was a rich gift that she wanted her main protection to have.
"For the time being, Commander Erstein will continue to join us in Council meetings, but he and Lord Brandon shall only have one vote between the two. Agreed?"
All of the Councilors nodded their agreement, and she moved onto the next topics... the ones which pertained to herself and her father.
"Master Torrell, you have the floor." The man looked up at her and nodded before rising and bowing low. Eleanor gracefully moved into her seat and felt the burn of eyes on her. She took a slow glance at Brandon and saw that his attention had not moved to the Councilor of Law and History. She moved her eyes back to Torrell, wishing she could vanish from Brandon's piercing stare.
"Thank you, Princess, Councilors. Princess Eleanor has had me look into the law regarding her requirement to marry. King Juan had me previously look into the subject, but not in the depth of which the Princess had requested. I regret to inform you, however, that there is no way to budge in the slightest. The law states clearly that you must marry before you may be crowned. There is no budging in that fact. You must marry. You do not have to rule side by side, but you must marry. I am sorry, Princess."
Eleanor nodded and lowered her head in defeat. She knew it was too much to hope for. Before a monarch could take the throne, they had to be married. That law applied to both men and women. She didn't know who in all pushed for that order, but right now, she was cursing it. And, she was not above the law, even as monarch.
She nodded at the Councilor and he took his seat, taking a deep breath. "Of course, Master Torrell. I knew that would most likely be the result of your research, but thank you for looking all the same. Master Tirwin, you have the floor."
The Master of Finance did not look like he wanted to rise from his chair, but did so all the same and bowed low before them all. He looked ready to speak but Eleanor cut off his words before they came.
"Speak plainly, Master Tirwin. War is coming. Do we have the proper funds?"
The man looked scared to death, and Eleanor gave a small cough. The man almost jumped at the sound, but then began to talk.
"We can't go to war. We don't have the funds. Most of it has been depleted from trying to keep the economy afloat. The people will revolt if we raise the tax any higher. The only way we can defend our own borders is if..." His words stopped there, and she nodded at him, letting him take his seat.
"The only way we can defend our borders is if I marry into money. I know."
The silence that overtook the room was enough to make Eleanor want to weep again. She let her eyes fall for a moment then looked up again. Brandon was looking at her from across the table with a helpless look on his face. She wished that he could take her away from all of this, but instead, she was keeping him closer to her, so that he had to go through the trials with her. She wished to know what he was thinking, but instead looked away from him and rose from her chair slowly.
"My father won't live a week."
All of the Councilors looked up from where their eyes had wandered and she looked away from them.
"Do not tell anyone. Healer Dominic will handle all of the preparations for his burial and my coronation. I know: I have to wed to take the throne. Do not worry. I shall make my decision in two days at my birthday event. The wedding shall be as soon as the service for my father has ended, followed by my coronation. Should anyone ask, the preparations are simply for my wedding. No other word of my father."
The men all nodded and she stood behind her chair, her eyes resting on the seat of it. She wanted to shrink down into her dress and disappear, but instead, she had to go meet with the men that she might marry. The day truly could not get worse. Why had she woken up feeling so good only to feel destroyed?
"Any other matters to discuss?" A soft murmur of 'No' came from the men and she sighed softly. "Commander Erstein and Lord Brandon shall be formally raised tonight at Dinner. I expect you to all be in attendance. Will the both of you please stay behind? The rest of you are dismissed."
The other four men quickly left the room, leaving Eleanor with Erstein and Brandon. She glanced at them both for a moment, then couldn't stand being strong any longer once the door was shut. Sinking down into her chair, she buried her face into her hands, sobbing.
Both men immediately jumped from their chairs, and she felt arms reach around her and hold her close. She knew immediately it was Brandon and leaned into his arms, letting her face bury into the curve of his neck meeting his shoulder. Another hand came to rest soothingly on her back, and she knew it was Erstein. She tried to sniffle back her tears and wiped them away. Both men looked down at her with concern and she shook her head no, continuing to wipe at her face.
"No, no, I am fine. Just a moment of weakness is all. I am fine. Everything is alright."
"No, Eleanor, you are not fine." Brandon's words shocked her and she pulled back in surprise. He looked at her fiercly and continued. "Everything is not alright, and you are allowed to show emotion when everything is hard."
Brandon pulled her back into his arms and hugged her tight for a moment, but Eleanor was in shock. Where had that sudden burst come from? Even Erstein looked shocked for a moment, and when Brandon released Eleanor from his arms, he looked at them both awkwardly.
"Princess, please forgive-"
"No!" she gasped out, then burst into laughter. The old man beside her laughed as well, with Brandon looking at them as though they were crazy. "Please, do not apologize. You simply startled me, is all. I did not expect you to be so forceful about something. Alright then, I am not fine, and thank you for your support."
Eleanor finished her laughter and wiped away the newly forming tears. Brandon rose from where he had been knelt beside her seat, and she rose from her chair as well, sighing for a moment to finish her laughter.
"I needed that," she said with a smile. "I truly needed that."
Brandon simply nodded in response, and she then turned to Lord Erstein. The man was still softly chuckling to himself, but when he saw the now determined look on her face, his laughter halted. "Commander, I think you know why I asked you to stay behind. I need you to start planning on joining forces with Bromaric. I will not stand by and watch our allies be attacked by our greatest enemy."
"But, Princess, we do not have the funds. Are you truly considering marrying... for money? And if you marry for money, then why come to the rescue of an ally that will be lost without marriage?"
Eleanor sighed and avoided Brandon's eyes while she formed her response to the commander of her army. "Now is not the time, my Lord Commander, to become selfish. If I must marry for the money, then that is what I shall do. As for an alliance with Bromaric, I think that it shall be well formed with our support in military matters, don't you agree?"
Commander Erstein nodded in response, and she then turned to Brandon, who looked furious. "You may go, Commander. I need to speak with Lord Brandon for a moment."
Erstein looked ready to not obey her command, and then turned anyways and left the room. Eleanor stared at Brandon for a moment, then spoke clearly and slowly.
"They poisoned my father, and now they have killed the King of our greatest military ally. They will be back, Lord Brandon, and when they do, I want us to be ready. They will not kill me next."