Chapter Nine : Oh What A Night
"I will not wear it.”
“Come now, Eleanor. You are Queen in all but name. You must wear it and embrace the woman you are becoming.”
“I said I will not wear it. Take it back, Mother. Until father is dead, that is still yours. I will not wear it, no matter what you say.”
“Eleanor, please, just be reasonable. You are presiding over the ceremony as the monarch, so you should look the part. No princess would be appointing a new commander nor appointing a new council member. You should wear the crown of a queen, not the tiara of a monarch.”
“Mother, I will not wear your crown until I am crowned Queen. That is final. I am still a Princess, and will appear as such.” With those final words, Eleanor grabbed the crown from where it sat on top of her head and shoved it into her mother’s pleading hands. “Please. Let me be a Princess for another night. Just give me that.”
The Queen stared down at the crown in her hands for another moment before giving a small nod and turning away from her daughter to return the crown to the box. Eleanor knew that her mother was trying to be helpful, but she simply wasn’t ready to take over as Queen. It was silly, as she had been ruling alone ever since her father became ill, but she wanted just a few more days to be the Kingdom’s beautiful princess, before she became the commanding queen.
“Everyone leave,” Eleanor said softly, and everyone went to leave the room quickly. Her mother picked up the box and went to leave as well, but Eleanor grabbed her arm to stop her instead. Once all the doors were closed, she pulled her mother into a hug. “I am sorry, mother, but I am just not ready yet.”
“I know, my dear. I know.” The queen was stroking her back like she had when she was a child, and Eleanor hugged her mother tighter. It was so hard, to be growing up so fast. She had thought it would be at least another 10 years if not more before she would have to take the throne, and yet here she was, only two-and-twenty, becoming Queen. Perhaps she should have been married sooner, or had more training, but all of that was the past now. All that mattered was she had to make the most of the time she had left as a Princess.
“Will you help me finish getting ready?” Eleanor asked her mother as she pulled back, and the Queen gave her a small nod in response, accompanied with her gentle smile.
Eleanor was already wearing her dress for the evening. The dress itself was blood red, with the underskirts and the decorative embroidery being white. The bodice was tight and the sleeves were slightly off the shoulder. At her hips, the dress split to reveal the bright skirts beneath, and the embroidery danced along the split up to her bosom. It was a dress made for a queen.
The top half of her hair was twisted into a bundle with numerous ringlets falling down from it. The rest of her hair was flowing over her shoulders and back in gentle waves. The tiara that was slid into her hair was a bright silver with a single gem the color of carmine in the center. Her mother helped her to slide stud diamonds into each ear and then hooked the red and white gemmed necklace around her neck. The finishing touch was light color on her cheeks and lips.
Staring at their reflection in the mirror, Eleanor studied herself before giving her mother a smile. She couldn’t believe how much they looked alike, but their coloring and hair were the same. The only difference was that Eleanor had her father’s dark eyes.
“You look like a Queen, my beautiful daughter.”
Eleanor turned on the chair and faced her mother. “I look like you, my beautiful mother.”
The two women shared another hug before they went to leave the room together. The Queen went first to resume her place beside the dying King’s bed. As much as Eleanor asked her mother to join, the woman had said no and instead wished to spend a few more moments with the man she had loved for the past thirty years. Eleanor would not pressure her too hard away from his bedside.
Stepping down the stairs, Eleanor kept telling herself to breathe. She had a long evening in a tight dress and needed to keep her cool. No matter what happened, she had to keep numerous secrets and wear a pretty smile without throwing all of the rules out the window and just doing as she pleased. She may have been born a princess, but she felt as though her life was held tighter than her stomach currently was.
The walk down to the throne room was quiet as the halls seemed to be almost empty except for guards. Every noble was awaiting her arrival and every servant was preparing for the feast afterwards. It seemed to take forever, as she quickly placed one foot in front of the other, but eventually the double wooden doors that led to the grandest room of the castle came into view.
The guards that stood on either side of the closed doors moved quickly to open them as she stood before them, and waited to be announced by the herald that stood by the door. Every person within the large room rose from their chairs and turned to face her. Keeping her shoulders back and her arms relaxed at her sides, she walked into the room, a soft smile on her face.
Walking up the aisle, she saw that the three suitors were standing near to the front of the room, with their chairs being some of the closest. On the opposite side of the seating were the council members, save for Brandon and Lord Erstein. The two men for whom the ceremony was celebrating were standing before the three throne, both with a smile on their faces. Erstein looked proud, whereas Brandon looked… in awe? That could not possibly be correct.
Walking between the two men, she went up to the throne and bowed her head for a moment before moving and taking the smaller chair to the left of the High Throne. That was still her father’s place while he was alive. The throne to the right was her mother’s. The spot that she took was that of the heir.
Everyone took their seat after she did, and Brandon and Erstein knelt down before her. The words that Healer Dominic spoke passed through one ear and out the other as she watched the religious part of the ceremony take place.
When it was finally her place to speak, she stepped first in front of Lord Erstein. Taking the thick chain from the servant beside her, she placed it over his head and let the chain rest across him. Only Dukes of the Realm could wear the heavy iron and jeweled chain across their breast. Next, she slid the fat ring onto the third finger of his right hand. This particular ring had to be dug out of storage, as it had been a long time since anyone other than the King commanded the army. No longer was he Lord Erstein, Marquees of Gweal.
“Arise, Lord Commander Erstein, Duke of Gweal.”
The man did so and took her outstretched hand to kiss it gracefully. He gave her a small fatherly wink before turning and stepping to the side so that Brandon could take the place he had just been kneeling upon. For Brandon, she took another ring, this one somewhat smaller in emblem, but the seal of Equitan sitting firmly in the middle. She slipped this onto the third finger of his left hand. From there, she took the cloak being offered to her and draped it across his shoulders. Anyone of nobility were given a red robe lined with white fur to signify their rank.
Next, she took out the ring that Erstein had slipped to her earlier that day. It was the ring of a Council Member. She slid this onto the third finger of his right hand, and finally grabbed the rolled papers from the servant beside her. He was now a nobleman.
“Arise, Lord Brandon, Marquees of Equitan.”
Brandon looked up at her from his kneeled position and his eyes seemed to shine. She wanted for her eyes to shine back like his did, to show how proud she was of him, and how glad she was to have him at her side. She had so much more to say to him, and so many more things that she wanted to do for him. But not here, not in front of the court, and her suitors.
He finally did rise, and gently kissed the top of her hand. It reminded her of how badly she wanted his kisses in her hair. Eleanor could already feel her face turning red, so she turned away from the Lord and walked back to her throne. Giving herself a moment to stop blushing, she turned to face the court and resumed her seat.
“Now, let the feast begin!” She said, and the people began cheering and clapping. Quickly, the hall began to empty from the back first. It was always custom that the back of the room emptied first, moving towards the front. The back of the room held those of lesser ranks, whereas the higher nobility sat closest to the crown. This way, if the King had something to discuss with higher nobility, he could do so without completely dismissing anyone else.
Soon enough, the only ones left in the room were the three suitors sitting to her left and the council sitting to her right. Eleanor rose from her seat and signaled to the guard to shut the doors again. Lord Erstein offered out his hand to help her down the steps and she took it and walked down slowly. Eyeing first the Council members, she then turned to face the three suitors.
“Your Royal Grace Alexander,” he seemed to flinch for a moment at the reminder that his father was dead. “We intend to support you in this defense against the attack of Archaria.” The Prince nodded his head and looked somewhat relieve, even though he had already been told that.
“Duke William, I feel that before anything continues, you need to know that Venaramine is preparing to go to war. Will that be a problem with you and yours?” The Duke paused for a moment before shaking his head no.
“Duke Phillip, our kingdom is going to war. You will be called upon to take up arms regardless of your position. But, will you support the crown, in whatever way necessary?” Even Phillip seemed to understand the gravity of the situation, and nodded quickly.
“Good. Now remember, what has just been said, stays here.” With those words, she walked towards the doors of the throne room with Erstein at her side, escorting her. She took a single glance back to see that Brandon was behind her with the Councilors and the suitors just behind. She was now at the lead of the final group to go to dinner, with the group being the highest rank in the realm. It was hard to believe sometimes that she would be leading them.
• • •
Dinner was going smoothly. It was often times lonely, sitting at the head table. Her father and mother’s chairs were so often empty. She looked across their seats to see Healer Dominic, Master Tirrwin, and Master Torrell engaged in a healthy discussion while leaning over Lord Bohen in between them, who seemed to have fallen asleep in his chair. Turning towards her left, she smiled, for in this meal she was not alone. Erstein sat beside her, with Brandon on the other side of him.
Rising from her chair with a graceful smile, the room silenced as all eyes turn to her. “Please, allow me to make a toast. To the Lord Commander Erstein, and to the newest Council Member, Lord Brandon, we give you thanks in supporting our beautiful Venaramine, and hope that you continue with your support.”
The court responded accordingly and she gave them both a smile before returning to her seat. She saw out of the corner of her eye that the suitors were all having their own interesting evening off beyond Brandon. William seemed to be buried in a book; if she wanted a king that would leave her alone, he would be the one. Alexander was glaring hardly around the room, and she wished to know what was going on in his strategic military mind.
The man that caused her the most worry, however, was Phillip. He seemed to already be buried into his cup and continuously calling for more. Brandon met her eyes for a moment after he glanced towards the drunken Duke, and gave her a small nod before turning away from her. She prayed that the night would just continue and finish with no blood shed or anger.
• • •
Lord Brandon, Marquees of Equitan and Captain of the King’s Guard.
Brandon truly liked the sound of it. After working so hard and for so long, he was being rewarded with a great honor of not only land, but also title and a place on the Council. It was a greater dream than any that a knight would have. He knew that he should not feel as proud as he was, but it was inevitable. Eleanor trusted him, and that was worth far more than the land or title.
Phillip was also starting to cause an issue. The man truly needed to be punched and thrown out of the castle. He had been making snide remarks all evening about Eleanor and her choices, and if he continued to drink, then all secrets held by the realm would be released.
Taking another glance towards Eleanor, Brandon had to work to catch his breath. She was absolutely beautiful, almost to the point that it hurt him. She could be his, if only he would be honest with her. He wanted to be honest with her, to tell her the truth. He needed her in his life, just like she needed him, even if she wasn’t honest with herself about that. Everything about her screamed at him that she was to be Queen: A beautiful, wonderful, amazing Queen. Even still, he wanted to make her all his.
“So, what did you do to get the Princess to come and support you? Did you give her some support first?” The words were accompanied with a rough laugh, and Brandon jerked his head to see that Phillip was leaning over William to talk to Alexander, who looked completely uncomfortable. Brandon did not know how to respond – he was now a Lord and not just a Knight protecting his Queen. Did he still have a right to step in?
“Oh, shut up Phillip. You know she will never pick an idiot like you, so why are you bothering to try and run us off?” Those words came from a voice that he had rarely heard, and he looked at William in shock. Had those bold words truly just come from that small, weak man? Even William looked to be in shock and was now stuttering out an apology.
“Oh, shut it the both of you. She is preparing for a war that result in numerous losses. There is more important things for her to be worrying about than the three of us!” Brandon nodded to himself and tried to keep his eyes off the three men. If anyone was to have her, he hoped it would be Alexander. The man was a dedicated warrior and would be too devoted to his cause to worry about his new wife. She would be free to rule with Alexander leading her army. If only the man had money…
The three continued to bicker, but Brandon attempted to ignore it. Phillip was slinging out drunk insults while William kept telling him to be quiet, and Alexander tried to do the impossible and speak reason to a man intoxicated beyond his wits’ end. He already knew that this was going to get far worse before it got better, and Brandon could only hope that the dinner would end before it got to that point.
Thankfully, people were beginning to file out of the hall to take to their own rooms, and soon enough it was mainly just the High Table and their people filling the tables. Brandon could see that Eleanor was exhausted where she sat, and he wanted to escort her out before Phillip got completely out of control. She seemed to have noticed that Phillip was insulting her, but just looked too tired to care anymore.
“Fine then, you can marry her, but a boy like you can’t take care of the real needs. I will take care of the heir and the rutting!”
Brandon heard Eleanor gasp while he jerked his head to glare at Phillip, ready to step in and give the man the punch that he deserved, but it seemed that someone was already a step ahead of him. Alexander had jumped up from his seat with clenched fists, but it was William that had his arm drawn back. Before anyone else could move, William had already punched Phillip.
Everyone stood there in shock, minus Phillip, who was on the floor, and William, who was clenching his hand tight against himself. Brandon had heard the distinct pop of breaking bones and knew that the hand would have to be bandaged. There was no blood coming from where Phillip had hit the floor and he moved forward to make certain the man was still alive.
Some of Phillip’s men rushed forward but Brandon stepped in, as he seemed to be the only one that had any sense about them. “Take him back to his room and let him sleep it off. Don’t let him leave the room until morning.” The men eyed him for a second before nodding and taking Phillip off.
“You idiot! You never wrap your thumb underneath your other fingers. Leave the thumb out next time!” Alexander was already looking at William’s hand, while William looked to be on the verge of tears. Eleanor had already fallen back down into her seat from where she had risen a moment before, anger and sadness written across her face. This was one of those moments that Brandon wished more than anything he could pull her into his arms and make everything better.
He would destroy a thousand men for her. End nations and depose kings. He would do anything and everything for her. Of course, the one thing that he wanted most and she needed more than anything, he could not do. The Goddess was being cruel for pushing him into this fate, and it was destroying both of them.
• • •
Eleanor just sat in her chair in silence. She made no signals of acknowledgement to anyone that left the room and didn’t respond to any servant that moved towards her. She just sat there and waited for the silence. A tap on her shoulder brought her out of her thoughts and she turned, ready to yell at the person that dared interrupt her thinking.
Looking up, she saw that it was Alexander. Her nerves immediately settled and she beckoned to the now empty chair beside her. Everyone else seemed to have gone save for the servants cleaning.
“Princess Eleanor, I was wondering if I could speak with you, for a moment?” The Prince looked hopeful and Eleanor gave him a nod, allowing him to continue. She was now more curious than anything about what he wanted. “Royal Highness, I must-“
“No,” Eleanor said simply, shaking her head. “Eleanor. Just Eleanor. Given the current predicament, I think that just Eleanor and just Alexander will be acceptable.”
Alexander nodded slowly in response then relaxed back into his chair. He seemed to have stiffened when she interrupted him. “Eleanor, then. I wanted to thank you, for your support in this time of trial for my Kingdom.”
Eleanor nodded her head for a moment before speaking. “Alexander, we share a common enemy, and now we share a common loss.” The prince stiffened beside her for a moment and Eleanor nodded again. “Yes, my father was poisoned as well. His, however, was not as swift. He has been wasting away for the past few weeks. I think it is the fact I am not married yet that he is still alive. He wants to make sure I am able to become Queen before he passes.”
There was a silence between them for a moment, but it was not uncomfortable. Eleanor rested in her chair and just stared at the room around her when she felt a warm hand touch her. Jerking her head to look at Alexander’s hand holding hers, she looked up at the man.
“Eleanor, I know you are stuck here. I think you need to know, I would not be a bad King. This is your kingdom. I would gladly lead your army to numerous victories as your champion. At the same time, if you come to Bromaric to support us against Archaria, you do not have to worry about a marital alliance. We would be sealed to each other with your support alone.”
Eleanor nodded and looked away from Alexander, letting her hand stay in his. It wasn’t the same touch as Brandon’s. Alexander’s hands felt rough and harsh against hers. Brandon’s hand, while calloused, had seemed so gentle and nurturing. Brandon also wasn’t acceptable for marriage.
“I know, Alexander. And I know that you would make a great King. I just fear that it doesn’t matter what I want, but instead will become what the Kingdom needs.”
Alexander stiffened at her words and jerked his hand away. “Is that why he is still here?”
There was no need to say who the he was. Everyone that did not know Council details were wondering why Phillip was still around. “I fear that I may have no other choice.”
Alexander’s hand touched her cheek and she was reminded that his touch was not Brandon’s. She turned her face to look at his, and she saw that his face looked hard, like that of a military man again. “Eleanor, I swear to you now, if anything should happen with that man, I will come back and protect you. You need not fear him, should that be your choice.”
“She doesn’t need to fear him. I will kill him before he ever hurts her.”
Eleanor looked up to see Brandon standing behind Alexander. She wondered how long he had been there, and she pulled away from Alexander to look up at her newest Lord. Alexander had also turned to face Brandon and rose from his seat to grasp their forearms together, like those of military brothers.
“I think that I shall hold you to that, Lord Brandon. That man does not deserve the honor that is most likely coming to him.”
Eleanor wondered if Brandon had meant his words. Would he really kill a Duke to protect her? It seemed silly, to have that thought. He had promised to protect her, so why not protect her from the Duke?
“No, Brandon,” she said softly. Both men jerked back to face her. “I must marry to take the throne, and you know that we need the funds. If anyone has to kill him, however, it will be me. I may be a woman, but I will not be taken advantage of.”
Both men nodded in response and then Alexander bowed before her. “Now that that is settled, Princess, I think that I shall retire for the evening. Sleep well.” He leaned forward to take her hand and left a delicate kiss on the top of it. She nodded and watched the man leave before turning to look at Brandon.
“How much did you overhear?” she asked softly, before stepping backwards and returning to her seat. Brandon stepped forward and took the chair that Alexander had occupied just a moment before, and sat down before turning to face her and respond.
“I heard all of it. And we both meant what we said. Phillip will never hurt you, Eleanor.”
She nodded for a moment before sighing. “I think I fear myself more than I fear him. Phillip is a small issue in the grand scheme. I have a kingdom to run and a war to prepare for. I fear more than anything that I will be a bad queen.”
She felt a hand touch her cheek and immediately felt warmed. It was such a different response from Alexander’s touch, and she had to remind herself of the predicament she was in. The hand turned her face to look up at her loyal Knight. “Eleanor, of all the things you have to worry about, that should be the least. You will be the greatest Queen this kingdom has ever known. See yourself as I do, and you will know the words I speak are true.
They stared at each other for a moment before Eleanor pulled away from his hand. She was marrying in two days, to someone other than him. She couldn’t do this to herself. It was torture being around him, and more than ever, she was reminded of all the feelings she had buried over the years. She had always felt a warmth around him, and when he had begun to blossom into a young man, she had felt the butterflies in her stomach while she grew into a young woman. Now that they were grown, she could ignore the feelings no longer, and yet, she could do nothing for them.
“Brandon, I think I need to go,” she whispered, unable to tear her eyes away from his. His eyes looked so sad, and she wished more than ever she could kiss his eyelids so that he would open them with a smile across his face. She wanted to be the reason for his smile, as he so often seemed to be the reason for hers.
“I know, but I do not want this night to end.”
Eleanor fought with herself mentally for a moment before rising from her chair. “Then walk me back to my room, so that you may have a few moments longer.”
• • •
He needed her. Like he needed air, he needed to touch her. Just having her arm draped through his as he escorted her back to her room was not enough. Brandon wanted to run his fingers through her hair again, and to kiss her forehead gently while she traced her fingers over his chest. He wanted to have sweet moments like he had often seen the King and Queen having. He wanted to be her King, and when she looked at him sometimes, he thought that she wished it too.
They walked slowly back to her chamber, not speaking at all, and too soon they reached the door. She flicked her hand for the guards to move down the hallway, and soon enough it was just the two of them. He didn’t know why she had dismissed the guards, but he was grateful to have a moment with her alone. Even though it had only been earlier that day, it had been far too long since it was just the two of them.
“Brandon, I-“ she was speaking again, but Brandon stepped forward leaned down slightly to place a gentle kiss onto her forehead. Her skin was so soft and warm under his lips and he rested them there for a moment before he pulled away. She was looking up at him with the most beautiful, radiant smile across her face.
Neither of them spoke as they stared at each other, and Brandon wanted to tell her everything. In that moment, all he wanted was to spend his life with her, and she needed to know that. She needed to know everything.
His words were cut off by the door beside them opening. A servant – he thought the woman’s name was Gayle – stood there, and looked at them both with knowing eyes. He realized then that one of his arms had somehow slid around behind her back while the other was dangerously close to touching her hair.
They pulled away from each other quickly before Eleanor gave him an apologetic smile. “I think this is good night, my Lord.”
Brandon nodded then gave the servant a glare. “Indeed. Good night, Princess Eleanor.” He bowed low and waited for the door to shut before he turned and went to find the guards. Sending them back to their post, he rushed off to his new room in the castle, overjoyed.
She had felt it too. For a moment, she had seemed to feel the love that he felt for her. He would tell her. As soon as they had a moment alone again, he would tell her. And hopefully, with a little luck, she would be his.
• • •
Gayle was rambling on about how she shouldn’t be caught alone with Brandon, but Eleanor didn't care. The skin on her forehead still felt warm from his kiss, and she felt as though she floated on air while she undressed and slipped into bed. His lips had been so warm and soft against her forehead, and when his arm had wrapped around her back, she thought she would fall over with delight.
She loved him. At first, it had been a childhood dream, to marry a knight and live happily ever after. Then, she had told herself he was simply pleasing to look at. Eventually, he had become the valiant knight chosen to protect her. And somehow, along the way of growing up, she had fallen in love with him. It had taken all these years and the realization that she had to marry to have to finally face the truth, but face it she was. She was in love with Brandon.