When Alexandria arrived at the royal chambers she knocked on the door waiting for permission to enter. It was the king’s voice that had told her she was free to enter and when she walked through the door he greeted her with a smile as though he had expected that it would be her. He appeared to be dressed already and looked as though he was about to deal with some business as he instructed his squire to collect Marcus from his room. The very idea of seeing him again made her feel nervous and she didn’t know why. It wasn’t as though he had threatened to tell anyone that she had been in the stables and he had made it clear that it was of no matter in the first place. Perhaps it was merely because their final meeting left her feeling awkward and in debt of him for saving her from a violent fate.
Alexandria smiled towards the queen who was already sitting in a chair, waiting for Alexandria to begin working on her hair. “Good morning, Your Majesty.” She said with a courtesy. The queen waved her hand towards her and shook her head. She had been told many times that there was no need to greet her in such a way in private. It was strange to be working for such kind royals and even thought they were extremely powerful people, they still ensured that they treated people within their walls with kindness as often as they could. Alexandria nodded towards her, showing that she understood and picked up her brush before beginning to run it through the queen’s long silk-like hair. It was easy to brush such hair but it was the process of doing so that seemed to relax her queen and it offered her the opportunity to talk about whatever was on her mind.
“I told my husband about our child before we slept last night. I think that he is now even more worried about this safety of this kingdom now. He is calling for his closest advisor this morning to discuss what their future plans are.”
“Of course he is concerned my queen. You are carrying his child and the heir to throne. He wants to ensure that he or she is born into a kingdom that will offer them safety.” She said with a smile and the queen nodded in response.
“I suppose you are right.” She said contently and they remained in silence as the king waited for Marcus to come to the chambers. Once again she found herself replaying the events of the night before in her mind and she told herself that if she had the opportunity to, she would let him know that she had decided against telling her father. She detected the discomfort from him when she mentioned that they night before and she knew that Marcus would have to work with her father at some point, especially since there was some kind of threat that would need to be dealt with.
It wasn’t much longer before Marcus and the squire had returned to the room and she tried her hardest to ignore the conversation, knowing that it was none of her business. Her father would perhaps talk to her about their plans in his own time but she didn’t want to get scolded for listening in to conversations that were not for her and she did a pretty good job to ignore the words exchanged between them until the queen placed her hand on Alexandria’s arm asked her to stop brushing her hair. In reaction, she placed the brush back down and stepped back to allow the queen to rise from her chair. She was going to comfort her husband detecting the disappointment in his tone. Soon enough they were all being asked to give them some privacy and she was all too happy to comply with their request and as she entered the hallway she didn’t stop to talk to Marcus, in fact, she wanted to avoid him at all costs. He made her feel anxious and she couldn’t understand it. However, there was no such luck as he appeared to be walking in the same direction as her and he attempted some small talk with her.
Not once did she look up towards him as he spoke but nodded. “I hope so too.” She said, not really knowing what else to say to him about the subject. “I noticed how uncomfortable you were with our situation last night so I decided not to tell my father. I realise that you have to work with him and surely it would make it difficult to work together if he is forever thanking you for saving the life of a handmaiden.” She said with a slight laugh.
Marcus woke with a start when there was a rapping at his door. He felt the book still on his chest and closed it, placing it on the bedside table before sitting up in bed and swinging his legs over the side. He was still in his undershirt and breeches but that was hardly a concern for someone of his status. He was almost expected to be wearing it at this hour.
"Enter," he said, gruffly. He didn't enjoy being woken like this. It was even still too early for the sun to shine through his window. Merek's squire opened the door slowly, as if expecting to be yelled at.
"The king requests your presence," the boy told him.
Marcus nodded once. "Of course he does," he replied curtly.
"He wished for you to come right away," the squire said, his voice nervous.
"I would like to dress first if that's alright with you?" Marcus asked, somewhat annoyed. He didn't mean to take it out on the poor boy.
The squire nodded and stepped back outside to wait.
Marcus rose from his bed and started the process of donning his leathers once more. He could feel the chill seeping through the stone walls of his chambers, so he knew that it would be another day that his cloak was necessary. After he had secured it around his shoulders and pulled on his gloves, he opened the door.
The lord and the squire set off without a word towards the king's own room. When they arrived, the squire knocked and the door was instantly opened as if the king had been waiting for them. When they entered, he shut the door quickly behind them. A quick glance around the room and Marcus saw that the queen was getting her hair brushed by the handmaiden he had rescued just the day before from the wild horse.
"Marcus," Merek started, almost solemnly. "I should have listened to you, my friend. There have been accounts of attacks at the western boarder. Villages are being raided and I fear that this is only the beginning." The kind handed over a letter from a trusted source who made his home in the west. Marcus skimmed over the letters and handed them back to the king.
"We need to send some troops out that way. Not enough to be suspicious. Just enough to get a feeling for what is happening," he advised.
"Why not just ride out?" Merek asked.
"Because we don't know what to expect. We need rangers. Call a meeting with the council."
The king looked at his squire and he nodded, as if to tell the boy to get the word out. "Lunchtime," he told the boy before he left.
The king turned back to Marcus a moment later, his eyes full of regret. "If I had listened to you earlier-"
"It wouldn't have changed a thing. We could have prepared, but it sounds as if they're only sending over small amounts of men. There was no way to know where they would hit." He wouldn't tell the king the truth, not when his morale was so important. Of course it would have helped for him to put something into action to protect them, but Marcus wasn't about to throw that into his face.
The king nodded slowly and looked at his friend. "There's more," he said. Marcus met his gaze. "My wife is with child. She told me just last night."
Marcus nodded and faked a smile. "Congratulations," he told the man.
There was a short silence. "You knew," the king said softly with a defeated nod. "She told you before she told me."
Marcus wished he wasn't so sultry or perhaps he wouldn't have been such an open book to his best friend. "She just wanted me to be there for you. First the attacks and now a child. It's a lot to handle."
"I am king! I should be able to handle this," he shouted in defense, though it sounded more like he was trying to convince himself. Marcus glanced over to the queen who was standing up and heading over to comfort her husband.
"An heir to the throne is exactly what the people will need right now," she told him. Marcus nodded in agreement. She turned around to look at Alexandria and then to the king's squire and back to Marcus. "If we could have a moment alone," she suggested and the lot of them turned to the door. The squire took off, having other business to attend to no doubt. Marcus held the door open for the handmaid and shut the door behind them when they exited. He stood there a moment.
"There's always something more," he muttered to himself before starting to walk down the hallway. It just so happened that Alexandria was headed in the same direction. "I pray this will not end badly," he told her, simply needed someone to hear his thoughts.
There was nothing at all comfortable about the way the two interacted. He seemed to be acting rather strangely around her and Alexandria was trying her hardest to remember how she should act around a Lord. Her father had told her the basics but there was no proper way to thank one for saving your life because it wasn't a common occurrence. She wondered why she had even mentioned her father in the first place, knowing that she would more likely get scoulded for wandering into the stables than he would be likely to thank a man for saving her life. He wouldn't have needed to if she just kept herself to herself and went to her room instead of wandering outside of therm residence.
It was decided then that she wouldn't tell her father and she was sure that the man before her would have been thankful about that fact, seeing that he was clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation. No doubt he feared or dreaded the formalities that would come if she had told him. Perhaps some sort of dinner in his honour or even some exchanged words that would mean nothing to either of them. Chances were she wouldn't interact with him again anyway so what would the point be in making it inevitable that they did. No, she didn't want that.
Alexandria looked down at her arm where Marcus' hand was resting and she waited for him to remove it. She had no idea if he even knew what he was doing but as soon as he realised the awkwardness between the two returned and he was excusing himself before long. As she watched him leave she felt relief come over her and she took the opportunity to do do herself, not wanting anymore interactions with the stable master.
As she cautiously made her way towards her room she thought of Marcus for a moment. He was certainly a character difficult to work out and perhaps that was the way he liked it. He seemed to enjoy his own company and loneliness because all of the times she had ever laid eyes upon him he seemed to be alone. She wondered if he had any family or even if he had ever found himself interested in anyone other than himself and she shook her head as if to get the thoughts of him out of her mind, knowing that it was just as inappropriate to think of a lord as well as talk to one without being addressed teno
Soon enough she was back to her own chambers where she would need to rest for a long day at the queen's side. Being a handmaiden was a tiring job and quite physically demanding at times but ot was made even harder by the fact that the queen was trying to conceal a pregancy from her husband. She thought of her duties as she dressed for bed and realised how tired she was once she allowed her body to lay across it. It appeared that a near fatal accident was tiring because before she had the chance to think of anything else she had been taken into the world of sleep where she would dream of a life much more exciting than her own.
When the morning arrived she was awoken by the natural light of day beaming through her window, drowning her in the warm heat that came with it. Her lashes fluttered as her eyes began to open, slowly adjusting to the light as her body began to burst into life. There wasn't much time to waste and within a few minutes she found herself to be prepared and ready for a day of grafting and she walked the corridor towards the queen's chambers.
It appeared her father was up early too as she bumped into him on the corridor, greeting her with a loving embrace. As they spoke of the normal things family did in the morning he asked her if she had any news. She considered the events of the night before and kept to her decision about keeping it to herself and shook her head.
"I am a handmaiden father. There is never much news about that." She said with a laugh before continuing on her path.
She replied hesitantly, as if she didn't think her health was worth questioning, and that bothered Marcus more than anything. But he reminded himself who she was and he pulled his hand back and away from her after realizing it was still on her arm. He shook his head when she mentioned her father and Marcus was sure that this would lead to him requesting his presence so that her father could thank him in person for saving his daughter.
Marcus didn't see the encounter as anything special. He would have pulled anyone away from the danger. Even the stable master if he so needed the help, despite how incompetent he may have seemed. But if Marcus knew who her father was and what his position was at court, he would have understood why she thought her father would want to repay him in some way.
But Marcus had no idea that the woman in front of him was related to a member of the court and another of the king's advisers. So he imagined a homely man looking older than he probably was asking him to dinner. Marcus would have rather spent his supper time in his room, catching up on his reading, but he knew what duties and pleasantries came with his position, so he would have to accept the invitation if that were the case.
He looked the woman up and down, thinking about asking her for her name. But he decided against it. He had learned long ago that a lord did not satisfy his curiosity unless it was necessary, or nobody would take you seriously. So instead, he gave her a polite bow of his head.
"Really, there is no need for thanks. I only did what anyone else would do. Let's not blow it out of proportion, shall we?" He stood up straight and gave her another awkward nod. "Well, I'll be on my way, then. Good evening."
With that, Marcus turned around and headed back outside. his cloak blocked most of the cool wind but his face was exposed and his nose started to turn pink before he could even make it back to his chambers. Once he entered the building and made his way to his door, he was sure to finally get inside before anyone else could interrupt his time alone. First the queen with her news of an heir, then his sister with news of her engagement. And then the business in the stables... Poor Marcus could not seem to get a rest even after chasing the king about all day.
He slipped out of his cloak and hung it on the hook beside the door. The thing weighed so much it was threatening to pull the screw loose, but thus far it hadn't given in to the pressure. Excited to finally be alone, he made his way over to his desk. Marcus kept a journal on the happenings with the king and the council and he decided he would jot down the happenings of the day while it was all still fresh in his mind. It was the only way to keep his thoughts organized. Otherwise the poor man would be laden down with secrets and information that he wouldn't find a place for.
He debated writing about his encounter with the woman in the stables and about the runaway steed, but he decided against it. It wasn't useful information to help run a kingdom. Though he couldn't help but wonder why the incident hung in his mind, clear as day.
By the time he was finished writing the sun was slowly falling behind the trees on the horizon and he took that as his cue for dinner. Instead of going to the mess hall, he decided to have his food brought to him like he did almost every other night. Many of the other lords thought that Marcus was cold because he hardly ever spent time with them or let himself be seen if he didn't have to be. But Marcus simply loved his time alone. People exhausted him.
When his food arrived, he took the tray from the servant at the door and headed towards his bed. He kicked off his boots, finally, and pulled off his leathers. He didn't bother dressing into nightclothes and simply remained in his undershirt as he climbed under his covers prematurely. He had no plans for the rest of the night and he didn't expect he would be getting back out of the bed. When he was through eating he took the old book on his bedside table and opened it up to the page he had folded down to mark his spot.
Before he knew it he had fallen asleep with the open book lying forgotten on his chest, rising and falling with his breathing.
Alexandria had to fight the urge to look behind her towards the man who had granted her permission to stay within his presence. Many of the other lords would have forced her to leave, suggested that she was not born of high enough status to merely be within their presence but this was different and she had clearly misjudged the man. When she first saw him she had noted how cold he was when conversing with the queen. Most people would have been delighted to hear that the queen was pregnant because that would have meant there would be a rightful heir to the throne should anything happen to the king. Yet, Marcus seemed to remain indifferent, not really reacting to the news in any way. Alexandria recalled how she had reacted, remembering how she smiled and congratulated her majesty before talking about how she must keep it to herself until she was ready to inform the king.
A loud noise pulled her out of her thoughts and she looked around to see where the noise had come from. Her hand had stopped moving and remained rested upon the snout of the horse she had been giving all of her attention to. She checked that the horse had not been startled by the noise but it appeared that it had affected another horse. Alexandria turned around and watched as a horse reared up onto his back legs and began to charge towards the exit, evidently petrified by the noise. The stable master seemed to make things worse and she began to wonder how he had even managed to get such a job. Alexandria could have done a better job of calming the horse but she didn’t have any time to think about anything else as the horse was running towards her. She was evidently in the way of the exit for the horse and he was charging that quickly that Alexandria didn’t have a chance to react. She didn’t even know how she managed to escape the damage from the horse but when she looked up towards whoever had taken hold of her arm to pull her out of danger, she found herself finally meeting the eyes of the lord she had tried so hard to avoid.
After a second she pulled her gaze away from him before he turned towards the stable master and out of frustration began to head towards his own horse. He was clearly about to take matters into his own hands and she found herself to be slightly confused about how such an incompetent man was in charge of such important steeds. She watched as Marcus began to ride out of the stable and towards the horse who had managed to escape and she looked after him with nothing but admiration. There was something about him that intrigued her because not many lords would have taken time out of their day to complete such a menial task, especially when it was not his to complete.
He wasn’t gone for long and before she realised it, he had returned with the horse behind him and watched as he tossed the rope to the boy. He had quite literally saved the boy from scolding because if the owner of the horse had witnessed this or even found out that he had allowed his horse to escape, he perhaps wouldn’t have worked within the walls again. When Alexandria observed the space that he had been placed in, she had to agree with Marcus. She would never have dreamed of putting such a large steed into the small space.
She was obviously still in shock and it even took her a moment to realise that Marcus was addressing her directly. She could have very easily been killed by the horse if it wasn’t for him. Alexandria tried to avoid his eyes still but she glanced up towards him once as he showed his concern. “I am fine, thanks to you my lord. I must find some way to show you my gratitude. I know my father would be grateful too.” She said, not really knowing what else to say.
After a moment his eyes returned to the woman who had taken to a specific horse it seemed. He knew that his presence more than likely unnerved her, so he tried his best to stay unnoticed from there on out. Whatever free time she had, he knew it was probably even less time than he had to spare. So he wanted to allow her enough time to enjoy whatever she wished.
As Marcus pet the mare before him he could feel the chill of the outside world. He pulled his cloak close about him, knowing that the winter winds would soon bring snow. And much, much worse...
The horses seemed to feel it, too. One of them stirred in its stable, making disgruntled noises as he flipped his head about. The stable master dropped a pale on the opposite side of the enclosure, which only spooked the steed further. It reared up, kicking with its legs. It barreled over the barrier that kept him in his stall, forcing the small door open. Within seconds he was loose and in a panic.
The stable hand tried to approach the horse, but it only made the animal more crazed. It turned about as if choosing which way to try his escape. Marcus realized that the handmaiden was still inside and directly in the horse's path. He reached her within seconds, taking her by the arm and pulling her away from the danger, just as the steed trampled where she had been seconds ago.
The stable master seemed only concerned with the horse, now galloping out of the stables and into freedom. He seemed to be mumbling about how the knight it belonged to would have his head.
"Then go after it," Marcus told him in a harsh tone.
"I'm not permitted to ride the horses without permission. I can't take one and- My lord what are you doing?"
Marcus had started back towards his mare and started to saddle her up as quickly as possible. When he finished and grabbed an old rope from the wall, he climbed up. The boy was begging him not to waste his time. This was no task for a lord.
But Marcus was experienced with these things, despite his status. So he urged his horse forward and out into the cold air to chase down the escaped steed. It hadn't gotten far as it took to grazing in the field beside the city wall. Now content with its freedom, it wanted nothing to do with Marcus, so it whinnied when it saw him approaching.
Marcus tied a knot in the rope and it took him a few attempts to lasso the animal. It had started moving about, making his job harder. He managed to catch it just as it seemed ready to bolt once more. Within minutes, Marcus was heading back to the stables, the steed in tow. Once he was back inside he tossed the end of the rope to the stable boy before dismounting and walking his own horse back to its stall. The boy was having the most difficulty trying to get the horse back inside his own stall. Marcus wanted to roll his eyes.
"That spot's too small for him," he told the boy. "He doesn't like it. Switch him out with the mare on the end. It's bigger and he'll feel more at ease."
The boy looked at him, mouth open. "My lord, how-"
"Do as I say," Marcus told him. "How did you even get this position?" The boy was obviously incapable of reading the animals, which was almost a must for the job he had.
"It was a favor from a friend," the kid replied sheepishly.
"Learn your trade," was all the advice Marcus had to offer him. Then he turned to the handmaid, still standing beside him, still shocked at her nearly violent encounter with the horse. "You're alright?" he asked, kindly.
As she began to walk away the man spoke towards her again and if she was expecting a harsh tone she found herself to be surprised. There was a kindness in his tone and although she had found him to be cold and stern when she met him earlier that day, it appeared that she was experiencing a different side of him now. He spoke of his fondness for the horses and she turned towards him, knowing that she would have been scolded for leaving part way through an attempted conversation. Her position meant that she had to follow the wishes of others and at this moment in time, not really understanding why, the man before her seemed to want to speak to her. She nodded when he told her that he should not be the reason for her to take her leave but she didn’t move from where she had stopped as the man who looked after the stable walked around the corner. She looked down at the floor as the two exchanged words and she found herself to feel nervous once more.
She hated this situation, not really knowing what she should say or do in such a situation but she knew that she couldn’t use the stable master’s presence as an excuse to leave. Her heart hammered against her chest and she ensured that she didn’t look up towards either of the men before her, not wanting to get accused of being too curious. Alexandria had never been one to know how to handle herself in social situations and she partly put that down to her father. He had advised her to never speak unless she was spoken to and that it was best to avoid eye contact with anyone who was of higher lineage than her because it was disrespectful and because of that she always came across and shy and unsure.
When the stable master addressed her she didn’t really know what to say. He was right though, she had forgotten to use his title. Marcus was a lord and she should have addressed him as such and suddenly she began to panic internally, battling not to let it show upon her face and as her lips parted to explain herself, Marcus seemed to defend her; something which she was hardly used to and didn’t understand. He didn’t need to do that nor should he have done because she deserved to be corrected but instead he commented on how he did not mind and how they had been alone before now and told him to retreat from wherever he had come from.
There was nothing that she could have said to thank him, knowing that he probably did it to avoid his own annoyance rather than to defend her and even though she noticed that Marcus was now facing her once more, she still avoided contact and she wanted nothing more than to get out of the situation knowing that the longer she stayed here, the more she would battle with herself internally. He told her not to let him distract her and she thought for a moment. If she left she would have been considered rude and that might have been worse than just remaining in his presence in silence. After a long silence and deliberation she nodded. “Thank you my lord.” She said before making her way back to the horse who had returned her affections and she allowed her mind to close out everything else and just stroked the elegant beast who seemed to enjoy her presence.
At first the woman didn't reply, obviously shocked that he was even taking the time to speak with her. Or perhaps she thought she was in trouble. She finally explained herself in a shy voice before attempting to take her leave. Marcus almost didn't stop her, but something about her made him want to speak to her. Was he that lonely for decent conversation?
"I'm fond of them, myself," he finally said. The fact that he was addressing her meant that it would be rude for her to leave without speaking back. He felt terrible, using his position to trap her here. "Please. Don't let me scare you away. The stables are open to all."
The stable master rounded the corner, then and took in the sight of them. "My Lord, Marcus," he said with a bow of his head. "Your mare has been fed and brushed. I did so myself not an hour ago."
Marcus looked up at the man. "Thank you. But I'm not here to question your ability to your job." His voice was kind, which always seemed to shock those around him.
Marcus had gained a reputation for his brooding nature and the fact that he was always scolding the king. When people got him alone and were forced to speak to him, they were always surprised by his civil nature. Most of the men and women at court only knew Marcus based on what they saw and not by personal experience. King Merek had been his friend since they were children, and thus he had gained the right to speak to the king in such a way. As for the brooding, that was something that simply came naturally. Marcus was introverted, there was no doubt. In large groups of people he appeared to by grumpy and ungrateful for the presence of those around him. But when you spoke to him one-on-one, he suddenly opened up, even going as far as to offer a smile now and then.
The stable master looked between Marcus and the handmaiden. "You really should address him as 'lord'," he said to the woman. "He is your better."
"I am standing right here," Marcus said, turning back to his horse. "We were alone until you came along and I didn't mind her not using titles. I hardly noticed. Now please, get back to your duties."
The stable master turned away, obviously feeling foolish before retreating around the corner again. Marcus turned back towards Alexandria.
"I apologize. Please, do not let me deter you from your admiration of the creatures." He ran his hand over the coarse coat of his own mount. She whinnied and nipped at his hair with affection.
The stables that resided upon the grounds of the king’s home were abnormally large. Most stables could perhaps hold up to five horses but this was big enough to house the stallions of everyone who resided within the walls. Most of the men of the court had their own horse and they were all looked after well here. There was hired help that groomed and fed the horses daily and she sometimes wished that was her duty. At least then she would be doing something she enjoyed rather than observing the lives of those who hardly even knew she existed. She knew that she shouldn’t be down here alone, especially since her position beyond the walls meant that she would not be treated with any kindness if she were to be seen among the horses belonging to those who were of higher lineage.
She wondered how different her life would have been if she were born into a family who had status. Alexandria could hardly imagine it and she found herself laughing to herself. There was no way that in a previous life or the next that she would have been someone of any importance. That didn’t mean that she wasn’t grateful for the fact that she had been brought into a space where she was safer than out on the streets. Their life was so much more dangerous out there and there had been an occasion where she had almost lost her life to illness. If it wasn’t for her father working his way into the king’s courts she wouldn’t have been alive now. The king’s doctors had saved her as a favour and repayment for her father’s loyalty and the rest was history.
As she entered the stables she noticed that only one horse had noticed her presence, looking up from the evening meal that had been prepared for them. She made her way towards that particular horse to pay his recognition with her kindness. This particular horse hadn’t been out of the field today. She recognised most of them but this horse had no rider who had taken part in the jousting tournament that day and Alexandria wondered if that was partly the reason why he had sensed her presence. Perhaps the other horses were more concerned with recouping their energy. Her hand moved towards the snout and allowed him to take in the scent of her and make a decision about whether he could trust her or not first before nudging at her hand as if her craved her attention and she found herself smiling as she allowed her hand to run along well-groomed coast of the horse.
There was movement behind her and the sound of feet upon dried hay but she thought perhaps it was a stallion shifting their weight but as she turned she noticed the figure of a man who was petting another horse over the other side of the stables. She recognised the man almost instantly as the man who had conversed with the queen earlier that day. Alexandria looked away, wondering if he had noticed her at all. She started to panic slightly wondering what would happen when he saw that a maid was alone in the stables with someone else’s horse. The horse he was petting hadn’t been out on the field either and she was sure that was because he was petting his own horse and he had not taken part in the tournament. She knew that he would have been skillful at the game by looking at his physique. It was clear that you had to be strong to take part in the games and he clearly was but his job was to advise the king and something about him told him that he wasn’t the kind of person that would partake in something for entertainment. Alexandria had noticed earlier that he seemed like a serious man and that scared her even more, wondering how he would react to seeing her and that was when he looked up towards her and her heart felt as though it was about to burst out of her chest and she looked away, not daring to meet his gaze with her own.
“I…I was just talking a walk.” She said telling him nothing but the truth. “I have a fondness of the horses and I just ended up here on my travels sir. I humbly apologise. I shall take my leave.” She said lowering her head and making her way towards the door.
Marcus had grown tired of chasing the king around and was thankful to have a moment to himself. He headed back to his large chambers , unsure where the rest of the evening would take him until he found a messenger boy waiting by his door.
"My Lord," the boy started, stepping up to him. He was no older than twelve. "A message from your sister." He held out a small, rolled up parchment. Marcus took it and nodded his thanks to the boy before he ran off to deliver more no doubt. Marcus unrolled the piece of paper and it crinkled in his hands. His sister's small writing presented itself to him.
[center [i It seems that the king has been keeping you so busy that you have forgotten about me. It was gracious of him to allow me to live within the same walls as you, especially since our parents are enjoying their retirement. I would not want to make them worry about me on top of that. I would much rather bother you at court.]]
Marcus could hear the amusement in her voice and was glad he knew Aeliana so well to even get her jokes through writing.
[center [i I would very much like to see my brother as I have news I do not wish to share through letter. I would rather tell you in person because I long to see your brooding face finally have a smile on it. I told the messenger to wait for you to go to your chambers because the only time you go there is when you have nothing else to do. So, now that you're reading this come visit me. I miss you.]]
[right [i With love,]]
[right [i Aeliana]]
Marcus sighed softly before folding the paper back up and turning on his heel. His sister knew him all too well and he had no excuse for not going to visit her the moment he got her letter. As he walked through the halls, his cloak billowed behind him almost to mirror his annoyance at having to sacrifice his alone time.
Several minutes later he found himself outside of his sister's chambers and he brought his gloved hand up to knock at the door. He heard movement inside and soon he saw his sister's face.
"Well, well, what a surprise," she joked, letting him in.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Has the king sucked all the joy out of you? It's been weeks since you've cared to check up on me."
Marcus felt ashamed and guilty. He knew he should have visited his sister more often, but the truth was that she was sometimes hard to handle and with the king being so extroverted all he wanted to do was read a good book for once in his life.
Aeliana sighed before moving to her vanity. Her handmaiden picked up the brush that was on the table and started to run it through his sister's hair.
"Well?" Marcus asked, trying not to be rude, but he didn't want to waste his evening waiting on her to speak. She rolled her eyes.
"I'm engaged," she said bluntly.
Marcus narrowed his eyes. "To whom?" He knew that not everyone at court was kind and generous as they pretended to be, so the worry for his sister's well being came out in his tone. But her smiled widened and she turned to face him, making her maid's job harder.
"You'll never guess."
"Then tell me," he said, not wanting to guess in the first place.
Aeliana paused, no doubt for dramatic affect, before she replied. "The king's brother."
Marcus couldn't breathe. "Prince Felix is next in like to the throne. Marrying him would make you a princess. On top of that, you'd be queen should anything happen to Merek. How on earth did you win his favor?"
Alexanria smiled. "Since my brother was too busy to show me around, Prince Felix helped me get my bearings on the castle. After that, we couldn't stay away from each other. Don't act so shocked."
He really shouldn't have been so amazed. His sister was very charismatic, but the thought of her marrying royalty was too sudden and too great for him to get a hold of the idea. Not that it wasn't exciting. It was a great honor. One that most women can only dream of.
"Congratulations, sister," he said, finally letting a smile show on his face.
Aeliana stood, leaving her maid behind her. She took her brother's face in her hands. "There's the smile I used to know and love. Now, go bury your head in your books."
After Marcus finally left his sister's room, his mind was spinning. His sister was engaged to the king's younger brother. And that would have been perfectly fine and he would have been extremely happy for her if that wouldn't make her a target to their enemies. He wasn't about to ruin her happiness with his paranoid thoughts, however, so he had left it unsaid.
There was no way he was gong to be able to concentrate on his books now. Too much was running through his head. So he headed for the stables to take his mare for a long ride. It was the only other activity he truly seemed to enjoy anymore other than losing his thoughts in the books that were strewn about his room.
When he arrived at the stables, he almost didn't notice that someone else was in there with him. He stepped up to his horse, petting her coat and admiring her chestnut color. She hadn't been used in the jousting and that was fortunate. She didn't seem to like anyone else on her back other than Marcus, anyway. And he wasn't about to take advantage of her trust and use her in a silly game grown men played.
Often times, Marcus felt closer to the horses than with the people. People in the royal castle and court were all fake and he grew tired of their mind games. But the horses were open with him at least.
Movement caught his eye and he turned his attention away from the mare before him to see a woman. At first, he didn't recognize her. Then he remembered their encounter earlier that day and he finally recognized her as the queen's handmaiden. She noticed him as well, it seemed, but her eyes wound not meet his.
"What is the queen's maid doing in the stables of all places?" he asked her. There was no hostility in his voice. He wasn't accusing her of skirting her duties, he was merely curious.
She was not an expert in love but she thought that had a mutual respect for each other could be detected from just one look and she was able to detect the love that the king had displayed for the woman that he had chosen to take as his wife and spend his life with. It was curious but there was not much else to read into before a man approached them at the beckoned call if the Queen. She began to look in his direction but quickly knowing that it would not be appropriate to be looking directly at a man that acted as an advisor to the king she allowed her eyes to wonder to the horses who were being paraded around the small space as a victory walk and she allowed that view to distract her mind for some time until she was satisfied that he she still remained unimportant to anyone in her presence. No doubt he was perhaps curious at some point, trying to figure out where she fit in and why she had been sitting so close to the Queen as she had guessed that he had not been acquainted with the fact that the Queen had requested company for when the King was not able to provide it. She was close to her and she had confided aclot in Alexandria, things that she was all too happy to keep secret but it was clear from her quiet announcement to Marcus that she was no longer the only person who knew that she was with child. The news had been exciting to her and the Queen was really happy that they would finally be able to provide the kingdom with an heir to the throne but there wss a war of some sort that seemed to occupy her mind. Alexandria knew nothin of war and nor did she hope to ever have to understand it but if the Queen was concerned, it would have been for a good reason.
As soon as the King had removed himself from the scene, many others began to filter out, including the Queen and Alexandria followed respectfully knowing that she would be expecting some help preparing herself for the evening of dining that she would partake in with her husband and she spent the best part of the next few hours ensuring that her beauty was as prominent as usual until eventually Alexandria was eventually dismissed for the evening as the Queen claimed she would like some time alone before she made her way to the hall where she would dine for the evening. Alexandria was concerned with leaving the pregnant woman alone at this stage, knowing how risky the early stages of pregnancy could be, but she respected her wishes anyway. With a courtesy, she lowered herself towards the ground and thanked her for her kindness before dismissing herself into the hallway, thinking that perhaps she would have time to enjoy the twilight of day before she would be forced to retire to her own room that evening. She had not expected, that upon her travels towards the exit that would lead her to the grounds that she might have found herself in the presence of the King and it wasn’t until she heard to low tones of a man humming that she realised there was anyone present within the wing of the building. Alexandria stopped for a moment, wondering who the voice belonged to and as she continued to walk she caught sight of the King standing in the balcony, seemingly enjoying the changing of the day into night. She hoped that she might have been able to walk past without drawing any attention to herself but that hope was lost as she managed to find herself driving her foot into the leg of a chair that sat absently underneath a single painting that had been so carefully placed upon the wall.
“I beg your pardon your grace. I did not mean to disturb you.” The man turned instantly to face her and although she had expected to be greeted with annoyance the man smiled warmly towards her, allowing his victory of the day to set his mood.
"Nonsense child. It is of no matter. I trust that my Queen is almost ready for our dinner this evening?" He asked, making idle conversation even though he did not have any real need to address her but because she was the daughter of one of his court, he treated her with kindness whenever he could.
"She is taking a moment alone as she has been with company for the best part of the day, but she is most certainly prepared."
"Ah, good. Now I must leave and meet her in the dining hall." He began to walk away and stopped for a moment before turning towards her, "I must thank you for stepping into you role here. I know the life of a maid is not exactly everyone's ideal position but I hope you find you are treated well." He said, with sincerity in his voice before taking his leave, allowing Alexandria the chance to get down to the stables to spend some time admiring the horses that had played a pivotal role in the people's enjoying of jousting.
There had been an ongoing buzz throughout the city for several weeks as people began to anticipate the tourney. It seemed to lighten their spirits and there were less complaints altogether from the citizens within the town surrounding the castle. Most of the citizens that lived there were related to some lord or another and were well off in the first place. The poorer of the people lived just outside the city walls, hoping that if they were as close to the king as they could possibly be then fortune would fall upon them. And then there were the others: the people that had traveled for days from just about anywhere in the kingdom just to watch the tourney take place.
They all wanted to see something entertaining and they had come to the right place. The weather was perfect for the events, but soon fall would be pushed out by the winter winds and with it might come even more trouble. There were enemies overseas just waiting for the perfect moment to strike. No matter how happy the people were, that would not prevent the attack from coming. And Marcus tried to inform his best friend of this, but the king wasn't in the mood to be serious.
"It's tourney day!" King Merek exclaimed, slapping his friend on the back. It didn't make Marcus feel any better about it all, though. "Lighten up. Go get out of that old gear. Put on something nice for a change and meet me outside. You'll watch me win." Merek was a proud king, but a good king. His father had passed on and handed his rule over ten or so years ago. At the start, Merek had been too young to take over the throne on his own. The two men were similar in age and they had both grown into this life on the heels of the former king's death.
Marcus's parents had served the last king and now they spent their days at home, knowing they had spent their younger years doing good. Now it was Marcus's turn. The boys had grown up together and remained close throughout their adulthood. Marcus found himself to be not only the king's best friend, but his adviser off the record. Which was actually fairly pointless because King Merek never took his advice in the end.
"Stop with the face," Merek scolded. "You brood too much. Promise me you'll at least smile when I knock a man off his horse."
Marcus sighed. "It you knock him off his horse then you win his horse. And you have no more room in your stables."
"I could throw out your mare," the king joked as his squire helped him don his tourney armor. "Or I could just give the horse back to him."
[i He'll need it for the war,] Marcus thought, but he didn't dare say it aloud. Not when Merek was feeling so happy.
Now an hour later they were standing in the lists. Marcus had not changed out what he had been wearing like the king wanted. He'd never been one fore fancy tunics. His leathers made him feel more at home than anything and the heaviness of the cloak on his shoulders was a constant reminder to stay alert. He watched as Merek climbed onto his white horse. His hair was long, the top half tied back loosely. Every woman who knew of the king's appearance had wished they were the queen at least once.
At the thought of Queen Evette, Marcus turned to find her in the place of honor. She sat down on the cushioned seat, the other chair empty beside her, waiting for the king. Accompanying her were her guards and her handmaiden. Marcus was at least glad that Merek had decided to increase the number of guards on duty. If there should be any attack from inside the city, be it spies or not, they royal family would be well protected.
Marcus watched the king ride off to begin the joust. As everyone had no doubt suspected, he unhorsed his opponent on the first pass. Marcus continued to brood as he watched his friend celebrate, then help the poor knight up off of his back. Then he turned to walk away from the spectacle.
Marcus rarely participated in these events. He found them pointless. None of the games presented any real training for a real fight. Men did not ride at each other with blunted sticks into battle. But he wasn't beyond understanding the need for a good distraction every once in a while.
After the final run with the king, the tourney was done for the day and the people started pouring out of the stands. The queen was escorted to her litter and was carried off for the day. But through the small, latticework window where she sat, Marcus heard her calling his name. He fell in step beside the litter, her guards, and her handmaiden.
"Lord Marcus," she said, sliding the small window open so he could see her better.
"Have you spoken with my husband?"
"The king refuses to listen on days such as this," he reminded the queen. She nodded. He thought it was ironic that she had more sense to prepare for war than her own husband did.
"He will have to. I have something else I must tell him."
"And what is that, your grace?"
A calm smile came over her. "I am with child." Marcus was shocked that she was telling him this, of all people. He looked at those surrounding them, knowing there could be danger in any of them overhearing. "Don't act so surprised. Alexandria is my handmaiden and she knew before anyone, of course."
"Why tell me and not the king?" he asked, his brooding nature never seeming to dissipate.
"You are my husband's most trusted friend. He is too busy having fun with his tourneys. You must help him prepare for the future. It's past time he stopped acting like a child and you know that as well as I. There's a storm coming that he refuses to see. And now he will have a prince or a princess. He will feel like everything is happening too fast. I just want to have your word that you will be there for him."
Finally, a small smile came to Marcus's lips. "I always am," he reassured her.
He took one last look around him, including at the queen's handmaiden, before finally breaking away to go about his duties.
Alexandria’s father wanted to protect her from everything; from the life they once had on the streets; from the life that had claimed her mother. Being poor in such a world would not do, so her father worked hard and made sure he could work his way up and when he finally did so, he considered them to be safe. Alexandria's father was a member of the courts of the king which meant that in return for residence within the walls on the king’s home, Alexandria was to become the maid of the king’s wife. At least here she was free to roam after her duties because her father was confident that the walls and the guards were enough to keep them all safe. Now he was a man who many would bow for if he so requested. He was an advisor to the king and highly respected by him and by now being the daughter of someone so important was proving to be more difficult than being her father's daughter.
"There are cruel people within this world Alexandria and I will not allow any one of them to take you from me. That is why you must work here. The king’s wife needs a new maid and confidant and I know that this is the safest place for you." His justifications were irrational but she never wanted to displease her father so it was not an issue that they often debated.
It was perhaps because of her own sheltered experience that she enjoyed watching the courts jousting. Her senses were always heightened when she watched the men take part in a battle to fight for their honour of their houses and in some ways it made her realise how boring her life had been. Those who were the happiest from her experience were those who had faced some element of danger at some point within their lives. For weeks she had been attending the same games to watch as the different men represented their houses. Today was different as the king himself would be upon a horse, ready to joust and defend his honour.
Alexandria felt the buzz of excitement and the king’s wife sat beside her was beaming with pride as the king appeared in the distance in full armour, ready to mount his horse. A member of the house that would be defending against him approached one of the ladies amongst the crowd, asking permission to wear her favours upon his lance for luck. It was brave of her to accept to do so as he would be jousting against the kind but it was tradition for women to show their support in their men by tying their ribbons around their lances. Alexandria had allowed her hair to flow freely and picked out a dress that would suit the conditions of the sky. When the king approached them she tried her hardest not to stare at him. His physique and the way he held himself intrigued her but it was not appropriate for her to look upon the king, or even the husband of another. She wasn't able to talk during this kind of event but she would allow her eyes to wonder.
One might wonder how a woman of her status might have found themselves at such event. It was not common for a girl of weak lineage to be invited to enjoy the games of those born with a superior bloodline but her position within the home of royalty meant that she was to follow the King’s wife to such events in case the situation might arise that he attention or assistance might have been needed. It was evident that her father had fought hard to position her safely within the walls of their protection and although she understood that he was worried about losing her in the way that he had lost her mother, but she was nowhere near important to be noticed. Perhaps he thought that she would be watched over because of his position and persuasion with the advisors to the King but she knew that she was merely a maid and confidant to the King’s wife and she would not forget that.
Having thought that, it was a most certainly intriguing opportunity for her to observe such affairs and at least attempt to absorb even the slightest bit of excitement for the gathering crowd. Jousting had not been an event in which she had been permitted to observe before now so perhaps it was the idea of something new that excited her, watching the charge of the horses and the battery of men. It hardly made sense at all. How exactly did knocking a man from his horse with an over-sized metal pole defend the honour of their house? In fact the very reflection upon this thought brought a smile to her lips and she continued to observe with her forever growing curiosity and confusion about the whole sport.
Alexandria’s mind had wondered to many a place, but today it was focused upon the white horse that acting as the King’s stallion, mesmerised by the beauty of her. The coat was clearly well groomed and the King’s coat of arms sat comfortably across the body of the horse, almost as though it was indeed a part of her. Her stance was almost as proud as her rider’s and has he began to ready himself to meet his opponent, the stallion began to move forward as if to parade herself to the crowd before the festivities began and as she strode past Alexandria she had to control herself well not to reach out and touch the horse in admiration. She couldn’t remember ever being this close to such a beautiful beast as a child but then, there was not much that she could remember about being a child, yet she had an deeply set longing to be the rider of such a horse but in a completely different setting; leisurely parading down the river bank, taking in the sights of beauty that surrounded them. Alexandria would not be permitted to do so by her father, nor would he acquire a horse for her to call her own out of fear that she might take herself away from life for a moment too long and never return. It was all rather unnecessary but that was the way and she could always visit the stables to tend to the horses if she so longed to do so. Just because she was serving the King’s wife didn’t mean that she was unable to enjoy time of her own as she often did. Not that her father would ever know about that.
The event neared its start and the crowd began to display their support for the King. She looked over towards his opponent and felt almost as though the tournament itself was rather pointless. The King would win as he always did and the opponent’s pride and perhaps parts of his body would end up becoming damaged from entering into the duel but men did not allow such things to deter them from proving themselves. Sometimes it was about the fight, not the outcome.
As predictable as the tournament had become, the excitement was not void, nor was the support and all eyes were upon the King has he climbed down from his horse and made his way towards him beaten opponent. He showed his respect for his participation and agreed with many that he was a well suited match for the King, regardless of the fact that his skill was flawless. Their stalls where they remained seated until dismissed, were close to the exit of the arena and it was no surprise that the King began to walk towards them and she noted how he looked towards his wife.
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