[ooc: continued from Love On Trial (http://www.nationstates.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=132405&start=0)]
Slipping slowing into sleep, the conscious mind giving itself over to the unconscious, for a moment trapped in the space where thoughts would flow. Body slowing relaxing, giving into the gentle calling of dreams, a collection of memories, replays of the last few hours, or so she hoped. So happy and content, her body satisfied, her heart full.
But it had not always been like that, in fact, this was the first time in her life that she had felt complete, experienced love, both the giving and receiving. In her mind flashed not just the night that she had spent, wrapped up in the embrace and magic of the man who now slept peacefully beside her, holding her safe in his arms. Although he was the focus of her thoughts from the moment he stepped into her life, up to the point where he now lay resting in her bed.
It had been a long process, a year long battle to reach the place where they now were. He had appeared during one of her peaceful moments, as she sat losing herself as she gazed up into the night, her mind peaceful, free from troubles and noise. Alone in the darkness, but she had not been alone then, for he had been there, appearing from nowhere, and from his lips had come the challenge, the moment that had changed her life, he had offered to help her.
I was afraid to let you in here.
She had met his offer with distrust. He had come from out of nowhere, telling her that she needed help, that she was incomplete and unable to experience her life to the full, that she had to face her fears in order to grow, and she had merely laughed, and played along with his little game, with the hope that he would grow tired and eventually leave.
But she was not to get her way, and she found that wherever she turned around, when she least expected it, when her guard was down, he would be there. Watching, waiting for a moment to catch her alone, and then she would have to face his words, face the memories that he forced to rise from the very depths of her mind, thoughts and images buried and hidden.
Moments in her life that caused her pain, a time when decisions were not made by her, but were caused by her actions. A time when another paid for her mistakes. A time when her loathing of her father…
Yes, he had made her stand up to her memories of her father, the man who had filled her upbringing with a strict and firm system of beliefs and rules, who had made her pay for her mistakes in a way that she would not forget, the man who had taken away her ability to feel…love.
Now I have learned, love can’t be made in fear.
And she did fear. She had given her friendship to another, and she had watched in horror as he had been taken from her. Had been forced to stand and endure her father’s wrath played out on the one person in her life who had treated her not as a future empress, but as a human being. But in the eyes of a man who saw and cherished the difference between himself and his subjects, there was no place for this friendship, and so it was terminated.
But this had a lasting effect on her, she was afraid to show her affection to another, was unable to give another her love or friendship. Yet in the course of a year, and with an endless amount of patience, someone had managed to implant some feeling in her. By causing her to look at herself, she was able to open herself to him, and without knowing the exact moment that it had happened, she had given her heart to him.
The walls begin to tumble down.
It had been a hard process, layer by layer of her fear and doubt had been removed, until she could trust him. Every meeting he pushed that trust to the limit, as he slowly drew her from her protective shell, the one she had built to forget the pain. She buried herself behind her position, hid herself behind the façade of the nation, but he had pulled down the wall, and got through to the woman behind the crown.
And for the first time in many years, she actually felt like a woman again, like a human being, not just some figure head. And she had watched him react to her how no one had ever treated her father or herself, he did not bow down and meet her every whim, he told her she was wrong, that she made mistakes, even if at first she fought him, unwilling to do anything other than fight him, regardless if she always came off worse.
And in your eyes, I see ribbons of colour.
And he had shown her in another way that she was a women, although she did not know it. In her need to remove her father’s hold over her, she had given herself to a stranger, at a festival, not knowing at the time that she was being taken to new heights by the one man who could drive her into a temper without speaking, and he had driven her that day, had hidden his telling eyes, normally the colour of a starless night, behind the deepest of blues, not into a temper, but into ecstasy.
Then he had used the moment to torture her even more, to use his knowledge to push her, where he wanted her, and allow she tried to fight it, she succumbed. And the moment it happened she had realised, the everything he had every done had made her a better person, a stronger person.
And then the moment she had wanted from the moment she had first met him had arrived, nearly a year to the day. The day he would leave her life, but the thought did not make her happy, it did not fill her with the freedom she had expected, instead it had filled her with fear, with sorrow. And on that night, she had discovered the reason for this change in her, she had fallen in love with him, and in a moment of careless abandon, she had told him.
I see us inside of each other.
She had been so sure that he would leave, but he had taken her in his arms, had declared his feelings. Looking over the whole of her life, she could not recall a moment that filled her with more happiness, and that night her took her to newer heights.
As with most things in life, everything is sent to try and strengthen resolve. And she could not remember another day in her life that made her feel complete, then a few hours later so empty. A moment when she thought that he had gone, had left her alone despite all this words of love and promises. A day that had slowly grown into two, then three, until a week later she had giving up hope that he would be coming back.
She had become unbearable, had a found it hard to think or concentrate on anything other than him. Returning to her suite every night, her heart filled with hope only to find the room empty, and she would spend another lonely night, her thoughts and dreams filled with him, not that her awaking moments were any easier. And then last night she had returned to her room, and there he was. No regrets and no explanation. And for the briefest of moments she was filled with anger, but it is hard to stay so with the one person that holds your heart, and she had soon found herself once again wrapped in his embrace, with a whole week to make up for and a greater understanding on both their parts, as he imparted to her his greatest secret.
So close your eyes and let me kiss you.
And they had spent the night making love, until they had no more energy left, their bodies exhausted, the gentle call of sleep beckoning them towards the place of dreams. A place where her unconscious mind would replay the last few hours, until she again woke up, and once again share precious time with him.
And while you sleep, I will miss you.
Soon her thoughts came to an end, as Gehenna finally drifted into sleep.
The two guards stood, semi-alert, outside the doorway of their Empress’ private chambers. Their shift was almost over, and they had been on duty all night. Sunrise was still some hours away, and the sun had set before they came on duty.
Movement at the other end of the hall drew their attention, and snapped them to full awareness, and then they relaxed again, seeing it was just their relief.
The two newcomers nodded in greeting, and then one spoke softly. “How’s she doing, Chris?”
“Well, we stopped hearing her a couple of hours ago.”
“That bad? When did she go in?”
“Just as we came on,” Chris replied. “About eight.”
“Damn, it took her six hours to get to sleep?” The newcomer grimaced. “I wish there was something we could do about it. She’s gonna be difficult today.”
David, Chris’ younger partner snorted. “I doubt that. Sounded more like she had a visitor.” He grinned as the new guards’ jaws dropped. “You know, I wish we could figure out how that guy gets in. Makes me nervous the way he avoids all the security we’ve got here.”
Three other heads nodded. The lead newcomer, by the name of John, smiled. “So I’m guessing the mysterious Lord Daniels is back?” They all knew of the unidentified stranger in the Empress’ box at the theater, and that no one could even really remember what he looked like.
They all knew, from being questioned in the investigation into the shooting, that Lord Nefarious was very interested in Lord Daniels as well. Chris had done some independent research, and has found out nothing of a Lord Daniels anywhere. At least, not one who fit the description he remembered.
But the security staff, unlike Nefarious, was convinced Daniels was no threat. In fact, despite the fact that they were fairly certain he had been responsible for the Empress’ temper over the last year, though it was not entirely clear how, they were glad he was there. The Empress deserved to be happy. Plus, Chris and David were each convinced that Lord Daniels was the only reason the Empress was still alive from that night when they had had to gun down one of their own to protect their charge.
David smiled. “That’s my guess. Sounded like she tore a long strip out of him when she got in there, and then, she, uh, forgave him.” His eyebrow arched up as he kept the laughter from his face. “Considering what we were hearing for the five hours or so before she went to sleep.”
“Lucky her, and him.” John smiled, and turned to Chris. “I suppose you guys are ready to go home for the day?” Chris and David both nodded. “Very well. I relieve you,” he said formally to Chris.
“I stand relieved,” Chris said back, and David and Robert echoed the ceremony. “See you guys tomorrow morning.”
“Have a good day,” Robert called softly after them as they walked down the hall.
* * * * *
As was their habit, Chris Denton and David Metternich stopped at the twenty-four hour staff dining room before leaving to grab some food. Even after years on the job, neither was exactly sure what to call the meal, though the food was eggs and breakfast meats, with juices, coffee, cereal, and other assorted breakfast items. But as they had both usually eaten two meals by that point in the day, they just called it food.
Both men were older than the twenty-two year old Empress, but neither was past forty yet. They were in good shape, it being a requirement in their position, and were both fairly handsome.
They ate slowly, and spoke in relatively quiet tones, but even still, a young woman working in the cafeteria overheard their discussion on the Empress’ night time visitor when she came to bring them some more coffee.
Slowly the cafeteria filled with day workers in the Palace, and Chris and David left. But the young waitress, Lucinda Breve-Horton, did not forget what she had heard.
By six in the morning, the entire kitchen staff knew what she had heard, because, among other things, Lucinda was talkative. The uncharitable, and the truthful, would have gone so far as to call her a gossip.
“I over heard some guys in security.”
“The Empress had a visitor last night.”
“Yeah, her secret lover.”
“Yeah, they said he’s foreign, and really attractive too.”
And a few minutes later.
“You know what Lucy, in the cafeteria, heard from someone in security?”
And so the conversations went. And the servants who met the Empress were not afraid of angering her that day, for they knew her night had been well.
The conversations of what went on were whispered in secret, half hidden behind gestures and masks. They ranged from congratulatory, to the obscene, discussing what, or who, Lord Daniels was, and why the Empress enjoyed his company.
Whispered rumors circulated that he was not human, that he had some sort of hold over the Empress, that he sought to rule through her, that he was an assassin waiting to strike, vicious, untruths, mixed with what little was known.
In breaks, the servants began to hunt for secret passages through out the Palace, seeking out the way that the man used to reach the Empress’ quarters unseen. By noon, everyone in the Palace had heard at least one version of the rumors, and in most cases, more than one.
Everyone, that is, except those of noble birth. This was the story for the common people, those who lived, and worked. The people of the Empire discussed the Empress, the embodiment of them all, in hidden conversations, and sneaked notes. Were those of the nobility to hear the stories, the rumors, true and untrue, they would cease to be special, they would cease to belong to the people of Tartarus.
Hidden love and forbidden romance were their stories, not those of the elites. And they would keep them so.
The light crept in through the gap in the curtain, the sun already high in the sky, showing the morning to be already growing old. A sprinkling of particles danced in the thin line of light that fell against the floor, running along the carpet, catching the foot of the bed. As if disturbed by the touch, a stirring of the sheet indicated the slow awakening of the occupants. Blinking open her eyes, Gehenna stretched and became aware of the room about her. She moved slightly, allowing herself to gaze at the man beside, her happiness knowing no boundaries as she was afraid that she had dreamed his return. She placed her fingers lightly on his lips, tracing their shape, her touch gentle.
A smile crept across Ainulindalion’s sleeping face at the touch of the woman he loved, and his eyes fluttered open, taking in her beautiful form, nestled against him, a red glow still shining out from between the gentle swell of her breasts. “Good morning, dear heart,” he greeted her softly, running his fingers along her back.
Leaning over, tilting her head slightly, she placed her lips against his, replacing the touch of her fingers with a gentle kiss. “Good morning.” She looked at the sunlight creeping up the bed, and laughed lightly. “It’s lucky I kept my appointments empty today. I think it’s almost afternoon.” She lowered herself back into his arms, her fingers playing lightly on his chest.
Ainulindalion chuckled softly. “Definitely a good thing. I have no plans of letting you go anywhere today.” He squeezed her tightly against him, and then his stomach rumbled under her body. “Maybe we should find something to eat.”
Gehenna frowned, her brows knitting slightly, as she gave him a questioning look. “You don’t have to leave today?” The expression did not last long as a smile spread over her face, her eyes sparkling. “I like the sound of that. I’ll call for food.” She sat up, then turned to face him. “Do you want to eat here?”
With a wave of Ainulindalion’s hand as he sat up next to her, the curtains sprang open. “Perhaps we should eat outside. The day appears almost as lovely as you are, Gehenna.”
Whether her thoughts were totally focused on the scene through the window, or the swishing open of the curtains, Gehenna could not tell. He had told her who he was, and yet still she was stunned by his abilities. “Eating alfresco is a wonderful idea.” She slid herself over to the edge of the bed, feet resting on the floor, as she pressed the button connecting her to the kitchen, and placed an order, directing the food to be serve on the veranda, just below her own private quarters. “It should be ready in half an hour. That should give us time to get presentable.” She ran her eyes over her state of undress.
Ainulindalion smiled at her, and set his hand on her shoulder. “I think you’re most presentable right now, but it would probably be a shock to some of your people if you appeared like that. Do you want to shower first, or should I?”
Reaching out her hand to caress his as she spoke, she smiled and raised his hand to her lips. “Please, after you.” She released her hold, and leant over, grabbing her robe resting on the chair near the bed. “I have to call Alex, to make sure nothing important has come up.” Smiling, she stood up, pulling the silky fabric over her body. “Although, I am sure I would have heard if there was anything.”
Nodding, he slipped out of the bed and padded silently to the bathroom, glancing back over his shoulder before he stepped through the door. “See you in a few minutes.” The sound of the water running could soon be heard.
Watching him go, Gehenna couldn’t help admiring him, he was perfect in every way, her eyes lingering until he vanished out of sight. She walked over her desk, and tapping in her code, she gained access. Alex’s picture appeared in the top right hand corner of the screen once she hit his connection. As she sat talking, she listened to the sound of running water, wanting nothing more than to be with Balion. After several minutes of conversation, she closed down the link to her office, and cast her eyes over several reports that had been sent from various departments. With a slight smile, she turned the computer off, deciding today was going to be about her and the man who was currently standing in her shower. Rising from the chair, she padded softly to the bathroom, knocking lightly. “Do you need me to scrub your back?” She pushed open the door.
He turned as she opened the door. “I suppose I could live with that.” A grin spread across his face as he reached out and pulled her to him, undoing the tie of her robe with one hand as he stepped back under the water, pulling her with him under the icy spray.
Giggling as she stepped under the spray, Gehenna brushed her unkempt hair over her shoulders. Suddenly as the cold water trailed over her, shocking her body, and bringing her rudely to full awareness, she gasped. “Is there something wrong with the water?” She stepped back out from under the jets, and shivered. “That’s freezing.”
Frowning, Ainulindalion reached down and turned on the hot water. “I’d planned to take a cold shower.” He waved his hand, testing the water. “It should be more comfortable now.”
Gehenna shook her head, berating herself silently. “I should have waited, after all this is your shower time.” She crouched down to pick up her fallen robe. “I’ll wait until you’ve finished.” Looking about, she seated herself on the edge of the bath. “Do you mind if I stay?” She raised her eyes to his, questioningly.
Shaking his head, Ainulindalion smiled. “Of course you can stay. I’d rather have you scrub my back than take a cold shower, though, if that’s alright with you.”
Nodding her head and smiling, Gehenna rose from her seated position, and stepped back to the shower, the robe sliding off her back, and falling on a heap almost in the same spot as previously. “It would be a pleasure.” She stepped cautiously back into the shower, and reached down for soap.
About twenty minutes later, Ainulindalion reached down and turned off the water. “We had better get dressed so we aren’t late for breakfast.”
Wrapping the towel around herself, Gehenna walked back into the bedroom, and headed towards the walk in wardrobe, scanning her eyes around for something to wear, wanting something light to make the most of the sun outside. As she picked out a pale green dressed, with short sleeves, that stopped just above the knees. Drying herself then slipping on some underwear, she walked over to the chair beside the bed, and draped her outfit over the back. Grabbing her brush from the dresser she began to comb the tangles from her hair. “There is plenty of room in the wardrobe if you want to leave some things here.” She did not look at him, not wanting to see his expression.
Ainulindalion blinked. That was something new. Then a grin spread across his face, knowing what the offer must have cost her to make. He could feel her fear from across the room as she made the offer, and he opened his mouth to decline, as he did not need to leave clothing anywhere, as conflicting emotions wandered through his mind and his heart.
Then he snapped his mouth shut. Declining would not be the best of his available options, he realized. “I think I can probably leave a few things here, if you are sure you don’t mind.” He blinked again, altering his form, and allowing a black t-shirt to appear, along with slacks and boots. He declined the cape, deciding it looked too warm for it.
Gehenna smiled, exhaling the breath that she had been holding as she waited for his reply. Happy with his reply, she turned around and faced him. “It isn’t any trouble.” Placing the brush on the table top, she pulled her hair back into a ponytail, surprised to see him already dressed. “I’d like you to feel at home here.” She rose from the chair, and pulled her dress on over her head. Walking over to him, she turned her back to him and indicated her zip. “Would you be so kind? And then we can go for breakfast.”
Smiling, Balion ran his finger up her back, moving the zip with it, then he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back against him, burying his face in her hair for a moment. “I love you,” he whispered, then spun her around to kiss her forehead. “Let’s go eat.”
“I love you too.” Tilting her head, Gehenna pressed her lips against Balion, then ran the back of her fingers over his cheek. “Definitely.” She felt a low rumble in her stomach. “I think as soon as possible.” Walking over to the wardrobe, she slipped her feet into a pair of pumps, that matched her dress, then grabbed a light jacket, which she draped over her arm. Taking hold of his hand as she walked over to him, she lead him over to the door, then turned to him. “I hope you are ready for this. You know people will be talking about you the minute we step outside this door.” She squeezed his hand. “Are you ready to be the talk of Tartarus?”
Chuckling, he squeezed her hand back. “I’ve been the talk of Tartarus a number of times before.” His stomach growled loudly. “But we need to eat.”
Having lead Balion past her security staff, Gehenna knew that they were all fixing him with looks even if they managed to hide the fact. Not that she minded anyone knowing about him, she would more than willing shout his name from the top of the palace if she thought that was what he wanted, but she knew it wouldn’t be. Finally reaching the veranda, she ran her eyes over the table fixed up ready for them, she had mentioned that she would be breakfasting with a guest, and was pleased to see two places set. She indicated the table against the wall, which was covered with a wide selection of dishes. “I wasn’t sure what you wanted to eat, so I ordered a little of everything.”
Ainulindalion smiled at her. “It looks delicious, love.” He pulled out a chair, almost as if he was doing so for her to sit, then sat down and pulled her into his lap. “Well, let’s see what your cooks have prepared for us this morning.” He raised a hand, lifting a plate the air to float over to their small table.
Laughing, Gehenna watched as the plate floated across from the table, her eyes not leaving the object until it reached halfway across, when she turned to him, a look of concern on her face. “Should you be doing that so…obviously?” She couldn’t help suddenly looking into the sky as if she expected a huge eye to be looking back. “Are you not afraid that you might be…” She didn’t even want to finish the line.
He sighed. “You’re probably right, dear heart. If I am to spend considerable amounts of time among humans now, especially the same group of humans, I probably need to try to cut down on my visible not so human abilities.” He guided the plate safely back onto the buffet table from whence it had come, and lifted her out of his lap.
He stood next to her, and handed her the plate from the setting, and reach over and grabbed his own. “Why don’t you pick out your favorites, that way I’ll know what to get you in the mornings from now on.”
Standing beside Balion, Gehenna lifted lids and peered at the contents, making a small selection of sausage, bacon and a couple of eggs. “You could just surprise me with breakfast.” She picked up a jug of juice and poured herself a glass, then offered him some, by raising it. “I get the feeling you would pick just what I wanted anyway.”
Nodding at the pitcher of juice, he replied, “I might at that.” Ainulindalion frowned at the contents of the serving plates, though. “I see your cooks have some things to learn though.” He waved his hand expansively at the table. “For instance, there are no grits here.” Accordingly, lacking his favorite breakfast food, he piled his plate with a large pile of pancakes, coated with blueberries and syrup, along with eggs, sausage, and bacon. He found, and sprinkled, some cheese on his eggs, as well, before accepting a glass from his love.
Moving back to the table, Gehenna placed her plate down as she took a sip of her juice. “If there is ever anything you need, please just say. I really do want you to feel at home here.” She smiled, she never thought that she would find herself saying such a thing to anyone. “And I will make sure that there are…grits on the menu.” She took her seat, and began to cut up her food, her eyes following him.
Taking the seat opposite hers, Ainulindalion watched intently for a moment as Gehenna used the fork and knife, watching the movements of her smaller, fine hands, then smiling. “Well, I shall look forward to grits in the morning, then, dear heart.” He began to cut up his own food carefully, and chewed a bite in silence, watching her, and reveling in the light breeze that blew across their position, lightly ruffling hair that for the first time Gehenna had ever seen, was not perfectly arranged. “Now, last night you didn’t say much about your week, and I’m sure it was more interesting, if less life threatening, than mine.” He looked at her questioningly as he chewed another bite.
Raising her fork to her mouth, about to take the first bite of her breakfast, her stomach giving another sign of her hunger, Gehenna stopped and lowered it. “What makes you think my week was exciting?” She laughed and then broke her gaze from his. “As far as my weeks go, it was not really outstanding.”
Ainulindalion swallowed his bite of food, and frowned. “I know, Gehenna. I’m sorry for that. I am here now, though, and you know I won’t do it again.” He held out his hand to her. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
Gehenna reached over and took his hand, feeling the warmth of his touch against her skin, “I wasn’t trying to get at you again, Lor…Balion.” She smiled guiltily as she almost called him by his False name. “I just meant it was hardly any more entertaining than any other.” Less so perhaps. “How was your week?” If she had been focusing on her actions, she would have realised that she was again trying to bury the harder things in her life.
He lightly squeezed her hand, and glanced down at his plate, which had suddenly lost its appeal for him. “My week…” His voice trailed off. “Imagine if you will, that you have the power to control everything about you, bend it to your will. You’ve had this ability for as long as you can remember.” He swallowed heavily. “Now it’s taken away, and you have no control over anything anymore. For the first time in your memory, your life is threatened by something you cannot overcome, perhaps even if you still had your power.” He smiled wanly. “That was my week.”
Taking her gaze back to his, Gehenna was saddened and troubled by his words. He had mentioned what had happened to him in the time he had been away, had explained what the outcome of the judgment could have been, but hearing him now tore at her heart. “It was really that terrifying?” It made her reaction to his disappearance seem an over the top by comparison.
Nodding, he replied, “Yes, it was. But I…” He swallowed again. “Do you remember when I took you to the place where there was nothing? The place that was completely white?”
This time it was Gehenna’s turn to nod. “Yes, I remember it.” Not just for because the room had been pure white and the strangest place she had every been, but also because she had admitted her darkest secret to him there. “You were taken there?”
He shook his head. “Not there, but place like it. A place where the rules of the world don’t apply. That’s why I was powerless there. My power here relies on my ability to break the rules of the world at will, and without rules to break…” His voice trailed off once more, then his expression changed, and it was obvious he intended to change the subject.
Ainulindalion looked into Gehenna’s eyes, and squeezed her hand. “You said last night that you thought you had lost your temper with everyone during the past week. Anything or anyone special I need to be concerned about?”
“Yes, I was being a little temperamental during your absence, and I may have lost my temper with…” It always came down to the same person, no matter how hard she tried. “Nefy.” She smiled as she used Balion’s nickname for her cousin.
“What is it about him, Gehenna? Why do you dislike him so?” Ainulindalion gazed at her, love and concern in his eyes. Usually, in his long experience, when people hated a member of their family so much, they usually had a very good reason. Balion wanted to know the reason his love had with regards to her cousin.
Gehenna gave up on the thought of eating, and placed her fork back on her plate. “We just don’t get on.” Images of her Damien filled her mind, the times they had shared growing up, the look in her father’s eye when he had told her of his plans. “Sometimes I think he believes that he should have taken the throne after my father.” She lowered her eyes and examined her plate, as her voice quivered with anger. “He was his favourite, I can see why he would do so.”
Ainulindalion looked directly into her eyes. “There is more than that, isn’t there?” Not that there needed to be. Erebus had loved another’s child more than his own. That had no doubt made what Gehenna had eventually done easier, even if he still had trouble believing that the woman he loved could have done it.
“Possibly.” She squeezed his hand again, and smiled lovingly at him. “I don’t want to spoil our day with talk of Nefy. Not over breakfast, anyway.” Releasing his hand, she turned her attention to the food before her. “We should eat before it gets cold.” She finally got the morsel still attached to the prong to her mouth and chewed.
He nodded, accepting her change of subject. He had pushed her hard when reforming her, but he had no desire to ruin the perfect product he had gotten from the process by pushing too hard again. She was still malleable, but she was just right. He smiled, then poked himself in the lip with his fork in his haste to begin consuming the food again. “Ow.”
Looking up at his cry, Gehenna looked at him rather perplexed, wondering what had elicited this reaction from him. “What is the matter?” After a moment she realised what he had done, and smiled at him lovingly. “Are you having trouble with your fork?” Leaning forward, she jabbed a piece of food onto her own piece of cutlery, and held it up for him.
Grinning, he leaned forward and ate the food off her fork. After swallowing, he replied. “Keep your fork for your own food. You’re behind.” His hand waved to indicate his half empty plate, which had been considerably fuller than hers was to start with as he took another bite and swallowed. “Thank you for your kind assistance, through, your Highnessness,” he said cheekily, his grin returning, his eyes gleaming with humor.
Gehenna turned her attention back to her own food, as she laughed lightly at his joke, happy that the conversation had turned to a lighter topic. “You are most welcome, your…” She frowned. “Do you have an official title? Like Godliness or something?”
Shaking his head with another bite, Ainulindalion answered in the negative. “No, no titles. Just me and my love for you, Gehenna.”
She went quiet for a moment lost in thought, before looking at him questioningly. “What about your card? That had several titles on it.” She tried to picture it in her mind’s eye. “I know the Lord Daniels title is not real, but were the others made up for my benefit too?”
Ainulindalion broke into a grin. “Not exactly. ‘Steward of the Fortress of Ainulindalion.’ Well, I am steward of my own home, and I am ‘Protector of the Hidden Isle,” as that is where the Fortress is located, and I protect my home. As for ‘Mercenary,’ that is accurate, as I take jobs for people.” He smiled and ate another bite. “‘Minor Mage,’ on the hand, I’ll leave up to you whether or not it is an accurate description of what I can do. So the titles, while not truly official, are a more than accurate representation of me.”
Gehenna smiled, stopping another mouthful of food reaching her mouth as she stilled her arm. “Yes, I suppose the titles are very fitting, if not official.” Letting her mind pass over the events from their meeting to now, she looked over the things he had done, the strange things. “Minor mage is also correct to a point, although I’m not sure ‘minor’ is adequate.” She finally placed the piece of food in her mouth, and chewed.
Chuckling softly to himself as Gehenna kept pausing in her attempts to eat the food, Balion smiled at her, and continued to eat until his plate was empty, which did not seem to take nearly as long as it should have, with as much food as there was on the plate. As he set his empty glass of juice down, he reached out and touched Gehenna’s hand as she ate. “Can I get you anything else, dear heart?” he asked as his eyes flickered around the grounds, as if looking for someone out there, able to see him.
Looking down at her plate, she noticed that she had barely made a dent in the food before her, not that this was unusual for her, as she rarely ate more than a couple of mouthfuls to break her fast. “No, thank you. I have enough.” She indicated the table. “Please, help yourself if you want more, there’s plenty left.” She turned back and seeing him look about, she followed his gaze around the garden. “What is it?” As she looked she could see nothing.
Like his love, Ainulindalion also saw no one, and he shook his head minutely at her, dismissing it. With a flick of his wrist, he summoned some pastries and fruit pieces from the large trays on the serving table to his plate, and floated a glass of milk over to drink with them as well. He bit into the first one, and smiled as the fruit juice ran out of the corner of his mouth.
Watching as more food floated to the table, Gehenna turned her attention from the surrounding area, feeling satisfied that there was nothing troubling Balion. She picked up a piece of bread and broke tiny bits off, before popping them into her mouth, her gaze fixed to him. “Hungry?” At a loss of what else to say, she ran her eyes over the garden. “It’s very pleasant out here today, perhaps we could take a walk after breakfast? Unless you have to rush off, of course.” Her eyes held a fear as she waited for his answer.
He shook his head as he swallowed the piece of fruit. “A little hungry.” He grinned at her. “It has been a week since I’ve eaten, you know.” His eyes sparkled with humor, and he seemed to take no notice of the fear in her eyes. “A walk would be delightful.” Mischief gleamed in the night black orbs gazing at her. “I have pleasant memories of the gardens.”
“Yes, this is where we first met.” She smiled as she choose to intentionally misunderstand which memories he was more than likely referring to. “It’s so peaceful out here, you can lose yourself for hours and not see a soul…and then suddenly someone can appear as if out of air.” She laughed as she recalled his arrival.
He smiled broadly. “Yes, that can be annoying can it not?” His face grew slightly more serious. “It’s been a year since that day, yet it went by so fast.” He sighed, then picked up a pastry, crunching into it. “I hope the rest of our years together pass more slowly.”
“We have a lifetime of them.” Gehenna smiled. She liked the idea of having him with her for the foreseeable future, if not forever. “Let us not talk about our time rushing away, but instead make the most of each day.” She leant over the table and pressed her napkin to his glistening lips.
Ainulindalion grinned behind the napkin as his love wiped the juice from his lips, his breakfast finished. “Well, that does indeed sound like an excellent plan.” He glanced down at the wreckage of the fine meal left upon the table. “How does that walk sound now?” he queried her, slowly rising to his feet.
Lowering the remaining portion of her bread to her plate, she carefully patted her own lips, then placed the napkin on the table, as she rose to her feet. “A walk now would be perfect.” She smiled, as she looked into his face. “Any preferences in where you would like to visit first?”
Holding his arm out to her, he smiled. “Perhaps just going where our feet take us would be best?” He waved his hand, indicating the expanse of the garden. “They are quite large, and I’m sure we can wander them for hours without being disturbed.”
Gehenna slipped her arm through his and lead them onto the large expanse of neatly cut grass the surrounded the palace. Past the lawn was the path that lead down to the rose garden, another lead to the oriental gardens, and to their right lay the lake and water gardens. “I think we should start where we first met, and then go from there.” She gazed around at the blossoming flowers, up into the clear blue sky, a stark contrast to the last few days which had been wet and miserable, the evidence of which could be felt in the slightly soft ground. “The rose garden has always been my favourite.” And now she had even more fond memories of the place. Walking over the lawn, heading towards a spot level with the centre of the palace, Gehenna took a moment to breath in deeply, casting away the last of her lingering doubts and unhappiness.
Ainulindalion went where Gehenna led him, smiling externally, and grinning on the inside, as he had been hoping to return to the rose garden, as his memories of the place were equally fond, though less extensive.
Arriving at the Palace, Lord Nefarious retraced his steps of the previous day, calling early hoping to catch the Empress before she was called into meetings and having to deal with the running of the Empire. He had been surprised when he had called in to find that his cousin was not seeing any visitors, his mind already putting two and two together and coming up with five.
He knew that she was having problems, and he had narrowed the reason down to the elusive Lord Daniels, who not only seemed to hold the attention of Gehenna, but had managed to capture the imagination of a large portion of Nefarious’ acquaintances, especially those around the palace.
When he had approached her two days ago concerning what he felt was the unsuitability of her choice of companions; after all, no one knew anything about the man who had wormed his way into the life of the nation’s leader, or what his intentions were. Nefarious had taken great pleasure in pointing out to his deluded cousin that her so-called new friend could have been responsible for her attempted assassination.
This revelation didn’t go down too well, neither did anything he had to say on the topic, and as the last week had progressed, reports of Gehenna’s behaviour had filtered down to him, promoting the visit that had caused her to lose her temper with him, more so than she had done since taking the throne.
Finally reaching her office, Nefarious greeting Alex courteously, and requested to see his cousin, only to be told that she had not arrived in; the same had happened the previous day, and in a strange way had made him oddly happy with himself. There could only be a couple of reasons for her to be missing two days in a row, either she was still getting over the argument she had had with him, or she had been thrown over by Lord Daniels, the second option more favourable to his plans.
“Take a seat, Lord Nefarious.” The young man behind the desk indicated a comfortable chair, a little to one side, and pushed up against the wall. “Can I get you a coffee while you wait?” Nefarious nodded his head and made ready for another long delay, if the one before was anything to go by, he would have been here most of the previous night too.
Settling down in the seat, sinking into comfortable leather chair, he popped open his briefcase, prepared for another long day of sitting around and waiting, only for her assistant to tell him that she had decided not to come in, and now as he sat in the chair, he could see a repetition of events. But this time he had come prepared, so while he waited for news of his errant cousin, he could at least keep up with important news.
He sat and watched as the minutes of his wait turned into hours, and soon he became restless. Getting up from his chair, he walked determinedly to the door and pushed it open, convinced that he would see the Empress sitting behind her desk looking surprised to see him standing in her office. But as he swung the door into the office, he found it empty, and turned back to look at Alex, who had bounded out of his seat at Nefarious’ actions.
“I told you Her Majesty wasn’t here.” The younger man grabbed hold of the knob and pulled the door closed. “If you are going to wait, please do so on the chair.” He stood with his back against the door, as if guarding the crown jewels, not wanting a repeat performance.
Nefarious caught sight of the clock, noting the two hours he had spent in the outer office. Walking over to the chair, instead of lowering himself to the chair he bent down and picked up his case, turning to Alex as he spoke. “If you would inform Lady Gehenna that I called in to see her, I would appreciate it.” He made to leave then as if changing his mind he looked back at the other man. “Perhaps you could arrange a meeting for me, and inform me once she is free to see me.” Before Alex could utter a word, Nefarious had left.
And for anyone who had passed him on his way out of the palace, they would have sworn that the man looked happy. And he was, for he had found a way to slowly work on the Empress, had found her vulnerability. Whatever Lord Daniels had done, it had affected his cousin, and using this knowledge, he could slowly work on bringing down her defences, one bit at a time, and fulfil his goal and that of the late Emperor.
As he got into his car, he sat in the driver’s seat, and for a moment began to formulate a plan of action.