Two women were arguing about something in loud voices; some men were carrying sacks from a cart into a store; a group of people had gathered to watch an early morning brawl between two beggars. The first impression of the town near Grathwood’s castle was perhaps not the best the new recruits could have gotten. The knights comforted themselves with the reminder that guarding commoners was beneath them and so they would hardly have to spend much time inside the town itself. The rest of the men were guardsmen, retired soldiers already noting where the tavern was. The knights on their horses paid little attention to the people going about the cobbled streets, they expected people to make way for them, naturally.
The buildings were simply built, but many were even two storeys high and proved that this was a prosperous town, if not the most beautiful one. The men came to the town square. There were stalls scattered around the square and musicians filled the air with variously tuned sounds from their instruments. The mens’ progress was slowed, since it was already near noon and the square was packed with people. A knight in the lead gestured to some of the guardsmen to clear way for them. People muttered, but backed away and the men continued. They were going through the town to the castle.
One of the knights slowed down near a musician with a lute and listened with a faint smile on his lips. He reached for a purse and threw some coins for the musician before proceeding again. He got some skeptical looks from his fellow knights as he urged his horse back its place on the line.
”Why did you throw your money away? Players like that are many a dozen.”
”A few coins will not be the end of me, Martin. Anyway, I like music! It’s the best way to a lady’s heart. And- other places...” he grinned.
”That’s all you think about, Jonathan”, Martin snorted without really getting annoyed. He knew his friend afterall.
”And why wouldn’t I?” Jonathan exclaimed. ”Every man wants warm arms around himself in the night and a lady’s soft lap is the best there is. I know, I’ve had my share”, he laughed. Martin shook his head and rolled his eyes. He wouldn’t deny what Jonathan said of course. He was quite right.
It had started as a horse, but it had perhaps a bit too much green in it.
It could be a flower... Rosalie thought to herself and frowned at her embroidery work. She tried turning it upside down and considered it critically. Then she sighed and dropped it on the floor. She leaned against the back of her chair and looked out the window. It was a lovely spring day, she was inside the castle and she couldn’t stop thinking about Jonathan. Rosalie pouted and started twisting the strands of her long hair in her hands.
My hair feels really rough... I hope it doesn’t look as bad as it feels... Jonathan probably likes someone with really smooth hair. And rich. Like he has... He has such strong, beautiful light hair. Rosalie smiled and blushed as she imagined Jonathan riding to her on his horse and the wind tousling his hair, the sun’s shine making it like liquid gold.
Rosalie bit her lip and coughed trying to clear her mind. She decided she should go and try do something... something productive... But what? she thought darkly. Rosalie went to the window and leaned on the sill. Smoke drifted lazily upwards from the village’s chimneys and ever so faint hubbub of everyday life carried through the air to her. She sighed and pouted, and tapped the stonework feeling utterly bored. Then something on the road to the castle caught her eye and she glanced there.
Some riders in armor and a group or marching men were coming to the castle. Rosalie leaned out of the window and tried to look closer. She didn’t know they were getting any visitors and what other reason would there be for them? She waited until they were closer to the castle and then left her room delighted to have something to hold her interest for a while.
Rosalie reached the castleyard just as the riders and soldiers came through the gates. She and some others were standing on the steps to the doors to the castle watching the knights curiously. There didn’t seem to be any lords or ladies with them, but Rosalie recoqnised one of their own knights among the knights. No one else seemed familiar...
Rosalie gasped in surprise. Something fluttered in her something and even her heart jolted. Jonathan! Rosalie gaped at the handsome knight. She glanced furtively around her, but no one else seemed to have noticed. Rosalie quickly tried to see Jonathan again, where was he, he was just there... Panic gripped her. She turned swiftly and slipped through the doors inside the castle. Rosalie pressed her back against the door and drew a deep shuttering breath. He’d been looking straight at her. But it couldn’t have been him. It just can’t have been him! Why would he be here?
Rosalie’s heart thumped nervously and she tried to gulp a few times. Her throat had suddenly gone quite dry. Then she warily peeked outside from behind the door and quickly ducked her head back. The men were still there, but all the knights had gotten off of their horses. Rosalie realised they could be coming in at any time and if she wanted to avoid them she would have to go, now!
She almost stumbled a few times when she was hurrying further inside the castle. Midstride a thought came to her. She should go and ask her father if something was going on. At the least, her father would decide how long the knights were going to be allowed to stay in the castle. If she had a date, she could focus. On what exactly, she wasn’t sure.
Rosalie took a moment to calm herself down behind the door of his father’s study. She knocked and opened the door.
”Rosie? Morning my dear, what are you doing here?” Theodore smiled as he lifted his eyes from some papers he’d been scribbling on.
”Well... I was just wondering...” Rosalie stepped inside hesitantly. ”I just... Some knights just rode in here and I thought ’why?’”
”Oho, they’ve arrived now, have they? Most excellent. We must go and greet them”, Theodore said cheerfully and rose.
”Sorry? We were expecting them?”
”Didn’t I tell you? Ah! No, of course not! I forgot, I’m sorry my dear. This was supposed to be a surprise.”
”Ah. Quite a surprise it was too”, Rosalie smiled uncertainly.
”Well, my plan worked then, did it not? Come now, it mustn’t do to be late.”
”But father”, Rosalie started as her father came and took her arm in his, ”why are they here? Are they visiting us? Just... knights?”
”Oh no, Rosie. I have hired them. See, my dear, I rather liked the tournament, but our knights were just not up to it this year and sir Kane is getting a little too old to compete soon, so I thought some fresh blood would be good. Ah, and! Turns out that winner, that young man? He was serving no lord yet. The title came with the family, but apparently there was a disgrace or something with his father or grandfather... I’m a little hazy on the details and it doesn’t really matter. He’s very good at jousting and that’s what matters. It’s their own shame if they don’t get the best while they can. Now he’s ours”, Theodore finished happily. Rosalie felt the obligation to chuckle along with her father.
Oh my. They’re here to stay. Jonathan is going to live here. He’s going to... live here... Rosalie couldn’t decide whether she should feel happy, annoyed, excited or nervous about this. And she honestly felt all conflicting emotions fighting for the first place.
Rosalie was still debating with herself when they reached the castleyard. The knights were talking in a small secluded group and some of their own knights had joined the newcomers. The guardsmen were lounging about around the yard. Fortunately their superior was keeping a careful eye out and barked them a command when he saw lord Theodore.
Lord Theodore began addressing the knights and guardsmen, welcoming them. Rosalie tried to appear casual, but her nervousness was gaining the advantage. She glanced once, twice at the knights hoping to see Jonathan. If she’d just quicly skim everyone over, that couldn’t be interpreted as anything more than mild interest...
Well. He’s either looking at father, or staring at me.
I should’ve worn one of my better dresses...
Wonder how he looks under all that armor...
”- And this is my daughter, lady Rosalie. She is your mistress and any orders she issues you must follow. Rosie?” Rosalie snapped out of her thoughts and looked blankly at her father for a moment. Lord Theodore nodded at the men and raised his eyebrow wondering.
Rosalie stepped ahead and bowed her head slightly, greeting everyone modestly. She glanced in the knights’ direction and saw that Jonathan was, though smiling, standing respectfully in attention. She stepped back, nodded briefly at her father and turned to go back inside.
I’m like a fearful rabbit, continuously running for cover... she thought annoyed as she marched all the way back to her own rooms. She slumped in her chair and sighed. Then she sighed again as she noticed the discarded embroidery work on the floor. She attempted to kick it, but wasn’t near enough and she didn’t feel like getting out of her chair at all. Rosalie crossed her arms, pouted and slumped against the back of the chair.
A fine first impression I’ve made! All the knights probably think I’m some silly little girl... And I’m going to be sixteen this year, I’m not little! I’m not silly! And I should stop acting like I am! No, I just need to concentrate. It doesn’t matter if Jonathan likes me or not. He’s a knight and technically under my command, and I can- ... Well, no, I don’t think I’ll dare issue any orders to him. I’d probably just be unable to speak to him. Rosalie sighed yet again.
I just need to get over this. He’s just a man. Just - a - man. Just another knight in the castle, a handsome knight indeed... With his green and golden eyes and golden hair, and probably quite notable muscles... Rosalie settled in in her chair more comfortable and slowly started smiling as she imagined Jonathan taking her hand in his, almost trembling from the strong feelings he felt for her, and slowly pressing a kiss on the back of her hand. Rosalie blushed and giggled happily.
In the following week Rosalie did not see much of Jonathan. She kept from wondering around those parts of the castle where she might meet him, because she felt this would have been a little too inappropriate for her to do. Still, she did do more riding than usually, and much shorter trips out, just in case Jonathan would be around the stables looking for his horse, or something.
One afternoon as Rosalie had parted with a friend of hers outside their castle, she had taken her horse to the stables and tracked down her closest handmaiden to complain about an irritating itch. They were walking to Rosalie’s rooms so her handmaiden could apply some ointment in her leg when they turned round a corner and encountered Jonathan. The handmaiden stopped and bobbed a curtsy and so to Rosalie’s relief her own sudden standstill wasn’t so out of place.
”Sir Jonathan”, she nodded politely. Jonathan smiled in return and stared at her. He wasn’t dressed in armor this time and Rosalie was pleased to note that the simple tunic was tight-fitting enough for her to discern more of his bodytype. He was reasonably toned, but not terribly muscled. Jonathan was holding an apple in his hand and he’d in fact just been shining it against his tunic. Rosalie was looking appreciatively at his hands, when she was suddenly brought back to present by the handmaiden’s prudent cough. Jonathan was grinning at her.
”Ah, er- Good day, sir Jonathan”, Rosalie said quickly and hurried past him. The handmaiden started and followed her, nodding politely to Jonathan, who turned to follow their course thoughtfully while taking a bite of his apple.
When they reached Rosalie’s rooms she went straight for her bed and collapsed on it feeling like a failure. The maidservant closed the door and came to the foot of the bed to watch Rosalie expectantly.
”I was a complete idiot back there, wasn’t I? How long did I even stare at him?” Rosalie groaned and covered her eyes with her arm. She sniffed.
”I smell like horses and manure”, she added desperately. The maidservant shrugged and grabbed her legs to take off her boots.
”Now, you was just lost in contemplation there for a moment, nothing too final or terrible really”, the maid said as she started tugging Rosalie’s riding boots off of her.
”But did I stare at him for very long? It wasn’t too- obvious, was it?” The maid shrugged and pulled her other boot off.
”I couldn’t say, milady. Anyway, I don’t think he minded you watching him, if you don’t me saying”, the maid said as she wiped the boots some and took them outside the door. She came back to the bed and asked where the itch was as she reached for the ointment she’d placed on the floor. Rosalie pouted and rose enough to lean on her elbows.
”Mary. You cannot ever tell anyone, ever, about... You know... How I feel about... You know...!”
”About sir Jonathan, milady?” Rosalie nodded emphatically and sighed.
”I’ll never utter a word, milady, and that’s a promise that holds. Now, there’s not much I can do about it, but the itch I can help with.” Rosalie sniffed and rose to sit. She raised the leg of her riding pants and showed the pink patch on the skin. Mary sat on the floor and took Rosalie’s leg in her lap. She started covering the itchy spot with the ointment.
”That stings...” Rosalie pouted, but only got a snort from Mary.
”It’s supposed to, that’s how you know it’s working, milady.” Rosalie sighed and lay back on the bed. She stared at the canopy moodily, slowly twisting her hair in her fingers. She would have to do something about her feelings. It just wouldn’t do to go about blushing everytime she saw him. It wasn’t proper behaviour for a lady, and he was of a lower class as well.
Rosalie was feeling relaxed for the first time in over a week. She was wearing one of her favourite dresses and she was about to head for a walk with some of her handmaidens, perhaps to look for some spring flowers. She chatted with the other girls when she heard someone calling her and the already too familiar nervousness came upon her as she recognised the voice.
”Lady Rosalie!” Jonathan approached them. All the girls quieted down and turned to look at him. A few girls at the back of the group giggled, but Rosalie didn’t notice.
”Lady Rosalie”, Jonathan repeated warmly taking her hand and kissing it.
”A pleasure to see you, sir Jonathan. What is it?” Rosalie managed to say and was glad her voice didn’t shake.
”Your father feels you should not go out alone. I mean, without a man to watch out for possible danger. We are not that far away from the border afterall. Or there could be a bear out there. He sent me to accompany you, just in case”, Jonathan explained and smiled.
”Well... Are you, er- fully equipped to handle danger? You’re not wearing armor and anyway we’re not going very far.”
”Nevertheless, I am to attend you!” Jonathan declared grandly. He had been holding her hand in his while they spoke and now he changed hands, so that he was holding Rosalie’s left hand in his right. He turned to the other girls and said brightly: ”Shall we go then?”
Only after passing the gates of the castle did Rosalie remember to pull her hand free. Rosalie missed most of the chatting, didn’t gather nearly as many flowers as the other girls as her thoughts kept continually wandering to Jonathan, who never left her side.
Rosalie walked quietly along a path in the forest they’d headed for. Jonathan followed her just a few steps behind. Rosalie breathed in the mixed smell of the earth, trees and Jonathan. There was a masculine scent about him, full and rich. Whenever there was a large stone jutting out of the ground, or a small bump in the road he would reach for her hand and steady her, though she was in no danger of stumbling. Rosalie welcomed his unneeded help in any case, and enjoyed the feeling of his hands on hers. His hands were coarse after years of handling swords and lances, but still it seemed to Rosalie that they had a certain delicate power.
Lost in her thoughts she was after a time disappointed to notice that they were heading back to the castle, all too soon for her taste. She commented on this to one of the maidens who quizzically informed her they’d been walking for some hours already. Rosalie blinked in surprise. She hadn’t noticed the time pass at all. Jonathan came by her side, chuckled and took her hand in his.
”My lady, you seem to be somewhat scarce of flowers. Did their beauty not appease you enough? Or, perhaps if we were to find some wild roses you would gather them?”
”Oh! No, I just... I have enough flowers at home. These are just fine”, she lifted the few already wilted flowers in her hand. She blushed as she realised their condition. Biting her lip she glanced at the other girls and their pickings. Theirs were lush and plentiful. Jonathan grinned to himself and pulled Rosalie closer.
”You know, my lady, that the wild rose is the most beautiful of all flowers? It has a vibrant color, better than any you would find in the common garden. It’s scent alone is enough to bring you alive, even from the brink of death, I’ve heard say.”
”Really?” Rosalie looked into Jonathan’s mesmerising eyes. He pulled her hand closer and looked steadily into her eyes as he placed a kiss on it. Rosalie’s cheeks burned, her heart was beating wildly and she was completely enthralled. Then they were suddenly away from the cover of the trees and she had to shield her eyes from the glaring sun. Though it was still spring she felt hot all over and wished they would get back to the castle quickly. It would be hard to calm down after all this, and yet a part of her definitely wanted quite the opposite.
In the back of her mind, Rosalie wanted to spend more time with Jonathan. More time alone with him. Even just one night together, that’s all. But even that would have been too much. Rosalie felt anxiety rising in her and banished the thought from her mind. Nothing would happen, ever. She shouldn’t want it, and she should not worry about matters that were impossible.
Rosalie was bumping into Jonathan everywhere she went. She would decide to go for a walk and Jonathan would appear and insist he come along to protect her. If she felt like going riding Jonathan would saddle his own horse and ride next to her. When she stayed indoors, Jonathan eventually found his way close to her. In the library, in the great hall, even in the corridors, everywhere.
Each time Jonathan would speak to her about something, then reach for her hand and kiss it. And with every encounter he went a little further. He would put his hand on her arm and lightly stroke her as he talked. Not once did Rosalie mutter anything against this. She delighted in his closeness and the shivers his touch brought to her she yearned.
Once, when she’d been on her way to the kitchen to snatch some dainty he’d caught her and they’d laughed. Some men had approached and Jonathan had quickly pulled her into an alcove so they would not be noticed. Rosalie had thought it so amusing she had had a hard time not to giggle. But as the men were passing Jonathan had pulled her into his arms, they’d looked into each others’ eyes... And the men had passed, Rosalie could barely breathe, and he’d quickly kissed her on the cheek. Then he had gone and Rosalie had stood there petrified. She’d slowly, delicately touched her cheek with her fingers and breathed out. She’d closed her eyes and could not have thought of anything but his eyes on her, and his arms around her, and his lips touching hers... Shuddering, she’d eventually found the strength in her legs to walk out and go back to her rooms to collapse on the bed.
Rosalie forbade her from thinking about she was really doing. She was letting a man take advantage of her, but she tried hard not to think about it like so. She reasoned with herself that Jonathan was in love with her and that he would most likely express his true feelings for her sooner or later. She reminded herself that though she was the daughter of a count, Jonathan was a true knight and could earn a higher title through great deeds. Something he would obviously go through for her. So, she let Jonathan pull her behind a corner, or into a secluded and curtained alcove, and she would reach for him as he reached for her, and he would press his lips on hers as she clung tightly to him. There seemed to be a fire within her that demanded more each time Jonathan left, and more every time he came. A warm need and a want she could not - would not - control.
Then, lord Theodore sent most of the knights he employed out to check on the villages in his lands, and Jonathan went with them. Three days passed which Rosalie spent doing nothing much. She alternated between her bed and her chair, mostly just thinking about Jonathan and feeling bored. Her maids tried to interest her and get her to go outside and occasionally she did agree for a walk. But she didn’t enjoy the sunshine, or the singing of returning birds or the smell of the flowers the maids gathered. She’d looked at a beautiful pink flower and though that a wild rose would have been so much better.
One evening as Rosalie was getting ready for bed, her favourite handmaiden Mary was straightening her covers and then stopped to look slyly at her.
”What?” Rosalie frowned. Mary grinned at her. Rosalie repeated her question feeling annoyed.
”Oh, nothing milady”, Mary said airily and returned to making the bed.
”No, tell me. Now you’ve got me interested. A bit...!” Rosalie sighed and rolled onto her bed to sit infront of Mary.
”Milady, if you sit on the covers I can’t finish my work”, Mary admonished jokingly. Rosalie pouted, and then stuck out her tongue.
”What was that look you gave me, hmm? Do you have something in your mind? I hope you do, because I am tired of feeling like this. Please tell me you have an idea!”
”Oh, it’s not much”, Mary said as she turned away and waved her hands about. She continued and couldn’t stop herself from grinning a little: ”Some of the girls and me just had an idea of sorts... See, we’ve noticed your sad face and it’s troubled us to no end. We know what’ll cheer you up. Something like... old time’s sake”, she finished and winked at Rosalie.
”Aha, yes... Sounds promising...” Rosalie said expectantly.
”So you’ll come?”
”What??” Rosalie laughed surprised. ”Come where??” Mary smiled widely and held out her hand.
”The girls are waiting for us, come! I’ve got your robe ready, here. Just follow my lead, milday.” Rosalie giggled as she slipped into her robe. Mary opened the door and peeked into the corridor. There was no one there, their way was clear. Mary took Rosalie’s hand in hers and directed their wary walking. They stopped occasionally and some three maids joined them from where they’d been hiding. Once they’d been walking for a while Rosalie realised where they were going. Mary was leading her to the servants’ quarters and there was only one reason why they would all go there so secretly.
”Aha, I know what we’re doing...” she whispered to Mary. One of the girls tried to suppress a sudden excited giggle. The others shushed her amused and they sneaked on. They made their way to a kitchen and when a careful peak inside told them the kitchen was empty they rushed in and crowded into a pantry. They left the door slightly ajar, settled down in the dark and gathered their skirts under them so the cold stone floor wasn’t too uncomfortable.
”Shouldn’t take long now”, Mary whispered in general. ”Actually, we’re lucky there was no one here, I was sure someone would be-” she silenced abruptly as the door to the kitchen opened and two women stepped in. They sat down heavily on the chairs round the big table in the room and started talking in sour voices.
”Ah, finally some rest. My feet are killing me”, the other one grumbled.
”Hear hear. It’s always the same, every day, too much work, I say.”
”They expect us to do a thousand things in just one day and then when you can’t it’s all ’can’t be having with this slacking’ and ’you can expect a ”retribution”’. Them and their fancy words and impossible expectations.”
”And not a moment to relax, not even a breather!”
”I tell you, if it wasn’t for certain recompensations I would take my things and leave for the country. You know where I’d go? Back to my home village, yes. I’d go back there if it wasn’t for the- haha, good things”, the woman chuckled.
”Oh? Back there? Nooo... What’s the good thing still keeping you as my company, then?”
”Ah, it’s this one man! He absolutely goes out of his way to please. Has been going after me for some time now. Of course, I’ve not given him everything, but he comes to me nearly every night.”
”What? And you have not told me about this before? Some man is after you? An infatuation?”
”I doubt that. He just enjoys a woman’s company, you know the type.”
”Ah! I think I know who you are talking about”, the other woman laughed raucously.
”Yes, I’ve no doubt you do. He’s probably spoken to you also. Now, if he were anyone else I’d have throttled him for such behaviour, but he is rather influencing as it is. He’s quite endearing, really!”
”One smooth talker most certainly. Will charm your dress off if given the chance”, the other woman laughed again. In the pantry the girls listened eagerly to the women’s gossiping, hoping that the muffled sounds of their suppressed giggling didn’t carry over to the women.
”Indeed. But he’s not here now to brighten our day. Or night, more likely...”
”Is there anyone he isn’t after?” the other woman chuckled heartily.
”Probably not. I’ve noticed he’s chasing after our fine young lady too. And she doesn’t seem to be minding at all.”
”That little girl probably thinks he’s in love with her or something!”
”Just a few days ago I saw him kissing her quite greedily and they had not bothered to hide much at all.”
”I’m surprised lord Arcelus hasn’t done anything it about, though.”
”Ah, the lord is getting old. He doesn’t notice a thing even if it’s going on under his very nose. He’s spoiled that daughter of his and no less. He believes the young mistress is spending her time chastely doing who knows what the nobles waste their time with.”
”Nobles are all the same. Would do the world good to have them go through some real work for once!”
”I would pay to see that!” They quieted for a moment before the other continued again.
”So... You’ve spent nights with the knight, have you? Do tell. Was he any good?” The first woman snorted at this.
”Any good? He was... eager. But quite good, yes, if you must know. Insisted I let him stay the night. He snuggled all close to me and slept like a child. It was quite pleasant for a change, actually. Usually men just up and leave when they’re done. He is quite the gentleman too. Light-minded though. Going after the lord’s daughter will get him in trouble, you mark my words.”
”If he’s stupid enough to believe he’ll get away with it, he’s going to get a lesson or two. I hope it doesn’t cost him his life though, he’s such an endearing young man.”
”Not to mention handsome!” The women laughed. They continued to talk about Jonathan – for it was indeed him they meant - and his exploits with women whilst laughing uproarishly at the more racy stories they had heard. Eventually they grew too tired to continue and bade goodnight to each other.
The mood inside the pantry was sombre. The girls had had no trouble trying to keep giggling down after they’d realised who the women had talked about. Mary bit her lip and felt dreadful when she pushed the pantry door open so more light came in. Rosalie looked so wretched, like she’d shattered inside. She sniffed and tried to wipe tears off of her face, but the look of pity she got from the other girls was too much. She choked and grimaced as she started crying. Rosalie felt absolutely terrible. All that Jonathan had done for her, all that she had done with him, all actions and thoughts came crashing down on her. She digged her nails in her hands and tried to control herself.
Stupid, stupid, stupid... Why did I- Why did I- How could I have- have believed... Why didn’t I see it? she thought angrily. At that moment she hated herself for being so foolish. But somewhere inside her she still realised she did not hate Jonathan. She didn’t hate Jonathan, only herself. And if she was to blame, then it was her who had to do something about the matter. She would have to be hard on herself.
Hard! she thought and slapped herself. The girls gasped and looked uncertainly at each others. Rosalie glared at them so royally they cringed and were quick to nod eagerly when Rosalie told them to never talk about what they had seen. Rosalie was nearly seething rage at herself when they began walking back to her rooms. The other maids scampered their own way and poor Mary tried to go quietly so her mistress wouldn’t snap at her.
Tomorrow I must consider what I shall do about him. And when he comes back I’ll... Rosalie couldn’t finish that thought. But she knew this night had changed matters. And she would have to deal with that.