Dirk had been polishing his boots when it happened. The courtyard had been open and wide, and the breeze was nice, so he’d decided to clean his armor and check it over for damage there, instead of in the armory. Perhaps a bit of a foolish thing to do, but how could he say no to the bright sunshine? Sitting outside helped clear his head, as well, so that he could review the lessons that Althalos had beaten into him today. His ribs still stung from the great wallop he’d received when his attention had swayed towards gods only know what earlier during their bouts together.
The incident that is being referred to turned out to only be the start of something horrible and rather humiliating for all parties involved. However, the best learning experiences, in Dirk’s limited view, tended to be just that. A little horrible, and very humiliating. The only good thing that came of it, was that he learned a little more about his princess, and a little more about himself as well.
So if the bottom of his stomach dropped out at the sight of Second Princess Eamon storming towards him, it could be blamed on the fact that it wasn’t very often he was confronted with such a fearsome sight. Just last week, he’d watched her take an entire band of fifty some odd men down with only seven knights and a good plan. She’d waded into the battle herself, sword swinging as fast and as hard as any man, and he respected her for it. He was also mildly terrified of her for her ruthlessness when it came to battle itself. Her smile was that of a demon when she engaged an enemy, and worse if she knew she’d win. He wasn’t looking forward to whatever was making her grimace like that at him. “Sir Strausson!” She called, and his bones snapped into ready position before he had time to think about it, a muscle memory instilled through many hard raps to the shins by Althalos and all of his other teachers.
“You are to accompany me into the city today! Dress respectably, and be prepared to engage in wooing!”
Now, that threw him off, simply because he had no idea what she meant. “…Forgive me, your royal highness, but I don’t understand.”
“You’re going to woo me, Sir Strausson.” She declared, and Dirk felt his stomach shrivel into dust. He’d just broken up with Lady Ameliah last week, and he honestly wasn’t interested in going through that particular cycle with Princess Eamon as well. “I expect nothing less than your very best romantic endeavors, and I will not allow you to back down.”
“I-” Realizing that he had no chance of getting out of this was roughly the same as pulling teeth. “Yes, ma’am.”
Finding his way back inside, in a daze, he began getting ready. Wearing the same white shirt, the blue vest that Lady Ameliah had said brought out the blue in his eyes and the dark coal of his skin, he sighed, realizing that this was going to be a thorough, unmitigated disaster. Although… Well, to tell the truth, Eamon was so terrifyingly in control all the time, that most of the knights and lords called her “Lady Ironheart”. None of them would approach her. And since Dirk had apparently scared away every person who had professed interest in him, he thought that perhaps this was what his circumstances lead to. As Lady Ameliah said when she had declared their relationship over, Dirk was just too uptight.
Perhaps he needed someone just as uptight as he was, that way he would be matched. Eamon was a brilliant person, and a lovely woman. If it weren’t for her overbearing need to be the best, perhaps she’d have more suitors. Pulling on his best boots, he laced them thoughtfully . Honestly, he thought that Lady Eamon was just fine as she was. But perhaps she was lonely?
Well, anyone would be lonely, after seeing their twin so happily engaged. Ever since the letter with her ring had come, First Princess Lette had been walking on air. Perhaps Princess Eamon was simply jealous of her sister? Oh, who was he to speculate anyway. He knew next to nothing of the ways of other’s hearts. He was clueless, himself, and if he felt an itch occasionally to have another next to him, the warmth of another person sharing his life, he usually found ways to ignore it. Usually by reading, or studying, or riding. Or sometimes, by speaking with Jorgan in the kitchens. The boy was surprisingly good at clearing Dirk’s head, and it was nice. Although that brought him to the thought of what he should do to please Lady Ironheart during their outing. Was she expecting him to take the lead in this? Most of the other ladies he’d been with had expected as such. Some, however, had always lead him around like he was some small dog on a leash. That had been about as annoying as the expectations, actually. He gave another sigh, heading out.
Stopping by the kitchen, he gave Jorgan a quick squeeze. The russet haired apprentice grumbled, and shoved him, but smiled a little more, which made Dirk’s day. Packing a basket full of food, just in case, he gave the sleeping cook a small glare, before heading out. Picking a good horse, he started saddling it up.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The princess’s voice called from behind him, and he bit back a groan, and turned around. And had to stare for a few moments, because… She was wearing a DRESS. He’d been under the impression that Eamon HATED dresses. He’d never seen her in one. Not really. It… didn’t really look right on her. She looked out of place, and rather uncomfortable, although he had to admit, the curled ringlets of her hair made her face look quite more ladylike than usual. That was nice. He supposed.
“I’m preparing our outing? I thought perhaps a picnic at the top of the hill leading to the Temple?” He offered, knowing it to be the most beautiful and supposedly romantic place in the entire city. Several of the others whom had asked him to court them had demanded he take them there. He’d recently just started taking everyone there on the first outing. Easier that way.
“No! You’re going to take me to the theater. And then, we are going to the Tree of Bloom.” She declared, one finger in the air, as if ticking off boxes on a list. “After that, you will take me to my rooms, and we will have a kiss.” Her face turned a deep red and he felt his own cheeks heat in response. Kissing was never his favorite thing. Ever. Too wet, and too… well, close. Plus, the smell of another’s breath tended to make him just a little ill. But he couldn’t argue with a Princess.
“As you wish.” And that was how he found himself strolling along the venues of the city, the crowds of people pressing around them. Eamon strode through, her skirts just as sure as her armor for keeping people out of her way. Dirk felt like he was her bodyguard instead of her date, and it was legitimately humbling. The set of her shoulders was the same as when she was waging war, and Dirk respected her for it. So when she stopped in front of a building, and held out her arm in an odd angle, he was puzzled as to what exactly she wanted.
“Well? Go on! Take my arm, and let’s go inside!” Doing exactly that lead him into a room filled with hushed whispers and draping curtains, with people spread out all over, and chairs everywhere. The Princess strode forward and into the best seats in the house. Ignoring the protests of the people who had been moving towards them, she sat, fiddling with her skirts as if they were in the way. He sat down next to her, the chair rough and badly made. Clearly this was not a royal theater in any way. The candles around them flickered with everyone’s movement, and Dirk wondered if this is what it feels like to be smothered in bad taste.
“The show is called ‘Pan in Darkness’.” Eamon explained, and her voice this low made it hard to remember that she commanded armies with that voice. “It’s a love story about a fae child and the local prince’s bride to be. Lette says that it’s a must-see.”
“Ah. She recommended it then?” He asked, a little curious. Since he’d been assigned to guard one or the other of the princesses every once in a while, it was a little odd to see them together. Mostly due to their different obligations. Lette being a Priestess of Vell and Eamon a Knight of the Realm, they didn’t exactly coincide very often. He wondered if it was because they were sisters that they found time to spend together. He wondered, if he’d had any siblings, would he have worked so hard to spend time with them? He felt as if he was forgetting something… But the curtain rose, drawing his attention.
Eamon was right. The play was rather heartfelt. But Dirk really could have done without the awkward make-outs in the middle of the scene that was supposed to be romantic. He wasn’t happy really with it, but then again, who was he to say what was right in this sort of thing. He noticed Eamon looked just as bored as he was, really, rolling her eyes and huffing more sighs than a sleepy dog. Not that he would ever compare his Princess to a dog. That… wouldn’t end well.
On the way out, however, he caught her mumbling to herself, “About time.” He paused, and nodded, and agreed with her, which sent her cheeks red again. She stormed off towards the palace garden, and Dirk followed, a little confused as to what the point of all of this was. Was Princess Eamon really interested in having a relationship with him? He didn’t think so… At least she wasn’t asking him to hold her hand or anything. He didn’t mind holding hands, in fact, it was kind of nice. But he was wary. Holding hands usually meant they wanted him to kiss them, and he really, really just didn’t want to deal with that.
The gardens were verdant and green, and they smelled lovely like fresh rain. He wondered if that was because of rain-spells, or if it had rained while they were in the theater. He found that Lady Eamon slowed down quite a bit, when on the garden paths. She contemplated the flowers slowly as they moved, her skirts brushing the leaves. He had to admit, she was lovely, in a way different from her sister, or even from her mother. The faint silver lines of scars along her arms, the firm muscle of them in the silk sleeves. He knew he’d find callouses similar to his own on her fingers, were he to look.
If he were honest, he really admired her. She trained as hard as he ever had, and she had become someone irreplaceable to the people of Theon, and to Kuryle itself. But Dirk would prefer to have her as a friend, as a fellow knight, than to lose her, like he inevitably did whenever he courted someone. He should put a stop to this… Ah. Wait, she’d stopped.
The Tree of Bloom rose over their heads, limbs heavy with leaves that stayed green all year round. The wood pulsed with beautiful light, rainbowed and dizzying up the trunk. He couldn’t stop gazing at it. The Tree was very famous. Couples from all over the country pilgrimage to this place, to stand before the tree. Only four times has the blossoms ever opened, the blooms always tightly shut. It is said that when they do open, they shine a beautiful light, different each time. The most famous of times this happened is said to be whenever Priest-Queen Lishtaire and her Knight Templar Althalos visit the garden together. As such, it has become the norm to say that the tree identifies and shines in the presence of soul mates. Ones who were meant to be together forever are blessed by the tree.
It wasn’t as if it was the end all be all, of course. Just a romantic rumor. And as Eamon stood, staring up at the branches, he wondered if he was supposed to do or say something.
“It’s beautiful.” He offered, an olive branch of conversation.
“Yes.” She sighed, “More so when it blooms.” Ah, he’d forgotten. She would have seen that, wouldn’t she? After all, it was her mother and father the tree bloomed for. He smiled, and took a step forward, to her side.
“I don’t think… that this is a good idea.” He started, trying to make this less awkward. He didn’t get the chance to finish, however, because she reached up, and with hands as strong as his own, fisted his shirt, and yanked. Her lips met his, and it was a kiss. Just as wet and foul and thick as he was used to, a pressing of lips to lips, and that was it. It meant nothing, and he barely had time to get the disgust off his face before she pulled back.
“…” She sighed, and let him go, which was a relief to him. “…I thought perhaps that, since father likes you, and you’re a very kind man, we could make it work.” Her tongue licks her lips, “But that kiss was just…”
“Sort of horrible?” He prompted, his lips quirking into a bit of amusement. “That’s how my kisses usually go. If you’d asked any of my previous paramours, you’d know. Lady Ameliah grew angry enough to break out courting simply because I can’t kiss well.” Well, it was more complicated than that, but that was the basic point of it, he thought.
“…I think it has more to do with your being male.” She explained. “I had no problems kissing Lady Nonna last week. I…I think I enjoy the company of ladies more.”
He wondered if this was true, or if she was just saying it to try and make him feel better. Honestly, he didn’t really care. He was just relieved he wouldn’t have to deal with the cycle of abject disappointment again, only this time with someone he respected. He smiled, and set his hand on her shoulder.
“If that’s the case, then I would still like to offer my friendship. I see no reason why we can’t get along.” He offered. And when she smiled up at him, he could see her mother in her. It warmed his heart, and he found yet another person he would do just about anything for.