Disclaimer: I don't own Narnia or any characters you may recognize from the books or the movies, I wish I did but I don't... I also don't own the Narnian Calendar. It belongs to Elecktrum who was kind enough to let me borrow it for my story. Her own stories are awesome and you should go read them too.
Summary: It's Sweethearts' Day, but someone isn't enthusiastic about going to the ball. Maybe a little romance can change that.
A/N: This story is part of my A Light in the Darkness universe. Enjoy!
A Sweethearts' Day Ball
14 Snowbrice 1010
"Alambiel, where have you been? You were supposed to be—" The Kentauri cut himself off and I heard his steps slow. That was just so promising. I closed my eyes as he asked in a very controlled tone, "What exactly are you doing?"
I wondered if I would be in a lot of trouble for hitting him. Choosing to be the more mature adult in the room, I responded in my most long-suffering tone, "I am being punished."
Oreius didn't say anything. He didn't have to because Tuulea immediately retorted, "Don't be dramatic, child. Most women do not consider wearing a beautiful gown to attend a lovely ball with their very attentive husbands a burden." She punctuated that declaration with a sharp yank on the laces of my gown, finally pulling the back together.
"I didn't say it was a burden," I protested, still refusing to open my eyes. "And, I don't see why it's such a bad thing to prefer private celebrations."
"No, you called it a punishment. Oreius, what have you been doing to bring your wife to the point that she views spending time with you as a punishment?"
The Kentauri snorted. "I've done nothing of the sort." There was a pause and then he asked, "Alambiel, are you laughing?"
I wiped the smile from my lips before Tuulea could see as I opened my eyes to find Oreius had moved so that he now stood in front of me. Tuulea was still tugging on the laces of my gown. Clearing my throat, I met the Kentauri's gaze steadily. "You both know very well that I do not enjoy being around crowds. This ball in particular tends to be almost as crowded as the anniversary ball for the beginning of the Four's reign."
"It's Sweethearts' Day, child, and since you are already dressed, you might as well permit your husband to take you."
I really, really, really wanted to say something snarky in reply that but Oreius gave me the warning look and I bit my tongue. Instead, I forced my temper to cool off with a wry comment, "You're just doing this to me because you're still mad about Christmas."
Tuulea sniffed. "How many balls have you conveniently not been able to attend? You did not attend your first Christmas ball as a married couple, did you?"
"Well, there was that pesky blizzard, Tuulea, and we were snowed in," I pointed out drily.
The Black Elder Nymph ignored me as she continued, "And, you did not attend the Sweethearts' Day Ball either."
"Hey, we were there." I glanced at Oreius who was oh so convincingly preoccupied with removing his swords and armor. Last Sweethearts' Day hadn't been the best for us. It had started out so well but then the loonies crawled out of the woodwork and…let's just say the end of our day hadn't quite been what either of us had planned. "It's not our fault that we were called away almost as soon as we got there."
Tuulea finally ceased the adjustments to my gown and focused instead on touching up my hair. Considering that I was wearing it in loose curls there probably shouldn't have been that much to touch up but it was Tuulea and she was even more skilled than Leeta at finding something that could be fixed. "Then you did not trouble yourself to come to the Christmas ball this year and if you tell me that there was a blizzard inside the palace, I will put you back in the pink gown."
Oh the horror. I shot Oreius a warning glare when he opened his mouth and he promptly closed it again. I had barely avoided the pink gown, I was not going to risk a plague of pink and/or very formal gowns for the next month or two. "Oreius did it."
He arched an eyebrow at me. It was all I could do not to start blushing as I recalled just how he (no, it really wasn't me last time) had delayed us to the point that we never did make it to the ball as he had originally planned. Oh, as soon as Tuulea left, he was going to make me regret tossing all the blame on him.
"Oreius goes to balls in order to watch over the Four. I'm certain that your failure to appear was not his idea."
Well… Probably shouldn't say what I was thinking. I cautiously stepped away from Tuulea and then turned to face the shorter Nymph. "Well, now that I'm all dressed up as is appropriate for the Princess Royal on such an important holiday, I assure you that I will make sure Oreius doesn't cause us to not show for the ball this time."
Tulle looked down her nose at me (I have no idea how she manages it but she does) but there was a familiar twinkle in her eyes as she nodded. "Good. You have twenty minutes before I expect to see you both at the ball."
"Yes, Tuulea." I walked with her to the main doors and then locked them before turning around. Oreius was watching me. He folded his arms over his chest and arched an eyebrow. I decided to feign innocence. Between the weather and Tuulea's wrath should anything befall my gown, I was almost ninety-nine point nine percent certain that he wouldn't risk throwing me in the ocean tonight. I smiled at him. "Hi. So, why were you looking for me earlier?"
"You were supposed to be aiding me with vetting the newest royal guards."
"You know vetting guards is hardly the most romantic activity you could have planned for Sweethearts' Day, right?"
Oooh, he sounded a little testy and he wasn't at all amused judging by his stern I'm-the-General-and-I-didn't-come-with-a-sense-of-humor expression. You know, I worked really hard to get him to use his sense of humor properly. It was almost insulting the way he could bottle it all back up like I hadn't been working on him for almost a decade now. I gave him another innocent look and tried to divert his attention by holding my arms out to the side and then slowly turning in a circle. The gown Tuulea had ultimately decided I was to wear (after I threatened to give all the pink fabric in Cair Paravel to the next merchant I saw if she tried to make me wear pink) was white but with shots of gold and silver thread woven into the fabric of the bodice and sheer overskirt making it shimmer in the candlelight. The dress hugged my curves before flaring out at the hips and there was a slight train. The off-the-shoulder sleeves were of the same sheer material as the overskirt, which made it impossible for me to hide any knives up them. The impractical and girly side of me loved the gown and how I looked in it, but I could never tell Tuulea that or she'd make sure that even more impractically formal dresses showed up in my wardrobe.
Facing the Kentauri again, I noted that his stern grumpiness had faded to an appreciative glimmer even if he was still trying not to smile. I raised both eyebrows. "So what do you think?"
"Very pretty. However, you still need to—"
"Only pretty?" I interrupted, acting as scandalized as possible, before I pouted at him. "Whatever happened to beautiful or lovely or utterly enchanting? Did you forget what Lune told us? We're supposed to be newlyweds for five years yet it's not even been two years and you've already stopped complimenting me the way you used to. That is very disappointing, especially on Sweethearts' Day. I think—"
"Alambiel, what did you do?"
I stared at him. "I don't know."
"You're determined to be difficult, aren't you?"
"Am not. It's a side effect of having a nonsensical conversation with me."
"Alambiel," Oreius growled as he grabbed my hand and tugged me closer.
Unable to resist further tugging on his tail, I grinned and patted his chest with my free hand. "I can't express how reassuring it is that you know my name, Husband."
"Cheeky little pest, I should throw you in the sea right now."
"It's a bit far from the balcony, Kentauri."
He gave me that look again and I decided not to say anything further before Oreius decided that such a toss and fall wouldn't result in any permanent damage. His grip on my hand tightened slightly. "We discussed the need for vetting the new royal guards as soon as possible two days past. You agreed to be there today. Why weren't you?"
"I told you. I was being punished." He looked way more skeptical about that than he should have, but lucky for him I ignored that. "I really was planning to join you, Oreius, even if I didn't think it was the best way to enjoy the day. Tuulea caught me first. When I told her that I was supposed to be helping you with the vetting, she brushed it off. It's Sweethearts' Day and vetting soldiers is not a Tuulea-approved activity for today. So, because Thalia was oh so miraculously unavailable and Lucy was somewhere doing something I was never given details about, Tuulea in her infinite wisdom volunteered me to help Susan with her last minute decorating army. That, my dear Kentauri, is where I have been all day." I glanced over at the water clock and grimaced. "We only have a few more minutes before Tuulea comes after us."
I started to turn away from him only to find myself caught in his arms as he tugged me back. His dark gaze lit with a mix of humor and love. He brushed the back of his hand against my cheek. "And, how much of your day were you feeling crowded and overwhelmed, Sweet?"
"Ask me when we are finally able to leave the ball." His hold on me tightened comfortingly and I wished I could linger there but then we would definitely be late. Still, I hugged him back before reluctantly letting go. Glancing up at him, I managed to dredge up a smile that wasn't completely forced. "Come on, we better get there early or who knows what Tuulea will do."
Oreius didn't budge. He touched my chin then trailed his fingers along the curve of my jaw until he reached my hair and then he drew a single lock of hair forward. His gaze never left mine as he dipped his head to place a kiss against my hair. "We have time, Sweetheart. How long do you wish to stay at the ball?"
If I had my way, we wouldn't go at all. I wanted to spend the rest of the day alone with my husband where I didn't have to share his attention with the duty of keeping watch over the Four or being surrounded by people. I laughed softly. "Until Tuulea lets us go, it would seem." Knowing Tuulea that wouldn't be until the ball was officially ended. My feet already hurt at the thought of how much more time I was going to spend on them. At least, the Sweethearts' Day ball meant I wouldn't have to dance with anyone but Oreius.
The Kentauri looked as though he were about to protest but I leaned forward, closing the scant distance between us, and kissed him. I ended it far sooner than I wanted to, but that would have made us late. Slipping out of his grasp, I crossed the short distance to the doors. I glanced over my shoulder and smirked. "Coming?"
I glanced up at the whisper and responded with a wide smile.
Oreius spun me then pulled me close again as we moved through the familiar steps of the dance. He ducked his head slightly and breathed in my ear, "I hope that is a sincere one. Are you not enjoying my company?"
Now how to answer that? We had already been at the ball for two hours and had danced more than we had since Midsummer's Eve. My feet hurt. The dance called for me to spin away and then come back into the protective circle of Oreius' embrace. I smiled at him, hoping it hid how badly I wanted to hide somewhere quiet and deserted. "You know I love being with you, especially when we've been busy for a while."
"Hmm." He didn't say anything else though as the dance finally ended. Instead, he cupped my elbow and steered me toward the tables still laden with refreshments. The various candies and chocolates still filled the heart-shaped dishes (mainly because Susan was wise enough to keep the kitchen staff on a schedule for refilling the dishes when they ran too low) and drinks ranging from wines to hot chocolate were available. Oreius handed me a silver cup full of steaming hot chocolate, knowing quite well I would prefer it over the wine, especially in this setting. He left my side only for a moment but that was long enough for me to jostled by three different people. I hate crowds. I barely kept from spilling my drink in my attempt to avoid having my feet stomped on by an overenthusiastic Boar as he tried to impress his date with his dancing skills.
A hand wrapped around my elbow, pulling me out of the way of a solidly stomped hoof just in time to save my foot. Oreius glanced down at me and then nodded to the open balcony. I willingly followed him out. As soon as we left the press of the crowd behind, I sucked in a huge lungful of the cool night air. Finally.
Oreius placed his hand at the small of my back as he rumbled, "Better?"
I nodded. "Thank you."
He kissed my temple. "Do you want to leave now?"
The offer was so tempting that I almost took him up on it. I forced myself to shake my head. "I'm fine. Even Peter and Thalia haven't left yet."
A glance at the gathering proved those two were still among the dancers, swaying in time with the slow music that brought to mind a gentle brook babbling in springtime. Peter's head was dipped down toward his wife's as they were lost in each other's eyes. Edmund had planted himself in a corner with his Wolves as company and a large pile of sweets in hand. I really hoped he wouldn't let Remus eat too many. That Wolf pup had a tremendous sweet tooth. And, absolutely no sense of when to stop eating sweets. Silly thing.
Susan naturally was being the perfect hostess and also dancing with a number of the single gentlemen who had failed to bring a date for the ball. Lucy was… I smirked as I spotted her dancing with Tarrin again. She was eighteen now and this summer had been full of growing pains for Peter as he realized his baby sister was truly going to be pursued by men and she might not be as inclined toward rebuffing one of them as he preferred. Oreius was almost as bad. I had already talked him out of wringing three suitors' necks since Lucy's birthday (I had already terrified them into abandoning all hope of pursuing her further…but he didn't need to know that), which was why Oreius was in the process of increasing the royal guard again.
"You aren't drinking your hot chocolate. Do you feel unwell?"
The sudden intrusion on my thoughts startled me and I barely kept from jumping and spilling my drink all over myself. I brought the steaming cup to my lips and took a cautious sip before I glanced at the Kentauri. He was watching me closely now and I recognized the concern in his eyes. I smiled. "Don't be silly, I'm fine. I was just crowd-watching. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves."
Oreius looked over my head and as soon as he frowned I knew he had spotted Lucy and Tarrin.
I laughed softly. "Don't you dare go intimidate him. He's so in awe of her that he will never do anything untoward."
"Other than kissing her outside of mistletoe."
"Now, Da, that only happened once and from my understanding it was a happy accident. Besides, he hasn't done it again."
The Kentauri glanced back down at me, the murderous intention fading as he smiled. "You think I will be an irrational sire who never permits suitors near his fillies unscathed?"
"Oh no, I don't think that at all. I know you will be." I took a bigger gulp of my hot chocolate then added, "Do you wish to dance the next one? Looks like it will be suited to Centaurs."
I confess that I didn't quite hide my relief as I wanted to, still I managed to keep from sagging. My feet were practically barking at me to get off them, though. Oreius took my free hand and led me to a quieter corner of the balcony where we were no longer in easy sight of the ball. Now that confused me. I knew my husband. He was on duty, keeping watch over the Four, yet he was no longer making his presence felt, which was always bizarre for him.
"What are you doing?"
Oreius didn't respond. He just grabbed me around the waist and lifted me onto the balcony railing then he pulled my shoes off. He let them fall to the ground and then stepped away for a moment. I was too preoccupied with the relief of not standing on my feet or confining them to the silk slippers to pay attention to what he was doing but then a rose with forget-me-nots twined around its stem appeared in front of me. I gave a little laugh as I accepted the offering. "Oreius, what are you doing?"
"It is Sweethearts' Day. How else may I show my appreciation for being chosen by the most beautiful and loving mare in all Narnia when we are both obliged to be at the ball?"
I smiled as I carefully placed my cup on the railing and then held my arms out to the Kentauri. He stepped forward, drawing me close as I wrapped both arms around his neck. The kiss was more intoxicating than any vintage of wine available to us. I didn't want it to end, but all too soon Oreius broke the kiss. He ran his thumb over my lips, smiling smugly. "Are you certain you wish to stay at the ball?"
Unable to catch my breath, I could only shake my head. I didn't want to stay. I just wanted to be with him, preferably alone.
Oreius gave a curt nod and then he helped me off the railing. The marble was cool beneath my bare feet but I didn't care as my husband grabbed my hand and led me along the outskirts of the crowd until we were able to the escape the crush.
It wasn't until we had reached our quarters that I recalled I had left my slippers in that shadowed corner of the balcony. Ah well, they'd show up again soon enough (I was always leaving shoes lying around when I wasn't wearing my boots).
As I reached for the door handles, hands suddenly covered my eyes. I laughed. "Oreius, what are you doing?"
"You will find out. Now, open the doors."
"You're not going to make me trip over something, are you?"
"All right, all right." I opened the doors and then carefully shuffled forward. Oreius lifted his hands and I was stunned speechless. The sitting room had been completely transformed. Two large vases of roses in shades of red and white sat on either end of the table. In the middle were two lit candles and a bowl of chocolate-covered strawberries. Next to the strawberries was a plain box.
Oreius prodded me forward and I crossed to the table, picked up the box, and gasped as soon as I opened it. A small oval ruby pendant lay inside with a bird of paradise etched in gold into its surface. Oreius came up behind me and fastened the necklace before dropping a kiss to my shoulder. "For my beautiful Bird of Paradise." He had me sit on the chaise lounge and then immediately began massaging my feet.
"Oreius. How exactly did you manage this?"
"That is for me to know, Wife." His thumb caressed small circles against the top of my foot as he studied me. "Better?"
"You knew my feet were hurting."
"Of course. Your gait changes when you've been on them too long. I would have brought you back an hour ago but the preparations weren't finished yet."
I raised an eyebrow and gestured to the table. "Beyond this here?"
He nodded. "The servants have drawn a bath for you, sweet, and I will give you a massage after."
I grinned. "Not during?"
"I live to serve you, Princess."
"Husband, what have I told you about calling me that?"
"Enchanting one, I will call you that as long as I live for it is what you are though you are ever the queen who rules my heart." Oreius took advantage of the fact that I couldn't even fake a scowl after that to pull me into his arms and kiss me breathless.
When he finally ended the kiss, I could only hold onto him. Had we been standing, my knees would have given out. I grinned at him, still a bit breathless. "Well, maybe I should let you take me to the balls more often if this is how you plan to pamper me afterwards."
"No, Sweetheart, I will only take you to the balls we agreed upon." He looked me over appreciatively, adding, "Though I do love seeing you dressed in all your finery, I prefer seeing you happy and content. Something you are not when we attend too many balls." He paused then gave me a roguish grin. "And, I love seeing you without all your finery too."
A blush warmed my cheeks even as I laughed. "I love you, Oreius. Happy Sweethearts' Day."
A/N: Please Read and Review! Happy Sweethearts' Day!