Chapter – Ball

"Listen to me warrior boy…"

"No Russav!" Danric cut off his cousin sharply before having to listen to the Duke's words once again. Throwing a deadly glare over his shoulder to ensure that the message of "talk again and yes he would use Russav as a practice dummy for knife training" before turning towards the dancing couples. One of them was his Mel. He had wanted to watch unobtrusively at the sidelines and see how she was fairing (as well as admire her beauty) in silence without interruptions. That was the plan.

However, since the arrival of the barefooted Countess in Vidanric's life and heart it has become impossible to strategize anything. It was not such a hard thing to overcome when the benefits were that much greater. A small smile graced the Marquis handsome face as he remembered their recent visit to his parents' home. It had been peaceful break from the stresses of court and wonderful to see the two women in his life get on so well. It was a place forever etched in his heart as a turning point for him in his admiration for Meliara. The incident with the candlestick had revealed to Vidanric that not only did he love the stubborn lady but there would be no other in his affections.

"Have we not established that I know women."

If they had been in either one's private rooms, Danric would have rolled his grey eyes at his cousin instead he wore his stoic court mask. As a sort of peace offering Russav thrust a cup of wine into the King-to-be hand, glancing across at a group of young court ladies with a devilish smile and a wink before turning back to the blonde man.

"Repeatedly", Danric drawled out in a bored tone, "but not through wise moves." He saluted the formidable Lady Tamara adorned in red and rubies as she was spun by her partner close to where they were standing as she glowered at Russav's behaviour.

Savona chuckled under breathe at the sight of his lady love and lifted his hand to indicate a fencer's hit. "True. However this is for the betterment of Remalna and a King-to-be must marry and preferable to the woman that he has been courting on the sly without any of the usual court gossips noticing."

Danric clenched his jaw as the weight of what the kingdom expected fell on his shoulders again. He knew of the many schemes by various families to help their daughters in snagging the title and position of Queen for their own purposes. It was inevitable that such games would be played and not died out under the reign of Gladran. He was again grateful for his mother's suggestion of using the small alcove in the library to actually perform the mundane but important tasks of ruling.

At the very least the only interruption of the female kind came in the shape of a small, strong-spirited countess who took his breath away with her honesty and beauty. He enjoyed those small moments when they would sit across from one another with a small meal or a simple tea break and chat about a range of things. The sunlight would capture the colour of her hair into a burning auburn, her big blue eyes would widen slightly as she tried to convey a point over a topic in her melodic voice and her blush that would creep from her neck to her cheeks when she realised that he had been staring at her intently, cataloguing all her features in his mind. Danric knew that Mel could not understand his infatuation in simply soaking up the warm emotions that she evoked inside of him whenever her presence was nearby. It acted as a balm to his weary mind and body. He knew what he was getting into when his parents came to him with their plan to throw off a tyrant and protect Remalna's future but the constant pressure did push him to breaking point which made him do strange things as in making a bet with a countess on the first one to reach the Inn and the prize being a kiss.

Russav once again broke his cousin's thoughts as he lowered his voice speaking with concern. "You know what will happen if somebody finds out! They would take great pleasure in ripping Meliara apart! By making your relationship official, with your parents blessing of course, would give her protection. No one would harm her if it meant upsetting the King-to-be so early on in his tenure."

Vidanric gave a slight nod to Russav at his fair point. A silent pause fell over them as they both watched the dancers on the floor as the music came to the end. It unnerved Russav at his cousin's lack of response and he quickly came up with a crazy idea.

Turning dramatically to face the Marquis, he exclaimed, "There is one way to ensure that your engagement will come about!" Vidanric raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I will make a wager. I, Duke of Savona will bond myself for eternity to Lady Tamara if my cousin within a week of the blockhead King-to-be asking his fair lady her hand in marriage first!"

Humour shone from the grey eyes as Danric stared at his cousin. "Have you been at the potent punch again coz?"

It was hard not to be amused at Russav outward declaration of marriage towards court beauty Tamara. As one of Remalna court's biggest flirts as well known womaniser, his announcement of marriage to Tamara had disappointed a number of the young ladies. Plus their relationship was fraught with bickering arguments that could last for weeks and Danric had a funny feeling that it always would. It was the attraction that both held the two of them together. A small smile filtered across the tall, blonde man's face thinking of the two of them married.

"I find it a continual battle not to laugh out loud at the thought of seeing you settling in the role of devoted husband, Russav."

"Do you accept?"

"I never turn down a bet dear cousin", Danric drawled out slowly with a smile beginning to form on his lips. "It will disappoint you to find that you already lost."

Russav smirk began to fade as he heard the words.

"Vidanric!"

Both men turn to the smiling face of Meliara who looked radiant in deep blue and silver the colours of Renselaeus as she made her way steadily towards them through the crowd. There was a subtle radiance of joy around her as she finally made it to their side. She caught Danric's appreciative gaze before glancing down and busying her hands with her new fan as a rosy blush bloomed across her cheeks. The Marquis stepped forward and capture one of her dainty hand, bringing it to his lips as he bowed.

"Mel, you are exceedingly enchanting tonight", he murmured quietly so that only she could hear the plain adoration in his tone. "I am very blessed to gaze upon your shining beauty."

Mel's flush deepened though she finally allowed her eyes to meet his which beamed with happiness. "You only say these things because you enjoy watching me blush."

"True." Vidanric lips quirked upwardly. He drew her further to his side still grasping the hand he held at his side.

"Have I missed something?" Russav questioned with raised eyebrows in the direction of his cousin.

The answer never came as a gong was hit from somewhere across the room. Standing on the raised platform was Prince Alaerec and Princess Elestra.

"May I have your attention for a short period of time", called out Prince Alaerec "My son would like to make an announcement."

Vidanric winked at his cousin and began to head towards where his parents were with Meliara at his side.

The colour began to fade from Russav's face as everything became clear.

This was not an ordinary ball but an Adoption Ball thrown by Princess Elestra! Of course, she had planned many of the balls at court but the colours – the primary Renselaeus colours - used to decorate should have hinted at something special.

On the platform, Vidanric stood straight and tall, every inch of him the king he would one day be. And at his side, the countess that had ensnared his cousin's heart to the fullest who had made him a romantic, allowed him to laugh easier and feel loved for himself and not for who he was.

"Ladies and gentlemen although a break away from tradition I would like to announce to the whole of the court that Lady Meliara has accepted my proposal of marriage and that we shall be wedded at this year's New Year celebrations."

Cheers started by Russav vibrated through the whole room before the Princess Elestra called for more dancing. It was only when the newly engaged couple walked back, stopping at all the well wishers that dread filled the Duke.

How the hell was he suppose to propose to Tamara!

THE END

Thank you for everyone who reviewed! I do apologise for the long wait but this is the final chapter. I hope that you have enjoyed it!