Disclaimer: I don't own anything because Crown Duel belongs to Sherwood Smith and Romeo and Juliet definitely isn't mine.
Note: I actually do like the story of Romeo and Juliet, and I do think that William Shakespeare isa a fantastic genius (his Merchant from Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Twelfth Night are awesome!), and I was only having fun toying with the stranger bits of the play. So please don't take offence - my opinion is Elestra's! Enjoy and please review!
"What are you doing?"
Princess Elestra Renselaeus of Remalna glanced up from the thick, leatherbound book that had engrossed her, and up into wide golden eyes. "Good afternoon to you too, Lord Flauvic Merindar," she replied dryly. "Isn't the weather lovely today? And if you must know, I was reading; perhaps the book in my hands might have tipped you off about that fact?" Normally Elestra was not so keen to duel verbally with everyone that she met; but there was just something about Flauvic that made her want to draw swords; honestly, two years of knowing him, and he was still an enigma to her. And to the rest of the world.
"Reading?" Flauvic drawled incredulously. He dropped gracefully to sit beside her on the velvety grass under the oak tree.
"Yes," Elestra replied impatiently. "You may of heard of it? Shall I explain it to you? It is when one picks up something with words on it - made up from letters, by the way - and registers each word in his or her mind so that one realizes the meaning of all the words strung together. Of course, if one doesn't have a mind to begin with, reading is a fruitless endeavor, so I suppose that I should apologize for my insensitivity." She picked up her book and began reading once more.
"You should," Flauvic agreed. "Honestly, Elly, do you think it was easy sneaking into the palace without being caught, getting into the garden without being seen, and spelling the place so that we aren't interrupted by Tara Chamadis and her latest swain, and making sure Meliara won't notice my spell?"
"Not at all," Elestra answered without looking up from her book. "Which is exactly why you did it, Flauvic."
"That might partly be true," he admitted sheepishly. "But still. I snuck into this blasted palace garden to see you, Elestra, and the least you could do is look up from that book and talk to me. I haven't had decent conversation in a fortnight, ever since I deprived you of my illustrious company at Athanarel gates."
"I'm providing you with conversation in plenty," Elestra replied absentmindedly. "And the only reason other girls can't give you decent conversation is because they're too preoccupied attempting to play tonsil hockey with you. And for your information, I haven't read a good book in ages. Ever since I got back from Nente, Mother's been grilling me for information for days and days without end, wanting to know how I managed the journey back to Remalna-city. I think she suspects your involvement in my recent...ah...adventure, for some reason," she added, glancing sharply up at the man she had come to call her friend.
"I can't imagine why," Flauvic replied blandly. "And surely your beloved Andrecio would have rescued you."
Make that mortal enemy.
"Do not go there," Elestra warned with a glance that rivaled that of the legendary basilisk.
"Very well," Flauvic conceded. "But I can't see why you don't want to talk about your lovesick swain. He might be looking forward to teaching you how to play - ah, what was the quaint term you used? - tonsil hockey as well." Elestra glared at him fiercely, and he held up both hands in mock surrender. "Very well. Change of subject. What are you reading, anyway?" he wanted to know.
"A biography of William Shakespeare," replied Elestra, her annoyance melting away as a dreamy look came into her green eyes. "He's absolutely the most incredibly talented, marvelous, brilliant playwright that ever lived!"
"Any chance of our bumping into him at duelling practice?"
"No, because firstly, my mother would skewer you with her sword if she so much as caught a glimpse of your pretty hair, so you wouldn't get to see anyone, because you would be dead, and secondly, because William Shakespeare is dead. And from another world - one called Earth, I think, which is quite different from our own world. You can tell, because it really shows in his writing."
"Don't ah me, Flauvic. You know I don't like it."
"Precisely why I do it. But to return to the topic of this William Shakespeare - what did he do? Why is he so famous? You sound pretty enraptured with him."
Elestra shoved a roll of parchment toward him. "Read. It's a quick biography."
Flauvic read quickly through the writing, his golden brow moving further and further up his forehead. When at last he concluded, he dropped the parchment back into Elestra's lap and sat back, leaning against the trunk of the tree, like a man at peace with the world.
"Well?" Elestra demanded. "Isn't he a brilliant man? He wrote thirty-seven plays!"
Flauvic rolled his golden eyes in a heart-meltingly gorgeous way. "I can read, contrary to popular belief, so I did understand that from what I just read. But my question is: why is he famous? So he wrote many plays; he had many contemporaries, and my dear late uncle Galdran wrote several plays too, and I do not believe that he is famous now."
"Your dear late uncle is infamous," Elestra corrected. "And he is a classical genius!"
"He had to get that way somehow, Elly," Flauvic reminded her. "Why is he the most brilliant writer in history?"
"William Shakespeare's stories are timeless classics that can be enjoyed again and again. There's meaning in them, meaning that has never faded, meaning that exists even in our own world. He appealed to his entire audience - not just the wealthy - and not many playwrights do that even today. He made his writing captivating, something that could draw you in and never let you escape, and he wrote about issues that were rarely addressed. He wrote about magic, about breaking the rules, about the social classes, about faeries and daring escapades, and he actually wrote about ingenious, intelligent women -"
"And Queen Elizabeth of England had nothing to do with that," Flauvic interrupted. "William Shakespeare never thought about flattery, I am sure."
"Shut up, Flauvic. William Shakespeare was a literary genius, breaking barriers that most thought non-existent, and adding over four hundred words to the English language! He was ingenious!"
"You don't sound at all like yourself when you're talking about playwrights, you know. Much more dreamy."
"Flauvic! Shakespeare was even better than Homer!"
"Was that the man who wrote a very long poem about a hero who journeyed through many lands and fought many beasts and met many beautiful goddesses while his wife stayed at home and kept all the nasty suitors from her husband's castle?"
"Yes, Flauvic," Elestra sighed. "That's the one. But don't you think Shakespeare was wonderful?"
"I'm reserving judgment. And I'm to believe that you have read all of his plays?"
"Well... no," Elestra admitted. "But I read quite a few of them - Mother pointed them out to me in the library - and they're all quite excellent."
"Which one do you like best?" Flauvic asked, genuinely curious.
"Romeo and Juliet," Elestra replied dreamily - with the afternoon sun shining in her hair and her green eyes misty with thought, she was almost beautiful. "One of the most tragic love stories that I have ever read."
"And you have read a great deal, no doubt," Flauvic snorted.
"It's beautiful! 'Parting is such sweet sorrow! Romeo, Romeo, wherefor art thou Romeo! Deny thy father and refuse thy name! Or if thou wilt not, be but my sworn love and I'll no longer be a Capulet!'" Elestra intoned, placing a hand on her heart for emphasis, her green eyes blazing with excitement.
Flauvic quirked a brow. "Very interesting, I'm sure. But what's the story about?"
"Romeo and Juliet are passionately in love with each other," Elestra began, while Flauvic observed the usually sensible, don't-you-mess-with-me-or-else, fiesty princess who now seemed utterly enraptured with amusement. "But the problem is that they're from fueding families. Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet, and the families have hated each other for ages and ages. Romeo comes to a Capulet party in disguise and they meet and fall in love, but they know that there is no way that their families will let them be together. So they get help from this Frair who wants the families to be at peace once more, and he marries them. But then Juliet's cousin kills Romeo's best friend, and in a rage Romeo kills the cousin out of revenge. But the Capulets aren't too happy about that, so they force Romeo to leave the country. But while he's in exile he plots with the Friar to spirit Juliet away so that they can be together always. The Friar cooks up a scheme, giving Juliet a potion that will make her appear as if she is dead, and her family will bury her in the family tomb and Romeo can come and take her away. But Romeo never finds out about the plan because of a plague, so Romeo thinks that Juliet really is dead when he gets the messsage, and he goes to her family's tomb to see her, and poisons himself rather than live another day without Juliet. Juliet wakes up, sees that her one true love is dead, and then kills herself too." She sighed happily. "Isn't it beautiful?"
Flauvic blinked. "And that's romantic?"
"Well, of course it is," she replied, stunned that Flauvic couldn't see the romance literally dripping out of the story.
"But they both die! In totally unfashionable ways. Who dies in a tomb?"
"They died for love, how much more romantic can it get?"
"Maybe living?" Flauvic suggested sardonically. "Why didn't Romeo just take her away when he left the country? Or when they married? Or why didn't Juliet go to Romeo? Wouldn't that have solved quite a few problems? Or, why didn't they just tell their families the truth?"
Elestra just shook her head. "You have to read it to really understand. Here." She handed him a book. "This is my personal copy of Romeo and Juliet - Oria sent it to me. Read it, and then you'll totally get the romance in it."
Flauvic smiled and obeyed. He was an inordinately fast reader, so while Elestra began writing the beginnings of her new play, he devoured the book. As the sun began to dip into the horizon, he closed the book with a decisive snap. Elestra saw that he had finished and quickly set down her quill.
"Well?" she demanded. "Wasn't that the most fantastic thing that you've ever read?"
"Not particularly," Flauvic replied. "Firstly, Romeo has got to be the most ridiculous, promiscuous flirt that I have ever read about." Elestra's mouth dropped open as she stared at him. "Come on, Elestra! At the start of the play he's whining and moaning about how he can't live without that girl, Rosalind, all because of her extreme beauty. And his friends say that he has a different girl every day of the week!"
"Reminds me of someone else I know," Elestra mumbled under her breath.
"And," Flauvic pressed on, ignoring her. "Then he meets Juliet, and completely forgets about his incredible love for Rosalind!"
"That's because Juliet was his one true soulmate! And Rosalind was just - "
"A pretty girl who had the wit not to go falling in love with a man who would tire of her once she yielded," Flauvic interrupted. "Juliet was just an infatuation that he didn't live long enough to get tired of, that's all."
"But he married her!" Elestra insisted stubbornly.
"That which is forbidden is always more alluring," Flauvic replied flatly.
Elestra stared at him for a moment, a corner of her mouth twitching slightly. She didn't speak for a moment. "That's plain rubbish," she declared at last.
"And secondly, the conversation at the party is just ludicrous! He's a complete dandy!"
"Oh, you're a fine one to talk, Mother told me about the tactics of the Flower."
"But Romeo's words are simply...strange! 'Let lips do what hands do? You kiss by the book?' And that speech at her balcony! 'With love's light wings, I did o'er-perch these walls?' And all that going on about how parting so so painful but makes reunion all the more sweeter? And how a rose would smell as sweet by any other name? And all that about Juliet's happy dagger? Please."
Elestra crossed her arms impatiently. "That's because you haven't got a teaspoon of romance in your body!"
"Oh, but I do," Flauvic replied sauvely.
"Then pray tell, my lord, how would you win over Juliet?" Elestra asked slyly.
"It's not Juliet that I want," Flauvic answered softly.
His captivating golden eyes locked with her wide ones, and something in the air between the two changed; there was a hint of something just within reach, of something potent, of something deliciously tangible. Elestra's breath caught in her throat, and she could not tear her eyes from Flauvic's beautiful features. Slowly, deliberately, he laid his slim hand gently against her cheek, leaning forward until his lips touched hers in a sweet, innocent kiss.
Elestra had known for a year now that she was incredibly in love with her best friend/adversary. But she had supressed those feelings, because she had known perfectly well how her parents would have reacted if she told them that she was dallying with the Flower, because she knew all about Flauvic's dear maternal aunt in Nente. She knew that there was no possibility of anything blossoming from her romance. But mostly, because she thought that there was no possibility that the gorgeous, sophisticated, charming Flauvic would ever look twice at her when he had the most beautiful ladies falling over themselves to serve him. Why would he want her?
But he wasn't kissing any of those Court beauties. He was kissing her. And, she realized with a flash, he hadn't confided his dark secrets into any of those simpering Court beauties. He had confided in her. Trusted her. Did he...?
Presently, Flauvic pulled away. "So, Princess Elestra, was I better than Romeo?"
Elestra laughed quietly. Only Flauvic... "Much better," she agreed. But doubt gnawed at her inside. Why did he want her, when so many other beautiful girls loved him - why did he want, plain, awkward, tomboyish Elestra, when with a single word he could have won over her beautiful cousin Tara?
Flauvic took her face in his slim hands. "I love you," he whispered softly. "I love you so much. I have loved you for so long, and I will always, always love you." His mouth twitched. "Till death and beyond." Every word that he spoke radiated with earnestness, and Elestra couldn't help but believe him completely.
"I love you too," Elestra answered, her uncertainty and doubts melting away in the face of his burning sincerity. She leaned in again, and this time the kiss that Flauvic and Elestra shared was not quite so innocent.
"Do you know how long that I have wanted to do that?" Flauvic asked when they broke apart again. Elestra shook her head numbly, turning to lean her head against his shoulder. "Do you know why I haven't?" he continued, as he began to stroke her hair. Elestra closed her eyes and nodded.
"Family," she whispered hoarsely.
"Yours and mine," he agreed. "'I know not how to tell thee who I am,'" he quoted softly. "'My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself, because it is an enemy of thee.'"
"Art thou not Flauvic, and a Merindar besides?" she returned, smiling painfully.
"Neither, fair princess, if either thee dislike," he replied, still stroking her hair with one hand. Elestra reached and took his other hand, gently tracing the battle scars that marred his perfect skin with her fingers; she touched the one that came from the first time the two of them had fought together.
"I thought you said Romeo was a dandy," she commented.
Flauvic smiled. "He is. Perhaps some may think me to be one as well. But Shakespeare borrowed all the time - why shouldn't I?"
She laughed softly. "Oh, Flauvic. Do you know the real reason I loved Romeo and Juliet so much?"
"It always seemed to remind me of the two of us," she admitted.
"Of course," Flauvic agreed seriously. "Would you like your "happy" dagger now? Since there is no way our families will allow us to be together, why don't we just skip the drama and go right to the romantic part and kill ourselves? Would you prefer the dagger or the poison, my beautiful princess? I shall give you first choice."
"You're horrible," she informed him, making a face.
"So you don't think that dying is so romantic when it's your own story?" he teased, quirking a golden brow. "Are you saying that you would rather live for romance than die now? I am hurt, Elestra, hurt beyond words."
Elestra glowered at him. "Why don't you find a better occupation for your mouth rather than talking, my lord?" she suggested.
Flauvic grinned. "I am perfectly amenable to that suggestion," he replied charmingly, as he ran his fingers through her hair, making her shiver. "But I must inform you with the deepest regret that you have still not altered my opinion of Shakespeare, or of Romeo and Juliet."
Elestra turned to face him once more. "I suggest you be quiet, my lord," she told him, pulling him toward her.
It was a long time before they got back to the matter of William Shakespeare.