Since he had been a child- because yes, despite what Sain and many of the others thought, he had indeed been a small youth with wide, curious eyes and a penchant for asking stupid questions- he had secretly liked fairytales.
Before he'd been sent away to train as a knight, he'd lived in a small but relatively cozy home far out in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere meaning miles of farmland and fields, of course. He'd liked it there. Hard work was an everyday activity, but his mother had shown him rather early in life that hard work and dedication always paid off. Without the hours spent tilling and planting and harvesting, they would surely starve over the long, bitter winter.
At five years of age, he'd been granted a sister. His cousins all wanted another boy to use for their rough games, but Kent had always wanted a sister, and had asked his mother for one on many occasions. The bundle of joy was sometimes an ear-splitting headache, but he never could tear himself from her side.
When she was older and could understand stories, his mother would sit in a rocking chair that was placed between their beds but facing his sister, apologize to him for telling another one to her, and then recite a fairytale to one wide-eyed pair of brown eyes. If she would have turned around, she might have noticed a second pair.
It was all so romantic, he thought, though he didn't quite have a good grasp of what was romantic and what wasn't. The strong, brave man saves the woman and she, happy at her timely rescue, marries him. Of course, the Happily Ever After was a bonus, his father liked to point out as he peeked in to watch his wife tell bedtime stories. Kent, at seven years old, wanted to be that man who saved the woman, the knight who rescued the princess from her tower, the lucky gentleman the princess would fall madly in love with… That really would be a happy ending for him, he'd decided.
He would fall asleep thinking about the princesses in his mother's stories. The long golden hair that was pulled up into the latest fashion, sparkling blue eyes that could rival the stars in the sky, and elegant dresses spun from the richest of silk filled his thoughts. The princesses were poised and graceful and kind, always cheerful and willing to help another, never dour or depressed, and always, always perfect.
Lady Lyndis was certainly nothing like the princesses in the stories his mother had told his sister when they had been children. His father and sister died when he was fourteen years old, but his mother had continued to tell the tales to an empty bed while he listened from the doorway, confused and a little scared, unsure of what to do though even years later he never forgot the way she told them—her voice able to make them seem…real.
He was watching her from a short distance, afraid to get too close lest he invade her personal space. Her hair was long and certainly beautiful, but it was usually worn in the same ponytail, never arranged into any sort of specific style. Her eyes were green, not blue, and they were deep like the ocean, not comparable to a star in the night sky. Her clothing was strange, she was never poised, only graceful in battle, and she did, on occasion, get depressed.
But she was always willing to help other people out, no matter what it took out of her or how much time was spent actually helping.
And for some reason, when he looked at her, she still seemed perfect to him.
Thinking about her in such a way made him flush to the roots of his hair. Oh, if Sain ever knew he was comparing their lady liege to a fairytale princess, he would certainly never let him hear the end of it! But it was a habit he could not help. He was completely smitten with her, from her voice to the way she walked to that small smile she would honor him with when she was happy.
He sighed and leaned against the wall behind him, nearly falling flat on his back when he realized almost a second too late that there really was no wall there at all. Flustered, he tried to compose himself and glanced in her direction, relieved to see that she was still deep in concentration.
Looking at her made it hard for him to breathe, but he couldn't force himself to look away. Lord Hausen's health had only gotten steadily worse since their arrival back in Caelin, and she had been practicing harder and harder with the Mani Katti when she was not at his bedside, almost as if she wanted to push herself to her limits and then some… to just forget.
He continued to observe her as she fought against her opponents, most likely Sorrow and Death. He wanted nothing more than to see her smile- she was most beautiful when she was happy, after all- but it really was not his place to do or say anything…
That was what the fairytales never said. They were half-truths, all of them, and it wasn't as if he'd ever truly believed them, but…he couldn't help but be a little upset. Knights saved princesses. They even gave their lives. But…they never married them, ever, at least in reality. That was the one thing that was left out of the stories.
He was nothing compared to her. It didn't hurt him to think it, or even to admit it to himself. He'd come to accept that information as truth. Lady Lyndis would always be out of his reach. He could only watch her from a distance and love her quietly as he had for more than two years.
The chance to play the knight in shining armor had been presented to him over and over again. He'd saved her life more times than he could count, though he was certain she had saved his nearly as much. He had taken blows meant for her, had pulled her onto his horse only a moment before she would have surely been dealt a killing blow, had taken her from the battlefield bloody, wounded, unconscious, ill, and barely breathing. And still…nothing.
Saving her had its own thrills; after the danger passed, he was always secretly elated that he had managed to save her yet again- his heart raced at her quiet thanks- though he always felt that he had failed her in at least one way to let her get into that predicament to begin with. But saving her always came with a price; despite being pleased that he had saved her, he quickly tired at the tight feeling in his chest when he watched her struggle to breathe, as she cried out in her sleep from the pain, as she groaned when she accidentally turned over onto bruised or fractured ribs in her sleep.
It hurt him more than anything to see her that way. He always took it upon himself to watch over her during those times, as if the fear of something else happening was constantly hanging overhead. He could admit his fear to himself, then. His fear that she would never wake up again, that every day for the rest of her life, she would be crippled because he hadn't been fast enough, that she would never laugh or smile again, that he would wake up and she would be dead.
The fairytales were different. The princess was never lying on her back, writhing in agony from multiple lacerations. She was never on her hands and knees, coughing up blood, trembling with the effort of merely remaining still because some bastard had swung the flat side of their axe against her stomach. The fairytale princesses never shook with fever on a battlefield while snow fell all around them, or ignored a broken wrist to continue fighting because if they didn't, if they turned their eyes away for a single second, they would surely lose their life.
He glanced up at her as she practiced; sweat was beading on her forehead. He could see it from where he stood, and he found himself wanting to wipe it away for her; he wanted to wrap his arms around her and force her to drop her sword and just relax because she was slowly killing herself; she really was nothing like a princess at all.
He wanted to convince her to sit down under a shady tree to eat some good food, he wanted to run his fingers through her hair as she slept—he would stay with her as she rested, would be happy to watch her sleep, her face peaceful, and he often imagined what it would be like to kiss her, to truly hold her, to call her his own, to get up in the morning to find her beside him; it was almost as if he could see the sun rising in the sky, casting its light across her face, causing her eyelashes to slowly flutter in a half-hearted attempt to rise.
She really was all that he wanted.
Her exhaustion was written plainly on her face. She was still beautiful—always would be, he thought—but she had lost weight, there were dark circles under her eyes, and though she acted cheerful, it seemed like she was trying to convince herself more than anybody else.
She faltered, causing the Mani Katti to fall to the ground. She always tried so hard for everyone, he thought as he watched her pick the fabled sword up. When did she ever have time for herself?
She resumed practice again, her steps more complicated than before, forcing more power out of her swings. After a few minutes, he could see the strain she was putting on herself. How long had she been practicing before he happened by, he wondered? How long had it been since she'd last eaten, last slept? Her legs were trembling with fatigue. She had nice legs, he thought absently, his face reddening in shame for thinking such a thing. They were strong, lean… she had walked many miles on them because she had refused to ride his horse unless she had to. And he, in turn, had walked nearly as much because he would not ride while she remained on the ground.
With a muffled exclamation, she fell, landing wrong. He had to force himself to remain rooted to the spot, out of her line of sight, away from her. It was instinct for him to run to her side, and he did not want her to think he had been watching her, unobserved.
She smashed her fist into the ground and shouted something with a strangled cry that he could not quite understand before a few minutes of silence crawled by agonizingly slow. He pressed his hand to his chest before he could hear what he knew was coming. Small, almost inaudible sounds reached his ears and penetrated his heart that most people would not notice with the loud songs the birds in the garden sang; she was crying.
When the sounds stopped, he strode forward, saying quietly, so as to not alarm her, "Lady Lyndis?" She did not answer him, and he looked around the near vicinity as if he did not know where she was, calling her name quietly every minute or so. "Lady Lyndis, are you here?" Suddenly, he happened upon her, sprawled out next to a bunch of wildflowers and an old fountain.
She looked up slowly at his approach. "Hello, Kent."
"My lady, are you well?"
"I'm fine, Kent." She turned her head as if to hide her reddened eyes, but they did not escape his notice. Few things about her did these days, he realized.
The wrinkles in his forehead deepened with worry. "Forgive me for my impudence, Lady Lyndis, but you do not seem fine, not to me." His steps brought him closer to her, and when he stood mere feet away, he crouched next to her, reminding himself to keep his hands away from her.
Silence fell between them for a full minute as she kept her eyes diverted. He knew that she hated being called out on a lie, as Sacaen's supposedly never did such a thing, but it was a lie, and she knew it. Finally, she spoke, "No, you are correct in your assumption…" Slowly, her eyes drifted over to meet his; brown and green were the colors of the earth and the grass, he thought. "He is doing worse, ever worse, always worse… I do not understand why he is not getting any better!"
She raised her clenched fist as if to smack it against the ground again, but without thinking, his hand darted out and caught it before she could become successful in her endeavor. He shook his head at her, and her shoulders sagged in defeat.
"I just… I don't understand," she mumbled as her gaze lowered to their joined hands. "We are of the same blood, and I overcame such a thing… yet he cannot?"
He smiled grimly and squeezed her hand before letting it go, annoyed with himself for his lack of control, "He is…old, my lady. His health, his ability to fight off months of consuming poison…they are in a slow but constant state of decline… there is nothing you or anyone else can do."
She looked away. "He will not live much longer."
"I know." He twisted his hands together a little, not quite knowing what to say. "But… neither will you, m'lady, if you do not take care of yourself."
Her eyes softened and she glanced back at him, forcing out a smile that he knew was not real. "Do not worry about me, Kent. I'll be fine. Watching Grandfather lie there, day after day… It leaves me with no appetite, honestly." Her gaze changed then, looking almost pleading. He wondered if she was begging him to believe her, to just pretend that everything was okay and that nothing was amiss. "I cannot sleep when I think that he might not be living when I awaken next."
He did not know how to answer her. Was she looking for reassurance that Lord Hausen would live? He could not give her that comfort, that luxury, because he would not lie to her; her grandfather would surely die before the week's end. "I am worried about you, Lady Lyndis," he said, turning his head away from her to watch a butterfly alight on a small flower. Its wings flapped delicately, and it simply stood there looking as if it belonged.
"I don't want him to die."
Her voice was so quiet he almost did not hear it, and he turned to her, eyes softening as he whispered, "Of course not."
She glanced down at her hands, twisted in her lap. "Some people think that I do," she confessed. "They are the same people who do not wish for me to assume the throne in his place."
It hurt her a little that these people—some who did not even know her—did not want her to lead their country; he could tell by the look in her eyes and the tilt of her chin. The people had been talking, yes… He could not deny the truth. They said that her inexperience would cause nothing but the downfall of the small but brave Caelin. She really belonged on the plains, they would tell one another, because a Sacaen woman certainly didn't deserve a throne.
She flickered a smile at him. "I suppose I can understand how they feel, seeing as how I'm no lady, but…"
"They know nothing about which they speak," he was quick to say, shaking his head slowly as he spoke.
Again, the silence overtook them, and Kent noticed the butterfly leaving out of the corner of his eye. It weaved a path through the air and landed on the edge of the stone fountain nearby.
"I do not want it," Lyndis finally said, breaking the quietness as her eyes flitted over to the beautiful yellow and black insect. "Caelin, I mean. I've no desire for money or a kingdom to rule over. That's probably why they are all disappointed that I am their princess; I really act nothing like one." She glanced back at him again, as if she wanted him to confirm her suspicions.
"No, you are nothing like one." He hated agreeing. He did not know how it might make her feel to hear him say it, that she really wasn't what the people of Caelin had wanted; they had not expected that she would look more like her father than her mother, or that her eyes and accent would be those of a race of people that were not well-liked in Lycia.
"It doesn't really surprise me." She smiled and made to stand; he rose up from his crouch before her as she continued to speak, "I thought as much. I've heard them tal—"
He had been waiting for it. He could tell that something was wrong by the way she sat, by the way her right leg continued to tremble even after she had remained on the ground for several minutes. "Lady Lyndis?" he asked as she stumbled and fell against him, her leg unable to hold her weight any longer. He caught her gingerly, his arms around her, trying very hard to be sure not to touch her in any way that could be deemed inappropriate. "What happened?"
"N-nothing," she gasped out, putting all of her weight on her other foot. "I just… I think…" She looked down at his shirt, clutched in her hands, and clenched her fists as tightly as she could in the fabric. "I should be with Grandfather, now. I'm just so angry and confused…I did not want to burden him."
Kent doubted that Hausen would ever open his eyes again, but refrained from saying anything. Deep down, he knew that she understood that fact, but she held onto what little hope she could find that pointed towards his eventual recovery.
"I do not wish to burden you, either." She smiled sadly at him and made to pull away, but his arms were still around her loosely, and she could not go far.
"It is no trouble, milady," he assured her.
"I see." She pushed against him gently, an indication to let go, and he reluctantly did so. "Let me guess… your duty as a knight of Caelin demands you to listen to me?"
"No." He was shaking his head again as he took a step towards her. "I will gladly listen, as…" His voice trailed off as he thought of the many ways he could finish that one sentence. Uncertainty hung over his head like a rain-cloud ready to burst, but his thoughts immediately ended when he saw her test her weight on her right leg. "Be careful!" he almost shouted, but snapped his jaw shut when she crumpled to the ground. He kneeled next to her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder in an attempt to seem comforting. "Are…you okay, Lady Lyndis?"
She bowed her head, her chin nearly touching her collarbone. "Yes." He knew she was fighting against tears again, but liquid frustration and fear could not be held back for long, and he pretended not to notice as they slowly slid down her face.
"No, you are not." Awkwardly, he patted her back, asking himself mentally what it was he thought he was doing. He really had no experience with this particular sort of thing, with comforting another person. And with the person he cared for the most, he did not want to make a mistake. "What is wrong?" he eventually asked, letting his hand rest against her shoulder.
She wanted to say everything, he could tell by the way she was acting, but she kept her head lowered with her bangs covering her forehead. "My ankle," she finally whispered hoarsely, reaching down to touch it lightly, pulling back soon after as if the motion pained her. "I don't know what I did."
Kent did. If she had been a knight under his command, he would have told her the reason without fail. You've gone days without eating or sleeping properly, and then you fought and fought until your body could take no more, until you became sloppy in your movements and pivoted wrong, throwing yourself off balance, landing on your ankle. But she was not a knight, nor someone under his command. She was a lady, one that had his heart in her very hands and most likely did not realize it.
"Let me have a look," he said, removing his hand to brush his auburn hair out of his eyes. "You may have twisted it."
He was hesitant to take her boot off, to have her foot in his lap. It really was not decent at all, he told himself, but what choice did he have? He took a seat on the ground by her feet and pulled her right foot into his lap, gingerly tugging on the boot to remove it, only pausing for a moment when he heard her breath hitch in her throat.
Most likely, he thought, it had swollen and was hurting quite a bit in her now-cramped boot. As he slid her foot out, he held her leg in his other hand, and he knew his face was red, though he couldn't be sure as to the exact reason why. After all, he told himself as he recalled a particular incident involving her dress nearly being torn from her in a battle, he'd seen much more. He'd seen her in more pain, seen more of her skin, had seen her cry more…so why was this affecting him so much?
One last tug and her foot was free, though his heart constricted at the muffled gasp that escaped her mouth.
"It is …definitely swollen," he told her, and she nodded in silent agreement. "How badly does it hurt?" As gently as he could, he lowered it to rest on his leg, prodding and poking around her ankle a bit to make sure it wasn't broken.
"Not… not much," she answered, but he could tell that it hurt more than she was letting on because she would not look at him. She found it embarrassing to admit a weakness, to admit to having been careless, to let someone else know that she was not always so strong and proud. But he already knew.
And his heart had not changed because of this knowledge; she was still the only woman he wanted, and much of the time he felt that he would never be able to love another as much as he did her. "You can tell me the truth, Lady Lyndis." His tone was subservient, and he could not help but flush when he realized he had said it aloud. Nervously, he lifted his head to meet her eyes.
"I know," was all that she said.
Suddenly, he heard shouting, and he turned his head quickly in the direction the sound was coming from. It was a man from the castle, young and clearly scared, his eyes wide with fright.
"Milady Lyndis! Milady Lyndis!" he shouted, running up to her and completely ignoring Kent's presence. "It… It's Lord Hausen! You asked to be… I… He… Just come, m'lady, please! Please hurry!" It was then that he noticed Kent sitting on the ground across from her with her foot resting on his thigh. "Come on," he insisted, waving his hand at them to follow. "It's very important! Please!"
"Her ankle," Kent tried to explain. "She's twisted it."
"Lady Lyndis," the man gasped, not having caught his breath yet. "You said that you wished to be informed of any changes in Lord Hausen's health. He is taking his last breaths as we speak! Please, sir, carry her if you must but he is only barely holding on!"
He looked to her for permission, not that he needed to. She nodded at him, her eyes starting to fill with tears already, and he hastily laid her injured foot on the ground and scooped her up, one hand beneath her knees and the other around her back. She turned her head into his chest and he could tell she was struggling not to cry, not in front of half the castle's servants and healers, not in front of Chancellor Reissmann and Florina and Sain.
He took off at a dead run towards Lord Hausen's room, passing the exhausted man who had ran all the way to the garden to fetch them. For the first time in a long time, he was glad he did not have his armor on—running with the added weight would surely have been difficult.
As he ran, holding her against him tightly, he could not help but think of all of those silly fairytales where the knight in shining armor saved the princess, carrying her away from danger. Except in reality, he was not wearing his armor, and she was hardly the dainty princess. They were just…two people, a man and a woman. The thought comforted him.
When they arrived at Lord Hausen's door, he noticed that the room was crowded, completely filled with people; somehow, the masses parted for them, creating a path to Hausen's bedside. He stopped a few feet away and struggled for breath, but Lyndis pushed herself out of his arms and without thinking, he let her do it, wincing and flushing with shame when she hit the floor, most likely worsening the injury to her ankle. She collapsed to her knees and crawled those last few feet to her grandfather's bed, resting her elbows on the edge of his mattress and taking his left hand in both of her own. Kent moved to stand beside her, bowing his head respectfully as everyone else in the room was doing, though he could see his lady liege perfectly well while doing so, while the others could not.
She watched him gasp for air for a few slow minutes, and he knew her heart was aching with every strangled sound the elderly man made. Finally, she lifted his hand to her cheek and let it rest against the side of her face, holding it there with one hand while her other hand stretched out to tenderly brush his hair off of his forehead. "It's okay," she whispered, and he was certain that nobody could hear it but him. "You can go… I'll be fine."
Hausen's body shuddered once, twice, and Lyndis could not keep her tears from falling. "I love you, Grandfather," she said, her voice louder and more confident even though he knew she could not see through her tears.
A full minute passed before the room suddenly grew silent, and his lady squeezed her grandfather's hand in both of her own and gently set it on his bed before she stood, resting all of her weight on her left leg as she lifted herself up with the support of his mattress beneath her hands.
Kent bowed respectfully to his now-deceased lord, and turned to see Lyndis leaving. Nobody stopped her or helped her as she limped, hardly able to even stand without falling. He hurried to her side and offered her his arm. To his surprise, she took it gratefully and leaned against him. As soon as they were out of his room, she stopped and looked at him, her green eyes sad but questioning. "Will you…? Can we…? I…" She shifted her gaze to the stone wall beside her for a moment before allowing herself to look back at him. "I know it's selfish of me, but can we go to the hill, Kent?"
He nodded; he could refuse her no request, no matter how silly or strange it seemed.
The ride to the hill was quiet. His mare picked her own pace, finally settling on a slow, methodical plodding, and Lyndis did not seem bothered by it; she simply rode behind him and let her cheek rest against his back.
After almost an hour's ride, he felt her hand squeeze his arm lightly, and he pulled back on the reins, bringing his horse to a stop. She waited for him to dismount, and after he did so, he stood close enough that she could simply slide off of the mare and into his arms. He blushed furiously when she fell against him; he caught her around the waist, but only barely, her chest pressing up against his as his hands fumbled to keep her from sliding through his grip.
He found that, despite his embarrassment, he did not want to put her down.
Eventually, though, he had to put her down. After he set her feet lightly on the ground by a large tree she quietly requested to be taken to, she clumsily took a seat with her back pressed against the old oak and patted the ground next to her in an invitation for him to sit with her.
He'd been on the hill with her many times, but for some reason it seemed different this time compared to all of the others. Perhaps it was Lord Hausen's departure for a better place, or maybe it was something else; he had never dared to sit so close to her, before. He had always wanted to, but he had never had the courage to go against everything he had been taught since becoming a knight.
Princes marry princesses, not knights, so get any silly notions out of your heads when you see one!
Sir Wallace had been right that one day during rigorous training when a visiting princess had come to Caelin. In fairytales, it happened often, but in the real world, he had never known a knight to marry a princess. The more time that passed, however, the more he wondered. Knights did not marry princesses, but Lady Lyndis was nothing like a princess; she did not desire becoming a lady of a castle, wearing gowns or running a country. But she was still a noblewoman by birth… So did it count, then, if she did not want to be what she was? If things like that had simply ceased to matter to her? His mind had become so conflicted that he was not sure what was right or wrong anymore.
Was being with her wrong? Was wanting to be with her wrong? Did it make him a vulgar, disgusting man for thinking of her, for dreaming of her, for wanting to be with her every minute of every day?
He did not know.
He was looking for reassurance in much the same way Lady Lyndis had been concerning her grandfather's declining health earlier in the day; he wanted— no, needed— someone to tell him that it was okay to feel as he did about Lyndis, that it was perfectly normal to dream of kissing her and having her actually kiss him back, that he did not have to keep his arms at his sides when he wanted nothing more than to wrap them around her and hold her close.
They sat together in silence for at least a half-hour, but it was a comforting kind of silence—the kind he thought he could get used to; was it the same sense of togetherness they could have forever, out on the vast plains of Sacae?
He turned to look at her, half-wondering if she had fallen asleep, but when he turned his head, he found her looking at him, her eyes now dry and clear.
She smiled at him and spoke, her voice soft, "You looked so deep in thought. What are you thinking about?"
He flushed, but managed to compose himself, breaking eye contact as he looked over the rolling hills of Caelin, in the direction that he knew her homeland laid. "Sacae," he answered truthfully, eventually allowing himself to look at her again.
"I miss it."
"I know. I have seen it in your eyes for a long time." He flinched after saying it, wondering if perhaps he should have kept his opinion to himself; his fears were alleviated when she smiled at him and put her hand on his arm.
"Thank you," she said, leaning her head against his shoulder. "But… Kent?"
"Yes, m'lady?" His face was burning with embarrassment or shame- perhaps a bit of both.
"How can I go back?"
He looked down at her to see her staring blankly into the distance, and he felt her squeeze his upper arm gently. "Back?" he echoed.
"Back to Sacae, to my home." She closed her eyes. "At first, I thought that I could stay here in Caelin, but it's been more than two years, and I do not feel anything for this place. The pillows on my bed, the dozens of expensive gowns in my room… none of them make me happy." She sighed and reached her left arm behind his back to let it rest on his shoulder. "I know it is selfish of me, and I'm sorry, but…"
"You cannot help what you do and do not want," he told her frankly, almost startling himself with his earnestness. "You do not have to take Lord Hausen's place if it is not what you desire."
She only squeezed him in response.
"If your wish is to return to Sacae, Lady Lyndis, if that is truly what will make you happy, then nobody can stop you from going."
"There are procedures though, yes? I don't know them. What do you suggest I do? I'm sorry to be so…bothersome, but I…was not prepared for…for this."
"You are never a bother at all, milady. Please don't put yourself down in such a way. No one is prepared for…death when it comes." He let his muscles relax, feeling the day's events catching up with him. "I would suggest that you abdicate your position as Lady of Caelin and give it to either Ostia or Pherae; leaving your country in hands that you trust are capable would be the best route to take." He paused and ran his free hand through his hair. "However, m'lady, I am just a knight… I do not know much about these things."
"What do I have to do to abdicate?"
He bit his bottom lip. "You will have to write down your desire to abdicate, and seal it with the royal seal if I'm not mistaken."
"That is all?" She sighed with relief, and he almost shuddered at the feeling of her warm breath through his shirt. "I cannot write very well, but… I think I could write that… It would be so good to see my home again, even if it is nothing like it was." He could feel her lips turn upward in a smile against the fabric covering his shoulder. "I will wait for them to bury Grandfather, though."
"That is a wise decision."
Her voice softened, "I can't believe he's gone. It seems I haven't known him long at all."
He said nothing. No words, he felt, would fit the situation, would make things right again.
"He was a good man…"
"Yes, Lady Lyndis, he was."
She had no more tears left to cry, he noticed as he looked out over the scenery. A few minutes passed with the two of them listening to the wind in the tree overhead until she spoke.
"You are, too." At his startled expression, she squeezed his arm gently. "I mean it, Kent. Thank you for…everything. For staying with me through everything. I really…" She sighed, and lifted her head to look at him. "I really appreciate it."
He felt his face redden a little at the praise, and he found that he could not look at her. Instead, he gazed out towards Sacae, where the sky was darkening. "I need no thanks, milady," he said.
"Duty?" she asked him, sounding bitter. Her words hurt him, made him angry with himself for making yet another mistake.
"N-no, Lady Lyndis, no… I did not mean it to sound that way." He took a shuddering breath and looked at her, then, letting his brown eyes rest on hers; brown meeting green, grass meeting the earth. "There is… there is nothing I would rather do. I-I would spend the rest of my life doing it, if… if I could…"
His voice had lost much of its strength by the time he had finished his sentence, and he certainly did not feel better after saying it. His insides twisted sickeningly and his heart flopped over in his chest.
"I-I… for-forgive me, my lady," he stuttered, his face flushing horribly red in the process of trying to regain his usual composure. "I… I really had no right to say that."
"It's okay," she whispered, taking her hand from his shoulder and letting the back of her fingers rest lightly against the side of his face for a moment. "Thank you." She pulled on his arm to raise herself up and leaned over, pressing her lips against his cheek. "That…that means a lot to me to hear you say that."
He was silent for a moment, unsure of what to say, and she spoke instead, sounding almost shy, "I was going to ask you later, but… if you truly feel as you say you do, now would be a good time. Will you go with me to Sacae when I abdicate?"
"Lady Lyndis…" He was awe-struck; any words he might have intended to say had long ago fled his mind. All he could do was nod.
She smiled brightly. "Let's go back now, Kent. I should be back at the castle, anyway… I'm sure there is a lot of work to do."
In less than a minute, he was holding her in his arms again, headed back for his horse.
He was a knight, and she was a princess, but somehow… Somehow things had worked out. She would exchange her title for her freedom, and he his armor— for her. And in the end, they would only be a man and a woman living together on the plains, married and happy and free without the social restraints they had lived with as a knight and lady of Caelin.
He would wake up beside her and watch the sun rise on her face, smiling gently as the light made her eyelashes flutter delicately against her cheeks.
And he hoped and wished and prayed and dreamed and knew that even though they weren't in a fairytale, that even though she was a princess no longer and he a knight never again, that being together was their happily ever after.
And another one bites the dust! I know that Sain might seem more the 'fairytale romance' type, but…I kind of associate true chivalry and courtly love with Kent. I don't think this is one of my best pieces—it ended up at least twice as long as I had originally intended and I lost my train of thought twice over three or four days of writing it.
Thanks for reading! Constructive criticism is appreciated, as are your personal thoughts and opinions.