Disclaimer: I own nothing of Summers at Castle Auburn – everything belongs to Sharon Shinn; I'm just having a little fun.
Summary: Scenes from Summers at Castle Auburn from Kent's point of view.
Bryan, Damien, and I were heading down to the stables to meet the others for the hunt to catch aliora when the prince suddenly skipped ahead of us and turned back teasingly. "Come on, Kent and Damien, I'll race to the stables! You will never beat me!" Sighing, I took off after the already-sprinting prince with Damien trailing behind, not really wanting to race nor particularly caring what the outcome was. If I were to race past him and win, the entire day would be ruined with him whining about how unfair I had been and had somehow cheated him out of the win, and if I let him win I knew our traveling party would not hear the end of his impressive stamina and speed for some time. Seeing Bryan so far ahead and Damien so far behind, I gave up the ruse of racing and slowed back to my walking pace. An arrogant Bryan was far better favored than an angry Bryan. A few moments later I heard his triumphant call back to me, "Told you I could outrace you, even in my boots!" as I approached the stable entrance. "You win," I said dryly. "I think poor Damien fell down somewhere back there." I glanced around at those assembled for the trip while Bryan said a disparaging remark about Damien. Already there were Jaxon and Coriel. The latter looked positively urchin-like yet incredibly charming at the same time. She was dressed in men's garb with pants and a shirt and was practically bouncing on her toes in her excitement to get going. Dressed the way she was, I was almost certain that she had somehow gotten out of bringing along her assigned lady chaperone for the trip. Only one person was missing from our entourage. "Are we ready? Where's Roderick?" Corie asked who Roderick was and, nodding to Bryan, I explained the prince's personal guardsman. This then began Bryan on an overzealous display of his own swordsmanship abilities. He crowed on, challenging me to a duel, when I finally impatiently said, "Lord Bryan, just put away your sword and shut up!" Out the corner of my eye I saw Corie flinch and when I turned to her, I saw a look of shock on her face. It had become apparent from her yearly trips to Castle Auburn that Corie had fancied the prince but each summer she returned, I hoped she had outgrown it. It was apparent she had not.
Bryan didn't take kindly to my disparaging remark and so again challenged me to a duel. To appease him, I stated that I would let him personally defend me if we were attacked on the road. At that moment, Roderick and Damien arrived and Jaxon announced that we would head out. Still upset, he scowled at me. I ignored him and mounted my horse, but paused when I heard Coriel shyly whisper to him, "I think you're the best swordsman in the eight provinces." It was my turn to glower as Bryan laughed heartily at the compliment. Bryan was not a good man for her to set her sights upon. I watched as Coriel moved her horse forward to catch up with her uncle. I tried not to listen to their conversation but bits and pieces floated on the wind to my ears as I had been behind Corie and now was riding behind both of them. I lazily followed along, looking at the open land around until I heard Jaxon mention to Coriel that she may not always live as a country girl with her grandmother and would instead marry a wealthy man. My head immediately shot up, watching her and waiting to hear what her response to that would be.
"Once grandmother dies, I'll be needed in the village. There's not another wise woman for thirty miles. It's hard on her even when I'm gone for the summers." I couldn't see her face but I heard the astonishment in her voice that it would even be a consideration that she would marry and move to her husband's estate rather than remain as her grandmother's apprentice in the village. At Jaxon's mention of training another apprentice, Corie responded crossly, "I'm her apprentice." Jaxon laughed and their conversation continued on for a few minutes, but I noticed that Coriel soon just rode in silence. I wondered what she was thinking of, whether her uncle's comments regarding marrying and moving with that man, obviously an unexpected thought to her, were troubling her into her thoughtful silence. I had never considered Coriel having possible suitors – she was still young and she obviously had no designs of that kind, especially regarding her summers at Castle Auburn.
I continued looking around at the land we passed, especially once we departed from the main road, occasionally glancing ahead of me at Coriel, once again wondering what was on her mind. Eventually I saw her pensive mood break and she began shifting subtly on her saddle. It was clear the riding we had been doing for hours was taking its toll, and it wasn't long before I wanted to call a halt just to provide her some relief. Just as I opened my mouth to do so, Damien spoke up from behind me asking to take a rest. I saw Coriel's shoulders sag slightly in relief before following the example of her uncle and dismounting. Jaxon said we'd have a bit to eat while stopped and while the rest of us loaded up on the food, Bryan waited for Damien to try a bit of everything before he commenced eating. I took in Jaxon's sardonic expression and almost sighed aloud – I knew Jaxon wouldn't be able to keep from goading the prince. Unsurprisingly, a moment later, Bryan and Jaxon were arguing back and forth until Bryan finally lost his temper and stood, yelling at Jaxon. Also rising to my feet, I looked at Jaxon and attempted to placate Bryan so all of lunch wouldn't be ruined by arguing. Shaking me off, he continued his rant until Coriel stood up and drew close to him. She immediately praised him and asked him about his father, which pleased the prince to no end. Behind Bryan's back, Jaxon and I shared a look of irritation which Corie spotted and immediately scowled at. Jaxon and I shared the same opinion on Bryan, and I knew we were having the same thoughts at Coriel's flirtation with him and his obvious receptiveness. As frustrated as she seemed at us, I was glad she knew of my disapproval. She needed to realize that Bryan, though charismatic and charming at times, was not someone she would be happy with.
After eating, we all mounted up again and resumed riding. We stopped once for lunch but otherwise continued our journey, eventually reaching the forest. Upon getting to the dense trees, Jaxon halted our party to warn of us of the dangers of aliora. Upon the announcement that everybody who would travel with him into the forest would be required to wear gold, all of us but Bryan and Roderick produced their gold amulet. Bryan raised his chin and declared that he did not need gold to protect him against the aliora. At that, Jaxon gave up altogether trying to enforce his rule upon Bryan and instead turned to me.
"Your cousin is very wearying." He then faced the rest of the group. "Everybody mount up! We're heading back to the castle!" We all stood, not wanting to believe this was as far as our expedition would take us. Jaxon, however, proved that he meant what he said by mounting his own horse. He looked at us all still standing silently, not moving, and said, "Well? Mount up. Time to head home." He made a move to turn his horse around but Corie's voice made him pause.
"Uncle Jaxon! No! You promised. You said you would take me to the river to see the aliora." The disappointment in her words instantly made me irritated with Bryan that he would cause this but also irritated at Coriel that she would blame Jaxon for something Bryan had done wrong rather than Bryan himself. I hoped she would grow out of her crush soon and start to see Bryan for type of person he was.
As Jaxon tried to console Coriel by promising another trip with just the two of them, she turned to Bryan pleadingly. But before she could speak, I roughly hit him my cousin on the shoulder. "Put on the damn bracelet and try not to ruin everything. Jaxon's right and you know it. My father would hang all five of us if something happened to you in the forest. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for Corie," I gestured to where she was still standing with the beseeching look on her face. "There's some honor in being gracious for a lady." I turned to Jaxon as Bryan gave me a venomous look, "Give me the wristband." Once Jaxon gave me the bracelet, I turned back to Bryan, asking for his arm. He refused and I tried to grab it and put the bracelet on myself but he skipped back out of my reach.
"I'm not wearing that – that slave's chain. I will wear gold, since Jaxon insists," at this point he paused to glower at Jaxon, "but I will not dress like a prisoner."
As soon as the words left Bryan's mouth, Coriel removed her own gold pendant to offer to Bryan. That necklace had been a gift from Elisandra and I didn't think I'd ever seen her without it on. I turned to her, frustrated at her hastiness to give such a meaningful token to him simply because he did not wish to wear an unattractive piece of jewelry. "You shouldn't have to—" I started to argue but Bryan cut me off. He grandly stated that it would do him honor to wear her pendant and he would so chivalrously agree to wear it for her so we could continue our journey. Corie made the move to hand the necklace to him but he instead bowed to allow her to adorn him with it. I couldn't hold back a sound of aggravation as I saw Corie's eyes widen and an elated smile come to her face at the opportunity. She secured it around his neck and he bowed once more, thanking her for her sacrifice.
She turned to me then and held out her arm so that I may fasten the "slave's chain" that Bryan would not wear onto her wrist. Still displeased with the interaction, I carefully put the bracelet on her wrist and watched as she grimaced slightly, then rearranged it. After doing so, she looked up at me and gave me a brilliant smile, her way of telling me that she obviously did not find this to be a hardship and didn't care about wearing the shackle-like bracelet. I couldn't help but return her grin with a rueful smile of my own. After also securing Roderick with his protective shackle of gold, we continued on our journey into the forest. Bryan of course made himself the leader while I hung back and ended up riding beside Corie. "So how are you enjoying yourself so far?" I asked, lowering my head to dodge a branch and watching her.
Her face instantly lit up. "Oh, it's wonderful! Better than I had even hoped! Three days with—" she stopped suddenly, looking at me while a slight blush filled her cheeks at what she had almost said.
"Three days without hearing the dulcet tones of Lady Greta," I finished for her. I sincerely hoped that her total enjoyment of the trip was not because Bryan accompanied the party. "Yes, I can see where that would improve your life somewhat." We started talking about Greta, which led of course to the conversation steering towards Elisandra and the betrothal of her Halsing sister to the prince. Steering the conversation back to Corie, I said, "And then, who would believe the luck? Your father produced two daughters."
She couldn't hold back a laugh at that. "Oh, yes, the royal court was glad to learn the news about me." She rolled her eyes in a very Corie-like fashion, "I'm exactly the sort of bride they were looking for."
I decided to push a little more and see if she really was as infatuated with the prince as she seemed. Keeping a tight smile on my face I said, "Don't tell me it wouldn't be a dream come true. All the girls are mad for Bryan." At that, her cheeks flushed again and she seemed to get excited at the very thought, but logically said, "Bryan is betrothed. It does not matter who else adores him."
Internally I gave a sigh of annoyance. So she did adore him. The one thing I knew I could count on was that Corie would never pursue him – she was first and foremost too much a reserved country girl at heart to actually go after the prince, and, secondly, she loved her sister too much to ever even think of any type of deceit towards her, for she still believed Elisandra glad to be marrying Bryan. I decided to give her a glimpse at just how thoughtfully Bryan considered the engagement. "Bryan has always been a little willful. It is hard to gauge how heavily his betrothal weighs on him." At this, Corie frowned, seeming for the first time to even entertain the thought that Bryan might not be the dashing, charming man she had always thought him. Rather than consider that, however, she felt annoyance at Jaxon and myself for goading him. I informed her that we did nothing to purposely engage the prince in argument, but my words fell on deaf ears. She did not want to see that side of Bryan and was content to blame others for his behavior for now. Again, I found I could not wait until the day she grew out of that mentality.
Our conversation continued, growing deeper and more thoughtful. I knew her true question when she asked whether I wanted to be king was actually whether I was jealous of Bryan. I gave her a sideways look and gently reminded her that I would be king if anything happened to Bryan. I found myself wondering if that did happen, how she would feel if I took Elisandra for my wife.
"So do I wish to be king? That is not the question I ask myself. I ask myself, Would I be a good king? Would I be quick-witted and generous of spirit and full of that boundless energy? Or would I be clumsy and stupid and dulled by my own prejudices? I try to be a good man, since I am alive at all, and hope that that teaches me that I would need to know if I was ever faced with a higher challenge. Some days I am more successful at it than others."
I watched her for a few moments sit in apparently stunned silence. After bringing her out of it, she asked who she should model herself after to win Greta's approval. She announced that Elisandra would be the person she would want to be most like. I looked over at her and I felt her surprise at my sudden serious turn.
"I would not take Elisandra for my model if I were you."
"What? Why not?" I could only shake my head, not willing or able to explain to Corie her own sister's deficits. "I thought you admired her!"
"More than anyone I know, perhaps." And that was true – I had known Elisandra her whole life and she was the one person who was closest to me and who knew me the best. And it was true that I liked Elisandra as a person. "But that does not mean I think you should try to be her." I continued. No, it would be a sad day when Corie would become her sister.
Her brow furrowed in response. "Why not?"
I decided on honesty and, giving her a small smile, said, "Perhaps it is because I like you the way you are."
Possibly more to come :)