In the dark, the corridors of Castle Caelin appeared to be endlessly long and empty. The sound of his leather boots against the stone floors seemed loud in his own ears—louder, even, than the symphony of crickets that entertained from the garden.
As a commander, Kent could easily assign someone else to the task of patrolling the particular route he followed, but he had long-since grown used to the task, and on some levels, he even found it to be enjoyable. The solitude gave him much time to think.
His feet carried him in an endless loop while the inhabitants of the castle—except for the men posted throughout the building—slept. He began by walking through the basement where the men under his command had their rooms, and he continued up to the ground level, through the kitchens and mess hall, past the library, and finally, he climbed the stairs to the second floor where Lady Lyndis's rooms were.
It was a simple route, and he usually made a complete loop within an hour's time only to start all over.
As he neared the library, he noticed a gentle glow of light coming from within. It was unusual for anyone to be awake in the middle of the night, as most everyone began their day at the break of dawn. (If it were Sain trying to learn something of poetry, he would certainly send him on his way.)
To the redhead's surprise, it was not Sain, or even one of the maids who sat in the farthest corner of the musty room, but rather…Lady Lyndis herself. A tall candle flickered beside her as she bent over something; it was hard for him to tell for certain what it was she was doing in the dim light provided to him.
He turned away.
Had it been any of the knights, or even a member of the staff, he would have ordered them to vacate the room, but he could do no such thing where his lady liege was concerned; if she wanted the room for any purpose, it was hers to use.
He continued his patrol, up to the next floor. As he walked past the door that led to her rooms, the men posted outside straightened slightly. He already knew that Lady Lyndis was not in her bed—since he had just seen her in the library—but there was no doubt in his mind that the lady of Caelin had sworn the men to silence about her late-night trip.
Perhaps, he thought idly as he continued down the hall, she had only asked them nicely to keep her little secret. She could ask anything of anyone and chances were that they would rush to help in whatever way they could.
After all, Kent reminded himself, if even he—the man deemed unable to feel an emotion like love—had fallen for her, then who else? How many other men melted under her soft smile and her warm gaze? How many other men dreamed of her, wanted to hold her, thought of kissing her?
Oh, it was sinful to think in such ways, but he had realized long ago that he could not control for whom his heart beat. Any man in his right mind would not be able to help but love Lady Lyndis.
His thoughts were lost to her as he made his rounds. Since the war had ended and they had returned to Caelin…he had not been graced with her constant presence. Even he could admit that he sorely missed it.
Three times he had passed the library, and each time his lady liege had been in the corner, head bent over something. Each time he resisted the urge to go to her. Instead, he watched her silently from the doorframe for a moment before continuing on his way.
The fourth time—his final patrol for the evening—he crossed into the room without hesitation.
"Good evening, Kent," she said, looking up as he approached her.
"I believe that it is now morning, milady." His hand alighted on the back of one of the hard-backed chairs. "May I?" When she nodded, he took a seat.
He wasn't sure what to say to her at first—when was the last time they had had the chance to speak with one another?—but the dark circles under her eyes did not sit well with him, and so he inclined his head.
"If…it is not too intrusive of me to ask, what brings milady to the library at this late hour?"
She blinked at him. "I couldn't sleep, so I thought that I would practice." It was then that she moved her hand away from the parchment she had been covering. One corner of it was filled with what looked like writing.
He squinted in the dim candlelight, but could not make out any of it from where he sat across the table. "Forgive me my ignorance, but…practice what?"
"Writing my letters," she said simply. "Chancellor Reissmann says that I must learn them so that I can do things like sign my name and read important documents."
He was not sure why, but her words made his chest ache. How could her illiteracy have escaped his notice for so long? Despite his best efforts, and the promise he had made her years earlier, he had failed to take her feelings into account once again.
"I…see," he said, feeling shaken.
She gave him a tired smile and dipped her quill into the ink in front of her. The sleeves of her nightgown had been pulled back to allow her freedom of movement, and he couldn't help but notice that her hand was unsteady when she pressed the tip of the quill to the parchment in front of her and began to painstakingly continue the alphabet. She was probably exhausted if she had spent the previous four hours practicing her letters.
He felt strangely out of place, almost as if he was invading her privacy. He stood and bowed.
"You're leaving?" she asked with a measure of disappointment in her voice, having finished with the letter F. She began a G and did not look up at him.
"I did not wish to disturb you…"
She looked at him, then, and he pretended not to notice as the motion left a dark blob of ink in the middle of the letter she was attempting to write oh-so perfectly. "I'm almost done," she said. "After this set…is…" She noticed her error and sighed as a gentle flush settled across her cheeks.
Something squeezed at his heart. Dear Saint Elimine, how he loved her.
"I'll…" She took a deep breath and let it out again. "I'll start over. But after I'm done with this set, I'll be done for the night. You don't have to leave if you don't want to. You're not disturbing me at all; I would appreciate the company…"
He found himself sitting back down again as she started over. She said nothing as she worked, but he was content to listen to the scratch of her quill against the parchment as she wrote. Her letter M was lopsided, and several others were almost unrecognizable, but as she finished writing the letter Z, he felt strangely…proud.
She pulled back and looked at it critically. "It looks okay," she said, "but Chancellor Reissmann won't like it." She made a face and shook her head.
"It looks good," he said, and it wasn't a lie. It was her best effort, and was that not good enough? He thought that it should be.
She beamed at him. "Do you think so?" She looked over her work again. "He gave me a week to continue practicing, so hopefully by then I will be up to standard." She rolled up the parchment, but paused as she lifted the cap to the ink bottle, looking thoughtful. "Kent?"
He was startled out of his thoughts by the sound of his name on her lips. He liked the way it sounded when she said it. "Yes, Lady Lyndis?"
"I know that you're terribly busy, but if you have a little extra time this week…" She chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully as she pressed the cap onto the bottle of ink. "If it's too much trouble, you can say no, but…"
The corners of his lips lifted upward as she struggled to ask a favor of him. It was not easy for her to ask for anything, and the fact that she was doing so—and asking him, of all people!—meant a lot… "You may ask anything of me, milady," he was quick to assure her.
She looked relieved. "Chancellor Reissmann is very busy, and he wants me to learn this all as quickly as possible… I know he does not have as much time to devote to teaching me as he would like, since he is handling many things in my grandfather's stead…" She looked up at him from beneath her lashes. "I would be very grateful if you could spare even a little bit of your time to teach me what you know."
She continued on, telling him that perhaps she could get Sain to take over a few more of his duties to help ease up on his schedule, but he had stopped listening at her request.
"I would be honored."
A moment of silence passed before she spoke. "Chancellor Reissmann will be so pleased," she said and bounced back onto her heels before rocking back to her toes, smiling the entire time. "I think that I try his patience."
Kent shook his head. "I doubt that is so, milady Lyndis."
She shrugged a bit and let her smile fade as she yawned. "Thank you for staying. I enjoyed your company."
He bowed his head, partly in respect, and partly to hide the redness of his face. "It was my pleasure," he said, looking up as she yawned again. "Milady? If you would like an escort to your rooms…"
"I would appreciate that," she said, scooping up her things before taking his proffered arm. "And tomorrow…when you can find the time…"
"I will seek you out," he said as he led her toward the staircase at the end of the hall. "But time will be made, not found."
She smiled and squeezed his arm in hers. "Thank you."
What? More crap? You bet your hard-earned dollar it is! This one is also for the awesome Qieru, who gave me the prompt "insomnia" a while back. Strangely enough, this idea originally came to me when…I myself had insomnia. (In short, it's all her fault.)