"Your Highness," Hobson announced as the queen worked furiously in her study. "Master Reaver is here to see you."
Henrietta stopped writing mid-signature and sat very still. She felt her blood freeze for a moment, before immediately thawing and suddenly feeling very hot. Her mind was in an even worse state, since the concept of speech currently eluded her and only apparitions of a very naughty Reaver were marching through her head. It took a substantial effort to bring her mind back to the present. When she spoke, she felt as if the voice was coming from somewhere else.
"I'm much too busy to see him today," she said mechanically. "Tell him to come back tomorrow." Hobson bowed at her response.
"Of course, Your Majesty," he said, before making his way out of the study.
Henrietta cursed her luck as she turned her attention back to her papers. She had planned to leave the very next day, and was nearly done with the work she had been so determined to finish. But with Reaver back in town, there was a very good chance he would somehow discover her as she left the castle, especially if he would be returning to visit tomorrow. Should she simply try to confront him head on?
No, that would be disastrous. Henrietta was in no way prepared to contend with Reaver's clearly experienced manipulations in her vulnerable state. One of the first things she had learned from Walter in her years of training was to never show the opponent your weakness. Unfortunately for her, the opponent and weakness were one and the same. Facing Reaver would spell certain defeat.
The queen was left with no choice. Instead of leaving the next morning as planned, Henrietta would have to sneak away late that night. She would finish any preparations needed to keep the queendom running without her, and then exit through the catacombs beneath the castle. The entrance was through the royal mausoleum, and the only way to exit the caverns on the other side was through the Cullis Gate. That would make it impossible for anyone to track her down, since no one but a Hero had the power to use the gate.
Henrietta attacked her remaining duties with renewed vigor, determined to get everything sorted out before she left. With the focused pace she was working at, it wasn't long before she had completed all of the paperwork. The remainder of her evening was spent getting any belongings together that she would need for an extended leave.
The queen was dwelling over the map table to plot her course when Hobson came into the study. He took note of the highwayman outfit the queen was wearing, as well as the bag obviously intended for travel sitting in one of the armchairs.
"Are you planning to depart again, Your Majesty?" he asked. The note of concern in his voice was clear. Having a queen spend only a few days at the castle before she wandered off again made it a bit difficult for her to do any actual ruling.
"Yes, I'm leaving tonight," Henrietta replied, not looking up from the map. "I've left notes for delivery with each document on my desk. There should be enough information there to get the restoration up and running."
"And what of your appointments tomorrow?" he asked. Henrietta's mind went blank for a moment at his question. She hadn't made any appointments. Only Reaver was planning on seeing her the next day, and it was highly doubtful he wanted to discuss the welfare of the queendom.
"Canceled," she said flatly. Hobson waited a moment for her to elaborate further or arrange to reschedule, but the queen said nothing.
"Oh dear," he said quietly, tilting his head and bringing his hand up to cup his chin. "Then Master Reaver has stayed at the castle all day for nothing." Henrietta tensed up almost painfully at his comment, fighting the urge to grab the little man by his coat and scream questions into his face.
"He's still here?" she asked casually, managing to keep a grasp on her reason.
"Yes, Your Majesty," Hobson answered. "He elected to stay the night in the guest quarters, in case you changed your mind about seeing him today." Henrietta let out a short frustrated sigh. Leave it to Reaver to expect the queen to come to him. "Shall I send him away and let him know of the cancellation?" Hobson asked.
The queen took off her crown and set it on the map table before running a hand messily through her short hair. She wanted Reaver out of the castle as soon as possible, but telling him to leave because she wouldn't be there to see him the next day would reveal her plan to flee. It would be better to not raise his suspicions, and just hope that he decides to stay in his room all evening.
"I'm sure he's already found someone to keep him entertained for the evening," she replied. "It would probably be best if you didn't disturb him until tomorrow."
"I... see," Hobson said, before dismissing himself and leaving the queen to her own devices.
Henrietta decided that when the hour was so late everyone would be asleep would be the perfect time for her to leave. There was less chance of her discovery by anyone at all, much less He-Who-Must-Be-Avoided-At-All-Costs. But by the time she was making her way down the darkened corridors of the castle with Rooster by her side, she began to seriously regret that decision.
Not being able to clearly see into the more shadowy corners of the hallways set her on edge like never before. Her paranoia ratcheted up to new heights whenever she reached a doorway, fully expecting the man himself to emerge from the shadows like an infernal demon. Every tiny little noise caused her to jump, even when it was a very dog-like sound coming from Rooster. She had faced the Crawler with less apprehension than this.
The castle felt bigger than ever before as she made her way through it, but she finally made it outside. Henrietta had purposefully avoided the castle gardens after reading the manuscript, and no sooner than stepping outside did the very vivid images bleed back into her mind. She stood staring dumbstruck at the pavilion across the lawn for a moment, transfixed by what she saw in her mind's eye. The queen shook her head violently to clear it, before just running full speed across the gardens to the central monument and plowing through the mausoleum doors.
Once inside, she paused with her face in her hands to calm her nerves, allowing herself a good long moment to breathe again. Her reprieve was short lived however, as a chilling realization dawned on her and caused her to turn around back to the door. She had heard the sound of the doors closing, but not the sound of them clicking into place. She moved closer to the crack in the door to inspect it, since she certainly didn't want any unwitting servant accidentally stumbling down into the catacombs and getting themselves killed. Henrietta noticed something near the floor caught between the two doors, causing her to squint in the faint light to try to make out what it was. It looked suspiciously like the bottom end of a walking stick.
A feeling of doom had just settled onto her, when gloved fingers suddenly snaked their way through the crack in the doors. Henrietta sprang back to gain distance and fell into a battle stance, for what little good that would do her. A moment later, and the doors had been opened, revealing the very demon who had cursed her so. Reaver.
Henrietta felt hot and cold all at once, almost feverish. She knew that trying to talk her way out of his presence wouldn't work. That would require the use of her mind, which she was currently at war with for its traitorous imagery. There was no time for thought, only action. Reaver didn't even have a chance to pass through the doorway before the queen spoke.
"Pardon me, but I have to go!" she spat out quickly, before simply spinning around and running in the opposite direction. She didn't look back, and sprinted down the stairs and across the vast caverns with all the considerable speed she could muster.
She began charging up her gauntlets even before she reached the Cullis Gate, partially so she could simply have something to concentrate on other than the predicament she was in. When she finally reached the gate, she crouched down, grabbed a hold of Rooster as he ran to her, and released the spell. Immediately the gate responded, glowing brightly before releasing a burst of energy bright enough to make the queen hide her eyes.
Henrietta kept her head down for a long moment afterwords, only opening her eyes when she felt the gentle flakes of snow falling into her hair. She let out a sigh that immediately frosted in the cold air, very much welcoming the sight of the Mistpeak Dweller Camp's firelight twinkling at the foot of the hill before her. She moved over to sit and rest against one of the gate's surrounding pillars to catch her breath, while Rooster wasted no time before jumping into a snow drift and rolling around.
Henrietta laughed at her dog as he played in the snow, a little envious at his ability to have such carefree fun. It was the dead of night however, and frolicking in the snow for all hours wasn't really an option. Henrietta owned a caravan on the edge of the camp they could stay in for the rest of the night, before moving on in the morning. For the moment, she just closed her eyes and relaxed. She hoped the freezing air would do well for her heated blood, and that she would have time to clear her head.
Her rest was cut short when a very bright light flooded her field of vision through her closed eyes, causing her to turn her head away. When the light subsided and she opened her eyes again, she found she was no longer alone. Reaver had followed her through the Cullis Gate.
She should have questioned how it was possible for him to even use the gate at all, but the only thing that the queen could think of was how stunningly handsome he was. She had refused to allow herself a good look at him in the mausoleum, and the last time she physically saw him they were both wearing masks. Without them, it was as if they were naked, a thought her mind wasted no time in running away with. He was without his top hat as well, the hair that he already knew she admired as perfect as ever. Reaver immediately noticed the queen sitting on the ground before him and adopted an appropriately victorious grin.
"Tsk tsk, Your Majesty. It's considered bad form to make a premature retreat you know," he told the queen, wagging an admonishing finger at her. The queen just kept staring at him for a moment longer, since she was quite certain her brain had broken. Eventually, she managed to come up with at least one word.
It certainly wasn't the most productive word, to say the least. Reaver merely offered a pitying sigh at her sorry state.
"So this is what you so urgently had to do to cancel our little rendezvous..." he said. "Playing in the snow? Surely there's more fun to be had back in the luxury of the castle." He leaned over on his walking stick and brought his face to the same level as hers to fix her in his gaze. With much effort Henrietta struggled to regain her bearings and spoke, albeit very slowly. She was functioning, but she was convinced she was still properly insane.
"I.. haven't been feeling well," she said. "I believed a cooler climate would calm my fever, and wanted to depart as soon as possible."
"Mmm, you do look rather flushed," he mused, moving his face closer to her for inspection. "Though it seems all you've succeeded in doing is getting yourself wet." He gestured to the droplets of water on her arms. "Your heated body is only melting the snow," he said. He then offered his hand to help her to her feet. Henrietta regarded his outstretched hand warily, but soon realized that just avoiding him was no longer an option. She accepted his assistance, but was powerfully aware of his grip on her hand as he did so. When she was back on her feet, she noticed he was standing close enough to her to send her mind reeling again. Her back was still against one of the gate's pillars as well, leaving her good and trapped between a rock and a hard place.
"My, but what ravishing little trousers you're wearing," Reaver said, looking the queen up and down. "I suppose a skirt is impractical for running about the wilderness. Who knows what could crawl up your leg?" Henrietta self consciously ran her hand over the laces on her highwayman pants at his remark.
"They're my adventuring pants," she replied cautiously, not taking her eyes off his.
"Yes, I imagine there's quite an adventure to be had in those pants," he replied, eying them in a way that was most certainly not due to an appreciation for fashion. Henrietta's face turned very red, and she crossed her arms as her defensive instinct finally kicked back in.
"You did imagine it," she shot back at him. "Very thoroughly might I add. Then you put your imaginings to paper and had me read it."
That's right, anger! she thought to herself. Anger was the emotion she was struggling to recall. She was supposed to be mad at him after reading his manuscript, not infatuated. Henrietta grabbed hold of whatever indignation she could muster and held onto it for dear life.
"Did my story excite you, Your Majesty?" Reaver asked, arching his eyebrows knowingly. "I worked so very hard on it, you see. I wanted to be sure it would please you." Henrietta would swear that from the moment he arrived through the the Cullis Gate, Reaver had been saying one thing and meaning another.
"It- It was ridiculous," she huffed, turning away from him. "I can't believe you would write such things about me Reaver. That's certainly not the proper respect to show your queen." Henrietta was legitimately angry with the man. She knew she was. But despite this, her voice sounded more hurt than aggravated, only serving to heighten her frustration.
"I hold more respect for you, my most lovely queen," he said, leaning in close. "Than I do for the entirety of Albion." The queen snapped her face back towards Reaver, and put her hands on her hips.
"That only goes to show how little respect you hold for anyone in the queendom," she countered.
"Perhaps," he said with a relaxed smile and a flippant shrug. "But tell me your majesty," he said, pausing to pull at the fingers of his glove one by one before removing it completely. "Which part of my story did you find ridiculous?" he asked. His expression turned devious as he removed his other glove and put them in his coat pockets. "If you'd be so kind, I'd like to know the specific moment." It was those specific moments that played themselves out in the queen's head at his suggestion. Henrietta held her breath for a moment, hoping that her brain would stop showing her such things if she denied it air.
"Well you certainly didn't portray me very well," she said with a rush of air. "I've been kissed before, Reaver." She crossed her arms across her chest in a display of petulance.
"You have? Really?" The incredulity in his voice was so overdone it couldn't have possibly been genuine. "Well I simply cannot believe that," he said, crossing his own arms and turning his head away.
"And why not?" Henrietta asked. "Is it such an impossibility that someone can be kissed without giving away their virtue?"
"Indeed it is," Reaver replied, turning back to face her. "In fact, that is exactly what I have observed in all of my considerable years of experience."
"Well you'll just have to take my word for it then," the queen said.
"I am a logical man your majesty," he said, putting one hand to his heart and tapping his walking stick to the ground with the other. "I cannot simply compromise my writing based on your supposition. I need proof."
"Proof," she repeated. "Do you expect me to present someone I've kissed before so they can verify my claim?"
"Actually," he said, cupping his chin as if he were deep in thought. "If I were to kiss you myself, then I could adequately gauge whether you're an experienced kisser or not." The queen could feel the color draining from her face.
"No," she said flatly. She could practically sense the jaws of his trap very slowly closing around her. His manuscript had been quite thorough in his depictions of what he could do to her, but his kiss was the one thing he hadn't described in excruciating detail, or at all. Henrietta suspected that was by design, because she was now feeling an overwhelming curiosity as to what that missing piece of the puzzle would be like.
"It's only a kiss my love, I'm not proposing marriage," he teased, running a hand through his hair to clear it of snowflakes. Or more likely, he knew how fascinated the queen was with his hair and was merely reminding her of how much she wanted to run her own hands through it. Whatever his intention, Henrietta found the seemingly simple motion incredibly enticing.
"Oh, just a kiss I'm sure," she said, a steady panic slowly rising in her chest. "And then you'll kiss my face, then my neck, then my chest, and I'll somehow end up without any clothes on!"
"That would certainly be a captivating magic trick," he grinned. "But you have my word, my lips shall not stray from yours." Henrietta was very aware that Reaver's word was worth about as much as a bag of sand. But she knew she had already lost. She had lost the instant she read that manuscript. Perhaps even sooner, when she agreed to dance with him at the masquerade. Associating with Reaver at all was a losing game.
"You're a villain Reaver," the queen said quietly, already resigned to her fate. "Don't think I've forgotten that."
"And you shouldn't forget it," he said silkily, stepping even closer to the queen. "You should only enjoy it."
"Fine," she replied, though Reaver had already begun wrapping his arms around her waist. "You'll have your kiss." As soon as the words left her mouth, he brought his lips down on hers. Henrietta could practically taste his victorious smile, until he abruptly angled his mouth against hers and silenced any rational thought she still had left in her head. All that remained was Reaver.
Henrietta struggled to remain in control of her own actions, before she regressed into something of an automaton, the movement of her body now powered by some hidden turnkey that Reaver had managed to wind up. The queen couldn't help but to draw her arms over his shoulders and run her hands through his hair. It truly felt as glorious as it looked.
The highwayman cape fell back to her shoulders when she raised her arms, her bare skin suddenly victim to the cold mountain air. As Reaver's nimble hands began to roam over her body, his gloveless fingers found his way to her uncovered arm and glided slowly up to her shoulder. She shivered involuntarily, whether from the chilling wind or his heated touch she wasn't sure. It was then that he took the opportunity to slip his tongue into her mouth.
Whatever was left of Henrietta's resistance was undone with his motion. His writings had most definitely not oversold the ability of his very gifted tongue, and it was simply too persuasive. In fact, she was so mesmerized by his persuasiveness that when Reaver 'tripped' and fell backwards into the snow pulling her with him, she didn't even notice how her landing left her conveniently straddling his hips. Nor did she hear the gentle clinking of her belt buckle as it was being undone to allow access to her trousers. Only a warning bark from Rooster snapped her from her hypnosis, leading Henrietta to stop kissing Reaver and sit up slowly with the realization of just how far things had progressed.
Reaver was clearly disappointed when her lips left his. His annoyance at the dog's intervention caused his hand to fly to his pistol. Henrietta had enough of her wits about her to understand his intention, and managed to grab hold of the gun in his hand before he had aimed it at her canine companion.
"Shooting a lady's dog is a very quick way to fall out of her favor, sir," she said, breathing heavily. The look in her eye was murderous, she wanted Reaver to be sure that she was not pleased. But the reprobate only laughed at her sudden civility.
"Do you know that you become more polite when you're angry?" he asked, fixing her with a stare meant for the bedroom. "It's ever so charming."
Henrietta was suddenly made aggressively aware that she was still straddling him in a rather inappropriate position, and flung herself off of him in response. She fell into the snow beside him and lay on her back, covering her face with her hands and hoping the snow would cool her down. She felt Rooster nuzzle up to her arms, concerned with his master's apparent ill health. A moment later she was aware of a pair of arms planted in the snow on either side of her. She peeked out from between her fingers to see Reaver leaning over her, apparently having a staring contest with Rooster as the dog dutifully prevented him from getting any closer to her.
"Shall we continue this elsewhere?" he asked when he caught her eyes. "Indoors perhaps, and away from any canine interlopers." He gave a pointed look at her dog to express his irritation.
"Was that not proof enough that I have kissing experience?" she said after a long pause. Henrietta felt at once both relieved and disappointed that Rooster kept the situation from escalating, but now that the moment had passed, she was at a loss as to how to behave with Reaver looming above her.
"I'll grant that you do seem to have some experience," he replied. "But not so much that I feel compelled to change anything in the book." Henrietta's mind sharpened a bit at the mention of that damned book. The Reaver from the story could very well be the Reaver right in front of her, and she seemed to be well on the way to finding out.
"So you're expecting to reenact the entire story and make your changes accordingly, is that it?" she asked, unsure of what she wanted.
"Why, I do believe that is a fantastic idea, Your Majesty," he said with much enthusiasm. "Reenactments are such fun."
"Don't act like this wasn't your plan all along," she replied with a dark look on her face.
"I'm wounded that you would even suggest such a thing. I have only the most beneficent intentions towards you," he said, though his act of leaning in and pressing his body up against hers seemed to suggest otherwise. "If you're so intent on discovering some hidden motive behind my writing, then think of it as just another one of my propositions for you to rule on. I've laid out what is to be gained..." He traced his fingers along her jaw and up to her lips. "It is up to you as to whether or not to act on it."
How to act was the exact dilemma Henrietta had been struggling with as soon as she discovered his manuscript sitting so innocently on her desk. She knew with no small amount of certainty that if she were to act on instinct, she would simply pull his lips back down to hers and follow the course to its natural conclusion. On the other hand, this was Reaver she'd be snogging, of all people. No matter how alluring he may be, he still sat so far on the opposite end of the moral, ethical, and political spectrum from her that it made her head spin. But for some unfathomable reason, words like morals, ethics, and even virginity didn't seem to matter to her anymore. It was a notion she had always considered foolish, but Henrietta now understood better than ever before the old adage reminding her that opposites attract.
The queen rolled out from underneath Reaver and stood up. She may forever more be the Queen of Fools for it, but she had made her decision.
"Very well, Reaver," she replied, watching his eyes as he also stood up to meet her gaze. "You've made your case. But!" she added, holding up her finger before he could move any closer to her. "You have to catch me first."
Henrietta spun on her heel as she spoke, fully prepared to speed away down the hill and into the village below. But before she could take a single step, she found Reaver's arms locked around her waist and pulling her back up against him. His reflexes were absolutely uncanny.
"Caught you," he gleefully whispered into her ear. Henrietta was was hit with a staggering urge to lean back into his body and breathe in his masculine scent. Instead she just pulled away and turned to face him.
"I meant out... there!" she said, gesturing wildly to the Dweller Camp.
"Well you didn't say so," Reaver replied, planting his walking stick into the snow with an insincere pout. He was right. Henrietta didn't say so, because she didn't think she needed to. She had figured she would have gotten a head start, and she was a quick runner. But as fast as she was, somehow Reaver was faster still.
"Fine," the queen said, folding her arms across her chest. "I'm a woman of my word." With that she turned around and began to march sulkily down the hill, with Rooster in tow behind her.
"I do love such personality quirks," Reaver said as he fell into step beside her. "They're so deliciously exploitable." Henrietta didn't respond. She concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and making her way to her caravan. If she thought about what would or wouldn't happen once she got there, she would collapse from imagery overload.
As they reached the bottom of the hill, Rooster spotted a couple of dogs playing in front of a caravan further in the village, and ran over to join them. Henrietta stopped and reached her arm out plaintively at his retreating form. Don't leave me Rooster... she thought to herself. Now I'm alone with him. A strong gust of wind swept over her, leaving her unable to suppress a visible shiver as she began walking again. She hadn't really been dressed for snowy weather.
"Cold, my dove?" Reaver asked. He didn't wait for her response before draping his arm over her shoulders. Henrietta simply wasn't expecting this move, and that was obviously the only reason why she jumped when he touched her. Reaver seemed to come to a different conclusion however, and leaned in close.
"You'd do well to get used to my touch Henrietta," he said in a tantalizing voice. "It's going to be quite frequent." Henrietta felt inexplicably warm at the sound of her name leaving his lips. Reaver had never actually called her that before, and she felt herself turning a corner in the maze of emotions and sensations she found herself lost in. The queen once again felt ill-equipped to handle the situation, and simply refused to say another word until they had reached the caravan.
Not a single moment passed after Henrietta had flung open the door to her caravan, before Reaver scooped her up in his arms and tossed her onto the thin pallet that passed for a bed, quickly slamming the door shut behind him with his foot.
"Hey!" she yelled. Reaver silenced her mouth with his own, putting the full weight of his body on top of her. Henrietta was held in place by his kiss for a long moment, until she noticed that he had somehow maneuvered himself into a very intimate position. The queen tore her lips away from his and rolled them over, so that she was left sitting on top of him.
"Something you should know, my loyal attendant," she said with an arch sneer. "I'm not as submissive as your fictional queen." She untied the bow keeping the highwayman cloak in place and shrugged it off her shoulders. "I may be all nerves and apprehension right now, but I don't plan on just letting you have your way with me." Reaver answered her with his trademark grin.
"Whichever way you wish to learn is fine by me," he said, slipping his hands underneath her corset. Henrietta grabbed his wrists and pulled them down, giving him a serious look.
"You can't use this as hands on research for your book, you know," she said.
"Your most royal majesty," he replied with a sigh, bringing his hands around behind her to unlace the corset from there. "I never had any intention of actually publishing the book. It was merely a pretext for your inevitable seduction. Foreplay." The queen gaped at his response, unmoving as he expertly untied her laces.
"So you wrote that entire thing simply as a means to an end?" Reaver gave her a huge smile, revealing his teeth as he slid his hands down to grope her bum.
"And what a delicious end it is."
What I love about Reaver is that he's such a bastard, but the games always play it up for laughs. Sure you've got the good guys decrying how evil he is, but he gets all the exposition after you make a royal decision, and it's pure comedy gold. It really put me in the mood for a story that was more saucy and lighthearted. Though what little humor there is in my story turned out very dry, I'm pretty satisfied with ending it here. Everything after that is just... imagery.
And of course, special thanks to Yarbo, ba77ousai, Shiro Anubis, and onelove87 for their reviews. They're like cookies for my creative spirit. :)