A Tempest In A Teapot

Author's Note: So this is the story that comes after The Black Rose and its based loosely on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Some of the dialogue and much of the situation are similar but I just liked the idea that my characters weren't quite as... influenced by the immediate. They aren't returning from war after all. I hope you enjoy the story and characters. This story is a bit more lemony than my last as the people involved trust each other more and are further into their relationships.

The royal family had gathered with select members of their court in the gardens near the university. The fountain blew a cool mist over some of them though Lorelei had chosen a dry spot to do her sketching and Briar sat nearby in order to protect her harp and flute from moisture.

Sebastian lay on his side regarding his love with a warm gaze that occasionally caused her fingers to stumble when she looked up to meet it. Andreas sat on the edge of the fountain idly sifting the water through his fingers. Morgana stretched out on a quilt blissfully enjoying the sun on her skin. The short tunic she wore did little to shield her from its rays or anyone's eyes.

Their Royal Majesties were cuddled together on a quilt and some overlarge pillows like two young lovers exchanging confidences. The king wore a simple tunic and breeches, resting against some pillows while his wife clothed in one of his shirts and a pair of cannons used his chest as her support. Still as golden in their appearance as the day they met they kissed and whispered now and then.

"A song Lady," Andreas said presently. "If you please, a song to confound Sebastian's complacency." He cast a laughing look at his younger brother.

Lorelei smiled from where she sat. "A song with the truth of men in it." She qualified her twin's remark.

Briar looked at Sebastian and then at his parents. "Any other requests?" She queried.

"A song of love." Amon grinned. "With the grain of truth in it."

"Only a grain my husband?" Sabine smiled up at her tall spouse. "Time was you demanded more honesty than that."

"Yes but never of a bard's music. A grain of truth is enough to temper even the most insipid of ballads." Amon returned with a wink at Briar so she would know he meant no insult.

"Very well then." Briar laughed. "But this is not one of my own. Only a song I heard from your daughter Asrai." She struck a chord on her harp and smiled mischievously.

"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never…"

The song continued in Briar's sweet pure soprano which somehow only served to emphasize the ironic warning in the words. Impromptu applause arose after the final words and merry laughter scattered through the air along with the fountains spray.

"And do you believe those words Briar?" Sebastian inquired idly from where he lay. His voice was casual in its tone but his hot eyes belied his voice.

Briar smiled at him sweetly. "I have found it to be true of most men, with the exception my lord, of those in your family and my brother Dragon."

"There you are sadly mistaken." Lorelei said serenely from where she sat with her pastels. "Dragon behaves with honor certainly, but you are the only female to whom he bestows such consideration." Her amber gaze was teasing. "He cuts a swathe through the field of ladies hearts every time he appears at court and loves none of them but you."

Andreas spoke up in defense of the warrior mage who had become a good friend to him. "Now Dragon makes no pretense of loving them. He trusts none of them but does them no dishonor and yet will do not one of them honor." Hazel eyes regarded his sister knowingly. "And he stays far from the range of your wit Lorelei."

"Oh yes, that he does. He does not cross me at all." Lorelei tossed her head. "I suppose it's just as well. Between the two of us we'd either set the tapestries afire with the blaze of battling intellect or freeze out all the warm blooded folk in the room with insults."

"You are two of a kind." Sabine observed in her low voice. "Dragon despises all noblewomen. And you my lady daughter, despise all men as fools who see only your face, title or wealth. You drive them before you like sheep with the force of your wit and the fury of your scorn."

"Do you never think to marry then Lorelei?" Briar asked softly thinking of what she and Sebastian had observed in her brother months ago.

"I have no need of a husband. Anything I wish I shall get for myself, and anything I cannot get for myself, is either not worth getting, or I am not worthy of it." Lorelei retorted. "You're a fine one to talk anyway-" she broke off as a page approached the party.

"Your Majesty." The boy bowed and held out a scroll. "This just arrived."

Amon looked up and thanked the boy telling him to wait a moment by the cool fountain in case a reply was needed. Scanning the scroll quickly he grinned. "Well it seems that the object of your conversation is to return to us." He remarked. "Written here is a short summary of his journey and a date for his arrival. Dragon comes to Aeliara and soon. His message must have been delayed for he is to arrive on its heels."

"Does Asrai come with him?" Sabine asked eagerly of her youngest.

"She does." Amon dropped a kiss on his wife's head. "They will be here tomorrow." He looked at the page. "Go to the majordomo please and tell him to make Princess Asrai Aelaitha's rooms ready."

Briar looked at Sebastian. "If my brother returns, then I must make arrangements to take rooms as well, for the excuse that I have no protector will no longer serve to keep me in the palace." Her light voice was matter of fact but tinged with sadness.

Sebastian nodded soberly knowing that to argue wouldn't help. At his parents and his insistence Briar had moved to the palace when Dragon had undertaken a mission on behalf of the king. His absence would have left her alone in an inn across the city, too vulnerable for Sebastian's liking. But in the months Dragon had been gone, the sitting room of Briar's suite had become a favorite place for the prince and his bard to sit and talk and enjoy each other's company in private. The closeness and intimate conversations they'd shared would be sorely missed by them both.

"Perhaps you would like to take apartments closer to the palace?" Andreas suggested. "If you are of a mind to settle here permanently a set of apartments for Dragon and yourself might be more practical than rooms at an inn, at least in the long run."

His mother nodded. "There are some lovely apartments, near the Elven Embassy, for example, which are not exorbitant."

Briar blushed slightly at all of the interest and nodded. "I will speak with Dragon about it." She agreed. "We will definitely take rooms at a closer inn though, I have no wish to go across the entire city to attend upon you when you will it."

Sebastian smiled lazily. "What my lady? You think to deprive me of my nightly exercise?" He teased softly and watched the pale pink blush steal into her cheeks.

"Oh, dear." Lorelei looked up as a shadow darkened her sketch. "I'm afraid our perfect day is drawing to a close." Gathering up her sketchbooks and pastels she packed them into her case. "We're about to experience a frontier rainstorm."

Briar squeaked in alarm as she looked up at the clouds and hurriedly loosened her harps strings and set it carefully in its case. Sebastian moved to help her, taking the harpcase as she slid her flute into its flat wooden box.

No sooner had she covered her instruments than the rain poured from the skies and laughing the entire group began to run for the palace and shelter.

Dragon's arrival the next day was heralded not only by still driving rain but also thunder and lightening. He and the youngest princess entered the more informal receiving room still damp.

Sebastian watched and was thankful he knew Dragon had only a brother's affection for Briar as she threw herself into her brother's arms and was swung around in a rib crushing hug.

The younger prince turned and grinned seeing his baby sister being welcomed by their father in a similar fashion as he grabbed his youngest up affectionately. Sabine waited until her husband set the girl down before scrutinizing her thoroughly.

"Do I disappoint Mother?" Asrai asked softly.

"As if you could." Sebastian drawled. Dragon grinned at him over Briar's shoulder and finally set the black haired bard down. Leading her over to Sebastian he gave her hand to the prince.

"I left you safe in his keeping sister." Dragon's low macabre voice commented. "I am glad to see that you are as I left you."

"Did you expect her to run away Dragon?" Lorelei queried archly. "Or that we would mistreat her?"

"What, mistreatment at your hands Princess?" Dragon returned rasping out the words. "Why ever would I suspect such a thing of such a Lady as you?" Somehow he conveyed the impression that a lady was not something favorable in his mind while being all that was correct in his bow and words.

"Perhaps because you have a low opinion of all noble ladies?" Lorelei inquired. "Or is your opinion of all womankind, always excepting of course your dear sister." Her golden eyes gleamed wickedly with challenge while Dragon's dark gaze merely seemed bored.

"Well I have no opinion of ladies at all, nor any intent save to avoid them when I can and be all that is polite when I must." Dragon growled out calmly. "Of womankind, I can only express my gratitude, for the good woman who bore me and raised me. Women have only my admiration. Ladies all too often would demand my heart beneath their heels solely for amusements sake, and when they have done, discard it as they would a worn slipper. I guard my heart better than that your Highness."

"I don't recall inquiring after your heart at all Dragon, nor expressing intention towards it." Lorelei retorted sweetly. "I can assure you that it will never be trod beneath my heels."

"Precisely your Highness." Dragon bowed. "It will never be trod beneath your heels because I will never willingly entrust it to your keeping."

"And thank the gods for that!" Lorelei snapped. "In this we are finally agreed. So I shall never give a man that which he would gain only in appreciation of my face or title or wealth." She folded her arms. "I should rather hear a cat yowling over the fish in the fountain than hear a man say he loves me."

"So equally should I rather!" Dragon replied in what was for him a surprisingly gentle tone, and which caused Briar to look at him in alarm. Her hand fumbled in Sebastian's and gripped his fingers tightly.

Andreas looked from Dragon to his sister and smiled. "Dragon it has been too long. I trust the Dark Lady of the High Forest is the better for your company since we have been sadder for missing it?"

Dragon looked at the prince in shock. "Have you become a poet in my absence Andreas?" He asked dryly. "If you have you're spending far too much time at court."

Andreas laughed and bowed. "The influence of your sister." He gestured to Briar who still stood in the circle of Sebastian's arm. "She attempts to teach me the way to shape a courtly phrase without entering falsehood into it."

"And good luck to her for she'll need it with you." Lorelei grinned. She turned to her parents and found them regarding her thoughtfully.

"I suggest we all change into clothing more suitable, and also less wet," Sabine said quietly. "Then we can enjoy a quiet dinner." She looked at Asrai. "Your father arranged for a bit of celebration, in honor of your return."

Morgana poked Asrai. "That one." She nodded discreetly in a courtier's direction. "He is truly handsome." The man in question was slim and almost angular, he seemed most graceful until he moved proving to be either clumsy or that he'd had too much wine.

Asrai shook her head. "No." She disagreed. "Someone much taller, not always built powerfully, but wiry, with strength not bulk." She leant against the railing and grinned. Her mask she held over her face whenever she looked over the balcony.

Morgana turned and huge violet eyes regarded Asrai from within a butterfly's wings. The shimmering opaque mask completed the illusion of the gauzy wings and sheer gown.

Asrai smiled. She had chosen to wear a tightly clinging tunic and hose in a golden brown. With a mask like a cats face and her rippling golden hair she resembled a young lioness.

"What are you two up to here?" Lorelei's merry voice asked them. The two turned to see their sister climbing the stairs to the balcony. Lorelei had chosen to dress as a slave girl, in billowing risqué harem trous and vest. Her amber eyes glowed behind her simple silk mask.

"Discussing the types of men we like." Asrai giggled. "Morgana seems to favor men who look the most like elves."

"I don't blame her." Lorelei said dryly. "I've seen very few men who are better looking than Grandfather."

"There are in remarkably short supply," Asrai agreed. "Men who can compete for looks with our relations."

"What of him?" Morgana asked Lorelei. "There." She directed her sister's gaze to a handsome man possessing a neatly trimmed brown beard.

"I could not bear a husband with a beard." Lorelei protested. "I'd rather lie in a woolen."

"Well how about him." Asrai teased pointing out a young man of no more than twenty. "No beard there."

"Oh, and what exactly would I do with him?" Lorelei inquired dryly. "Dress him in my gowns and make him my waiting gentlewoman?" Her two sisters laughed and shook their heads at her. Lorelei smiled. "No, he that has a beard is more than a youth and he that has no beard is less than a man." Her smile grew wicked. "He that is more than a youth is not for me and he that is less than a man I, well I am not for him." She wiggled her hips.

Morgana between chuckles looked at her sister curiously. "What will you do then? Never marry?"

Lorelei shrugged. "Unless there be a need for alliance, I need not." She said quietly. "Mother and Father have not been encouraging me to attach myself to any of the gentlemen at court." She made a face. "Speaking of which, the two of you have other duties, but mine is to act as one of the hostesses and I had best get back."

Asrai kissed her sister's cheek and Morgana gave her an affectionate squeeze before Lorelei left them.

When Lorelei was out of earshot Morgana turned to Lorelei. "I see in her…some deep hurt." She said softly. "I thought for a while it was lessened, but she is the same."

Asrai nodded. "I don't know what it is. I don't even think she realizes anymore, it is so much a part of her now."

"Think you, that we should say something to Father and Mother?" Morgana looked down on the throng of people and their parents waltzing happily together, ironically dressed as a guardsman and his sweetheart.

"Knowing Mother she is already aware, and Father too." Asrai said wryly. "But we can let them know we are concerned at least."

Briar shook her head. It seemed like days since she'd had any peace and she never thought she'd be wanting to escape Dragon's company. He had been like a bear with a sore paw ever since the night of his return. Apparently during the masquerade he'd danced with Lorelei.

The princess had talked with him at length, not recognizing him at all since use of a spell disguised his voice. Apparently she had said some things that Dragon had found insulting.

Briar sat down on a log near the trail and thought about that evening.

In a delightful bit of irony Sebastian had dressed in the black mask and garb of an assassin. He had found her own costume of an outlaw hilarious. She and Sebastian had danced and then stood talking with Andreas. Dragon had come up to them in a mood coming closely to a rage. "Andreas, as my friend, do you take me for a fool?" He asked in a quiet voice, pulling off his mask.

"No, not as your friend, nor as an enemy would I ever take you for a fool." Andreas replied. "What gives you reason to ask it?" Sebastian had looked at Briar and mouthed his Lorelei's name and his sweetheart had nodded her agreement.

Dragon when he replied confirmed their thoughts. "Your sister Princess Lorelei, calls me a fool and worse." His corpselike voice was controlled but outrage underscored his words. "I'll say this for her, I've never met anyone who had such a masterful turn of phrase and creativity of insult. She nigh froze me up with her words and then proceeded to target me with such accuracy of description that I felt like the fool who stands on the battlements begging the enemy to slay him."

Andreas regarded his friend with both amusement and a bit of annoyance. "According to my twin, she was informed that you had abused her mightily." He said. "Saying that her only passion was for her art and she had only scorn for mortal men."

"Yes, she said as much to me when I danced with her." Dragon grumbled. "She knows me but she does not." His black eyes were snapping with fury. "And she twists my words to the worst light. All I said was that I would she had as much compassion for her fellow fools as she did passion and talent for her art. She will see nothing in me to the good and everything to my faults. If she spoke so of all men there would be none by her."

"Oh, dear." Briar murmured looking up. "Here she comes."

Andreas looked at Dragon who thrust his betraying mask beneath his cloak and murmured. "Your Highness, here's where your service will do me the favor of being absent. Perhaps you have a trifling errand you'd wish pursued? Any small desire to be satisfied? I'd travel all the way to the sunken Moonshai's and back rather than exchange another volley of insults with your lady sister." He regarded Andreas and then Sebastian almost pleadingly. "You'll send me somewhere won't you? You have something I can do? Briar?"

"All I could wish for is in your company Dragon." Briar teased.

"Oh certainly not all." Sebastian feigned a pout.

"All that a brother could give." Briar qualified and lifted her pretty mouth for a kiss. Sebastian obliged her more lingeringly than was proper until Lorelei was quite near.

Dragon bowed stiffly to both princes. "Your pardon which I'm sure you'll grant in my absence, but I can no longer abide the company of Princess Pride and Disdain!" He glared at Lorelei who arrived as he made this speech and turned on his heel striding away.

Andreas looked at his sister. "Lorelei, I do believe you have lost Dragon's heart." He jested with her.

Lorelei looked at him. "Oh no brother." She smiled. "I know to the finest point where it is. Secure in his breast. Like a moneylender, he lent it to me, but for a while, and then demanded the loan be repaid with interest, and took my heart as well. I would never ask such a loan again, for it cost too greatly in tears." She shrugged. "But I learnt my lesson well, to never accept as a loan what should be freely given."

"You put him down my lady." Briar said softly. "You have put him down most humbly."

"And if I did not? So he should do me, and I prove to be the greatest of fools." Lorelei turned to her. "Your brother can defend himself well, with sword or wit, and every word stabs sharp as poniards." She sighed slightly and then smiled. "But I came to tell you that Mother wishes for you all to join her in the solar. I do believe that she has her violin and hopes you will play the flute in a duet with her Briar."

"Royal entertainment indeed." Andreas punned. "We'll be along in a moment."

Lorelei nodded. "Good, I had best find Asrai, she's undoubtedly with Morgana, both of them throwing coppers 'gainst the hind ends of the courtiers to see who has the most firmly endowed buttocks." Her voice dripped with sarcasm and Sebastian chuckled in spite of himself.

Andreas shook his head and smiled. "I do adore her, and she has a pleasant spirit about her mostly." He paused.

"Except when she comes into my brother's presence." Briar finished. "You needn't fear to say it. They are much alike those two. Neither can bear hearing the virtues of the opposite sex."

"They'd make an excellent match." Andreas said slyly and watched Sebastian nearly choke on a sip of wine.

"Only if you want to end up with a set of murders." He gasped out. "Which I'd end up dealing with thank you very much!"

"They'd talk themselves insensible." Briar protested.

"They talk very much, but only of each other don't you notice?" Andreas returned. "Our sister as much as admitted that she loved him once." He looked at Sebastian who shrugged and nodded in agreement.

Briar sighed and reluctantly admitted. "I have often thought that his despite of her is to conceal his affection." She said. "Sebastian and I both commented on it when they first met. My brother said nothing for so long though, I supposed it had died."

"Buried, well buried, on both their parts." Andreas said quietly. "I would like do a little digging."

"You would have it a match?" Sebastian nearly choked again and had to be thumped on the back by Briar.

"You would have who a match?" Their father's voice sounded behind them.

Andreas turned and regarded his father with wicked eyes. "Lorelei and Dragon." He grinned.

Amon regarded his oldest son as if he'd lost his reason, and then his face grew considering. "I think that you could do it." He smiled. "But they'll fight you every step of the way if you are obvious about it."

Sebastian chuckled lazily. "Never fear Andreas, subtlety is my game remember? We shall devise a way to see it done." He turned to Briar. "But we may require your help love. Will you?"

Briar smiled. "If you promise me your sister will make Dragon as happy as you do me, you have my support in every endeavor."

Andreas looked at Sebastian with a hard gaze. "How happy are you making Briar?" He asked protectively.

Briar poked him in the chest. "You needn't fear for your sisters virtue, or for mine." She said saucily. "Sebastian is being more gentlemanly than any of you give him credit for." Sebastian groaned under his breath about his dying day and subsided under Briar's dark green gaze.

Amon looked at the three young people and shook his head. "Sabine is awaiting you." He reminded them. "But if you can pull this off, you'll have Sune looking to her laurels, for this will equal any feat she ever achieved."

Briar shook her head and rose from her makeshift seat. Ever since then Andreas and Sebastian had been planting subtle hints between those two. The results were negligible at best. Dragon had been going about his business grimly avoiding the princess. His usual quiet and calm had been replaced with silent stoic watchfulness. He was almost unbearable to live with since Briar had innocently said that he was the one who had subtly encouraged her to give Sebastian a chance.

Briar moved further along the path scanning the ground for any signs of prey. Her uncles had taught her to hunt and in this glorious forest she could lose herself in the challenge of it. For the moment it was better to not think of Dragon and Lorelei. Her own treacherous body was increasingly eager for Sebastian's kisses, so much so that she was a bit fearful of her reaction. His embraces were so expert she would have thought his desire for her a practiced reflection but for the look in his eyes and the gentle care with which he touched her.

Sounds of the river reached her ears and she turned towards it thinking she would wash her face and hands. The sight that greeted her as she came to the water's edge was no less beautiful for the shock it gave her.

Sebastian was swimming in the river. Briar crouched in surprise on the shore and simply stared. Growing up surrounded by men and their casual nudity, and then occasional glimpses of Dragon had simply not prepared her for Sebastian.

He was beautiful. The elven blood that tipped his ears and paled his skin also seemed to make him one with his surroundings. He looked like a wild creature, but more wonderful than any beast she'd ever seen. His body was tall and slim but sleekly muscled and sculpted to perfection.

She must have made some noise, a gasp or sigh of shock, for he turned around giving her a front view of himself before she looked down modestly. Warmth spiraled through her, different somehow from the blush that burned her cheeks.

Sebastian smiled at how red her pale skin had turned and wondered if she'd been blushing for as long as she'd stood there or only begun when he turned around. "Briar, my love, I wasn't expecting you." He said with a gesture towards his surroundings. "As you can obviously see. You're welcome to join me, in fact I wish you would, but I can see that is unlikely." He began to move out of the water.

As he did so Briar inadvertently looked up and hurriedly turned her back her blush deepening. "I…" She couldn't get the words of any explanation out as to why she was here.

"You've been hunting." Sebastian observed her bow and clothing. "I don't think you'll have much luck this close to the city, but you never know." He wrapped a towel around his waist and set a hand on her shoulder. "Love, if you continue to blush so brightly you'll set your skin aflame." He teased gently.

Briar rose and would have left but for his hand. Turning hesitantly to look at him she apologized. "I'm sorry I interrupted your swim." She blinked as she took in the fact that he was covered, partially at least.

"No, don't be." His hand rose from her shoulder to cup her cheek. "I would rather have your company than that of cold water." His mouth drifted down towards hers. "Your lips will warm me, sweet." His mouth was cool from the water but still firm over hers and without a thought Briar lifted her arms to twine about his neck. His body was surprisingly warm as it pressed against hers.

"Sebastian." She gasped his name as his mouth drifted to her neck and his hands rubbed over her back. "Ohhh…" His lips were nibbling where her pulse throbbed. Vaguely she was aware of him gently lowering her to the ground and lying beside her, his mouth still delicately pressing kisses to her neck.

The prince took one of her hands and pressed it flat to his chest. "Touch me Briar Rose," he whispered. "I've been aching to feel your hands on my skin." He watched as she opened her eyes and followed the movement of her hand over his chest. The sudden flaring of heat in his eyes more than convinced her of the truth in his words.

Sebastian's hands were busy as well, his fingers softly tracing the curves of her breasts, drifting over her stomach and hips and the tops of her thighs. Her ragged breathing and tiny moans sounded wonderful to him. "Sebastian…I…" She tried to form the words to protest this exquisite intimacy but the sensations were overwhelming.

"I'll do nothing to harm you." He breathed bending down to kiss her again. "I give you my word love." His mouth drew at hers pulling a wild response from her and her hands suddenly were tugging him closer until he was pressed up against her, their legs entwined and Briar able to feel every inch of his body. Sebastian groaned and his hands slid beneath her back crushing her breasts to his chest. Without a conscious thought he rubbed himself against her and listened to her moan.

Briar felt as if she couldn't breath but she wasn't sure she really needed to anymore. What she was feeling would kill her if it wasn't satisfied but it wasn't enough. Her breath caught in a sob as she arched up against him not understanding what she needed only that somehow Sebastian could give it to her.

Sebastian's breath caught in his throat as he heard her cry out in sweet agony and he stilled against her. "Sweet gods." He muttered. "Gods, I'm a knave." He gently rolled to his side and pulled her with him, his caresses growing slower and more gentle.

"Nooo… Sebastian…I want…" Briar moaned in protest and he kissed her again, feeling her writhing against him and sternly tried to control himself.

"Oh, love you don't know what you want." He whispered. "I should never have brought you to such a fever." He cuddled her against him and realized as she squirmed that the fire he'd lit in her wouldn't subside as easily; she was far too passionate. "Briar, do you trust me?" Sebastian asked quietly.

"I trust you." Briar gasped out. "I love you Sebastian." She kissed his neck and felt him shuddering.

"I'm going to stop touching you now." He told her. "Then I'm going to turn my back. I want you to get undressed and get into the water. It will help you calm down." He kissed the top of her head. "I promise you that I won't look."

Briar began to obey him and gasped at her wobbly legs. "Sebastian, I feel so weak." Her voice was worried.

"Its all right," he said soothingly. "Desire does that, you'll be stronger in a moment." He shook his head. "Strong enough to throttle me as I deserve."

Hearing a splash of water and a gasp he surmised she was in the water. "I'm going to get dressed." He tried to keep his voice calm even as his imagination began to go wild speculating on what she looked like. He suited action to words and after a moment asked. "Are you feeling any better?"

"I ought to wring your neck!" She retorted. "First you send me up in flames and now you're trying to freeze me."

"Then you are feeling more calm." He returned.

"I don't know if calm is the right word." Briar's voice was concerned. "I feel like I'm aching everywhere and it only hurts more when I think of you touching or kissing me."

Sebastian pushed a hand through his still damp curly hair and stifled a groan. "You're telling me you're in pain?" He asked.

"Pain is the closest I can come to describing it but it's still not right. I ache, but its almost…" she sounded bewildered, "enjoyable?"

"Stay in the water a while longer." He told her, thinking that he would need a cold dousing himself soon.

"Sebastian I'm freezing!" Briar protested. "I've got to come out." He heard her moving towards the shore and wordlessly held out a towel for her, carefully keeping his eyes averted. Knowing she was standing there naked was making him crazy.

"Briar." His voice sounded as if he was strangling and she looked at his stiff back curiously. "Please hurry and dress. I'm going over the edge here."

"It's all right, I've got my tunic on." Briar told him.

Sebastian turned and felt his heart triple its beat. "Briar, you have only your tunic on." He pointed out. He couldn't seem to stop looking at her long exquisitely shaped white legs. Before he could stop himself or even think twice he had pulled her into his embrace. His mouth moved over hers as if he wanted to devour her.

Briar uttered a tiny shocked cry and heard it turn into a moan. "Ohhh…Sebastian." She felt his mouth hot and insistent on her neck, his hands squeezing her hips and lifting her up so he could suckle at her breasts.

Briar moaned softly and arched her back thrusting her breasts up to his mouth. Without knowing it she wrapped her legs around his waist, pressing her mound to his groin, and she felt as well as heard him groan out his pleasure.

Sebastian sank to his knees holding her against him and then eased down so she lay on her back on the grass cradling him between her thighs. He was muttering, speaking in his low sensual voice, telling her how beautiful she was, how he loved her, even as he parted the laces of her tunic and fastened his mouth to her breast.

Briar gasped and moaned, pushing against him, feeling him rubbing against her. His mouth was making her feel all liquid inside, burning like a volcano's center. "Ohh…" She moaned. "Oh love, I, ahhh… Sebastian!" She cried out suddenly as she felt something ignite wonderfully inside her. And what he was doing seemed right and perfect but still not enough even though she was trembling in the aftermath and kissing his face and hair in adoration.

Sebastian felt her, watched her as she went up in flames against him and marveled at her. His own reaction to her climax left him panting and his hands shaking. "So loving and passionate, my sweet love, yes." He sat up and held her against him trying to soothe her.

"Sebastian." She gasped out finally. "That…" She rubbed her face against his shoulder like a child.

"That was your awakening my love." Sebastian said quietly and Briar was shocked to hear sorrow in his voice.

"Was it bad?" She raised her head and met his gaze apprehensively. "Was I not good at it?"

Sebastian smiled at her so gently Briar could have wept with the beauty of it. "You were wonderful." He said softly. "Passionate and responsive and exquisitely sweet. To feel you against me was the closest I've been to eternity."

"That's how I felt." Briar agreed. "Then why are you sad?" Her fingers threaded through his curls.

"Because I forced it on you, took advantage of you before you were ready." Sebastian said soberly. "You're so special, you deserve better than to be attacked and mauled and forced to pleasure." His disgust with himself was evident.

"Oh Sebastian." Briar shook her head. "My love, you didn't rape me you know." She smiled adoringly. "And you only frightened me a bit because what I was feeling was so intense. But you made me feel so loved and beautiful, as if you couldn't resist me. You were very good to me. You didn't take the advantage you could have in my mindless state. Both times you left me my virginity."

Sebastian closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her body wrapped around his. "You deserve more than what I gave you." He said finally in a quiet voice. "You deserve rose petals and candlelight, silk sheets and a soft bed." He berated himself.

"Sebastian." She regarded him with some exasperation. "I was with you. You awoke me." She kissed his cheek. "You're the most important part of it, not a scene of seduction and luxury." She regarded him quizzically. "I do wonder though, why… Why did I feel so empty? Even though you were holding me, I felt hollow and alone."

Sebastian hugged her a little tighter. "At the risk of sounding self serving and manipulative." He began wryly. "You felt alone because we didn't come together." He pulled back to look at her face and saw confusion. "The word come when used in this context means to climax, orgasm, or reach completion. Its what you did, that explosion inside of you."

"And you didn't?" Briar immediately looked guilty. "I'm sorry. How can I give you…"

"Oh love." Sebastian kissed her affectionately. "My sweet innocent Rose." He kissed her again. "You could feel me against you, hard, while you were rubbing?" He reminded her and she nodded pink tingeing her cheeks again. "And I'm not hard like that now am I?" She shook her head consideringly after she wiggled against him and regarded him in awe as his member stiffened against her. "Men get hard like that when they are aroused and want to come. Normally I can control myself better than this." He paused when he saw she wasn't following him. Finally he decided to say plainly the effect she had on him. "Sweet, you excited me so much, that when I felt you climaxing against me, I climaxed too. Normally a man who has any amount of control needs more stimulation than that, but you have an amazing effect on me." He shifted her against him, rubbing over her. "As you can feel."

"But if you came too, then we came together." Briar frowned. "That doesn't explain why I felt so alone, if you came with me." She looked up at him seriously. "I really made you…" She ducked her head shyly.

"Oh Briar." He smiled and pulled her closer, cuddling her against him. "My love, yes. You really did, just by moving against me like that. And I hope for your sake that I can learn to resist you a tiny bit, or you'll grow bored with me very quickly." He sighed. "My love, the reason you felt alone, and the reason I felt the same way, is because I'm meant to be inside you when we climax. That's what I meant by together."

"I see." Briar mumbled against him. "At least I understand the second part. I don't see how I could become bored with you, because you find me exciting."

Sebastian chuckled. "Because love, if I can't control myself, then I can't pleasure you as much as you deserve." He told her. "Even now, I can feel how wet you are, your honey on my breeches and I want you. I get excited just looking at your sweet smile."

Briar looked up at him. "Sebastian, these feelings, the way I feel when you touch me, they're not going to go away are they?" She asked softly. "I mean, you said I would calm down, but I'm always going to remember and want you to touch me like this."

"Yes." Sebastian said soberly. "Which is why you ought to wring my neck, because I woke you to this before you were ready. And you're left with the results of my need."

"Quite frankly my prince of shadows, I don't think I would ever have been ready. I would have had to understand what a climax was, and no one but you could have made me understand. So now I know, and now I'll deal with it." She grinned at him. "I'm just worried because I know I'm going to want to do this again, but I don't want you to think I'm teasing you or anything. I adore your touch, but I don't know how to please you."

Sebastian stroked her face. "Oh my Briar." He smiled at her. "I know you're not ready to become mine completely. But we can do what is commonly called necking and petting." He smiled. "There are several ways to pleasure each other which don't require me being inside you."

"Show me?" Briar's hands slid through his hair to his shoulders. "I want to make you feel the way I did." She looked down and murmured shyly. "Maybe I could become accustomed to your body and I won't be so afraid of giving myself to you completely."

"Briar, you know that no matter what, I won't stop loving you." Sebastian said seriously. "I don't expect you to become an experienced court lady, with bedroom games and tricks. All I want is my Briar Rose." He kissed her lips softly. "I want my Rose to enjoy me, at her own pace, not as quickly as you think someone else would do."

"Sebastian, how can you be so patient with me?" She wailed. "Even I'm losing patience with me. And I know you're not used to going without…without…" She threw her hands up in the air in exasperation with herself.

"My Briar." Sebastian drew her hands down and held them in his. "I will be the first to admit that I pursued and caught a great many women. And no, I am not used to celibacy." He kissed her knuckles. "But since I saw you, I cannot find any interest in other women. I desire you. I want you desperately, so much so that when you finally share your body with me, we'll need both herb and spells to prevent a baby, because I won't be able to stop myself from giving you my seed."

He met her gaze with firm dark blue eyes. "I love you. No matter how long I have to wait. I don't want anyone but you. And you should never feel guilty about that. If you gave yourself to me, because you feel that you are making me suffer and not because you wished to share your body, then you make a mockery of the gift." One of his hands stroked through the black silk of her hair. "You and I, are already one, here." He touched his heart, "and here." He touched hers. "I will wait for you, my Rose. There is no other way for me. Even if you told me to seek out a mistress to expend my lusts upon and gain relief, it would do no good. She would not be you, and I would still ache for you."

"Oh Sebastian." Briar smiled tearfully. "I love you. I know you are not pushing me, I am pushing myself. I want to give myself to you, but I want to do it for the right reasons, as you said. I don't ever want to blame you in my heart because I wasn't ready. I want you to take joy in me, and I in you, when we are finally together."

He smiled. "We will." He said simply. Gently he lifted her off of him and knelt looking at her for a moment. "We'd better get cleaned up." He said wryly. "My mother and sisters like to swim here too."

Briar looked at him in horror as she heard voices coming through the trees. "Your breeches are stained." She whispered. "Your mother will know."

Sebastian grinned. "Not if you put on your cannons quickly she won't." He laced up his tunic and left it hanging loosely over his torso and groin. He pulled on his jerkin and left it unlaced. "Now I just look like I don't want to get all neat and tucked again after a lazy swim."

Briar shot him a glare as she pulled on her cannons and hurriedly laced them. "I'm still all wet. Will that go away?" She muttered the question at him.

"You'd dry eventually." Sebastian murmured. "But when you return to your rooms you may wish to bathe." He plucked a leaf from her hair. "Stand still love." He turned her so that her back was to his approaching parent and kissed her lingeringly, his nimble fingers lacing up her tunic as he did. "There, now she simply thinks I was stealing a kiss before she got here."

"No doubt." Briar said dryly. "The fact that we both look like we've been tumbling about in the grass will certainly be overlooked."

"Of course." Sebastian grinned. "My mother isn't a fool. She can see we're in love. And if she thought for a minute that I was pushing you into something you're not ready for she'd challenge me and give me a wound deep enough to keep me out of mischief for a while."

"She wouldn't!" Briar looked at him.

"Well maybe not a wound, but enough bruises to serve as a reminder." Sebastian chuckled and hugged her from behind.

Briar looked at the three women who were approaching. "The women of your family are so beautiful." She said wistfully. "All white and gold, so pale."

Sebastian stroked her hair. "But how insipid all that pale coloring is, when compared to a wealth of contrasts. Midnight black hair and skin as white as theirs is. Eyes so dark a green I could fall into them. Pink lips and black lashes that curl over your cheeks when you lower your eyes modestly." He wound her hair around his hand. "Whenever I look at you, I never wish to take my eyes away."

Briar blushed and looked up at him. "But your family also has contrasts." She argued softly. "Skin so white even the palest gold seems dark in comparison, and eyes like precious gems."

"Briar, Sebastian." Sabine smiled her greeting. "Are you joining us or leaving?" She asked eyeing the two of them appraisingly.

"Actually Briar was going hunting and since I am finished with my swim I thought I might join her." Sebastian lied smoothly.

The expression in his mother's eyes told him she didn't believe a word but she'd let the tale stand for now. "It seems to be the day for escaping the city. Your father and Andreas also found occupations away from the palace."

Briar's mouth tilted in a smile. "My brother is acting intolerably, even towards me." She commented. "I can only imagine the war of words being enacted now."

Asrai laughed. "No, they are avoiding each other still. But Lorelei isn't happy."

Morgana seemed to lag behind the conversation a bit. "Hunting?" She didn't sound enthusiastic.

"I don't truly expect to be successful." Briar shrugged. "But the bow was my father's and my uncle taught me to use it. I like to hunt, it's a challenge, and I have to carry whatever I kill so I usually stick with rabbits or pheasant."

"Even the elves hunt." Sabine reminded her oldest. "And in just such a way." She looked at Briar. "Selena smile on your hunt."

Sebastian grinned and took Briar's hand. "Yes, Mother." He kissed Sabine's cheek, brushed a kiss on the top of each of his sisters heads and tugged at his sweetheart until they were away from the river.

"Do you really want to go hunting with me?" Briar asked quietly once they were out of earshot. "You've never mentioned liking it."

"I'm not all that good at it." Sebastian admitted cheerfully. "But I can move quietly, and I like to spend time with you. If you'd said you were going home to do laundry I would still have offered to help."

She grinned at him and shook her head in mock dismay.