As surprising as it might be, this absurdly long one-shot was originally meant to be a mere 500 words, 2000 max, instead of the thousands upon thousands it turned out to be. I also have come to realize that there are several JatD fics that revolve around roses, but I assure you I didn't not steal the idea, nor draw inspiration from any of these other stories. I, in all truth, came up with this idea at three AM several weeks ago, after assisting my friend write the pilot for his television show and have been typing this up ever since. This is my first attempt at a JatD fic, and I'm very pleased with the result, even if it is ridiculously long for a one-shot. Jane is such a wonderful character to write, especially with the time period. I always wanted to see more of the whole knight versus gender aspect, so I think this satisfies that need. I hope you enjoy.
Rating: T, although it could be K.
Pairings: Jane/Gunther, some Rake/Pepper.
Jane Turnkey was not the kind of girl you wooed with flowers and poetry. In all truth, she found the giving of bloomed vegetation a ridiculous custom, and she hardly had any interest in poetry unless it revolved around dragons and the glory of knights of old. She loved the exhilaration of sword play and the rush of energy that coursed through her as she held her own in a fight. She loved strength and power, and it was only on the training field that she felt anything that could be considered heart fluttering – and she was sure it wasn't that same flutter that Pepper spoke so often of. Flowers were things ladies fawned over receiving, and Jane refused to call herself a lady. She was a woman, female to the end, but she would never allow her gender to tell her what is proper. She was also a knight, at least she would be soon, and knights do not receive something as blasé and boring as poetry; well, that's what she thought. Whether or not the other knight's accepted poetry as a fine form of wooing she knew not, but she simply could not be bothered. Love was hardly the top of her agenda.
Yet, it had been a crisp spring morning that someone dared leave a bouquet of fresh cut, white roses on her doorstep. Upon leaving for morning duties she had found them; she had almost stepped on them as she left her quarters. The bouquet itself was unimpressive, the stems were all of drastically uneven lengths and many thorns still remained untouched. The petals of the blossom that touched the stone ground were wilted and damaged from the cold first light air and the hard floors. At first, she was sure it was a joke – a prank by her friends who must have been very bored to even think of the thought of leaving her flowers. She was sure of it in fact, until, of course, Rake's mortified screams broke through the air.
Instinctively, she rushed down to her friend, bouquet in hand, and Dragon hurrying before her. When Jane reached the garden, she was met with an unfortunate site. Rake was craned over, hyperventilating, with Pepper at his back desperately trying to soothe him. Below them both was Rake's white rose bush, chopped and mostly destroyed, branches striking out like welts on the shrub. Only a few of the delicate flowers remained untouched. It was truly a sore sight. She looked down at the roses in her hand and glowered at them. Who ever had sent them to her had inadvertently caused harm to one of her friends, and that was purely unacceptable. Even worse, they could have done it on purpose, and laid them at her doorstep as a claim of victory, which was cause for much alarm in Jane.
And so, she decided that such an act could not go unpunished, and she would bring the fool who cut up Rake's garden to justice. She spent much of her time during morning duties thinking of how to accomplish the feat. Between chores, she kept herself up on the situation, but no new information ever came to rise. The castle, however, was buzzing with the news that someone had cut up the gardener's precious roses to lay them at the feet of the first female knight of the realm. The rumours had already begun to get out of hand. Even Sir Ivon had made a small but embarrassing comment as she assisted Smithy clean out Pig's sty. It had turned her a shade of red more brilliant than her hair under the summer's sun.
But, beyond the side-handed comments, the absurd rumours, and the strange glances she received at midday meal, Jane knew she had to focus. Someone had cut the flowers from Rake's garden – and Jane knew the only reason he had grown a rose bush in the first place was to impress Pepper. The young girl adored roses, and always raved from the minute the flowers started to sprout on how lovely a soup the first blossoms made. Neither Rake nor Pepper could have wrecked the bush. Jane snorted lightly; they were much too infatuated with the other to let them down or do anything that could hurt them.
She looked down the long table in the kitchen where many of the castle staff and live-ins has congregated for the meal. The culprit had to have a position in the castle. No one else would have access to the garden so early in the morning, and the castle was hardly a public area. Sir Ivon and Sir Theodore were much to old to be pulling such cruel and childish pranks, and she hoped were old enough still not to be interested in her now that she was of marrying age. Smithy could have done it, but she let the thought slide. He was much too caring and busy to do so. Gunther had the emotional, or lack there of, capacity to do such a hurtful thing, and he would know just how much the destruction of the flower bed and leaving the evidence on her doorstep would bother her. She bit her cheek between bites of cooked carrot. It couldn't have been Gunther, he lived in the village. He wouldn't have been on the castle grounds early enough to commit the deed. It couldn't have been the Prince or Princess either. Cuthbert refused to leave his cot before the sun was full in the sky, and Lavinia was too kind of a soul.
That left Jester. Jane glanced at him from the side of her eyes, before continuing to eat. It was no secret to her that Jester had held feelings for her for some time now. It was a more than apparent fact. And he was the type of boy who respected such beautiful things as rose blooms and would see them as a wonderful gift, no matter the receiver. If he had sent the bouquet, then the repercussions of ruining the plant would have been an unfortunate circumstance due to his never cutting flowers before. Jane couldn't believe she was even contemplating Jester's guilt in the matter, but he fit the qualities, all except for one… Jester was shy with things to do with the heart. He could sing in front of a crowd with no hesitation, but she had seen the way he froze up when even the mention of taking a date to the Summers Ball came up in conversation. Even leaving a bouquet with no message in front of her room would be much too bold a move for him.
Besides, he was also much too fond of Pepper's roses and cream soup.
The rest of the day went on excruciatingly long. Jane had exhausted through her list of suspects until none remained, and just like during her morning duties the only information she heard to do with the incident were more rumours about a secret someone leaving her flowers. She would have thought the massacre of Rake's rose bush would have gone over worse, but the only thing anyone seemed to pay attention to were the silly lies being spread around the castle.
"Honestly," she spat, thrusting her sword at the practice dummy – even her sword wasn't lightening the situation for her, "You would think people might have a little more interest in the fact Rake's poor rose bush was slaughtered!"
Dragon heartily laughed, "The short lives are interested all right, but not in the flowers. They keep gossiping on you and your supposed secret beau. Some of them even tried to ask me about it."
"That's dreadful," she moaned despairingly.
"You short lives make such a big deal of mating," Dragon mused with laughter, "Now cows, they have it right. One cow meets another cow, they 'moo', and live happily ever after. Simple. With you short lives, it's all drama, and crying, and gossip."
"I wish we were as simple as cows sometimes," Jane replied, taking a final slash at the dummy, and putting her sword away in its sheath. The sun was in the final stretch of setting and the bright colours of the sunset had dissipated. Jane bid Dragon good night and left for her room. She wasn't about to admit defeat in the matter of the roses, but she knew she couldn't make herself mad over it either. She'd still keep her ears and eyes open, and see if any other information would arise. If it didn't, Rake could always grow another rose bush, not that it was a preferred ending. She had duties and training to focus on, not some beef brain of a prankster, or even a secret admirer to worry of. Rake had left earlier, with Pepper accompanying him, to buy new rose sprouts at the market. The first roses and cream soup would be much later in the season than normal, but all would eventually be as it should.
And Jane had predicted right, for the most part. It had only taken a week for the castle to nearly cease their wagging tongues. It had taken a few many more for her circle to stop teasing or fussing over it. Jester had asked more questions than Jane could count or keep track of. Pepper, somehow, had become worse than him, once she got over the horrible tragedy of Rake's white rose bush. She pestered Jane frequently with ridiculous questions, and prods, and far too many romantic comments. However, the most troublesome people were her mother Adeline, and the young Princess Lavinia. Jane's mother was an absolute wreck with joy. Every chance she got, she tormented Jane with pitiful questions which she'd heard all before, and so much talk of weddings and grandchildren. The Princess was the same with her, only more interested in the mystery and romance behind it all. Lavinia had recently begun to be showered in proposals from princes in other lands. Although she was not marrying age yet, it was close enough a birthday that King Caradoc had to start accepting royal visits from other kingdoms so his daughter might find a suitable, noble husband. Needless to say, with how much weddings and romance were now on the young Princess's mind, it was a topic she loved to speak of. But with time, all the silly questions, and rumours, and even the very noticeable side glances at her had stopped.
Jane was ecstatic the day when no one uttered a word to her about admirers and beaus or white roses. Even Gunther had stopped his horrid teasing off her. While as they both grew older, his taunts became more play than out right insults, and hers followed suit, she found she could loosely, very loosely, call him her friend. He no longer fought her on her ability to be a knight, though she knew there were days when he wanted to. In a word, he had become bearable. Not yet pleasant, although Jane swore she could see that coming up on the horizon, but bearable.
Life went on, and slowly the rumours and even the flowers at her doorstep were forgotten. The castle was frightfully busy from then on. Mere days after the fiasco had been put to rest, the first, of what Jane assumed would be many, princes interested in the young princess's hand came to the castle. With noble guests staying within the walls, everyone was given more to do to keep up with the increased demand. Both Jane and Gunther's morning duties were increased, and usually by the time they were finally finished it was late afternoon. Jester and Rake had both taken to helping Pepper in the kitchen when their work for the day was done – she was practically running herself ragged cooking. Dragon had chosen to stay in his cave until they left. He insisted that no matter how much the new nobles wished for his appearance, he would not be making one.
It was the peak of the prince's visit when Rake's new rose bush bloomed with the most beautiful roses the castle had seen in a long time. The yellow flowers had the castle in joy. Pepper was especially excited, and when Jane came down for the morning meal, she found Pepper waltzing around her kitchen. She had placed bowls of porridge at the table, and had already begun to work on the food for the midday meal. With so many people in the castle, she couldn't waist a second, but even the sheer amount of cooking needed to supply the castle with meals couldn't dampen her high spirits.
"Yellow petals," she enthused, "Can you believe it Jane? Yellow! Is there a prettier colour than yellow for a flower?"
Jane smiled as she swallowed a spoon full of porridge, "I can't say Pepper."
"Daffodils, Buttercups," she mused as she kneaded a roll of bread dough she'd been working on, "Why even Dandelions!"
Rake walked into the kitchen, grinning like a child at play. Pepper ran to him and threw herself onto him in an endearing hug, and accidentally covering him in flour. Jane looked at the two of them and laughed. They had always been so obvious, yet the other had never caught on. She caught a glance at Gunther and Jester, who were both shovelling the porridge into their mouths. Neither one of them looked up to Rake and Pepper, which was only a little strange. She would have expected Gunther to scowl at the two, and Jester had always loved to poke fun at them.
"Rake, your roses are so stunning. The whole castle is in a stir over them – well, maybe not the whole castle, but I have heard some rather lovely compliments," Pepper told him happily.
He took her hands and held them tight as he spoke, "Does this mean we shall finally get a batch of your roses and cream soup?"
"You shall get as many batches as your roses can make," she replied giggly.
Jane finished her porridge and went to find Sir Theodore for her list of chores. As usual, the list was extensive, and Jane found that when she'd finally finished them it was very late in the afternoon per usual as of late. Her body was sore and her joints were a lot more stiff than usual. She looked at the nearly clean horse stable and sighed. It was her final job of the day, and due to the extra work Sir Theodore and Sir Ivan had both agreed training was not necessary that day. Jane looked over to Gunther at the other end of the stables. He stretched out his back, a satisfying pop hitting her ears, and he slowly went back to cleaning the pen. Knowing Gunther was in pain as well lit her mood up a little. He couldn't go teasing her on her sore body if his was as well – that was something to look forward to.
With summer on its way, that night was hot and humid, but Jane couldn't care less. She collapsed on her bed, snuggling into her down pillows, and silently thanking the world for the creation of sleep. She desperately hoped the nobles would soon leave. She was asleep in a matter of minutes. She hadn't even bothered to change into her night dress.
Dawn came too soon for her liking. She pushed herself off her cot, wincing under the morning's harsh sun and the aches in her body restricting her speed. No sooner than after she stood up did the sound of Rake's cries of frustration and disappointment join her in her room. She ran to her door and pulled it open, worried of what might be behind it. And there, on her doorstep once more, was a bouquet of the garden's roses. Just like last time, they were horribly cut and many thorns still decorated the stems. She sadly picked the blooms up in her hands and began to make her way to Rake.
Everything was the same as when the culprit first struck Rake's garden. No one saw a thing, and no one looked as if they were guilty. Now she truly wished that humans were as simple as cows. Her mother caught her on her way to the garden, and twirled Jane around once she caught sight of the yellow roses in her hands.
"Jane," she practically sung as she spun her daughter in her arms, "I knew it. Someone must be quite smitten with you."
Jane broke free from her mother, "I wish they wouldn't be."
"Oh, don't say such ridiculous things, Jane," Adeline said, trailing along with her daughter as Jane continued to walk to the garden.
"It's not a ridiculous thing, Mother," Jane insisted, gripping the flowers tighter and accidentally pricking her finger on one of the thorns, "Who ever is doing this should be stopped."
"You received flowers; that is not a bad thing. It's a very good thing. Any lady would be happy to be given flowers, never mind two bouquets of roses!"
"I am not a lady," Jane persisted, "I am a knight."
"Can you not be both, Jane," Adeline begged at her back, causing Jane to stop and look at her.
She was about to answer her before deciding against it, as she was sure angering her Mother further was a bad idea, and continued to the garden without a word. Adeline didn't follow her, but retreated back to the castle to help attend to the nobles. When she finally made it to the garden, she found Rake, once again, staring pitifully at his abused roses and Pepper at his back comforting him. Jane approached them silently, and joined Pepper behind Rake. Jane handed her the bouquet carefully, and Pepper looked at the blossoms, distraught. She rubbed Rake's back with her free hand until his breathing calmed.
Pepper looked down at the yellow flowers in her hand and sighed, "I think I can salvage some, maybe for a small pot of soup. I just hoped they weren't picked too long ago."
Jane accompanied her to the kitchen. She spent a few minutes trying to start a fire in Pepper's hearth before she actually managed to get a spark going. It would have been so much easier if Dragon were around, but he had kept to his word, and with the nobles in the castle, he was no where to be found. Jane watched as Pepper plucked the petals off of every rose, tossing those which had been ruined by the stone floors to the side. Jane wished she had the skills to help Pepper in even attempting to make a pot of her soup, but she knew her cooking skills left a lot to be desired. Even working with flour was trouble for her.
"Jane," Pepper asked sadly as she finished picking petals, "Do you have any idea who could be putting Rake's roses outside your room?"
"No," Jane admitted sourly.
"Do you," Pepper's voice was unnaturally quiet, "Do think it could have been Rake?"
Jane snorted, "I am positive it is not Rake."
"Why," Pepper turned to her friend with water in her eyes, "You said you don't know, so it could be him."
"Pepper," Jane soothed, walking over to her friend and taking her hands firmly, "I know it is not Rake. Just look at the flowers, the stems are all uneven and the thorns haven't all been taken off. Not to mention the shambles the rose bush is always left in."
"I suppose you are right," Pepper admitted, "but why would he plant roses if not to give to someone. Perhaps he is just covering his tracks."
"He does plant roses for someone," Jane told her starkly, "but not for me. He plants them for you."
"Maybe," Pepper replied, before slipping out from Jane's grasp and going back to cooking. She looked over her shoulder and spoke up again, louder and undoubtedly happier, "Perhaps, it was Jester. Surely, you must know how he feels about you, and he has never dealt with flowers before, so he wouldn't know how to care for them."
"I am aware, but Jester has never been so forward before with his actions. What could have changed?"
"You are of marrying age," Pepper spoke as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "It is only a matter of time before someone asks for your hand. Who wouldn't want to marry the first female knight?"
"My Mother often acts as if no one would," Jane shrugged, "but I am fine either way. I have much better things to worry about than love and marriage and giving my Mother grandchildren."
"You can't mean that, Jane," Pepper said with shock, "It is a perfectly wonderful thing to be in love."
"It is also a perfectly wonderful thing to be a knight," Jane retorted.
"Can you not have both," She asked sorrowfully.
Jane groaned unhappily, "You sound like my Mother."
"Maybe you should listen to her then," Pepper mused, delicately mincing the yellow blooms on her cutting board, "Who else could it be? It could be Smithy, but I could have sworn he was quite head over heels for the butcher's daughter in the village. Of course, feelings do change."
"I cannot imagine it's Smithy," Jane told her as she watched Pepper work over her shoulder, "He would never take roses from Rake without permission, or turn his bushes to twigs."
"Perhaps it's Gunther," Pepper joked, and collected the minced petals into a small bowl. She stopped mid motion, realization spilling into her and turned to Jane behind her with surprise and wonder on her face, "Perhaps it is Gunther."
"You must be mocking me," Jane said stiffly and uncomfortably, leaning against the nearest counter.
Pepper smiled sheepishly at her and replied, "I was at first, but think about it. You two have become rather civil with each other over the last few years, and yet you still bicker like children who cannot voice their feelings. It would be rather poetic wouldn't it? For the person you hate to become the person you hold dearest."
"I do not enjoy poetry, and I prefer not to live it."
"Jane," Pepper scolded, playfully beginning to boil a small pot of cream over the fire Jane had made. She pulled Jane off the counter, forced a wooden spoon into her hand and instructed her on how to stir the cream as so it wouldn't curdle. Jane did as she was told, wearily. She looked at the cook as Pepper began to chopped vegetables and herbs into a mix on her cutting board, "I think you two would make a lovely pair."
Jane froze up and nearly dropped the spoon in the warm cream. Pepper rushed over and put the spoon back into her hand hard, "Stir, Jane!"
Jane continued to stir the cream with the spoon, only violently so. Pepper scolded her with her eyes when she dropped her mixed greens and spices into the thickening cream and took over. Even when it came to the simple process of mixing Jane was a hazard in the kitchen. Pepper sighed, she should have known better. She spooned out the curdled film that had rose to the top, no thanks to Jane's temper getting the better of her.
"What I mean is," Pepper announced to her with a light heart, "you compliment each other."
"How do we compliment each other," Jane snapped, "We hate each other."
"Don't lie, Jane. You know very well you don't hate him. Besides, he's the only one that would be able to deal with that temper of yours. He does it everyday already. If you ever yelled at Jester, or Rake, even Smithy, I can't say they'd know what to do."
"I wouldn't have a temper, if he didn't bring it out of me," Jane spat, watching Pepper add the rose petals and a few other ingredients she couldn't place into the soup.
"That is the most ridiculous thing I've heard all day," Pepper giggled, blending the soup with care, and smiling as it boiled and bubbled in the metal pot.
"Even more ridiculous than the notion of Rake ruining his own rosebush to leave me flowers?"
"I didn't hear that… I said it. There is a difference."
"I'm sure," Jane chuckled.
"All I'm saying is if you both could manage to put your anger a side for a moment, you might find you have more in common than you think," Pepper said as she smiled over the bubbly soup. Jane rolled her eyes and helped Pepper move the pot off the fire – at least she was helpful with the heavy lifting.
"You are mistaken, Pepper," Jane told her, bluntly and plainly.
"What makes you so sure it wasn't Gunther?"
"Simple. He lives in the village."
Pepper shifted on the spot, confused, "No. He doesn't."
"Of course he does," Jane replied, "He lives in the village with that horrible man he calls 'Father'."
"You shouldn't talk ill of someone who can't defend themselves," Pepper insisted, "although, Magnus is… no, it isn't right. Even if it is true… but Gunther doesn't live in the village, not as of late. His father is overseas, and while he is, Sir Ivon talked the King in allowing Gunther to live on the castle grounds."
"How do you know all this," Jane asked flabbergasted, the information settling heavy on the pit of her stomach.
Pepper laughed lightly, finally spooning the fresh roses and cream soup into as many wooden bowls as she could – which was an unfortunate two, "The maids are quite the gossipers."
Jane slipped away from Pepper when the staff started to pour into the kitchen for the first meal of the day. Pepper was busy handing out bowls of oats, which had unfortunately gone cold from being prepared the night before, but it was still edible. It also kept her from talking of such silly things such as Gunther laying flowers at her door. Such an idea was stranger than the astounding rumours that had been spread around the castle after the first incident. Pepper meant well, she always did, but some things were just as they seemed, and Jane was sure the relationship, if you could even call it that, she had with Gunther was one of those things. As she took a seat at the table, beside a very talkative Jester who, like Pepper, wanted to get all her ideas and thoughts on the flowers, she caught a glimpse of Pepper sneaking Rake a bowl of fresh soup and smiled softly as his face immediately lit up. Jane didn't answer any of Jester's questions; a little afraid she'd end up in the same down spiral conversation she had with Pepper.
Her eyes glanced up at Gunther, who was quickly eating his oats with a look of distaste on his face. He was unbeknownst to her stares. She pursed her lips in thought. Without an alibi Gunther had become her only suspect, which meant if he had left the rose blooms for her then it could truly be an unusually cruel prank. While he had aged and was now the ripe and supposedly mature age of 19, she had no doubt a horribly mean joke could be his doing. To her, there was no possibility he was above doing such a thing. On the other hand, if it was him, then there was the slight possibility that the blossoms were meant as a sort of favour, and thus, that would mean that Gunther Breech, the boy who taunted her since childhood and brought out a rage in her that seemed to be made specifically for him, was indeed smitten with her. The thought sent a strange chill up her spine and Jane tore her eyes from her fellow squire and onto her morning meal. She forced her energy and thoughts into her food, eating it with a fiery passion to keep her mind from wandering places she certainly couldn't have it wandering to. Even the fact she truly couldn't stand cold oats did not halt her from shovelling it down.
After the meal, Jane sped from the kitchen and for once was glad for her morning duties. While many overlapped with her rumour struck friends, and other obnoxious staff who couldn't keep their mouths closed, she'd still have time to herself – time to try and figure out this peculiar predicament. Maybe she had over looked something. It couldn't have possibly been Gunther, assuming, of course, the roses were a romantic gesture. Pepper seemed so sure that it was a gift and not a joke, but Jane was scared to take Pepper's word for it. Pepper was too much of a hopeless romantic to see it as anything else. She needed a completely unbiased opinion in this strange matter – a clear point of view from someone trustworthy. Jester was almost as frustrated in the matter as she was. Rake was either in a spurt of anger over the murder of his rose bushes, or in one of depression. Gunther would just poke fun at her, and she preferred not to have a heart to heart with her prime suspect.
Smithy had no real objections in the destruction of Rake's blooms. He had no reason to destroy them, nor did he show any real interest in their destruction other than a few comforting words to Rake. Jane unconsciously walked to the Blacksmith's workshop while she thought. She smiled uncontrollably as her belief in her blond friend intensified. Smithy was beyond perfect. He was wise and kind, he'd listen to what she had to say and wouldn't ask ridiculous questions; at least she deeply hoped he wouldn't. He was a complete outsider to the situation. He was the only neutral candidate. Jane took a lap around the workshop upon first arrival, only to find it missing her unprejudiced friend.
She groaned; he was still at morning meal. She had eaten so quickly and then ran off; he would probably be a little while. She sat down on the nearest object – a spare anvil kept beside his crafting tools. She waited impatiently. The early summer sun beat down on her.
When Smithy finally arrived, full and satisfied with his oats, he was greeted by a slightly frantic Jane. She grabbed his forearms and was forced to sit on the anvil Jane had but recently vacated. Before he had a chance to speak or question her, she was off. She paced as she spoke, arms wildly flying around her. She told him of everything from the roses' conditions to her maddening conversation with Pepper to all her theories and suspects, or as it was suspect. Smithy sat and watched, amused by her passion. When she finished, breathing laboured from her speedy rant, she turned to him and nearly begged for his ideas, nearly of course, as knights do not beg.
"I don't know what you want of me," he explained, standing up off his anvil and taking place in front of her.
"Anything," she replied forcefully.
He chuckled softly, "Well, I believe I should not tell you."
"Because it is not my place. This has much more to do with you than me," he told her calmly, "It only matters what you think and what you do about it."
"But," she stuttered angrily, "I just do not know what to do. Rake is surly going to go out and buy another rose sprout and plant it. Then when it grows I am afraid I shall receive another bouquet of his flowers on my doorstep. Then more positively stupid rumours will start to run amuck over the castle again, as they have already from this morning I'm sure."
"You don't know what to do," he asked, "you do realize who you are? You're Jane."
"I am quite aware of my name, Smithy," she answered tiredly; this was not going to way she hoped.
"No," he smiled, speaking comfortingly, "You are a female knight. Your best friend is a dragon. You have a personality that outshines the rest. You are bold and strong and have an astoundingly hot temper and have always known exactly what you want and have gone after it no matter the consequence. Since when don't you know what to do or worry about what others say?"
"Since everyone suddenly became more interested in my romantic life than anything else," she spat.
He laughed at her again, "I may not be in a place to tell you what I think, but I believe you deserve to know what you think."
"I do know what I think."
"No, you are confused. You have so much going on in your head you cannot organize it. Allow me to help you with that."
She narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him, "Alright."
"What do you think the purpose is," he asked gently, "behind the roses? Is it a joke, or a sincere gift from someone?"
"Everyone seems convinced that it's a gift," Jane mumbled harshly.
"But what do you think?"
"What do I think," she repeated softly, closing her eyes in shame when she spoke up again, "I think… I do not know."
"You do," Smithy pushed, "it's in you somewhere."
"I hope it is a cruel joke," she started, wincing as she talked, "but if it were I do not understand what could be accomplished by repeating it. Which leads me to believe… it is not a joke. But someone cannot be infatuated with me, Smithy! It is too embarrassing, too absurd, too…"
"Scary," he finished and Jane glared at him in return.
"I am a knight," she growled, "I do not get scared."
"Jane the knight may not, but Jane my friend is. It is perfectly acceptable. Love is unfamiliar territory."
"I do not need nor do I want love. I am fine without," she insisted.
"What if the person at the end of this all is who you wanted it to be," Smithy nonchalantly asked and turned to start a fire in his metal ore oven. Jane stood behind him, flabbergasted. She did not need anyone to be at the end of this, and she was fine with things as they were. Smithy wasn't unbiased, he was the same as everyone else, prodding into her social life and deeming she was missing something she was not even looking for in the first place. He was as ludicrous as the rest of them.
"There is no one I want it to be," Jane snarled.
"What makes you so sure? I moment ago you were not sure what you knew at all," he retorted and her gut flared up angrily.
"I know because I am not like Pepper and Rake," she explained, suppressing her anger as best she could, though she could tell from Smithy's small laughs that it was still showing in her voice, "I do not stare at someone and lose the ability to speak, or have my stomach turn to knots, or feel my heart skip a beat."
"Are you sure? There is not a single time when you feel so completely elated your mind becomes fuzzy and you need to focus to keep control of yourself? When the world seems to disappear because suddenly nothing else matters?"
Jane's mind flashed to the training field. With sword in hand, she conquered. Gunther always fought with as equal a passion as her own and for that she admired him. He tried her with his sword in the only way she adored. The feeling of hitting the ground and getting back up again, dirty and bruised often enough, but strong. She supposed love was how she could describe that feeling.
As if he were reading her mind and decided to twist her thoughts around, Smithy smirked to himself, "Gunther has grown into a handsome lad. You two would make a fine pair."
Jane's mouth dropped and she quickly stumbled over some words to rebel against his stupidity, "I thought you weren't in a place to give me your opinion!"
"I am not giving you an opinion," Smithy replied bluntly, "it is fact."
"How is it fact," Jane asked, verging on screaming at the blacksmith.
"Much of the castle says so. Many believe you are already."
She groaned, stomping her foot in anger and staring at Smithy's back intensely as he began to work, "What about Jester? I am sure he does not."
"Ah, yes," Smithy said, "Jester is a special case."
"You are no help," she announced, turning to leave, "I shall see you at the midday meal."
"Goodbye, Jane," he called out after her, and it took all her sanity not to turn and beat him over the head with something. Smithy was supposed to help her, not drive her completely mad. Now even he was toying with the affairs of her heart and she preferred he, along with everyone else, would stay out. She didn't need love, or admiring hugs, or passionate kisses, and she certainly didn't need someone to leave her roses every time the gardens grew them. Although, she dared admit there were times when she was alone that she let her mind drift off and she wondered just what exactly a kiss felt like. However, as much as she may have pondered, she did not need it. She was perfectly fine without it. She had lived 17 glorious years without it – and look where she was. A female knight, best friends with a dragon… but isn't that what Smithy said, and he had also practically insisted she go throw herself at Gunther like some sort of fawning lady. And Jane was so sick of ladies and their fawning.
For the first time in a long time, it seemed, fate finally decided to lighten Jane's load. The nobles had cut their trip short, claiming that a kingdom which cannot handle a simple thief within their own castle walls cannot possibly be a kingdom to which they would even consider their crown prince marrying into. Jane scoffed at this, for nobles they were horrible liars. Even she, who at admittedly become sucked into her own world of drama and gossip, had found out about the prince himself. He was an ugly man, whose insides seemed to rot with insults and selfishness. The nobles were only leaving because Lavinia had finally snapped at the horrid prince, claiming that if she married him it would be a form of eternal suicide. Of course, such a thing did not go over well with the prince's escorts and they left immediately.
Jane was overjoyed at their departure. With no nobles in the castle, her duties would be cut down back to her original ones, she could start training on a regular basis again, and breakfast would no longer be cold. For a moment, she even watched the royal party leave the castle, a beaming grin on her face.
She did her morning duties happily, because, for once, they were able to be finished by midday meal and not far into the day. And as was predicted, by the time the meal came to come, and the sun was at its highest point in the sky, her duties were finished, and Jane was served a fresh hot meal for lunch. Even Pepper's love struck stares couldn't bring her down. She ate the hearty meal quickly, wishing by the end of it she was alone so she could lick her plate. Once she deemed she had eaten all she could possibly scrap off the bottom, she put her plate aside, thanked Pepper for the wonderful, hot food, and left for training.
Armed with wooden sword in hand, she stared down the practice dummy. Her gut swooned inside her, and she sighed elatedly. She lunged, plunging the tip of the wood weapon into the target on the dummy's stomach. She let out a triumphant cry as the thrill of fighting washed over her. Her fingers buzzed with tingles and euphoria and instinct took over as she swung her sword at the dummy, slashing and beating it with her useless weapon. She prodded the where the dummy's jugular would have been if it had one and raised her arms happily in victory.
"Dead," she yelled enthusiastically, "That was a fine battle sir; however, I have defeated you and thus, am the stronger opponent."
Clapping rung out from behind her and Jane turned on her heels embarrassed. She scowled as Gunther continued to clap, a smirk of hilarity faint on his mouth. He stopped, and fiddled with his own practice sword, his grey eyes watching her as she attempted to blow of her silliness as if it didn't happen. He laughed lightly, and while Jane was sure there was a hint of bitterness to it, there wasn't.
"Winning against inanimate objects now, Jane," he mused, "Quite the knight, aren't we?"
Jane pointed her sword at him, and they began to circle one another like vultures, "And what would you know of being a knight, Gunther?"
He lunged, backing off quickly when she fiercely retorted with her sword, "Certainly more than you."
"I doubt that very much," she choked out, when the side of his sword hit her in the stomach hard. She pushed out from his sword, and blocked when he went for her again. They sparred, years of mastering the art of the sword leaving them without many open defences. Jane smiled softly when she nicked Gunther's shoulder, throwing him off balance briefly. She took her chance head on, throwing her body into it as she went for the kill strike at his gut. He saw her movements, and moved back enough as to avoid getting hit and regained his balance all in one smooth motion. When Jane's arms fell to the end of the follow through of the failed strike, he jumped, getting into her blind spot behind her, and putting his sword up to her open neck. His other arm wrapped around her torso, keeping her in his grip, and steadying her. She growled lowly, smelling the pine of the wooden sword against her throat. She had come to hate that smell.
"Don't tell me your going soft just because someone left a few roses at your door," he prompted in her ear, and she shivered under his cold breath. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming and stuck her wooden sword between herself and his weapon. She used it as a lever and pushed mightily to throw her fellow squire away from her. She felt Gunther's arm tense up on her belly, but continued her push. Her two arms on her weapon could easily outmatch one of his.
"Jane, wait," he cried out, "my hand is-"
His words came little too late and Jane threw him off his balance. His weight fell into her back and toppled them both over. She hit the dirt ground, and felt Gunther's weight smash into her backside as he fell onto her. His hand still clung to her midsection. She kicked back at him, hearing his protests made her smile, just a little. Yet, he still did not move off her. She growled, being pined into the dust was getting old, fast.
She kicked at him again, "Would you get off?"
"I'm trying," he hissed, "but my hand is caught."
"Your hand is caught," Jane repeated harshly, looking down under her to where Gunther's hand was indeed wrapped in some loose strings and her belt and stuck firmly. He was holding himself above her back with his free hand while she tried to untangle his hand from her tunic. She groaned, unable to properly see under her body.
"Move," she demanded.
"Move! Gunther, I cannot see a thing, so move!"
He angrily growled and pushed them over. He fell backwards, hitting the ground with a thud, and pulling Jane with him. She landed on him with her back against his chest. She rose with his breathing and found herself strangely a little mesmerized by the feeling. She hadn't realized how much larger Gunther was than she before. Her stomach flinched when his fingers drummed against her midsection impatiently. She slapped herself with her palm and turned back to the task at hand. With the light now facing her, she craned up and tried to pick apart her tunic from Gunther's hand, hopefully without destroying her clothes which was starting to become a feat in itself.
"Could you hurry," he moaned under her, "You are much heavier than you look."
"And you weigh as light as a cloud," she sneered sarcastically, finally releasing his hand from her tunic and flipping off him immediately after. She scrambled to her feet, grabbing her sword from the ground and holding it in front of her. He did the same, a smirk on his face and the familiar competitive glint in his eye. They began to circle each other once more. Jane could feel a draft at her midsection and knew her tunic had been ripped, but dared not look down to inspect it. She would not let him take her down because of a wardrobe malfunction, one of his doing nonetheless. She looked at his eyes, and just behind his face, in the background she could see Rake's rosebush, smashed and slaughtered. She looked back to him, her face dropping. He was her only suspect. He was the only one who could have done it. He, who she could only loosely call friend, had to have picked the flowers, and destroyed her friend's pride and joy. Her brows knit close together and her upper lip curled; anger was building up in her stomach like an uncontrollable fire. Once lit, it raged. He noticed her change, stopping to look at her intently.
"Jane," he asked, his sword dropping the slightest bit, "Are you alright?"
"You," she hissed roughly, walking towards him with her sword pointed at his neck, "how dare you!"
"Dare I what," he asked, not shying away from her when the tip of her sword touched the underbelly of his chin.
"Because of you," she slurred angrily, hitting his jaw with her sword, to which he glared at her, "no one will leave me alone! Everywhere I go, it's love this, love that. But I did not ask for this! I did not want this! I never wanted roses, or everyone to insist I need something that I haven't needed before!"
She attacked him full on, swinging her sword wildly at him. He was pushed backward blocking her erratic lunges as best he could but found he couldn't every time. His sides felt bruised as she hit him repeatedly, screaming garbs of words he didn't understand. Her face was red as she roared incoherent insults. He blocked another hard swing, but lost grip on his sword and it landed on the ground just out of reach. He looked back to her angry and confused as she threw her own weapon to the ground and snatched the collar of his shirt. She pulled his face down to hers, making sure his eyes saw into her own, but that was no problem. Gunther had a wonderfully intimidating habit of staring down a situation, and that worked just fine with her.
"I don't know why I care so much about this," she hissed brutally, "I cannot understand why I can't simply let this go! People degraded me when I became I squire, many even tried to boycott the king's decision. When word got out I was friends with the dragon who kidnapped the prince, they retaliated more. But I didn't care; I could not even bring myself to care! Yet, look at me now! At the mere mention of love, and a few roses at my doorstep, I am obsessed with proving to everyone that I am fine without it all, and I do not even understand why!"
Gunther's face lost all signs of anger, and he gently took her hands from his collar, "You need to calm down. You are too upset for training. I may not understand what you feel in this situation, but I know what blinding anger and confusion feels like and how it turns you crazy. Go and sleep this off. I will cover for you. We can finish sparring tomorrow."
Jane looked up at him, his kindness a strange opposite from what she would have expected, "Promise? Sincerely?"
"I do," he nodded, turning her and pushing her gently into the direction of her room. She automatically started walking but turned back to Gunther who was watching her go. She saw no troublesome smirk, or felt any air of mischief around him. He was not the usual imbecile that had more interest in attacking her. She wondered briefly, if this was his mother shining through, instead of the liar who raised him. She forced herself to ignore such thoughts. Pepper had been right before. She now felt guilty for even thinking such bad things of Magnus Breech, though she was sure her guilt would not last for long as the minute Gunther would return to the village and show up at the castle with yet another unexplained bruise, it would be back. And for the first time, she looked to Gunther and instead of a headstrong pig, saw a human being. Someone who may finally understand it all.
"Gunther," she called back to him, stopping and turning to look him in the face. His eyes lit up with slight interest, and Jane found it almost pained her to speak, "I do not love you."
His face froze, he cocked an eyebrow at her, and she could have sworn she saw disappointment clouding over his grey eyes. Her chest tightened and she turned and ran off to her room without taking another look back. A lump rose in her throat as she scaled the stairs and burst through her door. She sat on her windowsill, watching over the courtyard. She refused to look at Gunther in the training area – she did not know why, but she could not handle even the thought of him at the time. She focused on the gardens, where Rake was tenderly caring for his sunflowers. Pepper entered, and once again, Jane watched as they flirted and spoke lovingly without leaving the conversation with so much as a thought that maybe, just maybe, the other felt the same. Jane scoffed to herself. Love was a horrible thing, and she didn't understand why no one else noticed it. There were no happily ever afters like in all those silly stories her mother read her as a child. There was pain, and agony, and it turned people into idiots. Love was the reason she found Pepper crying softly in her kitchen when no one was around. Love was the reason that Rake stared so despairingly at her when she wasn't looking. Love was the reason Jester had become as obsessed with the roses as Jane. Love was the reason Gunther kept going home. Love was stupid, and Jane wanted nothing of stupid, miserable things that only left people heartbroken and angry.
And yet, she couldn't help but think what exactly she was missing out on by rebelling against love and its idiocy. She wondered what could possibly drive someone to want it so badly that they were willing to lose themselves in the process of getting it. Why was it always love that woke the beautiful princess? And why did she care so much? It still baffled her how only a few words from her friends had left her verging on insanity. She shook her head, clearing it of the ridiculous thoughts. She didn't need love, she didn't, and she never would. Love wouldn't make all her problems go away, or make her life any easier. If anything, it would make it harder, and her life was trying as is. A few rose blooms weren't going to change that.
She heard Dragon approach her window and she nearly threw herself onto his snout when he stuck it into her room. He looked at her dishevelled, and red cheeked appearance, and stared at her with worry. She brushed him off, climbing over his face and sliding down his neck to rest comfortably between his wings and throat. He took to the skies smoothly, and no matter how Jane prodded refused to fly any faster or higher until he got some answers. The wind beat lightly against her face, and it felt good to finally be away from everything. No one could torment her about roses and rumours in the sky. If anything was said, it would be from Dragon, and she knew she could count on him to lighten her day.
"So, what I miss," he asked, and Jane almost laughed pitifully at herself.
"I got some more roses this morning," she told him.
"You're kidding," he replied, shocked, "I thought this whole rose thief business was over and done with."
"So did I."
"What do you mean 'and'," Jane asked confused.
"The last time that someone left you roses, you went into a frenzy trying to find out which of the short lives did it," Dragon pointed out and Jane chuckled at herself.
"I suppose I did, didn't I? Though I am afraid I may have gone even farther today. However, I believe I may have solved the problem."
"Yes. I talked with people, and finally came to the conclusion that the only one who could have done the deed was Gunther, and that it was probably because he is smitten with me."
Dragon's head whipped around to look at her, "Gunther? Gunther Breech? The little worm, Gunther Breech?"
"Yes," she spoke embarrassed, "Gunther. Now watch where you are going. We cannot go flying into a flock of geese."
"What did you do?"
"I told him I do not love him," she replied starkly.
"Ah," Dragon mused, "well, it needed to be said."
"Yes," Jane mumbled, "I suppose it did…"
"You are alright, aren't you," he asked after a pause. She bit her lip to stop from crying out into another break down. His question was complicated. To a certain degree, she was not alright. She was still confused and angry. She had never been confused before. She knew what she wanted, or what she was sure she wanted, but still didn't at the same time. She was driving herself mad with her thoughts. Why couldn't they just leave her alone and let her have some peace?
"I'm fine," she lied bluntly, and cared not if Dragon knew she had or not.
They flew in silence until the sun finally started to set. Then, as the colours stretched across the sky, Dragon took her back to her room. He had insisted on it. He had caught her lie immediately, but knew not to poke for more information. He had a feeling she had already dealt with too much prodding that day. When she finally bid him good night, dusk had swept across the castle, and night had nearly come. Jane walked her room, her mind buzzing with thoughts and notions she couldn't lose. To think, this whole mess started because of a few stupid roses, but now it seemed like so much more. She needed someone on her side, she needed to talk her mind out with someone, but she knew no one would listen and then not try to force her into something she didn't need.
She turned to walk another lap when she came face to face with the old chair from her father's study. She rolled her eyes to herself. She truly must have been crazy to even be considering talking to no one, but then again, no one was going to listen to her properly anyways. Why not talk to the only person who would actually listen? Herself. Jane shuffled on the spot uncomfortably, closing her eyes and imagining herself sitting in the chair. When she opened them, no was there, but Jane saw herself in her mind. The version of herself sitting in the chair was calm and rational, exactly what Jane needed. She looked at her hands and back up at the empty chair. She opened her mouth to speak, but every time she began, she stopped herself, beyond embarrassed.
Calm Jane in the chair laughed at her, and got right to the point, "You don't need love."
Jane looked up at the empty chair and nodded to herself, "Yes. I don't need it."
"No one ever needs love," calm Jane told her bluntly, "They all just want it."
"I do not," Jane spat, waving her arms in the air to express her point further, "and I do not see why others would either."
"That's a simple enough answer. They want it because they crave happiness, and all anyone ever wants is a little recognition from that one someone."
"That's ludicrous," Jane insisted, before realizing she was indeed fighting with herself.
"Do you actually not want love," her calm version asked, and Jane was shocked at the words her own self was thinking, "or are you afraid that admitting you want what everyone else does will make you less of a knight and more of a girl? More of a lady."
"I am a knight, not a lady."
"Because you cannot be both and therefore cannot have the perks of the other," calm Jane agreed.
"Yes," Jane yelled happily, but her smile faded fast, "can I?"
"I don't know," calm Jane shrugged and Jane sneered at herself bitterly.
"You are no help," she moaned, "If I am to be taken seriously as a knight, then I must devote myself to being one. If I am seen as a lady, then how can I be a knight at all?"
"Knights are permitted to fall in love and marry. There is no law against it in Kippernium."
"They can," Jane replied, "but not like this."
"Because flowers are things ladies fawn over."
"And knights are meant to be male, but that never stopped you before."
Jane looked down at the ground, and a thought came to her mind, and to her surprise it didn't disgust her. What if… If we are all out to get recognition from that someone, then Jane had to admit to herself the person she'd always tried to prove herself to most to was Gunther. Her friends accepted her knighthood easily, and even her parents and the kingdom had come to embrace it. Gunther has fought her to the end, and he was the reason she worked so hard to prove everyone wrong, because when everyone was wrong, he would be too. Jane bit her tongue gently as she thought. He had certainly become handsome, and he was a strong knight. He had managed to calm her today when she was in a state of anger she could not recognize herself in. He teased her like they were children and yet, treated her as if she were the same as him with moderate respect…
Would it really be so bad to love Gunther Breech?
No, she was being stupid now. She was reading into feelings which didn't exist and was possibly going mad. Calm Jane had disappeared, and the real Jane, still frustrated and confused, and now also feeling utterly stupid and emotionally strained, went to bed. In the morning, things would be clearer and hopefully her mind would be as well. Sleep came to Jane in the form of an uneasy, dreamless night, but the weeks to come were almost unnaturally easy in comparison.
Word travelled around the castle about the supposed "lovers quarrel", mostly by the maids who were quick to spread such a juicy tidbit of gossip, and it did so fast. When Jane's yelling fit reached Pepper's ears, the young cook took it upon herself to make sure as that no one close to Jane spoke of the incident. However, while the castle learned and spread the news, they also passed on the extent of the young squire's temper, and so, while most talked and blabbed to one another with false rumours and extravagant re-writes of the original event, none spoke to Jane. Much too frightened of her wrath, many of the staff avoided her as if she were the Black Death. Even Adeline and Lavinia avoided the topic at all costs. Jane was quite aware that everyone knew of her break, she figured they who have, but cared not. If such a thing kept the ridiculous comments away from her for once, she was quite open to it. What worried her was Gunther's silence on the matter, but as the weeks passed, and the Summer Ball approached, she was given so many more tasks to complete that all thoughts of roses and love left her mind completely. She found herself so busy again it was as if another noble party had come to the castle to woo the hand of Princess Livinia, but of course, they were all lucky enough to avoid such a visit while preparing and during the eve of the ball.
Everything went back to something that many could consider normal, and for that Jane was thankful. Unlike when the first nobles had taken residence in castle, Jane's extra tasks did not impede on her time in the training area. Her meals were still warm every morning, although Pepper had seemed rather distant as of late. But, best was dawn. Mornings longer greeted Jane with aches and new found blisters; only light and kind awakenings. Life was blissful.
All except for, of course, one minuscule thing that had been pestering Jane since the night of the second bouquet on her step. Rake had planted another rose sprout. While this event was something Jane had seen coming, as it grew it gave her an uneasy feeling. Rake himself was already watching the plant like a predator. If anyone made any suspicious moves toward them, he sent them away with a mere menacing look. As they grew to small buds, Pepper was thrown into hysterics. The roses were to be red, and there was no colour, or so she claimed, that tasted better than that of the red rose. Even her love of yellow flowers was put to shame when Rake told her of the blossom's colour. Such news, however, left Jane with a bad taste in her mouth. Red roses were something you gave to someone who you were completely infatuated with. The brilliant scarlet of the petals had always reminded Jane of blood, and not of passion and romance, but society's view of them had her worried. She had been sure that her fit at Gunther would stop another bouquet from dressing her doorstep, but she now found she was second guessing herself. If anything were to provoke him into another bouquet, assuming that he still had feelings for her, it would most probably be red roses. Jane was relieved that even at the new hearsay of the flowers soon to be vibrant red, her temper outmatched the need for gossip. She could feel the stares as she worked, but they remained only stares and looks, and she learned she could ignore such things.
Days before the eve of the ball, decorations were cut short by a sudden downpour. The castle grabbed what they could, and barrelled inside to the main hall. Jane, soaked to the bone, inconspicuously made her way through the passages of the castle to the kitchen. She was covered in pieces of ribbon and daisy petals that now clung to her wet skin and armour. Her hair was limp and sticking uncomfortably to her cheeks and the back of her neck, water dripping from the locks down her back. When Pepper caught her walking through the doorway, she ran to her. She quickly dragged Jane to the fire in her heath, forcing her in front of the flames to warm, and picked off the pieces of décor from her face and body. Jane didn't fight her, and instead, sat in front of the fire on the warm stones. She watched in her peripherals as Pepper went back to preparing the cold foods for the ball. Jane put her clammy, frozen hands out towards the fire, allowing the heat to envelope her digits. She heard Pepper scurry across the floor, but paid it no mind. Her eyes focused on the fire as it danced in the heath, warming her wet body.
Pepper had come over to the heath, extra footsteps following her. Jane looked up at Pepper and found Jester and Gunther by her side. Pepper did the same as she had previously done with her, and had the two boys stand by the fire. They both joined Jane on the floor, sitting in silence as the blaze warmed them. Jane swallowed a gulp of air, and breathed heavily. An awkward silence aired between the three of them; only the clatter of Pepper's pots and pan could be distinctly heard. She tried to focus on the fire, but a distinct blotch of purple on Jester's knuckles caught her attention. She turned for a second look, and indeed there was a large bruise across the fool's hand. Without speaking, she reached over and picked his hand of his lap. His face shot towards her, a flushed pink.
Finally, she looked up from his hand and spoke, "What happened."
"He happened," Jester groaned, his hand leaving her grip and pointing accusingly at Gunther.
He seemed unbothered by Jester's protests until Jane smacked the back of head. He looked at her, glaringly and confused, "What?"
"Did you do it," Jane asked in a hiss, and shoving Jester's bruise into Gunther's face.
He snorted, "I was defending myself. That fool attack me!"
"He did what," Jane shrieked, looking over to Jester who was blushing now with guilt and embarrassment.
"He hurt you," Jester insisted.
"When did that happen?"
"The castle is still in a stir about it, your fight with him. Then this morning, I heard that he had hurt you after you told him off. I couldn't let him get away with such a thing!"
Jane sighed forebodingly, "Gunther did not hurt me. You should know not to believe everything you hear!"
She turned to where Gunther sat, only to find a puddle on the wet floor instead of him. He had left. Jane sneered at the spot, realizing that his defence was the only time he'd somewhat spoken to her since her fit. She became tired of the silent treatment quickly, and if it were not for Jester sitting beside her she would have run after Gunther and told him so. They were squires, soon to be knights, and they would need to be on respectable terms at least when they were knighted. Such behaviour would be unacceptable then, and he should not get in the habit now. Avoiding her was not the answer to his problems.
"Jane," Jester interjected, and she realized she'd been staring at where Gunther had sat much longer than proper, "You don't love him, do you?"
"Of course not," she replied quickly, but when she tired to continue it was as if her tongue had become heavy in her mouth and her throat was swollen and she could no longer control her words, "I don't. How could I? He's frustrating and infuriating. He struts around with his stupid eyes shining and thinks he owns the place, but he is wrong, the king owns the castle! He must think he is so great with his raven hair and handsome face, but he's not, because if he were, he would be a decent man, and not run out on a conversation! That damned biscuit weasel!"
When Jane's tongue had come to a stop, the room had gone silent. Even Pepper had stopped her cooking to stare at Jane. Jester stared at her with such melancholy; Jane almost swore he was a different person. She had never seen Jester so low. Pepper approached from behind, and kneeled behind Jane, hugging her tightly. Jane was stuck, and watched as Jester got up and walked out from the kitchen. Even the bells on his hats did not ring with joy, but the sound seemed diminished instead. Pepper spoke soothingly into Jane's hair, but Jane couldn't hear it.
Pepper pulled herself from Jane's red mane and spoke softly, "I am sorry."
Jane shifted under her grip uncomfortably, "Why? You did nothing."
"But I did," Pepper insisted sadly, "I asked you all those silly questions after the yellow roses were destroyed. I bothered you so much, and I never realized how bad you had it, because you do Jane. I understand now."
Jane snorted angrily, and pried Pepper off her back, "I do not have anything bad!"
"But you just said," she stuttered, "You just said Gunther had a handsome face."
Jane went over her words and winced. She hadn't meant that. Why would she mean to say such a thing? So what if his unwillingness to talk to her had her a little on edge, and yes, he was indeed handsome, but that meant nothing. Jane did not love Gunther, she had even told him so, and she insisted to Pepper that nothing had changed, and yet, here she was, defending her words because of a tiny, insignificant slip up. Pepper calls Smithy handsome all the time, and she does not love Smithy. Of course, everyone calls Smithy handsome… but that was not the point, because even if it wouldn't be so bad to love Gunther Breech, she did not. She did not at all.
"What I said doesn't matter," Jane told her, getting off from the floor, despite the fact she was still damp, "What I say does. I do not love Gunther."
Jane sidestepped to leave the kitchen, but was quickly stopped by a frazzled and tired Pepper, "Why?"
"We've had this conversation before, and I do not want to have it again."
"You never answered me that time either," Pepper blocked her path again and Jane let out a strained growl, "Well you did, but it wasn't a proper answer…"
"I don't see why you want to know."
Pepper paused for a moment but continued to prevent Jane from leaving. She looked up sadly at the knight and sighed, "Is it because of me?"
"Why would my supposed feelings for Gunther have to do with you," Jane asked, bitterly scowling as she was blocked again.
"I don't know," Pepper admitted, "but I feel like this has so much more to do with everyone else than you sometimes."
Jane sucked a breath in sharply, and then without another word pushed her way out of the kitchen. Could no one leave her be? Was no one satisfied with the fact she did not want any of this. It had been months now, summer itself was nearly over, and her dilemma was not. Why did it seem like destiny hated her so much? Or was it… she was rebelling against it. Everyone seemed so set that she and Gunther should be together… maybe they were just seeing what she couldn't. No, no, no! She really had to stop letting her mind drift. She wouldn't allow that beef brain to invade her thoughts that way. So what if she was rebelling against love, it needed to be rebelled against! Someone had to do it, and it certainly wasn't going to be anyone else.
She passed Rake's newest rosebush, and stopped to look at it, ignoring the rain as it hit her with heavy drops of water. Red roses. Blood red roses… her mind practically dinged as a thought formed in her mind. It was so obvious; she could not believe she hadn't thought of it before. She had to catch him in the act – if he even bothered this time, but she was sure when she could see the red shining through the backs of the petals, that he would be back for another bouquet. The final bouquet this time. She smiled softly; Gunther couldn't deny his feelings or involvement if she caught him in the act. It was perfect – positively perfect. The rumours would stop, the lies would cease. There wouldn't be another word from Pepper, or Smithy, her mother or even the princess. Things would return to normal, or as normal as life could be considering she was out to prove that Gunther Breech was after her heart, but normal enough.
Jane's plan continued according to plan. She spent mornings dressing the ballroom for the Summer's Ball, and afternoons training with a frustratingly silent Gunther. She figured as much, but while she claimed to others his silence was a blessing, she secretly missed the taunts and teases. It made sparring so much more exciting. It did, however, make planning her trap that much easier, when she wasn't too busy fuming about being ignored. All was going splendid. By the end of two days time, she had it all planned out to the second. She knew Rake would be watching the roses whenever he could, but when the thief got around him, he'd come to her tower, and leave the bouquet at her door. But she'd be waiting, hiding and watching from the keyhole of her door, and when he showed, she'd strike. Gunther would be caught, she'd get what she wanted – all would be right.
But things never go as planned. It was the morning of the ball, and Jane was already frustrated from an argument with her mother over how she refused to wear a dress as she was a knight and knights do not dawn gowns, when Rake walked into the kitchen, white as snow, during morning meal. Pepper ran to him when she walked through the door, and he swallowed nervously. Jane watched them talk, but couldn't hear them clearly over the noisy staff, though she knew by Rake's face exactly what they were talking about. Pepper hugged Rake sympathetically, and Jane chuckled as Rake's face lit up and he returned with more enthusiasm than she knew he intended. Jane watched in wonder as Rake pulled back, looked at Pepper, and started to lean in. She felt like screaming at the boy when he pulled back and just smiled sheepishly at her. But Rake was the least of her problems. He was upset because the roses, by the look of him, they were going to bloom today, and soon.
Her plan was in jeopardy. She couldn't very well wait out the night in her room when she was expected to be at the ball, but… neither could Gunther. When the ball wound down, that would be his only chance if he was going to take it, and she'd be there to catch him. She may even get him before he disturbed the bush. Then there would be roses and cream soup for everyone, and she'd prevail. It was an added bonus. Her plan wasn't in trouble, as long as she could manage to keep her eyes on him. So, with a happy mood, Jane continued to work. Even as her mother and the princess both begged for the knight to garb a dress for the ball, she refused politely with a smile and went on her way. As afternoon drifted to dusk, and the candles were lit around the ballroom, Jane was prepared.
She passed Rake's rose bush on her way to the Summer's Ball. Dressed in her most decorative armour, which she wore to try to appease her parents though her mother warned it was still armour, she stared at the plant. Rake had been right before, not that she doubted him when it came to plants, and the roses had bloomed. The red of their petals were vibrant even in the shadow of upending night. Her mouth flat lined as she looked at them. It was all coming to an end tonight. She would make sure of that. She just couldn't understand why it saddened her so. She'd be getting all she wanted tonight, yet, she felt as if she were losing something staring at the scarlet blossoms. She forced herself to leave the rose bush and make her way to the ball.
Jane's confidence was smashed the moment she entered through the main doors to the ballroom. Even at such early hours, the ball was in full swing. Many of the associates to the king and queen were already intoxicated from too much ale. Prince Cuthbert, himself, was even looking a little drunk and green around the edges. As people partied, musicians playing rambunctious music to add in the anarchy, she started to weave through the crowds. She gulped, the night looking more and more troublesome as she pushed through people to find a familiar face among the hordes. She felt bleak; how could she ever find Gunther and keep an eye on him if she could barely make out what was wall tapestry and what were embellished gowns?
Finally, her eyes caught hold of Pepper. She started to run to her, but stopped when she realized that Pepper was busy – dancing in a small corner with Rake. The two were confined by the absurdly large crowds, but both seemed not to care. Jane watched as they danced, wrapped up in the other. She caught her breath when she saw Rake gather his courage. Her stomach flipped as Rake bent forward quickly and kissed Pepper's lips. Pepper looked at him surprised, but, with eyes verging on tears, threw herself into his arms. Jane gulped, watching with a strange fascination, as the two kissed again, much longer and with so much passion it threw her of guard. The two laughed and Pepper curled into him. They continued to dance, completely unaware to Jane's stares. Jane pursed her lips in thought, and sighed. They both looked so… happy. There was no pain or screaming or silly drama. They were just elated. If that was love, and anyone could plainly see how amazing it was, then why was she against it? She thought people would laugh at her. Make her out to be a lady and not a knight at all. She thought love would destroy her and everything she worked so hard for. She never realized just how magical it truly was. And here, looking and learning as Rake and Pepper showed her, Jane found it was nothing to be ashamed off. No one would think less of her if she loved…
If she loved Gunther Breech.
The roses! She had been so caught up in finding Gunther, she hadn't even thought of the idea that he may not even be in the ballroom. It was so full, she'd never find him if he was. But she'd never know the difference if he wasn't either. That deviously clever boy probably saw her plan from a mile away. It was certainly obvious. Jane looked frantically for the nearest exit and bolted to it. She shoved through the mass of drunken nobles. The world outside the castle was dark with a starless night. The full moon above her gave great her relief as she could use its glowing light to see. She ran to the gardens. She had been planning for to long, bothered for even longer. She didn't care if she'd miss the thrill of the chase. This would end.
She reached the gardens and felt like screaming when she came upon the sight of Rake's rose bush, mangled and wrecked. Red petals had fallen around the shrub, and in the moonlight it looked like the flowers had been bleeding. Something in her mind insisted that it was fresh. She could still win. She could still stop this. She turned to her tower, and her eyes caught hold of the faint form of a shadow walking towards her door. She sped off towards her quarters, barrelling across the training field and to her stairway. She kept her eyes on the shadow, never letting it leave her sight as she chased it. She had lost all breath by the time she reached the top of her stairs. She could distinctly see the figure at her door. Bringing all the courage she could she ran at it. This was it. She couldn't get it out of her mind. This was it. She attacked the figure, tackling him to the ground and electricity pouring through her nerves as they hit the stone ground. She pinned him to the stone, and straddled his back to keep him from moving. She was slightly confused as she felt the body under her, she could have sworn that Gunther was bigger than this, but she had to be remembering wrong.
"Gunther," she shouted at the shadowy man beneath her. He groaned and Jane gasped. She knew what Gunther sounded like, and the man beneath her was not Gunther. She couldn't recognize the voice at all. She got off the figure, and flipped him over, letting the moonlight see his face. She was taken back by the person on the floor in front of her. She didn't even know who he was, never mind recognize him. He was nobody.
"You're not Gunther," she mumbled, and it surprised her just how disappointed that single phrase made her. As she looked down at the unnamed person on her doorstep, her stomach turned to knots. She had imagined this moment so many times, and it had always been Gunther she caught. She never thought past the catch either. She had truly no idea what to do next. The frail boy before her was frightened. He almost looked mortified as he stared back at her. She stood up, and tried to give him her hand to assist him, but he refused to take it. He scrambled to his legs, keeping as much distance between him and Jane.
"Don't take anymore roses," Jane warned softly. The boy just nodded, and ran past her. She'd never seen someone run from her so fast. It was rather disheartening.
She stayed frozen before her door. Gunther was not the rose thief. He wasn't infatuated with her. And she had screamed and yelled at him and told him she did not love him. Her chest was burning, but the fire was not the anger she was so used to when she thought of him. She had to set this right. She hoped he was still on castle grounds. Pepper had told her nothing of Gunther's father returning, but Pepper hadn't been mentioning him at all much of late. She supposed that was her own fault, but that wasn't going to stop her. Without another fault, she took off to the staff's bedrooms. When she made it to the corridor, deep under the castle, and began to knock on every door. She could hear the ball, although it had turned into more of a riot, above her, and knew that she wouldn't bother the other staff. She rammed her fist against door after door, her stomach sinking when no one answered her each time.
"Jane," a voice questioned her from behind, and Jane immediately recognized it as Gunther's. She turned and found him poking out from behind a bedroom door. She had already knocked on it but realized she must not have waited long enough. It did not matter now. She approached him cautiously, trying her best to keep her cool. As she neared him, she because all too aware when her heart began to beat more frantically, and her knees became weak. Her mouth parted as more symptoms hit her. She felt nervous, and she was never nervous around Gunther. Her face was hot and red, and her stomach tightened. She wondered briefly if her heart was indeed fluttering. Such a thing still seemed so ridiculous, but she could have sworn. She bit her tongue to keep from breaking out in frustrated cries. When she reached him, he joined her in the hallway, closing the door to his room behind him. Her breath caught in her throat and she bit back her surprise at her body.
"I'm sorry," she rushed out with slurred speech and he raised an eyebrow at her questioningly in response, "I'm so sorry Gunther. I thought, but I was wrong. And I yelled at you, and there were so many rumours, and I let everyone get to me when I shouldn't have. And I told you I didn't love you and-"
Gunther stopped her dead in her tracks when he grabbed her face and kissed her roughly on the mouth. Jane's body was lit with tingles when his lips collided on her. She instinctively grabbed his collar and pulled him down into her. She squeaked into him when his mouth moved on hers. It felt as though he was devouring her mouth with his own, and she realized why courting couples could never keep there hands off one another. She finally understood what Smithy truly meant when he had asked her such personal questions. The world around them went completely unnoticed. His hands entrapped her waist and pulled her into him fiercely. She happily complied, trying to copy his movements as they kissed. When he finally pulled back, the need for oxygen taking him away, she took the situation in as a whole. She stayed pressed up against him, her lips swollen, and she spoke softly, "That's not what I meant."
He snarled, pushing her away and frustrating smashing his hand into the bedroom door. Jane was shocked at his actions, and looked at him confused. He looked back to her, angry and aggravated, "Why do you do this to me you, beef brain! You are so insolent, and positively beyond angering. You come out of no where and tell me you do not love me, then you say that… I never know what to do with you Jane. I am caught in this vicious circle of deciding between striking you with a sword or doing… what we just did. I wish you would just tell me what to do for once, so I could know instead of trying to decipher your stupidity. You are exhausting."
Jane walked back up to him and spoke strongly at her fellow squire, "I meant to say, I know you are not the rose thief. I thought you were, and I was wrong, and for that I am sorry."
"Rose thief," Gunther shot her a menacing look to which Jane stayed strong against, "You actually believed I was the rose thief. That cook would have had my head if she even thought I had touched a petal on her poor gardener's roses."
Jane snorted amused, "Well, it was quite the opposite actually. She was sure it was you, and admired the poetry of it."
"Poetry is unrealistic and stupid," he insisted, leaning back against his door, with his arms crossed and his knuckles white, "Why on earth did she think it was me?"
"I don't see why she wouldn't," Jane mused spitefully at him, "considering you just pounced on me like a cat in heat."
"I don't see you complaining," he retorted and she took a sharp breathing, her stomach tensing with the same unfamiliar fire from before. She wanted to speak, but he turned to open his door before she could. He was walking through the doorway when the words finally broke through her mouth; though they were not ones he wanted to hear at first.
"I don't need love," she shouted at his back, to which he turned back momentarily and sneered at her, hurt.
"I get it Jane," he spat and she needed to grab him to stop him from trying to leave again. He looked back to her, confused and obvious hurt and pain on his face. She had found the pain and agony she knew was coming, but it no longer seemed worth it to leave. No matter how much she didn't need it, or how much it hurt her to see his face all screwed up in itself from actually pain and not from teasing or jokes. It truly wouldn't be so bad to love Gunther Breech.
"No," she told him, "you don't get it! I don't need love, but I am no longer ashamed to admit that I want it! I – I am smitten with you Gunther."
The words sounded absurd leaving her mouth. Just the day before, she would have thought she was mad to sincerely be saying such things. But her mind was clear, and for the first time in months her thoughts were organized and rational. Jane Turnkey, the knight, the best friend of Dragon, was speaking the truth. She was actually speaking the complete truth. He stared at her in disbelief. His feelings were as annoying to comprehend as hers in this. They stood before one another, their beings centimetres from touching. She gulped, swallowing the lump in her throat as she did.
He spoke as if he didn't hear her right, "What?"
"Kiss me," she demanded, "you wanted me to tell you what to do. So, kiss me."
He did not need to be told again. He captured her in his arms, pulling her into him again. She pushed against his mouth with hers again. They were rough, but Jane couldn't care. Gunther was a rough sort of boy; it only made sense his mouth would be the same. She was sure she was just as so as well. A jolt of electricity shot up her spine. The rambunctious noises from the ball upstairs rose louder around them, but neither noticed. They're lips fought one another, and while it was improper to be kissing in such a way before marriage, Jane never cared for what was proper much anyways. If this was the way all their arguments ended from now on, then Jane was happy to fight him. She could only imagine how sparring would go. She was excited so such things. Their hard kisses slowed until they stopped, leaving Jane and Gunther staring at the other, with the ball raging above them.
"Imagine the rumours if no one sees us at the ball," Jane whispered, and Gunther's face dropped.
"I had enough of those dreadful rumours when they revolved around you," he growled, and Jane smirked to herself, but it quickly faded, "Perhaps, tomorrow, I shall bring you roses."
"Please do not," she pleaded, but he only laughed at her and continued, ignoring her protests.
"And perhaps I shall leave them on your doorstep…"