"I can't believe it!" Arya exclaimed, storming into the room, startling Mouse who had been making her bed. "Lord Penton has gone too far! Look at this!" She thrust a small piece of parchment into Mouse's hands. She carefully unfolded it and read the note.
~ Her Majesty Queen Arya ~
Seeing as many of the guests from the Ball the other evening are still residing at the Palace, as well as many new guests who missed the other evenings festivities, I have seen it fit as your Royal Advisor to announce another Ball for this evening. I will have an escort sent for you after the evening meal. It is expected of you to attend presentably, else I should deem it necessary to replace your incompetent servant, whom should see it as her duty to make you as presentable and as beautiful as possible. Tardiness will not be accepted.
~ Lord Penton ~
"Can you believe that?" Arya cried out, flopping down in frustration on the freshly made bed, ruffling the sheets. "You'd think that he would be less anxious for me to marry as he'd lose a lot of the power that he has right now!"
Since Arya had been crowned at the young age of fourteen, Lord Penton had had a very influential position as the Royal Advisor and guardian of the Royal Children. Though he had not agreed with King Terian's decision to choose Arya rather than her older brother, Prince Marcus, who was two years her senior, he had to honour the King's dying wish.Perhaps after two years in this position, he had grown tired of fighting with Arya, who did not always agree with his opinions.
"Mayhaps he believes that he would have more influence over your future husband than over you," Mouse suggested. "Mayhaps he thinks that a male ruler would listen to his advise more than you do."
"The reason that I don't listen to his advise is because he is pigheaded and biased!" Arya snapped. "He is very pro-male, where women stay in the kitchen while men do all the fighting, whereas I believe that women should have the chance to become Knights if they want to. Women should have the right to learn how to protect themselves and their families!"
"Yes, I remember how upset he was when you accepted Lady Adela as a Squire," Mouse commented. "Just think, in a couple years she will become the first Lady Knight of Keiento!"
"Yes, that is one decision that I do not regret in the least," Arya smiled. "It will be good to get the idea of Lady Knights out there, get people more used to the idea, let them warm up to it."
"I agree," Mouse nodded.
"I just hope that you won't decide to go become a Lady Knight someday," Arya remarked. "I would miss you too much!"
"No, I would never do that!" Mouse replied quickly, reassuring her. "My place is and always will be here with you. I wouldn't trust anyone else with your safety but myself. No, I could never leave you."
"You say that now, but you never know what the future may hold," Arya commented. "But until then, I'm glad I have a friend like you to rely on."
They were interrupted by a knock at the door. Mouse quickly hurried over to the door and opened it, revealing a tall servant bearing a rich, red dress.
"For Her Majesty, curtesy of Lord Penton," he stated, passing her the dress.
"Of course it is," she rolled her eyes as she accepted it. "Thank his Lordship for Her Majesty." She closed the door without waiting for his response and turned back to Arya, dress in hand.
"Look what his Lordship sent you," she remarked, holding out the dress to her. Arya rolled off the bed and walked over to her and fingered the fine silk dress.
"And again, it has to be beautiful!" she whined. "Why do they have to be so beautiful?" She sighed as she flopped back down on the bed.
"How long do I have until I have to put it on?" Arya asked, closing her eyes.
"It's nearing dinner time," Mouse replied after a moment's thought. "So not too long. He didn't give you much notice."
"Probably so that I couldn't come up with an excuse not to go," Arya scoffed. "So that I'd have no choice but to go."
"I'm guessing that you would prefer to eat here then?" Mouse asked, draping the dress over a nearby chair.
"Yes, I guess so," Arya sighed. "Can you see if Gaston could whip up something quick for me? I'll need all the time I can get to get ready for tonight since tardiness will not be accepted."
"I'll see what I can do," Mouse replied, heading out the door. "Back in a flash!" Mouse closed the door behind her, its closing click echoing down the empty hallway.
It's quiet, she couldn't help but notice. Too quiet. She tried to shrug off the unease she felt as she started off down the hallway, her loud footsteps the only sound to be heard.
And then suddenly, out of nowhere, he was there beside her, an unwanted escort shadowing her every step.
"What do you want, Darien," her voice hissed unhappily.
"To be near you," his deep, rich voice replied.
"That's funny," she replied sharply. "Because that's the exact opposite of what I want."
"That's because you're afraid that you will give into your true feelings if you are too close to me for too long," he remarked smoothly. Mouse stopped in her tracks, turning sharply to glare at him.
"I am not afraid, because I have no feelings for you," she snapped. "And the only reason that you continue to relentlessly pursue me is because you just want to soothe your wounded pride since I'm the only one to ever reject you!" She started to turn away from him but he grabbed her arm, stopping her.
"I know that you feel as strongly about me as I do about you!" his deep voice was intense. Mouse's arm felt like it was on fire where his skin met hers.
"Let. Go." she spoke through gritted teeth, trying unsuccessfully to pull her arm out of his grip. Her resistance just made him pull her closer.
"Admit it," he cooed in her ear. "You can't deny what is evident in your eyes. You want me as much as I want you."
"Stop..." her voice was a barely audible plea. She was shaking now, her emotions overwhelming. She was scared, excited, frightened, nervous, so many clashing emotions rushed through her. She tried to avoid his piercing gaze, but it was futile. They caught hers and held them there, passion burning like a fire in his eyes. His free hand gently brushed her hair from her face, his fingers lingering on her cheek. She wanted to look away, to turn and run, but she was frozen. She had never felt so weak and defenseless in all of her life. His face drew closer to hers, her name flowing softly from his lips, and she finally regained some motion, twitching away slightly.
"No..." the moan escaped from her lips. His eyes briefly flashed with anger at her continual resistance, but he did not relent. He laced his fingers through her hair and cupped the back of her head, forcing her closer to him. Burning fire engulfed her as his lips pressed roughly against hers.
She wanted to scream, but could find no voice. She wanted to run, but her legs wouldn't move. Her free hand finally regained its motion and she pounded ineffectively against his chest, willing him to stop. She tried to pull away, but he just forced her closer, his lips pressing harder against hers, willing them to accept his affections.
She refused to give in to him. She refused to let her body melt in his embrace.Her mind was in a flurry, trying to recall some way to break free of his hold. Vyron had been easy to overpower because he had not been expecting it, had not been expecting to be met with resistance, whereas Darien knew that she was a fighter. His strong grip would not break, locking her in his embrace. An idea flashed through her mind. Playing dirty was not her style, but with Darien she had no choice. She brought her knee up hard, slamming it into Darien's groin. He released her with a gasp, doubling over in pain. Without another thought, Mouse took off running, ignoring his voice calling out her name after her.
She did not stop running until she reached the kitchens. She slowed as she slipped in through the door, careful not to run into anyone. As she stood there, panting and completely freaked out, she noticed that she had become the center of attention of the room. Her eyes flashed to Gaston, who, noticing her panicked expression, took control of the situation.
"Eyes on your work!" he snapped. "If anything is burned, it's coming out of your pay!" His apprentices instantly turned their attentions back on the food in front of them, knowing how serious Gaston was. Once he was satisfied that his apprentices' attentions were back on what they were supposed to be, he hurried over to where Mouse stood, still in complete shock.
"What happened, my child?" he asked, concern deeply laced through his voice.
"He... He kissed me!" she exclaimed.
"Vyron?" Gaston asked, confused. "Well, I had assumed that that had already happened... I hear all the latest gossip from my daughter," he explained when Mouse gave him a questioning look.
"No, not Vyron... though yes, he has kissed me," the words spilled out of her mouth. "But it was Darien! He kissed me!"
"Sir Darien?" Gaston was caught off guard. "Why the bloody h-"
"I don't know!" Mouse exclaimed, frustrated and confused. "Is it... Is it possible that he actually does have feelings for me?"
"I think the more important question is do you have feelings for him?" Gaston commented.
"I... I'm afraid I might," Mouse replied unhappily. "Part of me didn't want to fight his touch. It wanted me to give in and embrace his affections. Part of me wanted to kiss him back! But..."
"But... ?" Gaston echoed, encouraging her to continue.
"But the other part of me kept telling me to fight it, to fight him, to not give in," she continued. "Part of me couldn't stop thinking about Vyron, thinking about how he made me feel, how the burning sensation that I felt with Darien did not feel right whereas the tingling sensation that I felt with Vyron did... I'm so confused."
"Trust your gut and instincts," Gaston replied. "They have never failed you before. So what are they telling you now? What is your heart telling you?"
Mouse closed her eyes and let her heart take control. When his face was the one to appear so clearly and so sure in her mind, she knew. She knew that he was the only one for her. She opened her eyes and looked at Gaston.
"It's Vyron," she smiled. "He's the one my heart wants."
"Then follow your heart, my child," Gaston smiled, gently patting her shoulder. "For it will not lead you astray."