The sting of a sharp, bitter scent flooding through her nose jolted Mouse into awareness. She sat up sharply, only to have her head spin again.
"Easy now, darling," Gaston's concerned voice filled her ears. "Easy." The room slowly began to stop spinning and Mouse was able to distinguish the multiple concerned and confused faces looking down as her. She sought out Gaston's, panic and worry plastered across her face. She saw recognition flash through Gaston's face and he nodded.
"Weston, I told you to make sure that the floors were kept clean and spill free!" Gaston's accusing voice shot out as he turned on one of his younger apprentices. "Now look what happened! The Queen's personal servant slipped and knocked her head against the ground so hard that she blacked out! And look at the Queen's food!" He gestured wildly at the scattered food all over the ground. "Be thankful that Mouse was not the Queen, or else you would have been in serious trouble!"
"I am so sorry!" the young sandy-haired lad stuttered. "I thought that it was-"
"It's alright," Mouse gave him a reassuring smile. "I think I may have just tripped over my own feet. Don't blame yourself." She turned back to Gaston. "Please don't blame him for something that wasn't his fault."
"What are you all doing still standing around?" Gaston snapped. "There is a mess to be cleaned up and a meal to be prepared! I will not have my kitchen looking like a pigsty!"As the bewildered apprentices rushed to carry out his orders, Gaston helped Mouse to her feet.
"Are you sure that you are alright?" he asked her, concern deeply woven into his voice.
"Yes, I'm fine," she replied. "Just a little spill, a little bump. Nothing that I can't handle."
"You're sure?" he asked, not convinced.
"Yes, I'm fine," Mouse sighed. "I guess I was just lost in thought and tripped."
"Well I'm glad that you're okay," he smiled, giving her a big hug. In their closeness, he quietly whispered in her ear, "We will talk later. Don't let him get to you, Mouse. You're stronger than that. You're stronger than him."
"Thank you," she whispered back as he broke out of the hug.
"Her Majesty's breakfast is ready," Elsa announced, presenting a fresh platter to Mouse.
"Thank you," Mouse smiled, accepting the platter from her.
"You're sure that you're able to handle that?" Gaston asked, half concerned, half teasing.
"I do every day," Mouse remarked, heading towards the door. "Like I said, nothing I can't handle." And with that she left the overheated kitchen behind, making her way back down the hall towards Arya's chambers, which Mouse's tiny room was attached to. She thankfully reached them without running into anyone else. Mouse knew that word of his arrival was rapidly spreading around the Palace and soon it would be all anyone would be talking about. After all, why wouldn't they talk about the return of Keiento's favourite Knight and hero of the land?
Mouse shuddered thinking about him as she opened the doors to Arya's rooms and walked in. She gently placed the platter on the table then walked over to the windows and pulled back the curtains to let the sun in. The dark shadows slithered away as light poured into the room. She opened one of the windows to let some fresh air in and breathed in its coolness as she did.
"Rise and shine, Arya!" she called out as she walked over to the bed and pulled back the curtains from it.
"Uhhhh..." Arya moaned as the light spilled onto her face. She pulled her blankets up over her head, trying to block it out.
"Nuh uh!" Mouse huffed. "We are not doing this again!" She grabbed the blankets and stripped them off the bed, exposing Arya to the light.
"Noooo..." she whimpered, curling into a ball and throwing her arm over her eyes. "Go away!"
"Wake up, Arya," Mouse sighed, gently shaking her. "It's time to get up! Your breakfast is here! And... We need to talk." That perked Arya's interest. Slowly, she lowered her arm and looked up into Mouse's serious, worried face.
"What's wrong?" she asked concerned, sitting up.
"He's back," Mouse sighed, sitting down on the bed.
"Who?" Arya asked, puzzled and intrigued as she began to wake up more.
"Sir Darien," his name felt wrong on her lips.
"Isn't he the one-" Arya started, realization flooding through her.
"Yes," Mouse replied unhappily.
"But I had him sent away," Arya protested.
"That was over a year ago," Mouse commented. "We both knew that this day was coming. Their fleet couldn't stay away forever. Some of them have families here. I just never thought that it would come so soon... And he had to come back now, just when things were starting to fall into place for me!"
"Maybe he's forgotten about you?" Arya suggested.
"It'd be nice to believe," Mouse sighed. "But I highly doubt it. He specifically said that he would not forget me and that he'd be back for me one day."
"I'm sorry, Mouse," Arya gave her a comforting side hug. "I'll try to keep him as far away from you as I can."
"Thanks," she attempted a smile. "Now go eat before your food gets cold!"
"Yes, ma'am!" Arya replied sarcastically with a laugh, trying to lighten the mood. But unfortunately that did not help Mouse feel any better. Even the thought of Sir Darien being in the same vicinity as her freaked her out. It had all started almost two year ago...
It was not long after the tragic deaths of King Terian and Queen Andrea. The whole Palace was in mourning and Arya, who had just been crowned the new ruler of Keiento, was caught up in a flurry of learning what it meant to be the new Queen and what her new responsibilities were, causing Mouse to be temporarily pushed off to the side. Since she was not needed, Mouse used the opportunity to explore the Palace some more, in hopes of finding some secret rooms or passageways that she could later share with Arya. Her exploring ended up leading her to the Royal Training Grounds and there she met Sir Darien for the first time. She had heard about him from court gossip, but had never before seen or met him. From what she had heard, Sir Darien was supposed to be the most attractive, handsome man in all of Keiento and all of the women wanted him. When she finally saw him, it was not hard to see why. The memory came flooding back into her mind, replaying the scene as if it were happening again right at that moment.
Mouse leaned against the rough wooden fence, watching the moving figures dance around the ring. The two Squires were deeply concentrated on their fight, not noticing Mouse watching them, which she was perfectly happy with. She sighed as a cool breeze blew through her hair, closing her eyes as she tipped her head backwards to soak in the sun's warm rays.
What a beautiful day... she thought to herself with a smile.
"Enjoying the weather?" the voice interupted Mouse's thoughts. She opened her eyes and there before her was the most attractive man that she had ever seen. Everything about him appealed to her. His deep brown eyes, his wavy black hair, his dark tanned skin, his bright charming smile, it all cried out and tugged at Mouse's heart, which was pounding rapidly now. His white, sweat-soaked shirt was half open, exposing a broad, muscular chest. Mouse watched entranced as sweat trickled down his tanned skin.
"Cat got your tongue?" he laughed, tilting his head as the charming smile flashed across his face.
"N-no..." she finally managed to sputter. "You... You just startled me, that's all."
"I know that my presence can sometimes have that effect on people," he smiled again, showing a bit of a cocky, arrogant side.
Well he definately knows that he's attractive, Mouse noted. But why would someone like him ever take interest in me? Something's not right here... Something doesn't feel right... She couldn't put her finger on it, but something about this man made Mouse want to put all of her walls up and shut him out.
My heart says yes, but my mind says no. Mouse thought to herself. It's like my mind knows something about him that my heart refuses to see. She shook her head trying to clear her thoughts, which startled the man before her.
"No?" he sounded clearly shocked. "You do not find me appealing? Usually every Lady does." He smiled as he reflected on what must have been the reactions and complements from other women.
"Well why don't you go talk to them then?" Mouse snapped, the sudden reaction startling not only the man, but herself as well. "Go let them feed your ego, Mr. I Think Every Woman Is Attracted To Me Because Of My Good Looks!"
"Ahhhhh," he smiled triumphantly. "So you do think that I am attractive!"
"I never said that!" Mouse replied sharply.
"Ah, but you did," he cooed as his eyes trailed up and down her body, seeing her fully for the first time. "This is going to be fun." Mouse didn't have time to fully comprehend what his words meant as they were interrupted by the then young Elsa.
"Mouse!" she called out, racing over to her. "Mouse, the Queen is looking for you! Oh!" She skidded to a halt before them as she realized who Mouse was standing with. "Sir Darien, your Lordship." She curtsied to him. "It is an honour to be in your presence, Sir."
So this is the Knight that everyone has been talking about... she regarded the man before her with a new perspective. It's no wonder why all the woman claim he's gorgeous! He really is! But still... there's something about him...
"Mouse, eh?" Sir Darien licked his lips as he said her name. "Interesting name for such an interesting young woman. I look forward to getting to know you better." Mouse shuddered, uncomfortable with what he meant by that.
"Don't hold your breath," she retorted, turning on her heel and hurrying away to find Arya, his earlier words still haunting her mind: This is going to be fun.
Even to this day, those words had still haunted Mouse. Sir Darien had tried endlessly to win her over, but she refused to let him break through the walls that she had put up. It finally had become too much for Mouse that she had confinded in Arya, who in turn had his fleet relocated, much to the dismay of Sir Darien. Before he left, he promised that when he returned that he would come for her again and that he would never give up on her, never stop trying to win the affections that he "knew" she had for him. It had been well over a year since then, and Mouse was dreading their reunion.
"Try to think of it this way," Arya's voice broke through her thoughts. "He can't very well pursue you if you are with someone else."
"You're right!" Mouse's face lit up. "Even Sir Darien knows that it is wrong to pursue another man's woman!"
"That's if you continue to see Sir Vyron," Arya commented. "Can you do up the back for me?" Mouse got up and walked over to where Arya stood before the mirror clothed in a light blue dress.
"He wants to see me tonight," she smiled as she did up the back of Arya's dress for her. "He left me flowers and a note by my door this morning."
"Too cute!" Arya squealed. "I'm so jealous of you! See! That's the kind of love that I want to find! Natural, unexpected, real love!" Mouse couldn't help but laugh.
"You will find it someday," she assured her as she picked up a brush and began to brush Arya's long, dark hair, pausing only to answer the sudden knock at the door. The servant there handed her a long, narrow box. Puzzled, she took it back into the room.
"For me?" Arya asked, turning in her seat to look at it.
"No..." Mouse replied tentatively, reading her name on the label. "It's for me." She slowly opened the box, revealing a single, long-stemmed red rose. Beside the flower was a small note that read: I have come back for you. She let them fall to the floor as she looked up at Arya, panic flaring through her body.
"He hasn't forgotten."