Cherished Lady: Part 2

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6- Artemis

I muffled another hiss as my muscles ached while lifting the basket of clothes. To say I was sore from Lord Edmon's beating yesterday was a serious understatement. Every part of me ached especially my back and of course that's not an essential part in lifting and carrying heavy loads. There was nothing I could do but work until the end of the day at which point I could go back to my quarters and soak in a tub.

I listened as the machines droned around me deafening all other sounds. I was still lost in thought when I was lifted up from behind causing a pained yelp to escape my lips. Immediately, I was dropped and spun around to meet a pair of concerned eyes.

"Are you ok?!?" Dalton yelled at me with a panic. I knew he would fuss so I tried to brush him off and turn back to my work. Dalton grabbed my arm to turn me back around which caused another painful squeak. "Artie I swear if you don't tell me what's wrong.." Uhg! Typical overprotective brother.

"It's fine," I whined back. "I'm just a little sore from training practice yesterday. I'll be fine." Dalton face scowled in confusion.

"There was no sparring practice yesterday."

"There was," I replied, "you just weren't there. I figured you must have been busy with the other guards and warriors training." It took a few moments for Dalton to connect the dots at which his eyes became hard and his fists clenched as he let out a low growl.

"I'm going to kill him," he mumbled.

"Don't be stupid," I mumbled back turning around to my work.

Around me I could see the various other girls whispering and giggling to each other. Dalton came down to visit often and he always caused a stir with the ladies, so much that Mrs. Harris the laundry matron has had to chase him out a couple of times. It caused tension with the other girls at first because they thought I was interested in him. Once I explained we were basically siblings they were nothing but friendly again.

Dalton pulled the basket I was working from away from me. I rolled my eyes annoyed at him.

"You should take the day and rest. I'm sure Mrs. Harris would let you if you asked. "

"I don't want to take the day off. That would just leave the others to finish it. I don't mind doing my part." I tried to pull the basket back but Dalton had a strong hold and would not let go. I scowled at him, but he still refused to relinquish it. After staring a moment I gave in with a sigh.

"Fine, let me finish the morning loads and I will talk to Mrs. Harris about taking the afternoon off. Deal?" Dalton smiled widely while releasing the basket so that I could pull it towards me to finish folding it.

"And to make sure you are held to that decision, I'll be here at lunch promptly to escort you to your room," he exclaimed proudly. I still wanted to be annoyed with him but couldn't help but let the side of my mouth curve up.

"Fine but once I'm upstairs you are to leave me alone and do whatever guard-ly duties you have to do. Now get out of here before Mrs. Harris runs you through." I looked at Dalton one last time with a smile to wish him good bye but was interrupted by Mrs. Harris herself.

"Artemis?" Her tone was not sharp but still firm. I spun around to answer her. When I met her eyes she sounded out with a "to my office immediately," before walking away. Now I've done it. I turned back to Dalton who had an embarrassed look. No doubt she was going to talk to me about his visits. I gave him my most vicious glare before walking toward the matron's office.

Mrs. Harris was a firm boss but she was fair. In fact I quite liked her. She had a no nonsense attitude but had also stood up for the laundry girls on more than one occasion. I doubt I would be fired but a scolding was for sure in order. I couldn't blame her for it. Dalton was a nuisance at best and a disaster at his worst. He had interrupted laundry production more than one time with his visits.

Walking up to the office door I took a deep breath before knocking. Mrs. Harris opened the door immediately.

"Artemis my dear please come in." I was thrown off a bit by the light tone in which she addressed me. She isn't exactly someone I would call warm.

I walked in to the the small office which consisted of a desk and a small sitting area. With a table and two armchairs. Sitting in one of the chairs was a woman with silver hair and porcelain skin who I instantly recognized. The queen. More notably the same queen whom I botched serving tea to. Suddenly I wished I was being scolded for Dalton, and not whatever it was that was about to happen.

As my nerves settled in, I began to shake. How bad did I mess up that the queen herself came to see me? My eyes instantly went to the floor not wanting to face my embarrassment. The queen stood up and gestured to the chair opposite of her.

"Artemis it is wonderful to see you. Please have a seat?" I looked at Mrs. Harris silently begging her with my eyes as I cautiously walked over and sat in the chair. It was not being used as Mrs. Harris' attention was completely on the queen. The queen sat back down in her own chair before addressing Mrs. Harris.

"Mrs. Harris, if you wouldn't mind, may we have use of your office for a bit." I used every bit of my mental strength to telepathically tell Mrs. Harris not to leave me but all she did was smile at the queen and nod her head slightly with an "of course ma'am," before slipping out of the office.

I stared at the closed office door wishing for Mrs. Harris to return. Without making eye contact I turned back towards the queen focusing on the lace pattern of the tea set that rested on the table. The queen did not let me sit for long.

"Artemis is it?" her voice was sweet. "I wonder if you could tell me how you came to delivering tea to me the other day." I knew it. I had messed up. I didn't want to get Mary in trouble, but at the same time I didn't want to keep anything from her majesty. It was best to come clean.

"I...I'm sorry your majesty I meant no disrespect." Once I started talking the words seemed to fall out without thought or reason. "I was delivering towels to the kitchen and I was there when Mary burned herself with the water and they needed someone to take the tray and I was there so the kitchen matron asked me to do it. Had I had any idea that it was for her majesty I would have found someone more qualified. I had no idea what I was doing and beg your forgiveness for any mistakes I made-“ I was stopped when I felt a hand placed on time of mine causing me to look at it's owner. I looked up to see the queen smiling at me with little crinkles framing her eyes.

"Oh my dear, do not fret. You did wonderfully." The queen continued to smile warmly at me.

"I did?" Why would she come to see me if I had not messed up?

"Yes, in fact I wonder how did you know how I liked my tea?"

"Your tea ma'am?" I was confused. I didn't do anything with the tea.

"No one told you how I took my tea?"

"No your majesty." The queen narrowed her eyes at me withdrawing her hand back to her lap at which she pulled forward a folder pulling some papers from it.

"I hope you don't mind Artemis, I took a liberty at looking at your employment file," she said lifting the file slightly before slipping on some reading glasses and opening it.

"It says here you are from the northern territories?" she asked

"Yes your majesty." I replied quietly. The Queen nodded.

"And you were recommended for employment by my brother Lord Edmon."

I almost choked on my own breath. "Lord Edmon is your brother?" I had no idea he had a sister let alone the Queen?

"He didn't tell you?...typical." She waved it off before returning to the file. "Hmmm...there isn't much in here." She looked up to me and pulled off her glasses. "I have to ask, are you sleeping with my brother?" Oh goddess please let a black hole appear under my seat and swallow me whole now. I sputtered to find the words to responds.

"I...uh... no...I mean NO! I assure you your majesty I have not, nor do I ever intend to..." I couldn't finish the words of what she was insinuating. Don't get me wrong Lord Edmon is a handsome man but with the age difference alone I don't think I could ever look at him that way..or at him at all after this conversation.

The queen held up one hand chuckling to stop. She was obviously amused at my response.

"No need to clarify any more my dear Artemis. Forgive my bluntness, I expect nothing less than honorable from my brother but I had to ask to be sure. It wouldn't be the first time a nobleman tried to sneak their mistress into the palace."
I looked all over the office trying to find any other topic to talk about. The Queen found one for me.

"Actually Artemis I have a proposition for you. I was wondering if you would like to be my lady in waiting. I have been without one for a while you see and I think you would be a great fit for it."

I wasn't so sure. I had not idea what I had that qualified me to serve the queen. I tried to convince her just of that.

"I'm flattered your majesty, but I don't know how to be a lady in waiting."

"Oh it's not that hard," she countered back. "It's mostly acting as my assistant. You will run errands for me, attend meetings and gatherings with me and help me get ready for large events. Most tedious really."

"Would I have to get your tea?" The queen chuckled lightly.

"You will not have to get my tea, though if you make it half as well as you did last time I may have to amend that statement." I smiled at the queen relaxing for the first time. "So Artemis...do you accept?" My smile spread wide over my face. I knew intuitively this woman was kind and meant well. How could I not say yes?

"Of course your's majesty," I said bowing my head. The queen reached over and and grabbed my hand causing me to look up at her smiling face.

"No need to be so formal all the time. I prefer to be addressed simply as Ma'am although my actual name is Sarina."
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