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Elspeth Bradan
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:24 am    Post subject: Reconnecting Reply with quote

May 1617

Carib was a very different country to Pomerania. For those visiting for the wedding of Princess Elspeth to Lord Miles Bradan, it wasn't so much the isolation of the landscape they traveled through to reach the capital from the only port that was jarring; no, it was the weather. Carib was a far warmer land than its western and northern neighbors, and that was reflected in the clothes worn by the people. The Pomeran delegation was surprised to see the leather and hide-clad men and women of the horse lord clans; yet it was the sight of the fashion in the Carib court that truly shocked. And they had a very good look at it for, as they rode into the courtyard, the soon-to-be-wedded princess erupted from the main doors, running with long strides to wrench open the door of the carriage and throw herself at her cousin and his wife, who also happened to be a best friend she had not seen for over a year.

Felipe laughed at the excited welcome, leaning out of the way to allow Elspeth and Jane to embrace. This was a far cry from the shy cousin he remembered. "Els, you seem to have forgotten your skirt," he pointed out in amusement, earning a blush and a giggle from his cousin.

"If it bothers you, cousin, you should probably not look," was her sweet answer, her smile flickering forth as she jumped down to gesture for them to step out of the carriage.

Jane squealed with girlish delight as Elspeth welcomed them, and she returned that welcome with a fond hug and a kiss on both sides of her friend's pretty face. "Perhaps she will start a new fashion," she suggested with an impish grin of her own. It had been far too long since she had seen her good friend and her husband's cousin, and she had missed her terribly.

Giggling, Elspeth offered her friend a hand down from the carriage, knowing perfectly well that she wasn't going to be allowed to get away with being this informal for much longer. She loved her brother's wife dearly, but Brynhilde did have a formal streak in public that sometimes grated. "Come out where I can see you properly," she told them both. "Before the barons start muttering about how I'm not under control."

"Is it always so warm here?" Jane asked as she climbed out of the carriage and fanned her face with a hand. She was not dressed quite as practically as Elspeth and they had come a long way from Pomerania.

"It gets warmer in summer," Elspeth warned her fondly. The brighter weather showed on her face - when she'd left Pomerania, she had been porcelain pale with never a blemish. Now, she was freckled and rosy, clearly thriving in the almost never-ending sunshine.

Felipe dropped out of the carriage behind his wife, running an awkward finger along his collar. "I'm already regretting putting this doublet on."

"Then perhaps you should take it off," Jane suggested with a saucy grin. She had never been shy when it had come to Felipe, pursuing her heart's desire almost from the very first moment she'd met him. "Oh, Els, you've got freckles!" she said, laughing as she took a better look at her friend.

"You'd rather see me in leather harness like the gentlemen who escorted us here, would you?" Felipe teased his wife fondly. A year ago, he had only just come around to the thought of being in love at all. Now he was married and happy, and his mother had stopped looking at him as though she was never going to have more than three grandchildren.

"I'm sure if you asked nicely, Lorcan would lend you his harness," Elspeth commented with surprising playfulness, laughing at Jane's exclamation. "I do have freckles! Apparently they're terribly unfashionable, but I like them. Miles calls them sun kisses."

"Oh!" Jane exclaimed again, warming to the topic of her handsome husband in leather. "That's an interesting thought," she said, looking her husband over appreciatively, like he was good enough to eat. Being married for eight months had done very little to diminish her desire for her husband. She paused a moment to waggle her brows at him before turning back to Elspeth with a grin. "They're adorable. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!"

Felipe laughed a little awkward, raising a hand to rub at his neck. He loved Jane, but she was sometimes a little more open about the physical side of their relationship than he was entirely comfortable with. Maks, of course, thought it was hilarious.

Elspeth was blushing at this comfortable display of affectionate teasing, biting her lip as Jane complimented her freckles. "Oh, everyone tells me otherwise except the people I love," she promised her friend, looping her arm through Jane's. "Come inside. Maybe Henry won't insist on you being presented if I can get you to your rooms fast enough."

"And it is a well established fact that I am one of those people!" Jane declared, linking her arm with Elspeth's, while reaching for Felipe's hand to tug him along on the other side of her. "Oh, don't look so embarrassed, Felipe! I promise I will behave myself while we're at court." But she couldn't make that same promise while they were alone or with friends.

"Sweetheart, you and I both know that you will deliberately misbehave just to make the stuffier nobles blush," Felipe pointed out as he let her take his hand, falling into step with the women. "Between you and Marianne, half of Father's court doesn't dare express an opinion older than you are."

"Well, it serves them right for being stuffy. It's not my fault they don't remember what it's like to be young," Jane argued, with a pout. She wasn't pouting because he was reprimanding her, because he rarely if ever did, but because she couldn't understand how once vibrant people became so dull as they got older. Unless they were dull to begin with.

"You are going to have half the younger southerners falling over themselves to make you laugh," Elspeth predicted. The Archon's people would be only too happy to entertain Jane and Felipe, in her opinion; the barons were still just a little wary of being overtly friendly to anyone without some clear gain for themselves.

"So, tell me about this Lord Bradan of yours. Is he handsome?" Jane brazenly asked. Of course, Elspeth had already written multiple letters telling her all about Miles, but Jane wanted to hear it all over again, in person.

"Jane!" Elspeth erupted into flustered giggles, her cheeks flushing beneath her freckles as she drew them into the castle, waving away the herald who came rushing toward them. "I am quite capable of showing their highnesses to their rooms, thank you ... And yes, he is very handsome," she added to her friend.

Felipe snorted with laughter, taking pity on the herald. "You ladies go ahead," he suggested. "I'll mollify the court and make sure Henry doesn't feel left out."

"Don't worry, Felipe. There is no one as handsome as you," Jane assured her handsome husband with a flirtatious bat of her lashes and a squeeze of his hand. She might have thrown her arms around him and smothered him in kisses, if not for the herald.

"You are an incorrigible flirt, and I adore you," was his matter-of-fact answer. He bent down to kiss his wife softly. "Go and gossip, you have been dying to for the last three weeks. Els, I will inevitably see you later. If she talks too much, find her something sweet to nibble on."

Elspeth giggled at this advice. "I'll take than into consideration, Felipe, thank you."

He wasn't getting away so fast without at least one more quick kiss to his lips and a pat to his cheek. Jane did so love kissing him and getting him flustered, not because it gave her some strange sense of power over him, but because he was just too cute. "I'll nibble on you later, love," she whispered in his ear before drawing away, an irrepressible smirk on her lips.
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Elspeth Bradan
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Felipe closed his eyes as his face lit up with a blush that Elspeth, at least, had never seen before. "Thank you, sweetheart," he told Jane in a slightly pained voice, patting her hand as he stepped back to bow to them both.

"What did you say?" Elspeth demanded in a hushed whisper as he headed for the herald, amazed to find that Felipe could be embarrassed, after all.

Jane shrugged, that smirk still curling her lips. "Oh, I just told him I'd nibble on him later," she replied, linking her arm with Elspeth's once again and giggling girlishly at her confession. "I really shouldn't tease him like that, but I just can't help myself."

Elspeth blinked in confusion. "I don't understand," she admitted even as she smiled, resuming their walk toward the royal wing. "Why would you bite him? Did he do something you don't like?"

Now that made Jane break into amused laughter, as she patted Elspeth's hand. "Oh, Els ... You will understand soon enough," she promised her, wiping an errant tear from her eyes. "He really is so good to me. He is kind and caring, and I love him dearly."

Comprehension dawned at the evasive answer, lighting the redheaded princess' face with another blush. "Oh, you're talking about ... that," she said, lowering her voice to a whisper for the last part. She still looked confused, however. "You bite him? Does he bite you?"

Jane chuckled at her friend's innocence. "Oh, a little of both," she replied with a grin, remaining as vague as before. "It's not so much biting as it is nibbling," she explained vaguely. "You will find out soon enough," she added, giving her friend's arm a fond squeeze. "Now, you must show me the gown! And tell me more about this Miles of yours!"

Elspeth's mouth was hanging open, a little shocked and more than a little giggly at her friend's intimations. She knew only too well how the basic act was performed, but she'd never really considered that all the women she knew actually enjoyed it. Did that mean she would enjoy being a wife like that? Jane's mentioning of the gown, however, brought her back to herself with a snap. "You're going to find it terribly scandalous," she warned her friend in amusement, drawing her along the warm stone corridor toward the rooms that were her own. She would make sure Jane found her rooms when they were done.

There was the question of what she was going to wear, too, but she didn't mention that right now. Jane only hoped it was practical and not so heavy as what she was currently wearing. "Is it always so hot here?" she asked, fanning herself with a hand again.

Elspeth laughed. "I'm sure you won't believe me, but this is actually rather cool for a spring day," she told her friend, drawing her into a set of chambers dominated by wide windows that looked out over the startling green of the gardens. There was a door standing open onto a veranda that lead down into those gardens, too. "Your rooms are like these," she told Jane, hoping she would like them. "But these are mine. And ... well, Miles will be here with me soon, too."

Jane looked around as Elspeth led her inside and she let go of her friend's arm to make her way toward the window to admire the view and hopefully, catch a breath of fresh air. Though there was a slight breeze, it was a warm one and did very little to cool and refresh. "It's lovely, but how do you manage the heat?" she asked, with another look around.

"Well, there's this," the redhead admitted, gesturing to her clothing. In Pomerania, it would have been utterly scandalous, but here in Carib, it had become the norm for ladies to wear fitted pants and light surcoats since Bryn had become queen. "And the fabrics are lighter. We wear more silks and linens than velvets and wools. And, of course, everywhere is shaded, and there are a lot of fountains to cool the air. But in the height of summer, not much happens. It's just too hot."

Jane frowned, already feeling the heat making her sweat beneath the impractical layers of her clothing. She had been warned that it was warm here, but she had not expected it to be quite this warm. "I'm afraid I don't have many silks or linens."

"Yes, you do," Elspeth assured her with a smile. "We're about the same size, so I asked the seamstresses to make you up a few things. I didn't want you to be as awfully uncomfortable as I was when I first arrived here. At least you didn't burn in the sun!" She laughed, turning to pour her friend a cup of iced tea. "Try this ... it's very different from wine, but it won't give you a headache in the heat."

"Oh, you're a dear!" Jane exclaimed, so relieved she might have hugged her friend, if she had not been pouring and then handing her something that looked suspiciously like tea, but was cold, rather than hot. "Tea?" she asked, reaching for the glass with a curious arch of her brows.

Elspeth nodded. "Flavored with peach," she warned, knowing the unexpected fruity taste took a little getting used to. "They make a lemon one, as well, but I have more of a sweet tooth, so they make sure I have this."

Jane took a sip, and then took another, finding the taste a little sweeter than what she was used to, but refreshingly cold and tasty. "Oh, that's lovely," she said with an appreciative sigh. "May I?" she asked, as she moved to set the drink aside so that she could make herself more comfortable. "So, what do you do here for fun?" she asked, hoping there was more to the place than just the gardens. She wasn't looking to go on any adventures, but she would easily grow bored if all there was to do was sip tea and stroll through the gardens.

"I should have expected you'd ask," Elspeth giggled, shaking her head. "There's swimming, and games - the horse lords will take you riding if you ask them, but their horses really don't obey anyone but them! In the evenings, we usually sit outside, and they have a position here of court storyteller ... he takes requests, and he'll spin stories of legends and myths, or he'll create one there on the spot for you if you don't mind being the hero of the story."

"Felipe can be the hero," Jane remarked with a smile, as she started to unfasten her overdress. She was wearing at least one too many layers, not to mention the corset that was making it hard to breathe in the heat. She furrowed her brows as she regarded her friend a moment and reached over to poke a finger at her ribs. "Are you wearing stays?" she asked curiously.

Giggling, Elspeth didn't really need to answer that question. There was no unyielding heaviness of padded cloth to keep Jane's finger from prodding too pointedly. "No, I'm not," she admitted almost shyly. "I'm wearing slightly more interesting underwear that doesn't attempt to kill me if I do more than sit in the shade."

That was enough to convince Jane. "Help me get this bloody thing off, then!" she exclaimed, struggling to get herself free from the trappings of too many layers. First came the overdress, then the underdress, and lastly corset, leaving only her chemise and bloomers.

"Oh, Jane ..." Laughing, Elspeth helped her friend whip almost everything off, waving her toward the jug and bowl on her dresser. "Wash off, I'll find you something more comfortable to wear. Don't worry, I won't make you wear breeches yet."

"Why can't we go around like men, in hardly anything at all?" Jane asked, scrutinizing her reflection in the mirror with a frown. "Do I look like I'm getting plump to you?" she asked, hands on her hips as she turned this way and that.

She had to wait for an answer - Elspeth was already in her bedchamber, opening up the large standing cabinet in which her clothing was hung. "Hmm?" she called, not having heard her friend. She came out with green and blue silk hanging over her arm, a curious smile on her face. "What are you doing?"

"I think I am getting plump," Jane explained, still examining her reflection in the mirror with a frown. It never occurred to her that there might be a reason her waistline seemed to be expanding a little, other than the fact that she liked sweets.
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Elspeth Bradan
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Elspeth told her firmly, laying the dress and surcoat over the back of the couch. "You are not plump. Perhaps you're a little softer than you were, but you're a married woman, and a princess. You're allowed to be a little bit softer - after all, I got a lot softer after I was taken to court. My bones don't show anymore, but I'm hardly plump, am I? Take the rest off, I've got undergarments for you, too."

"Do you know, I came to court to find a husband, but I never set my sights on becoming a princess," Jane said, abandoning the mirror with a frown to slip off the rest of her clothing. As she and Elspeth were almost like sisters, she was hardly worried about modesty, so long as they were alone.

"Well, you did find a husband," the redhead pointed out with a smile. "He just happened to be the single most wanted bachelor at court - who, I might add, had been very vocal about never getting married before he met you." She giggled, pulling an ... interesting pair of very brief garments from the pile on the couch. "This is a breast band," she explained. "And these are smalls."

"Oh, I don't know about that. Maksim is quite popular with the ladies," Jane said, eyeing the tiny bit of cloth with a skeptical arch of a single brow, not to mention what looked like tiny bloomers. "What is that supposed to do?" she asked, skeptically.

"You wear it," Elspeth told her with a laugh. "You don't have to - you will be wearing a long skirt - but if you decide to try breeches, you'll want to wear these, trust me. Chafing down there is not an entertaining experience."

"Well, I know I wear it, but ..." Jane gave the underthings another skeptical look, reaching for them to examine them closer, turning them this way and that. "It's so ... small," she said, for lack of another word.

"It doesn't cover very much, but it is decent, I promise you," her friend assured her. "You tie it in place with these ribbons. Look." She twisted, slipping the waist of her pants down a little way to show her friend the ties holding her own undergarments in place.

Jane gasped in shock, which was quickly followed by a giggle. "Scandalous! Help me try them on!" she told her friend, with a mischievous grin, wondering what Felipe would think of her scandalous new undergarments.

Laughing, the two young women managed to get Jane into the underthings. The smalls were easy enough to get on, even if they felt a little strange; the breast-band needed help. It was, essentially, just a wrap of cloth that laced up at the back like a corset, though with nowhere near the constriction. Elspeth looked her over with a critical eye. "What do you think?"

"I think we should start a new fashion trend in Pomerania!" Jane remarked with a grin, knowing the ladies of the court there would probably be shocked at such things. Perhaps if she could convince Marianne, though.

Elspeth giggled, handing her the soft, light silk that was her under-dress. "If you ever manage to, I may have to demand proof," she warned playfully, moving to help her friend get into the much cooler dress.

"I am not sure how I would manage that," Jane remarked as she let her friend help her into the much lighter, cooler, and more comfortable clothing that seemed the norm for women in Carib.

"I might have to visit so you can gather a few ladies to show off their bottoms," Elspeth suggested, though her laugh suggested she knew exactly how badly that would go. She was quick to lace the underdress comfortably, lifting the surcoat over Jane's head to secure that in place with a silver belt. "There now ... you look like a Carib lady now."

"Do you think Felipe will like it?" was Jane's first question, chewing at her lip while she once again scrutinized her reflection in the mirror. Whether she liked it or not seemed immaterial, so long as it pleased her husband.

"I think you will probably have a lot of fun making him blush in company, telling him all about what you're not wearing underneath it," Elspeth predicted, moving to stand behind her. She watched her friend's face in the reflection for a long moment. "Are you happy, Jane?"

Felipe was likely to find out all by himself the first time he touched her waist and realized she was not wearing a corset. The brought a smile to Jane's face, as did her friend's question. "Very happy," she said, turning to face Elspeth and reaching to take her hands in hers. "And you are going to be just as happy, once you and your Miles are wed," she promised her, stepping closer to give her a hug.

Wrapped up in Jane's arms, Elspeth let herself relax, squeezing just a little tighter as her anxieties about her upcoming wedding night flared. "I love him," she whispered, still scarcely able to believe it. "I never thought I ... Well, I never thought anyone would want to marry me, not after ..." She swallowed, shaking her head as she drew back. "I'm frightened of what happens afterward, Jane," she admitted softly. "I know he would never hurt me, but ... I'm still scared."

Jane's expression turned thoughtful - concerned, even - as she pulled away from her friend, still within arms' reach but far enough away that she could meet her gaze. "Does he know?" she asked, without going into details. Elspeth would know what she was referring to by her question.

Blue eyes clouded over, but Elspeth nodded. "I couldn't ... I couldn't ask him to love me without telling him all of it," she said softly. "He said it doesn't matter. But I don't want him to feel he has to treat me like fractured glass, Jane. I'm frightened, but I don't want to be frightened."

"Sweetheart, I can assure you there is nothing to be afraid of ... not with a man who loves you and cares for you. It is a little ... awkward at first. It can even be painful, but it doesn't last. And it is the only way to make a baby," she added with a saucy grin.

Reassured, Elspeth felt herself smile again at Jane's saucy addendum. "Are you suggesting that all I need to be myself totally is a nursery full of babies?" she asked in amusement. "Or is that your ambition?"

"It is not about being yourself, Els. Don't you want to give Miles a child one day?" Jane asked curiously, before turning to the mirror again to fix her hair that had become mussed from the undressing and dressing.

"I'd like to have a child with Miles," Elspeth answered softly. "Giving your husband a child sounds like you expect him to take it away. If I have children, I will raise them myself, the way my mother raised me. I don't care what the conventions are. I was raised a commoner, and I will always treasure the closeness I had with my mother and brother as a child. I want that for my children."

"As do I," Jane admitted, with a sigh, hoping she, too, would be allowed to raise her own children and not send them off to a governess or a nanny. "I want to give Felipe sons, but is it selfish of me for wanting a daughter?"

"Neither of us is going to have the luck Marianne did," Elspeth pointed out, pouring herself a cup of tea to sip. Luck might not have the appropriate word - carrying triplets had not been the most enjoyable experience for the young Crown Princess of Pomerania. "Jane, how is it selfish to want that? Your wants, your desires, are no less important than Felipe's. I think he would be horrified if he knew you judge everything by whether he would like it, or whether he would approve. You have a mind of your own. Use it."

"Oh, I know. I just wish to make him happy," Jane said, though there was no proof she didn't make Felipe happy. She did worry a little about holding his interest, especially if she became pregnant, but they were the worries of someone who had witnessed the dallying that sometimes went on at court first hand. She trusted her Felipe implicitly, even if he had been been reluctant to wed before he'd met her. Perhaps he just hadn't met the right woman yet. At least, no one could claim she had trapped him into marrying her.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"He is happy," Elspeth told her quietly. "When I first met him, he was stern and silent, and he stayed like that even as we grew to know each other. And then he met you. And he teased you the first time you ever spoke to each other. Jane, Felipe doesn't tease anyone outside the family. You've changed him, and it's for the better. He is far happier with you than I knew him before."

"Do you really think so?" Jane asked, just needing a little reassurance. She'd missed her friend dearly, and while she and Marianne were friends, there was no one who could ever take Elspeth's place.

"Of course I do," Elspeth insisted with a smile. "He let you make him blush where anyone could see you, and he didn't get angry or uncomfortable. He let you in, Jane. You're good for him. I hope he's good for you, too."

"He is perfect," Jane replied with a smile and a sigh, feeling just a little selfish for burdening Elspeth with her own worries and concerns when she had plenty of her own. "But enough about me! When do I get to see the dress?" she asked, that impish grin back on her face again.

"Whose dress, mine or yours?" Elspeth countered, matching that impish sweetness with her own. There was a reason they had taken to each other so easily when they had first met, and though now they were separated by great distance, it was doubtful that anything would dissolve the friendship they'd built.

"Yours, of course, silly! Though I am curious what I will be wearing, too," Jane admitted with a slightly bashful smile. "Oh, Els. I have missed you!" she declared suddenly, reaching to embrace her friend again.

"It's wonderful to have you here," Elspeth promised her, wrapping her friend up in her arms to hold on tight for a long moment. "It's strange to be the first lady of the court and not have you there to make me laugh at myself. Bryn's so formal in public; she tells me off if I giggle."

"Perhaps together we can help her relax a little," Jane suggested, though she didn't know the current Queen of Carib very well. In fact, she had only met her a few times, and very few words had been said between them. Given the fact that Elspeth's brother had married her, however, she couldn't be all bad.

"She's better in private," Elspeth assured her. "I'm not sure what Harry did to convince her to leave her weapons off her person unless she absolutely needs them, but it has improved things a little." She giggled, taking her friend's hand. "The dresses. This way."

"Harry is a dear," Jane said of Elspeth's brother - the new King of Carib. She had once found him attractive, until she'd met Felipe and forgotten every man that had come before him.

"He's a wonderful king," Elspeth told her, deeply proud of her brother. "And your Thomas is completely indispensable. Oh! And you get to meet your niece! I had completely forgotten that you hadn't met her yet - she's adorable."

"Dear Thomas," Jane said with another sigh. Once upon a time, she and her brother had been as inseparable as Elspeth and Harry, but life had taken them in different directions. Jane was grateful for the opportunity to travel to Carib to see those she cared for again, after so many months spent apart. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to be here when she was born," Jane added with a hint of regret in her voice.

"He knows," Elspeth promised her friend fondly. "Winter is a terrible time to travel from Pomerania. As warm as it is here all year through, we do appreciate that navigating eight foot snow drifts just to get out of the city is not something we can ask of you." She kissed her friend's hand, pulling her into the bed chamber. In the corner, there were a pair of dummies, carefully covered over with a dust sheet. "Are you ready?"

Jane smiled and brushed an errant tear from the corner of an eye, touched as she was by her friend's understanding and show of affection. She nodded her head enthusiastically at her question, almost holding her breath to see what the dressmakers had concocted for them to wear at Elspeth's wedding.

Excited, and a little bit nervous, Elspeth gently lifted the dust sheet from the two gowns, biting her lip as she stepped back to let Jane enjoy the sight of them. The wedding gown was white and gold, the outer layer diaphanous over a more modest under-dress, split sleeves to leave arms bare; the second dress was layered in the same sort of fabrics, the style just a little different with full sleeves, in dusky blues and purples.

Jane gasped again at the sight of the dresses she and Elspeth were to wear to the wedding. It was obvious which was which, as Elspeth would be traditionally dressed in white, while the blue and purple dress was clearly meant for Jane. "Oh, Els," Jane whispered, stepping closer to touch the fabric of each dress and take a closer look. She especially liked how the dress scandalously bear her shoulders, an impish grin touching her face once again. "Lovely, but scandalous!" she said, laughing. "Felipe is going to love it!" As, it could be assumed, would Miles.

Elspeth watched her with slightly anxious eyes as she admired the dresses that had been so painstakingly created for just one occasion. "You really like it?" she asked worriedly, reassured by the laughing grin on Jane's face. "I wasn't sure you'd appreciate my designing a gown and having it made without your input, but ... it will really suit you, Jane. I promise, you'll look lovely."

"You designed these?" Jane asked, looking surprised by that piece of information. She thought she knew everything there was to know about Elspeth, but it seemed she was wrong.

The redhead nodded shyly. It was one of very few things she did not allow to be declared about herself, but even as a commoner, she had been good with a needle, making her own clothes and Harry's from a very young age. That skill was now not required, but she still used it, and had formed a close friendship with the seamstresses employed by the Carib court. "I design all my clothes," she confessed softly.

"Oh, Els!" Jane exclaimed, touching her fingers to her own heart, even more touched by the fact that her friend had gone to the trouble to design a dress especially for her. "I don't know what to say," she said, her eyes becoming wet with tears. "Such a talent you have."

"I didn't design your underwear, if that worries you," Elspeth added in concern. "That's what the horse lords wear, and ..." She trailed off, realizing that Jane wasn't upset with her for taking the initiative here. "Just as long as you're happy with it, that's all I need to know."

"Happy with it?" Jane echoed, in amazement. "I have never seen two more lovelier dresses in all my life!" she told her friend, turning to catch Elspeth in yet another sisterly hug. "We are going to make everyone jealous," she added with a smirk.

Surprised, Elspeth burst into giggles as Jane caught her in that hug, deeply relieved to see her so pleased. "Well, we and Bryn," she pointed out. "She hates wearing dresses, but she liked what I designed for her wedding so much, she asks me to make any dresses she absolutely has to wear." And what an education in armor and weaponry that had been.

"Bryn is going to wear a dress?" Jane asked, in obvious surprise. She knew enough about the Queen of Carib to know it was rare indeed to find her wearing a dress. "I can't wait to see it!" she added with a giggle, wondering what Elspeth had designed for the queen that would meet with her approval.

"It's not so much a dress as a sort of wrapper over a shirt and pants," Elspeth admitted impishly. "I've given up trying to convince her not to wear her breeches. These days, I just make them up in pretty colors instead."

Jane tried to hide her disappointment, and yet, she knew whatever Elspeth had created for Bryn would be lovely, if the two dresses before her were anything to judge by. "I'm sure it will be lovely, just the same," she told her.

Elspeth giggled at the disappointment on her friend's face. "It doesn't really matter what she wears," she confessed. "She's uniquely beautiful here. No one is blonde haired and blue eyed like the queen. She could be wearing sackcloth and ashes, and they'd still follow her with their eyes."
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I'm sure Harry would, anyway," Jane remarked quietly. There was no jealousy in her voice or her words. She was perfectly happy and content with Felipe and held no animosity against Brynhilde. "She is a stunning woman, after all," she added. "I rather envy her sometimes." Not because she was queen - Jane would never envy that - but because she was free enough to be able to wear whatever she wanted and no one dared challenge her.

"They keep getting caught kissing in corridors," Elspeth giggled impishly, shaking the dust sheet out to cover the two gowns once again. "And not just polite kisses. Really kissing. Where anyone could see them!" She met Jane's eyes, understanding her friend's envy. Bryn had been raised in Edessa, where women were equals not only in the culture, but in war, too. The Queen of Carib refused to allow anyone to rein her in by force, and she was changing the way the country worked as a result of it.

Perhaps Bryn would change things enough that one day it would be perfectly acceptable, even in Pomerania, to go without a corset and skirts. "But she is not yet with child?" Jane asked, moving to help her friend re-cover the dresses with the cloth.

"Not that we know, not yet," Elspeth admitted. She was a little worried about that, but the Archon's wife, Caoimhe, had assured her that sometimes it took years for women to conceive. "They're happy, that's what matters, I suppose."

"I suppose," Jane admitted reluctantly. She didn't share Elspeth's worry exactly, but she looked a little concerned. She had heard that sometimes women were unable to conceive, and she hoped for both Bryn and Harry's sake, that Bryn was not one of them.

"It hasn't been a year yet," Elspeth added quietly. "And perhaps she is, but they do not want to announce it so close to my wedding. Harry has been very insistent on making the day all about us."

"Perhaps," Jane admitted, hoping her friend was right and that there was nothing to worry about. She had also heard of women using herbs and other means to prevent pregnancy, but she didn't think Bryn would be one of them. She frowned a little as she thought of something else, something no one yet knew except her. "Els, there's something you should know."

Her frown was just enough to bring Elspeth's worry to the surface, turning to take her friend's hands in her own as she looked into Jane's eyes. "What is it?" she asked in concern. "Is something wrong?"

"No, but ..." Jane drew a breath, unsure if she should tell her friend what she suspected but wasn't quite sure of yet. She felt a little guilty for sharing such news at a time that was supposed to be about Elspeth and Miles. "It has been over a month since I had my courses last."

Anyone in the corridor outside could be forgiven for thinking that the king's sister had just been startled by something utterly unbelievable. The sudden squealing was loud and totally unapologetic as Elspeth abruptly wrapped her arms around Jane's waist and picked her up, bouncing happily on her toes as she put her back down. "That's wonderful news, Jane!"

"Bloody hell, Els! You're going to make me ill!" Jane warned her friend, laughing as she was bounced up and down. "I am not sure yet! It hasn't been that long, and you mustn't tell anyone! Not Harry or Thomas, and certainly not Felipe!" she warned further.

"Oh, I won't, I promise I won't," Elspeth assured her, letting her find her feet again only to envelop her friend in a warm hug. "Oh, but isn't that wonderful news? Have you been sick? Was the journey terrible?"

Jane laughed at her friend's sudden flood of questions. "The journey would have been terrible anyway, and I don't feel any different really, but maybe it's too soon to know for sure?" she asked, uncertainly. Neither of them had ever been pregnant, so it was hard to say for sure.

"Maybe," Elspeth had to concede. She had only known Marianne in the later stages of her pregnancy, after all. "Are you comfortable? Are you hungry? I can call for some food for you. You should be looking after yourself!"

"I'm fine. Stop worrying," Jane told her friend, patting her hand to reassure her of that fact. She was a little tired, yes, and hungry, but anyone would be after traveling all the way from Pomerania to Carib in a cramped carriage.

"I'm allowed to worry, you're having a baby!" Elspeth protested happily, seizing her by the hand to pull her out of the bedchamber and over to the veranda, where a table and chairs were set up. "Sit down, drink your tea. I'll see about some food."

"Shhh!" Jane said, waving a hand at her friend. It was supposed to be a secret, especially from Felipe, though she hadn't explained why, other than the fact that she wasn't sure yet. "We don't know that yet!" she said, as she was physically dragged out onto the veranda to sit in a chair.

"I could get the healer to come and look at you," the redhead suggested, setting out the jug of iced tea and their two cups before ringing a delicate bell. The sound was crystal clear in the gardens, and before long, a smiling maid was standing at the foot of the steps onto the veranda. "Moira, could you fetch some food for Princess Jane? Something light."

Moira curtsied swiftly, nodding in agreement, and disappeared into the garden as Elspeth sat down beside her friend.

Jane frowned a little at the question, not wanting to upstage her friend's wedding with news of her own. "If I promise to see a healer after the wedding, will that do?" she asked, knowing she would have to sooner or later anyway.

Elspeth smiled, reaching over to squeeze her hand. "Yes," she promised gently. "I just want you to be happy and healthy, and not knowing for certain will not help you with that. Besides, wouldn't it be lovely to be able to go home knowing for certain that there is another prince or princess on the way?"

Jane groaned. As much as she loved her home in Pomerania, she was not looking forward to the journey back anytime soon. "I think perhaps we should stay a little while before going home. Do you think Harry will mind?"

"Oh, of course he won't mind," Elspeth promised her. "It's been more than a year since we saw you both, and likely will be another year before I can convince Harry to let me visit Pomerania myself. We should make the most of it. Just so long as we get you home before the snow flies again!"

"Yes, of course," Jane agreed. After all, if they didn't leave before the snow started, it was likely they'd be stuck in Carib for the entire winter until the passes opened back up in the spring. She leaned forward, grasping both her friend's hands in hers, a warm smile on her face. "I've missed you so much!" she told her again. Though she had other friends in Pomerania, none of them could ever replace Elspeth in her life or her heart.

"I've missed having you close," Elspeth answered her in kind, her smile warm for the friend she had been so sorry to leave behind. "I am glad that you and Marianne have become such good friends, though. How is she? How are the babies? And the Queen?"

"All well, and all missing you as much as I do," Jane assured her friend. "You must come visit us sometime and see the babies for yourself." She laughed as she thought of them. "They are all so different. It is amusing to watch when they are all vying for their parents' attention," she added. "The Queen is well. Content, I would say, but I think she worries a little about Maks."

"Oh, I miss them so much," Elspeth admitted. She had left when Stephan and Marianne's children were still only small babies, and now they were beginning to take their first steps. "She will always worry a little about Maks," she smiled gently, remembering the Queen with deep affection. Her middle cousin, on the other hand, was remembered with wary amusement. "He isn't still spending time in the bawdy houses, is he?"
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I keep telling him he won't find a wife there, but I don't think he's interested in finding a wife," Jane remarked with a small frown. It didn't much matter to her what Maksim did, but she didn't much like the way he teased Felipe now that he had settled down. "I did not manipulate Felipe into marrying me, did I, Els?"

"Jane, unless you seduced him and then pretended to be pregnant, the answer is most certainly no," Elspeth pointed out calmly. It said a lot for the way she knew her cousins that she knew where this concern had come from. "Maks has a big mouth, but he doesn't mean anything by it. He teases because he's scared, I think. Now he's the only Pomeran prince unwed, that makes him a target for all the title-hunters and influence-wishers in the court. But I have no doubt that he adores you the way he adores Marianne. Felipe is his baby brother. Of course he's going to tease both of you about it."

"But he isn't happy, Elspeth. Not really. Oh, he thinks he is, but deep down inside, I think he is lonely, especially now that Felipe has married, too. He will grow bored of hopping from bed to bed one day. I only hope it happens before he's too old," she said, believing, like everyone else at court, that Maksim couldn't keep it in his pants if he tried.

Elspeth only smiled softly. She knew, in a way few others did, that Maksim was not the deviant rogue he pretended to be. She'd met his informant from his favorite whore house, a woman who had risked her own neck to save the life of the king himself. She knew Maks was destroying his own reputation to protect his family in the only way he knew how. But she didn't know how to explain that to Jane. "No, he's probably not happy," she agreed softly. "But he behaves this way because he feels he must. Perhaps someday he'll meet someone who will convince him to change his ways, perhaps not. But he's not as feckless as he seems, I promise you."

"Felipe says the same thing," Jane replied, that frown still on her face, crinkling her brows. "I suppose I shouldn't worry about him so, and trust him the way Felipe and Stephan seem to do," she added thoughtfully. She wasn't stupid by any means and had a feeling there was more going on than she was being told, but she knew it would do no good to ask.

Elspeth squeezed her hand gently. "It's his secret to keep," she said regretfully, "or I would tell you everything. But he is not intentionally keeping you left out. Marianne doesn't; the queen doesn't. The only reason I know is because I was directly involved once. It isn't a slight, and I'm sure if you asked, he would tell you, or ask Felipe to explain."

This hint of news didn't surprise Jane so much as it confirmed some suspicions she had regarding Maksim's frequent trips to the bawdy house. What did surprise her was that Elspeth had been involved somehow once so that she knew Maksim's secret, and Jane suddenly realized how Elspeth knew. "It was when you first met Stephan, isn't it?"

Elspeth nodded, her expression very carefully not showing even a suggestion of discomfort at the reference to what had been a defining moment in her life. "If it weren't for Maks, none of us would be here," she told Jane softly.

Jane didn't normally like secrets or gossip, though court was full of the stuff, and might have normally pressed her friend for more information, but it was Maksim's secret to keep, and from everything Elspeth was telling her, that secret seemed to go beyond that of mere philandering. "Will he never marry then?" she asked, if only because she truly wanted to see Maksim find the same happiness that she and Felipe now shared.

"It would have to be a very special kind of woman to catch his attention and hold it," Elspeth mused. "Someone like him, I think. And I very much doubt there's a woman like him in all of Pomerania."

"A woman like Maks?" Jane echoed, with a chuckle. "Now, that would serve him right," she said, grinning with amusement. She wasn't sure what all was going on with Felipe's older brother, but she knew she had gone as about as far as she could in gleaning any further information from Elspeth. "I shall have to take your word for it that Maks is a hero."

The redhead giggled, glancing up as Moira returned with a platter of fruits, breads, and cold meats. "Thank you, Moira."

The servant bobbed a curtsy. "My pleasure, your highness." Elspeth watched as she walked away.

"I'm still not used to being called that," she mused. "How are you adapting, Princess Jane?"

"You still have told me nothing about Miles," Jane pointed out, reminding her friend for about the third time as she attempted to change the subject yet again. "Is there something you don't want me to know about him? Does he have a hideous mole, a hump on his back, a cleft lip?" she guessed, knowing Elspeth's intended had none of those things.

"No!" Elspeth erupted into giggles at this mental image her friend had conjured. "He's beautiful, and kind, and ... Oh, I don't know, Jane. I'm terrible at describing people, you know that. You had to write me a list of questions to answer when I first told you about him!"

"When do I get to meet this mystery man?" Jane asked, as she refilled her glass of iced tea. She supposed she would meet him at dinner later that night, but she wasn't too sure and she wanted to know everything she possibly could about the man who was about to marry her closest friend.

"He is usually always at my side," Elspeth admitted. "He's my Champion, you see. But I think I may have taken him by surprise when I heard your carriage arrive, and if he was caught in conversation, he will not have been able to follow me. Goodness, he's probably awfully worried about me."

"Why don't you send for him then?" Jane casually suggested as she plucked up a piece meat, laid it atop a slice of bread and folded the bread over before taking a bite.

Elspeth eyed her friend with a soft smile. "You really want to meet him, don't you?" she asked, touched by the understated eagerness Jane was displaying. She was a little nervous of that meeting - Jane's opinion was very important to her - but she wasn't sure why she was so evasive about talking about Miles. Perhaps because all she really had to talk about were stolen kisses.

"No, I want to approve of him," Jane replied, unable to hide the smirk from her face, though she wasn't really worried about whether or not she'd approve of Miles. Elspeth was clearly enamored of him, and that was all that really mattered.

Biting her lip, Elspeth smiled, seeming to come to a decision. "All right." She rose from the table, turning to slip back into the rooms and open her door to ask the nearest guard or servant to have someone send for Duke Bradan. Miles' promotion in rank had been officially invested just two days ago, silencing the barons who thought a second son was not good enough for the king's sister.

Returning to the veranda, she slipped back into her seat, her cheeks flushed with anticipation. "I'm not very good at being entertaining about other people," she admitted to her friend. "Or at making decisions, still. It won't be long before he arrives; he, um, he rarely makes me wait more than a few minutes."

"You sent for him?" Jane asked, giggling. She had only been teasing her friend, but it seemed she was indeed about to meet Elspeth's intended up close and personal. "I had better eat faster!" she said, taking a hurried bite of the bread and meat before their guest arrived.

"Of course!" Elspeth hesitated. "Should I not have done?" She had never been truly at home with the authority her position gave her, unable to comfortably make decisions unless it was for the benefit of someone else. "I-I can send someone to tell him no, if you would rather."
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"No, no!" Jane replied, that impish grin on her face again. "This should be amusing," she added, though she didn't say why. A knock sounded at the door, and she cleared her throat and tried to make herself look regal, which was almost impossible wearing what she was. "Well, what are you waiting for? Ask him to join us!" she told Elspeth with a wave of her hand.

"Be nice," Elspeth warned her softly, though she was unable to hide the way her entire expression softened and brightened at the knock on the door. It was obvious that she adored her betrothed, and just as obvious that she was used to having to pretend otherwise, if the little skip in her step as she headed for the door once again was anything to go by. She could simply have called for Miles to come in, but for some reason, she wanted to have a moment of his time alone before she let Jane loose on him.

As she'd expected, it was Miles at the door, dressed as practically for the weather as was his betrothed. Unlike Elspeth and Jane, however, he was a native of Carib and accustomed to the warmth. He smiled as she opened the door for him, but as always, behaved like a perfect gentleman, whether in private or otherwise.

"You sent for me, my lady?" he ventured formally, in case anyone was listening.

"I did, your grace," Elspeth responded just as formally. "Please, come in. I would very much like you to meet the Princess Jane." She stepped aside to allow him to come into the room, moving to close the door behind him. No matter how many people told her she didn't have to, she still insisted on opening and closing doors for herself. And with Jane out of sight on the veranda, it was a perfect opportunity to steal a kiss from Miles, as smiling lips found smiling lips.

Alone, behind closed doors and away from prying eyes, Miles was able to relax a little. Though the kiss he returned to her lips was warm and affectionate, he made sure to keep it chaste until they were wed. He would not have to wait too much longer, but he was careful where Elspeth was concerned, almost to a fault. His hands touched her waist, but lightly as his lips met hers - a sweet, tender kiss that promised more to come. "Princess Jane?" he echoed, once their lips parted.

She bit her lip, blushing as he reminded her why he was there. "My friend, Jane," she corrected herself softly, stroking her fingers against his shirt. He was always so careful, never showing her any hint of the sometimes frantic desire she'd witnessed in Harry and Bryn. Did that mean something was wrong with her? But now was not the time to worry over it. She took his hand, drawing him out onto the veranda. "Miles ... this is Jane. Jane ... my betrothed, Miles Bradan."

If it had only been Elspeth, or if Jane had known Miles better, she might have scolded them both for making her wait, but instead, she looked up at the two of them and noticed more in a moment's appraisal than many courtiers hadn't noticed in all the months since Miles had become the Royal Champion. He was handsome. Of course he was handsome! Jane had expected as much, but she had not expected just how handsome he was, and the surprise at that was obvious on her face, the way her brows arched momentarily upwards and a smile lit her face, eyes bright with amusement. "It is a pleasure to meet you," she said, offering Miles a hand. "Elspeth has told me so much about you," she said, with a pointed look at Elspeth for not warning her how handsome he was.

Miles didn't seem to notice anything unusual, and only took Jane's hand in his own and offered a polite nod of his head in greeting. "All good things, I hope," he said.

Elspeth gave her friend an innocent look, knowing she hadn't exactly been effusive in her descriptions of Miles. But how did you describe someone who was so perfect, in her eyes? "I would never say anything awful about you," she told Miles, inviting them both to sit down as she fetched another cup for him.

Of course, in Jane's opinion, he wasn't quite as handsome as her Felipe, but he was handsome enough in his own way. He was tall like Felipe, and he had kind eyes, though she thought he looked a little too serious for his own good. If he and Elspeth were going to have a happy marriage, they were going to have to learn to laugh together, if they had not done so already. "I understand you have recently been made a duke," Jane said, all the questions she'd wanted to ask him going straight out of her head the moment she'd laid eyes on him.

"You understand right, Your Highness," Miles confirmed, letting go of her hand and reclaiming his place beside Elspeth. "I am grateful for everything the king and queen have granted me, but I am most grateful for Elspeth," he explained, taking Elspeth's hand in both of his.

If Jane had been in any doubt of her friend's absolute trust and love for the man at her side, then it was swept aside as Elspeth looked at Miles. She had always had expressive eyes, but for once, that expression was reflected in her being; in the sweet tilt of her lips into a loving smile; in the way she unconsciously leaned toward him as he took her hand. "And very modest," she teased softly, covering his hands with her own briefly as she looked over to Jane. "He seems utterly in denial about being the second highest ranked man in the country."

"I am not sure I would go so far as that," Miles said, though it was true, or would be upon his marriage to Elspeth. He had achieved that which so many others had failed at, and not because of his breeding or noble status, but because he had simply proved himself most worthy of the position and of her love.

Jane snorted, very unladylike. "She's right. You are far too modest. You should know, my lord, that your betrothed is like a sister to me. There is no one, save my husband and brother, whom I adore more, but they are not the ones who are about to be wed." Jane rose to her feet, unable to hide the smirk of amusement from her face. "I know everything there is to know about her; hence, I know everything there is know about you. I know what you did for her and I know how you feel you are not worthy, but let me something, my lord ... It is not a matter of breeding that makes someone noble, and it is not something that can be taught. It is a matter of the heart. No matter your bloodline or the order of your birth, you, Miles Bradan, are more noble and more worthy of your title and your lady than those others who are born to it."

As Jane spoke, Elspeth could feel her cheeks burning, torn between pleasure and a little mortification. Now Miles would know how much she had told Jane in those long letters the two girls sent to one another, how many details she had shared with her friend about the man she loved. Jane had been with her as she had moved from admiration to friendship to love, and had been instrumental in encouraging her to finally take the plunge and ask Harry for permission to marry her Miles in the first place. And now Miles knew, or could guess. But if he didn't believe it from her, that he was more worthy than any other, perhaps he would believe it from Jane. Perhaps.

"I owe you a debt of gratitude for saving her that day, and for that, if nothing else, you will always be welcome in my home. I hope that you and my Felipe will come to be friends, and though we are not linked by blood, I would be honored to call you brother," Jane continued, going onto her tiptoes to brush a kiss against Miles' cheek. "Now, I am going to find Thomas, whom I have not seen in far too long, and give him a long, good cry."

Startled by the sudden taking of her leave, Elspeth jumped, blinking at Jane in shock. "You're leaving?" she asked, wondering if she had done something wrong in sending for Miles in the first place. "I-I could show you where Thomas is likely to be; he's usually near Harry."

"It's all right, love," Jane assured her friend with a smile. "I can find Thomas on my own, and if not, I will ask someone for help. I know I leave you in good company," she said, with a pointed look at Miles, who had yet to respond.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"No harm will come to her, so long as she is with me," Miles assured Jane, one arm going protectively around Elspeth's waist.

"I know. Be happy, both of you. It is not every day that one is able to marry for love," Jane replied before starting toward the door.

The slightly bewildered look on Elspeth's face remained even after Jane had left. She hesitated, looking up at Miles in confusion. "I'm so sorry," was all she could think of to say. "I-I thought she wanted to talk to you, I ... I shouldn't have called you away from the court."

"She did talk to me," Miles said, looking more amused than confused. It seemed Elspeth's friend cared about her a great deal, enough to know when to leave when three became a crowd. "I do not mind that you called me away," he assured her, brushing his fingers against her cheek. There had been a time when he'd been afraid to do that, afraid she might break, but he wasn't so afraid anymore.

Her cheek tilted into his touch, unafraid to share how much she enjoyed his newfound ease with her, despite her uncertainty about the act that loomed in their future. "I will not be comfortable to spend a full day and night apart from you," she confessed, referring to the tradition that meant they were not allowed to set eyes on each other for twenty-four hours before their wedding.

"But after that, we need never be parted again," he reminded her, letting his fingers graze her cheek in an intimate but innocent caress. "You will have your friends to console you," he added, knowing those friends included none other than the Queen of Carib herself.

"I am being threatened with an entire day of pampering," she sighed, not entirely sure she was looking forward to it. She wasn't the most comfortable when placed at the center of attention, though she knew she couldn't avoid it for her own wedding. "At least you will be able to leave this wing and go out. No one is allowed to see me, but my family."

"It's one day, love!" Miles reminded her further with an amused chuckle. It was a small price to pay for getting married, and Harry had promised it would not be the usual lavish affair most nobles had to endure.

His chuckle made her smile just a little, pressing into his arms to rest her cheek against his chest, closing her eyes as she relaxed. "Would that it had all happened yesterday," she sighed softly. "I cannot bear this waiting."

"Soon," Miles assured her as his arms went around her to hold her close, tilting his head to breathe her in. The wedding couldn't come soon enough for him, but he had waited this long; he could wait a little bit longer, and she was definitely a woman worth waiting for.

She lingered there in his arms for a good long time, her comfort with him enough that the question playing on her mind was out before she could consider it a bad idea. "Why are you so careful with me?" she asked in her soft way. "I will not break at a touch or a kiss. Do I not rouse the same passion in you that Bryn and Harry feel for each other?"

From the look on Miles' face, he hadn't been expecting that question. "Careful?" he echoed, unsure he understood what she meant. Yes, he was careful with her - she had been through so much - but he also knew she was not made of glass. "Do you think I do not want you?" he asked, a little confused.

She didn't dare look up at him, shy enough to even be asking much less to attempt holding his gaze as they discussed this. "I ... I do not know," she admitted softly. "The people I know who are in love, they ... they seem to burn. I-I think I burn, but perhaps I do not. Perhaps I am not made to feel that fire. But it makes me sad to think that you will not feel it, because you have chosen me."

"Elspeth, you do realize that a fire begins with a spark. Can you not feel the spark between us that will build to a flame when we are ready to feel its heat?" he asked, lifting to chin to face him.

Wary eyes the color of the summer sky tilted up to him as he lifted her chin, shy and uncertain as she so often was. "I feel it," she promised softly. "I ... do you?"

"Yes, of course I do," he assured her, as gently as he could. "But ..." He frowned, something tugging at his conscience that he hadn't yet told her. "I, um ... I am not very experienced in the ways of lovemaking," he admitted with an embarrassed flush to his face.

She blinked, a little confused by his embarrassment. "Does that change anything?" she asked in her quiet way, her fingers stroking against his back as she held his gaze. "I am ... Well, I am not what most men want from a bride. But I do not know how it should go, Miles. I'm so very afraid of doing something wrong."

He was just as afraid of that as she was, but he didn't want to worry her further by admitting it. Perhaps, there was something else he could promise her instead. "We will learn together, and we will teach each other," he told her, taking her hand and brushing a soft kiss against her palm. And with any luck, instinct would help teach them what they needed to know.

Instinct would have to do. But for now, it was enough. It was love and instinct that drew a coiling line of fire through her at the press of his lips to her palm; instinct that stroked her fingers to his jaw; instinct that pulled him down to her as she sought a kiss that was, perhaps, not as gentle as it should have been. But it was real - it proved that she did feel that way for him, impatient and eager despite her fears.

He would have to take all his cues from her, but if her kiss were any hint of things to come, it was encouraging. He felt the spark of a flame in her kiss and her touch, a matching spark within himself. If she loved him even half as much as he loved her, they would be fine. Men and women had been making love and making babies from time immemorial, and Miles was hopeful that when the time came, they, too, would know what to do.

But that time was not now, and despite that longing, they both knew it. Elspeth drew back, a pretty flush on her freckled cheeks as she met his eyes with a shy smile. "Would you like to escort me back to court, your grace?"

"I would be honored, Your Highness," he replied, with a soft smile and yet another warm touch of his lips to hers, before offering her his arm. In another week or so would come the true test, and they would find out just how much those sparks would ignite between them.

The course of true love never did run smooth, but if anyone deserved a smooth ride, it was them.
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