"Pa, do I really have to leave?" asked a young read-haired boy, riding a horse next to the man with graying hair. Sighing, the man replied: "Yes, Roland, you have. Apart from several little things everything is already arranged. You should be honored that man such as teyrn Cousland agreed to let you stay and train in his castle."
'Hm, honored.' Most of all the boy wasn't feeling overly honored. Scared and nervous, more likely. He didn't care about any honor in being allowed to grow up and train and all the other things somewhere so far from his home, from his father. He felt like kicking into something, even if he knew it wouldn't make him feel better.
"Because leaving your home to serve in another castle is what nine year old boys do," was the answer he received. And he kept asking all the time the journey to Highever took. And always received the same answer about being honored, make his father proud and doing what noble boys at age of nine do. Pouting just wouldn't help either.
He was doomed. Doomed to be stuck somewhere he knows nothing about with people he knows nothing about. Great, just great. But obviously his damnation was making father proud. The castle of Highever was becoming closer by each passing they and when he finally stood in front of the biggest castle he's ever seen, he couldn't help but to stare at it with his mouth open. The castle wasn't just big. It was huge and he was sure he will get lost in it more times than he would've liked.
To his surprise they were greeted by teyrn and teyrna themselves. Both of them looked at him kindly, teyrn with twinkles of laughter in his eyes, teyrna with stern eyes, softened by her smile. He stuttered reply to their greeting, blushing furiously while doing so. And then they told him to wait outside the room they were talking about his stay.
He felt his heart sunk again when he stood there, in the middle of empty corridor. Just when he was about to sniff he heard something. Looking around he couldn't find the source of the sound when he heard it again. And there it was - a chestnut-haired girl, about his age, looking at him from behind the nearest corner. When she noticed his eyes had finally found her, she giggled, flashed him a brilliant smile and giggled again.
And suddenly he knew that his stay here won't be as bad as he thought in the beginning.
"You'll never catch me, you slowcoach!" was the challenge she raised.
Well, he aimed to prove her wrong. Dipping his hands into big a jug of molasses he allowed himself to smile deviously. Ah, sticky - just as he needs it to be. He'll show her who's the slow one here. There! That giggling blur of blue color has to be her!
With molasses dripping off his hands he run after her. "Won't catch me! Won't catch me! Won't catch... eeek!" she squeaked in the end. That's when he - surprisingly - managed to catch her. Right the next moment his hands were in her hair, sticking her pigtails together. By that she broke free of his grasp and run away.
"Nan! Nan!" she cried.
He smiled and went to wash the molasses off his hands. It took him quite some time to wash it off when all of sudden teyrn himself stood in his small room.
"I think we need to talk, young man," was all it took to make him gulp loudly. He was in trouble. In real trouble.
After the longest lecture he's ever gotten his ears were ringing with 'it's impolite to smear molasses into women hair', 'a future knight shouldn't be acting like that' and things like this when teyrn said something what completely caught his attention. "They had to cut her hair, because they couldn't wash the molasses out of it, you know." His stomach clenched. He knew how proud she was of her hair and how happy she was with its lenght. And now they had to cut it short again. Because of him. That was what made him feel guilty about the whole incident. Not the whole teyrn's speech about proper and improper behaviour - but the traces of tears he saw on Andrea's face when the teyrn led him to her room to see her and say his "I'm sorry" to her.
He really meant it. But... he couldn't stop himself from thinking that this new, short haircut really suited her and she looked really cute.
He was grounded. He was grounded and for the first time he was grounded alone.
Groaning, he recalled the happening of the day ago. They were chasing each other in the gardens when it occured him that they could play something else. Impersonating. And whom should they try to impresonate?
Andrea impersonated Nan. And she did it really masterfully, completely showing Nan's nature - quickly annoyed but still caring. However, it still lacked some realism, so when it was his turn, he decided to impersonate the captain of the guard, he crept into his room and took some of his clothes. He couldn't figure what was wrong when Andrea jumped behind the closest bush suddenly. And that was when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder.
"I think you've got yourself in trouble, young Roland."
Damn. Why everytime he heard it, it actually has to be true?
So now he was sitting in his room, all alone and bored out of his mind. But time for his revenge will come. And he just got perfect idea. Curling his lips into a smile he thought 'yes.'
Frog in bed.
All he could think about was her. When did they became so grown up and... and when did she became so beautiful and breathtaking?
He pocketed a small piece of parchment. 'Let me tell you, Rory, that having to ride a horse for the whole day is really something a lady shouldn't do. Seriously. I doubt that I will ever be able to keep my legs in not-widely-apart position. What proper lady has her legs apart all the time?' It made him laugh when he imagined her walking like that from the stables. Damn, how it comes that he wasn't there to see that?
He just wouldn't stop blushing everytime he passed her in the halls of Couslan castle. She always covered her mouth with her slender palm, hiding her smile and quietening her giggle. How it comes that he would walk through the castle, wishing to see and wishing for not to see her at the same time?
They used to be friends and playmates, always getting into trouble together. But now? When they are apart, he yearns for her presence, when they are together, his heart just wouldn't stop beating at a maddening pace, refusing to calm.
And then his eighteenth birthday came. He came to actualy like his birthday; teyrn and teyrna always gave him a small present and wished him all the best, he celebrated with the other squires and guards at the quarters... but only now she cames to celebrate with them as well.
It was a celebration no one ever had. All the guards of the castle were nervous in the presence of daugher of their teyrn - but her sweet smile and friendly nature quickly lulled any traces of nervousness. She danced with them, she drank with them, the blush on her cheeks caused by the ale she drunk only adding to her beauty. No wonder all the men were completely mesmerized by her. After the midnight, when she tried to stand and was unable to walk straight, he took her in his arms and in bridal style carried her to her room, her hands cirling his neck and her head nestling on his shoulder. He thought his heart was very close to jumping out of his chest when he found out she fell asleep in his arms. He sneaked to her room and layed her on the bed.
She looked so peaceful in her sleep that he didn't want to leave. But he did. It wasn't right to feel that way about teyrn's daughter. About daughter of a man, who gave him a better future.
This night was one of the few he really wished to be son of someone important. Of someone so important that he would get an invitation for the ball and get the chance to dance with her.
Instead of it he was son of a not-so-important bann from Bannorn, so he was stuck to night guarding of the castle. And suddenly, just as he was turning around the corner, someone bumped into him.
"I'm sorry, my lady... Andrea? Is that you?"
She put a finger to her lips. "Sh! I just finally managed to sneak out of the ballroom and would love to stay from all those people for at least a short time." She groaned. "Oh, Rory, it's just so boring there! One would have thought that all all of them have nothing better to talk about that dresses and shoes in ladies case and horses in lords case. Sorry about bumping into you like that, tho," she switched topics. "You move awfully quiet in all that armor - and since I was looking behind me to ensure someone isn't following me..." Her voice trailed into silence. On her lips was the smallest of smiles, twinkle of mischief in her eyes.
He coughed. "Would you like me to accompany you for a short walk through the gardens, before you return to the ballroom?" Nodding gratefully she accepted his offered arm and walked beside him. After a time he dared himself to speak: "It's a beautiful night, isn't it?"
She looked on the starry skies. "Yes, Rory, it is. Look," she suddenly pointed with her free hand, "a star is falling!" Indeed. But it wasn't the stars that caught his eye, it was her face, the lights in her eyes, the curve of her lips when she smiled. His stomach clenched painfully and his heart started beating heavily. When her eyes fell to his face, he blurted: "I love you."
The world around stopped moving. Her eyes widened, endless questions hurried on her lips; he could clearly see that. But then her eyes softened again and her lips curved in the gentlest of smiles. "Oh, Rory," she whispered, her hands weaving around his neck. When she rested her head against the cold metal of his armor, she spoke again. "You know, Rory, I just happen to love you, too."
He shouldn't be feeling so alive, content and happy. Enveloping her in his arms, burying his face into her hair her, breathing in its beautiful smell, to feel about her in such a way was wrong.
But why did it have to feel so right?
Hiding his face in his palms he sat on his bed.
How could they be so foolish? How could they think that their happiness of shared affection could last? How could they think they won't get discovered?
He never felt so ashamed of himself than when teyrn and teyrna - out of all possible people who could stumble over them - had caught them kissing. The slap both of them received from her stung like nothing else.
She tried to reason with her parents, with tears in her eyes begged them to give them a chance, that this wasn't just a childish crush. To no avail. Teyrna almost dragged her to her room, while teyrn just stood in front of him, his eyes burning. "Go to your room, Ser Gilmore. I think we will need to talk late."
So he went, the time he waited for teyrn to come stretching into half of eternity. His heart longed for Andrea's presence, the shame of betraying the man who gave him a future, let him stay at his castle and become a knight burning in it at the same time.
Click! The door fell open and teyrn stepped inside of the room, closing it behind him. Silence fell above both of them.
"How long were you seeing each other, Roland?" was teyrn's first question. Breathing raggedly he answered: "For several months, my lord." Another silence.
"Have you slept with her during that time?" teyrn asked directly. "What?" yelped he. "We... I... never, my lord! I would never sleep with her before I had right to do so!" He was angered for teyrn thinking so lowly about him. He would never imposed himself on such a lady like Andrea was. Maybe he betrayed his trust by falling in love with his daughter, that much was true - but apart from kissing and hugging they didn't do anything more.
Teyrn eyes were boring into his own, looking directly into his soul, searching if he was told the truth or not. He nodded. "I believe you, Roland. But this must end."
"My lord!" A hand of ice gripped his heart. "I'm sorry, Roland - but it's my daughter we are talking about. If you won't end this... this relationship, I'll send her away from Highever."
To end their relationship and never be able to touch her again, or not to end it and be forced to see her leave... Which option was the better one, when both of them hurt? He felt tears trickling down his cheeks - but wasn't ashamed of them. After a long time of silence the tears stopped falling.
Tearn banned him from the castle for several months, ensuring that he and his daughter won't find a way to pursue their relationship, assigned another knight to her weapon training.
It was a very long time before they have seen each other again. They met on one of the main corridors of the castle. Their eyes met. And then his heart broke, when he saw none of the affection which used to shine in them.
"Good morning, ser Gilmore."
His throat tight, he bowed to her. "Good morning to you as well, my lady." Without another glance in his direction she continued on her way.
In another life they would already have been married with a child on the way. But in this life they were forced apart, for their affection was wrong. He knew that seeing her after all this time will hurt - but did it really have to hurt so much?