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One Night in Camelot


Guest John Bramston
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England was at peace. Arthur, King of the Britons, had beaten and received the submission of the Kings of the Saxons, Scotts, and Irish, and so for the first time, perhaps ever, the whole land was at peace and under one ruler. It was an uneasy peace, but at least a peace.

 

To celebrate peace’s five-year anniversary, King Arthur had decreed a feast to be held at Camelot and invited all his noble subjects, the Kings who had submitted to him, and their nobles as well. Fair dames and daring knights, rich nobles and knavish upstarts all gathered in his fair halls. Nobles from as far away as Babylon had come to honor the famous and great king.

 

The halls were decked in bright colors and the heraldry of innumerable knights, lords, and even the Kings. The food was all delicious, and several delicacies had been brought from the farthest reaches of the world to grace the King’s table. A band played music as sweet as any sound nature had ever made, and above this all sat King Arthur, looking upon his court with pride, the other Kings sitting next to but below him.

 

But among this vast throng, one of the oddest men there was Johan the Guilty, a jarl of the King of the Saxons and brother to Ivan of the Nine Crowns. In an era of bold knights and fair dames, where Kings personally led armies into battle, Johan was a shaking wreck of a man, and almost wholly incapable of personal combat. Some of the Britons whispered that it was a curse from God, a twisted body to reflect a twisted soul.

 

Saxons, though, were more accepting of such flaws. His warriors were quite content to bear Johan on a shield during battle. He had proven rather very capable of leading and his advice was well regarded. It was even rumored he knew magic, though Johan had cut the last man to accuse him of so heinous an art (as it was to the Saxons).

 

Johan let out a loud raucous laugh as one of the Saxon women (known for their flirtatious and volatile natures) told a rather saucy joke. A few of the other ladies, especially the British ones, blushed and some moved away. Johan just kissed the lady for a reward and she moved off to find her next quarry.

 

But then Johan saw someone wander dangerously close to his party, looking a little lost. He stood to bring them in. “It’s a p-p-pity, you know. We’re all here together, we ought to m-m-mix… a bit more. Cuh-come here, sit with us.” He led, or dragged if they were unwilling, the person to sit with him and the overly rowdy Saxons.

 

“N-n-now, I am Johan. Who’re you?” He said with a wolfish smile.

 

OOC: Open to all. Come play your character in the olden days of King Arthur!

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  • Sophia de la Cerda

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{OOC: There are absolutely no Arthurian-type names that are even remotely close to Sophia. Her middle name is Eleanora, which sounds like it could fit, so in this thread, Sophia will be known as Eleanora.}

 

Eleanora sat with the lords and ladies of her grandfather's kingdom while he mingled with the other foreign Kings at a table below King Arthur's. She just picked at her food, for she was not enjoying herself at all. She knew the only reason she had brought to the celebration was so that her grandfather could make an alliance through marriage that would benefit his kingdom, and she was not at all happy to be a pawn in a political game that she didn't even understand.

 

And there was the secret … the secret that scared her and that not even her grandfather was aware of. How long would she be able to hide it after she was wed? It would only be a matter of time before her husband discovered that she was … different … and what would happen to her then?

 

She scowled as her gaze swept the room. Everybody was laughing and talking as if they didn't have a care in the world, and Eleanora wished that she could share in their joy. But her troubles were weighing heavily upon her mind and she wished she could flee back to her room and fall on her bed and weep.

 

A flash of movement caught her eye and she looked down in horror as her goblet rose a few inches into the air. Not now! she screamed inwardly. Not here! But that odd fuzzy feeling was back, the one she got whenever the strange things began to happen … strange things she had no idea how to control. It was magic, she knew that much, magic that she had supposedly inherited from her mother, who had been drowned when she was three because of it.

 

Glancing furtively around her, Eleanora grabbed the stem of the chalice and forced it back onto the table. As soon as she let it go, though, it rose again and started floating away from her. There were so many people packed in the hall that nobody noticed one goblet hovering in the air. Still, she had to retrieve it before anybody did.

 

Standing up, she followed it, trying to grab it whenever she came close to it, but it always darted out of her reach. The wine inside sloshed against the edges and Eleanora feared it would spill and alert somebody to its presence. She had to catch it … and soon.

 

It wove in and out between various revelers, and the young girl gave chase. She pushed through the crowd, never taking her eyes off the bobbing chalice … at least until she tripped over someone's foot and stumbled forward, managing to catch herself before she fell. Unfortunately, she found herself at the edge of a group of Saxons, and the floating goblet was nowhere in sight.

 

Perhaps she did look a bit lost as she searched for it, and she certainly didn't expect a shaking Saxon to speak to her, let alone drag her over to his table. His party looked like they were well into their cups, and if they did see a goblet gliding through the air, they might think they had just drunk a bit too much.

 

Completely confused, Eleanora sat down and regarded the man who had practically kidnapped her. The way he looked at her sent panic hurtling through her soul. “I am … I am Eleanora,” she whispered, her voice shaking slightly. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she heard the sound of shattering glass and the fuzzy feeling vanished from her mind. She knew instinctively that her magic was no longer active and it was the goblet that had crashed to the floor.

 

Eleanora sighed in relief. “I … I think somebody dropped their chalice.”

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Johan did not notice the floating chalice. There was, of course, the low hum of magic, but it was a weak spell, and for those who knew how to see properly there were small amounts of magic nearly everywhere. Let alone Camelot where Merlin often was.

 

And Johan was rather used to women, especially foreign (which was to say non-Saxon) women, trembling before him. He loved his people but he was well aware why people would tremble before them. And the fact he was admiring her beauty might make her a bit nervous. He could understand that as well. He knew he meant her no harm. He also knew convincing her of that with simple words was probably impossible.

 

So he took her nervousness as normal, seeming just slightly amused. He took his short sword off his belt, still sheathed, and placed it between them on the table to their left. It didn’t occur to him she might not understand the gesture. It was an offer of trust and an implicit promise of nonviolence.

 

Then again, Saxons were not known for being honorable.

 

“Ah,” Johan’s eyes flashed with recognition from her name. “You’re that p-p-princess from the continent.” There were more than a few milling about, but it was still a fairly rare thing. And she was a beauty as well. He suspected he was about to be absolutely swamped by young noblemen come to ‘rescue’ her like he was some dragon. “Welcome to England.” He smiled a bit predatorily. The word choice was conscious: that was the Saxon name for the place.

 

When the goblet fell, though, Johan noticed it. And her relief. And the whispers of a very weak, very amateur sort of spell went out. She even commented on it in the general din. Johan gave a knowing and bemused smiled, though very sympathetic. “S-s-somebody ought to be more careful. Or at luh-least use a nice wooden mug.” Johan said in reply. He grabbed such a mug filled with beer from a tray of them and pushed it over to her.

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Eleanora was unable to sense magic, even though she had it herself. She had heard of the great wizard Merlin, but thought that he was only a myth and that Camelot, like her grandfather's kingdom, had outlawed magic years ago and put all sorcerers to death. She believed that she was the only one with magic in the castle and that she must not let anyone know. If only she could control it, it would be easier, but she had no idea how. It usually manifested itself when she was nervous or frightened, much as she was now.

 

The Saxon scared her, particularly when he took his sword from his belt. He's going to hold me hostage, maybe even kill me! The fuzzy feeling in her mind intensified, and she knew that stupid goblet was still floating around the hall, even though she couldn't see it.

 

Yet then he placed the sword between them, and she relaxed at bit. So he knew of her? Eleanora supposed that most everybody did, but she was surprised anyway. She had only arrived the day before. The journey had been long and tiring and she had slept until noon. She had strolled in the gardens this afternoon with a guard for protection, and she had heard people talking about her as she passed by, praising her fair beauty. It wouldn't be too difficult to find out who she was and spread it around.

 

“Yes,” she said, a bit hesitantly. “That would be me.” Was he interested in marrying her perhaps? Was that why he had pulled her over to his table … to lay his claim on her? Was that a declaration of marriage in Saxon terms? What would he do next? Knock her out and pull her out of the room by her hair?

 

“Th … Thank you,” she said when he welcomed her to England, shrinking away from his predatory smile. Was 'England' the Saxon name for Albion? It seemed rather likely. The petite blonde knew very little about Saxons.

 

Johan's expression changed to one of amusement and sympathy when her magic retreated and the goblet fell to the ground. Does he know? No, that was impossible. The chalice had not even been close to her when it fell. “Yes … yes, they should be. And … and hopefully, it will not happen again.” She was stuttering as much as he was.

 

Eleanora stared at the mug he placed in front of her. Stay calm, she told herself. Anxiety will just bring the magic back. She looked up at him and without thinking, blurted out: “You don't want to marry me, do you?”

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Camelot was indeed fully hostile to magic. The Saxons were less so, but even they did not look at it fondly. But Johan was called the Guilty for a reason. And he had cut the last man to accuse him of using magic precisely because such a violent response to a supposed stain on his honor let him keep up his masquerade. Truth, after all, was no defense against charges of slander or insult.

 

As for how Johan knew of her, her father had made her attendance known, along with her beauty and prospects. He was hoping to attract suitors for her after all, and a King’s daughter got precious little anonymity. But Johan had not done a thorough investigation and knew much more about her father’s kingdom than Eleanora herself.

 

“Hopefully.” Johan said, just a bit seriously, meaning it as a reproach. He did not know she was untrained. He presumed she had been foolish enough to do something like that in a public place on purpose, which could very well lead to her death. Even if she were not immediately killed, accusations of evil spells and witchery would be very readily believed.

 

Johan looked completely surprised at her question and then laughed loudly. “I had n-n-not considered it.” That was true enough. He managed to calm down from the chuckles, though still well amused. “Though with your… hair and your tendency to break things, you’d f-f-fit right in.” He chuckled a bit more at his own joke.

 

“Why, d-d-don’t like the man you’re father’s… got for you?” He wondered why the idea would even occur to her. He knew it wasn’t because he was dashingly handsome. And she seemed more afraid of his manner than anything else. “Hoping I’ll p-p-present a suit?” This last suggestion was more teasing than earnest.

 

Normally he might have been more flirtatious, but he guessed that would make her uncomfortable. And he was trying to make her feel comfortable sitting with him. He was just failing.

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His simple response sounded almost like a reprimand. Maybe Saxons were superstitious about breaking glass and that's why they drank from wooden mugs. Eleanora still stared a bit dubiously at the one he had set before her, not certain if she should drink or not. She had never had beer before. Usually, she drank wine. It smelled interesting, though.

 

Johan seemed as startled by her outburst as she was. And then he laughed at her. She was too relieved that he didn't want to woo her to be insulted. Yet when he mentioned her tendency to break things, her heart skipped several beats and the blood drained from her face, making it even paler than it usually was. He knows I broke that chalice. He knows that I have magic. But how can he tell? And will he keep my secret?

 

“N … no.” She tried to regain her composure and gave him a small smile. “I don't think my grandfather has chosen a husband for me yet. In truth, I don't want to marry at all. Not now anyway. I just thought that maybe you brought me over here because you wanted to marry me.” Eleanora was usually quite flirtatious as well, but now she was too scared to be charming … scared that he would reveal her secret and that she would be killed just as her mother had been. Her grandfather had forced her to watch while she was drowned, and she shuddered as she remembered that horrible day.

 

“Or was there another reason you wanted me to join you?” Her ice-blue eyes met his. “Why did you say I have a tendency to break things? I haven't dropped anything tonight.”

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Johan saw Sophia looking at the beer. Thinking she was worried it was poisoned, he picked it up and took a fairly large drink before setting it back in front of her and gesturing encouragingly. He hoped alcohol might make her a bit more comfortable, looser.

 

Johan laughed again as she shared her fears (and showed them by her face draining of blood). “No, no.” He assured her, “I m-m-mean, I’d be lucky of course,” He smiled with appreciation for her beauty, “B-b-but I just wanted to… talk with someone f-f-from another kingdom. We’re n-n-not terribly popular.” John shrugged with a half-knowing smile, “For some reason.” As if to punctuate the point, raucous, obnoxious laughter erupted next to them.

 

Then she turned serious. Johan did not. “Oh I w-w-wouldn’t say nothing. M-m-many hearts to start with. M-m-mine too. Did you really have to shudder?” Johan laughed anyway, and taking some mead from a passing waiter took a rather deep swig. There was also wine circulating around. “I know I’m n-n-not the best looking man, but really.” He had been telling the truth about not angling to marry her. That didn’t mean the shudder hadn’t hurt.

 

He very suddenly sunk into seriousness and his eyes met hers. There was a serious, probing expression to his gaze. He was content to let that linger for a moment, and only broke it by speaking slowly, “P-p-perhaps there was.” There hadn’t been, but Johan had experienced fate before and rather believed in it. He also wasn’t above seeming more insightful than he was.

 

Johan leaned in, amused and just slightly predatory, smiling, “Why d-d-do you think I said that? Why d-d-do you think I w-w-wanted you to join me?”

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Eleanora's eyes widened when Johan picked up her glass and took a gulp. Servants were passing by constantly with trays full of various alcoholic beverages. Why could he not find a mug of his own? Or was it normal for Saxons to drink after each other? She wasn't going to touch it now, even if he tried to force her.

 

She breathed another sigh of relief when he assured her that he didn't want to marry her. And yet, for some strange reason, she felt a bit disappointed that he wasn't interested in her as a bride, even though he said he would be lucky to be chosen as her husband. What if nobody wanted to marry her? She didn't want to wed so young, but she didn't like the thought of rejection either. No young lady did.

 

So he had just wanted to talk with someone from another kingdom. It was true most of the nobles at the feast were ignoring the Saxons, and now Eleanora was ashamed that she had been one of them. They were people like everybody else but were avoided because they were loud and rowdy.

 

Her head whipped toward the sound of raucous laughter and she instinctively moved backwards, which brought her even closer to Johan. She could feel his warmth and surprisingly enough, it was not unwelcome. “You're just … different,” she said. “It will take the others some time to accept you. But they will in time.” As a gesture of goodwill, she lifted the mug and took a swig. The beer was a bit bitter but it had an interesting taste to it.

 

Her head tilted to the side when he declared that she had broken many hearts, including his own. However, she didn't think that was what he had meant by her tendency to break things. Eleanora looked down at the floor when he called attention to her shudder. “It wasn't the thought of marrying you that made me shudder,” she said. “It was … a memory of something unpleasant. It had nothing to do with you.”

 

When he hinted that he might have dragged her to his table for another purpose, she looked up again, straight into his eyes. He was serious now, which only added to her belief that he knew about her magic. He leaned forward in a rather predatory way and asked for answers to her own questions. He is practically begging me to admit it. Could it be that Saxons are accepting of magic?

 

Deciding to trust him, Eleanora lowered her voice. “Because you know I have magic. And you know that I was responsible for breaking that chalice. But how do you know? Did you see me chasing it as it was floating through the hall?”

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Johan instinctively took her shoulder as she startled. He gave her a friendly if rough sort of smile. He wasn’t holding her prisoner or anything like that, but he didn’t let go. He smiled a bit forlornly as she spoke of being accepted. “What a chuh-charming view.” He meant that sincerely though he wasn’t taking her very seriously. Britain was not a peaceful place.

 

Johan gave her a triumphant look as she took a sip, as if to say, See? It’s not so bad.

 

“Ah, well. We all have suh-such memories.” He said understandingly. “The b-b-best way to deal with them is t-t-to do something pleasant.” He offered, though without innuendo, “Or alcohol.” He added wryly.

 

To even hear it said aloud made Johan just a tad nervous. His own skills were almost as much a secret as hers. And he had after all been making a very educated guess. He felt Eleanora to be naïve or foolish after some fashion, to have cast a spell and then to admit it to a stranger. Such a thing could easily lead to her death, and at the very least now meant Johan held her life in his hands.

 

Still, his intentions had never been bad. So he pulled her close, his shaking hands around her shoulder and waist, so it might look like he was whispering sweet words to her. But what started as a ruse became more sincere as she got closer, and he smiled, “You are even l-l-lovelier up close.” He brushed her hair appreciatively, placing it behind her ear and leaned in.

 

His voice lowered to barely a whisper, spoken into her ear, “P-p-pretend I am speaking romance to you and whisper in reply.” He instructed before continuing, “This is n-n-not the place to speak of such things. Let alone to… do them. They w-w-will kill you, you know. What w-w-were you thinking?”

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She didn't protest when Johan grasped her shoulder, as if to steady her before she fell right into him, and her heart went out to him as he smiled forlornly. It seemed quite clear to Eleanora that he didn't want his people to be ostracized by the rest of Albion. If they conformed to the standards by which the nobility held themselves, they would be accepted more readily, but then they would lose their identity.

 

Now that she had met Johan, she didn't find Saxons quite so fearsome , even if their boistrous ways were a bit overwhelming. “It will happen,” she insisted with an encouraging smile. “You shall see. Kings will throw their daughters at you, begging you to marry them and you shall forget all about me.”

 

She wasn't quite certain what his status was among the Saxons, but she judged that he was pretty high up in the social hierarchy. If he wasn't, he would probably have been reprimanded for dragging a foreign princess over to join them. And what did her grandfather think? She glanced up at the Kings' table. He was talking to the man beside him and had likely not noticed her at all.

 

Eleanora noticed the look Johan gave her when she drank the beer, and she took another small sip. She wondered what unpleasant memories he held in his mind and how he usually dealt with them. “Alcohol always works,” she grinned, taking a long gulp this time. She was beginning to enjoy the taste. It was rougher than wine but had its own appeal.

 

She couldn't predict what his reaction would be when she admitted that she had magic, and she knew that she was taking a huge risk and would now be indebted to him forever. Yet Eleanora needed to tell somebody. Perhaps she had just signed her own death sentence and she wouldn't live to see another day, but he had already known and she was willing to take the chance that he would be sympathetic to her plight.

 

When he suddenly pulled her close, she bit her lip to stop from crying out. Eleanora felt that she knew what he was going to ask of her to keep her secret … her virtue. And yet she didn't cringe when he said she was pretty and brushed a stray curl behind her ear. If that was the price she had to pay, then so be it.

 

But it seemed that his intentions were more honorable, and she nodded when he told her to pretend he was whispering words of romance and then warned her about doing magic in public. “I didn't mean to,” she whispered. “I … I don't know how to control it. It just happens and I can't stop it. It started about six months ago and keeps getting worse. I need training, but how can I find somebody to teach me when I can't speak of magic without risking my life?”

 

His arms around her shoulders and waist were strangely comforting, and she leaned her head against his shoulder. “That unpleasant memory that made me shudder. I was thinking of the day my mother was drowned for practicing magic. I was only three and my grandfather made me watch. I am so afraid that the same thing will happen to me.”

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Johan smiled a bit more widely, though he remained unconvinced. True peace was a distant prospect. In his mind the current peace was just a truce. One that would fall apart, and probably sooner rather than later. Still, her vision was an appealing one except… “N-n-never.” He said to forgetting about her, and winked. He smiled a bit mischievously and repeated, “Never.”

 

Johan was wearing rich robes and a coronet. If she knew the specifics of rank and heraldry, it quite clearly marked him out as a jarl. Even without that knowledge, it would be obvious the symbols meant he was highly placed. Then again, his clothes were not very different from the people around him and no one was stopping to bow to him.

 

Johan laughed heartily as she embraced the wonders of beer. He drank wine too, and though perhaps some of its refinement was lost on his palate, he enjoyed it thoroughly. If she were a few heads taller and a bit bolder, more adventuresome… Then she’d nearly be a paragon of Saxonness, from her blonde hair to her playful manner.

 

Despite the subject, as she leaned against him one hand moved to pet her head. She would, at this point, be feeling the fact he shook and his head twitched. But Johan was more concerned with her loveliness. He began to see things in a new light. Had her nervousness perhaps not been fear? Maybe she fancied him? Or was that just wishful thinking?

 

But hearing about her mother’s death pulled him out of that. He was shocked. Family killing family was a grave wrong. To torture your daughter to death and make her child watch was so horrifying to Johan he almost couldn’t comprehend it. He was actually dumbfounded and it showed very clearly on his face.

 

Then his face sunk. Without a sympathetic family she could gain no teacher. Without a teacher she was dead. There was such life and beauty in her… but she would be cut down in her spring. He might teach her, but he would need more time than they could possibly have. And he would need to be alone with her, absolute privacy, for long periods. It didn’t help she might come out flushed and exhausted from exertion. They would only buy horse riding so much.

 

He tugged her onto his lap, more a gesture of sympathy than seduction, and held her tightly. He didn’t know what to say. But as he held her there he felt protective of Eleanora, though he’d only just met her, and a plan began to stir.

 

He ran a shaking hand along her cheekbone down to her chin, and gently guided her face to look at his. He smiled down at her, affection mixed with the same wolfish, appreciative grin, and looked right into her eyes. “You n-n-need to find someone who can make you safe.”

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Eleanora was young and idealistic and truly believed that the Saxons would be accepted by the rest of Albion in time. She was unaware that the peace they were celebrating tonight was fragile. If it had lasted for five years, which was a long time to a sixteen-year-old girl, it would last forever.

 

For some strange reason, she was pleased that Johan declared that he would never forget her, punctuating his promise with a playful wink. She knew she would never forget him. Eleanora had never dreamed that she would be socializing with Saxons tonight. In fact, some of the other young noblewomen she had met had told her horrible stories about them, which she had readily believed. But Johan was friendly and kind, even if he was a bit on the rough side.

 

She had noted his fine clothing, but everyone was opulently dressed tonight, whatever their rank might be. Eleanora herself was wearing a long pale gold undertunic with long narrow sleeves, and over it was a calf-length rose colored gown with full flowing sleeves that nearly reached the floor. The gown had wide bands of embroidery around the hem and the ends of the sleeves, and was laced in back so that it hugged her overlarge bosom and narrow waist. Her hair was worn loose, cascading down her back in a riot of flaxen ringlets, crowned by a wreath of fresh flowers.

 

She did notice his shaking and twitching when she leaned against him, but she thought nothing of it. He made her feel safe and she liked the way he patted her head. He had not shrunk away from her when she told him about her magic and that meant a great deal to her. Perhaps magic was not uncommon among Saxons? Was it possible that she might have some Saxon blood herself?

 

Her hair was an unusual color … not golden like most blondes but nearly white. Some of the Saxons also had very pale hair. Her coloring was more like theirs than that of the people in her grandfather's kingdom, who were generally dark-haired. Was that why her grandfather had supposedly despised her mother and thought she was unworthy to be married to his son? That's what she had heard anyway. And now that woman's daughter was his only heir. Eleanora's father had died of heartbreak shortly after his wife had been killed.

 

She could tell that Johan was shocked by her description of her mother's death. Maybe Saxons didn't kill those with magic. So far he had said nothing about the confession she had made and she had no idea what he was thinking. And then without warning, he pulled her onto his lap and held her in his arms. Eleanora again looked over to the Kings' table, but her grandfather was still deep in conversation with the monarch seated next to him.

 

She had never sat on a man's lap before, and pleasurable sensations that she had never felt before blossomed through her young body, exciting her but confusing her as well. Now that she thought about it, Johan wasn't bad looking. He was more attractive than some of the Princes her grandfather had introduced her to before he had taken his place with the other Kings. His shaking took a bit of getting used to, but she didn't fault him for it.

 

The tantalizing sensations intensified when he stroked her cheek and tilted her chin up so that she was looking into his eyes. His words were simple but they were true. She did need someone to protect her, but there was no one she could turn to. Eleanora knew how her grandfather felt about magic and all of his subjects were loyal to him. Some of them would probably like to see her share her mother's fate. “And who would that be?” she asked, her ice-blue eyes imploring.

 

She wanted him to say that he would keep her safe, but she wasn't certain how he could. After tonight, they would probably never see each other again. Why does that notion dismay me?

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Many of those stories were true, but other people often did terrible things as well. The difference was in how it was dressed, how ready people were to ascribe good or bad motives. Cultural differences didn’t help, and the aggressive brash manner of the Saxons made them seem threatening and unrefined. Though certainly in their own songs and poems the Saxons portrayed themselves heroically.

 

Johan had noticed the young woman’s beautiful features, and felt the joy of a man at holding her in his arms. He had eyed her lustily before, though at the moment he was more subdued. He was not used to being considered attractive in a general sort of way, but an aggressive, flirtatious personality was ever popular among his people. Being powerful and generous didn’t hurt either. He had had his successes. Everyone had their failures. So, rightly or wrongly, he thought he could, if he wished, win Eleanora by his charms.

 

Johan was not overly concerned with being seen. Even if her father took offense, attacking him in the midst of his own people would be immensely foolish. He would start a fight over it, and his men, if not the whole Saxon contingent, would support him. The Saxons would probably lose, but it would be a great fight. It might do some prejudice to Eleanora’s honor, but Johan wasn’t terribly concerned with that either. Chastity was not a Saxon virtue. For a woman fidelity was, but that only meant she should contain her most outrageous flirtation to her husband.

 

So he leaned in and kissed her. It was a slower, more chaste thing than might have been guessed from his manner, but done with a great deal of skill.

 

He pulled not away but slid smoothly over to her ear, “Be mine. I w-w-will teach you all I know. I will… never let anyone drown you. And,” Johan leaned and said breathily into her ear, “I will show you all the pleasures of your sex.” Johan blew gently into her ear and kissed her temple before pulling back, that same wolfish grin on his face.

 

It was a good match for rank. A pleasing, buxom woman with a kingdom as her dowry had obvious appeal. Magic, while it would have to be kept a secret, might be a powerful tool of his dynasty. His thoughts were not all cynical though. He felt like her grandfather would cast her aside and had abused her terribly. He felt a genuine sympathy for her, and knew he could provide the young woman a real home, her life, and a family.

 

And there was always the hope of love.

 

Of course, if she agreed he’d probably have to kidnap her. But that was no great concern.

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Eleanora glanced anxiously at her grandfather again, but he was laughing and gulping down wine from a crystal chalice much like the one that had floated through the hall. Hopefully, he would get so drunk that he forgot about her. It was always best when he forgot about her. He never let her forget that she was a disappointment to him because she was a girl and resembled her mother, and if she wasn't useful as a bargaining tool in a powerful alliance, she had no doubt that she would already be dead.

 

If he saw her with the Saxons, she didn't think he would start a fight. He would just drag her back to her chambers, strip her naked, and beat her the way he always did when she displeased him. The bruises didn't show beneath her clothes and no one but her maidservants knew of the abuse. And they believed she deserved it. Eleanora should be eager to get away from him, but she feared her husband would treat her just as cruelly if not much worse.

 

But Johan, a barbaric Saxon, showed her kindness and sympathy, even though he knew about her untrained magical abilities. He held her gently, tenderly and treated her with respect … until he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. Alarmed, she struggled against him but for a moment, frightened both of him and of the strange and wonderful feelings shimmering through her small form. Her struggles ceased and she closed her eyes and sighed against his lips, surrendering to the delightful sensations he evoked in her.

 

He moved his lips to her ear, asking her to be his and promising that he would protect her from anyone who tried to drown her. Eleanora didn't know what he meant by showing her all he knew until he spoke of teaching her the pleasures of her sex. He does want my virtue. He is telling me what I want to hear so that I will willingly give myself to him. Yet his warm breath against her ear made her tremble with pleasure.

 

When he pulled away, she looked up at him. How she wished to feel his lips on hers once more! “Can you really keep me safe?” she asked softly. “Will not your people kill me if they discover I have magic? Or are they more accepting of sorcery? Is there one among you who can teach me to control it?” Eleanora was unaware that Johan possessed magic himself.

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This time Johan followed her eyes and saw the table she was glancing at. He was able to guess which one was her grandfather from his clothes and where Eleanora was looking. He averted his eyes a bit too quickly, realizing he was staring daggers at the man. Saxon son in laws sometimes feuded with their fathers in law and stole their kingdoms. Johan doubted he would feel much guilt with a man who killed his daughter and terrorized his granddaughter.

 

Johan took one of her hands in his and interwove their fingers. He smiled at her confidently, “We will keep the secret.” Johan emphasized the ‘we’, a small but meaningful change. “And if anyone t-t-tries to harm you, because of magic or anything else, I will kill them.” The Saxon reputation for barbarism was not entirely undeserved. Though it did mean they had far more respect for family ties and personal honor than the law.

 

The confidence faded a bit when she asked about acceptance or teaching her. “We are…” Johan hesitated to say it even now. “We are… similar.” Johan still smiled, though there was nervousness behind its normal bravado. “I am like you. And I have suffered too.” His voice got very quiet at the last, as painful memories lingered on the edge of the words.

 

Johan kissed her hand, “Maybe that’s why… I w-w-want to save you.” It sounded immensely foolish to say aloud. Whatever her prospects or charms he had offered himself to a woman he’d just met. There was a brief fall off in his voice, but he smiled and forced it down. He leaned in and kissed her again, a peck on the lips. That the sensations were familiar made them no less pleasant. And that helped him banish his own doubts.

 

His hands slipped around her once more, pulling her in as he moved to kiss along her neck and collar, “Do you not feel p-p-pleasure in my arms? Safety?” He settled, resting his head against her now, though it twitched from time to time. “There is m-m-more in my home. And I would share it with you. G-g-gladly.”

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Eleanora noticed Johan staring venomously at her grandfather. I wish he would kill him. she thought. Then he will never be able to hurt me again and the kingdom will be mine, unless one of the other kingdoms tries to take it by force. If she had Saxon protection, then she wouldn't have to worry. Or would she? What if Johan only wanted her kingdom and planned to toss her aside once he had it? It wasn't a particularly large kingdom, but it was a very wealthy one and in an excellent location.

 

Those dismal thoughts fled when he entwined his fingers with her own and promised that 'they' would keep her secret. The Saxons? All of them? How could he be so confident that they wouldn't betray a stranger in their midst? Who was he anyway? Was he powerful enough that they would obey him without question? Her eyes widened when he promised to kill anyone who tried to harm her. Now Eleanora longed to tell him about her grandfather's abuse. But she still didn't trust him fully and she was a bit perturbed at the way he spoke of killing so casually … as if human lives meant nothing to him.

 

Yet she didn't pull away from him. His confidence seemed to wane as he said that they were similar and she detected anxiety in his voice when he admitted he was like her. “You have magic?” she whispered. And he has suffered because of it. He did look quite haunted and she wondered what had been done to him. He had not been murdered, though. And his people had not cast him out. He was still accepted among them. “Will you show me? A small spell? Right here?”

 

Her heart leapt in her chest when he kissed her hand. He did sound sincere about saving her, but she knew that her grandfather would never let her go. And she didn't want them to fight over her. Eleanora cared nothing about her grandfather, but he was a formidable swordsman and surrounded at all times by guards. She feared that Johan would suffer even more if he crossed him. And what would happen to the peace between the kingdoms? She didn't want to be the reason that peace was broken.

 

Johan kissed her again and pulled her close. Her body sang with the sweetest sensations when he moved his lips lower and then rested his head against her shoulder. She could feel it twitching every now and then, but it bothered her not at all.

 

“Yes,” she admitted softly. “I find both safety and pleasure in your arms.” Eleanora favored him with a playful smile. “So you do want to marry me after all.” Sighing, her smile faded. “My grandfather will never allow me to marry a Saxon. He wants to make an alliance that will benefit his kingdom. That is why he brought me here, to seal an alliance through marriage. I know he doesn't like your people. He has spoken against them many times.”

 

She reached out and gently stroked his hair. “But I would go with you if I could. If I could somehow escape from him. I might lose my kingdom, but I will lose it anyway once my magic is discovered. I know I can't hide it forever, even if I do learn how to control it.”

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Johan did not notice her doubts, nor her misgivings about his promises of violence. Eleanora had seemed uncertain most of their interaction, so he’d just taken that as her normal state. Not that he was surprised. She had suffered, it seemed to him, terrible abuse. Though he didn’t know the full extent of it either.

 

Still, he felt, for some reason, there was a much bolder, flirtatious, sensual sort of person buried under that. He wanted to draw that out.

 

Johan was less worried about tying himself to Eleanora. He had heard of women seducing men to feud with their fathers and brothers then casting him aside. But Eleanora seemed innocent somehow. Vulnerable. He didn’t notice how quickly she had drawn him in or how willing he was to help her. And he thought they might get along famously if she was just willing to cast aside some aspects of her upbringing.

 

But for the moment there was magic. Johan nodded slowly, hesitant to admit it. She asked him to show it and he wanted to say no. It was something to be hidden, especially in front of sundry peoples. “This is an illusion. Only you will see it. Do not react.” He waited until his head was resting against her, and turned it into the fine fabric. When he used it there were signs of it on his face, so he was hiding them. She might hear low whispering muffled against her dress.

 

It was night, and there were numerous fires and candles providing light. These began to dim until they went out entirely. The light did not flee from her body or Johan’s though. They were as illuminated as they had been, and in fact seemed brighter as everything went dark. Then what light was left faded too until there was nothing but darkness. It was not just the darkness of night but the total absence of light, punctuated only by their two visible bodies.

 

Then Johan’s whispers began to slow and the light returned, not all at once but very quickly. Johan looked up at her, curious of her reaction.

 

He squeezed her in his arms when she said she liked them. Then she turned more playful and he followed suit, “You seduced me.” Johan said, planting a lazy kiss where his lips lay, “I w-w-was innocent until I met you, tuh-temptress.” He pinched her side lightly and smiled mischievously.

 

He twisted his head slightly and made a satisfied noise as she stroked him. He was becoming comfortable like this. “If he will n-n-not give you to me.” Johan said, “I w-w-will take you. But there m-m-must be ways he can be convinced… or f-f-forced. Or p-p-put out of the way.” The idea of sleeping with her then presenting himself as her now only acceptable husband occurred to Johan. There were also spells, though that was risky. Or her grandfather’s death.

 

In Johan’s mind, frankly, the last would be a necessity at some point. He could not trust a man who killed his own children. There would be nothing to stop him from murdering the pair and disposing of the issue that way.

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Eleanora was slowly warming up to Johan, and the rowdiness of the other Saxons at the table no longer bothered her so much. She was getting to know them, through the intriguing man who held her so gently on his lap and kissed her, and she was beginning to see that they were not so different from her. And Johan was much kinder to her than her grandfather had ever been.

 

She had seen some of the other girls with their parents and had noticed how well they were treated and she longed for a loving family of her own. Those other girls probably didn't have grandfathers who beat them and told them they were worthless. With Johan, she actually felt wanted. It was an exciting feeling.

 

And he excited her in other ways as well. Eleanora felt more alive than she had ever felt before and the world seemed a bit brighter. She was glad now that he had pulled her over to his table, whatever his reasons for doing so. It hardly mattered anymore.

 

She nodded solemnly when he told her not to react to his illusion. He turned his head toward her and she could both hear and feel his whispered words as his face was resting against the smooth silk of her gown. Her eyes widened as the lights begin to dim. No one else seemed to notice. They were still feasting and laughing and drinking. The light around herself and Johan, though, became brighter, almost as if the sun shone upon them and them alone. And then she could see nothing but him beside her. It was if the world had fallen away and there was nothing left but the two of them.

 

He was still whispering against her dress, only more slowly this time. The torches and candles suddenly illuminated the room once more and he lifted his head and looked up at her. “That was amazing!” she exclaimed. “Did it take you long to learn how to control it? Or did you always know how? The spells just come to me without thought and I don't even know what I'm saying. Or what is going to happen. Did it start like that with you too?”

 

Eleanora laughed when he claimed that she had seduced him. She was becoming more and more comfortable with him and she grinned playfully. “I seduced you? You were the one who kidnapped me and dragged me over here, in case you've forgotten.” She rather liked being called a temptress, though, and when he pinched her, she giggled and then kissed him back, a move that was quite bold for the innocent young girl. But she loved the way his lips tasted and the lovely sensations that shimmered through her when they kissed. And she wanted more, even though she didn't quite understand what exactly it was she longed for.

 

She knew that her grandfather would never let him wed her. Her gaze fell to his sword when he said he would take her by force if he had to, even if her grandfather had to be killed. “I don't care if he dies,” she said, her eyes locked on his. Her voice was low, defiant. “He ordered the execution of my mother and he … he hurts me.” Eleanora pushed up one of her sleeves so that he could see the large half-healed bruise on her forearm. “He did this to me. And there are more on my legs and my back.”

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Johan tried to be, in his rough barbaric sort of way, kind, generous, and reasonable. His household and jarldom had its own share of issues, but Johan was the head, and no one was treated half as poorly as Eleanora. Johan, who had been mistreated himself, had made sure of that.

 

He had gone to great pains to build a place that was safe, a home, and now that he found another wounded soul he wanted to take her into that safety. Johan had had to claw his way out of his situation and he wished to spare Eleanora that fight. Her status as a princess and heir meant she would come as his wife, but had she been of meaner birth he would have found another way.

 

And though he did not love, in deep romantic fashion, Eleanora yet, he did think he could.

 

Johan almost shushed Eleanora at her exclamation, but nothing seemed to come of it. “F-f-five years to master.” Johan shared, “I c-c-can teach you to contain it in a f-f-few months.” And she’d probably be at a level of some ability in a year or so, though that depended. Until then, she’d have to stay close to him so he could shield or mask her. But Johan didn’t mind in the least. He found the thought pleasant.

 

She turned to his own experience though and Johan said, “I w-w-wasn’t born with… it. It was…” He struggled for a word. “It was f-f-forced into me by a fuh-fae.” There was a bitterness to his tone again.

 

“Ah,” Johan lamented, “Undone b-b-by my own kidnapping. I’d hoped to snare you b-b-but you simply enchanted me.” He grinned. “Poor me, forever your thruh-thrall…” He lamented with such exaggeration it was obviously a joke.

 

But as she leaned into his kiss he let out a low growl and moved into a much more passionate kiss than before, breathing deep as his lips mixed with hers. His hands pulled her in and pressed her against him, one of them coming to rest on one of her dress’s ties. He tugged on it. It didn’t actually get looser, but if he just pulled it the right way…

 

But the purpose was just a tease.

 

When the kiss broke, he had a cocky, knowing smile and winked at her, a promise of more to come.

 

But then Johan was shocked yet again. He knew there were such people, but it still was shocking to come face to face with it. Violence against household members was not entirely beyond his ethics, but it was clear this was not a regrettable necessity for reasons of correction. Johan reached out and touched it gingerly, looking up at her briefly with an amazed look, then gently kissed the bruise.

 

His eyes locked with hers after that. He brought up the hand where their fingers still were intertwined, “You’re l-l-leaving here with me tonight. Whatever it t-t-takes. I’m going to take you home and t-t-treat these,” He ran a shaking finger along the bruise, “Then I’m going to hold you tightly. And then I’m g-g-going to make sure no one can… hurt you again.” There was deep seriousness in his words and barely contained anger.

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Five years? That sounded like a very long time to young Eleanora. She knew she would never be able to hide it that long. Maybe she wouldn't have to if he could teach her to control it in just a few months. Yet still there was an insurmountable object in their way … her grandfather. He would beat her when he discovered she was not only associating with Saxons, but sitting on one's lap and sharing kisses with him. The pain would be worth it, though, and as the blows fell, she would remember these wonderful moments she had spent with Johan. Maybe thinking of him would make the agony easier to bear.

 

Unless he could save her from her miserable existence.

 

“I'm sorry,” she said, kissing him lightly on the forehead when he said a fae had forced magic on him. Eleanora had always thought that the fae were a myth. She wondered if he had actually seen one and if they were tiny and had wings like in the stories she had been told. “Why did they do that to you? And how old were you? I think I was born with my magic. I inherited it from my mother, and she inherited it from hers.” She thought she remembered her mother telling her so, although she might have just dreamed it. Or perhaps her mother had come to her in a dream. She had been so small it was difficult to be certain.

 

“You did snare me,” she admitted. “And if I enchanted you, then you have enthralled me. Perhaps it was fate that brought us together.” Eleanora wiggled around on his lap as he pulled her into an even more passionate kiss, unaware of the effect it might be having on him. Another silvery thrill rippled down her spine when he pressed her body close to his and pulled on her laces. She wanted to be even closer, so close that there was no space between them at all.

 

Oh, how she longed to know what he implied by that adorable cheeky smile! When the sun came up tomorrow, perhaps she would understand what he meant. Eleanora knew she didn't want to leave him, that she wanted all that he promised and more. Her virtue was the most precious gift she possessed and she wished to bestow it on this rough, barbaric Saxon whom she hardly knew.

 

But would be appalled at the bruises that were scattered over her body? Her grandfather never left permanent scars because he knew that her allure was in her beauty and he didn't want to flaw her. But the bruises had not yet healed and she was afraid that Johan would find them unsightly. Which was one of the reasons she revealed the abuse she had suffered.

 

And he was, indeed, horrified. She feared that he would push her off his lap and send her away, but instead, he touched the bruise gently and then kissed it. Her arm tingled pleasurably and the lovely sensations spread languorously through her small form. The strange feeling of longing inside her intensified. But what was it she wanted so much that her body ached with the need for it?

 

He promised to take her with him that night, to hold her tight, and make sure no one ever hurt her again. Instinctively, Eleanora knew that he would keep her safe and that he would take care of her, something that nobody had ever done for her before. She could hear the anger in his voice and understood that it was directed at her grandfather. “Can we sneak away?” she asked. “Can you use your magic to conceal us?”

 

She sighed, realizing that was only a temporary solution. “He will come after me. He will not give up until he has destroyed both of us. Are you truly willing to risk your life for me?”

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Five years had been the time to absolute mastery, to when Johan knew that there was nothing left to learn from his teacher. And that he could kill his teacher without fear of some unknown spell. It had been a lifetime for Johan, who’d started much younger than Eleanora was now, and had been biding his time to escape his teacher all those years.

 

The fact he was technically kidnapping Eleanora and teaching her as well escaped him. Though then again, she was coming voluntarily.

 

Johan smiled slightly as she kissed his forehead. It was a more honest, grateful smile, still pained but glad for her sympathy. He gently brushed her hair with his hand, and held her close. When she asked why, though, he looked down for a moment before his eyes returned to hers. “T-t-twelve. My f-f-father was killed and I w-w-was abandoned in a forest. The f-f-fae lady there took me in, p-p-placed spells on me so I would love and obey her, and t-t-twisted my form around to fix it. She was t-t-trying to make me perfect, she said, b-b-because I was so malformed.”

 

Despite the fact he had spent his time without a stutter or a limp, in a place of otherworldly beauty, he only thought of those times as dark. However pretty he’d become she’d always make sure he hated himself.

 

Johan didn’t know for sure where her magic came from. A few people were born with it, either from magical or inhuman bloodlines. Many people learned it. A very small group of people was granted it like he was. “It’s p-p-possible. If so, your children will be like… you.” At very least the girls. Sometimes magic travelled along genders. Regardless, that meant it was even more important she find a place where they could be raised safely.

 

Johan smiled as she embraced their passion. As she wriggled she went from sitting on his knee to between them, and fell right onto a hardness. Johan took a sharp breath, his hand grasping tight at the fabric of her dress, the breath let out slowly as she moved on top of him. He pressed another hungry kiss to her lips, less in control of himself than he’d been.

 

Johan knew exactly what he was feeling: a strong desire coupled with a deep protective instinct, but that they were not novel didn’t make them any less powerful. In fact, it meant he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to spirit her away to some comfortable bed and make sure they greeted the dawn exhausted and clinging to each other. He didn’t mind her bruises in the least. Or rather, he minded that someone had bruised her, that she was hurt. But it didn’t detract from her loveliness in the slightest. And it certainly didn’t make him want to strip her bare even the smallest bit less.

 

“If we c-c-can go somewhere private, I c-c-can change how you l-l-look. Another illusion.” And then they could walk out together. “And I c-c-could change you back later.” It wouldn’t be hard, but it would require some preparation. And if anyone saw it happening it would be obviously magical, which meant they at least needed some private room. Perhaps they might get her new clothes too… perhaps they might do something between her taking off her old clothes and putting on her new ones…

 

But she said he wouldn’t give up. That was good. Johan didn’t want to go chasing him down or have to deal with a long castle siege. She asked him if he was willing to risk his life for her. Johan reached over to the table and took his sword, holding it out to Eleanora. “Are you?” His own answer was in his eyes.

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Perhaps she shouldn't have asked about the source of his magic. He looked a bit distressed. Yet he brushed back a curl that had fallen over her shoulder and pulled her closer, as if she gave him comfort. And Eleanora hoped that she did.

 

She listened intently to his story. No wonder he seemed upset. His father had been killed and he had been abandoned. It seemed to her as if the fae who had taken him in had cared for him in her own twisted way. It was wrong of her to put a spell on him to make him love and obey her. Perhaps she could have gained his trust instead.

 

“How did you break her spell?” she asked. “And how did you escape from her? By using the magic she had given you?” She probably should let the subject go, but she was curious and her curiosity sometimes clouded her better judgment.

 

Eleanora snuggled closer to him. “That's what I am afraid of,” she whispered. “That I will pass down my magic to my children, if I actually live long enough to have any. They will face the same perils that I face now, unless magic is accepted by then.” Maybe the two of them could help that dream along a bit, by using magic to help people and showing them that it wasn't something to fear.

 

“When I take over my grandfather's kingdom, I intend to change the laws and make it a safe haven for magic practitioners. Maybe we can even build a school to teach magic to those like me who don't know how to control it.” She had said 'we' without thinking. Somehow, they would find a way to be together. She believed with all her heart now that their destinies were intertwined, that it had been fate that they had met tonight.

 

Eleanora unexpectedly found herself sitting on something lumpy and hard. What, she wondered, did he keep in his pocket? He inhaled sharply, and she wondered if whatever she had landed on was poking him. But he became even more passionate, kissing her deeply and hungrily. Her body responded delightfully, and she returned his kiss in kind, forgetting all about the lumpiness beneath her bum.

 

So he could conjure an illusion that would temporarily alter her appearance so that they could slip away. He couldn't do it here, though. They needed to go somewhere private. “I don't mind if you change what I look like. Will I feel it when you cast a spell on me?”

 

He turned her question back on her, his own answer apparent in his gaze. Eleanora looked down at the sword he offered her, swallowed, and took it from him. It was almost too heavy for her to lift, and she tugged it onto her lap. “Yes,” she said, her eyes locked on hers. “I am willing to risk my life for the chance to be with you forever.

 

“I have a room here in the castle. We can go there and no one will disturb us. My grandfather has a key.” She glanced over at the Kings' table. Her grandfather was well into his cups, and he raised his goblet in a toast and tossed its contents back in one gulp. “I don't think he will bother us tonight. Maybe not even tomorrow. By the time he discovers I'm missing, we can be well on our way.”

 

Realizing she was missing the last part of the puzzle, she returned her gaze to Johan's. "Where do you plan to take me?"

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Johan was indeed clinging to her unconsciously. It gave him great comfort to hold her, though his voice was still sad. “She gruh-grew weary of me. She was going to… discard me and steal my brother to replace me. And I loved him more p-p-powerfully than her magic could make me love her.” He had also broken the spell using more mundane magical means, but that was no small part of it.

 

“I broke the spell not just on me but on all her thralls. And they all rose up and killed her.” Including Johan. Killing his lady, even if she was a murderous tyrant, was what he was guilty of. He didn’t regret it. And with her death, much of her magic had been undone, and escaping was as simple as walking out of the forest.

 

But as she shared her own fears, he held her even tighter. “You will. And our children,” Johan said with a firm determination, “w-w-will be safe, and beautiful, and… numerous.” He punctuated the last point by reaching around to give her bum a good squeeze. Then he held her tight, his tone growing softer. “And they w-w-won’t be beaten or abandoned or anything else. N-n-nor will you. Nor will I.” A safe, loving home was the stuff of Johan’s dreams as well.

 

“We w-w-will have to be careful.” No doubt a great many nobles would resist, and there might be foreign pressure. Johan understood the fear that surrounded people like them, even if he didn’t agree with it. “B-b-but I’d like to be able to. That it’s d-d-difficult… doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.” His wife to be was a dreamer, it seemed. He didn’t mind. He’d rather have a wife with even wildly kind impulses than a cruel ones, even if that meant sacrificing some practicality.

 

“I d-d-don’t know.” Johan said of the spells. “I duh-do. It’s sort of a tingly, half there thing. L-l-like soap suds or running a… comb through your hair.” It was not unpleasant. He had experienced some truly painful and unpleasant magic, but he wasn’t the sort to use it.

 

“Then we are t-t-together, in life or death.” Johan said, and kissed her briefly, eyes still locked. He broke the seriousness of the moment with a smile though, a confident, happy thing.

 

Johan couldn’t help smiling lustily as she invited him up to her room and shared they might have all night together. He didn’t imagine she was too naïve to understand what he would try. In fact, he thought she was encouraging him. So he leaned in and ran his hand along her face, “That w-w-will do nicely.” Unfortunately the practical interrupted, “You should leave the hall without me and w-w-wait outside. I’ll follow you and we c-c-can sneak the rest of the way.”

 

As to where they would go, “Tomorrow? J-j-just to my castle. After that, w-w-we will have to see what happens. Your g-g-grandfather will probably accuse me of kidnapping and raping you. We’ll have to see… who b-b-believes him.” The possibility her grandfather might handle the situation with more tact seemed remote to Johan. But if King Arthur did believe him, they’d probably have to flee. Likewise if Johan’s own King did, though that was rather less likely.

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It was still difficult to believe that there were really fae in the world, but Eleanora knew that Johan was not making up a fantastical tale just to amuse her. The emotions on his face and in his voice told her that he was telling the truth. The fae were apparently as fickle as they were made out to be, and easily bored. She hadn't known that their spells could be broken by love, but it made sense. She was glad that Johan had released all of the thralls and that they had killed the fae woman who had held them captive … and that his brother had been saved from the misery that he had experienced.

 

Both she and Johan had been abused and hurt. No wonder they understood each other so perfectly in spite of their cultural differences.

 

His arms tightened around her as she snuggled against him. He promised once again that she would be safe from now on and that he would protect their children as well. Our children. There was no doubt in her mind now that he intended to marry her and spend the rest of his life with her. It was strange the way she felt about him. Only a few hours ago, Eleanora had not known he existed and now she could not imagine a world without him in it.

 

What would their children look like, she wondered? They would be blonde, of course, but who would they most resemble? And how would they grow up … in his world or hers or a mixture of both? She had been raised more gently than he, and with different values, which she planned to pass on to her children. They would not be true Saxons any more than she would, assuming that they lived among his people.

 

If they took over her grandfather's kingdom, though, both her people and his could live together in peace. And magic would be accepted by all. “I know it won't be easy,” she whispered, “but it is not impossible. We will just have to work hard to achieve our dreams.”

 

Eleanora tried to ignore the fact that her grandfather would have to die in order for them to seize the kingdom. She didn't believe he deserved to live after what he had done to her mother and herself, but she wasn't comfortable being responsible for his demise. Of course, she wouldn't kill him herself but she wouldn't stop Johan from doing it, or one of his Saxon friends. She didn't want to fear him anymore, and as unsettling as it was, his death would set her free.

 

She smiled as Johan explained how magic felt to him. “Are you sure you haven't cast a spell on me already?” she asked. “I feel tingly every time you kiss me. Right now, my entire body is tingling. It is very pleasant. I want to feel like this forever.”

 

The mood turned somber as she took his sword and promised she would risk her life for him, but it lightened a bit when he kissed her. “Yes,” she replied. “Together, we can do anything.”

 

Eleanora knew what she was agreeing to when she invited him to her room. She wanted him to initiate her into the pleasures of lovemaking. It was why she told him they would probably have all night before her grandfather realized she was missing. She didn't care that they weren't married yet. Her entire being yearned for him … heart, body, and spirit. She wanted to become one with him before they left the castle.

 

So he planned to take her to his own castle, wherever that was. And he was right. Her grandfather would most likely accuse him of kidnapping and raping her and demand his life for it. She looked up at where King Arthur sat, a bit above the other Kings. Would he believe her grandfather or would he believe Johan? “I will speak in your defense,” she said, kissing him lightly, playfully. “I will tell the whole court that you can't rape the willing.”

 

With a reluctant sigh, she slid off of his lap. “I should go now. I will await you in the corridor.” She kissed him again and then turned away, weaving through the crowd until she reached the door. Stepping outside, she walked a short distance away, keeping to the shadows so that she would not be noticed.

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Johan nodded to Eleanora’s soft whisper. A thing might be difficult but merit the pain it caused. Their marriage would be that, as would their reign, it seemed. He chuckled at her joke as well, and kissed her again, “N-n-not all magic is mystical.” He said, “But I will… teach you all I know.” He smiled suggestively.

 

Johan smiled as she kissed him and promised him her support. He had known it, but to hear it still gave him joy, and her comment drew out a small chuckle and another kiss in reply.

 

He only let her go reluctantly and watched her leave, both for the pleasure of watching her and to note which door she went through. He found he missed her, and was surprised at the sentimentality. He didn’t mind at all that his marriage was going to be a sudden thing, that he was about to take a woman he just met to be his bride. Then again, she was a princess, and men had more ability to escape a bad marriage.

 

But for some reason he didn’t think it would be. Imagines of sentimental romance and perfection didn’t dance in his head, but still.

 

He stood, taking his sword and waving off those that would follow him. He had a limp and a hunch when he walked, which wouldn’t have been apparent when he sat but Eleanora might notice now as he came through the door. He smiled when he saw her, and immediately pulled her back into his arms and kissed her.

 

He had intended just a peck on the lips, but as they touched he couldn’t resist leaning in, gripping her tight. He caught himself and breathed deep, before making a frustrated noise at releasing her. Still, he smiled, a glint in his eye, “We should g-g-go. I can't c-c-control myself much… longer.” He kissed her again, a sweeter, gentler kiss, and took her hand.

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She didn't believe that Johan was talking only about magic when he assured her that he would teach her all he knew. Another bright thrill rippled down her spine and her young body tingled even more delightfully. Eleanora hoped that her grandfather would forget about her tonight. She wanted everything he had promised her and more. Tonight, she knew, her life would change forever. She would joyfully give herself to him completely and utterly, and when they left the castle, she would be his in every way. “You will find me an eager student,” she crooned, and laughed when he kissed her once more.

 

I will never be hurt again and neither will he. We will support each other and we will try to make the world a better place for everybody.

 

Eleanora didn't really understand why they had to leave separately, but she complied with his wishes. Perhaps the Saxons were being watched closely and they might be noticed if they left together. In the corridor, she observed everyone who walked through the door, and when she saw Johan hunched over and limping toward her, she understood why he had not wanted them to depart together. He would draw stares wherever he went because of his disabilities.

 

It didn't matter to her that he wasn't perfect. Maybe she would have ignored him if he had approached her in the great hall, and she felt guilty that she might have judged him before she got to know him. And now she knew what he had meant when he had said the fae who had taken him captive had placed a spell upon him to change his form. Did he miss being able to walk straight now or had the spell pained him when it twisted his body around? Perhaps when she learned how to control her own magic, she could help him, if that was what he truly wanted. However, she liked him just the way he was.

 

And one day … very soon, she expected … her affection for him would turn into love. She thought it peculiar how she had walked into the room determined never to marry at all and now she wanted nothing more than to become the wife of a barbaric Saxon.

 

His smile entranced her, and she felt much better when he pulled her back into his arms and kissed her deeply. She sighed against his lips, nodding when he released her and took her hand. “Come, my room is this way.”

 

Walking slowly for his benefit, she led him through the corridors, up a staircase, and down another corridor to the chamber she had been given for the duration of her stay. She pulled a large key from the pouch at her waist and pushed it into the lock, opening it and stepping inside.

 

It was not a huge room, but it was cozy. Red-gold flames leapt in the hearth across from the large canopied bed, which was hung with curtains in blue, rose, and gold. A fluffy fur rug lay on the floor in front of it and there was a table and a couple of chairs arranged in a corner. A carved cupboard set against one wall to hold the clothing that Eleanora had brought with her.

 

Now that they were here, she felt a bit nervous, and she squeezed his hand tightly, glancing at him shyly from beneath long golden eyelashes. “I'm … I'm afraid,” she admitted. “I've never ...” Her voice trailed off, and a crimson blush splashed across her cheeks.

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Johan didn’t mind people trying to solve his issues in principal. The fae woman had painfully twisted his body while controlling his mind and making him hate himself. She had not known a gentler way to do it, and she hadn’t cared enough to try and find one. Perhaps Eleanora could find a better solution. She would need to be gentle and careful not to run afoul of old mental scars. But it would do Johan a world of good.

 

He had made a conscious decision not to hide his issues using glamor, the same thing he would use to change her appearance. He could make himself look almost inhumanly beautiful if he wished, but he felt hiding from what he was would be weakness.

 

Johan walked along behind her. He trailed along behind her, holding her hand and admiring her from behind. He barely noticed the room, just waiting until the door was shut and locked again. He was ready to tear off her clothes and pull her into a passionate embrace… but then she squeezed his hand and glanced around. He knew the issue even before she spoke.

 

Well, they had time. Despite what he had said, he could restrain himself a bit longer. Especially for her sake.

 

Johan didn’t respond at first, but he smiled and gently cupped her face, before planting a soft kiss on her lips. “I know.” He said. His tone was full of assurance and acceptance. "You only need be a most passionate student." In time she might learn to please him and take initiative. Tonight he had the benefit of experience.

 

He interlaced their fingers and used his other arm to draw her up against him, putting his hand on the small of her back. He kissed her more hungrily, a passionate press to her lips, eagerly seeking her. His voice was breathy, barely restrained, “Let me fuh-fill you.” He said, “L-l-let me hold you until there’s no… room in your heart for fear or d-d-doubt. Just me.”

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Eleanora had no idea what she was capable of yet when it came to magic. Everything had happened by accident … objects floating in the air, carts overturning, glass breaking. She did not know if her gift was strong or weak. Her mother's had been very strong, or so she had heard from eavesdropping on the conversations of servants. Servants were convenient and valuable sources of information and most everything she had learned about her mother had come from them.

 

Whether they were speaking the truth or repeating gossip, she did not know, but as mentioning her mother was forbidden in her grandfather's kingdom, she grasped onto anything she heard, desperate to know more about the woman who had given her birth and had been cruelly taken from her when she was only three. Her memories of her mother were vague and unreliable. She wasn't even certain where she had originally come from. Maybe she had been a Saxon before she had married Eleanora's father.

 

Johan seemed to understand her anxiety. How many women had he been with? Was taking a young lady's virtue something he had done often? A pang of jealousy pierced her heart. She knew that she was not his first, but it still hurt to think of him kissing another woman. Hopefully, she would be his last and he would never look at other girls the way he now looked at her.

 

“I am already passionate for you,” she replied truthfully. “I just don't know what to expect.” Eleanora had grown up without a mother and no one had told her what would happen on her wedding night. Nor did she have friends to explain things to her. She was rarely allowed to leave her grandfather's castle, and when she did, she was heavily guarded. Up until now, she had lived a very lonely existence.

 

Their fingers fit so perfectly entwined together and when he pulled her against him, their bodies fit together perfectly as well. It was almost as if they had been made just for each other and that their meeting tonight had been predestined. Eleanora melted into his kiss, enjoying the sensations blossoming through her, and his presence did fill her. surrounding her and permeating her with his warmth.

 

Breaking the kiss, she tentatively reached up and ran her fingers through his hair and then along one cheek. Never had she touched a man affectionately and she felt bold, daring, and more than a bit shy. Her body ached now with a delicious heat and she pressed herself closer, wrapping her free hand around his neck. “I'm so hot,” she whispered, “hotter than I have ever been before.”

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For magic to manifest without impetus or training was remarkable. Johan had no doubt she would be very powerful someday. That, along with the fact her power was heritable, had factored into his more cynical motives. He did not know if his own magical nature would be heritable, but even if it weren’t, their children would possess remarkable power.

 

And he believed she would have abilities he didn’t. Likewise, he would have some abilities she couldn’t learn since he had a faery nature while hers was still fully human. But regardless he expected she would surpass him in power. He believed she would remain loyal to him anyway.

 

Johan was not quite a jaded libertine or profligate womanizer. He had a few years and a few lovers’ worth of experience. And he’d been two years older than she was for his first (and was only five years older now). He’d never been with a virgin before, though. That particular set of taboos was very much the same. So while he was confident in his abilities to please, the initiation was a bit of new ground.

 

“I’ll t-t-tell you what I’m doing.” Johan promised, “And if you n-n-need to go a bit slower, or are confused or worried, tell me.” He gently brushed the side of her face, “I’ll be g-g-good to you.” John did want her to feel good. And rutting against an uncomfortable virgin wouldn’t do much for Johan anyway. He needed enthusiasm in his partners. But he believed Eleanora would get there with a bit of encouragement.

 

In fact, he imagined that she’d become flirtatious and insatiable. But perhaps he was just imagining what he wanted.

 

He was pleasantly surprised as she touched him, and pleasant pin pricks ran along his scalp and then his face. He smiled and kissed her hand as she ran it along his face, his eyes full of appreciation. Yes, he would encourage her and soon she’d take pride in her ability to wear him out. The very idea of it made him swell with lust and warmth, and pleasant sensations bloomed within him at her touch.

 

He let out a breath, almost a growl, as she said she was hot. His hands wrapped around her in an embrace, and he began to undo the ties of her dress. Though he undid them, he didn’t actually take it off. Despite his promise to explain what he did, he felt this was still known territory for her. He couldn’t imagine anyone so ignorant of country matters they didn’t know they were done naked.

 

Still, without the ties her dress sat looser, and he leaned down to kiss some of the newly exposed skin. A few of her bruises as well, but Johan kissed them especially. He thought they might be tender, and more importantly, wanted her to know they really didn’t bother him.

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Eleanora nodded when he promised to go slowly and that he would be good to her. She knew instinctively that he would never do anything to hurt her, but that didn't stop her from being afraid. “And you will stop if I ask you to?” she queried. She didn't think she would, for her small form sang with the most poignant sensations. Before this night, her body had not been awakened to desire and everything she felt now was completely new to her. Whatever he planned to do to her, she wanted it more than she had ever wanted anything else. She was just not aware of exactly what it entailed.

 

He seemed to like her touch, and she smiled as he pulled her hand from his face and kissed it. Just the whisper of his breath across her palm sent bright little thrills spiraling down her spine. Eleanora felt as if a delectable fire was consuming her, lovely little flames that filled her with pleasure.

 

She told him how she felt and he pulled her even tighter and began to unlace her gown. While she didn't know the details of what happened between a husband and wife, she did know that they had to join their bodies together. How that was done was yet a mystery to her, but she understood that their clothing would need to be removed.

 

Eleanora stiffened when her gown slipped down over her shoulders. She was afraid that he would think her appalling when she stood before him nude, for there were many of bruises on her back, arms, and legs, and a few on her torso as well. He had only seen one of them. I am imperfect. He will not want me anymore.

 

And yet she felt his lips softly kiss her bruised shoulder, showing her that he didn't care if she was flawless. It hurt only a bit; the desire suffusing her dulled the pain. Her entire being tingled blissfully as her lush curves pressed against him. Wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling his head down to her level, Eleanora kissed him ardently. She was still a bit self-conscious and needed some reassurance before they went any farther.

 

“I'm tingling again,” she whispered against his lips. “I think you have cast a spell on me and I hope that it will never be broken.”

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