Author Topic: Reunion  (Read 1420 times)

Luis Miguel

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« on: October 07, 2020, 06:53:14 PM »
The castle of Mowbray in the wilds of Epirus had always been something of a forgotten noble stronghold. Despite its fortress-like construction, few kings or aspiring royals had ever chosen to make it their base of operations. As such, it was overlooked by those who really should have been paying closer attention. By now, the usurping earl knew that the rightful king and his new queen had re-entered the country, and were raising an army to their banner, calling on the families who had been loyal to their bloodlines for centuries. Yet his spies had yet to find the royal couple themselves, hidden away safely in Mowbray Castle, guests of the new queen's aunt.

Such a lack of information was all but unforgiveable, especially in light of the fact that the earl had allowed the old queen, Luisa, to leave the capital and visit her friend, Lady Mowbray. She was expected that very day, and as such, all sign of the royal couple and their small travelling court had been whisked away, just in case the dowager queen was somehow more loyal to her lover than her son.

Miguel had been pacing the room for so long he was in danger of wearing a hole in the already worn out rug. The idea of reuniting with his mother was not a happy one. He had no idea how she was going to react to his being here or to his being married, especially to a woman who had her own claim to the throne.

"Migs, no amount of pacing will make her arrive any sooner," Matilde said softly. His redheaded wife and queen was sitting at a window seat overlooking the inner courtyard of the castle, absentmindedly sewing. She looked up at her husband with gentle eyes. "There is no stopping her from coming. Pedro has orders to capture her cleanly if her party should start to turn back."

"She will not react well to being a prisoner," he warned. "I do not trust her, Tilde," he told her, not for the first time. How could he trust a woman who had stood by while her husband and eldest son had been killed? Miguel, at least, had been lucky enough to escape with his life, but he was tired of running, tired of looking over his shoulder, tired of wondering who was friend and who was foe. One way or another, this was going to end.

"We do not know if she has been a prisoner all this time in the earl's power, or if she was willingly a part of his schemes," Tilde reminded him gently. "She will never have the same kind of power again, whatever the truth, but she is still your mother."

"And how are we to know whether she will tell us the truth?" he pressed further. He had left home so long ago, he hardly remembered the woman he'd once called Mother. How was he supposed to know whether she was a willing participant or not, when he could not trust her?

"We do not. But if you wish any hope of rekindling a relationship with her that is not that of an enemy, Migs, you cannot immediately jump to the worst conclusion." She sighed softly, holding his gaze with sad eyes. "She is the only family you have left. Do not be so eager to push her away."

Miguel clenched his jaw in an obvious effort to keep his temper in check. As far as his mother was concerned, he had been jumping to conclusions for years. "No, Tilde. You are the only family I have left."

She smiled, setting her sewing aside to rise and join him where he stood, reaching out to take his hands. "If we do not at least try to understand why your mother did as she has done, then you will regret it all your days."

He frowned back at her as she took his hands, but knew better than to argue. "We will know soon enough, I suppose," he admitted, though he thought there was nothing keeping his mother from lying. It would be telling to see her reaction to seeing her youngest son once again after all these years.

"We are going to win this war, Migs," she told him firmly. "He has lost so much of the support he thought he had, just on the rumor that you have returned to claim your throne. He cannot stand against us, and nothing your mother can do will change that. She is powerless, but perhaps not irredeemable."

"I know, Tilde," he replied, his voice softening. He was not angry with her, after all. He was only anxious about seeing his mother again. It had not been all that long really, but it felt like it had been a lifetime ago.

She lifted her chin, gently brushing a kiss to the very corner of his mouth. "I have not bled this month," she whispered to him, wanting to give him something more positive to hold onto as they waited for a meeting that could not truly be predicted.

He arched a brow at her comment, smiling a little at her kiss. "You, my lovely wife, are trying to distract me," he told her, brushing a finger against her cheek. At least, he was smiling for once, and she was a lovely distraction.

"Am I trying, or have I succeeded?" she asked innocently, touching the tip of her nose to his. He had worried enough, she had clearly decided. Better to be distracted for a little while than drive himself into frustration with waiting.

"I am not sure. Perhaps you should try a little harder," he teased back, leaning in to ghost his lips against hers, close enough to kiss her but not quite doing so.

She was never one to back down from a challenge, though. As his lips ghosted against hers, suddenly she lunged forward, throwing her arms about his neck as she pressed into that kiss with a giggle. He had a choice - catch her and kiss back, or fall on the floor with his wife on top of him.

A little taken aback, he laughed as she lunged at him, catching her in his arms, happy enough to return her affection with equal fervor. It was probably cheating a little to distract him this way, but he wasn't complaining.

It was hardly as though the affection was forced; they had grown far more comfortable with one another since their wedding night, after all. It certainly kept both of them entertained and distracted through the sound of a small party of people arriving in the courtyard below, preventing those nerves from flaring up until they took note of the familiar voice of Queen Dowager Luisa passing by the door to their rooms.

Miguel tensed as he recognized his mother's voice, hoping she wouldn't stop at their rooms just yet. He'd had ample time to gather his courage and prepare and yet, he was dreading the inevitability of this meeting.

In his arms, Matilde gently stroked his cheek, trying to calm him as his mother's voice continued on along the passage, no doubt being led to the rooms that had been prepared for her. "Easy, tesoro," she murmured. "Aunt Honoria knows not to bring her straight here."

Luis Miguel

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2020, 06:53:55 PM »
"Does she get on well with your aunt?" he asked, wondering how Matilde's aunt could trust his mother when he couldn't. Was it possible he had misjudged her?

"They have been friendly for years," she said thoughtfully. "I do not know if she fully trusts Queen Luisa, but clearly there is enough trust between them for your mother not to find anything suspicious about this invitation."

"Enough trust that Alphoso doesn't find it suspicious either," he remarked with a thoughtful frown, followed by a resigned sigh. "I am glad you are with me. I don't think I would want to do this alone," he reluctantly admitted.

"Honoria was very careful not to show any partiality toward our bloodline when the war came to an end," Tilde said carefully. "She has kept herself as neutral as she possibly can." She curled her palm to his cheek. "I will be at your side for as long as you want me to be."

"I want you by my side always," he told her, before leaning in to touch a kiss to her lips, warm and tender. "You said something about not bleeding this month. Does that mean you might be with child?" he asked, the hint of a smile on his lips.

"I might be," she agreed, unable to keep her smile from her face. It would be a true gift if they could take the throne and provide an heir within a year of doing so, proof that the Goddess smiled on both their union and their rulership of Epirus.

He mirrored her smile, though a child was just one more reason to take back the throne and their freedom. It was bad enough that both their lives were in danger; he would not tolerate any threat to either mother or child and would do everything in his power to protect them. "Might?" he asked, realizing she did not yet know for sure.

"We have only been wed a month," she pointed out, a faint blush colouring her cheeks as she smiled. "If I do not bleed next month, we will know for certain."

"Until then, I think we should keep it between us," he said, not because he wasn't happy about the news, but because he did not yet feel safe in sharing it.

"Then we shall," she agreed. "But I wanted you to know as soon as I did. With good fortune, we will have a child by spring." She bit her lip, careful not to mention that if all went well, they would also be on the throne by then.

"I hope so, too," he said, though even more importantly, he hoped they would be successful in retaking the throne by then, not because he wanted to rule, but because it was the only way to keep Matilde and their child safe, short of abdicating.

"Perhaps I should have kept it to myself," she said in a teasing tone. "Now you have ample reason to lock me in this castle if it comes down to a fight."

"Do you think I did not have ample reason before?" he asked, amused at her teasing, though if he felt she was in danger, he might do just that. It was even more important than ever to keep her safe now that there was a chance she was with child.

"I think you would have let me put up a fight if I hadn't blabbed, yes," she laughed, tucking her arms about his waist. Now his mother had arrived, it was only a matter of time before Honoria sent word that the coast was clear for a confrontation, but for now, the least she could do was make her Migs smile.

The smirk faded from his face as he regarded her seriously a moment. "I should probably not tell you this, but you are more important to me than anything, amada. More important even than the throne."

She gazed into his eyes, as serious as he for a long moment. "My heart is no less constant than yours," she promised him. "But if we are to live our lives without being hunted to each coast and back, we must take back your birthright."

"Our birthright," he corrected her. The only way to lasting peace was for both of them to rule together. Fortunately, they had not only married for political reasons, but for love. There would be no coming between them.

"Our birthright," she repeated, smiling as she hugged him just a little tighter. "I love you, your majesty. I do hope you hold that close whenever we're apart."

"I love you, too, Tilde. You are never far from my thoughts and my heart," he assured her, his voice softening as he held her close. He did not like the idea of leaving her behind, and yet, there was nothing more important to him than her safety.

Inwardly, Matilde hoped that the self-proclaimed earl would have the wit to run away rather than force a battle, but since he was the man who seemed to have engineered the original civil war, she dared not hope too hard for it. She breathed in against Miguel's neck, letting the scent of him calm her for a long moment. "Maksim will be back soon," she murmured. "We will know what we have to do next by tonight."

"I will be glad when all this is over," Miguel murmured, resting his cheek against her hair and breathing her in. He'd known from the beginning that reclaiming the throne would not be easy and might very well turn violent. He hoped there would be no bloodshed, but either way, there was no turning back now.

"I have felt safer with you this past month than I have felt in seven years," she said softly. "I do not ever wish to be without you again, Migs. We cannot let the earl take even an inch of our land from us."

But did she feel safer because of him or because of Maksim and their Pomeranian support? If he was honest with himself, he would admit it was probably a little of both. "We will retake what is ours, Tilde. I promise you that."

"And both of us survive to make our land thrive again," she added, refusing to allow him even the mildest prospect of dying in battle.

"That would be ideal," he admitted. He didn't really want to talk about the possibility of death, as real as it was. "Will you stay here, then?" he asked. He didn't really want to demand it, but he needed to know she was safe.

"If it comes to a battle, I will stay until you send for me," she promised him softly. "But I do not want you to be alone unless there is no other choice, tesoro."

Luis Miguel

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2020, 06:54:17 PM »
"We will see what Maksim has to say," Miguel assured her, though in the end, it was their decision. He had fled Epirus to seek refuge in Pomerania, and had not only made allies there, but friends.

"We will," she agreed, lifting her head to look into his eyes. "I must admit, I am very curious to see what kind of spy network he sets up for us when we are settled. I always thought he was a wastrel."

Miguel chuckled. "That is exactly what he wants people to think," he told her. What better way to run a spy network than to let the people you are spying on think you're a fool?

"He does flirt with anyone in a skirt, though," she commented, grinning up at him. "It was fun watching his mother scolding him for flirting with her ladies."

"Hmm, does he flirt with you?" he asked, with just a hint of jealousy in his voice. Even if Maksim did flirt with Matilde, he didn't think either of them meant anything by it.

"Oh, of course," she said, shrugging it off. "He isn't offended when I laugh at him for trying it, either. He does have a fair amount of twinkly-eyed charm, in his way."

From the look on his face, Miguel wasn't sure whether he should laugh or be jealous. "And I do not have any twinkly-eyed charm?" he asked, pouting a little.

"You have a charm that is all your own, my treasured one," she promised him affectionately. "And you are mine."

"Si, and you are mine, as well, amada. Perhaps I should remind Maksim of that fact," he mused aloud, though there was a small smirk on his face now.

"Oh, please do," she giggled. "When I can watch and laugh along with you. I imagine he can do a rather good impression of a kicked puppy when pressed."

"Ha! I cannot imagine Maksim ever looking like a kicked puppy," Miguel said, his mood lightening. In truth, he was very fond of the man and had come to consider him a good friend, but he was not going to share.

"I wonder how many of his little birds he has seduced into working with him, though?" she mused. "He is not shy of spreading his oats, so I hear."

"So I hear," he echoed, though he could not really say either way. He had heard rumors, but he had seen nothing to either prove or disprove those rumors so far.

Tilde eyed him for a moment, one brow rising teasingly above her smile. "Am I not allowed to even notice other men without drawing your ire, Migs?" she asked him innocently. "I am your wife. I chose to be your wife. My eyes may look all they like, but you are the one I turn to for everything."

He arched a brow at her question. They had not been married very long, and he did not think he was the jealous type, but he had never been in love before. "I suppose you can look all you like," he admitted, trying hard not to sound jealous. "But I have eyes only for you."

"Says the man who blushes whenever Princess Marianne smiles at him," she teased, lifting her chin to brush her nose to his. "I do not mind you looking, nor even that you may find others attractive. So long as I have your heart, I am content."

"I do not blush," he insisted, blushing as he said it. Did he really blush in Princess Marianne's company? Perhaps he had just been too warm at the time.

She drew her knuckles tenderly against his reddened cheek, her smile gentle despite her teasing. "My eyes must be deceiving me."

"Now you are teasing me," he told her, drawing her hand away from his cheek and pressing it to his lips. "I do not think Maks can make you sigh the way I do," he said, leaning close to whisper in her ear.

"I would never let him try," she promised in a whisper of her own, nuzzling into his cheek once more. A month of marriage was certainly not enough to dampen the first flush of their loving attraction, but perhaps this precise time was not the best.

His timing might not be the best, but he wasn't going to let that stop him from reminding his wife why she chose him in the first place. He drew her closer, leaving a soft trail of kisses against her neck.

Her body molded to his, the curve of her form softening to fit close into the line of his own as she curled her arms about his waist, adding kisses of her own to his throat. She had wanted to distract him, after all.

He knew this could easily get out of hand, but he was enjoying his new wife's attention too much to stop. Besides, they were newlyweds; who was going to deny them the simple pleasure of enjoying each other's affection?

It was certainly a good way to keep them both occupied as the dowager queen was being settled into her rooms, sharing tender kisses back and forth as the bustle of the servants died away slowly from the guest wing of the keep. A gentle knock on the door warned them of Honoria Mowbray's imminent entrance - time enough to draw back from one another so they did not embarrass the older woman with their obvious affection for each other.

Miguel frowned when he heard the knock on the door, almost wishing it was Maksim and not his estranged mother. He'd rather it was almost anyone but her, and yet, this was something he needed to face and the sooner the better. "Ready?" he asked his new wife.

"I am with you," Tilde promised him, curling her fingers into his. She raised her voice to invite the knocker to enter, and a moment later, the door opened to admit her aunt. Honoria Mowbray was a stately woman with girth to match her dignity, and a warmth that was sadly lacking in a good number of noble women. "Your majesties," she greeted them, lowering into an appropriate curtsy.

Miguel let out a faint sigh of relief to find Tilde's aunt at the door and not his mother. It was a small reprieve, but a reprieve just the same. "That is not necessary," he told her, regarding her curtsy, waving a dismissive hand toward her.

Honoria chuckled as she rose. "Ah, but it is, and you will have to get used to it," she reminded him cheerfully, though her expression sobered. "She is here, and taking tea in her rooms. I have posted guards, and her own escort has been dealt with."

Luis Miguel

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2020, 06:54:35 PM »

Miguel's frown only deepened, but a thought had occurred to him that he needed to ask. "You are friends, si?" he asked the woman, hoping she might be able to give him some needed insight into his mother's head.

"I think that is an accurate means of describing our relationship, si," Honoria agreed, though there was wariness in her tone.

Tilde frowned, knowing her aunt was afraid of the repercussions of having been a known friend to the dowager through all this.

"May I ask you a question?" he asked, not wanting to force any information from the woman that she was not willing to give.

"Of course," Honoria assured him. She had not objected to any of the plans laid before her, even to the essential kidnapping of the dowager queen in her own home. There was no reason to think she would deny Miguel a simple answer.

Miguel's frown deepened, feeling suddenly awkward about this form of questioning, but before he met with his mother, there was something he needed to know. "Does she ever talk about me?" he asked. "Has she ever expressed any feelings over my absence?"

"She has spoken of you to me many times," Honoria told him. "When you first escaped the castle, she was terrified that you had been killed and disposed of without her knowledge. Alphonso ... is not kind to her, and has been worse since your escape. He has no further use for her if he cannot rule through her son."

His jaw visibly clenched to hear this. As much as he dreaded bloodshed, this was just one more reason for him to kill the man outright. "Why didn't she come to me and tell me?" he asked, wondering if the earl had forced her to behave as she had, or if she acted on her own.

"What mother would endanger the life of her son, simply to share her private terror?" Honoria asked him in turn. "She loved him, once. He charmed her, gave her the attention and affection she did not receive from your father. But it is clear that his affection was wholly feigned."

"He killed my brother," Miguel pointed out. Whatever her feelings for his father, the murder of his brother was an unforgivable offense. She could not have had anything to do with that, could she?

Honoria sighed softly. "Miguel, you do not know truly what your father was like, nor how quickly your brother was becoming like him," she said quietly. "You did not live in their court, nor did you see them with those who came to them for aid. Their deaths were not justified, and I will not defend the man who enabled them, but I will not let you demonize your mother for not loving the men who did not love her."

"Are you saying my father mistreated her, as well as my brother?" Miguel asked. "How is Alphonso any better than them? If what you say is true, then he used her to usurp the throne, and so long as I am alive, I am a threat to his plans."

"Love and life are complex, your majesty," Honoria said in a quiet voice. "There is no black and white, no good and evil. Perspective is everything. And yes, Alphonso must die. I do not believe your mother would object." She did not comment on the way the former king had treated his wife.

"Isn't there?" Miguel challenged, narrowing his eyes, though he was not angry with her, only at the situation. Maksim had said something similar about good and evil, but he disagreed with him, too. "If Alphonso is not the epitome of evil, then what is?"

"If he is the epitome of evil, then do you believe your mother wholly incapable of being redeemed, given how long she has spent in his shadow?" Honoria asked him sharply. "Your youth makes you harsh, your majesty."

Miguel considered a moment, his expression thoughtful. It was not a question he took lightly. "That is what we have come here to determine, but no, I do not. I only want to know the truth."

"And will you accept the truth as she tells it, from her own perspective, or will you argue against it from your own?" Honoria said. Not many people would speak to a king like this, but she had known him since he was born.

"I will give her the chance to tell her version of the truth, and then we shall see," Miguel said, his expression softening. It would be far easier to believe his mother cared for him and had been forced to participate in the earl's plans than to believe she had turned her back on both her sons.

"Better." Honoria smiled then, her approval of his softening clear in both expression and tone. "As I said, she is taking tea in the rooms prepared for her. She suspects nothing."

There was that look on his face again - a look of anxiety mingled with confusion. "I suppose I should go speak with her then," he said, mostly to himself. As much as Matilde was a part of this, this was something he had to do on his own.

"I will come with you, if you wish," Tilde offered softly, squeezing his hand as she looked at his handsome face.

"Thank you, amada, but I think this is something I must do alone," he told her gently as he met her gaze and returned the hand-squeeze. "In the meantime, you should visit with your aunt."

"We will not be far," she promised, rising onto her toes to kiss his cheek. "Whistle, and I will come to you, tesoro, always." She missed the way Honoria both smiled and rolled her eyes at the puppy-love declaration of loyalty.

"I will be fine, amada. Do not worry," he assured her, turning to take both her hands in his and touch a soft but brief kiss to her lips. Let her aunt witness the love and affection between her future king and queen.

"You cannot stop me from worrying," Tilde pointed out with a teasing cast to her smile as he kissed her. "I am too stubborn to be ordered out of it, even by my king."

"Perhaps by your husband then," he teased in return, a faint smirk on his face. In truth, he didn't mind so much that she worried, just as he worried about her. Isn't that what people did when they loved each other?

"Never," she replied, brushing another kiss to his lips. "Go, before you change your mind. And do not feel you must stay in her presence if you feel riled. Come back to me whenever you wish it."

Luis Miguel

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2020, 06:56:44 PM »
"Do not be concerned if you hear shouting, querida," he warned her. "I promise not to do anything rash," he said, mostly for her aunt's sake.

"I know you will not," Tilde assured him with a gentle smile, giving his hand one last squeeze before releasing him.

Honoria curtsied once again, stepping aside to allow Miguel to leave the room. "She is in the queen's apartments," she told him. "At the end of the hall."

"Si, gracias,"
Miguel replied, returning his wife's smile, though the smile was a bit tense. He didn't bother to ask her to wish him luck, as luck was not exactly what he needed right now. "I will not be long," he told her, leaning in to brush a soft kiss against her lips, though he really had no idea how long this would take.

Tilde simply smiled, knowing any further words would just be a delay at this point. She, too, stepped back, watching him go, hoping in her heart that he would get some resolution from the conversation he was about to have.

He gave a nod to Tilde's aunt and turned on a heel to exit the room and go in search of his mother. There had been a time, long ago, when he'd thought his mother had loved him; now he wasn't so sure. Their relationship had been strained since his father and brother had been killed, and he was not so sure he believed her story about his father's behavior. The truth was, he was not sure what to believe anymore.

The guard on the dowager's door was one he recognized, one of the loyal men who had joined the growing army of kings' men and had been handpicked to join the royal guard. He saluted his king smartly, stepping to one side to allow Miguel access to the door and the apartment within.

Miguel gave a nod of his head to acknowledge the guard, pausing a moment at the door, before lifting a hand to knock. As king, it was unnecessary, and yet, he though he owed the woman who had birthed him, at least that much.

A voice he had not heard in almost a year answered near instantly. "Come."

He drew a deep breath to gather his courage and pushed open the door. Though she had not said so, he was not sure if Tilde's mother had warned her of his presence. The last thing he needed was for her to faint on him. He said nothing as he stepped inside, unsure what he would find behind the door.

In typical royal manner, she did not even glance at the door as it opened, apparently engrossed in a letter she was reading as she sipped her steaming tea. Luisa seemed drawn, certainly thinner than she had been when last he saw her, but still a queen in dignity and bearing.

He did not think there was a way to greet her without shocking her too much. It was not his intention to upset her, and yet, there might be no avoiding it. "Mother," he said, by way of greeting, in a tone of voice he hoped was gentle, but not overly affectionate.

The dowager's head snapped about, the letter falling from her hand as she stared at him, her dark eyes wide with shock and disbelief. "Miguel?" she whispered, shakily rising to her feet. "Is it really you?"

"Si, it's me," he confirmed. It had not been so long since she'd seen him that he looked that much different. He did not bother to remind her that he was king now, and no longer a boy.

"Oh ... oh, sweet Goddess!" She pushed away from the table, advancing across the room in long strides, skirts rustling, to throw her arms about him and weep. "I was so afraid for you. I thought ... I thought you were dead."

He backed up as she advanced, holding both hands up to keep her at arms' length, at least, for the moment. He was not without sympathy for her, seeing her tears, but he was not yet sure they were entirely authentic. "I am not dead."

Hurt flared in her wet eyes as he warded her off, her arms falling to her sides as she gazed on her boy. Then she dropped to her knees, bowing her head to him. "I swear, by the Goddess and right of kings, that you are my lord and I will serve you all the days of my life." It was an old oath, and one not taken by women; the oath of a vassal lord or knight, not a queen.

He frowned down at her, wondering if this was a play for sympathy or if she was being genuine. He exhaled a sigh, reaching to help her up from the floor, as gently as he could. "That is not necessary, Madre," he assured her. No matter the situation, she was still the dowager queen, after all.

"I do not deserve your kindness, Miguel," she said sadly, allowing him to help her rise to her feet. "I failed you so terribly. There is nothing I can do or say that will ever make it right."

"How did you fail me?" he asked, compassionate enough to take her arm and lead her to a chair. It was not because he forgave her - not yet - but he needed to hear what she had to say.

She sat slowly, afraid to look him in the eye. "I threw my lot in with a man who promised to protect me," she said, "only for him to hold the life of my only remaining child over my head as a means to keep his hold on power. I trusted in the wrong person."

"Protect you against who?" Miguel asked, though he suspected she would repeat Honoria's claim that his father had not been a kind and loving husband.

"From the consequences of the war," she said quietly, folding her hands into her lap. "After your brother was killed, I knew that, should your father lose, both you and I would be exiled or worse. Alphonso offered me his protection, for both of us. I should have taken exile."

"Alphonso is the one who instigated the war so that he could take control of the crown," Miguel said, though perhaps his mother had finally realized this. "Our kingdom used to be a peaceful one, before he made trouble."

"Your father was not a good man, but he was a good king," Luisa said quietly. "He trusted unwisely, like so many of us did when the chaos erupted."

"Why do you say that?" Miguel asked, taking a seat nearby but maintaining a polite distance. "Why do you say he was not a good man?" he clarified.

"Perhaps I spoke poorly," she said. "He was not a kind man. We were never friends, your father and I. I was sold into marriage for an alliance; he did not want me, but my connection to Cicilia. It is the way of royal marriage, Miguel. Duty, above all else."

Luis Miguel

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #5 on: October 07, 2020, 06:57:20 PM »

"Not always. Sometimes there is love," he said, not speaking just of himself and Tilde, but also of the Pomeran crown prince and princess, who had married for political reasons but had been fortunate enough to find love.

"The only true love I found in Epirus was my love for my children," she said softly. "I clung too tightly to it. I drove your brother away from me with worrying, and delivered you into the hands of a traitor out of fear. Exile me. Execute me. Lock me in a tower for life. I deserve to be punished for what I allowed my weakness to put you through."

Miguel sighed, a small frown on his face. "I do not think that will be necessary," he told her. "But I intend to take back the throne," he added, not bothering to add he would take it by force, if necessary.

"It is yours by right," she agreed. "He is afraid, Miguel. He has grown harsher since you escaped his clutches, and the rumor of your marriage to Ines Matilde sent him into terrified anger. There are but two families who are loyal to him, and they will pretend fealty to you in order to avoid punishment. He has already lost. All that remains is to discover if he will face punishment or attempt escape."

"What families?" he asked, not bothering to confirm or deny whether his marriage to Matilde was true or not just yet. He did not want to tell her too much yet, but he needed to be sure she was not playing him for a fool.

"Valdez and Gondamar," Luisa told him without hesitation. "They hold most of the powerful positions at court, and they have been bankrolling him for the last year or more. He has no access to the treasury; one of your father's last acts was to have the treasury moved to a safe location." She tugged at her bodice, ripping the fabric roughly, and withdrew the royal seal and key from within. "I kept my last promise to him," she told her son, offering him both. "You will not be a pauper king."

He startled as she ripped her bodice, alarmed for a moment that she was going to hurt herself. He even went so far as to lunge forward to stop her before she could do herself harm before realizing that was not her intention at all. He held out his hand to accept the seal and the key, still debating whether he could trust her or not. "I will be king, Mother," he told her.

"You will," she agreed with a firm nod. "And I will publically throw my support behind you, and call him out for the violent usurper that he is."

"I want to trust you," he told her, that frown still on his face, as he closed his fingers around the seal and the key.

"You do not have to trust me," she told him regretfully. "I have not earned that from you. Let me help you erode his support. Let the people see that I have abandoned him to support you."

"Alejandro should have been king, not me," Miguel murmured sadly. It was his brother who would have inherited the throne, but Miguel was the one who had been left to reclaim it.

She didn't answer, a flicker in her expression suggesting at knowledge she did not want to share in that moment. Instead, she hesitantly reached out, hoping he would let her at least touch his hand.

He seemed momentarily lost in thought, before returning to his senses. This time, he did not flinch when she touched him, but he did not return her affection either. "You should know the rumors are true. Matilde and I have married. Together, we will unite our people. So you see how unnecessary all of this was." All of the violence, the death, the scheming.

She nodded slowly, taking her hand away when he did not respond to her. "Felicitations on your marriage," she congratulated him. "You will be great."

"Is that all?" he asked, wondering why she did not have more to say than that. He got up, feeling suddenly agitated. "Everything that was once Alejandro's is now mine. His crown, his kingdom, his bride. How can you say I will be great? I was not raised to be king, Mother," he said, as he paced the floor.

"Because you are my son," she said, with sudden steel in her tone. "And I did not raise you to be unfeeling toward the world."

He turned toward her, hearing the steel in her voice and realizing with a jolt what she meant by those words. "And Alejandro was not?" he asked, though he thought he knew what she meant.

"He was not," she said. "Did you never wonder why he was so much older than you? He was already five years old when I was brought to this country to be queen, acknowledged as the heir and legitimized. I failed in raising him. I did not fail in raising you."

The look on Miguel's face betrayed his shock at what his mother was telling him. "What are you saying?" he asked, brows furrowed in confusion. "Are you saying Alejandro was not your son?"

"That is what I said," she confirmed with a weary sigh. "It was never mentioned. He was the king's son, the heir to the throne, the son of the mistress your father was not permitted to marry."

He visibly paled at this bit of news, clearly shocked, though it did not make him miss his brother's presence any less, but it did explain some things about his father. "How can that be true?" he asked, though somehow he realized that it was.

"Very easily. You are not so naive as to have missed the presence of your father's favourite always at court." She spoke stiffly, not wanting to warp his memory of his father but unwilling to take the full blame for what had been beyond his comprehension at the time.

"You mean his mistress," Miguel said, wondering if that was why Alejandro was clearly always his father's favorite. It wasn't only because he was the eldest, but because he and his brother did not share the same mother.

Luisa nodded sharply. Those years were not happy ones in her memory, but she was prepared to face them if he required it. "Lady Isabella was never far from his side."

He began pacing again, as he considered what she was telling him. "I remember Lady Isabella, but she never paid me much heed," he said, as he tried to sort all this out in his head.

"She considered you a rival to her own son," his mother told him. "She was not our friend at court, though she never moved overtly against us."

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #6 on: October 07, 2020, 06:57:37 PM »
"And where is she now?" he asked, halting his pacing to turn and face her again. He had no idea what might have happened after he left home for his self-imposed Pomeran exile.

Luisa closed her eyes, her expression pained. "She is a sister at the convent of the Open Hand," she said gently. "After Alejandro's death, she lost herself to grief. Your father dismissed her from his presence. I arranged for her to be cared for at the convent until she recovered, but she took the veil after a year."

"I see," he murmured to himself, frowning at the tragedy of it all, and all because of the scheming of Alphonso and his allies. Had any good come of any of this? Miguel did not think so. He exhaled a sigh as he moved to retake his seat, pausing another moment in thought before continuing. "Matilde is here. She will be staying here while I go on to Epira," he told her.

Luisa met his gaze, her own steady and guarded. "Am I to be imprisoned?" she asked quietly. "Would you prefer I not impose my presence upon your wife?" It was clearly a painful thing for her to ask - she had doted on Matilde whenever the redhead had been allowed to come to court when they were children. The two had always been destined to be related by marriage, though Luisa was deeply relieved that Miguel was the match and not his elder brother.

"Of course not," Miguel was quick to reply. He was well aware of his mother's affection for his wife, and he saw no reason to imprison her when she posed no real threat here at Mowbray. In fact, it was probably much safer for both women here than it would be at Epirus, until he had secured the throne. "Do you think I came here to punish you?"

"You should punish me," she told him. "How will it look to your followers if you welcome me back openly? Restrict my movements, at the very least. If you will not imprison me, then at least keep me under guard. Your allies will respect you more for it."

"What should I punish you for?" he asked, realizing this was a complete turnaround from how he felt when he'd first arrived here, but she was his mother, after all.

"For being allied with your enemy," she said simply. "For allowing him to usurp control and keep you from the throne. At this moment, your army believes me to be an enemy. You should treat me as such."

"Very well. You will be put on house arrest and under guard here at Mowbray, for now. You will not be allowed visitors other than for myself and Tilde and Honoria, and any correspondence you write or receive will be inspected before being passed on. You will continue to enjoy the comforts due your station, but your movements will be limited," Miguel told her, without hesitation. He thought this only fair, considering everything that had happened, and was, in fact, not only fair but generous on his part.

She nodded in agreement. Indeed, she seemed relieved, even proud of him for making that decision so quickly and easily. "Thank you, your majesty," was her answer. "You are already a fine king."

His first reaction was to deny her compliment, but he realized he was going to have to get used to hearing such things from people and learning how to determine the difference between those who were being genuine and those who were not. "I do not intend to lose, but if we do, you will be safe here and Alphonso will not suspect your loyalties." He could not say the same for Tilde, however, whose safety and life now depending on him winning.

"You will not lose," his mother predicted confidently. "He is afraid, and men who live with fear make mistakes. He has only two choices - to stay and fight, or run and hope to hide for the rest of his life. I do not know which he will choose, but he will not be the victor in this fight."

Miguel might have claimed that only a coward would run, but he himself had done that very same thing. It was not fear that had made him do so, however, so much as the will to survive long enough to have his justice. "I hope he stays. I would like to look him in the eye before I kill him."

"He is a seasoned fighter, but he is far older than you, and far more indulgent in his whims now than he was before," Luisa said thoughtfully. She did not like the idea of Miguel personally fighting, but she would not argue against it. She knew it was necessary. "He was injured in a joust two years ago, if you recall. He still favors that side; I do not think the bone was set correctly."

Miguel furrowed his brows. He understood she was giving him an advantage in telling him this, and despite the fact that he dreaded bloodshed, he could see no way around it. Besides, the man deserved it. "I have been training," he assured her, leaving it at that. And he would not be alone.

She nodded, allowing the subject to drop. After a long moment, she dared to ask something she had not thought she would ever be in a position to ask him. "Are you happy in your marriage, Miguel?"

He arched his brows, obviously unprepared for her question. Had she ever been happy in her own marriage? He might have thought so once, but he no longer did. "I have not been married very long, but yes. Tilde and I have always been friends. It feels very ... natural."

She smiled, just a little. "I am glad," she said softly. "You were always close. I feared that these years in exile might have hardened her against you, but there was always love there. I could see it."

"I am happy with Tilde, Mother," he assured her. "I care for her very much," he added, though it seemed she knew that already. "Would you like to see her?"

"I should like to, very much, but ... let her make that decision," she suggested. "She is the queen; she will have to get used to making such decisions near daily."

"Very well," he replied, leaving it at that. He was sure Tilde would want to see his mother at some point, but he would not force the issue on either of them. He looked around briefly, though her surroundings were far from a prison cell. "Is there anything you need?"

"I should like to visit the chapel, if I may," she requested, her tone almost tentative. "I ... I have not attended to the Goddess for several years. I miss Her."

"Si, of course," he replied. "You may move about the castle as you wish, so long as you are accompanied by guards." This was as much for her own safety as anything else.

"Thank you." For a moment, she seemed on the verge of saying something more, but stopped herself, seemingly aware that she could not truly ask for more than he had already given her.

There was a question Miguel wanted to ask, but it didn't seem like the kind of thing a son asked his mother, especially if one was to be a king. She had explained her actions, alluded to her feelings. There was not much more he could ask of her than that. "Well, if there is nothing else ..."

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2020, 06:58:27 PM »
She smiled once again, that brittle smile that suggested there was a good deal still unsaid. "We have time," she said. "For the first time, we have tomorrows that belong to us. Not everything need be said in one sitting."

"I suppose not," he admitted, resisting the urge to reach for her hand. He had no proof what she'd told him was true, and yet, somewhere deep in his heart, he knew she'd been telling the truth. He only wished she'd told him sooner.

"I will not ask for your forgiveness," she said softly. "I have done nothing to earn it. But I will hope that, someday, you will see me as only your mother once more, and not the woman who failed you."

Miguel rose to his feet, all the anger he'd been feeling toward her melting away. "I do not hate you, and you have not failed me. I only wish I had not been so blind to the truth," he said, taking part of the blame onto himself.

"You were a child, raised in impossible circumstances," she told him, refusing to allow him to take the blame on his own shoulders. "You have grown into a man any woman would be proud to call her son. And I am very proud of you."

Considering all that had happened, he might have dismissed such a comment; and yet, despite all that had happened, the bond between a mother and son could not be broken. Whether she loved him or not, she was still his mother. "This is not over. Do not be so proud of me yet," he told her, alluding to his own doubts.

"You could have run, never to return," she reminded him. "You did not. You went to an ally for help, and you have come back to free your people. That is something to be proud of."

His expression flickered into a frown. But what was the reason for his return? What was his motivation? He had told himself he had returned to reclaim what was rightfully his, but was that true? Or had he returned because his heart burned to have his revenge? Was justice any different from revenge, in the end? "Is that what you think? That I came back to free my people?" he asked, his own worst critic once again.

She held his gaze for one long moment. "In the eyes of the people, it does not matter what you believe to be true in your heart," she told him. "They see you return, and they believe you have come back to free them from the oppression of the usurper. That belief will carry you to the throne. What you do with it afterward will determine what kind of king you will be."

He had no idea what kind of king he would be. He wasn't even supposed to be king. His brother had been raised and trained to fulfill that role, but his brother was gone and was not coming back. It was up to him now. Miguel lifted his chin in defiance against his own self-doubt. "I intend to be a good king," he said, though he had yet to learn just how to achieve that goal.

"Then surround yourself with the people you trust," she suggested. "Raise men with regard to their merit and not simply their birth. And remember that you are not alone."

He had already done just that when he'd gone to Pomerania for help. Though he knew they would only ever be a vassal country to the bigger nation, he was not so interested in power as in peace. "I will do my best," he told her, offering a polite nod of his head before backing toward the door. "If there is anything you need, do not hesitate to ask."

"I shall." She watched him to the door, and in that moment, he might have realized that the tension he had first seen in her form was gone. His mother felt safe, for the first time in almost a decade, and it was thanks to him.

Perhaps in time, they would reconcile completely. The bond between mother and son was still there, and he had to admit he had never truly stopped loving her. There had been a time when he had felt she had betrayed him; now he only felt the need to vindicate them both. He quietly let himself out, pausing a moment to give instructions to the guards. He knew he should return to his room, to assure Tilde he was well, but he needed a few minutes to sort out his thoughts.

Perhaps it was just as well that his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of fresh hooves on flagstones, drawing his gaze to the window nearby in time to see Maksim ride into view, swinging down from his horse with a grin. The older prince paused to offer his mare some warm affection, the look on his face certainly promising that whatever news he carried was not bad.

Either that, Miguel thought, or the man was still warm from some woman's bed. He sighed, realizing there would be no moment's respite other than this. For the moment, his fate was literally in the Pomeran prince's hands. He decided it was probably best to meet Maks at the main entrance, rather than wait for the man to track him down.

It looked as though Maksim was going to take his horse to the stable himself - another clue that his news was not urgent or concerning. For all his reputation as a wastrel, the second prince of Pomerania was exceptionally good at information gathering and sharing.

Eager to see his friend, MIguel made his way to the stable, but not before instructing a guard to inform Tilde of his whereabouts. He had told her he wouldn't be long, and he didn't want to worry her, after all.

He found Maksim apparently in his element, alone in the stable, brushing down his mare as she munched on oats in a nosebag. The older prince had discarded his cloak and sword belt, and already his doublet was hanging open, proof positive that the man considered himself off duty for the time being. He was speaking quietly to his horse, praising her for the long ride and promising apples as soon as he could find some.

Miguel took one look at the other man and knew this might not be the time to discuss business, and yet, weren't they also friends? "The attention you give her is worthy of a lover," he teased as he stepped into the stable.

Maksim chuckled, glancing over at him. "We've been through a lot together," he commented, still brushing down the mare's chestnut flank. "She puts up with me - the least I can do is treat her well." His eyes turned back to Miguel, taking in the sight of his friend. "You look a little rattled."

Miguel pressed his lips together into a frown, not bothering to remark anymore on his friend's fondness for his horse. He was not wrong in treating her well, after all. "I have just come from my mother's chambers."

"Ah." Maks smiled over at him. "Did it go well?" he asked. "Nothing too distressing come to light in your conversation with her?"

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2020, 06:58:46 PM »

"I suppose that depends on what you consider distressing," Miguel said with a light shrug of his shoulders, though he did not offer any further details what they might have discussed.

"True, it is all in perspective," Maks agreed. He paused in his work, leaning against the mare's side as he frowned at his friend. "Talk to me," he suggested.

Miguel was still frowning, but this time his expression seemed to suggest he was feeling reluctant to unburden himself at Maksim's expense. "You have only just arrived. It can wait."

Maks raised a brow. "We can talk whenever you choose," he assured his friend. "I'll make my report to you once I've settled in and had something to eat myself, if that is amenable?"

"Si, that sounds reasonable," Miguel replied, turning on a heel to leave, before turning back momentarily. "I am truly glad for your help and your friendship, amigo," he told the other man. It could be argued that he had become as fond of Maks as he might an older brother.

Maks nodded to him, his smile fond. "I wouldn't let you do this alone," he promised his friend. "But even I can tell you need some time to be quiet and loved, and you have a very conveniently placed wife to help you do that. I'll see you later, Miguel."

It seemed he was being dismissed and reminded to go visit his wife, who had as much at stake as he did. His heart felt heavy with grief and confusion at his mother's confession, and he was not sure he wanted to burden his young wife with that, but she deserved to know what his mother had told him. That didn't seem to be what Maks was telling him to do though. "Very well. We will speak later," he said, turning once again to take his leave of the man.

Maks watched him go, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. Perhaps he had been a little too heavy-handed in telling Migs to go and cuddle up with his wife, but he had a feeling Miguel and Matilde had the potential to be as effective a partnership as Stephan and Marianne. They just needed to stop trying to spare each other the supposed burden of their worries.

Miguel didn't drag his feet exactly, but he took his time finding his way back to the chambers he shared with his new wife. She deserved to know what his mother had told him, and yet, he was not sure he could tell her without breaking down.

In truth, it was the revelation about his brother that bothered him most, and yet, it did not come as so much of a shock to him as it might have.

He found Tilde alone, sewing once again where she sat in the window seat, humming to herself as she passed the time. She looked up as the door opened, quick to set her needlework aside as she rose to greet him. "I did not hear any shouting," she said. "Did you make peace?"

He blinked as he realized she was right. He had warned her that there might be shouting, but there was none. Had his mother just manipulated him around her little finger, or was she telling the truth? Honoria seemed to trust her, anyway. The friendship between the two women never seemed to have wavered. "I suppose you could say that," he told her as he closed the door behind him.

She tilted her head, curious and concerned. She had not expected him to return so subdued as this. "Migs?" Stepping close, she laid her hand against his arm. "What is it?"

He frowned back at her, not wanting to worry her, and yet, everything he had to tell her had already passed. Nothing could be done to change the past; all they could do was learn from it. "Apparently, my brother had another mother," he said, as plainly as he could without sounding vulgar.

This was not what she had expected to hear, her surprised confusion reflected in her gaze as she stared at him. "I ... I had no idea," she said, shocked by this news. "Did the king have another queen before he married your mother?"

"No, apparently he had a mistress," Miguel replied, taking her hand as he stepped further into the room. What he needed was a good strong drink.

"It was not unknown that your father kept a mistress, but ..." She trailed off, letting him draw her further into the room without argument. "I did not know that Alejandro was born a bastard."

"I assume it was a well-kept secret," Miguel said as he made his way to the sideboard where there were plenty of bottles to choose from. He did not normally imbibe any more than anyone else, but he felt the need to calm his nerves.

"Or perhaps just a secret kept from our generation," she mused, watching him in concern. "He was the named heir, Migs. He had clearly been legitimized under law. But that is not what's bothering you, is it?"

He shrugged as he reached for a bottle of some amber liquid he knew wasn't wine. "I am not sure what's bothering me," he confessed. He had not had enough time yet to absorb all his mother had told him and make sense of it.

"It does not make him less your brother," she offered, before another thought occurred to her. "Is it, perhaps, the understanding that your parents were not a love match?"

"It is the fact that everything I have ever believed my life to be is a lie, and I have been too much of a fool to see it," he said, blaming himself again. He uncorked the bottle and filled a glass, glad that his hand was not shaking at least.

"Not everything," Tilde said softly, a little hurt that he would take this one piece of news and twist it in himself to negate his entire life. "I never wanted to marry Alejandro. I never lied to you about that. And you are no fool for not seeing what others kept from you. A fool sees and does nothing. You are no fool."

"I love him, you know," Miguel confessed. "I loved him, even though I knew it was him you were going to marry. Even though I knew it was him who was going to wear the crown. I was only the second son. I was not important enough, not brave enough, not smart enough. Everything was always about Alejandro, and yet, I looked up to him. Loved him even. Everything that I am, everything that I have, is because he's dead, and now I find out he was not even the legitimate heir."

"You owe nothing to him," Tilde told him. "His death was a tragedy, but you are not the man you are because of him. Yes, you are in this position because he is gone. By law, by the king's decree no doubt, he was the legitimate heir. But the circumstances of his birth do not change your relationship with him. They should not change the way you remember him. He may not even have known."

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Re: Reunion
« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2020, 06:59:05 PM »
"Perhaps," he admitted. He took a swallow of the amber liquid, making a face as it burned its way down his throat before he continued in a voice made hoarse by the drink. "I thought she might tell me I was someone else's son. That I am the one who has no right to the throne, but no, I have more right to it than my brother ever had. I always thought my father favored him because he was the eldest, but it was only because he loved him more, if he ever loved me at all."

All of these things were in the past. He knew this. He knew also that he could not let the actions and decisions of others destroy him, but he needed time and help to make sense of it.

"Your mother loved you, loves you," his wife said softly. "Why is the love of your father so much more important than the love of the woman who bore you? Your father made it plain that he preferred Alejandro, but he was never unkind to you, was he?"

"I don't know," Miguel replied, staring into the glass, as if he might find the answer to those questions lingering somewhere in the amber liquid. "It isn't, I suppose, and if he was unkind, it was only that he so obviously preferred my brother. Should I hate him now, knowing the shame he brought to my mother?"

"Migs ... there is no shame in knowing the flaws in your parents and still loving them," she said softly. "My father was a fool, easily led into a war with a man he had once considered closer than a brother. I still loved him, and I love him still."

"It's such a waste," Miguel murmured, swirling the amber liquid around before tilting the glass back and draining the contents. It was a little too much for him, but he swallowed with a wince and let the heat of the liquor warm his insides and calm his frayed nerves.

"No one ever said that life would be clean and smart," she told him, laying her hand over his heart. "All you can truly control is what you believe and how you react to the world around you."

He set the glass back on the sideboard and turned to face her, his expression softening, looking almost like he was fighting to keep his emotions in check. "I do not regret that we are together, querida," he told her. "I only regret the pain that brought us together."

"I do not regret that pain," she countered softly. "Without it, we would not now be standing together, on the precipice of the rest of our lives. Without it, I would not appreciate the sanctity of life, the value of diplomacy, the necessity of war. Without it, I would not love you with all my heart, because without it, I would not know that tomorrow may never come."

Who was this kind, lovely creature who had come into his life and who he now called wife? Could she really be the same girl he used to chase around the gardens, threatening to put toads and snakes in her hair? Had he loved her even then but hadn't known it yet? "What would I do without you, Tilde?" he asked, taking her hands in his.

She smiled, twining her fingers with his without a second thought. "You would not have stopped at one glass," she teased impishly, rising onto her toes to kiss him tenderly. "We are not doomed to repeat the past, tesoro, nor are we bound by it. This is our time, and we will make it worth living."

He couldn't help but smile a little at her honesty, neither confirming nor denying it, though he had never been all that fond of strong drink. "Our child will know what it is to be loved," he promised her, drawing her closer. "All our children will know." He followed that with another kiss, as tender as the first.

Lips curving tenderly into his kiss, she curled her arms about him, glad to feel at least some of his worry and tension fade. She had known he would come back from his meeting with Luisa in knots, but not how bad they might be. It was good to know that they were close enough to be honest with one another.

He had not yet told her everything his mother had told him, but he had shared those things that had weighed heaviest on his heart. And now, as he did exactly as Maksim had suggested, he was glad he had taken his friend's advice and confide in his wife first, rather than his friend. He drew Tilde toward the bed. Even if they did not go so far as to make love, he wanted to feel her close.

She offered no resistance - indeed, she moved eagerly with him, wanting that sense of closeness herself. Their lives were moving so fast these days; moments like this, when they could take their time and pause, and just be together, would be non-existent when Miguel moved to fully claim the throne. Tilde was determined to make the most of them.

Perhaps it was scandalous to be making love during the day, but he didn't much care. There was no one there to witness but the two of them, and he, at least, seemed to need that particular brand of closeness, almost as if to prove that they weren't their parents and would never be.

With the lives they had lead already, scandal was never likely to be at the forefront of their minds, and certainly not when it came to being honest with each other and their feelings. Wrapped up in each other's arms, skin to skin and heart to heart, was the closest Tilde was sure she would ever come to absolute bliss.

It wasn't about ensuring an heir - they had already managed to accomplish that in the short time since they'd wed. No, this was simply about being a young couple in love who could not get enough of each other. There were never enough kisses and caresses, never enough embraces, never enough quiet moments or whispered words of love. They both knew that time would only become more limited as they assumed their roles as monarchs, which only made these moments all the more precious.

At the core of it all, this was what they were fighting for - the chance to live together, in peace, and rebuild the family that had been so thoroughly destroyed by one man's greed and corruption. And in the end, it was a war worth fighting.