After spending a few hours enjoying each other's company Tony suggested it was time to return to the castle. Wanting to set his plan in motion he quickly handed his horse off to the stable hand and went in search of his personal page.
He wrote a note, sealed it and gave it to eager young man instructing, "This is very important. Wait for a response and return it to me personally."
The page nodded and hastily made his way to the stables to saddle the fastest of their steeds. Anthony smiled thinking that he may just make a big difference in his brother's future. His smile faltered with the one small doubt that Timothy would find it as great an idea as he did.
'Too late now,' he shrugged. The ball was in someone else's court though he could see no reason that the recipient of his message would find a reason to not jump at the opportunity outlined.
Dinner was never the quietest meal they shared. If no one else had any pressing matters to discuss, Abigail regaled her family with all sorts of information she learned through her studies or the experiments she was wont to perform.
Leroy enjoyed her enthusiasm for knowledge and listened attentively only prome to pod her if she drifted too far off topic with a growled, "Abigail."
This particular night however, Anthony was preoccupied with his plan and anticipating the response. Abigail was a bit worn from their outing at the lake. Observing Timothy he couldn't help but sense his unease. He decided it best to have a word with him.
"Anthony," he spoke to his eldest gaining his attention from whatever had him day-dreaming.
"Father," he responded dismissing his musings.
"Our conversation will be delayed until later this evening. I need to speak with your brother." Turning to his younger son he continued, "Timothy you will join me in the library after lunch."
Timothy had snapped his gaze up from his plate to look quizzically at his father. It had been a long time since the king had requested time alone with him.
"Yes, Father," he nodded still uncertain of the reason. A glance toward his siblings only resulted in shrugged shoulders as they had no idea either.
Anthony was relieved that he didn't have to cancel his meeting with his father. It was almost fate that seemed to step in to allow his plan to fall into place.
Abigail smiled. Timothy may not understand, but she looked at their father and could see the concern he held at his son's surprise and the trace of sadness that it had caused him. It was about time for them to face the gap that had been between them and if not fill it at least build a bridge over it.
Timothy stood in front of the window looking out at the front grounds. Rising clouds of dust indicated a rider was approaching the castle. He had identified the rider as his brother's page when he heard his father close the door behind him. Not making much of the page's arrival he turned to discover the intent of his father's request for his audience.
Hoping to have a relaxed conversation Leroy asked his son to have a seat, pleased that he did so with no hesitation or look of uncertainty. "I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you," he began wishing the look of surprise hadn't appeared on his son's face. Was his praise really that unexpected?
"Your superiors have informed me of your progress, but they are not sure of your future intentions."
"I believe I assured them that I would be continuing with my studies there and joining them," Tim replied wondering why they would tell his father otherwise.
"Surely when you finish you'd like to return home," his father implied.
Tim looked at his father who appeared delighted at the thought of having him home again. "Well actually I was thinking that I'd like to join them Father."
"Oh," Leroy said stunned. "I suppose that makes sense, but I had hoped you'd want to return here."
"What would I do here?" Timothy asked wondering what his father expected of him.
"There are duties that you could attend to that are not your brother's strength. I thought you could assist him."
"You want me to be at Anthony's beck and call. He's fully capable of fulfilling his royal duties," Timothy argued.
The king smirked at the image of his boys when they were much younger and Timothy following his brother around the castle awaiting his next 'command'.
"You both are no longer children. Anthony hasn't seen you as the little brother who adored him in a long time. He's grown in many ways since you've left us," a pang of his own sadness sounded his words.
Timothy observed his father and saw the emotions play on his eyes. He never really thought anyone had cared so much about him going away, except Abigail, of course. He had seen changes in his brother, but had always seen himself as the little brother when he was with him.
"I guess I don't see what he would need from me. He can do everything."
"Maybe you still admire him too much. It's true he is full of self-assurance, but he still looks for approval to know he's doing the right thing. Without you he'll still manage to rule. I have the utmost confidence or I wouldn't be stepping down. It's just that together I see a more formidable leadership. When I had your mother beside me, I was a better ruler. I lost some of my compassion after her death, even if the people were still well looked after."
Seeing the sincerity in his father's face Timothy was unsure what he should do. Wanting some time to consider his father's request, he asked if he could have some time to himself.
Knowing his son would take all he said to heart the king honored his request and went to find his older son.
Tim wandered out the doors of the library that led into the garden contemplating all he'd learned from his talk with his father. He'd never doubted his father loved him, but for some reason had seen his brother as being favored. Perhaps it was only because he was older and born to be the successor to the throne.
The seminary had seem the logical direction for him to pursue. He found the atmosphere there therapeutic, but maybe he needed to venture out a bit before making his final decision.
Having much to think over Timothy ambled through the garden with no particular destination in mind. He let his thoughts wander as he enjoyed the quiet surrounding him. Much like the quiet he enjoyed at the seminary. He hadn't realized he could find it anywhere else.
A dark haired woman watched from her spot in the garden just behind a large elm tree whose low hung branches held leaves that shielded her from view. Timothy was different from his brother, she observed. He appeared more introspective whereas Anthony exuded himself physically.
The sun was descending lower in the sky; sunset still an hour in the future. She was excited about meeting the younger prince. He'd always been a bit elusive or maybe it was more that Anthony would steal the spotlight with his larger than life persona. She'd known the older brother long enough to know it was mostly an act. Living in his father's shadow he was constantly trying to prove that he was someone that people could look up to.
The king must've seen his son was just that kind of man if he was willing to step down and let Anthony take the throne. So she was intrigued by Anthony's request to meet his brother.
Oh, she had no doubt that there were men in the kingdom who admired her. She often played on their advances, but never too far. She didn't want to be like the women who worked as barmaids or worse the ones that sought out the men in the streets.
No she may have a quality that attracted men, but she wanted someone special who would want her for more than her body. Watching Timothy as he strolled aimlessly, she wondered if he would be the one. Not that she wanted to be royalty, he just seemed to be above that himself and maybe, well maybe he could see into her soul.
She stepped around the tree as he drew near. Upon seeing her he paused unsure that she was really there. The sun played along her head and he had to shake his head slightly so see that she wasn't an angel.
She smile and he walked tentatively toward her. He'd never seen someone so beautiful. Her smile rivaled the sunshine. He smiled as he came to stand in front of her.
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure of your acquaintance," he tilted his head slightly.
"The pleasure is mine kind sir," she curtsied. "My name is Delilah."
"A lovely name for a lovely lady," he took her hand and laid a gentle kiss upon it as he bowed with his other hand behind his back.
"Why thank you your highness," she blushed taken by his charm.
"Please call me Timothy," he said looking into her eyes.
"As you request," she stared back into his eyes. A connection was there she'd never felt before and she hoped it was felt by him too.
"What bring you to the royal garden?" he asked curious why this stranger was roaming the grounds.
"Anthony invited me," she replied. Seeing him take a step back and frown she regretted her honest answer.
"I see. I suppose you were waiting for him then," he straightened his shoulders. "I wouldn't want to be in the way." He began to turn, but she stopped him with a hand gently laid on his elbow.
"No. Actually I was hoping to meet you. Anthony has been a friend for a few years, but he's much too frivolous for me."
"Hmm," Timothy relaxed his stance. He'd never met a 'friend' of his brother that showed any interest in meeting him. "Would you care to join me on a walk?" he offered his arm.
Breathing a small sigh of relief that he didn't continue his retreat she placed her hand in the crook of his arm and nodded.
They walked in silence for a few moments each admiring the natural beauty around them.
"It's quite peaceful here," she spoke quietly.
"Yes. I don't think I truly noticed it before tonight. Sure I've come out her to escape, well to be alone, but I suppose I always had too much on my mind to notice."
She examined his profile and had seen a look of confusion cross his face.
"I suppose life as a prince isn't always an easy one."
"No especially being the second son," he said almost to himself.
She stopped and he looked down at her.
"What is it?" he asked.
"You think you're less important than your brother?" she asked frankly.
"I wouldn't say that," he looked beyond her trying to find the words to describe his thoughts. "It's more that Anthony was born to be the next king. What is my role to be?"
"Whatever you want to be," she told him. "Look Anthony doesn't have a choice, but to be king. You, however are free to be whatever or whomever you want to be."
"I never looked at it quite that way." He continued to walk. "I guess in a way I was seeking my own path. The seminary offered me a different life."
"The seminary? You really think a life of solitude is what is right for you?"
"I didn't plan to stay there. I figured I'd take my final vows and get appointed somewhere where no one knew my lineage and I could start anew," he shrugged.
"You want to change your lineage? Are you ashamed of your family?" she stepped in front of him to block his path.
"Of course not," he looked down at her and took a deep breath. "It's just… I don't know how to say it. After talking with my father tonight, I'm not sure what I want to do."
She ran her hand lightly down his arm and he glanced into her eyes. They held him and he felt his head lower to kiss her before he knew what he was doing. She allowed him to kiss her lightly before she stepped back. A spark seemed to have ignited when his lips touched hers and she turned her back to him as she put her fingers to her lips.
Timothy was shocked first by the way his body reacted from the mere kiss and second by Delilah's abrupt turn. "I'm sorry," he quickly apologized. "I shouldn't have been so forward. Please forgive me," he pleaded.
She shook her head as she tried to understand what the kiss had meant.
Taking the shake of her head as a denial Timothy lowered his head in shame. "I should see you back to the castle, so you can be on your way. If you'll still allow me to escort you that is."
She turned quickly. "Oh Timothy. I don't want to leave."
"You don't?" he asked relieved but confused.
"No," she smiled. "I've never been kissed like that," she tried to explain.
By her smile he determined it hadn't been displeasing. "I've never felt one quite like it myself," he gave her a lopsided smile. "Though perhaps we should return to the castle, as the sun is getting lower and we shouldn't be out her in the dark."
"I suppose we shouldn't," she took his arm again as they reversed their course along the path.
Again they walked in silence. After a few steps Delilah casually laid her head on his shoulder. Timothy looked down feeling the unfamiliar weight there, but allowed her to remain leaning against him.
His life's vision had changed during his visit. He was still determined to finish his studies, but decided to return home before making the decision about his final vows. Perhaps there was more to his life than becoming a priest. Possibly assisting his brother or maybe, he raised his eyes to the sky, maybe even finding love and having a family of his own.
When they reached the doors of the castle he opened one and stepped to the side to allow Delilah to enter ahead of him. They made their way to the great hall where Abigail and Anthony sat while their father stoked a fire in the fireplace.
Abigail looked up and smiled and Anthony grinned himself as they saw Timothy enter with Delilah. The king stood and regarded his son with young maiden still on his arm.
The look on Timothy's face made Anthony believe he'd made the right choice.
"Son?" he gestured toward their guest with his head.
"Father. Abigail. This is Delilah," he introduced her.
"It's an honor to meet you, Your Majesty," she lowered her head, "as well as you Lady Abigail."
Leroy approached her and offered his hand in greeting. Much like Timothy he bowed as he took her hand.
"I see where Timothy has gotten his charm," she stated.
The king raised an eyebrow at his son, "Oh?"
"He greeted me in the same manner," she explained noticing the color rise up Timothy's face.
Abigail nearly jumped in place waiting to greet Delilah.
Always astute to the emotions around her she could see that her brother was smitten with the young woman.
"It's nice to meet you," she smiled. "I hope that Timothy has made you feel welcome."
"Yes," Delilah patted Timothy's arm. "I do feel most welcome."
Anthony made his way to them. "Delilah," he smiled bowing and giving his brother a wink.
"Your highness," she curtsied.
"Please come and have a seat," the king invited.
"I'd enjoy that, but I must be on my way soon."
"Nonsense," Anthony blurted. Seeing his father's curious gaze he continued, "It's getting too dark for travel. We have plenty of room to keep you for the night."
"Yes," the king asserted. "You're safety comes first."
He'd have to have a word with his oldest child about the presence of Delilah, though he was certain he'd figured the reasons already on his own.
After sharing a meal and an evening of small talk Abigail took upon herself to escort Delilah to the guest quarters. She knew Timothy had his plans. Despite her desire to have him back at home in the castle, she had to put his wishes first. So she wondered what role, if any this new woman would fill in his life. She eyed her speculatively, scrutinizing whether she was good enough for her brother.
It hadn't totally escaped Abigail's observance that her brother and Delilah appeared to be equally taken with each other. Still they had only just met and though perhaps wanting to believe in love at first sight the young princess was also pragmatic.
She was delighted that her brother had found someone that seemed to intrigue him, yet she wanted to make sure Delilah had similar ideas for the future.
"You appear to be fond of Timothy," she said casually.
Quite aware of the princesses' intention, Delilah smiled, "Yes, he is a tender soul."
Abigail nodded. He certainly was that. "I would hate for anyone to take advantage of that," she warned.
"Fear not Lady. I know that we know very little about each other and I'm not presuming that I am the right prospect for Timothy. I would like to get to know him better and hope that he feels the same about me."
Abigail accepted her reply and appreciated the honesty it bore. Bidding Delilah a pleasant night's rest, she began to journey to her own bedroom.
She passed by Timothy's room and noticed the door open just enough for her to see him standing at his window gazing out into the night as he held the drape open with his hand.
She couldn't help but smile. It had been some time since she'd him so relaxed. Perhaps Delilah would be a good influence on him.
Sensing her watching him Timothy looked over his shoulder. "Can I help you with anything?" he inquired.
"No. I only wanted to bid you a good night," she grinned.
"Good night, dear sister. Sleep well," he returned to looking out at the night. He closed his eyes and sent a silent prayer that he'd make the right decision about his future."