Chapter two

The journey to Pict was short. Both Darien and Malcolm were exhausted and longed for nothing more than a bathe and warm bed. Along the way they had met up with four of their comrades. Lord Nathan, his brother Lord Taikoden, Sir Jaden and his brother Sir Zoelen had just finished helping another village just south of Hamersley, and were more than willing to take a short detour/ break in the lovely township of Pict.

"I have never longed more for a drink and a wench in my life." Sir Zoelen commented, staring out into wood that separated them from Pict.

"Me either," Lord Nathan agreed.

"Oh please the two of you long for Wenches all the time." Darien said exasperated, the two had been whining about women and drink for days now.

"And you're both legendary men of the drink." Malcolm added, equally irritated with them.

"Oh well if it isn't the brothers of gloom come to spoil all our fun." Zoelen replied with a smirk. "As if you two don't miss the wenches and the drink as much as we four do."

"Hey do not pull me into this, I have no desire for another argument," Lord Taikoden said.

"Ah, Taiki you never have any desire for anything the least bit entertaining." Nathan chastised.

"Well maybe that has something to do with your deplorable idea of entertainment." Taiki offered annoyed, "Personally I'm more than happy to go home, and be with my wife."

"Oh yes how could I forget you're now a man of the ball and chain, Lizzie trapped you toot-sweet," Nathan replied grinning.

"Yes, well I happily take my ball and chain, if it frees me from your unholy obsession with chasing skirts." Taiki replied.

"Oh and what pray tell is wrong with chasing skirts?" Sir Zoelen asked,

"Well nothing, Zoey but there is a limit, and the two of you carousers bring a bad name to all men of the king." Sir Jaden offered.

"Bah, you are close to being balled and chained yourself, you can't tell me you don't miss the thrill of bedding a wench or two…" Zoey shot back at his brother.

"At the same time," added Nathan, to which both he and lord Zoey laughed heartily.

"Nothing more fun than drinking and wenching," Zoey agreed.

"Well, you're not betrothed to the lady Catherine, she off the slayer of manhood." Jaden added miserably.

"Now, now Catsy isn't so bad." Malcolm said soothingly, though he had to hide his face for fear of laughing.

"Ha, you would have to say that, seeing as how that shrew is your sister." Jaden replied disgusted.

"Well, I'll give you that she's a shrew, but she is quite bonny." Darien added, "Come now, at least you'll have some pretty children."

"Well there is that, though I can't imagine bedding her." Jaden said pulling a face, "She'd just as soon cut off my manhood as smile at me."

"Yes, well you should have asked for Princess Rei's hand when you had the chance." Taiki chastised. "She's betrothed to that idiot Lord Rubeous now."

"I pity my sister," Darien agreed, "That man is as uncouth as they come."

"Well I couldn't very well have asked for her hand, she's a bloody princess!" Jaden said angrily, hating them all for bringing her up. "She wouldn't have had me."

"Blind as a bat," Zoey said sadly, shaking his head, "She would have had you, if you'd have had the courage to ask,"

"She would have," Nathan agreed.

"Aye that she would have," Malcolm seconded.

"Well if you fish wives are quite done," Jaden began angrily.

"Easy Sir Knight, we're not trying to fight you, but you at least have to admit you should have told her how you felt for her, now she's going to marry that idiot, and be miserable." Darien said holding up his hand to silence the man.

"Easy enough for the Crown Prince to say, no lady would ever turn you don't Lord Darien, but I am just a knight…" Jaden told him irately.

"Ah bloody hell, you cry-baby, you're the son of a bleeding arch duke!" Taiki interrupted, "Stop acting like all you've got to yourself is your horse and sword."

"I might as well have only that! My drunkard father wasted mine and my brother's inheritance; we don't even have the land that our ancestors lived on." Jaden threw back.

"He is right on that, you know," Zoey agreed. "But I think Rei would have had you anyways."

"Well if you're so certain of that, why don't you marry her?" Jaden growled at his brother.

"I would have, if she'd have me!" Zoey countered. "She a right bonny lass, I hope you don't mind me saying Prince Darien, and Sir Malcolm, but that girl has the arse of a fucking statue. I bet we could bounce a full penny off her rump!"

"That's disgusting!" Nathan exclaimed, in shame outrage "That's the Princess you're speaking of, besides I think full copper would break on her tight little arse."

"That's quite enough about my sister's arse." Darien said furiously, "I would thank you both to stop, least we discuss you're bonny sisters."

"Have you seen our sisters?" Asked Nathan in surprise, "They're not at all bonny, dare I say it they're homely!"

"Are you out of your ever loving mind? Avery is quite the looker, I wouldn't think twice about bedding her." Darien said shocked, "And let's not forget, Priscilla, Emma, Mimete, and Beryl."

"You leave Avery, Priscilla, and Emma out of this their good girls!" Nathan said annoyed.

"And I'll thank you to leave Mimete be." Zoey said defensively.

"And I'll thank myself to leave Beryl be." Darien said making a face.

"I don't understand what you have against Beryl, she's quite sweet actually," Malcolm said bemused.

"Sweet my eye!" Jaden replied, "She's poison that girl, I wouldn't wish my sister on any man."

"You only think she's sweet because she pretends to be around you." Darien agreed.

"She finds you quite handsome." Zoey added.

"Bah, she's always making eyes at Darien; she doesn't want me at all." Malcolm said brusquely.

"She does not," Darien said disgusted at the idea, "She's always hanging off you Malcolm,"

"God alive she hangs off any man that pays her least bit of attention, it's despicable." Jaden told them.

"I wish we could just find her a man, before she disgraces us all." Zoey agreed.

"Right well, be that as it may, if we can all stop talking about each other's sisters," Taiki interjected, "I for one, don't want to hear what you think of mine."

"Fair enough Lord Taikoden." Jaden replied, grinning at the face Taiki made, he did not like being referred to by his given name.

They walked on in silence for a time, navigating through the woods was a tumultuous task at best. The path before them could at most allow two to ride side by side. And even then it was a tight fit. Darien and Malcolm lead the group, behind them Taiki and Jaden, bringing up the rear were Zoey and Nathan. Before them and to their left, was the township of Pict, and though he had agreed to it Malcolm was not looking forward to seeing it. He remembered very well his time there.

Pict was a beautiful little town, just north of a little village called Menhaden. Malcolm and Yaten his brother had been born there, to a merchant's daughter and a knight savant. Life had been good, though he saw his father only three or four times a year. They'd had a little house with a small garden in the front filled with chickens, nothing fancy, but to the boys it had been paradise. He'd lived there for 13 years, 13 years of childhood fun and adventures, and then it had all gone away. He would always remember the day his father came home for the last time. His father had come into the home, preoccupied and with no real interest in his sons; he'd sat down with his wife and began talking to her. Malcolm would never ever forget her wailing, her cries, and the way she screamed at the man she had once loved. And then it was over, they left Menhaden forever. Mari and her boys sold everything they owned, everything, down to their chickens. Then they left for Pict, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Mari never looked back.

In Pict life became something different all together, Mari had never really worked in her life, going from being a merchant's daughter to Knight's wife, but now she had to work two jobs to feed her sons. Mari was a gifted seamstress and talented cook, and so she managed to find work easily enough, with the Rotherham's.

The Rotherham's were the local nobility, thought it was something of a joke to call them such. Kenneth and Irene had started out as nothing more than poor farmers, when the old lord of the lands still lived. The old man had loved the couple and their children, who visited often, and gave of their meagreness generously. It was said that on his deathbed, Irene and her daughters nursed the old man as best they could. So naturally when the old man died, having no children of his own, he left all his land and wealth to the couple and their children. It had become something of legend, as the young couple were considered among the kindest of all the king's subjects. They were well liked, and well respected by all the towns' people.

So it was that when Malcolm was fourteen Lady Irene Rotherham called him and his brother to their house with a proposition. Pict had a church and a school that were both run by a set of old crotchety monks that had no use for girls. Most of the village boys were allowed to go to the school and learn with the monks, as long as they could pay, they taught reading, writing, arithmetic and Latin to the locals and a few other illustrious subjects to the nobility. But they would not allow even the nobles girls to study anything, they believed that a woman's place was home and hearth, and you didn't need reading, or writing for that. As it happened, Lady Irene did not agree with that school of thought, and believed her girls should not be reliant on men for everything. Malcolm and his brother had gone to the best schools as boys, and were quite intelligent, in fact Malcolm was proficient in three languages, and his brother was a master of Arithmetic.

At that time Malcolm had already begun training to be a knight, but when he was in Pict, he worked as hard as he could to bring in as much money for his mother as he could. Lady Irene was willing to pay both brothers a shilling each per day of their services, which was quite a lot more that they could make in the fields. That had been the boys' first experience with the Rotherham girls.

There were six of them in total, ranging from 13 to 4, all of them intelligent and eager to learn. Amara the eldest was the fastest study of them all, she already knew how to read, but her arithmetic was terrible, Molly was good in Latin, and argued constantly with Yaten, giving him no peace at all. Rita was the sweetest of the bunch; her writing was magnificent even as her French gave Malcolm fits. The twins though were Yaten's favourite students, equal parts mischievous and brilliant; they took to all subjects like a duck to water. Though Serena the elder of the two was as stubborn as bloody mule, her brilliance seemed to be directly linked to the amount of interest she had in the subject. Her arithmetic was superior, and her reading was beyond any of her sisters, but she was hopeless in Latin and her writing was as chicken scratch in the dirt. When pressed though, her Latin could become transcendent; it was the one reason that Malcolm spent the most time tutoring the twins. The other reason was Mina, big hearted Mina. Who seemed to get better at subjects that Yaten taught, and worse at subjects that Malcolm instructed on. It was something of a joke, between the brothers that she could read, write and speak perfect Latin one day, and the next be unable to write her name properly.

The youngest of the bunch Rini, was Malcolm's favourite, though he would never admit it. She was devious and cunning, able to melt the hearts of the coldest of people, and more intelligent than any child Malcolm had ever known. Her genius was in her ability to convince Malcolm to buy her sweets, and read books to her. Her lively energy brought smiles to his face, no matter what shenanigans she had gotten herself into.

He taught the girls for four years, before he had been requisitioned to the capital. But in that time he had come to know all six of them very well, and had grown to care for each of them. Though none as well as he cared for Mina. It was a funny thing to find himself involved with the young woman. Her golden hair and blue eyes were legendary in Pict, most of the boys in the town thought she was beautiful and desired a match with her.

Malcolm was six years her senior, and though he was of noble birth, he was a bastard. It had seemed entirely impossible that she would want anything to do with him, but it had been on the eve of her sixteenth birthday when Malcolm had found out just how much she wanted to do with him. He had never had any intention to even go to the party, at Twenty two Malcolm had been bored with such trivialities, and was much more interested in returning to the castle to finish his last four years of mandatory service to the king. But his mother had begged his company, and Darien who had come with him to Pict had wanted to meet the famous Rotherhams, Yaten too was pushing him to accompany them.

And so they had all four gone, with Darien pretending to be Mari's adopted son, to avoid speculation of his identity. Malcolm had danced with all six of the sisters that night, beginning with Rini and ending most awkwardly with Mina, who had had too much ale. It hadn't helped that her bodice had been cut down to there, show casing her small but firm breasts perfectly, or that Malcolm had been noticing her all night. Her soft body had been plastered to his, her long hair blowing onto his chest and stomach, and her delicate hands tracing the hard muscle of his arms and chest.

"I missed you Master Malcolm." She'd said boldly in a husky little whisper. "Did you miss me?"

"I missed all of you," He'd said, leading her easily into the turn,

"Yes, but did you miss me?" She'd asked pointedly.

"Of course I did little one," He'd said finally, vaguely disturbed by the way she was moving against his body.

"I don't think you did, I think you're humouring me." She'd said coldly, "You're just...just handsome." She'd said burying her face in his chest, his heart had began to thud, he had been trying to come up with ways to extract himself from the situation, when she'd released his hand and reached up to his head. She grasped a handful of his white blond hair and pulled him down to her face; bring his lips against her own. What she'd lacked in experience she'd made up in eagerness, slowly tracing his lips with her own, nibbling him with her teeth, he'd gasped out in surprise giving her the opportunity she'd wanted, and she entered his mouth with wild abandon, clinging to him for dear life. She didn't know what she was asking of him with her tongue, trusting into his mouth and then back again, creating a familiar rhythm, one he was sure she had no idea about. Her nails had dug into his chest, and the nape of his neck, sending thrills of pleasure down his body, as she tried to get closer even closer to him. Malcolm groaned then in frustration, wanting more from her that she was probably even willing to give.

His big hands had contracted painfully around her slender waist, before he'd known what he was doing, he'd picked her up, bring them eye to eye. She'd moaned as her sensitive breast brushed against his hard chest, and something inside of him snapped. He had intended to push her away, to put distance between them, but then all he could think about was her creamy skin against him, her soft lips parted in pleasure, her innocent little body splayed under him. It was almost more than he'd been able to bear. With a harsh groan he'd bent her head back with the ferocity of his desire. He knew he'd likely scared her, he could feel her trembling in his arms, as he took the kiss to whole new levels of expertise.

Malcolm was no innocent, he had women, his good looks had endeared him to many courtly women, but this was different. Mina wasn't some coquettish shrew play acting innocence to seduce him, she really had no idea what she was doing, and it took him a full minute to realize it. He broke the kiss after several long hot moments, laying his forehead against hers.

"You little fool, what were you think?" He'd growled at her, still unable to fully release her.

" me back." She'd mumbled still dazed from the passion he'd incited in her.

"Somebody could have seen us," He'd told her, his own hands trembling still.

"We could tell them that a bee stung me and you were sucking the poison out of my lips." She'd said outrageously. He'd tried not to laugh, he really did, but the impish woman in his arms was much too charming.

"I could tell them that you seduced me," he'd pointed out, amused.

"You could," She'd agreed, "But who'd believe a big brute like you, were coerced by a tiny thing like me?"

"Anybody that saw you in that dress, did you wear that for me Mina?" He'd teased lightly.

"For your brother actually, but he seems rather enwrapped in Molly, so I thought I'd try my luck on you." She'd told him tongue in cheek.

"Foolish little thing, you have no idea how close you were to running out of luck did you?" He'd asked her, all humour gone from his voice, "Mina, don't ever do that again." He'd said seriously.

"What seduce you, or kiss men?" She'd asked, still joking with him.

"Still teasing me Mina? I wouldn't if I were you, you're playing with all sorts of fire," He'd told her gravely. "I'm too old for you Mina, find a sweet boy your own age to marry."

"My, my, are you asking me then?" She'd asked scandalously, wiggling her eyebrows at him.

"Mina!" He'd said warningly, "Stop playing with me, I don't like games."

"You use to," She'd said sadly, "You use to play with us all the time, blind-man's-hood, and ring around, have you really changed that much?" She'd asked almost mournfully.

"We were children then..." He'd begun.

"I still like playing, and I'm grown now." She'd said defiantly. He'd looked her in eye then that had hit a nerve, it irked him that she was in fact grown, and he knew what adult women did. And women like Mina were the marrying sort, he had best remember that.

"You're not grown at all, tidbit." He'd shot back at her, "You're just a little girl playing with something you don't understand, find someone else." He'd told her darkly, dropping her to her feet unceremoniously. He'd turned his back and left the party without a backward glance.

But it had been no use; she'd gotten under his skin. Like a bur, she needled him until it was all he could do not to run from the mere sight of her. He dreamed about her, about their hot little kiss, he thought about her soft skin and full sensuous bow mouth constantly. Malcolm had become so hot-blooded over her, that he had refused to visit the Rotherhams without an escort, either his mother or one of his brothers. Most often it was Yaten who came with him, though Malcolm hadn't understood why at the time. (Though he had noticed an abrupt change between him and his once adversary Molly Rotherham.) It had seemed like quite a good plan until Rini had cornered him in a room, her wide brown-red eyes accusatory.

"Why are you avoiding us?" She'd asked him, hurt dripping from her voice.

"I am not avoiding..." He'd begun, defensively.

"Yes you are!" She'd said haughtily, placing a hand on her hip, "Don't you lie to me! Is it because you kissed my sister?" She'd probed. He'd flushed scarlet then, absolutely embarrassed that they'd been seen.

"You saw us?" He'd asked trying to sound nonchalant, but failing miserably.

"No, but I overhead Mina asking Molly how to kiss, the night before her birthday," She told him smugly. "Do you really have to open your mouth then?" She asked curiously.

"I...that is...look you're much too young to be even thinking about..." He'd told her bringing forth his best reproachful voice.

"On go on then, tell me you waited till you were old to kiss a girl." Rini challenged, her red eyes flashing at him.

"It's different for boys," He'd told her irritated. "You shouldn't be thinking of kissing till you're wed." She'd sighed darkly, looking away from him then.

"Bah, you and my brothers are all the same, 'don't look at boys, don't think of kissing, and don't hold hands' the lot of you will be determined to send me to the grave a virgin." She told him, sticking her tongue out at him in displeasure.

"Don't be silly, we'll be more than happy to allow your husband to hold your hand...eventually." He told her grinning at her ire. "Why are you in such a hurry to grow up any ways?"

"Well I just want to know about kissing," She said defensively, "All my sisters have kissed someone, except me!" She told him.

"Who has Amara been kissing?" He'd asked amused, the eldest Rotherham girl was notoriously standoffish toward all men.

"Michelle," She'd told him conspiratorially, "I saw them in her room the other day; they were touching each other too." Malcolm had blanched, realizing what the little girl was telling him.

"Oh for the love of...Rini, whatever you do don't tell anybody else that!" He roared at her, "You'll disgrace you're whole family girl!"

"How? I'm not the one snogging the maid!" She'd said definitely. "Any way that's not the point, I want to know about kissing,"

"When you're older I'll tell you all you want to know," He'd agreed, mentally crossing his fingers, horrified at the prospect of teaching Rini anything about the subject.

"Well that's alright then," She'd agreed smiling at him widely, her eyes had narrowed swiftly though, as she'd met his ice blue eyes with her own red ones. "Will you stop avoiding us then?"

"I haven't been avoiding..." He'd begun darkly,

"Was it a good kiss than?" Rini had challenged watching him redden again, "Come on now, you can tell me I won't breathe a word."

"You little demon child," He'd cried out, tweaking her nose with his thumb, "I bet you'd tell the whole bloody manor that I had my way with your sister."

"Well did you?" Rini had asked curiously, "Oh so it was good kiss then, did you tear open her bodice..."

"Rini! Really where are you getting this from? Have you been reading those sordid novels again?" He'd cut her off surprised.

"Ah you prude, alright then don't tell me, but if I should find a ripped dress..." She'd told him smirking at him.

"Don't you dare rip any of your sister's dresses Rini, I rather like you and I wouldn't want to see her kill you." He warned.

"Ah such kind words, for a man who won't come within ten yards of our home," She mumbled, "I miss you teacher," She told him holding out her arms to be hugged. Malcolm pulled her into them easily swinging her around in a circle. She giggled delightedly as he placed her back on her feet and gave her kiss on her cheek.

"I missed you too, Mini Rini" He told her smiling with his perfect white teeth. "What say you and I sneak into the pantry and help ourselves to some of those delectable dates?"

"Ah, a man after my own heart," She'd replied smugly, linking her thin arm into his much bigger one. The two of them had walked down the hall, laughing and giggling, barely paying attention to their surroundings; Rini was easily one his favourite people. They'd turned the corner leading to the pantry when he'd spotted her, lovely as ever walking toward him. Her wide azure eyes tracing the lines of his face longingly. He could practically taste her helpless attraction in the air; for one maddening second he thought seriously about making a mad dash to the door. She had bewitched him, he hadn't been sure if he would be able to control himself, even with Rini there to play buffer, the sight of her was enough to set him aching in the most delicious ways.

"Malcolm," She'd whispered his name like a caress, he gritted his teeth in hopes to disguise his barely contained lust for her.

"Lady Mina," He'd said, trying for formality, she'd cocked her head to the side frowning at him. He had never once referred to her with her title.

"Well I think I hear mama calling me," Rini had said abruptly, disentangling her arm from Malcolm and darting from the room before Malcolm could do anything. He'd known then that he was in trouble, serious trouble.

"Damn it," He'd mumbled under his breath, but from the expression on Mina's face he imagined that she must have heard him. He'd speared her then with his most glacial expression, "Well?"

"I..." She'd begun uncomfortably, "You've been avoiding the manor," She'd said finally.

"Bloody hell, do you and your sisters keep a chart of my coming and goes?" He growled at her much more aggressively then he'd meant to.

"Why you conceited..." She'd said hotly, annoyed by his outburst.

"Conceited nothing!" He'd cut her off, "First I have Rini trailing after me wanting to know if I had my way with you at your party, and now you..."

"Rini said what?" She'd gasped out horror struck, her younger precocious little brat of a sister often did humiliating things, but this took the cake!

"Well it wasn't as if we were discrete!" He'd reminded her coldly, "You couldn't have picked a worse spot to try and ravage me!"

"Well next time I try to seduce you I'll be sure to throw you into the bushes!" She'd thrown back at him equally angrily.

"The bushes the devil!" He bit off infuriated with her now, "You could just try keeping your hands to yourself!"

"My hands had nothing to do with it!" She'd roared at him, "if you'll recall you overgrown horse's arse, you were the one who couldn't keep your hands off me!"

"My hands! My HANDS!" He'd yelled at her then, "If you hadn't stuck your tongue in my mouth..."

"You kissed me back!" She'd raged at him darkly.

"Well of course I did, how am I supposed to react to a beautiful girl throwing herself at me?" He'd asked outraged.

"You think I'm beautiful?" She'd asked surprised, her voice coming out as little more than a surprised whisper.

"Damn it all, I didn't mean to say that!" He'd raged more to himself than her, embarrassed that he'd admit it.

"But you do think I'm beautiful," She'd pointed out coming closer to him, her dainty hand reaching out to his hard face.

"I do," he'd agreed, unnerved by her closeness.

"I think you're the most handsome man to ever walk this earth." She'd whispered huskily, touching her cool fingertip against his hard jaw line.

"Careful now, the last time you called me handsome..." He'd begun defensively taking a step away from her.

"Maybe we should try seeing what happens when you call me beautiful?" She'd said smiling softly at him, still lightly tracing the contours of his hard face.

"Mina, this isn't wise." He'd said finally putting her away gently, he had to escape and he knew it.

"No it isn't is it?" She'd sighed coming out of her reverie, "I don't suppose there's any chance you'd want to press me up against a wall and ravage me?" She'd teased, arching her eyebrows suggestively at him.

"Wouldn't I just love to have you," He'd ground out, irritated that she thought it was a joke. "Stop provoking me Mina." He'd warned, anger and subdued frustration lighting his eyes.

" want me?" She'd asked surprised. "Are you...sure?"

"Come here you little fool, and find out," He'd challenged, half out of patience. He'd regretted that statement almost as it had come out of his mouth. Mina had taken him seriously, and had moved toward him, her supple body was so close to him that he could feel her pulse racing. She gazed up into his Ice-blue eyes, and it was like thunder had struck, he knew she'd felt it too, her lips parted involuntarily. It was all the invitation that Malcolm needed. He bent those few scant inches to her face, and crushed her lips against his own.

He'd had no patience, no desire to tease and seduce, he'd wanted her that was all there was to it. His hard mouth ground into hers, plundering, taking insistently, and she'd given in to him easily. Yielding to his demands, he tasted her sweetness, even as he nipped at her lips. He devoured her, overpowering her with his expertise. Mina opened her mouth to his demands, inviting him to deepen the kiss. He'd groaned with frustrated need, wanting so badly to ravage her as she'd so jokingly suggested.

Malcolm backed her against the wall, his hands on either side of her head, never breaking the contact. He barely allowed her the space to breath. The kiss seemed to go on, and on infinitely sweet, unbearably wild. His big hands came down to her body, tracing her softness, desire throwing all caution to the wind. He'd run his finger tips over her throat, her collarbone, he reached down into her bodice then, wanting nothing more than to touch her, to feel her skin against his own. His hands were too big to fit under her tight bodice, with frustration he tore in open, taking her full breast into the palm of his hand, her hard nipple pressing there like a white hot brand. She'd moaned in pleasure at the contact, he'd broken the kiss then, looking at her with wild abandon.

He dropped his head down to her softness, tasting her delicate skin; it was so sweet, so sweet. Her hands speared into his hair, holding him there, she gasped out, blind, deaf and dumb to anything but what he was doing to her.

"Malcolm, oh please..." She'd whispered desperate for him, desperate for something she had never known.

"Please what?" He'd asked, teasing her soft skin with his tongue, "Tell me what you want, Sweet, tell me!"

"I...I don't know..." She'd stammered out, frustrated by her inability to explain.

"Do you want me?" He'd asked, knowing the answer already, "Is that it little one, do you want me to touch you all over, to have my way with you?"

"Yes!" She'd forced out, furiously flushing at her admitting, "Please..." Her helpless desire almost was the end of them both, but it was something in her voice that brought him out of his stupor. He realized almost all at once, what he was doing, that he had Mina pressed against a wall begging him to make love to her. He could have screamed, he pushed away from her, putting his fevered head against the wall, he'd sworn trying to get back his control. His hard fist connected with the wall, denting the brick in his ire. It took him a minute before he regained enough of his composure to look at her again.

"Mina," He'd half groaned out looking at the image she made, still pressed against the wall her breath coming out hard, her lovely face flushed, and her lips swollen from his kisses, and her delectable perfect breast clearly visible through the rip in her bodice. She'd stared at him with her wide shocked blue eyes, still slightly glazed with desire. "Damn it; stop looking at me like that," He'd growled in frustration.

"Why did you stop?" She'd whimpered, trembling from his presence.

"Why did...for the love of god Mina! Why do you think I stopped?" He'd asked her angrily, annoyed with his headlong rush. "Go to your room, before someone sees you like this," He'd commanded, taking her arm tightly in his, directing her up the hall quickly and into her chamber.

"I can't...I can't get out of this dress without help." She'd pointed out, flushing with embarrassment at what she'd let him do to her. He ground his teeth together sharply, as he turned her around roughly, tearing the lacing of her dress out quickly avoiding touching her more than necessary. He wanted her so damned bad still, and he was barely controlling himself. He turned his back on her as soon as the dress was undone, and left her chamber hurriedly. His hands shaking, as he leaned his face against the wall outside her door, he was an idiot he decided. He couldn't avoid her, and he couldn't keep his hands off her either, he had to think of a solution and fast. All it once it came to him, the perfect answer to his problems.

He walked back into her chamber, helped lace up the new dress she'd gotten on with shaky hands. Then he took her hand his, and pulled her after him leading her up the hall and toward the study.

"Where are we going?" She'd asked sharply. He'd ignored her question leading her to on, he'd reached the mahogany doors, steeling himself he'd knocked on it.

"Come in," The warm deep voice of Kenneth Rotherham called out. Malcolm pushed open the door and dragged a shocked looking Mina in after him. "Malcolm! What a pleasant surprise...what can I do for you..?" He'd asked in genuine delight at the sight of the Knight, bellying his deep amusement at the look of utter alarm in his daughter's eyes.

"Lord Rotherham, I've come to ask your permission to court your daughter Lady Mina," Malcolm had said easily, Mina had turned to gape at him, utterly lost for words.

"I see, well Malcolm I'm pleased with your request but I do not have a suitable escort..." Kenneth had begun, barely hiding his mirth at his daughter's expression.

"My mother can be our escort." He'd interrupted easily, "She would be most...enthusiastic about it." He'd said with certainty.

"Indeed, a fine escort, alright then, let me have a word with your mother first," Kenneth agreed, "You have my blessing," He'd said with a wide smile.

"Thank you Lord Rotherham." Malcolm had said formally inclining his head respectfully, he turned then still holding Mina's hand and left the study. Mina trailed behind him trying to keep up with his pace, finally in frustration she had stopped and tried to pull her hand free.

"What was that about!" She'd exclaimed.

"If you're so hell bent on throwing yourself at me, we might as well do the thing properly," he'd told her agitated.

"Me! You were the one that stared it!" She roared at him angrily.

"Yes well that's why we need a bloody escort! I can't keep my hands off of you, and you can't keep away from me," He told her exhaling roughly, "At the rate we're going, you're likely to be with child if we're not careful!"

"I...that is..." She stuttered embarrassed. "I'm sorry..."

"I am too," He'd agreed, feeling guilty for accusing her, "Damn it woman you're like a straight shot of whiskey, you go straight to my head," He'd grumbled.

"I'll stay away; you don't need to court me..." She'd mumbled shamefaced.

"It won't matter, I don't think I can stay away from you either, lord knows I tried." He'd told her, "If I don't court you I might have you all to myself again, and god knows I don't have the brains to run away from you!"

"You only court people you want to marry, not those you want to bed." She'd told him persistently.

"I know full well why I'm courting, now shut up and get to your chamber before I forget I'm a gentleman." He'd growled at her, pushing her forward gently.

"You could you know..." She'd said then a trace of her old humor back on her shell shocked face, "I won't even scream or anything,"

"You little tease!" He'd cried out, "Don't start tempting me! Get in there!" He'd directed frog marching her to her door.

"Ah well if you change your mind," She'd teased lightly.

"If I change my mind, you better climb out your window and run for the hills girl, you have no idea what I'm capable of," he'd warned her.

"How exciting," She'd said raising her eyebrows, "Will you be chasing me then?"

"I'll come by tomorrow around noon, we'll head over to the fair, we can see the play." He'd said ignoring her comment all together, "Wear something loose and high up to your neck, will you?"

"Why?" She'd asked confused.

"Why do you think woman?" He'd asked her crossly.

"You're mother will be with us," She'd pointed out.

"Exactly I won't want to kill her with shock, by throwing you down and ravaging you in front of her." He'd told her smirking at the thought. Both her dainty eyebrows had shot straight up at the comment.

"Find me pretty irresistible do you?" She'd asked smiling playfully, teasing him as if she thought he was joking.

"Wear something loose," He'd reiterated, eyeing her in her form fitting frock. "Borrow one of Amara's dresses if you have to,"

"Amara's a foot taller than me!" She'd exclaimed.

"Oh good, all the more fabric to cover you up with," He'd said, "Go on then, I'll see you tomorrow." He'd said gently prodding her toward her door.

"You really are going to court me then?" She'd said watching his closely, uncertainty in her voice.

"I don't have much of a choice Mina." He'd bit off, harsher than he meant to.

"I see," She'd said hurt clouding her eyes, "You don't have to do this; I'll stay away..."

"You don't see anything, you haven't a bloody clue." He'd cut her off. "I don't want you to stay away,"

"Oh?" She'd said perking up like a flower put back into the sun.

"I want you all to myself, but that is a very stupid idea." He'd told her matter-of-factly. "Till tomorrow my heart, now go away before I forget all about my resolve." Her face had flushed at the casual endearment he'd tossed in; he'd frowned not knowing why he'd call her that. In all his life he had never called a woman that, not once.

"You could kiss me good bye..." She'd said smiling hopefully.

"I could also lay you across your bed and finish what we'd started," He'd pointed out,

"Alright then," She'd sighed, "Don't complain that I didn't offer,"

"Get in there woman, are you trying to kill me?" He'd growled then, half teasing half serious. She smiled widely then, blew him a kiss and walked into her chamber closing the door tightly behind her. Malcolm's knees had almost gone out from under him in relief. He had never, ever wanted a woman as much as he wanted Mina, and it partially bothered him, and partially intrigued him. He had really only thought to declare his intentions to Kenneth so he'd never have to risk being alone with her, now though he considered other reasons, Mina had a big heart, as wide as all the world. She was kind and sweet, and generous to a fault, she was forever teasing and playing with him, more than any other woman ever had. He had ignored what was painfully obvious now, for years, pretending that Mina didn't feel anything for him at all. But the problem was, what did the blonde actually feel for him? She was young, very young it was likely that she was infatuated with him, and curious about something she had never had before. That had bothered him to no end, but he'd decided that it was best to stop thinking about it and see where things went. If nothing else by courting her, she was likely to take him off any pedestal she'd put him on, and he'd be able to make sure he kept his hands off her. It was a win, win situation really. Though something needled at him, something told him he should have just climbed on his horse and headed as far away from Pict as possible. He ignored that thought, Malcolm did not like running away from things. Many years later he would wish that he had left when he'd had the chance.

The next morning Malcolm had come for her, his greying, amused mother in tow. Mari had produced two sons, and had as such never had to escort any young couples anywhere. She had long ago given up the hope of ever getting the honour of doing so, until her handsome son had all but pleaded with her to be his escort. Mari had had her own plans for that day; she'd wanted to spend the day sowing together a lovely dress for Rita the third Rotherham girl's engagement. It required hours of endless needle work, in which her eyes would likely blur and her fingers would probably bleed. Needless to say she'd been more than willing to accompany her son and the lovely Lady Mina to the fair.

"Will you stop fidgeting, land sakes boy you'd think you've never courted a girl before." She'd admonished, smacking his hands away from his neatly hair. Malcolm had always kept it short even though it wasn't in style, he did not enjoy having it flap about. His white hair had reached to his chin in a jaunty fashion that suited his elegant features; Malcolm was always cleaned shaved too. It made him look less like his illustrious father and more like his mother's side. Though there was no helping the resemblance, he was taller than his father, but had the same ice blue eyes, his hard nose and chiselled lips were near replicas of his father's. The only think Malcolm had gotten from his mother besides her quirky humour, was a set of twin dimples on either side of his perfect white smile. His younger brother had taken more after their mother, having her slenderness and pale green eyes.

"If you must know, I haven't ever courted before," he'd informed her, irately.

"Are you pulling my old legs then boy? What have you been doing in capital all this time?" She'd asked surprised.

"Training, working and wenching if you must know," He'd told her simply, smiling unpleasantly.

"Well I'm glad you've decided to court Mina, she's a right beauty that one," She'd said ignoring his comment. "You could do with a good influence in your life, what with Yaten and Darien constantly getting into trouble,"

"Darien needs a good influence, I'm a saint compared to him." He'd pointed out.

"He does, and if I have my way he'll get it too, land sakes I might have only birthed two boys, but I've got three of you as sure as I have hair on my head, and eyes in my face." She'd said sighing.

"And I suppose he's just you're little babe," Malcolm had said smirking at her.

"Now, now I think we all know who my little baby is really, don't we Malcolm," She'd said affectionately, taking his big hand in her old wrinkled one.

"Oh come on Ma you're embarrassing me," He'd said flushing at the comment; he had always had a tumultuous relationship with his mother. It was so hard to watch her stare at him with hurt and anguish in her eyes. Malcolm had hated that he resembled his father, and without meaning too, he'd distanced himself from the only parent he still actually had. First he'd become a knight despite her pleas not to, and then he'd convinces his brother to join him as well, further breaking her heart. Then rather without think of what he was doing he'd brought Darien home to Pict. It should have been the last straw between mother and son; instead it had helped heal their distance a bit. Darien was so charming, that he had his mother babying him in no time at all, she called him her son, and treated him as if he'd actually come from her womb. And because Darien had no love for his own mother he'd taken Mari in as if she were, so every break they'd had was spent in Pict with her fattening them up and chasing them about like a mother hen with her chicks.

"Bah, I'm your mother I'm allowed too," She'd pointed out, swatting him lightly on his hard shoulder.

"Come on now, I don't want to be late," He'd grumbled, ushering her toward the Manor.

"Oh lord boy, try to remember my legs aren't nearly as long as yours, and I'm 15 years your senior." She'd gasped chasing after him as best she could. They'd reached the manor in no time, Malcolm unrelenting in his march, his mother cursing him silently behind. "Well I do hope you have better manors with Mina than you have with your poor old mother." She'd huffed when they finally reached the door.

"You cry baby, you've gotten soft while I've been gone haven't you?" He'd teased.

"Not much occasion to dash across the town without my boys wreaking havoc to draw me neigh." She'd challenged.

"Well in a few years you'll have me back all to yourself does that make it better?" He'd reminded her.

"Bah, you'll probably marry someone and produce a house full of children, leave me all to myself all over again," She'd said sardonically.

"Hardly, you know as well as I do that your sons will be fighting over whose house you stay at, and that includes Darien, he's already told me that when he becomes King he's going to move you to the castle to be closer to him." He'd said, wincing immediately seeing the face of his mother upon him mentioning the castle. "I'm sorry..." He'd begun, wanting to kick himself.

"It would serve that man right if I took his son away, seeing as how he took two of mine." She'd said finally, with no emotion to her usually jovial voice.

"Ma, you know we didn't do it to hurt you..." He'd said wanting to take that look out of her eyes.

"Of course I know, it was an opportunity you had to take," She'd said then smiling lightly, "it's already Malcolm I love you, you pain." She'd teased a trace of her old humour on her face, thought it didn't reach her eyes.

"I love you too, now come on we're already late," He'd said pushing her toward the doors gently.

"I wish you were this eager to see me," She'd said in sham irritation,

"Well I'm not courting you," he'd told her.

"I should hope not, I couldn't hope to compete with Mari Winchester." Mina had said from behind him, he'd all but jumped out of his skin. He'd turned to face her, and winced when he'd seen what she was wearing. She'd picked the ugliest dress she could find, it covered her from throat to foot, and was the worst shade of puce he'd ever seen.

"Well now, if it isn't my favourite girl." Mari had said holding her arms out wide for the younger woman. Mina had rushed into them laughing with delight, everybody loved Mari.

"How are you Mrs. Winchester?" She'd asked.

"Bah, call me Mari, your all grown up now," His mother had said smiling widely at the girl.

"And you haven't aged a day I might add," Mina had said smoothly, smiling back at the older woman.

"Oh my, and you just keep getting prettier darling," Mari had told her. "You might try complimenting her too you know." Mari had said turning to face her son, who hadn't even taken his eyes of Mina.

"That's a...uh...interesting dress," Malcolm had said finally.

"You told me to wear something loose and up to my neck," She'd reminded him, arching an eyebrow.

"Did you really?" Mari had asked amusement all over her elegant face. Malcolm cleared his throat awkwardly, glaring at Mina over his mother's head.

"I did," he'd admitted finally.

"Why?" His mother had probed.

"So I don't ravage her at the fair," He'd shot back, glowering at his mother, who stifled a laugh despite herself.

"Ah there's my son, ever reasonable," She'd said deadpan. "But you know the uglier the dress the easier it is to rip off," She'd teased watching both of them blush furiously.

"Mother!" Malcolm had gasped out shocked.

"Son!" She'd said in exactly the same tone, "You really are a prude, aren't you? Just like little Rini said you were, is it true you wouldn't even tell her anything about kissing?"

"I don't want to discuss this with my mother!" He'd said warningly, he didn't dare look at Mina who was already biting down on her fist to stop from laughing.

"Well I don't see why not, I already know how to kiss," She'd pointed out smiling evenly at her son, "However if you need any tips, feel free to ask my boy."

"The day I ask my mother for tips..." He'd begun crossly.

"Yes, yes I know conceited boy, you might ask Mina about your kissing technique, see if you actually need a tip or two." Mari had said, looking pointedly at Mina.

"I do not need a tip or two, what I need is normal mother," He'd burst out, before Mina could even open her mouth.

"Ah so then you did kiss her, I wasn't sure if I should believe Rini," She'd said nodding ignoring his outburst, she turned genially over to Mina, "Well was it good then?" She'd asked innocently, Mina's face had gone beet red at the question.

"Mother!" Malcolm had roared at her, "Stop tormenting her,"

"Alright, alright, come on then you pair of innocents lets go to the fair, and forget our little talk about kissing," She'd said linking arms with the two of them.

"That's the best idea you've had all day," Malcolm had said, glaring fire at his mother.

"Yes it is," Mina had seconded, still flushing furiously, "You are such a character Mari," She'd added to soften the statement.

"You'd have to be to raise boys my dear, I'm telling you your mother's so lucky to have girls, they never get angry when you ask a simple question about kissing." She'd told the younger woman in a stage whisper.

"Enough with the kissing," Malcolm had said, turning to face his mother, "Honestly Ma, you ought to be locked up,"

"You see what I mean Mina? Such over dramatics, fine, fine no more about kissing, come on then children, I hear they have this wonderful new type of almond-dates that I'm just dying to try," Mari had said, tugging them both along, grinning like a mad woman. Malcolm had sighed resigned allowing his mother to direct him to the fair.

The fair had turned out to be a quite uneventful, despite the many sights and sounds. Malcolm had held Mina's hand lightly the whole time, careful not to get too close; he'd discovered that his mother was essentially a terrible escort, who found too many other things fascinating to really keep an eye on them. But her mere presence turned out to be big deterrence to anything but the most chaste of physical contact. Despite his earlier joke, Malcolm knew that nothing cooled a man's blood quite like his mother being in attendance.

All that having been said, Malcolm still had a fantastic time with Mina. She'd teased and fought with him the whole time, laughing and playing with him. He had never remembered enjoying another woman's company as much. At the end of the night when he took her home and given her a soft peck on her wrist, he'd known he would be back soon for another night of courting. And he had, many, many more nights, each time he ended the night in exactly the same way, a small kiss on her wrist.

But all too soon, their time was up, he had to go back to the capital. He missed her almost instantly, thinking of nothing more than getting back to her as soon as he could, he ached for her. He wondered how he was going to go through a year of her absence. Then the letters had started, she had sent one to him through his mother, he'd held it in front of him staring at the page for a long time before he'd started to read it. It had been so sweet, so achingly sweet, he'd read it over three times, before putting it away. He'd wrote her back, telling her about the capital all the sights and sounds, the excitement and most of all how much he wished she was there with him.

Her letters were of the same vein, describing events in and around Pict, as well as how much she missed him, and longed to see him again. He was very careful not to say he loved her, Malcolm was weary of love, seeing how it had hurt his mother so much. In all her years she had never loved another man, she had just silently ached for his father. Malcolm did not want that to happen to him, so he'd made sure that his letters were sweet, caring but never opening loving. But it was out of his hands, over the weeks and months that he'd spent with her, and the many letters they'd written to each other, he'd fallen for her.

It hadn't taken him long to decide that he had to be with her, he had a year and half left to go before his service was up to the king, and he was afraid that if he waited that long she might find someone else. So he'd taken his break early, and rode down to Pict to see her.

He'd barely taken the time to bathe before he'd called on her, he'd asked her to meet him in a field. His mother was not available to play Chaperone, so instead he'd asked Darien to accompany him, he wanted to do it right, he didn't want to spoil the moment.

"Do you have the ring?" Darien had asked as they strode toward the field.

"Of course I have the bloody ring, I'm not an idiot," He'd roared at him angrily.

"Did you rub some of that fancy powder stuff on you?" Darien had asked ignoring his last statement.

"Yes I rubbed that vile smelling stuff on me, and then I took a bathe it smells like a coffin stuffed with flowers." He'd replied irately.

"Yes well woman like that stuff," Darien had pointed out.

"I don't smell that shit on you!" Malcolm had retorted.

"Well I'm trying not to over shadow you, you see," Darien told him calmly.

"Overshadow my arse, you know as well as I do that garbage was a waste of 6 pence," Malcolm had thrown at him.

"Well damn it somebody has to use it!" He'd replied, tossing both his hands in the air. "That lying advisor told me that it was all the rage in the neighbouring kingdom."

"Pity their women," Malcolm had said dryly, "Come on hurry up, she's waiting for us."

"Alright, alright, say maybe Mina would like a box of powder..." Darien had begun, lighting up at the idea of ridding himself of the foul stuff.

"Will you shut up about that powder? I'm about to ask Mina to marry me, and all you can do is babble about that putrid garbage!" Malcolm had raged at him, only to hear a soft gasp from behind him, Malcolm swore as he turned to face the woman in question. "Damn it Darien! See what you made me do!"

"Me! You're the one who was howling about getting married on top of your lungs, well get on with it then," Darien had said nudging his brother toward the shocked looking Mina. Malcolm had turned then facing the woman he cared so deeply for, she'd stayed very, very still as he bend down on one knee before her.

"Mina Helena Rotherham, will you be my bride?" He'd asked, looking deeply in her Safire blue eyes. She just stared at him, unsure what to do, or say.

"Well answer him," Darien had prodded, after a minute of abject silence. Malcolm turned to face him and glared furiously.

"Will you shut up? You're killing the moment." He'd thrown at his brother.

"Killing the moment? I can't stand the suspense, are you going to marry him then?" Darien had asked definitely, crossing his arms across his wide chest and smiling at the shocked blonde.

"Stop pushing her, give her a minute!" Malcolm had yelled at his brother.

"I don't need a minute," Mina had said finally, both heads had snapped around to look at her; she'd swallowed vaguely embarrassed by their scrutiny. "I'll marry you!" She'd said, Malcolm almost collapsed with relief. He'd placed the ring on her trembling finger, and then pulled her into his arms crushing her against his hard chest, he kissed her everywhere he could reach, utterly forget about his brother.

"Uhm, if you two are quite done," Darien had said interrupting their fervent kissing, "I'd like to hug my future sister-in-law," He'd said pushing past Malcolm and taking Mina into his own arms in a completely platonic embrace, he'd kissed her on cheek, smiling down at her. "You'll make a most welcome addition to Ma's house."

"Indeed she will," Malcolm had agreed, unable to take his eyes off her. "Come on then my heart, we'd better tell my mother and yours."

"What about my Father?" She'd said suddenly worried, if he didn't approve...

"Oh he knows already, I wrote him months ago asking for your hand, he gave me his blessing." Malcolm had told her, surprising her entirely. She'd stared at him with so much adoration on her young face, it took all of Malcolm's will power not to pull her too him and kiss the breath out of her.

The three of them walked back in comfortable silence, all three too excited to speak. The stop by Malcolm's house first, to tell his mother, She had shrieked with delight, grabbing Mina in her arms and hugging the life out of her, then she'd thrown her arms around her son, kissing his cheeks, and clapping him on the back. Yaten who'd already known offered his congratulations, the smiles not quite reaching his icy cold eyes. Then they'd gone to the manor, where to both their surprises a party was already in full swing, Malcolm stared in shock even as Darien, Yaten and his mother smiled knowingly.

"Kenneth knows you don't have long to spend in Pict before you go back to finish you're tour," Darien had explained with a cagey smile. "So I took the liberty of suggesting a betrothal party get it over all at once, you see." Darien had told them grinning from ear to ear.

"No wonder Kenneth asked me to start working on a gown for Serena," Mari had said shocked, "I wondered whom he was getting her betrothed too," She'd said.

"That demon-spawn? Who would marry her?" Darien had asked coldly, the petite blond annoyed him so.

"Far more people than would marry you, you horses arse!" A familiar but angry voice had said from behind them, they turned to be face with an irate looking blonde, almost identical to Mina.

"As long as you're not on the list it won't matter, Lady Rotherham," Darien retorted hotly, his emphasis showing how much he doubted her being a lady.

"As if I would be caught dead being wooed by the likes of you, I'd rather drink poison," She'd roared back at him, grasping her twin's arm in hers. "Come on Mina; let's get you into your gown."

"Couldn't they find one for you, so you'd stop raiding your brother's breaches?" He'd asked her coldly, looking her up and down disdainfully. Serena had always favoured boys' clothes to her own; she was forever wearing breaches and shirts and boots. In fact it was said that Serena would have cut off all her long beautiful blonde hair if her father would ever let her. Though she never let it down, it was tied securely up away from her face in an unladylike bun.

"If you like dresses so much I'm sure your mother could make you one, you over grown princess!" She'd thrown at him, her blue eyes radiating rage.

"Well one of us has to be ladylike, and it sure as hell won't be you," He'd told her angrily.

"You've got much nicer breast than me anyways Sir Winchester," She'd said easily using Mari's last name not knowing who Darien really was. With that she'd turned on her heal, dragging Mina along behind her, muttered about horses arse who thought they were god's gift to women.

"Nicer breasts! NICER BREAST! AT LEAST I HAVE BREASTS!" He'd called after her, only belatedly realizing what he'd said. He flushed scarlet as guests all around him had gone quiet and stared at him oddly.

"Don't mind my son, he sometimes forgets he's not a woman," Mari had added helpfully, "He fell on his head as a child,"

"Ma!" Darien had exclaimed horrified.

"Well a little daft is better than being considered a lunatic isn't it?" She'd said smiling innocently at him. Darien had made a face at her.

"She's right you know you do have nice breasts," Rini's teasing voice had said, from beside them.

"Mini Rini, my favourite girl in the whole world!" Darien had exclaimed reached down and picking her up in a swinging bear hug. "When are you going to grow up and marry me?" He'd teased.

"You're way too old for Sir knight," She said giggling, "You'll be ancient by the time I'm ready to take a husband," She'd told him pointedly.

"Ouch, be still my aching heart," He'd said placing a large hand over his chest.

"You ought to marry Serena," Mari had commented, bringing a harsh glare from her adopted son.

"In a pig's eye!" He'd told her firmly.

"They'd kill each other," Rini had said matter-of-factly.

"A little temper is good for the soul," Mari had said easily.

"Your already marrying off one of your sons," Darien pointed out, "Can't you leave me be?" She smiled softly, brushing back a stray hair from his face.

"You just wait my boy, in a few years you'll be begging for my match making skills." She'd told him.

"You could find Yaten a wife," Darien had said pointedly.

"That my dear is going to take care of itself, you just wait and see," She'd told him enigmatically.

"He's going to marry Molly!" Rini had burst out, all amused eyes turned to her, except Yaten who looked away blushing fiercely.

"And how do you know that?" Malcolm had asked curiously.

"Because I saw..." She'd begun enthusiastically.

"One more word out of you, and I'll tell Andrew what really happened to his novels!" Yaten had interrupted, glowering at Rini. She'd blanched in horror, gazing at him with wide shocked eyes.

"You wouldn't..." She'd said a little desperately.

"I would!" he'd assured her.

"Alright, alright I'll be good!" She'd promised, crossing her heart with her hands.

"What did she see Yaten?" Malcolm had asked teasingly.

"None of your business!" Yaten had said tartly, he had no intention of sharing his secrets.

"Come on, I'm your brother," Malcolm had said, putting on his best hurt face.

"So our mother keeps telling me," Yaten had agreed sighing darkly.

"It can be my wedding present, go on tell me," Malcolm had probed, smiling evenly at his brother.

"I gentleman never kisses and tells," Yaten had retorted easily.

"Does that mean you kissed her?" Darien had asked, grinning from ear to ear.

"It means I'm not telling you two idiots, so just drop it!" Yaten had told them both curtly.

Before they could press him further, a beautiful song began to play and the main doors to the hall opened, revealing a heavenly creature draped in lace and silk. Malcolm's jaw had dropped at the sight of her; Mina looked radiant in the peach concoction, easily some of his mother's best work. For years after Malcolm would dream of her entering that hall, her golden blond hair loose about her shoulders, and thin body shown to perfection in the corseted dress, her satiny smooth ivory skin, glowing as she walked toward him, smiling at him with open joy in her azure eyes. In a word she was beautiful.

"You're so beautiful," He'd managed once they'd been seated next to each other on the raised dais or the dining hall. She'd blushed scarlet, smiling at him with pure pleasure.

"Thank you," She'd said, staring at him openly, "You are so handsome; I can't believe this is happening."

"Me either, my heart, but it is," He'd assured her, "You're going to be my wife, soon."

"How soon?" She'd probed, he taken her thin hand in his, bring it to his lips.

"As soon as my service to king is done, we'll get married, right here," He'd told her.

"Really? You won't want us to marry in the Capital then?" She'd asked sounding relieved.

"No my heart, I want to be done with that place," He'd said and meant it. He really grown to hate the capital over the years, and was more than ready to settle down with her in Pict.

"You promise?" She'd said smiling up at him, delighted.

"Yes I Do," He'd said. And she'd smiled satisfied with his word. He had been so sure then that was what was going to happen. But he'd been so wrong, so very, very wrong. It had not worked out like that, he remembered the hard months that followed that day, and the single decision that had sealed his fate and cost him...everything.

An arrow pierced the skin, landing just short of Malcolm's horse, jarring him out of his reverie. He looked up quickly, assessing the situation, reaching over, he forced the crown Prince's head down and to right, as another arrow streaked through the sky, this one narrowly missing Darien's head.

Malcolm looked alarmed at Darien, as they made eye contact...what the hell was going on?

eHe mhhhhHH