10/28/13: Edited for clean up.

:Warning: Very slight mention of premarital union. Very discrete.

Royale – Part II

Ever since he had kissed her three months ago, Grava couldn't get enough of Therese. He attempted to hold himself back when he was with her; he was usually successful. Grava didn't want to rush things and possibly frighten away his lovely goddess. They only kissed in private, which made the situation easier. As few as private moments were, Grava found almost any excuse to make them.

He was addicted to Therese.

He enjoyed the way her hair cascaded over her shoulder and down her back. Her voice was like a harp played by the most skilled musician. Her eyes peered into his soul and she loved him. He craved her touch every moment, waking or sleeping.

Grava was head-over-heels in love.

"So propose to her already. The Trellyxian, Amia, proposed to his woman," Meiden prodded.

"I'm not sure how."

Meiden shrugged. "Ask her friend, that Crea woman. "I'm sure the two of them talk. All women talk."

Grava's stubborn streak wouldn't let him ask Chelsea for help. Besides, the other woman would somehow let it slip that Grava was thinking of proposing. That would ruin the surprise completely and he didn't want that to happen.

The prince kicked around proposal ideas for an entire month. He did manage to 'borrow' a ring from her for sizing purposes. He paid a handsome bit of money, well worth it, to one of the Koit manservants to remove a ring that Therese wouldn't miss from her jewelry box. The money was also used to keep the manservant quiet. Grava would propose, but he wasn't sure how or when and he didn't want Therese's parents to know until he was good and ready to act. He had to have a ring before he actually asked Therese to marry him, anyway. He wanted both a ring and a plan before he went to Thoms Koit to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage.

And then Therese asked him to holiday with her at her family's villa out in the countryside. The small house had once upon a time been the housing unit for servants that worked the fields nearby. That had been four hundred years ago. Two hundred years ago, the Koit family had renovated and updated the building into a villa into a holiday get-away. Therese's family hadn't been there in many years and she found herself yearning for the quaint building and the rolling meadows full of wildflowers.

Therese wanted to share this childhood memory with Grava.

It would be just the two of them… (and a few servants and the Prince's Caeli)

Grava leapt at the chance, clearing away four days to spend with Therese at D'sòt. His father warned him to keep his eel in the cave. The Prince voiced that he would; he was the Crown Prince of Asturia, he would commit no action to jeopardize or tarnish his position and the Crown.

It was the best four days of Grava's life up to this point. Oh, for sure there would be others to compare and overshadow: the day he finally proposes and Therese says yes, their wedding day (and night), and the days his sons will be born… But up to this point in his life, nothing else could compare.

The prince had been surrounded by people his entire life, almost to the point of suffocation. From the time he could talk and walk, he had been raised in the ways of the court and kingship. He had been given little free time; his schedule was nearly always filled and overflowing with etiquette lessons, princely duties, and kingly affairs. He was Grava Efud Aston, High Born, Crown Prince of Asturia.

For four days straight, he was merely a man, simply Grava. He rose whenever he wished, went to bed as he desired. He rarely saw the servants and his Caeli. Therese and Therese only filled his time. They ate every meal together, picnicking for every noon and evening meal. They went horseback riding twice – Grava had forgotten how much he had loved such exhilaration! They went swimming a handful of times too; an activity he was rarely permitted to participate in growing up.

The prince made sure to request that his Caeli remain close at those times. Women and men's swimming clothes were full-body and covered everything, but the head, neck, hands and feet. But Grava was not going to allow room for… temptation to moor at his dock. Having an audience, however distant, would keep him in his correct shipping lane.

The holiday was refreshing, invigorating, and motivating. Grava took Therese's ring to the jewelers, spending three hours creating a proposal ring. He went to this father to inform the king of his plans. His father arranged for court lessons for Therese. Grava met with Thoms to request for his daughter's hand in marriage. He now had a plan for proposing.

Grava set out to make Therese Koit his bride.

The Festival Month of the Divine Sea Dragon hindered Grava, but he did not allow it to deter him from his mission. For three weeks the masculine traits of the Divine Sea Dragon, Jeture, were highlighted and celebrated. For the next three weeks, the feminine characteristics, Jichia, were in the spotlight. The seventh week was spent celebrating the unity of the two sides as one. Special plays, sword matches, and feasts were held in the Divine Sea Dragon's honor each week. The prince was very busy being a visible, prominent figurehead, as his father fell sick three days into the month.

He was sure that the month-long celebration was more an excuse for Asturians to party, become drunk, dance, and watch the Caeli matches.

Finally, he had a chance to invite Therese to holiday with him; at her family's villa, if that suited her and her family gave permission. Thoms knew the reason behind Grava's invitation and of course gave permission. However, Therese had several parties she wished to attend over the next two weeks; could they holiday after that? Grava hid his grumblings but complied. That would give him plenty of time to properly clear his schedule and his head.

"Or change your mind and figure out a way to break it off."

"Shut up Meiden. You're just annoyed that your parents are beginning to pressure you to court."

Meiden scoffed, but Grava knew it was the truth.

At last the week of their second holiday arrived. There was just a touch of cold in the air this time; just enough that swimming was off the agenda. They spent most of their time indoors near the fireplace. They talked and read books together and ate on a blanket on the floor. Therese let Grava in on a well-kept secret that she was a bit of an artist. They sang and played the instruments they discovered on an adventurous trip to the attic one day.

The last full day of their holiday was warm and they picnicked for lunch near the swimming pond. Grava uncovered the dessert, slipped the velvety ring box on the plate, and handed it to Therese. She was watching the late-season butterflies flit around flowers several feet away and did not notice the extra bit on her plate at first.

A few moments later… "Grava!" she gasped. Therese turned to him, surprise and delight in her eyes. "What… what is this?"

He nodded. "It is for you. Open it." Grava smiled, eyes twinkling.

Her fingers glided over the tiny box and she opened it; a gasp again left her luscious lips as she finally saw its contents.

Grava took her hands, still holding the box, in his own. He looked directly into her lovely lavender eyes, swallowed the lump in his throat, and asked, "Therese Klarita Koit, love of my life, breath of my body, will you marry me? Become my wife, the future queen of Asturia?"

Therese hesitated for just a second – stunned – her face became flushed, but she smiled joyfully. "I would love to marry you, Grava Efud Aston, Prince of Asturia. Yes."

Grava returned her smile, pulled the ring from the box to slip onto her finger, and kissed her passionately. The ring box was somehow lost amid their picnicking supplies. The spent the rest of their short holiday time in the highest of spirits.

The engagement was announced two days later and the official party was held a week after that. Their schedules became almost too full to see each other. Therese was busy with wedding preparations for Chelsea's upcoming nuptials and princess and queen etiquette lessons. The king's illness, while non-threatening, continued; thus forcing Grava to shoulder more and more of his father's duties. They saw each other only once or twice a week; sometimes in private, but usually only for public outings. Every other few weeks, Therese was gone for a full week or two to Trellyx, where Chelsea's wedding was to be held.

Almost two months passed in this fashion, much to Grava's chagrin. They celebrated their one year anniversary by attending Delma and Chelsea's wedding together. The leviship trip there and back was no more than five days, but the week and a half spent in each other's company was more refreshing than anything for Grava.

Now that Chelsea's wedding (was no longer in the way) (was no longer a hindrance) had taken place, Grava and Therese managed to find a bit more time to spend together. Granted, now Therese's time was spent preparing for her own wedding, time was still sparse. It was made easier for them to see each other when Therese finally moved into the palace. She requested that her family's holiday villa be moved to the palace as well; an odd request, but of course Grava acquiesced. Therese wanted the nostalgia close by for her to escape to for future stressful times. That Grava could understand. What he didn't understand was the beastman servant that Thoms sent with the gaggle of maidservants to the castle as part of Therese's retinue, despite the fact that Therese informed him he was a childhood servant and friend. However, Grava rarely saw any of that group, so he paid the mole man little mind.

The prince was sure to continue to spend time with his best friend, but Meiden began to get a bit demanding and annoying during his time spent with Grava.

"Your parents have what?"

"They have decided on an arranged marriage," Meiden answered with no enthusiasm.

"I thought those went out of style almost one hundred years ago," Grava speculated.

"I thought so as well," the merchant continued. "I think they're entertaining the notion because they've discovered that I'm not putting any effort into searching for a wife."

"So how are the proceeding with the process?"

Meiden sighed. "Well, thank Jeture they're not simply picking one and shoving us into marriage. They've picked five 'fine' young women and I am to court them and pick one within a few months from now."

The prince shrugged. "Could have been worse."

With a hunch of the shoulders that was very uncharacteristic of the ever-confident Meiden, he wished, "Why can't the leave well enough alone?"

"Because then the great and wealthy Fassa line would die out?"

"Ha. Ha."

Grava did what (little) he could to cheer up his friend. "Look at it this way: With a wife, you'll have off-spring to marry our children."

The allure of possible royal power was enough to brighten up Meiden any day, under any circumstance. It had been a joke between childhood friends ever since they were twelve. Neither was sure who had said it first. But as they neared adulthood, both knew they hoped it would become so. It remained an unspoken, rarely-discussed topic of conversation. But both men knew they felt positive about such a happenstance; they knew that the other believed the same.

Four more months flew by before the wedding. Grava and Therese took to meeting in the secret passages within the castle and occasionally at the villa, so desperate were they for true, alone, time together. These were usually brief: a kiss, hug, and goodbye. But with the king remaining sick for such a long time, the advisers were beginning to prepare the prince to assume kingship. The lovers' scant time together dwindled.

Grava suggested they meet at their rendezvous points 'after hours.' This usually turned out to mean the eleventh hour. Grava took it upon himself to travel as close as possible to Therese's chambers, or to travel to the villa while she was already there. These secret meetings lasted much longer than their previous snatched few seconds. After the first meeting, Therese smuggled a blanket into the dark, dusty secret hallways when they met there. They only met like this once or twice a week, and never more than an hour or two. Neither wanted to be caught, nor arouse suspicion. But both desired and needed the sleep for the next day.

-R-

"So Meiden; I see that you've managed to put off choosing a woman for an extra month or two," Grava chuckled one day on their no longer 'usual' tavern outing.

Meiden raised his wine glass. "To freedom."

He lifted his glass but the merchant spoke again before the prince could drink. "You can't join my toast; you're no longer a 'free' man. You put a ring on her finger, the engagement part has been celebrated, and your wedding is only three – four – months away. I don't see you panicking and attempting to break it off or run away."

Only Grava (and possibly [probably] Lady Fassa) could ever have noticed that Meiden's straight face was just a little bit crooked… The prince knew his friend was teasing.

"To dwindling freedom, my toast should have been," Meiden muttered.

"Oh?" Grava raised a questioning eyebrow.

"I have chosen a woman from my parents' offerings. And no, I am not 'in love' with her. But I think that someday, the future will find me content with her."

Curious for details – and emotion from Meiden besides apathy – Grava prodded his friend for more information.

The other man shrugged nonchalantly. "She's average, I guess; but she is a bit independent instead of clingy. She has a good head on her shoulders."

"In other words, she won't need you to be home all the time. You can be at your office or with other business partners for as long as you want."

Meiden's smile reached his eyes. "That is exactly it, my friend."

Grava only chuckled in response to that. "So when is the wedding?"

"Our parents will make the engagement announcement in two weeks; the wedding will be a few months after your own. You and Therese will be invited, of course."

"It'll be a small affair, I assume."

"You assume correctly." The merchant again sipped from his glass. "It will be good to finally have my parents out of my life over getting married." Both men shared a hearty laugh.

"How does she feel about the arranged marriage bit?"

"She feels the same way I do, actually. I was a bit surprised that there was a she-human on Gaea that wasn't all a-twittery about courtship, romance, and marriage. She wasn't hunting for a match either; her parents were almost as worried about her unmarried state as mine were. Though of course, poor creature, she had it worse, being female. She is in the same ship I am over the situation: she doesn't believe she needs to be married, so why not marry a man who won't force her to be a dutiful wife?"

"But what is the woman's name?"

"Ragíon. Ragíon Iare."

Grava told Therese about Meiden's engagement later that evening during their rendezvous. "Serves the conniving merchant right," was her response. They both laughed. The prince held his fiancé close, fingers trailing along the bare skin of her forearm. Grava longed for their wedding night.

The prince managed to keep his hands from wandering too far over the course of the next two months. He reminded himself he was Asturia's Prince, the future (soon-to-be) King. He would not ruin his country's reputation nor his family's honor.

However, the extra wine consumed at a dinner party in honor of another country's royal hacked away at Grava's already-wavering resolve. The dignitary was known for enjoying his drink overly much. By the time Grava finally took his leave from the dining room at a quarter past the eleventh hour, he had drank at least twice his usual amount of wine. His Caeli assisted him back to his chambers and made sure that the prince tumbled safely into bed before exiting the room.

Grava made a fair bit of noise leaving his room via the secret passage way to meet Therese at the villa that night, though he didn't realize it. Therese had attended the same party, though she was only just barely over her usual wine consumption. Their sitting on the couch they had sat in right after his proposal slowly grew far more intimate.

What enthralled Grava the most was that Therese was willing

They did slightly regret it in the morning, of course. It was awkward when they met for breakfast, or any chance meeting in a hallway. They tried to act normal, but Grava could feel that his happiness at even catching a glimpse of her was tinged with guilt. Therese, too, did not hold her gaze with his as long as usual during these times.

The stopped meeting in secret and only saw each other at meals or for wedding preparations. Slowly, as the weeks passed and the wedding drew closer, the guilt eased away. They were engaged, soon to be wed; how could it have been so wrong? One morning at breakfast while they had a rare public moment alone, the prince begged his fiancé for forgiveness. Therese forgave him and asked for forgiveness as well; Grava of course gave it. The last two weeks before their wedding held much less tension after that for the lovers.

Their wedding came and went. They were both nervous during the ceremony, fearful that Jeture would reveal their blemish to the gathered Country, and would never be able to recall any of it even if they tried. Their wedding night held less flare than it should have, though Grava suspected that they both blushed at the fair share of 'jokes' at the reception.

The evidence of their premarital union reared its head only to the most observant two months after their marriage. "I am pregnant." Three fateful words. "That fast?" ("After the wedding?") "No. ... My… visits… are now three months late." The prince swore. They kept it to themselves for the next month, scared, but Therese began to show.

The king called them into his private audience chamber not three days later. Three treacherous, tortured days later. His illness had progressed to the point he was usually bed-ridden; the doctors knew he didn't have much longer in this world. He waited a few minutes after the doors closed behind the page. "Explain yourselves." He included his new daughter-in-law in his gaze, but his focus was on the Prince, Asturia's future, all too soon, King.

Grava shamefully bowed his head.

If he had been healthy, the king would have gone into a rage. As it was, only his voice and eyes could convey his anger. Steely, he spoke. Grava felt as if a Caeli's sword was being drawn to seal his doom. "Couldn't keep your eel in its own cave, could you boy? The princess is to be kept away from prying eyes. She is ill. The pregnancy will be terminated – "

"No," Grava tried to match his father's steel. Therese spoke the same word, though with the weight of Motherhood and feminine tenderness behind it. The prince did not flick his eyes to his wife; he had to remain strong to stand against his father.

The king raised his head defiantly, looking down his nose at the two of them despite their standing over his bed. "If that be your stance… The pregnancy will be allowed to come to term, the result sent away. You – "

"No!" Therese shrieked this time, bursting into tears. Grava pulled her into his arms and tried to argue with the king, though his heart already knew the outcome. Exile was better than death.

"Silence!" rasped out. Therese fled; Grava bore the king's wrath for both of them. "I am the King. You have sullied Asturia and Her royal Aston Honor. So you have sinned, so you will be punished."

Grava attempted to mimic his father's haughty expression. In the end he felt as if he was a child pretending to wear his father's boots. "Send the child to her friend in Trellyx."

"If that is how you could possibly plan to hide it, so be it."

What should been a joyous, public occasion for father, grandfather, and country, was destroyed and turned over on its head. Grava grew to resent the king, the man he had called Father for the entirety of his life. The pregnancy was hidden from the world and became a wedge between Son and Father, Prince and King. Only four months later, the king slipped into long bouts of unconsciousness. Each day for the remainder of the pregnancy, Grava begged for the king's death. If his father died before the pregnancy, perhaps his ruling could be overturned... His pleadings went unanswered. He rarely visited the king, only doing so to keep up the charade when the doctors insisted and even then only briefly.

Asturia wondered about the lovely bride princess that became reclusive and hidden from their curious eyes. She had just married into the royal family, and what a vision she was! The people adored her and now she was gone! Poor sick princess, become well soon so that you may be worshiped by your people!

Therese spent most of her time hidden way inside her villa. The building became a trap as well as a refuge for her. It kept her close to her family; who weren't allowed to see her due to her 'illness.' Yet the sitting room was the dirtiest place she could think of and offered no respite. Nor did the visits from her new husband help. Everything became terrible, a rub into the wound they had created for themselves.

The birth came and went. Grava wasn't even informed of its happening until a few hours after its completion. He must have angered Jeture somehow; the king so happened to be conscious only for a few moments at the beginning of the birth. One of the scant few servants allowed to attend Therese - one of the king's most trusted - informed the ailing man immediately. His orders were that Grava be kept in the depths and Therese to never hold her child, nor know the sex or even the result of the birth. The child was immediately sent away. Somehow, the king had the smallest kindness in his stone heart to fulfill Grava's request on Therese's behalf. He wasn't sure how his father had the heart to remember, let alone fulfill, the request.

A month later, a simple note reached Therese that the child was a healthy girl. Therese's only response back was to name her Esesra Klarita. 'Esesra' was an elderly, grandmotherly friend that both young women had known and lost in their early childhood. And it was traditional that the middle name be from a close friend. To the casual observer it was a typical, normal name.

Two weeks after that, the king's unconscious episodes lengthened and he rarely reached the plane of the living. Seven months after the pregnancy, the king slipped into a coma and could not be roused despite the fact that the doctors tried every trick they could find in the known regions of Gaea. A year and a half after the birth of the illegitimate child, the king passed from this world into the next.

Grava Efud Aston became king of Asturia.

King of the most powerful country of Gaea.

Powerless to unite his family.