(What a mess.)
....was the first thought that entered Sera's mind when the cart rolled to a stop. The quiet, wide castle courtyard, on her first arrival at the castle then, seemed to overwhelm her with its solemn, dignified presence. Somehow, it gave off a different feel compared to back then.
Lois handed the reigns of her mule to a waiting stablehand. Sera did her best to gracefully alight from the rickety cart, which was a challenge with the chickens that clucked and flapped their wings, going everywhere in sudden bursts of activity. The noise was just as loud as any marketplace. Carts laden with rich fabrics and shining trinkets towered over merchants dressed in exotic clothes, who wildly gestured and argued with 2 knights. Other servants busily moved about with brisk purpose, sidestepping each other, making sure they didn't drop anything.
The hubbub was on a another level compared to the activity in the town they just passed.
"Argh, this King! He needs to do something about this..this travesty!" Lois picked at one ear with her pinky finger. Whistling, she calls for servants to come and take the wood boxes off her cart.
Sera pulled her cloak around herself tightly, making sure the hood covered her face properly. There was no telling which servant would recognize her.
Another neatly dresses manservant comes, glances at Sera, and whispers into Lois' ear.
Nodding, Lois turns to Sera. "Child, feel free to look around for the day. I've some house calls to make. Meet me back here by the cart an hour before supper time"
With a short incline of her head, Sera turns and melts into the groups of maidservants headed into the servant's quarters through the side door.
She decided to go look for Bea, her former head maidservant. Her confidant and best friend. Bea would know best how Lucien and her baby were doing. With her help, Sera can see for herself Lucien doing just fine without her. If Lucien was happy, she would find her baby, and leave, raise her child somewhere peaceful, like Lois' forest.
A bellowing voice disturbs her determined footsteps, and Sera almost trips over herself.
"MAKE WAY FOR THE KING!"
Clopping sounds echo off the cobblestone as groups of knights on armored horses appear. Their armor shines dully from the dents and scratches that pockmark it.
The regiment moves forward as one entity, knights and horses lined up in strict order. At the very head of the group is one man that towers over the rest, his horse a massive fighting machine of a beast to support his powerful master. King Lucien is not like the other kings who send out orders and stay cowering in their castles, wishing their soldiers to take care of any enemy attacks that threaten them. He had the rare qualities of a true leader, responsible and brave, always the first in battle to fight and protect his country.
Sera peeks behind a pillar at the group. The courtyard is silent, while the servants, merchants, and other visitors make way and salute to the horses who slowly make their way into the courtyard.
When they all finally dismount, and begin to disarm and take care of their steeds, the energetic activity starts up again. Sera only has eyes for one man, wide shoulders and commanding posture. What kind of face would be under the King's helmet? Would she see a older, more mature Lucien with laugh lines around his eyes and a gentle look, proof that he was living just fine without her?
The thick fingers fumble to unbuckle the heavy steel helm. They shake a little, and it takes a small moment longer than the other knights to get the helmet off, while the other servants help take off their King's armguards.
Finally, the helmet was off, and thick flame-red hair, long and messy like a wolf's mane was the first thing revealed. His back was turned to her, a dark shadow covering the side of his face. Sera stepped forward, angling herself into a better position so she could see his face.
Covering her mouth to keep herself from calling out to him, Sera finally saw Lucien.
He looked like a starving wolf. The dark red scraggly beard and piercing eyes, the blood that left small stains on his scarred cheeks. A dark aura malevolently roiled around him, he never spoke to any of the servants who welcomed him back to the Keep. The crimson black covered him from head to toe.
Returning from any battle, every man would come back with a darkness that came from the fighting and killing. On the battlefield, it was no longer about morals or for the good of your country. The only thought would be of staying alive. This would need to be dispelled, some by releasing the pent up stress through fighting, and pillaging, while others went home to their loved ones, and who could hold them, soothe them.
However, out of the mighty group fresh from the fight, stained with flecks of blood here and there, the King, most wounded of them all, carried a different darkness. Tightly coiled, ready to explode at any moment.
Sera didn't realize she was holding her breath, until she felt her hands get wet. Sadness slowly leaking and dripping down, wetting her hands that covered her mouth.
(Is.. Is he not happy?)
This didn't make sense. He was getting married soon. The life she returned to him should be back on track. He could find a nice girl, get married and move on. Something was not right.
Lucien looked up, and gazed across the courtyard. He smelt a familiar sweet fragrance. For a moment, their eyes met. Lucien only saw a small hooded figure, mixed in with other travelers.
He didn't notice her.
Sera turned on her heel, determined to find Bea.
She knew the castle like the back of her hand. With no TV or phone, her favorite things to enjoy were exploring the big castle, and watching people and where they went, bustling around like a hive.
To get to the servant's quarters, she needed to go through the back garden. It was perfect since not too many people were there, all out busy working. If she could find the large panel listing each servant's names and their duties, she would be one step closer to finding Bea.
Walking away from the courtyard down the quiet hall that led to the garden, keeping her head down and looking busy, her arm abruptly jerked, grabbed by someone.
Heart in her throat, Sera lowered her voice to sound more manly, making sure to never look back at who held her.
"Excuse me, I've a urgent delivery to handle"
She pulls at her arm, trying to move forward. To no avail. The hand on her arm pulls her in, and pushes back her hood.
There, in the middle of the empty hallway.
She looks up, and up, into endlessly dark, deep blue eyes.
Gazes lock, and one King and a former Queen stare at each other.
Unable to move.