~ Summer Reign ~
by DE Salsbury
Disclaimers: This is an uber alternative fiction. It depicts a loving relationship between 2 women... if you don't like it...don't read it! I welcome any and all comments and promise to respond. Just don't be too cruel!
Gwenneth stared at her reflection as she arranged the collar of state to rest across her shoulders and drape across her breasts. She adjusted it slightly and scrutinized her reflection to make sure the golden A's that made up the collar were lying flat. Satisfied, she picked up her veil and grimaced at it. I am so glad Edward is Norman and not Saxon. I would really hate to wear a full wimple, she mused as she draped the veil over her auburn hair and began to pin it in place.
Gwenneth's eyes turned to the reflection in the mirror of her head Lady in Waiting who had just entered her pavilion. "Yes, Isabeau?"
Isabeau bowed and came forward to stand behind the Queen and met her eyes in the mirror. "I was just coming in to see what was taking you so long, my Queen," Isabeau said as she gently shooed Gwenneth's hands aside and expertly pinned the veil in place.
Gwenneth smiled and shrugged in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Isabeau. I guess I'm nervous and have been dawdling."
Isabeau straightened from retrieving the Queen's crown. She gently set in on Gwenneth's head and met her Queen's emerald gaze in the mirror. "Why are you nervous? Because of the tourney today?"
Gwenneth nodded as she smoothed out the imaginary wrinkles in the forest green gown she wore. "Yes. I'm afraid the King is going to embarrass me."
Isabeau snorted, "Well, His Majesty does use every opportunity at his disposal to vex you, my Queen. But today is your day and you should try to enjoy it. Your people love you and want to celebrate with you."
Gwenneth sighed and nodded her agreement. "I know, Isabeau. I won't disappoint them."
"I know you won't," Isabeau stated as she finished adjusting the crown and gently rested her hands on the Queen's shoulders.
Gwenneth looked up and the two women scrutinized her reflection. Gwenneth had to admit that she looked every inch the queen. The heavy golden crown shone from the muted sunlight and the gems sparkled. Her gown matched her eyes and hugged her lithe body to the waist where it flared out into a full skirt that draped to the ground. The collar of state rested across her shoulders and followed the neckline of her dress to rest atop the swell of her breasts.
She met Isabeau's pale blue eyes and smiled. "Well, I guess it's time to go out and face my public."
Isabeau nodded and stepped back. "I don't think you'll need you're mantle, my Queen. It's quite warm today."
Gwenneth nodded and strode across the tent. She paused at the flap and took a deep breath to center herself and put on her "queen's" face. She straightened her shoulders and stepped out of the pavilion into the late morning sun.
Gwenneth was greeted with bows and murmured abeyances. She smiled graciously and thanked them. She glanced up at the gathering storm clouds and prayed they would hold off until after the tournament.
Gwenneth turned and saw Sir Gerald, the Captain of the Royal Guard, waiting to be noticed. "Yes, Gerald?"
"Your Majesty, the King awaits your presence so court may begin," Sir Gerald explained.
"Lead the way, Sir Knight," Gwenneth said kindly.
Sir Gerald bowed and motioned for the other Royal Guard, Lord Duncan to take his place behind the Queen and Her ladies. The Queen's ladies gathered around her as they began the procession towards the raised dais that the thrones had been set up on.
"I hear there is a new knight in town," Lady Renee announced excitedly as they strolled along.
Gwenneth glanced at her with surprise. Renee was the youngest in her retinue and was usually as shy as a church mouse. "Really, Renee? What have you heard?" she asked gently not wanting to frighten the poor girl.
Renee gulped at being addressed by the Queen but answered her. "That he's from the East and his name is Sir Jordan."
"I hear he's single too," Lady Igraine offered in a stage whisper.
"And rich," Lady Edith giggled.
Gwenneth listened idly to her ladies speculate about the foreign knight who had recently moved into their fair lands. She was curious as well, but it would be unbecoming for the Queen to speculate and gossip about such things.
They arrived at the dais and the ladies fell silent as Gwenneth accepted Sir Gerald's aid up the stairs. The Queen strode across the dais and bowed her head to the King. "Your Majesty," she greeted him.
"My Queen," he nodded and stood to graciously escort her to her throne. "Are you ready for today's celebrations?"
Gwenneth glanced up and saw the mischievous twinkle in his brown eyes and felt her stomach clench. "As ready as I can be, my Liege," she said mildly as she arranged her skirts.
"Oh, I believe this will be a day to remember," Edward chuckled as he regained his throne.
Gwenneth eyes narrowed in suspicion at the tall arrogant stance of the King. She knew he was up to something, but for the life of her couldn't fathom what.
"Heinrich!" Edward bellowed over his shoulder.
"Yes, Your Majesty?" Heinrich the royal Herald asked as he appeared between Their thrones.
"Are we ready to begin?" Edward asked as he scanned the gathering crowd before the thrones.
"Yes, Your Majesty," Heinrich said. Edward waved for him to continue. Heinrich stood up straight and thumped his staff of office three times as he proclaimed in a loud booming voice, "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Please draw nigh for the court of Their Majesties, King Edward the first and Queen Gwenneth!"
Gwenneth leaned back in her throne and tried to settle the nervous butterflies that were dancing in her stomach. She watched as the populace approached and smiled graciously and nodded to those who called out well wishes to her.
"Here in opens the court of Their Majesties Edward and Gwenneth, the rightful King and Queen of the mighty Griffon lands of Artemisia! Fall silent and pay heed to the words of Their Majesties." Heinrich finished and stepped back.
Edward grinned and waved to the gathered crowd. "Greetings good gentles," he said and the crowd waved and shouted greetings. Edward waited for them to quiet before continuing. "We would like to thank you all for traveling such great distances to attend Us on this most auspicious occasion." He winked at Gwenneth playfully. Gwenneth's green eyes narrowed as she shot him a warning look, but he blithely ignored it and continued. "As you all know, today is our fair Queen's birthday and in Her honor there shall be a tourney held." The crowd cheered at the announcement. "The prize shall be to serve Her Majesty as Champion and this?" Edward snapped his fingers over his shoulder at Heinrich. Heinrich held aloft a beautifully illuminated scroll. "? beautiful scroll done in the Queen's own hand proclaiming the victor Her Champion."
The crowd went wild with enthusiasm and Gwenneth blushed at the acclaim. She waved her thanks and then returned her attention to Edward. She saw the mischievous grin cross his lips and her eyes widened in trepidation. Oh no! What are you up to! She pleaded with her eyes for him to just sit down and let Heinrich close court so the tournament could begin.
"Just one last order of business and then We'll release you to prepare to take the field," Edward addressed the crowd. "Since this tournament is to decide who will champion the Queen in Her times of need, We believe it's appropriate that Our Queen show Her generosity and bestow a personal gift up the victor. What say you?"
The crowd roared an enthusiastic agreement and Gwenneth knew she was truly trapped into doing whatever Edward had in mind. He knew she would never disappoint the people and had guaranteed her acquiescence by announcing whatever it was in court. She sat in appearing calm and mild interest as her insides twisted and nausea surged.
Edward chuckled and waved his hands to quiet the crowd. "Good! We're glad you agree!" The crowd laughed and waited expectantly for the King to tell them the Queen's reward. "We do believe that the victor this day shall be granted a kiss from our dear Queen."
Gwenneth paled at the pronouncement and glared at the King. He gave her a smug look and continued to address the populace. Gwenneth's mind whirled as court went on around her without her noticing. Oh God! Edward, I'm going to kill you! How could you do this to me! She screamed in her mind. She spotted Earl Sedric in the crowd and he gave her a lecherous wink. She shuddered and prayed to anyone who was listening that the Earl would not be the victor this day! The horny old goat has been after me for years! Even though he knows very well he's not my type.
Gwenneth snapped out of her reverie as Heinrich announced the closing of court and released everyone to go about their business. She turned towards Edward. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she demanded in a quiet angry voice.
Edward sat back in surprise at Gwenneth's vehemence. "What do you mean, Gwen? I was just offering incentive to the warriors of this kingdom."
Gwenneth's green eyes bore into his as she clenched her fists in her lap to keep from slapping the smug look off his face. "You know very well what I mean. Don't think I'll forget this, Edward."
Edward waved dismissively at her as he rose from his throne. "Sure, sure, Gwen. Whatever. I'm going to go watch the tourney from a closer vantage," he said and turned to walk down the stairs. He stopped and looked back at his fuming Queen. "I suggest You pay close attention, My Queen, for the person who wins this day will be by Your side for the rest of Our reign."
Gwenneth shot daggers out of her eyes as she watched the King stride arrogantly away towards the cluster of knights on the edge of the field of honor. She noticed her ladies approaching and sighed. She fought down her rage at the King's idea of amusements and turned to greet them graciously.
"Have you seen him yet, my Queen?" Lady Edith asked as she settled on the pillow at the Queen's feet.
"Yes, have you?" Isabeau questioned as she arranged her stool to the Queen's right and sat down pulling out her embroidery hoop.
The other three ladies took their seats and all eyes turned to the Queen in open curiosity.
"Who would that be?" Gwenneth asked mildly amused by her ladies' antics.
"Why the foreign knight, Sir Jordan!" Lady Renee said abruptly and then blushed for her tone. "Pardon me, Your Majesty."
The Queen smiled at the embarrassed young woman kindly. "That's quite all right, Renee. The answer is no. Do any of you know what his arms are?"
The ladies glanced at one another to see if any knew the answer. Isabeau nodded and the ladies all leaned in eagerly to hear.
"My heraldry is a bit rusty so I'll just explain what it looks like," Isabeau began and the ladies all nodded eagerly. "The field is divided diagonally from the right down, the top is blue and the bottom is black. A golden mare rearing with broken chains on its front legs and neck overall."
Gwenneth nodded to herself as her eyes came up and scanned the field for the arms Isabeau had just described. On the far side of the field she spotted the arms and lifted her arm to point them out. "There across the field. Is that the one you mean, Isabeau?"
All the ladies turned to follow the Queen's pointing hand.
"Yes, my Queen," Isabeau stated with a nod.
The ladies began to speculate once more and Gwenneth listened with half an ear as she narrowed her eyes to see the foreign knight better. He had his back to her so she couldn't see his face but he had long luxurious blue-black hair that fell almost to his waist. Not uncommon, she commented to herself. A lot of men are wearing their hair long these days. They said he's from the East and I know it's customary there. She studied his broad back and noted that he stood at least 6 foot when Sir Brennis stepped up to speak with him and they were of equal height. She watched as Sir Jordan nodded and clapped Sir Brennis on the shoulder. Sir Brennis smiled and strode off as Sir Jordan donned his helmet and bent to retrieve his shield. Oh great, Gwenneth grimaced inwardly. Another man to fawn and paw at me! Maybe I'll be lucky and this one will be different.
The List had been hard fought and the day had shown great acts of daring and chivalry much to delight of the gathered crowd. Now only 2 remained to fight to claim the prize, Earl Sedric O'Keefe and the mysterious Sir Jordan of the East. Gwenneth had watched at first with mild interest and then with growing fascination as Sir Jordan took the field and defeated all comers. He was truly magnificent on the field and everyone was speculating about who his knight had been and where he had learned such prowess. Gwenneth was curious as to why he never doffed his helm between bouts. He would bow to his vanquished foe, stride to the sidelines and remove his shield but would leave his T-faced Barbut in place. He would stand with his arms crossed across his chest with his shield resting against his legs and study the next 2 to take the field with piercing blue eyes.
Gwenneth glanced up to see Edward standing before her with a smug look. She gave him an innocent look. "Yes, Edward?"
He frowned slightly at her address but quickly schooled his face. "I thought you might like to get a better view." He nodded towards the field and offered his hand.
Gwenneth met his challenging gaze and smiled sweetly. "I can see just fine from here, Your Majesty." Edward eyes widened slightly in shock. "I will come down when the victor is announced. No sooner."
Edward stared at her for a few moments and then dropped his hand to his side. "Very well," he said between gritted teeth. He turned on his heel and strode back to the field.
Gwenneth smiled at his departing back. I can play this game too, my King. Watch your back.
The herald announced the final bout and Earl Sedric and Sir Jordan took the field. They nodded to one another and then turned to pay homage to the Queen. Gwenneth's eyes met piercing blue peering out of Sir Jordan's helm for just a moment and felt her heart pause. Then the two were turning and preparing to engage.
Gwenneth mentally shook herself. Wow! He has great eyes! She thought and was bewildered by her reaction. I don't like men! What has gotten into me? She wondered vehemently as she heard the marshal's yell to begin.
Her stomach clenched and she prayed fervently that Sir Jordan would win the field. The thought of having Earl Sedric constantly by her side was enough to make her physically ill.
The threatening clouds had gathered and thundered rumbled ominously as the well-matched pair began the final bout. Gwenneth feared she would pass out from anxiety as she watched and waited. Finally Sir Jordan landed a clean blow and Earl Sedric crumpled to the ground. Gwenneth let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding in relief.
"Sir Jordan won!" Renee clapped gleefully as she bounced at the Queen's feet.
"Thank God," intoned Isabeau knowing how the Queen felt about Earl Sedric and not liking the man much either.
"Here comes the King to escort you," Lady Edith said quietly as she watched the King approach.
"Well, I guess I better go greet my champion," Gwenneth said with an amused twinkle in her eye.
Edward stopped before her and ignored the gathered ladies greetings as he met his Queen's defiant stare. "My Queen," he said as he held out his hand for her to take.
"My King," Gwenneth nodded as she placed her hand in his and allowed him to escort her to the field.
Gwenneth saw Sir Jordan with his back to them as they approached conferring with Master Fergus. Her attention was drawn away from her appraisal when Heinrich tugged on her sleeve with a question regarding the scroll. She turned to speak to the Royal Herald so did not see Sir Jordan approach and kneel before them head bowed.
"That will be fine, Heinrich," Gwenneth said as she turned back to face the gathered crowd and noticed Sir Jordan kneeling before her head bowed.
"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Please pay heed to the words of the Crown!" Heinrich boomed.
"Good gentles," Edward began his speech.
Gwenneth tuned the King out as she studied the bent head before her. She had the incredible urge to reach out and run her fingers through the sweat soaked dark strands of Jordan's hair and clenched her hands in front of her to resist. What has gotten into me? This is totally crazy! She felt flustered by her reactions to this mysterious knight from the East. Even on his knees he's tall, she mused as she noted that his bent head reached above her waist. Gwenneth pulled her eyes from Jordan's bent head and tried to focus on what Edward was saying.
"?and this good knight who has come to us from the far East proved victorious," Edward said and paused as the crowd roared their approval. "Sir Jordan, please rise so you may be vested in the colors of the Queen."
Sir Jordan's eyes came up just as Gwenneth glanced down with a smile forming on her lips. Gwenneth's smile froze when her eyes met piercing blue eyes framed in a very feminine high cheek boned face. Oh my God! He's a woman! Gwenneth gaped as her mind tried to fathom this turn of events. And she's gorgeous!
Gwenneth watched as if from a distance as Sir Jordan lips curved into a crooked smile and slowly rose to stand before her. She watched as her ladies came forth and dressed Sir Jordan in the tabard of the Queen's Champion and Sir Gerald handed her the Queen's shield. She blinked when Edward addressed her.
"Pardon?" she asked glancing at Edward dazedly.
"I said we need to finish this up before it really starts to pour," Edward whispered to her leaning close.
Gwenneth glanced up as she felt a rain drop strike her face. "Very well," she agreed.
Sir Jordan was now fully attired as the Queen's Champion. She bowed to Them and turned to go to her appointed place behind the Queen's throne to her right side.
Edward reached out and grabbed her arm. "Sir Jordan, a moment," Edward said as Sir Jordan stiffened and a one elegant brow rose in question. Edward raised his voice so all could hear as he continued. "Good Sir Knight, I believe you still have a boon to claim."
The crowd laughed and Edward grinned as he turned Sir Jordan towards Gwenneth. Gwenneth blushed and gave him an evil look before she looked up to meet those captivating blue eyes once more.
Sir Jordan nodded her head and stepped before the queen. "My Queen," she said in a low lilting voice that Gwenneth felt resonate through her.
"My Champion," she said and placing her hands lightly on Sir Jordan's shoulder for balance, stood on tiptoes to gently brush her lips across Jordan's.
She was not prepared for the sudden jolt that shot through her as their lips touched. The crowd faded away and the noise receded to a dull roar as she peered into eyes the color of the sea and felt herself begin to sink beneath their calm depths.
Thundered crashed and the rain began to pour down breaking the moment. Jordan stepped back and raised her shield above the Queen to shelter her from the sudden deluge.
"My Queen, let me escort you out of the weather," Sir Jordan urged Gwenneth as she pulled her close to protect her better from the rain.
Gwenneth felt herself nodding, still lost in the feel of Sir Jordan's lips on hers and now her very warm and muscular body pressed against her.
Sir Jordan quickly led them through the milling crowd to the Queen's pavilion. She pulled back the flap and ushered the Queen into the cool, dark interior.
"I'm going to go aid others, my Queen. Will you be all right?" Jordan asked as she stood in the tent's opening.
"Yes, thank you," Gwenneth nodded dazedly.
Sir Jordan bowed deeply and disappeared into the rain.
Gwenneth stared blankly at the spot Sir Jordan had just vacated. What just happened? She wondered as she wrapped her arms around herself as she shivered. She had a feeling her body's reaction had more to do with the beautiful knight who had just left than the damp dress she wore.
The next morning dawned bright and dry, much to the relief of the revelers who were in the process of tearing down their pavilions for the trek home.
Gwenneth bade farewell to two more well-wishers who just needed to spend a few more moments with the Queen before she departed. She waved as they walked away towards their tightly packed minivan. She surveyed the bustle of people tearing down their tents and packing their vehicles with quite the assortment of music blaring from car speakers. She grinned as she returned once more to her interrupted path to the one building on site that had been left open for their use.
Gwenneth turned to see Richard, her Master of Horse and mundane roommate, approaching with a wry smile across his handsome face. "Yes, Rick," she said chagrined.
Richard swept into a deep courtly bow which looked utterly ridiculous since he was wearing a heavy metal t-shirt and ragged blue jeans and with a flourish held out a bundle of clothes to her "Your clothes, my Queen," he said in a haughty voice and lifted his head just enough to give her a wink through his blonde bangs.
"Thanks, Rick!" Gwenneth enthused as she accepted the bundle. "I've been trying to go change all morning!"
Rick stood up from his bow and shook his head at her in amusement. "Let me guess," he said tapping his chin thoughtfully. "My Queen, just one more word with you. My Queen, could I just have a moment?" he mimicked in a high placating voice and widened his eyes in earnest clutching his hands in a pleading gesture before his t-shirt clad chest.
Gwenneth laughed and slapped him playfully in the stomach. "You are so bad!" she scolded.
"Oof!" Rick said as he bent over in exaggeration of the blow dealt him. "But true!" He eyed her critically and continued. "Geez, Gwen! You're still in full regalia! We're never going to get out of here if you don't lose the brass hat!"
Gwenneth's eyes went up towards her crown and she blushed. "Oh yeah. Forgot about that," she said sheepishly as she raised her hands to remove it.
Gwenneth's hands froze halfway to her crown at the sound of the lilting voice. Her head came around and her eyes fell upon the statuesque form of her Champion. She let her eyes travel down her and felt her mouth go dry at the sight. Jordan was wearing a crimson velvet doublet that accented the curve of her full breasts and hugged her flat stomach. She wore black trews that fit snugly to her long muscular legs. Gwenneth quickly brought her eyes up and blushed when they met amused blue.
Richard nudged her and she remembered that she was supposed to say something. "Yes, Sir Jordan?" she finally managed to say.
"My Queen," Sir Jordan swept into a gracious bow and then stepped forward to speak with her. "I just came to tender my farewell and ask if there is anything you need before I go?"
Gwenneth's mind whirled with possible answers to that question and then shook her head in denial. "No, Sir Jordan. Thank you."
"What is the next event you will be needing my services?" Sir Jordan asked in her lilting voice.
Rick giggled and Gwenneth elbowed him in the stomach. Jordan's elegant brow went up as she eyed the two of them in question. "Do you get the kingdom newsletter?" Gwenneth asked Sir Jordan as she fought down the blush that she felt rising at the thought of what services she'd like this gorgeous knight to perform.
"No, my Queen. I haven't been here long enough," Jordan said with a shake of her head.
"I can get you a copy from Heinrich," Rick offered.
"That would be greatly appreciated," Jordan said with a slight nod to Richard.
"That will have the official Royal itinerary in it," Gwen said as she fought the urge to fidget under Jordan's sharp eye. "If you have any questions, feel free to call me or His Majesty."
"Very well," Jordan nodded and bowed once more. "By Your leave, my Queen?"
"By all means, Sir Jordan," Gwenneth smiled and waved her dismissal. "Travel safely."
"You too, my Queen," Jordan intoned as she backed up two steps and then spun on her heel and strode off towards where Master Fergus was tearing down one of the baronial pavilions.
Gwenneth stared after Jordan's retreating form with a dreamy expression on her face. Richard noted the look and began to chuckle.
"Earth to Gwen! Earth to Gwen!" he sang as he waved his hand before her face.
"What?" Gwen snapped as pulled her eyes from the captivating sight of Jordan bending over to pull out tent stakes to glare at her Master of horse.
"You are so busted!" he teased waggling his eyebrows at her.
"What do you mean by that?" Gwen asked but knew he had seen the way she looked at Jordan. Great! Just what he needs! More ammunition! He's never going to let me live this down. She thought quickly and grabbed the first thing that came to mind. "Rick, run interference for me so I can get changed and we can get out of here before the sun sets."
Richard opened his mouth and then snapped it closed. He shook his head but bowed for her to lead the way.
"Thank you," she said gratefully as she headed towards the building to remove the Queen and become plain Gwen again. I cannot wait to get into shorts and a t-shirt! She swore avidly as Rick intercepted people before they could reach her and delay her once again.
Gwen unlocked the front door of Callahan's Rare Books and flipped the closed sign to open as she closed the door behind her. She made her way to the counter and spotted the haphazard stack of boxes pouring out of the office.
She groaned at the sight. "Well, I guess the Grant's estate books finally arrived while I was off playing queen." She flipped the hinged counter back and stepped into the clutter. She shook her head in resignation as she squeezed by the boxes into the small office beyond.
She glanced at the answering machine and seeing no telltale light, continued to the small refrigerator in the back to put her lunch away. She turned to the coffee maker and prepared it to brew as her thoughts turned to the upcoming event in Montana and being able to see her Champion again. She felt the butterflies take off in her stomach as an image of the noble Sir Jordan with the piercing blue eyes filled her mind.
Her elation soon turned to frustration as her mind began to ponder the mystery of the allusive Sir Jordan. Her brow furrowed and she chewed her bottom lip as she thought. She had listened intently whenever Sir Jordan's name had been brought up in conversation over the last month, but to her growing agitation had learned very little.
The coffee pot filled and Gwen absently pulled down a mug just as the front door bell jingled to inform her someone had entered the store. She walked over to the door and peered around the boxes to see who had come in. She spotted Jan strolling towards the counter and called out a greeting. "Want a cup of coffee, Jan?"
Jan narrowed her eyes and peered at the stack of boxes that her friend's voice had emanated from. She finally spotted Gwen's auburn head peeking out and grinned. "That would be great!" she answered with a wave as she took a seat at the counter.
Gwen grinned and went to pour two cups of coffee. Maybe Jan knows something? She shrugged. Couldn't hurt to ask. This is driving me nuts! I don't even know if she's gay! She picked up the two cups and weaved her way between the boxes to her waiting friend.
"Here you go," Gwen said as she set the steaming mug in front of Jan with a smile.
"Thanks," Jan said as she took a sip and eyed her friend over the brim of her mug. "So, you gonna tell me what's got you so worked up?"
Gwen laughed as she shrugged helplessly. "Is it that obvious?"
"Only to those who know you," Jan assured her as she set her mug down and crossed her arms on the counter before her. "So, what's up?"
Gwen sighed and stared down into her coffee hoping to find an answer in its mocha depths. She leaned against the counter and tried to think of some way to bring up Sir Jordan's name without sounding pathetic or desperate.
"It's Sir Jordan, right?" Jan asked softly.
Gwen's eyes shot up in surprise and met Jan's amused gaze. "How did?? Does everyone??" Gwen stuttered to a halt and stared at her friend desperately.
"Easy, Gwen," Jan soothed as she reached out and patted her hand gently. "I wasn't even sure until just now."
"You tricked me?" Gwen gaped in astonishment.
"Yeah," Jan shrugged with a sheepish grin. "I knew something was going on and I took a shot in the dark."
Gwen stared at her chagrined friend and then laughed. "Well, since the cat's out of the bag?" she leaned on the counter and took a sip of her coffee as she sorted through the myriad of questions in her head. "Do you know anything about her?"
Jan shrugged. "Not much. What have you been able to discover?"
"Her real name is Alexandra Mayfair and she moved here from Rawley, North Carolina. Which means she's from Atlantia not the East," Gwen informed her avid friend as her brow furrowed in thought. "She moved here just before my birthday and the event. I have no idea why or where exactly she lives other than it's somewhere here in the Salt Lake valley."
"Well, I can answer that," Jan announced and laughed when Gwen leaned forward eagerly. "She's living up Cottonwood Canyon and rumor has it she moved here to take care of her aunt."
"Really?" Gwen asked and Jan nodded. "So I guess that means she's probably not here on a permanent basis."
"I dunno," Jan said with a shrug. "She's pretty tight lipped. The only reason I know what I do is because Fergus told me."
"Why were you asking?" Gwen asked suspiciously.
Jan blushed and ducked her head. She fiddled with her coffee cup nervously and said, "Umm, Doug asked me to find out for him."
"What?" Gwen shouted in disbelief. "Why does my brother want to know details about her?"
"Guess he's attracted to her," Jan said quietly. "You know how he is, any new woman enters the area and he has to do his damnedest to get her into his bed."
"Oh no! Not this time!" Gwen swore passionately as she began to pace in the narrow confines behind the counter. "How could he? She wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole! I'm going to kill him! How dare he?"
Jan watched her friend pace and rant and fought back a smile. Gwen was on the rampage and woe to the one who got in her way. "Gwen?"
Gwen whirled around and pinned her friend with a fiery green glare. "What?"
"Don't you think you're overreacting just a wee bit?" Jan asked holding her hand up to demonstrate.
Gwen stared at her a moment and then the outrage slowly drained away with a slump of her shoulders. "Yeah, I guess you're right," she sighed as she collapsed onto her stool and lowered her head. "I don't even know her. Heck, I don't even know if she's gay! She's so damn formal when she attends me at events! She's the epitome of chivalry and honor and it's driving me nuts!"
Jan nodded in commiseration. "Yeah, I noticed that. Have you gotten her to open up at all?"
"No!" Gwen stated throwing her hands up in frustration. "She treats me as the Queen and nothing else! I doubt she even knows I'm anything but!"
"So you haven't seen her outside of an event?" Jan asked intently.
"No. No one has really," Gwen said shaking her head. "She just appears at an event, in full Sir Jordan, Champion of the Queen mode and that's all anyone sees."
"Well, the summer's not over yet. I'm sure you'll get the chance," Jan assured her.
"Maybe," Gwen said doubtfully as a sudden thought entered her mind and a look of horror crossed her features. "Oh no! Do you think Jordan thinks that Ed and I are married?" Jan gave her a puzzled look. "We don't look anything alike, Jan. Doug's 6 foot and has brown hair and eyes, I'm short with red hair and green eyes, we have the same last name and most people would assume a reigning couple is married."
"Well, you don't live at the same address," Jan offered as she thought about it. "I'm sure if Jordan wanted to know she'd find out pretty quick that you two were siblings."
"That's what worries me," Gwen sighed in resignation. "I don't think she's interested in finding out one way or the other."
"When are you leaving for the event this weekend?" Jan asked thinking a subject change was in order.
"As soon as Rick gets off work tomorrow," Gwen answered perking up a bit at the mention of the upcoming event. "Doug isn't going. He has to fly to Boston on business so I'll be flying solo."
"You mean the mighty King Edward will be absent and you'll have free, pardon the expression, reign for the weekend?" Jan asked with obvious excitement.
"Yep," Gwen nodded happily. "I can do whatever I want without him looking over my shoulder every minute of the day!"
"Woo hoo!" Jan shouted as she did a happy dance on her stool. "We're going to have so much fun!"
Gwen laughed at her friend's antics. "Yeah, I'm planning on it."
"Well, I better scoot so you can get back to work," Jan said as she rose from her stool and gulped down the last of her coffee. "When are your folks going to be back?"
"So you don't have to open the shop tomorrow?"
"Nope," Gwen shook her head as she came around the counter to accompany Jan to the door. "I just have to catalog all that," she waved towards the stack of boxes behind the desk, "and mind the counter today and then I get to go home and pack and get ready for the weekend."
"Is Jordan going to be there?" Jan asked as she pulled the front door open.
"I would assume so," Gwen said slowly as she eyed her friend with growing suspicion. "What are you plotting?"
"Me? Plotting?" Jan asked with feigned innocence. "Would I do that?"
"Uh-huh," Gwen nodded and crossed her arms over her chest.
Jan laughed lightly. "Don't worry, Gwen. I promise not to soil your reputation."
"Guess that's all I'm going to get out of you," Gwen sighed and pushed her friend gently out the door.
"Yep! See you Saturday," Jan called over her shoulder with a wave.
"Not if I see you first!" Gwen yelled back with a laugh.
Gwen shook her head as she made her way back to the stack of boxes and the daunting task of going through them all. She sighed. "Well, guess I better get to it," she stated and ripped open the first box.
"Where the hell is he, Cujo?" Gwen demanded as she paced restlessly back and forth in the neat kitchen of the condo she shared with Rick. Cujo raised his large head and watched his mistress pace. "He was supposed to be here an hour ago! If he doesn't hurry up, we're not going to get to Missoula until O-dark-thirty!"
Cujo lowered his head and whined. Gwen stopped her pacing and smiled at the huge, ugly mutt. She walked over to him and knelt to rub his floppy ears.
"I'm sorry, boy," she soothed. Cujo's tail began to thump on the tiles in appreciation of his mistress's administrations. "I shouldn't be yelling at you." She sighed and glanced at the clock. "Guess I better call him and find out what the delay is."
She gave Cujo one final pat and stood. She walked over to the breakfast bar and was about to grab the phone when it rang. She jumped in surprise and Cujo barked. She grinned sheepishly and winked at Cujo as she picked up the phone.
"Hi, Gwen. Before you blow up, let me explain," Rick pleaded.
"This had better be good, Rick. You were supposed to be here over an hour ago!" Gwen scolded as she leaned against the bar and glared out the window at the sunny morning.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry. The shit hit the fan here and it looks like I'm not going to be able to go," Rick apologized.
"What?" Gwen bolted upright and stared at the phone in disbelief. "What do you mean you can't go? How the hell am I supposed to get to the event? You know I don't have a car! Some master of horse you turned out to be!" Gwen began pacing again as her mind tried to come up with some way to get to the event.
"Calm down, Gwen," Rick tried to sooth her. "I called around and found you a ride."
Cujo began to bark and charged past Gwen almost knocking her down in his eagerness to reach the front of the condo. Gwen stared after him in surprise and then began to walk slowly towards the front.
"What?" Gwen shouted over Cujo's enthusiastic barking. "Cujo! Shut up! What did you say about getting me a ride?"
"I said I called around and found someone who was going that hadn't left yet!" Rick yelled into the phone hoping Gwen could hear him over the dog.
Gwen shoved a wiggling Cujo to one side on the couch so she could look out the window and see what he was going on about. A sleek black Mercedes had just pulled into her driveway. She frowned. I don't know anyone who could afford a car like that!
"Who, Rick? Who is picking me up?" Gwen demanded as she watched the driver's door of the Mercedes open and very long muscular tan legs appeared. Her eyes widened and her heart leapt into her throat.
"Umm, Jordan," Rick said just as Jordan climbed out of the car.
Oh god! Oh god! Oh god! Her mind chanted in disbelief as she watched Jordan stretch languorously causing the midriff tee she wore to rise perceptibly exposing a long expanse of rippling tan abdomen and Gwen found her mouth suddenly awash with moisture. She suddenly felt faint as all the blood fled her head for regions farther south.
"You did say you wanted to get to know her better and I thought this would give you the chance and?"
"Rick! Shut up!" Gwen interrupted him. Her eyes were glued to the sight of Jordan wearing nothing but a pair of cutoffs and a midriff tee. Her long hair was loose and cascaded down her muscular back in a blue-black wave. She thankfully had on a pair of sunglasses to hide her blue eyes or Gwen was sure she would have passed out at the sight. "I may have to have you banished, Richard. Or better yet beheaded."
"What? Why? Because I got you a ride?" Rick asked bewildered.
"No, for killing the Queen," Gwen said as she watched Jordan walk up the drive towards the house. "I think I'm having a heart attack. Do you have any idea what she's wearing, Rick?"
"No, of course not. I talked to her on the phone. Why?" Rick asked in utter confusion.
"Never mind," Gwen said as she quickly got up from the couch and rushed to the front door. "You're on dog duty since you're going to be home. At least I'll save money on that!"
"Okay, Gwen," Rick said slowly. "Have a good time."
"I gotta go. Bye," Gwen said as she turned off the phone and tossed it on the couch. Her heart was beating so fast she was afraid it was going to burst out of her chest. She hauled on Cujo's collar as she tried to get him away from the door so she could open it. "Come on, Cujo! Get out of my way!" she grunted as she wrestled with the enthusiastic black dog that almost outweighed her.
She finally managed to shove him back far enough to get the door open and quickly slipped out onto the porch. She leaned against the door in relief and looked up to meet Jordan's shaded eyes as she mounted the steps.
"My Queen," Jordan said in her low lilting voice with a half bow.
"Just Gwen, please," Gwen corrected nervously.
Jordan's eyebrow peeked up above her sunglasses. "Gwen," she said with a crooked smile touching her lips.
Gwen felt a shiver course through her at the sound of her name on those tantalizing lips. "How do you feel about dogs?"
"Dogs? Love them. Why?" Jordan asked as she came up the stairs to stand before Gwen.
"Because I happen to have a rather large one and we need to go inside to get my things," Gwen explained pointing over her shoulder at the door that was vibrating with Cujo's attempts to batter it down with his head and his continuous barking.
Jordan cocked her head in a listening gesture and then nodded. "Lead the way. I'm sure I'll be fine," she assured her as she waved for Gwen to precede her.
Gwen smiled and turned to open the door. She shoved hard and made a quick grab for Cujo as he lunged for the opening in the door. She blocked him with her body and slowly shoved him back to clear the door for Jordan to enter.
"That's a dog?" Jordan asked with amusement as she pointed to the monstrous black beast that Gwen was struggling to hold on to.
"So they assured me at the pound when I got him," Gwen grinned as she yanked on Cujo's collar to keep him from jumping up on Jordan. "Cujo! Heal!"
Cujo paused in his straining to reach the strange woman and looked up at his mistress. He cocked his head curiously and then decided to obey and sat with his tongue hanging out.
"Cujo?" Jordan chuckled as she held out her hand for the dog to sniff. He sniffed her hand and began to lick it industriously making Jordan laugh in delight.
"I didn't pick the name," Gwen defended as she watched with glee Jordan began to pet Cujo and Cujo's obvious acceptance of her. "Rick named him while I was gone and by the time I got back, the name had stuck."
"Rick?" Jordan asked as she knelt to give Cujo her full attention.
"Honorable Lord Richard de Briton," Gwen offered Rick's Society name. "He's the one who called you about the ride for me."
"Oh," Jordan nodded. "I don't know many people by anything but their Society names yet."
"Well, I guess I can tell you a few important ones so you'll know who people are talking about," Gwen said as she sat on the arm of the couch. "My brother, Doug is King Edward," she emphasized the relationship hoping Jordan would take note. "Jan is Lady Isabeau, my head Lady in Waiting. The Royal Herald Heinrich is Bob mundanely."
Jordan laughed and sat back on her heels to meet Gwen's twinkling green eyes. "I think that's plenty for now. I'll never keep them all straight if you tell me more. If I have a question, I'll ask."
"Okay," Gwen grinned as she quickly looked away from Jordan's much too perceptive eyes. "Why don't we grab my stuff so we can get on the road?"
"Sure," Jordan said as she stood. Cujo butted her with his head and she gave him a fond pat on the head. "He's a great dog, my?" she glanced up and saw Gwen's frown and quickly corrected. "Gwen."
"Thanks," Gwen said as she led the way across the living room to where her garb bag and other essentials were waiting. "He seems to like you too."
"This all you're taking?" Jordan asked as she leaned over to grab two of the bags.
"My bed, sleeping stuff, and so forth has already gone," Gwen explained as she picked up her crown box and briefcase. "My brother, Doug made arrangements for our pavilions and all that entails to be set up for us, so that no matter when we arrived, they would be ready for us."
"Must be good to be Queen," Jordan stated dryly.
Gwen's eyes shot up to study Jordan's face to see if she was joking. Jordan's crooked smile relaxed her and she shrugged. "It does have its perks," she joked as she followed Jordan across the condo and out to the car.
They quickly loaded Gwen's bags into the trunk and Gwen hastened to lock up the condo and reassure Cujo that "daddy" would be home soon. She climbed into the plush interior of the Mercedes and gave Jordan a questioning look.
"What?" Jordan asked as she started the car and backed out of the drive.
"These are some seriously nice wheels," Gwen complimented as she ran her hands over the leather interior.
Jordan shrugged. "It gets me from point A to point B."
Okay, next topic, Gwen thought as she studied Jordan surreptitiously as she drove through town and got on the I-15 heading north. Jordan was relaxed behind the wheel and drove with an easy confidence. Gwen kept finding herself staring at Jordan's long fingered hands as they shifted gears or tapped impatiently on the steering wheel. Oh boy! This is going to be a long trip! She surmised as she felt her heartbeat race and decided looking out the window was probably a good idea.
"So, how are you finding Artemisia?" Gwen asked after they had been traveling for half an hour and the silence was beginning to get to her.
Oh great! Is she going to be monosyllabic the entire trip? "Mind if I turn on the radio?" Gwen asked leaning forward to study the stereo.
"No. Go ahead," Jordan replied keeping her eyes on the road.
Gwen sighed and turning on the radio began flipping through the channels. She came to an all 80's station and paused. "This all right with you?"
Gwen leaned back and tried to think of something to say to draw Jordan into a conversation. "Are you planning on attending Pennsic?"
"Yes," Jordan said as she glanced at Gwen. "Why?"
"Just curious," Gwen shrugged and met those mesmerizing blue eyes with a smile. "Will your knight be there?'
"Probably," Jordan said as she returned her attention to the road.
"Will you introduce him to me?"
"If you want."
Gwen sighed. Obviously Jordan wasn't much of a conversationalist and for the first time in her life, she couldn't really think of anything to say. She sat back and stared out of the window listening to the radio croon the 80's. The motion of the car soon lulled her into a frustrated sleep.
Gwen grimaced and pushed the insistent hand away.
"My Queen. We're here."
The hand shook her more forcefully and Gwen opened her eyes groggily to be met by piercing blue not a foot away. Her eyes popped open in startlement. "What?" she mumbled.
"We've arrived at the event, my Queen," Jordan explained softly as she leaned back on her heels in the open passenger door of the Mercedes.
Gwen stared at her blankly as her sleep fogged mind tried to make sense of what this beautiful woman was saying to her. "Event? We're here?" She scrubbed at her eyes with balled fists like a grumpy three year old.
"Yes, we're here," Jordan replied softly watching the Queen with amusement. "I've already placed your bags in your pavilion. When you're ready, I'll escort you over there, okay?"
Gwen lowered her fists and gazed at Jordan in surprise. "You already unpacked?" she asked as she glanced around outside of the car and saw that they were parked in a row of cars and she could just make out the distant torches around pavilions in the distance. "Why didn't you wake me?"
"I didn't see the need," Jordan said as she stood to allow Gwen to exit the car.
"I could've helped!" Gwen argued as she planted her fists on her hips and glared at Sir Jordan.
"I'm sorry, my Queen," Jordan apologized with a slight bow. "I'll remember that for future reference."
"Oh! Just take me to my tent!" Gwen stated as she threw up her hands in resignation.
Jordan nodded and offered her arm. Gwen took it graciously and allowed Jordan to escort her through the dark parking lot to her waiting pavilion.
"Long live the Queen!" Heinrich bellowed.
"Long live the Queen!" the populace roared back as they bowed and Gwenneth made her way down the main aisle with Sir Jordan right behind her.
"Long live these sovereign lands of Artemisia! Vivat! Vivat! Vivat!" Heinrich roared and the crowd responded as Gwenneth departed the close of yet another court.
Gwenneth strode quickly towards her pavilion with her ladies hurrying to keep up. She was anxious to get out of her official regalia and just relax. Jordan's stolid presence at her side was causing her more frustration than she cared to admit and she quickened her pace yet again so that the time near her would be shortened.
She halted before her pavilion and whirled to face Sir Jordan and her ladies. "I won't be needing your services for the rest of the evening, Sir Jordan," Gwenneth said calmly meeting surprised blue eyes. "Please, go out and enjoy your evening." She glanced at Isabeau and her other ladies. "If you wish to attend me this evening, you may. I have no further plans then to take of my crown and relax." Finished with her say, she spun on her heel and ducked into her pavilion.
She lifted her crown from her head as she strode across the interior of the pavilion and tossed it on the bed in disgust. She ripped off her veil and threw it to land next to the crown.
"My Queen?" came Isabeau's hesitant voice from the entrance.
Gwen whirled and pierced her with an angry scowl. "Don't call me that!" she growled as she clenched her fists at her sides in frustration.
"Whoa!" Isabeau held up her hands defensively as she came across the tent to stand before her infuriated Queen. "What the hell has gotten into you, Gwen?"
Gwen's shoulders slumped as she ran her hands through her hair in agitation. "I'm sorry," she apologized softly as she felt the tears forming in her eyes. She turned her back to Isabeau and strode over to her garb trunk. She flung up the lid and started to paw blindly through it for something to wear.
"Hey, what's going on?" Isabeau asked softly as she came up behind her distressed friend and wrapped her arms around her in a comforting hug.
Gwen leaned into the comforting embrace and shook her head in bewilderment. "I don't know!" she whispered hoarsely. "It's just? being near her is driving me stark raving mad!"
"I take it the drive up here wasn't very enlightening then?" Isabeau asked as she cradled her friend.
Gwen shook her head. "No! I couldn't get more than one word answers out of her and then I just couldn't think of anything to talk about and ended up falling asleep."
"You? At a loss for words?" Isabeau teased gently. "Well, that's a first."
Gwen glanced over her shoulder at her smiling friend and smiled weakly back. "Yeah, I guess so," she admitted. "I just don't know what to do! She only sees me as the Queen! How can I get her to see my as more than that," she pointed derisively at the crown on her bed, "damn hat?"
"I think I have an idea," Isabeau said slowly.
"You do?" Gwen asked hopefully as she turned to give her friend her full attention.
"Yeah," Isabeau nodded. "You say you think the problem is she only sees you as the Queen and not as a woman right?"
"Well, that and that fact that I don't even know if she's gay," Gwen stated as she walked over and flopped down on her bed. "What devious plan do you have running through that mind of yours?"
"Well, I know one sure fire way to find out if she's interested in women," Isabeau stated smugly giving her friend a sly wink. "And the perfect opportunity for you to appear as something other than the Queen."
Gwenneth stared at her for a moment in thought and then she realized what Isabeau was hinting at. She shook her head violently in denial. "Oh no! I can't!" she stated vehemently. "Edward wants a completely European court! He would be so pissed if he found out I went out and did that!"
"Gwen, Ed's not here," Isabeau reasoned. "Plus, I didn't say you'd be going out as the Queen. You don't have to be the Queen 24-7, Gwen! You're allowed to take your hair down and enjoy yourself," Gwen looked at her expectantly and Isabeau knew she had her. She grinned. "We'll dress you up in full tribal and you can wear a veil to hide your hair. Besides, it's always dark around the firepit and I doubt anybody is going to be looking at your face anyway."
Gwenneth flushed as Isabeau waggled her eyebrows suggestively at her. "You really think I could disguise myself well enough?" she asked as the idea started to take hold and sound like the perfect solution. "And how do you know Jordan will be there?"
"I know we can disguise you," Isabeau assured her. "Even if someone recognizes you, I doubt they'll say anything. They'll see you're not wearing your crown and want to be incognito. I'm sure they'll be discrete. And I know Jordan will be there because Fergus is hosting the dance circle and that's who she's camped with!"
"Okay, Isabeau, you've convinced me!" Gwen said with a laugh. She walked over to her trunk and dug through it to the bottom. She lifted something out and turned to her friend with a smug look. "In fact, I happened to throw this in here just in case the need arose!" She held up the crimson ghawazee coat, colorful skirts, coined belt and matching bra.
"Oh, you are so bad!" Isabeau said admiringly as she took the dancing clothes from her friend. "Let me go get a few things and then we'll get you dressed to go seduce a certain gorgeous knight!"
Gwen felt her stomach flutter at the thought but nodded agreeably as Isabeau swept out of the tent. Gwen quickly pulled off her court garb and began to transform herself into a desirous belly dancer for the evening.
"Are you ready?" Isabeau asked as they stopped in the shadows just shy of the light cast by the firepit and the gathered dancers, drummers, and spectators.
"I think so," Gwenneth whispered back nervously. "How do I look?"
Isabeau stepped back and scrutinized her friend. Gwen had on the crimson gwazhee coat that hugged her lithe frame. The coined bra she wore accented the gentle curve of her breasts and a heavy coin belt followed the line of her slim hips. They had decided on a layered skirt for under the gwazhee that would flare out when Gwen spun. They had pulled Gwen's waist length auburn hair back in a tight braid and wove veils through it. A simple turban with a sheer black veil to cover her face from just under eyes completed the look. The only distinctive feature that could be associated with the regal Queen was her dazzling green eyes.
"You'll do," Isabeau teased as she twitched Gwen's belt to settle it more securely around her slim waist.
"Is Jordan there?" Gwen asked in a voice that trembled slightly as she adjusted her veils once more and tried to see through the circle of revelers for Jordan's distinct form.
"Yeah, I saw her over by the drummers sitting next to Fergus," Isabeau assured her pointing towards the row of drummers to their right.
"Well, let's go then," Gwen said with determination and sashayed towards the center of the circle of dancers.
"Oh, after you," Isabeau remarked sarcastically as she hurried to catch up. She didn't want to miss this!
Gwen took a steadying breath as her eyes scanned the crowd for her prey. There. She spotted Jordan lounging in a chair and laughing with a Fergus and Sir Gerald. Okay. You can do this! You can do this! She chanted in her head as she took her place on the edge of the dancers and waited. She saw Isabeau, out of the corner of her, lean down and whisper to Jonas the lead drummer. He grinned and nodded.
Jonas pounded out a slow beat and the other drummers quickly followed. Gwen swallowed her nervousness and focused on Sir Jordan as she began her dance. She made her way around the circle and peeked to see if Jordan was watching. She saw intent blue eyes staring back and grinned under her veil. Now we see what you really like, Jordan, she thought as she shimmied over to Jordan and spun to do a deep back bend into her lap.
Seductive green eyes looked up to meet burning blue. She swept out of her back bend and glided forward to stand between Jordan's legs as she undulated her upper body to the beat of the drums. Jordan's face had gone slack and she licked her lips as Gwen leaned forward to give her an apt view of her breasts. Gwen smiled as she watched Jordan swallow. Jordan's eyes were firmly fixed to her swaying body, so Gwen glided back and began a routine meant to entice and intrigue.
The drums slowed and finally ended. Gwen looked over her shoulder to see Jordan's stunned expression as she stared at her. Gwen glided over and gently cupped her chin until those beautiful blue eyes met hers. She gazed intently into Jordan's upturned face and then gave her a sly wink and whirled away to disappear into the crowd.
She had her answer.
July faded into August and the time for Pennsic War was upon them. Gwen trudged tiredly after her brother through the congested airport and prayed that their ride was waiting for them. The flight had been long and miserable and all she wanted was to lie down and sleep.
She staggered and threw up her hands to steady herself on Doug's back when he stopped abruptly. "Hey! Why'd you stop?" Gwen asked crossly as she came around beside him.
"I thought I saw Jordan," Doug said absently as he stood on tiptoe to peer across the crowded room.
Gwen scanned the crowd and spotted Jordan's head bobbing towards them. "There!" she pointed.
Doug squinted and grinned when he spotted her. "Good. She's our ride," he said and began walking towards Jordan. He hailed her and Jordan turned with a wave.
"She is?" Gwen asked to no one as she adjusted her carryon and hurried after her brother. She had only seen Jordan once since the night of her dance. She had ended up riding home with Isabeau after that fateful night, when Jordan apologetically informed her she had to leave early.
She was hoping to spend more time with her Champion here at the war where her only official business was court and basically looking good. She smiled as she approached her brother and Jordan.
"Alex, it's good to see you," Gwen greeted and offered her hand.
"Gwen," Jordan said in her lilting voice as she took Gwen's hand and raised it to her lips for a brief kiss. Blue eyes peered up intently into green and Gwen flushed and looked away first.
"Well, I guess we should get going," Doug frowned at the byplay between his sister and his latest proposed conquest. "I'm suppose to meet with the other kings at 4."
"Right this way," Jordan said as she led the way towards the parking lot.
The war had been a complete success and all were happy with the number of battles and the wild parties at night. Gwenneth was pleased that Jordan had seemed to relax a bit and she even caught the stoic knight joking with one of her ladies when they had attended her in Merchant's Row as she shopped. Now, if I could only get her to relax and joke with me, Gwen mused, all would be right with the world.
It was the last big night of revelry and the last thing Gwenneth wanted to do was be seen as the "Queen of Artemisia" and be kowtowed to all night. She pulled on her cloak and threw the hood up to disguise her crown. She knew if she was recognized and was seen without her crown that Edward would have a fit, so wearing a deep cowl seemed like the only alternative. She peeked out the entry flap of her pavilion and saw the usual two Royal Guards waiting to follow her wherever she wished to go. Not tonight, boys. Tonight I'm going to be just plain old Gwen and enjoy myself, she apologized as she slipped quietly back from the door to the back of the pavilion. She lifted up the back wall and slipped out.
She made her way quickly out of the Artemisian encampment with her head bowed, praying no one would recognize her. She sighed in relief when no one did and she strolled happily towards the welcoming firelight in the distance and the sounds of laughter and good cheer.
She accepted a mug of some mystery concoction from a young man with a smile and a heart felt thanks. She let her eyes scan the gathered crowd and realized she didn't recognize one face. Good, then there's no one here who will recognize me either, she thought with a contented smile as she took a sip of the drink. It burned on the way down and she let out a woof when she swallowed.
"Is it to your liking, M'Lady?"
Gwenneth looked up and peered out of her hooded cowl to see a swaying man standing beside her whose eyes were freely roaming over her. She swallowed nervously at his frank appraisal. "Yes, it's very? well?interesting," she said as she took a step back from the drunk.
"You're very beautiful," he slurred as he stepped towards her his eyes locked on her exposed cleavage beneath the clasp of her cloak.
Gwenneth backed up again. "Thank you."
"What's a beauty like you doing out here unescorted?" he asked as he stepped towards her again and licked his lips.
Gwenneth retreated as fear began to replace discomfort. She looked about for help but realized in horror that her attempts to elude the amorous drunk had led her out of the circle of firelight and into the shadows. No one was near enough to save her unless she wanted to scream and she had no desire to make a scene.
"Come on, baby, I can show you a real good time," the drunk offered as he reached out to grab her.
"No, no, really, I'm not interested," Gwenneth pleaded as she fended off his questing hands.
His eyes turned cold as he scowled, "You some kind of tease? Come on!" He grabbed her shoulder roughly.
Gwenneth felt panic seize her as her eyes widened in fear. Suddenly a silk clad arm shot over her shoulder and clamped around the would-be Romeo's throat. "I believe the lady said no," warned a deep lilting voice.
Gwenneth felt her knees go weak as the steely voice of her Champion washed over her. She leaned unconsciously back into the warm security of Jordan's solid form behind her.
The man's arm dropped from Gwenneth's shoulder and went to pull with futility at Jordan's iron grip. "What business is it of yours? This is between me and her!" he choked out red-faced with anger. "Go away before I make you!"
"M'Lord, I suggest you find entertainment elsewhere," Gwen says feeling the controlled anger radiating off the woman behind her.
"Why should I?" he glared at Gwenneth through his drunken haze.
"I'm a knight of the realm. It's my job," Jordan growled as she guided Gwenneth to stand behind her so she could protect her better.
The man's eyes narrowed. "You some kind of dyke? Is that it? She's your piece of tail and you don't want her to find out what a real man can do for her?"
Gwenneth watched as Jordan's body stiffened at the insult. Jordan moved so quickly that Gwenneth heard the resounding slap of leather against flesh before her eyes processed what she had just seen. Jordan had removed her black leather gauntlet from her right hand and had struck the man across the face with it snapping his head back with the force of the blow.
"You, my lord, have just insulted a lady and I as her champion demand satisfaction!" Jordan boomed.
The man wiped blood from the corner of his mouth and stared down at the gauntlet at his feet. The crowd at the fire had heard the confrontation and people were hurrying quickly towards them. Oh god! Edward is going to kill me! Gwenneth moaned as she saw a man in green and black Tudor wearing a crown with the telltale strawberry leaves of a duke adorning it make his way towards them.
The gray haired duke took the scene in with a glance and a small smile graced his lips as he recognized the infuriated knight. "Sir Jordan? What seems to be the trouble here?" he asked as he came to stand between the two combatants.
Jordan's eyes turned to the Duke and she nodded in reverence before swiftly returning to the enraged drunk. "This? lord," she spit out in disgust, "insulted a lady and I as her personal champion demand the satisfaction to prove him wrong on the field of honor."
"Hey! What you asking her for? I'm the one bleeding here," the drunk asked in outrage as Jordan finally relaxed her grip and he staggered back.
The Duke looked at the man reproachfully. "Because I know this knight, lad. You'll have your say," the Duke turned back to Jordan. "Who holds your leash these days, Jordan?"
"I believe that would be me," Gwenneth said softly as she stepped around the sheltering back of her Champion and lowered her cowl to expose her crown.
The crowd instantly went into a wave of bows and Gwenneth blushed at the abeyance. The drunk's eyes widened at the sight of the crown.
"Hey, I didn't know she was a queen," he argued as he pointed at Gwenneth's crown.
Gwenneth's green eyes flashed. "Oh? So your advances would have been perfectly acceptable if I had been only a lady?"
The drunk staggered back as Gwenneth glared at him at started forward. Jordan reached out and gently took her arm, halting her in her path.
"Please, your Majesty," the Duke said softly meeting Gwenneth's angry eyes. "Let's take this somewhere a bit more private. I think we've entertained the populace enough for one evening."
Gwenneth stared at him for a moment and then nodded mutely. The reality of what could have happened finally penetrating and her body began to shake in reaction.
The Duke patted her arm reassuringly as he turned to glare at the drunken man. His eyes raked up and down the man in appraisal and he noted the red belt of a squire about his waist. "What's your name, man, and who holds your belt?" the Duke demanded with authority.
The drunk straightened at the tone and wiped his face. "My name is Lord Ballon and my knight is Count Stephen of Two Lakes. He's camped with the royals of Ansteorra," the squire managed to say without slurring.
"Very well," the Duke nodded and waved for one of his men to come forward. A man with the Duke's household badge stepped forward with a bow and waited for his orders. "Lucas, go to the Ansteorran encampment and find Count Stephen. Tell him that the Queen of Artemisia and I have business with him. Bring him to my pavilion as quickly as possible."
The man bowed and took off at a run across the encampment on his mission. The Duke watched him go and sighed. He turned to the squire and took his arm in his. "Come along, Ballon. We'll wait for your knight out of the eyes of the public." He gave Jordan a questioning look and she nodded to let him know they would follow shortly.
Gwenneth stared at the ground as the Duke went about his instructions. Oh god! I can't believe this! All I wanted was to go out and have a good time. Not cause a major catastrophe! Her mind cried as she blinked back the tears that were quickly forming in her eyes.
Gwenneth felt a gentle warm hand cup her chin and gently lift. She blinked the tears away to clear her vision and looked up into the concerned visage of her Champion.
"Gwen? Are you all right?" Jordan asked in a low soft voice.
Gwenneth blinked in surprise. Did she just call me Gwen? Her mind screamed. She managed to nod and Jordan pulled her to her breast in a quick reassuring hug. Gwenneth leaned into the embrace and felt the tears slowly track down her cheeks. She felt Jordan lean back and wipe the tears away with her thumbs as she raised Gwenneth's cowl once more to secure her anonymity once more.
Jordan gently laced Gwenneth's arm through hers and pulled her close to her side. Gwenneth bowed her head and leaned against the comforting presence of her Champion as she led her through the curious crowd of spectators.
Duke Richard turned as Sir Jordan led the shaken Queen of Artemisia into his pavilion. Jordan held the smaller woman close and guided her gently to take a seat at the table.
Gwenneth smiled with gratitude as Duke Richard stepped forward raising an eyebrow in question as he held out a glass of wine. "Thank you, Your Grace," she said quietly with a nod as she took the proffered glass.
"Your most welcome, your Majesty," Duke Richard assured.
"How soon do you think His Excellency Stephen will be here?" Jordan asked as she leaned on the table protectively close to her Queen.
Duke Richard took a sip of his wine as he thought about it. "Hmm, not long. I know Stephen and I have a feeling he'll be on his way as soon as he hears my message."
"Where's Ballon, your Grace?" Gwenneth asked softly staring into the deep red wine in her glass. She noticed her hands were trembling slightly and she quickly set the glass down on the table beside her.
"He's outside with my squire Ulrich, Your Majesty," Richard answered kindly. "I saw know need to add any more tension to the situation."
"Thank you," Gwenneth said with heartfelt gratitude. She unconsciously reached out and laid her hand on Jordan's knee, needing the tactile comfort.
Jordan's warm hand covered hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. "My Queen," she said softly with concern. Gwenneth glanced up and attempted to give her Champion a reassuring smile. "I believe you asked me once if while we were here I would introduce you to my knight."
Gwenneth frowned in puzzlement at the sudden topic change. "Yes?"
Jordan lips curved into a crooked grin as she swept her right hand towards Duke Richard. "Queen Gwenneth of Artemisia, this is my knight Duke Richard of Longsford." She met Richard's laughing gray eyes and winked. "Your Grace, this is my Queen Gwenneth."
Duke Richard bowed and offered his right hand palm out. Stunned Gwenneth placed her hand in his and watched in wide-eyed wonder as the Duke raised her hand to his lips and gently brushed her knuckles with a kiss.
"Your Majesty, it is a pleasure to finally meet the woman who could tame this one," Richard said seriously but laughter danced in his eyes.
"It? it is?" Gwenneth stuttered in surprise, as she looked between her Champion and the Duke. Jordan flushed a bright red and ducked her head as the Duke chuckled and gave Gwenneth a knowing wink.
Duke Richard turned to the young man standing in the open flap of his pavilion. "Yes?"
"His Excellency Stephen of Two Lakes is here and asks to speak with you," the young man announced.
"Show him in, lad," Richard ordered as he took a seat across from Gwenneth.
The young man nodded and ducked back out of the tent. The three inside heard muffled voices and then in strode a tall man with broad shoulders dressed in a gold brocade doublet and black trews. He wore the crenellated crown of a Count with blue gems circling his brow. His thinning hair was flaxen and cut above the collar. His face was hard planed but his hazel eyes were kind. He placed his right hand over his chest and bowed deeply to Gwenneth and Richard before approaching.
"You wished to speak with me?" he asked in a deep baritone.
"Yes, Stephen," Richard said gravely as he waved the man to take a seat before them. "I'm afraid it's not under the best of circumstances."
Stephen paused halfway seated and met Richard's gray eyes. "Oh?" he said as he finished taking his seat and crossed his legs causing his spurs to jingle. "Your man only said that you needed to speak to me and the matter was quite urgent." He glanced at the seated Queen and the protective knight at her side and felt his stomach tighten in dread.
"It seems your man, Ballon caused quite a stir this evening," Richard explained.
"Ballon?" Stephen said in surprise. "What has he done?"
"Insulted my Queen, her honor and mine," Sir Jordan growled in a low menacing voice.
Stephen's eye shot to the knight's face and was held by cold angry blue. He swallowed. "I see."
"Sir Jordan has thrown down the gauntlet, Stephen," Duke Richard said. "Will your man meet the challenge?"
Stephen sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. He shook his head vexed by his squire's stupidity. "Yes, Your Grace," Stephen vowed as his eyes opened and met the gentle green eyes of the Queen. He stood and bowed deeply to Gwenneth. "I offer my sincerest apologies for my squire's behavior, Your Majesty. I will make sure he is present and accounted for."
"Thank you, Your Excellency," Gwenneth said softly.
"What time and where?" Stephen asked Richard as he stood.
Richard glanced at Gwenneth and Jordan. Jordan shrugged leaving the decision to the duke. "Ten a.m. on the north field," Richard stated as he rose to escort the Count out of the pavilion.
"Very well," Stephen sighed as he bowed once more to Gwenneth and followed Richard from the pavilion.
"Gwen?" Jordan said softly as she knelt down before her Queen.
"Yes, Jordan?" Gwenneth asked softly as she raised her head from examining her folded hands to fall into mesmerizing blue.
"Let's get you home," Jordan stated as she gently took the Queen's hands in hers and stood to lift her to her feet. "It's been a long night."
Gwenneth nodded numbly. Jordan draped her arm across Gwenneth's shoulder and ushered her gently towards the door.
Gwenneth's head snapped around at the angry shout and saw her brother stalking towards her. She sighed and waited for him to reach her before answering.
"What the hell is going on, Gwen?" Edward whispered furiously as he grabbed her arm in a painfully tight grip.
Gwen's anger flashed and she wrenched her arm out of her brother's grasp. Green eyes aglow with anger pierced him and his eyes widened in shock. "Not now, Doug. I don't have the time or the patience to deal with you," Gwen said quietly between her teeth. She waited for him to nod and then spun on her heal and stalked to the edge of the fighting field to watch her Champion prepare to fight in her honor.
Gwenneth studied Jordan as she calmly adjusted her vambraces and lifted her helm to rest in the crook of her left arm. Her right hand came up and absently brushed her bangs back from crystalline blue eyes and Gwenneth felt her heart race with anxiety. She took a step towards Jordan just as Jordan's eyes came round to meet hers. Gwenneth opened her mouth to speak but no words came.
Jordan smiled her crooked smile and gave her a reassuring wink as the Marshal called the combatants to the field. Jordan leaned down and picked up her shield and Gwenneth knew if she was going to speak with her before she went on the field it would have to be now. She quickly stepped forward and laid a hand on Jordan's armored forearm.
"Jordan," she whispered huskily. Jordan looked down on her expectantly and Gwenneth cleared her throat trying to force her heart back into her chest where it belonged. "Please be careful."
Jordan smiled. "This will take but a moment, my Queen," Jordan said in her low lilting voice that made Gwenneth's heart pause.
Gwenneth nodded and quickly stripped off her crown and shoved it into a surprised Jordan's gauntleted fist. She pulled her veil free and guided it around Jordan's right bicep. "You fight not only for your Queen this day, sir knight," Gwenneth explained as she tightened the favor around her Champion's arm. "But for the woman beneath the crown."
Her green eyes came up in question to meet sparkling blue. She watched as those eyes softened and full lips curled into a gentle smile. "I understand?" Jordan whispered as she gently placed the crown on Gwenneth's bare auburn hair. "?Gwen."
Gwenneth stood in stunned happiness as Jordan spun, scooped up her sword and strode confidently onto the field of honor. Does that mean what I think it means? Gwen asked herself as she turned to stare blindly after her. She noted absently that Ballon was arguing with Count Stephen and finally threw off the Count's restraining hand and strode arrogantly onto the field pulling his helm on. Oh please, let this go quickly and cleanly, she prayed fervently as her brother came up beside her.
"Gwen?" he asked hesitantly. She glanced up and smiled and he visibly relaxed and returned her smile. "Come over here with me and King Reginald and Queen Alyse of Ansteorra."
Gwenneth nodded and accepted Edward's arm. He led her over to the waiting Royals and introduced them. Gwenneth smiled and nodded but her attention was not on the formalities but on the knight who held her heart who stood proudly on the field before them.
The marshal stepped back and the combatants turned to bow towards the Royals. Gwenneth met Jordan's eyes and poured all the love and support she could through that one quick glance. The combatants turned to face one another and awaited the marshal's command.
"Lay on!" yelled the marshal as he raised his staff and stepped back.
Gwenneth clenched her fists anxiously as she watched Jordan circle Ballon and easily deflect his attempts to penetrate her defenses. She glides across the field with such fluid grace. Almost like she's dancing. Gwen's eyes flicker briefly to the blocky squire trying desperately to find a weakness in Jordan's defense. While Ballon seems more like a bull in a china shop. The thought brought a smile to Gwen's lips.
Sir Jordan led Ballon around the field, blocking everything he threw and it was obvious to those watching that the man was beginning to let his anger and frustration take over as his blows became more erratic.
In a sudden blur of motion Jordan went on the offensive and began to throw a myriad of lightening quick shots. The squire quickly backpedaled throwing up his shield in a desperate attempt to ward off the blows. A resounding blow landed to the side of his helm that made him stagger. Jordan stepped back and waited for him to acknowledge the blow and admit defeat. Ballon shook his head in denial of a lethal blow and started forward.
The crowd murmured in speculation. Gwenneth frowned as Jordan brought her shield up defensively once more and engaged the stubborn man. Jordan once more began to rain blows down on the squire but he refused to acknowledge any of them as he began to push forward and swing his sword in wild arcs.
Gwenneth felt her heart clench. He's not going to acknowledge anything Jordan throws! Gwenneth realized as the fight continued. She saw Edward conferring quietly with King Reginald. This has to stop! They have to stop this before someone really gets hurt!
She strode up to the conferring kings and demanded, "Well? Are you going to stop this or not?"
The two kings glanced at her in surprise. She stood defiantly before them with her hands on her hips and waited for them to answer her. They glanced at one another and nodded.
"Yes, Your Majesty," King Reginald agreed. "I do believe that would be wise."
Gwenneth nodded and spun on her heel to return to the corner of the field. She heard the two kings come up behind her and stride past her onto the field.
"HALT!" bellowed Edward as he strode towards the combatants.
Jordan instantly stepped back and lowered her guard as she turned her head towards her king. Ballon saw his opening and brought his sword around in a baseball swing towards Jordan's unprotected helm.
"No!" Gwenneth shouted as she saw Ballon begin his swing, she started forward in horror knowing she would be too late. She watched as Jordan sensed the blow but was too late to deflect it and it landed with a resounding bong throwing her sideways to the ground. The kings rushed forward and grabbed Ballon and hauled him back.
Gwenneth's eyes tunneled to the crumpled body of her Champion as she ran towards her. She fell to the ground and gently lifted Jordan's helmed head to rest in her lap. "Jordan? Oh my god, Jordan? Don't you do this to me!" Gwenneth cried as she peered into Jordan's helm and saw her eyes closed. "Open your eyes, Jordan!"
The chirugeons rushed onto the field and knelt by the fallen knight cradled in the arms of the crying Queen. They tried to get Gwenneth to let them take a look. "No! Get away from her!" she cried as she leaned over to cover Jordan's body with her own.
Both kings were yelling at Ballon as Count Stephen strode onto the field and spun the man around. He grabbed the red belt signifying his squirehood and ripped it from his waist. Ballon's shoulders slumped in resignation as the Royal Guards from both kingdoms divested him of his weapons and escorted him from the field.
Gwen choked back the sobs and glanced down to meet piercing blue. "Jordan?" She swallowed back the tears as she struggled desperately to get her trembling hands to obey her commands and unbuckle Jordan's helm. Jordan's strong hand gently pulled her hands away and unbuckled the helm and pushed it back off her head to fall to the ground.
"Gwen, I'm fine," Jordan reassured softly as she brought her hand up to brush away Gwen's tears.
"I thought you were hurt!" Gwen cried as she turned her cheek into Jordan's warm palm. "You scared me to death!"
"I'm sorry," Jordan said contritely.
Gwen smiled as she ran her hands through Jordan's raven hair. "Just don't ever lower your guard like that again, okay?"
Jordan grinned crookedly and nodded. "Is that a royal command?"
"Yes," Gwenneth stated.
"As you wish, my Queen," Jordan vowed as her hand slid around Gwen's neck and pulled her gently down to meet her waiting lips.
The Society for Creative Anachronism is a historical nonprofit organization that recreates the middle ages. I used the names of kingdoms within this organization but all the people I populated them with are completely fictitious and do not reflect anyone living or dead within the Knowne World. For more information about the SCA go to www.sca.org
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