Aurelius played on the floor with his one year old niece Lintu. He was showing her how to stack wood blocks and the little girl was giggling everytime they fell over. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up to see Mary hurrying by, her head ducked so her reddish brown hair hid her face. He swore he heard her sobbing. He called to one of the maids as he stood and lifted Lintu off the floor. “Please take my niece up to Susi and tell her I’m sorry for not allowing her her full nap.”
“Yes sir.” The maid took Lintu and Aurelius followed Mary. He found her outside in the garden crying as she read a letter.
“Mary, are you okay?” He asked and she looked up at him, surprised to see him.
“Yes sir, I’m fine.” Her blue eyes shimmered with tears and he sat down next to her.
“Tell me what happened. Did someone hurt you?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.” She sniffled and handed him the letter. He read it quickly, his heart breaking for her.
“When did he die?”
“Three days ago, he’s been sick for a long time, but it’s still a shock.” She started crying again and he pulled her into a hug. Even though he had never known her father, he had heard only good things about him. Mary spoke of him often.
“The funeral is in four days, you should go.”
“I have far to much work to do for you. I can’t just put it all down.”
“Yes you can, you need to be there.”
“Then will you come with me, please.”
His heart gave a little stutter. He loved spending time with her, but he felt like if he went then his presence might draw attention away from the funeral. “I…”
“Please Aurelius, you always know how to make me feel better.”
He sighed. “Yes, I’ll go. I’ll ask Susi to watch over the castle.”
“Thank you so much.”
“How could I not go when you need me? You’re always taking care of my needs” Aurelius knew his sister would be up by now with the baby so hugged Mary then went to explain what was going on and that he would need to be away a few days. He knew she and her husband were more than capable of running things while he was gone. Most times he felt Susi could have done a much better job with the kingdom if she had actually wanted the job. He knocked on Susis door and Vihreä answered. Aurelius gave an appologetic smile which was recieved by a friendly, everything is fine smile. “come in” Vihreä said as he moved from the entrance of the door. “Don’t come apologize, you’re the king. If you need to do somthing it’s fine”
“It’s not that. I’m here to ask you a favor. Marys father has passed and I want to go with her to offer support through the funeral. She needs me there as I’m the one closest to her. I was hoping you and Vihreä would guide the kingdom for me while I go, please” Susis heart felt heavy for Mary “Of course we will. Please give her my condolences. Poor thing, she’s always been so sweet. I’m glad you’re going. You two go as soon as you need to”
Aurelius hugged Susi “thank you”
“It’s no problem, just take care of her.”
“I will, I promise.” Mary was no longer in the garden so he went to her room and tapped lightly on the door. She opened it, her face still covered in tears. Aurelius pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead. “Everything’s going to be okay Mary. I know it may not seem that way now, but it will be.”
“So are you coming with me?”
“Yes, I just have to pack and we can start out immediately.”
“Thank you so much, it means the world to me.” She wiped at her face, trying to will the tears to stop.
He pulled back and smiled at her. “We have been friends since we were in diapers, it’s the least I can do.” He tucked a loose piece of hair behind her ear. “Let me go pack.”
“Okay, should I head down to the stable and have one of the boys get the carriage ready?”
“Just wait for me here, I’ll take care of it.” She nodded and he let her go back in her room. He headed to his room, quickly packing then heading to his steward’s office. “Jonathan, I’m going to be leaving for a few days and I would like for my sister and Vihrea to watch over the kingdom while I am gone. Please write up the proper documents and use my seal to mark it. It is binding until my return.”
“Yes sir, is something wrong?”
“Mary’s father passed away.”
“Oh sir, I am so sorry. I know it may not mean much, but thank you for taking care of her.”
“It means a lot my friend, you should know by now that I am not like other kings.”
“Yes sir, shall I have a carriage put together?”
“Send your son please and make sure we have the best horses and driver.”
Jonathan smiled and pulled a gold rope next to his desk. His son, eighteen year old Yander, came running. “Father, sire.”
“Go and have the best horses hooked up to a carriage and you will be driving. Mary’s father passed away and the king will be joining her for the funeral.” Jonathan said.
“Yes sir, right away.”
Yander hurriedly went out to the stables and readied the two best horses for the journey. He brushed their bodies, made sure their hooves were clean and properly fed and watered them so they could travel as long as they were needed to travel. When he was sure in all aspects the horses were ready he went over to the carriages the castle always had ready. He got another worker to help him look it over for any faults before travel. It was secure as it should be so Yander attached the horses and gave them sugar cubes as treats for being so amenable. He gave them loving strokes then walked back in to inform the king all was ready.
“That didn’t take as long as I expected” Aurelius said and Yander half bowed “The horses were very easy going about getting ready but those two normally are. I took it upon myself to give them sugar cubes as treats for being so insouciant. I will go into the kitchen and grab them carrots, apples and more sugar for the journey. The black one, Saldie, loves nothing more than her apples. Jevive on the other hand would do anything for a carrot.
“I’ll get Mary then and meet you outside.”
“Yes sir” Yander was off again. Always eager and aiming to please. Aurelius went up the stairs and grabbed his bag before approaching Marys door again. “all is ready if you are Mary” Mary disappeared for a moment and came back with her bag “I’m ready”
“Allow me to carry that for you please.”
“Are you sure? The King should not have to carry my bags.”
He rolled his eyes then smiled at her. “What did I say Mary? We are friends, now let me carry your bag.”
Mary handed him her bag and followed him downstairs and out the front door where the carriage and Yander were patiently waiting. Aurelius put their bags in the back compartment then handed Mary into the carriage. He climbed in behind her and knocked on the side of the carriage to let Yander know he could go. Mary felt like crying again as she thought about her father. He had been such a gentle and loving man with a heart of gold. She covered her face and Aurelius wrapped her in a hug, pulling her face into his chest.
“I’m sorry.” She said between sobs.
“Shh, it’s okay. Cry as much as you want.” He wished he could make this all go away, the sorrow, the aching he knew she must be feeling in her heart. He rubbed her back, knowing her pain all to well. He had lost both of his parents and it had torn him to pieces. She cried herself into exhaustion and fell asleep in his arms. He shifted slowly so his back was against the carriage wall and she was laying between his legs. He brushed stray tears off her face and kissed her forehead. He wished he could kiss her pain away and make her smile again. he loved her smile most of all. She wore it constantly, her face lighting up and making his heart stutter. He promised himself he would find a way to make her happy again.
Aurelius just relaxed as he held Mary. Trying to think of anything he could do for her. The hard part was knowing first hand that nothing could make her feel better right now aside from the comfort he could give. Aurelius was glad she insisted he go. If he was still home Aurelius knew he would be worried sick about her and be kicking himself for not coming. Nobody needed to deal with the loss of a parent alone anyways. Aurelius didn’t know what he would have done if Susi and Mary hadn’t been there when his parents past. Even the servants offered comfort to him and his sister.
The road they traveled was smooth aside from a few twigs here and there. Aurelius was glad he paid people to keep these roads cleared so the cart jerking wouldn’t wake Mary. He wanted her to sleep as much as she needed. Atleast in her sleep she wouldn’t be heartbreakingly sad and sobbing. He stroked her hair a few times before the trot of the horses, the spinning of the wheels and Marys warm breath lulled him into rest with her. Most peoples grips would have loosened as sleep came but Aurelius held Mary a little tighter, wanting her to feel comforted by his arms when she woke if he wasn’t up yet.
Marys dreams offered her no comfort even though Aurelius was hoping they would. Her dreams were filled of nothing but memories with her father. His warm hugs, gentle kisses, encouragements all through her life. He was such a great man. A fun and wonderful father. She was happy until she realized what she was dreaming wasn’t reality and her father was dead. She jerked out of her sleep, effectively startling Aurelius so he woke too. Her breathing was labored and it concerned him “are you ok?”
She started crying into his chest again and he sat there in silence until she was ready to speak. She finally sat up and wiped her face. “Sorry, I was dreaming about my dad. It’s just not fair.”
“Hush now, it’s okay.” He massaged her neck and back, making her feel relaxed. She finally sat up and wiped all the tears off her face.
“You always know how to make me feel better. Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me Mary, I will always be here for you.”
She blushed and he cleared his throat. This wasn’t the time for that, for telling her how he really felt. She needed more time. He worried about her accepting his confession in a time of mourning. She would need to cling to him, to be kept afloat by his love and care. She would be vulnerable and he would not prey on that vulnerability. He would stay as close as she asked and give her time to mourn before telling her anything.
“My family is going to be very honored to have you there.”
“Please, this is about your father, not about me. I am here as your friend, not as the King. I don’t want you to see me as your King on this trip. I want you to speak as openly to me as you would one of your family members.”
“I will, you’ve always been more of my friend than the king to me anyway”
“I’m glad” Aureliues said as he sat up. “If you need my hand or for me to hold you all you have to do is say so. If it’s just holding my hand for strength just grab it.” Mary blushed a little more “ok” She went ahead and took his hand. Loving how soft yet firm his grasp was. Mary wiped at her face again with her free hand so Aurelius took out a tissue and wiped her face. “I have plenty of tissues if you need any Mary”
“always prepared huh?”
“I have to be right now. I know you wont be thinking of everything. My mind barely worked atall after my parents passing”
“did you dream of them too?”
“Every night for the first couple days. They’ll get less frequent as you heal, not that you truly get over the loss of a parent but you’ll understand what I mean when you get to that point.” Trying to avoid sad thoughts Mary asked “did you ahve fun with Lintu?”
“always, she’s such a sweet girl”
“Yeah, she’s adorable. They should definitly have more kids if they can make cuties like that” Aurelius smiled “Yeah” It was almost dinner when Yander saw a nice, clean pool of water the horses could drink from. He rode them off the path and over to it. He jumped down from where he was sitting then knocked on the carriage door. Mary answered “yes?”
“It’s getting late anyway and I saw this nice pool of water the horses could drink from. We made really good progress today so I was hoping we could go ahead and call this a night? These two i picked are fast so they’ve covered plenty of rode”
“Great, I’ll set the horses free and then start making you two dinner”
Aurelius handed her out of the carriage then opened a compartment under the seat where the blankets were kept. Yander had made sure to pack tents. “Mary why don’t you relax next to the pond while I set up camp.”
“Are you sure?” She asked.
“Yes, go relax.” She went and found a spot near the horses and he set up the tents then put blankets inside. Yander got a fire going and threaded some sticks through meat and sat them up near the fire. He made some dough and buried it in the dirt next to the fire to cook.
Aurelius watched Mary petting the horses, saw her smile and felt his heart flutter. He walked over to her, taking a seat in the grass next to her and taking her hand. “Are you okay?” She asked.
“I just want to stay close to you. There are a lot of wild animals.”
“I’m not worried about them. They only bother you if you bother them.”
“I just want you safe.”
She gave him a small, joy filled laugh. It was the first he had heard since finding her crying and it made him feel extremely happy. “Thank you for protecting me.” She kissed his cheek, making his cheeks turn red. Yander called them for dinner and Aurelius helped her up. He took his crown off and sat it in the compartment under the carriage seats. He had no reason to wear it out in the middle of nowhere. He sat down next to Mary and ate some meat while Yander unburied the bread and tore the outside layer off before handing them some
They ate silently, just enjoying the food. It turned out pretty good for making it on the road. When they finished their food they relaxed and did their best to make light conversation. Yander always felt awkward and nervous talking to the king but rarely let it show. His nervousness just made it harder for him to make conversation. This evening it was especially hard since they were on a trip to send off Marys father into the afterlife. Yander was glad Mary seemed to be doing ok. He could hear her crying a great deal at the start of the journey and was glad they had such a caring king to make her feel better. He was well aware that Aurelius loved Mary though. There wasn’t a soul that served the king aside from Mary that didn’t see his feelings for her.
When the sun fell and the stars lit the dark sky Mary hugged Aurelius “goodnight”
“Goodnight, please come to my tent if you need me. Wake me at any moment. I want to be there for you. Don’t worry about me getting upset”
“Thank you, I know you say I don’t need to thank you but I can’t help it. You are being so wonderful to me.” Aurelius brought Marys hand to his lips and kissed it. “sweet dreams this time”
“I hope so” With that they parted and settled inside. Yander got out blankets for the horses since it may get cold then settled into his own tent. Aurelius laid awake in worry that Mary woudl have bad dreams. He wanted to share a tent with her so he would be right there if a nightmare happened but knew that would be a forward question. Aurelius wasn’t sure he would be getting any sleep with how much he worried.
The next morning everyone but Yander woke exhausted. Mary had cried silently throughout the night and had not wanted to bother Aurelius while he had tossed and turned, debating whether to go to her or not. He felt guilty he had decided against it when he saw how red her eyes were. “Mary are you okay?”
“Yes…no…I don’t know. My head hurts, I’m sorry I didn’t wake you.” She sat down next to the campfire embers, watching as Yander got the flames going again for breakfast.
“I should have stayed with you last night, there’s no need to apologize.” He sat down next to her and took her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
“Maybe you can sleep with me when we stop again?”
“There is no maybe, I’m not letting you cry yourself to sleep again.” He pulled her against him and just held her until Yander was done with cooking. They ate in silence, their hearts heavy. After breakfast Aurelius asked Mary to sit in the carriage while he and Yander broke down camp.
“I’m sorry if this is a little to forward sir,” Yander whispered, “but when are you going to tell Mary how you feel.”
“How I feel?”
“Well yes, you know that you love her.”
Aurelius swallowed. “How long have you known?”
“Since my father started bringing me to the castle. Everyone else knows too, but Mary. I don’t even think she thinks it possible because she’s not high class.”
“She should know that doesn’t matter.”
“I’m sure she does sir, but if you never tell her then she’ll keep thinking you prefer the princesses and duchesses that come to the castle trying to win you over with status and money. I’m sure she loves you just as much. You should see the way she looks at you sometimes.”
“I’ve decided to wait until after the funeral, once she’s had some time to mourn.”
“It’s up to you sir, just saying what I think.”
They finished and got on their way. Aurelius holding Marys hand again. “If you need to sleep tell me. It barely looks like you had any rest.”
“You don’t either”
“I was worried about you.”
“It’ll be nice for us to share a tent tonight. Less to put up and break down aswell” Aurelius smiled “yeah” Marys heart raced at the thought as her eyes throbbed. She wished they’d quit hurting. After awhile the gentle movement of the carriage was making her so tired she could barely fight it off with how little sleep she had gotten. It embarrassed her to ask even though Aurelius offered “Could I take a nap on you like I did the first day? Minus the crying.” He instantly repositioned himself and she laid down. “rest as long as you need to. I’ll be right here. If you wake and I don’t just slap me” Mary smiled “I’m not going to slap you”
“I’m not the king here, I’m not even wearing my crown. You can slap me”
“It’s not about who you are. I couldn’t slap you” she said softly, already fading. Aurelius quit talking to let her fall asleep. Her voice told him how much she needed it. Aurelius felt stupid for not insisting last night they share a tent so he could comfort her. He should have known sh ewouldn’t truly come wake him up. He was atleast glad he could let her rest in the carriage like this. It felt so nice to hold her. It would only be better if she wasn’t so sad.
When Mary woke she was garteful not to have dreamnt of anything. She gently tilted her head up to look at Aurelius who was sound asleep. She sighed then moved her head back to its original position. She decided to be still and enjoy his comforting hold. Mary could feel his warmth soaking into her as she laid there. Her eyes finally felt better and even felt emotionally a little more stable. Mary was afraid of how she might break down at the funeral when she was already having this much trouble.
Around noon the carriage skidded to a halt, nearly pitching Aurelius and Mary out of their seat. Aurelius braced his hand against the carriage wall and held tightly to Mary to keep her from getting hurt. “Are you okay?” He asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Yander, what’s going on?”
“Just stay inside sir.” The young man’s voice came back, sounding worried.
“Stay here Mary.” Aurelius sat her up and pushed the door open, stepping out into the warm sun. He sighed in irritation when he saw the men standing in the middle of the road. “Don’t worry Yander, just the common bandit. May I help you gentlemen?”
“We heard the king was traveling alone, what a shock to find out it’s true. We’ll be taking all you have and maybe the young woman who is traveling with you.”
“I am afraid I cannot allow morons like you to intimmidate me or hurt my companions.” Aurelius rolled up his sleeves and pulled his hair back. “Your kind sickens me.” The bandits all laughed.
“So the king thinks he can take us all on? You have no weapon.”
“I don’t need aweapon to deal with you.”
“Get him boys.”
The bandit leader watched as his men attacked Aurelius. He dispatched them quickly and efficiently, not killing them so they would remember this day. The leader swallowed nervously. “If I were you I would turn myself in to the authorities. If you do I promise not to have you and these pigs hanged.” Aurelius said cooly. “Yander, lets get going. We can find a nicer place to have lunch.”
“Yes sir” Yander said in shock. Aurelius climbed back in the carriage and sat by Mary “You sure you didn’t get hurt?” She smiled and grabbed his hand”always so sweet and concerned. You make such a good king. I’m glad you can still fight so well since you haven’t used your skill in awhile.”
“I make sure to stay in practice. I don’t want my life or the ones I love dependant on anyone else. I hate they woke you”
“well if we slept too long we wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight.”
“I guess that’s true” Aurelius said with relief knowing Mary didn’t realize she was a part of the ones he loved. Yander had said she felt the same but he still wanted to wait and make sure she wouldn’t reciprocate his love only out of her grief. They rode further up the road until Yander saw a river flowing through the woods. He got the cart off the road then started to set the horses free of the carriage as Aurelius and Mary got out. The horses took off but all knew they would come back as soon as they had their drink. Saldie and Jevive were the most well behaved horses the kingdom ever had so they didn’t have to fear them ever running away. Especially not with how Yander pampered him. The boy seemed to live for the horses. Aurelius didn’t wore one bit of their care since Yander started it.
Yander talked to Aurelius about the fight all through lunch. It was very evident how impressed the young man was. Aurelius was more than happy to share with him where he learned to fight and how he kept his skills sharp. It seemed to interest Mary too even though she knew everything. Mary was just wanting to concentrate on anything aside from where they were going. It was always nice to hear Aurelius’s voice anyway. He had the most calming voice she had ever heard.
“Do you think Susi could teach me to fight like you do?” Yander asked as he and Aurelius hooked the horses back up to the carriage.
“You would have to join the guard. Susi made me do a stint with them. It was hard, but worth it.”
“Should I ask her when we get home or do you think it would be an inconvenience with the baby taking up her time?”
“Even if she cannot do the training herself, her captain or her friends Lily and Shiro could take up where she left off.” He patted Yander on the shoulder before climbing into the carriage with Mary. She smiled and laced her fingers through his, enjoying getting to touch him. She rested her head on his shoulder and he kissed the top of her head, making her heart sing with joy. She had finally stopped crying on the trip with him with her. She knew even when she broke down at the funeral that he would be there to hold her up. The idea soothed her and pushed her sorrow away.
“We should be there by tomorrow night.”
“I hope you don’t mind sharing a room. My parents’ house is small.”
“Perhaps I can give her a bigger place.”
Mary giggled. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I could have the old Tumma house rebuilt since Vihrea’s mother lives with us. I could make it the Casey estate.”
“Talk to my mother after the funeral.”
“I will be sure to do that. It’ll be somthing nice in her time of grief.” Mary kept her head on Aurelius shoulder until she started to cramp from staying in that postion. The two just talked until evening came again. Even though Mary seemed perfectly fine Aurelius still planned to share a tent with her tonight so only grabbed two to set up. Yander did his normal thing of making sure the horses were tended to while he set up the camp. They had another great tasting dinner then put out the fire. Mary felt happy she was going to be held by Aurelius all night. He coudln’t know how good it felt to be so near him and recieve so much affection. She had been wanting to be like this with him for so long, she knew she would greatly miss it when things returned to normal.
Aurelius went in first and laid down. Mary followed and he spoke “I thought you might like to use my chest as your pillow while I hold you” Mary blushed lightly “That sounds perfect” Mary laid down then he wrapped his arms around her “You are such a kind man Aurelius. I couldn’t do this without you” Aurelius lifted his head up to kiss Marys “As I’ve said, there will never come a time that you need me where I wont be there for you. Get some rest so you will have energy when we see your family tomorrow”
She moved as close as she could, draping her arm over his stomach and allowing herself to fall asleep. Aurelius stayed awake for a little while longer, running his fingers up and down her arm to keep her relaxed. He loved how warm she was and how sweet she smelled. Just sleeping next to her was a treat and he intended to savor the experience. He took a deep breath and allowed himself to drift off with her. Mary dreamed of her father again, of the time he took her hiking up a mountain to see the new born snow leopard cubs. It had been one of her favorite days.
“Daddy.” She whispered in her sleep as tears slipped down her face and soaked into Aurelius’ shirt. She gripped his shirt and let out a wail of sorrow that woke Aurelius instantly. He shook her gently and she slowly opened her eyes.
“Are you okay Mary?” He asked as he wiped her tears away.
“I’m sor…” He pressed a finger to her lips.
“Stop apologizing and tell me what happened.”
“It was just another dream about my father. He took me to see some newborn snow leopard cubs when I was ten. The mother let me pick them up and pet them. My father told me I had a natural affinity with animals. It was one of my favorite days.”
She wiped her face, trying her best not to choke up. He pulled her head back down on his chest and rubbed her back. “Someday you will look back on those memories and you won’t cry anymore. You’ll smile and be happy that you got to experience them with such a great man. I promise you.”
“Since you’ve been through this yourself I’ll have to believe you” She said in a forced clear voice. Aurelius kept soothing Mary until she was resting again. He was relieved when she was once again at peace but couldn’t bring himself to sleep, not with the worry of her waking in the night. He just rubbed her arm as he had before until morning. Mary could feel his fingers when she woke. Mary sat up with a smile “you ok?” he asked “yeah, in no small part to you. I’m lucky to have a friend like you” He put a hand on her cheek, deeply wanting to kiss her sadness away but he refrained. Aurelius slid his hand off her face then Mary got out.
Yander was already preparing breakfast so Aurelius started the work of packing their tents. Mary fed the horses and brushed dirt out of their hair. Yander yelled over to her “If you want to give them a treat for being so good the sugar cubes are where I sit when I’m driving” Mary smiled and collected the small bag “How many?”
“Just one, too much sugar and they could get sick on us” Mary took one for each of them. The horses tongues felt wet and slimy but it only made her laugh. She wiped her hands then put their bag of food, along with their bag of sugar cubes away. Mary joined the men for breakfast then they were off again. Aurelius took Marys hand as always on this trip. “You still ok?”
“Yeah, I promise. I can do this”
“I know you can and I’ll be right here to lend you my strength.” He gave her hand a squeeze and she kissed his cheek.
“Thank you for coming with me. I couldn’t do this without you.”
“I’m glad to be here.”
They rode on until lunch time and only stopped for a brief moment to eat some fruit and nuts while the horses were watered. They continued on their way with Mary clinging tightly to Aurelius’ hand. He was her lifeline, the calm in the storm that was her always swinging emotions. She shifted so quickly from happiness to sadness that she was surprised he could even keep up.
As the sun began to fall they could see the village getting closer. Her anticipation only grew and she felt herself tearing up again. When they finally made it into the village she gave Yander directions to her birth home. The moment the carriage rolled to a stop her mother and brother stepped out of the house. She ran to them, tears streaming down her face as they embraced her.
“I’ll just take the horses and carriage to a stable.” Yander said once he had unloaded their bags.
“Here, get a room at an inn.” Aurelius gave him some money then Yander left.
Once Mary was able to speak she pulled away from her family and grabbed Aurelius’ hand. “You two know Aurelius. He came for daddy’s funeral.”
“Your highness, what an honor” Marys mother said in a shaky voice. “I am not your highness here. I come as Marys friend. Please address me as Aurelius.” Marys mom managed a smile “Ok, Aurelius. Please you two, come right in” They entered and were asked to sit at the table by Marys brother. “No fighting Mary, your brother and I will prepare dinner for the two of you. It’s such a long journey and you don’t need to be helping” Mary knew better than to challenge her mothers orders so sat there with Aurelius. His hand wa sin his lap and Mary grabbed it. She had grown accustom on the journey to having contact with him. Aurelius gave a warm smile and tried not to stare as they sat.
It wasn’t long before her family set out a warm meal on the table that they were very grateful to eat. The cooking had been great for traveling cooking but it was nothing like a home cooked meal. Especially when her brother was a apart of it. He was possibly the best chef she knew. They ate and talked about their journey since her family asked to hear how it all went. Mary braged quite a bit of Aurelius taking care of those bandits.
“well then I’m even more glad you came Aurelius. I couldn’t lose my daughter too. Please keep her just as safe on your travels home”
“I will” Mary stood from her seat when they all finished dinner “let me clean up momma. Go upstairs and rest for tomorrow” Her mother got up and hugged Mary “thank you sweet child. Ask your brother if you’ve forgotten where anything goes”
Aurelius sat in the living room with Mary’s older brother Nathanial while she cleaned up. This was the first time he had met the man. “My sister talks about you a lot in her letters. I have to say she has not done you justice. There are not many in your position who would come all this way to attend a peasents funeral.”
“To me you are not a peasent. Please do not hold me above you. Your father knew my father. He brought Mary to the castle every time he came for work. He built a lot of the furniture in the castle. So to me, you are family.”
“You truly are an amazing man. Mary chose right working for you.”
“I chose right hiring her. She has been an amazing assisstant and…” He drifted off and smiled warmly. He noticed Nathanial was grinning and he cleared his throat. “She’s been a very good friend.”
“Sounds like it, her letters I mean.”
Mary came out of the kitchen looking a little melancholy, but smiled when she noticed Aurelius and her brother looking at her. “What were you two talking about?” She asked suspiciously.
“Nothing sister.” Nathanial came to his feet, giving her a hug and a kiss on her cheek. “Your room is all made up. Try to get some rest okay, tomorrow is going to be a hard day for all of us.”
“Good night brother.”
Mary turned her attention to Aurelius. “Are you ready to get to bed?” She asked softly, a blush heating her cheeks.
“If you are then yes, I am more than ready.”
Aurelius followed Mary up the stairs and into her bedroom. He laid down on her bed so they could lay together as they did in the tent. Mary approached him nervously then laid down. It was somehow different in an actual bed. Her warm cheeks and rapid heart calmed as Aurelius wrapped her in his arms. He held her so lovingly that she couldn’t feel anything but comfort. “goodnight” Aurelius whispered. “night” She responded as they both drifted off. When breakfast was ready the next morning Nathaniel woke them with a loud knock on Marys door. “Yes” Mary answered sleepily, Aurelius not realeasing his grip. “Breakfast is ready”
“we’ll be down soon.”
“alright” Nathaniel said then ran down the stairs. Aurelius let her go and Mary got up. She grabbed some clothes out of her bag and went into the bathroom. She stripped them put her new clothes on knowing very much she needed a shower. She came out anyway and Aurelius went in. Once he was out they went downstairs to eat with her family. It was hard to walk down and not see her father in his normal spot but she managed not to cry.
Aurelius held one of her hands while she ate with the other, making her feel a little better. They ate in silence, to sad to say anything. Mary was afraid if she tried to make conversation she would only end up crying. She helped her brother wash dishes once breakfast was over, sighing sadly as she dried and put them away. There was a knock at the door and Aurelius pulled it open. “Yander is here.” Aurelius called and the others followed him outside and into the carriage.
Mary gripped his hand as they rode to the cemetary. When they got there Aurelius handed her and her mother out then took her hand and walked with her and her family to the casket waiting to be lowered into the ground. When Mary, her brother, and mother saw that the whole village had gathered for the funeral they started crying. Aurelius wrapped his arm around her shoulders as they took their place at the head of the group. Even Yander cried for the loss of a man he did not know and Aurelius felt a knot form in his throat at Mary’s sorrow.
They listened to the preacher talking, his words doing little to ease their pain. He asked if anyone had anything to say about Willem Casey and Mary came forward still holding tightly to Aurelius’ hand. “My father was a very sweet, very loyal man. He devoted his life to his family and to his carpentry. He would be so happy to see all of you here today. He touched many lives it seems. I will miss him dearly and I know you all will as well. Thank you for coming here today to support us and to comfort us in our time of need.”
Mary stepped down and let them lower her father in his grave. Everyone wept for Willem, showing what a truly great man he was. People began to leave but Mary, Nathaniel, Aurelius and Bethany couldn’t move. Aurelius was happy to stand there as long as Mary needed him to. Bethany finally said “the sky wants to mourn him aswell. it’ll rain soon. He wouldn’t want us soaked.” Mary and Nathaniel nodded somberly then walked back home. They weren’t home a full minuet before the rain poured. Mary wrapped her arms around Aurelius and began to silently cry. Aurelius held her, his heart crushing seeing Mary this way. She seemed even sadder than the she was on the ride but he knew the burial was the hardest part, atleast it was for him.
They stayed a few days with Marys family until Mary told him that they should return to the kingdom “you sure mary?”
“yeah, I’m doing much better and you need to return to work. I’m sure Susi is handling it but it must be hard with a baby” he nodded then Nathaniel stood “I’ll get Yander for you two. Just wait.”
‘thank you” Aurelius answered and Nathaniel took off. Mary went upstairs to gather their things. Aurelius wanted to help so he went aswell. It was quick work between the two of them. Mary suddenly hugged Aurelius when the bags were zipped shut. “You were a god send Aurelius. I needed you so much. Thank you for helping me through this. I” she had decided to tell him how she felt. It was risky, crazy even but how attentive and loving Aurelius had been during all this told her that she had a chance to be with him and she didn’t give crap what anyone thought of her. She just wanted to be with him “I love you Aurelius, I mean it, I really love you and want to be with you. I’ve wanted to be with you for such a long time. I’ve been too afraid of what people would think of me…me, with the king”
Aurelius paused for a second, wondering if he heard her correctly.When her words sank in he held her tighter “I love you too. I’ve been meaning to tell you but with your fathers passing I thought it best to wait. Nobody will say a bad thing about you and if they decide to be so petty we will ignore them. You are all I want Mary. I want you by my side always, I want you as my queen”
“Your Queen, you mean marry me?”
“Yes I mean marry you in front of everyone, in front of all of those princesses and duchesses, in front of the whole kingdom. If that is what it takes to show you how serious I am then I will do it. Please so me the honor of being my wife, make me the happiest man alive by saying yes.”
She jumped into his arms, her lip trembling as tears stung her eyes. “Yes, I’ll marry you, I’ll do anything to be with you.”
“Thank you Mary, thank you for loving me.”
He pulled back and kissed her, making her smile and blush. She had wanted to kiss him for so long that she felt a sense of relief as joy coursed through her. “We better get downstairs. We’re making Yander wait.” She said breathlessly.
He gave a groan of agony and she laughed. “I’m sorry my love, I just want you all to myself.”
“Soon enough your grace. I’m sure you have learned patience after all the time you have spent as king.”
“Being patient with you is unbearable.”
She gave him another quick kiss and he lowered her feet to the ground. “You really are adorable when you don’t get your way right away.” Her smile sent his heart into a frenzied beat. He picked up their bags and carried them downstairs, putting them in the back compartment. He and Mary said goodbye to her family and told them of their engagement. Bethany was excited and almost didn’t let them leave. Aurelius was finally able to hand Mary into the carriage and gave Nathanial and Bethany one last goodbye before climbing in himself.
“As soon as we are home, I will have plans drawn up for their new home.”
“I love you my generous king.”
“I love you my beautiful queen.”
The trip home was smooth and uneventful. Aurelius held Mary close the entire way. Both their hearts overflowing with joy. Mary loved how Aurelius took every chance to kiss her. He kissed her before sleeping, in the morning, when they got in the carriage and before they got out every day. Aurelius couldn’t wait to tell Susi that he was finally engaged to Mary so rushed up to her room. They found it was empty so he checked outside to see her, Vhrea & Lintu in the grass. Susi instantly rose and hugged both of them “congratulations!’ She exclaimed happily. Mary smiled as Aurelius said “thank you” Next thing Aurelius took care of was getting things moving on Bethany and Nathaniels new home. He wanted her family to be living in a house they deserved.
It spread through the castle staff quickly that Aurelius had let his feelings be known so they got congratulations from everybody. They all knew it would only be a matter of time before all the subjects knew of the engagement. He wanted them to know and have it spread far so no more princesses or duches would come seeking his attention. The only woman he desired was Mary, she was all he ever desired. When evening came they happily laid in his chambers together. He held her close as they discussed their weddings. Aurelius wanted her to be pleased with every detail, no matter how minor. The two of them drifted happily off as they spoke of their wedding and Marys mothers new home. The excitement of marrying Aurelius helped deal with eh pain of loseing her father. She grasped on to that happy thought so she wouldn’t be sad. She knew her father would never want her crying, especially over him. He was resting peacefully somwhere and expected her to live her life. She would do that for him. She would marry the man of her dreams and make a beautiful life in honor of her father.
~ The End ~