It’s time for a new flash fiction story for #BlogBattle! This month’s prompt is BLANK, and you can still participate for January. Head over to bbprompt.com for more info on the new changes and updated design after you read this piece inspired by my favorite lady’s maid from the small kingdom of Taisce in the Twelve Realms.
genre: sweet romance, fantasy fiction
Helein stepped into the hall, the letter gripped in her hand, and looked both ways. Whoever had slipped it under the door must be a wraith for how quickly they disappeared. She examined the folded parchment wrapped in a piece of twine like a small gift and flipped it looking for a name or seal to mark who sent it.
But it was blank. No name, no seal, nothing.
A breeze tickled her neck and drew her attention back to the hallway. Empty. She stepped back into her room, the one she shared with two other maids, near strangers.
“What’s that, Helein?” Jora asked, motioning with her hairbrush to the letter. She stood from her bed and approached.
“I-I’m not sure. There’s no name or marking. I don’t even know who ‘tis for.”
Mendi wasn’t in the room, probably already busy with her duties. Count on Mendi to be punctual and reliable. Helein had thought of herself as such, but Mendi made even her look indolent.
“If you don’t open it, I will.” Jora snatched the folded paper from Helein’s hands.
“What?” Jora asked, gleeful mischief tinting her cheeks and lighting her eyes. She slipped the string off, not bothering to untie it, and dropped it.
Helein sighed and picked up the twine, fiddling with it while she waited for Jora to unfold the letter and reveal the contents. “Well? Who is it for?”
Jora giggled and Helein did her best to tamp down the rush of impatience that set in.
“Why, ‘tis for you!”
Helein reached for the paper, her curiosity superseding manners. But before she could grasp it, Jora yanked it away and danced back a step.
“Barely here three days and already our pretty little lady’s maid to the new princess has an admirer!”
“What?” Helein stared at the words scrawled in black ink on the inside of the paper Jora held above her head, waving in a taunt. “Don’t be silly, Jora, let me see. I’m sure this is some mistake.”
“Hoo-hoo! You want this?” She shook it again, taking another step back.
Helein, seeing there was little she could do outside tackling Jora, planted her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. “Jora, honestly, is that really any way to behave?”
Jora only laughed and stepped up on the bed, raising the letter higher. “Oh, no, mistress Helein, you don’t want to read this letter. You’re far too prim and proper for such trysts!” She laughed again, bringing the letter down to chest height. Lowering her voice, pretending to be a man, she read, “‘My lady Helein—‘ Oooo, now isn’t that interesting. He calls you lady but knows to deliver such a letter to the servants’ quarters. ‘My lady—‘”
“Please hand me that letter,” Helein said from between clenched teeth.
“’I dared not believe ‘twas you who rode into the keep three days past. I thought I dreamt while waking, but the proof is here in the bruise on my arm where I demanded my groom pinch me to verify what my eyes—’”
“Jora!” Helein jumped up on the bed and yanked the letter away from the girl who fell back on the bed, laughter bubbling up in the merriment of the moment.
Helein stepped off the bed and gave her a sidelong glare, but she didn’t truly hold a grudge against the girl. After all, Jora was barely sixteen and had a mirthful spirit about most things. From what Helein had learned of her in their short acquaintance, her playfulness seemed innocent enough. And Jora reminded Helein of one of her sisters back home in the village near Tenbow manor.
“Whoever your letter writer is, Helein, he’s certainly a romantic!” Jora swiveled to her side and propped herself up on her elbow. “Do you know who sent it?”
Helein devoured the words, her eyes scanning and scanning again. She dared not hope it was true. The hand she recognized, the words and memories they brought ached in her chest as if the gift she would always be denied were being dangled in front of her again. She pressed the parchment to her chest and closed her eyes.
“Helein?” Jora’s tone softened and filled with concern.
“I’m well, Jora. I might know who sent it, but I cannot be sure unless I meet him.”
Jora sat up, her eagerness unmistakable. “Well, surely you must meet.”
“’Tis not that simple.”
“Of course it is. Tonight, at twilight, you’ll stand at the old yew by the fountain and tryst under the stars. Who is he? A long-lost lover? A secret one? Ooo! Is he a lord?”
Helein attempted her best frown, but her heart hammered in her chest. The last thing she needed was for Jora and then every other maid and manservant in the castle to learn of this.
“He is a lord! Oh Helein! When have you ever had opportunity to make a lord fall in love with you? Was Tenbow manor such a place?”
“Jora, no. Stop. This is simply a letter from a . . . an old friend . . . an acquaintance of the past. I am far too busy to meet with him for a visit, no matter how innocent.” She emphasized the last word, hoping to get her point across without having to beg Jora for secrecy. That, she feared, would only bring more curiosity on the young woman’s part.
Jora scoffed and tapped the letter with her finger. “That ‘tis no letter from an old acquaintance. I may be young, but I’m not stupid.”
“Please. Please keep this a secret. Between you and me. If word got out . . .”
“Don’t worry, Helein. I promise to be quiet as a church mouse about it, but I only beg that you tell me more!”
Helein scrutinized Jora’s face, her eager posture and the tender innocence of youth that remained yet unspoiled. How like Feria she was, and how Helein missed her little sister. She sighed. “All right. But only under one condition.”
“You can have my first born!” Jora clapped her hands and sat tall.
Helein laughed and rolled her eyes at the same time. “No thank you. I hope to someday have one of my own. Now, I will share this secret with you if you promise to tell no one, not even Mendi who would be sure to report this even though she doesn’t know the whole of it; for what I am going to share with you is far more complicated than a romantic tryst under the stars. Do you understand?”
“Of course, Helein! Unless you are in some kind of trouble, I’ll keep your secret.” She crossed her heart and pretended to stab herself.
Helein smiled at the antics but nodded and took a deep breath before sharing her story.
The sun had set minutes ago, and the first stars twinkled in the heavens. Helein tried to make them out through the branches of the yew tree and listened to the gentle trickle of the small fountain nearby. The only light to reach the small herb garden came from the kitchen windows and those of the lower noble’s chambers.
Every room in the castle was full, with only part of the guests from the wedding having departed. Helein wrapped her arms around her middle, debating the sense of her decision to come, to listen to the plea of the letter with no name.
Even blank of signature and seal, her heart yearned for it to be who she thought, but at the same time she feared it was him. Her thoughts had roamed to him often over the last few years, but she’d tried to forget him, to move on and reach for something more real . . . someone who might keep her warm at night instead of dreams that left her cold.
A soft rustling of dry leaves sent her bolt upright from the tree. She turned toward the door leading from the keep but nearly jumped from her skin when something brushed her cheek. Stifling a scream, she twirled only to find herself spun into the arms of her dream come to life. She melted in relief and joy and then stiffened in realization, pressing away from his chest and stepping back.
Kendric released her and bowed full at the waist. “My lady Helein, you came.”
The pleasure in his voice was unmistakable.
“I-you-we—” She took a deep breath and willed her heart’s runaway pace to slow. “My lord, I shouldn’t have come. There will be talk.”
“Talk?” He stepped close, extinguishing the distance between them, and twirled a leaf between his fingers by the stem. “Yes, we should talk. Otherwise, I’ll think of other things to do with those lips.”
“Kendric! I-I-My lord!” She stepped back again even though the desire of her body pulled her opposite. “Your reputation will suffer nothing from this . . . this whatever we are doing, but mine will be ruined. I must live here among these people.”
His hands dropped to his sides, the leaf swirling to the ground to rest with its fellows below the tree’s reaching branches. Softly, he murmured her name.
“I only came,” she said, fighting the pull to lose herself in the twinkle of his dark eyes, “to make it clear that while I am happy to see you and see you w-well, we mustn’t meet like this ever again. We mustn’t be seen together at all.” The intensity of his stare and the slight crease between his pinched eyebrows were not hidden by the dark. His silence unnerved her. “You do understand don’t you? I-we—”
“No, Helein, no I don’t. All these years and I’ve never forgotten you. I’ve never stopped lo—”
“No,” she said and slashed her hand downward. “Don’t say anything to me of such things. You and I both know it can never be. You’ll only . . . my heart cannot take it again.”
“Helein.” He said her name ever so softly and reached for her, grasping first her fingers and then her whole hand, pulling it to his chest and her closer. He wrapped his other hand around hers and brought it to his lips, caressing the back with his thumb.
“I cannot . . . Kendric, please,” she said and pulled her hand from his grasp with all the forced reluctance of a dammed river.
“What if I told you I would renounce my title? I have skills to recommend me for a merchant or lawyer. Or any number of things. We’d be together—poor, but together. If ‘tis my title that you abhor, I will throw it away.”
“I care nothing for your title. Keep it or no. Your father, we both know, would never allow our marriage. And I cannot ask you to give everything up for me. We’ve already discussed this. I haven’t forgotten.”
“No. You told me how it would be and then walked out of my life.” His tone held a harsh lilt, but Helein knew Kendric better than he knew himself. She could hear his heartbreak. The heartbreak that matched her own. “Please.” He stepped closer again and wrapped an arm around her.
Helein had longed for this day but never reached for the impossible. Still, she closed her eyes, relishing the feel of his strength melding in the gentleness of his touch. The fingers of his other hand whispered across the skin of her cheek and then down her neck to slide behind her head before his lips found hers.
Stealing this precious moment might break her, and she didn’t think she could take it, no matter how much she’d loved him. Miracles didn’t happen to her. With a soft cry, she broke from the kiss.
“Marry me, Helein,” he said in a hoarse whisper before she could escape. “I love you still.”
Relenting, if only for a moment, she leaned her forehead against his. “And I you.”
OH my! This is a glimpse into some behind-the-scenes stuff that happens in the Chronicles of the Twelve Realms Prequel Forever and A Thousand Times which is still in the works! That was fun to write and I hope fun to read.
I’d love it so much if you’d hop over to our BlogBattlers blog and delve into more stories. We’ll have links available there to more stories inspired by our January prompt word on January 15th and after. You can subscribe there for notifications. And for now, you can consider the possiblity of joining in with a story of your own!