His tone was pleasant, but there was no doubting his intent. This was blackmail and Nieneve was surprised to find that she was smiling as she walked across the room. The maid had brought her the ice, and helped her change, but she would soon be... how had he put it? More appropriately dressed. And this she would do herself. It felt good, knowing that, despite everything, not long after her brother's express command she was doing exactly as he had told her not to. And she was going to use it to her advantage.
She pulled on the dress that her brother had made her wear for the portrait sitting and pulled her hair as it had been then. She wanted to recreate the moment he had first seen her, since she had not seen it for herself. Then she turned to answer the door, opening it just as the Prince had raised his hand to knock. He looked mildly startled, but shook it off immediately, instead smiling, but not before his eyes had slipped to the dress. His eyes flashed with recognition and then she saw his smile turn shrewd, as if he were calculating what move to make next. They were playing a game, a chess like game, and Nieneve was determined that she would win.
"Perhaps we should begin our walk now my Prince?" She started before he could say anything. "I would not want to delay my night by standing in my doorway, when I could be between my sheets." She worded it carefully, not 'asleep' but 'between my sheets', a phrase commonly used apparently, when men were describing a woman they would have sexual intercourse with.
Leopold's mouth slipped slightly; he had caught the reference. But he smiled graciously and extended his arm.
"I would not wish to delay the inevitable." She caught his drift; he believed it was inevitable that she should end up between his sheets. But then, that was really the point, wasn't it? It just depended on which side of the marriage vows that fell, to decide who had won their game.
"It is gentlemanly of you to say so." Although of course she knew it was anything but gentlemanly behaviour that had started this whole event.
"Now if you will accompany me, I shall give you a tour of the gardens. Do not worry as I promised, we are not alone." He pointed in to the dark and a man stepped in to the light. Nieneve pulled her eyes immediately to his. His face was scared, servitude marks, and she did not wish to make him uncomfortable by staring. She had read about the marks, and although this was the first time she had seen anyone with the signs, she felt that observing them with the keen interest she had developed for culture and society would unnerve the man. Instead she smiled and said,
"Keep close. I trust you will keep myself and the Prince safe from rumours."
The man bowed, his brow furrowed for a moment so fast that she doubted whether she had seen it happen. When he rose from his bow his face was once more expressionless and marked.
"I will do my duty my lady." He replied.
"Quiet." Leopold ordered, and began to lead Nieneve down the corridor, the servant following closely behind. Nieneve spent the walk to the front door in silence, half listening to the Prince talk about the last jousting match, and half thinking about what his angle in all this was. He had obviously decided against marrying her, she could only imagine why, but she felt that somewhere beneath all of this game playing were two driving forces. The desire to prove himself as worthy, and the desire to be needed, loved, and praised. She thought that these probably stemmed from his father who it was clear was not a kind man. She wondered also, having seen him briefly with his friends after the tournament, whether they had given him more cause to stop this marriage. A wager perhaps? Or maybe they had teased him about settling down, and not perusing women any more. That could explain his attitude. He was both attempting to hold his status and image to the world, while attempting, intelligently and almost without shame, to bed her in order to release himself, discredit her, and gain the prize which his friends had promised him.
She wondered whether any of this was even close to the truth. He had certainly showed minute signs of caring earlier in the evening, which had quickly been taken over by his conniving tricks. Either his earlier 'weakness' was an accident, brought forward by hearing seeing her in a state, or he was a much better actor than she had given him credit for.
"Here we are. The gardens. Come, we shall go to where I saw you. There are some beautiful roses I think you may enjoy." They walked that way and as they reached the roses, Nieneve saw with a hint of sadness that there was one crushed upon the floor. The others were beautiful however, and she bent to smell their sweet perfume.
"They are lovely." She smiled, peering up at him, still inclined slightly towards the roses.
"I shall cut you one." He replied and slipped a knife from his boot. She watched him slice the stem of the one she had sniffed and present it to her, a slight bow in his posture.
"Thank you." She smiled and took it, nicking her finger in the process. "Ow."
"You are hurt." He said, taking her hand.
"No, just the thorn pierced me."
"I suppose you are not used to that." He replied in a voice that hinted at a smirk, although his face was smooth of expression. She felt her stomach twist in delight; he was referring to her lack of sexual experience. But of course! This put her mind at ease. He was definitely intending to bed her before the wedding; no man waiting until after his marriage vows would have mentioned such a thing, even through mere implication, to his future wife.
"Pardon?" She asked as if she had not heard.
"Nothing my sweet lady. Allow me." He gallantly took his handkerchief and dabbed the small drop of blood away. Then, his eyes upon hers, he lifted her hand and gently kissed the finger which had been pricked. She felt the very edge of his tongue brush, ever so lightly, against her skin before he withdrew his lips and released her hand.
Nieneve momentarily felt out of her depth. She had never, in practice, experienced any sexual displays, although her brother had pointed out what she would have to do in order to become pregnant with the Prince's child. Her nanny had, more delicately, described the act as well. And here she found Leopold, not only kissing her finger in what seemed to her both a touching but layered heavily with sexual intent manner, but doing it when there was no one but a servant around. She blushed, almost without meaning to, and turned her head away. He seemed pleased that he had affected her, and so she decided that this was his weakness. Watching women go weak for him pleased him. And therein lay the way that she would torture him, subconsciously, until he was so occupied with making her weak for him that he would drive himself to the edge trying to do so before they were married. And when he did not succeed, he would marry her willingly, just to reach his goal.
She would make him fall for her.
"Your highness, I feel..." She left him to finish the sentence.
"Light headed? Perhaps you would like to sit down?" He offered a small hint of a smirk still upon his face.
"Thank you." She let him lead her to a bench and sat next to him, not close enough to be considered improper, but near enough so that he could reach out and touch her if he liked.
"I was not aware I could have that effect on you." He murmured after a time. Nieneve looked up from the rose which she held to her nose and smiled, peering innocently through her thick eyelashes.
"I am sure your highness has many admirers."