I stood outside of Rosebud's room. I could hear her gentle singing. The guard had cotton stuck in his ears, a wise decision. Without bothering to knock, I walked in.
She sat at the vanity, brushing her long hair. When she saw me, she smirked.
"I wondered when you would be coming to speak with me," she said, crossing her long legs.
"You can lie to my husband and father all you'd like, but you can't lie to me."
She pouted. "Why can't women be as easy as men?" she lamented and sighed. "Very well. You might as well sit. It's the truth my mother blessed the sword. It is also true that Prince David's mastery of the sword is what summoned me. This is my curse, Princess Angel."
"To be the servant of the man who masters the Sword of the Thousands," she said bitterly, slamming the brush on the vanity table. "I fell in love with a hunter who saved me. His fellow huntsman had shot an arrow in my leg, hoping to bring me to his village as a prize. The hunter scared him away and healed me." Rosebud looked sad. "Mother killed him and turned me into a nymph, cursing me to live in that dreaded pond for falling in love with a human. After she came in possession of the Sword and blessed it, she sent me away with it. It was her way of finally being rid of me."
"Why not tell the truth from the start?"
She looked at me. "I did not know he was married. It's much easier to serve a man with my body than with whatever ridiculous war games he has in mind."
"Well, you won't have to worry about 'war games' for my husband cannot go into battle." I watched her for a few moments. "How do you know about the werewolves?"
"I saw them as I was coming here. I could not make out what they were saying, but they are slowly making their way here, too. I would say they will be here in maybe a day."
"Is there a way to break your binding to the Sword?"
"If there it is, I haven't found it."
I stood, feeling a touch pity. "You are still to be confined to your quarters," I told her as I went to the door, "until we figure this out."
"You are a lucky woman," she said before I left and I turned to her. "He loves you very much to be able to resist me."
I smiled a little. "I know."
Angel walked into the painting room about an hour later and I put the quill down.
"Did you kill her?" I asked and she laughed.
"No, I decided to let her live for now," she joked back. She sat on my lap and sighed heavily. "Dear, she is cursed."
"What do you mean?"
"She's bound to the Sword," she answered. "That is why she's here. She was meant to be your concubine." I shuddered. "I'm glad you feel that way. But she does not have any malicious intent towards us. I don't think we should let her wander, though."
I sighed. "I know very little about nymphs. I've learned much about werewolves, but not nymphs. And if she can lie to me without me knowing, how will I-?"
"Leave her to me," she interrupted and I looked at her skeptically. She laughed. "I won't harm her. She knows to keep her hands to herself."
I kissed her and she put her arms around my neck. I held her close and the door opened.
"May I speak with you, David?" Tiberius asked and I nodded.
Angel stood. "I'll go to the library."
I smiled at her and waited until the door was closed. "Sit, my friend."
He did so and rubbed the back of his neck. "Um... about the nymph...."
I chuckled. "Don't worry about her. How was your time with Christina?"
He looked at his hands. "She kissed me," he blurted and I grinned. "No, you don't understand," he said. "It's not a good thing. I thought it was but now I...."
"Why isn't it a good thing? That means she shares your feelings."
"When I was in training for the Black Hand," he said, "we were... purged of our desires when we were young men." He shook his head. "I am probably the only man to say I had grown tired of a woman's companionship."
I nodded slowly. "So you were made to be in the company of whores."
"For several days without end," he confirmed.
"And you worry that's all Christina wants?"
"Not so much," he said. "But I don't want to see her like that."
"If you truly care for her, Tiberius, you won't." He didn't look convinced so I stood and put a hand on his shoulder. "I know you are my senior by several years, but you must trust me on this. Let's set up a special dinner for the four of us. Does that sound agreeable?"
He nodded, biting his lower lip. I smiled kindly at him and summed a servant to make the preparations.
"This is a bad idea, Princess Angel," I muttered.
"Oh, hush," she said. "It will be just fine."
"But... what if he just wants to take advantage of me?"
She looked at me through the mirror. "Did he the night you went on your walk?" I shook my head no. "I believe Tiberius to be an honorable man, despite his past. Besides, tonight is simply dinner."
I scoffed. "I know you and David. You'll leave us the first chance you get."
She smiled innocently at me. "I would never. Come along. The men await us on the veranda."
I groaned but allowed her to pull me out the door. She had let me wear a dress of hers. It was very beautiful. We linked arms as we walked. I hadn't been in any kind of relationship since Bryan died. Something about Tiberius, though, made me want to try again. It terrified me. And, although it was very curious, his past was also a little frightening.
When we got to the veranda, Prince David and Tiberius were talking in undertones. David was wearing a dark suit, one not fit for a prince. The look on Angel's face told me that it had a special meaning, though. Tiberius was looking incredibly handsome in a teal suit. When he saw me, he blushed and I did the same.
The two men helped us into our seats and sat across from us.
"So," Angel said with a smile, "autumn has arrived finally."
David nodded. "I'm looking forward to a good autumn. What about you, Tiberius?"
"It's my favorite season," he said quietly as the servants placed plates in front of us.
"Really?" I said and he nodded, not looking at me. "It is mine as well."
We ate in silence and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Angel nod to David.
"Don't you dare," I hissed so only she could hear.
"I have to take my tonic," she said, blinking at me with wide eyes. "And poor David is in so much pain!"
"It's true," he said, leaning on his cane with a pained expression on his face. "I need to rest."
You're not fooling anyone, I thought bitterly.
"I can take you," Tiberius said and I felt disappointed.
So he didn't want to be here.
David waved his hand. "No. Just because you're my guard doesn't mean you have to leave the company of such a beautiful woman."
He and Angel went into the palace and I sighed, putting my dessert fork down.
"They planned this from the start, you know," Tiberius said and I laughed a little.
"Yes, I know they did."
I pushed my plate away and stood.
"Well, I guess you probably want to go."
He frowned at me, standing, too. "What makes you say that?"
"You wanted to go with David," I shrugged, trying to hide my hurt feelings. "It's clear you don't want to spend the evening with me."
He groaned. "No. No it wasn't like that," he said quickly. "I was offering simply because I am his guard."
I looked up shyly. "So...."
He smiled a little and held his hand out. "Join me for another walk?"
I grinned and nodded, holding his hand as we walked through the gardens.
"How did you come about being his guard?" I asked but he didn't answer. "I'm sorry if I'm asking too many questions," I added quickly.
He smiled at me. "It isn't that," he said. "I'm not used to someone beings so interested, that's all."
"Why not? Surely you've had many women vying for your hand."
He laughed a little. "Like I told you, I was- I did not have time for love."
"But what about for women? Oh, come now, Sir Tiberius," I giggled. "We are both adults. I am sure we can speak openly."
He sighed and stopped by a group of bushes. "I was- Well, my father forced the next generation of members to try and rid us of any... desires."
"Oh," I whispered, understanding. "Against your wishes?"
He was glaring into the bushes and I squeezed his hand. He wouldn't look at me, though, and I saw shame in his eyes.
"Why do you look like that?" I asked, putting my hand on his cheek so he'd look at me.
"Men are not supposed to be put in such positions," he said in a low voice. "We are protectors, not vi-"
I couldn't help it. I kissed him, enjoying his lips on mine. He was hesitant at first but kissed me back gently. I wrapped my arms around him and he placed his hands on my hips. I wanted to deepen the kiss but he didn't respond.
"I don't think any less of you," I said, looking into his eyes.
"You don't?" he asked. I shook my head. "So you did not kiss me out of pity?"
"No," I whispered with a shy smile. "I kissed you because I wanted to."
"Is that how it works?" he asked and I felt a twinge of pity for him as I nodded. He bit his lip. "So, if I were to kiss you now, would that be okay?"
I grinned and nodded. He smiled a little and leaned into my lips, finally allowing me to deepen our kiss.