Chapter 53

The audience of party guests gathered around clapped courteously as he smoothly dismounted from his steed; the horse heaving heavily through his nostrils and foaming sweat gathering around his legs. Giddeon patted him graciously before a young boy guided the stallion away.

Giddeon dabbed his own forehead, brushing away a crown of sweat that had formed there. He turned towards the crowd, appearing like odd flowers clumped together on the green expanse of his majestic home. Fine ladies were garbed in plumes of colorful fabric, topped with hats spouting regal feathers like birds nestled in their hair. Gentlemen stood amongst them in equally impressive clothing, all the crowd glinting in the bath of warm sunlight. Women fluttered their fans like leaves shuddering in a breath of breeze, trying to keep their powered faces from melting away. All their eyes turned to him, the host of his party and the king of his realm--undisputedly the grandest bachelor in all of Lycroft, and even Navarn.

"I'd warrant, Sir Giddeon," Lord Alray stepped forth from the crowd. "You are perhaps the best rider in Lycroft. Certainly you have won this course easily over all others here."

"I think your accolades unnecessary, Alray. It was the horse who jumped the course, not I," Giddeon replied blandly. He was bored of such things. Why did he gather this party, anyways?

Approving chuckles rippled through the people. "Ah, you are too humble, Duke," a woman called forth, obviously looking to catch his attention.

Giddeon sighed to himself, yet kept it to himself and played host, "Let us return to the courtyard where we all shall find plentiful refreshment and entertainment."

The crowd answered gleefully, all full of a mood good and mirthful as they partied. What was wrong with him? Usually he enjoyed such occasions, mingling with the pretty women and chatting with the Lords and Counts as he drank the finest of wines. What had changed him so?

He gloomily followed the mass of his guests back to the cool shades of his courtyard, not paying much attention to the small crowd of ladies gathering around him as they competed for his eye and ear. They were all the same--the same giggly girls that had chased him for much of his life. They were uninteresting, only able to entertain him with their pretty faces and smiles. In the past, he entertained himself as he played games with their hearts and manipulated them with his charms--the same he used to capture each one. He had no further interest in doing such things. He used to love standing with any beautiful young, doting woman on his arm, sweeping them off to dances. What had happened that was so different with him now?

It was after his visit to Aedryn, his meeting with his cousin's betrothed. She was different from all the others. She showed him what a fool he was for lingering among them; she revealed what fools they were. She showed him the most potent form of love--the mixing of romance and firm friendship. All women before were won by him, and instead she had won him. He had purely enjoyed her company, not simply because she was a woman but she was easy to be around, to converse with. She was a beauty unlike other's material madness--she was true and lovely beyond comprehension.

She was to be Alezander's.

It drove him insane. Alezander was off where he had been, walking at her arm, looking into her eyes, hearing her sweet, pleasing voice talk to him. He hated Alezander for it--how he would trade anything to be in his place while Alezander would likely care less that Cassandra was to be his wife.   

He would simply have to stand and watch as they were married, observe as she became his queen. That was the worst part.

And she thought he did not care for her. The moment he lied to her haunted his mind, hung in his nightmares. Her eyes, her tears, her pain. How he only wanted to hold her, make her his own for the rest of his life.

It never was, and it never will be. It was stupid to allow himself to remain on such thoughts.

The End

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