Ruby halted. The young woman deliberated what she might say; the truth was obvious, but she had to put it in a way that would ease Cole's reaction. Unfortunately, with a lack of sleep and a famished stomach, there came only the harshness at which truth is often told.
"That...wasn't a dream, Cole."
"Excuse me?" His response seemed to lack doubt or confusion, yet retain all the marks of irritation. Cole's gait stopped as well, and he postured himself to emphasize his disproving countenance. "He was in the room last night?!"
Ruby sighed, wishing half-heartedly that she would have stayed lounging in the bedchamber. "Yes, he was."
"Why didn't you wake me up?"
"Look Cole, Jace didn't stay long or anything-"
The young man interrupted Ruby, "That isn't what I asked. Why didn't you wake me up?" He stepped toward her. The tone of his voice seemed more demanding than inquiring. It appeared that he had forgotten altogether his purpose for inviting his friend to breakfast.
She remembered the kiss planted upon her soft lips. "I didn't wake you because I knew you would act just like you are now." A trace, a line, a speck; whatever it was that Cole had a keen eye fixed upon, the same miniscule detail betrayed Ruby, and he perceived she was hiding information from him.
His brow knit with frustration. "Act like I am now? And how is that?" He folded his arms, stamping a foot upon the floor.
"Kingly," Ruby replied sardonically.
Cole firmly grabbed one of the young woman's arms. "He could've hurt you, or worse. I saw him trying to suck on your face when you first met him - he's trouble. You should have told me, Ruby!" He may have been overreacting, or so he thought, but in his heart he was still the young boy trying to protect his childhood friend.
Whatever his intention was, it was certain that Cole's message was ill received. Ruby was quick to shrug off his grasp, reproaching his words. "Should have told you? What about me, Cole? I do recall you leaving the castle without saying anything to me about it."
"That's different-" Cole was immediately caught off guard, and now found himself on the defensive end of the conversation, which was turning more and more into a heated debate.
"Different," she blurted out, irritated at such a shallow answer, "different? The only difference is that I was civil about your return."
"Civil? You punched me!"
Her response fell short, deflating as she spoke the very words, "What did you expect, a kiss-" The redness of her cheeks blushed at the thought, transforming her beauty from moonlit porcelain to sensual scarlet. She wondered if perhaps she gave away her secret, but before she could gage her friend's reaction, a boisterous voice cried out from an entryway a small distance down the corridor.
"Aha! There you are, my lord," Malachai said, approaching the young king and his spirited advisor, "and greetings to you, my lady." He bowed, but not very far over; in his hands was a large silver tray, upon which was a plethora of passion fruit, honey-dew dumplings, and slices of several roasted meats.
After straightening himself out, the woodsman continued, "Delighted to discover you in the garments of your realm, my lady. The more I am acquainted with the style, the more I come to appreciate its tailored quality; you resemble a blossoming tulip. Oh, what am I saying? I am not here to feed you compliments alone. Hungry?" He held out the tray toward the young woman, with a warmed smile on his face.
Ruby thanked him politely. The chivalry she was being subjected to, despite its source, was quite refreshing.
Cole watched on, irked Malachai had not extended the same courtesy or invitation to him as well. After growing impatient, the king was about to reach over and take some food for himself, but he stopped when he heard the statement, "I hear princess Aira is seeking you out, my lord."
Ruby grit her teeth, sneering at the thought of the royal maiden. Cole's expression drooped to a frown, knowing another arduous day was in store for him.
"Have no fear," Malachai laughed aloud, witnessing the impact of his words, "have no fear. As we speak, I have her chasing around your shadow. We will have plenty of time to ourselves - for training, that is." The king's frown lengthened.
Ruby and Cole were escorted to the spacious indoor garden of the castle once again. The sun was slowly rising beyond the stone walls, but its bright rays extended into the area, bringing vitality to the potted plants and slender trees. It was a quiet scene while the pair of friends ate breakfast. The argument had stolen Cole's ambition to apologize, and Ruby's guilt for harboring the secret of the kiss.
"Well," he said, clapping his hands, "now that you two have finished eating, we may begin."
"I don't have my cutlass, Malachai. It is in the guest chamber," replied the sweet voice of Ruby.
"So is my sabre," Cole rejoined, lightly blushing when the woodsman's face curled with wily smile upon hearing the response.
"A secure place for them both, but you need not worry. This morning we will be concentrating on our hand-to-hand battle skills. Under usual circumstances, I am both the trainer and partner to the student. However, I offer my lady the opportunity to step in for myself, if she so desires. Your handling of a sword was most impressive, Ruby, thrusts and all - I am eager to witness your raw martial ability. Do you accept or decline?"
She deliberated for a several minutes, but swiftly affirmed her acceptance after Malachai had issued the warning that "there will be punches that are thrown."
Many hours passed by, but eventually the time for instruction concluded, and the time for application commenced. Ruby and Cole stood facing one another, surveying their opposition; the king felt that his pride was at stake, being on the losing side of the last spar, and Ruby readied herself, hoping for the chance to knock some sense into Cole. Passions were heated, tempers had flared, yet now the moment had arrived to exert the emotions that dominated their very spirits, and possessed every string or chord of their hearts.