Finally the story prompt you voted on back in February has a story! Enjoy, and let me know what you think?
He stood looking across the field, watching Lilly. Her long blue dress fluttering in the wind and her hair cascading over her shoulders. She was talking to that foreign Prince, strolling through the gardens. The gardens he kept so well-tended, so well-tended for her. He cared deeply for Lillian and was grateful for their friendship. They both loved flowers, and they used to spend hours talking, and gathering them from the fields. Now that she was older, lovelier, and more eligible, her father the Duke thought it best if his daughter spent less time with the peasants and more with Nobles of her ranking.
Jeffrey exhaled a heavy sigh, “Would she ever know his true feelings?”
He was brought from his reveries by the sound of distress, it was Lilly, looking up quickly he saw that the pair had left the path and were sitting on a bench beside the roses. The Prince was leaning in to kiss her, and she was attempting to push him away.
Fury flashed across his youthful features and in a moment Jeffrey had leapt over the fence and before thinking had struck the Prince a hard blow to the head with his quarterstaff.
For a moment time stood still, the blow had knocked the Prince temporarily senseless, he crumpled off the bench like a felled pigeon. Lilly stood, staring in disbelief. It was then, looking at her ashen face and trembling hands that the horrifying realization of what he had just done came upon him. He, a simple layman, had not only struck a member of royalty but, had knocked him senseless. Stunned by his own actions the quarterstaff fell from his hand and thumped dully on the ground.
A groan came from the over side of the bench and rubbing his head tenderly the prince sat up. Immediately his eyes fell on Jeffrey.
“You- You impudent peasant-,” He rolled to his feet and stepping towards the unarmed gardener drew his sword.
Jeffrey taking a rapid step backwards, tripped over a garden statue and fell flat on his back. Like an upturned turtle he stared defenseless into the Prince’s hate filled eyes. Still appalled by his own actions, he had no heart to fight back and was only able to stutter out an apology, “I’m so sorry your highness- I didn’t mean to hit- hit you with such force, I was only acting in protection of the Duchess Lillian.”
As the Prince stood leering over him, his furious gaze turned to that of cruel humor. He stared the helpless, repentant boy in the eyes, and some sweet thought of revenge played on the corners of his mirthless grin.
“Defending her, I see. You wouldn’t be jealous, now would you?”
“Of course not, Duchess Lilly is my Master’s daughter, and I would never-“
Lillian, regaining her composure, rushed over and clutching the Prince’s arm begged, “Please don’t hurt him, Marcellus, please.”
“What makes you think I want to hurt him? Marcellus sneered, “Quite the opposite actually, I have a plan that will get us all what we want.”
He rubbed his short beard and spoke with authority. “You shall fight me in the tournament next week. If I win, the Duchess shall be my bride and if you win, you shall have your freedom.” He paused and snickered, “Yes, the perfect plan.”
Before anyone could protest the Prince turned on his heel and strode towards the castle to arrange the proceedings.
“Wait,” Lillian called, “- Jeffrey can’t fight like a knight-” the Prince walked on not heeding her pleas. With tears now gathering in her green eyes, she turned to Jeffrey and extending a hand helped him up. “Thank you for coming to my rescue yet, I wish for your sake you hadn’t.”
Brushing himself off, he swallowed and steeling himself tried to console her, “Perhaps a fair fight will be the best way to settle this.”
“It won’t be fair, you’re a gardener not a knight, you won’t stand a chance against his prowess and expertise. I can’t simply sit by and watch you perish. You mean too much to me.”
For the first time since they were children, she had spoken about more than roses and gardens. she had told him what she really thought. He often wondered if she, distracted by other tasks and demands of nobility, had forgotten their friendship in faded memories of youth. “And you are a dear friend, maybe Marcellus is right about something.”
“What do you mean?” She raised her eyebrows in question.
“Maybe I was- am jealous.”
“Oh, Jeffrey,” She stopped and looked deep into his eyes, a tear formed in her right eye and trickled down her pale cheek leaving a streak on her powdered face. In a wave of emotion he reached and gently wiped the tear away. Lilly turned to her face, “It doesn’t help to say these things now, some thoughts are best never spoken.” She pulled away from his arm, her own emotions constricting in her chest making it hard to breathe or think clearly.
“Yes, but some thoughts cannot be silenced forever, I have held my tongue for years but here, standing so close to you, I can no longer. I love you, I always have and I always will. If I am to die in a tournament I must die knowing your true feelings.
Overcome with love, Lillian reached out and clutched his hand in hers. With a shaking voice she spoke, “Jeffrey, you will not die, you are the dearest friend I have and know that my heart will not rest until I have found a way to change this situation. Turning she lifted the long skirt of her blue gown and ran towards the palace and her father.
He could hear the guards coming to arrest him. He didn’t try to run and instead for a moment stood watching Lilly disappear into the distance. The sun sinking below the horizon and silhouetting him against the darkening sky.
Here she sat locked in her room, the night air rustling the velvet curtains. Her father would not see reason. And after a heated deliberation he had sent her to her room ‘till she could regain her senses’. Deep down inside she understood to a degree he could have at least listened to her though. Why wouldn’t he call off the tournament? She knew why her father wanted her to marry this French Prince, she would be Princess then and likely a Queen in years to come. Lillian had been taught that marriages were arranged to find the most advantageous matches. But why did they have to be absent from love? Did anyone even believe in such a thing as real, tangible, true love?
If her door was unlocked she may have gone to speak to her mother, but maybe not even then. For her mother would take her father’s side and teach her what she had been taught. That ‘you would grow to love the man you married’, that ‘feelings were too fleeting to have as the base of anything.’
She shuddered visibly at the thought of marrying Marcellus. Could she grow to love such a selfish, untamed man as he? Lillian knew that her father would choose him. Love him or not she would be his bride and go to live far away in France. Maybe her mother was right, maybe her father was right, they were teaching her what they thought was best. But this system was wrong. She hoped and prayed one day it would change.
Walking to the window to close the curtains, she smelled the sweet climbing roses and thoughts of Jeffrey filled her mind. So noble, so pure and steadfast in his devotion. Lillian loved him. She had always loved him, since they were children innocently playing in the gardens. She had watched him grow up alongside her to become strong, comely, and handsome. And she swore she would never confide to a soul her true feelings for this noble gardener. Her father would have sent him away immediately, perhaps even to fight with his troops. Now, Jeffrey had admitted the same to her, answering the question she had pondered secretly. How could that help anything? It would only increase her sorrow as she would watch the only man she had ever loved killed for sport by the very man she must marry.
Powerless to change her father’s mind, save Jeffrey, or escape from a loveless marriage, the tears she had constrained so long welled up in her eyes and burying her face in her crimson pillows she sobbed a desperate prayer for help. Maybe in heaven someone would hear her cries and send aid. For it was out of her hands, and slowly her sobs eased and a peace descended, surrounding her like the stone walls. At last, exhausted, she fell asleep.
The week flew by in a painfully slow flurry till the day of the tournament arrived,
She had spent most of the week locked in her room, still under orders from her father. He believed she ‘hadn’t yet seen reason’. Now the day had come, dressed in a purple wool gown with strings of pearls around her neck, and an adorned leather belt at her waist she stood pale but determined. A small silver tiara graced her ginger locks. She had found some peace but no great solution presented itself to her.
A maid brought her dark leather shoes, she slipped them on, pinned a veil over her tiara and let the sheer fabric fall over her hair and face. Her glossy locks and beautiful complexion now shrouded in gauzy white fabric.
Lillian walked from the room, her long wool train gliding on the stone floor. Already she could hear the great din of noise that seemed to erupt everywhere. The entire village had gathered to watch from the woods, while those of higher rank filled the benches. Although the preceding would be short, the story of the Duchess, the foreign prince and the villages’ own gardener had piqued the interest of the entire Valley.
In no time at all she had arrived downstairs and hurried to the stands to take her seat beside her father and mother.. The first of the trouble happened as Marcellus walked by and bowing to her father, he leaned down and kissed her hand whispering “My Bride”. She pretended not to notice his remark and instead looked at his extravagant trappings. He was arrayed in shining plated armor over a chainmail suit. He wore colors of yellow and black. A bright plume rose from his helmet.
The crowd hushed and to her horror she saw Jeffrey being marched out in irons, his doublet torn and his face dirty. He squinted trying to let his eyes adjust to the light. They unshackled his hands and led him over to the weapon table. He appeared weary but as the fresh air once again filled his youthful lungs his eyes seemed to brighten with determination and he looked over the weapons spread before him.
He was given only a mail coat for protection, and choosing a shield and spear from the selection he climbed upon the back of his appointed horse, and sat straight and strong ready to face his enemy.
The starting horn blew and the two rode at a gallop towards each other. Lillian’s stomach flipped with anxiety. Completely powerless she watched the boy she loved, charging towards the most acclaimed fighter in the region.
As the two neared, Jeffrey placed his spear to the side and using it like a quarterstaff knocked the Prince off his steed. Jumping from his own, they prepared for combat. The Prince was taken back by the skillful maneuver and more than a little angry to have been dismounted by a peasant. With a cry of anger he shouted “I will finish you off, you worthless farmer.” With his broad sword raised he clashed it squarely into Jeffrey’s shield. The force threw the lad back a few feet and drove him to the ground, knocking the spear from his grasp. Raising his sword the Prince lunged towards Jeffrey. Lilly, unable to bear the sight, shut her eyes and gasped.
Had she opened her eyes she would have seen Jeffrey roll from under the blade and grasping his dagger let it fly into his enemy. She would have seen the shocked Prince look down in disbelief at the dagger lodged in his abdomen. Lilly would have seen him yield the field and Jeffrey standing unharmed.
Her own strength and plans could not save him; it was that desperate prayer and the One that answers.
Forgetting rules, propriety, and rank Lillian lept from the bench and jumping over the rail, ran towards Jeffrey, her long skirts billowing behind her. She reached her hero and embraced, twirling round from the impact. Tears of relief streamed down their faces as they held each other close.
There in the dusty tournament rink the Duchess and the Gardener stood locked in true love’s embrace. The hearts of all softened as they looked on at the couple. Knowing that love surpassing rank and stature is stronger than man, for it is the greatest attribute of God. And the Noblest Quality we can ever possess.
by: Mindy Moyer