"At least all the villages I've visited have been supportive. As long as that trust doesn't waver, Verdane's overall mood won't dip any lower. The next wave of recruits, with any luck, will retain the goodwill they learned in their hometowns."
"Well, that's comforting," Lord Sigurd responded. "I certainly wish you the best of luck with these new recruits as they come in."
Prince Jamka dipped his head in respect and gratitude. "Thank you. We'd best be off, then."
Sigurd bowed back. "A pleasure to talk with you, as always. Take care."
"The same to you," Jamka replied. He turned, indicated his two escorts, and proceeded out of the hall.
Sigurd drifted through one of the doors in the back of the hall, turned down another, and proceeded to climb the next staircase, all rather slowly. Tending to Verdane's domestic affairs was a welcome respite after the long campaign to rescue his friend Adean and overthrow that sorcerer, Sandima. As a knight, he certainly didn't shirk battles—come to think of it, Ethlin often scolded him about plunging into conflicts without thinking—but he couldn't deny the value of peace and relaxation either. That said, Verdane still had a ways to go before its inner tumult settled. He'd had to bring a halt to two bandit incidents already, and they'd only been here at Evans for a month now. And to think this was the best he could get for a honeymoon . . . on orders to remain stationed here and help Prince Jamka reinstate order. Not that he would leave his new friend to handle everything himself, but still. He could've brought Diadora back to Chalphy by now.
He exhaled heavily as he pushed open the door to his quarters. Things could be worse, he supposed. They could still be fighting. Once he and Jamka took care of things, he and the troops could retreat to Chalphy in peace. A slight smile emerged on his face as he shrugged off his cape and coat. Yes, it would be nice to see his home again.
The young noble turned as he approached the bed and, in a rather unlordlike manner, collapsed backwards, landing spreadeagled on the blankets. The bed felt softer than usual beneath him, or perhaps that was merely because he was tired. Actually, he was more fatigued than he'd realized before. He didn't know whether it was due to stress, the onset of an illness, insomnia, or simply getting to bed later. Ah, well . . . maybe he could nap for a bit before dinner. The bed did feel rather nice. . . .
A sudden loud click startled him. Wide-eyed, he hurriedly propped himself up into a seated position, though he battled dizziness on the way up. Vague thoughts and half-formed images slipped from his mind as he moved. Had he actually fallen asleep like that, and dreamed?
The woman at the door flinched and stepped back. "Oh, I'm sorry, love! Is this a bad time?"
"Wha . . . no, no, Diadora, come in!" Sigurd smiled in apology and nervously ran his fingers through his scruffy blue hair. "I'm just sorry you had to catch me like this. I think I fell asleep."
Diadora closed the door behind her and propped what appeared to be two staves against the cabinet nearby. "Aw, have you not been getting enough rest? Do you think you've been waking up too early in the mornings?"
Sigurd rubbed one closed eye with his palm. "Eh, could be. Could be many things."
"I do hope you're not coming down with something," Diadora fretted, sitting down beside him on the bed.
"No, I doubt it," Sigurd assured her. "No symptoms. I suppose I just haven't been sleeping well recently."
"Well, if you're sure," Diadora conceded, though her face still showed concern.
Wordlessly Sigurd brought his far hand around and cupped her delicate jaw in his fingers, tilting her face towards him. He didn't know how much of it was her enchanting looks and how much was her demure personality, but something about Diadora warmed him inside whenever they were together. Already he felt better than he had after waking up. He'd heard so many times in his youth that love at first sight was a lie, or at least something so rare that one shouldn't hope for it. And yet, in spite of it all, he and Diadora had been one of those rarities. He saw the worry in her amethyst eyes melt away into sweet joy even as they watched each other.
"Yes," she whispered with a lighthearted smile, "you're sure."
Sigurd chuckled lightly. "I am now."
Their lips met gently. The soft, warm touch thrilled him unlike anything else possibly could. Something stirred deep within him, compelling him to slide his hand down her neck and encircle her waist with his other arm. Diadora responded eagerly; she shrugged out of her wrap and slipped both of her arms around his ribcage, pulling him closer to her. Their mouths pressed together and began to knead against each other. Before Sigurd knew it, the two of them toppled to the side and landed softly on the bed, though neither of them broke contact. The couple held even tighter, if anything, encouraged by the welcoming bed. Everywhere their bodies touched, Sigurd felt nothing but warmth, comfort, and love. Their hands and lips kept moving over each other for almost a minute before they finally fell away from each other, desperate to breathe.
"I suppose we shouldn't get too comfortable," Diadora said between light pants. "Dinner's coming up soon."
"Right," Sigurd agreed. He pushed himself to his feet, picked up his discarded coat, and slid his arms into the sleeves. "Can I assume we'll pick up where we left off?" he asked impishly.
Diadora giggled as she refastened her wrap. "Of course."