Don't Drop the Rose

"Congratulations, Maria!"

"Yea! What a catch, Maria!"

"You are the luckiest Lady alive, Maria!"

Numerous other outbursts of praise and well wishings invaded my personal space. A gathering of Ladies held in my honor to celebrate my pending wedding to Prince Nathaniel. In truth, I was not happy at all. I was lucky Nathaniel actually took the time to court me, I know that. And…I responded, because everyone said that being his wife would make me happy again.

But I look out over the balcony, pressed tight to the stone waist-high railing, not caring if it was bad for the rose-colored dress Nathaniel had gifted me as an engagement present. It was made of a fine, expensive material that seemed to shimmer – a matching bracelet and necklace had also come with it. It is prettier than anything I have ever owned. But, I look out over the fields of trees, of the gardens just inside the palace walls, and not for the first time, nor the last, do I wish I was someone else.

Perhaps one of the tough women in the stories I sometimes read. Women that went 'gallivanting off all improper like,' but they would have been strong enough to resist this…unpleasant development.

Of course, that thought is not entirely correct. Prince Nathaniel really is a very handsome man. Tall, broad shoulders, charming features, and shoulder-length blonde hair – he is what many of these Ladies surrounding me dream about. I don't hate him, not really, but I do not love him. I would gladly hand him off to one of my fellow Ladies.

They would make him happier wives. Better Princesses, Queens, than a discontent heart-sick miserable excuse for a Lady.

Finally, I cannot stand the woman around me anymore; they are nearly suffocating me with all the gaudy colors and meaningless lies of praise. If this falsity and raw jealousy is what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life…it does not bear thinking of.

"Please, my Ladies, I would have leave for myself now," I say so quietly I can barely hear myself, but I know they heard me. The eldest one, my Mother, nods her head and whispers something into the ear of my little cousin. Who starts giggling her infectious laugh and soon they all remove themselves from the balcony, giggling like mad. A little intimidating, I will admit.

My gaze falls wearily over the landscape once more. It is past sunset, so there really is nothing for me to look out on. But for me, it was not about the view. There are memories. I view them just as wearily as the scenery, they are of happier times. When I was younger. Of when a Lord swept me off my feet.

Sweet, kind, and everything I could ever want. With title enough to please both my mother and father. It was like a dream come true.

But a year after we met and courted, the day I was so sure he would propose to me, a call to war was announced. And he left at once, his sense of duty that I once regarded so highly now a curse. I did not speak to, nor see, the young Lord for almost six years. But it would take a true simpleton to not realize that I was pining.

It was another three months before a letter arrived. That was not an unusual occurrence, but it was addressed to me, and only me. Not to all of the DaRosa family. My parents bade me open it there, in the parlor, so I did.

The very first sentence had me running away in tears.

"My dear Maria,

If you are receiving this letter, than I have failed to come back from a battle…"

My father looked at my hasty departure with an off put air, I know, but I could hear my mother explaining something to him.

I ran, and ran, and ran. At the very first, I do not think I knew where I was going, but eventually I found myself outside my room. I remember the hot tears that streamed down my face to land in unseemly drops on the front of my dress.

At that moment, I knew what I had wanted, what I had ran towards - the gift he had given me, which had made me so sure that he was going to propose. A rose. Of soft lavender petals masterfully crafted in silk, and the stem of a dark silvered green glass.

Its previous case had been a small rectangular box, but now, I would always fear to put it away.

The rose was with me now even, on my betrothal date, three years from his death, just having turned 25. And it was what I had asked to use as my own special addition to the rose colored dress gifted to me. I had made a belt that I could tuck the rose into – my mother had forbidden anyone of our family who knew to tell Nathaniel that it was a dear gift from a past love.

I now turned to sit on the balcony railing, my feet aching. The new position allowed me enough room to gaze at the rose bushes hugging the outside of the wall.

I turned my head at the sound of foot steps, and a brief breeze blew my short hair partially in front of my face, though I made no move to brush it out of my face.

In truth, I could not move had I wanted or needed to. My mother spoke, "Maria…You have a guest."

The tall man stepped from behind my mother. And even after so much time from our last smiling meeting, I recognized the features, the color of his eyes. A tear slipped down my cheek before I realized it. Then an almost equally angry and elated question rampaged through me: why would he be here now. Why could he not have returned from the dead just a month before!

"Hello, Maria," he hesitated as if unsure how to proceed, "I am…happy you still have my rose."

The said flower dropped from my hand, slack in shock. And he rushed foreword just in time to save it from breaking on the floor, as if having expecting me to drop it. As he straightened again, he took my hand, and I melted. One of my hands held the returned rose, the other captured by him. Just then, another gust of wind hit me, and I felt my balance shift. Before it could really register, I was falling backwards over the railing.

In his effort to keep me from falling, my slight Nicodemus instead fell with me.

Thankfully, the drop was not all the long. Somehow in midair Nicodemus did the chivalrous thing to do, and turned our positions around somewhat, so that he broke the worst of my fall.

Either way we still both landed with an oomph, I half on top of him.

For the moment, all I could see was him.

I looked at Nicodemus, really looked. He had a shadow of a beard, but that made him look the matured man he now was. His eyes held the same weary quality as mine, I knew from sitting for hours looking at my face in a mirror, as the servants did my hair. It was the drained cast of loves torn asunder and grieving every moment apart.

Yet they were still a stunning shade of dark blue.

Finally the call from mother registered, and I had the grace to blush and stand shakily to my feet. Hoping I had not ruined the gift dress. I could not meet Nicodemus' eyes as he too, stood up.

"We are alright, mother!" I called up to her, and I could barely hear her running away from the balcony – probably to get help or come down here herself.

Nicodemus turned to me and smiled, "My Lady is looking elegant this evening."

Normally, that comment would send me into shy laughter, a blush, but this time, it just brought home the fact that I was to be wed to another man.

"I…Nicodemus…I still…feel for you," and my tone was one of rejection. His newly bright eyes, dulled with my words, and it hurt, beyond belief. To have him, here, so close I could reach out-

"But, my Lord, I am betrothed," I barely choked out the word, "to Prince Nathaniel. W-we are wed in a month." I finally looked into his eyes as I said it, so that he may know I am telling the truth. And I could see the change it had on his expression. His eyes closed up, and he schooled his features like I knew I was arranging mine.

It hurt, but I would show my loyalty to my Prince.

My mother once again appeared to say something, from up on the balcony, "My sweet! I just thought you might want to know that you can hug the poor man! He went through a lot to be here today, and do not fret over Prince Nathaniel, dear!" My only thought was that my propriety focused mother had gone insane.

I looked up to tell her as much, but I saw a second figure join my mothers.

To my surprise, the second figured jumped down too. He landed on his back, and only took a few seconds before he was up and brushing himself off, with a giant smile on his face. She liked that smile, but it was not much more than sisterly affection.

"What on earth are you two doing down here for?" It was Prince Nathaniel. And, despite catching me with another eligible man, he seemed content. It seemed fate had not had enough fun tonight, for I was in for another surprise.

"Your mother explained it all to me, Maria. About you being promised from birth to Lord Nicodemus, here, a fine man, if my general is to be believed," I could not, for the life of me, think of a proper response.

"O…oh…I see…"

With an expression of utmost happiness, Nathaniel said, "Your Lady-mother sent me down to make sure you really were alright from your fall – how did you manage to fall?" Nathaniel looked at me curiously, and I swear, I've never seen the man talk so much, or so expressively in one day.

Without waiting for an answer, Nathaniel continued, "And she also sent me to watch you two, and make sure Nicodemus keeps acting the finer gentlemen," he looked at us with expectant faces.

My mind was tripped up on the fact that my mother, the wife of a country baron, had sent the crown prince down.

I glanced at Nicodemus out of the corner of me eyes, and found Nicodemus staring straight at me. We shared a look of bemused confusion…then I threw caution to the wind, and closed the distance between us. I paused for a moment, to glance once more at Prince Nathaniel, who nodded. Then I was hugging my returned love to me tightly, and tears started. It was Nicodemus who hugged me back, who had returned to me not only as a ghost.

"There, that is okay. Better would be you not crying, though, my Lady. Now, Nicodemus, you two should have a little picnic here! You can go into the kitchen and ask for the food in the Prince's name, they will know what you mean," I could almost swear, Nathaniel winked.

Nicodemus removed himself reluctantly from my grasp and turned to walk stiffly in the grass until he found a path he could use to enter the Palace by. I watched him walk away, and I felt torn – I never wanted him to leave me again.

Nathaniel moved ever so closer to me, and at first, I was confused, and then he whispered, "He does have a great ass, Maria."

My initial reaction was to slap the prince. The Crown Prince of my Kingdom, and son of my King. Thankfully this was one impulse I didn't react on. But I did look up closely at his face, intending to give him an earful.

Instead, I saw his sincere expression, and his intentions with the comment became just a little clearer.

Which, actually, made a great bit of sense.

So I laughed. I really laughed. And Nathaniel chuckled beside me. For the remaining hours of the day, I could not stop smiling. Everyone around me commented in earnest about how I just glowed.

"Perhaps...but it is he that I love."

www. t. - link to the picture that inspired this little fic (remove spaces)

Dedicated to Aren…for giving me the idea of falling off the balcony (heh)