A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 07
Benedict heard the knock at his door. He wasn't expecting anyone this late at night, but apparently, someone had still come to call upon him. He let out a groan as he rose, hoping that it wasn't Prince Drest's entourage come to ask for this silly thing or that. He was the Chancellor, not some servant that catered to the whim of everyone in the castle. He made up his mind as he got to the door, speaking even as he reached for it.
"I am the Chancellor, not some common house kee--" His words were interrupted as he opened the door. Who but the redheaded royal house keeper now stood before him?
"House keeper, is that what you were going to say, Your High Excellency?" Muriel half smirked as she spoke. Without waiting for an invitation, she stepped into the office.
Benedict blinked a few times, surprised that she had come calling. Muriel's job was not to clean the offices, but rather, the private chambers of the royals. While he was not royal himself, the position he held was considered such. Benedict enjoyed the fact he was treated as equal to royalty by just about everyone around. Until now, Muriel had pretty much avoided the man except when necessary, so why would she suddenly come to call upon him now?
"State your business and be off with you, I have not the time for idle conversation." He simply stood within the frame of the open door while he waited for Muriel to state her business.
"You may wish to close the door, because whether you like it or not we are to have a private conversation." Iin the middle of the room, Muriel turned to face the man directly. Normally, she would not be so bold. However, this situation was different; all methods of subtlety had failed her thus far.
"I will not have some house keeper coming in here and telling me what to do," Benedict bristled. "Perhaps you should relearn some of the manners you have so obviously forgotten since the king's death?" He glared at the middle aged woman, the man's unpleasant mood reflected in the tone of his voice.
Muriel heard the sound of footsteps coming in the hallway. Just as she had expected, one of the guards had come to check upon the Chancellor, to make sure that nothing was amiss. She took the opportunity to act as she saw fit, or rather act as one would expect her to in a situation such as this.
"My apologies, Your High Excellency, I did not mean to be rude and forget my position." She spoke softly and just as she saw the figure in the door, her head bowed as if to acknowledge Benedict's position.
"Everything is fine here," she heard Benedict say. "If I have need of you, I shall call you. I do not wish to be disturbed for the rest of the evening, so until I am to be escorted to my chambers, I do not wish to see nor hear a single footstep from you once you arrive back at your post." The guard had not even said a word, yet Benedict knew exactly why he had come to the door.
"Yes, Your High Excellency, my profound apologies for disturbing you. I will do just as you have told me to do sir, please..." The almost frantic apology of the young guard was quickly halted, the glare from the Chancellor enough to send him scurrying back to his post at the beginning of the hallway.
Benedict closed the door and turned about, his attention focused upon the woman standing in his office. There was a grin on his face, as if the man had ended up triumphant where he did not think that he would. He stepped closer to the woman who still kept her head bowed, his eyes studied her as he watched. He had never been sure what to make of Muriel, neither did he suppose that he ever would.
"If you wish to speak to me, then do so now. I have little time and many things to see to." He was short with his words. Without as much as a second glance, he walked past Muriel and sat down at his desk.
"Chancellor, I have come to you on Evelyn's behalf. The other day I heard that you--"
"Can the queen not come and speak to me herself? Does she not have a tongue in which to express her own matters of concern?" His impatience was obvious by the way he spoke.
Muriel spun around and looked him right in the eyes, not at all impressed with his almost brutish behavior. In fact, she was quite frustrated with it. Then again, she was displeased with Benedict's whole attitude about the queen. She felt that his harshness toward the young woman was unwarranted; that it was out of control. It took her a moment to speak, to muster her composure so as not to raise her voice.
Benedict noticed the fire in the house keeper's amber eyes, then how it seemed to dull as she stood there. He couldn't help but chuckle, amused with the way she was now acting. Though a man like Benedict would not admit to it, he liked the fire in her eyes, the way it faded as she restrained herself. He enjoyed the fact that it seemed none could act as themselves around him. But perhaps that was a theory about to be tested.
"What you seem to forget is that the Queen has no idea what she is doing," Muriel finally said. "You forget that because she was not born with a bloodhorn, that she was abandoned and discarded. She knows little to nothing about the matters of royalty, and your actions to her have been unkind and inconsiderate." Her words expressed her concerns, at the same time revealing that she did not come here because Evelyn had asked her to.
"I do not forget, house keeper, I know this all too well. But I also know that if she is coddled then she will learn nothing, she will simply come to depend upon others rather than finding her own strength." Benedict turned his visual focus, he started to sift through the parchments on his desk.
"Do you not care that she is a person? Do you forget that unlike you she has feelings?" The words were blurted out before Muriel could think on them.
"You think that I do not care, but let me inform you of something, my dear maid." He stood and lock eyes with her, his voice raised as he spoke. "The fate of our kingdom rests in that woman's hands and her hands alone. Our very lives depend on Evelyn, and how she conducts herself. I care not what you think about the way I am treating her. Yes, she is a person, but foremost she is a queen. She cannot afford the time to be a person, she must focus her attentions only upon the duty she has to perform."
Benedict truly did seem uncaring as he spoke. But the fact of the matter was that he did care.
Muriel saw this in his eyes, something that not anyone else could see. There was buried compassion, repressed emotions that he refused to release. He had once been a truly compassionate man, but lonliness had changed that. Muriel remembered him from when he had first come here years ago. That day had changed Benedict, and not for the good, as far as she was concerned. The man needed some attention to his manners . . . or he needed for someone to just smack him aside the head.
"You cruel, heartless bastard!" Her hands slammed down onto the desk as her voice shrieked. Her temper had started to get the better of her. Muriel was sick of his attitude, especially since no one but the house keeper seemed willing to stand against him. "She is but a woman, barely at the age to begin courting! She may be queen, but that is not all that she has on her plate! She needs time to adjust, as we all do, to the death of the king!"
As Muriel spoke Benedict came out from behind his desk, slowly walking toward her as if to stalk his prey. The grin on his face evidenced subconscious satisfaction. He needed someone to be firm with him, someone to keep him in check. Not that he realized this, for Benedict had become quite oblivious to his own actions and manners.
Benedict snapped at her, his patience worn quite thin. "Some say that I am, but I do not hold much stock in those words, nor those people. Now, do you have something important to say, or are you going to continue to distract me from my work with useless opinions?"
She clenched her fists as he walked toward her, his words as hostile as his imposing figure. She looked up to him, his face mere inches from hers. She tried so hard not to respond. She wanted to just reach out and slap this man right across his face. He was being completely unreasonable; as far as Muriel was concerned, Benedict was being a complete and utter arse.
Once more he saw that she had to restrain herself. Benedict could tell by the look in Muriel's eyes that she wished nothing more than to just lash out. Yet she did not. He wondered if this woman was afraid of him for some reason. Perhaps it was the consequences she would suffer if she got too bold; she was of lower station, after all. He decided to test his theory. His hand reached down to lift her chin so that she once more looked directly into his eyes.
"What is the matter, Muriel? Are you at a loss for words, or perhaps you have realized that you are a foolish little woman with much less to say that you thought?" There was a smug look on his face as he said this, his hand ready to catch the one he expected to fly at any moment.
Fly it did. With ease, Benedict's hand caught hers and wrapped around her small wrist. He could not help but chuckle, which helped the situation very little. In fact it made it worse. Her other hand came to fly at him with the same intent as the first. That one did not strike either, he caught it as well. Muriel fumed, her arms now crossed in front of her. Benedict actually broke out into a laugh. Muriel only growled as the man's hands held her still and kept her from acting.
"Did you really think that you could slap me? I may not be a warrior, but I learned quickly enough how to guard myself against women such as yourself." A smirk crossed his lips as he said this, and once more he chuckled in her face.
"I am not a foolish woman! My life has been devoted to the royal family, if you consider such foolish, then you are foolish yourself!" She practically spat her words at him. Though he continued to hold her still, Muriel refused to back down.
"Perhaps I am foolish," the Chancellor replied. "However, such is not in question at this moment. What is in question are your manners and lack of respect for people stationed above you. Perhaps it will be me that teaches you this lesson." There was a pause in his words, the smirk turning into a wide grin. "Yes, I think I shall, for I can not think of a single person that has any objection to that."
His intention was to scare her, but he could see he had not quite accomplished that, and he knew it. He did not want to completely break her will, he only wanted to see how far he could push her. It was not that he found himself a cruel man; perhaps he appeared that way, but his intentions were not the same as if he truly was cruel. Muriel had not spent much time with this man. She knew not his motives nor what to expect from him.
"Now you will come with me and not make a fuss about it. If you do, no one will bother to help you, and you will only make things worse for yourself in the end. I am not a cruel man, but you have tried my patience, and since you seem so intent on taking up my time with trivial matters, I will make sure that the matter becomes not so trivial." All this was whispered almost seductively into her ear. At the same time there was an incredible seriousness to his words.
If she was scared, she showed no signs of it, but Benedict somehow knew. Perhaps it was the scent he inhaled before he straightened, or maybe he was just used to the fact that around him, people usually reacted in such a manner. Muriel was definitely stubborn; he had known this before, but he knew not to what extent. It quickly became much clearer, but he was definitely looking forward to the discovery of the exact boundaries of this woman's stubborn streak.
Without a chance to respond, Muriel felt her right arm pulled, his hand still around her wrist as he walked to the doorway of his office. But he did not stop there. Instead, he opened the door and started down the hallway. She had no idea where he was taking her, nor was she sure she wanted to know. She tried to pull against him, but his grip was strong. Try as she might, she could not free herself from Benedict's grip.
"Let me go!" Those words were spoken just as they walked past the guards. The only glance they gave was quickly deflected by the look in Benedict's eyes.
He paid no heed to her words, instead dragging her down the corridors of the castle. It took her until the final hallway to realize their destination. When Benedict heard her gasp of realization, he chuckled in amusement that it had taken her so long to figure it out. He also chuckled at what he assumed were her thoughts. He began to wonder if he should play along with her expectations.
When he opened the door, he practically flung Muriel toward the chair in the outer chamber of his quarters, quarters that she had surely cleaned but hours before. Only this time, she was not there to clean, but for whatever the Chancellor had in mind for her. The door was quickly closed behind him, and just in time.
"You will not have me!" She yelled as she ran at him. Benedict made no attempt to stop her other than block the doorway and her ability to leave.
He felt her fists pound into his chest. This time, he did not laugh, nor make any attempt to stop her. It wasn't that he did not feel her blows, he wanted to just let her do as she needed to take out her frustrations. He had no desire to hurt her, none at all. What he did desire was unclear even to him, which was of course the entire reason that he had brung Muriel to his chambers.
"I have no desire to have you." He spoke as he looked down upon her, his voice now much softer in tone. "Well, that is untrue. I do -- any man who did not would be foolish -- but that is not my intent." He finally took her wrists into his hands again, this time pulling her close in an almost intimate embrace.
This stopped her immediately. Her eyes looked up to him, confused. Muriel noticed his change in tone, in his actions. Benedict was suddenly much more gentle than he had been before. But this only brought questions to her mind, one in particular.
"Then why did you bring me here?" she asked in a soft voice, head bowed. "If not to have me, then why?"
Benedict released her hands. With a movement that seemed too tender for him, he lifted her face, until their eyes met. The corners of his lips curled in an awkward smile, awkward because it had been years since he had done such, but at the same time because no one within the castle had ever seen such an expression upon his face.
"Because, here we can talk in private, no one to snoop around the doors and hear us. That and..." Benedict sighed, then actually turned his back to Muriel.
His words and actions made her wonder. In all the years she had worked at the castle, Muriel had never seen Benedict speak this way, much less turn his back on anyone. He had never trusted anyone but perhaps the king well enough to do such. She placed a hand on his shoulder as if to try to get attention, but instantly she felt him pulling away from her.
"You may leave if you wish," the Chancellor said, his voice becoming more harsh. "You have told me your concerns. That is... unless there is something else you wish to add." He turned to face her, the plain expression returned to his face.
"You were going to say something, Your High Excellency, what was it?" She asked him softly, wondering what had brought about the change she had seen in him.
"It was nothing. I will try to be easy on Evelyn. However, in doing so, you must also be the one to teach her courtly manners. Do such and I will not have to be so hard on her." She blinked a few times as she heard him speaking the way he had in his office.
Benedict then walked to the door, opening it up for her and motioning for Muriel to leave. She was dubious about what she had seen from the normally hard man. Perhaps his moment of vulnerability was only in her imagination. Bowing her head as she sighed, she stepped through the door, heading directly to her chamber so that she could get some rest and perhaps make sense of the situation.
It had been days since Muriel had seen Benedict, which seemed a little strange to the house keeper. Had she said something wrong? She wondered if the Chancellor's moment of semi-public vulnerability bothered him to the point where he would avoid her. Muriel had changed her schedule of cleaning, trying to give herself a chance to see Benedict. While she did accomplish her goal, she was practically ignored except for a snide remark here or there. It was as if he did not wish for her to be around at all.
Incredibly frustrated with this, Muriel decided not to clean Benedict's chambers. Instead, she decided that if he could ignore her, then she could do the same with him. The goal was to bother him; however, it did not seem to do much. She spent her afternoons with Evelyn, teaching her the things that she needed to know about being queen. Then came the conversation with the young queen, about a week after Muriel's confrontation with Benedict.
"Something has you distracted, please tell me what it is." Evelyn spoke out of concern for the older woman that was becoming her friend, the woman who had seemed to get the Chancellor off her back a little.
"I am fine, my queen. I do not know where you get such thoughts from. Back to your lessons." Now Muriel made an attempt to avoid the discussion.
"I see the flush in your cheeks now and then when you pass certain areas of the castle. From what I have seen this is unlike you." Again Evelyn spoke with concern. However, at that point, she straightened her posture to make herself look more regal. "Do not make me order you as your queen to tell me what is going on, I'd prefer to avoid that but I will do what I need to do."
Muriel shook her head and laughed under her breath. Evelyn was definitely coming along quite well, even with the distraction of Prince Drest and his entourage. The smile on the older woman's face spoke of her pride for the girl. She had every good reason to feel this way. But her smile quickly faded, her eyes drifting down to her lap as she let out a sigh.
"I may be the queen but you were my mother's friend. I hope that you and I can be friends, as well. You have given me hope that I can do this, so let me be here for you as well." Evelyn's tone had softened as she had physically relaxed, concern apparent once more.
The house keeper and tutor to the queen mused silently before speaking. "I thought I saw something in someone but I am not quite sure. From what I have seen as of late, it seems perhaps nothing but a delusion. I want it to be true, but he does not seem to know that I exist any more. I wonder if I have done something wrong perhaps, but then again, what does an old maid like me know about personal relationships?" Muriel chuckled nervously thinking that perhaps she had spoken too much.
"I think I have come to know you quite well," said Evelyn with a teasing grin. "At which point I dare say that perhaps you are smitten with this person." Her words had Muriel suddenly looking right at her.
"I am not! Why would I be smitten with someone like him? He's pompous, arrogant, does not seem to care about others' feelings. He speaks in nothing but harsh tones, he cares for no one but himself. He is rude, he is..."
Evelyn suddenly burst out laughing. Muriel wondered what she had said or done wrong.
"If he is all of these things, then why do I hear disbelief in your voice? You speak harsh words about him yet your tone and the look in your eyes tell me you feel that which contradicts your words. If he is such things and you truly believe so then confront him, tell him what you think of him, and get it over with so that you are not distracted."
Muriel began to interrupt Evelyn, but the queen's posture straightened regally. Muriel knew that meant she would be ordered to do such if she did not do such on her own.