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And Still, the Sun Rises

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Kit walked down the hall with purpose. In an hour, he and his betrothed were going to have a portrait painted of themselves. They were to be married within a fortnight, so the castle was bustling with activity. A declaration was made to all the subjects, inviting them to the wedding ceremony and the banquet afterwards.

 

Many people were, no doubt, astonished that their king decided to marry a "commoner". Kit had never liked that word. In his eyes, he saw Ella as a proper lady. She was the daughter of a gentleman and it didn’t matter that she wasn’t of noble or royal blood. Most of the women he met who were had a tendency to be arrogant and demanding.

 

With that in mind, he was glad it was easy to get along with his fiancée. He’d never liked the idea of marrying a complete stranger simply because she was royalty. Marrying for love was his goal and he was thankful that he found the perfect woman for him.

 

Ella had such an innocent and tender way of viewing the world that it made him admire her. Even when she was stern or upset, there was a light inside of her that could never be extinguished. She always saw the positive side to a bad situation and she was a wonderful supporter. In every way, she was the ideal wife for a man and an ideal queen as well.

 

In preparation for the things she would have to do as queen, Kit hired her a tutor who was well-versed in royal etiquette and manners. This was necessary to teach her how to behave while in the company of other royals and those of the peerage. Ella and Kit spent every evening having dinner together and she would tell him what she learned in her lessons.

 

She didn’t have a formal education, but she was quite well-read and learned quickly, soaking up facts about the history of the kingdom like a sponge. Many nights she’d ask him questions about his life as a young boy and the mischief he got himself into. Kit was always happy to indulge her because he loved talking to her. He felt so free and full of ease in her presence.

 

Even the servants knew how much he adored her - although servants are meant to be seen and not heard, they witnessed a lot, so one couldn’t claim they were ignorant. They’d caught the young king and his bride-to-be a few times sneaking kisses out of sight.

 

Since Kit had a formal education, he was aware of his duty as a husband and what was required on his wedding night. Unfortunately, Ella lost her mother at a young age and her stepmother ignored her and treated her as a second-class citizen, she had no maternal figure to tell her what to expect in the marriage bed.

 

The good thing was she was smart and knew how to draw conclusions when presented with enough information. She suspected that making love had something to do with the lower part of her body. It shocked Kit a little because she actually asked him about it one evening when they were sitting by the fireplace.

 

He managed to stutter through a vague reply about where their bodies were meant to be joined and she listened intently. It was clear from her questions that Ella was a virgin - like him - and he was grateful for that. He wouldn’t have judged her if she wasn’t, but he believed that it would be more enjoyable for them to learn what they liked and disliked as they made love on their wedding night.

 

From what his father had told him of his own experience, sharing the marriage bed for the first time was a moment that bonded a husband and his wife together in a way that nothing else could compare. Since Ella and Kit had already established a bond, it would be even more intimate after they were married. What that in mind, the wedding day couldn’t come soon enough!

 

Kit stopped in front of a large cedar door and knocked three times. "Ella? Are you in there?" Silence was his answer and he knocked three more times before opening the door and peering inside. After a brief check, he knew she wasn’t in her room.

 

"Where could she be?" He frowned and left, shutting the door.

 

Upon her arrival, Ella liked to explore around the castle, but now that she had tutoring lessons, she didn’t do that as much. If she wasn’t spending time with Kit or doing her homework, she was reading, taking walks among the grounds, riding a horse or working on her needlepoint.

 

As he walked past an open bedroom door to a suite in the north wing, he heard the sound of a soft hum. He halted and looked at a young woman who was putting new sheets on the bed. It was a maid, straightening up for a visiting dignitary who had been invited to the wedding. A black handkerchief was wrapped up in the maid's hair and a few blonde ringlets had come loose from it. She wore a dark blue dress and old brown boots that had seen years of hard work.

 

She was several feet away from him, but something about the way she moved seemed familiar. Kit furrowed his brow and stepped into the room. The maid slipped covers on the pillow and plumped them while spinning around in a circle. She giggled, as if remembering something humorous and that was when Kit knew who she was.

 

"Ella!" He called her and she jumped in surprise.

 

"Oh. Hello." Those blue eyes widened when she watched him check to see if anyone was nearby, then he shut the door.

 

"What on earth are you doing? Are you cleaning??" The young king looked at her incredulously, but with a smile on his face. He never could stop himself from smiling at her.

 

"Well...yes."

 

"There are servants for that." He chuckled at her sheepish grin.

 

"I know! I just wanted to help Anna. She’s got to do more work since one of the other maids is sick and this room was close to mine, so I figured I could do it for her." Ella plumped the pillows again and set them on the bed, nodding in approval at her work.

 

Hearing that made Kit's eyes soften. Ella had a kind heart and she was always willing to help people, even when it wasn’t the most ideal situation. "Well, you left the door open. Someone else could have seen you."

 

"Um, oops?" She covered her mouth to stifle a laugh.

 

"I suppose I can’t convince you to stop cleaning rooms?" He looked at her knowingly.

 

"Oh, no. I mean, yes. I don’t do this all the time...ah, except for yesterday."

 

"And what happened yesterday?"

 

"The shield on that suit of armor in the main hall was a bit dull, so I shined it with one of my handkerchiefs."

 

Kit sighed and shook his head, but the smile on his face said he wasn’t angry with her.

 

"Don’t worry! No one saw me and I was very quick. I know it’s improper for a future queen to do that, but it’s natural for me to clean things if they’re dirty or messy. I’ve been cleaning after my stepfamily for years and it’s become a bit of a habit." She looked at the ground and rubbed a smudge of dirt off her dress.

 

"No one could fault you for that. I’m sure if our positions were reversed, I’d feel the same way about cleaning. Habits can be quite hard to break."

 

"They are. I never wanted to be treated like a maid. Not that I thought I was better than our servants. My parents taught me to be kind and respectful to the people who worked in our home. I became friends with them and in time, they became like family to me. Even when father died, I had their support, and that got me through the hardest time of my life. It didn’t last though." 

 

Ella sniffed and tried to hold back tears. "Less than a year after father died, my stepmother dismissed all of the servants from our house. She said it was because we couldn’t afford to pay so many people, but she made me do all the cooking and cleaning and moved me to the attic. I didn’t have anyone to confide in, except for my mouse friends, but they couldn’t talk back to me. I was completely alone for four years."

 

Her voice cracked a little and she sank to the floor, tears now rolling down her cheeks. She hadn’t intended to get emotional, but talking about her troubled past brought back all of the painful memories she tried her hardest to forget.

 

"I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. They’re...they’re not nice things and I hate remembering them."

 

Kit bent down onto her level and took her in his arms, gently wiping away her tears with his fingers. "No, it’s good that you’re telling me. We’re going to be married, Ella, and I want you to know that you have freedom to speak to me about anything. That’s part of what being a husband is about, listening to and supporting your wife through the happy and sad times. Talking about painful things in your life with someone you love can help you let go of the past. It’s cathartic."

 

"I believe you." Sighing, she leaned against him, pressing her head to his chest. The warmth of his body and the constant beat of his heart comforted her. "I just don’t understand why it still hurts when I've already forgiven them."

 

"Forgiveness is important, but it’s just the start. Wounds developed in the heart take time to heal, especially if a person did something that hurt you. You lived in that house with your stepmother for four years and you didn’t break under the pressure or turn bitter. Not only that, but you chose to forgive her instead of holding a grudge. A lot of people wouldn’t have done that. I know it would’ve been hard for me."

 

"Really?"

 

"Yes. You have so much love and kindness in your soul that it makes sense you can’t hate anyone. Every day I see how you empathize with people you don’t even know and even when you’re being stubborn, there’s still a softness in your personality. You are strong and you have a good heart, Ella. As long as you let it guide you, you’ll be on the right path."

 

The blonde smiled and gave him a light squeeze. It was amazing how he made her feel like she could do anything. His words were a balm to her soul and she believed every word that he said. He was truly heaven sent. "I had no idea you were such a good encourager."

 

"I’m a man of many talents." Kit pecked her nose and they stayed on the floor, holding each other close. It wasn't dignified or appropriate for a king to be perched on the floor with his future bride and queen, but neither cared for social conventions at that time. For that one precious moment, all they cared about was each other.

 

After a few minutes, Ella pulled back to look at her betrothed in his eyes. Then her gaze went downwards to his attire and she smoothed the material with her palm. "This is a nice uniform."

 

Now he remembered. With a start, Kit sat up. "Our portrait! I forgot! The appointment was set in an hour and..." His voice trailed off as he looked at the clock on the wall. "You have twenty-four minutes to get ready."

 

"Oh, no! I forgot about that too! I’m sorry! I’ll be dressed in no time, I promise!" Ella tugged the handkerchief out of her hair, causing the curly blonde locks to fall around her face. Kit had never seen her without something that held her hair up and out of the way. He’d seen her wearing a twisted handkerchief in her hair when they first met, but after he found her and proposed, she’d never had her hair completely down. It was very becoming.

 

While Kit stared at her beautiful curls, she went to the door and opened it, peering outside to make sure the coast was clear. "Alright, no one's around. I'll hurry back to my room and get changed. Louise is probably wondering where I am."

 

"Good idea. I’ll leave a few moments after you so no one will suspect anything," Kit replied.

 

Just as he finished speaking, the voice of a woman called down the hall. "Lady Ella? Lady Ella, where are you?"

 

"I am summoned," the blonde whispered conspiratorially. She waited for her lady’s maid to pass the room and counted to ten. When she could no longer hear footsteps, she slipped through the door.

 

Kit looked around and smiled at how impeccably the cleaning job had been done. His fiancée was very good at spiffing up. He couldn’t remember the last time this room looked so nice and he laughed, thinking how the other maids could use a few pointers from her. Walking to the door, he grasped the knob and opened it, nearly bumping into Ella. 

 

Before he could ask what her was wrong, she threw her arms around him and pressed her lips to his. It was a surprise kiss that caught him off guard and was over too soon. By the time he responded, she pulled away and sent him a playful smile.

 

"I will see you soon, your majesty." Then she was gone.

 

It was a struggle to not run after her, but he resisted the urge. All he had to do was wait two weeks until they were married and on their wedding night, the sky was the limit.