Adelaisa

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A female adjutant to Captain Kallen, the third son of the Duke of Maginwulf, Adelaisa has served happily with him for nearly five years. Having promised not to take advantage of her gender, Kallen has kept his word to the letter, treating her like a peer - while she has fallen in love with him. When first his eldest, then his second brother are killed, Kallen is summoned back to Maginwulf to inherit the dukedom. Will he consent to his father's demands or make his own? Will he take the title or walk away? And what will it mean for Adelaisa?

***This story came about because of the name of a very able and fully armored lady Captain in Skyrim.***

Standing at the ready, with her dark eyes watching her captain, it was hard to believe that he was once a soft milksop of a noble. With a parry that seemed almost casual, Adelaisa pushed aside the attacker's sword, then gutted him with an upward stroke. Shaking the remains off her weapon, she continued her campaign to protect her captain's flank.

It wasn't a difficult or distasteful job. Captain Kallen was a superb warrior, as well as a man of honor and integrity. For nearly five years Adelaisa had served as his adjutant, tending his armor and weapons and even his wounds when necessary. She never regretted her decision to take the post.

It wasn't that way at first. Back then she had been one sergeant among many, watching as Captain Kallen's adjutant was promoted to a higher rank, leaving the post vacant. He and his hand-picked troop of fighters had just returned successful from a dangerous covert mission behind enemy lines, with a minimal loss of life. The man was either a superb commander or incredibly lucky and most leaned toward the former opinion.

That being the case, there was bound to be a great deal of posturing and competition among the many who coveted the appointment. For her part, as much as she might want the promotion she wouldn't seek it out. Male officers who took on female adjutants usually wanted to bed them at their whim, and she wanted to be no man's plaything - even if the man was as attractive as Captain Kallen.

Even so, it had stung. Adelaisa had fought her way up from a raw recruit by hard work and dedication. She was generally the first on the practice field and the last one off. She had pitted herself against men on an even basis and bested them, gaining her promotion to a sergeant's rank in just under four years. She coveted the position as adjutant to an able captain and the promotion to lieutenant it carried with it, but she wanted to gain it on her merits as a soldier, not because of her better than average figure.

On the following day, she had been sitting on a camp stool in the shade next to her tent. Just as she had finished oiling her armor and started honing the edge of her sword, a shadow had fallen over her. It had been a shock when she looked up into the face of Captain Kallen.

"No, no soldier, don't get up," Kallen had said. When she subsided back into place, he had grabbed another nearby stool and sat. "Are you not interested in advancement, Sergeant?"

"I'm interested in advancement," she had replied as calmly as possible. "I simply don't want to advance on my back."

"Ah, I see." There had been no amusement or condescension in his voice. "I can't say that I blame you for that. Your present commander speaks highly of you and I must admit that his assessment had me hoping to find your name among the applicants."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, sir."

"So don't. Sergeant, I need an adjutant that understands strategy, loyalty and won't be afraid to speak their mind. I need an aid that isn't afraid to tell me to sit down before I fall down or even shut up when necessary. I don't need or want a bed warmer."

"So you're saying that, did I become your aide, you'd keep your hands to yourself?

"Completely."

"And you won't make any advances?"

"Absolutely none, for as long as you're in my command. I'll even put it in writing, along with a clause that absolves you of insubordination if I default and you defend yourself. Not to demean the rest of you, but I'm after your brain and your good left arm. What say you, Sergeant?" When she didn't answer immediately, he flashed her a smile. "I won't even ask you to scrub my back."

For some reason that had made her break out in laughter, which Kallen joined in. The next day she had reported for duty.

Another enemy grunt rushed her. Catching his wrist with her gauntleted right hand, she pushed his weapon away as her blade went into his shoulder. He crumpled, sliding off the blade to the ground.

While she had already respected Kallen's abilities before, working with him daily increased her personal regard and admiration immensely. Not only was he an able strategist and tactician, as well as a superb fighter, he had solid personal integrity and morals as well.

Kallen had kept his word to the letter. Not only had he never made any advances or remarks, but he had swiftly punished anyone else who did so. Further, it was not just her, but any woman under his command and he demanded that his men respect the women as well. Word of his strict code had spread through the ranks, and the best female fighters flocked to Captain Kallen's banner, where they were treated as peers both on the battlefield and in camp. The other captains made jokes about his Valkyries - Kallen only smiled.

It had surprised her to discover that he was the son of a noble, much less Duke Jorik of Maginwulf. Nobles tended to use their rank to avoid military service. Kallen, on the other hand, had defied his sire to join the ranks of the King's army at the young age of twenty. That the Duke had disowned him was primarily symbolic. As the youngest son - with the heir and the spare above him - he had no inheritance from his father, anyway.

Kallen was an aberration in his family - a man with principles. His father was arrogant and selfish. His eldest brother Erik enjoyed gambling, wine and fast horses. The spare, Allard, considered himself a lady's man and was ready to dally with any female that he could convince - noble or peasant, married or single.

It was a delicious irony that now, at the age of thirty, the Captain held more influence with King Leopold than the Duke, having earned it by his loyal and exemplary service against the barbarian Munsk. For over eight years their forces had toiled in this war, but today they finally faced the last battle as Leopold led them out against the Munsk general Humar. Defeating him would end the Munsk incursion - the war would be over.

Three more enemy soldiers rushed up the hill, weapons raised in threat. Adelaisa turned, thrust her sword into the nearest one's gullet, twisted, pulled back and turned to face the next one. At the same moment, Kallen grabbed the third by the scruff of the neck, and with a quick snap threw him into the one advancing on Adelaisa. Both went down and made no move to rise. Adelaisa thrust through the both of them just to be sure.

Silence fell.

Captain and Adjutant looked at each other for a moment.

"Well, Lieutenant," said Kallen finally, "we seem to have won the day."

"Indeed, it seems so." Adelaisa looked around the battlefield and saw none standing but their own troops. She wiped her blade and returned it to it's sheath, then removed her helm, allowing her long golden brown braid to fall down her back. "And the war in the bargain. Another job well done."

"And none too soon," said Kallen, looking at the sun. "It's late. I need my dinner."

"Then by all means," said Adelaisa with a laugh, "let's get you some dinner." She and her captain trudged off toward the camp.

After a hearty meal, they return to their tent. Unlike some officers, Kallen did not expect Adelaisa to take care of all of his gear as well as hers after a long fight. She was as weary as he was, he insisted, having watched his back throughout. So, they spent the rest of their evening cleaning, oiling, sharpening and checking for any needed repairs. Then they turned in.

While Kallen slept in a larger compartment of the tent, Adelaisa had far more privacy than a typical male adjutant would. Kallen had arranged to have a canvas wall put into the tent to enclose her sleeping area. She hadn't asked for this accommodation, it had been her captain's idea. That was one of the things that she admired about Kallen. While he never treated women as less than men, he nevertheless made accommodations for the fact that they weren't men. Besides, she had the feeling that Kallen would have done the same for a male that preferred more privacy.

In the morning, King Leopold decided not to break camp, but to give his troops a couple of days of rest. As usual, there were some who spent their time drinking, gambling, or wenching while others read, debated, or wrote letters to home. Both Adelaisa and Kallen caught a lot of teasing for carting books around in their packs. They were both deep in their literature when the sound of running feet caught their attention.

"Captain Kallen!" The runner slid to a stop at the open door of the tent. "I have a message for you, sir."

"A message?" Kallen's brows drew together in a frown. "Who would be sending me a message? Best hand it over."

The runner handed the sealed missive to Kallen, bowed, then turned and ran back in the direction from which he had come. Kallen turned the message over and examined the seal.

"Damn!" His frown went from puzzled to perturbed. "I wonder what my father wants this time?"

Adelaisa wondered also. The last time Kallen's father had written, it was to tell him that his eldest brother Erik had made a drunken wager that he could jump his new horse over a fence. In the resulting disastrous spill the heir apparent broke both the horse's leg and his own neck. While Kallen loved his brother, he hadn't seen him for years and could not possibly get home for the funeral. Kallen's second brother Allard, the spare, had stepped into the breach, taking the place as heir to his father's dukedom.

Adelaisa, on the other hand, received letters from home nearly every time the post came to the camp. Her sister was an avid correspondent, and sent her several pages nearly every day. Each mail call brought several letters at once. Freda kept her abreast of all that is going on back in the teeny little village they were born in.

Not that Adelaisa really cared. She had joined the Army to get away from the dullness of Ashford. When she left, the only thing remaining there that had any hold on her was Gerard, her betrothed. After a long private discussion, they had agreed that Adelaisa would serve for five years, then return to Ashford to be married.  After that, she hoped to convince Gerard to relocate.

The whole point became moot just before her five years was up. Freda had written to tell her that Gerard, after publicly declaring their betrothal void due to her continued absence, had offered for the daughter of the miller. That the daughter came with the future promise of owning the mill was a given. Adelaisa was free from Ashford altogether.

She might have figured the whole out sooner had she bothered to question the absence of news of Gerard in her sister's letters for some months previous. It was so like Freda to avoid telling her bad news until there was no longer any choice. Adelaisa supposed she should have felt hurt or betrayed, but she didn't.

The first thing that she recognized feeling as a result of the news was a sense of relief. The most obvious reason for such was not having to return to the staid, prosaic little hamlet of her birth. But now that their connection was broken, she realized that she hadn't felt much emotion for Gerard for some time. She could hardly blame him for finding an object for his affection closer to home. But for her there was more to it than that.

Sitting alone in her tent room she had to admit that, in the matter of men, Gerard had ceased to be her ideal of manliness some time ago - a good year at least. How could any mere villager compare to Kallen of Maginwulf? How, in fact, could ANY man? That thought rattled her.

Adelaisa was used to not fooling herself. She had always faced the facts about her wants, needs and desires. Even so, it caused some amount of chagrin on her part to realize that the kind of interest from Kallen that she had been so firmly set against was no longer abhorrent to her. It was not that she wanted to be his plaything - that still was not acceptable - but she wouldn't mind being see as a woman apart from her rank. It was lowering to realize that her high opinion of her good sense was apparently much too high - she had fallen in love with her Captain, who saw her as a good adjutant and nothing more.

It was a difficult realization, but Adelaisa was a practical woman. As she had always been the private sort of person, not used to airing her emotions publicly anyway, keeping her secret should not prove too arduous. And it hadn't, for the most part, except on the few occasions when neither her skill nor his had saved one of them from injury.

When she was injured, it was impossible for her to hide her embarrassment when he stripped off armor and leather without ceremony to tend her hurts, leaving only her skimpy cotton undergarments to preserve her modesty. Fortunately, his sensitivity to that modesty kept his ministrations swift and practical in nature and he never seemed to think her prudery was odd. After his first aid, he left the care of her wounds to the healers.

When Kallen was the injured one, her anguish and worry over him did not have to be completely hidden, only kept in check. The initial task of dealing with the injury itself was immediate enough to keep her attention focused on the necessary medical treatment. It was the subsequent tending of his wounds that caused her difficulty, and it grew worse as he grew better. Hiding the wholly female admiration and pleasure of tending to his splendid body was tricky - especially when he needed a sponge bath.

She had resorted to army banter to distract him and it had worked fairly well. They had grown used to each other swiftly and an easy sort of teasing came on the heels of that comfort. Lightly veiled, albeit erroneous insults were frequently tossed back and forth between them. Adelaisa congratulated herself that she had managed rather well.

Now, watching Kallen's face as he read the message, she first saw irritation, which was normal when he read anything from his father. But that initial emotion gave way to shock, then sorrow, followed by utter incredulity. While curious, she waited. He would tell her what was going on soon enough. He finished the letter, lowering it slowly, his expression still shocked and unbelieving.

"It seem's," he finally said, "that Allard worked his charms on the wrong lady. She had a violently jealous husband who challenged him to a duel."

"He was shot," said Adelaisa evenly.

"And killed." Kallen looked at her with a wry smile. "The Duke has summoned me home to do my duty to the title." Then he laughed, crumpling the missive in one fist. "I should like very much to tell him to go to blazes."

"But you won't," she said. "At least not until you talk to the King."

"And I will take your good advice, as usual. I doubt His Majesty will let me off the hook, however."

"Probably not. He would count it a great advantage to have you as Duke of Maginwulf."

"But I don't WANT to be Duke, Adelaisa. I've spent a great deal of my life happy in the fact that I would not be."

"You don't have to be like your father. You could be your own man just as well as a duke as you have as a captain."

"I don't have any training for the role," he protested.

"You're a leader of men. What is a Duke if not a leader of men?"

"In the old sense, you're right." He shook his head. "But it's not like that anymore."

"So change it," she replied earnestly. "And perhaps others will follow suit. I think that you would be a very good Duke, Captain."

"I don't know. I'll have to talk to Leopold." He tossed the crumpled paper toward his gear bag. "Arrogant old man. He didn't even mention anything about disinheriting me when I left home."

"Of course not," she replied. "You didn't really expect him to, did you?"

"No, I didn't." He rose from his seat. "I'd best go see Leo."

Adelaisa was not surprised to discover that she was right. King Leopold was very much in favor of his Captain becoming Duke of Maginwulf. Kallen, however, was still unconvinced. In the end he agreed only to go back to Maginwulf and talk to his father. Whether he actually accepted the dukedom or let it pass to the next nearest male relative was still undecided.

So it was that she found herself riding beside Kallen as they approached the duke's keep in the early evening light. What she had seen of the lands of Maginwulf so far had been pretty good. The land was rich and beautiful and the people were healthy for the most part. However, there were signs of apathy and the common sullen mood of the peasants and gentry who were not exactly oppressed, but were not particularly happy with the status quo, either.

The keep itself was huge. Walls and castle alike were fashioned of lovely gray limestone. The castle looked out like a sentinel over the lands and it had stood so ever since the first Duke of Maginwulf had built it when the first King had gifted him with the demesne. It was no surprise to Adelaisa when the guards were happy to see Kallen. She had long suspected that his way with soldiers was an integral part of his personality.

The steward of the house greeted them at the door. Kallen's mother, Meriel was an invalid of long standing and Jorik apparently would not lower himself to come to meet his youngest son. They were shown to rooms and invited to wash away the dust of the road and change their clothes.They washed up, but neither of them changed from their traveling mail and leather. Adelaisa met Kallen in the hall.

Having been informed that his father was in his study, Kallen headed off through the marble floored hallways. Following in his wake, Adelaisa looked around her with awe. The richness of this place was exceeded only by the coldness of the atmosphere. How in the world had such a warm, vital man as her captain grown up in a place like this?

Coming to the study, Kallen knocked. A deep voice with the slight tremolo of the elderly bade him to enter. At a sign from Kallen, Adelaisa entered the room right behind him and stationed herself by the door. Hands folded behind her, she stood in a waiting martial stance while her Captain advanced on the desk.

The gray-haired man seated behind the desk looked up as Kallen approached. Adelaisa could see a distinct resemblance in their handsome features, thick hair and blue eyes, although Kallen's hair was dark brown instead of gray and his eyes were warm instead of cold as glacial ice. Still, if his father was any indication, Kallen would age well.

"Father." Kallen inclined his head, but did not bow.

"Kallen." Jorik's eyes narrowed. "Still stiff-necked, I see."

"If you insist," replied the son in a placid tone. "You asked me to come. I'm here. Now what?"

"You're the last male of the family," said the father. "It's up to you to do your duty by the title."

"Is it?" On reaching the spot where he had stopped, Kallen had fallen into the same military stance as she, but now he relaxed, leaning his hip against the corner of the big mahogany desk. "And just what, precisely, do you see as my duty?"

"You will come back to live here," said the duke, "and learn to run this estate in the proper manner. You will wed Gwendolyn, of course and when I deem you proficient, I will step down in your favor. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I understand." Kallen straightened.

"Well, what have you to say about it then?" Asked the old man querulously.

"No."

"No?" Jorik frowned fiercely. "What do you mean, no?"

"I mean no, I will not learn to run this estate in what you call the proper manner and stay here under your ruling thumb," said Kallen calmly. "And no, I will most certainly NOT marry Gwendolyn."

"Gwendolyn has long been prepared to be the Duchess of Maginwulf," snarled the Duke. "Both Erik and Allard accepted that."

"Yes, I know," replied Kallen. "Gwendolyn has coveted the title as long as I can remember. However, while it's possible but not definite that Erik bedded her, it's a virtual certainty that Allard did. Even if I liked Gwendolyn, which I do not, I would not take my brother's leavings to be my wife."

"You will," shouted Jorik, rising to his feet and leaning on the desk, "or you'll not inherit so much as a speck of dust!!"

"Is that supposed to be a threat?" Kallen chuckled. "I can have as large an estate as I like and a title to go with it from King Leopold just for the asking, Father. He's been trying to get me to accept it for the last three years." He watched as his father, speechless, sank back into the chair. "So, you see, I don't need you or your estate to have lands. And as I have saved the largest part of my wages and bonuses for all the years I've served, it's quite likely that I have more ready coin than you have as well."

"You can't just walk away from Maginwulf," rasped the duke.

"Actually I can and with a clear conscience," replied Kallen. "And when you die Georges will take the title."

"NO!" Again Jorik erupted from his chair. "I will NOT let that useless popinjay take this seat!"

"I'm afraid it's out of your hands, Father," said the son calmly, "as both you and Mother are quite incapable of having any more children and I will not accept your terms for me to inherit."

The duke fell into brooding silence, staring down at his hands that lay on the desk. His complexion went from ruddy to ashen and his scowl grew deeper as time passed. Finally, just as Adelaisa saw Kallen tense to turn away, the duke looked up.

"What would it take," said the old man roughly, "to convince you to accept your place as heir?"

"It would have to be MY place," said Kallen simply. "I'll not be in your shadow. If I'm to lead Maginwulf then you will abdicate the title to me. I will lead on my own merit, not as your proxy. I'll make my own decisions, and my own mistakes. If I want your advice I'll ask, but I'll take it only if I choose to."

"That's asking a great deal," growled Jorik. "I assume there's more?"

"There is," Kallen confirmed. "You and mother will move to the Dower House, taking such of the staff as you need to be comfortable. I'll hire replacements." Now, placing his hands on the desk, he leaned down and looked full into his father's face. "Further, I'll choose who, when and how I wed and you WILL accept her and our children without demure or question or I'll toss this dirt patch into Georges' lap and go back to being a soldier. Now, do YOU understand?"

For a long moment their eyes locked. Jorik looked into the face of his youngest son and Adelaisa knew what he saw there - a reflection of his own implacable will. She knew as well that this was no bluff. If the duke refused any of his son's demands, Kallen would walk away and not look back.

"I understand," said the old man heavily. "And I agree."

"Do you, indeed?" Kallen stood. "Well, then I'll expect you to announce your abdication tomorrow and be moved to the Dower House within a fortnight."

"And who do you plan to marry?" asked the duke.

"Whomever I please," Kallen replied simply. "Now, Adelaisa and I are tired from all day in the saddle. I'm going to order our dinner sent up to our suite and as soon as we eat we're going to bed. I expect your announcement to be made in the morning right after you break your fast."

"It will be," said Jorik stiffly. "Just don't blame me when things don't work out as you think that they will."

"I wouldn't dream of it," said Kallen with a smile. "Believe it or not, father, I learned to take responsibility for my actions a long time ago. You're the one that taught me that lesson." The Captain turned and strode toward the door. "Come Lieutenant. Let's order some grub and find a place to sit down and relax."

Adelaisa, as was her long habit, fell into step behind him and followed him all the way back to the suite of rooms that they had been assigned. A quick word to one of the many servants soon procured a tasty and plentiful meal for the two of them. As they ate, Kallen regaled her with tales of his childhood exploits. It was a fascinating look at the child who became the man she so admired. After a glass of very fine brandy, she retired to her bedroom.

As she stripped off her mail shirt and leather, Adelaisa found herself smiling. Her captain had done his usual masterful job of sizing up his enemy and coming up with precisely the right tactics for him to gain the upper hand. He had backed the old Duke very neatly into a corner and left him only one acceptable way out. In her light cotton undergarments Adelaisa crawled into the first bed she had slept in for years.

It was an odd feeling to sink down into a soft mattress instead of the skimpy padding of her military pallet, but that was a minor issue. She had far more pressing things in her mind. For the first time she allowed herself to consider what the recent events would mean for her.

She pushed away the vain and selfish thought that Jorik would renege on the bargain. Kallen would make a fine duke, and under him the apathy and sullen attitudes of the people would largely be a thing of the past. Her Captain knew how to treat his troops. King Leopold would have a strong ally in Maginwulf. Kallen might doubt himself, but she knew that being the Duke without his father's interference was just the kind of challenge Kallen thrived on.

She, on the other hand, was going to have to decide what to do with herself. After all, a civilian duke didn't need an adjutant. Knowing Kallen, he would probably offer her some sort of position, but taking it was not a real option. As painful as leaving would be, staying and watching him marry and raise a family with another woman would likely be worse. She still had her commission, and perhaps even a promotion, but did she want a peacetime command? If she opted to muster out she could always become a mercenary and she could likely gather several of her fellow female soldiers for a troop.

Well, tomorrow was soon enough to worry about it. Fretting when you should be sleeping was not a good thing for a soldier. One learned to put things out of your mind and get your much needed rest. So, with the habit of long practice she set her worries aside and composed herself to sleep. It took some time before she could finally fully relax, but eventually she dropped off.

Adelaisa woke, opening one eye to gauge the time. Her internal clock was still working fine, it was just past dawn. Habit had her rolling out and reaching for her leathers. It was likely to be the last day she spent in Kallen's service. With his father's abdication he would become duke and his commission would lapse accordingly.

 "Morning, Lieutenant," said Kallen cheerily as she walked into the room. He gestured to a heavily laden tray with his fork. "Grab some breakfast."

"Yes, sir," she said with a smile. He already had a heaping plate. One thing that was always consistent with her captain was his appetite. She helped herself to a plentiful helping of food and sat down. "Are you Duke yet?"

"No." He took a bite, chewed and swallowed. "I told him after he broke his fast. My father rarely rises before midmorning." Another bite went the way of the last. "I don't expect him to change today. Likely he'll get to it around noonday." Yet another bite disappeared. "Assuming he does, indeed, abdicate in my favor."

"You think he might not?" She asked.

"Not really. He doesn't like my conditions, but he positively hates Georges and his kin. I think he would put the porter's pig in his place before he would that branch of the family."

"So you expected him to capitulate?"

"It wasn't a complete certainty. The only real question was whether he had come to detest me more than he did Georges. We did not part on very good terms and I've had little enough contact with him since."

"Perhaps I'm off, but I honestly think he respects you for standing your ground, Captain. You're very like in some ways."

"I know." Kallen shook his head, his expression quizzical. "Mother says I am more like him than my brothers, yet he always seemed to prefer them."

"Perhaps dealing with a younger version of himself was disconcerting."

"Well, we're not THAT alike." He chuckled. "Erik got his love of drink, gambling and horses, Allard his charm with women. I got his stubborn streak."

"Where did your morals come from, then?"

"My Grandfather. Mother's father. I think he always regretted accepting my father's suit. Mother was the reigning beauty of the season and perforce my father decided he must have her. He exerted himself to win her and succeeded. Mother was in love, and thought he loved her, so Grandfather allowed the marriage. By the time I was born, Father had grown ..." Kallen paused. " ... shall we say indiscreet? Mother discovered his infidelities and realized that they had started before they were even wed. She never confronted him directly, but her health problems began then."

"So she isn't really sick?"

"I don't know," said Kallen softly. "All I know is that her illnesses took precedence over anything else, including her children."

"That's very sad," she said softly.

"Yes, it is. " He shook his head. "Oddly enough, they manage to maintain some semblance of an amiable relationship."

"And that's not what you want in your marriage."

"It certainly isn't," Kallen agreed. "You should understand that Gwendolyn was not Erik's choice. My Father chose her, apparently for her bloodlines, like a blasted horse. Erik, being Erik, went along with it. I'm sure Allard appreciated not having to take time from his whoring to go courting. I'd rather be drawn and quartered by a troop of Munsk berserkers than even speak to that woman, much less wed her."

"She sounds awful." Adelaisa, having finished her food, set her plate aside. "So what is it you want in a wife?"

"Fidelity." Kallen said without hesitation. "Integrity, loyalty, intelligence, honesty, wisdom and a sense of humor."

"What about beauty?"

"Beauty is a funny thing," he said somberly. "If it comes from the inside, the outside will be beautiful no matter what. If it's not on the inside, the outside will be tarnished, however perfect it might seem." He gave a huff of wry amusement. "Gwendolyn certainly fit the latter." Having finished his second plate, Kallen's appetite seemed satisfied. He set his plate with hers. "Would you like to see a scale model of the keep?"

"Yes, I would."

Kallen led her to the South tower and up the winding stair to where the schoolrooms had been. There in one of the rooms was a large table on which had been built a perfect miniature of the keep, from the walls to the castle. She enjoyed listening to his telling of the building of the keep and the history of Maginwulf with it's battles and victories.

"Hear ye, Hear ye!" Shortly after midmorning the herald's voice floated up from below. "Let all the inhabitants of this duchy take heed! Be it known that this day Jorik, the ninth Duke of Maginwulf abdicates his seat in favor of his son, Kallen the tenth Duke of Maginwulf."

"Well, now, there it is," said Kallen. "He's actually done it."

"Do I call you 'Your Grace' now?" asked Adelaisa with a smile.

"No," said Kallen firmly. "You don't. There's undoubtedly papers for me to sign, then we can grab some lunch. Coming Lieutenant?"

"Yes, Captain," she replied. Title or no, commission or no, Kallen would always be her Captain, she thought. She followed downstairs and again stood at the door while Kallen and his father signed all of the necessary documents to make Kallen the tenth duke.

"Meriel and I will be completely moved to the Dower House in a few days," grumbled Jorik. "As if such a small undertaking would take a fortnight."

"I am sure you will manage with your usual marked capability," said Kallen smoothly. "And empty some of the shelves in the Library in the process."

"Only what I need for my research," Jorik replied gruffly. "All you've left for me is my history of the family."

"By all means, take whatever you wish. I can always come and borrow them if the need arises." He caught a waiting footman and gave him instructions for the noon meal before turning to her with his brows raised in question. "Care to join me for lunch in the solar, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir." It was silly not to. Adelaisa knew she would be going soon enough, but there was no reason she couldn't grab a few more moments - a few more memories. Falling in behind him as she had so many times before, she followed to the solar.

She had to admit that the servants were incredibly efficient at their jobs. In the short time it took Kallen to show her the room and regale her with the tale of how the glass for the numerous windows was brought to Maginwulf at great expense for the pleasure of the fifth Duchess, the food arrived, along with a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice. They ate, but he made no move to open the bottle. Finally she set her plate aside and shortly after he put his aside as well.

"Come," Kallen said rising from his chair. "Walk with me."

"Yes, sir." It was her usual reply to this particular request. It generally meant that he had something on his mind that he wanted to discuss. As she walked beside him out the doors and into the formal gardens, she had to wonder what it might be. There was no battle in the offing, no pressing decisions to be made, unless he wanted to discuss what he had in mind for his estate. Whatever it was, he would get to it soon enough.

They walked to the center of the plot, where at the highest point a summerhouse had been built. From here the garden dropped away in a series of terraced beds to the wall, past which the demesne was laid out like a scene from a pastoral play. Taking the steps up into the small shelter, he walked through and stopped on the covered porch that looked out over the vista below. Adelaisa came to a stop at his left shoulder, as she always did.

"I'm a civilian again," he said softly.

"Yes ..." She had to consciously dropped the 'sir' from her reply. They both needed to assimilate the change.

"Which means you're no longer my adjutant, Adelaisa. What are you going to do with yourself?"

"I don't know," she answered honestly. "I haven't taken the time to really weigh my options."

"You could stay on here. I could use your advice, still."

"I could. But your eventual wife might object to the arrangement."

"Ah, yes. My eventual wife." Kallen turned to face her. "When you asked what I wanted in a wife, I left out something very important."

"Did you?" She turned as well, fighting down a pang of jealousy. "What was that? Golden blonde curls, perhaps?"

"No," he said with smile, "I prefer golden brown. And chain mail. She must look bewitching in chain mail."

"What?" Adelaisa looked up at him in confusion. "Chain mail? Are you out of your mind?"

"My mind is in perfect working order," he assured her. "Do you remember when I offered you your post?"

"Of course I do. Why?"

"It was the smartest thing I have ever done. I couldn't have chosen a better adjutant."

"I'm glad you feel that way," she said, warmed by his praise, but still confounded by his mention of chain mail. "But what has that to do with your odd requirements in a wife?"

"You know," he said, seemingly ignoring her question. "I have shared virtually every moment of my life for five years with you. You've been my sounding board, my listening ear, my advisor, my defender, my companion and my staunchest supporter."

"You deserved it. You're a man of integrity and principle and it was an honor to serve you."

"I gave you a promise," he said softly, "for as long as you were in my command. You trusted my word."

"And you kept it."

"Yes." He reached up, catching a soft tendril of golden brown that had fallen over her forehead, brushing it back from her face. It was a gesture that she had become accustomed to him doing over the last couple of years. This time, however, his hand did not drop away as it normally did. On the contrary, his fingers lightly cupped her jaw, his thumb brushing gently against her cheek.

"Kallen, I don't understand." Her dark brown eyes searched his face.

"I kept my word," he said as his other hand came up, cupping the other side of her face in the same manner. "But you're no longer under my command."

Standing there, looking up into his eyes with his large calloused hands framing her face, she was utterly befuddled. That state held her in thrall as he leaned down close. Then his lips covered hers in a kiss as soft and sweet as a summer breeze.

There was no demand in his kiss. She wasn't trapped by his hold, she could move away. All she had to do to break off was to step back. His mouth did not coerce  - it persuaded, pleaded and beseeched a response. And while it might be impetuous and incautious, Adelaisa could no more refuse his unspoken request than she could stop breathing. After all, this might well be her only chance. For years she had itched to bury her fingers in his thick, dark hair, so she did. Then she kissed him back.

If he was surprised, it didn't show. While he seemed to appreciate and enjoy her participation he did not take her actions as permission to escalate the situation beyond a simple kiss. At the same time, he was in no apparent hurry to stop, either. In the end, it was Adelaisa who drew back, breathing unsteadily.

"What brought this on?" she asked shakily. Her Captain was a strategist, and she suspected that there was a good tactical reason for his actions.

"I wanted you for my adjutant because you were one of the best and perfectly suited to my needs. When I approached you I was completely prepared to give you whatever accommodations were necessary to get you to accept. I promised that I wouldn't make any advances, and I didn't, but not because I didn't WANT to. You're a beautiful and attractive woman."

 "I ..." A shaft of fear went through her. Surely he wasn't going to suggest a dalliance? "I don't know what to say."

"I do." He took her hands in his. "Marry me, Adelaisa."

"What?" Her mind spun. She could not possibly have heard correctly. He knew where she came from.

"You're faithful, loyal, intelligent, honest, wise, amusing and you are incredibly attractive in chain mail," he said earnestly. "In short, you're everything I want and need in a wife. Marry me, Adelaisa."

"But you know that I'm no noble," she protested. "You should have a fine lady for your duchess."

"You are as fine and noble a woman as I have ever known," he replied firmly. "And you're a lady in the true sense, unlike so many that are naught but blue-blooded harlots who call themselves ladies."

"Not every noblewoman is like Gwendolyn." Her chest ached. The selfish part of her wanted to toss all sense to the wind and accept. But she would not tie him to something she feared he would regret later. "I'm sure there are some decent, moral females to be found."

"I've already found one," he insisted.

"Kallen, be sensible." She pulled her hands from his, turned and walk over to the rail, looking out over the landscape. "I'm a peasant, a soldier. I no nothing about being a wife, much less a duchess."

"Sensible? I AM being sensible. Adelaisa, you've ordered troops and military operations for years. You've watched over me, helped me, rebuked me and bullied me when necessary. How is that so different from running a household and being a wife?"

"Oh, Kallen," she groaned. Her hands gripped the rail until her knuckles turned white. The temptation to give in was so strong. Yet how could she, in good conscience? She suspected that he had suggested this because had grown used to having her around. That wasn't enough, she knew. Oh, she could be very happy with the arrangement, but she loved him. He was comfortable with her and didn't wish to give up the camaraderie they had come to share. "This is impossible."

"Why?" He began to pace, as he usually did when he was pleading his case, trying to persuade her to his way of thinking. "There's no law that says we can't marry. What you don't know about particulars you can learn. I've already seen to it that my parents won't object and we both know Leo won't either. Who else matters?"

"That's not the point," she groaned.

"Then what?" She heard him stop walking, and for a moment there was dead silence. "Is there someone else?" he asked softly. She could have almost sworn she heard trepidation in his voice, but she put it down to her imagination.

"No, of course not. It just wouldn't work," she said, hanging her head.

"It COULD work," Kallen insisted, pacing again. "We have compatible interests and compatible personalities. I need you. Obviously you don't find me physically unattractive. Since there's no one else, you could learn to love me"

"Wait." Adelaisa straightened, sure she had misunderstood. "What did you say?"

"I said you could learn to love me. Is that such an impossible prospect?" His tone was puzzled and a bit perturbed. "I know you didn't intend it, and weren't trying, but you utterly ruined me for any other woman. I trust you implicitly, I rely on you completely and I love you so desperately it's driven me crazy for YEARS  because I promised I'd not make advances." His pacing stopped. "Please, Adelaisa," he pleaded, "I KNOW you could learn to love me, if you just gave it a chance."

There were a myriad of good, commonsense reasons against a marriage between the tenth Duke of Maginwulf and his peasant-born former adjutant. At that moment, however, none of them mattered in the least. In fact, had the whole of the Munsk army stood in the way, she would have mown them all down for just ONE reason.

He loved her. Desperately.

"Adelaisa?" He said softly. Now, she could definitely hear uncertainty in his voice.

Slowly she turned to face him. Her supremely confident, indomitable Captain stood there, his blue eyes full of such obvious insecurity and longing that it astonished her. How in the world had she not guessed that he cared? She nearly laughed then, because she realized that he didn't know that she cared for him, either. He held his hands in front of him in an imploring gesture that melted the last vestige of resistance she had.

She knew now why he had extracted that concession from his snobby father and she fervently hoped he was right about Leo, because she was going to be a duchess. Wouldn't Ashford be astonished? She walked slowly over to stand before him.

"Kallen," she said gently, laying her calloused sword hand on his cheek, "I don't need to learn how to love you. I already do."

"You do?" He looked so surprised and still uncertain that she wasn't sure whether to laugh or shake her head in exasperation. "I'm not talking about just friendship, Adelaisa. Not that I'm belittling our friendship, it means the world to me, but I want more."

"Kallen ..."

"What?"

"Shut up and kiss me again."

He proceeded to do just that, with a thoroughness and passion that both surprised and thrilled her. He held nothing back and neither did she. When finally he drew back, she was clinging to him while he held her close. He chuckled and kissed her nose.

"Marry me Adelaisa."

"Yes, Captain."

"I'm not a Captain anymore."

"You are and always will be my Captain," she replied warmly. "Always."

"That's a pleasant prospect. How soon can we be married?"

"I don't know. I'm not familiar with the logistics, but I'm sure we can find someone who is. I'll need a dress," she said with a grin. "Unless you want me to wear my chain mail."

"Well," he replied with an answering grin, "You do look fetching in links and leather." His expression sobered and grew earnest. "I love you dearly, Adelaisa."

"And I love you, Kallen."

"Heaven help any enemy that comes against Maginwulf," he said, looking deeply into her eyes. "We'll decimate them."

"Completely," she agreed. "Especially after the children are grown."

"Breeding our own troop are we?" He asked.

"Why not? I've always wanted a large family. Do you object, Captain?"

"No, Lieutenant, I don't object at all." She gasped as he picked her up - she was not lightweight even without her armor - and cradled her against his chest.

"Sweeping me off my feet?" She quipped, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"Yes." He carried her back toward the solar. "Is it working?"

"Absolutely. Now what?"

"Now we have some champagne to celebrate."

"Ah, that explains it." She leaned her head on his shoulder. "You were pretty sure of yourself."

"Not entirely," he admitted. "But I was ready to mount a siege, if necessary." He grinned. "And you know I never lose."

"Neither do I, Captain," she said with a happy laugh. "Neither do I."


Submitted: November 29, 2014

© Copyright 2021 WorldsInsideMyHead / Kat O'shay. All rights reserved.

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