Chapter 06

John had nodded off during the ride in the familiar carriage, something he had taught himself to do at a young age to avoid getting bored or restless.

The ride was a long one for Aracely and Gabriella. While it had been a long while since the Lady did any formal traveling, her friend had never left the village in her life so she was seeing everything for the first time. “Oh my,” she would murmur often enough that the bride to be was growing restless and irritated.

John only woke up from his light nap after the carriage shook somewhat violently due to some unevenness in the road. “I’m awake!” He quickly said, looking around sheepishly.

Gabriella was too engrossed with looking at the passing buildings in their current village to have noticed John. Aracely on the other hand was clearly mad at something, to what, he did not know. “What’s wrong?” John asked Aracely, worried that she had second thoughts.

“Waiting for when we finally arrive,” she said as evenly as she could with the occasional glare at their friend. “So that we could be on solid ground once again.”

“If you want them to stop so you can walk around a little, all you have to do is ask.” John chuckled. “We still have a couple more moons to go before we’re at the castle, and I can imagine it is not fun to sit in this thing all day, waiting for our next camp site.”

While he spoke, Gabriella let out another murmur of fascination that threatened to send Aracely across the carriage to shove the girl out through the opening. Slowly she dragged her eyes back to John and it was enough to communicate without any words of where a great deal of her discomfort lied.

“Gabriella, would you like to have a better view of the outside world?” John gently pat Aracely’s knee.

“May I?” she asked turning back in to look at him. “Where would I be? Would I be walking? Because I don’t mind…”

“Of course you can, there’s still an extra spot for a cabbie on the back of the carriage, just be sure to stay warm and warn us when you want to come back in.” John said warmly. “If you want to, I will let the driver stop so you can get on the back of the carriage.”

Gabriella had grown so excited that she could not even speak and Aracely struggled to smile for her until she went to join the other staff outside. “I was ready to throw her out the door about two villages back,” she said with a sigh as she settled back in her seat.

“You should have said something, or poked me in the ribs.” John smiled.

She smiled as she shook her head. “You were sleeping so peacefully, your Highness. I would not dream of disturbing you,” she replied. And it was true. Much of the time that he slept while she was awake, she could not help but watch him in his slumber and even found it amusing how he sometimes talked to himself.

“I wasn’t really sleeping, it’s just a way of dealing with the travel.” He then realized something. “And that was rude of me, to sleep while you’re awake.”

“No, it was not. You have done a great deal of physical labor so you needed the rest. It’s just…I did not think you spoke in your sleep,” she could not help but tease.

“I do?” John blinked. “I hope I didn’t say anything embarrassing.”

She could only give him a cheeky smile. “Nothing – embarrassing.”

“Right…” He eyed her suspiciously with a hint of amusement in his eyes. “You should relax some, it’ll make the trip easier on you.”

Sighing, she looked at him. “I will rest soon. For now I simply wish to enjoy the peace.”

John looked out of the carriage and wished that there was a way to travel faster. Despite the things he had learned about his father in the past couple of days, he was genuinely concerned about him, maybe he wasn’t ready to be left alone, so soon after his mother’s passing. John would be too angry with his father for letting villages such as San Franciskus fend for themselves, and his father would be too weak to explain himself.

Aracely watched him as he appeared to be lost in his thoughts. The tension in his face made her feel as if he had been battling some sort of conflict in his mind and she prayed it was not her that caused that. “Is there something that I could do for you?” she asked.

John certainly would not care if his father wouldn’t like Aracely. John didn’t like Chaya, and Aracely was truly his own choice. “Huh?” John looked at his bride to be and smiled. “I was thinking about my father. And how there must be a way to travel faster.”

“What other method of travel is faster than horses?” she asked. “You left to return home the same day your received his word. Should that not matter?”

“I know that there’s no other method of traveling faster, at least not in our life time.”

She looked surprised. “You give more credit to the madmen of our time than even I do.”

“A next generation of madmen will take care of faster travel, our current madmen are truly mad.” John chuckled. “The explosive powder is dangerous, and they created it!”

“From something that has been here before our births,” Aracely pointed out. “Of course if the Prince is unhappy with the method of travel, the other option is to stroll.”

“Yes, then we know for sure my Father has passed if we ever arrive at the castle.” John rolled his eyes.

She frowned and turned back to the window. “My apologies.”

“For what?” John frowned. “Why are you apologizing?”

“I was speaking out of place. It will not happen again,” she answered still finding herself unable to look back at him.

She’s so frustrating! he thought and sighed. He decided not to even try, again, to tell her that she was free to do or say as she wished. John started to look at her and he would not move his eyes away from her until she’d look back at him.

Aracely took the moment of quietness to let her head rest against the side of the carriage and close her eyes. A part of her struggled to remain as so, feeling the sensation of his eyes on her but she could not. As much of the freedom that Prince John continued to say that she would have around him, there was only so much even she would allow. If the man was to keep his men to follow him as they did, even for as modern as his view of women were, John would lose a great deal of power through his desire simply for her to speak her mind.

After a long time of staring at her, John noticed Aracely had fallen asleep, which was a good thing for her to do. He slowly got to his feet, making sure he was steady and took a blanket from the overhead basket. He then gently covered her up to make sure she’d stay warm, softly brushing her cheek with the back of his hand.

She looked beautiful, and really resting. John knew that she’d probably have him for breakfast, but he couldn’t help but taking place next to her so that he could have a better look. He wasn’t a novice when dealing with women, there had been a few servants and whores when he felt the need, but he had never felt anything as the way he was feeling now – inadequate. Had his fleeting conquests been nothing but convenient, and only doing their work, he felt as if Aracely was as fragile as ceramics, and she needed to be protected, and cared for.

Feeling so comfortably warm, despite the situation, Aracely curled herself up more under the cover as she shifted in her seat. In the process, she turned to the opposite side, where her body felt the source of additional heat and her head fell to the prince’s shoulder. Humming in her slumber, she returned to her rest with a small peaceful smile on her lips.

John smiled and instinctively put his arm around her as he continued to look out of the window to see the land pass them by.

It was some time that passed before she slowly began to arise. Aracely did not wish to move for she found herself incredibly comfortable and warm. She could recall that the air was chilling with the coming of night fall so she was unsure for the source of the incredible warmth. Blinking her eyes open, she first saw the blanket tucked around her, but something more – solid. Her eyes flickered around, above the edge of the cover to find, her being wrapped by the Prince himself.

She remained silent as she tried to think of what to do. The Lady had never allowed herself to fall into a situation such as this and the most she did allow a man to do was for Halling to hug her as he became a great deal of a parental figure to her in the years past.

She bit on her lip as she tried to extract herself from John’s arm but in doing that, the carriage happened to roll over a large piece of earth, sending it into a heavy rocking motion, thus waking the too sleeping man.

“I’m awake…” John muttered sleepily as he opened his eyes. Blinking, he looked down at Aracely, who looked at him with fear in her eyes. “Hello.” He smiled widely. “Did you sleep well?”

Tucking her hair behind her ear, she swallowed hard. “Um, yes, yes. I slept well. My apologies for waking you. It seems that um, somehow, you and I…”

“You didn’t wake me, that was the road.” John said, “And I know,” he nodded. “You propped yourself up against me in your sleep. It’s good to know that I am a comfortable pillow.”

“I believe it would be more of a warm one,” she corrected with a blush. “I hope that I did not cause you discomfort.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” John said, “You should never apologize for being comfortable in your rest, I am sure you fell asleep against Halling or Danyel once or twice during festivities, you didn’t apologize to them either, did you?”

“Perhaps, but they were too under different circumstances. And certainly not when alone, with the Prince.”

“No, you’re alone with John, not the Prince.” John insisted. “When we are alone together, I want you to treat me not different from when you didn’t know who I was. I am John, nothing special about one name, is there?” He smiled. “My home, is your home, just like you opened your home to me.” He then pointed at his arm. “My arm, is your arm.”

She raised here eyebrows uncertain. “If – you insist,” she answered slowly.

“It’s just a title, a sign that I am well off. It’s not who I am.”

“It is still – difficult. Surely you understand the changes that I have agreed to go through,” she replied, pulling her legs up under her almost as if to make herself small.

“I do, and I understand you’re afraid, but you are not alone. I’m terrified that I’m going to do something wrong and you’ll end up hating me.”

Aracely looked up at him with questioning eyes. “Why would I hate you? It is not my place to do so. If you truly wish for my honesty, then my fears truly fall more with your people that serve you. Would they accept me as your chosen companion or as the outsider that was not of the king’s choosing. You – have – kept your word thus far since we have met, and I do appreciate all that you have done for San Franciskus even if you are unable to do more once your ascension to the throne is complete.”

“I am a man of my word; it may take some time but I will make things better for your people, your friends, and help other villages in trouble along with them.” John shifted a little so he could really look at her and smiled. “And why would my people not accept you? My people, as the Royal court, have to accept you because you, and you alone, will be my life long companion. Apart from that, you’re the one bI/b want, they’d better accept you or I’ll replace the entire Royal court with your people.”

She nodded in acceptance and smiled. “How much further do we have to travel? I feel as if we have been gone much longer than we truly have.”

“About a day’s worth of travel, we may stop soon so we can have some nourishment for the night.”

Aracely smiled before pulling the blanket up around her more. It was rather dark by then but the sun could not have been down for long. The shade from the trees over the group made it feel later, and certainly more cool than it might have been closer to the villages. “Do you think it would not be more efficient for us to simply continue through the night, allowing them to rest in turn?”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“I am fine but if the others wish to break, then we should stop for a short while.”

“You’re right, if we don’t stop for this last night, then we’re at the castle faster.” He responded.

She looked at him and smiled softly. “It is up to you. I think in this situation they will understand your desire to see your father in his present state. Regardless of my opinion of him, I do wish for you to be able to spend what precious time you have available to you.”

During the night, Aracely had fallen asleep again, but he could not help but softly wake her as he saw the familiar landscape that told him they were nearing the castle gates. John gently rubbed her arm. “Aracely, we’re nearly there.”

The girl lifted her head and looked around through sleepy eyes. She did not recall succumbing to her tiredness and certainly not falling to it against John again. Rubbing her eyes, she looked at him and around as if trying to piece the environment and situation together in her confusion.

He chuckled, Aracely looked adorable in her confusion. “We’re nearly at the gates, milady. You’re still stuck with me in this carriage until then.”

“It is not all of an unpleasant experience,” she replied as she sat up to collect herself and attempt to at least feel a little more presentable by smoothing out her dress and hair.

“Do you see that stray rock formation?” John pointed towards a few rocks in the distance. “I used to sneak out of the castle as a little boy to find some peace and quiet and time alone and that was my special place to go. Of course, once Teyla knew where I was when I was lost again, I was usually brought back to the castle within a quarter of a day.”

She leaned forward to peer out to where he pointed. The area appeared to be a rather comforting area. Looking back to him, “Who is this Teyla?”

“Teyla is the head of house. She directs all servants at this moment.” John answered. “She’s also been my teacher and my caretaker, especially after my mother passed.”

Nodding, Aracely sat back in her seat. She said nothing on how close they were with one another, or how they came to be that way. She vividly recalled that she had been on the opposite side then waking to find him next to her…and neither moved from there.

As the carriage grew closer to the castle, she anxiety of the situation was slowly becoming more apparent. Her hands continuously played with the fabric of her dress and her eyes fixated themselves on the door and anyone that came near the carriage.

“Aracely, please do not forget to breathe.” John said calmly, knowing full well that she was nervous. “You have nothing to be nervous about, once we’re inside the castle walls, there may be a lot of people, but I am right here with you.”

She nodded and tried to do as he asked by taking a breath but she still found a great deal of difficulty. It was not more than several minutes before the carriage finally came to a halt and a balding man came to open the door for the Prince.

“How nice of you to return home your Highness,” the clearly unhappy person spoke. “Princess Chaya has been sitting with your father since she had arrived two moons ago.”

“Easy George.” John warned as he stepped out of the carriage and held his hand out for Aracely to help her out of the carriage. “I came as soon as I heard.”

The man nodded before turning his eyes on the woman with the Prince. “Who is this? You do know that your father has had Miss Teyla making arrangements for your marriage to Princess Chaya during your absence?”

John smiled widely. “Good to hear! This is Lady Aracely of San Franciskus, my bride to be.” He replied, “I will tell Princess Chaya that she is no longer needed, myself.” He smiled at Aracely. “This is Sir Hammond, my Father’s faithful advisor for everything not related to warfare.”

She nodded with a smile and gave him a small curtsy as expected from someone with status in the kingdom. “Pleasure to meet you, Sir,” she said but stayed close to John by sheer instinct.

George let out a breath and nodded to her. “Your Highness, you understand the predicament that you have put us all in now with Proculus?”

“I am sure that the King and Queen of Proculus understand that I’d rather wed someone with my entire being than with just my presence.” John replied. “Now, please excuse us, we are going to visit my Father before we settle in.” He looked over his shoulder to Gabriella, who was standing behind them. “Gabriella, if you’d wish to follow us, I will introduce you to Teyla, who will tell you all you need to know.”

Gabriella nodded and scurried past the larger and greatly intimidating man. “Oh dear,” he sighed as he watched the Prince and his new friends walk away. “This is not going to go well,” he murmured as he went off another way so that he could go inform the King and Queen that their daughter would not be married during this visit.

“Well, that went well.” John let out a sigh of relief as they walked into the castle walls. “Don’t worry so much about George’s behavior, he is very old fashioned.”

“Do you think that Princess Chaya will be a problem?” Aracely asked as she walked with John, carefully ignoring the looks she was receiving from the staff that they passed by. “For her to be sitting with your father as that man had said, I believe that she may already strongly believe that she is already your wife.”

“Problem is the word that comes with Chaya, isn’t it?” John frowned. “I am sure she will not go quietly, and if Father is still conscious and alert he might scold me for succeeding in my quest and probably starting a trading stop or a war between Atlantica and Proculus, but part of me thinks that she is just taking advantage of the situation, thinking that if I hear of her vigil at Father’s bedside that I will change my mind.”

Nodding at his words, it was clearly plausible from what she did know of the princess. Aracely could not help but worry about what was about to happen the closer they grew to the King’s bed chambers. Never before had she ever thought she would find herself in this position, let alone inside these walls.

Sitting outside of the King’s doors, Teyla was speaking with Sir Dex who had come to inform her of the Prince’s return just then. Hearing their echo of their steps, she turned to find her friend with two women, neither of which she knew. “Prince John. The timing of your return could not be any better. I fear that the King has only one, perhaps two moons left. He has grown so much weaker,” she said in greeting, glancing the women over but said nothing of them as the young man was known to bring home strays.

“I came as soon as I heard, Teyla.” John replied, and looked at Ronon. “Your best man, Lorne, is staying behind in San Franciskus. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you why later.” John said to him and then smiled at Teyla. “Teyla, meet Lady Aracely, my bride to be, and her personal servant, Gabriella.”

She looked from the woman who was clearly nervous and back up at John. “Have you gone mad on your journey? To bring someone back in such a time. You knew very well that your father would have Princess Chaya come for you. He has made me prepare your nuptials for the day after your return. He and everyone else in the court are prepared to see you wed the Princess tomorrow at high sun!”

“Teyla, you of all people should know that Chaya isn’t the right one for me.” John said and then smiled at Aracely. “Lady Aracely stole my heart, I was overjoyed when she decided to return with me, as I do not think I can fill my father’s footsteps without my heart.”

“Oh God help us all.” Teyla threw her hands up in despair and sighed. “I am happy for you John, Lady Aracely, but it is highly inappropriate.”

John thought for a second and then let out a big burp. “No, that is.” He nodded and smiled, looking at a wide eyed Teyla, Aracely and Gabriella was hiding a giggle.

“John, please go see to your father. I – I have to figure out how to fix this. My apologies Lady but he was very well aware of what would happen during his absence,” she apologized before giving John one last disapproving look and hurrying off. Sir Dex had stayed back and was simply amused but all that he observed, grinning at his friend’s new ladies.

“I did not!” John responded to Teyla’s back and sighed. “Ronon, could you please take Gabriella to Teyla to help her settle in? Apparently I have a mess to clean up.”

“It’s your mess, Prince John.” Ronon grinned as he walked away with Gabriella.

John looked at Aracely. “They – They – knew, that if … no, never mind… I’m sorry for how they’re treating you.”

Surprisingly, she was smiling. “I am actually amused. While it is nothing less than I expected for myself, the fact that they are comfortable enough to scold you as they have is really very endearing. You cannot blame them for making arrangements for the possibility if you have not found a mate.”

“Yes, they all thought I would fail and I would have. We should knight my horse when she gets returned, she thought it was okay to lose a shoe near your village.” John gently brushed her arm with the back of his hand, looking down to his feet. “Are you okay?”

Taking a deep breath, Aracely was shockingly calm now. “Yes, I find that I am. You should see your father now. I can wait here for you,” she smiled reaching out to cover his hand with hers in support. Her heart thumped an extra beat at the simple gesture. Looking up in his eyes she nodded her assurance. “Go, your Highness.”

He couldn’t help but gently bring her hand to his mouth and kissed it. “When you hear yelling, come rescue me.” John said and got into his father’s chambers. He was surprised to find so many people in his Father’s chambers, it was ridiculous. The man was sick and dying, what did they want from him?

“I’d like to have a moment – alone – with my Father.” John said loud enough to get everyone’s attention.

Every person but one was quick to leave the room. A young woman alone had remained behind sat quietly at the old man’s bedside. “You have finally chosen to return,” she commented. “His Highness is resting now but will be pleased to be able to observe our wedding tomorrow before his passing.”

“Hello Chaya.” John greeted her. “Always a pleasure to see you.” He said and looked at his Father. He looked as if he was on his last legs and couldn’t help but swallow back some tears. “I want to thank you for coming, and staying with my Father in my absence, but I am sure that you’ve heard about my journey.”

Her eyes coolly left the dying man to her betrothed. “Now that you have returned from such a fools adventure, we will wed tomorrow and our lands will combine to the wishes of your father.”

“I don’t understand why everyone assumes I have failed.” John said as he sat down in a chair next to his father’s bed. “Because I have not.”

“Whether you have found a woman of status is not in question. You know very well how our kind have lived in history. You simply cannot choose and wed any scavenger that you may wish. It is about maintaining our bloodline and assuring that it remains pure,” Chaya replied. “You are more than welcome to have your women for your pleasure but in the end it still will be you and I before the alter.”

John chuckled. “How can our bloodline remain pure when all we do is wed our cousins?” He started, “Oh yes, Chaya, you’re my cousin, a few times removed on Mother’s side. I have asked the librarian to check that for me. Secondly, I have no interest in you, I never had and I never will. It is time that the rules are getting bend into a modern version with the same thought behind them.” He got up and directed her away from his Father. “I will not wed you.” He looked her in the eyes. “And my bride to be is not a scavenger, you better bite your tongue when you meet her.”

“You have lost your mind,” she hissed as her eyes narrowed. “Whether we are cousins or not, our mothers and fathers have chosen this for us. It has worked for long before our births and will be so long after our deaths.”

“No, I don’t think so.” John shrugged. “By all means, get into your wedding gown tomorrow, but I will not be joining you at the altar, my Father gave me his blessings to find a woman I wanted to marry, and I have, and she is not you.”

“And what peasant have you brought back to please the King?” she asked in a louder voice, perhaps with the intention of awaking the man. “You know very well that he has planned for you and I to take the crown since our childhood.”

“Keep it down.” John growled. “She is not a peasant. She’s from a noble family who have decided they didn’t want to have to deal with the King anymore.”

“Oh great!” Chaya rolled her eyes. “What did you do? Kidnap her?”

“She actually likes me.” John said, “And she returned with me out of her own free will, despite finding out who I am.”

“What?”

“Oh, never mind, it’s a long story I won’t bother to bore you with.” John waved his hand. “But thank you, Chaya, for staying with my Father when I wasn’t here to do so. I have returned now, and we don’t need your – kindness – any longer.”

She huffed before grabbing her garments and storming out, shouting obscenities of the Prince. In the corridor she came face to face with who was to take her place. Looking back at the door and back to the woman, she huffed before going up to Aracely and smacking her across the face. “Noble blood? You will be nothing but another one of his whores!”

John heard the commotion on the corridor and quickly made his way over. “Princess Chaya, what are you doing? Apologize to Lady Aracely right now and leave Atlantica.”

“I will not!” she cried out and reached out to smack the woman again. A large hand had taken a firm hold before she was able to strike a second time.

“Prince John has kindly asked for you to leave. Take your servants and go before it will be done so by force,” Dex said in his deep voice that many rarely had the pleasure of hearing.

Aracely had stayed back, unable to speak as she held her face where Chaya had hit her hard enough to leave a mark. With John’s friend there to defend her, she quickly slid past, behind him to John’s side. “I said nothing to her, please believe that,” she murmured.

John put his arm around Aracely as he looked at Ronon. “Make sure she leaves.” When Ronon nodded as an answer, John took Aracely inside his Father’s chambers and looked at her. “Are you alright?”

Nodding, she reached up to touch her cheek which was still very tender and quite reddened. “Yes. It was quite surprising as I had not anticipated such a violent reaction by her Highness.”

“Neither did I, do you want me to get one of the servants to get you something for your cheek?” John asked worried. “I am so sorry.”

“There is no reason to be sorry,” she smiled. “I will be fine apart from some swelling later.” Looking up at him she nodded again to assure that she was indeed fine before looking around. Frowning, she saw the king on his bed, appearing in a comfortable rest. Aracely truly did not wish to approach – or even be in the room as the scene was more familiar to her than she cared to admit. “He does not appear to have much longer,” she observed very quietly.

John quietly shook his head. Now that Chaya had gone, a world of relief had come down on him and right now he wanted to spend time with his Father. However, he needed to help settle Aracely in as well, and decide what to do with all the preparations Teyla and the servants had made for a wedding to someone that was not going to happen now. “Teyla should be poking in her head any moment now, I will ask her to help you settle in… I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to spend some time with my Father.” John said softly.

Aracely put a hand on his arm and nodded. “Go to him, I will wait in the hall for her return. I will be fine until you have finished.”

He planted a chaste kiss on Aracely’s unhurt cheek and turned around to walk to his father’s bedside.

She carefully exited the grande room, closing the door behind her. With a sigh she sat down in the chair that John’s friend Teyla had sat in not long before. With no one else in the long corridor, Aracely found herself feeling very small and very much alone as she looked down at her hands in her lap.

“Lady… Aracely, was it not?” Teyla’s kind voice sounded from next to Aracely. “Forgive me, I did not wish to startle you.”

“Oh, dear. Yes, my apologies,” Aracely said as she looked up at the woman with wide eyes and stood quickly. “I suppose I lost myself in my thoughts there for a moment.”

Teyla slightly bowed when Lady Aracely got to her feet. “I have heard what Princess Chaya has done, are you alright?”

“Yes, I am fine, thank you. Are you here to see Prince John? He is still in with his father and may be for some time yet,” she replied. “He believed that you would be returning soon.”

“Yes,” Teyla smiled warmly. “Prince John knows me too well, however, I know him better.” She nodded. “I must apologize for my own behavior, and that of Sir Dex… and Sir Hammond, the Prince doesn’t like formalities much, and he usually does not listen when being formally spoken to by people who have seen him as an infant.” Teyla chuckled.

“It is understandable. Since I have met him, he did not react quite well when myself or my friends learned of his true being,” Aracely said. “Madam, if I may…How long has the King been this ill? The village where I am from do not receive a great deal of news from the land so there is a great deal that I am unaware of.”

“The King has been ailing for years, it is only now that his body wishes to give up. His mind hasn’t made that same wish yet. The last words the King had spoken was to John, to give him his blessing to find his heart’s wish.” Teyla replied. “And please, call me Teyla, milady.”

Aracely nodded almost distractedly. Smiling weakly, she looked at Teyla. “Only if you will call me Aracely.”

“As you wish,” Teyla smiled. “You must be tired from your journey, I suspect your husband to be is probably going to stay with his Father until the very end, as he did with his Mother’s passing, God bless her soul. I have prepared a wing for you, Milady… Aracely. Your personal servant is already there.”

Nodding, she pressed down her dress from her own nervousness. “I am curious. What if Prince John and I do not wed before the King’s passing? What will happen then?”

“John would forfeit the throne and his cousin Jack of Simpsonia will be crowned King as he is the next in line, after John, and he is married.” Teyla responded. “If I am allowed to speak freely, John does not think that Jack would be a good King.”

From what Aracely saw of the King, she knew that the probability that they would make it to high sun the next day would be difficult. Looking back her she nodded. “This may be of haste, but would it be possible to locate a minister for officiate services this evening? I do know how much Atlantica means to John and to have him lose that by such a short time…”

Teyla looked at the woman in shock. “You’re as mad as he is!”

“Perhaps, but then John would be able to assume the crown, would he not?” she asked.

“You should talk to John about this, milady. All I can say is that yes, it is possible to find someone for tonight, and please, when John says no, talk some sense in to his head, I’d rather have you two wedded and able to take over the reign of Atlantica, than having to serve cousin Jack and his … ‘wife’ and family for the remainder of my life.” Teyla said excitedly. “Do you wish me to fetch John for you?”

Aracely looked at Teyla in all her glee. “Um,” she chuckled. “I will speak to him if you can look into finding someone to speak for us. I am certain he won’t mind if I join him.”

“Very well, I’ll set out to find a minister.”

“Thank you Teyla,” she nodded. Allowing her to go about her business Aracely took a deep breath before entering the King’s bedchamber again. In the darkness, she could see John’s untamed hair stand out through the shadows. Biting on her lip, she slowly made her way closer but feared his response as he had not looked up to see who joined him.

John wiped the tears out of his eyes with his sleeve when the person who had entered had not announced him or herself yet, and looked up, only to see Aracely standing there. “Hey…” He smiled bravely. “Are you okay? Do you want me to do something for you?”

“I am fine,” she said as she came closer to kneel beside him on the floor. “I actually am here to see if there is something I can do for you.”

“I keep on looking at him, trying to see if there’s any chance in the way he breathes or maybe moving his lips, but he is just so still… he wasn’t like this when I left.” John said softly and looked at Aracely, tears coming back in his eyes as he tried to swallow them down. “I don’t think he’ll wake up, and I don’t think I can accept that yet.”

She reached out to take his hand. “I met your friend Teyla,” she smiled up at him. “She is a lovely woman.”

“Yes, she is.” John nodded slowly. “Did she show you around? Have you settled in?”

Aracely shook her head. “She did come to bring me to my room but after we spoke, I thought of something that she fears you may not be open to this moment. While Miss Teyla was prepared to speak to you about it, I insisted that I would speak myself.”

“What is it?” He asked as he looked into her eyes, there was something in there, an emotion he couldn’t really place right now. Fear maybe, mixed with hope and something else.

She swallowed hard as she tried to think of how to speak. “While I would not dare to ask you to leave your father’s side, the concern about his health before high sun tomorrow is shared among many of your people…”

Nodding, John sighed. “I’m sorry I took you away from your people… when cousin Jack moves in, I’ll take you home.”

Reaching up, she put her hand on the side of his face and pulled him to look at her again. “No, John. What we were thinking was – bringing the minister in this evening,” Aracely said slowly. “To officiate our joining before your father leaves this life for the next.”

John thought for a second. “No,” he replied, “Don’t get me wrong, Aracely, I still want you to be my bride, but I thought we would still have more moons together. You only just got here, and… if he passes, I can’t be a husband to you as other people, the court mostly, will be pulling me all directions but to you… I can’t do that to you. Not now.”

She blinked, unsure of how to response to that but did find an anger in her. “Teyla said as much. You truly are a very stubborn man,” she let out. “I know what this land means to you and by waiting you are letting it go. I am sure that the minister could come right here, to your father’s bedside and officiate us. Do not think of anyone or anything else but what you truly wish. You said you wanted me for your wife, a number of times the last few suns. I am here with you, frightened yes, but I am here. You cannot rid of me quite so easily as Princess Chaya.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle. She was finally at ease with him to talk to him as a normal person, as an equal, and it made him very happy. “I… love you.” John smiled. “And you’re right.” She was right. They had gone through a lot of emotions in the last couple of days and he’d be an idiot to stop now. “Thank you.”

Aracely froze at his words. She had done nothing for him to have emotions enough to speak that kind of affection to her. Trying to get back on subject, she glanced away briefly. “Shall I inform Teyla that a minister is desired tonight?”

John nodded, “Please.” He then heard the door open and saw George walk in. “George?” He raised an eyebrow.

“The King and Queen of Proculus have just left with their daughter, and closed all trading negotiations between them and us.” George said hesitant.

Aracely looked up at John and shrugged. “Proculus has bad tea,” she replied. “My parents never cared for it and neither do I.”

George chuckled. “The tea from Britannia is far more superior, indeed, however, we will have to find a new source of …-”

“George, now is not the time. And I’m sure that whatever you were going to say, it is probably nothing that we can’t make ourselves.” John said, “I wish for you to fetch me Father’s physician.”

“Right away, Sire.” George said and scurried out the room.

She watched as the man left and frowned. “Is something wrong?” she asked, turning back to John.

“No, I just wanted him out of here.” John shrugged.

“You truly are a trickster,” she shook her head with a sigh. “I imagine the stress you were on your mother and Teyla in growing.”

“No, I wasn’t, I just liked to escape the – strangle hold they had on me.” He replied smiling. “I didn’t like it that my father was the King, I wanted to be like any ordinary child, running around the streets, without a care in the world. Of course, when I’d do that, I had either Teyla or one of the servants running after me, it quickly became boring.”

She sat there on the floor looking at him. Words were not coming easy right then, but a part of her knew they were not important. Aracely took the moment of silence to truly look at the Prince in a manner that she never did before, even after his proposal. While he was a striking man, she could see that his eyes were filled with both despair and life. How the staff managed his hair, she could not fathom. She suspected they had given up long ago and the thought caused a small laugh to escape from her lips.

“What are you thinking of?” John smiled at her and sank to the floor to sit with her.

“Um…your hair. I could not help but find it amusing as a child,” she admitted as she hesitantly reached up to touch it.

“They always wanted to shave my head, because of my hair when I was younger.” John replied. “When I got older, I told them that if they’d touch my hair, I would feed them to the Beast in the forest. There is no beast, of course.”

Aracely quickly pulled her hand back. “Oops!”

“What?”

“While there is no beast, I do not wish to live in the forests,” she grinned.

John started to laugh uncontrollably. “I meant with shaving knives!”

“You did not specify,” she shrugged as the sounds of low moans reached her ears. Looking up, she quickly realized the sounds were coming from the bed. “John.”

John scrambled to his feet and nearly fell on top of his father when he turned around. “Father!”

The King struggled to open his eyes and his voice was weak. “My John?” he asked with raspy breaths.

“Yes, father, it’s me.” John smiled as he caressed his father’s hair.

The old man coughed as he tried to raise his head, spots of blood coming from his lips. “My son…Where have you gone?” he asked, nearly delirious.

“I am here father.” John grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “I have returned from my journey.”

He looked around and squinted his eyes to focus on his son’s face. “Journey? Why did you go?”

“Remember that I told you that I do not wished for Chaya to become my wife? I told you I was going to find… it’s not important, father.” John said softly. “You must save your strength.”

“You look so much like your mother,” he sighed into another cough. Closing his eyes the King appeared to have gone back into another length of slumber when he let out a sigh. “Do not make my mistakes my son.”

“I won’t father, I promise.” John said softly.

“Find your heart,” the man wheezed into a cough. “Your heart will make you an excellent king for the people.”

“My heart is called Aracely, Father.” John replied. “Save your strength, you shall meet her tonight, unless you are feeling up to it now.”

There was nothing else said from the King then as he had already succumbed to sleep. Had it not been for the rise and fall of his chest, he might have been presumed gone already. Aracely reached forward to rest a hand on John’s shoulder reassuringly. “We should find Teyla before he is too weak to awaken again,” she said respectfully. “I wish for you to be able to tell him that you have truly honored his wishes before you cannot.”

John nodded and looked at her, smiling a little. “He woke up.”

“Because he knows you are home,” she smiled back. “We have a great many things to prepare and very little time to do it in.”

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