Once Upon A Dark Knight

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Flowers never impressed Eleanor. She enjoyed the tactical aspects of courting. A cut flower only lasted a day or two, but a man's interest had to last a lifetime. At the age of eighteen, a full two years into her courting season, Eleanor had few prospects, but she had no intention of marrying a man she could not take to bed and keep there.

These thoughts plagued her as she stepped onto the grandstand and took a seat beside her father, Lord Dranger. He was grinning in that usual false way, as if the people gathered there had come to see him, when they were eager to watch the tournament of champions. More specifically, one champion - Sir Lance.

"Your man Lance is looking fit today, is he not?" said the lord at Eleanor's ear.

"He is not 'my' man, father. He has made a formal bid for my hand, and he is proving his worthiness today in front of all my neighbors, which has my nerves unhinged."

"Please, darling. No dramatics. You know he will do well in every event."

Lord Dranger settled in his plush chair, looking self-important, and Eleanor quickly turned to her guard, Nathan, who stood behind her.

"Nathan, what do you think of Sir Lance's chances today?"

Nathan knelt at Eleanor's shoulder, speaking deeply over the crowd noise. "He has made up his mind about something."

"He does look particularly intense, doesn't he? His face is focused, but still handsome."

"I see that."

"And with the weather being so warm, his chest is uncovered. He is a fine specimen."

"Fine."

Eleanor appraised Nathan, taking in the strong features of his dark face. He had always been a pleasing man to look at, and given that he had been her personal guard since age sixteen, she spent a lot of time looking at him. Or it could have been his eyes, which were unlike any other dark-skinned man she had seen. They were hazel, possibly from Nordic descent. Quite a striking contrast.

"Why have you not competed with the champions, Nathan?" she asked. "I believe you would make a good showing. You are skilled with all the tools and weapons I have seen you take up."

Nathan may have smiled, but Eleanor found it hard to tell at times. His lips were so full. "I am humbled you would notice, my lady, but I prefer to prove myself as your steadfast guard."

Eleanor smiled. "And I appreciate your devotion."

The tournament proceeded as everyone expected, with Sir Lance making mincemeat out of his competition. The final event consisted of a clever show of archery with flaming arrows, and Sir Lance used it to demonstrate his limitless skill set. No person would doubt he was the most accomplished man on the field. When the trumpeters signaled the end of games, Sir Lance waltzed over to the grandstand, his eyes set on Eleanor.

"I hope you enjoyed the tournament, my lady," he said after a bow. "If it merits your approval, I would like to follow it up with a marriage proposal. Will you be my wife?"

Eleanor's breath was knocked from her throat, despite the fact she expected Sir Lance to ask, but here he was standing before her, as real as the sun shining on his tanned chest. She had already made up her mind. She was eager to take Sir Lance to bed. Eleanor had been aching to be with a man. She credited this to the number of suitors visiting the castle of late. Most were handsome with strong character, but Sir Lance made her heart flutter like no man had, except one other - Nathan.

Nathan, being a castle guard paid to protect her and not a suitor to impress her, had been Eleanor's ear to bend, and they talked openly about everything. Still, there was one subject Eleanor had been reluctant to speak about, but it was a subject she very much wished to address.

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