Beyond the Darkness (Guardians of Mirra: Book 2)


10. 10

~~“Believe it or not, it actually helps if you avoid looking at your feet.” Katherine told William during their second dance lesson.
He gave a sheepish smile as he forced himself to meet her gaze. “I keep worrying about stepping on your toes.”
“I’m a big girl.” She assured him. “I can handle it.”
“Alright, then. If you lose a few digits, don’t blame me.” He told her.
Katherine laughed and they continued dancing slowly around the sitting room. She had pushed aside some chairs to make room for them to practice. “Don’t be so pessimistic. I think you’re starting to get the hang of this.”
“Really?” He was a little skeptical, but he wanted to believe he didn’t have two left feet as he had always imagined. He had been relieved to discover the steps were very similar to his sword-fighting movements.
“You’ll be impressing girls at balls in no time.” She assured him with a smile. They finished up the lesson and she headed back to her room to prepare for bed. They’d had to make their lessons after dinner due to his busy training schedule.
Once she was gone, William lifted his arms into the dancing pose and started practicing the steps on his own, hoping to impress her by progressing quickly.
“It doesn’t work as well without a partner.” Someone commented from the doorway, making William jump.
He turned to face the owner of the voice and breathed a sigh when he saw that it was Jeremiah. He would have been embarrassed to have one of his friends watching. “I was just trying to get the steps down.”
“I could see that.” The guardian looked him over with a calculating gaze. “I noticed that Katherine has been teaching you to dance.”
“Yes.” William felt obligated to respond, but he didn’t really know what else to say. “I wanted to avoid looking foolish at future events.”
“And you couldn’t find anyone else to teach you?” Jeremiah’s tone was as unreadable as ever.
William shrugged. “I was a little embarrassed and I don’t know that many people around here. I certainly don’t know anyone I’d be comfortable taking dance lessons from.”
“Valda is teaching you to fight.” Jeremiah pointed out. “She could also teach you to dance.”
William considered the idea. He tried to imagine taking dance lessons from Valda and it made him shudder. “I don’t think that would be wise.”
“So Katherine is the only person you’d feel comfortable enough to take dance lessons from?” Jeremiah asked, making the boy wonder where the conversation was going.
“She’s a good friend.” William replied. “She’s easy to talk to, so I felt comfortable asking her. Should I not have?”
Jeremiah gave him a long look. “You and my daughter seem to be growing very close as friends. I just want to make sure there are no misconceptions. You seem like a kind young man and I would hate to see you get hurt. I also don’t want anyone turning Katherine’s head and making her doubt the importance of her duties.”
William stared at him, blankly, needing a moment to figure out what he meant. “You think there’s something going on with Katherine and me?”
Jeremiah shook his head. “I know she would never do such a thing and I don’t believe you are the type of person who would encourage her to, regardless of your feelings. I just wanted to make sure the situation was clear. Nicholas is going to be the next guardian and his union with Katherine is necessary to save Mirra, so I don’t wish for anything to come between them. I fear it would only cause heartache to everyone involved.”
“Katherine and I are just friends.” William didn’t like being accused of things he didn’t do, even if he could understand where Jeremiah was coming from. “There are no misconceptions.”
The guardian gave an approving nod. “As long as that is the case, I will not feel the need to interfere. Best of luck with your dancing.” He walked away, leaving William with his head spinning.
He tried to return to practicing dance steps, but he couldn’t seem to focus on them. He couldn’t figure out why Jeremiah had thought there was something going on with him and Katherine. She was just his friend. He had other female friends, so why would anyone think she was different. He figured it was because she was so beautiful and kind, as well as intelligent. Many boys would probably fall for her immediately. He paused, wondering if that was an odd thought to have, but he shook it off. There was no crime in noticing what an incredible person she was. She was, after all, very strong and brave. Nobody could overlook that.
William stood in the middle of the room, trying to figure out why his heart was pounding. He told himself it had nothing to do with Katherine. He had just been exercising a lot. It couldn’t have anything to do with her because there was nothing going on between them.
Meredith passed by the door and noticed him, cocking her head a little. “What are you doing in there?”
“Nothing.” He replied brusquely as he walked past her and headed for his room.
Meredith watched him go and shrugged, figuring he would tell her if it was important.
William was engrossed in his thoughts as he walked and suddenly realized he wasn’t in the right hallway for his room. He looked around, noticing that he had wandered into Katherine’s hallway. He told himself that was because he had been thinking about what Jeremiah said. There wasn’t more to it, he was sure. He stood in front of her door, resisting the urge to knock. He wanted to see her, but he wasn’t sure why. He figured he just wanted to tell her about her father being crazy, but decided that might not be the best idea. He didn’t want to put thoughts into her head, after all, so he continued walking and made it back to his room where he lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling until he eventually fell asleep.

When he made his way to breakfast the next morning, Katherine was already there. His first instinct was to turn around and walk away. However, he knew that would be ridiculous, so he smiled and took a seat across from her. “Good morning.”
“Good morning.” She replied with a smile. He noted it was a very pretty smile, but noticing that didn’t mean anything. “Did you sleep well?”
“Of course.” He watched her eat, thinking it was much more graceful than when most girls did it. “It’s easy to sleep in these ridiculously comfortable beds.”
“We like to provide well for honored guests.” She told him.
William nodded, wondering how her hair always managed to be so perfect. Most girls with curly hair had to deal with frizz. Why did she get away with having smooth curls?
Katherine caught him staring and looked at him. “Is something wrong?”
“Nope.” He grabbed a piece of bread and started eating, trying not to blush. “I was just practicing looking at you since I need to be able to do that when we dance, right?”
Katherine giggled and her nose crinkled a bit. It was cute. William decided it was unfair for her to be that cute and pretty at the same time. “You need to be able to maintain eye contact when dancing, but staring will just make the girls uncomfortable.”
“Right.” William focused on his food, barely able to look at her. There was a long silence before he cleared his throat and stood. “Well, I should get to training.”
“Take care.” She called as he scurried out the door.

William focused intensely on his training that day, glad to have something to distract him from his thoughts about Katherine. However, he wasn’t able to focus like he should have. His heart wasn’t in the training and Valda knew it. Halfway through, she stopped and gave him a long look. “You’re distracted.”
“I’m fine.” He replied, shortly.
“You’re not.” Valda sheathed her blade. “I don’t know what’s going on in your head, but you’re no good training like this. Get yourself sorted out and we’ll continue in the morning.” She walked away, leaving William even more annoyed at himself.
He couldn’t figure out why he kept thinking about Katherine. He told himself he wasn’t in love with her. He decided that maybe he had a crush and he just had to forget about it. He headed back to the palace, willing himself not to think about her, and nearly ran into her at the doorway.
She smiled at him. “Your training finished early?”
“Uh…yeah.” He stared at her, forgetting everything else. “Are you going out?”
Katherine nodded. “I need some fresh air. I thought I might practice for a while.” She had her bow slung on her back. “Meredith is meeting me there. You’re welcome to join us.”
Every nerve in his body told him to say “yes”. He wanted to follow anywhere she went. He realized that he would jump right of a cliff if she were waiting at the bottom and it suddenly occurred to him that there was one person who might be able to understand his feelings. “I’m actually pretty tired. I’ll see you later.”
“Alright, then.” She gave him another smile as she left.
He watched her go, still wanting to follow. Instead, he forced himself up the steps and towards the guest rooms. He stood in front of Tristan’s door for several minutes before he finally got up the nerve to knock.
The elf opened the door and gave him an annoyed look. “What do you want?”
“I was hoping to talk to you about your unrequited love for Katherine.” William blurted out.
Tristan stared at him for a second, then slammed the door shut.
William frowned, thinking he probably could have handled that better, but he wasn’t prepared to give up. “If you don’t want to talk face-to-face, I can always just shout about it through the door.”
It swung open and Tristan yanked him into the room, closing the door behind them. “What is wrong with you?”
“You want a list?” William swallowed, trying to get his head on straight. “How did you know you were in love with Katherine?”
“I heard bells and choirs singing.” Tristan replied in an annoyed tone. “Will you leave, now?”
William shook his head. “I’m being serious. I just want to know how you dealt with it. How are you able to be around her without just blurting out how you feel?”
Tristan stared at the boy, debating whether he should answer the question or just hit him over the head until he forgot. He decided Katherine probably wouldn’t be happy if William got a concussion. “I keep her at a distance and don’t talk about my feelings with anyone.”
“But isn’t that exhausting?” William asked. “Why don’t you just move on?”
“Elves don’t move on.” Tristan answered. “When an elf falls in love, it lasts as long as that person’s life. I won’t be able to fall in love with anyone else unless she dies. Do you have any other idiotic questions?”
William considered that answer and realized he had it easy by comparison. Even so, he had to talk to someone about how he felt. “I think I have feelings for her.”
“That’s because you’re an idiotic child.” The elf was as understanding as ever. “You’ll get over it.”
“How?” William knew Tristan probably wasn’t the right person to ask, but he had no one else. At least, there was no risk of the elf telling anyone about their conversation. “Whenever she’s around, I feel happy and sick. When I see her with Nicholas, I get angry and want to punch something. How do you just get over that?”
“What are your feelings on head injuries?” Tristan asked in a perfectly serious tone.
William stared at him, wondering if it was possible that the elf was joking, but Tristan’s expression didn’t give him much hope. “I’m against them, as a rule.”
“Then I have no other suggestions. Please, leave me in peace.” Tristan walked over and opened his door.
William sighed. “Good to know you care.” He headed for the door, but paused. “It must be really hard on you, being in love with her like that.”
“I am fine, which is more than I can promise for you if you don’t leave.” Tristan told him. “Just because we have feelings for the same girl…that doesn’t make us friends.”
William couldn’t help but smile. “You really are a jerk, you know that?” He walked out and the door closed behind him.

That night, William had to take a deep breath and steady himself before he met Katherine for his dance lesson. He decided to go along as usual in hopes that he might be able to get over her without causing any trouble. He wanted to believe it could be that simple, so he smiled and took his pose in front of her. However, as they danced, he kept noticing how graceful she was and how nice she smelled. Looking into her eyes was no longer a problem because he couldn’t seem to look anywhere else.
“You’re doing better.” She told him with a smile.
“I have a good teacher.” He replied, hoping he sounded casual.
She was silent for a moment as they moved. “I’m sure Melody will be impressed the next time you dance with her.”
“Melody?” He had almost forgotten the girl with his thoughts about the guardian. “Yeah, I guess it will be nice not to have to worry about stepping on her toes.”
“I’m sure.” Katherine looked at him, seeming to be trying to read his thoughts. “She is quite beautiful.”
“Melody?” He blushed as he realized he’d said that a moment before. “I guess she is.”
“Were you so inclined, I doubt she would complain about being courted by you.” The guardian commented.
William stopped, mid-step, too surprised to keep going. “Melody?”
Katherine gave a short laugh. “Yes, Melody. She is a very impressive young woman and you seem to get along well. I thought you might be romantically inclined towards her.”
He paused, not sure of the best way to respond. “She is very beautiful.”
“As I said.” Katherine agreed.
“I’m just not sure if I feel that way about her.” He considered the thought. She was the kind of girl that any guy should be happy to have a chance with. She was strong and intelligent, as well as kind. He remembered how she’d volunteered to help after the caravans were attacked. She hadn’t even hesitated. Being blind barely seemed to slow her down. “She is an incredible girl, though.”
Katherine nodded. “I didn’t mean to be too forward. You two barely know each other, so no one can expect much, now. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.” William assured her. He figured, if this were a story, this would be the part where he would tell Katherine that he couldn’t love Melody because he was in love with someone else. She would ask who it was and there would be a dramatic kiss somewhere.
“Well, shall we continue?” She asked.
He smiled and nodded, ending the possibility of the dramatic, storybook moment.

The following morning, Henry woke up early and decided to go for a walk before his brother awoke. He headed to the roof, knowing that Gabriella often liked to be up there when the sky started to brighten. He smiled as he found her. “Good morning.”
She returned the smile. “I thought you’d be sleeping, still.”
He shrugged. “I woke up and wanted some fresh air.” He looked up at the rainbow of lights, spreading slowly across the sky. I can see why you like this place. There’s quite a view.”
She nodded and followed his gaze. “I always feel more connected to them up here. Does that sound foolish?”
“You could never sound foolish.” He rushed to assure her, but he quickly blushed, realizing how cheesy that sounded. “That could have come out better.”
She giggled. “I like that you say what you think. So few do, especially to my brother and me.”
“You never have to worry about me hiding things. I tend to just blurt out whatever pops into my head, especially in front of pretty girls.” He blushed again, wishing he had a better mind-to-mouth filter. “I didn’t mean it like that. I mean…that’s not to say you’re not pretty because you are, but I don’t want to seem like I’m using a pick-up line or something.” He wondered if he would look completely ridiculous in a gag.
Gabriella just giggled again. “You’re sweet. Thank you.” She looked out over the city and frowned as her gaze fell over the gate.
Henry looked over and could see horses approaching the entrance. “Is that the king’s group?”
“They shouldn’t be back so soon.” She said. “Something’s wrong.” She rushed to the door and down the steps, followed by Henry. They found Katherine and Jeremiah, talking to a page in the entry hall. Gabriella looked to the guardians. “What’s happened?”
Katherine was hiding her distress as well as possible, but it was still evident in her eyes. “They were attacked. Nicholas…it seems he was hurt.”
“What happened?” Gabriella demanded. Before she received an answer, some soldiers entered, carrying the still form of their king.

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