There's a spring in his step, hope in his heart and a ring in his pocket.
Sir Irwin, hand in hand with his beloved Eleanor, keeps a keen eye out at the path they traverse before them. It's a place that's special to them; and close enough to Dundrasil that the Princess needs only to be accompanied by the Head of her Royal Guard; and that would be Irwin himself.
All the while, the ring is burning a hole in his pocket, as he replays the words he so desperately wants to say, over and over in his head. In fact, it's only when he feels a tug on his arm that Irwin feels himself coming back down to Earth.
When he looks at her, Eleanor is smiling at him. Though there's the crease of confusion along her forehead which makes Irwin chastise himself for worrying her in the first place.
“Any further and my father might have your head, you know.”
Eleanor smiles and even Irwin feels it's a bit of an empty threat. Yes, King Robert can be firm when needed, but Irwin knows the man has a heart of gold. Just like his daughter.
Irwin watches as Eleanor turns away from him; she’s obviously content that he won't go stalking off. As her gaze is taken by the shining moon above, Irwin decides that this might just be the perfect moment.
Delving into his pocket, he finds the ring that's been passed down his family for generations. It's not extravagant in the slightest – if anything, some might say it’s quite a plain band to give to a Princess - but he knows Eleanor won't mind. It's seen his family through happy and loving marriages – and he hopes that will hold true for them.
Eleanor sighs contentedly, once more bringing Irwin back to his senses, and the moment in front of him. Eleanor's looking at him, this time with a slight frown, her forehead creased again in worry.
“You seem distracted, Irwin. Is everything alright?”
“Yes, Eleanor,” he replies, pausing to cough, trying to steady his growing nerves. “You see-'
But before he can say anymore the galloping of horses has Irwin reaching for his sword in his sheath. Eleanor looks only a mite alarmed, but still ready at a moment's notice to use some of the basic spells her father taught to her as a child.
“Sir Irwin?” a familiar voice calls through the darkness. Irwin sighs in relief, sheathing his sword as he and Eleanor share a knowing look.
They both recognise the voice as one of the newest and most eager recruits into the Drasilian army; obviously sent out to find Irwin for one reason or another.
“It seems that you're needed elsewhere, Sir Irwin,” Eleanor says, with a playful look in her eye.
Irwin chuckles, though he laments that tonight won’t be the night he asks Eleanor that all-important question.
“A Knight's work is never done, Princess.”
The next morning, Irwin learns that Eleanor has been summoned to an impromptu meeting with her father and the kingdom’s advisors. As per protocol, Irwin keeps a lookout, always on alert for any danger that might disturb their peace here in Dundrasil.
But there’s been nothing of the sort as of late. Irwin finds lookout duty to be one of his most boring duties, but today he can’t help the butterflies that swirl around in his stomach.
His family’s ring is still in his pocket; events that had pulled him and the Princess apart for the evening were hardly arduous, but they did mean that he would have to wait until today to ask this most important of question.
Probably for the best, anyway. Irwin had realised, as well last night, he had been remiss in not asking King Robert for his daughter’s hand. An outdated notion, maybe, but still one Irwin thought would be important to Eleanor.
After all, her father was the only parent she had left.
So Irwin was resolute that he would ask the King’s permission and then propose to the Princess today. Today, and not a moment later, he was sure of it.
“What’re you grinning about, Irwin?” asks the other sentry on duty with him; King Robert’s guard and Irwin’s own mentor. “Thinking about your Princess, I wager?”
Irwin shakes his head and laughed. He’s long grown out of the embarrassment of Alexander’s teasing.
“And you’re not thinking about your retirement?” Irwin replies, knowingly. “How many months do you have left now?”
“You’ve learned well, lad,” Alexander says, with a chortle. “I’ll give you that much. It’s-“
But whatever Alexander is going to say is cut off by the sudden opening of the grand doors. Like a blur, Eleanor races past both Irwin and Alexander. Irwin tries to reach out for her, but she’s too quick, and he’s been caught off guard.
He wonders what could have elicited such a strange behaviour, especially when King Robert, shaking his head and tutting, emerges just after his daughter.
“What am I going to do with that lassie?” muses King Robert, turning to Irwin. “See if you can’t follow her, laddie. I think she’ll want to talk to you.”
Irwin sees the knowing look shared between the King and Alexander, but, as any good knight does, nods his head, obeying his orders. He turns on his heel, and follows the path Eleanor would have taken.
She’d seemed upset or stressed, or maybe both.
And so there was only one place she’d be.
The late Queen of Dundrasil had a large garden that was practically untouched since her death all those years ago. King Robert kept it as a memorial and a monument to his wife – beloved by him and the rest of the kingdom.
It still stood as one of Eleanor’s favourite places in the whole kingdom.
Irwin recalls many sunlit hours spent there, between the flowers. Eleanor was very knowledgeable of what grew, though she had never wanted to plant anything new. It was a place frozen in time, she’d once said, something so rare and precious.
Eleanor’s sitting near the thistles, with her head bowed, when Irwin finds her. She wrung her hands together, nervously so. As Irwin approaches, he begins to fear what she might say to him.
Eleanor must have heard him approach. She lifts her hand and attempts a smile, but Irwin can tell it isn’t real. It doesn’t reach her eyes, nor did it lift his heart the way one of her genuine smiles always does.
“I thought you might find me here,” Eleanor says, finally, breaking the silence between them.
Irwin nods, able to tell that she has much more to say.
“You must be wondering why I rushed out of there,” she continues. “I feel awfully silly now.”
There was still something else she wanted to say, but there was a hesitance in her eyes that Irwin took as his cue to take over the conversation.
“Don’t,” he assures her. “What was the meeting about? Alexander wouldn’t even tell me.”
Eleanor’s fake smile turns wry at the mention of the meeting she’d just fled from. She stands and walks away from Irwin, and he does not protest. She needs this, he can see. He’s not only sworn to protect her from physical harm, but to also listen to her woes – though, obligation or not, he would let her tell her all the world’s problems if she so wished.
Eleanor looks at him, and looks away again.
“The advisors were discussing that I’m of an age to wed,” she explains. “Father agrees that it’s time I started to accept invitations from suitors, too. And yet-“
Irwin’s heart starts to race at the thought, both out of a latent jealously, and also the fact that now might be the perfect time.
But he still hasn’t asked King Robert.
Though it hadn’t stopped him from almost asking for her hand the night before.
“I told Father what I intended to do, but he wanted me to be sure. But of course I’m sure. I am.”
Irwin is confused by what she means, but also knows he has to take this chance while he has it.
He gets down on one knee, careful not to crush any of the flowers around him. On bended knee, he bows his head. There’s a rustling, and he clears his throat – in some vain attempt to clear his head, he supposes.
When Irwin lifts his head, and opens his eyes, he’s surprised to see Eleanor kneeling in front of him.
“You were going to-?”
“Eleanor, what are you-?”
They speak at the same time, interrupting one another, and both laughing. The surprise passes quickly. Eleanor’s has always been bolder than she appears. It’s just one of the things that makes him fall more and more in love with her every day.
The kind of love that makes him want to be with her forever. To honour, serve and protect her; not as a Royal Guard, but as her husband.
They both say the simple word at the same time, but it means so much coming from Eleanor’s lips than Irwin could’ve ever imagined.
For a moment, doubt crosses Eleanor’s face, and Irwin feels his brief elation fade. Could she already have doubts?
“Irwin, are you only asking me because of what I just told you?” she questions. “Is this just-“
But Irwin can answer her question easily; producing the engagement band he’s carried around, and showing it to her.
“The day after we met, my mother told me she felt something in the air,” Irwin recalls. “She gave me this, and told me to keep it with me because my life had changed. I didn’t know what she meant, but I’ve carried it with me ever since. And I’ve been waiting to give you it, ever since then.”
Eleanor looks relieved, and throws her arms around him.
“Yes, Irwin!” she repeats. “Yes, of course.”
When she pulls away, with an infectious smile, Irwin puts the band around her waiting finger. It’s a perfect fit, Irwin thinks, with a smile of his own. He’s happier than he ever thought he might be.
Eleanor examines the ring.
“It’s perfect,” she says, with a teary-eyed smile. Taking his hand in hers, she pulls them both to their feet.
In the field of flowers – as perfect a setting as any other - they share their first kiss as those betrothed.