Twilight Over Moldavia
Caroline said nothing as Michael led her down a decorative hall with roses and mistletoe. Golden sconces were lit with tapered candles and music filled the air. They came to a room with large bay windows and Michael easily opened up a door which led to the gardens. A cool breeze from the Black Sea ruffled past Caroline's dress. The stars shimmered in the sky.
She clutched his hand tightly as he led her through the gardens. Roses, orchids, and lilies decorated the walkway. Every flower patch was in full bloom, as petals glowed softly in the moonlight.
“Don't worry, sweet Princess, Stefan means to know you better and assuage your fears, only he wishes to do so in private without prying eyes,” Michael whispered into her ear, leaning close.
She nodded her head, spying a gazebo coming into view. Stefan stood between two thick, wooden pillars, tall and proud, each hand clasping a support. He appeared to be listening to the sounds of the night air. Every time the owl chirped, he smiled, as if he was in tune with nature's creatures.
Caroline nervously swallowed as she watched the starlight dance over his cheeks, illuminating his smile. Michael tugged her hand a little and they exchanged looks. Hers said, “I'll try not be nervous,” and his told her, “You don't need to be.”
Michael took one last turn past an herb bush and Caroline found herself face-to- face with her handsome prince.
“Caroline,” he smiled. “Thank you, Michael.”
“You're welcome,” he replied. Michael let go of her hand, sprinting away toward the castle.
Stefan led her to one of the wooden seats in the gazebo. He sat down beside her as she anxiously ran her hands over her blue dress. Pursing her lips, her eyes finally darted to his face, steeling up the courage to answer his questions.
I only pray that he believes me.
He bit his lower lip, his slender nostrils flaring slightly as he raked his sweet hazel eyes over her face. She raised her hand to cup his cheek and then withdrew it, suddenly worried he might be offended by her gesture.
His hand reached out and grabbed her, squeezing tight. She watched, mesmerized by the curious look on his face as his other hand brushed back a stray tendril of hair that had fallen against her cheeks.
“Thank you, Stefan. You are…” she paused.
“What?” he prompted. His lips shined in the light from the stars.
Slowly, he withdrew his hand that caressed her cheek. His face grew serious.
“Caroline, we are to be married in six weeks, but the last time I saw you, you did not leave a favorable impression on me. It was only my mother's assurances that you would change as you matured into a woman that gave me hope for our future.”
“Then I have to thank your mother for instilling hope in you. Oh, Stefan, I knew I was rude – unruly even, and I am sorry.” She slid back in the seat to put distance between them. She needed space. Looking into his eyes made her heart race. The warm air felt even that much hotter against her skin.
He grabbed both her wrists, begging her with his eyes to talk to him. “It is forgiven. A woman does sit before me now – an attractive, smart, and exciting woman who is just as nervous about this night as I am. I used to dread this day, Caroline. Now, I am…looking forward to it.”
“So am I,” she whispered.
His lips curved into a smile. “Caroline, there must be honesty between us if we are going to embark on this marriage. Tell me the reason behind your change.”
She was so scared to tell him the truth. He just might not believe her.
“Tell me, sweet princess,” he whispered huskily.
She nodded her head yes. How strong he was as he held her hands tight and looked so adoringly into her eyes. The night's air wrapped them together in a blanket of comfort. This man was going to be her husband – he deserved the truth – no matter how embarrassing it was to her.
With firm resolve, she withdrew her hands from his and stood up, looking at the moon. Her silver sash glowed in the dim light.
“Shortly after my fourteenth birthday, Mina and Adriana came to Carpathia's court and became my ladies. At first they seemed to encourage my impetuous behavior, and a week after meeting them, we went to Poliesti's town square on market day in disguise. They said it would be fun to fool the common folk, but in hindsight, I think it was their way of showing me a side of life I did not appreciate.”
She paused. Stefan stood up to approach her but she held up a hand and stepped away, afraid her courage might fail if he reached for her. His eyes betrayed mild hurt, but she continued.
“I saw a royal woman from Transylvania bartering for goods that day, but the way she talked to her people and the merchants gave me pause to think. Mina and Adriana didn't talk to me like that. I did not like how she ordered those around her. It was then Mina and Adriana pointed out how my behavior mirrored hers and it frightened me.”
“Who was the woman?” asked Stefan. “My mother has been friends with Transylvania's countess for years.”
“It has been so long, I don't remember the name, but I would remember the face.”
Caroline spun around. Her eyes met his. His chest seemed to rise and fall in anticipation of what she was going to say next.
“They told me this woman had many people in her life, but no one loved her. I would be like her if I continued. Then Mina suggested I go ask a gypsy witch what the future held for me. I was never superstitious, but I became a believer that day. We went to a gypsy camp and I had my tarot cards read. They only reinforced what Mina and Adriana brought to my attention. I must change. If I did, I would find true love with what had been planned for me. If I did not, I would die an unfortunate death like my sister, Edwina. I was terrified. When I went back to the castle, I secluded myself for several days with only my ladies who reassured me of their friendship. I did not want to continue on a path that would lead to my death. I began by apologizing to all the servants in Poliesti's keep. I grew closer to Mina and Adriana. They are like sisters to me now.”
“I am surprised to learn the role the supernatural played in your life,” he said, staring at her. “My father is not a superstitious man. He would not hear of such talk in Delfin castle.”
“And you, Stefan?” She stood riveted to her spot in the middle of the gazebo. The light scent of roses carried on the breeze from the Black Sea.
“I believe it exists – I believe because it gave you back to me. It gave me your heart,” his voice trembled.
She wanted to run into his arms and hold him. Instead, he approached her, cupping her cheeks with his hands, his hazel eyes turning from sensitive to smoldering. She gasped for air as her bosom quickly rose and fell. A single tear escaped her eyes and drifted down her cheek. He wiped it with his thumb.
“I want to be in love with my wife, Caroline. I want to have a marriage like my parents – a love match. I want our relationship based on mutual respect, admiration, and love,” he said with quiet assurance.
“You believe?” she whispered.
“Yes. A cold, heartless woman would not be trembling in my arms right now if you were deceiving me.”
“You believe in superstitions? In things that can't be explained?” she pushed. Her heart pumped fiercely in her chest.
“I do. I believe in tarot cards, witches, and future telling – I believe because you are in my arms right now.”
She sighed, then felt the sweet brushstrokes of his lips upon hers. For a long, suspended moment, she felt as if she was floating in heaven. Finally the brushstrokes filled with pressure and his lips took more from her. She snaked her hands around his shoulders and wrapped them around the nape of his neck. His mouth moved in tender rhythm, caressing and devouring hers. Suddenly scared from the intensity in Stefan's lips, she broke away. She'd never been kissed like that! Stefan grabbed her waist, his eyes glowing with an inner flame that she'd ignited.
“Caroline,” he purred, stepping toward her, pressing his body against her, his mouth tenderly coming to rest next to her temple. “When we are alone like this, touching, let's use more personal names – special names. I want you to call me Sebastian, my middle name.”
Her senses were spinning from his dizzying touch. “Names only for us?”
“Yes. What is your middle name?”
“Aurora, after my mother,” she replied. She couldn't help but be swept up in the moment as the rose scent and moonlight filled the air between them with electricity.
“It is a beautiful name – as beautiful as you,” he seductively whispered. He lowered his head and began kissing the tender flesh of her neck.
“Sebastian, please…” she pleaded. Everything was too intense! Her body was searing with pleasure, but it was a pleasure she'd never felt before and she was afraid of it.
He lifted his face to look at her. “What, Aurora?”
“I…we…must look presentable…”
He backed away from her, taking a deep breath. “You are right.”
He dug into his jacket's breast pocket and withdrew a ring. Caroline gasped as he held it up. It was a marquis cut, close to two karats, she guessed, and it sparkled in the moonlight.
“I will have to put this ring on your finger in front of a crowd, but allow me to do it now, so we can enjoy this moment privately between us.”
She nodded her head.
He took her hand and looked into her eyes. “Princess Caroline Aurora Moldoveanu, will you marry me?”
Her heart fluttered. The gypsy's words had come true. He would ask her – just like this!
“Yes, Prince Stefan. I will marry you.”
He slid the ring on her finger. They both looked at each other and giggled.
“I won't take it off, Sebastian. Ever,” she insisted.
He smiled at her, that handsome, rugged smile she adored. “I cannot wait until you put your ring on my finger, Aurora. For now, let's go inside before my mother begins to worry.”
She nodded her head and he escorted her back to the castle, holding her hand tightly.
Michael walked back into the ballroom, his eyes hungry to search out Rosa Getzi. She was a striking beauty, the likes he'd never seen. He wanted to run his hands wildly through the curly mane of her hair, imbedded deep inside her.
I cannot believe I am actually dreaming of bedding her! I just met her! I know nothing about her!
He spied his parents on the dance floor. His mother looked flushed and giddy from his father's attention. Then he saw Rosa's parents dancing, laughing, wrapped up in their own flirtatious behavior. His eyes cut to the table in the corner and he spied Rosa watching her parents dance. She was alone.
Without hesitation he set off for her table and grabbed a lily from a flower decoration that was hanging on the wall.
She looked up at him with her round doe-like eyes. “Hello, Michael.”
He presented the lily to her and she took it, bringing it to her nose. He stole the seat next to her and leaned over, smiling.
“I was only flirting earlier,” he began.
“That is a relief to know,” she quipped, turning her head to smile at him.
“Do you want to finish our dance?”
“Let's wait until there is a new waltz,” she suggested. “Why are you leaning so close?”
“Perhaps I just want to drink in the scent of your perfume,” he replied, backing off a little.
“Your parents are sweet together, Michael. The king adores your mother,” she said.
“The way I see it, your parents are just as much in love,” he said, bracing his hand on the back of her chair.
“Um…my parents have a challenging marriage. They are two very different people,” she began. “I adore them, but I want to be in love with the man I marry – I want my husband to be like the king.”
“Really? My father? What makes him so special? Is it because he is a king?” Michael queried, his eyes darting to his parents.
“It is because he looks at the queen with such passion in his eyes. She is the only
woman in the world for him,” she dreamily said.
“How idealistic,” he remarked.
“You don't believe in such passion?” she asked, her almond eyes capturing his.
“I believe it would take a special woman to bring out such passion in me,” he replied.
“And what was your real father like?” she asked.
“Yes, I'm curious. Didn't he love your mother like so?”
“I am told he loved her,” he said quietly. “It is unfortunate, really. My mother died giving birth to me. My father died in a hunting accident a couple of months after I was born.”
“How sad to have never known your real parents,” Rosa remarked. She reached out with her hand and lightly patted his. The touch sent shivers down Michael's spine.
“If only…” Michael whispered, more to himself than to her. He couldn't confess his secret wish – not yet, though he felt tempted to.
She smiled at him and he saw the sweet spirit inside her. She was full of light – full of goodness and purity.
“Did you want to tell me something?” she queried.
He looked at her, confused. “No, nothing, not now…”
She wrinkled her brow. “Well, I have a secret,” she began. “I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
“And that would be?” he asked, sipping his sweet red wine.
“My mother is a witch,” Rosa said abruptly.
Michael turned and looked at her, surprised by the stark candidness in Rosa's voice.
“What? Your mother…a witch?”
“That is my secret. My mother is a witch.”
“And you?” he asked, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest.
“This is the big disagreement between my parents. My father is just a man with no special abilities, but he was Count Iancu Getzi's heir and that's why she married him. When his father died, my father became the Count of Transylvania. He does not care for my mother's abilities. I have what it takes to be a witch, but I have never formally been trained as one,” she explained.
“It is…does everyone know she is a witch?” asked Michael, his eyes raking over Rosa's figure in a new light. Is that why she had such a slender, lithe body? Such round eyes, and such exotic looks? Was it the witch in her?
“No, not everyone. She might have confided in your mother, I don't know,” Rosa said, curving her lips into a sweet smile as she looked at him. “Michael, not all witches are…bad.”
“What? I didn't say…”
“I see the look in your eyes. My mother is a good person. She would never hurt anyone. She uses her abilities to help others, not harm them,” Rosa explained.
“I see. Well, I must be on my best behavior if I am to romance you, then. I must follow my father's example,” he said, stiffening his back in firm resolve.
“Romance me?” Rosa asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I would not like to be hexed by your mother,” Michael replied, chuckling.
She playfully punched him in the arm. “Well, I will give you such an opportunity if you so desire it. My parents are taking one of the royal yachts to Varna. Perhaps you could join us? If my parents allowed it?”
“They will say we are smitten with each other,” Michael replied, drinking her in. She was beautiful – on the outside and the inside.
“Is that such a bad thing if you are trying to romance me?” she asked.
He chuckled again. The music finished. Michael stood up and held out his hand to her. Rosa took it and they began to waltz, well aware of their parents' eyes on them.
“Mihai, I need to visit the powder room,” said Theresa, as her husband escorted her off the ballroom floor. She spied Michael with Rosa and smiled, glad that he had come back to dance with her again.
“How do you feel?” he asked, his eyes full of concern.
“I feel fine. Trust me,” she whispered, running her hands up and down his arms. He nodded his head. She left him to sit with the Getzis at their table, but as soon as she turned the corner and was out of his eyesight, she ran directly to the room that housed the window Hecuba was spying from. Hecuba wasn't there. Theresa searched the downstairs with no luck. Then she went upstairs, finding the old witch in the hall that led to Stefan's bedroom!
“Hecuba!” hissed Theresa through gritted teeth. “What do you think you are doing?”
Hecuba stopped dead in her stance.
Theresa waltzed up to her and grabbed the witch by the arm. “It is not time.”
“Bane wants reassurances,” said Hecuba, showing off her brittle teeth through an ugly smile.
Theresa spat at Hecuba's feet and led her back downstairs to her husband's study. It was the most private room in the castle.
“My son has until the next full moon to break the curse,” began Theresa, crossing her arms in front of the old woman. Theresa stood regal and tall, commanding the authority of a fierce, protective mother. The old witch in front of her was not going to intimidate her.
“Your son will not find love with that Carpathian brat and we both know it, Theresa,” said Hecuba, failing to address Theresa by her title.
She did not want to give Hecuba an iota of information. “That is not certain.”
“You know the rules!” cried Hecuba, waving her arms into the air. “Your son must be in love and make love – physical love – by the time he turns eighteen. Only the physical consummation of sex to the one he loves will break your promise to Bane.”
Theresa mashed her lips together. She wanted to brag to Hecuba of Caroline's change in demeanor, but if she did, it would give the old hag and Bane time to interfere in the blossoming relationship between Stefan and Caroline.
“Caroline Moldoveanu is the most selfish, spoiled snit of a girl on this side of the Carpathian Mountains and you know it!” cried Hecuba, in an obvious attempt to bait her.
“She is a princess and you should address her as such,” said Theresa bitterly. It was hard to bite her tongue but she must! If her son were to live in happiness past his eighteenth birthday, she must!
“There is nothing you can do. I am here to watch the engagement ceremony and report to Bane of the night's events,” declared Hecuba.
Theresa had enough of the old hag's presumptuous attitude on Bane's authority. She grabbed Hecuba by the arm and led her back out into the castle halls towards the door. “You tell Bane it is not yet time. The Prince has until the next full moon. Then Bane can come and claim his reward. Until then, leave Stefan to live his life for another month!”
“Bane is anxious to know his new wolf,” Hecuba retorted.
“My Lady, is something wrong?” asked a soldier, walking up to the Queen. Theresa threw Hecuba down at the soldier's feet.
“Escort this old bat out of the castle. She was trying to disturb my son's engagement,” commanded Theresa.
The soldier dutifully nodded his head, grabbed Hecuba, and walked out.
Theresa stood there, heaving into the damp air of the hall. She was too nervous to return to Mihai like this. She went back to the study to calm down.
She walked to the window in her husband's study and gazed out into the night's sparkling sky, wrapping her arms securely around herself. The events of her past still played in her memory like they were yesterday. A young girl of seventeen herself, she was brought from Austria to marry Crown Prince Mihai of Moldavia, only when she arrived at Constanta, she discovered her future husband had already taken a mistress and had a bastard child. She was devastated by it. Mihai was a tall, sensual man that she'd dreamed of marrying since she was a child. Their first year of marriage tested her patience like she'd never known, but it was worth it. While Mihai was dealing with the mistress he got pregnant in London, she won his love. Unfortunately, she gave birth to a stillborn son a year into the marriage.
Then the fates stepped in. A fire broke out in Constanta. Mihai's mistress, Alexandra, and bastard children died in the fire. He was distraught, upset, but her love helped him through that painful time. Then, for reasons she didn't understand, six months went by without her conceiving another child. Desperate to have a child with her husband, Theresa did the unthinkable. Viktor Bacau, Mihai's best friend and a werewolf, told her there was dark magic that could be done to help her conceive. Viktor was in love with her and expected her to take on the curse so they could be together. She didn't. Her sister, Beatrice, came to her in a dream and told her not to.
Theresa had returned to Constanta and within the month, became pregnant with her and Mihai's only child, Stefan.
If only Viktor hadn't been so foolish. He attacked Mihai on a hunt, and her husband was forced to kill him using silver bullets.
Theresa continued to nervously pace. Wanting something to calm her nerves, she went to Mihai's cabinet in the shelves and withdrew his bottle of brandy, pouring herself a glass. Her lips trembled as she sipped on it.
Stefan's bride must be a woman he could fall in love with. She had to be special. Only she didn't take into account her husband's desire to unite Romania. Mihai sought out Mikos, Mircea Brancoveanu, Alina's father, the Count of Wallachia, and Iancu Getzi from Transylvania. They struck a bargain to unite Romania as a country. Stefan was betrothed to Mikos's daughter, Edwina. Sadly, Edwina died in a riding accident when she was thirteen, but Mikos Moldoveanu had a second daughter, Caroline. When she turned thirteen, she was promised to Stefan. Theresa's heart sank into the depths of the netherworld upon discovering Caroline was rotten to the core. She knew without her interference, Stefan was doomed. Her intervention had to be subtle so as not to arouse Bane's suspicions.
She placed Mina and Adriana in the Moldoveanu castle as Caroline's ladies in waiting. Through careful arrangements, the girls showed Caroline the folly of her ways. It worked. The past four years, Mina and Adriana reported to Theresa that Caroline had indeed changed. Caroline was now a woman worthy of Stefan's love.
Theresa took a deep long sip, the brandy warming her stomach. Her hands stopped shaking. She also did what she could to influence Stefan. She convinced her son her marriage was a love match and that love was the only thing that mattered between a man and a woman. She encouraged him to save himself for his wife. Stefan was easily swayed by the power of his mother's words and grew into a strong, handsome prince in his own right. There were no more cards for Theresa to play. Stefan and Caroline had little less than four weeks to fall in love and consummate it, or Stefan was doomed to live the life of a werewolf. And if that were to happen…she feared Mihai would never forgive her. Her husband just might forsake her.
The door opened. Mihai walked in.
“Darling, have you seen Stefan? And Caroline, for that matter? Several guests have noticed they are missing.” His rich voice was full of concern.
“No, I haven't.”
Mihai pointed to the clock on his desk that kept the time. “It is time for Stefan to propose.”
“Stefan probably just wanted to talk to her alone. You know how he is – how private he can be. He'll be back,” said Theresa sweetly, hiding the swirling anxiety that rushed through the pit of her stomach.
Mihai walked up to his wife and stole a delicious kiss from her full, rich, pouty lips. “Did you go to the powder room or here? What is troubling you, Theresa?”
“I did go, but then I wanted a drink,” she said. “Your study was closest.”
“The guard told me you found an old woman in the castle?” he prompted.
“Yes, she was…uninvited. I had her removed. She…scared me, Mihai,” Theresa nervously explained.
“I understand now,” he said, wrapping his arms around her. She sighed as she pressed her cheek against his warm, hard chest. His hand lightly caressed her shoulders.
“No one will ever harm you again, Theresa. No one. I have kept you and our children safe throughout the years, and I will continue to,” he said, his deep voice resonating with conviction.
“Te iu besc,” she whispered.
“Te iu besc, my queen,” he replied.
Stefan wished there weren't so many in attendance. He never really cared for large gatherings. No, all he wanted to do was take his beautiful fiancée up to his room and continue the intense exploration of her lips that he started in the gazebo. Instead, upon his return to the castle, he politely mingled with his guests, smiling and dancing with the ladies, entertaining all like a good, dutiful prince should. Caroline also socialized with the attendants, making small, pleasant talk, acting interested in not only her Carpathian delegation, but in the Moldavian guests as well. Stefan didn't hear one unpleasant word about Caroline and that warmed his heart.
At the stroke of midnight, he formally proposed to her in front of all his royal guests. Father Nikolai from St. Mikail's Orthodox Church blessed the couple as Stefan got down on one knee and proposed in front of everyone. The magnificent hall filled with applause. The ebbing stubs of light from the candles in the chandeliers filled the ballroom. Tomorrow he knew renovations would begin on the castle to fit it with a new invention – electric lights. The work would be finished in time for his wedding. His future seemed so bright. In that moment, as he looked up into Caroline's eyes, he believed he would find love with her – deep love, passionate love, love like his parents shared.
© Copyright by SG Cardin 2005.