When he could, Marcellus eased his way out of Steve and lay beside him, one leg and one arm draped across Steve, his head on Steve's chest. Steve sighed contentedly and nestled closer, liking the way Marcellus felt beside him. Steve let his mind wander, reveling in the fact that he felt no fear or remorse for what he'd done. He lay there for about half an hour, just breathing and enjoying Marcellus' company. "Would you like a bath?" Marcellus asked.
"That sounds good." Marcellus got up and pulled the service rope. Steve watched, a silly grin on his face. When Marcellus turned, he caught the look and smiled.
"Do you see something you like?" he asked.
Steve nodded. "Several somethings, actually." Marcellus just laughed and went to his wardrobe. He pulled out two robes and offered one to Steve. Steve stood up and reached for it, but Marcellus gave him a puzzled look and put the robe on Steve himself. Then he put on his own robe and they sat on Marcellus' love seat to wait for the attendants. Marcellus rested his head on Steve's shoulder and they sat in mutual silence until a servant came. Marcellus ordered two baths to be drawn, and a maid to re-make the bed with fresh coverings. Steve could feel himself blush, knowing that with those instructions and the fact that he and Marcellus were both in bathrobes, there could be no doubt about what they'd just been doing. He half feared that the servant would disapprove, but she merely smiled knowingly, bowed and assured them that everything would be arranged shortly.
Marcellus thanked her and went right back to leaning against Steve. Steve shrugged mentally and wrapped an arm around Marcellus' shoulders. Apparently, Annette wasn't the only one who knew all about their relationship. The "big secret" must be common knowledge. No wonder the children seemed shocked when he'd pushed Marcellus away. That just reminded Steve of the incident with the cloak. He squeezed Marcellus a little tighter. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Marcellus hugged Steve's waist and looked up at him. "I forgive you, my love," he said. "I could forgive you anything. I'm only grateful that you aren't angry with me anymore."
"You're a beautiful man, Marcellus," Steve said. He wanted to say that he wished he had someone like him in his life, but instead he said, "I'm a very lucky person."
Marcellus only squeezed him a little tighter and kissed his cheek. "No more fortunate than I," he said. Steve smiled, but said nothing. Why couldn't Sherrie be like this? Loving and forgiving and sweet? Steve sighed, feeling a twinge of jealousy toward his absent counterpart.
After a short while, the attendants came, followed by the water bearers. They bowed and headed toward Marcellus' bathroom. One of them told Steve that a bath was being prepared for him in his own quarters. Marcellus gave Steve a peck on the cheek, and Steve went to his room, blushing. He hurried to his bathroom and slipped into the tub. He bathed quickly, unsure of how long Marcellus planned to take, but not wanting to make him wait any longer than he had to. When his bath was over, he was dressed in fresh clothes and the attendants fussed over his hair until it looked right again. He thanked them and left the room, ready to go back to Marcellus' chambers.
When he left his room, Steve saw Annette heading toward him from the stairs. She reddened and pursed her lips when she saw him. Despite her obvious displeasure, she curtseyed. "If you'll excuse me, Sire," she said curtly. Then she walked a couple of steps backward and turned away.
"Wait," Steve said. "I want to talk to you."
She stiffened, but turned around. "Yes, Your Majesty."
"I did what you said," he began. "I apologized to Marcellus."
"And he has forgiven you, I'm sure," she said.
"He has," Steve said, mildly perturbed that Annette didn't seem to have softened even a little. "I... I wanted to apologize for what I said to you at breakfast. It was rude and uncalled for and I was an ungentlemanly idiot."
"I quite agree, my Lord," Annette said. "Now if you will excuse me."
Steve blinked. Dumbfounded, he watched in silence while Annette curtseyed and walked away. That wasn't supposed to happen. Marcellus had forgiven him immediately. He'd expected Annette to do the same. He sighed. She was half way down the stairs now. Maybe he should just let her go. But he couldn't. He had to make things right with her. For one thing, King Stephen had to marry the girl. It wouldn't do to screw up their relationship before he got back to where he belonged. And he liked Annette. He didn't want her to be mad at him any more than he wanted Marcellus upset.
While he'd been standing there thinking, Annette had probably nearly reached the bottom of the stairs. He knew he had to act quickly if he wanted to catch her. The first floor of the castle was a veritable labyrinth and he knew if she made it down there all she'd have to do was turn the corner and he would lose her. He ran to the stairs, but there were several people walking up and down and Steve didn't want to be delayed by them. Instead of letting himself get tripped up by a bunch of bowing courtiers, Steve did a very un-kingly thing. He hopped onto the wide, well-polished banister and slid all the way down to the floor. He made it to the bottom just as Annette reached the last step. In a fluid motion that he couldn't have repeated if he tried, Steve hopped off the banister and dropped to his knees in front of Annette. There were several gaps from passing courtiers and servants, but Steve kept his eyes on the red-faced Annette.
"I'm sorry, my Lady," he said, clasping his hands in front of him. "I've been nothing but a big jerk this whole time, but I'm sorry! I love you! You're the sweetest girl I've ever known. I'm sorry about what I said. It was mean, and it wasn't even true. I wouldn't change anything about you for all the world. Please forgive me." Steve remained on his knees, looking imploringly at Annette while awaiting his fate. Her face had grown redder and redder as his apology went on, and now she was red as a beet. After a long moment, she reached a hand out to him.
"Please rise, my Lord."
"Not until I know you forgive me," Steve said, shaking his head.
"I forgive you," Annette cried. "Now, please rise, Sire!"
Steve took the Princess' hand and kissed it. Then he stood up and gave her a hug. "You're a sweet girl," he said.
"Thank you, Majesty," Annette said.
"I have to go and find Marcellus," Steve said, letting go of Annette. "But if you'll come with me, I'd like us all to do something nice together."
"That sounds wonderful," she said, smiling.
Annette accompanied Steve upstairs and they walked toward Marcellus' room. Before they reached it, Steve's own door opened and Marcellus came out. "There you are, Sire," he said. "Your Highness," he said, bowing.
"Hello, Your Highness."
"I was telling Annette that I thought it would be a good idea for us all to do something nice together. What would you like to do?"
"We could go to the gardens and -"
"NO!" Steve cried, cutting Annette off. "I mean... sorry I interrupted you, Annette, but I'm not really in the mood for the garden today. Let's do something different, okay?"
"Certainly, Sire," Marcellus said quickly. "Would you like to go down to the bay?"
"Ooh, yes, we haven't done that for a while," Annette said excitedly.
"No we haven't," Steve said, thinking that it was especially true of him. "Good idea, Marcellus."
Marcellus smiled. "I'll have a carriage made ready in just a moment," he said, bowing and heading backwards toward his room.
"Well, Annette," Steve asked, "would you like to wait in my study?"
"I should probably get my cloak, Sire," Annette said. "'Tis a gray day out, and it may be cool at the bay."
"You're absolutely right," Steve said, mentally pummeling himself. "I think I'll get mine, too. Marcellus and I will come and get you from your quarters when we're ready, all right?"
"Yes, my Lord." Annette took her leave and Steve went into his bedroom. He looked into his wardrobe and found a dark blue cloak to go with his outfit. He put it on, pinning it together at the neck with a silver broach depicting the royal seal. Then he went back to the hallway to wait for Marcellus. In a few moments, the young man came walking down the hall, smiling.
"Are you ready, Sire?"
Steve nodded. "I told Annette we'd meet her at her room."
"Very well." Steve started down the hall, but Marcellus didn't follow. "You don't have your sword," he said.
Steve looked down as if he expected a sword to appear at his side. He smacked his hand to his forehead and laughed sheepishly. "I can't believe I did that," he said. "Where is my head, today?"
Marcellus smiled and shook his head. "Come, my love." His smile turned devious. "Obviously, our encounter this morning has left you mildly addled."
Steve turned bright red and followed Marcellus back into the bedroom. Now that Marcellus' back was to him, Steve could see that the bottom of his cloak was slightly raised, and a dark object that must be the sheath of Marcellus' own sword protruded from the lower edge. Inside the bedroom, Marcellus strode to the second of Steve's wardrobes and pulled out a low drawer. He brought out a black belt with a loop on each side. He reached under Steve's cloak and put it around his waist with a mischievous grin. "You're enjoying yourself a little too much, fella," Steve said. Marcellus just grinned wider. Then he went to the case which held what Steve had assumed to be decorative swords and daggers. Marcellus pulled out one of four full-sized double edged swords, and a dagger with a matching hilt.
"Are these satisfactory, my Liege?"
"Sure thing," Steve said. Marcellus put both blades into sheaths and hooked the sword onto Steve's left side and the dagger on his right. Steve touched their hilts, hoping he didn't look like he'd never been this close to weapons before - which he hadn't. "Thank you, my love," Steve said.
Marcellus smiled brightly. "You're welcome. Shall we go?" Steve nodded. They left the room and walked down the hall, Steve once again trying to follow Marcellus without looking like he had no idea where he was going. Annette was ready when they arrived. They rode to the bay in an open carriage drawn by four majestic black horses. They were preceded and followed by two more carriages with four armed guards in each. People smiled and cheered as they passed, and Steve was again reminded of how well-loved the king must be.
After a few minutes, they crested a hill and Steve could see the bay spread out before him. It was a beautiful sight. The bay curved in a way that reminded Steve very much of his beloved San Francisco Bay. The water was dotted with several sail boats, and a few large clipper ships, sails full and flags waving. When they reached the docks, Steve practically hopped out of the carriage. He wanted to see the ships up close. Two guards got out of the leading carriage and hurried to keep up with Steve. He walked quickly from one majestic ship to another, gazing at them in wonder. He was hardly aware of the various dock workers and other subjects bowing, curtseying and tipping their hats to him. He wasn't even bothered by the noise and the bustle and the strong smell of fish that pervaded the air. He was too enthralled by the fact that he was actually walking down a dock that held working ships the like of which he'd only seen in pirate films or as novelty attractions at the Bay.
Steve turned to see Marcellus and Annette practically trotting to keep up with him. He stopped and waited for them. "I want to get on one," he said when they reached him. "Can we?"
"Of course, Sire," Marcellus said. "Which one would you prefer?"
Steve looked around and saw a comparatively small ship a few yards further down the dock. There was a blue flag with the royal seal in silver fluttering atop the main mast. There didn't seem to be any loading or unloading of any fishy cargo going on as there had been on most of the other vessels. Steve pointed to it. "That one."
Marcellus grinned. "I should have known you would pick the Golden Sunrise. She's always been your favorite."
They walked to the ship together and Steve led the way up the long ramp to the deck. A teenaged boy was busy tugging on a complicated looking knot when he saw Steve. He gasped, dropped what he was doing and bowed deeply. "Good day, Sire," he said nervously.
"Good day," Steve said.
The boy looked as if he were about to say more, but stopped himself and bowed again. "Good day, Prince Marcellus. Good day, Princess Annette." After bowing again, he looked back at Steve. "Would you like me to find the captain, Your Majesty? We... we didn't know you planned to sail today, but..."
"Oh, no," Steve said. "I just wanted to come and take a look around." Although Steve would have loved to actually go somewhere in one of these ships, there was just too much risk involved. What if someone invited him to direct the ship? He'd driven his share of speed boats, but this gargantuan thing would probably end up being plowed into a rock that everyone in the country was supposed to know about. Then where would he be? He patted the boy's shoulder, told him to keep up the good work, and started his tour. He wandered around the ship with wide eyes, touching the lines, barrels and other trappings, and generally behaving like a kid in a toy store. Marcellus and Annette followed him, smiling and shaking their heads.
"You behave as if you've never been aboard a ship before, Sire," Marcellus said.
"I haven't," Steve answered automatically. "In a long time," he added quickly. "It seems that I haven't been aboard a ship in a long time."
Marcellus and the Princess nodded, still smiling, and Steve hoped they wouldn't pay attention to his slip. He tried not to be so obvious for the rest of his tour of the ship. When at last he'd had his fill of the flag ship, they continued their stroll along the dock at a more sedate pace. They talked about boats and the weather and other relatively uncomplicated subjects. At first, Annette hardly said anything. She seemed subdued, and Marcellus asked what was wrong. She was reluctant to say anything, but Steve knew that she must still be thinking about what he'd said at breakfast. Feeling guilty, he started asking her questions specifically, trying to draw her into the conversation. When she spoke, he listened intently and smiled a lot, hoping to encourage her. After a while, she seemed to be convinced that he was really interested in what she had to say, and she loosened up again. It wasn't long before she was back to her old self, chattering gaily about nothing.
Steve felt much better, and Marcellus seemed to be enjoying himself more as well. Whenever Annette went on one of her long verbal rambles, he would give her his undivided attention, then smile over her head at Steve as if to say, "Isn't she cute?" That seemed to be his natural attitude toward her. Whereas Steve would have expected Marcellus to be jealous, or at the very least, resentful of Annette's presence, he treated her more like a kid sister than a threat. Steve had already seen that Annette felt no animosity toward Marcellus. It was an interesting little arrangement, but Steve thought that it was sweet the way they seemed to be happy together. King Stephen was indeed a lucky man.
As they day progressed, Steve felt better and better. There was no tension between them now, and Steve managed to make it through the day without any glaring mishaps. When they returned to the palace, Steve and Marcellus showed a bubbly Annette to her room, then went to Steve's own quarters.
"Are you tired, my love?" Marcellus asked.
"Not at all," Steve said, smiling. "Won't you come in and sit with me for a while?"
Marcellus nodded, and they sat in front of the already-lit fire and talked quietly. At Steve's suggestion, they played a few games of Armada. Steve lost the better part of them and Marcellus teased him about his "fever" throwing off his strategy. Eventually, Steve decided he was ready for bed. He was genuinely tired after their busy day, and all the stress from that morning. Marcellus kissed him goodnight and went off to his own room. Steve undressed, found one of the warmer night gowns and went to bed, finally feeling better. Now, at last, he was secure in his ability to impersonate the king for as long as it took to find a way home.