|Essence of Oleander Part 1|
|Written by RHunt|
The sounds of heavy rain could be heard outside the carriage along with the whistle of harsh winds. If it hadn’t been for Kerani leaning against me, I would have froze. We were both wrapped up in our cloaks and huddled together. Across the carriage from us was a man that we had only recently came into acquaintance with. Endre was the name he had offered to us. Both Kerani and Endre were from the southern lands of Gyose. Tanned skin and black hair were common among their people. Unfortunately, my own people had long ago started farming their tribes for servants and slaves.
Kerani had only come to work for me for three years. She spoke very little of the common language, but I was well versed in her language. My father is very scholarly and ensured that all of his children were as well. Not only did he test me the ways of the books, but always how to defend myself during battle. It was not something that I was suppose to demonstrate to anyone as it was unbefitting for a lady. Yet he told me that there wouldn’t always be a knight around to protect me.
As we traveled deeper into the war torn lands of Seria, I knew that those lessons may one day be brought to good use. My betrothed, whom I have never met before, had asked that I be brought to him a year early. He explained that the war in Seria would only worsen in the next few years and that it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel. Lord Blaine Stavros was, from what I understood, a brave knight and an advisor to the king. He had also been the first born son to Duke Manten Stavros and with his father’s recent death had just gained a vast majority of lands and riches.
Our marriage had been arranged when I was two months old. Lord Manten and my father had once worked closely together during a previous war. They kept in contact for years afterwards and Lord Manten often joked that if my father ever had a daughter that he would betroth his first born son to her. Being the fourth child, after my mother had three sons, my father discovered that Lord Manten had been quite serious.
Of course, my father accepted the proposal as he was nothing more then a knight with a manor under another man’s rule. To betroth me to a future duke would not only elevate my status but my father’s as well. Though my father had checked throughout the years to ensure that Lord Manten was not teasing him. Always Lord Manten would respond with, “I shall see you at the wedding.”
There had been rumors that my father had saved Lord Manten’s life during the war more than once. My father had never admitted to doing anything for him, but it was the only logical reason that a woman of my standing could wed such a man.
I was not as excited as I should have been. I knew that wedding a duke would mean a lot of changes in the way that I presented myself. Having grown up with three brothers and no sisters, I had to deal with servants and my mother constantly telling me to behave like a lady. I wore all my brothers’ hand me downs until the age of fourteen, when my mother could no longer stand the sight of me in pants. She informed me that now that I looked like a lady I had to dress as one.
My wedding date had been set for my eighteenth birthday, but that day came and went. Lord Blaine asked my father to keep me until it was safer to travel and added that he suspected it wouldn’t be until after my twenty third birthday. It had been strange that he would make such a wild guess as to when the war would be over. Though it was more of a dispute back then as no one had died in the name of their country.
Many believed that Lord Blaine was looking for a way to escape his marriage with me. Most likely he was buying himself time with his father’s ear, but when his father past he knew that there would be no way out. Which was why he had summoned me three months after his father’s death. There were other rumors that Lord Blaine had a lover, which was also the reason he was trying to keep me in Requanar.
Whatever the case may be, I was more than happy to stay in my home country. I would have gladly married him and remained with my mother and father while my husband returned to Seria. He could have fathered as many bastards as he wanted and ignored my presence completely. Now, I would have to live in his home in Seria and listen to all the rumors about his lovers that he had taken in the very bed I slept in.
Kerani moaned in her sleep and it brought me back to reality. I looked over at the dark haired beautiful woman who was asleep on my shoulder. She was the most lovely girl that I had ever laid eyes upon. My father told me that I needed a servant girl to care for me, and though I am thoroughly against the slave trade, he demanded I purchase a Gyosian. I knew all about their beliefs of loyalty. Most women chose to keep a Gyosian servant because they would rather die a long, tortured death then ever tell anything that would hurt their mistress’ name. Whether that is true or not has yet to be proven to me. Kerani could only speak to me, my brothers, and my father as no one else spoke her language.
My eyes wandered up to Endre who was wide awake. Though he was a servant to Lord Blaine, he carried a sword and wore chain mail armor. Obviously, Blaine had trained him to be a protector. He spoke perfect common, which proved to me that he had either been taken from Gyose at a young age or he had been born into slavery. Considering that he spoke the Gyose language, I had concluded that he had been taken young. As most Gyosian infants were snatched from their mother’s arms the moment they were born. The infants were given to noble women to learn how to raise a child until they were able to be sold into labor.
Endre’s dark eyes embedded themselves into my own whenever I looked upon him. He spoke rarely, and most often it was to give me directions. I turned my gaze away and leaned my head against the carriage.
“You should sleep like your chamber maid. It will be a long night.” Endre’s voice nearly made me jumped through the top of the carriage.
“I can not sleep in a carriage.”
He looked at the window, but the curtains had been pulled and he seemed reluctant to open them. Endre was around my height as most males of his race were, but he had a strong, masculine body from years of hard labor, no doubt. His hair was long and kept pulled back. Kerani and he had had a couple of discussions, though he mostly answered her questions as briefly as possible.
“When will we arrive?” I asked and heard the sounds of several horses outside the carriage. I knew they were the escorts that had been sent with the carriage. They were all knights who were under Lord Blaine’s commands. None looked privileged to have to escort his future wife to the city. It was most likely considered a meager errand far below their skills.
“Tomorrow afternoon.” Endre answered me.
I propped myself up as I had been bent over, which forced Kerani’s head to drop. Her eyes opened and she looked between Endre and myself. I could tell by the look on her face that she was trying to remember where she was.
“Have you not slept?” Kerani asked me in her language.
I shook my head in response.
Bouncing on her bottom, she was on the other side of the carriage and patted her lap. “Lay your head down.”
“I won’t be able to sleep.”
“Try.” She reached out her hand and stroked my hair which coaxed my head downward.
I did not like it when others were right, but as it turned out I was exhausted. The trip from my home country to Seria was a week long journey. It was also highly stressful because of the ongoing war. Lord Blaine was a known figure among our enemies and killing me would have been a tactic that they could easily exploit to get to him. Though, I highly doubted he would care either way.
As Kerani stroked my hair, I could hear her singing a song in her native tongue. I barely made out any of the words as my mind began to drift away. It would be my greatest of pleasures for this journey to finally come to an end. This is what I thought as my mind finally gave way to sleep.
With the carriage windows still drawn, I could only tell that it was daytime by the sun that peeked around its edges. Endre had demanded that we keep them shut as to not give a clear shot to any archer assassins that we might pass by. This explanation only terrified me, though I was composed enough to not show any fear.
Leora came for me and left Kerani to organizing my bedroom. I informed her that I wanted to bathe when I returned so she went to fetch some water to boil in the fireplace. Leora lead me down the flight of stairs and through the large double doors near the front entrance. It was the dining hall, which was three times as large as the one I spent my life eating in.
The table stretched from one side of the room to the other. All the walls had small serving tables surrounding the large main table. A beige table cloth covered it and golden candle sticks with white gardenia bases adorn the table. Two places were set at the end of the table, and I sat at the side. The person who would be sitting at the head had yet to be announced.
Leora seated me and then disappeared into the kitchen. I was left in the dining hall with a male servant whom I was unfamiliar with. He poured me a glass of white wine and then returned to his position at the kitchen entrance.
One of the double doors opened and I turned my head to watch a tall, dark haired male enter. His hair was cut short though several locks hung over his forehead. He wore his tanned pants, black boots, and a gray riding coat. I knew that this was the riding attire of a nobleman so I tried to stand.
“No, please, stay seated.” His deep voice insisted. “You must be Lady Valora.” There was a grin on his lips and his eyes were dead locked on me as he came to stand at the head of the table. “You… you are quite lovely.” He sat down.
“Thank you, and whom might you be?”
He smacked his forehead, “I am Lord Durril, Blaine’s younger brother.” Jumping to his feet, he came to stand next to me and offered me his hand. I placed my own in his palm and he kissed my knuckles briefly. “Forgive my manners.” He sat back down. “Excuse my appearance, I was out on business most of the morning.”
“Only if you will excuse mine. I’ve been traveling all week and was just roused from a nap.”
Durril’s gorgeous face broke out in a full smile, “Well, aren’t we just a sorry bunch.”
“Lord Durril.” Leora walked into the dining hall, “I apologize for not being here to introduce you.”
“It’s alright, Leora. We seemed to have managed.” Durril smiled at me again and I nodded.
She smacked her hands together, “Then I will bring out your lunch.”
“Thank you, Leora.” Durril said without ever taking his eyes off me. His constant stare was both flattering and uncomfortable. “Was your trip without any difficulties?”
“It went very well, thank you.” I looked down to my plate, hoping to break his stare.
“I am sorry that my brother couldn’t have been here to greet you himself. Unfortunately, his duties dictate that he is away from the estate quite often.”
I gave a gentle nod, “I understand.”
“He is eager to meet you.”
“Oh? I was under the impression that he was delaying my arrival so that he could put an end to our engagement.”
Durril swallowed hard, it was all the information that I needed. Even if his words would have informed me of the opposite, I would have known they were a lie. “I wish that I could tell you differently, milady. However, it is true that Blaine had no desire to wed you nor does he now.”
Leora entered the room and filled our soup bowls up with a broth from a silver pot. She then placed the pot in front of us and returned to the kitchen.
Taking a sip from my wine glass, I could tell that Durril was waiting for my response. “I had thought you would lie to me, but I appreciate your honesty. I can not say that I am too thrilled about wedding a man that I have never met either.”
He shook his head as he poured us both some more wine, “You do not understand the circumstances. It is not because he did not know you or perhaps it is. There were rumors that…” He placed the wine bottle on the table, “I should not speak of such things. I may give my brother the appearance of being what he is not.”
“No, please tell me.”
Durril sighed, “There were rumors that you were terribly homely, milady.”
I believe that my jaw dropped in that instance and I just stared at him for what seemed to be an eternity.
“So homely that your father had to purchase you a Gyose servant just so you could have a playmate.” He looked nervous and tapped his right foot under the table.
I just continued to stare at him.
“Obviously, milady, that is far from the truth. I apologize for bringing this matter up, I should of never spoken out of turn.”
“How… how could such a rumor start?”
He shrugged, “My father use to tell us how unattractive your father was and that your mother had married up when it came to appearances. Of course, others heard of this and I suppose that eventually the rumor began to speak of your own beauty… or lack thereof.”
I picked up my spoon and began to sip my soup. No longer did I want to speak on the subject and tried to ignore Durril. He seemed to sense my distress with the situation and remained silent for a few moments.
“It’s a rumor that holds no truth, milady.” He said after Leora brought us our chicken and asparagus. He cleared his throat, “I am sure your own people had falsehoods about why he was not sending for you.”
“They said that he had a lover and was trying to wed her instead.” I mumbled as I cut up my piece of chicken.
Durril remained silent and seemed almost oblivious to what I had said.
“That’s true, isn’t it?”
He said nothing to me and concentrated on his food.
“Are they still lovers?”
His eyes looked up from his plate to me, “No, her father grew tired of Blaine’s promises to end his engagement with you and wed her to another. He does not know that they shared a bed, otherwise he may have been forced into…” Durril bit his bottom lip, “Milady, I am sorry. I should not speak of such things in front of you nor should I inform you of my brother’s private matters.”
I nodded, “It’s quite alright. When I heard that he had a lover, I assumed that they had shared such intimacies. Why did Blaine not choose to use that in order to wed her?”
“Our father would have disowned him. He would be without the estate now, even though he would have been with the woman he claimed to love.” Durril shrugged, “It is a sacrifice that I would of taken. Not that I have the estate to give away.” He chuckled, “If he had done so, then you would of probably come here to wed me.”
I didn’t find anything he said humorous and only continued to eat my meal.
We fell into silence once again until a small desert pastry was brought out to us. “I feel I should say something pleasant about my brother now.”
I looked up from my food to him.
“Blaine is very much the gentlemen, milady. I know that you will want for nothing as his wife, especially when he sees how beautiful you are. I was told by his former lover that he is a romantic at heart and I am sure that you two will have many long, happy years together.” Durril watched me eat my pastry. “Although, my brother would rather kill himself then to show me or any other man his softer side.”
“Lady Valora.” I heard Kerani at the double doors, “Bath now.” She tried to speak in the common tongue, unfortunately it sounded like she was giving me orders.
“I will be there shortly.” I said in her language and she bowed before exiting.
“You speak Gyose?” Durril said in a voice that told me he was impressed.
I nodded, “I speak eight languages. My father ensured that I was well versed in language, history, and mathematics.”
“And swordplay or so I have heard.” He grinned.
“How could you of heard that?”
“Our father told us that Sir Crystek sent him a letter on your skills and that was listed among them.”
I rose an eyebrow, “I wonder why he would do such a thing. He always told me to never inform anyone of my unladylike abilities.”
“Your father has always been afraid that my father would change his mind about the engagement. He spent that last twenty two years explaining to your father that he would not and that this was no hoax. Which was probably why he would not give into Blaine’s demands to marry another.” Durril hadn’t touched his pastry, “You said something about unladylike abilities, you have more then one?”
I smiled, “I also said that I wouldn’t inform anyone about them.”
“Come now, I’ve offered information that could get me into quite a bit of trouble with my brother. I think it’s only fair, don’t you?”
With a chuckle, I shook my head, but answered him anyway. “I can climb trees, fish, ride a horse bareback….hmm, I’ve probably been in more mud fights than any male on the planet. Oh, I didn’t start wearing dresses until I was fourteen.”
Durril waved his hand at me, “Stop, stop.” He said as he laughed, “Are you telling me…” He was laughing so hard, he couldn’t talk. I had no idea what was so funny. “Are you trying to tell me…” He took a deep breath, “that you enjoy many of the activities reserved for males?”
“Yes. I have three older brothers and no sisters. I didn’t stand a chance.”
“My brother is going to love you.” He said as he stood up, “I have to finish my work, Lady Valora. I will see you at dinner, I hope. It was such a pleasure to finally meet you.” He kissed my hand and left the room.
I stood up when he was gone and headed up to my bedroom to inform Kerani of my meal with Blaine’s brother. I also wanted to enjoy that bath that she had prepared for me.
I heard what sounded like a thousand horses galloping toward the manor. It was dark in my room and my eyes flickered open trying to decide the difference between reality and the dream world. When I was certain that the horses were part of reality, I threw the blankets off me and walked to the window.
---***---“Wake up.” Kerani shook my shoulder.
“A little while longer.” I mumbled and covered my head with the blanket.
She giggled and pulled the blanket down, “We aren’t in your father’s home anymore, Valora. You can’t sleep in like this. Lord Blaine arrived home last night and he and Lord Durril are waiting for you in the dining hall.”
My eyes turned to her and I sighed loudly, “Tell them I am still exhausted from my trip.”
Again she giggled, “You can’t put off meeting him. It’s going to happen sooner or later.”
“It happened last night when he arrived.” I sat up in my bed and she finished pulling the blankets off of me. “I heard him come home and ask about my homeliness to one of the guards. He then snuck into my room while I was pretending to be asleep to see if the rumors were true.” I had told Kerani about the rumors after my lunch with Durril.
“Not only was that childish on his part, but it was quite improper. What if one of the servants caught him sneaking out?” She grabbed my upper arm and pulled me out of bed and into a standing position.
“That is what I told him.” I said as I watched her scurry across the room to grab a dark green dress from the wardrobe. “Did you see him?”
“Yes, it was dark, I could barely make out his features.”
Kerani grinned, “Yes, I saw him.” She brought the dress over to me and began to remove my sleeping gown.
“You’ll have to find out for yourself. I am not going to take all the magic out of your first true meeting. And do not mention what he did last night in front of his brother. That is something best left between the two of you.”
I rolled my eyes and stepped into my dress. “I just want to know if he has the right to judge me based on appearances alone.”
“Yes, he does.” She teased and began to tie my dress shut. “Now, do you want your hair up or partly down?”
“It’s warm, let’s place it up. Perhaps a few loose curls.” I said as she led me over to the mirror and sat me down. “Did you spend more time with Endre last night?” I asked her as she began to brush out my hair. I could see her smile in the mirror. “Is that a yes?”
“Such a thing to talk about.” Her smile widened, “Yes, we shared a lunch out by the lake. Though we were suppose to be bringing water to the stable boy.”
“That’s not something you would normally do?”
“I know, Endre asked me if I wanted to join him on the walk. I, of course, said yes.”
I smiled and watched as she placed pins into the bun she had created on the top of my head. “Doing chores that are below you to be with a man. I never thought you could sink so low.” I mocked her and she laughed.
“Oh, I would and I will again!” She laughed and came to stand in front of me to look over my hair. “Lovely, what do you think?”
I nodded after I looked at the loose bun and curls and stood while she went to fetch my shoes.
“Now, remember, Valora…”
“I know. Act like a lady and don’t mention last night.”
“I was going to say not to eat like a starved beggar, but I suppose that falls under acting like a lady.” Kerani kneeled down and helped me step into my shoes.
Crossing my arms, I frowned. “I do not eat like a starved beggar.”
“You and your brothers had speed eating contests every morning for breakfast since I arrived. These two men are not your brothers, remember that.”
I grinned and released my arms from their fold, “How could I forget?”
Kerani looked up at me, “Just don’t and everything will be alright. Now…” She stood up and took a couple steps back. “Perfect. Only slightly homely.” She winked at me then rushed me over to the door and down the hallway.
As I reached the dining hall, Durril was the only one inside. He smiled at me and greeted me with a kiss to my knuckles. I didn’t bother sitting down because the table was not yet set.
---***---Sitting on my bed, I had opened a poetry book and was enjoying the quiet manor. In Requanar the town was so close to the manor that I could hear all the shopkeeps and the people. I could even smell the smoke from the blacksmith shop. Here it was peaceful and I found more enjoyment in my books.
My eyes looked up at nothing in particular when I heard the sounds of someone yelling. After several more minutes, there was a loud crash and the argument continued. Kerani appeared at my bedroom door and looked over at me with worry.
“What is happening?”
“Lord Blaine and Lord Durril are arguing about you.”
“Me? Whatever for?” I tossed my legs over the side of the bed.
Kerani came to sit next to me, “Apparently Lord Blaine said something to you that he should not have. That is all that I understood.”
It could be difficult to have a servant who didn’t speak the common tongue. Most ladies-in-waiting would hear gossip and report back to their mistress, especially if it involved her or someone they knew. However, Kerani was more likely to tell me of something she saw than heard.
My door opened again, it was Leora. “Lady Valora?”
“Come in, Leora. Is everything alright?”
The elder woman stepped inside, “Lady Valora, I want to apologize to you for what Lord Blaine said.” She sighed, “I know it’s not my place to ask for forgiveness for my master, but that is such a horrible thing to say to a lady. You have been nothing but kind and…” She shook her head, “This was none of your doing and you can not be blamed for it.”
“None of my doing? You mean the engagement?”
Again her head shook, then she seemed to change her mind and nodded,. “Yes that and his loss of Maita.”
“Maita is the name of his lover, I presume.”
“Yes, milady. He loves her very deeply and blames you for not being able to wed her. It is not your fault. He should of never of allowed himself to grow attached when he has known all his life that he is engaged to another woman. His hopes ran high that Lord Manten would change his mind, but were destroyed when he died.” Leora sighed, “We weren’t suppose to speak to you about this. I felt that it was important for you to know. Please don’t tell anyone I told you.”
I nodded, “Your words are safe with me.”
She smiled and then flinched when she heard stomping footsteps in the hall.
“If you like her then you marry her!” Blaine screamed.
“If there was a possibility of convincing father to then I would. And I wouldn’t be a blind bastard like you and not see how lucky of a man I am!” Durril yelled back and then two doors were slammed shut.
Leora bowed her head and exited the room.
Kerani gave me a questioning look as she couldn’t understand what Leora was saying. I explained what she had said and saw the unhappiness in her eyes. “What a bastard!” She growled.
“This might be partly my fault.” I sighed, “I told him that I didn’t want to marry him either and that I wanted to marry a knight from my father’s order.”
“Valora!” She cried out, “Why would you say such things? Now, he thinks you blame him for ruining the life that you envisioned for yourself.”
“And shouldn’t he? He blames me for the same thing!” I realized that I had yelled and bowed my head, “I apologize, I shouldn’t raise my voice to you.”
The worry on Kerani’s face vanished, she wasn’t use to seeing me angry. “All this situation needs is some time for you both to calm down and then some apologies would be in order. After that, you will both need more time to realize that the other isn’t as bad as you each believe.”
Leaning back on the bed, I began to read my book again, while Kerani mended one of my dresses.
“It’s so quiet here, isn’t it?” She said after what seemed to be a half hour.
I smiled and looked out the window to the green meadows, “Yes, it’s lovely. I…” There was a knock at the door and Kerani went to answer it.
When she opened the door, Durril smiled down at her and then his eyes found me. “Lady Valora, I thought perhaps you would like to go riding with me. I have to check in with the guards at their posts, but there is a lot of distance between them. After that I can show you where a few berry bushes grow.”
I smiled, “I would love to join you. Allow me to better dress myself and I will be right down.”
He bowed his head and walked away from the door.
“I need my riding dress, Kerani.”
She smiled and went to fetch it from the wardrobe after she shut the door. “You be carefully riding alone with him.” She warned as she dressed me then rearranged my hair into a tighter bun.
“And why is that?”
“There is no telling why he would want to place you two in a situation where you’ll be alone.”
I sighed, “He probably just wants to make me feel at home, since Blaine clearly isn’t going to.”
“Just be careful.” She said before pushing me out the door.
I met Durril at the front door and he already had two brown horses ready for us. Since I was a lady, I had to ride sidesaddle, but luckily Durril had them place a normal saddle on the horse. At least, I could ride it the way I was meant to in between posts. Or I hoped that Durril would allow it.
---***---Entering the manor, I caught Blaine coming down the stairs. He glared at me as he made his way downward and seemed to be processing what he was about to say.
“Where were you?” He asked when he reached the bottom stair.
I pointed to the door with my thumb, “Durril took me out on his rounds. I needed to get out of the manor.” He continued to stare at me, “He showed me those berry bushes that the two of you planted. Why? Was there something you needed from me?”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone that you were leaving?”
“I told Kerani where I was going. I didn’t think I had to tell anyone else.” I cocked my head to the side. He was acting strange as if he thought something had happened between Durril and me.
The harsh look on his face evaporated, “No, I don’t suppose there was anyone else to tell.” He sighed, “Come speak to me in my office.” His finger pointed to the door to my right at the end of the stairs.
The study was rather dark but Blaine fixed that by lighting some oil lamps. The walls to my left and right were covered in bookshelves. Two chairs were on either side of the door and two more in front of the fireplace on the right wall. His desk was seated at the end of the room in front of the large picture frame window with two more chairs in front of it.
“Sit down, please.” He pointed to the chair in front of the desk and took a seat behind it.
I did as I was told and waited for him to begin speaking. He seemed to be having a difficult time trying to decide where he wanted to start.
“Is this about this morning?” I asked.
He nodded, “Yes and more.” He tapped his fingers on the desk and sighed.
“Just say what is on your mind. You do not have to sugar coat your words with me.” I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms.
Blaine looked up at me, “Very well. Who the hell do you think you are to speak to me in the manner you did this morning? I am Duke Blaine Stavros and though you may one day be, you are not my wife nor the duchess yet. I have never had someone insult me so fully in all my life. Do you honestly believe that I would wed you and then send you away? Or ‘plant my seeds’ as you put it and have bastard children?”
“You were certainly risking it with your lover.” I snapped back, though I knew I should of kept silent.
I could see Blaine’s face turning red and his hands tightened, “How dare you! You have no say in what I do until the day we are wed. I have a past just like you do and I will not spend my life having you throw my faults in my face.”
“Then don’t expect to have any say in what I do until then either. I can share my bed with all the guards…”
“Silence! You will do no such thing!” He stood up and slammed his fist down and then seemed to remember himself. Sitting back down, he took several deep breathes. “I am beginning to wonder if you are doing this just so I will break our engagement, Valora. Let me explain this to you. My father blessed our union and therefore I have no choice but to wed you. I want us, no I need us to become friends.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, “We will be wed. You will live here on the estate. You will be the mother of my children. You will not be returning to Requanar. Do you understand?”
“I never suspected otherwise. It is you that seems to be the one who is trying to sabotage our engagement. I tried to be friendly and open with you and you called me a gold digger.”
Blaine nodded, “I did and I apologize for saying such an offense thing.”
“Then I, too, apologize. I was just aiming to hurt and insult you with what I said. There are things in this life that are better left unspoken, and what I said after you insulted me was one of them.” I had folded my hands in my lap and was looking down at them.
When I looked up, Blaine held half a grin on his face. “Thank you, Valora. That is all.”
I bowed my head and stood from my chair. I almost turned to leave, but stopped myself and turned back to him. He was writing on a piece of paper and the words ‘Dear Sweet Maita’ caught my eye briefly. I ignored them and decided to speak my mind, “You don’t have to love me.”
Blaine stopped writing and looked up at me. He wasn’t even trying to hide the letter from me. “Excuse me?”
“You love someone else and you are heartbroken that you couldn’t be with her. I understand that. Don’t believe that I think one day you will fall in love with me. I am not a naïve, stupid little girl with grand dreams of an undying love from my husband. I understand how the real world works even if this is my first visit to it.” I shrugged my shoulders gently, “So, do not think I will be waiting to hear you say that to me or even feel that towards me.”
I didn’t give him time to reply just flipped around and headed out of the study and up to my room. I felt better now that we had apologized and even more so that I had explained my feelings on his love. I think I had always known that Blaine would never be the love of my life or vice versa. It was important to me that he knew I wasn’t going to be waiting around for him to say that I was.
Kerani entered my bedroom and smiled at me. “I saw you leave Lord Blaine’s office. Did you apologize?”
“Yes, we did.” I sighed loudly.
“What is wrong?” She rushed over to my bedside and sat down.
“He was writing a letter to his lover. He didn’t attempt to hide it from me at all.” I sat up on my bed.
“Perhaps, he is still friends with her. She is far away after all, there is nothing that he can do.” Kerani patted my leg, “Endre wants to take me out to the lake for dinner again. May I? I probably will not be back to help you into your sleeping gown.”
I nodded, “Of course, one of us should be happy here.”
She frowned, “Don’t say such things. Tomorrow is another day. If that doesn’t bring a friendship between you then you have a whole lifetime of tomorrows.”
“I want to live for today, Kerani.”
“Today is overly glorified.” She laughed.
I smiled, “Except when you are meeting a handsome Gyosian at the lake for dinner.”
Kerani hit my leg playfully, “Do not tease me. You’ll make me think on it too much and then I will be embarrassed the entire evening.” Her frown returned, “Was Durril gentlemanly the entire day?”
“Yes, he was.” I rolled my eyes, “He only wanted to tell me stories of his brother. I think he wants me to feel pity for Blaine so that I may one day love him.”
She grinned rather sadly, “You two seemed to be compatible this morning in the dining hall. I think if you both tried, you could find that you are very much alike.”
“I find that I am more like Durril then Blaine.”
“Don’t say that either. Thoughts like that will make you develop feelings for Durril and you aren’t marrying him. Now,” She grabbed my book, “you read and I’ll finish that dress.”
---***---Blaine left the next day to return to the castle. The king had once again summoned him and we had to postpone our wedding until his return. I was rather relieved that it would be a while longer, but I also wanted to get this over with. I knew that as soon as I was Blaine’s wife that he would have to start accepting me or at least I hoped.
Durril kept to himself after the day of our ride. He had probably caught himself thinking the same thoughts that I had been ordered by Kerani not to have. I found different ways to run into him though I knew that I would never do anything to harm my engagement or marriage to Blaine. I suppose I just wanted his companionship and Blaine didn’t seem willing to want to offer it.
A month past before Blaine returned to the manor and again he had done so in the middle of the night. This time, however, he didn’t come to my room. The next morning, he had locked himself up in his study. My suspicious mind assumed he was writing letters to the love of his life.
I told myself to give Blaine time to mend his heart and then perhaps he would be more friendly towards me. Though I don’t know if I could ever forgive the person that kept me from my love.
Walking down the stairs, Durril entered the house and saw me staring at the study door. He waved his head in a gesture that told me to go inside, but I simply shook my own and headed into the dining hall. He followed me in and took my hand to stop me from going into the kitchen where the servants were.
“You should initiate conversation with him first. He is too stubborn.” He told me, but all I could concentrate on was his thumb rubbing my knuckles as he spoke.
When I didn’t say anything, he walked me over to the study door and knocked gently. “Come in.” I heard Blaine say and it shocked me back into reality.
I shook my head again at Durril and he nodded. Leaning forward, he gently opened the door and then ran up the stairs. I was going to get him for this later. I stepped inside the study and noticed Blaine’s exhausted glare. He was too tired to argue with me, I could see it in his eyes.
“Yes?” He asked when I just stood there.
I cleared my throat, “Durril has told me that you haven’t been out to the berry bushes for a while. I thought we could…”
“No.” He snapped and looked back down to the book he was reading.
“May I ask why not?”
He didn’t respond. His behavior was starting to make me annoyed, but I had told myself that I would be my own mediator and not start arguments.
Walking over to his desk, I sat down in the chair that I had occupied a month before. “Leora said she could bake a pie if we brought her enough and Durril said there should be a lot more…”
“I said no.” He looked back up at me.
Leaning back in the chair, I watched him read. It bothered him or so I thought. He would clear his throat and rub the back of his neck. “You don’t have to like me, but you can, at least, be hospitable. I have to live here with you the rest of my life.”
“How is telling you that I don’t want to ride a horse, after spending four days on one, being inhospitable?” He continued to read or probably pretended to.
“Because you didn’t say that, you said no with no explanation.” I sighed, “We could walk.”
“No.” He mumbled again.
I stood up and he probably thought that I was leaving, but I walked around the desk to stand beside him. Grabbing his upper arm, I felt the soft fabric of his shirt and his taut muscles underneath. My touch made him jerk a little, but he tried to act as if he were unaffected. I began to yank his arm towards me, “Come, grumpy. Come out and play with me.”
I saw that he was fighting a grin and so I continued my childish behavior.
“Let’s go be friends or pretend to be if that suits you better.” I continued to yank on his arm and he shut his book before looking at my hands on his arm.
“Friends, you say?”
“Yes, like we were starting to do before we argued. That was good and berries are good… and berry pies are better.”
“Berry pies are better than friendship?”
I stopped pulling on his arm and rose an eyebrow as if I were thinking on his question.
Blaine smiled at this behavior.
“Depends on the berries, I suppose.”
He stood from his chair, “Well, you can be charming. I did not know that.”
I grinned, “Then you haven’t been paying attention.” I spun around and headed for the door. Pride built up in my chest from my victory, though I would never tell him that I had won this one.
I grabbed a basket from the kitchen for the berries and met Blaine at the front door. He opened it for me and we walked down the stairs towards the stables. He apparently had decided that he would rather ride a horse then walk. I was glad for this decision because even through the direct route it was a long walk.
“How was your journey?” I asked as the stable boy prepared our horses.
“It went as usual.”
I arched an eyebrow, “I do not know what usual is.”
Blaine explained what he did during his time spent at the castle. He mostly argued with the generals about the war and what tactics should be used during battles. He had the king’s ear for the most part and normally the king would side with him. I discovered that he was schooled in battle tactics from a young age and so was his brother.
“I read that you are fluent in sword use?” Blaine asked me.
I nodded, “I wouldn’t call it fluent, but I could get myself out of a tough situation if I had to.”
“Why were you taught that?”
“My father wanted me to be able to defend my own if I had to. He said that a man may not always be around and that I had to learn how to protect myself.” I shrugged, “Don’t worry, with all your training you could win against me if it came to that.”
Blaine smiled, “Good, you had me worried.” He teased me and then stopped his horse as we had arrived. He helped me dismount and we began to pick berries from the bushes. “This is going to be a mixed berry pie, I assume.”
“Looks to be that way, yes.” I grinned and popped what was probably my sixth berry into my mouth.
“That is if we get them back before you eat them all.” He dropped another handful in the basket that I was carrying.
“I make no promises.”
He chuckled and then looked around the bushes briefly, “I believe I have gotten all the ripe berries off these bushes. What about your own?”
“I think I’ve eaten them all, yes.” I placed a couple in the basket before closing it. “We should try to have another meal at the lake sometime. I’ll be on my very best behavior and won’t stomp away next time. I might hit you though if you are mean again.”
Blaine grinned as we walked back to the horses, “Alright, we will do so for dinner.”
“For dinner? It would be too dark then.”
He took the basket from me and placed it on the ground before helping me onto my horse, “I’ll have the servants set up torches around the area. I’ve done it before.”
I didn’t seem too keen on the idea and I think my face foretold that.
“Just trust me.” His hands were still on my waist.
“Very well, but I must warn you. The last time a man in your family told me to trust him, I ended up with a mouthful of green berry.”
He laughed, “He does that to me almost every year.”
I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with his hands resting on my hips, “Well, we should head back. If we make it in time, we may have berry pie for dessert tonight.”
He remained silent and unmoving for a time, “Did you mean what you said?”
“About berry pie tonight?”
There was a brief grin on his face followed by a serious stare, “That you would never love me.”
“Why would that be important to you?”
“Just answer my question.” His hands on my hips tightened briefly.
“I never said such a thing. I distinctly remember saying that you didn’t have to love me. That I wouldn’t disillusion myself with thoughts that one day you would.”
He nodded his head and released my hips. Turning to the basket, he handed it to me and mounted his horse.