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Essence of Oleander Part 2 PDF Print E-mail
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Written by RHunt   
My evening meal with Blaine went well. We spoke on our childhood mostly and he explained his position with the king to me more thoroughly. I did not see him at all the next day, as Leora had chased him out of the house so that we wouldn’t see each other. She told me that it was bad luck to see each other the day before the wedding. I spent most of the day with Durril, who took me fishing on a boat on the lake. He told me that it was his wedding gift to me and that I should not tell Blaine.

The next day, I was being prepared in my bedroom. My wedding dress was a family heirloom worn by Blaine’s mother and grandmother at their weddings. The skirt stopped at my feet, but the back danced behind me for three feet. It had butterfly sleeves that released at my elbow and hung down to my mid-thigh. My hair was placed in a bun with loose curls and baby breath flowers as a crown.

The servant girls buzzed around me as if they were the one’s getting married. Most of them were giggling and telling me how beautiful I looked. Kerani seemed to be the only one focused enough to ensure that I looked perfect. Though it hardly mattered, I wasn’t excited and I couldn’t wait for the day to end. I don’t know what had brought this gloom upon me, but I felt a dark shadow.

When the other servant girls left the room, Kerani sighed. “Maita was invited. I have seen her.”

“Why would he invite his lover to our wedding?” I tried to keep my annoyed tone down, this wasn’t her fault.

“More importantly, why would she and her husband risk the long journey during wartime?” Kerani arranged the flowers in my hair more thoroughly.

“She will be the black cloud over my life for all eternity, won’t she?” I sighed and sat down on my bed.

She picked up my white bouquet then sat down beside me and patted my knee, “It is not as if she is here everyday, Valora. She is hundreds of miles away and I believe this is the last time she will visit him. How many reasons can she come up with to make the long journey until her husband becomes suspicious? Lord Blaine is a smart man and he will eventually see that she is but a memory and you are a woman of flesh and blood before him.”

“I don’t want the household feeling sorry for me, because I am wed to a man that desires another.” I took the bouquet from her and walked over to the bedroom door.

“Trust me, Valora. I know it looks like hard times are ahead and they are, but everything shall work out the way it was meant to.”

A knock came to the door and I opened it to find Durril. He would be walking me down the isle as my father and family were not able to make the trip. Another problem that bothered me. Maita made the long journey but my family could not.

“You look gorgeous!” Durril smiled at me and offered his arms, “They are prepared and waiting for you downstairs.”

I looked over at Kerani, “Do not worry about me today. Spend your time with Endre and enjoy your happiness. I want, at least, one of us to be with the man they love and whom loves them.” I knew that Durril didn’t speak Gyose, so I was not candid in my statement.

She frowned, “Don’t say such things.”

I turned to face Durril and took the arm that he had offered to me and we began to make our way towards the lake. I could see the large white tent that had been constructed and the flowers that had been placed around it as soon as we stepped out of the manor.

“I heard that Blaine’s lover is here.” I said to Durril.

He sighed, “I begged him not to invite her. It angers me that he has disrespected you like this, but do not worry. She is here with her husband and he is of the jealous nature. Her father had left him with hints of her time spent with Blaine. Nothing should occur between them.”

“That hardly comforts me.” I tried not to roll my eyes as I knew how unladylike it was.

“Do not worry yourself. A lady only has one wedding, Valora. You should enjoy this day.” He patted my hand that was on his arm. When he approached the tent, he surprised me by kissing me on the cheek. “I wanted to kiss you before my brother did.” He winked at me and I grinned.

A servant heard us and stuck his head out between the tent flaps. He bowed his head at Durril and then returned inside. He must of told them that we had arrived because I heard a piano begin to play the ceremonial wedding song. Two male servants opened the tent flaps to reveal the full tent. There had to be at least sixty people who had come to the wedding, and none of them were familiar to me.

Durril began to walk forward and with my arm being attached to him, I went with him. He must of felt the tension in my body because he patted my hand again before squeezing it gently. I felt some reassurance from knowing that he was there.

Blaine stood with the priest at the front of the tent. His eyes were not on me, but instead on the woman in the third row. I assumed that this had to be Maita. Her hair was a dark brown and she had a beautifully exotic face. The man holding her arm had to be around fifty years old. He was either her father or her husband. I only got a glimpse of her face as I passed her and she turned her eyes to me. She was probably as curious about what I looked like as I was about her.

I didn’t wear a veil so Durril didn’t have to lift it for me. He took my bouquet and handed them to a servant girl who was acting as my maid of honor. Blaine stepped forward and offered me his arm, which I took. I was surprised that he was coherent enough to even realize that he needed to do so.

The priest, dressed in a long white robe with gold trim, began his speech on love and marriage. I didn’t listen to anything he said and I had serious doubts that Blaine did as well. He was too concerned with the woman behind us, though he kept his eyes forward.

“Please turn to face each other.” The priest said and made a hand motion to turn us around.

Blaine and I faced each other and with his right hand, my soon-to-be husband took my left hand.

“Do you, Duke Blaine Stavros, take Lady Valora Issaria whom you hold by the left hand to be your lawful and wedded wife?”

“I do.” Blaine replied. He was staring at my hand.

The priest continued, “Please repeat your vows.”

He swallowed deeply before speaking, “With deepest joy I receive you into my life that together we may be one. I will be to you a loving and faithful husband. Always will I perform my headship over you even as the gods do over me, knowing that their lordship is one of the holiest desires for my life. I promise you my deepest love, my fullest devotion, my tenderest care. I promise I will live first for you. I promise that I will lead our lives into prosperity to the best of my abilities. And so throughout life, no matter what may lie ahead of us, I pledge to you my life as a loving and faithful husband.”

The priest’s eyes turned to me, “Do you, Valora Issaria, take Duke Blaine Stavros to be your lawful and wedded husband?”

“I do.” I responded.

“Please repeat your vows.” The priest ordered me.

“With deepest joy I come into my new life with you. As you have pledged to me your life and love, so I too happily give you my life, and in confidence submit myself to your headship. As is the temples in their relationship to the gods, so I will be to you. I will live first only for you, loving you, obeying you, caring for you and ever seeking to please you. The gods have prepared me for you and so I will ever strengthen, help, comfort, and encourage you. Therefore, throughout life, no matter what may be ahead of us, I pledge to you my life as an obedient and faithful wife.” It had taken me a week to learn those vows and I didn’t have any intention to keep them. I doubted that Blaine did either.

The priest continued, “Duke Blaine Stavros, what token do you give to show that you will faithfully perform these vows?”

“A ring.” He answered when Durril handed the gold loop to him.

“The circle which forms this ring is the emblem of eternity, and the beautiful metal out of which it is wrought is the type of that which is least tarnished and most enduring. It is to show how lasting and imperishable, the faith now mutually pledged. You will place this ring on Lady Valora Issaria's finger and repeat the vow of the ring.”

"With this ring…” He held it up for me and others to see. “I pledge myself to thee with all the affections of my heart, so long as we both shall live.” He placed the ring on my third finger on my left hand.

The priest continued, “And, Lady Valora Issaria, what token do you give to show that you will faithfully perform these vows?

“A ring.” I announced when the servant girl offered it to me. Blaine and I switched hands so that I was now holding his left.

“Please place your ring on your Groom's finger and repeat the vow of the ring.”

"With this ring…” I held it up. “I pledge myself to thee with all the affections of my heart, so long as we both shall live.” I slid the ring on his finger.

The priest began to speak again, “The scripture declares love is forbearing and kind; love knows no jealously, love does not brag, is not conceited. She is not unmannerly, nor selfish, nor irritable, nor mindful of wrongs. She does not rejoice in injustice, but joyfully sides with the truth. She can overlook faults. She is full of trust; full of hope; full of endurance. Love never fails.”

He paused briefly before continuing to speak, “Having heard the pledges of your affection, and the vows of your fidelity, I do therefore by virtue of the authority invested in me by the laws of Seria, before the gods, whose grace to you is unmeasured, and before these witnesses, pronounce you husband and wife, and what the gods hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

At this point Blaine was suppose to kiss me, which he did. He leaned forward and gently kissed the corner of my lips. The priest seemed satisfied with this, “Lord and Ladies of the audience; May I present Duke Blaine Stavros and his new bride, Duchess Valora Stavros.”

My servant girl offered my bouquet as we turned to face the audience. The piano began to play again and Blaine walked me out of the tent. Immediately afterwards, the party followed us out as the servants began to set up the food and meal. I was abandoned by Blaine as he went to look for Maita, though that wasn’t what he said he was doing.
---***---

“It was a lovely wedding.” I heard Durril’s voice say before he sat down beside me at the lake.

I had escaped the wedding party with a piece of cake and a blanket. I slowly ate my cake and tried to ignore the sound of the celebration at the tents across the lake from me. I smiled at Durril when I noticed that he had brought me another piece of cake.

“We missed you during the meal.” He told me as he set the piece of cake in front of me and noticed my own cake, “I see you are the one that stole the chunk from the wedding cake. Blaine had wondered about that.”

I shrugged, “I didn’t think he would mind. He would probably prefer that I wasn’t there.” Blaine had been speaking with Maita for nearly an hour before I just disappeared from the tent. I wasn’t going to stand there on my wedding day and watch my new husband lust after another woman.

Durril nodded, “She’ll be gone in a week.”

“A week?” I turned my eyes to him.

“She and her husband are going to stay at the manor and rest after their long journey. I apologize, I thought you knew.”

I sighed, “No.” I answered then took a bite of my cake. “So, how long do you think that vow of being faithful to me will last with her around? Until nightfall?” I was only making a jest, but when Durril’s eyes dropped in shame, I knew that I had found a truth. “Oh, lovely. That’s just lovely!” I tossed my plate and cake into the lake.

We sat in silence for a moment as I tried to calm myself down. “How long do you believe you’ll follow that honor and obey vow?” Durril jested.

I laughed.

“Now, I am glad I brought you that slice of cake. Unless you enjoy cake after it’s had a swimming lesson.”

I picked up my new plate and sighed, “I did not have a choice in this matter.”

“I think you always have a choice to throw or not throw your cake.”

I grinned, “I meant marrying him.”

Durril nodded, “I know. I am sorry that this has happened. As I said before I tried to convince him not to invite her, but he would not listen to reason. He knew this would be the last time he would be able to see her.”

We could hear the sounds of music playing across the lake and Durril put down his plate. “The bride should dance on her wedding day.” He stood up and offered his hand out to me. “If my brother is too much a fool to ask his new wife to, then I shall recover his loss.”

I smirked and took his hand after I set down my plate. Durril walked us into the grass away from our cake and wrapped one hand around my waist. The other held tightly to my hand and I laid my head on his shoulder. The song that played was quick, but we danced slowly together as if not wanting to rush our contact.

“Thank you for being my friend, Durril.” I said after several moments passed by.

I felt his head shake, “No, milady, thank you for being mine.”

“Valora? Durril?” A man’s voice said and we both turned to look at Blaine. “What are you two doing out here? It’s your wedding day, woman, you should be with me and the others.” He didn’t seem bothered by the physical closeness that his brother and I had shared.

“Valora doesn’t enjoy large parties. She likes more casual and secluded ones.” Durril winked at me. “I came out here to ensure the bride got a piece of her wedding cake and danced on her wedding day. Which reminds me,” He pointed at me, “she took that piece of cake.”

I smacked Durril’s arm, “You tattletale!” We both laughed.

Blaine nodded, “Thank you, Durril, I believe I can take it from here.”

Durril bowed his head and headed back to the tents. I stood in front of Blaine waiting to hear what he had to say, but he seemed to be without words. So, I sat down on the blanket and picked up my piece of cake. He followed my lead.

“Is this piece, Durril’s?” He asked and I nodded. Scooping the plate up in his hands, he grinned. “It belongs to me now.”

I grinned and continued to eat my cake.

“Whose cake is that?” He pointed to the slice that was floating in the lake.

“I thought the fishes would like some. Since we had the wedding near the lake, it’s only fair.” I was joking, but my voice seemed to keep a serious tone. I was displeased with this situation and Blaine knew it.

“If you wanted a smaller wedding, you should have informed Leora. She told you to add any input you had, didn’t she?”

I shrugged, “It’s not the wedding size that bothers me.”

He swallowed and nodded, “I know.” He chewed on a bit of cake for a moment before speaking again. “I don’t love you, Valora. Those wedding vows spoke of a love between us and there is none.”

“You are correct.”

“However, I have spoken vows before when I did not truly feel them. My oath into the Blessed Hearts Order had little meaning for me when I first spoke them in front of my comrades. Now, I read over them or listen to a squire repeat them and they fill my heart with pride and joy. I didn’t truly understand them until I lived by them.” He sighed, “I don’t know what I am trying to say.”

“You are saying that you will live by the vows that you have taken today, even if you do not feel them in your heart just yet.” I began to smash my cake with my fork in a nervous fit.

Blaine nodded, “Yes.” He continued to nod, “That’s exactly it.”

“Then why invite Maita?”

“Is that what has been bothering you?”

“No, what has been bothering me was that your eyes were fixated on her during the wedding ceremony. Not to mention that you were ignoring me directly afterwards and spending an hour speaking to her. She’ll be here all week. I only get one wedding day. Hell, you probably only came out here to find me, because her husband took her away from you and you suddenly realized that I had gone missing.” I had tried to sound like I was mature with the issue, but I knew some whine had gotten into my voice along the way.

He licked his lips briefly, “How… how do you know these things? My affairs, how long certain people will stay here… and that her husband took her from me. You seem to know every secret that I try to keep from you.”

I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, “I never reveal my sources. Besides it is my duty as the lady of the house to know the happenings of the household.” I shrugged, “Failing that, I play the guessing game quite well and as a knight you cannot lie to me.”

Blaine chuckled, “This will be the last time that she and I will see each other. Do try to be pleasant to her.”

“She is not the one vowed to me. You memorized your vows just like I did. I have no reason to dislike her. It is your duty to uphold the words you have spoken and your failing if you do not.”

“I am a man of my word if nothing else.” He bowed his head and sighed. “Now then, Durril mentioned something about a bride dancing on her wedding day. Let’s head back to the tent and have our own personal moment, shall we?”

“No, but thank you.”

Blaine took the plate from my hand and placed it on the blanket. When he stood up, he brought me up with him. “Then let’s have it here.”

Like Durril, he moved me away from the cake presumably so we wouldn’t step in it. His left arm wrapped around my waist and his right took my hand. I laid my right hand on his shoulder and remained taut in his arms.

“You do not look as comfortable as you did when Durril was dancing with you.” Blaine said after a couple tense moments.

“Durril is my friend and I feel at ease in his presence.” I informed him.

He looked offended for a moment. “Your blunt honesty is something that I will have to grow use to.”

“I was always taught by my father that speaking the truth and my mind was always the best route.” I felt his arm around my waist squeezed me closer until my arm was behind his back, but still holding his shoulder.

My front side was compressed against his own and the heat from our bodies mixed. Though I should have been swooning at such close contact with my new husband, I felt unnerved. I knew that Blaine was determined in this and so I tried to loosen my body. This would only end if I acted as if I were pleased with it all. He was making an effort with me and I appreciated it. I took a deep breath which I hoped he didn’t mistake for a sigh of contentment and laid my head down on his shoulder.

Our foot movement became slower and slower until we were just rocking back and forth. Blaine stepped back from me and my head popped up from his shoulder, I had nearly fallen asleep. The hand that held my own, released me and was on my face within seconds followed by his lips.

His kiss was needy and lustful, though he tried to be soft. The other hand that was around my waist had pulled me back into his body. I don’t know if it was the tired state I was in or an actual desire to kiss the man, but I responded to him. As he continued to kiss me the hand on my face slid around the back of my neck and held my head close to him. My own hands rested on his chest as if prepared to push him away at any moment.

Something in my mind told me that he was only kissing me to dispel the built up passion he had gotten from seeing Maita. If he was a man of his word like he said, then I was the only person he could do this with. Kissing him had been on the forefront of my mind for a while as I too realized he would be the only one that I could do so with. Despite knowing his reasons, I allowed myself to be used in those moments out of curiosity and want. It wasn’t him that I wanted, but knowing the love between my mother and father, I desired the same for myself.

Blaine stopped kissing me when I started to feel reluctant after my thoughts of Maita. His forehead rested on my own and he breathed in heavily. “I just wanted to know what it was like. To see if there was any affection that could be sparked between us.”

I didn’t ask him if there was because I didn’t really want to know his answer. If he said no, then my thoughts of us ever being like my parents would die. And a yes would scare me into thinking his heart could change loves so easily.

The sounds of someone running caused us both to look behind him. Maita had apparently come to find him and caught us kissing. She had run away and I released Blaine believing that he would run after her to explain. Explain what I really didn’t know, I was his wife after all.

He jerked towards her as if he were about to go to her, but then held himself back. His eyes turned to me, “When I was twelve, my father took us to a winery that his friend owned. Durril and I crushed our own grapes and he prepared and bottled it for us. I still have that bottle of wine and I wanted to share it with you tonight. I have been saving it for my wedding day.”

My eyes were on Maita when I nodded, “Do you want to go speak to her?”

Blaine swallowed, “Do I want to? Yes.”

Walking over to my blanket, I sat back down. “Then go.”

I heard him walking but he came to sit on the blanket beside me. “We have already spoken and I have explained to her that I won’t break my vows.” He sighed as he watched her disappear into the crowd across the lake. “I am not suppose to love her anymore.”

“Not suppose to, but you do.”

“I do.” He nodded, “Will you forgive me and give me time to mend my heart for you?”

“I told you that you didn’t have to love me or even pretend to.”

Blaine took my hand, “I want to, Valora. My parents loved each other and that is why I fought so hard to marry Maita. I love her and wanted us to be together.”

“I am not jealous if that is what you think, Blaine. I do not love you either.”

He gave a firm nod of his head, “Then we will learn to love each other.”

“We shall see.”

---***---
I do not know what happened between our moments by the lake side and bedtime. Blaine had ordered that I continue sleeping in the guest quarters and that he was not to be disturbed for the rest of the evening. I had seen Maita speaking with him once many of our guests had begun to leave. He looked slightly distressed and near tears. I had thought about going to him and finding out what the matter was, but Maita’s presence kept me away.

As I laid in the guest room, I thought the situation over. Blaine had locked himself in his room and I had turned down dinner with Durril, Maita, and her husband, Lord Bernal. I had never spoken to Maita directly, but I didn’t know if I could trust myself in her presence. I had a tendency to say what was on my mind whenever I got the urge, and it was better that I distanced myself from her.

Blaine’s hurt face kept flashing in my mind and I didn’t know if it was curiosity or that I actually cared that made me get out of bed. I wandered out into the hall and knocked at his door which was at the end of the long hallway. There was a mumbled answer that sounded like I was being ordered away. I ignored it and tested the doorknob to find it was unlocked.

Opening the door, I peeked into his dark room which I had never seen before. I couldn’t tell many of the colors, but it was mostly light shades. Perhaps light blues, beiges, or some similar earth tones. He had a canopy bed in the center of the room with another bear rug. A small bench at the end of the bed and across from the bed was a fireplace with two chairs. There were two wardrobes in the room across from each other on opposite sides of the bed. A nightstand on both sides of the bed, two book shelves by the fireplace, and a small writing table near the window.

I saw Blaine’s form laying in the center of the bed with the sheets over him. He wasn’t moving and I didn’t hear any sounds of crying either. “Blaine?” I said as I stepped into the bedroom.

“Go away.” He hissed.

I shut the door behind me and made my way over to the bench at the end of the
bed. “What is the matter?” I asked as I sat down. “You aren’t going to have dinner with the others?”

“I ate during the wedding. I am quite full.” His words were slightly muffled from the blankets.

“Why are you hiding in your room like a little girl?” I didn’t mean to make it sound rude, but that’s how the words came out.

“Leave me alone, Valora!” He barked.

I rested my left arm on the footboard of his bed and then reached over to shake his feet. They were sticking out from under the blankets. As I touched him, he jerked his feet upward and I giggled. “Are your feet ticklish?”

“Don’t.” He growled.

“Don’t what? Tickle your feet?” I asked and stood up to brush my hand against his foot again.

This time he chuckled briefly before returning to his serious tone, “Get out.”

Walking around to the side of the bed, I sat down close to where I knew his chest was. With my index finger and thumb, I pulled back the blankets to reveal his face. He looked furious with me and there was no hint that he had been crying.

“I found you.” I teased.

He didn’t grin, but I caught a brief look of amusement in his eyes. “What do you want?”
“A certain knight promised me a bottle of wine. And now I am curious as to why he had hidden himself in his room and under his blankets.”

His eyes looked me over, “Are you wearing your sleeping gown? I said you weren’t sleeping in here.”

“I had gone to bed, but I was worried about you. I wanted to make sure you were alright.”
He arched an eyebrow, “Worried about me? Why?”

“Doesn’t seem to be in your character to run to your room and cry. I thought something must be terribly wrong.”

“No, you are being nosy.”

“Am I?” I stood from his bed, “Very well. I can see that you aren’t dying. Good evening to you.” I brushed down my night gown and began to walk away.

“Wait.” He sat up and I noticed for the first time that he was still entirely dressed, except for his boots. “I did promise that wine, didn’t I?”

“It’s alright, another time.”

He shook his head, “No, I’ve been saying it for fifteen years to have on my wedding night.” Throwing off the blankets, he opened his wardrobe and pulled the bottle out of a secret compartment at the bottom under his boots. “Don’t tell anyone about that.”

I grinned, “Should I light the lamps?”

“No, I’ll start a fire. Do you think you can get us some wine glasses?”

With a confident nod, I walked out into the hall and caught Kerani. It was just my luck that she and Endre were walking in the hall when I stepped out. “Could I trouble you for two wine glasses?”

She smiled and nodded, “Of course.” Her eyes went to Endre, “I’ll return shortly.”

Endre nodded and turned his gaze to me. He must of noticed that I was in my sleeping gown then as he diverted his eyes from me. “Congratulations, milady.”

“Thank you.”

Kerani appeared and handed me the two glasses.

“That was quick.”

She grinned, “As always. Good evening, milady.” She and Endre bowed and headed up the stairs to the third floor.

I returned to the bedroom and smiled when I found Blaine building the fire. Shutting the door, he looked up at me to see if I brought the glasses. I held them up for him to see. “Did you run?”

I laughed, “No, but I think Kerani did.”

When he finished building the fire, he told me to sit in the chair and opened the bottle of wine. For some reason or another, he had a corkscrew in his room. He offered me a glass of wine and sat down in the chair beside me with his own.

With both sipped it and turned up our noses. “That’s terrible.” He said then drank down the entire glass.

I shrugged and did the same, but stuck out my tongue when I was done.

Blaine laughed at me and took my wine glass. “I suppose I should have purchased a nice bottle of wine in case this didn’t age well. Of course, I should of known it wouldn’t since my twelve year old dirty feet smashed the grapes.”

My tongue came back out again, “Some things are better left unsaid, remember.”

He smiled before we fell into a silence that was slowly starting to become uncomfortable.

“I should go to bed now.” I stood up and he did so as well.

“Wait one more moment.” He set our empty glasses on the writing desk and walked over to his wardrobe. As he rummaged through his belongings, he began to explain what he was looking for. “It’s a family tradition that when two newly weds share a bed together that they eat dried rose petals.”

“Dried rose petals?”

He pulled out a small metal box and walked over to me, “The flower of love.” Opening the box, he revealed that it held four rose petals.

“Why?”

“It’s a private ceremony that we can have together. Just between the two of us. I wasn’t going to do this, but since you didn’t like the big wedding celebration. I thought you would like to do this.”

I nodded, “Perhaps. When we share a bed together.” Turning around, I opened the door, but Blaine shut it with his hand.

“We don’t have to do this because we are sharing a bed. Just let it be a private ceremony between us.” He spoke the words into my ears.

“When you are ready to be with me, then we will.” I opened the door again and he allowed me to leave the bedroom.
---***---

A month passed and I was still sleeping in the guest room. Maita had left, but not after I had caught Blaine and her alone together on four separate occasions. Both times it looked like one of them had been crying, and the other was trying to hold strong.

A week after she left, I found one of Blaine’s letters that he was sending to her everyday. I do not know what came over me, but I picked one up and took it to my room. I read the entire love letter. It spoke about how he would only ever love her and that his heart would remain broken until they could be together again. How he couldn’t even touch me and that the kiss had only been an experiment to see if his love was true to her.

After that I spoke to Leora about the letters and discovered that she was as disgusted with them as I was. Since she controlled all the mail that came into the household, she promised to burn any letters that Blaine gave to her or any that Maita sent. Since the letters came daily, I knew that it would be a hard task for her to hide from Blaine. I do not know why I had done such a thing and I should have spoken to Blaine about it. Admitted that I had read his private mail to another and demanded that he told me what the meaning of all this was. I was not the type of person to act behind another’s back, but he was lying to either me or Maita. Since I was his wife, then I had rights to him.

He never invited me into his bed even after a month had passed since our wedding. Kerani had accidentally told me that the servants were speaking on the matter, and some believed our marriage to be a scam. It was common knowledge that our marriage could be absolved at anytime as long as Blaine didn’t take me into his bed. I wondered what it was that he was planning and it had begun to make me slightly paranoid.

“If you knew something you would tell me, wouldn’t you?” I asked Durril as we sat on a blanket next to the lake.

“Such as?”

I was laying down on the blanket and looking up at the stars, “If he was planning something? Like a way to get Maita back and to absolve our marriage.”

He nodded, “If I knew anything like that, you would be told.” Durril was sitting cross legged beside me. “Do you honestly believe that he would do that?”

“I do not know him well enough to judge.” I lied. The letters were proof enough for me, but Durril didn’t know that I was withholding them. “Why would he keep me in the guest room? He’s never touched me.”

Durril shrugged and looked out over the lake, “I have told you that he is a romantic. Perhaps, he doesn’t want a woman in his bed that he doesn’t love.”

I sighed audibly and sat up to look over the lake with him. My infatuation with Durril had not passed like I had hoped it would. I found that it was only becoming stronger. Everyday I told myself that I would not spend time with him, and everyday I found myself doing just that. It seemed to me that Durril was more interested in helping me with Blaine, so I rationalized that nothing would happen between us. I would never attempt to initiate any passionate contact and knew he never would either. He just didn’t feel the same way for me, at least that was what I told myself.

He was the only friend that I had here. Blaine was always too busy to do much with me and Durril filled that void. He didn’t seem to have many other friends besides the guards and Blaine. So, we spent our time together doing as we pleased. I think that Blaine was becoming suspicious that there was more between us, though he didn’t seem to mind. He caught Durril tickling me. He stared at us with Durril above me, but said nothing and left the room.

I laid back down and shut my eyes, “Give it more time, I suppose. That’s what Kerani keeps telling me. She says that I am too impatient.”

“She is right and wrong. A wife should share the same bed as her husband on the night of their wedding. Blaine should not be forcing you to stay in another room.” He shuffled around on the blanket, but I kept my eyes shut and didn’t see what he was doing. “You should give the situation more time. He still needs to mend his heart.”

“It’s strange. He told me that I would have his children, and yet he does not touch me.”

“He said that?”

I nodded. “I told him that he didn’t have to love me either. He seemed to be relieved to hear that.” I was going to add that he mentioned he was going to try to love me, but I felt Durril’s hand run across my arm. The touch surprised me and made the skin he touched quiver. I kept my eyes closed afraid that if I opened them he might remove his hand from my arm.

There was a long silence before Durril answered, “I love you enough for the both of us.”

My eyes opened and I found Durril on his side next to me. His face was inches away from my own. I told myself to sit up, but my body refused. He kissed my lips gently and then looked at me.

“I hate myself because of you, Valora. I betray my brother every time my heart pounds wildly because you’ve entered the room. Every time I reach to hold your hand. Every time I allow myself to think we could ever have more then a relationship like siblings do.” He laid his hand on my abdomen, “I know that I kill our friendship by admitting this to you tonight. I just can’t make excuses for the way that my brother treats you anymore. I am sorry.”

I didn’t know what to say so I remained silent.

“He’s a blind, ignorant bastard. What kind of man can’t see a beautiful gem right in front of him? What if he absolves the marriage? You once said you would marry me if you could.” He bowed his head, “I can not believe that I am speaking these words to you. I just can not defend my brother’s actions or hide what I feel for you.”

My hand grew a mind of its own then and touched his cheek. Durril looked up to me briefly before rushing my lips. I wrapped my arms around his neck and he kissed me with all the passion that he had kept hidden and I did the same. Our tongues mingled with one another’s and Durril would moan deep within his throat every time I sucked on his tongue. I wanted him to do everything that I had dreamt of him doing to me, but I knew that we had already gone too far.

I released my hands from around his neck and pressed his shoulders back. He opened his eyes and seemed to understand what I was trying to communicate. Rolling off me, he groaned in frustration as I stood and headed back to the manor. I don’t know how long Durril remained outside on the blanket, but he hadn’t come in when I went to bed.

---***---
The next morning, I was feeling more than a little guilty about my encounter with Durril. I think he felt the same way as he didn’t come to breakfast nor had I seen him and it was nearly lunch time. I felt like a hypocrite after stealing Blaine’s letters and being offended that he was cheating on me through the mail. I actually kissed a man of flesh and blood and it was his brother, no less.

My biggest fear would be that Durril would tell him. Blaine may be able to forgive him, but I could be killed for adultery. I knew that I needed to do something to get my mind off the problem at hand. So, I went to the manor’s library to find myself a book to read. I had exhausted the three poetry books that my father had allowed me to take. I needed new reading material.

Apparently, Blaine’s mother was quite the reader and she had a wide collection of books for women. Some were romantic tales, others poetry, and some carried ideas for what a lady could do around the house to waste her hours. I picked up a gardening book and started to read it. After about the thirtieth page, I started to believe that I could actually care for a garden of my own. It sounded relaxing and I definitely needed something to keep my mind off the drama in the house.

As I was reading further in, I heard the sounds of people arguing. With my book in hand, I went to investigate. The yells came from Blaine’s study and it took me a moment to realize he was arguing with Durril. I felt a hard lump in my throat when the thought of Durril telling him what happened between us crossed my mind.

“She hasn’t written me in three weeks! He may have harmed her!” I heard Blaine say as he came close to the door.

“I doubt it. She probably realizes that you are both married now. You should focus your attentions on Valora.” Durril was also standing near the door.

I knew that if either of them opened the door that I would be caught, but I didn’t care in those moments.

Something was knocked over and made a loud crashing noise. “I love Maita!”

“You are married to Valora!” Durril yelled back, “Maita is also married to another! Are you blind or stupid?”

There was a long silence, I knew that Blaine was trying to stare his brother into submission. “If it weren’t for Valora, I…”

“Do not speak as if this is her fault, Blaine! She was practically a newborn when this engagement was arranged. She has nothing to do with it.”

“Yes, you would defend her! You, who has been courting my wife! Do not think I am blind to it!”

“Courting your wife?” Durril snorted, “Are you insane? I am merely spending time with her like you should be doing. Acting like her friend, doing the job of her husband.”

“Doing the job of her husband? And does that include taking her into your bed?” Blaine barked.

He began to laugh, “What if I have? You aren’t.”

I almost fainted when I heard Durril speak those words and I imagined the silence afterwards was Blaine’s face filling with enraged blood.

“Do not jest about such things.” Blaine warned.

“Why would you care? You obviously won’t touch her. She’s your wife. You have the rights to her and yet you lust after another man’s wife.”

A hand touched my shoulder and I looked over at Leora. My face flushed with embarrassment. She whispered, “Don’t listen here. They will catch you. Come.” She took my hand and pulled me to the stairs and opened a small door. We walked into the servants quarters and pressed our ears against the wall. Though we hardly had to as we could hear what they were saying rather clearly.

“I have to travel north to ensure that Maita is in good health.” Blaine said.

“I won’t let you do that. If someone must go, it will be me. You harm your wife with the way you lust for another woman.” Durril sighed.

“You would go to ease my mind?”

“No, I would go to ensure you don’t harm Valora anymore then you already have. She knows about the love letters that you send to Maita. And the way you behaved during your wedding ceremony was barbaric!” Durril hissed.

Nothing was said for several moments. “Here is where she lives.” I assumed that Blaine had written something down for him.

“I will go under one condition.” He paused, “When I return, you and Valora must be at the very minimum close friends. You must make an effort to love your wife, since she is the one that will be with you for all your life. She is the one that vowed to care for and love you, not Maita.”

“Maita would have if…” He sighed, “Very well.”

I heard the door slam and I knew that I had to tell Durril the truth. If he went all the way up to visit Maita, she would tell him that she wasn’t the one receiving letters from Blaine. I looked at Leora who looked just as shocked and scared as I was.

“I’ll take care of it.” I whispered and ran out of the room to find Durril.

I found him in the dining hall. He was asking a servant to pack him some food for travel. “Durril.”

He turned to me and gave only a partial grin, “Valora. I am going to leave for a while. I will be back in two weeks.”

“There is something I have to tell you.”

He rose an eyebrow, “Alright.”

“Maita has been writing him letters.” He kept the same expression, “I’ve been burning both his and her letters, so they couldn’t communicate.” I wasn’t going to tell him that Leora was part of the scheme. She didn’t need to be punished for my idea.

Durril swallowed and placed his hand over his face.

“What did you say?” My heart felt like it stopped when I heard Blaine’s voice behind me.
I turned to face him. His eyes were enraged and the flesh on his face was red. Taking a step back, I tried to put some space between us.

“What did you say?” He asked again. He took a step towards me.

“Blaine, stop.” Durril demanded and stepped between us.

He continued to charge me and shoved his brother off his feet. Grabbing both my upper arms, he shook me. “What have you done?” He screamed and shook me again.

My arms started to ache and I knew he would leave bruises. “I am sorry.” I cried when he shook me again.

Durril ran towards him and tried to pull him off me. Endre and another male servant entered into the dining hall and peeled him away. They pulled him towards the kitchen door and I ran to the dining room doors.

“How dare you destroy my letters!” Blaine yelled in anger which caused more servants to come flooding in. “You are nothing! Just a glorified servant girl! Your duty is to bare my children and nothing more! You were lucky that your father saved my father’s life! Now, I have to pay his debt by being wed to you!” He was still trying to break free of them and attack me.

“Silence yourself.” Durril ordered him.

“How dare I? How dare I?” I squeaked. Durril said something about not making it worse, but I ignored him. “You had your chance to take Maita as your wife, you greedy little gnome! All you had to do was give up everything and you chose not to! This manor is yours because of me! This land is yours because of me! Your title is yours because of me!” I stomped my foot whenever I said me. “Your position as the king’s advisor is because of me! I am everything that you have and love! I am everything that you wouldn’t give up in order to be with her!”

I saw Blaine’s muscle’s relax and the servants and Durril didn’t have to hold him back as much.

“Did you think for even one second that I enjoyed spending my entire life being trained to be your wife? A man that I didn’t know! Did you think that I enjoyed just being an object in my father’s eyes? Something he could trade for a meager amount of status in his community?” I slammed my hand on the serving table, “No! No! No! I am not an obstacle in the way of your life, Blaine! This is your life! This is all that you get! You need to accept it or you will be miserable for the rest of your days! I am not an object to give birth to your children! I have been one all my life and it ends today!” With that I spun around and headed up the stairs.

Blaine had been completely released from their holds and was standing still on his own accord. The dining hall had servants looking around the corners to hear what was being said, but I didn’t care. He needed a dose of humiliation as well as reality.

In my room, I was quickly accompanied by Kerani, who said nothing of what had happened down stairs. Not that she would have been able to understand the argument, but she knew something had happened. I had seen her watching from the stairway.
---***---

Blaine left the next day when he received a summons from the king. Leora stopped burning Maita’s letters which still came everyday. Durril and I were still not speaking to each other, but I did manage to convince Endre to go into town and purchase me some seeds. He had some other servants build me a small fence behind the manor for my flower garden.

I immediately went to work. Kerani was always with me as I tried to get the seeds to grow. The book had said this was the right time to start planting them. By the end of the month, I had several sprouts and was feeling proud of myself.

“I don’t see why you didn’t plant vegetables or strawberries. At least you can eat those. What can you do with flowers?” Kerani asked me as I sat in the middle of the garden. No one was allowed in because they didn’t know where I planted the seeds, so she stood near the gate.

I smiled at her, “I’ll plant strawberries next year, I promise.” She had been nagging me about strawberries since I started the garden.

With a grin, she leaned against one of the fence posts. “You seem happier then before.”

“Before what?” I asked as I created another hole.

“Before you showed Blaine his place. I think that you gave him quite a bit to think about.”

I glared up at her, “And who told you what I said?” I knew the answer, but the question purchased me time to be stunned from her gull.

“Endre.” She sighed and looked towards the manor, “Lord Durril has been rather quiet since that day, I wonder if he was offended by your words.”

Wiping my forehead with my wrist, I turned my eyes back to Kerani. “It doesn’t matter if he is or not. We couldn’t possibly go on the way we were. Blaine loves another woman, but I am his wife.” There was a little frustration apparent in my voice, but she didn’t seem alarmed by it. “I will be treated with honesty as any wife should be, and I refuse to be seen as a burden.”

“I would hardly think that Lord Blaine thinks that you are a burden. There are times when we all must do that which we would prefer not to. Sometimes those decisions are life altering and you can never take them back.” She stood from her leaning position, but her hands remained on the fence post. “When I was taken from my homeland, I could have acted out and not accepted my slavery. I was told by another slave that if I continued my behavior they would send me to the colosseum where I would be killed by either an angry beast or a blood thirsty gladiator.”

I stopped what I was doing and applied all my attention to Kerani. She had never spoken of her capture before and would become upset if anyone mentioned that she was a slave.

“I had to make a decision to either fight for my freedom and most likely die a horrid death, or become gentle and hope that I would someday become a servant for a noble woman.” She tapped her fingers on the fence post as she spoke, “I was told that would be the best task I could hope for. So, you see, Valora, one must accept life as it comes. If we fight it when there is no hope for change, then we only make ourselves miserable.”

“Blaine wouldn’t have died had he not married me.”

She nodded, “Correct, but he would of lost everything he thought was his life. Isn’t that the same as dying?”

“No, it’s not. He wouldn’t have died, Kerani. There would have been Maita, the very woman that he has allowed to destroy his life now. He won’t accept that they will never be now. He made that decision, not his father and certainly not me.”

Crossing her arms, she stared at me for several moments. It was a look that I was all too familiar with. The cold but caring eyes told me that she had seen something in my words and in my voice that I was trying to hide. “Why?” She finally asked, before I could ask what she meant, she continued. “Why did you have those letters burned? Why didn’t you just speak to him on the matter first? Why did you confront him when others were present? That was not like you.”

I swallowed, “I don’t know. With Blaine I am never sure how I should approach these matters. His personality changes so drastically that…”

“What is it you fear, Valora? Tell me.”

I looked across the garden into her eyes for several long moments as I tried to come up with a lie of some sort. The thoughts that I was trying to hide only caused my eyes to tear up. “I fear he may be planning to kill me and to kill Maita’s husband, so they can be together.”

Kerani’s arms dropped to her side. I could tell by the way she looked at the gate that she wanted to enter into the garden and sit with me, but I had told her to stay out. “That can not be true. Why would you think of such a thing?”

“Don’t you see, Kerani? He’s sending her letters, he invited her to the wedding, and she stayed here after the wedding. He wouldn’t allow me to even speak with her. Something does not bode well with me. I can’t…” I pressed my lips together as I watched Durril exit the manor and approach the garden.

He smiled at Kerani before looking over my patch of dirt, “I heard that you started a garden, what type of flowers are you planting?”

I pointed to the small bag of seeds, “I told Endre to mix them up so I could be surprised when they grow.”

Durril chuckled, “My mother often talked about starting her own garden, but father kept her busy with other matters. It would have been nice to have this early. Not that we would have given it any upkeep after she past on. Father could barely tolerate the bushes around the manor.”

I nodded and stood from my position. I hoped that he didn’t realize that I had been crying.

“I’ll wait by the manor door.” Kerani bowed to me, before giving Durril and myself some time to talk privately.

I wished that Kerani had stayed, she couldn’t understand what Durril was saying to me, so it didn’t really matter if she was there.

“I thought perhaps we could go for a walk and speak on what happened the other day.” He pointed towards the lake.

Slowly I shook my head then turned my eyes towards the dirt beneath my feet, “No, Durril, I think it would be best if that was placed behind us now.”

“Let’s not allow the matters between you and Blaine come between us.”

“And what exactly are we, Durril?” I folded my arms, “I think you are far too involved with your brother’s wife.”

For a brief moment, I thought his jaw would drop. “What have I done to cause you to say such words to me?”

I shook my head, “Nothing, I apologize.”

He nodded, “Yes, I will see you at dinner then.” With that he spun around and headed back towards the manor. He looked over his shoulder briefly at me before he disappeared inside.

---***---
“Endre told me that you have been out here all day.” I sat down beside Durril with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders.

He was staring out over the lake that had a soft glow from the full moon. When I sat down he looked at me out of the corner of his eye, before turning his attentions back to the lake.

“I am sorry if I offended you earlier today, Durril. Everything that has happened recently has been causing me nothing but worry. I lashed out at you, when I knew that you are only trying to be kind to me.” I sighed, “I did not mean to insinuate anything.”

He began to shake his head, “No, you were right. I have implemented myself improperly in your life. Blaine has seen it and so have you. Things have happened between us that betray my brother’s trust.”

“It is rather lonely here. Blaine is gone quite often, all we have is each other and the servants. We couldn’t help but become friends, we just allowed ourselves to come too close.”

Durril shook his head, “No, that’s not it. The moment I saw you I did not act as a brother should. I acted as if I had some chance of winning your heart, even though I knew you were here to wed my brother. I am the one at fault not you, Valora.”

“Do not act as if I had no say in this matter, I…”

“Stop, Valora. You just don’t understand. Not even now can I tell myself that you belong to my brother. I am being a fool, I need to leave before I cause anymore trouble.” Durril turned his head so he could see me. “If my love for you is plain enough for you and Blaine to see, then it won’t be long before the servants start rumors in town.”

The word love startled me for a moment, but I tried pretend that it did not bother me. “Durril, please, do not leave. We are both strong people and can ignore such childish feelings. It’s not as if…”

“Childish feelings? Did you not hear me when I said that I loved you?” He sighed and ran his hands over his face, “Every time I see Blaine treat you poorly, my heart fills with a rage. I know that he has a treasure, another thing in his life that I want, but will never have. He is too much of a child, himself, to understand their beauty and importance. He doesn’t deserve you or anything that he has. I wish that he would have married Maita, then…” He shook his head, “I do not know.”

“You only want me because I belong to your brother.” I said the words as if I were shocked and indeed I was. It never occurred to me that Durril was a jealous little brother, who thought that his elder brother got everything he ever wanted.

“No. No.” He turned his body to face me and placed his hands on my cheeks. “I swear that is not true. Blaine always gets the best of life has to offer, and treats it as if it were worthless. I have worked hard for everything that I have, and discover the one thing that I truly want Blaine already owns.”

I stared into his eyes and he returned the stare. Before I could speak, Durril engulfed my mouth with his own. At first it was a hungry kiss, but it became sweeter as the moments ticked by. He kissed my bottom lip gently before pulling away to look at me and I could see the pain in his eyes.

“I told myself this wouldn’t happen again!” He growled and stood up. His back to me, he seemed to be waiting for me to say something.

Standing up, I positioned the blanket on my shoulders, “You are right, I can never be yours. As much as either of us want this to be, adultery could get us both killed. Perhaps it would be best if you did leave.” I tried to hide the sorrow that was growing in my voice.

Durril nodded, “I will make arrangements once Blaine returns.”

With that said, I began the short journey back to the manor. My heart felt as if it were on fire, and I realized then that I had just lost my only friend. I didn’t want Durril to leave, but if what he said was true, then we would only cause ourselves more harm if he stayed. Neither of us wanted to suffer the consequences that would lie ahead of us.
---***---

Kneeled in my garden, Kerani giggled as Endre and her spoke at the gate. I hadn’t spoken to Durril for nearly a month, and found my companionship with the servants. Kerani seemed to be understanding of my desire to be with her, though she had no idea why Durril and I weren’t speaking any longer.

“Tonight, then.” She blew a kiss to Endre and he blushed before walking towards the manor.

“It seems your love has sprouted.” I said happily when I was certain he was out of hearing distance.

A wide smile bloomed on her lips, “Is it so obvious?” Her cheeks grew red, “I never thought that I would meet a Gyosian that I could ever have feelings for.” Her smile faded when she saw the look of envy in my eyes, “Love will be born between you and Blaine, Valora, just give it time. Be friendly and try not to disagree too often.”

I nodded and was glad she didn’t know the truth behind my envy, “I know.”

“Lord Blaine is home!” Endre yelled from the manor’s back door.

My head popped up and a look of worry came over my face.

Kerani turned her attention to Endre, then back to me. With a frown, she spoke, “Are you going to behave yourself this time?”

I shrugged, “It all depends on him.”

“Valora, please!” She whined loudly.

We were in the garden for a half hour before Blaine walked around the manor and saw the nearly erected fence. Kerani bowed to him and made her way to the back door to give us some privacy.

“You have been busy.” He said as he started to walk into the garden.

“No!” I yelled and jumped to my feet, “Don’t come in here. You don’t know where I planted the flowers.”

He stepped back out, “My apologies.”

“I am going to build some stone paths. I ordered the stone, but they said it won’t arrive until next month.” I wiped my hands on my apron.

Blaine nodded, “Flowers?”

“Yes. I promised Kerani that I would grow strawberries next year.”

He grinned, “I brought you something back from Mureal.” Mureal was the capitol of Seria. He offered out his hand and I walked to the front. “They are just sugar candies, but I thought you may like them.”

I looked at the little brown cubes. “Thank you. I would take them from you, but my hands are dirty.”

“I’ll… I’ll put them on the nightstand beside our bed.” He put them in the pouch on his belt.

His words shocked me.

“I have ordered the servants to move your things into my room. You will start sleeping in our shared bed tonight. It is only right, you are, after all, my wife.”

My eyes dropped down to my feet and I nodded.

“You were right. I had time to think on it and you are my life. I can’t pretend that this is just a predicament that I have to live through, before I can be with her. You were also right about me not wanting to give up my inheritance and title for her. If I had truly loved her then I would of done so without hesitation.” He smirked, “Hell, my father probably would have seen that I was willing and just apologized to your father. He might have offered to allow you to marry Durril.”

I cleared my throat.

“Which would have been better for you. Since he obviously loves you and I am so focused on what I would like to happen that I am not watching what is happening. My wife and my brother are falling in love and I am just ignoring it. Telling myself that Maita is meant to be my wife, so it doesn’t matter.” He was biting the inside of his lip.

“We never meant for it to happen, Blaine. And nothing has occurred between us.” I tried to comfort him even though I lied.

“I know. Otherwise my brother wouldn’t be trying so hard to make me be a husband to you. He would welcome the chance to send me away to see Maita when I thought she was in trouble.” He sighed, “I thought a lot about what you said while I was gone. My father once told me that a knight fights with the sword he has. Not the magical sword that is hidden away in some dragon’s hoard. You can not protect yourself with a dream.”

He took my hand and looked at my face, though I kept my eyes to the ground. “I never knew what he meant until now. Maita’s that dream sword that I will never have, because the dragon is life and society. You are the sword that I carry in my sheath. The one that parries the blows against me and cuts down my enemies. You are the sword that was given to me by another great knight and I spit upon it, because I thought it wasn’t as good as my dream sword. But I never had the courage to fight the dragon, so I can never have that sword.”

He was only telling me that I was good enough even though he knew there was better out there. At least, that’s what I understood from his words.

“And if you’ll allow me to keep this metaphor going for another moment. I didn’t realize how truly wonderful and magical my own sword was, until my own brother coveted it.” He squeezed my hand, “I want to be able to see you through my brother’s eyes. To look at you the way he does and to long to be with you. That will never happen if I just keep dreaming of another life… another woman.” When I didn’t say anything, he continued, “I understand why you fell in love with my brother. He was there for you, cared for you, and wanted you while I locked myself away writing love letters to another. If you could just forgive me for all this, I know that I can make you see me for who I truly am.”

“And who are you truly?” I looked up at him for the first time.

“From this day forward, I am truly your husband. That is all I ever want to be and that can be whatever you desire.” He opened the gate so he could kneel down before me and kept a firm grasp of my hand. “It is the duty of every knight to see when he is wrong and acknowledge it. Then his duty is to remedy the problem and beg for forgiveness from whom he has wronged.” He overlapped his hands so that mine was stuck between them. “This knight humbly begs for your forgiveness, milady. If you can not forgive me now, tell me and I will do whatever it takes to ensure that one day you do.”

I shook my head, “From the day I arrived, you have been inconsistent. Telling me on the day of your wedding that you would have no more contact with your lover and then continuing to writing to her. You spent more time with her the first week of our union then you did with me. I will not believe your words this time.”

Blaine looked up at me. “You believe that I have lied to you?” His eyes dropped, “I suppose that is true. As a knight, there is no excuse for me to lie. I have vowed never to speak untruths. Yet, even though when I said those things to you I meant them, I did not do as I said I would.” He stood up, “I will gain your trust back and prove to you that I am as good as my word. I shall prove it to you even now!”

Keeping my hand in his, he pulled me towards the manor and we sought out Leora. She was
helping the others move my items.

“Leora, burn any letters that I receive from Maita.” He ordered as soon as she was in sight.

She seemed startled by his outburst as we appeared on the stairs. Covering her arms were some of my dresses that she was moving from my old room. “Even the ones that I received while you were away, milord?”

“All of them.” He went to turn around, “No, take those to my room. I want to burn them myself.”

I wanted to roll my eyes as I believed that he would read them, but I said and did nothing as he walked down the stairs. Leora gave me a questioning look, but did not ask anything of me.

---***---
I didn’t know where Blaine went to and so I decided to have lunch. Durril was in the dining room when I entered and he stood from the table to greet me. Pulling out my seat, we waited to be served.

“What has happened?” Durril asked me. “Is he still upset? He hasn’t said two words to me.” There was now worry in his eyes mixed with his heartbrokenness.

I shook my head, “No, he has assured me that he will be a better husband and will no longer have contact with Maita.”

He nodded his head and took a sip of his wine, “That is a start, I suppose.”

My hands were laying in my lap and I felt nervous. It was that Blaine knew there was more between Durril and myself, and I felt uncomfortable in his presence now more then ever. “He told me that he knows about our feelings toward one another.”

“I know. I told him.” He cleared his throat, “He already had his suspicions. I thought he would throw me from the house, but he didn’t seem to mind. He just told me to not let the servants catch us.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Just that we had shared feelings. Nothing more.” Durril looked down at his empty plate, “I suppose he felt that if he had a lover then you were entitled to one as well.”

“When did you inform him of this?”

“Before you threw your temper tantrum.”

I was about to tell him that it was hardly a temper tantrum, but the sounds of Blaine’s study door shutting made me look into the hall. Blaine exited the study and smiled at me, before heading up the stairs. “It seems things are going to be set right between us, now.”

“Good. You deserve to be the center of a man’s world, even if it isn’t mine.” He looked back up to me, “We should never speak on this again. Let it be forever forgotten.”

I nodded my head when I heard Blaine coming back down the stairs. He entered the room with a smile and took his seat at the head of the table.

“I thought I would show Valora the tree house today, unless you have already done so.” Blaine was speaking to his brother.

“No, that must have slipped my mind.”

My husband’s eyes turned to me, “Durril and I built a tree house after my fourteenth birthday. I haven’t checked on it in years and might not be in very good condition, but Durril tells me that you enjoyed climbing trees back home.”

“When there was something in the tree worth getting.”

Both men laughed. The servants came from the kitchen and began to serve us some ham and biscuits. It apparently was Blaine’s favorite meal as they always served it for lunch when he returned home. After we ate Blaine excused himself to change into his riding pants and order two horses to be prepared for us.

Durril came around to help pull out my chair. When I stood up we were inches apart. I could smell his musky scent and feel the heat from his body. He didn’t move away from me, only stood in wait for me to step around him. I don’t know what came over me, but I kissed him. As hard and passionately as I could. It surprised me even more that he reciprocated the act. He ended it as quickly as I had started it, though he added two small kisses to both corners of my mouth to finish it.

I went to wait for Blaine at the end of the stairway and Durril went out on his rounds. We didn’t speak on the matter as I think we both understood the situation clearly enough. I promised myself that it would be the last time that I kissed my husband’s brother and that I had to turn any passion I carried for him to Blaine. Not only could an adulterer wife and her lover be put to death, but I felt even worse that it was his brother.

I knew the bond that I had with my brothers and I couldn’t image any of them doing anything like this to me. The heartbreak I would feel would devastate me, even if I did not care for the person I was wed to. Besides, Blaine knew about our feelings and he would ensure there were watchful eyes on us. There was nothing that we could do even if we wanted to.

“Are you prepared?” Blaine asked as he came down the stairs.

“I thought I would ride in this dress, since I already dirtied it in the garden.” I told him and he gave a nod of approval.
---***---
We stepped outside just in time to see Durril ride away towards the first guard’s post. I tried my best not to watch him, but my eyes would wander every couple of seconds. I could only pray that Blaine wouldn’t notice. He seemed to be occupied with informing the stable boy that he had put the saddle on incorrectly.

I was helped into my saddle by Blaine and we began to make our journey the opposite way that Durril had gone. I had to admit that I felt slightly disappointed, but also relieved that we wouldn’t see him along the way.

“You should come with me to Mureal next I am summoned.” Blaine suddenly announced when we reached the forest’s edge.

“Is it safe for a lady to travel in these times?”

“Mureal is in the center of Seria, there are few attacks so far inland. Some of the other advisors bring their wives and I am given room that could accommodate six people.” He grinned, “There is a nobleman’s bazaar close to the castle that many of the wives go to. They normally form a group and go with two or three guards from the castle. That is when their husbands are working, of course. There are many beautiful sights in Mureal that I could show you.”

I shrugged still not certain.

“Have you ever been?”

“No, I spent all my life in Requanar. My journey here was the first time that I had left.”

Blaine smiled, “Then you must go. I believe you would enjoy it.”

“We shall see when the time comes.”

“Fair enough.” He stopped his horse and looked up, “It will definitely need to be rebuilt for our own children.”

I looked up into the tree and could see the weathered gray wood of the small shack in the tree. There were wooden boards nailed into the tree to be used as a ladder.

Blaine dismounted and began to climb up.

“I don’t think it’s safe.” I warned him. Right after which, one of the boards gave way and fell to the ground.

He jumped down and grinned sheepishly, “It was worth testing. Well then, what should we do since our plan has been foiled?”

I dismounted, “We could walk around the forest. See if we can become lost.”

“I know these woods better then my own bedroom. I spent most of my life investigating them. Becoming lost in them would take some doing.”

I grinned at his boast, “You could pretend for me and scare me.”

“By telling me to do so, you have ruined the jest.”

“I’ll forget that I mentioned it soon enough.” I took my horse’s reigns and we began to walk side by side.

After we talked more on my garden and why I had started to build it, Blaine reached out with his free hand and took my own. It felt uncomfortable at first, but slowly I became use to it.

We eventually came to a small bridge that went over the stream that lead to the lake. “Durril and I use to fish here when we were boys. Our father didn’t allow us to take the boat out on the lake without him. Of course, we only ever caught small fish here and would always release them.” Blaine tied up our horses so we could stand on the bridge.

“The stream on my father’s estate didn’t have many fish.”

He nodded, “Yes, I remember you telling me that sometime ago.”

I kicked off my shoes and sat down on the side of the bridge. My feet hung over and into the warm waters. Blaine grinned at me before doing the same. He sat down directly beside me so that our thighs touched. We sat in peace while we watched the water rush past our feet and the occasional fish.

“Do you remember the kiss we shared by the lake?” The question startled me.

“Yes.” I replied but did not look up to him.

His hand found my own and pulled them into his lap to rest on his thigh. “I told you that I wanted to see if there was any attraction between us.” He waited for me to respond so I nodded. “It was another one of my lies. I just wanted to kiss you and I didn’t know how to go about doing so. I felt an attraction the moment my eyes first laid upon you and I felt guilty for it. I told myself… no, I told Maita that I would never love another woman. I suppose that I lied to her as well. I am a pathetic knight, am I not?”

I looked up at him and frowned, “When you spoke it the words were true and heartfelt. You did not know what the future would hold.”

“Doing these things with you still brings guilt to my heart, even though I know that you are my wife.”

“Such things need time. Like my garden. I wanted the flowers to bloom the first day, but I knew that would not happen. I have to nurture the seeds, care for them, and prove that I want them to grow in order for them to.” I jumped down into the stream and it stopped mid-thigh. “Little deeper then I thought.”

Blaine laughed, “What are you doing?”

“Having fun with my new friend.” I informed him.

“And how is that fun? Don’t splash me.” He said sternly after I splashed him for the first time.

I ignored his warning and splashed him again.

“Don’t splash me.” He repeated, but I didn’t listen.

Blaine jumped into the water and began to splash water back at me. At first, he seemed intent on punishing me with large, powerful swipes of his hand. Then he must of realized that it was a game and the splashes became more gentle.

I stepped back to get away from one of his attacks and my foot found a smooth stone. I slid and fell into the water. When my head popped back up, I inhaled a deep gust of air and looked at Blaine. He was standing dumbfounded with his mouth slightly open, when he realized that I was alright he chuckled.

“That is not funny.” I growled, but he kept laughing.

In retaliation, I stood up and charged him. He was too busy laughing to see me coming and I jumped on him. Since he wasn’t prepared for my weight, he went under water with me. When we came up, we both inhaled deeply and the look in Blaine’s eyes told me that he wasn’t pleased. Instantly it vanished to be replaced with a childish look of bemusement.

“You will pay for that.” He jerked forward to grab me, but I swam away too quickly.

We played a game of catch me if you can for a couple minutes, before Blaine tricked me into going the wrong way. He lurched forward and wrapped his arms around my waist and lifted me up in the air. My back was pressed against his chest, but he continued to lift me until I was sliding down into the water behind him.

I stood up in the water and he caught me in his arms again. “You fiend!” I teased and tried to push him away.

“Now we are all wet. What will we tell Leora?” He said as he lead me out of the water. He had changed back to his serious self again and I knew that for a brief moment, I had released the real Blaine within.

“Does it matter? We had a little bit of fun. I think Lord Blaine Stavros is entitled to some fun once in a while.”

He sat me down on the shore and sighed before sitting down beside me.

“We can go find a sun patch and lay out to dry if you insist.” I suggested and he said nothing. “Or we could shake our bodies like dogs do and…”

“Do you take anything seriously? Playing in the water like that isn’t proper for a knight, a duke… or a duchess for that matter.”

“Be damned with proper!” I barked in a friendly tone, “We had fun and no proper restrictions will stop me! We harmed no one!”

Blaine tried not to, but in the end he grinned. “I suppose we didn’t. But we should keep it a secret between us. No point in the whole household knowing about this.”

“They might figure it out from the wet clothes.”

“No, we will find that sun patch and sit out in it all day if we have to.”

I frowned, “Aw, I was rather hoping for the shake like dogs plan.”

 

 

 

 

 

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