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Essence of Oleander Part 3 PDF Print E-mail
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Written by RHunt   
There is a sex scene in this section. If you are offended by such things, then I suggest skipping over it.

We found a meadow away from the manor where no servant would come and laid down in the sun. Blaine told me more about Mureal and seemed quite intent on convincing me to accompany him. I think he was afraid of leaving me alone with Durril and in truth, I was afraid of being left alone with him as well.

Blaine was laying on his back when I rolled over to my side and smiled, “Front almost dry?”

“Almost.” He answered. His eyes were closed and his right arm was behind his head. “Yours would be too, if you didn’t keep sitting up.”

“They just need to appear dry then we can sneak upstairs and change into dry clothes. It won’t make anyone suspicious. One should always change their clothing after riding.”

His left hand grabbed some of my dress to test how dry it was. “I doubt that will pass.”

“It’s thick material. Maybe if you let me run around in pants…” I watched as his brows came together and I laughed. “Alright, dresses it is.”

“Did you really wear pants until you were fourteen?” He opened his eyes, “Durril told me.”

“I did.” My elbow was resting in the grass and my face was in my hand. “People use to tease my father and say I was meant to be born a boy.”

“If you had things would have been easier for me.” He sighed, “I apologize. I keep bringing this horrible situation into our topics. It’s just on the forefront of my mind.”

I nodded my head sympathetically and laid back down on my back. Right afterward, Blaine propped himself up on his elbow. “I do apologize.”

“What do you want me to do, Blaine? None of this was my doing. It was a deal made between our fathers long before either of us were conceived. Would it make everything better if suddenly both me and Maita’s husband died?”

“No, no. She… she loves her husband.” He swallowed, “That was what we were arguing about all week after the wedding. I know that you saw us. She loves him, but also felt that she was betraying me by doing so.”

I turned my head to look at him, “I don’t understand. If she loves him and is married to him, then she is betraying him by continuing to love you.”

He nodded, “You are right.”

My face turned back to the sun before I sat up. Blaine sat up with me and took my hand.

“And I betray you by loving her.” He started to run his index finger over my knuckles. Tracing a couple of scars on my hands, he grinned. “You really did play rough when you were younger, didn’t you?”

“I play rough now.”

I watched as he ignored my joke by bringing my hand to his lips and kissing each scar. “I wish I could kiss the scars that I’ve created in your heart. The ones of distrust towards me. I swear here on this ring that I gave you that I will forever be honest with you. That the vows that I took on our wedding day will never again be betrayed.” He looked up at me, “I will be to you a loving and faithful husband. I promise you my deepest love, my fullest devotion, my tenderest care. I promise I will live first for you.” He spoke a condensed version of our vows.

I took my hand from his and placed it on his cheek, rubbing my thumb gently over the stubble on his chin. “I don’t believe the love part, but perhaps in time.”

He shook his head, “No as your husband, my love can only be for you. I refuse to love any other.” With that said he leaned towards me.

His lips brushed mine as if he were testing my reluctance. Then they pressed firm against my own and brought his hand to my face. Soon his fingers found their way into my strawberry blonde locks. The firmness of his grip startled me and I grabbed his forearm to give myself a sense of control. He began to push me backwards, his kiss becoming more urgent and forceful as if he was trying to prove something to me or himself. His tongue licked my bottom lip before disappearing back into his mouth. It returned seconds later to find its way between my lips. Some burning desire deep within me forced my mouth to open and accept his affection.

By this time, I was laying down in the grass and Blaine hovered over me. He used his tongue to coax my own into his mouth. I was both aroused and startled when I felt him move over me and place his knee at my thighs.

“No.” I turned my head away.

“Only kissing.” He said breathlessly, “I am just trying to get in a more comfortable position.”

He didn’t give me time to respond and only pressed his lips against mine again. I was only too eager to begin anew our contact. His knee pressed against my thigh once more and I opened them for him to settle down between them. One of his hands was still in my hair, but the attached elbow was holding his weight off me. I think I sighed when his other hand found my breast and I felt him grin under my lips. My arms wrapped around his neck and my fingers explored his back and ruffled his hair.

His lips parted from my own and kissed my chin then followed my jaw line up. I felt his hand that was formerly on my breast move down my body and begin to pull up the skirt of my dress. His kisses distracted me as they made their way down my neck to my bosom and he kissed the parts of my breast that showed.

I didn’t know how we went from speaking of his former lover to being in such an intimate embrace. I had expected we were about to argue again, but he seemed dead set on proving his desires were only for me. No man had ever been with me and I was not going to allow it to happen here in this meadow, even if it was my husband.

“Blaine…” I began to say, but his lips immediately rushed mine as if to silence me. It worked well and I had forgotten what it was I was worried about. That was until I felt his hand on my inner thigh and his manhood pressing against my other thigh. I didn’t know what to do, he did say that this was only going to be a kiss. I knew that this was going a lot further then that. My mother hadn’t left me completely ignorant as to what would happen on my wedding night. Of course, my older married brother also enjoyed sharing stories with my other brothers when he thought I wasn’t listening.

When I felt his hand moving upward towards my womanhood, I thrust my hands against his shoulders as hard as I could. “Blaine, stop!” I demanded and continued to push.

He released me and sat up. I could see both the annoyance and frustration in his eyes as he sat up between my legs. I scooted back away from him to sit up myself. He must of thought I was scared, because his eyes turned to sympathetic. “I apologize. I was carried away by the moment.”

I stood up and brushed down my dress. “I am your wife and you have every right, but please not here.”

Blaine remained on his knees with his hands on his thighs for several moments. When he finally stood, he said nothing. He began to head towards our horses and I assumed that he was satisfied with how dry our clothes were. As we rode towards the manor it remained quiet. I wonder if I had disappointed him or hurt any of the progress that we had made that day.

When we reached the manor, he went to his study and I was left to my own devices. Thankfully, Durril hadn’t returned yet, so I went to my room to read more on gardening.
---***---

I had forgotten that my items had been moved to Blaine’s room, so I had to locate a dry dress in my new wardrobe. I was a little hesitant to start reading my book in my new bed, but decided it wouldn’t reflect well if I hide in the guest room.

It seemed every time I turned the page, I would catch the scent of Blaine on my person. I looked at the tub in the corner of the room. Kerani would heat me a bath up in a half an hour and I would be rid of my husband’s scent, but I wasn’t sure if I disliked it. The thought that he was only thinking of Maita as he touched me made me want to remove it. Then I thought of his words before he kissed me. How he would only love me from now on and refuse all others.

Jumping off my bed, I walked out into the hallway to find Kerani. As I walked down the hallway, Durril came out the stairs. Without even asking if I wanted to join him, he grabbed my upper arm and pulled me into his bedroom.

He pressed me between the door and his own body. “I can’t stop thinking about you and our last kiss didn’t help matters.”

“Durril, I can’t be caught in your bedroom.” I whispered. “Blaine is just downstairs.”

“Blaine left as I was coming in.”

“What? Where did he go?”

He shrugged, “He wasn’t with any knights, so I assume he’ll be back before sundown.” He began to kiss me and as much as I didn’t want to, I pushed him away.

“No, Durril. I am sorry that I kissed you today, it was a mistake. It was wrong of me. I am married and I vowed to be faithful to my husband.”

His forehead dropped to my shoulder, “One moment you want to be faithful to him and the next you are smothering me in your kisses. I don’t know what it is that you want.”

“I want you to act as if I am your sister, understand? Your flesh and blood sister. If I ever try to kiss you again, just shove me away, please.”

“You know that if you kissed me again that I do not have the strength to deny you.” He took a step away from me.

It took all the strength that I had to turn my back to him. I opened the door and strode out into the hallway as if I had nothing to hide.

On my way down the stairs, I saw Blaine enter into the manor. I sent prayers to the heavens for my restraint with Durril. Just imagining what could have happened if Blaine caught us together sent a tidal wave of shivers up my spine.

In Blaine’s hand was a small bouquet of daisies that I had seen growing near the lake. When I reached the bottom stair, he approached me and offered the flowers to me.

“A small apology for my behavior.” He said as I took them from him.

“Thank you. They are lovely. But you need not apologize, as I said as your wife you have the right. I just… not our first time in the open.”

He shook his head, “No, I said only a kiss and then I tried to make it more. I am a very honest man, but yet I can’t seem to stop lying to you.”

“You were caught in the moment, it was not a lie.”

“I knew that I wanted more even as I told you that it would only be a kiss.”

“Well, thank you for the flowers. Have you seen Kerani? I need to bathe.” I didn’t need to tell him that last part, but it slipped past my lips before I could stop it.

“She and Endre went into town for some supplies.”

“Oh.” I sighed and headed up the stairs, but Blaine grabbed my hand.

“Allow me, please.”

I rose an eyebrow, “Allow you to do what?”

“Wait in my study, I’ll summon you when it is ready.”

I didn’t know what he had planned, but I walked into the study as if I trusted him and waited. It seemed like a half hour past before he opened the study door and gestured for me to follow him.

When we reached his bedroom, my nose was filled with the scents of lilacs and gardenias. The tub in the corner had steam rising from it and there was a small basket beside the tub with several different soaps. I thought Blaine would leave me to cleaning myself, but when he locked the bedroom door with him inside, I knew he had other ideas.

He began to take the pins from my hair and had apparently found my hair brush. He brushed out my hair with firm gentleness and when he was satisfied laid the hairbrush on one of the chairs. I swallowed hard when he began to unlace my corset. My dress fell to my feet within seconds and all that was left were my shoes and bloomers. Coming to stand in front of me, he kneeled down. I didn’t see him even attempt to look at my breast. He removed my shoes and then walked around behind me to remove my bloomers. Just like Kerani would undress me.

The feelings I had were a mix of excitement, fear, and embarrassment as Blaine walked over to the tub to wait for me. I made my way over and climbed the step ladder. My hands tested the water first and it was the perfect temperature. I stepped in and settled my body down.

Blaine reached down to pick up a washcloth and a bar of scented soap. He wet the washcloth and then rubbed the bar of soap between it. When there was enough suds, he placed the soap back in the basket and began to wash my shoulders and back.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked when the cloth grew closer to my breast.

“To gain familiarity with you and to apologize further for everything that I have done. If need be, I will be your servant until you forgive me for my transgressions.” His voice was soft.

“Isn’t this something one should do after familiarity is already present?”

“Perhaps, but nothing we have done together has been by the book.” He lifted one of my arms and washed it before doing the other.

Bending over he pulled a small cup from the basket and filled it with water before emptying the water slowly in my hair. When he was satisfied that my hair was wet enough, he grabbed the bar of soap again and began to lather up my hair. He then rinsed it and began to wash me with the cloth again. Normally, I would have stood to have my legs and backside washed, but I remained in the water.

When he was finished, he picked up a towel and opened it so he could wrap me up when I stepped out. As soon as I was standing in front of him, I lifted my arms and he tied the towel around me. He then took another towel and dried my hair and limbs. After which he fetched me a new pair of bloomers and a dress. He helped me dress and then kissed my lips gently when he was finished.

“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes. I’ll be down shortly.” He told me.

“Alright.” I responded and began to walk towards the door. When I turned to shut the door behind me, I witnessed him removing his shirt. He too was going to bathe, but his bath would be alone.

---***---
Dinner felt awkward. Blaine was being exceptionally kind towards me, while Durril stared at me with a mixture of confusion, lust, and anger. Perhaps it was more jealousy towards his brother then anger.

Every time my hand rested freely on the table, Blaine would scoop it up. It seemed every other time he did this, he would place a kiss on my knuckles. This behavior caused Durril’s nostrils to flare. When he finally had enough, he left the dinner table with only half his food eaten.

Blaine knew there was something wrong with his brother and excused himself from the table to speak with him. I was left alone for the remainder of the meal including dessert. After spending my entire day with Blaine, I was more than willing to be alone for a short time.

When my meal was over, I was ready to go to sleep. Kerani knew that my bed time was nearing and had searched me out, though I would hardly need her services that night. Now that I was sleeping in my husband’s room, it was uncommon for me to use a servant for clothing myself. Though I would most likely still have her dress me in the morning, because I had trouble tying my corsets.

“Do you want me to help you into your sleeping gown?” Kerani asked me as we approached Blaine’s bedroom door.

“No, I can do this on my own.” I said and opened the door, “Goodnight.”

Upon entering the room, Blaine was already preparing the fire in the fireplace. Beside him was the stack of letters from Maita. He stood up when I entered and didn’t sit back down until I shut the door.

I didn’t question him, just went to my wardrobe and pulled out my sleeping gown. I could feel his eyes upon me, but I didn’t dare look over at him. He was probably as shocked to see that I was changing in front of him as I was to do it. I pulled the satin tie of my dress behind my neck and began to unweave it down my spine. It was not an easy task to do alone, but I managed well enough.

When the dress was ready, it dropped to the floor and I picked it up and placed it on the bed. I, then, removed my bloomers and my corset. When I was totally nude, I tried to act as if it didn’t bother me. I pulled the sleeping gown over my head and began to pull out my bun. When I walked over to the mirror, I took my brush from the bottom of my wardrobe.

I looked over at Blaine. He was kneeled down still, his eyes were wide and fixed on me. “What are you doing?” I finally asked him as I brushed out my hair.

He swallowed, “I am going to burn these in front of you…” His words were spoken slowly. “and prove that they are all sealed.”

“I believe you. Good night.” I mumbled and walked over to the bed.

Blaine jumped to his feet and grabbed my hand. “Please, this is important.” He walked me over to the chair and kneeled down in front of the fire again.

He held up a letter and showed me the seal wasn’t broken. When I gave a nod, he would toss it into the fireplace. I noticed the small metal box on his own chair, the one that held the dried rose petals. It only made me anxious as I knew that he was going to try and claim my body tonight.

When the stack of letters were all burned in the fire. We both sat silently and watched their ashes. I wonder what he was thinking and suspected that he regretted ever burning them. He jumped to his knees and walked on them over to me. Taking both my hands into his own, he rested both our hands on my thighs.

“Did that return any of your lost trust?”

“The same amount if Leora had done so.”

He swallowed, “It was more difficult for me to do it myself, then to allow another the trouble. These past months, I have lived in secrecy and deceit. A lifestyle unbefitting a knight of my status or a duke. One should always respect his wife and I have not done so. I have not even sanctified our marriage by taking you in my bed as a husband should. Tonight that will be remedied, if you allow it.”

I wasn’t certain if he was asking me or telling me. When I didn’t respond, he stood up and fetched the box from his chair. He kneeled back down and placed the open container on my knees.

“Do you remember when I spoke to you of my family’s tradition?” When I nodded, he took a petal from the box and offered it to my lips. I took it into my mouth and he removed another petal from the box and ate it.

He closed the box and set it on the ground before standing up. Both his hands were offered to me, but I was afraid to take them. I knew that I wasn’t ready for this, but I also knew that I would never be ready. I had been terrified the night of our wedding that this would occur and it should have then. I was in no position to deny my husband his right to lay with me, but I didn’t want to go through with it either.

“I don’t know if I am ready for this, Blaine.” I said. He was just standing patiently in front of me with his hands out for what seemed to be an eternity.

Leaning over he picked up my hands and pulled me into a standing position. He placed my hands on his shoulders and stepped into me. His hands went to my hips before sliding around me to pull me closer to him. We stood pressed together until I was comfortable enough in his arms that I laid my head on his shoulder. I was exhausted from the day’s excursions and just wanted to sleep now.

Blaine must of felt my body relax, because he moved away from me and picked me up into his arms. Walking over to the bed, he laid me down over the blankets then stepped back. He stood there patiently as if I was suppose to say something. I felt exposed under his gaze and so I did the only thing that I could think of. I pulled the blankets from under me and attempted to cover myself.

He grabbed the blankets and tossed them towards the end of the bed. One of his knees came down on the bed next to my hip and I stared at him. Watching his every move as if he were about to attack me instead of make love to me. He unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it onto the ground, before sliding his body up the length of my own.

Using his arms to keep his weight off of me, he looked into my face. “If you become scared, tell me. I will wait until it passes.”

Which told me that he was going to do this no matter what I said. To answer him, I merely nodded before his lips pressed against mine. His kisses came gently at first. Small pecks to my bottom and top lips, then he kissed the corners, and when he had finished he started again. He then stopped and looked back into my eyes as if he were testing my expression. If it was one of fear, disgust, or passion, I couldn’t say, but whatever he saw seemed to pull him in further.

His kiss became more passionate and needy. Though it wasn’t strong, but more like he was begging for me to allow this. I then felt more of his weight settle on me as his arms released him and began to slid down my own arms. When he found my wrists, he pulled them above my head and captured them in one hand. I realized then that I had been pushing at his chest, trying to keep distance between us.

The hand that held my wrists twisted so he could rest on the same elbow. His other hand began to explore my body in ways that I had never had someone touch me before that day. He slowly pulled up my sleeping gown until my hips were uncovered and then slid his hand up my body to my breast. My nipples instantly hardened to his touch and Blaine groaned when he felt them react.

He positioned his body over my own and again I felt his knee on my thigh. I gave in instantly as I wanted this to be over, but I also wanted it to continue. I could feel heat growing in my abdomen like it had earlier in the meadow. When he was between my legs, he sat up. His arms slipped under my back and pulled me up into his lap, where he removed my sleeping gown.

My arms wrapped around his shoulders and my legs around his waist as we continued to kiss. His hands started to caress my shoulders then worked their way downward to my bottom. They then returned to my shoulders and pulled my arms away from his body, so he could lay me down.

His lips did not return to mine, but instead started at my neck and worked their way downward. He kissed and licked both of my nipples, then continued his venture downward.

“What are you doing?” I asked breathlessly.

His lips were still on the skin of my belly when he spoke, “This will be your first time, won’t it?”

“Yes.”

“I want you to feel pleasure before I cause you pain.”

I had no idea what that meant until I felt his lips touch my womanhood. The new sensation that I felt as his lips kissed and licked my nether regions made my body shake with desire. Blaine had to hold onto my thighs to stop me from trying to push at his shoulders with my feet. His relentless kisses continued to build up heat within my belly until I was certain that I could take no more. My entire body shivered with a sensation that was both pleasurable and painful.

He didn’t stop, only continued to kiss and suck at my now aching bud. It continued until the heat began to build again, he then stopped. Standing up, he removed his pants and for the first time in my life, I saw what I had only felt earlier against my leg. It was stiff and the look in his eyes told me of his arousal. He mounted me quickly as if he didn’t want me looking over his body.

Lips were at my ears and he gently kissed my lobe before whispering. “This will hurt, Valora.”

I felt his manhood at my entrance and at first only felt a fullness of pleasure. Then a wave of pain struck me so quickly from his thrust. When I gasped in agony, he stopped moving all together. His arms were wrapped around my shoulders and he held me tightly to him. So, tightly I could feel the small patch of hair on his chest against my own. My legs and arms instinctively wrapped around him as if to stop any more movement from him.

After several moments, he tried to move again, but the pain was still there and increased whenever he moved inside me. My arms and legs would tighten around him and he would hold motionless in whatever position he was in. He tried three more times and each time, I attempted to stop him.

“Let go.” He said but his voice remained soft.

Afraid he would hurt me, I didn’t want to release him, but I did as he had ordered of me. With a quick burst of pain, he removed himself from my body and rolled over onto his side of the bed. I thought he was angry with me at first until he wrapped his arm around me and brought my back to his chest.

“We will try again in a couple nights.” He whispered and kissed my cheek before we both fell asleep.
---***---

In the morning, I awoke to find that Blaine was no longer in bed with me. Kerani was in the room preparing my clothing for the day. She did not say anything about my nude form, though she did seem rather upset about it. When I stood up, she mumbled something about me needing a bath now, but did not begin to fill the tub. She helped me into my bloomers and the rest of my clothing which was a dark blue dress.

“Is there something the matter?” I asked when she began to tie my corset too tightly.

With a quick yank, she shook her head which I barely saw from over my shoulder. When it was tied she spun me around. “I would have denied him. The adulterer did not earn his right to take you.” She snorted.

“Earn his right? We are married, he has the right.”

She grabbed my hairbrush and began to remove the knots in my hair before placing it in a firm bun. “You should have denied him!” Her voice lowered, “And lost your maidenhood to his brother. That is what he earned.”

“To his brother?” I squeaked and she placed her hand over my mouth.

“Of course. The servants know that there is more between you and we have no intention of telling Lord Blaine. He deserves it as long as he keeps Maita in his heart.” She placed the last pin in my hair.

My hand whipped across her face and left a stinging red mark. “Never speak of Lord Blaine in such a matter again. There is nothing between Lord Durril and I and there never will be. I am a married woman who has vowed faithfulness to her husband. How dare you or any of the servants speak otherwise!”

Kerani’s head bowed after the initial look of shock pasted from her face, “Forgive me, mistress.” She walked to the door and opened it for me. “Lord Blaine requests your immediate presence in his study when you have awoken.”

I felt terrible having hit Kerani. That was not something that I had ever done before, but her words had infuriated me. As I walked past her, I knew that I would have to apologize to her later.

Making my way to Blaine’s study door, I knocked gently on it and heard someone tell me to come in. Opening the door, I stepped inside to find Durril sitting in a chair in front of the desk and Blaine behind it. He waved for me to have a seat next to Durril and I did as I was asked. Having both men in the same room had caused me some discomfort, but I remained strong. I knew this couldn’t be what I thought it was.

“I just received word that the king wants me to return to Mureal by the end of the week.” Blaine began, “With the war at hand, there is much that he needs me for. He has estimated that I will not be able to return here for at least six months. I have left Durril in charge of my affairs and need to know if you wish to join me in Mureal.”

I tried not to look at Durril’s face as I knew if I saw his desire for me to say I would stay, that I would want to do so. “May I think on it for the day?”

He gave a brief nod, “I need the answer the day before so the servants can prepare your belongings.”

Durril stood and bowed his head before he exited the room. I was afraid to leave in case he was waiting for me and so I remained seated. “Do you have much to do today?” I ask my husband.

“There is a great deal that I need to prepare for so that Durril is not overwhelmed while I am gone.” He looked up to me then back down to the scroll on his desk.

“Is there anything that I could help with?” I scooted forward on my chair.

“Indeed there is.” He stood up and handed me a letter that was on his desk. “Could you write six copies of this letter in your best handwriting? I need to send them out to other nobility in the area informing them that I will be away.”

I smiled and took the letter from him, “Of course. I’ll use the writing desk in our bedroom.” I stood up and began to walk for the door.

“You could stay in here with me… if you wish.” The words were spoken shyly. It was not a tone that I was use to Blaine using.

I turned back around, “Where would I write?”

He looked around the room, “You may use the desk. What I must do now doesn’t require it and while we do that, I will have the servants bring a spare writing desk in. I have been meaning to do that for some time now.”

With a grin, I came around the desk and allowed him to pull the chair out for me. When I was seated, I began to create my first copy and Blaine went to inform a servant that he wanted another desk in the study.

When he returned, he pulled a book from the shelf and began to read it. Occasionally, he would stop and come over to the desk to write a note down. He had needed the desk, but didn’t want me to leave the room. I smiled internally when I realized this.

After a half hour, the servants brought a small writing desk into the room and placed it against the wall near the door. They had to remove on of the chairs, but Blaine didn’t mind, he said they were never used. As soon as the servant left, I placed myself in the writing desk and Blaine returned to his desk. I saw him smile when I did so, as if he were pleased that he didn’t have to ask me.

It took me the better part of the morning to finish the letters and when I was through, I realized that I had written one too many. “I wrote one more then was needed.” I held up the spare letter and Blaine looked up with a humored grin.

“I’ll have that one sent to my cousin.” He pulled out his red wax and seal stamp. “Here stamp them with the family seal.”

I folded the letters up properly then melted a small glob of wax over the opening. The small stamp would be pressed down into the letter to show that it had not been opened and prove authenticity. When I finished with the last one, I felt a shadow move over me. It was Blaine. He had come to inspect my work.

His hands rested on my shoulders and gently squeezed them. As a little sigh rolled from my lips, he stopped and turned my chair around. Kneeling down before me, his hands ran up my thighs and around my bottom. He laid his head in my lap and I began to stroke his hair.

“Six months will be a long time for our growing relationship to wait. It would please me beyond words if you came with me.”

I brushed the hair from his forehead but didn’t respond to his words. I knew that as his wife, I should jump at the chance to be with him. Yet, I knew that it would be six months alone with Durril and Kerani’s words about the servants not telling had planted a seed in my mind.

“Valora, come with me.” Blaine said when he realized that I wouldn’t reply.

“I have only just become accustomed to living here. You know that I never left my own city when I grew up. It is strange to leave this place for another.”

He rubbed his face against my leg and for a brief moment, I witnessed something that I hadn’t seen before. Blaine was exhausted. Whether it was with the war, or the drama occurring with us, or perhaps both, I could not say. “I can not leave you here with Durril. If you do not come with me then I will hire a governess to watch over you. I do not believe that anything may occur, but my brother’s will is strong.”

“This has nothing to do with Durril.” I lied, “If I stay here then I will submit willingly to your governess.”

I felt his arms begin to tighten and I was pulled from my chair into his lap. My arms wrapped around his neck and he inhaled deeply at my neck. “Your words comfort me. I was afraid you would argue with me and then I might be lead to believe that there is more between you and Durril.”

He looked up and began to kiss me. It wasn’t long and passionate, but rather simple. He seemed to be portraying his happiness rather then any lust for me.

I smiled at him, “You should address the letters and I will give them to Leora.”

His arms tightened around me when I tried to stand. “I want you to come with me to Mureal.”

“You’ve said that already.”

“Ease my mind, Valora. Say you will come with.”

I arched an eyebrow, “I thought I already did so by saying that I would allow a governess.”

“Six months is far too long for me. I may not rely on you now, but today I witness that in its making. I will not accept no as an answer.” One of his hands slid up my backside to the small of my back.

“If you will not accept no, then doesn’t that mean you are ordering me to go?” My question was met with the most devilish grin that I had ever witnessed.

“Of course not. I am only informing you that I will change your mind in anyway that I can.”

I grinned back, “I’d like to see you try!”

The hand that was slithering up my back continued its journey until it reached my neck. He pressed against it to bring my face to his own which I did without much resistance. This time his kiss was passionate and I became the one seeking entrance into his mouth with my tongue. He denied me which only caused me to moan in frustration. I felt him smile and I shoved his shoulders back.

He was still smiling at me. “I think this will be easier then I expected.” He said as I stood up and bundled up the letters on the desk.

I offered them to him and frowned. “Address these. I am done with you for the day.”

There was a deep laughter coming from him when I exited the study. I was hungry for both breakfast and my husband, but at least one would allow me to forget the other.

---***---
Blaine convinced me to go with him to Mureal. Actually, after Durril tried to kiss me again in the hallway, I knew that I needed some distance between us. It was becoming dangerous for me to even be seen with Durril as I didn’t know how he would act. He never asked Blaine about moving from the estate, and I was too afraid to approach him and remind him of it. Several times I had wanted to bring the issue to Blaine, but I had no idea how he would react. I didn’t want it to come between us or between them, so I remained silent and hoped it would pass.

Sitting in the carriage, I caught a glimpse of the passing farms outside. Normally, Blaine rode his horse with the other knights that were escorting us, but he had chosen to ride in the carriage with me. The knights didn’t seem bothered by his choice, most likely due to it being a common occurrence when a knight brought his wife.

The past couple days had been long as our sleeping conditions were far less then comfortable. I had been given a tent to sleep in while most of the other knights slept in bedrolls. Blaine didn’t appreciate being teased when he slept in the tent the first night with me, so he started sleeping in a bedroll with the others. The uncomfortable conditions had taken a toll on everyone, as no one seemed to be in a pleasant mood any longer. Not even I could pretend to be hospitable, which had caused some small arguments between Blaine and myself.

I sighed as I looked out the window, I couldn’t wait to get to Mureal and walk around. The journey had almost been insufferable and I wanted some distance away from Blaine and the other knights. As Blaine seemed to be the leader of the group, he had taken on a rather dominant attitude towards everyone, but me especially. He seemed to want to prove that he was in control of me to his men, and when I acted out they all looked at me as if I was the one misbehaving.

Blaine looked out the window and then back to me, “We should be arriving within the hour.” He told me before leaning back and returning to his book.

I had my own book opened in my lap. The trip had been long and we had to sleep in tents for the past week. I did not look forward to the journey back, but Blaine was use to making the long trip and didn’t seem as exhausted as I did. Though, I didn’t think he liked being cramped into the carriage with me, and would probably be happier in his armor on a horse.

“You didn’t have to ride in the carriage with me.” I told him, when I watched him adjust his legs for the sixth time.

He looked up from his book, “Perhaps during the return journey, I will alter from day to day.”

I nodded, “I would like to purchase several books in Mureal for our return. I have read this book three times already.”

His eyes fell on the book in my lap, before returning to my face. “I told you that it would be a long journey and to pack plenty of entertainment.”

“I did not realize how long it would be. I thought this book would be enough, it is after all rather long. The thickest book in the library.” I closed the leather bound book and held it up for him to see.

A glare of annoyance came over his face, “Do you think that I have nothing else to spend my money on? We have hundreds of books at home.”

“A lot of good they do me here.” I didn’t understand why he had suddenly become angry with me.

“You’ll just have to suffer with that one.”

“You said that I would be going to the markets with the other wives. I don’t see why I can’t buy books with the money, instead of cloth or sweets.”

Blaine pressed his lips together and frowned, “We have enough books at home and that’s final.”

My mouth opened slightly as I watched him return to his reading. I was about to argue when he suddenly looked up at me, as if he knew I was about to speak.

“I said that’s final, Valora.”

I quickly crossed my arms and while making a humph sound turned my eyes to the window. As the time ticked by, I realized that Blaine was still glaring at me. When I turned to face him, his eyes were fixated on me and his cheeks were slowly turning red. His leaned forward and lowered his voice before he began to speak.

“You will behave like a proper wife should, while we are in Mureal. That means knowing your place.”

“And what is my place?” I hissed slowly.

“No arguing, disagreeing, and following the orders that I give you. I will not be seen as a fool who can not control his wife in front of my peers. Do you understand me?”

My eye narrowed, “And if I don’t?”

“Then you can remain in your room for the remainder of our stay.” Leaning back, he opened his book again. “I will not be shamed by your less then ladylike behavior.”

I tried to ignore the anger that was welding up in my chest, so I returned my eyes to the window. Outside the carriage, I could see that many of the farms had disappeared behind us. Though there were several groups of people on the road with us now. I knew that meant we were coming close to the city.

Within the next ten minutes, we had past the city gates and were well on our way to the manor that Blaine kept. He had another set of servants that worked for him here, though he often took Endre and some other servants from the estate. I knew that Endre was driving the carriage, which had been something that upset Kerani until she discovered she would be accompanying me. She rode in the back of the carriage, as Blaine refused to allow servants inside the carriage. Several times, she had moved to the front to sit with Endre, but Blaine had yelled at her. He didn’t believe a woman should ride up front. I felt embarrassed for Kerani, because when Blaine had yelled at her, it was Endre that had to translate. Had it been me, I would have softened Blaine’s words for her, but Endre was sure to be just as harsh as his master.

As we approached the manor, I noticed that it was quite a bit smaller then the one back home. However, since Blaine normally was the only person to have short visits, he hardly needed a mansion. As we drew near, a small gate was opened by servants that I had never met. A small stable was almost directly to the right of the gate entrance, and there was a short path that led up to the door.

When the carriage came to a stop, Endre opened the door and Blaine was the first to step out. He offered me his hand and I was able to get my first good look at the small manor. Kerani jumped down from the back of the carriage and began to collect my belongings with Endre.

Blaine didn’t bother to introduce me to any of the servants that were buzzing around. Instead, he went into the manor and left me outside. I followed behind him, once I realized that he was no longer with me. Kerani was being yelled at by one of the servants, not realizing that she didn’t speak the same language.

“No, upstairs on the right! Do not leave them at the end of the stairs!” The dark haired middle age woman yelled.

Kerani stood with her hands folded in front of her and a blank looked on her face.

I translated the command to Kerani in a more polite manner, and she nodded before grabbing my luggage and heading up the stairs.

“Lady Stavros!” The middle aged woman chirped when I entered. “I had heard that you might accompany the lord on his next visit. I am Colina, the head…”

“You will not speak to my chambermaid in such a manner again. She deserves respect. If at anytime you wish for her to do something, then you will speak with either Endre or myself.” I barked and headed up the stairs behind Kerani.

“Yes, milady. I apologize.” I heard Colina say as I reached the top of the short stairway.
---***---

“Have I done something?” I asked when I entered into my new bedroom. I was surprised to see that it matched almost exactly to the bedroom back home. The only thing that was different was the placement of the windows and the fireplace. Instead of being in the center against the wall, the fireplace was between the two windows.

Blaine was laying down on the bed with his face in the pillow. “What are you speaking of?”

“In the carriage, you were aggravated with me. I want to know…” I stopped speaking when Colina entered the room with another set of luggage.

With a bow, she left without a word. I returned my eyes to Blaine, “I merely didn’t pack enough books, I don’t…”

He sat up from his bed and glared over at me, “When I tell you to pack anything you will need for entertainment, then ensure that you do. If you can’t follow simple instructions, then you will suffer the consequences. Do you understand what you have done now?”

“I just want to buy a book or two while I am here. I most likely would have wanted to buy one or two if I had come here with the manor’s entire library. Why…”

“Because you didn’t follow my instructions, that’s why. Didn’t I tell you that my say was final? Don’t purchase any books. Perhaps, next time you will remember to pack enough and then you can buy some while you are here.”

“That seems unfair.” I came to stand at the end of the bed, and his eyes followed me.

“What is unfair is that you would waste my money on something that we already have at home.”

I stand on the edge of the bed, “This is ludicrous. Are you saying that had I brought enough books with me that you would allow me to buy more? What would have been the point then?”

“My word is final. You will not change my mind, Valora. Now, why don’t you investigate the
manor. Get them to change anything to suit your liking. Perhaps, you should ask them to prepare a small garden for you here. I am sure the servants can take care of it for you, while you are away.” He laid back down and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “I am exhausted, so please just let me sleep.”

My frown deepened, “This is ridiculous.”

“This is what happens when you don’t do as you are told. Now, get out of here, before I have one of the servants remove you.”

A humph pushed past my lips as I jumped to my feet, before exiting into the hallway. Colina was passing by the bedroom as I stepped out.

“Is the lord sleeping?” She asked me.

“He is about to fall asleep. Is there something that you need from him?”

Her head shook and I noticed a stack of letters in her hand, “No, he normally likes to read his mail when he first arrives.”

“Let me see.” I held out my hand, and she offered me the letters with no reluctance. I shifted through them quickly. Most were from the Blessed Hearts, some were about debts that needed payment, but the last few were from Maita. I looked up at Colina, who was watching me sort through them. “Does Lord Blaine often get letters from Lady Maita here?”

She nodded, “Recently, yes. It started a couple weeks ago, I believe. Lord Bernal and she visit here quite often, but she never sent mail before then. I believe they are due for a visit the day after tomorrow.” She said as she took the letters back from me. “It is strange that she would mail him and not you.” With a shrug, she headed back down the stairs.

My eyes glared briefly to the bedroom door beside me. The thought to run into the bedroom and cause a fuss over the letters, not to mention the visit, crossed my mind. However, I remembered Blaine’s words that I was to act as a proper wife. Obviously, he didn’t want these particular group of servants to know anything about his life at home. Colina seemed practically ignorant of Blaine’s affair with Maita.

I inhaled deeply a couple of times, before making my way down the stairs. I would deal with this another time, as I didn’t want to ruin my first time in Mureal. Blaine had already threatened to keep me in the bedroom. Though I didn’t know how serious he was, I decided that this would have to wait until we returned home.

Another servant girl, that closely resembled Kerani, approached me with a smile. “Lady Valora?”

“Yes.” I said with a bit of annoyance in my voice.

“I am Panche.” She grinned, seeming to ignore my tone. “Lord Blaine asked me to show you around Mureal if you wanted and to help you with anything that you need. I am suppose to be your guide during your stay here.”

“He did?” I looked up the stairs, and could not remember Blaine speaking to any of the servants.

Panche giggled, “In a letter that was sent ahead, milady. Lord Blaine tells me that you enjoy gardening. Would you like to see the city’s community garden? It’s quite lovely this time of year.”

“I am rather tired from my journey. I would actually prefer something to eat and drink.”

She nodded, “Follow me into the dining hall. I’ll make you something. Is there anything that you would prefer?” She asked as we walked through the double doors to the dining hall.

“No, just food. Something that would be gentle on my stomach. The traveling has caused me some stomach cramps.”

Panche nodded and continued to smile as she pulled out my chair for me. “Would you like wine, tea, or…”

“Hot tea would be nice, thank you.”

With a skip, she made it into the kitchen and left me alone in the dining hall that once again looked familiar. It seemed that Blaine kept this smaller manor as closely decorated to his other one as possible. Perhaps instead it was his father or mother who had done the decorating of both houses. I didn’t know for certain, it just struck me as rather odd.

I also had a strange feeling that Durril would be walking into the room at any moment. In truth, I had rather hoped that this manor would be completely different from the other, so I could ignore my problems from back home. It seemed that they would follow me even here.

With a sigh, I leaned back into my chair and waited for Panche to return with my meal. I thought about the things that Blaine had told me there was to do in Mureal. The question as to how I would meet the other wives sprang to mind. Though, I wasn’t sure if I would get along well with them. After all, I was not what one would consider to be born in high society and I might be frowned upon. Whether I am married to a duke or not.

---***---
That evening, Blaine and I had to attend a small social gathering for several Blessed Heart knights. My fears about the other wives not being accepting of me had proven true. Even though many of the earls, dukes, and other nobles wanted to remain on Blaine’s good side, their wives were reluctant to include me. They scoffed their noses at me whenever I spoke and would give each other looks of annoyance whenever I said something they disagreed with.

I made my way over to the corner of the large beige and marble ballroom, and sipped on my wine. Blaine had abandoned me to those harpies, so I had no idea where he had disappeared to. Though I heard that Lord Bernal had arrived, no doubt with his wife.

“Looks like those vultures have plucked away another woman’s spirit.” A gentle voice said beside me.

I turned my eyes to the red haired woman with milky skin and dark red lips. She wore a red ballroom dress that matched her lipstick. The woman didn’t look much older than me, at most she was five years older. A quick smile and she motioned towards the women that I had just been speaking with.

“They have made me an outcast as well. I am Lady Juliska Ruckien. The wife to Sir Carlin Ruckien, Bart.”

I grinned. Her husband was a baronet, which meant that he held office above a knight but below a baron. In other words, she was of my class of people. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, I am…”

“Duchess Valora Stavros, wife of Duke Blaine Stavros. I know, the ballroom is all aflutter with talk about you and your lowly status.”

I sighed.

Juliska giggled, “You will hear nothing of that from me. One of us finally marries up in this world, and these people act as if it’s the worst possible thing that could happen.” She touched my light blue dress with white trim, “That’s a lovely dress. Did you design it yourself?”

“No, my chamber maid did.”

Juliska smiled, “I know that this may seem a harsh environment, but they will eventually grow use to you. Especially when their husbands need a favor from your own, then you’ll have all the friends that you need.”

I looked around her for a moment, “You seem to be without any at the moment.”

She chuckled almost too loud to be ladylike, “I told you that my husband is a baronet, did I not? So, was my father and his father before him. I come from a long line of baronet, just like I hear you do.”

“My father was a knight, not a baronet.”

There was a surprised look on her face that slowly turned into a wide smile. “Oh, that must just kill them.” She motioned towards the women, “A commoner marrying one of the most powerful dukes of our kingdom. No doubt most of them had hoped their daughters would have.” When she returned her eyes to me, her smile faded when she saw my frown. “Ah, chin up, Lady Valora. It will get better.”

“It is not your jest that bothers me, Lady Juliska…”

“Please, call me Jul. I do dislike formality in the face of friendship, or at least I am gaining it.”

I grinned, “Then I am Valora.”

“Not Val?” She laughed when she watched my face distort in disgust, “Valora it is.”

There was a silence between us for several moments while we both sipped our wines.

“I do not live far from your manor, and have often toyed with the idea of visiting you. I did not know if you would be accepting of it. Most new duchesses try to cut all ties to those of lower status, so that the others will be more willing to accept them.”

“I would have welcomed the company. In all honesty, I don’t know if Blaine would have appreciated it. There are many problems that…” I stopped myself from speaking, as I needed to keep my private life to myself. For all I knew this woman could be looking for gossip.

Juliska nodded and seemed to understand why I had stopped speaking. “Yes, I heard that Lord Blaine can have a rather nasty temper at times. It makes me wonder what Maita saw in him at all.” Her mouth clamped shut, “Oh dear, I didn’t mean to bring that up.”

I shook my head, “I know about his relationship with her. Is it common knowledge here?”

“No, but it is where I live. Though Lord Manten had such a strangle hold on everyone in the area, that no one dares speak of it publicly. It seems Lord Blaine will follow in his father’s footsteps in that regard.”

“Juliska!” Someone snapped.

We both turned our eyes to a balding man of short stature. His hair was still a dark brown, but he was a couple decades older than the both of us. I knew immediately that this was Sir Carlin, her husband. It had to do with the look of worry that she gave to him.

“Do not discuss such things with Lady Valora. Have you no shame, woman? Or would you like to ensure that the duke continues disliking our family?” His frown was deep, forcing the wrinkles in his face to deepen. “I am over there trying to convince Lord Blaine to end the feud, while you are over here giving his wife reasons not to.”

“I will have you know that I am over here making friends with Lady Valora.”

He shook his head and his eyes turned to me, “I apologize. Juliska can sometimes speak without thinking of who she is talking to or what she is talking about.”

“It’s quite alright, Sir Carlin. She and I were only making polite conversation. And to show there is no harm done, why don’t you two come to our manor the day after tomorrow. I’ll send a courier with the time.”

Sir Carlin’s chest puffed up as he smiled, “Well, yes that would be lovely.”

Juliska grinned, “Wonderful!”

I bowed my head as Sir Carlin walked away, leaving his wife to chat with me. With a devious grin on my lips, I looked over the crowd. I mentally noted that I needed to find out what time Blaine’s guests would be arriving. If I was going to suffer from Maita’s presence, then Blaine would suffer from Carlin’s.
---***---

“I do not believe that you invited them. I have guests on that day, Valora. Do you expect me to entertain your guests as well.” Blaine snarled as we made our way up to the manor door.

“It’s only two more people and besides I like them.”

He frowned, “Do you know what the Ruckiens have done to my family? No, I doubt they would tell you.”

“He seemed very sorry for whatever it was, and wants to make amends. Besides, you told me to make friends tonight. None of the other women would even look at me. Juliska was the only one who didn’t treat me like I was beneath her.”

“The other women seemed to be speaking with you just fine.”

I snorted, “How would you know? I couldn’t find you the entire evening.” I glared up at him, and there seemed to be a look of guilt in his eyes.

“Lord Durril arrived this evening, milord.” Endre said when he stepped out of the manor to open the door for us.

“Durril is here?” I said with more fear in my voice than I had wanted to display.

Blaine looked over at me, “I sent for him a day after we left. He spoke of wanting employment in Mureal, so I thought it best. He must have rode quickly to have arrived so soon after us.” He cleared his throat, “Of course, he didn’t have you to slow him down either.”

As we stepped into the manor, Durril appeared from the dining hall. He smiled at me before greeting his brother.

“We arrived only this morning, you must have rode quickly.” Blaine said to him.

Durril nodded, “I slept no more then five hours a night. I had to make up lost time.”

“I am retiring for the evening.” I said as I made my way up the stairs.

“I will be up momentarily.” Blaine said when I reached the top of the stairs.

In my room, I found Kerani waiting for me. She helped me into my sleeping gown and as I laid myself down to sleep, I heard Blaine enter the room.

“The servants tell me that you have been complaining of stomach cramps.” Blaine said as he began to remove his clothing.

Sitting up, I watched him remove his coat and shirt. “From the long ride here no doubt. It should pass in a day or two. Did you have cramps when you first arrived back home? That was a long ride as well.”

I shook my head, “No, why?”

He scowled, “The servants are whispering of a pregnancy. If you think you may be, it would be best to tell me now.”

“It never crossed my mind until now.”

His eyes narrowed as he stared at me, “Very well, I believe you.”

A knock came to the door, so Blaine put his shirt back on before answering it. Durril stood in the hallway and gave me a smile, before motioning Blaine away with his head. Stepping out into the hallway, he shut the door, but I could hear the muffled noises of their argument.

Getting out of bed, I walked over to the door and placed my ear upon it.

“Don’t play this game with me, Blaine. Is she pregnant?” I heard Durril ask.

“She says she doesn’t know.” Blaine responded.

I heard Durril breathe heavily for a moment, “I don’t know if I can go through with this if she is. Maybe we should wait and find out before we act.”

“Is there no way possible that you are the father?”

“No, if there was this would all be over with, wouldn’t it?” Durril snapped.

“Calm your voice, you don’t want the servants or her to over hear.” The door moved slightly which told me that someone had leaned against it. “How long would you have me wait? This is the perfect place. When she is pregnant then she won’t be able to travel this distance.”

Durril coughed, “You would kill your own child, Blaine? This is sickening.”

“Hush!” Blaine barked and I felt someone remove themselves from the door.

I immediately ran over to the bed and tossed myself under the covers as Blaine opened the door to check on me. “Let’s discuss this in my office.”

When I heard the door shut, I jumped to my feet and waited a moment before heading out into the hallway. When I was at the bottom of the stairs, I began to listen to their conversation again.

“None of this would have happened if you hadn’t started being nice to her to begin with.” Durril snapped. “I told you to act cold towards her, so that she would only have me to find comfort in. You couldn’t do that, could you?”

“I felt guilty. I was reminded of what father had said to me.”

“Then you bed her, so now you can’t just send her home. I can’t believe this, Blaine. I can’t be part of killing her or a possible child.”

“Maita has already started to poison her husband. It’s too late to turn back now. I will stay cold to her from now on. All you have to do is court her into sharing a bed with you. After which, I can order her death. That’s all that you have to do.”

“You want me to trick her into sharing my bed so that you can kill her? It’s a lot more than you seem to think.” Durril sighed loudly. “What would father say if he could see what we are doing? He would have us both whipped then disown us. This isn’t something that a member of the Blessed Hearts should be doing, Blaine. What if they find out…”

“They won’t. The plan hasn’t changed. The only difference now is instead of our marriage being dissolved and her going home, is that she has to be put to death.”

“All this because you shared your bed with her. But still I ask what of the child?”

“It’s not Maita’s so it’s meaningless. Do as I ask and I will ensure that you receive a title and some land. Baron Halvor is without an heir, I could easily convince the king to give it to you. Do we have a deal, Durril?”

There was a long pause in the conversation. “Yes, I…”

As soon as I heard his answer, I ran up the stairs and jumped into bed. I didn’t want to be caught listening to them, besides I had heard everything that I needed to. My heart raced frantically, as I tried to find a way to save myself. No one at the Blessed Hearts would believe me. I couldn’t run away as that was as bad as being unfaithful. The only thing that I could do right now was keep Durril at a distance and try not to seem involved with him in the least. The last thing that I needed was rumors saying that there was anything between us.

---***---
The exotic face of a woman that I had come to hate smiled at me when she stepped into the manor. Lord Bernal’s wrinkled but friendly face greeted me in the same manner. He did not look to be a man that had fallen ill from poison or otherwise. I was curious to know if Maita was using a slow working poison on him, but, of course, I couldn’t ask.

Standing next to my husband, I curtsied a greeting towards them. There was no smile on my lips as I stared at their luggage. I could have sworn Juliska had told me that Bernal kept a manor here as well. She and I had gone into further discussion of Maita and Blaine, though I never suggested that they were still having an affair. I think she knew anyway, but didn’t know if I was aware of it.

“Colina, take them to their room.” Blaine ordered her and two other servants took their luggage from them.

When they were up the stairs, my eyes turned to Blaine. “Their room? Doesn’t Lord Bernal have a manor here? Couldn’t they stay there?”

Blaine’s eyes turned to me once Maita was out of sight, “The stream behind the manor flooded as did their home. I was generous enough to offer them my roof until the water recedes.” He turned towards his study, then returned to stand over me. “Lord Bernal, Lady Maita, and I will not be joining you and your guests this evening. We have been invited to dinner with the head of the Blessed Hearts. As you have guests, you have forfeited your right to go.” With a nod, he turned back around and disappeared into his study.

It wasn’t much more then a moment later that the knock came to the door. Colina rushed down the stairs past me to answer it, and I was greeted with Juliska’s smiling face. She shocked me when she hugged me instead of giving me the formal greeting. I wasn’t offended as most duchesses would have been. Two men entered into the manor behind her, one I recognized as her husband, Sir Carlin. The other, however, looked familiar to me, though I was not certain who he was. He wore the symbol of the Blessed Hearts on his coat, which told me that he was a knight. His hair was blonde and his eyes blue. He stood tall, probably taller than Blaine.

Juliska smiled, “Forgive me for bringing another without asking permission first. This is my brother, Sir Gideon Amaren. He is a knight of the Blessed Hearts. Apparently the stream near his barracks flooded and many people are without homes for a time. I hope that you do not mind.”

They did not look much like brother and sister. Juliska was pale with red hair, and Gideon had tan skin and blonde hair. Their faces didn’t even whisper the secret of the same blood shared between them. “It’s quite alright. It seems Lord Blaine and his guests will not be joining us tonight. There is plenty of food for all.”

Sir Carlin seemed disappointed, but it quickly vanished. Perhaps, he thought if he could become close to me that Blaine would soon follow.

“Wonderful!” Juliska clapped her hands together and began to look around.

“Please, come into the dining hall. We shall begin with appetizers.” I said, unable to keep my eyes off the handsome knight before me.

Colina opened the doors for us before running into the kitchen. She was going to get us some wine and appetizers while we waited for dinner to be prepared.

I sat at the end of the table with Sir Carlin and Juliska to my right and Gideon to my left. Colina returned and poured us each a glass of white wine, before disappearing back into the kitchen.

“I must say that I am disappointed. Lord Blaine is something of a legend among the Blessed Hearts. Though I have seen him before, I have never had the chance to speak with him.” Gideon told me.

I sipped from my wine glass then smiled at him, “Well, I am sure there will be another time.”

Juliska chuckled, “Poor Giddy, nothing ever goes your way, does it?” She teased and her brother blushed slightly.

“I hope that I do not offend, when I say that you two do not look much alike.” I said trying to break what I felt was tension in the air.

“Indeed, we share the same father.” Gideon answered, “My mother past on when I was two, and my father remarried to Juliska’s mother.”

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that.”

He waved his hand, “It was some time ago, and to be honest, I do not remember her. Juliska’s mother has been my own for as long as my memory can recall.”

I looked briefly over at Sir Carlin. He was staring at the walls and drinking his wine. He didn’t seem to have any interest in the conversation. It most likely vanished when I told him Blaine would not be joining us.

“Is it correct that Sir Crystek is your father?” Gideon asked me.

“Yes, that is correct.”

Juliska grinned, “He is something of a legend, himself. The savior of Lord Manten, one of the greatest knights of the Blessed Hearts. What an honor it must have been to be his child.”

“He never spoke of it. I did not know that he had saved Lord Manten from anything until after I had wed Lord Blaine. It was all a rumor back home.” I heard the kitchen door open behind me.

Colina placed cheeses, bread, and some red wine vinegar for dipping on the table. She bowed to us before returning to the kitchen.

“Truly, you had no idea?” Juliska touched her hand to her chest. “What a humble man! No wonder Lord Manten had wanted his son to marry the child of such a wonderful and honorable knight.”

Gideon nodded in agreement while he chewed on a piece of cheese. Carlin, however, seemed oblivious to the entire conversation.

“I suppose.” I responded before eating a piece of the bread. This conversation was beginning to make me feel uncomfortable. “What is it that you do in the Blessed Hearts, Sir Gideon?”

“Of course, I do all that is asked of me by the Blessed Heart code. However, I spend most of my time investigating other members.”

“Other members?”

He nodded, “Yes, to ensure that all members are following the code. I act on rumors and reports, then see if there is any truth to the matter before I accuse them of anything.”

“That sounds interesting.”

Gideon smiled, “Most accusations are false, as our knights are often impeccable.” He chuckled, “If you know something about Lord Blaine’s wrong doings, you should tell me.” He winked and everyone laughed, except for myself.

I tried to pretend that I enjoyed the joke, but it only made me more uncomfortable. I heard the sounds of a carriage pull up to the manor and saw Blaine, Maita, and Bernal shuffle out the door without saying goodbye to us.

“Quite rude.” I announced, not realizing who I was in front of.

Juliska chuckled, “Indeed!”

Gideon’s eyes were deadlocked on me for a moment as if he was sensing my discomfort. “Smells lovely in the kitchen, what are we having?” He finally asked. I think Juliska may have kicked him under the table to stop him from staring at me.

“Quail and stuffing, I believe.” I responded.

“Splendid!” She clapped again, “I do so love quail. Don’t you, my love?” Her eyes turned to Carlin. “Dear?”
“Oh, yes, yes.” He looked at her briefly before returning to his own little world.

Juliska rolled her eyes at me and giggled, which caused me to giggle in return.
---***---

I couldn’t sleep that night. Every time my eyes closed I would think of the conversation between Durril and Blaine. I didn’t know what hurt more. The fact that I believed Durril was my friend or that two men were trying to murder me. I hadn’t seen Durril since the day he arrived, and I was curious to know what he had was up to. Though, I would be certain to keep my distance. I would rather my curiosity go unfed than to be caught alone with him.

As I laid in bed, I could hear Blaine’s soft breaths as he slept. I turned to look upon his face and pulled my pillow further under my neck. As I sat there, staring at this evil man, I wondered how hard it would be to smother him. If he awoke then he could easily overpower me and accuse me of murder. I shook the thought from my mind, I couldn’t kill someone. That is not who I am.

The sound of our bedroom door creaked and I slammed my eyes shut. Normally, I would have looked to see who was entering my bedroom, but recent events made me realize that I had to be sneaky.

“Blaine.” Durril’s voice whispered and I felt him gently shake his brother.

“Huh? What?” Blaine responded.

“Downstairs in the study. Maita is very upset, she has to speak with us now.”

Blaine didn’t respond, only jumped from his bed and ran down the stairs with Durril close behind him. When I was certain they wouldn’t be in the hall any longer, I jumped to my feet and crept down the stairs. With my face close to the door, I could hear Maita sobbing.

“Why didn’t you tell me that she is with child?” Maita blubbered.

“We don’t know for certain. What does it matter?” Blaine was the one who responded.

She continued to cry for a moment, “Is it your child or Durril’s?”

There was a long pause before Blaine answered, “Mine.”

Her crying nearly turned to screams of pain, “Yours? You took her into your bed? How could you do this to me, Blaine?”

“It was shortly after we decided to stay with our spouses. You have laid with Bernal.”

“He forced me to!”

“Calm your voice, Maita. You do not want to wake the entire household.” Durril scolded.

She sniffled, “I can’t do this… not to an innocent baby.”

“Valora is just as innocent to all this as that child is.” Durril growled, “She had no say in marrying Blaine, just as you had no say in marrying Bernal.”

“Durril!” Blaine snapped.

“It is the truth, is it not? Blaine could have said no to his land and title, but chose not to.”

Maita gasped, “To marry me? And you didn’t?”

I heard Blaine exhale, but it sounded as if he were growling. “What would I have had to offer you then? I would not be a duke nor would I be a member of the Blessed Hearts. Your father would have never allowed the marriage.”

There was nothing said for what seemed to be an eternity, and I thought perhaps they would be leaving the room soon.

Blaine began to speak again, “It’s too late to stop now. You have been poisoning Bernal for over a month now. If you stop now the servants may become suspicious.”

“It doesn’t seem to be doing much to him. Maybe he is immune to it.”

“It works slowly to look like sickness instead of poison.” Blaine answered her.

Maita coughed for a moment, “And what of you, Durril? Have you shared your bed with her yet?”

“No, she is trying her best to make the marriage between her and Blaine work. She…”

“What happens if Bernal dies and she hasn’t turned to Durril? What then, Blaine?” Maita barked.

“You needn’t worry. If time elapses between his death and hers, then it will only look better for us.”

“Why can’t we poison them both?”

“It would be too suspicious.” Durril answered her this time.

The tears in my eyes were swelling as I listened to these people plotting my death. Suddenly, a hand rested on my shoulder and I nearly jumped out of my skin. As I turned around, I looked into Lord Bernal’s eyes. He motioned me up the stairs and I followed him to his bedroom. I didn’t want to enter, so I waited outside in the hall.

He collected something from his luggage before returning to me. It was a small glass container with a dark brown liquid in it.

“What is this?” I asked as I took it from him when he offered it to me.

“The poison that Maita was trying to use on me. I replaced hers with water. Listen to me well, Lady Valora.” He looked down the hall for a moment. “You are obviously aware of the plots against our lives. We could go to the Blessed Hearts and inform one of their investigators of this whole incident. However, they are often biased and we may be punished for false accusations. It would also destroy the element of surprise that we have over them.”

I gripped the bottle of poison in my hand tightly, “And our other option is?”

“Kill or be killed, as the saying goes. Put a drop of this poison in Blaine’s wine or food everyday. He will slowly become ill.”

“He knows how this poison acts, won’t he become suspicious?”

Bernal shook his head, “He would never suspect you of trying to kill him. At least not until he was too sick.”

“You can’t be certain of that.”

“It is all that we have, Lady Valora.”

I swallowed, “And what of Maita?”

“She is confused and Blaine continues to twist her emotions and mind. No doubt you have been victim to his ways by now. Maita is a victim in all this, though her life is not in danger.”

“Forgive me, if I find it hard to have sympathy for her.”

He grinned at me, “Of course. With Blaine gone, I shall have my wife and you shall be a duchess with the right to marry anyone you wish. He is a vile monster, who does not deserve to live. You have no doubt heard him plotting to kill you along with his own child, yes?”

“I have.” I nodded and looked at the vial in my hand.

“I shall leave the matter to you. If you should accuse Blaine of this, then I will stand with you.
Maita will fear punishment and may indeed come to our side, but that is not something we can be certain of. In all my years, I have never seen the Blessed Hearts make a judgment against one of their own. So, make the choice wisely, Lady Valora.”

Again, I nodded.

“Now, return to bed and hide that poison well. We wouldn’t want Blaine to find it.”

With that I spun around and headed for my bedroom. I hid the poison in my wardrobe along with my undergarments. The only person who touches them are myself and Kerani, so I knew that it would be safe there. When it was hidden, I laid myself back down and tried to sleep. Though, I had a decision ahead of me that was even worse then the thought of being murdered.

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