Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chapter 45: Comfort in Dire Times

"This won't be my first battle," Reinier says, taking Agneta's hand in his. Though she had spent the day in fasting and prayer while he'd been finalizing the battle plans with his men before they must set off on the morrow, she seemed to have no taste for food during their late dinner, toying with her food rather than eating it. "You shouldn't worry so. I will see to it that your brother comes to no harm as well," he promises, squeezing her fingers in his.

"How can I not worry, husband?" the sob she'd been holding back escaping with her words, "I know you are a renowned warrior, but the thought of you out on the field, exposed to mortal danger..." Agenta shudders as she sobs again.

"I know," Reinier answers her with a serious tone, "I don't go recklessly into battle, or without fear for my own life. There is always a risk," her shoulders shake as he speaks, her fingers trembling as she holds her head in her hands, "But, listen, Agneta," he continues, taking a more comforting tone, "Look at my uncles. Osbrand was a warrior and a dragonslyer like myself, and he lives even now, past his eightieth year. His brother, my uncle Osbert, took the cloth and never saw a day of battle, and yet was dead before he'd seen fifty years, done in by his own indolence. You shouldn't fear what may happen. Nothing is certain, but you can have faith in me. I mean to have my victory and come home to you."

"You must be strong, Agneta," Reinier continues, taking her hand again so that she will look at him, "For our people, you must be seen to have confidence, to not be falling into despair. They will be looking to you for guidance and leadership in my absence."

Agneta nods, swallowing the last of her tears. All her childhood had been spent preparing for this grim duty, she must not fall apart now simply because she loves her husband. A small giggle escapes her lips as her memory brings her back to her mother and her younger days.

Reinier cocks his head to the side, smiling at her mirth, "What is funny?" he asks her.

"When my father used to go off to battle or to make diplomatic visits, everything would change as soon as he'd leave. The very air we breathed seemed lighter, the sky brighter, when my mother had charge of the castle without my father there. Though we all feared for him, I'm sure, we would look forward to his next departure whenever he'd return," she tells him, her eyes sparkling over her smile, which then dims as she continues, "But now it's opposite. You are my bright sky and my sweet air, and I fear this place will be gray and dull while you are gone, my husband."

Reinier rises from his chair, their unfinished dinner erased completely from his thoughts, "We must make the most of this last night then, " he says, taking her hand to lift her from her seat, "The memory of it will have to last us both for some time until we are together again."

"We've had so little time together," she sighs as she rises to stand in his embrace, "If I could at least know I was with child before you left..." It's a foolish wish, she knows, this war had been planned since before her wedding, their marriage was hastened to meet its schedule, and her husband will be away before she can have any confirmation of whether any of their lovemaking since has borne the desired fruit.

"You worry that you might be left without an heir?" Reinier surmises, "You should not, my darling. All my wealth, my titles, my land, has been settled on you, even if you don't bear my child."

"I know," Agneta whispers, nodding, "But there is another who does carry your child..."

"That is not certain," Reinier answers, and it's not entirely a lie, though he is more than certain that Steren's child is his, in the eyes of the world, there will always be doubt, "She was not a maiden when we met. And the man she has married has claimed the child. You have nothing to worry about, sweetling. Even if she were to try to make some claim on me, which I am more than certain she will not,  a bastard has few rights to his father's estate."

"That's not what I fear," Agneta says, her voice small, almost inaudible, "I am your wife. I should be the mother of your child."

"And so you will be," Reinier promises, moving to stand behind her, resting his hand over her smooth stomach, "But you are just barely seventeen, my sweet, and there is much time yet for motherhood. In truth, it is my hope that you have not conceived yet...I will be away some months, at the least, and I would miss seeing our child grow in your belly. When we do have our first child, I hope to be with you, from start to finish"

"And you are not bothered by the fact that you will a child somewhere out in the world, one you may not acknowledge or even know?" Agneta asks him.

With a heavy sigh, Reinier nuzzles her neck, keeping his lips busy against her skin while he searches for words. "I've made mistakes, and I live with my regrets," he whispers after a long pause.


"Agneta, I beg of you to let this go," he interrupts her, turning her around to face him, "Let's both of us forget the past, and instead look forward to our future," he pleads, ending any further conversation with fervent kisses

"Would you like to be on top, tonight?" Reinier asks her.

"On top? I don't understand...I am not a man."

"I am aware of that," Reinier answers with a light chuckle, "There are more ways to go about lovemaking than what we've done, my love. I thought, before I must leave you, you'd like try something new."

At first, she had taking his gentle laughter at her for mockery, but Agneta quickly learned that while her innocence amused him,  it also pleased him greatly to be her instructor in the arts of love.

 He laid backwards, guiding her to straddle over him.

"Like this?" she asks with a breathless sort of wonder, her lips brushing over his. She does not have to feign her naivete, for she was truly never told anything about what happens in the marital bed, and everything he's shown her has been like nothing she'd ever imagined was possible, but she does play her innocence up a little, to please him.

"Like that," he answers, his growing huskier as it does when he's aroused.

"There," he whispers as he guides her down onto him, "This is how I want to remember you while I am gone to war. I want to see you face like this, every night when I close my eyes."

"You will be too busy making war to think of me," she says, "But I shall think of you often, and see your face in my mind, in so many ways."

"Beautiful, so beautiful," he sighs, letting her set the pace as she makes love to him, discovering how to move to pleasure herself and him at the same time.

Reinier has learned much from making loves to wives of other men, most importantly, how to be a husband whose wife will be true to him. He's had only a short time since his marriage to make his wife fall madly in love with him, satisfying her body, her mind and her soul.

"I love you, Reinier," she sigh with deep contentment as she settles into his embrace to sleep.

"And I love you," he answers, squeezing her close to him. He will not abide lies in his bed, not even from himself. Love can be defined in many ways, and Reinier does love his bride, enough to kill for her, enough to lay down his life for her defense, enough to say as true to her as he trusts she will be to him. So long as he has no chance of having Sterren, at least. he thinks with chagrin, wishing he could fall asleep just one night without her entering his thoughts, polluting his dreams and tainting his marital bed.

"Would you like to fish?" Fransez suggests to his grandson, coming out of his study to find the boy seated still, staring out over the small pond in his garden.

Jean shakes his head, "I'm watching for the Lady."

"Why would you look for the Lady in my pond?" he asks in a serious tone like he'd use with an adult.

"Oh, not THE Lady," Jean explains, rising to face his grandfather, who never scolds him for saying what is true the way his mother does, "I know the Lady doesn't live in the water. But there is a a fairy lady who does live in your pond. I saw her," he finishes with a pout of defiance, "Mother says I imagined her, but I know. I saw."

Fransez kneels to put himself on an equal level with grandson, "You mustn't blame your mother for not believing. Very few adults are able to see the fair folk, and most will only accept what their own eyes have seen."

"But you believe me, don't you, grandfather?"

"I do believe you, Jean," Fransez says, tousling the boys hair, and smiling even though part of him wishes it were not true. Such gifts are always a burden, bestowing the bearer with great responsibilities and sacrifices, but in these days, it is perilous to be blessed by the fair folk. "But, you must understand, the fair folk only show themselves to those they choose, for their own reasons. It can be dangerous to speak to others of them. Especially now, with the new laws our Lord has enacted."

"The soldiers and that nasty priest can't burn me," Jean insists, "The fairy man will make it rain again."

"You saw a fairy man as well?"

Jean nods enthusiastically, "When that nasty priest had you tied up and they tried to burn you, he made it rain. I saw it."

Fransez strokes his beard thoughtfully. Lord Reinier had attributed the rain that had spared him from the flames that day to the benevolence of his Watcher, and Fransez was not fool enough to claim any different. But he had believed that it had been no more than a fluke of the weather. Jean has never been one to tell false tales or exaggerate, despite, or maybe because, he's been accused of it so often, and this new possibility gives him pause. The fair folk are not known for their direct intervention, but his grandson has seen more than one of them in his short life. "Times are dire indeed," he murmurs to himself, then turns his attention back to Jean, "The fair folk are powerful, Jean, but they cannot do everything, nor do they always do what is expected or wanted of them. So it is very important that you speak to no one but me of fairies or other such things. Do you understand?"

Jean nods solemnly. "The fairies might get angry if I tell their secrets."

"Indeed," Fransez says, "And some people get angry just hearing about them."

"What is it you've been putting in these pies?" Gaelle asks, taking another mouthful of the pie Sterren had made with the strange flaming fruits Auberon had given her.

"Just a concoction of herbs I came up with in my research," Sterren answers with a shrug. Though Auberon had not sworn her to any secrecy over the fruits, Sterren was reluctant to just give them to Gaelle raw, and suffer the questions that would most certainly arise, as such a fruit had never been seen before. So she baked some into a pie, and though the form of the cure surprised both Gaelle and her husband, whatever magic or medicine they contained worked. One pie a week seemed to be enough.

"It's delicious," Gaelle says, "And it's working. I feel normal again. It's a shame that no one else can eat it."

"I don't know what effect the herbs would have on someone who wasn't suffering as you were," Sterren says, her words dodging around the truth in so many ways.

Gaelle catches the hesitations in Sterren's voice, "My pregnancy has been unusual, hasn't it?" she asks, though she doesn't question it all. No pregnant woman she'd ever heard of had tried to eat a hot coal. Without waiting for the healer to answer, Gaelle continues, "You know what they say, about the wilders? That they may be of the fair folk, or some other enchanted beings?" She looks up at Steren briefly, for confirmation.

Sterren nods, reluctantly, afraid of the paths this conversation might take, still conscious of the warnings  Auberon had given her. The punishments against her and perhaps all your kind would be grave, was what he'd said. Whoever, whatever these wilders were, they were not to be trifled with, and who knows what perils Gaelle's heedless entanglement could have brought on them. "I've heard such tales. But they are just tales, Gaelle," Sterren says, hoping to turn Gaelle's thoughts away from such musings.

"But what if they are not all just tales?" Gaelle persists, "Sometimes, when I was with Morvyn," she sighs, tears forming in the corners of her eyes, "Sometimes it did seem he was not quite human. I...cannot explain it. And I would think nothing of it, if it were not for this child I carry. For weeks, until you brought me these pies, I thought it should burn me alive from the inside. I fear...Sterren, what if this child is not human?"

Sterren frowns. She'd been wondering about this herself for some time. Would Gaelle's child require the flame fruits throughout her whole life? Were there any other special needs that would need to be catered to. Would she have some magical powers...so little is known of the wilders, she could speculate endlessly and still have no answers. "We can only wait and see," Sterren says, as much to herself as to Gaelle.

"What if the child has his hair?" Gaelle groans, "Or is born with those markings? How long are we going to be able to keep this secret?"

"I will do what I can to find a reason for these things, if it arises. With any luck the child will have your hair freckled skin," Sterren tries to smile, "Worrying about it now will do you no good."

"You aren't her," Jean says to the fairy sitting on the pond in front of him. Not the pond in his grandfather's garden, he notes. He's been here before, but can't quite remember now where here is.

"I am not her," the fairy agrees, "It wasn't you that she came to visit, young Jean, and you mustn't expect to see her again."

Jean frowns, plucking at the grass at his feet. He remembers that day he saw the fairy lady in the pond, she was talking with the friend of grandfather's that had come to visit. Jean had been hiding behind the drying laundry, spying, when he saw her. It had made him feel special, to be witness to such beauty, but she had not come for him, or even known he was there.

"Do not be sad, young Jean," the fairy says, "For I have come for you."

Jean brightens at her words. He has a fairy friend of his own, "Will you come whenever I call?" he asks eagerly.

"No," she answers, "But I will be there when I am needed, and be your advocate amongst my own kind. You will not remember this dream, young Jean, but you will carry my image in your heart, always, and it will give you comfort in dire times, which I fear will be coming all to soon for you and all your kind."


I just wanted to mention, there are a few outtakes for this chapter on my Simblr. You can find any Summerdream related stuff there by using the Summerdream tag