Note: Though I've placed this story in the Fantasy category, I must warn you that this will not contain a great deal of content pointing to its fantasy roots, especially at first. There's going to be little to no action. What there will be is a great deal of angst. If you're not into that kind of thing, you'll probably get bored pretty quickly. But for those of you who feel like sticking around, I hope you can find it in yourselves to enjoy this to at least some extent.

"To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides."

– David Viscott

Meynessa, who had been called "Mey" before (but never was now), was barely more than a little girl when she married Norsarion the Dell of Dofreth, and she had been hardly ready to do so. She did not know this, of course. It was typical for the youngest daughter in a Xureyan noble family to be married off at a very young age; they were considered marriageable at the start of the spring immediately following their first menstruation period.

Mey had had to wait for quite some time after she was considered of age before her own wedding could take place. Her groom, Norsarion, was a tall, well-built, scowling young man, reserved almost to the point of abrasiveness. When he had been for twelve springs and she'd been for eight, he had been sent off to Pavaggo, the capital city far to the south, for training in runic swordsmanship. All Xureyan dells were sent off for training in some type of runic art, and since Northerners tended to be more physically robust than their southern countrymen (and Norsarion happened to be a particularly stellar example of this phenomenon), they were usually trained in either swordsmanship or hand-to-hand combat.

This practice of sending young dells-to-be to the capital for training in runology was one that had been adopted quite recently, with the advent of the generations of Norsarion's' deceased older brothers. Northerners in general tended to be both wary and ignorant of the fine details of runology, so while Norsarion was away Mey knew little about what he was occupied with. She knew only that Norsarion was almost always very far away, and that she missed him.

For Mey was one of the fortunate few who could make the claim of being in love with her groom-to-be with perfect sincerity. Her sisters often demanded to know why, that Dofreth boy was nice-looking but he was such a bore and a boor and he had no manners at all. But Mey could never answer them. For one thing, she was ludicrously timorous and always quaked before her strong-minded older sisters whenever they so forcibly expressed their opinions on anything. For another thing, she could not say exactly why she was so fond of Norsarion – not in words, at least.

There was just something about him – something in the soft-looking fullness of his lips, the way his face was quick to flush beneath his bronzed tan, the way he always tried to lower his voice and speak gently when addressing her but only ever succeeded in sounding even gruffer – that touched her heart, made her want to press her hands into his and bury her face against the broad expanse of his chest.

And so, when Mey had been for thirteen springs and their parents had finalized their engagement, an inordinate joy had filled her heart while her sisters had squawked in dismay over their poor little dear's supposedly tragic fate.

Norsarion had only visited once every spring since he had left for the Academy; it was during one of those visits that Mey had had her very first interaction with Norsarion. They met at the festival celebrating the arrival of the spring and the new year, when she had been for eleven springs. Though at first she had been intimidated by his height and dark, brooding expression, when he bowed over her hand, mumbled "Well met, milady," and blushed, her heart had skipped a beat.

And so she was married to him at the age of fifteen springs. He was four years older than she at nineteen springs, and he had recently been expelled from the Academy for some dark, unknown shame that nobody, save for Norsarion's taciturn father, seemed to know of. Mey could not find it in herself to feel as disgraced as everyone else seemed to feel she ought to be: after all, Norsarion's expulsion meant that he would come home years earlier, not being able to partake of the obligatory three years of military service as all Dells were required to do after his education had been completed.

Being the only living son of Dofreth's dell, he was still the Dellroth of the Dofreth region, the dell-to-be, and so he was not stripped of his claim to the firstborn's inheritance of the Dell's title. By the time Norsarion returned home, his father's health was doing so poorly that he was obliged to take up the Dell's duties anyway– as well as get married.

At the large wedding, which had been carefully arranged to honor every tradition and alliance of the houses of both bride and groom, such had been the somberness of the groom that it had permeated into everyone else attending. Mey and Norsarion had peered into their individual mirrors for one final glance at their separate selves, turned towards each other's reflections in the larger one, and said their binding oaths. When each of the four palms had been pressed together to signify the finalization of their union, Mey shivered at the cool roughness of her new husband's touch. And inside she was quaking with tremulous happiness.

But when she saw the tired, empty look in Norsarion's eyes, her heart fell.

Staring blankly out the window, Meynessa folded her soft, thin hands neatly into her lap. It was an elegant little gesture, so ladylike and graceful that one would never have thought that it merely acted as a deterrent to its perpetrator's desperate urge to gnaw intently upon her fingernails.

It was a habit she had been trying to curb all her life, and after her marriage Mey had started to put special effort into abstaining from it. Norsarion was a meticulously neat, tidy personage (save for his dark and messy curls, which he never seemed to have time to get a good cut for), and though he had never mentioned anything about Mey's tendency to nibble on things – usually the aforesaid nails – she was certain he must have found it repulsive.

She sighed, looking down at those nails which had certainly grown much healthier-looking since she had been trying to keep her teeth away from them. The late afternoon sunrays shone upon them as she fluttered them up towards the light for closer examination. It was Aurday, one of the few days in the week when Norsarion would be home all day at the manor. Even so he was constantly kept busy, scrupulously tending to all of his household duties – discussing things with the steward, mulling over matters of the region with his advisors, things Mey knew nothing about. She rather wished she did know more of the matters that occupied most of his days; she would have liked to have been able to discuss things with him, have a nice, thoughtful conversation every now and then. As it was she worried that her husband found her hopelessly dull.

For Mey there was really very little to do throughout the day. As the Dell's Lady, her main responsibility was to tend to the household servants' affairs: hiring, arranging for them to have living quarters, seeing to it that everyone received their weekly wages and provisions, and sometimes listening to the grievances of some of them and trying to help them as best she could. As any other Dell's wife she also would have been responsible for any social events held at the manor – and she was, when etiquette demanded that such an event be held – but neither Mey nor her husband were in the least socially inclined. Norsarion hated such things – he never said so; he never said a lot of things, but Mey felt it – and they intimidated his unassuming wife.

Norsarion would have allowed her to have any sort of social gala she wanted, though. Occasionally when they were together he issued a courteous inquiry of her, over whether or not she would like to have some kind of party or celebrate some minor event. Mey always declined, but it warmed her heart nonetheless that he would think to ask in spite of the fact that he loathed any sort of celebration himself. It was never merely an empty, perfunctory gesture, either: if she had ever mentioned wanting to have or to go to party, he would have had the arrangements made immediately.

He was dutiful; that was Norsarion's defining trait. He never neglected any sort of task he felt as though he were responsible for, not even the most minor, trivial thing like asking his wife how she was feeling that day and if the food, or her furnishings, or her servants were to her taste and if she was wanting for anything at all. Norsarion was a good husband; certainly she had heard stories of many far worse. When Mey's sisters and mother wrote to her, asking how she was getting along in her new home and how her husband was treating her, they were always pleasantly surprised and relieved by how favorable the reports of him were. Her sisters even began to think that, perhaps, Mey might have been the lucky one after all: she had a husband who was never around to keep tabs on her yet showered her with everything she pleased.

And yet—

Mey sighed again and stared at her fingers. They were white and thin, covered with soft-looking skin. Idle far too often, they often fluttered about nervously from place to place when nobody was looking and were just as nervously folded gently around themselves when somebody was. 'I am not very useful to anyone,' she lamented to herself, in her childishly wistful way.

Well, that was not necessarily the case. The servants, for example: they liked their gentle mistress well enough, and it gave Mey some pleasure to realize that they all felt comfortable approaching her with any of their troubles or concerns, sometimes even very personal ones. Mey was very young, barely having been for sixteen springs, but she could and did give everyone a willing, sympathetic ear and helped out in all the little ways she could.

Still, the one person who was most important to her – the one person who mattered more than anyone else –

Mey looked out the window again. Of course, there was not much a Dell's wife could do for her husband, aside from managing household affairs (although if anything unfortunate happened to befall her, they could simply hire a second steward). She could not expect that Norsarion would feel boundless affection for her simply because she did her wifely duties. Still, efficiently carrying out those wifely duties was all she could do for him, and so she exerted herself fully in them.

Mey was just contemplating whether she should indulge in a quiet little shower of tears or do something with a pretense of usefulness and call for a servant so she could send down the order for the day's meal when she heard a series of heavy footsteps sounding in the hallway outside her room – the one that connected her chambers to her husband's.

She leapt up immediately, her pulse beating hotly to her fingertips. She knew that tread as well as she knew her own name: it was the signal of her husband's presence in the vicinity. How unusual it was for him to be back in their chambers so early in the day! Mey hurried over to her quaint little vanity table, whereupon she subjected her small, peaked face to an anxious perusal in the gilded mirror that hung on the wall behind it. Wide gray eyes stared fretfully back at her as her hands flitted about, tugging this bit of hair that way and pulling that bit of lace this way. There! She was ready – or at least, as ready as she ever was. Mey had never been particularly concerned about her looks, but since she had gotten married she rather wished that she was prettier, with a bit more aplomb, like her oldest sister Meyline. Perhaps then Norsarion would take more interest in her…

But such doleful thoughts of self-pity would sour her expression, she reminded herself. She gave her mouse-brown hair one final fluff (not that it did much good, the stuff was ludicrously limp and straight) before taking a deep breath, flashing her reflection a nervous smile of encouragement, and hurrying out the door.

She tiptoed softly to the entrance of Norsarion's private office and strained to listen, trying to determine what he was doing at the moment. A soft, brittle rustling sound, followed by the monotonous scratches of a pen, informed her that he was busying himself with paperwork. Mey was not surprised; this was what her husband usually occupied himself with when he was alone in his chambers.

"Meynessa, what do you need?" he called out suddenly from inside the room. Mey jumped at the sound of the deep voice resonating through the thick wood of the door. How had he known she was standing there?

"Might I come in, my lord?" she called out softly.

"What?" she heard him snap in an impatient manner. She flinched as his heavy tread drew closer until the door swung open.

Her husband stood there looking irritated, as was his wont. He was built like his father had been before him: tall, strong, and solid-looking. He had taken off his overcoat and had on only a vest over his shirt, the sleeves of which were somewhat stretched over large, well-developed muscles. Mey swallowed. Though she had been married to Norsarion for a few months now, the sight of him never failed to leave her momentarily breathless.

Meanwhile, "What did you want again?" he was demanding with still more impatience. Yet, he sounded tired more than anything else. Mey's hands clutched at themselves in worry. Her husband always worked so very hard. It seemed to be what he wanted to do, of course, but was he overdoing it?

"I…I merely wanted to make certain that you are all right, my lord," was her timid, stammered-out reply. "It is – it is unusual for you to have come back to your chambers so early in the day."

Norsarion grunted vaguely in response to this. "Had paperwork I needed to get done," was his short reply. He had that Northerner's habit of speaking in rather snippy sentences and of never wasting words, though this trait was markedly stronger in Norsarion than it was even in other Northern men.

"Is there anything…anything you would like to…be more comf – anything you need for your comfort, my – my lord?" Mey inquired. Inwardly she railed at herself in despair; after all this time she still found it utterly impossible to deliver at least one sentence to her spouse without stuttering helplessly. He must have thought her such a fool. "A…a drink, or…something to…eat…" Her voice trailed off in a rather hopeless manner. She bit her lip and hoped she wouldn't burst into tears before her husband right then and there. That had happened once, and Norsarion had been so agitated by the spectacle that Mey had wept for guilt about it into her pillow for days afterward.

Now he was scowling at her. It had taken Mey quite some time after they had first met for her to figure out that her husband's dark glowers did not necessarily mean he was angry. Most of the time he was merely ruminating over something, looking murderous as he did so with total inadvertence. She suspected, or at least hoped, that this was what was happening now. Perhaps a few more years of matrimony would help her distinguish the subtleties of her husband's many scowls, she reflected in the back of her mind.

The front of her mind was more concerned with worrying over whether he was actually upset at her or not. Norsarion had never gotten exactly angry at her, per se, but Mey thought that it was very likely that she had annoyed him considerably on several occasions with her naïve, silly inquiries and remarks about things she knew nothing about.

"Water," he finally said, interrupting her apprehensive reverie. She started, blinking up at him in surprise. "Some water would be all right," he repeated, making a visible effort to muster up some patience.

Mey blushed and nodded. "I will go and bring some immediately, my lord," she murmured hurriedly.

"It's right over there. I'll get it myself." He gestured over to a bowl of water that was sitting by the window, beside which an unassuming wooden goblet sat.

Mey's fingers clenched themselves together. "You – you are busy, my lord," she reminded him softly. "I will get it for you." With that, she quickly flitted past her husband and to the bowl, carefully scooping up a generous amount of water into the goblet before rubbing the sides dry with a handkerchief, using only the greatest of care. She brought the water to her husband, who had retired back to his paper-littered desk.

"Thank you," Norsarion said, taking it from her. He took a sip. "Did you need something then, Meynessa?"

His wife's small face grew very pink. "N-no, my lord. I was merely happy to see you back so early in the day."

"Hrnh," was his exhaled reply. He seemed to be completely absorbed by the documents he was busying himself with, but presently he laid his pen down and glanced up at Mey. "I'm sorry I've been so busy," he said quietly. He looked away after a moment but did not immediately go back to his papers.

Mey bit her lip. He was feeling guilty, she realized. Guilty because – because surely he knew of her feelings for him, he must have known she loved him. Maybe he did not realize how much she loved him, but there was no doubt that he was aware of his wife's hopeless, whole-hearted devotion to him. And yet it was not enough, it was never enough. "My lord husband?" she put forth, without thinking.

He looked up at her. "Hm?"

Her hands trembled. Why? she wanted to cry out to him. I love you; I love you so much, more than anything. More than my friends, my home, my sisters; gods strike me dead, I love you over my own mother and father. Why is it not enough for you? How can I make you happy?

Instead, she stammered out: "You – my lord, is – is there anything special you might like to have for – for dinner tonight?"

He stared at her with an expression that on anyone else's face would have been indicative of a great deal of irritation, but on his own was merely bemusement. "I told you before: I don't care what we have to eat. Order up the meals to please yourself."

"Ah…y-yes, my lord." Mey bowed her head, cheeks stinging with embarrassment. "I just thought perhaps – well –" I thought perhaps you might like to have something made to suit yourself for once; you have been looking so tired lately. But no – her resolve had given out. She felt as though she had already exhausted several days' worth of any sort of courage she could have shown around her husband by now. "I am sorry to have troubled you," she finally whispered. With that, she turned and fled out the doorway, back to the safety of her own chambers.

Idiot! She was such an idiot… Mey swallowed hard and blinked back some tears. Honestly, what had she been thinking, flying out of her room so gaily and expecting that Norsarion would have been happy to see her, happy to accept her unspoken offer to spend just a little bit of extra time with her? Of course he would have been busy with more important matters to concern himself with. Of course he had been dismissive.

Mey dabbed lightly at her eyes – rubbing would have augmented their already impending redness – and tried to calm her nerves. After all, it was not exactly as though Norsarion had been particularly unkind to her just now – he had simply been stating a fact; he had told her before to order up all their meals as she pleased, and if there was one thing that annoyed Norsarion, it was having to repeat himself. She had been at fault there. Her face flushed with embarrassment when she reflected upon how silly she must have sounded to her husband.

But he had not really been any gruffer than he usually was, she reminded herself. As a matter of fact, he had, in his own way, been quite kind. The way he had murmured "I'm sorry" to her…Mey pressed a hand to her lips in an unconscious gesture of longing.

It always seemed to end up like this. Would it ever end, she wondered? Perhaps she would stop loving her husband one day. She shook her head. No, she was confident that would never happen. She could not help loving Norsarion; her feelings for him were not dependent upon whether or not they were returned. Mey almost wished they were. Then it could stop hurting so much every day like this, and perhaps she could then enjoy the life of ease and thoughtless pleasure that her older sisters assumed she was blessed with now. She would simply be able to do as she pleased, without worrying about loving or being loved.

Yet, Mey knew in her heart of hearts that she would not have changed this life – her life as Norsarion's Lady, with all of its loneliness and empty wishes – for anything. Her head drooped wistfully as she made her way over to the small window in her room, through which the deepening colors of the sky were beginning to signify the wearing out of the day. Soon the afternoon would crawl away exhausted and the soft, dark-footed evening would creep up and take its place, keeping vigil over the somber stone manor.

"My lady?" A servant's voice drifted into the room through the heavy wooden door.

"You may enter," Mey called out. One of her maidservants tiptoed into the room.

"The cook would like to know if there is anything specific you and the Dell would like to have for your supper today," the girl said. Mey shook her head slowly.

"No… No, please tell the cook that there is nothing that I or my husband are in want of."

"Yes, my lady." The maidservant bowed with respectful gravity before scurrying away.

After the door was shut again, Mey turned her attention back to the dimming scenery outside her window. She was never particularly hungry, and her small, slight frame attested to this. Her appetite had never been what could be described as voracious, and since she had gotten married and moved to Dofreth manor, there was nobody about to cajole her into eating more than she wanted to as her sisters and mother had been wont to do. Certainly Norsarion did not seem to concern himself overmuch about what or how much she ate, though he made it a point to occasionally remark upon the fact that she did not seem to be eating a lot and would periodically ask her if the cooking was to her tastes.

At the very least, though, her husband did dine with her almost every evening. Of course there was hardly a chance for any form of conversation with him, since at least a couple of his advisors were always about to discuss the affairs of the region with the Dell over their meal. But it was better than nothing. And while Norsarion chewed, swallowed, and frowned thoughtfully at his vassals, Mey was able to furtively study the way the glow of the bright, rune-operated bulbs illuminated the sharp, bronzed angles of his face. Evening after lonely evening was thus spent, imprinting every line of him into her heart's memory.