Wedding aftermath…. shorter chapter this time. Also, fair warning, might me take me a while to get my next chapter up as I have 1.) dog sport competitions coming up and 2.) a vacation to Hawaii…. Hehe, sorry about the delay, but I can't say I feel too bad about that one.
When I return, I promise you can look forward to expanding subplots. Also, all you ASOIF fans should be reading A Dance with Dragons in a little while anyway. ;-)
The rhythm of his breathing grew slow and steady. In… and out… in… and out… Sahva watched her husband's side rise and fall, each breath coming deeper than the last. The dying fire in the hearth threw enough light onto their bed that she could see his shape beneath the furs where he lay with his back to her.
She glanced around the room, her eyes traveling disinterestedly over the tapestries on the wall, the mirror, and the chest of drawers with a candle on top of it. They settled on the washbasin, the bowl resting on a wooden pedestal with the pitcher of water sitting inside and a few clean linens next to it. She rolled over and tugged her knees in close to herself; it was cold and she was reluctant to leave the warmth of the bed. And if she stood, she thought, she would see herself in the mirror, see that slight, angular body that no longer belonged to her. She knew what she would look like, and had no desire to meet the eyes of that girl.
Stretching one of her feet out tentatively made the dull throbbing between her legs peak, and she gasped a little at the pain and quickly drew back into her little ball.
It should not have hurt her so badly, she knew. Even in her drunken state, and even with her mind half-gone from dread, she did not think he had been ungentle with her. Still, as it was she felt tender; raw; defiled.
And in front of others… She could have wretched at the thought; no one had told her anything of it, no one. Did my mother know, and not tell me, because she thought I would be inconsolable? Anger began to burn in the pit of her stomach at the thought of Fionne sending her off to be taken by this strange man.
And taken her he had. He had done it with a sort of unflinching resolve, as if though while it brought him no pleasure to see her in fear or pain, it did not trouble him enough to give him pause.
Some pause, perhaps, she thought, remembering a flash of uncertainty, of regret, she had thought she saw from the corner of her eye as she stood naked before him. It had been gone so quickly, though, that she hardly counted it in his favor.
It seemed, she thought, he saved all his pity for hapless maidservants in fallen houses, and so had none left for her.
As soon as the thought met her she knew it was selfish and wrong; what had befallen that poor girl and what had happened to her were not the same, but her mind was wounded, sullen, and angry, and would not release the notion.
With a last glance over her shoulder at her sleeping husband, she peeled back the cover slowly and then slipped from the bed, wincing and shivering as she padded to the washbasin. I'm still half-drunk, she thought, blinking a bit as her eyes caught up with her body. She averted her gaze as she passed the mirror, and saw nothing of herself but a glimpse of dark hair trailing out behind her.
She poured a bit of water into the basin, the metal pitcher cold in her hand. The water was equally cold when she dipped a cloth into it, so she clasped the wet linen between both her hands and tried to warm it some. She thought she heard distant laughter, as loud and bright as a bell as it echoed down the hall, but she shook her head, certain she had imagined it.
It took her a moment to proceed, for she was reluctant to touch her own body. After all, she had been somewhere far apart from it not so long ago, lying back and looking away from what was being done to her, and she was not so certain she even wanted to return to it now.
It was cold, though, and she did not have time for much more brooding – she could do that in bed, not standing here nude and shivering. Gingerly, she reached between her legs and wiped herself clean, flinching a bit at her own touch.
She knew perfectly well how men's bodies worked; she had known Dorran's body particularly well. It should not have been so, then, but the sight of her husband's seed, white and shining on the linen, startled and disgusted her. There were a few tiny red streaks of her own blood mingled with it as well, and she quickly crumpled the cloth in her fist and discarded it next to the pedestal, repulsed.
Even so, she felt better as she climbed back into the bed; cleaner and in less pain. In the morning, she thought as she huddled beneath the furs, if she still ached, she would take a bit of willow bark for it. She shivered, still trying to regain the warmth she had given up to the cold night air. Then she heard it again, the laughter, this time louder and clearer, and unmistakably Brita's.
She's with him, Sahva realized, with Amar. That should have been no surprise; the two of them had been flirting and making eyes at each other since they met, and truly, Sahva thought, they were a pair alike. Something like jealously made her gut drop and her jaw clench. To be Brita, she thought, and to go a man willingly and of her own accord, and to spend the night with him for fun and pleasure, and have it mean nothing at all… Instead here she lay, left feeling alone and defiled by what should have been an act of love, or least passion, and it had meant everything.
But she was not like Brita, and she never had been. Let them fuck, she thought, and the venom of her own thoughts surprised her. Let him make his witty quips and let her laugh and giggle and flutter her lashes at him. Hot tears began to burn at the corners of eyes once more. And let them fuck like rutting dogs until they're spent and fall asleep still laughing. She pulled the furs around her as tightly as she could without disturbing her husband, and buried her face into the pillow.
Her sleep that night was uneasy at best; she woke and turned often, brushing her legs or arms against her husband's body more than once, which made her snatch back the offending limb and draw into her tight little ball once more. When dawn came she was glad, for even though her eyes felt heavy and her limbs exhausted, she could not bear to toss and turn any longer. The rising sun, at least, gave her reason to leave the bed and sneak across the room to the door that led to her bower. Her husband still lay asleep on his back with one arm thrown over the furs, the pale hair on it reflecting the morning light.
There was nothing in the bedchamber that she could cover herself with except for the white robe that lay pooled in the rushes, and she knew she could not stand to touch it. So instead she crept, still naked, to the door of her bower. On the way she caught the eyes of some shy, wild thing in the mirror, one arm covering her breasts as though they were anything to cover, hair unbound and tangled, and looked away quickly.
She all but flung herself into her bower, pulling the door shut behind her with a loud crack and not caring if it woke her husband; she was out of his sight and safe. The rooms of the bower were hers alone, and custom dictated that he not intrude upon her here.
To her relief, she found a dressing robe of rich furs hanging from the wall, and pulled it on with desperate swiftness, now shivering hard enough to make her teeth chatter.
Sahva spun around, her eyes darting to and fro until she found Rigan, tucked away in the far corner of the room on a pallet with her sister. She backed up a step, feeling like she had been caught at something, though she knew not what.
"Get up," she heard Rigan murmur as she shoved the heap of furs that must have been her sleeping sister.
Sahva said nothing, and went to the mirror, framed in heavy brass, that hung upon the wall. She watched in the reflection as the sisters dressed themselves with long practiced efficiency, lacing up gowns of plain wool and biding their hair into simple buns behind their heads. Finally, at long last, she looked at herself.
Her eyes were hollow and exhausted, bearing dark circles and streaks of salt. Her hair was wild; the elegant curls Tanda created were gone, and now strands stuck out at all angles. She reached up and touched the back of her head, feeling the hair that had matted while she tossed and turned at night.
"I need …a hairbrush, a comb," she murmured, and Maren began rifling around in a chest of drawers.
"Sorry, nía," Maren said. "They moved your things in yesterday… I don't know…."
"Who moved my things?"
"I don't… the prince's servants, I suppose."
It was one violation too many, and she felt a lump form in her throat. No, no, no, she told herself, don't cry, and instead brought a cloth, dipped in cold water, to her face and wiped it clean.
"Here, here," said Rigan. "Here it is. Won't you sit down, nía?"
"No," she murmured, and held out her hand for the brush. "Give it here." She stood at the mirror, staring at her reflection and running the brush through her hair with methodical precision, over and over, top to bottom.
When a knock came at the door, she braced herself, not knowing whom it would be. Maren went to answer it, and then step aside quickly, allowing Fionne inside. The high queen was tailed closely by Brita, who peered about curiously as she stepped in.
"I knew you would be up early," said Fionne.
Sahva said nothing and did not turn to face her mother. She felt Brita approaching her side, and had to fight the urge to sidestep away after what she had heard last night.
"How are you?" Brita whispered. Sahva glanced at her cousin and saw both compassion and curiosity in her eyes, and knew why she had come.
Brita frowned and leaned in close, lowering her voice even further. "Was he good to you?"
Sahva felt her spine stiffen. You're a fool, she thought, an idiot…
For all her worldliness, in this Brita was ignorant beyond measure. Sahva had not the heart to relive the night, but even if she had, describing it to Brita would be like teaching color to a man born blind. There was nothing more fruitless.
"He was gentle," she answered, and it least it was the truth.
Brita watched her for a moment longer, head cocked, and then relented. "I saw the dress they're bringing you, in your husband's colors," she tittered. "It's beautiful."
Fionne murmured in agreement. "Did you sleep well, Sahva?"
She glanced over her shoulder, and saw her mother silhouetted against the morning light of the thick window set into the far wall. How strange she looked, suddenly. Her shoulders were unnaturally broad, widened and strengthened from battle, and she carried herself like a man. It was that, she thought, that stance and those shoulders that Fleta had been staring at in the bathhouse, not scars. Her resentment washed away, leaving her empty and cold inside. She regarded the strange creature before her, that scarred and distorted body, and wondered how it was a man's shoulders and man's hips had carried her and born her into the world.
"No." She had scarcely slept at all.
Fionne came up behind her, and Sahva caught a brief glance of her scarred face and fiery hair before looking back down again. Her mother's hand came out and reached for her; fingers she knew to be as strong as the talons of a hawk were suddenly weak and helpless, tangled and lost in a forest of dark hair. With great delicacy, Sahva reached around and pulled her hair over her shoulder and out of her mother's grasp.
Fionne only sighed, her shoulders dipping slightly as she did so.
For a while Sahva stared into the mirror and no one disturbed her. Brita wandered about, exploring the other rooms of the bower and remarking on the sitting room and bedchamber. Sometime later, Tanda came in with Fleta not far behind. It seemed that Tanda, a stranger, knew best how to deal with her, murmuring a decorous expression of congratulations on Sahva's marriage and then leading her firmly away from the mirror to be dressed and made ready.
It was much better that way. She wanted to be led; there was freedom in obedience. Tanda told her that they wanted to cut her hair a bit shorter and she acquiesced, listening to her assurances that it would be easier to braid and lighter to wear up every day without much concern.
The dress was beautiful, as she had been promised. Scarlett silk split with gold down the front, shining in the light from the window. It too was terribly Northern, with long sleeves that draped down from her elbows, and it hung heavily from her shoulders. A seamstress came and tailored it; no one was surprised that it needed to be taken in. Tanda clucked mildly and muttered concerns over Sahva's weight, making light of it and asking how she might be persuaded to eat better. Fionne laughed and wished her the best of luck with that endeavor, and Sahva only listened.
Fleta bound up her hair, weaving it into elegant braids with red and gold ribbon and gathering it up behind her head. When she had finished, they all assembled in front of her and stared. She gave them what must have been a very strange smile; she felt her lips curl unnaturally but could not stop them.
"You look like a married woman," said Tanda with obvious approval, reaching out and adjusting the dress. "Now you go and sign before the legists, and all's done."
So she let them push her out into the hallway, starting a little at seeing a tall figure awaiting her. She could not look at him, so she bowed and kept her eyes down. He said something and she nodded, feeling herself being swallowed up by his shadow as she took his arm.
She followed him blindly and signed where they told her to, and all was done.
"I had a visitor last night."
Kyram could hear the smile in his brother's voice, and he paused, his hand resting on the door. He had found them, Amar and Ferrád, where he had known he would, waiting for him in his sitting room. Now he stood, letting his fingers learn the grain of the wood beneath them and trying to summon his resolve.
His mouth still tasted vaguely of wine and bread from his breakfast this morning, and he swallowed hard. He could see, with painful clarity, the image of his wife's hand shaking as she lifted her cup to her mouth where she sat across from him.
"Did you?" He heard Ferrád draw a drink from his cup. "A foreigner, perhaps?"
Amar laughed. "She came knocking on my door… I think I rather like the Nevahri."
Kyram steeled himself, drawing a deep breath, and then pushed the door open.
They went to rise and he quickly waved them back to their seats; he had no taste for formality at the moment.
"Well, here's the new husband," said Amar brightly.
Kyram, silent, went and sat on the couch next to Ferrád. He reached for an empty cup and went to pour himself some wine, pausing in surprise when nothing but water, clear and cold, spilled from the pitcher.
"I… can't stomach any more wine," said Ferrád with a sheepish smile. "I had more than my share last night."
Kyram nodded, and took a sip of his water with a sigh. He saw, from the corner of his eye, Amar and Ferrád exchanging glances.
"How is your wife, then?" asked Ferrád with false lightheartedness.
He glanced at Ferrád and then turned his gaze back to his hands. Words were perched precariously on the tip of his tongue, and after a moment's struggle, they spilled out. "She hates me."
"Oh come now… she surely does not hate you," Amar retorted, sounding almost annoyed with him. "Don't be ridiculous."
"She doesn't hate you, Kyram," put in Ferrád more gently, and there was sympathy on his face.
He shook his head. He could not bear to recount the night to them, could not bear to recount the way she had cowered after he removed her robe, or the way the muffled sound of her crying had filled the darkness of the room.
"She did look a bit… daunted last night," Amar admitted.
"She was terrified." He looked up from his cup. "And she was a maiden..."
"She was?" demanded Ferrád with unchecked surprise.
Ferrád raised his eyebrows. "Well, that's good then, I suppose," he murmured. "As it should be."
Kyram only nodded.
"But…" Amar was watching him keenly. "You went through with it, right? I mean, it's done?"
"It's done. The witnesses signed for it." The witnesses… His stomach rolled as he saw his wife's face in his mind, her eyes wide from shock at the seeing that they were not alone.
"But… she wasn't keen on it, I gather?"
"Well…" Amar paused. "Were you at least sweet with her?"
"I wanted to be!" he burst. "But…" He fell silent; he could not tell them how she had trembled and flinched at his touch. "I couldn't. I just had to see it done."
Ferrád gave him an understanding smile. "I don't even remember my wedding night. I was so drunk I could barely stand, and I don't think I was very thoughtful with my wife. But," he paused seriously, "she's forgiven me that, I think. And yours will come around, Kyram."
He shook his head. "She didn't say a word to me, this morning. Not a single word. She just… stared at the floor, or at her plate." And her hands had shook and her skin had been somehow pale beneath its olive cast…
"Well," Amar began, "now there's no hurry, eh? Just be kind to her, let her settle in. And," he fixed Kyram with a surprisingly stern look, "in the name of the Lord and Lady, when you do go to bed with her, whatever you do, don't just climb on her and stick her like a pig."
Ferrád tried to stifle a laugh and failed. "She'd make poor eating, that one."
"Well, I'll defer to you on women," he said to Amar, not without some bitterness.
"It was only a joke," soothed his brother.
He drank the last of his water, wishing it were wine the whole while. "I know." I'll be kind to her, he resolved. And in time, surely, she would come around, if only he was tender and thoughtful.
The door swung open with no warning, and for a moment Kyram only stared in surprise at seeing his father's shape in the doorway.
Amar and Ferrád quickly rose only to fall into deep bows, and Kyram did the same, though rather slower.
"Go," said the king, waving Ferrád and Amar away with a flick of his hand. They left quickly, but Kyram did not miss the affronted look Ferrád shot the king over his shoulder. The Hindaers were not a minor house, and did not tolerate such treatment well.
When the door had shut behind them, Kyric gestured at the couch and sat, and Kyram obeyed, staring down into his hands once more and feeling his teeth grind together from the tension in his jaw.
"Congratulations on your marriage."
Kyram glanced up at him and then back down, and said nothing.
"Your wife looked less than joyous last night."
"She's frightened girl."
Kyric snorted. "Be that as it may, she is your wife. And she has a duty to the realm, as do you."
Feeling his mouth pull into deep scowl, he looked up and met his father's eyes. "I understand my duties to the realm."
"No doubt you do. And you will see that you do not neglect them, is that clear?"
"In due time, she will bear me a son," he answered flatly. "She is far from old and there is no hurry—
"On the contrary, there is." His father fixed him with a hard stare. "If the She-cat's precious whelp was with child, and she knew it, my position would be much improved."
Kyram frowned. "Why would she care?" he demanded. If she had been willing to send her daughter, what difference would it make?
"She's a woman. They all go soft at the thought of babes." His doubt must have shown on his face, for his father snapped, "Try not to be a fool – however difficult that may be for you. Just because she wears a sword and wishes she had a cock doesn't make her a man." Kyram bore the insult with gritted teeth, and Kyric drummed his fingers on the table before him. "She has a fine act, but it's an act and nothing more. You saw her fussing over the girl last night." The king paused thoughtfully for a moment. "We must give her powerful incentive to keep Nevahr quiet."
He drew a deep breath. "And what you have me do, Your Majesty?"
"Only your duty as a husband," replied Kyric with sudden poise and coolness.
"When have I ever given you cause to believe that I neglect my duties?"
"Never." Kyric laughed a little and there was no affection in it. "But if you do, it will be out of soft heartedness, I'm certain." He leaned in. "Have whatever women you want on the side, by all means, but you will bed the little filly and hope that she quickens."
Kyram stared at him, feeling something bile burning its way up his chest as his fists tightened against his will.
"And if you think you're doing the girl a favor by neglecting her bed, you're wrong. Breeding helps a woman settle; it makes them content. At the very least, you can give her a baby to play with and keep her amused."
His stomach was a heavy stone sinking to bottom of a pool, and all his outrage was swallowed up by dark water. "Yes, Your Majesty," he replied dully. Leave, he willed silently. I've given you what you want; now go.
Kyric leaned close so that their eyes were level, and Kyram had no choice but to look at him. "And if you do not bed the girl, I will know. And I will be very displeased."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"I'm merely asking you to be timely about the matter. You needn't sulk like a kicked dog," said Kyric with blatant distaste as he rose to leave. Suddenly he paused and turned back around, a severe scowl carved onto his features. "There is another matter. I would love to be… enlightened as to why you appropriated the charger of a loyal knight and gave it to some Nevahri whore, along with the pin of your house."
"She wasn't a whore," Kyram said through gritted teeth.
"She wasn't anything at all," snarled Kyric. "And now, for this… nothing, Gylden Ácléaf is missing a very expensive charger and his father is outraged."
"Ácléaf's a coward and a raper –"
"Yes, everyone's a coward and a raper to you." Kyric rolled his eyes. "You will replace the horse."
"I'll give him one of my new horses from Nevahr."
"An unbroken stud colt is not a charger. You will have your men train it until it is battle ready, and then you will have new barding made for it, and then you will send the horse and barding to the Ácléafs."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"And you will refrain from similar idiocy in the future." The king gave him one last disapproving glance. "You can carry on with it when I'm dead."