Chapter Eleven

One of Kat's ladies was singing from the bed while she fiddled with the crown of orange blossoms that Aurora would wear. "Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in Green, ashamed to be seen. Married in blue, you will always be true."

Aurora was trying to take deep breaths and calm her turbulent heartbeat.

"Hush now." Kat chided the singing maid; she must have felt Aurora tense. She was just finishing lacing up the back of Aurora's blue wedding gown.

Kat and the maid worked on Aurora's hair next. They wove the crown of orange blossoms in place with the top layer of her copper-colored hair. Her bouquet was made up of the delicate edelweiss flowers that Kaspar had pointed out to her on their journey to Manobriar.

It was now high summer and the heat was a thick layer all around them.

"Are you frightened?" Kat asked her.

Aurora's lips trembled. She felt like she was feeling every emotion, from jubilation, to excitement, to fear, and apprehension. She wished her mother was with her. Aurora couldn't speak, instead she just shook her head slightly.

Kat embraced her strongly. "Kaspar loves you. That is all you must think about now."

The chamber door opened and Aurora saw the maid courtesy low. When Aurora turned she saw Lisbet—the Duchess of Anhalt—standing in the doorway. Her gown was pale pink and of some of the loveliest fabric Aurora had ever seen. The bodice was embroidered with small roses on curving vines. Kat had warned Aurora that it was bad luck for anyone to wear green to a wedding ceremony and Aurora had been terrified of the color ever since.

"Lady Aurora." Lisbet bowed her head respectfully. The gesture made Aurora all the more nervous. "Please leave us." Lisbet told her daughter. Without being told, the maid followed Kat beyond the doorway. Lisbet inspected Aurora slowly after they were left alone in the room. "I know we are not close." Lisbet began carefully. "I know you loved your—mother. I do not claim that I have been fair to you on her account." Lisbet stepped close to her and cupped her chin in her hand, tilting Aurora's head up until she could look into the Duchess' eyes. "I am sorry for your loss. I remember when the woman who raised me died. I would not wish that pain on anyone." Lisbet sat on the bed across from her. "You should know I loved Aurorette. I still remember the day she came to us—to marry Prince Frederick—I will never forget how lovely she was. How serene, how regal. I remember all I could think about how I wanted to be exactly like her when I grew up."

"I am sorry."

"Do not be," Lisbet went on. "I see her hope in your eyes. I see her in so many of your gestures, and mannerisms. Your face, your voice. I could not have expected such a close resemblance, unless… well, truly it does not matter… I am very happy for you Aurora. My nephew loves you deeply, and I believe you love him as well, and can make him happy." She stood up from the bed, and approached her again. "I would like to give you this." Lisbet held out her hand and gave Aurora a beautiful jewel encrusted bracelet. "It belonged to Kaspar's mother. She gave it to me shortly after I first came here."

Aurora placed it against her wrist and closed the clasp. The jewels caught the light and darted about the room. "Thank you Duchess."

Lisbet smiled. "Kat, come back in now." Kat must have been standing on the other side of the door, for the bolt clicked as soon as the Duchess spoke.

The wedding took place outside of the church. Kat had explained that it was tradition for the bride and groom to stand in the entryway, outside the door. She said that men always stood on the right side of the door and that woman always stood on the left. Kat explained that it was because their God claimed that the first woman was formed from the left rib of the first man. But after Kat had told her this Dirk had leaned in and whispered that men stood on the right side to keep their sword hands free because so many brides were stolen or kidnapped away and ceremonies were often rushed under threats from her kin.

When the priest said his words Kaspar slid an iron ring onto Aurora's third finger. Kaspar had explained that the vein that passed from the third finer traveled all the way up to the heart.

The ceremony ended when Kaspar leaned in to brush a chaste kiss against her mouth. She leaned into him, desperate for his touch but he broke away laughing. "Soon my love," he breathed against her cheek.

Due to the heat and the lateness of the day the wedding feast was held outdoors in the courtyard. Court musicians serenaded them with flutes and harps, and jugglers and masked scaramuccia brought the royal party laughter and mirth.

Dusk descended as the last of the main courses was served, and when the air cooled with the oncoming night the guests began to dance. First the musicians played a Rondet where large circles were formed with clasped hands closing the ends. Kaspar pulled Aurora up from the table and taught her the simple steps. Their circle weaved to one side, and then backtracked the opposite way with the same amount of steps. Aurora giggled when Kaspar nearly fell over after missing a turn because he was staring at her. In intervals the dances raised their hands above their heads and walked inward, taking a large circle into a smaller one before stepping back out. By the time the music had ended Aurora was out of breath and fanning the redness away from her face. She took refuge back at the table. Kaspar kept her close with a tug of his hand around hers.

"No, don't sit down!" Kat whined. She scurried after them. If she was tired, she did not show it.

"I cannot," Kaspar explained. "We must rest. The heat," he moved his hand in an exaggerated motion to create a breeze against his face.

"But—"

Aurora looked sympathetic to her cousin's plight. "Kat, I do not know the steps. It looks too complicated." The dance had already started, and Aurora's eyes widened in fear from the complexities of it.

"Dirk?" Kaspar called out. "Dance with Kat, please."

Dirk took her arm without complaint and hurried her back into the throngs of people and integrated into the dance with ease.

Aurora smiled while she watched them. She wondered if Kaspar knew about their feelings for each other, or if he had simply guessed.

Kaspar pointed to the dancers. "It's called Schleifer."

Somewhere in the formation of dancers Aurora could hear Kat's distinct giggle. "It looks…exhausting."

He laughed. "I'm afraid it is, truthfully I am glad to sit it out. Kat is the only one who's ever shown any aptitude with the steps."

A servant brought a large silver chalice to their table and Kaspar thanked him.

"What's this?" Aurora asked.

"This," he handed her the cup, "is our wedding chalice. Take a drink from it." Aurora did as he said. The wine was spiced and she felt it tingle down her throat as she drank it. She finished with a lick to her lips and handed him the cup. Kaspar made sure his lips had touched where hers had been. "It is customary," he explained.

Aurora stroked the leathery skin on the back of his hand. "You have many customers here."

"Liege," Dirk approached them. The Schleifer had ended and a slower and less complex melody was taking shape. "We just received word from Anhalt."

They had only had a single message from Ranulf since he reached the old castle. "Go on," Kaspar prompted him.

"Seems that the castle is to be rebuilt—he says to mirror the architecture of Manobriar—he has traded with the huntsmen we encountered when we were there and has used the man and his sons for repairs. He reports that people have started to come to settle in the local farms."

"Very good," Kaspar said with a nod.

"He also reports—" Dirk lowered his voice, even Aurora had to strain to hear him. "—a skeleton has been found buried under the ruins of the old barn."

"A villager?" Kaspar questioned. "Do you think it is Frederick?"

"We cannot be sure, but Anhalt reported that there was a large cut noted on one of the rib bones. He said it looked like a stab wound."

Kaspar sat back in his chair. "We may never know," he reasoned, squeezing Aurora's hand.

"Indeed we may not."

"Tell no one of this."

Dirk bowed in understanding, and Aurora watched him disappear back into the crowd.

"I'm glad," Aurora began, trying to ease Kaspar out of his thoughts. "That Ranulf will rebuild. I am glad my home will go one, even if I am no longer in it."

"I love you," he whispered, pulling her closer into a deep embrace.

The moon was high in the sky. "I love you," she whispered back.

Aurora had heard some of the maids gossiping about whether she and Kaspar would be viewed on their wedding night as was customary to make sure the marriage was consummated. When Aurora questioned him about this he had assured her that on this occasion they would not, and that such a custom was only utilized when the bride and groom did not know each other. Despite his words, when he escorted her into the wedding chamber she was apprehensive to find the room filled with strange bedfellows.

Kaspar saw the look on her face and chuckled. He always seemed able to read her mind. "You see, I told you—no guests. Just us."

When Kaspar closed the door behind them Aurora found herself trembling. She couldn't stop it.

"I know you are scared." He pulled her closer so that her back was flush against her chest. "Please don't be frightened. I would never hurt you."

Aurora breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Kaspar began to untie the laces at the back of her gown. His hands moved over the soft fabric. Aurora could feel the impressions of his fingers on her shoulders and her back. When the last lacing was unraveled he pulled the dress down slowly, starting from her shoulders until the cloth pooled at her feet. She was left in only a chemise. He kissed her on the back of the neck. Aurora could feel the kiss echo down her spine and reverberate all though her body. She felt Kaspar take the thin material of her shift and ease it up from her thigh, until it was over her head and she was nude and completely exposed to him.

Kaspar wrapped his arms more tightly around her. One forearm tight just below her breasts, and the other at her stomach. She became very aware of the curves and slopes of her own body. Aurora was unsure how to react and she placed her hands on top of his. She could feel something sharp at the back of her leg.

"I know you don't know what to do," he breathed against her flesh. "Please say you trust me?" Kaspar was slowly inching his fingers downward until his hand cupped her between her legs.

"Yes," the sensation made her shiver for an entirely different reason. "I… trust… you."

He spun her until she was facing him, and kissed her deeply on the mouth.

Aurora moved her hands up to his chest. She eased him out of his doublet and vest. Once his skin was bear she moved her mouth down to his collar bone and clung to him with her face against his heart.

"I've waited so long for this," he told her. He clung to her while she pulled him closer still.

His hands slide down her back and moved up again. Aurora could feel his breath quickening; she could taste his heartbeat through her ear.

"Aurora," he sighed. His hands moved over her again, "Aurora." Grasping the small of her back he pushed her upward into his embrace so her feet no longer touched the ground. He walked slowly toward the bed with her in his arms. Aurora bent down to kiss him again and he gave into her completely. Once she was laid out on the bed she reached her own hands up and began to memorize every part of him. She felt the muscles against his back, and the deep slope where his neck joined his shoulder. She studied the joints between his knuckles and the sprinkling of freckles that dotted his chest and arms. Aurora was attempting to map each one with her kiss but Kaspar pulled her mouth back to his and rolled her so that she was on her back against the soft mattress.

Still holding the kiss she began to unlace the drawstring of his breeches. He guided her hands and slowly eased out of them.

Their kissing continued for some time, but Aurora could feel the momentum of what would happen next filling the room, although she was not entirely sure what that would be.

Kaspar pulled away to look into her eyes. "It may hurt this first time."

"I don't care," she pulled his mouth back to hers.

Aurora kept her eyes closed during his kiss, although she could feel him position and then settle himself over her. His hands pulled her thighs apart. Just his touch on her leg sent a shiver through her. "Take a deep breath," he instructed her, and she did as he said. She felt him enter her as she began to release the breath from her lungs.

It was shock, and not pain that made her cry out. She instinctively reached her hands down to protect herself but he calmed her with another kiss. Once he was deep inside her he ceased to move, instead he let her become acclimated to the sensation before he said, "I'm deep inside you now." Aurora sighed against him. "If you want me to stop just tell me." Aurora did not speak, but she hoped he would understand. Kaspar eased himself back then moved forward filling her again. Aurora arched her back to accommodate him. She felt slightly uncomfortable in the position she was in and wrapped her legs around his back. He moaned in surprise when she did this he kissed her again. Aurora circled her arms around his neck to pull him closer. His head dipped against her shoulder and her mouth took hold of his ear lobe. She sucked on the soft curve of flesh before moving her kiss back to his neck.

He moved over her slowly at first, but gradual his motions increased in speed. Kaspar breathed heavily against her and he began to grunt. He called out her name but it sounded strained and agonized to her ears.

"Kaspar," she whispered. Aurora had pulled him as close to her as she could and she felt his mouth hot on her neck.

With another grunt, she felt his tense, almost as if he were holding his breath. A low moan escaped from his mouth and the sound was thrust into Aurora's own mouth when he kissed her again.

The first real sense of pain she felt was when he eased himself out of her. Her body had grown used to him being deep inside her, and his loss left her feeling exposed and strangely open. She pressed her thighs together but it didn't seem to help.

"Don't go," she reached out to him but he was already inching off the bed. He turned and smiled at her before he began to move toward the other end of the room.

"Look down at yourself."

She did. There was a smear of blood on her leg and some had pooled on the sheets. Aurora watched Kaspar dip a piece of cloth in the wash basin to wet it. When he came back to her he began to clean her. The water was tepid and she felt it drip across her stomach and legs.

"Did I hurt you, wife?"

Aurora burst at the sound of the word 'wife' and holding her arms out he filled them and pulled her down until she had fallen against him and they were both lying on the bed.

"You did not hurt me, husband," she giggled.

He began to listlessly stroke her back. "You will be with child soon."

"Will I be?" She had not thought of that. "Is that how a woman becomes with child?"

Kaspar laughed against her forehead. "Tis, little wife."

They studied each other. Learning each other's contours via touch and kiss.

"You are like a rose, I think—strong, yet delicate."

"Am I?" She teased.

"Oh yes." He stroked her cheek. "When my ancestors first came here they built their home on the briar—that's where the name Manobriar comes from. Then others settled here, and their mud shakes became homes and my great-great grandfather began work on the castle we are in now. Igor improved upon it since and my father after him, as you and I will and our son's after us." Aurora giggled, but Kaspar continued in earnest. "You are my rose—my briar rose."

When Kaspar fell asleep Aurora stayed awake to watch him. She was mesmerized by the rise and fall of his chest and the way he moved and twitched while he dreamed. The room was dark without a fire or candle light; she relied on the milky light of the moon hovering outside to see by. She thought of Ranulf and Senora who were so very far away, and her childhood home. She thought of the huntsmen and his sons who she hoped would never go hungry again. She even thought of the bones Ranulf had found underneath the old barn; she wondered who they belonged to and why they would have been put there. Aurora thought of Dirk somewhere in the castle, and Katrina preparing to leave forever and travel to her betrothed. She hoped Kat and Dirk were someone together on this night, as she and Kaspar were now. She hoped that solace could be found in sorrow and separation.

Lastly she thought of her mother, who now rested in the old crypt underneath the church. She was placed side by side with Abelard—Aurorette's doomed brother—who had died here, but was nevertheless buried with customs and honors befitting his station.

Since coming to Manobriar Kaspar had taught her about his God and the customers of his people but she had been keenly interested in the idea of prayer. He told her that through prayer she could speak with God, and as she felt Kaspar stir underneath her embrace and the pale moon statuesque beyond the window she breathed a deep sigh; at peace with herself and everything around her.