The King and His Lady

"I see you woke up this morning and chose recklessness," the low voice of Richard, the eight of his name, jerked Eloise's eyes up from the object in her hands. He knocked the small bag out of her grasp, and it fell noiselessly to the ground. Before she could protest, his steed had already raised a foot to crush its contents into the dirt. Almost as if it knew the mind of its master.

"Give me the one in your hand," he added, the destrier prancing around her mare testily. Clove, her mare, flared her nostrils, her ears pulling back in clear anxiety. Eloise bit her lip, and narrowed her eyes at her husband, who was looking bored. She knew better; the tightness with which he held Cleaver's reins, the barest glint in his blue-grey eyes all betrayed his thinly veiled anger. She could always pop the little candy in her mouth and pay for the consequences later. He could always forbid her from riding at all and send her home in disgrace. The second thought came unbidden, unwelcome, but made her hold out her hand toward him.

He took the small brown pearl and secured it somewhere in his furs, not before examining it with a quizzical eye. Would he determine what it was laced with later? Ugh, perhaps she should have just eaten it.

"You and I will talk once this is done. Go, you'll ride on Westchester's left."

With that, he turned his beast around and cantered away. She stared at his broad back, the entirety of which was covered in thick, black, wolf fur. Even his thick mane of golden hair was now covered with a fur lined helm, that was of that same midnight black.

"Black as his heart, yes?" A lilting voice pulled her from the distracting activity of being angry with the king. Violet, of course.

"I beg your pardon?" Eloise attempted with marked hauteur.

"Has he relegated you to the beginners' circle, then? You should join them, before they set off."

Violet Easterwood's teasing notes were grating to bear, and it was intolerable that she, of all people, had heard of the admittedly small, but also insulting punishment that Richard had meted out before riding off. He'd sent her to ride on Viscount Westchester's left, with those who would start the hunt later, so as to avoid interrupting the true horsemen who would be starting to that lord's right. He knew she was more than capable of joining even his circle in the hunt, and in any case, she had planned to catch up to him on the way. But to have Violet rub the insult in her face? No, that would not be borne.

She couldn't trust herself to reply to Violet with composure and, instead, kicked Clove into a gallop heading to the man who was her husband. What she had planned to do had not fully formed in her mind, but as she approached and caught the glint of the small pistol at his side, an idea formed. He would be furious with her, there was no doubt. But for the next few hours, she would enjoy a sizeable victory. He turned a moment before she reached him, but it was a moment too late. She snatched the gun from his holster, ignoring the dangerous look that crossed his face and cantered off, the weapon high in the air.

She waved it once above her head, giving a raucous war cry, and alerting the numerous horsemen around them, to the circumstance. Even those not close enough to hear would know what a gun in the air meant. One more wave, a quick look to see that Richard, far from advancing toward her, had stayed in place. He didn't believe she would do it. That was enough provocation. She fired.

The explosion was deafening and even she was surprised at the force. The effect, however, was like clockwork. All the riders started forward, and she had no choice but to join them. She tossed the weapon aside and snapped Clove's reins. At the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the magnificent blackness of Richard and Cleaver, sweep past her, rider and horse seemingly one flowing beast. She pushed her knees into Clove's silver flanks urging her to overtake the thinning crowd. The riders had spread as they approached the woods, each one deciding the best entrance to the thick forest.

At the start of the morning, Eloise had imagined staying close to the king, and perhaps enjoying some moments of privacy deep amongst the trees. That plan could certainly not be realized now, she considered ruefully, even as she pulled Clove back into a trot, watching the large black shadow ahead of her disappear.

She knew the first pangs of regret, and not a small amount of fear, as she considered what Richard would do, once the hunt was over. She felt Clove fidget beneath the now tightly drawn reins, and she loosened her hold. She needed to focus on the hunt, at least, if she was already in trouble. Pulling her bow from behind her, she fitted an arrow into the groove just at the center, guiding Clove forward with just her legs. She saw the red fur not moments later and loosed her arrow in the next breath. The small fox fell with a single yelp, and she fitted her bow once more, starting forward to claim her kill. Placing her bow across the saddle, she threw a thin string toward the arrow, drawing it taut before pulling up the catch. She was midway through pulling the creature up when a single arrow flew just beneath Clove, almost striking her catch.

"Woah, girl!" She soothed Clove, before looking up in consternation. Who would dare?

"My apologies, I thought it was a live beast, running below you."

"Are you mad?!"

Before Violet could say anything in reply to this rhetorical question, an arrow whizzed by her ear, and struck the tree just behind her head. Her scream was worth the earlier shock. Richard emerged from the thicket and looked between them, his eyes seeming to browse over her body for any signs of injury.

"It appears some of us woke up this morning and chose violence."

Violet, the king's fourth cousin, too many times removed to be worth noting, was one of very few people who would dare to say such a thing. Richard gave no reply, simply turning Cleaver around and disappearing back into the forest.

"Stay out of my way," Eloise bit out in clipped accents. She held bow and arrow in one hand, while leading Clove out of the clearing.

"Certainly, there seems to be a more exciting path this way, in any case."

Eloise resisted the urge to see if Violet was, as she suspected, heading in the direction of the king. Let her go, Richard was as likely to knock her off her horse as allow himself to be distracted during a hunt. But after? She shook the question away. As much as Violet did like to throw herself at the king, there had never been an indication that he returned the sentiment. Yes, he did treat her as a "treasured," if distant relative, but to say he had entertained even one amorous thought about Violet was a stretch indeed. Indeed?


She forced herself to focus on the hunt, and shot two more foxes, before coming to another clearing. Before approaching, she slowed Clove to a walk, listening keenly for the voices ahead of her to become clearer.

"It isn't as though you wouldn't be involved, Richie, as long as I am allowed the lovely Eloise, I have no complaint."

"Don't call me that, Violet, there is still time to send you back to Gloucestershire."

"But what would the fun of that be? Have you not seen her in that new habit? Such delicious glimpses of golden-brown skin against those shades of pink…it makes one think of something else…altogether even more delectable."

"Violet, your lusting after my wife grows tiresome." Richard's voice was tighter than a drawn bow. "I advise you to stop."

"Perhaps a wager?" The woman was incorrigible.

"Why on earth would I join you in a wager?"

"If I lose, I never bring this up again."

"I could always have you killed."

"My mother would be most displeased, as, I think, would yours."

"These woods are quite dangerous."

"Indeed, I have already witnessed one accident, I suppose."

"Accident." It was not phrased as a question.

"If I win, I join you in your bedchamber, with Eloise in it."

"Even if…she has no interest, Violet!"

"I can draw her interest, never fear."

Eloise was startled by the branch that snapped beneath Clove's hooves. She hadn't even noticed the horse moving, but now she looked between the trees, to see the two looking about them. She drew Clove away and cantered farther into the trees. They had certainly been careless, unless, as she suspected from the one moment when Richard had looked up through the trees, almost certainly in her hidden direction, the king had intended to let their conversation be heard.

Violet lusted after her? She felt her face grow warm, and threw off her hood, flustered. And what had she meant about the pinks and browns? Not…not that? She felt her heart thundering in her ears. Richard had taught her enough in the bedroom – and several other places – that the innuendo was not lost on her. Once more, she had to wonder how Violet dared be so bold with the king. Even she, when betrothed, had found herself a bundle of nerves standing before Richard. It wasn't simply his size – enormous – it was also those superciliously raised brows, the sensual curve of his lips, the deep timbre of his voice, the way he had commanded her to turn before him that fateful morning her parents had brought her to be presented.

And then he had told her parents he required a moment with her in his chambers. It was not an orthodox practice, but he was the king after all. She had been shaking when she'd walked into that ornate room, feeling the footsteps of the large king close behind her.

"Are you afraid?"

"No, sire." She was shaking her head, as though that would make the words true.

"Don't be. I just wanted to kiss you."

She let her eyes move from his chest, up to meet his eyes. Hooded brows, drawn low as he observed her, a careful examination, that made her feel undressed. And then he took her chin in one hand, bent his head and let their lips meet. His tongue tasted her lips, and then sought entrance into her mouth. She didn't fight him; she didn't know that she should. Or could? She felt something pulse between her legs when his tongue touched hers, and she gasped between them. She felt him smile against her mouth, before drawing her body closer to his, his hand so expansive, it seemed to cover all her back, pulling her against his hardness. She thought his hand may have drifted lower, may have touched her there, but all too soon he was pulling away. His smile was one of satisfaction, while she felt breathless. They were married the next day.

It was a few months near a year since that day, and her initial fear of Richard had clearly not been enough to dissuade her from prematurely starting his hunt, by stealing his gun. After he had just caught her attempting to try some illicitly tainted candies that she'd gotten from none other than his actual first cousin, Simon, Duke of Barnes, a rake and ne'er do well. Of course, she could not betray Simon when Richard inevitably asked her where she'd gotten such a thing. It would yet be another item to add to her list of crimes. In all likelihood, Richard had meant to only talk after the laced candy. And no matter how unpleasant that talk would have been, it would have ended there. Now he would… She shook her head to clear it.

Mayhap he would do as he'd once threatened and put her over his knee. Although, when he had made the threat, he had not necessarily seemed in earnest. It had seemed a joke, especially in how matter of fact the words had been spoken, as though there was no debate surrounding such a conclusion to her, at the time, joining the yearly ice swimming race across the Great Lake. She had been in jest herself and had no true intention to join what would likely be an unnecessarily uncomfortable exercise. And they had been in his massive bed, cuddling in the glow of the delightful climax he had brought them both to. The threat seemed a distant and blurry danger, not something to be of immediate concern. Now however, she trembled at the thought of what those large hands could do.

She could not concentrate well enough to catch any more prey; she sighted, shot and missed a grey fox, that should have been an easy fourth to her tally, and then in desperation, bagged an extremely fat squirrel. She looked up, noting the sun was gone from its position above the trees. She'd best head out to join the other riders if she wasn't to get stuck in the forest once it turned completely dark. Pulling out her compass, she guided Clove west, toward the assigned meeting place. She heard laughter before she caught sight of the crowd. Stable boys rushed to take Clove's head, while she dismounted. As was her habit, she looked for and headed directly for Richard. She was moments from him, now sans his dark helm, before she caught herself, and wondered instead if she would be safer farther away from him. But he turned around while she debated this question and gestured her forward. She couldn't disobey if she wanted to, she wasn't completely without self-preservation.

He drew her close to him, seemed to breathe in her scent and then kissed the very top of her head. She couldn't hide her surprise, especially when, at the very least, she expected a blistering scold. He was kissing her? She ventured a look up at him through her lashes. His expression was inscrutable, and he was nodding at something Viscount Westchester had said. She fidgeted and felt the first tendrils of alarm when his hold around her shoulder tightened. Was he not letting her go then? Did he think she would run away? Was there still a consequence awaiting her that he felt she would want to run from?

"I'm thirsty," she murmured into his side, unsure if he would hear her. But in moments he snapped a finger and a page arrived with a goblet of wine. She accepted it meekly, drinking sips and occasionally testing how tight a hold he had on her. Westchester stepped away to attend to something and he took the opportunity to turn to her.

"Have you enjoyed yourself, today, my dear?"

His expression was still blank and that alone frightened her. Why couldn't he simply be angry and show it.

"I would like to apologize, Richard, sire, I am very sorry for…for what I…for how I behaved and for…for…" A fist sized lump in her throat kept her from going further. His face remained as unfathomable as when she had started and the thought that he had seemingly transcended mere anger and reached something even worse had caused her to start to cry. He drew a handkerchief from somewhere on his person and wiped her eyes in silence.

"There will be plenty of time for you to cry, my dear, don't waste those pretty tears now."

She wanted to wail at that, but instead buried her face in the handkerchief and tried to control herself. There was faint mockery in his tone, as though he knew his coldness now was all but calculated to bring her to tears, and he was impervious to this expected reaction. She dashed the handkerchief across her eyes and cleared her throat. Richard clearly was not going to entertain her tears or apologies anytime soon.

She stayed by his side for the rest of the night, partly because he kept a close watch on her and partly because her new strategy was to demonstrate excellent obedience. She greeted each guest with her best manners, her smile never wavering. She pushed herself to be her most charming, most exceptional host, hoping against hope that this performance would earn her even a few points in Richard's rule book. If he noticed her efforts, he gave no indication, he behaving as charmingly as she was, but there was still a cold silence in his manner toward her that sank her spirits. By the end of the night, she was ready to collapse. Her mind would not stop considering all the possible ways that her husband would punish her, and her husband would not stop snubbing her with this cold formality.

It was almost with relief that she let him lead her into the castle, up the grand staircase, deep into the west wing where his suite of rooms lay. He entered his bedroom first and compelled her in after him. Only after reaching behind her and locking the door, did he release her arm. He walked away from her, in silence, to sit in a large armchair and cross his arms.

"Come here, Eloise."

"Richard, sire, I am very sorry, and I will never again..."

"Do not make me repeat myself, Eloise."

She felt her insides become jelly and only just managed to force her feet forward across the thick Aubusson rug.

"Please, Richard," she found herself imploring, although for what she could not have said.

"Why are you crying, Eloise?"

"Richard, please don't...please I promise...I'll never, never do something so..."

"Are you crying because you don't want to be punished, Eloise?" A cold quiet filled the room and she bit her lip not answering. Her eyes drifted down to his feet and stayed there.

"Look at me." Very slowly, she dragged her eyes from his feet, but she got distracted by his crossed arms and could look no further. She watched him stand and it took an inordinate amount of will, to keep from turning and running away. He closed the distance between them and took her face in his hands, forcibly lifting her eyes to his. "Do you understand that you deserve to be punished, Eloise?"

"Ye...yes, but what...what are you going to do?" She hiccupped through the question, still desperately wishing that he would simply forgive all and move past this beastly business of punishment.

"You will discover that soon enough," he replied, taking her hand and about to sit. But she, in one more desperate effort, dropped to her knees. She felt shame at prostrating herself so, but if it meant he would relent, then so be it.

He paused and looked at her with a curious expression, a mixture of amusement, exasperation and concern.

"Stand up, Eloise."

"No, please, just yell at me if you must!"

"Stand up. Now." She scrambled back up to her feet at that tone, and the thunder clouds that brewed over his brow.

"You are my wife, and you are queen of this land. You will accept any and every circumstance with dignity and honor that befits that station. Even punishment. Do you understand me?"

She bit her lip, feeling certain that she could not answer him with that supposed dignity he has requested. He was looking at her with an expression that made her wonder if he expected a response. Nodding quickly to maintain her status as obedient wife, she ventured a very small "yes."

He reached out and took her hand, leading her now, not to the highbacked chair, but to the bed. He sat first and, without preamble, pulled her over his thighs. She was frozen in fear and trembled like an aspen leaf. Richard had once slapped her inner wrist for being rude in a diplomat's home, but aside from the rare scolding there had been no occasion for physical punishment. Until now.

She considered pleading with him again, but he had already unfastened the stays of her riding skirt. Of course, her husband had seen her bare before, but when she felt the cool air against her skin, she felt her face burn with mortification. When the first smack came, the searing heat of his large hand forced a scream from her. He did not relent however, and his hand came down again and again until she was squirming earnestly to escape the punishing spanks. She must have pleaded in every way possible, but he did not stop before he had reached whatever conclusion he required as to the state of her penitence.

"Eloise, understand that I dislike punishing you. If you force me to do so once again, I will use my belt. Am I quite clear?"

She could not be sure how she managed the affirmative response, strangled as she felt with her own tears.

"Very good." He was already lifting her up, so she sat in lap. As tender as she felt, she preferred the transfer and buried her face in his chest. "Hush, little one, the worst is over." She felt the warmth of his hand cover her back and soothe her in slow circles.

"I said I was sorry," she whined into his shirt. Now the worst was over, she rather felt very sorry for herself. "Why did you have to beat me so hard?"

His hand stalled in its soothing motion for a moment, before he continued.

"Because," he said in dry tones, "I did not want to have to repeat the lesson. I trust you will recall my earlier warning."

"I will," she intoned in dejected voice.

"Are you sulking, little one?" He sounded amused.

"Will it get me presents?"

"What would you like?" She looked up to meet his eyes, somewhat surprised that he was even entertaining the conversation. Growing up, she had been used to doing wrong, apologizing, being punished, and yet still having a measure of tension between herself and whoever the adult she had offended was. There was not a trace of censure or rancor in Richard's gaze. In fact, he seemed rather amused that she had gone from crying over his lap to asking things of him.

"A sleigh and four matching mares to pull it!"

"You shall have a dozen!" She laughed at this proclamation. His eyes became somber.

"I really do dislike punishing you, Eloise. I thank you for bearing me no ill will but understand that I should be incredibly disappointed if you do not heed my warning."