by Ruth Davis Hays — 2015
In the bustling industry town of Jeullion unda Revota, amid treeless grasslands that sparkled with emeralds in the winter sun, the winds never ceased. They carried the cool air down from the mountains to tell of the seasons. They blew in scents of foreign flowers and woodlands where the fae rule, yet no wind or shining beam of sun could freshen the halls of Lauralei’s life as it grew stale around her…
Lauralei relished the pull of the thick bristled hairbrush smoothing down her brunette locks. She opened her eyes and stared into the candlelit mirror, its bronze frame crawling with intricately carved shapes. Long-tailed animals and vines writhed around the perimeter of the dark glass. Glancing up to the reflection of the maidservant behind her, Lauralei watched the repetitious movement of the hands as she wielded the brush. Ameila was her name. Lauralei had met her the first day in residence at the conte’s mansion.
The tall, thin house of the conte was smashed tightly between other towering stonework buildings, all identical siblings, each one as boring as the next. What made the one her carriage had pulled up to on that first day unique was the fact that a plaque hung beside its looming front door, signifying that it housed the Conte Monteforte.
She could not say whether the inside of this house was any better or worse than any other on the street, for she had not been outside its doors in the near two months that she had lived here. In those two months, she had learned many things. Not many of which she liked.
Her first day had been a rather solitary one. She had feared she would be in constant company with her wrinkled new husband, but that proved to be an unfounded worry. Aside from attendants, Lauralei spent the day on her own. Until that first evening came.
Stripping off her traveling gloves, Lauralei entered her living quarters with a quiet grunt. Edgar, a stout butler with a low center of gravity, had introduced her to each room and each rule of the house with excruciating detail before they had finally arrived in her room. The rooms were surprisingly spacious considering how narrow the house appeared from the street. She wondered if it was some sort of charm of majiks or simply clever architecture.
Her sitting room was sparse, only the essential pieces of furniture to begin her life as Contes Monteforte. The previous floors of the house had separate salons cluttered with mementos and items of décor chosen by the conte’s other four wives. Each room a dry memorial to the women that had preceded her. Each had given Lauralei a deep shudder.
As she glanced around her apartment, she realized that Edgar was still talking. His voice had become a drone on the wind as far as she was concerned. Nothing here mattered to her. She was mistress of this house, but she was no part of it.
Eventually, Edgar closed her door, choosing to attend his myriad duties rather than waste his breath on a spoiled child he was beholden to serve. His absence suited Lauralei fine.
Moving to her canopied bed, she drew back the thin curtain and began to remove her traveling clothes. She was famished from the ride, but meals in this house were served on a strict schedule that matched His Grace’s sensitive digestive tract. She would be forced to wait for the next one, she was told. So, to wile away the time, she stripped naked and explored every inch of her rooms.
Being that the house was set in the middle of a row of other homes, there were few windows. Her upstairs bedroom was one so graced as to have a view of the world. It was a small window with no balcony, but it was at least natural light. She opened it immediately. The brisk air bathed her skin in gooseflesh.
Lauralei turned to a small dressing table and pulled out the velvet stool. She sat, opening all the drawers until she found something of interest. A small, bound leather book with a matching writing stick attached by a ribbon. Opening it, she saw it was empty. It was more a calendar than a journal, and it had been inscribed with her name and the date of her Bonding ceremony.
Puzzling over this, she nearly jumped when there came a knock upon her outer door.
“Just a moment,” she shouted. Springing to the small closet afforded her, she rifled through the pre-gifted clothing to find a robe. It was a soft violet hue and she tied it closed as she trotted through the sitting room.
The door opened before she could get to it and a woman stood there. A complacent smile hung about her lips and her pale blonde hair was wrapped tightly back in a high bun. She introduced herself as Ameila.
“I will be Your Grace’s personal attendant.”
Guardian is more like it, Lauralei told herself. “Please, don’t call me ‘your grace’,” she said as she took the door handle, intending to close it between them. “It makes me uncomfortable.”
Ameila put one hand out to halt any movement on the door. “What shall I call you, then, mistress?”
“Mistress is fine.” Lauralei refused to give up control of the door handle. “Call me mistress or Lauralei.”
“Yes, mistress. I am here to get you prepared for dinner.”
“I don’t need help.” She again tried to close the door. “I’ve been dressing myself for dinner most of my life.”
“Nonsense, mistress,” Ameila insisted with a heavy shove on the wooden barrier between them. She pushed her way into the room. “It is a house rule.”
Lauralei glared at the older woman and relinquished any further objection. This is how it is going to be now. Might as well accept it.
Dressing for dinner proved to be a lengthy process and Lauralei discovered that with some of the local fashions, she would most definitely need assistance, as she would with the grooming. The hair styling alone took over an hour with Ameila fussing over every tiny curl and pin. The end result was so buttoned and tucked that Lauralei felt sure she would burst at the seams if she ate even one morsel.
“That was tedious,” she laughed, looking at her reflection. Ameila stood behind her in a loose fitted uniform and smiled from the side of her mouth.
“This is nothing. You should see what you’re going to have to wear if you go into town.”
Lauralei shot her a worried glance and Ameila nodded. “Yes, it’s that bad.”
They both laughed and decided then that they would get along just fine.
After that first dinner came Lauralei’s true test of whether she could endure this new life or not. The ceremony of Pair Bonding.
Standing beside her narrow bed, she allowed Ameila to undress her. They were alone in the room and Lauralei’s anxiety was palpable.
“Do you have any questions, mistress?”
“What?” Lauralei was startled out of her morbid contemplation of what might soon occur.
“If this is mistress’s first experience with a man,” the maidservant hedged, “are there any questions worrying you?”
“Oh,” Lauralei shook her head.
The attending hands slowed to a stop, resting on Laure’s shoulders lightly. “This is your first nacht d’carnis, is it not?”
Remembering that the conte insisted on virgin wives, Lauralei quickly nodded, her eyes wide. Ameila gave her a sidelong wink and resumed the disrobing.
“Think of this house like Yoseah,” Ameila said.
“The young manservant that sweeps up?”
Ameila nodded. “Yes. He may not have eyes, but he hears quite well.”
“I understand.” Lauralei was even more apprehensive now.
The silence returned for a few moments, and then Lauralei asked, “Does the conte sleep here, too? The bed seems awfully small.”
“No, mistress. He has his own room, but it is never used for coupling.”
“How long does… he stay?”
“His Grace is beyond the years of romance or pleasantries, I’m afraid. His priority is more one of concise efficiency. He will not dally. If you don’t mind me being frank, it has proved worthwhile for his wife to… prepare herself before his arrival because, otherwise, it can be a little… abrasive.”
“If you would like, I could turn my back for a few moments,” she offered.
Lauralei was startled. “Do you stay in the room? The whole time?”
Ameila combed out the long brown curls. “Yes. Your Grace is not allowed to be alone before or after the coupling. Bad things have happened in the past, so it is a precaution. And, the act itself calls for witnesses to assure that you never carry a bastard.”
Her stomach dropping, Lauralei shuddered. “Oh gods below. This is worse than I’d imagined.”
“It’s commonplace, mistress. The nobility are especially paranoid about these things. Though, the Stars know that there are plenty of illegitimate children running around the royal courts. You have the privilege of choosing your witnesses, at least. And I would not recommend Edgar.”
“Well, I trust you, and after all, you’ve already seen me naked.”
Ameila smiled. “I would be honored to be one of your witnesses.”
“Must there be more than one?”
“For the first six months, yes. His Grace will visit you every night for the first two months of your marriage and then three times a week for the next six months.”
“What happens after that?”
“If Your Grace has not conceived a child by then, the conte could decide that this union is futile. Let’s hope for your sake that he does not. If he truly likes you, the visits will increase to nightly again for another two months and so on until you conceive a son.”
“White Stars! How does an old man like him maintain such a schedule? I heard that old men have trouble-“
Ameila made a shushing motion. “His Grace is quite vigorous and fertile,” she stated in an overly loud voice. Leaning in, she whispered, “and you would be surprised what a drop of Apthia Water in the bloodstream does for a man of his years. He can go on for extended periods of time. I suggest that you are well prepared for intercourse, mistress.”
Lauralei turned to look her in the eye. “Oh. In that case… I, uh-”
Removing her mistress’s undergarments and folding back the bed linens, Amelia suggested politely, “If Mistress needs any assistance readying herself for His Grace, there are a few options.”
Flushing, Lauralei glanced at her questioningly.
“Yoseah is a trusted servant. In fact, his eyes were put out by His Grace specifically for this purpose. His Grace’s former wives occasionally complained to His Grace about his lack of precoital participation and his answer for this, in recent years, was Yoseah. The young man is quite skilled. He is a eunuch, of course, and His Grace had his eyes sewn shut because the last wife was unnerved by the sight of Yoseah’s empty eye sockets.”
“How horrible. I don’t know if I could… I just don’t know…”
A comforting hand came to rest on her bare shoulder and Lauralei heard Ameila say, “Or if you would prefer a trusted servant such as myself to assist you, mistress, I would be honored.”
Words were failing her. The woman did have a warm and friendly touch, but it was all happening so strangely and so quickly. Lauralei eased down into the bed and gave Ameila a thin smile.
“Thanks be for your offer but,” she was saying, “I think, for now, I will try and handle things myself.”
Nodding, her maidservant covered her with the sheet. “Be it your wish, mistress.” Turning her back to Lauralei, she stated, “I would suggest Yoseah as your second witness as he is quite discreet.”
Lying under the covers, Lauralei still felt extremely exposed and self-conscious. She knew that her husband would be coming in any moment and that put extra pressure on her. Closing her eyes, she relaxed and struggled for the best way to begin.
Her mind instantly conjured the image of her beautiful D’harromarrie’khiall.
The ebony curtain of his hair enclosing their faces as he leaned over her. His arched lips opening to caress hers. The light tickle of his dark fingernails on her forearm, tracing over her shoulder and around her breast. His heat enveloping her as his firm body stretched over top of hers, his weight on her…
She sighed, a smile spreading over her as she noticed her body responding. Letting the fantasy deepen, she slid her hands over her belly and down between her thighs.
By the time the outer doors to her apartments opened, Lauralei was sure she was aroused enough to take anything that the old man had to offer, but she would do her best not to open her eyes and lose the vision of her beloved fae, Dharromar.
Looking into the leather bound book as Ameila continued to braid and twist her brown hair, Lauralei read her notes from that first encounter with the conte.
She had realized the purpose of this book after he had been wheeled to the bed in a low chair, assisted atop her by the witnesses, wriggled his bony, withered body between her legs and worked what mysteries he could with his Apthia Water-assisted erection for fifteen minutes or so. It was to track her womanly cycle.
She also realized that simulating attraction or any sexual investment in this marriage was going to require a great deal of assistance. Images of her changeling lover were not always sufficient. Since her life depended on maintaining the conte’s required schedule of coupling, she had accepted several of Ameila’s suggestions over the weeks. All were helpful and titillating distractions, but the laborious madness of the house and its rules ate away at her. So, she had begun to keep track, but not of her cycle.
Each night was recorded in her little book, her own count of days. Each encounter briefly described before she would tick off the date and wait for the time when the conte would not frequent her bed. Wait for a time when she would be less guarded, less expected.
Freedom was for what she waited. Freedom to go to town, to visit her family again. Freedom to choose her lover and the time of their meeting. Freedom to search out the whereabouts of her Dharromar.
The freedom that pregnancy could bring her.
She ticked off each date in the journal and waited.
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