Chapter 19 - Married Bliss?
May 2, 1645
Ravenswood Castle (The King’s Tower)
The Walled City of Arcadia, Capital of Ivaris
-Queen Almira Adrienne Ivaris-
I heard the door to our chambers as it creaked open. It was then followed my muffled footsteps and then giggles. I groaned and then slowly raised my head. A heavy arm impeded my movement.
“Oh no! Your highness, you must not rise! Forgive us for barging in. We did not know the king was still abed.” My maid, Finnie said. She was smiling and Vivian was the one who was giggling. Finnie turned around and shooed Vivian away. The door closed again behind them.
I turned around and prepared to go out of bed but a muscled arm curled protectively around me. I tried to wriggle away but the arm was like steel chains around me. I sighed when I realized there was no escaping this...
Last night’s events suddenly came back to me with vivid clarity. I felt my cheeks flame and I closed my eyes to rid myself of the images. But they just came back more clearly. How could I have behaved in such a wanton way?
How could I have melted in his arms like that? How could I have forgiven him that easily? How could I say his name when I vowed that I never would?
I even screamed it out loud when the pleasure became too much...
Oh gods, what have I done? Is this truly how things are supposed to be? The King did say that we should start over... But is that truly what’s going to happen now? Or is that just a ruse to get me into bed last night?
I guess only time will tell... But I must guard myself... I must not allow him to hurt me again.
I turned around and gazed at the King of Ivaris. He was lying on his stomach with his face turned towards me and his arm flung over my waist. His face was relaxed in sleep and it took years off of his age.
I resisted the impulse to touch his brows...
They were beautiful when they weren’t set in a fierce scowl. I can’t see his grey eyes now but there was something else I’ve noticed: his lashes. They were so long and it was something I’ve never noticed before. Again, I controlled myself not to reach out touch his cheeks or cup his jaw.
My eyes travelled downwards to his neck and then I raised my head a bit to get the chance to look at his back. He was heavily muscled and I wanted to reach out and touch those hard ridges. But aside from muscles, there were numerous scars marring his perfect form. He also had one large scar near his waist.
I reached out and traced it tentatively before I could stop myself. A hand clamped down on my wrist and I looked up and the King had a lazy smile on his face. One eye was open and the other was still closed.
He looked like a God. My heart rate sped up as I looked at him all sprawled out on the bed like that. The sun shone on his skin making it look bronzed. His muscles rippled as he turned around and hauled me up his chest.
“I can’t think of a better way to wake up than this.” He said and lifted my hand and wrapped it around his neck. I felt my face redden out of embarrassment and I quickly tried to scramble off of him.
“No... Stay.” He said with a laughing look in his eyes.
I rolled my eyes and stayed put. “Good morning, my queen.” He said and then dropped a kiss on my lips.
“Morning...” I mumbled in reply. I do not know why but for some strange reason, I felt terribly shy in front of him right now. His eyes were scrutinizing me directly. “This is the very first time I want to spend the whole day in bed.” He declared with a groan and then I heard his laughter.
I did not know how to reply to that so I just kept my mouth shut. He rolled off me again with a much louder groan and began to get dressed.
“I have to get to my men.” He said and lifted my hand and kissed it. “What will you be doing today?” he asked. “Err... I am going to cook some Amaranth dishes and teach it to the cook.” I replied.
“I will join you for lunch then.” He said and then bowed and exited the door.
Well what just happened? How did we become two civilized people like that? Actually, it was more than civilized... We actually sounded very domestic.
Like a proper husband and wife...
I shuddered at the thought and went towards the basin of water and started sponging myself. I did not want to call my maids yet for I wanted another moment of privacy so I could allow myself to think.
Truly, I want the king and me to be civil or at least form a bit of friendship. I am bound to him forever and I’d much rather do that comfortably and peacefully than be angry with him forever. I should be angry with him but what good will that do? Will it erase the past? No. The memories will stay with me forever but I could replace them with much better ones.
I could stay angry with him but who would I be punishing? Only myself, that is the answer. He would be indifferent to my plight and I would just be spending a life of misery. It would also show immaturity when I continue to hate him for being what he is.
What I can do now is be who I am. I will perform my duties as queen and guard myself from any future hurt. It’s a good thing my heart is locked away with Duncan and the King will never get it from him. At least that part of me would never belong to him.
I sighed and started combing my hair...
If this was the best we could get out of our relationship, then I can say it’s damned good. I kind of enjoyed not fighting with him. On the plus side, he is a good lover... I hope the goddess blessed us last night and I sincerely wish that I’ve conceived. If I had a little boy or girl in my arms, I’d have something to occupy my time and anchor me to this kingdom. Maybe then, this wouldn’t feel much of a prison and instead start feeling like a home to me.
If I had a child, I’d have someone else to give all my love to and maybe then I couldn’t care less if the King returned to his mistresses or if he went off to war or do whatever it is he wanted to do.
I braided my hair and then touched my abdomen... I sincerely hope that I’ve conceived. Maybe it would turn things around for me. I don’t care if the King can’t be a good father. I know I’ll be a good mother. I’ll give our child all the love in the world. He’ll want for nothing and I’ll teach him everything he needs to know.
I went down towards the kitchens and Vivian and Finnie were waiting for me there. The cook beamed at me as I entered and began chattering away. While I was busy slicing meats and vegetables and stirring sauces, the cook and my maids talked about the Festival last night. Vivian and Finnie kept sending me knowing glances and they giggled like fools.
“Are we supposed to expect a little prince after nine months, then?” the cook winked as she asked me. “I hope so.” I answered with a grin. The more I think about it, the more I become excited and accustomed to the idea of having a child.
“I saw the King’s mistresses at the Festival last night. How dare they? We all know they’re all soiled.” Vivian remarked and Finnie elbowed her. “Soiled?” I asked. “Each one of them has caught the plague. They’ll never have their own child. It’s foolish of them to wish otherwise.” Vivian said. That statement earned her a glare from Finnie, the older maid.
I just shrugged and continued to chop lettuce. “They want to have a child so bad. The King longs for an heir, that is something known throughout the land. The mistresses think that producing the king’s heir would make him want them again. Bah! He’s not visited them for a long time and he never shall.” Vivian said. Finnie looked as if she wanted to wrap her hands around the younger maid’s throat and strangle her to death.
The King longed for an heir? That was a nice thought. I breathed a sigh of relief at having one of my worries about having a child taken away from me. It was as if a thorn has been removed from my side. At least the child will have two parents who wanted him.
“Oh yes! I’ve heard about that from the maids assigned to those self-serving bitches. Excuse the language, your majesty.” The cook said with a glance at me before she continued her gossip. “The maids said that the King hasn’t visited them for a long time. Lady Brianna has been forcing herself on him but he just doesn’t want her anymore.”
Was this true? Did he really lose interest in them? I shook my head and then told myself that I really shouldn’t care. The women all looked at me expectantly as if gauging my reaction from everything I’ve heard.
“Err... What is this plague anyway?” I asked.
“It’s a sickness that only affects the women. Legends say that it came from the goddess herself. She placed this curse upon humans. There are different versions to the story and I don’t really know which of them is true.” It was Finnie who replied this time.
“The plague causes very high fever accompanied by convulsions, nightmares, sweats, and burning in the lungs. Most women die but those who do not are left barren. They can never produce a child ever again.” Cook explained.
“How does one get this plague?” I asked.
“Some say it travels with the wind. Sometimes, it wipes out an entire village. We do not know when it comes... Just that it causes severe devastation when it’s finally there.” Vivian answered.
“Let’s hope that it doesn’t reach here.” I said and the three women closed their eyes and raised their hands to the heavens. “Oh, goddess be merciful.” They said in unison.
“These are ready.” I announced as I tasted one of the stews over the pot. I also checked the oven and retrieved the buttered bread with cheese that I’ve baked. The soup was also ready along with the meats that were roasted with various herbs.
“Your highness! Go and change your clothes! The king said he’ll be dining with you, did he not?” Finnie said and she shooed me away. I reluctantly went back to my chambers and changed my gown. I still chose a simple one but it was a lovely sky blue color.
I went back to the dining hall and the king’s high-ranking men were already starting to assemble in the long rows of tables. Suddenly, I started to feel nervous. What if they didn’t like the things I’ve prepared? What if I embarrass myself?
I took a deep breath and then entered the hall. The King had his back to me and was busily talking with one of his men. The moment I entered the hall, he turned his head and a strange expression crossed his eyes. He excused himself to the man and went towards my side. He took my arm and led me towards my chair.
He seated me first and then seated himself. He raised his hands and servants entered bearing trays of food. The butler, Hodge, led the procession of servants. “Her majesty, Queen Almira, is the one we have to thank for the food served today. She diligently worked at the kitchens and presents us with the food from her beloved kingdom.” Hodge announced and the covers were lifted.
I heard gasps of delight as the food was revealed. The king glanced down at his plate and then gazed at me. “So this has been prepared by my wife?” he said to me, emphasizing the word wife. I nodded. My heart pounded inside my chest as he lifted his knife and fork and sliced a piece of roasted beef. He raised it to his lips and I waited with bated breath.
He chewed quickly. “Mmm. This is good.” He said with his mouth still full. He was already slicing another portion and then raising it to his lips. I leaned back in my chair and watched him eat. He looked like a little boy with his mouth full. I think he forgot that he was a king for he ate with wild abandon. Seeing him like this made something melt inside me. He didn’t look like a fierce or cruel king. He simply looked like a man who enjoyed the lunch that has been prepared by his wife.
Err... How domestic this all seemed.
Suddenly he coughed and thumped his chest. I quickly poured some water for him and then pounded his back. “Eat slowly. There’s enough for everyone.” I teased as he drank the water. He glared at me and then leaned back in his chair a bit.
I stood up and ladled some soup on his bowl. I grabbed one of the toasted breads with cheese and poured some of the roast beef’s sauce on it. I sliced a thin portion of beef and placed it on top of the bread. The King watched everything I did. I handed him the bread and said, “This is how we usually eat it. Try it.” I told him with a smile. He accepted it and sank his teeth into the crispy bread. An expression of bliss crossed his face and I couldn’t help but laugh.
He quickly devoured the piece of bread and I hurried and prepared him another one. He accepted it again and ate it quickly. I pushed the bowl of soup towards him which has cooled a bit. “Try this.” I said.
“Are these mushrooms?” he asked. “Yes.” I replied. “Aren’t mushrooms poisonous?” he asked. “Some are, some aren’t.” He still looked doubtful so I took my spoon and dipped it into his bowl. I ate it and said, “See? I’m not poisoning you.” I teased and then I pretended to cough and retch. Instantly, he was on his feet and he was holding me. His eyes looked troubled and I think I saw fear in them. “Got you.” I said and then laughed. He grunted and then sat back in his chair once more. “Come on, try it. I promise it’s not poisonous.” I explained, still laughing.
He picked up his spoon and then began to gulf down his soup. I checked the men across the hall and they seemed to be enjoying their lunch too!
They smiled at me when they met my eye and I smiled back at them. The King tried all the dishes I’ve laid out for him and he took great time complimenting me on the taste. I made a note to remember that he liked the roast beef particularly. “If you do this every day, I shall soon find myself a fat man!” He declared and the entire hall laughed with him.
He leaned back in his chair when he was done and then dessert was served. I made some tarts with peaches and almonds. I was about to reach for one and serve it to the King when I saw his hand grab one of the tarts. However, he did not bring it to his lips and instead offered it to me. I raised an eyebrow at him and he just shrugged. I opened my mouth and bit into the tart he offered. When I lifted my eyes again, the entire hall was smiling at us. I saw my maids wink at each other.
“Change your gown, my queen. We’re going for a ride.” He announced. I was instantly filled with excitement. For the first time, I could leave Ravenswood! “Are we going to the city?” I asked. “No. We’ll go near the ocean.” He said. “But isn’t that far away from here?” I asked. “I know a shortcut.”
Without another word, I stood up and dashed off the hall to get my gown changed.
-King Seth Liam Ivaris XV-
Adrienne dashed off to change her clothes. I grinned at the excitement I saw in her face and I was proud of myself at having pleased her. Malcolm approached me and said, “You’re bringing our queen?”
“Yes.” I replied. We were supposed to go check the borders near the ocean. One of the sentinels posted there sent word of seeing a huge army and a fleet of ships. “I don’t really believe there’s a threat.” I replied and Malcolm regarded me solemnly.
“Are you sure this is wise?”
“Have you seen her face? She was delighted at the prospect of an outing.” I replied and Malcolm shook his head and grinned. “What?” I asked. “You don’t realize it yet but you’re in way over your head.” He remarked. I shrugged. “The only thing I know right now is how I am supposed to ride my horse with my belly bursting to fullness.”
Malcolm threw back his head and laughed. “You are lucky to have such a great cook for a wife.” He said and clapped me on the back. I raised a goblet of wine in acknowledgement of his words. “I am going to go ahead and pack my things.” Malcolm said and strolled out of the dining hall.
I called my butler, Hodge, and asked him to pack all my things, extra blankets, a small tent, extra food, and some clothes for me. I asked him to tell Adrienne’s maids to pack some things for an overnight journey.
I want us to camp near the beach and then we’d look at the beauty of the stars at night. I don’t know why but I just had this insistent urge to do something nice for her. We could go camping while the other soldiers scouted the border. I just hoped she’d like the idea of camping.
An hour later, my men and I were outside, waiting for Adrienne to arrive so that we could be on our way to our journey.
“Your highness, the mare you requested has arrived.” My steward, Iain, said. The stable groom held the reins of a beautiful, sleek white mare and he handed the reins to me. “She’s safe to ride?” I asked the head groom and he nodded. “Yes, your highness. She’s very docile but she’s one helluva’ runner when needed.” The head groom explained to me.
“Very well then, stay here a while to make sure there is no problem with the horse.” I said to the two grooms. “If that horse unseats my queen or harms a hair on her head, you can kiss your heads goodbye.” I said and made a slicing motion with my hand.
Right on cue, Adrienne and her maids exited the palace doors and walked towards us. She wore a simple riding habit and she still looked exquisite. Her lovely, brown hair was tied by a ribbon and she wore a simple bonnet.
“For you, my queen.” I said and handed to her the reins of the new mare I purchased for her. Her eyes lit up and twinkled like the beautiful stars at night. “For me?” she squeaked. I nodded. I almost fell down the ground when she tackled me. She suddenly jumped and threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly. “Thank you!” she said and then seemed to realize her actions. She quickly let go of me and picked up her bonnet. “I am sorry, your highness. Forgive my outburst.” She said and placed the bonnet back on her head.
She never expressed her gratitude like this before... Or maybe I’ve never given her a gift that’s pleased her. When I gave her jewels, she looked at them with disdain. But when I gave her this horse which didn’t even cause a tenth of the jewels, she squeaked with delight and hugged me enthusiastically...
Malcolm grinned at me and winked. I cleared my throat. “You are welcome, my lady.” I said to her. She stroked the mare’s neck and said, “She’s beautiful...” she remarked dreamily.
Not as beautiful as you...
“Does she have a name?” she asked me and I shook my head. “Well, what’s the name of your stallion, my Lord?” she asked and pointed towards my black warhorse. “Lightning.” I replied. “Why did you name him such?”
“Because he is swift as lightning and as fierce as one too.” I replied proudly. “Hmm... I’d name my horse in honor of yours then... Hmm... Rain? Thunder? Storm? Cloud?” with the last name she said, her mare whinnied and nudged her hand... I saw Adrienne grin and something flipped inside my chest.
“Ahh... Cloud... She seems to like it. Lightning and Cloud. Seems a fitting name for her mane is as white as a cloud.” She announced and then quickly hauled herself up to the horse. I looked at her in awe for she mounted her horse without anyone’s help. I went to her and adjusted the stirrups. “Thank you, my lord.” She said and I replied with a grunt.
I mounted my own horse and when she had her back turned, that was when I allowed myself to smile. “Close your mouth or the flies will enter.” Malcolm whispered to me. I hadn’t realized I was grinning so I quickly masked my expression.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I replied and turned my horse. I saw Adrienne and she was leaning forward. One hand on the reins off her mount and the other one clutching the rear edge of her saddle. She urged her horse to a lovely trot and her ribbon slipped off and her hair flew with the wind.
“She sure knows how to ride.” Malcolm said and then placed his hand under my jaw and exerted pressure on it. My mouth shut with a loud click. “I told you to close your mouth.” He teased and shook his head.
“Yes... She looks like an expert rider.” I remarked as I watched her. She lifted a hand and brushed the strands of hair that was stuck in her face. She laughed while she did it and I felt my stomach flip.
Her bonnet flew away and landed in the middle of the clearing. She urged her horse a distance away and then she flicked the reins and the horse galloped at full speed. “Oh gods!” Malcolm shouted and I heard my men’s gasps.
I was too far away! But I urged Lightning to run. I never kept my eyes away from her and saw as she stretched her body and then leaned to the side while the horse was running at its highest speed.
She leaned further. One hand on the reins, while the other one was outstretched towards the ground. My heart thudded inside my chest and I felt weak. She was going to fall! And then she’d break that lovely neck!
Lightning was running as fast as he could but I was still too far away! Then I saw her as she neared the bonnet and everything seemed to be in slow motion. I saw her thighs clench on the saddle so that she could anchor herself to her horse and then she stretched her body further down the ground. Her fingers reached the bonnet and she snatched it up and placed it back on her head while her horse was running as fast as it could!
I heard her laughter which sounded like bells and then she tugged on the reins and her horse slowed to a stop. She refastened the bonnet more securely on her head. I nearly slumped in my horse with relief.
The stable groom who watched her little trick fell to the ground in a dead faint. The head groom with him fell to his knees and retched the contents of his stomach.
Adrienne urged her horse back towards us and my men shouted and cheered her for her trick. Some even asked her to teach it to them. She smiled at them and did an exaggerated bow which sent the men in a greater frenzy. She agreed to teach them the trick and I made a mental note to tell my men to tell her they’ve changed their mind and they didn’t want to do it anymore.
She continued to smile as she patted her mare’s neck. Her eyes twinkled with happiness and I think that this is the longest time I’ve ever seen her laugh. I’ve never seen her this happy and this radiant. She was like a single ray of sunshine in a dark room.
Malcolm was by my side again and I saw how pale his face was too. “She really is an expert rider.” He agreed. “My hairs are going to turn grey and then I am going to die of a heart attack if she keeps that up...” I replied and then lifted a hand and rubbed my aching chest. I took deep breaths and willed my erratic heartbeat to calm.
I felt as if I just ran miles and miles. I was sweating but not with exertion but with fear for her. Now, the fear was being replaced with relief as she accepted praises from my men who were amongst the greatest horsemen in the land. But I’ve never seen them do that trick before.
Malcolm placed his hand on my back and said with a huge grin, “Looks to me like you’ve met your match, my friend.”