“God's teeth” he shook his head. “You are such an innocent. Has no one ever talked to you at all?”
She blushed. “My mother spoke to me to calm me down so that I would know that I as not dying when um...” She was chewing her lip again. “You know, I'm sure. That I was not bleeding to death.”
He nodded his understanding of what she was stammering to say. He thought, How have I gotten himself into a conversation like this? He had always expected his bride to come to him, at least, informed about what was going to take place. Here she sat, resting her elbows on his knees, looking to him as a font of information about everything. He noticed for the first time a sprinkling of freckles across her nose.
Maybe this was the universe pulling itself together to be sure that he was properly punished for surviving when others might have died. That she was only fifteen and he was twenty-five was not such a shocking thing. He knew of men who had been wed to females as young as thirteen. Some men had been proxy married to infants in the nursery and had waited patiently for them to grow up. Most had plowed their way through a field of courtesans while they waited. Not that he had not spent time in the arms of the women trained to please a man, but he had tried to avoid many of the problems that happened when visiting these women too often. Now, he had been given a female to be his wife who did not have the first idea of how to be a wife, or how to please him in bed. She said she tended a cabbage patch, did she know how to tend his castle?
“Since this union was not brokered by anyone, can you tell me what you are capable of doing?” It surprised him to watch the play of emotions on her face. She had clearly not been instructed on how to maintain a countenance of calm. He thought he might like this, at least he would have some idea of what she was thinking. Women, at best, were a puzzle.
“Did your parents know that you were out in the garden and building the fires?” He found that all of her activities were difficult for him to believe, in the normal circumstances of her being a girl in a family of high rank.
She was blushing again. He found she did that when she shared something like a confession or when she was caught in an explanation of something she had done. “They knew nothing of my activities. I surely would have been punished if they had caught me riding across the meadow in a dead run on one of the war horses, bareback. Mostly, I am able to be very quiet and move around without being noticed. It was easy to become lost in all the people. As long as I didn't call attention to myself I was pretty much left alone. I hope that I have not offended you.”
She was looking directly at his face. Most people could not stand to look at the twisting of the scars that covered the upper third of his face and into his hair line. He glared at her. When his expression changed she noted it immediately. “I did not mean to offend you,” she whispered and dropped her gaze to her hands.
“Get used to the face!” He was back to barking at her. “It is the face you will see every day of your life for the rest of your life. It will be the face that you look at when I'm inside you, the face you will see when you eat your meals. The face of a monster” He had grown defensive and angry. She did not understand what she had said or done to get this reaction from him.
“You do not frighten me. I told you that. I look at you to put your face in my memory. I have never before laid eyes on you; I want you in my memory.” She did not move her eyes from his face. He was as stubborn as she, and he did not look away. He looked in her eyes and saw no pity, he saw no fear, just the look of someone who did not know him and seemed to want to know about him. She had lowered herself to a kneeling position. “Now, you tell me what your skills are” she rested on her knees between his legs, her hands on his forearms.
She did not see him as broken, bent maybe, but not broken. She asked him a bold question, “Are the parts of you that make you a husband to me broken or damaged?” She really did not know what she was asking, but maybe there was something she needed to know about.
“God's Blood!” He was a fountain of swear words. She was soaking each one up for when she might need them again. “You say the strangest things. I am not broken or deficient and will service you quite well when the time comes.” He leaned down so that his nose was almost touching hers.
That they had been together like this, almost intimate, was an unusual thing — unheard of in their circles. He had not expected her to stay. No chaperone had been provided. She thought she would be in a monastery by now. It would be so easy to kiss her, to just cover her mouth with his lips. She was unusual, he was brave, he decided to kiss this woman who would be his bride. They were alone which was highly improper. He turned his head to adjust for their noses and covered her lips with his. He placed his hands over hers and maintained the pleasant placement of his mouth on hers. He felt her move slightly toward him allowing her mouth to conform to his. They maintained contact for a long time, he lost count of how long; she did not seem to care to move away from him. When they separated they each seemed stunned at what feelings had stirred between them. “We must never speak of these conversations or of this time together among other people. We would certainly shock people and your honor would be called into question” His voice was quiet but still carried an air of command.
“I can keep a secret.” She yawned in a very unladylike fashion. “I am tired. I will sleep by the fire. Wake me in the morning.” She had spent the last two nights on the ground by a fire. She lay down on the hearth and was soon asleep. He watched this creature that had wandered into his life. Surely she was going to upset everything in his well-ordered life. Instead of frowning, he found that he was smiling at the prospect of fitting her into his days. He would enjoy solving the puzzle named Kat. She had simply curled by his fire and gone to sleep. He had had the master’s rooms moved to the first floor when it had become obvious that his knee would be stiff and climbing stairs would be a problem. He thought once of picking her up and moving her to his room but decided against it. He had allowed enough compromise of her tonight. He would not complicate it by having her sleep in his bed even if sleep was all that she did. He would marry her, she would be the mother of his children, the heirs to his titles and lands. There would be honor in the reputation that was spoken of in this castle.
The next day the bailey was alive with conversation about the fact that the young woman he had sent for had stayed. When they all saw the priest making his way into the great hall they all knew that the master would take that young woman to wife. Their master had stayed closed away ever since he came back a hero, but damaged in such a way that he remained hidden from people. Naturally, such behavior grew rumors and stories about why he stayed hidden away as he did. The men who were his soldiers were as quiet as he was reclusive, which made the stories grow even faster. There were no parties, no celebrations, no feast days, only closed doors and rumors of a young man who had saved his king and been horribly injured. Now the priest was entering on the morning after the arrival of the young woman that the guards had been told to be prepared to escort right back to her family. She had not left, the priest was on his way in, it had to mean that they were getting married.
When he woke he had dressed and gone to find her. Finding her sitting by a built-up fire making pets of his dogs, he asked, “Do you have any other clothing to wear for your wedding day?” He motioned to the clothes she had worn into the keep. The fancy clothes she had worn for travel were still damp; no amount of brushing could help them at this point.
“I only have more like this.” She stretched out the fabric when she sat up. “I think my mother thought that we would marry as soon as I arrived. She did not account for the rain and the fact that you thought I would leave and be returned to them.” He offered his right hand, she took it without hesitation, he helped her to stand.
The priest bowed to them, “Lord Andrew.” The priest began, Fredrick stood as witness. The priest spoke all of the words as if they were in front of a huge crowd.
“Cecilia Katherine Marie, will you take Robert William Andrew as your husband?”
She answered, “I will.”
“Robert William Andrew, will you take Cecilia Katherine Marie as your wife?”
He answered, “I will.”
Drew had his parents' rings, he held them for the priest to bless them. She slid the ring on his left hand and he slid his mother's ring on her left hand. It occurred to him that this wedding was so much less than most women of their social group expected. She held her hands inside his as the priest blessed them and their union. She swore fealty to him. The kiss matrimonial was given. Then the priest served them communion. He managed to kneel with his left leg stretched awkwardly behind him. She knelt facing him as the marriage was blessed by the church. Fredrick helped him to stand. When Drew helped her to stand, she stepped in close so that he could balance on his stiff leg. As swiftly as they had been joined by Fredrick and Father John, they were left alone. Fredrick had gone to get their breakfast.
“It seems,” she commented, “that we are now bound together. I hope that you have no regrets. I cannot be the prize that you had in mind.” She had no illusions about who and what she was.
“My Lord.” Fredrick bowed, setting a tray of food on the table for them.
They sat at table sharing the morning repast. He pulled her close to him, touching her back, holding her hands. When she reached to touch his face he closed his eyes and allowed her gentle caress. She asked all sorts of questions about the place that she would call her home. For the first time, in what seemed a lifetime, he wanted to ride out from the castle and show her all that was theirs. He would speak to his master of horse to see that his saddle stirrups were adjusted for his leg that would not bend. He would spend today preparing her for his claim of her, as best as any woman could be prepared. He just hoped that she did not hate him afterward. He had grown quite fond of her in a very short time. As the day moved toward evening, he felt it was time; he issued a command to her.
“Go to my room, I will send a woman to you. She will train as your maid. You may arrange the things in my room so that you will have room for yours. Go.”
She followed his directions to the room for the master. She opened the windows to allow air to flow in. The air was cool, but a room needed fresh air. She was unpacking the saddle bags when a woman came in, nervous. She bowed, incorrectly, but she bowed.
“My lady.” her voice sounded weak. “I am Ester. The Lord has chosen me to be your maid. It seems we'll learn this together. How may I help you?”
“I need to find a place for my clothes. My best dress is drying still before the fire in the great hall.” Kat saw the look on Ester's face when she saw the dresses she laid out on the bed. “I only have plain clothes. I was not dressed for suitors or society.”
Ester came up to her and touched her hair. “I'm not much on curls but I'm good with braids. Your hair is beautiful. We can braid it like a crown and let it fall down your back if you like. Would you like a bath?”
(to be continued...)