The day for the journey to a new home and way of life dawned clear and unclouded, but a storm rolling in had set the departure back yet another day. The young woman stood facing outward from her chamber window, solemn hazel eyes seeing nothing beyond the horizon. Now, at dusk, the sun glowed crimson through the remaining storm clouds. Unpredictable weather was only one of the many things to which she was accustomed. Young only in her body, having seen the passing of only twenty-two seasons, she felt ever so much older. She sighed softly as the light faded slowly into the purple and scarlet of twilight, the lavender blue sky fading to the deep dark colors of night. Soon the twin moons would rise and night would begin in earnest. She turned from the windows, leaving them open to let in the cool night air.
The very word seemed alien. It was nothing she had ever thought would come to pass … only those who were displeasing or utterly rebellious were ever released. She was not these things. If anything, she had long enjoyed being the most favored, even though her heart had long secretly yearned for more … wondered what lay beyond the front gates of the Shire of the East. There was no reason behind the feeling. She had anything her heart desired: all she need do was approach and ask. Every need was met and more. Her chamber was spacious, she had servants to tend to her, and she was clothed better than many noble women had ever been. Yes, she had everything she could want … and yet …
Now she was free to pursue her own dreams … her own desires … passions … the elusive ‘more’ she longed for in her heart. If you had asked her what the more entailed, she would not have had an answer. She couldn’t name it or describe it. She only knew it was there. Not that she hadn’t loved submission to Him … He was as gentle and good as she now knew men could be cruel and evil. To be sure, there was a brutality about their scenes she had come to love … but not cruel, not ever … not like that night …
She turned to see a young girl standing in the doorway. At her turn, the girl curtsied and lowered her eyes.
“Yes,” she responded, “what is it?”
“The Master has asked that you join Him for dinner, m’Lady. Will you come?”
“Asked … ” she repeated softly. Not commanded. Not sent for. Not called. Asked. She looked again at the girl, “Please inform Him I will be in attendance shortly.”
The girl curtsied politely and nodded, apparently waiting. The young woman smiled softly. How often had she waited in just that way?
“You may go,” she said softly.
The girl curtsied again, and demurely left the room. The young woman looked around, her eyes falling on her trunks, now packed and ready for the coming journey. She was to leave in the morning. Leave? How could she leave? And yet, how could she stay? After all that had happened, how could she stay? A tear formed in her eye and she brushed it away brusquely. No time for tears, and she had already shed an ocean’s worth she was sure. Tears of pain. Hurt. Fear. Guilt. And despair. Too many tears, and she was determined they were done.
She touched up her make-up and checked the dark hair she now wore up, tucking an annoyingly stray strand back in place, and moved toward the door. Glancing in the mirror to survey the gold gown that was His favorite, she noted that nothing really showed yet … the barest hint of a small bulge just below the silken lacings of the bodice. It was going to be difficult … she had not yet become accustomed to wearing so much clothing. So many layers! So much hidden from the prying eyes of men. On Kaia, or as much of the world as she had seen, women had two purposes of which she was aware…pleasing men, and birthing children. She knew noblewomen enjoyed some semblance; a measure, really, of equal footing, but when the chamber doors closed and the lanterns turned down, their purpose was the same. Exiting the room, finally satisfied that all was as perfect as she could make it, she walked toward the stairs. At the far end of the hall tall windows filled the expansive wall. To either side of the great staircase were hallways that extended to opposite wings of the castle. She knew every room, every corner, as well as she knew her own body.
Before turning to descend the stairs, her eye caught a movement in the courtyard below. Pausing to look, a lean and well-formed young woman was headed out toward the barracks. The short cropped ash blond hair was very familiar, as she had seen Ahren several times since the young woman arrived at the Shire. Not a submissive type of woman, for she had come from the Ketangular Mountains to the west, she had taken a position as a hired servant and seemed quite content. Turning back to the stairs with one last glance as Ahren disappeared around a corner, she wondered what it was about the young woman she found so fascinating. They had exchanged only a few words of greeting, yet … Shaking her head, she descended the stairs, again taken aback by those who now curtsied to her. She was still in a place of awe, with everything taking on an air of the surreal. How could this be real? How could this be happening? How could any of it have happened?
Coming to the landing, she turned toward the Great Hall, Her eyes falling briefly on the recessed oak door that led to the lower levels of the castle, now locked and barred as if to lock away the horror of that night. The door stood to the left of the bottom of the stairs, built into the underside of the stairwell. Within, she knew another stairway led to the dungeons. She walked over and laid her hand on the rough wood. In one dungeon room in particular nothing had been touched since that night, she knew, and it was His plan to totally replace everything. Yet, he couldn’t, really… this One who had taken her so often to the depths of fear only to guide her back to the light and emerge stronger than before. He couldn’t wipe away the memories of years of submission within those walls below, or in His chamber above. Even with all His power, He could not remove the one night of terror locked into her memory: the night she nearly killed Him. Leaning her head briefly against the beams of the door, she let out a soft sigh.
“All will be well,” a whisper came to her ear. She turned but saw no one. She shook her head firmly and looked away, removing the traces of doubt that lingered, and turned again toward the Great Hall. The masonry of the walls and the tapestries that hung were as familiar as ever, yet somehow different, and she did not notice a strange shadow off to one side of the door she had just left.
As she approached the double oak doors that were the entrance to the dining room, the footman stepped forward and bowed.
“Milady,” he said.
She nodded and waited at the door as the footman went ahead of her, “My Lord, the Lady Kellina.”
She heard a chair slide smoothly across the heavily beamed floor. The footman came back through the door and bowed, “The Master will receive you now, Milady.”
She nodded and went through the door, smiling as He waited to greet her. She curtsied politely and out of habit lowered her eyes demurely. A soft chuckle made her look up. He was handsome and sturdily built: a muscular and solid frame of a man. The jacket He wore was of blue velvet, highlighting the tint of blue in His gray eyes. A flush of lace at the collar showed how dark His skin had become over so much time in the summer air. Hair to His shoulders, dark with only hints of gray, now pulled back into a formal pony tail. She exhaled softly at the sight of Him.
“My dear,” He said softly, “but we are equals now, you and I. No more lowered eyes for my Lady, unless they are directed toward You.”
She nodded and extended her hand, which he gallantly bent to kiss and then used to lead her to the table to sit next to him. She smiled as He pulled Her chair for Her, looking over the settings. Nothing had been spared. The lofty spires of Cainnait lay far to the west, across the Coral Sea, yet one would have thought a head of state were in attendance.
He smiled, “Are you well?”
“I am, do set your mind at ease. All is well. You’ve amassed an army that is to escort me … and Ahren, I believe that’s the name?”
“She prefers to be called Ahren … and is silent as to the reason. She’s most wonderful as a servant. Bright, strong, capable … just a little too, well, masculine for my tastes. I like women who are soft and sweet smelling and curved – and who like men.”
Since He had made her aware of Ahren’s preferences not long after the young woman’s arrival at the Shire, the look He received in response to His comment gave Him pause, “Have I offended?”
“Is it so surprising to You that some women prefer women, my Lord?”
He looked at Her, bemused, “And what would you know of such things, my Lady Kellina?”
Her blush pleased as ever, even to the softness of Her reply, even if the true source of the blush was not perceived, “I … have … heard of such, My Lord Michon … amongst the maids and other women. It is said there is a place in the mountains where the women are fierce and love freely as they choose … it is a tale My mother often told me while I was yet a child.”
He nodded as a servant poured wine, “I, too, have heard such tales, and think it suspect that women talk so among themselves even here.”
“So my good Lord thinks not only that women cannot burn with passions toward our own kind as do men toward us, but that we would not discuss these things between ourselves?”
He shook His head, a little too hurriedly, realizing His error, “No, not at all, not at all. It’s just that … well … my preference is for women who prefer men, at least a little.”
She smiled demurely, but said nothing. He noticed.
“You look very much like Creole when he’s caught a mouse … confession time, girl, I will have your thought!”
She looked at him, straightening her back, hazel eyes flashing more than a hint of resistance, “Girl? Did you not just call us equals, and now belittle me as ‘girl,’ my ‘boy’?”
He stiffened just briefly at the word, and then relaxed, chuckling, “Aye, you’ve caught Me, love. I apologize. So, will you not share what your secret is, my Lady?”
She smiled tenderly, looking away to lift a spoon of soup to her lips, “I had thought my Lord more observant … “
As she kept her focus on the bowl before her, sipping the still hot broth, silence covered the room. He looked intently at her, realization slowly crossing His face at her unspoken secret, incredulity filling his eyes, “I had no idea!”
“By your troth, my Lord, never once?” She did not look up even now.
He nodded, raising His right hand solemnly, “I swear I had not one clue. You … you gave so completely … so thoroughly … never a hint that you were not happy …”
Her hand went to His arm, her eyes on His at last, “Oh no, my Lord, forbid even the thought! I’ve been as happy with You as I might any man … well, most …” her eyes clouding only briefly, remembering …” but as time has passed, I have been more drawn to women. Their softness, their sweet natures, the way we hold each other sharing secrets, the way we smell and feel, and ,…”
She stopped, realizing He was totally taken aback, “And this also I love in women!”
She nodded, “I know … and I have given much thought to this new Shire over which You would have Me rule. After all that has happened of late … Vanyelia and Jenna, that hideous night … this must be a place where women can be with women and be at home to love whom they will, a place of safety. Can it be unreasonable that there be more than one place we are free to live and love our passions as do the men of our world?”
He shook His head after a moment, “Your words have the ring of truth to them. It doesn’t seem unreasonable at all.” He took a sip of the soup set before Him, “Is there any word from Jenna?”
She shook her head, “Not one. She has contacted no one, not even Van. I can well imagine what she went through … what she’s going through now …”
He nodded, “You will allow me to send male guards – at least until you can acquire and train your own female guard?”
She nodded, “Of course … but do lend me that delightful young female Captain you just promoted … she seems very capable.”
“As you wish … Ahren, Adelaide, Captain Payne … anyone else?”
“After what you just said, don’t tell me you begrudge me Ahren?”
“Only in that she’s an excellent servant, although I’ve respected her wishes as far as sexual service went,” He paused ever so slightly, mischief in His eyes, “Though after what you’ve revealed here, I think you might be wanting Ahren for more than her value as a servant, …”
She flushed crimson then, hiding it by leaning down behind the table on the pretense of reclaiming her napkin. She was only slightly pink when she came back up, smiling demurely, imagining how frustrated Lord Michon must have become upon realizing He was not Ahren’s cup of tea. She laughed softly at the idea of Ahren and Lord Michael – it was beyond her capability to imagine.
“I’m merely glad she found her way into Your Shire … perhaps she will one day help me to develop my own into something to be envied as is yours.”
He looked at her solemnly, wondering even now why He was letting her go … why He didn’t ask her to marry Him and rule Shire of the East at His side. But He knew, even as the servant filled their glasses, that She was destined to rule Her own Shire. The one Southwest of His, long abandoned now, but still viable as a realm. It had been many years since He had walked there, though He had ridden over to see how much damage the years had wrought when He first thought of sending Her there. She was strong and capable, and He knew She would eventually wilt in His service, especially with what she had just revealed to Him. Even as His wife, He now knew she would never be truly happy with Him. He looked at her abdomen, still flat and firm against her bodice. She followed his gaze and smiled tenderly, reaching out to touch his hand.
“We are both well, My Lord. Cease Your worry. I have servants to come with me, guards to guard me, and a new Shire to build.”
He nodded, “Then let us eat and no more talk of sorrow or good-byes. I understand Adelaide has done wonders with the roast turkey tonight.”
She nodded firmly, placing her napkin onto her lap, “Indeed? I can hardly wait, and thank you again for agreeing to allow Adelaide to come with me.”
He nodded, “I am sorry to lose her … she’s a brilliant cook and will run your kitchen with an iron skillet!!”
They laughed. Then there was no more talk of leaving or good-bye … just of good memories … joyful moments shared … and times of great contentment. Later, He walked her to the door of her room, and kissed her softly on the lips before turning to leave. She watched him go and sighed, then went into her chamber. The bed was turned down and the fire burning softly cast a warm glow. A maid helped her out of the gown and, as the sections of gown and undergarments were laid across the bed to be put away, she went to climb into a tub of hot water for a bath. The warmth melted away residing fears as well as the ache of sore feet. She was certain sure that she would never be accustomed to having shoes, and determined to still walk barefoot as often as decorum would permit. She closed her eyes, wondering idly if any of the maids … or Ahren … knew anything of massaging feet …
The maid entered the bathing room to help her out of the tub and into her nightgown, another development which She must accept. None too soon she was under the down covers, her eyes turned toward the window and glow of the moons’ light outside. The maid curtsied unseen and left quietly after stirring the embers one last time.
Tomorrow she would begin a new life … and as slumber took her, she wondered what it held in store … for her, for him, and for all those coming with her. Would she finally find the something ‘more’ for which she had longed so long and secretly? She drifted into a dreamless slumber as the dying embers of the fire left the room in darkness.