The knock on the door made him wake up to an empty bed. He swore under his breath, throwing the heavy blankets off his body as if they were silks. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, putting his robe on as he pulled open the door.
“Where is she?” he asked, his voice angry from having been woken up and while knowing that the messenger was going to tell him something he already knew.
“She’s at the tavern, your grace,” the messenger said, stepping aside as the angry and sleepy man walked past.
“Is my horse ready?” he grumbled, his squire coming up behind him, clumsily holding onto the man’s riding attire.
The night was obnoxiously warm, the air thick with humidity. The crickets and owls chirped and hooted a sweet chorus as the sound of horses ran down the dirt roads into town.
The tavern was loud and rowdy, singing and fighting barely came to a halt as the man, his squire, and the messenger walked inside.
His eyes scanned the tavern before zeroing in on her.
The pang of jealousy he had felt the first time he saw her kissing one of the tavern wenches had dulled and sharpened into some sort of Stockholm syndrome. He watched the woman he was forced to marry twirl her fingers into the tight curls of the serving girl, the red lips he had only kissed once gently gracing the curves of the girl’s neck, something he had wished she had done to him at some point during the ten-year duty. Her eyes caught his and she grinned, causing him to react he never reacted before. He cleared his throat, his ears and neck suddenly getting hot. She kissed the serving girl’s forehead and whispered in her ear before getting up, dusting off the outfit that wasn’t of her station. She walked past her lord with her small entourage, her eyes catching his once more, her gaze intimidating him.
He watched her as they slowly rode back home, trying to see how her mouth moved in the dark as he heard her laughing.
“You embarrass me,” he growled as he closed the door behind him. She started to unbutton her clothes, her dark eyes fixated on nothing.
“You behave like some sort of–“
“Trollop? Whore? Wench? But you won’t say king, will you?” she combated, her eyes turning into daggers and barely missing his head as she looked at him. “If I had been a better woman, a slow-witted woman, you would be pulling the same stunts as I am. You still could, honestly. So, why are you actually mad, my lord?” she asked, arms crossed.
He said nothing, knowing she was completely right. His own father was a bit of a whore himself, fathering dozens of bastards throughout the land.
She continued to watch him, eyes unyielding, the cold stare feeling like a knife dragging against his throat.
He’s had women before, sure, but not like her. She wanted no parts of the joining, shouting from the heavens that she would make this experience miserable for all when she was just all of 16, barely a woman at all. On her 17th birthday, the day of their wedding, she walked down the aisle, carrying a torch, and set her dress on fire. At the time of the bedding, she had swallowed a key that was the only way to unlock the chainmail bloomers she wore. By the time she had turned 18, the young lady had turned her older lord grey.
He didn’t want to marry her either, having bedded and wooed women in his own age group, but they were too old and weren’t of proper blood to marry and continue the family line. He was nearly 30 when they had married and he wanted nothing to do with the child and her turning him grey was mostly because she was still as such; a child.
He had left when she had turned 20, the horn of war calling all the lords of land to the king. When he came back, she had blossomed into her womanhood, but all the stress of behaving as a lord seemed to have turned her into one, so he thought. When he had caught her with the kitchen girl, he didn’t know what to believe. Then he caught her with the daughter of one king’s knights while they vacationed in the city. For three years, he had her tailed for her “infidelity”.
“Answer me,” she shot out, snapping him back to the present. He stared at her, her eyes had changed from that angry child to the simmered rage of a grown woman. Her face had filled out from good drink, her shoulders larger than most women her age from training in the yard with his guard. Her hair was cut short, barely past her ears. Even in the dark, her dark skin seemed to radiate a glow. He felt unworthy and ugly in her presence. He realized he didn’t really know her.
She scoffed and rolled her eyes, continuing to undress.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his eyes soft and embarrassed.
She touched his hand gently and kissed his cheek, his body feeling like it was going into overdrive.
Over time, they got to know each other, becoming great friends and archery rivals. On the night of their 15th wedding anniversary, she kissed him as wives did, kissed him like a peasant girl kisses the one she actually wanted, kissed him as if she had 15 years of love to catch up on. He stared at her and laughed, holding her close, toasting to their future, to their joy, to their adventures. He curled up in her lap, the warmth of the mead and fire lulling him to sleep as she played with his hair, the grey shifting back to a salt and pepper color. She stared at the fire, her hair now down to her shoulders, specks of grey sprinkled into her black coils.
An owl hooted and landed in the window. A smile played on her lips. She slowly crawled out of bed, covering him up with a blanket and throwing on a heavy cloak before quietly shuffling out of the castle.
Her favorite tavern girl was serving drinks again.