Sigor would say nothing; but the mere fact that Edmund had shut himself in his quarters with orders not to be disturbed was causing the expectation to mount. Even my brother Rayson had been turned away, so although I was now aware of Carina's transgression; Edmund was not. It was possible of course that Lucia might tell him. I could not erase her from my mind: she had not given me any hint of the state of her relationship with my cousin when I had met her in the garden. She must have been so incredibly lonely. I sighed, giving thought to the events before and after her marriage. Edmund had cheered a little after our talk and by the time we had arrived in Gallant he was very different than on our previous visit. He had reverted to his former good natured self and had charmed her mother and sisters; in fact he had charmed most of the citizens. I mused on what might have happened this afternoon when he returned to Cartagen and wondered if the dog had worked. By the time we had got back to Court Edmund had seemed genuinely fond of the little animal. After our initial talk we had not discussed his treatment of Lucia again except that he had expressed the hope that he could resolve his difficulties with his wife. I gathered he had made a plan although he refused to divulge it; to me at least.
The hour bell rang. Edmund was late. We were dining informally which meant that families and friends shared tables. Tonight on the royal table there would be, besides Edmund and myself, Rayson, his wife, his eldest son and daughter, Tauren and Astrid, Astrid's father Felanor, Tauren's mother and younger brother. There was also a seat for Lucia as there had been every night since the wedding, and every night it had been taken away. Not tonight though; as the herald announced King Edmund and the Lady Lucia.
They made a handsome couple, I acknowledged, before they were hidden from view as the court rose. Her black hair a perfect foil for Edmund's tawny mane. They turned towards us at the top of the hall allowing me to study her for a few moments before they reached the table. She was holding onto his arm and appeared more nervous than on her wedding day. Edmund glanced down and gave her what looked like a reassuring smile and I saw him take her hand and squeeze it gently. Her face lost some of its pallor and her normal countenance almost returned. I imagined that her usual composure had been, not surprisingly, somewhat lost over the preceding weeks. When they reached us Edmund introduced her to those she had not met and then she took her seat between him and myself. Astrid could not hide her pleasure at the turn of events.
Edmund had never suffered from lack of confidence but I had to admire the way he stood up and addressed the hall. He introduced Lucia; something he should have done at the wedding, and joked that he thought he could not keep his beautiful wife to himself any longer, and that it was time he allowed her to mix with others. He made reference to the sweepstakes and announced that there would be a crowning ceremony some time soon. He would keep everyone guessing a little longer. A look at Lucia's face told me he had probably not mentioned that particular fact to her to her. But it was well done and the whole court rose as one to show their appreciation. There were great many 'I told you so smirks' and Lucia was blushing, something I thought she would never do. I guessed that whatever Edmund had planned was working well.
If the courtiers believed that they would have the opportunity to meet and dance with her that evening, then they were sadly mistaken. At the end of the meal Edmund announced to us that he was taking her to the balcony overlooking the square, alone. Normally a group of us would probably have joined them but I for one could understand his wish to spend some gainful time with her. He whispered some orders to Tauren and they were gone.
I envisaged that he would take her to the water gardens after the square and a few words with Tauren confirmed it. The gardens were splendid; beautiful, clever and fun. Flagstone paths wound their way through, not only the most striking and fragrant plants, but through fountains and statues also. Statues designed to issues jets of water at various heights and over differing distances; you could not help get wet. The flagstones were linked to a system of pulleys and weights, step on the wrong one and you were hit by a jet of water. All could be changed by a row of complicated levers, so how ever many times one visited you could still end up soaked. The whole area was lit with softly coloured lamps and those, combined with the heavily scented flowers, attracted huge colourful moths. It was a favourite place for lovers.
It was much later when I headed towards the royal apartments, I was well aware that Edmund would not be pleased to see me. But they had not returned and I retraced my steps and turned towards the main entrance to the building. I met them coming along the corridor. They were holding hands, leaning towards one another with their bodies touching and their heads very close. Neither noticed me approaching them. They looked…together. It was obvious to anyone where they were going and what they were going to do when they got there! I told myself that I was glad.
Edmund suddenly noticed me. "Merrick!"
I acknowledged him and grinned at Lucia. "You look rather….wet, Lucia."
She giggled with laughter, "We have been to the water garden, it was such fun. I had no idea somewhere like that existed."
"Was it crowded?" I asked out of devilment really. I already knew the answer.
She bit her lip in consternation. "No, I feel guilty. We were the only ones."
Edmund laughed, "I do not do it often, Merrick. I count tonight as special."
I had to agree with him. "Edmund, I am sorry but you are needed. There is a messenger in from Mortain. You will wish to hear the news." There was a loud groan from Edmund and a look of disappointment crossed Lucia's face. "I do not think it will take long but he has ridden many miles."
Edmund sighed resignedly, "I will just change my wet tunic and will be there shortly."
I watched them head towards their quarters, Edmund had put his arm around her shoulders and was whispering something in her ear. I decided that it probably boded well for Bregor.
I had to admit to a surge of disappointment when I heard Merick's words. I knew Edmund was just as frustrated. We had had such a lovely time, the crowds showing their pleasure when they noticed us on the balcony. The square was full of life; entertainers were attracted to Cartagen from far and wide. Fire-eaters, snake charmers, jugglers and acrobats all vied for space. The balcony gave us a good view and we could easily hear all that was going on but I imagined the atmosphere on the ground must have been even better. Evidently Edmund often did walk amongst the revellers but after the interest shown to me when I rode through the city he did not wish to risk doing so tonight. Also we would have needed a guard and I understood why he wanted us to be alone. He was trying to convince me that he had changed. But I knew he had not; he had just reverted to his normal self. We came to a mutual agreement and understanding whilst embracing each other in the shadows of the balcony; forget what had happened and start again. We owed it to Garrett, to Ríon and all who had died needlessly. We owed it to Bregor.
If I thought the square was fun then I was unprepared for the water gardens. It had been a long time since I had laughed so much, or been so wet with my clothes on. We took a few steps along the stones and then suddenly a water jet shot between us. He had not told me what to expect, which made it even funnier. As we progressed amongst the powerfully fragrant plants, spurts of water landed on our backs, or sometimes in our faces. Everywhere in fact.
Edmund decided he would kiss me every time we got wet. The kisses became longer and we got wetter. Eventually we ended up standing under a shower of water not caring at all. That was when I decided that I wanted him, very much. My body was singing, responding to his roving touch. We headed back inside; neither he nor I were pleased to see Merrick.
Edmund put his arm around me and whispered, "And there was I hoping to start work on that son you mentioned."
His eyes were full of controlled passion. I appreciated that he had been rather controlled since returning and he had been away over a week. He was trying very hard to prove something to me. "I imagine you will not be gone all night. I will not be asleep," I laughed. "I have my letters to read."
We reached the door that led directly into his….no, our apartments, it led into the lobby. The guard opened the door and we were confronted by giggles of laughter and Bo chasing towards us after a ball. Rosa and the young footman jumped up looking very guilty.
Rosa bowed her head, "I was just sorting Lady Lucia's clothes, my Lord. She shot back into the bedchamber leaving the young man red faced.
"I came to check his water. I thought he needed exercise, Sire," he said nervously.
Luckily though, his king was grinning. Bo had come to a halt at his feet and was now on his back with three legs waving in the air. Traitor! Edmund bent to tickle him.
"Well, Anton you have just earned yourself a new duty; in charge of the royal dog. You had better find him a blanket and somewhere to sleep." Edmund looked around; I would think that recess will be fine. It backs on to the fireplace and will be warm in winter."
"Yes, Sire. I shall see to it immediately," said the boy, very much relieved. He made to go off but Edmund called to him.
"Oh, and Anton, Bo sleeping out here has another advantage. You can take him out for his exercise in the mornings without disturbing us."
The boy grinned. "Yes, Lord of course." He was not really frightened of Edmund and I wondered if his red face had been more to do with Rosa's proximity than anything else.
"Edmund," I said amused, as the boy went off to find a blanket. "I cannot imagine Anton being up before you in the mornings."
"No, perhaps not," he laughed. "Although tomorrow I am having a day off. I thought to go riding with you in the morning and in the afternoon I must show you around and introduce you to a few people. We can take tea with Grandmother." He quirked an eyebrow, "She will be pleased."
I took my letters from the table and we walked through to the bedchamber. Edmund was peeling off his tunic as he went. "It is alright, Rosa," he said with a grin. She had bolted back into my dressing room at the sight of him. "It is only the tunic that is coming off. You had better see to your mistress. She is a lot wetter than I," he laughed.
Edmund disappeared into his dressing room to find another tunic. When he reappeared he hugged me to him for a moment. "Don't," I laughed, "you will get wet again."
"It will be worth it." He murmured nuzzling into my neck. "I will not be long," he whispered, "and no nightgown!"
I was surprised I found it funny but what was the point of looking back? I watched the door close behind him. Even with Rosa and I still remaining it seemed quiet after he had gone. The withdrawal of his powerful presence leaving the room empty. Well, life would now be very different; it was something that I was looking forward getting used to. Rosa started to dry the wetness from my hair. I almost giggled to myself; I was not experiencing quite the erotic sensations as when Edmund had done the same thing. Her voice jolted me from my secret musing.
"My Lady, may I say that I am very glad…."She started to say and then changed her mind.
"Glad about what, Rosa?"
"About you and the King," she finished rather sheepishly.
I smiled. "Thank you, Rosa. I am glad also."
Rosa had gone and I was wandering around wrapped in a robe; I was hardly going to walk around naked whatever his preferences. Bo would not settle outside in the lobby, making it clear that he wished to return to his old ways and sleep on my bed. I decided that Edmund would be unlikely to tolerate that arrangement and then I suddenly remembered what I had done when he was little and I had to leave him. I fetched one of my worn shifts and added it to his blanket. The little dog snuggled down quite happily and I took my letters and went to bed.
I did feel quite lost; the bed was huge. But I found it very comfortable. I draped a shawl around my shoulders and propped myself up on the pillows to read. My mother's letter first; I scanned the pages.
I shared her pain as she admitted she could not get Ríon from her mind. Not a mention of my father, though. But plenty about Edmund.
'I must say, Lucia that I have completely changed my opinion of King Edmund. He has been most kind. I am sure that his rude behaviour was down to grief. If she only knew, I thought. "You say from your letter that he is treating you well. I can believe it. He spoke very fondly of you.' What! Both of us obviously wanted to keep her happy. Anyway it was true now. 'I hope to visit you in Cartagen; he suggests I come to witness your crowning.' Typical that my mother knew beforeme, however it was the next bit that made me grin. 'The new governor is very charming, a gentle educated man. He is a widower but also lost his son a few years ago in the war with Tadistan and his daughter has moved to the south, so he is sympathetic to my feelings. We get on well. He is a good conversationalist and I foresee many pleasant winter evenings ahead. He has allowed me to keep my sitting room, to which, as you know, I am much attached. However I have moved into your old bedchamber, it is much more suitable for me on my own.' For how long? I wondered wickedly. I finished her letter and picked up the one from the twins, it was as usual, written by Hanna and mostly dictated by Hella, I imagined. I picked out the sense amongst the ramblings.
'Edmund is very nice.' Edmund! When did they start calling him Edmund? Before me, it seemed. 'Quite old though.' Old? 'He says he is not keeping you in a dungeon, which is a shame. We liked the thought of a languishing Gallantine beauty locked up in Cartagen. We suppose you would have got fed up with bread and water, but it would have been very romantic.' Romantic? I wondered what on earth they had been reading. 'Gallant is full of gorgeous young cavalry officers, they look absolutely divine in those uniforms. They are very nice to us and give us rides on their horses, but Hanna thinks that it is because we are friendly with Théa. They all follow her around. She cannot walk to the market without one of them offering to carry her basket. We do not think that she favours one above the other. In fact she looks quite embarrassed. It will not last though, they are all off to the coast tomorrow and just the Governor's soldiers will be here. Their uniforms are not so dashing.' Off to the Coast? Whatever for? And when did my sisters start to become interested in men? They were not yet fourteen. I wondered what Ansgar would think about Théa's popularity. I was not surprised and was glad it had not turned out a lot worse. 'Hopefully they will be back in Cartagen when we come for your crowning, although we will not get a look in with Théa about.' Théa coming for my crowning? I could only wait and ask Edmund. I put the letter down. It had been an eventful day and my eyes were tired.
I started, wondering what had woken me. Edmund was leaning over the bed trying to remove the letters from my hand.
"I am sorry," he said softly, "I tried to do it at gently as I could."
"Was I asleep?" I asked groggily. "I tried not to be."
"I am later than I thought. Go back to sleep." He sat on the bed for a moment and took my hand, rubbing it gently with his thumb. "I will just go and get undressed. Go to sleep," he whispered.
I wanted to talk to him. Well, I wanted to do more than talk but I guessed he must be tired. He had been up since before dawn.
He came back in again this time wearing a robe and sat back on the bed. "I am awake now." I told him somewhat defiantly.
"Only just," he laughed. His face took on a serious expression. "Lucia, why did you not tell me about Carina?"
Carina? I had forgotten. "It went out of my mind, Edmund. No harm was done."
His expression was wary. "Lucia, she was not some innocent whom I seduced and then cast aside. She was well aware of the rules."
So that what was bothering him. "I know, Astrid told me. It is of no matter. But surely, Edmund that was not the reason you are so late?"
"No, it is not. But I have to thank you for your handling of the situation. It could have been awkward."
I shrugged; I knew it was important to him, "It was obviously right to just send her away."
He looked relieved; I understood that he did not wish me to think any worse of him.
He decided to change the subject. "Gallantaire is under threat from Coastal Raiders. They have been spotted off the coast of Mortain, heading north."
So that is why the cavalry were being diverted but before I could say Edmund carried on.
"They hope to take advantage of the unstable position in the Province. But they are in for a shock."
"This was known to you?"
"Yes," he nodded. "We had intelligence from your friend Ansgar. One of his Sea Captains got wind of it. He returned with his ship to bring the news. Evidently Ansgar had expected something of the sort and given orders."
"He is very astute."
"Yes, he is. Forewarned, I was able to send the cavalry to the coast when we were still in Gallant, and," he laughed, "a proportion of the eastern army are now the western force. They will stay awhile until things settle."
"It was one of Ansgar's traders who warned us that Garrett had returned from the east." I shook my head. "My father had no time for Ansgar, just because he had been a mercenary and a common soldier."
"But what a soldier," Edmund laughed. "He had dinner with us one night and enthralled us with his tales. My young officers hold him in awe, although," he grinned mischievously, "it could have something to do with his granddaughter."
"That reminds me," I said laughingly. "The twins said that they and Théa were coming to my crowning. Is that right?"
"Mmmm…,"he murmured. "I was so busy kissing you tonight I have not had chance to tell you. I have invited your mother and the twins, but also Ansgar, his wife and Théa. He has contacts all over the continent and beyond. We are going to set up a sort of spying network. Using his fleet of merchant ships and his traders. Try to obtain prior knowledge of any threat to Bregor. We will arrange the crowning before winter and the council can meet with him at the same time. I thought you would like to have someone from home." He grinned, "I am not sure if the girls are really looking forward to seeing you or if the attraction is the escort I promised them."
"I imagine they have lost interest in me now they realise that I am not in a dungeon," I remarked jokingly.
"Well, they may have, but I have not," I could see the gleam of longing as his eyes held mine. "My thoughts kept wandering when I was supposed to be listening at the meeting."
His thoughts were more than evident as he took off his robe and joined me in bed. "However," he said decisively, as though he was trying to convince himself. "I do not intend to put those thoughts into action until the morning. You are tired and so am I."
I admit to a faint flash of disappointment, but he was right. I was tired and he must be exhausted. Anyway it was nice; he pulled me against him and soon I was snuggled up with my back against his chest and nestled into his loins. I tried to ignore what was pressing into me and concentrated on the warm safe feeling that was washing over me. It made me realise how utterly desolate I had felt over the last few weeks. I was tired and I tried to go to sleep. After a while however I was more awake than I had been before. I think it was something to do with the way his hand was cupping my breast. The way one of his legs was draped over mine. The way his hair smelled and how I remembered washing it. Slumber was not on my mind and I did not think he was asleep. Coming to a decision I wriggled around until I was facing him and whispered quietly. "Are you asleep?"
"No," his rich golden chuckle reverberated in my ear. "I seem to be experiencing considerable difficulty. In fact, Lucia, it is proving impossible." His hands were already running seductively over my back sending shivers of desire racing up and down my spine. "Do you wish to go to sleep, Lucia?" he murmured.
I knew how I was going to answer. I had decided that he had given much today. "No, Edmund. I wish you to set a fire running through my veins."
Some months later
I knew where she would be: looking west. It was not that she was unhappy but I recognized that she missed Gallantaire. Missed its wild scenery. Somehow missed its harshness. She found Cartagen easy and soft. Although she appeared to enjoy the life at court, I, if no other except perhaps Edmund, realised that she still felt confined. But of course she did not show it and kept her feelings well hidden from most. My cousin had promised they would visit Gallant in the spring, when she could travel again. Edmund was worried about her, which was why I was off to keep her company as he had duties elsewhere. Evidently last night the dreams had been particularly bad. He did not tell me exactly what they were; only that she woke suddenly in fright. He was assured that they would pass, that her condition was making them worse and that once the babe was born then the dreams would ease. That did not help now.
The guard opened the gate to the garden and I walked quietly to where I guessed she would be. I had not got very far when I was hit by a small hard projectile going by the name of Bo. The little dog impeded my progress by planting himself at my feet, rolling on his back and waving his three legs in the air. I laughed at his antics and reached down to tickle his belly. Like his mistress; he had charmed us all.
She was sitting on a rug in the early winter sunshine; it was rarely really cold in Cartagen. As she turned towards me I was struck once more by her beauty; mayhap her condition giving a fine edge to her features. She looked expectant and then slightly disappointed that it was I and not Edmund, but she hid it well.
"Merrick, how nice."
"Lucia, you look well." I sat beside her on the rug taking her hand to my lips. "They will be back in Gallant by now. Do you miss them?" Her sisters had brought life and sunshine to the court, and Théa? Well, Théa with her unusual slightly oriental looks and her gentle ways had caused more than a little interest. Even though not quite 'top drawer' so to speak: she was a friend of the new Queen and thus was accepted.
"Yes, if I am honest. But I will see them after the child is born. Edmund has promised."
"You are happy here though?"
"Of course." She laughed softly, "You think I would not be? Being Queen of Bregor?"
"You do not regret anything, then?" I was not sure why I was asking this. I suppose I needed the reassurance that all was right with her. She caught my eyes and held them for a moment; searching for something in them. Something I did not wish her to see.
"No, I regret nothing. This was meant to be, Merrick. It was just a pity it took us all so long to get here." I was not sure exactly what she meant but she changed the subject.
"Where is Edmund?"
"I am not sure. We had an early meeting and then he asked me to keep you company. He said he had something to do."
"Do you think he is with a woman?" she asked suddenly.
"What?" I was tempted to laugh. "At eleven in the morning? I hardly think so!" I was surprised she even thought it. "You do not really think that, Lucia?"
She shook her head and answered quietly. "No, I suppose not, but everything seems a little strange. I am behaving peculiarly and he may be fed up with me."
I took her hand and pulled it towards me holding it in both of mine. "You are behaving peculiarly because you are carrying a child. He is worried about you. But by all accounts it is not uncommon." The truth was that I knew Edmund was totally faithful to her and had no wish to be otherwise and I was sure she was well aware of that. "I suppose, Lucia that you sleep alone every night, wondering where he is?"
A lovely grin spread over her face. "I never sleep alone."
"I rest my case," I laughed.
There was a movement and Bo rushed towards the gate again. Edmund did not falter in his stride, managing this by picking up the little dog in one easy fluid movement and depositing him back down beside Lucia. "Are you propositioning my wife, Merrick?" It was said in an amused haughty tone.
I realised that I was still holding her hand. "I was trying to reassure her that you were not spending the morning with another woman," I grinned.
He shook his head chuckling and sat down behind her on the rug drawing her into his arms and placing his large hands on her even larger belly. "As if I would dare, imagine what she might plan for me." He was laughing but I could see the concern in his face as he bent to gently kiss her head. "Actually it is true," he whispered softly. My cousin lovingly pulled the hair back from her face to stroke her cheek. "I have been to see a woman."
"Do not mock," she laughed. I realised, that just him being here had improved her mood.
"It is true; I have spent the last hour with a woman," he repeated. "Ríon, Garrett, Edmund, Estalor," he announced with a flourish. "I have been to the seer; it is definitely a boy!"
Well that's all. Many thanks to those of you who have reviewed, it is much appreciated. There will not exactly be a sequel but I will be working on a story set in Tadistan some 20 -25 years hence. It will involve some of the characters and will hopefully be posted later in the year. LBJ