Ælfwine was sorry when the day ended. He had learned a lot about the defensive set up of the keep, and the state of the lands. Integrating the Nornish and Anglish warriors would be a challenge, and already in practice a fight had broken out by a Nornish man-at-arms who wouldn’t accept the idea of fighting alongside a woman.
Ælfwine had to admit the idea was outlandish to him as well, but having seen the woman in question with a spear in her hands, he wasn’t inclined to argue. Not yet anyway. And was not likely to soon forget who had been soundly defeated when his forces and the Anglish last fought.
But he also realized that the Anglish fighting style was most suited to the forested mountains. If they had managed to catch his men in the open fields, there likely would have been a much different outcome.
He said as much to Wigmar and was pleased when the armsmaster didn’t get defensive. “Aye, and that’s how your conqueror took us. Lured our fighters out into the open and your cavalry cut us to pieces. But we might have surprised you yet, m’lord.”
And for a time, while he learned his new warriors, reviewed the state of the fields with the seneschal, began teaching Henre the rudiments of the knight’s art… he was able to forget.
But now last meal approached. Lady Mildþryð awaited him. And he could no longer have the luxury of denial.
After the meal, he again went with her back to her chambers. He told her of his day while her attendant brushed out her hair and helped her ready for bed. She reciprocated. Most of what she told him was of no relevance to him, matters of household management. But he listened respectfully and learned a few things – about the state of the stores and needs of the keep – that were of interest.
He found he truly did enjoy talking with her. She listened attentively and commented intelligently. And while she lacked a great deal of knowledge of warfare, her knowledge of the land and people was impressive.
Her servant finally departed.
Alone with Lady Mildþryð, he forced himself to cross the room and kneel at her feet.
She smiled and patted his cheek. Like a girl rewarding an obedient dog. “I am pleased you remembered my wishes.”
“I am not likely to forget, my lady.” Somehow, the words came out almost normally.
She continued the conversation as if nothing had changed. But the small pleasure Ælfwine had been able to take in it was utterly gone.
Finally, they retired to bed. His faint hope that at least here she would permit him to be a proper husband to her was quickly shattered. She did not even remove her shift, instead having him strip and sit on the edge of the bed.
It felt like a mockery, for her to kneel before him here, while denying him everything that should be his. And yet, when her mouth closed over him, and her hands began to caress his thighs and sac, he quickly found himself lost in the pleasure that she brought him.
Was this, he wondered, why men were commanded to please their wives? To keep them in this mindless state of pleasure? But it was so pure, so wonderful, that who, having tasted it once, could deny themselves the chance to taste it again? Did his lady-wife know that if she continued this assault on his senses, she would not need his oath, she could just lead him around by his shaft?
He truly was so weak…
As he was drifting off to sleep, he wondered – why would she not permit him to give her pleasure? Had her lovers never been able to bring her to this peak so she didn’t know to crave it? Or… did not crave it from him because she still saw them, and had no intention of permitting him to even his most basic purpose as her husband?
“Did I displease you last night, my lady?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then why do you deny me the right to bring you pleasure?”
She shook her head, confused. “Why can you not accept that I tend to my own pleasure?”
His eyes flashed, but when he spoke his tone was even. As always. She was coming to had that calm reasonableness he wore like a mask. “My lady will do as she wishes. I had only hoped…”
“I had hoped that if I pleased you well enough, you would give over your lovers, my lady.”
“Lovers?” She blinked. “Why would you think I have lovers?”
“Give me the respect of honesty, at least, my lady. There was no blood between your legs after you first took me to your bed. And no virgin would know so much of sex and pleasure.
“It is my duty and privilege as your husband to give you pleasure. Even if you would continue to…. Am I not man enough to be even one of those who bring you pleasure?”
“You wished me to bleed?”
He blinked. “What man does not wish to see virgin-blood when he first beds his wife?”
First the first time in her adult life, she lashed out in anger, smacking him across the face so hard the blow rocked him back on his knees.
“Get out of my sight.”
Ælfwine had barely slept that night. The next day he worked himself into exhaustion. He took last meal in his room and slept restlessly, waking at the first sign of dawn.
The next repeated the pattern. He avoided Lady Mildþryð and she allowed him to.