Shortly after last meal, his door burst open. Lady Valdis stood glaring at him. “You. Come with me.”
“No. You will come and you will listen. As will my foolish daughter. This has gone on long enough.”
“I don’t believe--”
“Did I ask what you believe? No. Come. We will talk somewhere private.”
With no option other than physically forcing her from his rooms – which would be not only undignified but likelly rather difficult – he went with her.
She led him up to the tower walk. He was not surprised to see Lady Mildþryð waiting, though she seemed surprised to see him.
He walked to the low wall and looked out into the darkness.
“Ha. I was right. Sex. Nothing else makes you blush so.”
“Now you will listen to me, both of you. When you have listened, then you may talk.
“Sex makes fools of us. More than anything else except pride and wealth. You were strangers to each other, just beginning to build something. You will not let sex tear you apart before you have found if you have anything to build.” She snorted. “Even your father was not that foolish.”
“Even my father was not so foolish as to make you bleed!”
“So? You told me there was no blood.”
“He wishes there was!”
“Is it such a crime to wish my bride a virgin? To wish I were the first to bring her pleasure?”
Mildþryð snarled, but Lady Valdis held up a hand and silenced her. “Do you say that blood is the sign of a virgin?”
“Of course it is! Even the Dragma must know that. The first intercourse pierces a woman’s veil and there is always some blood.”
“You thought that… because I didn’t bleed, I must have had lovers.”
“Yes. What else was I to think?” He took a breath. “But why does it matter? What’s past is past. Wh--”
“Be quiet a minute, Ælfwine. I don’t know where to start with your ridiculous beliefs. But I swear to you, there was no one before you. There is no one else now.”
“No. I know you have little reason to trust me. Mother is right, we have only just begun building something between us. But I promise you by the ancestors. There was no one else.
“You’re wrong about this ‘virgin blood’ – but even if you weren’t, do you think I never touched myself? If I ever did have any such ‘veil’, I would have pierced it with my fingers long before we met.
“As for my knowledge… Ælfwine have you never seen a Dragma longhouse? They are one great room, with no walls, no privacy. I couldn’t have avoided seeing if I wanted to.”
“If!” Valdis cackled. “You delighted in it.”
The blood drained from Ælfwine’s face. Moving as stiffly as an old man, he lowered himself to his kneels and bowed his head. “My lady, there is no excusing the insult I offered you, nor will I try. I can only hope in time I may atone for it and earn your forgiveness.”
Did he serve any other, they would cast him off for such an insult. But he was her wedded husband and she could not sever that bond. However much he might deserve it.
“Ælfwine.” A gentle touch on his face, a hand under his chin. “Stand up, please.”
Of course. Even now, he must keep up the pretense.
“Is that what was upsetting you, my lord? That you thought I had taken lovers?”
“No, my lady. Not exactly. But please do not trouble yourself on it. I have not the right...”
“You asked me to let you pleasure me.”
“Yes, my lady.”
Suddenly she was pressing up against him, rubbing herself on him. “You didn’t care if I had lovers or not?”
“Not… not exactly, my lady. I… just...” Her hand wrapped around his shaft and began slowly pumping.
Dimmly, he realized that Lady Valdis has left. Lady Mildþryð crouched down in front of him and began unlacing his pants. He clenched his fists at his side, longing to reach out and touch her but knowing he had forever lost the right.
Her hand was on his shaft, her tongue licking him.
“A man who cannot bring his wife pleasure is no true man. Ah!” Her tongue flickered inside his slit and he struggled to stay on his feet. “Such a man is below contempt...” a scrape of teeth made him gasp “...he has failed…. He has failed...”
He couldn’t remember what he was going to say. He knew he should care, but he couldn’t as the pleasure washed through him. It built and built and…
Cold air washed over his shaft. He opened his eyes to see Lady Mildþryð stand and step back from him.
Saying nothing, he tucked himself back in his pants. “If you will excuse me, Lady Mildþryð. I should seek my bed.”
She took his hand. “Is that all? You have nothing else to say to me?”
“No, my lady. I am sure I have said enough and more than enough to last us both a life time.”
“Then come with me, Ælfwine.”
Helpless to do anything else, he followed her to her bedroom, where she immediately stripped off her clothing. His eyes drank her in.
She sat on the edge of her bed. Opening her legs to show him her petals, already glistening in the lamp light.
“Lord Ælfwine, I am used to taking care of my own needs. But I would be honored if you would help me tonight.”
Hardly daring to believe his ears, he walked to her. One step. Another. And squatted down between her knees.
“My lady? Why?”
“Because I didn’t understand. Because I never meant to shame you or deny you your place as my husband. I was simply set in my ways. But I did insult you, didn’t I? Even on our wedding day, when I didn’t allow you to touch me.”
He nodded but said “I am your sworn man. If you did not wish...”
She stopped him with a finger over his lips. “My husband, we have, all unmeaning, traded insult for insult. Trade with me now pardon for pardon. And seal the exchange as the Ancestors did, with a kiss.”
“As you wish, my lady.” He kissed her. Gently at first. Then nibbling around her petals. Teasing her with his lips. And as her whimpers became moans and moans became cries, he plunged his tongue into her depths.