By the next day I was on my feet though rather unsteady. Cia stayed by my side watching over me as I moved about the household. The other servants had started to address me as Lady Sol and would bow as I passed them. I managed to nod at them though I was embarrassed at their submissiveness. Panic slowly began to fill me throughout the day. I hadn’t seen Lord Cadfael since I was moved to my own rooms in the household the previous night. I felt like he was somehow avoiding me. “Tempest and waves,” I muttered under my breath.
“What was that Sol?”
I covered my mouth feeling embarrassed that I had cursed aloud. “Nothing, I was just thinking.” I looked up and realized she wanted to know more. “I was just wondering where Lord Cadfael is.”
“He has some personal business to attend to; he should be done before evening.”
“He sent you to distract me!” I said stopping. Cia stumbled and gripped her skirts.
“You weren’t supposed to know,” she hissed under her breath. She looked left then right before whispering in my ear. “Lord Gidean is still here with Lady Ai. Apparently there is still some unfinished business between them.”
“But they’ve been divorced for five years, what could be between them?” Lady Ai’s infidelity had been a big scandal that overshadowed the loss of one third of the sea cow herd to sickness. Some of the elders claimed she poisoned them out of spite. Cia dragged me into an alcove.
“Shhh… not so loud. No one knows except for them and Lord Gidean and Lady Ai’s servants. Those uppity chum think it’s beneath them to speak to us.” Another servant passed us and Cia smiled at them while hiding me from view. I wondered for a brief moment what it was like to be a servant in the house of a lord. What things would I overhear, what would I see?
I touched my neck feeling the weight of the betrothal necklace. Why did Lord Cadfael propose to me, just a common field hand, when there were many eligible noble women? Did he not want his lands to go another lord’s family? “Cia, can you take me to the prisoner’s holding cell?”
“Oh, yes, do you want to go there now or after you eat?”
“Now, I can eat with him.”
Cia raised an eyebrow but made no comment. Yes, it was odd that I would share a meal with the enemy, but I was curious about him. My father still had not told me why his name made him respond strangely. Maybe I would find out after speaking to him?
The room where they kept Ryaa was filthy. Old food was smeared against the walls, the bedding had been torn and shoved in the corner farthest from the door and the single furniture, a stool made from a single piece of driftwood, had been splintered. In the center of this chaos he sat chained to the wall, sweat, blood and food staining the clothes he wore. His hair was matted and his beard had merged with the hair on his upper lip.
As I quietly entered the room he regarded me carefully, anger simmering in his eyes. “So the demoness has returned. What kept you?” I stared at him for a moment trying to gauge his emotions. As soon as Cia entered he rose to his feet snarling. Startled she almost dropped the tray of food. Ryaa smirked then settled back on the floor.
“Guard!” I called over my shoulder. A warrior peeked around the corner at me with a solemn expression. “Why is this man filthy and his cell trashed?” The warrior frowned at me and I matched it with my own.
“He has refused all the food we have given him and insists on destroying his room. We were forced to chain him.”
“I would have eaten the food if you demons hadn’t spoiled it with your mucus and piss!” Ryaa struggled against his chains once more. “As if it wasn’t enough for you, you soiled my bedding and refused me a proper wash.”
I had the warrior by the throat before I realized that I had moved. My nails, hard and thick like claws dug into the soft skin until beads of blood formed. “When you abuse my prisoner you abuse me, when you disrespect him, you disrespect me,” I hissed. I pulled my robes away from my chest exposing skin. “Go ahead warrior; hit me, just like you did to him. Those bruises on his skin were not by his hand.”
I watched as the surprise in the warrior’s eyes turned to anger and fear. “I will not strike you milady,” he said turning his eyes away. I curled my lip at him.
“I am not a lady yet. Until I say my vows I am more common than you.” I spat at his feet then turned to look at the second warrior who guarded Ryaa’s prison. The younger man showed more fear than his superior. His eyes were wide and kept darting to my exposed skin. “You!” He stood straighter and saluted me.
“Ma’am,” he said quickly keeping his eyes focused above my head.
“Have a tub brought for a bath and bring fresh clothing for him.”
I’d never seen Waterfolk move so fast out of water. I turned back to the warrior behind me. By now he was glaring at me. “If you have something to say, say it.”
“You would treat our enemy as one of us? If you were captured by them they would treat you much worse.”
“If I was captured by them I would not be alive.” The warrior grunted, he knew what I said was truth. Any of us that were captured were killed within the day. Rumor spoke of public burnings on the cliffs overlooking the sea, our people screaming for mercy and cursing the Gentle God who remained silent as they turned to ash.
“Why should you do for him what they do not do for us?” the warrior hissed at me. I smiled at him as I remembered falling off the cliff with Ryaa.
“Sol,” Cia said cautiously.
“When I saw his fear as he fell off the cliff I realized something important; all of us fear death. It was not the water that divided us, but ourselves. We can walk on land and they can swim in water, our basic features on land are the same. You may think me weak for not letting him drown, but it has taken me great courage to keep him alive.” I looked at Ryaa who sat silently watching us. His eyes remained on me as I took the tray from Cia then sat down in front of him. I lifted a piece of fish and held it in front of his lips. He regarded me for a few moments then delicately took the morsel with his teeth. I continued to feed him until he shook his head. During that time no one spoke a word. The air was filled with an uneasy tension so I began to sing the song my mother sang to me as a child.
“Come home my darling, Come home my darling.
I’ve lit a lantern for you by the sea.
We don’t need riches, we don’t need riches.
Just a strong net, a home and family.
The sun is falling, the sun is falling.
Bring in the boats and fishes from the sea.
Come home my darling, come home my darling.
I’ve lit a lantern for you by the sea.
Do you see it my darling, do you see it my darling.
I left it so you can find me.”
“That is the most ugly voice I’ve ever heard sing.” I turned around quickly at the sound of the familiar voice, my eyes wide with surprise. Lord Cadfael stood in the doorway, his arms crossed and an angry expression on his face. I leaped up from the floor and threw my arms around him. He stumbled back a step and caught me. The anger disappeared from his face and turned into a gentle smile as he held me. I heard Cia gasp but I ignored her.
“Where have you been all day?” I asked as my heart raced in my chest.
A guarded look briefly crossed his eyes and he wrapped his arms tightly around me. “More questions, do you never tire of them?” Lord Cadfael said arching an eyebrow. I stared at my hands where they rested against his chest then shook my head. “Did you miss me?”
“Never,” I said turning away from him. He caught my hand then dragged me back. At first I thought he was going to kiss me when he pulled my robes closed. I felt my face warm with embarrassment.
“Why are your robes undone?” he asked under his breath. He looked at the warrior I had bled; a bruise had begun to form on his neck though the bleeding had stopped. “What happened here?” I heard the coldness creeping back into Lord Cadfael’s voice and felt his hand tense on my wrist.
“Vael, I undid my robes because I felt… unwell. I am much better now,” I said quickly as I saw the concern flash through his eyes. “Trust me.”
I heard the clatter at servants set down a tub in the hall. Lord Cadfael backed out of the doorway, my wrist still in his hand. The servants quickly brought the tub into the chamber then filled it with steaming water. The young warrior unlocked Ryaa’s chains then quickly stood back as the latter rubbed his wrists. “Do I get any privacy?” Ryaa asked me.
“Only the servants may leave,” Lord Cadfael answered before I could form words. The servants, even Cia, darted from the room and down the hall. Lord Cadfael gave one last look at his warriors then led me away in the shelter of his arm.
At first I thought he was leading me to my rooms until we passed through the doorway leading to his moss garden. He spun me and pushed my back against the wall pressing his body close to mine. His breath was hot against the skin of my neck as he breathed in my scent. I my legs buckled as I felt faint. “Sol,” he whispered into my ear. My vision blurred and I realized I had been holding my breath. I let it out with a gasp then clutched his arms for support.
Suddenly his lips were on mine. He aggressively nipped and sucked them until my head was reeling. My legs shook then gave way completely. He caught me then lowered us until I was straddling his legs as he sat on the cold stone floor. I broke away from a long kiss and brushed his hair back from his face. “I need you,” he said, his hands gripping my hips so hard that they began to hurt. His eyes were dark with emotion as I stared into them.
“Vael,” I said gently. “I… I can’t.” He hugged me and buried his face in my shoulder, his chest heaving as if he had exerted a tremendous amount of energy.
I felt my heart break. I knew that I wanted him. Though I was afraid of marriage, afraid of him, I wanted it. I wanted all of him. I lifted his head then kissed him gently. “I’ll marry you, just be patient with me.” He heaved a sigh then nuzzled my cheek and I arched my head back as he planted a kiss in the hollow of my throat. I felt an ache low in my body and I pressed myself against Lord Cadfael letting out a sigh.
“Sol, if you don’t get up, I won’t be able to control myself.”
“Sol, please.” I reluctantly stood up and rested against the wall. Its coldness leeched away the heat that had built in my body and I relaxed. “Why did I choose midsummer?” I heard him mutter under his breath as he stood.
“Because the Sanctuary is in bloom?” I offered as I adjusted my robes. Most weddings were held in spring to signify new life. Out of season weddings were rare and often to avoid punishment. I touched my throat again, a habit I had begun every time I thought of marriage. “Are you sure you don’t want to have it sooner?” Lord Cadfael shook his head.
“No… all of my weddings have been in spring, I’ve begun to hate that season. Whenever the winter tempests settle and the waters warm I’m reminded of Ai and Syr.” Lord Cadfael covered his eyes and sighed. ”I think I have a headache.”
“I know my singing is bad but it has never been known to cause sickness,” I said teasingly.
“Well, I’d say different. You sang the night you got sick, and then I heard your singing again today. Your voice must be poison.”
I swatted Lord Cadfael’s shoulder. “Well then drop dead.” He mimed a blow to his heart, staggered back then fell to the floor gracefully. I laughed then offered my hand to help him up. “What am I to do with you?” He kissed the back of my hand then stood, brushing off the stray bits of moss that clung to him.
He looked sad as he said, “Just be faithful.”