In their chambers later, Dael shed her woolens for a light silk robe that clung to her lovely young body. He embraced her, kissed her deeply, and pulled her down beside him on the bed. He said, “What do you think of Clevis?”
Dael had not expected conversation. She said, “He is attentive and respectful to me, and he seems loyal to you. I like him better than the other two you brought with you.”
Marquart smiled. “Yes. Conger, and especially Hein, are a bit rough. They came with me out of loyalty, and that is worth a great deal, but they really don’t fit in here. Clevis is different. Clevis is like your brother Reece. They each came under my command when they were young and, as I trained them in my way of handling men, they became friends.”
“I’m glad you have a friend.’
“Dael, why did you agree to marry me?”
She wanted to give a stock answer, something out of a troubadour’s tale of romance, but she correctly judged that this was a time for honesty. She said, “Because you asked me.”
“I’m glad I did.”
She smiled and laid her head on his shoulder. “Thank you for that.”
“Did you know that Clevis was once married?”
“Clevis again!” she laughed, then sobered at once. “I am sorry,” she said, “Go on.”
“He said that I should confide in you; that I should tell you things I don’t even tell him. That’s hard for me. I almost never confide anything in anyone, but I will try, if you want me to.”
Dael was silent as she watched him, hunched over, rubbing his hands together. She had observed him closely this last month, as only a woman who has cast her entire fate and future into the hands of a stranger can watch. She knew how hard this speech had been for him, and she recognized it for the gift it was.
She said, “I pledged you my loyalty, and you have it. I pledged you my body, and you have it. I pledged you children, and you will have them. I gave you all that when I did not know you, because you asked me, and because my brother’s letter assured me you were good and honorable. But if we could become more than just allies and bedmates, that would be wonderful!”
# # #
They moved to the bed quickly then, tearing at each other’s clothing. They were not alone. Baralia watched, as she watched every hour. When they fell together, Baralia gasped. When Dael cried out, Baralia groaned. Her hand moved to touch herself, but to no avail. She could no more touch herself than she could touch others. She screamed in the agony of her loneliness, and no one heard.
# # #
Marquart had arrived at Instadt two months earlier, carrying a bundle of letters from Reece s’Imbric. He had just left Limiakos’ service to take up lordship of the Valley, and Reece’s home was along the way. Imbric had given a warm welcome to his son’s friend and ex-commander, and it was there Marquart had met, courted, and married Dael.
Reece had told his family all he knew, but there was much Reece did not know. So that when Dael asked Marquart, out of the darkness of their shared bed, “What happened between you and the High King?”, he was not surprised that she wondered.
He gathered her hands between his and said, “I took Port Cantor in my own way, carefully, with much planning, so that both death and loss of property were kept small.”
Her hand, caught in his, pressed fingers against his palm, and she said, “Yes, I can see that that would be your way.”
“When the High King called me to an accounting, he was not impressed. He had wanted blood and slaughter.” more tomorrow