Author Topic: First No More  (Read 1037 times)

Shaye OConnor

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First No More
« on: February 06, 2017, 10:21:20 AM »
Three months had passed since the Battle for Loscar. Three months since the Usurper and her daughter had been killed on the battlefield; since the Skarran mercenaries had been wiped out; since the renegade wizards had surrendered and were executed for their crimes. Three months in which outlying lords, who had somehow missed the call to join the True Queen's army, had been called upon to declare their allegiance, and those who had declared for Velasca had soon learned the price of their betrayal.

Spring had come to Arctra, bringing with it a thaw that washed away the blood that had stained the snow on the plain outside the capital city. The Wild Ones' clans had dispersed, disappearing from plain view, but always there. Their contribution would not soon be forgotten, and if those in power had their way, the nomads would never again be persecuted simply for being different. A small contingent, chosen from each of the clans, had elected to remain in the queen's court, each day challenging the prejudices of the nobles and common Arctrans alike by their mere presence. They were known to be friends of the queen, and of her closest advisors. Only a fool attacked them these days.

Life had returned almost to a semblance of normality. The plague that had ripped through the cities was gone, taken as a sign that the Nine Gods smiled on their new queen and her reign; the crops were growing well, promising a fine harvest in the summer. But even the most politic of places needs a little entertainment at times, and there was one entertainment that had kept Loscar's people, and visitors, entertained for two full weeks now. Shaye Dervla, the First Blade, had chosen to step down from her position - the first in her line to ever have made that decision short of embracing death - and as such, Queen Ariana had declared a tournament to determine the greatest fighter in the realm, a tournament anyone could enter, male or female, lord or peasant.

For two weeks, these men and women had fought one another in the lists and on foot before the crowds that gathered to watch. Today was the day of the final fight. Shaye Dervla would take the field against the winner of the tournament, and if he defeated her fairly, he would take on the mantle of First Blade of Arctra. The tournament square was filled with people, eager to see what would happen, and just as eager to see their young queen and her wedded consort once more.

Ariana sat high amid the nobles, the great Sword of Arlan resting at her back, one hand curled affectionately into the palm of Rory Brennan, her chosen husband and consort. No one but him knew that, only a few minutes before they'd come out, the queen had been vomiting over a chamberpot, the evidence of why hidden beneath the loose hang of her gown. When that became known, Arctra would indeed have reason to celebrate.

Much had changed since the True Queen had reclaimed her rightful place on the Throne of Arctra, and yet, some things had stayed the same. There was no longer any need for rebellions against the usurper queen's reign, nor was there a need for war, and so Liam O'Connor had followed in his father's footsteps at last when the True Queen had appointed him the Captain of her Royal Guard. As such, he stood in a place of honor at her side, but it was the First Blade who had all his attention, seeing as she was also his beloved and his wife. He had met the man she would face today in the tournament and had judged him to be a fair opponent, though if he were to lose the fight against the First Blade, even Liam was unsure what would come of it. It did not come as any surprise to him that the man was a Knight of Phalion, born and bred for battle and proven worthy of the title, though whether he'd prove himself worthy enough to become First Blade remained to be seen.

Liam watched as the man, whose given name was Gerard de Winter, made his way onto the field. Given that this was to be a hand-to-hand fight, he was not clad in heavy armor that would impede his movement, but leather and chain, a sword in his hand, choosing to match her, weapon for weapon. He'd refused to take any unfair advantages, insisting this be a fair and even fight.

Shaye entered at his side, her own armor unchanged for many years now. Black and hardened leather, her midriff exposed for ease of movement, she too bore only a single sword, strapped between her shoulders. She had recovered from the injuries she had received in battle with a speed that had almost alarmed the ordinary people, but for the memory that the First Blade was bound to the Sword of Arlan by the power of the gods. Of course they would not want her out of action for long.

A cheer went up from the crowds all around them, making her grin as she glanced to the man at her side. "You ready for this?" she asked out of the corner of her mouth as they advanced toward the raised dais where the queen sat.

"I should ask you the same thing," he replied, in a gravelly voice that was confident but not arrogant, as he fell in beside her on their way toward the queen. He had only entered the tournament because it had been expected of him, not because he coveted the title of First Blade or the burden of responsibility that came with it, but if this was what the Nine had chosen to be his fate, then so be it.

"Ask me again when it's over," Shaye chuckled, coming to a halt before the dais. She drew her sword and went down on one knee, her weapon's tip in the packed sand, her hands resting on the pommel.

"Your Majesty ... we who do battle for your honor ask your mercy for the one who yields the day." They were traditional words, since no one expected either Shaye or Gerard to be executed for losing, but tradition was important in Arctra.

No one was expecting either of them to be killed either, though that was how the title of First Blade had been passed on to Shaye. The knight dropped to one knee beside Shaye, mirroring her posture, though he did not repeat her words. He was hoping to come out of this in one piece, but stranger things had been known to happen, and he had never faced an opponent such as this.

"May the Nine be with us and find us worthy of their blessings," he added, with his head bowed and both hands on the pommel of his sword, which, like Shaye's, was pointed downward into the sand.

On the dais, Ariana cast a slightly panicked look toward Rory and Liam as she rose to her feet, hoping the hang of her cloak disguised what she wasn't ready for the general populace to know yet. "By the Goddess and the Nine, I swear to uphold the outcome of this battle, and to show mercy to the one who yields the day. Gerard de Winter ... Shaye Dervla ... take your positions."

As she rose to her feet amid the fresh cheering from the crowd, Shaye threw a wink toward the young queen and consort, offering her own husband an encouraging smile before she turned to make use of the space given to them.

Liam was as stoic as always, almost scowling at the wink tossed his way. He'd known Shaye since he was a boy, and she was just as brash now as she was then. Thankfully, he'd inquired about her opponent and had learned he was an honorable man. While he wasn't happy about the tournament, he understood the necessity of it, and knew no one wanted to see anyone die here today, including the pair of opponents on the field. Even if he wanted to, there was nothing he could do now to stop it. He and Shaye had said everything a married couple could say to each other before that morning. All he could do now was watch and pray that the gods would be wise and merciful.
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2017, 10:24:55 AM »
As the two warriors faced one another, the crowd fell silent, eager to see the outcome yet not so eager to see the violence that would create it. Shaye touched her fingertips to her heart in salute to Gerard, inclining her head to him as above them a great horn blew out a single note. The fight was begun.

Gerard nodded his head in respectful acknowledgement of her salute and braced his feet on the ground as he adjusted his grasp on his sword. Now that the crowd had fallen silent, not a sound could be heard but the hammering of his heart and the sound of their breathing.

Very slowly, Shaye's hand rose to take hold of her sword hilt as she backed up a couple of steps, studying Gerard's pose and motion as she did so. The wild grin was gone, replaced with the calculating danger of a woman who had never been beaten in battle since attaining her rank. She wasn't going to make it an easy fight. The proof of that came without warning. Letting out a blood-curdling ululation of sound, she sprang toward him, swinging her sword, only to flip fully over his head. She landed at his back, one foot striking out toward his backside almost before she was upright once again.

If Shaye's initial move was any indication, the onlookers were at least going to get a good show. Gerard, however, was not just any opponent; he was a veteran of war and a Knight of Phalion. This was not his first swordfight, nor would it be his last. It was only because of his experience and skill with a blade that he was here today, as demonstrated by the way he followed her movement, turning as she leapt over him, but not quite quick enough to avoid her foot completely, stumbling just a little before regaining his balance and swinging his own sword to clang against hers.

And with that first clash of metal on metal, the duel was begun. Their styles were very different, the product of lives lived in very different ways. Shaye was constantly moving, never in the same place, the same position, for more than a few seconds at a time. It was easy to see how she had held the title for so long; how she had won those battles of hers against one or against many. After all, it is hard to hit an opponent who never stops moving.

And it was equally easy to see how Gerard had come to be a Knight of Phalion and to win through the tournament to challenge the First Blade today. As quickly moving as Shaye was, Gerard was determinedly and steadily following every move, quickly sizing up her style of fighting and matching each swing of the blade, each feint and each thrust. It wasn't a fight that was going to be over in a hurry, as the pair seemed equally matched, though their styles of fighting were very different.

That wasn't to say that neither one got in any blows. More than once, the flat of Gerard's blade caught Shaye's leg or arm, slowing her down long enough to trap her into exchanging blows before she moved on again. In answer, her own flat slapped against his shoulder or hip, blows that aimed to weaken his swings, force him into defense. She had fought hard and suffered long to put a daughter of Arlan's line back on the throne. She was not going to let the defense of that queen go to anyone who was not as stubborn as she was.

But Gerard had not spent the years that the False Queen was on the throne sitting on his laurels. He, too, had spent long years fighting to remove Velasca from power, undermining her wherever he could, and watching over Prince Adare. He had been there when the Prince had become the Princess, and he had proudly and loyally followed her into battle, eager to return the rightful line of Queens to the throne of Arctra. Like all those who fought for righteousness, he had not survived without his own share of suffering, and he was proving here today that he was at least as formidable and stubborn as his opponent.

In the end, though, it was simply human weakness and physical weariness that was the determining factor in the battle. They circled each other like a pair of dancers in some strange ritual for over three hours. At times, it seemed she had the upper hand, but then he would rally, and it might seem as though he would win. There were perhaps no two more equally skilled swordsmen in all of Arctra, and yet, by the time those three hours had passed, each had grown weary. Each was drenched in sweat, muscles screaming in pain, arms aching with the heaviness of hefting their swords, blow after blow, and yet, neither seemed ready or willing to yield to the other.

They were evenly matched, and no one watching could predict which of the two warriors would win the day. Indeed, not even they could predict it, until finally weariness brought with it a misstep. Intending to spin away, out of a leap, Shaye landed badly, and her stumble would have cost her life at anyone else's hands. The slap of Gerard's blade striking her sword from her hand was loud in the suddenly renewed silence of the arena, a gasp ripped from a thousand throats as he brought his sword about to rest the edge against her throat.

Breathing hard, Shaye smiled as she felt the touch of divine magic leave her soul, the bond that had held her in thrall for twenty years releasing her to latch onto a new warrior for Arctra. "I yield," she declared, spreading her hands peacefully as she stepped back, watchful for his reaction to that searing touch of divinity gripping him. "Arctra has a new First Blade. Congratulations."

He'd been past conscious thought, his body moving of its own accord, matching her blow by blow, until she had at last faltered, and he'd taken advantage of her mistake. It was only luck that had decided their fate, or perhaps the gods had had a hand in it. Either way, as soon as she yielded, Gerard knew it was over. He lowered his sword, stepping back a pace to give them both space. He had not known what to expect in that moment, nor had he really expected to win. What he hadn't expected was the rush of magic that suddenly filled him, like a burst of flame burning its way deep into his soul. It wasn't painful exactly, but it was forceful enough to bring him to his knees, his head bowed as though in prayer or lowered in exhaustion.

If he had ever needed proof that the gods were real, it was burning into him in that moment. Shaye dropped to one knee beside him, more to save face on his behalf before the crowds watching them closely.

Above them, Ariana rose to her feet, turning to draw the great Sword of Arlan from the throne. As her fingers curled about the hilt, the bond was formed fully, the burning of the divine touch cooled as the queen's voice rang out.

"Shaye Dervla, you are released from my service. Your life is your own once more." Ariana smiled at her friend, setting the Sword of Arlan point downward in front of herself, her hands on the pommel. "Gerard de Winter, the Nine have spoken. Rise, First Blade of Arctra."

It was like some strange dream, and yet, some part of him knew that this was what he'd been born for. He'd been born to serve the Queen and the people of Arctra, and what better way to serve than to take on the burden of becoming the First Blade. Touched to the depths of his soul with pride and a deep sense of loyalty, Gerard raised his head to his Queen, tears shimmering in his eyes to have earned such a place of honor and praying he was worthy of it.

"Your Majesty, I am proud and honored to accept such a title and to serve both the throne and the people of Arctra," he told her, as he moved to his feet and bowed before his queen.

Ariana's smile was bright, warm; glad for the friend who had been released, and for the new friend who seemed so moved by his accession. "Come to the palace, when you are ready," she told him. "We'll talk."
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2017, 10:25:36 AM »
"With your permission, majesty," Shaye interrupted as she, too, rose to her feet. "I would like to escort the First Blade to the palace myself. A last honor, if you would."

Ariana glanced ever so slightly toward her Guard Captain, fighting not to ask what Liam thought of that request. No doubt the man was itching to reunite with his wife, but some things were more important in the moment. "You have my permission," she nodded to Shaye. "And you, too, are expected at the palace in your own time." She nodded to the seneschal, who raised his voice in a booming announcement.

"Let Arctra and the Nine bear witness to the rising of a new First Blade ... Gerard de Winter!"

Gerard seemed a little in shock or disbelief. Was he dreaming or was this really happening? If there was any proof, it was in how his body was feeling. He was still aching, still sore and tired from the fight, but he felt somehow invigorated, as if that in-pouring of divine magic had done something to make him feel more alive than ever. He heard the roaring of the crowd around him, and the words from the queen's seneschal announcing him as the First Blade, and it seemed that he should acknowledge it somehow and let the people know he was as much their servant as he was the queen's.

He bowed to the queen again, then turned to the crowd of people who were on their feet and cheering, and bowed to them, too. Finally, he turned to his opponent, the woman who had carried this burden before him through strife and rebellion and war. "I would be honored to have you accompany me, Lady," he told her, knowing they had much to discuss. He was only vaguely aware of Liam watching them from his place beside Ariana, but there was no jealousy in his eyes, only a hint of amusement and a flood of relief.

"You'll learn very quickly, I'm no lady," Shaye smiled to him, stepping back to let him bask in this rare moment of acknowledgement and adulation. She raised her eyes to Liam, her smile deepening as she winked at him, proved right in her prediction of how this fight would go. As Rory helped Ariana down from the dais to escort her back to the palace, Shaye drew Gerard out of sight, to the chambers beneath the arena where they could both shuck out of armor and see to various hurts. She waited until the door closed before speaking again. "It's a strange sensation, isn't it?"

Realizing Shaye was the only person still living who could possibly understand what all of this meant or what it felt like to be the First Blade, he didn't waste much time in replying. "I wasn't expecting it. I know about the legends, but I always thought it was nothing more than an honorary title won in battle."

"So did I," she assured him. "I'm pretty sure everyone thinks it's just an honor. But you are lucky in your queen. Ariana will never order you to do anything that is against your principles, never order you to do anything that will be wrong. She knows what it feels like, to be governed by divine magic. The first order she ever gave me was never to obey any order I felt was wrong. You don't need to worry about being at the whim of a pregnant teenager." And just like that, Shaye managed to tell him something that the young queen had been trying not to let everyone know. "Oops. Forget I said that last part."

The man arched a dark brow at the presumably accidental slip of the tongue, though he doubted this particular woman ever did anything by accident. "Pregnant teenager or not, my first duty is to protect the queen and keep her safe. Then again, I will not only be responsible for her life but the life of her child," he pointed out. If the look on his face was any indication, he was the kind of man who took this sort of responsibility very seriously. Maybe that was why the Nine saw fit to choose him take Shaye's place. "Tell me, what are you going to do now that you're no longer First Blade?" he asked, as he started tugged the tunic of chain mail over his head, which was not a small feat in itself, given the weight of the stuff and his injuries.

"Children," Shaye corrected him. Might as well go the whole hog - Ariana was his responsibility now. Setting her arm and leg padding to one side, she moved to help him with his mail, used to helping the Captain of the Royal Guard disarm at the end of the day by now. "What am I going to do?" She chuckled as she considered this. "Well, I'm reliably informed that if I don't produce a grandchild for Liam's mother, she may not speak to me for a year, so I should get started on that," she said cheerfully. "As to the rest of my time? I have an idea, but I need to talk it over with my husband first."

She hardly gave him time to consider the implication of what she'd told him before moving on to answer his question. Children. Then there was more than one, but how could she know that? At first, he'd thought she meant she was going to have children, before realizing she wasn't answering his question so much as correcting him. "Mmm," he murmured in reply to her plans for the future. "Your husband is a lucky man," he said, allowing her to help him with his mail, since he clearly needed the help.

Shaye laughed, pulling the chain off over his head. "You're just saying that because you don't know me yet," she assured him. "My husband is the only man who can put up with me for more than a few hours at a time." Setting his mail on the stand that would soon be transferred to the palace, she turned to finish removing her own armor, rolling her shoulder to test the new bruise forming there. "It's going to take a while to get used to healing at a normal pace again," she laughed to herself. "Oh, before I forget ... you now have quarters directly opposite the queen's in the palace."

One might think he'd be grinning like an idiot by now, but instead, he only frowned thoughtfully, a stoic expression on his face. He was obviously not one to take his newfound position lightly. "It's going to take a while to get used to being something more than a common soldier."

"Gerard ... you are now recognized as the foremost warrior in the land," she pointed out. "Some will issue challenges just to see if you are that good. Some will panic and never look you in the eye again. But being First Blade does not change who you are. I have always been just a common soldier. So don't stop meeting with the people you call friends. Don't stop joining the sparring sessions. Don't let the nobles look down their noses at you. You are the last line of defense, and the first example of what Arctran warriors are capable of. No one expects you to be diplomatic, or charming, or anything but blunt. Make the most of it. I've lost count of the number of noble noses I've put out of joint just by telling them I'm too busy to be talked at."

"It's not the nobles that concern me," he told her as he removed his his own padding, leaving him in only a tunic, pants, and boots. He wasn't about to shed any further layers of clothing until he was in the privacy of his own quarters, wherever those were now that he was no longer a common soldier or even a knight. "I'm not sure why the Nine chose me, but I will do my best to prove I'm worthy." He turned to face her, a question on his lips that he wasn't sure if he should presume to ask. "I am grateful for any advice you can offer. I know I have big shoes to fill."

Like him, Shaye was only removing the outer layer of her armor, pulling on a long tunic and wrapping a belt about her waist to be presentable for the walk back to the palace. "Well, there's your first mistake," she pointed out with a smile. "You're not filling my shoes. I may have held the title for one of the longest periods in the history of the Blades, but I held it in a time of war, rebellion, and disloyalty. The only piece of advice I would offer would be to make friends with Ariana and Rory, and don't be surprised when they ask for your advice. They're only just grown, and they have the weight of a country on their shoulders. They need you."

"Mmm," he murmured thoughtfully again before replying. "I wasn't expecting to win, you know. I only entered the contest because that much was expected of me. There are more experienced knights than I," he pointed out, though whether they were as deserving in the gods' eyes, he couldn't say. "How did you become First Blade?"
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2017, 10:26:15 AM »
She snorted with laughter at his question, but there was a pained look in her eyes ever so briefly - a look she was quick to hide away by turning to pack her armor securely in the crate that was to be delivered back to Liam's quarters by the squires waiting outside. "I thought everyone knew that story," she said, her tone deliberately light. "Do you want to hear the legend, or the truth?"

"I know the legend. I would like the truth," he replied. Everyone in Arctra knew the legend of how Shaye Dervla became the First Blade and was forced to serve the False Queen before Adare became Ariana and reclaimed her throne, but though legends were based on truth, he knew they were usually heavily embellished. Now that he was First Blade - though he could still hardly believe it - he thought he should learn as much as he could about the woman who held that title before him.

She was quiet for a long moment, drawing in a sharp breath before beginning to speak. "It isn't that different, really," she said, twisting to sit on the bench, her hands clasped loosely between her knees. "I was in my last year of training, fifteen years old. Liam was in my intake, my best friend; the brightest part of my life. When the First Blade brought the Fourteenth to the training grounds on Velasca's first orders, we were all called to gather and made to watch as he executed the Lord Marshal in front of us, a man who had never done a dishonorable thing in his life. His last words were the prophecy - so long as a daughter of Arlan's line bestrides the throne of Arctra ..."

She trailed off, swallowing hard. "And then they read the names of the good men and women they had executed as traitors against Velasca's rule. Liam's father was one of them. They wanted to kill Liam, too, and everyone else who was related to those good people they had murdered. And our training ground became a battleground. We fought to escape, Liam and I; we made it to the stables, but the First Blade was right behind us. I couldn't bear the thought of him dying, of his mother being killed ... so I stayed behind."

She shook her head, smiling bitterly. "I intended to die," she admitted with a quiet huff of laughter. "I thought I could slow up the First Blade long enough for my friend to get away before I was killed. And instead, a fifteen-year-old raw recruit with more anger than skill killed the First Blade in single combat. Scared the crap out of all the soldiers he'd brought with him, I can tell you. But I'll tell you this, though ... not a day went by that I didn't wish he'd killed me instead."

Gerard stood nearby, arms across his chest, studying her while she relived a day she might have rather forgotten or never lived at all. He could almost see what had taken place in his head, though he was not there that day. He was far away in Phalion then, a squire doing his best to rise up through the ranks and become a knight. Velasca's rise to power changed his plans, but that was his story to tell, not hers. "Then the legend is true, and you had no choice but to serve Velasca, even if you did not wish to."

She nodded, her expression bittersweet. "But no one believes the legend," she pointed out. "To Velasca and her supporters, I was a feral, wild thing that couldn't be trusted; to the people I wanted to stand with, I was a turncoat, something to be despised. No one trusted me. No one wanted me. Velasca delighted in ordering me to kneel to her before witnesses, in ordering me to execute friends I had trained with. It's impossible to disobey an order from the hand that wields the Sword, Gerard. I tried. But the pain ... I will never have the words to describe that pain."

"And there is no release but death," he surmised, wondering just kind of fate he'd gotten himself into, and yet, he would not have to answer to someone like Velasca, but to a true daughter of Arlan and the True Queen of Arctra. "I can understand why you might have wished for death, but then, someone else would have taken your place."

"True, and a few tried it," she nodded. "Apparently I was a very angry teenager. No one managed to beat me when I was young, and as I got older, the legend grew. No one dared face me. I think you're the first person to willingly engage in a fight with me in twenty years."

"Willingly?" he echoed, with a derisive grunt. "You think I entered the tournament because I wanted to be First Blade? I entered the tournament because it was expected of me. Because now that I'm ..." He broke off, having to rephrase that. "As a Knight of Arctra, I had little choice." He shrugged as if it was of little import. "I have no family, no wife, no children. All I have is my duty to my queen and country. I have no other purpose in life than that. Perhaps that is why the gods chose me."

"Being First Blade isn't a purpose," Shaye told him, her tension easing as they seemed to step away from the pain of her past. "But I think you may well find that it will put you in a position to choose your purpose in life. Mine ... changed, while I was in that position. When I was young, I thought I wanted to be the First Blade. I wanted to be the best warrior in the world. And now? Nothing in the world can clean my hands of the blood I've spilled, but I can atone for it in my own way. If my husband shuts up long enough for me to explain how I plan on doing that, of course."

"Your husband," he echoed again, knowing well enough who it was she was speaking of. Everyone knew who he was now that Ariana had made him Captain of the Royal Guard - a coveted position that put him in close association with the queen, but then, the same could be said of the First Blade. "I have a feeling I'm going to get to know him better," he mused aloud. "Tell me, how did you escape Velasca?"

"Well, you, he, and Rory are responsible for the security of the palace and the circles in direct proximity to the queen, so ... yes, I'd say you're all going to know each other pretty well," Shaye chuckled. His question made her smile widen. "Velasca made a rather fundamental mistake. While we were at Phalion, she got word that Liam had been sighted in one of the neighboring villages. Fool that she was, she ordered me to seek him out. Just that. So I did, and promptly surrendered to the ambush he'd set up to capture me in the first place. Without knowing it, she let me go, and about a month later, two very good friends stole the Sword of Arlan out from under her nose."

He arched a dark brow in obvious surprise, not so much at Velasca's foolishness as at cleverness of her enemies. She had played right into their hands and given up both the First Blade and the Sword of Arlan without even realizing it. "It sounds like the Gods were working in your favor," he said, crediting the Nine, rather than believing it had been simply a matter of luck. "What did you do with the Sword once you had it?"

"Knowing what I know now, I think the Nine were working under orders from the Goddess, personally," Shaye chuckled. "Fair warning ... even if you despise the Wild Ones with every beat of your heart, never disparage their Goddess. They kill for that insult." She patted his shoulder, reaching up to twist her hair back into its braid, only to laugh outrageously at his next question. "Oh! Oh, well ... I didn't do anything with it ..."

"Then, who ..." Gerard started, but before he was able to finish that thought, they were interrupted by Liam, who just happened to have overheard the last bit of their conversation before he shoved his way into the room.

"I took possession of the Sword," Liam explained, coming up behind Shaye and winding his arms possessively around her waist. "As First Blade, you will have no choice but to obey the orders of whoever wields that blade, whether you want to or not."

"We tested the theory extensively, just to be certain it was the right Sword," Shaye added, leaning back into her husband's embrace with a positively wicked grin in Gerard's direction. If he thought this was bad, he was going to be in serious trouble when he first walked in on the queen and consort.
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2017, 10:26:55 AM »
Gerard held up a hand to stop the couple before they shared any intimate details of their marriage bed. "I don't need the details," he assured them, trying not to let his imagination get away with him.

Liam couldn't help but smirk. "All I'll say is there was no doubt in my mind that we had the right sword."

"Enough, man! I don't need to know!" Gerard reminded them both, his face flushing with either embarrassment or annoyance or a little of both.

Laughing, Shaye reached up to pat Liam's cheek fondly for a moment before slipping out of his arms to save Gerard's blushes. "You'll be presented to the court in the morning," she told him. "And the queen will want you to have dinner with her and Rory tonight. I suggest you make the most of the enormous bathtub in your new rooms, and let yourself settle in between now and then. And you ..." She turned to Liam. "I have something to talk to you about, but you keep insisting on privacy, so I'm being patient. We both know I'm not good at that."

"I will take my leave of you then," Gerard told them with a short bow, before turning toward the door. While it might be argued that they were peers and equals now that he was First Blade, he would have insisted that he still needed to prove himself and earn his place beside them.

"Is this private enough for you, wife? Or shall we retire to our chambers?" Liam asked, drawing her close and brushing a kiss against the side of her neck, just as Gerard was letting himself out.

As Gerard did his very best not to overhear them talking during his escape, Shaye grinned, raising her hands to tease her fingers into Liam's hair. "I have no idea," she answered her husband honestly. "It all depends on how you react to my news, really. It could go either way ... although in both moods, I still run the risk of being spanked."

Having no idea what news it was she wanted to share, his mind went to the most obvious place, seeing as how there seemed to be something in the water since Velasca had been defeated. "If you wish to tell me you're with child, I already know," he said, taking a stab in the dark, while he continued enjoying the warmth of her skin beneath his lips. After all, no one knew his wife the way he did.

Her jaw dropped, her thunder stolen by his comment. Hands pressed to his shoulders, pushing him back to meet his eyes with almost outraged accusation. "How the hell do you know that?" she demanded, pouting at having her surprise taken away from her.

He chuckled, obviously amused at having simultaneously guessed correctly and stolen her thunder. There had been a time when she could always get the best of him, but that seemed to have changed. "I didn't, but I do now," he told her with a cocky grin.

Her eyes narrowed. "Oh, you ..." A suitably creative insult failed her for possibly the first time as she frowned, genuinely disappointed not to have been able to see the surprise on his face when she told him their news. "Who are you, and what have you done with my husband? He would never have let me go into a fight like that while pregnant without at least an enormous argument first!"

He shrugged his shoulders, the smile fading as she pointed out his mistake. "You've been pestering me for days to talk to me about something, but I didn't realize what it was until it was too late. It was something Ariana said, I think. How about how we would be free to start a family now that you were no longer going to be First Blade, and I remembered what Kari had told us. Besides, if I'd stopped you, you'd still be First Blade," he reasoned.

"I didn't say you would have won the argument," she pointed out, but her frown was fading already. "I wanted to surprise you." It was unusual for Shaye to be soft and quiet outside the four walls that were theirs alone, but she'd never been in this position before. For the first time in her life, she was nothing more than a wife who loved her husband; a woman who found herself with child for the first time, with no real faith in her own ability to be maternal at all.

"You did surprise me, lea," he insisted quietly, gently even, a warm smile on his face, full of affection, as his arms went around her waist. "And it is the most wonderful surprise." He tipped her chin upwards to look into her eyes. "Do you remember what Kari told us? That you would be with child within two months of the battle? I'd almost forgotten!" he said with a laugh that sounded happy and even carefree.

That reminder brought the smile back to her face as she recalled what else Kari had said and done in that meeting. "I remember her copping a feel of your backside as she left," she mused with a flicker of her familiar grin. As he pulled her close, she let her arms curl about his shoulders once again, the tip of her nose sliding against his. "If it's a boy ... I want to name him Eoghan."

He chuckled at the memory. It had been a long time since anyone had embarrassed him, but he seemed to recall blushing at the old woman's brazenness. He might have remarked on it, but she had succeeded in surprising him with the suggestion they name their son after his father - if they had a son. "You would name him after my father?" he asked, clearly touched by the idea.

She smiled, stroking her fingertips against his cheek. "He was a good man," she said softly. "He gave me you. He deserved better. But this is all I can give him." She missed Eoghan O'Connor still; the good, stern man who had not cared about her background or her parentage, and who had welcomed her into his home when she had been so certain Liam's family would never allow a grubby street rat anywhere near their door.

"I miss him every day," Liam admitted quietly, turning his face into her caress. It had been a long time since he had mentioned his father, but not a day went by that he didn't miss him. If anyone would know that, it was Shaye. "I like that idea very much," he told her, brushing a soft kiss against her lips, almost as if to thank her for wanting to honor his father's memory in such a way.

She smiled into his kiss, glad he agreed with her on that score. His mother would likely throttle her for not telling her sooner about the imminent bump, but that was a danger Shaye would willingly court. Meara was a very special woman. A thought occurred to her, making her draw back with a slightly suspicious look in her eyes. "Aren't you supposed to be guarding the queen, captain?"

"Rory took her back to the palace to rest. I made sure a retinue of guards went along with them," he assured her. It was impossible for one man to be everywhere at once, and further impossible for him to watch over Ariana every second of every day. He was confident she'd be safe in Rory's company, with a small company of guards accompanying them and standing guard near their quarters. "I wanted to see you and make sure you're well."

"I'm well," she promised him, nose to nose once again. "I'm me again. And I'm free, for the first time in eighteen years. Everything about me now ... I choose to be. I choose to be yours, to live my life with you, to bear your children. I swore it once, by Thalan and the moon, but circumstances took that choice away from me. I just hope you remembered to make space in your quarters for my belongings, or you are going to spend the next several days finding my smalls in strange places."
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2017, 10:27:32 AM »
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm afraid you're going to have to sleep on the floor," he told her, with a completely straight face, just to see what her reaction might be. She should have known well enough that he'd made room for her, though neither was accustomed to comfort or in need of it really. Just being together was enough.

"Maybe you should apologize to your unborn child then, before your mother finds out your pregnant wife is sleeping on the floor," she countered with a wicked little smirk. Shaye was not above dropping him right in it with his mother, purely because she enjoyed watching him squirm while she traded commentary with his step-father.

"I doubt my unborn child is going to hold it against me," he countered, that smirk back in place again. It had always been this way with them, the constant bickering, sometimes playful and teasing, sometimes not so much, but always with a passion that burned like fire between them. "You don't really think I'd make you sleep on the floor, do you, wife?" he asked, as he pulled her close against him again.

"Well ... no," she conceded, "but we both know I'm stubborn enough to do it anyway, just to make a point." She grinned, her lips brushing his tenderly for a long moment. "Why don't you take me home, rua?" she suggested fondly. "I might even start wearing dresses now I'm not a soldier anymore."

"Dresses?" he echoed. Now, that made him laugh - really laugh, loud enough for it to carry past the room and into the hallway. "We might just make a lady of you yet, lea," he teased, touching a kiss to her nose. "Come, I want to celebrate in private," he told her with a sparkle of mischief in his gray-green eyes.

"If the definition for being a lady has changed to just being female in a dress, I can do that," she laughed, reaching past him to open up the door and call to her squire. "Just the crate, Lucius," she told the young boy. "And report to Sergeant Makos for your new assignment. It's been a pleasure to oversee your training."

Liam chuckled again, realizing the boy may have heard a lot more than he was comfortable with. "Are you sure you don't want him to tag along?" he teased, eager to get her alone, not just to make love to her, but to do what he could for the hurts she'd suffered in the fight.

"Kinky, Captain, but the sight of your magnificent backside naked in the sunshine is not something I would inflict on a young man in his first year of training," she answered, grinning when the boy in question snickered and just about managed to turn the sound into a cough as he hurried out of the room with her crated armor secure in his arms. She smirked at Liam. "You really are terrible for my reputation, you know."

"What reputation is that? As the former First Blade, or as my wife?" he asked, realizing all at once that she really was at last free of the burden of being the First Blade - a burden she had not asked for, but that she'd had no choice but to carry, until now. He hoped she would find the peace and happiness in her new life that she'd lack in her old one.

She held his gaze for a long moment before chuckling. "All right, for clarification," she offered, "as Shaye Dervla, former First Blade. Shaye O'Connor doesn't have a reputation yet, but I'm hoping it isn't going to be built from a foundation of bawdy stories about where Captain O'Connor impregnated her."

"Oh? And why not? Would you rather have your reputation built around stories of your failure at knitting?" he teased, taking her hand to lead her back out and to his quarters, but not going in the direction she might have anticipated.

"Shows what you know," she laughed as he tugged her out of the arena. "I can actually knit. And sew. Cooking ... that's not a talent of mine." She smiled, feeling oddly undressed without her sword strapped to her back as they stepped into the bustle of the city. Their direction made her frown curiously. "You're planning something. You've gone suspiciously innocently quiet."

"We can hire a cook," Liam suggested, which alluded to the surprise he had waiting for her. He smiled, that hint of playfulness in his eyes again. "You're not the only one who has a surprise, lea," he told her, as the made their way through the streets in the general direction of Palatine Hill. He was aware of the looks and whispers and nods that were directed their way, but he'd become accustomed to such things by now.

The stories told about them abounded - everything from classical romances to tortured tragedies. Some details changed with the telling; some stayed the same, no matter who was spinning the tale. The Captain and the Blade - though, of course, she was no longer the Blade. Shaye smirked to herself, wondering how that detail would change the stories in the days and weeks to come. Liam's playfulness made her chuckle as she moved along at his side.

"As I recall, you already knew about my surprise, so you're still going to be one up on me," she pointed out in amusement.

"I'm sure you'll figure it out before long," he assured her, as they strolled through the streets, hand in hand, as casually as though they were commoners. They had come a long way since their simple beginnings, and though it had not been easy, Liam had few regrets so long as he had Shaye by his side. The crowd parted before them, respectful of their positions, and likely in awe of the legend of their lives, whether the stories were true or not.

"You always say that, and then I never do," she complained, ignoring the awed looks and curious stares, the indulgent smiles on the faces of those who had chosen to accept that she was not the enemy. "Don't forget, you're the brains and I'm the brawn. Or I was. Damn, I'm going to have to find something to do that doesn't involve being clever."

"You're clever enough, Shaye. You've never given yourself enough credit in that regard," he told her, with a serious look on his face. "Do you remember our special place when we were young?" he asked, a hint of something in his eyes that wasn't entirely nostalgia. He was definitely keeping something from her, but what it was wasn't yet clear.

She smiled at the memory of that forgotten old cabin they'd made a haven away from the stresses of training. "I remember," she promised him fondly. "I wonder if it's still standing, sometimes."

"Remember how peaceful it was there?" he asked, stirring up those fond memories in each of their hearts and minds. Those had been simpler days, happier days, before Velasca had turned their world upside down.

Oh, she remembered. She remembered retreating there after her father had humiliated her at the end of their first year; she remembered the way he had refused to let her hide away from him; she remembered the effort he had made to make the little cabin comfortable. She remembered countless stolen kisses and reading lessons, so much time spent together when they were not required for training. "Closest thing to a home I've ever had," she admitted, almost reluctantly. Home was something she'd never had, a place to return to that was safe and secure.

"What would you say if I told you we have a place like that again?" he asked her, purposely not looking at her so she wouldn't see the smirk on his face that he was trying to hide and guess the surprise. He was definitely leading her toward Palatine Hill now, but not in the direction of the palace.

"How have you managed to find anywhere here that isn't already being used?" she asked in disbelief, chuckling at the thought. The Palatine Hill was overrun with buildings set amid gardens, from the sprawling palace to the barracks to the servants' quarters. Every room and building had a use, and was put to that use, that she knew of.
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2017, 10:29:29 AM »
"That's my secret," he replied with a grin. Ah, but he had become aware of one that was not currently in use and had asked permission for its use. Though people seemed a little surprised that the Captain of the Royal Guard, arguably one of the most respected and powerful men in the queen's service, was asking for a small, simple house, rather than more lavish quarters at the palace, they'd been quick to help him with his request and right under the nose of the First Blade. The house was nestled within the cluster of the servants' houses - small and simple, but warm and cozy and private, and spacious enough for a family just starting out. It wasn't much to look at, but they'd make it a home, just as they had their secret place all those years ago.

"Wait, hold on ..." Shaye frowned in confusion as he lead her along. "Your secret is that you found a building somewhere in all that mess that wasn't being used, or your secret is how you found it? In which case ..." Her eyes widened as she caught on, finally. "You didn't!"

He thought her surprise was far better than his, but in a way, they were almost one and the same. "Someday, I'll build you a grand house with a fireplace in every room, but for now, this will have to do," he told her, as he came to a halt outside a small house with an overgrown garden that needed some work, but showed promise. "What do you think?" he asked, as he turned to gaze up at the place.

"Who says I need a grand ..." Her voice trailed off as she followed his gaze to the little house before them. It was almost hidden among the overgrown trees and garden around them, more than a little rustic when compared with the sturdier buildings that had been built to last. Timber-framed and slate-roofed, it was almost perfect; perfect enough that her mouth fell open. "Is ... is this ours?"

"It is if you want it to be," he replied, with a nervous smile. He was fairly certain she'd be pleased with the little diamond in the rough he'd found languishing amidst an overgrown garden, but he couldn't be sure. For years, they had both lived among among soldiers, sometimes with little more than a roof over their heads. To have a home they could call their own, even amidst the servants, was more than either had dared dream in many long years. "Or we can live in the palace. Ariana promised to give us our own suite of rooms, but once I found this place ..." He shrugged, knowing she'd understand what it was he wasn't saying.

"Oh no ..." She shook her head, her hand tightening on his. "It's ... we ..." She paused, shaking her head again as she laughed at her inability to make words happen. "Home?" she asked, her eyes turning to his in soft amazement.

Once again, he replied in a way that left her to choose whether she wanted to make this their home or not. "If you want it to be," he repeated, turning to face her, a soft smile on his face. Though he might be known for being gruff and even grouchy at times, he was entirely different where Shaye was concerned.

A slow smile curved her lips as she looked up at him. "I want," was all she managed to say, but he knew her too well not to understand everything that went unsaid. She reached up, stroking her fingertips against the line of his jaw, and winced as the movement pulled at the soreness in her shoulder. "Does it have a bath with actual hot water, too?"

He smiled as she rewarded him with a caress, but the smile quickly faded when he noticed her wince. "It needs work, but it has everything we need to make it our home. I, uh ... took the liberty of having your things moved here while we were at the tournament," he added, hoping she didn't mind.

"Taking liberties already, what a naughty guard captain you are," she teased laughingly, rising onto her toes to kiss him. "Am I allowed in, or do I have to wait like a good little girl for permission to see inside?"

"Of course, you're allowed in!" he said with a laugh, relaxing a little now that didn't seem upset with him. He wouldn't completely relax until she saw the inside of the house and hopefully found it to her liking. It wasn't much to speak of, but Ariana had assured him that it was theirs for as long as they liked.

Given that permission, Shaye abandoned him right there, vaulting over the ramshackle fence to wade through the hip-deep flora that masked the little path to the door. "This had better not be locked," she called over her shoulder, giving the door an experimental shove.

Liam chuckled as she broke away from him to vault the fence in almost childlike delight. As hurting as he knew she was, those hurts didn't seem to curb her excitement or enthusiasm in the face of his surprise. Thankfully, the door wasn't locked, as he'd instructed her squire to bring her armor here, as well, rather than to his quarters at the palace. He took his time, pushing through the gate to reach her at the door, feeling almost the same way he'd felt when he'd surprised her with the cabin all those years ago, though he didn't bother to hide her eyes this time.

She was like a child as she burst into the house, her eyes too greedy to take in much detail as her legs carried her inside. Into the stone-clad kitchen with it's wide hearth and sturdy table; briefly into the pantry, already stocked with food they both knew she would burn if allowed to cook; back out and into the little nook of a room on the other side of the chimney stack, where chairs and a couch were gathered to make the most of the fire and the window that looked out onto more of the overgrown garden. But she didn't stop there. Whirling around, a bright grin on her face, she put those long legs to good use in clambering up the steep staircase, finding three rooms where she had only expected one - two bedrooms, and one room that seemed to have been set aside as a workshop of some kind by the previous tenant. Everything was clean and sturdy, and there were the hints of herself and Liam in the chests that were set about the place. It was home.

In that moment, it was almost as if the last eighteen years were erased, both of them filled with youthful exuberance. He laughed at the way she rushed around the house, looking in almost every nook and cranny, as delighted as a child on their birthday. There were a few small details she might have missed, like the books that were neatly lining a bookshelf and the clothes that were neatly hung in the closets. There were still a few repairs that needed to be made, and the gardens needed taming, but it was certainly home.

She met him halfway down the stairs, throwing her arms around his neck with a loud laugh. "We have a home! And space for the baby already, and ..." She paused, leaning back with a curious expression. "I have absolutely no idea how to take care of a house, you know."

He laughed again, his arms going around her waist. After everything they'd been through, that was the least of his worries. "We'll learn ... together," he promised, touching a kiss to her lips before his forehead came to rest against hers. "Happy, lea?" he asked, hoping his surprise had made her as happy as hers had made him.

Her giggle vibrated against his lips before she sobered enough to return his kiss. "Very happy, rua," she promised him, nuzzling tenderly against his lips. "I'm always happy with you, even when I'm so mad I can't see straight." And there had been a few times like that over the past months. They'd had to learn how to mesh their lives once again, after almost two decades of growing up apart. Clashing didn't even begin to cover most of those arguments.

No matter whether they were fighting like cats and dogs or not, there was always an underlying passion that burned between them whenever they were together - a passion so strong that even two decades apart hadn't extinguished that fire that burned between them. It burned even stronger during times like this when they were alone and away from the prying eyes of the court and commoners alike. "Would you like me to draw you a bath, wife?" he asked, momentarily breaking away from her lips.
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2017, 10:30:21 AM »
She smiled once again, groaning with pleasure at just the thought. "I would love a bath," she admitted with a low chuckle. "I'd forgotten how painful the aftermath of a fight is supposed to be. He really earned the title today."

"You could have let him win a bit sooner. Three hours, lea? For a fight where the outcome had already been determined?" he asked, though he'd been watching closely enough to know the new First Blade had won the title fair and square. Shaye had given him no quarter and no mercy.

Her hand came up, one finger pointed at his nose. "He can never know that I let him win," she told her husband firmly. "No one can. You know, only because you know me and only because we decided on him weeks ago. The people deserve to have a First Blade whose taking of the rank makes a good story."

"He's a good man," Liam agreed, knowing what he'd learned of the former knight. Ariana had wasted no time in knighting the man, almost as soon as she'd appointed Liam Captain of the Royal Guard, and both Shaye and Liam thought him well-deserving to become the First Blade. To say they'd cheated was not quite true as the man had still had to fight his way through the lists until he and Shaye were the only opponents who remained. "A commoner, like us," he added, though it could be argued that Liam was a bit more than that, his father having also served with the Queen's Guard before him.

"She's surrounded by enough nobles to make a pig sick," Shaye rolled her eyes, finally moving to step back and head up the stairs once again, her hand tangled in his. "She and Rory need that connection to the people more than ever. They'll never be able to walk the streets in Loscar the way they could in Phalion. Half of me wants them to abandon this stinking city and make Phalion their capital."

"We could make Phalion the capital, but I'm not sure how the people would feel about that," he said, as she led him back upstairs to where the bath and bedrooms were located. Thank the Gods for indoor plumbing. "The nobles would certainly balk," he pointed out as the conversation turned political again.

"Let them," Shaye snorted, rolling her eyes. "Most of them stayed down here in the south and pretended they were only following Velasca out of necessity. But not a single one lifted a hand, or opened their mouths, to protect Adare when she started spreading her rumors about him." She smirked as she peered through a door hopefully. "I broke a few of their noses for that."

"You realize they might make try and make trouble for us," he pointed out realistically, just stating what they'd both been privately mulling over for weeks. The nobles might be pleased now that Shaye had stepped down from her place as First Blade, but they would quickly learn that Gerard was as loyal to Ariana and Rory as she and Liam. "I almost envy Conall and Liayna," he mused as he awaited her opinion of the bath.

"They can try," his wife shrugged. "Just because I'm not holding a title anymore doesn't mean I won't hurt them if they hurt anyone I care about." She paused, smiling as she looked down at the bath. "Something tells me this contraption was not originally a part of this house."

"Why do you think it took two months before we could move in?" he countered, a sly, knowing twinkle in his eyes. He stepped past her to work the pump, which was ingeniously connected through a series of pipes to a natural hot springs that ran underneath the city. What could be more luxurious than hot, running water?

Shaye watched in amusement, deeply touched that he would go out of his way to provide this little luxury for her. Impressed that he'd managed to keep it a secret, too. "Royal bathing," she grinned. "My, my, captain, you do like the finer things, don't you?"

"We've lived long enough without, don't you think?" he countered, muscles flexing as he worked the pump. It wasn't the easiest of contraptions, but it was better than heating water on the stove and hauling it up the stairs to the bath. Of course, even this was crude in comparison to what they had at the palace, but it was still better than most homes not occupied by nobles.

Having hot water on tap, very nearly, was one of the best inventions the world had come up with in the past twenty years. The water was steaming as it filled the tub, inviting Shaye to get in and relax, to let the heat soak the ache from her body. For eighteen years, she had not felt this aftermath, always healed by the divine touch that bound her to the Sword. Even her most serious injuries had been healed in a matter of days. And now she did not have that safety-net to protect her. She was going to have to learn how to look after herself all over again. "I love you," she smiled, leaning over to kiss Liam's temple before planting her backside on one of the chests to begin unlacing her boots.

"I know," he replied with a grin. It was not so much a cocky remark as it was a point of fact. He'd known that she loved him nearly all of their lives. Even when they'd been parted, he had loved her still and felt a connection to her despite the distance and the long years apart. "Any regrets, lea?" he asked as he knelt down in front of her and helped her \take off her boots, as though he was nothing more than her squire or her servant.

She laughed as his hand batted hers away from her boots, letting him take over the chore. It wasn't as though she hadn't done the same for him, many times. "Some, but none about you," she assured him, leaning down to kiss him once again. "You'd better be getting into this bath with me, you know."

If she wasn't careful, he was going to end up spoiling her for the next eight or nine months until she gave birth. "Or what?" he asked, looking up at her as he dropped one boot aside on the floor, almost daring her to threaten him with something that he might actually find unpleasant.

"Or I'll lock you out until I'm finished," she informed him, one brow raised. They both knew she would, too, if he didn't make his intentions clear in reasonably short order. "I'll enjoy myself in here as loudly as as I can, with you locked out."

"Don't be ridiculous, Shaye. Why would you do that when I'm right here?" he asked, missing her point, or maybe realizing it a bit belatedly. Once he had her other boot off, he moved to his feet, pulling her up with him and kissed the tip of her nose before turning to start the process of removing his own clothes, starting with his belt.

"Oh, so you are planning on getting with me, then?" she asked, grinning as she rose onto her own feet. Her own belt dropped onto the chest she had been sitting on, but again she winced as she raised her hands over her head to pull her tunic off.

He wondered how long it had been since she'd really felt the aches and pains that followed a fight, even when one wasn't wounded. Three hours of wielding a sword and sidestepping your opponent was enough to wear any man out, much less a woman. He frowned and stepped back over to help her with her clothes. "You are going to feel worse tomorrow, lea," he warned her, knowingly. He'd spent the better part of the last twenty years fighting, without the luxury of speeded healing.

She grimaced, grateful for the help he offered her in getting her clothes off. "I know," she sighed reluctantly. "But it's worth it. Although ... is it cynical to go and visit Liayna and Conall tomorrow in the hope that they might notice and put in a good word with their Goddess for me?"
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2017, 10:31:07 AM »
"Cynical?" he echoed as he helped her off with her tunic, careful not to further aggravate her injuries. "For the baby or for your injuries?" he asked, though she might wish for their Goddess' blessing for both herself and the baby. "Perhaps the old crone's knowledge would be of some benefit," he mused aloud, as awkward as the old lady often made him feel.

"I thought Kari was back with her clan," Shaye mused, biting down a groan as the tunic finally came off. The breast band would not be anywhere near as painful to remove, and she had Liam to help with the leggings. "Is she lurking somewhere closer?"

"Not more than a few hours' ride," he remarked, or so Conall had told him, though the old woman seemed to pop up uninvited whenever she was needed. He wouldn't have been too surprised if she was expecting a visit from them, even as they spoke. "Conall and Liayna will know," he added as he carefully unwound the breast band from her chest. She likely wouldn't have to wear that again, especially with a child on the way.

She twirled, arms lifted as high as she could without pain, helping him unwind the band from her chest. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," she admitted. "Liayna must be due soon. She's enormous."

"And so shall you be in another eight or nine months," he reminded her with a grin, wondering what Liayna would think to hear her say that. The fact that their children - Conall and Liayna's, Ariana and Rory's, and their own - would be born within a year of each other and possibly grow up together wasn't lost on him, even if he didn't mention it. "I am sure she would be happy to hear you comment on her enormity," he teased, tossing the strip of cloth aside and letting his fingers trace the curve of her breasts, now they were free from their bindings.

She laughed, shivering tenderly as his fingers brushed her skin. "It's better coming from me than from you," she pointed out in amusement, leaning close to tuck her hands up beneath his shirt. "You're wearing more than me for once. Clothes off, captain."

"Yes, dear," he replied with a smirk, even as his fingers wandered over the swell of her breasts that were usually kept hidden away from prying eyes, other than his. He couldn't help but let his fingers tease her just a little before drawing away to tug his tunic over his head. He hadn't missed the bruises that were scattered over her torso and had been careful not to linger there.

With him distracted disrobing himself, Shaye turned her attention to her leggings, stripping them off with a reasonable attempt at biting down the pained groan that rose from the ache in her back. There was a truly impressive bruise rising across the upper curve of her backside, evidence that being spanked with the flat of a sword was not even remotely close to being fun.

After two decades spent as the First Blade, she might have forgotten the hurts that could be brought on a few hours spent on the field of battle, even if that battle had not been a deadly one. Perhaps she would come to a better understanding of all the wounds he'd suffered over the years, and yet, he had never complained, though his body was littered with the scars of battle.

She was quick to strip herself, though, turning to press against his back, plying his shoulder with kisses as her palms smoothed down his chest. "You're taking too long, rua," she murmured teasingly, doing her best to make it even harder for him to finish as she ... took him in hand, as it were.

He could not help the groan that escaped his lips as her touch, though he only let her hand linger there a moment, before prying her fingers away, though it was obvious she was having an effect on him, in more ways than one. "The bath, lea," he reminded her, taking her hand and touching it to his lips before leading her back to where the steaming water was waiting for them. There was no reason they couldn't enjoy each other and the bath both at the same time.

"This is so decadent," she teased as he drew her to the bathtub. "Bathing in the middle of the day like a noble might. In hot water we didn't have to boil ourselves." Grinning, she rose onto her toes, smothering his lips in a slow, tender kiss. "All hands and skin and love, rua. Just us."

"Just us," he echoed against her lips, drawing her to him again for a tender exchange of kisses and caresses before he let her go to help her into the tub, which was big enough for them both to share comfortably.

Sinking down into the water with him, Shaye let out a low groan of absolute delight, forgetting her desire to ravish him in the face of the sheer bliss that came from heat soaking into her various bumps and bruises. "Oh, that is heavenly ..."

"Mmm," he murmured as he stepped in behind her and submersed himself in the bath. He was still feeling the effects of her teasing, but was content to let her savor the soothing effects of the water a while longer.

Without needing to think about it, she relaxed back against him, closing her eyes as her hands drew his arms about her, her head lolling on his shoulder. "If I fall asleep, I promise I will make it up to you," she murmured, her voice low as though she were afraid of breaking the stillness around them.

He laid the palm of one hand to rest against the flat of her abdomen, fingers idly stroking her bare flesh, wondering at the child that was growing inside her. "Do you hope for a boy or a girl?" he asked, curiously, unsure what his own wishes were regarding their child. Every man hoped to one day have a son, and the thought of honoring his father's memory was an appealing one, and yet, a daughter would not be unwelcome.

"Is it awful to admit to hoping for a boy?" she asked softly, her smile faint as he traced his fingertips over her flat stomach. It wouldn't be long before they had a bump, however small, to glory over together. "I think I need to learn more about how to be female before trying to raise a daughter."

"Why is that?" he inquired, thinking she was woman enough for him and always had been, whether she'd been a warrior of equal stature or not. There had been plenty of females among the ranks of those training with them to be warriors, and he had never thought any less of them for it.

She laughed, opening her eyes as her head twisted to let her catch his gaze. "Liam ... you do remember that you're the one who braids my hair, right?" she pointed out cheerfully. "And your mother is the one who makes sure my shirts are made of prettier fabric. Even Makos went out of his way to buy me a pretty buckle for my sword harness. No little girl deserves to be raised by a woman who doesn't even recognize the value of pretty things."

"And not very well, I might add," he said, not thinking much of his skills at plaiting hair. "Not every little girl cares about pretty things, lea," he pointed out, herself a case in point, but he did not want to argue the fact. He was hoping their child, whether a son or a daughter, would be born and raised in times of peace, and hence, never suffer what they had suffered. "If we have a daughter, I'm sure my mother will have a hand in spoiling her," he pointed our further.
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]

Shaye OConnor

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Re: First No More
« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2017, 10:31:34 AM »
"Your mother will spoil any grandchild, male or female, and we wouldn't lift a finger to stop her," Shaye predicted in amusement. "It'll be a different world when they're old enough to take notice of it. I might envy them, if I hadn't had a hand in changing it for them."

"I'm just glad we're still around to enjoy it with them," he said, touching the tenderest of kisses to her bare shoulder. This wasn't the kind of bath where they'd be scrubbing themselves clean, but simply savoring the quiet of the moment - the first of many more to come, Liam hoped.

She smiled, tilting her head to catch his lips with hers. Who cared if tomorrow she was so stiff she couldn't move? She could take another bath then. This was more about Liam and less about her aching muscles. "Not on duty again until tomorrow?"

"No, Ariana gave me explicit orders to see to my wife for the remainder of the day," he said, doing his best to imitate the queen's tone of voice and failing miserably. "Rory took her back to the palace to rest. She'll be safe there," he said. Despite the fact that they'd won the war, neither was foolish enough not to realize they might still have a few enemies out there who wished them harm.

She snorted with laughter, finding it only to easy to imagine their young queen delivering those orders personally. Ariana was yet to accept that delegation was as much a part of ruling as direct control was, but hopefully Rory was pounding it into her piece by piece. "We have until supper, then," she mused. "Before her majesty sends a runner to demand why we're late to the meal."

"We could make our excuses. I do know how to cook," he pointed out, reminding her of the fact that he'd had to learn how to take care of himself after they'd been separated. It had become a point of pride with him, insisting on knowing how to do things for himself and not having to rely on anyone for his survival.

"And leave Gerard to a very awkward meal with them?" Shaye laughed once again, twisting about to settle herself on his lap, her knees hugging his hips. Her fingers stroked against his cheeks as she shared her smile with him. "You can show me how to cook tomorrow morning," she murmured, brushing a kiss against his lips. "I like the idea of today being mostly about us."

"Mmm, you have a point," he murmured against her lips. "Gerard needs a woman of his own," he added, smiling against her lips. He wasn't about to play matchmaker, but he wasn't above putting that suggestion inside her head.

She snickered softly, letting her hands play over his skin as they traded kisses in the warm bath that enveloped them. "Do you really want to talk about another man's love life right now, rua?"

Liam chuckled. "Do I really need answer that, lea?" he countered, silencing her from any further questions and distracting her from any thoughts of anything other than them with kisses and caresses of his own. He would only push her as far as she'd let him, only take her as far as her body was able to let her go - a tender lover who cared as much for her pleasure as for his own.

And for the first time, there was no sacred bond holding her back from giving him everything she had to give. Her heart, her body, her soul ... they were all his. Finally she was his wife, and no power on this earth could separate them again.
[size=9:3f8154f752][color=indigo:3f8154f752][b:3f8154f752][i:3f8154f752]A glorious death is to be envied.[/i:3f8154f752][/b:3f8154f752][/color:3f8154f752][/size:3f8154f752]