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Loren

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« on: February 24, 2017, 10:28:54 AM »
[size=9]((Warning - contains references to torture.))[/size]

Gossip spread through the court of Loscar faster than the most virulent plague. Never mind that the court had witnessed the freeing of two Arctran slaves; never mind that they had all been made aware that of those two slaves, one would never recover and the other was not to be trifled with. By the queen's order, all courtesy was to be given to the newly named Loren, who had been made a ward of the First Blade, Gerard de Winter, and every effort had been made to discover if she had any family remaining in the land. That effort had paid off, it seemed, for one nobleman in particular laid a petition at the queen's feet for permission to meet Loren.

Baron Gaspard du Lion believed that the freed slave was his own daughter, stolen by Skarran raiders before she reached her fourth year, and could describe the birthmark that decorated her shoulderblade with unerring accuracy. It was a convincing argument and, eager to restore the young woman to the family she had never known, Ariana had granted him permission to meet Loren. Unfortunately, Loren was not as confident about meeting him, which was how Gerard found himself face to face with the older man, while the young woman hid behind him, apparently trying to pretend none of this was happening.

Gerard, too, had found himself in a position he had not anticipated, expected, or even striven for, but he trusted in the guidance and judgment of the Nine, and now that he was First Blade, he hoped to use his position of influence for the good of the queendom and the people, and not for ill. He wasn't sure how he felt about the search for Loren's family, but if this man turned out to truly be her father, he would do nothing to stand in his way, even if it meant losing the young woman he had slowly become attached to.

Baron Gaspard frowned, tilting his head to try and get a good look at the young woman hiding from his gaze. "Uriah, please," he pleaded with her, using the name she had been given at birth - a name she did not recognize as her own. "At least let me look at you."

Behind Gerard, Loren shook her head violently, her hand grasping the back of his tunic in a tight grasp. "She is not Uriah."

Unintentionally shielding Loren from her father, protective in his stance without even realizing it, Gerard stilled her denial with an uplifted and gloved hand, serving as mediator between father and daughter. "She does not remember her birth name and has chosen to be called Loren," he explained to the man with that soft-spoken but gravelly voice that left little room for argument. Thankfully, he hadn't cringed at the sound of her birthname, though in his opinion, it didn't fit her.

"Loren?" Baron Gaspard looked horrified. "You named my daughter in that filthy nomad tongue?"

A small hand slithered between Gerard's side and arm, pointing an accusatory finger at the nobleman. "They are cleaner than she was," Loren insisted, her voice muffled against Gerard's back. "She was Silence until she was Loren. Until he cleaned her."

"He ..." The baron's expression turned dangerous as he looked Gerard in the eye. "What have you been doing to my daughter, First Blade?"

Gerard's hand almost fell to rest upon the hilt of his sword, but sensing the man's ire, it didn't quite get there. Nobleman or not, he doubted the man would dare challenge him here in a place where Gerard and not Baron Gaspard occupied a place of importance and honor. "I can assure you my intentions and actions involving your daughter have been honorable ones. I have taken her under my protection as my ward and treated her with nothing but kindness and respect. I do not only vow this as a man, but as First Blade of Arctra."

"Not his," a small voice argued from Gerard's back, not doing much to help his argument. "She does not know him. Yours. She trusts you."

Gaspard's expression grew cold as he considered this. "As your father, Uriah, it is my place to decide to whom you will belong," he said harshly. "Since you cannot be trusted to know even the most basic tenants of propriety, there is only one option left to me. You will enter the service of the Temple. No thug with a title is going to deflower you because you have some meaningless obsession with him."

That pointing hand curled into a fist. "No flowers left. You are a bad man, like her master was!"

"I beg your pardon, my lord, but I am no thug. I am the First Blade of Arctra, in service to Queen Ariana. If you truly care for your daughter's well being, I would strongly suggest you listen to her wishes. She clearly does not wish to enter the Temple, and as her legal guardian, I must insist her wishes be given due consideration," Gerard insisted, his hand now falling to the hilt of his blade, subtly making a point.

"You are her legal guardian in lieu of her blood kin," Gaspard argued. "I am her father, proven by blood, and you have no further say in this matter. Either she enters the Temple, or you can marry her for all I care, but I will not have my family name disgraced by an ungrateful little idiot who can't even recognize the duty she owes to her blood!"

Gerard was not a man easily given to anger, but this man who claimed to be Loren's father was slowly raising his ire. There was no way he was going to allow anyone to ever hurt her again or force her into a situation where she might be taken advantage of. The man had inadvertently posed a solution to the problem, and though Gerard wasn't sure she would agree to marry him, it was at least the surest way of keeping her safe. "Then I will marry her, as you suggest," Gerard replied, maintaining his position between father and daughter.

Gaspard reared back, surprised to hear those words spoken so calmly. He groped for a way to take control, however, unused to being outwitted by a slave and her keeper. "Then I will take her to the du Lion manor in the city until the date of your travesty," he said harshly. "Until she bears your name, her behavior reflects upon me."

"She will not go with you," Loren muttered from Gerard's back, both hands now clinging to his sides. "She will not."

"You will do as you are told," Gaspard growled, and though he could not see it, the tone was too threatening for Loren not to react. Only Gerard could possibly recognize the way she softened and grew absolutely silent, fighting to contain her shaking in the face of a temper that would not think twice about hurting her.

Stuck between a stubborn and possibly abusive father and a daughter who was clearly terrified of him, Gerard had little choice but to take action and make a decision that would change both their lives but would effectively keep her safe, not only from her father but from anyone who might try to hurt her. "Very well, then. I will marry her today. Right this very moment, if necessary, but she is not going to the temple or to your manor in the city. I will take all responsibility for her as her husband and her protector, relieving you of your duty as her father," Gerard told the man, completely unruffled by the man's fury, or so it appeared.

Denied the opportunity even to stripe the young woman's back for her defiance, Gaspard du Lion clenched his jaw, straightening his back. "I do not approve, but it is a fair response," he conceded. "You will accompany me to the Temple now. I assume she is capable of walking?" Refused his blood rights, and denied the opportunities of having a daughter of marriageable age, she was no longer even worth using a name for, it seemed.
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Loren

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« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2017, 10:29:26 AM »
"She is, but I will require a moment before we accompany you," Gerard replied, as stubborn as the nobleman, it seemed, or as determined - flatly refusing to allow him to browbeat him or the young woman who was his daughter. That said, he turned his back on the man and gently led Loren aside so that he could explain what was about to happen.

"You will not be left unchaperoned with her a moment longer," Gaspard warned him, but was sensible enough not to force the issue. He remained where he was, watching the pair with heavy, angry eyes as Gerard drew Loren to one side.

She looked into Gerard's eyes, fear and uncertainty clouding her trusting gaze. Over the days and weeks since her arrival here, her trust in him had not wavered, and though she still referred to herself as "she", there was a better confidence in her thanks to his care. "Is she to be sent away?"

"No, but your father is insistent, and he is your only remaining blood relative. Even as your legal guardian, my word holds little sway over his judgment. He is one of the nobles, and I am not even sure if the Queen could do much to dissuade him. There is a way, I think, but you may not like it." He reached for her hands, drawing her to him and gentling his voice. "If I make you my wife, he will have no power or influence over you, and you will remain in my protection, but if we are to be married in the temple, it will create a lifelong bond between us, and I do not wish to force you into any such arrangement against your free will."

She moved easily under his guidance, softly trusting no matter what he did or said. In the weeks they had known one another, he had never spoken harshly or given her any reason to be afraid of him, slowly breaking the years of trained instinct that had kept her eyes lowered and her voice still. "You would choose her for your companion?" she asked in a soft voice, amazed that he would even consider this. "She is not a fine lady, like the ladies who stare at you and blush."

"You are as noble born as they are, Loren," he assured her, which seemed the case, if the nobleman present truly was her father. Not that it mattered. He had come to care for her in the weeks that she'd been under his protection, and though he might not recognize it as romantic love just yet, others around them seemed to see the start of it blooming between them. "Yes, I would choose you, if you would have me, though in truth, your blood is more noble than mine."

"She would ..." She shook her head, scowling fiercely at her own turn of phrase as she made a supreme effort to at least refer to herself the way he wanted to hear her do. "I would be with you, always?"

"For as long as you desire," he assured her gently. Or until one of them died. There were ways out of such things if the need arose, but he was going to be pressed into marriage sooner or later, and he could no longer see himself with anyone but her. "My first duty is to the Queen, but I can promise you I will do my best to look after you and care for you and keep you safe," he assured her further, giving her hands a squeeze. Something inside him was urgently hoping she'd agree to his proposal, though he wasn't quite sure why.

The tiny smile he had grown so familiar with over the past weeks flickered over her face, the uncertainty in her hazel eyes warming into the adoration everyone but him could see whenever she looked at her guardian and protector. "She wants to be yours," she whispered, flinching at the derisive snort that sounded from the man who claimed to be her father.

"Then, so be it," Gerard replied, a soft smile on his face, despite the Baron's snort of derision. If he wasn't a nobleman and her father, Gerard might have been tempted to give him a piece of his mind. He turned to one of the guards nearby who served the Queen and not the Baron. "Please let the Queen know that Lady Loren and I will be married today in the Temple when the sun reaches its zenith," he instructed the man before turning back to the nobleman. "We will meet you in the Temple at mid-day. You have my word," he told him, still standing as a human shield between father and daughter. The tone of his voice and look on his face left no room for argument.

Gaspard's expression was dangerous for a long moment, but that reminder of the queen's interest in the personal affairs of her friends and colleagues was enough to keep him from pressing his luck. "The moment she takes your name, I wash my hands of her," he warned. "She has been ruined. She is your shame now."

Turning on his heel, he marched out of the room, oblivious to the innocent question Loren then asked Gerard. "Why does he wear a sword if his bottom is too big for him to use it?"

Gerard almost wished Ariana had never sent out a search for Loren's family. He took an immediate disliking to her father, though that was hardly surprising considering the man's lack of respect and obvious disgust for his own daughter's distress. "Because it makes him feel more powerful than he is," he explained, glaring at the man's back as he departed. "Come, let us go see Shaye. She will want to know what has happened."

Shaye was more than delighted with the turn of events, it seemed. The former First Blade had grown attached to the young woman under Gerard's protection; indeed, she had warned him in advance that Baron du Lion was not a pleasant man when the meeting had first been mentioned. To hear that meeting had gone so badly that Gerard was going to marry Loren to keep her out of her father's clutches ... well, that was the sugar on the almonds as far as Shaye was concerned.

She took charge of Loren herself, shooing Gerard away to find his smartest tunic and clean his boots, with an addendum to decide if he was going to give his shy bride a ring as well, before disappearing into the royal apartments with Loren in tow. It seemed as though the former slave would never again be mistaken as such, especially with both the queen and Shaye O'Connor fussing over her. And indeed, that much was true.

As the noon hour came, the Temple received the unexpected honor of the Queen and Consort, escorting an equally unexpected bride toward one of the many side chapels set aside for such ceremonies. Ariana and Rory had set themselves in place as Loren's family for the marriage to come, quite prepared to deny Gaspard any duty but that of witness to his lost daughter's happiness.

And the lost daughter herself? Loren was barely recognizable to herself, garbed in crimson velvet and girdled with silver. If they were not allowed to feast the couple, their friends clearly intended to make sure both bride and groom were glorious as they exchanged their vows.

Liam had taken it upon himself to insinuate himself into the wedding by helping the groom prepare himself for the nuptials, though he hardly remembered his own marriage as inebriated as he'd been. He was as supportive of the union as Shaye, believing there was no better man than Gerard and knowing there was no one more prepared to protect Loren than him. Love would come in time, if it hadn't already, but Liam made no mention of that to the nervous groom. He made sure Gerard was wearing his best tunic and trousers, his hair tamed, his face shaved, his boots clean. Without more time to prepare, it was the best they could do on such short notice. Of the matter of a ring though, Gerard had assured him he had that matter well in hand.
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Loren

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« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2017, 10:30:08 AM »
By contrast, Baron Gaspard wore nothing finer than his signet ring, his clothing betraying how angry he was that this had come to pass at all. Yet when he marched to the chapel to demand his place as the father, it was to be stared down by the queen herself. No man had ever looked more beaten in that moment than he did, as he stepped back to watch in silence as both Gerard and Loren were blindfolded for the promises to come.

For his part, Gerard hardly recognized the girl who'd transformed into the beauty before him. Butterfly, indeed; it seemed an appropriate name. He had never imagined himself married, but then, he had never imagined himself elevated to the position of First Blade either, and yet, here he was. With eyes only for his bride, he was still watching her when the blindfold was put in place, blinding his sight from that of his bride, as was the custom.

There was a moment of panic from Loren as the blindfold was set over her eyes, when she reached out for someone to hold onto, afraid of being left alone in the darkness. It was only when the priest laid his hand upon her shoulder that she relaxed, aware that Gerard was standing before her. She couldn't have said just how she knew; she simply did. Perhaps it was the smell of the soap he used, or the soft creak of his leather boots. Perhaps she was simply so attuned to him that she just knew. But there was no panic in her as the priest spoke.

"In the eyes of the Nine, you are two. Separate, alone. In this time, at this hour, when day sinks slowly into the embrace of the night, you shall be joined, and be forever one, together for eternity. Gerard de Winter, in devotion to the Nine, do you claim this lady for your wife?"

Despite his blindness, Gerard was as aware of Loren's presence as she was of his, sensing her panic without having to see it and reaching out to find her hands and take them in his own, even as the priest started to speak the words that would bind them together for as long as they lived. Some men might be afraid to take such a binding oath, but the First Blade found himself welcoming it. Let everyone know that she was his and let no one come between them, from this moment forward. "I do," he replied simply, proud to claim her as his wife and even beloved, if the Nine blessed them so.

Though technically he should not have touched her before the vows were spoken, a single look from Ariana ensured that the priest made no attempt to remove Loren's hands from Gerard's grasp. Instead, the old man simply continued with those vows, still addressing the First Blade in a gentle tone. "By Arca, will you love her? By Juri, are your lands hers? By Thalan, will you share truth? By Hano, will you give your protection to her? By Leeso, will you heal her hurts? By Tura, will you fight her enemies? By Gaeden, will you provide for her? By Rinca, will you shelter her? And by Drago, will you walk with her in the land beyond death?"

It was a lot to ask of a man and a lot to consider, but for a man who trusted in the gods of Arctra, it was nothing. They had brought her to him and into his care for a reason, and he intended to do everything in his power to be worthy of their trust and hers. "I will," he replied further, promising to love her, even beyond this one lifetime.

The Nine bore names that Loren did not recognize, and yet when the same questions were put to her, she answered without needing to consider her reply. It was not the gods she made her promises to, but the man before her, hidden from her sight by the soft cloth that bound her eyes. A man who had protected her, removed her from slavery, taken her into his home, and was even now making a place for her in his life, all to keep her from further harm. How could she not love him? And for once, there was no stumbling, no hesitation, as the correct pronoun left her lips. "I will."

Gentle hands reached to remove the blindfolds as the priest continued on. "In the eyes of the Nine, the promises have been spoken, the oath sworn. These two are now one. Let no one put them asunder."

Once the blindfold was removed from his eyes, Gerard smiled softly at his new bride and stepped forward, not to kiss her, but to slid a slender band of gold onto her finger. "Accept this ring as a symbol of my love and fidelity and let no one come between us," he told her, choosing his own words, rather than those of any ceremony or tradition.

There were no words for the giving of the ring, for when the marriage traditions of Arctra had been formed, there had been no giving of any token. Loren blinked in the soft light of the candles that illuminated the Temple, gazing up at Gerard with warm devotion even as she felt him slide something on her finger. She had nothing to give him in return, nothing but herself. What he had laid on her hand was worth more than even that, she was certain. Yet what came next, she could not have said.

He knew they were expected to seal their promises with a kiss, and yet, until now, they had never shared anything more than an innocent touch or embrace, and Gerard did not want frighten his new bride by presuming too much. With all eyes upon them, he leaned close to touch a soft, but brief kiss to her lips, while giving her hands a reassuring squeeze. His touch was gentle and undemanding, and yet promised much more to come, if and when she was ever ready for it.

She gasped as his lips brushed hers, the simple, chaste contact enough to set her trembling. How could he possibly know that she had never been kissed? It was an intimate act, and one many would assume she had experienced time and again, especially those who knew or even suspected what other intimacies had been inflicted on her over the years of her life. Her hands tightened on his as he drew back, wanting to hide her face, to escape from the eyes watching them. The eyes that belonged to friends ... and the eyes that belonged to another man who had wanted to own her.

The man who claimed to be her father sneered at them. "I'll not wish you joy," Gaspard said, his tone shocking the priest who still stood with them. "My daughter died before her fourth year. You'll get no advancement from my kinship." He turned on his heel and walked away.

Ariana raised a brow. "He's a bigger idiot than I thought he was."

Gerard glared at the man's back once again, but instead of parting from Loren or moving away, he put an arm around her to draw her into his protective embrace. Now that she was his wife, he no longer needed to hide his affection for her or the fact that he was starting to care for her in ways that were deeper than even he realized. "We do not need any connection to his title or rank. You are a lady in your own right now, Loren," he told her turning to face her, taking her hands in his own once again. "My lady and my wife."

"And neither one of you is going to tell me no when I ennoble you," Ariana added, ignoring the way Shaye snorted with laughter. The young queen smiled at the First Blade and his lady. "No feast," she promised them. "No curious eyes. We will announce your marriage this evening, but neither one of you need make yourselves known until you are ready to do so."

Held close under Gerard's arm, her own wrapped about his back, her hand flat against his chest, Loren's expression was filled with disbelieving gratitude. "She ... I ... thank you, majesty."

"We both thank you, Majesty. We thank all of you," Gerard told them, his gaze taking in the small group that he had come to think of as friends.
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Loren

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« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2017, 10:30:41 AM »
"Ah, but what would a wedding be without a celebration?" Liam interrupted with a grin. "Tonight at dinner, we will celebrate quietly and privately," he said, sliding a glance at Ariana. "With Her Majesty's permission, of course," he added with a nod of his head, though that smirk was still in place. The small group was in the habit of dining with the Queen and her Consort, so nothing would seem amiss, but Liam couldn't see the day going without some small bit of recognition.

"Of course," Ariana smiled, her own arm wrapped through Rory's as she leaned against him. "But until then, I suggest we all go our separate ways. The gathering of us together seems to draw a great deal of attention these days."

Shaye smirked. "Only because everyone's desperate to know when you'll be dropping your twins, ma'am."

"Let us hope she does not merely drop them, wife," Liam replied with a playful grin in Shaye's direction. "Until dinner!" he said, dropping a short bow in the direction of the royal couple before turning to drag Shaye away from the gathering.

With a laugh at Shaye's cheeky salute, Ariana turned her smile onto Gerard and Loren once more. "Dinner," she reminded them gently. "Until then, your time is your own. And congratulations." She stepped back, drawing Rory away to leave the newly wedded couple alone before the chapel shrine.

"Congratulations!" Rory echoed with a friendly, albeit shy, smile, before turning to follow his wife, the Queen, away from the chapel.

"Well, now ..." Gerard mused aloud, clearing his throat and feeling just a little nervous now that they'd been left alone to their own devices.

Still tucked under his arm, Loren raised her eyes to his, biting her lip worriedly. "This one does not know how to be a wife, sir," she whispered softly, as though expecting those words alone to be reason enough for him to push her away.

"And I do not know how to be a husband," he replied, a soft smile on his face for her shy admission. "But we will learn together," he assured her, leaning in to kiss her brow before tucking her hand in the crook of his arm to lead her back to what was now their quarters.

There didn't seem to be any need for words on that short journey. The soldiers and servants they passed offered nods and greetings, respectful of the First Blade and his lady; the nobles were a little more aloof, no doubt responding to rumors already spread by the disenfranchised baron. Loren clung to his arm as they passed by those curious eyes, still not quite able to meet the stares with the confidence he was trying to instill into her. Yet when they reached his quarters, a shy smile lit her face; Talis, his personal servant, had clearly been busy. The table bore a light offering of fruit and breads; a new rug had been placed by the fire. In the bedroom, another new rug adorned the floor at the foot of the bed, and new linens had replaced the old, not to mention the arrival of the small chest that had been given to Loren to contain her own belongings.

"She - I - am to stay here?"

Even Gerard seemed surprised at the swift way in which Talis had transformed his room and had Loren's things moved there with the obvious goal of welcoming her and making her feel at home and comfortable. He knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, but he was impressed with the speed with which Talis had taken things in hand. "Yes, well ... Now that you are my wife, it will be expected," he replied, following her into the room and closing the door behind them.

Wrapping her arms about her waist as she looked around in quiet amazement, Loren hesitated, still very uncertain of her place despite the lengths gone to just to keep her here. "What does it mean, to be your wife?" she asked softly, turning her eyes toward him, alight with trusting curiosity.

Now there was a question. He hadn't realized he was going to have to explain this, too. "It means ..." He trailed off as he contemplated an explanation. Had she not heard anything the priest had been saying? "It means we are bonded for life in the eyes of the gods," he explained, wondering if he'd have to explain that even further. Taking her hand, he drew her further into the room. "Please, make yourself comfortable. This is your home now as much as it is mine."

"Was she not bonded to you before now?" she asked as he lead her further into the suite of rooms that were now, apparently, hers to enjoy as well. "She gave her word. She promised never to leave your side. That was not a bond?"

"Yes, it was a bond, but not the same kind of bond as that of being husband and wife." Was she really that naive as not to know what that meant? Had he made a mistake in marrying her? Would she grow to hate him for it? He drew a heavy sigh as he led her toward the hearth. "Please, sit and I will explain," he told her, indicating a chair near the fire.

Marriage, it seemed, was not the Skarran way, and Skarra was all she knew of such things, after all. With both her hands wrapped about his palm and fingers, she moved easily at his command. But for perhaps the first time, she did not sit where he told her to. She stepped past the chair to take a seat on the padded bench instead, refusing to relinquish his hand. He was going to have to sit beside her if he wanted to sit at all.

He neither scolded or argued with her as she chose to sit on the bench, instead taking a seat beside her and taking her hands between his own. "Marriage in Arctra is not what it is in Skarra." Though men and women did not always wed for love, as evidenced by arranged marriages, mostly among the nobles, even loveless marriages were better than those of Skarran custom. "Generally, a man and a woman choose to wed because they care for each other and wish to raise a family together."

Loren absorbed this quietly, trying to make sense of it within the boundaries of her own experience. "Only one woman?" she asked in surprise. "One man and ... and only one woman? Not one woman to be mother to his children, and others to be in his bed? Which of these does a wife perform?"

"One woman and one man," he confirmed, hoping he didn't alarm her to know that one woman was expected to be both wife and mother, though he did not intend to force himself or his will upon her in any way. He had married her to keep her safe from her father and anyone else who might wish her harm; whatever came after remained to be seen. "Marriage is a sacred bond, blessed by the gods. It is a bond of love and affection and caring." But this still didn't quite answer her question.

She was quiet for a long time, gazing into the flames that danced in the fireplace. She thought she understood what he meant, but there was something eluding her. "Please ..." Her voice seemed very small in the stillness, though her hands tightened on his. "What is love?"
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Loren

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« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2017, 10:31:18 AM »
"Love," he echoed, with a thoughtful frown. That was going to take some explaining. "There are many kinds of love. There is the love one has for one's family or friends, or for one's children. There is love of country and of our Queen; love for the gods and all they do for us. But the love between a man and woman is a very special love. It is more than just caring. It is a longing deep inside your heart and a desire to share your life with another. It is a feeling like no other."

Again, Loren was silent, staring into the flames as she drew his words into herself. A longing, a desire, not just for the present moment but for all the moments to come. A need to shelter and be sheltered in turn, to care and be cared for. A feeling he seemed to believe was at its best when shared between a man and a woman, bound in marriage before the Nine. It was not her experience of the word - love had been used as an excuse by her peers, a means to get her alone where no one would see greedy hands and painful motion in the darkness. That kind of love was a lie, if Gerard was to be believed, and she saw no reason to disbelieve him. And yet ...

"I love you."

He arched a brow at her confession, unsure if she truly understood what those words meant, though he had tried to explain as best he could. Though he certainly knew what it was to be with a woman, in all his years, he had never been in love; and yet, there was something about this fragile, lovely creature that tore at his heartstrings like no one ever had before. Was it love? Perhaps not quite yet, but his heart was certainly moving in that direction.

"It does not mean that one owns another, Loren, or that one wants to be owned. But to share a life with another, to know that kind of companionship ... It is very special." He paused a moment, thinking perhaps she might understand if he gave her an example. "The Queen and her Consort, for example, share a bond of love, as do Shaye and Liam. They cannot imagine a life without the other in it, and so they bind themselves together in such a way that they will never be parted again."

Her face fell as he gently denied her soft confession, drawing her hands from his to fold them into her lap as her gaze locked with the dancing flames. "She does not want to be owned," she said quietly. "She is very stupid." Those last words came as rote, a defense she had learned early on when something she had said had drawn ire down upon her. But he wasn't angry with her, and she was not afraid of him. She simply wanted to take those words back, as though never spoken, to allow him to continue believing that she knew nothing of what he spoke.

"No, you are not stupid," he argued, frowning as he realized he'd hurt her feelings somehow. Could it be that she really did love him, that she really did understand what that meant? Could it even be that he loved her in return? Was that what this feeling was that he couldn't quite put a name to?

"I am the one who is stupid, I'm afraid," he said with a sigh, turning his own gaze toward the flames. "I have never known what it is to love or be in love." He'd never told her much of his history; he'd never seen the need until now. "My mother died when I was young, and my father barely tolerated my presence. One day, after a particularly painful beating, I decided I was better off on my own, so I left. I ran away from home. It was only luck or the blessing of the gods that brought me to Phalion, where I was befriended by a knight who made me his page. That man was more of a father to me than my own father ever was. He taught me how to read and write, and he taught me the virtue of being a knight. But I have never known the kind of love that is shared between a man and woman."

"When she looks at you, she does not see a knight," she said softly, her hands twisting together in her lap. "She sees strength and kindness, bravery, warmth. She sees a hand that bears a sword, but will never hurt her. She sees safety and comfort and belonging. She honors and obeys and cherishes. She loves, but he will not let her love him."

He turned his head toward her, dark brows arching upwards, not sure what it was she was seeing in him, but surprised to hear her say it. He had spent most of his life trying to be noble and to do the right thing and be a good man, but it seemed she saw deeper into him than anyone else ever had before, except perhaps for that one knight who had taken him in so long ago. Had he guarded his heart for too long? "It's not that. It's only ..." He frowned, not quite sure what it was that was holding him back. "It's only that I don't know how."

"Magisters do not need love to make children," she said sadly, letting him have his confusion. After all, what could Loren possibly do or say to ease his mind? In his eyes, she was little more than a child, she believed. Why should he believe her capable of loving him? "You will not need it to put a child in me." She patted his hand, but still avoided his gaze, rising to her feet to step away from the fire. Her hands delved into the heavy fall of her hair, twisting it back from her face as she moved to the window.

"Do you think that is what this is all about?" he asked, wondering if she'd heard him at all or understood anything he'd been trying to tell her. "Do you think I married you only so that you could have my child?" he asked, following her with his eyes as she moved away from him. His voice did not sound angry, but there was a hint of pain in his words, though she could not know or understand why. He found his heart aching to know he had failed her.

"You married me so that he could not own me," she said simply, and again, her pronouns were correct, unconsciously. "Kindness and courage. Love ... I did not have a word for what I felt until now. But I cannot stop loving, no matter how much I want to please you."

"Do you think that it displeases me to know that you love me?" he asked further, without any accusation or blame in his voice, only needful curiosity. He needed to know what she felt and what she wanted from this marriage. He needed to know if it would only be a marriage of convenience or if there was hope for something more.

"If you do not want her love, then it must displease you," she shrugged, letting her freshly twisted braid fall heavily onto her shoulder. Her hands smoothed over the stone lintel of the window as she looked out over the crowded view below, feeling the unfamiliar weight of the golden band about her finger. "She does not wish to be displeasing. She wants ..." She closed her eyes, her head bowed, her voice so soft as to be almost inaudible. "She wants to be loved. But she is nothing."

His gaze drifted to that ring on her finger, knowing she had no way of knowing how much it had meant to him or why he had given it to her. He sighed again. This was going to be harder than he thought, and yet, maybe all she really needed was a little reassurance. "You are not nothing, Loren. Not to me." He rose from the bench finally and made his way to stand just behind her, almost afraid to touch her, as beautiful and sad and lonely as she was. He turned her to face him finally, very gently taking her hand in his and rubbing a finger over the ring he had given her. "This ring once belonged to my mother. It's all I have left of her. She gave it to me before she died. She said she wanted me to have it, so that one day I could give it to someone I love."

Her breath caught in her throat as he took her hand in his, as he told her the meaning of the ring he had given her. Her instincts told her that his giving had been a mistake; that such a precious gift was not meant for someone like her, but ... was that not what he had been telling her? That he did not believe himself worthy of her love? She bit her lip hard, tears in her eyes for the losses he had endured, for the strength it had taken to give that last token of the mother he loved to a slave he had married only to protect. "I will keep it safe," she promised him faithfully, despite the pain in her heart. "Until you find the someone it belongs to."
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Loren

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« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2017, 10:31:51 AM »
It almost broke his heart to see the tears in her eyes and to know they were only there because of him. She was longing for someone to love her - not just anyone, but him - and in that moment, he could not help but to open his heart to her love. "It belongs to you, Loren. That is what I am trying to tell you," he told her gently, tipping her chin upwards to meet his gaze and brushing the tears from her face. "If you will give me a chance."

It belongs to you. The ring his mother had given him to give to someone he loved ... belonged to her, a nothing who had turned his life upside down. Hazel eyes found his as he swept the tears from her cheeks, adoring confusion mirroring his gentle gaze. "She loves ... I love you," she told him once more. "Is that not chance enough?"

He smiled at her finally - a soft, warm smile full of affection and hope, if not yet the love she was craving. "Will you teach me how to love you?" he asked - a strange question, perhaps, for a man who thought he'd understood love.

"She - I -" She sighed in frustration, knowing he didn't like it when she referred to herself in the third person but finding it a habit that was proving very difficult to break. Drawing in a breath, she raised her eyes to his once more. "I do not know how to teach," she admitted softly. "Only how to be."

"Then show me," he insisted, replacing one word for another, though the meaning was mostly the same. "Tell me what you want and what you need," he told her, happy to go as slow as she wanted. He had not yet told her how beautiful she was, afraid she wouldn't believe him or that he might only say so because he wanted something from her.

From the first moment she had known him, only one word could describe him in her mind. Glorious. In armor, in shirt sleeves, fierce or gentle, he was always glorious. And now, tentative and soft, coaxing her to be brave, he was still more glorious than she had believed was possible. Her hand left the window sill, hesitantly creeping up to touch his cheek with soft fingertips, daring to touch when she had never been permitted to be so bold before. And that touch skimmed his cheek, passing over his lips to linger there, remembering the press of his mouth to hers in the temple.

"This," she whispered, stroking her fingers against his lips, hoping he would understand where she did not have words to explain.

He studied her face, her eyes, her lips - his heart yearning for something more than just friendship. He had kissed her lips only once, briefly, tentatively, and it had set off a spark of something deep inside him that he could not put a name to, but that he now recognized as longing. Could it be that she'd felt it, too? He found himself drawn once again to those lips, unable to deny her. His lips were surprisingly soft against hers and warm as they gently pressed against hers, claiming her for his, but never rough or demanding.

Just as before, she trembled as his lips claimed hers, shocked to her toes by the sheer intimacy of a simple kiss. Her fingers flexed against his chest, needing to pull him closer, afraid that was not allowed; a compromise that resulted in his tunic rumpling beneath her palms as she leaned into him. Slowly, her eyes closed, losing herself to the gentle tenderness she had not experienced before; to that sense that this kiss, this intimacy, was as much hers as it was his.

She need not have worried as he circled her in his protective embrace, just as he had so many times before, letting the spark between them turn to flame. As for him, his eyes, too, closed, if only momentarily so that he could savor her kiss as long as it lasted before opening them again to admire the sad beauty before him, and in that moment, he secretly swore never to see her sad or make her cry again.

Perhaps it was strange, that a single kiss could shake her so profoundly. He knew she was no stranger to her own body, nor to the aggression of men who wanted it, and yet there she was, breathless from a single kiss, leaning into him as her knees buckled, her eyes slower to open than they had been to close. And when open, alive with longing and wonder, adoration illuminating her where experience could not. "This," she said again, blushing at her eagerness. "Always this."

He had not married her to let her go so easily, and he thought in that moment that always might not be long enough, now that they'd found each other. "This is what it is to be married, love," he explained, hoping she understood finally what he'd been trying to tell her in a round-about way.

For just a moment, she wavered, and the darknesses of her past came crashing down. Those tears he had not wanted to see burst out of her, but this time she did not try to escape him. She pushed closer into his arms, clinging to him as she sobbed, and every now and then, words made themselves known. " ...hand, pinching ... promised ... his pleasure, my pain ... my place to submit ... I allowed ... did not fight ... too good for me, for her, you are too ... broken and ruined and ... not worthy ..."

Gerard held her close while she poured her heart out, a mixture of feelings tangled up inside him. It wasn't pity he was feeling exactly - compassion, sympathy. There was some anger in there, too, for those who had hurt her. He almost wished the man had given him a reason to kill him, any reason, but he had to be satisfied simply to know that she was safe now and that neither the Skarrans or her father could ever try to use her or hurt her again. What they'd done to her was unforgivable. He'd assumed as much already from what she had told him, and it was part of the reason he'd been so gentle and patient with her up to now, but none of that had been her fault and it angered him further to think she might blame herself for it.

"Listen to me, Loren," he told her, as he tilted her chin up to meet his face once again. "You are not to blame for any of that. You were brave and courageous, and you did what you had to do to survive. That is all. It's over now, and I will never let anyone hurt you again." He wasn't stupid enough to know she would just forget what had happened, but he at least needed her to know that he was not like those men and that she was safe, so long as she was with him.

"This should not be mine," she whispered brokenly, her fingertips skimming over his lips once again, distracted by the sparkle of gold at her knuckle. "I want, I love, but ... I do not know how. I know pain and blood. I know that is not right. That is not you. I do not know how to want with you."

"Then we will teach each other," he promised softly, pulling her close against him, one hand stroking her back. "We will teach each other what it is to love and be loved in return," he told her, though in truth, he thought she was already teaching him far more than he was teaching her.

She sighed, a soft girlish sound in the back of her throat, leaning into him as he stroked her like a skittish mare. "I love," she promised him tenderly, daring to curl her arms about his waist, to rest her brow in the crook of his neck. Perhaps it wasn't the lust-filled marathon most men and women expected after a wedding, but it was no less enduring for that. Intimacy for one person was very different to intimacy for another, after all.

It was, in fact, more than he could have ever hoped or asked for and more than he'd ever expected. It certainly wasn't what he'd expected when he awoke that morning, to end the day a married man, wed to this fragile flower of a woman who, like a butterfly, was slowly emerging to become a beauty in her own right.
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Loren

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« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2017, 10:32:24 AM »
She still had no real understanding of her place, nor what was expected of her, but now she was his wife, Talis would have cause to teach her new mistress what she needed to know to be mistress in her own home. Another contented sigh left her as she held herself close to him, closing her eyes to savor the warmth of his arms about her. "She has nothing to give you," she murmured, still aware of the ring on her finger. "Nothing of value to share, as you have done."

"You are wrong," he told her, his voice quiet, almost as if he was afraid to shatter the moment of quiet and tranquility that was surrounding them, now that she was no longer crying. "The greatest gift you could ever offer me is your heart," he told her, hoping she would not take him literally, but understand what it was that he meant.

"It is given," she said softly. "Not offered. Not shown, but seen. You cannot give back what is mine to give to you. The only thing that is mine to give." Thank goodness she had been in Arctra long enough to understand that he was not suggesting some sort of blood sacrifice to prove her feeling for him. She knew him well enough to know that he would likely be angry with her if she tried to cut her own heart out to give to him.

"Your love is all I want and all I shall ever need," he told her, though that might not be entirely true. If they kept going the way they were going, they might end up with a family someday, but today was not that day. He quieted, holding her close for a long moment, before speaking again. "I have not yet told you how beautiful you are."

At that, she laughed. For the first time, she laughed aloud - not a huff of amusement, or a giggle hastily silenced. A true, loud laugh that bubbled up, betraying her genuine amusement at his compliment, her utter disbelief that it was sincere. A good thing, and a bad thing, all at once.

Her laughter surprised him almost as much as her tears, and he pulled away a little to look at her, a confused look on his face. "Why are you laughing?" he asked, unsure why she found his statement funny. Had she misunderstood him somehow?

Her hand unwound from his back to cover her mouth, hazel eyes dancing as she tried to silence her laughter once again. It took more effort than she was used to, to draw that silence down once more. "You do not have to tell her such things," she told him from behind her smile. "It is enough that she is here."

"You don't believe me," he said, frowning at her as he realized she either didn't believe him or thought he was only trying to make her feel better. "Come," he told her, taking her hand and leading her away from the window toward a mirror that stood in a corner. He placed her in front of the mirror, with himself standing just behind her, looking at the reflection of the two people who were looking back at them. "Do you not see how beautiful you are?"

It wasn't that Loren had never seen a mirror before. She was clearly familiar with them, with their purpose. But standing here, with Gerard, in front of her own reflection, he had the chance to notice something no one ever had. She did not look at her own reflection. Her gaze skated over her own face and form without recognition, rising instead to meet his with a soft smile. "I cannot see me," she told him, shaking her head. "She cannot step outside herself and look. She is a slave. Beautiful slaves do not live long."

Gerard furrowed his brows at her statement, understanding and yet not understanding. The reflection in the mirror was clearly of the two of them, but she either didn't seem to see herself or she didn't recognize her own face. "Do you see me in the mirror?" he asked, deciding to take this slow so as not to shock her again.

Her smile deepened for a brief moment. "I always see you." Strange, how that pronoun came more easily when they were alone, when she was relaxed and unafraid of making mistakes. Unafraid of being seen. "The mirror does not show me all of you."

"Look again," he told her. "Look at the woman who stands in front of me. That woman is you." He touched her hair, letting her both see and feel his touch so that she might understand that the reflection in the mirror was her own. "You are beautiful, Loren, and you are no longer a slave. You will never be a slave again."

This time, when her eyes skated over their reflection, she paused, studying the unfamiliar face crowned with the tangled braid his hand stroked over, feeling the weight of that touch. In Skarra, she had held mirrors for rich men and women, and never known that this was what they were seeing ... themselves. Her hand reached out, fingertips touching the polished glass in surprise, returning to touch her own nose in wonder. "She ... she has a big nose," she said in amazement.

He chuckled, amused by her observation, but relieved that she didn't seem upset by it. "You have a lovely nose," he assured her with a soft smile that spoke of his growing affection for her without saying a word.

To be fair, her nose wasn't big so much as aquiline - beautifully straight and centered, something she wasn't used to seeing, much less associating with herself. Her gaze continued to wander over herself, her hands following that wandering look as though to reassure herself that it really was her in the glass. Of course, that gave Gerard something interesting to watch as well. "These are bigger than Talis'," she mentioned. There was no need to clarify what these were; she had both hands pressed there.

He coughed at her unexpected observation, struggling to keep his gaze from lingering too long on that particular characteristic. "Yes, well ..." He cleared his throat, face flushing just a little, unsure what to say to that.

Her hands fell then, smoothing over the line of her hips, feeling the jut of bones beneath the velvet that encased her. Signs of a life lived too long without enough sleep, without enough food, without enough of anything. Signs that might never leave her fully. One hand rose again, touching the upper curve of her left breast, knowing the crimson hid a brand she would never be rid of, and a cloud passed over her eyes. No wonder he could not look at her in such a way. She shook her head, turning away from the mirror. "She is not like other women."

He watched as she looked herself over, unable to know what she was thinking or that the dress hid a mark that she would never be rid of. He was observant enough to notice the change in her expression, arching a puzzled brow as she turned away from the mirror, seemingly unimpressed or displeased with what she'd seen there. "No, she is not, but that is a good thing," he assured her, though it might prove difficult to explain why.

She paused, turning back to him with curious eyes. "She ... I do not understand." She sighed, looking down at herself once more. "She is not like the ladies who are pretty and smiling. She does not have hair like gold and eyes like the sky." A very common look in Arctra - even the queen shared those colors. To be small and dark in a world where women were tall and fair was a strange feeling.

"No, but why would you want to look like everyone else when you can be yourself?" he asked, tracing her cheek with the back of one hand. How could he make her understand that it was partly the fact that she was different that made her so beautiful. "Do you like flowers?" he asked, seemingly out of the blue.

Oddly, she shook her head, her mouth forming a moue of disgust. It was an oddity of Skarra that the most beautiful flowers were also the most deadly. "She likes herbs," she offered instead. "The smell and the sight, and the way they make people feel whole again."

He wasn't sure he could make the same comparison with herbs, but he was determined to try. "And they're all different, but each one of them beautiful in its own way. Do you see?" he asked, hoping she could grasp a little of his meaning.
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Loren

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« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2017, 10:32:55 AM »
"Lavender and rosemary," she said softly. Yes, she understood. She wasn't sure which she was in his mind, though - lavender, with its delicate fragrance and dancing flowers, soothing and warming; or rosemary, strong in scent and sight, richly green, useful in myriad ways for myriad purposes. Was she the pretty luxury, or the practical common?

"Yes," he nodded in agreement, a soft smile on his face. He didn't think he needed to make any other comparisons, either to flowers or birds or butterflies or herbs. What she needed to understand was that she was beautiful in her own way, at least to his eyes. Maybe that's what she needed to hear. "I think you are beautiful."

Loren almost glowed under his praise, a soft flush painting her cheeks as she smiled, unable to hide her delight that he found her beautiful. That beautiful was not a cold thing to be wielded as a weapon or worn as a shield, but something that could make this warmth in her heart spread when he looked at her like that. "I think you are beautiful."

He chuckled a little at her praise. Beautiful was not a word that was usually used in connection with men, but he thought he understood what she meant and flushed a little at her praise. "I'm no wildflower," he told her, a smirk of amusement on his face. He was more like a prickly pear, maybe.

"You are a thistle." The words were out before she thought to stop them, her hand flying to her mouth as her eyes widened. "She did not mean to give offense," she rushed to apologize, though it was clear she did not know how to make her comment sound complimentary at all.

He laughed, partly at her comparison and partly at her reaction to it. "That's a good comparison. And you are a butterfly," he told her, touching a finger to her nose. She would always be his butterfly, beauty reborn.

Her nose wrinkled under his touch, her smile a little bemused, not really understanding his laughter but glorying in it nonetheless. "What does a wife do, Gerard?" she asked suddenly. The want was still there, the desire she was unused to feeling kindling a slow flame that seemed unwilling to go out. But she wanted to be as good as she could be, for him.

"Do?" he asked, unsure how to answer that. He had married her to protect her from her father, as well as the Skarrans, but there was more to it than just that. He could no longer deny that he had feelings for her, and despite the fact that she'd confessed her love for him, he didn't want her to feel pressured to do anything she was uncomfortable with. "Um ... she supports her husband, I suppose. Cares for him." But she might think he had Talis for that. "We care for each other, take care of each other," he tried to explain.

"I care for you," she said simply, drawing her fingertips in a light tease over his palm before letting her hands fall from his. "But that is not what I do, it is what I am. What does a wife do?" Curiosity colored the hazel gaze that met his as she stepped closer, her head tilting back as her unraveling braid fell from her shoulder to her back. "What is it you want your wife to do, Gerard?"

Of course, he wanted what any man wanted from a wife, and it wasn't just about sharing his bed, but how to explain? "I am not sure how to explain," he replied, as honestly as he could. "What is it you wish to do?" he asked, turning the question back around on her, standing his ground as she stepped closer.

For Loren, that was a simple question, and one whose answer required him to stop avoiding her initial query. She laid her hand on his arm, almost as though she thought he might run away from her. "I wish to be the best wife for you I can be," she said quietly. "But I do not know what a wife does. Show me?"

"Loren," he started, touching a hand to her cheek, his eyes uncertain. It wasn't that he didn't want her, but he knew what she'd been through as a slave, and he didn't want her to do anything she felt uncomfortable doing. "Men and woman ... husbands and wives ... they ... love each other." But that wasn't necessarily true. Not all married couples loved each other, nor did they always desire each other. "Ideally, if a man and woman marry for love, then they share a bond that is not only of the heart but the body. If they are lucky, they have children and raise a family together, but before that, they get to know each other, learn about each other, love each other." He knew he was failing at this, but it wasn't such a simple question as it might seem.

"You ..." She hesitated, uncertain quite how he was going to react to what she was about to ask. She knew he felt anger about her past, but against whom, she was not sure. "You love me," she tried again, hoping he understood that this made him far more than anyone else had never tried to be to her. "Love comes with, with want? For me, for ... for my body?"

"Yes, of course, but ..." He trailed off with a frown, once again afraid he might frighten her with that admission, but he was not like the men she had known before, and he did not want to hurt her. "I never want to hurt you, Loren," he told her, needing to say it, though he'd said it before. "I do not wish to hurt you. I am patient. I can wait."

Confusion blossomed in her gaze as she looked up at him. "Wait?" she repeated, a small furrow painting a shadow between her brows. "For what?"

"Until you are ready, if you are ever ready," he said, having difficulty explaining himself without coming right out and saying what he meant.

"I ... I don't understand," she admitted uncomfortably. "You say you will wait until I am ready. But I want, as you do. I feel as you do. Am I ... Is she not truly what you desire? You have not seen her." This said, it seemed she was about to remedy that with action. Her hands fell to the girdle about her waist, unhooking the heavy length to set it aside before rising to work the neck of her gown down over her shoulders.

There was no denying that he wanted her, that he desired her, and having her start undressing before him was doing very little to curb those desires or ensure his patience, but he had sworn to protect her, and he was not about to break that promise now. "Loren," he said, reaching forward to still her hands before she could disrobe further. "I am asking what you want."

The answer was breathtakingly simple, so simple that she thought she had already told him as much in many other ways. In her eyes as she looked at him, in her voice when she spoke to him, in the way she was always close by his side ... how could he not see what she wanted? Her eyes met his, calm and longing, at peace with herself when she was with him. "You."

Her answer both elated and terrified him, but he needed to be sure she understand what it was she was agreeing to. "Are you sure?" he asked, his eyes meeting hers. "I promise I will be gentle, but I cannot promise there won't be some pain."

Her smile was sad as she reached up, daring to touch his cheek as she sought to reassure him. "There is always pain," she said softly. "But this time, it is my choice. It is you."

"I cannot deny that I want you," he replied tentatively, not wanting to frighten her, but also wanting to be honest. "I am willing to wait until you are ready," he reminded her again, allowing her to choose whether they would know each other as husband and wife now or later.
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Loren

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« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2017, 10:33:28 AM »
"I ... I do not like the day," she confessed, admitting softly that she was not as ready as she seemed to be. "There are no shadows to hide me." For she knew there were marks on her body that he would not be happy to see.

He arched a curious brow at her statement. "Why would you want to hide?" he asked, as gently as he could.

She let her eyes fall from his, her body half-turning away, arms rising as though to hide herself when only moments before she had been prepared to bare all to his gaze. "She is ... she wears his mark," she whispered, almost distraught at the thought of Gerard ever seeing the brand seared into her skin.

"His mark?" he echoed, not quite understanding for a moment before he realized what she must mean. As if he didn't hate the Skarrans enough already, the more she told him about the things they'd done to her, the more it fed his hatred. "What did they do to you, Loren?" he asked, struggling to control his voice so she wouldn't sense the anger and hatred that was not aimed at her.

"It burned," she whispered, unable to raise her voice, closing her eyes against the disgust she was certain was in him for this knowledge that she was not perfect as he might have hoped for. "She was very small, and the metal was big and red. They held her down and burned her. It was red and black, but now it is white. Like the marks on her back, it is there forever."

He drew a long sigh, but instead of being angry at her or disappointed as she might have expected, he drew his arms around her to pull her close, his face buried momentarily in her hair. "I'm sorry," he told her after a long moment, his voice quiet, full of compassion and caring and sympathy, the anger and hatred carefully controlled.

It was not difficult to imagine the branding of a child as small as she had been when the Skarrans had taken her. Four years old, bought and sold, and marked forever as property with the cruel hiss of a red-hot iron into tender flesh. Ten years old, and whipped for the first time, the wounds allowed to fester so that she would always remember why. Sixteen years old, grown into a budding woman, and already the bed slave of greedy men who wanted only to sate themselves. Twenty, and another slave convinced her in silence and secrecy to do as she did for the masters. And now ... twenty-four, and loved so much that the thought of her skin was too much for him to bear. She closed her eyes, pressing into his arms, sad to know that she had been right. He wanted perfection; he had her, instead.

She might not yet know it, but she was wrong in that assumption. Hate was not a strong enough word for how he felt about those who'd hurt her, but the knowledge that she trusted him enough to tell him such things, as well as the desire to show her that not all men were evil and cruel like the Skarrans, further sparked the flame that had started burning inside his heart for this fragile flower of a woman. "I am sorry for what you have suffered, dear heart. I swear to you again that I will never hurt you or cause you any harm." He was not one for tears, but the knowledge of what they'd done to her laid heavy on his heart. "You must tell me if I ever hurt you."

"You have never hurt me," she murmured against his shoulder, her eyes tightly closed still for fear of seeing the disgust she felt sure must be in his gaze for the marks on her skin he had not yet seen with his own eyes. "You saved me."

"I ..." He started, unsure if he should tell her what he was feeling, or what he thought he was feeling. "I love you," he said, letting himself say the words at long last. There was no other explanation for what he was feeling, though it surprised him perhaps more than it would surprise her.

She gasped, lifting her head without thought to show him the surprise in her eyes, the joy that overtook that surprise to mingle with the adoration that had always been there. Had he just been too blind to see it? "You love her?"

"No, I love you," he corrected, meeting her gaze, seeing how her expression had changed at his declaration of love ... or was it his imagination? "It angers me that they hurt her, but it does not change my feelings for you. I still care for you, I still want you, and yes, I love you."

"You ... you know that she is marked, and you ... you do not care?" She was amazed, her expression wondering as she looked up at him. "It will not make you sick to look upon?" The way she said that, it seemed that others might well have forced her to keep the brand hidden away, even in those stolen, furtive moments when they took her.

"No, of course not," he replied, as if that should go without saying. "They did that to you ... to her," he said, correcting himself. He had a theory about the way she used pronouns in reference to herself, but he hadn't put it to the test yet. "It's not your fault. None of it was your fault, Loren. Why would I blame you for it? If I find it hard to look upon, it will only be because it pains me that they hurt you," he tried to explain.

A slow, almost disbelieving smile crossed her face, truly delighted with his response to her fears. He didn't care. She threw her arms around him, cuddling in close with a sound that was almost a purr of pure pleasure, eyes closed to let herself just enjoy being in his arms.

It wasn't so much that he didn't care as it was that it made no difference in how he felt about her. He was obviously surprised by her reaction, but pleasantly so, smiling as he returned her embrace, glad he had pleased her.

Home. The word came to her mind so suddenly that she started in surprise, blinking as she looked up at him once more. All her life, home had been something spoken of in whispers by other Arctrans enslaved, a mystical land across the water where slaves did not exist and people lived freely beneath a queen who cared for them. Home had never been a real place for her, not even when she had first come here and been freed in truth. But now ...

"Home," she murmured, one hand slithering up between them to touch his cheek in wonder. "She is home."

"We are home," he said, not correcting her so much as reminding her that they were in this together and that this was their home. After all, he hadn't been First Blade very long before she'd arrived. And if things kept going the way they were going, they'd probably end up adding a family to that home before long.

The smile that spread over her face was warm and tender, the hand at his cheek daring to exert just a little pressure, inviting him to taste her lips once more. Taking the initiative was not something that came easily, yet with Gerard, she felt safe to do it, secure that he would stop her if she did anything he did not want her to do. Her smile touched his once, twice, fingers stroking through his hair as she breathed him in, feeling the flame inside her roar to life once again. The door behind her opened.
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Loren

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Re: Home
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2017, 10:33:53 AM »
"Thalan's knickers!" Talis sounded utterly mortified. "That is ... I'm so sorry, my lord, I thought you would be dining with the queen. Word is she's brought her evening meal forward so's you wouldn't have to be awkward with ... Well, so's you'd be more comfortable." The older woman had one hand over her eyes, her cheeks alight with an embarrassed blush. "Drago's flamin' arse, I knew I should have knocked ..."

There wasn't much Gerard would say no to where Loren was concerned, more worried about what she was comfortable with, not wanting to take advantage. He couldn't help but return her kisses though, his arms wrapped around her waist to hold he close. With any luck she could not tell what her kisses were doing to his body, though she was definitely having an effect on him. Completely distracted, he hadn't noticed when the door opened and Talis appeared. She was the only other person who was allowed to come and go from his quarters mostly without his leave, but that might have to change now that he was no longer alone. He chuckled at her reaction to what she'd seen. "It's all right, Talis. Please, come in."

Loren was blushing, hiding her face against his chest as Talis made her way inside, closing the door behind her.

"Well, milord, it's like this," the servant was saying, brazening through her own embarrassment. "Her Majesty's got the cooks in a lather over preparing her dinner early, and I thought you'd both be in there already, what with one thing and another. There's things need doing to make that a wedding bed, you know." She eyed him pointedly, hands on her hips.

He chuckled a little again, having assumed the wedding bed had already been made. Yes, he'd noticed the fresh bedding and the new rugs and the food on the table, though all of that had remained untouched as yet. "I believe we are being asked to leave," he informed the young woman who was now his wife, as much as he could hardly believe it. His eyes sparkled with obvious amusement, but it was hard to tell if he was more amused by his servant's reaction to their kissing or the fact that she was kicking them out.

Talis offered her new mistress a reassuring smile. "Don't you worry, missus, we'll have a hot bath ready for you when you get back," she promised. "Men forget that a woman needs a little help relaxing when it's her first wedding night."

Loren bit her lip, hearing what Talis had left unsaid. It was clear that the older woman knew she was no virgin, but was still going to treat her as one, regardless. As though she were perfectly normal. It was ... encouraging.

"I'm sure you'll make I forget nothing, Talis," Gerard teased. Though he had only been First Blade for a short while, he and his housekeeper ... maid ... servant ... whatever she was ... seemed to have a relationship that went beyond servant and master. They seemed genuinely fond of each other, almost as if they were friends.

"Be that as it may ... you shoo now, and don't keep her up too long," Talis told him, waggling a finger in his direction. "It's been a busy day." She smiled at the sound of a very small giggle from Loren, pleased that the young woman was now her mistress. Of course, Talis had seen it coming for weeks, but she hadn't thought they would get here so soon. Thank goodness for interfering parents.

"And just how long should we stay away?" he asked, wondering how long it would take the woman to ready their room, or whatever it was she was planning on doing there. He hoped it wouldn't be too long and that dinner wouldn't go overlong either. Now that he and Loren were married, he was looking forward to spending more quiet time alone with her. Given a choice, he would have rather had dinner brought to his quarters, but he couldn't very well insult the Queen by not showing up.

"No more than three hours," Talis told him. "Sunset should do nicely." She flashed them both a grin. "And don't forget to take that blasted sword off, or you'll get confused when you go to bed." With a cheeky whistle, she whisked out of the room before either one of them could retort.

Loren stared after her, wide-eyed, torn between horrified amazement and laughter.

Gerard grumbled a little beneath his breath, though he was in too good a mood to let her teasing bother him. "I never go to bed with my sword," he muttered. Not the one in the scabbard at his hip anyway. He wasn't going to comment on anything further. "Shall we, my lady?" he asked, as he offered Loren an arm. Why did three hours seem like such a long time to him suddenly, when it never had before?

She had slipped away from him, looping the heavy silver girdle back about her waist. With a swift shake of her hands through her hair, the dark length was loose once again, and but for the soft flush on her cheeks and the gentle swell of her lips from his kisses, she looked exactly as she had when they had first entered their rooms. "I ... we shall, m-my lord," she answered, curling her arm through his, stumbling over the unfamiliar address.

He smiled encouragingly as he took her arm. She might stumble over the unfamiliar form of address while they were in public, but in private, he was simply Gerard - no longer the First Blade of Arctra, but merely her beloved husband. It might take time for them to become accustomed to being married, but time was one thing they had a lifetime of.

They were home. And though it might seem a small thing to many, home was all that truly mattered.
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