A Slow Warming

by Lara Wilson

There is a rawness between her legs.

She stands bathed in the harsh dawn light streaming through the open window and presses a wet cloth to her flesh. A curse hisses from her, too quiet for any to hear.

She is not sure if anyone is listening. In this place, once a home of friends, are eyes and ears she does not know.

His people.

Her people now.

The cloth comes away stained pink with opaque streaks. Her blood. His seed.

His pleasure.

Nothing of her own.

Stiff and afraid and heartsick she'd found no pleasure in his bed, only cold duty that stuck in her throat together with her instinctive cry of pain.

As she'd lain beneath him, unable to breathe, the look of triumph on his face had made her own flush with angry realization.

He'd believed her impure.

Yet...Believing she'd lain with another, still he'd taken her as wife.

Perhaps that meant something.

After the initial breaching he'd been tender with her, stroking her trembling body, kissing her shoulders and breasts, but she hadn't responded, hadn't known how to respond. Fingers clenched in the bedding and eyes tightly closed, she'd waited for it to end.

It had--soon--with a hard push of his hips and a shudder and a bitten off curse, and then he'd moved off her leaving her colder than before and shivering but not only from the cold.

Sleep had been restless for them both. She, unused to sharing a bed. He...As she remembers those hours together, alone, in the dark, cool room, she wonders if she will ever know his mind.

Or if she even wants to try.

As she rinses the cloth and bathes her body, the sunlight begins to warm her, and she dries herself, reaches for her clothing. A maid had brought her water and offers to bathe her, dress her, but she is accustomed to doing for herself, and was not ready for another's knowing eyes at the sight of blood and seed.

She glances at the bed.

The knowing eyes will come soon enough. She is the lady of the manor. The sheets will be paraded through the village so that all will know of her purity.

And her husband's virility.

Husband.

Her heart pounds in her chest, a dull, almost painful thump, and she stands in that beam of light, feeling colder than ever.

She is wed. Wed to a man she barely knows, to one, in some ways, she fears. He is a cruel, hard man, a killer. These things she knows. But he has qualities as well, mostly hidden, but, at times she has seen glimpses.

As his wife, it is her duty to bring those glimpses into the light, to better him, and, in so doing, provide a safe and comfortable home for him.

And their children.

She was raised to this duty. Despite girlish daydreams, she never wanted this duty, to be only a wife and mother, but in her heart she always knew it was inevitable. As any young woman she wanted love, but she is not foolish. Love does not always occur.

Love will not always provide a hearth and food for the table and the protection of a strong arm, and while she is capable of doing many of those things herself, it is his duty now to provide them for them both.

It is her duty to give him comfort both in and out of their bed and, god willing, to provide him with heirs.

A hand trembles as it strays across the blue cloth covering her stomach. Perhaps, even now, already...

She takes a deep breath and another, steadying herself, readying herself.

And the door opens.

He fills the opening, a large, dark man, but she knows there is more to him, and the look in his eyes--one of pleasure at the sight of her, pride in having her, and something more tenuous-- finally calms her.

Begins to warm her.

"Will you break your fast with me, Marion?"

There is gentleness there, in his voice, and hesitancy, as if he believes she will deny him, and, it is that, at last, that takes the chill from her heart.

"I will, Guy."

She takes his outstretched hand, feels the warmth and strength in his fingers, and is finally no longer cold.

End

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