Valentines day anthology.., p.7

Valentine's Day Anthology: Hearts and Handcuffs, page 7

 

Valentine's Day Anthology: Hearts and Handcuffs
 


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  “Have you questioned her women?” the Bishop took over the questioning. “Put them to the whip, Lord Percival, one of them is bound to know.”

  “Alas I have done all of that and more, my Lord Bishop, but Ceridwen told no one.”

  “But Prince Edwyn of Mercia is here and expects a bride ere long.” The Bishop, leaning on his walking staff, went to sit on the bench where The King and Percival had been earlier. “She must be found.” He helped himself to a brimming cup of mead. “Else Prince Edwyn and his father will be insulted.”

  King Gawain turned back to Percival. “So it’s an elopement? Was she not happy with the match to Prince Edwyn? Did her affections lie elsewhere?”

  The Queen scoffed. “What has that to do with her marriage? She is a noble woman.”

  “Indeed,” The Bishop now chimed in. “A choice of husband does not lie with her, it is a matter of alliances. Her marriage was arranged by the King. And her flight is an insult to the King. When she is found, the King must order her to the gallows for a public execution.”

  “Do not put this on me. I did not contract this marriage.” Gawain, still smarting from the knowledge he could not remove his own wife, spoke sharply and earnt a disapproving glare from the Queen.

  He moved away to look out of the window at the people gathered below. The smell of roasting game, the shouted laughter of young men chasing young wenches, the music in the dancing circles. He wished he could go down to walk among his people. He had planned a rousing speech to deliver from the castle ramparts.

  Instead, the day was ruined, and behind him, the discussion heated as to what might be done. Despite his earlier rage and his determination to teach his wife a lesson for insulting him, Gawain knew she was right. Whatever decision was taken today it would be made by the three people behind him, the three people who ruled his kingdom. The bitter truth was that he wasn’t the brains in this royal house.

  He wanted to walk away and find his lady love and go down to the feast below. And then a name caught his attention.

  Gawain spun back to catch Percival’s last words. “Meredith.”

  “Yes. Who better.” The Queen nodded vigorously.

  “Why ‘tis a wondrous solution, my Lady.”

  “What solution is this?” Gawain asked.

  “Prince Edwyn of Mercia expects to wed my daughter today. If we cannot offer him Ceridwen, then I have another daughter.”

  And a deep chasm yawned before the King.

  “No,” he shouted

  “My daughter Meredith shall marry the Prince.”

  “No.” He crossed the room in two strides. “You are demented. You are insane. No, we will not.”

  “Husband, it is the only solution to save the treaty.”

  “No, you harridan. To hell with the treaty. No, I tell you, no.” His hands were shaking, he put them around Timothea’s neck to steady them. If the witch died, so much the better.

  The Bishop prattled somewhere behind him “Decorum my King, decorum. Would you inform the world from this room. The treaty must be saved and our alliance-”

  “Be quiet, old man!” Gawain thundered at him. “You cannot change one woman for another!”

  “But my Lord,” Percival pleaded. “The treaty did not mention Ceridwen by name, only that she would be my eldest daughter—”

  “Ceridwen is your eldest, not Meredith.” His hands were still around Timothea’s neck.

  Percival tried to pull him away. “My Lord, the Queen, the Queen,” he squeaked.

  Her face bulged and she squirmed futilely in her husband’s powerful grip. But he didn’t seem able to let go until the bishop tapped him with his staff on his wrist. Gawain released her and she dropped on the floor. Percival bent over to help her.

  The Bishop’s steady gaze was thoughtful. “My King, pray how will the prince of Mercia know the Chancellor’s daughters? We will simply tell him Meredith is the eldest.”

  “You think it nothing to deceive the future King of Mercia? No. I will not agree to it. If Ceridwen has gone then Prince Edwyn will have to find himself another wench. We will not offer him another of our ladies. He shall not have Meredith.”

  Timothea knew. With absolute certainty. Gawain wanted Meredith for himself. For he had never showed half as much passion, a quarter as much rage for anything. She tried to picture Percival’s younger daughter. A round face with freckles across her nose and dimples in her cheeks. A giggling little girl, barely a woman. How had she been blind to this?

  “Are you recovered my Queen?” The Bishop made room for her beside him on the bench while Percival poured her a cup of ale. She nodded and answered while her mind worked feverishly.

  “I am away to the festival.” Gawain told them. “Percival you will inform the Prince and his delegation of your daughter’s flight. He is at liberty to search for her and may do what he likes when he finds her. We have no more ladies to offer him.”

  Timothea observed her husband. Gawain had planned to cast her aside to make room for Meredith, she was sure of it. No matter. She was no fool. She would make him give Meredith up.

  Timothea turned to the Bishop. “My Lord, what think you we do as my husband says and inform the King of Mercia that the marriage agreement is null and void.”

  Gawain stropped on his way out of the room, as she knew he would.

  “The King of Mercia?” The Bishop stuttered. “No, no, he’ll suspect us of mocking him of playing him false.”

  She exchanged a look with Percival who was mercifully quick-witted. “My Lady, he will think we have struck a different alliance with someone else behind his back. He might incline to the…” he paused, then delivered the last word like a slap, “make war on us to save his honour.”

  Oh he was good. Percival was very good. At mention of war, Gawain came back into the room.

  “God will not be pleased with this?” The Bishop spoke with the voice of doom. “We will not support you against Mercia.”

  Gawain swallowed. “What?”

  The Bishop drew himself to his full height. “I will confer with my brothers across the kingdom.” He walked out slowly tapping his staff on the stone floor like the ringing of the apocalypse.

  She waited until he was gone then turned to her husband and delivered the next blow. “Our soldiers have been idle too long; they are not fit for a war.”

  “Fit for war? They weren’t much fit for peace either. Why was Ceridwen not guarded? I shall kill every soldier.” He gathered his cloak about him, as if feeling the cold. “Percival you shall lead the army against Mercia.”

  Timothea settled more comfortably on the bench. She knew Gawain’s anger was impotent now, the thrashing of a dying horse. “There will be little enough army to lead, my dear, if you are to slay the soldiers yourself.”

  “Then I shall slay them after the war.” His hands were shaking, again.

  “Methinks the King of Mercia may rob you of that pleasure, you having robbed his son of a bride.”

  “Do you ridicule me madam? ‘Tis your women who let Ceridwen escape. Why, I shall skin every woman.”

  He dropped into a chair and put his head in his hands. His yellow hair fell in disarray over his brow.

  She rose to her feet and went to adjust her clothes before the polished copper plate.

  “Percival, you will speak with your daughter and instruct her?” she asked.

  “Yes my Lady.”

  She looked at her husband and a thought came to her. She would punish him and Meredith, both. “Perhaps ‘twould be better for the King to speak to her.”

  Gawain’ head whipped around. “Me?”

  “Who better?”

  Percival came to her aid, or perhaps his own. Young daughters were not inclined listen to their fathers, and young women in love, even less. “Indeed my King, you could command her and she cannot disobey you.”

  Gawain opened his mouth then shut it, trying to find a reason to refuse.

  “Percival?” She turned to the chancellor. “W
here is Meredith now?”

  “Why, in her rooms, my Queen.”

  “I’ll send one of my maids to bid her come to see the King.”

  “Here?” Gawain looked ill.

  “Where better?” Let him clean his own dirt. Let him break the little smiling girl’s heart, so she learns not to play games with the King.

  She swept from the room, her head as high as she could force it.

  When she was gone, Gawain dismissed Percival. Then he walked up to the window and looked on the fields below. His pleasure in the crowds had evaporated.

  A black Saint Valentine’s day it was. He was King. Had been cheered by the crowds for ten years. And yet he had to cede his Meredith to the Prince of Mercia. What good was being King when the threat of war and rebellion was held over him like an executioner’s axe?

  Noon

  Meredith had never been to the King’s private apartments before. She stood at the door, heart fluttering. He always stole her breath, even when, like today, he stood with his back to her, looking out of the window. He was magnificent.

  Dragging in a shallow breath, her voice was a soft sigh. “Good day, my Lord.” She curtsied very low. Her gown gaped forward giving him the view he liked of her chest. Her breasts had grown larger of late.

  Gawain swivelled. “Meri, when—” His face clouded and instead of coming to greet her with kisses as always, he walked with heavy strides to sit on a bench and dropped his face in his hands.

  “You wanted to see me?”

  “No.”

  She went to stand beside him, stroked his beautiful head. When she tried to tilt his face up, he resisted her.

  “Please, I can’t look on you.” Gawain covered his face with his hand again. She pulled it away, but he put his other hand over his eyes. “Please, go.”

  Was this a new game he wanted to play with her? “Please? The King should not need to beg?”

  He let her remove his hand but his eyes were closed. “Love makes beggars of proud men, even kings.”

  “Does the King not like my face?”

  “No, I adore your face.” His hands went round her waist.

  “Then why not look?”

  “If I look, I should not be able to look away.”

  She laughed and pressed his head into her stomach.

  “My beautiful King. Look at me, ‘tis a happy day”

  “Nay. A black day.” He shook his head and buried deeper into her soft body.

  She liked his teasing. “My love. ‘Tis the feast of Saint Valentine.”

  “Exactly.” He growled. “Did they not tell you of him? Saint Valentine was a sanctimonious miserable old prophet of doom who preached marriage.” Gawain now surged to his feet and walked away from her. “There was never an evil in the world worse than marriage. Caesar did well to kill that self-righteous Valentine. I detest him and his day.”

  “My love, I have happy news for you.”

  “I have dreadful news for you.”

  There had to be a way to cheer him. Meredith cast around in her head and found inspiration. “Don’t you love me, Gwenee?”

  He didn’t even react to the name.

  She went to him and this time he looked at her. His eyes burning. “I cannot see you anymore.” He shook his head.

  “Ah.” She clapped her hands. “Then it must be love because love is blind.”

  He fought a smile, and lost. A wide grin split his beautiful face.

  Good, now they will play. “You are beautiful Gwenee.”

  “Don’t call me that. I’m a man.” He was starting to laugh.

  She gasped in mock horror. “You lie, Gwenee.”

  He took a quick step and she darted behind the table. He always loved to play chase.

  “My name,” he loaded his voice with deep authority. “Is Gawain. Tis a noble name.”

  “No, ‘tis a man’s name. You are a matron, and a fat one too.”

  He rounded the table. “Fat? I am not fat.”

  She ducked out of his grasp and ran to the window. “And you are –”

  He pounced and pushed her against the wall. “–Manifestly, a man.”

  “Nay, you are too beautiful to be a man.” She stroked his face.

  “I am bearded.” He captured her hand against his cheek.

  “What of it. Some women are fury like the old cook who makes our broth.” She giggled and was rewarded with a deep rumbling laugh in his chest. Unlacing his robe, she pushed her hand under his tunic to slide over his great warm chest. “And you have tits, dear Gwenee.”

  “Tits?” he growled. “These are hard muscles.”

  “Nay, look you have nipples.” She pushed his tunic open and licked his nipple.”

  “Stop my Meredith. My merry heart.” His voice weakened.

  “Do you know how I love you?” She dragged her teeth around the hard thick muscle.

  “Oh my Meredith, how I love you, how I adore you. Oh how I wish you were dead.”

  “Why dead?” A giggle escaped her.

  “If you were dead, I should not have to lose you.”

  “If you lost me, ‘twould not be so bad. You could play with your own tits.” She bit his nipple harder until he moaned very loud.

  His frantic hands pulled at her shoulder fastening until her gown fell open on one side. “See, my merry heart? These are women’s tits.”

  He lowered his head. As always, the touch of his hot hungry mouth on her nipples called a deep gasp from her insides. She lost her thoughts for long minutes, tangling her fingers into his hair pushing his face harder into her breast. “Oh Gwenee.” She arched back.

  “Gwenee?” His voice became horse and low. “And what of this?” He straightened to his full height and pulled her hand into his leggings. “Is this a woman?”

  He swelled even more in her hand “Oh Gwenee, how came you by this long, hard, pink weapon?”

  “’Tis the royal weapon.” His voice did things to her. Like the snap of a string pulled too tight in her core.

  “Where do I buy such a weapon?”

  “The King shall give it to you, merry heart.” A thick low laugh rumbled in his belly as he lifted her on the back of the bench, impatiently he swept her skirts out of his way.

  “The King can bestow his favour where he chooses.”

  “If you know the King, be sure to ask him for his favour.” The words were mocking but her voice was barely more than a gasp as he gave her his full length.

  The seat rocked under them. The repeated thrusts became painful and she grimaced and braced her hand on the narrow plank under her.

  “What, my merry heart?” he kissed her.

  “I’m wedged on the corner.”

  Immediately, Gawain wrapped his arms around her and lifted her until she could circle him with her legs and let him take her weight. She loved him, strong and caring.

  She pressed against his member and he lurched forward, resting one knee on the seat, pushing her back against the wall. He thrust again harder and lost his balance, both of them toppled sideways into the long window seat. She pulled him back over her and they found their rhythm once more.

  “I am the King” His naked hips pushed her thighs wider apart and then he was in deeper. It tore a sob from her, she never wanted this to end.

  “Yes, oh yes, my strong King”

  “Yes, I’m the King, the King, the King, the King.” He groaned, his eyes tightly shut his face transformed and flushed.

  He gave her his favour long and hard and fast until they were both covered in sweat and her legs trembled. She sobbed out her pleasure, pulling at his hair, turning her face to sink her teeth into his big arm. Until he roared his final “I am the ka, ka, KIIIIIIING!” before falling back over her burying his head in her neck until his shudders subsided and his breathing slowed.

  “You have been the only bright star in my days,” his voice was muffled against her shoulder.

  “And you in mine.” She wanted to tell him her happy news. But she let him speak
first. When he talked of his political worries, she always let him speak.

  Now she waited and played with his hair, stroked the damp skin on his face, his arms, while he talked of Mercia and the treaty, of the danger from broken alliances. She cupped his buttocks giving him a playful shove between her legs because his thick member was still inside her. She pressed soft kissed into his brow and his temples while he talked of her father, of the Bishop and of weddings.

  Then her hands stopped roaming his body, her lips stilled and went cold. His body on hers became a suffocating weight. She pushed him gently aside and moved from under him. Her damp wrinkled gown gave her some trouble but she covered herself. Tears kept falling down her face, but she turned so he could not see them.

  “Say you forgive me, my Meredith. My merry heart.”

  “Nothing to forgive, my King?” Her voice had gone flat.

  He caught her hand from behind. She let him hold her hand but did not turn to look. His bearded face pressed kisses into her palm. When the kisses stopped she gently tugged her hand free and walked away without curtsying.

  She went out of his chamber and down the passage to her rooms to find her maid and change into her sister’s wedding clothes. She went silently, her mind numb and her happy news unspoken deep in her belly.

  Evening

  The Feast of Saint Valentine was a sacred day. It was the day of righteous marriages, and anyone with the enough coin, paid to have their son’s nuptials sanctified on Saint Valentine’s day. The marriage of Prince Edwyn of Mercia to Lady Meredith of Wales was thus blest by the highest order of priests in Cardiff. The wedding procession walked under a golden crucifix. Garlands of dark green holly and orange dogwood were sprinkled with holy water.

  Thus, the royal couple were followed by newlyweds from the lesser nobility. Then came couples from the villages and finally the farmers carrying bundles of twigs to bless their crops or mules, goats and chickens. All walked under the raised crucifix and received the blessings on the day of Saint Valentine.

 
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