Chapter 5 :: The Passion of Lovers

by Tenshi

Fall was already coming before my strength had fully returned, even though the time had served me well in other weapons. In my mind, I had not yet reconciled the use of sorcery, but I could not deny that it came to me quickly after the first lesson was learned. Books I had in no short supply, for while Duane may not have been frequent in his visits, his collection of grimoires was large and the scope of his loans bordered on generous. When I was not chosen to sortie with rebels in the marches, Guildenstern himself told me that he was pleased at my recovery and diligence to my calling, and that I would have command of Blades, not enlisted fighters, on his next mission. He did not speak of witchcraft, but there was an understanding in his speech to me, as equals, that was more enlightening than the longest discourse. That fall while Guildenstern and my brother fought for Iocus, I went about my tedious duties with a heart lighter than it had been since boyhood.

One habit gained in my illness and that I had not shed was to frequent the gardens in the afternoon before vespers. My thoughts seemed to run clearer, my soul more at peace in that place. Perhaps some trace of my youth lingered in the cool golden shadows, I cannot say. I only know that one day, when the shadows were not too cool nor the sunlight too hot, I happened upon the object of all my desires, seated beneath a maple in flaming autumn glory, reading a letter in her hand.

Strange as it may seem, my first instinct was to slip away. I did not wish to disturb her, and thought perhaps to watch her from the shadows, the way the light lay dappled on her face. She caught sight of me before I could move back into the shelter of the tunnel of yews, and called out my name. The letter vanished into the cuff of her sleeve.

"I have not spoken to you since you were ill," she said, by way of greeting. "Commander Neesa has told me that you are quite recovered; I hope that is true."

"It is," I said, and casting about for some means to continue the conversation, added, "I thank you for your note of concern; it was touching to know you had spared thought for me."

She brightened, even as the wind moved the shade of leaves across her. "I had thought you might not have gotten it, as the maid said you were sleeping when it was delivered. I'm glad."

I murmured that I was pleased such a small thing could delight her, and she blushed faintly, delicate as sunset light on a white rosebud. She moved aside with a rustle of skirts and asked if I had a moment to sit and talk with her. I wished I could have said that not all the hours of the world would be enough to hear her voice. Instead I said I had no matters of pressing importance, and settled on the vacant end of the carved stone bench.

"I have not seen you in the robes of your order since our first meeting." She gestured to the folds of crimson velvet, the gold embroidery. "More often it is training on the grounds."

I smiled, not quite rueful, that she had been watching me. "And very shoddy at it I have been, I'm sure, these past months."

"Not at all!" Her laughter shivered, silvery, on my skin. "I haven't the strength of arm for using a mace; I'm best with a rapier. I confess I never saw much grace in blunt weapons until I saw how you made use of them. Romeo-- Lord Guildenstern has mentioned that your skills are exceptional."

So delighted I was with her admiration and the praise of my commander, however second-handed, that I failed entirely to notice her use of Guildenstern's first name. "I'm sure you could best me with a rapier, my lady. I fear I lack the delicacy required for such a weapon."

"Truly?" She lifted my gloved hand in both of her delicate bare ones, made a show of studying it. "Your hands seem very deft, Father. But perhaps that is from invoking the blessings of Iocus?"

I failed completely to find answer to that, and my stammering must have been that of a smitten boy. She laughed, sparing me further injury.

"Forgive me, I only meant to tease you a little." She put her head to the side, girlish and unconsciously so. "You smile so rarely, it seems." Her expression softened, fingers tightening on mine. "As though some sadness hangs about you."

I remembered with astonishing clarity the look on my mother's face as the gates to our own castle were closed to us, the way she stood, quite alone even though two boys clung to her hands as if to support her instead of the other way around. She was like an island in the midst of a turbulent sea, her veil lifting and falling with the wind like waves against her, waiting patiently for time to drag her into sand and into darkness. A longing to tell of those things, of my youth and the lands of my father, rushed over me. And for the first time since my name was taken from me I spoke of them. I told Samantha of my father's lands, the rolling hills and hollows full of morning mist, the great grey warhorse of my father and my own swift gelding from his line. I talked about the breweries, and the way they smelled on a late winter morning, and the snow on the thatch, the Yuletide fire in the great hall. But more than anything I spoke of my mother, and of my father, of the island of innocence that was my younger years, my parents the king and queen of that realm, and the tremendous love I had for them, and for the forests and fields, the towering stone walls of the Greylands. In the telling I grieved all over again, and at last fell silent, apologizing that I had put too much of a burden on her attendance, and begged to be forgiven such indiscretion.

"Not at all," she said, her accent rough at the edges, her eyes shielded by her hair. "I am honored that you would speak of such things to me. Never have I--" she hesitated. "Men do not often tell me of their hearts, my lord." She tossed her head, her smile thin, her eyes too bright. "It would seem they have more interest in telling me what they think I should like to hear about mine."

"I would not make so bold," I said, and her hands were in mine, the whole arching autumn day stretched no farther than the boundaries of her face. "There are no words yet minted, madam, that could do justice to the valiance of your heart. There is no language in all my learning that could hope to give voice to your beauty."

She did not speak, her breath warm on my face; her hands in mine trembled like small frightened animals. Her lips were parted, more inviting than the sweetest summer wine, and I had lived my entire life on dust. I drew her closer and her mouth sought mine, meeting, yielding. The kiss that had haunted the shadows of my waking and dreaming since the day I met her was a pitiful phantom compared to this reality, fire and sweetness and desire. I held her to me and told her all of the things my lips could not speak, not in any way but this. She clung to me, her heart pounding against my chest, and I thought the fires of hell were a small price to pay for this moment with Samantha in my arms, breathing with every breath I took.

She pushed herself away suddenly, gasping. "We cannot do this," she said.

I turned away, unable even to ask her pardon for so pressing my affections on her. Dimly, I heard the bells ringing, calling the faithful to mass.

"My chambers are in the north tower," Samantha said, pressing my hands to her face, kissing the rood on my glove. "I will leave a candle burning tonight." She hesitated, her lip caught in her teeth as if she would say more, but then turned in a flurry of skirts and ran into the cool dark tunnel of yews, her footsteps vanishing in the echo of the churchbells.

All through the prayers that night I struggled with myself, ritual falling from my lips and fingers unnoticed. The knowledge of her affection was intoxicating, and yet the awareness of my place, enforced with each word and gesture of mass, was equally sobering. I had never been able to surrender my dream of Samantha, not while her heart was still unknown to me. But now that I had reason to think she bore me some measure of love, reality intruded and laid siege to the fortress of my fantasies. In spite of the praise and promises of my commander, I still had charge of only a handful of swordsmen. The vows of my order were no less binding simply because they were no longer restricted to theory. By the time the bells rang to end the service, I had come to the only possible conclusion, however harsh: I would not go to her. She was a lady of honor, I was in no position of power to entice her to surrender that. No, if Samantha were to be mine, she would be mine when the time was right. I would not go to her chamber that night.

Naturally, midnight found me standing at her door.

I had not yet been able to make myself knock, but the door opened on my indecision, as if the pounding of my heart were enough to rouse her.

Her hair and white cambric nightdress glowed in the light of the one lit taper at her bedside, turning her into a phantom, or a mourning angel, glowing with her own inner light. "I thought you would not come," she said.

"So did I."

She fell into my arms. I knew nothing of the art of love; such education was never given to me in days of hotter blood. There was nothing in my mind between the open rutting of a whorehouse and the untainted affection of God for His creations. In truth, it was Samantha who schooled me that night. Her whispers soothed my uncertainties, her touch a fragile miracle. I confessed my ignorance, my intended path of honor. She laughed away my fears, kissed my protests into silence.

Outside her high narrow window, the first whisper of winter breathed frost on the glass, the wind tore leaves from the trees with raveling, icy fingers. But in her embrace there was only summer and sunlight. Her bed smelled like an attar of roses, her hair like a wheat field in a midsummer breeze.

The next morning the first frost of the season lay glittering over the lawns, and Neesa's face was painted full of suspicion when she passed me in the chapel corridor. She asked no questions of me, and I would have had no answer, lost in my own springtime that had come inside my heart and out of season.

I saw little enough of them in those dwindling months of the year, protesting weariness or an increase in responsibility. Neesa's mouth became a tight line, and Tieger ceased to meet my eyes. I always told myself that later, I would sit with them and explain, but in truth I was loathe to spend any minute away from Samantha's side. If ever she fell silent, or looked away from me to the main gates of the grounds, I did not trouble her to tell me her thoughts. It was enough to sit beside her and watch the winter light on her hands. Snow fell early that year, and Yule drew closer, but I did not pay either any heed, my days full of dreaming and my nights full of her heartbeat.


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