My Lord Ax by Toni V. Sweeney
She was sitting on a stool before the hearth, wrapped in a shapeless and completely unappealing long-sleeved garment covering her from neck to ankles, and making her look smaller than she’d appeared before. Her hair was unbound now. Her sister must have brushed it for it hung down her back, a red-gold cascade gleaming in the light from the fireplace and the one lamp near the bedside.
Ax pulled the door shut. It made a resounding clang as the lock’s metal flanges slid into place and he saw her flinch slightly, as if the very sound sent fear surging through her. Is she that afraid of what’s to come? he wondered. Or of me? That he might strike fear in a woman had never entered his mind. Man, yes, but a female? They always welcomed him.
“Well, my wife.” He decided to go for a slightly lighthearted approach and see how that fared. “So here we are. Ready for our union?’
No answer. She didn’t even look at him. He walked over to the hearth, unbuckling his swordbelt which one of the other warlords had been waiting to return it to him the moment he left the Temple. Placing sword and scabbard carefully on the mantle, he then turned back to her. At his approach, she turned her face slightly away and he reached out, placing his hand on her chin.
“Don’t touch me!” She burst into movement so quickly he was shocked. Slapping his hand away, she leaped from the stool, knocking it over in her haste as she whirled and backed away. A surge of anger swept through Ax. She’d startled him. His ability to anticipate an opponent’s moves enabled him to survive battles, and earned him his reputation as a skilled warrior, and to have this small, nightrail-clad figure surprise him so…
…but this isn’t a war.
“You speak.” He forced his voice soft, as if talking to a frightened animal, though soothing creatures wasn’t something he had much practice at. “I’m relieved. I was beginning to wonder if saying your marriage vows struck you mute.” She continued to move away from him, hands in front of her as if to ward him off. “As for touching, I’m afraid we must,” he said it reasonably, as he continued walking toward her. “We’re husband and wife now. It’s expected.”
Her shoulders struck the mantel and she stopped. He swore he’d never seen such a look on any woman’s face, one of sheer terror. It struck him like a fist. The girl truly wanted no part of him.
Great Goddess, am I going to have to force her? He’d never done that to any woman. With the help of a little wine or some cozening words, even the most reluctant wench always came around. Ax had never used physical force on any female and he truly didn’t want to start with the one to whom he was married.
“Come now, sweetness…” He’d attempt words first, he decided. She was looking around in panic now, seeing there was nowhere to go. “It won’t be so bad, I promise.”
His arm went around her waist, drawing her against his body. She stiffened, her hands going up, pressing against his chest, as if to push him away. Then her fingers wrapped in the chain around her neck, clutching at the ornament on it. Some medallion or other, he barely gave it a glance as he bent to kiss her. She dodged, body twisting, breasts and hips brushing his. He put his hand behind her head, holding it immobile as he pressed his mouth against hers.
She went rigid. Ax’s kiss met lips clamped shut. He swore he could feel her teeth grinding together. He held her more tightly, body thrust against hers, feeling a jolt of lust in spite of everything. Then he was staggering backward as a sudden burst of strength and a violent shove propelled him away from her. She tried to run past him. He caught her arm, swinging her around and pulling her once more into an embrace.
She gave a short whimper, then just stood there. Ax kissed her again. Her hands fumbled between them. Is she seeing the way of things? Attempting to fondle me? He was wondering if he should deepen the kiss and risk getting his tongue bitten when a sudden sting against his ribs brought him up short.
“What…?” Pushing the girl away, he looked down. Her right hand was at his waist, and the point of the short-bladed dagger she held was in his side. “You cut me!”
In disbelief, he let her go. She backed away, taking the knife with her. Bright red seeped through the slit in the black velvet. Slowly, Ax touched the spot, looking at the blood on his fingers. The blade had penetrated all four layers of coat, doublet, jerkin, and shirt, as well as his skin.
“Touch me again and I’ll do worse.” She waved the knife recklessly. It was a spring-blade, and he recognized it as the thing she’d worn around her neck. What had looked like an oblong amulet was actually the handle of the knife. “Next time I’ll cut off your stones.”
For just a moment, Ax was so shaken, he couldn’t speak. Wiping his fingers on the tail of his cotehardie, he looked from his wife to the blade in her hand. This time it was he who stepped back.
“Very well.” It was said through teeth clenched as tightly as her own. “If that’s the way you wish it, my wife.” He fairly spat the last two words. To Hell with this! He had no doubt she’d do as she threatened. I’m not risking a gelding to bed this little bitch. Goddess, what did I ever do to deserve this? Wincing slightly, he ripped off the coat, dropped it, and began to unbutton his doublet.
“W-what are you doing?” The words came out in a trembling rush. She raised the knife higher. The blade began to shake.
“Preparing for bed. I’ve spent a very exhausting, and I must say, particularly unsettling day, and I’m tired. Since you wish nothing to do with me, I intend to forge ahead with what I’d rather be doing, which is getting some much-needed sleep.” The doublet was off now, he stripped away the jerkin also, sending it after the other garments into the chair. “So, if you’ll excuse me…”
Stalking past her as she stared at him, he skirted the fallen stool and headed for the bed. Once in its shadows, he untied the points of his hosen from his shirt and let them fall, then removed them. He dropped the hose to the floor, dabbing at the little wound on his ribs with his shirt before tossing it aside also. Leaning over and giving his wife a full but unintentional view of his backside Ax cupped his hand over the top of the lamp’s chimney and blew out the flame.
“W-where’s your nightshirt?” She hoped its absence was simply because it was their wedding night.
“I think you know the answer to that.” Then, he lifted the covers and slid into the bed. “Good night.”
There was a quiet creaking as the bed straps gave under his weight.
“W-where am I supposed to sleep?” It was a few moments before she thought of that.
“There’s the chair.” He raised himself on one elbow, gesturing. “Or you can sleep on the hearth. Or share this bed with me. I really don’t care.” He lay back down.
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