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The servants Tomas and Jory darted from the buffet to the table, setting the plates for a dinner of two, putting each bit of silver exactly where it was proper. They were young, well-kempt men, with full heads of combed hair, strong jaws, and white, straight teeth. Pleasing to the eyes, as all visible servants of royalty were expected to be. The two men had worked in the palace for years now, since they were fifteen, and Ulric knew them well. He had grown into a man with them. He had often shared drinks with them when they all were younger, trading stories of their first times bloodying their fists in a fight, or their first times taking a girl to bed. Things all young men talked of over wine and mead. Ulric was closer to those two than he was his own cousins. Though his father had often been harsh with Tomas and Jory, Ulric never was. He didn’t need to be. Tomas and Jory were grown men now. They knew their duties, and they did them well. They had matured—somewhat.
Tomas leaned by Ulric and set a knife by his plate. “The Queen-Mother returns tonight,” Tomas mused, gently shifting the silver, making sure its position was exact. “You eager to see her again?”
Ulric was quick to nod. “Of course,” He said, and it was true. Priscilla, Ulric’s mother, had been gone for nearly a half-year now, longer than any time before. She was a wise woman, smart enough to weave her retirement with her duties as Queen-Mother. She’d visit every corner of the country in her trips, walking on every beach and in every valley, tasting every wine and harvest. She did it all while breaking bread with the Lord and Lady of every hold, mingling with them, drinking with them, ensuring their good faith in her son and in the Crown. She was no less a diplomat than a retiree. But as wise as her time spent was, Ulric couldn’t help but wish she was home more. Without her, the palace seemed empty, soulless.
Jory snorted behind them, at the buffet. “I wouldn’t be excited to see my mum.”
Ulric looked over his shoulder to him. “I thought you never knew your mother.”
“That’s the point,” Jory said quickly. “I’d be right pissed to see her, really,” Jory cut the roast before him into thin, masterful slices as he spoke. “Wouldn’t even know what to say.”
“‘Hey mum, remember me?'” Tomas mocked, raising the pitch of his voice. “‘I’m your little baby boy. You pushed me out onto the street quicker than you pushed me out from between your legs.'”
He and Ulric laughed.
“How would you know my mum birthed me quick?” Jory asked, as though the thought of it insulted him. “Maybe I took her the better part of a day.”
Tomas turned to face him. “Well, she was a whore,” He shrugged. “With all the cocks she took, I can’t imagine you were too hard for her. I bet she looked right mangled down there—a bit like that meat you’re cutting.”
“God’s sake,” Ulric winced, stifling a smile. “Can we not talk of this at dinner?”
“Right,” Tomas laughed again. “Sorry, Your Grace.”
The double doors at the end of the dining room flew open, and Edwin hurried through. “Your mother is changing in her chambers,” He said flatly. “She’ll be here when she’s finished,” He looked to the servants, and gave them a curt nod. “You two, go help Mrs. Whitlock in the kitchens.”
Tomas and Jory looked to each other, puzzled. “We’re not serving?” Jory asked.
“Only feeding two tonight. I can take it from here.”
Tomas and Jory hesitated.
“Out!” Edwin barked at them, stirring them from their stupors. They were gone in a blink, and the doors fell shut behind them.
Edwin wasn’t his normal self. The curled lip of his usual half-smile was gone, and his voice didn’t float like it often did. Something was the matter, and Ulric knew he’d learn what before long.
“We need to talk,” Edwin said gravely as he strode to him.
Ulric met his eyes. “What of?”
“The girl. Vivian Caldwell. You’ve seen her twelve times in the past two months,” Ulric opened his mouth to speak, but Edwin cut him off. “Don’t try to deny it. It’s my job to keep tabs on you, for your own sake.”
Edwin was always wise to the goings-on of the city. Every word whispered in every Weswyn alley would eventually fall to his ears. ‘He sees more through the eyes of others than he does with his own,’ Ulric’s father had once said of the steward. Nothing happened in Weswyn without the man’s notice.
“So I have,” Ulric conceded.
“Have you lost your goddamned mind?” Edwin hissed.
“Calm yourself,” Ulric said dully. “I simply browse her mother’s wares, that’s all. At least, that’s what I’d say, were I asked.”
“You think Lord Rosewall would fall for that, should he find out?”
“Who would tell him? No one else knows of Vivian.”
“With due respect, Your Grace, this is Weswyn,” Edwin said with a sharp, sweeping gesture. “The Capital. Every Lord from north to south has eyes and ears here. If I learned of her, others can too.”
“You worry too much.”
“No,” Edwin said, shaking his head furiously. “No, I worry just the right amount,” He paced a few steps pendik escort back and forth. “I never should have brought her to your chambers. It was stupid,” He stopped in place, and looked to Ulric. “The girl would just never shut up about you. ‘My King,’ that’s what she’d call you. Every time I came by her mother’s store, it was the same bloody thing. ‘How is my King?’ ‘Is my King well?’ She was obsessed with you. When I told you were in need of some company, she offered herself in an instant… but I should’ve known you’d do this.”
“Don’t put this on me,” Ulric growled. “I asked you that night to bring me a whore, but you brought me a lover. You brought me a girl who cared. Did you really think that I’d just toss her aside? That I wouldn’t love her back?”
Edwin scowled at him. “I thought you’d be wiser than this.”
The doors swung open once more, and the Queen-Mother held there in the doorway, standing in a heavy robe with thick, wide cuffs and a long skirt that dragged on the smooth stone of the floor. Priscilla was a woman well into her fifties, and her age showed. There was a looseness to her cheeks, and crow’s feet sat around her eyes. Her long, earthy-brown hair grew from roots of white. But Priscilla’s spirit masked her age. Her smile was as joyful as ever, and her hazel eyes gleamed with love and life. She acted no closer to the grave than any young woman did, and Ulric couldn’t imagine that ever changing.
Ulric and Edwin turned to her, and when Priscilla saw their scowls, she paused. “Am I interrupting something?”
“No,” Ulric stood to his feet and started towards her. “It’s good to see you, Mother.”
Priscilla took him into a hug and held him tight, squeezing the life out of him like only a mother could.
“I’ve missed you,” Ulric sighed.
“And I’ve missed you, Ully.”
Ulric broke into a smile. “How long are you going to call me that?”
Priscilla let out a short laugh. “‘Till the day I die,” She said. “And then still after.” She reared back and put a hand to Ulric’s cheek, taking in the sight of him. “You look good, my boy. You look better.”
Did he? Ulric hadn’t known.
“No shadows under your eyes,” His mother mused, “Good color in your cheeks.”
Ulric shrugged. “I’ve been well.”
“You certainly look it,” She gave him a soft pat on his cheek. “Come, let’s sit.”
They sat together at the far end of the table, opposite each other. Edwin was quick with the wine, first coming to Priscilla. “Wine, Your Grace?”
“God yes,” She said, and watched eagerly as her cup was filled. “Oh, Weswyn Red, how I’ve missed you.”
Edwin came to Ulric next, but Ulric waved him off. “Water,” He said, and Edwin left to fetch it for him.
Priscilla knitted her brow. “You’re not partaking?”
Ulric curtly took the water pitcher from Edwin and poured his cup himself, as he often chose to do. “Not tonight,” He answered.
Priscilla scoffed. “Suit yourself.”
Ulric hadn’t thought much over the fading of his taste for the drink. It was a crutch of comfort he had needed less and less over these past two months. No longer did he need that sea of red to keep him afloat. A golden sun had dawned over that sea, burned it away, and left Ulric to stand on his own two feet.
Priscilla took a gulp of her wine and smacked her lips, savoring the taste. “I’m not staying long, sadly,” She mused. “Lord Murray’s firstborn is marrying Lord Batt’s firstborn, and they’ll throw a fit if one of us isn’t there.”
“Better you than me,” Ulric said.
She nodded. “It’s not worth your time.”
Edwin set large, varied plates of food before them as they spoke. Sliced roast and ham, crushed potatoes, and soft biscuits, still warm from the ovens, all with a pleasing enough scent to rouse even the fullest bellies. Ulric leaned forward and prepared his own plate—again, as he often chose to do. He had never enjoyed being waited on hand and foot, not with these most basic of acts. King or not, he was a grown man, able to pour his own drinks, serve his own food, wipe his own arse. Ulric’s father wasn’t helpless, and neither was he. But Priscilla, she never shared that problem. Servants would sweat by the time she was finished.
“Has the Syderan emissary not been here?” Priscilla asked as Edwin made her plate. “I’ve not heard anything of it. Is he not coming?”
“He still is,” Ulric said. He skewered a small cut of ham with his fork and took it between his teeth. “There was a Deshnyra.”
“A call to hunt,” Edwin told her. “When a blood moon comes, the Syderans take it as their god lusting for a hunt. So they do, until they believe their god is sated. They hunt wild boar, elk, anything particularly big. They cut out the ribs from every kill, clean it, and hang it from their belts. If a hunter’s belt isn’t lined with bone by the hunt’s end, he isn’t a true man.”
A look of shock struck Priscilla. “Syderans are hunting here, in our lands?”
“Let them hunt,” Ulric said. “One Deshnyra won’t starve us. Better they spend their time cutting maltepe escort down our elk than our men.”
They fell silent for a time, as the clinking of forks and plates filled the room.
“Elise is down in the city, then?” Priscilla said, minutes later.
“Aye,” Ulric nodded. “Eating with friends, as per usual. I can’t recall the last time we shared a dinner.”
“Two weeks ago,” Edwin said as he took Priscilla’s glass and filled it. “Quite a loud dinner, that. Lots of shouting.”
Priscilla frowned. “Is it still that bad?”
“Worse, even,” Ulric said softly. He put down his knife and fork as he fell still. “There was… a morning, a couple months ago. Elise had said something of Father. Said I was a drunk just like he was. I had grabbed her arm, and I… I nearly hit her. I wanted to hit her. No, I wanted to do worse than that. I wanted to wring her neck,” He said, his voice growing louder. “I wanted to throw her against the wall and watch her shatter into shards of ice. I almost did,” Ulric paused for a long moment, sighing. “She’s unbearable, Mother. She’s so… cruel.”
“You’re cruel to each other,” Priscilla countered, refusing to pity him. “It’s not one-sided. I’ve seen it.”
“Maybe,” Ulric muttered. “The war was easier than this, you know. I knew how to win that, at least. Spill enough blood, kill enough men, and it was over. But Elise… there’s no winning with her. And she was like this from the start, you know. She never gave me a chance. Not one. She’s always had this coldness to her, this wall of ice that I can’t break.”
“You haven’t even tried. I’ve never once seen you be affectionate with her.”
Ulric cocked a brow. “Are we speaking of the same woman?” He asked, laughing in disbelief. “The last bloody thing Elise wants is affection. She wants to fight, she wants to trade barbs. She’s deadlier with her tongue than any man with a sword.”
“She’s only been here seven months,” Priscilla said. “She’s still… adapting. She never chose to come here, Ully. She married you because our families needed it, because it was her duty, just as it was yours. The Rosewalls are important to the Crown. That’s why she’s here. That’s the way of our world. When she realizes that, she’ll warm up to you. But it will take time. You just need to be strong.”
Ulric shook his head weakly. “I’m not.”
“You are,” Priscilla leaned forward in her chair, looking fiercely to her son. “I gave birth to five boys, Ully, do you remember? Five boys, and all died as babes—all but the last. You survived, because that’s who you are. You’re a fighter, Ully. Always have been. Nothing on God’s green earth has ever stopped you. No fever, no war, and certainly no wife.”
Again the doors to the dining hall came open. Steel plates and chain mail clinked and rattled noisily as Sir Murdoch stepped through. The knight stood tall and stiffly, with chin up and shoulders wide. “Your Grace?” He said.
Ulric and Priscilla both turned to him.
Sir Murdoch looked meekly from one to the other, and cleared his throat. “The King,” He clarified.
Ulric wiped his mouth with a cloth. “What is it?”
“Are you finished, Your Grace?”
Ulric looked over the table and the foods laid across it, a good portion of which was now gone. “More or less,” He said.
“The Queen has asked for you.”
Ulric nodded and rose from his chair. Priscilla watched him as he started towards the door. “Remember what I told you,” She called out after him.
The guest wing, where Elise stayed, was on the far end of the palace. Though there were open bedchambers by Ulric’s own, Elise had elected not to use them. She had made it clear she wanted her bed as far from her husband’s as was possible. Being a young woman plucked from her home by her father and shipped off to marry a man she hardly knew, Ulric couldn’t much blame Elise for hating him. But that was seven months ago. If Elise still hated him now, Ulric had to think she always would.
Sir Murdoch walked with Ulric, shoulder to shoulder. “Did she tell you why she wanted me?” Ulric asked him.
“No, Your Grace,” The knight was quick to answer. “Only that it was urgent.”
At the door to Elise’s chambers, Sir Murdoch gave Ulric a bow and left. Ulric raised the iron latch on the door, closed his eyes, and with a long, calming breath, pushed forward.
Elise’s bedchambers were only a hair smaller than Ulric’s, and, had someone seen the room before she arrived here, they wouldn’t recognize it. The furniture had all been replaced. The browns and earthen tones of the old room were gone, abandoned for new shades of black and red. Elise no doubt had the room looking as closely to her bedroom of old as was possible. Ulric wondered if, when Elise woke in the morning, she could fool herself into thinking that, if only for one moment, she was still home.
A vast panoramic painting of Redgarden, ten feet wide at the least, hung against the southernmost wall. It was painted of the city from afar, with the bright kartal escort sun shining down on its auburn walls from a blue and cloudless sky. A bushel of the city’s famous roses, resting in a basket, laid in the foreground.
“My mother’s here, if you didn’t know,” Ulric said as he looked over the painting. “I imagine she’ll want to speak with you before long.”
“I don’t want to talk about your bloody mother.”
Elise’s words rang off the walls, and Ulric couldn’t place her voice. He looked to each corner of the room, but saw her nowhere. “Where are you?” He asked.
Near the far wall, a dark fur cloak was thrown over a sliding screen, and with a smooth, slow stride Elise emerged from behind it, wearing a loose, satin robe, black as night, blacker than her hair. The robe parted at the front, its tie unfastened, baring her pale flesh. The pink nipples of her pert, modest-sized breasts came in flashes as she walked, the flaps of her robe fluttering with her steps. The moist cleft of her sex was free to Ulric’s eyes, breathing the air openly, guarded only by a trimmed tuft of black hair. “Here,” She said, grinning.
She was on him then, her well-shaped breasts pressed into his chest, her lips hovering over his.
“What are you doing?” Ulric asked her coldly.
Elise took his bottom lip playfully between her teeth, nibbling it. When she looked up, to Ulric’s eyes, she saw the stillness in them, the iciness. “Don’t be like that,” She said, half-pleadingly. “How long has it been since we’ve laid together? Three months? Four?” She slipped a hand into his waistband, and her cold fingers slithered down his groin. “Don’t you want to be sated?” She said, making her voice sweet and gentle, like a lover. “Is there no lust in your blood?”
Closer and closer her frigid fingers came to Ulric’s manhood, until her fine, groomed nails brushed against his shaft. “We’re husband and wife, you know,” She whispered, locking eyes with him. “We made vows to each other, you and I. D’you know what that means?”
Ulric said nothing.
“It means we take care of each other,” Elise coiled her fingers around the root of his member. “If one of us has an itch, the other scratches it,” Suddenly, her fingers tightened, making a firm grip on his cock. Blood rushed to it, a wave of heat struggling to break through her grip of ice. A moment later, she released him, and his cock jumped to a throbbing hardness. A wicked smile came to Elise’s lips. “And I’ve got quite the itch.”
Tonight would be an act, and Ulric had his parts to play. The needy lover. The faithful husband. Ulric was not these things, but tonight, he would be.
Elise put her hands to his shoulders and pushed him down into a cushioned armchair. She grabbed Ulric’s trousers at the waist, tugging them down, and pulled down his skivvies then after. She eyed his sizable cock as it sprang free, and quickly had a hand around it, pumping it. Elise sank to her knees, lowering her head. She put her lips to his prick and gave his crown a quick kiss. His member twitched at the touch. She took his cock into her mouth, brushing her tongue against the underside of his shaft. She fellated him hastily, working her puckered lips down Ulric’s length in quick, oral strokes. A moment later, a drop of pre-seed leaked from his crown and fell to Elise’s tongue. She grimaced at the taste of it, and drew her mouth back.
“Good enough,” She said, giving his spit-sodden cock a few last pumps with her hand. “Don’t want you getting selfish.”
Elise stood to her feet and shrugged out of her robes, her breasts swaying as they came free. She climbed into the chair over him, and Ulric put his hands to her tits as she mounted him, squeezing the soft flesh under his fingers. Elise flipped her long, black hair behind herself, and reached her hand down to grab Ulric’s wetted cock. She guided his throbbing member downwards to her gash, past her short tuft of black hair, down to her waiting flower. Her breath caught when his prick brushed against her lips, just below her clitoris. She rubbed the thick head of his cock in circles around her little button, and let out a long, languid sigh.
Elise diddled herself like this for a long while, and Ulric began to fear she would get herself off like this entirely, without insertion. Then, suddenly, she pushed his cock down, swallowing its flared head between her tight, pink lips. She sank down slowly on him, inch by inch, pushing all of his length up through her snug, gripping walls, until her lips kissed his groin and his cockhead pushed against the entrance to her womb.
Already her wet cunt squeezed at his cock, stroking him, as she held her eyes shut, a look of utter delight on her face. Elise raised her arse, exposing just a few inches of Ulric’s slicked cock to the air, before gently plopping back down, as the cheeks of her tight rump gave the slightest jiggle. Elise slipped a hand down to her sex, lightly teasing her pink button, squeezing tighter on his cock with every touch she gave herself. She rode him like this for some time, leisurely and gently, as Ulric’s needy cock throbbed in her. She was slow, too slow for Ulric’s lust, and he soon grew frustrated. He wasn’t some toy for Elise to diddle himself with, he was a man. If she wanted a ride in the saddle, she’d best be ready to bounce.
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