Title: The Gardens of Lihin Manor
Story: The Third Age.
Colors: Wasabi #1 (Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself); Dogwood Rose #9 (lavender: enchantment)
Supplies and Styles: Stain (Daily deep quote: "Lose your mind and come to your senses.” - Frederick S. Perls)
Word Count: 4,684
Warnings: Internalized self-hatred re: disability; somewhat explicit content: foreplay, light kink
Summary: A lady's walk in the garden turns into a lovely interlude with her fiance.
Notes: Some terminology help: male spouses are wives, female ones are husbands; standard week is a tredicem, or 13 days; peplos is standard wear for female nobility; fustanella is pleated skirt, standard men's wear. This story takes place within my series The Third Age, between books 1 and 2; there are spoilers for Bellica.
Mods, may I please have a color tag for Wasabi, a story tag for The Third Age, and an author tag (Katje is good)? Many thank yous (and cookies)!
The heat in the gardens was, according to Grandmama, at a record high this year. She'd be wearing her short-sleeved peplos this summer, and the fashion would follow throughout town among upper middle class and commonfolk alike, no matter what one's own preference was. Whatever else the ruling family of Atton were, they were certainly trend-setters whether they wished to be or not.
Ghia wondered absently if her tendency to be overdressed in the summer heat would also set trends. She hoped not. The chill that fell upon her bare skin was, she was sure, unique to her -- well, her, and any other denizen of Atherton or Harbourtown or any of the other more southern towns in Athering who had descended upon town in the past few days or would the next. For all the heir to the throne of Atton had been born in the town she was destined to rule, she'd spent most of her life in the more southern climes of the capitol.
And I thought the rest of Athering was cold. Atton truly does have a leg up on all the other towns in that area. What was it Jules had said? Atton didn't have spring or fall, it had early winter and Thaw. ‘Summer’ was tourist season.
The thought of her betrothed brought a small smile to her face, despite the stress that threatened to crush her. She'd escaped to the Manor’s garden in the hopes of finding some space and, perhaps, some relaxation. It wasn't working. Her head still spun with the overwhelming amount of new information in it, nearly making her dizzy.
Ghia tightened her shawl around her shoulders and closed her eyes, breathing in and out slowly, trying to ground and center. She felt the garden respond to her presence, felt the spirits of the plants reach out to comfort her. She attempted a wordless response of gratitude -- she was still unsure in her skills talking to plants or animals. Rosa had said with practice it would get easier, but she'd not exactly had much time, what between wedding preparation and the constant lessons in nobility from Grandmama. Ghia had been missing from Atton and a noble’s life for nineteen years. She had a lot to catch up on.
Not that she'd been too excited about that, nor about the quickness with which her wedding to Jules was being planned. Had it mattered? Ghia had been more free with her life when she'd been a common orphan, found on the streets of the capital and raised by two sisters, a tavern-owner and the head of the Healer’s Guild. Now she had more family than she knew what to do with and a sinking feeling that any day now, she might truly snap and just run away from it all.
With Jules, of course. They could elope! Have a honeymoon in...oh dear. There wasn't much choice, was there? Aeril still reeled from the rebellion just four months ago; Nucalif stayed in ruins from the war. Two-Sides and Mudflat were just boring, in Ghia’s less-than-humble opinion. Harbourtown had likely not recovered from the Battle that had nearly claimed Ghia's cousin Anala. Southland was lacking for, well, everything, and Smoke wasn't much better. They produced fine whiskey, but Ghia had little interest in drinking and it was best if Jules avoided it, lest he destroy another tavern. (He did have help, said a small part of her mind in defense of him, and Ghia rolled her eyes in exasperated agreement.) That left Atherton, where they'd be discovered instantly and made to return to their new, noble lives.
Jules seemed to be adjusting to it better than Ghia, but then he had twenty years of military service to help him. He looked to Grandmama as if she were a higher-ranking officer, at all their tutoring as basic training. Took orders and did his duty. Of course he'd have his own responsibilities as Ghia's wife, the Lord of Atton -- but they were not so many as hers. For the most part, Jules' job, now and in the future, was much easier.
Ghia suppressed a sigh and wandered deeper into the garden, threading her way through lavender rose bushes and other pretty, non-essential flowers. Not that roses didn't have their uses, nor some of the other flowers that graced the garden, and the lavender ones certainly were pretty — they wouldn’t grow anywhere else in Athering; the pride of the Manor’s gardens. They just weren't the most practical, at least not from a healer's point of view -- and after 19 years of training to be Athering's next Head Healer, that was exactly the view Ghia had.
It suddenly occurred to her she'd not been out here since they'd first arrived less than a month ago and she'd been given the grand tour of the Manor and its grounds -- her new domain. Even then it had been a passing look; she'd not been able to walk so well in Trinnia, and had had to keep the tour as short as possible.
She still walked with a limp, betimes, though she no longer needed her cane. Rosa had come with her and Jules when they travelled to Atton -- her mentor had insisted -- and as soon as Ghia had been settled, the Magi had worked on healing her grand-niece's leg.
It had been excruciating, much as healing the hand had been, tredicems earlier. Rosa had had to re-break the bones in Ghia's knee before using coras energy to make them knit back together correctly.
Were Rosa not in her life, Ghia's injuries never would have healed properly. Though perhaps, had she never met Rosa and learned about her dual heritage, started her training to increase her powers, the injuries would have just killed her, instead of maiming her. The dungeons weren't known for being the cleanest of places, after all, and she'd not been given any medical attention after the sound beating she'd received from the late Empress Zardria. Infection might have killed her had it not been for her improved constitution.
Her hand came to rest on her forehead of its own accord, her fingers brushing over the thick scar that marred her skin, tracing a jagged line down the side of her face, and she stopped, breathing in and out again. Why was she doing this? Why was she reliving the horror?
Because you have been too distracted to do so for the past month. Of course when you give yourself a second to breathe it'll all come flooding back.
She hadn't even paid attention to what part of the garden she was in. The heir to Atton took stock of her surroundings: a medium-sized rectangular plot rested against the stone wall that marked the boundary of the gardens, filled with lifeless dirt and the dead remains of what looked like healing plants.
Was this the manor's healing garden? She knelt next to the plot and put her hand in the dirt, trying to sense what had grown here. Darkshade, Muerta's Tears, swiftshock.... Definitely a healer's garden. But why so small, and in such disrepair?
This wouldn't do. This would not do at all. Ghia rose again, her mouth set in a hard line.
She'd spent her life doing mostly what she liked, and damn what anyone else had to say about it. Now she was Lady Ghia, there was so much she wasn't allowed to do -- decorum this, you won't have time that, heavens no that’s much too dangerous we must keep you safe and swaddled in thick blankets for forever the other thing. For a month she'd allowed herself to be meekly guided by Grandmama and her tutors, not protesting too strongly her own wishes.
Not now. Not with this. She would revitalize this healer's garden. In fact, she might even take over the rest of the gardens, and create a healer's garden the envy of the one at the castle in Atherton. This would be her new project, and if anyone tried to take it away from her, she'd gut them.
She felt a fresh enthusiasm fill her; she almost rushed up to the Manor to announce her decision and get started right away.
Then she remembered what was happening in two days.
Ghia shook her head at herself and muttered aloud: "Alright. It can wait. Until after the wedding."
"What's after the wedding?"
Ghia whirled at the sound of Jules' voice, and next thing either of them knew they were locked in a tight embrace, her lush curves pressed against his soldier’s muscles, her face buried in his neck as she breathed in his scent deeply. He'd snuck up on her -- she'd not sensed him, which showed the depth of her stress -- but she'd be damned if she let him know that.
"I feel like I haven't seen you in tredicems," she said, sighing a bit as his arms came around her and they shared a brief kiss.
His mouth quirked in a grin. "If we didn't share a bed I'd say that were true. I almost feel like we've been imprisoned by our tutors and the wedding planners."
"You have no idea how happy I am to hear that you feel that way too," she said, letting out a breath that was half-sigh of relief, half-laugh. "I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me."
Jules pressed his lips to Ghia's forehead, right against the large scar she hated so. She tried not to flinch away; he was murmuring there was nothing wrong with her, ever. He told her so often that the scar was a warrior's brand of honor, and it only enhanced her beauty to him.
Ghia knew this was true. With the powers she had she couldn't very well delude herself into thinking he was lying to her when she knew he wasn't.
The scar still made her feel ugly and she didn't see anything changing that.
She forced herself to smile up at him, hating the way the scar pulled on her cheek, knowing her smile would never be the same, forever now a twisted mockery of happiness. She'd covered all the mirrors in her dressing room, unable to look at herself. Jules had said nothing about this -- either he didn't know she'd done it, for she'd not touched his dressing room, or he knew and did not wish to start an argument. Not this close to the wedding.
"Did you finally get the table linens sorted, or whatever it was Eloi wanted you to decide on?"
"Centrepieces, actually, and yes. We decided on clear glass bowls, filled with a selection of flowers floating on water, and a candle burning amid them -- unless you object?"
The look on his face told Ghia he knew exactly what she would say. Her smile became genuine and she laughed. "I really don't care, love. At this point, we could elope and I'd be happy."
Jules' eyes lit up. "Is that an option?"
Now she really laughed, leaning back and opening her throat to the heavens. "I'm afraid not. I did spend a good, long time considering it, and it just wouldn't be feasible. Where would we go? All of Athering is off the table."
Jules' thinking face was on as he swayed side to side, almost drawing her into a dance. "We could go to Nighttide?"
Ghia pulled a face. "Theocracy; high in the northern sea; nearly impossible to reach, and likely far too cold and damp. Besides, from what I’ve heard, they don’t take too kindly to men with minds of their own.”
"Suncoast," he replied, pointing his finger at her as if he'd really figured it out this time.
Ghia just looked at him. Elope in a country where Jules would be her owner instead of her spouse? That was a worse idea than Nighttide.
Jules shook his head. "You're right. Bad idea. Well, there's Voco."
"War-torn, politically unstable, full of loathing for Atherians. Sounds like paradise." The tone of her voice was so sardonic she was sure her cousin Yarrow would appear any moment now and scold her for hogging the family sarcasm.
Jules thought the same, she could hear quite clearly, but he said nothing out loud. Instead: "We'd get to see Anala and Lares, though."
Ghia sighed and adjusted position, pulling Jules' arm over her shoulder so they stood facing the same way, side by side. "They are plenty busy settling things over there, trust me. We'd only be in the way. Now. Let's leave the gardens; I'm chilly."
He muttered something about "southerners" and she gave him a light swat on the chest. Jules snorted and they began to make their way out of the gardens.
"What were you thinking could wait until after the wedding, by the way? You never said."
"That section was the healer's garden, in much disrepair. I've decided to take it on as a project, revitalizing it. In fact," she said, the idea coming to her as she spoke, "I've decided to open up a small clinic in the Manor and take up healing again, as my Lady Lihin duties allow."
Ghia braced herself for an argument against this plan -- it wasn't practical, and they both knew it. But Jules just nodded and smiled, then said: "Good."
Ghia pursed her lips and waited for him to elaborate. When he didn't, she repeated the word as a question.
"Yes, good. I think we're both starting to lose ourselves in all these new things, and we haven't had much of a chance to do what kept us true to ourselves. For both of us, that's healing, though moreso for you than I, I think. I was a soldier before I was a medic. It will be good for you to have a clinic, albeit a small one. It will keep you Ghia, even as you become Lady Lihin." He smiled and kissed the top of her head. "I'll even help. I miss being CMO."
Ghia felt a wide grin take her face. She looked up at the man who would become her wife in two days, and her grin turned wicked.
"Okay. Then you can help me announce our plans to Grandmama."
Jules blanched. "I didn't sign up for that." For all he found it easy to follow Lady Lihin's orders, he was scared of Ghia's grandmother.
Ghia giggled. "Yes, you did, and it's too late to back out now."
"That's Lady Wench, if you please," she said, and then leapt away, shrieking with laughter, as Jules lunged for her.
Ghia ran gaily across the rest of the gardens to the stairs up to the Manor as her betrothed chased her, swearing to all the goddesses he'd tickle her without mercy when he caught her. She was laughing so hard she ran out of breath long before she usually would, and had to stop on the second landing on the stairs. Jules was close behind her, no where near as out of breath as she was.
He didn't say anything about how a few months ago she would have -- and had! -- left him in the dust; just grabbed her and picked her up, tickling her as he'd promised he would, though not without mercy. Ghia made more squeals of mock-protest, keeping the tone light, though she felt a deep shame that she no longer had her previous stamina. Her knee throbbed a bit and she tried desperately to ignore it.
As Jules carried her inside, hoisted over his shoulder, she had a chance to catch her breath, and soon she was being set down again, gently, on her feet. Her arms were around his neck to steady herself and they stood very, very close together.
They were in their bedroom.
"I see what your devious plan was, now, Lord Jules," she said breathily, her eyes flicking to the bed, which was made perfectly, the corner turned down on one side, and so inviting in its present state.
His hand cupped the back of her head and he tangled his fingers in her hair, careful not to undo what her maid had done so carefully that morning. "I'm not a Lord yet," he said, his lips mere centimeters from hers. "Right now I'm just a rake the Lady Ghia has invited into her bedroom."
Ghia bit her lower lip, gazed up into her beloved's deep green eyes, feeling a fire light up between them, the very air they occupied crackling with a desire to which words could never do justice. "Does that mean you intend to debauch me?"
"That's one option." His lips found their way to the side of her neck and he planted soft kisses upon her flesh. Ghia's eyes rolled back into her head as her lids fluttered closed -- goddesses above, he knew exactly what he was doing. "The other option, of course," he continued, moving to the other side of her neck, "is that you debauch me."
Ghia's eyes opened and she smiled, a warmth spreading through her at his words. Since their first time together, she'd slowly become more comfortable with taking the lead in the bedroom. Jules gave her plenty of room with this, encouraging her more dominant side to come out. For the most part they both preferred him to take charge; after all, in the rest of their lives together she undoubtedly outranked him, always had and always would, so when it came to their love play it was nice to have a change of pace. But sometimes, they had a day like this, and Ghia stepped into the role of dominant with more ease each time.
She ran her fingers through his hair and grabbed hold, pulling his head back gently but firmly, until she could look at his face.
It was fair to say she was enchanted by her betrothed. Every time she looked at him, he was more beautiful to her, and this was no less true now. He gazed at her with anticipation, longing, and absolute trust -- much as she knew she gazed at him when their roles were reversed.
She would not do wrong by him.
Ghia brought their mouths together and kissed him gently but thoroughly. Her other hand she rested on his chest, her palm flat against where his heart beat.
Then slowly, so slowly he wouldn't notice at first, she uncurled her mental tendrils and used them to remove his clothing. Briefly it occurred to her that Rosa knowing Ghia was using her training for bedroom games might be...embarrassing, to say the least. But there was nothing to be done -- Rosa would know, or she would not. She was adept at observing; Ghia doubted she could hide much of anything from her great-aunt. Normally she wouldn’t want to.
Jules made a sound, and she knew he'd noticed her hands-free removal of his clothing. He should; his shirt was half off, his fustanella unbuttoned and slipping its way down, over his hips and buttocks. He did not protest, and he kept his hands at his sides, as she preferred he did while she took charge.
Ghia lightly traced her fingers down his muscular, scarred chest, raking her nails against his flesh -- light enough to cause him to shudder in pleasure. She did not speed up, though she was dying to get him into bed already. Anticipation was good -- for both of them.
When she reached his abdomen she stopped a moment, then started tracing her fingernails sideways, going from hip to hip, letting her thumb dip lower every so often. His fustanella was around his ankles now, and his shirt was completely off, both tossed on the floor by her mental tendrils. Jules stood in only his underwear.
Jules moaned, deep in his throat, as Ghia slowly tormented him. She released him from the kiss and placed her mouth over his neck, suckling his flesh, pressing her teeth against his skin. She would not do so for long; high-necked fashions were out currently and it would not do for the future Lord of Atton to be seen with a love bite on his neck. But she knew he enjoyed the feeling of it, so she did it long enough to make him shudder, before releasing his neck and moving her mouth to his shoulder, where she applied the same methods, making his breathing come quick.
Her hand slipped from his hair and she ran her nails down his neck, across his shoulder, skating across the flesh of his arm until she reached his hand. Their fingers entwined, loosely at first -- then, as Ghia's other hand slipped below the waist band of his underwear, their fingers tangled as his hand gripped hers in pleasure.
Ghia danced her fingers through the forest of coarse hair below his waist, making him wait for it. When finally she ran her fingers down the length of his already erect phallus, Jules sighed, gasped, shuddered -- as if his body were a tree finally finding release in a strong wind.
Enveloping the length of him in her hand caused a similar reaction in Ghia; it pulsed like a heartbeat in the loving cage her fingers had created, and each time it did, longing shot through her body, making her nipples harden and the place between her legs ache deliciously. She moved her hand up and down, slowly stroking him, pausing to run her thumb over the tip, where moisture already beaded.
Her breath caught in her throat, and she suppressed the urge to squirm, to press her legs together in longing. She needed to slow things down, or they’d make love right there against the door.
Which could be fun, yes. But she wanted to try something else today.
She pulled back to gaze into his eyes, not removing her hands from his body. The air between them continued to crackle with heat, the blazing warmth of a hearthfire. "Take off your underwear, and get into the bed." She almost smiled at how much more confident her voice sounded -- last time they'd done this, she'd not been too sure of herself giving orders in the bedroom. Even if she were used to giving him orders in the hospitalis or anywhere else in their messy lives.
"Yes, Ma'am," he said, dipping into a short curtsey and pulling himself away from her.
Ghia waited patiently as her future wife did as he was told, even as her entire body screamed at her to stop denying both of them and jump into bed with him.
Anticipation. She wanted a loss of logic; a return to pure physical pleasure. She wanted that for both of them. It wouldn’t happen if she rushed things. They were almost there.
As soon as he was in place, Ghia dropped her shawl from her shoulders to the floor and slowly stepped around to the side of their four-poster bed, so he could see her more easily. She'd been thinking about doing something like this for a while, and now was the perfect opportunity.
Her hands floated up to the first button on her peplos, the lower one on her right sleeve. Though there was no music in the room, Ghia put a foot out and began to dance, slowly, while unbuttoning first that button, then the next. She never went too fast, and the dance was not any Grandmama would have approved of -- this dance was her own creation, not meant to be danced with anyone, but for someone. She'd cobbled together steps from the way wenches moved in the taverns, from the way she knew her own body's movements could drive Jules wild.
She heard his breath hitch -- her sleeves were fully unbuttoned now -- and knew it was working. Bending over, Ghia started unbuttoning the lowest buttons on her peplos -- it wouldn't do to take it off right away, and spoil the fun. Her knee twinged a bit, so she gave her leg extra support from her Magi powers -- she could take it easy some other time. She and Jules hadn't made love in a tredicem; nothing was going to spoil this afternoon.
When her hands reached her bodice, she turned before undoing the buttons on the front, finally pulling it off and holding it out to her side, letting it drop to the floor.
Her peplos was loose and billowing about her now, the lower buttons undone. She left the unbuttoning alone for a while, instead letting her legs flash out from the slit she'd created, dancing close enough to the bed so he could touch -- and when he reached out, she danced away again.
"Patience, my dear," she whispered, wickedly.
For the next set of buttons, she'd need some assistance -- but she'd still do it herself. She'd removed his clothing with just her mind, after all; she could certainly remove her own. The buttons on this peplos went from her shoulders down her back in a V-shape, ending at her waist.
She started at the bottom and worked her way up, no longer going as slow -- Jules couldn't see this, would only know when her peplos fell to the floor.
As she reached the last buttons, she placed an arm across her chest, holding the fabric to her front before releasing it. It fell from her back to her sides, yet she still stayed covered. Jules looked unbelievably frustrated, and Ghia allowed herself a small giggle before turning and showing him her backside.
"Happy?" she tossed over her shoulder.
"Yes, Ma'am," he repeated, though there was a definite growl in his voice. Wicked boy! She might have to punish him for that.
Ghia reached her free hand up to her hair, still braided intricately and put up in a style fitting a noble but still simple enough for Ghia’s tastes. She'd requested from her maid that whatever the woman did, she made it easy to take out at the end of the day. Melia was excellent at her job and she'd complied with Ghia's wishes expertly.
Ghia removed two pins, and her hair fell from its place upon her head, spilling over her shoulders and down her back in a million tiny braids. Those she'd leave in; they would make it easier to wash her hair in the morning.
The pins she did not toss on the floor, instead placing them on her nightstand. Somehow she continued to move seductively while doing this. How much she’d changed in the past two months.
Now she stood by the bed, facing Jules, still holding her peplos fabric to the front of her body. A small, wicked smile curved her mouth, as she ever so slowly removed the fabric, revealing the rest of herself to her betrothed. She barely had a chance to drop the fabric to the floor before Jules lost control of his submission; he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into the bed with him.
Ghia squealed with laughter, happy to drop the game, and then he was kissing her, or she was kissing him -- it didn't matter anymore -- and they threw anticipation out the window, happily lost in sensual pleasure, leaving their brains somewhere on a distant shore to play chess together until they returned.
Later, in the gathering darkness, as they dozed beside each other, Ghia realized she'd forgotten to take her tea that morning. A slip in diligence, easy to make as they'd not had reason for it for the past thirteen days.
It nagged at her slightly, but she pushed the thoughts away. Plenty of women missed a day or two and never got pregnant. It was too late for her dose now anyway. She'd just take tomorrow’s dose on time; it would be fine.
Jules stirred, then wrapped his arms around her a bit tighter, pulling the blankets closer around them, and nuzzled the spot where her neck met her shoulder. Ghia sighed happily, snuggled in her beloved's arms, and let sleep take her.