The commander and Den Asaan sat in the common room giving each other their festive reports of the day when Alasdair and Carrigh made their return. They were silent in their inspection of the king and seamstress, attempting to gauge how well the meeting went from their expressions. The couple seemed fluent and in good spirits, but the matter most concerning was their unwillingness to part once they reached the top of the stairs. They heard no goodnights exchanged, there were no words of wishing to see each other tomorrow, and the commander and Den Asaan were compelled to leave their chairs. They crept to the bottom of the steps and looked upward to see Alasdair opening the door to his room and inviting Carrigh inside. The seamstress made no objection. She followed Alasdair’s gesture and walked inside. The king followed close behind her and the last instance the commander and Rautu saw of him Alasdair seemed caught between terror and jubilation.
“This is nothing that should concern you, Iimon Ghaala,” the commander simpered. “I believe this will be just a friendly preamble of what might follow on the journey home. Alasdair is always the cautious one and though Carrigh is a more courageous creature of the two, I think she’s just as terrified to be in the king’s bed as he is to be beside a woman at all.”
“Has your king performed the act?” the Den Asaan scoffed with misgiving.
“Once, with me. Remember?”
“I meant successfully.”
“No,” was the commander’s grim response.
“I do not consider his past attempt with you as a performance of the ritual,” the giant huffed. “He did not claim you nor did he promise to honour and protect you. His feelings of Anaalon were misplaced.”
“I daresay he was forced to forget me with you so attached to me,” the commander laughed. “Honestly, Iimon Ghaala, once he realized I had no affection for him, he moved on. Granted, one of your magi may not have been the best choice but I was pleased to see he recognized that it was all a misunderstanding, a painful one on his part but he has certainly well overcome any lasting sentiment now.” The commander folded her arms and glanced up at the closed door to the king’s chamber. “I do hope he will do better with her than he did with me.”
“Your king has not practiced,” Rautu said with a fleer. “He will not perform well with her.”
“Your confidence in his abilities astounds me,” the commander snickered. “However, I cannot deny that one should not benefit from a bit of application in the area. You mock him yet you weren’t successful either until we had our first ritual in the Haven. A wonder how someone can be so disparaging of another who has suffered the same misfortune.”
Rautu made a momentary glance to the side. “I would have been successful,” he argued.
“Would you? I wonder.” The commander flared her dark eyes and treated the giant’s assertion with a depraved grin.
“I would,” the giant declared, pressing his mate against the banister of the step. “The confirmation of my claim was your enjoyment of the act. When I asked you if you were pleased with my performance, you said yes and requested I release my ethnaa on you. No woman unfulfilled would ask for this.”
“And so your evidence of the pleasure you gave the woman on Sanhedhran was her immediate want for your rage?”
The Den Asaan tapered his gaze. “It is,” he growled at his mate.
“Then poor Alasdair is at a disadvantage,” the commander said smilingly, enjoying her entrapment against the railing. “He shall have to ask his seamstress if she is enjoying herself for we women can be deceitful in our coos of delight.”
The Den Asaan was moved to grip his mate around her taut waist and he leaned to gain the scent in her hair as his hunger rose. “You are not deceitful with me, woman,” he purred in her ear.
The commander’s features were shrouded by her mate’s white, molded locks. “And you would know?” She caught the vicious glint Rautu’s black and violet eyes and responded with a smirk.
“I would,” the giant bellowed in a bestial tone.
The commander thought it advisable to continue their small debate within the aegis of the room and the Den Asaan consented by lifting his mate beneath his arm and hauling her up the steps.
Alasdair and Carrigh looked nervously about their room. Their effects were placed aside, there was tea prepared for them and set on a trey beside the vanity, the fire was lit, the furs lining the ground were pristine, the cushions along the bed were fluffed. Every object for their comfort was seen to and they had nothing to do but be anxious and enjoy themselves. There was silence for the first few moments. It was broken when Alasdair offered Carrigh some tea and a seat at the small table in the center of the large main apartment.
“I am a bit parched,” Carrigh said with a short laugh. She swallowed, her breath quickened and she resolved to simply believe they were back at the castle taking pleasure in an innocent discourse together as they had done.
Alasdair quietly agreed to the same. He poured the tea and sat at her side. After the first few awkward sips, the exchange began to recommence. He delighted in meeting her affable mother and asked if she would like to be alone with her for their one day together.
“Maybe for the morning,” she said, fearing her mother’s inquiries on the activities of their night supposedly spent in the throes of passion. “But, I know she will want to see you again. Will you join us for the afternoon? She would be very pleased if you could.” She smiled. “And so would I,” she added.
“I would be happy to do so,” Alasdair said, his emerald eyes aglow with geniality.
They spoke of many subjects, of Carrigh’s time in Hallanys as a young girl, of her apprenticeship under the tutelage of her father, but most importantly of her talent for playing the flute. Music had always been Alasdair’s delight, not only because his greatest consolation was found in the strings of his violin but also because of the recollection of his grandfather that came with it. He was fascinated by anyone who showed a similar talent and he begged Carrigh with every possible appeal for to take up the flute again.
“Please, sire,” she entreated the king in return. “I am not trying to act with humility. I play very poorly in comparison to you. If you wish me to entertain you, you will be disappointed.”
“Actually, I wanted you to play with me, Carrigh,” Alasdair affirmed, taking her hand delicately. “One instrument on its own is well enough but I would much rather play with someone than for someone.”
Alasdair’s sincerity had broken Carrigh’s resolve. She was determined not to display her poor talent to anyone but she could hardly refute the gentle demands of a king. She promised to retrieve her flute from her mother’s home in the morning.
When the tea was done, however, the discomfort of their situation returned. To simply drive through the awkwardness, Alasdair promised to remain in the bedchamber while Carrigh removed her dress and changed into a fresh gown. He went into the secluded quarters and prepared for rest. He sat on the bed and awaited Carrigh’s entrance. He hoped, and did not hope at the same time, that she would enter in a more pleasurable style and the notion of him being treated to a view of that which he desperately wanted to see beleaguered him.
Carrigh crept into the room a few moments later wearing a long, white silken gown and Alasdair breathed with ease that he could continue his self-governance. He moved to one corner of the bed and requested that she join him. She came to his side, slipped beneath the covers and lay down, gawking at the king with a panicked terror in her blue eyes.
Alasdair smiled to see the woman he wanted near in his own bed. It was an aspiration he had held for some time and its fruition was all his ambition. He brushed aside her golden curls and lay beside her, admiring her elegant countenance by tracing his fingers along the outlines of her features. Their equal scrutiny of one another had brought them closer and closer together until Alasdair shifted his arm beneath Carrigh’s frame and drew her toward his chest. The fondness and warmth the succor of a woman could accord had caused Alasdair to breath in a sense of deep serenity. Though he wished here would be more than a temperate embrace, he was too contented to act upon any more precarious notions at present.
Once Carrigh realized Alasdair had meant to share his bed in earnest and not necessarily participate into any of the more sensual endeavor such a circumstance could bestow, she was easy with him. She nestled against him and took pleasure in noting the few scars on his chest and arms incurred from his time as a captain in the armed forces. She was prevailed upon for a kiss and she immediately left her inspection for another time. Her curls were used as a rein to draw her forward and her form was pressed against the king’s as her tender lips were consumed. She felt all the care and compassion in his want for her and not of it rapacious or misleading.
Their fond osculations were halted when Carrigh became alarmed at the sound of a woman crying out whether the cries were formed from pain or elation, she could make no distinction. She looked to Alasdair and observed that he was not alarmed in the least.
“What is that sound?” Carrigh whispered in dread.
Alasdair sighed and shook his head. “I believe that’s the sound of the Den Asaan proving his abilities to the commander.”
“Is he harming her?”
“Probably,” Alasdair shrugged.
“Should we not call for help?”
“From what I understand of their relationship, she enjoys it that way. I’ve learned they are best left alone. I’ve accidentally interrupted a few times with matters of state and though I was left in one piece, I shouldn’t like to barge in on them again.”
“Did you see them together?”
Alasdair looked ashamed. “You must never tell,” he began.
“I promise,” Carrigh said with great excitement.
Alasdair huddled close to the seamstress until they were touching nose to nose. “I have seen them once. It was on the battlements one evening. I was walking toward the commons but I wanted to avoid having to walk through the royal quarter so I took the stair to the parapets. I heard what sounded like a wild boar goring someone.”
Carrigh laughed and blushed at Alasdair’s association.
“I ran toward the training yard to find them together,” Alasdair said, raising his perfect brow. “At first I wasn’t certain what was I witnessing. It looked like an assault from where I was standing so I drew my sword, but when I heard her goading him, I realized what was happening and turned away . . . after a time.”
“You watched them?” Carrigh gasped.
“I couldn’t look away,” Alasdair protested. “It was fascinating, and horrifying. I couldn’t believe the things she bore. He’s so cruel and vicious with her.”
“Not all love is gentle,” Carrigh said, hardly believing her words given the particular situation.
“I suppose,” Alasdair murmured, growing concerned as the roars and screams became louder. “It must be agonizing for her. At the time, I was worried that he would break her in half.”
“Perhaps that’s what she enjoys.” Carrigh had no notion of such voracious tendencies but she was willing to make exceptions for the Den Asaan who was a remarkable being in need of differing treatment and a defined mate. She surmised that with all the unbearable ache of a warrior’s life, they must require some pain in their endeavors if only to enjoy their attachment more. She noted, however, that the king at her side grew more concerned with each exclamation emanating from the adjoining room and she wondered if Alasdair had at one time held any sentiment for the commander. They had spent their youths together and remained in the throes of battlefields at one another’s side, but even if he at one time may have been enticed by the odd woman, Carrigh understood that any recollection of these sentiments had all but gone.