Ava sighed sadly. She had been married for several months now, but she was no closer to getting to know her husband than she had been before. He did not even share her bed at night, or any other time. She wondered if there was something wrong with her?
He was polite to her, courteous, and always respectful. Though there were a few moments that gave her hope that they might have a real marriage. Those moments she treasured. Moments when he looked at her with mischief in his eyes, inviting her to go on an adventure with him to some of his favorite childhood haunts. They were usually muddy, wet, and filled with all sorts of filthy, slimy creatures. And she loved it. She didn't care a wit about her gowns, but would follow him through the marshes, follow that mischievous twinkle of his.
For a few precious moments, she could almost feel the softening of his heart towards her, but as quickly as she saw it, it would disappear, hidden behind his plastic smile. And then they were back to square one. The twinkle would disappear, and the stiffness would be back. Ava longed to know what word or gesture it was of hers, that sent him scurrying away from her.
Ava surreptitiously watched her husband pick up one stone after another. He would study each one, before either dropping it into his pocket, or letting it drop back down onto the ground. She just could not figure the man out. Were all husbands this way?
The day had started out well enough, he had been full of boyish enthusiasm when he had asked her to accompany him to the Scholar's Circle, a place of learning. A place filled with books did not sound all that interesting to her, but being able to spend time with him, coupled with that gleam in his eyes, had her agreeing to go. As they got closer to their destination, he began to once again pull away from her. By the time he had shown her into the small structure that housed the books, he had excused himself with very few words. Only that he would be back for her later, and to enjoy herself.
Enjoy herself! She sighed again. If only. It wouldn't have been so bad if he had done that to her when no one was around. Ava glanced at the other woman that bustled about, tidying the place up. She could let her embarrassment get the better of her, or, she could introduce herself. Maybe the woman was even married, and could give her some much needed marital advice. Like how to seduce your husband, because Ava had no idea how.
Ava approached the woman, a bit timidly at first. She had not yet met many of the people that called this Land home, so she didn't quite know what to expect. "Hello..." Ava said.
"My Lady," the woman courtesied. "Thea Zelazny at your service."
"Thea, oh dear, I didn't quite catch your last name. Would you mind if I called you Thea?"
"Of course not, my Lady."
"Please Thea, call me Ava. Are you the the Armarius of this place?" Ava asked curiously.
"Yes my Lady, I am in charge of keeping this place tidy, and making sure our books stay in good shape. Books are quite priceless you know. We used to have a really nice collection, " she said sadly, "but a lot of them had to be sold." Then she seemed to remember who she was talking to, and her face colored. "I'm sorry to bore you, my Lady, with my unimportant ramblings."
"Ava." Ava said automatically. "Bore me? Never! And I don't think anything you have to say could possibly be unimportant, you are a curator of books after all. While I may not be as fond of books as you are, my husband seems to love them." Ava hesitated, then asked, "Do you know my husband well?"
"No more, or no less than any other person who lives here." Thea responded. "We are quite fond of our King though. His father wasn't a good one, but King Morgan is." Thea colored again. "My apologies my Lady, I keep forgetting myself."
"No apology necessary Thea! I am still feeling my way around, and I could use a friend, I don't know very many people outside of Morgan."
"Me? You'd like me to be your friend?" At Ava's nod, Thea said, "I would be honored my Lady."
"Ava, please." Ava smiled at Thea.
"Ava." Thea smiled back.
"Are you married Thea?"
Thea shook her head no. "I am still unmarried. Someday I hope to have a husband and children, as of yet, it has not happened for me."
"Well, then I could hardly ask you for advice on how to seduce my husband, if you don't have one. Did I shock you? I'm sorry Thea, sometimes I have a habit of speaking too plainly. Maybe, " Ava mused, "maybe I could ask that Belle Winter person. I hear that she, her husband Argus, and Morgan are great friends, at least that is what Morgan tells me. A friend of his would know him well enough to give me some good advice."
Thea wildly waved her arms about. "No! No! My Lady, Ava, that won't do at all!"
"Why ever not?" Thea stared at her, uncertainty written on her face. "Come now Thea, if there is something I must know..."
"Lady Winter," Thea paused, her thoughts rushing around in her head. What was the best way to say it? "Lady Winter is only after her own gain, she has shown the King only her nice side, but her servants talk. I will not repeat what they have said, but please heed this warning my Lady. You will only come to harm if you seek her out in any way. I like you, my Lady, Ava, and I would hate to see you hurt. It is best if you stay far away from her, if you are looking for marital advice though, I could point you in the right direction."
Ava thought about Thea's words. It was true enough that the servants knew the real nature of the people they served. Ava knew there was a lot not being said, but it seemed that Thea had said all she was going to say on the matter. Ava would have to get answers from elsewhere. "I would appreciate that." She finally answered.
"There is a woman, she and her husband own the Dragon's Lair Tavern. She is well known for doling out good advice as well as drinks. Now, the Dragon's Lair is no place for a Lady," Thea told her, "You would best be served meeting her in another location."
Ava nodded her head in agreement. While it chafed to bend to the rules regarding Ladies, she did not want to humiliate her husband either. That would not be the way to win him over. "I will arrange a meeting with Mrs. Lisa Crazy." Thea continued, "Now, don't you worry a thing about the last name, it has no bearing on the advice she gives, I promise."
"I will trust you on this matter." Ava told her new friend. "But that is surely one of the strangest last names I have heard."
Thea grinned. "Someday, maybe she'll even tell you how they came to have that last name. For they were not born with it. No, don't bother looking at me to tell that tale. I would just mess it all up, while Lisa can spin a wonderful yarn."
Ava thanked Thea again, and then wandered back outside. She greatly preferred the outdoors, she loved feeling the warmth of the sun's rays on her skin. It was a lot better than standing inside, staring at the walls, waiting for her husband to come escort her home. She glanced around, but didn't see Morgan anywhere, so she decided to do a bit of exploring on her own.
She noticed a blur of colored motion to her right. A Fire Iguana! She carefully made her way over, keeping her eye on it, she didn't want it disappearing on her.
He was quick, but she managed to catch him anyway. She carefully scooped the Fire Iguana into her hands, and looked him over. "Oh you are so pretty!" she exclaimed.
So intent was she on the iguana, she didn't notice what was behind her. She thought she heard rustling, like maybe a snake that she could add to her collection, but when she turned around...the sight of the skeleton surprised her so much she screamed. Turning back around, she could see her husband had materialized and was running towards her. Her newfound friend Thea was running towards her as well.
There was a skeleton behind her.
"Ava!" Morgan yelled. "Ava! Are you okay?"
"There's a skeleton behind me." She whispered, once he was standing in front of her.
Morgan glanced behind her. "You mean Old Salty there? He's a dead skeleton Ava, he made the mistake of attempting to cheat my Great Great Grandfather. His punishment was to be locked into this cage, for all time, to serve as a reminder for others. He won't hurt you, no, the only ones you'd have to worry about are the live ones. They come out on full moons sometimes, in the Wildwoods."
"I-I-I think I'm ready to go home now."
Morgan paced the room in agitation. When he had heard Ava scream, and thought something bad had happened to her, his heart had nearly stopped. The intense relief he had felt to find that nothing had happened, that she was okay, had only increased his recent alarm that somehow she was slipping in past his defenses. Was he so fickle that he could so easily forget his love for Belle?
He paced some more. He knew he was giving her mixed signals, but he couldn't seem to help himself. He loved Belle, and had missed her so intensely those first few months. But to his horror, those feelings were fading.
He was drawn to his wife, to her warmth, her softness, her sense of adventure and fun, and, if he was honest with himself, to her body. He didn't know why he continued to sleep apart from her, or why he had not bedded her yet. Maybe he was afraid of the hold that she would have over him once they were truly mated. She already had a hold on him, and they had not even kissed yet. He grumbled. He did not like to think of himself as afraid, especially of a slight female. One who could fence, he remembered with a grin.
His grin faded, and he paced some more, then stopped. It was no longer Belle that filled his waking thoughts. It was all Ava. Would Ava like this? Would Ava want to go here? He found that he liked pleasing her, that indeed, she was easy to please. Belle demanded; Ava gave. Belle would never let a hint of dirt touch her; Ava waded through the mud with him. He smiled. She also had a pretty good aim when it came to throwing mud balls.
He stared at himself in the mirror that hung over the fireplace mantle. "You are a mess." He told himself. "You've got to get your act together." The words, spoken out loud, hung in the air. Ava deserved better than him. He had selfishly kept her near to him, not wanting to share her time with anyone else, yet pushing her away when she got too close. The door opening and slamming shut interrupted his reverie. The mirror's reflection revealed who his visitor was. He sighed. He was not ready for this conversation, and had in fact put it off for months. It seemed Argus was tired of waiting.
Lord Argus Winter did not even bother with the niceties, but launched right in, "Morgan! You have avoided me long enough, I demand that you speak with me!"
"Nothing good can come of this conversation Argus." Morgan responded softly. Morgan could still hear the last words that Belle had spoken to him. "You will regret this Morgan Stone. If you leave me this way, if you
walk out that door, " she had said in a cold voice, "I will not rest until I have had
my pound of flesh, and have taken everything you hold dear." She had also promised to turn his best friend against him.
"Belle has told me all of what you have done. How could you!" he shouted. "She trusted you!"
Morgan turned to face Argus. Argus, his best friend since the cradle. They had explored the woods together, fished from the lakes and streams, built forts, climbed trees, and spoke confidences at night while sleeping under the blanket of twinkling stars. Now Belle came between them, again. Morgan feared this time for good. "All is not what it seems Argus, no matter what Belle may have told you."
"Not what it seems!" Argus sneered, he pointed his finger at Morgan. "Do you deny that there is a chance the babe she carries in her belly is yours?"
Morgan stared at Argus, and tried not to let the shock show on his face. He had avoided all news of Belle out of self preservation. He had known he was weak where she was concerned, and had cut himself off, much like you cut off a leg that has gangrene, because it threatens to kill the body. It hurt like hell at first, but it was necessary for life, and yet it would always be missed. His analogy broke down though, when he thought of Ava. What he felt for Belle was fading in light of what he was feeling for his wife.
But a baby? Could it be true? Could Belle be carrying his child? And if she was, what then? "Your silence speaks for you!" Argus yelled.
"No, I cannot deny it." Morgan said honestly.
"I had hoped you could, Morgan." Argus said through clenched teeth. "I thought you a better man, not a scoundrel that takes advantage of a Lady, and worse yet, rapes her!" Argus clenched his fists.
"Oh no!" Morgan said, "You cannot pin that one on me. The child may be mine, but I did not rape her. Belle came to my bed quite agreeably, in fact she seduced me first! Not that I resisted, I wanted her, for she had teased me quite mercilessly for weeks!"
"Liar!" Argus howled as he threw himself at Morgan, his fists flying.
His first punch landed squarely on Morgan's jaw. Argus went to throw another punch, but Morgan caught his fist. "Enough Argus!" Morgan yelled. "If it had been any one else but you that dared to punch me, I would have had them thrown in the dungeon. But do not presume too much upon our friendship!" he warned. "I know you're furious, and not thinking clearly, for that I will give you allowance. I am telling you, as my friend, that Belle is not the innocent she says she is."
"I know all I need to know. You're a liar Morgan Stone, and I am grieved that I once called you friend. It is sickening how badly you have wronged Belle, and then without a speck of remorse you parade that new trollop of yours all around town!"
Morgan growled, grabbed Argus by the throat and swung him around and slammed his body up against the wall. Argus felt the breath leave his lungs as he stared up at Morgan, gasping for air.
"You will speak respectfully, " he seethed, "of my wife, your Queen. Is that understood Lord Winter? And if I ever hear that you, or your wife Belle, harms one hair on Ava's head, or tries to harm her in any way, your fates will be worse than that of Old Salty's. Have I made myself clear." He released Argus, who took big gaping breaths of air. Morgan waited for an answer, but Argus merely glared at him. Morgan grabbed the lapels of his shirt, and slammed Argus into the wall again. "Am I clear?" he shouted angrily.
"Yes, Morgan, you are clear."
Morgan released him. "You no longer have leave to address me by my first name, that privilege is reserved for friends alone. Now leave my sight, before I forget that we were once friends." Argus stalked out of the room. Morgan slammed his fist on the wall. He had known the conversation would not go well, and he had been right. Belle had finally succeeded in driving them apart.
He could not stand to be in that room for another minute, but instead made his way to the Throne Room. He surveyed the room, the emptiness of it. Most of its treasures had been sold long ago. Morgan sat on his throne. It hardly mattered, he rarely conducted business of any kind in this room any more. The tomblike atmosphere of it however, suited his current mood.
Belle was pregnant.
He sat there for what seemed like hours. His thoughts chasing around, and around, and around in his head. Ava, Belle, Argus, and the child. What should he do about the child? Should he talk to Belle first? Could he even trust himself to just talk to her? He was both furious with her, and hurt by her, or not by her so much, but by the fact that she had indeed turned Argus against him. He had hoped that by giving it time, cooler heads would have prevailed, instead, it seemed to have stoked the fire. He sighed heavily.
A voice interrupted. "Your Highness."
Morgan looked up to see Lord Phoenix Ember. Belle's father. Terrific, just what he needed to cap this day off. It was time to wear the King mask. "Lord Ember." he greeted regally.
"Sire, I apologize for disturbing you at such a late hour. I have just returned from patrolling the edge of the Wild Woods, and I have ill news from the Borderlands."
"We have found increasing evidence that the Packs are no longer staying within the Woods, but are venturing out. We should increase our vigilance, and our guards. The People who live along the border say it is not only the Wolves venturing out of the Woods, but other beasts as well."
"Ill news indeed, that you have brought me Lord Ember. I shall have to ride out there with you, to help calm the People down, and to see these things for myself."
"Shall I have your horse saddled and made ready for you Sire?"
Morgan waved his hand. "Not yet. I hear that congratulations are in order Lord Ember, that you are to be a grandfather."
Lord Ember smiled. "Indeed your Highness. My daughter Belle is expecting her first child."
"I hear that she is due any day now." Morgan probed.
"I do not know where you heard that from your Highness, for she is only two months along, and not showing. Still, the midwife says she is breeding, so both she and Winter are excited. As am I, of course, and Lady Ember."
Morgan stared at Lord Ember. "Two months along you say? And her first?"
"Yes Sire." Lord Ember looked quizzically at Morgan, but said nothing further.
Morgan stood up and forced a smile on his face. "Well, again, my Congratulations there, Grandpa! The hour is getting late, so I will just notify my wife that I will not be home this evening, and then we'll be off."
Lord Ember bowed, as Morgan dismissed him. He headed back into the main house, in search of his wife. But all he could think about was that Argus had lied to him. The child could in no way be his. So what was his purpose for lying? What did he have to gain in making Morgan think the child was his? Surely he would know that eventually the truth would come out. It made no sense to him.
Ava nervously bit her lip, as she waited quietly for Mrs. Crazy's response. She had breathed a sigh of relief when Morgan had told her he would be out for the evening, Now she would not have to think up some excuse for why she wanted to meet with Mrs. Crazy, the owner of the Dragon's Lair, at such a late time in the day. It was nearly dusk, soon night would fall. It wasn't befitting for a Lady to be wandering about at night, but Ava was in desperate need of council!
She had shocked Mrs. Crazy by her request, her mouth was still hanging open, her eyes wide. Whether it was the mention of how she needed step by step instructions on how to seduce one's husband or the mention of how she had considered going to Lady Winter for advice, but Thea had dissuaded her from that idea. Either way, it did not matter much to Ava, she only hoped that Mrs. Crazy could help her.
Lisa Crazy noticed the looks they were getting from the other people in the room. Most notably Lady Ember herself. "Come outside with me, my Lady, where we can have some privacy." Ava followed Lisa outside. "Now, tell me again please, just what you need help with?"
Ava launched into her problem, barely pausing for breath. "Well, you see Lisa, is it okay that I call you that? It feels strange to call someone Mrs. Crazy, and.." at Lisa's nodded agreement Ava forged ahead. "You see it has to do with my husband. I fear I am a terrible wife, he has not tried to kiss me, or touch me, or..." Ava blushed, "Or anything. And I want him to. " She blushed even more. Really asking for help on such a private matter was embarrassing. She hoped she could trust Lisa to keep it to herself. She would hate to be the laughing stock of the town.
She swallowed her nervousness down. "Sometimes it almost seems like he might kiss me, but then something changes his mind, and I don't know how to change it back. I would like children, and I will not have any at this rate. I fear that he may have a mistress, and as such, no real need for a wife. After all, he only married me for my money. I am okay with that, " Ava hastened to add, "really I am. It is just the way things are. Marrying for love is an indulgence, and not practical.
I had thought of asking Lady Winter for her advice, " Ava took careful note of the cringe that crossed Lisa's face, "being that she is good friends with my husband, who better to ask than someone that may know what he is thinking. But Thea seemed to think that was a terrible idea, and she suggested that you might be able to help. And so here I am." She looked imploringly at Lisa.
"Oh goodness my! Yes, Thea has the right of it. Lady Winter is one you shall want to avoid. Now, as to your problem with the King, while I am not the sort of woman to ask for advice in the bedroom, there are more, uh, suited to that question than I, still, I think I can help you. King Morgan values honesty, so if I were you, that is the tack I would take."
"Why yes Dear, you must tell him plainly, for in my experience, men can be a bit thick headed at times, they can't see what is right in front of their faces more often than not." Lisa privately thought of Morgan as she said this, for any one could tell that Ava was quality, and a much better person than Jezebelle Winter. Lisa was thankful that Lady Winter was not the Queen. She couldn't think of a more spoiled, selfish, nasty person than the almost-queen. "He may be giving you some time, to get used to him, " Lisa almost snorted, but caught herself in time. The King giving the Queen some time to get used to him was an unlikely scenario. He was more than likely brooding over his lost love, but Ava didn't need to know that. "Just tell him that you do not feel like his wife, and that you want to be his wife in every way."
"But I do not have any of the feminine charms, I fear they have passed me up entirely. I am worried that, that, he doesn't want me." Ava ended in a whisper.
"Now, now," Lisa patted the Queen's shoulder. "None of that talk, you hear? It is plain to everyone that he is, pardon the pun, crazy about you. He watches you when he doesn't think you are looking, and he is testy if any male of any age even looks at you. Just do me a favor Dearie, and if my advice works, and you get the King into your bed, later on when you see me around town, wink at me to let me know. Then I'll know when to place my bet."
"Oh yes, everyone is placing bets on when the heir will be born. A little inside information, and I am sure to win!"
Ava grinned at Lisa. "Thank you for your advice, and I shall be sure to let you know if it worked."
"Any time, my Lady, any time." Ava walked home, with her heart full of determination. One way or another, she was going to end this stalemate with her husband.
Early the next morning, Ava was determined to put her plan into motion. She didn't see the King in his rooms, or in the dining hall, so he must be in his study, she decided. She found him, seated at his desk, going over papers. She would have thought him asleep, so close was his head to the desk, if it were not for the low muttering and cursing.
"You must be tired." she commented. "You were out so late, and then up so early."
"Managing the books." he said briefly. "With careful economy, we can not only pull out of this mess, but even prosper." He frowned at the figures in front of him. "At least that is the plan."
"I am good with figures, I could help." she offered.
She leaned in closer so she could better see the figures he was looking at. Morgan found that he could not concentrate on numbers when Ava was so close. He pushed back the chair, intent on rising and escaping, somewhere, anywhere. She stopped him with her hand, lightly placed on his shoulder. "Morgan, I'd like to talk to you."
He closed his eyes and groaned. He was beginning to hate those words. "Well, I don't have long, I have to ride back to the Borderlands in just a bit..."
"What I have to say shouldn't take long." Ava took a deep breath, and then put her plan into motion. "I don't feel like your wife Morgan, I am more like a buddy or a pet dog. I enjoy spending time with you, don't get me wrong, we have a lot of fun together. But," she confessed, "I want more. I want to have children, and I want my husband's arms around me at night, not lie in a cold empty bed. Is there something about me that displeases you?"
"No, not at all, Ava."
"Then prove it, and kiss me."
Morgan slowly stood up and Ava backed up slightly. His eyes glittered as he pulled her close in to him. "As you wish." he whispered against her lips.
At first Ava didn't know how to respond, but when he went to pull away, she didn't let him, but instead pulled his head down for another kiss. The kiss was light at first, flirtatious, fun.
She soon found that light kisses were not enough, she wanted more. She wrapped her arms around Morgan, trying to get closer to him. He seemed to know what she was seeking, and deepened the kiss. He groaned as she squirmed, her clothes were in the way, she couldn't seem to get close enough, though she tried. Without breaking the kiss, Morgan lifted her up and carried her to the couch.
Challenge Notes: It is quite challenging to have the collector career, and the animal wrangler career, in an unfamiliar custom world. I had no idea where the spawners were located, I did eventually figure out a few spots, but of course, being spawners, there wasn't always something to find there! I was wishing for the angler career, lol. Fish are easy to find! I eventually had them adopt a dog, because with a dog sniffing around, it seemed to activate the spawners. Nothing would be there, the dog would sniff around, and boom! Stuff!
Thanks for reading! :)