by Lisa Kwan
Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Unromantic (February)
Medal words: candelabra, eccentric
She was annoyed.
Despite it being the morning, she had awoken in darkness.
She pushed herself off the bed and padded in her bare feet towards the ceiling-high windows of her bedroom, her translucent nightgown almost trailing the floor. They were still tightly shut, the windows, probably the work of some ill-informed servant—she hated them closed like that, especially in the mornings.
She pushed her tiny hands against the wooden shutters, and they creaked as they opened, as if protesting most enthusiastically. As she had suspected, it was a beautiful morning in Willow Vale. A special day. She wondered if today would be different. And a tiny part of her dared hope. It was, after all, their first anniversary.
There was plenty to do before her husband returned home. But at that very moment, her stomach growled.
“Melyra,” she said.
A young girl came beside her almost immediately. “Yes, m’lady.”
“Downstairs, m’lady. I will escort you.”
They walked silently down the winding stairs, the stone walls dark and cold and depressing. Couldn’t these stones have any other colours other than grey, grey and grey? She wished she could spruce up the place with colourful banners and silks and flowers, which she’d tried, once, while her husband was away. She lightly brushed the side of her left cheek before she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
They finally arrived at the dining hall. The high-back chairs were neatly arranged in long rows on both sides of her as she sat at the head of the table. She imagined them all greeting her “M’lady,” splintering as they bowed like wooden lords and ladies.
Out of habit, she traced the edge of the table with her fingers, galloping stallions that ran all along the sides. As in almost all their possessions, there was some form of a horse motif, reminding anyone and everyone who her husband was.
Even before they were wed, she’d heard stories about her husband—stories of how his horses had been trained to walk through fire, swim across Red Lake and run a hundred yards in mere seconds, whose coats shone like gold. And when she had seen those magnificent beasts for the first time, she never doubted. They were creatures people would kill for. Creatures people would sell their daughters for.
There were stories about him, too. That he grew up with horses, ate and slept with them, had sexual relations with them and even fathered human-horse aberrations that became his prized horses. “You’re wedding The Centaur,” they told her. Half man, half horse.
She had seen her husband ride, flying across their fields as if one with his steed; fully man, and an admirable one at that. She knew the rumours were rumours. Her husband was only…eccentric.
Although breakfast was rich and looked appetizing, she barely touched it. Her taste buds had yet to get accustomed to the food on this side of the Red Lake. She pushed her plate away. “M’lady,” the young girl said.
She pouted. “I don’t want this.”
The young girl nodded and said no more.
Then she stood up and announced to the rest of the waiting servants, “We have plenty to prepare before my lord arrives. So let us begin.”
The rest of the day flew by as she directed the servants to clean, dust, polish, wash, and cook. Nothing but the finest linens, the smoothest silks, the softest pillows; the most tender meat, sweetest figs, the strongest wine. All the gold-plated candelabras were brought out, now sparkling. The servants lit them and more candles as the sky grew dark, arranged them on the overflowing dining table, and in their bedroom.
As she looked over the feast awaiting them in the dining hall and the entire castle lit with candles, she hoped she’d done it right. She prayed he would be pleased. Now, there was only one last thing to do.
She returned to her bedroom with Melyra wordlessly following behind her. She stripped herself of her clothes, damp with sweat. She stood before the mirror, staring at her own naked body, wide-eyed. Her budding breasts had flowered, and her hips had taken on more womanly contours. Hair had appeared on certain parts of her body, much to her dismay.
She could only imagine what doing it would be like, her knowledge of such matters only as deep as the forbidden romance novels she used to read secretly in the outhouse under the light of a dying candle as a child.
She ran her hands all along her body, from her chest, down to her belly, picturing his big strong hands, hands she had seen pull a foal out from its mother, touching every part of her. Caressing her, kissing her softly, and gently. It seemed to be full of passion, love, lust and desire. She wondered if when you made love, two really did become one. Would she be part of him, become half horse as well?
Maybe she could win his heart this way. Then maybe, he would stop.
“What are you doing, child?”
She swung around, startled, and saw her husband had returned. From where she stood, his graying hair shone almost silver. Melyra hastily excused herself and left, leaving the two alone.
“I was getting ready…for you, my lord.”
He frowned as he looked around at all the flickering candles in the room. “I am tired from the riding. We’ll speak in the morning.”
She took two tentative steps towards him, placed her shivering tiny hand on his hairy one. “I had my first bleed while you were gone,” she whispered. He stilled. She continued, “I..I thought maybe we could…” and she leaned up against him, as all her heroines had done when it begins.
He struck her hard across the face, and she reeled back, instant tears in her eyes. He grabbed her petite body and threw her on their bed, laid with the soft silks she had the servants place earlier that day. Before she could get up, he flipped her onto her front, her face buried in the pillows; but not before her face had tasted the strength of his hand several more times.
Without a word, he mounted her like he mounted his horses, and she cried out from the pain. As the tears streamed down her face, she looked up to see the horses, those damned horses galloping and frolicking gaily on their headboard.
They were all she could see.