Authors: Knight Storm
At her clipped words, Erik only laughed harder. As tears formed in the big man’s eyes, he held his side. He hadn’t laughed this hard in quite some time. He muttered, “I am sorry…my--my lady.…” and that brought a fresh bout of laughter from inside of him. “But you see I mistook this gentlewoman for you and well…no offense, madam.…”
“None, taken, Sir. No one as young and virile as yourself would want an old woman to wed, even if the king deemed it so. I am not offended,” Andarra responded good-naturedly.
“Pardon me, but I am offended. So now you know that your betrothed is a wild, filthy woman, is that it?”
“Well yes, but.…”
“And you think it is quite amusing to splatter the lady of the keep with mud and insinuate yourself into my home, causing my loyal vassals to immediately disobey me? You think this is all very funny, don’t you? Well, I sadly do not find it so. After you have refreshed yourself and your horses, at my expense, I might add, I would ask you to kindly go back from whence you came and tell your liege lord that I will not marry you.”
That scathing and rude dissertation sobered Erik’s laughter rapidly. With arms crossed over his broad chest, Erik said, “I am afraid that will not be possible.
My liege lord, His Royal Majesty, the King
has given neither you nor I any choice in the matter. You WILL marry me, Madame; like it or no.”
As his eyes raked over her, he could not resist adding, “I only hope that on our wedding day, you will at least have the good sense to bathe.”
Rhianna’s eyes widened in horror. It was all she could do to not fling herself at him and scratch his eyes out. No end of curses flew from her lips and she called him every vile name from a pig to a dog. He stood by and let her spend her venom on him until he could take not a word more. Without overly thinking, he suspected if she was not covered in mud, she may even be quite beautiful, though at the moment it was hard to tell. He was so relieved to not have to marry the old tiring woman, but this one’s sharp tongue was burning his ears. Such foul language should never form on the lips of a well-bred lady. Shaking his head so that his blond hair brushed over his shoulders, Erik said, “Tutt tutt, such nasty words.”
His hand swift as lightening, darted forward grabbing under her jaw. It forced her to still her tirade and he threw propriety to the wind. The time for polite pleasantries had surely passed at this point. His mouth crushed down on hers in a punishing kiss. It took her breath away and the surprise of it shocked her into silence. It shook her to the core of her being. As Erik’s lips left hers, he took the opportunity to speak.
“Hmm, a bit gritty, but not altogether unpleasant. There, now, this is a warning, Lady. If you ever use your pretty lips to hurl vile words at me in front of my men again, you will not be able to sit for a week.”
Rhianna found her voice and was about to begin another tirade when Erik kissed her again. Her lips felt bruised and she tried to bite down on his lower lip but he held her jaw still and she could only feel the possessive kiss that was stirring more than her ire.
“Mark me, Rhianna. I am a man of my words.”
He released his hold on her and he nodded a brief bow. “By your leave,
. I need to tend to my men and my horses.”
And with that, he turned on his heel and walked from the main hall. Rhianna could tell he was as furious as she was but to hell with him! This was her home and while she was still not his wife, she planned to keep it that way. She stormed off to her apartments to cool her temper and to get out of her filthy clothes.
Rhianna was livid. She had ordered a bath and thought a good soak would wash her anger away, but even after her body had been washed clean of the mud and the water had cooled, Rhianna could not rein in her ire.
That man was infuriating, conceited, cocksure, and arrogant! Who the bloody hell did he think he was?
How dare he threaten to spank her? How dare he kiss her so unchastely? As she stood in a clean shift, Rhianna began pacing in her chambers. Andarra let herself in and Rhianna shot her a look of hurt and betrayal.
“Leave me be, Andarra. You are dismissed and Tristan along with you. I care not when you leave, but find yourself out of this keep immediately.”
“You do not mean it and you know it,” the old woman replied.
“You defied my orders. I cannot allow it, nor will I forgive it.”
“You do not need to forgive it, if you must, so be it. Aye, we defied you. We had to. Think about it. Did you really wish to declare war on the royal envoy? Instead of a marriage to a knight of the Realm and a right handsome knight he is, I might add, you would have bought your way into the king’s prison after your precious keep was razed. God only knows what would have befallen you and all who did your bidding. Rape and torture would only come before certain death…death for us all. Our forces are good, but none could stand against the king’s soldiers. Even you are not so arrogant and smug to believe such a thing.”
Rhianna made a sound like “Hmphhh” in defiance.
“We only had your best interest at heart, my lady. We are no match for the king’s army. Besides, women your age are married for years already. Sometimes to men they could never even want to kiss, let along love.”
“I do not want to
kiss or love him
,” Rhianna spat.
“Truly? It did not seem that you pushed him away when he kissed you.”
Rhianna turned on Andarra and she fairly screeched, “He had no right to take that kiss. It was not freely given and it was most improper and rude. I was utterly mortified.”
Andarra leaned on her staff and smiled innocently. “Perhaps it was, rude; aye. Lord knows you are familiar with rudeness. I still do not recall you pushing him away, though.”
“You dare much, Andarra. T’is not enough that you and Tristan have betrayed me. Now you think to chastise and mock me as well.”
“I am not mocking you. The truth is that the king has provided a wonderful match for you; one that is profitable and appealing. He is not odious to look at. He is a man of means and is respected. Why any girl would be happy to marry a man like Sir Erik.”
Again, Rhianna fairly grunted in response.
“As far as chastising you,” Andarra continued. “I have not even begun to do that. But since you have brought the matter up, your actions were not befitting a lady of your station. You have set your men against guests to your home and royal guests at that.”
“He is on business of the king, thus he is as good as royal. Never-the-less, instead of welcoming his retinue, you set your bowmen at the ready; a point he had not missed, I might add. He suspected he was being led into some sort of ambush. He is not a stupid man and he is quite the astute warrior. Then you show up, covered from head to toe in filth. It was a sight to sicken the resolve of the most battle hardened. If there are any reasons to be mortified, it would be these I have mentioned thus far.”
“I was working in the village helping a child. I slipped and fell into a mud puddle when his horses startled me,” Rhianna brooded.
Andarra would have none of it. The girl was acting like a spoiled child. She replied, “And then, when you did show up, you were rude and inhospitable. The vile things you said to him! I vow would have made a sailor blush. I wish I could have stopped you, but you seemed convinced to paint the worst picture of yourself. You were hell bent on your own destruction. If I were Sir Erik, I would have turned tail and run back to the king to let him know that you were unmarriageable and perhaps, maybe even a little mad.”
“He--he threatened me.”
“How so? I heard him make no threat against you.”
“He--he said he was going to strike me.”
“What he said was if you continued to make a fool of him in front of his men, you would not sit for a week. I would say that is not the same thing and in fact, would be well deserved.”
“He had no right. I am not a child. He cannot threaten to spank me like one.”
“Well then call me the fool. You certainly acted like an ill-mannered child in need of a paddling. I dare say I am ashamed of you.”
Rhianna laughed bitterly at that comment, but Andarra could see past her bravado, which seemed to be slipping away.
“I do not care if you are ashamed of me or not. Last I looked, I am still the lady of this keep.”
“Well then, it is high time that you acted as such. Put on a lovely gown and come to dine at the evening meal. Show Sir Erik what a jewel he has garnered as his betrothed.”
“Andarra, you fail to see that I care not what he thinks of me. I do not need his approval, nor do I need yours for that matter.”
Andarra shrugged, “Suit yourself m’lady. At least put on some warm clothes. You will catch your death in that thin shift.”
Turning on her staff, Andarra made her way slowly to the heavy wooden door that guarded Rhianna’s chambers. Before she left, and without turning back, she said over her shoulder, “I do hope you reconsider coming down for the evening meal.”
“I am very tired. I have had no sleep while tending to the sick child. I would prefer a light repast brought to my quarters. I will see how I fare on the morrow.”
Shaking her head, Andarra left Rhianna to her own thoughts. She knew that her words would have planted seeds and hopefully they would take root once Rhianna had a chance to ponder them.
While Erik tended his horse in the stables, Drew stood by leaning casually against a stall. Erik could sense his friend’s broad grin before he saw it and he felt Drew’s amusement. He, himself, was not so wholeheartedly amused.
“What, may I ask, is so funny?”
“Oh, nothing really, except that the hag you were promised is really just a young woman. Do you still think it will be difficult to bed her?”
“Did you not see her? She was a filthy mess.”
“You splattered her, Erik. No wonder she was piqued with you.”
“What was she doing in the village at daybreak?”
“I do not know for certain, but she had buckets beside her. I suspect she was helping someone.”
“Or perhaps caught meeting a lover.”
“Doubtful. One does not need buckets to meet a lover. The funny thing is that before I knew who she really was; even through her dirt and grime, I could see she was a true beauty. I suspect you did as well, else you would not have kissed her. And about that, just what made you kiss her like that?”
Turning back to unbridle his horse, Erik grumbled, “To quiet her. She has a cutting tongue. Another one of her many
Drew tapped his chin in mock thought. “Hmmm, I think mayhap, you felt the pull of attraction to her. I don’t know. I like her spirit. She is not a skittish dove, Erik. She has a quick mind as well as a pretty face. I think the king in his scheming machinations has matched you well.”
Erik was still outraged at the tongue lashing that the witch had given him in front of his men. It was all he could do to not act on his ire at the moment. He made a sound like a growl in response. He was not sure why the kiss he stole from the girl disturbed him nearly as much as her sharp tongue, but disturb him it did. Drew thought to goad his friend a bit more and he said, “Perhaps I should not have turned down your offer to take her off your hands and to take your place as the groom. She is quite a….”
“She is a filthy bag of tricks with a sharp tongue and a disobedient and willful nature,” Erik said, stopping his friend from saying anything else. Besides, and he was not sure why, but Erik did not want to think about anyone “taking” Rhianna off his hands.
Erik hung up the reins and saddle and he stormed off. He tried not to remember that despite the grime she was covered in, the Lady Rhianna du Montefort did not smell of dirt. A soft fragrance had filled his nostrils as he kissed her and he tried to forget that sweet taste of her as well. He did not want to think about that prophetic dream of the raven-haired beauty with the emerald eyes. It was a coincidence, nothing more. He did not like her. He was sure of that! She was a saucy, spoiled woman who needed some lessons in manners.
Drew laughed out loud at his friend’s protestations. A man didn’t kiss a woman like that; especially a stranger, if there was not something greater pulling him to do so. It was going to be fun to watch this relationship develop and more fun still to goad and toy with his friend in the process.
Rhianna had paced her chamber for what felt like hours. She bristled over Andarra’s words and over both her and Tristan’s defiance. She brimmed with ire over Sir Erik’s threat to paddle her and she fumed over the kiss he dared to take from her without her permission. This man was one without honor.
Knight of the Realm, my arse!
His sense of chivalry was nothing more than a joke. She did not want to think about her lips, which still tingled from the punishing kisses he had forced upon her. She refused to acknowledge the lasting effects that those brief kisses had on her.