The western shores of my homeland are skirted with a lace of ocean froth washing up the beach. It wrestles with the seaweed and pushes against gravity to force its way toward the low dunes. Waves evidence the power of nature and yet her ever forgiving outlook on the future, for they wash away all trespasses on a beach; the past is immediately erased. I love that the tide can delete all the scars of the day before and each new dawn brings a fresh beginning; new promises and fresh hope. Sometimes treasures of the sea are left behind for those of us who remain children at heart, despite the hardship of the world around us. I was raised, if you could call it that, by my father - The King, well one king, of the greenest island in the Atlantic. My mother died when I was quite young of a sickness, now easily treated, and so most of the responsibility for seeing that I was fed and cared for actually fell to her younger sister. I never knew that she despised my father, until I grew up and saw the way he treated people; experienced the way he looked at them as chattels – commodities to be traded for his own benefit. The day he traded me, was the day I understood my mother’s true sadness. She herself had been traded to my father, as I was to his second in command. I was the prize for his warrior’s great war efforts. I was the prize for this man’s brutal ways and unforgivable sins against the lands he had conquered in the name of his king. I was to be married to a man I barely knew but expected to loathe, given to him by a man I now despised, and my independence, what little of it I may have had as the daughter of a king, was sold like a goat at the market.
Dressed in a white gown, crowned with a garland of flowers and forced to stand with a man in front of the whole Kingdom, I was blessed and cheered and bound in Holy Matrimony to a virtual stranger. It was the way of things and, because my endeavours to escape this green isle had all been thwarted by my father’s guards, I found myself barely a woman, but suddenly a wife. Celebrations had continued into the night, wine and ale had flown freely from my father’s great stores and the minstrels had ensured that music flowed and kept spirits high. We danced, my father pranced and the Kingdom celebrated, but on the inside, my heart wept for the love of my life I would now, never meet. I was trapped in an agreement binding until death. I was now a wife, a slave, a piece of property, traded from one man to another and led from the castle keep to a small hut on the edge of town with a fine view of the ocean.
I cringed from his touch and evil stench as he invited me into our home. There was no excuse for bad personal hygiene when the ocean was so close with its cleansing salt water. I backed myself away from him; repulsed by his presence, but when he came at me, it was not as I expected. I had expected to be beaten into submission; to be raped to consummate the wedding in which I had been an unwilling participant. I had expected to weep every night as my mother had wept, but instead he had asked me how he might please me.
I bit my lip and stood with my back to the wall, trapped.
“Take a bath and clean your teeth,” I pleaded.
“My odour offends you so?” He had asked, apparently surprised.
I nodded nervously.
To my surprise, he picked up a clean robe and then walked out of the room. I peered through the door and was astounded to see him walking toward the beach. I set to work in the hut that was now to be my home. While my new husband cleaned his person, I cleaned our matrimonial bed. I tossed anything that offended my nose out into a wooden barrel to be washed another time. I banished all bloodied weapons to the entry near the front door. I could barely lift his mace and had to drag it across the ground. I swept the months of dirt from the floor and found stone slates underneath the filth. When he came back, wearing the robe alone, I barely recognised the man.
I looked at him more carefully, unsure that this was the same man to whom I had been married. He looked human now, if a little grotesque from battle wounds. Beneath the grime, his skin had been white, but now clean, this only made the red welts of healed wounds stand out against the pale surface. He disrobed and stood before me naked, allowing me to inspect his improved form. He was the first man I had seen naked and I was a little surprised by his anatomy; drawing in a sharp breath quite by accident at the site of him. He was a lot younger than I had previously thought when covered with battle grime. I had thought he was nearly of my father’s age, but he was clearly much closer to mine.
“My name is Isölde, what is yours?”
“Rufus, the Mean” he replied.
“No. What is your real name?” I asked again.
He hesitated and I thought he might not tell me.
“It would please me to know my husband’s real name,” I told him.
“William, My Lady Isölde.”
“William,” I repeated finding the name comforting. It was a good name…a kind name. “Are these all battle wounds?” I asked walking around him, inspecting his brutalised skin.
“Indeed, My Lady.”
I reached out and ran my fingertips gently across the mark that crossed his shoulder. He had another just like it lower down his back. He jerked a little at my touch.
“William, why did you want me to be your wife?” I asked him, still bitter at my father for trading me like livestock.
“I could not bear to think of you with another man – especially the ones your father tries to impress with his ‘generosity’.”
I tipped my head to the side and considered him. I felt that I had sorely misjudged this man. He cleaned up quite well. He had a respectable name and a kind heart…well a kind heart where I was concerned - he could not have been given the name ‘Rufus, the Mean’, if his heart was perpetually kind.
“You care for me?” I questioned him.
“I do,” he replied quietly, “…for many seasons now.”
“You would protect me from those who seek to harm me?”
“I would,” he answered with pride, standing tall like one would expect of a soldier.
“Would you force me to do something against my will?”
He squirmed a bit under that question, knowing full well that I had been forced to marry him against my will this very day.
“I mean apart from the marriage thing,” I clarified for him with a flick of my hand.
“You mean would I take you into my bed without your permission?”
“Yes, that is what I am asking, I guess.”
“Never, My Lady,” he bowed his head and lowered his eyes.
I could have been forced into a marriage, far worse than this appeared it would actually be, and I considered for a second, that my current position might be one of blessing rather than entrapment. He had very kind eyes and he had not complained that I had rearranged his place in his absence. He now smelled clean like the sea. I took a hesitant step toward him. His eyes lifted to meet mine. I reached out and nervously placed a hand on each of his shoulders and then, as my heart raced, I slid my hands down to his firm battle-hardened pectorals and I moved another step closer to him. He lifted his hands to my waist. I automatically tensed at his touch but fought hard to resist the urge to turn and flee. He began to pull his hands away, thinking he had offended me, but I held them there and got used to the sensation of a man touching my body in such an intimate way.
“No, keep them there, I am…I have never…it is permissible to touch me in this way,” I said with a nervous smile.
I could feel the heat coming from his body, and the part of his anatomy that, I had only for the first time seen moments ago, now stood at attention and pressed lightly against my hip. It was hard; I could feel it through the multiple layers of fabric I wore. I was pressed right against him, and although at first he had repulsed me, now it felt kind of nice and my pulse raced. My breaths, to my own surprise, were becoming shallow and were much closer to matching his.
“William, do you love me?” I whispered up at him.
“I do,” he said as his lips brushed gently against mine.
I drew in a sharp breath at the way his lips against mine had excited parts of me that I hadn’t realised could be excited by a man. I wet my lips with my tongue and moved to kiss him again.
“Isölde,” he whispered, “do you think you could learn to love me too?” he asked with an edge of pain in his voice.
“I will,” I whispered hoarsely, encircling his neck in my arms, and a moment later, his mouth captured mine.
I could learn to love this man who had effectively saved me from a far worse future, I was sure of it. Granted, I was intimidated by him, and I was certain his tenderness would stop at the front door and Rufus the Mean would return the minute the world’s eyes were upon us, but if this was the man who I slept beside night after night, I would cope and I believed I could learn to love him. I could certainly be his wife.
I was surprised to feel desire rise within my loins as his kisses enflamed a dormant passion I had desperately hoped to one day feel with my future husband. Perhaps he was the right man for me. I felt inclined to find out and snaked my arms tighter about his neck as his kiss grew deeper and his tongue penetrated my mouth. The moan of pleasure escaped me before I had time to check it and consider what information it would give this man. He picked me up in his strong arms and carried me to the bed I had earlier refreshed, and I had wanted him to do just that. I found myself torn between my anger at having been married off to a relative stranger, and my desire to truly know this man: mind, body and soul. He lay on top of me and pulled his lips from mine to look into my eyes. He had such kind eyes; brilliant blue.
“Isölde, I would very much like to make love to you tonight.”
I teased his ginger hair betwixt my fingers.
“If you will be gentle…as this will be my first time, I welcome your love-making, my husband.” I was surprised to catch tears welling in the corners of his eyes. He didn’t reply other than to nod and a swallow, his Adam’s apple moving with the motion. I had absolutely been wrong about this man and I was astonished that he had been so close in my presence, given on the periphery, but there nonetheless for years now and I had failed to notice him – perhaps even deliberately ignored him!
He kissed me tenderly but soon that kiss heated with passion, and he helped me escape the multitude of robes I had dressed in for my wedding to make this moment deliberately difficult.
“I’m sorry there are so many…I didn’t think I’d want to…” I bit my lip.
“I am honoured that you have changed your mind,” he responded with a smile.
I knew William was a great warrior. There were rumours that my father had intended to give him land and make him a Duke in Normandy, perhaps he had given that up to have me instead. I cupped his cheek in my hand and lay beneath a man for the first time in my life and I was agreeable with where my life had taken me this day. I had not anticipated that he would make love so tenderly. He was a killer, he could slay a man with one sword strike, but with me he was as gentle as I could have wanted. He kissed my lips and then moved his mouth down my throat. I did so enjoy that sensation. In no time he had me wet with the anticipation of his erotic touch and I longed for him to impale my sex on his hard erection.
“This might hurt for a second because it is your first time,” he warned me and returned to kissing my neck as he positioned himself at the entrance to me. As he slid forward, plunging himself between my thighs deeper and deeper, he bit on my ear. I was so distracted by the sudden piercing sensation on my earlobe that I barely noticed as he broke through my virginity. As he filled me with his turgid flesh I wondered at how pleasant the sensation was; how much I enjoyed the way his body completed mine. He started to move forward and backward: sliding himself deeper and then retracting part way before pushing forward again. I moaned with the pleasure of it and pulled him tighter against me. I smiled up at him but as he lowered his lips to mine, I arched away from his mouth and gripped the bedding as a completely new and explosive sensation barraged my body. My eyes, I am sure, rolled back in my head and I called out with the pleasure. He thrust into me harder then, only twice, before he too moaned and shuddered above me.
I cried then. I was so overwhelmed with how pleasant my first time had been, and at the thought of how unpleasant it might have been if my father had given me to another man – to any man but William.
“Did I hurt you? I am truly sorry if I did,” he stammered to calm me and wiped away my tears with kisses so gentle that I knew I could love this man…knew that I was already developing an affection for this man.
“Not at all…that was…good,” I said through my tears.
“If I didn’t hurt you, why do you cry, My Lady?”
“I am just so happy that it was like that…so loving and tender…I guess I am very happy that you were the man I was married to today, William.”
He moved from above me and tucked himself in neatly behind me. He pulled the blanket above us and ensured I was comfortable. Then he kissed my neck and whispered in my ear.
“…Me too, Isölde…me too.”