She was so bored. Theldry felt as if she were just a marble, rolling around in this whole estate, alone, by herself.
How odd, for not so long ago, all she’d wanted was to be married… the romantic notion of some wonderful man who would take her away from StoneScape, from Kelving City and her family was all Theldry could think about. Just months ago, in fact.
Now, here she was, and it was nothing like what she’d dreamt of. Of course, Theldry sighed, she was clear across the Coastals, nowhere near any of her friends. Visiting with her friends would be quite an undertaking, and two of them were even with child now, according to their letters.
Theldry grimaced. It was possible, now, at least, that she could be with child, for three weeks into their marriage, she had finally recognized her wifely duty, as her mother put it, and approached her husband one evening in his bed chamber.
Cathall was slightly more than twice her age, though she would be sixteen in two more months. But he been very gentle. It hadn’t been anything at all like what ladies all whispered and giggled about, so Theldry wondered if she was doing it wrong and Cathall was simply being kind by not telling her. Just thinking of it made her blush.
But he wanted children, she knew, so she visited him each week. That had been last month. This month, he’d been home only once.
Theldry only had one lady-in-waiting and several maids. Her maids were more talkative than her lady-in-waiting, Mila. They laughed and sang songs. She didn’t realize how much she’d miss Cathall until he was gone for weeks at a time. There was no one at the table to talk to, so she took her meals in her chamber, or outside under a pavilion.
At least there was a breeze. The estate literally sat on the ocean, and Theldry loved to go down and walk barefoot in the waves. Her lady-in-waiting was horrified at this unladylike behavior and Theldry was on the verge of dismissing her, but for having no one to speak to if she did.
She couldn’t help it – she loved the water flowing over her feet and the grainy sand between her toes. Theldry would never have been able to do this in Tortoreen, but now she was a woman, a lady married, and a Duchess as well, so if she wanted to go barefoot in the tide, then she would. She could hear her mother – Theldry! A newly married Duchess and going barefoot in the ocean! I despair of you!
Theldry finally wandered about the estate last week, looking for rooms she’d not yet entered. She found a conservatory on the far end of the estate with furniture that was covered in dust sheets, so she knew no one used the room. Theldry wandered about, letting her fingers trail along the richly paneled walls as she studied the portraits. Then she came to one that caught her breath. It was her husband – Cathall. With his hands on the shoulders of a beautiful woman and a young child. All of them were smiling, a happy family…. Ayrissa, that had been her name, though Theldry could not recall the child’s name.
And then one of the maids, Jeanie, came in behind her. “Oh! My lady, you gave me such a fright! No one’s ever in this room.”
Theldry gestured up at the portrait. “He’s never home because of me.”
Jeanie walked up beside Theldry. With a hand on her hip, Jeanie studied the portrait. Then she shrugged a shoulder. “That was right before the little one passed, you know. It changed them both. They had ten long years together, and they were happy, even though she was sickly a lot of the time. But that ain’t why he’s gone so much, my lady.”
Jeanie put a gentle hand on Theldry’s back and steered her out of the sitting room. “He goes to visit all his properties.”
To Theldry’s confused expression, Jeanie responded, “That’s right, my lady, the Duke has a number of properties, from here almost to Roarden North and clear down to Meadow Stretch.” She patted Theldry’s shoulder. “I know you don’t know where lots of those are yet, now you’re in Corstarorden, but the Duke, he’s very wealthy man, my lady. You married real well. He goes to visit lots of his holdings to make sure they’re functioning how they’re supposed to, provides them with what they need, represents them even in Court…. He’s a real good man, the Duke. I been workin’ here since I was just older than you and I ain’t ever known him to be different. He just stays busy is all, my lady. Don’t you think on it more.” Jeanie rubbed Theldry’s back kindly.
Theldry knew it was because she was so young that Jeanie felt comfortable being familiar with her. And to be honest, Theldry felt a certain solace in the maid’s presence, one that Mila had not provided. Mila was content discussing her stitchery patterns and the news she’d heard from her family in various parts of Corstarorden. Theldry had fallen asleep twice while listening to Mila. She couldn’t help it. Theldry had been a shark, and now she was locked up inside a bowery with a goldfish. Or worse, a minnow. Mila the Minnow. Theldry wondered if she could get her lady-in-waiting a lady-in-waiting just so that she could be left on her own.
Of late, she had been sneaking past the bowery altogether and sitting with the maids in the kitchen, for they were funnier and far more companionable. Theldry suspected Mila preferred it that way herself.
Finally, they received a message that Cathall was returning, so of course a full five-course meal was ready for his dinner that evening. Theldry had been glad of intelligent conversation, of hearing news in the world outside the estate….
“Perhaps I could accompany you on your travels,” Theldry offered. She hoped she didn’t sound too desperate….
Cathall smiled at her. “Perhaps I will take you to Roarden North for a holiday someday soon. You are accustomed to a city life, and you must feel like a stowaway here.” He placed his hand on hers with affection briefly.
Theldry tried not to look disappointed and smiled for him.
Later, when she lay next to him, under his arm, he saw that she was pensive.
“My dear, something is troubling you. I saw that when I came home earlier. What has you worried?”
Theldry stared off. Thinking of the portrait, she wondered if she should say anything at all.
“Theldry…?” Cathall prompted her. He moved so he could see her face.
“You still love her, don’t you,” she blurted.
Cathall drew in a deep breath and was silent.
“There is,” he finally said, “a part of me that will always love her. But she belongs to my past, and I don’t live in my past. You are my present, and my future.”
Theldry looked up at him. Then she smiled.
That was the first night they made love.