She slipped the blade of her cleaver under the apple skin and peeled it delicately back. This cleaver had seen so much blood….
With precision, Selby unraveled the apple from its peel in just one red roll. She held up the curled apple peeling with great satisfaction and bounced it a bit in the twilight as she sat before her campfire. Then she tossed it into the fire, taking a small bit of delight in the sudden spark of crisped apple, a foreign scent to this gray and gloomy battlefield.
“Bloody hell!” came a whispered curse from the camp next to her. Selby bit into her apple and observed Ambassador Keldrick attempting to even his beard out in the twilight by the light of his fire. She shook her head.
She rose to her feet and, her Ericorian following her, stood at the bounds of the Ambassador’s camp, her cloak rippling about her legs. Clearing her throat, Selby asked, “May I?” She gestured at the boundary of his campsite.
Ambassador Keldrick scrambled for a moment. “Your Majesty, of course –”
Selby rose a palm. “At ease.” She stepped up to Ambassador Keldrick’s campfire and knelt down, squinting at him in the twilight.
“Here, you’ve bloodied yourself,” she said, and reached out to where he had nicked himself with the small razor blade. A trickle of blood ran down his neck and she covered it with her index finger.
Then their eyes met.
She had often avoided his gaze, for she found his eyes stunning to behold, such a bold blue. But just now, she saw herself reflected within them, and even the flames of the campfire….
He coughed and held her hand for a moment as he removed it from his neck. Selby took a deep breath and, in an effort at recovery, said, “I don’t know why you want to shave your beard. You resemble your royal father more this way.”
Ambassador Keldrick blinked. She had taken him aback. He rubbed his hand over his beard and mused aloud, “Yes, yes I do, don’t I?” Then he said, “Regardless, I must keep it trimmed up. An Ambassador can’t look like a heathen, can he?”
“No, I suppose not.” Selby almost smiled, for she had heard her brothers and father say that they couldn’t look like heathens themselves. She sometimes forgot just how gently born Ambassador Keldrick truly was. More royal than she herself was, for he was the third son to the most powerful man in the Land.
She found him staring at her again. She swallowed, suddenly nervous. “You’re still bleeding. I haven’t any scar ointment or I’d bring it over to you….” Selby trailed off.
He shook his head. “No need.” His voice sounded odd, she thought.
She felt as if she couldn’t catch her breath…. The Ambassador’s eyes caught hers and shook his head. Try as she might, Selby could not look away. “Apple?” she breathed and held up the apple between them.
He suddenly leaned in, holding her gaze, and kissed her on the lips. All of Selby’s authoritative persona dropped in an instant, no longer a Queen but a girlish princess again. His lips were rough and salty, but careful….
Then she reached out for his shoulder and kissed him back, the apple rolling onto the grass…. This is Keldrick, she thought, and pulled him close. He responded, leaning in and placing the back of a calloused hand on her cheek. His beard was rough against her chin….
A breeze blew then, sending snaps and sparks from the campfire into the cooling night air. Selby jumped.
Immediately, Keldrick pulled away. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty, that was – untoward of me,” he apologized in a low voice. He glanced about.
She immediately said, “I apologize, that was unfitting of me.”
Keldrick returned, “You’ve nothing to apologize for, it was I who started it –”
“No, no, not at all –” Selby began, but then she looked into Keldrick’s eyes, and all she wanted was to be in his arms.
She read his face – he wanted the same.
“Durain, both of you, leave me,” she called out in a low but serious command.
Durain turned to look at her. His distaste was evident at leaving his Queen unprotected, but in truth, she was in the midst of an entire Army and scores of Ericorian protected her.
The other Ericorian looked at Durain for confirmation, for this was a questionable command.
Durain eyed the apple on the grass, raised an eyebrow ever so slightly, and then looked at his partner. In silence, he jerked his head to leave. Satisfied with the action being taken so long as it was Durain’s choice, the other Ericorian fell in line. Selby knew they would not go far, only out of earshot and visual awareness.
As soon as her Ericorian guards were gone, Selby, breathless, looked at Keldrick’s tent. He held its flaps open for her to duck through, making sure they weren’t observed, and then tied them shut on the inside.
Immediately, they fell into each other’s arms with a rattling of chainmail.
Kissing and groping each other, they fell onto his blankets. His tongue was suddenly in her mouth, exploring it. He stopped and smiled gently at her. Selby froze.
“You taste like apple,” he whispered.
She chuckled and smiled. She could not recall the last time she had laughed. He made her feel so… free.
He kissed her again, now slowly, and her entire body was crying out with the wanting of him. Damn this chainmail shirt. And there was no way taking it off, nor he his.
But in the end, he was very tender with her. She could not help but think that of all the times she imagined her first time, it was not this way – in a tent, on a blanket in the grass on the battlefield as Queen of Clemongard. She always thought it would be in a beautiful wedding bed, after a glorious wedding to a handsome Duke or Earl who was earnestly in love with her. As she looked into the strong face of Keldrick, she wondered with awe at the difference. He stared into her eyes the entire time and was so careful to keep from hurting her more than was necessary. And then…. Selby could not believe such sensations existed, but she wanted more, and more….
He was careful to spill himself on the grass, and once he had collapsed, he picked up her hand and kissed the inside of it.
Selby rose up on an elbow and studied him. He was panting from the effort of their labors, and perspiration dotted his temple. She could not control a silly smile from overtaking her features.
She slept very little, for they came together twice more, he always on the grass at the end. And then they spoke in hushed tones of small things, of each other, of their families, of how they’d grown up, but very little of the war. And sometimes, curled together as they were, they actually slept.
Selby knew the morning would come all too soon, but the night was glorious and she never wanted it to end, so she reveled in it as long as she could.
The next morning dawned all too soon. Selby sat up from her warm cocoon amidst Keldrick’s blankets and cloak. She looked down at him. He looked so peaceful….
She began to plait her hair back. He had unraveled it last night, loving its softness, stroking it…. But she couldn’t think of that now. As she tied the bottom of her braid with the leather thong, she sighed softly.
Keldrick propped an eye open. “Watching me?” he asked, his voice husky with sleep.
A bit embarrassed, Selby shrugged. “You look so peaceful asleep.”
He snorted. “Peaceful. You’ve no idea what I was dreaming of.”
Selby flushed a bit, self-conscious.
He eyed her braided hair and sat up.
“We can’t….” Selby struggled with words to say that weren’t offensive. “We can’t – do this – again.” He only regarded her calmly. “I could… get with –” She trailed off, at a loss. Child, she wanted to say.
“I know,” he said.
Selby breathed out with relief, glad he understood her plight. “And your royal father would….” Gods be good, her ally, the Eastern Shield, whatever would he do?
“Bust a gut,” Keldrick finished for her, rolling a discomfited blue eye at the prospect.
“And my father, gods be good,” and Selby looked skyward for forgiveness. I’m sorry, Father, if you’re watching, but he’s a wonderful man….
“You have to get back to your tent before you’re seen,” Keldrick warned her.
She nodded. “We can’t – we can’t speak of this, you know.”
He smiled a bit. “Of course not, Your Majesty.” His smile was courteous and professional, very much the Ambassador of the Eastern Shield.
Then he waved at her. “Go, go, before you’re seen,” he whispered.
She peered through the flaps of his tent. Few signs of life were about yet – smoky campfires and gray dawn hung in the air. Not even her Ericorian were to be seen. She wrapped her cloak around her against the chill of early morning. Selby gave Keldrick a last, longing glance, and a quick smile before she slipped out of his tent.
It seemed a hundred steps to her own tent when in fact, there were only fifteen, but when she, the Queen, might be caught sneaking from a man’s tent, every step seemed a canyon to cross.
Her campfire had not burned down. The Queen’s fire must always be kept burning. Did Durain think of everything, Selby wondered with awe, not for the first time. He was nowhere to be seen, but she knew he had stoked her fire before he had retired for the evening, to make it seem as if she was inside her tent. Amazed at his resourcefulness, she marveled privately at her luck in such a loyal servant.
Inside her tent, alone at last, an enormous smile spread across her face. She would be fighting on the battlefield yet again today, but for now, she reveled in this private moment. She had something to smile about again.