And now she was Theldry Eochair, Duchess of Mendellion.
She closed the door behind her and leaned against it. Or she would be, as soon as… this… happened.
She swallowed. All the wall sconces were lit about the chamber, and a warming fire lent a calming atmosphere.
Theldry realized her chest was heaving with anxiety and struggled to breathe normally. It was a nice sort of chamber, she supposed, trying to steady her nerves.
Theldry’s new husband – now there was a word that would take some adjustment to – was not half as old as she had anticipated. He was thirty-one – still old enough to be her father, but Theldry had thought of him as in his mid-fifties, or worse.
Theldry’s new husband entered the chamber from the side. He must have some sort of access from another chamber, she thought vaguely. He – Cathall – was dressed in bed linens, rather than his wedding attire, as she was. This awful gown – gods, her mother had delighted in its design, and all for what, four, maybe five hours of wearing it? And Theldry could hardly breathe in it, her waist was cinched so tight.
She cleared her throat. Would he – want her to – disrobe, or would he want to do that himself? Oh gods, she hated this.
Cathall placed a hand against one of the bed posts and looked at Theldry, taking her in for a moment. Then he sat on the bed and held an arm out toward Theldry.
“Come here, my dear.” He patted the bed next to him.
Theldry picked up handfuls of her gown and walked slowly over toward him. It was everything she could to sit down.
“My dear.” He looked into her eyes. He had kind eyes, she thought vaguely….
With a hand under her chin, he raised her head. “Do not think that I am unaware of what you are going through. You are still – young yet. You will sleep alone tonight, unless you want me to be here with you. I won’t touch you at all. Nor will I, until you feel you are ready, and when you are, you come to me.”
Theldry was amazed. Cathall was not a handsome nor a striking man, but good-looking in his own way. He was personable, easy to be around, people enjoyed his company she had seen during the reception. While he was older, he was not old, though he had what people called “laugh lines.” And that meant, Theldry decided, that he smiled a lot and maybe even laughed a lot.
“But – what if I –” and she looked down. “Never want to?”
Cathall took in a long breath. “Well. I hope that you will change your mind. For I do want children. I had a daughter once, she died when she was three. And I will want children, as it’s right and proper to pass on my bloodline and birthright.
“I might add,” and he paused delicately, “that because people know I’ve had a daughter, they know I am able to have children. Whereas, if you do not conceive, they may consider you barren….”
Theldry took in another deep breath and nodded.
“Now. In order for everyone to assume we have consummated our marriage –” and Cathall held up a small leather sack. “Chicken’s blood.” He gestured at the white linens on the bed behind them. “Would you like the honors or shall I?”
Theldry stared at him.
“Oh, come my dear, you don’t think men hear of such tales as well?” Cathall smiled gently. “Let us pull the first sheet off the bed and we’ll use that, shall we? That way, you’ll have a fresh bed to sleep in for the night and I’ll sleep in the other room. The servants can’t get in if I’ve locked them out, and they are, of course, locked out.”
And so it was that Theldry slept her wedding night alone in her own shift, untouched, unspoiled, and still a virgin, though the next day, all of the entirety of Tortoreen as well as half the court of Corstarordan believed her fully a woman wed.
No longer a Princess. A wife, and a Duchess.