Chapter Three: Coloured Glass
The entrance to the estate was protected by a line of five people, all of whom wore dark armour. I noticed it wasn’t thick and bulky, but rather sleek, glossy, and very much giving me the impression of a predator. They moved forward to greet us, noiseless.
“They’re Nightwalkers,” Brina told me, noticing my interest, “Soundless in motion, often born into assassin guilds. Sequoia saved most of the guards we have from death row, offering them a job. They’re loyal to her.”
Studying the guards, Brina’s words sound almost distant. I was straining to hear the conversation between Sequoia and the Nightwalkers, feeling like they were talking about me since Sequoia had gestured towards me.
I’m unsure where we stand.
She thinks that I see her as a monster. Reflecting on the conversation I had, ahem, eavesdropped upon, I can see why she would think that. It’s something she must have dealt with regularly and fear of hers that becomes more prominent when dealing with the likes of me.
I sigh, making Brina glance sharply at me in concern.
“Are you okay, my Lady?”
Waving her off, I chuckle.
“I’m fine,” I tell her, staring up at the castle, “I’m fine. I think I’ll behave for a bit. I don’t want her to feel like a monster to me.”
The carriage moves forward, and we enter through the gates. I feel like there are eyes on me, no doubt the guards, and I ignore the stares to look in awe at the castle.
Glass windows are a prominent feature here. Tall, arched, and coloured in elaborate ways. I marvel, feeling like I’m stepping into a new world. The air carries from the sea smells that are crisp and full of salt. Gulls wail from above. Designs fill the stone laid underfoot, depicting flowers and vines curling and coiling.
Brina helps me down from the carriage, observing my wonder in my surroundings. There’s greenery all around and the scent of heady flowers that are attracting bees and butterflies. Energy pulses in this castle like a heartbeat, low and steady, and I can’t stop myself from gaping like a stunned fish.
“Ardwen and Arla will guide you through the estate,” Sequoia tells me, not realising my awe, “I have to make a report and then consult with the housekeeper and staff.”
My focus sharpens again when two guards step forward. They’re both very tall and very peculiar looking. I’ve never seen Nightwalkers before. I’ve heard of them from tales from my youth whilst my younger sisters gripped my skirts in horror. They’re depicted as heartless, cold killers with black eyes that hold ill intent. Assessing Ardwen and Arla, I could see no ill intent and sensed no danger.
I extended my hand, bowing my head in greeting.
“Thank you for sparing the time to show me around,” I thanked them, eager to show my gratitude, “The tour doesn’t happen to start in the kitchen, does it? I’m starving.”
Brina laughs loudly, and Ardwen and Arla seem surprised by my offered hand.
“Oh,” Arla says, her black eyes blinking at me, “It’s our honour. We can start with the kitchens should you wish.”
I blinked in return.
Ardwen smiles politely.
“Aouren Estate has twelve kitchens throughout, dependent on use, location and who is eating,” he informs me, his eyes sliding to Sequoia, “Did Sequoia not mention the estate?”
My brain felt frazzled by the comment.
“In passing,” I admit, feeling a little embarrassed, “Details were not mentioned about...turrets...the sea...twelve fucking kitchens.”
I glance at Sequoia, who’s overlooking the conversation with a grim, stony observation.
“Do you even need twelve kitchens?” I ask her, “I don’t quite understand. As long as there are sweet pastries, that’s all you need, and ale.”
She stares at me a moment and then presses her lips together firmly as if locking her words away. Instead of responding, she gives out final instructions to Ardwen and Arla and then marched into the Eastern turret, disappearing from view. I feel shaken by the dismissal and hurt, but I don’t feel like I can blame her.
There’s an awkward shuffle, and I refocus on the guards. My earlier good mood is now sour.
“Let’s start the tour. We don’t need to start with the kitchens.”
My appetite had vanished along with my previous sense of awe and wonder.
Brina waves goodbye as she organises the party, and I feel like I’ve been handed over while everyone else does business. Ardwen and Arla pick up on my mood change and keep the tour factual and quick. I’m guided through the grounds first, past extravagant gardens and statues, glass buildings housing plants, and pools of water that glisten. Everything feels old and secret, like a location hidden from the world, growing on its own and becoming more beautiful. We pass the stables, walking past DarkStride and Mauler.
I greet them, thankful for their service, but as I look at them I’m reminded of how Sequoia treats them with an affection I can never hope to achieve. She likes the stallions. She likes them.
Yet with me, despite her concern over me being cold or thinking her a monster, just nothing.
“This place was originally built by Giants but was never finished. Sequoia conquered it after clearing it of bandits. She renovated it as her home and training grounds for the army,” Ardwen tells me, “Giants are known for their glass-work. Each window has been designed by artisan Giants, crafted to Sequoia’s desires.”
I peered over my shoulder at them, intrigued.
“Does everyone call Sequoia by her name instead of her title?” I asked, a little confused by their familiarity, “If she’s your commander, shouldn’t you address her as such?”
Ardwen and Arla smile.
“Sequoia doesn’t do titles,” they tell me simply, “We never call her anything else and Brina and Elide sometimes refer to her as Quoia, but I think it’s a family thing.”
And I’ll never be family, my inner thoughts murmur, sparking with venom, I’ll never belong here.
It’s a long tour, and the estate is beautiful. Soon enough, however, the number of rooms I viewed blurred into various versions of each other, and my feet began to hurt. My newly brought riding boots, a gift my sisters had come together to buy for me, were not yet broken in and soft, so I felt my polite smiles becoming less and less smiling. Ardwen and Arla sniffed the air as they guided me to the third floor of the main building, and then both glanced in unison at my feet.
“You’re bleeding,” Arla announced, swooping down on her knees to look, “You should have said something, my Lady!”
Flummoxed by their ability to smell blood, I was further startled when Arla ordered a nearby maid to fetch some fresh water and medical supplies. I felt my face heat up.
“There’s no need, really,” I insisted, adjusting my skirts to stop Arla from grabbing my feet, “I’ll just soak them later.”
It wasn’t fine at all. They were new and I was bleeding in them. The last gift from my sisters was soiled by my miscalculations on how large the estate was.
The maid scuttles back abruptly, a speedy little thing, with a large bowl of water, towels and medicine. I was trying to understand how she had retrieved the items so fast, but Arla swept me up into her arms as though I weighed no more than a rag doll.
“Forgive us for not realising sooner,” Ardwen told me dutifully as Arla sped along the corridors with me, “We don’t often get guests and forget how large the estate is. We should have calculated this beforehand, your new boots will need the maids to get the blood out, which is not a problem, but we should have prepared properly!”
Clutching onto Arla as she glided across the floors soundlessly, I felt my hair bustle in the breeze of her fast pace. Ardwen kept pace well beside her while the maid ran behind, her footsteps quiet and her face determined as she followed us.
When Arla finally stopped, she kicked the door open with a crash, and I heard the wood splinter.
“Oops,” she muttered to herself, “Did it again.”
Ardwen swore under his breath, and the maid finally came through the door, barely acknowledging the centre of the wooden door was caved in.
“The water is warm, and I put medicinal oil in already,” she announced, setting the large bowl at the foot of the bed, “My lady, please take a seat.”
Arla placed me gingerly on the bed, bowing to take my riding boots off herself. I felt my ears burn, startled to have them treat me so tenderly. I hadn’t had this kind of treatment my entire life, and it reminded me of how my older sisters would take care of me when ill. Father never tended to me, and to have strangers do these things for me made tears threaten to spill. I was so touched.
“I’m sorry to bother you all,” I sniffed, “It wasn’t too bad to start. I haven’t had new boots in so long I hadn’t thought about breaking them in.”
Arla’s face turned gentle, and a motherly look adorned her features.
“That’s alright, my Lady, we’re here to serve. It’s a bonus to serve someone as lovely as you I must admit, but we will serve you.”
Ardwen bowed, his left hand placed to his right side, fingers extended.
“We are Sequoia’s, and anyone she loves and approves of or respects is then under our protection as an extension of our loyalty to Sequoia. We would fight to the death.”
Blanching at the idea, I reach for them, grasping their hands in mine.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to fight to the death for me. I’d want you to run and think of yourselves. I can throw knives and do some magic, just not any healing magic,” I chuckled, gesturing to my feet, “Maybe I should learn?”
The maid laughs, and I look at her, startled.
“Oh,” she smiles, “Pardon me. Healing is difficult to learn. Only those with lots of magical energy can hope to achieve it without eating at their life force. Has to be balanced!”
She claps her hands together and then throws them towards my feet in a flourish.
“I may not be high level, but blisters, cuts and bruises are my specialities!”
Astoundingly, magic flares from her fingertips, the energy pulsing around my feet. It’s warm and earthy. I swear I can smell the richness of soil and meadow flowers drift across the room as her magic swirled from my heels to my toes. They say each person’s magic resembles their spirit or reflects their mood, memories and intentions. Muriel has magic. It’s gentle like the maids but feels like a wash of rain rather than a pulse of dark earth. Muriel can’t heal, but she can do other helpful things for house duties.
“Yeona,” Arla chides, “It’s getting better. I know you’ve been practising to earn that promotion to Healers Apprentice.”
I laugh, happy I can feel and bend my toes again with no pain.
“You’ll get that promotion. This is amazing,” I assured her with a smile, “It’s a kind magic.”
Yeona looks bashful and thanks me before her eyes whip up.
I turn and feel my good mood evaporate. Sequoia stands staring at the door and then stares at my feet, and then at Ardwen, Arla and Yeona. She points at the door.
“Is there a reason there’s a hole where there isn’t meant to be a hole?” she asks pointedly, “And is there a reason you’re in my private chambers?”
“Lady Jadis had some pain with her boots,” she fumbled, “Her feet were bleeding. Her private chambers are further away, and the master bedroom is still being remodelled, so I assessed the situation and decided this was the best option.”
Sequoia looked fit to bang her head against a wall. Every time she sees me, she has this angst in her face-this uncomfortable unease. I force a smile on my face.
“They did the right thing,” I clarified firmly, “Given me the best tour, and they’ve been very accommodating to my poor, delicate feet.”
Sequoia’s eyes bored into mine, “And the door?”
I gestured to my feet.
“I was bleeding, dear.”
Her eyebrow quirked at the endearment, and she nods, closing her eyes. After a moment of deliberating, she looks up again, assessing everyone.
“Can everyone but Jadis leave the room please,” she asks, removing her fur cloak with a sigh, “I have some things to discuss with her.”
Feeling my good mood dampen again, I thank Ardwen, Arla and Yeona again, and when the door shuts, Sequoia stares at the large hole in the door with a frown. She moves to the wardrobe, a large wooden piece taller than she is, and she shoved it in front of the door with ease. I felt my heart shudder in shock at how easily she moved it and had to clear my face of shock when she turned around again.
“I need to sleep,” she mutters darkly, reaching around to unbuckle her armour, “I’m so fucking tired.”
She removes her armour tiredly, revealing a thin black shirt underneath. It’s only now that I can see the muscles in her arms, her shoulders not bulked up by armour, and the strong, lean form of her body. The swell of her breasts caught me by surprise, however. The neckline of her shirt was dangerously low. The shirt was unlaced, revealing a slither of cleavage that made my eyes bulge out of their sockets.
Unaware of my staring, she tosses the armour to the side and then looks up at me, her eyes puzzled by my expression.
“What?” she asks, looking at the armour, “It’s too warm to wear inside all the time.”
Swallowing, I don’t say anything, trying to look at her face instead of her body. She regards me carefully.
“Okay? Well, we’re sleeping. Get on the bed.”
I squeak when she moves to the bed, her long legs eating up the distance with no issue. She slides in under the covers, running a hand through her hair, grunting in satisfaction. Peering at her from the other side, I regard the size of the bed, and upon seeing how sizable it was, gingerly slid into the bed also.
“Closer than that,” she tells me, her eyes intent on the ceiling.
I budge in closer, unsure if she wanted to consummate or if she desired me to be closer. Taking a deep breath, I snuggled closer until the length of my leg brushed against her long one. Feeling small, I wriggled upwards in the bed until we were more eye level.
“You move too much,” Sequoia sighs, looking down at me, “How can someone so short move so much?”
I huff, not liking being referred to as short. How was I supposed to know fate couldn’t predetermine my height to suit who I would marry?
“Well,” I say sourly, “I can’t help it. I can’t help that you’re the height of a tree.”
She purses her lips in thought, “A tree, hmm? I suppose I’ve heard worse.”
“It wasn’t an insult,” I countered, feeling my eyes grow tired, “Just a fact.”
Sequoia hums before closing her eyes and stretching. I felt tired and closed my eyes. My feet felt better, but the rest of my body was sore from walking, standing and sitting. Sequoia hums again, and I creak my eye open, realising she’s staring.
“You’re tired,” she says quickly, averting her eyes, “Sleep. Close your eyes.”
Her gaze focused back on the ceiling, and her chest heaved.
“You should sleep too. You’ve been riding for two days. Rest,” I coax, turning to my side, “You give everyone else orders but forget about yourself.”
Her jaw clenches.
“Are you going to get undressed?” She murmurs, and then purses her lips, “To then get dressed again in a nightgown I mean.”
I feel my sense of momentary ease dissipate.
“Ah,” I backtrack, rolling away, “I don’t know where my luggage is.”
She sighs heavily, sitting up.
“I have a shirt you could borrow?” She offers, standing, “maybe a little big.”
She goes to the wardrobe to retrieve a shirt, and thankfully she tosses a modest one in my direction and excuses herself to the far side of the room. Glancing at her back sheepishly, I start unlacing my bodice. When the air hits my bare skin, I shiver, feeling goosebumps rise over my skin in a flush of chill. I fling Sequoia’s shirt on hastily, feeling my nipples tighten and become sore from the cold. The castle may not be in an icy location, but the wind flows through the window like a current of ice.
I kick my skirts off, turning to Sequoia, and I stop short. She’s still facing away from me but is peeling her shirt off. She’s currently pulling it over her head, revealing an expanse of smooth, pale skin. I stare at the plains of her strong shoulders with a scattering of scars. Some were still pink from recent infliction, and others were stark white. As though in a trance, I find myself wanting to trail the scars, wondering if they were deep.
“Did they hurt?” I ask, trying to decipher if the old ones were born from a whip, “The scars?”
Sequoia pauses, surprised. I find myself coming closer, horrified.
“Were you whipped?” I asked, my voice sharper than intended.
Her head lowers as she forces a nightshirt on, the tension clear in her movements.
“That’s all for today,” she murmurs, turning to me, “We should sleep now.”
I stand in front of her, my jaw set. Looking into her face, with her dark hair hanging forward, she suddenly looked young before me. Her lips part, words threatening to spill. I hold her gaze.
“If you tell me, I’ll grant you one wish,” I say hastily, stepping closer when she went to move away, “I’ll grant you anything you want that I can do.”
Her face blanches.
“You shouldn’t bargain with people like that,” she warns me, pushing her hair off her face, “People take advantage of bargains like that.”
I realise she’s right, my cheeks burning.
“But you wouldn’t,” I said slowly, “take advantage, I mean.”
Her eyes hold mine, looking impossibly dark and feral. She breathes deeply before her eyes move down to the rest of my body. It’s like being devoured without being touched.
“You don’t know that,” she mutters, her hand resting around my throat, “You don’t know what I’d do to you with full permission. You don’t know a thing about what I want.”
Swallowing, I feel my gaze drop, mortified by how my body responded to her words.
“What do you want?” I asked, my voice quiet.
Sequoia’s hand wasn’t tight on my neck. It was gentle, her grasp loose. Slowly she stroked a line with her thumb up towards my chin. The motion was like a string that tugged South of my body.
“I want you,” she tells me, her voice sounding breathless, “I want you naked, writhing and begging for me.”
My heart fluttered at the idea, and I felt like my body was suddenly too hot, as if I were melting.
“Would it hurt?” I asked, peering up at her, feeling my legs start to feel weak, “Would you be gentle for me?”
My question startles her, but I can see her eyes deepen in longing. Considering my adamant display yesterday of not wanting her to touch me, my body was betraying me upon seeing her differently. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, or the castle is beautiful, or that she’s looking at me with an expression that makes me feel safe and cherished for now. Her eyes swallow me up, revering me as a goddess.
“For you,” she clarifies, “I’d be very gentle.”
Her hand moves down the shirt, skimming over the side of my breast, before cupping it. Her thumb glides over my nipple as if assessing how hard it was.
“I’ll answer your question if you’d like,” she tells me, “if that is, you can let me finger you.”
I don’t know what she means, and she reads it on my face. Gently, she kneels before me, her hand cupping the back of my knee. The motion startles me. It’s not every day a Dwarf Giant kneels before anyone.
“It involves my fingers,” she informs me, lifting the hem of the shirt up to my hip, “and between your thighs. Inside.”
Her voice is husky, and I flush heavily. Would it be so wrong? Would I hate it? Staring into her face and the patience there, I feel myself relenting. Muriel said it can feel good or would improve with time. Why shouldn’t I feel good, given the offer? My mind races, full of thoughts of if I wanted it or if it would hurt, and if I smelt and so on. Sequoia held herself still, her gaze fixed on mine.
“It’s okay to say no,” she whispers, her hand stroking my leg soothingly, “It’s your choice.”
Those words made me ignite. I grasp her hand, not sure how to tell her please, do something to make me feel good. Her eyes speak of loyalty and promise. She wouldn’t touch me if I said I didn’t want her to. I could see that she was holding herself back, only making tiny movements to avoid going too far.
“A little,” I breathed, my chest heaving, “Just a little, please.”
Sequoia closed her eyes, looking almost pained.
“A little,” she agrees, grasping my leg and tossing it onto her left shoulder, “Please tell me if anything hurts.”
I nod frantically, loving how close my hips were to her mouth and how her strong hands held me securely. My body pulsed with longing.
“I was whipped,” Sequoia says, her hand under the shirt and between my legs, “I was born poor and turned to stealing. I got caught due to my height. Can’t hide much when you’re this tall.”
Her fingers find between my thighs, feeling the slick pool of heat. She groans.
“They gave me fifty lashings,” she continued, her finger gliding through my folds, “I was fourteen. Desperate and wild.”
Her finger pauses before slowly sinking into me a little. I gasped, reaching out and bracing myself against her. My hips wanted to move on their own, but I didn’t dare. Her fingers are long and slightly thicker than most. As her digit dipped in and out of me, I felt my mind melting like candle wax.
“It took ages to heal,” she carries on, her voice thick with arousal, “But it sharpened me up. Made me work hard.”
Her finger delves a little deeper, and my hips buck towards her, wanting more inside me. She complies carefully, refusing to move too fast. I felt when her finger was all the way in and grasped at her, shuddering at the feeling. She thrusts, pushing it in and out a few times, before pushing another finger into me. It felt tighter this way. I felt fuller.
“God’s,” I moaned, incredulous, “I can’t...my hips keep wanting to move.”
Sequoia looks up at me. Her cheeks are red.
“Then move your hips. Fuck yourself on my fingers.”
She waits, slowing down and waiting for my reaction, her eyes assessing my face for an answer. Her brows make her look quite serious, and I imagine for a moment, her face between my thighs.
“Fuck,” I hiss, gripping her tightly, “Don’t look at me so intently.”
I start to move, unsure how to begin, and Sequoia shifts her fingers, causing a ripple of pleasure to shiver up my spine. My hips bucked in towards the sensation. Unable to stop I moved. My body feels floods of pleasure with each movement, and I felt driven by some sort of demonic possession. Sequoia keeps still and quiet, though I can feel her breathing hard. My arms brace against her shoulders, my leg still over her shoulder, and I leverage myself into her.
“I feel funny,” I gasped, feeling a knot of pleasure mount, “Maybe we should stop.”
Sequoia moans, her fingers shifting again, setting the knot of pleasure an octave higher. It was like music on a lute, and Sequoia was the bard, her fingers working me to melodic brilliance.
“Don’t stop now,” she whispers, her fingers moving again, “You’re almost there.”
I moaned loudly, my ears almost deaf to her words. My body was too busy feeling too hot and good.
Her fingers moved harder, sending the pleasure blundering high speed. My thighs felt tight, feeling like they needed to close onto the pleasure so it wouldn’t leave me, but with my leg over her shoulder, I found myself ramming my hips harder in time with her fingers, chasing the feeling. Three more finger thrusts and the knot unravelled, flooding through my body like a surge. Collapsing, I shuddered against her.
“What the fuck?” I gasped, feeling weak, “You...it’s like I’ve died.”
She chuckles, kissing my forehead gently.
“No, you came,” she told me quietly, carefully placing my leg off her shoulder, “You, um, enjoyed it?”
I looked at her, realising the wetness between my legs, and then felt my face burn.
“So what if I did?” I mumbled, “I couldn’t stop it.”
Sequoia smiles, kissing my forehead again.
“You were meant to enjoy it,” she clarifies, “If you didn’t I would be worried.”
She guides me to the bed, setting me down and wrapping the blankets over me. I felt like a big stuffed pastry being folded before being put in the oven.
“You’re very...” I began, unsure which word to choose, “Very...”
I wanted to say gentle. Or kind, with incredibly talented fingers, but I found myself unwilling to open up emotionally. Gods, she can touch my body, but I was not wanting her anywhere near touching my heart.
“You’re very intriguing,” I settled, looking at her, “Thank you for...the fingers.”
Sequoia raises an eyebrow, seemingly amused.
“The fingers,” she deadpans, a smirk lacing her words, “Aye, yes, the fingers.”
She flutters them and then looks at me, her purple eyes filled with some indescribable emotion.
“Will you still be here when I wake up?” She whispers, her hand interlacing with mine, “You’re not going to run away?”
I want to ask questions but the sincerity in her eyes, the raw vulnerability, stops me. Our gazes lock, and I squeeze her hand firmly.
“I’ll be here,” I tell her, “I can’t travel far in those shoes anyway.”
She gives a brief smile, not looking very convinced.
“I’ll be here,” she says softly, closing her eyes, “Until time dawns and the stars die out. I’ll be here.”