Their Bonds of Duty

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Chapter 10

Trying to keep their conversation light after the heaviness of the night before, Conri teased Eleri much of the day as they walked towards the village she said was ahead. He thought he probably annoyed her many times, but she laughed enough to encourage him to keep at their playful conversation. He loved the sound of her laughter. It was light and almost musical. He believed there was much he would do to see her smile and laugh.

The day passed quickly in such a merry way, and they came to the outskirts of a good-size village a few hours after lunch. Stopping by a gate to a pretty house, they looked at the town in front of them. There was much laughter, chatter, and music coming from the village center. Conri could see decorations of wreaths made out of cornstalks and leaves on every door and some hanging on ropes suspended between buildings. Pumpkins with candles on top of them were on many doorsteps and along the path that led into town.

“Conri, has it been at least two weeks since we left the Haven’s estate?” asked Eleri as she looked out at the village before them.

Conri took a moment to think it over. “I believe so or at least very close to it.”

She looked at him and smiled. “I believe it is time for the Moon of the Harvest Festival then. It is a full moon tonight, isn’t it?”

Conri shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen the moon very often on our travel lately. It has been so cloudy.”

“But last night, it peaked through and had to have been close to full to give such light,” said Eleri happily. “It must be that the last full moon of the fall starts tonight. Everyone in the village is celebrating.”

“Should we move on then?” asked Conri. “Will it be safe to go into town?”

“It should be perfectly fine. Everyone will be having too much fun to notice us. If there are any guards from the Silver Palace, they will be distracted by good drink and the idea of finding someone to spend this night with. I only hope there is a room left in one of the inns.”

Conri slowly smiled as the realization of attending a real village festival came over him. “So, can we attend the festival? We will get to see some of it?”

She took his hand and nodded. “We can see as much of it as you would like. Come on, let’s see if we can secure a place to stay first. I want to make sure I look presentable before we see too many in town.”

They walked into the village, finding a tidy-looking inn towards the edge of town. Eleri thought if any inn had any rooms left, it would be far away from the village center. She was proved right as the place had one room left. Conri paid the price of the room, the inn keeper assuming they were a young married couple. Neither Conri nor Eleri corrected him before making their way upstairs.

Their room was not large, but it was clean. The bed was pushed against the wall and could easily hold two. A fire was already burning in the fireplace with two chairs in front of it. A pitcher of wine sat on the table between the chairs, and Conri poured himself a glass as he sat down in front of the fire. Eleri moved to the small vanity in the room and looked at herself in the mirror. He drank his wine and watched her as she ran her hand through her hair.

“I have lost the ribbon I had earlier, so I will not be able to braid my hair. I’m afraid I will have to leave it down and look quite wild.”

“I like your hair down,” said Conri as he took a drink of his wine. “I think it suits you very well.”

“My face is much cleaner than earlier. Usually, I would use some powder and paint to look proper for the festival, but I don’t think it is necessary for a simple village party,” said Eleri as she looked at her face in the mirror.

“You don’t need anything to make you look beautiful. It would only take away from your natural beauty,” said Conri honestly. “Now, stop worrying about what you look like and come have a drink with me before we go out. You can tell me some of what to expect tonight.”

They sipped some wine as Eleri told him about the one time she had attended a Moon or the Harvest Festival in a village. She said there would be a banquet in the town center. There would be a procession through town with many villagers in costumes just before nightfall, and then the candles would be lit all over town as the local priest said a blessing. The night would end with dancing outdoors under the moon.

After they both drank two glasses of wine, Eleri stood up. “If you wish to see the town procession, we will need to leave now. I am not sure how good of a place we can find to stand, but we can try.”

Conri put down his glass and walked over to the mirror. He checked that his hair wasn’t too out of place and that his face was clean. He had not shaved in some time, and he almost had a full beard. He smoothed down the stubble that grew on his cheeks and chin with his hand. “I should find someone who can shave me or pick up some supplies to do it myself.”

“I am not sure it is necessary,” said Eleri with a slight smile. “It helps hide your identity from anyone who might guess who you are.” She walked closer to him and touched his cheek. “I rather like it as well.”

He leaned into her hand for a moment before straightening up and offering her his arm. “Then I will let it be for a while, my lady. I will not worry about it tonight as I plan to just focus on enjoying the evening with a beautiful woman.”

She took his arm and leaned on him. “Then I shall try to find you one.”

He shook his head and laughed as they walked out of the room together. As they neared the center of the village, the crowd grew. It seemed the whole town, and probably all who lived anywhere in the vicinity, were gathered around the very center. Women wore pretty dresses under their cloaks. Men had on nice shirts, and the children all looked freshly scrubbed, cleaned running around in what was probably their best clothes.

Conri kept a firm hold on Eleri as they moved through the crowd. He noticed that most young women had on a crown of fall flowers with ribbons on their heads. They came to a space with many carts set up where men and women sold all kinds of things for the festival. Conri walked up to a young woman selling flower crowns. He looked over them until he found one that had white chrysanthemums with yellow pansies woven into a dark green vine. It was finished in white and yellow ribbons, and he thought it would look lovely against Eleri’s hair.

After pulling out some coins and paying for it, the woman handed it to him. He turned and carefully placed it on Eleri’s head as she bent down slightly. She raised up and smiled at him.

“It looks as wonderful as I thought,” he said as she took his arm. “I hope it is not the only crown I ever see you wear.”

She swatted him lightly with her free hand before standing on her tip toes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for the present. I feel very festive this evening.” Before they went on, she reached up and took one of the chrysanthemums carefully from her crown. She fastened it on the clasp of his cloak. “There, now you are marked as my partner for the festival. If I lose you in the dancing, I will have claim over you again when I find you.”

He laughed as they slowly walked on. “I don’t think you will lose me at any point. No matter where I go, I cannot keep my eyes off of you, so I will always be close by.”

She shook her head with a laugh as they maneuvered between different people standing together, trying to get to a place they could see the procession. They finally found a small area between two couples near the edge of the town square. Conri squeezed his way in, bringing Eleri along with him. He positioned her just in front of him, placing his hands on her hips so she would stay with him in the crowded space.

A loud blast of two rustic horns blown by two men heralded the start of the procession, and Conri couldn’t help but be excited. The only Moon of the Harvest Celebrations he had been to were at the Haven’s Estate. They were polite dinners with nearby families. Some dancing was had after the meal, and Conri met a few young women who entertained him, but there was nothing compared to the excitement around him. One of his arms went fully around Eleri’s waist as he held her close. She leaned into him and turned her head.

“The procession will feature people dressed as the gods and goddess, principal people in our history, and maybe even some important people of the land,” she said as Conri bent down to hear her.

He nodded as the men with the horns walked by. They were followed by several men dressed in dark shirts and pants. They had on large masks. Some of the masks had sad expressions, while two were of wide smiling faces. One was made to look scary, and the another angry. He recognized them as the gods they worshipped. The men bounced around the edge of the crowd. Some frightened small children while others made people laugh. A few of the smiling ones took ladies’ hands and made grand courtly gestures. Conri laughed as one bowed before Eleri.

Following the men in masks was a slender woman dressed in a long white gown. Her hair was down and flowed almost to her waist in loose curls. She did not wear a mask, but her face was half-hidden by a white veil. Her eyelids were painted a bright yellow, and she kept her eyes cast up, looking at the sky that was becoming filled with clouds.

Conri knew she represented the moon goddess. He followed her procession as he could not help but think of his time in the northern temple when he received the moon crown. A man ran in front of them, making Eleri back into him further. He caught a whiff of her hair that smelled like a mixture of the flowers she wore and the smoke from the fire earlier. He held her steady with his arm, his hand making small, slow circles against her side.

There were many more people who passed in costume. Conri knew some were dressed as his ancestors as they wore long robes and crowns. A couple had on wolf masks, representing his family’s shifting abilities. He saw them all, but he was mostly focused on the woman in front of him. He felt the desire he had for Eleri that always sat in the depth of his chest start to grow and spread throughout his body. He was very aware of the feel of her against him. At one point, she put her hand on his arm that held her, moving her hand until it interlocked with his.

Emboldened by her actions, he leaned down and kissed the side of her face. She gave a contented sigh that made him wish they were alone somewhere he could kiss her properly. He was about to see if they might slip away together when he heard boos coming from the crowd. He looked up to see a man dressed in dark green with a large, ugly, angry mask. In front of him was a man holding a crown. The man in the mask chased after the man with the crown, never able to grab what he wanted.

“I think that is supposed to be Lord Fellen,” said Eleri as she turned to look at Conri.

Conri watched as the man in the mask tripped and fell, the crown always out of his grasp. He laughed with the rest of the crowd. “I believe you are right, and a good depiction as well.”

She smiled at him as they both turned to see the last person in costume coming down the road. It was a broad man wearing the mask of a gray wolf. On his head was an impressively large silver crown. He held a long scepter that matched the crown.

“Conri,” said Eleri as she squeezed his hand. “I believe that is supposed to be you.”

Conri watched as the broad man walked by. He looked over at him and Eleri and bowed slightly. Those around them bowed and curtsied, so he and Eleri did the same. They watched the man go until the others around them started moving forward.

Eleri turned around to look at him. “It is time for the lighting of the candles, and you will want to find a place to see it.” She looked around until she spotted a large crate by a closed shop. “There,” she said. She grabbed his hands and pulled him along towards the crate. He hurried along, smiling at her enthusiasm.

Once they got to the crate, he picked her up by the waist and placed her on it. She held out her hand, and he took it to climb up next to her. They stood together and watched as all the townspeople got into place, holding small lit torches. There was a long blast of the rustic horns, and everyone lit the candles that stood on pumpkins throughout the town.

The village that was almost surrounded in darkness as the sun was nearly set suddenly came aglow in hundreds if not thousands of candles. Ten large torches were also lit around the town square, and many people cheered and clapped. Conri, at first, watched the candles before looking down at Eleri. Her beautiful green eyes were glowing in the candlelight and fire that surrounded them. She had a look of wonder on her face, and it added to her natural beauty. He stared too long because she eventually looked up at him.

He grabbed her hand and brought her close to him. He stared into her eyes as she lifted her hand and put it on his cheek. It was so strange that he wanted her even more than before every time he was near her. He thought several times his growing need for her was at its peak, but each day showed him what a fool he was. He didn’t believe his love and desire for her would ever stop growing. New room would be made within him for it to expand, filling every part of him.

He leaned down and softly kissed her as her hand moved slowly against his cheek. It was a very chaste kiss compared with others they had shared, but it might have been the one he would remember more than many of the others. She pulled back with a large smile on her face.

“We should go get some food at the town banquet. I know I am starving, and we will see dishes that we haven’t in a long while.”

He nodded and helped her down from the crate, jumping down behind her. They moved with the crowd to many long tables that had been pushed up against each other, making one line of food that extended from one end of the town square to the other. They filled their plates and took them over to one of the many round tables set up on the edge of the town square. Conri left to grab them some drinks as Eleri started trying the food on her dish. By the time he came back, he noticed she seemed to particularly like the way the potatoes were cooked because not only were hers all gone, but most of his was missing as well.

He handed her a cup of mead as he sat down. Before he started to eat, he took the last of his potatoes and put them on her dish. She grinned at him before eating them quickly. Once they were done with their meal and drinks, the music started. They stood up so others could eat and made their way towards the space set up for dancing. He thought to ask her if she would like to dance with him when a man took her hand and gave a bow asking her to dance. She looked at Conri before she smiled and let him lead her to the dance floor.

Nothing looked nefarious about the young man, who probably just wished to spend a moment dancing with a beautiful woman, but Conri watched him closely as he put a hand on Eleri’s waist before taking her other one. Conri was distracted by a pretty young woman moving near him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around here before,” she said as a man moved past her making her bump into Conri.

“I am visiting the area for the festival,” said Conri as he put a hand on her arm to steady her.

“Do you have family here?”

“I might,” he said with a grin, not wanting to give too much about himself away.

“Ashamed of them, are you? I understand it. I wish I did not have to claim my oaf of a brother, but there is no helping it as he will lead our village someday.”

“I guess you better stay on his good side then,” said Conri with a small laugh.

“Or get out of here before he takes over,” said the woman with a sly smile. “I know it isn’t proper for a young lady to dance, but I have never been known for my manors.”

“I a sure that is not true,” said Conri. “Let me ask you before you scandalize anyone within earshot. “Please dance with me, Miss…”

“Mary,” she said as she took the hand he offered. “Who I am accepting, good sir?”

“Co...Colin,” he said, quickly deciding it would not be a good idea to give her his real name.”

“Very well, Colin, I will dance with you at least for this one song,” said the woman.

They danced, and the young woman proved to be an interesting partner. She made him laugh several times. They moved close to Eleri, and he saw that she watched them through much of the song. When the music stopped, he tried to go to Eleri to claim her for the next dance, but she was taken back to the center of the floor by a large, dark head man, and an older woman claimed his hand.

Again his partner proved interesting even if she wasn’t as lovely and young as his first. She was good at conversation, and he had to be careful to no reveal too much. By the time the song ended, he could not find Eleri. He moved off the dancing space to get a drink, trying to find her. He finally spotted her with two young girls who twirled around, their skirts flying. She danced with them, trying to keep up with them and the fast beat of the song. Conri watched her as he drank his mead, revealing in her joy and the lovely blush that had spread upon her cheeks.

When it was over, he took her a mug of mead, meeting her halfway. She drank the mead quickly, breathing heavily from the effort of her dance.

“Are you having fun?” she asked as she put the mug down on a nearby table.

“I am. I have always wanted to see how others celebrate festivals.”

“And you had a very pretty partner for your first dance. I believe you found her quite amusing,” said Eleri as she looked out over the couples dancing.

“She was charming and had one of the prettiest smiles I have ever seen. Perhaps, in a different time, I might still be basking in her smile,” remarked Conri as he finished the drink in his hands, putting his mug next to Eleri’s.

“If you wish to know her better, don’t let me stop you. I know my way back to the inn.” He could tell she was attempting to keep her voice light, but there was an edge of jealousy to it that made him laugh to himself.

“Who would you bring back to that room? You surely wouldn’t wish to go by yourself,” said Conri as he looked around the crowd. “I see several young men looking at you. I believe you could easily have most if not all of them in any way you wished.”

“There are many who have pleasant features and one or two who I would dare to call very handsome, but they do not hold any attraction to me.”

“Why is that, my lady?” asked Conri quietly as he moved closer to her.

“I am not sure. Maybe it is because I spent too long being entertained by a prince,” she whispered back.

Conri noticed the music had stopped and moved on to a slower song. “Dance with me, Eleri. There is nothing I want more than to hold you in my arms.” He held out his hand to her.

She placed her hand in his, and he took her to the edge of the dancing space. He wrapped his hand around her waist, pulling her close as he took her hand gently. As they started dancing, the wind picked up around them. He knew the temperature had dropped considerably, but he was not cold. As he held Eleri close, he felt a heat flow through his body.

“I believe it is about to rain,” said Eleri moving her hand slightly on his back.

“I am sure it will hold off for this one dance. We can leave and make our way back to the inn after this.”

“It is a shame, though, because I like dancing with you. I wish we had the opportunity for at least a few more songs,” she quietly said as she leaned against him.

“I hope we will have many opportunities in the future. I wish one day to open every festival in the palace with you in my arms.”

He expected her to shake her head or admonish him, but instead, she laid her head on his shoulder. They danced together in silence until the music stopped. A low rumble of thunder made everyone start to move fast to pack up food and supplies. Conri took Eleri’s hand and started walking through the crowds, hoping to get to the inn before the skies opened up.

It was not a fast trip as the crowd jostled them. She was bumped into him several times as he put his arm around her to keep her from falling. He held her close as they made their way towards the outside of the village. The wind was strong and the thunder more frequent as they got to the edge of the crowd. Once they were out of the main part of the village, they found themselves mostly alone. Eleri stopped to adjust the skirt of her dress, and Conri moved his cloak to the proper position.

He looked at Eleri as she moved her hair off her shoulder. Her hands went to the flower crown she wore to adjust it. The wind gusted, and her skirts and cloak flew around her. Her hair was lifted off her shoulders as she took a deep breath of the night air.

He reached for her without saying a word, pulling her to him. His hand went to the back of her head, and he pulled her in for a kiss. There was no resistance from her as she passionately kissed him back, her hands going around his neck and up into his hair. They both finally pulled back as the first drops of rain landed on their heads.

Eleri gave one of her wonderful laughs as she grabbed his hand. They ran together towards the inn as the rain started to fall. They managed to make it through the door before they were completely soaked. The first floor of the inn was full of people laughing, drinking, and even dancing. No one paid attention to Conri or Eleri as they hurried up the stairs to their room.

Once they were inside, they quickly took their cloaks off before moving together to continue what they started outside. Their kisses were not hesitant or tentative. They were the hard passionate kisses of two people who knew what they wanted. Conri’s hands wandered over Eleri’s body, one finally cupping her breast over her dress as her hands moved down his lower back.

He slowly moved her back towards the bed. By the time they reached it, he found the ties on the back of her dress and started undoing them. She reached behind her back and finished for him, taking her arms out of her dress and letting it fall to the floor.

He looked at her for a moment in her thin shift that did nothing to hide her body underneath it. He could see her pert nipples and the curve of her slender waist. He bent down to take off his boots as she sat on the bed to untie hers. When he was done, he sat down next to her and put his arms around her, kissing her lips as one of his hands worked to raise her shift. He finally found the soft skin of her upper thigh, and he moved his hand slowly up towards her center.

She pulled back from him and gave him a seductive smile before leaning on him as she pulled up his shirt to find the ties to his pants. She pushed against him until he lay down on the bed while she worked to undo his pants completely. He reached down to help her, raising up so she could pull them down. She gave him one look before he watched her take him into her mouth. He lay back with a groan, his eyes closing at the sensation.

He did not wish to think how she was so skilled at what she was doing, and he didn’t have the capacity. He enjoyed her workings as he buried his hand into her thick hair. She could have easily finished him off quickly, but he struggled to hold back, wanting to do so much more with her. He finally put his hand under her chin and gently raised her head, knowing there was not much more he could take.

She moved on top of him as his lips went to her neck. He flipped her over, so she was lying on the bed, and he was hovering over her. He had wanted to taste her since the night of his moon crowing. He kissed his way down her throat to the tops of her breast as he raised her shift. He kept moving down until he was between her thighs. He teased her for a bit, kissing the inner part of her thighs as his hands moved around her sex. She moaned and arched up before his mouth found her center. She gasped his name as his tongue moved against her and his finger went to her entrance.

He felt her hand against his head as he pleasured her. She was tight and wet against his finger, and it made his arousal grow. He reached down to stroke himself with his free hand as she moaned his name. He ached with want for her, and he could not wait any longer. He kissed his way back up her body, taking her shift with him until he pulled it over her head. He leaned up to look down upon her. She was beyond beautiful. He knew he would never forget how she looked lying on the small bed with her dark red hair splayed around her. He took her nipple into his mouth for a moment before he kissed her lips as he positioned himself to enter her.

“Conri, wait,” she said quietly.

He felt his stomach drop, fearing she would pull away from him.

“Are you sure?” she asked as she looked up at him.

“Am I sure?” he said with a laugh, not believing she could doubt how sure he was.

“I don’t know if I can give you what you ultimately want. I don’t know what the future will hold.”

“I am not worried about the future tonight, Eleri. All I want is you. I will ask nothing more. I want no promises, just a chance to love you if it is what you want.”

“I do want you, Conri. I am not sure I have ever wanted anything more.”

“That is all I need,” he said before she leaned up to kiss him.

He reached down to position himself at her entrance. He kept kissing her as he slowly entered her. She lay back with a moan, and he leaned down to kiss her exposed neck. Once he was buried within her, he started to move, his hands on her hips. Never had he felt anything as wonderful as loving Eleri. The pleasure itself was overwhelming but combined with the bond he felt with her, pushed him beyond simple desire to something he couldn’t describe.

He looked down at her as he loved her, taking several opportunities to run his tongue along her neck. The wolf within him wanted nothing more than to claim her, but he held him back. She was not ready to give him everything, and he would never force her. He would be content with just this perfect night if that is all he ever got. It was worth much more to him than every night he had ever spent with other women.

He felt her fingernails sink into his back as she tightened around him, and he could tell she was close to reaching her peak. He was not far behind. He thrust further into her as deep as he could, moving faster against her. She pulled him down and buried her face into his neck as she said his name. She arched up and shuddered as she came to the height of her pleasure.

He moaned her name as he felt his tension build to the point he could not hold back, and he released deep within her. He groaned with pleasure before she looked up and kissed him. Thrusting a few more times, he finally lay still on her, propping himself up slightly with his hands. She stared at him with a contented smile on her face before he rolled off of her. She turned with him and laid her head against his chest. After catching his breath, he reached down to pull the blankets from underneath them so they could be covered. Eleri shifted a bit until they were both settled.

Conri was exhausted and more content than he ever had been. Eleri looked at him with tired eyes, and he leaned down to kiss her softly.

“I love you, Conri,” she said softly. “I don’t know if we can ever be what you wish, but I want you to know that there is no doubt in me that I do love you.”

He kissed her forehead. “That is enough for now, Eleri. I hope to find a way to gain your full trust and show you that you are more than enough to be my wife and more, but even if it is never to be, I will never regret spending one moment with you.”

She sighed as she settled against him, and he held her tightly.

“Good night, your highness,” she said with a slight yawn.

“Sleep well, my love,” he answered before he could not keep his eyes open any longer.

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