** Re-post – corrections made **
by A. K. Naten
The Marchioness Dowager entered the darkened chamber room, carefully closing the door behind her. “How is she?” Her voice was quiet but clipped as she walked up to the physician.
Victor turned to acknowledge her with tired eyes. “She’s sleeping. The contractions have stopped.”
Marina approached the bed and gazed upon her unconscious daughter-in-law. The girl’s face was pale with a few rosy smudges dotting her cheeks. Her head was damp and sweated, causing her light golden hair to stick to her face. Alice sat by her Lady’s side, pressing a cool cloth to the young woman’s forehead as she slumbered. Marina noticed that the ladies maid had somehow managed to get Gwynneth out of her dress and into a sleeping shift before settling her down for the night.
“I’ve given her a mild tonic to help her calm down and rest.” Victor said quietly. Marina looked at him with alarm. “I had to, My Lady. She’d worked herself into such a hysteria that she nearly brought on labor. The poor thing was completely distraught...in a fully blown panic when I arrived. Alice performed something of a miracle in getting her quieted down.” He inclined his head toward the ladies maid, who nervously shifted her gaze between the Marchioness Dowager and the doctor before returning her attention to her Lady.
Marina sighed aloud. “Will you sit with her for a spell then?”
Alice glanced up warily, realizing that the question was addressed to her. “Aye Milady, I shall.”
“Good. Thank you.” Marina nodded, then turned to look at Victor, “Let us leave them.” She pulled the canopy drapes closed around the bed and exited the room. Once out in the hallway, Marina closed the door and turned to Victor again. “Is she going to be all right?”
Victor sighed, “I believe so, yes. The stress and shock of everything was just too much for her. The contractions have stopped, but she must not get over-excited or agitated again. It’s a bit too early for delivery.”
The older woman nodded. “So she’ll be bed-ridden for awhile then?”
“Oh yes.” Victor nodded. “I daresay that she should be restricted to bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy.”
“How long is that?”
“Mm...three, four, maybe five fortnights.” Victor wiped a hand over his grizzled face, “It’s difficult to predict her delivery date accurately, as you know.”
“Yes, I know. It’s just that she seems to be so large...I would think she’ll deliver sooner rather than later.”
“She is large, but I don’t believe it’s because the delivery is imminent.” Marina regarded Victor with a questioning expression. “I...I believe she may be carrying twins.”
“What?!” Marina’s exclamation echoed off the stone walls.
Victor nodded. “I’m quite certain that I heard two separate heartbeats when I was examining her just now.”
Marina just stared, slack-jawed with amazement. She couldn’t decide whether this was good news or bad news.
“Multiple births tend to be a familial trait, passed along somehow from one generation to the next. So...who in your family carries such a trait, My Lady?”
Marina shook her head slowly, “N-No one...no one has twi—oh no...no, wait...” She frowned as she thought for a moment. “Edgar.” She looked up at Victor, amazement in her eyes, “Yes, Edgar had a sister...a twin sister...she died shortly after their birth. He told me about it once, long ago...I had forgotten. My God...I never thought...”
“Well then, that explains it. The trait has carried through from Edgar to Aldred. I’m not absolutely positive about this, mind you, but, I think there’s a good chance.” Victor nodded at Marina, a look of concern still on her face. “If there aren’t two babes in there, then that young woman is going to have one enormous baby, and that isn’t good.”
“Having twins isn’t necessarily good either, Victor. She’s a small girl, she’ll have a rough time either way. It concerns me greatly.”
“Yes, of course it’s a concern, but it would be better if there were two small babes rather than one large one.” Victor raised his eyebrows suggestively. “Just think, she could give you two grandsons.”
“She could give me two granddaughters as well.” Marina instantly replied.
Victor smiled slightly, “Would that be so terrible, My Lady?”
Marina sighed. “At this point, Victor, I just want Gwynneth and the baby, or babies, to survive.” She looked up at the doctor, her weariness evident. “...I just want everyone to survive everything, and I want life to return to normal...that’s all I want.”
The physician smiled gently, “I am in complete agreement with your sentiments, My Lady.”
The days after Gwynneth’s collapse seemed to drag on painfully. The young Lady was very uncommunicative, and both Marina and Victor wondered about her mental state of being, as well as her physical one. At first, Gwynneth obediently stayed in bed, but it was obvious after several days that she was starting to chafe at her forced confinement. She began getting out of bed and walking the halls, often late at night, like a restless spirit. She never spoke to anyone, and she never asked about Anton.
Marina did not know how to handle the turn of events. She tried talking to Gwynneth a few times, but the young woman would not even look at her. Even when Marina joyfully told her that Anton had awakened and was speaking, Gwynneth gave no reaction whatsoever.
The Marchioness Dowager held herself somewhat responsible for Gwynneth’s state of mind and wished she could do or say something that would bring the young blonde out of her trance. Marina felt badly for the veiled threats she had made, but she didn’t know how else to convey the point that Gwynneth had to stay at Weldon and keep quiet. They would still be living under false pretenses, and the lies would persist, but Marina hoped that Gwynneth would be able to see that it was necessary. She also hoped that perhaps, after Gwynneth had a chance to think things over thoroughly and settle down, she would come to realize that being at Weldon wouldn’t be such a bad existence after all. Gwynneth had cared deeply for Anton, just as Anton cared deeply for her. Marina would just have to hope that some aspect of those feelings remained and that it was strong enough to save them all.
Marina quietly entered Anton’s candle-lit chamber, two ceramic bowls in her hands. Although the young Lord had awakened, she was still very weak and incapacitated, and she continued to fight fevers. As Marina reached the bed, she pulled the canopy back and gazed down at her sleeping daughter, her mouth quirking into a small smile.
Anton’s wounds were healing quite slowly, hampered by the complications of infections. Thanks to Victor’s skill with medicines and poultices, however, the inflammations were being warded off one by one. Still, Anton’s recovery was slow and painful. She had lost weight and muscle tone, and her ravaged body showed the effects of her debilitation. Victor tried to reassure everyone that in time, she would be well again, and her strength would return.
Marina sat the bowls down and reached into one, withdrawing a wet cloth. As she began to carefully dab the cloth over a pale, perspiration-dotted face, Anton’s eyes fluttered and opened. “Hello my darling.” Marina whispered, smiling as she bent to bestow a soft kiss on her daughter’s forehead. “Every time I see your beautiful eyes open, I am thankful.”
Anton gave her a dazed look and tried to say something back, but she was too hoarse to make any noise.
Marina patted Anton’s cheek. “Don’t try to talk, dearest. Just let me see to you, hmm? Look, I’ve brought you some warm broth,” she said, picking up the other bowl. “Let’s see if we can’t sit you up a bit so that you can drink it.” A disagreeable noise escaped Anton and she frowned. “Come now, don’t fuss. You know you need to eat in order to regain your strength. You’re so very weak, love,” Marina put the bowl aside and reached out to help her daughter. The young warrior grimaced as she struggled to move, surprised at the pain and effort involved in merely scooting upright.
Finally arranged into a comfortable position, Marina sat on the side of the bed and began slowly spoon feeding Anton, making a tsking noise when the young woman wrinkled her nose in displeasure.
“Tastes bad,” Anton rasped in-between mouthfuls, her voice scratchy and rough from disuse.
Marina smiled faintly, “I know this, but you must take some nourishment. Indulge your mother a little, alright?”
Anton frowned as another spoonful was pushed toward her. “Have you seen Gwynneth today?” The Marquess finally asked after a moment.
Marina pursed her lips together, wishing that Anton didn’t always ask after Gwynneth, but knowing why she did. Over the past few days, Marina had told Anton everything that’d happened since she’d been gone. Everything from the time she’d left for battle until the time she’d awakened from her unconscious state. Despite being told about the terrible turn of events, it was clear that Anton worried about her wife, still. Despite knowing that Gwynneth had found out her deep dark secret and had nearly gone berserk over it...despite being told that Gwynneth would not speak with anyone and wanted nothing to do with her...despite all of that, Anton still cared about the young blonde.
“Has she spoken to you yet?” Anton’s glassy eyes silently pleaded.
Marina sighed. “No, darling, she hasn’t. She’s still as silent as the night sky, and seemingly just as dark too.”
Anton frowned and turned her head away from the spoonful of broth her mother held out for her. She hated that Gwynneth had discovered her deception in such a rudely shocking way, and yet part of her was secretly relieved too. It was bad enough living a lie and keeping secrets from everyone, but to have to hide it and withhold the truth from the one you love...that was a special kind of hell. Anton had hated hiding who she was from Gwynneth, and now that the blonde knew, Anton couldn’t imagine what Gwynneth was going through. It was no wonder the poor thing went into premature labor; she must feel as though she’s going insane. Anton thought. She worried about the younger woman terribly.
Even though Marina had said that she’d explained everything to the young Lady, Anton wasn’t sure that her mother’s version of “the truth” was what she would have told Gwynneth herself. Anton knew her mother...she was almost certain that Marina had probably mixed in several harsh, blunt words along with her explanations. Her mother had a tendency to do that when put on the spot or placed under pressure.
Anton wished that she could see Gwynneth. One look into those expressive blue-green eyes would tell her everything she needed to know. If she just had a chance to talk with Gwynneth, perhaps she could convince her that things were not as bad as they seemed. And right now, Anton was sure that things seemed utterly dreadful and dire to the young Lady.
“I want to talk to Gwynneth.” Anton said, voicing her thoughts out loud.
Marina sighed. “Oh Anton, I know you would, but I don’t believe she’ll come to you right now.”
“Well then, perhaps I should go to her.”
“Oh dearest,” Marina sat the bowl aside and reached out to clasp her daughter’s hands. “I know you feel that you need to see her and talk to her, but you can’t be up and about just yet. And even if you could, I don’t think that having a huge confrontation with Gwynneth would be wise. Heaven knows what she might say or do. She’s still very upset and troubled.”
“All the more reason for me to speak with her. I need to reassure her and explain some things.” Anton grimaced as she leaned slightly forward. “Please, Mother. Please try to convince her to come to me. Tell her that I need to see her...” She paused and coughed, her dry throat unaccustomed to talking so much.
“Anton, stop; you mustn’t get yourself upset—” Marina began to protest.
Wincing as a jolt of pain shot through her body, Anton ignored her mother and continued, her blue eyes pleading. “Please, just tell her...tell her that her Lord requests an audience with her...demands it! Make her understand that I won’t take no for an answer!” She began to cough again.
Irritated, Marina reached out and gently pushed Anton’s shoulders back until she slumped against the bed’s headboard. Sighing, Marina looked at her daughter, determination clearly reflected in eyes so much like her own. “I shall tell Gwynneth these things,” she said as she rose from the side of the bed, “But I can make no guarantees. Gwynneth has been very willful and unreceptive. I doubt she will listen to anything I say.”
Anton nodded. “I understand, but please...please try.”
Marina knocked on the heavy wood door of Gwynneth’s chambers. As usual, there was no reply, and as usual, Marina entered anyway.
The room was quiet and dark, save a solitary candle that was nearly burned down to nothing. Gwynneth was curled on her side, her cloudy eyes half-lidded as they stared unblinking into the blackness. A tray of untouched food sat on small table beside the bed.
Marina drew a deep breath and released it slowly, girding herself for another one-sided battle of wills. She began walking around the room, helping herself and lighting a few more candles as she went. Alice appeared to be keeping things tidied up, which pleased the older Lady. Now if only she could prod Gwynneth into talking, then I’d be duly impressed, she thought with a twist of her lips.
The Marchioness Dowager fiddled with the last candle, trying to formulate some way to goad Gwynneth into talking. She wondered if perhaps the direct approach would be best; it was what she preferred, of course. She saw no need for dancing around the point, which was, in Marina’s mind, that Gwynneth needed to emerge from her self-imposed exile and return to her role as Lady of Weldon Manor.
Turning toward the bed, Marina cleared her throat. “You need to eat, Gwynneth. If not for yourself, then at least for the child.” She got no response from the lump on the bed. She walked up to the side. “Anton is asking for you. He would very much like to speak with you.” Still no reply. Marina sighed impatiently, “You can’t hide in here and pretend to be a deaf mute forever, Gwynneth. You’ve had ample time to recuperate, now you need to rejoin the rest of us.”
Marina’s voice was grating to Gwynneth’s ears, and she closed her eyes, wishing the older woman would just go away. For days, her mother-in-law had been popping in to check up on her, always talking at her and prodding her, never offering support or reassurance in any way, and never ever being silent. In Gwynneth’s mind, the agreeable relationship she thought she’d been building with Marina had dissolved into nothingness. The woman was apparently back to being her foe rather than her ally, and she was obviously intent on continuing her verbal barrages until she got a response. Hearing Marina refer to Anton as ‘he’ made her frown. She wondered how the woman could let the improper gender slip from her mouth so easily. Years of practice, she thought, feeling a slight flare of anger. Sighing, Gwynneth expelled a long breath and reopened her eyes. She supposed she was going to have to talk to her mother-in-law sooner or later.
Unaware of Gwynneth’s thoughts, Marina continued her tirade. “It’s certainly understandable that you’ve needed time to think and rest. Lord knows we all did.” she turned and began to walk around the bed. “Victor says that you’re doing much better, and that you’ve been up and about.” She stopped at the foot of the bed and looked squarely at Gwynneth. “I daresay that your lying-in period should cease, Gwynneth. You need to get back into the flow of things. You are the Lady of this House, and it is time for you to return to your duties and roles.”
Gwynneth finally sat up and sighed again before looking up at Marina. She held the older woman’s gaze for a moment before clearing her throat. “I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should not continue in the role of Lady of the House.” Her voice was quiet and tentative, but Marina’s brow raised with obvious surprise. “I think that perhaps I should just...leave.”
The two women locked eyes. Marina was nearly speechless. She couldn’t believe that Gwynneth would actually consider leaving. “You can’t be serious.”
Gwynneth stared back at her, “Yes, My Lady, I am. Very much so.” She hesitated for a moment before explaining, “Sir Richard is in the process of securing and restoring Clarendon on my behalf. After the baby is born, I can go and live there.” Gwynneth’s voice trembled slightly. She wasn’t sure what kind of reaction she’d get from Lady Marina, but she knew it wouldn’t be pleasant. When the older woman just stared at her, she continued somberly, “I think, at this point, it would be the best thing.”
“Best for whom!” Marina snapped.
Gwynneth was expecting anger, at the very least. She drew a deep breath, steeling herself for battle. “For everyone.” She looked up at Marina, “I cannot stay here, My Lady. Surely you were expecting this. Surely you are not surprised.”
“Yes I am surprised!” Marina walked closer to the blonde. “I am surprised that you would abandon your child! I am surprised that you would turn a coward’s cheek and run away! I am surprised that you would give up so easily!” She glared harshly, “I must say, I am disappointed in you, Gwynneth. I thought you would fight harder.”
Gwynneth looked back at her in stunned dismay. “What is there to fight for? A situation that I don’t understand? A child that will not be mine? A mate whom I don’t even know? A life that I don’t want?” Her voice began to grow louder as her dismay quickly turned to anger. “You’ve made it clear that this child will not belong to me...you’ve made it clear that if I stay here, I must live a lie. Well I cannot live a lie, My Lady! I cannot find comfort with it the way you and your ‘son’ apparently have!”
Marina lunged forward, leaning menacingly close, “I have already explained the reasons for the lie! You will not sit there and accuse us of weaving a web of deceit simply for folly or self comfort!” She nearly screamed the words as anger filled her. Gwynneth shied away from her and Marina backed off, taking a moment to compose herself again before she completely lost control.
Once she had calmed, the older Lady continued, her voice quiet but stern, “You look at me, and you tell me that you never, ever, loved Anton.”
Gwynneth opened her mouth to protest, but knew that she could not, just as Marina knew she could not.
“He loved you, Gwynneth, and you loved him.” Marina spoke the words slowly, but her fiery eyes held the blonde firmly. “And now, suddenly, you think that love is simply...gone? Now you think you’re prepared to leave here without trying to sort through things? Without giving Anton a chance? Without even speaking to him?” Gwynneth just continued to stare as Marina paused and drew away further, standing to her full height. “How dare you.” Her voice was low and biting. “How dare you stab him in the back and desert him, just when he needs you the most!” Gwynneth’s mouth dropped open at that. “He has given you so much...he has taken care of you and treated you with nothing but love and kindness, and this is how you repay him? By turning your back and running away? Shame on you!”
Unable to remain quiet, Gwynneth exploded, “Shame on me?!” she squirmed to the edge of the bed and hopped off, standing defiantly before Marina, “I am not the one who lied! I am not the one who concealed and pretended and deceived! You stand here and continue to say ‘he, he, he’ and persist with the lie, still! Shame on me? ...I think not!”
Both women stared at each other for a moment, caustic thoughts and words tumbling around inside their anger-filled minds. Finally Marina lifted her chin and glared at the blonde, “You know, if it were up to me, I’d let you go.” Gwynneth narrowed her eyes at the Lady. “I’d strip you of your titles and dowries and send you far away from here with nothing but the clothes on your back. Such lack of gratitude...such selfishness and ignorance. If it were up to me, I would see to it that you had nothing to do with Weldon whatsoever.”
“I don’t need titles and dowries, and I don’t want anything to do with Weldon!” Gwynneth retorted angrily.
“Oh you’ll want it. When you’re struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet at Clarendon...when you’re getting invaded and attacked by raiders...then you’ll think differently. Then you’ll realize how easy you’ve had it here.”
“Nothing about my life here has been easy, My Lady...nothing.”
“Leaving won’t be easy either, my dear.” Marina smirked with superiority and arched an eyebrow high, “As I said, if it were up to me, I’d gladly let you go. But it isn’t up to me, you see. It is up to Anton.” she stared hard at Gwynneth, “And Anton will never let you go.”
Gwynneth’s anger doubled. She could feel her ears burning red with rage. She’d had enough of the Lady’s threats. “We shall see about that.” She fairly growled before turning away from Marina and marching out of her bedroom chambers.
Once Gwynneth had left the room, Marina expelled a deep, exhausted breath. Once again, she’d had to play dirty, and once again, she’d hated it. However, it had worked. By goading Gwynneth into a heated argument and pinning her back against a wall, she’d spurred the young woman into action at last. It was easy for Gwynneth to think dire thoughts and make abrupt decisions when not confronted by Anton, but once she saw Anton awake and lucid, Marina was sure Gwynneth would change her mind. Unless she had misjudged the young blonde terribly, Marina felt certain that Gwynneth would not have the heart to leave Anton, no matter what truths she knew. If Gwynneth’s love and devotion was a strong as Marina suspected, her resolve to run away would crumble once she’d seen and spoken to Anton.
At least, this was what Marina was banking on. If her strategy failed, she would have one very unhappy daughter on her hands.
Gwynneth stood outside Anton’s door for several moments. Her mind had been so filled with angry thoughts; she hadn’t considered that she would actually be face to face with the woman who was her husband. Now that she was here, she wasn’t sure she was prepared for it. As much as the Lady Marina had infuriated her, Gwynneth was forced to admit that some of what the older woman had said was true. I’ve got to face Anton. As much as I’d prefer to simply run away, he does deserve more than that. She frowned for a moment, ...‘He’, or ‘She’? She shook her head, God above, I don’t even know how to think. Drawing in a deep breath, Gwynneth willed herself to be calm as she slowly pushed the heavy wood door open and stepped inside. Closing it behind her, she took a moment to look around.
The room was dark and dreary, a few burned-down candles providing little light. The canopy drapes were partially drawn around the bed, and Gwynneth could not see much. Biting her bottom lip, she stood and contemplated indecisively before finally forcing herself to walk toward the bed with stiff steps. Nearly paralyzed with anxiety, Gwynneth held her breath as Anton fully came into her view.
The Marquess was asleep, his eyes closed and his mouth parted slightly. Gwynneth unsteadily released her breath and closed her eyes. When she reopened them, all she could do was stare.
Anton’s face was ashen and gaunt. Cuts and bruises marred the skin, and dark circles lurked beneath both eyes. One arm rested across a sunken stomach, and Gwynneth was shocked at the bony hand and pallid skin tone. My God...so pale...he’s so pale and frail, Gwynneth thought, her mouth opening but remaining silent. At that moment, it was difficult for her to think of her husband as a woman. Standing there looking at the figure on the bed, Gwynneth could only see the man she thought she once knew. And thought I loved, she considered. Why...why did this have to happen? The young Lady’s mind began to race. Why did all of this have to happen?
Tears began to fill her eyes as they strayed down to Anton’s hand. Noticing that something was clasped in his fingers, Gwynneth bent down to get a closer look. It was the necklace - the necklace with the locket of her hair which she’d given to Anton before he left for that fateful battle.
“Oh!” The quiet cry unexpectedly escaped Gwynneth’s lips, and she quickly clapped a hand over her mouth. Tears began to gush from her eyes and she stepped back away from the bed.
She had come to Anton’s room feeling like a tormented captive, ready to do battle with her so-called husband and demand freedom from a situation and a life she could not tolerate. But now, looking at Anton’s pathetic, frail countenance, and seeing how he literally held on to the memory of what they once shared, Gwynneth felt her resolve waver. She continued to cry as she stood back from the bed, feeling more confused than ever.
As she stared at Anton, Gwynneth began to ask herself the same questions again. How could he be a ‘she’? How could I not have known? How could I not have seen it? Not have felt it? How could he have done this to me!
She wanted to blame someone. She wanted to be angry with a person on whom she could unleash her despair and get it out of her system. She wanted to blame Anton, but now, watching as the young Lord lay sick and motionless on the bed, Gwynneth knew that she could not direct her fury toward him. Calming herself again, Gwynneth approached the bed, this time carefully sitting down on the side. She began to consider things, her eyes never leaving Anton’s ashen face as she recalled Marina’s many words and explanations.
It hadn’t been Anton’s fault; he’d had no control over it, really. His parents had forced his destiny upon him. And the marriage had been forced too; Anton had not wanted to marry. He had fought against it, according to Marina. But despite that, Gwynneth considered, Anton had been good to her. He had treated her fairly, gently, behaving more like a lover than a husband. Gwynneth felt her cheeks flush at the thought of what a wonderful lover Anton had indeed been. She could not deny that. Gwynneth closed her eyes, thinking yet again, but how could I not have known?
Gwynneth had to marvel at how Anton managed to pull off such a lie so well, and for so long. She gazed at Anton’s youthful face, sharply etched cheekbones and perfect lips. She remembered the smoothness, the softness, and how amazed she’d been every time she’d brushed her lips against her husband’s. She thought about how Anton never removed his clothes, nor had he encouraged or allowed Gwynneth to do so. Of course it all made sense now, but Gwynneth couldn’t help but wonder how and why she didn’t question it at the time. How could she have been so blind?
Because I loved him, she answered herself immediately. I loved him, and I trusted him. He was my husband, and although I was uncertain at first, I did fall in love with him. It seemed impossible now, yet as the memory of the feelings began to come back to her, Gwynneth knew she could not deny how she had felt. He loved me too. We cared for each other, deeply...we were happy...we were so happy. Why did things have to turn out this way? It isn’t fair!
She drew a deep breath and released it slowly. She suddenly felt deeply weary and immensely sad. Shaking her head, Gwynneth closed her eyes as more tears trickled down her cheeks. When she opened her eyes again, she ran her eyes all over Anton’s figure. A small surge of warm intensity rushed through her, and she could not refute that somehow, in some way, Anton still affected her. But how could that be?
She began to wonder if it was possible for her to still care for Anton. Could his gender not make a difference, as Marina had suggested? Could it just be a biological matter of physical constitution, and nothing more? Gwynneth shook her head and closed her eyes again. I don’t see how that could be possible. I know he’s a woman...how would I ever get past that!
Opening her eyes again, she gazed at Anton’s face, so serene and innocent looking. Gwynneth remembered all the sweet, considerate things he’d done for her. How he doted on her, so attentive and protective. He’d been good to her, truly. It would have been so incredibly horrible if she’d ended up with Aldred. Gwynneth shivered at that thought. Anton had turned out to be everything that Aldred wasn’t, in many, many ways. She remembered being so frightened that first night, when they were wed. She was so afraid that Anton would be like Aldred: hurtful, rough, uncaring and cruel. But Anton wasn’t like that. He was calm and gentle...and passionate. Gwynneth felt her cheeks flush again and she shook her head in an attempt to forget her rampaging thoughts, but alas, she could not escape them.
Memories filled her head. She thought of Anton’s eyes whenever he came to her with passion on his mind. The dark look of arousal in her husband’s beautiful blue eyes would fill Gwynneth with such overwhelming feelings. And she loved his touch upon her flesh. He was so gentle, careful and solicitous. His touch could make Gwynneth feel a hundred different things, all of them wonderful.
Gwynneth recalled their mutual passion the night before Anton left for war. It had been so amazing and beautiful. Anton had touched her and made love to her with more intensity than ever. But then, Anton always made love; it was never just an abrupt sexual coupling. He never used her or rutted against her harshly without feeling, like so many men did. With Anton it was real and true. It was really quite ironic...and yet Gwynneth could not deny that she had loved it. She loved the feel of her husband’s touch; his mouth and body upon her, his arms around her, and his hands and fingers on her and in her. Gwynneth’s face grew hot as she recalled just how much she enjoyed what her husband did to her and with her. She remembered how they kissed and how Anton held her and smiled at her and told her how beautiful she was. At first Gwynneth had thought it incredibly unusual for a husband to say such things to his wife. But of course, it all made sense now.
Anton was not a man. A man would never treat her the way that Anton did. A man would never love her the way that Anton had. And Anton did love her. Gwynneth remembered her husband’s face when he’d said the words to her that passion-filled night before he left for battle. He’d been so sincere, and she had been too, when she’d said it to him. I did love him...I did. Gwynneth closed her eyes as more tears ran down her face. But now...? She was so confused.
She recalled more of that night before the battle. She remembered the dread and fear she’d felt, and she remembered the two of them talking about hopes and secrets: “...If I could, I would tell you everything, my beloved. Every detail...my whole life story...one day I truly hope that I am able to lay everything at your feet. Please believe that...,” Anton had said to her. Gwynneth shook her head as she recalled the pained look on her husband’s face when he’d spoken those words. Had he really wanted to tell me the truth? She could only wonder.
Gwynneth’s eyes flickered all over Anton’s body as she thought about how badly he had been injured. It truly was a miracle that he had survived, and she was thankful for that. Her feelings were mixed up, but she was sincerely grateful that her husband was alive.
My husband, she thought, can he be my husband if he is really a she? Gwynneth drew a deep breath and released it. Staring at Anton’s face again, she bit her lip and hesitantly reached out to finger a lock of dark hair. Her fingertips brushed Anton’s forehead, and her heart clenched as she felt cool, clammy skin. A shiver of horror raced through her and she realized, quite suddenly, how sick Anton still was, and how easily he could take a downward turn.
Gwynneth remembered how much she had feared something happening to Anton, and how absolutely devastated she was to hear that he had indeed been injured. She had thought once that if he died, she would surely die too – she loved him and needed him that much. Gwynneth closed her eyes, feeling further confusion.
Thinking about Anton’s wounds, she recalled not only how horrible they were, but who was responsible for them. She shuddered to think that her own brother had actually tried to kill her husband. Not just my husband, but a woman! It seemed extra horrific, somehow, that Gerrod tried to murder a woman – not that he, or anyone, knew that Anton was a woman, and not that Anton was helpless or weak in any way – quite the opposite, really – but to think that a group of men would so brutally maim a woman just seemed extra inhumane in Gwynneth’s mind.
How could anyone intentionally try to harm Anton? Anton, who has been so good to me when he had every right to be anything but. Gwynneth shook her head, thinking about Anton’s true identity, She’s a woman who’s been forced to live life as a man...forced to live a lie, and then forced to marry and live another lie. How has he kept from going insane? How has he kept from hating everyone around him?
Gwynneth wondered if perhaps Anton would hate her now, now that she knew the truth. Their relationship could never and would never be the same. Everything had changed so dramatically, so irretrievably. She couldn’t even fathom what the future might be like.
For a fleeting moment though, she felt the urge to reach out and stroke Anton’s face and touch his soft skin. She missed touching her husband. She even thought that she felt an urge to lean down and kiss him. What would it be like? Would it be any different now that I know the truth? Suddenly realizing what she was thinking and feeling, Gwynneth blinked her eyes and shook her head, trying to chase the uninvited musings away.
A quiet moan and some slight movement from Anton halted all of Gwynneth’s thoughts. She froze instantly, fearful that Anton would awaken. She suddenly realized she wasn’t ready for that, not yet. She still had too many unresolved feelings to sort through.
As soon as Anton stilled, Gwynneth slowly rose from the bed. As she stood, she again looked down upon her husband. The bruises and cuts on his battered face made Gwynneth’s heart ache. Anton never deserved this. ...And he doesn’t deserve to have you abandon him, either. Gwynneth bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut as they began to burn with still more tears.
Having resolved nothing and feeling even more conflicted, Gwynneth abruptly turned away and walked to the door. Jerking it open, she fled the room quickly, not yet ready to confront the woman who was her husband.
++++++...To Be Continued in Part 14...
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