So this is the new Sovereign, he thought, as he took the tall woman's hand. He was still not sure how he felt about a slave in a position of such power. After all, hadn't his father told him that dim-witted slaves were only suited to menial tasks, but nothing that required complicated thought. "I'm pleased to meet you Lord Brice," he said, bowing his head.
"Just Brice will do," she said, sitting back down. "Welcome to our table." She smiled, trying to reassure the boy. She could see that he was frightened of her, but that was to be expected. To him, she was still the conquering enemy.
Kyle and Cadie sat, and Roslin picked up Lon's plate and began to fill it. "Lon is taking his meal in his room. I'll take this to him and be right back." She looked at the somber faces around the table and started laughing.
"What?" Brice said, starting to laugh herself, as she watched her partner giggle.
"You three look like you just buried your best friend. Now help yourselves to some food, and I'll be right back.
Her laughter had been contagious, and Kyle and Cadie joined in too. The awkward silence broken, everyone began to fill their plates as Roslin left the room.
"Is Cadie really our sister?" Kyle asked, as Roslin tucked him snugly into bed.
"Yes, she really is."
The boy looked thoughtful for a moment. "Do you love her more than me?"
Roslin smiled. "Is that what you've been worrying about?" She received a nod. "I love both of you the same," she said, leaning over to kiss his forehead.
"But you told Lon that if you had to choose, you would pick them over us."
"I love you and Lon. Please don't
doubt that. I want you with me, that's why we sent Glen to bring you home.
You have a place here with Brice and me, as long as you want it." Roslin
reached out and ruffled his hair. "Lon said some very hurtful things, and
so did I. I hope that we can work out our problem, but if he can't accept
Brice and Cadie as family too, and continues to cause problems, I'm afraid
that Brice will ask him to leave. If that happens, I will stand behind
Brice's decision. I can't allow him to tear our family apart. I only pray
that he can adapt to our new way of life, and we can all go forward as
a family." Roslin leaned over and kissed him again. "Sweet dreams," she
said, rising and extinguishing the lamp.
What a mess, Roslin thought to herself, as she walked into her dressing room. She hoped that Kyle had believed that she loved him. Stripping off her clothes, she slipped into her nightgown and joined Brice in their bed. "Kyle was afraid that Cadie was taking his place in my heart."
Brice pulled her close. "Did you make him understand that it wasn't true?"
"I think so," Roslin said, snuggling closer. She was pleased to find that Brice had again removed the binding from her breasts before coming to bed. "Thank you for not wearing the bindings, I love the feel of your breasts against my face when I lie on your chest." She pushed herself up to look into impossibly blue eyes. "I was afraid that after your panic last night, you would go back to wearing them again."
"I won't wear them to bed again…I promise," Brice said, pushing the little blonde over onto her back, and covering the small body with her own. She leaned down placing kisses all over Roslin's face, then capturing her lips. Rolling over onto her back, she pulled Roslin with her, savoring the feel of the young woman's body pressing down on top of her. Her breath caught as she felt the familiar panic start, and she pushed it back.
Roslin had felt her love momentarily tense and then relax again, and smiled. Brice had been able to control the panic this time. Scooting down the tall woman's body, she lay her head on her breasts and sighed. This was enough for now. "Goodnight," she whispered, and closed her eyes, content for the time being with this closeness.
"Goodnight love," Brice said, as
she kissed the top of her head, and thanked whatever higher power sent
this precious woman into her life.
Lon woke up and stretched. It was so good to be back in his own bed. This was the first good night's sleep he had had in what seemed like forever. Even though he had given Roslin a hard time last night about it, he was glad she was going to marry the new Sovereign. At least it allowed him to remain in the Sovereign's household, with whatever privilege that entailed. That did not mean, however, that he had to like Brice, or approve of his sister's relationship.
The sound of his door creaking open brought his gaze to the door, and he could see Kyle peeking in through the small opening. "Come on in," Lon said, sitting up and stretching again.
" I was just checking to see if you were awake yet. Roslin sent me up to fetch you for the morning meal," Kyle said, opening the door all the way and stepping inside.
"Tell her I wish to be served in my room again."
Kyle frowned. He had been worried Lon would say that. He wanted his brother to stop hurting Roslin's feelings, and snubbing the rest of the family was hurtful.
"All right, I'll tell her," the boy said, as he turned to leave.
"Wait," Lon said, standing and walking over to his little brother. "What is this Brice like?" He asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"He's… very tall," Kyle answered. "The tallest man I've ever seen, and he was nice to me. I…um…I kind of like him."
Lon rolled his eyes. "Oh please Kyle, you can't be serious. His influence on Roslin turned her against us and got our father killed."
"She told you that was an accident."
"Yes, a very convenient accident. Brice wanted him dead, and he got Roslin to do it for him."
"You know it wasn't like that." Kyle said, defending his sister. "If you give him a chance, you might like him."
"You're pathetic, you know that?" Lon said, taking a step closer to Kyle. "Go back to your pretend family. I don't need Roslin, and I don't need you either."
Kyle lowered his gaze to the floor, and turned to leave, trying not to let Lon see the tears he was fighting to hold back.
"Tell Roslin I need a bath before I eat," Lon added, as he watched his brother stride toward the door. "Have her bring water for my bath now, I'm tired of being dirty."
Kyle didn't look back, he just nodded and left the room, closing the door and taking several deep breaths to help compose himself before facing Roslin.
Everyone was at the table when Kyle entered the room. Roslin had dished up the porridge already, and a plate of hot biscuits was in the center of the table.
"Where's Lon?" Roslin asked, when she saw the boy enter the dining room alone.
"He said to tell you he want's to
eat in his room again." Roslin picked up Lon's porridge and started to
"Lon also said he wants you to fix him a bath before he eats," the boy said, as he sat next to Cadie.
Roslin sighed and started for the kitchen to fetch the buckets for water. Brice reached over and grabbed her arm. She hated seeing the sadness in Roslin's eyes from the way her brother had been treating her. "I'll take care of Lon," she said, pulling out Roslin's chair and beckoning her to sit back down.
"I'll take care of it," Brice repeated, her tone gentle, yet firm. "I'm sorry Roslin, but I won't have Lon treating you as his personal slave. I don't care if he is your brother."
"But he is my brother, and I don't want him hurt, he just needs time…you'll see."
Brice cupped the young woman's face in her large hand. "He needs to understand, Roslin. Don't you see that giving in to his demands only reinforces this behavior? He's behaving like a spoiled child and he needs to learn that this is not acceptable".
Roslin knew that Brice was right,
and she nodded her compliance. She watched Brice's tall frame disappear
through the doorway and sighed.
Brice walked quickly up the staircase. Lon and Kyle had been home for only a day, and Brice was fast losing her patience. Lon tested her every chance he got with his treatment of Roslin, and the tall woman found herself struggling to hold her tongue, for fear of upsetting the young woman. She supposed his arrogance was understandable; after all, he had been groomed to be the next Sovereign and was not prepared to become just one of the people. But that was what he was now, and it was time he started pulling his own weight. She opened Lon's door, and found the boy lounging on the bed, waiting for his sister to come up and wait on him hand and foot. Striding into the room, Brice stood at the foot of Lon's bed.
The young man saw the towering figure at the foot of the bed, and knew without a doubt that this was Brice. Refusing to give Brice the respect of a Sovereign, he addressed her in a condescending manner, as he would a slave. "Did you fetch the water for my bath?" Lon asked, his arrogant gaze unflinching.
"There will be no bath, and if you don't get your sorry behind downstairs now, there will be no meal to break your fast either."
"You deny me my birthright, and now you won't even let me bathe?"
"You want a bath?" Brice walked to the young man and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him toward the door. "It's time you learned to fix it for yourself."
"I don't do slave work," Lon spat, as Brice dragged him bodily through the door.
"You damn well better learn if you ever plan to bathe again." Brice continued dragging the struggling young man, down the stairs, and through the large house. Obscenities spewed from Lon's mouth as he tried without success to extricate himself from the tall woman's grip. Brice stopped at the bottom of the stairs, grabbing the young man by the front of his shirt, and lifting him in the air, shoving him against the wall. Barely contained rage was clearly evident in her eyes. "I will not tolerate such language around my family. Shut your mouth, or I'll shut it for you."
Lon looked into Brice's eyes, and for the first time was afraid. He stopped his outburst immediately, his jaw snapping shut.
Brice loosened her grip on the young man, and let him slide down the wall. "I wanted to try, for Roslin's sake, to give you a chance to settle in, and become accustomed to the new way we do things in your own time." The tall woman stepped away from the angry young man. "But I've changed my mind. You're one of the people now, with no special privileges. It's time you learn that. No one is going to take care of you; you're old enough to take care of yourself." Brice started walking again, pulling Lon along; her long strides making him have to run to keep up.
Brice walked him to the tool shed and retrieved an ax and wedge. "You'll start by cutting the wood to heat the water." She marched him to a pile of logs that needed splitting. "You're lucky I don't make you cut down the tree first." Brice picked up a log, and hammered the wedge through it with the blunt side of the ax to demonstrate what she wanted him to do. "After you split them, you use the other end of the ax to cut them into burning size. " She demonstrated again, then handing Lon the ax, she crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at the boy. "Get to work."
"I hate you," the boy spat, but quickly took the ax, and started to work on the logs.
Brice watched Lon work for an hour, his unused muscles trembling from exertion. When she finally told him he could quit, he was drenched with sweat, and his hands were blistered, and bleeding. "Pick up an armful of wood and follow me," she told him, turning and striding toward the house.
Lon followed along, wishing he had never asked for a bath.
Brice pointed to the wood box in the corner of the kitchen. "Put the wood in the box."
Lon complied, and waited silently for his next instructions. Brice showed him how to put wood in the stove and light the fire. "Now go out to the well, and bring in water to start heating." She pointed to two metal buckets. "You can only heat two at a time, but it will take ten buckets of water to fill your tub."
"I can't carry water, my hands are sore." Lon held up his bleeding hands for Brice to inspect.
Brice reached into a drawer, and pulled out two towels. "Wrap these around your hands."
"Just do it." The tone in her voice brooked no arguments. "Don't fill them too full, or you might spill boiling water on yourself when you carry them upstairs."
Lon's eyes grew round. "Why would I heat the water to boiling? I don't want to scald myself."
"How long do you think it takes to heat a bucket of water? By the time the next bucket is hot, the first one would be cold if you did not heat each one to boiling. Now just do as I say and I'll be back to check on you later."
Lon watched Brice go, his anger somewhat muted by exhaustion. The young man had been pushing the rebel leader. He knew that, but he hated Brice for destroying his world, taking away his chance to be Sovereign, and enticing his sister into killing their father, and betraying the people of Ryshta. Now he realized that his father had been right about Roslin. It disgusted him to watch her voluntarily lowering herself to do menial slave work. The fleeting admiration he had felt for her when she stood up to their father was gone.
Never in his young life had he been
forced to do manual labor. Even though his muscles trembled from overuse,
he reluctantly walked to the buckets and picked them up. He hated Brice,
but he feared her more. Lon would do as instructed, and his reward would
be a nice long soak in a hot bath.
Roslin had watched through the window as Brice tried to teach her brother that he was no longer the Crown Prince, but one of the people now. It was a hard lesson for someone who had been taught just the opposite all his life. When she saw him tremble with effort, her heart ached for him, even though she knew that it was necessary. Things would never be the same in Ryshta, and the sooner he accepted that fact, the sooner he could get on with his new life.
As the days passed, the tension around
the house lessened somewhat. Lon seemed to hate everyone, and hardly spoke
to anyone but Kyle. And poor Kyle…it was so hard for the boy being in the
middle like that. He seemed to be adjusting pretty well otherwise, and
after seeing what happened to Lon, when Brice said jump, he asked,
how high? Glen had let Bowen come over and take him around and show
the boy a part of Dairus he hadn't even known existed, and the boys seemed
to be becoming good friends. Kyle did get annoyed sometimes when Cadie
tried to tag along, but for the most part, he seemed to be coming to terms
with having a little sister.
"We need to talk about the wedding," Roslin said, as she snuggled into Brice's shoulder. "Should it be before, or after the election?"
"Before, I think," Brice answered, kissing the top of her head. "I don't want to wait; I want to marry you now. It was hard enough to wait for your brothers to come home and get settled in."
Roslin looked up and smiled. "I don't want to wait either." A thoughtful look crossed her face. She remembered how business-like and formal Ryshtan weddings were. "Do your people always marry someone they love?" she asked, wondering if she and Brice's marriage was only unique to her people.
"Of course," Brice answered, "Why else would someone get married? When you marry, you pledge the rest of your life to that person. I wouldn't want to have to spend my life with someone I didn't love." Brice looked at Roslin questioningly. "Do your people marry without it?"
"Yes, unfortunately they do. That's why I was at Frama when you liberated it. I had been sent to stay with my grandfather so I could meet my betrothed. I was lucky that father picked a man that lived in Frama so I could go stay with my grandfather and get to know the man before the wedding. My mother did not meet my father until the day before her wedding."
Brice was stunned. "Do all your people marry strangers?"
Roslin became thoughtful again. "I don't know if everyone does, but the upper classes do."
"What would have happened if you didn't like him? How could you let him touch you?"
Roslin remembered the talks she had had with her mother on this subject. "Well, you just put up with it and do the best you can because it's your duty. Once you marry, you belong to them, but when your children come along, you have someone to love, and it makes it all worth it. My mother told me that with time, many women learn to love their husbands. She said she hoped that would be the case with me, but if that did not happen, I would get plenty of love from my children, just as she had from hers."
"What if he doesn't love you either, and doesn't give you children?"
"Oh they always give you children. They need an heir to continue their line. Mother said a man doesn't need to love you to have sex with you. She said they stop bothering you once they have enough children to secure their line. Then they keep after their bed slaves and leave you alone to raise their children."
Brice shook her head. "Why would anyone want to live like that?"
"Power, I think. They marry off their children to secure alliances between families of wealth and power. It's good business, nothing more."
Brice shuddered. "I could never do that."
"Now that I know the difference, I couldn't either." Roslin's brow wrinkled. "You know Brice, I see the way some of your men treat their women, and from the outside, it doesn't look that different from ours."
Brice let her hands wander up and down Roslin's back. She supposed that was true to some extent. "The one major difference is that they begin their life together with love. Then this ego thing gets in the way." Brice thought a moment. "I really think it began for the right reasons. Men believe that women are fragile things that need to be taken care of, which wouldn't be so bad if they didn't carry it to the extreme." Brice continued to let her hands caress the beautiful body in her arms as she spoke, smiling when the young woman sighed and cuddled closer.
"They think women are too sensitive and incapable of taking an equal part in making decisions that effect their future, and only think her opinion matters in regard to their children, and woman's work. I think it is almost as difficult for our men to see their women as equals, as it is for your people to see mine as more than beasts of burden. In that respect, we all have some adjustments to make."
"You and I are lucky," Roslin said, thinking of all the obstacles they had overcome. "We found each other and fell in love, in spite of the differences in the way we were raised, and the prejudices we carried for each others people."
"I count my blessings every day," Brice said, kissing the top of Roslin's head. "The day you become my wife, will be the happiest day of my life. Wife, to me, means partner, and I want our wedding to reflect that. When we marry, you will belong to me, but I will also belong to you."
Roslin smiled. She liked the sound of that. "Yes, we will belong to each other forever."
They lay in each other's arms for a while, neither speaking, just enjoying the closeness. Roslin turned her face and kissed Brice's breast through her nightshirt. "I love you so much," she said, as she stretched up to kiss Brice's neck.
The tall woman turned them over and leaned down for a kiss, eagerly exploring Roslin's mouth when the young woman parted her lips. She allowed Roslin to caress her breasts through her nightshirt, and if felt glorious.
As the days passed, they continued to kiss and cuddle, and occasionally touch each other's breasts, and each night, Brice felt more and more secure in Roslin's appreciation of the feminine part of her. One evening they were lying in bed, and Roslin was gently massaging Brice's breasts. She thought about how much she loved touching Brice, and could not imagine not wanting to touch the person you are in love with. "I don't understand how Elsbeth could say she loved you, and not want to touch you."
"She told me she could only respond to my touch if she pictured me as a man, and to see or touch the real me would spoil everything. She wanted a man…she settled for me." A tear came to Brice's eye. "I loved her, but it was never a complete love. She never truly gave herself, and I lived in fear that she would fall in love with a real man…and she did." Brice paused and wiped the tears away while she composed herself.
Roslin was stunned. She already knew that Elsbeth pretended Brice was a man, but she hadn't known that she had left her for one. "If she left you, how did you end up with Cadie?"
"He didn't want her…I did. From the moment I knew Elsbeth was with child, I accepted the babe as my own. When Elsbeth was murdered, he was left to raise his own children alone. He didn't want to take on another man's child too. I had loved her before she was born, and I loved her mother. I couldn't leave her in Dairus to be branded a slave."
Roslin looked at Brice with a new understanding of why she so desperately concealed her femininity. Elsbeth had made her believe she was only worthy of being loved if she hid everything feminine about herself, and even when she did as Elsbeth requested, the woman still left her for -as Brice put it- thereal thing. No wonder Brice had been terrified to let her see that part of herself. She was afraid that the feminine part of her would drive Roslin away as well.
Roslin found herself hating Elsbeth for doing that to the woman she loved. "I don't understand how you can still love her."
"I hated her for a while, but I couldn't look at my beautiful Cadie and hate her mother."
"Did you know the man she fell in love with?"
Brice nodded her head, "Yes…I knew him well. He was my brother, Dover."
Roslin was stunned. "Oh, Brice…how could they do that to you?"
"My brother Dover smuggled Elsbeth
out to his place shortly before Cadie was born. His wife had died and he
needed help with his children, and I needed a safe place for Elsbeth. She
was angry with me, and we parted without speaking. She had been so unhappy
and lonely, having to stay hidden, and he was just getting over losing
Tessa." Brice held Roslin tightly, as the memories washed over her.
It had been nearly three months since Brice had seen Elsbeth, and she hardly slept, waiting for morning to arrive so she could make the trip to Dover's to see Elsbeth and their baby girl. Frustrated, she got up and started out in the dark, deciding that if she wasn't going to sleep, she might as well get an early start. She arrived at Dover's place just after daybreak. Opening the door she found the house quiet and realized everyone must still be asleep.
Unable to wait another moment, she opened the door to the children's room, and was surprised to find that Elsbeth was not there. A lump formed in her throat. There were only two bedrooms in the small house, and if Elsbeth was not sharing a room with the children, that meant… Brice closed her eyes tightly as she felt her breathing start to accelerate and heat flushed her face. She loved them both; how could they do this to her? She walked to the door and placed her hand on the knob. She hesitated a moment, then holding her breath she opened the door.
The room was illuminated with the first soft rays of the morning sun, and Brice could see them clearly. Elsbeth was lying with her head in the crook of Dover's shoulder, and his arms were wrapped around her. "NO!"was torn from her lips before she could hold it back, her voice so strained, it sounded foreign to her ears.
Dover and Elsbeth started awake, and watched in horror, as Brice turned and ran from the room.
Brice's trembling legs took her only a few steps from the house before she dropped to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. This can't be happening, she thought to herself.
Elsbeth pulled a robe on quickly, and ran outside. Dropping to her knees in front of Brice, she tried to pull the sobbing woman close to comfort her. "I'm so sorry…I didn't want you to find out like this."
"DON'T TOUCH ME!" Brice shouted, as she violently pushed Elsbeth away. The tall woman got to her feet. "You said you loved me." Brice turned and walked to her horse.
Elsbeth ran and caught her arm, pulling Brice around to face her. "I do love you. You're the dearest friend I've ever had. I will always love you."
Brice pulled her arm from Elsbeth's grip. "I saw how much you loved me when I found you in my brothers bed."
"You have to believe me that I
never meant for this to happen. I love you both, but it's different with
Dover, it just feels right for me." Tears started down the young woman's
face. "I never meant to hurt you, it…it just… happened."
Roslin felt her face flush, as anger welled up inside her. "I hate her for doing that to you," she said, wrapping her arms tightly around the tall woman, returning her embrace.
"I don't hate her, and a part of
me will always love her. I've thought about it, and I realize that she
tried to love me as best she could. I just wasn't right for her, and when
she found someone who was…well, I can't blame her any more. It may sound
funny, but when I found myself attracted to you, I felt disloyal to Elsbeth.
I thought I could never love anyone as much as I loved her, but I was wrong.
I thought what I had with her was true love because I had nothing to compare
it with, but what I share with you is so much more…" Tears came to her
eyes. "Now I understand what Elsbeth meant when she said'it just feels
right for me'. Because being with you feels so right for me. I love
Brice put down her napkin, a contented burp slipping out. "That was wonderful," she said, pushing away from the table.
"Thank you," Roslin said. "It's a pleasure to cook for someone who thinks everything I make is wonderful."
Brice leaned over and kissed her, causing Kyle and Cadie to giggle, while Lon sat silently glaring at Brice as usual.
"I need to get back to the stable," Brice said, as she stood and pushed her chair back against the table. "Topka is laboring with her foal, and I want to be there in case she needs help." The tall woman looked across the table at Kyle. "Would you like to come help?" she asked, and the boy's face lit up.
"Oh yes, I'll help," he said, jumping to his feet.
"Can I help too, Papa?" Cadie asked sweetly.
"I'm afraid you're to young for this job, little one. You stay here and help Roslin." She looked up at Roslin and winked.
"I really could use your help Cadie," Roslin said, reaching for the little girl's hand and smiling. She was grateful that Brice had been making such an effort to help her brothers. After their initial confrontation, Lon had resisted every effort Brice had made to let him know that he was welcome in their home as long as he followed the rules. Lon had grudgingly taken on the chores assigned to him, and they had had no further clashes, but he never spoke to Brice except to answer a direct question, and his scathing looks made it clear to any who saw them that he hated Brice. But Kyle was a different story. He was settling in and making friends, and seemed truly happy with his new family.
Brice saw a long gangly leg emerge from the mare's vagina, and she frowned. A breach delivery was always difficult, and often times deadly.
"You see how we have only one leg coming out?" she asked, speaking calmly, so as not to let the boy know she was concerned. He nodded and she continued. "I need to reach inside her and feel around for the other leg to make sure it's not caught up on anything."
Kyle frowned. He could not imagine sticking his hands up inside the huge animal.
"If she is unable to deliver the foal, they could both die," Brice explained, as she pushed a hand into the opening. Finding the other leg, she gently worked it free and pulled it out to join the other.
Kyle smiled when he saw her hand emerge and pull the other leg out. "Is she going to be all right now?" he asked, finding himself getting excited at the prospect of watching a new life being born.
"With our help, I think she will be." Brice reached back inside with both arms this time. "Grab onto both legs, and when I tell you to pull, I want you to pull with a steady pressure, no big jerks, just steady pressure. Okay?"
Kyle nodded and grabbed the slender legs. "What if I hurt it?" he asked, terrified that he might do something wrong.
"Don't worry, you won't." Brice said, as she felt for the foal's front legs. Finding them, she held them snuggly against the foal's body and waited for the next contraction. "Pull now," she said, as she felt it start. Kyle and Brice both pulled, and the foal slid smoothly along until only its chest, shoulders, and head remained inside.
"You did great," Brice said, smiling at the boy. One more push should do it." Her face sobered momentarily. "Without your help, I might not have been able to get it out in time. Thank you." Her eyes turned back to the foal. "It's time," she said, pressing firmly against the foal's ribcage, and pulling steadily. The foal emerged, and Brice ripped the sack with her strong hands, pulling it away from its head. She grabbed a towel, and started to wipe the foal down, while Kyle looked on in awe. Brice's words played again in his ears, 'Without your help, I might not have been able to get it out in time.' He swelled with pride that he had helped save this funny looking little creature.
The mare nuzzled her newborn, and started licking him. "Let's leave them alone to get acquainted," Brice said, handing Kyle a towel so he could wipe the mess off his hands.
"I can't believe I helped him be born," the boy said, his eyes never leaving the colt.
"Would you like to have him?" Brice asked, placing her hand on Kyle's shoulder. "I think you're old enough for the responsibility, and you did help bring him into the would."
"Yes!" Kyle said, throwing his arms around the tall woman, than letting go just as quickly when he realized what he had done. "I…I'm sorry," he stammered.
"Hey, if you can't hug your family, who can you hug?" Brice said, pulling the boy back for another hug. Kyle's grip tightened around her, as these new words sank in. Brice considers me part of his family, he's not just being nice because of Roslin.
Brice released the boy, but wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "Come on, let's go home and get cleaned up." Kyle looked up at the tall woman and nodded, and they walked out into the night together.
"I don't think I've ever seen Kyle so happy," Roslin said, wrapping her arms around the tall woman. "He's already fallen in love with that colt. He couldn't wait to take Bowen and Cadie over there to show him off."
Brice smiled. "I know, I saw him strutting over there like a proud papa, with them in tow."
Lon walked in and stopped in front of Brice. "I'm finished," he said, his face devoid of emotion.
"Good," Brice smiled, "You finished early. Why don't you go on down to the stable. I'm sure Kyle is anxious to show you his colt."
"You may have bought my brother, but you can't buy me," Lon said, as he turned to leave. "I'm not interested in seeing anything you gave him." He turned and left the room.
Roslin shook her head. "Are we ever going to get through to him?"
"I don't know," Brice said, pulling
her close. Lon was such an angry young man, but hopefully, given time,
he would come to see they were trying to help him. "I just don't know."
Roslin sat in the large overstuffed chair in her bedchamber, and watched Brice pace back and forth. The election was fast approaching, and Mikah had campaigned tirelessly to convince the people that Brice was wrong in letting women vote too. He told the people it was bad enough that Brice had placed two women on the governing council in permanent positions. To let women vote and decide the fate of men was unthinkable. He urged the men not to allow their women to vote. His following was growing, and Brice was surprised to find women falling in with their men in support of Mikah.
Brice couldn't believe that the women thought so little of their own worth that they would relinquish their voting rights to their men, thinking themselves incapable of making important decisions. Was that the reason? Or were they just not willing to take the risk of angering their men? With three weeks to go until the election, it looked like only a few women were likely to go against their husband's wishes and vote. It was even worse with the single women. They were afraid that if they voted, the single men would classify them as unsuitable for marriage. After all, what kind of a wife would they make if they considered themselves equal to a man?
"How do they think they can get people to see their point of view if they refuse to express it?" Brice asked, shaking her head. "I want all people to have a say, not just the male half of the population."
Roslin got to her feet, and blocked the tall woman's path to halt her pacing. She could see Brice was getting herself worked up over this, and decided to do something about it. "Don't get so upset, love. Change takes time," she said, taking the tall woman's hand. Leading her to the chair, she pushed her down into its softness, then climbed into her lap. "A few women will vote this election," she leaned over and kissed Brice. "A few more the next," Another kiss. "And before you know it, we'll even have women submitting themselves as candidates." She nuzzled into the tall woman's neck, nipping and biting, as she worked her way up to a sensitive earlobe.
Brice shivered at her partner's sensual assault. "You think you have me wrapped around your little finger, don't you?" She asked, trying not to groan as her earlobe was drawn between soft wet lips.
Roslin let go of Brice's ear and sat back with a self-satisfied grin on her face. "Yes, I believe I do," she said, letting her hands travel to the tall woman's breasts, caressing them through her nightshirt. Brice's eyes fluttered shut, and this time she didn't try to stifle the groan. It felt too good.
They had been doing more and more kissing and touching lately, but always with their clothes on. Brice no longer panicked when the young woman touched her, and Roslin decided that tonight was the night she was going to try to take the love play a little further. How far, she was not sure, but she was at least going to try to get both of them unclothed for a change. Standing, she pulled her nightgown over her head, revealing a completely nude body. "I want you," Roslin said, extending her hand to her tall lover.
Brice was on her feet in an instant. "It's been too long," she whispered, as she pushed the young woman against the wall. Her large hands found Roslin's round firm behind, and she lifted the little blonde up, extending her thigh so that the young woman was straddling it. "You feel so good," Brice said, thrusting her thigh into the young woman, as she squeezed the firm round globes in her hands. Brice continued to lift Roslin, until the little blonde could wrap her legs around her waist. Now the young woman's breasts were high enough to enjoy the tall woman's attentions, and she lovingly suckled first one, then the other, all the while, using her hands to push Roslin's center into firm contact with her belly.
Roslin wrapped her arms around the tall woman's neck, and arched her back, pushing her breasts harder into Brice's mouth. Each pull on her nipple sent a jolt to the young woman's center and she tightened her legs around her lover, needing the contact.
Brice turned and walked to the bed, placing Roslin down on it, then climbing up on top of her. She loved the feel of the young woman beneath her, as she thrust her hips down, making delicious contact. Leaning down, she captured the young woman's mouth with her own, exploring its depths with her tongue.
Roslin could feel her release building quickly as her tall lover's fingers thrust into her moist center. Clutching Brice tightly, she moaned into her ear. "Mmmmm…. uhhh..Briiicce…."
Brice was floating in the sweet sounds her lover was making, and when she felt Roslin's warm breath against her ear, as she moaned her name with her release, the tall woman almost joined her with a release of her own. Roslin stiffened in her arms, then collapsed back down onto the bed, her breathing ragged. Brice lay beside the young woman watching her; the tall woman's head propped up on her hand.
Brice remembered the rare times in her youth that she had attempted to pleasure herself, and wondered if it felt different when someone else touched you there. It had felt wonderful to make love to Roslin again, to touch her and watch her respond. Nothing could be better than that, she thought, picking up the young woman's hand and pressing it to her lips. She continued watching Roslin, as the young woman's breathing returned to normal, and her eyes fluttered open, a radiant smile on her face. "I used to think I knew what love was," Brice said, her hand gently stroking Roslin's belly, then moving up to caress her breast. "But I was so wrong." She leaned down to place a kiss on the breast she was caressing. "I've never felt this deeply about anyone, never felt so…" Brice paused a moment, needing to find the right words. "…complete. My heart is so full of love for you that I feel like it will burst from the joy of it." Her eyes went back to the breast she was so lovingly caressing. "I love touching you."
Roslin turned over on her side to face Brice. "I love to touch you too," she said, reaching out and cupping her lover's breast through her nightshirt, then deciding to do something she hadn't tried yet, she leaned over and pulled a nipple into her mouth.
Sensations long denied flooded through the tall woman, and her body was on fire. She wanted…no…needed more. "Wait," Brice said, and the young woman froze. Was she pushing her too fast again?
Brice saw the confusion in Roslin's eyes. "I trust your love for me," she said, tracing the young woman's lips with her index finger. "I'm not afraid anymore." Brice sat up and pulled her nightshirt over her head. The tall woman was wearing no undergarments, and the sight of her lean muscular body took Roslin's breath away.
"Please…I need your touch," Brice said, Laying back down on her side, and pulling the young woman close.
Roslin smiled. Those were the words she had been longing to hear, and she threw her arms around the tall woman. Brice was so big and strong, power emanated from her, yet at this moment, Roslin had the power, and this knowledge swept through her. She needed to possess this woman… her woman. "I love you," she whispered, as she captured Brice's lips in an urgent kiss.
When the kiss ended, Brice allowed Roslin to push her over onto her back. She watched the little blonde's eyes devour her body, desire showing clearly in their green depths.
"Your breasts are beautiful," Roslin said, leaning down to kiss the tip of a hardened nipple. "So beautiful," she repeated, as she began to make love to Brice's breasts.
The fire that had began to burn spread
rapidly through her body, until Brice thought she was going to scream,
but somehow, she managed to hold it back. The sweet torture Roslin was
administering to her breasts was almost more than she could bear. She didn't
want to cry out…she couldn't. Women cry out.
Brice clutched the small woman to her tightly, stopping her ministrations, and giving herself a moment to catch her breath and think.
When Brice's crushing embrace relaxed a little, Roslin lifted herself up so she could look into Brice's eyes. "Are you all right?" she said, stroking Brice's sweat covered forehead.
Brice looked into worried green eyes, and melted. "I'm fine…I…it was just going too fast, I thought I was losing control."
"I kind of like knowing I can make you lose control," Roslin said, smiling seductively. "I want you to lose control." She ran her fingers through the coarse dark hair at the apex of Brice's legs, causing the tall woman to gasp. "Do you want me to stop?" Roslin asked, taking delight in the way Brice's powerful body quivered beneath her touch.
"No." Brice swallowed the lump in her throat. "Please don't stop." She felt Roslin slowly run her hand up and down the length of her torso, and the smoldering fire burst into full flame again, and a groan forced its way from her lips.
"That's good love, don't hold back…let it out," Roslin said, covering the tall body with her own.
The feel of her lover's naked body pressed against her own sent Brice soaring. The tall woman had not expected to be so overwhelmed by simply pressing their naked body's together. Roslin slipped off Brice and leaned over, nuzzling into her left breast, causing the tall woman to moan loudly, no longer trying to hold anything back. Both of Brice's hands gripped the bed quilt, as the little blonde continued exploring her body. Brice gave her body permission to respond, and respond it did. She felt Roslin's small hands stroke the inside of her thighs, and her legs spread wide of their own volition, inviting a more thorough investigation. She could not believe the moans she was hearing were coming from her own mouth, and was helpless to stop them. Though in truth, she no longer wanted to stop them. She wanted to experience everything.
Roslin's hands were gentle and tender as they brushed and teased across her center, and Brice thrust her hips upward to make firmer contact.
"Now, I need you inside…now."
Roslin drew a hard nipple into her
mouth at the same time she thrust her fingers into Brice. The tall woman
released the quilt and gripped her young lover tightly, as if by doing
so they could merge into one complete being. "Harder," she pleaded, thrusting
her hips to set a rhythm for Roslin to follow. Brice screamed out as her
first orgasm crashed through her body, and she clutched the young woman
so tightly that Roslin could hardly take a breath. When it was over, and
Brice could breathe again, she raised her hands to wipe the tears that
were flowing from her eyes. They were tears of joy, and she smiled to herself
at how wonderful it felt to finally allow herself to accept the pleasure
that her partner so wanted to share with her. Reaching down, she pulled
Roslin up for one more kiss. "Thank you for not giving up on me," she said,
as more tears began to fall. "I love you."
Brice had sent word that there would
be a meeting of women only, and she made it clear that attendance was compulsory.
This way, they would not have to argue with their men in order to attend.
All women were required to be there.
"I am not advocating a war between the genders, that's not what this is about." Brice said, to the room full of women. "But I am going to assure that all people, regardless of their gender, be allowed to have a say in how they are governed." Brice paused, her eyes sweeping the room. The women seemed torn between taking a step closer to equality with men, or not making waves, and letting their men have their way.
"You can't understand what it's like to be a woman," a woman sitting off to the side called out. "You have nothing to lose, you're a man." Several of the women nodded their agreement. "Walk a mile in our shoes, and see if you feel the same."
Brice realized they were right. She was a woman, but no one knew it. The respect and leadership that had been given her was based on the fact that everyone believed her to be a man. They never would have followed her if they had known the truth. Perhaps it was time to end the lie. Perhaps if they knew she was a woman, they would see that a woman could lead as well as any man.
"You're right," Brice said, walking over to Roslin, and taking her hand for moral support. "I don't really know what it's like to be a woman," she squeezed the small hand. "But there is a truth about me that I want to share with you." Brice looked down at Roslin, and the young woman smiled up at her, a small nod of the head, letting the tall woman know she had her approval. Brice's heart started pounding, and her mouth went dry. The same panic she had felt the first time Roslin tried to touch her as a woman began to engulf her, and she used the calming influence of her lover to push it away. There was no going back. She gripped Roslin's hand harder, and thanked god the young woman was here with her. "I was born a girl, but my parents chose to raise me as a male to protect me from the Ryshtans."
There was a collective gasp in the room, then complete silence, as the women tried to digest this unbelievable information while the tall woman continued.
"I could have continued to lie to you, but I wanted you to see, that the only limitation you have is what you allow others to put on you." Brice turned to Roslin and smiled, "I won't do that any more. I want to be who I am, no matter the consequences. I want that for all of us. Change is a difficult thing, but that doesn't make it undesirable." Brice felt her panic dissipate, as the weight of the lie she had been living with was lifted off her shoulders. It felt surprisingly good to be free of it. "Please don't limit yourselves. Your men should be your partners, not your taskmasters. If you truly do not want to express your opinion with your vote, that is your choice. I respect that. But don't allow someone else to make the decision for you. It is your right as a free person. Don't throw it away." Brice turned and escorted Roslin from the room, leaving the women of Dairus to ponder her words.
"We need to call the children together and tell them before someone else does," Roslin said, as they returned from the meeting with the women of Dairus.
"I know we should have told them first, but I hadn't planned to tell anyone when I started talking." Brice looked at Roslin and smiled. "It just happened." Brice knew that Roslin was responsible for helping her come to terms with who she really was, and being able to say it out loud in a room full of people. It felt good to be free of hiding what she was from people she cared about. "Kyle and Cadie will be at the stable with the colt," Brice said, stopping and looking in that direction. "I'll go fetch them, and you go in and see if Lon is home."
Roslin nodded and continued up the palace steps.
Cadie and Kyle smiled and chatted with each other, while Lon sat quietly watching them. He couldn't understand why Kyle was nice to the brat. They all sat in comfortable chairs in the large sitting room that was just off the great hall. They couldn't help but wonder what was so important they had to drop what they were doing, and meet together like this.
Brice and Roslin appeared in the doorway, and the room became quiet, as all eyes turned their direction. "I have something I need to tell you," Brice said, stepping into the room. Roslin followed her in, and sat next to Kyle. "What I have to say is not going to change anything in our family, but it's something you need to know." Brice let her eyes rest on each of them momentarily, and then she continued. "When I was a small child, just a little younger than Cadie, my parents decided to raise me as a male child, even though I was born a girl."
Kyle's eyes grew round with surprise, while Lon just rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"If you were born a girl, how did you turn into a boy?" Cadie asked, confusion showing plainly on her little face.
"I didn't," Brice said, kneeling in front of her daughter. "I'm still a girl."
Cadie frowned. "Are you still my papa?"
Brice scooped the little girl up in her arms. "I will always be your papa. Nothing is going to change."
"Okay," Cadie said, a smile returning to her face.
Brice looked at Kyle and Lon, who had remained silent. "Nothing is going to change around here. I'm not going to suddenly start wearing petticoats, and looking for the man of my dreams." She looked at Roslin, who had let a laugh slip out at the picture Brice had just painted. "I already found the woman of my dreams," she said, reaching out and clasping Roslin's hand and pulling her to her feet. "Roslin is going to be my wife, and we are all a family. That has not changed." Brice wrapped her arms around Roslin, pulling her close. Turning back to her audience of three, she continued. "What will change is that everyone else will know the truth about me and they might give you a hard time because of it. I hope that doesn't happen, but we wanted to tell you ourselves, before someone else did."
Kyle stood up. "I'll punch anyone who says anything bad about you," he said sincerely, looking up at the tall woman.
Brice smiled. "Thank you Kyle, but I don't want you getting into fights defending me. I can take whatever they say about me, as long as I know my family is okay with it."
"I'm okay with it," Kyle said, "But what kind of a man would I be if I didn't defend my family? I'm sorry but I think I will have to punch 'em if they say anything bad."
Lon stood up. "If that's all, can
I leave now?" he said, looking at Roslin. She nodded, and he walked away.
He decided he needed to have a talk with his friend Adler about the possibility
of joining his group that was leaving Dairus in the morning.
"Well, what did he want?" Mikah asked, as his daughter Sharlyn walked through the door. He had been surprised when Brice had called a women-only meeting, and was glad he had a daughter he could send who would report back to him.
She looked at her father, wondering what his reaction would be when she told him Brice was a woman. "Brice told us we shouldn't let our men folk intimidate us, and to have faith in our opinions, and not be afraid to express them."
Mikah shook his head, wondering how the man could possibly believe women should be taken seriously. "Is that all?" he asked, wondering why they needed a meeting for something so unimportant.
"No, that's not all," Sharlyn answered. "Brice also explained that given a chance, a woman can be just as effective a leader as a man can, and to prove it…" she held her breath a moment before blurting the news out. "…She told us that she's a woman."
Mikah's jaw dropped open, and he shook his head in disbelief. It couldn't be true. He had known Brice basically all his life. "You're sure you heard him correctly?" he asked, looking skeptically at his eldest child.
"I'm sure I heard her correctly," Sharlyn responded. "She said that she is living proof that a woman is capable of doing more than traditional woman's work."
"I don't believe it. This is just a trick to make women think they should be considered equal to men." Mikah turned and started to pace. "It won't work though, no one is going to believe such a ridiculous story."
"If you had heard her, you'd believe it." She thought a moment, picturing Brice when she announced her revelation. "I believed her," Sharlyn said, "And the other women there believed her too."
Mikah stopped short, a smile slowly
spreading across his face. This might work to his advantage after all.
If it was true, then it was not only evidence that Brice was just an inferior
woman, but it also proved her to be a liar. If it proved false, it still
showed him to be a liar. Either way, he won. He was certain he could
convince the people not to follow someone they could not trust to tell
them the truth. Once their faith in Brice was shaken, he could get them
to throw out this ridiculous permanent council, and simply elect a leader
and let him choose his own advisors. This would give him a good chance
of taking over the power in Ryshta.
Word spread rapidly, and soon all of Dairus knew that their leader was really a woman. When Brice heard the bell sounding to call the people for an impromptu meeting, she was certain she knew what the topic of discussion would be. She vacillated about whether to go, or let everyone get used to the idea before facing them, finally deciding it was better to face their questions now, rather than wait and wonder what was going on.
When she arrived at the meeting ground, she found the people were not angry, they were confused. In that state they were easily manipulated by Mikah, who was doing his best to sway the people to his way of thinking. He made it clear to them that he thought they should toss Brice out on her ear, and choose a new leader.
"…and how can we continue to put our faith in a leader who has been lying to us all her life?" Mikah pointed at the tall woman, as the crowd parted to let her through.
"You don't understand, " Shea said, raising her voice to draw the attention away from Mikah. "Brice had no choice in the matter. She was only a babe when her father and I decided to raise her as a male."
All eyes turned to the older woman, wanting to hear what she had to say. "Once she was counted as a boy, we had no choice but to continue, for to do anything else would have meant severe punishment, and possible death for our family."
"What about these last five years? There were no Ryshtans standing over her shoulder, ready to dole out punishment," Mikah said, turning once again to the crowd. "I can understand why she kept up the pretence while she was here, but for the last five years she has been free of them. She could have given up this charade and lived as a decent woman. Instead she continued the deception even though it was no longer necessary to keep her family safe. No, she preferred to lie to the people who trusted her, taking on a woman lover to perpetuate this deviant lifestyle. This was a choice." He looked at Brice and asked her point blank. "Why did you continue to live as a man when you left Dairus?"
"I lived the way I have always lived…the way that is comfortable for me. I've never introduced myself to anyone and said 'Hello, I'm a man'. People assumed I was a man, and I did nothing to change their perception of me. If you want to call that lying, then yes, I lied. There was more than one reason I let people believe I was a man," Brice continued. "First, I didn't want to shake the confidence my soldiers had in me as their leader. If we were going to win our freedom, we had to pull together, gathering momentum as we liberated Ryshta, city by city. The slaves we encountered in each new city would not have known me, and might have been reluctant to join us if they knew I was a woman. What we were doing was too important to take that risk. Second, but just as important to me is…" she looked Mikah right in the eye. "…I did not then, nor do I now, plan to change the way I live. I don't care if you call me he, or she. It makes no difference to me, because what you label me does not define who I am. What you see right now, is how I am most comfortable. I am in love with a woman, and I won't give her up to please anyone." She thumped her chest with her fist. "This is not a lie, it's the real me." Brice looked from face to face and repeated, " This is who I am. I haven't changed at all except for what you choose to call me. I am the same person I was before you found out the truth of my gender. Can't you understand that nothing about me has changed?"
"Everything has changed," Mikah said, glaring at the tall woman. He turned back to the crowd. "Can't you see what she's trying to do?" He purposefully let his eyes skip from man to man, never making eye contact with the women in the group. "She's putting ideas into our women's minds, and they are starting to question our decisions." He glared at Brice momentarily, then his gaze returned to the gathering. "She is planning on marrying another woman. Where does that leave us if our women start pairing up with each other?"
"I am not advocating that women pair up with each other to the exclusion of men," Brice said, exasperation clear in her voice. "What I said was that I am in love with a woman, and I do not intend to give her up. I believe that people should follow their hearts. Love is a beautiful gift, and should never be thrown away because you fall in love with someone that perhaps others might not approve of." She looked at Roslin and smiled. "I hope you people can accept my love for Roslin, but if you don't, that won't change my feelings for her, or stop me from pledging the rest of my life to her. People don't all have to be the same. Be who you are, and together we will go forward as a free people who respect each other's diversity."
A large ruddy-faced man stepped out of the throng and turned to face them. "I don't give a damn what Brice is, or who she chooses to love. She has been a good friend, and a good leader. Without her we would still be slaves. She gave us the courage to try and win our freedom. Would anyone here prefer to go back to the way things were?"
The few Ryshtans in the group were quiet, but everyone else called out "NO!" quite vehemently. "Brice is the Chosen One, sent to lead us…"
"That's another lie," Mikah said, interrupting. Brice could not be the Chosen One. The prophecy said that the Chosen was a man."
Egan, the old priest, stepped forward. "No! You're wrong," he said, looking Mikah in the eye. "I have read the passage many times. There is no mention of the gender of the Chosen, only that they would step from the masses to lead our people out of slavery, and into a new life. The only description given was that the Chosen was tall as the trees, with eyes the color of the sacred crystal." He turned to face the crowed. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I for one believe Brice is the Chosen. She fits the description, and she fulfilled the first part of the prophecy, she led us out of slavery. Now Mikah is trying to stop her from completing the prophecy." The old man looked at the tall woman and smiled. "Brice is the Chosen One, and I will follow where she leads."
The priest spoke eloquently, and although the issue of Brice's gender had momentarily confused the people, the facts spoke for themselves. If the great earth spirits chose Brice, then who were they to question the ancient wisdom. The crowd erupted with support for her. Circling the tall woman and cheering, they lifted her up onto their shoulders, and walked away en mass, chanting her name, leaving Mikah and his little group behind.
Roslin stood and watched as the crowd carried Brice away. She swallowed the lump in her throat and sighed. It was finally over, they finally saw Mikah for what he was, and accepted Brice as she was. There would be no more opposition to the governing counsel, or the right of women to vote.
"I should have known she would win," Lon said, walking to where his sister stood in front of the dais. "Those people really are as stupid as Father said they were." He had hoped the people would rebel again and throw Brice out. It had certainly not proven to be an advantage living under her roof, as he had first thought. Now he just wanted her gone, but that was not going to happen. He knew that now. It was time for him to leave the nest, and now seemed as good a time as any to join one of the emigrating groups of Ryshtans leaving Dairus.
"I wish you could understand that we all won," Roslin said, trying not to let her brother's words spoil the warm feeling that seeing the people embrace Brice had caused.
"I have decided that I can't live under your roof any longer," Lon said, ignoring his sister's words. "I've spoken to my friend Adler's father, about joining them when they leave in the morning for Frama." He looked at Roslin, and she could see determination in his eyes. "I don't belong here anymore."
Roslin let him finish speaking, and sighed. She had so hoped that he would open his stubborn eyes and really see what they were trying to do here. "If that's what you want to do, we won't try to stop you." She walked closer and put her hand on his shoulder. "If you ever want to come home and be a part of our family, you'll be welcome."
Lon shrugged her hand off his shoulder. "I have no family." He turned and walked away.
Roslin really wasn't surprised that he wanted to go. Ever since the rebels took control of Dairus, the Ryshtans had been leaving in small groups to make a home elsewhere. Some chose to stay, refusing to be driven out of their homes, but more and more were leaving every day, wanting to go where they were not so greatly outnumbered by people who despised them. They understood that wherever they went in Ryshta, the new rules applied.
Kyle stood and watched his brother pack his belongings. "I don't want you to go," he said, his eyes pleading with Lon to reconsider leaving Dairus.
Lon looked at the boy and shook his head. "I have to go. You know how Brice treats me." His jaw clinched. "I hate her."
"Will I ever see you again?" Kyle asked, his voice cracking.
"I'm never coming back," Lon said, picking up another bag and starting to stuff it. "If you want to see me, you'll have to come to Frama. I'm going to go claim Grandfather Gage's house, as his eldest heir."
"Roslin's older than you are."
"You know women don't count in things like this."
"They do now."
"Well, I doubt she's going to leave Brice and go claim it." He finished packing the last bag and looked around the room to see if he was forgetting anything important. "You could come with me if you want," Lon said, looking back at his brother. "I don't think Roslin will force you to stay if you really want to go."
Kyle shook his head. He loved his brother, but he didn't want to leave Roslin and the new family he had become a part of. Roslin had made it clear to him how much she loved and wanted him with her, and Brice had gone out of her way to make him feel special, and welcome, and a part of her family. He even had to admit that his pest of a little sister was starting to grow on him too. For the first time in his life, he felt part of a family that truly cared for each other.
"Suit yourself," Lon said, as he shouldered one bag, and picked up two more. "Get that one for me," he said, nodding to the last bag.
Kyle picked up the bag and sadly followed his brother out the door.
Egan, the high priest, watched as Roslin and Brice walked into the small chapel, hand in hand. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" he asked, as they drew near.
"As you know, I have asked Roslin to marry me, and she has consented." Brice looked down at Roslin and flashed a radiant smile that was returned in kind.
Egan nodded his approval, and smiled at the young couple.
"I know that I was not raised in your faith," Roslin said, holding tightly to Brice's hand. "But Brice and I want to start our life together with the traditional ceremony of her people, and we would be honored if you would preside."
The old priest took Roslin's hand.
"You and Brice worked together to free my people and I would be honored
to be the one to join you in marriage." Egan looked from Roslin, to Brice.
"You will each have tasks to perform in preparation for the joining." He
placed his hand on Brice's shoulder. "Brice, you will prepare the circle."
The tall woman nodded her head, and the old priest dropped his hand back
to his side, and continued. "The circle will be built with cedar logs,
and you will tend the fire for three days to purify the circle. The first
morning, the two of you will ask the blessing of the spirit of the earth,
and all growing things. The second morning, you will ask the blessing of
the spirit of the wind. The last morning, you will seek the final blessing
from the spirit of the fire." He looked back to Brice. "After the final
blessing, you will let the fire burn down to coals for the ceremony. During
the three days of blessing and purification, you will also compose the
words that signify this joining in your hearts. Write the words together,
and your hearts will speak as one."
As she was instructed, Brice prepared the circle of logs, and tended it faithfully for three days. Each morning, they joined hands and knelt in front of the circle, and requested the blessing. Each evening, they looked into their hearts to find the words that would define their union.
It was time. The cedar logs had been
burned to glowing embers and Brice and Roslin waited together for
the wedding party to approach the circle, led by Egan, the high priest. Immediate family and friends, were allowed into the circle, the rest of the people, who had gathered to celebrate the union of the Chosen One and her lady, stood back and watched as the wedding party approached the circle of embers.
"We gather on this day to celebrate the Love of Brice, and her lady Roslin, and to sanctify their union. Let us begin therefore, by leaping the fire, which is an ancient act of purification." The priest jumped into the circle, then stepped aside, allowing Brice and Roslin to jump over the embers, followed by the rest of the wedding party. The guests linked hands to form a circle around Brice, Roslin, and the priest.
Egan walked to the glowing embers, and bent down, lighting a candle. "As you hold the sacred flame, receive its blessing of passion and energy. This relationship you are entering into is both fragile and strong. It is fragile because it requires exactly the right mix of caring and of sharing, of being together and of being alone. It is strong because it involves something we call love, mutual devotion, concern for the happiness of the other and joy in each other's company. There is nothing stronger than this silent bond of love." The old priest handed the candle to Brice and Roslin, who each reached out with one hand.
Egan turned and retrieved a chalice from the wedding table and held it out in front of Brice and Roslin. "This joining is only affirming what already exists in the silent places of your hearts. It is yours to define, yours to make real and yours to live. Are there symbols of this union that you wish to exchange?"
Brice took a shaky breath and reached into her pocket, pulling out a ring. Bringing it to her lips, she kissed it reverently and placed it in the chalice. She thought her heart would burst with joy, as she watched the woman she loved place a ring in the chalice as well.
"May these rings be blessed, and may they ever be a reminder of the love shared here today." The priest held the chalice up for all to see, then brought it back down in front of the couple. "It is time to speak what is in your hearts."
Brice and Roslin faced each other and clasped hands.
Brice was not sure she could speak, she was so overcome with emotion. She looked into Roslin's beautiful green eyes, and the words they had written together, suddenly started to spill from her lips with no effort.
"I, Brice, in the name of the spirit's that reside within us all, and the love that fills my heart to bursting, take you Roslin to be my chosen one. To desire you and be desired by you, to possess you, and be possessed by you, without sin or shame, for sin and shame cannot exist within the purity of my love for you. I promise to love you in this life and beyond, where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change you. I shall respect you, your beliefs, your people, and your ways as I respect myself." Brice reached a trembling hand into the chalice, and retrieved the small silver band, slipping it reverently on Roslin's finger, then lifting the small hand and kissing it, as a single tear made its way down her face.
Roslin reached up and wiped away the tear. "I Roslin, in the name of the spirits that reside within us all, and by the love that fills my heart, take you, Brice to be my chosen one. To desire and be desired by you, to possess you, and be possessed by you, without sin or shame, for sin and shame cannot exist within the purity of my love for you. I promise to love you in this life and beyond, where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change you. I shall respect you, your beliefs, your people, and your ways as I respect myself." Now it was Roslin's turn to slip a ring on Brice's finger. The tall woman's hand was trembling so, that it took a moment for Roslin to get the ring on. She smiled up at the tall woman, then they turned together to face the priest again.
"May your love so endure that its flame remains a guiding light unto you." Egan smiled at them. " It is traditional for the couple to jump the broom. This represents the transition into a new life. Will one member of each of your family's step forward?" Glen and Kyle stepped out of the circle, and held the broom low to the ground, while Brice and Roslin jumped across it.
" Go now together. Greet your brothers and sisters and receive their blessings."
Brice and Roslin walked around the circle hand in hand, receiving congratulations from friends and family.
Egan and his assistant retrieved cakes and ale from the small table behind them, and followed behind the couple, passing them out.
"Eat and drink. Share and be happy."
When Roslin and Brice completed the circle, they each took one cake, and one glass of ale. "And as we share, let us remember that all we have, we share with those who have nothing. So shall it be." Brice offered Roslin a bite, and then a sip of ale, and received the same in return.
Brice took both of Roslin's hands in her own, and brought them up to her lips, kissing each palm in turn. They had pledged themselves to each other many times before, but somehow this was different…it was more. Perhaps it was because they had evoked the blessings of the spirits, but she felt a connection to Roslin that she knew nothing in this world, or any other, could sever.
Leaning down, she kissed Roslin's upturned lips, then pulled her close, burying her face in golden tresses. "I love you," she whispered, as she felt Roslin's arms tighten around her. "I wouldn't change anything in my past, because it led me to this moment, and to you."
Roslin was overcome by the sentiments. Tears began to fall, and she couldn't speak. She just nodded and pressed her wet face into Brice's neck. An involuntary shudder went through her body at the thought that this joy almost wasn't hers, and of the life she would have led if things had been different, and she had married Amon. I would rather be dead, than give this up, she thought, as the tears came down in earnest.
Releasing Roslin, Brice cupped her wet face in large hands, wiping the tears away with her thumbs. Clasping hands, they stepped across the fading embers and walked together toward their new life.