Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the creative property of Emily Rodda.
A long, strenuous day in the Palace had finally come to pass for Lief, the moon now shining high above the starry sky. It never ceased to amaze the young King of Deltora how trivial the matters were that the noble families in Del complained about. At most, the complaints stemmed from petty feuds with their less-than-fortunate neighbors. Throughout the entire meeting with the various representatives of the families, Lief fought to keep himself from rolling his dark eyes in annoyance; even Doom's stoic face had showed signs of his patience wearing thin.
Is this what Jasmine, Barda and I fought for when we defeated the Four Sisters and the Grey Tide? he thought to himself as he walked tiredly to the bedchambers he shared with Jasmine for some much needed rest. His entire body ached for the soft bed and warm covers that had him snoring softly within minutes.
Earlier that morning, Jasmine had blatantly refused to attend the meeting with Lief. "Why do they need us to mediate some disagreement they have with their neighbors?" she had asked incredulously. "Are they so childish that they cannot learn to be more tolerant?" Having only recently become his queen, Jasmine had been prone to questioning many of her supposed duties, especially if she deemed them impractical. Not surprisingly however, Lief agreed with her sentiment, but he knew he could not risk angering the nobles by not attending as well.
His thoughts soon wandered to his wife, and Lief found himself wondering idly whether she was already asleep. It was late, but he certainly hoped she was not; he needed her voice of reason to help quell the annoyance he felt at the moment.
As he neared the wooden door that barred the entrance to their chambers, Lief instinctively tried to quiet his steps so as not to wake a potentially slumbering queen, although he knew it was futile. Jasmine was never a heavy sleeper, if she was indeed already sleeping; and if not, her enhanced hearing from her years in the Forests of Silence always alerted her of his presence long before he reached her. Her greeting as he slowly opened the door confirmed the latter.
The young boy smiled at the sight that came to him as he stepped through the doorway, his previous frustration vanishing instantly: Jasmine was indeed awake, lying in their bed on her stomach, her legs raised behind her with her knees resting on the pillows. It seemed as though she was reading a book. She did not look up at him when he walked into the room, but instead remained focused on the leather bound scripture in her small hands. Kree and Filli appeared fast asleep in their small nest beside the nightstand, nestled around one another for warmth. On top of the nightstand stood a rapidly diminishing lit candle.
In the back of Lief's mind, he allowed himself to admire how enticing Jasmine looked at that particular moment, with her long, smooth legs kicking aimlessly in the air and her tangled, black hair flowing down her back. However, he quickly pushed any inappropriate thoughts out of his head; he was much too tired tonight in any case.
Lief strode across the room and leaned down in front of her to peer at the cover of the book she held. It was a children's story, a Tenna Birdsong tale about the origin of the monster, Glus. "How is this supposed to help you learn to read, Jasmine?" he asked in amusement. Jasmine had been quite intent on becoming properly literate since their wedding. It was true, she had already been able to slowly decipher words and scribble her name haphazardly, but the influx of official documents bearing complex sentences still confused her greatly.
"Marilen tells me I know enough to be able to read this book in its entirety," Jasmine replied nonchalantly, still without meeting his eyes. "She asked me to recite the story back to her after I had finished." Although Jasmine had originally asked Lief in helping her, she quickly found he was far too busy to devote much time to reading. So instead, the raven-haired girl turned to Marilen, the Palace Librarian and Lief's heir presumptive as he had not yet produced a child.
"I see," Lief smiled. He was quite proud of how quickly Jasmine progressed, but was nonetheless unsurprised by this given her quick wits.
"How was the meeting?" she asked in a change of topic, though Lief could tell she was far from being truly interested in its outcome. He stifled a laugh as he saw she still had not raised her head to look at him, even as she asked the question.
"As mundane as you could imagine," he answered with a chuckle. "I am merely glad I only had to deal with the nobles of Del today; Barda claims the Toran noble families can be much more conceited."
"You are of Toran blood yourself, Lief," Jasmine reminded with a smirk hidden behind the large novel. "I suppose I can now understand why you are often so full of yourself as well."
Lief pulled a face in mock offense. He always enjoyed the playful banter he often had with his wife, who was also admittedly his closest friend. "Yes, but I speak of the nobles from Tora."
"Is not Sharn of Toran nobility?" Jasmine challenged offhandedly, referring to Lief's mother.
Lief opened his mouth to retort, but found he could not think of a response and closed it seconds after. Instead, he continued on his report of the dreadful meeting with a smirk of his own: "Be that as it may, I am sure the representatives today would love to know the gracious and selfless queen was not with me because she was in her room reading a children's tale."
Jasmine lifted her right hand and waved him off lazily, showing she had heard him yet dismissed the topic as irrelevant, causing Lief to laugh aloud. Jasmine's unique sense of personality never failed to lighten any stress he felt, if only for a little while. Suddenly, the boy stilled as he noticed something unusual. The hand she had waved around was bare; there was no small flash of silver from the moonlight as he had expected.
"Jasmine," Lief began slowly, "where is your wedding band?" Had she lost it so soon? Surely she would not have so easily misplaced such an important symbol of their bond?
"Hmm?" the girl finally raised her head to look at him, her eyes as bright green as the Emerald on the Belt of Deltora which Lief wore around his waist. They shone with confusion at hearing the slight worry in his voice. "Oh, it is in the drawer," she said, pointing at the nightstand.
The young king reached over and pulled the drawer open; the small silver ring was indeed tucked safely inside. Lief breathed a sigh of relief, though still remained puzzled. "Why do you not wear it, Jasmine?"
"It has been almost a full moon since the wedding festivities ended," she replied. "Should I still be wearing it?"
At this, Lief's eyebrows furrowed. "You are not supposed to take it off, Jasmine," he said, "not as long as you are married to me in any case."
"Why?" Seeing her confusion, Lief suddenly realized that throughout the chaotic wedding preparations and festivities, no one must have told her about the traditions of the wedding band, about the sacred trust and love it symbolized.
Lief pondered on how to explain the item to her in a way she would understand and not simply brush off as impractical. "It is to show you are already married to someone—," he began cautiously.
Jasmine arched an eyebrow at this. "Then why do you not wear one as well?" she interrupted.
Lief was taken aback and hesitated. He knew very well the reason was simply because she was a woman and he was not. However, he also knew that to say this to his lovely wife, who despised the established gender roles in Deltoran society, would be a fate worse than death. Lief stammered helplessly, frantically thinking of ways to explain this to her, without invoking the wrath of his stubborn and outspoken queen.
Seeing his distress, Jasmine sighed and closed her book, setting it aside on the nightstand. It seemed as though she would not be getting any more reading done tonight. The girl sat up on the bed and crossed her legs, gesturing to Lief to join her. He obeyed sheepishly and sat on the edge of the mattress next to her, throwing an arm around her slim waist and thanking Adin that Kree and Filli were not awake to listen in on this conversation.
Finally, Lief found his voice, "I would wear one, Jasmine... but you did not give me any ring." At this feeble excuse, the girl rolled her eyes.
"I do not understand your traditions, Lief," Jasmine said softly while leaning into him. "Why must I wear the ring? Will people not recognize that I am married to you without it?" Almost the whole of Deltora had participated in the celebration of their wedding, surely everyone knew by now of their marriage!
Ever the realist, Jasmine's questions indeed made Lief himself contemplate the traditions of the wedding band. It was true, now that she had mentioned it, wearing the wedding band for the sole purpose of showing that she was taken did seem rather foolish.
Suddenly, after several moments of comfortable silence, he smiled. "I do not understand you, Jasmine," Lief began, mimicking her words, "Why must I hold you like this? Why must I give you kisses and embrace you? Will you not recognize the love I feel for you without those things?"
Jasmine turned her head to stare at him with widened eyes, a deep crimson spreading across her cheeks. Noticing her blush, Lief inwardly swelled with pride, thinking himself clever for having come up with his response. After a moment, she glanced away and whispered, "Perhaps I merely enjoy them."
"It is the same with the ring, Jasmine," Lief said softly.
"You enjoy seeing me wear the ring?"
"It is not that I enjoy it," he explained, his voice taking on a comforting tone, "so much as that it gives me peace of mind to see you wear it."
Seeing her baffled expression allowed Lief another measure of relief. He had wanted to somehow convince Jasmine to wear the band without truly revealing his reasoning. Seeing the small silver piece of jewelry on her finger had always eased one of his greatest fears, the fear that his beloved wife would one day leave him to return to the Forests. However, he knew now was not the time to bring up his insecurity, especially after they were just recently married.
Jasmine sighed heavily and reached into the still open drawer. "If it really means this much to you, Lief," she said while slipping on the cold metal band, "I suppose I can bear it."
Lief grinned widely at this, thankful he had met this wild girl all those years ago. His exhaustion long forgotten, he gently pressed his lips to her forehead. "Thank you, Jasmine."
The girl smiled softly in return and got up to retrieve her book. Lief merely stared at her in disbelief, "You are still going to read? But it is so late!"
Jasmine returned to the bed and sat with her back against the headboards, shrugging. "I promised Marilen I would finish by tomorrow morning," she replied indifferently while opening up the book to where she had left off.
Lief glanced at the almost devoured wick next to them. "But the candle is almost finished!"
"Then I will light another one," Jasmine answered, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
The young king groaned in defeat and laid down facing away from her while muttering irritably, clearly upset he would not be able to hold her close while he slept that night. Jasmine giggled softly at his childish antics and returned her attention to the tale in front of her. Wedding band or not, she was going to learn to read properly.