A/N: I'm really really sorry that I haven't updated Spirits Cry for so long. I don't even really expect people to remember it! :) I had uni essays and exams and after that, I could hardly write my own name, lol. But I'm starting to get back into it now, and the next chapter is coming. This is Part One of a short, really silly fic that I'm writing to try and get over writer's block! Haven't written anything for ages, so if it's terrible, I'm sorry!
Disclaimer: All of Tamora Pierce's characters and places belong to her and the title is taken from Julia Quinn's Romancing Mister Bridgerton.
"Good Midsummer's Eve to ye, Mistress!"
The cheerful greeting floated up to the ivy-draped window, high above the northern turrets. The response below went unheard, drowned in a volley of giggles and ballads. Joyful voices met and mingled, like the brushing of silk skirts in a dance. It was the height of Midsummer, the time in which all love – courtly and illicit alike – delighted. Tortallans, brimming with lasting passion and fleeting lust, lined the paths and swooned among the rose gardens, taking advantage of the full moon's light and the clouds' shadows. The music of fiddle strings wove in the air, carrying the warm breath as it drifted from Carthak and Tyra. It was many songs since the supper hour, but the palace had by no means bedded down for the night.
Barely aware of the revelry and laughter beyond her chamber, Daine was nonetheless taking full enjoyment in the season's spirit. She shivered, arching up as large hands slid gently beneath her shirt. Brown fingers paused briefly against her ribs, then flexed, tickling and teasing. Jackknifing upright, she pulled them away from her body, laughter gasping from her lips. Numair smiled against her neck and broke the hold to cup her face, stroking disheveled smoky curls from one bare shoulder. Bending his dark head to the silky skin there, he nuzzled her lightly and trailed a generous line of warm kisses back to her impatient mouth. Daine ran her hands up his back, gripping his shoulders and wondering when exactly she'd removed his robes. Then all logical thought fled her mind as she enthusiastically returned the embrace.
"Love you, magelet," Numair murmured, voice slightly slurred with desire, those ever-wondrous words barely audible. His dark eyes opened for a moment, burning into her own.
In answer, she pulled him back down to the covers, bestowing an increasingly fervent kiss upon him. He laughed raggedly at her insistence, shaking his head in mock-reproof when their fingers clashed on her buttons. They removed the tiresome outer garment together, tossing it with great ceremony to the floor. Chest heaving for breath, Daine looked up at her love - braced on his arms above her, belly against hers. Only the merest scraps of material separated their flesh.
She smiled with satisfaction.
Numair's fingertips were shaking, she realised, as he reached to touch her cheek. Pressing his forehead against hers, he inhaled several times, trying to maintain control.
"Daine? Are you sure about this, love?"
The question was husky and tentative, wonder and worry battling for victory.
Daine palmed his jaw, unflinchingly meeting his gaze.
"Only with you," she answered quietly, seriously. "I'm always sure with you."
He ducked his head for a moment; then kissed her suddenly, with an urgency that took her by surprise and delight. His caressing touch began to meander down her throat, toward the edge of the shielding breastband. Daine leaned back, enjoying the familiar woodsy scent and betraying tremors of his skin. Her lashes fluttered closed, and it was some moments before the stillness of his long form registered.
Confused, she looked up.
Numair was flushed and miserable suddenly, seemingly focused on something in her…frontal area. She dropped her chin in horror, checking to make sure that things were still where they'd been when she'd dressed that morning.
And almost groaned aloud when she saw what the mage held clutched in his fist.
Her charm against pregnancy.
Reason and annoyance penetrated Daine's love-fogged brain as she finally recognized that particular facial expression. Guilt.
Gently, he laid the neckpiece back against her chest and sat up, moving to sit on the edge of her bed. He still wasn't looking at her. He'd pulled away from her, she thought, scowling, as if she had breath like Jon's hounds!
Numair shoved his hands back through loosened hair and took several deep breaths. Aware of the tense silence, he forced himself to meet her mutinous gaze.
"Sweetling," he began heavily, reaching for her curled fingers.
Daine snatched them out of reach. "Not again," she stated crossly, soured passion quickly becoming frustrated resignation.
"Daine, I love you. Goddess bless, sweet, I love you so much." Numair shook his head, dark eyes pained. "But we can't do this. Not yet. It isn't right."
"It felt right to me!" she protested, aware of her petulant tone but unable to do anything about it. "Why can't we, for Mithros' sake?"
He started to reply and she cut him off sharply. "But then, I know why, don't I? We've been through this already. It's becoming fair maddening, Numair!"
"You don't think I agree? Magelet, I want more than anything to express how much I…" His voice trailed off, then hardened with resolution. "But I will not have you exposed to that brand of gossip."
She rolled her eyes, exasperated. "I've survived a return trip to the Realms of the Gods! And a battle to the death with Ozorne. Even an encounter with Uusoae. Shakith help me if I succumb to a few vicious tongues!"
Numair was beginning to get angry himself. "It would be more than a few and you have no idea how unpleasant your life at Court could become! If people were to discover that you had lain with me –outside of wedlock, no less - your reputation would be shredded to as many strips as mine."
"I don't care!"
"Well, I do," he snapped. "Nobody is going to hurt or humiliate you while I have the power to prevent it."
Daine's lips opened to utter an angry retort, then snapped shut again. Exhaling loudly and pointedly, she glared.
Numair's stubborn look softened. Reaching out, he ran a lingering hand over her hair, lightly touching the side of her face.
"We appear to be at a stalemate, sweet one," he sighed, shrugging in resignation. "You are not yet ready for matrimony…and I have to accept that," he added quickly, watching warily as her frown deepened. "I do accept that, Daine. I would never put pressure on you to do something you aren't comfortable with. I would hope that you would extend the same courtesy to me."
The scowl slipped from Daine's face and a reluctant smile tugged at her mouth. Shaking her head, she reached to clasp his wrist. "D'you know how irritating you are when you're being reasonable?" She uttered the word as if it were one of George's curses.
"Irritating? Me?" Numair tugged a curl. "But I'm perfect. Who could help loving me?" he teased.
"I guess I can't...even though you're sending me mad."
"Magelet," Numair's fingers traced down her nose, his thumb tugging on her lower lip, parting it a little. He kissed her warmly. "The feeling is entirely mutual."
Daine rubbed the smudges beneath her eyes with a lazy hand and sat down heavily at the table. She'd barely slept; the giggling whispers of happy twosomes – human, bird and beast – managing to penetrate even her rudely slammed window.
Alanna looked up in surprise, tearing a bread loaf in her hands and reaching for the butter ladle.
"What's got your britches in a knot this morning?" the Lioness enquired, arching one copper eyebrow.
Daine looked at her suspiciously. She was smiling, despite her blunt question, and a pretty flush stained her cheeks. Alanna, in fact, was fair glowing.
Scooting around in her chair, Daine caught sight of George Cooper's departing back as he near skipped from the dining hall.
Torn between awkwardness and envy, she bit her lip and reached for a bowl of whipped oats – horse food, Numair would say scathingly.
"My britches are fine, thank you," she muttered.
"Not torn off in a fit of Midsummer passion then?" Alanna's voice was casual.
Daine choked on her first mouthful of oats, as Thayet and Onua appeared either side of her. The queen blinked and carefully flicked a white globule from her bodice.
"It can't taste that terrible, surely," she said, looking doubtfully at Daine's platter.
Her friend was unrepentant. "Sorry," she offered, not sounding in the least sincere. "I've discovered that frankness is the best way of learning the truth."
Onua looked from one to the other. "What truth is this?"
Alanna sighed, licking butter from her fingers and folding her arms. "Numair's still being noble."
Daine's cheeks flamed and she stared at the older woman indignantly, too flustered to deny it.
"Ah," Onua nodded, polishing an apple on her tunic.
Thayet shook her head sympathetically. "You could always put the poor man out of his misery, Daine. Marriage isn't entirely the horror you seem to believe. Of course, it has its moments. Such as when your husband decides to undertake a diplomatic visit at the height of Midsummer," she added darkly.
"I don't think it would be horrible," Daine protested, rather miserably. "It isn't that, it's just…"
"She's not ready yet," Onua pronounced firmly. "Mare bless, she's only seventeen."
"Plenty old to be wed," Thayet argued lightly. Then she smiled. "But you'll know when it feels right, Daine." A wicked grin crossed the Royal's face. "It clearly isn't the…physical side of matrimony that concerns you however."
Daine groaned aloud and dropped her hot face into her hands. Goddess bless, this was worse than talking to her Ma!
Onua frowned. "Numair's right to be concerned about palace gossip, Daine. You've seen what it's done to other women before you."
Alanna shoved back loose strands of hair with impatient hands. "There are already rumours. Half the ladies in court have had you in bed with Numair since you first arrived," she uttered in disgust, before flashing a mirthful smile. "I've even heard of you being linked with George."
Thayet and Onua both laughed at Daine's expression.
"Oh, come on, George isn't that bad!" Alanna teased.
Daine just shook her head, too mortified to speak.
"Whoever would have thought we'd be talking about Numair like this?" Thayet wondered aloud then patted her bristling friend apologetically.
"It's different now," Onua spoke up, her deep eyes searching Daine's face.
"He loves her," Alanna finished quietly.
"Then there's only one thing for it," the Queen said slowly, a gleam passing over her beautiful face.
Daine watched them with trepidation, already shaking her head in refusal.
"Don't look so worried. I can assure you that it's really rather enjoyable."
Thayet smiled slyly.