Love's Labours

by Amy L. Hull amilynh at comcast dot net

written for v_voltaire in the Yuletide 2007 Challenge

an Othello story


The inn was the same as every night: noisy with the clinking of metal on metal and the screech of wooden chair legs on the uneven floor competing with the grunting, slurping, yelling, swearing, and occasional fighting of the men. Every inch of the place, including Emilia's clothes, hair, and skin reeked with the odours of food and unwashed flesh and spilt beer and the smoke that hid the ceiling from view.

"Which do they say is most favoured?" Emilia scanned the diners' clothes and manners, mentally dismissing those with frayed cuffs, unlaced jerkins, or visibly smeared food.

"That one," the other girl pointed into a dim corner. "And he's been watching you tonight."

"I have seen him before," Emilia said slowly, taking in his neatly buttoned uniform, carefully tied hair, and close beard. "What is his rank?"

"He seems an ensign, but near the general in counsel. There is talk that a reputed officer adopted this one as his own and that his skill has earned the ear of many." She gathered four tankards of ale and walked toward another table.

Emilia quickly leaned forward, tugged her shift lower and her bosoms higher, then reached for the tankard and the trencher. Head held high, she contemplated the man's dark eyes and complete stillness as she walked across the room. His expression did not change and he seemed barely to blink.

She paid less attention than was her custom to the patrons around her until one of the men stopped her with one hand and grabbed her ass with the other. He licked his lips and asked, "When will your father offer you for hire, woman?"

Emilia pushed her hip into his shoulder, and smiled coyly as sack sloshed into his lap. "Never when you are asking, Master Carter," she retorted.

The other men at the table jeered loudly as she proceeded to the man whose blank stare was now on her. She leaned over the table as she set his meal down. "Your dinner, good sir."

No muscle in his face so much as twitched. "My thanks for your pains," he said, his voice rough like thunder and smooth like fine ladies' silk. He placed a crown on the table near him. "You'll keep my cup filled."

"Yes, good sir," Emilia held his gaze, trying to mimic the serving wenches who filled more than ale tankards. She saw that his drink was always above half full and when he retired to bed she found two crowns on the table.


Emilia saw the soldier in the dark corner of the inn's dining hall. She adjusted her clothes and bosoms and brought him ale directly. She made curtsey and her smile, she was sure, was a good estimation of coquettish. "Good sir, I see you are returned safe from battle. I hope these past weeks have been good to you."

"I am well."

"There are other places, sir, nearer the fire," she gestured. "You would be, of course, most welcome--"

"I prefer to observe those in the room," he replied shortly.

"Of course." She turned and scanned the patrons. "You might do well to watch Masters Carpenter and Miller." She pointed to the heavily bearded men across the room. "They are the most like to win at betting or to fight for sport. And it is almost certain that the smithy there will drink his last beer from where it spills on the table." She nodded once, then walked away.

When she brought his meal and refilled his tankard, he spoke first and she turned sharply, surprise biting at her throat. "What is your family?"

"I beg your pardon, good sir?"

"What is your father?" He looked her up and down and a tiny shiver ran up her spine and through her stomach at the appraisal.

"My father is the keeper of this inn," she leaned forward, "and well-supplied to pay a modest bride price." She kept her voice even and again met his eyes directly.

Her forwardness seemed to meet his approval and he made what was clearly an order: "I would meet him before my regiment departs on the morrow."

"It will be arranged, sir." Emilia cursed herself for the slight quaver that slipped into her last word.

He nodded curtly and she saw raw hunger on his face for the instant before he turned his attention entirely away and Emilia let her lips curl slightly in triumph. Her husband would be a trusted solder and Master Carter and his ilk would not be having her.


"Wife! I have a place for you." Iago's voice echoed in the small room.

"What is that, husband?" Emilia tended the fire beneath the stewpot.

"That ape the Moor has taken me into service," he growled. "We're to Cyprus, where you are to come and provide service for the Moor and his officers."

"I have heard that the Moor rewards well those in his service."

"And in exchange they must serve him. Certainly he pays well; how else would he have any loyal to his blackness?" He threw his belt and hat aside.

"For position and pay? That will more than redeem the employment. Think how you may advance in rank--perhaps to lieutenant--with such a general who cannot command any he wishes." She leaned against his back, chin on his shoulder as he unbuttoned and unbuckled.

"And yet he will command me, and I must say 'good my lord,' and 'dear my lord,' at every turn to one who should be slave and not leader." He pulled away from her and continued undressing.

"The Moor will value your service such that you can perhaps lead him, and him be unaware." She felt stirrings in her belly as she watched him. "I will be glad to be with you, my lord. Is Cyprus a good land?"

"Fair enough for asses and dogs." He discarded his jerkin.

"Certainly it has more to recommend it than that." She stood against him again, reaching around to stroke under his shirt. "I will please your general, though he be black as pitch, and his men, though they be also vile animals. Do you know for what service I am wanted?"

Iago's turned to her and his eyes narrowed. He reached to untie his breeches. Emilia felt his movement and gathered her skirts bit by bit into her hands. Faster than she could blink, he spun her around and buried himself in her, moving with furious rhythm and speed. The only sound was of their bodies meeting; as was his manner, he was silent for the duration.

When Iago took his hand from the small of her back and stepped away from her, she let her skirts fall as she caught her breath. Slowly she lifted her face from the table and turned to him. She unlaced her bodice slowly, carefully watching his slack-jawed stare. When her breasts were free, she drew him to sit and cushioned his face between them. She leaned into him, and dragged them down his chest and stomach as she shifted to kneel before him.

She took his hands, placed one on each breast, and cupped one of his buttocks in each of her hands. Watching him from beneath her eyelashes, she teased with her tongue then took him in her mouth, pleased that she could rouse his desire again so soon. On the edge of her vision, she saw his head fall back and his hands moved then jerked her head hard against him. She prided herself that he moaned and each of breath that caught was a victory, evidence of her desirability. Then she concentrated on the pace of his hands, tangled and pulling in her hair, and on not coughing or gagging; he found that displeasing and a distraction.

After his final guttural gasp, he shoved her away, then leaned forward and kissed her thoroughly, twisting a hand again in her hair. "Remember that this is the service you owe me alone," he said, voice hard. His eyes, mere inches from hers, were cold and demanding.

She reached for his lips with hers and, against his cheek, said, "And there are none whom I would willingly serve thus, save you. You will not have reason to doubt me." She drew her nails through the neat beard on his other cheek. She stood, and, lacing herself again, said, "My lord, will you not have dinner? I have already supped."


Emilia looked at their quarters--ample, by her standards--in Cyprus. There were two rooms. One had a bed, the other a cooking area and a table they had proved sturdy their first night there. There was even a front window by which Emilia could do needlework during the daylight hours. The sea breezes brought warmth and alternately the scent of flowers from one direction and the faintly rotting smell of the fisher's wharf from the other.

She had indeed chosen well when she set out to be Iago's wife, she decided as she prepared the meal that would feed the Moor and his closest advisors.

Already Iago had more money, more power, more influence than when she had met him, and that trend showed no sign of altering. If that meant they would need the Moor for a time, they could use him until, in due course, they rose again to greater status.

The door slammed open and Iago stomped in and grabbed her wrist, causing her to drop the spoon into the pot. He swiped at the splatter on his face. Emilia didn't dare.

"Wife! What is the meaning of these rumors?"

"Rumors, my lord?"

"Ah, she plays the innocent! 'Rumors, my lord? What be these rumors?' she asks." Iago pressed until her back was against the wall, his chest pressing against her, his hot breath at her temple. One hand was on her breast, the other on her shoulder with a thumb at her throat. "There are rumors--though I know you know them well--that the lusty Moor finds you pleasing."

"Good my lord, he has indeed said so." Her breath did not fill her chest but seemed to hang in her throat.

"And she asks, 'What rumors? Be there rumors?' Then, like the deceitful woman you are, in the next bite repeat those rumors." Both of his hands gripped tighter and his face was a twisted mask of rage. "What is your meaning, woman?"

Emilia breathed shallowly, swallowed hard, and said, "The Moor has said, as, I may recall to you, yourself have also, that his quarters are in good order since I have been attending him, and that my cooking is pleasing."

Iago's hand moved from her breast then jerked suddenly up between her legs. "He will not find this so pleasing," he growled, gripping tightly.

Her back braced to the wall, Emilia set her hands to his chest and shoved him away . "Indeed, he will not! I would not use you or myself so ill as to bed or be bedded by that beast! Have you done?"

She watched Iago pant, blowing his nostrils like a bull in fury. The red that had filled his face slowly faded.

"I have done for this moment. You must be careful not fall under the spell of his seduction. It is said that he possesses a power over women." He put a hand to her throat and kissed her thoroughly. She reciprocated and it seemed to her for a moment they might devour one another.

"Husband, he will be looking for you," she said in his ear while he gnawed at her neck. "It is midday. Return to your post now and remember, if it seems your deserved advancement is not forthcoming, I can, when the time is right, modify the ingredients of the general's dinner."

Iago stood back, studying her face with those inscrutable eyes. For a moment, there was a flicker almost of respect, and a crooked smile crossed his face. With a nod and not one word further, he turned and strode away.




Notes: Many thanks to the many who listened to me brainstorm and betaed as well: Valerie, Merlin Missy, June, JVH, and others I cornered on IM.