Friday, 27 October 2017

Filthless Friday

Since this isn't a Blue Monday - here's a plotty bit from near the start of The King's Viper (recently re-released) which I hugely enjoyed writing because it is perfectly accurate but as misleading as hell. And you have to read the whole story of Eloise and Severin to discover the true picture.

On her wedding night, Eloise waited in her chamber. Not her old familiar bedroom, but a grand chamber that had been specially prepared for the nuptials of the heir of Venn—the curtains dusted, the mattress on the four-poster bed beaten and aired and covered in fresh linens.

She was led into the chamber by her maids. On the far side of the bed the chamberlain and his men waited to do their duty. The womenfolk cast them scolding glances and held up sheets to protect her from their prurient eyes as they disrobed her down to a close-fitting shift of very white, very fine silk. They pulled all the curtains about the bed, holding open only one gap for Eloise to enter.

“Make no sound, no matter how it hurts,” urged one of the senior ladies in her ear. “If you cry out in weakness, then your firstborn will be a girl.”

Eloise climbed onto the mattress and the gap vanished, leaving her enclosed in a fabric chamber all her own. Firelight glowed on one curtain, lighting the inner sanctum dimly. She sat up, hugging one knee and chewing a fingernail.

Severin de Meynard had said hardly a word to her throughout the ceremony and the meal afterward—a wedding breakfast she’d scarcely touched because her stomach was clenched with tension. His gaze had slid over her as smoothly as black fur. And she hadn’t dared sneak more than a few glances at him. There was too much between them; a history of terror. He’d changed the style of his narrow beard though, she’d noticed. Now it ran the length of his jaw. The bruises she’d seen on his face at their last meeting had long gone of course, but nothing could heal the missing fingers on his right hand. And he looked older. There were gray hairs among the black on his chin.

His left hand had been cool upon hers as they exchanged vows, his voice emotionless, his expression unreadable.

The officials and the maids talked together in low voices and laughed. Her nervousness turned to hot rage. None of this was about her, only about her descendants. Before the wedding she’d been thrashed with a sheaf of wheat, had her breasts anointed with ewes’ milk and had a boy baby passed between her thighs, everything designed to encourage her to bear healthy heirs. Even the white silk kerchief, wedged in the carved headboard, was intended to capture for public display the tokens of her ruptured virginity. Nobody cared if she was happy or unhappy, whether he was tender or cruel to her, whether they took joy in one another or co-existed in loathing. The only matters of significance were that she came to the marriage a maiden, and that she be fertile thereafter.

I could have been Queen of Ystria, she thought. And exactly the same would have been true then.

The chamber door creaked open and closed. He was here. For a moment the official witnesses fell silent. Then someone spoke—the chamberlain almost certainly—and though Eloise could not hear all the words of his elaborate pleasantry she knew from his tone that it was ribald.

The joke fell flat, as Severin made no response. The silence stretched to an uncomfortable length until the chamberlain coughed nervously. Eloise smiled despite herself, though it was a warped and grim smile. Severin de Meynard had a way of killing foolish humor. He could look right through you as if judging your innermost weaknesses, without passion and without mercy.

The curtain of her chamber-within-a-chamber twitched aside, and the King’s Viper looked in on her. He didn’t smile.

“Good even, my lady wife.”

“My lord husband.” The words came out falteringly. She wondered if she should have arranged it so that his first glimpse of her was not like this, hunched up on the bed like a child afraid of the dark. But it was too late for that. He turned away, speaking to the others in an undertone, then climbed onto the bed. A small leather flask, the sort used to hold strong liquor, swung by its thong from his hand.

“It’s been—” she whispered, but he cut her off, placing a finger against her lips for silence. The reproof made her quail.

He made sure the curtains were drawn tight and nothing could be glimpsed of them from without. He was wearing only woolen hose, hitched loosely about his hips now that they were not laced to a doublet. His chest—with its compact, hard muscle and its dark flare of hair—was bare. She saw unfamiliar scars, still shiny and fresh, laced across his ribs.

They’d punished him cruelly for what he’d done to her.

Eloise dug her fingers into her shin. Do I really know this man?

She had seen for herself that he was a killer. Had he ever been truly kind to her? Hadn’t he systematically stripped her of all hope and abandoned her to her pain? Hadn’t he taken everything from her?

Everything, she realized, except that which he was about to claim now, by right of marriage.

In a moment the whole edifice of her memory crumbled into doubt. A visceral terror made her wonder if she had made an awful mistake—if in fact she had been mistaken all along. Perhaps she had deceived herself. Perhaps he had deliberately deceived her.

As he knelt before her with his thighs spread, and laid his right hand along her cheek, she trembled.

Universal buy-link for THE KING'S VIPER

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