Chapter 4: Consummation of the First Land
The Queen’s bedchamber was opened and aired through the day as the servants cleansed it from top to bottom. The Queen herself was not allowed within during the process. Eleya tried to occupy herself by moving upward through the castle’s once familiar halls towards a destination she could not remember.
So much of this long-lost home was utterly forgotten to her.
“My Queen.” The Prince of the Southern Isles looked startled, dark eyes widening, even darker finer hair than hers blowing loosely in the wind that wound through this tower’s open windows.
Eleya gestured for him to continue as he was and sat beside the window. This place stirred memory within her. The view of the castle environs below, the soft cat purring in a sunny corner, the sparse furnishings of the observatory. It wasn’t the same cat, but somehow she knew there had always been one here.
After a moment, the prince, Sahasarel, relaxed again.
“The consummation of the First Land is tonight.”
He turned toward her, caution in his movements and expression. “Yes, my Queen.”
“We will be married properly.” She looked back.
Sahasarel, of all the princes, seemed the least weary, of duty, the gods, death, and least experienced in the ways of men and women who were to be married. Other than Eleya herself of course. She could hardly be expected to become very experienced in such things spending nearly one hundred and fifteen seasons in chastity she’d anticipated being permanent.
He looked at her with those soft wide open eyes that always seemed so innocent and welcoming. “Yes, my Queen.”
“Does it bother you?” she asked candidly, more candidly than could ever be considered proper. But oracles were trained in etiquette of a different nature than most. They were the only ones allowed so many liberties with politeness.
But Sahasarel only shook his head. “I was raised with the understanding I might marry the Queen one day.”
She paused and tasted that, considered a girl in her sixteenth season delivered screaming from her mother’s warm arms to the cold welcome of the convent. She had found belonging there in time, found it not so cold, even burned with not unwelcome heat when the sigils ran down her arms and gods opened her mouth to speak their cold, layered voices over hers.
The question bubbled up despite herself. “Did you ever have a choice?”
He seemed surprised, but surprisingly free of bitterness when he answered, “No.”
By the time evening fell, she had been returned to the chambers of the First Princess, not those of the Queen. They bathed her in warm baths and cool, dried her skin and perfumed it. She shivered more from the unfamiliar floral scent permeating her skin than from the coolness of the evening air. She had not been raised with finery.
“My Queen,” the maidservants murmured, and she let them do as they asked, let them stretch and comb out her hair and weave gold thread into her braid. She let them bind her waist and privates with soft garments, then slip a soft undergown over the top and pluck at the lace until it sat right. She let them pull an overdress of green and gold and white over her head and shoulders and arrange it against her body until she looked like one of the fine ladies of the Royal House she’d never been allowed to become.
They trimmed her nails and softened her skin with oil, smoothed over her complexion with powders, colored her lips with the simplest, most innocent of shades, the one nearest her own.
“What is it like,” she asked them, for she knew no one else to ask, “to lie with a man?”
The maids exchanged glances, but the eldest sat down opposite her and took her hand. “It will be your first time. You must be patient. It might not be pleasant.”
“But it might be,” lilted the voice of the one straightening Eleya’s hem. “Best lay I ever had was new to the whole thing, but teachable.”
“I cannot teach him anything,” Eleya said quietly, her eyes dropping to study that hem and the gold slippers another maid had brought her to wear.
“Well, that’s where you’re wrong,” said the younger one. Younger than the first, but not young as Eleya. “No one knows your body but you.”
She asked more questions. They gave answers. Her whole body trembled with nerves she had not felt before. It wasn’t like the Prince of the Northern Wind actually wanted her at all.
The room was not so much changed. It was clean and beautiful, more adorned than it had been before. Incense filled the room with scent, the hearth blazed with fire, and light glowed from sconces along the all. The bed was without coverlet, only sheets beneath where they would lie down, and there was a large space on one side for their other spouses to stand witness. A small ornate jar on the nightstand held oil.
It was warm in the room, almost too warm for the dress she wore, and certainly pleasant along the exposed parts of her skin. Her hair began to cling to her neck at her nape. There was a reason for all this, that all members of the royal marriage were obligated to take part in each land’s consummation, that they would be accountable in each other’s eyes and not just to the examiners who would later view the unwashed bedding.
It could all be embarrassing to Eleya if she allowed it, but she had been bathing naked with her sisters from their cold cistern, and while modesty was a required virtue, she had never been raised with or among men to develop a shyness toward them. Even so, she had never been naked before a man, and no one had ever prepared her to marry one, let alone four.
Sahasarel of the Southern Isles, Nirune of the Eastern Plains, and Tanata of the Western Mountains had arrived a little before her and gathered near the hearth where it was clearly set with chairs and comfortable leaning spots should someone prefer to stand. She waited a moment in the center of the room, taking a moment to look at them before everything that would follow. Sahasarel persisted in seeming so innocent to her eyes, talking lightly with the other two but no tension in his body or more than a friendly smile when she had entered. Nirune remained quiet and withdrawn, a mystery to her, firelight glinting off his hair, his seat well positioned to miss nothing and but saying little. Tanata was as practical and levelheaded as ever in his conversation, but he looked at her with knowing eyes. He was not so nervous as she, but he was quite as aware of their purpose for being here.
Caedros entered without her noticing. He was not there, then he was, beautiful as ever, features almost too fine for a man’s and his face was set with determination if not pleasure.
He paused when he reached her, the first look of softness she thought she had seen in his eyes. “This is your first time.”
But she only raised her eyebrows. “From what I understand, we should all be virgins,” she reminded him. As soon as the future heir was set, those eligible of the opposite gender in the Principal Houses were obliged to abstain from relations until it was known whether they would be chosen for the royal marriage.
Caedros shrugged. She followed the shift of his cloak with her eyes. “The eligible princes of their house may not lie with women until the royal marriage has been made.”
It gave her pause. It was quite specific. “And you kept the law as stated?”
Sahasarel looked confused at the question, but Nirune looked up sharply. Tanata was very quiet. It was no secret to her that Tanata preferred men in the first place.
“The Northern Wind keeps the traditions and laws of the Principal Houses,” Caedros answered, sidestepping the particulars but clear enough. It wasn’t his first time in someone else’s bed, only in hers.
“Would you like me to call up one of the others to share our bed?” she asked slowly. Maybe it would be easier if there was another man, as he was used to, but he shook his head.
“We do this as tradition states. We keep the traditions and laws of the Principal Houses.”
Eleya felt the patterns in his words, the set of his jaw. Tradition meant something to him, beyond merely the requirements set upon the principalities to follow it. “Very well,” she agreed.
There was nothing more to wait for, to talk about. She let down the thick braid of her dark hair until it fell like a curtain between her and the sight of her many husbands. But there she stopped. It was not her place to undress herself.
It was Nirune who gently but deftly unfastened her overdress as her heart beat too quickly and his fingers were rough where they met her skin. If he was a scholarly prince, he must always be found with a pen in his hand, but she suspected he was more a prince who worked among his people, who served them.
He removed the soft undergown and she found her face heating under his gaze and the way Sahasarel turned his own face away with a blush. Not just from her but from Caedros. Tanata had finished undressing the Prince of the Northern Wind and they both stood bare before their husbands.
She found her voice then. “You should look, Sahasarel. He is your husband, not only mine. I am your wife, not only his.”
Caedros looked at her as the other two withdrew, and she found while she was aware of the three besides, she could not break gaze with the prince of the First Land nor the way he seemed to breathe a little more shallowly as he took in her body. She wasn’t especially beautiful, not slender or delicate or without blemish or scar, but she was not ugly either, merely plain. Yet he seemed to not find her wanting.
Caedros, though, was as beautiful as his face. It was clear in his body that he was as active as Sahasarel was scholarly and he moved with grace and poise she could only ever find when she was dancing.
She sat on the bed and he gently laid her back. He didn’t want her or love her, but he was a man and she was a woman and they were married, so he touched her and let her run her own hands over his shoulders as he kissed her with a warmth that made her melt.
She was naked and he was touching her, palm warm against her hip, leg brushing up against the inside of hers, his neck under her own hand, responding as she drew him closer.
Sahasarel made a small noise of surprise, as if he’d discovered arousal as surely as she just had, and Caedros drew back startled. He pressed a kiss to Eleya’s shoulder and she couldn’t help but think it was an excuse to hide his face from those watching.
“Do you like being the center of attention?” she whispered against the side of his face.
A shudder ran through his whole body. “I do not.”
What an unusual trait for a prince. “You seem young,” she commented. It was barely fair. She was older than she ought to be for the marriage of the royal heir, though not for becoming queen, and she already knew he wasn’t quite of the age considered appropriate to become ruling prince, but he was definitely an adult.
He pulled his head up to look at her, amused and huffy in equal measure, not so self conscious. “I’m not so young as I look.”
“What? Are you a hundred seasons old?” she asked, raising another eyebrow.
“Not quite a hundred,” he admitted. A faint red flush spread across his cheeks.
Oh. She hadn’t expected it, nor the sudden rush of heat through her chest. She wanted to see that flush chase down his limbs and she pressed her own face to his shoulder, hands running down the strength in his arms. “You are beautiful,” she said softly. She peeked up from his skin to see his face.
His eyes widened in surprise, seeming bluer and brighter, then his blush dulled and she could see wariness gleaming in his eyes, but he did not stop touching her, running fingers warm over her breast, making her breath catch in her lungs. Untrusting of compliments, but generous in return.
It was easy to get lost in the heat of his breath on her shoulder, her neck, the warm pressure of his kisses. She turned her head to grant him better access and saw her other husbands, accidentally locking gazes with Nirune, who stared back with such intensity, she felt like he could feel her patterns as an oracle, feel what she was feeling, missing nothing of the sensations incited by Caedros’ hand on her thigh, his mouth on her collarbone, his fingers sparking pain and pleasure as he teased her nipple. It made her face heat and a sudden nervous flutter settle in her belly as she squirmed beneath each touch of Caedros’ skin, everywhere Nirune’s gaze wandered. She could just see Sahasarel staring as if he could not bear to look away.
She could understand the urge to look elsewhere. She closed her eyes for just a moment to feel the heat sparking in her body before opening her eyes and urging Caedros to his back so she could press her own hands to his skin, straddle him between her legs, and feel his hardness and strength beneath her as they moved. He let her take the top, a sharp grin on his face, hands pressed down on her thighs.
She had seen a cock bare before but not erect, and seeing his standing upright, flushed and damp, made her want to touch and maybe even taste. Her cheeks burned, her sigils were cool, and she leaned down to take what kisses she could as she copied Caedros’ hands from earlier. He traced shivery, meaningless patterns on her hips, holding her as she touched his neck, his shoulders, traced over his chest and teased as he had her, then groaned when his fingers slipped between her legs. She ran her hand gently over his cock, studying the signs of pleasure on his face, then gripped more firmly and watched him bite his lip with a soft hiss.
His fingers were inside her, feeling her out in ways that made her skin burn with want and hunger for more. She tried moving her own up and down his shaft, and for a second, his face contorted with pleasure, then he pulled out to cover her hand with his and guide her in how to do it. A firmer grip, more sureness in his touch until it bled over into hers.
“If you want to do it this way,” he said, “use the oil.”
Eleya drew back, hands falling to his hips as she straightened. “How am I supposed to do it?” she asked with a frown. This way, that way. Even after asking dozens of questions about sex, she didn’t know nearly enough.
Caedros gripped her hips then and adjusted her position above him. He ran one hand down over her pelvis and the inside of her thigh again, provoking a whimper she couldn’t hold back, then guided her over him slowly.
“Oh,” she breathed, without any real words for the feeling of him pushing inside with his cock and not his hands, of the fullness stretching her open. She pressed both hands to his chest and slowed them even further.
He let her, following her pace until finally he was fully inside her, flushed red and a look of desire in his eyes.
The slightest rock of their hips set off a wave of sensation, discomfort mingled with pleasure. “Wait, stop,” she whispered, a shudder running through her.
There were his hands on her hips again, hot and firm, holding her still.
She opened her mouth against his skin to taste against the line of his neck and shoulder. When she lifted her head, a flush had bloomed across his cheeks and ran down almost to his chest.
She waited for the feeling of their joining to not be so thick and awkward, until she was warm and full and it felt good with him inside her. “Caedros,” she whispered, fingers curling, and he seemed to hear her unspoken question and moved, rocking gently up into her, setting off ripples of pleasure.
“May we come closer?”
She had not expected the question, and it almost startled her. It was Sahasarel’s voice, and she swallowed at the idea of it, of him coming closer with that fascinated expression he so often wore, his exploratory nature being applied to her and Caedros in this moment.
Caedros had said nothing, and when her eyes moved to his, he seemed to be waiting without expression, but for the edge of tension in his face, the soft way each breath panted out of him. She tucked her fingers into his hair and he suddenly met her gaze with sharp focus, then realizing what she was asking him, his eyes widened and cheeks flushed pink. He glanced away to one side, but he did not deny her.
After a long moment, she answered, “Yes.”
She did not like to be the center of attention, she decided, but this, the weight of her husband’s gazes heavy upon her; this, the shivery sensation of being watched by them; and this, the heat sparking in her belly with the weight of Caedros hands, every minute shift within her, the taste of each kiss he bestowed on her: this she liked very much.
Their rocking motion went on for minutes more, his fingers sliding over her skin like bright flames of heat. He thrust in harder, sharper, and she gasped at the radiating pleasure, her breath caught on a whimper. He stared at her like seeing her for the first time.
“My Queen,” he said, voice rougher and softer than she’d heard it before, as if all this was fraying at his edges like it was hers.
Even so, she corrected him. “Eleya. In my bed, call me Eleya, not queen.”
But the brief moment of openness vanished from his eyes. “Not everyone wants such intimacies.”
She stared at him, gritted her teeth, and ground down against him, punching a startled breath out of his mouth. “Then call me nothing,” she said.
And he didn’t. They exchanged no more words as their pace grew frenetic and their movements jerky. She could see the need in his eyes and the want in that of her other husbands’, Tanata watching Caedros as if he could hardly help himself and wished he could, Nirune watching her with the same sense of intent observation he’d displayed earlier, saying nothing and reacting little, and Sahasarel watching them both with the fascination she’d expected, following every slide of hands, every snap of hips, and fixing themselves on Caedros’ face when he hit his climax.
She felt the wet heat filling her with his release and hid her face and muffled groan against his neck. His fingers were still on her, just above where their bodies met, and then he found her clit and she cried out, helpless against the tide of pleasure that washed through her, leaving her shaking behind it as it ebbed.
When the euphoria faded, she became aware of how hot and damp with sweat her skin was, almost dripping under her hair, and the strange sticky sensation of his semen on her thighs as he withdrew. She felt the sudden ache of emptiness without him and a sort of boneless limp feeling that she’d thought physical exertion no longer gave her.
Being undressed before them, by them, had been one sort of feeling of vulnerability, but she found it disconcerting as she blushed, shuddering, at the sensation of Tanata gently washing her down with a cloth, pulling her forward and holding her hair to get her back and nape, swiping over her ribs and belly and under her breasts, gently lingering between her legs where the mess was worst. She wanted to shut her eyes against it, but she had never shut her eyes against anything since she became an actual oracle in truth not merely training, and she studied her husband as he worked, tucking her fingers in against his hair.
It didn’t light a fire in her belly like when Nirune had slid her clothes slowly from her body, but that was probably a good thing. Tanata wasn’t looking at her like Nirune had. Even so, it was intimate in a way difficult to ignore.
She turned her head to watch Sahasarel washing Caedros, sneaking peeks at Tanata every so often as if he’d never done such a thing before and wanted to get it right. It was endearing. Caedros’ face held a soft expression that seemed to agree.
“Sleep now,” Nirune said quietly as he drew the thick coverlet over them that had been absent before. His voice was low and deep, and Eleya shivered in its warmth.
She closed her eyes and slept.
Eleya had long been used to rising early, before the sun, that she may begin her duties before it found her. Tendrils of sunlight had curled around the edges of the heavy curtains and cast their glow on the bed by the time she opened her eyes.
She’d never in her memory woken up so warm, tucked into Caedros’ arms, his breath hot against her temple. She pulled back enough to prop herself up on one elbow beside him and look at his sleeping face. He looked as relaxed as she felt, her body unable to grasp its usual tension, his face finally free of that resentful, if well hidden grief.
His eyelashes fluttered softly and she stared at it, fascinated, then his eyes came open and focused on her.
“We should get up,” she said quietly, as much to herself as to Caedros.
He gave off the impression of faint puzzlement with a slight shift of his brows, then amusement in the quirk of his mouth. “It isn’t wrong for the sun to find you sleeping,” he said just as quietly.
“The sun prefers to look upon an industrious people,” she said absently. It took no thought to repeat the mantra of years.
“A people yes,” he agreed easily and that made her listen to the rest. “Not a particular person.”
For a moment, Eleya considered it, then she slipped out of his arms and out of the bed and didn’t listen so closely to the sigh that followed her.
She couldn’t reach for her oracle clothing this morning, and she tried sorting through the ridiculous pile of underclothes. How many pieces of white fluff was one woman supposed to wear? Her maidservants had put it all on her the first time, and she’d been too distracted by her nervousness to consider learning how it was done.
By the time she’d gotten to frowning at the undergown and overdress, Caedros was fully dressed. He put one hand to her shoulder in a brief, gentle touch. “Here.” He deftly pulled the clothes over her limbs and arranged them, fastening ties at her back with an ease that made her wonder if he’d been truthful about never sleeping with women before.
“You’re quite skilled,” she said evenly, ruthlessly suppressing any bite from her voice.
Caedros’ fingers paused. He smoothed out the last bit of collar with thoughtful slowness. “I was my sister’s favorite sibling,” he said at last. “She’d have me help her with this part.”
“Not servants?” Eleya turned. He had much more understanding of this world she’d found herself in, but she thought the servants universal.
He smiled, but there was no pleasure in the smile. “My sister was favored to rule the land. She preferred to keep the servants to a minimum.”
It hadn’t saved her.
Eleya nodded. “Thank you,” she said.
There was no hostility in the way he put a hand to the small of her back to lead her toward the doors and soon after breakfast. “Shall we?”0