Conquered: Spoils of War Ch. 06bywishfulthinking©
Long, silken strands of gold shot with fire tumbled over her bare shoulders, sweeping the tiny butterfly tattoo at the small of her back. A thin chain bound her hips, only emphasising their swing as she moved down the steps.
Wispy rose cloth clung to a moulded gold necklet, skimming the sides of her breasts and falling to several inches above her knees. The gathered folds only served to emphasis the high, firm mounds thrusting impudently against the thin material and the sweet cheeks of her bottom.
Arik's hand clenched around the silver goblet. As if sensing his brooding gaze, Jolie's head turned slightly, glimpsing him with her pure profile. He silently willed her to turn about, to come to him of her own free will. It was like a kick in the gut when she continued to walk away from him, the tattoo taunting him with each swing of her hips.
She had looked upon him with hurt golden eyes when he given the order for the delicate tattoo. It had not taken long before he had settled on the beautiful winged creatures unique to where she grew up as the mark of his consort. Even though it pained him to see her suffer, the ink mark was as crucial as it was binding. It marked her as his. A slave collar could be removed. A tattoo was irrevocable.
Jolie had escaped him once. He could recall with startling clarity the debilitating agony that had seized him, not knowing whether she was alive or safe. He had been consumed by fear and an unfamiliar indecisiveness. He realised then no woman had mattered as much to him. And he had no one to blame, for she had run from him.
Her cool indifference to him was as infuriating as it was irritating. He had kept her in his bed since her recapture, seeking to imprint himself on her in the most elemental way he knew how. Jolie had yielded to him, gloriously and wantonly. She was too passionate and inexperienced to deny him. Yet when the fiery heat had abated and their bodies exhausted, there remained a secret part of herself she held from him.
It frustrated the gods out of him, that invisible distance she held him at. And could remove all reason. He wanted to chain her to his bed or lock her up in a gilded cage all for the sole reward of knowing that she would constantly think of him, even if it be in hate. He was no better than a sulky prince who refused anything but the best sword despite not being skilled enough to wield it.
When the time for Jolie' birthing came, Arik felt as though his sword hand had been ripped off as he listened to Jolie's cries. He alternated between praying and hitting something with his fists. When the first faint cry came, his tired eyes burned and he rubbed at them furiously. He was immediately by her side, the midwives parting silently as he reached an exhausted Jolie holding a tiny bundle to her breast.
Jolie met his gaze, hers soft and glimmering, her face luminous. He smiled down at her, his heart clenching with tenderness, and gently brushed back a stray golden lock. Around them worked the midwives.
"I want to name her Isaleen, after my mother," she told him.
"Isaleen," he murmured, stoking the downy softness of his daughter's fragile head with a trembling hand. "It's perfect. She's perfect. And tiny, just like her mother."
A gasp of laughter escaped Jolie. "She will soon grow."
They silently watched their daughter, a squirming bundle that tugged at his heart. It was a moment of respite in Jolie's silent war against Arik, and it gave him hope that not all was lost.
Arik gazed around the circle of men, his bleary eyes narrowed. Arik had faced men in the battlefield, had seen his men struck down by wounds that would make a grown man shudder. But many a night changing Isaleen's cloths sometime between dusk and dawn and bringing her to their bed so that Jolie could feed the little one, tested a warrior's strength. Time and time again he was amazed his precious daughter could produce a stink that could fell a grown man.
Jolie and her babe were the foremost portent of hope for his people. Word had begun to trickle in of more Alverdian's swelling with child. What held the war council in stunned silence was the reporting that a Loas woman had swelled with the Alverdian seed of her love slave. A triumphant relief had surged through him at the knowledge his people were no longer destined to wither and die. Yet this news did not deter his decision and only made him more determined. He was irritated beyond bearing that they dithered long over a decision of such import to Arik.
"She is a princess of her own people," Arik reiterated.
"She is a love slave, of no standing."
"Only because I made her so."
"She is not chaste."
"Obviously, and again, only because I made her so. Indeed, most of you bore witness to the occasion."
"She does not know our people, our customs."
"She is learning."
So it went on.
The men who were friends of his father were the most stalwart against any move away from the tradition of picking his Queen from the handful of daughters of the best families. The families of the men on his war council. It was unheard of, they said, that a captive of war could become Queen. Only one said he would rather fall on his sword than crown a heathen, and Arik, lacking any measure of diplomacy by that point, invited the man to do so. There was little quibbling after that, only hushed whispers.
Finally, and after a moon of debating, the council secretly decreed Jolina could become his Queen. Arik's last remaining barrier was Jolie herself, and he wondered how or if he could convince her.
Arik stood shrouded in the shadows, gazing upon a sleeping Jolie. She lay on her side, her long golden hair spilling over the pillows in silken ropes. She wore a shimmery cloth of the palest purple. The silk draped her soft curves with a sensuous elegance and bared her fragile shoulders. Jolie had requested the palace clothier to attend upon Isaleen to have clothing reminiscent of Jolie's home. Arik had insisted on clothing for Jolie also, having described the gown he had discovered her wearing in Alverdia as best he could, which wasn't much after having torn in from Jolie in a mixture of relief, possession and pride. But in such things, it was a mixing of customs, the clothier's stubbornness of tradition only mildly overcome.
Jolie was deeply asleep, her body warm and soft. He imagined laying down beside her and gathering her to him as he slowly sheathed himself inside her, torturous inch by inch. Her hands would capture his face, drawing his mouth to hers in a deep kiss as their bodies joined.
Arik's lips twisted wryly. Arik had thought himself the conqueror here. Now he was not so sure. His body ached with an almost consist need. He could count the months since he had found pleasure in her arms. As much as he wanted her, the possibility that she only tolerated his touch held him at bay. It was agony to be so close to her, to see her in the confines of his bed. But he knew it would be more so if he could not at least gaze upon her at will, to know she was there, even if she hid her thoughts behind those luminous golden eyes.
Beside her on the wide bed, surrounded in a pool of soft cloths, her arms and feet waving, was little Leenie. Unlike her mother, Isaleen had spied him and was gurgling happily. Carefully, so as not to wake up Jolie, he picked up the squirming bundle.
Jolie had gifted him with the most exquisite treasure. She was barely three months old and already she had his war hardened warriors wrapped around her tiny finger. At her softest coo, they fell over themselves to attend to her every need.
His princess had her mother's golden eyes and beautiful creamy skin, and his black hair, only on Isaleen it curled in tufts of heartbreaking abandon on top of her chubby heart-shaped face. No doubt he would be grey from worry by the time she was sixteen and eager to test her flirting on unsuspecting warriors.
"Come, little Leenie, let's go for a walk while your mother gets some much needed rest." Isaleen blew him a bubble in agreement. He nodded to Poula, Leenie's nurse, as Poula entered while Arik was leaving.
He strode through halls, and watched as guards came to attention upon spying Arik. They nodded as he passed, their curious eyes falling to the bewitching devil kicking in his arms.
His feet with a will of their own, took him through one of the King's entrances into the heart of the King's harem. His feet stood at the edge of the bathing pools, their peaceful depths still and cool beneath the arching columns.
The memory of Jolie, naked curves glistening as she bathed in the soothing waters tormented him. Time and again Arik had watched Jolie through one of the King's secret gilded grates overlooking the harem's bathing pool, drawn to the way her supple body had swelled with his seed. She had unknowingly called to him, filling him with awe and a powerful need that went beyond lust.
Arik had gazed upon her silently, glorying in the changes in her body they had wrought together. Her skin incandescent, her tiny breasts burgeoning to sweet handfuls. The way she rested her hand protectively over her swollen belly, or of how she spoke and sung in her native language as she had stroked her belly when she thought no one was watching. He could have groaned for the hunger that rose up in him now. He didn't know how long he stood there lost in memory as he held a now sleeping Isaleen.
At the sound of padded footsteps, he swung round, shocked to discover a furious Jolie. Her golden eyes blazed, almost crackling in their intensity.
Whatever Jolie intended to say to him was prevented by the appearance of Poula. Poula wordlessly collected a sleeping Isaleen from her father, and bowing to them both, silently disappeared through an archway.
"Damn you, Arik. Why did you bring her here?" The words were a soft hiss.
She was barefoot before him, her lips quivering with her fury. Her breasts, rising swiftly, strained against the silk gathered and clasped together with a tiny jewelled disc above them, before falling in soft folds to her bare feet. He imagined her could trace the outline of her nipples through the thin cloth. His shaft thickened.
"Did you think to show her the harem where you imprisoned her mother? To show her your proud customs where women are locked up and treated as sexual objects? Is this what is to become of Isaleen when she is old enough?"
Arik was abruptly drawn from his lustful thoughts, anger battling with the fierce joy surging through him. Finally, the meek, submissive woman Jolie had shown him outside the bed chamber was gone. Only now, he had no intention of letting her withdraw from him again.
Jolie's fury had only been incensed at the sight of Arik holding Isaleen in his arms. It should have looked ridiculous to see a massive warrior cloaked in dark blue tunic and even darker blue leather breeches cradling a tiny baby against his chest. It only made her heart squeeze.
The tan belt that rested low on his hips and devoid of its usual weapons only emphasised the broadness of his shoulders and chest. His black hair was a glossy riot that made her itch to settle it to rights. He was impossibly tall and bronzed, and looked so right standing there holding their tiny babe in his strong arms. Ooh, she hated him. He was a conqueror of her people, she no more than a prize. Yet it disturbed her to know he could easily hold her heart.
"You were not ill-treated as a love slave," he now told arrogantly. "You were pampered and your every whim seen to."
"I was pampered for you. I was oiled and jewelled for you. All for your sexual pleasure. You gave no thought to what I wanted."
"I remember spending long nights devoting myself to what you wanted," he murmured. Jolie's cheeks heated at his hateful reminder. "You only had to ask, and I would eagerly comply."
"To lock someone up, to take them from their home, their family and friends, for the sole purpose of slaking you sexual urges is in no way negated by some bit of pampering. What gives you the right?" she ground out. He was more than a foot taller than her, and it only made her angry that she had to tip her head back to glare at him. It disconcerted her to find him watching her intently, his green eyes glowing with a familiar devilish glint and not the fury that stormed through her.
"I am king."
"That is your answer? 'I am King'?" The words spluttered out.
In the blink of an eye, a large hand curled about her smaller one, drawing her up against the solidness of his chest. He pressed their joined hands at the small of her back, making her aware of the impossibly hard rod of flesh pressing insistently against her. His other hand cupped the nape of her neck, his fingers sliding in her hair. Her body instinctively clenched where she imagined him filling her. Her hands settled over his dark tunic, intent to push him away. Yet she hesitated, and it cost her much. His warmth sunk into her flesh, his achingly familiar scent wrapping around her. Jolie took a deep breath, and found it only made her situation worse.
He hadn't touched her for months, not since before Isaleen was born. Her traitorous body burned, wanting his closeness, wanting him, even if only during the dark hours of the night. Yet he made no move toward her, his cloaked eyes watchful. And she had been tormented by the knowledge that he must be assuaging his needs with his harem and not her. No doubt with Liana, his favourite.
"Yes. It is our way. Would you prefer that I lied and told you I felt what I did was wrong?"
She tried to push free from his arms, but his warrior strength held her firm. Her body tingled and throbbed at his closeness, and she told herself it was only natural. Arik had awakened her fully to the needs and desires of her body. But she had to escape before he once again he trapped her in his sensual snare.
He dragged his lips up the side of her neck, sending a shiver down her back. Her body softened, weakened. "How could I think it was wrong, when it has given us something as pure and beautiful as Isaleen?"
Fury burst through Jolie that he would use Isaleen to justify traditions that subjected women to sexual slavery. She pushed against his chest with all the anger and strength within her. Caught off guard, he took a step back, then he was falling. And taking her with him.
They hit the water with a big splash, sinking in a cloud of bubbles and cloth as they twisted and turned in the crystal depths. Her hair and gown were tangled about her limbs as she flailed, before strong hands circled her waist and they were surging toward the surface.
Jolie gasped and spluttered as she dragged in a lungful of air. Somehow she found herself with her legs and arms wrapped around him, while he held them in shoulder deep water.
"If you wanted me to bathe with you, you only had to ask." He was chuckling with amusement, and she smacked him across his chest before pushing back a clump of wet hair from her face.
His laughter abruptly ended, and she gazed narrowly up at him in query. Only to discover him staring intently down between them. Her eyes flicked down, and widened. The clinging silk moulded the soft curves of her breasts, the shadows of the taut pink crowns revealed by its sheerness.
"That's not an invitation," she gasped, trying to push away from him. But his arm hooked possessively about her waist kept her intimately pressed against his lower body. And her struggles only seemed to spur on the growing evidence of his intent. Fingers trailed down over her shoulder and chest to close over her breast, gently squeezing it. She bit back a moan, even as his own reached her ears.
Her body, already on edge from months of tormenting dreams, began instinctively readying itself for his possession. She was furious with him, so how could she want him so much?
Her arms were forced to wrap themselves around his shoulders to hold herself upright in the water, her fingers unwittingly tangling in the black curls at his nape. She had the choice of either pressing herself against him to shield her breast from his heated glances, or distance her upper body as much as she could from his and allowing him to gaze upon her till his full.
Her mind raced as she desperately sought a way to distract them both from what would soon become inevitable. For he would only discard her afterwards as his fickle attentions strayed to other more beguiling and willing love slaves.
"The other love slaves might be annoyed to find you frolicking in their bath without them," she told him, pressing her lips together as he plucked at her taut nipple.
"There are no other loves slaves," he told her quietly.
"Not right now, no," she gasped out as he tugged down on her cloth until her breasts were freed from the soft material. He shifted her higher against him so that their rosy tips broke the water's surface.
Jolie's breath caught as she lifted wide golden eyes to intent green ones. He had not been interested in bedding her in months. Silently she burned for him, wanting to lay in his arms and feel his warmth surround her, inside her. She missed him, this, as much as the knowledge burned her. Yet he had made no attempt to kiss her, or touch her besides fleetingly and unintentionally. At times she had found him watching her, almost broodingly. Was he bored with her? Or were her softer curves no longer appealing? It felt as though a fist was squeezing her heart.
If he took her now, it would mean nothing to him. To Arik, she was just another possession, a toy to pick up and play with at will. She had told herself from the beginning to prepare for the inevitably of him walking away from her. If she welcomed him inside her again, would she be able to shield herself from the hurt when he found someone else to amuse himself? Jolie knew she could not compete with a harem of dazzling women willing to satisfy his every whim while demanding nothing in return.
"There are no love slaves in this harem." The quiet words intruded on her unpleasant thoughts.
"There is more than one harem chamber in this palace?" she asked incredulously. "How many love slaves do you need?"
"None?" she echoed in confusion, gazing up at him. Was it because he was wet and dishevelled that he seemed less arrogant and distant? She didn't think so. He had seemed somehow different for a while now. He gave the impression of being considerate. Perhaps even approachable. Jolie thought it was because finally he got what he wanted from her, a child. His first. She knew she shouldn't take any pride in that knowledge, but she was selfishly pleased she could give him something no one else had.
"I relinquished all of them."
Her lips parted in shock. He had let them go? Why?
"Except me," she said, as the thought battered her.
He nodded, walking them into the shallows of the pool, his eyes never leaving her face.
"Is that what you want, your freedom?"
As inevitable as she had told herself it would be, the knowledge he no longer wanted her left her speechless. For all that he was an arrogant boor, she had surprisingly strong feelings for him. Even as a prisoner to his sexual whim, she had discovered a softer, tender side of this man she knew was rarely seen outside the bed chamber. She could not imagine her life without him in it. Oh, she knew she would find a way to survive, and do everything in her power to ensure Isaleen's wellbeing, but Jolie knew this craving for him would never abate.
She nodded, tears blurring her eyes. His reached up, and his thumb caught a crystal teardrop. He searched her face, his eyes narrowing. She tried to turn her face away, but he cupped her chin, drawing her back.
She was unable to stop the tear escaping down her cheek. He watched her in silence, a troubled frown drawing his brows together.