tagRomanceTears in a Dry Land Ch. 07

Tears in a Dry Land Ch. 07


Despite their growing intimacy, Sophia could not consider Penelope her only love. Yunan called her in so many ways. She wanted his touch, his voice, his approval. She wanted him to stroke her skin and tell her he loved her despite her size. Every night she prepared herself for his summons, but it never came.

Not matter how elegantly she served him during their evening meal, nor how sweet the songs she sang him, accompanying herself on the simple lap harp, his thanks were always profound and polite, but once the meal was over, he did not stay.

He would take his leave regretfully, wielding excuses like a handful of sugar plums to an indulged child. She could have born it if he were indeed engaged in managing his many business affairs or planning strategies for their safety with his warrior companions, but one night he called for Aysel, the dark-haired serving woman.

She stayed in his rooms until the pink light of dawn crept along the mountain tops. Three nights he called her and each morning Sophia heard her soft footfall as she made her way to the servants quarters down below. Even though Sophia asked her what service she performed for her master, the woman said nothing.

"The Master called and I attended," was all she would say, her dark eyes fixed on the floor beside Sophia's feet.

The girl did not like to press her further, even though the thought of Yunan taking a serving girl to his bed instead of the mother of his child made her want to scream.

It would have been easier if she could be angry with him, but there was no opportunity. She could not return his gifts, for he sent none. To refuse to talk to him would seem churlish during the short times they spent together, so she swallowed her feelings and tried to forget them.

Yunan enjoyed entertaining. Their evenings were often spent in the company of local dignitaries and their partners. Sophia noted how Penelope fell instinctively into the role of hostess, effectively complementing her father's hospitality.

In some ways, Sophia felt her presence must be an embarrassment to them and often left early, feigning tiredness. One night, though, she stayed.

Yunan arranged for a well-known, celebrated singer to entertain them. A small group of musicians played while they dined. The music was like nothing Sophia had heard before -- unworldly, ethereal. Very different from the music she used to dance to even when she used to dance as a small child before her family. It touched her in a way she could not explain, leaving her raw and open.

The singer sang them many tales -- of quests amongst the hills, ancient tales in a tongue most had forgotten, yet their meaning wove its way into their hearts. She told of living amongst the harsh landscape of the hills and of love, full and unrequited. Sophia wept.

When the singer at last pleaded fatigue and left with rich presents, the guests and Penelope also took their leave. Only the musicians stayed, playing soft melodies as Sophia and Yunan sat and looked at each other. Their eyes spoke volumes, yet still he did not take her to his bed.

As dawn broke, Sophia heard Aysel pass her door. This was intolerable! Sophia determined to make her feelings clear to Yunan, even if it meant risking his anger. She knew he often went to the rooftop gardens in the early morning, enjoying their peace and serenity before the heat of the day rose to make being indoors preferable.

She approached the garden along a sandstone stair case leading to tiled pathways where shrubs and scented bushes grew in tubs and long broad planters. In the centre was a fountain, gently burbling with clear, fresh water. She saw Yunan standing at the walled edge looking out across the hills.

She hesitated, reluctant to spoil his peace with her presence. The fluttering of her clothes must have caught his attention, for he turned and waved her over to join him.

"Come and see this view, Sophia."

She stood by his side, awed by the landscape in front of her. "The dawn always makes you think you can see until the ends of the earth."

"Sometimes I think this is the end of the earth."

They stood together in companionable silence for several minutes until Sophia asked, "Has this been your home for long?"

"It's not home." Yunan corrected her, "Not really - I can never relax here. There are too many hard memories, too many enemies." His eyes softened as he looked at her, "and too few friends."

Sophia could not meet his gaze. She was restless, ill at ease, not wanting to blurt out what was on her mind. "Did you sleep well, my Lord?"

"I sleep better these days. Now you are safe and here."

"Presumably you sleep better because you have your women here as well."

Yunan's smile did not falter. "Penelope said you were curious about my women." His finger touched her cheek. "I understand why you asked."

"Do you?"

"When I lay with you... it was ... you may think that .. I was accustomed to behaving that way."

"I have not thought anything about that time." Sophia interrupted.

"There are female servants here, but they do not serve me."

"Do they not? Forgive me if I find your remark somewhat strange given that you have asked for one to attend you several times this last week. I realise I am just the brood mare...but I...".she turned away from him, not wanted him to see the anger in her eyes. Somehow she kept her voice steady. "Forgive me, it is not my place."

Yunan sighed. He should have known he would have to explain himself to her at some point. He wished he knew himself why he had not yet confirmed her place with him. He knew he wanted her, wanted her too much sometimes, but something always held him back.

Despite the colour of her hair and her pale skin, she reminded him too much of his daughter. It was bad enough she now carried his child. He should have protected her instead of giving in to his weakness, his overwhelming need to join with her. He could not let her down again.

"Do you know the girl who has attended me these past nights?"

"No. I know her name, but she tells me nothing, only that she is one of your household."

"Speak to her. She will tell you how she serves me. She may even sing to you or perhaps recite you some poetry if you ask her nicely."

Sophia stiffened, "I am sure she is extremely skilled and well suited to the role of Scheherazade, whilst I, plainly, am not."

Yunan frowned, he wondered what he could say to dispel her jealousy, "Sophia, she sings to me and recites poetry. It helps me sleep. It is a weakness, but I cannot always be strong."

Sophia felt her voice catch in her throat. She stared out across the hillsides seeing nothing.

"I thought you found my voice pleasing. I studied with several accomplished teachers. I would have gladly come to you...if you had asked."

"I thought you had better things to be doing, like sleeping, than indulging my foolishness."

Sophia's words were but a breath upon the wind. "As you wish, my Lord."

She did not move as Yunan walked past her to a stone bench set against the wall. He clasped a delicate jug, pouring liquid into a goblet.

"Some fruit juice, will you take some?"

Sophia shook her head, still refusing to look at him. Her throat was too tight to swallow. Once more he held out the goblet towards her.

"Please, will you take a sip? I would ask that you allow me to begin again. We have few opportunities to truly spoken openly since you arrived here. It is time we did so."

Reluctantly, Sophia extended her hand. She could not be sure whether the shaking was due to her fading anger or her fear what such a discussion might lead to.

"Come, walk with me, please?"

Sophia gripped the goblet with both hands. "Am I to walk or am I to drink, Killikrates? I do not know where I stand with you."

Yunan raised his own goblet to his lips, smiling as the bittersweet juice brought hope of new life to his tastebuds. "Someone as accomplished as you, who has studied the gentle arts, surely you can walk and sip at the same time?"

This time, she did look at him, her green eyes flashing a warning, but his gaze showed no evidence of sarcasm, just gentle amusement.

"Come, please," he slipped his arm through hers,

"I like to walk when I talk."

He led her slowly along the terracotta paths, stopping to point out a particular shrub or shape or smell which pleased him. His gentle voice and the soothing scents of the plants soon dissipated Sophia's anger as she sipped the fruit juice, little by little until her goblet was empty and they were standing once more before the stone bench.

"Please tell me how it is, that someone to whom I owe my life can also cause me so much anger and frustration?"

Yunan smiled as he refilled her goblet. "It's the way of life that those to whom we are most closely bound may please us and anger us most deeply."

"I should be grateful for the drink you give me. Without gratitude we are but as the beasts in the field, taking without thought and due reverence"

"No need to be grateful - it is only a drink. You honour me by accepting. From my point of view, I have caused you great pain. You would never have been in danger or distress if it had not been for me."

Yunan cast his gaze out to the west - away from the rising sun, his thoughts once more turning to his enemies. He knew they were gathering beyond the far hills. His spies brought daily news of their movements. He knew they would strike once the child was born, but he could not distress Sophia with such knowledge.

Sophia reached out to touch his arm, her fingers on the cloth of his tunic so light, she did not know whether or not he would notice. "Have you not thought," she murmured, "it could also have come about - were it not for you - that I would be married to another or lost to the world in childbirth or famine or vagabonds?"

She felt warmth as his hand covered her fingers. "They kidnapped you to reach me and then I behaved as they felt I would, when they brought you here."

Sophia nodded, "Not just to reach you, but for your seed to be used as a figurehead against you. You had no choice. We were taught so a pillar of salt could not have resisted our charms. It was an interesting education now I come to think of it."

"Choices..." Yunan let the word rumble into the fresh morning air. "We all have choices, but your 'education' was not one you would have chosen if you had been given the choice."

Sophia gave a half smile, "You talk of choice, Killkrates, but as the daughter of my father, I would have gone to whomever he picked for me. Even if the sight of such a one caused bile to rise up in my throat, I could not have refused."

"Duty must be done," he nodded.

"My father did have thoughts of our alliance, I know he did."

Yunan's hand gently squeezed her fingers. "It is true. He did speak to me during my last visit. He felt our households could benefit from such an alliance. I'm afraid I told him I was too old to care for such a precious child as you, forgetting how soon you would grow into a woman. Now here we stand, you and I, already allied unwittingly."

"But not together." Sophia let the words burst from her.

Yunan turned towards her. "Could we be? Could we be allies? Could there be more than an allience between us? I hope there can..."

"You know there is more. It gets stronger and more painful every day we are here."

Yunan brought both her hands to his lips, pressing them against her, "There should not be any pain. I want to spend all the time I can with you."

"How do you think I came to be up here at this time?"

"And I?" he countered, "Why do you think I am here? Because it pains me to be ill at ease with you."

Sophia's fingers fluttered against his skin like a tiny bird seeking to fly, "You are a fool, Killikrates, an old fool, but a fool nonetheless. Do you not think I wake when you wake? When you cannot sleep, I toss and turn. You keep me from you and my temper would do justice to any fishwife - as your daughter will tell you."

"I have not kept you from me." Yunan's voice was pained.

"You have not asked for me."

"Stop this now! Can you please try to hear what I have said? If you will not listen then you will not. Why would I think you would want any more to do with me? Me, the man who endangered your life and was the cause of so much distress.

"I need you, but have not dared to ask for you."

He stopped her outburst with a look. "Yes, the powerful and rich Yunan, the mighty Kallikrates fears the word of a woman and you think I do not care?"

"I think," she said very softly, "we have both been blind."

She took his hand and placed it on her swollen belly, "This is yours." Then she took his other hand and placed it on her heart, "and this is yours." Then she moved his hand to her lips, "and this is yours," then moved it to her brow, "and this is yours."

Yunan looked up into her eyes. His face was sombre. "I thought I had found you - only to lose you once you were safe."

"And I thought, because of the child, you did not find me pleasing."

His eyes opened wide, his gaze softening. "Pleasing? Not pleasing?" He cupped her face in his hands, gently bringing her face to his so his lips brushed against hers. Then he leaned back, looking at her, "You please me more than I can tell you."

Two large tears trickled down Sophia's cheeks and she buried her head in his chest. His strong arms encircled her, comforting her, stroking her back through the fine fabric of her gown.

"You have no idea how beautiful you are." Sophia let her hands rest against his beating heart. "I have wanted so much to be able to touch you, to be part of you."

"As I have wanted nothing else since I found you, since before then."

Sophia drew away, shaking her head before meeting his gaze. "So why have we been torturing ourselves?"

"Because we did not understand the other. We thought we did, but blinded ourselves in our thoughts instead of talking."

"Please," Sophia began to stroke his arm. "In future can we talk?"

"Talk... yes...and perhaps more?" Yunan's smile was open now, his eyes full of hope and yearning.

Sopia blushed, "I fear the training they gave me has left a legacy." She paused, considering how to frame her next words. "They taught us to communicate with our entire body. I cannot be the demure woman most men wish to bring to their beds."

The rose bloom on her cheeks deepened as she recalled their first time together. Despite his passion, Yunan had been a thoughtful and compassionate lover, until her frenzied need drove him to greater heights then he ever scaled before. He still bore the tiny marks of her teeth where she bit into his flesh at her moment of ecstasy.

Yunan took her hand, bringing it to his cheek. He wondered if he would ever be able to admit how he watched her with his daughter. How much he wanted to be with her, to be part of their time together.

His eyes met hers, "I hope, in time, you can tell me anything. The people who taught you were skilled and it is an ancient art. It is no wonder you learned well, drawing upon both their teaching and your own desires. You say most men wish a demure woman in their bed. I am not most men. I do not place such a high value on modesty as most men do. I would rather my lover be true to themselves than restrict their body to a false view of what is 'acceptable'."

Yunan drew her down so she sat next to him on the bench. His arm curled around her body, drawing her close to him. Sophia took his hand, beginning to massage each finger in turn, noting how the joints sat together and working the fleshy pad under the thumb. She felt him making a conscious effort to relax his muscles and allow her to work on his hand. She realised how hard it must be for him to let her into the physical space he had kept so private for so many years.

"Do your women not massage you, Killikrates?" She thought she felt a jolt pass through his body, but when she looked up at his face, he was only musing.

"When I was younger, that hand used to have such heavy calluses. When Penelope's mother first came to me, she told me it was not seemly for a man in my position to wear such thickened skin on his hands, so she set to work to soften them for me. It took her many months but she succeeded. Now, I'm wary of allowing anyone too close, except my companions."

He wondered if he would ever be able to tell her how his companions tended his body's needs. Maybe one day she would discover for herself how close they were, how much he valued their friendship and their service. He could not imagine life without them. They had been his salvation in so many different ways, both on the battle field and closer to home. He could not have survived his grief when Yolanda died if they had not been there to console him.

Sophia smiled, rubbing the kicking child in her womb. "It is hard to get too close to you now and will become more challenging, but I think we will find ways."

"Until you came to me, I had not been truly intimate with a woman for a long time. There had been necessary... interludes but none close to home."

Sophia raised her eyes to meet his, "You must have felt very alone."

Yunan felt a pressure around his heart dissolve, her simple words showed an understanding of his needs and he smiled,

"At times - it helped ..."

He lifted his hand to place it alongside hers, on the swelling at her middle. His eyes brightened, growing wider, "Such kicks from one so small!"

"She does not approve of me staying still, so she seeks to chastise me. May I ask - have there been other children from those interludes? If your enemies are seeking your issue...they may look elsewhere."

"I do not know." His hand moved gently, very gently - as if to reassure the child within, to soothe her within her enforced stillness, "The women were well-paid and I never saw the same girl twice. My enemies may seek, but I do not think my partners would have known who I was.

"That was what was different with you - they brought you here to me. It was a deliberate joining to obtain my issue, to force the ancient prophecy fulfilled rather than letting fate decide the moment for itself."

Sophia watched as the subtle pressure of his fingers followed the movements underneath her skin.

"You mentioned the prophecy before, my Lord, while we were still within Darfour. Can you tell me what it says?"

Yunan wound his fingers around her chestnut locks and brought the shining hair to his face to breathe in the soft perfume.

"It is not something with which you should concern yourself, my dear. It is a very ancient tale, given to my forefathers when the world was much younger than it is now. It speaks of a son with auburn hair born to a dancing girl out of the loins of my house. There are so many versions, it is hard to know which holds the true words of the Sybil."

Once more Yunan's eyes danced as he studied her face, "Besides, my dear, you are convinced you carry my daughter, not a son, so the prophecy cannot be fulfilled." He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

"By the time you give me a son, we shall be wed and your dancing will be for me alone. Come," he stood up and took her hand, "it is time we re-acquainted our bodies with each other now our minds are clear."

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