tagSci-Fi & FantasyTorgan Wine Ch. 29

Torgan Wine Ch. 29

byIsemay©

Huge thanks to Todger65 for editing and Nthusiastic for beta reading and making suggestions!

*****

Looking out over the parapet as she had for weeks, Isonei leaned against the stone letting her mind wander. The smell of smoke followed her even out here, as did at least one discreet servant. At first, she thought she'd been allowed to walk the parapet alone and her mind had swum with thoughts of slipping down to the town below and taking a horse... And then she'd sat upon the stone parapet and leaned out, trying to peer down the wall out of curiosity. The shout had startled her so badly she'd nearly fallen.

Since then she had mostly looked out at the view and tried to think of how she might get home. Halloc Aurim was under the impression she was contemplating his lectures, translated by Krouth, on Ganas' glories and the virtues of the saints. Some of the stories were quite charming. Andnaeuth had been right when he'd said the cores of their religions were the same. Keep your word, be honest and kind. But the Torgans' religion was much more concerned with virtue and modesty and some of the stories she found appalling, stories of men and women who were immodest or looked to other Gods being punished horrifically.

"My Duchess?" Draeseth's voice drew her attention back.

"Your Highness?" Surprised, she turned slightly toward him as he joined her in leaning against the stone.

"I ache to be close to you, even to converse with you as we used to. But you do not seek me out. I think, perhaps, you avoid me."

"What do you want to talk about?" Isonei looked back out over the parapet.

After a moment's silence he answered, "Why you cannot forgive me. I wish to show you that I am still the man you chose to be with in Ara."

"You've lied to me and refused to tell me the truth. You've said you intend to break your word. From the stories Halloc Aurim has been telling me, I'm not supposed to forgive you until things have been put right."

He made an amused sound in his throat. "You sound so sullen. Perhaps you should come pray with us. It might help you rediscover your sweet disposition."

"Or you could tell me the truth." She rubbed her gloved hands together.

"Ask me." Draeseth moved closer and put his cloak around her.

"Did you send any of my letters?" Turning, Isonei looked up at him and saw the resignation on his face.

"No."

"Why? And why haven't I gotten any letters from my father or Andnaeuth?"

The large Torgan drew in a deep breath and pinned her against the stone wall, speaking softly, "Because they think you dead. Your Daga's messenger saw you and thought that you were. We-I covered you as if you were. He tied his sash around your body and left when I would not let him take you." He paused, "I sent missives with him..."

Her knees felt weak and if Draeseth had not kept her pinned she would have fallen to the ground.

"Breathe, my Isonei. Rail at me for my deceptions, but forgive me." He pulled her close and she could smell the smoke that lingered on his clothes.

"My Daga... my father... how could you? To hurt them, to hurt me that way..." To hear the truth from him finally felt like coming up for air after swimming in the sea.

"I was selfish; I wanted you to myself no matter the cost. That you love me... I thought it would be enough."

She trembled, letting him hold her close. "You have to tell them."

"It will be better for them if they think you dead, my Isonei. You may not return to them. It would part us permanently and the priesthood will not allow you to be returned to the Dagas. They are considered demons."

Letting her head fall forward against his chest, she closed her eyes. It was both heartening and heartbreaking to know that her Daga had not released her. He wanted her to come home but he had been deceived into thinking she was dead.

Draeseth kissed the top of her head. "I should have told you the truth when you first asked."

"You shouldn't have lied at all, Draeseth."

"I will strive to be truthful with you for the rest of our lives."

"Who was the man who pretended to be my Daga's messenger?"

"The tutor that had been sent for. Burgath arranged it with threats and a great deal of money. He still begged in Torgan as you fell to let him tell you the truth. It wounded him to cause you such pain."

"It didn't wound you?" Letting him stroke her back made her feel conflicted. She needed to go home and persuading him to return her was probably the only way, it would mean she needed to deceive him. The thought was still somehow unpleasant.

"It did. I thought I had killed you with my deception. You have been so fragile ever since." Draeseth murmured in Torgan as she wrapped her arms around his waist. "Do I still hold a piece of your heart, my wife?"

"It was a gift, I cannot take it back." That at least was true. It would be easier if she could.

His voice was a barely audible whisper in her hair, "Will you spend tonight in my bed?"

"Lislora may not forgive me if I do. Have you seen how she glows after spending time with you?"

He squeezed her tightly. "I have. I do, truly, understand why the Arans would take more than one wife. I care for her. But you are my wife and my heart is yours."

"Lover. We take lovers, my Draeseth. Having a husband is difficult and I don't recommend it to anyone."

With a snort, he kissed her head again. "It will grow easier." Stepping back, he offered her his arm. "Will you walk with me around the parapet?"

Isonei took his arm and let him lead her around the stoneworks. As high as the Keep was, the view looking out from its walls, the countryside of Torga sweeping away in places and rising in majestic peaks in others was breathtaking.

"I walk to enjoy the views; I have a great deal of pride in my home." Draeseth spoke quietly as they stood looking out over the valley. "The servants say you look more like a trapped animal walking the walls as if you seek a way to escape."

Nodding slowly she released his arm and leaned against the stone once more. "You should have pride in your home. It is lovely. But for me it's a beautiful cage, my Draeseth. I miss my homes with every fiber of my being. Not only my Daga's house, but my father's house in Ara."

"Are you allowing me to be close to you in the hope that I will let you go?"

A bitter smile crossed her lips; deception was not something she was gifted in. "The thought crossed my mind. But I have a face that betrays me and no skill with deceit. I have to rely on honesty and hope."

"I have been trading letters with Burgath concerning your unhappiness. He thinks that taking you to Court as our father requests might cheer you. You enjoy having people to speak to, and the austerity here may be too much."

"Austerity?" Isonei glanced at him in surprise. "I only have to mention to Krouth or Lislora that I might like something and I have at least two of whatever it was by the next day."

He barked a laugh. "He meant the... air here."

"The atmosphere? You mean that all of Torga isn't so somber?"

"Yes." His dark eyes glittered. "Would it please you to go to Court?"

"I..." She blinked stepping away from the wall. "Aren't the priests still..."

"They have been pleased with my contrition and my house has been cleansed. Tonight we will be permitted to have meat." Draeseth studied her face with amusement.

"Don't tease me!" She widened her eyes and donned an incredulous face making him laugh in his throat.

"Nothing in a wine sauce, and no capers. Lislora has ordered them to roast a goat. And I suggested they stuff tiny onions with goat cheese and roast them for you. I am told it is not an uncommon dish near the Lerian border and one of my cooks makes it for her family." He grinned down at her and touched her face, making her realize she was standing very close with her hands on his chest. "The way to your heart is through your stomach, wife. I tell you what food I am having prepared for you and you look at me adoringly."

Her cheeks flushed and he laughed again. "I would like to see the Torgan Court, but I'm much more interested in dinner, my Draeseth."

"I will have it arranged. It would please me if you would sleep in my bed tonight, my wife. Even if you are only lying next to me."

"I... I will ask Lislora." Seeing the surprise on his face she frowned, "I have only two friends and I won't hurt her. If she would prefer I didn't, I will sleep in my own bed." Isonei had expected his face to sour, but instead he looked speculative and bent to kiss the top of her head.

"Brother Jannun is not a friend?"

"I like him, but... he and Halloc Aurim have expectations that don't allow me to think of them that way."

"Expectations?" His brow furrowed.

"They want me to give up my Gods." She watched him nod slowly. "I love my Gods, and while I enjoy the stories of yours, he's too jealous for me. If I can't include him without giving up mine, he will remain yours."

"There was a time you enjoyed my jealousy." He laid his hand on top of hers and led her toward the house.

"And there was a time when you enjoyed my mischievousness."

"I would like to see you be playful with me again, but watching you tease others is too much to bear."

They walked in silence the rest of the way to the house and she let him help remove her cloak and hang it.

Lislora was busily weaving at her loom when Isonei found her. The Torgan woman looked serene as she worked, moving threads and the shuttle. She had tried to teach the art of it but Isonei found it both dull and taxing.

"Have you come to try another lesson?" Lislora gave her a warm smile.

"No, I..." Isonei rubbed her hands together and took a seat near the window. "I need to talk to you about something that..."

"About Draeseth?" Her hands stilled and she turned on her bench. She studied Isonei with a faint smile. "Krouth said you would come speak to me when the Halloc gave his Highness permission to take you to bed. He said you were closer to me than Draeseth and you would rather continue to be celibate than to defy me if I said no."

Isonei nodded with a relieved smile. "Few people know me as well as Krouth does, I think."

Lislora looked past her out of the window for a moment. "Do you want to go to bed with him?"

"I don't know. I haven't felt a great deal of desire lately." She smiled wryly, "Unless you include desire for the meal he was describing."

"Krouth said you liked roast goat and Draeseth spoke of some odd stuffed onions." Lislora's smile returned. "A good meal cheers anyone."

"He said we may go to the Torgan Court soon as well." Isonei saw her wince. "That isn't a good thing?"

"I rarely went. My father was not wealthy enough to afford the latest Court fashions and he was cousins with the King's favorite mistress. I was never very welcome."

"My House is a waxing House, but while my brothers sought entrance to the Aran Court I chose not to. There were too many things I could do wrong. Too many people my mischievousness could offend. My father and brothers preferred it if I stayed away."

"I cannot imagine you offending anyone. You are always so mild and pleasant."

Isonei laughed and flopped sideways, slumping across the arm of her seat. "I'm not. Or I wasn't. I haven't been myself since I've been in Torga."

"Are you prepared for them to be cold to you?" Lislora rose from her bench and came to stand next to the window.

"I am. But I would like to know more about the people there. Rogath and Burgath wanted to have me in the Queen's retinue."

Lislora looked vaguely ill for a moment. "I would have suggested avoiding her. She is a cruel woman."

"They want me to avoid the King and being close to the Queen will accomplish that. From what I was told, she's exclusive to the King but he isn't required to be. That would be wretched enough to make anyone cruel."

The Torgan woman looked at her speculatively. "I had not considered that. She chose to marry him knowing his tastes."

"Why? I can't imagine many things more terrible than to be exclusive to someone when you don't wish to be, and to know that they can choose to be with others would be intolerable."

"She chose to suit her ambitions. She wanted her son to be King."

Isonei nodded slowly as the words sank in. Ambitious. Someone willing to endure such a situation must be very ambitious indeed. "I can't imagine choosing such a thing."

"The baffled look on your face, wife." Draeseth's voice came from the doorway. "What are you discussing?"

"The Queen, your Highness." Lislora offered him a tight smile. "Why she would choose to marry your father."

"I thought you might have other topics to discuss." He looked at Isonei with a slight frown.

"She asked me." The Torgan woman looked away and out of the window.

"And the answer?" His frown deepened.

"Lislora hasn't given one yet, don't press her." Isonei frowned back at him.

"If it is what you both desire." Lislora shrugged almost imperceptibly. "You have an Arrangement. It would be wrong to compel you both to be celibate."

"It would." Draeseth beckoned for Isonei to come to him. "Why are you curious about the Queen?"

°°°°°°°°°°

The dinner Draeseth had promised was laid in the large dining room so that the Halloc could join them with his priests. Isonei was almost giddy at the sight of the food being brought out and laid in the Torgan style; the tables were cluttered with it. The Halloc however seemed displeased with spectacle and spoke sternly to Draeseth.

The Prince's reply seemed cool but not disrespectful, and she looked at them curiously as Lislora fidgeted next to her.

"Halloc Aurim does not approve of displays so decadent. I have explained that this is the first time you have sat at a properly laid Torgan feast table. I wish you to be impressed." Draeseth's lips curved slightly.

"It is impressive. In Ara, the plates are served to you already filled; food is seldom displayed on the tables. When it's done it's done ostentatiously. Food isn't served from those plates."

"Food will be served from these." He placed his hand on the table and turned the palm upwards looking at her hopefully. Tentatively she placed her hand on top of his and let him curl his fingers to hold it there. "I will fill your plate."

"Thank you." She could feel a slight flush forming on her cheeks.

"You are easy to please." Draeseth brought her hand to his lips and kissed the backs of her fingers.

Placing her hand on his thigh he took her plate and spoke a few words to the waiting servants. They sliced the meat and brought it to him first, so that he could put it on her plate and his own before it was offered to the Halloc. The rest of the dishes were brought to him one by one, the stuffed onions, apple mash, squash dishes, and beans until her plate held far more than she could possibly eat.

"Eat. I would have you well fed, wife, you have grown too thin." Draeseth looked pleased with himself as he placed the plate in front of her.

"It may take more than one meal. I don't think I can eat everything you've put on my plate."

He pressed her hand into his thigh. "Try."

Isonei closed her eyes in delight as she took the first bite of stuffed onion.

The Torgan Prince laughed in his throat as she devoured all six he'd placed on her plate as if she'd been starved for weeks and eyed the plate with longing. "Eat some of the rest of your food first. If no one else wants more I will let you finish them."

"Are they good?" Lislora beckoned for the plate to be brought.

"I loathe them." Draeseth cautioned her.

"Halloc Aurim is eating them as well." She took one from the plate and set it on her own before tasting it. Her reaction, wrinkling her nose in disgust and covering her mouth as she shuddered, sent Isonei into a fit of giggles.

"Draeseth made the same face. Ever since he tried them I think he's doubted my sense of taste."

Lislora nodded curtly taking a large swig of her wine. "I'm amazed your delicate stomach can tolerate that."

"They're delicious!" Touching Draeseth's arm lightly Isonei suggested, "You should compliment the cook!"

Brother Jannun murmured something to the Halloc and received an almost pleasant sounding answer. "Halloc Aurim agrees. These ahh are like his mother."

"These are like his mother used to make?" Isonei corrected him gently and he nodded with a faint smile.

"Aing. These are like his mother used to make."

"I will send the compliments to the kitchen." Draeseth nodded graciously and took a large bite of goat. "They have done well."

Most of what was on her plate had a pleasing taste, the apple mash and the beans were still strange to her but she dutifully ate some of each. She was eying the last of the onions when Halloc Aurim beckoned for the plate. Her soft sigh of disappointment earned her a stern look.

"My apologies. My father sometimes had to chide me for a lack of graciousness where food was concerned. I can be greedy with my favorites." She offered the Halloc a small smile as Draeseth translated. "You are the guest, please."

The Haloc responded pensively as he took all but one. His words seemed to amuse Draeseth.

"He says they are a rare treat this far into Torga, but perhaps you will change that. You favor foods less rich and more wholesome. More Torgans would benefit from a palate like yours."

"Uhhmm," Isonei thought very carefully on the words she'd heard used and tried to thank him in Torgan, "Vor pexoents osts vor? I thank you."

The Halloc put one back on the plate and gestured for it to be taken to her with a crooked smile.

"Ahh." Jannun was smiling broadly, "Vor pexoents otst vor. Ot-st."

She corrected herself feeling proud, and the priest began to correct the pronunciation of her 'r's.

After two more attempts Draeseth began trying to correct her as well, making the odd half swallowed 'r' each time she got it wrong. Finally she huffed at him, "How are you making that noise?"

Jannun barked a laugh and then cleared his throat before translating and making the priests shake their heads in amusement.

Draeseth's dark eyes glittered as he took her hand, kissing the back and letting her feel his teeth. "I will show you."

The meal came to a close with a dish of custard with vaina and honey, and for once Isonei felt sleepy and stuffed after the meal. She walked with Draeseth without complaint toward his chambers.

"I have something for you, my Duchess." He paused outside his door and allowed Krouth to enter first. "I hope it will please you."

"You've been giving me too many gifts." Isonei let him guide her into his rooms.

"I want you to be happy here. I know I have hurt you with my deception... I need your forgiveness"

"Trying to buy it..." Her words died in her mouth as Krouth brought a bottle she recognized. "My father's best wine." Taking it from him she marveled at it, caressing its curves.

"Did you wish to continue chiding me for giving you too many gifts?" Draeseth murmured in her ear moving his hands over her hips as lovingly as she was touching the bottle in her hands.

"I don't think I can, even though I know I should." She reluctantly gave the bottle back to Krouth to have it poured.

Draeseth's breath on her skin was warm as he purred something in Torgan and kissed her earlobe. "You recognize the bottle before you taste it?"

"Of course. I helped him choose them. We went to the western coast, to the city of Eshho and... did you go to the Sea of Glass while you were in Ara? The water is so clear."

"No." His kisses under her ear suddenly felt like a very poor consolation for the touch of the water.

"It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen." Disentangling herself gently she reached for the glass Krouth had filled. The familiar smell of the wine, the tang of apple and the sweet notes of honey. Isonei closed her eyes to sip and savor it. "Home in a bottle. My father's fields and orchards."

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