There was a look in his lady wife’s eye that didn’t seem to bode well for much discussion or conversation, but Sefton found himself relieved, finally on solid ground. He raised his eyebrows at his lady and made his voice husky. “So, Taisiya, what should I get to know about you first?”
She scooted closer to him on the couch and ran a hand through his hair, her fingertips brushing his ears. “Where would you like to start, Feltian?”
He swallowed a groan — his ears had always been his weak spot. “I’d like to know what you like. What, mmm, what you enjoy.” He glanced up at her through his eyelashes, hoping it looked endearing and not ridiculous.
“Good questions for a dutiful husband.” She pushed his hair off his neck and brushed her hand over the skin she had bared. “I want to know the same from you, first.”
What? He ducked his head and tried to hide his sudden blush. “I…” He hadn’t really thought about that. “Do you mean…?”
“How did you mean the questions, Feltian? Answer those.” She was still smiling, and she sounded as if she were nearly laughing.
“I, oh, shells.” He covered his mouth. “Sorry, m… sorry.”
She laughed. “I’ve heard the words, I assure you. I’ve even been known to say them — but don’t tell Onter. He has opinions on my virtue and clean-mindedness.”
Privately, Sefton thought maybe Onter just was better at playing the innocent and upstanding husband, but that wasn’t his place to say. “I won’t tell if you don’t,” he offered instead.
A peek at her expression showed that Taysiya was still grinning. “You have a deal. But that doesn’t get you out of answering the question, Feltian.”
“Oh… sea-sand.” He blushed as she chuckled at his minced oath. “So. Things that I want? Um. Oh. Um…” Something came to mind and he couldn’t do anything but blush and look away. She’d lock him in the basement for sure.
“Tell me, Feltian.” Her tone might have been gentle, but it didn’t disguise the fact that she’d just given him an order.
“I want…” he started carefully, “Oh, please, let me tell you something else, anything else.”
“I won’t punish you for whatever you say. You have my word.”
Oh, no, not her word. He couldn’t question it now, she’d made it formal. “It’s silly…” he offered instead.
“Tell me anyway.” This time, her tone was slightly less kind.
“When… sometimes… um… tongues.” He put his hands over his face. “Urgh. That is, you know, boys play. Sometimes… well… Tongues.”
“A kiss with tongue? Or a kiss down there with tongue?’
He was doomed. She was going to lock him away like Jaco, only worse. “Both?” He didn’t dare look at her, but he looked anyway, one eye peeking through his fingers.
She was leaning towards him. Sefton tried not to flinch, tried not to tense up, but he ended up freezing anyway. He couldn’t pull away. He couldn’t. He’d take whatever she dished out.
Her voice was quiet and right next to his ear, her breath warm. “I like that, too.”
Sefton was wordless. He swallowed hard and dropped his hands, turned to look at Taisiya. His heart was thumping in his chest.
She was smiling. “There are quite a few things that young men think are dirty or secret… and older women know are quite entertaining. Someday, we’ll share a list. Not today, though.”
“No?” He was squeaking. He’d thought he was past squeaking by years, and here he was, his voice pitching up like a teenager.
“I think if we do that today, your heart will stop, Feltian.”
Feltian. He should be getting used to it. But it was strange to hear her be so gentle, so understanding, and then call him this new name that wasn’t his. His nose wrinkled up before he could stop it, and he turned away, trying to control his expression.
Her hand landed on his thigh, and Sefton’s heart nearly stopped. Eggshells and salt water, can’t I do anything right?
“You don’t like your new name.”
It wasn’t a question. Sefton swallowed and looked at her. “It’s not that,” he offered cautiously.
“You don’t like having a new name,” she elaborated.
He nodded slowly. What was she going to do? What was he going to do?
“But you’ll answer to it, and you’ll introduce yourself that way, and, eventually, you’ll come to think of yourself that way.”
Once again, there was no question there. Sefton nodded slowly one more time.
“I’m not surprised you hate it,” she admitted. “Onter’s the only one that didn’t. And maybe I should have let you pick it out, like I did with him… but your mother is very traditional, and she was feeling, I think , a bit guilty.”
“Guilty?” This was new to Sefton. He looked at Taisiya, searching her face.
She was smiling, but it was a sad smile. “I’m quite a bit older than you, and there is always a bit of guilt when one is marrying men the age of one’s sons… and when one is sending those sons off to marriages to other older women, so you can marry that young man. She wanted to keep you close as long as she could, and she wanted, I think, to let you squeeze every last drop out of your childhood. So she wouldn’t let me see you.”
Sefton blinked. There was quite a bit to take in. “You…” Proper young men don’t meet their wives before they meet at the altar. Only in ballads and those ridiculous novels does that happen. His mother hadn’t discussed the wedding — or Lady Taisiya — at all with him, other than to tell him the date and time. “…Oh.”
“But even if I could have talked to you beforehand, I would have changed your name.” She took hold of his shoulders and looked him straight in the face. “You don’t belong to your mother anymore, or to the nursery, to school, to playing in the fields with your friends.” Her left hand dropped to his chains. “These will remind you for a while. Your name — you’ll hear that every day for the rest of your life. And you’ll never forget, even when it seems like the only name you’ve ever worn, that you’re mine.”
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