12 Days of Christmas

by Lyle Dagnen


Tomorrow would be Epiphany. It was a day that signaled a revelation, something that had not been known before. The revelation that was building in her mind was that she would truly never be with him again, that he really was cutting her out of his life forever. She had come to the tree every night since Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve had concluded. She had chosen to sit in the cold, black air and wait. She waited alone; no one joined her. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, the city workers would come; they would shake the snow off the limbs of the tree. They would collect the outdoor lights, fertilize the tree, pack wood chips at the base and the tree would be just an evergreen tree by a bench in the park. Tomorrow morning she was suppose to wake up, go on with her life, as if Danny had never been a part of it

*** They were neighbors, their parents' acreage was bordered by a large stand of trees at the far side of both properties. They had discovered one another in their childish attempts to build a tree house in one of the larger trees. He was ten, she a gangly squirt of five, but she was one tough kid for a girl. Soon, he knew in his ten year-old heart, that she thought of him as her hero; she would do anything he asked her to do, up to and including stealing her dad's hammer to work on the tree house. Nothing would keep her away, even when he tried to scare her with stories of haunts in the night. The summer she was five he had read his books to her, Tom Sawyer, Star Wars, Star Trek, it really made no difference to her as long as he was reading the book to her. ***


For eleven nights she had been here; she had not cried a single tear. As the minutes of day twelve ticked away she could feel tears burning behind her eyes, clogging her throat, making it hard to breathe. She did not like to cry, she was trying desperately not to cry. She had sent a message by his best friend, telling him where she would be, that she should be waiting on him each night. It had snowed day ten, still she had been there. Tonight was the icy chill that arrives after a large snow fall that seems to set the snow and make it last for a while.
He had wanted her to forget about him, to move on without him, to abandon him was what she thought. How stupid could he be? He had been strong, big, powerful. So much of her life had been built around Danny and all that he was. He had joined the Navy so he could be a SEAL. He had become one; being blown up has a way of changing all of that. At first, his parents had followed his wishes. They told her he was MIA, presumed dead.


*** When she was fifteen and he was twenty was the first time he had called her jail bait. She certainly wasn't a gangly kid anymore; she was a beauty, some would have said a woman full grown, but the age was dangerous for him and he knew it. She had turned when she heard him, she had smiled, he had shoved his hands in his pockets to keep them off of her. They had talked about the fun they had had as children in the tree house. She talked about the times she had been there without him.

“I missed you, Danny,” she had said softly.  “I did not understand that you had outgrown the tree house.”  She blushed as she continued her story, “I came here waiting for you to come back and talk to me, to tell me what you needed to improve our house.”  She had laughed softly. “I was such a dorky kid.”

“Nah, Jail Bait,” he had joked. “You were just young.”

“Jail Bait?” she had questioned.

“Yeah, if I ask you out they'll put me in jail.”  He had leaned against the tree trunk and smiled at her. He hated the thought of some guy her age taking her out. But he knew that he could not take her out on a date.


She had told him that her English teacher wanted her to write about her best childhood memory. She had told him she was writing about the tree house. He had smiled because he was a part of her best childhood memory. She had mailed him a copy of her English paper and sent a short letter but he had not responded to it. He had kept the English paper. ***

DAY 5 - rated PG13-R-ish

Her cards, her notes, her messages on his phone all stirred his memories of her deep in the heart of his soul. He could feel the touch of her hands on him, the feel of her breath on his neck just before she sucked his skin into her mouth to taste him. He thought about her and the images of the way she looked when he filled her with him, her gasp with pleasure, watching her fall apart as he thrust into her. It was as if he had marked her soul and made her his. He shook his head to rid himself of those thoughts. He wasn't going to see her, even though he was just about through with all therapy. He was even working and going to school. He was not going to that tree. The only thing he did was avoid her. Did he miss her? Hell, yes. He missed her so terribly that it was a physical pain deep in his gut. He'd never stopped loving her and he never would. But he was not what or who she had fallen in love with. His greatest fear was that she would grow to not love him, worse, that she would pity him.

Regardless of his intent, he had gone to the tree, just one night, just to see if she was there. She was. He watched her, longed for her, willed her to leave and not come back. Then on the night it snowed, he went back to the park; surely she would have stayed home. There she sat, snow coming down, it was cold but still she waited. He had hidden from her; he did not leave until she did. He had returned the next night; he came tonight thinking it would be the last time he would see her. He could almost feel tears forming in his throat. How in God's name did she do this? It was freezing. Then at midnight she had looked up at the tree, he could see it coming. Her head fell back, she started to shake, she was crying. Not silent crystal tears, but tears that spoke of someone broken in little pieces, someone who hurt so badly that it seemed they would never recover. With everything in him he had tried to turn and walk away; he could not do it. So, he came to sit on the bench, she had won the tug of war on his emotions and resolve. She was so damn stubborn.


He closed his eyes at the remembered feel of her silky hair as it filled his hand; the feel of her back, even though it was shaking almost violently. She did not stop crying. He knew she could not stop. He had seen this once before; he knew to wait until the storm began to calm. It was past one a.m. when she finally was able to begin to stop crying. She allowed him to dry her face with the hand that still wore a brace. She did not flinch or pull away. She refused to look at him.

“You can leave me now,” her voice was faint. “I'd hate to stress you out and make you stay.” Still a tear slipped out of her eyes. As she would have said she had cried until she was a mess.

“Why won't you look at me?” he asked, watching her turn her head away. “Kelly, look at me,” he tried to command her.

“I can't look at you,” she still had not recovered her voice. “I can't see you and let you walk away from me. So I won't look. You can leave me and I just won't see you.”

She was giving him an out; letting him have it his way. She was not being disobedient, he understood that — she was trying to keep herself from being more destroyed than she already was. When he had touched her, he could no more leave her than he could change anything he had done to her. He had broken her heart, he had listened as it crumbled to dust. She closed her eyes, still turned away from him. He moved closer to her, putting his arm around her. She could feel his warmth, she covered her face with her hands. He pulled her against him, holding her tightly in his arms.


“Kelly,” he said her name.

That wasn't fair, she thought; he wasn't playing fair. He'd established the rules and now he was breaking them. She tried to take a deep breath but her lungs would not allow it, so she sort of hiccuped a breath.

He was trying to turn her to face him. “Kelly, look at me.” It was more a statement than a request. “You win. I can't do this anymore.”

She turned, looking at him, staring him in the face. She was furious. “I win!” her voice rasped. She was looking at him but was she ever pissed at him.

He was the happiest man on the face of the earth. If she could get this mad at him it meant she didn't pity him. He smiled but she was still mad and he knew that he was going to get a blast from her temper. She rarely ever got mad, almost never at him. But she was angry and she was letting him have it. He didn't correct her or stop her. He had this one coming.

“I win!” She was getting her voice back because she had raised it to a louder sound. “I win!” she shouted again. “You break me in little bitty pieces, ignore me, and tell me I win!” She had jumped up off the bench and was leaning down nose to nose with him.

He was grinning like an idiot, she was yelling at him. God, he loved her so much. “Yes” he stood using the cane that he had to help with balance. “You win!” he said again and was amazed that she allowed him to put his arms around her.

He stood holding her, kissing the top of her head. She needed a hat on, she was cold; he'd tell her that but not right now. Slowly her arms came around him, almost as a reassurance that he was real, that this wasn't a dream of some kind. He could feel the anger drain out of her; he always held her when she was mad — she couldn't stay mad and accept an embrace. Her hold tightened — she held him.

“Why don't we go somewhere and get some coffee or hot chocolate,” he had dropped his head to speak softly to her.... DAY 8 “I still have the place we picked out before you left. It's almost two o'clock in the morning. We could go to our place.” she offered. She had made the small, ground level apartment into a home. He took in the things that were his, the things he liked and had moved to the apartment they had planned to share when he came home. She had made a place for him to come home to, to share with her. Taking off coats and all the winter gear took a moment or two. she went to the kitchen; she began to make coca. Make it, not open an envelope.  “I get the real stuff,” he teased putting his arms around her and pulling her back against his chest. She leaned back into his embrace. “You always got the real stuff from me, why would I change? Just because you treat me like crap does not mean that's how I'll treat you.” A low blow, it was great. He would allow this, she needed it, he had to admit that even he needed her smart ass mouth right now. It was bringing them to the normal that they would establish.  He could tell she was smiling by the way she relaxed against him. Finishing the coco, setting the heat under the pan, she turned to him. She wanted him to kiss her, he wanted more than anything to feel her lips against his. He wondered if she still tasted the same. His hand held her face, his other hand twisting in her long hair to hold her in place. Gently he covered her lips with his then he moved back.


“I still have the place we picked out before you left. It's almost two o'clock in the morning. We could go to our place,” she offered. She had made the small, ground-level apartment into a home. He took in the things that were his, the things he liked and had moved to the apartment they had planned to share when he came home. She had made a place for him to come home to, to share with her. Taking off coats and all the winter gear took a moment or two. She went to the kitchen; she began to make cocoa. Make it, not open an envelope.

“I get the real stuff,” he teased putting his arms around her and pulling her back against his chest. She leaned back into his embrace.

“You always got the real stuff from me. Why would I change? Just because you treat me like crap does not mean that's how I'll treat you.” A low blow, it was great. He would allow this, she needed it, he had to admit that even he needed her smart-ass mouth right now. It was bringing them to the normal that they would establish.

He could tell she was smiling by the way she relaxed against him. Finishing the cocoa, setting the heat under the pan, she turned to him. She wanted him to kiss her, he wanted more than anything to feel her lips against his. He wondered if she still tasted the same. His hand held her face, his other hand twisting in her long hair to hold her in place. Gently he covered her lips with his then he moved back.

DAY 9 

“I've missed this,” he whispered. Then he took her mouth with a demanding fury that had built in both of them. Tongues tangled, she moaned deep in her throat, biting his lower lip, almost as if she could consume him. There were all the months he had been deployed, then the time he had forced the separation. It was a long kiss, probably one of the most satisfying kisses of all time. He rested his face in her neck, nipping and biting, trying not to leave marks on her. She was trying to catch her breath, pressing her hips against his. He was hard and ready; she knew that she was ready for him. In the past he would have turned her in the direction of the bedroom, or taken her on any convenient flat surface. There was still an awkwardness there between them that had not been there since the first time he had made love to her.

“If cocoa gets a kiss like that, what does it take for me to get lucky?” She was teasing but she could feel the tension return to his body. “Okay,” she whispered, “what do I need to know? Don't you dare pull away from me.” She was holding him. She had always had some kind of hold on him, physically and mentally, even when he had tried so desperately to stay away from her, when she was so young and they had not yet started to date.

“You always talked about how beautiful I was,” he held her face in his hands. She accepted the brace as natural. “I've got scars from the wounds. They aren't pretty.” He was not smiling. He signaled her to check the cocoa. This was a necessary conversation but he was looking forward to the cocoa and they did need to talk.

“So you have a bozo idea that a few scars are going to make me run for the door? If you remember I have the smallest boobs in the world and you didn't get out of bed when you saw them.” She poured the steaming, fragrant chocolate in the cups and added marshmallows. Setting the cups on the countertop, getting out chocolate chip cookies full of pecans, the midnight feast was set. Man, he loved pecans. He smiled. He was a happy man.

DAY 10

“Kelly, listen to me. There are a great many things different now,” he held up his hand to silence her. “You are going to have to learn how to put me together if I need help. You're going to have to learn how to help me if I need help, and I will. You've always been so damn stubborn.” He shook his head as he drank the cocoa. “Damn, but this is good.” His tongue slipped between his lips, removing the taste of the cookie and cocoa as he watched her watching his mouth. Her lips were parted, she sucked her lower lip into her mouth.

He leaned in to kiss her. “Can I stay or are you going to put me out in the snow?” He was enjoying the way she stood, moving between his legs to put her arms around his neck. The way she sucked his bottom lip between her teeth as she kissed him before she thrust her tongue into his mouth, tasting of cocoa and cookies, reminded him of all the reasons that he loved her.

“You can stay,” she kissed him with all the love she had stored in her heart.

In their bedroom, in their bed, the memories of their love making became real again. He was changed physically, but he was still Danny. He had been such an idiot to think he could do without her. He'd think about that later. Right now he was going to make her shout his name. She could feel the heat build deep inside her as she reached the place that she lost who she was, becoming a part of him. She felt herself shatter into a myriad of light in his arms. He joined her as he felt her come to pieces in his arms. He rolled them to his side taking her with him so that she faced him. She placed her nose in the middle of his chest breathing in the scent of him.

DAY 11

“I'm really sorry that I hurt you,” he whispered. She was silent. ”Damn it, Kelly,” he raised up on his elbow, “say something. I didn't forget you. How could I forget?”

“You said you wanted me to forget, to go on without you,” her voice was so soft.

“Will it help if I tell you that I wasn't thinking straight at the time?” His hands roamed the silky feel of her skin.

“I'm not saying anything,” she whispered, he could feel her breath against his chest, “just that I love you.”

He kissed her, “Will you marry me, like we planned when I asked you the last time? Are you going to razz me about this or are you going to marry me?”

“Yes” she said simply, moving into his caress and his kiss.

“Yes what? Marry me or razz me?” he was smiling at her.

“I'll marry you.”

“How long will this last?” he asked.

“The marriage or the razzing?” she responded.

“The razzing?”

“I ought to make it last over a year,” she retorted. “But I really am way too happy to keep it up too long.” She paused. “My heart really did break, you know.”

“I know that.” He held her close to him. “How about if I promise to spend the rest of my life making it up to you?” He felt himself grow rigid against her hip. He was surprised to be ready for her again. This time it was going to last longer. He began to nuzzle her neck, kissing behind her ear. She wiggled under him again. “You are one amazing woman.” He covered her mouth in one of those forever kisses. Once again their souls met in that place where stars sear the soul with passion.

DAY 12

As they lay together, coming back to their senses, he reached into the pocket of his pants laying on the floor, retrieving a box that he had purchased before he was hurt. He had thought he would never be able to give this to her. When he turned back she was asleep. He kissed her gently, wrapped her in his arms falling asleep beside her.

He woke feeling her fingers lightly tracing the bullet wound scars, her lips kissing the burn marks as if she could magically make them disappear. She was not revolted, she loved him. He reached for the tiny box on the table, sitting it unopened on his chest where she liked to bury her nose. She grew still, she looked at him, then back to the box.

“Open it,” he whispered.

He smiled because her hands were shaking. She stopped breathing when she saw the emerald set in diamonds.

“Breathe, Kelly.”

In the box were two wedding bands, and an engagement ring.

“It's a set,” he teased. “Kinda like us.” He was smiling again, he couldn't seem to help it.

“Oh, Danny,” she whispered, “we've always been a set, we're made for each other. I love you.”

He slipped the engagement ring on her finger, shut the box, put it in the drawer by the bed.

“Come here.” He pulled her into his arms. That was their last coherent thought as the sunlight broke through the curtains, heralding a new day. Epiphany.

Advent Sunday #4

Sunday December 22nd:  By now we are so close to Christmas, that nobody can stand it anymore.  Keeping special gifts hidden, keeping the chatty kid from blabbing all the secrets, getting it all done, adds joy as well as pressure during the season.   Take a few moments, turn things off, turn down the lights, even light a candle or two, and remember the reason for the season.  I'm not talking about being all religious but to recognize how much just one life can make a difference in the world.  Look at what it was like during that time, even pursue what people say the true story is, really.  Look at this like a history lesson.  I'm not Muslim but I know who Muhammad is and I know the history of his movement. 

I've always felt that there was a lot of stuff going on that night in Bethlehem, after all the inn was crowded, not even a room for a pregnant lady.  So, out there in the barn, the inn keeper probably had a son doing chores to take care of all the animals kept that by the guests.  This poem is told in the voice of a young boy.  Because I'm from these Appalachian mountains here, it gets a southern, mountain accent.  

Hey, there little baby,
What ya doing here?
Don't you know this ain't no place
For one as small as you?
Why just look around,
It's cold and dark in here.
Where's your Ma, where's you Pa,
They should be here,
Be here with you.

Hey, there little baby,
You're a fine looking kid.
You kind of glow,
All around your face,
It's natural here,
Standing by your bed.
Why, there's your Ma, and There's you Pa,
We're all smilin'
At little ol' you.

Hey, there little baby,
Do your hear the angels singin'
Are you the new kid,
The one that has been promised?
Why, who'd a thought it,
You look like a regular kid.
I'm sure glad I found you,
Out is this old barn.

By: Lyle Dagnen

Advent Sunday #3

Sunday, December 15th:  Play (pay) it forward; Kindness is Contagious.  The week before Christmas and all though the house, people are nervous beginning to grouse.  Time to stop and think.  This is the season of love, brotherhood and joy.  Go out and spread some Wonder in the world.  Here's how to make the magic work:
  1. You need to realize the key to all this is to do this anonymously.  You are being a Christmas angel.
  2. Drop a little more than pocket change into the kettle.  The poor get this money.
  3. When you are in a crowded line waiting, allow someone to go in front of you, give a gift of time.  Be sure to smile and give them a happy wish.
  4. Buy a “Cup of Joe” for the troops overseas.  Remember these kids don't get to come home for Christmas.
  5. Buy some toys and take them to a local church, or shelter, or organization that is doing “Santa” stuff for people who don't have things.
  6. Buy groceries for a meal you would like to eat.  Put things that do not need refrigeration and mixes that can be prepared with water in the bag.  Take this to a family in need if you know one, or take it to the local food bank.
  7. There are kids in school who don't have supplies, crayons, pencils, pens; get a list from a local teacher and buy the stuff for a kid in that class.  
  8. Check with a nursing home, let them tell you the name of an elderly person and buy that person three things.  Socks, PJ's, house slippers, the items they may need.  Our nursing homes are full of people who have no family to speak of, a magic Santa present goes a long way.
  9. Give each member of your family a Christmas card telling them how special they are to you.  Try to do it secretly.  Don't worry if you don't hear back.
  10. Put a smile on your face, if you don't feel like smiling, smile until you feel like smiling.  A smile is contagious, it makes people feel good.  If nothing else, it makes people wonder what you're up to.  Especially smile, when someone is rude, smile your brightest then.  
These are just some ideas, you can come up with your own ideas.  The reason for anonymity is that it somehow seems more magical to the recipient.  The best thing is that you become accustomed to this and you do it all year long, not just at Christmas.  ~S  

Advent Sunday #2

Sunday, December 8th:  By this time in the month, we are usually making plans for the holidays; trying to co-ordinate family gatherings and outside celebrations.  The kids are working on being good, letters to Santa should, surely, be mailed by now.  If you were told you could write a Santa wish list and the wishes would be granted, what would you wish to come true?  Write a jot list, if not a full blown letter of your Christmas wishes.  Try sharing it with family.

Dear Santa, 
It's me again, the one on the top of the naughty list.  I did try to be better this year; there were just so many good opportunities for me to  be bad and stay off the list that once again, I'm busted by the “Goodie Two Shoes” committee.  Your visit to me, on the 26th is anticipated, as always.  Santa, while you've got your magic on, think about doing these things.   I know I have a spanking coming but these wishes aren't for me, there for other people.
  1. Spread extra doses of help for people who are having a hard time. Provide an opportunity, a step up, a chance to do more for themselves.  Give these people the ability to dig right in and take advantage of the help you send. That way, we give them the gift of pride of accomplishment and the satisfaction of a job well done.
  1. There are hungry people all over the world, as  you fly around dropping off gifts, please give each house a magic pot.  A pot that fills with food each day, food that will help them make it each day.
  1. People don't have homes that are safe, a child can't prosper when worry for food and shelter dominate their minds.  So, provide the “stuff” to make a shelter, that keeps out the weather and makes people feel safe.
  1. Santa, there are people who are sick, some may not make it.  I've talked with Death, I understand the cycle of life, but just on this night, randomly sprinkle a miracle or two.  A child, a grandparent, a mom or a dad, I won't look or even ask, just blow this to the wind and let the fates decide.
  1. This last wish, I have begun to wonder if even you can do it, but remove some of the hate that makes us kill each other.  Put in an extra dose of peace this year.
Thank you for reading my letter, I know you always do.  I have the aged scotch in the frig so it will be cold like you like it.  I have the wood for the fire that you so enjoy.  See you the day after Christmas, Santa.   

Advent Sunday #1

Sunday, December 1st   

As the season begins, think of all of the things we say and do that depend upon our ability to imagine during the Christmas season.  Try to remember and share with others one thing that adults did for you to help you imagine the wonders of Christmas:

When I was a very little girl,
I used to believe, I used to believe,
In Santa Claus
On Christmas Eve.

When I made my Christmas list,
Of things I want, my dreams and such,
I cried when I finished,
I wadded it up.

What I really want this Christmas Eve,
Is to believe, Is to believe,
In Santa Claus 
On Christmas Eve.

I want my heart to really soar,
At each knock upon the door,
Or bump on the roof or upon the floor,
Because I just know in my heart of hearts.
That it's Santa Claus
With something for me.

This time, as I compose my list,
I have just one, one Christmas wish,
Please, let me believe as I did when a child,
In the magic of Santa,
On Christmas Eve.

by Lyle Dagnen

The Dark Days

by Lyle Dagnen
The light fades away, the darkness grows The leaves are dying, the days are cooling 'Tis the harvest, the ground gives us love, The roots, the herbs that heal are waiting.
The fire burns all the day and into the night My master teaches me the way of the wise, To know them by heart so that I get the right, Is what I should know, is what is expected of me.
The Romans called it eighth, they tired to defeat, They called us wild as do the English lords. They sent the Scots to tame us, under their feet. Keeping the old ways is the way that we live.
On cold harvest night in the month called eighth, A gathering in the fields, we light the fires We move and sway to gods of old and ancient faith, The wisdom of the old ones is honored here.
Speaking the old words, remembering the cross roads, Marked by a circle, so that we may safely pass, We light the fires, we say the words, we burn the loads, We are the wild ones, we cannot be tamed.
On the month called eighth, the old voices call To the wise ones who know the way The memory of the healing, the way of fall, In hearts the fires burn, on the air is the way of old.

My Angel, My Penny

by Marcus Prudhon

I awake each day anew...realizing you are gone
No more kisses, no hugs to help me carry on.
Once there was love, both frightening yet sure
A love most of us want, sometimes forever long for.
I carry on with loving your memory, I carry it quite proud
Your voice your laugh, your face, and not like a shroud.
I don't bear your memory like a cross for all to see.
I bear you in my heart...the only place you need be.
I live on each day, fully, trying not to regret
That's what you wanted...and yet I don't forget
Your body, your tongue, your love, your taste
You are sweet memory, a treasure I won't erase.
I honor you by loving, laughing and living this life true
Not hiding, nor failing to love and remember you.
I love you still, my dearest, and when I think of then.
I pray there will come a day when we will touch again.

The Monster and His Keeper, part 19-end

by Lyle Dagnen

click here to see what you missed in parts 1-6
here for parts 7-12
and here for parts 13-18

Part 19
After the Bath, by Edgar Degas

She sat still, but when she looked up he had his arms propped on the top of the screen looking down at her.  “If you can finish your bath, I will bathe as well. That way we will both smell fresh.” He came round the screen holding a drying sheet for her to wrap herself in.  “Come, wife” he ordered. “I will see you without clothes. You need not fear me, for I find you pleasing to the eye.”  He surprised her by quickly wrapping her from head to foot in the sheet then lifting her in his arms to carry her to sit in his lap by the fire, allowing her to dry and warm.  He wrapped his arms around her holding her close.  As the water was soaked into the sheet he ran his hands over her body.  He stood up placing her in the chair  “If you'll help me, I'll bathe now.”

She understood about assisting in a bath.  More than once, she had been sent to help a guest prepare for the courtesy of a bath.  She wrapped her sheet and tucked it so that it would not fall off.  Then she assisted her husband, helping remove his boots and clothes.  As she folded the items he wore, she enjoyed the fragrance that his clothes held in them.  When she turned round her eyes were presented with a beautiful sight.  His backside was glorious, muscles  rippling.  When he stepped to the tub, she followed to help him adjust his seat in the tub.  He propped his stiff leg on the edge of the tub and eased his beautiful body into the water.

“Do you like what you see, wife?”  His voice reminded her that she was experiencing many firsts in her life.  Her first time to be first in the water, the first time she viewed a man with no clothes on, the first time a man had ever seen her with no clothes on.  For the first time since this had all begun, she thought that she might be glad that she had not ended up at Canterbury.

“I like very much what I see,”  her voice was trying to leave her.

“Come, wash my back and my hair for me.”  Washing his back was an experience, his skin was like silk and the muscles were hard.  His curly hair straightened with the weight of the water, but began to spring back as the water drained.  His hair was soft, she surprised herself because she had thought it would be hard like his muscles.  He asked her to wash the lower part of his leg and foot that stuck out of the tub.  His leg had a horrible scar at his knee, but the rest of his leg, she thought, was beautiful like the rest of him.  She realized his whole body was covered with a silky layer of dark blonde hair.

Part 20 (rated PG-13)

When she looked up from her duties he was watching her every move.

“You please me, wife, very much.”  He took the cleaning cloth and the soap from her to finish his bath.  “My drying sheet is there, hold it for me.”

He stood allowing the water to drain from him.  He was curious to see what she would do, if she would close her eyes, if she would turn her head, if she was curious and would she look at him.  He hoped that she would look at him.  She looked, actually she stared.  She had a look of shock on her face.  “Don't worry, wife.”  He stepped into the drying sheet, enjoying her arms wrapping round him. “You'll find I fit quite nicely once we take care of a few things first.”

She had not said a thing to him since he walked into their room.  “Don't tell me a chatterbox like you has no questions.”  He used the sheet to dry his hair, he shook the curls back into his long hair.  “Sit here and I'll comb your hair for you.” He wrapped his sheet round his waist leaving his chest for her to look at, actually close enough to touch. Her fingers seemed to be drawn to touch him, lightly as if she thought she might injure him.

“Can you tell me what you are going to do to me?”  She found that being so close to him made it hard for her to breathe.

Part 21

“Old stores call it the claiming,” he began, “when the husband takes his wife's virginity.  You spoke of the parties you had witnessed.  Be grateful that we don't have to put up with that.”  She nodded her agreement.  “I'm sorry to tell you that you will be hurt, but only the first time. After I bed you for the first time you will be sore.  That cannot be helped, but all of that will pass.  I promise you this, I'll be as gentle as I can be but there is only so much that I can do.  After these first times you should come to enjoy it when I join with you.  I want you in my bed, not down the hall or upstairs somewhere.  I won't be treated as some kind of unwelcome lout barely tolerated in my wife's bed.  That would break everything you promised in your vows.  There is pleasure to be had in what we do to one another, this is also the way to making babies.”  She turned to face him. “This is probably a blasphemy that will get me damned to hell, but it is not a sin for us to find pleasure in each other.”

“Do we put on clothes to do this?” her sheet was slipping low, he could see the tops of her breasts.

“No, Kat.  I sleep naked and you will too.” Her eyes grew large. “Don't worry, you'll grow to like it.”  He leaned to kiss her, touching his tongue to her lips for the first time. Her surprised reaction caused her to open her mouth and his tongue darted inside.  He hoped she would not bite him.  The intimacy of that kiss caused her to melt against him.  He stood, hauling her up and into his arms.  She had been clinging to her sheet but his kisses made her need to put her arms around him more tightly. “Feel how that kiss makes your body tingle way down inside you?”  She nodded.  “That's your body preparing itself for me.  That's your desire for me to make love to you.”  He took her sheet and draped it on the screen, placing his there with it. “Come to bed with me wife.”  His voice was deep, his hands felt so good holding her bare bottom as he walked her to the bed.

“I'm not sleepy” she whispered to him.

“We're not going to sleep.”

Part 22 - Rated mature, 18+ adults

He was walking her backwards to his large bed, kissing her and, oh what he did with his hands.  One hand was used to keep her pinned to him as he moved her, the other was used to caress her breasts, to rub her bottom and push her hips against him.  She had thought he was very large, but she could feel him grow against her stomach and he was very hard when he grew.  He had promised her he would fit nicely, but she wasn't so sure.

“Are you sure?” she asked, looking down at him

“I'm sure.  Now, crawl up in the bed, get in the middle.” He had to sit and lift himself so that he could accommodate his leg. He spent the first several minutes moving her hands from trying to hide and adjusting her legs.  He'd never really thought of this before, but women really had to expose themselves to their husbands.  He was trying his damnedest to be gentle, but he wondered how many times men just rutted on their wives like some kind of animal.  He reached down to touch her.

She drew in a deep breath — partly passion and partly shock at the intimacy of what he had just done.

“Kat, you are wet.  That means your body is as ready as it can be to accept me the first time.”  He returned his fingers touching her. Feeling her move toward him, he slipped a finger inside her, moving it in and out allowing her to become accustomed to the motions he would use.  When he felt her muscles begin to contract he eased in a second finger, to stretch her as much as he could.  He left his thumb on that place that he had discovered that ladies really liked to have touched.  His little, inexperienced wife, came apart in his arms with her first climax.  He smiled.  While she was still pulsing, he eased his fingers out and moved to her opening,  He could still feel the pulses when he touched her with his manhood.  Drenched in the fluid from her body and his, he pushed and she grew still.

“Oh, Drew.”  Her eyes seemed to lose their focus.  He pushed again, she moaned and she pushed back.  Her  barrier stopped him.

“This can't be slow.”  He held her hand, their fingers twining together.  “Know that you are pleasing to me, wife.”  And he pushed breaking the barrier.

She grew still, then she pushed against his chest.  It hurt, he knew it had hurt, the thin barrier had torn, he could feel the blood draining from her opening.  Her eyes had closed.  He gave her some time.

Her eyes opened and the hate and anger he thought might be there was not there.

Part 23

“Do I still please you?” she asked.

“Yes, you do.”  He smiled, kissing her and pushing into her.  She did what her body seemed to be telling her to do.  She watched Drew, she could feel that tingle deep inside her.  She knew that meant that she was going to have one of those mind numbing things she had before.  She tried to tell him, but her mouth did not want to cooperate and form words.  She found that his body was acting the same way and that both of them experienced one of those things at the same time.  Only Drew filled her with something warm, and wet.  She wondered if that was what the Bible called his seed.  Whatever it was, they were both out of breath and their hearts were beating like something wild.

“You're right,” was the first thing she said to him, as he pulled them to their side, still connected.

“What am I right about?”  He was pushing her hair back out of her face.

“You do fit me very nicely.”  She wanted to touch him, but he explained that she needed to wait several minutes, that everything was extremely sensitive.

“Look.”  He caressed one of her nipples and that's all it took for her to understand what he was talking about.  He reached for the cover so that the drying sweat on their bodies would not cool them too fast.

“How many times can we do this?” she asked.

“As often as you want, after you recover from this first time.” He was getting ready to carry her to the tub to clean her body.

“What if I told you that I want to do it again before the soreness sets in.”

He looked at her face.

She was all smiles. “Please.”

He thought to himself what a waste it would have been to send this woman to a monastery.  She might kill him with her demands, but what a sweet death.  She actually talked him into two more times.  The water they used to clean themselves was quite cool, but delicious.  He hung the draw sheet to dry so it could be folded and stored in case there were ever a question as to her virginity.  He found that she enjoyed cleaning him as much as he enjoyed cleaning her.

She helped him dress, he helped her select one of her very plain dresses.  Ester came in and braided her hair like a crown on top, letting the rest fall down her back.  They snacked on fruit and cheese because they had missed the evening meal.  They had plenty to talk about, they were coming to know one another.  He made sure to hide his smile when he watched her settle into a seated position very carefully.  She did surprise him, she only waited a day before she was demanding that he make love to her again.

Part 24

It was on a cold day two months later that they went riding.  She preferred to ride tucked in front of him.  On days like today, they shared warmth wrapped in his cape.  He rode out to the top of the hill so that they could look back at the castle.  Sitting quietly, wrapped in one another's arms he said, “Kat, I love you so, you are my heart”  That was the first time he said it.  He made sure to tell her several times a day every day after that.

She took his right hand — the one that made him a hero — to her and placed it over her  abdomen.  “I love you, Drew.  We've made a baby.”  He threw back his head and laughed for the sheer pleasure of it.  Then he turned back to caress and cherish her, kissing her deeply just the way she liked to be kissed.

There were always to be the rumors that a monster lived in the castle.  The scars on his face and the leg that never really regained its flexibility disturbed people who had some kind of stilted ideas about beauty.  They only saw his scarred face, never the heart of the man who had risked death to save his king.  He preferred it that way.  He did not have to entertain shallow people who might misunderstand his outspoken, chatty wife who collected swear words and would occasionally let one soar to the heavens.  For instance, when he dared to insist she ride side-saddle rather than nestled in front of him on his huge battle beast of a horse, she let one fly, in front of the master of horse, no less.  Or, when their oldest child decided to see if he could walk around the keep walls on the outside barrier — it was believed that everyone in the bailey heard that one.  She used two when the king asked Drew, personally, to be his advisor in a battle he wanted to launch against Spain.

He did advise the king, but he did it from their castle, while the king fought in the mud and rain in Spain.  While the king was at war, they conceived a set of twin girls who thought their father was the most wonderful man and each wanted to be smart like her mother.

Today in the chapel attached to the dark, forbidding castle that was filled with love, passion, laughter, and joy for so many decades, are the tombs of Robert William Andrew Stafford, Earl of North Cumberland and his Lady wife Cecilia Katherine Marie.  The tombs stand side by side.  He insisted that his death statue show his scarred face and his damaged hand.  Kat was always at his side, his confidant, his partner, and his lover in life.  She is beside him in death.  She was a force to be reckoned with; he loved her more than his own life.  To say that he died of a broken heart was the truth.  Kat died beside him in her sleep.

The last thing she had said to him was, “Drew, I love you more than anything on this earth.  Thank you for loving me.”  He had kissed her and held her in his arms.  The next morning she was dead.  Drew died a month later in his sleep.  They lie, side by side, the monster and his keeper.  To their six children the only legend their parents left was one of love and devotion.


The Goodbye

by Susan Brooks Fleming and Marcus Joe Prudhon is the other author

Little cubes of ice....hard, cold, unrelenting, the rain fell like little cubes of ice coating every thing it touched with thickened unfrozen water. The ground was soft, it had to be soft, it had to be churned up to make the place where he had been placed; the cold would make it hard again. Numbed fingers poked into the ground prompted by the insane notion that somehow she could reach the box where they had placed him before they put him in the ground. Funny how tears are still hot, even in the cold. The cemetery was deserted now, had been for hours, and this little place on the hill was hard to see from the road. At last there was privacy for her to say goodbye and be left alone by the well-meaning people who said that it would get better. Stretching out, she lay on the ground beside his place, finally falling asleep with the cold...having no intention of ever waking again. 

The warmth of the room and the pristine cleanness of the room provided her eyes with the information that she was in a hospital. Sluggishly, her mind wondered which part of the hospital housed her. She could move her arms and legs so they had not tied her in the bed. The window showed no evidence of bars or wire security closure. If she was careful how she answered questions, she might get out of here and move on with her objective. She did not intend to continue her existence without him. A nurse who possessed entirely too much happiness briskly walked into the room, humming cheerfully. Noticing opened eyes, she smiled and chirped, "Good Afternoon!" Standing by the bed the nurse's bright words seemed to turn to very real chirps as she turned the words she did not wish to hear to nothingness. 

The day she walked out of the hospital the sun was shining and the sky was a clear robin's egg blue. The day sounded happy and people were smiling. After three strangers nodded and smiled, she got out sun glasses and looked at the ground as she walked. She returned to her apartment because she had no where else to go. 

It smelled old, and had a dead look to it. It was clean, things were where they belonged, but it looked like an untouched museum exhibit. An exhibit of the life she lived before, and one she could not go back to because he was no longer there. She walked into the bedroom and sat staring at the room, rubbing her hand across the pillow, his pillow, stirred his scent, and she buried her face in the pillow allowing the light and the present to be removed from her consciousness. She fell asleep and slept until the next morning. 

She awakened from her troubled sleep with the first gray light before dawn. Walking to the window, she looked out and thought of all the mornings the two of them had greeted the dawn with love and sharing of words and thoughts. 

She looked forward to the seemingly endless progression of days before her, alone, without him.  She thought of his words again towards the end. " I will not leave thee."  Behind her she heard a faint sound as if the sheets on the bed were moved. Turning around, she saw nothing. Turning back to the window, the noise came again. Closing her eyes, she let her mind be as blank and receptive as her grief would allow. 

Then, as softly as a bit of down lands on a newly cleaned surface, she felt his presence and the gentle ethereal touch of unseen hands. 

Almost fainting, she thought to herself, ''If this be madness, then let it be so." 

She walked out of the room, knowing in her heart that while he could never be with her in the flesh again, he would forever be with her in heart, soul and spirit, and that reunion with him was not only possible, it was certain. 

She spent her time in the house as much as she could because it was the only place that held things that were his. A candle he had blown out seemed to hold his breath, a shirt on the back of that chair waiting there because he would wear it again. Sometimes she could make herself believe that he would walk back into the house with the "Hey, sweetie" he had started calling her. It made her smile because it had started as a joke. He had told her they would grow old and he'd lose his memory and call her sweetie because he couldn't remember her name. She held the shirt to her face as hot tears escaped from her eyelids. The smell of him filled her with such longing. Again, she could feel his touch, whisper light, but his touch still. 

Walking into the living room she noticed a book on the desk that she did not remember putting there. Reaching for it, she recognized it as one that he had really enjoyed reading, Born Fighting, she noticed a piece of yellow legal paper at the back cover. His favorite paper to write on, she thought as she opened the paper. It was a letter, in his distinctive all caps block printing. The letter began: 

Dear One,  
If you are reading this I did not survive and I know you are alone and have been that way for some time. You said one time that you could not go on without me. You cannot live your life in the past. You cannot do away with yourself. I am telling you that you are to go out and find someone else, go ahead and miss me for you always will. Don't close yourself away from the world and become someone else. You were joy to me and you gave me reason to celebrate each day. I cannot bear to think of you withdrawn and aching in our house all by yourself. Don't come visit my grave if you plan to kill yourself, I cannot bear the grief of you doing that. I am all right, you need not worry. The pain vanished and I am happy. We will meet again.  
I love you. 

The air in the house was still, nothing was moving, she was holding her breath. She felt the warmth of an invisible embrace and she could swear that she heard "goodbye." The paper began to tremble in her hand, and she knew that he was really gone and she was alone.

Ever present beauty

by Marc Prudhon

Each falling leaf, a glorious work of nature's art 
That few pay tribute to, or just take to heart. 
The Goddess paints the world; meadow, hill, and tree. 
'Tis there for any and all, merely stop, look, and see. 
The beauty is there every day, all around it lies, 
All one needs to do, is simply open up your eyes. 
We each walk through this life, most of us are blind, 
Never looking around us, or at what we leave behind. 
Guilty am I also, rarely do I give just duty
To the world around me, its ever present beauty.

read aloud, by the lovely Kate Henderson

Thoughts on the wind

a quote from Marla Spellenberg

ethereal art by Lauri Blank
The Wind. 

You can taste her moody changes, feel her caress or lashing vehemence, watch her carry houses on tornadic spirals, see leaves gently sway in light breeze, feel the humidity she carries from the ocean, dazzle you with delight with white snow swirling in mini snow devils. 
You can't see her, but the wind is ever-present!

A Woman's Faith

by Marc Prudhon

The art by Christopher Vacher that inspired this poem
The Mountains and Sea can become as one
But the travelers journey is not yet done
His soul sails on , he trusts his heart, tis his fate
To sail and hope to reach the one, his mate
She waits, watches, and prays that tiny sail
Will hold together through wind, wave and travail
She stands with faith that cannot bend
For She knows each journey has an end
The wind, the waves, conspire to make her fall.
Heaven knows a Woman's love can save us all.


by Marc Prudhon

Where did the soda fountain go, that's not a mystery.
Like the mom and pop grocery store, lost to history.
The corner store where the owner greeted you by name.
The big box stores have no soul, it just isn't the same.

REBEL, REVOLT, find one of those stores left, so few.
You can help save it, and they'll be happy to see you.
Sure it is cheaper elsewhere, but those few cents of cost.
might secure/rescue a bit of nostalgia, before it is lost.

I'd call Mike at Millers' Hardware, tell him what I need.
Was ready when I got there. How's that for speed?
I am guilty as all, and saying it isn't at all nice.
We've sold part of our soul for a few pennies of price.

The Monster and His Keeper, part 13-18

by Lyle Dagnen

Part 13

“How is it that we get children?  I like them, I've played with them, I know how to take care of them.  But how do we get them?” She paused. “Cook said that they were found in the cabbage patch.  I tended the cabbage patch and never found one of them.”  He wanted to laugh but he knew he should not.  She was serious in her observations.

“God's teeth” he shook his head. “You are such an innocent.  Has no one ever talked to you at all?”

She blushed. “My mother spoke to me to calm me down so that I would know that I as not dying when um...” She was chewing her lip again. “You know, I'm sure.  That I was not bleeding to death.”

He nodded his understanding of what she was stammering to say. He thought, How have I gotten himself into a conversation like this?  He had always expected his bride to come to him, at least, informed about what was going to take place.  Here she sat, resting her elbows on his knees, looking to him as a font of information about everything.  He noticed for the first time a sprinkling of freckles across her nose.

Maybe this was the universe pulling itself together to be sure that he was properly punished for surviving when others might have died.  That she was only fifteen and he was twenty-five was not such a shocking thing.  He knew of men who had been wed to females as young as thirteen.  Some men had been proxy married to infants in the nursery and had waited patiently for them to grow up.  Most had plowed their way through a field of courtesans while they waited.  Not that he had not spent time in the arms of the women trained to please a man, but he had tried to avoid many of the problems that happened when visiting these women too often.  Now, he had been given a female to be his wife who  did not have the first idea of how to be a wife, or how to please him in bed.  She said she tended a cabbage patch, did she know how to tend his castle?

Part 14

“Since this union was not brokered by anyone, can you tell me what you are capable of doing?” It surprised him to watch the play of emotions on her face.  She had clearly not been instructed on how to maintain a countenance of calm.  He thought he might like this, at least he would have some idea of what she was thinking.  Women, at best, were a puzzle.

She leaned back, holding on to one of her knees as a counterbalance.  “I can read and write Latin and English.  I am skilled with numbers, I can add, subtract, multiply and divide.  The priest who taught me spoke of something called Algebra but I know nothing of it. I can sew. My stitches are small and neat. I can do fancy stitches as well as knit.  I can cook. Cook taught me about running a kitchen and his assistant taught me about the garden and herbs and spices.  I helped care for the children on wash day. I can even do laundry.  I can ride bareback and sit a regular saddle.  I hate a side saddle, but I did ride one on the way here.  I can make candles, build a fire and clean a keep.  I thought all of these skills would be of value to the monastery and perhaps lead to me being a prioress.” She had watched his face as she listed all of what she called her skills.

“Did your parents know that you were out in the garden and building the fires?” He found that all of her activities were difficult for him to believe, in the normal circumstances of her being a girl in a family of high rank.

She was blushing again. He found she did that when she shared something like a confession or when she was caught in an explanation of something she had done.  “They knew nothing of my activities.  I surely would have been punished if they had caught me riding across the meadow in a dead run on one of the war horses, bareback.  Mostly, I am able to be very quiet and move around without being noticed.  It was easy to become lost in all the people.  As long as I didn't call attention to myself I was pretty much left alone.  I hope that I have not offended you.”

She was looking directly at his face.  Most people could not stand to look at the twisting of the scars that covered the upper third of his face and into his hair line.  He glared at her.  When his expression changed she noted it immediately.  “I did not mean to offend you,” she whispered and dropped her gaze to her hands.

“Get used to the face!”  He was back to barking at her. “It is the face you will see every day of your life for the rest of your life.  It will be the face that you look at when I'm inside you, the face you will see when you eat your meals.  The face of a monster” He had grown defensive and angry.  She did not understand what she had said or done to get this reaction from him.

“You do not frighten me.  I told you that.  I look at you to put your face in my memory.  I have never before laid eyes on you; I want you in my memory.” She did not move her eyes from his face.  He was as stubborn as she, and he did not look away.  He looked in her eyes and saw no pity, he saw no fear, just the look of someone who did not know him and seemed to want to know about him. She had lowered herself to a kneeling position.   “Now, you tell me what your skills are”  she rested on her knees between his legs, her hands on his forearms.

Part 15

He began to tell her about his academic knowledge which did surpass hers, but hers was stolen, his was deliberate.  He had fostered at ten and because of his size had excelled in all of the battle training.  With lance, bow, shield, sword, and whip he had led all of his companions in battle.  The king had chosen him as his champion and knighted him when he was barely out of training.  His tendency to protect the king had led to his injuries.  He spoke of the arrow in his knee which had caused him to be off balance in using his shield which had resulted in his face being burned and the loss of part of his right hand.  He had trained to use his sword with his left hand but was not as quick as with his right.  He spoke of himself like a broken old warrior put out to pasture.  He wasn't old at all, injured yes, but he wasn't old.  It was his left leg that had taken the arrow at the knee.  He could still mount a horse.  His right hand could be used, just without the two fingers.

She did not see him as broken, bent maybe, but not broken.  She asked him a bold question, “Are the parts of you that make you a husband to me broken or damaged?”  She really did not know what she was asking, but maybe there was something she needed to know about.

“God's Blood!” He was a fountain of swear words.  She was soaking each one up for when she might need them again. “You say the strangest things.  I am not broken or deficient and will service you quite well when the time comes.” He leaned down so that his nose was almost touching hers.

That they had been together like this, almost intimate, was an unusual thing — unheard of in their circles.  He had not expected her to stay. No chaperone had been provided.  She thought she would be in a monastery by now.  It would be so easy to kiss her, to just cover her mouth with his lips.  She was unusual, he was brave, he decided to kiss this woman who would be his bride.  They were alone which was highly improper.  He turned his head to adjust for their noses and covered her lips with his.    He placed his hands over hers and maintained the pleasant placement of his mouth on hers.  He felt her move slightly toward him allowing her mouth to conform to his.  They maintained contact for a long time, he lost count of how long; she did not seem to care to move away from him.  When they separated they each seemed stunned at what feelings had stirred between them. “We must never speak of these conversations or of this time together among other people.  We would certainly shock people and your honor would be called into question”  His  voice was quiet but still carried an air of command.

“I can keep a secret.” She yawned in a very unladylike fashion. “I am tired.  I will sleep by the fire.  Wake me in the morning.” She had spent the last two nights on the ground by a fire.  She lay down on the hearth and was soon asleep.   He watched this creature that had wandered into his life.  Surely she was going to upset everything in his well-ordered life.  Instead of frowning, he found that he was smiling at the prospect of fitting her into his days.  He would enjoy solving the puzzle named Kat.   She had simply curled by his fire and gone to sleep.  He had had the master’s rooms moved to the first floor when it had become obvious that his knee would be stiff and climbing stairs would be a problem.  He thought once of picking her up and moving her to his room but decided against it.  He had allowed enough compromise of her tonight.  He would not complicate it by having her sleep in his bed even if sleep was all that she did.  He would marry her, she would be the mother of his children, the heirs to his titles and lands.  There would be honor in the reputation that was spoken of in this castle.

Part 16

The next day the bailey was alive with conversation about the fact that the young woman he had sent for had stayed.  When they all saw the priest making his way into the great hall they all knew that the master would take that young woman to wife.  Their master had stayed closed away ever since he came back a hero, but damaged in such a way that he remained hidden from people.  Naturally, such behavior grew rumors and stories about why he stayed hidden away as he did.  The men who were his soldiers were as quiet as he was reclusive, which made the stories grow even faster.  There were no parties, no celebrations, no feast days, only closed doors and rumors of a young man who had saved his king and been horribly injured.  Now the priest was entering on the morning after the arrival of the young woman that the guards had been told to be prepared to escort right back to her family.  She had not left, the priest was on his way in, it had to mean that they were getting married.  

When he woke he had dressed and gone to find her.  Finding her sitting by a built-up fire making pets of his dogs, he asked, “Do you have any other clothing to wear for your wedding day?”  He motioned to the clothes she had worn into the keep.   The fancy clothes she had worn for travel were still damp; no amount of brushing could help them at this point.

“I only have more like this.”  She stretched out the fabric when she sat up.  “I think my mother thought that we would marry as soon as I arrived.  She did not account for the rain and the fact that you thought I would leave and be returned to them.” He offered his right hand, she took it without hesitation, he helped her to stand.

“Then what you have will do.  I have sent for the priest.  It is time.”  Fredrick led the priest to Lord Andrew.  “Father John, this is Cecilia Katherine Marie, Lady Stafford.  She is to be joined with me in marriage this day.”  He placed the copy of the notification by the king on the table for the priest to read.

The priest bowed to them, “Lord Andrew.”  The priest began, Fredrick stood as witness.  The priest spoke all of the words as if they were in front of a huge crowd.

“Cecilia Katherine Marie, will you take Robert William Andrew as your husband?”

She answered, “I will.”

“Robert William Andrew, will you take Cecilia Katherine Marie as your wife?”

He answered, “I will.”

Drew had his parents' rings, he held them for the priest to bless them.  She slid the ring on his left hand and he slid his mother's ring on her left hand.  It occurred to him that this wedding was so much less than most women of their social group expected.  She held her hands inside his as the priest blessed them and their union. She swore fealty to him.  The kiss matrimonial was given.  Then the priest served them communion. He managed to kneel with his left leg stretched awkwardly behind him.  She knelt facing him as the marriage was blessed by the church. Fredrick helped him to stand. When Drew helped her to stand, she stepped in close so that he could balance on his stiff leg.  As swiftly as they had been joined by Fredrick and Father John, they were left alone.  Fredrick had gone to get their breakfast.

Part 17

“It seems,” she commented, “that we are now bound together.  I hope that you have no regrets.  I cannot be the prize that you had in mind.” She had no illusions about who and what she was.

“Look at me,” he commanded. “I think we are the best match possible.  You are no silly twit; I certainly have no wild dreams about some fantasy.” He drew her hands to his chest and her in close to him. As he held her hands inside his, the rings tinkled together with an appealing sound.   “I have a woman who is wise beyond her years.” He moved so that his arms were around her, holding her tight against him. “Every minute I stay with you, you mean more to me than the last.”  He kissed her again, this time spending more time with her mouth under his.

“My Lord.” Fredrick bowed, setting a tray of food on the table for them.

They sat at table sharing the morning repast. He pulled her close to him, touching her back, holding her hands. When she reached to touch his face he closed his eyes and allowed her gentle caress.  She asked all sorts of questions about the place that she would call her home.  For the first time, in what seemed a lifetime, he wanted to ride out from the castle and show her all that was theirs.  He would speak to his master of horse to see that his saddle stirrups were adjusted for his leg that would not bend.  He would spend today preparing her for his claim of her, as best as any woman could be prepared.  He just hoped that she did not hate him afterward.  He had grown quite fond of her in a very short time.  As the day moved toward evening, he felt it was time; he issued a command to her.

Part 18 

“Go to my room, I will send a woman to you.  She will train as your maid.  You may arrange the things in my room so that you will have room for yours. Go.”

She followed his directions to the room for the master.  She opened the windows to allow air to flow in.  The air was cool, but a room needed fresh air.  She was unpacking the saddle bags when a woman came in, nervous.  She bowed, incorrectly, but she bowed.

“My lady.” her voice sounded weak. “I am Ester.  The Lord has chosen me to be your maid.  It seems we'll learn this together.  How may I help you?”

“I need to find a place for my clothes.  My best dress is drying still before the fire in the great hall.” Kat saw the look on Ester's face when she saw the dresses she laid out on the bed.  “I only have plain clothes.  I was not dressed for suitors or society.”

Ester came up to her and touched her hair.  “I'm not much on curls but I'm good with braids.  Your hair is beautiful.  We can braid it like a crown and let it fall down your back if you like.  Would you like a bath?”

Kat nodded and Ester went to order her bath.  In a matter of minutes a large tub was hauled in the room and buckets of water were carried in to fill the tub with water. The window was closed so that the fire could warm the area.  A folding screen was placed behind the tub to reflect and hold the heat.  This would be the first time in her life that a bath was drawn just for her.  She had bathed in the stream in the woods by her father's keep, but it was always cold and winter weather was just too cold for bathing.  She had never undressed in front of anyone before, but Ester helped her maintain her modesty by allowing her to use the screen to preserve privacy.  Stepping into the hot water was such a great feeling.  Ester came round and washed her back and washed her hair, but left the rest to her.  While she sat enjoying the water, Drew came into the room and dismissed Ester and shut the door.

(to be continued...)