I had only met him once before, if I remember. He had been quiet and a tad awkward; in all honesty, he did not strike me as a very interesting man. My father explained to me that this man, whom I was scheduled to marry within two weeks worked for the King's architect. A very important and notable position, my father pressed. He was a good man, and a wise match for any daughter.
I did not protest, nor did I cry over my father's choice of husband for me. I was positive then that my marriage to him would be successful and profitable; a wise choice, indeed. Those two weeks were immediately spent preparing for the event of my wedding, because my soon-to-be husband was anxious to have it completed before his departure.
You see, his job required him to oversee the construction of a new city: a very complex and stressful task. This meant that I was to leave with him and live in a nearly empty city of cold stone while it went through the last stages of construction. The only people there would be the workers, their families (if they had any), a few guards, the head architects, my husband, and I. It was a very bleak population for such a vast city.
These projects were the King's new focus. It was thought that the cities would spark a golden age of our great race, and a total of ten of them were planned. They were a fine idea, I must say. After all, our population lived in one, great city. It was beautiful, really. The streets were always busy with dancers and musicians, even though we were at war. The city was constantly alive, and the hope of a greater population in these ten new locations was an emblem of our prosperous and blessed lives. They were nicknamed the Star Points, because when mapped out, they created what looked like a large, ten speared star with our capital in the center.
I was to move to the farthest north point of our star. It was said to be most beautiful of the new cities, but it was also the deepest into the wilderness, and the farthest from home. I use to look at it on one of my father's maps. It was drawn in, and only a penciled circle that my father had marked, but it still held much weight to me. Those coordinates were my future as a married woman in the middle of nowhere. I tried to tell myself that it would not be nowhere for long. After the city was complete, people would come to live there, and the area would flourish much like the cities that had already been completed. There had been three of them already, although one had fallen under attack in its early days. The war had all but ended, my father use to say, and news of occasional battles would reach the city by messengers.
I could not deny that I was worried. Being so far from home and so vulnerable to attacks made me nervous. Reports of stray White were a common occurrence. Small groups of three or four were what we heard of most. The large tribes had been broken up and scattered by our armies, pushed out of The Shadow so that they could not cause more threat to us as we expanded our empire. I sometimes felt sad for them, but their existence was not something I thought of often. Only when they attacked us did they become of interest. They were a dying race of heathens that hated my people, and so they had to be taken care of.
As my father said, the war had all but ended. My people, whose strength had outweighed the White's, had claimed The Shadow as their rightful gift from the Gods, and now all that was left was to escort our enemy out of it forever.
I will never forget my first husband. He called me Syll, short for Syllan, which is the name my parents gave to me. He was the only one who did at the time, and it quickly became a sweet gesture of affection between the two us. Our wedding was glorious, and it was conducted right in the center of our great city. I was nervous the entire time, even when my body was painted with our family histories and the anklets were clasped in large quantities above my feet. My hair was woven into itself and held together with silver clasps, and my upper body was draped with a beautiful and complex necklace. It was a beautiful gift from my mother, who told me before the ceremony that I was making a great marriage with Edrae, and that the Gods had blessed us with such a strong match. I knew she was right, and that Edrae would make me a very happy bride. I only hoped that I could do the same for him.
I barely remember the ceremony, mostly because the only thing I could focus on was the beating of my heart against the songs that our families sang to us as we stood at the altar, our hands pressed to the light stone. We were not allowed to touch until we were married, and so we touched the altar instead, and were connected through the stone. My palm was damp, I remember. It grew almost uncomfortable resting there, and I thought everyone was noticing how nervous I was. It only made my heart beat faster, and the urge to stand perfectly still was overwhelming. My hand, clammy on the altar only inches away from my husband's gloved hand, could feel the energy rushing through the stone between us. Yes, it was a strong match. We were a strong couple, and I had faith for our future together. We would go on to have many sons, who would make their father proud and go on to have families of their own. I would be loved by my husband for my devotion and pride, and I would love him for his generosity and passion.
After our wedding songs had been sung and our families danced for us, it was my turn to dance with my newly wedded groom. I had practiced the dance for hours, frightened about slipping or forgetting a step. I had watched other brides deliver it perfectly and romantically, a gift for their husbands and a song from the heart about how happy she was to be his. It was a gesture of love, and even if I did not know if I was in love with Edrae in that moment, I felt that I could love him very easily, and that I would love him soon with my entire being.
I was alone for a moment, standing there with everyone's eyes on me, and my damp palms shook with my anxiety. I needed it to be perfect, and with everyone watching, I was frightened. But when the first few notes softly started, my body moved like it was nothing. I was light and smooth, and the Gods gave me strength to extend myself with the love I felt inside. I stepped outward, my bare feet on the cold stone, and the snow drifting down around me. My arms moved low and gracefully, and with each spin I could feel the wind in my black hair. I reached up, happily stretching myself to the limits, and gently tilting back into the arms of my husband. His body was so warm in the moment, and the peace I felt then was like none other. The stillness of the world was more perfect than it ever had been, and the gentle coos of admiration from our wedding guests were like the wind. He carried me, his arms wrapping around my waist and thighs for the first time, and then he laid me gently upon the ground. I could feel the snow beneath me, melting to my hot skin, and then I was up again. Softly, gently, and perfectly I dance with him. Our hands intertwined, our faces brushed, and our bodies reacted to the steps of the dance. I believe, even today, that it was in those moments that my heart weakened for him. Our wedding dance was like nothing I had ever felt. It had to be love.
I soon felt excited and anxious, overjoyed to be a bride and ready to start my new life as one. We spared no time, and after we celebrated and ate, it was time for us to begin our journey to our new home. The top point of the star was three days away by carriage, and so we had no time to lose. My husband needed to arrive there as soon as possible to assume his position, and help finish the city. I was no longer frightened of my future home. It was no longer an empty city, but a fruitful and glorious world of opportunity. It would soon become more to me than a circle on my father's map. It would be an accessible reality. My home. We waved excitedly as the carriage pulled free, and I could see my mother crying. She had kissed me goodbye, but it would take more than that to feel like a proper goodbye had been said. I would see her again, I knew that, but in that moment it felt like she was so far away.
I tried not to dwell on those I was leaving. I no longer belonged to my father and mother, but to my husband. I went where he went, I did as he did, and I did so with pride and devotion. I was a wife, and I was happy to be so.
I knew the ride would be long, but I certainly forgot how long three days could take. I amused myself for a while with getting to know Edrae. He laughed with me, and told me stories of his childhood and his aspirations to create the most beautiful city The Shadow had ever seen. I could see the excitement in his eyes when he talked about the top point, and how he truly believed it was going to be an item of pride.
He spoke of tall staircases that stretched down from the tallest of buildings, walkways that were suspended in the air, and roads that created glorious pictures of history and legend within their stones. He told me then that he had been working on the design of the city for years before it's construction began, and the King's architect was so impressed with his work that he put him in charge of the project. It was such a honor, I knew, and a dream come true for my dear husband.
"It sounds lovely." I said to him. I could not wait to see it. Edrae's smile only grew, and he took my hands. "Oh, Syll," He said, his thumbs gently passing over my skin. It made me excited. "I am so happy that I can share this experience with you."
"As am I." I replied. "I never imagined something so exciting for myself! I could never imagine being here without you." It was the truth. I could not imagine leaving my home and leaving everything I knew if I had not married Edrae. If I had married any other man, I would have been moving into his home at the moment, not riding in a carriage farther away from my family. It was an odd series of events that was not considered the norm. I knew of other young brides who had a very simple married life. I would not have that, and I was proud of it. I knew I was capable of a more thrilling life. It suited me, and I like to think that I suited it.
The first day passed quickly with talk, and I tried my best to tell him of my own childhood. My father was a veteran of the war, as many men were. He never cared to speak much of his time abroad, and I did not blame him. I heard stories of the White and their witchcraft. They called upon dark creatures to aide them, and became demons themselves. I once heard, as a small girl, that the White smeared the blood of their victims upon their body to show their strength. I made the mistake of asking my father about this, and he grew angry with me. I always tried very hard to please my father as a young girl. I acted politely and did as he asked, which I think made him a happy man. My mother always seemed happy, and my young years were spent happily with my family.
I told Edrae about my older brother who anxiously stepped into the war, although most of what our armies did now was scout for stray White. He knew that, but the youth in him craved some kind of action, and he hastily left as soon as his age permitted. My father was sad for a long time after that, but the occasional letter from my brother always gave him a boost in pride. His son, the strong warrior.
Edrae was very interested in my brother. He told me about the choices he had, and how he decided that he did not want a life at war. I admired him for that fact. When most young men rushed to fight, he stayed to learn and create. It was men like him that were helping our kingdom expand and prosper. He was the future, and I was beside him for the journey.
We did not speak much after that. The daylight faded, and we pushed deeper into wilderness. I fell asleep, and the rocking carriage carried me into strange, twisted dreams. We pushed on through snow and wind, and soon came to The Outer Rim. It marked the end of explored territory, and had a reputation of death and despair. Here is where the forgotten elves were taken, ones who could no longer control themselves, and went mad with their magic. The Forgotten Charres, as we called them, were left to die in the freezing winds of The Rim. They were believed to either die of exposure, or be devoured by the creatures that lived beyond. Still, The Outer Rim was something that nightmares were centered around, and so our driver left an offering to the lost souls of our kind, those who could not control their magic, those who went mad.
I felt uneasy after that for the entirety of our journey. We were now in country that could not be mapped, yet we pushed onward to the top point. I dreamt of beasts following us, and Forgotten Charres luring me to their clutches. I woke more than once, confused and worried, only to be lulled back into the dreams by the rocking of the road. I was worried that our offering did not please the dark creatures of The Rim, and now our journey was tainted. I woke once to find an extra blanket spread over me. It made my heart less worrisome, though the feeling of uneasiness was still strong in me. I feared for our safety, and I feared that the Gods did not wish us to make it to the city.
The last time I awoke from the dreams, it was day again, and the carriage was not moving. It was still, and when I peeked out of the carriage window, I saw snow and trees everywhere. My husband was not in the carriage with me, and so a fearful twinge of being alone sank quickly into me. I grabbed the first things I saw: my husband's long cloak, and my own fur slippers. Wrapping myself in the warmth, I opened the door and stepped out.
Immediately sinking into the snow, I gasped at how cold it was. My slippers, though warm, were not meant for calf deep snow. I looked around and saw Edrae, the driver and a couple guards that had accompanied us looking out into the forest. I was relieved, and took a few careful steps towards them. They were talking amongst themselves, looking out into the nothing. "My lord!" I called out to him, and my husband quickly turned, shocked.
"Syll, you should not be out here!" He bounded towards me, taking long strides over the snow. As he reached me, I asked why everything had stopped, to which he gently replied. Scooping me up, he carefully began to carry me back towards the carriage, where he thought I would be safer. "The driver thought he saw something ahead."
The tone in his voice was pleasant enough, though peeking over his shoulder I could tell that the situation was potentially more serious. "Edrae
" I said carefully. "Tell me, did he see a White?"
My husband smiled as he set me back in my seat, and he laughed gently. "There have never been reports of White in this area, Syll. Everything is fine." I knew, however. I could see it all over the men's faces. They all thought it was The White. Perhaps not many of them, one or two at the most, but that did not matter. We were a small caravan with limited guards. We were an easy target to anything that may decide to come along, especially if it were The White. They were large and strong, and could blend into the snow like nothing else. They knew this uncharted world better than any scholar or soldier. They could sneak in and out of forests like the wind.
I had over heard my father talking with my mother one night many years prior, right before my brother left for war. He spoke of the sheer strength and size of The White. Their men towered at least a foot higher than ours, and their build was broader. They wore the faces of demons and wielded long, thick spears that they could throw accurately over a hundred yards. They were hunters of death, and haunted the dreams of many men that had faced them in their youth.
In that moment, every imaginable image I had ever pictured of The White come rushing through my mind. Demonic faces, blood smeared bodies, and hair whiter than the snow stung my mind. Images of sharp teeth and fingers were all I could think of as I looked into the still forest through the open door of the carriage. My husband quickly rejoined the other men, but I stayed, waiting for a thick spear to come whistling though the branches.
It never came, but its spirit struck me deep in the heart.
Finally, they returned to me, and I was informed that we would continue onward through the forest, even though I knew of the potential threat of attack. I spent the rest of the day in silence, dwelling on my dreams, and worried about the mysterious creature that the driver spotted ahead. Were we being followed? I did not know, and could not know for sure. Though the feeling was haunting, I had to forget it. There was a chance that it was nothing, and the driver had seen a falling branch instead of something living. I had to tell myself these things to get through the night, which was also wrought with strange dreams. I moved closer to Edrae that night, frightened of being so far from him, even though the carriage was not very large to begin with. The promise of his warmth as he slept against the wall was comforting enough, and so I gently rested myself against him and spread my blanket over his legs as well. It was the closest I had been to him since our wedding.
I awoke strangely. I could not place where I was, and the sudden movement of the wheels hitting stone made me yelp. I was dizzy and confused, and I realized that I was asleep on Edrae's lap. Embarrassed, I straightened immediately, only to be greeted by his smile. Quickly, he said we were almost at our destination, and I had to remind myself where that was. I realized suddenly that I had slept most of the day, and another wave of embarrassment was apparent on my face. That was no way to begin my life as a wife.
After I managed to make myself a bit more presentable, I then ate something. It was not much; my anxiety had returned, and it churned my stomach. The reality of the top point city, of my home, was only a small amount of time away from me. This meant many things all at once. It meant that I would have a home to take care of. I would have a husband to feed and serve. I would have a bedroom, which I would share with my husband, and that meant that I would soon have a wedding night.
I had not given this much thought before, even as I learned the artful ways that a wife could please her husband in their night chamber. It was a custom for young brides to learn these things. It was a way to ensure a happy and successful partnership and marriage bed. Things like how to greet your husband, how to respect him, how to relax him, and how to arouse him were all very important lessons that young women learned. Favorable positions for lovemaking and performance tips were taught to ensure a strong relationship, as well as tricks to guarantee the birth of sons, or even the prevention of pregnancy were all just as important. It was a wife's duty to learn these things for her husband, as well as herself.
I suddenly realized that we were driving closer to the city, and I knew that eventually I would have to put some of my lessons to use. I was extremely nervous, and tried to recall certain lessons that pertained to the wedding night. How to make it less awkward, as well as enjoyable for both of us seemed very important to me as I quietly ate my first meal of the day.
I could not finish it.
Edrae seemed very anxious to reach the city, and he began to talk excitedly. He had not visited it before, and so had no idea how complete it was, though I imagined he was more excited to finally see his work made into reality. I have often wondered from that moment as to what was going through his mind in the hour before we arrived. It must have been the most thrilling moments of his life. All his devotion to architecture was finally being rewarded, and he was going to see his greatest creation for the first time. He was going to be able to touch its stone, and walk through the walls he had only seen on paper. Although I had only known him for those three days in the carriage, I felt so very proud of him.
The city was something made from dreams. I can still see it, though it is just memory now. The main gates opened for us like beautifully carved doors to a palace. The streets stretched on for miles, and each building was something only the Gods could have dreamt of. The stone that made up the streets was colorful, a grand mosaic of our history and our legend, starting with the first elven king. I was amazed, and could not keep my eyes off the tops of the buildings, which connected to create another level of the city. They formed more streets and walkways, and stairs scaled the sides of buildings. Large, lovely houses were stacked together in the most beautiful of patterns, and I knew that this city truly was something that my people could be proud of. It was the top of the star.
Edrae was so excited. The man who had previously overseen construction gave us a tour. He had been living there since the beginning, but now needed an expert to finalize the plans. He was a kind, older gentleman, and he showed me very much respect, which I appreciated. Edrae touched every wall, sized each room, and ran his hands over every railing that we passed. He quizzed Quaiil, our tour guide, on each arch and dimension. My husband was extremely pleased, and amazed at the progress he saw before him. I was as well. I never imagined the city would look like it did, and I sometimes wish I could go back to it, if only to revisit the spots that made Edrae smile. He was living his dream in those few days, and that is how I like to remember him: happy, excited, and bursting with promise.
We were introduced to the workers quickly after. They were a prime set of men, some young and some older, and they had managed to bring the vision to life. They were all artists, it was certain, and they all bowed to us and were happy to meet their new supervisor. Edrae learned each one's name very quickly, which apartment he lived in, the name of his wife if he was married, and how many children he was supporting while he worked there. It was a large feat to accomplish in such a short amount of time, but he managed to do so with little trouble. I could tell that each of them was appreciative, and the respect my husband showed them was reason for them to respect him in return. Their happy faces that day still warm my heart. I could not have asked for a more pleasant reception, and I felt like I already had many new friends.
My husband stayed behind with the workers, and I was brought to the apartments that had been prepared for us. I was greeted once more by a group of three maids, wives of a few of the workers, who quickly helped move our personal belongings into the house. I was very pleased with our new home. The main room was large with a great window overseeing the center of the city. Its rugs were beautiful, and the series of ottomans that were there were like the ones my mother kept in our parlor. They were her best ones, and she wanted the guests to know that. I soon discovered that my own apartments consisted of the main room, two parlors, and a vast dinning room with a lovely, low-legged table, three small bedrooms, a master bedroom, and their accompanying day rooms, two bathing chambers, and a study for my husband. Each room had been completely furnished, and fires set in the fireplaces to heat the home before our arrival.
This was my home. I was a wife, and I was in charge of this house. I had to make sure it was clean, warm, and inviting for my husband for when he came home. I had responsibility now, and I was proud of it. I was proud to have a house to take care of, and a man to please.
I began to put things away: my husband's things at first, and then my own. I did not finish, nor did I ever finish that particular task. Time grew short, and the servants and I began to make a dinner for Edrae and I. He was going to arrive at any moment, and I was eager to please by having food ready for him, like a good wife should. When he did come home, the servants were quick to leave us in peace. It was well known that him and I were newly weds, and I suppose they thought that the two of us deserved privacy. I would have preferred them to stay a bit longer, myself.
We sat together in the dinning room at the low table, sitting on the ottomans that lined each side. It was the first time we had been completely alone together. I was not sure if he noticed or not, but I surely did. I was nervous again, and as the sun set steadily, I grew weary of our bed. Through all of dinner, Edrae spoke of the city: the measurements, the stunning craftsmanship, and his plans for the final stages. What grand ideas he had! Fountains, heated roads, and elaborate wells were all swimming in his mind. It meant much more work, of course, but he was anxious to get started. I listened, but my mind kept jumping back to the bedroom. We would sleep beside each other that night. I had never shared a bed before, and if what I had learnt about wedding nights were true, my marriage would be consummated before daylight. I was terrified, even though I tried to reason with myself. I was not the first bride to face what awaited me, and I certainly would not be the last. Besides, I thought, Edrae was kind and sweet. My first night with him had the potential of being the same.
He must have been nervous as well. We stood in our bedroom awkwardly, and I slowly began to remove my necklaces. I remember trying to act as natural as possible, much like how I felt while standing at the altar during our wedding. I tried to move smoothly and efficiently, but I did manage to fumble awkwardly. I was worried he could sense how nervous I was, which only made the situation more awkward. Neither of us spoke about what we knew was next, but I slowly made my way to our circular bed, suspended only a foot off the ground, and sat at the edge.
As it is our custom, Edrae filled a small bowl with warm water and took a cloth in his hand. He kneeled at my feet, taking my left in his hands gently. He was very careful to dampen my foot and ankle, washing away the day's work that I had performed perfectly for him. He gently moved on to my right, softly running the water over my toes, under my arch, and around my ankle, which held the anklet I wore to symbolize our partnership.
I watched his hands carefully. This was a private moment between husband and wife, and it showed his appreciation for me. I was honored, really, to have him so eager to conduct our marriage rituals for me. The washing of a woman's feet was sacred, and romantic. It put me at ease for a moment, because I knew then that we were a true couple. However, whatever ease I felt was soon gone again when I felt him begin to wash higher than my ankle. My leg was now wet, and soon I felt it pass my knee. My heart began to race as the idea of his hands rising higher up my body sank in, and I slowly fell backwards onto our bed.
My breath caught in my throat, no matter how hard I tried to regulate it. My body was stiff and unwelcoming, not ready for this moment, and not willing to relax for it. Everything I tried to think of was hopeless. His hands, I remember, were shaking as well, but they gently cupped my body in the softest way possible. I had not realized that my eyes were shut tight, and I gasped to feel a warm kiss at the corner of my mouth. A kiss! My first kiss. I could feel him over me, so I opened my eyes. It was a difficult thing to do; they were set on staying closed for the entirety, I am sure, but I managed to pry them open to look at my husband. He looked beautiful to me, just as nervous and rigid as myself, but pleased. My hands instinctively rose to touch his face: a very intimate touch, and I had never noticed before that his eyes were so dark.
Nervously, he bent to kiss me once more, but this time I was ready for it. My chin tilted upwards, and our lips pressed together fully for the first time. I was an orb of warmth, and I could feel the frigid ice on my nerves melting away. My hands sailed over his back, which was flat and strong above me. Each kiss he give my skin left a warm imprint, and my breath turned from labored to soft. Although my body had instinctively relaxed, I was still anxious about what was to come. I knew then what happened between a husband and wife, but learning about it and doing it are two separate things all together.
I was frightened when his hands pushed aside my clothing, and I found myself more bare than not beneath him. I took deep breath to stay calm, and tried to focus on the way his lips touched my neck, but I could not help but wait uneasily for the moment of connection.
It was shocking! I gasped outwardly against my better judgment, and I could feel the pressure filling me up completely. My body once again became rigid and uncomfortable, and it suddenly began to hurt. My husband was kind to me, though. He was gentle for me, and I soon learned to relax my body again, which helped dull the pain I felt. My eyes had closed again, which was probably for the best, because they watered with full tears. I was not sad, nor was I upset with him, but my eyes watered all the same. I could still feel his lips on my neck and cheeks, but my own instinct was to turn from him. I fought it, knowing that the sooner I relaxed and accepted the act, the sooner the pain would stop.
I breathed deeply, carefully, and fully, trying to focus on my body, and I soon felt my muscles give in. I felt better by the end, and when it was finally over, I could wipe my tears away and smile. He held me close to him in his sleep, and I liked the feeling of his hard chest against my back. I did not cry again that night, and I did not regret our first night together.
I slept soundly against Edrae until morning, feeling content and happy all the while.