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Daine’s  eyelid’s flickered, dim light shimmering at the edges of her vision, almost translucent. She shouldn’t be awake yet. The midwinter solstice had been in full swing these past three nights. She had just gone to bed. She sat up, instantly aware of what was wrong. Yellow candlelight illuminated the cracks in the door, but the room was otherwise shadowed in the darkness of night. She was home. Her bed was warm with the muslin blankets twisted around her ankles, and the silk of her dressing robe, a gift from the queen, caressing her bare skin. A palace cat purred on the pillow to her right. A pillow that should have been occupied by someone else.   

Where is he?  Her mind voice didn’t hold a trace of the slow panic spreading through her. The feline yawned, stretching his forepaws out, hips arched into the air.   

He’s brooding in that room again.  The cat flicked his tail, then huffed when she flicked the muslin off her legs, tossing it towards him.   

She stood, stretching out like the cat, and trying to ignore the cold of the castle cobblestone under the soles of her feet. She wrapped the dressing gown tighter around her middle and changed her eyes to that of an owl to find the door. The main room of their quarters was lit by one flickering candle situated on the roughhewn table where they often broke bread in the mornings. She made her way past it, tripping slightly on the uneven stone near the door to the privy. Steadying herself, she grasped the teak handle to the door directly across from their bedroom. She leaned into it, pushing her way into the well-lit room beyond.   

He sat there, on the floor, his long body pressed back against the frame of the chaise that was much too short to hold him. His legs stretched before him on the carpet overlaying the flag stone, and his face cast into shadow by the dancing flame in the hearth. He didn’t even glance up when she came in, though she knew he would be able to sense her. It was hard to surprise a mage with so much power. Harder still when the mage could sense and see magic of even the wild kind. She shifted, crossing his line of vision, and sitting on the chaise to his left.   

“Are you going to tell me why you are sitting in here alone, instead of in bed with me?” She kept her voice soft, still unsure why he was not acknowledging her. He didn’t answer. “I don’t like waking up alone Numair...not in Corus” she whispered. “It makes me feel like  Carthak  all over again, even after all these years.”   

He glanced at her then, his fingers reaching out to find her bare knee, and tracing circles there. She saw the wet of tears on his cheeks.   

“Oh, love, won't you tell me what it is?” She leaned back into the chaise, not wanting to look at his tear-streaked face. “You’ve spent the last three nights ruminating in here. It's midwinter Numair, a time for celebration. Why are you so sad?”   

He clutched at her hand, but didn’t say anything.   

“Is it me Numair?” she whispered. Her gaze dropped from his face, she pulled away, and her hand began to fiddle with the claw at her throat. “You haven’t talked to me the last three nights; you keep leaving our bed to come in won’t dance with me at the celebrations.” She gulped. “Did I do something?”  

He shook his head scooting his body closer to hers, and lying a wet cheek across her bare thigh, still facing away from her. She stroked his head absently, more out of habit than conscious choice.    

“He’s quite taken with you...that  Queenscove  boy.” Numair’s voice was rough and rasping.  Daine rolled her eyes, opening her mouth to protest the ludicrousness of this observation. “I know its trite of me to be jealous of such things...” his voice was distraught, cutting off any objection she may have made. “I can ignore it most of the time, when we are out on missions, or living life here outside of the court.” He turned his face towards her, draping his right arm over her hips, his hand clutching at the jut of her pelvis through the silk of the dressing gown. “it's just that it is so much worse at festivals,” his voice dropped to a whisper now. “Watching young men vie for your attention... watching you dance with them...listening to the whispers.”  

“They whisper all year round Numair, you know that” she threaded her fingers into his hair.   

“They do, but hearing them talk about how young and vibrant you are, and how scandalous and disgraceful it is that I interfered and prevented you from having your youth” he gulped. His palm traveled up her thigh, lifting to cup her cheek. “Seeing you dancing in all your spiritedness and vitality...I sometimes wonder if they are right? Have I stolen something from you dear one?” His eyes were pleading, but he didn’t let her answer. “Sometimes, I wonder if I should give up on my selfishness, and let you go...” he choked on the last words, burying his face in her abdomen, and shaking with sobs.  

Oh you foolish, ridiculous, irrational mage.” She pushed him back, sinking down to her knees and facing him. “Some people want to switch it up." She sighed. "Some people act like one love could never be enough." She gritted her teeth. "That’s not who I am Numair...that’s not what I want.” She cupped his cheek, wet with tears she wished he wouldn’t shed. Her voice turned soft again. “You are what I want Numair. Yesterday, today, tomorrow.” He inhaled, but she only leaned closer, pressing her forehead into his. “I’m not going to change my mind... please” she whispered imploringly. “Please...  don’t change yours.”   

His lips were on hers, working their way slowly, gently, until she opened, then turning rough and wanting. He laid her back onto the  coarse   kork  wool of the carpet, strands snagging against the cool silk of her dressing gown. He hovered over her. “I love you so much sweetling,” another tear broke free rolling down his swarthy cheek. He kissed the hallow of her throat. She inhaled sharply, arching her hips, and grasping at his. “I adore you so much,” he kissed just below her right ear, at the edge of her jaw. She whimpered. “I’m devoted to you...” he kissed the tip of her nose. “Steadfast...” his lips found her eyelids, closed with longing. “Pledged...” he rested his forehead against hers, lips finding her own. Her eyes flickered open to meet his, black with desire “Bound...” He swallowed, and she saw the smallest flicker of nervousness flit across his features. “Marry me  Daine .” The words came out  overwrought  

He had asked her a dozen times, to the point she had become irked by the very idea. She had given him the same answer each time.  Maybe someday.  She hadn’t realized until now how much her answer had been distressing him. She sometimes forgot what a sensitive man he was. She had seen his power up close. She was one of the few individuals who truly knew the extent of it. It was easy to fail to remember just how insecure and feeling the man could be. She reached up, thumb stroking his cheek bone. He trembled under her palm.   

“Yes Numair...” she was surprised at how steady her voice sounded. The elation on his face made something in the pit of her stomach coil. He pressed himself closer to her, lips  caressing  hers.


“Yes Numair,” she whispered between kisses. “Someday.”