I didn't realize what was happening at first.
I stayed curled up under the blankets with Genrul all that day and through the night. Sisro wondered about us, I could tell, but I didn't know what to tell him. I felt weak and bone-weary, almost as if it was me that had been dosed with the herb tea.
Given a choice, I might have chosen to stay there, clasped against Genrul's side while he slept, forever……..
I was content. At least for the time being. You must remember, I was young…….the young are seldom content for very long……..
The next morning he wanted to rise, to go out to relieve himself. Sisro had to help him. I heard him curse in Roman when he stumbled.
The air was crisp and clean outside. He would not want to come back into the close, airless tent after being out. I rose as well, and opened the flaps, front and back, and tied them, to let the fetid sickroom air out, if it wished to go. The breeze was welcome. The sun on his face felt good.
I was a little dizzy at first. I assumed it was from lying so still for so many hours. I was slower to clean myself than usual, my hands seemed not to obey me well. Sisro had some soup bubbling in the pot, and I ate, and after Genrul came back and lay down, I helped him eat. And then we both felt better.
Contentment. It was a strange feeling. I think I had been yearning after something I didn't have since I was a small child. Never satisfied. Discontented. Until now.
I was outside later, scrubbing the pots, when Sisro sat down beside me. We spoke, a frustrating exercise most of the time, having to combine the German words Sisro knew with the Roman words I knew, and guess at the rest.
"Genrul say……me," he began. "You talk. Genrul…...leaving. You talk. Genrul stay."
I had to think about that for a minute, to try to get the sense of it. "When? Now?"
He waved his arm, a gesture that meant nothing to me. "Genrul sick." A pause. "Sick, sick. Leaving."
He didn't know that word. He drew his finger across his throat.
"Dying." I nodded. "So?"
"You talk. Talk, talk. Genrul stay."
Was he saying the Genrul decided not to die because of what I said? I gave him a push. "Stupid." I had spoken in German, and as far as I knew, Genrul knew very little German.
"No-Genrul say me say you---" he stopped, frustrated.
"Thank you?" I said finally in Roman. It was a guess.
"Yes! Thank you."
"He could tell me himself," I muttered. "He'd do as well as you, and he doesn't know any German at all."
"Genrul say thank you."
"No, Genrul sleeps."
I couldn't help it. I rolled my eyes, shook my head. "He's not asleep."
"You know not. You……out."
"He's not asleep. Go look for yourself."
And at that moment Genrul spoke Sisro's name from inside the doorway of the tent. Sisro looked at me from the corner of his eyes, and hurried to Genrul's side.
It didn't seem strange to me at all.
The Wise Man of the Romans came to see Genrul. And he brought other men with him, men who were not soldiers. They thought themselves very important, though. I could tell by the way they walked around me without looking at me, by the way they held their robes with both hands.
The Wise Man and Genrul talked for a long time. I was not to work when important people were present. I was to sit still and be quiet. I got bored.
I watched Genrul's mouth as he talked. For a while. Even that got boring. I shut my eyes, and listened to the voices. Genrul's voice was deep and good and I heard it all through me. Sometimes I heard a word I knew, like "poison". Or the name the Romans called my country.
That got boring, too, after a while, so I imagined………kisses. I had some ideas about lovemaking, but just then I wanted kisses, imagined them, yearned for them. I imagined Genrul's whiskers brushing against my upper lip, and his fingers in my hair. Long, long, deep kisses……..wet, sweet……..
I jumped, startled, and opened my eyes. I thought I heard someone say my name. My German name.
The Wise Man and Genrul were still talking. The others paid no heed to me. Sisro stood behind Genrul. He was supposed to get Genrul whatever he might want so he didn't have to stop talking to the old man. I didn't know why he wasn't doing it.
I decided I must have fallen asleep and dreamed that someone called my name. Clearly no one here had done so.
Genrul wanted some tea. Sisro could have gotten it for him, but he just stood there. So I did it. Prepared it as Genrul liked it, and took it to him.
Everyone stopped talking and listening, and looked at me. Genrul raised an eyebrow.
"You…..drink," I said.
He took the tea from me, and said, "Thank you."
The Wise Man spoke; I heard the word "poison" again.
Genrul shook his head. "No," he said. He held out his hand to me; I took it and sat down next to him.
The Wise Man asked another question. Genrul said no again. The Wise Man shrugged, and said something that made them both smile.
I was glad when everyone left.
That night I dreamed. It wasn't like any dream I'd ever had, it was thick and heavy……..it was breasts and lips and thighs, skin and tongues and fingers……..touching, rubbing………tasting----ah, Freyja, and entering……and the ache, the ache……..not just in my woman parts, but somewhere else, too………..everywhere…….
It was lust, strong and hard; blinding, stupefying, overwhelming lust. It rode me, in my dream; rode me like I was a wild pony, with no hands on the reins, not even my own, just the rider's heels urging me onward toward…..what?
There was something else, too, but in my heat I didn't heed it till later.
At last, at last……I may have been awake toward the end, I couldn't tell the difference just then between sleeping and waking, but at the end---my heart a drum deep and swift in my chest---my body convulsed of its own will, and I thought I would die……
I opened my eyes. The tent was dark, I was alone. Weak and limp, breathing hard, the sweat beginning……and alone.
A noise; inside, not outside the tent. I listened until I was strong enough to rise. I knew what the noise was before I saw him.
Genrul was sitting on the edge of his bed, elbows on his knees, hands clasped on the back of his neck. He was breathing hard.
He heard me. I'm sure I made no noise, but he knew I was there. He raised his head, put his hands down, looked at me in the dark. Took a deep breath. Let it out.
That's when I knew what I'd done. I had not been dreaming my own dream, any more than I'd been dreaming my own dream when I saw Genrul hit by the arrow. But that had been the Sight.
This night, I had been Dreaming Genrul's dream.
Now I knew what real desire was, how different it was from my childish yearnings. It was not just the simple ache for the joining of bodies. There had been more than that. A tenderness that I had ignored, but I'd felt it, I remembered it. As urgent as the lust had been, as sharp and necessary, behind it there was affection…..no, something more than that. A deep well of emotion. I didn't know then what to call it; and I had no illusions I'd be able to plumb it…..but it was there. I felt it.
I walked to him on bare feet, and sat down next to him. He took my hand. Spoke, my Roman name and something else; and squeezed my hand. He spoke a little more. I didn't answer; I didn't know what he'd said. Did he know that I was awake for the same reason as he? I thought at the time that he did, but I may have been wrong.
His voice could be very hard, but now it was soft when he spoke to me. Deep in my belly, my womb reached for him, my woman parts opened for him. I turned his hand and held it against my breasts………he stopped talking. I hugged his hand against me…….it was not enough. I wanted all of him next to me. I wanted to take him inside me. I wanted to taste him, as I had wanted to taste him while he was ill and asleep. After the dream, I understood a little more about such things; it didn't seem so strange.
I extended his fingers…….licked one…….heard the change in his breathing, he breathed deep. Another……I closed my lips around the long finger, and ran my tongue along it's length. A noise, from inside his closed mouth, then he muttered, and pulled his hand out of my grasp.
"No," he said. I'm sure the stream of words after that 'no' was an explanation for his refusal, but I didn't understand what he said; how could I understand?
I knew what he felt when I suckled his finger; it was like a fire inside me. "Don't refuse this, take me, take me," I whispered, and let my hand touch his robe, there where his manpart was hidden, and it was there, he was ready; I knew he wanted it, I knew it.
He shook his head, and took my hand again, held it away from him……..
I didn't know I was going to do it before I did it. Neither did he. Perhaps if either of us had known it was coming, he would have stopped me……but he let my lips cover his mouth, he didn't keep me out, he let me taste him. He tasted me as well. The fire blazed up, big and hot, and I threw my leg over his lap, pressed myself against his chest, against his manpart. My tongue knew his lips, and his teeth, and mated with his tongue. I felt the sound he made inside my own mouth.
And then he pushed me back, a little. "No," he said. He was breathing quick and deep, I knew he liked it, even though he said no.
"Yes," I said. I pushed my groin against his, rubbed myself against him there.
"Stop." He shook his head, put his hand on my face, and let his fingers trail across my cheek. "No." He said my German name….shook his head again. He rubbed my back in circles, like I was a big baby sitting on his lap, instead of a woman straddling him, ready to take him into her body, if only he'd let her………
I pulled my clothing apart across my chest. My breasts had grown, even in the short time I'd been here. He looked.
"Why don't you want me? Why don't you take me? I know you need it, take me. Please, please………" I grabbed his hand and placed it on my breast. He didn't snatch it away. He looked. He touched. He held me in his palm, ran his thumb across my nipple.
My heart rejoiced……until he looked into my face and one corner of his mouth lifted. He talked more---he was always talking to me, constantly saying things I didn't understand---and I thought I heard the word "pretty".
Pretty…..but not pretty enough to tempt him further. Not pretty enough for him to lay me down and cover me.
I was desperate. I pulled my skirts up above my hips, so he could see where my thighs met. He looked, but not long. He looked into my face, and frowned. Shook his head.
He liked my mouth on his finger. I was certain he liked that. I put my mouth on his neck, as I had wished to do when he was ill, I licked and kissed, ran my tongue along the bone that encircled his neck. He pulled me away again, but this time he didn't say anything. He was breathing hard……he was looking at my mouth.
I had seen one of the women that follow the camp with one of the soldiers; I had seen what she did for him, how he liked it. It seemed…….not so nasty a thing to do as I thought when I saw it…….. I knew that was what he was thinking of. My mouth on him there, as it had been on his finger.
I slid off his lap, opened his robe, and buried my nose against his wide chest. Dared to put my arms around his ribs; clutched the skin of his back. Breathed his scent deep. Tasted his sweat with long flat strokes of my tongue. His fingers were in my hair at the back of my head. When I glanced up at his face, his eyes were closed. He wanted it. Didn't he? Surely he did.
His robe was still covering his groin……I pulled it away. Closed my hand around him. Prepared to take him in my mouth………
I would have done it; that or anything else that I thought would please him, but he stopped me. His hand in my hair pulled me away. He muttered something, I didn't think he was talking to me this time, perhaps he spoke to himself, or to his gods. And then his mouth was hard on mine, his tongue inside me this time…….for a long, long kiss. I could feel his desire; he wanted it. Freyja knows I wanted it, too.
Then he held me away from him. "No." His hand between my breasts pushed me away, and I fell back on my heels. "No." He shook his head.
He meant it this time. His jaw was tight, I watched the muscles in his face work, I watched him swallow, watched his chest heave as he breathed…………but he meant it.
I knew he wanted a woman. I knew it, I felt it inside me, how he ached, too. He wanted it.
It must be me he didn't want.
My grandmother's Spell of Binding hadn't done exactly what I expected it to do.
It seemed I was the only one bound……..
No more talking. He was silent, watching me. I crawled to the hearth and sat in front of the fire looking into the dying embers. There was nothing more I could do. I had schemed and lied and pleaded, I had bared myself, thrown myself at him……….humiliated myself…….I would have done anything he asked of me, anything; he had to know it.
He'd been telling me ever since I arrived, a gift on a gelding, the same thing over and over, and I hadn't believed him. Couldn't bear to. Now I had to face it. He just didn't want me.
He was kind to me, yes; and he was grateful to me for the things I'd done, of course…..but that was all, and that was all there would ever be.
The tears ran down my cheeks and I couldn't stop them.
My Roman name, in that soft voice. I didn't turn around. He sighed.
He came to stand behind me, and rested his hand on my hair. I pulled away. It must have appeared that I was sulking, that I didn't want him to touch me because I was angry with him. I couldn't tell him his touch was torture just now; to feel his fingers on me and know I couldn't have more……..I couldn't bear it.
He went outside. I sat on the hearth for several minutes.
He had probably gone to another woman. There was probably another woman in camp that was the kind he wanted. A beautiful woman. He was probably with her now, I thought, probably inside her even as I sat here alone. I imagined it, Genrul taking his pleasure from that other woman, and my belly twisted.
I surrendered, then. Wept until I had no more tears.
Sisro was sitting next to me when I sat up and wiped my eyes. He handed me a wet cloth to wash my face with. Dear Sisro. He asked me nothing. When I was done hiccuping, he sat closer and put his arm around my waist. He held me against his shoulder, pushed the hair back off my forehead, and spoke to me in that soft language of his full of hums and shushes I'd never heard him use with anybody else. I had to shut my eyes tight.
hree days later, I set my childishness behind me. It was time to grow up. Genrul was the king of the Romans; I was just a German girl with little to recommend me. My love for him meant nothing to anybody but me.
I didn't know what Genrul did when he wanted a woman. I would feel things……and then those feelings would go……I assumed he did something, but I stopped wondering about another woman. It had nothing to do with me; except for the bond between us.
A one-sided thing, that bond. On my side, to feel what Genrul felt; and on his……a spark once in a while, perhaps, that he ignored……..
I gave my childhood to Sisro; and became a woman in truth. Sisro's woman. I think he knew I had offered myself to Genrul. He may have seen us that night; they may have spoken of it with each other, as men do. I can't be sure. But there was no jealousy in Sisro. No anger. He was wary, the night I came to him, and I was prepared for that. I let him see that I wouldn't deny him, and he showed me, then, the way of things between men and women. It was something as I had imagined…..and something different as well. I learned to love the sound of his voice in my ear, soft lyrical murmurings in his special language, as he loved me.
Genrul was very busy after that. I saw him little, by my choice. There were times when he was gone to war on my countrymen; when he was not gone, I spent my time working in the back, helping Sisro with his duties, leaving the men to their own company. I set myself the task of taking care of Sisro; and learning his languages. I was not as slow to learn as before; I was done being stubborn.
I tried to be a good woman for the man who wanted me.
Seasons changed…….and it became winter again…….
A cold day……I sat in front of the fire, working dough with my hands to make sweet cakes. Not herb cakes; no herbs in this tent ever again.
A draft. A shadow behind me. I knew who it was without turning around.
"I might have thought I had dreamed you, were it not for those cakes of yours."
The big red cloak he wore, with the fur across the shoulders, smelled of horse. The odor swirled around the room.
"Sisro says you speak with him now. You understand," he said.
"Yes." I understood much; not everything. The short words, the small words, the everyday phrases---those I understood.
He didn't reply right away. He stood, waiting…….I didn't turn around. Now that I could speak to him…….there was nothing to say.
Finally, "Good," he said. After another moment, he said, "It is good for Sisro to be happy."
"His life has been hard." A pause. "I miss-" he began, and then stopped. Whatever he'd missed, he decided not to say so to me. "It's good for a man to have a wife."
"I'm not his wife."
"He thinks of you as his wife."
"He takes me to his bed. He combs my hair when it rains. He tells me jokes." I slid the cakes into the oven. "He hasn't asked me to be his wife."
A pause. "I could speak to him."
"I could speak to him myself." I shook my head. "I don't need it. It's enough not to be alone at night. And when he tires of me and puts me aside, I suppose I can find another man, even though I'm not a beautiful woman."
Genrul pulled a chair closer and sat down. "What were you? When you were among your people?"
"I was the fourth daughter of the headman of our village." I washed the flour off my hands, and dried them.
"Someone of importance, then."
I had to smile. "No. If I had been important they never would have given me to you. I was someone no one would miss. Like the horse."
I picked up the bucket, and left the tent to get more water. He was gone when I came back.