Recognition

Someone must have been speaking to the wrong people. It was inevitable, I guess, that word would get back to Elmet and the self-styled High King of the Isles. Whatever the formal relationship with our southern neighbour even Failbhe trod carefully when he caught the attention of Aeldred, his opposite number and leader of the expansionist Angles. Politics was still personal in the Western Isles. A loss of face for Failbhe was a loss of position in the formal dance between the five lands.

It fell out that the Laird hosted a meal for the incoming Angle ambassador. Classed as an informal get-together, the party arriving from Elmet included enough aides, assistants and advisors for each man to be sat opposite a wife of Alba. Though, I should say, by some ‘mischance’ there was one man too many for the official number of wives then in residence. It would have been such bad form to exclude any member of the delegation, an insult to include someone not in the immediate household. The answer was obvious.

The meal progressed long into the night in a good natured manner. Everyone sat according to rank, Failbhe opposite the ambassador at the far end of the table, his newest wife at his immediate left all the way up to Eilionoir to the right of emissary Omael. We were a unique collection reflecting the diversity of Alba – dark to light, petite to tall. All striking, all beautiful in our different ways. On the opposite side of the table the most junior member from the embassy faced the most senior wife and so on … up to the bemused senior diplomat doing his best to avoid stating the blindingly obvious as I engaged him in intelligent small talk about this and that. That my presence was such a non-subject caused some confusion among the Angles. I could see that Failbhe was enjoying their unspoken consternation … but maybe taking my hand in his as servants cleared away the remains of the meal was going a little too far.

Leaning over and kissing me was definitely too much.

As for what I did in return, well …

The other consorts did a great job of acting as if this was an everyday occurrence but, up to then, we’d worked hard to avoid any physical contact in public. Talk about forcing the issue. Conversation stopped. Omael cleared his throat, a loud and intrusive noise from the far end of the table. He’d heard rumours of the depravity of the Alban court, but had not imagined that Failbhe’s weakness would be shown so openly. If the great, fierce Lion of Alba was so far gone as to exhibit such offensive tenderness to a freak like me then what state was his state in?

You may have been wondering how I spent my time when I wasn’t being hurt or fucked by my liege.

I studied. I pestered Moshen to take me to the ruins of the fallen past; the long dead things held a fascination for me. I learned to drive. I learned to ride. I visited the seraglio and learned some of the skills of the other wives. They might not have been needed then, but proved useful later. I exercised – countless hours to maintain the slim hard body he liked so much. I also worked to control that reflex for violence that had been such a surprise on my journey to the capital. In the process, and with the assistance of certain military specialists, I discovered and then honed a real talent for combat. A talent that had been successfully kept more of a secret than my existence.

It was an easy thing to respond to the challenge in the man’s words. Easy for us to push the right buttons so that this particular freak could demand satisfaction from the best fighter in the group. Not the juniors of the party, they were probably minor scions of a noble house sent out for their first experiences in the barbarian north, nor the soft handed politicians towards my end of the table. As expected, the man who answered our words was non-descript, bland, the perfect type to fit in anywhere, the perfect type to be one of Aeldred’s special weapons. Nothing at all like me. He stretched and shook out his limbs, taking up an easy, understated, stance in the space opened up when servants removed the divider to the larger dining room.

He had been clearly been sent out with the group as a way of expressing the power of Elmet should the opportunity arise. And, on both sides, this would be a display of power. It was my turn to stand for the weakest of Alba against the aggression of the south.

Upper echelon wives were meant to be dutiful, polite, and – above all – modest in public. They were certainly not meant to strip to the waist to show architecturally sculpted muscles or – and this brought a gasp from the ladies to my side – or a line of scars cut and burned into flesh in an approximation of traditional bridal tattoos. I apologised to my sisters for my shocking nudity, reminding them (even though it was the first time I’d said it) how much I hated it when the staff had to clean blood out of my silks. There were more shocks as I released the seams on my long sheath skirt. The thigh length splits gave me a full range of movement … and everyone else a good view of strong legs hidden from common sight since that first presentation years earlier.

Every eye followed my barefoot glide to our impromptu arena. I suspected that there was more than the one obvious person watching the sinuous movement of my leather wrapped hips with lust in their heart. Barefoot, yes, most of the time back then. It made me less intimidating, more like a household pet rather than over six feet of an affront to nature. Amazing how you keep going back to some habits.

Now, I like to think that I have never tended to cruelty. Once I had the measure of the man there was no need to draw things out longer than necessary. So, as a display it was certainly decisive. As a way of showing Failbhe’s continuing strength it was unquestionable. As an insult to the manhood of Elmet I found it immensely satisfying to leave him gasping on the floor with dislocated joints and broken bones the only reward for all his expertise.

I was barely breathing hard by the time I had returned to stand by my lord’s chair. Rapt attention followed my movement as, emboldened by my victory, I bent to his smiling face and returned to our interrupted kiss. Failbhe seemed equally happy to acknowledge his approval in this outrageous manner. No sounds this time from Omael as everyone was treated to a view of Wolf-Killer’s wide hands pulling me down to sit in his lap, nails leaving crescents in my upper arms and down my back as he crushed me to him.

Someone needed to take control. Eilionoir, always the most practical and organised of us, called for a litter to be brought for the injured assassin. As ever, Deborah was in attendance – only the best care for those the Laird caused an injury to. Both ladies rose to their role with considerable aplomb, and quite possibly some glee. As if such a demonstration was as common as chatting about the weather the senior wife casually commented to the medic on the force needed to keep me in check while they ensured the poor man was as comfortable as he could be. Deborah concurred in an intimate but clear tone; after all, she was familiar with seeing the damage caused when Failbhe had had his way with me.

Too shaken by the casual way I had demolished their champion, the stage whispers went from female lips to male ears and the Angles left with their tail between their collective legs, wary of gainsaying any of the strong-minded women of Alba. No one would stop them or harm them … and the formidable paring of wife and personal doctor would see the sacrificial lamb back to the embassy in unimpeachable safety.

And the remaining wives? Once the curious interlopers had been removed the other women thoughtfully, cleverly, nervously – for whatever reason – beat a timely retreat back to their accustomed rooms in the harem. Their exclamations and movements, and the opening and closing of doors, were a minor distraction, events at the periphery of my awareness as I concentrated on satisfying my lord’s excitement. Buoyed by alcohol and adrenalin, I was ready to do anything he asked. And what a thing he asked of me as he sighed and lifted my head from his lap. Momentarily, even I was shaken by his request and his suggestion almost took away my ability to answer his desire. But who was I to deny the Lion of Alba his impulses?

For years I had been used as his woman. Whatever his need for my cum and the benefits it seemed to provide I had never been the dominant partner. Bending over the table he presented himself to me, he assured me it was what he wanted, begged me to take him even as I pleasured him with my tongue. Like that first time, an instinct took over my actions and fucking him seemed the natural thing after violence. I gave the body beneath me that which it craved even as the controlling ego shuddered in the schizophrenic confusion of physical pleasure and conditioned disgust at such a submission. I tried to be gentle but, really, I was whatever my lord needed me to be, working hard to hold myself back until I just couldn’t any more. Struggling with the intensity of my own feelings, trying to give all my attention to his reactions I forgot about where we were and cried out as I exploded inside him.

A shocked voice broke the panting calm that followed as I rested against Failbhe’s broad back and we began to recover ourselves. I’d never heard that voice say that particular word in such a way before. In the years I had spent at court I should have guessed. Nothing had been said but I should have known. Of all the people to see the culmination of the Laird’s wishes it was my friend Moshen, my most generous teacher, and the word he said was “Father!”

“Oh.”

“Indeed. Oh.”

Thankfully it was late and there were few people around the private areas of the palace, the servants knew better than to intrude when they were not summoned. Eilionoir had sent word to the Chamberlain as she’d escorted the Angles from the building. The old boy was already in bed. Amana had got the message and, by habit, had brought Moshen with her to ensure that all was well in the dining room. He must have known it could happen, maybe he’d assumed that it had been going on for a while. Still, you know, for him to actually see.

Cursing to herself about the stupidity of men the Chamberlain’s young wife ordered the soldier to sit, and scolded me to get dressed even as she attended to our stunned looking lord and helped him restore his dignity. Amana disappointed was not a woman to cross. We did as we were told, then followed her like dutiful children back to the Laird’s suite to sort ourselves out in complete privacy.

And so … and so the first male wife and first female Chamberlain of Alba learned about the Laird’s oldest son.

Moshen had been brought up knowing who he was and was comfortable with his position at court. It was such old news that no one ever mentioned it. Moshen had said nothing, ever. Even in the times we were alone we’d never spoken about our situation or our night together. His own mother hadn’t said who his father was. And what of Failbhe? He’d ordered his son to teach me but saved the cherry for himself. I thought that I should have felt sickened by the thought … but I didn’t, and that made me feel vaguely sickened with myself.

As far as Amana was concerned the personal detail was not of primary importance in light of the other events of the evening. Like father like son was her terse summary of the situation and she told us to get over ourselves. So we did. It didn’t occur to us, Failbhe included, to put up any resistance.

I told you she was good. Actually, come to think of it, she was very much like Elvira, maybe that’s why I never stand a chance when she wants something?

Eilionoir and Deborah joined us. The medic disappeared briefly with Failbhe, giving me a cool look as they returned. No guesses what she had been checking, but what had he told her? I might have felt more comfortable had I been dismissed, thinking that my fate was being decided rather than having to take responsibility for it myself. Instead I stayed. The young boy from World’s End had gone years before.

Amana gave us all a rundown of the options following on from the night’s events. So much for Alba being a male dominated society.

There was no ceremony, no pomp or distraction, but the next day I left the suite with a full wife braid in my hair. With my head held high I walked at the side of my husband. We passed servants and courtiers and eyes widened as they noticed the extra braid in his hair. It was easy to see, proud and alone at his left temple, an equal match to the one I wore, a silent declaration of our relationship. We met Eilionoir at the doors of the audience chamber and entered together. The Laird and his senior wives announced by a Chamberlain numbly following the instructions of the wife he hadn’t realised he’d groomed to succeed him.

With no official news reports to note my change of status it suddenly became as if I’d always been there, miraculously visible and accepted overnight … about seven years after my arrival. Maybe dissenters at court feared what might happen if anything they said was repeated back to Failbhe. Thanks to some subtle prompting from Eilionoir accounts of my demolition of the soldier from Elmet had swept through the palace in the following days. Maybe dissenters feared an ignominious end to their ambitions – who would risk the shame of being beaten by a wife?

I didn’t care. It was what it was. I’d become unofficially official. And we had got over ourselves. As soon as I’d been allowed into the seraglio Moshen had told his father what had happened during our night together, and the strange side effect of being with me. He knew that Failbhe shared with no one. His own mother, unable to move on after her affair with Failbhe, was clear evidence of that. He had given up his chance with me for the good of his Laird and never mentioned the bond between them because he’d seen no reason to. I could only respect him for the loyalty he’d shown.

As for what may or may not have happened in private between Failbhe and myself, no one ever asked. It was what it was. And it was a good time.


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