An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom
Gian circled her in his arms; she spread her legs, shamefully eager. But then, the sooner she satisfied Gian and Hildin, the sooner her anguish would end, at least for the night. He pushed hard against her belly, but to her surprise, he flipped them over. He pulled her down and kissed her, running his tongue across the roof of her mouth until she straddled him, ready.
The brief betrothal gave Emmae some consolation; Hildin and Gian stayed away from her, for appearance's sake. She might move through the Keep, but stayed in her rooms instead, avoiding the casual desire that eddied whenever a man passed his eye over her.
But now, the hated day had arrived. Fredrik presented his daughter before Pagg at the temporary altar in the Keep's great hall, and tried to ascribe her violent trembling to excitement. They repeated their vows, Emmae sullen and dull, Hildin ringing and proud, almost insolent. The Little Father knotted the marriage cord three times around Emmae's left wrist: "Obedience, humility, fidelity." He gave the free end to Hildin, who pulled her to their marriage bed through hallways deserted by custom as the two kingdoms' nobles cheered in the great hall.
King Fredrik found his daughter changed. She'd been so willful, so disdainful, so...loud. But now, she rarely met anyone's eyes, and seldom spoke. She kept herself apart, staying in her rooms at dinner. She trembled whenever Hildin came near her, and once almost dropped the wine goblet his page Gian gave her. Even her name had changed. Hildin called her Emmae; he told Fredrik he'd fallen in love with the Princess as soon as he'd set eyes on her, and since "Emmae" meant "worth loving" in the Tremontine, Fredrik chose to believe him.
Temmin returned to the dinner table that night, tensed for a confrontation. Instead, his father ignored him, giving him no more than a cursory "Good evening" and a withering look the one time he spoke. Sedra and his mother watched them both, while Ellika chattered on. Temmin supposed Fennows took his dinner in town; he didn't bother to ask.
After dinner, when the women had retired, Harsin left for his own rooms after one silent glass of port, bolted back and the empty glass deposited on the table. Temmin told himself he didn't care, drank his own glass and joined his mother and sisters in the Small Sitting Room.
Temmin broke from the book, filled with Emmae's despair and Hildin's resentment. He thought of something his father once said about finding coercion arousing, and wondered if it ran in the family. "Poor girl! Did she live out her life like that, under the spell? How did the King keep her safe? What a sentence, all for refusing to pay a Traveler!"
Emmae awoke the next morning to find Old Meg bustling about the room. "Child, get up! See here, the Prince has given you new dresses!" She spread out a fine blue gown.
"What?" yawned Emmae. Her sleepiness fled on seeing the clothes, and she sat up in bed. "He's giving me clothes? Why?"
"I'm sure I don't know, dear, but I'm to get you ready as fast as ever I can."
Emmae ate and then let Meg dress her, as impassive as a doll. Meg brushed Emmae's lustrous chestnut hair and set a soft blue veil and a golden circlet over it. "Ah, to be young and have such skin again!" said Meg. "My Hildin will be so pleased! You look like a princess, dear!"
"I'm not a princess. I'm a woodsman's wife. Or was meant to be." Tears pricked at her eyes, but after days of crying, she had few left.