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There was no better smell than the sea air, nothing more salubrious or more reminiscent of good memories passed. Ulric’s father had often smelled of the sea. The man had sailed on it whenever he could. Passion, he had named his ship. It was one of the smallest in the Crown’s fleet, and by far the fastest. ‘A life without Passion is no life at all,’ Ulric’s father had loved to say. He had thought that so clever. Ulric had taken Passion as his own after his father’s death, but he hadn’t sailed on her for two years now, not since before the War. Ulric had neglected her, her and the sea.
Ulric stood on the sand of the coast, hundreds of feet below the Weswyn city proper and thousands of feet below the palace itself. The sun was on the horizon of the sea, nearly gone. Jagged rocks rose from the water before him, each standing tall and grainy and hard. The water here was far too dangerous for ships to sail. There wasn’t a seaport for five hundred yards in either direction. That gave Ulric some privacy, and he intended to use it well.
An angry wind bit at his ears and rocked the lantern clutched in his hand. Dark clouds marred the sky above him. A blackstorm. Only a few of them struck Weswyn in any given year. The wrath of God, most called them. Centuries ago, when Weswyn was a city of wooden buildings, before it was the Capital, the storms had often leveled whole quarters of the city. The fires it wrought would burn for days.
But as deafening as blackstorms were, Ulric knew he’d sleep soundly tonight all the same. After all, he wouldn’t be alone.
“My cousin Della hates the sea,” Vivian said. She stood beside Ulric, gazing with him out over the West Sea. They’d decided to share Ulric’s bedchambers again tonight, for only the second such time in the three months they’d known each other. Ulric could see that she’d made sure she looked the part for the occasion.
Vivian wore a deeply-blue dress, the color of her eyes, with a long skirt that flowed at her ankles. Her top was of a low cut, and her sizable cleavage breathed the air openly. She looked as though she’d spent hours prettying herself for him. Her lips were glossed with lipstick to the shade of a warm, gentle pink, and the rouge on her cheeks gave them a rosy-red blush. A smoky, black cosmetic sat around her eyes. The harsh winds whipped her long, blonde hair behind her in a wispy trail of gold.
“Heartlanders don’t understand,” She shook her head. “They don’t appreciate it like we do.”
“No,” Ulric smiled to her. “They don’t.”
In unison, they took the sea air deep through their noses, letting it fill their lungs, and let it out with a long, pleasured sigh.
Tonight would be a good one. One to remember. Ulric was sure of it.
Ulric turned and made his way with Vivian further down the beachside, till they were walking through a small inlet hidden in the bedrock directly beneath the palace. Few ever stepped foot in this cove, and even fewer knew its true purpose. In this cove there was a tunnel, carved out of the rock over the course of many years, that spiraled upwards into the bowels of the palace. Should Weswyn ever be sacked by invaders, the royal family could flee down into this cove and be ferried by a dinghy out into the city’s fleet, assuming that fleet was still standing. Only, that sacking had never happened. Not once. As far as Ulric knew, the tunnel had only ever been used to sneak lovers into the King’s bed. To that end, Ulric had a hard time believing he was the first.
That day Ulric first met Vivian, more than three months ago now, Edwin had been the one to bring her through this cove. Ulric had asked Edwin to bring her tonight as well, just as he did before, but the steward refused. He wanted no part in their romance, not anymore. ‘Foolish and reckless,’ he had called it. Ulric supposed he could’ve forced his steward’s hand, made it a binding order, but Edwin had always served him well. The least Ulric owed the man was some dignity. Edwin deserved as much.
The howls and moans of the West Sea’s winds echoed deep through the tunnel. The path forward was utterly black, darker than a moonless night, and Ulric could see only as far as the light of his lantern. A fear began to creep into the back of Ulric’s mind, a fear not of the tunnel’s darkness, but of where the tunnel would take him.
“Ulric?” Vivian chirped up, keeping pace close behind him.
Ulric spared a glance her way as he kept his path onwards. “Yes, love?”
“Have you… thought of our futures together?” She asked him. “What we’ll do?”
Ulric’s face tightened. He looked forward, away from her. “We’ve had this conversation once before.”
“I want to have it again,” Vivian said, obstinate against him.
“What is it you want to say this time, then?”
“You deserve better than her.”
“Why?” Ulric scoffed. “Elise is a woman same as any other. She’s a person. She has wants and needs. She’s not some wicked witch, Vivi. As far as Rosewalls go, she pendik escort may well be the least horrid one I’ve been around.”
Vivian fell quiet for a moment. For the first time, Ulric was grateful for it. He hated it when she did this, when she clawed at his words and clambered for this one thing she simply couldn’t have. But Vivian wasn’t done pressing him. “She doesn’t love you,” She said.
“Love has nothing to do with it. She’s my wife.”
“She doesn’t have to be. You’re King. If commoners can separate, Kings can too.”
“We’ve been over this, Vivi,” Ulric grumbled. “I took Elise as my wife because I need her family. The Rosewalls hold a sixth of my land and a fifth of my people. They’re powerful, and I need them.”
“You don’t have to do this for them. You don’t have to do anything for them. You’re their King. They’re sworn to you.”
Ulric’s patience ran thin. He stopped and spun ’round, towering over Vivian. The flame of his lantern had shadows flickering over his face. To his surprise, as belligerent as Vivian was, there was no anger in her eyes. Instead they had a wistfulness to them, a gentleness. Ulric knew that look. He’d seen it from her before. She was sorry for him.
Though Ulric had turned with the intention to growl at her, her gaze softened him. It was impossible to be angry with her. She was far too sweet of a girl for that, too loving, too compassionate.
“When their ancestors bent the knee to mine and swore fealty,” Ulric told her gently, “The vows they made, they mean nothing now. They’re dead words on dead lips. The Rosewalls don’t care about them. None of the families do. They don’t care about the Crown. They want things from me for their loyalty, Vivi. They want their chamberlains in my court, their officers in my army, their daughters as my wife.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Vivian said weakly.
Ulric breathed a long sigh. “What d’you want from me, Vivi?” He asked her. “You want to be Queen, is that it? Vivian Kargray, Lady of Weswyn? Is that what you want?”
“—We can’t be more than what we are, Vivian,” Ulric said to her. His voice was stern, but so too was it heavy with regret. He wished his words weren’t true, God did he. But they were, and nothing could change that. “We can’t be what you want us to be. It’s a fantasy. It’ll always be a fantasy.”
Vivian frowned, a look of defeat in her eyes. Ulric’s words were harsh, but he knew she needed to hear them. She needed to know the world, and she needed to know it as it was.
“Ulric,” Vivian said somberly, meeting his eyes. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I know, love,” He nodded. He put his hand to Vivian’s soft cheek, and a smile came to his lips. “And tonight, I will be.”
They let those words be the last. They made their way quietly through the rest of the tunnel, until a wall came to stand before them. Planted firm in the wall’s center was a flat, circular stone emblazoned with the image of the Kargray sigil: the bony, hundred-toothed jaw of the graybelly shark, the largest hunter of the waters of the West Sea. A massive and proud beast, strong and aggressive, quick to lash out at passersby, and always eager to assert its dominance over its peers. There was no beast more like a Kargray, and no beast less like Ulric or his father.
The wall in truth was no wall at all, but rather a clandestine door placed here not long after the palace above was built, no less than thirty generations ago. Five separate locks all sat in the center of the open jaw, all fitted to the same key, the only key of its kind in the world. Ulric took the key from his pocket, eight-pronged and steel-forged, and unsealed each of the five locks, one after the other, until an audible click came from within. He put his open palms to the cool stone of the wall and pushed it open with a grunt, swinging it outwards and into the darkness of the other side.
Ulric held his lantern outwards, casting back the black of the dark. There was a sinking in his chest, a terror tugging at his heart. He had hoped he’d never again set foot in this place, not until his death. As his lantern’s flame brought forth its light, cracked statuettes of men and women emerged from the darkness, sculptures of Kings and Queens, Kargrays of ages long-since passed. The dead lined these halls.
Ulric didn’t want to linger. He swung shut the wall behind them, as the five locks reset with a click, and he started off briskly down the hall, towards the stairwell at the far end.
“Is your father down here?” Vivian asked him, looking to each side.
Ulric tensed at her words. His father’s tomb was the most recent addition to this place, and, God willing, Ulric had hoped he could walk this hall without the thought of him lying here, dead and in the dark. “Yes,” He nodded.
“Can I see him?”
“No,” Ulric said as quick as she asked.
“Why?” Vivian grabbed Ulric’s arm and stopped him. “I want to pay my respects.” maltepe escort
Ulric turned to her. His cheeks had gone pale and white. “Vivian,” He whispered. “Please don’t make me go there.”
Vivian looked surprised by his fear. She had never seen him like that, with that horror in his eyes. She took his free hand in hers and clasped their fingers close and warm. “Okay,” She told him sweetly.
Ulric spared not a single glance left nor right as they made their way quick through the hall, and they started quick up the spiral stairwell out of the crypts. It was a long climb of some several dozen flights of steps, first through the bowels of the palace, then past the dungeons, then past the furnaces, and then finally past the servants’ quarters and kitchens. There was just one more flight of stairs till they reached the palace’s eastern wing, where Ulric’s bedchambers resided. As they climbed the last few steps to that hall, Ulric heard the whining creak of a door swinging open, and a pair of voices emerging from within.
“Bloody idiot,” Jory cursed.
“Still mad at me, are you?” Tomas said dully. “Come off it already. Ain’t my fault the birds like me more than they like you.”
Ulric took Vivian and flattened her and himself against the wall at the top of the stairs, and he held his lantern low as they sank into the shadows. Tomas and Jory passed them by without a glance, walking the hall with their eyes to each other, bickering.
“Bullshit,” Jory growled. “They like your coin more than they like me. They’re whores. You think they actually fancy that little pecker of yours? When they’re with you they might as well be dead between the legs. It doesn’t feel any different.”
“Oh, is that right? You want to compare?” Tomas laughed. “Whip it out, then. Let’s see if you’re…”
Their words faded to silence as the two servants left from earshot. Ulric took Vivian’s arm and rushed down the hall, to the door of his bedchamber, and hurried inside. Ulric swung the door shut behind them and flipped down its iron deadbolt.
“It’s nice to have a bed to ourselves again,” Vivian said.
“It’s been too long, hasn’t it?” Ulric mused. More often than not their need for secrecy had forced the two of them to make love in the cellar of her mother’s store, or in the shadows of the alleyway behind it. Though the thrill of taking his lover within earshot of others had its charms, Ulric much preferred the pleasure of having a bed of a thick mattress and soft sheets beneath them.
The quietly crackling fireplace and a dozen candles kept Ulric’s bedchambers bathed in a gentle light. Though the spring was in its last weeks, the heat of the summer was not yet truly upon them, and the air of his room was warm and pleasant.
Vivian looked over the chambers and turned to Ulric with one brow raised. “No wine?” She questioned.
Ulric set his lantern by the fireplace. “What d’you mean?” He asked.
“You had a pitcher of wine in here last time,” She said. “When Mr. Pollard brought me.”
“I don’t have much thirst for it these days,” He said, grinning. “I’ve got better pleasures to lust for.”
Vivian smiled at that, but it vanished when her eyes came to rest on Ulric’s longsword resting beside his desk, sitting vertically in its stand, sheathed in its leather scabbard. “That wasn’t here before,” She said, looking over the sword with eyes wide with awe and wonder.
“The smith had it,” Ulric told her. “Sharpening the steel.”
Vivian turned to him, holding a finger pointed to his sword. “Can I?” She asked.
“Carefully,” Ulric chuckled.
Vivian took his sword and slowly drew it from its scabbard. The steel hissed sharply, and Vivian gasped at the sound of it.
“Most swords don’t hiss like that,” Ulric said, smiling at her reaction. “That one’s got a brass throat in the scabbard. It’s baroque. The Kingsguard swords are like that too.”
Vivian brought the sword upwards, beside her face, and held the flat of the blade before her eyes. She looked the sword up and down, absorbed in its beauty, almost drooling over the splendor of its steel. The sword was more than four feet from pommel to tip, with a blade of forty-three inches of the finest steel in the Kingdom. The hilt was engraved with the image of the West Sea’s roaring waves.
“This isn’t a greatsword,” Vivian said, tilting her head.
“No, it isn’t.”
Vivian gave him a puzzled look. “Damian said you wielded a greatsword at the Songwood, when you saved him.”
“I did,” Ulric nodded. “That’s the nice thing about the Syderans—they don’t know how to work steel. They don’t wear plate like a knight does. They wear leather and hide. There was no need to half-sword a blade like you’d do if you were fighting a knight. Just had to grab your heaviest sword and swing it as hard as you could. But that greatsword wasn’t mine. I didn’t bring it home. I don’t know where it is now.”
Vivian’s breath slowed as kartal escort she gazed over the sword, enthralled by the blade and how it shined in the light. “Can you show me how to hold it?” She asked him softly.
Ulric started towards Vivian and came to stand behind her. He rested his chin on her head and put his hands over hers on the sword’s hilt. “Don’t grip the hilt too tight,” He warned her, and he saw her shift her fingers as she heeded his words. “You’ll just strain yourself. Just make sure you’ve got it firm in your hands, nothing more.”
Ulric brought her arms and the hilt of the sword down to her waist, just beside her right hip, and helped her hold the blade upwards at an angle, so that the tip of the steel was level with her eyes. “If you keep your sword in your vision,” Ulric adjusted her arms a bit, correcting her pose. “It’s easier to make accurate strikes.”
Vivian listened quietly, engrossed by his words.
“We call this ‘the Plow,'” Ulric said. “The basic stance. A good all-around style. Protects against most every attack. Allows you every kind of strike. And this,” He brought her arms up high until the sword’s pommel was beside her head, with the blade held perfectly parallel to the floor. He put her right hand on the hilt just below the crossguard, and her left hand down on the pommel. “This is ‘the Ox.'”
Ulric let Vivian hold the sword herself, and he put his hand to her thigh and moved it forward, planting her right foot a single pace in front of her left. His left hand he slipped down the cut of her top and under her brassiere, groping one of her fleshy tits. He pressed inwards against her breast and straightened her posture. He craned his head down beside hers and put his lips near her ear. “A countering stance,” He whispered, “But you can kill with it all the same. Get a good thrust with this,” He pressed his groin into her back, just above her curvy arse. “And you’ll gore a man through three sheets of mail. ‘A bull’s horn pierces all.'”
Vivian’s breast flushed with heat in Ulric’s hand, and her nipple grew hard and stiff between his fingers. Ulric took his other hand from her thigh and put it to her cheek, turning her towards him. He took her then into a deep, wet kiss, mingling his tongue with hers. They kissed noisily and with passion, and Ulric pushed his tongue further into Vivian’s mouth, devouring her in his lust.
“That’s enough for now,” Ulric whispered when he pulled his lips from hers. There was a different sword he’d rather Vivian be playing with, a different bit of steel he’d rather her be sheathing. He took his sword from her and slid it back into its scabbard, and Vivian sat on the edge of his bed as he returned the sword to its stand.
“Did you have that sword forged for you?” Vivian asked him.
“No,” Ulric told her as he took a seat beside her on the bed. “It was my father’s.” Ulric put his arms to Vivian and took her quick into another kiss, a kiss even hungrier than before. His manhood raged long and hard beneath his breeches, aching to be returned to the warmth and wetness it had so often made its home.
“And his father’s before him?” Vivian asked him breathlessly.
“No,” Ulric said tersely, almost growling. “Only his.”
Vivian put her hand to Ulric’s chest and broke their embrace. “Only his?” She parroted him with her brows knitted.
“He didn’t want the family sword,” Ulric told her hurriedly, his heart still racing in his lust. “He wanted a sword made special for him. That’s who Father was,” He shrugged. “He wanted to be his own man. The first of his kind.”
“But you don’t?”
Ulric’s brow twitched. “What?” He uttered dumbly.
“Your father had a sword made for him—but you didn’t,” Vivian pointed over to the sword. “You’re using his.”
Ulric looked with her finger to his sword.
“You said he wanted to be his own man, the first of his kind,” She added, and fell quiet for a short moment. “Why don’t you?”
Ulric was silent for a long while as the cloud of lust drifted from his mind. He shrugged again, weaker this time. “I… don’t know,” He mumbled. “I suppose… when I was younger, I didn’t want to be my own man. I wanted to be like Father. I wanted to do everything like he did,” He sighed. “So I did. I walked like him. I talked like him. I did everything just as he did, always. I still do,” Ulric laughed bitterly at his own stupidity. “I’ve lived all my life in his shadow by my own choosing,” He shook his head ruefully. “I’m a goddamned fool.”
Vivian frowned at him, giving Ulric that same pitied look she always did. She put her soft hand to the heavy stubble of his cheek and turned his face to her. “Forgive me, my love,” She whispered. “I didn’t mean to upset you,” She grazed her thumb over his bottom lip. “Tonight isn’t for those feelings. Tonight is for us.”
Ulric took Vivian’s hand and pressed it to his lips. “My love,” He said, kissing her. He took a long breath with her hand to his lips, letting her sweet gaze calm him.
When the unease within him was quelled, Ulric put his other hand to Vivian’s warm thigh, caressing her smooth flesh. It wasn’t long before his hand crawled up her skirt, to her panties, where a lustful heat rolled from her.
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