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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Holy Poison: Book 5 The Heretics - First Chapter

Julia sat in the bed, her pale blonde hair newly brushed and shining, her blue silk shift unfastened at the breast, her flesh smelling sweetly of the rose petals the maids had soaked into her bath. The fine, pale skin on her arms was marred with goosebumps although it was not cold. It was nervousness making the flesh stand up in tiny pimples, making her stomach quiver. This was her wedding night and she sat alone awaiting the bridegroom with whom she had exchanged not a word outside the marriage ceremony through which they had stood that afternoon.
They had danced to the minstrels’ music after the wedding feast but that was all the contact they had shared. Sir Geoffrey’s countenance was stern and he had not given her a smile of welcome; the one person who was smiling and congratulating himself was her father. He was delighted that one of his daughters was now entitled to be called ‘My Lady’.
It seemed like hours since the maids left. Obviously her new husband was in no hurry to make her his wife; perhaps he was having too much fun with his friends in the great hall. She could still hear the music and laughter coming from the ground floor and she wondered how long it would continue before he grew bored and came to her bedchamber.
She was Lady Winterton now, just as her father wanted. He had searched for many months for an impoverished nobleman who would make her a lady in exchange for a generous dowry. Julia had no say in the chosen one, what manner of man he would be or whether she would even like him. That was the way of things and Sir Geoffrey Winterton had been the highest title to which her father could aspire. Just a man who had been knighted by the late King Henry for his service in battle, along with many others. Still it made her a lady and gave her access to the court, if her husband so desired.
Julia herself thought nothing of titles, or even much of wealth. She had never been without wealth, so she could hardly speak on that score, but the title was of no importance whatsoever. She was not like her younger sister in that respect; Bethany wanted a title and wealth, but she also wanted a man she could look up to and respect, just as Julia did. That was not too much to ask, was it? She hoped she could find those qualities in her husband.
She sighed heavily. Where was he? Why did he keep her waiting so long? It was insulting. She lie down and thought about the events of the day. First there had been the wedding service, a beautiful service written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer himself. She had taken vows, so had Sir Geoffrey, and those vows had been dear to her. Her sister had come and wished her well, but Julia sensed she had her misgivings. Julia also had those misgivings, but she hoped she was wrong. Like most young maidens, she had read the romances and dreamed of a husband who would love her.
Eventually she fell asleep, still waiting for her bridegroom to join her, to complete the marriage. She awoke some hours later to feel hands, wet with sweat, touching her thighs, pushing up her shift, and she gasped in shock. In her deep slumber, she forgot for a moment that she was not at home in her own maidenly bedchamber, but was married now. Her eyes opened to nothing but darkness and the smell of wine on a man’s breath.
She could see nothing, but she felt his hands pushing her legs apart, felt him roughly enter her body, felt the sharp pain and the movements of him, then the rapid end to his passion. She felt violated.
This was not what she had expected at all. She could not say what she had expected, as her mother told her nothing except that it would hurt and she told no lie. When he moved away from her, she watched as he swung his legs to the floor and stood up. He left the chamber without saying a word and her eyes filled with tears. Was this how it would be every night? She wondered. If he were going to be tender at all, this would surely be the night to be so; obviously this was indeed how it would be and she had no choice other than to endure such treatment.
She caught back a sob and buried her head in the pillow to weep away the humiliation and disappointment.
She had heard of some men having a ‘reputation with the ladies’ and wondered now what that reputation could be. Surely no woman would willingly give herself up to this unless she absolutely had to.
Julia’s wedding night was likely the worst night of her life, but it seemed she was not to suffer such humiliation again. After a week of waiting for her husband to come once more to her bed, she gave up and thanked God for the respite.
She saw him at breakfast every morning, but he said nothing to her except a murmured greeting and a quick bow of his head. Eventually she began to get angry about that. She may not have a title of her own, she may be but a merchant’s daughter, but she was well educated and had been treated with as much respect as a woman could expect before this. She saw no reason why that should end just because she had married this cold man.
She sat at the table, having finished her breakfast and waited for him to finish his before she spoke.
“Sir Geoffrey,” she said. “I am unfamiliar with the customs of married people, but I thought you might have had a little more interest in your wife.”
He was not a particularly attractive man but not hideous either. His skin was clear of blemishes, his hair an indiscriminate brownish colour, his beard the same. He was tall and very thin, which did not seem to be caused by lack of nourishment judging by the amount he ate, and since he had acquired his wife’s fortune his clothing was rich and proved he had good taste in that regard.
Now he raised an eyebrow and his mouth turned down in distaste.
“I am sorry, My Lady,” he answered with a heavy sigh. “I think perhaps we had better understand each other a little better and I have not been kind in keeping my thoughts to myself. I married you for your fortune; you know that so please do not look aghast and hurt.”
His words angered her further, made her feel the need to retaliate.
“Yes, I know that,” she said. “And I was made to marry you for your title, nothing more.”
“Good. Then we have each gained what we wanted.”
“What my father wanted.”
“Ah, yes. You are a mere female and have no opinion.” He sighed heavily. “The fact is, my dear, I have no interest in you or any woman. It was not only your fortune for which I married you, but for appearances also; people were beginning to talk. Now I have a wife, they will hopefully find someone else to gossip about.”
Julia had no idea what he was talking about. Why should people talk? Why should they gossip about him, just because he lived alone and was unmarried? Many men lived in similar circumstances; but perhaps it was different for titled people.
Still, she did not understand why he said he had no interest in her.
“But you came to my bed,” she said.
Again his mouth turned down in distaste.
“I did, although it was not the easiest thing I have ever had to do.”
“Do you think that was enough to get you a son?” She demanded, hoping his answer would be in the affirmative. She did not want to experience that again. “I have been told a virgin cannot conceive the first time.”
“That is of no importance to me,” he answered harshly. “My brother is my heir and he satisfies me on that score.”
“Then why did you make me suffer your disgusting attempt in the marriage bed?”
She could feel her voice rising but could do nothing about it and she saw his face flush with anger.
“Why?” He replied. “Because I did not want you running to the village priest with tales of non-consummation and divorcing me. I did not want you taking back your dowry.”
Julia had nothing to say to that. She had no idea she could divorce him for that; she had no idea she could divorce him at all.
“You should have saved yourself the effort, Sir,” she said bitterly. “My father would have been far more concerned with losing your title than in having to retrieve my dowry. That would be far more important to him than his daughter’s happiness.”
He looked at her and raised an eyebrow.
“You are likely right. He is an obsequious little man, a sycophant of the highest order.”
Julia felt no offence at the slight to her father. In fact she rather agreed with him, but as he said, she was a mere female and had no opinion.
“So that is it?” She finally spoke. “That is our marriage, two separate people living separate lives under the same roof?”
He nodded.
“My Lady, you should be grateful. Your experience should have told you I can never make you happy and you can never give me what I need. I disgust you, I know it. I am used to that. I will give you enough respect, I will keep my friends away from your presence. All you need do is play the loving wife in public and you can live in this house, which is rather lovely I think, and call yourself Lady Winterton.” He got to his feet before he added: “I think that is a fair exchange.”
“Did my mother lie then? When she told me I was beautiful, did she lie?”
He watched her thoughtfully for a moment then gave her a half smile.
“You are very beautiful and I am sure very desirable,” he answered. “But not to me. I regret that, do not think otherwise, but I can do nothing about it.”
“I do not understand.”
He pursed his lips thoughtfully then gave her a wistful smile.
“No, you really do not, do you? Perhaps you would be better remaining in ignorance. Suffice it to say, I will leave you in peace. You can close your pretty eyes and dream of whatever handsome man you want, as long as your dreams take no substance in reality. You can buy beautiful clothes, wear beautiful jewels and ride a beautiful horse. But you will be my wife in name only. I am sorry; that is the way it is.”
“But I am not to take a lover?” She demanded as he turned to go. “If you do not want me, why should you care?”
He turned back and stood beside the table, close to her so she had to bend her head back to see his face.
“I married you to still gossiping tongues. Your loyalty is required to maintain that image and I will have that loyalty, make no mistake.”
He turned back to the door and strode away, while she watched him go and swallowed back yet another tear. As she thought about it, she wondered if she would be better off. She would never know love, but she would have her life to herself. It was the best of a bad bargain, but how could she live with a man who had no interest in her? And why did he have no interest in her? He was right – she did not understand and was not sure she ever wanted to.


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