"J-ohn, f-ive bales... hay. Gee-orge four - " Hethe lowered the scroll with disgust and scowled at his wife. Not that she noticed. She lay on the fur next to him, flat on her back, dressed only in her chemise, her eyes closed and her face tipped up to the sun, a sweet smile curving her lips.
His expression softened. Life had changed amazingly since their marriage. And not just for him. The people of Holden were happy now. All fear had left them, and they were as content and relaxed as their lord.
Helen and Hethe had split their time between Holden and Tiernay, enjoying their stays at each.
Strangely, if anyone asked, Hethe would have had to say that, of the two castles, he preferred his childhood home to Tiernay. Holden no longer resembled the cold, stark castle of his youth. Helen had set her hand to turning it into a home. Colorful tapestries splashed the walls there now. The great hall's once-bare tables sported linens, and the floor's rushes had flowers strewn in them to add a sweet scent to the air. She had made the place seem cozy.
Besides, Hethe enjoyed spending time there getting to know Stephen as his brother.
While Helen's aunt, Lady Shambleau, acted as chatelaine during their absence from Tiernay, Hethe had reinstated Stephen as chatelain again at Holden. He was perfect for the position, especially now that he was no longer forced to perform mutilations or other cruel punishments. The man's mother had even moved back to the village.
A bark drew Hethe's attention to the river's edge. Goliath was splashing along the shoreline, barking excitedly at the ducks paddling further out. The animal, like his master, had healed completely from the wound William had caused.
"You have stopped reading."
Hethe scowled down at his wife and complained, " 'Tis boring."
"I know 'tis boring, but we cannot always read fun things like Beowulf," she said. With a grin, she reminded him cheerfully, "Besides, you need read only five more entries and I will remove my chemise."
Hethe peered over her in the skimpy undergarment, imagining her naked under the sun, then turned back to his list with renewed enthusiasm. His wife had decided to teach him to read. It was an effort on her part to be sure that no one could ever again take advantage of him as William had. Hethe agreed. He didn't want anything of the like occurring again, either. The people of Holden were now as plump, happy and apple-cheeked as the people of Tiernay. He intended on making sure they remained that way.
Actually, learning to read this time around was not the chore it had been when he was a child. Helen made it a pleasure. She never criticized or cursed him. She encouraged and aided him. She also had an amazing motivational technique, he thought as he read the fifth entry.
Lowering the list, he expectantly turned to watch his wife.
Her smile widened; she knew that he was looking. She stretched languidly, then sat up. Getting to her feet, she turned to face him, then slowly, painfully - for Hethe at least - bent to grasp the hem of her chemise and draw it up her body. Hethe ogled her calves, her knees, her thighs. His gaze paused, and he almost groaned as her delicate triangle of golden curls came into view. His eyes rose to the hem of the gown again, and he found himself licking his lips as she skimmed it up over her breasts. She pulled it over her head, held it out to the side and very deliberately let it drop.
Hethe swallowed hard as she eased back down on the fur again, a veritable feast laid out before him.
She closed her eyes and squirmed deliciously in the warm breeze, then sighed and said, "Only five more entries and you can remove them."
Hethe blinked at that reminder, then glanced down at himself. His tunic had gone several entries ago.
Now he sat leaning against the tree trunk in only his breeches. Five lines and he could remove them. Then the lesson would truly get interesting. He turned his gaze back to the Tiernay accounts, and ran through four more entries in rapid order. He was reading the fifth when her hand on his waist made him pause.
Glancing up, he took in her slow smile and almost sighed with anticipatory pleasure.
"Keep reading," she instructed, trailing her fingers across his stomach, watching curiously as the muscles there rippled in response.
He repeated the entry he had been reading before she touched him, his voice going husky as she began to run her hands lightly over his chest. He started on the fifth line. "J-ohn-son. Six... oh, God." He groaned as her fingers slid down and found the bulge of his manhood through his breeches.
"Six oh-Gods?" Helen asked with amusement, releasing him and untying the laces of his breeches.
Sighing, he opened the eyes he had squeezed closed and quickly scanned the page before his nose, knowing that if he stopped for too long, she would stop as well. He didn't want that. She was a wonderful teacher, he thought with a smile, lifting his hips to help her as she removed his leggings, leaving him as naked as she.
"Six?" she prompted, setting his leggings aside, and Hethe forced himself to focus.
Six... six... six. Six what? Make something up , he thought frantically, eager for the return of her hands on his flesh.
"Six bales of hay," he said quickly and relaxed as she returned to running her hands over his skin. Then he forced himself to look over the lists seriously. But it was impossible to concentrate. He lowered the accounts again.
"How many?" he asked, his voice husky and strained.
"How many what?" his wife asked innocently, her hand sliding along his hip.
"How many entries must I read before I can touch you?"
A slow smile slid across her face, then she arched an eyebrow. "Why do we not try a new method?"
"New?" He eyed her with interest.
"Aye. You can touch me so long as you keep reading."
Bull's-eye, Hethe thought happily, a grin breaking out on his face as he reached for her. But she caught his hand before he could touch her warm skin and nodded toward the list. "Read."
His grin dissipated somewhat but didn't die as he glanced back at the list. Holding the sheet in his left hand, he began to read again, even as his other hand felt for her. He found her shoulder at the end of the first entry, followed it down to her breast with the second, and was cupping and kneading it as he read the third. Then his voice broke. She had started to touch him again. Her hand was on his staff, warm and firm.
Clearing his throat, he continued on, only to pause abruptly when she leaned forward, her lips closing over his erection. Dear God in heaven, she was a wondrous teacher, he thought happily. She was a marvelous student, as well. Her technique had improved amazingly this last year. She no longer nibbled on him like he was an ear of corn; she -
Helen stopped suddenly and raised her head to peer at him. "You have ceased reading again."
"Nay," he lied glibly. "I was reading to myself. You did not say it had to be aloud when we made this bargain," he pointed out. Chuckling at the vexed expression which filled her face, he tossed the list aside and pulled her onto his lap.
Helen sighed as her husband's mouth covered hers. For one brief moment, she considered breaking away and forcing him to return to his reading, but he had done well today. Besides, she really didn't want him to stop. She was as eager for this as he was, she admitted as he tumbled her onto her back and covered her.
He made love to her in the open air with a passion that had not waned during the entire last year. If anything, their need for each other only seemed to increase with time. With each day, they learned more about each other and about how to pleasure one another.
When it was over, they lay entwined as they recovered. Helen rolled onto her back and peered up at the sky, watching the clouds drift by. She saw one that looked like a bird, another a dog. Then she spotted one that reminded her of the skinny, spindly Lord Templetun, and she grinned.
"What are you smiling about?"
Rolling back toward him, she rested her chin on his chest. "I was just thinking of Templetun's visit."
Hethe grunted at the mention of the name. The man's temporary position as the king's chaplain had ended some weeks ago. Henry's usual man had recovered from his ailment and was back at his sovereign's side. Templetun had stopped in on his way home to see them and whine about the unfairness of the situation. While the king had been pleased at first with the way things had worked out between Hethe and Helen, he had lost some of his appreciation once he realized what it had cost him.
Oh, aye, he was no longer pestered with their mutual complaints, but he also no longer had Hethe at his beck and call, eager to aid him in battle. Once he had realized such was the case, Henry had been furious, and had known just where to lay the blame. He had made Templetun's life miserable those last few months of service, which Templetun had thought terribly unfair.
"The irritating clodpole," Hethe muttered, and Helen glanced at him in surprise.
"Do not be so mean, Hethe. Were it not for Templetun, we should not have married."
"Ha! I would have found my way to you eventually," he said firmly. Her husband was unwilling to give the old man any credit. Especially not for giving him Helen, the greatest gift he said he had ever received.
He shifted impatiently. "Besides, when he was here, the man had the nerve to ask me to return to battle so that the king would not be so irate."
"What?" she asked, dismayed. "You did not agree, did you?"
"Of course not." He frowned, which made her feel better. Still, she realized that this year had not made her forget the day he had ridden away, determined to flee once again to battle.
"Helen," he said gently. "I have told you; I have no interest in living like that anymore. I shall serve my time under the king as everyone must, but that is all." He ran a finger lightly over the furrows on her forehead, gently smoothing them out. "I told you. I am content here with you. I will not be running away anymore. I have a home now."
"You have two," she corrected.
"Nay. I have one. Wherever you are. And it would be useless to try to run away from that home, because I carry you in my heart." With those words, the last of her doubts dropped away. She relaxed, a smile beaming across her face, and she hugged him tightly.
"I am glad, husband."
"Are you?" he murmured, running his fingers lightly through her hair.
"Aye. Because if you did ever try to run away again, I would have to hunt you down, drag you back, and chain you to our bed."
Hethe grinned at the threat, then teased, "And torture me with garlic? Or have Joan give me a potion to make me sleep?"
Helen made a face at his words and shifted to lie on her side, her head in the crook of his arm so that she could run her fingers lightly over his chest. "Neither, my lord. That garlic was torture to myself as well, and sleeping would make you useless to me." She emphasized that statement by reaching down to grasp his manhood. Much to her surprise, while Wee Hethe did show signs of reawakening at her touch, large Hethe's response was to laugh. She tipped her face up to peer at him questioningly and he hugged her tightly, a softness in his eyes as he stared down at her.
"Do you know, I think the day the king decided we should marry was the luckiest day of my life?"
"Mine, too." Helen said softly, a smile widening her lips.
"You didn't think so at first," he countered. "Unless having Goliath hump me was your way of showing affection."
Helen laughed merrily as she recalled that day, then quickly sat up to climb onto his lap. Once straddling his hips, she pushed her golden hair back behind her ears and smiled at him slyly before asking, "How else would the Tyrant of Tiernay show her affection?"
Hethe gaped. "You knew what we called you?"
"Of course, I knew." Helen laughed at his surprise and shifted herself to slide against his stiffening manhood. "What I didn't know was that being married to the Hammer of Holden would be so..."
She let the words trail off, looking thoughtful, and Hethe prompted, "So what ?"
"Well." Helen turned her gaze back to his and shrugged. "Let us just say that I thought there would be a little more hammering." She thrust against him abruptly to let him know what sort of hammering she was speaking of.
A laugh slipped from Hethe's lips and he reached up to clasp her breasts. "Do you know, wife, I have found that there are definite benefits to having a tyrant for a wife," he announced. Rolling her onto her back under the shade of the tree, he proceeded to show her just what some of those benefits were.