This is quite a bit sexier than anything else in Book 1, and about on par with a number of sections in Book 2. That’s not quite the reason it didn’t make the cut for Chapter 12, and more that while I like the scene, and consider it cannon I felt it broke the flow a bit, and threw, actually quite a few things in the reader’s face more than I wanted to. It was also written well after Chapter 12’s first draft.
While there is nothing here I would consider a true spoiler (for anyone up through Chapter 12,) the very observant among my readers may feel a bit more clever, and the slightly less observant might go, “oh.” Anything else is mere speculation. Read or don’t, at your prerogative.
PG-13 for adult themes, and conversations.
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Renae sat with a sheet pulled around her, in some vain vestige of modesty, and attempted to remedy her tousled hair. Lips kissed a trail up her spine, and a mixed expression crossed her face.
“We shouldn’t have done this,” Renae said without much conviction.
“You are not wed, nor am I,” Mercu offered.
“Might we not as well be?” Renae pressed. “I know you are with someone, and though you have never said, I wager I know who.”
“I have…” Mercu frowned, “an understanding, an arrangement.”
“You do love, him, though?” Renae pressed, turning to fix her gaze firmly on Mercu.
Mercu was silent for a moment. It was not a confidence he shared, ever. To him their tryst was no betrayal, but to speak the truth of the matter would be. Yet he could see in her eyes, she knew, what foolish mess would it be to lie, or try to dodge the issue. He considered deflecting, implying that it was Marian, Catherine, or some other lady of the court. Half truths at least. He had paused too long, he was caught. If it had been even possible to persuade her otherwise, the chance was passed.
“Yes.” Mercu nodded, in an almost noncommittal manner. “Yes I do. Yet he knows me for who I am…how I am. It is, convenient, he says.”
“Convenient in the eyes of the court,” Renae corrected the obvious. “Even if you hide your dalliances, enough to be discrete, and spare him. They are convenient, because they are a distraction. They hide a truth you do not want known.”
“Were that it could be,” Mercu sighed, and flopped back in the bed a bit flustered. A rare look to see on him. “Yet I don’t lie. Not when I say that this is how I am. I love a man, singular, yes…maybe one or two long before…a crime in the eyes of so many. I love women as well, passionately, enviously…tenderly.” He smiled, and trailed a finger along Renae’s side, regaining a more typical, playful composure.
“I’ve known enough women such as you,” Renae pursed her lips thoughtfully. “More than a few reside in my cloister, and more still through the order. It seems not so rare among women. Always the most troublesome ones.”
“Does not this make you one of them?” Mercu prodded.
“Did I ever imply I was not trouble?” A somewhat proud and bashful smile crept across Renae’s lips, even if her wrist gave a dismissive flick.
“All your airs, and refinement,” Mercu laughed. “Such grace, and beauty in age. I never had a doubt. You were wild once, weren’t you?”
“Once?” Renae smirked more deeply, her eyebrow raised as though challenged.
“You are a gentle breeze now, dear,” Mercu mused. “Not without your moments of whipping about, but I suspect there was a time you were a storm – unstoppable, wild, utterly untamed.”
“Perhaps,” Renae obliged, pursing her lips.
“You know my secret,” Mercu prodded. “It’s a dangerous one. Can we settle now whoes is bigger, dear woman?”
“I cannot,” Renae said, suddenly on edge. “Perhaps it is not as dangerous as yours, but…”
“I think I know,” Mercu needled, and Renae became a bit more tense. “You know what gave it away?” he pressed.
“You may assert your dubious claim, if you like,” Renae said with reservation, and an eye roll. She seemed a bit defeated, but the show was almost good enough to give Mercu a shadow of doubt.
“It wasn’t the man, or you,” Mercu shook his head. “Oh there are hints there, I’ve seen it. No, it was the the wife. She doesn’t hate you, I don’t think, but it’s more than obvious she considers you a rival. A first love nipping around the edges of her domain. At least, to one as keen at seeing such things as I.”
“First love?” Renae laughed. “What baron or duke do you think I ran off with as a girl? I’m older than most you know,” Renae needled, and bit her lip, a twinkle in her eye.
“A thin dodge,” Mercu said, “and has that stopped you yet?”
Renae laughed, released the sheet and shifted over Mercu, her efforts to distract him transparent, but effective – if only because her ulterior motives seemed quite genuine. “I guess I have always had a weakness for younger men. So, innocent.”
His eyes took in her form – she was slender, fit, shapely. She was old like an ancient painting of a noble young woman. One could feel the age, but that age was power, not decay. It was glory not haggardness. At a glance he was reminded that in many ways she looked the younger of the two, even if little lines around the eyes might tell a different tale. ‘Blessed gift,’ crossed his mind as both a praise, and a curse.
“I, innocent?” Mercu protested, assuming a coy, bashful smirk. “Surely you jest.”
“Compared to me dear boy,” she kissed him softly, “you, are a pup.”
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“You said something earlier,” Renae mused, her head rested on Mercu’s chest.
“I said a fair number of things,” he countered. “Not all of which I should, and not all of which you paid fairly in kind. You will have to be more specific.”
“You said you love women…enviously,” there was a deep curiosity to her tone.
“Would you not say I am a pretty man?” Mercu asked, seeming as though he was fishing for a complement.
“Some might say,” Renae denied him playfully with a dismissive wave, propping her head up to fix him with a more insistent look.
“Well,” Mercu laughed. “I do try – if that wasn’t obvious.” He seemed to trail off in thought.
“So…” Renae pressed uncertainly.
“I won’t say I haven’t fancied the notion. I fancy a lot of notions,” Mercu offered. “Grace, beauty – there are men who posses these traits, and I aspire to such. Yet still, I more than desire, revel in, and treasure the ethereal quality that is womanliness. I do, without question at times envy it. I am an envious sort, after all. I envy the gifted, and women, and the sway of great regal splendor.”
Renae seemed as though she wished to ask something more, but did not. She lay her head back on his chest.
“You aren’t asking simply out of curiosity about me, are you?” Mercu pressed.
“I worry for Wren,” Renae said some what hesitantly. “There are many young men of the cloister who are…different than men of the world. Yet I cannot shake the notion that for him it runs deeper. He has his mother’s soul, both literally and figuratively. Every day he seems less like a little boy…and more…”
“One could mistake him for another sister,” Mercu offered understandingly.
“I’ve tried to get him to let me cut his hair.” Renae sighed. “He’ll have none of it.”
“What if it is what he wants?” Mercu mused. “I’ve heard tales, it cannot be impossible…in theory. People have transformed into dragons, it seems a rather trivial feat by comparison.”
“But to what end?” Renae questioned.
“He is young yet,” Mecu mused. “It may be nothing at all. Perhaps he does fancy the notion, if only to be more like his friends.”
“You do not think it is because he wishes…” Renae began, but cut herself off.
“As I said, he’s young.” Mercu laughed. “It’s quite possible such notions have not even crossed his mind. Besides, you know who else I am with, and he – I assure you – has no notion in his head of being a woman. Such things rarely have anything to do with who you want to be with, and more simply how you want to be, and be with them.”
Renae said nothing.
“As a man,” Mercu mused further, “my eye was turned by another, more over I fell in love with him. Yet here I am with you, because I want to be. Were I a woman, I’d have wanted it no less. It’s certainly never stopped you, has it?” He pressed.
“No.” Renae sighed. “The world turns such a cold eye on us already, we Lycians,” she seemed to roll the thought around a bit to see if it was sound. “They are harsh enough on women who choose to find affection from one another. Yet men, it’s all but unspeakable to the world, they can barely bare to think of it enough to shame it.”
“It is not as though the order would turn him out,” Mercu countered. “So what is it to worry you so?”
“Am I not as a mother to him?” Renae offered, though it seemed something of a further dodge. “Is it not a mother’s role to worry?”
“There is more, isn’t there?” Mercu pressed.
“But of course.” Renae laughed. “You may think you have my secrets dear man, but you have barely scratched the surface.”
Mercu smiled. He truly did like her.