“And lastly, these are the coconut lemon bars.” I finished explaining the grand assortment of thing which my husband had tirelessly worked to prepare her.
Gathered in attendance at the Princess’ Tea Party were twelve noble ladies, not one in attendance had a rank as low as a Baroness. It was not something my husband was allowed to attend, and in fact there were no men at all present, as it was considered a women’s social, and it would be against decorum and tact for even the Prince to show up, even if he only wanted to see the face of his beloved wife.
I took a step back, standing next to the three palace maids, hoping I wasn’t breaching etiquette by doing even that much. I looked on at the dresses being worn by the noble ladies and the decorative fans each woman carried, a symbol of their household, status, and obvious wealth.
“Thank you, Mrs. Ashford.” Her Highness Trustine Avondale spoke, before reaching for the object of her desire. It was an almond butter thumbprint cookie with strawberry jam.
She took a delicate bite of one, and seemed to be pleased.
“You spared no effort for this little gathering, did you Trustine?” A lady in a bright blue dress said as she became the first person outside of the Princess and her Maid to sample my husband’s coconut-lemon bars. “Oh my, it’s both sweet and just a little bitter. It pairs well with the tea!”
“What was this called again, a puff-tart?” Another lady with long blonde hair and blue eyes wearing a green dress that cost more than all the money the bakery had earned since Gardavan came back into my life, was holding on to a glazed pastry preparing to take a bite.
“Yes, Milady Summers, puff-tart was the name my husband settled on, though he said he based it off of something called a strudel. This one is filled with jam and frosted with sugar.”
I had spent a week memorizing everything I could about each thing my husband made. There were no less than twelve new things here, eight of which were completely new and made exclusively for this event.
“And what of this one?” A third lady asked, holding on to the coconut macaroon my husband was most enthusiastic about getting right after successfully learning how to dehydrate and shred the strange coconut fruit after four days of failures. I ended up explaining each of them a second time and each of his creations were met with great satisfaction.
“To think the maid I employed found such a hidden gem in Avondale.” A haughty lady who I knew from sight at many events to be Dutchess Jowena Avondale, the wife of the current King of Avondale’s younger brother. “But why did she not bring these before to my own party weeks ago?”
“Many apologies, Milady Jowena, until a week ago, they did not exist.” I apologized nervously.
“Truly, these were created only recently?” She asked, enjoying one of the finger sandwiches made from Gardavan refining the flour and adding honey to it before baking it as a loaf of bread. That particular set was made not with almond butter but hazelnut butter and strawberry jam.
“Jo, how does it taste?” Princess Trustine asked her peer.
“I should like my own kitchen to serve this to me regularly. To think you trusted commoners with strawberries.”
“Commoners?” Princess Trustine asked in confusion. “I was under the impression Mrs. Ashford is a lesser noble. Is this not the case?”
She met my eyes, and I lowered my head.
“My husband perhaps comes from a family that once was nobility. Unfortunately, I know little about it other than his family name, Ashford. We have been living together as commoners here in Avondale for the last eight years.”
The direction of this conversation was something that had been planned by Trustine. There was once a family, three hundred years ago in the royal archives which had such a name, and it’s no surprise Gardavan may not have known about it. According to Jaxan, our household slave, it was the Goddess of the Oath herself who called him that name. I had simply played along with it, though to find out it was the truth…
“It would make sense then if he was, as this is most befitting a noble palette.” Milady Jowena ended the off-handed compliment.
The ladies talked of such things beyond my ken, business and dealings of which moved the city of Avondale, and the kingdom proper.
“Are we to expect grander things in the future, Lady Ashford?” Trustine then asked me, giving me recognition as a noble lady, even though it was tentative.
“I would dare to say yes. Currently my husband is looking for a certain type of cheese which he says will increase the number of recipes he can refine. We have asked Zedron, a merchant my husband has long been friends with to help secure a supply, but as of yet have had not been fortunate.”
“Persha, doesn’t your family own a number of farms out in the countryside which make cheese?” Trustine asked another of her peers, who was enjoying a blueberry muffin square with something called a buttercream topping.
Waiting for her to finish her bite, she opened her fan to cover her face and acknowledged it was so.
“We do. I would have to consult with my father if it is a variety I am not familiar with, however. Does this cheese have a name, Lady Ashford?”
“I know only that it is a moist cheese, white in color, and that it stretches when pulled.” I answered to the best of my ability to the description my husband talked of when wishing for a cheese suitable for the Pizza he talked fondly about.
“Rella Cheese, perhaps?” she answered after some thought. “Come with your man to my residence two days later, and I will allow him to examine what stock is in our cellars.”
I bowed deeply. “Thank you for your graciousness, Milady Persha."
It was late in the day when I was finally able to leave Her Highness’ tea party. When I came home it was to find Gardavan and Jaxan, my household slave, engaged in the card game my husband had created for Zedron as part of some business deal with both the children watching on. I haven’t found myself quite that interested in it I admit, but it’s just as well, as our dear children enjoy spending time with their father bonding in such a way.
I was a bundle of mixed emotions right now, mainly because of my husband’s re-entry into my life.
It had been so long he was gone, and I had kept myself for him… never wanting to believe he had perished on the front lines. Then I found him again starving to death near beggar’s lane. At first I took an interest in this filthy man, as I thought he was just a man who looked like my husband and so felt like giving him charity because of such coincidence, but once he was cleaned up after visiting the bathhouse, there was no room for doubt anymore. He was my Gardavan, changed, but Gardavan still!
He was without his memories, instead saying strange things about being from a land called Earth which had behaviors and common sense far different from that of Avondale. But I was his wife for three years before he went off to war, and I have never for a day forgotten his touch. Even that part of him is the same, so it cannot be another person but my husband who must have somehow sought his way back home to his wife, and family, intentionally or not.
I have been cautious in letting him believe my old husband is dead, because from what I’ve seen of how he reacted to my taking in Jaxan, it might be dangerous to reveal to him that he himself is the same derelict husband who abandoned his family, though for the purpose of supporting us as well. I fear his reaction should a memory resurface…
My old Gardavan was a master of the sword, whereas this returned one is a master of the kitchen. Where Gardavan swung a longsword, my returned Gardavan handles only a knife. Even his ability in the bedroom is quite different from before, though no less enjoyable. His old ferocity in claiming me is instead changed into confirming my satisfaction. The once rough husband I loved is now much more tame, but no less uninteresting.
My thoughts right now are for wanting a cup of wine, the tension of the tea party weighing on me still, but I know the children look at me with bitter eyes when I take hold of the bottle. Furthermore, Gardavan, who wanted only sons to teach the sword to before going off to war, now wishes for the opposite, with daughters to fill our bakery?
I cannot understand his thoughts, though I am happy to give him many daughters if that is truly his wish. Nefetina and I are but two flowers in the bouquet of his heart now, and never has my life been as prosperous.
Gardavan was always a hired sword, his own family a sore point which he disliked talking about before, yet now he talks fondly of his mother, father, and older sister who was a bit of a harlot. It’s all perplexing, and having spoken with Gemma about it, she says that perhaps he was taken by the Faeries for a number of years, which would explain the many years he was gone, the strange clothes which Callonika cannot even grasp the method of weaving, and all the different memories which have supplanted his original ones.
But it’s also reassuring to know that even in this wide world, Gardavan was meant to be by my side. For that I will continue to give my eternal thanks to the Goddess of the Oath. The prosperity and happiness of my family is certainly thanks to her benevolent mercy.
Nefetina has taken to her father like a duck to water, that which has been absent in her life has returned, and Gardavan has done nothing but spoil her as rotten as he does me. This is no less the case with Trevorkane, whom he constantly praises as growing into a fine young man.
Trevor, who had never met his father, at first was unsure of him. But I see in the boy his father clearly now, and almost wish he would grow to be more like the Gardavan returned, instead of the old who left.
Then there is the issue of Jaxan.
I had never expected that to be a point of conflict between us. He was vehemently against us taking a slave! Did he not understand the purpose of it all? She would be so necessary for our family’s growth. Rather than have him slip out to a spinstery, I would grant him permission during his moons to lie with her. I am not a frigid woman to deny him, even if I am jealous. Yet he shows no interest in even educating her, something my old Gardavan surely would have.
Incidentally, Jaxan was fully prepared for such a thing when she revealed the change to her crest that second day. Yet even so, Gardavan does not look at her with the same eyes as he does me. He is even shy at times when she undresses though he has seen my body plenty. I even gave her the order to warm the bed with him, only to find out he had kept his hands to himself and his pants on, extracting himself to come downstairs while I was away to lend an ear to Mrs. Windie who wished for some company as she dealt with accepting a second wife for her husband.
Now the bakery which was made with the stipend that came from his death is remodeled into something amazing by a craftsman we were introduced to by Zedron, Gardavan’s closest friend who looked after us financially during the most difficult times early on. Yet even to Gardavan, Zedron appeared as a stranger, though they quickly rekindled a new friendship.
Now there is the future to look at.
The last two weeks were spend with him coming up with amazing new things, to the point we can’t make everything the customers who have since quintupled since his return, wish for each day. Now even the First Princess and soon other high nobles will be calling upon a talent he never before possessed.
And then there’s what my hope is.
That I don’t see my moon this month.
I have taxed him at night, I know, but it is for good reason… we have five years to make up for. How long will I be able to bear children for? Another decade at most? I will soon be twenty-three, and these are the last of my safe and prime years to bear sturdy children with minimal risk. Will he be satisfied with five overall? I fear having them in my thirties, as that’s when the true complications arise, plus the difficulty is said to increase, and the onset of certain diseases…
When the game ended, with my husband’s victory and Trevor’s excitement, Jaxan was quick to stand.
“Shall I get started on sup, Mistress?”
“I think you’ll like what I have planned today, Tally.”
“Yes, anything but sweets right now will be perfectly acceptable.” I answered.
My Nefe and Trevor came to give me a hug, and asked me many questions about what things were like at the tea party.
My husband came and gave me a warm hug and a passionate kiss that made my mind blank for a moment before he put me into one of the so-called booth seats which Martleby had built recently.
“Children, be patient and let your mother enjoy your hugs before you question her to death.” He joked. “I’m sure she’ll answer all your questions.”
He went and fetched me a cup of wine, and for the children, cups of apple juice before ruffling their hair as he often did, before he and Jaxan began preparing sup. I answered all of the questions my children had to ask, feeling a bit relaxed by the cup of wine he brought for me.
The smell of beef began to fill the house, and when I asked him what it was, he told me to be patient, and that it was a surprise. Truthfully, I had enough surprise and tension to last a year today alone, but I let it be, and that had become a pleasant reward an hour later.
“Cubed steak, baked potato with butter, and buttered broccoli.”
There was some kind of flat beef in front of me, both it and part of the potato were covered in some thin brown gravy. The smell of salt and pepper immediately tickling my nose as well as some other scents I couldn’t yet place, but all screaming at my stomach to consume it with vigor. Gardavan sat next to me while our children sat across from us, and Jaxan as well in a chair at the end of the table.
He even took care to cut the children’s food up into small bites, and there was even a bit of something that looked like mashed apples mixed with cinnamon that they were told was a dessert.
I was lazy, and rested my head on his shoulder while he instead fed me bites of food from his own plate.
I love this man, so much.
The children talked of their day home with their father, which I thought would be full of nothing but games, but apparently my husband, with the shop closed irregularly, took the time to play the role of a tutor as well.
“Mommy, I learned about something called an imaginary number. Daddy called it al-jeh-bruh.”
“And I learned all my times tables just like Nefetina!” My cute son boasted.
“Is… that so? That’s great news!”
“Even Jax was learning, too! Gard was showing her how to use letters and numbers to write down a recipe.”
“You’re teaching Jaxan to write as well, Gar?”
“Well, I thought it might be a good idea to let her have a living proof of what her contract was worth. I gave her a blank book, and by the end of it, she will know how to make everything. In return she’ll be taking care of you and our children, right? I want the cost in time to be equal in worth.”
I reached up and stroked his chin.
“Gar, you’re ridiculous, but I love you still.”
After a delicious sup, Jaxan went to handle the dishes, leaving the children showing me papers with numbers and letters. That I could have ever afforded a tutor to teach them as much as their father had since his return. Though I had learned to write and count enough to make change from coin, I couldn’t understand what the numbers meant on the paper, but Gar was exceptionally proud of them.
Maybe the dream of mingling with the nobility isn’t impossible. It would be nice to be set for life.
Lady Thalica Ashford, wife of Lord Gardavan Ashford.
Yes, that would be quite nice.
I felt a bit drowsy, and found I was being carried upstairs.
Yes, this is nice too.
My husband put me into the bed, but he’s a damn fool if he things he can escape me right now. I’m well fed, feeling warm from the wine, and right now, I want him.
Gardavan has no defense against me, and so he has soon removed my clothes and has placed me in his lap. I join with him easily, as no other man but my husband is for me, and with plentiful kisses and his gentle and occasional rough touch, my body melts into his own, and once more I am filled with his love.
I lay down comfortably in his arms, until I drift off into a nap.
When I wake up, it’s hours later. I feel that familiar sensation in my stomach, and when I sit up, I feel it come out.
My moon had arrived.
I lay back down, frustrated and angry. The sheets are a mess, but at least my nice dress is not. Jaxan had come up to wake me for the evening meal, and found me in my current state.
“Please wait a moment, I will return with something to clean your body.”
“Thank you, Jaxan.”
She nodded and rushed out. I expected only her to return, but she did so with my beloved right behind her as she re-entered the room.
“You feeling alright, my love?”
I felt defeated.
“I’m fine, but it seems it wasn’t our luck this month.”
My husband carefully crawled into bed with me, giving me a warm, and much needed hug, at my ugliest.
“That just means we get to work hard again in a few days. I certainly don’t mind putting in the time. Is your body condition good? Feeling any pain anywhere? Would you like me to rub your lower back?”
“Both the bed and I am a mess, Gar.”
I did want that backrub, though.
“Then just roll over, I’ll take care of wiping you off.”
“MAS–Gardavan! It’s… improper… for a man to interfere with a woman’s moon!”
Jaxan felt comfortable enough to say what I should have to my husband. A woman’s moon is a woman’s business, and no man is supposed to involve himself with it. It is a custom long practiced in Avondale and the rest of the continent proper. Though it does make me happy to know even in this state, my husband would so care for me.
“Jaxan, can you take care of me while my husband stands to the side and massages my back?”
“As the Mistress wishes.”
So, I let myself be as pampered as I could. My body and the bed afterward were wiped clean, and the throbbing knot which comes alongside the passage of tide became relaxed.
I dressed in my loose clothes for when this time comes, and joined the both of them afterwards downstairs, but not before my husband made sure Jaxan washed her hands thoroughly before eating.
Dinner was beef again, though this time that delicious thing he created with the thick gravy and the fries. I felt so ravenous I ended up having a second serving.
For eating well, the children were given their favorite snacks, and Jaxan saw to readying them for bed. Afterwards, she joined us in the bedroom, where I was just fine with taking another nap.
However, my plans, and likely Gar’s were ruined now.
But I’m a good wife.
I would do that thing he liked, and show her how as well.
“I can only do this much, my husband. Please take the enjoyment from it in place of the rest of me.”
Afterwards, sad that I could not receive him in the usual way, laid down for the night. My husband joined me in the bed, and letting him know how much I loved him, I ordered her to undress and join our bed as well.
I didn’t let him object.
Jaxan would be helping to warm our bed for the next few days, and I wouldn’t stand any objections from my husband.
I took his hand, showing my resolve as his wife, and placed it on her body.
“It’s okay, Gar.” I said, but he had that look on his face.
Goddess of the Oath, why must my husband be so stubborn in all the wrong places?