B2MeM Challenge: Day 1: i18, Adűnaic: Izrŕ, sweetheart/beloved; Economy: Market Day
Format: Short Story
Characters: Inzilbŕth, Gimilz˘r
Summary: It's not a mistake if you knew about it...
As she heard the final movement of the dance begin, Inzilbŕth sighed, almost with relief. These dances could be torture, and there were so many more things she could be doing besides fawning upon people she cared nothing for. She turned around, saw no one was coming her way, and sat herself upon the floor, taking her slipper off to squeeze the ball of her foot. The counter pressure felt so good that she let her guard down for a moment.
It was enough.
"They do have chairs here, you know."
That voice! That scent! He was crouching beside her by the time she realized where he was. With a gasp, she pulled her foot closer to her, entirely the wrong thing to do: instead of only pulling her foot, along with it she also pulled her skirt up, leaving her other leg exposed for Gimilz˘r to see. And see he did, only briefly, before he swept his eyes up to meet hers.
"You have avoided me today, Inzilbŕth." She felt his pause as meaningfully as she felt the way he said her name, lingering over every sound in a caress only he could bestow. "Why?"
She found that she resented it, this invasion into her space, this demand for her thoughts, for her reasons, as much as she craved his eyes on her.
"This is not the first time we have not danced together, Gimilz˘r," she made herself say, made herself take her time with it, though she was beginning to feel some alarm at the way his mere presence had the power to make her lose composure.
When other men would have countered, he gave her a slow nod, his eyes never leaving hers. "You missed it."
It took all her strength, but she would not let herself gasp again in front of him. Why had she missed his arms around her-- because she had, indeed, or because he said so?
Gathering her scattered wits, digging fingernails hard against the sole of her foot, she raised her chin and said, "Not as much as you did."
Inzilbŕth could tell when this fact registered in his mind-- the exact moment when he understood she had spoken the truth-- by the sudden blink, the slight widening of eyes that never wavered.
He did not nod, nor did he say another word, but reached for the hem of her skirt, pulling it down protectively over her calf as though putting a veil over something only he was allowed to see.
She saw him tear his eyes away from her face with reluctance before the darkness of the hallway swallowed him up.
When he found her a few weeks later during market day, she was not entirely surprised, though she was unprepared for it. She had been standing by the butcher, dictating her order, when she felt that thrill travel from the back of her neck down to her toes. Then the commotion around them arose and he came into view, stood beside her, and after another of those sweeping looks, turned toward the butcher's stall, expectant.
"They are right," she said, unsure whether to feel perplexed or flattered by his presence. "The King's son has no need for markets."
"I have never done things because they think I should do them," he said, calm as ever. "Have I?" He then turned, the full force of his compelling personality toward her in the way he looked at her, the way he leaned into her, that perfect assurance that she was meant for this, for this moment with him. That this was not about being at the market for meat, spices, and paper. It left her bare and trembling, but she was a descendant of Kings, also, and could--would-- stand her ground.
She swallowed, leaned into him just slightly, before asking, "Why are you here, then?"
"I'm here for you."
"You don't want me, Gimilz˘r," she heard herself say, surprised, annoyed, that she could not say I don't want you; then, when he leaned closer, grateful that she had been able to say anything at all.
"Because I am not what you are used to? Because I do things you do not agree with?"
"Because I am not what you are used to. I do things you do not agree with."
"You are to me what I am to you."
"A challenge?" she asked, trying to be teasing, and failing.
"A new world," he said, his head bent over hers, close. "A new world one wants."
She even found it in herself to make herself look up. "You'll forget about this soon."
"Do you wish me to?"
When she could not give him his reply, his face became more serious, more intent, when other men would have smiled in triumph.
"I want to make you mine, Inzilbŕth," he whispered into her ear. "You know this, do you?"
And she knew, but how she knew mystified her, for she had always known Gimilz˘r, and had learned to misread his intensity.
"Why?" she asked, only half-aware that her eyes had closed and that she leaned into him. "Because I'm stubborn? Because I keep my own counsel when I should listen to others? Because you mistrust me? Because you like puzzles, and problems, and hard things?"
Inzilbŕth felt, more than saw, his slow smile.
"I have heard your reasons. Are you ready for mine?" Gimilz˘r asked, pressing his face to hers in the most intimate caress she had ever received. She felt the slight tremor that ran through him to her, his sharp intake of surprise. His fingertips grazed down her arm until he found her hand, pressed into her palm, held strong.
If she had ever misread any of Gimilz˘r's looks or words before, she could do so no longer.
"It is dangerous to play with bad boys," her cousin whispered to her after he had taken his leave, but she thought it beneath her to give answer to that.
The meat lay forgotten on the butcher's counter, food for flies.
Inzilbŕth never attended the games, but she did so this time. Gimilz˘r was so skilled that he had stopped participating, but he did so this time. From the field he sought for her and allowed himself that slow, enticing smile, when he found her. Then turned to fight.
He was a marvel. There was a reason, she now knew, why she had never come to watch him before; lost in his battle dance, it was easy to forget oneself. Swift, straightforward, single-minded, ruthless-- Inzilbŕth was no innocent: she knew what he was capable of doing. Women don't change men, but mayhap she could try to temper him? Gimilz˘r was a strong man; he needed a strong wife-- why not herself, who could then use the influence her position afforded to circumvent any damage, or at least attempt to repair it?
The crowd erupted in a loud cheer when the final blow was struck and the opponent disarmed, humbled. She watched as Gimilz˘r shook his head, left the realm where battle-lust and survival are one and the same, and thought she had never understood someone else so well as she understood him at that moment. When he turned to find her, she could see in his expression the same realization and, finally, happily, smiled for him.
Encouraged, he sheathed his sword and walked toward her.
"I claim my prize," he said, slowly, once in front of her.
It was all the encouragement she needed.