She clasped and unclasped her hands. His voice was not angry, but it was unyielding.
“But you expect me to obey you?”
He seemed befuddled by the question. “That’s how a marriage works.”
The bitterness rose in her chest. “Fine! You want a slave, that’s what I will be.”
His bafflement turned to anger. “I didn’t say anything like that.”
“You might as well have,” she insisted.
“You are my wife,” he insisted, as if that made their roles entirely clear. “I need to ensure that you never ever undermine me in front of my boys again.”
“I am sorry the fourthling hurt you, he was wrong to do that.”
This seemed an odd thing to say when he was about to physically punish her. She was afraid to make things worse, so she said nothing for a moment. Her mouth was dry. “What is going to happen?” she whispered.
He pulled a chair out from the table and sat down. His voice was low and strangely reassuring. “You will lie across my knee. I will spank your bare bottom just long enough to be sure that you understand how wrong what you did is.”
She nervously licked her lips. “Not the strap?”
“Not this time, no. I don’t like to punish with any more harshness than I have to.” He reached for her hand. “You are tender of heart, and frightened. I won’t need the strap this time.” He drew her closer to him, so that she stood between his knees. He clasped both of her hands. “But this is a punishment, and it will hurt. I am going to see you brought to tears.”
She nodded dumbly. She was so confused. His gentle tone was making her less frightened, and yet, she didn’t doubt that he was about to make her cry. Her heart caught in her throat.
“I will wait for you to be ready,” he whispered.
She was expecting him to yank her over his lap, but instead, he pulled her so that she was enveloped in his arms, sitting on his lap.
“I know that this is not where you ever thought you would be. We are lucky to have you here.”
She rested her head against his massive shoulder.
“It warms me to see Benny have a mama,” he continued.
She gave a low laugh. “If only Sera did not hate me.”
“She doesn’t. All through breakfast she talked about how pretty you are, and how nice baby Lilja is.”
“Yes, she did,” he reassured her.
“Are you happy here?” she asked, turning her head so she could look into his face.
“I can be, yes. I think that if you will try and trust me, we can be happy together.”
“Indeed, I do. You were quick to defend one of my lads even though you had to know it would get you into trouble. That’s to be admired.”
She held up a hand. “They are my lads too, now.”
Her interruption pleased him. “You are very beautiful and a strong-willed wife is a blessing, as long as she obeys me.”
She leaned back into him, enjoying the strength of his arms. Gently, he unpinned the scarf covering her hair and unpinned her braids. He ran his fingers through the curly tendrils, brushing them away from her face. It was a tender gesture; she felt possessed, cherished.
“You won’t lose your temper and…” She looked down at her lap.
His hands were warm as they cradled her closer. “I will not. I am a gilded warrior and a paladin. My word is a sacrament. I am going to make your bottom sting, and it will ache for the rest of the day. I will never hit you in any other way. Till the world ends, I swear it.”
“I believe you.” This didn’t make laying herself in a vulnerable position over his strong thighs to have her bare bottom spanked any easier to do. She took a steadying breath and stood.
A gentle knuckle under her chin forced her to look at him. “Why am I spanking you?”
“Because I undermined you in front of your boys,” she whispered breathily.
“Why is that unacceptable?”
The book Matilda had given her provided the answer. “Because you can only take really good care of people who obey you.”
He nodded his approval of her answer, but made no other move. She was going to have to submit to it. “Can I,” she stumbled over her words, “go over your knee before you…” The thought of hoisting up her skirts while she stood beside him was too mortifying to contemplate. He nodded yes. She draped herself over his lap, and she felt a wellspring of relief when he firmly grasped her waist and pulled her close. Whatever was about to befall her did not include a tumble onto the stone floor.
“Would it be easier for you if I lifted your skirts for you?”
She could only nod yes. He draped her overdress over her back, and then her dress, and shift. “So many layers,” he murmured.
She could feel his eyes rest on her naked bottom. She had a strong desire to throw her hands over it to shield it from his eyes. But she had given herself to him for the rest of her life; she was his to gaze upon.
He rested his hand on her. His hand was so large, it covered most of her backside. “Such a pretty bottom,” he murmured. He made a tsk noise with his tongue. “But it is on a wife who is never going to treat her husband that way again.” The first slap sounded like a cannon. He peppered her bottom with swift smacks that left her panting for breath and squirming. “You turned pink very fast; you have such lovely porcelain skin.” He paused and rubbed his hand along the crease where her bottom met her thighs. “Defy me again and you won’t have a pretty pink bottom, you will have a red hot one. I have no problem punishing a naughty wife as often as she deserves.” He demonstrated this by increasing the vigor of the slaps he delivered to the crest of her quivering bottom cheeks. “If you disagree with me—fine. You ask to speak to me in private. Understood?”
“Yes,” she whimpered.
He moved all over her wiggling bottom making sure that every bit of it was throbbing, but wouldn’t have any terribly bruised spots. Her rump was glowing, its warmth spreading down her legs and around to her belly. “Disrespecting me will always,” hard smack, “always,” harder smack, “leave you with a scorched backside. Is that clear?”
While trying to give voice to a frantic, “Yes, yes, it’s clear,” she couldn’t catch her breath.
He rubbed her back. “Hanne, Hanne, slow down, take a breath, my love.”
His kind words did her in, and she began to cry. He allowed her to lay over him quietly weeping, while he caressed her heaving shoulder blades. “I think you know better now,” he said softly.
She didn’t even try to agree with him. She was overwhelmed and beyond words. He nestled her into his arms, and she began to sob. The spanking had dredged up feelings of loss that she had never acknowledged before. She cried because although they had abandoned her to a brutal prince, she didn’t think she’d see her parents again. She sobbed because she had killed a snow bear and would spend the rest of her days living in castle built into the polar icecap. She cried because he was handsome and kind and strong, and she was afraid she’d ruined any chance of a happy marriage with him. Her fears were somewhat calmed by the soft kisses he left on her forehead, on the side of her jaw, and onto her hair. She couldn’t help it; she whispered, “I want you to fall in love with me,” in a small, frail voice.
“Hanne, my sweet, I wish I could.” The clamoring at the door made Hanne leap up and brush her skirts down. “We will talk about this later,” he whispered. Hanne’s heart thudded deep into her belly, bereft and humiliated.
She would have to get used to the constant interruptions in the busy keep. Jonis patted her arm but left with the messenger. Hanne washed her face in the basin. She was embarrassed about her last words to the handsome warrior. He was too honorable a man to lie, and yet there wasn’t a kind way to say, “This is a business arrangement, we are both stuck and my first wife was so much better in every way.” She allowed herself a few minutes to wallow in her lonely misery. No amount of dabbing with a wet cloth could hide her red, puffy eyes. As if that wasn’t mortifying enough, she tried to make her own way to the kitchen and became hopelessly lost. She was looking down to avoid anyone seeing her tearstained face. One of the young maids began to call her name. Hanne waved an arm in what she hoped sent the message, “I’m fine, just hurrying to dinner,” and kept going.
“Dame,” said a quiet masculine voice. She had ignored the girl calling after her only to run smack into Armund.
“If you are going to dinner, you are heading in the wrong direction.”
Molten damnation, she thought. She took his proffered arm and he led her into the main hall.
“I doubt I will ever be able to find my way around this place,” she said, wanting to sound casual and instead sounding petulant.
“My faith in you is unshakeable,” he said gently as they swept in through the broad doors. They happened upon a knot of the youngest boys, who were happy to lead her to the great table. They were a good-natured group of lads, she could tell. They were chattering over each other to tell her about a new litter of puppies they had been allowed to hold. She thought of something just as they went through the large doors. “Did you wash your hands?”
The boys exchanged a glance, clearly debating whether or not lying to their new dame was a good idea. She smiled. “Right now, young sirs!” She extended her arm in a point toward the washroom and followed their retreating backs with one more command, “Use soap!”
Hanne murmured apologies to Jonis as he pulled out her chair. Leaning close, he whispered, “You are lovely with flushed cheeks.”
She stared dumbfounded at her lap, her feelings spinning like a whirligig deep in her chest. The hall was filling with people coming in for dinner. Hanne was shocked to see that someone had put a cushion on her chair. She glanced around nervously. Was this a general courtesy, or did someone know that she had been soundly spanked? Her cheeks flushed crimson at the humiliating thought that everyone in the hall might know. Although the book had warned her about this, her mortification ran deep. Using saying grace as her ruse, she lowered her eyes and avoided looking at the assemblage.
Jonis said a brief blessing. “We thank the All Father for this food and for the warmth of the keep. Please protect the warriors who defend the wall.”
She was grateful for the cushion when she joined the rest of the keep in sitting down. Sir Armund began a pleasant chatter to her left. With a nod from their paladin, the denizens of the keep began serving food onto plates. There was a thick stew of lamb and root vegetables, fresh bread, and pickled cabbage. Hanne would have to commend the head cook. With Wilma at the helm, their food costs were definitely going to go up. The improved quality was immediately noticed by everyone. Cheerful banter traveled across the hall as people complimented young Wilma.
Sir Armund gave his new dame an encouraging beneficent nod and mouthed, “Well done.”
Agnes was serving Sera and Benny their supper while one of the older women delightedly bounced Lilja on her knee. Hanne found an odd comfort in her still flaming bottom. She had been punished and forgiven. Perhaps she was stronger than she had realized. Jonis rested a hand upon her knee while Hanne leaned close to his massive shoulder.
“I meant to ask you something, but in the earlier chaos, I forgot,” she whispered to the paladin.
His eyes were very green and very handsome. His broad shoulders were so very close. She forced herself to not be distracted. “I understand the boys do chores around the keep; can I arrange for some of them to clear the tables after meals?”
“Will it take long?” he asked, and her fondness for him flitted away.
“Never mind,” she sighed. She should have known he wouldn’t try to help her; husbands were all alike.
A ringing bell caused Jonis and a few of the other knights to quickly stand and, without saying a word, depart the hold.
Hanne could make out the whispers of excited boys. “…a giant herd, too many to count… I wish I could go scouting…”
Hanne wasn’t sure if it was polite to ask the elderly knight where her husband had gone, but the boys were all talking about it, so she decided to risk it. “Where is the paladin?”
“You’ll see soon enough,” Sir Armund answered happily. She wanted to press for more specific answers, but an exuberant young boy needed the knight’s attention. Hanne allowed her attention to wander. Already she knew the names of some of them. Most of the boys chattered in happy groups. One of the smaller boys sat by himself, barely looking around him as he ate his dinner. Hanne remembered what Lars and Rolf had said about how much they had missed having a dame. Rising, she took her plate and walked to the solitary boy. “You’ll have to forgive me, I am only just learning everyone’s names,” she said with what she hoped was a confident smile.
“Asgar,” he shyly whispered.
“Spear of God, perfect name for a warrior,” the newly minted dame said. The boy glanced down at his slender frame. “Or maybe the small twig of the Gods,” he said with a self-deprecating grin.
“Eat your vegetables. What is your favorite thing to learn about?”
“Transformation,” he answered with a swiftness that took her breath away.
“Do you know very much about it?”
“As much as anyone can understand magic.”
“Point taken.” She found herself drawn to the boy. He did not appear to have the athleticism of many of his peers, and yet there was something so frank, so bright about him, that Hanne knew he would be her favorite. She would endeavor to keep it a secret, however.
Sir Armund gave a gentle cough. “Gentlemen, let’s see how quickly we can set this room to rights.” He gave Hanne a wink. She smiled her gratitude at him. In a trice a battalion of boys began to clear plates. The magnificent taps of hot water performed their magic, and in less than a quarter of an hour, the hall was shining and swept. She paused in the doorway to wish each boy a warm goodnight before she returned to her own apartments. After helping the children ready for bed, she kissed them goodnight and retired alone to the room she shared with Jonis. Once she had some privacy, she lifted her skirts and pressed her fingers against her still warm bottom. She lightly ran her fingertips over the hot skin and stripped off her gown. She slid into her lonely bed clad only in her shift.
She was being shaken awake. She forced herself to open her eyes. “Come, my love,” said Jonis. She sat up as he knelt and slipped boots onto her bare feet. She was only wearing a shift, but she held her arms up so he could slip a woolen dress over her. He threw a fur over his shoulder and taking her hand, led her through the keep. He half carried her up many stairs. They threaded through rooms she hadn’t seen before and the air got distinctly colder. They went through a series of doors, and even before he opened the last one, the air was so cold that it burned when she inhaled. He led her out onto the battlements. The sky was on fire. The dancing lights that she had first seen on the dog sled turned the sky colors that melted into one another. “They are beautiful,” she gasped.
He chuckled. “Yes, but that’s not why I brought you out here.” He pointed to the north side of the wall. Under the dancing sky the ground appeared to be moving. Her eyes adjusted, and as far as she could see, a herd of the largest animals she had ever seen moved slowly in a winding river of tusks and curly fur.
“I didn’t think they were real,” she whispered.
“Wooly mammoths?” he asked. “Of course they are real, but only on the northern side of the wall. They can’t cross.”
Skulking on the edge of the herd, a menacing figure crouched. The mammoths sensed the snow tiger and began to stampede. The tiger didn’t seem to be able to find a vulnerable member of the herd. The moonlight glinted on its rapier-like front teeth.
“Can the tigers get onto the wall?”
“No, they can’t. Even if they could, I would protect you.” She had no doubt that he was telling her the truth. He wrapped his cloak around her and even under the layers, she shivered. The moon cast silhouettes along the snow. The tusks of the mammoths curled away from their bodies in stark relief. Hanne suddenly realized what the bridal crown had been made of. Mammoth ivory, a treasure that was only available to those who inhabited the wall. She wanted to stand and watch the giant creatures forever, but the air singed her skin and clutched at her lungs. He led her back inside. “I can’t believe that they are why you had to leave dinner. Do you always track them when they get close to the keep?”
He twirled a lock of her hair around his fingers. “I do, yes. You were asking me about something before I had to go, but I can’t remember what it was.”
“I asked if the boys could help clean up after dinner, but you said no.”
This jogged his memory. “I did not say no. I asked how long it would take. We might need to adjust their study schedule, if you need them for very long.”
“Oh.” She had underestimated him again; he wasn’t refusing to help her, he was trying to think of the best way to do it. Her feelings for him astonished her. Something about the combination of his manly physique and his desire to be kind to her had a potent effect on her.
They were still in one of the outer foyers when she was overcome with her desire for him. She had never felt like this and she had never ever imagined herself making physical advances to a powerful warrior, even if they were bound by holy matrimony. Hanne tried to talk herself out of what she was considering, but the urge was too strong. She stood on her toes and kissed him with all of her passion. He might not know why she was reacting the way she was, but he was delighted with her assertiveness. His arms wrapped around her and he pressed her against the wall as she hitched her shift up. With his fingertips pressing into her back, she was amazed at how warm he was. Even though all their layers of clothing, she could feel the fire of the dragon deep within his chest. Her legs wrapped around his waist as he lifted her. Urgency overcame her; it seemed as if there was no time to waste. Her husband gave a small chuckle. “When did you become such an impatient girl?” he asked.
“I do not know,” she gasped in response. “But I want you right now.”
Jonis responded to her need. With no preamble, he slammed into her aching, quivering core. The curves of her flaming bottom were soothed by the cool stones as he pressed her against them. She had an insatiable need for him and she urged him into her, panting with want. He was able to hold her against the wall with one arm and with the other reach between them and stroke her. Hanne moaned desperately and arched to bring him even deeper into her. A lifetime of hesitation melted. She longed for him to possess her, to leave her with no doubt that she was not her own, but his. “Don’t be gentle,” she urged as her heels dug into his thighs. He wasn’t. With every thrust, he slammed deeper into her. “Wife, you are mine,” he growled as he plowed into her with the most savage lunge yet. She clung to him, carried along by his power and her ache to yield to it. He affirmed his ownership of her with his ferocious lovemaking. Her whimpers turned to cries as she felt fireworks explode in her belly. She bit into his shoulder with abandon as the climax overtook her. She saw sparks that radiated from her depths and flew into the air between them. Jonis stilled for a moment so she could catch her breath. Carefully he withdrew and turned her around. Once again he lifted her so that her hips would be level with his.
“Put your arms on the wall,” he commanded. His arms wrapped around her belly and he took her from behind, gently for the first stroke. His need increased and he hammered into her while she braced herself against the wall. Jonis was able to hold her with one arm and the other hand cupped her swaying breasts. Rolling a nipple between two fingers, he elicited whimpers of delight from his bride. With warm breath in her ear and manly hands caressing her, she moaned as another climax was upon her. This one was less frenzied than the first one. She surfed the smooth wave of pleasure and heard her own voice cry out, “Oh, yes, Jonis, oh, yes. I am yours, I am.” She repeated it like a mantra as the spasms of pleasure ebbed.
Jonis was delighted with her. He nuzzled her ear. “Oh, my darling wife, such a good, good girl. My good girl.” An appreciative groan told her that he had given himself over and allowed himself to come as soon as she did. She went limp. Only his powerful arms kept her from sliding down the wall like a rag doll. He helped her turn so that he could cradle her in his arms. Her body shook, and a tear coursed down her cheek. She had never thought it was possible. Hanne had almost reconciled herself to the thought that for all of her life she would tolerate the advances of a husband and give herself pleasure furtively when she was alone. It was a dream, a gift, a miracle.
Nestled against him, Hanne noticed with a start that even the dragon appeared to be short of breath. They rested together until their heartbeats had slowed to normal. He stood with her in his arms as if she weighed no more than a feather and carried her back to their apartment. She was grateful because she wasn’t sure she could have walked. She pressed her face into his broad neck and allowed him to cradle her against his heart.
Compared to being out on the ramparts, their drafty room was as warm as the tropics. Something had changed between them. She had reconciled his demand that she submit to him with the realization that he would cherish and tantalize her. He laid her on the bed and she knew better than to stand up without his permission. “I want to check on the children,” she whispered. He reached for her hand and helped her up. Together they crept into the back room, like children sneaking a treat. Silently, Jonis opened one of the cabinet doors. Benny and Sera were tucked into the lower bed. Hanne wasn’t tall enough to see where Lilja was, though she could see the curve of Agnes’ hip. Quick as a wink, Jonis wrapped his hands around her waist and lifted her up. On the top bunk, Lilja lay curled, tiny as a kitten, nestled against Agnes. Her daughter was safe and warm. As soon as Jonis set her down, Hanne turned and threw her arms around him. “Thank you for taking such good care of us,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I disrespected you in front of your boys.”
The swinging bed trembled under their weight as they settled into it. He stroked her hair. “Shh, all is well,” Jonis reassured her. With more peace than she had known in recent memory, she burrowed into warmth radiating from the resting dragon tattoo. “Sleep, wife,” the paladin murmured. Obeying that command was easy.
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