Once again, I tip my hat and thank RoustWriter for his keen eye and insight in editing this tale. His thoughts and suggestions are a positive boon that I can't imagine being without now that I have had the pleasure of experiencing them.
Queen Alicia stood before the doorway of her parlor, bidding goodnight to the last of her guests. Naturally, Christi and Arilee had stayed later than any of the others, more accustomed to late hours than the other ladies, by far. The men would likely continue to carouse for a few more hours, but the informal meeting of Egoria's noble ladies was typically more reserved.
Alicia hugged the blonde Baroness of Dalebord, and then impulsively kissed her on the forehead, "I told you that you were worried over nothing, Arilee. None of us here were born nobles, and you fit right in."
"You were right, of course," admitted Ari, with a wide smile decorating her young face. "Your son is precious, Alicia."
Alicia laughed, "I think he's doing it on purpose. He knows we have company and he's behaving just to make me look like an evil witch for complaining about his behavior in my letters."
"It's in his blood," Christi interjected mischievously.
"Oh, stop," Alicia responded as she hugged the Duchess of Cratel. "You will have your turn soon enough."
Christi laid a hand on her tummy, which revealed no hint of her pregnancy at this early stage, and shrugged her dark hair back over her shoulders, "I don't know if I'm ready for this."
The Queen waved a hand dismissively, "You will be fine. Arilee can help if you feel overwhelmed."
"No drinking, no sparring, and no sex — I'm going to lose my mind," the Duchess lamented.
"You can have a little wine — or beer, if you must — just don't overdo it. You can still spar for a while, so long as it is purely swordplay. Now, who told you that you couldn't have sex?"
"I'm going to be fat and ugly, with a huge belly in the way," Christi explained with a frown, and then added, "I know we can for a while, anyway. When did you have to stop?"
"When I went into labor," Alicia replied with a laugh, "It was a rather rude interruption considering how wonderful I was feeling with Thakkor snoring beside me."
Christi's eyes widened — and Arilee was obviously surprised as well. The Duchess asked, "It won't hurt the baby?"
Alicia shook her head in the negative, "The midwife told me it was perfectly fine, so long as we weren't too enthusiastic. She even suggested it to encourage labor."
"I'm trying to get some pity here, Alicia; you're spoiling all my fun."
The Queen laughed again, "Go on, get some rest. We all have to return to our duties tomorrow."
Christi looked over at Arilee with an amused smile on her face. Ari pursed her lips, obviously holding back a smile of her own. The Duchess then turned back to Alicia and said, "Have a nice evening, Alicia."
"What are the two of you up to?" Alicia demanded playfully, knowing the look in Christi's eyes.
Christi put an arm around Arilee and turned her, looking back over her shoulder and replying, "We're not up to anything."
Alicia scowled at the backs of the quickly retreating women, wondering what they knew. When they turned the corner and vanished from sight, Alicia shook her head in exasperation and sighed. Shrugging her shoulders, Alicia left the parlor and made her way to the stairs.
Once upstairs in the Royal apartments, Alicia crept up to the door of her son's room, listening for sounds of him stirring. When she heard nothing, she opened the door and peeked in. Hanging on a string from the inside of the doorjamb was a piece of paper. Alicia grabbed the spinning paper and held it still, seeing writing upon it.
I went to stay with Nana Emily tonight. Daddy said it was okay.
Alicia laughed quietly, recognizing her husband's handwriting on the note her one-year-old son couldn't have possibly written. It was obvious now who was up to something, but what remained to be seen.
The double doors of the sitting room were open ahead, down the hall, with soft flickering light emerging from within. Alicia smiled and walked to the doorway, finding her husband watching for her arrival. As she appeared, he immediately rose with a wide smile.
Alicia put her hands on her hips and started to ask questions, but Thakkor silenced her with a raised finger. At the same time, he whipped a cloth off something sitting on the table next to him.
Alicia's eyes lit up and she hurried into the room. "Cherries? I love you! Where did you get them in winter?"
Thakkor smiled as his wife popped one of the fruits into her mouth, shivered with ecstatic pleasure, and then pulled the stem back from between her lips with the pit still attached. "It isn't winter everywhere. Darkni wiggled his fingers and brought them from somewhere on the other side of the world for me," the King explained.
"For me, you mean," Alicia corrected, picking up another cherry and suckling it seductively between her lips into her mouth. When she pulled the stem back, Alicia laughed and wrapped her arms around her husband, squeezing him tight. She then stood up on her tiptoes and kissed him, saying, "I love you — you dear, sweet, wonderful man."
"We've just been so busy, between the audience hall and the baby's room, that we haven't had any time to ourselves. I thought it would be nice to just have an evening alone." "With cherries," Alicia emphasized, eating another one.
"And chocolate," Thakkor added, producing a wax-paper wrapped bundle.
Once again, Alicia's eyes opened wide. She shivered, moaned, and then waved a hand in an impatient gesture before her, "What are you waiting for, open it!"
The King laughed and untied the strings on the package, guiding his Queen to sit in the chair next to the cherries at the same time. Once the bundle was open, Thakkor broke off a generous chunk of chocolate and handed it to his beautiful blonde wife.
Alicia took a nibble of the chocolate, and then popped another cherry in her mouth with it. "I think you're trying to seduce me, Thakkor," Alicia mockingly accused.
Thakkor offered an innocent grin as he sat down, and then leaned over the edge of his chair opposite the Queen. Pulling up a bottle and two glasses, he asked, "Wine?"
Alicia purred, "White — where from?"
Thakkor popped the cork from the bottle and replied, "Vladamir, of course. I suspect he cheated to get the vines productive this quickly. I thought it would be a nice change from the Red they named for us. It's wonderful, but if you don't change things every so often, even the most wonderful thing can become commonplace."
Alicia's heart fluttered and she smiled, knowing that he wasn't just talking about the wine. A new baby and the stress ruling a Kingdom could strain any relationship, no matter how perfect the two people were for each other. "Vladamir's god would certainly be more than willing to grant him that power, for the greater good. Bringing a new variety of grapes to the area for wine would certainly qualify in Heraklan's eyes."
Thakkor poured the wine and said, "Vladamir has his wine makers experimenting with other fruits too. He added cherries to the list after Darkni brought these today. If we give Vladamir a few years, we might just outstrip Ferrartene as the place to go for fine wines."
"That would be good for the tax revenues," Alicia chuckled, accepting the glass from her husband, and letting her fingers linger on his hand for a moment.
The King's brow furrowed, "We could certainly use them. We're still depending too heavily upon our alliance with Redbear's people to defend our borders, and they need their hunters seeking game, not men from Draxnog. Their entire culture depends upon the hunt."
"Shush," Alicia admonished her husband, "Redbear offered the help because he could spare the men. They hunt as they patrol the borders as well, so stop worrying. He leads a proud people, and they do not feel they have repaid their debt to us yet." Grinning at Thakkor, she added, "Now get back to seducing me."
Thakkor threw back his head and laughed — a deep, booming sound that Alicia had missed for many months now. Their hostile neighbor to the south, Draxnog, had of late sent an increasing number of raiders into Egoria, and protecting the people weighed heavily on the King's mind. Reaching out to touch his hand, Alicia frowned momentarily when she couldn't reach him with more than her fingertips.
"Why don't we go to the bedroom?"
Thakkor nodded, rising from his chair and picking up the wine bottle. Alicia grabbed the chocolate and put it in the bowl with the cherries, and then picked up the bowl as she rose. Walking ahead of her husband, Alicia let her hips sway. She knew his eyes would be on her bottom, hypnotically rising and falling with her steps beneath the lavender gown she wore. The thought of his eyes on her brought a tingle to Alicia's loins, and she licked her lips in anticipation of where this night was surely leading.
Reaching the bedroom, Alicia sat the bowl and her glass down on a table that stood next to her side of the bed. A low fire burned in the fireplace, producing a rosy glow that Alicia knew was not natural. She assumed it was more of Darkni's work. Thakkor had obviously been planning this for some time. Alicia kicked off her shoes and climbed into the bed.
.... There is more of this story ...