posted by Jennifer
Oriane looked around the small room, knowing she was using it as an excuse to avoid facing Lothaire, but still not quite able to stop. “The elven innkeeper certainly keeps these rooms very clean,” she remarked hopefully.
“You shouldn’t have to stay in this miserable place at all,” Lothaire said, ruthlessly murdering the conversation before it could even get started. Oriane sighed. She’d nearly forgotten how often he did that. Usually, patience was the only cure.
She heard Lothaire close the door carefully and begin divesting himself of his military accoutrements, so Oriane took the heavy sword-belt out of his hands and began helping him with the many complex straps and clasps that held his armor together. It was amazing how much he’d changed in only a year. He was still bulky and muscular, but his flesh sagged from lack of exercise and he’d developed a bit of a gut. Oriane knew he’d never cared much about his appearance, maintaining his mustache and hair more to keep it from being annoying, but now he was as shaggy as one of the wild mountain Awar.
“You really don’t want me to come with you to meet with these elves?” she tried again.
“It’s your decision, not mine. I . . . only want you to be safe. I thought I knew what to do. I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me,” Oriane said as gently as she could manage.
“I have to. Everything that has happened is my fault.”
“Did you really kill Ger—_his_ brother?”
“Is that what he told you?”
“He told me a lot of things. He liked to talk to me for some reason. I don’t know what to believe.”
“I didn’t kill him, but I was responsible for his death.”
“I . . . it’s a long story, Oriane. I don’t want to discuss it now.”
“Then what do you want to discuss?” she asked. “I can feel this past year standing between us like a wall. I just want to understand what has happened.” She could feel tears starting to come up in her eyes and blinked them away hurriedly. Lothaire reached out to take her shoulders and Oriane twitched, surprised when she had to force herself to hold still.
“I’m sorry, Oriane. I wish . . . I wish I knew what to say.”
She pressed her hands against her face to stop them shaking. “Say that you’ll have our marriage annulled.” Lothaire dropped her shoulders and staggered backwards, more falling onto the bed than sitting as his legs gave out. “You should have done it a long time ago. I’m no use to you. I’m only in the way.” He simply stared at her in blank horror. “Say something, damn you! Help me!”
“I’ll do whatever you want,” he said.
“I want to stop feeling his hands on me!”
Lothaire shot to his feet. “You mean he . . .” Oriane nodded helplessly.
“I tried to stop him, but he was too strong for me, too fast,” she mumbled. “You shouldn’t have to bear this disgrace. Just . . . send me away. Pretend you never met me. Please.” Lothaire reached out hesitantly and touched her shoulders again. “I didn’t want you to know,” she said. “But I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t pretend.”
“Shh,” he whispered, drawing her into his arms. “This is my fault, not yours. Simon warned me, but I didn’t listen—I didn’t want to listen. If I’d killed him . . .”
“You couldn’t know,” Oriane said, raising her face to look at him. Lothaire bent his head and rested his cheek against hers. “I—I didn’t mean what I said,” she whispered. “I’m afraid. I want for you to be happy. I wanted to be a good wife to you, Lothaire. A good mother. But I’ve failed at everything.”
“That’s not true,” he whispered.
“I know you wanted children.”
“I did. But I can’t be a father if I have to cut my heart out to do it. I love you. More than my own life.”
Oriane sighed. “Can we just . . . go on? The Fade take everything else?”
“You’re alive. I’m alive. The rest doesn’t matter. I’ll see this business cleared up and then we’ll . . . we’ll find somewhere we can just live. Start over.”
“Yes,” Oriane said. Then, she smiled. “But you have to do something first.”
“What?” Lothaire asked, startled.
“You have to shave.”
“Oh.” Lothaire smiled shyly. “Yes, my lady.”