"Throughout the four seasons, we find flowers and fruits
in this open-air market bound by hills."
-- Ho Xuan Huong, "Heaven Market"
The soft sensation of lips against my jaw pulls me from peaceful slumber. A part of me wants to stay locked in the lovely dreams bestowed upon me by Morpheus. But my beautiful bride happens to be quite persistent when she wants something and, by the kittenish zeal of her kisses, it feels like she has something in mind right now.
"I know you're awake, husband," she whispers, breath tickling at the hairs of my temple. "There is no need for subterfuge on such a beautiful morning."
That is the straw to break this curious camel's back. Opening my eyes, the first thing that catches my eyes is the sparkle of sunlight that turns her eyes a deep shade of cinnamon with flecks of gold. There isn't a hint of the malaise that has plagued her these past few months, something that causes a thrill of delight in me.
"And a good morning to you, too, my sweet. To what do I owe this lovely arousal?"
Her embarrassed giggle stirs something deep in my soul. We haven't even achieved our first wedding anniversary, but I couldn't imagine my life without her presence in it. Even my father has commented on how much brighter and happier our entire kingdom is with my lovely bride here. The smiles that follow in her wake are genuine and linger long after she has passed through.
"Do you not see this glorious sunshine streaming in through the window? Can you not feel the tug of nature calling you to depart these walls of stone and gold?"
The need to kiss her is too strong to ignore, and I cup her face in both hands before pressing my lips to hers in a languid morning kiss. She goes limp against my side, body shifting to mold to mine by habit. The fingers of one hand glide back to weave into the sleep-tousled braid, holding her even closer. I could spend the entire morning exploring her mouth in kisses that would curl our toes, and still never have enough of her. The hand not tangled in her hair caresses down her body, delighted that she eschewed her nightgown last night.
Before I can do more than rest my hand against the curve of her hip, she jerks suddenly and pulls away. Without hesitation, I pull the covers away as she bolts up to race to the garderobe. Sighing heavily, I get up and slip into my robe before reaching for hers and a goblet of water on my way to wait for my bride to return. It takes less time than usual for her to slowly rejoin me and drain the contents of the goblet. There are tears in her eyes as she tries to avoid my gaze.
"My sweet, are you all right? Shall I send for--?"
"No!" The vehemence in her tone would be terrifying to someone who doesn't know her as well as I do. "I will not be seen as weak. People like Leopold would just love to learn that the Princess Consort is weak and unfit to rule beside her wife. We-- You do not need that headache, nor does your father."
"All right, my sweet," I say, helping her into her robe. "No need in overexerting yourself over the likes of Leopold. Father and I have already dealt with him and will continue to do so as long as he feels foolish enough to think he has any right to, well, anything within this kingdom's borders."
She relaxes then, sagging against my chest with a sigh. "I'm sorry, husband. I just--"
"I know, and I agree with you completely," I say as she lets me guide her back to the bed. "But all of this stress isn't good for you." I settle on the mattress and pull her onto my lap, resting a hand against the gentle swell that is still only noticeable to me and the midwife. "You carry a precious gift, my sweet wife, and I am honor bound to protect you both until and with my dying breath."
This brings tears to her eyes, and she rests her hand atop mine. For long moments, the only sounds are her soft sobs and the twittering of the birds outside the window. I say nothing more, knowing that she must resolve this in her own heart and mind first and foremost. She leans back finally to wipe away her tears as she meets my gaze.
"You are too good to me, my beloved husband," she says softly, voice rough with tears.
"I am no such thing, Regina. I love you and would do anything to make you happy. You know that."
She smiles then, tentative at first but growing stronger. When it reaches her eyes, I return it and lean in to kiss her lightly, our hands still resting low on her belly.
"May I ask a boon of my queen and husband?"
"You may ask anything you wish, my sweet."
"Leave the rule of the kingdom to your father today and come with me to the market?" The hope in her eyes burns brightly, and I am a moth to the flame. "It's a beautiful day and I just want to be your shy bride as we stroll the stalls and stuff ourselves on tasty treats."
Chuckling, I brush my lips against hers again, then rest our foreheads together. "Do you feel well enough to do that, my sweet? I don't want to upset your belly or the babe."
"The midwife says that I need more fresh air and exercise. What better way to get that than spending the day at the market with my husband? We can dress simply, take a couple of guards with us, also dressed simply, and just try to blend in. Please, Abigail? I feel cooped up between the drudgeries of winter and the illness that your child has given me these past months."
"When you request it like that, who am I to refuse? I know exactly which guards to bring with us, but you are not going to ride a horse. We will take one of the carriages, both for safety's sake and to transport all of the things I am quite sure you'll sweet talk me into purchasing for you."
She nods eagerly and presses dainty kisses to my face. "Thank you, husband. See? You do spoil me."
"So, it seems, I do."
"I promise only to buy things that will be necessary for me to make what the baby will need."
That makes me chuckle. "My sweet, our child will be more than provided for. You may buy whatever you wish. But you must promise me not to overtire yourself. This is supposed to be a pleasant outing, and I've no desire for the mother of my child to become unwell again."
"I promise that I will be careful and let you know the instant I feel unwell."
"Then let us not tarry and waste this beautiful day. I'll send for Father to inform him."
The happiness exuding from my Regina as she bounds up to find appropriate clothes for the two of us buoys my soul. There are still dangers to her and the child she bears, but I will do all that is in my power to keep them both safe. They are my very reasons for living.