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A Gift of Home

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“We should visit Luthe soon,” Harry declared over breakfast in their rooms, one morning of the first year of her marriage. She was munching on her latest attempt at making something resembling toast from Damarian bread. It wasn't entirely successful, but smothering it with honey helped, and she enjoyed trying despite the bafflement of everyone around her.

“Luthe?” Corlath said surprised. He'd been frowning down at his porridge, seemingly lost in thought, but he looked up at her words and concern bloomed in his eyes. “Is everything well with you?”

The rainy season had come to an end weeks ago, and she had noticed a certain restlessness in Corlath. She wasn't the only one who had noticed. There had been a few remarks from the Riders over the last few weeks about this being the longest he’d spent in the city. Faran had joked that Corlath was getting soft like an old married man -- a taunt that Corlath had pretended not to hear. A little restless herself, she’d been waiting for him to suggest a journey away from the city, but after days of nothing, she'd decided to take matters into her own hands. “Oh, yes," she said. "But I would like to see the lands beyond the city under less-,” she hesitated, trying to find the best word. “-Less fraught conditions."

Corlath nodded. The memories of that time were slowly becoming less painful.

Harry looked up at him with an almost sly smile, "And at the very least it is because I have very many questions for Luthe.”

Corlath laughed at that as she'd hoped. She'd asked him so many questions at the end of every tale of Lady Aerin, far outstripping even his extensive knowledge of his ancestor. On more than one occasion he'd pulled her into his arms to distract her from her questions. Harry had been more than willing to be distracted. "It would be good to see Luthe," he said.

Harry leant over and kissed him, a little stickily from the honey she’d consumed. “You’ve been very patient with my questions, my love. But now it is time to inflict them on another.”

"Poor, Luthe. Should we send him advanced warning?" Corlath teased. His hands came up to cradle her head and he pulled her back into another deeper kiss.

Some time later when the inconvenient crumbs had been brushed away, Corlath said, “I was thinking of visiting Sharpardith, we could stop there on the way. I would like to know how they are faring after the rains.”

*

Hari had ridden a little way out of the City with Mathin and Jack and spent the day practicing jumps, while Corlath had been otherwise occupied listening to the plans for the annual road repairs from the City's stone masons. To her intense mortification she'd fallen off Tsornin on a particularly difficult combination of obstacles. The feast that took place that night had been followed by tales and by the time they retired for bed, they'd had their fill of stories.

Corlath heard her groan and turned to see her lowering herself stiffly onto their large, low bed. "At least Luthe has real beds,” she said.

“Those soft, high things with blankets?" Corlath asked. "You like those?”

“Mmmm,” she said in response, wriggling around and shifting pillows, clearly trying to find a comfortable position.

“I had rather supposed you didn't care for them." Corlath said, puzzled. "As I found you sleeping on a cushioned shelf instead." Her eyes widened at his words. They rarely mentioned his kelar-precipitated abduction of her. He was not proud of his damage to her honor, of stealing her away from her home and her family. But he could not regret it, she would not be their damular-sol and his Queen otherwise.

"The window ledge," she said in Homelander, and then continued in the Hill tongue. "I used to scandalise my poor maid every morning."

He did not ask "Are you not happy with our bed?" It sounded too much like asking "Are you happy with our marriage?" She showed him that she was happy as she smiled, joked with his Riders, kissed him. But sometimes he still worried, memories of Forloy's wife on his mind. Of late Hari had occasionally been a little distant. It did not occur to him that she was reacting to his own restlessness.

"It wasn't that bed in particular that I didn't care for, but the fact that it had seen far too many sleepless nights," she continued. "I had little to occupy my days, I was unable to sleep once night fell." She laughed. "The sleep you laid on me was the first time I'd slept past the dawn since I'd arrived here."

"Mmmm," Corlath said. He remembered those first few days, his worry that she would not be able to bear life in the Hills. He looked thoughtfully at their bed, an idea brewing in his mind.

*

Over the next few days, as he made preparations for their journey North, Corlath took the time to ask questions, of Forloy, of Jack Dedham. To read books and view the drawings that had been his main source of knowledge of his wife's homeland. He had given her many gifts, Tsornin, Gonturan, but none of them had been her bride gift. Now he knew what to ask of the City's craftsmen for their return.

*

As they journeyed farther and farther away from the city, Harry watched Corlath's restlessness fade. Only six of the Riders and Jack had travelled with them and it could not feel more different to the last time they'd taken this route. As they rode Corlath pointed out features and told her stories of the land they passed through. They took a few detours through other settlements in the hills, before they reached Sharpardith and Harry fell in love with every new place, finding new beauty in the hills and desert.

Their time with Luthe filled them with ease. Harry and Corlath joked about the bed they shared in Luthe's grey stone halls. "The height and the presence of blankets are the features that make it a real bed," Harry explained earnestly. "You've slept so well here, you must agree."

Corlath looked thoughtful, but refused to agree to its superiority, citing the influence of the Lake of Dreams and the drowsiness conferred by its waters.

Harry, knowing how little that affected him, smiled to herself.

Luthe answered some of Harry's questions about Aerin-sol, but she sensed his reserve when it came to some of her more probing questions. And she learned to be satisfied with the answers she'd received. During long walks he told them both new tales of Damar and the surrounding lands, particularly tales of those who had long ago shared their gift. He also taught her much of her kelar. As a gift it could never be entirely comfortable, but Harry was becoming accustomed to it and rediscovered some of the control she'd developed unconsciously as a child. In moments of idleness, Harry wondered about his other house guests, but there was no further sign of them.

*

They arrived back at the City late one night and Harry had taken a longed for bath. She entered their rooms in the palace ahead of Corlath, and stopped dead. Where there had once been low rugs, and a long, wide bolster, was now a bed – a fourposter bed, with a delicately carved stone head board with four slim posts at each corner, spiralling up to a rich blue canopy. It was draped with bright, woven blankets. And was beautiful. Beautiful and slightly odd to her eyes. As if created by someone who’d never seen that sort of bed before.

“Do you like it?” Corlath asked, from behind her, his tone diffident in the way she now knew masked a deep interest in the answer.

She turned wide eyes to him, but didn’t say anything. She caught his hand in hers and led him over to the bed. She'd always thought that she could never love a gift from him as much as that of Gonturan but in that moment her heart was full. This was a gift just for her. To make her happy and to make her feel at home. It wasn't necessary. The Hills had been her home for longer than she knew.

She sat down on the bed, and bounced a few times, putting out her hand to feel the give. It felt so comfortable – not too soft – similar to the feel of the bolster she’d grown accustomed to, but with the bounce of a sprung bed. She lay down and Corlath came with her. She wriggled her shoulders, feeling the pillows and spread her arms wide and turned her head to smile at him. “Mmm, she sighed. “This is lovely.” She rolled herself to lean over him, her lips inches from his, “Oh, thank you.” Then she added, “Will you be able to sleep here?”

“We’ll see,” he said gravely. As her face fell, his face broke into a bright smile. “If you are there, my heart, I could sleep on a bed of rocks.”

She reached out a touched the spiralling stone bed post with one finger. “I think you’ve taken that a little too literally.”

Corlath let out a bark of laughter and surged up and kissed her. Bed preferences and exhaustion were forgotten for a long time that night.

end