“Rune said I would find you here.”
Bethilde suppressed a victorious smirk as Cerise’s curt tone cut through the stable. She turned to face her, the bristled brush she’d been using to groom the horse still in her hand.
“Of course I am,” she replied. “We just arrived. I must attend to those who need me before I myself can rest.”
Cerise was radiant, backlit by the early morning sun, standing in the doorway and dressed as immaculately as ever. If anything, she looked better now than when they’d met, with natural colour in her pale cheeks and wearing a soft cream dress with copper clasps down the front that actually flattered her short, curvy figure rather than hiding it. Even the grey shot through her dark hair seemed to suit her now rather than age her.
Bethilde had half been expecting the noble lady to crumble and fall to pieces in the wake of Kolbu’s conquest of Tithdale. But if anything it seemed to have bolstered her. Every time Bethilde visited, she found Cerise more and more in her element.
First it had been simple things. Organising a donation for the children of Shaywood orphaned by the war so that they might have scarves for winter, or using her influence to settle petty disputes among townsfolk that Wolfe had no spare time for as lord.
Then she began to set her sights further afield. Hiring cooks and healers to set up a small medical community within the outer walls of the town, sourcing out medicinal herbs for them to cultivate. Setting up a court specifically to mediate between Elbiyans and Murkuri within the town, over which she often presided. It seemed Wolfe and Rune had no interest in curtailing her, and the Murkuri spoke of her fairness even when she’d ruled against them. Bethilde hoped the Elbiyans said the same.
It was breathtaking watching her unfurl her wings after so long in what amounted to cruel captivity. In just two short months, it seemed she was achieving more than her poxy husband had done in thirty years of rule.
If not for the pressing need for financing, Bethilde would have been quite content to simply watch and admire her. But she knew Cerise’s funds would not last forever. And, given her pride, Bethilde doubted she would want to ask for money from her son. But Bethilde was more than happy to provide.
“Did you come to see if I’d forgotten you, sweet lady?” Bethilde asked. “I hope you know I never could. Look.”
She deposited the brush and made her way over to where she’d dumped her belongings while she saw to her horse. There were the usual bedroll and mur-padiiri items, but there was also a chest. Cerise didn’t move from where she stood but Bethilde noticed her eyes sharpen as she pulled back a fur to reveal it.
“You’ve been robbing my countrymen again,” Cerise chided.
“As many as I can,” Bethilde agreed. “The haul is decent this time. Will you come and see?”
With a cold, haughty look, Cerise deigned to enter the stable properly, picking her way past piles of hay and manure until she was close enough to peer over as Bethilde opened the chest. She stayed silent as Cerise inspected the cache of gems, coins and other trinkets Bethilde had managed to acquire.
“And I suppose you expect me to thank you,” she said at length.
“Only if you want to,” Bethilde replied with a cheeky grin. “After all, I know the orphans are picky about where their meals come from. We must not assume they’ll accept it.”
Cerise flushed pink at the comment, though Bethilde had intended it with no malice. The old habits ran deep with her. She found reproach even where there was only banter, and Bethilde longed to soothe away those hurts every time they surfaced.
“It is noble to help those less fortunate when one has more than one needs,” Cerise said. “And I want for nothing. The gods have been good to me.”
“They have, my lady,” Bethile agreed.
The silence between them stretched long enough that Bethilde knew Cerise expected a challenge. The gods had only been good to her of late. A crueler person might take the opportunity to remind her of that fact. But there was no joy in poking old wounds, or at least none that Bethilde ever found. She turned back to her horse.
“Come share your nobility with my steed then, my lady. He has seen much these past few weeks.”
For several seconds Bethilde thought Cerise might refuse, or simply leave. That was the case often enough when she made attempts to spend more time with her. But then she heard the shuffle of skirts behind her and breathed a soft sigh of relief. Life had wronged Cerise in so many ways, but she was still strong enough to reach for something good when she found it. Bethilde couldn’t fault her hesitance. She just had to be patient, she knew, and the gods would give her the chance to prove her worth to the lady of her dreams.
And then Bethilde caught a whiff of the delicate floral scent Cerise always wore, custom made and unique, and thought that maybe it would be good if she were just a little less hesitant. The scent always made Bethilde just want to strip her naked and show her just how good life could feel.
Cerise reached out with a brush of her own and traced it over the coldblood’s shoulder. The ride had been long and hard, and Bethilde knew the horse just wanted them to leave so he could rest, but also that he would be grateful later for the absence of dust and tangles. She stepped back to watch Cerise work.
There was no denying her life had taken its toll. Her hands had begun to age, her skin not quite as bouncy as it might once have been, her fingers slower. Not that Bethilde’s hands were pristine for her youth anyway. She had enough tiny scars and freckles to match each of Cerise’s wrinkles two-to-one.
“You’ve such a gentle touch, my lady,” Bethilde said. “I envy him for your care. Must I run myself ragged to have you soothe my brow again?”
Bethilde noted the brief stiffening of Cerise’s shoulders and the way her fingers tightened around the brush.
“Grown women don’t need caring for,” she said. “Their duty is to care for others.”
“I see.” Bethilde stepped a little closer. “I’m afraid I don’t know much of that. I would need to practice. Might you lend yourself to that end?”
Cerise scoffed, though Bethilde caught the tail end of a smile as she turned her head.
“Absolutely not.” Bethilde had long since learned that that prim tone hid emotions far softer. “What are they teaching you in Murku if you don’t even know that? It’s a lost cause. I have no time for fruitless endeavours.”
“In Murku? This and that.” Bethilde took advantage of Cerise’s turned back to admire the way her waist slimmed then swelled into the curve of her arse. “I am not meant to be a homemaker. I learned the ways of war. And the gods. And, in my clan, we raise horses. So I know horses. But yes, very little beyond all that.”
Cerise turned and met her eye with a scowl. Bethilde kept her face serene and smiled, fire dancing in her eyes. She could never remember specifics of the things they spoke about once they parted, but there was no denying how much she enjoyed their back and forth.
“I know a little of horses,” Cerise said at length. “I ride well, or at least I used to.”
“I have seen you ride.” Bethilde tilted her head. “Your saddle encumbers you, with one leg to the side like that. I suspect you would prefer to straddle, no?”
Cerise’s head whipped up and she glared, soft flush rising in her cheeks. Bethilde loved to see that fire in her. She smirked, letting her gaze wander lower before climbing back up to Cerise’s face.
“What rot,” Cerise scoffed. “ Ladies do not straddle . It’s unseemly.”
“So you’ve said.” Bethilde stepped in a little closer, her hands itching to reach out and caress the woman who’d haunted her dreams for nearly a full season. “So far you’ve said that about everything fun. I’m starting to think ‘unseemly’ is just your way of saying you’d enjoy it.”
Cerise turned fully now, her back to the coldblood’s side, and raised her chin. She was a couple of inches shorter than Bethilde but the effect was still devastating.
“I find it hard to believe someone your age would know anything about what someone like me enjoys.”
Bethilde suspected Cerise herself had no idea, but she knew better than to say as much. This was the first time she’d managed to get Cerise to admit she might enjoy anything . She was not about to waste the opportunity.
She closed the gap between them and grinned at the tiny shudder that ran through Cerise’s body, watching as her chest began to rise and fall more quickly. She leaned in and felt Cerise’s fingers brush her knuckles, sending shivers of delight through her body. Their faces were close enough that Bethilde could feel the soft swell of Cerise’s breath on her cheek. She leaned in further, her nose brushing just beside Cerise’s eyebrow, and brought her hands up to rest on the older woman’s waist. The warmth that seeped out of her was intoxicating. Bethilde dragged her hands up, catching Cerise’s skirts and lifting them slightly as she spoke.
“Give me an afternoon, and we can find out for sure,” Bethilde suggested, her voice barely louder than a breath, and Cerise’s hands flew up to her shoulders.
Bethilde breathed in a deep, delicious draught of the sweet scent of her skin, then leaned away. She smirked as she stepped back and leaned against the side of the stall. Cerise was visibly flustered. Her lips were slightly parted, her dark eyes all but eclipsed by her pupils blown wide, and her cheeks glowed bright pink. She looked breathtaking. Bethilde took a quiet breath to steady herself as she smirked.
“I think my horse is done now,” she said. “We should let him rest.”
Cerise blinked as though dazed, then nodded, her movements sharp. She made as though to leave.
“Although, there is one more thing you might help me with,” Bethilde let an easy smile play on her lips, her tone laced with the barest hint of suggestion. “If you’ve the time, of course. I do not wish to intrude.”
Cerise stopped, her eyes still vague, and Bethilde wanted to throw her down on a pile of hay on the spot. She sniffed, stiffening her lips, and nodded again.
“Of course,” she replied. “If I can, I shall.”
“I almost caught an arrow,” Bethilde told her, trying not to delight in the brief flash of concern in those gorgeous dark eyes. “It didn’t scratch me, but I think it dinged one of my bodice buckles. It was difficult to remove last time I tried. Could you help me out of it if it’s stiff?”
Cerise moved towards her as though unsure herself what she was doing. Her hand twitched as she came close, as though wanting to reach out but not quite brave enough. Bethilde kept still and quiet, her eyes sharp and her smile soft. She brought her scarred, tanned hand up to her side where her thick leather bodice clasped. She slipped out one strap, then another, then paused.
“It is this one, lady,” she murmured. “I think it just needs some fiddling.”
“I…” Cerise’s eyes lingered over the sliver of Bethilde’s loose blue undershirt revealed by the loosened buckles. “I-I shall certainly do my best.”
Bethilde shifted to allow her better access and watched in silence as Cerise got to work. She took her time nudging the stiff leather out of the twisted buckle, patiently poking and occasionally muttering under her breath as she coaxed it through. Finally, it came away, and Bethilde gave a soft sigh at the sudden release. Cerise swallowed hard and glanced up at her face before quickly looking away.
“It needs mending,” she said. “You should take it to the farrier. He’ll give you better prices than a blacksmith for a new buckle.”
“Thank you.” Bethilde filed that tidbit away, intending to follow the advice. “Truly, you are too good.”
Cerise gave a tight smile and opened her mouth as though to reply, but her voice died in her throat as Bethilde peeled the thick bodice away. Her undershirt hung loose off her and she made sure to expose her shoulder, a large scar from where Ariete had taken training too far one time in their youth snaking down her chest. Cerise noticed it too. Bethilde grinned and shifted the fabric to show more, including where the scar ended on the soft swell of her breast.
“Ladies in Elbiya have no scars, do they?” she asked. Cerise shook her head.
“Not usually,” she replied. “And not like that.”
“You can touch it if you like,” Bethilde offered. “The skin is thicker there. They say it’s harder to scar on top of a scar. It is my second armour.”
For a moment Bethilde thought she might have pushed too far. Cerise pressed her mouth in a thin line, and her brows furrowed. Then she raised her hand, tentative, and traced the edge of it. Bethilde felt goosebumps raise under her soft touch.
“Did it hurt?” Cerise asked. Bethilde considered a moment.
“Some parts hurt more than others. Like here.” She took Cerise by the wrist, careful not to startle her, and drew her fingers to her shoulder. “The skin is thin on the shoulders. It bleeds a lot, and stings. But also… here…” Slowly, carefully, Bethilde pulled Cerise’s wrist down lower, warm currents of electric tension coursing through her veins as those delicate fingers came closer and closer to her breast. “The tit is sensitive. It hurt… but not more than it feels good under softer touches.”
Cerise looked entranced. Bethilde relaxed her grip and watched as the lady kept going, tracing the edges and dipping lower.
“There are creams,” she said, her voice distant. “You should rub them on it… so it fades…”
“Perhaps.” It was such an effort to keep the lust from her tone, but somehow Bethilde thought she managed it. “But I have many scars. Some I cannot reach. It would be difficult alone.”
Cerise took a shaky breath and her eyes darted up again to Bethilde’s face before dropping again. The nervous desire in that gaze made Bethilde wet, though she managed not to react.
“Perhaps I could… if you…”
The offer died in Cerise’s mouth, whatever it might have been, and Bethilde changed track. She was so close. However well she might sleep after a raid, she knew it would be a thousand times better to doze with her head on Cerise’s chest and wake to find her warm in her arms.
“Some are places I can reach,” she continued. “But they are hard to find. Like here.”
So saying, she reached up and tilted Cerise’s head, drawing her attention to her mouth. She parted her lips and wondered if Cerise herself knew why the slow way she let her tongue out made her flush a deeper pink.
“I-I cannot see it,” Cerise murmured.
“Mmm. It is hard to see. But I can feel it.”
Cerise stared at her, wordless, and Bethilde knew she would have no better chance. She leaned in and pressed their mouths together, her free hand wrapping around Cerise’s waist, and licked a stripe over her lips. She tasted of honey and oats, no doubt her breakfast, and Bethilde thought she might never eat anything else again for how good it tasted. Cerise made a little noise and clapped her hands on Bethilde’s shoulders as though to push her away. One hand fell on the exposed scar and seemed to melt into the skin contact.
Bethilde pulled her closer, revelling in the way their bodies fit together and rubbed in all the right places. Cerise made another noise, lower this time, and Bethilde knew she had her. She slid her hands down her body and lifted her easily, making her squeak. But Cerise didn’t struggle. Bethilde had a sour view of the meek subservience abused into the women of Elbiya, but there was no denying it was working in her favour now. She carried Cerise over to the darkest corner of the stable and pressed her into the wall.
“Can you feel it yet, lady?” she asked, her lips dragging over Cerise’s cheek.
“I… I don’t think so…”
Bethilde gave a sigh and kissed her again, this time flicking her tongue over her lower lips and pushing for entrance. Cerise granted it without hesitation. She spread her legs to wrap around the warrior’s waist and grip tight as Bethilde adjusted her weight. Taking the invitation regardless of whether or not it was truly there, Bethilde brought one hand up to finally cup one of the breasts she had dreamed of burying her face in. It was soft and plush, larger perhaps than it might have been if not for five pregnancies. She brushed her thumb over where she judged the nipple might be and was rewarded with a soft moan into her mouth. It was everything Bethilde had dreamed of and more.
She drew her hand slowly over Cerise’s chest until she found the top clasp of her dress, unbuckling it and slipping her hand beneath the fabric. The chemise, an unexpected additional layer, made her pause, but she recovered quickly, finding the collar and resuming her exploration. Soft, yielding skin beneath her fingertips made her lower parts throb, eager to expose them fully and without delay, though she knew such rash action would work against her in the long run.
“Can you feel it yet?” she asked.
“N-n-n… n-no…” Cerise was breathless, her hands gripping hard around Bethilde’s neck. “Try again…”
Bethilde pulled back and was delighted to see the state of her. Her pupils had completely eclipsed her irises, her lips wet and red even in the gloom, and the way she tracked Bethilde’s face with her eyes made the warrior-priestess bite her lip and smirk. She had wondered, over the months, but now she was in no doubt. Cerise wanted her just as badly as she wanted Cerise.
“There is only one solution,” Bethilde told her, reaching up to stroke her cheek. “There are only two places on a woman’s body more sensitive than her mouth. We shall have to try them both.”
Cerise nodded, far too quickly, and Bethilde was sorely tempted to skip straight to the second place.
But this was her chance.
She needed Cerise to know exactly what types of pleasure she could expect if she allowed Bethilde to court her. And Bethilde intended to enjoy every part of her, as often as she could. She fumbled with the second clasp and tugged the front lacings of the chemise until the collar loosened. With eager hands, she slipped inside, groaning at the soft give and pert nipple between her fingers. Cerise gave a shaky moan. Her fingers twitched behind Bethilde’s ears as the warrior pulled the chemise properly away, kneading gently and taking her time. She thought she could feel the heat of Cerise’s arousal through all the layers. By the time she was ready to get on her knees, she hoped the dress would be soaked.
“B-Bethilde…” Cerise breathed.
“Hush, lady,” Bethilde replied. “We must not disturb my horse, or he will roll next time I try to ride him.”
Cerise gave a soft whine as Bethilde caught her nipple between her fingers and rolled, the firm nub flushed almost as dark as her cheeks. There was a real danger of them being overheard. Bethilde had no interest in fending off gawkers, nor did she think Cerise would appreciate having such an intimate moment disrupted, so she pressed their mouths together again and swallowed every helpless noise Cerise made as she came undone. Bethilde shifted to ease the stickiness in her loincloth, rapidly descending into a lust-addled haze, and Cerise gave a squeak. Bethilde smirked and shifted again. Her hip rubbed the warmth between Cerise’s legs and Bethilde could have sworn she felt her twitch.
“Does it feel good, my lady?” she asked.
Cerise gasped, her eyelids fluttering half-closed, and Bethilde wondered if she’d ever felt pleasure like this before. She wouldn’t put it past any Elbiyan man to ignore the sweetest part of a woman, idiot children that they all were.
“Cover your mouth,” she instructed with a quick grin. “For my horse’s sake. And let us see what you can feel.”
Cerise obeyed, pressing her hand over her lips and resting the other on Bethilde’s shoulder as the warrior lifted her higher. Her breast hung full and supple right before Bethilde’s eyes. She could see stretch marks lining the underside, a beautiful tapestry of the life she’d led and the things she’d experienced, and Bethilde nuzzled gently at the soft skin with her nose. Cerise’s scent was stronger here. No doubt she’d dabbed a little of that intoxicating floral scent on her breastbone, and Bethilde traced her tongue over where that dab might be. A muffled cry from above her made her grin.
She stuck out her tongue and pressed the flat of it against Cerise, delighting in the exquisite taste of her and wandering across her breast until she found her target. Cerise was definitely getting warmer between her legs. Bethilde groaned and rubbed against her again, slow and firm, as she circled her nipple with her tongue and grazed the tip of it with her teeth. A glance up informed her that Cerise would likely not be able to hold her own weight right now. The lady’s eyes were closed, both hands pressed hard against her mouth, a couple of strands of her immaculate bun catching against the wood grain behind her. Bethilde wanted her too badly to resist. She straightened up, her green eyes flashing with desire as she tugged what felt like endless blasted skirts out of her way.
The Elbiyans wore braies. Bethilde had heard about the strange underwear from Rune, but seeing them in person was far less intimidating than she’d expected. There was even a neat little bow to keep them up. She tugged it loose and dove in, gasping at the short thatch of hair she found and following it down to her prize.
Cerise was soaking wet. Bethilde traced the outline of her folds and was rewarded with a tremor and a muffled moan. Cerise opened her eyes and looked up at her, so many emotions swirling in her expression that Bethilde could hardly keep track. She watched Cerise without blinking as she eased her open and traced down to her entrance, her own pussy throbbing and eager. There was no resistance as she sank in to the knuckle. With how wet she was, Bethilde doubted Cerise could have stopped her if she’d tried, but by the way her back arched she was in no hurry for it to end. She took a deep, trembling breath through her nose and leaned in, pressing her face against Bethilde’s neck and gasping out a muffled plea by the tone of it.
“I will taste you soon,” Bethilde told her in a husky undertone. “I have dreamed of it since I met you. I will show you all the ways you deserve to be enjoyed.”
Cerise clutched her tighter, her legs twitching, and Bethilde dragged a stripe up from her entrance to the glorious nub above it, her finger slick as she stroked it. A gush of slick wet her further and Bethilde took her time, coaxing whimpers and moans from Cerise on every breath and stifling her own noises of appreciation so she could focus on her task.
Cerise’s breasts pressed against hers, both molding perfectly to each other, but something was missing. She’d craved full body contact for so long. Bethilde pulled away and stripped her shirt one-handed. She kept Cerise against the wall with her hip and tickled her entrance again to keep her wet.
“O-oh…” Cerise’s gaze fell to Bethilde’s exposed body and her eyes widened. Bethilde doubted she’d ever seen a woman who looked like her. From what she could tell, Elbiyan women were all soft homemakers, even if they worked. The kind of muscle definition and scars Bethilde had achieved were only for men. And that wasn’t even starting on her tattoos. She smiled.
“I’ll let you touch in a minute,” she said. “But for now, I’m happy as I am.”
Cerise nodded and closed her eyes, her brows knit, then tipped her head back against the wall. Bethilde leaned in to kiss her exposed throat. Cerise’s moans grew more wanton, her fingers tightening in Bethilde’s hair.
“Oh… oh gods, Bethilde, something is… I can feel…”
“Be calm, lady. That is my goal.” She rubbed a little more firmly against the spot that seemed to be eliciting that reaction, and felt another gush of slick, the muscles beginning to tighten.
“Oh gods…” She sounded on the verge of tears. “Oh… oh, Bethilde…”
The stable door crashed open, and Bethilde was ready to murder whoever was calling her name.