Hilda’s heart raced as they landed a half mile from a village on the Fódlan side of Fódlan’s Throat, hid Luliwa’s saddle and tack, and made their way into town. The town chapel was small, and for a donation, the priest was willing to marry them right away. It wasn’t the way she’d envisioned her wedding. There were no fancy outfits, no lavish feast, no elaborate flower displays. But it was everything she needed. She and Claude—she was really going to have to start calling him Khalid—knelt before the altar, the village weaver serving as their witness while the priest performed the ceremony. When Claude kissed her at the end, it felt like her heart would burst from her chest.
His grin was the biggest she’d ever seen it as they strolled to the inn. The building also served as the village’s only tavern. Claude sauntered up to the barkeep, still grinning, and put an arm around Hilda. “I’d like to inquire about a room for me and my wife,” he said.
The barkeeper—who was also the innkeeper—and Claude haggled and exchanged funds for the key. Then Claude climbed up on a barstool, threw his arms wide, and exclaimed, “A round of drinks on me! I just married the love of my life!”
The room erupted in cheers. Someone produced a fiddle, another a drum, and the patrons dragged tables out of the way. Claude took her by the hand, and they fumbled through country dances. The locals made good-natured fun of their skills. Hilda and Claude whirled among them and laughed.
They stopped dancing long enough to eat a simple but hearty meal. Claude requested sweet buns first. When they arrived, Claude tore one apart and handed her half.
“In Almyra,” he said, “the first meal the couple eats together must start with something sweet, so that their marriage will be sweet as well. Then they feed each other their first bite, so that they may always provide for each other and share their joy.”
He held up his half of the bun, she held up hers, and they took a bite of each other’s portion. Claude’s lips closed around her fingers, and an electric jolt shot through her. She hadn’t felt something like that in a long time. His eyes sparkled at her as he chewed. She’d never seen him look so happy. It had been a long time since such happiness had swelled her heart, too.
They tucked into the rest of their meal of roast game hen with berry sauce and turnips on the side and finished with another sweet bun apiece. Wine and ale flowed, and soon the entire tavern was roaring with drunken laughter.
“You have some sugar on your face,” Claude said. He leaned forward and licked the corner of her mouth. A shiver ran the length of her.
“So, wife.” His smile was slow and seductive. “Interested in going upstairs? We might want to take advantage of all this noise. I don’t think the walls in this place are particularly thick.”
Claude took her hand and led her up the stairs. No one seemed to notice them leave. They went to the room at the end of the hall. Claude carried her across the threshold and locked the door. It was a simple room—only a couple of chairs and a bed. Hilda didn’t want or need anything else.
“I love you,” Claude said as he laid her down on the bed. “I’m yours forever.”
Hilda exhaled, closing her eyes as he kissed her throat. “I love you, too.”
“You know all my secrets.”
“You know mine.”
“Then I guess there’s nothing separating us. Well, except these pesky clothes. Let’s see what we can do about that, shall we?”
His hands, his mouth, the strength and beauty of his body…Hilda hadn’t realized how much she’d missed them until they touched each other. Every kiss and caress said a thousand words, but all of them meant love. They took their time reacquainting themselves with one another, exploring old favorite spots and searching for new ones. He entered her easily. It took a little while to find their rhythm, but when they did, Hilda had never felt anything like it. Claude’s fingers laced with hers as she wrapped her legs around him tighter. They breathed more heavily, their bodies slick with sweat. Hilda arched as the pleasure inside her built until she thought she’d burst. Her mind went blank and white as the orgasm slammed through her. She moaned and clawed at his back, but Claude just chuckled.
“I’m not done yet,” he said.
He hooked her ankles over his shoulders, but Hilda barely noticed. Her body grew heavy and limp. He whispered Almyran in her ear as he caressed all the spots that revived the fires inside her.
“Say you’re mine,” he said between his teeth as his body tightened above her.
“You’re mine what?”
Hilda gripped his arms. “I’m yours forever, Khalid.”
“Hilda,” he said, panting, and redoubled his efforts.
Just as she was getting close a second time, Claude buried himself to the hilt, his strokes deepening and lengthening. He trembled as he came, which triggered her orgasm. They clung to each other, gulping air.
“You’re amazing.” The pillow muffled Claude’s voice. “I’m so happy you’re my wife.”
“You make me a happy wife. And a spoiled one, right?”
“Of course. Can’t help myself.”
“Maybe if you’re good, I’ll spoil you, too.”
“You already do.” He pushed himself up on his elbow. “I mean it. You’re my sun and moon.”
“And you’re mine.” Hilda ran her fingers through his sweat-matted chest hair. “I can’t wait to change the world with you.”
Claude kissed her and rolled off. She snuggled into his side, just like she always had. This was where she belonged. No matter where in the world they were, as long as she could be with him, she was home.
“What happens now?” Hilda asked.
“We get some rest, wake up, and do it all over again.”
“That’s not what I meant. You’re the crown prince of Almyra. I don’t imagine you get to just stay with me until your father steps down.”
Claude sighed and kissed her fingertips. “Sorry, my brain doesn’t want to work right now.”
“I always knew your brain was in your—”
“Ouch. Okay, fine. I’ll have to go back eventually. Do you want to come with me? It might not be the safest. I’ll have some work to do cementing my position, but I’d love to have you there. I’ve learned my lesson.”
Hilda took a deep breath as something twinged inside her. “I…I can’t. Not yet.”
“I understand. Then I’ll visit whenever I can. Every three months at the absolute minimum. I’m planning on making some diplomatic trips to Brigid, Dagda, and Morfis. I’d be honored if you’d accompany me.”
“Of course.” She glanced up at him. She loved how thick and dark his eyelashes were. “I’ll have Holst teach me more Almyran. I’ve heard him speak it.”
“He actually seems to know a lot about our culture. Her certainly understands our military structure and tactics.”
“Then I have a lot to learn. Bring me new things to study each time you visit.”
Claude cracked an eye open and smiled at her. “Did I just hear Hilda Valentine Goneril say ‘study’?”
“No. You must be losing your mind. It would have to be something more important than anything else for me to actually study.”
He snorted and kissed her on the forehead.
They slept and made love again in the morning. When they went down to breakfast, they learned of a cabin higher up in the mountains they could rent for a couple of weeks. They jumped at the chance. It was rustic, but it was private, and situated not too far from a natural hot spring. By the time they had to leave to go back to the manor, Hilda’s heart was full.
Holst gave them a talking to when they arrived, but really, her whole family was happy for them. Claude got to sleep in her bed without having to sneak down the hall, which was an excellent change. He stayed two more days, and then he needed to go.
“I’ll write every day,” Claude said as he kissed Hilda in the manor’s drive. Pearl snorted and bumped Hilda with her nose.
“I will, too. I’ll miss you.”
“It’s only for a while. We were apart for almost five years. We can weather this.”
“No more secrets,” she said, tapping him on the end of the nose.
He smiled, and her heart lurched at the sight. “No more secrets.”
Claude—no, Khalid—kissed her once more before he climbed up on Pearl. “See you soon.”
“Not soon enough,” she said with a smile.
Hilda watched until Pearl was lost among the clouds. She might have shed a few tears, but they quickly dried. Then she turned and went inside to talk to Holst.
She had a lot of work she had to make him do if she was going to become queen.