I stare in her eyes, waiting for what Leomi has to say, but she seems to be stuck looking into mine. I feel a cold sweat roll down my back as I suddenly realize that she might have spotted the glow in mine. Yet, I can’t move away because she’s holding my cheeks, it would be too odd for me to shake her off.
“No, I agree. This is why I wanted to hide that side of me.” Leomi says with a stringed smile, sounding dazed. She shakes her head a bit before I can determine what stunned her, whether it was my words or my eyes. “You’re too good to me at times, you’re going to think that I’m repressing myself when I don’t allow that part of me to emerge.”
“You won’t?” I blink. “Wait, no, I don’t get it. You didn’t want me to know the extent of your desires because I’ll think you’re unhappy if you don’t express it?”
“It’s…” Leomi pauses, biting her lower lip. “Yes.”
“Isn’t that exactly repressing yourself?” I ask.
“No, maybe.” Leomi takes a moment, looking like she regrets having started this conversation. “I want to witness all of you, every single facet. The more I’ve found out about you, the more my feelings have grown. It is far from all good but love isn’t merely a positive emotion. Mine encompasses all that you are, good and bad.” Leomi confesses.
“I want that as well.” I whisper, shifting my head to the side to kiss the inside of her wrist. Leomi smiles and caresses my cheeks with her thumbs.
“Making you suffer doesn’t make me happy, my little Jay.” Leomi murmurs. “It brings me joy, pleasure, sadness, guilt. But most of all, it causes cracks in our relationship which is already filled with fissures. I want to be happy almost as much as I want you to be happy so… I don’t want to let that part of myself ruin it for us.”
“What if I want you to be yourself?” I ask, unwilling to be with half the woman I fell for. “I want the whole of you.” I add in a rough voice to impress on her how serious I am.
“If you want to see that side, of course I would show it to you, but would you want to induce me if it’s not at my initiation?” Leomi asks. “Would that be me?”
“I…” I pause. “Perhaps not, I don’t know enough about you.” I admit sadly. I thought that her sadism was purely planned out and that she only awaits the opportunity but it sounds like she gets triggered on impulse.
“There are many things in us that we can’t explain, Jay. We can only slowly figure it out.” Leomi smiles. “Let me manage my…”
“Darkness?” I reflexively suggest. I feel her fingers shake on my cheeks.
“The word fits.” Leomi acknowledges with a tremble in her voice.
“Well, it’s better than Red Dwarf.” I note, pouting. “I’m not that short.”
“Of course, you’re the giant of my heart.” Leomi grins.
She leans in and drops a peck on my lips. She retreats so I push up with my feet and get on the tip of my toes to seize a real kiss out of her. Leomi’s eyes widen, looking panicked as I suck her lower lip in to taste it her fragrant saliva and nibble it.
“Jay.” Leomi whispers shakily.
She pulls back so I hurriedly let go of the pulp of her lip for fear of hurting her. I would love to drink a bit of her blood but our conversation put me on my guard. We both need to be careful. Leomi takes a moment to catch herself.
“Let’s go.” I tell her.
“Mhm.” Leomi nods before throwing a stealthy look over her shoulder, looking concerned and confused.
“What is it?” I ask, nervous because I made a mistake letting her bring me into a dark alley with the state of my eyes.
“No… I don’t know.” She shakes her head.
We set out, side by side. My hand brushes hers as we make our way but that’s it. The conversation touched on a subject that left us excited, any more than this and we might not be able to stop ourselves.
“Who’s that Ms Conner?” Leomi asks as we step out of the alley.
I throw her a glance and follow her gaze, catching the moment when the woman turns away from us. I ponder about how to reply and decide not to spoil our mood by going over my family’s issues.
“Her family is probably the wealthiest behind the Millers. The smith was just as rich but the lack of iron screwed that up.” I tell her. “That being said, she’s more influential than the Millers because she has a general store so everyone depends on their family.”
“Ah.” Leomi nods. “It would be wise to go buy supplies then, if only to end the animosity before it grows.”
“You mean what you said rebuking her? I doubt there is a need, she knows I owe her for the help she offered when the rest of the village was unwilling.” I tell Leomi, remaining fuzzy about the details. “Not to mention that she manages what the village owes me for other things, she knows I don’t have a reason to take issue with her.”
“That’s even more reason for us to settle it.” Leomi tells me with a sigh. “If you don’t want me to interfere, I’ll stay out of it but it can’t hurt for you to be a bit sociable.”
I ponder her words, catching the meaning behind them. Leomi is trying to make sure that I’ll be doing well after she leaves. It feels odd to find out that she is planning ahead for when she has to leave, in case I don’t follow her.
“You’re right, I owe her so I shouldn’t be ungrateful and let you bully the poor woman.” I tease.
“I was just protecting what’s mine.” Leomi grins, looking down and over her shoulder, clearly staring at my behind.
I allow her because her words and gaze please me, it’s fine by me to let her enjoy. Especially because it allows me to sneak a look at her perfect breasts. They’re so cute, small, sexy, and she’s so sensitive…
“That Ms is trying to be discreet but she keeps glancing at us.” Leomi notes, waking me up. “I’m going to go to the butcher’s, do you want to meet at the gates or back to your house?” She asks.
“Hm. I like the idea of you waiting for me but a peasant doesn’t have that kind of time to waste.” I shake my head.
“A peasant?” Leomi blinks. “I’m a peasant now?” She asks.
“There is no need for your title here so I expect you to act as my equal.” I reply, throwing her a glance. “You’re mine.” I add with finality.
“I’m not complaining, was just asking.” Leomi hurriedly explains. “Well… I guess I have to go then.” She says, turning to throw a reluctant look forward.
I reach out to the small of her back and push her ahead. A Leomi Lance working on our farm isn’t a sight I can miss out on, I won’t get another opportunity. Leomi takes a rigid first step before straightening her back and heading out with purpose.
Leomi doesn’t turn around, even as Ms Conner leaves the crowd and walks over to me. I remain there, unfazed even though I didn’t predict that she would come over to talk. It does make sense that she would avoid the Countess after how she was rebuked.
“Ms Conner.” I greet.
“Jessica.” The middle-aged woman awkwardly salutes. “My condolences for the loss of your father, he was a good man.” I nod stiffly and push my emotions down. These four snitches clearly ran their mouths after seeing me dig a grave. “You’ve grown more than it appeared.” Ms Conner notes, quickly changing the subject.
“Knowing her is growing?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s a step up in the world.” Ms Conner explains.
“It isn’t. I have no intention of depending on her.” I pause. “No, you’re right, the mere fact that I’m acquainted with Lady Lance will affect the way others act towards me in many ways.” I sigh at the fact that my pride keeps making me overlook this fact. “You shouldn’t worry, the Countess won’t be using her authority in relation to the village.”
“Good.” Ms Conner breathes out in relief. “It worried me, almost as much as it concerns me that she came specifically for you.”
“How so?” I ask, finding myself squinting my eyes.
“Are you certain that the Lady is looking out for your best interests?” Ms Conner asks carefully. “Nobles have different… values.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure she wants to play me.” I smirk. “But you don’t have to worry.”
“Just be careful, alright?” Ms Conner asks with a thin smile and a concerned expression. “The village can’t protect you if you disappoint such a person.” She warns.
“What do you mean?” I ask, curious.
“You apparently have some fame to your name, if she made you an offer, perhaps it might be best to refuse it in the nicest possible way?” Ms Conner tells me with a deep frown.
“You think she would go back on her word?” I question.
“I don’t know, but what recourse could you possibly have once on her lands? Elizabeth Vil followed her but ended up exiled from the Izla without a reward even after killing the cruel Count Odo. Of course, such a woman deserves her end for consorting with the Rykz and the killings she took part in, but she lost even with how powerful she is. What would happen to you if you found yourself in the middle of these schemes? The Lady Countess lives in a different world than ours, she led the Izla through the war and that can’t be achieved without making difficult choices.” Ms Conner explains in a low tone of voice. “Besides, it’s been told time and again that these two women have a very close relationship. It could very well be dangerous for you to simply be by this Lady’s side.”
“Heh.” I can’t help but chuckle. “Thanks, but you don’t need to worry for me or the village.” I force myself to face reality. “I’m likely to be gone by spring so you won’t suffer. I’m far from defenseless, even if the Lady and I split on bad terms.”
“If you say so.” Ms Conner nods but doesn’t seem convinced. “It is hard for me to imagine that Lady Countess Lance would behave inappropriately considering how helpful her Hospitaliers are but remember that Nobles are rarely caught for their wrongdoings and rarely punished even if they are found out. Once in her lands and surrounded by her people… will you have any recourse to rely on if she decides to change your agreement? Or, more likely, if her court decides a low born isn’t qualified?”
“Thank you for your advice, Ms Conner. I’ll think about what you said but I can handle myself.” I tell her with an air of finality. It would take too much effort to explain the situation with all that I have to hide. “Speaking of which, I’m going to need a supply of nails, a few dozen planks, and a hammer.”
“That’s not a problem, how about I call Frank over to help you with the carriage?” Ms Conner proposes.
“That would be helpful if he’s free.” I agree because it would take me several trips otherwise.
“Oh, he will be.” Ms Conner smiles knowingly.
“I’ll pay him back with lunch, I have leftovers…” I trail off, noticing a bit late that Ms Conner has something on her mind. “What is it?” I ask.
“What do you think of Frank?” She returns a question instead of answering.
“I don’t know much about him.” I reply with a shrug.
“Well, he has high hopes of promotion. He’s very likely to leave the village in a few months.” Ms Conner says, her eyes seem to almost gleam as she inspects my reaction.
“Good for him.” I respond politely. He’s a bastard Noble, it’s sad but not surprising that he’ll be promoted once his role here ends.
“He’ll make a good man for someone hoping to make a life out of the village.” Ms Conner comments a bit too innocently.
Wait. Is she trying to set me up? The fact she’s trying to play matchmaker is more surprising to me than how she’s ignoring my preference for women. Why would she intrude on…
I suddenly understand why she’s been so nosy, it’s because I’m alone without an elder to arrange my future. She’s telling me this now because she thinks it’s a huge mistake for me to follow Leomi, she’s trying to give me an alternative.
“I appreciate your good will.” I say with a flat voice. “But I like women.”
“You’re not so young anymore, Jessica, and he has an interest in you.” Ms Conner presses. “You have to think of making a family. I’m sure if you tell him that nothing happened between you, he’ll choose to believe it once the Lady departs. Even if there is a sign that it isn’t true, it will not be an issue if you strike while the iron is hot.”
“Ms Conner.” I utter as I rise to my full height. I barely even have to raise my chin to look her in the eyes. “I’m not interested in the least. I won’t even remain on the Izla. Don’t waste your efforts on me.”
“It isn’t a waste.” She shakes her head, looking regretful. “The village hasn’t taken good care of you, even hindered your family because of Buton. Frank is a good man and you’re hardworking, the pair of you would make reliable parents.”
“I’ll find him myself, please don’t intercede.” I tell Ms Conner, trying not to sound too harsh.
She nods with a thin smile so I leave without another word. Her proposal cuts deep into my heart. Ever since I discovered how much I want to have children while discussing with Cetyz, it’s been a weight on my heart.
Yet, I want to have them with my loved ones, not with a random person just because they are able. I shake my head and leave the Temple behind to make my way towards the village’s new entrance, thinking that I’m likely to find Frank there.
I find him and Hale guarding the open gates, talking around a small fire. They turn to me as I approach. I feel slightly awkward under the former’s gaze considering what I just learned but I quickly shake it off.
“I need one of you to help carry some planks back home, I’ll feed you lunch in return.” I directly tell them.
“I’ll take that.” Hale surprisingly speaks up.
Frank doesn’t react much, he merely lies back against the wall he’s sitting against. I can’t really read much into it, it’s either relief or he’s just settling back because his friend took the task. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me.
Hale goes off to get the carriage while I make my way to the general store where I pick up the nails and hammer from Ms Conner’s daughter. Kid number one to three are there as well but they don’t say a word.
I find it somewhat regretful that they’re very unlikely to challenge me again, it would have been fun to step on them a bit more if they gave me the excuse. I shake my head as I step out, putting them off my mind.
It’s all behind me now, regardless of my issues with them, our lives won’t cross paths again once I leave. I find Hale in front of the carpenter’s workshop. The man is broad-shouldered but mild in personality.
He helps us load up a few dozen planks and even proposes to come over to help me with rebuilding my furniture. I refuse without hesitating, the village might owe me but his time isn’t cheap. I would rather not take advantage since he’s giving me the wood for free, and even agrees to lend me a saw.
Half my reason I refuse might be that I look forward to working on this with Leomi. I don’t wait for her as I immediately head back home with Hale, guiding the donkey myself. I would rather he leave before Leomi returns, especially if the reason he volunteered was to get to meet her.
I light up a fire and set the pot over the burning logs while we discharge the planks together, stacking them up inside. There’s enough here to make a couple of chairs, a small table, and a shelf.
Hale has lunch as soon as we’re done without me even pressuring him and leaves quickly after. I set out to check the traps I set to catch hares, finding them all empty. It turns out that these buggers just refuse to get caught.
I pick up all the slipknots I left but leave the sticks since they have no value. The stupid hares were probably caught. I shrug as I return home, thinking that the boar will suffice to feed us for a month. Leomi welcomes me at the door.
“When will the meat be ready?” I ask.
“A couple days.” She replies.
“Perfect.” I nod. “The food is still warm, let’s eat.”
We settle together on the log again to eat. After the meal, I spread the planks out and pick up a piece of coal from the ground as well as a length of cord to use as a ruler. Leomi takes the hand saw and sets out to cut the planks where I mark them.
The afternoon goes by without me even realizing, we even finish the first chair in spite of our lack of experience. We barely even needed to speak to coordinate, a quarter of an hour was enough for us to get into the rhythm.
“It looks a bit… rudimentary.” I note, staring at the chair.
“My standards are too high, I can’t give you an objective opinion.” Leomi responds apologetically.
“Well, it’ll do.” I smile.
“We made it ourselves after all.” Leomi grins.