It was no more than two days before she was called to the chief’s great room once more. She flushed furiously as she entered, seeing the handsome row of warriors lining the room. Betrean was there, and his eyes narrowed as they met hers. She looked away, nervous and unsure.
The chief grinned, beckoning to her. “Come, come, my starchild! Your cure has taken effect. Your father was a generous, and you are a clever woman.”
She smiled, drawn in by the older man’s cheery exclamation. He stood, coming to embrace her. Days earlier, his legs were too stiff and weak to stand.“As you have given me an extension on my life, I wish for you to have the happy life you desire.”
He gestured to the men surrounding him. “These are my most treasured men. I only called those without mates.” He looked to the men now. “One of you will become the mate of our beloved starchild, the woman, Helena who has cured me.” He returned his gaze to her then. “Go on, my dear. Choose.”
She nodded, nervously, and walked down the line, seeming to examine each one, until she came to Betrean. There was no need to examine him. She knew him, she loved him, she wanted him and only him. Far too nervous to raise her gaze to meet his eye, she whispered softly. “This man, this warrior, I wish for his companionship.”
“Well, then. It will be done!”
Betrean scoffed. “My lord, I protest. I must continue my line, how can you expect me to mate with this…” he gestured to her, his voice scornful. She stiffened.
“Do you not find our starchild to be lovely?”
“She is not a Teagean!” Betrean protested. “I must continue my line, I cannot mate with this…” he let his words trail off again, unable to even bring himself to acknowledge her as even the starchild, let alone a woman.
“Woman, she is a woman, Betrean, a charming, smart and valuable woman. She is as much a Teagean as any.”
Her heart sank, and she could feel her cheeks flush hot. “My lord, if he will not have me…”
The chief shook his head fiercely. “No, you asked for a mate in exchange for the cure. Your cure has brought back my health and so your request I will grant.” He met Betrean’s gaze, and the old chief’s eyes were hard. “Do you dare refuse my request again?”
“No, my lord,” Betrean murmured in defeat.
“Good boy, now join hands and I will bind you.” Betrean obeyed, snatching her hand and gripping it tight, his eyes never meeting hers. She could see from his profile, though, that his eyes were burning with anger at being forced into matting against his will. The old chief produced a long green vine, and took their joined hands, binding them together. “Before this gathering I bind you, together, mated as the cretilleans do, for life. As their songs greet us each new morning and remind us of the joys of life, you two are awaking on the morning of your new life together.” The old chief nodded, proud of his handy work. “Now go on and celebrate with your family and friends.”
* * *
Celebrations were not had. Once they had left the chamber, it was only due to his mother’s presence that Betrean didn’t rip the binding from his hand then and there. Instead, he waited until his beloved mother had ushered them into the room that was to house them both on their first night together. He pulled the binding vine loose loose and glared at her.
“What are you playing at Helena? My life is not a game.” His voice was a low growl, and she shuddered, suddenly fearful.
“I am not playing, Betrean, I wish for a normal life, for love with you…”
He laughed scornfully. “I cannot have a life with you! You cannot bear me a heir! You are not one of us, no matter how hard you play at it, no matter how much you wish it.”
She sighed heavily, fighting back tears. “I wish for nothing more…”
He gave her a long, appraising look. “I will be leaving tonight. I have other duties to attend to. But I will give you this parting gift. If you can get this necklace from around my neck,” he gestured to the leather necklace adorned with the rare gems passed down generation after generation through the elder lines, “and carry my child, only then will I consider you my own.”
She nodded, realizing the challenge he put forth was nearly impossible if he did not wish it.
* * *
Betrean was gone long days hunting amongst the trees, and came home late at night. He never touched her.. To add to her insult, rumors came to her of his pursuit of the common girl, her only friend, Dialeana. He was smitten, determined to gain her favor, or at least a place in her bed. To Dialeana’s credit, the girl had not given in.
While Betrean was out hunting, Helena paid the Dialeana a visit. When they were seated in the kitchen of her Dialeana's family, sipping herb tea, she finally broached the question. “Dialeana, there are rumors.”
The girl did not hesitate. “We are friends, are we not, Helena? I assure you, I would no sooner entertain that scoundrel’s desire than I would go chasing butterflies in the chasm.”
Helena laughed, relieved. “I didn’t think so. You are a good woman.” Helena stared down into her cup, pondering. “I was wondering, though, if you might help me. I hear you mother is ailing and I have one last vial of the herbal cure my father developed…”
The girl rose to her feet so quickly that Helena feared she’d offended the younger woman. Instead, the long limbed beauty flung her arms around her. “I will help you in any way you wish!”
* * *
That evening, the young Teagean common woman called the warrior Betrean to her home and told him of her proposal. “Tonight, once the world is fully and truly dark and my father is deep in sleep, come to my bedchamber. I will leave the window open. Slip inside. Bring no light.”
He nodded, enticed by this proposal. “Oh, my dear Dialeana, I am so glad you have come feel about me as I do about you. I will find away out of this foolish pairing. I wish for you, a strong and beautiful Teagean to bear my child. You may be a common girl, not one of the elder lines, but I don’t care. You are…”
She raised her finger to his lips then, stilling his words. “Come tonight, but now, you must go. My father will return soon.”
He nodded, and was gone. Helena emerged from the adjoining room, and produced a vial. She’d already given the cure to Dialeana’s mother. This vial held a powerful intoxicant.
“Slip this into his wine tonight. Insist that he drink. You must excuse yourself almost immediately, though, dousing the light as you do so. Tell him to wait on the bed.”
Dialeana grinned. “You surprise me, Helena. You have become quite cunning in your pursuit of your mate.”
Helena blushed, and dropped her gaze. “I am simply doing what I must to win him. I won him as a mate in the eyes of our people, now I must win him for himself.”
Dialeana giggled. “You are such a romantic.”
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bit·ter·sweet: being at once bitter and sweet; especially: pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret. A collection of short stories I've written since joining Wattpad for various contests, challenges and publications. The...