Arit lay trembling in the dark tent. She had no idea when the men would disband and her terror would begin. Three days ago she had been safe and sound in her bed with her sisters when her mother had come and taken her, her few belongings, and placed them into a wagon, kissing her daughter and wishing her peace.
Arit would never see her family again. Today she had been married off to a stranger in a strange land and now awaited his completion of the contract.
She had known it was a possibility, but somehow never believed her father would do it to her. It happened among her people with some frequency. A travelling trader or craftsman would come through their village and contract for an unmarried woman to take as his wife, or sometimes for a son or nephew, and she would disappear, never to be seen again.
After travelling in a small, covered wagon for more than a day, Arit had heard the sounds of village life filter through the rough walls. Not long after, two women had roughly pulled her from the wagon and rushed her into a women’s tent where they proceeded to scrub her from tip to toe, then bathe her in scented oils and torture her hair into a tight knot on top of her head.
They gowned her in a fitted robe that never would have been allowed in her own village, veiled her face and head so that she could only see the vague outlines of things, then paraded her to a gathering of men where they left her seated on a stool raised up on some kind of small stage.
The men then came and stared at her, pointing and commenting in a language similar to her own, but just enough different that she only understood part of what they were saying. It seemed they were discussing her merits as a wife, whether she would breed well, how enjoyable owning her might be, and, as the night drew late and the men became drunk, what her attributes in the bedroom might be.
Arit was horrified by all of this, but terrified to move, to try to escape. No one touched her at least.
When the room finally became quiet and Arit was practically sliding from the stool in exhaustion, someone led her out of the men’s tent and back to the women who disrobed her and placed her on a mat in their midst.
There she was watched constantly up until this morning when she was robed in a flowing red gown and veil and taken to another gathering of men where she was married. She was never asked a thing, never spoke a word, never saw her husband. Now she lay waiting for him to commit the act her mother and aunt had told her about just a few months earlier.
She shivered, even though the night was warm, the tent stuffy. Her mother had tried to soften the blow of learning what would be expected of her as a wife, while her aunt had been full of dire warnings. While mother had come to love father and found their joinings not entirely unpleasant, Aunt Unyime found the act abhorrent. Arit thought her mother soon regretted letting her aunt join them for that talk, when her aunt insisted on explaining just how painful the first time was, and how men enjoyed it so much, they attempted to make it painful always.
Mother disagreed, but her gentle manner prevented her arguing with her sister.
Arit would soon form her own opinion. The sounds of merriment were decreasing, and she shivered again in trepidation. The tent was dark but for one small lamp on the hook near the door. Arit wished there was somewhere to hide, but the tent was bare except for that one lamp and the animal skins on which she lay. She had not even been given anything but a single length of sheer fabric with which to cover her body.
Men were approaching. Their voices were low, the tone joking. A deep rumble came from just outside the door, saying thanks, and wishing the other’s peace.
After a pause, the flap raised and a bear of a man entered quickly, snuffing the lantern as he passed.
Arit held her breath as he appeared to remove his outer robes in the darkness. She found herself scooting up the skins, pressing back against the wall. The man suddenly sat at the end of the skin bed.
“Wife?” he asked, voice deep and low, with perhaps just a hint of insecurity.
Arit didn’t know what to do. If he reached out a hand, he would find her, cringing up the bed. “Yes,” she squeaked out in a tiny voice.
“I am Obele,” he replied, more confident, but still quiet, barely more than a growl.
She didn’t speak. He would know her name already, and she really had nothing to say to him.
Obele moved toward her, and she cringed. He must have felt her movement, because he stopped, lowering his reaching hand to his side.
“I do not mean you harm, wife. I wish only to hold your hand, with your permission,” he explained.
Before she knew what she was saying, Arit responded,
“I do not think that is the only thing required this night.”
She bit her tongue the moment it was said. Such a bold thing had never before crossed her lips to any male. She would not be surprised if he struck her for it.
After a moment of silence, a deep rumbling laugh emanated from the man.
“Oh, you are right there, my wife. But I do not feel the need to rush you. I thought we could take some time to become acquainted. Would you come a little closer?”
Arit moved a few inches closer. “Why did you extinguish the light?”
“I thought you might be more comfortable in the dark. Would you prefer it back on?”
Arit was surprised he had been concerned with her comfort.
“Yes please. I would like to see with whom it is I speak,” she felt silly speaking so formally, but she wanted to be understood, and her dialect was different enough from his that it made her nervous, changing her speech patterns.
He laughed again, but lit the lantern and placed it near the head of the bed. She looked at him as he went about this little task, noticing his solid build, dark hair and skin, and tall stature.
“Is that more to your liking?” he asked, smiling at her.
She gasped! He was very handsome, smiling, eyes glittering in the lantern light. He waited, and she remembered he had asked her a question.
“Yes. Thank you…Obele,” she said his name shyly. She had never spoken to a man outside her family before and never referred to one by his first name.
“You are quite beautiful, Arit,” he said, reaching his hand out toward hers.
She let him lay his hand over hers, then lift her hand and wrap his around it. His hand was so large and warm. She felt a tingle at the base of her neck.
He was still smiling at her, and she didn’t know what to say or do. She had not expected to sit and talk with her new husband and had no clue how to talk to a man.
“I am sorry my father purchased you so abruptly from your family. I had asked that he approach your family for an engagement, but he did not wish to return in a month to collect you, preferring to bring you here immediately.”
“You asked for me specifically? But how did you even know of me?” Arit asked, confused.
“I saw you, just briefly, a year ago when I travelled through your village with my father. I have thought of you often since. You were chasing a toddler who had wandered away from the women. You caught the child up in your arms, both of you giggling with delight. I couldn’t help but hope to hear that laughter again.”
Arit did not remember the time in particular and was very surprised it had made an impression on the man before her. She smiled shyly and looked away.
“Please don’t turn away from me, Arit. I don’t mean to make you self-conscious.” He reached out his free hand and touched her face, turning her chin to bring her eyes back to his. He held her there, then releasing her hand, he leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers very lightly.
The feeling was shocking. Arit could smell wood fire and musk, and her lips tingled as her neck had earlier. She sucked in a breath, which seemed to embolden him.
Obele leaned in, moving the hand on her chin around to the back of her head, lacing his fingers into her hair hanging free down her back. His lips made firm contact with hers, and he moved them against her in a way she could never have imagined. Her own lips answered his. She felt his tongue slide along her lower lip, and as she gasped again, his tongue slid into her mouth.
She jerked back, but his handheld her tight to him. His tongue dipped into her mouth, touching her tongue, her palate, and running across her gums. The sensation was amazing.
She tentatively touched her tongue to his, and he rubbed his along hers in a dance that set her nerves on fire. A small moan escaped her throat, and his groan answered it as he wrapped his arm around her, drawing her into his lap.
He released her lips after another minute, running kisses up her jawline and stopping to nibble her ear lobe. He pulled back, running his hand through her hair.
“So beautiful!” he breathed.
She found herself panting for breath, and he smiled at her, this time with a hint of wolfish delight in his eyes. She gasped again as he lowered his head and licked up her neck, from collar bone to chin, then kissed her more deeply than before.
She found her tongue answering his, stroke for stroke.
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