Quiet nights were rare. Quiet days were rarer still. When Richard found one, he treasured it. He held it close. He imprinted every moment of it onto his soul so that he could hold on to that peace until the next one came around.
Today was a quiet day.
Richard perched in the window seat, a book propped in his lap, one finger gently holding his place among the pages as he watched his wife do her best to wear a hole in the carpet. The carpet had been a wedding gift from his parents. He loved that carpet. He loved his wife. It was no small irritation that the two so often seemed to be at odds with each other when he most wished to spend some quiet time admiring both.
Unlike himself, Calynn was never satisfied with being still. Calm was not where her strength lay. Calynn was a warrior and what she believed in, she did. It was that simple. Calynn believed in the application of force, brute or otherwise. And she was good at what she did. No enemy stood against her for long. Calynn believed in conquest. She had carved herself a kingdom from a hundred smaller tribes and she ruled it well. One of the most secure countries on the Western shore, Zanas was threatened by no one.
So why chose Richard as a husband? Calynn believed in shoring up her weak points and she was an astute enough tactician to know precisely where they were. She was not a politician. She was not a scholar. She was not a diplomat. Richard was all of these things. They had little in common but complemented each other well. And the alliance forged between their two kingdoms by their marriage had been nothing but beneficial to both.
And yet still there were days when Richard couldn't help but wish that his wife were just a bit more like him. It was a useless wish... but that didn't stop him from making it.
Finally unable to take the queen's pacing any longer, Richard put down his book, stood up, and intercepted her. Her scowl had been known to send lesser men fleeing in terror. A fortunate happening for Richard that marriage had made him immune. He ignored her frowning and brought his hands to rest on her upper arms, "Tell me what to say to make you more at ease and I will say it."
Calynn's dark green eyes glowered into his for only one moment more before shifting away. Clearly uncomfortable, she shuffled her feet nervously back and forth. Her answer, when she at last spoke it, was barely more than breath, "That's just it. You always know exactly what to say, exactly what to do." Her voice rose in volume as she looked up to meet Richard's eyes once more, "You don't belong here. You belong in a palace, not a drafty old fortress. You belong with the poets, the dreamers, the builders. Not here. Not with me." Her eyes filled with an earnest question, one which she would never speak, but which Richard heard just the same: Did I make a mistake?
She looked so vulnerable, a word that most would scoff to hear associated with the warrior-queen. Who knew if anyone else had ever seen her thus. That Richard did spoke volumes to him about the underlying truth to Calynn's fears.
This was a marriage of convenience. No one expected love to be found in such a match. The lucky ones found that, after a time, they grew to appreciate one another. They grew to feel affection for one another. Affection, but never love. His queen had not been prepared for that. Raised on the legends of warriors past, raised on tales of when her kingdom had once been an empire that spanned a continent, raised on myths of great queens who sacrificed everything to find true love... Calynn despaired. This life was not the stuff of fairy tales. This marriage was not the stuff of legends. And nothing about their joining was easy for her to control. For a woman who controlled everything, it was a constant source of unease. Six months into their union and no application of any of his formidable charms had changed that fact. She could ignore it when she was out of the fortress. She could put it from her mind when she was in the field. But faced with nothing but Richard's calm on a rare, quiet day, that anxiety ate away at her. So she paced. And she wore holes in Richard's favorite carpet.
He released her arms, allowing her to back a few paces away. "I have no easy answer for you. Regardless of where I do or do not belong, I am here, Calynn. I am content for now. I can't give you any more reassurance than that."
Calynn walked a few paces away, then turned and strode resolutely back. She pushed herself into Richard's personal space and stared into his earth-brown eyes, "You're so untouchable. Nothing upsets you. Nothing stirs your heart. Nothing affects you." She raised up a hand and poked Richard hard in the shoulder, "It pisses me off!"
Richard's eyes went comically wide at that last pronouncement, "I beg your pardon?"
Calynn backed off a few steps and crossed her arms over her chest, "I'm sure you do. And that's what bothers me. I don't know how to act around you, so everything I do and say comes out wrong. I'm not a noble. I'm not a lady like your mother. Language isn't my friend like it is yours. I never know what you're thinking. I never know how you're feeling. 'Content'? I hardly know what that means. No one I've ever known was 'content'. They were happy. They were sad. They were angry. They weren't 'content'." She spat out the word as though it was a bitternut.
"I... I hardly know how to answer that." For the first time in quite a long time, Richard found himself speechless. Only one other person in his life had ever challenged him quite that way, and Xander had been gone for a long time. He quirked an eyebrow at his wife, a bemused smile claiming his lips, "Let me see if I understand you. You married me because I possessed certain qualities. Now it is those very qualities that you most wish to see me rid of. Have I grasped the situation correctly?"
Calynn frowned for a moment as she deciphered his meaning from the flowery language he had used. Finally, her frown cleared and she nodded, "Exactly."
Feeling a sure headache coming on, Richard raised a hand to rub at his forehead, "Just to clarify: you wish me to be more like you, more like your people. You wish me to ignore my entire upbringing and let my every thought and feeling be known to you." He looked up at her, his bemused expression becoming wry, "In short, you wish me to be vulgar."
Another frown as Calynn absorbed his words, "I'm sure there was an insult in there somewhere."
Richard let a small laugh escape his lips, "There's hope for you yet. Last year you wouldn't have picked up on it."
This time, Calynn smiled. It was small, it was shy, and it was tender, "Last year... I didn't have you."
Richard took a step closer to her and matched her tenderness with his own, "And I didn't have you."
Another step brought them into each other's space. Calynn looked up into her husband's eyes and asked once more, "Richard... are you happy here?"
Richard wrapped his arms around his wife and pressed a kiss to her brow, "More like you, hmm?" Calynn nodded against his chest. Richard let out a breath and along with it a tension that he'd been unaware of harboring. His eyes began to sparkle, "Yes, I'm happy. Inexplicably, unexpectedly, and yet without question, I am happy."
Calynn leaned back as she caught the questing tone in his voice, indicating a thought unfinished. She prompted, "But...?"
The sparkle in Richard's eyes turn into a fully-fledged wicked grin as he lifted her off the carpet and plunked her into a chair, "But I'm tired of watching you wear out my carpet! If you feel the need to pace, do it outside!"
One breath. Two breaths. Calynn stared up at Richard in disbelief. Then Richard's smile widened and another chuckle escaped his lips. The sound floated in the air between them for several seconds before being joined by Calynn's own laughter. She rose slowly from the chair and made a grab for her husband to return the favor. He danced out of her reach. She lunged again. This time Richard didn't wait. He took off down the hall at a dead run, yelling back over his shoulder, "First one to the shore claims a prize from the loser!" Hearing that, Calynn threw herself into the chase, certain for the first time that there had been no mistake in her choice.
Quiet days be damned. There were far better things they could be doing.