Despite her attempts at locating her husband, Nolia had not been alone with him since their wedding. It was beginning to weigh heavily on her, knowing that without an heir – or any children at all, the Ridere fortune would be at risk. Miklos was Ancel’s only son, and although Soren and his son were there, Ancel was certain that if they ever came to power, the Ridere family would fall. It was a lot of pressure, and in ways Nolia felt like standing up to her father-in-law and simply refusing to act as a concubine for his grandchildren. But years of tutelage had taught her such behaviour was unladylike.
She waited in silence for her husband to return to his rooms, after having to bribe a servant to allow her entry. She sat there amongst his things, an old rucksack – filled to the brim with clothing and several pairs of boots. Beside the bed sat a lonesome dagger, with a jewelled hilt and a leather sheath. From what she could discern about her husband, Miklos enjoyed travelling, and had little interest in material possessions. It didn’t help Nolia in learning more about him though, as there was so very little to explain what he liked.
In a way she liked the idea of him being off on adventures, while she got to stay home and hold things together. But she didn’t want to be alone there, and she didn’t want to be known as a failure, so children were a necessity. So far she had done her duty well, making quick friends with Meliza Tiernan. Ancel had told her to make Soren’s life as difficult as possible, using the young girl’s naivety to her advantage. She was only a little bit guilty in doing so.
She straightened as she heard voices nearby, and quickly flattened out her dress as she heard the door unlock. She sat there, wearing a delicate smile and waiting for her husband to turn and notice her – but he was too preoccupied. Miklos stood with his chest flat against another man’s front, their lips locked in a teasingly erotic display. His hands were hovering over the other man’s crotch, waiting for the invitation to explore further. Nolia stood up immediately, rage building up inside her. She was humiliated – he had made a fool out of her, and she had let him.
“Miklos!” Nolia yelped, surprised at her own voice.
Miklos dropped his hands away from the other man, but he did not turn to make eye contact. Instead, his eyes fell to the floor and he kept his back to her. Shockingly, the other man met her gaze with a smile. He stood a little taller than Miklos – whose dark red hair had been recently chopped short. This man looked familiar – with vibrant red hair that was thick and long, and left to rest naturally down his back like a waterfall. His face was crinkled with creases and laugh lines, and yet his eyes were full of youthful mischief.
“You must be the lovely Nolia,” the man said with a bow. “I am Sir Damek Fiala of Iridia.”
Nolia was frozen between her anger, and etiquette. “What,” she said through her confusion. “Is this?”
Damek smiled again, and nodded as if he understood. “I suppose Miklos hasn’t told you; he prefers the company of men, over women.” When Nolia found herself unable to reply, the man continued. “Don’t blame yourself, love. No one is at fault. He is the way he is.”
Finally, Nolia was able to speak. “And you?” She asked, “You’re the same?”
Damek gave a hearty laugh, “Me? I’m just an old man, looking to keep things interesting.”
In a way, Damek’s presence put her at ease. Perhaps it was knowing that he was a knight – or the fact that he spoke to her so calmly. She blinked and glanced over at Miklos, who had turned toward Damek, he wore an expression full of shame. Seeing him there, everything started to make sense. The snide comments Ancel would always make about his son, the fact that Miklos was never home – and always moving, and of course, the fact that he had not touched her in any intimate way. She felt sorry for him, realising that his shame was the reason he was never in one place for long.
“I guess I’ll let you two be then,” Nolia said in defeat.
She went to leave, when Damek took a step in front of her. “Well now hold on, love.” He said with a wink. “You’re here because you want a baby, am I right?” Nolia nodded, “Then you can have one.” He reached out to grab Miklos by the arm and pulled him closer, “My own son and his wife are trying for a baby as well. I know how important it is.”
There was sincerity in his eyes, which she could not turn away from. And when Nolia glanced to her husband, she knew what was to be done.