Half a lifetime ago...
James and Francesca had hiked these paths a hundred times as children, since her first visit when she had been just seven years old. Francesca could climb most of these trees - not as quick as James, though, and especially not since her mother had made sure she was always clothed in a dress 'befitting her station.' She was a young lady now, her mother insisted.
Their guards usually supervised these outings on horseback, making sure there were no Carniflowers in their paths and that they would return home on time, but James was pretty much old enough to command them now. He would be Duke in year or two, after all (assuming his mother didn't make it an issue…).
It was mid-summer, and Francesca had complained no less than a hundred times about the heat. It was no wonder why - even in the finest cotton dress, she was still suffocating in these temperatures, as much as she wanted to move.
So when the pleasant bubbling of a stream caught her attention, and Francesca found herself bounding toward it, she hesitated and doubled back. Grasping her betrothed's substantial arm, she whispered to James. There was a secretive note to her voice, her smile, and her glance: "Maybe tell them to hang back?"
The young Castile gave a wily grin at his fiancee, and covered her slim hand with his larger one. “Captain, maintain a perimeter with the men. Lady Rossi and I would like to commune in private” he ordered tilting his head upward. The young noble had been growing like a weed, and was as tall as any of his mother’s guardsmen.
As the men moved to obey, James gave a cocky smirk at Francesca and walked with her toward the water. He kicked off his boots and kept his arm out for Rossi to do the same to her more delicate footwear. “Our mothers would frown upon this” he said with a grin.
"The last thing I want to think about is our mothers," Francesca chided, although there was no denying that Lady Rossi's voice was echoing in her head, deafeningly loud. There was nothing ladylike about going down to a river with a boy, even if he was your fiance...
But when Francesca looked back, she saw the grin on James' face, she smiled instead. And with no one watching, Francesa dared to move closer and plant a sensuous kiss on James' lips. To her, he seemed so much older and more responsible - the guards listened to him! - and that made her feel both safe and excited.
His boots came off, and her own shoes were an easy match. Her dress, though, was exactly the elaborate sort that required a handmaid to remove. The laces were in the back. So Francesca turned around, and cast a glance over her shoulder, biting one lip in a way that hid none of her intentions.
"It is too warm today," Francesca complained, although this time it was with a purpose…
James always liked how bold Francesca could be when she wanted something, namely himself. And kissing her was certainly something he enjoyed, as he had discovered the first time they had snuck away from the company of their mothers’ sharp eyes.
“It is” he agreed with her about the weather, although he was use to it. And it was cooler in the deep forest with its thick canopy of foliage. James carefully pulled Francesca’s golden color hair to one side across her shoulder, before he studied the knot at the small of her back.
“Surely it is because you make the sun jealous, my lady” he said with a charming smile. James pulled at the tie slowly, as if he were unwrapping a treasured gift. His mother had sung the girl’s praises early on when they had first met as children, but it was that little adventurous side of Francesca that endeared her to him. Loosening her dress so she could be more comfortable, and so he could of course steal a glance of more of her alabaster skin, James pulled a silk scarf from his neck. He rarely wore such finery, he preferred clothing that could endure the rigors of hunting.
"Aww!" Francesca declared, a pleased smile spreading instantly across her lips, lips she quickly then used to kiss her handsome fiance again. "You should be a poet!"
Crouching down at the edge of the water he soaked it and wrung it out just enough to keep the scarf cool and damp. “Allow me, my lady” he said with a sly smirking grin as James dabbed it along her neck and the junction to her shoulder. “You should have come in the autumn, when the forest changes colors” he said softly, although he knew the timing was not their choice but that of their mothers and duchies.
Francesca gave an exaggerated sigh of relief as she sat down at the water's edge, tugging her bodice a bit looser and dipping her feet in the cool water. She hated feeling so done-up, in gowns that seemed specifically designed to keep her from running. When she was home, she would sneak out with her friends and go to the common areas of town to have some fun… with James, she was glad to find that even that now she was a young lady, she could still unwind with him. She loved that they were friends first.
"Thank yoouu," Francesca sighed with relief when he let the water from his scarf drip over her skin. She rolled her neck back, closed her eyes, and enjoyed the feeling - even though the water sent a shiver through her and made her skin pucker into goosebumps, her hand lifted to rub his appreciatively. Much better.
"Soon, I will live here for all the seasons," she said, cheerfully, and then quickly hedged her excitement. "I don't look forward to all the snow and ice in the winter. And I'll miss the ocean…" The two ideas sparked a new one and she sat up a bit straighter as she asked, "Oh! Can we spend the winters on the coast? My father will give us land there."
James sat next to Francesca and let their toes touch playfully in the water. “No, I don’t think so…” he answered her in a serious tone. He looked up and smiled in a teasing manner, “I think the summer would be better, don’t you? The ocean keeps the coast cool…”
He let his fingers dig into the dirt and grass, “Besides I’ll be needed here more during the colder seasons when I become the Duke. Fear not, fair Francesca… I will keep you warm enough during the cold months”.
Francesca gave his shoulder a playful shove at his little joke, but she was pleased that he was open to spending time on her part of Eventyr. It was going to be hard to leave her home and know that her friends were so far away, but the Duke of the North had a home on the coast that he visited in the winters and so she hoped it wasn't a far-fetched idea. She knew she would go visit her parents on occasion, but she also wanted romantic hand-in-hand walks down the beach… and, if she was honest, she'd started fantasizing about swimming together, naked. She actually spent a lot more time thinking about that than she would have admitted aloud.
He could have been talking about thick blankets or fires that would never dwindle because of the East's abundance of wood, but Francesca didn't think so. She scooted closer so she could lower her voice more, for what she wanted to say was taboo, even if their guards weren't listening. "James - I don't want to wait," Francesca said, watching his face closely to see if he was following her meaning. "For the cold months… or even for the wedding."
Castile’s face was of course full of youthful male pride. He was a tall, handsome lad after all and he knew it. But his eyes were bright with adoration, because his heart hadn’t been tainted yet, except for the lack of his father’s love.
He let his toes overlap hers in the water, like they were secretly holding hands under a table at dinner… which they had done as children. “Francesca...I want nothing more than to be with you. To marry you here and now” and it was true, no one suited him better or understood him quite like the young duchess.
“But I want to do what is right” and now he did hold her hands. Francesca may have been considered to be doing well in marrying a future Duke, but James knew she was also marrying into his infamous history of being the bastard son of the king. The afterthought. The throw away prince of nothing but a dense, and dangerous forest that the King taxed unmercifully. No doubt an unsubtle reminder to his mother about keeping her place.
He didn’t want any of these things or his own selfish wants and needs weighing on his betrothed’s slim shoulders. “If you ask it of me, I can not say no to you...but I ask you to be patient, Francesca”.
"You always want to do what is right. You're the very picture of nobility." Her words were, somehow, both praise and a complaint. Of course he was so responsible, Francesca thought, it was to be expected - he had been promised the duchy since he was a child, so he had been educated in matters practical and political his whole life. Which was all for the best, because aside from the assured wealth and status and power it would provide, Francesca had no interest in being a Duchess. The business of ruling seemed so tedious. It seemed to be all about how much tax was being paid, and what to do about people not paying said tax. Boring and awful business, and all that she was more than happy to wait for.
But especially as James held her hands and looked deep into her eyes and said her name as if it were sacred, Francesca felt a pleasant ache low in her belly that had become more and more frequent, and more and more insistent. She pulled closer to her fiance, and the kiss she put on his lips this time put her earlier, flirtier ones to shame. It was long, deep, eager. "I'm sorry," Francesca whispered, breathlessly against his lips, as her hand enjoyed the rough texture of his cheek. "I don't want to be patient. Not for this."
James gave a soft groan, Francesca could be very insistent, and persuasive when she wanted something. And he had confessed that he wanted her, “I know…” One furtive glance around them at the greenery, and quiet babbling creek… Well for James the massive enchanted forest was the perfect place.
He chewed his lower lip, and raised his hands to tangle them in Francesca’s hair which thankfully was not in some intricate braid. Future duke, noble, bastard knight, he was still a teenage boy with a beautiful girl giving her consent quite earnestly.
Castile moves his large palms down to her waist, and a little eagerly pulled her toward him. Straddling her legs under the voluminous skirts of her dress on either side of his own strong thighs. He had of course read books on the more boring biological functions, listen to scholars on the matter, and seen the East’s finest equines breed. He was expected to perform aptly after all on his wedding night, and produce the next generation of Castiles.
But this was far different, James felt suddenly….unfettered. “Frannie…” he crooned her name in a rough tone as he mouthed her lips and the skin below her ear. Inexperienced, but certainly enthusiastic, in his attempt to satisfy this craving they shared.
A wide smile across Francesca's face when James pulled her up on top of him, and she easily helped navigate the fabric out of the way. Although Francesca's mother had explicitly forbidden this, Francesca didn't care. In his arms, she felt safe, loved, and desirable on top of her already burning excitement. And here, secluded in the woods that would be their home until happily ever after on the most beautiful day, was the perfect time to begin this journey together.
"Jamie," Francesca returned, her voice as light and teasing as if it were a caress on its own. One hand found the back of his head as she tilted her neck to enjoy his kisses as they moved downward. Her other hand groped behind her for the laces James had loosened earlier to pull them completely free. Francesca knew a lot less about what to expect than James did - those biology books weren't exactly sitting in the library in her sitting room in the castle and the romance novels that were always seemed to skip this part. Her best resource were her older girl friends on the coast, but even they had wildly varying accounts. All she did know for sure that his lips made her head spin better than wine, that his hands felt hot on her skin, and that she desperately wanted to get his shirt off…
His hands drifted down to gingerly explore her exposed skin, fingers curling into the fabric of her dress to pull it out of his way. James grinned when Francesca’s own hands were at the clasps of his tunic. They were a flurry of clumsy, and eager movements to get to as much of each other as quickly as possible. After all they were supposed to be out on a afternoon ride in the forest..
Calling each other by their childhood monikers, in lustful tones. James was glad it was his most faithful guards as their escorts. He called her beautiful, between little grunts and pants. His hands were up under the skirts of her elaborate dress, it was some kind of magic. His skin felt electrified, and hers was the most tantalizing thing he had ever discovered. His breeches felt insufferably uncomfortable, and tight.
“Frannie…” he glanced up at her through his lashes, things would never be the same between them again after this. He had really wanted to show her a unicorn, before they got married and ‘lost that last vestige of innocence’ as his mother called it. His typical bravado was nonexistent at the moment, and James Castile was just a normal teenage boy enthralled by the girl who he was deemed to marry.
He rucked up her dress, biting his lower lip. Books could not compare.
Francesca didn't quite understand the vague look of mourning behind James' voice - innocence aside, whatever that even meant, they weren't losing anything! Their engagement was even a sure enough thing that Francesca was pretty sure even if she got pregnant, they would probably just move the date up. Their friendship had only ever become stronger from sharing new experiences together, whether it was James helping Francesca onto a horse for the first time or trying an exoic Southern dish that made their mouths burn and eyes water. So Francesca kissed his brow and gave him a smile that seemed to promise that there was no way this could turn out to be wrong.
Francesca hadn't thought she was shy, but when she saw the look on James' face when he saw her bare, she let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Quiet curious nights alone in her bedchamber in the West meant that, at the least, she knew how this part worked. She guided James' large hand toward the wet heat between her thighs.
And then, not even the knowledge that their guards weren't far off - and who knew what other forest dwellers or creatures as well - could stop the wild, unladylike noises of pleasure that he drew from her.
James had only been taught how to procreate to produce an heir. No one had explained this, not a book or scholar. His expression went from surprised to extremely pleased, and he very perceptive to what had his fiancee keening and squirming like a cat in heat.
Using one hand to stroke Francesca, James fumbled with his breeches with the other to free himself from its confines. “I must have you, Frannie...now” he insisted. He had been thankful for her reassurance in a simple kiss earlier, but his thoughts were narrowing down to more selfish wants and needs,
Francesca sucked in a steadying breath and pried her eyes open, prompted by the hoarse desire in his words. She prompted him to move his hand to her breast instead, freeing the space between them and allowing her to help with the laces...
But when she did, a look of surprise and then a ghost of concern crossed her features. She didn't know, exactly, what she had been expecting, but she knew that a finger felt delightful inside her and so perhaps she thought a man would be about the same size… but, oh, she was wrong. And then she remembered that some ladies had complained that the act was painful. Francesca had never understood why, but now she had a fair idea!
Her worry gave way to excitement, though, as her hands dipped lower to explore him and found herself fascinated with the hard length. James wouldn't hurt her, she knew, and so she nodded and murmured against his lips, "Take me, Jamie."
He marveled at the feel of her under his hands, so different than himself. And James was embarrassed by the moan that escaped him when Francesca touched him back. That was definitely different than his own hands, and so much more pleasing….
But at this rate he would surely finish and he had yet to be within his betrothed as he desired to be. “Hold on to me, Frannie” he breathed out. He was sure he had been told he was suppose to be laying down. Just rubbing his engorged length between her silken thighs was beyond description.
“OH?!?” He looked at Francesca with a surprised expression as he partially entered her. It was nothing like he had imagined it to be. She looked….uncomfortable. And he still had away to go.
Part of him want to drive in like a battering ram at a castle gate, the greedy need to satisfy that burning inside. He held her with one arm, and wriggled his fingers between them to where Francesca liked it before.
Stroked her to distraction before pushing himself to the hilt into her tight core. Being a nervous teenage boy he wasn’t going to last long, and he knew it. “I love you, Frannie” James blurted out simply overwhelmed by everything.
Even though the last thing Francesca wanted was to stop at this point, her muscles seized up, involuntarily, at the intrusion. As much as she tried to signal to her brain that just because this was new did not mean it was dangerous, Francesca couldn't relax - and it compounded because the look of ecstasy on James' face and that cry of joy made her so happy, but it came at the same moment that worry and discomfort crossed her own…
When he touched her again, her first sound was a strained sort of sigh and her eyes pressed closed as she tried to focus on that sensation. At first, she didn't think she could, but soon enough, she felt her back arching and tension melting away and instead she blossomed to accommodate him.
She couldn't answer his words with anything more than a cry, the sound a mixture of pain and pleasure and shock, and her fingernails dug into her fiancee's broad shoulders in a wordless plea for him to be still, to hold her, while her body made room.
But thankfully, lust returned after several labored, shuddering breaths, and then she felt herself move against him, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, her hands pulling his chest closer and her hips lifting as if to prompt him to push deeper inside…
James eventually found some kind of awkward rhythm with Francesca’s movements. He clung to her desperately as instinct took over for the poor substitute of whatever he had learned in the pages of a book. He tilted his head up to bite at his fiancee’s chin, and mouth the long column of her throat…
Giving little grunts with every movement James hugged her to him tightly as his thrusts became needy and selfish. Mouth slack and eyes rolling, as he shuddered under her with a moan of relief and utter satisfaction. He rocked Francesca on his lap back and forth slowly as he panted against her shoulder, his head had ended up there at some point. His unruly hair was plastered to his temple from sweat, and his hands moved up and down the young duchess to be’s back aimlessly.
He made a noise, and then cleared his throat slightly. “Are you...alright...Frannie?” James asked tentatively as he pulled his head back to look at her. He bit his lower lip in concern, partly because she had looked uncomfortable at points and of course because young male pride wanted to know he was up to snuff… not that either of them had anyone to compare to.
At first, Francesca was along for the ride, tilting her neck back and raking her fingernails through James' hair as he kissed her neck, hissing in gasping breaths in time with his, loving the strength in his arms as he moved with her, maddened by fullness between her legs and feeling a coiling need deep inside her…
But when James grew louder, his movements faster, Francesca opened her eyes and focused on him. He was lost in pleasure, clinging to her as if she were his whole world, and she thought he had never been so attractive. All those days she had watched him practicing with swords or riding horses, or the balls they attended with their parents in King's City where he wore the finest suits… those moments couldn't hold a candle to this James Castile.
It also made her feel equally loved and powerful. He would soon be one of Eventyr's Dukes, and he made her feel like his goddess, like those noises he made were prayers and his touch worship.
She smiled at his question, and nodded. The pain seemed like a far distant memory now. Instead of speaking, though, she leaned in to kiss him. She intended the kiss to be comforting, reassuring him that she was okay, that she had enjoyed it, to say that she loved him… but there was more heat behind it than she expected. It deepened quickly, Francesca getting lost in the taste of him, the feeling of his lips, the sound of his breath, and she realized she didn't want it to be over yet…
“You are so beautiful” James crooned in her ear. Radiant as he had said earlier, like the sun… Burning with her passion. A passion she held for him, and it made him love her even more. “What is it that you want, my sweet Francesca?” he asked in a flirting tone, even as his fingers drifted down between them to tease her in another manner.
He wanted to hear her wail and cry out in pleasure again. James was sure he could rise to the occasion again given time, and just the thought of plunging into her warmth sent his blood southward. A nagging voice in the back of his head said they should have waited, because now the thought of not having Francesca by his side and letting her return home… he could not tolerate it.
“I will broach the subject to marrying early to our parents…” he said not quite as steady as James wanted. It was hard to think, and control his tongue to speak when he wanted to run it across her skin. “...After my half-brother’s stupid hunt. I can not tolerate waiting for visits, Frannie”. He looked at her for some kind of consent, agreement to his proposal and that she felt the same way.
Francesca let out a high-pitched moan when James' large hand found her sweet spot again. She clung hard to him, her tense body undulating against his. His flirty words made her smile, and in the throes of pleasure, the expression was downright saucy. She was happy to answer him, even if her voice was strained with the exertion of ecstasy, "You, Jamie. I want you. I want you so mu…" And then she couldn't speak anymore because that coil in her belly finally released and sent spasms of pleasure through every nerve in her body, more powerful than anything she had ever felt, and everything in the world melted away except the two of them…
Heart racing, breath quick, sweating lightly, Francesca shifted her weight enough to let her relax on her side on the soft riverbed, and she gave James' arm a tug to bring him with her. An inch of space away from him felt like too far at this point - crossing the whole kingdom to return to her own bed, alone, was unbearable, so she nodded eagerly. It was doubtful that their parents would agree; Francesca was still quite young to be a bride, without the ticking time bomb of a pregnancy to force the issue, and James' mother wouldn't give up her duchy before her son was legally entitled to it. But they had to try.
Francesca smiled, her finger tracing James' jaw playfully. "I don't know how you're going to rule the East, since you'll be spending all your time in our bedchamber with me."
He was still fascinated by the way she had seemed to come apart at the height of her pleasure, and in a way James envied it. He gave Francesca a lazy smile as he curled around her in the grass, their feet digging little ruts in the mud by the water. He turned his head to kiss her fingers, feeling loved for who he simply was…
“Frannie…” he let a coy expression cross his face. “...the enchanted woods are our bedchamber, as will be your Western ocean in the summer. No walls will encompass us except in the winter, we belong out here in Eventyr”. He kissed her sweetly, and ran his big hands up and down her skin. They belonged outside in their realm….
James wasn’t so worried about his mother, so long as he did not press upon her title of Duchess she would probably be elated to have him married off. Francesca’s parents perhaps not so much until that title was practically on his shoulders. Not that their daughter would want for anything other than those warm beaches…
Of course then there was Philip, his brother... half brother… James wasn’t supposed to do anything before the crown prince. The king couldn’t have his bastard showing up his proper son, now could he? He pushed the thoughts aside wanting to think about nothing other than how good his betrothed felt in his arms, and how good it felt to be inside her warmth.
“How will I think of anything when you depart, Francesca?” he muttered in her ear. “My heart already aches at the thought of it”. A hunting horn sounded in the distance, and James sat up slowly with a frown. They were expected for dinner and could not show up with grass in their hair and the scent of what they had done clinging to them. He offered his hands to his fiancee to pull her to her feet so they could splash some water on themselves and dress.
Francesca smiled, so deeply happy that she couldn't think about anything except James' arms around her, the press of his body against hers, his sweet words poetry written just for her. She didn't care about the dirt beneath her or the sun burning her pale, exposed skin. The moment was perfect, and she kissed her fiance's jaw, for she couldn't keep her lips off of him but she loved to hear his voice. She let herself believe that he would convince their parents, that she wouldn't have to make the trip home, that she could stay in his arms forever, with the singing of birds and the bubbling of the creek around them.
When he sat up and pulled away, Francesca whined and joked, "Tell them we got lost." Dinner was the furthest thing from her mind, but she did know that her mother would have an absolute fit if they were even a minute behind schedule. The Eastern Woods were dangerous, full of carniflowers and werewolves, and Gianna Rossi trusted a teenage boy with her daughter's safety much less than said daughter herself did…
So Francesca let James pull her to her feet, but she took a long moment to embrace him before heading to the water. "I love you, Jamie," she said, having little of his poetic flare - probably because she did not bother to read as much as he did. "I love you so much."