Mid Week Blues Buster 34

Prompt: http://thetsuruokafiles.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/mid-week-blues-buster-week-34/

The fire crackled, the popping noises highlighting how quiet it was in the house. The kids were asleep, and my wife was pointedly ignoring me, as she’d done since I’d gotten home. I’d been married to Arra long enough that I knew when I’d done something wrong, but I had no idea what it was this time. I’d re-thatched the roof week before last, and we’d been eating fresh meat all winter long. I gave up trying to guess and decided to take my punishment so that I could sleep.

“Are you going to tell me, or do I need to drag you off to the gallows to get you to talk?”

Her icy stare made it clear that humor wasn’t going to help.

“Oh, I’d never want to bother you at work. I know how busy you are.” The amount of vitriol embedded in the word ‘busy’ would have scarred most men, but I’ve been cursed at by men and women ever since my pa had brought me on as an executioner’s apprentice, and I knew that words could never hurt me.

Arra could make my life awfully uncomfortable, however. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Well, it was busy last month – that was why it took me to get so long to get to the roof. The campaign in the north didn’t go well, and the king had a number of object lessons he wanted to make. But the last week or so has been pretty quiet – only so many people do something he’ll be upset about enough to order them hung.”

“It’s not the executions, dear. I was talking to Marianne, and she said you’ve been getting visitors at the keep. And they bring you gifts.”

Oh no. Not this again. “You know I do, Arra. Those bribes are what paid for this land, and that brooch you like so much, and will get Michael a place as a squire instead of being a killer’s son. But I tell the king about all of them, and the doomed swing at daybreak no matter what. We both know what would happen if I tried to do something else, something noble.”

“Marianne said that some of the visitors were women. Young women. Young poor desperate women.”

I sighed. “Yes. They’re the ones married to the damned fool soldiers who thought they could desert as soon as the fighting got tough.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. They don’t have money to bribe you with, but I know what they do.” She was hissing now, spitting the words at me.

“Arra!” I’m not naturally a violent man, though I live surrounded by death, but I do get flares of temper. “You have no idea what they do. You’re a good woman, better than most. You don’t want to know what these women do – what they’re willing to do, to try to save someone who can’t be saved.”

“And you let them, don’t you? You let them throw themselves at you like you don’t have a wife, you don’t have kids.”

“I do. It’s the only hope those women have, and it keeps them from trying something even stupider to try to save their husbands. You know how my Pa died.”

“The riots.”

“The riots that killed a hundred good men. So the king ordered me to do what I had to – whatever I had to – to keep that from happening again.”

Arra had tears in her eyes. “But Norman, what about your vows? Made in front of God and the king?”

“I’ve never dishonored those vows.”

“But you said – the king’s orders?”

“I’ve followed them, every time. But I’ve never done what you’re thinking. You have to trust me. You do not want to know everything about my job.”

Arra’s fears aside, she knew we had a good marriage. She also knew that there were secrets in a good marriage. I took her to bed and made sure she felt my love, my passion for her. And I tried not to think of the women, so desperate, so needy, so willing to fulfill any man’s desires. And the cellar floor that needed refinishing so often.

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