In a few days time they found themselves at their destination: a small village located north east of the port city deep in the valleys of the inland surrounded by wheat fields and open pastures with hundreds of sheep free to roam and graze. It took some asking around, but there was a vacant house on the outskirts and landlord who welcomed the assistance of two extra pairs of hands as his crops reached the end of the growing months.
Edrick Harbrook as he introduced himself was a boisterous and stout man in his early fifties with salt-and-pepper hair and a noticeable comb over. A bit pompous, but he spoke in good spirits and gave as much respect as he got, making for a rocky, yet feasible relationship with Mias who still didn’t like the idea of having to answer to anyone.
“It’s a fixer-upper…” He presented the cottage without much enthusiasm. “When the Conlins died two years ago, it fell into disrepair I’m afraid, but it’s what I can offer unless you want to build from scratch.”
They obviously couldn’t afford to, but with the roof still intact and the four walls standing, it made for a good start in Elle’s opinion. “We knew it was gonna mean work, Mias.”
“Not that much work,” he muttered, earning a light kick to the shin from Elle to remind him he couldn’t act that way in front of their possible landlord. “Ah—! Mn, so you said we pay our rent in work?”
“Mostly, and I’ll give you to the end of month to prove your worth. It looks like a good harvest this year so the more men I can take on, the better.”
“Well…” Mias looked to Elle who nodded encouragingly. They weren’t going to find a better deal than that this late in the year. “Alright, consider us sold.”
“Wonderful!” The man laughed victoriously. “Treven needs some fresh blood in it.”
“I hope you don’t mean literally,” Mias muttered, and this time he was heard.
Thankfully it only made Ed laugh harder and slap Mias’ back with his large hand. “Good lad! You’ll do well here! You too little Misses.”
“Thank you, sir,” Elle smiled while Mias fished out the last of their money from his coin purse.
“We’ll need repair supplies,” Mias told the man.
“Ah, yes, yes. I’ll have my son, Kay, stop by with some lumber and a few hands,” he said, accepting only half the amount offered. “Your discount for my letting it fall into such a state.”
“Thank you,” Mias said cautiously, slipping the remainder of the coins back into his bag before shaking the man’s hand, and nearly having his arm wrenched out of the socket.
He was all to glad to be rid of him and to give the property a thorough inspection together with Elle. It was a small, one room cottage with lots of dust, cobwebs, and debris from blown in windows, but nothing a broom and scrubbing couldn’t clean up. The furnishings were sparse and the mattress on the bed moth eaten and producing a strange smell, making it the first thing to get tossed out.
“That limits comfortable sleeping tonight…” he groaned.
“Try to think optimistically,” Elle suggested like she was half-unsure about her own advice. “We have a roof over our heads.”
“A roof with a few holes judging by these little spots of light,” he said as he examined the ceiling. “I don’t know anything about roofing…”
“Mr. Harbrook said his son would come by with more of what we needed, so why don’t we just work on cleaning up what we can before all that?” Elle said as she picked up a toppled wooden chair near the table. “See? A little banged up, but these are still good.”
It would have been more convincing had the back legs not snapped as she sat down on it, earning a look of concern from Mias at first before he chuckled. “You were saying?”
“Shut up,” she frowned and stood back up to brush her clothes clean.
“Least we know we have good kindling,” Mias said optimistically, much to Elle’s chagrin.
It took less than an hour to move everything outside and begin sweeping up with one of the few tools that came with the house. With Mias manning the broom, Elle took a bucket to pump water from the well and begin the much needed scrubbing, which took the remainder of the afternoon with the aforementioned Kay Harbrook yet to make his appearance.
“Weren’t we supposed to get a little neighborly help?” Elle asked as she wiped her hands on her dress’ apron (a gift from Leary) upon finishing with the windowsills.
“Clearly we’re on our own. Even if they showed up now, the working light is leaving,” Mias said as he finished testing and tossing the last bit of bad furniture into a rubbish pile. “All of this is shit, really… How do you forget to look after property? I’d be livid if I found any of my former holdings looking like this.”
“I don’t know, but we’ll take care of it from now on,” she smiled, took his had, and pulled him inside to show him the fruits of her labor. “C’mon in.”
Everything was clean and with a welcomed freshness to his nostrils, their bags unpacked and hanging on hooks to the right of the doorway, their rations on the shelf in the kitchen area, a small fire helped enlighten the room along with two candles from Elle’s pack she’d placed in holders she found and set on the table along with a chipped vase filled with a few wild flowers from around the house.
“Tada~!” She presented with more enthusiasm than was necessary for the unveil, but their morale needed a boost in some form or another.
He gently smiled. “Trying to romance me?”
“I’m trying to make you feel at home,” she blushed. “Granted a home would have more than just a table and an old stool for furnishings, but it’s a start.”
“It’s a start,” he repeated and hugged her from behind.
A rocky start to say the least. The landowner’s son eventually came around the following afternoon with a few men to help repair the roof and bits of crumbling stonework around the foundation. With the furnishings also needing to be replaced, Mias and two of the men took the wagon back into town leaving Elle to deal with the two who stayed behind to help finish the house.
“Don’t suppose you could fetch us some water, eh darlin’?” Kay Harbrook, a lean, but muscular youth around Elle’s age had a familiar arrogance to him. He was handsome in his own way Elle supposed, but he lacked charm and finesse. Compared to his father, he just seemed downright rude, but not about to start trouble over such a little thing, Elle went to the well to pump a fresh bucket for them.
“Alright, here,” Elle said, placing the bucket down in front of them.
“What? No cup?” Kay queried with an insulted eyebrow.
“We don’t have any,” Elle answered honestly. All she and Mias had were their canteens. Any sort of proper dishware was a yet-to-be-purchased item.
“Bit odd ye moved here without any belongings,” the other man, a slightly older man with a well groomed mustache and beard, commented. His name was Rhodemon if Elle remembered right.
“We had only the essentials after our families kicked us out. Not much we had that was all our own,” Elle explained. She and Mias had made sure to compose a convincing back story well beforehand to deal with curious inquirers.
“Not happy ye married the likes of him, eh?” Rhod chuckled.
“Quit your gossip and yet back to work, Rhod. Father’s pissed enough I didn’t stop here yesterday.”
“And it’s my fault ye hit the pub early?” The older man brazenly commented before happily drinking half of the bucket and going back to examine the mortar.
“I! Don’t talk like that in front of the tenants!” Kay shouted defensively.
“Oh, I see,” Elle said smugly as her mind narrowed in on his type, but didn’t dare say it.
“Listen here, Mrs. Dormans, you’re lucky I decided to come at all. Father should have burnt this place to the ground long ago.”
“But that’s your father’s decision, not yours. You’ll not amount to a very good landowner yourself if you shirk your responsibilities. Your tenants depend on you,” Elle said with a smile, knowing to feed his ego just enough while lecturing him.
“Er, um, yes, yes they do. No one else would have taken in such a wayward couple with so low a rent so you ought to be grateful.”
“I am,” Elle smiled while secretly desiring to kick him in the teeth. “And I’ll gladly show you this place can still be cleaned up to a decent homestead if you’ll stop keeping me from working on it.”
“Uh, sure…” His voice trailed off in slight confusion as he watched Elle return to pulling weeds around the property as she’d been trying to do all day when she wasn’t fetching water or food for the men. He knew he should be more offended and upset for the way she spoke to him, but she wore such a lovely smile behind the dirt on her cheeks, it became impossible to.
“Ah, she’ll hold up nicely. No critters gettin’ through that now,” Rhod said about the mortar as he reproached his master. “Hm? Boss?”
“Hm?” Kay shook his head back to attention. “What?”
“Ye ought not be starin’ that way at a married woman.”
“I’m only looking. What harm is there in looking? Pretty thing like that ought to be looked at.”
“Plenty of pretty things you can look at elsewhere,” Rhod smacked the youth’s back. “C’mon. You can help me fit the new glass in the windows.”
“Ugh,” he groaned. “This is so tedious.”
“If you had maintained this property like ye father wanted, we wouldn’t have to be here all day,” Rhod reminded him.
Hearing men complain and argue put an odd smile across Elle’s face. It made her feel like her work was far more productive, even if all pulling weeds did was aid the aesthetic of the house. She wanted the approach to look welcoming, something she’d never been able to do living in a flat. She’d had the small garden plot in the backyard and a window box before, but never a proper doorway and pathway to decorate.
“Elle!” She heard Mias calling to her from down the road.
She sighed with a smile as she got up once again and wiped her hands on her apron before holding her skirt as she ran down the more visible dirt path to the main road that led into town. “What is it?”
“Just the finest haggler in the land,” Mias boasted as he ran ahead of the wagon to scoop her up into his arms. “I’ve got the makings for a sturdy bed frame, a few chairs, some more shelves, and maybe even some end tables if we don’t screw up where to hammer in the nails.”
“They say assembling furniture will make or break relationships,” Elle joked as she watched the two men in the wagon turn up the drive carrying the assorted wooden pieces, their full packs, and a fresh bale of straw. “The mattress?”
“I’ve got all the sheets required, but we will have to stuff and sew. The woman said we needed a bigger needle and thicker thread so I made sure to buy those for your sewing kit once I made sure we’d have enough food for a week.”
“And how broke does this make us now?”
“Completely,” Mias admitted. “And I have a slight debt with the carpenter, but we’ll start working tomorrow and get that all sorted out in no time.”
His confidence was reassuring and well deserving of a kiss, though Elle was a bit embarrassed to find she’d inadvertently transferred a bit of dirt onto his face. “Oh, oops… let me—”
“It’s fine,” he smiled and kissed her back. “You can give me a good washing later~”
“Mias!” Elle giggled and grabbed onto his neck as he spun around to carry her back towards the house. “Not in front of them! You’re embarrassing me!”
“Ah, the honeymoon phase,” the clean shaven and scrawny Finn commented.
“Don’t be afraid to let him have it, Misses, he’s been the pickiest peasant I’ve ever seen,” the other, a fully bearded bear of a man aptly called Big Jon gave a hearty laugh as he unloaded the wagon by himself.
Elle’s smile quickly turned upside down as her eyes glared at him, psychically reminded she had told him beggars couldn’t be choosers.
“I may not have much money, but I know quality and I know what I want. Heaven help me if I come home with something my wife doesn’t like,” Mias countered.
“Aye,” the three hands agreed while Kay went to the sidelines again to oversee the work rather than assist.
Mias chuckled until Elle’s fury calmed and he returned her to her feet. “How are things going?”
“Good for the most part,” she said as they walked into the house to wash their hands in the basin before returning to work. “I’m thinking I’ll start dinner soon… but I’m conflicted. I want to be neighborly and offer these guys something for their help, but the Harbrook guy has barely done anything aside from bark orders.”
“His throat must be parched,” Mias joked, earning a laugh from Elle.
“Right, well, I suppose my being rude back won’t help.”
“Look, you’ve been at this harder than I am. How about I make dinner and you start with the mattress? You’ll at least be able to sit down.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I can’t wait to sleep with you tonight,” he grinned.
“You’re very incorrigible today,” Elle noted as she took a washcloth to his cheek to wipe the dirt off. “Honestly.”
“Watch the eyes,” Mias reminded her, not wanting his concealer removed.
“Yes, I know,” Elle rolled her eyes and as she finished, Mias took her wrist and lowered it to her side before leaning down to give her a deeper kiss they could enjoy in the privacy of their home. “Very incorrigible.”
“Wait until I get you in bed,” He grinned with a sly wink that only made Elle laugh again.
“We’ll see how well you do with dinner first,” she told him before going out to the carriage to retrieve her supplies.
Leaving the men to finish with the house and furniture, and Mias seeing to dinner, Elle spent the rest of her afternoon in the corner of the house where the bed out to bed, stuffing all the straw she could into the mattress until it was full and then having to sew it up. She was shown briefly how to do so during her time on the goose farm, but down was a far better material to work with. Still, she managed to complete the task in a few short hours, breaking occasionally to help Mias with the stew though he seemed to have a handle on the situation for the time being.
“Do you even have bowls and spoons?” Kay, bratty as ever, but this time right in his assumption that there was still a lack of suitable dishware.
“Er, I was going to whittle out what we needed from the access wood…” Mias began until Kay got in his face about it.
“Wouldn’t it have been wise to do that beforehand? How did you expect to serve it? We’d all cup our hands?”
Mias’ eyes narrowed, prompting Elle’s intervention before the magican decided to deal with the man in a more physical way.
“Alright, alright. I’m sorry. We thought it’d be a nice gesture, but I didn’t realize we were so under prepared.”
“Kay, lay off,” Rhod and the others didn’t seem too bothered by it thankfully.
“They just moved in,” Finn defended.
“Then don’t go through the trouble of offering us a meal! Wait until you’re properly prepared!”
“I’m gonna punch him,” Mias muttered to Elle.
“Not if I do first,” Elle muttered back, before heaving a sigh. “Forgive me, Mr. Harbook. We’ll be sure to invite you all back once we are properly prepared.”
“It’s alright, Misses. My wife will have my dinner waiting for me at home anyway,” Big Jon said with a harty pat of his belly.
Kay rolled his eyes.
“As will your Mother,” Rhod reminded his boss as he pulled the lad into the wagon with the rest of them. “We’ll see you in the fields tomorrow then?”
“Yes sir,” Elle said with a chipper smile, met with a polite wave goodbye as the four departed with the setting sun at the end of another long day. “Well… that’s over.”
“How embarrassing…” Mias collapsed against her. “Dishware… how could I forget about dishware?”
Elle patted his head. “I don’t like looking like a fool in front of that sorta guy either, Mias, but there’s nothing we can do.”
“I should start carving right away.”
“This late in the day? You’re as worn out as I am. The last thing you need to do is accidentally cut up your fingers.”
“…Right…” He reluctantly agreed with her and kept himself slumped against her as they went back inside.
“…Mias, I’m not exactly sure what this is supposed to accomplish.”
“I am worn out… and stressed… the reason I was so ‘picky’ in town is because I had no idea what I should get… numbers were insignificant, I just hired a man to craft whatever I desired. And now I just feel like a fool…”
“You’re not,” Elle smiled and nuzzled her head back against his. “C’mon. Let’s have some of this stew you worked so hard on, get cleaned up, and crawl into bed.”
“Alright,” he murmured into her shoulder before sitting down at the table with her on their newly crafted chairs that stood firm when sat upon.
Elle brought out their small bowls from their packs to serve a few spoonfuls. It was hardly a proper table setting, but it would do for now along with their canteens for drinking water. All things in time, Elle told herself as she took her first bite and promptly spit it back into the bowl.
“What?” Mias asked as he tried his own creation only to make the same face, but stubbornly refused to spit it up and forcibly swallowed. “It’s uh… ugh… horrible…”
“What did you do?” Elle asked as she got up to inspect the caldron.
“Nothing! I used what Leary told us using ingredients I bought in town. I know I didn’t put anything excess in it!”
“I think it was the meat…” Elle wondered, scooping out a fresh helping to examine.
“But I bought it fresh today.”
“Was it already brown?”
“A little, but it was a good deal so… oh…. Fuck. Well how am I supposed to know? Beef is brown!”
“When it’s cooked! Did you really not ever notice the meat Percy had? Fresh raw beef is red!”
“How am I supposed to know that? All my food is cooked when it’s brought to me!”
“You made that chicken dish once, how can you mess this up?”
“Because I like poultry dishes better!”
“Well then why didn’t you buy a bloody chicken?!”
“Because all the ones hanging in the shops still need plucking and their heads cut off! And without the lemon herb and wild rice, it could hardly be considered a meal. I didn’t think either of us wanted to get that brutal with our meals yet.”
“You don’t think I can stomach cleaning a bird? Mias, if I’m hungry enough, I’ll gut and eat you!”
“Oh like hell you would!”
“Try me!” She stared him down until both their tempers calmed.
“…I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t have dishware… It’d be even more embarrassing to serve them slop…”
“I’m sorry I yelled…” Elle lowered her head. “I was kind of excited to eat something you cooked… I guess I thought you’d be good at anything, heh.”
“I… Give me a little more practice and I’ll be an incredible cook,” he said with renewed determination.
Elle laughed. “Alright, but for now, let me see what I can whip up so we don’t go to bed hungry.”
“…What should I do with the stew?”
“Put it out near the woods for the critters. They don’t mind half rotten meat.”
“Alright,” he said while gathering their bowls to empty back into the cauldron before taking it out to the woods. It’d just been one bad day, he told himself. Things were bound to be better tomorrow. He’d work an honest day’s living for the first time in his life and go home to the woman he loved – that was the dream, wasn’t it?
He took a few deep breaths of the cool evening air before returning inside to finish with the dishes, but he soon realized he’d always been breathing in fresh country air without it doing much good.
And there was Elle, acting like this were her natural environment as she quickly sliced some cheese to put between two slices of bread. He didn’t want to be dependant on her like this. He had every intention of sharing the world load evenly so there could be no accusation of him turning her into another housewife.
He felt guilty about the wasted food (and money), and for consuming more as an alternative meal, but there was no point in starving himself over one bad batch of stew, and Elle reminded him of that. Such dramatics would have to be saved until they were in dire straights – although he prayed it never come to that.
Still, this whole independence from his family was not turning into the sort of freedom he thought it’d be. With few options given their funds, he barely felt in control of it all, trapped in a new world known as the working-class. The fictionalization of the peasantry being happy without money was utter bullocks thus far in his opinion. He wasn’t looking forward to working all day, doing manual labor no less, and getting dirty… He couldn’t come home to Elle looking like a field hand, maybe if he were more muscular and better tanned, but he was as he was now, he knew he’d be run ragged and collapsing into bed right after dinner. This might be his last opportunity in a while to give her any sort of real passion, but he doubted anything more than a few light kisses would make it past Elle’s defenses.
“Am I allowed to sleep naked?” He asked when they were finally ready to crawl into their new bed.
“It’s getting colder at night,” Elle reminded him as she shook out her clothes as she undressed down to her knickers. “Turn around while I grab my nightie.”
“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” Mias reminded her, and seeing as she didn’t actually answer his question, stripped himself naked.
Elle quietly blushed and turned around as she hesitated to remove her bra, deciding to slip her nightie on first and then remove it as all females were gifted with.
“Is that what you sewed with Leary?” He asked. It was a simple white cotton gown that left a bit of her figure to his imagination while exposing most of her shoulders with its thin straps.
“It’s not different from what I wore at the manor, really,” she said as she kept her eyes down and smoothed away the lint. “I ought to fix the hem when I get a chance, but…”
“You look ravishing as always, my dear,” he smiled, grateful he’d have a pleasant view at the very least when he went to bed.
“Stop,” Elle blushed a little brighter and crawled into bed, this time finding herself on the left side near the wall with Mias taking the outer right side, unwittingly boxing herself in.
“Come here,” he called seductively while crawling after her, making her giggle in defense this time as opposed to her usual, more off putting methods.
“Uh-Uh, you’ll do sex stuff to me if I do,” she said with a coy smile, not entirely opposed to a little kissing and light petting if he could control himself.
“Oh, drat. You’ve uncovered my evil plan,” he teased, crawling right into her arms as she decided to hold onto him a bit. “Egads, I’ve been captured!”
“Aren’t you over doing it?” Elle asked, enjoying the more innocent affection, but still mindful this was Mias she was playing with.
“You’ve foiled me again, beautiful temptress. I’ve lost all power in your embrace,” and with that, deciding to let his body go limp and put more of his weight onto her.
“Mias!” She giggled as she tried to hold him up to no avail, so instead rolled them both to their sides.
“Alas, I grow weary… I fear this is the hour of my fate…” Mias draped an arm over his eyes to match the drama of his dialogue.
“O Foolish Sorcerer, I shall make haste and return thine power,” Elle joined in with theatrics, but made sure the kiss she bestowed to his lips was soft and sweet as if it did contain such magic.
“No, I don’t think one kiss is going to do it,” Mias said, continued to play dead.
Elle shook her head with a half smirk and swatted his arm.
“Ahem,” Mias lowered his arm to amend his words. “I mean, thou art mericiful and kind to bestow your lips upon me.”
“Uh-huh,” she replied doubtingly until he leaned forward and kissed her back with a little umpf to the soft and sweet that left their mouths parted when he withdrew.
“I love you,” he said in a quieter voice, keeping his mouth teasingly close for another kiss.
Elle latched back onto him without provocation, taking him a bit by surprise until they both inhaled and melted into one another, hands cautiously exporing the other’s torso as they drew closer and closer together.
“Elle,” Mias breathed her name in that sensual husky tone of his as his right hand cut to the chase by sliding up her thigh past her nightgown as his lips ventured down her neck. “Gods, I love you…!”
“Mmn! Mias…!” Her toes curled into the sheets while her thighs clenched and then slowly relaxed as his fingers gently coaxed her to arousal. She knew he knew where they stood on the issure of intercourse, but there was always that undiscussed area of wiggle room for Mias to take advantage of and Elle to secretly enjoy. She could what he wanted just from how his fingers moved, the two prominent ones rubbing gently in small circles until she began panting. He was tempting her to beg for more than his fingers, but a temptation he’d never satisfy even if she did. He’d bring her close, then neglect it, return to kissing her, and then begin again.
On the fouth cycle he finally inserted his fingers, rocking them slowly back-and-forth while drinking in the happy little whimpers she responded with. Kissing became slower, more intimate, tongue caressing over tongue in time with his fingers. Breathing became strained, but it was worth it, every gasp for air only fueled the excitement.
“M-Mias, I’m gonna…!”
“Mhm,” he smiled at her in that pleasing way as he felt her muscles spasm and watched her expression intently as she released. An indescribly sort of beauty, the kind with beads of sweat on her skin and tears of joy glazing her grey eyes in the dim light of the room and only the sound of deep panting as she descended from the heaven he sent her to. “My, and that was just my fingers.”
“Can’t resist christening a new mattress, can you?” Elle heaved, stretching herself on her back to regain herself.
“I would argue you had the same thing in mind,” he said as he admired the glistening liquid on his fingers before pushing them into his mouth to suck clean.
“Maybe,” she admitted quietly as her eyes rested on him. “Like I said, it’s not that I don’t have the desire to…”
Mias removed his fingers and slowly placed the palm beside her head. “You don’t need to explain yourself. I more or less understand the conflict between our natures and our desires. You’ll be certain to correct me if I ever misread them.”
“Heh, right,” she smiled and touched his cheek as he dipped his head down closer to hers.
“I love you,” he repeated tenderly.
With a verbal response still unavailable, Elle settled for pulling him in for another kiss filled with every bit of kindness and care she could honestly convey at that moment. It was easy to love him at times like this, but even Mias couldn’t spend the rest of his life in bed.