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Uno sprazzo di luce, di affetto, di amore

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Leonora was woken up from her nap by the sound of horses coming from the open window. She was curled up in a cushioned chair at the corner of the bedroom, a book she had been trying and failing to read resting on her lap. Blinking the sleep away from her eyes, she slowly stood and put the book down on the nightstand before making her way to the window to find out if her husband had come back to the castle. 


Earlier that week, she had found out from the Count’s old nurse that it was his birthday that day… and that he had not celebrated it in years. In fact, he had not spoken a word to Leonora about it and otherwise she would never have known this day to be different from any other. 


However, now that she knew, she wanted to do something special. After all, a wife should do something for her husband’s birthday.


Looking out the window, she saw him and Ferrando with their men, dismounting their horses and walking towards the entrance. 


From where she stood they all looked a fright, covered in dirt and God knows what. How long was this war going to last? It seemed like it would never end… 


Not wasting a moment, she rang for the servants to fill up a bath with hot water in their bedchamber, and made her way downstairs to greet her husband. She hadn’t yet reached the bottom of the staircase when she saw him, walking decidedly with Ferrando at his side. He was covered in mud and she could see that his boots had left a trail behind him. Still, it was him, and she was happy to see his tired handsome face. 


Leonora let out his name and he turned at the sound, his eyes lighting up at seeing her. “Leonora!”


Smiling, she ran down the rest of the steps and threw her arms around his neck as she jumped into his arms. He let out a gasp of surprise at her enthusiasm, but tightly circled his arms around her waist to hug her to him, his face in the crook of her neck. 


“I have missed you.” She whispered the words in his ear and felt him smile against her neck. 


When he spoke, she could feel the rumble of his deep voice on her skin and it made her lightly shiver. “I was only gone for a day… But I missed you too… I always miss you.” His voice turned soft as he said those last words and Leonora tightened her arms around him, closing her eyes to really sink into his warmth. It felt so right to be in his arms again, she felt as if she could never have enough.   


After a moment, they heard Ferrando cough and di Luna put Leonora down, though they didn’t quite separate. Looking at her, he frowned as he noticed how the mud on his clothes had rubbed off on her dress. Apologising, he unsuccessfully tried to scrub the dirt off with his thumb, but she put her hand on his and stopped him with a laugh. “Do not worry about it, it will wash off!”


Remembering themselves, they turned to Ferrando, who at this point was looking quite uncomfortable. Excusing himself for a moment, Di Luna went to talk to his captain. They exchanged a few words, Leonora saw Ferrando nod, and then he went off to presumably execute whatever task he had been asked to do. 


Di Luna turned and made his way back to Leonora, taking her hand and pressing it against his cheek as he smiled at her. She could feel the softness of his beard under her hand and sensed a warmth run through her when he turned his face to kiss her palm. Raising her other hand to rest it on his chest, Leonora spoke in a voice that betrayed her excitement. “I have a surprise for you.”


He stilled. “Oh?”


She sensed from the rigidness of his stance that it would be better not to mention his birthday, so she tried to keep her voice nonchalant as she answered him. “We have not had a lot of time together these last weeks because of those incessant attacks and I have seen how exhausted you are, so I wanted to do something special today for you…”


He relaxed somewhat, but the tension was not completely gone when he spoke. “And why today?” 


He was looking at her so intently that Leonora felt herself colour. She hoped her voice didn’t betray her. “Why not today? It is as good as any other day, is it not?”


His eyes searched hers, still hesitant, but after a moment he nodded. “Yes I suppose it is…” After all, how could she know that it was his birthday? He had never told her and he did not want her to know. 


Over the years, after his father’s death, he had always tried to avoid any mention of it. Birthdays were for those who had families to celebrate them with. For him they were only a reminder of what he had lost… Still, he supposed that now he did have someone to celebrate with, but he did not know if he was ready for it yet… 


He was pulled out of his thoughts by the feel of Leonora’s hand in his and the sound of her voice. “ Amore , come with me.”


In a daze, he followed her up the stone staircase to their rooms, letting out a deep sigh when he closed the door behind them. A fire was lit in the fireplace and it cast an orange glow on the room as well as a welcomed warmth. 


Leonora smiled when she saw that the bath had been readied as she had asked and she turned to her husband with a blush on her cheeks. “I had a bath prepared for you… Let me do everything.”


He raised an eyebrow. “Everything? What in God’s name do you mean Leonora?”


She felt her face burn up even more at the look on his face, but she was determined to have her way and she kept her voice resolute. “Just trust me.”


“I trust you, but this is very unexpected.” Stepping closer towards her, he caught her waist in his hands, lowered his head to drop a few sloppy kisses on her neck and breathed in the sweet perfume of her skin, a taste of paradise after a day spent among the stench of sweat and horses. Leonora closed her eyes and softly gasped as she felt him gently nip and suck at the tender skin of her neck. She slid her hand in his hair to pull his lips away, but instead she only held him in place more firmly as he made her melt. His touch had a way of making her forget everything.


After a moment, he raised his head from her neck to look at her and smiled at the dazed expression on her flushed face. “What did you want to do?”


Leonora only blinked, trying to gather back her wits. After a while, she remembered what she had planned and stepped away from him to make sure not to get distracted again. “Take off your muddied clothes and step into the bath.”


He smiled at her with darkened eyes. “Will you not help me?”


God, this man was going to be the death of her. She knew her face had to be completely red at this point, but she tried to keep her voice calm. “Of course.”


Stepping towards him, Leonora kept her gaze strictly to his neck as she started on the buttons of his doublet, her fingers slightly shaking as she felt the heat of his eyes on her. He didn’t touch her though, keeping his arms at his side. Still, there was that warmth that always emanated from him, and she could feel herself becoming hot at the closeness. When she had unhooked the last button, she pushed the garment off his shoulders and let it fall to the ground. Trying to keep herself concentrated on the task at hand, she then raised her hands to unlace the collar of his shirt, leaving it open at the neck. 


His skin seemed so warm in the firelight that she couldn’t resist the urge to lower her head and kiss the triangle of skin that had been revealed to her. She heard his intake of breath and the dark hair on his chest softly tickled her face as she brought her lips to his skin. 


When she pulled back to look at him, she didn’t even have the time to notice the look in his eyes before he crushed his mouth to hers and pulled her in his arms again. He moved his hands lower to press her to him while his mouth hungrily drank her in. He had been starved of her during the day and he was more than making up for it now as Leonora melted into his touch. She let herself lose herself in him for a moment, but after a while, she slid her hands into his hair and used the last shred of self control she had to pull him away, breathing heavily as she rested her forehead against his. “I wanted tonight to be special for you and you keep distracting me.”


She could hear the smile in his voice. “I am enjoying this very much Leonora… and I would enjoy it even more if we did not stop.” Di Luna did not know what she had planned, but surely it could not be better than what he had in mind for them. 


He moved to kiss her again, but she put both of her hands on his chest and pushed him away. “No, stop… I have plans for you and you just have to trust me.” 


Di Luna sighed, but couldn’t help but smile at the excitement in her eyes. “I trust you. Do what you want with me, I am yours.”


Leonora was thankful that the soft firelight hid some of her blush, because the way he was looking at her made want to forget all of her plans and find the intoxicating burn of his lips again. 


Taking a deep breath, she tried to clear her head and spoke in a decided voice. “Remove the rest of your clothing and step into the bathtub… I will stay here so that we do not get distracted again.”


He gave her a knowing look and she could not help the laugh that escaped her. He smiled at her then and tugged his shirt off, throwing it on a nearby chair. Leonora looked at him openly, her eyes darkening and her breaths becoming quicker as he removed his boots, hose, and braies, until he stood completely bare in front of her. Leonora swallowed, gestured for him to step into the bath, and quickly unlaced her dress and removed her layers of clothing until she remained in only her chemise, not wanting to stain her finer clothes. 


Di Luna let out a satisfied sigh when he stepped into the water and, as he sank to the bottom of the copper tub, some water splashed over the edge to spill onto the stone ground. 


“Is the water still warm enough?” Leonora moved to kneel next to the tub and tested the water with her hand, finding it still quite hot. 


“Yes it’s perfect.” Di Luna closed his eyes and sighed. The warmth of the water was like a balm on his sore muscles. He could not remember the last time he had taken the time to enjoy a warm bath, but now clearly he would try to do this more often. He opened his eyes again when he heard Leonora’s melodious voice asking him to dunk his hair under water to wet his hair. 


“I will wash your hair now, amore , you can close your eyes.” Leonora smiled as she saw how calm he seemed and she put herself to work with a new warmth in her heart. Lathering up the soap, she slid her hands in his dark locks of hair and started massaging his scalp, slowly rubbing off the dirt and grime. His hair felt soft in her hands and she started faintly humming a melody as she worked the foam through the strands. 


Di Luna let out a low sigh at the soothing feel of her hands combined with the sweet sound of her voice. No one had washed his hair for him since he was a child and he felt his throat tighten at the thought of what he had been missing all this time. He had dreamt of Leonora, of love… but he could never have dreamt of this. This all felt too much, too loving … and he couldn’t understand what he had done to deserve it.


When Leonora saw tears quietly fall from her husband’s eyes, her voice faltered somewhat, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she finished washing his hair and wordlessly moved on to his face, neck and chest, wetting a sponge and lathering it up with soap as she continued to scrub all the grime off his skin. He did not make a sound, keeping his eyes resolutely closed as the tears ran down his cheeks. And so, very slowly, Leonora delicately kissed his cheeks and eyelids, before lowering her lips to also kiss his mouth. He tasted of salt and soap and her heart tightened. 


When she pulled away, Di Luna opened his reddened eyes to look at her with a tenderness and a gratefulness that threatened to make her cry as well. He raised a hand to cup her cheek, the water on it running down her throat and soaking the collar of her chemise. His deep voice was slightly rough as his thumb brushed over her cheekbone. “ I love you.


Turning her head towards his hand to kiss his palm, Leonora leaned into his hand and closed her eyes for a moment, smiling. This was that peace, that delicate and warm feeling of happiness that she had always hoped for. Here, with her cheek in his hand, she was happy . Opening her eyes, Leonora saw a similar emotion reflected in her husband’s eyes and the intensity they held made her suddenly feel her heart start beating against her ribcage. 


His hand drifted to her neck and softly brushed down her arm to her hand, taking it and kissing her palm in turn. His beard lightly tickled her skin and Leonora ran her fingers through the softness of it, her nails slightly grazing his jaw. He closed his eyes again and sank deeper in the water, his head resting on the edge of the tub. 


The room was now fragrant with the essential oils that perfumed the water and the scent combined with the earthiness coming from the logs burning in the fireplace formed an intoxicating perfume that made Di Luna feel incredibly light and calm. 


Leonora, silently smiling at how well he looked, took hold of the sponge and the soap and finished cleaning him. She could hear his quiet hums of contentment and she wondered as to why she had not thought to do this before… They had wed during a war and that meant stolen nights and moments spent in a haze of hungry touches, the danger awaiting him with the morning light always at the back of their minds. But for tonight she would make them both forget the peril that would come with dawn and simply be


When she had gotten all of the dirt and grime off him, Leonora wrung the sponge, the water cascading in the tub in large drops that rang throughout the room, and, setting it down next to the tub, she slowly stood up. Di Luna looked at her with questioning eyes and her voice was low with a new sleepiness as she spoke and went to fetch a towel. “ Amore come out of the tub and I’ll dry you.”


Nodding, he rose up with a tired grunt, leaving a little puddle on the stone floor before Leonora enveloped him in the towel and rubbed him dry. She had to smile at how he looked standing there, naked and clean, with sleepy eyes and a peaceful smile, his dark hair ruffled from the towel. Hugging the towel around himself, Di Luna spoke with his smile showing in his voice. “What do you have planned for me now, my Leonora?”


“I want to try something, but you have to go lie on the bed on your stomach.” Leonora coloured as she saw him raise an eyebrow at her, amusement clear in his eyes at how embarrassed she still seemed. 


Obeying with good humour, he still wondered what she had in store for him, but he trusted her. He had not felt this well in years, had never felt tenderness like this, and it was all because of her. He would have to repay her for this, but for now he would enjoy whatever she wanted to do. 


Her husband now laying on the bed, Leonora went to find the scented oils she had had brought up as he looked on with interest. Remembering that he had always liked her roses, she chose the rose scented oil and spread some on her hands before climbing on the bed and kneeling beside him. He let out a sound of surprise as she put her hands on his back, spreading the oil. The sound soon turned into a deep moan as she started to massage his sore muscles, kneading and rolling them with her hands and forearms. She could feel the knots along the length of his back to his shoulders and neck and she worked on them until they dissolved, rewarded with sighs when she succeeded. 


It felt new to have him be so physically vulnerable with her; she was so used to receiving his strength and warmth that to now be the one giving was exciting. Looking at his almost sleeping face on the pillow, fixed in a peaceful expression, Leonora felt that she had never loved him more. 


She continued to knead his muscles until her hands became tired and all of the oil had rubbed into his skin. She could see him falling asleep beneath her hands. Her eyes were also becoming very heavy and, sliding under the covers next to him, Leonora raised a hand to di Luna’s cheek, her voice soft. “Happy birthday. ”


He opened his eyes suddenly, startled. “What? How-How did you find out?” 


“Manuela told me when I asked her… She used to be your nurse, was she not?” Leonora coloured as she felt doubt creep up in her neck. Had she done wrong?


“She was… But I have not celebrated my birthday in years…” Di Luna’s voice trailed off and he retreated into his thoughts. So she had known after all, and that was what tonight had been… his birthday… She had made it special for him… He felt torn between wanting to run away from this bed, from this room, and from the overwhelming feeling in his chest, and wanting to slide his arm around her waist to pull her closer to him and never let go. 


Finally, looking at all of the good intentions in Leonora’s dark eyes, he decided that he was very comfortable where he was. Pulling Leonora in his arms, he nuzzled his face into the crook of her neck and she felt his words against her skin. “Thank you.”


Smiling, Leonora closed her eyes and slid her hand into his hair, softly caressing the dark locks as her breathing slowed down and her voice came out as a sleepy whisper. “I love you.”


She felt his own smile in answer against her neck and let herself slowly fall into a peaceful sleep, at home in the warmth and comfort of his arms.