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“There is nothing on this one.”
Darius purposely turned his face away from the man who spoke. He hated the necessary collecting of the spoils after every battle. As he rose from his crouch, he scanned the room.
Spotting the king, Darius strode toward him.
“Have they searched every room?” King Simon Jenran of Braulyn asked as Darius approached. The question was directed to the two soldiers who had just arrived.
“No,” the older of the two answered wearily. “Just the women's apartments.”
“Then keep looking; we must find her,” the king instructed. Dismissing the pair with a wave, he turned to face Darius.
“Nothing?” Darius asked as soon as the king's attention was focused on him. As he watched his liege’s face, Darius noted the lines deepening around his master's mouth. King Jenran had aged ten years in the past eight months.
“Nothing.” The king frowned. “They have not finished looking, but my guess is they will continue to find nothing.” He walked to a nearby chair and sank into it. “Has justice been served?” He nodded toward the corpse Darius had been examining.
“Dead,” Darius informed him. And dead too soon, he added silently. The outcome of this siege was disappointing. Two months spent traveling north and then six months of sitting on their hands. The experience would drag on any warrior. All the time spent in attaining a goal, only to be routed at the last moment with an archer’s arrow.
“He died instantly,” he added after a pause. The king nodded. Darius did not have to add the rest. They both knew who released the arrow that killed the man: a young man, green with inexperience. It was over and nothing would bring the man back now.
Darius waited as his master thought. The king's bloodshot brown eyes stared off into space. Darius was beginning to think the king had fallen asleep, when he suddenly spoke in a low voice so only Darius could hear. “She was still here this morning.” Straightening in his chair, the king continued. “Gwendolyn and her women left a trail only a few hours old.” The king met Darius' eyes.
A movement caught the edge of Darius' vision, but he did not acknowledge it. Jenran continued, “If we can determine which direction they took, we might be able to overtake them.”
Casually nodding his agreement, Darius swept his gaze across the room. Speaking so only his master could hear, he added, “We have an observer.” The man was crouched behind one of the tapestries along the walls. Both exits were two or three hiding places from the hidden man’s position.
“Where is he?” The king did not move except to look up and catch Darius's eye as if they were in conversation.
Just then, the figure darted between shelters. Darius felt his mouth drop; he quickly disguised it by saying, “A girl.”
“Did you just say it was a girl?” Jenran's weary eyes sharpened and focused more carefully on Darius.
“Yes.” Darius carefully turned so he could watch both his master and the girl. “Small build, dark hair, she is definitely not Gwendolyn or one of her frequent companions.” The girl darted to the next hiding place. She was one sprint away from freedom. Darius knew how she felt. The tempo of the heart pounding in his chest and the taste of liberty on his tongue were both familiar sensations. “She is mine,” he said. He glimpsed the king’s smile.
“If you catch her,” he agreed.
The girl darted and Darius followed. She disappeared out the door as he silently hurtled the last bench between them.
Brice ran for her life. The empty halls closed in around her and she was certain every sound echoed louder than the last. She needed to get away before someone saw her. Since birth, she heard stories about how mercenaries treated the women captives after a battle. She could not be discovered. Eventually, she found herself in the promenade opening into the inner gardens. The moment her eyes fell on the lush underbrush bordering and overgrowing the paths, she had an idea.
As she turned down the nearest avenue among the trees, Brice caught sight of movement behind her. Was someone following her?
Eve covered her head and crouched low in the raspberry patch. She concentrated on not making a sound. The blare of the horn and the cries of the hunters faded. Lowering her hands, she strained her ears. Not even the echo of their crashing in the distance remained. The birds stayed silent, but considering the recent ruckus, they might have all fled.
A groan broke the unnatural silence.
She froze and listened, heart in her throat. A pained, male grunt came from about three feet to her left. Cautiously she turned her head. A stranger stared at her through the tangle of bushes between them.
A wild mess of brown hair fell over his dark blue eyes as he regarded her in alarm. Sweat plastered the hair to his forehead. He observed her with more of a feverish glaze than true understanding. Pain etched lines about his eyes.
He opened his mouth as if to speak, but then shook his head. Falling forward, he then rolled onto his back and lay still.
Eve hurried to untangle the thorns from her tunic.
Free at last, she crept out of the patch and approached him. Fear and instinct screamed she should flee. Instead she paused. If she stopped to help him, she would be beaten. Her master warned her to stay away from the king’s men.
Well, the king’s men or not, the pursuers were gone. As their prey, he could hardly be one of them. Was he worse?
She inched forward and a twig snapped under her knee.
“Go away and leave me be,” he ordered.
“What will become of you?”
He stared into the sky above the trees. “My pursuers return.” His chest still heaved from his recent exertion. “I die.” Restlessly, his hand clenched and released at his side as though he was fighting the urge to run.
“I know of a place where you can hide.” She watched his lean form for a reaction. “It is nearby.”
He stopped moving. Finally, as though sensing she would not leave, he spoke. “Come over here. I want to see you.”
She crept to his side. As soon as she drew close, she could see the source of his pain. A shallow gash ran across his left arm above the elbow and an even more serious injury marred his right leg above the knee. The leggings, torn and caked with a combination of dried and fresh blood, trailed filth in the wound. She was calculating how she could slow the bleeding when he commented.
“You are only a child.”
She brought her eyes to his face and bit her tongue. This was not the time to argue her age. She returned to assessing his injuries.
“If you are wondering whether or not I am able to walk, stop.”
“I will help.” She met his eyes with a cool determination that left no room for doubt.
After a moment, he broke her gaze and returned to staring at the sky.
“What if I want to die?”
She was still thinking about the best reply when she grew aware of his scrutiny. Their eyes met. “Why would you?”
His lips compressed as he swallowed his reply. Instead, he offered, “I understand I do not have a choice.”
He resisted as she reached for his wounded arm.
“You need to promise me something first.”
She frowned and didn’t reply.
“If we are spotted or do not make it into hiding, you must kill me.”
She looked away from the pleading and pain in his eyes. “I promise.” Her voice was barely audible, but he seemed satisfied. Thankfully he did not ask her to say it again. She concentrated on ripping strips from her chemise. It made her nervous to repeat a promise she didn’t intend to keep. Kurios, don’t make me keep the promise, she prayed.
She bound his leg and arm. After numerous false starts, they managed to gain their feet. He towered over her by a good foot. His injured leg threatened to give out, but otherwise he could easily support himself on his other limb despite the obvious loss of blood. The weight he draped over her shoulders made it clear she wouldn’t have been able to budge him on her own.
Conversation was reduced to grunts of pain or effort. Eve began to consider the seriousness of her decision. Mridle wasn’t going to allow her to nurse this man. There was no possible way to do it without his knowledge. Escaping her master would be the only way she could care for this man. And if the stranger persisted in his fatalistic outlook, she might not succeed. She shook the thought away. He must live, Lord. He must live.
The usual three-minute walk took them forever. Dusk dimmed the sky when they finally reached the broken-down door of the old shed.
The last steps were brutal. A few feet from the door, his good leg gave out. Eve could not carry all his weight. She stumbled under the sudden shift, tripped, and came down painfully on her knees in the mud. Realizing that he might crush her, the man rolled to the side and landed on his back in a small patch of grass. After his stifled cry of anguish, they fell silent. She waited until her knee ceased throbbing before she crawled over to where he lay.
“I will go in and clear a place for you to lie down before we try to move you again.”
He nodded his agreement. He had no breath to speak.
She moved as fast as her sore muscles allowed and stumbled inside. A hermit’s shack, the one-room structure did not offer much comfort. A fireplace took up most of the right wall. A small cupboard-like lean-to added for storage hid behind a rickety door to the left of the hearth. Leaves and bugs littered the floor and swaths of spider webs rustling with carcasses filled the room. Movement among the clutter and the rotting window coverings did not help her first impression. The only thing resembling a bed crouched along the length of one wall. In essence it was a wooden shelf with an old straw mattress on it. She pulled off the decaying mess and, using her skirt, she brushed off the bugs. Now came the harder part.
Upon returning outside, she almost cried at the sight of him. He managed to prop himself against the wall. In this position, he dozed. Every line of his body screamed discomfort.
Gently, Eve woke him. Together they got him to his feet and through the door. He fell onto the hard pallet. She winced as his face contorted in pain. She knelt near his shoulder to work on making him more comfortable. The gash in his arm needed stitching, which required thread. She glanced at the single window. Twilight veiled the sky and there was much to do.
“What is your name?” His voice wavered so weakly she barely heard him. She met his eyes, dark and glassy with pain and fatigue.
With a shallow, bitter laugh, he said, “How ironic.” Then, as if the strength to fight unconsciousness drained from him, his eyes closed, and his head rolled to one side.
For a frantic moment Eve feared she had lost him, but his weak pulse reassured her. She watched his chest rise and fall and tried to decide what to do next.
Darkness crowded out the last light when she finally left him. He still shifted restlessly on the bed, but she could do nothing more without supplies. As a final step before leaving, she removed every weapon on his person. She doubted he would use them, but she wanted to be certain.
First, she returned to the berry thicket. The pail lay where she dropped it. A sheathed knife lay next to a nearby tree, hidden in the grass until her toe found it. Taking these with her, she headed for her master’s house. Fear rose up, threatening to override her determination.
“He must have food, warm blankets, and medicine or he will die.”
She said the words once aloud, but their essence pushed her forward through her fear. Each step still took great effort. Finally she stood before the aging edifice of her master’s house. The sagging roof, broken shutters, and overgrown doorstep offered little assurance of a welcome.
Kurios, give me strength, she prayed before unlatching the back door and entering.
The kitchen glowed with weak light from the banked cooking fire as she slipped through the opening. Her master, Mridle, waited for her with his strap and fist.
“Where were you?” he demanded. “I had to eat supper out.”
Eve closed her lips tightly and straightened. She dropped the pail and knife among the boots and then turned to face her punishment.
“Not going to tell me, brat?” Mridle wrapped the whipping strap around his fist. “We shall see about that.”
When Mridle purchased her, Eve resolved to never cry in his presence. This time she couldn’t hold back the tears. Before he left her, eye swelling shut and blood dripping from her face, Mridle paused.
“You are now the property of Horben.”
Horben was the local tavern owner. He kept slave girls for his patrons’ entertainment. Eve’s golden hair and green eyes had caught his attention years ago.
“He is coming for you tomorrow.” Mridle spat at the hearth stone, not even bothering to aim for the slop bucket at his heel. “He will teach you to show respect. Those girls get three choices, obedience, whipping, or worse. Horben is planning a lesson in worse by nightfall, be sure of that.” He grinned, showing off his yellow and brown teeth. “He will have you submissive and begging in a few days, mind my words. Then you will wish yourself back here with me.”
The moment he was truly gone, clamoring up the stairs to bed, she began getting to her feet. Gingerly working her hip joint where one of his kicks had landed, she glanced around the room with her good eye. She didn’t own much, and they would need more. Mentally calculating the value of the government mandated wages due her, she limped around gathering thread, food, bedding, clothing, medicine, and other necessities. Finally, with a bundle on her back and a tinderbox banging her good hip, she left.Eve realized Mridle might just come after her. Trusting him to make the assumption that she would run as far as possible, she suspected they would be safe for a time in the abandoned hermitage.
The stone walls of the tower cooled her hands in spite of the unseasonable warmth of the past week. Gratefully, Lirth leaned her head against the rough stone. The cold surface chilled her fevered skin.
The distant clash of metal against metal echoed in the corridor and stairwell outside the thick oak door of her room. The din steadily grew closer and she grasped at the calm she had felt only moments before.
I knew this was coming someday, yet... She caught herself mid thought. She should be thankful that she had known. Frustration flared and she asked, Why must patience be so difficult?
The unseen Kurios did not respond. She knew He was there and she knew He was the source of her intuition.
It is not that I am not thankful. She pointed out. I know well enough Your intervention is the sole reason I have not been more battered. Instead, of abusing me and or using me, they isolate me.
Shortly after her abduction five summers before, Baron Tor locked Lirth away in the cold tower room and forbid his men from speaking to her. By the grace of the Kurios, he chose not to execute her or handed her over to one of his minions. She had opportunity to cherish the hope of freedom.
The clanging below abruptly ceased. A death cry echoed within the stone tower below her room.
Realizing the sound indicated someone would be seeking her out soon, she paced the distance from the wall to her cot on the opposite side of the room. Her heavy cloak tugged as it caught on the corner of the single chair as she passed. Impatiently she tugged it free.
On the other side of the door the wooden stairs creaked and groaned. The victor climbed to claim his prize.
Lirth's hands shook. She initially missed when she reached for the small satchel that held her few worldly belongings. Finding it, Lirth moved back toward the chair in the center of the room, fastening it as she walked.
The wooden bolt struck the floor outside with a clatter.
Her fingers traced the worn lip along the back of the chair, seeking the familiar scratches. She measured her breaths by a two count to keep from panic.
The door uttered a grating squeal as it opened. The dull thud of it striking the wall and rebounding echoed in the bare room.
I hope it hit him.
Hastily she drew back the thought. The Kurios would not send someone to harm her.
What about those that sent him?
“Please tell Lady Lirth I have come for her.” A warm male voice spoke above her head and about four feet in front of her.
“I am the one you seek.”
Raising her chin so she was addressing his face, Lirth drew herself up and tilted her head elegantly to one side. His surprise came to her like the smell of blood and sweat, with the force of his presence.
“Am I allowed to know the name of the one who seeks me?”
The slight change in the man's breathing warned Lirth of the man's astonishment before he spoke.
“They did not tell you?” Surprise lingered in his question, along with a hint of uncertainty.
“I am told nothing.”
She heard his movement only a moment before he touched her.
“What is your full name?” Warm fingers caught her chin and gently forced her face to turn. Involuntarily flinching at the touch, Lirth closed her eyes and obeyed the man's verbal and physical commands.
“My name is Lirth Yra Parnan. I am the only daughter of Trid, King of Sardmara.”
Silence descended between them. The strange man studied her. His grip on her face was gentle, but firm when she tentatively pushed against it. After she tried unsuccessfully to move away a second time, she gave up. Waiting patiently, she reached out with her senses to examine him in return.
He smelled of battle: blood, sweat, and dirt. Beneath these, though, she detected a waft of the soap he bathed with recently. His hands were long and lean. Although he held her face firmly, she doubted she would be tender or bruised later.
Concentrating on their brief exchange, she guessed him to be about six feet tall, maybe slightly over. He must be fit, because his breathing though accelerated was not rushed. Four flights of stairs stretched from the tower’s base to her room.
Unfortunately she was not able to guess at age or features. She needed her own fingers and his permission for that.
When he finally spoke, his voice was calmer and quieter, tone controlled so she could not read it.
“I am Ireic Iathan Theodoric, King of Anavrea.” He paused briefly. “Open your eyes, Lirth, and look at me.”
“I cannot obey you.”
Steeling herself for a blow, Lirth was stunned when he spoke instead.
She opened her eyes to the darkness she had known most of her life.
“I am blind.”
Book Two of the Theodoric Saga - The King of Anavrea
This novel is currently in the process of being revised. I am working on expanding it, adding story, descriptions, characters, and scenes. I hope to publish it within a year, so keep an eye out. To keep track of its more incremental movements toward the printed page follow my blog or like The Theodoric Saga page on Facebook to get up to the minute details.
“My Lord Tremain,” a voice called from behind him.
Liam grimaced at the sound of his new title. Drawing back on the reins, he slowed his horse. “My lord,” Braxton said again as he drew his mount alongside Liam’s, matching the warhorse’s pace.
“How many times do I have to tell you,” Liam began.
“I know,” Braxton responded, raising a hand to cut him off. “But you have to get used to it soon.”
“Getting used to it is not the problem,” Liam explained.
Braxton merely nodded.
Liam was well aware that his friend was correct, but he was not willing to take on his new role as a titled landowner any sooner that was absolutely necessary. Glancing over at his comrade in arms of ten years, he asked, “So what were you ‘my lording’ me for?”
“The captain says that we should be able to see the village and castle after the next rise,” Braxton informed him.
“Then let us pick up the pace.” Liam squeezed his thighs slightly and his horse sped up into a trot. “I am interested in seeing the magnitude of the job before me.”
King Ireic Theodoric, monarch of Anavrea, was replacing his nobles, one title at a time. Ever since the attempted coup almost a year ago, he had carefully removed the power from the hands of his opposition. So, when Lord Alain of Ashwyn died without a legitimate heir, he had chosen Liam to take the title and lands.
Liam supposed he was a logical choice. As the third son of noble parents, he chose to enter the military. There he could serve his country and king with honor. Then the rebellion occurred and he found himself on the opposite side of the conflict from his parents and many of his childhood friends. The king triumphed and Liam was rewarded with a title and lands.
“There it is,” Braxton announced as they crested the last hill. Liam reined in his horse so he could take in the view.
The valley dropped away from them and spread out in a green and brown patchwork of fields and hedgerows. The road they were following wound only slightly to the east on its route to the village huddled beneath the shadow of a massive castle. The village was smaller than Liam expected. This close to the wild northern border he had anticipated more people to remain close to the stronghold of the lord protecting them. The castle loomed above the small houses from its perch at the top of the next rise. Its low, thick walls were made of a black colored stone that soaked up the late afternoon sunlight that painted everything else livid shades of bronze and gold.
“Ashwyn Vargar,” Braxton murmured.
“Aye.” Liam sighed. The noise of the following company of men and supplies began to come upon them from behind. “Come,” he said as he urged his horse forward, “Let us get this over with.”
The sun touched the western horizon when they reached the village. Young farmers, none of them looking older than thirteen, joined them on the road as they approached. Strangely silent, they watched the company and made no move to inquire who they were or why they had come. On the outskirts of the town, a group of children gathered to greet them. The insignia of his new title on his tunic and on the livery of his horse were obviously the reason for their stares.
When they reached the open space that appeared to be the village’s center, they were met by an odd group of five humans: three men, a woman, and a boy. Liam stopped his horse and dismounted. The five walked toward him, if it could be called walking. The three men used canes and the young man supported an ancient woman.
The oldest man spoke first. “Greetings, noble lord,” he said in a wavering voice. He bowed as best he could and the others did likewise
“Greetings,” Liam returned and dipped his head slightly to them. “I am Liam Tremain, newly made Lord Ashwyn of Ashwyn Vargar.”
“Welcome to your new home.” The wizened man paused to cough before continuing. “I am Micas, the village elder. I regret that we are not able welcome you as fitting your station, for our men are away.”
“Where have they gone?” Liam asked as he glanced around. Women and older girls with babies on their hips were appearing on the doorsteps of the hovels and cottages. The young farmers they had passed on the road were also filling in the crowd. Not one of the males looked between the ages of fourteen and sixty.
“Lord Klian of Onlus, the neighboring estate, came a week ago and pressed them into his service. We do not expect to see them until after the harvest.” The old man stopped to cough spastically.
Not waiting for him to catch his breath, Liam dismounted and crossed to stand before the spokesman. Braxton and a few of the closer men did likewise. Dimly aware of his friend moving into a defensive position behind his right side, Liam turned his full attention to the man before him. “You are not well. Surely there is another who can speak with me?”
“I can speak.” The young man supporting the ancient woman piped up. Still unable to make a sound above a harsh rasp, the old man flailed a hand in his direction to silence him.
“Let the boy speak,” the woman croaked. “If the young lordling does not mind speaking with a boy, let Urith speak for us. He knows enough.”
“Yes,” Liam agreed. It would not be a good beginning if one of his tenants died because of his arrival; the old man appeared to be coughing up his lungs. “Return to your rest by the fire and let this young man answer my questions.”
Even before the man managed a nod, the other ancients were turning back toward their respective residences. A middle-aged woman came forward to take care of the woman Urith was supporting. Liam watched with interest as the boy gently transferred his charge.
A thin youth, gangly with his first growth into manhood, Urith looked barely thirteen. However, he looked up at Liam with the even look of a seasoned man. “You might want to tell your men to start setting up camp,” he said.
Frowning, Liam returned his gaze. “Why?” The Vargar towering behind them promised at least shelter for the night.
“Getting the keys to the Vargar is going to take a few hours at best and all night at least,” the boy informed him.
“You mean that someone has barricaded themselves inside the Vargar?” Braxton asked.
Shaking his head slightly, the boy motioned toward the Vargar. “No one is inside the Vargar at present. It has been closed up since two days after Lord Alain died. The keys were hidden to prevent Lord Klian from taking up residence. I can take you to the keeper of the keys, but we will not be back until long after dinner. Your men will be hungry.”
Book Three of the Theodoric Saga - The Reward
This novel is currently in the process of being revised. I am working on expanding it, adding story, descriptions, characters, and scenes. I hope to publish it within a year or two, so keep an eye out. To keep track of its more incremental movements toward the printed page follow my blog or like The Theodoric Saga page on Facebook to get up to the minute details.
“You are not even worthy of this opportunity.” Aunt Roalalt frowned as she sat impossibly straight on the uncomfortable carriage seat. Rain hammered down on the roof, but Lora’s aunt’s voice carried easily over the roar. “I had almost given up on finding you a position, but when my good friend, Lady Irene, told me about the Baron’s situation, I knew he might be desperate enough to hire you.”
Lora nodded dutifully. Her aunt was probably right. Raised with her four brothers, she had never had much experience with the social settings. Father had always stressed mental capabilities above the social skills a young woman needed to become a lady’s maid or companion.
“Even if he doesn’t find your skills with languages helpful, you can at least serve as a cook and housekeeper.” Her aunt sniffed and dabbed her nose with a fragile looking hanky. “Your dear mother would be horrified if she lived to see how you have been raised.”
Lora frowned and turned her attention to the rain streaking the glass panes of the coach. The vehicle jostled as it sped along the country road. Mother approved of father’s beliefs and encouraged them in their studies. True, she and her brothers would have been raised differently had mother lived, but not as differently as her aunt believed. Over the last few weeks, she had learned that Aunt Roalalt, mother’s only sister, decided upon a different vision of Lora’s mother.
Quiet and graceful, Juna Guiania had always encouraged her children to grow and explore. Lora blinked back the tears that welled up in her eyes. Juna was long gone. When Lora was ten, she had fallen sick and within days passed forever out of their lives. Lora still remembered Father’s face the morning he came to tell them. He had never smiled the same again.
“Here we are,” her aunt announced as the coach came to a jerky halt. “Now hurry out, child. I have a long way to go before I reach Lady Irene’s tonight.”
The door opened and a sodden footman leaned down to unfold the stairs for Lora’s descent. Obediently, Lora picked up her handbag, pulled the thin cloak close around her shoulders, and tugged the hood up over her hair. The footman offered her a hand. Taking it, she stepped down into the muddy road.
As soon as her feet were firmly on the ground, Lora looked up and peered through the driving rain at the looming building before her. The glow of light could be seen from one of the windows on the second floor, but there were no other signs that anyone was in the building.
“Your trunk, miss,” the footman said as he plopped her box down next to her, washing her ankles and the bottom of her dampening cloak in mud. Then before she could say anything, he was gone. The coachman clicked his tongue to the horses, and then the coach moved away.
Lora watched it for a few moments as it disappeared into the driving rain. Everything in her wanted to run after it calling for it to stop and take her back into its dry interior, but she knew it would be useless. Aunt Roalalt had been abundantly clear that there was no place for a penniless orphan in her life. Forcing herself to turn back to the dark house, Lora straightened her shoulders beneath her already soaked cloak. Leaning down, she grabbed the rough rope handle of her box and began dragging it to the front door.
Once standing beneath the moderate shelter of the stone-pillared arch framing the carved front doors, she pushed back her hood. She frowned up at the gargoyle that leered at her from the center of the left door and debated whether to knock or pull the heavy cord that hung to the side. Remembering the lonely light in the window on the second floor, she decided on the bell.
She pulled the cord, but heard no sound from within the building. The wind picked up and blew the rain at and angle against the house. Lora stepped farther back into the alcove to the left of the door to avoid getting wetter.
“May I help you?” Lora looked up to find a tall, thin man standing within the doorway holding a covered lamp aloft.
“I am Lora Guiania, Lady Irene sent me to be the Baron’s cook and housekeeper.” She watched as confusion passed across the man’s dark features. Apparently, the man had not been informed of her impending arrival.
“Come,” he said tersely. Reaching down with his free hand, he lifted her box. Turning, he carried it into the foyer beyond the open door. Obediently, Lora followed.
The hall was large, two stories high, and dark. She could make out the vague shapes of paintings and tapestries along the walls. A large staircase rose from the center of the room reaching to the balcony overlooking the room.
“Wait here while I tell the master you have arrived,” the man instructed her. Silently he mounted the stairs. She watched as he climbed the staircase and disappeared into the shadows. He had taken the only light, leaving her to stand in darkness until he returned.
Her cloak, now heavy with water, began to pull her down. Unfastening the clasp at her throat, she slipped it from her shoulders. Shivering in the cold drafts of the hall, she carefully folded the sodden material and laid it on her box. Slowly her eyes adjusted to the absence of the lamplight and she began to see shapes and shadows. The rain poured against the distant roof and somewhere in the darkness something creaked. As she stood listening to the sounds of an old house on a rainy night, she found her eyelids getting heavy. Rubbing her eyes she tried to keep them open.
I wonder what the old Baron is like. Her Aunt’s descriptions had brought to mind an elderly gentleman or at least a man into his forties. After all he has explored the Northern Regions of Rynlan and the Western reaches of Anavrea. He is the foremost authority on Ratharian culture and an expert in numerous languages. The image of a mild, older man, bookish but spry, presented itself to Lora’s eye. Maybe this isn’t as bad as I was dreading.
“What are you smiling at?” a voice demanded. Lora opened her eyes and blinked in the bright light coming from the lamp inches from her face. Squinting, she tried focus beyond the flickering wick, but her eyes refused to obey.
“I asked you a question, girl.” The voice barked again. “I am not in the habit of repeating myself.” The tone annoyed Lora.
“I am not in the habit of explaining my thoughts, sir,” she replied.
A low chuckle came from beyond the lamp. “Quinn, you didn’t tell me she had a quick tongue,” the man said as he moved the lamp away and set it on a nearby table. “So, my Aunt Irene has seen fit to hire me a housekeeper.” He turned back to her, keeping his face in the shadows. “It is just like her to decide I cannot hire one myself. Well, child, where are your references?” He held out a hand.
Lora found she could not speak. Shaking her head, she looked up at the shadowed figure. He was tall and broad, but that was all she could discern while he stood as he did between her and the light so the shadows hid his face and everything, but the outline of his form. The hand that hung between them looked large.
“What! No references?” He peered at her; his eyes glimmers in the dark void of his face. “Well then there must be something else that recommends you. My aunt is usually very thorough in her choosing of hired help. Are you instructed to report to her all my strange actions?”
“No, sir,” Lora managed.
“Spit it out, girl,” he demanded. “I don’t have time to stand here asking you questions. How did you end up on my doorstep on a night like this?”
Swallowing carefully, Lora tried desperately to formulate an answer. It was hard to understand what he wanted, since he obviously was looking for something.
“My aunt, Lady Roalalt is a friend of Lady Irene, who told her you were in need of a housekeeper and cook. Since my father has just died, leaving me no place to go, Lady Irene told her that I had the position. I assumed that Lady Irene had spoken to you…”
He cut her off with a wave. “My aunt believes she can arrange my life while I am at home. So,” he said, walking away deeper into the shadows. “You do not know the Lady Irene?”
“I have never met her, sir.”
“And you have no orders to report to her?”
“No, sir,” she replied.
“Very well,” he said in a tone of finality. Turning on his heel, he faced her once again. He stared at her face a moment, as if to read something there. She still could not see his features, but she could feel the pressure of his gaze. Then, he turned abruptly and walked into the shadows to the left of the stairs. A door was opened and closed out of sight as he departed the room.
“This way, miss,” the thin man said as he melted out of the shadows on her left. He crossed to her box and again lifted it. Her cloak slid to the floor. Taking the lamp in his free hand, he turned toward the stairs. Lora had to scramble to retrieve her cloak and catch up with him as he started up the stairs.
“So, I have the position?” She asked, still unsure of what had happened.
“It appears so, miss,” he replied without hesitating.
She followed the somber man up the staircase. They were stepping into the second hall off the foyer balcony when she finally got up the nerve to ask another question. “How many servants and occupants are there?”
The man paused to look at her a moment as if to accuse her of asking too many questions. “I need to know how many to cook breakfast for tomorrow morning,” she hurried to explain.
“Master is the only resident. Lachine, the gardener, and I are the only servants, Miss. I am the only one to serve the master. He breakfasts in his rooms at roughly seven. This will be your room.” He set her trunk down before the last door on the left and handed her the lamp. “Good night, miss.” He bowed and disappeared into the shadows.
Lora shivered as she looked after him. What was it with these men and walking about in the dark without light? Frowning, she turned and opened the door to her new room. Stale air assailed her with its usual smells of dust and mold. The smell wasn’t promising, but she was here to be the housekeeper and she had to expect some lack of care. Leaning down she grabbed the handle of her trunk and set to the task of dragging it over the doorsill and onto the rug beyond.
She would worry about what lay ahead tomorrow. At least she had a dry place to sleep tonight.
Book Three of the Theodoric Saga - The Servant of Anavrea
This novel is currently in the process of being revised. I am working on expanding it, adding story, descriptions, characters, and scenes. I hope to publish it within a few years, so keep an eye out. To keep track of its more incremental movements toward the printed page follow my blog or like The Theodoric Saga page on Facebook to get up to the minute details.