“I promise you papa, before the full moon rises, I will be back with William.”
I took one last look at my suffering father and vowed not to come back unless I had found my wandering brother. I draped my winter cloak over my shoulders and fastened it around my neck. I pulled the hood over my unruly red hair and made sure it was hidden as much as possible. I didn’t want the village to see me leaving, they would question my departure and I didn’t want anyone to know that father was sick. I took the satchel that I had filled with a few pieces of food and some essential things to use along the way. We were very poor but I had always been very resourceful, I always made sure I had what I needed and wanted for nothing.
Father had not always been around to care for me because of work aboard merchant ships and I had lost mother the day I was born. As soon as I closed the door behind me, I walked quickly past the village market, down some narrow passageways I knew no one used at this time of day and made my way to the iron gates which protected our community. I said one last prayer for my father, kept my gaze down as I passed the guards at the gate and walked out into the open. The beauty of our lands never ceased to impress me, the lush greenery all around was beautiful at this time of the year. Snow had not fallen yet, it was however cool
and humid in the air. The snow would come and when it did, my journey would be twice as difficult to bear. I knew where I had to go and how to get there, I just did not know if I would find my brother once I arrived. The last thing I had heard was that he had been seen with a high class woman somewhere in Suffolk. The journey would be long and arduous but I had to do it for papa.
The water was so refreshing on my aching muscles, I floated along the pond and closed my eyes, it was so peaceful. I drifted along the pond, without a care in the world until I heard a twig crack nearby. I quickly made my way to the side where I had left my belongings and got out of the water to retrieve them. I came face to face with a man dressed in the finest garments, he wore a smirk on his handsome face. His white armored horse stood a few paces behind him.
“Have you no honor Sir?”
I picked up my dress and hid myself with my soaked chemise as best as I could.
“I do beg your pardon fair maiden, I came to rest for a bit and yet here I find myself before the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes upon.”
I couldn’t believe the man, he kept his gaze on me, he didn’t even have the decency to turn around. I pulled the dress over my head and let it fall down to the ground, I sat down to wear my boots, picked up my satchel and wore my cloak as fast as I could. I stood and walked past him. He let me go until I came to the road where I had been walking. I felt him and his beautiful white horse following me.
“What is your name?”
I wanted to be left alone. Already he was proving to be a thorn in my side. I kept walking, pulling the hood over my hair.
“It is a shame you cover your beautiful red hair.”
I heard his footsteps stop and I wondered what he was doing. I would not however give him the satisfaction of turning around. After a moment of walking along, his horse appeared beside me, with his master in tow.
“Can I at least accompany you until the nearest shelter? Night will soon be upon us.”
I didn’t want to accept but he was right, the darn brute. I nodded and kept walking on my way. The silence was only broken by the horses hooves hitting the ground. As I saw the inn not too far away, I stopped and turned to him.
“Thank you for accompanying me. I can make it the rest of the way.”
He nodded, yet waited for me to resume walking and continued following me.
“Do you have nothing better to do than follow me?”
He laughed, a deep rumbling laugh which echoed around me. He really was a handsome man, with sparkling green eyes, a thick beard he kept very neat and long black hair that had become unruly after a long day of riding.
“I am also in need of a rest and Ulysses here needs to eat.”
I nodded, it was getting dark and I had assumed he lived nearby. I would just have to put up with him for a little while longer. As we came close to the inn, he found a place to hitch his horse and I found my way inside. The woman who greeted me had gentle eyes and a welcoming smile. There was an old man picking at the fire that was dwindling down in the corner. A long dark oak table sat to the side with chairs running it’s length, pitchers and bowls filled the empty space on a hutch next to it. The smell of beef stew lingered in the air, my stomach growled and I wondered if we would be able to have a good meal before closing our eyes.
The man walked in a few moments after me, took off his cloak and hung it on one of the many hooks along the wall. He came and stood next to me, while I waited for the woman to come back with some linens for our rooms. As she appeared before us, she gasped and took a step back.
“Forgive me your grace, if I had known you were coming to stay, I would have kept my best room for you.”
He waved her response away and smiled.
“Any room is good enough for me Muriel. However, if you have some of that delicious beef stew left, we would appreciate a bowl or two.”
She smiled, completely forgot about the linens and went off
to find some food. I turned to the handsome stranger, my hands firmly placed on my hips.
“Who are you?”
“I asked you first.”
No wonder he wore such fine clothing and his beard was so well kept.
“I am Gwendolynn of Belhawe.”
He took my hand and kissed it gently before letting it go.
“I am Merek of Lavenham.”