Standing in front of the humble cottage that was my home, Richard still held tightly to me. “I do not want to leave you until I know that you are alright.”
Shaking my head with the flush of crying still on my cheeks, I fluttered my glistening eyelashes, “I’m fine…really Richard. Please, you have your friends to attend to and I would hate to see you miss their company.”
He was bending down this time to catch my gaze, “Mary, you do realize that you are the most important company that I keep.” Flushing from the excitement that jumped in my chest at the thought his comment brought to mind, I struggled to keep a smile from bursting forth. “Come, you need to go to your mother and I have some business to attend to with your father.”
Richard shared all the gory details of the afternoon with my parents. My mother aghast flitted around me, taking me to the back room to assess any injuries that I may have acquired. I kept hearing the faint mumblings and laughs of my father and Richard from the other side of the house. Mother was determined that I bathe and change my clothes for the Lord. I could argue as much as I wanted, but Mother would always get her way in the end. Tired as I was from the waves of emotion that had wracked through me this afternoon, I gave in rather quickly, letting her do as she wished to me without a word or fight.
We arrived back in the main room where the firelight was dancing across the walls approximately an hour later. The sun had already set, so the glow from the fire was all the light we had. Mother adored me in light blue and so she dressed me in the best that I had, which to a lady’s standards was still an old rag. Appearing at the doorway, Richard’s attention was quickly taken from my father to myself. Rising immediately, he walked a few steps toward me. Turning back to my father when he remembered himself, he bowed slightly thanking him for his time. “I shall see you again soon Sir.”
Chortling at Richards’ treatment of him my father laughed, “Of course my lad, anytime that you may wish it, our door is open.”
Reaching a hand toward me, Richard waited for me to join him. Flushing again, silently chiding myself for betraying my feelings, I reached for his hand, taking it gently as he led me outside. Walking with me out in the moonlight, he held me close to his side. The outer protective wall of the castle was not far from my parent’s home, almost overshadowing half of the view above us. Looking up at the night sky, I saw a shooting star arc across it. Well, I suppose if I was going to have to live with my embarrassment this morning, I at least had some good things that happened. Stopping just next to the front gate, Richard turned and stood in front of me. “Mary, I know this seems absurd, you being so much younger than I. But the time has come for me to choose a wife. Whether or not it was the time, I would want to choose you.”
My heart seemed to be beating a million miles a minute. “Richard! You want me?” I hesitated, “But why?”
Smiling and cradling my hands in his, he raised my hands to his lips, kissing the tips of my fingers. “I have loved you since I first met you. At first I wanted to protect you and be a friend, but it grew into so much more. Mary, I could never be happier than when I am with you.”
An increased flush wafting over my skin, I could hold my silence no longer. “You have held my heart since you gave me your ring. I could desire nothing less than to be with you forever.”
Smiling he hoisted me up turning me about, “Of all the glorious things!” I was laughing happily, flying about with his strength like I was a feather. Lowering me back down he brushed his fingers across my cheek, softly speaking to me in a hushed tone almost too inaudible for me to hear, “Darling Mary, I have told your Father the details of what will come if you should indeed accept me. He and your Mother will prepare you. For now, I must bid you goodnight. I yearn to linger with you here longer, but I must rejoin my friends.” Kissing me on the top of my head, he took my arm again, walking me back to my parents’ cottage. “I never believed I could ever be this happy.” Smiling at each other, we quietly walked side by side, enjoying just the touch of our arms together.
I awoke the next morning remembering what had happened the night prior as if it were a fantastic dream. I could not certainly be this happy. I was not nearly important enough to deserve the Lord Richard Devareax as a husband.
Sitting up in bed, the sunlight casting brilliant beams of light over the thin blankets, I played with the ring that ever graced my finger. Turning it about, I rubbed my fingertips over it, getting lost in my own thoughts of what the future may hold. The ring caught the sunlight and I thought that I saw something in it. Rubbing it and squinting to try and see more clearly, I was startled when my bedroom door flung open, pounding against the wall.
“Mary! Get up right this instant! We have so much to do in so little time. You can’t possibly think that laying there daydreaming is going to get you anywhere.” Turning about and muttering about me getting married in less than a week’s time and being completely ignorant of what I had to do, Mother walked back to the kitchen to return to her work. My hand which had flown to my chest holding my blankets tightly relaxed and I let out a laugh, flopping back down on the pillow. Nothing could make me rush with the day. I was blissfully happy, going to be the wife to Richard.
Eventually I did come out of my bedroom, dressed in a plain calico dress and long apron. Tying it in the back, I walked out to meet Mother and find out what it was that we were supposed to do for preparations. Mother looked up and saw me, “No, no no! You are not going to work today, we need to get you measured for a gown. Dress in something better Mary, you are seeing some very important people today.”
Exasperated I held up my hands, “Mother, what is it that you would have me dress in.” Laughing in sheer perplexity, “There is not much better than what I am wearing.”
Putting her hands on her hips, she tapped her foot. Mother was not one to be doubted or hold her tongue, but she also could see a good point when it was given. “Of course, but can’t you put on your blue dress instead, this one is so old…and get rid of that apron.” Flitting her hand at me as if to dismiss me, she turned back to the steaming pot over the fire.
Smiling and shaking my head I walked back to my bedroom, untying the apron and throwing it on the chair next to my door. Tossing on the dress suggested I put away my other clothes. I suppose Mother was right, there was something about the blue that brought out the color in my eyes. I still couldn’t admit that to her.
When I walked back into the other room Mother instantly rushed over, “Come on Mary, scoot off to the castle. Your Father is waiting for you outside.”
The day seemed to hurry on like that, being shooed from one place to another. It was like the whole town was in on this, doing one thing or another in preparation for the marriage. I was spun about from one place to the other all week, and still had been told nothing by my parents. Finally here it was, the night before the wedding. Mother and Father were sitting around the fire relaxing while I was on the floor, pondering the flames as they darted to and fro amongst the embers.
“Mary,” Father’s voice was serious and quiet as he spoke, “I have yet to tell you everything that Lord Devareax wished you to know before tomorrow.” I turned to face him, wrapping my hands around my shins, pulling my legs tightly up to me. Father rarely got so serious, so the information he was about to impart thrilled and scared me at the same time.
He started into weaving an intricate story of the castles’ past and the kind Lord that ruled it. No evils ever seemed to touch this land, nor the people on it. It was all because of the kind Lord and his 6 friends who watched over it. I gave my father a queer look, opening my mouth to interject a thought that had just entered my mind. Father merely held up his hand, indicating that I should not interrupt.
This castle and its first Lord was here years ago…back in the time before my Father was even born. Father continued, “The Lord and his friends never seemed to age. They guarded and cared for the lands and the people in a seemingly un-aging presence. Constantly garbed in dark clothes and cloaks from head to foot in their daily outings, the friends would disappear for what seemed to be days or weeks at a time, only returning for a few days of respite before they left again to complete unknown tasks.
The Lord was ever constant, rarely leaving the castle, and then only for part of the day to return by nightfall. The seven of them were an ever-present sight among the town folk. Quiet and reserved, yet kind in their treatments. There were a few that resided in the castle as servants to the Lord and his friends. These were treated with much respect, almost to the level of Lords and Ladies in their own right.
Whether it was that the seven didn’t age or aged so slow that they were practically timeless, no one knew. All that the people of the village and lands around here knew was that they were protected and cared for with no evils to pierce the boundaries of the land that they would have encountered elsewhere. There were a choice few among the villagers that had been told everything. The safety of the village depended on caring for the Lord and his friends, so their secret must remain exactly that.
Old stories and tales would inform you of dark ones that ruled the night, feasting on human flesh and blood to satisfy them until the next night. Perhaps there were those that did live like that. In the case of the seven in this village, it was not true. In fact, the truth couldn’t be further from that. The Lord had to stay in the castle to protect the main village from any dangers that may present themselves. In that case, he did need nourishment provided to him. But, he never mortally harmed anyone. Mostly animals were used for this purpose, yet every once in a while, human aid was needed. It gave more strength and health, needed once a month for his power to sustain. Much as it may trouble one to think of this, no harm ever came to any of the servants in the castle for all that the Lord needed was a taste. The friends were a bit different as they went to the furthest reaches of the lands, fighting off any intruders that may present a threat to the harmony of the village. Powerful strength, speed, and overbearing control of the mind made it possible for the small crew to handle troops of many numbers, some fights ending a bit messier than others. The thrill of the chase, or the hunt, sometimes took over their natural sensitivities and made them an unnatural force to be reckoned with.”
My eyes widened with each word that my Father spoke. A dreamed fantasy of past stories swirling through my mind, joined with the understanding that every word he spoke was true.
“And then dear daughter, we come to you.” Leaning forward reaching for my hands, Father waited until I placed mine in his. “The Lord is coming to the end of his life as it were. In his specific family, at this time he needs to find a wife and produce an heir, to train and bring up to take over the castle. From the time he chooses a wife, he begins to age like her, and will eventually die. He has chosen you to be his wife, to produce an heir and live with him as his wife for the rest of his days.”
My eyes searched my Father’s; looking for any hint that he may just be telling me a story. I could tell that there was no falsification of truth in him. I sat quietly, pondering the words that had just been shared with me. He let me sit quiet for a moment, letting it sink in and then squeezed my hands with his to bring my attention to him. “Mary, you must make the decision yourself, knowing everything involved. Your child will be like Lord Devareax, powerful and protective, living for many lifetimes, then passing on the legacy. You will remain the same. To live and love as Mother, wife and Lady, then die. Will you be able to do this?”
My mouth gaped open for a moment in a silent answer, and then snapping to attention with understanding I smiled. “Yes Father, I understand, and I do wish to marry Richard.”
A broad smile crossing his face he clapped me on the shoulders and kissed my forehead. “That’s my girl”.
Rising up from the floor I excused myself for a short walk outside. As I closed the door, I heard my Mother chiding Father, “I don’t know why you had to tell her all that. For all she would have known she was just marrying a regular Lord.”
“Woman! You are exasperating sometimes.” Father ended with a loud chuckle and I knew that they were only doing their normal teasing banter.
Relieved to be alone outside, I breathed in a fresh breath of the night air. My heart was fluttering, threatening to fly away with me to who knows where if I did not calm down. There were lights and music brightening the atmosphere among the cottages. A pre-celebration feast was planned in the castle in a mere hour. I was amazed and relieved that Mother wasn’t running after me to hurriedly primp and prepare me for the feast. For a few moments I was alone, and happy to be that way. I didn’t walk far, but merely noted the dust swirling about the toes of my shoes in the moonlight, wafting up to the night sky and dancing around like it had no rhyme or reason for its movements. Staring up at the sky, bathed in the light cast by the moon, I was lost in the silence of the moment.
“Milady Mary,” A light, gentle voice sounded behind me as I turned to address it, “I am to escort you to the house to be prepared.” A simple young girl about the same age as I was stood before me, adorned in the simplest of apron dresses.
A smile crossing my lips I walked with her, “You don’t have to be so formal with me. I am just like you are.”
She didn’t even look at me, just kept walking, “No Milady I do, you see, you are going to be the Lord’s wife in the morning. A high Lady deserves the highest respect.” I bit my lip rolling my eyes, glad for the darkness to hide it. I didn’t want to be rude to the girl, but this ‘Milady’ stuff was going to take some getting used to.
My parents’ cottage was filled with women gathering about, brushes here, a gown there, water to clean up in. I hadn’t hardly stepped through the door when they all began bustling about me, giving me orders to lift up my hands and just let them do everything. I looked around for my parents, but it appeared they had left the house. My hair was combed and oiled, swept up and laid back over my shoulders as others cleaned and bathed me. I could only stand and let the women do their work, watching in wonderment at how skilled and quickly they moved. Layers of undergarments were put upon me that I never had any experience with as there had never been a need. A gown was placed upon me, more elegant than anything I ever could have imagined. Satin and ribbons with intricate beadwork were trailing down the front of the light blue gown. Blue…Mother had to of been a part in that color choice. A mere 10 minutes and I was standing in the middle of the room, as the women bustled out of the house with their things.
The young lady that had collected me earlier stood in front of me, “Milady is beautiful, more so than she already was.” I smiled and looked at the surface of the water in the bowl that had been left on the table. I barely recognized the beauty that looked back at me. “Your escort should be arriving momentarily. I am to attend you at all times that you may wish it.”
I turned and looked at the bright girl, she couldn’t be much younger than I was. “May I ask your name?”
The girl flushed and answered, “Brittany Milady. I am 15, and have been chosen to be your maidservant.”
A bright smile crossed my face, “Brittany, I think I shall always be pleased to have you around.”
The echo of footsteps sounded outside the door as a knock rung out in the cottage. Brittany, already assuming her position, walked around me to answer the door. The black cloaked men standing outside brought no fear to me as I knew them well. “Come, it is time to go to the feast,” said the tousled blond at the front with striking blue eyes.
He was clapped on the shoulder by the biggest of them, with an addictive laugh, “Kirt, stop being so formal. This is a party, let’s loosen up and have fun! Get out here Mary!” Laughing I forgot myself and picked up my skirts joining the group. I was surrounded by smiles of friends. Not only had they been friends of Richard’s, but after the day we first met, the entire group had befriended me and treated me as a sister.
Surrounding Brittany and I as we walked toward the castle, they traded laughs and pokes at each other like any other group of friends. I noticed a change in how we walked now; they had me in a protective circle, every side of me blocked from the view of any other. It may just be my imagination, but it seemed like they were acting as a personal guard.
We neared the castle entrance quickly, the group walking through as if they owned the place. There was music echoing through the halls as we entered, heading for the grand hall. I kept trying to rise up and peek over their heads, but they were so much taller than I that I didn’t get even a glimpse. Brittany stepped off to the side as we walked through the door to the hall. The group opened their stance and stepped to either side of the staircase, 3 to each side, attention held to the front of the room.
I stood at the top step surveying the room. Lavish tables had been set, taking up the entire floor in a giant U shape. At the head of the table were two very large wooden chairs. One was empty, and the other was taken with my Lord. My heart threatened to beat out of my chest as my breath caught in my throat in excitement. Richard’s gaze caught mine and I felt like I was falling, suddenly a hand grasped my arm. I looked, and Kirt was at my side, holding my elbow gently but firmly enough to support me. “Are you alright?”
Nodding I realized that I must have tried to faint. Fantastic, make a scene at your first major appearance Mary, good job. Nodding again I looked up at him and smiled, “I’m alright Kirt.” He relaxed his hold and stepped back to where he had been standing before.
I glanced back at Richard and smiled. He had stood, hands placed on the edge of the table leaning toward me with a worried look on his face. When I smiled he relaxed and sat back down. Stepping gracefully down the steps, I was escorted to the front chairs by Kirt.
Rising to greet me, Richard grasped my hand, raising it to his lips. “I do hope that you are alright Mary.” He spoke in hushed tones, his eyes not losing contact with mine.
Smiling I tried to resist the urge to throw my arms about his neck. “I am fine Lord Devareax, I merely was overwhelmed momentarily by the lavishness of this affair.”
He chuckled, “Of course. It isn’t really a standard experience for you, so you were bound to be surprised by tonight’s presentations.” His eyes roamed over my garments, taking it all in. “You are very lovely tonight.” Blushing, I did not reply.
Quickly, Richard turned, still holding my hand, addressing the villagers in the room. “Thank you all for coming. It is a blessed thing that we have to celebrate, the joining of myself and my soon to be bride. Let us rejoice and feast, for tomorrow is a new dawn.” As we sat and ate, the room became abuzz with talking and laughter. Richard’s friends flanked us at the head table. My mother happily gazing from one of the side tables was enjoying watching her daughter become a Lady of standing. My mind traveled through everything that was happening around me, turning and catching Richard gazing at me happily, talking with our friends. Right now, in this moment, nothing in life could be better than this.
After the banquet, Richard took me by the arm and led me off, our group following close behind. Brittany met us in the hallway as if she had been called. Pausing he turned, taking my hands in his. “You are going to be staying in the castle tonight, the first night of many,” he stroked his fingers down my cheek. “Everything has been moved into a room for you tonight. Brittany will be staying close at hand for any need that you may have. Then tomorrow, you will be my wife.” Smiling he leaned forward and kissed my cheek. My eyes sparkled, happiness thrilling through me. Richard then looked around at his friends and they acknowledged his gaze with nods. “For now darling, I must be going. We have much to do tonight to ensure tomorrow’s safety.”
A puzzled look on my face I nodded, watching him turn to leave. Kirt walked next to Richard as they hurriedly left, and the burly one, Bryant, smiled and winked, “No worries, all will be alright.”
Clapping his shoulder the redheaded Luther turned him about, “Come on Bryant, stop fooling around.” I could hear them chortling as they walked along the dark hallway, Bryant and Luther traded pokes at each other.
“Milady, we must be getting you to bed.” Brittany took my arm and walked with me up the steps arm in arm.
“Brittany, I told you that you don’t have to address me so.”
Catching my gaze in a sideways glance as we walked up the winding stairs she smiled, “If you wish it, I may attempt to appease. But understand that I may slip up from time to time.”
Grinning from ear to ear at her I acquiesced, “Good enough.” Brittany stopped in front of a door. I realized then that I hadn’t been paying attention to how we got there. It was a good thing I had her because I doubted I could find my way back if I tried.
Pulling the door open, Brittany stepped to the side, waiting for me to enter. The room was sparse, but much more lavish than anything I had ever been accustomed to. The vanity with bowl and pitcher were close to the door, a beautiful silver brush placed next to them. I stepped in the room, surveying everything. A large window with heavy drapes that hung to the floor beside a large bed that was covered in plush coverlets and blankets. I walked over to look out the window and could see the whole village.
Firelight danced from the torches lighting the village, the light from the stars dancing in the sky to mimic it. Turning back to the room I saw Brittany laying out a gauze chemise on the bed. It was so soft and light, much different from anything I had worn before. I suppose most things would be that way from now on. Brittany helped me remove my gown and undergarments, putting them away as I donned the nightgown. I walked over to the vanity and trailed my fingers over the silver brush.
Walking over to me, Brittany leaned over, looking at the brush. With a smile on her face she looked up at me, “That is a gift from Lord Devareax, the first of many I am sure.”
Holding the brush up to my chest, I stroked my fingers over the back it. I turned back to my bed, seeing that Brittany had turned down the covers for me. So much was different in this new place and life. It was going to be a lot to get used to.