Lingering Hunger

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Chapter 4

The sun cascaded into the room and over the bed through the open drapes. One of my hands lay across my forehead as the other was draped over my tummy. I sighed pleasantly as I awoke almost a year after my marriage, utterly happy and content. Looking to the right, I knew he would not be there, but yet I still checked. Richard’s side of the bed was empty, save a short note saying he would see me soon. The sunshine that burst through the windows was very warming indeed, but would have wreaked havoc on Richard with the force it came in. Much as sunlight would not kill him, with the brightness of the new morning, it did make him incredibly ill. Often he hid under dark clothes with hats and capes when he ventured outside, but in the bedroom, I smiled as I thought about it, those were rarely donned.

Pushing the covers back I swung my feet down to the bare floor, still a bit chilly from the night. Reaching to a chair next to the bed, I plucked my feather light peignoir from it, placing it over my shoulders and tying it in the front. Walking over to the window I looked down over the village, getting a full view of it, the castle walls, and the fields beyond. I smiled as I saw Richard and his friends riding their horses over the countryside through the trees. I knew not what they were after today, but it must have been important to be out this late in the morning. A slight knock sounded at the door as I turned with my hand still on my tummy, “Enter”.

Brittany walked in with the day’s gown and a tray of food for the morning. She was paying attention to where she walked before she looked at me and bustled to lay the things down. “Milady!” she scolded, “You know that you should not be up on your feet so much in your condition. Lord Devareax would be very upset to see you not taking greater care of yourself.”

Smiling I walked past her to the vanity and sat down brushing my hair, “Brittany you worry too much, and so does Richard.”

Walking toward me she knelt down and placed a hand on my stomach looking in my eyes, “We only worry because of how you’ve been so sick. A normal pregnancy would not be making you so violently ill. We’ve never seen anything like it.”

Grasping her hand I held it there, smiling again, “It is alright Brittany, I know everything will be alright. Just give it time.” Under our hands the faint ‘thump, thump’ of a kick moved, making us both gaze down and smile. That at least eased the worry some off of Brittany’s face. I smiled taking her hand, almost excitedly. “Brittany, I want to go outside today. It is absolutely glorious, and it has been so long since I’ve been out in the fresh air.”

My enthusiasm was yet again met with a piercing gaze as Brittany raised one eyebrow and tapped her fingers on her hips. “Milady, I do not think it is a good idea, and the Lord would not approve.”

I giggled at her exasperation, “Oh Brittany, it is fine, let’s go outside, we can even take a few guards with us if you wish. I just need to go, if only for a few minutes.” My eyes were happy and pleading all at once, but I knew that Brittany would give in to me.

She finally threw up her hands with a smile on her face and gathered up a dress, “Alright, let’s get you changed, you can’t rightly go out in your peignoir.”

Smiling brightly as I turned my face to meet the sunshine, I spread my arms wide and spun once, my extended tummy throwing me slightly off balance. Laughing as I stumbled to the side, Brittany was not quite so amorous of the situation. Muttering under her breath as she caught me by the elbow, “If I had known you were going to be this silly we would have stayed in the castle no question.”

Smiling at my dear friend I patted her hand and walked straight. “If it will make you feel better, I will stop being silly.” Her face relaxed a bit as we walked arm in arm. Brittany had decided that just the two of us were enough. We weren’t going to walk far, just enough to satisfy my yearning for fresh air and then back into solitude I would go.

We were walking through the meadow just to the east side of the castle gates when a loud noise brought our attention to the road. A wagon strapped to two horses was racing toward the gates, the thundering hooves pounding the ground as they made their terrified way our direction. I stopped in wonderment, gazing at it as it swept closer and closer to us. Suddenly I felt a tugging at my arm from Brittany as she tried to pull me as far away from the wagon as possible. Stepping her direction we moved further away. It was then that the straps from the wagon broke free. While the horses stayed their path, going straight toward the village, the wagon started wandering, edging closer, directly toward us.

Brittany yanked on my arm, “Milady move!” as we tried to rush away from the wagon and off to the side. Brittany stumbled and rolled down a slight hill, pulling me with her, both sliding down and away from the path of the wagon as it smashed into the castle wall. Brittany and I were gasping, trying to settle ourselves from what had happened.

I was concerned about how much damage the horses could have done in the village and if anyone could have been hurt. My fears were calmed when I climbed back up the side of the hill and saw that Gerard and Kirt had appeared out of nowhere and had been able to stop them before they entered the village. I could really be thankful for Gerard’s ability to sense things ahead of time; he certainly had kept some terrible things from happening in the year since I had moved into the castle.

A fleeting bit of confusion flitted over my mind, wondering where Richard and the other 4 were, but then I looked back at Brittany. “Are you ok?”

She looked up at me with a slightly bewildered look. “A little walk huh? Nothing will happen?”

I couldn’t help but smile at her frustration. “But we’re not hurt, and I’m perfectly fine” I said, rubbing my tummy to encourage her. I was not going to tell her that indeed my tummy was a bit sore. No one needed to worry more about me.

She finally gave in, and grimacing lifted herself to her feet, brushing her skirts off. “Let’s get you back into the castle Milady. You have had plenty of excitement for today.”

I was more than happy to let Brittany escort me back. However, I didn’t think that we were going to get inside unnoticed. As we walked back toward the castle I felt the cold prickling on the back of my neck as if I were being watched. Kirt and Gerard were just a few yards away, of course they could see us, but, where were the others? I turned as I walked, looking back in the trees for some hint of the others. Then everything from the morning began to worry at the back of my mind. The group riding off through the trees in the early sunlight when they are most vulnerable, only Kirt and Gerard retrieving the horses, the rest of the group not returning, something was going on and I didn’t like it.

The serene setting of safety that I had always felt was a bit askew. I hastened my pace, taking Brittany with me, going faster toward the gates of the castle. It was then that Kirt looked up from the horses and saw me. A flash of fear shot through his eyes as he looked toward the forest. He didn’t even have time to move, just shouted, “Mary DOWN!”

I knew better than to question anything that my protectors said and drug Brittany to the ground with a thud as an arrow whizzed past where my head used to be. “Milady!” Brittany was panicking, holding to my arm tightly as I determinedly looked at Kirt for more direction. But he and Gerard were already up to us, standing between us and the forest. “Mary are you alright?” Kirk’s worried voice said a bit muffled over his shoulder.

I stayed down on the ground with Brittany, holding her hand, “Yes.”

Muttering came from Gerard, “What in the bloody hell were they doing out here?”

Kirk shushed him still eyeing the forest. “No matter now, we need to get them back inside,” his voice was almost too silent for me to hear. Then, he turned to speak to me, “Mary, can you and Brittany get inside, running exactly when I tell you to?”

I nodded, the aching in my belly becoming more persistent…not now. Gerard mumbled again, something about the archers being too close. It was just then that I heard more hooves thundering along the ground. Turning to see, I saw Richard, riding as fast as he could along the outlying border of the forest. I could hear more hooves, but could not see anyone else.

“How many more are there Gerard?”

“Five, maybe ten, we would have had them if it hadn’t of been for the damned wagon.”

Hearing them concerned made me feel absolutely mortified. But I had to stay alert for myself, the baby, and Brittany. Brittany had curled up on the ground, looking much like a mouse scared too stiff to move. I tried to reassure her by squeezing her hand, but she was paying no attention to me. I turned again to look back at the forest edge and wished I hadn’t.

Gerard and Kirt had tightened their stances, blocking us with swords drawn. Past their legs, I saw what they were guarding us from. Richard was down off his horse, standing between us and a group of eight men coming out from the trees. The menacing group was larger than the five that Gerard had guessed, but it still made me wonder if there were more. Two archers stood back near the protection of the trees, while the six bearing swords of their own were drawing nearer to Richard. Fear caught me about the throat, threatening to rob me of all breath. How could he stand there, never mind his abilities? There were eight of them and only one of him!? And where the hell were Pierce, Alden, Luther and Bryant!?

The archers drew back their bowstrings, aiming high. Obviously, we were their target. It all happened in a blur, the release of the arrows as they flew through the air toward us, Gerard and Kirt raising their shields fluidly to block them off, the six charging Richard in what appeared to be a flurry of movement from where I was. The sounds were terrifying, metal upon metal clanging and thudding, mixed with screams of triumph and pain. I felt my stomach lurch again, holding me to the spot where I lay, making me choke back the urge to scream. Grasping my stomach this time, Brittany noticed and a sheer terror flashed in her eyes, “Milady no, not now.”

I shook my head to get her to stay quiet, not wanting to be a distraction to the men behind us. I took a breath as the pain passed, leaving behind only a pulsing ache. I looked back to see if my Richard was alive or dead and saw that he was alive, an amazing fighter holding off those men who seemed to take pleasure at only sending one man at a time to fight him. I smirked at the sheer stupidity of how they underestimated my husband. Still I worried, most likely unnecessarily, but nonetheless I did.

My heart leapt in my chest as I saw Luther and Bryant sneak up behind the archers as they drew back again. An unsuccessful draw as they dropped to the ground. Kirt’s voice rang out, “Now, go!” Trying to get up, I stumbled, clutching my stomach as pain shot through me again. Brittany tried to support me, leading me ever closer to the gate. This time I did not succeed in muffling my cries as the pain became too great and I dropped to my knees. “No not now, oh PLEASE not now!”

My cries caught Kirt’s attention as he turned back and murmured “Dear God”. Running back to us he caught me up in his arms and carried me back to the gate with Brittany at his heels. I heard Gerard roar as he ran to join the rest in the fight.

Pain blinded me as it seared through my body, “It’s too early,” I said clutching my stomach with tears streaming down my face. Kirt barked orders at Brittany as he carried me through the gates, running straight for the castle at a faster pace than she could keep up with. It would have made me wonder, if I had noticed that his movements didn’t jar me at all. But now was no time to notice such things.

He carried me up the steps and into the entryway, yelling out to servants to come and help. He continued to cascade orders through the group as he lowered me to the floor where I was instantly surrounded by the flock of familiar women who often bustled about me. Casting a worried glance back at me, he didn’t waste any time and ran back out to join the others. Brittany showed just as he left, gasping for air as she rushed up beside me and held my arm.

I was quickly ushered to a room that was not my own. I took very little note of it as my senses of all about me started to glaze. The shocks of pain cascaded through me as I was laid on the bed, clenching my arms about my stomach. “No, no no! Not now!” My pained and terror filled cries echoed through the room as the women bustled about. Some were trying to get me out of my garments, while others tried to comfort me and get me to relax. Clenching my teeth as another pain shot through me I lay back on the bed and grasped the pillow beneath my head, sobs bursting forth from me, certain that this baby would die if I delivered now.

The next few minutes were a whir of pain and constant movement about me, directives from the ladies on what to do, and not knowing if I could survive the pain let alone do as they asked. More than once I wanted to yell back at them to do it themselves. Finally with a guttural scream I felt release, breathing momentarily as a cry filled the air that was not my own. I looked in blurred wonder through tear filled eyes at the woman with a baby in her arms. “It’s a boy” was all I heard as a smile started to spread across my worn face. It was then that the pain started again and I lost all thought of my son, energy draining from me as I lost all sight of everything around me.

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