*** 4 ***
Once the men were away, they went to the stable first where Brillar found a pair of heavy gloves then to the kitchen for hot water in a ewer, a basin, a silver bowl, a small brush used for cleaning pots, and a silver tray. At her mother’s glance she said, “The dimlock can’t touch flesh or even, I think, something made of earth. Pottery won’t do for it. Just a feeling.” She shrugged. They took everything to a spare room. Brillar fetched the foldbox then bolted the door and poured the water into the silver bowl at a desk.
“Be ready with cleansing spells,” she said as she opened the foldbox. Her mother nodded. “Not for the collar, for the room, there’s bound to be an odor. And healing spells as well in case it touches me. Open the windows please then stand well away.”
First, she took a knife and scissors from the foldbox. When she was ready, Brillar put on gloves and took the cwel skin and its contents and dumped them quickly into the hot water. The stench that arose was quickly dispelled but not before Brillar stood back holding her breath. She could feel her mother steady her. Slowly, she pulled the cwel skin from the collar. It resisted and she cut it away with the knife dropping all the bits into the basin. The work was time consuming and the gloves awkward but necessary. Even through them, she could feel the pulse of the collar.
Bit by bit, the dimlock was separated from the cwel skin. Darwa freshened her daughter when she felt it was needed. It was nearly two hours before it was all completed but there was still the dimlock itself to be cleaned. Brillar picked away at the bits of flesh there, trying desperately to forget it was Garnelden’s flesh. More than once, she was sure she would vomit, but her mother healed the feeling quickly. Once, a slight awkward movement allowed a link of the collar to touch her arm; she cried out but a healing spell was cast at once.
Miles away at the horse market, Prendar was watching with delight as an owner put a black mare through her paces. Elden was tense and uneasy but didn’t know why.
“A fine mare, that,” Prendar said quietly. “Only three, well trained and ready for a stud.”
Elden started to answer, then paled, grabbed Prendar’s arm and would have fallen if the older man hadn’t supported him. Still he sank to his knees before Prendar could straighten him, calling Terol to his side.
“Help him to the tavern, boy, while I speak to this man, I think he’s had too much dust and sun.”
Elden was helped to his feet. Terol managed to get him to the inn where he sank to a chair and dropped his head into his hands. Terol came back with a tankard of ale, but Elden only shook his head and whispered something the lad couldn’t hear.
When the collar was finally cleaned Brillar lifted it from the water and laid it on the silver tray. Before they could finish, Brillar asked her mother to take away the basin and its filthy contents then bring fresh water and another large platter of pure silver. She bolted the door.
While she waited, Brillar went to the window and took huge gulps of clean air. She felt wilted, exhausted. A knock reported her mother’s return with water and a servant carrying the silver tray. The servant was asked to wait in case anything else was needed.
Fresh water went into the basin and Brillar, still gloved, scrubbed the collar with the brush removing everything that remained on it. The brush was quickly used up buy the touch of the collar. “See how it eats the boar hairs,” she murmured to her mother.
Finally the collar was cleaned and she laid it on the silver tray, placing the second tray over it. From the foldbox, she removed a few lengths of leather and tied the two trays together then sat back. Her mother was quickly behind her and she relaxed into her comforting arms.
“To think,” her mother whispered, “you had to take that from a man.”
The tears that had been unshed welled up in Brillar’s eyes, and she wept softly comforted by the warm embrace aware that her mother, too, was crying. Finally, they straightened. Looking at her daughter’s drawn face, Darwa ordered her to bed for a short nap before dinner. Brillar went willingly while her mother safeguarded the trays and had the servant clean the room.
When she woke, Brillar could smell cooking and knew it must be close to supper. She used the refresher then uttered cleansing spells. Ruefully, she looked at the mark on her left arm where the dimlock had touched it and shook her head. ‘So light a touch and so quickly healed yet I may carry it forever,’ she thought and carefully chose a white blouse trimmed in green with long sleeves and a full matching skirt. She tied a green sash around the over-blouse, added slippers and considered herself ready for company.
“You and your mother were hidden away this afternoon,” Elden said as he met her in the hall offering his arm. He had clothing suited for many occasions in the foldbox, but Brolin had insisted that he have something made in town. Tonight he was dressed in a deep blue shirt with brocade trim with dark blue trousers over his boots.
“You look well, m’lord Elden,” she said avoiding the implied question.
“Had you forgotten? Your parents have guests for dinner, two families, including the family of that young lady Brolin fancies, and there’s to be dancing after dinner.”
“No, I had forgotten, I should change or Brolin will be embarrassed!” Extracting herself from his arm, she rushed back to her room, hastily pulling out a light blue brocade gown with long sleeves she thought would suit and tying up her hair.
Elden was waiting, and gave her an admiring glance before saying sternly, “We’re called for,” and offering his arm.
Despite her tiring afternoon, Brillar was able to enjoy the gathering. Before she left, such gatherings had been common at Laurenfell. Several of the servants played instruments and were always glad to accept the extra coins that inevitably followed their performances.
Dinner, wines, desserts, were eaten slowly with the new forks Elden had introduced. There was easy conversation and gossip. There were many glances at Elden then Brillar because she had unwittingly chosen a blue gown that was a compliment to what he wore.
When dinner was over, the servants struck up a tune, a slow one suited to dancing after dining. Faster tunes would come later. Terol claimed her for the first dance, saying he needed practice, Brolin partnered Mairen, and Elden held out his hand to Alliana. More wine was served between dance sets as the players took a moment for themselves. Partners were exchanged. Prendar escorted both his daughters through a dance, remarking, “Who do you think taught them to dance so beautifully,” to laughter in the company. Elden partnered his apprentice several times in slower dances then took her out onto the floor for a lively twirling dance.
As they danced through the tune, their arms went up and her sleeve, which had loosened with all the dancing, slipped down over her left arm. He started and recovered. As the dance ended in a bow and curtsey, Elden took her arm, lightly it seemed to others, but with steel and steered her out into the garden.
“Exactly what have you been doing,” he demanded, eyes flashing, “I know that mark.” She quickly pulled her sleeve down. “No, the damage is done.” Taking her left arm, he pushed the sleeve back again. “This afternoon?”
For once, she was not defiant only calm. “You asked where we were, my mother and I. We were cleaning the dimlock.”
His knees buckled and he sat heavily on a bench.
“She was with me. I was in no danger,” she said soothingly.
“What do you call that mark if not danger?” he replied tensely eyes angry.
“I call it a chance contact, quickly healed, although I admit it scarred,” came her steady reply. “Rodenis has as much as demanded my presence at the Sisterhood tomorrow where I will tell what I know about the dimlock and how it was removed. You will not attend.” Her voice was firm.
He sat shaking his head, rubbing his arms as if chilled and was silent.
“Master,” her voice was a whisper, “my presence is requested, required, demanded. I cannot refuse.” She turned and left him there, said good night at the party and went to her room.
When he was able to stand, Elden went out to the stable and was greeted by Jez. He took a bucket and carried fresh water for Jez and Bright. Finding some apples, he gave one to each animal then opened the box stall and went in to Jez. Taking a brush, he began to groom the stallion’s already shining skin not using any spell, just simply brushing. Jez nipped at him and nuzzled his leg. “All is well,” he said leaning against the strong body. “All is well.”
“All is not well,” he heard from the half-door, “or you would not be here.”
It was Darwallen who had felt his distress but given him time to deal with it in his own way. He continued to brush Jez.
“How could you let her come close to such a thing, or agree to what was asked,” there was suffering in his voice.
“Oh,” she replied lightly, “then you haven’t met my daughter Brillar?”
He leaned against Jez. “She is a great deal of trouble, your daughter Brillar.” A tear fell on straw.
“She has done for you,” came the quiet response, “what no one, for Rodenis has searched back over a thousand years of records, and no one has ever removed a dimlock except the one who owned the key. The story must be told. Come back in when you’re ready.”
A stable boy found Elden in the morning, curled on the straw and still asleep. He moved away quietly and went to the house for his master.
Prendar went to the stable to find Elden stirring. “Too much wine then,” he said loudly, “and I thought mages could handle their drink.” He pulled Elden upright and brushed him off.
“The cook found something new from one of my traders; corin it’s called and it will wake you. We all need waking after a party. You had best change first though.”
Prendar pushed Elden up the back stair. When he was calm and fresh in clean clothes, he went down for breakfast. Brillar was already missing but he said nothing.
“Corin for our guest,” Brolin called, “he looks a bit pale.” Elden accepted the good natured joking about his night in the stable amicably.
“I think a ride would do me good,” Elden said when they were all were finished. “Perhaps Terol will take Bright? She looks as if she needs some exercise. And food,” he added hastily, “for a ride, a hunt perhaps, then lunch out in the fields? I do need some refreshing,” he said, adding to himself, ‘and to be away from here today.’ Like it or not, Brillar had a duty to the Great House. He understood duty.
His idea was quickly agreed to and Prendar called to the kitchen for a lunch to be packed, “A large lunch, for we’ll be hungry. We’ll ride to the east; there are some new farms out that way but also game. Bows for the game and none of those mage’s tricks. A fair hunt, a fair kill and some fine dining for the next few days.”
There was a flurry of activity in kitchen and stable before they were ready. “That cold meat will do, some of the fresh breads and new butter. Sweet rolls, fruit and wine, don’t forget the cups,” the lead cook shook her head. “Whatever my lady Brillar wanted with that fresh chicken skill this morning, I will never know. Bird t’will be tougher cooked without the skin.”