Lord Reynard's Fancy Ch. 05byrosamundi©
I'm overwhelmed and delighted by your amazing response to chapter four. I was a bit unsure how readers would respond to my psych out at the end, but it seems nobody minded and you found it as fun as I did. Please keep the comments coming, since this is still my first work of fiction. I've had extremely helpful advice from several readers that have improved the story, and I thank them!
The cold grew more bitter and the days shorter as Advent neared. The harvest and hunting had been plentiful and abbey, inn and manor stores overflowed allowing Lilac to breathe a sigh of relief. She had rejoiced to leave all the brewing to the expertise of Willie and his father. Lilac felt grateful that the hunters handled butchering, salting, smoking and drying themselves. She and her helpers preserved the innards as mincemeat and sausage and jellied dishes while making stew and soup with the tastiest.
Lord Reynard had believed his manor clean, but apparently he was mistaken, at least by Lilac's standards. For Christmastide she intended it to sparkle, and with the help of friends had made it so. The boot printed floors, however, caused despair in her heart and the knight noted that she remained ever scrubbing at them. One day as he and John walked through the great hall, they spied her at it again with unusual clarity. On this mild morning the waxed cloth window coverings had been thrown back to let bright sunshine and fresh air in.
Lilac had cast off her looser wool kirtle and kilted high the tighter and lower cut linen gown to form a knee rest on the stone floor as she brushed away with sudsy water. Their conversation stopped as they caught sight of the comely lass scrubbing while singing a raunchy song about a tin smith servicing various women, her creamy thighs slightly exposed, her rear and breasts swaying to the beat. Hearing them pause, she knelt up and asked innocently if there was aught she could do for them.
The men exchanged a strained look, John breezily assured her that they needed nothing, and they continued to the yard. Lord Reynard started punching icicles off the stable roof in frustration.
"Now there is a sight to make an old man feel young again!" John murmured, adjusting his clothing.
Lord Reynard just kept punching icicles, his breathing heavy as he grunted an assent to John's remark.
"If you want the lass so much, saddle up Saracen, ride into town with her, wake up Father Talbot from his nap and you'll have her wedded and bedded within the hour. Were I unmarried, I would not hesitate a moment." John advised with some impatience. The situation appeared simple enough to him. Lilac clearly adored their master, and he was nearly as bad over her.
"Are you truly suggesting I marry my own peasant? What about duty to bloodlines and wealth? Nay, I could not think of such a thing."
"Think you that your importance is so grand you cannot marry as you like? This is a tiny holding in an undesirable border region. Your land yields plenty and you have money in store. Your parents were strangers, it took them many years and more lost babes to find love for each other. My lord, you want the lass and she yearns for you, and you can get a child with her as well as with any other. You possess the power and freedom your sire did not, why not seek you joy for yourself?"
"Putting aside that Lilac pays you more notice than me, John, what of a lady to preside over the manor?"
"Find me a more capable lady for your manor and I will find you a ten legged frog! She does not exist. The more, if Lilac watched me a tenth part of the that time her eyes follow you, I would be tempted into bigamy, though Maisry alone is like to end my days early with tousling. Feel not jealousy for any man, 'tis misplaced."
"I am grown and can manage my own affairs, John!" shouted Sir Reynard, now thoroughly out of temper.
"Ah, clearly. Well, my lord, I will leave you to yourself. I am minded to find my wife now. As you could at will." John retorted as he turned on his heel.
A small mountain of almonds and gallons of honey appeared one mid morning for the making of Christmastide marzipan decorations. Lilac had discovered the extent of her lord's sweet tooth during berry gathering, when she had counted herself lucky to save a few for the pail for every handful he ate. Lilac called him a babe who must eat sweets until his belly ached, then threatened to banish him from the shrubs for the crime of stealing pies from the populace. That only resulted in him rolling around on the ground laughing at her. "You have lain me low for a space with your wit, maiden, but I am still lord of these lands and will eat as many of MY berries as I choose without banishment."
Lord Reynard took the delivery of marzipan ingredients as opportunity to entreat Lilac to join him in teaching dances to the townsfolk and leading the Christmastide dancing with him. To his amazement, his fearless and calm servant maiden blushed scarlet from the roots of her hair right down to the laces of her kirtle and shrunk back.
"I pray you, my lord, find another to dance with. I have not enough skill at dancing to be paired with you and could only be a disgrace upon the household. Also, my duty lies in the kitchen washing up." With the sort of fancies coming to her unbidden every night, Lilac struggled to conceal her affection from Lord Reynard as it was. Being manhandled all night dancing would certes betray how she longed for him.
"Nay, you move gracefully at all times and more so when dancing. I have watched you. You fix your gaze on your partner and do not grow dizzy, and you learn steps as quickly as ever I have. You are the only maid in my holdings with the skill to lead and teach others. And what is Christmastide without dancing?" Sir Reynard had determined he would gain the pleasure of touching Lilac's sweet body even if strong persuasion need be employed.
"Maisry dances with poise and flowing steps, and is not charged with supervising every feast."
"Maisry desires to dance with her husband, not one she still views as a bare faced boy. And as I related on your first day, you are no drudge here. You must indeed plan the dishes and watch over their preparation, but I expect you at my side supping while our many helpful neighbors in my hire serve and wash up. Afterward you will partner me in dancing. I taught you to ride a destrier, we can perfect a few dance steps if you truly feel unskilled when you appear so lively. Your excuses will not hold in this, Lilac."
"That sounds like a demand, not a true request. Do you command me, my lord?" Lilac replied with flashing eyes.
"If you insist on refusal and disobedience, then yes, you may consider it a command." Lord Reynard replied in the steely tone he usually reserved for the youngest of the lads he trained.
"If you insist on making a fool of me, you will have my obedience, but nothing more." Her voice was choked and tears flowed down her face as she turned and walked off, which he put down to willfulness instead of distress.
Maisry approached him soon after, "My lord, I would have a private word with you," she quietly requested.
He instantly nodded and followed her to an uninhabited chamber, worried that something had gone amiss with John. He was unprepared for her heated reproof.
"How came you to treat Lilac so cruelly, sir? I am not accustomed to feeling ashamed of you."
"Ashamed of me? Lilac is the one acting the ass, not I!"
"You have the case reversed, my lord. You pretended a request then ignored her distress and polite refusal, showing it no request at all but a command. What means all of this ill temper? I am daily in your company, and see not the disobedience you speak of or any other provocation to rudeness by the maiden."
"Maisry, I will not hear this from..."
"Reynard, you will hear it from me, for I am your elder if not your better and strove always to stand in your mother's place for you. Aye, think only of what she would say to your actions this night and reconsider whether you were in the right, or if you owe the lass an apology."
The lord startled at his bare name, but Maisry spoke the truth and he saw it. He might not be the calmest or mildest of men, but if he was quick to give offense he strove also to quickly make amends. He embraced Maisry and kissed her hand with a look of loving thanks and rose to do so, but she tugged his gently to bid him sit again.
"I have seen Lilac growing up, and you know not how viciously her father berated and beat her from the time she could toddle. You must tread carefully with her, lad. She may have her reasons for refusal. She sings tunes oft enough relating young mothers murdering babes begotten by fathers and brothers."
His eyes widened at the implication, "Think you this happened to Lilac?"
"She would have taken vows as young as she could if she knew herself a murderer. Still, it can happen before a child is possible. I do not think I need worry for her in that wise, but I could mistake it."
"Yet Lilac is surrounded by men and does not show any fear of us. She dances merrily enough too with most of my men. Why not with me? Think you she fears me?" He asked in a sorrowful tone.
Maisry laughed at this. "Nay, she fears you not. Mayhap she dances without care with others for the natural reason. She cares not for them, has no tenderness to hide."
"In my dreams would Lilac care for me! She takes notice of me less than of Father Talbot. If I did see any tenderness in her, I would..."
"You would what, my lord? Use it to get her in your bed and send her to Mother Genevieve come Easter when you grew bored? Think you Lilac ignorant of such things? I remind you she is a comely and virtuous lass who has served at Barleycorn's. And watched over the births of peasants cast off by lords. If you tender Lilac at all, ensure that something more than lust stirs you before you beguile her in any wise. Know that I have my eyes on you for your own good and hers." Maisry rose, curtsied and left Sir Reynard to himself.
When he sought Lilac out, John reported she had retired early saying she was worn out.
Lilac presented herself at the appointed dance lesson the next morn with an unusually glum expression. She knew not how to be so physically intimate with her lord without showing her unbidden admiration. Much as she dreamed and fantasized about him, real affection between them would come to naught, with consequences much harsher to her than him. He would remain a knight with another conquest, and she would leave the manor in disgrace and belike with child.
Fortunately Maisry and John joined them to make up four part sets and be an example. They sat by the fire together waiting on her. Lilac knew most of the local reels and jigs, the foreign galliards and branles, in short all of the fast or partner switching dances, but avoided slower partnered ones from any region. As the only young woman living at the manor, she felt bound not to entice any of the single soldiers, which she could not avoid if she took part in dances styled for courtship.
When Lord Reynard arrived, he took to one knee and clasped her hands. "Lilac, I have wronged you by speaking cruelly and commanding you where I should not. I beg your forgiveness, and if you wish not to dance with me or any other, that is your choice. Be easy, I will not hold you to an unjust demand or resent you for denying it. I say this before those who helped bring me up that you may trust in my intent and have witnesses to my remorse and change of mind." The return of her smile and friendly gaze seemed reward enough for humbling himself, if doing right did humble him.
"I refused in haste, sir. I would be glad to learn any dance you wish to teach and stand by you in leading your household celebrating the birth of our Savior. Tis my favorite time of year and it pained me to begrudge so generous a man and master once I calmed from my anger," returned Lilac, dropping his hands as she pivoted toward the great fireplace marking the top of the hall.
"Maisry, John, let us begin with palming as it figures in so many dances. I would have you show her, we can practice as couples first then as a set." Sir Reynard gave the two a sly grin, turning toward Lilac after John winked back as they took their places.
They began, and Maisry announced with no hint of her own amusement, "Lilac, in fast dances locking hands speeds your spinning and locking gazes keeps dizziness at bay. In slow dances only your palms need touch, yet you must needs look into your partner's eyes to keep count together and for balance."
Lilac groaned and hissed at Maisry, "Speak not the word 'balance' in our good lord's company for fear of unleashing his unceasing nagging on the matter!"
Answered with a scowl from her partner, she dissolved into laughter and corrected herself, "I meant to say, unleashing his relentless wisdom."
"Attend, Lilac, or you will never get any wisdom in dancing, or uncover what a charming partner you have," he avenged himself.
"My heart breaks to go against you in this, lass, but do you calm your giggles to watch how I dance palms across with John. Soon even you will see the merit of slowing down a piece." agreed Maisry.
Lilac watched as they danced the figure. She had been wary, recalling how courting couples could scarcely seem to draw breath while palming, but John and Maisry though flirtatious most times now seemed calm enough. Mayhap she could maintain herself thus.
Sir Reynard had no intention of indulging her, which became clear as soon as he felt Lilac had seen enough to try the step with him. John and Maisry both believing Lilac attached to him had made him eager to test the idea. Fixing her with the most heated gaze he could summon, and he had considerably the advantage of her in experience, the knight subtly caressed her palm and watched her eyes widen in startled pleasure. His flirtation even induced a stumble or two.
Not least when he whispered in her ear as they walked to the kitchen to fetch mead all around, "Truly, I could gaze into your eyes til Twelfth Night and beyond."
Twas unfair, the knight knew well enough, but if she wished to call down his relentless wisdom on her, he would answer her challenge gladly. He became possessed of a sudden desire to prove his friends in the right.
John angered him initially by suggesting he wed Lilac, but ever since he increasingly dwelt on the idea of keeping Lilac with him until death parted them. Not just in his bed secretly, but by his side for all to see. In the mean time, they could dance together. The resulting joy Sir Reynard shared with Lilac brightened their eyes and the manor from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night.