Ravendorf Ch. 07byBelle_in_south©
The sun had crested over the Alps, glided over the peak of the sky, and was now sinking toward the western shadows of Ravendorf Manor. The grounds were filled with people coming from all over Bavaria to celebrate the wedding of Lord Ravendorf’s daughter and only child. She was marrying well, too. Phillip von Goring was a member of the Holy Roman Emperor’s court. He worked in the palace in Vienna. The next Lord Ravendorf would be a well established man and that would bring prominence to Garmisch. Even the poorest farmer had left the fields early to prepare for the festivities. Many of them had never entered the gates of the wall surrounding Ravendorf until today. They had gotten there early to see as much as they could see, to sample as much of the free food that they could, and to taste the Ravendorf wine. Lord Ravendorf had spared nothing to celebrate the wedding of his daughter.
The young mistress of Ravendorf stood at the doors of her bedroom balcony, watching as the servants prepared for the ceremony and party that would follow. She could smell the hogs roasting over the open pit. Every vegetable from their garden and every ripe piece of fruit had been harvested over the last few days and were now piled on tables for people to sample. She had wanted to be married in her mother’s rose garden, but Father had said that was too small. Her mother’s bushes had been pruned and buds scattered over every thing that would stand still. Elaine, Margaret’s lady-in-waiting and childhood friend, and Margaret had selected the flowers that would make up the bouquet that Lady Ravendorf would carry. Margaret brought the bundle of pink and red roses to her nose and inhaled deeply. The smell of roses always brought her mother to her. She wished her mother was there now.
Elaine curled her hand over Margaret’s shoulder, pulling the girl away from the balcony. “It is not good for people to see the bride before she is dressed, Milady.”
Margaret looked down her body. She wore a simple silk chemise. Numbly, she sat aside the bundle of flowers and followed Elaine into the dressing room. Elaine chattered as she helped her employer into her beautiful wedding gown. Margaret went through the motions with little comment. When Elaine told her to lift her arms or sit or stand, Margaret obeyed. “You act more like a criminal sentenced to beheading when you are innocent than a very lucky young lady about to marry a handsome, wealthy, wonderful man,” Elaine finally commented. “In fact, you’ve been acting like this for a week.” She sat down beside her mistress and patted the woman’s hand softly. “What’s wrong, Milady?” Margaret dropped her eyes, unwilling and unable to answer Elaine. She wanted to pour out her sorrow about marrying Phillip when her heart belonged to a gypsy. Women of the Lady of Ravendorf’s station did not marry gypsies. They certainly did not refuse to marry men of Phillip von Goring’s station in order to run away with a dark-haired, dark-skinned gypsy woman. “Are you still afraid of the wedding night, Milady?”
She was no longer worried about the pain that consummating her marriage with Phillip would bring. Instead, she was afraid that Phillip would never be able to bring her to the level of pleasure that her Roma lover had given her. She was terrified she would spend the rest of her life longing for the beautiful voice of the dancer. Phillip could never touch her in the way the musician had. It wasn’t just the physical touch of Lila that she would crave for eternity. Margaret would crave the wanderer’s love for the duration of her arranged marriage.
“I suppose I am just tired,” Margaret finally answered in her soft voice. It was an acceptable answer. She had spent every waking moment in preparation for the wedding. She should be exhausted. Elaine didn’t need to know that those moments that had not been centered on the nuptials had been expended in the arms of the gypsy. Margaret could close her eyes and still feel Lila’s hands and mouth moving over her body. It gave her a shiver of delight and brought a soft smile to her lips.
“You’ll get to rest soon,” Elaine assured as she finished threading Margaret’s light brown hair with a tangled wreath of rose buds. The lady-in-waiting stepped back to observe her handiwork. She beamed. “You look beautiful, Milady.”
Margaret examined herself in the mirror. Her dress had been made especially for her by the local seamstress. Lace and silk flowed down her body, accentuating her slight curves. Elaine had shaped her tresses into a thousand curls bound only by the vines of the flowers. She barely recognized herself. She turned to Elaine, who stood aside silently, her own eyes shimmering with tears. Margaret reached over and hugged Elaine tightly. They had been friends since childhood and Elaine had come willingly into the service of her friend when a lady had been needed. Margaret embraced Elaine, holding her friend so closely she could feel Elaine’s fluttering heart and trembling arms.
“Thank you, Elaine,” she whispered in a passionate voice. “Thank you for everything you have ever done for me.”
“It’s not good-bye, Milady,” Elaine assured. “I will be traveling with you. Your marriage or location does not weaken my commitment to you. There is nothing to keep me in Garmisch. I will follow you wherever Master von Goring takes you.”
Margaret backed away, still wearing an odd smile. She bent and kissed Elaine softly, touching her lips to the young peasant girl’s. It was a kiss of friendship and lasted only briefly. When they pulled away from each other, Elaine had a slight flush in her cheeks. She quickly stepped around Margaret, focusing her attention on cleaning up the mess that had been made while dressing the noblewoman. “Your father is waiting,” she muttered.
Margaret took one last look at her reflection, and then turned slowly in her bedroom. She was starting a new life today. She would leave the room the young Mistress of Ravendorf. When she returned, she would be Lady von Goring. Phillip would take her to Vienna for a while, and then they would return so he could be the Lord Ravendorf.
She stepped into the hall and found her father waiting. He was standing with his back to her, his hands clasped behind him as he studied a painting. She cleared her throat lightly. “Father?” she called.
He turned and made his way down the long hall toward her, but stopped suddenly before he reached her. “Annabelle,” he whispered, saying his wife’s name reverently before recovering and fully focusing on his daughter. “Oh, Margaret! My beautiful little girl! Where is my little girl?”
“About to become Phillip’s wife,” she answered.
He closed the distance, gripping her wrists in his hands and studying her. “You are so beautiful. I see your mother in you. You are every bit as breath-taking as she was the day she became my wife. I hope that you and Phillip are as happy as your mother and I were.” He leaned forward and kissed the corner of her mouth, then kissed the opposite corner. He touched one of the wild curls, smiling warmly. Offering his daughter his elbow, he guided her down the long, curving stairwell and out the door into the open courtyard filled with guests.
The audience fell silent, all turning in awe to the beautiful bride. They stepped to the side to allow Lord Ravendorf and his daughter to pass. Margaret could hear the whispering admiration. She had always hated the attention that came with her father’s title. In town, people had always stepped aside to allow her to pass. They always averted their eyes and only spoke to her when it was necessary. Now, they gazed upon the beautiful dress her father’s money had bought while enjoying her father’s food and wine and envied his position as their overseer.
Would things be different in Vienna? Phillip was an advisor to the Emperor. She would be a member of the royal court when she reached the city. She would always be expected to perform for the audience of royalty and subjects. Elaine had said she would find rest, but Margaret suspected that there would never be rest for von Goring or his wife.
Quinn and Lila’s father and brothers stood to the side, watching the proceedings. Margaret looked their direction, hoping to catch a glimpse of her dark lover. Instead, she only saw Quinn glaring fiercely at her. She could tell by their positions that Lila had not come to the wedding. She did not blame her lover for staying away. She would not have been able to bare the loss of seeing her love given to another for eternity.
They reached Phillip and the father handed the daughter to the groom. Phillip smiled into the face of his bride. “My lady, you are more beautiful and glorious than I ever imagined you could be.”
“So, you did not think me glorious or beautiful before?” she asked teasingly. She had known Phillip since she was a child and they had always had a good relationship. She tried to remind herself of her friendship with her soon-to-be-husband. She did love Phillip and knew he loved her. He would provide well for her and any children that they might have in the future. He would care for her father in his old age and honor the Ravendorf name in Garmisch.
Phillip faltered awkwardly, thrown by her question. “Today, even angels hide because they are jealous of your beauty.” He offered her his elbow and reluctantly, her father released her. Phillip gently patted her hand, feeling it tremble against him. He led her across the courtyard to the altar that had been constructed for the purpose of the wedding. The bishop from Munich stood at the end of the long aisle, arrayed in fabulously colored robes with gold trim.
Margaret could feel her heart pounding against her breast. It thundered in her ears. She could feel it pulsing through her veins. Her breathing was shallow and suddenly she couldn’t breath. Her eyes welled with panicked tears. She was only able to keep going because Phillip did not stop. He pulled her to the altar and she was relieved to be able to kneel before the priest for the nuptials. When it came time to say her vows, she had a difficult time forming the words.
They danced and ate and as darkness approached, the villagers showed no sign of leaving the party. Margaret moved through the evening in a fog. She knew what she was supposed to do, but she didn’t remember anything. In a rare quiet moment, she found Quinn standing beside her. “Where is Lila?” she asked quietly, her eyes following Phillip, hoping that her new husband would not see her talking to the handsome, powerful gypsy. How would she explain knowing him well enough to speak to him?
“She is at the camp getting ready to leave this place. Please let her leave, Lady von Goring.” He spoke her married name as a curse. She could hear his hatred. It radiated from him. She supposed she should be grateful that Lila had a friend who loved her and protected her as much as Quinn did. Instead, his words hurt. They burned.
She dropped her eyes, wishing that there were words that could make up for the pain she had caused Lila. Margaret tried to remind herself that Lila had known the circumstances surrounding their relationship. The gypsy had first seen the noblewoman at an engagement party. She wished that she had some meaningful message that she could pass along to her lover, but her words were stuck in her throat. All she could do was walk away from Quinn in acceptance of his plea. She went to Phillip, who rested his hand at the small of her back in order to lead her into the crowd. She looked over her should once at Quinn, feeling his icy eyes boring into her. He watched for a moment, then placed his violin underneath his chin and began playing a mournful melody.
The haunting sound of the music from Quinn’s instrument broke Margaret’s heart even more. She knew she would always associate the tune with heartache. It would always remind her of the dark-haired woman who had introduced her to physical love. Lila had done more than show her physical pleasure. Lila had stolen her heart.
Her step faltered as the thought flew through her mind. Phillip stopped and looked at her, concern on his gentle, caring face. “Are you all right, my dear?”
Margaret did not trust her voice immediately. She swallowed with difficulty. “I am just tired,” she answered.
She saw a change cross Phillip’s face and immediately regretted her words. She knew he was about to suggest they go inside and prepare for bed. The bedroom was the last place she wanted to be. Suddenly, she was terrified to be alone with her new husband. She didn’t want him to touch her, especially in the intimate, loving way that Lila had touched her. She knew that Phillip must be eager for the consummation of their marriage. She did not doubt that he had been entertained by ladies in Vienna. It was acceptable for a man to be experienced. However, he had anticipated his marriage to Margaret since she had become a young woman. He would have expectations when they reached his bedchamber, expectations that she was not ready to meet.
“Then we’ll make our excuses, dear,” he said.
“Let’s be less obvious about leaving,” she said quickly. “That way we won’t be disturbed by drunken jokers later. I’ll go ahead and slip out now. You join me a little later.” She tried not to hold her breath as she waited for his answer. If they left together, in thirty minutes, there would be singing outside their window. If they left separately, the rabble-rousers would be less likely to notice.
He grinned, touching her nose playfully. “Such a clever woman is my new wife. I’ll be along soon.”
“No rush. We have the rest of our lives together. Enjoy the party for as long as you wish.”
“I don’t want to find my bride asleep. Go on, now.” He steered her toward the manor but hung back, taking another glass of ale and saluting another farmer. He watched her with one eye until she disappeared from view.
She stopped when she was out of sight of the party, looking around to see if anyone was watching. She gathered the tail of her dress and hurried down the path to the barn. She crept along the soft grass, staying in the shadows as much as she could until she reached the wooden stable. Even the liveryman was at the festivities, so she quietly fumbled through the dark until she reached the stall of her horse. She rubbed his muzzle and muttered soft assurances to him. She opened the gate and led him out the rear door, keeping close to the wall surrounding the manor until she reached an opening in the stone fortress. She pulled herself onto the back, thinking of the way Lila had ridden her mighty stallion bareback. She bent over the neck of the horse, whispering softly to him. “Be easy and swift.”
She spurred the animal and raced through the forest, headed toward the lake. She could feel the mighty muscles of the horse’s back rubbing against her legs. She bent low, enjoying the sensation of the animal’s movements. She had never ridden bareback before and could understand Lila’s passion for it. Thoughts of Lila pushed her to gallop faster. She couldn’t think of the consequences of her actions. She just wanted to be with Lila for the rest of her life.
She reached the gypsy camp with her heart thundering in her chest. She moved quickly, knowing if she hesitated for even a moment that she would lose her nerve. She dismounted in front of Lila’s tent, pushing back the flap as she entered without announcement. Lila was kneeling in front of a trunk, tucking items into the heavy chest. “I love you,” Margaret announced.
Lila continued packing, not turning to look at her lover. “You are married.”
“I don’t care,” Margaret insisted. “I don’t care about anything but spending the rest of my life with you.”
“What about your husband?”
Margaret watched as Lila methodically continued her packing. She still had not turned her attention to Lady von Goring, but the noblewoman answered in a passionate voice. “He will try to find me, but I will not go with him. I would rather die than not be with you.”
“You don’t know what you are saying, Frau von Goring.”
Margaret closed the distance and touched Lila’s back. “Please look at me.” Lila sighed and rose, facing her lover. Margaret could see that Lila’s eyes were swollen and red. Her dark skin seemed sallow. “I’ve made my decision. In time, Phillip can get an annulment. Father has his heir. I want to be with you.”
“You were so beautiful today,” Lila answered, finally reaching out to caress Margaret’s cheek. Margaret turned into the touch, pressing into Lila’s fingers, her eyes closed. “I wanted to stop the wedding, but we had made our choice.”
“We chose wrong.” A sound outside distracted Margaret and she turned urgently toward the entrance of the tent. “I don’t know how long I have before they discover that I am missing.”
“Where do you suggest we go?” Lila questioned, wanting to measure how much Margaret had thought through running away from her marriage and her life.
“You’re family is moving on. We can just move with them. I’ll stay hidden if Phillip and Father come here to look for me.” She took Lila’s hands in hers, squeezing them as she pleaded with the older woman. With her brown eyes, she begged Lila to love her and protect her and accept her.
“I don’t think that would be safe,” Lila said, pulling away from Margaret and going back to the trunk. Margaret felt her heart crash. Lila was sending her away. She had known it was a possibility, but she had not allowed herself to really believe that it would happen. Dejected, Margaret turned toward the opening of the tent flap. Perhaps she would reach the manor before Phillip or Elaine discovered that she was missing. She would grieve for awhile, and then force herself to find happiness with Phillip.
Lila rummaged through the trunk, her own mind whirling with Margaret’s presence and confession. There were many reasons to refuse Margaret’s offer of love. She suspected that the young girl did not realize the consequences of her actions. This was a permanent decision. There would be no returning to her marriage with von Goring. She would be a marked woman living a life of regret and no escape. However, Lila could not refuse Margaret’s request. She did not want to spend her life without Margaret when that was what the woman was offering.
“You can’t keep riding in that dress,” Lila announced.
Margaret stopped halfway out of the tent and turned back to Lila with a puzzled expression. Lila was extending a pair of her own riding pants toward her lover. “Put those on. I’ll saddle your mount with my own saddle. I can ride bareback farther than you.” Margaret stood, clutching the material of specially tailored men’s pants, staring at them in confusion. Her heart thundered in her chest. Lila took Margaret’s face in her hands and kissed the young woman softly and warmly. “Hurry, my love, we haven’t much time.”
Lila peeked out of the tent flap, making certain that no one was around the camp. She saw nothing in the fading light except for Margaret’s beautiful horse stamping near the fire pit. She slipped into the twilight to gather her own horse and saddle. Margaret had changed by the time Lila returned. She was carefully folding her wedding dress, tears streaking her face. Lila went to her, taking the dress away and clasping Margaret’s hands in her own. “Are you absolutely certain about this, Margaret? You can turn around now. Tell your husband that you needed some air and got turned around in the woods. I wouldn’t haunt you.”
“Yes, you would. You would haunt my heart every day for the rest of my life.” Lila studied her lover for a moment, trying to judge Margaret’s sincerity and clear thinking. She knew that they did not have long to make second guesses. They had to make their escape immediately if escape was their goal. She gave a slight tug on Lady Ravendorf’s hand. Margaret read the signal and followed Lila.