Lord Reynard's Fancy Ch. 01byrosamundi©
Thanks to loyal readers so far, and for the kind advice several people have given me. I am changing the title character's name to Lord Reynard for the sake of a Norman, not German, name for my protagonist. Please comment early and often as I add chapters, they really help me emotionally and as a writer!
Lilac ambled through the gaping stone entry of the huge manor house never entered by village folk. Their lord had returned only recently from a long series of military campaigns with his soldiers. Unaware that she was being observed, she craned her neck and examined the pattern of braced stones forming the pointed tip of the arch. Dallying was not a habit, but she had butterflies in her stomach at the thought of entering service there. The idea of working at the manor for a lord, a knight no less, seemed as strange and unknown as fighting in a war herself.
As she drew near, Lord Reynard restrained himself from equally obvious inspection of Lilac. He welcomed her gruffly, relishing the uncertainty of her countenance. Like any good swordsman he strove put his opponent off stance from the outset. Lilac looked even fairer than when he had struck the deal with her father several months before to engage her as the maidservant in his small but ancient manor house. Now that she had finished with the harvest, she was his for the winter.
Her dark fine hair was caught back in a maiden's simple plait, escaping wisps around her face accenting her fresh, ruddy complexion. Bright green eyes and pink lips framed a big snub nose. A comely blush spread through her cheeks down her throat to her full breasts as his gaze dropped to her buxom form. Her wide farm girl frame was luxuriously plump, with a pillowy belly and wide inviting hips that flowed into short but lovely legs and calves made shapely by a lifetime of muscle building labor.
As the noble's gaze traveled up her body and he locked eyes with her, Lilac found her voice and greeted him. "Good morrow, my lord. I am come to you for the season now the grass is in."
"Good morrow, Lilac. You will follow me to your chamber to dress, then John will show you to the kitchen and you can prepare supper for the four of us. You will sup with me as you serve. You will address me as Lord Reynard or Sir."
He started across the entry with a brisk stride, the tight orange hose encasing his long legs confirming that this was a man still very much in his prime. Lilac had never seen a doublet so short on a man so well built and though the view at the manor house was pleasing enough. She kept up as best as she could and arrived at her new room slightly breathless, hoping her short legs would serve as cover. To her surprise, it was not off the kitchen or up the stairs, but with the main bedchambers and she remarked on it before recalling her manners.
"The upper rooms are used only for guests, there is no need for one man to occupy them all. They will not need most of your time and I will hire extra hands if visitors come. I will not overburden you with cleaning or have you sleep by the spit, you are not a drudge."
Lilac felt pleasantly surprised, as her father had not inquired closely about her duties and she had formed little idea of them herself, being the first in her family with the good fortune to find work as a servant.
"I thank you, sir...Lord Reynard."
"No need for thanks, I have other duties in mind for you, Lilac. Your first, I hope, will be pleasing. Heat water for the bath you find waiting."
As he opened the door to a small but tidy and richly decorated room, Lord Reynard met her eyes again with a smiling intensity that she looked too innocent to yet recognize, and gestured her in.
Lilac accordingly stepped past him, allowing a full view of her lush behind which he appreciated in like fullness. He indicated a pile of garments on the carven wood bed and closed the door, settling himself on one of the oaken benches lining the hallway to anticipate Lilac's reappearance. He had chosen her clothing with care, and whiled away the time imagining Lilac running a soapy cloth over her soft curves and donning the new outfit.
Finding a blaze in the hearth and hooking the water pot onto the spit to heat, Lilac moved to the bed and lifted a finely woven linen shift with awe. She marveled at its smoothness. The waiting fire and large copper bath, the tapestried walls and cozy shift all seemed too fine for a mere servant raised in the kind of short rough frock she had just removed, but she supposed she was merely ignorant of aristocratic ways.
Lilac poured the heated water into the cool bath and slipped in with a contented sigh. She was used to washing a day's sweat off in a stream or trough in summer and could not remember bathing at home during the winter, though a few of the village women had always offered her a chance with a friend, looking after the motherless child of an embittered father. Now there was a delightful aroma as she soaped and scrubbed the grit of the harvest away. Still, she hurried, mindful that a lord was waiting on her.
Lilac had never felt anything like the softness of her new chemise and took a moment to savor the sensation. Next came a dark green kirtle of the same material with long sleeves and skirt, then over it she laced up a short sleeved and skirted woolen one of a brighter green. She had envied visiting servants of the highborn in similar clothes at the inn but was unused to clothing so tight. She felt as if her kirtle scarcely covered her breasts, though in truth she supposed she would not consider it immodest on another. Shoes of soft brown leather replaced her worn wool ones that required wooden pattens even indoors. Lilac reveled in her new found bodily comfort. She shifted the sleeves of the chemise and under-dress to her elbows and kilted up the long skirt to mid-calf, preparing to work.
Lord Reynard felt his chest tighten as his new maidservant emerged in her finery, followed by a tantalizing draft of soap scented air. Lilac's still-dripping braid was draped over her shoulder and hung to her hip. As he rose, she dropped a deep curtsy, gazing up with a radiant smile, "Thank you more than I can say, my lord! Did you fetch this cloth from the Holy Land, or from heaven itself?"
The knight laughed, "From neither, Lilac, merely from France on the way home from our last campaign there. Men do not set eyes on the Holy Land now as we did in days of yore, alas. Do you like your clothing then -- all seems to fit as it should?" Having made the excuse, he allowed himself a lengthy appraising look as she rubbed the smooth linen sleeve and exclaimed over its softness.
The nobleman schooled his features and slowed his breathing, once again leading the way and explaining the ways of the household and Lilac's place in it. She was to help care for the fowls, milk the few small cows and turn the dairy to good account, garden, cook and clean the first story of the manor house daily, and the second weekly. She felt well able to rise to these tasks, having kept house for her father and helped at the nunnery and the inn where Lord Reynard had first seen her.
They met up with his head man at arms as they crossed the courtyard to visit the outbuildings.
"John, this is Lilac, the maid we have in from the village to cheer our winter hearth. Lilac, John was my father's squire, and spoiled me so badly by his skilled service that I have yet to train a lad of my own."
John, a man of some years still hale and ruddy, gave a small bow and with kind dark eyes welcomed her to the manor. "No need for introduction! I have told Sir Reynard already that you make the best venison stew for miles around. Shall I hunt accordingly?"
Lilac laughed and curtsied slightly. John frequented the inn with his wife Maisry, and his presence set her at ease for they proved friends to all. She took his bait and fell into their customary banter. "I do not doubt your skill with the bow, sir, but unless you wish for a month of salted venison at the table for four, mayhap we could wait until Lord Reynard has a feast. Then will I take the best of the meat for our goodly lord's stew, and you may roast the rest for our guests."
"Well, I will leave you together to praise each other while Lilac meets our men and beasts. Send John to fetch me when it is time to sup." The knight turned back inside laughing at their display.
Lilac found the kitchen well stocked and arranged, and throwing on an apron (not linen, but still a finer weave of wool than her best dress from home) flew about preparing a thick rabbit stew and late greens from the garden dressed with honeyed herbs. She baked trenchers for the night and the morrow, then drew more water from the well and set the pail close to the fire to warm for washing the pot, bowls and utensils.
Her love of cooking and the pure thrill of finding more ingredients than she had ever encountered compounded the pleasure of a bath, fine clothes and pleasant companions. Joy was bubbling up in her to a degree she had scarcely felt in her young life, and Lilac relaxed into relief that her lot would not be a hard one.
She occupied herself in assorting the kitchen to her liking, opening boxes and bags, smelling and tasting unfamiliar herbs and spices and grouping them by effect -- savory, tangy, bitter. She gasped when she found a large green stone cellar filled to the brim with whole cloves, each worth its weight in gold for its power over toothaches as well as meat going onto spoiled. Lilac checked the brew barrels, finding mead and ginger beer instead of the small beer she was used to, in addition to local cherry and strawberry and wildflower wines. There were bottled wines as well from France and Italy. Lilac moved the tisanes and herb teas near the barrels and bottles, placing bottled oils both plain and infused closer to the fire and cooking herbs.
Lilac moved through her work in a daydream of pure pleasure, creating a giant's feast of imaginary dishes inspired by what seemed a king's ransom in spices. The thought that she was expected to share each meal she cooked, combined with the lingering perfume of the soap and soft linen against her skin aroused and sated her senses.
As he approached the great hall after closing his ledger, Lord Reynard wrinkled his brow at an unfamiliar sweet sound. At last he recognized it as a merry singing of a lusty ballad. He chuckled to hear his innocent servant maiden tunefully describing the gore of battle and the distress of an apron that would not tie. He intended to spare her the sight of the first, but grew surer by the moment that he would devote himself closely to the last.