Lord Reynard's Fancy Ch. 03byrosamundi©
Thanks to everyone who reads and rates each chapter of this story! I'm requesting comments, because this is my first attempt at a novel and my second attempt at writing fiction. Both positive and politely phrased criticisms are welcome.
"...Women are no more cowards on whole than men. You fight battles, we bear babes. My lot is as bloody and painful and mortal as yours, sir, " argued Lilac, "so I beg you cease prattling about my exceeding bravery because I will mount a horse. Every noblewoman..."
"...A war horse. Stay - do you tell me how many noblewomen you have known in your vast..."
"...Your tales of Lilac and the Destrier make me to wonder if you have known any women at all before me!"
John managed at once to snort with merriment and choke on his supper upon this remark. Maiden she might be, but Lilac had learned the workings between men and women long before this day. She herded rutting animals in her turn with the rest of the village, watched over births at the nunnery and served at the inn dodging drunken fondling. Coughing his food down, he howled with laughter, setting off his wife as the carnival went on.
"...I have not known you at all Lilac, but if that is your wish my chamber lies..."
"...My faith and troth you'll never get, me you'll never win." she sang brightly.
"Christ's wounds, Lilac, if I could ply my sword as you do your tongue I might be an emperor and not a knight."
"I want some weapon to contend with your tongue, and John has not yet begun training me at arms."
Maisry butted in with a glance at her husband, "Then shall you be emperor and Lord Reynard your thrall." John winked his agreement that it seemed so to him already.
"The little sauce needs not your aid, Maisry." grumbled Lord Reynard with good cheer, as he narrowed his eyes at John in mock anger, "I am beset on all sides in my own domain."
"Let John train you at arms first then, my lord." Lilac replied all too sweetly, starting toward the kitchen, "Maisry, let us clear and wash up together."
"Aye Maisry, get the wench out of my sight, or at least my hearing!"
Lilac's panic over lust eased once she grew accustomed to her new place. Surrounded by the bawdy talk of soldiers, she found that gibing covered her feelings and her blushing alike. Her face grew red no matter what she laughed about, and she could always be shriven for sin. Sir Reynard met jest for jest, his raillery as much in earnest as hers was in disguise. To be sure he had gazed on her with some heat at first, but no more than she knew she had reflected back, or any other newly met man might look with.
He withheld himself from touching her friends, looking upon them as desirable women, but he clear enough regarded her as a babe he could cuddle in the saddle and pull down on his knee without tempting. She dared not treat him in like fashion for fear where her hands would wander once begun. If those actions had left her in doubt, the knight's habit of casting his doublet and shirt off in the yard while fighting as if she were just another lad about left none. This set her teeth grinding by day and by night as she followed his form with her eyes in longing.
Sir Reynard had a trick of draping his tall and graceful body sideways in the wide kitchen door onto the yard, conversing away with folk on both sides balanced on one long and supple leg with the other braced across it effortlessly like to bar it closed. His rusty hair was growing out in peacetime into fascinating spirals she wished to pull straight to watch them coil back with a bounce. He had great dark eyes and a beard with no two whiskers seeming the same color. The lord knew as many dances from as many courts as she did songs and taught them to any who appeared willing and many who did not, insisting to his men that it was good for their swordplay.
All the while, Lilac's seeming comfort proved Lord Reynard's torment. Try as he might to gain her notice, her countenance seldom showed anything but mirth or dutiful attention. She cheered on the loser of every fighting match or shooting competition for to encourage them, unless by chance any man started besting him. Then did she cleave to the winner for a change in pace.
Lord Reynard was not accustomed to taking advice from maid servants, but her good sense had grown his respect since that first ride to market. Without it he might have tumbled her with nary a second thought, but as it was she was his faithful helper and the first young woman he had comported with in close quarters, for want of sisters or nearby cousins. Lilac's radiant smile, Lilac's voice and laugh, Lilac's wit and kindness and charm surrounded him. Her shape seemed formed to madden him, her inadvertent touches made him burn til he marveled at her calm in bestowing them. Ever at hand, ever out of reach. She fascinated him as no woman in his past life had.
More than this, Lilac transformed his silent manor into the bustling hub of the village. They returned from Lauds and Mass each morn trailing a nun here and an orphan there. The children performed chores for her as if apprenticed while the sisters helped with her deft management of his tithing. Among them they knew every soul in need on his land, and what each lacked for. Besotted men at arms vied to build coops and dig privies for aged widows. They carried veterans missing the odd limb to his yard and miraculously even attended to the shouted training advice to win Lilac's cheering praise. For his part the knight rekindled friendships with his favorites among these, his father's men.
When the sun set on the yard, Lord Reynard and his squire held councils with the old men on the manor's defensibility and planned drills or hunting sorties with them. John listened closely to their wisdom, and following in his stead the knight found himself learning new strategies for nearly every aspect of running a thriving community. He was inclined to meritocracy in any case, through years of training and leading soldiers. Though oft couched in folklore complete with vexing unmatched rhymes, once he sifted through some chaff the lord of the manor discovered wheat in plenty.
The manor house was scoured inside and out by Lilac's friends to the rhythm of work songs called between rooms, fresh rushes covered his floor and councils of women took place in his hall plotting the kitchen garden next spring, which beasts to breed with what design and how to ensure Father Talbot slept through Matins on the full moon so all could dance in the churchyard as late as they wished. Lord Reynard missed having his hounds about, since Lilac had banished all but two favorites to the run, yet he was glad enough on balance to trade their company for hers.
His people loved Lilac and grew to love him by degrees where distant interdependence had been the rule for generations. His joys increased as his cares diminished. Lord Reynard gloried in the hunt: he found himself teaching serfs to trap and fish while other nobles executed poachers. A few became proficient with the bow adding to his table and his fighting numbers. This was just as well, as he and Lilac stood united in ensuring none would want for food in their domain: his was the land that yielded nourishment, hers the skill that prepared it. Drinking with the old soldiers one evening he complained in large terms how brewing smells churned his gut, the next week of a sudden the innkeeper offered to trade spirits for game.
If Lilac had any enemies he had yet to lay eyes on one, yet she hardly lacked for faults. Tender toward the helpless, she relentlessly drove any she saw as lazy and her own youth and zeal blinded her to others' fatigue. She flirted with as little mercy, showing no favor toward one over another, nor yet care for men's hearts unless she meant to play match maker. Lord Reynard morosely included himself in this. Lilac paid him every duty, cast a web of virtue without dour over his household, and entertained him nearly all the time. She skirted the territory between their worldly ranks without error. Aye, that was the worst of it, she scarcely seemed to see him as a true man with feelings she might possess power to mar. He might as soon be doddering Father Talbot to Lilac's eyes.
Above all, driving him nearly as senseless as her beauty of form and mind, Lilac nagged. This she did without display in almost every circumstance. Indeed until he worked out that several of his new accomplishments as lord had their provenance in her mind rather than his own, Lord Reynard marked it not at all. Sweetly it was done, with subtlety and grace of wile worthy of a French courtier. Right up to the very instant he did not yield to her art. Quick enough smiles gave way to persuasion, persuasion to debate, debate to argument, and onward to mockery that amused as it bit. Of course, Sir Reynard did get the advantage of her at times.
"I entreat you Lilac, come near the hearth and open up your jaw that I may see inside your mouth."
"M'lord?" She stared at him.
"I never yet beheld flesh composed of salt entire, and I would look upon it."
"Ah! Good even, sir. I hear the Compline bells and must take me to my prayers. And my bed."
Right up to the very instant that she curtsied with the last word.