Sticks & Stones Ch. 07byBlack Tulip©
Feeling sticky and sweaty Deirdre opened her eyes to the new dawn, Andreas still at her back with his arms around her. For a moment she lay reminiscing, a small smile on her face. A look in the direction of the mule and cart showed the boy to be sound asleep as was Conn who had rolled away. Very softly she got up to get her clothes. It was chilly, but she really needed to dip into fresh water. Even if it were salty, it would still clean her body.
Andreas stirred, but she put her fingers to his lips and whispered in his ear. No sense in waking the others just yet. He nodded as his eyes traveled over her body. She could tell by the darkening color that he wanted her again. With a shake of her head and a grin she escaped to the beach.
The mercenary turned on his back and put his hands behind his head. His body felt relaxed and as he gazed at the slowly coloring sky a big grin split his face. He had packed up and left on the spur of the moment yesterday, already bored out of his skull with his life at the moment. He had grabbed this opportunity to leave his unit, intrigued by the woman he had remembered vividly and impelled by his aversion of witch hunting. It seemed he had taken a rewarding decision.
His body cooled without hers, so he dressed in a hurry and stirred up the little fire again. He took a careful measured sip of ale, noting the small amount left and wondered if the merchant was right. He had said they would reach their destination by midday today. And then what? He had no plans, no goals, nothing to do really, beyond warning the woman and he had done that. Munching on a piece of cheese he stared into the flames that licked the driftwood, following the blue and green sparks from the salt with his eyes.
The merchant woke up and kicked against the side of the cart, alerting the boy and the mule alike. Andreas passed the ale and cheese and watched the woman walk back from the water's edge. Her long black hair flowed down her back and her face had a healthy pink blush from the cold water. His mouth curved as his eyes wandered over the tight purple shirtwaist and the black and white striped skirt. Now that he knew what she looked like beneath those clothes he found her twice as alluring.
Deirdre felt his eyes on her the moment she came back from the sea. The water had been awfully cold and she felt clean and invigorated. She seated herself near the fire and braided her hair as best she could, using her fingers for a comb. Conn and Kendrick were awake by now as well and she felt a bit odd. Both Conn and Andreas eyed her with intimate knowledge of her body and the memory of last night made her suddenly blush vividly. Taking a deep breath she turned towards Conn.
"Have you come up with answers yet?" She didn't really expect him to, but she didn't know what else to say right then.
To her surprise Conn smiled and nodded. "Yes, I think I have. Maybe even the perfect solution."
He raked his fingers through his grey hair and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Not sure yet, I have to see the town first. Remember I said there would be a lot of trade for me? I have been thinking...that broadcloth from across, a fine cambric, our own flannels and wool." He nodded his head. "I could make a nice profit on trading those but I do not see the missus packing up to go live in Wexford."
Deirdre looked bewildered. A glance at Andreas showed him to be just as much at a loss. "Conn? What are you saying?"
"You can write and read, right? You know your numbers. Could you run a shop? For me I mean."
Deirdre frowned, the thought so alien she had no immediate response. "Are you asking me to run a shop in cloth for you?"
Conn practically beamed as he nodded vigorously. "Exactly. You have a reason to live near the harbor, you could earn a living and we can always say you are my brother's widow."
He quickly looked over at Kendrick as he whispered the last words, but the boy was daydreaming with his eyes wide open. His face had a faraway look on it and he didn't even blink his eyes. He hadn't heard a word of what they had been discussing.
"Don't you see? I would make a profit and you would have a safe existence. It's perfect, absolutely perfect."
"He's right. It sounds like a good plan." Andreas looked at her with a serious look on his face. "They'll be looking for a woman on her own, not a widow with a shop. If they ever come this far."
Deirdre felt weird. All she had ever known was herbs and healing. Should she leave all that behind? How could she do that? The knowledge her mother had left her had been handed down from mother to daughter forever. Without realizing it, she had been thinking out loud and Andreas answered her.
"Nobody said you should stop healing. Just that you should do something else to earn your keep."
He watched her face as she turned his words over in her mind. Her lips curved in a tiny smile as she obviously found merit in the idea. She had finished braiding the beautiful black hair and had folded her hands around her knees, resting her chin on top of them as she gazed into the fire.
"I think I like that, running your shop for you." She nodded in confirmation.
"Good." Conn grinned as he climbed to his feet. "See to the mule, boy." He nudged the daydreaming Kendrick.
Together they quickly packed their belongings while Andreas doused the fire and started to kick sand over their camping place. Once they were ready to walk, he took up the rear and erased their tracks as best he could, till they were back on the solid wet sand near the sea. Conn told them it would be two or three hours before they reached the river and he was right. Nothing disturbed their journey and by midday they could see the coast veering sharply to the right, cutting off their way to the east.
Andreas frowned as he looked at the cluster of houses in the distance. "I thought you said there was a harbor on the other side of Wexford?" He turned to Conn with raised eyebrows.
"Well, it was a few years ago when last I came this way." Conn sounded a bit apologetic. "Must be new, this place."
It didn't take them long to decide that Conn should go on with Kendrick, both having an excellent reason to have a look around. If Conn found a place he would send the boy back to fetch them. Conn came up with yet another tale for his apprentice; Deirdre needed to rest so she would stay behind and Andreas would stay with her for safety's sake. It was a lame story, but the boy seemed to swallow it.
Deirdre watched them go till they disappeared behind a bend in the road. They had cut across country, away from the coast to pick up the road to Wexford again. She turned around to look at her companion. The big soldier made her a bit uncomfortable. Sure, he said he wanted to help. But he had most of all helped himself, as far as she could see. Not that she hadn't appreciated his efforts. She grinned a bit at herself. To be honest he had been ...effective.
A small frown creased her forehead as she followed Andreas. He went in the direction of the trees he had pointed out to Kendrick, a place away from the road where they could wait in safety. It really was a suitable spot, a fold in the hills, hidden by some low growing trees and bushes. She saw him stretch his body into the bracken and hesitated. What was he really after?
The bracken-covered floor was dry and they were out of sight from anyone traveling the road to Wexford. At peace with the world and life in general Andreas stretched his big frame. He turned on his back to look at the woman. She had been very quiet after that merchant had come up with his plan, which he thought was excellent. The man must have a real soft spot for her.
Seeing the frown on her face he kept silent, waiting for her to speak her mind. The way she looked at him was not what he wished for. Upon waking that morning she had smiled into his eyes, giving him the impression she had enjoyed their games as much as he had. Looking at her right now, he wondered if he had misunderstood. She definitely looked distrustful, eyeing him with caution in her face.
He sat up again, held out his hand and patted the ground beside him. "Come, I won't bite." He cocked his head and smiled in an effort to make her more at ease.
To his surprise she ignored his hand and settled opposite him, at what she obviously considered a safe distance. She carefully lowered herself, concentrating on tucking her skirts around her legs. After she really had nothing else left to keep her occupied she looked at him, not saying anything, just studying him. He mentally shrugged his shoulders and gazed back. As far as he was concerned, he could watch her for hours.
The sun was doing its best to make this a bright spring day and her hair was shining with hints of blue in the thick braid. Some wisps of black had escaped to fringe her face and his eyes were drawn to her slender neck. He dropped his gaze to her breasts, noting the way the purple shirtwaist hugged her figure till he looked up again to marvel again at the unusual color of her eyes. He never saw such violet eyes before.
The look in her eyes changed as he watched her. The caution gave way to determination and he saw her straighten her spine before she opened her mouth, drawing his attention to the full rose-colored lips. For a minute he didn't even take in what she was saying, lost in the memory of those lips engulfing his cock.
"Sorry, what were you saying?"
"What are you really after? I know what you told us yesterday. I just don't believe it is all." She clasped her knees. "What do you want, for you I mean."
Andreas frowned at her tone, almost accusing him of something. He raised an eyebrow. "Really? You don't believe what I said, so I have to tell you. What? Something you do believe? Or something you want to believe?" He felt himself getting angry. "Can I make you believe me? Do you know that? What would convince you?"
Her face was shocked; the beautiful eyes wide open. "Why...?" She swallowed, tried again. "Why are you so angry? Is it so strange to question you?" She took a deep breath. "I don't know you, do I?"
He shook his head. "No, you don't. But you could have looked at my actions. That should have told you something!" He balled a fist and shoved it in her face. "I could have done exactly as I pleased, couldn't I? Or do you think Conn would stand a chance against me? Or the boy, for that matter?" He stood up and looked down at her. "You interested me and I thought it was mutual, I really did. Guess it's only me. Sorry for being so stupid."
Deirdre watched him stomp off, her eyes still wide with shock. She had never expected him to be insulted. Insulted? Lord, she hadn't given it a moment's thought. Shame colored her cheeks a flaming red. She bit her lip as she acknowledged he had been right about her being interested in him. So what had made her change her mind about him?
Andreas found a boulder to sit on, not far from the dell where he had left Deirdre. He had been angry, yes, but if he was honest to himself, he had to admit it had been more disappointment than anger. She really got to him by surprise. He shook his head as he tried to understand her reaction. How could she even think he would do something to her? His eyes got a faraway look, not really seeing the heather that stretched away to the hills at the horizon or the road in the distance.
The sound of footsteps made him turn around. Deirdre stood a few paces behind him. She held her head high, but her eyes were cast down, and her hands gripped each other a bit nervously. He looked with interest waiting for her first move.
"Andreas, I uh... I want to apologize. You were right to get mad at me. I'm sorry." She shuffled a bit with her feet before she continued. "I didn't mean to insult you. It's just... I don't know." She finally looked up at him, clearly uncomfortable.
She made to walk back again, but he jumped to his feet and halted her with a hand on her arm.
He sighed as his fingers stroked her arm without being aware of it.
"It's all right." He laughed a bit self-conscious. "It's just..." He shrugged. "I was disappointed."
The hesitant smile on her face made him catch his breath. God, she looked so beautiful. His hand reached her shoulder and he took a step forward, embracing her tenderly, stroking the glossy hair as she rested her head against his chest. He smiled when she wrapped her arms around his back.
The snap of a twig jerked Andreas back to reality. He lifted his head, his green eyes narrowing while he shoved Deirdre behind him. A sigh of relief escaped the both of them when they saw it was the boy, Kendrick, who had come back for them.
Conn had found a place to stay and the boy led the way into the settlement at the mouth of the river. It took only one glance to see why it had grown there. The place was excellently suited for a ferry, thus being the natural gateway towards Wexford. A big inn stood near the roadside, it's front facing the dock. Kendrick led them around it though, following a path along the waterfront. The houses here were small, with tiny patches of vegetables, herbs or an occasional fruit tree behind it. To the end of the row the boy gestured them into the last house, which was a bit bigger than its neighbors.
As they entered Conn came to meet them with a big smile on his face. "Isn't it great? Just what we need." He beamed with satisfaction.
Deirdre had to agree with him after she had a good look around. The front door opened into a big space with windows to either side, very suitable for use as a shop. The space behind it was divided into two rooms that could be used as storage and a bedroom, and at the back of the house was a large kitchen running the entire breadth. From the kitchen windows Deirdre looked out over the tiny garden, gazing at the grey waters of the river blending with the green-blue of the sea. Yes, this could be a new home. With a sigh she turned her back on the restless waves, walking into the front room again where the two men had found themselves a place to sit down.
* * *
Spring had passed into high summer and Deirdre walked back home with a smile on her face. "Home", she thought. "I would not have believed it three months ago." It was a warm summer day and she had walked a good distance in search of plants. She lifted her chin to let the summer sun warm her cheeks. Conn's plan worked great. She really liked running his shop for him and this little village saw lots of travelers on their way to Wexford, enough to make a nice living.
As she opened the door of the shop she heard the tinkle of the tiny bells she had put up to warn her if she was in the back of the house. There was nobody there so she walked through the storage room into the big kitchen. She put her basket on the sturdy table and poured herself a mug of cool ale. A few chestnut trees to the side shaded the house, so it was nice inside, even now in the heat of summer. Deirdre plucked the thin linen blouse from her damp skin and pushed a few wisps of hair behind her ear.
A glance to the backyard showed her Andreas, chopping wood near the bottom of the garden. His muscled body never failed to arouse her and once again she thought how lucky she was that he stayed with her. She watched his powerful arms swing the axe and she could see his spine bending and stretching as he worked bare-chested, splitting logs for the stove.
Deirdre stood for a long time as if mesmerized by the movements of the tall, bronzed man. He hadn't even asked her, just taken it for granted he would move in with her and Conn had been only slightly taken aback. She wondered if the merchant had hoped to make her his woman on the side. She grinned, that was very likely what had been on his mind. Not that it had mattered much. He had been down to Wexford once since they set up the shop and he and Andreas had shared the moment just as they had when they first met.
The memories of those nights made her blush a bit and she fanned herself with her hand. Biting her lip she stepped outside and went to the pump, drew up a bucket of cool water and splashed her face. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes as she dabbed some of the wetness to her neck and cleavage.
With her eyes still closed she smiled with satisfaction, since she had collected a nice supply of sea lettuce, some brown algae and she had even found a spot with belladonna. She knew she had to be very careful, but the habit of collecting herbs for potions and poultices was hard to break. Up till now there had not been cause for her to use her knowledge and she knew it would be wise to keep it that way. She liked her life, as it was right now, the shop and the man taking all of her attention, filling her days and her nights.
As if summoned by her thoughts, she felt two strong arms circle her waist and a warm breath as Andreas nuzzled her neck. He had snuck up on her from behind, and soon he started licking from her jaw line to her collarbone, while his hands moved up to cup her breasts. His thumbs brushed over her nipples, the linen blouse only a thin separation between his hands and her skin. Deirdre stretched her arms over her head and pushed her chest out, enjoying the feel of his hands on her body.
At first she had thought it was the length of time she had gone without a man, which made her respond to him the way she did. But after three months of living together, that was no longer a plausible explanation. Whatever it was, his hands never failed to excite her and this time was no exception. The minute he touched her breasts she felt a jolt of electricity race through her body, making her tingle all over.
"What shall I do with you? Tie you to the tree and let the neighbors have a go at you?"
She heard him chuckle as he knew that kind of talk turned her on and she almost instantly proved him right. The thought made her moan softly and she clenched her thighs in response. For a fleeting moment she wished women were not required to wear such long and cumbersome skirts.
"Ting, ting, ting."
"Damn, not now." Andreas groaned at the sound of the tiny bells announcing a customer.
Equally disappointed Deirdre sighed as she adjusted her clothes before hastening to the front of the house. Her hands were still busy patting her hair when she entered the shop and she was already halfway to the counter as she looked at the man.
"No... it can't be."
Shock turned her voice into a whisper and her eyes grew wide with disbelief. In front of her stood that stupid priest, that Rory. Her eyes took him in and she mentally adjusted her first impression. He was a shadow of his former self, his face haggard with sunken eyes that had a feverish cast to them. And his clothes! No wonder he had come to their shop, he looked like a scarecrow in the threadbare tunic and the pants that ended well above his ankles. It took a few moments before the truth sank in: he was no longer wearing the black robes of a priest.
"What...what are you doing here?"
"You!" His voice rose in outrage. "I knew you had bewitched me. And this proves it." Rory's face contorted as he hissed at her. "They threw me out, but you wanted that, didn't you? You made them do it. Why? Did you want me for yourself?"
Deirdre backed away as the clearly disturbed man advanced on her. The thoughts raced through her mind as she eyed him warily. They had kicked him out? Didn't they believe him? She saw his hands curl into claws as he came nearer and she looked around for something to defend herself.
"You bewitched me. You made me forget my vows and then you made it so they would not believe me." He laughed with a scaring pitch to it. "I could not even show them the place you had been hiding."
He suddenly lunged across the counter and grabbed her arm. "But now that I found you, I can take you back with me. They'll believe me if they see you."