Cornelia's wedding took place near the end of my low period. I did manage to not think about the death much and so helped out as I should and even smiled a lot as well. The whole event being so wonderful and overwhelming it left me little time to dwell on the past. Especially with it being held in Arthur's lands, Cornelia's new home. Cornelia had asked me to be her bridesmaid of honor, though the rumor was that was a practical move on her part. It seemed I had gained the reputation of being the family's secret protector once reliable word got out I knew how to fight. But the whole household traveled for the event. It was my first long travel. I saw amazing things, like mountains. We didn't travel through them, but we got close enough.
Guard presence around both Cornelia and Elizabeth had been increased ever since the kidnapping attempt. The night before the wedding worry was at its highest, especially in Arthur and his family. The first thought had been guards would be in the room with us that night. But Cornelia would not have it. So instead they were posted directly outside the doors which were kept open the entire night. Mother slept with us that night also, but not for any reason other than personal. Cornelia was finding it hard to say goodbye to the woman who had raised her. And Mother was having a hard time with having to give up one of her children. Both wanted to be close that night. I was happy to have Mother sleep with us too. I was surprised to learn that night as for hours I watched the two sleep that Mother was not well. It was the first time I noticed, and as I thought back I realized she had started to falter a few weeks before. The travel had clearly taken a hard tool on her, but Mother had never been one to complain and I knew she shouldn't have missed Cornelia's wedding for anything.
The wedding was perfect, much to
The day after the wedding,
Normally I would have loved to have stayed with Cornelia in the wondrously different lands for a while to help her settle in. But I was very concerned about Mother and wanted to stay near her. I would have despite all of Cornelia's insisting and pleading, but in the end she seemed near panic and when she said "Please don't leave me" I flashed back on our last childhood fight, I saw the little girl streaked in tears and lost in fear, and the promise I had made then echoed in my head. Then I saw the young woman white as snow petrified in fear, and her only coming out of it after my assuring her she wasn't alone because I was there. I stayed for several weeks, until Cornelia felt comfortable in her new life.
The trip home was an adventure. Neither Cornelia nor Jason wanted me to travel without someone known and trusted. I wasn't looking forward to the idea myself. Jason was not allowed to fetched me, of course. Luke was all set to come, but an emergency surrounding Elizabeth and baby kept him home. The boys ended up sending a friend of theirs - and often traveling companion of Jason's when he went out as a suitor all those times - Matthew, to accompany me. For safety we didn't travel alone through several places. I learned a great deal on the trip, most good, some bad, but definitely that I had led a sheltered life. My skill with the bow was proven, unfortunately, but my accuracy saved my heart from further trauma.
The trip started out a bit uneasy as I had never met Matthew and didn't know what to expect from him, and we traveled on horseback. It took me a while to get used to a horse again, and though I picked that back up quickly I still had no real skill in guiding one. I would have been totally lost if we had to have fought or run away on horseback! Matthew turned out to be a typical young man. But while he was friendly, jovial, and even flirtatious with me, he never touched me out of anything but necessity. He probably either feared for what Jason's reaction to such would be, or more likely Jason had confided in him about his feelings for me. I was quite clear from almost the beginning of our trip that Matthew respected Jason way too much to let anything happen to me. Any advance a man made towards me when we stayed in inns or were restocking provisions in towns was met with immediately with a single stern warning, and followed up quickly by force when he was ignored.
At first I hadn't even understood what was meant by some of the things said to me or done around me. I started to understand the one time a man decided to act before speaking and grabbed me where only Jason had ever touched before. Matthew didn't get to react first that time, I had the man's arm wrenched behind him in a quite painful way and was screaming before the man knew what was going on. Matthew handled things from there, but him taking the man away didn't take away the feel of his hand on me. That took more than one bath and a bit of time.
After one other such incident Matthew didn't feel safe about us leaving town alone the next morning as planned. He spent much time that evening in taverns, taking me with him as he refused to let me go anywhere alone that night. He seemed to be looking for someone, but when I asked who so I could help look, he said he didn't know who yet. A few times he talked to a group of people, and I soon noticed that each group had a similar look to them. Traveling swords for hire is the best way I can describe them. A couple had jobs they were currently on, which didn't bother Matthew, but they weren't going in the same direction we were. Some did not meet up to some measure of acceptance Matthew had, and he would make up some plausible reason for having to respectively decline their services. Eventually he found the group he was looking for. He told them he had been charged with delivering me safely to the Carvers and he was currently in fear over a potential attack on us on the morrow. They agreed to help see to my safely through the next morning and afternoon.
Unfortunately Matthew's fears played out the next day. The man who had propositioned me the night before showed up about an hour out of town. He had brought five of his friends with him. With our new companions Matthew and I numbered six, but the man and his five didn't seem deterred by the even numbers. Our companions proved quickly they were skilled in fighting while four of the six townsman only knew rudimentary basics at best. However two of them were decent fighters. To many's surprise Matthew turned out to be the best of our group. I had been tempted to take up a sword in defense of myself as well, but as soon as I put my hand on one memories came flooding back and I immediately dropped it.
After the fight was over, the townsmen driven off, Matthew made known he had seen me with the sword and questioned me about it. I admitted that I had training with the weapon, but stated I could no longer use it due to injury and showed them the old yet still deep scar on my right arm as proof. I did say I had training with a bow and could still use that if the need arose. Out of curiosity in one of our companions turned over his bow to me and asked for a demonstration. Not seeing any harm, I sighted a tree several yards away and shot it easily. Another of the group made him take the bow back from me, saying they had to get moving. The group suddenly called themselves together for a meeting a short ways away from Matthew and I. A few minutes later they returned. They said while they were already on a job they offered to help us get me home for free if we didn't mind taking a small detour so they could finish their current assignment. We agreed.
During the next several days Joshua made a game out of testing my skills with his bow. He would sight a target for me, and I would see if I could hit it. With one exception, I always did. He tested me on distance, point blank, targets in motion, with distractions, and even made me start specifically calling my marks for pin point accuracy. It wasn't perfect, but I was at least close enough for the purpose in every case. The exception was after he started taking me hunting with him for the group's meals. While traveling through the wilderness it was much more cost effective and less to carry if the group survived on hunted game than carried dried or preserved food. Joshua was very surprised by how well I was able to keep up with him through the woods, though I scared off our prey a few times by not knowing how to move both quickly and quietly in underbrush and the like. Despite that, I proved I was just as accurate with moving targets as still ones as I managed to drop each one I had scared off if I had the bow ready beforehand. The only target I missed was a beautifully majestic bird Joshua picked out for me one day. I was so in awe of it I waited too long to shoot, and then didn't compensate for it's motion on my second shot. Joshua turned out not to be upset with me, much to my surprise he was happy instead. "It's nice to know you're not infallible," he explained to me with a smile.
Phillip, who turned out to be the group's leader, didn't much approve of the games but Joshua said that he would pay for the lost arrows out of his own pocket which shut up and arguing. While Joshua provided nice diversion during the long days with his testing, I found John to be the most interesting. He was effectively the group's scholar. Only he and Phillip could read and write of the four. But John also enjoyed reading and learning. He told me many things, taught me about the world beyond where I'd even been. Not elaborations on the kind of stuff I learned when sitting in on Cornelia's classes, real world stuff that I never knew even existed. He had a book with him that backed up some of the things he told me, so I decided to take everything he taught me as truth. In return I taught him about things he didn't know, what little that was. It mostly consisted of how life in a castle really is and medicine.
The last member of the group was Mikel. He was always very quiet, in a scary sort of way. He was the biggest and most rugged of the group. He seemed to always have a scowl. And whenever he looked at me it felt like he was piercing my soul. I had only one real conversation with him the entire trip. It was one evening when he cornered me alone. I was pretty scared at first, nervous, not knowing at all the type of person he was. He frowned at me, then finally said he knew I was lying. I tried to ask about what, but could only muster giving him a partially confused look. He leaned in close and lowered his voice, and told me he knew I could fight. With a sword. That he could tell I had learned to compensate for my wound long ago, and if I had the strength to hold Joshua's long bow the way I did I could certainly hold a sword. That my left arm was able enough, and he knew he was right in guessing I had training with it. He finished by saying he thought I was a coward for refusing to use my skills. That such skills are given to a person so they can help other people, make a difference in the world were so little chance to actually do so is given. He looked like he was disgusted with me. Then he turned and walked away as if dismissing my existence. I stood for several minutes trying to understand what had just happened. The others returned, we all had dinner, and people went to sleep. But I couldn't fall asleep that night.
When Mikel finally woke I went over to him and asked if I could speak to him. He looked at me with little tolerance, but didn't turn away so I assumed that was a yes. I told him he was right, and I ended up filling him in on everything surrounding my sword life. We talked for several hours, I didn't notice at the time but the rest of the group left us quite alone during our conversation eventhough it cost them some travel time. We discovered we had a lot in common experience wise. He filled me in on his first kill, telling me that I wasn't alone in how I felt, and much to my dismay that I would never forget the feeling nor the man's face. He told me about many other experiences in his life. In the end I think we both felt much better, even if it was just knowing there was someone else in the world who understood, truly understood. On my side it was also because I knew I'd made a new friend, a good friend. We didn't talk too much after that, but we didn't need to anymore because we'd found out we thought very much alike. It only took a few words or even just a look for us to communicate. Ever so often we'd share a chuckle at an unspoken joke. I'd never had such a bond with a person before, nor since.
He also told me why he traveled with Phillip, Joshua, and John as a sword for hire. It was because he had no other family anymore besides his friends. So he let them decide what they wanted to do and he simply made sure they survived. And when occasion for such arose he also made sure they took the jobs that did good in the world, whether they paid or not.
The side trip for the group to finish their task ended up adding three weeks to Matthew and my journey because we found ourselves accidentally in the middle of a land dispute at one point. We would have simply minded our own business and passed through, but we weren't given the choice. One night we were attacked at our campsite. The fight wasn't long but it was intense. Unfortunately life was lost, but not by my hand. Once the attackers were driven off, I found myself tending our group's wounds, with John's help. He was excited to be able to put his newfound knowledge to the test, but I wasn't. Joshua and Mikel were in bad shape, and while I had the skills to help them as much as they needed, I informed Phillip that Mikel needed at least a day of bed rest, and Joshua likely more. John checked the body of our fallen attacker for clues on who he was and why we were attacked before Matthew and Phillip carried it away from the campsite. The next day we arrived at the nearest town to find a place for our companions to recover. That afternoon we were all arrested on charges of being conspirators with the land owner's enemy. It turned out John had taken some sort of identification off the body and while trying to discern what it meant in the local market he displayed it openly. Once matters were explained and cleared up, which took much persuasion, a bit of money, and me having to take a trip back to our former campsite to show the town' s guard the alleged body, we were all set free.
Two days had passed by then, and the land owner's enemy was marching in a small army. The group that had attacked us that night apparently had been a scout group. We tried to leave before the battle between the disputing land owners began, but the town was locked down and we weren't permitted out.
Much of the town had left during the time we were being held, I assume heading for whatever castle reins the land. It was very odd to be in such an empty large place. Those who remained behind, besides soldiers, were either drunks with either no care or comprehension of what was about to happen or were people who refused to be run out of their homes. My companions and I were not at all happy about having to be in the middle of a battle we had nothing to do with. Mikel and I least of all, for such a battle surely meant death was coming. We found the tavern closest to the center of the town and picked out the table most center to the main room. It's owner was no where to be found, neither were any servers. Phillip went behind the bar and picked out two nice bottles for us to share, leaving money in their place where the owner would be sure to find it but wandering eyes wouldn't. Then we sat circled around our table, saying little, waiting for whatever might come. What came was one of the top officers of the army currently in the town. He told us we had to help them. We all looked up at him, waited for an explanation of why, and looked back away from him at our table and ourselves after he had finished talking for several seconds. That was our way of saying No. The officer grumbled and stomped out. A little while later the same officer returned. He walked up to the table and plunked a bag of money directly in the center of the table. Before he let go of it, he looked pointedly at Phillip. After he backed away a few feet, Phillip pulled the bag to him and opened it. Then he slid the bag to John who on his left. John looked, and slid the bag to Joshua. Joshua looked, then slid the bag to Mikel. Mikel didn't look, he picked up the bag and put it away. I looked at him, appalled that he was willing to take money in exchange for talking lives. His look reminded me of what he had told me before about him and his friends. He had not made the decision, he was simply following the will of the group. Phillip looked to Matthew, who sighed and looked to me. They all turned to look at me. I was scowling fiercely at the empty center of the table, and in a slow and measured voice to make sure I wouldn't snap at anyone I informed them all I would not fight. The four who were a group for hire stood and started to leave. Matthew stood also, but refused to leave me. Instead of leaving, Mikel came over to me and bent over. I looked at him. After a moment he asked if I would at least tend to the wounded. After another moment all my anger faded and I nodded.
I gathered all the medical supplies I could find or get others to bring me, and set up a treatment location in the local church at the permission of the priest there. He was worried about the potential loss of souls if he couldn't reach them for last rights, and welcomed the idea of the wounded being brought to him instead of him having to scour for them out amongst the battle. I don't know how long we worked. A few women and girls from the town came in to help as well and I found myself in change of a makeshift medical staff. It was a bittersweet experience. I was able to help save lives, and I had to help decide who wasn't given a chance at life. My turn as doctor ended when one of the women's young child saw his father outside. He got excited and ran out to greet the man. His mother yelled after him not to go, but he didn't listen and she couldn't get out from her current task fast enough to catch him. Knowing what was out there, her daughter and friends grabbed her before she followed her three -year-old son. Knowing what was out there, I grabbed a shield from the growing pile of items taken off the soldiers as they were brought in and went after the child myself. To my surprise, and relief, Matthew was just outside the door. We managed to get to the boy before any sword did, but not fast enough to keep him from getting hit in the arm by an arrow. It turned out to be a mixed blessing as the boy was in too much pain to run away or fight me. I scooped him up and held him between myself and the shield as Matthew held clear the way back to safety for us. His Mother tended to his wound, tears in her eyes.
Before I could return to my patients, I heard my name being called from outside. I looked to Matthew, who shrugged and pointed out and up. I looked, but could only see an archery tower as I heard my name again being called by more than one voice. Amongst others I could hear Joshua and John's voices. It sounded urgent, so I started running. Matthew followed on my heels, until I started out pacing him. If I hadn't had the shield with me still I would have paced myself to him, but with the shield I found it easy to block, dodge and weave my way around fighting without having to worry that I wasn't in any armor. As I reached the tower I heard John yelling instructions at me. I looked up and saw John on his way down carrying a bow. Joshua was up top firing intently. To my surprise, all of the other archers in the tower were either young boys or old men. John was telling me that there was someone who had to be stopped, quickly, before it was too late. I hurried as fast as I could up the stairs, dropping the shield off my arm. I didn't stop as I passed by John and grabbed the bow from him. I also grabbed an arrow from one of the archers on lower landings on my way by, so by the time I reached the top I already had an arrow notched and ready. I finally stopped next to Joshua and turned the direction he was facing. "Target," was all I demanded to know, just as I had done each time he had challenged my skill in previous weeks. He pointed to a group of men riding away on horseback which were being chased by another slower group. He gave me explicit instructions on which of the group I was aiming for. He wasn't wearing a helmet, so one proper shot would do the job. I sighted the man, and waited a moment to judge the horse's path and speed. An officer who had been standing on Joshua's other side started to get impatient and made his displeasure and worry known. Joshua promptly told him to shut up or be thrown over the side. The officer started to protest, but Joshua told the officer that he had no one here who could make the shot so if he wanted our help he'd best shut up and let me concentrate. The officer did so. During that small argument I adjusted as well as I could for my target's movement and the wind I felt on one side of my face. Just as I was about to let my arrow fly, I realized what I was doing. I caught the arrow as it started to leave the bow, much to my palm's protest as the feathers cut into it, and turned on Joshua demanding to know Why I was about to take a man's life. He pushed the officer away, knowing that the man was about to rant again, and put a hand on my shoulder. He said he didn't have time to explain right now, but he promised me on his honor this was the right thing to do. I had a new arrow notched right away, and sighted my target just as I had before, with one very slight modification. I then said a quick prayer for my arrow to fly true as I let it loose. I watched my arrow for only three quarters of its flight, enough to be sure I would hit my mark. Then I dropped my head and turned away. Matthew arrived at that moment with a questioning and concerned look on his face. All I told him was it was time to go home.
After the man fell off his horse and many people were cheering, Joshua moved to touch me again and tell me I had done well. I didn't let him, moving out from under his hand. Matthew put a protective arm around my shoulders and escorted me off the tower. AT Matthew's insistence it was time to go John gathered our group, got us some horses, and not soon enough for me we left the town. Both Mikel and Matthew attempted to see if I was alright. I told them I was fine - which I was - because I had not actually killed the man on the horse. It was pretty clear though for a while that I was not happy with Joshua.
The rest of our trip home was thankfully uneventful. On the way to the castle at last I stopped to
see Doctor Limir and fill him in on the last few
months of my life and hear about his. On
the way through the town after our visit I was stopped by many people who
seemed very happy to see me. I quickly
found out that after
When I reached home I found my fears realized. Mother was deathly ill. Without Cornelia I had no real duties yet, so I was allowed to mainly tend to Mother. I even managed to finagle a professional visit from Dr. Limir, as apparently other doctors during my absence and failed to diagnose and cure her ailment. After his exam, he just placed his hand on my shoulder with a gentle squeeze and an apologetic look then sent me in to Mother. He told us it wouldn't be long. Mother tried to take his hand and thanked him for looking after me in the ways she hadn't been able to. He thanked Mother for the pleasure of being able to know her daughter. When the two started comparing stories of me as a child, I slipped out to fill in Luke and cry on Jason's shoulder.
The death watch lasted two days. Many people visited, mostly castle servants and a few old friends of hers from before I was born. I asked the priest of the little church I attended if he could come give Mother last rights, and to my relief he was able to. Luke, Jason and I held vigil in Cornelia's old room most the entire time. Once a day Lord Carver stopped in to check on her. Surprisingly on the second day Lady Carver visited Mother. They spoke in private for a long time. Then Lady Carver sent word for me to join them. I did so as quick as I could, more than a bit nervous as to why I was summoned. When I arrived I found Mother looking better than she had since I'd come home. It wasn't because she was better though, it was because she was happy. She smiled at me, reached for me. I took her hand and kneeled next to her bed. She said my name with such peace... called me her love and her joy. Then she apologized and proceeded to tell me that I had Noble blood in me...! I didn't quite understand her at first, and when her words sank in so did shock. She told me Lady Carver promised to send word of her passing and about me, and a nobleman would come to claim me as I should have been years ago. She cradled my cheek, and told me to marry Jason! That he's a wonderful man, and she wanted me to be happy, and I had her blessing! I was happy for a moment, until I looked at Lady Carver. But then much to my further shock she told me I had her blessing as well. At my dumbfounded look she smiled and said not to worry about Lord Carver, once I had a proper father there would be no opposition to the marriage, though she cautioned me not to say anything to anyone until the nobleman arrived. I was elated, it was my happiest moment to date.
And then my Mother's hold on my hand loosened. I looked back to see her eyes flutter. I managed to tell her I loved her before she died, but that was all. It seemed all she needed was to know I'd be taken care of and happy. I never felt more alone as I did that moment.
At some point Lady Carver must have left. Then Jason's arms were around me. I felt more secure, but the hurt didn't subside even the slightest. Eventually he carried me to bed. The next several days were truly bittersweet. I had to tell Jason both his and my mothers had given permission for us to marry, and everything else I had been told, or I would have burst. We told no one else, it was enough for the time being just the two of us knew. We started making plans, partially out of joy, partially to take my mind off the loss of my Mother.
Lord Becket did indeed arrive as Mother said he would. Three weeks had passed since Mother
died. After he met with Luke,
Later Lord Becket and I finally had time alone together. Time passed in silence at first. We were both feeling awkward. Eventually he started telling me about his home - our home. More awkwardness. Suddenly it hit me that I had A LOT to learn. I was about to be a Lady! And on top of that, Lord Becket had no children, which meant I was heir now, Jason and I would be inheriting the household. Thankfully I had been exposed to running a noble household, but I had never actually done it myself. And Lord Becket didn't have a wife nor any female head of household to help me learn the specifics of that household. I probably would have been scared if it hadn't been so overwhelming!
Soon we were talking about more personal things. He told me some about himself, and I about me. Finally I felt I understood him enough to know he wouldn't react badly to the question on my mind. I was sure by this point he wasn't actually my father. It was the way my Mother had said "a nobleman will come" instead of "your father" combined with his demeanor. I asked him why did he claim me? He paused for a while, I think because I caught him off guard. Finally he said because he needed an heir, and one way or another I would be his daughter, he would even adopt me if necessary, unless I really didn't want to be his daughter. By the end of the night I decided he was kind and good enough a man that I could live with as my father. I only hoped Dr. Limir would understand.
---This story is continued here.---