Chase rode out in the lead this morning feeling the need not to see rows of horses’ asses and carriages in front of him. He was in some grand parade that went on too far and too long. He knew long ago how far the Castle of Thulle was from their seas side home. He studied the maps, he followed the plotted route. He was also aware of all the things they had to bring. Lists and lists of dowry and gifts and things his sister needed. But having it in your head and then managing the days and days of the slow moving caravan were two different things.
Chase longed to press his heels against his favorite mare Storm and just gallop ahead. He could get there and spend half a season waiting for the others to catch up. But of course he couldn’t. He was the son, admittedly not the favorite but one none the less, of Lord Reismen Corecia. More importantly to him at least he was the brother and escort of Lady Alyia Rydain Corecia, his sister.
This show was about her. This circus of things and people was all about two houses tying together through blood and marriage. She was the important piece and he had to get her there. He snickered at the thought because if it were up to him he would have ditched half this crew and put her on his horse and just gotten her there. But it wasn’t up to him.
The last few days he had begun to realize his sister was not at all in the hurry he was. She would never see her home again. She might never be surrounded by her people that she had won affection from because of her simple softness and caring smiles. He could feel that Alyia was worried about what her new family would think of her. Was she too small to bare the pains of childbirth? Was she too fragile for the colder northern winters?
Neither Chase nor Alyia or anyone of their immediate family had ever been to the Northern Hills of the Thulle clan. But their father needed allies in the north. As the King began to shift through his loyal holdings Lord Corecia’s name came up more than once because of questionable actions. Factions grew among the Lords. Although Chase was not privy to all the details he knew his father was sitting upon a fence deciding which side to place his feet. This marriage was the Kings tightening hold. Thulle’s Hills were hard fighting loyal king subjects.Chase was not so sure this changed his father’s place at all. He had other children to spread out among the different houses. But still, he had made a grand show of the whole affair, as was apparent by this slow crawling endless line of carriages and horses.
Chase slowed and looked back making sure the massive amounts of things still followed. After days along the warm summer coast they had turned inland and north. The sun did not hit as hard and the hills began to raise and fill with larger trees. Chase found the transformation amazing. He enjoyed the travel, just not the pace. He could see mountains rise in the background as the foothills rose in front of them. The bounty of summer was finding its over flowing fill as fields were harvested. Chase could feel the sea warm winds at his back even though they were days and days behind. And he could taste the coolness of crisp green mountain air ahead. Chase stopped Storm with just a light tug and sat looking over the view. He thrilled in the newest of this land. He just wished he could explore it faster and not dragging all this behind.
Dame Lydia Thorell sat upon her speckled grey charger Snowfall and did her best not to melt. The late summer sun, not terribly overbearing this far north, was still enough to make her in her full plate and heavily embroidered tabard roast. She had broken with tradition on such escort missions and removed her helmet, hanging it from her saddle simply for safety’s sake. Her head had begun to swim inside it and she rather thought that her bare head with its tightly braided hair was more dignified than the sight of her toppling from her saddle would have been. Even so the breach made her uncomfortable and unsettled and she felt like there were eyes all over her, nothing her lapse and judging.
She made no outward acknowledgment of this, simply held herself upright in her saddle, keeping her ceremonial lance with its banner upright even though the breeze was not enough to make it flutter. She would at least ride in the correct parade formation, even if this cursed trip took the three years it felt like it was going to. She sent a silent curse towards Simon Monfert, the head of her order who had personally picked her for this mission. The order of the Dawn Star was beholden to the king upon whom their charter depended and so when the King requested an escort for this circus, the head of her order could hardly refuse. He could have chosen a pair of the junior knights quite easily, but no, he’d picked her. He’d wasted her talents because she’d unhorsed him at the last tourney and he would not forgive that.
She’d tried to let him know that the cinch on his saddle hadn’t been properly tightened but he’d dismissed it, stating that she was being overly critical of his squire who was of the house of Grenden which had never gotten along with the Thorell’s. That he was thinking her that petty stung and she hadn’t pursued the issue of the cinch. She would admit her own faults, she was not unaware of them and she would own that when she had unhorsed him that she probably shouldn’t have lifted her visor to smirk at him. That had been a mistake and she was paying for it now. One slip, lasting consequences, such seemed to be a theme for her.
In the distance she spotted a thin plume of smoke weaving its way between the thick canopy of the forest ahead. Her eyes, catching it, began to scan for more and quickly spotted a few more in the same proximity. Hope swelled within her. That might be village they were aiming for, where the earl of this land had a small manner and would house the core group of them for the night, letting the rest bivouac in the fields. It was hours off but the visual was enough to put a little more steel in her spine. She would bath this night, washing off the stink of armor and would get to don a dress. Her stoic face twitched just a little at the thought as she nudged Snowfall forward, intent on speaking to the commander.
"My lady?" Svetlana whispered gently, shrugging her shoulder oh-so-carefully where the young woman dozed - and had, in truth, been napping for the better part of two hours now. Svetlana didn't begrudge sweet Lady Alyia her rest - far from it, as a matter of fact. But though the worst of the summer heat was at their backs as the wedding procession made its winding way toward the mountainous foothills, the interior within the carriage was still stifling. Of course they'd ridden all this way in a shaded carriage, festooned with the silks and livery of House Corecia, the circulation left a great deal to be desired, with not a single hint of a breeze, it seemed, for the last ten miles.
"My lady? Lady Alyia?" she whispered once more, the back of her fingers running gently against the lady's tender ivory cheek. "How do you feel, my lady? Shall I fetch you a drink?"
The young lady's eyelids fluttered, those long black lashes each a tiny thrush rising from the brush before the startling blue of her irises made an appearance. Aliya moaned softly, that perfect bow of a smile slowly emerging from the dreaming world. "I'm sorry Lala, have I been asleep long?"
"Oh no my lady, just long enough I think," Svetlana replied, helping the young woman from the pillow of her handmaiden's shoulder, to sit up on her own in the plush cushions of the carriage seat. Even just woken as she was, Svetlana doubted she'd ever seen a woman more naturally beautiful than the Lady Alyia. Skin a flawless alabaster, sufficient to make a master sculptor weep with envy that his craft could never duplicate such perfection; and eyes of a blue so bright, it almost seemed to Svetlana they should shine on their own in the darkness. Only the Lady Alyia's brother, Lord Chase, had eyes that could compare, with matching curls of midnight ebony. Sometimes Svetlana felt herself grubby and awkward about her lady mistress, a most imperfect companion for this porcelain-perfect beauty, but she simply didn't have it in her to be the least envious or spiteful. Lady Alyia herself made such thoughts impossible, with her gentle ways and never-failing kindness. One might as well try to despise a doe drinking from a stream, or a kitten stretched sleeping in the sun.
Svetlana didn't wait for her lady to answer her question - she honestly didn't need to. The question itself was simply superfluous courtesy really, because in these matters alone at least, Svetlana would always lead the young lady best. She reached beneath their ornately carved seat, long fingers wrapping around the neck of a simple pottery jar, bringing both to set cradled in the skirts of her lap. Working the cork free, she poured some of the milky yellow liquid into the mug - certainly nothing a proper lady would drink from, but the unpredictable bumps and bangs of the carriage made crystal stemware impossible. "Here now my lady, drink this," Svetlana said with a gentle smile.
Without a question, Lady Alyia took the drink, lifting the cup to her lips to drink gratefully. The ingredients within were simple really. Spring water and lemon juice with a generous amount of honey stirred in, a hint of ginger to wake the appetite, and the one secret Mama taught her to keep the sickly best hydrated - a dash of salt. Not enough to make it seawater, oh no! Far from it! But just enough salt helped balance the body, the earth and the water elements working harmoniously in their own eternal dance.
Svetlana smiled her approval as the Lady Alyia handed her the now-empty pottery mug. She corked the jug itself, tucking both jar and cup beneath the seat once more, hidden behind the voluminous folds of the young women's skirts. Tenderly she dabbed at the tiny, pearlescent drops of sweat at Alyia's forehead with her own handkerchief, as gently as she might a small child, though both women were of the exact same age. "Do you know how far we've come Lala?" Alyia asked, looking wistfully with those breathtaking eyes of her toward the shaded panels of their carriage. "I would dearly love to stretch my legs, and breathe some fresh air."
And though Svetlana couldn't possibly have approved more of her lady's sentiment, she simply had no good answer. "I do not know my lady, but I will find the answer for you."
In another life - in what seemed as far away as a whole other world by now - Svetlana might have tossed back the panels, leaned out the carriage and shouted for the nearest knight, footman, guardsman - or even the driver himself - to ask such a simple question. But things, the young woman discovered painfully, were done quite differently by the inhabitants of House Corecia's ancestral home. Instead, the handmaiden took up another handkerchief tucked discretely aside her corseted bodice, the colors of House Corecia emblazoned across the silk. One hand snuck outside the panels, waving gently to beg attention from someone in the caravan.
Oh yes, many things were done differently among House Corecia, and Svetlana's learning curve had been steep and sharp. When she'd arrived with the Lord Chase to the magnificent seacoast abode, all gray, defiant rock and sea spray and screaming gulls, to meet his younger sister - the frail woman who would become her charge - she fell in love with the Lady Alyia as swiftly as anyone else. The very same age, the two girls fell together as comfortably as any sisters might while Svetlana began her ministrations, those heritage-born natural magics that ensured Lady Alyia's health from that day forward. The young lady called her Lala, of course, just as any of her numerous little brothers or sisters might - and Alyia insisted her newfound friend and sister-surrogate call her by her own given name. Delighted, Svetlana had done just that - for a very, very short span of mere days.
In the night she'd been snatched from her bed beside her lady's chambers, a rough hand clamped over her mouth as she fought and kicked and scratched - quite futilely - against the leather-clad guards who dragged her in her nightgown down those long, dark halls. Weeping pitifully and more scared than she'd ever been in her life, the guardsmen deposited her unceremoniously on the floor of the castellan's chambers. Svetlana had scrambled to cover her bare ankles and feet with the white cotton of her nightgown as he approached, too terrified even to scream, knowing the things men sometimes do to women who were alone and defenseless. But that wasn't his intention in the least.
Svetlana had dared call the Lady Alyia by her given name - and that was nothing to come from the mouth of a filthy Traveler half-breed, the grubby bastard get of some meaningless little lordling from the back of beyond, who was too stupid and ignorant to know her proper place.
Five lashes. He had slit her nightgown down the back, and given her five lashes with his wicked little leather switch - one for every time he heard the lady's name - without title - fall from her filthy lips. Bleeding, mortified, Svetlana stumbled back to her room alone, and cleaned herself as best she could. Never - not ever once in her life - had Svetlana been struck. Oh, she'd experienced the normal pains any child might expect during the course of an active growing-up beneath the loving sun: the bumps and bruises, sprains and cuts - why once, she'd even broken her arm falling out of a tree! But not this... Never this! To this day Svetlana could see the long, pink scars, if her eyes accidentally crossed a mirror's reflection after her bath.
She might have told Lord Chase about this thing. He might even have done something about it, though Svetlana suspected this would have only made things worse for her. She would not miss their seaside home, she knew. She would miss Lord Chase, true enough - his undying devotion and love for Alyia could forgive any number of very human flaws in his character, in Svetlana's eyes. But the only trepidation she felt, was tied entirely to Lady Alyia's own fears and anxieties. That, and the question of whether the Northern Hills would be any kinder or - bright ancestors forbid - far, far worse than the home of House Corecia.
Chase could smell the faint whiffs of fires. There was a village near. He had the urge to ignore it and push them further on. Just a few more hours of daylight travel could make a difference. He was debating and wondering how many in this line would notice.
“Lord Corecia” He knew the voice was his lead man, Kyle and he turned in his saddle. “M’Lady waves.” The old Captain of his Guard smiled to him and looked back at the carriages. “Might be a stretch is needed. You forget how extensively we bump them along.”
“Extensively,” Chase snorts and turned Storm around.
“And you see there is a village ahead?” So much for thinking others would not notice. “If you were to place Lady Alyia there then you could take a small party out and stretch your own legs, perhaps?”
Chase smiled at Kyle, damn if the man did not know him. The aging solider had helped train him and most of his brothers. Chase had asked for him to travel with them. There were a few reasons. Mostly because of this, Kyle knew Chase. But also because Chase could see the man was losing his position within the Corecia castle walls. Younger fighters were pressing to replace him and his position as head guard. Chase believed it was wearing on the man. Kyle would fall. This would hold his responsibilities and yet,in Chase’s mind, be an easier road. No one asked Kyle of course.
“Fresh meat would help the journey.” Chase answered with a grin.
“Of course M’Lord.” Kyle returned the smile.
“Call the King’s man” Chase started and then shook his head with the joke they had shared since the start of the journey. The Kings Man was a woman. That fact brought a few chuckles to Chase and Kyle. She had earned her place no doubt but the fact that the King arranged this marriage demanded this trip and then sent his guard…a woman? Chase still was not sure what that message was. So he kept his distance. She was the King’s spy of course. And in Chase’s mind that was even more blatant as a female. Woman gossip.
“Tell her to take the King’s heavy purse and lighten its load by finding M’Lady and suitable room.” Chase snickered not sure if the Kings Lady Man had any of the Kings coins. There was never a connection to a decree and the means to fund it. His father made sure his son understood the cost of this excursion.
Kyle just smiled and pressed his heels to his own station. He galloped back through the line of horses and carts until he found the armored female warrior. “M’Lady of the Dawn’s Star.” Klye called to her still unsure of how to address her. They had all kept their distance in some ways and the older man was beginning to feel some sympathy for the woman, “Is that the title I use to address you? Forgive me for my clumsiness.” He brought his horse to ride alongside her and he could not help but look at her flowing hair. “But Lord Corecia asks that use the banner of the King to secure housing for Lady Alyia in the village ahead.” The coin part she and Chase could discuss.
Meanwhile Chase rode back to his sister’s carriage. He does not always answer the call of the waving handkerchief. But he thought Alyia might enjoy a night at an Inn. And he wanted to be the one to offer it. He rode to the carriage and signaled the driver to stop. Chase dismounted quickly and knocked his special knock on the door. He and his sister had developed a series of taps to message each other years ago. They never forgot them. Chase’s tap was two slower ones followed by a pause and then four rapid ones. He waited for her to answer.
Lydia reached behind her and pulled a silk handkerchief out of her saddle pack. It was blindingly white with delicate blue flowers embroidered on the edge. It had been painstaking work, each stick perfect without a fiber out of place and she had loved every second of it. She so rarely got to indulge in such fine handwork and as such it was treasured. She remembered all the laughter and teasing she’d gotten in the chapter house when she’d been at it, so much so that she’d not picked up her hoop since then. Too many inquiries about whether or not she was finally turning in her cock for some quim. She had not let herself be visibly ruffled by their teasing but it had stung. She had never, ever wanted to be anything but a woman, she took pains to display her womanhood. She simply wanted to also be a knight. But it seemed an inconceivable thing to those around her and she suffered much in the way of teasing and jibes.
After she’d been given her spurs and attained her rank there had been much public outcry. The fact that her brother’s at arms had quietly joined in was something she still had a hard time swallowing. She’d even discovered the horribly written, badly printed tract with unflattering and unseemly illustrations of her and her equipment that one of her “brothers” had found while entertaining himself in the seedier side of town and brought back to share with the others. She’d borne such humiliation much the same way as she had borne their teasing about her fondness for embroidery, stoically and with quiet slow bleeding inside.
The bleeding had becomes something physical as well as metaphorical of late as her stomach had begun to ache after all but the most bland of meals. She’d begun to lose weight and had been cautioned by the physician who tended to her order to take a leave of absence. She would not, because then they would have won. All those who mocked her, tested her and watched for any weakness. She was a Thorell, she would show them none, even if it killed her.
She shook herself out of her bitter reverie and delicately blotted the sweat that beaded on her forehead and upper lip. Her dark eyes seeking out the lacy trails of smoke that were signs of the village and the promise of rest for them all. She was just tucking the treasured square of silk away when she heard the approaching hoof beats and turned to see the Armsman who served under Lord Corecia. She believed his name to be Kyle but was uncertain, she heard him called sir more often than not. As a whole she’d been left largely alone on this journey, no one seemed to know what to make of her and so they stayed away. She was certain part of it was her role as the King’s witness in addition to her gender, if they only knew how little of the king’s ear she had they would not worry over much on that score.
When the armsman spoke to her, asking her his question she turned her head imperiously to regard him, her face a smooth, correct mask that gave nothing away. She nodded and spoke, her voice cool and on the lower register of female voices but still undeniably feminine.
“That will do though the correct address is Dame Lydia, but I will answer to either one,” her mouth twitched and a ghost of a smile hovered thereabouts. “Kyle is it?” she asked and then went on without waiting for affirmation.
“Send me three of your men to make up a proper envoy and I will see to it. The Lord who holds his title in the king’s name will certainly make room for the Lady and her household.”
She did her best not to let her relief or eagerness show as she turned her face back towards the approaching village.
The incessant, vaguely nauseating swaying of the carriage finally stopped, followed only moments afterward by a familiar, playful tapping. After all these years, Svetlana knew that knock as well *RAP* *RAP* *raptapraptap* The handmaiden smiled knowingly as Aliya clapped her hands together with a rapt, child-like joy. Chase was here - and it had to be something simply wonderful, if he'd bothered to come himself!
Svetlana waited for Aliya to return that childhood "code" on the carriage's wood paneled door *raptap* *RAP* *RAP* *raptap* before turning the handle to open the door. What felt like the sweetest, freshest breeze she'd ever known blew through the opened door. The handmaiden simply couldn't help the sigh of relief as it escaped. Quite deliberately she moved to the opposite side of the door, still holding the handle lightly, to sit on the carriage seat opposite out of sight of Lord Chase. This conversation was for the Lord and Lady Corecia and, though she was certainly present in body, her presence meant no more in the scheme of the world's turning than the presence of the seat cushions or the veiling tapestries.
But that didn't mean she couldn't enjoy that breeze - that blessed sweet breeze that cooled the film of sweat on her lightly freckled face. Svetlana closed her eyes as she tilted her head back, fanning her neck and bodice with her free hand while brother and sister spoke.
What she would give to simply leap out of the carriage, hike up her skirts in both hands and run, flat out to the treeline, slip beneath the cool shade and find a stream somewhere, to splash and cool her feet. Why, if she were still in Anoshkin lands...
Svetlana tried to push the thought aside, that old wistful mantra "If I were still in Anoshkin lands." True enough, her family name was "Gaurice" for her mother's Traveler blood, but Papa was the Lord Anoshkin, in a world far, far from this place - a land where that name still meant something. The handmaiden refused to believe, to so much as let the ugly thought even rear its head, that Papa could have known what awaited her here in this strange, cold, cruel land by the sea. Truth be told, sometimes she did wonder what Lord Chase told her father to convince him to part with his beloved Rosetta's eldest child. And Svetlana did her very best - her prayerful honest best, the blessed ancestors knew - to believe whatever the Lord Chase had said was spoken entirely with his sister's health in mind.
Not that it mattered in the least really, one way or the other. There were still letters of course, precious little lifelines all neatly saved like parchment treasures, tied together with ribbon and stored lovingly in her personal trunk - but Svetlana came to understand quickly she'd never see her family home again. Not her wise, beautiful, incomparable mother; nor her little brothers and sister - nor even her lord father, bearded and grinning, come to visit their family, arms piled high with festively-wrapped packages for all his pretty babes...
That knowledge stung, almost as much as the castellan's lashes, and could still bring tears to her eyes when she allowed it, when she was alone. But since she was not, Svetlana buried the self-pity where it belonged - deep and far, far away. She'd only frighten Lady Alyia, who never failed to care about her handmaiden, loving her always, even when all other lights guttered and faded away.
She heard the sound of hooves on hard-packed dirt just beyond the carriage walls, and couldn't help but wonder if that was their wondrous lady knight, the Dame Lydia. Never - not ever once in her life - had Svetlana seen such a sight! A woman in armor, worn so comfortably, as if it were her second skin! Her banners, and swords held so easily... Why, she didn't even ride sidesaddle, but rode astride that charger - a true warhorse! - every bit as deftly as a man!
Fascinated, Svetlana had watched her - quietly, unobtrusively - from the corner of her eye when Dame Lydia accompanied herself and Lady Alyia on a walkabout during this interminable caravan. Svetlana would have peppered the woman with questions given the chance. But it didn't take but a mere few seconds in that somber, aloof presence to realize there would assuredly NOT be any questions welcome - much less answers forthcoming. This woman's mask was hard, hard and thick - and this was a thing Svetlana could respect and understand, to the bottom of her soul.
She recalled her words to the Armsman Kyle with rueful clarity. “The Lord who holds his title in the king’s name will certainly make room for the Lady and her household” She’d said with all certainly and confidence. The king was strong, their passage was through the lands of his supporters or those who were friendly with the Bride’s father so they should have been met with welcome and yet they were not.
The villagers had watched them progress through the town with sideways glances and hushed words. She was used to this, and she supposed was arrogant enough to assume it was about her and her gender. Word had surely spread here, to this village on one of the major king’s roads. So she simply stiffened her spine, lifted her jaw and made certain that her pennant was straight. She would be as she ever was, the best her order had to offer and she would make no apologies to anyone. A dull ache low in her belly began to throb when no one was evident as they approached the manor house on the far side of town.
She nodded at one of her guardsmen, gesturing with her chin towards the door. With a sigh and an almost correct salute he slid from his horse and walked towards the main door which by all rights should be attended this time of day and in this season. She watched, noting with growing discomfort that there was no smoke rising from the chimneys of the manor alone. That did not bode well for their welcome. When the guardsman knocked loudly with the ornate brass knocker thrice and there was no answer she grew irritated more than alarm and spun her horse around. Snowfall turned with impressive but practiced ease and she speared one of the loitering townsfolk with her dark, level gaze.
“You!” she called. “A n explantion if you would. Where is Earl Labren and his household?”
The tradesman seemed uncomfortable to be singled out but not sheepish or underhanded. He stepped forward, his face darkening but his tone was polite when he replied.
“The earl up and left with his whole household about near two weeks back. Said he was going to visit his sister and brother in law. Those what didn’t travel with him were given a month’s leave.”
“I see.” She said tightly. “Will you be so kind as to show us to the Inn then?”
“Tain’t one.” The man replied. “A tavern sure enough, but no Inn. Most folk don’t stop over here. They press on a few more miles to Croftshire.”
She did her best to recall the map of the region and seemed to recall that Croftshire was too far for such a ponderous thing as the caravan to have made it to in reasonable time. Another night on the road if they pressed on. But perhaps something could be arranged. But that was not her decision. That was for Lord Corecia to decide. Perhaps the Tavern might be commandeered? She reached into her saddlebag and pulled out her coin purse, pulling out one of the King’s marks and tossing it to the man.
“For your service.” She said simply and put her heels to Snowfall lightly.
The charger sprang forward in a moderate pace, mindful of the people milling about. It had been a wasted trip all in all but she was determined to at least have a sprint out of it, to shake off the bitterness of the painfully slow pace and get her heart beating. The trip had been painfully dull, everyone was feeling it, including the horses and she could feel it in the way her faithful mount picked up the pace once they were clear of the town. The guardsmen were left behind which wasn’t exactly correct of her but she needed just a moment to herself. As the wind made a mess of her bare head she smiled, a rare open smile, one that transformed her tight mask into something young and natural, one that spoke of the Lydia that might have been, had things been just a little different.
Chase smiled at the game they still played all these years, knocks, taps and messages. When his sister responded and the door opened he leaned his upper body inside but he did not enter. “Oh, come out, come out, where ever you are.” He sang in the old childhood game voice. He looked inside blinking to adjust in the change of light and smiled, “Really come out, both of you and feel the sun.”
He stood by the door and offered his hand as his sister returned his smiled and let herself be guided out the carriage door. “I have sent the King’s ..” he almost said man and corrected himself, “escort to the village ahead to see about an Inn for tonight. Would you like a night in better accommodations? Perhaps even a fine meal? We have done a series of nights on the road and real Inn would be a treat.”
Chase could see by the smile she returned she agreed although his sister would never demand. He let her adjust to the light and brushed her skirt around her as she stood. He then held his hand out for her maid. He wanted a word with her as he looked to his sister. Was she getting paler? Did she have a slight darkness under her eyes? Chase knew her care giver was skilled in the herbs and the care she gave. He would have to ask her, what was her name? Svetlana. Yes for some reason Chase knew her and yet he didn’t. She was the pretty peasant girl he found and brought to the castle so many years ago. He had known when he saw her she would be just what Aylia needed. How? He didn't have an idea, he just did. Since that time he watched her with that interested eye more than once. But Aylia scolded him when she saw. She was not to be touched by any of them. Aylia loved her dearly and told Chase so many times. Chase just didn’t really understand that. Yet, he could not deny Aylia.
As he stood by the carriage ready for Svetlana he turned to his sister, “Did you have need of something?” He had almost forgotten she had sent the message with her handkerchief. He stood with the women beside the carriage and saw the dust of approaching horses.
Calling down the line before Aylia even had a chance to answer, “Bring the news of the envoy here.” Chase bellowed.
Svetlana gratefully took the Lord Chase's offered hand, her satin-slippered toes stretching as luxuriously in their soft confines, as her legs beneath the voluminous skirts. For just a single, unguarded moment, she let her head fall back with the sweetest smile to the sun overhead. 'Oh ancestors you are good and kind, with those whispers in his ear... '
And in the very next moment she was seeing to the Lady Aylia, adjusting her skirts just so, smoothing any particularly stubborn creases with quick, knowing hands. True, the Lord Chase had just attempted the very same feat, but... Well... He had the hands of a man, however well-meaning. Satisfied, the handmaiden then stood aside, those hazel eyes astutely watching the young lady's smiling face. Oh, it was easy to see how Aylia had come to love the fresh air and sunshine, brightening as she did released from the carriage's confines. She might seem... Just a touch paler though. That was probably simply from being stuck in an overheated box [however luxurious and well-appointed] for far too long.
So while Lord Chase delivered that blessed, most welcome news to his beloved sister, Svetlana turned back toward the carriage. Reaching beneath the seat once more, she pulled that same clay jug to her along with a small, ornately carved wooden box. Within the box lay a crystal goblet set prettily on a cushion of scarlet velvet, a proper lady's stemware that could be used now that horrendous incessant swaying and jostling was over - for the moment at the least. With no need for words between lady and handmaiden, Svetlana poured more of her lemon and herb-infused spring water elixir into the goblet before turning to Aylia, and pressing it gently into her lady's hand with a loving smile and a nod.
"Oh thank you Lala." Svetlana smiled at the appreciation, nodding her head with a small curtsy in reply. Were such a thing possible, she loved Aylia all the more - even after all their years together, her lady never once took her service as a matter of course. Aylia took a small sip before her brother spoke again. "Did you have need of something?" Chase asked politely. Svetlana could see his question was almost an afterthought really, and no doubt his sister could as well, though she sweetly pretended otherwise.
"I think you've already seen to what we needed most, a breath of fresh air - and an inn! Chase, you're a mind rea- " the young lady began, before Chase interrupted her so abruptly, shouting toward the oncoming riders.
The young lady slapped at her brother's arm playfully when he roared his call along the length of the caravan! Bah! Big brothers could be so obnoxiously like... Like... Big brothers! "You are an absolute beast, Chase!" Aylia laughed, sparkling bright and clear as she shook her head in mock disapproval. "When you ask a lady a question, you're supposed to at least pretend you care to hear her answer! How are we ever to find you a proper wife this way, I ask you? Granted, I am just a sister, but certainly I'm good enough to practice your manners, am I not?"
But Svetlana was far less concerned with Lord Chase's marriage prospects, than with the approaching riders. As beautiful as the Lady Aylia was, so too was her brother as breathtakingly handsome. Intelligent and engaging, even charming (when he wished to be), the handmaiden didn't honestly know how Lord Chase had managed to avoid the marriage aisle for as long as he had. And so she knew her gentle lady's words for exactly what they were: merely a good-natured jibe.
No, for the moment Svetlana's attention was for the riders, the insatiable curiosity in her gaze straining to see if she might yet pick out the figure of that enigmatic lady knight from the dust cloud.
Was it the wind in her hair as she and Snowfall had charged over the field? Or was it as simple as a few moments unfettered by eyes upon her, eyes that were judging, weighing her every move? Whatever the reasons when she pulled Snowfall to a stop before the Lord and his sister, the Precious cargo they all guarded she was still smiling and her face, unused to the rare occurrence held onto the expression for far longer than she would have liked. It was only as she bowed before the lady that she managed to get the grin off of her face and a more sober, appropriate expression back onto it. Straightening up and hoping no one had paid it any mind she nodded at the lord and assumed a perfect, at rest, position. Feet apart, spine straight and gaze straight ahead. She always felt so imperfect in front of the young Lady who was delicate and ethereal in ways that Lydia would never be. Not that Lydia was hulking or mannish, quite the contrary. But the lady was simply lovely enough that Lydia suspected nearly everyone would have the same reaction. It somehow made the smile she hadn’t been able to let go of feel even more unseemly.
“I have returned from the Village,” she said a bit needlessly, still a touch shaken up by her unsightly display of happiness. “I regret to inform you all that not only is Earl Labren and his household absent, but the town does not possess and Inn, just a simple tavern. It is within our rights as representatives of the King to commandeer the Manor house, but it is unstaffed and that will be its own hardship. The Tavern could also be commandeered but I do not think it will be up to standards.”
She flicked a glance at the Lord and his sister, her eyes slipping past the servant woman paying her no mind. She seemed to recall the woman was a healer of some sort. She wasn’t certain what she thought of the woman’s skills, as the Lady in question looked decidedly peaked, pale with shadows like bruises under her eyes. It was her responsibility as the King’s representative to see that the bride was delivered in good health. She doubted anyone else in her company was unmotivated on that score.
“How would my Lord like to proceed? We have several options as well as the usual.”
She hoped whatever he chose it would include stopping soon. She’d passed a stream with a bend that deepened into a sandy patch, just right for bathing and she’d a mind to indulge in a bath, inn or not.