Read The Lady of Fairhaven Online
Authors: Lee Scott
LADY OF FAIRHAVEN
Gillian Blakely clapped her hands and the huge brown dog came to an abrupt stop. With its tongue now hanging limply from the left side of its mouth, the animal looked excitedly toward its master then back again toward the small prey now scurrying down a hole. Even the joy found in chasing a rabbit could not overcome the years of training from his master. Before Lady Blakely could cup her hands around her mouth and shout, “Come Dog,” the animal was standing at full attention, awaiting her next command. The plea was carried over the noise of the rustling tree leaves by the first warm spring breeze of the year. Dog lowered his head and then thrust it forward, as if it alone carried his entire body forward toward his mistress. A vigorously wagging tail stub unbalanced his happy gait.
Soothe boy,” she commanded with a chuckle as the dog approached at full speed. Obeying her order, the dog skidded to a stop, and then nuzzled her hand with his cold, wet nose. His head peered in over the top of her basket inspecting the prizes he had previously offered her. Having never tasted wild rabbit, Dog was only aware of the game used in capturing them. Gillian knew that if he ever tasted the wild meat, Dog might not be so willing to part with them. As it was, three fresh rabbits now filled the small basket.
Steady!” she called. After placing her basket on the ground away from the animal, Gillian allowed her hands to gently knead the excess rolls of skin behind Dog’s ears. In return, he burrowed his snout into her heavy wool skirts. “Good Dog,” she praised. “Now stay with me.” One bark of compliance answered.
“It’s not natural to have a hunting dog for a pet, My Lady,” Anne said with a shake of her head. Gillian threw her head back and laughed. The relationship between Gillian and her dog was truly a remarkable one. Everywhere Gillian went Dog followed. While all the other hunting dogs were kept penned, Gillian allowed Dog to roam her home freely.
Gillian’s lifestyle was unique in many ways. Most were careful enough not to mention her unusual way of life. Although a cultured lady would never ride throughout the forest without an escort or have a dog as a companion, Anne never censured her for breaking with the stiff restrictions of social rank.
“Mayhap,” Gillian replied. “But we both craved a companion after father died, and somehow we found each other.” These more somber thoughts now brought a small tear to her eye as Gillian recalled the special love she held for her father. And his attachment with her had been more acute than what most fathers held for their daughters. In some ways he prized her as a son and indulged her intelligence and abilities by passing along responsibilities reserved for male heirs.
“But you haven’t even given him a proper name,” Anne said.
Again smiling, Gillian replied, “True. Father always said that a hunting dog should never be confused with pets and therefore should never be blessed with a name. Calling him Dog, I believe, was father’s way of bending the rules without breaking them. Besides, he has always been called Dog, and I’m afraid he will not answer to anything else.” Gillian’s full-throated laugh bubbled out as she looked down at her pet. “Isn’t that right, Dog?” Dog lifted his chin and barked twice.
“It seems your father, at least, had some sense in the matter,” the maid replied. The pair’s familiarity belied their different stations. It appeared that almost anything could be said between these two best friends.
“See?” she said to her maid. “Now Dog, mind your manners while we’re in the village. I’ve things to do.”
“I’ve never before seen the likes of it,” Anne said. “But it’s clear the two of you are a good match. Heaven knows he’s devoted to you. You do not travel with an escort. And God help the poor soul who should try and harm you.”
“I feed him Anne,” Gillian replied. “He would be devoted to you too if the task should fall upon your shoulders. But I must admit he is a good companion.” A sigh marked a melancholy moment. But just as before, Gillian immediately broke free of the past. “It’s best that we get going,” she said. Nimbly, Gillian’s feet flew over the path toward the village.
A few sticky patches of mud slowed the women’s progress as they tromped through the meadow toward a small village. Dog stayed close. Nearing a hut, Gillian called out to a villein leaning against his door. “Good day Mr. Rutherford.”
“Good day My Lady,” the burly man answered with a bow. A crooked smile transformed his flushed face. Although not uncommon for Gillian to visit homes, his gratitude beamed in his expression.
“I’m here to see to your son, if you would agree, and stop by with some tea for Emma and some stores for your family.” Gillian’s eyes shone brightly as she met the man’s returning gaze.
“You’re too kind, My Lady,” John answered. A flush of pride and embarrassment deepened the color in his ruddy cheeks. He was not accustomed to receiving gifts, especially from the lady of the manor, but he opened the door to his hut and allowed both women to pass.
The daub and wattle hut was functional and in tidy order. Emma and her babe rested on the pallet close to the small fireplace, now only simmering with hot coals.
The fire had to be kept burning as it was too difficult to start it from scratch, and it was kept like this most of the day and night. Someone had to get up every few hours of the night and add a little wood to keep it glowing. It was a very embarrassed woman of the house who had to knock on a neighbor’s door in the morning and ask for some hot coals to start the fire.
Anne gently stirred the coals and added a piece of dry wood. Within moments she was able to swing the iron pot over the flame to heat water. Mrs. Rutherford soon sat up on the bed. Still pale but looking much better than she had for days, the woman smiled and said,” This is very kind of you, your Ladyship. We are ever indebted to your kindness.”
Don’t be silly, Emma,” Gillian replied. “Now you just rest and enjoy the tea.” She couldn’t resist the urge to bend forward and tickle the babe under his little quivering chin.
The chatelaine and her maid watched Emma finish the brew of herbal tea Anne had prepared while Gillian cuddled with the newborn. Wisps of brown hair adorned the soft pink cap of skin on the baby’s head. It matched the sable hair cascading over Gillian’s shoulders. Miniature fingers threaded through the strands and tightened around thick ropes of curls, holding tight. The petite hand drew the tresses to the little rosebud mouth that had been suckling thin air. However, when the baby began rooting against Gillian’s bosom, she began to blush. Smiling up at Emma, she gently handed the baby back to his mother.
As she sat suckling her baby, Emma said, “You know, raising children takes a young woman’s strength. You mustn’t wait too long before you decide to get started.”
Suddenly, Emma stopped. She had noticed a scowl develop on Anne’s face. Looking at Gillian, she realized from her red cheeks that she had also embarrassed Gillian. “I’m so sorry, my Lady,” she stammered, “I had no right speaking out like that.”
Regaining her composure, Gillian smiled and said, “That’s fine Emma, if I ever find the right man, I’ll be more than happy to raise a family.”
Gillian had given a family some measure of thought, and her father had even taken the matter under consideration. But with his untimely death, the subject had been abandoned. Her straightforward approach to life could easily put most men off. She imagined that she would die an old maid. The thought saddened her. She shook off her melancholy thoughts.
They all exchanged pleasantries for a few more minutes and then Gillian and Anne excused themselves to carry on with their day. In her wake, Gillian left the contents of a food basket she had gathered from the day’s leftovers.
Being the healer, she had many homes to visit that day. Most stops were routine. The smith’s apprentice, however, needed a little more care. She had to apply a salve of herbs and wrapping on a nasty burn on his arm, all the while listening to the smith rant about how careless the boy had been with the fire, thus exposing the mentor’s raw guilt to Gillian’s view. It was late before Gillian and Anne were finally able to turn toward home and the comfort of the manor.
Choosing the meadow over the muddy rutted road was their natural choice. It not only afforded an excellent view of the road curling its way to the castle, but also kept their feet free of the quagmire of mud churned up by wagons and horses’ hooves. As the two approached the road, Anne shouted, “My goodness, now what could all that be about?”
Looking up, Gillian spotted an entourage of warriors and wagons. The lead rider was in full battle gear. Every piece of armor gleamed in the spring sunlight. His black destrier seemed fresh and rested, prancing and sidestepping as he led the band of bedraggled war-horses following behind. Bright unfamiliar pennants announcing familial affiliation fluttered in the gentle breeze.
Now isn’t he a beauty,” Gillian said to Anne.
I can’t tell from here. Do you know him?”
Not the man, silly,” Gillian said. Her laughter chimed out through the afternoon air. “I was talking about his horse.”
The horses behind him were worthy enough mounts, but she immediately noticed the black horse seemed superior in its gait and stature.
The two women watched the entire parade pass and thought nothing more about it until they saw that the entourage had made its way through the quagmire to Fairhaven Manor.
Instant fear spread a prickly heat throughout Gillian’s body. Were they friend or foe? The warriors were in full battle dress, but what did that mean? For years the countryside had been deemed safe for travel. As she ran, Gillian’s mind raced. She could only hope that her home was not in danger?
Because the road twisted, Gillian was actually closer to Fairhaven than the soldiers. But half way across the meadow, the lead knight spotted the two women and spurred his black destrier forward into a gallop.
As she neared the entrance, Gillian screamed, “Dog.” It was enough to bring the large animal to heel. Instantly noticing the pained look on his master’s face as she approached the castle at a dead run, Dog reacted to the impending danger. Racing toward the horse and rider, it charged the larger animal. Its loud bark and menacing growl slowed the horse only momentarily, but it gave Gillian and Anne enough time to run ahead. The dog continued barking and again raced to intercept the huge animal and its rider.
Gillian looked back and squeaked in surprise at the pawing hooves of the rearing horse, however she never slowed. Her wide hazel eyes searched for an escape. She knew finding refuge inside the portcullis would be close if they made it inside at all. Just after they cleared the fringe of grass at the edge of the meadow on their way to the gatehouse, the imposing knight intercepted the two.
Dog followed right behind fiercely snapping at the hooves of the horse causing it to rear and buck in its own defense. The horse shied away, removing control from the angry rider. The stallion’s eyes rolled, showing fear, but with great effort the rider reigned in the jittery horse, holding it in check. Gillian paused momentarily then took one last opportunity to dash toward the manor but was instantly blocked by the horse and rider. She now recognized she would probably not make it to the safety of the manor and under the protection of the men who defended her.
Dog bared his teeth and growled, but Gillian barely heard him over the chest heaving breaths that drew air into her body. The horse pranced in an effort to again back away from the menace, but the knight held tight to the reigns and controlled the spirited beast. Both animals faced off with ears laid back. Unsure of the creature facing him, the horse’s hooves pawed the ground in agitation, and once again it lurched against the strong controlling hands and stepped back.
“Let us pass!” Gillian demanded. Calm even tones slid from a throat tight with fear. Feminine white knuckled fists clenched at Gillian’s hips as she waited boldly. Her chin tilted disobediently upward as it always did when she wanted something she knew she shouldn’t. Unless her men sensed the danger from outside and came to her rescue, she knew she was helpless to defend herself.
“You overstep your bounds, Gillian,” the knight replied. Gillian took a step back. “I am in command here,” he said. “You will do as I bid, not the other way around.”