People were arriving from various crofts faster than Lord Hawkness’ stewards could cope. A bevy of women arrived in a cart full of packages and foodstuffs. Rosie leapt from the cart and headed into the manor in search of George. She dashed into the main hall to find a group of men standing by the fire.
“Have you seen George of Raven Croft?” she asked.
One of the me pointed up the stairs and before his arm dropped, Rosie had headed for them. She ran up the stairs calling George’s name. This had two effects. It brought George running from his master’s room and Rachel from the other side of the hall. George scooped up Rosie and swung her around in a circle as then hugged and kissed. Rachel smiled as she watched. Raven was still so weak, that walking for more than a few minutes exhausted him. It would be a while before he could swing her around.
“Rosie, I thought I’d never see you again,” said George not caring who heard.
“Nor I you,” she said. The tears streamed down her face and soaked George’s shirt. “I’m just so glad that you’re okay. You are okay aren’t you?” Rosie let go of him and checked him all over.
“Aye! They only branded and beat me,” said George. “Oh, and starved us. I dreamed of Maggie’s pies and roasts.”
Rosie giggled and then saw Rachel. “Oh Rachel!” she cried as she engulfed the other women in a hug. Rachel hugged back. Rosie then turned back to George and stood there holding his hand.
“I brought all the fabric and fixings still fit to sew,” said Rosie.
“Good. The men decided that this was the only place decent enough to hold a wedding. I didn’t want anything grand, and now I’ll have the whole Assembly in attendance,” said Rachel. She’d argued with Raven and Justin about it, but when Lords Fowler and Hawkness chimed in, she knew she didn’t have a chance. Families were sent for, along with food, furnishings and fabric.
“Oh you should see Maggie! She’s a right terror at the moment. Cleaning and directing the builders making the repairs. Morrin is half crazy with all the iron that needs bent or shaped. And just when anyone thinks they have a moment to sit, Maggie’s there handing them a broom or a shovel,” said Rosie.
Rachel smiled and could see Maggie doing just that. She saw something move across the hall and realized that Raven was slowly making his way over to the three of them.
“I thought I heard a familiar voice,” said Raven. “Is Maggie planning to attend the wedding?”
“Oh Sir!” said Rosie running over to help Raven walk. He was still limping even with the help of a cane. “Yes, she is. She’ll be here just before as she doesn’t trust anyone to do right by the manor.”
“I have no doubt of that. Did the library survive?” asked Raven as he sat in a chair brought by George.
“Most of it Sir. Maggie wrote a list of what got burnt as best she could tell. Said the books could be replaced, and damn good you didn’t get killed,” said Rosie quoting Maggie.
Raven laughed as did Rachel and George. “So, are you going to kit us out in that fine cloth I sent? Or did it burn up too?” asked Raven.
“Most of it is just fine. I’ve already sent for a bit more cloth. Hope you don’t mind Sir, but Maggie said there was marks to cover it,” said Rosie.
“There is. Don’t panic. Just make my coat a little loose. I’ve still got more bruises than skin I think and the thought of a tight fitting shirt or coat is enough to make me start a new fashion,” Raven said tugging at his robe.
“You will not marry in your robe Sir! Maggie would kill me,” said Rosie. “I’ll make you a nice soft coat, and make sure you look just fine. Plus, I have to finish up Rachel’s gown.”
“Yes, and I’d best get back to bed so that I can wed soon. George, go see Hawkness’ steward and see if he’ll give you a room by yourself,” suggested Raven.
“I’ll do so. Rosie, you stay here with Rachel and Raven,” said George as he hurried off to find the steward.
Rachel helped Raven back to his bed. Justin smiled from the other side of the room when Rachel came in. She smiled back. The two men were constantly ‘racing’ one another to move faster, farther or better. There’d been so much damage to their skin, that it was taking a long time to heal. At least the bruises had faded and most of the swellings had settled down. Lord Hawkness’ physician had been very concerned that Justin might lose his cock it swelled so badly. However, one of the manor midwives had brought up a poultice of herbs that worked to bring down the swelling. It worked so well, that Justin offered to ‘thank’ the midwife in the best way he knew how three days later. The midwife had demurred. Justin took the rejection well and gave her a pouch of marks in thanks.
“Do you think you’ll be ready in a week?” asked Justin.
“I hope so. To be honest, all I want to do is go home,” said Raven.
“As do I, but from what I hear from my wife, there isn’t enough to rebuild. We’ve got to start all over and I’m not sure I want to wait that long,” said Justin.
“Do you have a gatehouse? Or a cottage on the property?” asked Rachel.
Justin thought for a moment. “I do. I have a small hunting lodge off away from the main house by half a day’s ride. We could move in there. I’ll tell my steward to make it ready for us. Thank you Rachel.”
“You’re welcome. Now rest so that you’ll heal. I still want you go give me away,” she said with a smile. Five of the lords that had originally visited Ravens Croft had asked for the privilege of giving her hand in marriage. They had drawn straws and Justin, Lord Kress had won.
Justin nodded and settled back onto his pillows. His wife and family were due to arrive in the next day or so. Lady Kress had been busy trying to pull the Croft back together after the devastation Horace and his minions had visited upon it.
Rachel was standing still while Rosie pinned and adjusted the skirt. It had been three days of terror for Rachel. She hated skirts at the best of times and the arrival of Rosie and then Ladies Kress and Fowler with their daughters turned what should have been a quiet wedding into a nightmare. The older women compared ideas while Rosie nodded. She smiled once and dropped half her pins. Now she made do with nods and the occasional rolled eye to Rachel.
“Yes, that’s it,” said Lady Kress. She was as thin as Justin, her husband was portly. When she arrived, Justin had been moved out of the shared room. In spite of a seemingly quiet nature, there had been giggles, and cries of passion from the room the first night.
“Hold on, I have just the set of pearls we can add,” said Lady Fowler who headed off to get said jewels. Lady Fowler was a force of nature and all bowed before her rather than risk a storm.
Rachel just stared at the small section of windows that she faced while all this preening took place. She glanced over to where Lady Fowler’s daughters were practicing braids on their little sister. Rachel was petrified that they’d want to braid her hair for the day.
“There. Done. Now if you’d just step out of it easy like, I’ll finish this up,” said Rosie.
Rachel shrugged off the dress and then walked over to where her day dress lay. She got dressed and tried to escape before Lady Fowler returned. She nearly made it.
“Rachel! Hold! I want to make sure this fits your neck,” said Lady Fowler.
Rachel halted mid-stride and waited. She tried not to giggle as Lady Fowler walked over to her. While very much like her mother, she had trouble keeping a smile off of her face as Lady Fowler’s given name was Periwinkle. When Lord Fowler had shouted “Perry! Perry! My little Periwinkle!” across the great hall, she wasn’t the only one who’d had to choke back a smile or a giggle. However, the name did match the beautiful blue of the woman’s eyes.
“Ah, this will work. I’d be honored if you’d wear them,” said Lady Fowler.
“Thank you Lady Fowler,” said Rachel. The pearls were beautiful.
“Oh, and please call me Peri. I hate the formality of the Assembly.”
Rachel nodded and then looking at the shadows in the hall made her excuses to go see to Raven.
Raven was pacing. A three legged pace as he was still using the cane. His wedding outfit was ready and he was mostly healed. Right now he was waiting to see if the evening’s entertainment was going to happen. It all depended on Justin.
“There! I managed,” said Justin. He’d been having issues with his feet swelling and if he hadn’t been able to get his shoes on, they would have canceled the outing.
“Good! Let’s get going before the women find out what’s happening,” said Raven. The two men made their way down the back stairs where the other lords waited. They got into a coach and headed out of the manor.
Rachel arrived to find an empty room and a maid cleaning up the fireplace. “Do you know where Lords Darkwing and Kress have gone?” she asked.
“No ma’am. You could ask Lady Hawkness. She might know,” said the maid.
Rachel nodded and headed downstairs to the herb garden where Lady Hawkness spent a great deal of her time. Rachel found her in the mint beds and asked where all the men had gone.
“Oh, They went off on a little adventure. Apparently it’s Henrietta’s first night at the brothel,” she said as calmly as if they’d gone for a walk.
“Why didn’t they say anything?” asked Rachel.
“Well dear, they didn’t want us ladies to know. Obviously thought we might be a bit upset,” she said. “However, men talk to stable boys and stable boys love to eat. That means they talk to kitchen maids. Kitchen maids gossip to chamber maids and chamber maids will eventually talk to either the head cook or my dear housekeeper, Danielle. Danielle found out about twenty minutes ago and let me know. It was too late to stop them. Plus, watching Henrietta’s little coming out party will help the men heal faster than all the herbs in this garden.”
Rachel thought about it and sighed.
“Now, give me a hand with this and then the two of us shall have an early supper in the library,” said Lady Hawkness. “You’ve been under my roof for ages and we have barely talked.”
Rachel helped with the herbs and then followed Lady Hawkness into the manor.
Loud shouts and jeers accompanied Henrietta’s appearance on the stage. She was in a bright pink dress and yellow corset. Her face was powdered and rouged. Standing next to her was the man who’d picked her up a few weeks earlier.
“Now, what am I bid for this lovely virgin?” asked Ranulf. There were cat calls, whistles and men calling out from various corners of the room.
“Twenty marks!” cried one man.
“Nay, Thirty-five I say!” said a man sitting close enough to look up Henrietta’s skirt.
“Fifty!” cried a hulk of a man.
There was silence for a moment.
“Fifty going once,” called Ranulf. “Fifty going twice!”
“Fifty-five marks!” cried a small man near the door. The crowd looked and recognized the man and a murmur rumbled through the crowd. Ranulf looked at the first bidder. The man shook his head.
“Fifty-five marks going once! Twice! Sold to Thud the butcher!” cried Ranulf.
Thud walked over to Ranulf, dropped the marks in the man’s hand and then took the leash from his hand and headed off to a back room to claim Henrietta’s virginity.
“What’s so special about Thud?” asked Justin, who a tad drunk by now.
“First off, he likes men. Second, he’s called Thud, because he kills cattle with a blow of his hand. Not bad for such a little man,” said Henry, Lord Fowler.
“Alright, but I still don’t see why everyone just let him take the bid,” said Raven.
“Well, There is a bit of revenge there. ‘Horace’ sold his lover. Castrated him too, so even if Thud had bought him back, it just wouldn’t have been the same,” said Henry.
“And?” asked Justin sensing more to this story.
“Thud is hung like a bull,” said Henry making a circle with his hand to emphasize the girth of the man.
“How’d you know?” asked Justin.
“I’m the one who bought his lover,” said Henry.
The men nodded. They waited and it wasn’t long before the screams came out of the back of the brothel. Most of the men laughed, as they too knew more about Thud than some. Twenty minutes later, Thud came out with a smile on his face.
“Right nice whore there Ranulf,” Thud said. “I’ll be back for more.”
“Thanks for breaking her in,” said Ranulf.
“My pleasure,” said Thud as he collected a pint from the barman.