Maggie had arrived like a thunderstorm. Everyone deferred to her as the wedding day arrived. She bustled down the hall sending maids and serving lads scattering like leaves in a wind. “Lord Hawkness! I need to see to the hall and some ninny won’t let me in!” she said loud enough to rattle windows as she hunted down the lord.
“Maggie, I’m sorry, I’m not sure who you’re talking about. Show me,” he said as trying to avoid her would simply not work. He’d tried and failed.
“Fine.” She turned and headed back downstairs to the great hall where people stood holding flowers, linens and other decorations. At the door stood a thin man wearing Hawkness livery. Maggie stopped in front of him, hands on hip, defying him to keep her out now.
Lord Hawkness saw his butler gripping the key to the room and quaking at the knees. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out why the man hadn’t opened the door. “Charles, what is the matter?”
“Um… m’lord, there’s a bit of a problem, and, well. Umm,” Charles quibbled.
Lord Hawkness pulled Charles off to one side and asked him quietly to explain. Charles looked at Maggie and then whispered in his lord’s ear. He coughed. Then he began to laugh. Charles turned a purple shade of red and shook even more.
“Alright you two! What on earth is so bizarre that your butler here is quaking in his boots and you’re laughing yourself silly?” Maggie asked in a tone that brooked no nonsense.
Lord Hawness wiped the tears from his eyes, smiled and then whispered in Maggie’s ear. Maggie blinked, sputtered and began to laugh. After a moment, she caught her breath and then looked at the people around her. “Put your stuff down and make yourselves useful for ten minutes! Go help clean the courtyard!” she ordered. The servants set down their loads and literally ran. Once they’d gone, Charles handed the key to Lord Hawkness.
“So, how are we going to deal with this?” asked Lord Hawkness.
“You get Charles there to run baths and you and I will get themins’ upstairs. Hopefully they’ve slept most of it off. Oh, and while he’s down in the kitchens, have a couple of pot boys bring up buckets and rags to clean,” said Maggie.
“Agreed.” Lord Hawkness shooed Charles off and then opened the door. He laughed to see the sight that had frozen Charles into a panic. At the end of the hall, the men had stacked the tables and chairs into a tower. While some of them had ‘hid’ in the tower, others had attacked with various cushions that had once adorned the chairs and benches in the hall. The ‘battlegrounds’ were littered with jugs of cider, half eaten plates of food, and snoring drunks. On top of the chair tower sat Lord Darkwing, dressed in what looked like a tapestry pulled from the wall and draped around him like a cloak. On his head was an armored helmet that slipped down over his face. Lord Kress snored like a bull on the floor in front of the tower. George and some of the other men were scattered about.
The laughter of Lord Hawkness and Maggie finally roused some of the men. Raven looked at Maggie from on high and tried to blink the visage of the two people laughing away. It didn’t work. “Am I in trouble Maggie?” he asked in a tone more fitting for a five year old than a grown man.
“No, only if you managed to hurt yourself as to be unfit for a wedding in three hours,” said Maggie.
“Oh god. I… my head,” he said grabbing the helmet off his head and gingerly climbing down off of the tower. “We… we came home from the docks and Justin had this cider…” he trailed off.
“We can see. How on earth did you manage to have that much fun and not wake anyone?” asked Lord Hawkness.
“Easy,” said a scruffy Lord Kress. “Anyone who came in got pulled into the battle.” He got to his feet rather unsteadily and stretched.
Lord Hawkness looked around and realized that the night watchman, two servants and a spit boy were amongst the drunks. He laughed. “Well, the lot of you had better get bathed. We’ve a wedding at noon.”
The men groaned, stood and then left the room by the servants entrance at the back of the hall. When the last of them had left, Lord Hawkness and Maggie collapsed on a bench laughing.
“That must be some cider,” said Maggie.
“Oh yes. He lets it sit a year before he breaches the cask. Funnily enough, his cellar was one of the few places at his croft that survived. His wife brought ten casks for the wedding. From the looks of it, they drank maybe half of one.”
“Oh my,’ she said. “Well, we best be cleaning up.”
Lord Hawkness nodded and began by helping Maggie move furniture back into place as the pot boys arrived with water and rags. An hour later, there was no signs of the dreaded battle of Cushion Tower. Instead, the great hall looked more like a forest of flowers, and smelled of furniture oil.
Raven stood to be dressed by Charles. The butler was quick and efficient. “Thank you for this morning,” Raven said quietly.
“Not a problem sir. When his lordship married, there were three sheep in the great hall, and two of them in her ladyship’s chemises,” Charles said softly.
Raven laughed and winced as his head still thudded from the cider. “Sheep?”
“Yes m’lord. Sheep. You didn’t hear it from me though. Took fast washing and faster ironing to get those chemises back up to herself. Apparently, himself about choked when his brand new wife demurely walked into the bridal chamber wearing a chemise that had more recently been the attire of a sheep,” said Charles.
Raven laughed again and shook his head.”Did her ladyship ever find out?”
“No m’lord. Never. Wouldn’t be worth my life or his lordship’s if she did,” said Charles. “Now, stay here and I’ll get you some willow bark tea.”
Raven sat down carefully in his new coat and trousers, while Charles ran off on his errand of mercy.
Rachel had been bathed, rubbed with skin balm until she glowed, had her hair dressed and was now having her bodice laces pulled snug. “Ouch!”
“M’lady shouldn’t have eaten so much last night,” said one of the maids.
“I didn’t! You pinched,” said Rachel pointing to where the laces had nipped a bit of skin.
“Oh! Sorry m’lady,” the maid apologized. She set the laces straighter and continued to tug them tighter.
“I never knew whether dressing as a lady should properly was fashion or torture,” said Lady Fowler.
“Torture,” said Lady Kress. She didn’t need the lacings of the bodices to keep her shape, but wore them anyway.
“Definitely torture,” said Lady Hawkness. She was as round as she was tall, and her bodice and lacings were a thing of architectural engineering.
“I can’t wait to go back to Raven Croft and forget being a lady or these horrid fashionable lacings,” gasped Rachel as the maid put her knee into Rachel’s back to pull tighter.
“Oh darling, you can’t go back to looking like a field hand or stable lad,” said Lady Kress.
“Just watch me! I can’t believe Rosie and the rest of you talked me into this,” she said. “Loosen this up a bit or I’ll faint!”
Rosie bustled over, relieved the maid and adjusted the dress a bit. Rachel took a breath and tried to relax. Rosie finished the lacings, adjusted a few bits and then dusted off imaginary bits of dust.
“Let’s get your veil on and get you wed. I want to enjoy the feast,” said Lady Fowler.
“I hear the men had a roaring good drunken night,” said Lady Hawkness with a giggle.
“Oh yes. Drunken pillow fights in the hall. Poor Charles about had a stroke when he opened the doors this morning. Had to hold off Raven’s Maggie to save face,” said Lady Fowler.
The rest of the women laughed and giggled. The last of the adjustments were made to their outfits and the women descended the stairs like a flowing river of flowers. Rachel was last in line. When they got to the doors, Justin, Lord Kress waited for Rachel. He took her arm and walked her into the hall along the carpet strewn with jasmine petals. In the center of the room stood Raven and Lord Hawkness. Just to one side of them stood a small woman dressed in saffron robes. The hall was filled with all the lords and ladies that could be reached as well as servants and family. Over three hundred people packed the hall.
Rachel stopped a few feet from Raven and the priestess. The room fell silent.
“Lord Kress. Who do you bring forth to be joined with Lord Darkwing?” the priestess asked.
“I bring Rachel of Maredun Croft to be joined with Lord Raven Darkwing,” he said with a bow.
The priestess nodded. Lord Kress stepped forward and placed Rachel’s hand in Raven’s and then stepped back.
“Lord Hawkness, do you swear to the validity of this wedding?” the priestess asked.
“I do swear,” said Lord Hawkness who then stepped back to join Lord Kress.
“Today we unite two Crofts. Two families. Two hearts and minds. May you find joy in one another,” said the priestess. She turned to a small boy next to her that held a pillow with two rings and a embroidered sash. She winked at him which made Tod smile. She picked up the rings and held them up. She blessed them and handed a ring to Rachel and Raven.
Raven took Rachel’s hand and placed the ring on her middle finger. “This ring represents the pledge I make to you to protect, provide and to love you.”
Rachel then placed the ring in her hand on Raven’s middle finger. “This ring represents my pledge to you to support and love you.”
The priestess smiled. She lifted the sash from the pillow and she wrapped it around Rachel and Raven’s hands, tying it off with a knot. “Bless this union! I present Lord and Lady Darkwing of Ravens Croft!”
Raven and Rachel turned to face the crowd.
“Huzzah!” cried the voices of all assembled. “Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!”