Raven had been up at dawn to make sure all was ready for the guests who were arriving that afternoon. It was the first time that he’d hosted a large party in ages. He thought about checking into the kitchen, but was stopped by Morrin in the hall outside.
“Don’t go in there M’lord. She’ll have your balls in a pudding faster than you can scream,” Morrin said.
“That wound up?” asked Raven.
“Alright then. I’ll steer clear. If you need me, I’ll be in the library,” said Raven.
Morrin nodded and headed towards his blacksmith shop. He knew the heat of the forge was nothing to Maggie’s temper at the moment.
Raven walked into the library and pulled the books from the shelves that he’d retrieved the day before. He smiled as he leafed through the illustrations. He put them into their velvet pouches and then carried them upstairs to his room. He planned to look through them with Rachel before she shared them with Rosie.
Rachel was standing on the stool while Rosie fixed the hem of the dress. She’d caught it on a rough piece of wood and torn it. Rosie was attempting to fix it with a bit of lace to cover the damage. Her concentration was not helped by the fact that the corset rubbed against her nipples and the welts from Raven’s passionate flogging.
“M’lady, please hold still,” said an exasperated Rosie.
“Sorry Rosie. I… I just don’t feel comfortable in all these clothes.”
“Aye, that’s what you get for running around in men’s clothes.”
“I can’t imagine riding in these,” Rachel said.
“No, and a lady shouldn’t ride like you do,” said Rosie.
“Rosie, I’m a lady in name only. Deep down, I’m just a woman with appetites,” said Rachel.
“There, all fixed. Can you act like a lady for at least the next few days?” asked Rosie. “I don’t want to repair things every hour.” Rosie knotted off the thread and cut it.
“Alright Rosie. Thank you,” Rachel said, giving Rosie a hug. She gathered her skirts and headed down the stairs. She met Raven on the stairs.
“Hello, don’t you look respectable,” he said.
“Oh! Not you too!” said Rachel.
“What do you have there?” Rachel asked.
“Remember the books I told you about?”
“Yes! Oh! Can we look at them?” she asked reaching for them.
“Not on the stairs,” he said heading for their room. Rachel turned and followed him. Once in their room, he took one out of the bag and opened it. On the page was a couple having sex while standing up.
“Nothing too scandalous there,” she said.
“No, not to us, but to Rosie?”
“Well, I guess it might be. What else?” she asked. They turned the pages and she saw pictures of two women with one man, two women, two men and a variety of positions. The one where the woman was standing on her head puzzled her.
“Wouldn’t you get all thumpy in the head from being upside down?”
“I’d think so,” he said looking at Rachel. “For the record, your breasts are beautiful all plumped up like that.”
She smiled. “I just wish it were more comfortable.”
“Ah, paying the price for running around nearly naked?” he teased.
“Yes, and according to Rosie, I should dress like a lady more often and quit complaining.”
Raven smiled and then bent down to pick up her hem. He ran his hand up her stocking covered leg until he came to the undergarments covering her cleft. She was damp, but not as wet as she normally was. “You must not like these, as you are barely wet.”
“It’s hard to be excited in all these layers,” she complained.
“Perhaps tonight, we will work on that,” he said with a smile.
Rachel looked at him. “What are you up to?”
“You’ll just have to wait and see. We can’t start now as we have guests in a few hours and I can’t have you looking and smelling like a trollop,” he said as he put the books away. “And once we’ve looked through these, you can share them with Rosie.”
Raven swatted Rachel across the ass as they walked out the door.
The carriages brought party after party to the door. Just when Rachel thought she could go and sit, another carriage would pull up. So far, Lords Plaste, Roger, Fowler and Dunnum had arrived. Maids showed each couple to their room and servants to the upper reaches of the manor.
“Ah my dear Rachel,” Lord Kress called out as he stepped down out of his carriage.
“Justin, it’s good to see you and Lady Periwinkle,” said Rachel. She was enveloped in a hug and then kissed on the cheek by Lady Periwinkle.
“My dear, you are looking well,” said Lady Periwinkle.
“As are you,” returned Rachel. “Please come in.” She led them into the hall as Raven saw to the next carriage of visitors.
“I’m so glad we could come visit,” said Lady Periwinkle.
“I was afraid we wouldn’t be ready,” said Rachel. “It has taken an enormous amount of work to put things to rights.”
“I understand. We are still living in the hunting lodge as the manor is being built from the ground up,” admitted Lady Periwinkle with a bit of pained frustration in her voice.
Rachel gave her a hug and then showed her to the suite of rooms set aside for them.
Lord Hawkness and his lady were the last to arrive. “Sorry to be so late.”
“Not a problem. It isn’t time for dinner yet,” said Raven.
“Ah good. I’ve been looking forward to Maggie’s cooking,” said Lord Hawkness.
“Good. She’s been working ever since we finished the kitchen,” said Raven. “No one dares enter the kitchen except by her leave.”
Hawkness laughed. They walked into the great hall. It was hard to tell that any damage had been done. The only difference was that the door to the river was in plain sight. It’s scorched exterior had been scrubbed and polished, but the damage was still visible and a reminder of how close the battle had been. Raven had decided to leave it there as a reminder that freedom comes at a price.
There were over twenty couples in the room talking, and nibbling from trays of delicacies. Tod was tending the fire and watching the people with rapt fascination. Raven had just poured a glass of cider for the Hawnkess’ when Maggie came sweeping into the room.
“Dinner is ready,” she said and stood aside to let them enter the dining room. While not as splendid as Hawkness manor, the room was well turned out. Rachel and Rosie had found the best tapestries to put in the room and the silver service had survived the fire, as had the huge table and chairs. Off to one side was the serving table laden with food for the feast. It smelled heavenly.
“Maggie, you’ve outdone yourself,” said Lord Kress in praise of her cooking.
“Thank you sir,” she said with a smile.
In a more rustic style, soup was the first ‘remove’ as Maggie called it. It was followed by roast chicken, and fresh greens. The next remove was beef roasted so well, it literally fell apart when touched. This was accompanied by roasted root vegetables and bread. The last remove was cheeses, fruit and a variety of breads.
Lord Kress sat back with is coat and waistcoat unbuttoned. He was sipping some of the cider he’d brought. “I am so stuffed, you could roll me to bed.”
“Ah, I hope you saved room for dessert. Maggie made rhubarb crumble,” said Rachel.
“Oh damn! The woman is trying to do what that bastard slaver could not. I will burst!” said Lord Kress.
“Dear, just wait a bit. She hasn’t even had the last of the feast cleared,” chided Lady Merial.
Laughter cascaded across the room for Lady Kress was as thin as her husband was rotund.
“Are we having music tonight?” asked Lord Dunnum?
“Yes. None of the fussy court stuff though. No one out here knows how to play it,” said Raven with a smile.
“Ah good. Women should bounce rather than parade around like peacocks,” said Lord Plaste. Many of the diners next to him agreed.
As the servants cleared the table, Raven and Rachel led their guests to the barn which had been cleaned and cleared for dancing. Lanterns hung from chains and ropes, providing light to dance by. The musicians were tuning up as the dinner party walked into the barn.
“Oh Rachel, this is lovely,” said Lady Fowler.
“Thank you Peri. I just couldn’t see trying to move all that furniture to have enough room to dance. Then Maggie mentioned the barn. I’m so glad we did,” said Rachel.
“This whole evening has been lovely Rachel,” said Lady Hawkness.
Rachel smiled. “Oh. Maggie brought all the drink out.”
“Ah, and at the rate some were drinking, they’ll sleep in the hay,” laughed Lady Peri Fowler.
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” snickered Lady Danna Dunnum.
“Our ladies are conspiring against us I think,” said Lord Roger.
“No, I bet it is more about how long it will be before we all sleep in the hay,” said Raven.
“Oh?” asked Lord Plaste.
“Yes. I heard part of the conversation as I walked over,” explained Raven. “George! Start up the music!”
George talked to the fiddler and the dance music began. People took to the dance floor and soon there were women bouncing and swirling across the floor and men trying to keep up.
Raven stood off to one side trying to catch his breath and eat a piece of Maggie’s rhubarb crumble.
“That was fun,” said Justin, Lord Kress. “Any of that left?”
“Yes,” said Raven handing him a portion and a spoon.
“Damn fine stuff. Maggie’s a good woman. Hope Morrin can cope,” laughed Justin.
“I think so. She’s been happy the last month, except for the run up to this party.”
“Don’t blame her. Ah, all finished. Now to find Merial. Said I’d dance, and dance I will,” Justin said as he headed back into the crowd of people.