Dawn found the barn full of snoring people. The musicians had quit an hour before and crept off to their quarters. Maggie had maids up and cleaning the mess out of the barn and she was making breakfast. Stable lads had been tasked with finding any guests snuggled down in the straw and guiding them back to their rooms.
Raven stretched and found Rachel wrapped around his arm. They’d been sitting listening to the music, and now the sun was shining into the open barn doors. He realized that it was young Tod that had woke him up by trying to wake up Justin next to him. Merial, Lady Kress was snoring gently next to her husband. “Morning Justin,” he said softly.
“Ah, Raven. That was a fine evening. I think I slept better here than I’ve done so in bed the last fortnight,” said Justin.
Raven laughed softly. “I understand. We let all the cares and worries behind and acted like kids again.”
“Ah yes, but if someone doesn’t help me up, this corset is going to kill me,” said Merial. Her hands were waving above her body like disembodied branches. Raven and Justin both helped her sit up.
“Are we going to have to move into the house for breakfast? Or can we just show up at the kitchen door like stray cats or urchins and hope that Maggie feeds us?” asked Justin.
“I think we’d better get as far as the dinning room. I don’t care if we trail straw inside, but I don’t think she’d give us slops if we showed up at the back door,” said Raven. He started to wake up Rachel.
Tod came back over to where Raven and Justin sat. “Sirs, Maggie said if’n you aren’t in the house, she ain’t feedin’ the likes of you out here.”
“Well, tell Maggie we will be there in a little bit. Most people are just waking up,” said Raven.
“And some of us hain’t been to bed yet!” said Tod as he ran off towards the kitchen.
“Not been to bed yet? Ah youth,” said Justin with a wry smile.
Raven nodded as he worked to stand up. He was stiff and sore in places he didn’t realize he could be stiff and sore. He helped Justin up and they both helped up their ladies. As they dusted the straw off one another, other people rose from the various corners of the barn.
“You know Raven, I don’t think half of us slept in our beds last night,” laughed Henry, Lord Fowler as he walked up to Raven and Justin.
“No Henry, I don’t think we did. It was great,” said Justin. The various party members dusted each other off and headed in ones and twos into the house.
Once inside, the smells of breakfast wafted through the halls. Justin was sniffing the air and moved stiffly but swiftly to the dining room. Raven tried not to laugh, but Henry just guffawed. The ladies were trying to act a bit more dignified, but with stray bits of straw in unlikely places, it didn’t work.
“Trews and tunics are much easier to dust off,” said Rachel as she pulled another bit of straw out of her braid.
“Yes dear, and corset should be outlawed when sleeping,” said a sleepy eyed Peri Fowler.
Rachel smiled in agreement. She couldn’t wait to get out of her dress from the night before. She walked over to the table and picked up a plate to fill with breakfast goodies. Once she had her food, she went to sit next to Raven and Peri who was also just sitting down. Maids came with tea or coffee and fruit juices. Maggie herself came in with her pitcher of headache cure. She set it in a bowl of ice chips after pouring a large glass and bringing it over to Lord Kress.
“I know you’ll be needing this,” she said and plunked it down in front of him.
“Yes, but not for my head,” sighed Justin. “Fell asleep before I could drink too much.”
“Poor dear, we are getting older, aren’t we?” said Peri with a smile.
Raven nodded and Henry just smiled. They too had grabbed a glass of Maggie’s cure.
“There’s enough willow bark in that for a small army,” said Rachel.
“Yes, and if you look around, we are a small army,” said Devon, Lord Hawkness. “An army of landed gentlemen and their wives.”
Rachel laughed and nodded.
More people came wandering in as the morning wore on. Maggie refilled her pitcher as well as the various platters or bowls as they emptied.
“Raven, what’s on for the day?” asked George, Lord Dunnum.
“Well to be honest, I think a bit more sleep for some of us,” Raven said pointing off to one of the gentlemen quietly snoring in a corner chair. “As for the rest, I believe the ladies wish a bit of time to discuss things amongst themselves. I suggest we leave them to it and we gentlemen go out for a ride. I have plenty of horses that need exercise.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Justin.
“Well then dear, hurry up and eat your breakfast!” teased his wife, Merial.
An hour later, Raven was nearly dressed when Rachel crawled out of the bath tub. He wrapped a bath sheet around her. “And what are you ladies going to discuss?”
“Oh, the usual. Clothes, child rearing, sex,” said Rachel with a smile.
“Yes. Just as you men will talk of livestock, sex, bitchy women and mistresses,” teased Rachel.
Raven just flushed. He kissed her goodbye and headed out to the stables. He passed Rosie on the way out the door and let her know that Rachel would need her help.
Rachel was almost dried off when Rosie came in. “Time to torture me again?”
“Yes Ma’am,” said Rosie. “I won’t lace you so tight today though. Not with you still having the marks of your corset on your skin.”
“Well, I didn’t intend to sleep in the damn thing,” said Rachel.
“Aye. You should see Lady Plaste. She’s a might portly, and the poor thing looks like she’s been whipped.”
“Is she even bothering to dress today?” asked Rachel.
“Oh yes. She’s just wearing everything loose. Just like you and most of the ladies. Won’t have to cinch you up till the men come home,” said Rosie as she finished tying off the corset laces. She then helped Rachel into the blue print day dress. It took a little longer to get the last of the straw out of her hair and then braid it, but soon Rachel was ready to meet with the rest of the ladies. She grabbed a basket filled with sewing and velvet bags.
“And then he tried to tell me it was always that size,” laughed Peri. The room broke up in laughter. The women had been telling on their men for the better part of an hour. They’d passed around fashion books of what was new in fashion, and then the talk turned to bed games.
Rachel pulled one of the velvet books out of her basket. “I… um. I found this and a few others when we were cleaning up the manor,” she said taking the book out of the velvet bag. “Have any of you seen anything like this?”
Lady Peri Fowler took a look and started laughing. “Oh yes. Best thing you’ll ever find.”
“What on earth?” said Helen, Lady Hawkness, as she walked over to where Rachel sat. Most of the women moved closer to see what Rachel held.
“Oh! I’ve heard of one of these, but never saw one,” said Lady Danna Dunnum.
“Now that’s what I call a small bit of treasure,” laughed Lady Sellena Rogers. “Wished I’d had one when I was first wed. Would have saved me a lot of frustration.”
The women turned the pages and alternatively gasped or laughed. Rachel brought out the other volumes she’d found and soon most of the women were looking through them in rapt fascination. Lady Peri walked over to Rachel and the two of them moved off to one side.
“Are you and Raven doing alright?” Peri asked.
“Yes. We have had to take it slow, but everything is ‘working’ if you know what I mean,” said Rachel.
“Ah good. I know that Justin has had a bit of trouble. Maybe the wee books might give Merial an idea on how to help,” said Peri.
“Oh? He’s so feisty, that I could see that it would be a bit frustrating if things weren’t working.”
“Agreed. Granted, everyone has their own tastes. What Justin went through might have changed his a bit. I know I’m being nosy, but did Raven have issues?” asked Peri.
“Well, we um…” Rachel blushed.
Lady Peri smiled. “You play a bit?”
Rachel nodded. “Raven, he wasn’t… wasn’t certain he could after all he went through, but he worked it out.”
“I understand. First time Henry tied me up, I thought him mad. Angry didn’t come close to the way I felt. Then when he spanked me, oh lord!” said Lady Peri.
Rachel tried not to smile, and then she started giggling. The thought of Lord Fowler spanking his imposing wife made her laugh. Peri looked at Rachel and began to laugh too.