I’m feeling better at long last. Still a little tired, but not too bad. In a funny turn of circumstances, Wolf pulled an all nighter and it was MY turn to tuck him into bed early. 🙂 Here is another chapter of Sian, as I have a fair chunk of it written. There will be more of the other stories in the days to come. 🙂
Outside, Mael paced. Lew sat on the wall and some of the others stood nearby. They’d been talking, and the mood hadn’t lightened.
“I know you want to ride out and whip that idiot with his own crop, but it wouldn’t take those marks off her back now would it?”
“No Lew, but it would make me feel like I’d done something. I feel like we caused those marks,” Mael growled.
“Ah Mael, there isn’t anything we could have done to stop that. Her Da must be wrong in the head to do something like that,” Sam interjected.
Mael just glared. “No, he’s just one of those pigheaded rich men that thinks a woman is property. Wanting to dump her in a nunnery. We will take care of this. Just not yet. I don’t want Sian fretting or making herself worse with fear over it. So, shut yer traps for now and try to wipe those grim looks off your faces.” Mael ordered them, just like he would before a cattle raid. He might be younger than most of them, but he was their leader. Size as well as brains made him apt for the job.
“Now, who wants to go see what’s on the valley road?” Mael knew that work would take their minds off this at least for a little while. Those who were going were soon off and as dusk settled, he went back into the farmhouse.
Sian saw him come in and was relieved to see a calm look on his face. He came over and sat next to her.
“Sian, I’m sorry if I upset you. It’s just that we’ve been worried about you, and to finally hear what happened was difficult.”
“I know. It was hard to tell you. I was so afraid that you’d take me back to him. Or, that you’d do something bad to him. I know that what he did was wrong, but…” She stopped for a minute. She looked at him with sudden fear. “You haven’t have you?”
“No lass. Justice will be from your hands. Although, I must admit that the first urge I had was to wring his neck.” Sparks light up his hazel eyes.
Sian hoped that he was telling the truth, and had to trust him. Lew walked in just then and came over to her. He had a kitten in his hands. He put the tabby ball of fluff in her lap.
“She’s just a barn cat, but I thought you might enjoy her company.”
“Thank you Lew.” Sian scratched the kitten under the chin and it started purring.
Lew stood up to go and placed a kiss on her forehead. “I’ve a sister at home just a bit younger than you. She loves cats.”
Mael looked at Lew like he’d grown an extra head. “And here I thought you’d sprung from a bog with no more family than a will-o-wisp!”
“Shows what you know!” Lew slapping Mael on the arm. “Where do you think I get me clothes and such when I’m off for a day or so on me own? A tailor? Daft man! I may not be welcome on me own farm, but my sister lives up the valley from it and I can still show my face there!”
“Fine, fine! I apologize!” Mael put his arms up in mock defense. He smiled broadly and Sian saw the glimmer in him of what the men saw when they looked at him as a leader.
Lew left them and Sian suddenly realized that she could barely keep her eyes open. The kitten was knitting her skirt and she wanted to get up to bed. “Mael, could you help me up to bed? I can’t stay awake a moment longer.”
“Oh. Of course. We’ve kept you up far longer than Megan wanted us to. Can you walk?”
“I’d best try. I can’t have you carrying me all the time.” She tried to stand. Between the rug on her lap and the kitten, she started out a tad wobbly. She dropped the rug to the floor. Sian made it around the table with help, but couldn’t cope with the stairs. Before she could say a word, Mael scooped her up in his arms and carried her. The door to the room was open as Megan had freshened it up with new rushes and bedding. Mael set her on the floor next to the bed. She walked the few steps and then sat down.
“Thank you Mael. Thank you for so much. I am very grateful for all that you and Megan have done for me.”
“You’re welcome. I couldn’t have done ought else.” He looked at her sitting on the bed. Suddenly, he had to get out of the room. “Goodnight Sian. Sleep well. Megan will be back in the morning.” He turned and left the room quickly.
“Goodnight,” she called after him, a bit perplexed by his behavior. What on earth got into him she wondered?
It took forever to undress and she was so tired that she didn’t even try to put on the nightdress that Megan had left. She crawled under the covers in her undershift and fell fast asleep.
Sian woke to the noise of something banging up the stairs. She sat up. Megan was tending the fire and the door opened to Lew and Artur rolling a wooden tub into the room. It wasn’t very big, but it made a right noise as they sat it next to the fireplace.
“Morning Lass,” Artur said as he looked her direction.
“Morning Artur, morning Lew.” Sian held the bedding up to her throat.
Megan looked up from the fire. “Get on with it and bring the water you two!” Megan’s wrinkled face creased with a smile.
The two men headed out the door quickly.
“Its a bath you’ll be getting today. Thought you’d like to have a good scrub.”
“Yes Megan, that would feel ever so good.” Sian crawled out from under the covers. She wrapped a shawl around her shift and waited for the men to bring the water. Megan had hot water in the pot over the fire with herbs in it from the smells wafting up. Sian could identify mint, lavender and chamomile.
It took two trips for the tub to fill. Megan added the hot water and then helped Sian into the tub. The water felt so good. She soaked her hair and Megan soaped it and her back.
“Ow!” Sian cried. She pulled away from Megan’s hands.
“I’m trying to be gentle, but there isn’t enough meat on your bones for any cushion. And, I need to be scrubbing a bit.”
“Sorry Megan, it is just so tender.” Sian apologized.
“Aye, and well it shall be for a bit. Your backside lost more than a wee bit of skin. Cover yer face lass and I’ll rinse this off.” Megan poured water over Sian’s head.
Sian finished washing and got out of the tub. Megan wrapped Sian in some sheeting and sat her by the fire to dry.
“I’ll go see if I can find a comb to take through that mop of curl.”
“There was one in my bag, if it survived,” Sian offered.
Megan nodded and headed downstairs to see if one of the lads had a clue as to where Sian’s belongings had gone. “Mael! Sam! Where are you lads? I’ll be needing the lass’s bundle. Says she has a comb in there. Mael, Lew?”
Mael strode down the length of the hall with a leather haversack in his hands. He dropped it on the table in front of Megan. “Here you go Megan. Never looked in it myself. Just threw it in the corner.”
“Thank you dearie.” Megan took the haversack and headed up the stairs. She handed it to Sian and Sian began to dig through it. Moldy bread and a bit of smashed fruit went into the fire. Sian laid out her bits of clothing on the bed and at the bottom found her comb and the pouch with the marks in it. She put the pouch in the pocket on her belt. She left Megan to order Sam about cleaning up the tub and decided to head down the stairs. The idea of sitting in the sunshine appealed to her. She got down a step or two when a voice stopped her in mid stride.
“What are you doing lass?” Mael hollered up at her. He bound up the steps and had her in his arms before she could open her mouth to speak.
“I was trying to walk down the steps,” she finally sputtered. “I was going out to sit in the sun and comb out this tangled mess.” Sian pointed to her tangled hair with the comb in her hand.
“Alrighty then. I’ll take you there.”
“I can walk. I need to walk. Please set me down.”
Mael looked at her and with a sigh, set her down at the bottom of the stairs. He walked outside with her over to a stump where she sat.
“Thank you for helping me down the stairs.” Sian started to comb her hair while Mael paced like he wanted to say something but didn’t know where to start. Sian finished combing her hair and looked up at Mael, really looking at him for what felt like the first time. He caught her eye.
“What is it Sian?”
“I was about to ask the same of you.”
Mael hunkered down beside her so that his eyes were a bit more level with her own. He cleared his throat. “Sian. Umm, the lads and I were wondering if you’d thought about where you’d go or what you want to do. If you’d want to make things even with yer Da or send a message to yer Ma.” He finished all he had to say and looked down at the ground.
Sian looked at him, her comb still in her hand. She had thought about this, and was almost as nervous to speak now as she had been afraid last night.
“Mael, uh,… well… I,… I had thought about this. I can’t think about my father at this point, but I do want to send a message to my aunty. She can get word to my sister and mother.” She paused, this being the easy part. Sian took a deep breath. “And, if it were alright, I’d… I’d like to stay here.” Sian finished in a rush, afraid that if she didn’t, she’d never get the words out. “You said I could, and I wouldn’t be a problem, I promise. I can cook and clean, and I know how to run a hall. I could and…”
Mael interrupted her. “Of course you can lass.”
“Oh thank you! I was afraid that you’d think me a burden. Artur and some of the others didn’t seem to want me about and I was afraid that they thought I’d tell where you were and put everyone in danger and I was so nervous…”
“Whoa! Slow down Sian. Of course you can stay with us. In many ways, you are one of us. Kicked off our land, abused by those in power and without a mark in your pocket,” he said, turning out his pocket to show just a drift of straw.
Sian smiled in relief, and put her hand in her belt pocket, drawing out the pouch. “However, I do have a mark or two in my pocket. Mother gave me the household money before I left. Here, consider it my contribution to living here.” She handed the heavy pouch to Mael.
Mael, startled by the weight of it, opened it up. “Lass, are you sure? There is a small fortune in here. Must be close to forty marks.” He closed it up. “Nay lass, keep this as your dower. You might find a rich man some day who’ll want you an this’ll come in right handy.”
“No, take it. I don’t want to be a burden. I can’t steal, but this can be my share.” She shoved it back at him. Sian stood and walked back towards the hall. She was almost to the hall when she turned round.
“I need paper and pen to write a letter to my mother. And, would Lew deliver it to my aunty? He at least knows where to go.”
“Aye. I’ll send one of the lads to the village.” Mael slowly put the heavy pouch in his own. He knew there’d be no arguing with her. Mael realized that there was more to her than a pretty head and nice curves. It took mettle to do what she’d done and survive. Strong men had crumbled at less and he’d buried more than one who couldn’t cope. He went off to find Finn and send him on an errand.
Hours later, Finn came into the hall with a bundle under his arm. He dropped it in front of Sian, and then walked over to Mael. Puzzled, Sian started to unwrap the bundle. Finn pulled Mael aside.
“There’s no talk in either village. I’ve sent wee Rob down valley as well. He’ll be back smartly if there is any news,” Finn said in a soft voice. They both turned to look at Sian who had finally unwrapped the parcel.
“Oh! Finn,” Sian was lost for words. In the bundle spread out on the table was paper, ink, quills, hair ribbons and a shawl the blue of Sian’s eyes. “Oh thank you Finn. Thank you too Mael.” She wrapped the shawl around her shoulders.
Finn blushed and Mael just nodded, trying not to say anything. Neither was use to having the lass about. It would take a while as they’d been a society of brigands with little need of a woman her age in their midst.
Artur stood and rolled his eyes as he walked out the door. Mumbling under his breathe as he went, it caught Mael’s attention. He followed Artur out the door, leaving Sian to scribble her note.
“What’s yer problem Artur?” Mael asked as he caught up to the older man.
“You! Her! Wasting marks that we could put to good use on fripperies. Next thing you know, you’ll be lettin her tell us when and who to rob!” he finished in a growl.
Mael stood up to his full height, and shoved Artur into a corner of the shed. “Now listen here Artur. I don’t care how much you hate women or dislike Sian. That stuff was bought with her marks. She gave me her pouch of marks this morning as her share of this band. She hasn’t elsewere to go and you know it. She can stay or go as she pleases. She’s paid her share, just like any of the rest of us. Besides, no one do ya hear,… No One tells me and mine what to do. That goes for her or you or Sam as well as any man in the lot of you!” He punctuated this with a thud to Artur’s chest.
Artur coughed and slumped against the wall. “Sorry Mael. Its just that… that…” he couldn’t continue.
“Aye, I know Artur. But give it a chance. She’s just as much an outcast as any one of us,” Mael turned and walked off.
In the hall, Sian was writing a note to her mother letting her know that she was alright and safe. Sam looked over her shoulder. He’d had a bit of book learning, and knew what she wrote. Artur wasn’t the only one hesitant about Sian staying.
“I see you write a neat hand,” Sam commented.
“Yes, my mother taught us. I kept the books at the Hall,”
“That’s a trade you could put to good use,” Lew said as he came up on the other side of her. “I hear I’m to run this wee note to an aunty of yours.”
“Yes,” Sian turned to face Lew. “She lives down to the right of that field you left me in. A thatched cottage with lots of herbs and flowers in the garden. A big orange tabby usually sleeps on the porch. Give her the note and she’ll see that mother gets it.” She folded up the message and tied it with a bit of the ribbon Finn had brought her. She handed it to Lew. “Be careful Lew.”
“Aye, I will. I have no desire to come afoul of your father or his men. I’ll be off in a bit. Travel at night is safer.” He tucked the note in his pouch.
Sian nodded in understanding.