Disclaimers: This is an original work, while the characters may remind us of certain physical traits of the well known duo thats where it ends, The rest is mine...all mine.
Sexual Disclaimer: Yes, there will eventually be sex. While this is an alternative piece it will also elude to m/f relations as well. So if the idea of two woman in love bothers you...I suggest you move on. Some of this may at times become graphic in its description...so be warned.
Hurt/Comfort/General angst: What is life without pain? Yes our characters will experience a bit of all of these things Im afraid.
Pay Attention! I am NOT a historian and this piece is NOT meant to be an accurate. The places are real, the setting and timeline are fiction as are the supporting characters. Lets not quibble about the inaccuracy of my facts, I made it up people. I have added a few facts that lend to believablity but thats all. The Romany words and some of the customs are as close to fact as I can find and the definitions are at the end in case you really need to know.
Thank You: I really have to thank Alec Rene for her pushing when I needed to be pushed and her input for what works and what doesnt. As betas go shes one of the best. I also have to thank Tea for her fresh eye and putting up with my sometimes impossible grammar. You both have my undying gratitude.
And Last: All comments, questions, and concerns for my mental health can be directed to...firstname.lastname@example.org
The rolling, green hills passed by on either side of the bouncing wagon as the Romany made their way down the dusty road. The huge walls of the castle lay barely visible in the distance. The Romany were never invited to these sorts of gatherings but that never stopped them from making their presence known. Often thought of by proper folk as thieves and rogues, they were looked upon as an unwanted element. However, rich purses were not something the Romany could pass over lightly and King Edwards tournament was sure to attract very wealthy attendees.
The rough caravan made its way across the land. Avoiding the soldiers as best they could. Often making camp deep in the forest well off the main roads. This last leg of the journey to the castle forced the Romany to camp among the other people making their way to the festivities. They moved their wagons away from the others hoping not to call too much attention to themselves as yet. Quick and efficient as only a people who lived on the move can be, they set about their tasks. Removing the horses from the wagons, setting up makeshift pens for livestock they traveled with. Fires were started for the evening meal. Children ran about laughing and playing while indulgent parents looked on. Soon the colorful wagons were lit by a half a dozen fires and the Romany settled down to await their meal.
A large man with coal black hair stood back and took in the sight of his people going about their chores. As the Kapo for his family he over saw everything they need attend to. His deep brown eyes scanning the camp settled upon the bouncing blonde head of a young girl, short hair whipping about her head as she laughed and played with the little ones.
Unlike the other women of the Romany, Mika often chose to wear more masculine attire; pants and boots, along with a sturdy linen shirt covered by a bright green vest. Saying this is how she felt most comfortable often adding with a wicked grin...it was much better suited to using a sword then a dress was. Her Nanos could not fault her attire. There were times when her masculine appearance often saved her from the advances of the townsmen in those places where the Romany were thought of as tramps and harlots. However as time often brings change it did so to Mikas body as well and no matter what her attire no one could deny that under the often-dirty face and masculine clothing there was a very well formed woman. Many times she had become forceful with those who would not take "no" as an answer from the young woman.
Returning his attention to the present a gentle smile graced his handsome face. Trying to smother a laugh at the girls antics, knowing she should be helping her Daj with the evening meal, but unable to bring himself to admonish her.
"You have too much of a soft spot for that one you know Corwin, letting her get away with such silliness," said an old woman with laughing eyes looking up at him, teasing him with a gentle smile.
"I know Daj" he sighed. "But can you blame me my indulgence?" taking the old womans hand kissing it softly before he tucked it under his arm. "Shes special, her spark and lust for life fills my tired soul, besides I do not wish to rile her temper," he laughed.
The old woman laughed with him "I can see your point there my boy," she agreed shaking her head "as much as she is a joy her temper is legend among the Romany already. But as the Kapo it is your job to make sure she also does her part as a member of this family," she chided him gently. He watched his Daj make her way to the caravan to help her daughter with the food.
He looked thoughtfully at his niece. Since the time she was born into his family he knew she was going to be a handful and a handful she was. His dear sister Mala was driven nearly to tears many times from the antics and schemes of this young woman. Yes his young niece could be best described as a rogue. Her devilish charm and disarming manor had turned the head of many. Much to the dismay of her Daj and everyone else she tended to focus that charm on the young women in the towns and villages they visited. If any of the family were bothered by this fact it was only because she would often succeed where others failed. Most just accepted it as part of the essence of this beautiful woman.
Mikayla was special and they all knew it. She was fierce and loyal, the Romany passion ran strongly through her veins even if her paternal parentage was not Romany. A fact made obvious by her coloring. Where the Romany were dark, swarthy people, this girl was fair. She did stand out among the others of the family but that did not mean she was any less Romany. In fact Corwin thought it made her even more determined to be the best the Romany people had to offer. And despite her occasional flights of fancy she really was the best they had. She had learned early to ride and drive the wagons. Where she could be temperamental with people she was gentle and caring with the animals and beasts she trained were some of the best they had. But the best of all was that her quick wits and intelligence coupled with those fair looks made her very good when it came time to make their living. Whether she was scouting a crowd for potential customers or chatting up some guard to get her family out of a rather sticky situation, she always excelled. He shook himself from his revelry, sighed deeply and made his way over to his errant niece.
The children were sitting contently listening to Mikaylas telling of a story she made up on todays long ride. Talking animatedly with her hands, as was her habit, bright green eyes expressive and intelligent. The children loved her stories, they loved that she took the time to play with them and listen to them. Most of all they loved, that no matter what, the feisty blonde always made time for them. Those sharp green eyes glanced up from the young faces of her audience to see her Nano Corwin heading in her direction. Uh oh, guess playtimes over.
Corwin came up behind the group of young ones standing with his hands on his hips looking intently at his impish niece. Mikayla, for her part, flashed him a huge grin that lit up her face, making her eyes dance. But as he looked into those eyes he saw the mischief lurking there and knew he was in for a rough time here.
"Excuse me Chey do you feel that you are exempt from helping with the chores?" he said with mock severity. The children, not understanding the humor behind his words, scattered in all directions heading off to find their own parents. Taught early on that when the Kapo spoke you made yourself scarce. Corwin watched the children scatter barely able to contain his laughter he looked to his beautiful niece "Something I said?"
Mikayla stood to all of her 54 height, her grin slowly fading, mimicking his stance, hands on hips and stared him in the eye. "Why do you insist on scaring small children?" she said in exasperation.
He stepped closer to his little spitfire niece. "Because my golden one, its what a good Kapo does, we scare small children and argue with runts like you", he paused and smiled at her knowing that comment would get her dander up. "Its fun," he watched as the fire leapt into her eyes and threatened to spark off her temper. Dev help him but he did love to rile this child, he always had, she was a thing of wild beauty when she was angry, all fire and passion.
Mikayla stepped closer to her dear Nano tilting her head to look up at the massive man. This could be fun. Allowing her mischievous nature to take hold, she prepared to make her dear Nano extremely uncomfortable. "Runt! You did not call me a runt," she said in outrage. Her face flush red and Corwin stepped back and waited for what he was sure was going to be a full-blown tirade.
Not one to disappoint, Mikayla started pacing back and forth in front of the familys Kapo. Okay first the guilt. "I know that my dear Nano, a man who practically raised me, a man who claims to love me as his own, a man who taught me everything I know," she smiled evilly, "including, how to use as a sword as well as himself." Alright, now for the little innocent girl charm. She continued her plan to bait her Nano. "That man did not just call me, Runt. Did he Nano?" she paused. "I mean this great man that I look to as my father would never intentionally hurt me by making fun of something as uncontrollable as my size." And finally the kicker she smiled to herself. She stopped in front of the now abashed man and pouted prettily.
Damn! How did I go from having some simple fun to feeling like a first class heel? The girl is good. He chuckled to himself. Well and she has a pout that would make a two year old envious. He looked up sheepishly at his niece and smiled slightly.
Mikayla, trying to hold it together finally broke out laughing "Nano you are so easy," she said as she reached up and kissed the mans cheek then turned and ran off to help her Daj.
Corwin stood in the center of the camp blushing and sputtering. Torn between going after the little scamp and trying to regain his dignity. Finally deciding it was best just to ignore that the young woman had gotten him good and went to inspect the camp.
Mikayla skidded to halt in front of her Daj. Kissing the older womans cheek she smiled and tried to look repentant for her absence. "Sorry Daj, what can I do to help?" Mikayla asked politely.
Mala looked up at her only child. So young and so full of life, she thought wistfully. But she is more than a handful. "Well my daughter, since youve timed your arrival so well, there is little left to do but wait," she scolded playfully then wrapped a slender arm around her beautiful child. "Perhaps we could use this time to talk about proper behavior for the niece of the familys Kapo".
Mikayla winced knowing she was about to be reprimanded for her outburst in front of the family with her Nano. Granted probably not the best-timed thing shed ever done. Knowing that every member of the family should treat her Nano with respect. In fairness though, he did start it.
"Now, my girl, you know better then to tease your Nano like that. He is a man after all and is easily swayed by that pout of yours," she chided the girl. "Please keep your antics to a minimum while were at the castle, ok?" her mother pleaded. "We must make a strong showing there and Corwin has to appear to be in complete control of his family, it is the best way to avoid trouble. Keep your temper under control as well little one, it has gotten you in more then one unfortunate circumstance," Mala warned.
One or two ill timed outbursts, a couple dalliances with the wrong people, A fight or three with some less then intelligent men and you were forever made to feel the guilt. Mikayla looked down at her feet, being properly chastised she mumbled her compliance.
"Thats my girl," her Daj said brightly kissing the young womans fair head. "Now, lets get supper together. Go turn the meat." The little spitfire skipped off to accomplish her task, leaving her mother behind watching her and with a shake of her dark head she sent up a prayer. Knowing that although her only child would try to stay away from trouble she did tend to attract it like no other she had ever known. Please Dev let that girl not find trouble. Or do not let trouble find her.
The evening meal had been eaten and the members of the family had settled into their camp readying themselves for bed. The family elders sat around the fire discussing a plan to enter the castle walls. Although they had never really ventured into this part of the world as of yet, the Romany were seldom welcome to such events. They would have to be careful in their approach to the gates and especially cautious when inside the gates. No one wanted to end up in the castle dungeons.
The evening wore on as they bickered about the best approach and the seeming lack of plan was frustrating Corwin. In most cases they had no need of actually entering inside the castle walls, most places they chose to earn their living had no walls and thus they could camp outside a town and move freely about a city.
Corwin was new to being the Kapo for his clan and was at a loss. His younger brother thought it was best if they just rode right up to the gates as any regular citizens of the realm. This caused Corwin to frown. Luca always was a stubborn proud ass and he hoped it wouldnt one day end him in a prison somewhere or worse at the end of a hangmans noose. The other elder men thought they should send in scouts to check out the guard schedules and find a way to sneak them in under the cover of darkness. For some reason that amused the Kapo. Shaking his head he thought. Old men, only thinking of glory and stories to tell around campfires in the winter. He looked around at the people he was to lead for the rest of his days, feeling a slight tightness in his chest; he truly hoped he could do right by them.
Sitting unusually quiet beside the wagon was his impish niece. He had spotted her soon after the meeting began and knew she was listening intently to what was being discussed. He figured somewhere in her scheming little head she had a plan. She always has a plan. He snorted. Corwin honestly did admire her intelligence and quick wit and while sometimes her ideas were not feasible they were creative. I should just call her over and see what the idea is or shes going to wake me in the night to tell me anyway she had before. Sighing deeply he shook his head and did what he was sure would bring about an argument between the men, he called his beloved niece over to the fire.
"Okay Mika youve been listening to this for the past hour and I know you have an idea so before you feel the need to wake me up later, tell me now, what you would do to get us into the castle?" he stood and crossed his arms over his chest.
As he had predicted the men shouted their outrage at this slip of a girls inclusion to their little circle. He knew he would have to defend his decision to ask her for her input. "Gentlemen please, I know it is not our custom to ask help of the fairer sex especially in such matters. But we all know that Mika is not an ordinary Romany woman. She can fight like any of us, and better then some," he smirked as some of the men looked away in shame knowing that fact to be true having met Mikas blade themselves. "We also know that her skills as a huckster and her ability to talk the ear off a mule makes her an invaluable part of our family." The older men chuckled and nodded their agreement. "So I ask for her opinion on this and hope that you will all listen and save your comments." This seemed to have turned the tensions away for now. "Okay, Mika, make me proud," he grinned at his niece.
Mika made her way over to the fire standing between her Nanos Corwin and Luca. She had not expected to be asked her opinion and truly did believe she would have to wait until late in the night to wake her Nano to tell him the brilliant plan she had. Of course she thought most of her plans were brilliant even the ones that didnt go as expected. This was no different. She had been listening and came up with a plan in the first minutes of conversation. Aright this is going to be a tough sell. She looked at the men with her bright green eyes dancing in the firelight. Hmmm cant just demand they do it my way. Having tried this in the past she knew it would not work here any better then it had then. Well Mika, time to play the game, make the old men feel important.
"Well Nano while all the plans I heard tonight were very good." Corwin smiled at the girls diplomacy gently nudging her to continue. She smiled at the older man. "I fear that they will either take us far to long to accomplish or get us into more trouble then we really wish to bring on ourselves," she cleared her throat nervously before she went on, looking at the faces of the men to see how they were reacting. She noted that most were barely paying attention. Time to pour on the charm. "Therefore, I think the simplest plan would be the best."
One of the older men spoke up making his agitation known. "Well girl what is this simple plan of yours then," he groused.
Remember Mika, charm, and then if they dont listen, cram it down their throats. She flashed a grin at the old man causing him to blush. "Well Kore, I know you are a very wise man and this plan will appeal to you especially as I am sure you would have thought of it yourself in time," she winked at the older man and continued. "I believe we should split up the caravan and enter the gates separately. Grandfather Nicolae used this once I remember when I was young." There was a scattering of laughter. She grinned again and looked shyly at the men "Ok, when I was younger then," she joined the laughter. After they settled she went on to explain the plan further. "Anyway, he split the caravan and made the family dress down from our usual colors so we wouldnt attract any undo attention," she explained, her hands and arms gesturing wildly. "Later when we all were inside we met back up. The first ones made camp and then as the others arrived; they just set up around them. Eventually we were all together and the guard were none the wiser." I knew with the mention of Grandfathers name I would get their complete attention and if I have to share the credit then so be it. She ended her speech with a wicked grin making the men laugh yet again.
"Well my friends," Corwin began, "while the plan would mean more work for us to start, I have to say it does seem sound and by far the safest Ive heard thus far," Corwin knew they were going to argue anyway. He thought most times they did it just to test their new young Kapo. It didnt take long and the men erupted claiming it would be too difficult. There was no guarantee that they would find a place to camp along side each other. Who would lead the wagons? Who would walk? They were mostly easy things to address. But that didnt stop them from arguing; leaving Corwin shaking his head wondering if they would ever find their beds this night.
Mika sat down and listened to the men argue and bicker. Men can be incredibly dense at times, they know this is the best plan but do they work it out together, NO! They would rather sit around like children and argue over a little bit of work. Well Devll damn me if I let them ruin this chance for us. We need the money this festival will bring to get us through the winter. Her temper growing by the minute she listened. Until she could take no more and despite her Nanos warning glance at her, she let them know exactly how she felt.
Corwin saw the fire in his fair nieces eyes, he knew that she had had enough of all this whining. And although he tried to warn her off, he also knew that she was not going to back down now. She never did when she was challenged and these men had done just that. Challenged her. For Mika, it was now a matter of pride.
An angry young woman jumped to her feet, storming over to the men. Her face flushed with the ire she felt, her eyes dancing dangerously. "Of all the stupid, idiotic, lame things you choose to argue about, who walks and who drives the wagons has got to be some of the dumbest reasons Ive heard not to go along with this plan!" She was pacing now, hands gesturing to punctuate her words. "Do you lay in your beds at night and think of new ways to be this dense?" she questioned sarcastically. "This is the best plan we have if you dont want to spend the rest of your days in a dungeon and you all know it. I suggests gentlemen," she sneered, "that you set aside your petty concerns and look at whats good for the clan. We need this festival, we have a long winter coming and we are getting nowhere sitting here bicker like old women," she was all but yelling now. "If its that I came up with this plan, then fine! Take the credit yourselves I dont care. But you know we need to do this and with or without you I will be entering that city tomorrow." Fed up with the men she stormed off into the darkness leaving them sitting in wonder.
She wandered around the wagons in the dark fuming at the stupidity and stubbornness of her clansmen. Finally coming to rest on a large rock. She had meant what she said; with or without them she would enter the city. It was easy for her; she looked much like any other citizen here. Well, so much for charming them. Ive probably angered them so much they will toss out the idea altogether. I really need to learn to keep my temper in check. I am going into the city. I feel something here, something pulling me. Theres something here I need. Something about this place has hold of my heart I need to know why.
Corwin nudged her shoulder bringing her back to herself. "Well my beautiful girl you have shamed a bunch of old men into complying with your plan," he gave her a very relieved smile. "Come on chey, time for bed," he chuckled. Looping an arm around her shoulders, Corwin gently hugged his favorite niece. "It was a very good plan little one, using your Grandfathers good name was brilliant, very diplomatic of you. As well as rather sneaky," he grinned and Mika laughed.
"Well Nano, I am Romany, sneaky is what I do," again they laughed as he agreed with her.
"So, we will use this plan of yours to get us into the city gates, and you, my little schemer, will be staying with me the whole way. We will enter after everyone else to make sure we are all past."
Mika wanted to protest this idea, she wanted to get into the city as soon as possible and see all the strange and wonderful things and try to find the reason she felt so strongly about this place. But she knew that her Nano was paying her a great honor by keeping her at his side. An honor that she would not refuse. She sighed deeply and nodded her consent.
Corwin grinned, he knew she was anxious to see the city and the castle for she was always curious about new things and this would be no different. "Dont worry Mika, itll be a great adventure. Now off to bed, we have many preparations to make tomorrow I want you well rested."
Mika hugged him one last time and climbed into the wagon she shared with her Daj. Looking back over her shoulder she whispered "Goodnight Nano." Corwin saw her in and then turned to find his own bed for the night.
Mika, never an early riser, was shaken from her slumber by an insistent hand. "Come now daughter," her mother gently prodded. "Your Nano is wanting you outside to help with the preparations." Mikayla groaned in protest, pulled the blanket further over her head and promptly fell back to sleep. Mala knew her daughters morning habit and having anticipated this response grabbed a corner of the coverlet and whipped it back off the bed leaving the body under it exposed to the morning chill. Mika jumped like a startled rabbit, landing in a heap on the floor of the wagon. Her mother stood and laughed. "That should teach you to get up the first time youre called."
Mika stood and looked out the window with blurry sleep filled eyes. Not at all happy that day hadnt even broken yet. Her hair sticking up in various directions she rubbed her tired eyes and managed to pull her self together. She stumbled out of the wagon; still tucking in her shirt as she passed a morning cook fire, she grabbed a piece of bread and headed out to find her demanding Nano. "I hate morning," she grumbled as she passed the other people waiting for breakfast.
Corwin was busy filling the people in on the plan to enter the city and while many were not pleased that they would be separated, they did know it was probably for the best. The wagons would be separated and go in at spaced intervals. Luca, Corwins brother, agreed to lead the first wagon and find a suitable site for them to camp. He would then send a runner back to the gate to await the others and show them were to go. It would continue this way until all the wagons were inside. Then Corwin and Mika would enter on foot after they had made sure the rest of the family was safely past the gate.
The camp slowly came to life after daylight. It was not going to be a good day for the weather and a light mist had already started to fall on the Romany as they worked on the wagons to make them appear less colorful. Slowly things began to take shape and each of the wagons were made to look as much like any other found in the realm as they could. Clothing had been changed from the rich, vibrant colors they usually wore to more homespun, rough wear of the other citizens theyd seen. Women covered their dark tresses with kerchiefs and the men wore plain straw hats.
Mikayla, for her part thought it best to not bring attention to her femininity and found a tight shirt that would hold down her more womanly attributes. Clad in her breeches and vest, topped off the look with a straw hat like the other men were wearing, she walked along behind the last wagon of the caravan with her Nano. "Were going to get thoroughly soaked Nano," she said as the rain dripped dismally off the rim of her hat.
"I know little one but we do what we must. I think Luca is ready to lead the wagon through the gate, lets head to that hill over there and see that all goes well. That will put us position incase we are needed," he took off leaving her to follow him up the small incline that would give them a much better view of the travelers and the gate.
There were many people gathering at the gates trying to get into the city to set up their camps and get out of this miserable rain. While the wet and cold were not pleasant it was a blessing to the Romany, for they knew the guards would not be looking as closely, assuring that their cover as simple farmers and merchants would hold. Together they stood and watched as the guard did a perfunctory search of the first wagon and allowed Luca to enter into the citys gate. They both heaved a sigh of relief and Corwin turned to Mika. "Well if they let my hot headed brother in the rest will be simple."
Mika nodded. Her Nano Luca had always been a quick-tempered man. He had a good heart and was very important to the family as the son of the Kapo. Smaller than her Nano Corwin and the youngest of her grandmothers children, he always seemed to be making up for what he felt were shortcomings. So he tended to do wild and impetuous things that often led to trouble. Mika was just glad that this time he kept his head. In truth she loved her Nano Luca as much as Corwin, he was creative and intelligent and taught her many things. He never told her she couldnt do something just because she was a woman. In fact none of her family ever restricted her because of her gender, a rarity among the Romany. But they knew as well as she, that Mika was different. So the things she chose to do were just accepted.
They stood on that small ridge for several hours as the rain soaked through their clothing and penetrated their skin, chilling them both thoroughly. They chatted amiably about what they saw. There were people from every walk of life it seemed to Mika. Entertainers and musicians, farmers and merchants, some rode in wagons, some on horseback. There were many in fancy clothes riding on fancy horses or wagons. Her Nano told her those would be the nobles. She had never seen anything as rich and grand as some of these people and wanted a closer look.
After the last of the family had made it through the gate without any problems they made their way back to the road. By this time there were few people waiting to get into the city. The rains had finally stopped but the sun was setting and the air became chilled. The road was muddy and Mika was covered to her knees in muck. Her temper was starting to rise; she was wet, cold, dirty and more then ready for a meal. She also had a feeling as though something were coming. A deep gnawing in the pit of her stomach, which made her very uneasy.
As they walked to the gates one of the guards gave a shout telling them to move aside. Mika looked up in time to see four large horses heading right at them and just barely managed to jump out of the way before being trampled by the beasts. The move landed her squarely in a puddle, taking away any dignity she may have had left and sending her temper to an all time high. "Of all the inconsiderate, selfish ," she was about to jump forward and tell the horsemen just what they could do with their great fancy beasts when her Nano grabbed her back.
"NO!" he shouted. "These are not men to unleash your temper on little one," holding her tight to his massive chest. "Just let it go, well be warm and dry soon."
Mika sunk back further into Corwins firm embrace, and nodded her consent, taking comfort in her Nanos arms.
Corwin pointed, "See that." She looked up to see a beautifully crafted carriage approaching and nodded again. "That is why the horsemen were going so fast. That is the carriage of one of the greater nobles. Probably someone very important to the king."
She watched as the carriage came closer trying to see inside, wanting to get a glimpse of the passenger. When the carriage got about even with her she finally saw into the interior. She froze in her stance; all she saw were sky blue eyes. The color of the sky on a summers day, clear and bright. She took in a sharp breath feeling like she had been struck in the chest. And as quickly as that, they were past. Leaving her feeling bereft like something important had just been lost. She shook herself from the moment and looked to her Nano wondering if he felt what she did. She saw his face and knew it was only she who had fallen into those eyes. They had stared right at her, through her. Sighing to herself, great, now Im going to be haunted by blue eyes. She smiled, but they were beautiful.
It took them another half hour to get past the gate. The guards were gruff but eventually they were allowed to pass when Corwin produced a purse with enough gold to pay for their lodgings. Mika had remained quiet through it all. Reflecting on those eyes and wondering if she would ever see them again. It was now full on dark and they went in search of the rest of the family hoping to find things set up. All either wanted was a warm bath and food.
Inside the city gate was what could only be called barely organized chaos. People were everywhere. Stages had been set up and every manner of performer was demonstrating their craft. The merchants had stalls set among the stages selling everything one could every want or need. And some things none had ever heard of. Jugglers and fire-eaters walked among the crowds. Wine was flowing freely. In short it was the perfect place for the Romany to make a living and amid the chaos they would draw little attention. They had walked for another half an hour Corwin stopped at one of the many food stalls and bought them some much-needed dinner. Lamb slowly roasted on sticks.
They were just passing the stables when a young boy darted out and caught up to them. "Kapo!" he called.
Corwin looked down to find the bright face of Pani, one the boys sent out in his brothers wagon. "Ah young man," Corwin beamed at him "you are a sight for sore eyes."
Mika looked over at the boy and mumbled "And sore feet." They followed behind allowing Pani lead them to the familys camp.
The spot Luca had picked was perfect, large enough for all the wagons and livestock. Still rather cramped but that was expected due to the amount of people. They had the fires going and the camp was all but set. Mala rushed out of the wagon to greet her daughter. "Whoa my little one, were you rolling in the mud?" she questioned playfully. The comment only earned her a rather scathing glance from her filthy child. "Well come on little grump and lets get you clean and dry," her mother cooed as she lead Mika to a tub of warm water behind a blanket. Corwin set off to make sure everyone was set and had what they needed.
Mika stripped off her wet, dirty clothing and scrubbed every surface of her body. Absently wondering how mud could get in some of those places. Once she was clean and dry, she changed into a fresh set of clothing. It felt good to be unbound from her tight shirt. Never thought it would feel so wonderful to be clean, dry and able to breathe. Now, I wonder what kind of trouble I can find before we have to settle down for the night. She grinned evilly and set off to see the sights. The sudden flash of sky blue eyes made her stop, but she quickly shook away the vision and headed out into the city.
Erin McGorry sat in the swaying carriage looking out the window at the passing countryside; made dreary by the rains that had started that morning. Her usually sparkling sky blue eyes were filled with unshed tears as she tried valiantly to hold back the tide of emotion she felt inside. She had promised her father that she would come to this place. That she would do her best to honor the Kings request. But that didnt ease the ache in her heart or the longing she felt to be back in Ireland, back at McGorry Glen. She blinked back the tears and continued to stare out the window. Thinking about that fateful day that brought her to this place.
Her Father, Lord Aidan McGorry, was seated behind his desk in the study when shed come in. He didnt notice her at first, giving Erin a chance to study the older man. He was still a very vital man, his features still strong and the trademark McGorry blue eyes were still full of life. Although today she noted, they seemed clouded by something but she didnt know what. His hair was still as dark as hers but with a dab of gray sprinkled throughout making him looked distinguished. He seemed to Erin to be lost in some deep pondering and she was loath to shake him from whatever matter had him so distracted. But he had sent for her, so shaking herself from her own revelry she gently cleared he throat to get his attention.
Lord Aidan looked to the doorway of his study to see his beautiful daughter, gazing into her shining blue eyes, so much like his own; he smiled and waved her in. After having her take a seat in front of the fireplace he began to pace. Lord Aidan knew Erin was curious as to why she had been called to him. It wasnt often he had her tend him unless he needed her advice and he was sure she thought that was what this conference was about. However, he was about to disappoint his only child. He studied her a minute more noting, not for the first time, that even though she was truly a McGorry with her raven hair and blue eyes, she also had so much of her mother in her it almost pained him to see her. High cheek bones and stubborn chin, her athletic frame and natural grace. These were all traits she had inherited from his late beloved wife Brenna. He watched as she sat fidgeting under his scrutiny.
"Da?" she questioned. "Did ya want me ere ta stare at me or was there a reason ya ad me called?" she said, slightly raising a dark eyebrow in a question.
"And what if I did just call ya ere ta stare young lady?" he teased. "Yer my daughter and I appen ta find ya quite lovely. And from the potential suitors we been turnin away Id say I wouldna be the only one who thinks that," he smirked at his now blushing child.
True though it was. They had turned away more men in the last year since her coming of age then he cared to count and all seeking to court this statuesque beauty that was his daughter. Only she had turned down every request. Not that Aidan minded, in truth he really didnt want his daughter married and moved away from him but he knew there would come a time when just that would happen. And after he had received the post today he was sure that others in the Kings service sought to bring about just that thing.
"Erin" he began his banter turning more serious. "I received a request from the Kings Royal Court today," he saw the immediate concern in his daughters eyes.
"Ya arent bein called ta the court are ya Da? What does the King ave need o ya fer now?" she groaned with a mild bit of irritation. The last time her father had been called on by the King he was gone for months and still limping from an injury hed received in battle. Since that time she and her father had had many heated discussions about the King and his politics. The whole idea of a request from him left Erin more then a bit leery.
"Nay nay Erin, tis nothing like that. No child this request was about ya lass. It seems the Kings eldest boy is o a mind ta get imself wed. The King imself as requested several young noble women be sent directly ta the palace fer this event. Theres ta be a festival and knight games ta honor the occasion. He watched the confusion play across her beautiful face and be quickly replaced by a look of utter horror.
She gulped nervously "Da, I willna be paraded in front o some little prince like a brood mare," she stated irately. "Ya can thank the King for is invitation but Ill na be joinin this little venture," she stared defiantly at her Father, her irritation showing in her face.
"Well lass that be a good thing cuz ya werena sent fer ta be a candidate fer his son, its the Princess youll be keeping company with," Aidan chuckled in amusement. Erin did not often show her temper nor was she given to jumping to conclusions but when she did he was often delighted by her responses.
Erin sat in shock looking at her father like he had grown an extra head. Not quite sure she had heard him right. "The Princess?" she asked truly puzzled. "What could the Princess possibly want me fer?" she looked to her father and became more irritated by the bemused look on his handsome face.
"Settle down lass, its a simple matter really. Seems Princess Fay as come o an age ta be present in the court and her Mother Queen Margery is selecting er ladies in waiting. Thats what this is all about. The King and Queen ave requested ya be one o those ladies," he explained hoping to calm his ever reddening daughter. Seeing that Erin was not finding this to be at all a likeable situation he quickly added. "Tis supposed to be quite an honor lass," he looked down at the floor suddenly finding the wood grain of some fascination.
Somehow the honor part was lost on Erin. She was sure that at this point her poor father had truly lost his mind. "Da", she said smiling sweetly with her eyes still ablaze. "If its considered an honor ta follow around behind some spoiled, giggling, empty headed, little girl, then ya can borrow some o my dresses and go yerself. Cuz Ill na be playing jester fer a little fool nor will I be at the mercy o the bats in court," she hissed through tight lips, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
Aidan really did understand his childs problem with this. He knew she was far from stupid and he himself had taught her the politics of King and court. They both knew, without speaking of it, that this request hadnt been made simply because the young princess was in need of friends. Even if that were the case Erin would not have been counted among them. No, this was a political ploy through and through. The King wanting to assure that the Lord of McGorry Glen and its surrounding lands remain loyal to him and he plans to ensure that by finding a suitable mate for his beloved daughter. Preferably someone already under the Kings power.
However, the request had been made and to refuse would truly bring about the Kings wrath. Aidan was just not ready yet to face what King Edward might send his way should he not honor this request. In the same token he was not going to sacrifice his own child to afford him the extra time he needed to gather the support still needed to stand up to the King. It was a difficult choice to be sure. The only way Aidan saw to prevent a confrontation was to supply his child with the truth in hopes that she would agree to the plan he had to save them all from any farce of a marriage or unwanted allegiances.
He looked soulfully into the eyes of his cherished daughter. "Erin, we know that e wishes ta use ya ta further gain support ere in Ireland. Im na in the position t oppose im yet. I canna turn down this request. I know this is na yer desire and if I could I wouldna send ya ta do this thing. Im askin ya lass as yer Father and yer Lord, please cooperate in this," he pleaded with his child.
Erin understood fully what her Fathers meaning was. She needed to buy him some time. It was then that she knew she would be going to play the supposed fool in this farce. She knew her father asked of her a great service and she was bound to honor him. This was her role to play in the plans to gain freedom from the realm; it was a role she intended to accomplish with dignity.
"Alright Da. Ill fulfill the request and follow behind the little princess as Ive been asked ta do. But dona fer a minute think that Ill be allowin some over dressed pompous pawn ta pay court t me. Nay Da, Ill go but I willna allow myself t be married off," her serious tone brokered no doubts that she meant what she said. .
"I dona wish fer ya ta marry child," Aidan laughed "I promised ya were free ta pick the time and the person and I willna go back on that promise. Besides Im thinking once they see ya theyll na be wantin to pursue the likes o one so outspoken as yerself," mirth clearly showing in his sparkling eyes. "Them court dandies wouldna know what ta make o a woman with er own mind."
Erin joined her Fathers laughter. It was true that she tended to speak what she thought and while it was accepted in her Fathers home it was highly doubtful it would be considered an ordinary occurrence elsewhere. So it was agreed; Erin would go to the court and honor this request. All the while avoiding the true reason for her presence there. And maybe if she paid attention and learned she would find out what the King had planned for her Father and this land she loved.
Now here she was a fortnight later, traveling this muddy road hoping it would open up and swallow her whole. She could not shake this feeling of anxiety she had since this whole fiasco began. It was like a fire gnawing in her gut. Telling her to run from here. A sense that whatever was waiting would most defiantly change her life. For the better or the worse, that she didnt know. The only sense of comfort she had was that her Aunt was kind enough to accompany her on this trip.
Shea McGorry, the younger sister of her Father, was a true Irish beauty. Her long red hair framed her rounded face, and the trademark McGorry blue eyes seemed always filled with warmth and laughter. Erin couldnt understand why her Aunt had never married and when she asked the answer was always the same. "Im stubborn, outspoken, opinionated and far smarter then most men, darlin lass, the man asnt been made that can turn my head nor my eart," her Aunt would say laughing. Erin had always thought there was bit of sadness in her eyes in those moments. In any case Shea was with her and that was Erins comfort. She knew her Aunt would never allow her to be made a fool of. Shea had taught her all the ways of the court or as much as she could. Having been to the court herself a time long ago.
They had traded their normal wear for something more fitting the stations they were to fill. No longer wearing the simple functional dresses they had always found comfortable, they now wore elegant traveling clothes and had trunks of other frilly gowns. Both women found these things uncomfortable and more often then not they were complicated to don. Buttons, stays and hooks, with lace and ribbon for no purpose. These were silly things that real women had no time for but were expected in the court.
Lady Shea watched her niece noting the forlorn look on her face. She knew this wasnt easy for the young vibrant girl in her charge. Shea had agreed to this outing to keep a watchful eye on her dark, beautiful niece. She remembered the conversation with her brother that led them here,
"Ya know she wasna sent fer just ta keep company with some juvenile. A great many important people are goin ta be present and Im bettin that Edward as it in is mind to wed er ta one o is loyal subjects," she knew that Aidan was well aware of the Kings ulterior motives. "Are ya willin ta feed yer daughter ta the wolves just ta buy some time?"
"Ya know me better than that Shea. What would ya ave me do? If I refuse then Edward will suspect somethin is amiss and send his advisors ta the Isle. We are na ready ta put up a fight yet. Flanagan needs more time ta get is people into position and this weddin might just buy us that time," Aidan paced as he laid out his thoughts for his redheaded sister.
"Sean OFlanagan is a orses arse! I dona see im sendin one o is own into the lions cage. Aidan that man as been bent on revenge fer some time now. When will ya see no good will come o this?" she pleaded.
"Ill give ya that, Sean is still bereft ore losin is brother ta the English in that little skirmish but es na a stupid man Shea. Ya ave even said yerself that Ireland should be fer the Irish na run by some English King who does na know its people." Taking her hands "I know its na fair ta ask Erin ta do this and I know if anything goes wrong theres likely ta be some danger; but Shea, we need ta do this, for Ireland," he hoped that playing on her loyalties would sway her. He sat listening to her ranting of unfair treatment and bigotry. Patiently waiting while she paced back and forth telling him he should not force his gentle child into this arena of backstabbing harpies. His response when she had finished her tirade was, "I guess its a good thing yer goin with er then," and with a mocking grin he left her sputtering in her rooms.
"Damned irritating man," she mumbled under her breath.
Erin roused from her own thoughts and looked at her aunt. "What was that Shea?" she asked the older woman. Erin had never referred to Shea as Aunt because they were somewhat close in age with Shea only having a handful of years on her. In Erins opinion it made them seem more like friends and she liked it that way and so it seemed had Shea.
"It was nothing, just damning yer Father ta the lowest depth o ell, nothing fer ya ta concern yerself with," the redhead stated offhandedly.
"Oh, I see," Erin grinned at her aunt. Shea often damned her father to hell so this was not a shock. Her fiery Aunt had a temper that ran as hot and red as her hair. Her father had often said that Shea was his punishment on earth so anything he may do wrongly here would be forgiven at the gates of heaven for just putting up with the woman all these years.
Erin turned her thoughts from her father to stave off the tears that threatened to fall when she thought of him and home. "Shea," she began "do ya think well be getting there soon? Im getting a wee bit tired o bumpin around inside this thing," she asked drawing attention to the bouncing carriage as it moved along the muddy, rut filled road.
"I know what ya mean lass, my arse is numb from this ellish ride as well," Shea said grinning wickedly at the girl. Then she stuck her head out the window of the carriage and motioned for one of the guardsmen sent as escort for them. "Hey, you there lad," she shouted "come oer ere".
Erin leaned back in her seat blushing at her aunts behavior but enjoying the distraction. A young guard dressed in his regal uniform came along side the carriage. "Yes MLady what can I do for you?" the boy asked as he leaned down from his horse.
Shea looked him up and down somewhat suggestively causing the young man to blush under her scrutiny and then she flashed the suddenly bashful man a saucy grin. Erin was now trying to hold back her laughter. She had seen her Aunt cause many men to become blushing boys when she turned on her somewhat bawdy charms. She also knew this was but a game to Shea. So she relaxed and enjoyed the show.
"Whats yer name my good man?" Shea asked him sweetly.
The young man stuttered for a moment being face to face with this noble woman who was obviously flirting with him, or so he thought. "Umm I Im Carlton MLady," he managed to say.
"Well Carlton, do ya appen ta know if we might be getting ta the castle before night sets on us and we ave ta make camp along side this rut filled road. I may ave ta find myself a way ta keep warm if that were ta appen," she winked at the young man causing him to sway and about fall from his horse. "And Im fair sure that the King wouldna be impressed with that," the woman teased him with a little pout.
"Ill go see if we cant speed this along for you MLady," the flustered guardsmen said as he rushed off.
Erin watched the young man ride like the devil was on his tail and no longer able to keep a straight face she dissolved into a fit of laughter. "You are an evil, wicked woman Shea," she said tears streaming down her lovely face. "What must that man think o we Irish women now eh?" she smirked, raising a dark brow in question.
"Es probably askin fer a transfer on the next ship ta the Isle as we speak," the stunning redhead snickered. "Ya ave ta admit Erin my lass that was a bit o fun, watchin im blush and fumble like that."
"Aye, it was amusing ta watch. And either the thought o aving ta keep ya warm or facing the Kings displeasure seems ta ave lit a fire under these horses; I believe were moving more quickly now. "
Shea gave an unladylike snort. "Ha, that boy was na near enough ta keep the likes o me warm. E needed ta be thrown back into the pond ta grow some more I think," she winked at her reddening niece.
Erin never quite knew when Shea was teasing. Her comments about men were often above Erins limited understanding. Not that she was stupid but rather inexperienced when it came to such matters. While she knew how to flirt she never really had the inclination to practice being coy on any of the suitors that came to call. Shea said that none of them had caught her "fancy". Whatever that meant. If it meant she was truly bored to tears by them, then yes none of them had caught her anything. Erin was looking for the love you found in books. Heart stopping, blood racing, where you look into your true loves eyes and the world beyond the two of you fades away leaving only the pounding of your hearts. She wanted to be moved in her heart and soul by the love that she felt coming from her mate. She wanted to feel the passion burning in her veins, to shiver at their slightest touch, to melt under their gaze. She promised herself she wouldnt settle for anything less and thus far had not found her true love. Sometimes it saddened her to think she would find such a thing didnt exist, but her heart kept the hope in her soul alive.
The horses carried them faster to the castle and with each passing mile Erin felt her stomach tighten. Her palms began to sweat and she became more and more anxious. She didnt know if she were running to destiny or danger but at the moment neither felt at all good. Shea reached over and laid a hand on Erins leg causing her to start. "Damn Shea," she hissed "ya near scared me to death."
The older redhead looked curiously at her striking niece noticing that the girl appeared ready to bolt from the carriage. "Steady there lass," she said calmly, "ya want ta be telling me whats got ya looking so nervous, na ta mention that ya never curse, at least na at me," tilting her head and focusing caring blue eyes on her younger charge she waited for an answer.
"Somethings out there Shea. Im na certain what it is but I ave a feeling its going ta change us," she answered gravely. "I feel it, right ere," pointing to her chest.
"So yer a seer now are ya?" she playfully commented hoping to lighten the mood. Seeing her niece was not in a mood to be lighthearted "Lass the world be changing all around us at all times, tis normal I think fer ya ta feel a bit wrought-up about the whole thing."
Erin turned away and once again stared out the window. Soon the sound of voices floated through the air. Shouting heard in the distance as they traveled faster toward the castle. Erin noticed people wandering along the roadside all heading to the same destination. As the crowd of people became a bit thicker she could see the city walls looming ahead of them.
The guardsmen with them rode ahead, moving faster to clear the way for the carriage. Erin saw a small figure jump out of the way of the lead horseman just in time. Unfortunately they landed on their backside in the mud. She would have laughed if the tiny person hadnt jumped to their feet and started after the large beasts in what she guessed was a fit of anger. Not that one could blame them.
A large man grabbed hold of the feisty youngster and held them tight against his chest. Massive arms wrapped around their middle leaning down whispering unheard words. Erin looked closely at the smaller peasant as the carriage pulled even with the pair. Fiery green eyes met hers and Erin felt her heart stop for an instant. Her breath caught in her chest and her head spun slightly. In that instant she was sure those emerald eyes had seen clear through to her soul. The intensity of the gaze caused a shiver down her spine and in less then a heartbeat it was gone. She drew a shaky breath into her starved lungs and laid her hand on her stomach hoping to settle the tiny quivering there. She looked to Shea to see if she had felt any of the intensity she had just experienced, only to find the older woman looking disinterestedly out her own window. Erin sat back quietly and tried to quell her jumbled feelings. She closed her eyes in an attempt to relax but green eyes lit with fire were all that stared back at her.
After slowly making its way past the crowds of people the carriage finally came to rest in the courtyard of the castle. Footmen quickly ran out to assist the ladies from the carriage and the bags and trunks were rushed off to their rooms. It seemed the whole world had erupted in a whirlwind of activity. People were rushing about making ready for the festival. Erins first good look at the place that would be her home for the next few weeks was while she stood in the giant entrance. Ornate wall hangings and brass sconces filled the hall. It was very richly decorated and left her feeling more then a little out of place. They stood patiently waiting while a servant, the chatelaine she guessed, ordered other servants about and made their rooms ready. Finally the thin weary man turned to them.
"Im so sorry to keep you waiting MLadys but you werent expected to arrive until later this evening," the man stated slightly annoyed. "If youll follow me Ill get you settled into your rooms and send up the maids to tend to you," with that said, he started for the massive staircase leading to the higher reaches of the castle. He was stopped from his progress as Erin laid her hand gently on his arm. He turned to see what his guest was wanting already, thinking she was going to start issuing orders as the other noblewomen had done.
Erin gave the man a brilliant genuine smile, her eyes showing true caring for his predicament "Im truly sorry sir that weve upset yer day. I very much appreciate yer takin the time ta personally see ta us. If it wouldna be ta much trouble," she continued sweetly "can I ask yer name?"
The older man was taken aback by the politeness of the beautiful young woman and looking into her earnest face with her dancing blue eyes he relaxed a bit and smiled slightly at her. "MLady, my name is Harold Harold James."
Erin took his hand and still holding his gaze with gentle blue eyes she introduced herself. "Im Erin McGorry, this is my Aunt Shea McGorry. And I would like it very much if ya would call me Erin. In present company o course I know ya canna be so informal in noble company."
Harold was truly intrigued by the young Irish woman. He smiled fully at her and agreed that it would be an honor to call her by her given name. Feeling much more energetic and more lighthearted he lead the women to their rooms. Asking the maids to take special care of these two guests. He left them to get settled in. He had a feeling that the next few weeks wouldnt be so bad as long as Erin McGorry was around to smile at him.
The sky had started to lighten indicating dawns arrival when Mika finally found her way back to camp. More then a little drunk she staggered between the wagons trying to remember which one was hers. She almost tripped over one of the camps dogs as she came around another wagon. Raising her finger to her lips." Shhhhhhh," she slurred, not wanting the dog to alert anyone to her presence. All Id need now is for Daj to find me stumbling around out here drunk and smelling like a cheap whore. "Ah Ha! I found it, see I knew I left this wagon somewhere around here," she mumbled to herself and reached up to open the door only to find it locked. She tried the door again hoping that maybe she just didnt turn the handle right the first time, which was what was passing for reason in her drunken mind it still didnt open. Damn Daj is going to kill me. Thoughts of her impending death at her Mothers hand were quickly pushed aside as the need for sleep became an issue. She managed to stagger to the side of the wagon before she tripped over the water barrel and landed on the ground. She lay on her back, eyes closed as the world spun around her; the last thoughts were a jumble of bitter ale, a soft female form and sky blue eyes.
Mikas warm, dark world came abruptly to an icy end when her Mother tossed a full bucket of cold rainwater in her face. She sat up quickly, her first mistake she realized, feeling her head try to explode from her shoulders and her stomach suddenly rebel. She opened her eyes to see what had caused her to be so cruelly pulled from slumber. Her second mistake she noted. The sun was high in the sky and the bright light set off a series of explosions in her ale soaked brain sending a white-hot pain through her temples. Oh this is not going to be a good day. When she was finally able to focus she looked up from her position on the ground to see her Daj standing over her, hands on her hips, not looking at all pleased to see her only child. Yup, not going to be a good day at all. She groaned to herself.
Mala looked down at her semi sober daughter and could still smell the ale on her and noted the disheveled appearance. She glared at her blond child clearly conveying her ire at this situation. "Mikayla," her Mother said in a not so gentle voice. Although to Mika it sounded far louder then it was. "Do you want to tell just where you were all night?" Mika opened her mouth to answer but was cut off. "No! Dont answer that; spare me the details of your debauchery. Just tell me Ill not have an angry father chasing you around the camp with a pitchfork!" Mala demanded.
Mika shook her head to indicate this would not be a problem. This would be her third mistake of an already miserable morning; the action caused her head to pound harder. Oh Dev take me now, she pleaded; death would be much less painful. Why does she have to yell so loud? Mika was positive the nobles in the castle could hear her mothers ranting.
Mala was not the least bit sympathetic to her childs plight. "You stay out all night long causing me no end of worry. Then drag yourself back here in this disgraceful state and promptly pass out on the wet ground," she continued her chastisement. "We talked about this Mikayla, you are the Kapos niece this is not the proper behavior for one in your position," looking at her now pale daughter. "Well, are you going to say something or do you intend to just sit there on the wet ground staring at me like an idiot?" again Mika opened her mouth to answer and again she was cut off. "Never mind, whatever you have to say will not make up for this mess. Go get yourself cleaned up and dont be slow about it. Then I want you to find your Uncle and help him with the animals."
Mika staggered to her feet and set off to do as she was told feeling very lucky that her Daj had not just beaten her to death as she slept. She only weaved a slight bit as she made her way into the wagon. Mala stared after her wayward child. I dont even want to know how she managed to put her breeches on inside out.
"Shes so much like her Father," Mala sighed settling herself beside her Mother.
"If you mean shes stubborn, headstrong and careless then yes, shes just like that man," Nadja threw at her daughter.
"I thought those were the things you liked best in Mikayla?" Mala laughed. "I was actually referring to her ability to charm the skin off a snake."
"He was a charming man Ill give you that and Im glad she took after his fair looks. Itll make things easier on her in this life," the old womans dark eyes twinkled with mirth. "Of course you dont have to worry that her charm and beauty will someday bring you an unexpected grandchild."
Mala laughed at her Mothers implication. "Daj you got over your disappointment about my mate the first time you saw that little bundle of blonde energy so dont try to make me feel guilty now."
"I hope someday that girl worries you as much as you did me," Nadja threatened.
"Oh my! Was that a real honest to goodness gypsy curse?"
"Hush up child and help me with this food," she said while gently tapping her daughters behind with a wooden spoon.
Erin stood looking out the window of her rooms. Wearing only her dressing gown and her hair tumbling wildly over her shoulder, having just arisen from her bed. Gazing intently at the gardens below letting her mind wander over the events of the last few days. While the journey had not been bad, sitting in that carriage bouncing along the deeply rutted road had left her a bit stiff this morning. King Edmunds chatelaine, Harold, was very good to care for them so well. Even though she and her Aunt had arrived early. Indeed things had gone very smoothly and she and Shea were settled quickly. The ladys maids that Harold had chosen to assign them were both very competent. Erin chuckled to herself as she thought about the two women and the events of last night.
Once she and Shea had been led to the rooms they were to share for the duration of their time at the court, the momentary peace they had was quickly ended with the arrival of the maids Harold had promised. Neither she nor Shea had ever really had use for ladys maid in the past so they really werent sure what to do with them.
The two women busied themselves from the moment they stepped into the chambers. They quickly unpacked the trunks, hung the gowns in the wardrobe and, made up the beds in each of the sleeping rooms. They never uttered a word to either Shea or herself in the whole time they stood there. They kept their heads down and never made eye contact of any sort. This bothered Erin while Shea looked on with a certain amusement playing in her face.
When finally one of them spoke it was the older woman ordering the young girl to the kitchen to obtain a light meal for Shea and herself. Shea looked to her and raised her delicate eyebrow in amusement. When the younger woman returned carrying a tray laden with food and a pitcher of cider. She and Shea looked to each other and when eyes met they silently agreed that this had to stop.
For Sheas part she hurried to the girl and promptly relieved her of the tray and told her to sit the pitcher on the table, while Erin made her way to the door and shut it tightly. The young maid looked up at the two noble women her eyes glistening with tears for fear she had angered them. The older woman turned quickly at the sound of Sheas voice and the door being closed. Her thoughts seem to mirror her younger companions.
Erin donned the same brilliant smile she had used when she met Harold directing it at both women. Seeing this the women relaxed a bit. "Before ya work yerselves into a right fine tizzy, I was thinking that it might be proper ta introduce ourselves seein as were going ta be spending a fair bit o time with ya," Erin explained, ignoring the shocked looks on the maids faces. "Im Erin and that redheaded she demon oer there would be Shea," she continued, winking saucily at Sheas outraged look. The women stood completely still looking at both the noble women like theyd sprouted wings.
Shea stepped forward and took the older womans hand in her own." Tis nice ta meet ya and its only proper that ya give yer names so we know what well be callin ya," the tall redhead chuckled.
The touch brought the woman out of her shocked trance and she managed to stutter a response. "Mmme name is Milly MLady and that youngun over there is called Pippa."
Shea stood back and observed the women. Milly was older by more than a few years. Her once brown hair had ample gray streaking through it. She wasnt a tall woman but average, and was probably very pretty in her youth but the passing years and a harsh life had aged her. Shea noticed her eyes though and while the woman may not have looked or sounded like she was intelligent, her deep brown eyes shone bright with wisdom and kindness. Shea liked that, figuring she and Erin could use a friend or two here. The younger woman Pippa was another matter. Again not overly tall but medium with blondish hair and mischievous gray eyes. At least Shea thought they could hold some mischief if she didnt look terrified at the moment. But the girls attributes didnt end there; this young woman was blessed with a very fine figure.
"Well Milly, Pippa," Erin addressed the women, "I know ya are na supposed ta talk ta while performin yer duties, but I wasna raised ta ignore those in my service so yer just going ta ave at get used ta talkin with the likes o us," she left no room for doubt that she meant what she said. "Besides," Erin grinned wickedly at the women, "Im na stupid, I know who as the best gossip when it comes ta a castle."
The women relaxed a bit; seeing that Erin and Shea were not going to berate them and even chuckled at Erins comment. Pippa seemed to calm much more than Milly had and took a chance looking directly into Erins bright blue eyes and saw only a genuine caring reflected there. So taking a risk, she took Erins hand in hers "Its a pleasure to meet you Lady Erin. Harold said you werent like the other ladies we been seein to but you cant be to careful," the young womans words rushed out.
"Those "ladies" and well be usin that term loosely," Shea laughed, "May ave been born o noble blood but that dona make them anyones betters. My niece and I were born o that same class but were na taught that we were better, just that we ad more responsibilities. Ere in this place Erin and myself will na be looked upon any better then ya are, ya can trust me on that. What those snobs will see is two woman born o a low rankin Lord in some back water country that most o them ave never eard tale o," she smiled softly at the women. "What we need ere are people o our own that we can be comfortable with and na be puttin on any airs. Im hopin that yer going ta count yerselves among those people."
"What Shea means is that were going ta be friends, Ill na treat ya like a servant and I dona wish to be treated like yer better," she smiled at the ladies who were now smiling back and nodding. "So, now that we ave that all settled why don we sit ourselves down and chat while we all ave some o this wonderful meal," she waved the maids over to the table and they spent the next several hours learning about the workings of the castle. They even gained some insight into the other ladies they would be spending time with. This information made both Erin and Shea curse Lord Aidan again . for sending them there.
Once Mika made it into the wagon she quickly stripped off her clothes, well as quickly as she could considering her breeches were on inside out. Boy I wish I could remember how that happened. She sat down on the edge of her cot and tried to recall the night before. Not an easy feat she decided. Her head was pounding in time with her heart and the thought of food sent her stomach rolling. Pushing that aside she did remember bits and pieces. A woman.
Big surprise there, her conscience snorted indignantly.
Shut up. And money there was defiantly some money. She concentrated very hard on where she thought her drunken mind might have put the money.
Probably down the blouse of that blonde who was on your lap most of the night. Her nagging conscience echoed again.
Ha! Mika answered the voice. A lot you know, I would never be THAT free with money. No I must have stashed it some place. With that thought she checked through her pockets and sure enough there were several gold coins in the hidden pocket of her breeches.
You got lucky, the annoying voice said disinterestedly.
She ignored the comment and readied herself for what was sure to be a very painful day.
Mika walked slowly over to the pens where her Nano Luca was talking with the trainers and handlers. They knew there would be a market here for some of the horses they had brought with them. No one could train animals like the Romany and her clan was the best. Besides the other livestock they had for personal use, there were a few animals that were specifically trained and used for shows and such. They had a couple of monkeys, acquired from a traveling circus, trained to entertain the crowds and collect coins. A few dogs that could do flips and jump through hoops of fire. But the biggest draw they had was a full-grown bear named Taimo.
The crowds loved seeing the bear and sometimes would pay extra to see one of the men of the clan wrestle with him. What the people didnt know was that Taimo, while truly frightening to look at, had been raised by her Nano Luca, from a cub. The huge bear was more a pet than a wild beast and often times would sleep in the wagon with Luca; because the over grown carpet was deathly afraid of thunderstorms.
Nothing the Romany did to make their living was ever as it seemed. The shows were rigged, like with Taimo. The horses they sold were always ones they had planned to get rid of anyway. The instruments they sold to other musicians, who admired the quality and sound of the Romanys craftsmanship, were never of the same richness and tone of the ones the Romany used. And most often were not made to last yet sold at very high prices. The old women would read cards and tea leaves to tell fortunes for the non-Romany customers and although very convincing, they were nothing but showmanship. Most of the cures, potions and talismans that were sold to ward off evil or grant blessings were nothing but bits of metal and wood thrown together. But when the women would expound on the "magic" within these things the people would gladly pay the prices for them. The only thing that was completely honest about what the Romany did, was that at times someone would come to them in need of healing with no other place to go. In those times they did not use tricks or try to make a bit of coin. They gave their best to help and often time did so at their own expense.
Luca looked up to see his niece making her way to the pens. He noted the slight sway in her step and pained look on her usually beautiful face and smiled to himself. Wonder what Mala thought about Mikas condition this morning. He had lost sight of the young woman early in the evening after she had won more than a few coins from some of the traveling musicians outside of a pub. That would teach them to think a girl could not play cards like a man. She looks as though she found some use for that gold. He mused. Grinning evilly he made the decision to play a good game of "torture Mika." A game he loved to play especially when he knew she was miserable and grumpy. "Hey little one!" he yelled louder than was necessary. He saw her grimace and his smile widened. He walked over to her quickly and in one motion picked her up off the ground in a massive hug and swung her in circles. Then he dropped her to the ground and laughed. "Have a good time last night?" he said, smacking her on the back.
Mika looked up at the man and glared. At least she hoped it was a glare, at the moment her eyes refused to cooperate with her wishes. "You are a very evil man Nano, you do know that right?" she hissed. "Im dying here and you are having fun at my expense," she made her way to a hay bail and stretched out on it. "Bad man. Very bad man," she pouted.
Luca was probably one of the few men who could ignore that pout, so he continued his plan to add to her suffering. "You know what you need?" He questioned playfully. Not waiting for her to respond. "You need a big bowl of oats, with thick warm cream. Oh and some of that salted pork we had this morning, it was a bit greasy but it wasnt bad," he chuckled as he watched the girl turn green.
The man is evil and must be destroyed. She thought trying to keep her stomach from revolting. Wish I had the energy right now to put him in his place. "I think Ill skip it thanks Luca," she swallowed heavily. "Oh and," she continued "Ill remember this when next I see you in this condition. Never fear Ill repay this kindness," she threatened. Groaning she got to her feet and set off to help with the chores.
"Hey, you know youre my favorite niece," Luca teased. Mikas answer was another glare. "Ok youre my only niece but youre still my favorite. Now tell me how much you won from those arrogant musicians in cards last night and just where did you disappear to?" he asked as he ran to catch up with her.
Hey I played cards last night, another piece of the puzzle falls into place. She thought happily.
You shouldnt have to fit your memory back together like a puzzle little girl. Her conscience quipped.
I thought I told you to shut up. She retorted.
Well you keep answering so I keep talking. The annoying voice laughed.
I think the ale damaged my brain. Im actually arguing with a voice in my head. I think I might just be insane. She concluded.
Youre probably right. The voice agreed.
Mika shook her head and concentrated on what her Nano was saying valiantly ignoring the ramblings in her brain.
"Hey, are you going to tell me what you were up to last night or do I have to continue my plan to torture it out of you?" Luca asked. At his prompting Mika told her Uncle what she could remember about her night. Including how her Mother had found her this morning and the wet wake up call shed received. Luca was doubled over laughing. "She threw a whole bucket of water on you?" Mika nodded which made him laugh all the harder. "I cant believe she let you out of her sight today."
"I think the last thing Daj wants right now is any sight of me," Mika laughed. The two of them worked together to settle the animals and set up the stages that would be used to entertain the crowds later. Mika eventually managed to sweat the last of the alcohol out of her system and by lunchtime was starved. So the pair headed out to find some delicacy in the market square.
Shea wandered into the sitting room she and Erin shared, later in the morning, to see her niece already up and dressed. "Are ya ready to meet the Princess today my girl?" she asked, settling herself at the table.
"Na really, but then ya already knew that Shea. I would much rather be goin out and seein what there is ta see in the square," she confessed, an excitement shining in her bright blue eyes.
"Erin..." the beautiful redhead warned. "Yer na ere ta wander about avin yerself an adventure so get that thought right out o yer pretty head," Shea said sternly. She knew that if Erin really wanted to, she would leave the castle and there would be nothing she could do to stop her.
Erins answer was cut off by the arrival of the maids. Milly, the older of the women had taken a real liking to these two beautiful ladies and had vowed that she would do what she could to see they were well cared for. They had reminded her of daughters she would have liked to have had. The sharp brown eyes quickly scanned the room looking for anything out of place then turned to look at her new friends. She noticed that Sheas normally smiling face was clouded and her lips were held tight in a frown. She turned to see that Erin was also not in what would seem, a bright mood. "Okay you two, what would be your problem this morning?" Milly asked warmly.
The noble women looked to the smaller maid and both smiled. It seemed that they were indeed going to be friends, and Milly had taken on a very motherly tone with them. Not being able to resist Shea complained. "It would seem that our darlin lass oer there as decided that it might be nice ta take erself a stroll out in the square," squaring her shoulders she waited for Erin to respond.
Erin straightened to her full height and turned to the women. "I never said I would be goin I just said I would like ta see what there may be ta see," she responded in exasperation. Ok na completely true. I do want ta see, I do want ta get out o here and be with the people.
"Well ya canna so get the thought out o yer head," Shea demanded. "Its na safe fer ya ta be goin about alone Erin. This is na like home," she looked to Milly, her eyes pleading with the older woman to back her up.
"Lady Erin, your Aunt is right. It would not be proper for you to leave the castle unescorted. There are to many worldly types out there who would think nothing of takin advantage of a young woman like yourself," Milly agreed. "Why just last night young Pippa over there fell pray to the charms of one of those rogues," she added playfully, winking at her companion and causing the young woman to blush.
"Oh Pippa!" Erin said concerned. "Ya were na injured were ya?" She rushed to the younger womans side to offer comfort.
Pippa glared at the older maid, and then sighing she looked to Erin to calm her concerns. " I didnt fall prey to anyone Lady Erin I believe it was a mutual arrangement," she smiled softly, leaving Erin looking a bit confused.
Shea saw the play between the women and laughed. "Well lass tell us, was it a true rogue or just some dandy avin a bit o fun? Details girl, details. We are stuck ere where there will be no fun ta be ad so ya must lets us live through ya fer a time," she said mischief gleaming in her eyes. Shea had seen the way young Pippa had looked at Erin the night before, with more than a bit of interest. She knew that most likely whatever experience the girl had the previous night would be something that would, if nothing else, broaden Erins horizons a bit.
Pippa chuckled at the Ladys outburst. "Well a rogue, most probably, seein as how it was one of the gypsies that found their way into the city," she grinned. "Mmmm but charming and beautiful she was," the girl added with a wistful smile playing over her lips.
"That didnt look like any gypsy Ive ever seen girl." Milly noted. "Them people are dark and this one was as fair as you and I. Are you sure you werent just havin your leg pulled?"
Erin stood back from the women lost in her own thoughts. She wasnt stupid she had known there were such relations between women but she had never thought she would truly know anyone who had that preference. What shocked her most was that she found herself curious about that kind of situation. I wonder what brings one ta know they ave feelins fer another female. I know I ave never been in a place to find such things o interest. But then, I dona seem to take an interest in anyone. She sighed to herself.
Shea watched Erin as she thought over the revelation they had just heard. She saw the emotions pass across the young womans face from confusion to interest and finally settling on what looked to Shea as a bit of sadness. I ad expected her ta be a bit more shocked. Perhaps my niece does na find such relations ta be unusual or unnatural. Hmmmm interesting. She mused. "Gypsies in the city ya say Pippa? Well that should make fer an interesting festival ta be sure. So do ya plan on seein yer fair gypsy again?" she teased the young maid.
Pippa laughed and relaxed feeling the acceptance coming from the two ladies who had fast become friends. "I dont think this gypsy is the settling kind MLady and I dont really want to settle myself. Was just a bit of fun. I doubt well ever meet again," she said cheerfully. "But I wouldnt say no if she were to call again," the young woman added with a wink.
The woman laughed "Its probably fer the best then little one, you dona need some wild, young rogue run in and out o yer life. No matter how beautiful or how ummm talented they may be," Shea commented adding a wicked grin, wiggling her raised eyebrows suggestively. "I suppose we ave ta make ready to meet with the other women. If ya would be so kind as ta give us a hand we could be quick about it," Shea said to get the women moving so the day could begin.
Erin watched the women as the all made ready. The image of a fair gypsy running wild among the hills of her home with bright green eyes dancing with laughter. She shook herself out of her musings and joined the women who were waiting for her.
Erin arrived in the sitting room where she was to meet the princess only to find she was late; the other ladies were already in attendance. Taking a deep breath she steadied herself and walked into the room, head held high. Her keen blue eyes sought out the princess and seeing her sitting on the window seat and she made her way over to introduce herself. With a deep curtsy she looked up and addressed the young woman. "Princess Fay, Im Erin McGorry o McGorry Glen," she stammered a bit breathless.
The muddy brown eyes of the Princess looked Erin over with a measured amount of distain. "I know very well who you are Lady Erin," she said snidely. Then looking to the other women in her court "Looks like well have to arrange to have Lady Erin stand behind us for the festivities for she will surely block any view we might have." The women laughed and agreed. "You may take a place over there," she dismissed Erin with a wave.
Erin was both hurt and angered at the young womans careless comment. I will na let her get to me! I will na let her get to me! She chanted to herself. Taking the time to calm herself she studied the other women, beside her on the settee, was a mousy woman who looked to be younger than Erin by at least a couple of years. Next to her, seated at the feet of Princess Fay, was a blond girl with hawkish features. On the other side of the Princess were two other women both younger than Erin; they seemed to be closest to the Princess as far as compatriots. Neither were raving beauties but average. I guess Ill be introduced to them another time.
She listened to the young women talk about the festival hoping to hear of something that may interest her to take part in. But they only spoke of the numerous balls and parties that would take place, and the eligible men that would be attending. None of this was of interest to Erin, so she sat back and observed them all together in hopes that she could find a way to fit into this little crowd. After what seemed like an impossible amount of time she noted two main things. First, when the Princess said anything all the other women agreed. Whether she was right or wrong, no one challenged her. Her second observation was more painful. Often the Princess would address the women either all together or in turn and never once did she directly address Erin at all. She simply ignored that the beautiful, raven-haired woman was in the room. She was beginning to feel very alone among these people.
Erin managed to keep a cool head for another hour of being ignored before she could take no more and spoke up. "Excuse me Princess Fay, but will we na be goin into the city at all durin the festival?" she questioned, smiling sweetly at the girl. The other women turned and looked at her with outraged looks. For what, Erin didnt know.
The Princess rose to her feet and stormed over to where Erin was seated. "Did I give you permission to speak to me!" the smallish girl yelled. "Do you want to know why youre here Lady Erin?" she questioned venomously. "I didnt choose you to be here to keep me company. You are nothing but a backwater interloper as far as Im concerned and I am forced to keep company with you. You should be thrilled that we even allow you to sit here. So Ill not have you question me or anything I plan to do," she was screeching in Erins face getting nose to nose with her. "You are a charity case as my Mother calls it. Trying to show you a little culture and introduce you to the ways of proper society and Ill not have you bringing your heathen ways into my court," the young woman ended her tirade and stomped back to her seat. Met there by her other friends who offered her comfort for having been so rudely questioned by this foreign barbarian.
Erin was shocked that her innocent question had elicited such a vile response. She tried to sink back further into the furniture hoping to avoid any further embarrassment. She must ave been harboring all these things fer weeks. Ive been forced on er as much as shes been forced on me. Only I dona know which o us I feel sorrier fer right now. I canna hide forever and I willna be berated for askin simple questions. Whether she likes it or na I am ere so shes going to deal with the likes o me. Erin finished her silent pep talk feeling a bit better about the situation. Her tender heart still ached from the harsh words. But her temper was rising and that made her feel more in control.
It seemed to Erin that these ninnies could spend hours talking about fashion and other such frivolity. It was clear to her at this time there wasnt a working brain between them. The whole lot o them are nothin but sniping harpies. Oh look, the lead harpy is giving me evil looks I wonder what Ive done now. Erin thought knowing she was being petty but not caring. She had spent her time coming up with names for each of the other women, ones she was sure they would not appreciate. Lets see theres the Mouse, all shy and timid but scavenging fer leftovers, in this case, left over attention. And we ave Hawk, if only er wit were as sharp as er nose. Erin chuckled to herself. Oh and lets na forget the dance team o scheming and patronizing. They ave their act down well and only someone as stupid as this spoiled little Princess would buy the shallowness o it all. She knew she wasnt being charitable but then none of these women had even made an effort to know her so she really couldnt bring herself to feel bad.
The afternoon crawled by and Erin found herself thinking of ways to escape by the time their lunch arrived. A very young serving girl came into the parlor carrying a tray laden with goodies. As with the maids, Milly and Pippa, the night before, Erin noticed the girl kept her head down and never met anyone eye to eye. She went about serving their tea, first to the Princess who in turn directed her to serve the other ladies.
"Lady Erin can wait till youve finished serving us," Princess Fay told the girl glaring at Erin waiting for her to challenge the direction. Erin just smiled sweetly, which made the Princess turn red with anger.
As directed the young girl served Erin last. As she handed the tea to the tall woman the girl glanced up and Erin winked at her show her it was all right. She was rewarded with a small smile.
Across the room the Princess watched this interaction. "Lady Erin!" her screeching voice made Erins skin crawl. "I dont know nor do I care how you conduct yourself with the servants in your home but here you do not get familiar with those who are beneath your station. Of course I can see why you would feel akin to some one of peasant quality being barely a step above that yourself," the arrogant woman finished berating the Irish lady.
The young girl cringed and in her haste to leave the room dropped the teapot sending it to the floor. The princess was up at once barreling down on the young peasant girl. She raised her hand to deliver a blow to the childs face for her accident, but was stopped when a larger hand took hold of her wrist. Erin stood to all of her almost 6 foot height, her face set in anger, her jaw clenched, mouth held in a grim line. "I ave taken all Im going ta be taking from the likes o you today," she hissed. "I willna sit by while ya entertain yerself at my expense nor will I let ya take yer anger out on someone who is na deserving o it. So ya best be sittin yerself down and leave the child be," her ire fully visible. "Or yer goin ta see what a barbarian like myself can truly do when they get angry," Erin finish, glaring at the now ashen Princess.
"Get Out! Ill be telling my Father you threatened me and you are going to be sorry!"
"Ill be more then glad ta leave ya and ya go right ahead and tell yer Father what Ive done ere," Erin retorted. "Ill be glad ta ave a chat with the King myself about the hospitality afforded me by is child. Im sure ell be greatly interested in knowin that is only daughter canna bring erself ta respect the very people e governs," Erin knew that the last remark would end any further action by the spoiled Princess. So with that said she turned and left the stunned ladies staring after her.
Erin closed the door and turned to find the young girl in the hall waiting for her. "MLady you didnt have ta do that. Now theyll be mad at you too," she said to Erin tears shimmering in her eyes.
Erin laid an arm across the little girls shoulders. "Dona worry yerself about that. Ya actually did me a favor, Ive been looking fer a way out o that room fer hours," she laughed. "Now dry yer eyes and get yerself where ya belong before someone else comes looking ta get us in trouble. Seems I ave enough o that all on my own." Erin sent the girl on her way then turned to find her rooms and settle in for a good cry. Under her breath she again cursed her Father for being in this place.
The young servant girl rushed along the halls winding her way back to the kitchen and ran directly into Harold James the chatelaine who was talking with Milly. "Whoa there little one wheres the fire?" the older maid snorted.
"Oh Miss Milly it was terrible," the girl cried, throwing her arms around the gentle woman. Milly looked up at Harold raising an eyebrow in question. To which he just shrugged.
"Now tell me whats so bad," Milly said gently, pulling the girl away from her looking into her tear stained face. The young girl related the events between sniffles. Telling of how mean the Princess had been about Erins being served and then onto the dark beautiful lady winking at her to make her feel better about the slight. She continued through the whole sorted mess after the teapot had been dropped.
"I was so scared," the girl recounted. "But the Lady took right a hold of Princess Fay and wouldnt let her strike me," she sniffed again. "The Princess told her to get out and they had words again. But she did leave." The child smiled retelling the next part. "She actually touched me and told me she was thankful for havin an excuse to leave. Why arent all Ladies like her Milly?" the child questioned. "I liked her. She was so nice and shes so much prettier then the others."
Milly and Harold laughed agreeing with her observations. "Lady Erin is one of a kind Im afraid little one," Harold told her. "You want to know how a true lady should act, you watch that one. Everything she does is out of caring and compassion."
Milly nodded agreeing with him. The three of them set off to the kitchens and by that evening the tale of Erins kindness and her treatment by the Princess was spread throughout the castle. Erins status among the nobles may not have been very high but her defense of an innocent child had raised her very high among the peasants. Every one of them vowed to pay special attention to the beautiful Irish noblewoman.
Mika wandered the market square most of the afternoon. Looks a lot different then it did last night.
Youre just seeing it through sober eyes. The voice said offhanded.
Im going to ignore you now. Her mind hissed at the annoying voice that was beginning to sound a lot like Luca she noticed.
You can try. It replied in a singsong voice.
She walked along the crowded alleys between the vendors with her bright green eyes taking in all the activity. She noted where every guard stood and what routes they patrolled. She watched the more lucrative merchants and how they did their business. She paid special attention to the more wealthy citizens, observing habits and the things they were most likely to stop and purchase. All of this was useful for any later game or chance to make a little coin. It was one of the things Mika was best at. Scouting the crowd.
As the sun hung lower in the sky she made her way back to the camp. Listing off the props she would need later in the market place. When the entertainers begin again after the evening meal there should be a greater amount of people. Ill start over by our own stages. Once the music and dancers start no one will pay any attention to little ole me. She grinned wickedly. I saw a lot of easy marks today. Most of the merchants were so busy they would barely need another distraction to keep their eyes turned from me while I relieve them of a few of their goods. If all goes well I could have a good amount of coin and more then a little merchandise for my trouble. Then I could see about having a good time of my own. She chuckled to herself.
Lets not forget what a good time you had last night. The voice reminded.
Okay you really need to shut up. I know what Im doing and there wont be another replay of last night. She replied irritated.
Hey Im just warning you, Daj will not be happy if you return in that state again. She might just actually kill you the next time.
Mika winced at the thought of facing another morning in that condition with her Mother yelling. Yea, youre right, dont want to repeat that any time soon. She sighed.
Im always right. The voice laughed.
"Oh shut up!" she said aloud making people look at her strangely.
After returning to camp Mika found her Daj and busied herself helping with the meal while Mala watched her child noting she seemed to have recovered from her night. "What are your plans tonight my little one?" her mother asked.
Mika looked up at her Mother and smiled. "I think Ill scout out the crowd by the dancers for a bit." Mala was never very happy about her daughters escapades when it came to making money so she didnt want her Daj to worry. "Are you going to be with Grandmother at the wagon?" knowing where Mala would be would be a handy bit of information. Especially if I want to avoid her.
"Seems it didnt take long for the people to notice we were here, so yes well be entertaining them with readings tonight," Mala answered. The Romany were very often sought after to read fortunes. "Looks like many of these people are anxious to know their futures," she said using her mystical stage voice.
Mika laughed at her Mothers antics. "Well make it good for them. Dont want anyone depressed. They dont spend money if theyre depressed."
Mala walked up behind her blond child wrapping her arms about her shoulders. "I can tell your future little one, no cost," she whispered. "If you show up drunk again tonight, you wont have a future," she released her child and walked away laughing.
Mika rolled her eyes. Like Im going to have time to get stinkin drunk again tonight. She then set off to find her Nanos and help with any last minute preparations.
The music had begun winding its way around the crowd drawing them into the melody. Light and playful but filled with passion. The dancers started to sway and move to the provocative beat with the colors and sounds rich and vibrant lending an exotic feel to the performance. Mika watched as the crowd became entranced by the spectacle. Gets them every time. She chuckled. Well guess its time to make a living. And she set off among the throngs of people searching out her targets for the evening.
Erin had gone directly to her room after the fiasco with the Princess. She was so angry she considered packing and leaving immediately, her fathers wishes be damned. Instead she sat on her bed and allowed all her feelings of loneliness to wash over her. When Shea came in sometime later, after hearing from Milly about the events of the day, she found Erin curled up on the bed asleep.
She gently shook the young woman to rouse her from her slumber. "Come now my little one, wake up," she said softly. Erins blue eyes flickered then opened. "There now let me see my beautiful girl." Erin sat up and looked at her Aunt. Shea noticed the red and swollen eyes. Damn wenches! She wrapped her arms tight around the younger woman and held her. "I dare say lass, ya may na have made a good impression on the Princess, but ya did make a good many friends among the staff ere. Yer all they been talkin about this evening," she said lightly.
Erin blushed "Not exactly doin honor to my Fathers good name am I Shea?" Erin sighed.
"Ya think yer Da would want ya ta put up with that kind o treatment. Nay lass e raised ya ta be respected na ta be anyones carpet. Ya did good!" Her Aunt complimented. "Now seein as ya ave made yerself a wonderful excuse na ta ave ta be at dinner this eve. Why don ya lay yerself back down and rest. Milly promised ta bring ya up a tray later."
"That sounds like a great idea," she smiled. "I think the day took it out o me and I am a wee bit tired," she groaned as she lay back on the bed. Watching Shea as the older woman made herself ready to go down for the meal.
After a time Shea left the room thinking Erin to be asleep. The minute the door closed Erin rose from her bed and went to the wardrobe to find something suitable to wear among the people in the square. I may as well see the sights as we may na be ere come morning if the Princess as er way about things. She justified. Shea will get ore it if Im still gone when she returns. At least I hope she will. Finally ready, she quietly left her rooms and headed to the servants entrance and made good her escape.
Erin dressed as she had back in McGorry Glen. A simple frock of a pale blue that set off her eyes and fit snuggly in the right spots but modest in its design. Dark hair pulled back from her face and left hanging down her back. She wore nothing that would show that she was anything but a normal citizen. She did take a small purse with a few coins in case she might see something of interest or feel the need to purchase a snack, having skipped her dinner.
She wandered the narrow streets taking in the sights and sounds of the festivities. Music of different types came from all directions assaulting her senses. She felt the tingle of excitement as she lost herself in this strange new world, with all its diversity. From the laughter of the people as they passed by to the chatter of the performers on the stages to the tantalizing aroma of various foods wafted through the air adding a combination of both spicy and sweet. Rich and poor mingled together one paying no mind to the other as they all enjoyed the atmosphere and wonder of the spectacles before them. For the first time in weeks she felt truly happy and reveled in her new freedom.
She pushed on further, away from the castle, away from the snipping Princess and the snobbish nobles. Determined to see as much as she could for fear she would never again be allowed this chance at freedom, she walked faster and father. As she drew nearer to the edge of the city markets she was lured by a melody, sweetly caressing her senses. The strains of a violin and the beat of a drum mixed with the sounds of other instruments she could not identify adding an exotic forbidden feel to the tune. Carefully she approached a smallish stage and easing between the crowds who were also entranced by the music, she watch as the women on the stage danced and moved enticingly to the passionate beats. The dancers were clad in colorful dresses, skirts twirling freely around their legs, blouses cut provocatively low. The Gypsies. She stood mesmerized, caught up in the spell they wove around the crowd. Having never seen a Gypsy clan before she was stunned by the raw sensuality of the people and the music. Whats it like to be livin that free?
She stood for a long time taking in the performance her attention only drawn away by a faint tingle spreading across the back of her neck. The anxious feeling she had known during the journey to the castle had taken hold of her. With her heart pounding and palms beginning to sweat she scanned the crowd hoping to find what caused the reaction. She finally caught sight of a figure moving away from the stage and heading down the narrow alleys. Once they were out of sight the feeling diminished. It canna be that simple. Curiosity getting the better of her she followed after the mysterious figure.
The tall woman made her way past the gathering crowds hoping to catch sight of the slight figure again. After spending a good deal of time searching she had still not spotted her quarry. They couldna ave just disappeared. Stopping by a merchants stand she shrank back away from the crowds gathering herself to continue her hunt. When a large man dressed in a lush velvet long coat trimmed in gold passed by her. The man was talking loudly, boasting to a small woman at his side about some business venture or another. Her eyes trailed after the man until he was several paces beyond her. Bored by his self-centered prattle she was about to turn her attention away when a small boy darted out between the booths and ran directly into the huge belly of the opulent gentleman, knocking the boy to the ground.
"Watch were youre going you miserable gutter rat!" the man bellowed, causing the crowd around him to gather closer trying to see what was the matter. It was then Erin spotted her elusive pray again. Ah Ha! There ya are. I knew I was na imaginin ya.
From her vantage point she could see the figure creep closer to the giant man, who was now relating the horrible deed done to him by this young boy. It was then She noticed the mysterious figure was actually a young woman. What is she doing? Erin watched the woman brush past the man and then slide back into the crowd. What was that about? Erin wondered, confused by the action but not about to lose sight of the girl again she followed behind keeping a fair distance between them. Shes a little thing fer sure. Definitely na dressed like the other peasant girls about ere she must be from the one o the outer villages. She continued to follow the young blond discreetly. The small woman had led her in what, to Erin, seemed like a big circle; ending them only a few paces behind the large man who was still expounding on the indignity hed suffered.
The young woman took off after the man calling out to him. Erin stopped to watch just a few steps behind them. The little blond was gesturing wildly with her hands obviously relating some great tale. Erin could only catch a few words. What is she talking about? What purse? I didnt see her find anything on the ground by him nor anywhere. It was then Erin saw the woman hand a rather impressive leather purse back to the stunned man. The man was flabbergasted and thanked the girl profusely for her honor and charity in returning it to him. Erin watched as the girl blushed prettily for the man. Curious she moved closer to hear what they were saying.
"Well dear Sir," the girl said shyly looking at her feet. "My sweet mother, may God rest her soul," she added wiping a tear from her eye. "Taught my brothers and I that kindness done would be kindness received," finishing a slight sniffle the young woman smiled weakly at the man.
Erin felt a slight tug in her heart at the young womans words. The poor wee thing.
The huge man laid a hand on the girl shoulder. "Well your dear Mother was right little one, and for your kindness I want you take these few pieces of gold for renewing my faith in human charity," he said genuinely.
Looking up at him in awe "Oh sir! I cant take your gold for doing what was only right."
He pressed the gold into her hand "You take this and get yourself and your brothers something nice."
"Thank you sir. Oh! Thank you," her innocent face flushed in embarrassment. Then she smiled at the completely charmed man. "Ill bring my brothers a good meal tonight," she told him, the man patted her should and turned to walk away.
Erin was struck dumb. Oh My God! Her brain screamed. Shes beautiful. That smile could light the darkest night. No wonder the loud, arrogant arse gave up is precious gold. I think I would give most anything if it were directed at me as well. She didnt dwell on her musings for long as she watched the young woman head off in a direction away from the booths. Well Ive followed er this far may as well see where this is goin to lead me. With that thought she set out after the woman again still maintaining a good distance.
For a bit Erin thought she had lost the beautiful blond again but from the corner of her eye she saw her duck into a shadowed alley behind the stages. Not wanting to be found out she crept slowly up to the side of one of the stages and stood back in the shadows. She hadnt been waiting long when she spotted a young boy come around the other corner and rush up to meet her blond. My blond she snorted, shaking her head at the thought. Hey! Thats the boy who ran into the man in the square. She watched from the shadow as the young woman took out a gold coin and handed it to the boy. Again she leaned in to hear what was being said.
"Did I do good Mika?" the boy questioned, looking up hopefully at the blond beauty.
The young woman laughed sending chills down Erins spine. What a beautiful sound, Erin thought.
"You did better than good, Ill make a Romany out of you yet," she teased, causing the young boy to blush. "Now take this coin and head back to camp its getting to late for you to be running around here. All kinds of rogues wandering about this time of night," she chuckled and grinned rakishly.
Romany! Oh My God shes a gypsy! This whole thing was naught but a scheme ta get that mans money! Why she must ave stolen is purse when she brushed against im. She played is sympathies and good nature. Erin was outraged. Why are ya so surprised Erin? Better still, why are ya angry fer something a stranger ta ya done? The girl means nothing ta ya and if she lives er life this way then so be it. If she gets erself caught its na yer troubles. The dark hair woman reasoned. But the thought of the young blond getting caught and imprisoned made her chest tighten. Not willing to question the feeling, she pushed it aside. I think Ill follow beind a while longer yet. All the while the nagging voice in her head questioned her reasons for doing so. She ignored it and when the little blond left she cautiously trailed after her.
If Erin thought the scam she had witnessed the young woman pull off with the wealthy mans purse was shocking, the things shed seen over the next couple hours made it seem tame and pale. I swear she as na a fear. Ive neer seen anyone act so boldly. Erin watched in awe. In the past hour she had seen this little rogue charm two more men out of some gold with her purse scam. At one point she stopped and actually purchased a couple bundles of fresh flowers. I ad hopes fer er maybe givin them to er Ma at that point. Again she would be shocked by what the brash young woman would do.
The attractive woman was dressed in a fancy gown and carried with er a large purse na well hidden at all. She ad made a show o stopping at the more expensive booths and turnin down the goods sayin she was looking fer something o better quality. My little blond rogue approached the woman almost timidly. Not at all er true character from what Ive seen. Erin smiled. She handed the flowers to the woman and gave er a smile so innocent ya wouldna think butter would melt in er mouth. O course the woman took the flowers and I thought just maybe the little minx was payin a kindness. Ha! Erin snorted. The line o blarney that came from that little gypsy would ave made an Irishman sing er praises. She complimented the lady on er beauty telling er that the flowers were naught compared ta the vision o loveliness beore er. And that she ad felt compelled ta give the flowers as a token fer brightening er day. Erin wasnt sure why but the comment had touched off a bit of her temper. The woman actually blushed and almost flirted back. Then much to my surprise she kissed my little fair-haired rake on the cheek. When they parted I couldna fer the life o me figure out why she ad don that. But it wasnt long after that I saw er countin some coin. I knew then she ad used the flowers as a diversion and reached er hand right into the womans purse while they stood there. The memory of the event still stunned Erin. O all the arrogant, careless things. Her mind sputtered. There were other things she witnessed that not only shocked her but intrigued her as well. The more she watched the little blond the more she wanted to see. So she continued following until way after full darkness had set in.
Mika had felt a presence just after she had relieved the rich merchant of some gold for the return of his purse. She surreptitiously scanned the crowds looking for her shadow. It didnt take her long to spot the tall raven haired woman who followed behind her at what she probably thought was a discreet distance. Only Romany could know if they were being watched, a smug smile gracing her features.
Shes probably a plant just waiting to catch you off guard and will haul you away to the dungeons. The annoying voice spoke up.
Ha! If thats a guardsman Im a bleedin prophet. No I spotted her to easily for her to be a guard. Mika quipped.
One look at a pretty face and youre willing to forgive anything. The voice snorted.
Oh shut up!
Mika led her shadow over half the market square in the following hours. Making sure the woman didnt lose sight of her for too long. If shes going to tag along I may as well have some fun with her Leading her mysterious "friend" to the flower vendor as she purchased the fragrant blossoms to use in her next scheme. Bet shes confused now. It didnt take long for her trained eye to spot a likely target and she led her pursuer to the attractive brunette she had selected. From the corner of her eye she could see the tall beauty creep a bit closer. Thats right honey come in closer so you can hear better.
Mika ran the scam just as she had done a thousand times before. First the compliment and shy bit of flirting and when the brunette responded to the advances she slid closer to her target, mentally making a check on her silent observer, Hmmm well well, my friend doesnt seem to like this plan. Wonder if its the line of bunk or the touching that caused that flash of anger? When her mark gently kissed her cheek she saw the frown grace the features of the raven-haired woman. Probably never seen women sharing intimacies, allowing a wicked grin. Oh this is going to be fun. And with that she set off to lead her dark huntress on a whole new adventure.
They approached the row of alehouses at the edge of the city; Mika looked them over thoughtfully. Ok now lets see, I think that one there looks like the best place to find a willing female companion. Outside the pub were several women watching the crowd pass by. Occasionally the women would burst out in laughter at some comment they would sling at the passing people. She walked up to the small pub adding a bit of a swagger to her step. Flashing the women a rakish grin she sidled up next to a pretty little blonde. "And how are you ladies this fine evening?" she asked the women leaving her grin in place.
The blonde at her side turned her body in towards Mikas solid form and ran her hand suggestively across the young Romanys firm abdomen. "Mmmm that would depend on ifn your planning to make it a fine night," the woman purred.
Mika casually checked the whereabouts of her tall shadow noting that she had moved to the side of the pub closest to where she stood with the little blonde. Oh my dark stalker Im going to send you running home to your Momma now. Ill teach you to play games and follow people around without their consent. She loosely wrapped her arm around the pretty girl who was all but draped over her body. "Im sure I can make this a real fine night for you," she growled seductively, letting her hand wander down over the womans firm backside. Watch and learn my dark beauty.
She continued to trade caresses and flirtations with the little blonde, all the while very aware of the presence lurking in the shadows. When the pretty wench at her side reached over and nipped at her neck she heard a sharp gasp. Turning in time to see the tall woman rushing from the scene. Thinking she would be happy finally finding a way to relieve herself of the unwanted tail, she was dismayed to find herself a bit sad.
Its guilt, the voice supplied.
That feeling youre having, its guilt. It qualified.
Dont be ridiculous! I wanted her gone and now she is. She grinned triumphantly.
Did you really? The annoying voice questioned with sincerity.
Damn! Mika mind screamed. I didnt want her to run, I just wanted to have a little fun before I confronted her. Now what?
Well and this is just a suggestion but you could ..go after her you dope. The voice mentally slapped her. With that thought she left the little barmaid standing there sputtering in the street and took off after the tall, dark stalker.
She couldnt have gotten to far. She raced through the crowds looking for the beautiful woman. Sometimes I really hate being short. Trapped by people on all sides blocking her view. Spotting a water barrel at the edge of one the booths, she grabbed onto a pole and smoothly landed on top of it. There, now I can see above all these idiots. She scanned the crowd in search of the tall woman. She cant be that hard to spot she towers over most of these people. Her keen eyes dismissing each other the figures shed spotted in the crowd. She searched further out until she spotted the figure sitting on the ground at the edge of one of the stages. There was her dark huntress, arms wrapped around bent knees, staring off into the darkness.
Oh I dont know how about something simple like Im sorry for embarrassing you. The voice quipped.
Hey Im not the one who should be sorry here. Shes been spying on me she got what she deserved. Mika retorted.
Then why are you going to all this trouble? The irritating voiced questioned.
Oh shut up!
I canna believe Ive spent this whole night following that little gypsy. Erin thought disgusted with herself. Shes nothing but a rogue and a thief and, and, and a flirt! She added outraged. Now ere I am in the middle o the night na even sure I can find my own way back to the castle. She sat staring out at nothing, lost in despair and confusion over her actions. Finally her eyes focused on a pair of black booted feet standing before her. Slowly raising her eyes she noted familiar looking brown breeches, and up further still, to a white shirt covered by a rich green vest. Oh God! She swallowed a lump in her throat and gathered her courage to raise her eyes. What is she doin ere? Why now? Slowly looking up into the face she dreaded seeing.
Sky blue met emerald green and the world around them fell away all sound except that of their own breathing was gone. In that one moment the universe ceased its existence for a fraction of a second and left both woman stunned by the intensity of the reaction.
Mika was first to shake away the sensation. She smiled widely at the woman before her. "Hello," she purred. "Want to tell me why youve been following me all evening?" she raised an eyebrow enquiringly.
All the feeling, confusion and stunned reactions caught up with Erin she opened her mouth to speak but in that one moment she did something she had never done before; the dark beauty...fainted.
Continued in part 2
Return to the Academy
The Romany words...