The Unicorn's Gift - Part 2


Lost amid the forest,
as if clinging to the trees,
the all pervasive darkness
that strangles out the breeze.

Crouching there, the very air,
it struggles for control.
Canopy then parted,
sunlight breaks into the fold.

Here warmth and love that matter,
can dance amongst the trees,
admitted by a laughter
that lays the dark it’s ease.
by


Sarah Lynn Morgan
The Unicorn's Gift
 
     The_Unicorn_s_Gift.pngPart Two

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     Dyre had slept late the next morning, even though he had gone to bed early with a headache. His father had tried giving him a glass of wine and water, but it did not help. In fact it made him feel much worse.

It was unlike his father not to wake him, and even more unlike Syna to remain asleep once his father began to move, but he was sure he had done so to allow him to rest after being hurt.

Quietly, he rose to sit on the edge of the small bed, and pulled on the shirt he had mended yesterday. Looking across his small room, he could see his reflection in the polished metal of the mirror that stood in the corner.

The mirror had been one of his mother’s prized possessions, and his father’s joining gift to her before Dyre had been born. Dyre had never mentioned it, when his father had moved the mirror into his room, so that it would not be broken when he had repaired a part of the floor. The mirror had been there ever since.

Dyre only glanced at himself before he moved into the common room. He could see from the lack of dishes in the basin that his father had not eaten before leaving for the fields. He felt guilty, about that, but the memory of the throbbing in his head was enough to persuade him that the fault was a small one. He would bring him a large lunch, before he set out to the village.

Moving to the hearth, he could see that his father must have built up the fire for him, because there was still a nice pile of coals in the corner. Taking a pot, he placed in it two ladles of water, and some dried leaves, for tea. He thought for a moment and added some clove, basil, and other stronger herbs for his slight headache, before placing it close to the coals. He then proceeded to cut some thick slices of sweet bread, and laid them on a stone, which he also moved closer to the coals as well.

 

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     Once refreshed, it was not long before he had cleaned up the cabin, and gotten the lunch basket ready for his father. Glancing at the sun, he could see it was a long while before it was time for him to ready himself to go to the village.

Bending once more to his chores, he poured the last of the water from the cistern bucket into a larger metal pot, and placed it near the fire with additional dry wood to make it boil.

He had found blood on his shirt, from the day before, so he retrieved the washtub, and laying their clothes in it, took it all out to the yard. He placed the tub on a low stump, and moved to draw a bucked of cool water. Taking a laundry paddle that hung near the stump, he turned it over, and using the rough side quickly grated some of the soap on top of the clothes, before pouring the water into the tub, and leaving them so soak.

Dyre paused to listen to the sounds of the animals and the fields around him. It was easy to sense that all seemed well. He could faintly hear his father’s axe biting into the trees down by the stream that ran below the lower fields. He could feel that everything was in it’s place, and that all was well, which made him feel better than anything else had for a day or two.

Smiling, he took another smaller bucket, which he half filled it with water, before taking it inside. He warmed it by adding some of the hot water from the near boiling pot. Pausing at the door, he removed his clothes, and hung them on a peg. Peering outside first, he lifted a cloth and quickly moved out to the sunny side of the cabin to wash himself. It was cool, and before he was through, he was very glad he had warmed the water.

Most of his neighbors would have washed themselves right on the floor inside the cottage, but he didn’t like the mess that made of his clean floors. Taking the drying cloth, he covered himself even as he started to shiver in the light wind, and quickly moved back to the house.

He had only just begun to dress again, probably too quickly, when he heard the mended shirt tear once more. Sadly, he slipped off the shirt to see how bad it was. He could see that it had torn again along his mend, just as Dara had told him that it would.

Disappointed, he reached into the sewing basket, and pulled out a threaded needle. He tried to stitch it back, but the threads that made up the cloth continued to separate, no matter how carefully he stitched or folded the seam. Finally, giving up, he pulled out the little knife in the basket, and began to cut the best parts of the cloth from what was left of the shirt.

When he was done, he moved back out to the yard in only his pants, and taking the paddle, he began to stir the clothes before checking his only other shirt. The stain was just beginning to fade, which he was grateful for, but he would have to wait a long time for it to fade completely. Sadly, he pushed the shirt back down into the water.

Even the gentle wind gave him a chill, causing him to fold his arms over his chest. He had not even noticed the wind with a shirt on, but now it seemed like a herald of something from much later in the season.

He moved into the cabin and into his father’s room to borrow one of his shirts, but he could find none, only to remember that one was destroyed, one was in the tub along with his own, and the last spare one had been taken away last night by Dara to mend. The only other shirt his father owned was on his back..

Dyre moved over to the fire, and sat for a few moments. Thoughts of mending shirts, and the sewing lesson brought his eyes to the large chest by the door of his father’s room. Dyre got up from the chair, and moved to open the chest. There on top, carefully folded, he found his mothers tan chemise, and vest.

He had often lifted the lid to run his hands across his mothers old clothes, especially when he missed her. For some time, he was sure he could almost smell the scent of her, but of late he could only smell the clothes and the chest itself. More often now, he found himself wanting to look at the clothes themselves.

On impulse, he pulled the chemise out, and began to run the soft cloth through his fingers. He hesitated not for fear of using the chemise to cover his chill, but rather for the strange feeling that the thought made in his stomach and chest. Holding the blouse to the front of his chest, he felt very hesitant to take the next step. Finally, telling himself he was being childish as a chill once more caused his body to shake, he slipped it over his head.

He loved the feeling of the fine soft cloth sliding down over his body, and it quickly giving him more warmth. The material was much softer than his own clothes, but it was also much thinner; so, he still felt a little of the chill as he began once again to move about the cottage.

Several times, he found himself subconsciously drawn to the mirror, to look. Before very long, he again found himself standing over the large, chest, examining the clothing therein. Somehow the idea of getting all his clothes into the wash at one time formed only a small part of his thoughts, as he ran his hands gently over the fine dresses that lay in the open chest; but, they were all very quiet thoughts and feelings down deep inside, mostly without forms in words. Dyre could not even put words to the feelings when he tried to ask himself why he was standing there. He felt curious as the strange feeling in his chest continued to grow and spread.

At first, he didn’t even realize he had removed his breeches, before taking out a long green skirt. It was one that might have been suitable for daily wear but still much finer than any clothing he possessed, he stepped into it and slipping it up to his small waist where he tied it off. Then on impulse, he reached in, and brought out the tan suede vest, and slipped that around his body. For some reason, his hands were shaking slightly as he laced the vest, and pulled the collar and arms of the blouse into their proper and more comfortable position.

Nervously, he could not help but pad softly back into his room to look once again in the mirror. He stared there for a long time, before any words began to form.

“They were right.” He whispered to himself. “Syna.” He said even more softly.

Then for reasons that had yet to form completely, he moved back to the chest, and taking the light yellow ribbon and a brush, he moved back to brush his hair neatly, before lifting the ribbon under his hair, and tying it back in a large bow similar to the one from last night.

He did not know how long he stared at himself, but from time to time he passed his hand over the front of the clothes, or felt the waist of the vest. In the mirror, at first pale from his chill that had yet to subside, he could see the pink blossoming on his cheeks…, or perhaps it was where he’d scrubbed his face clean.

The giddy and nervous feelings that he had felt at the first thought that he might use these clothes had slowly subsided into comfortable warmth that cane from within as well as without. The comforting tightness, along with the beauty he saw there in the mirror, filled him with a sense of well-being he could not remember having felt for many a turn. He still felt excited and a little nervous as he peered beyond the mirrors surface at the image in there; but, as he slowly slid his hands down the sides of the leather bodice, he could only compare the sensations he was feeling to the those times so long ago when his mother had held him.

It was quite some time before he remembered the water that must be boiling away in the pot.

Calmer and feeling deeply contented, he walked back to the chest, and taking a cover cloth, which was little more than a drying cloth on which his mother had sewn a pocket and a wide tie at the top, and bound that about his waist to protect the clothes he had borrowed. He smiled at the thought that most of the girls his age simply referred to them as ‘maiden’s armor’.

Feeling warm now, and even more comforted, he began to move about the cottage to finish his chores. They went very quickly, as he moved to the kitchen and yard tending to the house and the smaller animals that were penned nearby. Most of the time he hummed or sung quietly to himself, his only conscious realizations being that the day was a beautiful one and that he felt very happy. Before long, though, he also realized that the sun was tending higher in the sky, and he had time to finish a just a few more needed things before he had to take the lunch to his father. He was sure that his father would be worried, and would come looking for him if he did not appear within an hour of midday.

He smiled, and then grimaced as he realized he’d have to be wearing a wet shirt and dirty pants by then. Even so, he began to hurry to finish his chores.

Several times, he’d drifted by the mirror, while preparing his meals for the day. The vision it contained, always caused him smile at himself. The smile looked more out of place than the clothes, which struck him as odd, not realizing he was happy. ‘One last thing to do’, the thought of fresh cool water from the well making him smile too, but this time he didn’t notice.

Taking a small wooden bowl, he scooped some boiling water into the now dry water cistern, and carefully rolled it around to scald all parts of the cask. He then poured the still hot water into the basin to be reused for further cleaning. Stepping into the sun, he carried the scalded cistern out to the well to refill it for the evening. He would put two buckets full in the cistern before he carried it into the house, and then carry two more buckets full, to fill it. He had just poured the second, lost in the warmth of the sun and the sounds of early autumn on breeze, when he was startled by the sound of a horse quite close behind him.

It was unusual for strangers to stop by his farm, but it did happen occasionally, as some people entered the valley by the path that ran over the hill and through their farm to the main road. Breathlessly, he turned to stare in shock at the young man who quickly rode up, and hopped off his horse…

 

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     “Hello, My Lady.” Jada said pleasantly, as he smiled at the very pretty girl he found before him. The sun shone brilliantly in her bright strawberry blond hair, and sparked in her emerald green eyes even more as they widened in an expression that clearly held more than it’s fair share of shock. He would have laughed, if that would not have been unconscionably rude.

“I did not mean to startle you. I assure you I’m as harmless as Master Balderdash, here.” He said patting the horse’s neck affectionately; as the latter stepped even closer to whiff his dry nose on Dyre’s cheek in greeting.

“We just stopped to see if we could trouble you for some water for his kind soul and perhaps a ladle for me as well, that is of course, if you have a little to share?”

Terrified Dyre may or may not have nodded, but remembered his manners enough that he turned wordlessly to draw a bucked from the well and poured it into a small trough nearby for the grateful horse, which gratefully moved in to drink. Before Dyre could step back to the well, the strange man had taken the dipper from where it hung, and helped himself to a drink.

“Hmmm.” He closed his eyes, and drank deeply. “Ah. That is good.”

When he opened his eyes, he studied the girl staring back at him with a kindly smile on his face.

“A branch pierced my water bottle, no doubt as we pushed our way through prickly hedge this morning. When we found this trail, and I reached back for a drink, it was already empty. Fortunately it was only a short ride…” He stopped to shrug, even as he smiled at her in what he hoped was a friendly and warm way, and then waited for her to say something. However, despite his attempts, the girl simply stood immobile, her wide eyes never leaving him as if she expected him to spring upon her if ever she should turn them away.

“Well, not meaning to be rude, but would you like to tell me your name, little one?” He laughed out loud at the confusion and fear on her face. “If it will help, my name is Jada, and I have some business with the elders of the village that lies in this valley, and more which lies many days ride beyond.”

He paused, as if holding his breath for a few moments to see if she took the hint that he was someone of importance, before letting out a soft sigh, and then gently taking the bucket from Dyre’s hands to slip it back onto the well rope.

“Well, I guess you’ve no real need to speak. You happen to be the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen, it’s reasonable that you’d be the shyest as well.” He laughed, then shaking his head. “Well, I will still bid you my grateful farewell, even though I don’t know who you are, and I’ll thank you for the drink.” He laughed freely now as he began to slowly walk toward his horse, sorry that he had clearly frightened he girl.

Somehow the laughter snapped Dyre’s wits back into place, or at least a little more in place. “Syna!” He said almost in a gasp, as the man was just turning away to collect Mr. Balderdash’s reins from the ground. It was the first thing that came to his mind, as he had fought to speak to the man.

“What did you say?” He said looking back at her in surprised.

Finally his throat began to move more freely. “I’m sorry, Sir. I did not mean to be rude. You did frighten me a little. People call me Syna. I’m pleased to meet you, Jada.” He said this while hesitantly holding out his hand, only to have the man take him by the fingers, and rather than shaking it, raise it to brush across his lips.

“Well, I’m pleased that you do have a name at last,” Jada laughed again, “and we are very sorry to have startled you. Apart from his many other failings in personality, wit, and reason, my horse is very sure footed, and makes little noise. It’s one of the reasons I don’t send him to the fields.” The man said, while he had yet to release Dyre’s hand.

Dyre spared a glance at the animal, and even he could see that it was a particularly beautiful horse. Mottled Grey, with a dark muzzle, he was large and well muscled with a good confirmation. It was hardly likely that such an animal would be sent to the field. When he finished his drinking, even his eyes were intelligent. A very fine and expensive mount to be sure.

“Syna!” Jada said softly, drawing Dyre’s attention once more to him. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that name before. It’s pretty, no doubt, but not nearly pretty enough for the likes of you young maiden. Pray tell, what does it mean?” he asked this while pleasantly cocking his head slightly to one side.

Dyre felt a little laugh in the base of his throat, in spite of his fears. “I’m not really sure. I’m told it really means ‘two together’, but I don’t really know why it was chosen.”

“Two Together.” He frowned. “Were you twins?”

Dyre felt his throat closing off again. He had never been any good at telling untruths. He had never had the need; so, for a moment or two he did not know what to say. Then, without knowing from where the inspiration had come, he simply nodded his head, and said, “My brother is in the village. He works as a groom and a tavern boy at the Inn tonight.”

“Ah!” The man said. “Your twin brother is in the village, and you are home all alone. No wonder I frightened you so. I am sorry.” He finished genuinely; giving Syna’s hand a gentle squeeze in both of his. “And, your parents?”

“Father is working close by, but my mother is…, gone.” Dyre told him, causing Jada to frown for the first time, and to mumble a gentle commiseration.

Jada then continued in a loud and cheery voice. “Actually, I’m also sorry that I’ve already told you something of an untruth!” He said, as he ran his fingers gently over her hand one last time before releasing it

Syna looked at him in surprise, as he felt his one hand dropping to his side with an unnatural slowness.

“Oh yes.” he continued, giving his horse a look of mock vexation. “You see, I am in fact much safer than Mr. Balderdash here. He is a very dangerous animal, indeed. Especially when he gets it in his head to take a shortcut through a hedge suddenly, rather than walking around like he has been told…”

With this the Horse, on hearing his name, took a step forward, and pressed his now wet and dripping muzzle on his master’s cheek.

Jada recoiled, gasping loudly, “Ewwww! You half-witted, four-footed oaf of an oversized mountain goat! That’s cold!” Nevertheless, all the while he rubbed the horse’s forehead affectionately, even as he used his other hand to remove the cold drool from his neck.

Syna began laughed out loud, in spite of himself.

“Well that was worth waiting for.” Jada smiled at the girl, while continuing to stroke Mr. Balderdash’s muzzle affectionately, as both man and horse continued to watch the laughing girl.

 

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     Slowly Dyre’s humor began to subside, as he fought to regain his self control. “I’m sorry to have misused you so, Jada.” He said finally. “You must think me very rude. You must also be very tired and hungry if you’ve been riding all day. Let me offer you something. I was just about to take my father some meat rolls for lunch, and I’ve made far too many. Let me get you one or two to hold you over till you’ve reached the inn in the village. I’ll just be a moment.” Syna said kindly, reaching down for the cistern and turning toward the cottage, intent on the basket that lay on the table there.

“Really, my lady.” Jada began to speak quickly. “We don’t mean to impose at all…, would never…; what kind of meat rolls did you say?” He deftly reached out to take the heavy cistern from her.

Syna laughed as she waved him into the door. She quickly set out a large meat roll, as well as dipping the last of the stew from the night before, and placed it on the table in front of the chair by the door. Then she gave him a cup, which she filled with more cool water mixed with a little wine.

As he removed his coat, to sit, Syna noticed that like his water bottle, it was torn; probably by the bushes he had been thrust through on Mr. Balderdash’s shortcut.

“Here, let me have that,” and taking the coat, he moved to the chair by the hearth, where Dara had placed the sewing basket. Syna quickly pulled out the needle, and began to carefully place stitches, just as Dara had taught him the night before, even though he was sure it would be a temporary mending to save the jacket from further harm till someone else might mend it properly. Suddenly, Syna just wanted to do something nice for the man who seemed so pleasant to have made him laugh so.

“That is uncommon kind, Syna. I thank you.” He said around a mouthful. “I can already see that you tailor much better than either Mr. Balderdash or I, although I do confess me that when it comes to the needle, Mister Balderdash has a certain advantage of me in both skill and experience.”

Syna giggled a little more, almost sticking himself. “It’s nothing, I assure you. In fact, I’m probably far more dangerous than Mr. Balderdash is with this thing. Perhaps one day, I’ll make a fitting squire.”

Jada looked over the girl’s clothes, and seeing that they were very fine and well fitted; only answered briefly, mildly confused by the funny thing she said. Squire, indeed!.

“Not from what I can see, my lady,” before he continued to eat. It was obvious that he had not eaten recently.

Then around a last mouthful, “And, as for squire, I am far too humble to require the services of the same, but I can only imagine the envy that I might find in the eyes of any whom I introduced you to.”

Even so, he had barely finished, before Syna had put the last stitch into the bottom of the coat. He paused to wipe his mouth, and drink the last of the water, as he watched the girl lay the garment neatly over a nearby chair.

Rising to his feet, “Well, you can cook meals befitting the gods, for that was the best meal I’ve had in many a day, for which I do humbly thank you.” He paused as he watched her as she bent over to replace the things in the sewing basket. Picking up his jacked, he examined the stitching

“And, you can sew fine raiment’s fit enough for any an earthly king, in grace whereof, you are only surpassing in generosity for doing so for the humble traveler who is me.” he said as he slipped the jacket on.

Syna laughed again, because she knew that as careful as she had been, the job was barely adequate.

“With your mastery of such maidenly virtues, and your beauty, I would not be surprised that I had sat at the table of Hestia herself.” He smiled warmly at the way she blushed. “So tell me, my charming little Syna,” he concluded, “how is it that one so lovely, with such mastery of all the comely graces, has not been taken already by some lucky man?”

He could see the girl stiffen suddenly, and knew that his compliment had somehow been taken amiss; but that he could not immediately speak of it again, for he could not fathom what harm he might have done. Surely, someone had broken her heart; just as surely that it would take a fool of biblical note to have wished to do so to so beautiful a young woman.

At first, Syna’s heart only heard another cruel taunt, even though her ears heard only the kindness in his voice. It took Syna a moment to realize that for the moment he had forgotten how he was dressed, and that the Jada had meant nothing cruel; but was in fact trying to compliment the young woman he thought he saw before him. He knew he must end this game quickly.

Slowly, Jada could see the girl release her grip on the chair, and rise again to stand erect. It was but a few breaths, before she gently smoothed her vest, and skirts, before clasping her hands in front of her, and turning back to him bestowing a smile that told more of sadness than joy.

“My Lady.” Jada began, “If I have given offense...”

Syna slightly raised her hand instinctively, which to her great surprise stopped him instantly. He could feel his eyes widen slightly at his effect, even as he spoke to the man. No one, especially full grown men, ever listened very respectfully to what he had to say. “I was not offended, Jada. I get a lot of questions like that you see.”

‘Oh’, Jada thought to himself, before speaking. “I’m still sorry, Syna. I’m sure someone as beautiful as you does. I get a lot of that from the women in my village. My mother is the worst, constantly pushing me to find a wife. I know how it feels to be nagged, so I am truly sorry.”

Syna managed to smile again, the majority of the good feelings returning quickly. “I was not offended, Jada. I did remember that I must bring my father his lunch, and then I have to go now if I’m to make it to the village on time.”

Syna Stepped to the table, and put a hand on the basket lunch, while trying to smile presently at the man. If he could send the man on his way, he could still perhaps dry his shirt by the fire enough to wear.

“Well of course,” Jada said, “I did not mean to be so much trouble. Moreover, I need to be off myself. I was very happy to meet you, Syna, and I’m sorry to have startled you. I hope to see you again before I take my leave. Perhaps when you are in the village, tonight, you’ll be near the inn?”

The shock of it hit Syna suddenly. Of course he’d be near the Inn. Serving in the common room! Syna was frantically trying to think of a way to avoid the trap in which he'd already landed himself. He knew that if this man ever went to town, and the story of how he was dressed became common knowledge, his life, as bad as it had been, would only get worse. He might even loose the respect of some of the people who now treated him well. Absently, he lifted the basket, and moved out the front door behind Jada, to wait until he was gone.

Syna was frantically thinking of how he might explain the story that the man might tell in town about his ‘twin sister.’ His mind wrestled with the problem, while he absently watched Jada collect Mr. Balderdash, as he waited for the man to leave; so much so, that at first Syna did not hear Jada when he spoke.

Syna forced a vague smile on his face, and asked. “I’m sorry, what did you say, Jada?”

Jada, who had been surveying what he could see of the valley from the cottage, turned back to smile at her yet again. “It looks like you were already on a journey, lady. It is good to know that I can still capture the interest of a woman who is so captivating herself.” He chuckled a little at her blush. “So, Where is your father working?” Jada asked.

“Not far. He is just beyond the trees at the edge of the field. We have been clearing brush by the stream.” Syna informed him, her mind scarcely able to make the quick changes between Jada’s amusing company, and her inner struggle to find a way out of this mess. After yesterday he just had to go to the Inn, and had to feed Chandi’s children. He couldn’t let them down, after all that had happened… He looked back at Jada, to see that he was still smiling at ‘her’, which somehow ‘she’ found almost as infectious as Keely’s smile. Realizing her thoughts, her heart froze in her chest.

“Are you sure you are quite well.” Jada asked, suddenly. Clearly, he had missed nothing, and understood less, of the emotions that played for control of her face.

“Yes.” Syna almost gasped. This man must be thinking he was insane. He focused all of his attention on Jada, to try and ally his suspicions. Nodding his head, he said, “It really is just through those trees. It’s just a short walk, and I was thinking of something else. I’m sorry.”

“Well,” Jada said as he strode forward, and lifted the basket easily from ‘her’ hands, and turned to loop the handle onto his saddle, “as the walk is so short, and the company so pleasant, I will escort you. It will enable me to at least thank the man who had the good sense to have such a beautiful daughter as yourself, and the generosity to provide a meal for a poor starving man who is me.” He finished by holding out his hand to her.

“No!” Syna gasped out. “I can go quite fine alone.” He unconsciously gathered his skirt in one hand, and just as involuntarily took a step back away from the man.

“Nonsense, My Lady, for even I, though newly met, can see that you are not quite yourself today. I would be remising to leave you to wander on your own. What gentlemen would leave such a beautiful; err…, I mean kind young woman to bare such a heavy burden so far in such dangerous lands. No. I will escort you, as all honor demands.” He smiled warmly, and it shared the kindness that she could see in his eyes which never left her face.

Syna’s arm was already in his hand, as he stooped to catch Mr. Balderdash’s reins, and began walking toward the path. “Besides, if Mr. Balderdash could speak for himself, in the common tongue that is, he would I am sure wish to repay you for that most excellent drink, as well as the fodder that he stole from your manger while I was stuffing myself inside your lovely cottage.”

“Jada, Please.” Syna said, with all sincerity. “You do not need to come. I assure you that I can find the way.” All the while being pulled gently along by the man whom he had only just met. It was only his inherent good manner, and Jada’s incessant joking, that prevented Syna from jerking his arm away and trying to flee across the fields in any random direction.

Jada sighed loudly again. “I will as you say, lady, but before I do my conscience bids me confess that I have told you another half-truth, damn the imperfections of the weak character I was born with.”

He looked sideways at her pale face.

“You see, although it is true that I want for your company, which I find as pleasant as any spring day; and that I do most urgently desire to thank and congratulate the man whose guest I have been, I do in truth seek your company out of the most dire need…”

Syna looked at the man in a sudden and sincere amusement, and a growing mild disdain. “And how, pray tell, do you need my humble company?” She asked.

“Well, the truth be told, - and humble it is not - that I have yet to offer you to ride Mr. Balderdash here, because well… He drinks.” Jada finished with a great sincerity, which was equal in degree to the finality of the statement.

“How say you?” Syna laughed again now, all reluctance forgotten.

“T’is true, lady, I swear. The truth is that I had to carry the soggy brute half the morning, and that only from his reveries of this last evening. If his balance should fail again, as it often does, I may well need your help to carry him further.” he shook his head sadly. “I fear that I am all done in, and chaffed from the saddle straps by which I have borne him this entire forenoon.” Jada sighed, and shook his head sadly again, while placing his hand on the small of his own back, and stretching as if he were in pain.

“I thought you said that he was sure of foot, and that was why you kept him around?” Syna said laughing heartily at the buffoonery of the man.

“Aye, My Lady, t’is true I assure you — but only sober. Before a feast day, he is as sure of foot as any creature who walks these lands but on four feet.” He said with the most profound sincerity. “Sadly, once he has the drink upon him, as he had in great quantity last evening, it is all that two strong men might do to keep him on the path. Why not two months ago, when celebrating a holy feast day in the village of E’lon Den, he did join a procession of the faithful through the square. There, having taken the equal or more than his fair share, he proceeded to trip over several of the revelers, only to fall face first into the holy man’s lap. He was an embarrassment that day, I tell you; and ever after was banned from within the cathedral on any day, feast or no. Tragic it is, too, with his lovely singing voice. I tell you my lady; I’ve had no end of trouble with the soggy brute. No end at all.”

With that, Mr. Balderdash himself seemed to look back at the man with a sad, but wizened pain that one gives to a much beloved, but not too bright child. Thus it was that he like Jada himself caused Syna to laugh with complete abandon again, as she was forced to take Jada’s arm in a companionable gesture.

“I can see how your mother might worry for thee.” Syna said laughingly, “You are the very picture of a rogue, by all I can see.”

“Rogue, indeed!” Jada mocked her with dignity. “If I have told an untruth, then I pray you to ask him!” He finished by pointing his nose toward the heavens with high disdain, and his finger at the horse. “Besotted he may be, but I’ll hold that he is as honest as any horse in these isles.”

“You mean your horse?” Syna said still amused at the sheer foolishness of the man.

“My horse, indeed, madam. For even if he hath not the sobriety to walk the straight and narrow path on which we find ourselves, he still hath good use of his tongue, I’ll wager, and I can vouchsafe him as honest as the vicar whose holy impression he still carries about his face. There he stands, I bid you freely, and with a clear conscience.”

Syna still could not believe it. She had never before met anyone with Jada’s sheer love of life, and desire to enjoy every single moment of it. “Wager you say?” she questioned him finally.

Jada was taken a little aback. “Err? Well, wager I did say.” his sudden concern worn openly in his voice and face.

Syna laughed, in spite of herself, her green eyes riveted to the man’s face. “So if he does not confirm your story, then I can send you on your way, to leave me to do the chores that I must in god’s own peace, and time?”

“Well, lady, I do confess me that I had given no thought that it would be a wager as precious as my very breath, but I am a gentleman, and I will stand by my word. Therefore, you may go ahead, and ask him. Ask of him what you will.”

Syna nodded in formal acceptance, and turning to look at the horse… “Ahemm. Excuse me Mr. Balderdash, but does Jada speak the…”

Jada interrupted her gently but firmly by leaning close and placing his hand on the center of her back as he whispered even more loudly than his speech of a moment before. “I beg your pardon lady, but you will have to speak up more loudly. He’s quite deaf you see. Too much revelry, and bad wine in his youth we fear. He is quite sensitive about it. Please don’t let him know that I have told you…”

Syna could not help laughing again, her green eyes flashing reflections of the sun in every direction.

“And, Madam.” Jada said in genuine and sincere wonder. “I have to ask, has anyone ever told you that your laughter rivals the beauty of any song of bird our lord placed here on earth?”

Syna was chuckling still, but she was also in wonder, not only by the compliment but also by the sudden and very real consideration of weather or not she had ever received such a compliment in her life. Finally, she answered, softly and most profoundly, but even still with an amused good humor: “No.”

“It is a pity, for it is true. Well, no need to dally in the face of certain defeat. Go ahead, and ask him if I am Lying.” Jada said with all the smug satisfaction and eagerness of a man who thinks he has a certain bet.

“Very well.” Syna said, and then more loudly: “Mr. Balderdash? If it is not too much trouble, is Jada lying about your love of strong drink?” even as she felt herself grinning like a little girl.

On hearing his name, the horse turned to look at them, just as Jada did without further preamble, reached out, and poked the horse firmly in the ribs. Mr. Balderdash took a step to the side, slightly off of the path, and neighed softly in rebuke at the undeserved assault.

“There you have it, lady, a definite Neigh was it not?” Jada said, supremely smug as he smiled at her. “Now I trust that is the last time you have cause to doubt my sincerity, my veracity, my honesty, or my horse; even as you can see for yourself that the good old soul is none too steady on his feet even now past this fine mid-day. Now As I was saying...”

So it was, in wonder of what might come out of his mouth next, Syna did not even notice when she slipped her right hand over her left hand, which he’d already tucked under his arm, and the crook of his right elbow, where it was held by his own left hand resting on hers.

 

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     Never before had anyone lavish so much attention or gentle good humor on Syna. Those who loved him the most, the busy innkeeper’s wife, and his father who himself was suffering through the grief of a loss so overwhelming, never had the time. Doubtless, if they had, their attentions would never come from anyone as full of life and wit as to be so beguiling. Thus, it was no real surprise that despite her worry of only moments before, all else was forgotten, as she kept the easy pace at Jada’s side; and thought of little else save for the warm sun, the laughter that flowed freely between them, and the occasional short of the good Sir Balderdash as he paced contentedly along the path ahead of them. Syna was mesmerized by her own foreign and untried sense of - contentment.

 
 

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     Bryan paused while still in the shade of the trees to untie the rope that he had used to pull the pile of brush up to the field. As he paused to untie the bundle, he glanced at the position of the sun, and began to think that he had time to walk up to the cottage for a meal.

Picking up one bush he had cut, he stepped into the edge of the field, and threw it onto the pile he was building there. In doing so, he casually looked back toward the cabin, as was his habit to see that all was well. He was surprised this time, to see people walking down the trail beside a horse. The horse was blocking most of his view, so he was unsure who they might be. A man and a woman by the look of them, making their way into the valley on the margin of his field. He could tell from the top of the man’s head over the top of the horse, that they were most certainly strangers

Unconcerned, Bryan turned back into the trees for another load of wood. Once he had the brush out in the open, he had planned on firing the pile, and then spreading the ashes in the field. It was more work, but better than leaving them in the woods where they would still block the stream, he thought…

Back again at the margin of the field, where he had once more pulled another pile of brush, and began to carry a bundle to the pile in the field. When he glanced across the field, he was surprised to see that the couple had left that the trail, and were making their way along the tree line toward him. Most probably they had seen him working, and were coming over for directions. Odd he thought, that they didn’t just ask at the cottage, turning into the trees for another pile of brush.

The thought caused him a worry, glancing up at the sun. Usually Dyre would be along about now with his lunch. Bryan decided that as soon as he’d done with the strangers, he’d walk up to check on the boy…

After dumping his next load, they were close enough for him to hear that they were talking quite merrily, so he paused to pile the brush more compactly, and wait for them, while watching them come closer.

Although the horse was still partially in the way, Bryan could clearly see that the man was strange to him, and that it was a woman walking by his side. He watched more closely now, because even though he only caught an occasional glimpse of the woman, either a flash of blond hair, or the sway of her skirt under the horse as she walked; he began to feel that she was somehow familiar. Truly curious now, he stopped all work, and just stood under the trees at the edge of the field, and waited for them to draw nearer.

He could clearly hear laughter, only a hundred or so paces away, as they finally made it down to the level where he was working and turned to follow the tree line at the bottom of the field, walking in and out of the shadows directly toward him.

Bryan felt his heart seize up in his chest. Never before had he known such shock. He wanted to cry out and to run to her. Had she but been alone he would surely have done so. However, he was too stunned to make his body move. After almost thee years of endless days, and even longer nights - not knowing where she went - here she was, laughing and walking casually toward him.

Bryan barely realized that he had been holding his breath long enough that his vision was going dark. He took in an explosive breath, dropping the rope that he held in his hands at his feet, and took an unsteady step or two toward her. He could not tell if it was his heart or his mind that first led him doubt that this was in fact his Aria come home to him so unexpectedly, just as abruptly as she had disappeared these long years ago.

Whichever it was, he forced himself to look more closely, and realize that the young woman, the very image of his own lost and beloved wife, was far too young to be her.

Still, he felt himself swaying even if what his heart saw was not to be swayed. He had to stop himself walking toward her and reached out for a tree. They were only a few paces away when he recognized the pretty girl, so familiar to his heart and memory.

Bryan could only stare at Dyre, who was moving to lift a basket from the side of the horse. He realized that the clothing was indeed his lost wife’s. Dyre looked just like her, and although he had yet to look directly at him, he could see all the familiar parts of Aria, in the way he moved, the way he walked, and even the way he laughed. Indeed, she was alive in his every breath and motion.

Suddenly the man was in front of him. “Sir, your daughter tells me your name is Bryan. She was kind enough to offer me food when I stopped for water, and I wanted to thank you in person. My name is Jada, and I am most pleased to meet you as I am now humbly in your debt.” he said holding out his hand.

Bryan did not reach for the man’s hand for several moments, and then even when he finally did so absently, he did not look at him. His attention was held fixed on Dyre, who had now seen his father’s stare, and was looking at him from a few paces behind the stranger. The boy’s face was awash with emotion, but mostly there was fearfulness in his eyes that Bryan had never before seen. Bryan thought he looked for all the world like his stomach was about to overturn. Had he been able to speak, Bryan would have asked him why he was dressed like that, but somehow he knew even before either of them had spoken that it would be a silly question.

“Well.” Jada said uncomfortably, “I had assumed that you two had already met, or at least I had hoped that you were this magnificent young lady’s father. I would be ashamed to find that I had repaid her kinsman by kidnapping her and taking her to the wrong field…” Jada tried to smile warmly at the big man, whose eyes had finally slid slowly over to look at him, before flicking once again back to the girl.

“Daughter?” was all that Bryan said.

“Yes sir, or so I thought.” Jada said. “On the off chance, however, may I take the possible opportunity to introduce Syna?” Jada still spoke pleasantly enough, but in truth, he was beginning to wonder if the large man before him was all there. In fact he looked distinctly ill, as if he had been in the sun too long. If it had been earlier in the year, and hotter that day, that is exactly what he might have suspected. He had just made up his mind to enquire if he was well, when the girl stepped forward.

“I’m sorry about all of this, father. I brought you some lunch.” Syna Paused to glance at Jada, before taking another step forward to show him the basket.

“Those are your mother’s clothes.” Bryan said simply, his eyes roving over the boy from the bow at the top of his head, to the slippers on his feet.

“I know,” Syna said looking distinctly pale as he again glanced meaningfully at Jada.
“I was doing the laundry, trying to soak the blood out of my shirt from yesterday. I had nothing else to wear.” He said helplessly even as he stood with his feet right together and folded his hands together around the basket handle he held in front of his skirt. It was just as his mother used to stand, when she was looking for approval.

For a moment he thought the boy might collapse, or simply burst into tears, but somehow he did not. It broke Bryan’s heart to see that his face had begun to look much the same as it might when he had been cruelly used by one of the villagers. Even so, somehow, the boy did manage to try to smile weakly, and with a glance again over at Jada, before he continued.

“Anyway, I was trying to get the blood out of my clothes, when Jada, and his companion, Mr. Balderdash, stopped for water.” Dyre shrugged in completely helpless defeat, but he did actually almost smile again at the mention of the horse’s silly name.
“I’m sorry father.”

Jada was clearly aware that something beyond his ken was going on, but had no idea what. He looked at the girl carefully. Although she was very upset, nothing in her posture spoke of fear of the older man. That was a relief. He had seen men who beat their children more than once, and he shuddered to think of this young woman living like that. Perhaps, he thought, they had had some disagreement, that had yet to be resolved, although he could scarce believe that she could do anything to make anyone angry.

Still many men, who were normal enough in a tavern or a stockyard, acted quite a bit more strangely when they found young men in the company of their daughters. His remark about his wife’s clothes, certainly spoke of hurts that had yet to be resolved. Jada quickly came to realize, that he would best be on his way.

Syna spoke again, before he could. “I am sorry father,” she said, and then taking the basket in one hand, she stepped forward to place her other on her father’s forearm. “I did not mean to upset you.” he whispered softly.

Then more loudly, “come and eat. I brought you some cool water, and the meat rolls you like on sweet bread.” Even as he stooped to spread a cloth in the shade of the tree, and to place the basket there. Syna actually smiled again, shocking his father still further, and tried to speak more brightly, in what he hoped sounded as a happy and more normal tone. He knew, though, that he still sounded just nervous.

“Well,” Jada said, with some residual discomfort of his own. “I am sorry to have intruded on your meal, Sir, especially since I can attest to it’s excellent and rare quality. I do thank you for your hospitality, which was most kind of your most gentle natured daughter to share. With your permission, I’ll make my way to the village now, and I’ll bid you good day.” Jada was then pleased to find that for the first time the man’s eyes slid over to look upon his face, before he offered up his hand to Jada more willingly.

“Forgive me,” Bryan said. “I have been working all morning and needed to take a rest. I hope I’ve not abused your courtesies too broadly.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his ‘daughter’ had begun to unpack the food for his lunch, but had paused to stare up at the men even as ‘her’ shoulders visibly relaxed.. “As for the food, you are certainly welcome, and I certainly thank you for taking the time to walk Syna down here to see me.”

Jada smiled back at the man, who thankfully sounded almost normal at last. “I enjoyed the pleasure of her company, Sir. She has a good wit, a kindly disposition, and a good sense of humor, which I have found far too rare a combination in the most beautiful of women. It was more than a pleasant walk, especially after such a good meal. In fact if I can repay your kindness?” He finished resting his hand on his purse to indicate the substance of the offer he just made, but the big man only smiled and shook his head.

“You were welcome to the meal. You look as if you’ve journeyed far.” Bryan said, patting the young man’s shoulder. “Do you know the way to the village?”

“Yes, sir. Your daughter, as well as being good company and an excellent cook, has an uncommon gift for direction.” Jada grinned. “It’s along the path through those trees to the road, and then into the village. I will simply follow my horse the rest of the way.”

Syna giggled a little in spite of himself, causing his father to start slightly at the sound..

“Will you be staying long?” Bryan asked.

“No. Unfortunate now that I have only just met your daughter. I have business with the elders, and then I must be away by evening tomorrow. I plan to stay at the inn tonight, where your daughter has told me her twin brother will be working, and whom I hope most fondly to meet. Then I’ll be off tomorrow evening.” He said this, turning briefly to beam at Syna, who had stood now to face them.

Bryan was taking aback by the news of his two children, twins no less, but compared to the shock he had already had when he first caught sight of Dyre, this revelation had only little ability to affect him further. “Her twin, Brother? Well be sure to say hello for me.” Bryan smiled at Syna, and shook his head. As far as he knew, it was the first lie he had ever caught Dyre in, but given the circumstances, he could understand its origins, even as he admired both it’s cleverness, and it’s futility..

Jada then turned toward Syna, and taking her hand, lifted it to his lips briefly, even as Dyre was forced to watch his father’s face over Jada’s shoulder. “It has been a distinct pleasure to meet you, Syna. In face, I am sure that long after the other memories of this journey have faded in my dotage, the memory of your smile will still seem twice as bright.”

Syna felt a blush rise to his cheeks. “Thank you, kindly.” Syna replied softly, and could not help but feel his eyes drawn to Jada’s as he stood there to stare back at him.

Jada concluded with feeling: “I hope to see you in the village. If you do come, please stop at the Inn.”

“I will, if I can.” Syna said, his breath fighting to stay in his throat. Then Mr. Balderdash, sensing their eminent departure, stepped forward to rub his now only moist muzzle affectionately on her cheek, where he paused to whiff her scent for several moments.

Syna giggled, as she reached up to stroke the large beast’s soft forelock, even as the animal bowed his head within her reach. “And good day to you, Sir Balderdash. I like you too.”

“He does seem to like you quite as much as I do, lady. He does not often take so quickly to strangers; but, I am sure you realize that as he is my horse, so he is also an impeccable judge of good character.” Jada said, while gently taking the bridle to lead the horse away.

Jada then gave her a shallow bow, which, of course Syna returned with one of his own; which of course having never been practiced with such courtly pleasantries, nor with raiment of such weight and length, produced something much closer to a curtsy.

“Well good day then, and adieu.” he said to them both, and quickly strode round to mount Mr. Balderdash, who had been contentedly munching one last mouthful of the long grasses from the edge of the field, and rode away.

Bryan watched the man for only a moment, as much to be sure that he was gone, before he quickly turned to watch his daughter’s face in amazement, as she continued to stare fixedly at Jada’s back for those few moments that it took him to ride the distance they had walked only a few moments before. At the trail, Jada waved briefly, as if he knew that she would still be watching, and disappeared into the darkness of the trees.

As if suddenly reminded of his/her father, Bryan watched his ‘daughter’ turn to stand helplessly before him. His face held renewed fear, and worry; confusion and a need to explain. Apart however from a slight tremble in his lips, and the occasional slow blink of his eyes, the boy could only stare up at his father staring at him.

As uncomfortable as the boy surely looked, Bryan suddenly felt as if he was facing a charge by a troop armored cavalry…

 
 

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     -S.L.M.
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