The Guardian of Sharon’s Rose
Prelude, Chapters 1-3
What better way to read a Summer Romance than to have it occur in the time and place most used by romance novelists: London during the Regency Period, specifically: From November 1814 to just after Waterloo?
“Thou art the ‘Guardian of the Rose?’”
The young woman digging in the earth looked up at the knights on horseback and spoke to their leader, “Aye, my lord.”
“Come with me to my castle and bring your potion, witch.”
“Nay, my lord. I’ve sworn, like my mother and her mother before me, to protect this rose and through it, to protect our king. I cannot be behind a castle wall. The power of the rose will not work outside the walls there.”
“I said, ‘Come!’” he menaced.
“Ye knowest not what you are doing, my lord. If I come, ye will die and so will Harold in the battles to come.”
He was unimpressed.
She sighed as she got up, dusted herself off and pointed to a cottage nearby, ”The salve and the ingredients to make more are in there. I can be ready with less delay if I had some help.”
The lord looked at one of his knights, who promptly dismounted and walked with her to the cottage. “I’m sorry, lass, but this is my order,” the knight apologized.
“There are jars and bowls that are breakable, and my name is Mary.”
“John, John of Whiting.”
“Be careful, John of Whiting. In the battles to come your lord will die, then your king. And, make sure your horse is shod.”
Inside the castle as Mary gathered her jars she told his lordship, “Ye need not lock me up. I will not leave without permission. I will attend and protect my lady, who is now with child.”
“Ay, my lord, ye have an heir.”
“I thank ye for such important news,” he replied turning his horse to leave.
She watched them gallop through the gate, “And may thy death be merciful and quick. I will attend my lady when she wails her loss and protect her from the wrath of William who I now know will be our king.” Then she collected her pouches and jars and put them away in the room that the lord’s servants provided.
On the 27th a rider arrived at the castle informing them all of the death of the earl at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Two days later they heard of William’s landing. On the night of October 13 Harold arrived at Hastings and set up his defenses at Senlac Hill. The Saxon king almost won the next day, but he and his brothers were killed. Few Saxons survived the battle.
Expecting to be crowned quickly, William sent for Mary, the “Guardian of Sharon’s Rose.” She went to him with the earl’s widow, Lady Cynthia. They had to travel slowly as Mary and Lady Cynthia were beset by morning sickness.
In the forest about a mile from the battle a knight approached their coach, “I am a duke and fought for Harold, my ladies. As Harold is dead I now wish to give my allegiance to William.”
“How do we know ye will not harm the king?” asked Mary.
“Put my sword on top of the coach. I will not take it with me when I approach William. Be near me when I approach him. When he asks where it is, ye will explain. I am a good Christian. I swear by Jesus, Mary and Joseph to do him no harm.”
“Enter the coach as ye agreed, good sir,” Lady Cynthia agreed. “We will approach the king and plead for our lives together.”
Upon arrival they had an audience with William almost immediately. Mary went first, ”I am Mary, the present ‘Guardian of Sharon’s Rose.’ Thee and thy children and thy children’s children will be our kings for more than a thousand years. I pledge my loyalty to thee, I my children and my children’s children. I ask but three things. One, for those of us who guard the rose to be allowed to cure those who have fought for our country for that is part of the reason for the rose.
“I and my decedents may have expenses so we may serve thee. I ask that thee pay such remittance, nothing more.
“Thou art reasonable. We grant that also. So shall both be written. And the third?”
“In my coach are two companions who have ties to Harold, but wish to pledge their loyalty to thee. I request they keep their tittles and lands. One is Lady Cynthia. She is the widow of a man who died fighting with Harold at Stamford Bridge. She is also with child, that lord’s only heir. The other is a knight who fought against thee here at Hastings.”
“If they sincerely and without reservations pledge their loyalty We shall grant thee thy wish.”
Upon hearing William’s words the knight stepped out of the coach and escorted Lady Cynthia to the king. She easily received her pardon.
When it was the knight’s turn he bowed down and knelt before the king, “I am Mark, Duke of Lystra. I pledge my allegiance to thee, William, our new king. This pledge shall be to thee and thy decedents from me and…and…” He collapsed.
“Why hath this man fainted?” William asked.
Mary leaned over the body, “He hath fever, your majesty.”
“Ye shall discover why and cure him.”
“I shall do what I can.”
She discovered an abscess that she drained. Even using the rose he slept for two days while his fever continued. He woke up to see Mary tending him. He did not notice her signaling her assistant who immediately left the tent.
“Welcome back to the land of the living. We were afraid ye would die on us.”
“Did William accept my loyalty?”
“Tentatively, Mark Earl of Lystra,” William replied as he stepped into the tent. “We wish to hear it completely.”
Startled, Mark considered his demotion but quickly realized that as an earl, instead of a duke, he would not need to provide as many men to defend his country, a task that is often impossible, and always difficult. He started to sit up, but became dizzy, ”Your Majesty, I fear I can not kneel to do it properly or even sit up.”
“We grant thee leave to pledge lying down.”
“Your majesty, I pledge my loyalty to thee, thy children and thy children’s children, I and my children and my children’s children. May thy reign be for more than a thousand years.”
“We have a task for thee when thou art well. Thou must persuade thy peers to recognize us as king. So rest, Mark, Earl of Lystra so thee can do thy task.”
A week later, Lord Lystra started on his journey while the women returned home. On the way the women stopped at a church to thank G_d.
“Mary, Mary,” Mary heard more in her mind. “Lady Cynthia will have a male child who will inherit his father’s estate, instead of the female that was intended. In exchange, three times thy descendants shall have a male that will become a female. The first shall be when the traitor from within rules the land. The second shall be when the lesser monster is abroad. The third shall be of the greater monster.”
“I understand, my L_rd.”
Suffolk County, England, November 1, 1814, nearly 750 years later:
“Pack with great speed, Amanda, the coach I have secured with the small stipend from the Crown will be here soon,” the thirty-eight-year-old woman wearing a brown sleeveless dress with a white blouse that had grayed over time said. Her eyes were brown and her strawberry blond hair showed a few gray streaks.
“My name is Andrew, Mama! ANDREW! I am male, not female.” The eighteen-year-old’s gray eyes sparked with anger.
“Only between your legs, Amanda Farmer,” his grandmother explained. “In every other way you are a female.”
‘Et tu Brute?’
“I can not live forever,” his mother explained. “Someday you will be the ‘Guardian of the Rose,’ even if you do not wish to be. I have no other heir. So hurry and pack.
“Be careful with the powders and such,” his grandmother admonished. “They are too valuable.”
“I know, grandmother. I helped you and mama make them. In London I expect to make some of the liquid.”
“That is why you will one day be the Guardian. You must consider Andrew dead, Mandy. Don’t fight your body.”
Reluctantly Andrew replied, “Yes, mama.”
Amanda went back to her room to pack. Her mother was right. Despite what was between her legs the room had only signs of feminity throughout. She was also wearing a brown dress similar to her mother’s and her strawberry blond hair was the length of a woman’s.
In the trunk on her bed lay the cat, Paws, purring and clawing her way through Mandy’s feminine clothes. “Paws, what are you doing? You’re going to ruin my clothes!” Amanda admonished as she picked up the cat and stroked it.
“What is it with you, lately? You have been acting strange. Is something wrong?”
“Purr,” Paws rubbed its head against Amanda’s smooth chin.
Sitting down on her bed she looked at the cat critically, “Paws, are you pregnant? I believe I see four babies in your tummy.”
“Congratulations, gel, you will make a fine mama. Do you want to come with us to London? You’ll have a box right by the fireplace to keep your kittens warm.”
“Mama,” Amanda shouted. “Paws is pregnant.”
“That’s nice, dear.”
“I can’t leave her here.”
“She’s a farm cat. She’ll do fine.”
“But mama, this is her first litter. She won’t know what to do.”
“And you’re an expert?”
“Mama, maybe the kittens will cheer up some of the soldiers when they are old enough to leave Paws.”
“Humm, maybe you’re right. Get a box, put an old blanket in it, then some how make sure Paws gets in it. Also, she needs a collar and leash because she is going to a strange place and can feel and get lost. But if she comes you must make that cat behave.”
“Can’t mama, she’s already pregnant.”
Paws hated the collar and leash.
Their trip to London was uneventful. Paws constantly looked out the window until Amanda remembered an old poem, “Pussy cat, pussy cat where have you been? I’ve been to London to see the queen,” she said as she petted the cat. “Mama, what’s the next verse?”
“Pussy cat, pussy cat what did you do there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair.” Even with the poem and petting, Paws continued to look out the window.
Despite the sky being cloudy and threatening snow they made frequent stops to let the coachman warm up. They also relieved themselves and ate before getting more coal for the brazier in the coach.
Arriving at their temporary home in London, Natalie Farmer took one look and said, “This house is too large for us. I asked for a modest place. There must be a mistake.”
“No, madam, this is what the prime minister procured for you. Don’t worry, I and the other servants…”
“Yes, Mrs. Farmer, I will introduce them to you. We are paid by the Crown, and handsomely.”
“Very well. We might as well move in. When I have a chance I’m going to talk to that prime minister and tell him he shouldn’t have wasted the money. Our taxes are too high.”
“Madam, all of the servants are veterans or widows of our soldiers. You may have noticed I have only one arm.”
“Yes, I didn’t want to embarrass you, and I am also a widow of a soldier.”
“You have my sympathy.”
“Don’t be. It was years ago. You are the one who needs my sympathy.”
“I am proud of my sacrifice and am glad for the opportunity to work. Your servants, my lady…”
“I am not a noble.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Farmer,” he apologized as he introduced each. “Mrs. Fay Baker, the cook, Mr. Baxter, the butler…”
“Call me Max, madam.”
“And I am Natalie. Remember that, all of you. Like you I am a commoner and as you are equals, I shall treat you as equals.”
“Mrs. Elizabeth White, your maid.”
“What do I need a maid for? Maybe for you, mama.”
“Very well. I shall accept Elizabeth’s assistance only because it is getting more difficult to do things.”
“And Mr. Jones, our footman, mechanic and general odd jobs person.”
“My, you keep busy.”
“I try, Natalie, and please call me Norman.”
“Norman, I am Amanda and this is Paws. She is pregnant and requires a good basket, open on one side and put by the parlor fireplace for her and her kittens. Could you purchase or make something like that for her? Do not hurry. She can use this box for now.”
“Yes, Miss Farmer.”
“Amanda, like Mama I am not used to nor do I need formality.”
Because of the weather they arrived at the hospital the next morning by coach although it was only seven blocks away and immediately went to the main office. The orange haired Sergeant Major behind the desk in a wheel chair looking like he was forty asked, “How can I help ya, me lassies?”
“I am Natalie Farmer, the present ‘Guardian of Sharon’s Rose.’ This is my mother, Iris, whom I succeeded, and my so … daughter, Amanda. We would like to see your commander.”
“Yes, my lady.” He rolled himself to the inner office. “Hey Scotty, There are these ton ladies ta see the Colonel. One says she is some kind of guardian.”
“The ladies are not ton an’ are expected an’ the Colonel an’ I were just finishing here. Bring them in an’ I will get the chairs. An’ it is Captain Scott, Sergeant Major O’Riley or would you rather just be called Sergeant O’Riley?”
“Would you like me ta do a jig when I get in, Captain Scott?” Turning to the women, “The Captain is a right friendly bloke. So is the Colonel, ‘cept when he thinks no one ‘tis looking. Then there seems ta be a dark cloud over him.”
“Sergeant O’Riley,” Captain Scott interrupted. “Why are you giving away military secrets?”
“Captain, it tain’t like everyone doesn’t know.”
“How do you know that they are not Frog spies or should I call you Corporal O’Riley?”
“Please don’t do that, Captain. My little boy needs shoes again.”
The older ladies were aghast until they noticed the twenty-one-year old Colonel holding back a laugh. Amanda didn’t even notice. She was staring at the Colonel like a deer caught in a poacher’s jacklight. She thought he was handsome, and in his uniform, he showed a strength that she wanted to enjoy. Her heart raced. Her stomach did flip flops and she couldn’t understand why her knees didn’t buckle. Iris glanced at her granddaughter before nudging her daughter and nodding in Amanda’s direction.
After taking a look, Natalie said, “Amanda, dear, the chairs are here. You may sit down now.”
“Oh,” she responded as she sat. Relieved, she added, “Thank you, Mother.”
“I am Colonel Richard Lystra,” said the officer behind the desk. This is my aide, Captain Stephen Scott, and my secretary, Sergeant Major John O’Riley. Don’t let their banter bother you. They have been doing it since we became a team. How may we help you?”
“I am Natalie Farmer, this is my mother, Iris, and my so … daughter, Amanda. I am the present ‘Guardian of Sharon’s Rose.’ Because the rose has some curative powers beyond normal medicine, we have the right, rather obligation, to use it to help cure the injured of the king’s soldiers. For example, I noticed by your crutches that you have trouble walking. Depending on your condition we may be able to cure that, although it may only be partial.”
“We’ll see. The patients come first.”
“In that respect you are a patient. I have the authority to order you. However, we want to help, not be a hindrance, so we would appreciate it if one of you would be kind enough to show us around and explain how things work here. As I said before, we don’t want to interfere.
“Canna the salve replace me hand?” Captain Scott asked.
“Unfortunately, there is no known incident of replacing bone. We can try, if you wish.”
“I would like ta play the bagpipe again. If ye don’t need me sir,” Captain Scott remarked. “I will escort the ladies.”
As they left the room Amanda turned to her grandmother to tell her something when she saw Colonel Lystra’s smile disappear. Sensing the dark cloud Sergeant O’Riley had mentioned she felt a pull on her heartstrings.
‘I couldn’t believe how the chit stared at me with those beautiful doe eyes. Yes, I know a doe’s eyes are brown, while hers are a beautiful gray. She wanted me. ME, a cripple. Her mother said they could cure my useless leg. But what about my black heart? What about the ones I killed or led into battle to be killed? The faces of those I led still burn in my mind as well as some I killed. Could one of them bring back the dead so that I could ask them for forgiveness? Maybe then I could love someone with as luscious lips and beautiful curves as this Amanda Farmer.’
As Captain Scott showed the women the hospital, the first stop was a doctor Iris remembered from a previous visit, “Dr. Drew! How nice to see you again. I thought you would have retired by now.”
“Even as old as we are, you can’t keep me down. I have slowed down; I don’t take as many patients as I used to. And you are as pretty as ever, Iris.
“Flattery will get you everywhere, Edwin. You know my daughter, Natalie, and granddaughter, Amanda.”
“Granddaughter? Humm. Did you bring the rose?”
“We did, and Natalie is now the guardian.”
“I will let my patients know. Oh, and let me know of one if my colleagues gives you trouble. You know how resistant I was.”
“Resistant? I had to order you. And thank you.”
“Did you really have ta order him?” asked Scott as they walked away.
“He might have been the worst I have ever encountered. But he learned his lesson and became a better doctor. He now listens to new ideas and considers the benefits to the risks.”
One of the last parts of the tour included the carpentry department, “Here are the men that make the wheelchairs, crutches, canes and peg legs. We would hire more, but our budget doesn’t allow it.”
“Will Sergeant Major O’Riley be getting a peg leg?” asked Natalie.
“He should be getting one in about two weeks.”
“Two weeks? How long has he been waiting?”
“About eighteen months.”
“That is not right!” Amanda interrupted. “Mama, will you talk to the prime minister about the delay? There are people who need work and these soldiers need to get back on their feet quickly or they will lose the use of their muscles.”
“I will go to the prime minister,” Iris said. “I know him, and will somehow secure the extra funds.”
“I hope you will succeed, “ the Captain added. “I canna’ keep saying, ‘soon’ to these boys.”
“What about the Colonel?” Amanda asked as they continued walking. “Why isn’t he using a cane?”
“He hasn’t tried.”
“I don’ know. Perhaps, unlike O’Riley an’ me, he has no wife. We have wives and children that give us that extra push we sometimes need, an’ of course, the love.”
“I don’t understand,” Amanda questioned. “He is brave, strong and handsome.”
“Me thinks something happened on the battlefield, but he would notta say.” He waved towards the right. “Now, behind that locked door are the French prisoners.”
“I must see these prisoners,” Amanda insisted.
“I canna’ do that.”
“Only those authorized can speak to them.”
“We do have the authority,” Natalie explained.
“The tour has ended,” Scott noted. “I canna’ let you in, but with an escort.”
“That will be acceptable,” Amanda agreed.
Unlocked the door he ordered one of the guards in with her, “The boy drummer knows English and will translate for you.”
“Thank you, Captain,” she replied as she entered the cell. “You have been a great help.”
Looking around she spotted an early teen, “Drummer boy, I understand you know English. Will you be so kind as to translate for me?”
“I am Amanda Farmer. My mother is the ‘Guardian of Sharon’s Rose.’ Your name, master translator?”
“Julien Philippe de Gaul. I am thirteen.”
“May I call you Julien?”
“Please call me Amanda.”
“Merci Beaucoup, Mademoiselle Amanda.”
“Just Amanda, please Julien.”
“This rose I mentioned has curative powers beyond what is known to medicine. I, with your permission, will apply this salve made from the rose to your wounds. It will help you heal sooner. You have the right to refuse. Please explain to the other prisoners.”
He translated and some of the seven prisoners had questions that Julien translated for Amanda. In the end only one refused.
“Please inform him he has until I leave to change his mind. After that, when I can return he will have another chance.”
After Julien translated she asked him questions about his injury then examined him before applying the liquid to his wound. She followed that procedure with the next four. But with the sixth willing prisoner she turned from the soldier before doing anything for him and started to cry.
“Amanda, why did you not give him the medicine?” Julien asked.
“Does he understand English?” she asked.
“The salve won’t help him. He will die in a few days. There is nothing I can do for him.”
“Julien, please get him a priest so he can make his final confession.”
“You must try.”
“Try I can, but I will fail. You must understand the rose doesn’t always work. You were in battle and know that people die.”
“I now understand, Amanda Farmer.”
“One more thing Julien Philippe de Gaul. You will be the grandfather of a great general that will be an ally with us when the greater monster is abroad. Be proud of your grandson. But like your ancestors, he will often be a thorn in the English side.”
“We try, Amanda.”
“There will be times we will say, ‘With friends like him, who needs enemies’?”
Amanda knew that she had accomplished an important task with the French soldiers. She thought about that before realizing that if she hadn’t given the salve to Julien he would have died, leaving France without that great general when it desperately needed him.
Over the next two hours Amanda went through the motions of talking to the soldiers and using the rose’s solution, but she was constantly daydreaming about that Colonel Richard Lystra.
Natalie looked at her daughter and sighed. Amanda distraction was not helping. She needed to act before her daughter wasted too much of the rose.
“Amanda, honey, come here for a moment.”
“You can’t concentrate. You can’t use the salve properly if you can’t concentrate. You are thinking of him, sweetie. Aren’t you?”
“You need to go and help him with his leg, Mandy.”
“If you continue to act like a love sick puppy you will be no good to me, your grandmother or the other soldiers. Get moving, gel.”
“I’m afraid, Mama.”
“You should be. Baby, take a deep breath and go help him. He’s just a man.
‘But what a man!’
“Don’t worry. He won’t bite.” Natalie told Amanda as the girl walked to the office. “At least, I hope, not too hard.”
“Mama!” Amanda was trembling. Steadying her nerves, she took a deep breath before walking into the Colonel office. She was determined to stand her ground and not run away from this handsome man, “Colonel Lystra, I was told to take care of your foot.”
“Not now, I’m busy.”
“It will only take ten minutes.”
‘How am I going to keep my hands off this chit for ten minutes?’
“I said, ‘I’m busy!’”
“Going over reports.”
“They could wait.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I don’t want to start our relationship by ordering you.”
“On whose bloody authority?”
“King William the first, also known as William the Conqueror, William of Normandy, William the Bastard. It is written in his chronicles so that whoever is the guardian, her ancestors or descendants will be able to use the rose and, if necessary, order the soldier. Please cooperate.” She wiped away a tear.
“Aw, bloody hell! What do you want me to do, Miss Farmer?”
“Tell me what you could do with that leg. And please call me Amanda, or Mandy if you wish.”
“Only if you call me Richard, Mandy.”
“I would like that, Richard. So what can you do?”
“Very little. I can stand on both legs for a few minutes before my right leg gives out. I have to either stand on my left leg or sit down. I cannot walk. That is why I use crutches.”
“Can you use a cane?”
“Richard, I don’t understand. You are the administrator of a hospital that specializes in taking care of our wounded. Why?”
“From now on you are going to make time, Richard! Now I will examine your wound, then put some of my liquid on it. The salve should give you some more strength in that leg. That strength will increase in time until you can walk without assistance.”
“Is that an order?”
She looked at him pleadingly.
Reluctantly he took down his pants as he said, “Plural, Mandy. There are entrance and exit wounds.”
When she examined him, she noted that the entrance wound had healed into a scar but the exit wound still had bandages to stem the still slightly oozing wound. She felt around and between the wounds, tentatively at first, then with more confidence.
“Does this hurt?”
“No.” But it stimulated him.
“This?” She liked touching him.
She continued to feel along his thigh. A few of the spots gave him pain. Finally, after assessing the situation, she applied the liquid salve to the wounds and the painful spots. While this was happening she noticed his penis getting bigger. As each second went by it was harder and harder not to touch it. Staring at it as she continued to touch his thigh only made her nipples harder and increased her longing for him to touch them, and wanting him to roam other places too. She wondered what it would be like to touch the rest of his body. She also didn’t know how she would react to the other men, but she knew Richard Lystra was definitely not like other men.
‘G_d, her touch, tentative at first, then with authority and confidence. SENSUAL. I was barely able not to ask her to see if my chest or lower leg hurt. I know I should not have responded sexually, but when I did her eyes lit up. Somehow I’ve got to have her. I am going to have trouble letting her touch the other soldiers the way she did with me.’
During the rest of the day she cheerfully attended the wounded, often singing as she went from soldier to soldier. Sometimes she learned what battles they had fought or where they were wounded. Often she found out where they lived, and occasionally about the girlfriend back home and how much she reminded him of her. She even received a few proposals, which she refused. She knew that her cheerful attitude was in part from talking, although briefly, with Richard.
It was near the end of the day as the women were packing up when Colonel Lystra approached them and asked, “Would you like to join me at my home for dinner? I would hate to dine alone.” He was hoping they would accept, as he needed to see Amanda again, and was afraid not to have a chaperone.
“As long as it is not an imposition,” Natalie replied.
“It is not an imposition, Mrs. Farmer.”
“Natalie, please call me Natalie.”
The invitation made Amanda nervous. She didn’t want to be alone with Richard, not realizing her mother and grandmother would be there. She was afraid of what he would do. More, important she was afraid of what she would do.
Richard helped the older ladies into the coach when it arrived. When he gestured to help Amanda into it she not only refused, but also helped him into the coach, putting her hand on his hips, “I might be part of the so called, weaker sex, but right now you have a weakness that I must assist you with. Please do not refuse my help, Richard.”
“Thank you, Mandy. It is often difficult getting in and out of the coach.”
“Richard, if the rose works I will gladly let you take my hand when the time comes.” ‘I didn’t say that right! I think I just agreed to be his wife. It might be a good idea, but I’ll need to get to know him better. I must take this one day at a time. And what a day this has been!’
‘This Amanda Farmer is very forward. Did she just propose to me? ME! I hardly know her and shouldn’t be thinking like that now, but I must take this one day at a time. What am I thinking? It is too early for that.’
During dinner Richard asked Amanda, “What did you do before you came here?”
“Like my last name, I am a farmer. We milk the cows, feeding them in the winter and letting them graze in the summer. We feed the chickens and collect the eggs, harvest the wheat and vegetables and in autumn, pick the apples and do canning. We harvest everything and it seems like we are still canning in winter. In the spring we plant the wheat and vegetables and shear the sheep. We were able to get some turkeys from America for eggs and meat. The meat tastes strange.
“Constantly the nobles come and take a portion of our produce. What we have left we use and share with others less fortunate that us. We also harvest the rose and often use it to cure some local people. It is a hard life yet very rewarding. When I have the time I just love to go out in the field and watch the birds and other animals. I enjoy eating an apple or a string bean that I have just picked or having an egg that has just been laid. And I have watched for hours the deer that have come onto our property.”
“Do the people pay you for your rose salve?”
“Some do. Some do not. We neither expect, ask for, nor refuse any payment, except for the ton or if the person getting the salve is poor. Even then, if the noble is poor we may refuse the payment. It is hard to believe, but there are indigent nobles. What did you do before the war?”
“I liked to ride my horse, take walks through the parks and my parents’ estates and dance. I still have time to read books and scientific papers, especially on medicine. Also I am an amateur painter. Others say I am good and if it is not too late, I could show you some of my work tonight.”
“I would like to see them.”
“That picture behind you of the edge of the forest is one of mine. For the rest, if not tonight, maybe tomorrow. It is best to see them in the light. And, yes, I am a noble; to be more accurate I should inherit my father’s title and estates as the Earl of Lystra when he dies. I hope to be a grandfather by then because I love mother and father too much to lose them early. I went to war because, as a noble, I believed that it was my obligation to defend England.”
“War is stupid, but with Bony I believe we had no choice. When I get a chance I will work for peace, maybe get a job with the proposed new commission settling disputes with the Americans, including Canada’s boundary.”
“What would you want to do there?”
“I envision an unfortified border where there are custom agents for tariffs, hopefully small so that trade will flow between them and us. The only military would be the police to enforce the laws and maybe a coast guard to protect those who wish to use the Great Lakes. But that is the future. First, both sides need to build trust.”
“That is a grand vision,” Amanda agreed. “Grandmother, could you suggest Richard for that commission to the prime minister?”
“Richard, I see that you are looking for a permanent peace with at least that one country and will gladly recommend you when I talk to him about other things.”
“No matter what the results, thank you for your effort. I just realized that I have a lady coming tomorrow morning to continue to have her portrait painted. Would you like to see me paint, Mandy?”
“I would love to.”
When Amanda arrived the next morning she was shown to a room on the top floor lit completely with sunlight. The woman whose portrait Richard was painting was sitting on a chair. Like many of the ton, she had flaxen hair and blue eyes. The blue dress that complimented her eyes had a bow tied in the back. She was smiling until she saw Amanda touch Richard’s left shoulder lightly.
“If you frown it will be difficult to paint that smile on your face or that twinkle in your eyes, Heloise,” Richard remarked.
“Who is she and what is she doing here?”
“She is Amanda Farmer, and I invited her to watch.”
“Amanda Farmer, keep your bloody hands off of him. He is mine!”
Amanda ran out of the room, sat on the stairs, put her head in her hands and cried.
Inside the room Richard demanded, “What are you talking about, Heloise?”
“I don’t want her here! You belong to me!”
“What are you talking about?”
“You heard me!”
“You and I are not romantically involved! Now go and apologize to Amanda.”
“Then, get out of my house, and stay out! Your portrait will remain unfinished.”
“I will say that you have bedded me. Then you will have to marry me.”
“I cannot stop you if you want to ruin your reputation. I will naturally deny it and let you suffer the consequences. I will go as far as to insist that you be examined by a physician, or have you been bedded by someone else? And I said, ‘Get out!’”
Crying, Heloise ran passed Amanda down the stairs and out to her carriage. As she rode home she started thinking of ways to destroy Amanda.
Richard removed his painting smock then quickly walked out and found Amanda by the stairs. He put his arm around her, holding her tight, and tried to explain, “I don’t know how she thought that I was romantically interested in her.”
“But she said…”
“Before I fought on the Peninsula I did dance a few times with her, but also with other young women,” he admitted as he held her. “I had told her about my art, just before I went to war. It was then that she asked me to paint her. I promised that I would do it when I returned. I was just keeping my promise. I do not love her, and never did. She means nothing to me. Now I realize that she would be too jealous for me.”
As he held Amanda around her shoulders he dried her eyes.
“I have feelings for you, Amanda. I don’t know exactly what they are, but I might even be falling in love.”
“I might be too.”
He continued to hold her for about two minutes before they looked into each other’s eyes and kissed for the first time.
Amanda continued to administer the salve to Richard daily. In less than a week he was able to stand on both feet, although in the beginning he was wobbly.
“Richard, I want you to try using a cane.”
“That will take months to make.”
“Not any longer. You will see in your report that you have hired about twenty carpenters to make canes, peg legs, and wheelchairs. I have asked one of them to measure you for a cane. You should have it in three days.”
“Amanda, I’ve told you my patients must come first!”
“If you can walk with a cane and visit the soldiers who have seen you barely able to walk with the crutches you will give them hope. Too many have lost that hope through no fault of yours.”
‘What about MY hope? How can I be cheerful for them if I don’t have hope. But maybe Mandy could help me with that.’
Instead of the three days Amanda predicted, he had his cane later that day. With Amanda’s help he was able to walk over a hundred feet on his first try before he got tired. Although out of breath, he had a giant smile in his face when he sat down.
“You went further than I expected, Richard.”
“Mandy, this is great! I feel so free!”
She gave him a hug that he returned that seemed to last a long time.
In the evening, just before they left for the day, Richard walked with his cane out of his office into the main part of the hospital. The physicians, their assistants, the staff and soldiers began cheering and clapping. Richard actually had tears from the ovation.
Seeing him enter the main area Amanda went to him, held his free hand and whispered, “I told you, you would give them hope,” before kissing him on the cheek. That brought more cheers.
That evening was warm for November so he told his coachman, “Follow us to my home. I do not know how far I could go.” They walked two blocks before he got tired and ordered the coachman to take them to his home for dinner.
“That is excellent, Richard,” she remarks as she helped him into the coach. “Soon you will make the five blocks home.”
“Sometimes I wish that it was your home, too.”
She was silent for about ten seconds, the longest ten seconds of his life.
“There are times I want it also. Maybe soon.”
In the morning Richard rode to the Farmer home and called out, “Amanda, come with me!”
“But you are on a horse!” she shouted out her second floor window. “How?”
“My butler helped me up on the saddle! Mandy, ride on the back! Just hold on tight!”
“I have never ridden before! … Never mind! I will be down in a minute!”
In about two minutes Amanda was out the door and Richard helped her onto the rump of the horse. She put her arms around his waist and held on tight before he set the horse to a slow gallop. It was during the seven block ride that Amanda felt her testes enter her body, never again to appear because they were becoming ovaries as the beginning of the miracle her ancestor, Mary was told about.
When they arrived at the hospital, Amanda got down first before helping Richard off the horse. The horse and the couple were out of breath.
Still breathing heavily, Amanda remarked again, “I have never ridden a horse before.”
“I’m surprised. You grew up on a farm.”
“We have no horses. The local noble took them generations ago.”
“You walked everywhere?”
“Even to town. It is only a mile and most of the year it is a pleasant trip. Could you teach me to ride?”
“It would be my pleasure, my sweet.”
She smiled. ‘He called me “my sweet”.’
The next day Richard was able to walk three blocks with the cane. Again, ordering his coach to follow they rode the final two blocks and had dinner together.
After dinner Amanda moved closer to Richard playing with his hair as she remarked, “I know it is a painful subject, but soon you must tell me what happened in the war. It is time you stop hating yourself for what you did.”
He finished eating, “You might hate me.”
“I could never hate you, Richard.”
“I killed my entire company! That is my dark secret.”
“Was it in battle?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t make it better.”
“Please, Richard, you need to tell me what happened. You will feel better.”
“I organized and sponsored a company, mainly from the local boys near my home with the intention to help Wellington fight the French on the Peninsula. I made Paul Brown, my best friend, my lieutenant. We had happy times together in our youth before the war.” Remembering briefly his friend and the good times he smiled. “He was also good at taking and giving orders. We were in the heat of battle when Paul fell down dead beside me. I held his lifeless body, rocking it as tears rolled down my cheeks. After a few minutes I went insane. I was determined to make those bloody French pay, so I charged towards the French line with my sword raised, ready for action. I chopped the first French soldier’s head off. I took his rifle and fired at another soldier then used his bayonet to open another’s guts. I kept on killing, using the guns and bayonets of the dead French.
“Thinking that they had not heard my charge order, my company followed close behind me over the same open field. Most of them died on that field. Assuming the same thing, other nearby troops attacked, and we routed the French. Our army continued to press the French beyond where I was. I was not hurt, not a nick on me. I noticed I was alone with the dead and dying on this part of the battlefield and looked around. I turned over one of our dead soldiers to see his face. It was Henry Thompson. He was only seventeen. I saw most of the others of my company. I had killed them all. Bewildered, I sat down and cried until no more tears came. I couldn’t think. I didn’t want to think. I was dead inside and wanted to join my company.”
She hugged him and leaned his head on her shoulder.
“I heard someone say ‘Captain?’ I looked up at him. ‘Captain, are you hurt?’ I didn’t answer. ‘Captain, come with me,’ he suggested as he helped me up. Dazed I went with him to our camp. I haven’t been alive since that day until you came to the hospital. For leading the charge Wellington gave me a bloody medal a promotion to major and I joined his headquarters. I would rather have my company back. I was bloody responsible for them, and I killed them all! I still see their faces, mostly at night in my dreams.”
“But, if you were not hurt, how did you get your leg wound?”
“A few days later we encountered the French again. Wellington wanted to know how large the enemy was. To give him a good estimate I volunteered to ride around the French encampment. Wanting to die and join my company was my real motive. I rode very fast on my horse, covering about five miles. As I was getting out of the woods some of their soldiers spotted me and fired. I got halfway to our line when a bullet hit me, causing the wounds you have seen. I managed to get back to camp and give my report before collapsing off my horse. They said I had a fever and almost died. I wish I did but we won the battle because of my report. Again, for my bravery I was given a medal and promoted to colonel. I was given a regiment, but because of my wound could not take control so I was brought home and made administrator of the hospital. … Now you know my dark secret.”
She continued to hug him, “And you deserve to be forgiven, Richard. Start by forgiving yourself.”
“Forgive myself,” he mused as she continued to hold him.
“You said it yourself a few days ago. You learned the lesson of war, so now you will work for peace.”
The next evening they were able to walk the entire five blocks to his home. Amanda held his arm, as with the previous evenings, but this time it was more a woman holding her man’s arm than for physical support. Christian, his butler greeted them when they arrived, but unlike most evenings, Christian gave Richard a letter. When he opened it up he was surprised to see that he had been invited to a ball that evening and it had a R. S. V. P. attached.
“This is strange,” he noted. “Why would I be invited to a ball when most of the ton knows that I am too injured to dance.”
“It does seem strange,” she added. “And why wasn’t I invited, also.”
After they discussing it more, he wrote back, “I regret that I cannot attend, as I have not fully recovered from my leg wound. Also, Amanda Farmer will not leave my side at this time.”
While eating dinner Amanda admitted, “I do not know how to dance, at least the dances done by society.”
“I am not up to it either, at least not now. Yet, that is another thing I will be teaching you.”
“Why can you not teach them to me now?”
“With most dances the man barely touches the lady, and only for a few seconds each round. However there is one scandalous dance where the man and woman actually hold each other. It is called the waltz. I can show you the basic step of that.”
“Yes. It has a basic rhythm of one, two three; one, two three.” He stood up then instructed, “Put your left hand in my right.”
“Yes. Now put your left arm around the small of my back. Like that. Now follow my lead. One, two, three; one, two three; one, two, three. Very good.” He hummed a waltz tune as they danced for several minutes.
“That was fun, Richard. Why is it so scandalous?” she breathlessly asked.
“Because we are touching for the entire dance.”
“It is not done in polite society. But that does not bother me, especially with you, Mandy.”
Trouble began in the morning. Lady Opal, the one who had held the ball, arrived at the hospital and demanded to speak to the colonel, “Who is this Amanda Farmer, and why is she at your side when you are engaged to Lady Heloise Michaels? You even bedded her!”
“Lady Heloise is a lying chit! I am not engaged to her, and never was. We were never romantically involved. I never bedded her. I hardly know her. And for your information, Amanda Farmer is the future ‘Guardian of Sharon’s Rose’ and she is the first woman I was ever romantically involved with. Please let it be known that if anyone invites me they also must invite Amanda. I will not go without her.”
“Is that what you say, you cad?”
“Believe what you wish, Lady Opal, but I am speaking the truth. I doubt Lady Heloise is willing to go to a physician to see if she has been deflowered. Amanda is in the main part of the hospital. Would you like to speak to her?”
“Why would I want to speak to an interloper?”
“She is not an interloper. And if you speak to her, you may find out more of the truth.”
“Sergeant Major O’Riley, please get Amanda.”
“Right away, colonel.”
When Amanda entered the office she gave Richard a slight touch before sitting down, “You needed me?”
“Lady Opal would like to talk to you about our relationship, Mandy,” he replied. “If you wish, I can leave.”
“Please stay. There is nothing I will say to her that you should not know. What would like to know, Lady Opal?”
“Lady Heloise said that you started to interfere with her engagement with Colonel Lystra early in September, Miss Farmer.”
“That is impossible. I am a farmer, like my last name implies. In September my grandmother, mother and I were busy harvesting our crops. We were still canning in mid October.”
“Do you have proof?”
Amanda thought for a few moments, “Besides my grandmother and mother, there are our servants. Samuel, our coach driver, arrived at our home in Suffolk County on November first of this year. He, and the other servants, are paid by the crown, so they only have a little loyalty to us. You may, if you wish, confirm my information with the prime minister.”
“When did you meet Colonel Lystra?”
“I met Richard November seventh the morning we first arrived at this hospital. That evening he invited us to have dinner at his home.”
“When did you find out that Colonel Lystra was engaged to Lady Heloise?”
“Richard invited me to see him paint a portrait the next morning. Lady Heloise was already sitting for the portrait when I arrived. She asked what I was doing there and then she became angry and said she was romantically involved with him and that I should leave him alone. He assured me after Lady Heloise was told to leave that he had never had any romantic involvement with nor did he ever have any interest in Lady Heloise, except to paint her portrait.”
“Why do you believe him, Amanda?”
“I heard him arguing with Lady Heloise, even through my tears. He told her he couldn’t understand why she believed they were romantically involved. Before she left she told him she would tell everyone she was engaged to Richard and had been rejected for me. He also told her he would never finish her portrait. After she left he held me and reassured me then he confessed that he might be falling in love with me.”
“Lady Opal, if Lady Heloise told you that I met Richard in September, and that is a lie, why should you believe the rest of her claim?”
“May I check with your servants?”
“Please, it will go a long way to repairing Richard’s reputation.”
“Miss Farmer, what should I do if I find out your information is true?”
“Let others know, Lady Opal. Richard is being maligned and we need to stop this before it gets too far.”
Iris was standing just outside the door. She stepped in and added, “It already has gotten too far, Mandy. I’m sorry Richard, but the prime minister had rejected you from being on the commission because of this scandal. He said that if you want to be on that commission you must marry Lady Heloise.”
“That is not fair!” Amanda exclaimed. “What are we going to do, Richard?”
Note: Use this version instead of the one submitted previously.
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