The Favor

Setting: Baron Rhys Baldwyn's Christmas Court in Rhoreau. Jointly written by Jennifer Brin and Bernadette Crumb

The fifth day of Christmas 1107...

Marian walked slowly from Mass the morning of the fifth day with Julia. Julia was still in  a mood over some of the things that had been happening throughout the Baron's Court, and she had to fight to hide it from everyone else. There was, of course, no hiding it from Marian, who knew her too well.

Brian had seemed more at ease this morning though. Each day, the two Bishops, Brian, and the local priest teamed together to present the Christmas spirit and talk about peace and good will to men. Which Brian had made a point of going over during his turn at sermon. The past few days he'd been more distracted, it seemed, but that was only to be expected with the tension within the family. Even those who had no real stake in the fight, or who did not truly understand the conflict between Trevor and William the Fourth felt the strain in the others.

Julia had done her best to stay out of it, even though she'd always secretly liked her uncle Trevor. Julia had always been fascinated by the headstrong Trevor, even though the difference in their ages meant that they spent little time together. Perhaps he'd even influenced her outspoken nature a little, for she sometimes chafed under the strict rule of her elders in much the same way he had.

She had even deigned to dance with him last night, which Marian knew her mother would take her to task for. Aunt Lizzie didn't seem to have much problem with Trevor herself, but she would stand by William, if only to keep the peace. Lizzie never said it, but Julia had confessed to Marian a couple of times that she thought her mother was afraid of William's temper. They did, after all, live at the sufferance of the Baron since Giles didn't have any land of his own. Baroness Felicia would never let William exile Giles and his family, but there were limits to how much control she could have over her squabbling children.

Most of all Julia seethed with anger at Sir Dennis. They'd both been close enough to hear him when he commented that he felt "Xavier was the only Manston with any courage." Xavier of course being the name Trevor traveled under. Marian had felt Julia's shock and then anger. Julia refrained from saying anything at the time, but that wouldn't hold long.Julia wouldn't cause a scene, but she'd have a few things to say to Dennis if she could ever get him alone long enough. And Julia had plans to make sure that all the Manston girls knew his feelings about the family. The family might squabble, but there wasn't a single one, save perhaps Trevor, who would allow any outside attack.

Julia broke off her discussion of the sermons as Baron Rhys came into view. He looked at the two of them, smiled and walked over. Julia glanced slyly at Marian, then back to make sure Magda was in her customary place keeping an eye on the girls, then said, a bit loudly. "As I was saying, Marian, I probably need to talk to Brian about that point he made." She curtseyed to Rhys as he arrived before them. "My Lord." She turned and hurried off towards Brian.

Rhys smiled. "My Lady, I hope you have been enjoying your time here in Rhorau. Have you gotten to see much of the town yet?"

Rising from her own curtsey, Marian returned his smile. "Actually, my lord, I haven't had the opportunity. The festivities you have planned for us have simply filled the days."

"I need to pick up a gift from a craftsman. Would you--and" he bowed toward the waiting gentlewoman who had moved closer to her charge, "your companion care to join me? I would be pleased to show you the sights of my poor city."

"Poor city, my lord? My impression as we approached the castle was of great prosperity and contentment of the citizens." She handed her prayerbook to Magda and gathered the skirts of her green gown to step up the shallow steps that connected the enclosed passageway from the church to the castle itself. "I would enjoy seeing the city with you. And perhaps I might find some small items for gifting myself."

"I shall have horses waiting at the main doors then, my lady." He lifted her hand and bowed over it, as she curtsied, before striding away down the corridor into the castle.

Marian straightened with a smile curving her lips. She recognized Julia's presence coming up behind her and paused in the archway that led upstairs to their quarters. Her cousin's eyes were sparkling with suppressed merriment.

"Well? What did he want?" she whispered as they started up the stairs.

"He's taking Magda and me on a tour of the city, that's all." Marian tried to sound nonchalant about it and failed utterly.

"That's all? That's wonderful! Come on, let's get your prettiest gown on!"

"Julia, he won't see it under my mantle!" she protested.

"How do you know? Perhaps you'll go inside somewhere--and when you get back and he helps you take off your cloak, then he'll see it!"

When Marian came downstairs to meet the Baron, under her russet, fox trimmed mantle, she did wear her best day gown of antiqued gold-dyed silk brocade.

While the Baron spoke quietly with the silversmith on the other side ofthe small shop, Marian and Magda examined some of the fine pieces on display. As the girl looked up from a delicately filigreed chalice, a tray of small animal figurines off to the side caught her eye. Enchanted, she set down the cup and moved to bend over the tray.

Ranging in size from that of a thimble to the span of her palm, silver cats, dogs, birds, deer and horses in whimsical and natural poses. The workmanship was generally more crude than the larger pieces that they'd looked at before, but among them were some items of an exquisite quality.

Marian smiled at a gaze hound, which stood with head alert, ears pricked as if it had sighted it's prey, one forepaw raised to break into the run for which the dogs were famous. It was no bigger than the length of her smallestfinger, but the detail was delicate and fine.

She picked it up and balanced it on her palm. With a quick glance at the Baron, who was still occupied with the silversmith, she asked the journeyman who was attending them, "How much?"

"One silver mark." At her look of surprise, he explained, "These are apprentice-made and do not bear the master's hallmark. It wouldn't be appropriate to sell them for more."

Marian smiled down at the grayhound and set it on the counter before retrieving two small silver coins from her pouch. "One mark for the figure, and a second one for the apprentice--to encourage more such work."

The journeyman's ears turned red and he looked down, flustered, as he took the money. Marian didn't say anything, but it was now obvious to her that the young man must have been the "apprentice" who made the hound.

When Baron Rhys turned from the silversmith to the two ladies, the grayhound, wrapped in a scrap of felted wool, rested in Marian's pouch. "I apologize for taking so long. Shall we continue our tour?"

The Baron led the ladies back outside. A light snowfall had begun, hardly more than a sprinkle of flakes, but Rhys dusted off the saddles before he helped Marian and Magda on to the backs of the sturdy animals he'd chosen for this ride. He'd explained briefly and a bit sheepishly that these weren't by far the prettiest horses in his stables, but they were the steadiest feet to be had. With the ever-lingering possibility of hitting a patch of ice, he said, there was no way he'd let any ladies in his charge ride anything but sturdy mountain-bred horses.

He led them through the streets of Rhorau, trying hard not to sound too boastful, but it was obvious he was proud of his city. Rhorau sat at the headwaters of the Rhennish Trace, in a fairly sheltered river valley. Easy access to the river gave the craftsmen and merchants of the city a solid trade route, and during the summer the passes through the Rhendall Mountains were no more treacherous than any other roads. This, and the rich fertility of the valley itself, was the foundation of a solid community.

Baron Rhys waved and greeted people, many of them by name. "Other there, that chapel, that's been there since before the Restoration. It's a tiny thing, but well-kept. And that over there is where a seamstress used to work. Her son has the building now, and as you can see he's a carpenter. But that's where our castellan, Raleigh, used to take us for special clothing when we weren't in Rhemuth, for she was the best in town, and old even then, and never leaving her workshop." He laughed. "Thomas used to terrorize her." He winked at Marian. "Well, Thomas always got the blame for terrorizing her. She thought I was an angel, although she couldn't quite tell us apart."

He sighed. "Don't you dare ever tell him, but it's so good to have my brother home for a while. It gets lonely here with only Raleigh and," he paused briefly, "well, and sometimes Brian to talk to. That's a good reason to have a Christmas fest--sheer boredom!" He grinned.

Marian smiled back at him. "With the make up of your guest list, I don't believe that boredom will be a problem. I have certainly enjoyed the past few days activities." She giggled suddenly. "I must admit the snowball joust was the best to see!"

"His grace's manner of concluding the combat was inspired, wasn't it?" Rhys drew up his mount at the base of the market cross. The street abruptly descended in a steep curve leading to the Trace, the half timbered houses built close together, stairstepping down the incline. About halfway down the street was a very tall, narrow wooden tower, snow capped over boards smeared with pitch. It seemed out of place among the residences and shops and drew Marian's attention.

Rhys followed her gaze. "Oh, you've discovered Riley's Watch. About two generations ago, the patriarch of a clothmaker's family became housebound due to a crippling injury, but he hated being relegated to a dim back room after spending his life actively involved in his business and traveling throughout the region to trade his goods. So he had the tower built and spent the remainder of his life living in the top room where he could look out over the roofs and see the mountains and plateaus around the city. The current Riley still is a clothmaker, but allows the city watch to use the tower for the fire watch." He continued proudly, "Rhoreau hasn't had a severe, out-of-control fire since this particular tower was built."

"What a good idea. I'll mention it to my father for Lyon's Vale, when I go home again."

"And when will that be?"

Marian's lips parted to answer in a jesting manner that she'd be glad to stay until he threw her and Magda out, but as her eyes met his, the jest went unspoken. An internal compulsion to be honest about her feelings took over. "If I never had to leave here, I'd be happy."

Rhys stared into her eyes for just a moment, and then he flicked his glance to take in Magda's expression. Marian couldn't see her from where she sat, but she knew that Magda wouldn't approve of such a frank declaration if she'd heard it. Rhys smiled and said "Now, my Lady, your home can't be so bad that you'd take being stuck in Rhorau as a substitute for it. Trust me, after a winter trapped here you'd be dying to leave." His tone was light and as flippant as could be, but his eyes did not speak in such a light manner. "Of course, you and your lady are welcome to my hospitality as long as you like."

He grinned, and looked down at his horse, playing with the strap of the saddle. He spoke in a low voice so that Magda might not overhear. "Of course, you shouldn't say such things where she will hear you, especially since I haven't proven myself by defending your honor in the joust yet. That is, if you would let me champion you."

Marian blushed prettily. Glad that the furred edging of her hood hid her face from Magda, she smiled and replied, "I'd be very honored if you would, my lord.I'm sure that my reputation is in good hands."

Rhys returned her smile and then, glanced up at the snow-laden clouds above. "It appears the flurry will become a full blown storm soon. We had better return to the castle."

The snowfall had definitely increased as the trio arrived back at the main doors of the castle. Although servants ran to meet them, it was Rhys who brushed the accumulated snow from Marian's shoulders and helped her to remove her fur-lined mantle in the Great Hall. His look of appreciation as he saw her best day gown in the torch light that illuminated the chamber was not missed by Julia, who lurked nearby waiting for their return. She was working on a piece of needlework near the great fireplace and quickly hid her delighted smile when she saw the Baron bend over Marian's hand, and linger a moment longer than the ordinary courtesy demanded. Marian hoped that her own high color as Baron Rhys turned away to accept pair of mugs of mulled wine was attributed to their coming in from the cold.

She gracefully accepted the steaming beverage and sat down shoulder to shoulder next to her cousin, letting the hot vessel warm her frozen fingers. Once her hands were warm enough, she intended to ask Magda to get her work basket so she could fashion a favor for Lord Rhys to carry during the joust. While other guests congregated around her host, she sipped her wine, closed her eyes and did a little daydreaming.

*When's the betrothal going to be announced?* Julia's irrepressible good humor interrupted her musing.

*He asked to carry my favor in the joust, that's all*

*That's all? From the way you looked when he bowed to you, Uncle Brian should be calling the banns!*

Marian shot her cousin a quelling glare over the rim of her cup, then looked at Magda who was holding her hands out to the fire, warming them. "Magda, when you've warmed up enough, would you be so kind to bring me my work basket from the solar?" The older woman glanced from her charge to the Baron, who was discussing the breeding of coursing hounds with Sir Thomas and William Manston IV on the far side of the fireplace, and back again, and Marian flushed once more. "I'll stay right here next to Julia while you're gone."

"I'll be back directly, my lady." The woman's face briefly broke into a smile and she rested a hand on Marian's shoulder for a moment as she passed toward the stairway.

Marian had never, ever, intruded into her waiting woman's mind, but she suddenly knew that she had Magda's approval and best wishes. She breathed a brief prayer of thankfulness for her companion to the heavens and opened her eyes to meet the Baron's gaze. He quickly averted his eyes, resuming his conversation, and she turned her attention back to the last of the warm, spiced wine she held.

She didn't look up again until Magda had returned, but was aware of his discreet glances from time to time, while she conversed innocuously with her cousin. She bent over her work basket, and carefully selected threads with which to embroider a square of white linen. As the afternoon proceeded and the snow outdoors continued to accumulate on the existing drifts, her needle flashed in and out of the linen square, an ivy ringed greyhound's head developing beneath her fingers. By the time Magda whispered to the two girls that they should go upstairs to change for the evening meal, the favor was completed, tucked into the top of the work basket.

Go to The Favor and the Fight Part Two

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