The autumn dawn was just breaking as Julia and Marian stepped softfootedly from the ladies' solar into the corridor that led to the walled garden. Behind them, Julia's unmarried sisters and their servants as well as Marian's waiting woman, Magda, still lay sleeping.
They slipped past the dozing guard, Julia cautiously reaching out to deepen his sleep long enough for them to get the garden door open and then closed again behind them. Marian smiled at her cousin as they hurried between the formal beds of herbs and late flowers. At the far end of the garden, fruit trees were espaliered against the wall, making a natural ladder to the crenellation above.
Lady Julia immodestly hiked up her skirts and scrambled up an apple tree, using the formally pruned branches as a convenient ladder to the wall's top. "Come on!" she urged Marian. "And grab a couple of apples too."
Marian stifled a laugh of sheer glee as she followed in her cousin's wake. As she grasped the crenellation with one hand, she passed up two rosy red apples to her before pulling herself onto the wide wall. "I wasn't sure I'd remember how to do this!" She followed Julia along the top of the wall into the shadow of a great walnut tree that extended its branches over the wall into the garden. "I'd have thought your uncle would have ordered this old tree cut down years since." She commented as Julia reached up and grasped a thick branch just over her head.
"He likes the walnuts from it too much. The next best tree is on the far side of the village on the wrong side of the pond and rather awkward to get to. Come on, before someone else wakes up and catches us!" She pulled herself up onto the broad branch and using other branches to help balance herself, walked toward the thick gnarled trunk. Marian followed carefully, her golden brown gown blending with the leaves that had turned with the change of seasons. She was pleased to find the old hand holds still in place, and shortly joined Julia in the tall grass that covered the hillside leading to the stream below.
They followed a faint path upstream into a copse of ornamental trees allowed to run wild and wormed their way into a hollow of a thicket, tall enough to almost stand within and floored with the soft fallen leaves of prior years. From without anyone inside was invisible, but they could observe the outside of the thicket easily.
The girls relaxed and ate the purloined apples, listening to the morning birdsong and the bells ringing from the tower of the village church in the valley as the priest called the town to morning worship.
"What has Father and Uncle Thomas been having you work on lately? I've seen you disappearing after dinner with them and my mother often enough lately."
"Mind speech, mainly. And Uncle Giles has half-promised that if he can safely arrange it, he'll show me how to use a transfer portal before we go to Rhoreau for Christmas." She sighed. "It's so frustrating, Julia. Not the practicing, but their attitudes that I'll never really be any good because my father isn't Deryni. It's not overt, but it seems that they don't want to teach me much because they think I'm not capable of learning it."
"How about Truth Reading?"
"That's easy. And I know I'm getting better at reading shields. I brushed up against Uncle John's at dinner last night and he didn't notice me there. But your father said there was no way I could have done that at my level of training." She rolled onto her back and stared up at the dappled light pattern on the golden leaves above her. Then she suddenly sat up, "Jul, what's wrong with Uncle Will? I tried to read his shields last night, and I couldn't tell anything. It was like they weren't there."
"What?" This time Julia sat up. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I was trying to be surreptitious, and I might not have done it right because I was doing it in a hurry...but it certainly seemed as if he had no shields at all."
"That's strange. I've never had the temerity to try to read Uncle Will. He's kind of forbidding." She shrugged it off. " Anyhow. What about locks? Have you learned how to read locks yet?"
"No, that's considered 'too hard',I guess."
Julia leaned forward, "I can teach you!" She pushed some of the leaf litter to the side, baring dark damp soil and patted it smooth before tracing a spiral pattern thereon. "Center on the pattern like we do for meditation, that's right..."
It was only midmorning when they slipped in to the keep by the main courtyard gate, as if they were returning from morning mass at the village church, having carefully removed all evidence of their dawn excursion from their hair and clothing.
But even as Magda and Lady Elizabeth scolded their earstwhile charges for not telling anyone of their plans to worship outside the keep, Marian and Julia exchanged smiling glances and gentle mind touches, Marian's stronger now from the confidence her cousin had instilled in her.
1998 Bernadette Crumb