Chapter 14: The Wedding
Waning Gibbous Moon, Late Spring
Gaelib stalked the room full of black-robed acolytes pouring over books, and scrolls, and documents brought from the royal library. He had charged them a moon ago with delivering any discrepancy that might be exploited or information that he might leverage, especially if it related to the rebel knight, Jonathan Otual. As he turned to leave, the Lord of Lorness noticed a merchant wearing a navy, high-collared doublet and matching cap lingering near the doors. With a nod to his guards, he indicated the man could remain.
Personally loyal to Gaelib, the individual was an excellent spy who’d provided timely information on multiple occasions. To arrive so openly was unusual. He must have something truly special.
“Approach,” Melazera commanded. Then he ushered him to a private room.
“My lord,” the man went down on one knee, his head bowed, “within a moon, the son of the man you seek above all others will marry. The Earl of Caswell is hosting the ceremony. He is the boy’s godfather.”
“That is… interesting,” Gaelib noted, outwardly calm.
Drake, you traitor, you know I seek Jonathan. Why did you not inform me? Perhaps, I should pay closer attention to what happens in your domain.
“Do you have instructions for me, my lord?”
“Only that I want Otual’s son under continuous surveillance. There’s no need for you to do so yourself. You are too useful elsewhere. But should the father approach his son, your spies are to track that knight and send word to me.”
Let’s see you evade me now, Jon. Those closest to you will be your undoing.
Full Moon, Early Summer
Woods Outside Caswell
Jonathan had not been to Gorum’s or the mountain in many moons. So, the news his son was to marry reached Jon via James of the Wood. He found the lad and his troop whenever his travels brought him into Freislicht. Somehow, James had learned David would take a wife. Further, his godfather, Drake, had offered to hold the ceremony in Caswell, only a day’s ride away.
With all his heart, Jonathan wanted to attend. Yet, he also knew that if he did, Gaelib’s men would be waiting there to ambush him. Worse, if that happened it would ruin the happy couple’s day and, potentially, could have them seen as accomplices.
No, the sensible thing is to stay away… or… perhaps, watch from afar?
Praying on it after eating with the boys, he received no guidance. J’shua expected his followers to make up their own minds. Pushing the matter aside, he slept.
On the following morning, the conviction was clear. He had only one son. It might also be an opportunity to encounter Rebekah. Surely, she would not miss the event either.
Having made his decision, he spoke to James. “I need a way into Caswell, but not as myself. I cannot be recognized without putting my son and his new bride in peril. Can you get me there in time? Do you have—”
“Finally! A way we can repay you, at least a little.” James beamed. “I’m sure we can help. Come. Look at some of the things that have… uh, fallen… into our possession.”
“You have not been stealing, have you?”
“No. We merely follow the examples of lords and businessmen. We charge a small toll to those who wander through our woods. We don’t seek them out. We’ve not hurt anyone. And most were more than willing to help out orphans.” His eyes twinkled. “You told us Lord J’shua would provide. He has.”
“James,” Jonathan shook his head at the irrepressible youngster, “when there is time, we need to have a long talk.”
Preening to ensure that her hair, dress, and understated jewelry were perfect, Parynna checked her appearance. Their first guest would be arriving all too soon.
Cynthia Gardonet would be married to Drake’s godson, David, in three days’ time. The girl was pretty enough, if a little mousy, from what she’d been told. A suitable bride for a penniless Knight of J’shua.
Thankfully, Caileagh’s teachings had shown Parynna how to largely wean Drake away from such religious nonsense. The knights had not yet been officially outlawed, but it was an inevitability. Their outdated beliefs were an obstacle to the Melazeras. Therefore, they had to go. Not that she’d permit their demise to affect Drake – or her – in any way. She’d worked too hard to ensure her husband’s position and good fortune.
A thought that brought her mind back to hosting this ill-thought-out wedding. Blast Drake, he’d sprung it upon her as if it was some wonderful surprise.
What would have been wonderful was knowing far enough in advance to advise Caileagh. Handing over David’s mother, or better yet his father, would have reaped bounteous rewards. They still would if Parynna could find some way to quietly capture them.
She could not do so openly, it would cause a scandal, a blot on the Caswell name. No, that would not do at all.
Worse still, Drake was being unusually close-lipped about whether or not David’s parents would attend. He had that abominable boyish glint in his eye that indicated he thought he was doing something clever. And not even her best attempts to pry it out of him had worked.
She feared he had more unpleasant surprises in store.
Then it hit her. There was a way to turn this to her advantage. One without involving Drake’s godson directly. As a knight, the boy would inevitably leave his bride all too soon to go off on some idiotic quest. That would leave his new bride all alone.
With only a day to go, Drake was bustling about the castle, bursting with joy, delighted by the well wishes of his circle members for his soon-to-be-married godson and bride.
Freshly-cut flowers hung everywhere.
Trestle tables were being set out so townsfolk and those from the surrounding countryside could partake of the feast that would follow the wedding.
Calves, pigs, fowl, and every other form of meat was being cut, smoked, and cooked no matter where he went throughout Caswell.
Drake knew that David wanted this to be a small affair, but this was a day for celebration. A day to be remembered. A day on which he could indulge a young man he thought of as a son.
Memories of the night Parynna had informed him she’d not bled with the full moon since her carriage was attacked over a year ago – that she was barren – threatened to spoil his mood. He pushed them aside. He loved her. He would never replace her. So what if one of his elder brother’s sons would one day inherit the earldom from him? It was an irrelevance.
Today he would rejoice.
He regretted that he could not share with his wife why he was so caught up in the preparations, but he did not want to cause her pain. He did not want her thinking back to the night that had almost broken them. No. This was his burden to shoulder. He would not let her suffer. And she was so happily engaged in her charities that he didn’t want to distract her.
Of course, there was also a final surprise he had withheld: David’s mother would be attending, in disguise. He wondered how long it would take for Parynna to identify Rebekah bedecked in clothes and make-up that transformed her into an old crone.
It’s going to be glorious!
Rebekah sat with the Caswell family dowagers, having been introduced as Millya from south of Lexandria, a distant kinswoman by a marriage that had occurred decades ago.
She had arrived only an hour earlier and made a splashy entrance, drawing all eyes to her. Stating that it had been too long since her family, the Schlussels, and the Caswells had interacted, she insisted on giving lavish gifts to the couple. In addition, she had brought with her a quartet who were not quite as good as they might have been. Then again, the three men and female singer were bodyguards provided by Licht Gegen. As was the maid hovering about her and seeing to her every whim.
She had approached Drake through an intermediary, a week before. Hatching this plan and making him promise to tell no one, not even his wife, that she would be in disguise. He’d loved the idea and provided the identity of Lady Schlussels.
The clothes she wore were expensive. A few locks of her artificially greyed, long-neglected hair escaped the elegant wimple atop her head. Primly, she tucked them back in.
At a nod, her musicians began playing.
Drake and David came over, welcoming her and the other dowagers.
Parynna Caswell trailed behind them, a pleasant expression frozen on her face as she did the absolute minimum necessary to meet her social obligations as hostess.
“That one would be nothing if any of Drake’s brothers had survived,” the elderly woman beside Rebekah commented just before Lady Caswell was out of earshot.
“You’re being far too kind,” another hissed. “If. Do you really believe her elevation was merely due to others’ bad luck. There are rumors that—”
Parynna had stopped walking away.
“She did seem disinterested,” Rebekah interrupted. The last thing she wanted to do was be caught in the middle of a scene between the dowagers and the hostess.“However, it could just be that, raised as a lesser Locke, she simply does not know how to behave around her betters, and seniors. I must mention it to Gregory when I next see him. Perhaps he could send her a protocol tutor.”
Parynna had been turning back towards them. But at the mention of Duke Gregory Locke, her lips closed tightly, the color in her face faded, and she stormed off.
“Please, please do,” the woman beside her pleaded. “I would love to see that.”
“Well,” Rebekah smiled back, “I shall do so. But it’s been a decade since I’ve encountered him and it could be another before I do so again.”
The women around her all giggled as “Millya” graciously accepted their accolades, then returned to looking through the crowd asking questions about this person and that. Her companions were more than helpful and provided gossip and insights that were astounding.
“Drake really must do something about his older servants,” one of them nodded towards an old, bent over, bearded man leaning against a wall. “He thinks it a kindness to force such unfortunates to continue working. Even if that means merely guarding some random spot.”
Another interjected, “Still, it’s better than what his wife would do. Fire them all and evict them from the homes the Caswells had provided.”
The oldster never moved from his place. Rebekah kept her eye on him. He didn’t perform any duties. Yet, she couldn’t get a good view of his face.
Is it Jon? His height’s about right, but… blast! I can hardly go over there and ask. Nor can I send my maid. If it is my Jon, he could spook and run. Worse, it could lead to his capture.
“Ooh, isn’t he a handsome, strapping young lad,” another woman, seated behind and to Rebekah’s right, leaned forward and pointed to a flamboyantly dressed merchant in his early twenties. It was James of the Wood.
What the…? Why is he here? Her heart fluttered. Is he helping Jon?
Before she could send her maid to summon James over on some pretext, the wedding music began, sending everyone not already seated scurrying for their places.
Drake took his position at the head of the hall. He looked resplendent in his family’s colors, covered by his navy knights’ cloak.
David, also clad in the garb of a knight, approached and bowed.
He looks so much like his father. She sighed. Where are you, Jon?
Her boy stood straight and tall, hands flat against his legs, awaiting the entrance of his bride. Trying not to fidget just as he had as a small boy.
The processional started when Cynthia entered the hall. She wore a pale blue linen dress decorated with white lace about her hips and small white flowers in her braided hair. She walked gracefully to the dais, her father beside her. She was a petite brunette.
Rebekah smiled, thinking of when she approached Jonathan on their wedding day. Tears streamed down her face, which she dabbed with her scarf.
Ours was a simple affair in the yard. Yet, I was thrilled.
David’s eyes roamed the hall until he caught her eyes. Then he bowed in thanks to all those who had gathered to celebrate. He winked at the watching crowd as Cynthia’s father put her hand into David’s.
The happy couple exchanged vows.
As Drake wound blue ribbon around their hands, he said, “We all bear witness to the promises these two have made before the God of Truth. I declare you one flesh. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Do you have the ring?”
David slid it onto her tiny finger.
“You may kiss your bride.”
David and Cynthia smiled brightly and kissed. When they turned to face the circle of friends, everyone roared with praise and applause.
Out of the corner of her eye, Rebekah noticed the old servant leave the room. Still without having seen his face.
Is that you, Jon? And what is James doing here?
Suppressing a chuckle at Drake’s excess, Jonathan moved through the crowd two steps behind and to the left of James, who was dressed as a wealthy merchant. They were accompanied by a third man who, like Jon, wore the face-covering cowl of a mercenary, a sword at his belt, and brigandine armor.
The haughty expression on James’ face was almost too believable. Yet, it and abundantly dispersed pouches of baden, had seen the three men find a place in the rear of the hall where they stood silently and observed the ceremony.
Jonathan looked around, as if searching for threats to the merchant he was protecting, but if Rebekah was in attendance, he could not find her.
Could she be disguised too?
No, that is absurd. What would Rebekah know of changing her appearance?
James gestured for his bodyguards to make way for him through the crowd of wedding guests pouring towards the outdoor feasting tables. It had been announced that the happy couple would be attending in half an hour, after everyone was in place.
Space was being made at a number of prominent tables for visiting dignitaries, notables and randomly selected locals. The last of those was included to, yet again, demonstrate the Earl’s connection with his people, regardless of their station.
All James wanted to do was make an inconspicuous exit. And not vomit. Drake was known to be exceptional. An exceptional hypocrite. An exceptional bore. And exceptionally blind to his wife’s misdeeds. Whereas, she was notorious and dangerous to cross.
James thought things were going well until a maid intercepted him. “Sir,” she began, “my mistress, Lady Schlussels, requests a few moments of your time. As one of your long-time patrons, she apologizes for interrupting such a joyous day, but has an urgent matter than only you can address.”
James scowled, not recognizing the name. But the girl was extremely pretty and he had little experience dealing with such creatures. Tongue-tied, he searched for something to say.
“Excuse me, sir,” another equally lovely servant girl intruded. “Earl Caswell has requested that you join the wedding party at one of the top tables. You won’t say ‘no’ will you? I’ll be thrashed if you do.”
Lady Schlussels maid stamped her foot. “I was here first—”
“But I serve the Earl. Whatever business you have can wait,” the second snapped back, glaring. “Wait… did you say Lady Schlussels? Then, this is easily solved. Both are to be seated at the same table. I can arrange for them to sit side-by-side. Would that be acceptable to your mistress?” The second maid said.
The first girl nodded and dashed off.
James stared at the beautiful maid that remained, trying to think of a way of refusing. Yet, Jonathan nudged him, whispering, “Go along.”
“One of your bodyguards can stand behind you,” the serving girl continued, “if you feel it absolutely necessary. Not that any other guests will. The other can eat with the rest of the maids, carriage drivers and so on. Out of sight. Or, can I have both sent away?”
Jonathan took a step forward, placing himself directly beside James. His helmeted head tilted down to point menacingly at the young woman.
“My father,” James had finally found some words, “would think me foolish to send both away. It would be impolite to describe his anger to you, miss.”
The girl averted her eyes, then pointed the guard to a set of tents that were just visible around a corner of the castle. Then she led James and his remaining protector to tables that were all too close to the place of honor, where the earl and newlyweds would sit.