For Marie Weppelman, whom I will always know as Yolanda. J
To health, happiness and bright futures. May you always believe.
I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but that voice that comes from somewhere deep inside me, where I seldom look, gave me no choice.
I went to the dance.
Keeping my eyes half-mast to avoid the painful lights, I hid near the trees at the back of the festival. The celebratory dance was just about to begin, and I just couldn’t think of lifting one foot with this horrendous headache shooting spasms down my neck. Why did I listen to the voice?
Rubbing my temple with one hand, I felt my way backward into the forest, eager to hide. No need to get pounced and pulled into the party only to find myself heaving up dinner at the feet of many eligible nobles and their friends.
I knew the music would have normally carried me away into a world of freedom and joy, but the farther I went, the softer the tones became. A sharp stab made its way into my eye, and I moaned.
“Are you well, Shilah?” an all too familiar voice whispered from the darkness to my left. The one bachelor I really did not want to see right now was obviously nearby.
“No,” I whispered. Just the effort made me pause and press a hand to my stomach. What was wrong with me? My back hit a wide tree trunk, and I allowed myself to sink down and settle, bent and dizzy, in the leaves on the ground. A warm hand brushed along my temple. Safety.
My heart wanted to flutter and dance in delight, but my nerves and my stomach could only bring tears.
“Shilah?” he said urgently, squeezing my shoulder, “what’s happening?”
I opened my mouth to speak and merely exhaled loudly several times before swallowing deeply and trying once more. “Ill,” I managed to say. Why had I come again? The voice. So often I listened, and it had reigned true. But this time? My pounding head stopped further thoughts as I winced in pain.
His arms went around me so quickly I hadn’t registered them, but now that he stood holding my head against his solid chest, I panicked. Of all the men, please, why? So many I could think of to lose my stomach on but not him. Not him.
The morning sun seeped between the heavy drapes warming my hand as it rest on the bed. My eyes flew open, and I took in the floral blanket draped over me, the softness of the bed, the gold and ornate coverings on the walls. I did not recognize the room, and yet for the first time in possibly years, it was the safest place in my heart. The light scent of lavender and roses effused the air and made me feel free. I must have blacked out last night, and yet here I was feeling fit and clear headed.
I noticed a table to my right with water and fresh mint leaves. I grabbed the cup and drank every bit before dropping the leaves into my mouth, relishing the last vestiges of last night’s fear leaking away and leaving me refreshed. I was just placing the cup on the table when I stopped midway as my eyes rested on a chair in the corner.
There he sat, dark curls in disarray, eyelashes resting heavily on his cheek as he slept sitting up. Lord Byram. My heart’s one and true love.
I put the cup down so as not to disturb him and watched him sleep. His clothes were slightly wrinkled, but it only made him more adorable. Many, many moments passed before I remembered.
The warm and satisfied smile that had found a home on my lips faded. I pulled the blanket down and saw that I was still wearing one of my two handmade dresses. A lip pulled up slightly before settling back again when I saw that he was indeed a gentleman.
I needed to leave. The fantasy, though brief and wonderful, had ended. I had work to do at the home of the Crescent’s, where Lord Byram’s dear sister resided with her gruff husband and their two children. I had no life with Lord Byram.
I ever so slowly slipped from the bed to the side away from him. As I hid behind the bed listening to the sound of his breath, I saw my boots, cleaned and set at the doorway. Hearing no change in his breathing, I tiptoed to the door, picked up my boots, and placed a hand on the door pull. Escape.
His voice was soft and yet commanding. I froze and turned to meet his amber eyes as he gazed upon me half-lidded.
“Yes, sir?” I whispered.
“Leaving so soon?” His voice was soft.
I curtsied before speaking. “I didn’t wish to disturb you, sir.” He stood. “You seem to have…uh.” He took a step forward. “You saved…” He took a longer step. “You helped me and I am…”
He stood before me and pressed a finger on my lips. I shut up and with wide eyes looked up at him. He was frowning. This couldn’t be good.
“I’ve no wish to make a tramp of you, my lady, but I most certainly want to kiss you.”
“But I am no lady,” I whispered. My heart couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to beat from my chest or stop completely. He ran a hand down my cheek and then dropped it to his side.
“A lady is a woman who is polite, thoughtful and well-spoken. You are most certainly a lady,” he said.
“A lady is a woman who is high born in an upper economical class. I am most certainly not a lady,” I countered. Now I was getting angry.
“Well, you can’t have it both ways,” he chuckled.
“There is no both ways. There is only what others believe.”
He nodded and bent his head to the side, his eyes narrowing slightly before he breathed out a sigh. “That may be true, love, but we make others believe what we wish.”
“You make others believe. Nobles make others believe. Those of my stature merely clean the homes and look after those who make others believe.” Tears welled in the corners of my eyes, and I blinked them away.
His hand gently touched my chin. “Shilah?” he asked gently.
“Yes?” I said barely audible even to myself.
“I believe we shall make others believe. Do you trust me?”
I sighed. “You know I do. Since the time you stopped that stable boy from bothering me. No has ever tried again.”
He smiled, the glow so radiant and so warm, that I really believed. We would make others believe.
When we walked into the Crescent’s home arm in arm, I thought my legs would buckle. The fear ate at me. The villagers and the Lords who had never noticed my existence of course hadn’t blinked an eye at me, save maybe full perusal of my new dress but the Crescents? They had known me since I just a girl. They kept me on even when my mother had passed. Surely they would oust me and I would lose…
I glanced to him by my side. Beaming. My husband. My legs started to shake again.
“Byram!” Lady Crescent strode into the room like she was going to take down a bull but instead, gave Byram a tight hug as she laughed. It had been months since he’d visited. She turned to me, took my hands, and looked into my eyes. Familiar eyes. Byram had trained me and trained me some more to keep eye contact until I thought I would throttle him. I didn’t look away. She smiled then. I was surprised to see her eyes become moist before she batted her eyes together a few times, and it was like it had never happened.
“You are officially welcome to the family, my dear Lady Shilah of the house of Lord Byram Stropefeld. May your children be one day crossing my threshold.”
I blinked. I felt his warm breath on my ear. I blinked. I smelled the vanilla in the air. I blinked.
And I believed.