Clearly, something had gone wrong. Lights shone through every loophole, and the hazy outlines of men and women ran hither and thither as if racing each other to do the most work. The three newcomers on the scene stood still in the gateway, wondering how Stephen Jambe could be sweeping the courtyard at that hour of the evening, then quickly stepping aside to let Bartholomew and little Elstan carry in a dripping side of pork. Some of the cotters worked quietly, with heads bowed and footsteps muffled, while Luveday stood in the kitchen doorway shouting incoherent orders at the top of her lungs and Gunnora seemed to be on the verge of hysterics as she tried to direct dozens of servants in their duties.
|Moonrise - Waiting, a photo by Conanil on Flickr.|
Udeline Swetalday was the first one to notice Cecily, Bess, and Milo. She lumbered her great bulk over in their direction, clapping her hands together and sending great clouds of fine flour into the air. “Ah, there ye are at last! Where’ve ye been all this time? The kitchens are short-staffed, I’ll ‘ave ye know, and that boy had better make his way to the stables before he’s dragged there by force.”
Milo jerked in the direction of the stables but Cecily kept a firm grip on his hand. “Short-staffed? What on earth do you mean? Everyone should be going home at this time of evening.”
“Ye mean ye haven’t heard?” Udeline rolled her eyes and heaved her massive chest. “Ach. When ye want to keep summat quiet the news spreads like a wildfire, but when ye can’t spare the time to tell everybody in Carrellshire the same news ten times over….”
“What’s happened, Udeline?”
“The young master’s come, that’s what’s ‘appened! Young Jevan Auvray as was supposed to be comin’ in late spring has showed up now of all times when there’s barely a clean sheet in the castle. Come before his carriages, he says, so as to ‘ave a look at the countryside from horseback, but what he’s done is throw the whole town into a tizzy, as ye can well imagine.”
Cecily loosed her grip on Milo’s hand and he bolted away toward the stables. “Is my mum in there?”
“Yes, o’ course she is. Layin’ down fresh rushes in milady’s solar. Though what the young master’ll be doin’ in milady’s solar I don’t know….”
“Thank you, Udeline.” Bess had already begun inching toward the kitchens and Cecily moved to follow her. As she passed by the garden entrance, however, she caught a glimpse of Old Rivens quietly smoking his pipe in a corner and humming “Wentworth Over Brogan.” She met his gaze and a smile lit up his wrinkled face. “Well, Rivens, it looks as if Granton has been turned on its head. Couldn’t the sweeping and cooking and fresh rushes wait for tomorrow morning?’
“Ah, ye know those womenfolk. It doesn’a take much to light a fire in their bellies, and then they ‘ave to go and enslave the whole village. Just look at Luveday, the old girl. Haven’t seen her this hot and bothered in several decades.”
“Do you think he’s here to stay, or is this merely a visit?”
Rivens glanced at her sideways. “We both remember what we overheard back in autumn of last year. I think he’s here for good, fer rain or sunshine.” He gave a raspy laugh. “Relax whilst ye can, girlie. If I’m not mistaken there’s quite a bit of scrubbin’ to do upstairs!”
Cecily groaned just as Gracia flew over to them, apron flapping in the damp night breeze. “Good heavens, I’m so glad you’re here, Cessy. Luveday is fixin’ a feast for tomorrow’s dinner and we’ve barely begun the work….” Throwing a pained look back at Rivens, Cecily was whisked off to cooking duties that lasted late into the night.
The Granton castle servants were not the only ones thrown into a state of panic. It was said later that Lady Mallkyn had almost fainted when it was announced that Master Auvray, still wet from the afternoon’s downpour, had arrived on horseback just before sunset. Lord Geoffrey was only a little less upset than his wife and felt the need of a strong mug of ale to steady his nerves.
The kitchen staff was as eager as the earl and countess to know why the young man had seen the necessity of arriving more than a month too early and catching the entire castle unawares. The only information they could gather was that Jevan Auvray was tired of living alone in his family house and could not wait to come later than spring. This rather inadequate explanation was talked of for several days.
Though she was as wildly curious as everyone else, Cecily didn’t see the young heir for days. With one thing and another she had been shut up in the smoky kitchens with Bess and Luveday or in the gardens with Rivens and the other gardeners, turning the warming soil and planting hundreds of seeds and bulbs. After three days, however, the girl who usually waited at table was taken ill, and Cecily was called on to help serve the midday meal.
|medieval dinner, a photo by hans s on Flickr.|
Though Jevan Auvray seemed quite a bit drier and less irritable than the horseman of a few days back, he had not lost the superior look that marked him as a man to be noticed. At the moment he looked engrossed in Lord Geoffrey’s conversation (something about the outrageous taxes imposed by local monasteries), and Cecily winced as she thought how much his manners improved when faced with a wealthy earl instead of a rain-sodden cotter girl.
She lingered a few minutes longer than was necessary, filling goblets and arranging platters while trying to catch the young gentleman’s eye. She wouldn’t admit to herself why she wanted him to see her. It was probably to see the look on his face…then it came. He reached out to take a slice of the lamb and his arm suddenly buckled; he stopped commiserating with his uncle’s financial woes and stared at the serving girl. Cecily didn’t stand still for two moments but fled the hall, tripping over the rushes and leaving her flagon of ale on the table.
Tromping through the muddy courtyard between castle and kitchens, Cecily tried to control the cloud of thoughts that had burst out of her brain like angry bees from a hive. It had been satisfying—more than satisfying—to see that startled look on the gentleman’s face. He clearly remembered her, and was probably berating himself for the coarse behavior of a few days ago now that he knew he had been unforgivably rude to one of his uncle’s servants. But then, what was she thinking? Why should he care if he offended a cotter? If he had at first mistaken her for a respectable merchant’s daughter he was probably now congratulating himself that he had put that clumsy girl in her proper place. Perhaps he had thought her pretty…but she was being utterly foolish. A handsome man to be sure, and probably just as cultured and intelligent as the heroic figure of her dreams, but such an arrogant man! So full of himself and his own importance. Mayhap he regretted his rudeness, mayhap he didn’t think a thing of it. Cecily did not know and nor did she care.