|Longbow competition, a photo by hans s on Flickr.|
She wanted to talk to him. Alone. She was not quite sure what she would say, but her mind was swarming with questions like a cloud of midges. And why shouldn’t she talk to him? He was not a king that she should cower back in fear—only the very important, handsome, educated heir to an earldom. Nothing intimidating there.
“No, no sire. I haven’t.”
He seemed about to offer her his own bow when Jevan interrupted, “That means that all she lacks is the opportunity to try her hand.” He walked over to where his equipment lay on the grass and picked up a huge bow, along with a slightly smaller arrow. Bringing them over to Cecily, he gave Warin a cold smile and waved her over to face one of the battered targets. The men around them stopped swigging ale and gathered in a semicircle around them. Jevan put the smooth wood of the bow to her hand and slipped the arrow into her fingers, holding them himself as he moved the arrow into position with her. Cecily was annoyed at the slight thrill that ran through her arms as he touched them, and kept repeating to herself that he was a selfish, arrogant prig. He meant nothing by it; he was just showing off.
|longbow shoot, a photo by hans s on Flickr.|
Jevan spoke his directions softly. “Nock, mark, draw, loose. Those are the four steps. It’s fairly simple in abstract concept, but takes years of training and a lot of strength to do it properly.” He gave his crooked little smile. “So don’t get your feelings hurt if it doesn’t go right at first.” That put a bit more heat in her cheeks—the angry kind of heat brought on by condescension—and Cecily pulled back with all her strength (nock, mark, draw, loose, nock, mark, draw, loose…). She let the arrow fly. It shot out about four feet before diving into the grass. Jevan only murmured and reached for another arrow, but Sir Warin’s face cracked into a toothy smile.
They walked together until they reached the castle courtyard, then Jevan drew Cecily into the shadow of the stables. He seemed to be working up the nerve for something when a loud hemph sounded from a few feet away. Lady Mallkyn and Lady Leticia stood on the castle steps, beckoning to Jevan. He gave Cecily a flash of a smile and a wink, then ran towards the other women, bowing and kissing each of their hands in turn.
Try as she might, Cecily could never be indifferent toward this man. Her first impression had been violent dislike and a vow of eternal hatred, but recent events had made her think better of him.
She came out of the shade and moved toward the kitchen door, but caught sight of two people standing near the well. Coming nearer, she realized that it was her mother and Old Rivens. That too-familiar dread invaded her stomach. Mum had been getting worse and worse; just yesterday she had seemed to be losing her mind. They had been standing together outside the cottage when Alis said, “Dearie, who are those people out there, in the street? They look as if they were lost, looking for something. Can we help them?” The street had been empty.
Alis now drew a bucket from the well, wrestling it to the top, then pitching backwards as she lost her balance. Rivens steadied her with one hand and grabbed the slipping rope with the other. Back on her feet, Alis said something and Rivens laughed, then they both turned in the direction of the stables. Cecily slipped around a corner where she might hear without being seen, and caught her mother’s words.
“…what it is with those two. I thought at first it might be a mother’s imagination, but I think it’s pretty nearly confirmed—if only by the times I’ve heard the story from others. What say you, Rivens?”
“Hmm.” He chewed his lip a moment before answering. “I must admit I ‘ave seen them more than once together.”
“Can there be a reason?”
“I think we must both of us know a few, madam.”
Alis grabbed the bucket, sloshing water all over the pavement. “It can’t be that. She’s nothing to him! He will be a great earl someday, and, much as I love her, Cessy is a cotter like the rest of us. It does no good for them to hang about together.”
“He’s a good boy, Alis. Isn’t afraid to speak to us ordinary people, and I rather like him. He’s got ideas, that one.”
“But I’m afraid for Cessy. She’s got ideas, too. I don’t know where they’ll take her. You will watch out for her, won’t you Rivens?”
“Haven’t I always?”
“And I would say to watch out for him too. I’ll take your word for it that he’s a good boy—foolish, perhaps, but good..”
Rivens shifted his weight on his cane. “He seems a bit crooked in places, but nuthin’ that mightn’t be straightened out in time.”
Alis lifted an eyebrow. “You’ll not go about reforming him, will you? Everyone else at the castle has had quite enough of your moralizing for many’s the year.”
“Ah, do what you will, Rivens, do what you will. No doubt everyone will be all the better for it.” Alis turned to walk away, then the bucket clattered to the ground as she burst into a coughing fit. Her hand clenched her chest and the rasping hacks were painful to hear for several minutes. She staggered, teary eyed, as Rivens gave her the support of his arm. “Thank you Rivens, you’re too kind.” Cecily could barely hear her; the voice was weak, like a small bird growing too frail to fly.