Almost to the end... :)
It's About Family.... pt 6
an Hourglass story
“Your country is beautiful.” Adi settled on the ground cover letting Morgan crawl on the blanket beside her as she looked around the site they'd chosen for a rest-stop. It was just a small meadow but it was quite peaceful, the woods at their back whispered as the wind blew through the trees. It was every bit as breathtaking as the small waterfall pool they had seen earlier in their ride. “It is even more lovely than you described.”
Andrew never took his eyes off the mother and child, “It gets better every day.”
Emma exchanged grins with Kris and the hunter spoke up, “Good hunting here too. I didn't have any trouble finding game.” She pointed to the edge of the wooded area, some distance away, “There is a deer now, under that peach tree.”
Andrew glanced up and nodded, “My lands are rich in wildlife,” He saw the distance and wondered, “I know your skills with your bow are brilliant, but could you hit it from here?”
Kris judged the distance for a moment, “Yes.” She made no move to back up the claim.
Lord Bingham chuckled, “I believe you.”, and continued playing with the baby for a moment but spoke to Kris. “I do believe you could have made that last shot in the competition though.” He looked up at her, “Why did you miss?”
Kris shrugged, “I didn't want to waste any more time on it. Jonathan had already secured his spot as the leader for the next hunt. There was no reason to drag it out.”
The nobleman settled on the blanket next to Adi. Leaning back against the fallen tree, Andrew watched Morgan exploring the new environment. The man spoke absently as he watched Morgan pull himself up until the child was standing against the tree trunk, much as he had done during the archery competition. Andrew thought Morgan was the cleverest child he'd ever encountered, but continued his conversation with Kris. “I would like to see a true demonstration of your marksmanship.”
Laughing Kris grinned, “I think that can be arranged.” The archer gathered her weapon and loaded an arrow. She winked at her friend. “You want a snack, Em?”
“Sure, Doc.” Emma began to walk toward the tree, even before the arrow had left the bow.
They all watched as the blonde reached the tree and, climbing a short distance up, pulled the arrow from where it was embedded into the wood. She waved it over her head and they could all see it had two peaches skewered on the shaft.
Andrew was about to compliment Kris on the shot when Emma plucked a large, undamaged fruit from a low hanging brand, then leaned against the tree trunk and placed the peach on her head. “What is she doing?”
“She thinks she's being funny.” Kris ran her tongue over her teeth and nodded to herself before loading another arrow. Pulling the string back to its full stretch, Kris took aim at the fruit resting atop Emma's lovely blonde head. She knew both Adi and Andrew were holding their breath, but Morgan was occupied with other interests. From the corner of her eye, Kris saw the child reaching for something on the log and with a gasp, quickly redirected the arrow's direction. She let it fly and buried the tip inches into the log, a mere hand width from Morgan's outstretched fingers.
Andrew jumped up, knife drawn and pointed at Kris.” What is the meaning of this?”
Kris held up her hand then pointed to the arrow, “It would have got him.”
Adi's cry behind him made Andrew waver. He turned to look at the arrow, seeing now the snake pinned to the tree, the arrow protruding from the inverted V on its neck. He relaxed somewhat, “I didn't even see it.” The brown coloring had perfectly camouflaged the snake against the wood bark.
Emma raced back to her companions, “What's going on?” She followed Kris' gesture to the dead snake and widened her eyes. “Wow, an adder... painful but not deadly...” Then she realized, by the way Adi was holding and rocking Morgan, “Oh! Did it get Morgan?!” For an adult, an adder bite would be painful, cause dizziness, nausea and swelling of the limb involved, but for an infant, a severe bite could have killed the child.
“No,” Andrew sheathed his knife, “Thanks to Kris' brilliant marksmanship, Morgan is hale and whole.”
Hearing the baby was uninjured, Emma turned to Kris, “Are you okay?” The question had far greater meaning to the time-travelers than either of their companions were aware.
“I think so,” Pressing her lips together, Kris nodded, “We can talk about it later.” There were so many variables in this situation. Had Kris not been there, the snake would have gotten Morgan, but they had been on the ride in the first place because of the comment Emma made.. But even if Kris and Emma hadn't been here and Andrew had taken Adi and Morgan for a ride, stopping at this very spot, Adi may have noticed the snake herself, since she wouldn't have been distracted by Kris' archery demonstration. It was all a very very delicate balance that began to give Kris a headache from thinking about. One thing seemed clear, apparently, Morgan was not supposed to die today. Glancing at the baby, Kris took a deep breath and thought grimly, but that doesn't mean he isn't supposed to die tomorrow.
“Thank you for coming to Morgan's defense, once again.” Andrew assisted Adi up from the ground, “Perhaps we should be heading back to the manor. Our guests will be arriving soon.”
“Dancing?” Kris' eyes twinkled as Andrew confirmed that and the archer looked pointedly at Emma, “Perhaps then we can see what Em can do too.”
Emma was glad to see the twinkle in Kris' eye and knew the woman was still the Kris she knew. A slightly evil glint appeared in the thin blonde's eyes, “Perhaps.”
Candles and torches flickered in and out of time to the music. Kris looked around the large hall and couldn't help being impressed. It often took people in her time several days to plan parties that weren't a tenth the fun this one had turned out to be...especially for some people. Her gaze fell on her dancing blonde friend and Kris smiled. It was obvious that Emma agreed with her, at least about the fun part. The blonde had barely taken a break all night, dancing with every man that had asked her until he was exhausted, then moving on to the next.
“You weren't kidding about her,” Adi's voice was full of wonder at her new friend's stamina, “She's amazing.” Adi doubted she'd ever learn all the complicated moves and patterns to some of the dances the revelers had engaged in.
Nodding in agreement at the evaluation, Kris laughed as Emma swooped past a table to take a drink of whatever they were serving. The blonde barely missed a step of the dance in the process of drinking and Kris added, “She's gonna pay for this in the morning.”
“I notice you aren't doing too much celebrating.” The Amazon tilted her head in question, “Are you...well?”
Kris shrugged, keeping one eye on Emma and the other on the lookout for Jonathan, “I'm fine. I just don't let my guard down very often.”
Understanding that, Adi too turned her attention to the dancers. Adi broke the silence between them to speak about today's earlier events. “Thank you, again, for saving Morgan.” She shook her head as Kris began to wave off the gratitude, “No, it was an amazing shot, one that no one else I know could have made.”
Nodding, Kris sighed, “You're welcome, again.” She really didn't want to be reminded of the incident. It just started her mind whirling with the 'what ifs'.
Kris crossed her arms in front of her chest and watched the dancer affectionately. This was one of the more enjoyable jumps and even with all the potentially disastrous events, the possibility of staying here crossed her mind. Andrew had made it clear that they were welcome for as long as they wanted to stay. His current dance with Em and his generous nature reinforced the idea that the nobleman was completely comfortable with the foreign women being in his home. Kris, however, was beginning to feel strange about accepting his hospitality, aside from their quest to save their world, they both knew that they didn't fit in here, didn't belong. The personification of that thought approached them and Kris bowed slightly, “Lady Constance, thank you again for the loan of your lovely dresses.”
“Mmm...” A critical eye evaluated the taller woman and grudgingly admitted to herself that even with all her masculine tendencies, hunting and such, Kris was quite a beautiful woman, “It is definitely more appropriate than the other clothing you've been parading around in.”
Kris grinned, bit back a comment on having it taken in to fit properly, then asked, “How do you find the celebration?”
The shorter woman sniffed and looked around disdainfully, “For a last minute affair it seems adequate.” She watched her brother and Emma dancing, then spoke to Adi in the way rich people tend to speak down to people they feel are beneath them, “I do find it interesting that Andrew chooses to spend his time with your friend instead of you.”
Adi smiled tolerantly as she watched her future husband executing the choreographed steps with the other dancers, each pair always managing to return to their proper partners. “I don't know the steps.”
Constance watched the dancers, “Your friend doesn't seem to have any trouble with them.”
Kris shook her head, “Em knows all those dances. She loves those kinds of things.”
“Obviously that's not all she loves,” Constance watched as Emma changed partners as the music changed. This one was treated to a closer, more intimate dance, in keeping with the romantic music.
Kris glanced sideways at Lady Constance, “I'm surprised Jonathan isn't here this evening.”
“He finds this sort of gathering tedious,” Constance informed her guest, “His family used to be quite well thought of in many social circles, until his father's unfortunate... breakdown. Andrew married Jonathan's sister anyway, and took Jonathan under his wing... but this sort of thing reminds him too much of his former life.” Yet another reason not to marry him, Constance thought, he acts like a child when it comes to this sort of thing, off sulking somewhere. The last thing Constance wanted to do with a husband was coddle him like a spoiled child.
“Ah...” Kris turned to study the Lady for a long moment, putting a few things together that she didn't believe Constance would think of on her own. She needed to discuss this new information with Emma. “I see.”
Andrew joined the trio at the edge of the dancing area.
“Good evening, ladies,” He smiled and moved closer to Adi, reaching out to hold her hand. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
Adi nodded and squeezed the hand holding hers, “Yes,” she laughed at herself, “Even though this dress is a little...uncomfortable.”
Kris agreed, “Yes, lace often makes me itch.” She indicated the bodice on Adi's dress, “That is why I chose silk to wear this evening, still a bit restrictive but not itchy, actually it feels quite nice next to my skin.”
Lord Bingham chuckled at his sister's scandalized expression then spoke very gallantly, “Well, I am convinced that you four are the loveliest women here.” He grinned out at the dancer then back at Kris, “I believe you would still be counted among the loveliest even if you were wearing my old clothes.”
“Emma seems quite comfortable in her dress,” Adi envied the dancer a little and fidgeted again as another itch began on her back.
“Em is comfortable in whatever she's wearing,” or not wearing for that matter. Kris smirked and shook her head slowly as the dancer gestured for the archer to join her on the dance floor. It wasn't long before the dancer joined them on the sideline.
“C'mon, Doc.” The blonde took her friend's hand and tried to coax her onto the dance floor.
Holding her position, Kris pulled the dancer toward her and whispered through the blonde hair, “I think you've had just about enough for one night.”
Emma flashed her companion a wicked grin, “Just about?”
The only movements on Kris' face were two slightly raising eyebrows and a twitch at the corner of her mouth, but it was enough. Turning to her hosts, the unstoppable dancer confessed, “I am kind of tired, perhaps Kris should take me back to our room.”
Nodding, Lord Bingham smiled at the pair, “Of course.” His eyes twinkled as his guests exited the room, arm in arm, Emma leaning against Kris. A hand on his arm drew his attention away. “Yes?”
“Andrew... you don't think... that they are...” Constance's eyes were wide and she whispered, “...together?”
Rolling his eyes at his sister's dramatic streak, Andrew patted the woman's hand reassuringly, “I believe they are good friends that have traveled together for some time.”
“Andrew,” Adi interrupted, “I think perhaps I should retire for the evening as well.” Looking up into her future husband's eyes, she smiled, “I'm not really used to all this fuss.” She reminded him gently, “You will probably need to rumble a story to our son, your voice seems to soothe him rather well.” She had been astounded that Andrew would spend time with the boy, much less tell him stories, but they had found that the man's rumbling voice put the baby to sleep almost immediately.
Forgetting his sister completely, Andrew gently cupped the Amazon's cheek in his hand, his voice softening, “Whatever you wish.”
Constance watched as her brother escorted his future wife out of the room. She could not stop the sigh from escaping her; no one had ever looked at her like that, not even Jonathan. And another logical reason not to marry him was added to the mental list. Pulling herself from her thoughts, Constance realized that the other guests were lining up to leave as well. She sighed again for the duty she had to undertake and moved to the doorway, her fake smile firmly in place as she bid one guest after another a good night.
Dawn was just breaking on the horizon when a soft knock sounded on the door. “Breakfast will be served in half an hour.”
Groaning, Emma threw one thin arm over her eyes, “Did he have to knock so loudly?”
Chuckling, Kris rolled away from her companion. She was up and out of bed in one smooth motion, quickly looking for more clothes to wear. “C'mon.” She cheerfully smiled and tossed a white cotton shirt at Emma, “Don't wanna keep our hosts waiting.”
Emma moved the shirt off her face and glared at her friend from under the protective arm. There was not hint of amusement in her voice, “I hate you.”
Kris laughed and tossed a pair of trousers to Emma then began to dress herself. She was still laughing at the hung-over woman when they arrived in the dining hall for breakfast.
Jonathan made his disapproving grunt but said nothing, knowing these women had Andrew's favor, for the moment.
The Lady Constance once again sat with a large plate of sweet pastries before her. Her eyes widened as their guests took their seats but did not offer a comment, she merely sniffed, and took another bite of a pastry.
Andrew saw his sister's reaction and grinned at the new arrivals. “You didn't find my sister's clothing suitable for breakfast?” Lord Bingham appraised the women. He still marveled that his old garments looked so good on them.
Shaking her head, Kris held up her hands, “Sorry. The dresses are fine for formal occasions, but they are much too uncomfortable for daily wear.” She indicated the pair of dark trousers and the nice white, puffy-sleeved shirt she'd selected. “This is much better for me.”
Emma had to admit her friend was right. “Women's outfits do tend to bind. I was pretty glad to get out of that dress last night.”
A slightly smug look passed over Kris' face and she mumbled, “I'll bet.”
Andrew appraised the lithe blonde woman and her comment at face value, “I'm not sure you have all that much to 'bind'.” He forced himself not to grin as Constance consciously did not look at their thin guest. The dress that the blonde was complaining about had been one of his sister's very old garments, from when she had been a svelte young girl in her teens.
Kris chuckled and Emma rolled her eyes at the familiar critique, “Well what I do have is protesting every movement.” She winced as she took a roll from the bread tray. “I'm not sure if it's from all the dancing or if the horseback riding is catching up with me.” She tilted her head from side to side, stretching her neck muscles, “A little workout this morning will probably set me right. We found a great spot in the garden yesterday that would be a perfect area for it.”
“Workout?” Adi was curious, “You mean sparring?”
Emma nodded, “Yes, but alone.”
Adi smiled wistfully as she remembered many sparring sessions with her sister Amazons, before she realized what the woman had said, “Alone?” She looked at Kris, “You don't spar with her?”
“Hell no,” Kris snorted, “She'd kick my ass.”
There was a stunned silence at the table for a moment before Kris realized what she'd said. Closing her eyes she berated herself. Wearing Andrew's clothing was one thing, but even voicing the word Hell was completely different. Great, good job Kris, evoke Hell in your speech... why don't you just get down on your knees and praise the Devil??
Emma ignored the slip and chuckled, “Doc's a decent fighter and I'm a decent shot, we've at least taught each other that much, but we tend to stick to our own specialties.”
“I wouldn't mind sparring...” Adi watched the fighter closely. “If you don't mind the competition?”
Emma smiled. “I welcome it.”
Adi grinned, “This should be fun.”
Kris laughed as Emma tossed Adi on her butt, again. “Still think it's fun?”
The woman glared at Kris, brushed the dirt off of her backside, and stood to refocus on her sparring partner. “You're pretty good.” When her opponent shrugged and grinned Adi threw out her idea to go easy on the stranger. “Let's see how good you really are.”
Bowing slightly, Emma prepared for the Amazon's attack. She was delighted at the skill level Adi displayed and defended herself accordingly, barely blocking some of the more unexpected attacks.
Lord Bingham was amazed. “They are both good fighters.” He'd seen Kris and Emma fight when the brigands had attacked their group, but Adi's skill had escaped his notice. Now that he thought about it, he didn't recall ever seeing Adi's fighting prowess and wondered if she had hidden that part of her from him on purpose, or if it just hadn't ever been necessary.
“Don't let her change.” Kris kept her eyes on the fighters, but spoke quietly to Andrew, “She'll try to be the wife you expect...” Turning her head, she focused her vivid blue eyes on their host, “...don't let her change.”
He recalled moving two outlaws bodies from beside the wagon Adi had been next to, after the brigand attack passed behind his eyes. He hadn't thought anything about it at the time, he had just assumed some of his hunters had taken care of the attackers. Now he wasn't so sure. It was something for them to discuss later. He assured Kris, “I won't.” It was something he wanted to discuss with Adi so Andrew turned his attention to the woman standing next to him and the bow in its holder on her back, “Do you carry that wherever you go?”
“Yes,” Kris shifted slightly, feeling the bow's comforting weight across her back. “I don't like to be without it, especially in strange places.” She winced as Adi and Emma exchanged kicks, “That looks painful.”
“It looks barbaric,” Constance's eyes widened as the women grabbed each other and both landed in the dirt again. She noticed Jonathan's attention was riveted on the women. Unsure what to think about that she kept silent, for the moment.
“Em is enjoying herself.” Kris smiled indulgently at her friend. “She doesn't usually get such a good workout.”
“I think Adi will miss this when you are gone.” Andrew sounded worried that the travelers were leaving. “Perhaps Emma will show her self-training technique to Adi?” After watching the women spar for a few moments, he knew that his future wife would be the Lady of his manor, but, never totally a Lady. She has given me her heart, he thought, but it is the heart of an Amazon.
“I'm sure Em will be happy to show her.” Kris knew they didn't belong here, but a part of her wished they could stay, even though the rest of her knew they had to go. “We should have time before we leave.” She turned to Constance, “I'm sure Em could teach you as well. It really is a wonderful way to exercise.”
“I... could... never do,” Her eyes widened as Emma's body shifted in a graceful motion, “...that.”
“It's easier than you think,” Kris grinned, “And quite addictive. Once you start a routine, continuing it is easier than you think.”
Jonathan scoffed at that statement and turned to make a comment to Kris. His mouth went dry as he saw Rebecca walking toward the group, Morgan on her hip, pushing his wheeled carriage. He swallowed hard as she smiled in reaction to something the child had gurgled. Jonathan wanted Lady Constance's money and status, but Jonathan also wanted Rebecca, he wanted to own her, to take her, to make her his forever...all it would take would be one night... he could take her, be the first to do so and she would never forget him... Constance's high pitched voice cut through his lustful musings.
“I didn't believe it.” The Lady's voice cracked with disappointment and a little heartbreak, “They told me why you chose Rebecca for the hunt... but I didn't believe them.” Her voice rose higher and higher, “How could you?! How could you even think about... she is a CHILD!”
“Constance...” Jonathan knew he was in trouble, “Constance, please.. it was just... it is a tradition on a hunt.” He saw her go very still and swallowed hard as her eyes widened considerably.
“What?” She turned to Andrew, “You allow this behavior?”
Lord Bingham held up his hands to fend off his sister's wrath, “I thought I had put a stop to it after Father died. It had continued without my knowledge, and as of the next hunt the 'tradition' is no more.”
“The next?!” Constance looked at the girl then back to Andrew, “What happened on this trip?”
Kris chuckled and draped her arm around Rebecca's shoulders, “It was my honor to win the fair Rebecca this time.” The hunter winked at the girl when she giggled at the memory, Morgan giggled too and reached for his caretaker's nose.
“You?” Constance thought her eyes would pop out of her head, “But...” She glanced at Emma who had stopped the practice fighting for the moment.
Andrew grinned, ready to confound his sister a little more, “Do not worry so, sister. Kris gave Rebecca to me.” He laughed a little louder when Constance glanced at Adi. “Rebecca makes a fine caretaker for Morgan.”
“Oh...” Constance actually appeared to deflate a bit with relief, “I see.” She sighed and slapped Andrew's arm, “Do not scare me like that.” She hadn't thought her brother had it in him to be so callous as to bed another, a child, while the mother of his child was so near. Jonathan on the other hand, judging from the lustful look on his face when the girl had arrived, had every intention of taking her when he had the chance. It was disgusting, and the last straw. She could overlook the dark cloud that hung over his head, and she could tolerate his childish superior attitude, it was becoming more difficult to make herself believe that the man actually cared for her though, when he never did anything to actually show his affection on the pretense of seemliness. There was sex, but even then Constance was often left....unsatisfied. This, newest glimpse into his personality was the final door to Constance's heart closing.
“Constance,” Jonathan moved closer, resting his hand on her shoulder.
The Lady ducked away, “Do not touch me.” She made herself perfectly clear, “Do not ever touch me again.”
He blinked, “What?” No, he thought, no no... A glance at Kris' grinning face infuriated him, “Constance, you can't mean that...” she can't mean that... she is the key...
“I do mean it Jonathan,” Constance pulled herself up to her full height, “we are finished.”
He felt all his plans beginning to crumble and he knew the cause, he looked at the strange woman, with her arm around his prize. Everything, these women have taken everything that belonged to him. They took Rebecca, they took his chance at getting rid of Andrew, they took his chance to marry Constance, they took his only chance at regaining his family's status. Their hold over Andrew had ruined everything. “This is their influence!” He shook his head, trying to sort out his jumbled thoughts, “They've bewitched you too!” It was all falling apart and it was their fault them and... his eyes landed on the child... “It's him.... that, that thing... he is the source of their power!” In a move quicker than anyone would have imagined from him, Jonathan grabbed the child from Rebecca and began running back toward the house. Unlike Kris, Jonathan was not armed at the moment. He was halfway back to the house before the others' shock wore off. Oddly it was Rebecca who recovered first and the girl took off after the child who was in her care. It only took a few heartbeats for the rest to follow.
Constance was not used to running and stumbled on the hem of her dress, falling quite hard on the ground. Kris ran past as Emma slowed to assist the fallen Lady, “Are you hurt?”
The Lady blinked up into Emma's kind eyes and shook her head, “No,” With the surprisingly strong woman's help, Constance regained her upright position, “Go! I will follow...”
Nodding, Emma took off into the house, but didn't know where she was going, the halls were empty.
Conclusion in Part 7