Emmeline had ridden out from Uzec shortly after the hobgoblin attack upon the hamlet of Arresey, not so far south of her own Cerisey. Baron had bid her help them rebuild by fairly distributing coin after the destructive raid had ruined much and slain five villagers as well. Each family would have enough to buy staples to hold them through the winter, repair any damage, and with money left over to cover any other losses.
Emmeline had, like Elemix, lost her horse at the battle here, though she hadn’t had the horror of her mount being shot out from under her like Elemix had. The wizard had again nearly died from his battle experience. Emmeline had taken cover, but the horse was exposed. She still felt bad she couldn’t save Goblin’s Gift; he’d been very reliable horse.
Rivanon had kindly acquired replacements, so a chestnut mare was what she rode now. Em had named it Twobee. All her companions deserved a good name, she felt.
A bright, little light zipped around Em as she carefully forded the river. The simple bridge needed repairs, so she had to cross carefully and still couldn’t avoid getting wet. Twobee, she discovered, didn’t like crossing moving water at all. The horse couldn’t see where to put her hooves.
“Emmi isn’t going to see Mara?” said the little light. It sprung into the form of a pixie, an appearance she favored.
“Not today, Sevé,” Emmeline replied, still concentrating on keeping her seat while the horse made its way across the little river. The water seemed determine to splash her saddle and dampen her legs from hip to toe. She sighed as she realized there was absolutely no way she was getting out of this without getting soaked. She had minor magics useful for all kinds of helpful things from mending to lighting candles, to even cleaning clothes, but not one spell to dry off. It didn’t help she’d chosen to wear a long skirt today. The baron wanted her to be the kind face of the barony that helped those in need, a role she was pleased to fill, and so she had tried to look the part of an adventurous but kind noble woman. After crossing the ford, she was pretty sure she came off as a wet and disheveled stranger. She heard Sevé’s giggle at her plight as the fey familiar shrank into a speck of light again and darted off.
“Lady Emmeline!” A familiar, pregnant young woman waved at her, trailed by a familiar young man. The young man was the son of the fisher, Phillip.
“Roberta, hello!” Emmeline returned as her horse finally surged out of the river and onto the security of dry land. She swung a leg over and dropped to the ground. Her skirt was slit up to the hip and she had pants underneath for riding. Normally the skirt would fall back in place, but she had to disentangle the wet material. She pushed a lock of hair that had escaped it’s bonds out of her face and was fairly sure she had managed to also smudge her face in the process. Looking like a lady was a difficult task in these circumstances, she reflected.
“And you must be Phillip’s son?”
“Yes m’lady. It’s Thomas. Pleased tah meetcha.”
“I trust things are working out between you two?” Emmeline asked.
“Aye,” said Thomas. He took Roberta’s hand in his own and by her blushing reaction, Emmeline was sure they’d make a fine couple. “We’ve a date for a wedding, already! Sir Henri give us permission for a celebration last evenin’. Tentatively in a fortnight, but officially we are already married.”
That was fast, Emmeline reflected. But then since Roberta was pregnant she would need Thomas’s support sooner rather than later. Em’s guess was that Roberta would give birth this winter.
“I’m very happy for you. Oh! And I know things are up in the air right now for you, Thomas, with your father moving up to Ceresey and the attack here. The Baron has approved alms for every family of Arresey to help recover from the hobgoblin attack.” Emmeline took a handful of glittering coins from her saddle bag and put them in Thomas’s hand. “And with a family on the way so suddenly, I know you can use this right now.”
Thomas looked at her in surprise. “I… I don’t know what to say, m’lady! Thank you!” Roberta, at his side, glowed with pleased excitement.
A villager passing by with a large burlap sack stuffed with fresh-sheared wool perched on his shoulder paused to see what the excitement was about.
Emmeline noticed and turned to him next. “Good morning! Who would you be?”
“Guy, m’lady. I remember I saw you come with that wizard fellow the other day. Your tall blonde-haired friend made a stand right in the center of town! You and yours saved us all, but I tells the others I swear I seen you before. Why, you were the Queen of Love and Beauty from the summer faire! Sat right up there with the Baron you did! I remember ’cause you came an’ danced and sang with regular folk later at the feast. I sat just outside on a barrel enjoyin’ fair fare, if you get me.” He laughed at his own joke. “I telled them then that you were no common commoner the Baron took fancy to. Nossir! I told ’em if the Baron was smart, he’d marry you so no other bright young master’d run off with ye and I was right, weren’t I! Here you are Lady… uh… Lady Madeleine.”
“Emmeline,” she corrected. She smiled widely back at the cheerful villager. “But good man, I am not the Baron’s wife. I am his mistress.”
A middle aged woman who had just left her cottage for the river with a load of laundry had paused to listen.
Guy put his sack down and pushed his floppy cloth hat back so he could scratch his head. “Well now, that don’t make no sense to me. The Baron hain’t got a wife. Why’d he make you his mistress then? If you don’t mind my forwardness m’lady.”
The older woman set down her large tin tub and put a hand on one hip. “Guy! For heaven’s sake! Please your ladyship, forgive him? He’s the village idiot.”
Guy pouted at the look the woman gave him.
Emmeline laughed. “It’s all right. Guy, I’m not offended, though I wouldn’t recommend being quite so forward with the Baron.”
Guy’s red face and ears made him look like his head had been under the scorching sun of the wastes of Aquilon. He took off his hat and muttered, “I meant no offense, m’lady. I’m just a simple man, I know, and I don’t understand the ways a’ nobles.”
“It’s not complicated, Guy. But I know some people of court are probably thinking the same thing as you, though they know the Baron won’t justify his actions to them. Between us, though, it’s just that the Baron wants to do what’s best for me. I love him very much and I know he cares deeply for me, but right now I can’t be a proper wife for him. So, I will be his mistress and gain the opportunity to also serve the barony. And that brings me to why I am here today.
“Thomas and Guy, will you be so kind as to ask the residents of Arresey to come together in the town square?”
It wasn’t long before Emmeline got them organized enough address most of the residents. She explained that every family was to receive alms from the baron to help them recover from the goblin attack, and then she doled out fair amounts to every household. With each person she met, she spoke at least briefly to offer condolences if they’d lost someone or suffered injuries or just to share kind words.
By the time she left, the villagers were in a joyous mood that matched her own high spirits.