Lady Graves is my NaNoWriMo novel in progress.
He was gone. She had no reason to know that but all her senses went on high alert and Lady Stangler awoke unable to draw a breath. Stangler’s absence was tangible, something she felt, acutely, as if the space he no longer occupied was a cold and evil thing. She saw Emil at her feet, the coals glowing in the hearth, and moonlight illuminating a hook near the door where his cloak should be hung. She missed the soft, barely audible sound of his breathing, the faint smell of a man in close quarters with her. What a novel thing it was to be so close to someone day and night, within touching or smelling distance, and how strange it was to be apart. From now on, no matter where she went, she would expect to hear the scratching of his pencil on paper or the clink of his tea kettle, the splash of dish water flung out the door, the things he’d say to his geese, a goat, two cats, and a dog. “Come here, you,” he’d say gently to Emil whenever the dog looked guilty, and he’d hug him rather than punish him.
She’d never sniff another herb or flower without thinking Stangler.
How long would he be gone?
By now she, Evelyn, be in her marriage bed. By now, someone had to know she never made it to Lindenstein. Where was the outcry that a bride had gone missing?
Stangler and Lanza had spelled these things out for her hours ago, but none of it had found traction in her mind. Until now.
Now these dark thoughts sank in. Now she could see where they had been going with their runaway speculation. It sounded as audacious and awful as Gunther in the Nibelungenlied, using Siegfried to trick the Queen into marrying a fraud.
Her own maid, tricking Prince Hal of Lindenstein into marrying a pretender—preposterous!
Until she thought of Gunther arranging for Hagen to slay Siegfried, the trusted friend and ally, the husband of Gunther’s own sister.
It had always been just a story, long ago and far away, a legend, not something that happened to people in real life.
“Just” a story. She remembered Stangler talking about story as medicine, but at the time she wasn’t clear-headed. Not that she was now. But things were becoming clearer, things she had kept behind a curtain in her mind, things that were buried deeper in the dirt than she had been in her shallow grave.
Emil barked at the door, waited a moment, then opened it himself and bolted into the night. She stood at the doorway watching the moonlit landscape. Minutes later Emil came back, barking, then ran out, then ran in again, repeating the process at increasingly shorter intervals until Stangler showed up with him.
“You’re home,” she said, as if he might not have believed it without her to tell him so.
He took off his cloak and shook it out before stepping in. “And in dire need of a bath.”
She wasted no time on small talk. Or big talk. There was so much she wanted to ask him, but he had taught her the art of waiting in silence. No hurry, just a readiness to listen when the time was right. She knew the routine. Just add logs to the fire, put the kettle on to boil, bring in water from the rain barrel a bucket at a time, and fill the bath tub. Lavender, he’d be wanting lavender, and she knew where he kept it and how much to put in. Boiling water, rain water, lavender. Some hot tea as well. With honey.
He had peeled off his damp, dank clothing and was steeping in lavender bathwater, knees discreetly bent in the small slant-back tub, by the time she came in with the last bucket of rainwater. Seeing him scratched and smudged with dirt and blood reminded her that she’d looked considerably worse when he found her, yet he had bathed her-- had dumped chamber pots for her. How many gentlemen in her acquaintance could even imagine doing that?
He had undressed her and bathed her when she half-dead. He had seen her naked. She had put that thought out of her mind until now. He’d had the courage to undress a stranger, to tend to her wounds; for her to tend to his bath now would be effrontery, even if she what she felt for him was like the reverence of the woman washing the feet of Jesus.
She dipped a sponge in the water and drizzled it over his matted hair, detangling it with her fingertips.
“Lady Evelyn.” He caught her wrist. “I am not an invalid, however much I may look it.”
“I have been most diligent about not compromising your... ah, your...”
“Shh.” She washed his hair and his back, then suffered an attack of shyness and went off in search of his bed shirt and towel lest she do something very unladylike.
There were so many questions, but now was not the time. He stood by the fire, sipping the tea she’d prepared the way he’d done so many times for her. The flames leaped and sent shadows dancing on the walls. Her breathing was labored and her heart pounded, and it wasn’t just because she was afraid to ask him where he had been and what he had been up to because she knew, dear God, she knew, he had gone off with Herr Lanza to alter a crime scene.
She stood by this man, breathless, knowing another girl had been disturbed from her eternal rest and reburied because of her, Evelyn--knowing that at Lindenstein, a prince awaited his bride, and by now, the other Evelyn might be lying naked by a fire at this very moment with her prince--
A whimper from Emil, who appeared to be chasing rabbits in his sleep, his legs in motion while the rest of him lay still, brought her mind back to the stone cottage--to the man who was so familiar now, she could hardly picture herself with another.
She wanted to tell him that. She also wanted to take the road to Lindenstein and see what was happening there.
And even more than that, she wanted --she wanted--
“Come here, you.” He held out his arms and she walked right into them.
My Laptop charge is running out!
This will have to be the END OF DAY NINE