In the Great Hall, all is ready. Rich tapestries hang from the walls, fresh rushes cover the floor, and the the tables groan under their loads. Dishes of mutton, venison, peacock, stew, and all manner of delicious delicacies await the revellers, in covered dishes, with bread trenchers. Mulled wine, mead, pitchers of fresh spring water and grapejuice, stand ready, beside fingerbowls, knives and spoons. The table is decorated with apples, leafy garlands and vine fruits.
Oliver has been busy supervising the kitchen wenches, and has with his own hands, created a lovingly decorated confection to honour our special guest, Rachel Rossano.
The minstrels stand ready in the gallery to entertain the guests with lute and dulcimer, and a beautiful Celtic woman sits gently plucking her harp. Cuddles and Junior, both wearing brightly colored Jester caps, with merry bells that tinkle with every shake of their heads, are all ready to do their part to greet and entertain the guests as soon as they arrive - at last they've found a use for their mischievous talents!
Sharon, Mary and Lyn stand to one side of the mighty oak door, waiting for The Lady Rachel to arrive. Their velvet gowns gleam in the light of many candles, Sharon is attired in emerald green, with gold accents, Mary wears deepest crimson, and Lyn is in her favourite purple; with girdles of braided gold thread and wearing their most valuable jewels they chat excitedly in low whispers.
Footsteps sound along the corridor... she is here! Moments later Rachel Rossano, herself appears, escorted by Oliver, still in his knight's armor. She looks breathtaking, in rich midnight blue, and it is obvious Oliver is already smitten and almost speechless in awe and admiration. The three hostesses embrace her warmly and Oliver bends his knee and presents her with his treasured volumes of The Crown of Anavrea and The Mercenary's Bride.
"Please my lady, if I could humbly ask a boon - that you sign these for me in your own fair hand."
Rachel smiles graciously and taking the proffered quill, signs the books with a flourish. She lifts his visor and gives him a soft kiss on the cheek. "And now I require a boon of you, Sir Knight," she whispers so softly no-one else can hear.
"after the banquet, and before the tournament begins, I would like a word with you, in private, I'm longing to hear more about you - and I'm sure you have some interesting tales to tell of things you've seen whilst serving at these prestigious roasts!"
Oliver winks wildly, pumping his biceps beneath the armor. As he bows and leaves the hall so that he can change and wait on the assembled guests, Mary, Sharon and Lyn lead Rachel to her place.
"Ladies, Gentlemen, Honored guests - let us present the legendary Rachel Rossano." As the thunderous applause at last dies down, The serving wenches bring yet more dishes to the table, and a young Lady in Waiting begins to read aloud, while the guests enjoy their feast:
Blurb for The Crown of Anavrea:
In a time when castles were the strongest…in a place where combat was face to face…there was a man on the run. Labren was not his true name and he admitted it freely.
In a time when slavery was legal...in a place where kings were all-powerful…there was a slave in the right place at the right time. Eve, a slave from birth, was asked to trust this stranger who refused to give his true name.
Eve saved a stranger’s life. In return, he offered her the opportunity of freedom. She did not know what would happen to her if she chose to accept his proposal, but she did know the consequences of rejecting it.
Her hands shook as she pushed back his hair and pressed the back of her hand to his forehead. Her pleasure at finding it cool must have shown on her face because she could feel his small smile. “Your fever seems to have left.” Remembering his previous question, she answered it. “I will check your shoulder in the morning. Right now you need to get back onto the bed. The floor is too cold.”
Nodding meekly, he shifted asshe rose. Offering her his good arm, he said, “If you pull, I might be able to get up.”
Gripping it firmly, she asked, “ready?”
He swallowed carefully and then nodded. She pulled and he slowly gained his feet. Slipping her arm around his waist, she bore most of his weight as they crossed the uneven floor to the place he had been laying the evening before. Through a series of careful and painful negotiations the stranger was sitting on the edge of his bed and trying to recover his composure. His face was very pale and drawn and for a moment he sat with his eyes closed. He was going to start shivering soon if she did not retrieve his blanket from the floor. She was about to turn away when he reached out and laid a hand on her arm. She looked up at him and he caught her chin in his hand.
Fixing his eyes on hers, he said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied in a small shaky voice. His blue eyes were dark and clear. She could see traces of pain and sadness, but the fever was gone. Suddenly a look of concern replaced his smile.
Reaching over with his other hand, he caught her face in a gentle, but firm, grip. “What is this?” he asked as he ran a thumb across her spit bottom lip. “And this?” He indicated the remainder of a black eye. “I may have been in a lot of pain when we met, but I do not remember you looking so beat up.” His voice was hard. Eve did not know if it was aimed at her or his lack of memory. Either way, something was making her tremble.
“Masters have every right to beat their slaves.” She stated it in a flat voice. Mridle had informed her of this fact repeatedly. He usually used it as a warning to her. He had exercised this right often and well on her.
“You are a slave?” The surprise in his voice did not detract from the hardness that continued underneath.
“Yes,” she paused and then added, “A runaway slave.”
With a swiftness that surprised her, his fingers located the leather band around her throat. The circle of leather was where one had been for as long as she could remember, right above her collarbone pulled snugly against her neck.
Trained as a mercenary soldier, Darius Laris was a man of decisive action. He was also a man of compassion. Seeing a young slave woman about to become the spoils of war, he claimed her for his own. Marrying her before God and King, he made her a free and respectable soldier’s wife.
Brice Ashlyn was born a slave. Abused and beaten, she learned quickly to avoid being noticed and to stay away from men. When her master's walls fell to enemy forces, she ran, but not fast enough. In Darius' offer she found deliverance, but experience had taught her to fear power such as his. Could she trust in his protection, or had she traded one form of slavery for another?
He is so much larger than you. He is a complete stranger. Why do you trust him? Why are you doing this?
Weakly, Brice answered her inner voice. Because I have no other choice. Then, she desperately tried to concentrate on anything other than the tall, dark man standing beside her. She also tried to ignore the tender way he was holding her hand. She was trying so hard that when the king started to wrap a long piece of silk around their joined hands, she started. The soldier's hand tightened around hers and the king stopped mid word. Even if she wanted to withdraw her hand, the man's grasp would have prevented her. Somehow, though, Brice knew if she asked, he would let go.
An uneasy silence hung between them for a moment. All one could hear was the servants’ movement on the other side of the curtains.
Finally, the king continued. "Bound together until time is no more, bound to each as to none before." The silk wrapped around for the second time. "Bound before man, sovereign, and God." A third strip fell into place, completely covering their clasped hands. Taking the ends, which now dangled unevenly, the king knotted them over the point of union. "With a binding that will never break." He pulled the knot snug. "You are man and wife before God, king, and man. May it be a blessing and never a curse." With great effort, Brice raised her face to her husband. She found him silently watching her with a look in his dark gray eyes that she could not yet interpret.
and at her Blog
Rachel has kindly offered a copy of 'The Mercinary's Marriage' to one lucky commenter on today's Roast. This is the question we'd like answered - what did Oliver tell her was his most embarassing moment as butler on one of these occasions?