The Defiant Bride(4)

By: Leslie Hachtel



On the last day, Dariana rode her horse to the edge of the stream. She dismounted and dropped her cloak, making certain it caught on the outcropping of rock. She tore a small bit of her riding habit and tangled it in the underbrush. Tamara had managed to secrete some cow’s blood from the kitchen and now Dariana liberally doused it on the cloak. Then, after kissing him on his soft nose, she slapped the horse on the rump and sent him toward home while she sought her refuge in the cottage.

Tamara later told her the result of her efforts; the worst had been feared. Her father had led a search and, after many hours, had been devastated when he came to the very spot they had intended him to find. There had been no choice but to arrive at the most obvious conclusion: his dearest daughter was dead. No doubt she had been thrown from her horse or some other terrible fate had overcome her. He would never know. The immutable fact was that she was gone. He was inconsolable.

When Dariana had not presented at court at the appointed time for her nuptials, the king sent an angry missive demanding her appearance. The earl’s response explaining her death did not satisfy Henry, who was clever enough in his own right to suspect there might be games afoot. As expected, men were dispatched to search for the disobedient girl, but they were not quiet in their work as they searched the earl’s lands and surrounding countryside, so their presence did not go undetected. When they neared her part of the forest, she heard them from a great distance away. Dariana was ready to escape if they came too near.

She waited, all senses alert, but it never occurred to anyone that a lady of the realm would take refuge in a rough cottage, so it went unmolested if not unseen. Dariana had been terrified of discovery and it took days for her to have a restful sleep for fear the king’s men would return and expose her.

Time passed and Tamara kept her promise, sending Humphrey with savory meats and cheeses, loaves of bread and clean clothing. Occasionally, when Tamara could sneak away, she would come to visit. Her presence was a comfort.

It was Dariana’s custom to wash in the nearby stream each morning, even when the autumn chill had made the bath not quite so welcoming and the frigid cold of winter had shortened her ritual to a few quick splashes. It struck her as strange that but a few miles down this very stream was where she had ‘died.’

Sometimes, over the winter months, she dared a small fire, gaining courage as she remained undiscovered. The first few weeks had been a nightmare. First, the loneliness threatened to envelop her. One evening, she sat down on the dirt floor and wept. Then boredom became the enemy. In the mornings, she would walk over the same ground, passing the same trees, until she wanted to cry out her frustration.

When Humphrey arrived one afternoon, she confessed her angst.

“What can I do to pass the time?” she asked. “I am bereft with lack of things to occupy me.”

Humphrey shrugged. “You could cook. It would give you some variety and keep you busy.”

“Cook?”

Humphrey laughed out loud. “Yes, my lady. That’s when you combine food and heat it.”

“I know what it means. I have simply never done it.”

Humphrey had taught her how to make simple dishes like stew. Today, Dariana made a warm broth, then thickened it with meat and whatever vegetables had been supplied. She would huddle in her cloak and draw in the warmth as the food cooked, savoring the delicious odors while the orange flames danced. After her confession to Humphrey, Tamara had thought to send books, so when the light allowed, Dariana could escape into other places, other times. She would think about her father and how patient he had been when he taught her to hunt. She would daydream about skimming across the meadow on her beloved horse, Moonshadow. Sometimes her heart ached for all she missed.

She had been well stocked and hunting hadn’t become a necessity yet, but she was prepared to contribute her own stores if Tamara became at risk for discovery. And, as the time passed, she adjusted to the cold, the wet, and the other miseries.

It was on a sunny morning in early spring that Tamara appeared at the cottage bearing gifts of food and a new gown. Simple though it was, Dariana was thrilled with the garment, as her clothing was now worn.

“You are quite pleased with something this lovely morn. Pray, share your news with me as I am hungry for it.”

“The king is dead, long live the king.”

“I don’t understand. Henry is dead?”

“Aye, and his second son has succeeded him.”

“What means this? Will things be different? Mayhap better?”

“Well, certainly there will be no more of Henry VII’s tyranny. It seems, though, this new Henry wants nothing more than to please his father.”

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