Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Seven

"Come Widow ... Leeda ... walk with me.  I do not believe you've ever graced the grounds and the views are quite beautiful at sunset."

Carefully, trying to avoid creating a scene, I smiled calmly and replied, "I am sure they are Turner Waverly but I promised the Sheriff that I would await his return here on the dais and here I am staying regardless of the number of invitations to leave it.  I do not consider it wise to break my word ... especially not to the Sheriff of Tentuckia."

Rom's brother didn't lose his smile but it did become a bit stiff.  Still he kept his manners and bowed and said, "Of course."

I tried not to let my sigh of relief be obvious.  A steady stream of unwanted attention had been coming my way since our arrival had me itching to throw a salt cellar at the Sheriff for leaving me to deal with it on my own.  Suddenly there was a scream and we all turned and I saw a woman crumpled on the ground.  I saw immediately I was dealing with barnyard fowl as all anyone else was doing was running around in a panic.

I left the dais at a jog and fell on the ground by the woman.  "What happened?" I demanded.

"She ... she just ... just fell ..."  I looked up and saw Turner Waverly's wife Roda.

Moving the hair off of the face on the woman on the ground I found it to be Fan.  Part of me groaned and wondered if this was a play of some kind but she was too pale whether it was a play or not.

"Where is Rom's mother?"  When people just looked around.  "Oh for the love of ... has no one sent for her?!"  Turning and looking I spied one of Turner's sons and told him, "High yourself off at a run and find your grandmother.  She's trained and has more experience than I."  I looked to Roda and asked, "What of Mrs. Carter?  Or Mrs. Bailey?"

"They both left to go to family that needed them last week."

I growled but stopped when Fan moaned.  "Easy there.  Don't move.  You're as pale as sugar water.  Does anything hurt?  Are you in pain?  Dizzy?"

"Why are you here?"

"Because apparently I'm the only ninny in this bunch with enough training to see to your health until someone else better can arrive.  No, don't move.  Not until Mrs. Waverly gives you leave."

"I ... I'm fine.  I ... it's so ... so warm."

I felt her forehead and cheeks.  "You've no fever.  When's the last time you've had something to drink ... and please tell me you aren't drinking the Waverly Punch.  As I remember it the stuff is strong enough to peel paint."

"Only a few sips."

A growl slipped out.  "Did you at least eat something beforehand?"

"My ... my stomach was unsettled."

"And you thought the punch would somehow help with that?"  I shook my head.  "Not to be indelicate but could you be carrying again?"

A sloppy voice from behind me said, "If she is, it isn't mine.  We've not shared a bed in months."

I turned and sure enough there stood Rom.  My first glance at him since I'd been sent away and I find him nearly too drunk to stay upright.  Carefully I said, "Turner, would you be so kind as to take your brother and stick his head in a bucket?  And if you choose to hold him there a bit longer than is strictly necessary I don't think anyone here would begrudge you."

I turned my back and refocused on Fan.  She whispered, more than a little humiliated, "No ... I am not carrying."

"Well that's something."  I looked around to find far too many men just standing around.  "Well what are the lot of your clodheads looking at?  I hope your women all send you to the barn for your bed tonight if this is the way you would treat them in their time of need.  Now move, the whole lot of you are next to useless ... move I say, give the poor woman some air ... and some privacy."

They weren't moving and I was in the middle of standing up when I remembered something that Ceena had once been forced to do when a barbarian from the East had intruded upon one of her dinner parties in an effort to make mischief.  I stood straight and tall and then just looked at them with the frozen cold from a whole winter packed into one stare.  I remember the barbarian slowly stopping and then backing away giving the sign of the evil eye before leaving the party.  Ceena had never needed to say a single word.  I had been glad that for once that look wasn't directed my way.

I wasn't quite as successful at pulling it off as Ceena - she'd had years of practice after all - but the men did move off with only minor mumbling and muttering.

I leaned back down muttering, "If they are going to act like toadstools then maybe we should seal the whole lot of them into barrels until they grow some sense."  A sad hiccup of a laugh drew my eyes to Fan's face.  I took my handkerchief and wipe away a tear.  "They'll give you some peace now but I need to ask ... are you bleeding Fan?  Is it a womanly hurt you feel?"

"No.  I feel weak but the university doctors said that would go with time ... and I am better than I was."

"Let me guess, they also informed you that you need to eat more liver and leafy greens and to stay off of your feet ... and moderate your socializing?"

She sighed.

"What have you done to my daughter in law?"

I looked up to find Mr. and Mrs. Waverly looking down at me like a pair of demon bookends.  "What you should have been doing.  Looking to her welfare.  She's no business being in the midst of this nonsense.  She needs to be stitching or working on menus or something that she can do sitting down and quiet, not getting pushed to and fro playing hostess.  It's obvious to anyone that isn't blind and an idiot that she's been ill and needs to be cared for, not the other way around, socializing so the two of your can escape with your cronies to scheme."

It was at that moment that Turner drug Rom back and seeing he was wet head to toe it was more than a bucket that he got dumped in.  He kneeled beside Fan and I moved back.  He took her hand and said, "I beg your pardon Fan ... it ... it was the punch and my bad temper."

Fan nodded silently and patted his hand.  I realized something.  Fan and Rom were trying to make a better bargain of it than I ever had with The Linder.  It made me uncomfortable and shamed me.

Trying to keep my voice steady I told Rom, "She needs to be carried inside and then to your chambers.  And she needs to stay there until the orders for her care that the doctors have given can do the work and she is stronger.  The weather will soon turn changeable and she is weak enough that a simple chill could be dangerous.  Whatever else you do Rom, this must be enforced.  Do you understand?"

He looked at me blearily.  "You've changed Leeda."

"So have you.  That's the way life is when it hands you what we've been handed.  Now take care of your wife.  And remind others to do the same. And for the love of all Rom ... stay away from the punch, it obviously doesn't agree with you.  You were acting like a knothead."

"You always told me the truth of it."

"I was your friend."

"Are you still?"

Irritated at all those that listened I sighed and snapped, "I must be because otherwise instead of giving you to your brother to deal with I would have skewered you with the roast beef carving knife.  You really acted like an ass."

"I know."  He looked to Fan and said again, "I know."  He carefully lifted her and began to carry her to the house.

I stood up and as I was brushing my hands and skirt off Mr. Waverly snarled, "How dare you come to my home and behave in such a shameful way.  How dare you ... after all we have done for you."

"Oh Glory above,” I snapped losing what little patience I was holding onto.  “I haven't seen any of you since you sold me to The Linder to keep you out of hot water of your own making.  And even then you didn't have the courage to face me with it but sent my poor cousin to tell the tale.  If it wasn't for Nat's intervention I wouldn't even have been going there to be a wife.  So do not talk to me about what all you have done for me.  And now that I am Widow of The Guardian I will remind you to treat me with the respect that station is due.  And whatever monies you took from the Linder family, you'd best believe I have explained the truth of it to the good Sheriff."

Mrs. Waverly glanced at her husband and asked, "What monies?"

"Quiet woman."

"I asked what monies," she shrilled.

As they began to bicker I rolled my eyes and turned and marched back to the dais to get my shawl.  I must have been mumbling some foulness as when the Sheriff stepped into my path he whistled.  "Perhaps I won't introduce you to Nancee after all.  You are far too creative."

"Then you best be lucky all it is are words.  And for your information I am leaving.  I am done being used for whatever purpose you are about.  I've too much self-respect to turn into a plaything for any man, regardless of his reasons."

He blinked and reached a hand to stop me but was caught by Mr. Waverly who started complaining about my behavior and I made good my escape still cursing my situation and certain individuals in particular.

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