Noemi smiled gently as she asked the man, “What mill do you take your grain to, goodman?”
The wiry farmer shuffled his feet and glanced at the couple before him. “I come to the mill here and m’Lord permits me to have it ground.” He said with a hesitant, careful diction.
Edouard nodded his approval of the answer. “Many of the surrounding villages come to the Estate to mill their grain. I just had a new stone installed which grinds the flour so fine that it feels soft as the petals of a tigerlily.” The Lord caressed the hand he held. “But even the tigerlilies blush in jealousy of your unblemished skin, my Lady.”
“Ah, my Lord, you have made me blush. You should not say such things till a year hence.” Withdrawing her hand, Noemi proceeded to speak to a group of peasant children who had stopped their chores to gawk at the visiting nobles. Edouard watched her, admiring the feminine body, taking in the rich clothes.
When she is my wife, we will be the awe of the Royal Court. Even the king will be jealous of my conquest and I will have the world laid at my feet for her sake. How I would enjoy seeing the face of that boy who pretended to try to win her hand at the Fair. Why, he was a puppy, and a very sickly looking puppy, too. Against my charm and fetching looks, his conquest was doomed from its conception. In this, at least, Edouard was correct. He cut a striking figure and was more than fetching. Standing at a little over six feet tall, and with icy blue eyes that pierced the hearts of girls from all over the kingdom, Lord Edouard of Birwythe was of muscular build and healthy digestion. Wavy black hair tied in a pony-tail framed his angular face and his whole appearance was enhanced by the stunning work of his tailor.
“My Lord, what is done for the education of these children? They seem in need of one to teach them.” Edouard’s reverie snapped shut as Noemi made the query, and he blinked at the unexpected question. Children? Education?
He searched for an answer that would appease her concern. “I have been looking into finding a scholar with just such an inclination, my Lady. They are scarce to come by and it may take time.”
“La, my Lord, one does not need wait till an intellectual presents himself to begin a good work. Could you not find a peasant who has some learning to begin the project until a scholar may be found?” Noemi’s teasing answer irritated Edouard, but he did not let her see it.
“What an excellent idea, my Lady. I shall implement it at once.” So saying, Edouard signaled to his gentleman-in-waiting standing behind him. “Dashiell, make a note of this: the village of Heron is to receive one learned peasant to teach the children in education until a suitable teacher be found to take over.” The man bobbed his head and retrieved a small wooden book and stylus from his satchel. Noemi looked on while he made the necessary markings in the clay which was inside the case of the book-covers. Glancing over Dashiell’s shoulder, Edouard noted with a mental nod of approval that the gentleman-in-waiting had not removed the thin cloth that kept the clay moist. Well. I shall be interested to see how long this scheme will continue. That should satisfy Noemi, and may the stars decree the clay will not dry too soon. At least the people love her. They adore her. And they are right to. She is peerless among women.
He turned to Noemi. “Come, my Lady, you have been walking far too much today. Shall we return and have our afternoon repast?”
“You are all consideration, my Lord. I am willing to return to the manor.” As the two nobles mounted their steeds, the people of the village gathered to bid them farewell. Hiding his disgust for the wretchedness and dirt surrounding him, Edouard smiled with Noemi and waved to the crowd as they trotted through it.
The ride to the Estate was a gentle distance, not being quite four miles as the crow flies. As they came upon the beautiful grounds and slowed their mounts to a walk, Edouard could not help admiring his home to himself while Noemi chatted in the background about the different villages they had visited that day. It is quite fortunate for me that Grandfather chose this land to build upon. Here, we have no worries of attack from any side, and the prospect to the West is especially stunning. Father’s renovations to the castle made it look more graceful. It is less of a fortress now and more of a, well, more of a manor. And it can only be improved by the addition of the Lady Noemi to its household. So thinking, and occasionally humming sympathetically to give Noemi the impression that he was listening to her, Edouard occupied himself until they reached the inner court-yard of the Estate.
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After they had supped, Edouard escorted Noemi back to her mount and bade her farewell. “When will you visit again, my Lady?”
Her voice bubbled with laughter. “My Lord, if you continue to see me with such regularity, you will tire of me before we are even married. I would not have that.”
Taking her hand, he smiled. “Nay, say not that I would become tired of you, for one would sooner become tired of the ever broadening adventure of life than of your company.”
Noemi blushed at his compliment. “La, sir, but you flatter me. I must tend to matters in my own lands. But –“ stopping his protest, “I will send a messenger with news of when I can next visit. Farewell till then.” Edouard kissed the hand he held and then stood back as the Lady Noemi and her train of retainers passed out of the gate and down the road.
“Dashiell.” The man bobbed forward, having anticipated the necessity of his presence after the Lady Noemi’s departure.
Edouard’s voice expressed unease. “The clay; has it dried?”
“That draghored woman!”
Dashiell made an effort to interject. “M’Lord, if I may – “
“Noemi never comes for a visit but she doesn’t meddle in my affairs. Whose land, villages, and people are these? Mine. Not hers. Mine.” Edouard turned on his servant. “And when she is mine also, she will know it.”
Dashiell attempted to appease his master. “M’Lord, I can find a way of mending what has been done. Maybe we can interpret the message a different way.”
Waving impatiently, Edouard entered the door of his home. “You will think of some way to fix this mess, Dashiell. I do not give a siyt if you have to lie about it.”
Dashiell fidgeted uncomfortably. “Yes sir. Then do I have your permission to go, my Lord?”
“You are dismissed, Dashiell.” Edouard turned to the mirror on the wall to make sure nothing marred his appearance. When Noemi’s land is mine, he mused, I will receive more revenue than has ever been collected by one person in the entire history of king Grenier’s reign. Even the sorcerers and witches will be jealous of my wealth then. And not only will they envy the wealth of my property and people, but they will envy me the woman that I will wed to get it all.