Aura. - Part 5

Part 5

"Aura," Vernon snapped out his order. "Tomorrow we ride for home whether this last man is able or not. There are enough people here to see to his comfort. I have work to do and can no longer wait for you to decide it is time to leave."

"Then go without me," Aura retorted, sounding petulant. "I never said I wanted to travel with you for the rest of my life. In fact, it is time, and more, that Wolf and I returned to our own home. We have work to do there as well."

Home, Vernon sniffed as he remembered the cave she had told him about that had served as a home for her.

"If you think for a moment that I am about to leave you go back to your hole in the ground you are sadly mistaken. You travel with me at dawn, by your own free will, or otherwise. The choice is yours, but you will be with me when we leave."

Aura nodded and replied. "I understand," and she did. The choice was hers all right, she thought sarcastically. She either rode beside him as she had while he had headed to battle, or he would take her along by putting her under guard. She understood it was time for her to pack up her belongings and leave. The mare had been given to her by Vernon, and she decided she would take the creature with her.

She decided she would leave in the middle of the night.

It was the first time Aura was to underestimate Vernon's powers of perception. He had seen her reluctance to accompany him to court, and he resolved that she would not disappear into the countryside.

"Who goes there?" A voice quizzed her from the darkness.

She stopped moving, hoping the man would be deceived by the silence. He was not. He approached her with a torch held high in one hand, and a sword held in the other.

"Oh, it is you." He commented as he sheathed his sword. "Vernon told us that you might try to leave during the night. He said you were not to be allowed to leave the camp."

"What!" Aura feigned outrage, hoping to bluff her way through his guard. "I am filthy and am not even allowed to find a private place to wash?"

The man was clearly not impressed. He distinctly remembered her returning from bathing earlier in the evening. "You bathe too much anyway. Why anyone would want to wash one to two times a day is beyond me. Besides, we have our orders."

Aura frowned then decided to make a break for it. Wolf could catch up with her later. He had gone roaming earlier and had not yet returned. She could not afford to wait. As the man was on foot and she probably would never get another chance like this she nudged her horse with her foot. It took off at a gallop. The guard let out a yell as she went past him and two other guards appeared to give chase.

It had to have been one of the shortest chases on record, Aura decided, as a mere five minutes later a hand reached out to pull her mount to a stop. He had pursued her from the boundaries of the camp, as Vernon had instructed, and he now smiled with smug satisfaction as he took possession of her reigns.

Aura, in a determined effort to get away no matter the cost, threw her leg over the horse and dropped off of its back to attempt the rest of her escape on foot. She did not get far that way either as she was scooped up to be placed in front of a second pursuer. She twisted and slipped from the man's grasp, and landed on the ground to dart off again.

"I thought you could handle women Alex." Edwin's taunt cut through the air, echoing his amus.e.m.e.nt.

Alex said nothing as he chased her down again then dropped from his horse to corner her. "I have her Edwin."

Edwin came riding towards them with a smirk on his face and listened as she growled a warning at Alex, who stood directly before her. "Touch me and you are a dead man."

"Leave you go and we are dead is what you mean. We have been ordered to make sure that you do not go missing during the night. Vernon thought you might try something like this. Also, we all have noticed, your wolf went off somewhere on his own earlier, so you cannot count on him for protection. Now, be a good girl and come along peacefully so we can go back and get some sleep tonight. Tomorrow is going to be a long day."

He held out his hand to take hers and she glared at him then kicked out, her foot landing right on target. She turned to run again, only to find herself being hoisted up onto Edwin's horse, laying stomach first over the beast's back looking down at the ground below.

Edwin could hardly contain his laughter as he watched his friend doubled over on the ground and he taunted, reminding him of words spoken earlier. "She should not cause any problems, after all, she is just a girl. Is that not right Alex?"

"If she were not under Vernon's protection I would gladly kill her." Alex growled back, his voice thick with pain.

Aura squirmed, hoping to get lucky and escape as she had earlier. She found it impossible. Edwin held on to her by the belt that held up her pants and her struggles only made his grasp tighten. She tried, as a last resource, to exercise a little charm, hoping that, if nothing else, he would allow her a dignified form of surrender.

"If I promise to be good would you let me ride my own horse with some dignity?"

"You do not deserve dignity Aura and you are not about to get it from me right now. You have cost me a half a night sleep, and this before we set out on a trip that should take a couple of days. Do not expect any understanding from me."

Aura gave a metal sigh as she decided to accept her fate, at least for the moment. She was in no position to argue. Perhaps he would rethink his decision before he got back to camp.

Much to her humiliation he refused to allow her even a semblance of dignity, not even to sit upright before him as they rode through camp to her usual sleeping place. When they reached their destination he further humiliated her by dumping her unceremoniously on the ground. Alex threw her bedroll at her without dismounting then rode off, leading her mare behind him. Edwin spoke to her from the back of his horse.

"Do I have your word that you will stay in place, or do I have to tie you up?"

"Wolf would never let you do it." Aura snipped back as her pet returned from his travels.

Edwin's mouth formed a sneer as he growled back. "I would not threaten me with your wolf if I were you. It would hardly be the first time I have ever killed a wolf. In fact, with the way I feel at the moment I might even welcome the opportunity to do away with the bothersome animal."

"I shall cause you no further trouble," Aura a.s.sured him in a subdued voice. The last thing she needed was to lose her wolf. He was her only true form of protection.

"I am glad to hear it." Edwin replied sounding sarcastic. "Now, how long can I count on you to keep your promise?" The woman was crafty, and Edwin was unsure whether to be amused or wary of this sudden change in her. He had the feeling that she was capable of going back on her word, but for some reason he knew she would not. He decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and call it a night, as he hoped for the best.

True to her word, Aura curled herself up into her makeshift bed, and woke with the breaking of camp. She drowsily roused herself and packed her things before settling down with a brush to take care of her hair. She let her hair down then began to brush it with long quick, practiced strokes.

Vernon, who had been busy with his own, stopped as he noticed her for the first time with her hair hanging loose about her and blinked twice as if to clear his vision. She looked like a different woman, softer, even beautiful. Why would she wish to hide such beauty? Perhaps he should find a way to present her to his Lords as he viewed her now? Perhaps he could even get her to wear a dress. In the proper gown he was sure she would be one of the most beautiful women at court. He would have no trouble finding her a husband willing to keep her close. Of course to do this he would have to find her a man who preferred court life to his own home. A man who would keep her occupied at night and give her a half a dozen children to serve as an anchor, that, he decided would be the easy part. He did not like her bolting as she had done last night, when things were not to her liking. The next time she ran he might not be so lucky in catching her.

Aura noticed Vernon watching her with a calculated glint in his eyes, and she quickly braided her hair with deft fingers. She noted the disappointment written on his face, and guessing part of what was on his mind, asked. "Is it time to go already?"

He nodded in silence then motioned for a boy to have her horse brought forward. She took the reigns, mounted her horse and nodded her readiness to begin their journey.

"There are going to be a few changes for you to get used to when you get to court. Aura, dresses are worn by ladies at all times. You will be expected to conform. You do have a dress I a.s.sume?"

"Only one, and it is not a dress anyone would wear for everyday. Is there a place where I can purchase some clothing?"

"We will stop so you can buy some materials along the way. Dresses can be made for you either in the city that we stop in, or at our destination. There will be a banquet held in celebration of our victory. That will give you an opportunity to wear that gown you think so special. From what I understand we defeated the main forces of our enemies. The clean up of the fields after battle is the responsibility of the Lords. It is the duty of those men to keep their lands safe."

"What do you have in mind for me that you tell me of this in such a painstakingly detailed manner? Or is that supposed to be a secret?" Aura asked, hoping to catch him off guard with the directness of the question.

"How do you know I have anything in mind for you, or would even consider you worthy of schemes?" Vernon replied evasively, refusing to be taken advantage of by a mere girl when he had just won a major battle.

"Vernon, do not insult my intelligence. If you had no plans for me you would never have put me under guard. You would have let me go home to my cave as I had wanted to do in the first place."

"What would you say if I told you that I had not made any firm decisions?"

"I would say that you were being evasive." Aura answered back.

"Evasive?" Vernon repeated, he had never heard the word before and wondered what she meant.

"It means that you do not want to answer the question, so you just give a weak excuse, hoping to shut me up." Aura answered with embarra.s.sing perception.

Vernon, not willing to let her see how her speech affected him and how it made him feel inadequate, laughed then confessed. "It might be a consideration with anyone else but you. To be perfectly honest Aura, I would like to keep you close at hand. You are intelligent and quick, I like that. I think we could learn a lot from each other. I must admit I have not yet figured out how to keep you near, not without locking you up. You do not react as a normal woman would."

"So who said I was normal?" Aura sniffed, Vernon laughed and conceded. "True, you are not like any other woman I have ever met."

Aura grew silent after that remark, and remained that way until the next day, when he led the troop into a small town. After the entourage had settled he led her to a little shop full of a variety of materials. He was recognized immediately and the owner rushed to his side to fall on his knees before him.

"Sire, we welcome your patronage."

"Rise Ephraim, I bring you a Lady who wishes to buy some cloth, it is she, rather than I, that you should be on your knees to."

The storekeeper rose and bowed to her. "In what way might I be of service my lady?"

"I am looking for materials for some new dresses. Vernon tells me that my state of attire is inappropriate for the company he keeps."

"Ladies do not dress in clothing meant for men." Ephraim informed her with a disgusted sniff.

"Where I come from they do, if they want to. However, if n.o.body else does then I must not either." Aura replied.

The man looked at Vernon in confusion. He had thought Aura was Vernon's mistress, but her words gave him a different impression. Knowing better than to pry any further, the man turned his attention back to his business as he asked.

"What would you like me to show you?"

"Your best." Aura answered simply. After all she was not about to walk about dressed in a shabby fashion. It was just not her way.

The merchant showed her several bolts of material, which she thought interesting, but rough. She decided to cut through a lot of wasted time with a simple question.

"Is this the best that you have?"

That seemed to be what the man wanted to know, how far her knowledge of cloth extended. She recognized what he had shown her was second rate. Of course he had better, brought into the country from far, far away. But the materials were expensive and he sought to make this clear.

"What you seek is expensive my lady."

Aura took a couple of bags out of her backpack and dumped the contents onto a desk. He immediately disappeared inside a special room.

"You have much more of that?" Vernon asked. He had missed the money in her sack and could not figure how. He thought he had gone through that bag thoroughly.

Aura smiled, as she retorted with a toss of her head. "Only if you are going to pay me for the work I did on the field after the battle."

"I intended to. The materials you choose, their construction into dresses, as well as slippers and a place to stay. These were to be your reward, so you can put away your fortune. I have even planned to set up a dowry for you, should you ever chose to marry."

"I do not think marriage would be a good idea for me. I have yet to figure out where I am." She sighed then added. "Or what I am doing here. I am totally lost."

The merchant entered the room with four bolts of material. One was a bolt of silk in a shimmery shade of peac.o.c.k blue. Another bolt of cloth was fine wool in a deep rich burgundy. Another was a cream colored linen, and the fourth an emerald green fabric of a material she had never seen before. She asked the prices then chose the cream, the burgundy and the blue. She did not favor green, no matter how splendid the weave, so she sent it back.

After the purchases were paid for the merchant directed them to a reputable seamstress and they carried on. It was three days before the gowns were satisfactorily finished. She made a few changes to the cut and design of the gowns and was quite satisfied with the end results. As she was happy, so was Vernon, as they could get on with their trip home.


Vernon had Aura dress in one of her new gowns the moment she received them, and insisted that she ride on a strange chair like saddle, which she found uncomfortable. She was more than happy to reach the end of their journey, where she was led directly to Vernon's wife.

"Welcome home my Lord," his wife greeted him with a beautiful and loving smile as she met him at the entrance to their home.

"Chatelaine, you grow more beautiful every time I see you." Vernon swept her into a great bear hug and swung her around. Aura held back while trying to hide her feeling of awkwardness. She made a show of looking about her while waiting to be presented. Vernon finally motioned her forward and began the introductions.

"Chatelaine, I would like to present the Lady Aura. She claims she has come to us from afar and says she is very lost."

Aura bobbed a slight curtsy. She was surprised at her hostess' youth. Chatelaine was more than just beautiful, she was cla.s.sic in every manner. Her long chestnut hair was dressed to perfection, her gown molded to her near perfect figure in the most flattering manner, her hazel eyes sparkled with mischief, her skin was the most perfect pearl, and Aura just knew immediately that she was going to like her.

Chatelaine smiled and Aura felt as if the doors of heaven had been opened to her, for she seemed to be offering herself as a friend, something Aura had not had many of in her lifetime.

"I have heard many reports about you from those who have preceded you. I had hoped that Vernon might find a way to bring you home with him. The things I were told made me very curious about you." Chatelaine then turned to her husband, and with a wider smile teased. "In some ways I am surprised Vernon has not found you a protector yet. I am a.s.suming, of course, that she is single and alone?"

"She is, but she is also quite unusual. She is capable of mathematical equations, she is able to read and write better than my own scribe, she has the knowledge of a physician, and she has saved many lives on the battlefield."

"News of the latter has already reached my ears." Chatelaine confessed.

"Did they think to tell you that she has tamed a wolf and trained him to do her bidding?"

"Yes, although I thought it a bit strange." Chatelaine confessed.

"I thought so too at first. I have invited the Lady Aura to stay with us as a friend and guest. I trust you will make her feel welcome and comfortable?"

"Of course," Chatelaine turned to a servant and ordered him to take Aura's belongings to a room. She then ordered a maid to see to her guest's needs, while she remained behind with her husband.

Aura did not feel as welcome as Vernon had told her that she would be. She decided, once the servants left her, to go for a walk to see if she could find a secluded place to bathe and have a bit of a swim. Keeping clean was not going to be easy with so many people about, and she wished she could sneak away, to return home to her cave. She had, however, given her word that she would behave.

Before going on her walk Aura decided to see what she could from the terrace outside of her room. She already knew that there were several miles of houses, leading up to the palace as they had ridden through them to get here. Her room, as luck would have it, faced the opposite direction, and from her balcony she could see that the dwellings did not extend as far as she feared. It would take only a few hours to walk past them, to find any form of clearing. The big question was whether that clearing would be private.

She took her mare and went for a ride to see how long the trip to the river would take as well as to meet up with Wolf, who she had left to roam in the wild. She felt it would be safer for him than being amongst the armed men. She knew how they viewed Wolf, they feared him and because of that, she didn't trust them not to kill him. When she returned to Vernon's home her hair was still damp from her bath, but she felt clean. She dismounted and went to change into her cream dress.

"If you please Lady Aura," a pretty maid bobbed a slight curtsy before her as she located her. "The Duke and d.u.c.h.ess would have a word with you."

Duke? d.u.c.h.ess? Why was she not surprised to hear those t.i.tles in relation to her host and hostess? "Of course," she replied with a slight smile. "But would you please lead the way? I am afraid I have become lost here."

The maid was startled by the Lady Aura's manners. None of the other ladies would have even thought to talk to her, never mind ask her for directions in such a pleasant and courteous fashion. She covered her shock by bobbing another curtsy before leading her to the room Vernon and Chatelaine were in. Aura entered alone and stood watching the couple, as Chatelaine rested her head against his shoulder. He kissed her on the forehead then noted their guest by the door looking uncertain and embarra.s.sed.

"Ah, Aura, you finally decided to grace us with your presence. Come in, and do not look so awkward." Vernon motioned her in, and she searched for an excuse to leave instead.

"A maid told me you wished to speak with me, but I can come back at a more convenient time if you wish." She sounded as if she was apologizing and she blushed, lowering her head as she did.

Chatelaine smiled in understanding. The child, for that is how she viewed Aura, was shy and in strange surroundings. She had no idea what was expected of her or what was acceptable behavior, and none had thought to take her under their wing. She decided to befriend the young girl.

"We dine soon and would have you join us and a few of our other guests for the meal."

"I am honored, but if you do not mind I would rather retire. I find myself tired by the day's events. This is all very new to me." Aura admitted.

Chatelaine was not about to let Aura retreat and thus make herself a recluse within her home. That was definitely not her style. "But of course we mind." She protested as she drew Aura further into the room. "I would consider myself a poor hostess indeed if even one of my guests were to go hungry as you must be. Why, you have not eaten a bite all day."

"Wolf and I shared part of a fish down by the river earlier this afternoon."

"That was hours ago Aura. Now you must join our other guests as they await us in the parlor."

They walked as they spoke, and before Aura was aware of their destination she found herself in the midst of nine other people, almost all were strangers to her. With the presence of Vernon and Chatelaine the guests were led into the dinning room and seated. Aura was seated to the left of Vernon and she became the immediate focus of curious speculation.

With veiled eyes Aura returned some of the inspection, for she was just as curious about them as they were about her. The castle, Aura had noted earlier, was partly Roman in design and it must have belonged to a very high-ranking officer, or even a Roman n.o.bleman. The main part of the building was not only quite large, but was very elaborate. She also noted how fresh and preserved the ancient designs were, although they could not have been new at all, for the addition to the main structure was definitely not Roman in design. Nor was it new, for it did not have that "just built" look to it. It made Aura wonder, even more, where she was in history.

There was no doubt that her table manners were beyond the quality set at the party, so nothing was said about them, though several looked for a reason to speak. A few of the women at the table, sensing a new and perhaps potentially dangerous rival, decided that if they were unable to attack her in a derogatory manner, they would remark on her subdued looks, for she continued to wear her hair in her usual braid.