: The Search by Catherin Elizabet Belle
It was in the year of our LORD, 1154. When the destruction and bloody Civil War ended. It was then Henry Tudor, of the House of Lancaster, married Elizabeth of the House of York, and therefore securing the Tudor reign. At that time, he dismissed his armies and lowered taxes, which pleased the masses. As Henry II reigned, and through strict monetary strategy amassed surplus money in the treasurer. As the years pass under Henry II, life in the country returns to normalcy.
Over time, alliances came to pass between the House of Devon Shire and the House of Black Shadow with the marriage of Lady Lenore to Lord Darwin. This was an arranged marriage and Lady Lenore dwelled in a tower of darkness. Bound by tradition and a contractual agreement between her Father and Lord Darwin.
Desire to escape and loneliness were her constant companions. Upon rare occasions Lenore escaped and took brief jaunts into the forest. There she would find solace in the solitude with only the animals of the forest as companions. This is her story penned in her own style.
While betrothed, I find the Master domineering, dictating, and selfish. In the two years, I have met all his requirements except one, and in that I am relentless in my defiance. The only punishment is my constant guard and never allowed to travel outside the castle walls. My life is filled with silks and satins, the finest cuisine, are the things he offers in this otherwise pleasant castle.
As for the Ladies of the realm, they dream of love, caring, sharing, and romance. And my ladies-in-waiting, they spoil me with each passing day, fragrant warm oil massages, tender ripe strawberries, or black cherries as I languish among silk pillows and flowing drapes. Soft music sweetens the cool breeze flowing through the open windows. Then there are jewels to adorn my favorite gowns of pure silk when the Lord orders me to attend his social events. But not one of these things fills the ache deep in the abyss of my heart.
In the night's stillness, I creep to the small forest against the castle walls deep in the garden. I sit on a rock listening to the animals searching for their supper. The owl flies through the trees, keen eyes searching the forest floor. Swooping with sharp talons, he grabs the small rodent and soars to his nest high in the aspen. Beyond the walls of my prison, trees lie in silhouette against the pale glow of the silvery moon. A coyote's lonesome howl reaches my ears. A single tear moistens a warm cheek as his loneliness touches mine. Time eludes me sitting in the night's quiet. Near dawn I enter the castle through the garden gate behind the servant's quarters and on a tiptoe scale the stone steps to the hall near my quarters. Lara sleeps against my door. I touch her shoulder and ask, "Why are you here?"
Alert at once she stands answering, "My Lady, when you go out, I guard your door, so no one will discover you are not in the castle."
Nodding approval, we enter the room. As Lara lights a candle she says, "My Lady, let me help you." I relax as she helps me into my nightdress. Lara has been with me since I was a girl. The one thing I brought from my home; and the only one in the whole of Black Shadow that I trust.
The hours turn into days until one morn Lord Darwin is away from the castle. To plan my venture into the forest outside the castle fortress, I dress in the attire of a page. I slip a dagger into my boot and a rapier at my waist. Tonight, the moon hides behind the wisp of clouds and shadows deep and eerie darken the forest floor. Ensconced in a black cape of home spun pilfered from the stores used for the villagers, I make my way to the servants' stairs. With the scones shielded by Lara, I enter the garden. There in the shadows, I carefully open the gate as to not let the hinges squeak; I step onto the grassy walkway between the castle wall and the moat. Fear holds my breath captive as I move around the edge of the moat, searching for the small boat one servant hides when he visits a maiden. At last, I find it tied to a bush overhanging the moat. The small craft pulls easily to the bank, I place my small valise in the bottom; climbing aboard, I row in silence to the other side near a clump of small bushes. I watch the castle for any evidence someone saw my crossing; no lights or guards are visible as I make my way to the shadowy tree line across the open field.
Beneath the stately oak gazing toward the castle, I watch to see my absence is undiscovered. I stand a few more minutes knowing it will be the last time I shall gaze upon my prison. Seeing no one moving around, I follow the deer trail into the ebony stillness of the woods. Not far into the forest, the sound of rustling leaves halts my steps, I listen.
I continue my stroll, enjoying the solitude and the calmness among the trees. As I stand on the edge of a pond of crystal water, the light of the moon glimmers on its surface. I lay my knapsack and valise beside a gray rock, perching atop the boulder, knees drawn to my chest, the cloak keeping the chill at bay. As the echo of my steps fade, the silence of the forest seeps through my mind soothing weariness begot by a passionless world.
As I watch the clouds drift from the moon, its golden glow glistens off the surface of the placid pond shimmering diamonds on silk. Growing weary with the calmness in my soul, I lay in the shadow of the rock wrapped in my clock. With the echo of the coyote's lonesome howl, sleep closes my eyes in slumber.
Startled awake, I glance across the pond where two golden eyes glow in the shadows alone at the edge of the water. I dare not move as the bobcat laps the cool water, sending ripples racing across the once placid pond. As a soft breeze rustles the pine needles, the cat listens, then slithers into the gray shadows of the early dawn. I stay prone, wrapped in my cloak lest I draw his attention. At a reasonable lapse of time, I stand working out the stiffness from sleeping on the damp ground. At the water's edge, I stoop dipping my hand into the cool elixir bringing it to my mouth. So clean and refreshing, I wonder if the pond is spring fed.
I open my knapsack to see what Lara placed there for me, fresh cheese and bread. I move back to the edge of the trees, leaning against an aspen as I nibble the repast. It is strange to be at peace with the sound of the owl's wings as he returns to his nest from his nocturnal hunt. The sun's rays turn the shadows to gray soaring higher, soon its glow will chase the darkness away and warm the earth with its heat.
Lara will be frantic when I do not return to the castle, as I did not tell her of my plans. I shall continue my travel among the forest of vibrant green oaks. Deeper into the woods I wonder, fascinated by the fresh pines, aspen and oak scattered along what might have been a deer trail. Within the hour I reach a small glen a glow with the warm rays of the sun.
As I lay basking in the heat, a commotion garners my attention. I raise my head and jump grabbing my sword, side stepping the vagabond charging from a gap in the trees across the clearing. His weapon misses my shoulder by a mere inch as I turn prepared to meet his attack. "En Garde"! the shocked expression on his face when I counter his attack brings a wee bit of excitement to my heart. I dare not relax my guard as I advance toward him, he moves back shifting his position advancing toward me. Back and forth we go, parry, lunge, retreat, parry, lunge, retreat. The assailant makes one false move as I lunge forward, my sword plunges through his heart. An utter surprise and shocked look crossed his face as he drops his rapier, falling to the ground.
Exhausted, I dare not stay rapidly moving through the trees. The path narrows as I move farther low-hanging branches pull at my cloak. Ducking under a low limb, the going is more difficult as the brush thickens, impassable is a better word. The birds become silent as I draw near their melodic singing.
My hands and face become scratched and itchy with specks of blood oozing from the wounds as I push my way through the tangle of fallen limbs. My knapsack falls to the ground. I find it hard to turn in the knot of limbs and brush to retrieve it. Spent from the earlier battle, I curl up in the surrounding tangle, laying my head on the knapsack; I sleep.
The sun creeping through the branches feels warm on my face as I open my eyes, remembering the snarl that held me fatigued as dark fell across the land. As I sit, I pull my knapsack to me and take the bread and cheese for sustenance.
I struggle to get out of the brush. I push and crawl, leaving my clothes in shreds. At last, reaching a point where I can stand, I move further into the woods.
Hour after hour I trudge through this tangle of nature's fury. Exhausted, I don't think I can go on when I fall through the brush and gaze on a small cabin.
With a sigh of relief, I approach the cabin, stepping on the porch, I rap on the door; I rap again; with no answer, I turn the knob and to my surprise it opens. I enter with only the pale glow coming through the window; no one is here. In the cabin is a bed, a fireplace, a table with chairs opposite the bed. An ebony lush bear rug lies by the dark hearth with no warmth of fiery embers.
Near the hearth, a wood box sits with a bucket of kindling. My knapsack sits on the table, I lay a few pieces of kindling in the hearth then lay two logs on the twigs. I search the cabin for a tender box; alas, none. With my cloak pulled around me to ward off the chill, I sit on the bear rug near the fireplace. The chill seeps deeper into my weary bones as I lay curled and sleep.
When I awoke the sun was sinking in the west. I watched as the sky turned into brilliant colors of red and orange that glistened through the window. I knew then I must return to the castle as I looked at the silent hearth that offered no heat shivers racked my body. Upon picking up my knapsack, I move toward the door. There I pause gazing across the glen and ask myself, "Where am I?"
I move toward the lengthening shadows at the edge of the forest. The castle was to the northeast and I move in that direction. At the tree line, I find no entrance but thick undergrowth that blocked my way. I push my way through limbs that snag my cloak, tug at my hair, and scratch my arms until blood oozes from new wounds. The forest turns to ebony as no moonlight seeps through this dense, invisible path I had chosen. I pushed, pulled, and stumbled my way, until with exhaustion I fell to my knees. The breeze rustles through the trees, and small critters move across the forest floor. With a sob, I accept that I am lost. Too tired to move, I wrap my cloak around me and lay against a fragrant pine before falling to sleep.
The night passes uneventfully, with the gray dawn stretching across the timbers and the heavens. As I open my eyes, the chill of the morning air rakes across me. With my cloak tighter around me, I reach for my knapsack and eat part of the cheese and bread I still have. I long for a passionate fire and a cup of mead to warm my insides. The sweet chirp of birds reminds me I'm alone; and I wonder could I find my way to the small cabin. The brush I crushed through getting here should guide me there if I follow it. I look not to the return trip as my hands and face sting with scratches from the scrub brush. Alas, resolved, I must try.
With the knapsack in hand, I move back onto the trampled trail whence I traveled last night. Wisps of hair flies around my dirt-streaked face, my tunic and breeches torn and dirty, soaked with perspiration. My body aches. No one must see me, or they'd think me a runaway servant. I must find the cabin! Calm yourself. I say to myself and take a deep breath to relax. Serenity courses through my soul as I traverse the smashed trail. Warmed by the heat of the day, I Glance skyward to see the sun high in the sky. I long to stop and rest as my tongue is dry and my lips parched. Hunger and thirst haunt my mind, but I must continue.
My journey continues as the shadows lengthen. Then a small clearing opens before me and the cabin I left stands before me. With relief, I run to the porch darting through the door coming to an immediate halt. Everything is as it was twenty-four hours ago, and the hearth still stands unwelcoming and without warmth.
My knapsack is empty as I scrounge the cabin looking for food to eat. There's a small pantry, yet I find nothing edible. The water pail is near empty; I take it and step outside looking for a source; listening to the night, the sound of running water echoes through the glen. Fifty yards in front of the cabin, a trail leads into the woods that I had not seen. As I follow it, the sound of creatures moving through the forest floor around me as the sound of water gets louder. In the darkness, I trip over a root. I fall headlong into a small clearing only twenty feet wide and lose my hold on the pail, dropping it. In the darkness I grope through the leaves and pebbles for the pail, relief overwhelms me when the tips of my fingers tough the rough metal. I stand entranced by the painting before me as the moon shines into the small clearing. There is a small waterfall that takes the breath away with its beauty; it cascades and sparkles ten feet above the pond, flowing into the pond. The crystal elixir, the rocks, the green pines, and the moon glinting off the water, creates a shimmering glow the pond.
I walk to the pond, filling the pail and traipse back up the trail to the cabin. Inside, I drink my fill of water sitting in front of the ember less hearth. Weariness overtakes me as I sprawl out on the bear rug and sleep.
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Catherin Elizabet Belle
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