The Savior – Snippet 11
It hadn’t surprised Mahaut when Loreilei and Frel had been drawn together once again. After their ordeal in the desert, though, they’d been hurt in ways that only the other might understand. But now here they were together holding hands as they approached her across the courtyard.
Mahaut smiled at them both, but she felt foreboding in her heart.
This is going to be trouble, she thought. Of course they love each other.
“It’s wonderful to see you both,” she said to them as they approached. They both laughed, as if this were funny. She considered, removed the bow from the bench, and sat down herself. The two walked up and stood before her.
“You look very well, Aunt,” Loreilei replied.
“‘Aunt,’ is it?” Mahaut said. “You only call me that when you want something from me, Loreilei. And how are you, Frel?”
“Very well, Land-heiress,” the boy replied, using her formal First Family title. “Your grace, we come to ask you for some advice.”
“‘Your grace’ from you, Frel. Alaha Zentrum. All right, then,” said Mahaut.
Suddenly Loreilei reached out and took Mahaut’s hands in hers. “Oh, Mahaut, Frel and I are in love. We want to get married. He’s asked me.”
Mahaut didn’t say anything for a moment. “I see,” she finally said. “I would have thought he might ask your father and mother first.”
“You know what my father would have done if we had talked to him, especially if Frel had gone alone to see him.”
“But I want to, your grace,” said Frel earnestly. “That’s why we’ve come to see you. Could you put in a word?”
“Pave the way, you mean?”
“Yes, Land-heiress. Please.”
Loreilei’s father was Edgar’s brother, Hammond. He was the youngest of the Jacobson sons. He’d traveled all the way to Lindron to find a wife from a First Family, which he had in Loreilei’s mother, Adele, and to receive Zentrum’s blessing on the match. This was how things were supposed to be done among the Firsts. Mahaut had always considered that it was the fact that, as third brother, he would inherit very little that made Hammond such a stickler for society protocol. Position was his greatest possession. Yet she knew the marriage between Hammond and Adele had turned out to be a happy one, and Hammond, for all his stuffiness, had a good heart — unlike his brother, her own husband, Edgar. Edgar might seem to be a good-natured man, or at least an entertaining man, on the outside, but anyone who knew him well would soon conclude that there was little more than a void of petulance and malice on the interior.
“No, we couldn’t do it, Auntie,” Loreilei replied. “We talked about it, and we couldn’t do it.”
“Loreilei, child, have you even considered what this would do to your status?” Mahaut said.
“I don’t care about that,” Loreilei answered defiantly.
“Well, you ought to,” she said. “For Frel’s sake.”
“You married in from a military family, Aunt.”
If only you knew how much I regretted that moment of bad judgment, she thought.
“That’s true,” she said. “But there’s a difference. Do I have to tell you?”
“Because you were a woman marrying a Jacobson man?
“Yes, Loreilei, that’s what I mean,” she said. “But it isn’t just that.”
“She means that I’m a barbarian, I suppose,” Frel said, his face reddening in a blush — all except the scar upon his forehead, which now stood out lily white.
“No,” Mahaut replied. “Josiah Weldletter has formally adopted you, hasn’t he?”
“He has,” Frel said. “And I adopted him,” he added defiantly. “I’ve made him an honorary Remlap.”
Mahaut smiled. “And you did him an honor. He knows what that means to you.”
“Then why can’t we –”
“Because you’re both fifteen,” Mahaut said.
“I could get married at twelve!” said Loreilei.
“But you can’t receive a dowry until you’re sixteen,” Mahaut said patiently. “It’s right there in the Edicts for First Families.”
Perhaps you should listen better in Thursday school, niece. What else is there to do there? It’s not as if you can decide not to attend.
“Do you think my father wouldn’t –”
“Child, he can’t,” she said. She rose and reached out to take both their hands in hers. “I know how it feels. It seems like you’ll die if you have to wait, that you’ll explode like a rocket. You’ve probably been together by now?”
Loreilei’s skin coloring was too dark to show a blush, but her quick intake of breath told Mahaut all she needed to know. “Lots,” she said weakly.
“And you’re being careful?”
“Of course,” Frel said, a trace of indignation in his voice. “I get the best riverdak skins from the Delta. The apothecary in Hestinga stocks them special.”
“Perhaps more than I needed to know,” Mahaut continued.
“Yes, your grace.”
“But a marriage isn’t sleeping together. Bones and Blood, sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with that. You have to look out for each other. And you have to be able to look out for each other. Look, you love each other, don’t you?”
“Yes, very much, Aunt.”
“Then it won’t hurt to wait. Give it a year. Turn sixteen, both of you. Loreilei will be able to legally receive her dowry. What are you thinking of doing, Frel?”
“I don’t know,” the boy answered sheepishly. “I like civil engineering. My father’s friend Reidel might give me a start.”
“I’m familiar with Reidel,” Mahaut said. “And Colonel Dashian, who ought to know, says he’s the best.”
“So you see, we could make do if –”
“Frel, engineering is all about glyphs and numbers. You can’t do that kind of work without finishing school.”
Neither replied for a moment, and Mahaut was beginning to think she’d won her point.
Then Loreilei spoke up in a disappointed tone. “We thought you’d be on our side, Mahaut.”
“But I am, child. You know that.”
“You won’t breathe a word of this to Father or Mother?”
Do you know what you are asking me? Do you know how much such a promise might cost me? Of course not. You’re both fifteen.
“You have my word.”
“Loreilei, please don’t be angry.”
“I’m not,” said the girl. “Never at you.” She pulled Frel’s hand away from Mahaut’s. “Come on, let’s let my aunt get back to her archery practice. Thank you, Aunt.”
“Your Gracious Excellency, Land-heiress Jacobson,” Frel said with a formal bow. It was all Mahaut could do to keep from giggling at his seriousness.
The two of them took a few steps down the pathway through the courtyard flower garden. Loreilei turned among the desert sunflower, still in bloom thought it was late summer. She caught Mahaut’s eye and spoke in a firm and measured voice.
“I was a slave, you know,” she said. “Look at me. Look at this, Aunt.” She ran a finger along her scar. “I can never forget.”
Mahaut stood silent. She blinked a tear from her eye that had suddenly welled up.
Your being take a slave was my fault, she thought. I will never forget, either.
“It made me…different inside,” she said. “I won’t be told what to do. Not ever again. Because if I let anybody tell me what to do, it will all come back. I know it will. I can feel it.”
Mahaut took a step forward. “Loreilei, as long as I breathe, I will do everything I can to see that you are free.”
“We’ll be together,” her niece said. “You’ll see.”
She spun quickly, and the two left the courtyard.
Mahaut stood thinking a long time after they were gone. Then she turned and picked up her bow and arrow once again.
Everything could end badly, she thought. Best to be prepared.
She picked up her arrow and took the arrow from the quiver. These were Scout arrows she had brought in from Hestinga. She ran her thumb along the arrow’s fletching. Two notches.
Shorter range. More damage in the barbed metal point.
She nocked the arrow, pulled the string back with a practiced strength, took aim.
She let the arrow fly.
It entered the straw bale somewhere to the left of the bull’s-eye. Close enough to pierce a lung if not the heart.