She considered, if only for a moment, rolling back over into the comforting tangle of her blankets. A thought that would linger later in the day in momentary disquiet as she continuously questioned: What if I’d just stayed in bed?
Like every day for the last six years, Adelaide Constadine Shard pulled herself up out of bed mere moments after her first waking thought. After all there were only so many hours in the day and she needed every single one and even a few of the night ones to accomplish her daily chores.
A glance toward the window revealed the starry night sky with just a hint of a glow coming from the horizon. Rising before dawn was simply the farmer’s way and she never gave much thought to the internal clock that kept her on task. The wooden floor was a bit chilly this morning beneath her bare toes but she knew the sun would soon chase that coolness away so instead of shying away from it she reveled in it. Later when the sweat dripped from her and plastered her clothes to her lean body she would miss the sweet bite of air that conjured a small shiver this morning.
Sure footed she navigated the darkness with the confidence brought from familiarity. While this had once been her parent’s bedroom with her role of Mistress Shard of the Shard Farmstead she had taken over the master bedroom with a sense of necessity that didn’t give hint to the real reason she had chosen it: grief. Left with one of the most prosperous crops and livestock in the region, and a young sister to raise, the orphaned Adelaide had not been given much of a grieving period before the sheer weight of her newfound responsibilities took over. Here, in her parent’s bedroom, privately she could mourn when the mood took her.
Yet, she rarely mourned anymore. Instead the memories were fond ones and the few moments of dark moods were easily brushed aside if only by contented exhaustion. She was good at what she’d been asked to do. And as she paused at the porcelain basin that would forever remind her of her father, Gregore Shard, she was able to smile at the memories of his morning rituals. He’d shave his beard meticulously over this very basin every morning and had even mockingly shaved her on more than one occasion much to her mother’s consternation. Using it now to wash the sleep from her eyes and to dampen the wild curls that framed her face, Adelaide felt a sense of pride.
Today was the annual festival at the Hall on the Hill and she would be expected to attend as was proper for the homesteaders of the region. This time she would arrive with a sense of purpose and pride. Despite her less than traditional ways, no one could argue that the Shard farmstead wasn’t doing well, in fact, it had surpassed her father’s time and could now boast a nearly doubled revenue.
An outthrust hand and a whispered “now” brought the linen towel shooting across the room to her and she dried her face before tossing it upon the air. Another aimed thought sent it spinning back to the hook that it normally hung upon. Trousers were slipped on over long legs and shimmied across hips, the snaps quickly seen to as another surge of energy from her brought her shirt across the room. She fell back onto her bed to a squeaking of bedsprings. Pulling on boots while simultaneously thrusting an arm through a provided sleeve. It was here in her morning endeavors that she paused to truly concentrate. Scrunching her brow she mentally urged the laces of her boots to draw upward and twist together even as she buttoned her shirt in place. “Hah!” She muttered triumphantly when her boots were laced tightly to her ankles with no physical action needed.
“Take that Istram!” She muttered to herself as she made her way for the door. The thought of the pompous wizard normally enough to leave her scowling, but today she was nothing but grins as she thought of his aggravation with her abilities. When she remembered the hours wasted in that grizzled old man’s tower trying to do things his way she almost lost her grin. But, no, she was not going to dwell on the bad today. Today was about…proving herself.
Her booted strides were quick and the bedroom door just down the hall from her own was quickly thrown open as she stepped inside with a chipper, “Mornings Upon Us! Get to getting!”
The lump on the bed jerked and startled and a combination of a groan and a squeal leaked out from beneath the covers. Adelaide paused in the doorway as her sister burst from beneath the blankets to scramble toward her, “Addie! It’s –early!!”
Evie bustled into her and wrapped her in a hug, legs determinedly pushing her backward and out the doorway. Her bedroom door closed behind her with a thud where she leaned back against it to offer a pink cheeked and wildly smiling face up at her sister. Adelaide’s frown only grew darker.
“You’re …awfully energetic this morn.” Adelaide noted.
“Oh aye!” Gathering Addie’s arm in her own Evie maneuvered them both down the hall and away from her bedroom, “It’s Festivus day after all! I cannot wait to wear my new dress! Aren’t you excited Addie!?”
“Oh aye, just as thrilled as a slick pig in a slaughterhouse.”
Evie made a face but continued to gamely lead her sister down the stairs to the kitchen. “Right! Me too,…I think.”
There were pleasant breakfast scents whispering from the kitchen and Addie silently offered a small thank you to whichever deity wanted to take credit for leaving her with the always steady hands of Endrick. Once her father’s foreman, Endrick had stuck around after the accident that had taken their parents. Without him, Adelaide would surely have floundered. As there were usually several hired hands around to assist with the many tasks the farm demanded, Addie took a moment to survey Evie’s nightgown clad form. “You know, you might want to go back upstairs and get dressed.”
The blush on her sister’s cheeks was just a little too perfect and the sweetly chirped, “Of course” was entirely too complacent. As Evie bounced back up the stairs, “Be right back,” Adelaide’s scowl only intensified. Evie was never this cheerful or energetic first thing in the morning. Not even on the day of a festival.
These facts carried Adelaide past the kitchen and out the back door of the farm, the dawn’s light was now flushing the sky a beautiful shade of pink but she took no time to admire the view, instead she circled the house, her booted feet quiet in the dew dampened grass. And there, hanging from her sister’s window ledge was the scrambling form of a man.
Arms folded across her chest she simply stood there for a moment observing the hapless fellow as he tried to swing his legs toward the trellis that she had deliberately placed just out of reach just last year. Grunting and cursing beneath his breath, he was growing more desperate as his hands slipped on the ledge. He angled his head upward and whispered loudly, “Evie!… EVIE!”
“Oh, she isn’t going to answer you Isaak Parsons.” Adelaide offered helpfully, overjoyed to see his entire body go rigid at the sound of her voice. “See, she thinks she needs to get dressed quickly to get back downstairs to distract me from your great escape.”
Gasping for breath, Isaak Parsons managed to turn his purpling face toward her, “I – uh..”
“Please spare me whatever you’re about to say and just fall already.”
His eyes widened in desperation, the muscles in his neck straining as his feet began to scrabble against the side of her house again, “You don’t think you—“ gasp! “could—“
“Could what exactly Parsons? You’re not about to ask me to help you sneak out of my house are you?”
Whatever his answer might have been was lost in his undignified yelping scream as his grip finally gave and he plummeted from the second story ledge to land in the hedge bushes below. She’d had the bushes put in just last year, a task that Endrick had questioned her about with his usual candor. After all, while they did offer a beautiful bloom it was only for a short period of time, the danger of their thorns however were year round. Adelaide took a step slightly back as it didn’t take long for Parsons to launch himself out of the stinkthorn bush, limping and stumbling wildly.
“Stinkthorns! They’re stinkthorns!” He howled as the ripe smell of decay exploded on the air around them. She knew from experience that the thorns that had scratched him were even now starting to boil, burn and throb. He whirled on her and stumbled again, “Oh my leg, I think I, ungh…” The last of his statement was lost in a groan as he lost his balance and fell on the ground before her.
“You think you were just leaving.” The look she leveled on him warned him that she was not jesting. A long scratch along his cheek was already swelling, and she helpfully warned him, “You’re going to want to go quickly as those scratches are oozing with the sap of the thorn and we’re about an hour from town.”
He looked up at her forlornly and opened his mouth to protest, “I can’t walk or ride I—“
The narrowing of her grey-green eyes was warning enough but the words that came next stalled the conversation completely, “Did you need me to send for your wife to get you then?”
It was amazing how quickly he was able to gather himself, rough limp and all, and make his way toward the stables to collect his horse. Adelaide was still standing there when Endrick appeared at her elbow with a stein of coffee. Clutching his horse and groaning, Isaak Parsons rode past, the cloud of stinkthorn stench engulfing them momentarily.
Endrick coughed and then spat to the side, “Your favorite flower, huh?”
“Oh aye.” She sipped her coffee as she took one last look at the awkwardly cantering figure that was fleeing her farmstead before turning to survey the farmstead. “C’mon we’ve got a busy day in front of us. And I’m pretty sure Evie just volunteered to muck the stables.”