Chapter 2: A Farmer’s Life Diverted

Chapter 2

 

The Hall on the Hill was bustling with activity. The energy was hard to ignore and even Adelaide found herself resisting the urge to smile as she made her way through yet another group of boisterous celebrants.

“See, you’re enjoying yourself.” Evie pounced upon the sight of her sister’s curving lips.

“And you forgot that you weren’t talking to me.” Adelaide couldn’t resist pointing out as her own smile grew at the sight of her sister’s expression.

The comical vision of her sister attempting to scowl while also combating the urge to grin drew a laugh that was belly deep and loud. Evie clearly capitulated as she too gave into the urge to laugh and the two young women leaned into each other. The tension from the day melting away in this shared moment.

“Okay, fine. You win. I’m talking to you, although I shouldn’t! I can’t believe you made me work so hard today! And on Festival Day! I have blisters.” Evie pouted as she held up her palm to reveal the angry red skin.

“I can’t believe you thought you could sneak Isaak Parsons into your bed and I wouldn’t find out.” Addie’s smile was quickly vanishing as she was reminded of her sister’s exploits.

The argument was about to begin all over again when a feathered body descended from the sky directly at them. Neither seemed to pay the attacking bird of prey much mind as they readied the next diatribe at each other.

“Oh Addie, don’t you start again, he’s harmless and—“

“Evelyn Lilliara Shard, we have been over this—“

“Ladies.” Endrick reminded them in his quiet rumble.

Both became cognizant of the growing stares around them as well as the imminent arrival of Zabu. Putting her forearm out to allow him a landing post, Adelaide welcomed the distraction of her eagle even as Evie danced backward from them, “Stop it Zabu you’re going to get feathers and dirt all over my dress!”

Adelaide couldn’t argue that her sister made quite a vision in her newly acquired finery. The rose colored hue flattered both form and features and Evie was well aware of how it drew attention to her. But the idea that Zabu was anything but clean drew another barb, “Oh please, Zabu is cleaner than any man you’ve had climb through your bedroom window.”

Evie’s eyes flared and her lips curled, “Oh really?! Just because you can talk to your damn bird Addie doesn’t mean the rest of us—“

“Ladies.” Endrick attempted again. This time shoving two tankards toward them, “Try the mead.”

Stuck with one arm balancing Zabu, Adelaide was left with no free hands once the tankard found her free one. Evie saw the advantage here and was quick to offer a thank you to Endrick before depositing her glare on her sister, “I’m going to go have some fun, why don’t you see if you can’t gloom and doom somewhere I’m not.” She paused in her departure to lean forward and poke Zabu’s feathered breast with a hissed, “Don’t think I don’t know who ratted me out this morning, BIRD.”  With a flounce of her skirts she spun about and immediately joined another group of people who welcomed her flirtatious greeting as she moved away quickly.

Zabu, disgruntled by the poking, took to the air in a jerk of powerful talons from her protected forearm, but the resulting motion was enough to jostle her tankard.  Dripping mead along her bodice and skirts, Adelaide turned a glare on Endrick who offered a shrug, “Looks like you could use another?”

She scowled, “I think I could use an ale.”

“Sounds like we’re headed to Mait’s.”

 

An hour later she was on her own. The celebrations had only seemed to pick up pace and Endrick had abandoned her for the solitude of the farm after sharing only one tankard of ale. Adelaide had gifted him with a sleeve of seeds known for their soothing smoke and she knew he was looking forward to a little peace and serenity on this their dedicated day off. Zabu had forsaken her for the hunt. The visions of which were always a bit gory for her tastes. As much as she enjoyed sharing in his experiences, she’d leave him to the capture of his rabbits. That left keeping an eye on Evie. A herculean task if ever there was one. The veritable belle of the ball, her younger sister had begun composing songs and entertaining a large group of people just outside of Maits’ tavern The Proud Horse Inn. 

Most of the townsfolk gave Adelaide Shard a bit of a wide berth. It could have been the fact that she was known to have studied with the wizard, Istram, or it could be because she was known to cavort with other races, having hired many a dwarf, Halfling and even the occasional elf to work her farm when that just wasn’t done, but most probably her lack of companions had to do with the man who was even now glaring at her from his own commandeered corner of the tavern, Lil Jossop.

That man could surely hold a grudge. But then again, so could she and that drew a wicked curve to her lips as she lifted her mug to toast his staring countenance. Probably embarrassed to be caught staring he jerked and then sneered before turning to say something to his friends. Subtle, this bunch, they all turned to look at her as the conversation continued. And to think, you could have stayed in bed today. She pushed free from her perch. The folds of her skirts rustling down around her legs and reminding her again that this was a special occasion. Using this reminder she simply returned the glare toward the group instead of heading in their direction. No need to be more of a disruption. In fact, it was probably time she headed home.

Her line of sight was broken by the bobbing golden head of one Asgald Warhammer. The dwarf was making a beeline for the bar and his wide set shoulders didn’t leave much room for negotiation. Always good spirited, he was nodding and smiling and greeting everyone as he passed. It seemed to Adelaide that he didn’t notice nor care if those greetings were returned or spurned. She found pleasure in that and lifted her tankard again, this time in greeting. He lifted a thick hand and waved in return, his grin splitting his beard wide as he shouted, “Adelaide!”. Behind him was another dwarf, one that Adelaide was less familiar with and who seemed entirely focused on the two tankards he held in either hand. His red beard glistened with foam from an earlier swig and he echoed Asgald’s shout. She laughed and returned a, “Well Met!” despite the looks that it garnered her. They were headed toward the bar and Maits who stood with the blacksmith, Val. Anyone dumb enough to remain between the dwarves and their destination soon learned their fate as they were confronted with their sure footed approach that resembled rolling boulders. Quickly people dispersed from their path, Asgald’s good cheer notwithstanding.

Adelaide found those who would offer the dwarves censor distasteful. Asgald’s father was well known in these parts for what he had done for the Hall on the Hill and those who could not look past his race to acknowledge it irked her to no end. Definitely time to head home.

She slipped through the crowd, headed for the door when another familiar figure parted the crowds and brought with her a general sense of unease and disquiet. The cloaked figure of Xyrius the Wild was easily enough spotted as she was one of the only individuals to ever wear her hood up. Distracted by her arrival, Adelaide hadn’t noticed that Lil Jossup and his party was also making their way to the doorway and their arrival coincided. She was just in time to hear him remark, “Maits really will just let anyone or THING in here, won’t he?”

Assuming that he was speaking about the dwarves or Xyrius, Adelaide was just about to unleash a spite filled insult when she realized they were speaking about the stranger who hovered near a corner. His elven countenance was evident in the foreign lift of his features, angular and sharp, the ears a dead giveaway.

“Well, well, Little Jossup, I didn’t know you were inside.” The dulcet tones of her sister drew Adelaide’s attention from her perusal of the strange elf. Evie continued, “I’m sure that’s something a lot of women say though.”

As Jossup’s group stumbled and fawned over Evie (some even had the audacity to laugh at her barb), it was not lost upon most that there was definite enmity between them. Everyone thought they knew the story after all. It was common knowledge that at one point in time they were affianced. A wedding on the Hall on the Hill had been planned for weeks before something catastrophic had occurred. Most of the whispers centered around Evelyn Shard’s inability to keep her skirts down and Jossup helped fan the fires of that story every chance he got. Evelyn hadn’t helped matters by refusing to discount those tales and instead deciding to embrace the position of Town Strumpet. Almost no one knew of Adelaide’s role in the entire fiasco and for that she was thankful.

Adelaide hurried closer, only managing a quick nod toward Xyrius in greeting. She wanted to speak with her about the odd tracks she’d discovered at the edge of her pasture but now wasn’t the time.

Lil Jossup was turning an alarming shade of red when all attention was diverted by the alarmed cries of an older woman who was running up the street, “My Grandson! Please someone HELP! My Gavin!”

 

Chapter One: Life of a Farmer

Chapter 1

 

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!!”

She frowned.

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.”