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Lord Tyron is strong and brave but a terrible injury strikes him down. Is his life over, or is it only just beginning?
Fera tripped and stumbled. She fumbled for the dish, but it slipped from her grasp, shattering against the floor with an almighty crash. She jumped away as hot soup and ceramic shards flew everywhere.
‘Clumsy girl!’ raged Cook Weira, flailing her wooden spoon, cheeks flushed, hair wild and frizzy from the steam. ‘No, you damn fool, clean it up later. Lord Tyron is waiting. Here.’ She grabbed another dish, ladled out more soup and handed it over. ‘Drop it again, and you’ll be scrubbing chamber pots for the rest of your life. Well, what are you doing? Don’t just stand there like a lackwit. Go!’
Fera handled the dish as carefully as a newborn as she climbed the twisting servants’ stairs. She had been a servant at Appelwhite Keep for the last two years, ever since the barbarians had murdered her parents and stolen her voice and maidenhead. Where once she had worked on a farm and been loved, now she scrubbed floors, cleaned chamber pots, washed linen, amongst a host of other gruelling tasks, all beneath the cold hard eyes of Cook Weira and the other senior servants.
She had climbed her fair share of stairs during her time, so when she reached the great hall she was barely puffed.
Only rarely was she sent to serve Lord Tyron directly; ‘If she can’t speak, what use is she?’ Analise, the head maid, had sneered. She was supposed to keep her eyes to her shoes, to focus on her task, to mind her own business, like any good servant, but Fera couldn’t help but look around her, at the colourful tapestries, the polished furniture, the brass candelabras, at the great wooden table where Lord Willis Tyron and his men sat. It was a small gathering, only five, including Lord Tyron himself.
As always, they ignored her. She placed the soup in the centre of the table without notice, refilled their mugs without thanks, as they ate and drank and laughed.
Lord Tyron didn’t keep many confidantes, but those he did were as close as brothers. She knew them all, though they didn’t know her: Sir Keaton, visiting friend Lord Crandish, brothers Sirs Chuckrey and Mason. She would watch them train together when she could: jousting, sword fights, axe-throwing. All warriors of great skill and renown, though Lord Tyron was the greatest. At least in her eyes.
She tried not to gaze as she circled the table. He sat in the middle, hair loose and wild, eyes as green as a forest lake. He was broad-shouldered and tall, and Fera would oft daydream what it felt like to be lost in his strong arms, to feel his stubble scratch lightly against her face. She bit her lip and lowered her eyes. I must stop thinking like this. He is a lord, I am a maid—and a damaged one at that. He will wed a noble Lady, and I a commoner from the village. It can never be.
And she knew it was true by the way those green eyes stared through her, like she mattered less to him than the half-chewed gristle on his plate. It was only fitting. It was her place.
When she had completed her tasks, she climbed back down the stairs, tugging at the scarf wrapped around her neck, her scar itching beneath.
‘Back are you?’ said Cook Weira, looking up from her pot. ‘Good. Now clean up your mess, and when you’re done you can do the washing.’
Fera glanced at the tower of pots and plates in dull resignation, then sank to her knees and began gathering up the pieces of broken dish.
The clash of swords rang in the courtyard.
Sir Chuckrey laughed as he parried Lord Tyron’s blow, Will’s blade sliding along Chuck’s. Chuck kicked out and Will dodged, spinning out of range.
‘What are you, a warrior or a dancer?’ Chuck sniggered.
Willis Tyron gritted his teeth, sweat dripping inside his helm, as he jabbed at Sir Chuckrey’s exposed right armpit. Chuck tried to leap aside, but tripped over his own feet, crashing to the ground in a pile of heavy steel armour. Now it was Will laughing as Chuck struggled to get up, still gripping his sword, rolling around like a turtle on its back.
‘What are you, a man or a beast?’ Will sheathed his sword and removed his helm, puffing. His hair was plastered to his head, sweat dripping from the ends of his fringe.
Will dropped his shield and held out his hand to his friend. Chuck took it with a grunt. Back on his feet, Chuck ripped off his helm and kicked it away. Sir Keaton and Lord Crandish roared with laughter behind the barrier.
‘Shut up!’ Sir Chuckrey spat.
Will wrapped an arm around Chuck’s neck and mussed up his golden hair. He was only young, no older than eighteen. ‘A dancer I might be, but a living one. You need to treat your armour like it’s a part of you. Don’t fight it, or it’ll drag you down and kill you.’
Will called to his squire to help him out of his armour.
It was a burning hot day, and Will’s clothes were drenched with sweat. He pulled off his tunic, wrung it out, then dunked his head in a barrel of cold water. Behind him, Sir Keaton and Lord Crandish were donning their armour to begin their fight.
They all looked up at the sound of a tortured horn blast.
‘My brother,’ Chuck said beside him. ‘Back already?’
Will had sent him and his men out to scout his borders, a daily routine. The barbarians were an ever-present annoyance, and he needed to keep them under control. He wasn’t due back until sunset. Something was wrong.
They waited by the portcullis, Will with his hand raised against the glare. Armour gleamed in the distance. The horn sounded again: three short blasts—the signal for trouble.
Sir Mason returned in pieces, his legs and arms and head tied to a board dragged behind a shaking young knight and his horse—the only man left of Sir Mason’s contingent. Sir Chuckrey stared hard at the remains of his older brother, his eyes dark, a red flush deepening around his neck. Sir Keaton and Lord Crandish stood by silently, half-dressed in their armour.
The frightened young knight couldn’t speak a straight sentence, but the message was clear enough.
‘Sir Keaton, armour my men. We mount,’ Will said.
‘Yes, my lord.’ His armoured legs scraped against each other as he hurried away.
Lord Crandish seized Will’s arm. ‘You do not mean to join them?’
Will pulled out of his grasp. ‘I am their lord.’ He called over his squire. ‘Prepare me for battle,’ he told the boy.
‘Let your knights take care of this. They are able men.’
‘Would you have me stay behind safe in my fortress while my people die?’ Will helped the boy lift his breastplate.
‘You are no use to your people dead.’
‘I will not die. They are only savages. I will prevail.’
An hour later, his men were armoured and mounted. Will hefted up his shield. On it was painted a hawk—his family’s sigil. They were an old family, renowned for their bravery and valour. His father was a hawk, as was his grandfather, and now he would fly into battle, come victory, failure or death.
He kicked his horse into a gallop.
The servants gathered in the courtyard at the sound of a horn blast, the third for the day. It sounded again, as impatient as the last. Three short blasts, again and again, as if the blower didn’t know when to stop—or couldn’t.
‘Something’s wrong,’ Analise whispered, twisting her long red hair around her fingers. ‘Something terrible has happened.’
Fera clutched at her skirt. Please, not Lord Tyron. Please.
Cook Weira stood beside her, pale as her apron, still holding her wooden spoon as it dripped sauce onto the cobblestones.
Horses clattered into the courtyard, and Fera was relieved to see that so many knights still lived, including Sir Chuckrey. Haggard and bleeding and some gravely wounded, but alive. But where was Lord Tyron?
There was a collective moan and cries of fear as Sir Keaton galloped inside, Lord Tyron clasped to his chest, limp and grey, blood down his right side, his arm twisted and dangling.
Sir Keaton was shouting orders but Fera didn’t hear a word, her ears ringing, watching as they hauled Lord Tyron from the horse and carried him away. Somebody tugged at her arm. Fera turned her head numbly—Analise.
‘Hurry,’ the head maid shouted in her ear, lips white with fear, as she dragged Fera after her, and it was the first time there wasn’t a snarl in her voice.
For the next several hours, Fera filled tub after tub with water, only for them to return crimson time and time again. She washed and steamed and dried bloodied dressings. She climbed the stairs alongside the other servants, hauling up those same tubs, bearing trays of newly washed dressings to be used again. They weren’t just for Lord Tyron; the knights screamed as the healers tended to them, grey, tortured figures on their straw pallets, hard to see in the dim light of the great hall and harder to forget. Lord Tyron had been taken to his own room. She stared at his door and tried not to fear.
It was well into the night when the last tub returned untainted, and the servants could rest. Few found sleep easily. She could hear Cook Weira weeping from across the way. Others murmured fearfully to each other. Fera stared at the ceiling, rubbing at the scar on her neck, as tears coursed down her cheeks.
She slept, and her dreams were filled with tubs of crimson water, each one bloodier than the last.
Days passed. Knights healed and died. The news of what happened circulated through the castle. The barbarians had been routed. The land was safe. But at great cost. The savages had already sacked and burned several villages before Lord Tyron reached them. He was the first to charge, as Fera knew he would be. Barbarians fled in his wake, so fearsome was he, sword slashing left and right. But an axe took him hard in the shoulder, cleaving through bone, and he fell badly from his horse.
Initially, the servants spoke about him reverently. They loved him and were happy to serve him. But their talk soon turned dark and sullen the further the week passed.
‘Rich and spoilt.’
‘I don’t deserve to be treated like that, not by even by a lord.’
‘He’s lost all hope,’ Cook Weira wailed as she sat trembling in the kitchen. ‘Don’t know what’s good for him no more. His own Mama Weira.’ She dabbed at the broth on her blouse. ‘Took special care with his food, I did, and he threw it in my face.’
‘He’s grievously crippled now, and angry,’ Fera caught Analise whispering to Bront, a stable hand, on her way to the gardens. ‘Apparently, he tried to throw his chamber pot at Lord Crandish, but got it all over himself, and it was full! That was two days ago, and he still refuses to bathe!’
It was only inevitable they eventually turn their eyes on Fera—the last resort, the lowliest of the low. Let her be abused and insulted like the rest of them. Just because she was an unfortunate, didn’t mean she should escape the lord’s insanity.
The other servants watched as she ascended the stairs, carrying Lord Tyron’s breakfast tray. Weira looked worried. Analise almost looked excited. ‘Watch that chamber pot!’ she cried after her. None of them held any hope. If they couldn’t speak sense to him, how could a mute?
Henry, Lord Tyron’s manservant, stood outside his door just in case his lord needed anything. Though she doubted he did much more than remove his chamber pots these days. Tall and thin, with jowls that wobbled every time he moved, he frowned at her approach.
Fera stopped by the door, waiting. Henry’s frown deepened as he pushed it open with a skeletal hand.
It was dark inside, the curtains drawn tight. And it stank—of rotting food and flesh, and human waste. The door clicked shut behind her. Fera squinted, barely able to see. She had never been allowed in his room before, and the thought of it made her heart beat a little harder. It was large, the ceiling high. There were the outlines of grand pictures on the walls, the shapes of furniture, as she tiptoed around the mess on the floor. She tripped over something, squelched on something else, something slid underfoot. She nudged something with her shoe and a puff of stink made her stomach turn.
Fera approached the head of the bed. She thought she saw a shape but couldn’t be sure. Was it him? Was he asleep? Was he even here? She opened her mouth, closed it again, then put down his tray on a trestle table and drew open the curtains. Light flooded inside.
‘Aaarrgghh. Close it!’
Fera stepped back. Lord Tyron was sitting up in his bed, squinting, hand shading his face. He was far from the man she once knew: eyes sunken and red, skin the colour of old cheese, hair an oily knotted mess; food had stuck in his ragged beard and had been left to rot.
‘What are you, a halfwit? I said, close it!’
Fera could only stand frozen, staring at the stump that was once his right arm, flies buzzing around it. He threw his bedding aside with a grunt and staggered over to the window. Fera blushed and looked away; his chest was bare, and he was only wearing a thin pair of britches. She could see the outline of his—
He paused before he drew the curtains shut. ‘Who in God’s name are you?’ Fera lifted her eyes, and for the first time they looked at each other. She opened and shut her mouth, touched the scarf around her neck. ‘I asked you a question. Answer me.’
She gripped her throat and shook her head.
He ripped the curtains shut with a growl. ‘Am I so repulsive they have to drag a blockheaded slattern from the street to serve me now?’
He turned, about to return to his bed, when she tapped him hard on the shoulder. He spun around. ‘How dare—’
Fera surprised herself too but was too angry to stop now. She yanked open the curtains, jabbed her thumb at her chest, pointed at him, then jabbed two fingers in the air. He stared at her, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
‘Two months, you say?’
Fera shook her head, jabbed her two fingers again.
She stared at him.
‘You’ve been here two years? Impossible. I would know your face.’
She frowned and folded her arms.
‘Why can’t you talk?’
She arched her neck and pulled down her scarf.
He was silent. ‘They slit your throat.’
Fera lifted her chin, trying not to cry. She wouldn’t cry.
Lord Tyron studied her with those green eyes, taking in her thin woollen dress, her brown wavy hair loosely pinned beneath her wimple, her nut-brown skin darkened from her years in the sun. She was much younger than him, barely a woman. She dropped her gaze, feeling uncomfortable.
She looked up.
He was gazing hard through the window, a muscle in his jaw ticking, matted hair sticking to the sweat on his broad back. ‘I am your lord and master. It is my job to protect you, and I failed.’
She dared to touch his hand and shook her head. There was a filth-encrusted bandage wrapped around his wrist. Another injury, and infected by the smell of it. If he wasn’t careful, he would lose that hand too.
He grimaced but didn’t pull away. ‘Leave me. Thank you for the food.’
She returned the next morning, and the next and the next. At each passing day he got better. First he let the light in, then he bathed. He shaved, cut his hair, let the healers tend to his wounds, allowed the servants to clean his room. After a week, colour had returned to his cheeks, and he was almost the man he once was: handsome, powerful, sure of himself. Throughout it all, they spoke. As best they could, at least. And laughed. And he laughed a lot. Even Cook Weira remarked: ‘He has never laughed so much since he was a boy.’
It made Fera smile, made her think about him at night, during the day when they weren’t together, even in her dreams. Always, those green eyes followed her wherever she went.
On one particular night they stared down at her hungrily. She had crept into his room in the darkness, against all good sense, slipping beneath Henry’s notice as he dozed by the door. Lord Tyron was sleeping, or at least she thought he had been; she was gently brushing her fingers through his hair, watching him in the moonlight, when he grabbed her wrist. He didn’t say a word but simply cupped her cheek and rolled on top of her, pulling her beneath him.
He was as hard as steel, long and deep. They were as one, rocking together, breathing the same breaths. He might have only had one arm, but he pinned her down easily enough. They tried to keep quiet, but Lord Tyron’s roar of ecstasy woke Henry from his sleep.
‘Lord Tyron!’ he cried, pounding at the door. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Leave!’ her lord answered back.
Fera huffed a giggle beneath him, and he chuckled with her.
She saw him every night from then on. Usually they would make love, but sometimes they would simply hold each other, their skin bright in the moonlight as they lay in each other’s arms. He was a beautiful man, kind and gentle, and his stump never bothered her. Though it still bothered him. Sometimes she caught him staring at it when he thought she was asleep, moving it up and down, a frown on his handsome face.
They told nobody about their relationship, but the rumours quickly began to build. The other servants would whisper as she went about her chores, Cook Weira looked at her funny, and once Analise stopped her in the stairwell.
‘I know about you and Lord Tyron,’ she hissed.
Fera shrugged. And?
Analise shook her head in disgust. ‘You’re just a plaything for my lord while he’s recovering. You, a cripple, plain and despoiled. Just you wait, once he’s stronger he’ll find a better woman and toss you aside like dirty bathwater.’
Fera merely gave a gasping laugh: you, you mean? And the head maid left with a scowl.
Then one day, everything changed. She was walking through the great hall, as usual, carrying his breakfast, when Lord Crandish stopped her at the door. Henry stood beside him, looking grim.
‘You cannot enter. Lord Tyron is in a bad way.’
They all turned at the sound of a scream. Fera dropped her tray, dishes smashing against the floor. She threw herself at the door but Lord Crandish caught her before she could crash through.
‘There’s nothing you can do. His other arm has taken the rot.’ She struggled against him, gasping and grunting, but he simply held her tighter until she stilled in his arms. ‘I know who you are, and I know you love him, but the best thing you can do for him now is pray.’
And she did, throughout the day, whenever she could, but when darkness fell she went to see him. The door creaked as she pushed it open, but Henry did not wake from his chair. It was pitch black, the curtains shut tight again. She went to the window and opened them, sure he’d be happy to see her.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ came a hiss. ‘I said no one is to see me. Especially you.’
Fera froze, staring at him, not at the stump of his right arm, not at the stump of his left hand, but directly in his eyes. They weren’t his eyes. There was no love there, no life, only darkness. They were a madman’s, black against the moonlight.
‘Get out,’ he growled. ‘Get out. Get out! GET OUT. GET OUT. GET OUT.’
He was still screaming as she crashed through the door. Henry stood, knocking his chair to the floor with a thud, watching in a daze as she ran past him and down the stairs.
She curled into her bed, shivering and holding herself, his maddened screams ringing in her ears. She pressed a hand tenderly against her navel. What was she to do? Too much had happened. Too much had changed. This couldn’t be how it was supposed to end. She couldn’t be alone in this. After all she had lost and suffered, it wasn’t fair.
She pressed her face into her blanket and wept herself to sleep.
Lord Tyron lay in his bed like the cripple he was. The sun rose, darkness fell. Days, weeks, months might have passed, he couldn’t care less. Servants came and went. He ate, drank and shat. A true lord, he was. A true man. He looked at his stumps in disgust. He couldn’t fight, couldn’t hold a drink. He couldn’t even wipe his own arse. He refused to let anyone feed him, preferring to eat his food like a dog. There was no dignity in this, no valour. This was not how things were supposed to end. He should have died out in that field alongside his men, that barbarian’s axe in his throat. Death was better, anything was better, than this.
He looked up at the sound of a creak, squinting against the darkness. There was a figure. He frowned; the servants’ tasks were done for the day.
‘Leave,’ he said. But the figure just stood there, a woman by the looks of it. ‘I said, leave. No one is to see me.’
She ignored him, quietly circling his bed.
‘Obey! I might be a cripple but I’m still your lord.’
Still, she ignored him, moving towards the window.
‘Do as I say!’
He kicked aside his blanket as she ripped open the curtains. Will squinted, instinctively lifting his left stump against the bright morning light, watching as she tore the curtains down.
When she was done, she stood glaring at him, looking just as lovely as the last time he saw her that night she fled his room.
‘I don’t want you here,’ he said. ‘Go find a better man. One who’s at least whole.’
Fera merely sniffed and glared at him harder. Something stirred in her arms and he saw she was holding something.
He shook his head. ‘No.’
But she pushed the bundle against his chest, forcing him to hold it with his stump. He gazed down at it as its bright blue eyes gazed up at him. Fera knelt on the floor beside him, helping him to hold it. She opened its wrapping, revealing its sex.
‘I don’t—I never—’
He desperately wanted to look away, to shove her back into Fera’s arms and forget, but he couldn’t stop looking at her.
His daughter blinked, squirmed, then smiled up at him, and all he could do was stare. Will had never wished more to have his hands back, to brush his fingers against her face. He found himself wishing for that simple touch even more than the feel of his sword. He never would have thought it possible.
Will looked up at Fera, suddenly grateful he didn’t die out there in that field, then down at his daughter again. He had so much to do, so much to give, crippled or not.
He leant over and kissed her on the cheek.
© Morgan Tonkin 2018