Spring

:-#-:

“It’s cold,” Caron said crossly, pulling her cloak around her. “Why do I have to be here?”

Farren slid his arm around her waist. “You’ll see,” he murmured in her ear. She scowled.

Here was a bare, rocky, outcrop in the greening fields outside Canteville. Light touched the horizon, but the sun hadn’t risen yet, and everything felt like it was waiting for it. The cold seeped into her skin. She imagined for a moment that her bones were chilly, and shivered.

“Patience, Caro-mine.” He laughed. “Some things have to be waited for.”

“I might be patient if it was warm,” she muttered.

“It will be, soon.”

She glanced at him. He gave her a slow smile and dark-eyed look. She caught her breath. “Farren -”

The sun rose.

Something like magic swept through her, showing her the warmth of a thousand summer days. Lazy days, lying back and watching the wheat sway in the breeze. Moments of love.

“Caro?” Farren said softly.

She opened her eyes, wondering when he’d held her so close. “It’s beautiful,” she said, smiling at him. “The essence of summer.”

For a moment, he had a look she’d call troubled, if someone else wore it. Then he smiled again, and she forgot it. “The summer that turns towards us,” and kissed her forehead. “Perhaps it might feature a wedding?”

She bit her lip, feeling her cheeks heat up. “Maybe.”

“I can get us a home,” he said. “With my father’s money. Not much, but it would only be the start.”

A little house, with her own kitchen and her own rooms to keep. “That sounds nice,” she said.

“You changed my life, Caro.” He brushed loose strands of hair out of her face. “It’s only the least of what you deserve, my dear.”

She made some noise. Perhaps it managed to be a word. Perhaps it was a yes. Either way, Farren kissed her.

:-#-:

The inn was quiet when Caron crept back in, although heat flowed out of the kitchen. She went upstairs, missing the creaky step. If she was lucky, ma hadn’t woken up yet –

A door squeaked open. “Where have you been?”

Caron froze, hand barely off the railing. Ma’s room was too close to the stairs. I bet father told her what I’d be doing on the trip. His visions weren’t regular, but they were annoying. “I went for a walk, ma.”

“With your skirts that wet?” Alice Anhy leaned against the door. “How’s Farren.”

Caron shrugged. “He’s fine, I guess.”

“I see.” Alice raised her eyebrows. “I was young in my turn, dear.”

Caron coloured. “I was careful, ma -”

“You’re an adult, Caron. I trust you.” Alice inclined her head. “But your father would like to see a betrothal gift.”

“He would,” Caron said to herself, then – “Has word come from Hanson?”

“Not yet. May I have you for breakfast at least?” Alice’s smile softened into pride. “Before your man comes back for you.”

My man. That felt warm and good. “Yes, ma.”

:-#-:

Breakfast was quiet. Caron nibbled what she could of a pile of sausages and bread. She felt guilty for wasting so much good meat, but she wanted to get up and dance, not sit and eat.

The door slammed. She looked up, startled.

“This is where you are,” Hanson said, jogging across the room. “You managed to find the only empty inn in town. Hullo, mistress Anhy.” He bowed to her mother jerkily. “And you’re prettier than ever, Caro.”

“We did send word last night,” Alice said mildly.

“Sir Brent had me out on the walls all night. I completely forgot where you were.” He grinned, pushing wet hair out of his eyes. “That looks good.”

“Have mine,” Caro said. “I’m not that hungry.”

“Caron, dear,” Alice began, but Hanson had already pulled a chair over and attacked it. She shook her head, smiling. Caron put her head in her hands and watched.

He’d pulled off a daring rescue of a child in front of a cart at the fair three years ago. After some coddling, the boy asked to go home – to the king’s castle, outside town. His father turned out to be an old friend of the king, and swore to sponsor Hanson through training. The fortune teller had been right about becoming a knight, after all.

And Sir Brent had worked Hanson hard, to catch up with the other boys…

“I wish you luck, all the same.”

Caron frowned. Why remember those words now?

“What’s wrong,” Hanson said, and bit off half a sausage.

“I missed you. With you training, and Rob learning to be a Finder, I’m all alone.” She’d tried making friends with the other girls in the village, but it wasn’t the same.

“With Farren fawning over you?” he said, through a mouthful of meat.

Caron went bright red. “He doesn’t fawn.”

“Manners,” Alice said.

He swallowed. “Sorry. Really? So what does he do?”

“Oh, you shut up.”

“Or what?” He waved bread at her. “I’m going to make knight one of these days, bet you. You can’t threaten me.”

“I can tell Sir Brent all about the pig sty.” She gave him a sweet little smile. “Or the butterfly that attacked you.”

“I was eight,” he protested.

“He won’t know that, will he?”

The door creaked. She looked up. Rob closed it behind him carefully, creeping across the floor.

“Don’t even bother,” Hanson said, through mouthfuls of bread.

“Horsedung.” Rob rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh well. Caro, Alice.”

“Robson.” Alice nodded at him. “You’re doing well.”

“Thanks.” He gave her a brief, wry smile. “Sorry I’m late. I had to help set up the stalls.”

“They’re setting up already?” Caron said. “The fair is tomorrow.”

“It’s the normal market day.” He leaned against the nearest table. “Some of us work for a living.”

“You get in the ring and say that,” Hanson said.

Rob sniffed. “You’re all thugs, the lot of you.”

“Hey now!” Hanson twisted around. “You, me, staff against sword -”

Caron swatted the back of his head. “I’ll hold you to that, Hanson.”

He gave her a dirty look, rubbing it like she’d hurt him. “You want to see Rob beaten in front of everyone?”

“You just don’t want to be seen on your arse.” Rob smiled at her over Hanson’s head. She grinned back. Either way, Rob would give him bruises he wasn’t used to, she knew it.

“I’d love to see that,” Farren said.

“Everyone’s here,” Alice said, with a little sigh.

“Hey.” Hanson raised a hand. Rob glanced across.

Caron turned. He was in the kitchen doorway, watching them. His gaze met hers. His dark green eyes lightened for a moment. “May I have Caro, mistress Anhy?”

“Of course,” Alice said. “If your intentions are true.”

“We want her back, mind,” Hanson said, and ate another sausage.

“You’re sure, ma?” Caron said.

Her mother nodded, then turned to Rob. “Would you like some sausages?”

“I’d love some,” Rob said.

“Thank you, mistress.” Farren bowed to her, for all she’d had her back to him. The movement seemed naturally smooth. “Caro?”

“I’m coming,” she said, standing. Then – “I’ll see you for that fight, yeah?”

“Mm.” Hanson waved food at her. Rob nodded.

The inn’s back courtyard was bathed in full sunlight. Farren kissed her check. “This would do you no justice,” he said. “But it was the best I could find.” He showed her a gold chain, hidden in his hands.

“Oh!” She gazed at it. It was finely made, with a deep red ruby set in the front-piece. “It’s…” Beautiful. Rich. Oh, I’d ruin it just helping ma cook.

“It’s the least of what you’re worth, Caro. If you’ll still have me.” He held it out.

“Why would that ever change?” she said softly, and turned to let him put it on. It fit snugly, the stone displayed at the base of her neck. It was perfect. Everything was.

Yet when he put his arms around her, she felt something like a foreboding dream, there and gone in a breath.

:-#-:

Early Summer

:-#-:

Caron danced in place. “Ma, married by the king!”

“Yes, dear,” Alice said. “Stay still.” She set another pin in Caron’s hair.

Married today, in the great hall, by the king. She wanted to never stop dancing. Farren’s father must have been a great man, for all he didn’t want to talk of him. Mage Farren Peters could buy a lovely little house, and a beautiful dress, and he could get them married by the king, before the festival feast.

She could taste a little of their life together, and it was glorious.

“You will visit, ma?” she said anxiously. “I shouldn’t want you to stay away.”

“Your ma and pa will visit,” Alice said. “Do stay still, dear.” She sighed. “Ah, married so young.”

“I’m twenty, ma,” Caron said, laughing.

“If you were thirty, it would still be too soon. You’ll understand when you have a child of your own, sweetheart.” Alice patted her shoulder. “There.”

Caron reached up and felt her hair, bound up in an intricate knot. “It’s lovely.”

“You’re lovely, sweetheart.” Alice folded her hands together. “Go on. Your pa’s waiting.”

Caron didn’t run to the door of the little room, but she got there fast. She peered out. “Pa?”

Kean Anhy turned to her. “My dear girl.”

It was the same tanned face she’d known her whole life, and the voice that taught her the duty songs, but something was different. She paused, watching him.

Then she thought, he looks old. It was astonishing. Her father could never be old. He did wonders with wood, and spoke words of the future to those who came and asked. How could he grow old?

She smiled at him. He returned it, and years melted away. It was just the light, she decided. Or my imagination.

“I’ll see you to your man,” he said. “My dear Caro.”

:-#-:

Farren hadn’t let her clean the house for a week. She hadn’t taken one step towards the kitchen, either. Seven days in their own little house and she wasn’t to do a thing!

Well, what they did do… she went pink.

Still, Farren had gone out for food, so she crept out of her lovely sitting room and into the kitchen. A cup of sweet tea, that was what she wanted. The fire was low, so she got it going, and hung their new, shiny kettle above it.

She turned to the cupboard, wondering where Farren had put the teas. He couldn’t organise anything –

Blood. Sticky red, everywhere. She could taste it in her mouth –

“Caro? Caro!” Hanson leaned over her. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” she said. Why did he look worried? “I only felt a little dizzy.” Why was she on the floor?

Water bubbled. “The kettle!” She sat up. It couldn’t burn.

“I’ll deal with it.” He pulled her to her feet. She stumbled, and he steadied her. “Where’s Farren?”

“Here. I’d like to know what you’re doing with my wife.” Farren was at the back door. When had he gotten there?

“I came by to see you and found her on the floor.” Hanson shot him an annoyed look. “I’m hardly going to steal her.”

“I wanted sweet tea,” she murmured. “I don’t know what happened.” Her head pulsed with pain. Was there blood on her face?

“Let me.” Farren left the food basket on the side. He pulled her away from Hanson, and into his arms. “My Caro,” he said softly.

She sighed, leaning her head on his shoulder. He was warm and safe. Odd. She didn’t remember getting cold…

“Can you fetch the healer on Baker Street?” Farren said, looking up.

Boots on stone, and getting more distant still.

“We’ll deal with the kettle in a moment, shall we? Sitting first. This way.” He kissed her. “My Caro.” She thought she heard pride in his voice. No, she thought. Only worry.

Time passed distantly. She recognised sitting down, but the rest of her spun, set adrift. Even sweet tea didn’t take the blood out of her mouth. If she slept, she didn’t dream.

:-#-:

Caron woke up.

She was hungry, indescribably so. Her throat was dry and ticklish. She was in bed. How did she get there? It was dark, but she could hear morning carts rattling to the market. Farren wasn’t there – his side of the bed was cool to the touch. But perhaps he had gone to do some dawn spell. She could surprise him with breakfast!

Sweet tea for my throat, she decided, then memory flooded back in. Oh. How strange, to faint like that. So breakfast would be an even more welcome surprise. She was so hungry.

It certainly explained why she was mostly dressed.

Still, she got up, and washed and changed, and made her way downstairs, humming. But Rob was sat at the kitchen table. He started to see her, eyes wide and face red in the firelight.

“The fever’s gone?” he said, and held out a cup of water.

She drank it all before she spoke. “Fever?” she said.

“The healer said you had a fever when you collapsed. Two days ago.” He watched her carefully. “How do you feel?”

“I feel fine.” She laughed. “What are you doing here?”

“I said I’d look after you. Hanson and Farren had to go. King’s business. The King finally came down here himself this afternoon, so -” Rob shrugged. “He fought not to go.”

“I know,” she said serenely. Farren always will. “Sweet tea?”

“If you feel up to it.” But he seemed to sit on the edge of the seat as she filled and set the kettle. Then he said, “Do you remember anything?”

She glanced back at him. “What is there to remember?” she said, confused. “Some bad dream, mayhaps.” It had fled in the light, as all dreams did.

 

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