Can Thou Not See?
By A'Lehsen Paris
Written: February (?) 2000
Summary: In the thirteenth century, kings and barons reigned supreme and love was but a myth. Or was it? Join Lord Charles, Lady Kathron, Lady Lanna, Sir Thomas, Sir Harold and others in this adventure that will prove a world wrong.
Disclaimer: The characters have been altered to protect the identity of the innocent....well, not really. However, since these characters bear some resemblance to our favorite Voyager crew, I'll say that TPTB rules all--except where this story will lead. I will receive no rewards for this story--well, I will hopefully get an A on it in English Lit, but that's about it.
Rating: PG (violence)
In the first blushes of spring, when green buds appear and laughing brooks are full to overflowing, three ladies rode out of Castle Havre. They were the Lady Kathron Juneau and her daughters, Lady Lanna and Lady Noel, going to visit family in the south. Five and twenty guards accompanied them, and Lady Kathronís husband, Lord Charles Juneau, Baron of Strathshire, watched them ride away from a parapet, smiling at the joy they showed over the new spring.
The ladies stayed with their cousins for a month. They enjoyed going to London every week or so, and they even went to court once, although they quickly decided that they had no taste for the intrigue of politics that came as easily to the courtiers as breathing. Instead, Lady Kathron and her daughters occupied themselves by riding daily, talking with their female cousins in the courtyard during the afternoon, and eating the hearty country food.
When the week before Midsummerís Eve was upon them, Lady Kathron, Lady Lanna and Lady Noel prepared to journey home. They bid their hosts fairwell and set out.
The route they took north was different than the one by which they had traveled south. It passed through the barony of a greedy man, Lord Rufus de Sot, who coveted all he saw. Lord Rufus was out hunting when he spied the travelers, laughing gaily as they passed. His eye lit on Lady Noel, who at thirteen was rivaling her motherís auburn-haired beauty, although not her sisterís dark loveliness. Lord Rufus decided that he must possess the girl, and so he rode back to his castle and gathered forty of his strongest men, soldiers of great prowess and cruelty, and together they ambushed the smaller Juneau force.
The battle was a quick one, as the Juneau guards were outnumbered almost two to one. Still, they knew their duty, and they held fast, protecting their lordís lady and daughters. Their swords held off the attackers for an hour before exhaustion finally won out. It was a rout from there. However, in the melee no one had noticed a lone Juneau guard, his arm gashed deeply from shoulder to elbow, grab a horse, pull himself astride and gallop away.
Lady Kathron and Lady Noel fainted when their captors surrounded the three women. Lady Lanna, who was a bit more practical, glared at the soldiers.
"I demand that we be released at once!" she cried angrily.
"Nay, lovely Lady, I fear that I cannot obey thy command," Lord Rufus said as he came up behind her. "Thy sister is meant to be my bride, and I will have her no matter what the cost!" he exclaimed with a hint of his usual madness.
"Surely thou jests. My sister is meant for much greater things than the likes of thee," Lady Lanna said with a sniff, taking in the Baronís worn hunting clothing.
"Ah, but my Lady, who can protest the marriage of one well-born personage to another? For I am a Baron, and I will make thy sister my Lady, to stay by my side for all times," Lord Rufus explained patiently, as if to a child.
"Thou? Well born? I cannot believe it is so!" Lady Lanna said scornfully as her eyes raked his costume yet again. She realized her mistake in speaking too rashly when Lord Rufusí face became mottled.
"Be silent, wench! It is not for thou to decide what I shall do! All decisions are mine alone! Mayhap Ďtwould be best if thou would learn that quickly," he said nastily.
Lady Lanna kept her lips tightly sealed, in hopes that he would give up trying to taunt her and just leave. After a few minutes he did just that, ordering the ladiesí hands tied to their saddles so that escape would be impossible. The hour ride to Lord Rufusí castle, Hideux Peur, began.
* * * * *
A day later, in the dark of night, a lone, exhausted rider galloped into the inner bailey of Castle Havre. The house colors were barely visible beneath the layer of caked dirt and blood covering him and his horse. A runner was immediately sent to call the lord from his bed while the rider was ushered into the Great Hall and given wine to refresh himself. Although the manís wound felt fiercely painful, he did not ask that it be tended. Indeed, he dared not until he had told his lord of what had occurred.
Lord Charles rushed into the Hall, his clothes and hair in disarray. "What hast happened to my wife and children? Speak, thou!" he commanded.
The guard dropped to his knees. "My lord, forgive me. I would not have left if we had not been outnumbered! I knew that news of the kidnapping would never reach thee if I did not escape and bring it. It was the only reason that I did not give my life willingly in the defense of thy wife and daughters," he began. After taking a look at the Baronís angry face, he drew a breath and continued stoically, "A force of forty men overtook us on the road. We fought valiantly, but it quickly became apparent that we were not going to defeat them. So, I chose to come to you, my lord, and offer you what little information I possess."
"What information?" Lord Charles growled.
"We passed through the land of Baron Rufus de Sot. He is known for three things, my lord: his love of the hunt, his love of money, and his love--of women. I believe that he is the one who ordered the attack on thy family, for the purpose of possessing what he has no right to," the guard said.
Lord Charles turned away to pace, his anger nearly all-consuming. "Get Thomas, Harold, Allan and Richard down here now!" he shouted at a nearby page. The young boy jumped and ran to do as he was bid.
Minutes later, four knights joined them in the Hall. Two were tall, one with blond hair and blue eyes, the other with dark hair and eyes. The other two were shorter, both with dark hair, the only distinguishing feature between the two were the eyes; one had green eyes and the other, black. All four wore identical expressions of confusion.
"My lord?" the tall blond knight, Sir Thomas de Ponthieu, asked, coming closer to Lord Charles than the others. This quick-witted, good-natured knight was the favorite of their liege lord, for he was a good and loyal adviser, although not a friend for differences of age and rank. Sir Thomas was young enough to be the Baronís own son, so they never endeavored to be more than lord and vassal.
"Kathron, Lanna, and Noel have been taken by the Baron Rufus de Sot," Lord Charles said quietly, his anger still evident despite the soft tone.
"Lady Lanna? Lady Noel?" He had been trained while the young ladies had been playing in the courtyard, learning through games all the courtly manners and dances they would one day need. Truth be told, he felt more than brotherly love for the elder sister, although he knew he could never let her know of it.
"Yes. We must go after them before...anything happens to them," Lord Charles said. "Gather our men. Leave only a light guard here, Thomas. Harold, thou and Richard go make sure that our horses are prepared. Allan, thou willst stay here with the guard. I darenít risk leaving it under another command. I cannot guess what other daring Baron Rufus might try," he said grimly.
"Yes, my lord," the knights chorused. Thomas headed for the barracks, Harold and Richard, the shorter knights, went to the stables. Allan stayed with his lord to go over what measures might be taken in defense of the castle.
Thomasí mind was nearly overwhelmed with conflicting emotions as he woke up the Juneau soldiers and divided them, four hundred to go and fifty to stay. His anger at the kidnapping of his liege lady and her daughters fought for supremacy with fear over the fate of the dark-haired, dark-eyed daughter of his lord. He would love her no matter what, but if any more time was spent in de Sotís castle without permission of her father, her reputation would be ruined. No man would want her for wife, afeared of the possibility that his future bride was not pure.
"I will kill the bastard if I see him," Sir Thomas muttered to himself as he went back to his rooms to prepare himself for the battle.
His squire, James, having been wakened, was waiting for him. The bright shine of armor comforted Sir Thomas but little. His mind was occupied by thoughts of Lady Lanna and the danger she was in as James helped him into the close-fitting metal suit. For the first time, the proud feeling he had whenever he saw the Juneau crest in the middle of his breast plate was absent, there being no room for it in his troubled mind. Finally, the helm was lowered over his head, and he was ready to go.
"Thou shalt stay here, James," he commanded his squire as the boy began to buckle on his own sword.
"But, Sir Thomas--" the boy began.
"Nay, none of that, Jims. There is no place in this battle for thee, as thou hast just begun thy training," Sir Thomas explained sympathetically, sparing a momentís concentration to smile at Jims, his faithful shadow. "One day thou willst be a great knight, and fight many times for thy lord. However, today is not that day," he added.
Jims, although crestfallen, took to heart the knightís promise that one day he, too, would get to battle for his lordís honor. He managed an answering smile, Ďthough it was wobbly. "Aye, Sir Thomas. I would wish thee well on thy quest," Jims said quietly.
"I thank thee. Now, go and see what thee canst do to help thy lordís men who are staying here at the castle. There will be some job for thou, no doubt," Sir Thomas said encouragingly.
So Jims left, and Sir Thomas followed him. The tall knight reached his destination, the stables, quickly. There he found his destrier, Nighthawk, saddled and waiting for him. He mounted quickly and went out to wait in the bailey. Lord Charles, Sir Harold, and Sir Richard joined him shortly. The other soldiers, who had needed less preparation, awaited them outside the castle walls.
Sir Allan came up to them. "Fairwell, my lord, brothers. I hope that thy journey proves fruitful," he said firmly. After barely a momentís pause, he added, "And I hope that thee willst bring the ladies back unharmed."
"So do we all," Lord Charles said. He reached down from the saddle to clasp hands with his knight. "Take care of the castle whilst I am away, Allan. I expect to bring Kathron, Lanna and Noel home to a feast by Midsummerís Eve," he said.
"I vow to thee, my lord, that I will keep the castle safe until thee returns to claim that duty from me," Sir Allan replied. The two exchanged nods.
And then Lord Charles turned to the three mounted knights waiting impatiently for him. "We ride, sirs," he shouted. With that, the four spurred their mounts out the gate and to the head of the ranks of soldiers. Almost as one, the entire company turned and headed south.
* * * * *
At Hideux Peur, Lady Lanna was trying to console her overwrought mother and sister, all the while barely maintain a facade of calm as the hours turned to a day, and then another, and then yet another. The only people they saw were the guard at the door to their suite of rooms and the lone servant who brought their meals.
"What are we to do?" Lady Noel wailed inconsolably. "That beast wants me, Mama, Lanna! What am I supposed to do?"
Lady Lanna put her arms around her sister, as her mother was too busy weeping as she sat on the side of one of the beds. "íTwill be all right, Noel. Thou mustnít fret, dearest sister. Our father will come for us, thou knows this," she said soothingly.
"But he does not even know where we are, Lanna! How can he come and save us?" Lady Noel asked between sobs.
"He will know. I shall tell thee a secret, although thou must not let this make thee feel more than the slightest hope. For I saw a guard slip away from the battle. He was sorely wounded, and yet I saw him heading north. He must have gotten the news of our capture to Father," Lady Lanna informed her sister.
Lady Kathron rounded on her, her tears forgotten. "Lanna, how couldst thou not tell me of such tidings? It would have kept me from the sore grieving I have in my heart for thy sister," she scolded.
"I am sorry, Mother. I did not think that thee had recovered sufficiently from the shock of our capture until now. Pray forgive me?" Lady Lanna asked, a distraught frown marring her smooth brow.
"Of course, daughter," Lady Kathron said. She straightened her shoulders. "I do believe that thou art correct, Lanna. Thy father will come for us, and soon, I wager."
The ladies, locked in a room in the middle of the keep which had no windows, could not know of the new battle which raged on at the castle walls.
* * * * *
Lord Charles and his men had attacked at noon. They swiftly put into use the battering ram which had been constructed from a large tree on the journey to Hireux Peur. No words were exchanged, although Lord Rufus was surely aware of the fact that they were Juneaus, come to retrieve their ladies. Arrows flew from arrow loops cut into the single wall surrounding the aging castle, which was kept in a sad state of disrepair for all its owner's supposed wealth. Not more than ten of the arrows found their marks, and then only two were fatal wounds.
The Juneaus quickly broke down the wooden gate. They raised their shields so that if boiling water or oil were poured over them it would harm none as they ran through the gateways to the inner bailey.
Soldiers in de Sot red and yellow surrounded them, clashing color against color as well as sword against sword, as the Juneau colors were green and silver. Metal clanged and crashed harshly, and Juneau swords cut fiercely into de Sot flesh.
Sir Thomas fought the most fiercely of all. He worked his way into the keep itself, his best friend, Sir Harold, protecting his back. He grabbed the nearest de Sot soldier and demanded to know where the ladies were being kept. With the wickedly sharp blade of Sir Thomasí blade pressed to one side of his throat and the tip of Sir Haroldís equally keen sword pressed to the hollow of that same throat, the man had little choice but to reveal that the ladies were being kept in private chambers on the third floor. His reward was a slit throat.
Sir Thomas and Sir Harold fought their way up two flights of narrow stairs crowded with de Sotís men, who tried their best to stop the two nights. Fortunately, their efforts failed miserably. Sir Thomas and Sir Harold won their way to the third floor to find it deserted, and there was a single door, which was ajar. Sir Thomas and Sir Harold approached it cautiously, aware of the angry male voice sounding from the room.
"I will not let him have thee, Noel! Thou art mine!" the strange man yelled.
"My sister will never be thine, foul man! She is a lady of finest quality, and thou art nothing but a toad!" a familiar voice shouted, the rage apparent in it.
Lady Lanna, Sir Thomas thought. He feared for the danger she was putting herself in, goading the obviously mad man in the room with her, but he didnít let that stop him from creeping ever closer to the door.
"Noel is mine, in soul and soon in body. There is nothing thou canst do to stop it, wench! Thou art but a female, and will learn that thy wants are not taken into consideration."
Sir Thomas wanted to wipe off the sneer that the manís tone implied. It was apparent to him now that Lord Rufus was that man, and he now had two accounts to settle with the man. He was at the door now, and he flung it open with a battle cry, Sir Harold following close behind.
Lord Rufus turned and glared at the intruders. "How dare thou enter these chambers? Be gone!" he yelled, taking a menacing step toward the two knights.
"Nay," the much taller and more muscular Sir Thomas denied the command softly. He let no sign of his immense anger show, save in the burning fury of his blue eyes. "Thou hast much to pay for, Baron. I am the right hand of Justice in this, and Justice shall be served. Prepare to fight, lord," he ground out, raising his blooded sword.
The Baron, who was wearing no armor and a flimsy sword in comparison, nevertheless took a fighting stance. "Low born scum, I shall be thy doom," he intoned pompously.
Sir Thomas took a strong overhand strike at Lord Rufus, which the Baron only just managed to counter. "I think not, Baron," was all Sir Thomas said.
The battle was on in earnest then. Thomas cut upwards, towards Lord Rufusí side and slashed his waist shallowly. Lord Rufus swung low, nicking Sir Thomasí left arm at the joint where no armor protected it, but leaving no lasting damage. Sir Thomas feinted to the right, and as Lord Rufus was trying to counter that move, the knight broke off and, just as quickly, darted back in to bury his sword in Lord Rufusí chest. A look of surprise shadowed the evil lordís face briefly, before death stole his breath and caused his body to collapse to the ground, where blood seeped into the rushes.
Sir Thomas, breathing hard, pulled his sword out from his enemyís body and cleaned it on a tapestry hanging near the door. After this was done, his gaze turned to the ladies, who were eying him with awe. Lady Kathron was the first to speak, although Lady Lanna looked as if she wished to.
"I thank thee, Sir Thomas, for saving us from that villain," she said calmly, as if she had not spent nearly two and a half days in one set of rooms, crying nearly hysterically, and then had been beset upon by her captor when her husband came to her rescue.
"I was only doing my duty to thee, my lady. I hoped to destroy him before he harmed any of thee. He didnít, did he?" Sir Thomas asked anxiously, gazing at each of the women for longer than was perhaps proper, as if trying to assure himself that they were, indeed, whole and hale.
"We are well, sir knight. The villain harmed us not, even though I and my daughters were surely overraught by our capture. And my husband?" Lady Kathron asked.
"When I left him to search for thee he was holding his own well, and his guards were taking care of any too zealous. He should be seeking thou directly, I am sure," Sir Thomas replied. He looked around the room, taking in the faded but elegant furnishings. "Is there aught of thine here, that thou wishes to keep? For I think we should be gone from here quickly," he said.
Lady Lanna looked up from where she was tracing patterns in the rushes with the toe of one slipper. "Only our clothes, which can be replaced and werenít even half of our wardrobes. I would that we leave these wretched rooms immediately," she said, her calm starting to crack at the sight of the man who had always been a source of strength for her, even though she dared not show it.
"Then let us be gone from this place," Sir Thomas said, gesturing for the ladies to precede him out of the room. Sir Harold, who had been silent so far, smiled shyly at the ladies and moved to let them by. He led the way down the stairs, while Sir Thomas brought up the rear.
Lord Charles awaited them in the Great Hall. He was having a wound on his upper right arm bandaged temporarily, and he looked up when his family and two of his favored knights approached. He stood up and smiled, opening his arms, ignoring the field doctorís cautions about the bandaging.
Lady Kathron ran into his arms. "I knew thou wouldst come," she said, her serene facade cracking as she burrowed in her husbandís arms.
"Of course I did," Lord Charles said soothingly, stroking back her fading auburn hair. He looked up and over at Sir Thomas, who hovered to one side of Lady Lanna. "Well, Thomas? I assume that Baron Rufus will not trouble us again," he said.
"Aye, my lord," the knight confirmed. "Lord Rufus was in the solar he had provided for thy ladies, and he was talking to them most harshly. I believed him close to going mad, and so I challenged him."
Lord Charles considered this for a moment and then nodded. "I would have preferred to deal with the bas--man myself, but I can see that it was well left to thy capable hands," he admitted reluctantly. "Well done."
"Thank you, my lord," Sir Thomas acknowledged the compliment.
Finally, Lady Noel and Lady Lanna could not stand to be away from their father any longer. They had allowed their parents a few private moments, but now they ran to them, tears streaming down Noelís face, a wide smile on Lannaís. Lord Charles gathered them to him also.
Sir Thomas turned away from the happy family reunion. He felt a longing for the same sense of family, and yet he knew that the only woman he would ever want was the only one he could never have.
* * * * *
The whole company made camp that night in a large field on the late Baronís land. They built up several large fires. Around one the noble family and their faithful knights huddled. Sir Thomas stood as close as he dared to Lady Lanna, a fact that Lord Charles noted. He watched his daughter and his favorite knight converse.
"I was not as frightened as Mother and Noel," Lady Lanna confessed to Sir Thomas. "I knew that one of us had to be strong, and since they obviously couldnít be...." She allowed herself to trail off. She looked at her companion out of the corner of her eye.
"I should have gone with thee, Lady Lanna. If I had, perhaps--" Sir Thomas began.
"No." Lady Lanna held up a hand, interrupting him. "íTwas not thy fault, Thomas. Thou could have done naught, and might well have been killed for thy efforts," she said forcefully.
Sir Thomas looked at her in surprise. "I would have willingly died to protect you, my lady," he told her softly.
Lady Lanna smiled at him. "I know that, Thomas," she said, taking his hand in hers for a brief moment. Each savored the all-too short time that their skin touched.
"I am ever thy knight," Sir Thomas said with a smile. He noticed her tremble slightly. "Art thou truly cold, my Lady? Have my cloak," he said.
"No, thatís really not--" but it was too late for her to protest, as the weight of the warm, heavy wool settled over her shoulders. Sir Thomasí hands remained on her shoulders lightly for a few moments more before leaving them. "I thank thee," Lady Lanna conceded softly.
"Thou art welcome," Sir Thomas said just as quietly. He looked over to where Sir Harold was in the process of becoming frighteningly drunk. ďI should go rescue Harold from his cups," he said quickly. "If my lady would permit me to leave?"
"Of course. We wouldnít want Harold to fall out of the saddle because of his headache tomorrow morning," Lady Lanna replied, waving her hand to indicate that he might go see to his friend.
Sir Thomas flashed her a devastatingly handsome smile. "I am afraid it might be too late for that," were his parting words.
Lady Lanna stared after him, allowing herself to feel some of the longing of her heart for just a minute. Then she looked away. Her eyes caught those of her fatherís, and she knew that he had seen her staring after his knight, and she blushed and looked away.
Lord Charles considered all of this very interesting, and an idea came to him, one so sensible that he was surprised he had not thought of it before.
* * * * *
They reached Castle Havre on Midsummerís Eve, and the first thing they all did was go to their chambers to wash and change clothing for the feast that had been planned since a rider had come the day before to report Lord Charlesí victory.
At the feast, Lord Charles and Lady Kathron sat at the high table, their daughters flanking them, and two of their most favored knights, Sir Thomas included, flanking them.
After the first course of smoked venison and chicken soup, Lord Charles rose and addressed his men and their wives, who all sat at the lower tables.
"After this latest victory, I came to a decision about the future of my barony. As thou all knowst, I have no male heir, any male infant my wife hath born dying before its infanthood was over. So, my lands will one day go to my eldest daughterís husband. I have chosen a man for her whom I think thee willst all approve of. He is a man of honor and courage, a man who risked himself to save this family many times. He has earned my respect, and I have come to think of him as a son," Lord Charles announced above the whispers which were filling the Hall. He turned to Sir Thomas. "Rise, Thomas," he commanded.
Sir Thomas felt the blood rush from his head as the full import of his lordís words struck him. He stumbled to his feet. Beside him, Lady Lanna stared at her father with an undignified open mouth.
Lord Charles smiled at his chosen heir. "Sir Thomas de Ponthieu, will thou except my daughter Lannaís hand in marriage, and along with it my lands and title when I leave this earth?" he asked, knowing full well the answer.
Sir Thomas looked down at Lady Lanna. She returned his gaze her eyes shining. It was her dark brown eyes so filled with happiness which gave him the courage to say, "Aye, my lord, I will accept thy daughter Lannaís hand in marriage, but only if she willst have me."
Lord Charles looked to his daughter. "Lanna?"
Lady Lanna stood abruptly and took Sir Thomasí hand in hers yet again, this time in a firm clasp. "I will have this man, Father, for can thou not see that I love him more than any other?" she asked saucily.
Sir Thomas chuckled along with the rest, but his attention was focused more on his future bride. "I believe that the occasion calls for a kiss, my lady," he whispered, tilting her chin up and lowering his mouth a fraction, waiting for her reply.
"I believe it does, sir knight," came the husky answer.
It was all the encouragement Sir Thomas needed. He cover her mouth with his in a kiss that took them to the stars, ignoring the cheers and smiles from all who surrounded them. The kiss lasted only a fraction of a minute, but it held the promise of a most happy future for Sir Thomas and his Lady.
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