Here is a continuation of that snippet of a fantasy romance story that I posted in “Unfinished.” Perhaps I’ll write more of this tale, after all…
The Ties That Bind … continues
Warner was a bear of a man with shaggy brown hair and, incongruously, a short, neatly trimmed beard and mustache. His brown eyes were keen and observant but not very expressive. Despite his size, or perhaps because of it, he was a reserved, gentle man who moved with efficiency and before-thought. When Adele saw him mooring the boat at the dock she felt the tension that had been gathering around her shoulders since that morning ease a little.
She restrained herself from immediately running down to the lake to greet him. Instead, she made sure that she had his lunch ready, and that his pipe and smokeweed pouch were out on the little table beside his shabby armchair. She placed a warm pasty, a plate of greens, a strawberry tart, and a pint of cold beer on a tray and carried it out to the backyard, kicking open the door. Warner liked to eat his lunch on the work bench by the vegetable garden when the weather was clement. Adele often joined him, but not always to eat. Lunchtime was whenever Warner came home after his morning fishing excursions, and he didn’t expect her to wait on him.
The young woman set the tray down on the workbench and ran back inside to procure a cup of tea and a tart for herself. She stood by the table and waited, quivering with anticipation like a well-trained dog. It wasn’t long before she heard boots crunching in the gravel along the steep path leading up from the lake to the cottage. A wide-brimmed hat popped into view, and then a shaggy head crested the rise of the hill. Warner grinned at her, his teeth a flash of white splitting his beard. He carried a string full of gutted perch over one shoulder. “Still there, eh?” he called, teasing.
“I see you actually did go fishing this time,” Adele shot back playfully, arms akimbo.
“Successfully,” the burly man added, shaking the stringer of lake trout.
Laughing, Adele took his catch into the kitchen and put the fish into the sink to clean later. When she came out, Warner had removed his hat and was munching on his pasty, staring out at the lake. She sat down across from him, playing with her teacup. He gazed right past her, as if she wasn’t there, even after he finished his food. Adele schooled herself to patience, drank her tea and ate her tart. Warner continued to stare and frown at the lake. Finally, Adele lost patience and asked, “Well? are they coming?” Belatedly, she added, “sir.”
“Hmm?” Warner raised his eyebrows and focused on her. “Sorry, Adele, I was considering our next move. Yes, they’ll send someone. That’s all I can say for now.”
“Oh.” The young woman looked down into her lap. “I…I apologize, sir. For my impatience.”
Warner snorted with amusement. “You’re quite readily forgiven, initiate. Me, I’d go stir-crazy, having to sit in a tiny cottage all day.” He gulped down the last of his beer with relish and stifled a belch with the back of his hand. “Just what do you do all day, Adele?”
Adele smirked at him. “Oh, nothing much.” She ticked off the points on her fingers. “I just cook all the food, do the gardening, go to market, tend to the chickens, wash all your dirty clothes, and keep the place spick and span so that you can drag in muck on your boots every afternoon. ” She leaned her forearms on the table, her blue eyes dancing with mirth. “I’m basically your mother. Oh! Yeah. And I read sometimes.” She blushed, and added, “sir.”
The big man laughed outright. “Zifa was right. You’re a gem, girl.”
Adele propped her chin in her hands and smiled nostalgically. “I miss Zifa,” she murmured. “I hope she comes soon.”
“Me too, Adele,” he sighed. “Me too.”
They were silent for several moments. The man brooding, the young woman resolving an inner debate. Presently, she blurted out: “A man came by today.”
“Really?” Warner came out of his reverie. “This happen often?”
Adele shook her head, embarrassed. “No, sir. But I told him…that you were my…my husband.” She bit her lip, steeling herself for a reprimand.
Instead, he simply looked at her, amused. “Did you, now? Trying to scare him off? I bet he was hideous. Hunchback?” He grinned.
She chuckled in spite of herself. “No, no hunchback. He was tall and…well-built. Dark hair. Dressed like a ranger. His eyes reminded me of emeralds.” She frowned, looking off into the middle distance. “And he walked without making a sound or casting a shadow.”
Suddenly uncomfortable, she looked away from the man. “I…kind of invited him to supper tomorrow.”
“Hmm.” Warner scratched his beard, scanning the lake pensively. “Let’s move this conversation inside, initiate.”
“Yes, sir.” Adele took the dishes in. Warner held the door for her. Before he stepped inside himself, the man took another glance around the yard with eyes that that missed nothing. His expression was grim.
Adele knelt on the verge of the flower garden in the front yard, pulling up weeds. Warner sat smoking his pipe on the front porch steps. The late afternoon sun was wheeling its way toward early evening and the biting insects would be out soon. The young woman hoped that she would finish the task before then. It was her self-imposed penance; however, she drew the line at having her blood sucked out by vesperflies.
“Those trout tasted real good,” Warner observed. He blew a smoke ring. “What was that stuff you put on ’em?”
“Lemon butter, mostly,” she said, yanking out a particularly stubborn dandelion. “But I also added some parsley and thyme into the batter. Plus some other herbs. My secret.”
“If you plan on fixing the chicken the same way tomorrow I reckon your admirer will be hell-bent on stealing you away from me,” Warner said dryly. “If anyone calls asking for me, tell them I’m cleaning my musket.”
“Ha ha,” Adele said sarcastically. And then, she chuckled. “I’ll make sure to give Zifa the recipe when we return to Shidkey.”
“When this is all over,” the big man muttered, puffing on his pipe.
“Yeah…” The young woman sighed as she pulled the last weed. She stretched, knuckling her back. “So, when are you going to tell me why you brought me here, sir?”
“What do you mean?” Warner asked in a mild tone. “I’d have thought it was obvious. So you could take care of me while Zifa’s clearing up that mess in Copper Harbor.” Smiling slightly, the big man tapped the dottle out of his pipe and stamped on the embers to snuff them.
Adele gathered the weeds up in a bundle and carried them over to the compost heap. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t believe you. There are others more experienced in fieldwork – “
“Well, you are the best cook in the entire convent,” he interjected. “And how do you think those ‘more experienced’ initiates became ‘more experienced’ in the first place?” He waved his pipe at her in emphasis. “You can’t expect to spend your entire youth holed up in the Archives. It was high time that you had an opportunity to learn the ropes.”
Adele bit her lip. “Sir, I appreciate my chance to participate in active service. I wasn’t complaining. It’s just…” She sighed, spreading her hands out helplessly.
“You’re used to having all the answers at your fingertips.” Warner packed more smokeweed into his pipe. “Well, now you’ll have to get used to not knowing everything.”
Adele looked at him steadily, mulling over his words. She was trained in obedience. If Warner said she didn’t need to know, then she didn’t need to know. “I just don’t get it,” she said softly. “Why would you need an inexperienced Binder on a mission to liase with – “
The big man clicked at her and held up one hand, his brown eyes alert. Silenced, the young woman reflexively clutched at the small lump concealed under her bodice and edged toward the front porch and Warner. “Time to retire for the night,” the big man commanded with quiet assurance.
The two went into the cottage. Warner bolted both doors. This was something that he hadn’t done before. It made Adele nervous and she wondered at it as she hastily got things ready for the next day in the kitchen. Then she closed all the windows and drew the curtains while the man lit the kerosene lamp in the sitting room. When she joined him, he was paging through the prayer book. Just as she had every evening for the past twelve days, Adele knelt beside the burly man as he read through the liturgy, responding on cue. When the service was completed, the two sang a short hymn together.
Afterward, Warner wished Adele a good night and sent the young woman to her tiny bedroom. Once he heard the snick of her door latch closing, he went to an oaken chest and removed his musket.