applespice: it is a sparkly fairy ([art] i'm so pretty)
How About Them Apples? ([personal profile] applespice) wrote2011-12-15 06:51 pm
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LJ Idol - Week 8 - A Traveling Travesty

The girl sat demurely side-saddle, her russet hair dusted with twinkling droplets of morning mist. Her dress was a rich, midnight-blue velvet, its daring cut only minimally disguised by a spray of airy lace over the bosom. Flanked on both sides by the young men that made up the volunteer escort from Miller’s Pond, she cut quite a striking figure. And that, thought Barlow, was almost certainly the point.

The girl was on her way to be married to some minor lord in Everton, a market town some twenty miles from Miller’s Pond. Barlow had only cursory knowledge of the lord – a fat, ostentatious man he’d often seen on market days – but he pitied the girl nonetheless. The lord was at least twice her age, and was rumored to be utterly ridiculous in both manner and lifestyle. Still, he was certainly wealthy, and Barlow had known many girls who would rather face marriage to a fat old blowhard than abject poverty. He wondered if this girl was such a case.

Even if she hadn’t been blessed with wealth, the girl had more than her fair share of beauty. Barlow could see why the lord would eschew a horse-faced noble bride for this common maid. Her hair was a crimson glory, her eyes the lively blue of a summer sky, and the dress she wore did little to obscure her lush figure. Her “honor guard” could barely keep their eyes off her, each boy’s gaze flicking to her in turn as they rode through the morning sunlight. Even Barlow himself had been stirred at the sight of her, though he was even older than the fat lord of Everton, and had a dear wife of thirty years besides.

Her looks explained the escort, almost as much as her future husband’s wealth. The road to Everton wasn’t particularly dangerous, being frequently traveled and patrolled, but the prospect of easy coin and a full day in the company of such a beauty was enough to lure several of the village’s young men to agree to conduct her there. A fat purse had arrived from Everton yesterday, only a few hours before the girl, with ample payment for a large number of men to escort the blushing bride to her waiting beloved. Barlow himself was supposedly along to keep the boys in check. Here in the brilliant sunshine, its golden light limning the vision before him, he couldn’t say he minded.

After a few more moments of relative quiet, Barlow spurred his horse forward to ride abreast of the girl. The man to her left had been trying to engage her in conversation, though his voice died in his throat as Barlow approached. The dull flush in his cheeks spoke more to his intentions than his words did, as Barlow assumed that no man, however young and foolish, would attempt to woo a noble’s intended in the middle of a mountain road.

“My lady,” he said respectfully, for though the girl was not a lady yet, she would be soon enough, “how does our pace suit you? Would you like a rest?”

“The pace suits me well enough, sir,” the girl replied, her voice surprisingly bold. She met his gaze steadily. Barlow was slightly taken aback – he had expected a blushing peasant maid. “There is no need to rest. I wish to join my husband as quickly as possible.”

“Of course,” Barlow inclined his head. “I am somewhat familiar with your intended, my lady. A great man.” As soon as the words escaped his lips, Barlow could not fathom why he had said them.

She laughed. “Great in girth, you mean.” Barlow stared. “I am somewhat familiar with my intended as well, sir.”

“If you’ll pardon my saying so, my lady, your impression seems less than favorable.”

“I’ll pardon it. Why not? I fear I’ll be pardoning a great many things before long.” The girl’s eyes twinkled. “Surely you did not assume that I marry for anything as silly as love, sir?”

Barlow flushed. “I make it a rule to assume as little as possible, my lady.” A lie, but even the young lady’s surprising frankness was not enough to inspire harsh honesty in a man such as Barlow. He had spent most of his considerable life in service to one rich man or another, and he couldn’t shake the rigid code of conduct that he was accustomed to.

“How virtuous of you,” she replied, tucking a red curl behind her ear. “As you will not engage me, I will answer for you. Of course you did not assume I married Lord Emmell for love. He is more than twice my age, fat, and a fool. Unlike many younger, thinner, brighter men, however, he can provide me with a comfortable life. I’ll be dressed in silks and brocades, dined with the finest delicacies, and will spend my nights in a featherbed. What do I mind that I’ll have to share it all with a laughingstock like Emmell? Better than starving in a dark hovel with a handsome man.”

Taken aback, Barlow could do no more than shake his head. “I can’t believe you’re taking this so lightly, my lady.”

She shrugged. “What else is there to do?”

There was little to say after that. Barlow hung back, letting the girl ride past him. She didn’t look back – their conversation seemed not to have fazed her at all. Barlow, on the other hand, was quite flabbergasted. He had never met a girl who cared so little about her marriage. Of course, he had suspected that she was marrying the man for money, but he certainly hadn’t expected her to be so candid about it. She was perfectly stoic about the entire thing; even amused!

Still in a daze, Barlow followed the company around a bend in the road and nearly steered his horse into the one ahead of him. The entire group had come to a complete and sudden stop.

“What-“ He didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before he saw the glint of steel before them on the road. Standing immediately in front of the girl’s elegant white horse was a large band of outlaws, each bristling with a knife, sword, or bow.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” said the man at the fore, a disreputable-looking fellow with stringy brown hair and a patchy scruff of beard. He held a long, finely-edged sword. “I hope you’ll forgive us for interrupting your stroll.”

Barlow pushed forward, easily shunting the terrified boys of Miller’s Pond aside. None had so much as raised a weapon, though most of what they carried was sadly worn anyway – more for show than anything else.

He stopped beside the red-headed girl. Regardless of what happened, he would do his job and protect her. “What do you want?” he asked, drawing his own blade.

“The usual,” said the outlaw with an airy shrug. “All the coin you carry, and anything else valuable besides.”

Barlow kept his sword raised. The amount of money they carried was indeed considerable, as Lord Emmell had sent no small sum to make sure his bride was safely conveyed to Everton. Still, nothing had been said of the girl - though she might fall under the outlaws' interpretation of "anything else valuable." Brigands such as these were known to carry off women just as soon as jewels or gold, and Barlow was determined not to let that happen.

He was just considering his options as far as fighting the ragged crew when a slim white hand reached out and pushed his sword aside.

"Put up your weapon, sir," the red-headed girl said, her voice as steady as it had been all along. "You'll only make things more difficult for yourself."

Nudging her horse gently, the girl trotted forward until she was practically nose-to-nose with the bearded ruffian. "Lash them to the trees," she ordered in a clear, calm voice. "And gently. They're only village boys, and surely none of them is fool enough to fight us." She looked sternly back at Barlow as she said this.

"My lady..." he began, uncertain.

"There's no more need for that, sir," she said with a smile. "I'm not a lady today, and I won't be tomorrow - or ever, if I have my way. I'm just a common thief. Now if you'll hand over that coin my dear sweet husband sent?"

The men moved forward, gesturing with their weapons for the boys from Miller's Pond to dismount. The boys quickly complied, many stumbling in their haste to avoid the sharp points of blades and arrowheads. Each handed over his leather pouch of coins. Barlow was the last, still staring at the red-headed girl.

"Why?" he asked. "Why not marry the lord if it's money you want? You could have so much more than this!" He tossed his own pouch toward her. She caught it one-handed, its contents jingling.

"I'm not the marrying type," she said. "Besides, there are other roads to ride. And," she added with a grin, "other fat old lords who will pay handsomely for the safe conduct of an innocent young bride."

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