Monday, June 8, 2015

Diebin, Orb's Year 945-948

 Orb's Year 945
 The children slept the easy sleep of children.

But after a few days, they began to worry.
"When's she coming home?" Jade Diebin asked. "Do you think she's okay?"
"'Course she's okay! She's a master swords woman!" Jace admonished his sister.  

Jade felt tears prick her eyes.  "I'm scared, Jace."

Jace pulled his sister into his arms and hugged her.  "Don't be scared, Jade!" he told her.  "You're such a worry-wart!"  But the truth of the matter was that he was scared, too.

***

It had killed Stuart to see his love locked up in the cold, dank cell.  What mess had she found herself in?  He hadn't been able to keep his hand from reaching out and caressing her cheek. "Oh, Henna, what have you done?" he whispered sadly.

Henna had blinked her tears away, frantically clutching his arm.  "I need you to go to the children. Protect them," she had urged him.

***

Stuart Forester ambled in the direction of the forest, pretending not to notice the king's man that trailed behind him.  In not too long he would be in the forest and could slip away, sight unseen.
Earnest Royale stopped mid-step and glanced around the forest.  He had just seen the peasant walk this way.  How could he have lost him?  He hurried to the spot where he'd last seen him, but found no tracks to follow.

It was if he'd just disappeared.
Being the logical man that he was, he knew this wasn't the case.  But the end result was the same.  He'd lost him.  His cousin, Prince Earl, was not going to be happy.
Stuart watched as the king's man headed back in the direction he came, likely to tell the king that he'd been unable to find him. 
He would protect her children and earn her love.

***

Stuart knocked on the door and waited.

"Don't open it," he heard a young voice whisper. "It might be a bad guy!"

"Well how are we going to know if it's a bad guy if we don't open it?" another young child responded.

The first voice hissed back, "I don't know, but I'm pretty sure he looks like a bad guy."

Stuart rolled his eyes.  "I can hear you!" he announced impatiently.

"Are you a bad guy?" one voice asked him loudly.
"SH!" the other voice hissed.  "Do you want to get us killed?"

"I'm not a bad guy! Your mother sent me!" he called loudly.  "She wanted me to take care of you while she's away."

"See, Jace, he's a good guy! Mama sent him!" a child whispered furiously.

"Shut up, Jade!" the petulant-sounding child admonished. 

"If you know our mother, what's her name?" one of the two called out to the stranger behind the door.

"Oh, Blessed Orb, Jace! Just because he knows her name doesn't mean he's not a bad guy! He might have her tied up somewhere!"
"For the love of..." Stuart was beginning to lose his patience.  He'd assumed watching Henna's children would be easy, but he hadn't even managed to make it past the door.  "Your mother's name is Henna and she's been jailed under the king's authority.  She asked me to look after you!" he snapped, "And I'm not a bad guy!"
The door clicked.  "Our mother is in jail?" the little girl standing in front of him asked.
The little boy ran to put himself in front of his sister. "I told you not to open the door, Jade!" he scowled angrily. He puffed out his chest.  "We don't need your help," he addressed Stuart.
Jade rolled her eyes and stepped around her brother.  "Why is mother in jail? What happened?" she asked worriedly.

Stuart glanced down at the little girl and didn't have the heart to tell her that the prince had accused her of being the Prince of Thieves which all the peasants spoke of with revered voices. 
"First things, first," he announced holding up a bundle of food.  "I figured we would need some sustenance!"
Stuart began rummaging through the cabinet to see what food was available to eat.  Not much, he thought with a sigh.  He would need to get some meat for their larder.
He pulled out a fresh loaf of bread that he'd brought and began slicing thick pieces.

"Don't eat anything," the little boy said, still distrustful of the strange man.  "If he was such a good friend to mama, then why haven't we met him before?"

The truth hurt sometimes, Stuart thought as he winced.  Especially when delivered by a mere child.

"You can eat if you want to, there's plenty to go around," he announced unfazed.  "I for one am starving."
 "Jaaade," Jace complained when his sister ran over to grab a plate.

Jade rolled her eyes. "What? I'm hungry Jace!" she complained.  "Our bread has gone stale a few days past and this looks soooo good!"

"Well, I'm not going to eat," Jace said stubbornly, wincing when his stomach rumbled.  Petulantly, he stomped his foot and ground out, "Fine!" before storming over to the counter and grabbing a plate for himself.
"So, I've gathered that your name is Jade," Stuart asked the little girl.  "And your brother's name is Jace?"

Jade nodded.  "That's right! We're twins!"

Stuart eyed the child's golden locks.  "I can see that," he said smoothly.  "And it's just you two?" he asked, feeling only slightly guilty about pumping the children for information.  "No one else comes to visit?"
Jade shook her head.  "No, nobody ever comes to visit.  Mama says that we have to live in the woods to hide.  She said she'll explain when we're older."
"Jade, shut up!" Jace snapped, eyeing the man with distrust. "Why do you want to know so much anyways?" he asked suspiciously.
"Sorry, your mother has been an enigma to me all these years. I first met her when we were teenagers," he told them, admitting with a laugh. "I thought she was a pixie!" 

Jade laughed and clapped her hands. "A pixie! Oh, I would love it if she was a pixie!"

"There's no such thing," Jace said mulishly, continuing to eat his toast, keeping his eyes trained firmly on the intruder.  Apparently it would take more than a few reassurances for the young boy to warm up to him.

***

The stress from this morning had begun to take it's toll on Stuart.  He rubbed his aching head and ran his hand over his forehead, pressing hard against his temple.  No relief

"I'm going to go lie down for awhile. Come and get me if you need me," he told the children.

"We're not going to need you," Jace responded quickly.

Stuart shook his head and headed to the bedroom.  Wasn't it just like Henna's child to deny any help, even when it was obviously needed?  Stupid, stubborn, ornery Henna...

 ***

 Jace peeked in on the man, then hurried from the room. 
 "He's still sleeping," he told his sister.
"Don't worry so much!" Jade told her brother.  "Mama sent him to take care of us! She'll be home soon and everything will be the same!"

Jace shook his head.  His sister was so naive. Nothing was going to ever be the same...

 ***

 That night, the children crawled into bed to sleep.

Jade glanced towards the man on the other side of the room. "Do you think he snores?" she asked.
"I don't know, but I have a knife on my side of the bed. If he tries anything, I'll cut him!" Jace swore.  He would die protecting his sister!
"Oh, Jace! You're such a worry-wart!" Jade teased.

Jace scowled as he thumped his pillow.  He was not a worry-wart!


Orb's Year 946
A year had passed with no word from Henna.  He was afraid to ask anyone how she fared for fear of leading the kings guards to their door.
He tried to stay strong in front of the children, but sometimes in the dark of the night, his doubts and fears assailed him.  What could he do to free her without exposing her children to risk? he constantly worried.
The answer he inevitably came up with was, Nothing.   And it tore his heart apart.
So he stayed.  And he watched her children grow.
Even young Jace was at ease with him now.

 ***

 "Why are you so hairy?" Jace asked, eyeing the hair on Stuart's arms and chest. 
 "I don't know. My father was just as hairy," Stuart told him.  "It's the mark of a man's man!"  He cursed himself when he saw Jace's smile drop.
 "Oh, I don't know my father, " Jace said quietly.

Stuart had strong suspicions about who little Jace's father was, but kept his mouth shut.

"I wonder if he was as hairy as you," Jace added, pointing to Stuart's arms.

Jade giggled. "I don't think anyone is hairier than Stuart!"

And just like that, good cheer resumed at the table as the children took turns teasing him. 

***

The children liked his stories the best.  He had his mother to thank for all the stories she told around the table, tales about fairies, goblins, and ogres!  Growing up in a forest, he'd always kept his eyes open for the characters from his mother's stories. 

Then he'd met Henna, his very own pixie!
"Tell us another one!" Jade giggled from her perch on his lap.

"A quick one and then it's off to bed!" Stuart said.

The children groaned in unison. 

"What should it be about?" he asked, ignoring their protests.

"Tell us the one about the Ogre under the bridge!" Jace said, naming one of the more blood-thirty stories.

Jade scowled, "That gives you nightmares, Jace! Tell us the one about when you met mama!"

Jace protested fiercely. "It does not give me nightmares!"

In the end, the settled on the story about the Goblin King and the Fairy Princess, one that had romance in it for Jade and a not-too-scary battle-scene in it for Jace.
As he stood, the children wrapped their arms around him and hugged him tight.  "I love you, Stuart," Jade said with a smile on her face.

Stuart ruffled her hair, nearly undone with emotion.  "I love you, too," he told her gruffly.  

***
 
 "Where were you?" Jade demanded when he came home under the cover of darkness.

Stuart glanced in surprise to find Jade up and waiting for him.  "I just went for a hunt to try to catch some game.  What's wrong?"
 Jade stared at him with tears in her eyes.  "I woke up and you were gone! I was worried you weren't coming back!"

"Jade! Of course I'd be back! I just went out to get some food for the larder!" Stuart protested, trying to understand her tantrum.

"Mama said she'd be back, too! You never know!" Jade protested.  "You shouldn't leave without saying goodbye!"

Stuart nodded, attempting to ease her fears. "I'll be sure to say goodbye before I leave," he assured her. "Come now, lets' get you back to bed."
It took awhile, but he was finally able to read her to sleep.

Orb's Year 947
He was outside, hunting game and stalking through the trees when he heard someone approaching.  Quickly, he ducked behind a tree to hide.

His heart beat quickly.  Who would be in the woods at this hour at night? he thought.  Someone up to no good.  His fingers tightened on the knife he'd pulled from his boot.  
His eyes roamed through the trees, trying to spot the elusive intruder.  Only one person had a skill at deftly moving through the forest unseen like that... could it be?
Then she came into view and he stopped to stare.  Vaulting over the rock nearby, he raced to her.
 He tugged her into his arms.  "Henna," he breathed.
 "Stuart!" Henna wrapped her arms around him, pulling him flush against her and catching his lips with her mouth, kissing him passionately.
Somehow they managed to stumble home and fell upon the couch in the living room. Distance and time apart had not lessened their passion, only enhanced it.
Stuart groaned and tugged her body against his own, reveling in the feel.  "Blessed Orb, Henna, marry me! Be my wife!"
Henna pulled back, feeling awkward. "I can't," she said softly, standing to give herself space.  How like Stuart to urge her to marry him at such an inopportune moment!
Stuart watched her numbly as she stood to dress.  She'd turned him down... again...
"Can't or won't," he hissed furiously.  Cursed Orb, when he thought about what he'd given up for her!
"Why are you always trying to label this?" she snapped.  "Why can't we just enjoy ourselves as we are?"

Stuart stared at her, dumb-founded.  She had to be the only woman in the kingdom that didn't want to get married

"Could you put some clothes on?" she asked, waving her hand towards his dangling bits.  "I can't argue with you when you're naked!"
Angrily, he stormed into the bathroom and slammed the door.
Hearing the sound, the children rushed from the room to see what was going on.  "MAMA!" Jade yelled, launching herself into Henna's arms. "You're home! Oh, you're home!"
"Did you see that, Stuart?" Jace asked happily. "Mama's home!"
Stuart turned from the children, sickened by the thought of leaving and hurting them.  But he couldn't stay under these terms.  She didn't want him.  His voice thick with emotion, he said, "I saw. And so now it's time for me to leave."  He headed towards the door.
"Wait? Leave?" Jade asked, her face crest-fallen.  
 "NO!" the children cried together, racing after Stuart with tears in their eyes.
"Please don't go!" Jade begged, wrapping her arms around him.  "You said that you would say goodbye before you left!"

Stuart squeezed her, feeling tears in his own eyes. "I know, Jade. I'm sorry. But I have to go," he told her, trying to peel her arms from around his neck.
"Why does he have to go?" Jace demanded. "Why can't he stay?"
Henna's heart was breaking.  All she'd ever wanted was to protect her children from heartache and here she was breaking their hearts.  It was clear that the children loved Stuart.  
Her eyes met Stuart's as he waited for her answer.  The look in his eye said that he was sure she would deny him again.  But, still, for her children's sake, he waited.

And that's when she knew that she should marry him.

"Please go into the other room so that Stuart and I can talk," she told the children, then watched them hurry off.
"I don't even know if I can be a proper wife," Henna said.  "I had an unconventional childhood."
For the first time, Stuart let himself feel the hope that Henna might marry him.  That his dreams would come true.  He reached for her hands. "It doesn't matter. I love you, Henna.  We'll make it work," he promised.
 Henna threw herself in his arms. "Then yes, I'll marry you!" she said with tears welling in her eyes. 
 Stuart slipped the ring on her finger.  She was his wife now.
He kissed her passionately, grinning, "Do you think that maybe we could actually sleep on a bed for once?"
Peeking around the door, the children saw Stuart kissing mama and cheered.  They were a family now!

***
 
 "No regrets?" Stuart asked in the morning light. 
 Henna shook her head.  "No."  How could she protest? She cared for him and he loved her children almost as much as she did!  And he promised that he wouldn't try to change her.  He had been there for her through hard times and stuck it out, because he loved her.

Stuart hesitated, "Can you tell me how you got out?" he asked.
Henna shook her head, "I'm not really sure who freed me.  It was dark in the tower and she didn't say a word."

"She?" Stuart asked.  "Why do you think it was a woman?"
Henna shrugged, "Something about the way she carried herself.  She used a key in the lock and then hurried away.  When I pushed the door, it opened."
"And I didn't stick around to ask any questions."
Stuart nodded, clearing his throat.  "Can you tell me about him?" 

Henna groaned and dropped her face into her hands.  "I can't talk about it," she cried.  "Please don't make me!" 

The wealth of emotion from the usually calm Henna surprised Stuart. 
 "Sh, it's okay," he said, standing and pulling her into his arms.  "It's okay. I don't need to know."
 Henna sniffled and looked up into his eyes.  "What did I ever do to deserve you?" she asked.

***

 Night fell and the family slept.
Henna prayed no one would hear as she slipped from the bed.  Stuart had forbidden her from her lucrative business, but she answered to no man! He'd told her not to take silly risks anymore and she'd agreed.  She knew better than to take silly risks... she only took the risks that paid off...

 Orb's Year 948
Henna escaped into the forest for a brief respite and practiced her swordplay.
 She should've known Stuart would find her, she thought with dismay.
 "Henna, I thought we talked about this!" he said, frustrated to catch her with the sword once again.
"Just because you tell me not to do something doesn't mean I have to listen to you!" she argued.  "I'm used to taking care of myself!"
"Well maybe you shouldn't be!  You're at least 4 months pregnant and out here swinging that sword around! What if you hurt yourself or the children?" he admonished.  He put his hands on his hips. "Why do you insist on taking these crazy risks?" he demanded, knowing full well that she hadn't stopped her thievery.  "You're carrying my child!"
Henna threw her hands up in the air.  "Even my mother wasn't as strict as you were!" she declared, storming back to the house.

Stuart rolled his eyes. From what he'd heard of Debbie Diebin, that wasn't that hard.  "She should've taken a switch to your backside more often!" he called after her, hearing her snort with indignation. Keeping Henna in line was a full-time job.

***
 
"Tell us another one, Papa!" Jade said eagerly.  She loved it when they all sat around together like this. 

"The one about the Haunted Forest!" Jace begged. "I love that one!"

Stuart laughed and clapped Jace on the back.  "The last time I told that story, you slept in our bed for a week!"

Jace sheepishly grinned up at his papa.  "I thought I heard something at the door," he admitted.

Stuart glanced at his sleepy wife.  "No more tonight, let's get to bed," he said, ushering the children out of the room.
"Henna? Are you awake?" he asked as he stood in front of her.  "Do you want to go to bed?"

Henna's eyes were shut and she appeared to be sleeping soundly.  He sighed and headed into the bedroom.  The last time he'd tried to move her, she'd given him a black eye, flailing out in her sleep.  Sometimes he wasn't so sure it wasn't on purpose.
 He settled into bed, alone.

***

Catching her alone one morning, he stared appreciatively at her nightgown.  He snuck up behind her and pulled her into his arms.  "Good morning, lo..."
"Stop it!" Henna shouted, pushing him away.  "Just stop!"
"What's the matter with you, Henna?" he asked.  "You can't bare to be touched by me anymore?" he demanded.  "You've been pushing me away for months!"
 "Maybe I don't like being groped every time you walk by!" she snapped. 

Stuart seethed. She made him so angry!  She was always defensive and turned everything around on him.  Somehow, she made everything seem like it was his fault.  He threw his hands up in the air.  "Great, so I'm the evil villain who forced you to marry me now?!"

"You rushed me when I wasn't ready!" she yelled.  "I didn't want to marry you!"
Stuart stared at her angrily.  "Maybe it's not me that's the problem.  Maybe it's that you wish I was the prince between your thighs!" he snapped crassly.

Henna gasped in outrage, her hand flying to her mouth and her other protectively cupping her pregnant belly. "How dare you!" 

"It's the truth, isn't it? Did you play the whore for the royal prince when you were in the tower? Is that who...."
Henna's palm cracked against his cheek.  She gasped, pulling her hand back to her chest, staring at the red finger print across his face.
Mutely they stared at each other, chests heaving.

There were some things that once said, could never be taken back.

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