A week passed with little to remark. Kid improved, although Nora reported nightmares. Alec managed to avoid private conversation with Lady Mellisande, although he was part of the bodyguard squad accompanying her on visits to the local villages to check on the well-being of local residents.
He was amused and impressed by Her Ladyship’s choice of homes to visit. She charmed all the biggest gossips in Wolfgrove and had a committee of busybodies formed to assess and submit a report on the needs of all families in the area for the coming winter. The troublemakers were happy and distracted and would think nothing of her extending her concern to the lonely healer in the woods.
His time ran out one morning as he was ploughing his way through the never-ending paperwork in his office. A knock heralded the entrance of one of Her Ladyship’s pages, with a summons to the solar.
“Ah, Captain, thank you for arriving so promptly. I’m concerned about the state of the forest healer’s cottage with the cold approaching and wish to speak with her as I have with the influential ladies of the villages. The ladies have pointed out the importance of ensuring she is well equipped to supply our people with the medicines needed for winter chills and suchlike.”
A number of these influential ladies were gathered around a table showing the castle women how to knit socks and preened.
“Very good Your Ladyship, I’ll arrange guards and ask for the horses to be saddled. Who will be accompanying you?”
That threw her, he knew she didn’t trust any of her ladies-in-waiting but couldn’t venture into the forest with only male guards for company. She rallied admirably quickly.
“The ladies are doing wonderfully here, I don’t want to interrupt them with the inconvenience of a cold and muddy forest trek. My personal maid will be fine, and more suited to conversation the healer’s humble cottage than either the castle or the village ladies.”
Alec thought she was being a little too obvious in her praise but the group in the solar seemed to be perfectly happy with the idea, likely more appeased by the idea of remaining in the comfortable room, with conversation and tea, than by any real affront to egos.
“Unless anyone would like to join us of course?”
The solar echoed with gracious denials.
“Very well, Captain I need to return to my quarters to collect my maid and some rags for the healer – she can use them as bandages or something. I will be in the stableyard in half an hour and would like to depart immediately. The sooner I leave, the sooner I return.”
She was unusually punctual and within the hour, a group made up of Alec, Nathan, Lady Mellisande, her maid and two other guards clattered out of the castle.
As they moved under the welcoming eaves of the forest, Lady Mellisande moved her horse nearer Alec’s, “Rosalind can be trusted, what of your men?”
Her voice carried to his ears only, and he replied in a similar vein, “Nathan is my right hand. The other two are also highly trustworthy, but will be remaining outside to undertake chores the healer needs help with before the bad weather comes in.”
Her relieved smile betrayed a shadow of a brighter, happier woman, Alec cursed her husband for an idiot. He’d left his bride alone for far too long and it was past time that was remedied.
They reached the healer’s clearing without incident and were met in the garden by Nora. Nathan went to the stables to care for the horses and the other two guards were put to work on garden and woodpile duties without too many grumbles. Her Ladyship correctly interpreted her maid’s looks and gave her leave to work in the garden as well, she wasn’t sure whether the primary appeal was the green and growing things the country-bred girl clearly missed, or the shy side smiles of the younger of the two guards. Either way, it solved a problem she was happy not to deal with.
Alec accompanied Nora and Her Ladyship into the cottage. Kid’s door was cracked slightly open and as soon as Alec closed the door behind the three of them, it flew open and Kid rushed across the room to jump up at him.
“I’m not sure that we shouldn’t re-name you Puppy.”
“You can’t do that, I’m not furry enough. Hello Lady. Captain Alec said he would bring you to see me, and you’d bring clothes so I can go outside more. I’m very glad you’ve come.”
Her Ladyship gave a slightly bewildered smile and Alec stepped in, “Please forgive me, Lady Mellisande, I’d like to present Kid, his choice of name, and apparently not open to negotiation. Kid, this is the Lady Mellisande, be polite.”
“It’s lovely to meet you Kid. Aside from anything else, you have managed to uncover a sense of humour in the Captain no one else has ever discovered.”
Alec raised an eyebrow but let it pass. Kid gave a neat bow and asked Her Ladyship if she’d like to be seated.
Once comfortably settled at the table, she gave in to Kid’s mute appeal and pulled several items of clothing out of the bag she carried.
“I wasn’t sure what size would be best, so I brought a couple of options. They may be a bit large.”
Kid took the proffered pile with delight and immediately retreated to his room to ‘get properly outfitted for company’. That last phrase spurred a questioning glance to Nora.
She shrugged, “He’s coming out with more and more of them but he’s still not talking. The best I can guess from some of his cries when he’s dreaming badly is that he was taken from somewhere where he was loved and plunged into a very bad situation. But what, why and where are still a mystery.”
Mellisande turned to Alec in distress, “What are you doing about it?”
“What I can Your Ladyship, but until I have more information that’s precious little and Kid’s well-being is too important for us to try and press him for details just yet.”
Kid soon re-emerged, delighted with his new clothes, with holes only where they were meant to be!
Nathan’s knock sent him under the kitchen table but he recovered as soon as he saw who it was and Alec was pleased to see him continuing to be cautious, even as he relaxed and bloomed under Nora’s care.
They stayed only an hour, too much longer would have been strange, and an unfair amount of work on the trio outside. Kid slipped back into his room as they were offered refreshment, then the group set out for home, half of them still oblivious to the existence of Nora’s strange little guest.
Alec could see questions burning from Lady Mellisande, but it was neither the time, nor place for private conversation, she would have to wait until a better moment presented itself. He wasn’t sure whether he was dreading, or looking forward to it.