The three days it took for Lady Renwald’s coach to reach the outlying districts of Olympus was anything but enjoyable. The first day had been marvelous. With the weather clear and dry it seemed they would make the capitol in excellent time. But on the second day a steady, cold rain began falling early and continued throughout the rest of the journey. The Kings Road became a quagmire in places and, if it had not been for a troop of the Kings Men patrolling the road, she might still be stuck in the mud halfway between the village of Downbrook and the tiny hamlet of Torr. The rain, the road and the simply awful accommodations along the way were enough to test anyone’s patience. The inns she so often favored when traveling were suddenly filled to capacity as people from all parts of the Kingdom were headed to Olympus for the “Festival of Light” celebrations. She could not imagine how crowed the city would be. She counted herself lucky to have a place to stay as her Aunt and Uncle lived in the city and managed a well kept household. There would be warm beds and hot baths all around. Even the girls would have a room to share on the third floor. She smiled as she watched the two girls sleeping next to each other on the seat opposite hers. They had been in her service now for, how long? Two years? Isabella and Bernadette. Inseparable, like sisters. They had been a great comfort to her after the death of her husband only six months ago. Lady Renwald shifted her gaze out the coach window. The rain had stopped and the sky, filled with grey broken clouds, held the promise of an early winter. The smell of the rain and mud felt, somehow, holy as the coach slowed to pass through yet another mud hole. Shivering, she pulled her light wool cloak tighter around her shoulders.
“Festival of Lights.” The words themselves seemed a mockery of her mood. She bowed her head and stared at her gloved hands as the coach rocked its way over a rut. The pang in her heart that she had come to embrace as an old friend, rose up and she closed her eyes. Lord Robert; how unnaturally pale and skeletal he looked at the end. She drove the vision from her mind. She did not wish to remember him like that. She wanted to remember him as he was on their wedding night. The strength of his arms as he held her; controlled her. His hair, long and unbraided hung about her face like a dark curtain of safety. The smell of him. The feel of him. She opened her eyes. The girls were stirring. They would arrive at her uncle’s home well before sunset. This was good for it would give her three full days, before the festivities began, to discuss her financial situation with her uncle, make some business inquires and, perhaps, find some answers. Once the festivities started no business would be conducted. The city would become one great riot of music, plays, jousts, tournaments and balls. Despite her malaise, she felt it would be good to be in the capitol again. Almost a year since her last visit. Almost a year since she last felt the urge to laugh. To let herself be herself.
An early morning fog shrouded the far meadows as Michael Rush helped the Lady Renwald and the two girls into the coach. He then supervised the loading of the last trunks and made a final check of the knots on the brass bars along the roofline. The four mares were securely harnessed and eager to be off. Nodding to the driver and his coachman he ran his eyes along the roof.
“Mind those trunks. If even one of 'em gets loose an falls off it’ll be 'yer hide what gets burned when 'ya gets back.” He grinned. The two men laughed and tipped their caps.
“Aye captain.” They said in unison.
He chuckled as he checked the passenger doors and, before closing and latching them, bowed his head to Lady Renwald.
“Safe trip Milady 'an don’t worry ‘bout a thing. Everything is in order and I’ll be a keep’n a close eye on things.”
He winked at the two girls who blushed and covered their mouths. The Lady nodded solemnly and thanked him. He closed and latched the door then banged twice on the side with the palm of his hand. The driver yelled, snapped the reins and the coach lurched forward. He watched until it disappeared around a bend heading for the King’s Road about a mile away. Leaning over he rubbed his leg. His old war wound was throbbing. Glancing up at the early morning sky he shook his head.
“Rain 'fer sure on the marrow.” He muttered. “Rain 'fer sure.”
Gray haired, fifty-six year old Michael Rush had been overseer of House Renwald for Lord Robert’s father before it was passed on to Lord Robert ten years earlier. The family, whose allegiance had always been to Olympus, had been horse breeders for generations, but Lord Robert took it one step further by buying up the finest stock he could find. His many trips abroad, even those that took him through warring kingdoms, may have placed him in danger at times, but also afforded him opportunities to find strong stock in both stallions and mares. In a few short years after taking over House Renwald, Lord Robert had propelled the reputation of his House to new heights and had even gained the eye of the King. When peace, if that was what they wished to call a mere truce these days, was established. Lord Robert doubled his efforts to find the perfect stock. It was this last trip to Axiom that brought him, not only an exquisite stallion from a desert land across the seas, but an illness that proved to be his last. As Michael walked back to the main house, he glanced back down the road to where the coach had disappeared. He frowned. His gray eyes held a worried look. Lord Robert’s bride of only three years had taken his death very hard.
It was rare for an entire House to feel a sense of happiness run through it the way House Renwald did after the marriage of this Lord and Lady. But House Renwald did exactly that. Everything seemed blessed and the entire Household, from stable boys to scullery maids, smiled and curtsied or bowed when the couple passed. A sense of contentment settled over the House as chores were carried out with purpose and meaning. As for Michael; it had been years since he had seen young Robert so happy. The future seemed bright; at least for a while. After his death a stifling pall fell over the House. Everything seemed to go bad. Three foals died in succession. The river Senunault flooded after a torrential thunderstorm and an entire crop of grain was lost. The Lady fell into a dark mood and kept herself hidden in her chambers for weeks. There was fear she might harm herself so a watch was placed. Her mother came from Redbridge and stayed a month consoling her. A few of the House Staff traveled to one of the sacred wells, offered gifts to the gods and goddesses, and prayed for her protection. Over the next few months the Lady began to improve. She began to take an interest in the business and the running of the House again. The two girls, Bernadette and Isabella helped perk the Lady up with their antics and youthful vibrancy.
When the invitation came to attend the “Festival of Light” Lady Renwald refused to go. Even the coaxing of her mother could not dissuade her. Then, when a large order for thirty mares, to be delivered to House Hawke of Lanchester, was canceled at the last minuet, she acquiesced. No reason for the sudden cancelation was given, but this unexpected development put a strain on the house finances. A new buyer or buyers would have to be found, and quickly. The Lady agreed to go to the capitol to seek guidance from her uncle, a buyer and perhaps an explanation from House Hawke for this sudden cancelation. After all, contracts had been signed. Agreements and promises made to her late husband. This was now a matter of honor and she was due, at the very least, an explanation if not partial compensation for her investment.
Michael Rush sent a stable boy ahead with orders to have his horse saddled. He had a great deal of ground to cover today and wanted to get an early start. He paused at the door to the house and looked to the road again. He knew what was needed most for House Renwald, something that would set things back on track and bring stability and peace to both the House and its Lady … a husband.