Spring, Year of Our Lord 1550
SHYLAH FERRELL WATCHED THE crowd grow through the small shuttered window of the cooper's cottage. They encompassed the battle arena. She tugged on the tunic and her bindings felt too tight around her waist and chest. A fine mist of perspiration coated her face. Shylah waited for her uncle to enter the arena.
Sir Gawain taught men to fight with swords and their wits.
He's unaware I'm his first opponent.
She dressed as another clan, so he wouldn't recognize her. She pulled her helmet visor down, exposing only her eyes. The battle gear she wore made her weigh fifty pounds heavier. Shylah took a deep breath, as Sir Gawain entered standing fierce, gripping his sword, in the center of the arena waiting for his first mock kill.
Shylah entered the center of the arena and stood facing her uncle, a giant of a man. She raised her sword in respect to her opponent. Shylah saw the fierce scowl on his face and then suddenly had second thoughts.
The battle began. The fierce clashing of the broadswords held its audience at a mere mumble. The spring sun's reflection bounced off the blades, causing the crowd to blink, as the bright rays blinded them. The two swordsmen circled waiting for the next onset of blows to be struck. The clash of steel against steel rang through the countryside.
Shylah's uncle took a much needed breath. He wiped the sweat from his face with his free hand. With great power he lunged forward. The fierce giant found his opponent behind him, as his blade missed Shylah by a whisper. Shylah flatten the blade of her sword, serving a sound whack on the big man's backside. This brought a roar of laughter from the crowd, as they watched the display of swordplay.
"Gawain, ye be gettin' old, mayhap, ''tis time to pass on ye blade." The crowd roared at this jest.
Gawain spun with all his might striking Shylah's blade. It sent vibrations up her arms, to settle in the center of her shoulder blades. Shylah returned the blows hit for hit.
Shylah dropped down to one knee, swinging a leg at Gawain's feet knocking them from under him. His lethal opponent jumped to place her sword point square in his chest. A dust covered slipper foot rest lightly on his throat. Sir Gawain laid flat on his back as he gasps for air to refill his lungs.
"Och Gawain, ye let a wee lad take ye. May best ye learn a new skill," a voice cried out from the crowd.
Shylah lifted the blade from Gawain's chest and offered him her hand.
"Shylah," Gawain's face filled with confusion as he whispered to his niece.
Her helmet bobbed once.
He leaned in close to her ear as he rose to his feet.
"'Tis a verra good fight."
Shylah bowed a deep graceful bow and then turned walking away to the cooper's cottage. Once out of sight of the crowd, Shylah removed her gear and took a deep breath exhaling slowly. She dressed in her normal attire, a day gown. As she brushed off the dust from her slippers, Gawain entered the shop.
"My lady, I bow to your skill as a swordsman. If it be kenned that, 'tis ye who wields the blade so well, ye father will have me head on a platter. With me stark terror gaze looking back at ye."
"Aye uncle, I ken too well, so we best nay let him find out." Shylah stretched up on the tips of her toes to place a kiss on his weather beaten cheek, which held the slight taste of salt.
Shylah watched the blush cross Gawain's face, as he wiped the cheek she kissed with the back of his hand.
"Ye need be getting back to the donjon, ere ye are missed. Ye lessons are complete. I ken of nay else to teach ye. Dinnae be challenging me again. For I may be playing with ye next time."
"Och, ye were nay playing today. I saw the determination on ye face. I felt the force of ye blade. Ye meant to do ye opponent bodily harm. I love you for it." Shylah turned, leaving out the rear of the cooper's cottage.
In her heart she knew Gawain held deep admiration for her. Shylah worked hard at being the gentle lady everyone expected her to be. Her soul forced her to wield a sword better than any man. Shylah's visions commanded her to learn.
Shylah recalled, at the young age of ten, asking Gawain to teach her. At first, he thought she jests. Shylah knew he could not refuse her request. Soon she would to learn to wield the blade. She remembered what he had said.
"Ye ken lass, 'tis those huge green eyes, which I fall prey to when ye look at me. I cannot say nay. I'll give you a few lessons then watch ye run back to the kitchens."
The lessons were harsh but with hard work and determination, she soon bested most men. Shylah smiled as she walked back to the donjon. She couldn't wait for the evening meal. Gawain would be the host of many jests, at his expense. She felt a pride in her accomplishments and a slight guilt that Gawain would be teased for it.
Shylah strolled deep in thought as she entered the Chapel Yard. She sat upon the stone bench. With her head bowed, she prayed for the two stones, one, her stepmother Katie, the other, her biological mother, Paisley.
Everyone told her as time passed it would ease her pain but it felt as strong today, as it had the day Katie died. Three years had not lessened the suddenness or shock of her stepmother's death. Katie was the only mother she knew. Katie loved Shylah more than life itself. Her mother, Paisley, had died a fortnight after Shylah's birth. The two ladies now lay side by side.
Shylah turned quickly at the noise behind her. She watched as her younger brother ran toward her.
"Shy, Shy please, will ye take us to the loch today."
Shylah hugged the six year old. Darnley threw his arms around her neck. She felt him lean back slightly. She looked into his blue eyes, which pleaded up at her. Her heart always brightened when her little brother and sister were near.
"Lord Darnley, where be Lady Carey?"
Darnley turned looking in the direction he had come. Shylah saw a stern look that came across his face.
"She's right behind me. Carey!" He yelled pulling away from Shylah. He placed his tiny hands on his hips and stomped his foot. "I told her to keep up. I'll go get her."
Shylah smiled at his antics. "We'll go together. She's most likely gathering flowers. She'll have her hands full of them." Shylah brushed the thick black hair away from Darnley's eyes. She reached for his hand, leading the way to find Carey.
Shylah spotted the dark auburn head bobbing. Carey's small hands were full of weeds, flowers and mud. The hem of her mantel wet with mud. It hung heavy on her little frame.
"Lady Carey, ye look like a ragamuffin. Lady Catlin will be sorely miffed with ye. Ye ken she'll not be pleased. Ye Mother wants ye presentable at all times."
The child turned her soft, gentle, cherubic face to Shylah. With all the dignity she could project, she squared her shoulders.
"She is nay me Mother. Please, Dinnae be calling her that." Carey enunciated each word with care.
Shylah looked at the four year old standing in front of her. People had said Lady Carey had an old soul, well beyond her years. Shylah saw it in so many ways when she with Carey. Lady Carey dropped the weeds and flowers, wiping her muddy hands on the front of her mantel, before Shylah could stop her.
"Aye, now ye'll be in trouble. Ye'll be sent to the nursery for the day. Shylah was going to take us to the loch today." The scowl on Darnley's face made Shylah smile. It mirrored her father, when he scowled.
"Och mayhap, we'll go on the marrow. I think 'tis a wee late to go today. I'll make plans with Mab to fix us a repast. Then we will have more time to spend at the loch. Till be fun, ye'll swim and play, does that sound pleasing to me lord and my lady?"
"Aye," Both of the children spoke at the same time, clapping their hands, bouncing up and down. Their smiles filled Shylah's heart with joy.
"Let's see if we can clean my lady a bit ere she enters the donjon. Then ye can finish with ye trainings, Lord Darnley. I'll be up to see ye snug in ye beds, later."
Shylah knelt in front of Carey to brush the mud off of the sweet, loving child.
"Shy, why did our Mother have to die? I Dinnae remember her but she had to be better than Father's new wife."
Shylah felt Carey's tiny hand on her long braid as Carey stood stroking it softly. Carey wound it around her small hand and up her arm.
"Och me sweet babe, yer Mother is needed in heaven. She watches us as we speak. Lady Catlin tries to be yer Mother, 'tis only because she has nay bairn of her own. She's nay wise in dealings with wee ones."
"Ye have nay bairn and ye love us." Carey stood, near tears as she spoke.
"Shy can have nay bairn silly goose. She nay has a husband." Shylah looked at Darnley's face, as it twisted in disgust at his little sister's lack of knowledge.
"She will; I heard Father speak so to that witch. He plans to find Shy, a husband soon." Carey made a most unpleasant face with her tongue sticking out at Darnley.
Shylah hid a smile.
"Och me wee heart, ye must nay speak of Lady Catlin, so. Are ye sure Father is planning a marriage for me?"
"Aye, I heard it last eve, as I stood outside their bed chambers. 'Tis late but I wanted to tell Father about me new clothes. I don't like them; they make me look like an overstuffed straw doll. I dinnae think I want to wear them."
"Sweetness, ye look adorable in them. Such a fine lady ye make. 'Tis that we wish for ye to look ye best. Now off with us, ere they all start looking for us." Shylah reached for their hands leading them back to the donjon.