Disclaimer: I do not own or profit from this writing...
Chapter 56: Familial
Djaq found Cornelia first in the morning. "Djaq," Cornelia said happily. "I hope you had a pleasant evening."
"Once the sisters stopped giggling all night," Djaq smiled. "But it is nice to hear Lilith laugh here, considering…" she trailed off not sure how much Cornelia knew.
"I have not all the details of the sordid history here in Kent, but I do believe whatever justice was extracted from Agnes will never be enough," she said fiercely.
Djaq smiled at the noblewoman's loyalty to Lilith. "What was it Lilith asked you before you left us?"
Cornelia smiled. "She did not tell you?"
"You look frightening like Lilith like that," Djaq pointed out.
Cornelia laughed as they made their way to the breakfast hall. "I take that as the highest compliment."
"It was meant as such."
Cornelia linked her arm through Djaq's as they walked in. "I am so glad, then, and happy that I like you, Djaq. Lilith had a small request, one I am happy to have done. She asked me to build up intrigue about you in court," she said with her impish grin in place. "So that when you did arrive, everyone would be ecstatic to finally meet the exotic Saracen who had kidnapped Aberforth's heart and Huntington's loyalty."
Djaq just stared at her making Cornelia grin. Luke was the next to walk in and she saw how Cornelia's eyes lit up upon seeing him.
"When are you two to be wed?" Djaq asked.
"We had discussed a fortnight from now," Luke grinned. "I wish to travel to Derbyshire, first, and get caught up on everything myself after hearing my father's reports, but that shouldn't take long. Not nearly as long as Lilith and Allan will have."
"I'm not being funny but that isn't encouraging mate," Allan said walking in with Will and John.
"Somehow I have faith in you, Allan, soon to be Kent"
"I suppose I will have to get use to that," Allan nodded.
"And Canton," Luke added, nodding towards Will.
"I won't," Will grinned.
"If Much can do it, there's hope for the rest of us," Allan jested making Much, who had just walked in, frown.
"Lady Lenora Sarah and Lady Lilith will be down for breakfast shortly," a maid announced to everyone as people began to fill the breakfast parlor.
"I am famished," Luke said happily seeing the platters being carried in. Lilith walked in and laughed.
"Mother was always alarmed by how much you ate, Luke," she grinned.
"You must be eager to return to Locksley, Robin," Cornelia commented.
He nodded. "Extremely, but there are a slew of weddings to be had," he grinned. "Well," he amended, "only if some men propose, if I recall."
"Yes, I do recall Richard ordering such," Lilith grinned mischievously.
A maid arrived to announce the arrival of Lucius with Esther and Tuck. "Father Tuck," Lilith said happily as a servant pulled her chair for her so she could stand. "I do hope you will take the bishop position here at Kent."
"To be in your county, m'lady, will be a great honor."
"I don't suppose it will do any good to ask you to stop with the title," Lilith added and kissed his cheek. "Have you broken your fast, father?"
He shook his head and a place was set for him and Esther. Lilith took baby Agatha who looked at everyone in content. "She is getting so big, Esther," Lilith cooed.
"She has said a few words," Esther said proudly. "I am afraid to take my eyes off her for a moment lest she gets into something, she moves herself about so quickly."
"Has she said Robin Hood or outlaw yet?" Sarah grinned.
Esther laughed, forgetting for a moment she was dining in the great house, surrounded by nobility. "No. She does enjoy 'moo' like a cow, though."
"What are the plans for today?" Sarah asked around.
Everyone turned to Lilith as she took a sip of water. "Well, I thought to see the rest of the village today, send word out to the further homes that I have returned, hear complaints, and announce their new future lord is here," she nodded towards Allan. "I thought to go to Canton in a few days with Sarah," she added. "If Sarah goes, that is," she amended.
"Why wouldn't you go?" Will asked nervously. "I need you there," he told Sarah who blushed happily.
"I can delay my journey to Aberforth for some time," Ashley announced. "I have received word from my man on my affairs and I am not needed immediately."
"If I may suggest," Lucius spoke up and everyone listened. "Luke can remain in Kent after a quick trip to Derbyshire, and I shall accompany Sarah to Canton with Will."
So both women would have a chaperon, Lilith thought. Well, considering how she had lived in the forest, unwed, all this time it seemed silly to worry about her reputation now but she nodded with her father. "If Luke doesn't mind," Lilith smiled.
"I shall strive to bear being in your presence," Luke sighed dramatically making Lilith roll her eyes.
"And I yours," she agreed, equally dramatically.
"My lord," a stable hand said bowing. Everyone looked to see who he was addressing and saw he was wearing Luke's crest. "The horses are prepared."
"Wonderful," Luke smiled. Servants pulled Lilith and Sarah's chairs as they got up as well.
"Cornelia?" Lilith asked.
"Perhaps tomorrow," Cornelia said as she walked out with them.
Lilith walked out and cooed at her stallion. "Ah, Brego, it has been so long since I have seen you," she said rubbing her stallion's nose. "Thank you," she said as the stable master handed her the reigns once she mounted.
Lucius sighed. "What is the matter, father?" Lilith asked.
"I was under the impression I had two daughters," he said.
Lilith and Sarah shared a look, and then Lilith looked down to her attire. "My word, Sarah, look at this. Where did these come from?" she asked picking at her pants.
"How on earth did they get there?" Luke teased.
Lucius seemed passive listening to their banter. "Just please do not harm your horses today."
"We shall endeavor our best," Sarah grinned. She had barely finished her sentence when the three of them were barreling across the field.
Cornelia watched the Canterburys ride off. "You didn't wish to join them?" Eve asked.
"The three of them need this time together," Cornelia said knowingly, watching as they jumped the hedge at the end of the pasture to break into the neighboring field.
"That hedge was at least 3 feet tall," Robin said.
"It was a short one," Lucius said before motioning for his man to approach him. He sent a quick word for the Derbyshire household to prepare for their arrival in the next few days. Then he and Cornelia journeyed with Father Tuck to show him the bishopric of Kent.
Allan watched them, happy to see this side of Lilith. He, and Cornelia, knew she and Luke needed this time together.
He only wished there was something else he could do, and then he had an epiphany. "Where are you going?" Will asked.
"Something I have to take care of," Allan said walking back upstairs.
"Need help?" Ashley asked.
Soon, the outlaws found themselves inside the Lady's suite of rooms. He didn't understand the tradition or convention of separate bedrooms, but it wouldn't be necessary in their household.
He saw how Lilith had already had the room stripped of the sheets and linens, as if hoping by changing everything she could change the past. Well, that was something he could do.
It took hardly any time at all with him, Will, John, Ashley, Robin, Much, Marion, Eve, and Djaq dismantling the large 4 poster bed and carrying the pieces out of the room. Seeing where Lilith had nearly been killed motivated all of them it seemed.
"What are you going to do with the room now?" Marion asked looking around. "We could bring in another bed, arrange it differently, redecorate."
Allan shook his head. "I had a different idea in mind, but nothing for the moment."
"You had best set a date soon," Marion said startling him. "Technically this is yours after you marry Lilith. But we are all just curious when you are going to ask," she grinned. "And you," she nodded towards Will and John.
Robin waited until the women, including Djaq, had left before he asked Allan, "what did you do with Agnes?"
He looked and saw everyone was curious. "I didn't do so much," Allan admitted. "Luke…" it was hard to explain. "We started with James first, so Agnes could watch. Luke, not to be funny, but you have all described him as possessive and savage. That's just the tip of the iceberg. And Richard just watched on. I had the feeling it wasn't the first time either of them had executed justice."
"No, not the first," Robin nodded grimly.
"I think they are returning," Will said looking out the window. "For the record, not that I would ever question the King, but what was he thinking appointing me a lord?" Will asked perplexed.
"Don't even say it," Much warned the room, knowing someone would make a comment about him becoming an earl.
"Did I miss the joke?" Djaq asked walking in. "There is talk of everyone journeying to Derbyshire on the morrow," she said. "Luke is eager to see his estate, and Lilith, Cornelia, and Sarah are going with him."
"Francois is bringing more wine," Lilith called up. "If that sways any of your opinions."
"I will come," Ashley grinned. "Lilith, you will give Francois a good recommendation of me, won't you? I am hoping to get him to trade further north."
"I have nothing but high praise for you, Ashley. Except you didn't tell me about Luke," she frowned.
"What if I said I was sorry and I thought it was for the best?" he offered.
Lilith scoffed as she headed towards the parlor. Djaq rolled her eyes walking after her, muttering something about men.
"I wasn't the only one," Ashley pointed out.
"Luke very kindly told me all of you were in on it," Sarah said pointing to all the men.
"I am afraid to ask what else Luke told you," Will said as everyone congregated in the large parlor.
"You enjoyed trying to beat him up," Lilith said.
"He just wants the three of you to pamper him," Robin complained. "No one wants to pamper me," he said looking at Marion with puppy dog eyes.
"You lied to me," she huffed, arms crossed. "You could have at least told me."
"Then Lilith would be mad at you, too," Robin pointed out.
Lilith burst into laughter listening to all of them. "How on earth did we survive living together in the forest for so long?" she wondered.
"I think I shall miss it," Marion said. "Parts of it, at least."
"I as well," Lilith sighed wistfully making Luke do a double take.
"You will miss sleeping outdoors, with the dirt and bugs, having to fight for your life more often than not, with Robin's plans? And no hot baths?"
"What is so wrong about my plans?" Robin asked.
Everyone just laughed. "How many times were we nearly killed, imprisoned, left in small places…" Marion listed off her fingers.
"or hiding behind cows?" Much added
Luke glared at Robin just thinking about everything Lilith and Sarah had been through. "We're fine," Sarah reminded him.
"I hear we are traveling to Derbyshire," Ashley said changing the conversation.
"In the morning," Luke said. "It isn't necessary for everyone to come, but you are all welcome."
"I think I shall arrange to have people come to the house to air their grievances the end of next week. That will give me time to go with you, listen to their grievances before the hunt at father's, and remind me to speak with my man on importing food," Lilith said to herself. "From when we were riding it looked as if Agnes wasn't to concerned with the yield, so long as her income didn't decrease," she sneered. Agnes seemed to be one of the lords who took her cut, leaving a family with whatever meager crop was left.
One of many things she would rectify now that she was back, and now that she had Allan.
"My lady?" a maid spoke up. Lilith rose an eyebrow wondering what was wrong. "someone wishes to speak with you in the study."
Curious Lilith went to the room. "Esther?"
"I wanted to thank you, Lilith, for your hospitality, before I returned to my cottage."
"You don't have to leave," Lilith told her. "You are welcomed to stay as long as you wish."
"I don't wish for you to be angry with my request," Esther tried to explain. "With everyone going to your brother's estate, I over heard forgive me, I thought it best to return to my own place. Your father was kind enough to offer me an escort back, even though I highly doubt Sherwood is filled with outlaws anymore," she grinned.
Lilith smiled. "Let us hope no one tries to imitate Robin," she agreed. "Is there anything you need? Anything I can do for you?" Esther shook her head. "You won't stay longer?" Lilith asked.
"You have so much to work through already, Lilith," Esther said. "And …"
Lilith understood what Esther was to embarrassed to say. "You feel slightly out of place," Lilith said for her.
Esther nodded. "I don't mean it to offend you," Esther said quickly. "I know you haven't changed, Lilith. You are still the same from when you were in Sherwood… but a lot has changed, hasn't it?"
Esther, level headed Esther, was afraid and uncomfortable. Out of her element. Lilith understood that.
"No, we are both the same, but things have changed, yes," Lilith sighed. "We will miss you. You do promise to visit me, right?"
Esther laughed. "If you wish it, although I don't know how," she admitted.
"I will send someone to you, do not worry. I can be tenacious," Lilith smiled.
"I know," Esther laughed. "Thank you, Lilith. For understanding."
"Can I ask you something?" Esther nodded. "If John had asked you by now, would you still wish to leave?"
"I don't know," Esther finally answered after a long pause. "I would still feel out of my element, but … I don't know, perhaps not as lonely," she admitted.
Lilith hugged her friend. "You are never alone, just remember that," Lilith promised. "Anything, anything at all, you can send to me, or Marion, or Sarah, or Eve, or Djaq," she said.
She stepped back. "When did you wish to leave?"
"I thought perhaps in the morning when you were all leaving for Derbyshire."
Lilith nodded. "Now, no more sad talk. I dare say, this is hardly goodbye, we shall see each other again soon. Would you like to come to the hunt at Canterbury?" she asked. "It will be fun, even if you choose not to ride," Lilith promised.
"Perhaps, it does sound fun," Esther grinned making Lilith laugh. Agatha began to cry and Esther went to pick her up.
Lilith used it as a chance to slip back into the main parlor where people gave her questioning looks. "Final arrangements," was all she said.
She sat on the arm of the chair Allan was sitting in and he slipped an arm around her waist, his thumb rubbing absently over her hip.
"John, could you do me a favor?" she asked randomly. "I still am unsettled about this latest matter, could you go into the study and see if everything is okay?"
"What is it?" Allan asked.
She shot him a quick look. "I trust John's opinion," Lilith said. "Which is why I asked him," she insisted.
"I can if John doesn't want to," Ashley offered.
Lord, it was hard to work and put a plan into action with so many eager helpers. "John, please?" Lilith asked shooting her brother a look. One he understood meant she was up to something and turned back to Cornelia and whispered something in her ear.
John nodded and headed into the study. Everyone waited for the sound of the door shutting before Robin finally asked, "What was that all about?"
"If I had to wager, there was something—or someone—in the study Lilith wanted John to see," Luke grinned.
Lilith returned the smile. "Oh yes, and if this doesn't work, I am going to skewer John myself," she huffed.
"Esther?" Marion asked and Lilith nodded.
"She wants to return home in the morning," Lilith explained. "Which I understand, but… men," she huffed, and the women nodded.
"I will try not to take insult to that," Luke said.
"You are still a man," Cornelia pointed out. "But ahead of the curve," she teased.
"Hey, I could always best Luke in archery," Robin pointed out the same time Ashley said, "Luke has yet to best me in chess".
"I think that proves my point," Cornelia smirked.
"Shh," Lilith said, she had edged to the end of the room, trying to hear the conversation inside, but the doors were to thick. "Would you like us to listen, my lady?" A maid asked. Lilith was tempted, but shook her head.
If anyone spied on her friends, it would be her.
It took a good long time before anyone came out of the study. Supper was prepared and everyone was waiting for John and Esther to come out so they could sit down and eat. Lilith was glad her father had stayed at the Bishropic, he would certainly have disapproved of all of them eavesdropping.
"What is taking them so long?" Eve muttered. "How long does it take to say 'I have been an ass, don't leave without me?'"
"What man would say that?" Much asked.
Eve rolled her eyes. "Perhaps we expect too much," she whispered to Marion who nodded in agreement.
Everyone jumped as the doors opened, and quickly tried to act casual as if they had not been eavesdropping. "Cornelia, I think a ceremony in Derbyshire would be lovely," Lilith said quickly to cover up the awkwardness as John and Esther walked in to join the meal. She rolled her eyes as everyone seemed to be staring at the two expectantly. "Oh, honestly," she huffed as a servant pulled out Esther's chair.
"Subtlety was never one of Robin's strong suits," Luke reminded her making Marion snort.
Esther seemed to be even more awkward with all the tension drawn to her. "All I am going to ask, Esther dear, is this: should we send for Father Tuck to join us?" Lilith asked as she dished up her plate with the roast lamb.
Esther and John shared a look. "I think… yes," Esther said embarrassed but glowing.
Lilith smiled as she gestured for the servant behind her. "You must try the lamb, Esther. The cook is simply marvelous. Although, I am partial to your buttermilk biscuits," she grinned.
"Thank you, Lilith," Esther returned the smile.
Sarah picked up on Esther's desire to have the attention drawn away from her. "Well, when do we leave for Derbyshire? And, more importantly, when is your wedding?" Sarah asked Cornelia and Luke. "I agree with Lilith: it should be at Derbyshire."
That got the topic to Luke and Cornelia's wedding which lasted most of the meal. Lilith overlooked the table from where she was sitting at the head; it was amazing how wondrous it was to have everyone together in Kent.
She carried the candle with her as she walked into the mistress suite, deciding to give it another try, and stopped dead in her tracks when she walked in.
The room was empty. Completely empty. Even the curtains. Well, she had the curtains burned, she remembered. But no bed? No dresser or table?
"What the bloody hell?" Lilith muttered, a hand on her hip.
"Not to be funny, but that perplexed look on your face is highly entertaining."
She looked over her shoulder at Allan. "I am just trying to decide if I am amused or simply confused. What did you do this for? I mean, now what did you have plan?" He wasn't even lord of the manor yet, she thought.
"I thought changing the room would be best. Maybe make it a nursery," he shrugged.
She appreciated he didn't make it a big deal; she was both excited and terrified with the idea. "Well, currently the Madam of the Manor has no bedchamber," she gestured. "It is a good thing I left my things in Sarah's room last night, you might have thrown those out as well," she grinned.
"I'm not being funny, but this is the longest conversation we have had since Richard's return," Allan noted. Lilith nodded. She had just realized that, too. "Lilith… I am sorry no one told you or Sarah about Luke."
She nodded. "I know. It just was such a shock, to find him alive. And to know that everyone hid him from me. I can't explain my reaction…"
"Don't try," Allan said.
She grinned. "Well, I am over it now, regardless. You can spend the next few decades making it up to me," she smirked.
"So we still will have decades?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Just promise you won't go off to any of Richard's wars."
"That I can promise," he agreed with a sense of relief.
I apologize for any and all mistakes. My beta wasn't able to beta this chapter and I didn't want to wait any longer to post it. Only 1, possibly 2, chapters left -_- Thanks to Forget me not for the wonderful review!