No money is being made from this; I only wanted to play in my own sandbox and invite the characters to join me. I own absolutely nothing that may seem familiar to you in this story, I only own Reagan. Sometimes I think she gets sick pleasure out of making my life as difficult as she can. Don't believe me? Just ask Lancelot.
This story is set 5 years after the battle if Badon hill, it is AU because none of the Knights are dead. I don't have the heart to write a story without any of them in it. This story also owes a very light hand to the novel; Velvet Song by Jude Deveraux, as it was my inspiration but not my template.
Special Thanks to my friend Leigh who was the first to edit this nightmare of a chapter, and to Homeric for being an awesome beta! If you haven't checked out her story "Fragile" I suggest you do so promptly! It's fantastic.
Chapter 1 (prologue)
The crisp spring air was scented with mint, rosemary, and something particularly sweet and pungent. A young, dark-haired girl sat knee deep in a small garden behind a crumbling cottage, its thatched roof rotting and dipping into the house, the whitewashed stones grey and flaking. The door, once stained a happy shade of blue, hung off the hinges haphazardly as if someone had once tried to fix it, but instead had only succeeded in making the situation worse. The plants that grew around the cottage and those surrounding the stone walkway, however, were bright and cheerful. In fact, they were tended to with loving care, as if the current inhabitants worried more about their welfare than they did the structure they flanked. The mockery was made even more apparent as the cottage sat on the outskirts of a tiny yet boisterous village, the high white walls of which cast tall shadows over the home, making it seem shrunken and singularly alone.
It was true that the small house had fallen into disrepair, but it was all Reagan could do to keep it from falling down around her and her father's heads. She wasn't good with tools and had neither the skill nor the patience to patch things with any degree of skill. If she could whack it a few times with a thick piece of wood and it didn't break or disintegrate to dust, then she figured it was just as good as remedied. Her father had obviously long ago stopped caring about the state of the house, she thought bitterly. The only things he cared about were the tavern maids and the temptation of the local gaming establishments. She did not like to guess which preferred diversion her father had dropped more "borrowed" coin on over the years, or of his whereabouts on this particular night.
Reagan shoved the blunt blade of her dagger deep into dark soil, twisting it about to loosen the root system of a particularly difficult batch of Meadowsweet. Even though dusk was settling around the small garden and the air had a distinct bite to it, she still had to raise her arm to wipe at droplets of sweat on her brow, paying no mind to the streak of black dirt that it left behind on her pale skin. Wrapping her small fingers around the base of the plant, she gave one forceful yank and it popped out of the ground, pelting her frayed work dress with dirt and rocks. If Father William hadn't specifically asked for dried Meadowsweet leaves, she wouldn't have bothered with the pesky plant. As it was, the recent surplus of expectant mothers in the village made the demand for its pungent blooms soar. If it helped to aid the pains of childbirth, as she was told, who was she to complain? Besides, she knew she would be handsomely rewarded with a satchel of herb seeds if this batch proved to be enough for their summer stores. She wrinkled her nose as she caught a whiff of the fragrant white buds and promptly sneezed. Wiping her nose with the back of her hand, leaving another smear of dirt on her face, Reagan sneezed again. Finally frustrated, she tossed the Meadowsweet to the ground; the bothersome plant was giving her a headache.
Since she'd been given work as a laundress, Father Daniel and Father William had very kindly taken her under their wing after discovering her natural curiosity and hunger for learning, not to mention her sharp tongue and quick temper, which they patiently tried to rid her of. However much of a headache she might be to them, they had taken it upon themselves to teach her to read and write--something she'd taken to like a duck to water--but there was always work to be done in between lessons. Reagan mended their robes, sewed new alter dressings, and baked them sweet bread on holy days, if they weren't fasting. Father William provided her with books and encouraged her abilities with plants, even going so far to supply her with seeds. Father Daniel conducted her lessons, which sometimes lasted well into the afternoon. She was also given one bronze coin a month for her wages. It wasn't the coin that mattered; Reagan sighed and looked up at the pink painted sky, her hands itching to touch another one of those beautiful books. The illuminated texts always held her rapt attention, and the lessons she received were, in her own opinion, worth more than any amount of money.
Although, her life of cleaning and learning had its drawbacks, being with the two priests day in and day out had made her a bit of a shut-in. It never bothered Reagan; she had no real friends to speak of, mostly because she was to unforgiving to keep any for long, and certainly no suitors came calling. She was too short, too thin, and had a bit of a reputation for being a shrew. Reagan paid it no mind when the village gossips would talk behind their hands, whispering pitying words to who ever would listen that she'd become a crone before her time, having no man to look after her. It didn't matter; she had no man now, and she knew she was better off than most of the girls her age. Many girls in the village had three babes hanging off their hip and a husband that was either more trouble than he was worth, or if they were lucky, dead. All she really had to fret about was a rotting cottage and a wastrel father. She was certainly one of the fortunate ones.
The night was clear and beautiful for this time of year; mid-spring always had the most beautiful sunsets, and the rolling green hills behind her dilapidated cottage turned russet as the last vibrant rays drifted behind them. Reagan stood in her meager garden and surveyed what stock she should harvest next. The wild sage was barely mature, but the peach roses were magnificent and the sprigs of wormwood and rosemary would fetch her a nice price at the market. Making a mental tally of what she needed to do the next day, she brushed off her dress and began walking toward the house holding the meadowsweet as far away from her as she could.
Once inside, she lit a candle, placing it on the warped surface of the table. Reagan wrapped the roots in a piece of cloth and hung the meadowsweet upside down over the soot-covered hearth to dry. She walked across the dirt-packed floor to a washbasin and poured water in to the chipped bowl. Rinsing her hands and washing her face, she neatly tied her dark hair back--the long tendrils always found their way out of her plait during the day and she hated having them fall in her face. She gathered a meager supper of stale bread and moldy cheese from the nearly barren cupboards and sat eating silently, musing that her own company was getting tiresome. Perhaps she should make her way down to the tavern and see if her father was there? Or perhaps she could indulge herself in a cup of spiced wine, but that would mean breaking into her secret stores of coin. After being forced to hide the coin sack from her father more than once, she did not think it wise to let on that she had any money to speak of, let alone give him the opportunity to spend it on drink. Sighing, she cleaned up and walked to the back of the house, removing her dress and shaking out her blankets before climbing into her pallet and wrapping herself under the covers as best she could.
It seemed only moments before she was woken by a repetitive clinking sound from somewhere in the house. Reagan concentrated on the noise and realized that it was the distinct clang of metal on metal. Fearing her father was again helping himself to her money, she wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, holding down her ire until she could confront him. This time she didn't know if she'd be able to hold her tongue.
The sight that greeted her, however, was completely different from the scenario that she'd imagined. Angus, her father, sat at the worn table, his yellowed tunic torn at the shoulder and his face ruddy in the candlelight. He raised watery blue eyes up at her as she stood in the doorway. A lock of thin grey hair swept down over his shiny brow as he fidgeted with stacks of coins on the table.
He took a shaking breath and asked in a rough voice, "How are you my daughter?" Reagan had to admit that she was surprised by the question, almost as much as she was surprised that her father was alone. Usually he was accompanied by a whore who reeked of lavender water and ale, or by Rullus, first son of the family of nobles that lived on the large estate at the crest of the village. The family Waldenham was powerful, and they knew that the survival of the lower classes depended on them. They owned three quarters of the land in the village; the rent was steep but their protection was priceless. More than once they'd protected the village from rogue Saxon and Pict attacks. It was only recently, and under King Arthur's rule, that the Saxons became more of a threat than the Picts.
Angus had fallen into keeping company with Rullus after her mother had died. It was under this influence that Angus had squandered the family's inheritance, driving them out of the middle class and into poverty in three short years. Reagan could not stand it when Rullus accompanied her father home. It made her uneasy when she would find him watching her closely, almost too closely. She also could not tolerate his forceful presence or the way his beady black eyes would constantly follow her. He was a large, round man with a bit of a potbelly, and the double chin of an overfed nobleman. He liked his drink, and it was rumored that he also liked to use his fists on a woman if he didn't get his way. He had tried cornering her once in the garden while her father was passed out from too much drink. The memory of it was burned into her brain; she feared she'd never be rid of it. His sweaty hands and foul breath made her feel sick. She'd barely managed to escape, giving him a swift kick between the legs and scratching at his eyes before fleeing. Reagan still wished she'd managed to claw them out. Thinking of it made her stomach roll. Pushing all thoughts of that wretched man aside, she focused again on her father.
"I am well, father," Reagan replied, not being able to take her eyes off the money her father's restless hands played with. "Did you have a good night at the tables?" she asked, not quite keeping the contempt out of her voice. It would appear Angus had won a king's ransom but why was her father so sullen? He studied the coins, picking them up before letting them slide through his fingers to hit the table one at a time. Angus sniffled and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his tunic, and Reagan realized her father was crying.
He usually cried when he was in his deep into his cups, but this was different. He didn't seem drunk; on the contrary, he seemed almost lucid. An air of foreboding hit Reagan and settled deep in her belly, that familiar knot tightening and twisting as she watched the flash of sliver coin in the candlelight. She cautiously sat down opposite her father and asked, "Where did you get the coin, father? Did you win it or are we further in debt? What have you put up for collateral now? We have nothing left!" Her panic at being at the debt collector's mercy once again was not misplaced.
Angus sniffled again and pushed himself up from the table on wobbly legs. It was then that Reagan noticed how frail and old her father looked. His arms, once all muscle and sinew were now thin and angular, his legs, long and strong like her own, now resembled the branches of the weeping willow in the garden, and dark purple circles shadowed his once-bright blue eyes. How had she gone so long without noticing her father had been neglecting not only her, but also himself? She wished that he would sit down. Perhaps she could bring him some of the cheese and bread she'd supped on earlier that evening, but he stopped her before she could reach into the cupboard for so much as a plate. His hand encircled her arm and he looked at her with a strange, almost sad, resignation that she'd never seen in him before.
"Go put on something nice to wear, we're expecting company any moment now. Can't have you flouncing about the house in your night dress." Reagan narrowed her eyes at her father and yanked her arm free, her ire rising again, along with a sneaking suspicion of whom their late night visitors might be.
"Who are we expecting, father?" But it appeared Angus had no further patience for her questions.
"Go put on a dress, Reagan." When she hesitated he barked, "Now!"
Always one to question authority, but at the same time intelligent enough to know when not to argue, she turned on her heel in one swift movement, the blanket around her shoulders swirling behind her. Reagan reached her room and grabbed her brown day dress; the thing was old, and patched so many times it didn't resemble the once pleasant dress it had been. She only had two garments, and her work dress was still dirty from the garden. Looking at the pitiful dress, she sighed wistfully: all of her fine dresses were a fond memory now. She'd sold them for pennies to pay off one of her father's collectors. Thinking of the man in the next room, she wished now that they'd taken him to the stockades. Reagan returned to the main room to find, much to her surprise, Rullus and one of his men sitting around the table, drinking one of the last of their flagons of wine and browbeating her father the only way the disrespecting nobility could.
"Ah, so the lovely Reagan is at home," said the fattest one, the fine silks of his cloak gleaming in the dim light of the candle, his black hair slicked backwards away from his face and a large jeweled ring adorning his left hand.
"I told you she was here, Rullus, she's always here," her father muttered from the corner. Reagan managed to give Rullus something that resembled a smile and skirted around a large man at the head of the table. Reagan recognized him as the blacksmith's apprentice, a tall opposing figure whose massive arms were crossed over his even more massive chest. She was not surprised that Rullus would have such a brute in his company. Tentatively, she approached her father.
"Please do something about them, you know I –"
"Are you so anxious for me to take her off your hands, Angus?" Rullus interrupted. Reagan turned to face the portly noble, not being able to disguise the disgust and confusion on her face.
"Take me off your hands? Father, what does he speak of?" She looked back at Angus and fisted her fingers into the skirt of her dress, already dreading the answer her father might give her. A cold laugh pierced the silence of the tiny cottage.
"You have not told her? Oh Angus, you bloody coward, still afraid of your wildcat of a daughter?" Rullus pushed himself from the table and sauntered over to her. Reagan could feel his oppressing presence behind her and still she could not move. Rullus reached up and wrapped her hair in his fist, yanking her head back and forcing her body to bump into his. "You're to become my mistress." He breathed into her ear as she desperately tried to move away, his wine-soaked breath and his threatening grip on her hair making her recoil.
"Your mistress?" Reagan didn't want to contemplate the idea. She was to become his mistress? His whore? Not if her life depended on it, and she had a distinct feeling that it did. Her instinct was to run, but first she needed answers. Anger fueling her bravery, she rammed both of her elbows into Rullus' soft gut. A pained whoosh of air came from him and he immediately released her. The blacksmith's apprentice, Paul was his name, suddenly moved to Rullus'\ side and glared at Reagan, the hostility in his gaze making her shiver. The two men, one short and one tall, loomed over her and she felt trapped. It wasn't until her father grabbed her shoulder that she remembered that he was still in the house, that she wasn't alone. She turned to him--her expression, she knew, was desperate, but she wanted him to tell her it wasn't true. That one of her worst nightmares hadn't come to fruition. But the answers she needed weren't there; the sad resigned expression her father had worn earlier was back in place, coupled with a trace of guilt in his eyes. Angus realized she was frightened and Reagan watched as he took a deep breath, rubbing a hand over his craggy features as though steeling himself for the inevitable: her father knew that there was no use keeping it from her any longer.
"I sold you today to Rullus for 50 silver coins. That is where I got the money, Reagan. I needed it, I'm sorry, I…had no choice." She felt her knees give way and she swayed on the spot. It was ironic, she thought, that her father, with so few words and with so little feeling, could seal her fate in that one moment. With one last bitter look at her father, she bolted for the crooked door. And as she was running away from the cottage and her new master, to whom she would never surrender to willingly, Reagan realized with a sort of twisted finality that her life would never be the same again.
A/N: Please Review when you a get a moment, I value the opinion of others and if it helps in making the story better I'm all for it! Flames will be used to roast marshmellows.