Incessant was the pattering of rain in the dark. A rhythmic dripping from nose and limb to join that of one large puddle covering the entire causeway, at its base the water formed a larger mass swilling with that of the mud which slid from the banks of the pathway. Rows of men stood ankle deep in water, though one could easily count a dwindled number, only amounting to thirty shield arms.
Gusts of damp and bitter winds made the sodden causeway creak and stir, other than that and the rain, no sound could be deterred. The men stood in a loose line, water dripping from helms onto old and used hauberks, their round and battered shields providing an easily destructible wall. Despite the downpour, howling wind and creak of wood, everything seemed hushed and still. A silence which un-nerved the men in arms as they questioned their ability to hear over yonder and above the rain.
After not long, that dark opened up to unveil a scout rushing toward them, he breathed heavily for a time pointing northwards to the woods and the winding pathway whilst he caught his breath.
“Retreating... they-... they’re retreating!”
Words could be heard spoken in a hushed rabble and the men slowly relaxed their posture, at ease with coming thoughts that they’d be returning to their dry and warm camps. The rain and dark and the possibilities it held started to become a distant memory, until the head of the line strode forth to speak.
“Then we push forward...”
Once again the silence crept its eerie, lasting way over the footmen. Their formation faltering, as they stood hesitant and their thoughts took them homeward, where they truly belonged. The man shouted his orders again over the howl of the wind and the slight movement and wade of feet began. They followed that dark pathway, the ankle deep water alerting any foe nearby of a coming presence.
Ada sat her daughter upon her lap, holding the girl’s tiny shoulders between both her hands out of fear of letting go, lest she disappear. Her daughter hummed a cheerful tune as she played with a makeshift, threadbare doll, the young girl apparently oblivious to the motions going on over the last and coming days. Ada placed her chin against Joy’s shoulder and rocked her back and forth to the gentle rhythm of the little girl’s humming; she kissed her cheek and clasped her daughter’s raven ringlets with both hands, running a near broken comb through the locks.
For a lengthy time they remained like this, Ada’s gaze had become lost and glazed as she ran that comb continuously through her daughter’s hair. Slowly Joy’s song ceased and she moved restlessly upon her ma’s lap.
“Are we done yet mama?”
Ada swiftly removed the tears clinging to her lashes and gave her daughter a smile of reassurance before placing yet another kiss upon her daughter’s plumped cheeks.
“Yes we are done, my Joy, go collect those boots now eh?”
Joy hopped down, swiftly running with doll in hand toward the corridor. The room became sparse as Ada slumped over, her head resting in the palms of her hands as gentle mutterings escaped her, she now rocked herself back and forth in absence of a child to comfort, though in retrospect, ‘twas the child providing her comfort through innocence and unawares. A quiet shuffle of feet heard at the doorway, as Joy poked not only her face about the frame, but that of her doll. She watched her ma’ silently for the first time; confused at the display of emotion for she was only young, and too young to grasp such things. Her ma’ looked up, a faint smile creeping across her face as she placed her hands on her lap.
“Let us be off then.”
They had not far to walk, ‘twas at this time the Roseberry’s lived within the walls of Bree within a rather cramped abode, it was tiered upon many stairs, three floors with a single room on each, the bottom floor larger than the rest to which most of the household used, for comfort and cooking. Out on the street, the sun was well on its way to midday, mist still lingered over the higher roofs of the town and moisture covered the cobbled streets. Ada turned to her daughter and crouched, securing Joy’s cowl for her as the little lass wrinkled her nose in displeasure. Happy that her daughter would now be warm she took up her tiny hand and led her through the meandering and winding streets, following the scent of baking bread.
They arrived finally at the bakers, Ada ushered Joy inside and the warmth welcomed them. Humphrey, the baker’s son, greeted them; though unable to look into the eyes of Mrs. Ferngrove, he wrought his attention toward Joy in a fashion to make her smile and giggle. Ada sat upon one of the rickety chairs her gaze flitting from her daughter playing, toward Ted Thistleway, pounding his fists into dough and scattering flour. She heard him humming and beating the dough in rhythm and the crackle and heat from the line of stoves. ‘Twas not long before the sounds drifted out of the fore, and the thoughts and memories she attempted to hold back ran over her in a wave. Joy’s laughter, the bakers tune, the comforting sound of a fire left the fray of her mind and she sat glazed over once more.
Joy’s pa was gone, and the little girl didn’t even know it yet, for as long as Ada would wish to keep it from her, to spare the telling of it and of the reaction her daughter might give, she knew she would have to succumb. The repetitive calling of Ada’s name by Ted and her daughters gentle prodding allowed the sights and sounds to drift in quickly, she stood and rested a pouch of coin upon the flour dusted counter and collected the hot, golden bread. After departing, the walk back took longer, they took the lengthy pathways via the gardens; a favoured spot by Joy, and as they reached the greenery, they sat together on a dampened wall.
“My dear girl, there is something I must tell ye...and ye must listen, ye hear? ‘Tis most important that ye listen.”
Joy placed her doll to one side and looked up at her ma’, blinking in concentration and nodding.
“Well, ye see... I got some news the other day and... Your pa’ isn’t coming back...”
And so ‘twas here Ada tried to explain to her daughter the loss within their family. At length Ada held her child as they sat upon that wall in silence, the day grew on and the light waned but the cold wasn’t felt, the bread wasn’t eaten and finally as they departed the doll was forgotten.