“Did you not have friends in the Mark with whom you could confide in such gossip?” Piper asks me over the rim of her mug of cider. We had been talking long at the table in the center of the tavern. (She had caught me outside in the rain, relishing in it, and invited me inside for a drink ere I caught cold).
I consider her question as I raise my mug to my lips; it is Barliman’s mead, and although it pales in comparison to the drinks of home, it does soothe some of my homesickness. We had been gossipping as we are prone to do; what duel nearly happened outside, and who was involved? Did you hear about Fenley and Ost Guruth? Have you met that traveling entertainer, Loakee? Have you made any new friends? Are there any men
(or in Piper’s case, women as well) that you fancy?
“Aye,” I confirm, halting my mug before I could drink from it. “I had such friends, though gossip betwixt us was lost on me, as it was overshadowed by the many suitors my father attempted to wed me to,” and with that, I finally take a sip of the warm mead. It is sweet and that fact makes me briefly think of Arthur, and what he said on my preference of drink. The thought quickly disappears when I notice Piper’s frown.
“That sounds awful,” she offers sympathetically. I know it was awful, and it is why I left, but I cannot stop myself from chuckling. After all, why should I continue to be miserable about it now that I am gone? It does no one any good, including myself as I try to move past it. Piper seems bemused at my reaction.
“It was,” I admit to her. “Awful, that is. There were no less than nine suitors who tried to endear themselves to me ere I left. They wanted not for me; simply my father’s legacy and land.” As I confess as much to her, it draws my thoughts back to my father’s homestead. (The mead is not helping the homesickness anymore). I decide it is time to change the subject, as the concerned furrow has not yet fled from Piper’s brow. Despite this, even long after we have parted for the night, the thoughts of home still linger in my mind.
It is summer-time, and the hillsides of Edoras are in full bloom with flowers and blossoms. Widryth and I have a tradition to go out with empty baskets and collect the loveliest flowers we can find; for me, it is to collect petals to be treated for painting. For her, it is so she can weave them into crowns for the midsummer festivities that are just around the corner.
We had left my father’s homestead early that morning, and the sun had just peaked over the hillsides as we began our picking. We were certainly not the only ones out there: children dotted the fields as they ran and shrieked in delight at the bounty of color; women collect the blossoms to bring life into their homes, and young men anxiously stare out at the fields in the varying shades and try to decide which blooms will bring them the best luck to win the hearts of the lass they fancy.
“Odie!” I hear Widryth call out. I turn to glance behind me - I only see the blur of her blue dress and her dark hair falling out of its braid done atop her head before she has weaved flowers loosely into my hair. As she steps away, I note that the top of her head is already adorned with them. I cannot help but laugh.
“There are so many in your hair! Do you even have any in your basket?” I ask, holding up my own woven carrier, that is filled with flowers of red and white. I use those colors the most, so they need to be replenished as oft as I can. Widryth laughs in return, holding up her own basket - it is certainly far emptier than mine own, but she had more variety in color. She had little reason to be so practical in what she picked.
“They shall call me the Maiden Crowned in Flowers!” She declares dramatically, tossing her head back slightly. “I shall be the envy of the Mark, and all will pay homage to me!”
“Yes, in seeds!” I reply in my hysteric giggling, and she falls into laughter with me. The summer breeze is warm upon our faces, and the sun rises further into the sky to bring golden light to the hillside. As our laughter subsides, so does my smile. In the distance I see a young man approach; one I am familiar with, as he is my father’s most recent suitor. I have chased off all of his others, and yet he is still relentless to see me wed.
Widryth follows my gaze, and I see her lips tighten. She is engaged to a young man named Foldred, and they love each other and are happy. Yet he is a Rider, and she is oft left behind to worry for him in his absence. Despite this, she knows how I feel about being pushed into an arranged marriage; she herself was not, and does not want it for me.
“Go,” I tell her with a wave of my hand. “Go pick flowers. I shall be fine,” I assure her. Widryth’s gaze is disbelieving, but she nods and leaves with her basket. She does not go far - still within my line of sight, so if I need her, I can call out for her.
I inhale deeply and force a smile upon my face as the young man approaches. His hair is long and blonde, and his eyes are warm and dark like honeyed mead, but I sense the same dishonesty in him as I have the others. The edges of his lips tilt into a smirk as he offers me the flower in his hand. It is red. My piercing gaze flies up to meet his.
“I do not like the color red,” I say simply, tightening my grip on the handle of my woven basket. He hesitates, his lips parting in surprise. His eyes, though sweet, are unbroken. He wants my hand in marriage, but not my hand in life. He wants for himself my father’s land, and I know it - and he knows that I know it, and that is why he draws himself up taller.
“What color would the lady prefer?” He asks me in a sickly sweet tone, regaining his composure, allowing himself to smile. There is a cockiness to his stance. I stifle a smirk at the thought of how quickly that smugness would fade if I told him about how I truly felt for him. The thought is almost too tempting for me to resist, but I do.
“Find for me the color you think is my favorite,” I respond in an even tone, not backing down either as I stand up straight. I see it now; the way his brow tightens in frustration at my request.
“I have done as much,” he says, “and you tell me that it is not red. What color is it? Lavender?” He glances at the basket in my hand. Oops. I am caught.
“For someone who says they do not like red,” he begins in an accusatory tone, “you sure seem to have plenty of it yourself.”
“Why would I want more if I have collected it myself?” I retort sharply. I do not bother to sweeten my tone any longer. “Why would I want a husband if I can be a woman in my own right? You can tell my father that this attempt is his most pitiful yet,” I spit. I wonder for a moment if that is too cruel. It was not this young man’s fault that my father wanted an heir - after Holdferd fled, he was left only with me. My guilt is only momentary; I notice the storm brew in his eyes and it clouds his expression and fills me with a fear I cannot describe as he steps closer and attempts to impose himself over me. I feel my breath catch in my throat as he does so, the height between us making it clear how quickly he could overpower me then and there and I would be helpless to stop him, and so I react quickly and without much thought to my actions.
The noise that came from my hand colliding with his cheek so harshly was loud enough to call attention to us. Widryth rushes over and begins yelling at him, and I feel her take my shoulder and pull me away. There are too many eyes on him now. The sun has set the field aglow, and with the morning light is his cruelty betrayed. He shoots me a glare filled with venom and ire before he departs up the hill to go back into the gates of the city.
I notice then that I have dropped my basket. It has toppled over, spilling the blooms of red and white back into the grass. I kneel down to scoop the flowers back into the basket. My hands are trembling beyond my control. I am breathing quickly - too quickly, and it is too shallow. I blink away the wetness from my eyes rapidly. Good. At least I do not cry. I feel Widryth kneel down next to me, but I keep my gaze focused on the act of picking up each individual blossom, putting it back into the basket without damaging it. She lets me work in silence until I am finished. I settle my hands in my lap.
“Odelynne…” Widryth begins softly, and I can tell that she does not know what to say. I take a deep breath, and I meet her eyes.
“I have to go.”