Chapter Two

Miles away from the large City Main where the king lived with his sons, and a world away from matters of state, wars, and marriage was a small but popular inn a little ways outside the village of Taldry called the Deaf Soldier. This inn was owned by one Lando Cartof, as was much of the surrounding farmland. He was a wealthy man and lived happily with his wife and three children in an adjacent building to that of the inn and tavern. Lando's largest concerns were not of governing a country, but of profit, making sure he made the most out of the least, and running his family, inn, and farms.

Much of Lando's wealth had come when his brother Malcolm, who had been a prosperous farmer and landholder, died. Malcolm and his wife perished due to an unknown sickness and Lando was given Malcolm's expansive wheat, corn, and alfalfa fields, as well as his livestock that was extensive in variety and amount. These had increased Lando's already abundant assets considerably, and he rented out bits of the farmland to capable, hardworking people, keeping little of his tenants' profit for himself.

He was a fair man who was much respected by his betters, employees, and customers alike. Lando's tavern was well known for its good food, fair prices, and generally respectable clientele. In fact, there was only one area of Lando's life that displeased him, and that was the mater of a girl named Rosaline.

Rosaline had been Malcolm's child and along with leaving his farm, property, and livestock to his brother Malcolm also left his young daughter. Lando, unsure of what to do with the child, gave her to the housekeeper to raise and employ and Rosaline quickly became a keen and cheery servant to Lando's household. She learned fast and worked hard most times, jumping to nearly any task thrown her way and finishing it with relish and competence.

This was not what bothered Lando about his niece, however. What bothered him was the way she could occasionally spend some hours on a single, simple task by merely allowing her mind to wander and dream. She always seemed vaguely cheerful unless she was raging mad, or thrown into fits of unparalleled grief. There was never a middle ground in her emotions. The girl's oddities, rather than fading as Lando's wife had insisted they would, only grew stronger as the years passed. So strong, in fact, that Lando often avoided speaking to her for days at a time; preferring to send messengers instead of facing her rapidly changing emotions.

By the time she had reached eighteen, Rosaline had sprouted a reputation at the inn and town for being dreamy and emotional, but also incredibly sympathetic to any drunken and heartbroken man's sorrowful ramblings. She was kind and gentle to those in pain and in trouble, but tough and strict to wrongdoers and those who were in her way. Her sense of justice and spirit was an annoyance at times, but coupled with her friendly manner and wild imagination it led her to many friends of all types and endeared her to perfect strangers. But Lando's temper was forever quite short with his quixotic niece, and so on one hot Saturday afternoon when tempers were already unusually high around the Deaf Soldier and Rosaline was nowhere to be found when she was supposed to be in the kitchen, he was getting quite upset.

"I expect she's off dreamin' somewhere again," he mumbled angrily to his wife, changing his damp shirt for the third time that afternoon.

"Oh, naturally, Lando, but don't be too cross," she comforted, "You'll only feel worse if you go off yelling at her." Lando sighed heavily.

"Right," Me murmured, "I won't yell, but when I find that girl—" he made a very violent gesture in midair, buttoned his shirt, and went off into the sunshine. He tramped around the back of his house and crossed the small space between his dwelling and the inn, enjoying the brief bit of shade found nestled between the two buildings. "Rosaline!" he called through the muggy warmth. He continued along the back of the buildings and stomped towards the kitchens. "She's not found yet, is she Anne?" he asked the cook, poking his head into the sweltering heat.

"No, sir," the portly, jovial woman Lando employed to feed his tenants replied, wiping sweat from her brow and fanning herself briefly with her dishrag, "I expect she's around somewhere, though." Lando exhaled heavily and left. Anne turned to a gangling boy standing beside her scrubbed wooden table eating a cold potato.

"Go off and find her, Jeff," she commanded in a low voice to the lounging lad, "God knows what he'd do to her in this weather. And it'll keep you away from those 'tatoes." She waved at her face with the cloth again and Jeff saluted vaguely before sauntering towards the kitchen door, munching loudly on his veg. "God knows how I keep any food, what with you boys each having appetites like ten horses." She waved her dishrag angrily in his direction, and he flashed her a grin, nabbing a carrot from beside the stove on his way out the door.

It was just past midday. The hot sun beat high in a cloudless sky and the warmth penetrated even the thick stone walls of a lowered cellar where the form of a young girl was hiding behind several large barrels filled with pickled vegetables. The store-house sat low in the shade of the tall building of the Deaf Soldier, nestled in a small empty space between the large outcrop of the inn that held the kitchen and the head-servant' quarters, and the stately house of Lando.

It was fall, though the stifling warmth hinted otherwise, and the girl was currently shirking her duties to seek refuge from the thick, muggy heat. She had snuck down to the cellar to evade the warmth of the kitchens and the stale halls of her uncle's inn, though even as she lay atop a pile of sacks of cool grain a single droplet of sweat rolled from her dark brow and onto the course fabric beneath her. A faint cry prickled the girls ear as she lay staring at the ceiling, where she knew bushels of ripening tomatoes hung above her in the darkness.

She closed her eyes against the heat. The girl had snuck down the worn steps to nap in the hottest hours of the day, and she was determined to fulfill the wishes of her exhausted body. Again the call came; louder this time. She sighed heavily in the darkness of the windowless cellar. Admitting defeat but wanting to end on her own terms the young woman rolled off of her sacks of grain, landing with a soft thump that stirred dust from the filthy floor. She groaned lazily at the repeating, yet still not desperate or angry call as she rose slothfully to her feet, groping around for the dress she knew she had tossed upon a nearby barrel of wine.

Her hand fell onto the cloth and she pulled it over her head, wishing heavily that she was permitted to work only in her loose, cool undergarments. As she fumbled in the dark trying to twist her apron the right way around, the call, rather than being an abstract noise at whose purpose she had merely guessed, became an identifiable holler.

"Rose? Ros-a-line!" She sighed yet again and, having found the strings, quickly laced up her apron and smoothed her skirt over a slightly rumpled petticoat before slipping her feet into worn, comfortable leather slippers. "Coming!" she cried to her pursuer, who was steadily nearing her hiding place.

Rose made a final adjustment before hiking up her skirt in a rather unlady-like fashion and bounding up the rough wooden steps. Halfway up she realized she would need a reason for being in the cellar and grabbed a sack of potatoes that had fallen on top of a barrel of pickled carrots. "Rose—" The girl opened the door at the exact moment her pursuer reached and, and she sent him stumbling back a few paces when the door collided abruptly with his skull.

"Oh!" she cried, coming out into he sun, blinking heavily and rubbing her eyes after the darkness of the cellar, "I'm sorry, Jeff"

"No, S'alright," he replied, rubbing his head hard, "My mother says there's only rocks in there anyways." He shook his head as though to clear it, smiling brightly to show no harm was done. Rosaline laughed. Of all of the boys Lando hired to keep the fields he didn't lend out, Jeff was her favourite. He was some years older than her, and had stayed in the servants' quarters at the inn spring through fall for the past three years.

"I was just getting potatoes," She said by way of explanation holding up the dirty sack, which bulged with the form of fat tubers. He looked at her skeptically.

"With that pile you left on the table in there?" the farm-hand demanded sardonically. "You can never have too many potatoes," she replied with a sheepish grin.

"Go on, you're caught." Rosaline sighed. "I know. It's just so nice down there," she glanced over her shoulder longingly at the cool darkness she had left.

"Ah, come November you'll be praying for heat like this," he teased, pulling a dark curl of hair that had escaped the braid that ran down her back. Rosaline grinned and shrugged. "But me," he smiled and peered over her shoulder, "I do like the cold. So I think I might go down to your secret little hiding place"

"Oh no you don't," Rosaline grabbed his arm as he went to move around her, swinging him forwards and pushing him away from her cool oasis. "If I have to do work, so do you." Jeff laughed again.

"Right, then. I'll see you at dinner, if I'm still alive. Oh, Lord," he clasped his hands in false prayer, "Please, lead me through this sweltering dessert, away from the cruel actions of Fair Rosaline, who hath so cruelly forced me back to the duties which I so eagerly shirk"

"Go on, get!" Rosaline said laughingly, shooing him in the direction of the fields, "I'll save you some cold sweet tea for supper"

"Is that a promise?" He asked, raising his brows.

"Of course. But you'd better go, or we'll both be in for it." Jeff shot her a wide grin and moved on towards his fields, keeping to the edge of the cool green forest behind Lando's property so as to take advantage of the little shade there was beneath the browning leaves.

Rosaline watched him for a moment before turning herself and tearing around the protrusion behind the inn that held rooms for the cook, housekeeper, stable master, and man-of-all-work. She rounded the corner of the outcrop and slowed to catch her breath before poking her head into the kitchen behind the tavern. Noticing that the cook had her back turned, Rosaline dashed up to the table she had so eagerly left and began peeling the large pile of potatoes with relish, pretending as if she had truly been there all along.

"So you've decided to come back at last?" Said a stern voice behind her. Rosaline covered a smile.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," the girl replied finishing the first of the tubers and moving on to her second.

"You're uncle's in a right state, he is," the cook scolded in her heavy, yet still strangely unidentifiable accent, "An' it's your fault, sure 'nuff. You drive him mad, you do." Rosaline only smiled, still not facing the cook.

"It's this heat, Anne," the girl replied, "It gets to most people"

"It's you that gets to most people. Lord above, I don't know …" she trailed off, not bothering to finish the sentence. Anne turned back to the pot of soup that she had simmering on the stove behind her. "If you weren't so deft and eager… I don't know what your uncle'd do with you."