Rosemary bit her lip when she heard that Aorle and Mavelle had ended their courtship. The news didn’t truly shock her -- Julen had described Mavelle as a sweet young lady who, unfortunately, lacked the strong spirit necessary to be Aorle’s equal. Still, even without the force of surprise to spur them, questions and sympathetic comments jostled for position inside Rosemary’s throat. She wanted to ask Aorle what had happened. She wanted to tell him how sorry she was, how disappointed she knew they both must be. But the questions were none of her business. And in situations like this, spoken condolences always seemed trite. So, instead of saying anything, Rosemary simply gave his arm a quick squeeze, before letting her hand drop away.
Aorle’s description of his youth sounded very lonely to Rosemary. Even though she wasn’t currently on speaking terms with her family, she still treasured the time she’d spent with them. Perhaps Aorle’s early separation from his closest kin explained why he sometimes struggled against becoming isolated. Isolation was familiar state for him. Once again, Rosemary resolved to be more sensitive to that, to remember that when Aorle seemed distant, it wasn’t necessarily because he didn’t want to be approached.
“It seems that our two lands share one thing in common -- the fathers in both places are very easily shamed by their children.” Julen had told Rosemary about the ‘offense’ which led to Aorle’s banishment. “When Julen and I have children, I hope we manage to judge them more fairly than you and I have been judged.”
“And I know what you mean about the city. I visited a few times before now, but I never really saw it. Parts of it are so loud, or strange, or rundown. I guess it scares me a little. Maybe that’s why I really want to be allowed to go out and face it.” Rosemary gave a little shrug. “I don’t like running from things that scare me.”
Rosemary rewarded the conclusion of Aorle’s answer with a bright smile. “I’m glad that you have no regrets. Since the day you returned my husband to me, I’ve thanked whatever fates, or gods, or angels brought you into our lives. And I’ll continue to do so. But I’ll feel a little less selfish, knowing that you don’t mind being here.”
Then, curious about exactly what he intended, Rosemary followed Aorle over to her embroidery students.
As they approached, a half-dozen pairs of eyes rose to meet them. Some of the women appeared pleased by Aorle’s return, while others seemed nervous, as if expecting to be scolded or punished. But when he sat on the grass beside them, even their apprehension faded into looks of curiosity. All listened intently while he spoke.
His salute earned him some murmurs of surprise, along with a few nervous giggles. Overall, though, it seemed to please his audience, who sat up a little straighter, and held their heads a little higher.
However, when he inquired after their dreams, a hesitant hush fell over the women. Some looked confused. Others appeared thoughtful, as if they were trying to remember where they’d buried their most precious treasure. Clearly, none of them had ever been asked such a thing. And so, perhaps, it wasn’t suprising that the first dream to be voiced was a fairly conventional one.
“I want to have a big house to live in. I’ll eat only the tastiest food. And I’ll hire servants to do all the chores.”
“Ooh, Stella. You gonna invite us all to your fancy new house? Maybe we can have a ball. A ball would be a fine thing, wouldn’t it?” Stella, it turned out, was the name of the plump woman who still wore Julen’s locket around her throat.
“I want to open up a small shop. Earn my living designing and selling pretty dresses.”
“I’d like to meet a good man.” That came from a girl with scraggily blonde hair and a pock-marked face. “Get married. Raise a family.”
Bawdy laughter greeted her announcement, and several of the women elbowed each other. “You got your sights set on anyone in particular, Portia? There’s plenty of men here to pick from.”
“Just not the Northern one. He likes Jenny. Said her heart is as strong as the best warship.”
“Maybe Portia fancies the orc! Do you fancy the orc?”
A blush had begun to creep across Portia’s cheeks, but she was smiling shyly. “I...”
“Don’t knock the orc! Think about the size of him. I bet he could really satisfy a woman.”
“That’s ridiculous! He’d kill you.”
“Oh, but what a way to go...”
“I wouldn’t need an orc to satisfy me.” A sudden fit of boldness seemed to seize Portia, and she lifted her eyes to meet Aorle’s. “You’d do just fine, sir. If you’d have one such as me for a wife. I can cook, and clean, and all the girls say I have good wide hips for childbearing.”
Sensing that the conversation had veered off in an awkward direction, Rosemary glanced over at Aorle. She was prepared to jump in if he needed her help. But she didn’t want to presume that he couldn’t handle things himself. After all, he had asked...