The Lady Lenore Leigh Winchester astride her mare looked back at Woodmere Keep loath to leave it. Dimpled cheeks and full lips smiled bravely at the few knights left here at the Keep for her protection in these troubled times. Her champion among them could see the proud set of her chin as she looked at each of the men about to accompany her. She was tiny, barely five foot three and the mare was still by far too large for her to handle properly. Delicate of face and limb with eyes that seem to change hue, her crowning glory is her hair. Lush, deep of color and it flows like strands of silk down her back and well past her waist.
But the plague is nearing and she has an obligation, a duty to her king to remain alive. Her husband of three years dead already one year gone from it as he fought in the King's wars. But she mourned him little. A marriage of wealth and land it had been set by her uncle, the King when she was but fourteen. At seventeen a widow and at eighteen leaving a place she finally found peace in. She knew eventually the King would find another husband for her but for now he was occupied fending off invaders and worrying about the plague. She was to valuable, to landed, to educated to be left unwed fot long.
Though she grieved little for her husband it was not through a meanness of spirit. At fourteen she'd been wed to Thomas of Woodmere Keep. Thirty-five years her senior, he was a widower who still loved his wife well past her death. There had been no room for Lenore in his heart. He had only married her at the King's order. The marriage was barren of love, passion or children. Most off Thomas's time was spent off at war and when he did come home he bedded her only out of duty. Each of them was thankful he was not at the Keep much. She had always thought a man like Thomas, past his prime should have been able to find some pleasure in a young body yet he did not and she looked upon it as a failure on her part. No matter the pains she took he had never looked upon with affection or desire. He took pains to be gentle but it never ceased to hurt nor did her body ever flush with the pleasures other women whispered about. Her memories of marriage, even of men were of a cold and silent misery for Thomas was the only man she had known.
And now she has left her solar, the only place she had found peace. Weeks fly. Months pass and still they travel trying to outrun the black death following. Then the unthinkable happens and they are set upon and attacked fiercely by highwaymen.
Those few men left to protect her fought valiantly where they stood or fled like the cowards they were. She stayed until the last brave man fell. Her men had made themselves the only barricade between her and the highwaymen. The brutes eyed her greedily with lewd words frightening her all the more for she had never encountered such course men before. When she saw all was lost she turned to flee vowing not to be taken by these men to..she could not even face the thought. Everything, everything she had was left behind. Everything but her body and life.
Wheeling the mare she raced away and soon they were in full pursuit. Her mare was sturdy and she was an acceptable horsewoman but those chasing her knew the wood and she did not. T'was a stroke of fate that knocked her off the mare and into a thick stand of bushy shrubs and briars. Unconscious she lay and there was no movement nor cries for them to see or hear. Nae, they followed the sounds of the mare sprinting through the brush. By the time they caught her riderless the brutes had no idea where Lenore might be and dark was falling.
Luckily, she was to lay there all night undisturbed until her hazel eyes opened well into the next morning. The dark blue surcoat torn, shredded and punctured by briar thorns as was her almost pure ivory skin. The gold threads once laced in her sleeves now unseen for all the dirt upon her. Dried blood droplets adorned her body where her skin was exposed and the simple girdle circling her waist was ripped away. The deepest of forest brown was the color of her hair once woven elaborately with ribbons but now it is filthy and the ribbons hang listlessly. Her hair hanging well well past her hips it's simple veil ripped off. Laying on her back the sun made her eyes hurt. Her head and body already hurt. Trying to sit up she found her head ached and spun as she touched her forehead and temples. She was horrified to find dried blood there as well and it had dripped into her hair turning a grotesque red color.
Getting out of the briars was as painful as her already battered body felt. She had no idea where she was trusting to her knights to carry her as far from her plague stricken Keep as possible until it passed. Already they had traveled for months keeping mostly to themselves for fear of being infected. Carefully she began to explore where she was fearing the men who chased her would still be near. After several hours she reassured herself they were gone but not only did she not find her mare she could not find her way back to her injured or dead knights.
Drinking from a wide but not deep stream she found she lingered then plunges right in unable to stand the blood and dirt clinging to her like a nightmare. The summer sun soon dries her as the water had refreshed her. The forest was filled with sights and sounds both pleasing and frightening to her. She began to wander thinking herself traveling back towards Woodmere Keep for where else had she to go now? Before long her hopes are dashed when she finds herself at the edge of a body of water she can not hope to cross and it forces her to go back.
Exhausted, afraid and alone, she hears the jeering of men and her heart leaps like a stag stricken with a bolt. Secreting herself at the side of the path a dozen or more men pass her. Large burly men talking in a foreign language. She thinks them bandits and knows she has to get away from them as soon as they are out of sight. She begins to run as fast as her bruised, tired legs will carry her in the opposite direction only to come up short, breathless when she sees it.
It is beautiful. Set deep in the wood with mother earth as the only gardener surrounding it. Thinking it her salvation she fairly flies to it only to find it abandoned. Walking through the unfinished rooms and up the winding stone stair in the east tower she overlooks the land. A canopy of green is all she sees for as far as her eye will travel in all directions but one. And in that one it is the blue of water. The same that turned her back not long past. Her heart, her hopes and her body drop as she falls to the stone floor. She had hoped to find the keep occupied by a lord or lady she would not be afraid to seek refuge with in this place. There is only one thing she knows now she can do. Now she knows those men passing her were the keeps workers, she must not allow those ~kind~ of men find her for who knows what manner of brutes they might be. A rough plan evolves in her mind as she lays sobbing for the first time letting her fears rise to hold her tight. She will stay close to the keep hiding from the men working during the day and seek shelter here after they leave each night. She will wait for the master of this place to return as he must. Surely, she thinks she can subsist on summer berries for a few days until his arrival.