I have decided to post the first two chapters of my novel, Noble Courage, to give you a taste of the characters. If you like what you read, I have discounted the book if you order it through Author's Den. Happy Reading!
The day was just beginning. A myriad of surreal pastels lightened
the night sky in the transformation from night to day. Aspen raised
her face to the sun peeking over the rolling green hills that
surrounded her village. The sun was a rare vision to behold, for the
sea that lay some distance away kept it hidden in clouds and the
countryside in mist. A faint smile touched her lips and she tucked a
lock of mahogany hair behind her ear, reflecting that the glory of the
sun had to be a sign of great things to come. She rounded a bend in the
path where her two best friends were waiting for her. Today was the
day that they had been invited for a recital with the marvelous Earl of
Rosehill. He had been the man who made it possible for her to be so
blessed to attend instruction in reading words and writing them
down on parchment, to become fluent in music, playing the harp and
flute, to be able to figure numbers. It was unheard of to teach the poor,
but this man held such compassion for his people that he only wanted
what was the very best for them. Aspen had never met the man, but
she held a love of gratitude in her heart for the earl and his generosity.
“What has kept you, Aspen? We are nearly late!” Jennessa called
out into the stillness of the morning.
Jennessa was a ravishing beauty, with her long dark hair the color
of the coffee beans in her mama’s tins at home, her eyes that were soft
brown, like the sweet hounds that wandered from farm to farm, and
compassionate, so you felt her hug you as she looked upon you. Her
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
nose was small and straight…feminine, to match the build of her
body, and her full lips were the natural color of roses that grew wild
on the hillsides. She was forever happy and walked with a slight
bounce in her step, a tune under her breath, the girl that the boys
favored for her outer beauty and the girls took comfort in as a friend
for her inner beauty. There were times that Aspen envied Jennessa,
but she loved her as a sister more than not.
“I’m sorry!” Aspen cried back, startling a flock of small birds from
the nearby bushes, causing her to nearly jump out of her skin and
break into a run. “I’m coming!”
Aspen caught up, although she was panting when she reached the
fork in the path. Her friend Rachel stood close with a deep scowl on
her round face. Rachel was the absolute opposite of Jennessa, and
how those two stayed friends was beyond Aspen’s imagination.
Rachel was cold, her watery blue eyes reflecting animosity, her thin
lips saying nothing cheerful but always negative and her voice low.
She had hair like straw that hung in thick strands even when clean
and a thick build that was barely hidden by her sister’s old dresses.
For as much as Aspen tolerated Rachel, there was a part of her that
dreaded having to spend time with her and it suddenly felt as though
a cloud threatened her wonderful sunny day.
The three girls began down the path toward the castle in the heart
of their quaint village in the most beautiful valleys of Elgolan—
“I’m sorry I am so slow, but how often is it a truly beautiful day?”
Aspen said as they hurried along, kicking up dust over their
slippered feet as they went.
“True enough, Aspen, however, it is a special day. We cannot be
late this time. Hurry!” Jennessa prodded like a mother hen.
“I don’t see why we have to go. This is all a waste of our time for
nothing will ever come of it,” Rachel hissed as Aspen watched a
phantom tendril of mist rise from the crest of a hill ahead of them to
twist and curl until it disappeared in the sunbeams of the morning.
“You play so well, Rachel. ‘Tis a shame you hate it so,” Aspen said.
“Waste of time…that is all,” Rachel muttered.
The three kept a brisk pace but the sound of hooves pounding the
ground and cart wheels rumbling grew louder and louder
somewhere behind them. Aspen turned and drew her hands around
her eyes to shield them from the uncharacteristic brightness. She
spied a horse racing down the path, dragging a cart behind making it
bounce dangerously against the deep ruts in the dirt and sending
huge clouds of dust into the air.
“Do you suppose the driver is hurt? Who would dare ride so fast!”
Aspen wondered aloud.
“I don’t know…I can’t see them very well. Just keep to ourselves
and walk,” Jennessa advised.
“The horse is not slowing, Jennessa, we’d better move into the
grass or we will be run over!” Aspen exclaimed.
The dew soaked through three pairs of worn leather slippers and
drenched the mended hems of their gowns, making it heavy and hard
to walk quickly. Aspen inwardly cursed the horse and cart and also
herself for dawdling, her own fury building with every step through
the knee deep grasses.
The horse drew closer still and they heard the driver shout his
command to slow its pace. The girls kept their faces to the ground and
trudged forward, hoping the man would simply pass.
“Hello!” shouted a young man’s voice, the cart coming to a halt
beside them. “Where are you headed?” he asked.
“We have our business in Rosehill…We are late so if you’ll excuse
us…” Jennessa answered and the three picked up their gowns to
move more quickly away from him.
The man spied the disaster that he had created, the sopping shoes,
the ragged looking gowns, the scathing look of rage from the small
but quiet ball of fire. He clicked his tongue against his teeth and the
horse pulled forward to keep up with the poor things. “I apologize for
running you off the road here. I am going into Rosehill myself and it
just so happens that I am late too. How would you girls like a ride?”
“No, thank you,” Jennessa stated very curtly.
“Oh, come now. You said you were late and it would make me feel
a bit better knowing I could do something nice to make up for ruining
your habiliments. There is room in the back and I swear I will go
slower…” he said giving a sheepish smile and jumping from his seat.
Jennessa cocked her head to the side and squinted at him through
the morning sunshine as she pondered her decision. The other girls
looked uncomfortably from one to the other. “We are late, and riding
with you would be faster than walking with wet dresses and soggy
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
slippers…I suppose we could accept your invitation, sir, and we all
thank you for your kindness.”
The boy could not believe the propriety in the girl’s voice and
offered her a grand smile which of course, sent Aspen’s pulse racing.
She felt light and a bit faint as she looked upon his fair hair that
touched his shoulders so very straight and ruffled so easily at the
slightest breeze and his eyes were as blue as the cloudless sky. His
smile was wide and confident, exposing white teeth and sending
mirth to his eyes. He looked to be everything soft and clean…which
was unusual for a boy to be clean…and yet there he was laughing
with them and offering them a ride. The boy flicked his gaze from
Jennessa and it fell upon Aspen and suddenly she felt so
warm…almost too warm…but they had a moment that they shared
in just one glance that Aspen had never before experienced. It was
almost too much to bear…she had to lower her eyes to study his
simple green tunic and could feel a timid smile affect her mouth as
butterflies fluttered in her belly. She turned away from him to search
the fields for anything but his eyes, wondering who he was…perhaps
a visitor, but surely he was noble, for his hands were clean and
smooth, well kept. Peasant boys were accustomed to hard work and
grime and roughness were evidence of their labors.
“I thank you for your words, girl, but I help you out of compassion,
not kindness,” he replied with the grin that Aspen found irresistible.
He looked over the damage he had caused and felt a stab of guilt over
the sight of three pairs of ruined slippers and wet hemlines that had
attracted the dust to create mud. The gowns were very plain and not
at all the fashion so he gathered these girls were common and these
were probably the best dresses they owned, which renewed his guilt
in knowing they would catch it at home for getting them dirty.
The dark haired girl had a very pretty face and her ivory gown was
a stunning contrast, the heavy girl was plain but her blue linen made
her eyes stand out to him, but the red headed mouse of a girl was
somehow different…so shy, but she had locked her gaze with his for
a moment and never had anything so exciting flooded his body
before. She was not noble and she was not as pretty as her friend, but
there was a special aura about her that he recognized as unique, not
something a person found walking on a path everyday. Her hair was
the color of mahogany and shone like the sun on the water and fell to
her shoulders in loose curls; her eyes were green as emeralds and so
large he could lose himself in their depths if he dared look at her too
long; her lips were full but held little color and still he wondered what
it would be like to kiss them softly. Her skin was so light, not tanned
by hours in the fields, and their was a faint dusting of sun kisses
sprinkled across her nose which was not straight…and everyone
knew nobles had straight noses…but if her nose didn’t say she was a
peasant, her short nails and calloused hands did. She was very sweet
and kind, cute…but not noble and beautiful.
He helped the first two into the bed of the cart and turned to help
the mouse in too but she would not spare another glance for him. “My
lady?” he asked, holding out his hand to her. She very slowly let her
hand out to him and he pulled her closer where they seemed to linger
a time, but he could not coax her eyes to his again.
“Aspen, come now! We will be late!” Jennessa howled, breaking
The boy took Aspen beneath her arms and lifted her easily into the
cart where she muttered her thanks to him. He flashed them a smile
and flung himself back into his seat and with a click of his tongue they
started down the path to the village, the vision of the girl, Aspen,
burned into his mind…the feel of her body still on his hands…the
desire to have her burning within him.
Aspen’s could hear the blood pounding in her ears drowning out
even the wheels of the cart, her breathing hurried, body sweating.
She felt like she was dying for she could not catch her breath and
every time he flooded her mind, it would start again.
Jennessa leaned close to Aspen and whispered, “One day I will
marry a fine boy like him. Was he not perfect?”
Aspen could see the light in Jennessa’s eyes and gave a sigh of
defeat. Boys would always choose Jennessa, that was the way of it.
Aspen’s da had been telling her for a few years now that she would
need to marry soon or she would never find a husband at her age and
would grow old and lonely. Aspen tried to put the boy out of her
mind and concentrate on the task at hand.
The village of Rosehill was alive with vendors and shoppers alike,
shops and carts lined the road into the village and the buzzing of
voices and the smells of baking filled the air. Women of all kinds,
common and noble, were calling out their orders and gossiping
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
amongst themselves. Men who were not in the fields were hefting
seed and grain into carts for their lands. Just ahead of them, a small
distance further down the road, rose the majestic Castle of Rosehill,
the white stone and turrets with roses of all colors climbing its walls
created the perfect backdrop for the best village in the territory and
that was just the place they were expected to be at that very moment.
They were quickly helped from the cart by the boy and he held a bit
tighter to Aspen’s hand before she pulled away to hurry after her
friends and did not even spare a glance back at him.
“Thank you, sir!” Jennessa called back to him over the morning
chaos. “Who is that?” she wondered aloud and all three stopped to
turn and take a peek.
A girl dressed in white with knitted lace trim and a headdress of
white cradling her arrogant face, gold strings tied her gown closed so
that a hint of her small bosom swelled above her bodice, a chain of
gold circled her waist and hung to her knee. Her black hair was
fashioned into a chignon beneath her sheer headdress, her eyes were
small but a striking blue…the color of cornflowers. She had a pinched
look about her face and a constant whine in her voice as the girls
listened to her.
“What do you think you are doing with those children, darling?”
“They needed a ride, Penny, it was the right thing to do, so calm
yourself,” he answered, his gaze still on Aspen until she disappeared
into the crowd.
“You really should be more careful who you are seen with,
The trio approached the castle and the guards opened the gates for
them to allow them in. Aspen inspected her dress and frowned
deeply…she would be whipped for this one surely. If it wasn’t for
ruining her dress, it would be for appearing so in front of his lordship
and shaming her family. She looked to Jennessa, who seemed to be
aware of the same predicament. They both sighed and trudged on to
the huge doors of the castle where they tapped the door with the brass
knocker and a woman appeared. She had a kind face that was round
and her eyes a soft blue, her graying hair covered by a headdress of
white and as she opened the door wider the girls saw her gown of
blue that covered her plump body.
“Can I help you?” she asked the three ragged girls on her step.
“We are to have an audience for his lordship this morning and I
fear we may be late already,” Jennessa said. She told the story of the
morning quickly and amusement immersed the woman’s face.
“Well, now you can’t exactly appear dressed as such, can you?”
the woman said.
Three hearts sank and they let their heads fall, shoulders slumping
in defeat. “No, madam,” they all muttered sadly.
“I think I have a plan, but we will have to be quick now. My
daughter has many gowns and I am sure we can find some to fit you
girls. Come along, and hurry!” the woman instructed, knowing it was
her own son who caused such a tragedy.
“Lady Victoria?” Jennessa breathed in shock. The woman turned
around and smiled a motherly smile, motioning to them to come with
The girls followed and Jennessa kept saying how sorry she was to
have bothered her. They climbed a grand staircase and went down a
corridor, around a bend or two and found a young girl, not much
younger than their seventeen years, dancing in the hall, humming a
song…her slippers tapping on the stone floor as she danced her way
along, turning pirouettes and small leaps to her own music.
“Marissa…” Lady Victoria called out to the girl.
Marissa came to an abrupt halt, blushing profusely for being
caught in her own merriment. “Mother?” she said with a start,
looking from Victoria to each one of the girls in her wake.
“I need you to find new gowns from your wardrobe for these girls.
They are to play before us today and some horrid boy ruined their
goods. We have no time to spare, so be quick and gather the servants
to help you. I will stall your father as long as I can,” Victoria
instructed. She nodded her head to the girls and took her leave.
Marissa graced the girls with a grand smile. “Come with me and
we shall see what we can find for you. What are your names?”
Once again, Jennessa spoke for all in her party. “My name is
Jennessa, this is Aspen and Rachel. We are sorry for the trouble,
“No trouble at all. What boy ruined your dresses?” Marissa asked.
“Just some fool driving his cart too fast on the path who forced us
into the wet grass,” Jennessa said so casually. “We don’t know who
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
A smile touched Marissa’s mouth for she could guess who that
horrid boy was. Her brother was very good at being a bully. “How
terrible! I am sure we can find something to pass.”
Marissa bustled into a room near the middle of the hallway where
the girls followed her. Aspen stopped in mid-stride at the
magnificence her eyes were seeing as she beheld the giant cherry
wood bed in the center of the stone floor draped all in white lace and
topped with a dainty canopy adorning the carved posts and
embellished with an assortment of fluffy looking pillows. It was the
most beautiful piece of furniture she had ever seen and vowed to
herself that one day she would have one of her own. A large trunk
loomed tall against the wall on her right filled full of dresses that
Marissa was trying to pick through, tapestries made the dreary stone
of the walls bright with color depicting scenes of happiness…a
mother nurturing her baby, the famous gardens of the castle grounds,
the sunrise against the hills of the village…and a long, narrow
window allowed the sunshine to spill in, warming the room and
rendering the large mouthed fireplace next to them useless for the
daylight hours. Servants filed in between the girls and stood ready to
assist as Marissa emerged from the wardrobe, her face alight with
excitement as she carefully laid each one atop her bed. She motioned
to a dress of stunning rose pink silk.
“I chose this one for Jennesa. Janae will help you dress.”
Janae stepped forward and bobbed a curtsy, taking the dress in her
arms and beckoning Jennessa forward.
“I think this one will fit you, Rachel. Maisy?”
A small woman gathered the yellow mass of fabric and Rachel
followed to get herself changed.
The only gown left was a shimmering soft green trimmed in deep
green velvet. “This one is for you, Aspen. I think you will look
glorious in it! Sarah will help you as I fetch your slippers,” Marissa
said, handing over the gown.
“I-I cannot wear this…it is too fine a gown for me,” Aspen
countered and tried to hand it back.
“I have so many I barely wear them all. Please take it, for I don’t
want it, but I want you to have it for you will appreciate it.” Marissa
spared a smile, spun and left her and Sarah feeling awkward.
Finally, Sarah walked behind Aspen and began to loosen the ties
of the rag that was hanging on her small body and Aspen pulled
away, not being accustomed to having someone taking her clothes
“’Tis alright, miss, I’ll not hurt you. Ye need to get dressed, ye do,
so let’s get it done,” Sarah said warmly to help Aspen relax.
Aspen gave in and allowed the servant to continue and in no time
at all she was twirling in circles watching her skirts flare and savoring
the feel of the satin against her skin making her wish she had a whole
trunk full of such habiliments. The bodice was cut low, but modestly
so, the dark velvet was a stunning contrast against her fair skin, the
sleeves were tightly following the contours of her arms trimmed in
velvet at her wrists. It had a dark green underskirt complimented
with a light green overskirt embellished with golden threads. She felt
marvelously fetching, like a princess who had once been a toad, and
she hoped it would never fade. Sarah came at her tangles with a brush
and Aspen’s eyes lit up for she loved to have her mama brush her hair
till it was soft and shiny…something that did not happen much
anymore since she had grown into her woman’s body.
Jennessa and Rachel reappeared in their fine gowns, smiles fixed
upon their faces feeling proud to perform for the Earl St. Michael and
his family. Marissa smiled in satisfaction as she distributed the
slippers to each girl.
“We had best get to the music room…I am sure Father is waiting
Aspen was waiting for Jennessa to express their gratitude and
when she made no move, Aspen reached out her hand, catching
Marissa’s arm, as she was to lead them out. “Thank you, Marissa, you
don’t know what this means to us and we will not forget you.”
Marissa opened her arms and gave Aspen a squeeze to validate
the thanks and the four of them were off.
The music room was beautiful, as was the rest of the grand castle,
the door open and a warm fire beckoning them inside. The girls were
overwhelmed walking within to find a large window filling the wall
to their right that looked out onto the immaculate gardens, the
famous grounds that were lush and green, full of flowers of all kinds
and pools of water…sofas lined the wall to their left upholstered in
fine fabrics and carved from the most extravagant wood…tapestries
floated as they passed by, the shiny round table in the center of the
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
room grabbing Aspen’s gaze which she could not resist the
temptation to touch. It was cold and slick to her fingers and she began
to covet such fine belongings that she could only wish she had. She
knew it was a sin to covet, but she found she could not help it.
They knew that the three chairs that sat empty before the window
were meant for them since their harps sat silent and waiting.
“Ah, my entertainment has arrived!” boomed a loud man, scaring
the wits out of the girls that knew him as the Earl St. Michael. The girls
managed an awkward curtsy that seemed to please the man and he
gestured them to sit. “Please have a seat, ladies, my family will be
along shortly. Ah! Mr. Noteworthy! What a trio you have brought me.
They are certainly beautiful…let us see if their music matches their
charisma, shall we?” he said shaking the hand of the music instructor
and turning an eye to look the girls over. The earl seemed to wear a
permanent smile and masked his eyes accordingly so that one could
never tell how the man really felt. He had cold blue eyes that struck
Aspen as being familiar but critical, white hair that was tied neatly at
his nape, a clean shaven chin that exposed a slight cleft. He walked
before the girls with his hands clasped behind his back and gave a
pause and a long stare at Aspen before he moved on, hardly sparing
a glance to Rachel before taking a seat on a sofa.
Mr. Noteworthy smiled in disbelief when his eyes touched upon
his pupils, once plain common maids of the village now beautiful
young women he was so proud of. Nervously, he rolled his right
eyebrow between his thumb and index finger and took a chair by the
fire. The girls looked to him and he smiled his encouragement. “I
know you are ready,” he said softly to them.
Lady Victoria entered the room, looking fresh and very pleased
with herself. She found a seat beside her husband. Smiling radiantly
at the girls, Marissa entered, her arm linked with another girl close to
her own age. She whispered something to the other girl and they both
grinned and sat most properly. Aspen pulled her harp to her
shoulder, positioning it correctly when she heard a familiar voice
reach her ears. Her head snapped up and there he was, the
boy…minus the cart. He had two young boys by the scruff of their
necks when he saw her and froze, staring in confusion at the girls
from his morning drive. A sudden wave of guilt came over him as he
realized they had been coming to see his family and he had ruined
their clothing and now they were dressed in his sister’s gowns, no
doubt a gift from his mother who he would receive a sound lashing
from later. He could feel the warmth reach his face and the tips of his
ears began to burn in embarrassment.
“Rayven! Take a seat, son, so we may begin!” his father chided.
The two younger boys were giggling and playfully punching each
other until a harsh reprimand from their father motivated them to sit
perfectly still and watched lazily as the girls began to prepare their
Aspen took a deep breath but found she could not think and felt
strangely out of sorts with the boy watching her…she could not bear
it if she made a mistake and he laughed at her or worse, pitied her. She
bowed her head and concentrated on tuning her harp with the others.
Rayven. His name reverberated within her head, a beautiful name for
a beautiful boy.
Jennessa began the tune in solo, Rachel joined at the chorus, and
they all played as a round for several measures, bringing joy to their
teacher as the piece was special to him having written it himself. It
was titled “Waterfalls” and his students could not have played it
more perfectly. The notes tumbled through the air like the crystal
waters that slid over the rocks, filling the audience with a sweet
sentiment and a longing to have the music continue forever, then
crashed at the end as the water thunders into the pool beneath and the
notes floated away into the sunlight as the mist drifts over the
explosion of rushing waters meeting the stillness below.
The family sat speechless until at last, Rayven began to clap,
breaking the spell that the music had spun around his family who
joined in suit. Lady Victoria placed a hand upon her heaving bosom,
Wilford St. Michael stood beaming at them.
“That was the best piece of music my ears have ever heard, ladies!
Thank you ever so much for your talent!” he commended.
Jennessa stood before him and curtsied, gracefully and full of
confidence. “It would not be possible without your graciousness, my
lord. Thank you for this opportunity.”
“You can be sure that I will call on you more often to play for me
and the public!” he exclaimed, kissing each young hand in turn.
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
Lady Victoria hurried to his side. “You nearly brought me to tears,
that was so beautiful! You must stay for the midday meal…you will,
will you not? It is the least we can do to show our enthusiasm.”
The girls looked to each other and Jennessa shook her head. “We
must decline your invitation today, my lady. We are needed in our
homes this afternoon…thank you.”
The couple drew back as if insulted. “Well, if that is what you wish,
we will have you again…your families must be very proud of you,”
Lady Victoria answered with a tinge of hurt in her voice.
Wilford St. Michael excused himself and Aspen whispered to
Victoria, “I need my dress back, my lady.”
“We replaced your old dress, child. Go home and explain that it
was a small reward for a fine performance,” she answered.
“Beg pardon, my lady, but I really need my old one back. One can
never have too many gowns, can she?”
A smile formed at the corners of Victoria’s mouth. “I suppose,
dear, I shall see if I can find it. Be comfortable on the sofas as you
wait.” She turned to stop a servant and questioned him, then
Aspen sat stiffly on a sofa feeling the hairs on the back of her neck
prickle and the feeling that eyes were upon her was undeniable. She
chanced a glance around the room at the remaining people and found
Rayven staring at her, so she flashed him a shy grin and returned to
studying her gown. She picked away at invisible flaws as she
chastised herself for being so odd. Why could she not just look him in
the eyes and smile? What was so wrong with her that she could not go
talk to him?
Lady Victoria rushed back in with three wrapped packages and
distributed them to the three girls, stopping a moment as she handed
Aspen’s over. “Here are your clothes, dear. Thank you again for
playing for us today…I know you impressed my husband.” She
turned to her son still sitting on the other sofa. “Rayven, the meal is
about to be served, so you had better join the others.”
“I will be right there, Mother,” he reassured as she left the room
once again. He stood and moved to where Aspen sat, taking a seat
beside her. “I want to apologize for this morning…I didn’t see you
and your friends until I was upon you. Please tell me you forgive me,”
he said, taking her hand and pressing it to his lips.
The liquid blue of his eyes penetrated hers, making her feel she
would surely suffocate if he didn’t let her go and she would cease to
exist. It seemed that time had stopped, that they were alone in the
moment and nothing mattered but gaining his approval. She
suddenly felt that although the difference in stations made it difficult,
she would be his one day.
“It never happened,” Aspen whispered and vowed never to wash
her hand again. She forced herself to pull her hand from him and rose
from the sofa to take her leave since her family would be missing her
help with chores at home. How she longed to stay with him, to eat a
meal with him, but she knew also that she would have a difficult time
explaining about the dress as well as her tardiness.
He watched her go out his door, not sure if he would ever see her
again. He, of course, wanted to see her again, but he was set to depart
to work with their soldiers to coordinate an uprising against a man
who was more heartless than any man he had ever known, much less
heard of. He would return from his duty to his father and then he
would find her upon his return and marry her.
He envisioned himself snug and happy inside his castle, seated in
a comfortable chair and stretching his legs before the fire in the
library, the sounds of his children running throughout the hallways
filling his ears…His wife, Aspen, great with his child, inquiring of his
day before taking his hand to lead him to bed.
Rayven shook his head free of the visions and forced himself to
return to the present…what a time to be distracted! He wanted to be
married and have children, but not yet. As the heir to his father’s rule
and fortune, he had been taught all his life that he would need to
produce an heir of his own to one day succeed him, but there would
be a tine for that…lots of time.
The sun was beginning to sink lower into the sky as the girls left
the village. walking briskly knowing full well they were late. Soon,
they came to a stand of trees heavy with foliage where Aspen stopped
and explored a thought.
“I am going to change here,” she announced.
“Why in the world would you do that?” Jennessa asked,
wondering what was so wrong with Aspen that she preferred to wear
her dirty gown and not her new one.
“I cannot go home in this, my father will feel humiliated…like he
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
cannot provide me with suitable clothing. I want him to think it was
a gift I was given after I performed.”
“Just tell him you could not wait to wear it so you changed for the
walk home. What is wrong with that?” Rachel wondered.
“You don’t understand. If I do that I will appear greedy so I need
to do what I know will make him happy. If I come home with a
package, he cannot make me return it…if I wear it home I will be
branded either a thief or a beggar. Either way, I do not wish to be
whipped tonight. I just want him to feel proud of me for once. Wait for
Her friends nodded their affirmation and Aspen ducked into the
leaves. It wasn’t long and she emerged looking plain and poor once
again, the rough fabric scratching her skin and the hem stiff from the
water and the dirt. She knew she was going to need to find some
water on her way home to rinse out the mud or she would catch it for
ruining her dress as well.
The friends said their farewells at the fork in the path and each
went their own way to their hovels they called home. Aspen left the
path and found the stream that ran close to her shack to waded in the
icy water to wash her slippers and dress. She glanced back to make
sure she was alone for she had set her prize on the bank. She stepped
again and her foot found a mossy rock, her footing faltered, and down
into the frigid waters she fell, landing solidly on her rear in the mud.
A small shriek escaped her lungs before being knocked from her for
what seemed an eternity, the shock of the cold water was enough o
keep her from being able to breath in again and she quickly jumped
from the water, shivering like a wet dog. She snatched up her bundle
and ran the rest of the way home to get warm.
Her mother was collecting the laundry when she spied her
daughter running, soaked to the bone. A sigh escaped her and she
hefted the tub into the house where she deftly found a blanket and set
it to warm by the fire. She turned when she heard the door open,
hands on her hips, lips pursed, and beheld Aspen shaking like the
day she was born. Her daughter’s lips were blue and she clutched a
ball of fabric to her chest as if it was keeping her warmer than not
having it at all. A smile touched Lyndsay’s lips and she could not hold
back a bubble of laughter that came forth before she knew what came
“I don’t know what happened to ya, but ya look a sight, girl!” she
“I f-fell in the s-stream on a-accident. I am s-sorry,” she managed
between clacking teeth.
“Well, better get ya out of that dress ’fore ya catch yer death. Come
Aspen did as she was bid and sat her gift on the table near the fire
letting the laces of her dress go to fall from her slim frame to the
rushes on the floor. Her mother wrapped her in the warmed blanket
and had her sit for a cup of hot tea.
The blanket felt heavenly against her freezing skin and she fought
an overwhelming urge to hop into the flames to get warm. Lyndsay
returned with a steaming cup of chamomile tea, which Aspen
snatched up eagerly in her cold hands. She took a quick sip and set it
back on the table to cool trying to avoid her mother’s gaze by glancing
around her familiar home. The shack was one room, the roof
thatched, the dirt floor covered in rushes…so different from the
luxury of the castle. The walls were constructed of wood, though one
could see daylight through the cracks between the boards, two
windows equipped with shutters adorned the front of the
house…one on either side of the door that barely hung from its
hinges. Walking in the door, the fireplace stood to the left against the
far wall where the meager table and five chairs sat nearby, the iron
pot hung in the blazing fire containing that night’s meal. A low, long
chest that stored the few cups and utensils they possessed stood at the
rear of the house near the fire as well leaving the other half of the
structure for sleeping. A small straw tick slumped against the floor
that her parents shared, five chests lined the right hand wall
containing each family member’s belongings and bedrolls. Each
morning they were required to neatly fold and store away their
bedding to make more room for the day. She knew that her brother
and sister did not mind the sleeping arrangements, but Aspen had
seen the way other people lived and longed for a warm, soft bed in a
room of her own.
“How was yer performance, Aspen?” her mother asked
drumming her fingers on the scarred surface of the table.
“It went well, Mama. The earl was pleased. I guess that was what
we hoped for, right?”
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
Her mother’s eyes grew dark and distant. “That is all anyone
hopes for, I s’pose.”
Aspen’s thoughts wandered back to Rayven and she let her chin
fall absently into the palm of her hand. A small grin found its way to
her lips and her eyes went unstaring as the day replayed in her mind.
How she would love for a man to rescue her from this place, how
wonderful it would be to see Rayven come here to call on her.
“Ye look like a drowned rat!” a deep voice boomed pulling her
from her thoughts to stare in fear at her father, Vatric.
Immediately she sat upright, nearly losing her blanket, and
dropping her eyes from his angry face as shivers overcame her body.
Her father was not a big man, but he was so strong…memories of
beatings flooded her mind, knowing she had been hurt before for less
than what she had done. He eyed her dress hanging by the fire, he
studied he wet hair hanging in clumps on the blanket. She tried hard
to retreat into herself and found she could not as she tried to control
her fear. Vatric’s breathing came at her fast and heavy and Aspen
knew he was gearing up for something bad. Her eyes flew to his and
she saw his gray eye turn to black in animosity, his lips pursed into a
hard line turning his skin around them white, he clenched and
unclenched his fists which were weathered by his hard work in the
fields, his black hair stood wildly from being in the breeze all day. He
looked crazy when he was angry and Aspen bit her tongue to keep
from crying. Already since she had tried so hard to keep this from
happening, inwardly preparing for the blows that were sure to
“What in God’s name did ya do?” he demanded.
Aspen dropped her gaze to the floor and took a deep breath trying
to bury the tears that threatened her. “I-I fell into the stream, Da,” she
“And how did ya manage such a stupid mistake?”
The tears pricked her eyes even when she willed them away and
she pulled the blanket closer to her absently wiping at her face to clear
them from his view. She cleared her throat and lied. “I was walking
h-home from the audience at the castle and was the-thirsty, so I wwent
to the s-stream. I-I put my hand on a rock and it g-gave way and
I tumbled in…I am sorry, Da. I really am!” she nearly pleaded with
him with her voice.
“Ya know, don’t ya, that had ya been doin’ yer chores, you’d have
water to drink? Why was ya so late, girl…tell me another good tale!”
“I-I was performing for his lordship and his family!” she defended
herself. “They wanted us to stay for the midday with them but we
refused…I knew I was needed here!”
“Don’t ya give me that bunk! Why would his lordship invite a
worm like you to their fancy rich meal?” he chided.
Anger boiled within her as the glamour of the day slowly melted
away. “I-I don’t know, but he did! And he like my playing too!” She
bit her lips as soon as the words were out, knowing she had gone too
far. Her mother rose from the table and pretended to go fetch some
clean water for the washing basin beside the door.
The rage visibly built inside of him and he exploded in a yelp of
fury. He flung his fist connecting squarely with her back, the force
knocking her from her chair where she curled into a ball on the floor
where he continued kicking her small body time and again. She bore
the pain until his boot caught her in the side forcing a cry from her, the
blanket falling aside to expose her naked, youthful body now covered
in many nasty bruises. Humiliated in front of her father, the tears
broke through their barrier and flowed freely, accompanied by
choking sobs that she could no longer hold back. Vatric found the
cloth bundle and opened it up.
“I think ya must have performed quite well for the noble family
today and I think ye were bathing the filth off of ya in the stream! Is
this yer reward for yer services since ye did so well? Huh? Well, I’m
thinking it will make some pretty new curtains for yer mama to hang
in the windows, don’t ya think?” Before she could respond, he had
taken his knife from his belt and sliced the gown in two. He knelt
down on the ground beside her. “I will not have ya takin’ payments
like a whore…even if ye may be one!” And with that he rose and
kicked her once again, dropping the tattered dress to the floor next to
her. She heard his footfalls get further away and waited for the door
to open and close. She sobbed harder and harder, until she grew
hoarse with grief. She finally managed to pick herself up and hobble
to her trunk to find a new dress to wear, deciding on her nightdress
and slipping it on and picking up the pieces of her gift. How dare he
destroy a gift from the earl! If it came to be public knowledge that the
dress was seen hanging in their windows, her father would feel the
DAISHA MARIE KORTH
wrath of the earl. A wry smile crossed her face and she knew one day,
she would have her revenge…the earl’s dungeon would suit him
Her father did not return for the evening meal and her mother had
no idea where he had gone. Worry etched her features and
resentment filled Aspen’s stomach, wondering silently how anyone
could care for a man who hurt her children? They were silent, her
brother, Kendric, and her sister, Monica, sitting across from her. No
one asked why she wore her nightdress but they all seemed to
understand without using words. They all sat afraid to utter a word,
like the silence was keeping their father away and if one sound was
heard, it would bring him back into their lives.
They heard the thunder of hooves and tired, heavy breathing of
the beast, the barn door slammed some time later and they knew he
was home. Dread filled four hearts and any visions of him lying dead
beside the road dead floated away into the night. He reappeared in
the doorway and washed his hands that stung from his vigorous hold
of the reins on his horse. He strode to the table where his family was
“Ya wait for the master to join ya fer dinner, wife,” he growled
taking his seat.
Lyndsay quickly fixed him a trencher of stew and set it before him.
“I am sorry, darling…the children—” she began to explain.
“The children nothing! No one here can be any more hungry than
me, so I should get to eat the first bite…every day, every meal! Now
that we understand that, get me more bread!” he snarled.
Lyndsay scurried and returned with an extra hunk of bread and a
cup of ale. Her father grunted his satisfaction and dug into his meal.
The family resumed eating, and the pace of the hearts at the table
slowed…for the moment.
Aspen helped to clean the table free of the meal and cleaned out
the pot used for cooking. Immediately, her mother began to warm
water for Vatric to bathe himself in. They carried the wooden basin
they used and poured the hot water inside. Aspen threw blankets
around her siblings and ushered them out into the cold of the spring
evening so he had his privacy. They heard their mother shriek and
her father’s growl and Aspen feared for her mother. They heard her
mother’s pleas to stop and he laughed at her. Aspen stole a peek
through a knot hole in the wall and saw him pull her mother’s skirts
up around her waist, pushing her onto their bed. He moved roughly
atop her and Aspen could see the tears rolling down her mother’s
cheeks. He moved faster and faster, her mother crying out in pain so
Vatric covered her mouth with his hand. When he had finished, he
plunged himself into his bath, looking very satisfied. She turned
away and pulled her siblings closer to her to keep warm.
Softly she whispered into the darkness, “Kendric, if something
happens to me, and Da treats you badly, promise me you will take
Monica and leave here. You are strong and could find work, but
please leave and find a better life.”
His eyes wide and haunted, he nodded. “I promise. Why don’t we
all go now? We have the chance, let’s go now,” he begged.
Aspen thought a moment and shook her head. “I cannot leave
Mama, and she won’t go. I am the one he hates, but if he ki—if
something happens and I am not here to take it, he will turn on you or
Monica. I want to know that you will take her and take care of her, for
I know you are nearly a man and would be good to her.”
Sadness filled his blue eyes and he dropped his head. “I hate him,”
he muttered. “And I hate her for letting him beat you.” He raised his
head and a tear escaped and floated down his thin face. Aspen ruffled
his hair playfully and kissed his cheek.
“I love you to heaven and back, always,” she choked out, her voice
thick with sentiment.
Monica threw herself into Aspen’s arms, the tears falling from her
eyes as well, the three of them holding to each other tightly…the love
between them binding them together forever.