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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Freedman [4 of 5]

As Ranuld turns from his horse to walk over to the well, he hears something moving among the bushes. He sees no one, it has to be an animal. He continues to walk towards the well. The animal seems to follow him. Just as he leaves the bushes behind him, the creature sneaks up on him. Puts its wet nose against the freedman's palm. Ranuld looks down into the soft brown eyes of Graham's dog. For a moment Ranuld wants to retract his hand in fear. But the dog looks different now. And already has let go of a chance to bite. But if the dog's here? With aroused curiosity Ranuld walks up to the well. There's a young woman, lowering a bucket into the shaft. He could see her on the back only, but recognized her immediately. Here's Gwen, Grahams niece. She's not at Morgan's castle. “Gwen,” he speaks out in surprise. She looks up in amazement. In turning around she reveals stains of clay on the front of her dress. “You are the potter's maid?” She nods. She must have known, the witch, Ranuld thinks. She didn't send him here for Solomon's seal, she send him to meet Gwen.
How are you doing?”
Gwen swallows hard before answering. Then nods. “I'm fine” she says. At least Gwen hadn't changed, starting out with a neutral line. The truth will come later.
How did you get here?”
I managed to flee from the robbers, The dog helped me and brought me here.” The animal in question is sitting at her side. Now that Graham is gone, he has taken her for his new master.
She too had her stay at the witch's house. As she found out she was pregnant, she decided to take care of her child, no matter who the father was. The potter took her in. By working for him, she would earn a place to stay and enough to eat. “Why are you here?” she concludes her monologue. His answers is sweet to her ears, he came to rescue her from the robbers at Morgan's castle.
When she asks him if he would be able to manage that with his scars, he remembers the reason for his trip to the well. “The witch told me she could cure me. I came here for some Solomon's seal for the treatment.” Gwen gets up from the well on which they were now sitting. “I know where to find that.”
Ranuld grabs her by the arm, holds her back.
No need Gwen. You are here. I don't have to go to the castle.” Gwen freezes. “Do you mean to say that you would rather stay sick?”
Ranuld doesn't see it as being sick, now that he knows that Graham's niece is safe. “You can ride home with me. Unless you want to stay with the potter.”
The potter is a good man, but not the type Gwendolyn wants to spend the rest of her life with. “What would I do, once I'm back at Lhamb's Grange? ”
Ranuld shrugs. What a question. “Live your life of course. You may take over your uncles flock, with someone assisting you. Or you may stay over at the grange. There's enough to do, especially since I'll be at home more often.” The thought of being out herding sheep without his friend Graham doesn't appeal to Ranuld.
Gwen shakes her head. “No, if that's the alternative, I might as well stay here.” To add strength to her words, she gets up and continues hauling water from the well. Ranuld still sits on its edge/wall (?) staring at the ground. This situation doesn't feel right. He should be glad to have found Gwen and be able to take home. Or leave her here, knowing that she'll be able to cope with her new life. She ended up in a good community, that has accepted her fairly well... He might even travel to Carlin’s Town now and again, to check up on her at times. But there's something dissatisfying. It's Gwen's air. She's angry somehow. Maybe if he gives her time to get over her surprise? “What if I leave now, so you can do your work for the potter. And then I'll meet you here, tonight?” She hardly bothers looking at him. Just mumbles that that would be alright. She fills her last jug, pours the remainder in a stone mug and hands it to Ranuld.
He isn't thirsty, just takes a few sips to oblige her. “Do you want me to carry these for you?” He points at the jugs. They must be heavy. But then... Gwen had always been a strong woman.
It looks as if she's going to accept, says no on second thought.
Right now all she wants is to create a safe distance, so she can tend to her wounds. She greets him curtly and hardly responds to his “will see you tonight then”.

She arrives late that evening. It has given Ranuld time to think. The outcome of it makes him nervous. He has overlooked something, obviously, during the nights he spent with Graham and his niece. Or is he seeing things? As he sees her coming, her hair braided and with clean clothes -where did she get them, she's been here so shortly- he knows for sure. He had overlooked something in the past, but isn't mistaking right now.

She sees him sitting on the edge of the well. So close and yet so out of reach. She would like to run to him, and feels she has to stop here, before any harm will be done. But she has kept quiet before and it has done her no good.
She walks on towards the well. Ranuld gets up, not quite sure of himself after his conclusion about her feelings for him. Things were easier down in the fields, with Graham, as number three, making a crowd.
Neither of them feels like making small talk. But being straight is hard . There is a prolonged silence in which they look at each other with 'new eyes'.
Have you decided on riding home with me?” Ranuld breaks the silence.
Gwen shakes her head. “It all depends,” she says, “on what you decide.”
-“What I decide?”
- “Yes. Will you be going to the witch or not?”
Ranuld turns away from her. She is touching something that is his own, all his own, “I have told you my decision. I don't need her treatment, so I won't have it.”
Desperation creeps over Gwen's face. “Why hang on to something that hinders you?”
-”The scars don't hinder me. I have learned to live with them. Live well with them.”
-”They don't hinder you as long as you stay calm. When deeper passions come by, you have to forfeit them.” That is true. She heard him mention it to Graham often enough.
- “But I don't mind that. My choice is to live that quiet life.”
Gwen looks at him sharply now. Is that what it is? Or is she, and he, overlooking something? “You can live that same quiet life without these marks.” She's throwing in the gauntlet. Ranuld says nothing. So she makes another move “Without the scars, you might have been a better fighter that evening.” This is a very painful accusation, but she can't let things go by anymore. It's all or nothing now.
At that time we all took it for granted that nothing could be done about my condition. There was no choice. And even so, what right do you have, to deny me my right to decide about my own life?” He straightens himself. He definitely took up the gauntlet after her last remark.
Was he right? Gwen starts to doubt. But no, she feels deep inside, that he is making a mistake somewhere. She mustn't give in. Not now. “It's my duty as a friend to point out to you that maybe you are making a mistake.”
Well, thanks for the service. I've heard your opinion, but I won't change my mind.”
Why not?” He's glib, she thinks, he's slipping away from the argument. He's … she hits on what she was looking for. He is afraid.
Ranuld replies “Because my life is good, the way it is. Why take unnecessary risks?”
Gwen's eyes narrow. “No sir.” she laughs mockingly. “You are afraid. The scars don't need to teach how to live your life. You know that by now. No, those scars will stop you from making a mistake. The mistake of ever giving your life to another woman and end up being hurt again. That's why you want to hang on to them.”
Ranuld casts his eyes down, taking in her viewpoint. Gwen just fills the silence. “Friendship fine, but no more than that for you, right?”
When he looks up at Gwen his eyes are hurt and insecure. But angry also. “Even if it were true, you don't have the right to push me. And why do you push me?” He steps up close to her, to confront her with his argument. “Can't you believe that a life without that kind of relationship can be good too? Can't you respect someone else's wishes? Or are you just afraid to be left behind on the shelf?”
Ranuld only wants to strike back with words. But he has hit a painful sore in Gwen's life. She is afraid... Her flushed face grows pale.
Is that the only fulfillment in your life?” He's caught in a drift now “And if you wanted me for it, why didn't you say so before? Did I have to guess? Because I'm the man? Well sorry for not guessing right.”
This really hurts, Gwen is thinking. But she also tells herself that she asked for it. She started the confrontation. Now it is time to finish it.
No, because I was sure you would say no.” Gwen remembers the times when keeping quiet were real hard. And when perfect moments slipped by unused.
Then why let me in on your secret now?” His voice is calmer now.
Gwen looks away. “I thought at the time that pushing you would stop you from healing. But since this afternoon I know it won't.”
Have you ever considered loving me as I am?”
What do you think I have been doing all that time?” Is he suggesting to continue this painful, one sided relationship? She's on the verge of crying.
Ranuld shakes his head, lays a hand on her shoulder. As he says “No, you didn't, you were hoping for me to change” she shakes it off and steps aside. “I'd better go.”
He tries to stop her, telling her not to run off now.
I see no sense in staying. We're only hurting each other.”
No, Gwen. You are hurting you. You have eye for only one thing now. But those feelings wash out.” Ranuld hopes he can talk sense to her. “And I don't want to loose you. Our friendship is to good to be wasted because of a silly infatuation.”
Gwen is confused. She feels she has made a fool of herself. And that he is treating her like a child.
Before she runs off, she faces him one more time. “Ranuld the leysing, you're a coward.”

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