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The Gypsy's Curse, Chapter Thirteen
The throbbing pain in her head was what awakened Zara. Her mouth was dry and her tongue felt thick inside of it. She sat up with a start, uncertain of her surroundings for a moment.
As she gazed about the strange room and its rich furnishings she had the feeling she’d just awakened into a dream, rather than out of one. It was a beautiful room. Oak paneling lined the walls, and the arched windows were segmented into long rectangular spears with points at each end. The sunlight shining through them made a rainbow of color on the carpeting and the gray stone fireplace opposite the window. Rich velvet hangings of deep red with yellow tassels framed the window. There was a fire in the fireplace, giving the room a welcome feel.
How often as a child she imagined waking to such splendor instead of the small gypsy wagon that had been her only shelter. Zara often daydreamed about what her life would have been like had her mother and father married. Her father was a wealthy man, a lord, she’d been told. Her mother loved him, despite the contempt held for the man by the rest of the tribe. Had Christopher Jennings decided to claim her as his own Zara might have come to view such lush surroundings as her birthright instead of a fanciful daydream. Alas, Zara was a bastard child by English standards and the offspring of a Gadje from her tribe’s point of view. An outcast to both worlds as each would claim she belonged to the other one.
She sat up gingerly. Her backside was still tender from her unfortunate fall yesterday. Oh, she’d done it up right, hadn’t she? Breaking a limb? It was the worst of luck. Now she was stranded here and that was the last thing she needed. Zara wanted to be far from this place, far from the huntsmen and the hounds and far from the gloom of the abbey. Staying here alone through the winter had been her plan but staying in a house full of servants would not work; this she knew. She was afraid of being arrested for trespassing in some wealthy lord’s home, accused of stealing from him and then who knew what other crimes they might tack on just for good measure. And so she had packed her meager satchel and fled before daylight yestermorn.
That was a stupid move. She thought, fuming as she lifted the covers and examined the odd contraption shackling her wounded foot. She’d never seen the likes of it, although she understood its purpose; to keep her foot in one position until the bones mended. It was the same concept used to brace a broken arm; a sturdy board and linens kept the limb immobile until it healed. She’d watched her grandmother set broken arms more than once in the gypsy camp, after a scuffle with angry townsfolk.
“Ssss.” She hissed and sank back on the mattress. Trying to move the limb brought sharp pain. Her eyes blurred for a moment and then fuzzy white shapes danced before them. Nausea rose. For a moment she feared she might retch. Panting slightly, she rolled her lips together, and tried to sit up. This time, she managed but her face was dampened by sweat from her efforts and she felt as if she’d just tried to pull a wagon herself instead of the horse.
The door opened, and the freckled face girl entered. “Oh Miss, you’re awake.” The girl hurried to her side. “I’m sorry I had to leave you for a short time to help Annie in the kitchen. Oh here, let me help you.”
Unaccustomed to kind solicitation on her behalf, Zara could only stare at the girl with amazement as that one plumped the pillows behind her so she could sit more comfortably.
“I’d ask how you are this morning but I can see you’re in a terrible way.” The girl went on.
“What is this place?” Zara asked, feeling shaky and spent from just the effort to sit up. “And what is your name?”
“I’m Maggie, Miss. I forgot, you was so worked up from pain and what with your head bleeding yesterday and all. I understand if you don’t remember much.” Maggie’s blue eyes seemed huge. They took up most of her thin, narrow, freckled face. “Mr. St. John, the man who owns the Abbey, found you injured in the woods yesterday and brought you here. I wager you remember the doctor trying to fix yer leg, given the pain it caused. Are you hungry, Miss?”
“No.” If anything, she felt sick in her belly not hungry. “Thank you.” She added, grateful for the kind concern of the girl. “I do need to use the privy chair. How am I to--?”
She gestured to her wounded leg.
“I’ll bring it to you.” Maggie bobbed a curtsy and quickly crossed the room to the odd chair with a pot beneath the seat that served the purpose of an indoor privy.
Zara watched as the girl dragged the privy chair to the bedside. The widow Kendall had used what she called a ‘chamber pot’ when the weather was bad or if she had to relieve herself in the night. Zara’s grandmother used a chamber pot in the wagon at night in her later years instead of going into the woods to relieve herself. Even so, after a lifetime of not needing the so called necessary chair, Zara couldn’t help seeing it as a curiosity. The Gadjas certainly liked their comforts.
Scrawny little Maggie had managed to drag the heavy, carved chair over next to the bed. It was like an ancient throne, a pissing chair! Zara giggled, amused by her thoughts as the girl helped her up out of the bed and held her firmly about the waist with both arms. Zara placed her arms about the girl’s slender shoulders and was careful not to put her weight on her injured foot. With Maggie’s aid, she turned about to sit on the Gadje throne.
“I’ll leave you for a moment.” Maggie said and did just that.
The girl discreetly knocked moments later and came in to help Zara back into bed.
Zara allowed the young girl to wash her face and hands and brush out her hair. Maggie braided it for her with nimble fingers, chattering all the while as she did so. By the time they were finished Zara was exhausted and ready for another nap. She lay back on the pillows, feeling like a queen as she surveyed her surroundings and watched the girl bustle about the room.
Another knock on the door. Maggie went to answer it. The girl’s features changed from pleasant to somber, so before she even opened up her mouth to address the visitor, Zara knew it was the lord of the manor.
The tall, lean figure stepped into the room, appearing somewhat hesitant to approach Zara.
That was an odd feeling, to have a Gadje—no, an English man—hesitant to approach someone as insignificant as her. His hands were clasped behind his back as he approached the bed. “Good morning, Miss Jennings.” He said in a deep, rich voice that resonated deep within her. “I trust you are as comfortable as possible, considering your injuries.”
Zara didn’t know what to say. She nodded, unable to take her eyes off the man. Handsome didn’t do the fellow justice, in her mind. He was absolutely beautiful, in the masculine way. Dark russet hair surrounded his head in a bounty of waves, a natural crown of burnished red and brown. His eyes were like smoky diamonds, glittering beneath the ash gray depths. And his complexion, for an Englishman, was darker, tawny rather than the usual pasty white pallor she was accustomed to in the upper classes that rarely spent time in the sunshine.
“You look well.” He commented, offering a frugal smile. She knew better, after Maggie’s comment and her own study of herself. He was generous, and very gallant, as they said.
“Thank you.” She offered, surprised by the strain evident in her voice. “You have been a most gracious host, St. John.”
He studied her carefully, his alluring eyes capturing her and holding her prisoner. What was he thinking? Could he be wondering who she was? Did he suspect she was lying about her origins? Zara felt a slow burn of panic start simmering in her belly. She resented feeling so helpless, unable to direct her own destiny due to her inability to walk. She couldn’t just get up and flee the manor if he caught her out in her deception. She might be able to escape inside the house via the secret passages, but even there with her injured foot, she’d have to limp along the dark passages and that could be dangerous.
“Have you had anything to eat yet?” St. John asked, still scrutinizing her with severity. “Have you been given pain medicine today? Dr. Mulleins left a bottle of Laudanum to that end.”
“She’s not eaten yet, sir. She just woke up.” Maggie intruded, relieving Zara of the effort to need to speak. “I’ll go get something for you, Miss.” She bobbed a quick curtsy to the room at large and fled before anyone could stop her.
“Maggie---“ St. John called after the girl’s retreating form but it was too late, the girl was gone. “Well then,” he turned back to Zara. “I apologize, Miss Jennings. I have no wish to bring scandal on your head. Be assured, my staff, though small, is very loyal. There should be no gossip regarding our situation here. In fact, I’ve ordered my staff to keep your presence here a secret from the outside world. You are safe, Miss Jennings, entirely safe, I assure you.”
“What . . . what situation is that?” She managed to say with difficulty. Was the sun going behind the clouds or was it merely her perception that the room was getting dim.
Copyright Lily Silver, 2014