[Rough Draft] Chapter 38: A Breath of Freedom
After seeing Captain Isaac off to deliver Sergeant Horne’s orders, Carina busied herself preparing a small breakfast banquet with the help of Sergeant Quinn. Percy’s unexpected visit the previous night with Ivy’s liberation papers had moved the delivery of this good news to the forefront of the Duchess’s attention. Carina had been preparing and looking forward to the moment Ivy was freed from her mother’s betrayal and her past for a long time.
The memory of Lady Miranda’s death clung to the heavy downpour of rain that continued to shower down around them and had forced the knights outside to take turns filling buckets with water from the trenches dug around the tents to keep them from overflowing.
‘I won’t let that woman ruin even one more day for Ivy. Least of all today. Ivy has waited far too long as it is.’
Carina pushed the unexpected rainstorm and Miranda’s final moments from her thoughts as she focused on the arrangement of white and yellow ceramic plates upon a tablecloth of white and blue lace. Around each plate, the Duchess placed a garland of small velvet sunflowers, then added a set of silverware rolled in lace napkins that matched the tablecloth.
“A few lit candles for light,” Carina murmured as she lit a match to three small candles of baby blue, pink, and white and arranged them evenly upon the table between the four set places. “And now all I need is the food.”
Sergeant Quinn appeared through the tent door and shook off his brimmed soldier’s hat as he announced. “Chef Garlick has returned from the Manor with breakfast, your Grace.”
“Quickly, bring him in then,” Carina replied eagerly with one more look at the table to ensure there was plenty of room for the menu she had requested to suit Ivy’s taste.
A hunched man in his late forties entered leaning on a crutch. Carina smiled warmly at Bastiallano Duchy’s private chef. Retired Lieutenant Garlick, now Chef Garlick, was a decorated veteran who had served the previous Duchess and Duke before a leg injury and unfortunate infection and forced him to give up his leg and his position among the knights.
Chef Garlick had learned cooking from his father, who also served as a chef for nobility. After his early retirement, Lieutenant Garlick picked up his new duties as the Duchy’s chef without complaint, despite the hazards of moving about a kitchen on a crutch.
Carina shook her head at the rainwater that poured freely down the man’s drenched rain jacket that hid most of the red oak stick Garlick relied on to stand upright.
“Your Grace,” Garlick greeted with his usual forced smile.
In the two weeks since Lady Maura had become Lady Kirsi, Garlick had done his best to adjust to the new Duchess’s requests and suggestions to update the Duchy’s daily meals for herself and the knights. For the most part, he seemed to appreciate the challenge of adding more flavor and beneficial herbs to the current menu while replacing a small portion of the usual wheat bread with more delicious pastries that included fresh fruits.
“Chef Garlick,” Carina replied with a worried glance at the endless wall of rain pouring outside. “I hope you were able to keep the food dry despite the abysmal weather.”
“Oh, I’ve cooked in worse situations than this, your Grace,” Garlick replied as he wiped his single boot on the rug laid out by the tent opening. “And with poorer instruments than the fine pots, pans, and stoves they have up there in the Viscounts Manor.” He turned promptly and barked a quick order over his shoulder. “Bring them in quick-like, and don’t forget to wipe your boots!”
“I’ll be sure to thank Viscount Rykard for allowing you the use of his kitchen,” Carina replied as she moved away from the door and waited for Chef Garlic to catch up to her as six knights entered, carrying small wood crates wrapped meticulously in leather tarps.
The Crates were stacked then opened one at a time to remove covered trays that held four servings of poached eggs, stacks of Sweet Potato toast, a bowel filled with freshly cut and peeled peaches, and a large peach cobbler pie accompanied with a smaller bowl of whipped cream.
The sweet nectar of the aromatic peaches quickly filled the tent as Garlic transferred each portion to a waiting plate and then sent the pie at the end of the table on a folded floral towel.
“It smells wonderous,” Carina said appreciatively as the knights closed and restacked the crates to leave.
“Ah, the Tea Jeremy!” Garlick said with a snap of his fingers to the last crate. “Gilwren’s Butler kindly loaned us this glass pitcher and a set of cups to serve it in.”
The Duchess raised a brow as she eyed the sparkling crystal pitcher filled with the requested peach & mint tea. “That was—generous of him.”
“I believe Lord Bromwell had something to do with that. He popped into the kitchen while I was getting the pie in the oven and mentioned he’d drop by once the weather had cleared up.”
“Ah,” Carina nodded, then frowned as eight crystal glasses were removed from the crate and placed on the table. “We only need half that number.”
“Yes, I told the Butler the same, but he said it was best to have spares in case you had guests over while the rest of the nobles are waiting out the storm.”
‘I certainly hope we don’t have any unexpected visitors,’ Carina thought worriedly as the last crate was closed and lifted up by the knights preparing to leave. ‘It will already be awkward enough with Lord Percy here. As much as I don’t want to see him—Ivy will probably feel burdened if she can’t thank him properly.’
“Your Grace,” Sergeant Quinn popped his head inside the tent again. “Lady Hana and Lady Ivy are on their way here.”
“Let’s clear out then, lads,” Garlick said briskly to the knights who had accompanied him. “I still have the camp’s lunch to finish preparing before I can give the old leg a rest.”
“Thank you for all your hard work,” Carina called after the Chef with a grateful smile.
Garlick offered her a formal bow, then hopped in the direction of the tent flaps where two of the knights assisted him back outside into the rain and mud.
Carina anxiously tapped the small square present held behind her back and smiled warmly as Hana and Ivy entered, wrapped tightly in two sets of cloaks to keep out the rain, and tall-riding boots to walk through the mud that still managed to stain the bottom of their dresses.
The pair hardly seemed to notice their muddied state as they took in the brightly decorated table.
“Ah, it seems our timing was perfect,” Hana said with a quick smile of relief as Sergeant Quinn entered behind them to take their cloaks. While the Sergeant hung up the dripping garments, the Viscountess took Ivy’s arm and led her towards the table and the waiting Duchess. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise, Ivy. But you should know that Kirsi has prepared all of this for you.”
Ivy’s tired and confused expression shifted to one of complete bewilderment. “M-me?”
“Yes,” Carina answered with barely repressed excitement as her attention shifted from Ivy to Hana, who moved around the table to take a seat by the Duchess’s side. “I have—a very important gift for you, Ivy.”
“But—” Ivy stepped up to the chair facing Carina, “—it’s your birthday, Kirsi.”
“That may be true,” Carina replied dismissively as she pulled out the present, a small box wrapped in blue paper, painted with sunflowers, sealed with silver wax impressed with Frost’s seal, and a strip of white ribbon. “But I couldn’t wait another day to give this to you.”
Ivy blinked as the Duchess held the wrapped present towards her. “I-I don’t even have a gift for you—”
“Please, Ivy,” Carina urged gently. “Open it.”
Ivy sighed, then smiled as she accepted the present. “It’s very pretty, Kirsi.”
Carina snorted back a laugh as Ivy took her time admiring the wrapping paper and ribbon. “This isn’t some silly flower picture I drew to cheer you up as a child, you know.”
“I liked your drawings,” Ivy protested as she set the present down and then tentatively tugged at the ribbon sealed into the wax.
Carina smiled and drew in a slow, nervous breath as she watched Ivy patiently work the seal free as if trying to preserve the silver emblem. A rush of anticipation built up slowly in the Duchess’s gut as she resisted the temptation to rip off the silly wrapping paper and get to the real present inside.
A warm touch grasped Carina’s left hand. She turned and smiled as the Viscountess offered her a supportive nod and held onto the Duchess’s hand.
Ivy finally managed to remove the seal and ribbon from the wrapping paper and set them both aside with a satisfied smile.
‘Nearly there—’ Carina breathed out as she gripped the chair with her free hand.
“Your Grace,” Isaac’s gruff voice preceded the Captain’s entrance as the three women turned towards him with mingled surprise. “Ah—pardon, your Grace, but Earl Hawthorne is waiting outside—”
“Yes, send him in,” Carina answered impatiently, then immediately turned back to Ivy. “It’s alright. You can continue.”
“A-are you sure?” Ivy whispered tentatively as Lord Percy entered the tent and bowed towards the Duchess.
“Thank you for the invitation, Lady Kirsi.” The Earl’s winter grey eyes moved from Carina to the box in front of Ivy as he straightened with a smile. “It appears I’ve arrived just in time.”
“Yes, how fortunate,” Hana said with a pointed sigh.
“Please, join us,” Carina added hastily as she motioned to the free chair. “Ivy was just about to open her gift.”
Ivy blinked in surprise as Percy moved to stand beside the chair next to her. She glanced worriedly from the Earl to Hana to Carina and appeared to have forgotten the torn wrapping beneath her hand.
“Ivy,” Hana said with an amused smile as she observed the girl’s concern. “Please do finish. The suspense is killing us.”
“Oh. Yes!” Ivy quickly focused on the task of ripping away the wrapping paper as Percy removed his rain jacket and draped it over his chair. Beneath the sunflower paper, a polished redwood box with a sunflower engraved upon the surface waited with a single gold latch. Ivy admired the wood, but after a glance at the many eyes focused on her, hurriedly undid the latch and opened the box to find a stack of folded documents. “Oh, what is—”
Carina held her breath as Ivy lifted the papers and opened the stack to the center document with the gold seal of the Duchy of Bastiallano, which she promptly read aloud.
“For your many years of service and loyalty—Duchess Kirsi Valda grants you the—Title of Viscountess of Everdene—and all the lands, estates, and privileges that come—”
A sudden sharp hiccup interrupted Ivy’s dazed voice. The startled girl hastily covered her mouth while her wide jade-green eyes flew from the papers in her hand to Carina.
“Oh, dear,” Hana said as she moved to pour Ivy a glass of the Peach & Mint tea. “There you go. Drink slowly.”
Ivy set the documents down carefully with another hiccup, then accepted the drink and took a sip with shaking hands. “S-sorry.”
Carina laughed softly and shook her head. “Don’t apologize, Viscountess.”
Ivy blinked twice and took an even longer drink from her tea.
“Viscountess,” Percy said with a teasing note as he tapped the papers between them. “May I read the rest of these aloud for you?”
“Ah—” Ivy glanced from the documents to the Earl, hiccupped again, and nodded her consent. “T-thank you.”
Carina grasped the chair in front of her with both hands as the Earl set aside the papers of ennoblement which included a map of Everdene as well as a list of residences of commoners and lower nobles who resided within that territory.
Percy raised his brows at the next document, then smiled as he flipped through a few more pages. “It would seem her Grace has also granted you some of Frost’s long-standing business shops. We have a textile shop, an apothecary, one of the new soap shops, and a grocery store.”
“W-what?” Ivy exclaimed in a tight whisper. Her head whipped from Percy to Carina. “Your Grace!”
“Those businesses will belong to you until you sell or close them regardless of what title you hold in the future,” Carina explained with a firm smile. “I will introduce you to the shop managers who keep them operational later.”
‘If anything should happen to me in the future, Ivy will likely use the titles and lands I gave her as Duchess, but these shops will provide more than enough income to keep her safe.’
The Duchess’s grip on the chair tightened as Hana’s discussion on the longevity of curses echoed in her ears. “Ivy may have six weeks of three years. There’s no way to know, but her symptoms will get worse before the end.”
‘I have to find a cure no matter what. If I have to bargain with the gods themselves, then I will.’
Percy flipped to a new page and whistled as he pulled it free. “Congratulations, Lady Ivy. You are now the proud Co-owner of the Holy Maiden Boutique as well.”
Ivy wordlessly pulled down her chair and sank into it, still holding her shaking cup of tea.
“It would seem Frost is quite generous to the Duchess’s friends,” Percy observed with a coy smile as he added the other documents on the shop’s Ivy had been given to the pile, leaving only two pages left to read. “But the best is yet to come,” he added with a glance at Carina’s white knuckles and impatient smile.
“There’s—more?” Ivy whispered with a note of worry.
“Indeed,” Percy replied as he refocused on the stunned girl. “I must Congratulate you once more, Viscountess of Everdene—on your liberation from your enslavement contract.”
The crystal glass thudded softly against the table as it slipped through Ivy’s fingers. Percy smiled as he pushed the pages of titles, business, and property aside to layout the two distinctly different documents. The first, a well-worn, somewhat tattered document contained Ivy’s name and age, listed as ten years old, along with Lady Miranda’s signature and that of the slave trader who had purchased her. The second document was embellished with gold embroider edges, the crow seal of the Hawthorne Family, and Percy’s signature next to Ivy’s name and age, this time listed as twenty years old.
It was this final document that Ivy grasped, her moist fingers pressing against the thick and sturdy parchment with the Earl’s scripted handwriting, which stated,
By all authority invested in me as the Earl of Hawthorne, I, Percy Hawthorne, do this day declare that the lady, known to me as Miss Ivy Koresh, shall be freed from her slave contract by my goodwill and design, and thereafter be afforded all the respect, privileges, and responsibilities of a free citizen of Lafeara.
Should Miss Ivy Koresh, in future, require me to act as a witness to this fact. I do hereby swear upon the family name of Hawthorne to uphold the legitimacy of this document and all information written herein.
“I-I’m—” Ivy choked as she grasped the paper tightly and stared at the words as if she would forever burn them into her mind, “—no longer—a slave.”
“After today, Viscountess, you are as far from a slave as you could possibly be,” Percy confirmed as he gently took Ivy’s left hand and kissed the back of it courteously.
Ivy stared at him with a gaze so conflicted and overwhelmed that even Percy blinked in surprise when she yanked her hand away and ran around the table to fling her arms around Carina.
“Maura! Oh—Duchess! Thank you!”
Carina wrapped the smiling, crying, shaking older girl in her arms and smiled against the tears burning against her eyes as she held on tight. “Congratulations, Ivy. You are finally free.”