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"Pardon my sayin' so, Lady Eleanor, but this late husband of yours left you the sorriest damned castle I've ever set eyes upon."
"Aye, Dickon' Faulkhurst is a mite frayed about the rampartsbut it's our home now." Eleanor Bayard muzzled the curses she wanted to rain down upon William Bayard's blighted, unlamented soul.At last, home. And hope, and three of the dearest companions in the world to care, for. This was-not the time for letting regrets and, recriminations gain a footholdnot when she'd come so far.
"I like it, Nellamore."
Eleanor laughed and lifted little Pippa into, her arms, bird bones and feathers, a breeze captured inside an eider pillow. "I do too, Pippa. Very much."
"It needs buckets, of paint, my lady." Lisabet battled the sea wind for balance atop the stubby wall of the overgrown kitchen garden..
"Needs a hell of a lot more'n paint, 'Bet." Dickon snorted and cast his young sister a skeptical frown. "A mason, far a start."
Aye, and a carpenter and a smith and so many other things that Eleanor didn't have and didn't know where she would find anytime soon.
May your eternity be blazing hot and sticky with gnats, William Bayard.
No, she would not callow her very wicked, very dead husband to ruin this fine moment.
Above all else, my loves, Faulkhurst needs the four of us. Desperately." And we need Fulkhurst.
"An' the ghost, Nellamore, don't forget." Pippa's gamin little face needed scrubbing, despite last eve's streamside wash-up and another that afternoon.
"Faulkhurst needs a ghost?" Eleanor nosed a kissagainst the gilded curls at Pippa's temple.
"It has one already. A huge grey one." Pippa's dark eyes grew round and earnest. "I saw him myself. Over there, walking on the sky."
She pointed toward the roiling storm, cloud sand the grey tower that rose, a full four stories out of the seaward wall. It was the highest point, in all of Faulkhurst, overwhelming the stocky keep and the tiny, deserted, tumbled-down village, and the seaswept cliffs beyond.
A tower wheeling with gulls. "Sweet love, did your ghost by any chance have wings?"
Pippa shook her head, gravelly, casting Eleanor a glance that belied her six years. "It's not a bird, Nellamore. A spirit. Like my papa's and my mama's, too."
God rest them both whoever they might have been.
"If it is a ghost, Pippa, we'll put him to work fixing the roof of the bakehouse first thing in the morning."
"He'll like that, he will."
"As for now, 'tis. high time we made ourselves at home."
Dickon let free a battle cry and then took off to Ward the keep with Lisabet fast on his heels.
But for all their eagerness, Eleanor found them waiting for her and Pippa just inside the dim portico, staring into the bleak vastness of the great hall.
"Do you smell it; Lady Eleanor?" Lisabet captured Eleanor's hand and held it tightly, trembling. "A hospital."
Unmistakably. That cold, lonely smell of suffering and sorrow: the aromatic pinch of charred juniper and thymefutile remedies against the pestilence. Too familiar and terrifying.
"Aye, it must have been, Lisabeth. Once"
Where were you then, husband, when your people we're perishing in their agonies? Hiding your fortress across the sea?
But William Bayard kept silent, as always: her blackhearted, proxy-wed, sight-unseenhusband, who'd at least had the good timing to die of his sinsor of the plague itselfbefore she'd had to meet him face-to-face.
Before their marriage could begin in truth.
"I'm hungry." Dickson's stomach howled, and Pippa giggled.
"So's the squirrel in your tummy, Dickon."
"I hope it likes dandelion pottage," Eleanorsaid, Sweeping them all into the hall. "Lisabet,Dickon, we need firewood. A bonfire's worth to light the night and tell all the ghosts that we are here."
A full pantry in the kitchen, or even a small chest of grain, proved too much to ask from the departed Lord of Faulkhurst. Their wilted carrots and dried peas would have to do once again.
But at least they'd be cooked in her very own home tonightnot by the side of the road, or under a bridge.
She and Pippa sang their favorite melodies to keep away the shadows while they assembled the kitchen trestle in front of the hearth in the great hall. They added benches, and then a roaring fire as Lisabeth and Dickon rushed in and out with armloads of firewood, and tales of rusted locks.