Eric rose early on the morning of his eighteenth market day, eager as ever to see his friends in Periville’s town square, perhaps hear one of Rose’s stories - Rose being the kindly elderly woman who had directed him to Dachshund Manor four fortnights ago - before the townsfolk arrived to buy the wares. He took a light breakfast of buttered bread and apple juice before picking up the basket containing the mushrooms, silk bags of lavender and roasted chestnuts, and leaving the cottage.
Eric sewed the lavender bags himself, as his mother had taught him the basics of needlework. He used silk that he bought from a young lady who passed frequently through Periville selling arrange of materials, including velvet and satin, as well as needles and threads in a wide array of colours. Incidentally, she was also the supplier of the cotton Rose used for her skirts.
Eric enjoyed seeing Lisa: she brought with her tales of the other cities and villages in Lorcqa as she continually journeyed to and fro across the country, staying in the towns where members of her extensive family lived. Never once did she tired of travelling, she told Eric, for either there was something different to see each time or you fell in love with a certain culture so you enjoyed visiting that area again. Her tales inspired Eric and he could foresee a future impulsive decision to sell his property and become an eternal voyager, maybe even accompanying Lisa in her wooden cart.
At the present time, however, he was arriving in Periville’s centre to find the marketplace’s atmosphere buzzing with excitement. Stallholders were chatting animatedly to one another, eyes bright and fervent. He made his way towards Rose, who was talking to the man Frederic, father to a child called Delight whose mother was a woman he’d never met called Gaynor. Rose spotted Eric and broke off her conversation with Frederic to ask, “Have you heard the news, Eric?”
“What news?” he inquired curiously.
Frederic turned towards him, smiling widely.
“Corinne Kingfisher is to marry Lord Dachshund.”
Eric’s stomach felt like it was falling. He hid his unease behind a mask of amazement and said, “Why, that’s excellent!”
Rose beamed. “She deserves to be happy. She is such a lovely woman.”
Eric nodded numbly.
Corinne? Marry Lord Dachshund? But did she love him? She hadn’t seemed to when he’d visited the manor: she hadn’t even seemed grateful when she’d told him that Lord Richard had rescued her from poverty. It hadn’t seemed as though Richard loved Corinne either. What had she said about Lord Richard being lucky to have her around?
“He is not. Or if he is, he scarcely shows it.”
Eric remembered the suspicion that had arisen in him as he had left the manor. He grew anxious. Had it really been a bout of wild imagination to consider that Corinne was suffering awful treatment? Was she being forced to marry the lord for some wicked purpose?
What if Lord Richard wanted to own her, because she was a thing of beauty? Eric could easily imagine Corinne being rare as well. Would she be treated as nothing more than a possession?
Or..., and this was an even more horrifying thought than the last, did the young lord Richard treat her like a toy? Would he play with her heart and then break it, or worse, take what he wanted from her and then kill her?
He could not help but look back on Corinne’s mood during his visit and wonder if her unhappiness had been an indirect plea for help.
‘Oh, sweet Corinne,’ he thought. ‘If I am correct, then you require rescuing. Rescuing from your terrible Fate.’
That morning, Eric sold every one of his bags of roasted chestnuts, as jubilant townsfolk treated themselves to the delicacy. When the bell in Periville’s clock tower tolled the hour of midday, he packed up what he hadn’t sold and walked home slowly, not having forgotten his worries regarding the great engagement.
A little later, when he was lying on a rug in his living room, staring up at the beams across the ceiling of his cottage unhappily, he heard the sound of hooves on the road outside.
More out of feeling fed up with his sorry mood than curiosity, he got up, walked to the window and gazed out.
To his surprise, it was Lord Dachshund and the beauty Corinne, riding out together on a fine ebony stallion.
And his worries about the relationship crystallised when he saw the expressions on the faces of the pair.
Corinne looked discontented. Richard looked distant and wore a slight frown.
They did not appear to be in love with each other at all.
Eric’s heart sprang painfully in an attempt to reach fairest Coriine as a swell of her bosom indicated a heavy sigh.
And a conviction rose inside Eric. Ever since he was an infant, he had firmly believed in decent people receiving fair treatment and in bad people being punished. While he couldn’t punish Richard, especially with no proof of any actual wrongdoings, there was something he could do for Corinne. He could save her. Whatever the situation, he could safely say that marrying a man she did not love wasn’t fair for her.
Yes. He would rescue the miserable Corinne.