The stable lad provided a wooden cart so that Whisper could transport Corinne’s belongings to Eric’s cottage. Before the pair left, he said something which upset Corinne further.
“Do not bring the cart back with Corinne,” he told Eric. “It would be better if she did not set foot in the grounds of Dachshund Manor for a while.”
Eric’s response was angrily expressed: “You have no right to hate her for doing what she pleases;” but his love for her and the act of standing up for her rights could not alleviate Corinne’s misery. Not at this moment in time.
“Let us go, Eric,” she murmured.
Eric looked at her with pain in his eyes.
“It does not matter,” she interrupted. She kissed him softly on the cheek. “It does not matter,” she repeated. And she told herself for the entire journey to Eric’s cottage.
After the suitcase had been placed in the cottage, Corinne desired to visit her mother. Eric asked if she would like a hot beverage first and she had been about to decline when she realised that this would probably help her emotions to become calm. ‘It will do no good for Mother to see me in this state,’ she thought as she sat at the kitchen table while Eric brewed the drink.
“The staff were unkind,” Eric stated as he stirred a drink that smelt of malted milk.
“Perhaps they had reason to be,” Corinne said very quietly.
Eric instantly stopped stirring.
“You do not think that,” he said, sounding like her suggestion had angered him.
Corinne rose to her feet and went to him. She placed a hand on his shoulder, murmuring, “Love, please do not join them in their anger towards me.”
Eric’s expression became one of shock. He turned to Corinne and stared at her.
“You think I am angry at you? Corinne, I ... I am angry at the staff! They have hurt my beautiful lady. It is something for which I cannot forgive them.”
Corinne sighed and stepped away.
“I will not suffer for very long, my Eric. You would be upset if someone had expressed negative opinions about you.”
“But you should not feel that,” Eric insisted, his expression growing warm. “The opinions should only do harm if they are valid. In this case, they could not be less valid. How can the staff know what you have endured in silence for a long time? How could they know when you, a brave, kind soul, showed nothing of your suffering openly? And I think that you are forgetting, my sweet, lovely Corinne, that they want you to live with Lord Dachshund again. That is something that you do not want. Something you know is not good for you.”
“I ... had not thought of that,” she replied slowly. “I only focused on their words - not their meaning. I do not wish to live with Richard - he was unbearable.” She smiled happily. “You are right, my Eric. You are wonderfully right.”
Eric smiled and resumed stirring the drink.
“Thank you,” Corinne said sincerely. “Thank you for ending my misery.”
Eric smiled more widely.
“My lady Corinne does not deserve misery.” He left the pan, collected some water and doused the fire. “Come,” he said to her, pouring the drink into a bowl. “We shall sit in the living room.”
Corinne nodded and followed him, so gratified to know that she would not be upset by any aspect of living with Eric.
After drinking the malted milk (a most delicious beverage) Corinne felt ready to see her mother.
Once again, she and Eric set out on Whisper but on this occasion they rode away from the town of Periville rather than into it.
“She lives a fair distance away,” Corinne told Eric, concentrating a lot on the direction in which they were travelling so that she could give correct instructions on how to reach Aunt Susanna’s home. “That is one of the reasons we did not go to live with her when our home burnt down.”
“What were the others?” Eric inquired.
“We did not want to cause trouble for the family by relying on their resources - Mother had been out of work for four years and everything we could have used to look after ourselves had been destroyed by the fire - and there had not been enough space in her house for us. At that time Aunt Susanna lived with her husband’s family.” Corinne thought about Mother moving in at this stage in time. She spoke her thoughts aloud, saying, “There should be room for Mother now because I believe that Uncle Douglas’s brother and sister have married.”
“It is a shame that they did not marry sooner,” Eric murmured. “All this time you have lived with Lord Dachshund.”
Corinne nodded. “It has been a long three years,” she agreed.
“How old are you?” Eric asked. He sounded like he was smiling as he said, “I do not know.”
“I am 22,” Corinne replied. “As of the third day of November. And you?”
“25 My birthday is in July.”
“Ah, that is such a pretty time of the year.”
“It is but it passes. I have been brought much more contentment by lasting beauty.”
“Where did you find that?” Corinne asked curiously.
“In you,” Eric replied warmly. “My glorious lady, in you.”
After a few hours the pair arrived at Aunt Susanna’s house. They dismounted Whisper and tied her to a tree before they walked to the door and Corinne knocked upon it.
Aunt Susanna answered it and beamed.
“Corinne! How you’ve grown!”
Corinne smiled and embraced the woman tightly.
“It is so good to see you,” Corinne told her, greatly happy to recognise the woman she had last seen before the house had burnt down. Where Corinne and her mother were tall and slender, Aunt Susanna was short and endearingly tubby. Her hair was short and brown, interestingly closer to Corinne’s shade of hair than to her sister’s sadly fading flaxen. She was several years younger than Corinne’s mother and had not yet suffered the transformations of old age.
As she let go, Aunt Susanna spotted Eric and a twinkle appeared in her eyes whose irises were like lapis lazuli.
“And who is this dashing young man?”
Corinne’s cheeks reddened slightly.
“His name is Eric.”
Aunt Susanna smiled knowingly.
“Well, come in, both of you.”
The pair entered and Aunt Susanna shut the door beside them. She led them to a small kitchen where Keris Kingfisher was sitting at a round wooden table. Corinne sat down and gestured for Eric to do the same while Aunt Susanna bustled around the kitchen merrily.
“What will you have to drink, my dears? Apple juice? Cider? Coffee?”
“I’ll have apple juice, please,” Corinne replied, while Eric answered, “Cider, please.”
Keris looked Eric up and down before smiling at Corinne.
“I am so glad you have found a young man, Corinne.”
Corinne blushed again.
“Thank you, Mother. You know, it would have been fine for you to stay with us in Eric’s cottage.”
Keris shook her head. “I could not, my dear. You deserve to have your own space. Besides, I have grown very attached to my new nephew - Daniel.”
“I have a cousin?” Corinne asked excitedly.
Susanna placed the drinks before Corinne and Eric and sat at the table.
“You can meet him if you stay until he awakes,” she told them cheerfully. “He is so tiny and so endearing.”
“Wow,” Corinne murmured. She placed a hand on Susanna’s shoulder. “My belated congratulations.”
Susanna smiled. “Thank you, Corinne.”
“How is Uncle Douglas?” Corinne asked.
“He is well. He recently completed his apprenticeship and is working as a blacksmith.”
“How coincidental,” Eric said. “My father was a blacksmith and I became his apprentice before I came to Periville. I did not complete my training but I know how to make a horseshoe.”
“Wow,” Corinne murmured. “That is useful if Whisper should ever lose a shoe.”
“So tell us about how you met Eric,” Keris said, addressing her daughter. “Did he rescue you from the man or woman who kidnapped you?”
Corinne shook her head.
“No, Mother. I confess to you, he was the one who kidnapped me. But his intentions were most honourable - he saw how unhappy Richard was making me and couldn’t bear it. He is the kindest, sweetest soul.”
Eric looked at the table, blushing at the praise.
Keris was surprised. “That is an interesting story. So, he kept you in his cottage?”
“Yes, Mother, and he cooked me delicious foods and played his lute for me, and sewed me a handkerchief. I had the most wonderful time. I would not have fallen in love with him if he hadn’t been so fantastically lovely.”
“My lady, it was not difficult to be kind to your daughter,” Eric told Keris as she gazed at him in admiration. “She is so pleasant a character herself. Your daughter is the most wonderful woman I have ever met.”
Keris beamed. “Oh, Corinne, I am so happy for you. I can tell that this man is as you say he is. How fortunate you are to have found him. Or rather, how fortunate you are to have been rescued by him. He sounds like a knight in a fairytale!”
Eric blushed, looking at the table once again.
“You flatter me. I feel I do not deserve such praise.”
“Oh, but you do,” Corinne told him, causing him to look up at her and smile warmly. “You deserve all the praise in the land.”
As Eric and Corinne were finishing their drinks, a baby began to cry from another room in the house. Susanna stood, saying, “Ah, Daniel has awoken.” She left the room and a few minutes later, the crying stopped. Susanna brought her baby into the kitchen and sat down again so that Corinne could see him more clearly.
“He is adorable!” she exclaimed, gazing in wonder at the small child with its skin as soft as satin, short tufts of brown hair upon its head and bright blue eyes.
“This is your cousin, Corinne,” Susanna said. She looked up at Corinne. “Would you like to hold him?”
Corinne carefully took the infant from his mother’s arms.
“Hello, there,” she murmured to it. “Aren’t you a beautiful boy?”
The baby smiled at her, melting her heart.
She kissed his head before giving him back to Susanna.
“He is lovely,” she told her aunt sincerely. “His eyes are exactly like yours.”
“Thank you,” Susanna replied. “You must visit him often.”
“Oh, I shall,” Corinne responded. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure.” She turned to Eric. “Isn’t he gorgeous?”
Eric nodded, smiling. He leant in towards her and whispered in her ear, “Like you.”
Corinne blushed and Eric leant back, his smile even wider.
“Oh, I am so, so happy for you,” she told Susanna. She looked to Mother whose entire attention was fixed on her little nephew. “I will not try to take you away from him, Mother. Enjoy yourself here.”
Keris looked up, also smiling.
“Thank you, my dear. I shall.”
Corinne caught Eric glancing out of a window. The sun was starting to sink in the sky.
“Is it time we left?” she asked sadly.
He looked at her and smiled wryly.
“I am afraid so, my dear. We must not be travelling too late.”
Corinne rose to her feet and hugged and kissed her aunt and mother. She kissed little Daniel’s brow.
“Goodbye, all,” she said affectionately. “Tell Uncle Douglas that I am sorry to have missed him.”
“We will,” Susanna replied.
Eric stood too.
“Thank you very much for allowing me into your house and for giving me a drink,” he told Susanna. He turned to Keris. “And thank you for bearing such a wonderful child.”
Keris sighed at Eric’s praise.
“Such a lovely man.”
Corinne smiled and led the way out of the house. Before she and Eric mounted Whisper, Eric took her gently by the waist and kissed her.
“Your family seems wonderful,” he told her, brushing a few strands of hair behind her ear. “It is easy to see why your personality is how it is.”
Corinne smiled. “You are bursting with praise today.”
“Oh, I will be bursting with praise daily, my lady.”
Corinne gazed at Eric’s face for a few seconds in the deep golden sunlight, admiring the manner in which the light reflected in his eyes and made them impossibly more beautiful, and deepened the colour of the fair streaks in his hair, highlighting the softness of each individual stand, before kissing him to find even greater beauty.