Early autumn was often beautiful in hillfort. Rolling hills and trees that walled the hundred to three sides, ever present in copses, small outlier forests and scattered in singles throughout the land. As leaves turned from green to vibrant colour hillfort came ablaze.
It had been a strange time for Gamond. His new wife made few enough demands and seemed to have understood the situation at Ludwell even before the wedding, apparently she was content with material things, responsibility and power. She was not particularly content with the lack of marital activities of the physical nature, but made no issue of the repeated failed attempts. All those living in the overcrowded village of Forestwatch had been given the voluntary choice of moving to new pastures, as a result, most of those who distrusted him had moved away, leaving many of the kin who had come for help and a core of loyal peasantry. For the moment Ludwell was relatively at peace, even if its’ lord was not.
Anwyns absence haunted him. He trusted her to have left for good reason, and also to take care of herself, but that did not make the longing that steadily grew in him any less. During long sleepless nights he was driven out of bed and into the cold, riding or walking far afield to relieve his anxious heart.
A stir among the peasants drew him from other work, and one among the smallfolk. a young lad he vaguely recognized as one of Mellews’ brood. The boy bowed awkwardly and spoke with his eyes on the ground.
“Mlord, t’treeman wants ya”
That could only mean that Gusg, the brilliant but eccentric orchardist, had something he deemed important enough to interrupt his work. Gamond felt like he was choking, did the centre bear fruit?
He patted the boy on the head and have him two large apples, sending him on his way. On his own way to the hill where the orchard stood, draped over its slopes, Gamond considered his manor. The peasants resented the orchardist and his constant, impossible demands. He was brilliant, but a difficult man to relate to.
As he neared the orchard and climbed the slopes he marvelled at the beauty of the young trees. Half, the eastern side mostly a delicate and clear pink, the western bright white. A large grove at its’ heart grew above the rest of the trees, a vibrant red and pink. The heart of the orchard, the wild cherries of the ancient grove. He ascended the dirt path and was swallowed by the trees. They were already tall, some 20 feet, a subtle and pleasant scent putting him at ease.
The man small wiry man dropped from one of the trees, smiling so wide his face fairly split apart straight through his bushy beard. “My Lord! Wonderous, fantastic news!”
“Has the heart of the orchard borne fruit?”
“No, no, but Gamond…” he forgot himself, as he often did when absorbed by his favourite subject “…LOOK AROUND!” He did a strange little dance. “They’re blooming twice! Usually the Prunus Avium bloom once a year, two only under the very best of conditions! And we have the very best!”
Gamond nodded, moving deeper into the orchard as Gusg chattered on incessantly, jumping from tree to tree. The man would be nowhere to be found and without two words to spare for weeks on end, but the dam of words would burst at times like these. The heart of the orchard was especially lovely in the early autumn sun, and Gamond sat on the ground among the trees. Not all of them had many blooms, but many did, and here was where that subtle smell originated.
“Gusg?” Gamond spoke and cut the enthusiastic fellow off mid-sentence “..Eh, yes?” “I’d like to be alone, please”.
He barely noticed when Gusg left, having found peace for the first time in many weeks.
The temporary reprieve had ended, with a vengeance. Over the course of two months his eldest son had taken ill and died and his new wife had followed Meneri into the grave, torn inside by the babe fighting to get out of her. That babe, now his oldest son, had lived. The only blessing this miserable late autumn had provided.
The night to which Gamond was woken was every bit as miserable as that. His footman had shaken him, stirring the small baby cradled next to his chest under the furs awake with a reedy cry.
“What?” Gamond rose and handed the babe to his nursemaid. “Milorde, the lorde of Chillmark is at the gate”. “Well, what are you standing there for? Ask him in.”
The footman left, and shortly returned to a half dressed Lord Ludwell, looking nervous on shuffling feet. “Milorde, e dosnt want to come in”.
Gamond stared at his underling for a moment. “Is he armed?”
Gamond armed, and strode into the pouring rain and oppressive darkness. Gathered were Meical the tutor, Squire Devin, Cynsten and the Lord of the Tarren line. Thunder struck, and lightning cast the indistinct silhouette of Lord Chillmark into stark relief for several long heartbeats.
Maelgwyn was thin and pale, on bare and bleeding feet in the mud. Dirty claw marks glared an ugly red all over his arms. “GAMOND! Brother! Please, please forgive me! I have sinned! I have hurt you, and everyone I love! Please forgive me!”
For long moments, Gamond simply stared at the man he once called his brother. Thunder rolled across hillfort, lightning painting awkward shadows across the men gathered on the courtyard.
The towering Lord of Ludwell stepped forward, Cynsten gripped his blade, ready for the worst. Gamond took his old friend, his brother, in his arms.
“Melgwyn…” Gamonds voice caught “_What… in heavens name have you done to yourself?”_ He lifted the man as easily as he had his child, hugging him close. “Whatever you have done, I forgive you.”
He carried the closest family he had left aside from his mother into the long hall, summoning furs and hot wine. Maelgwyn had lapsed into deep sleep, and both brother and adoptive mother watched over him throughout the night.
For the rest of autumn and winter Maelgwyn and Gamond both did penance at Ambrius Abbey, and many strange dreams were visited upon them…