Rumors said that Lord Fitz’s son was returning from battle unscathed. The young boy who had left home to fight mercilessly for his country, tearing skin and breaking bones was finally recognized as a hero for the barely thriving land after years of conspiracies that he had fled from his home due to the harsh hand of his father. At a ripe age of 13, he had once become a symbol of treachery for even the peasants who used their mouths to spread evil words about him. Yet, here he was, prepared to return home and defend his future inheritance boldly. The town had erupted in cheers as the announcement was made despite the rain thundering down upon the commoners’ heads and lightening striking their distant hearts. Lord Fitz was a man of his word, a man of the house, thus there was no reason to continuously demand a celebration for his son’s arrival in the coming days as he had made it clear the first time.
The maidens had furiously began creating leather braies for their brothers and ornate, colorful kirtles for themselves as this was such a delightful honor! The son of the Lord before their very eyes in a mere matter of days! Oh, how they’d been dying to meet His Highness with grace and acceptance for years! The husbands hurried to London to invest in decorations and festivities while the children sneakily whispered to their peers about the Lord’s son and his bravery on the battlefield. The wives gossiped cheerfully about the lad who had apparently becoming quite attractive, much like his father and mother.
Among the commoners was a young woman who called herself Jo, derived from Johanna, was a maiden living among a tremendous family of six other single maidens and a father. Although majority of them had already found their suitors -- merchants and hunters -- the darling girl had yet to venture further than her home to pick out for herself. She had busied herself with other various hobbies such as poetry and useless storytelling, both of which her sisters and neighbors found utterly useless, and neglected on her household duties as if she were not destined to become a house warmer. Her infamous objection when asked about marriage went something like: “I have no desire to marry, nor do I have a desire to cater for an insolent, lazy excuse of a husband” and the matter was dropped as she usually grew red with rage, fingers balling up into fists. The girl was not to be tested. Indeed, the girl was patient, however the matter of marriage and children was far too barbaric for her to even ponder over. As if she would waste her precious time on such ridiculous fantasies of a perfect life with a partner! Besides, she wouldn’t allow her expensive talent go to waste, especially since she was more gifted than half the people in town who dared to call themselves men.
Jo’s father, Robert, was a victim to criticism when it came to his youngest daughter. Not a day would pass by as he opened his trading shop where people would spare asking him about his daughter. She had become too well known in the streets with rumors flying as much as they did about the young man returning from war. Perhaps she doesn’t even like men, one woman snickered as she walked past the old man’s trading post and the insult had reached Jo’s ears. Her family were hasty to fasten their limbs around the girl before she could drive an arrow through the woman’s heart.
Jo’s oldest sister, Meria was quite the opposite of her sister, far more appealing, beautiful, and poised. She was the girl who drove men to madness with her sweet words and a sway of her hips. She often found herself shielding her little sister, although Jo always grumbled that she didn’t need a guardian, to preserve the clean reputation of her family. At the end of the day, it was she who tamed the young girl as she had done at this very moment. Early in the morning, she had strapped Jo into her beauty chair and began working through the unkempt, brittle hair Jo had recently grown to adore. Maidens had long hair, yes, but never as long and wild as Jo who hardly aided in keeping the level of frizz to a minimum. With a scowl on her face, Jo reluctantly allowed her Meria to tug mercilessly on her hair into pretty shapes and and paint her skin with ointments which supposedly cleansed the devil off her face. A blue kirtle was bestowed on the girl, passed through the sisters who managed to tear only one thread out of place.
“Not one good reason for this foolish type of decoration,” Jo growled as her sisters gushed over how delicate she appeared.
“Of course there is, silly girl!” her father laughed, placing a hand on top of her head, patting the newfound softness. “The Lord’s son is returning! We must look our best!”
“Spending too much money on the bastard if you ask me. As if I give a damn about him! He’s probably as stuck up as the rest of his graceful family of thieves,” she snarled back, receiving an icy glare from her father as it was no way a lady should talk.
Now this statement was a blatant lie. There wa no question that Lord Fitz was a generous man who cared immensely for his people and vassals who managed his beloved land. As his father had passed on the position of the landlord, he was quite familiar with the pleasures of the villagers and the discomforts. The man taxed reasonably, except in the spring, and only yearned for the best of his subjects. Unlike the King, he was loyal and benevolent. To bad mouth the Lord would be likewise to treason in this small village.
Michael H. Fitz grinned proudly as he walked through the frenzy of a market in his own town, merchants yelling and imploring people to buy or trade their goods. To see his home so lively, so incredibly happy was definitely a positive hit to his ego, chest puffed out in happiness. The commoners didn’t draw too much attention on him as his attire consisted of tattered braies and a brown shawl that covered his torso. He had expected his father to have an immense gathering, however this far too much for him to expect!
“Sir!” his squire besides him laughed. “’Tis is all for you!”
Michael shot him a glare and pressed a finger to his own lips. “Aye. Stay quiet, young John. These people know not of my arrival. A secret you will keep until we reach the manor.”
John nodded understandingly, still beaming at the stalls around him, allowing the townspeople to bump shoulders with him. Although he were a petit boy still, he knew where his loyalties lay and not to anger his master. Past experiences with the man’s anger was one he’d wish to forget as his punishments were often harsh. Instead of boasting about the celebration centered around his master, he wordlessly strolled besides the man. John could practically feel Sir Michael’s giddiness radiating off his sun kissed skin.
Michael continued to peer behind every curtain curiously to note what other good they were selling. Oh there was so much! His beloved home was thriving! Potatoes, greens, handmade jewelry! And all for his sake! He was quivering with delight in his wrecked clothing, head wildly whipping around to make sure he didn’t miss a single sight of this wondrous event. A particular stall caught his attention where men were gathered on one side, women on the other. The maidens were shyly making conversation with the men opposite to them, giggles falling from their lips loudly. Their hands would slap happily across their mouths as the men spoke seductive words to them, rolling compliments off their tongues. Could it be? A marriage stall? How unorthodox! He surely had to ask father to ban this appalling behavior!
Michael was so intrigued by the sight, he had no time to weave out of the way of the incoming traffic. Something collided against his chest forcefully, knocking the breath out of him. His hand immediately fled to the belt of his braier, grasping his pocket knife. “Sir, no!” John cried, prepared to jump in front of his master to stop him from causing harm to the girl. Before Michael had the chance to glance at the object, he heard it speak in frustration.
“Sincerest thanks to you!” she growled. “Somebody’s ruined my morning too!”
Jo’s wild hair swept across her eyes and she crouched down to gather the fruits that had fallen onto the ground when she made contact with the man.
Michael watched as the girl bent down to his feet, angrily muttering to herself swear words that no man would ever appreciate, and raised his eyebrows as he studied her. Surely, it would have been the right act of chivalry to bent at his waist and help the maiden, however he was gobsmacked by her appearance. Dressed in a blue kirtle, and with a couple flowers littering her dark strands, he was astonished. Her figure rested so perfectly and slim, small hands picking up the undamaged vegetables. Her thick curly hair was flowing easily in the spring breeze, untamed, as if she hadn’t brushed through it completely that morning. If he were to run his hand through, his fingers were to get tangled towards the bottom where it seemed most disheveled. Such a pretty girl was at his feet, tidying up a mess he had caused, yet he couldn’t budge from his stance.
Michael hadn’t noticed his squire jump at the opportunity to help the girl out, muttering, “Here, madame. Let me aid you.”
The girl looked at him angrily. “Madame?”
John scrambled to place the remaining apples into the basket she held and stand up afterwards. He hadn’t noticed her knuckles turn white with rage. She continued to frown up at him, tilting her head. As she glared at the young boy with irritation, Michael continued to watch the girl curiously, awaiting her next move. She certainly seemed like a delicate girl, however her mouth ran miles. The freckles on her cheeks danced as she scrunched her nose, lips in a thin line. She nearly slapped John’s hand away when the boy tried to offer his hand and stood up on her own, not bothering to brush the dirt off her kirtle.
“My apologies,” John squeaked, embarrassed. “Mademoiselle?”
Her mouth fell ajar. “Is this not England?”
Finally, she averted her eyes to the man besides the squire who continued to stare at her with an amused grin. She raised a challenging eyebrow at the man and curtsied. “Much thanks for your help, Monsieur.”
Michael’s smile slightly faded at her cold eyes but he wasn’t horribly fazed. He tilted his head down in acknowledgement and held his hand out. “Many apologies on behalf of my...friend. He’s quite immature when it comes to beautiful women.”
She looked at his hand incredulously and scoffed. “I do not forgive you! Have you lost your sight?”
Michael’s eyebrows knitted together as he watched the Jo brush off the dirt from her sleeves. John had sheepishly pressed himself behind his master, face as red and ashamed as a criminal who had just been caught. Sir Michael’s mouth pressed into a hard line when the girl muttered more swears underneath her breath, turning her back to him.
“Ah, wait!” he cried. “I must ask a question.”
Jo gritted her teeth as she turned around, placing her hands on her hips. She shifted her weight onto her right leg and stared up at him dauntingly even though he towered over her by a good half foot. “What?”
The grin slid back onto Michael’s mouth, a mischievous glint in his eye. “What can I call you?”
“Nothing! For I assume we will never see each other again, so why waste breath?” she replied hotly, turning away from, careful not to aimlessly bump into anybody else. Heavens knew she was late already. Her sisters had yet to cook dinner!
“Never? Oh, why not?” He implored.
“Are you really blind, sir? Look around you! It’s a festival! There's so many people. I won't ever see you again, thank the heavens!”
Michael sighed. “God’s teeth, you're a headache. Just tell me your name.”
“Why?” She hissed, rolling her eyes.
“Because,” the man demanded. “I’ve yet to meet a woman with a mouth as witty as yours. You’ve caught my attention.”
Jo’s arms crossed against the span of her chest. The wind’s mouth blew at her kirtle, wrapping the long cloth around her legs, bumps arising on the skin of her arms. She looked far too delicate to be here alone, yet by the way she spoke, Michael knew she was independent.
“Jo,” she said angrily.
Sir Michael blinked in confusion, mouth formed in an “O”. A snicker traveled up his throat and he released a heavy laugh despite his squire tugging on his shirt to get him to halt. Jo continued staring at him threateningly while he doubled over and laughed, tears welling in his eyes.
“You're no maiden!” he chuckled deeply, pressing his palms against his eyes to keep them from leaking. “Your wit is impossible for a woman! As is your humor!”
Jo’s face contorted into rage. Oh, how she wished she had her bow and arrow! Her hands itched to drive a spear through his heart, no matter how painfully attractive the man was. Instead, she raised the length of her kirtle to her knees were a small knife was strapped around the skin, covered meticulously by a beige cloth. Michael’s eyes dropped to the blade she showed off, grinning even harder.
“You won't dare. How could you look so dainty in a kirtle and then threaten me with a weapon?!”
Jo fingered the smooth edge of the blade teasingly. “If you like me in a kirtle, you might find me ravishing in hunting braies.”
Michael only continued breathlessly. “Hunting? God’s teeth, would I bring a bride to my abode or a groom?”
“Sir,” John muttered, realizing a couple head turned to stare at the three ruckus creators.
“Bride! Hah! As if a man like you could ever make a bride out a girl. Lord, she’d run away to Scotland before you’d take her to meet your father and create bastard children!” Jo laughed loudly, clapping her hands. She turned away, flipped her hair over her shoulders and briskly walked away from the insulted man.
“Sir,” John mumbled again but was ignored once more by his master who stared longingly in the direction of the young girl. Oh, surely she wasn't married! There wasn't a piece of jewelry on her skin! Unless her husband were stingy as many men he had met who treated their beautiful wives so unjustly! Regardless, there was a small hint of guilt that flowed through his veins as she was clearly perturbed by his outbursts. How could he filter himself if he’d never met such an odd women. A witch is what she was, not a human!
“John,” the Lord’s son beamed dreamily. “Do you take a fancy in her?”
The squire shook his head rapidly, a hand clutched to his heart. His breathing was far more erratic than his master’s. “Nay! She’s revolting! My mother could set her straight with a—”
“I want to know her real name. No parent in their right mind would name their child such. Besides, father isn't expecting me until later. We should follow—”
“And be slaughtered by a maiden who hunts? With all resect, how is that a plausible idea, Your Highness?! We must hasten to reach the manor!” The squire gasped, clutching his master’s sleeve.
“Oh please, shut your mouth,” Sir Michael rolled his eyes as he tore his arm away harshly. “She’s a woman. So what if she’s killed a couple birds or ducks? What’s the difference? Fine, we will not follow the young lady. However, a maiden is a maiden, am I wrong?”
John shook his head sadly. “Nay, my lord. You're right.”
With a heavy nod of his head, the squire and the warrior began their journey through the thick mass of humid humans, the number which had doubled, to his manor where his father awaited.
The crowd was greater than the Lord himself had expected. His son and himself gleaned across the balcony of the Fitz Manor, waving graciously at the commoners they ruled over. Food and goods were brought to into the Manor by subjects and messengers all bearing the same message for Sir Michael H. Fitz: “Welcome Home, Our Brave Warrior”. Some gifts were rather lavish which caused guilt to strike at the young man’s heart because yes, the area was thriving and vassals were as loyal as the angels to God, however the thought of money being thrown uselessly was a rather large risk. Father hadn’t even informed him about the slight economic decline the townspeople faced due to such a brutal winter of snow and iced balls free falling from the heavens. He had to find out his information from his mother who dressed in every piece of jewelry she owned to flaunt her son’s achievements.
Michael had yet to see dear Jo again after their brief banter this morning. There was no doubt she was in this massive yard of people with her family besides her. However, Sir Michael’s eyes could only venture so far across the horizon. Indeed, he was disappointed.
After thanking the people on multiple occasions, Michael bid them farewell with a careless wave with his firm hand and retreated back inside his chamber. His area, thankfully, was slightly more modernized as his mother had ordered new bed and curtains. Alas, he wasn't the boy he was ten years ago.
He found it quite easy to slumber that night, mainly because of his long voyage and ear bitten off by his irritating squire, but also because he was eager to dream about the maiden who had full intention of meeting once more. Certainly, he would have the pleasure again.
“You really oughta control that mouth,” Jo’s father paced around her, arms latched behind his back, head bowed disappointedly. Once she had confessed that she had threatened the Lord’s son, he had removed all accessibility to her weapons, most of which he was unaware she had obtained secretly in a stash below her bed.
Jo nodded sadly and placed her head in her hands, cradling it. “Aye. You're correct father, however you didn't hear the disgusting words he used against me!”
“Did he threaten you? No. He’s a man with a high prestige! How did you fail to realize!” her old man cried.
“How would I know?! I was hesitant to give my name, how could I ask for his? As if he’d even give me his real name thanks to that squire besides him. The man didn't even call the boy a squire! He didn't want me to know it was him!”
“Your name,” her father muttered horrifically, sitting down anxiously. He shook his head in frustration, smacking a hand on the wall. “You gave him your name!”
“He asked for it! I plead no at first. But alas, he is a man,” Jo argued back.
“Not only a man...the Lord’s son,” then the man laughed breathlessly. “That man will rule us one day. What kind of impression is this, Johanna?”
Her nose wrinkled at the deliberate use of her birth name. Oh, she knew how much her father despised that! There was obvious reasoning behind his grouses, yet she was hardly to blame. If she had only known he was the person the celebrations were happening for! How could she be so idiotic!
“I’m sorry, father. ‘Tis my fault and indeed, I intend to fix it.”
At this, the man glanced up and shook his head furiously. “You will not do such a thing! You will repent in other ways, but you shall not speak to that man or the Lord again!”
“Well, fine! But I was only trying to make it better!” she exclaimed, latching her hands onto her hips in defeat. Her father only smacked his forehead against his palm and sighed angrily before jabbing a finger towards the door.
“Depart now. Join your sisters down at the market. Nicolas and Gandor will be joining us for dinner tonight so preparations are necessary. And...” he cut himself off, shooting a warning look to his youngest daughter. “Don’t you dare go looking for any trouble or I’ll have you wed by tomorrow.”
She nodded half heartedly and dragged her feet as she let herself outside, a small pout on her lips. Her father shut the door loudly behind her and she huffed, crossing her arms as she began walking towards the market. Her kirtle had a small rip right below her stomach however she was able to cover her modesty before a mother was to point it out. No doubt the women had keen eyes in this part of the village. Perhaps it was time to buy another shawl. Or an extra set of overalls. Aye, this would be acceptable.
The market was thankfully not as suffocating as the day prior. It was easy to find her sisters who anxiously asked if she had gotten exiled by father, but to their supposed disappointment, she didn’t. Jo was careful to apologize for worrying her older sisters and just as she expected, they forgive after one sweet smile. Meria dropped five bronze coins into her palm and gingerly shoved her back towards the direction of the braies. “‘Tis all you’re receiving as punishment.”
Hunting braies, maternal braies, and house maid kirtles lay on the table presented to her. She eagerly thumbed through the pairs of wonderful clothing and colorful styles. It wasn't until she had picked a favorite when a large hand pressed itself against her back, tugging her to a warm chest.
Her first instinct was to whip her kirtle up and grasp the knife between her fingers, except when she saw the man, she nearly broke out into apologies. His face was covered by a black cloth, leaving his eyes uncovered and beautifully exposed for the world to see. His finger pressed against where his lips would touch and his dark eyebrows furrowed. Alarming green eyes, led her away from the man who had engaged himself in a conversation with another woman. Jo could only follow the man, frightened by what he had to say. He grabbed the girl’s hand finally and maneuvered her towards a building which looked oddly familiar. It took a few moments before she realized it was a home she found her childhood memories in; the Charles home, a close friend of her father’s. Oddly enough, for some reason, the lord’s son knew the bricks blocked the two from the judging eyes of the world who yearned to learn more, thus gossiping more.
Michael smiled at the girl when he removed the black cloth around the lower half of his mouth and let it drop to the base of his neck. The girl backed up until her spine hit the the wall. “Johanna,” he rasped.
“If His Highness will arrest me, then I shall not plead guilty,” Jo spoke nervously, waiting for his men to grasp her arms and force her to march to the townhouse.
Instead, Michael placed his palms flat on the red wall on either side of her head, laughing. “Arrest you? But for what crime?”
She blinked up at him. “For threatening you?”
He only laughed loudly, throwing his head back, his long hair falling past his shoulders. “Of course not! I can handle a smart mouth! What a childish reason to be hanged, Johanna Rose.”
Slowly, Jo nodded, unsure of what to say. Then, she gasped and placed a hand over her mouth. “How do you know my birth name, Sir?”
“I am the Lord’s son,” Michael spoke almost c***ily. “I have subjects who know to whom they belong to.. And besides, the maids at my Manor know just about everything about every serf. All I had to do was mention your boyish name and then the secrets just came spilling out.”
“Secrets!” the girl nearly yelled. “What sorts of secrets?!”
Michael waved his hand nonchalantly in the air, shrugging one shoulder. “Just some stuff about your father and where he works and your inability to wed a decent merchant. Nothing I care too much about. Your reputation is safe in my hands,” he assured her carelessly before focusing back on the task he had brought her here for. “I have a demand.”
Jo, slightly enraged by the statements the maids had told His Highness, nodded slowly and waited. Although she was itching to return back to her home, she felt far more comfortable being within a close proximity of Michael than in the kitchen cooking some food she wouldn’t even feast on. Michael’s head tilted to the side, a lazy smile etched on his face. “I would like to meet your father.”
“Whatever for?” Jo cried, panic invading her senses as visuals of Michael complaining to her father arose in her read. As if she’d let him! Suddenly, the knife stuffed under her kirtle seemed heavy in weight, begging to slice skin.
“To request for your hand. In marriage that is.”
Horrified, Jo ducked under his arms and stared at him coldly. “Have you lost your reason?”
“I might have misplaced it as soon as you flashed that knife that is sitting sitting on top of your thigh, waiting to strike me the first evening we locked eyes. But, you wouldn’t maim me, would you? Of course not, that would be treason. You could get hanged for that,” the man began rambling off on a tangent about how murder would not be tolerated under his rule. Jo could only stare at him in disbelief, jaw slack as he continued.
Finally, he took a pregnant pause and glanced at the girl with an arched eyebrow. “When shall I come to your home?”
“Nay! Never!” she sputtered, throwing his hands in the air with frustration, hair wildly falling into her eyes and sticking onto her chin. “It’s no offense to you, but it’s bad reputation! How could you marry a serf’s daughter without knowing her!”
Sir Michael Fitz frowned then, shaking his head. “I do not intend on marrying you the next day at the church yonder. Why, that would be an unjust marriage! I would just prefer people to acknowledge your unavailability as you would become my fiancé.”
“Why do you want to marry me? I’m hardly as fair as the rest of my sisters! And if you think I have any desire for your riches, then you’re wrong! I’m capable and content with remaining a peasant for the remainder of my life!”
“Quite a headache you are, Johanna,” Michael rubbed his temples. “Perhaps that is why I chose you to become Lady Fitz of the Manor. You enthralled me.”
“And whatever shall happen once you find me frivolous and unwonted?”
“That, my sweet Jo, will never occur in my lifetime. I assure you, you have my care and protection. None shall harm you under my wing,” he smiled, taking her slightly rough hands in his large ones. “I don’t want a house maid as a wife. I want a woman.”
“Have I no word in this?” Jo groaned. With all due respect, this man wasn’t in his senses! How much ale had he drank the night before? Or rather this morning?
Michael sighed and sagged his shoulders. He knew this would be a challenge, even speaking to the girl with intentions of regular conversation was a battle far worse than he had encountered in his lifetime of war. He ran a hand through his long hair and nodded. “You have full say in this. Do you wish to marry me?”
“At the precise moment? Nay!” Jo exclaimed.
Michael’s green eyes lit up teasingly, mouth stretching horizontally from ear to ear in a smirk. His arm wrapped around the girl’s petite waist and caressed her cheek with the back of his vacant hand. Just as he had expected, her cheeks turned a light shade of blossoming pink and heated up. The girl peered up at him, debating on whether or not to dramatically shove him away, but decided against it as his eyes glazed with romance. The wind had significantly increased, although the weather was still humid, and the breeze swayed the man and woman.
“In the near future? I promise, as you might have already heard, I’m quite a charmer,” he said quietly.
Jo fought the urge to roll her eyes at the statement she had unfortunately heard far too much. Except this time, her cheeks were set afire again, which Michael was quick to notice.
“I know not about the future,” she breathed heavily, watching the way his lips moved. Sir Michael nodded understandingly and released her from his hold. She immediately took a step back and rubbed at her dry eyes that once stared so achingly into his green orbs.
“That is an answer suitable for my, my fair maiden,” Michael bowed before her as if she were royalty and spun around and walked out of the small alleyway without attempting to remain incognito.
Sir Michael nonetheless arrived at his lover’s doorstep well into summer where the sun had tanned his skin and he had finally become accustomed to his duties for the people as the son of the Lord. The door was opened to reveal a man with a thick white beard and a gruff voice who invited him instead. Michael thanked the heavens he had remembered to shave, and also thanked Jo quietly who had reminded him on multiple occasions that her father prefered a man, not a grandfather. Although Jo claimed she liked Michael’s beard, it was no secret that she found him more attractive without scruff around his jaw as it was easier to kiss him and cup his cheeks.
She had spent too many instances complaining about his lack of hair, even though there was plenty on his head, but usually Sir Michael smiled fondly down at his girl and shook his head with happiness, bending down to connect their lips.
Eventually, although it took many lonely nights of irritation, Johanna fell in love with the man. Michael had teased on end about her reluctant feelings were grew bolder every time she met him coincidentally in the market with the black scarf covering his lower half of his face or the times she met him at the river while watching her father fish. In fact, she wed him in the new church with an honest smile on her face, and a full life supply of happiness, and the title Lady Johanna Rose Fitz.