The church bells called with a cold, metallic chime, cutting through the empty air without resonance, just one crisp ring followed by the next. Down in the streets, small groupings of people paused to observe the church. A wooden structure that was built around the stone bell tower. Its tower was the tallest structure in Exeter; a dedication to God by a late Lord- and if Eira recalled correctly, it'd been her great-great grandfather who lay its foundations. It had been his son who had climbed its steps to toll the first Sabbath bell thirty years later. It had been his son who had constructed the wooden church accompanying it, and it had been his son, Eira's father, who had complained endlessly that the wealth his family had accumulated had been squandered housing a bell.
If you asked her though, which people rarely did, she thought it was a nice church, built on the tallest hill in Exeter and it made a grand monument to break up the squat wooden housing of the city proper. She liked the bells, she thought they sounded pretty, and she enjoyed the services put on by the priest who kept the parish. The only other stone structure in Exeter was the castle, and even then it seemed short and boring compared to bell tower. It's main hall stood as one large rectangle, a hall to receive court, yet the room grew crowded when more than fifteen men gathered.
Eira remembered as a child, her father received another Lord to discuss the marriage of her elder sister, Catrin. She remembered his face flushing when there wasn't enough room in the hall for both his men and those he hosted, and the embarrassment as he sent his own men away. He sent her away as well- there hadn't been room, but she'd heard rumors that afterward the other Lord had demanded he increase Catrin's dowry to convince him that her father was a worthy man, and that their allegiance would be prosperous. Eira often wondered if her own marriage had never been brought up because of the incident, her father resenting the affair of betrothal as it reminded him of his place in the hierarchy, a lowly lord with a lowly plot of land but nothing more.
Up on the second floor of the castle, in a corner room built off a narrow catwalk that overlooked the main hall, the lonely daughter of the lowly lord sat in a recessed window, the panes of glass fogged by the warm air of the hearth pressing against the cold air of the late autumn outside. She pressed her sleeve against the window and rubbed. Outside, the world was cloaked in a fog, and she watched as figures bobbed in and out of the cloudscape, carrying grain and wood and an array of other supplies to prepare Exeter for winter.
How odd, she noticed, the city seemed without many of the men around. Yet peasant daughters and wives, young boys and old men, worked all the same. Winter would come regardless of where their husbands, sons, and fathers were, and it'd be no less brutal because of it.
It had been winter which had taken Eira's mother away some five years ago. It was a time of sickness, and cold, and though the girl did not recognize it, she held a real and dreading fear of the season as it encroached once more. Perhaps that was why she bundled herself in her room, a heavy fur wrapped around her despite the heat of the fire, staring out at the cold air was enough to chill her bones. A sickness caught her stomach as she looked out at what should have been a calm, pleasant morning. Though it was foggy, the sun was still shining off over the eastern forests, and there was no reason for her to believe this day was any more dreadful than the last. Yet, her skin chilled for but a moment, and the young woman shivered.
Turning from the window as if it would dismiss the feeling of dread, Eira touched her stockinged feet to the ground, cold still seeping despite the thick woven yarn, and rose. Her room was fairly small, with just a bed, the window, a chest for her clothing, and a desk her father had gifted her so she could practice her penmanship in privy. The desk was a large table with a matching chair, dominating an entire wall of her room, and mostly empty besides Eira's bible and a neat row of feather quills.
She approached, her large brown eyes peering around the room despite knowing it was empty- it'd become habit to check obsessively as she approached the spot
. Her father was gone and her matrons would never enter her room without her permission, however the girl still got nervous even looking at the loosened stone in the ground, a discovery she'd made on accident some years back when she'd pushed her chair over it and felt it pivot beneath her. Then she began to pry at it, and lift it, and soon found that whatever mason who'd laid the floor had left an imperfect hole beneath one of the stones just large enough for a couple scrolls. It was there Eira kept her most personal writing, opinions on her life, reflections of the world, and her doubts and most personal fears. Sometimes the young woman would keep texts she was not meant to have stored beneath the half-formed stone, but as of that morning, she had only her own writings.
Using her fingers to wedge into the dusty cracks of the floor, she slowly eased the stone up, and set it to the side as she pulled a cylinder of rolled papers, the outside coated in dust. Expression was not an act Eira had ever been permitted, and so she guarded these writings of hers close, knowing that should her father ever find out she had the audacity to form such opinions- even if she never spoke them, he'd have the papers burned and surely take her desk away. It was not Lady-like of her to comment on war and death and the nature of her position, that was for men to debate, and yet Eira did have her thoughts, and if she could not state them she knew her only respite would be to write them down, release the pent up aggression and anger and whatever other emotion pained her into ink, and stow it away so no one could find it.
Now she delicately unrolled the scrolls, her eyes half-reading, her mind half-reciting, the written words she'd penned and taking power in the fact that they were her
words and her
thoughts. It was likely an odd thing to draw pride from to the outside observer, but to Eira, this was her rebellion, and her only time to speak unbridled. It calmed her, and after a page, she slipped the scrolls back, and replaced the stone in its crevice.
Despite that dreading fear, when Eira returned to her bed that evening, the day had been quite pleasant. Though she was rarely kept charge of, with her father and brother gone- off defending the coast from raids, Eira roamed freely from the castle and through the city, her long hair bound in a braid and kept modest by veil. Despite the lack of men, the township was relaxed, the air had warmed to almost pleasant by afternoon, and the threat of winter seemed more distant without the cold. When Lord Gwalter had left several days prior, it'd been a near jovial parade as he marched with his son and his army to repel the heathens, and though perhaps they should have felt threatened, Exeter felt safe. Eira had walked all the way to her wooden walls before she'd finally been stopped, a single guard manning the gate, and he knew enough about the Lord's middle daughter to pick out her mousey frame among the peasantry. He'd sent her back with a light chiding, having no one to escort her without abandoning his post, so he allowed her to return on her own merit.
On the walk back, the sun began to set, and the cold came sharply with it, dark clouds rolling off the coast and darkening the sky. Eira might have decided that to be the premonition this morning, she'd been sensing the storm, but the girl enjoyed falling asleep to raindrops so when she sat once more in her window sill, her fears seemed unfounded.
Long past the time she knew she was expected to bed, Eira sat still in that windowsill, a quill and paper in her lap, pressed against a piece of wood she'd crafted into a makeshift desk. Because no one was home, she decided to take advantage that no one would notice the candle in her window, and peer out into the township to help clear her thoughts before she committed them to paper.