Mairyn looked at Lauryn’s glossy, blonde hair and her clean smock. She ran her hands through her own hair, so similar to Lauryn’s but tangled and slightly dull. Mairyn knew that Lauryn kept herself clean and neat because Lauryn didn’t do any of the work. Mairyn scrubbed the floors and got her dress wet with dirty water; Mairyn swept the cobwebs from the ceiling corners and pulled her hair from its braids; Mairyn scrubbed the fireplace kettles getting smudges of soot on her face and hands.
Lauryn sat by singing nonsense songs she made up as Mairyn did their chores. Mairyn listened to Lauryn sing and added her sweet voice to the list of fine traits Lauryn had received from the Gods in excess while Mairyn only received a strong broad back. No one cared who did the work as long as it got done. The mistress didn’t look very closely at who accomplished the tasks and since Lauryn always had a ready and pleasant smile for those she met, most people did not look beyond her white even teeth and her blue eyes and clear skin.
Mairyn went to her pallet at night too tired to feel the inequities of her life compared to her sister’s life, but she did feel the unfairness of the situation. Her dreams showed her what life would be like if Lauryn helped with their work or if Lauryn were not the pretty one or the one who made people laugh and smile. Occasionally Mairyn dreamed of what life would be like if Lauryn were dead.
Mairyn dreamed she had Lauryn’s beauty and personality. She didn’t understand why or how they could be so different; they were after all identical twins. Well, they had been identical when they were younger, but at some point Mairyn had become a drudge and Lauryn had become a special being. Lauryn liked to say it was because she was the older of the two. That one minute seemed to make all of the difference in their lives.
Mairyn dreamed that Lauryn would die a horrible death and that upon her death her memory would fade from peoples’ minds and then Mairyn could take her place. In her dreams, Mairyn told stories and sang love songs and danced enchantedly. She no longer had to scrub the stones or rake the filthy rushes from the hall or carry buckets of water for the bathhouse. Mairyn dreamt that someone would come along who could see her beauty under her work worn face and sweaty dress; someone who would like her quiet ways and think she was special. She often dreamt she was a princess, hidden from people who would do her harm because she was secret royalty, a princess that would get a strong, brave knight on the throne when he married her, although he would only be marrying her for love.
Mairyn knew she was almost sixteen because Madame Gertrude had told Lauryn she was almost sixteen and Madame Gertrude was considering marrying Lauryn to their clan Chief’s son who was besotted with Lauryn. Sixteen was the perfect marrying age and Madame Gertrude would get the best price for Lauryn then. Girls were not allowed to marry any younger than sixteen but the older they got the less valuable they were, so Madame Gertrude was negotiating with Wulfgard daily.
He was not really happy with his son’s choice since no one really knew where Lauryn and hence Mairyn came from as they were orphans that Madame Gertrude had acquired when the girls were but two years old. Madame Gertrude claimed them to be her nieces but no one believed her. There was no family resemblance and most people thought Madame Gertrude was barely human. People whispered that Madame Gertrude was part troll. Her heavy brows with dark hair that met over the bridge of her large and bulbous nose topped thick wide lips set on a square protruding chin and straight jaw line. Her body was squat and like a barricade that she used to block walkways and entrances. Her hair stood in small curly tufts that seemed never to have been brushed and children wondered if small animals were hiding in the wiry rusty mass. One of the favorite games of the children in town was to see who could toss the smallest bits of twigs and acorns and branches into her hair before she would turn on them, raging and waving her thick wooden walking staff, rarely fast enough to catch any of the urchins harassing her.
Madame Gertrude enjoyed her reputation as a tough woman. She was able to amass a nice stock of sheep and cattle and pigs and goats through her tough bargaining abilities and also when she confiscated animals from people who could not pay coin for her services. She placed her stock into pasture during the spring, summer and fall and then sold them between the Grain and Fruit moons for slaughter and then smoking when the air is cold. She only kept a few for breeding into new stock when she began collecting more animals during the winter months for payment. Mairyn enjoyed the times she was sent into the pastures to care for the sheep during the summer. Shepparding was so much easier than the endless cleaning and carrying she had to do most of the time. When she was in the pastures, alone except for the animals, she sang to them and they would gather around her, lowing quietly and occasionally rubbing up against her in a comforting way.
Madame Gertrude owned the only Guesthaus, named Lindwurm, in the village. Their village was not on any main travel route but when people were bunked at the Haus, Mairyn spent much of her time waiting on the visitors and cleaning up after them. She did not cook, but she did peel turnips and chop cabbage and core apples. She also was engaged in cleaning the kettles when the fires were put out and the hearths shoveled and swept. Madame Gertrude had a large cold cellar under the Guesthaus where she stored beer and ale and wines, cheeses made from her goats and cattle, apples and cabbages and sacks of grain. During the winter months, Madame Gertrude sold these stored items to the village people for animals in some cases, but she also bought finely woven cloth and intricately embroidered and sewn clothes which she trade throughout the year. On some occasions, Madame Gertrude received gold and silver coins, which she horded in the cellar for future use. No one was supposed to know about this secret stash of valuable metals, but because of all of the time Mairyn spent stocking the cellar and retrieving items for sale, she had come across Madame Gertrude’s pile of riches. Mairyn did not tell anyone about Madame Gertrude’s secret. Mairyn just watched the pile grow. She would check on it once every other moon just to see if it were still there and not only was it there but it grew steadily and as far as Mairyn could tell, Madame Gertrude never removed any of it. Mairyn only looked at the coins; she never touched them, afraid that Madame Gertrude would know, in that odd way she seemed to have, if the coins had been touched.
Madame Gertrude owned several of the boats that plied their way back and forth across the lake that their village sat on. One of the boats was a ferry. Madame Gertrude’s ferry was the only one that could carry horses and other animals across the lake. Most animals came over the mountains at the back of the village, but occasionally they needed to come across the lake in an emergency. The other three boats she had were fishing boats. She sold fish in the Guesthaus Lindwurm, salted fish for travelers’ packs and smoked fish were put up in her cold cellar for winter food.
The only food Madame Gertrude was not involved in were herbs and berries and mushrooms and other items that were collected by the old wise woman who lived above the village in the mountains. Because Madame Gertrude had no involvement in that commerce, most of the food she served was without the additional flavoring. When Madame Gertrude needed the healing abilities of the old wise woman, Flora, it was only ever an emergency because she never wanted to pay Flora what she asked and Flora asked for some odd things, things no one knew Madame Gertrude had, but some how Flora knew and Madame Gertrude always paid but with a very sour look upon her face.
Once, Lauryn had a grave fever when she was eight. Madame Gertrude was quite beside herself with fear. She sent one of the scuttle boys up the mountain to fetch the old woman. He had met her on the path. She was already on her way down. She had the canny ability to be places where she was needed. The boy carried her pack down the rest of the way to the village. Flora arrived just in time with her medicinals. She brewed a pot of willow bark tea and poured small amounts down Lauryn’s throat. She heaped feather stuffed quilts and sheep skins upon Lauryn as she slept. Lauryn’s fever broke before the sun finished moving across its zenith.
Flora left instructions for light broths to be feed to the sick child for two days along with the same time of bed rest. She whispered into Madame Gertrude’s ear, who immediately lost all color from her normally ruddy complexion, and then Flora proceeded out of the door. Flora caressed Mairyn’s face as she passed her, pausing briefly to look into her eyes without speaking. Mairyn felt an odd shiver down her arms and legs at which Flora smiled a broad toothless grim and left.
Two days later, Mairyn saw a cart pulled by two boys head up the path to the mountain. Mairyn ran over to the boys, Haas and Petre, and asked what they were doing. Haas, being two years older than both Petre and Mairyn, told her it was none of her business, but Petre couldn’t contain himself. He told Mairyn they were on their way up to Flora’s hut with two feather quilts, an intricately embroidered wool cloak, a ham and a copper mirror, all in payment for the healing of Lauryn.
Another time, Madame Gertrude had sliced her own leg open while butchering a hog (something she enjoyed doing every autumn.) The bleeding would not stop, but Madame Gertrude was reluctant to call for Flora. She tried packing the gash herself with honey and moss, topped off with some fresh shorn sheep’s wool, but the bleeding would not stop for two days. Finally, after taking to her bed in weakness, the blood stopped but soon a rank smell rose from the cut and the edges had a faint tint of green to them. In agony, Madame Gertrude had Mairyn send one of the boys for Flora. Mairyn tended Madame Gertrude in her illness. Lauryn pled a weak stomach and was granted leave from waiting at Madame Gertrude’s bedside.
When Flora came, she dowsed the wound with some of Madame Gertrude’s most expensive wine, poured a generous portion down Madame Gertrude’s gullet. Flora had Mairyn put a kitchen knife in the fire to heat up. Flora scrapped out the mess of pussy honey, moss and wool, tearing the flesh where everything was stuck together along with the gangrenous flesh. Once this was done, she had Mairyn fetch the knife from the fire and used it to cauterize the wound. This time the only thing Flora wanted was the knife Madame Gertrude wore on special occasions but never used for cutting. The knife was kept in a soft kid leather sheath. It had a large green gem as a pommel and the scales were of a black wood that Mairyn had never seen before. Madame Gertrude moaned when Flora asked for it, but gave it up none the less. This was one of the few times when Mairyn had ever seen anyone look upon Lauryn with anything but pleasure. After giving Mairyn instructions to care for Madame Gertrude’s leg, Flora passed Lauryn on her way out of the door. Flora paused and looked into Lauryn’s eyes. Lauryn smiled as she usually does but not as usual, Flora did not return her smile. Flora made some sort of sign in front of Lauryn’s face, snorted and hobbled out. Lauryn looked frightened.
Some of the other things Flora received from Madame Gertrude over the years were a white quartz bowl with side so thin and smooth you could see through them, a small amphora and stopper made of the same material and oddly enough, a child’s sling shot. Mairyn knew there were other things but she did not know what they were and while most of the items were lovely to look upon, Mairyn had no idea what an old lady living alone would do with them. She did not think Flora sold them but kept them for some future purpose.
Sometimes, Madame Gertrude would go away on trips to sell her sheep and goat wool and to buy some of the things they did not make in their own village. During these times, Mairyn had more free time and she usually spent these moments with Petre, the only other person besides Flora who was openly unimpressed with Lauryn.
When they could, they ran off to the fields on the west side of the village where a waterfall dropped into a pond at the base of the mountains and ran in a quick stream down to the lake. In the summer, they would dare the icy water and run through the waterfall into the cave hidden behind the down pour. A shaft of sunlight pierced into the cave from above and warmed the space enough to be tolerable when the sun was high in the sky. The light revealed stone benches running along the walls and a passage that went into the mountain. They never went further into the cave under the mountain, fearing a dragon lived inside.
When it was too cold to jump through the water of the waterfall, they laid in the grass looking up into the sky and watched the clouds pass by, enjoying the peace of no one telling them what to do. Petre worked with the animals, herding them, shearing them and slaughtering them. He was about Mairyn’s age, but where Mairyn was quiet most of the time, Petre talked, telling Mairyn stories of what life would be like some day for them. Petre told wonderful fantasies about adventures in other places and the heroic acts they would be involved in.
Petre was Mairyn’s age and both of his parents were dead too but he lived with an aunt and uncle. By the time they were both almost sixteen, Petre stood four hand widths taller than Mairyn. He too had blonde hair which he wore braided down his back but where her eyes were blue, his were an uncommon shade of dark green with golden flecks around the edges. He was lean and taut from all of his labors, but fast and nimble in his actions and in his wit. He often made comments under his breath that made Mairyn giggle and she would receive odd looks from anyone who might be near as people rarely heard her laugh.
He had done this to her on the day that Madame Gertrude announced the betrothal of Lauryn and Wulfgard’s son, Gideon. Petre wondered in Mairyn’s ear which of the cattle Wulfgard had given Madame Gertrude for her brood mare.
Mairyn received the back of Madame Gertrude’s hand when Mairyn laughed at Petre’s comment. Madame Gertrude did not want anything to interfere with the betrothal of Lauryn to Gideon. If all went well, Gideon could be the next Chief when Wulfgard died, thus placing Lauryn and Madame Gertrude in a good position, or so she hoped.
Madame Gertrud and Wulfgard stood side by side with Gideon to Wulfgard’s right and Lauryn to Madame Gertrude’s left. Gideon kept looking around his father to get a glimpse of Lauryn. Lauryn looked down at her feet in an approximation of demure maidenly coyness. Madame Gertrude spoke out the marriage agreement listing when the wedding would take place (at the second new moon from this day) and it would be held in Wulfgard’s hall. Madame Gertrude would provide pigs for roasting and fish for stews and all of the other food stuffs, like the bread trenchers. Madame Gertrude would also provide the ales and wines. Wulfgard would provide the entertainment, bringing in a group of musicians and singers from Juvavum. Wulfgard would give Madame Gertrude seven head of cattle, seven sacks of grain, and seven gold coins. Wulfgard would also pay for a special bolt of fabric and the seamstresses to cut and stitch a dress for her wedding day. Once Madame Gertrude finished announcing all of this to her audience, nearly every person in the entire village, she took Lauryn’s left hand and placed it in Gideon’s left hand. Lauryn glanced up and smiled at the crowd but never looked at Gideon who was beside himself trying to capture Lauryn’s glance. Wulfgard stood by frowning at his son’s besotted behavior and at Lauryn’s vapid joy. Wulfgard kept his own council, but Mairyn did not think he approved of his son’s choice. Mairyn could not figure out why Wulfgard was going through with the marriage. Surely he could convince his son to choose someone else. Mairyn suspected that Madame Gertrude had some way to pressure Wulfgard to agree to the match.
Mairyn stood behind the four people playing out their roles in front of the whole town. Madame Gertrude called Mairyn forward during the intervals where Madame Gertrude paused in her speech so Mairyn could hand Madame Gertrude a horn of ale. Mairyn did not mind being at this gathering. It was one of the few occasions when she had received a lavender bath and hair wash along with one of Lauryn’s dresses that she no longer wanted. It was clean and not worn; Lauryn just did not like it any more. Mairyn was happy to have it. It had panels of finely stitched flowers around the neckline, sleeves and hem. Each time Mairyn handed Madame Gertrude her cup, Mairyn looked into the gathering and saw Haas watching her with an odd look on his face. Haas only ever looked at her with the scorn of an older person glancing at a dull child. Petre, standing behind Wulfgard, his uncle, would pull Mairyn back when she lingered to far forward wondering why Haas kept looking at her. Once, when pulling Mairyn back, Petre nudged his uncle’s arm. Wulfgard turned towards them with a harsh word on the tip of his tongue but he never spoke. Instead, he looked at Mairyn and his eyes widened. He looked her up and down and then his attention was diverted back to Madame Gertrude and her speech.
Madame Gertrude was hitting her stride fueled by the ale she sipped from the horn Mairyn handed her periodically. She was talking about the joining of two great families, hers and Wulfgard’s. Several people were snickering under their breath as Wulfgard frowned. Everyone knew Lauryn was not related to Madame Gertrude, but she had a surprise for them all as she announced that she was officially adopting Lauryn and making Lauryn her heir. Mairyn almost dropped the cup she held and her jaw dropped to her chin as did the chins of most of the other people. Lauryn smiled and blushed prettily and acted as if it was all a big surprise to her. Mairyn doubted that was the case. Wulfgard perked up at this news as he pictured a future grand influx of goods and property. Madame Gertrude was not a young woman after all and was having more bouts of illness lately. She was older than he was although he wasn’t sure how old she was. Wulfgard’s son, Gideon, was positively beaming. If it were physically possible, he’d be slapping himself on his own back for his great, good luck. He elbowed his father and turned to Petre, grabbing his arm in his excitement.
Madame Gertrude stood soaking up the crowd’s astonishment. She reached around for the cup Mairyn held, but Mairyn was still in shock and did not hand it to Madame Gertrude. Madame Gertrude slapped Mairyn in the face to get her attention. Everyone saw the slap and gasped. Everyone except Lauryn that is. She gave Mairyn a dirty look. Mairyn was doubly stunned and tears sprang into her eyes which made her angry with herself. She really didn’t care that Madame Gertrude was adopting Lauryn and not Mairyn but the slap proved to Mairyn and everyone else that Madame Gertrude did not in any way consider Mairyn and Lauryn sisters, let alone equals. Mairyn dropped the ale horn and ran to hide. The last she heard was some sort of angry comments coming from Petre, which didn’t surprise Mairyn, but she also heard Wulfgard’s angry comment, which did surprise her. She didn’t hear the words but the sentiments she appreciated.
Mairyn ran without thinking. She passed the door to the Lindwurm. Her first thought had been to go into the Lindwurm’s cellar but that would be a trap with no way out and Madame Gertrude would be sure to look for her there. She ran down the cobbled road passing the bakery and then the butcher’s establishment which was near the underground spring that ran into the lake. The underground stream was used as a sewer to wash food waste into the lake where the fish could eat it. This kept the fish in the lake fat for the fisher men to catch. A pathway came after the butcher’s and ran around the lake’s edge. Mairyn headed for this walkway which would take her out of the town and to the path that lead up the mountain. There’s was a place that most people didn’t go to but Mairyn used it when she really needed to get away from everyone and everything. The only person who knew she liked to hide there was Petre and Mairyn thought it would be ok if he found her. She continued to run up the path until she passed all of the houses that were on this side of the town. The path wound around so that she ended up being two levels up looking down on the roofs. At this level, the path split into two paths. One went further up the mountain, eventually reaching Flora’s hut and the path that lead to the trail over the mountain and the long way around the lake. The second path leads off to the cave that held the carved and etched skulls of the town’s ancestors. This was the place where Mairyn was headed.
The cave’s entrance was not directly on the path. If you didn’t know where the cave was you would never see it but instead you would pass on by and end up going back down to the town around the back and down the other side. There was a spot marked by a thorn bush that had been growing in the same spot for generations. The thorn bush was part of the town’s ancestral legends. It was said that when the town was first started it was by people who had come from very far away and they had brought the bush from the original home. The legend said that if the bush grew where it was planted the people were meant to stay and as long as it lived the people would proper. So far the legends were not wrong. In the harsh winters, the thorn bush was covered with a layer of fine wool cloth to keep it safe from the ice that could form on the tree limbs. The bush was large and wide and blocked the view of the two large rocks that formed a layered doorway into the skull cave. Mairyn moved behind the bush, avoiding the thorns which were large and sharp like a big cat’s claws. She then passed through the two rocks that form a sort of tunnel into the entrance. Around the second rock she entered the cave into a large cavern that had benches carved along the front walls to form a sort of arena. At the back of the cavern the wall was covered with the skulls of long and not so long dead people. The skulls were clean of all flesh and bleached white in the sun. Most of the skulls were decorated with designs and runes carved into them by family members. Skulls that did not have anything carved on them were people who no longer had relatives in the town and their lines had died out. There were very few of those as most of the people in town were related to someone still living at the time of their deaths. As long as it was daytime, a shaft of light would enter through an opening in the roof of the cavern. The shaft of light would travel around the room as the sun traveled across the sky and marks were made in different areas of the cave to mark the passing time of the daylight hours. Special braces were carved out of the stone walls where oil and wicks were placed for lamps when night time ceremonies were being held as they were on at least two holidays during the year, once at the full moon following the autumnal equinox and then again at the new moon near the winter solstice. Right now it was daylight so the shaft of light shone down from above and hit the eighth mark of the twelve marked out on the cave floor. Mairyn went and stood in this shaft of light and held her face up to it. She closed her eyes and let the tears flow down her face. She didn’t bother to wipe them away; she just let herself go for a change. She cried there in the cave without making a sound and she felt the sympathy of those spirits living in the skulls who so long ago suffered the pains of the living. They seemed to wrap her in a promise of better things to come, too. She finally laugh out loud at that and her laughter echoed around the room and came back to her making the dust motes vibrate and dance in the sunlight. She sat down on one of the stone benches then and allowed the silence of those she thought no relation of hers to sooth her. The sun beam moved up two more marks before she heard the noise she had been waiting for.
Petre came in quietly and sat down beside her. They sat next to each other quietly for a little while.
“I’ll be putting the skulls of my parents in here soon,” said Petre.
“I didn’t know you were almost done with the carvings?”
“They will be ready for the ceremony after harvest is over.”
“Were you able to work in the special signs you wanted?”
“I was finally able to convince Jondan to show me the runes I wanted. It’s taken me two years of bribing the old Druid with sweetmeats, but he etched them quickly in the sand one day when I was barely paying attention. Then he swept them away. He said if I could reproduce them properly he’d tell me if I were correct. Somehow I did. He seemed impressed. He even talked to my Uncle Wulfgard about furthering my bardic training. I think my uncle would like to have a musician and story teller in the family.”
“Don’t sound so bitter. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“Oh, goody, more surprises.” Mairyn couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice. She felt herself on the verge of tears again.
“Well, I guess I won’t tell you then if you don’t care,” Petre teased.
Mairyn looked at him, wondering what he could possible have to tell her that she really would want to hear. She tried to ignore him but he was as stubborn as she was. He began to whistle a tune, repeating it over and over changing it slightly here and there and muttering about getting it just right for his parents’ internment ceremony. Mairyn finally punched Petre in the arm.
“Tell me what you have to tell me.”
“I don’t want to force you to listen to something you don’t want to here.”
“Tell me now or I’ll hit you with a rock.”
“Then I really won’t be able to tell you.”
Petre was grinning. Mairyn crossed her arms across her chest and glared at Petre.
He laughed and shoved her with his shoulder. She broke down and laughed back at him.
“After you left, well ran away and people stopped staring after you like they’ve never seen you before, they started complaining to Madame Gertrude. No one had ever seen her hit you before. I told you before if you had complained they would have stopped her.”
“She would have found a way to make it worse.”
“Yes, I know you told me and I’m sure you are right but now it’s out. You should have seen the uproar. Madame Gertrude was really shocked. And Lauryn was pouting like crazy and actually threw a temper tantrum right there in front of everyone. Today was a real eye opener for many people. They discovered that Madame Gertrude was not as magnanimous as she pretended to be to you both. Most people just took it for granted that she treated you the same. Now they knew different. Many asked her if she was adopting you, too. She stammered out a no like they were crazy.”
“I can well believe that. Why the hell would she want me when she had Lauryn, her special prize?”
Petre put his hand on Mairyn’s arm.
“Jondan told her that because she had hit you Madame Gertrude had lost all rights to you in any form. Madame Gertrude exploded at him. She actually raised her hand to him as if she would strike him, too. He just laughed at her. She said they had no right to take you away from her as she had sheltered and clothed you all these years. That’s when Stella spoke up and told about how Madame Gertrude worked you so hard with Lauryn never lifting a finger and that at this point Madame Gertrude owed you something for all of the work you had done for her. Madmae Gertrude was speechless and Lauryn started whining about how hard she worked each day. Stella just laughed and said that Gideon would find out soon enough what a hard worker Lauryn was. Madame Gertrude snapped out of her shock at this possible threat to her match with Wulfgard’s family although she need not worry about that as the property she was bestowing on Lauryn would be more than enough of a guarantee for the wedding to take place. Wulfgard assured Madame Gertrude that the marriage would proceed as expected but that Wulfgard insisted that Jondan’s decree about you must be obeyed. Madame Gertrude threw up her hands and said that the town was welcome to support you if they thought so highly of you. That’s when Flora moved up beside Wulfgard and whispered something into his ear. He got a very thoughtful look on his face and then nodded to Flora. Flora smiled and left with Aloisa. Once Flora was gone, Wulfgard raised he hand to the mumbling crowd. Everyone quieted down and waited for him to speak. You’ll never believe what he announced. I still don’t believe it and I’ve had it in my brain for several hours now.”
Mairyn couldn’t believe most of what she had already heard. The entire town defending her. Stella speaking for her and against Lauryn and Madmae Gertrude. Mairyn was sure that Petre was having a joke at her expense, except he won’t play this kind of trick on her. She sat there staring at her feet. Then it hit her that she no longer had a place to live. What was she going to do? She had no where to go. It was wonderful that the town was defending her but how was that any help to her when she’d be sleeping out in the cold night tonight?
“Don’t’ you want to know what Wulfgard had to say?”
Mairyn really didn’t care. She shivered in anticipation of the cold damp night. She looked at Petre and he seemed so eager. She guessed he hadn’t thought about where she’d be no that she could no longer go to her little cubby at the back of the Lindwurm. It was small and cramped and under the eaves but at least it was warm.
“Mairyn.” Petre shook her out of her despairing reverie.
“Uncle Wulfgard has made himself your guardian. Officially. In front of the entire town.”
Mairyn was stunned. She stared at Petre like he had grown three heads.
“You’re crazy. Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know why he did it, but he did it. And you should have seen the reactions from Madame Gertrude and Lauryn. Madame Gertrude told Wulfgard she’d call off the marriage if he took you in. Of course, both Wulfgard and Jondan showed her the parchment with her mark on the marriage contract and Wulfgard taking you in was not a valid reason to cancel the contract and that she could in no way change it at this point. It must take place by the next new moon as planned or she would have to pay a considerable fine. That shut her up and you could see her trying to think of a way out but there was none. Lauryn on the other hand was having a right fit in Gideon’s arms. Gideon looked down right frightened of the whining whimpering shrew in his arms. He kept asking her why she would be upset that his father would take her sister in and she just kept saying that it wasn’t fair that you would ruin everything for her. The whole thing was a great show in the middle of town. Uncle Wulfgard sent me to find you and to explain everything to you. He wants you to move into his hall tonight. He wants us to gather your belongings and come to your new home.”
Mairyn was astounded. She couldn’t take it all in. In one day that was meant to be special for some one else she went from being a drudge in Madame Gertrude’s clutches to being a ward in Wulfgard’ hall. She had no idea what that could mean or what her place would really be like but she would be closer to Petre and Petre liked his Uncle and never said anything bad about him. It had to be better than where she was. Even if she was just being pulled along as another hand to help with the cleaning she was used to that and she didn’t think she’d be beaten. That was good. Closer to Petre, no beatings, two things on the positive side. And she would be in the house many days before Lauryn. She might even be able to make some friends. She didn’t think she’d be charming anyone the way Lauryn did and she was sure it wouldn’t last long but it might be nice. She looked at Petre to see if he was laughing at her. He wasn’t. He did have a smile on his face though like he had just brought her the best present anyone had ever given her. And he did and she hugged him for it. He turned bright red. When she kissed him on the cheek, he was like a flame burning at its height.
“Stop with all of the gushy stuff,” he said. “Let’s go get all of your things and head over to the hall. There’s only a little day light left and I want to show you around and introduce you to everyone. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
Mairyn’s stomach gurgled in answer. They both laughed and ran out of the cave and down the mountain.
Mairyn and Petre ran down the mountain path, across the path in front of the lake and up the street to the Lindwurm. Mairyn made it to the door of the guesthaus before Petre. She was sure he let her win their race. She was laughing as she opened the door and ran into the hall. The slamming door made her come to an abrupt halt. Mairyn spun around to find Madame Gertrude leaning against the closed door and Lauryn standing next to it with the wooden bar. Mairyn heard her heart pounding in her ears and her breathe laboring in and out of her lungs. She heard Petre pounding on the door from the outside. Madame Gertrude and Lauryn grinned at Mairyn at the same time. Madame Gertrude moved away from the door and Lauryn threw the bar in the wooden brackets blocking anyone from being able to get inside the building. The Lindwurm had no other way in or out. Madame Gertrude did not want anyone to be able to escape without paying her the money they owed her. It came to Mairyn that no one else was in the building but the three of them. She strained her hearing for the sound of other life but none came to her. She also did not have a clue as to what Madame Gertrude and Lauryn had for her, not until Madame Gertrude pulled the leather strap from around her waist. Madame Gertrude and Lauryn moved apart from each other and began circling Mairyn as if Mairyn would try to evade them. Mairyn did not move or make a sound. She just looked off into space, not even at the others. Her joy of just moments ago had completely disappeared to be replaced by an emptiness and despair he had never felt before. Lauryn grabbed Mairyn’s arms from the front and dug her nails into Mairyn’s flesh. Lauryn jerked Mairyn’s arms so that Mairyn stumbled forward and bent over slightly. That’s when she felt the leather strap strike her in the back. She cried out in startled pain.
“Don’t make another sound,” Madame Gertrude yelled at Mairyn at the top of her lungs. She hit Mairyn again, harder than before.
Lauryn was laughing out loud in Mairyn’s face.
“What made you think you could move into my place in Wulfgard’s house?” Lauryn ripped the dress Mairyn wore at the sleeves. “This is my dress and the only reason anyone noticed you.” Lauryn was yelling too.
Mairyn fell to her knees as the strap struck the back of her legs.
“Get up you lazy ungrateful bitch.” Madame Gertrude kicked Mairyn’s thigh. “You will tell them you don’t want to leave here.” She kicked Mairyn again.
Mairyn never made another sound after the first startled noise. She hated that silent tears flowed down her face. She couldn’t believe that they’d take the chance of beating her. Beatings were not allowed in their town and carried a heavy fine. Of course, there had to be proof of the beatings and who did them for the law to be carried out. They must be counting on her silence and they’d be right. She had no business moving into Wulfgard’s hall. She had no business there. She was crazy to think she could pick up and leave this madness. She had no idea what was in store for her if she left. At least here she knew what to expect.
Lauryn was pulling Mairyn to stand up. Lauryn and Madmae Gertrude were yelling instructions to her about how she was to behave in the future. Lauryn grabbed Mairyn by the hair and pulled her close to her face. Mairyn could feel the spittle coming from Lauryn as she screamed.
The door behind them burst open in splinters and a group of people fell into the room. Everyone quit moving and yelling and the two groups stared at each other, except Mairyn who looked at the floor and Petre who looked at Mairyn.
Madame Gertrude and Lauryn still had their hands on Mairyn and Madame Gertrude still had the strap in one hand. They let Mairyn go and she collapsed on the floor. Petre ran to her, shoving the other two women out of his way. Madame Gertrude raised the strap to Petre but Wulfgard strode across the room and grabbed her arm before she could lower the blow. Wulfgard ripped the leather strap from Madame Gertrude’s hand and threw it across the hall. She shrieked some incomprehensible words as Wulfgard pulled her across the room to a chair and shoved her to sitting. She tried to stand up and he kept his hand on her until she stilled. When it looked like she would no longer try to stand up, he gestured for two townsmen to come stand on each side of her. He turned back to the rest of the hall.
Petre had Mairyn cradled in his arms and was stroking her hair and wiping away her tears. She had her eyes closed and was silent.
Lauryn was seated on the other side of the room with Stella and Aloisa flanking her. Lauryn was attempting to garner sympathy by whining and whimpering but the other two women stood with their arms folded on their chests and completely ignoring Lauryn. No one else was looking at Lauryn either. Soon she gave up her act and just sat quietly glaring at everyone.
Once all was quiet, the rest of the witnesses took seats on benches by the tables around the hall and waited for the arrival of Jondan. Jondan’s hut was a little ways out of town at the back away from the lake and under the mountain. He needed his privacy to perform his various ceremonies in peace and sometimes it was best that the rest of the people in town did not smell some of the smells coming from his workings. While they waited, Wulfgard directed a couple men to get logs to build up the fire. A storm seemed to be brewing and moving its way across the lake kicking up a cold damp wind. Madame Gertrude started to complain about this use of her resources but stopped short at a look from Wulfgard.
Gideon brought a bowl of warm water and a cloth to Petre to wipe Mairyn’s face and visible wounds. Then he went and got a cup of ale for Mairyn to drink. He handed the cup to Petre who put it to her lips. At first she would not drink but after Petre whispered something in her ear, she took a few small sips. The ale brought some blush to her cheeks.
Jondan arrived on the arm of Izabo his apprentice. Izabo carried a cloth tied with a leather thong that was round and bulky. She held it away from her body so that it wouldn’t knock against her side as she walked. Jondan leaned on Izabo and his staff. They stood in the doorway with the setting sun at their back silhouetting them. They looked around the hall taking in the people there and their places. Izabo lead Jondan over to a bench saved for him at the head of one of the tables. Izabo moved to stand behind him. She placed her package on the table next to Jondan’s arm that rested there.
“Mairyn, come sit beside me,” said Jondan.
Mairyn did not move or look up.
“Get up, girl, and come here now.”
Jondan’s tone startled Mairyn out of her stupor. Petre helped her stand and he led her to the space on the bench next to Jondan. She sat next to the old Druid. He took one of her hands in his own and held it as he surveyed the rest of the room.
“Wulfgard, tell me,” said Jondan.
“Petre aroused the town when he was barred from entering the Lindwurm to help Mairyn gather her belongings so she could take her place in my home. He heard screaming that alarmed him. When we arrived we did indeed find the door barred. We pounded on the door demanding entrance to no avail. We yelled for a response from my ward, but heard none from her. We did hear screaming from both Madame Gertrude and my son’s future wife. We broke the door down and found Madame Gertrude beating Mairyn with a leather strap and kicking her and Lauryn was ripping Mairyn’s hair out in clumps.” Wulfgard ended his speech in disgust. Others in the room were shaking their heads in agreement with what he said. Some spoke under their breaths about the scene they too had witnessed.
Jondan closed his eyes and bowed his head. He was quiet for several long moments. He took a very deep breath and let it out slowly. He turned in Lauryn’s direction and opened his piercing blue eyes. Lauryn gasped at his intense scrutiny.
“Do you have anything to say?”
Lauryn swallowed and looked to Madame Gertrude for some help. She would not get any from that woman who looked down at the floor with her face all scrunched up in anger.
“I…” Lauryn faltered before she could begin. She cleared her throat. “She should not be allowed to move into my place before me.” Lauryn’s voice pierced the air and broke on her spite.
“You admit to beating your sister?” Jondan was not moved by Lauryn’s outburst.
Lauryn’s shoulders drooped in defeat. “Yes.”
“You know our laws on violence, do you not?” “Yes.”
“In payment to your sister for your misuse of her body, you will be required to cloth her in finery. Before your marriage you must make her three new dresses. You may not give her any of your old dresses. Each dress must be made between now and your wedding and they must be made by you. You are to embroider the neckline of each with a different design. Izabo will inspect them before you personally hand them to your sister. If you do not do this before your wedding the wedding will be postponed until you have finished them and you have satisfied Izabo of their quality. You will use cloth from your wedding gifts to make these dresses. Do you understand?”
“Speak up.” Jondan’s voice boomed at Lauryn.
“Yes.” Lauryn began to cry sincerely for the first time that any one had ever seen.
“Your penalty is light compared to what will happen to you if you ever raise your hand to anyone ever again.” With this declaration, Jondan turned in his seat to face Madame Gertrude. He sat staring at her silently until she raised her head in defiance to look him in the eyes.
“What?” Madame Gertrude hissed out this one word. The venom was clear in her voice.
“You will begin by getting up, getting Mairyn’s belongings and bringing them to me now.” Jondan spoke to Madame Gertrude very quietly. Those who knew him well knew he was most dangerous when he was quiet.
Madame Gertrude continued to stare at him in defiance and she did not move from her seat. No one spoke and no one moved while this silent battle of wills was taking place. You could see Madame Gertrude physically weaken as the moments passed. Finally, she stomped her foot and rose. She left the hall for the area under the eaves where Mairyn had her sleeping space. She was followed out of the room by the two men who had been standing guard over her. In a short time she was back. She walked over to Jondan carrying a small bundle and dumped it on the table next to Jondan. She placed her hands on her hips and stood in front of him.
“You may go sit back down,” said Jondan. She did not move. Her guards took her arms to guide her back. She jerked her arms from their grasps and stomped back to her seat and plopped herself down. She continued to glare at Jondan.
Jondan gestured to Izabo. She separated the items Madame Gertrude had dumped on the table. There was one work dress and one under dress. There was an old bone comb with several broken teeth. There was one red ribbon, a small piece of quartz and a folded piece of velum with a flower pressed inside. Izabo laid these things out carefully and neatly on the table.
“Are these your belongings?” Jondan asked Mairyn. She looked around him at her things and nodded her head.
“Everything is there?” He asked, incredulousness tingeing his voice.
Mairyn looked up her things. The dress was very worn and stained from all of her cleaning. The under dress was stained with sweat. And while her clothes were clean they were shabby. The comb and quartz she had for as long as she could remember. She often thought that they may have belonged to her mother. The red ribbon and the flower were gifts from Petre. She glanced in his direction and knew by the look on his face that he remembered giving them to her and he was amazed that she had kept them. She blushed in embarrassment.
“Those are all of my things.” She spoke so quietly that only those people immediately around her heard her answer.
“Do you wish to keep these things?”
Mairyn nodded. Izabo gathered everything together and bundled them into her dresses. She handed everything to Mairyn with care. Mairyn took the little package and held it in her lap. She began crying again. She shook her head, squeezed her eyes closed to clear them, then raised her chin and held her head up high. Petre put his hand on the hand not being held by Jondan. Both Jondan and Petre squeezed her hands at the same time.
Jondan cleared his throat and coughed. Gideon rushed to him with a cup of ale. Wulfgard watched his son play serving boy and wondered at his unaccustomed servility. This was something he would contemplate at a later time. Jodan took a deep drink and handed the cup back to Gideon and nodded his thanks.
“Madame Gertrude,” said Jondan, “in payment to your former ward for your abuse of her person, you will provide Mairyn with a dowry equal to the one you are providing for Lauryn.”
“I will not.” Madame Gertrude jumped up an attempted to rush Jondan. The people in the room gasped at her audacity.
“You will comply or your will forfeit all of your belongings and leave this village forever.” People gasped again at Jondan’s declaration. It was rare that anyone was ever stripped of their belongings and banished. As a matter of fact it had never happened in the lifetime of anyone present. This was so unheard of that in shocked Madame Gertrude back onto her bench. She had a great many belongings and losing them all was a very sobering thought.
“You will present Mairyn’s dowry to her personally within three days. And as you were abusing the ward of Wulfgard, you will pay him three sheep in guilt payment at the same time.” Jondan banged his staff on the stone floor of the hall and everyone jumped. His sentence had been served.
Madame Gertrude’s guards would remain with her until she had fulfilled her debt. The crowd began to disperse.
Izabo took her round parcel from the table and came around to help Jondan up. He stopped in front of Mairyn before leaving.
“It is time for you to begin a new life.” He patted Mairyn on the head, laughed and leaning on Izabo, he left.
Mairyn followed him out the door with her eyes. She was in shock. Wulfgard walked up to her. He took her hand from Petre’s and raised her to her feet. Petre rose too.
“It is time for you to see your new home,” said Wulfgard. He took her things from her and handed them to Petre. Mairyn took a quick glance at Lauryn and Madame Gertrude and looked away. She did not like what she say. They both were definitely her enemies now. Wulfgard guided her to the door. Petre and Gideon followed. Only Wulfgard noticed that Gideon had never once spoken to his future wife during the time they were in the hall together. Except for Lauryn of course. She definitely noticed. The little group left the Lindwurm for Wulfhall. Mairyn thought she was leaving Lindwurm for the last time and thought she might have some sadness about leaving the only home she could remember, but the only memories the guesthaus held were of continuous work. She did not think she’d be missing that. She was still stunned by what had just happened. People defended her; people stood up for her; people took her side over Lauryn’s. She never would have thought it possible this morning when her day had begun. Now, if things went the way Jondan decreed, she’d be a rich woman, richer than she thought ever possible. She’d have a dowry and maybe someone would want to marry her. No matter what became of her now she would never forget this day. She had been willing to give up and go on with her pathetic and abused life. The chances were that her life would have been worse than before if she had been allowed to accept her defeat and be under Madame Gertrude’s power for the rest of her life. But people had come to her aid; people that she never knew even paid any attention to her. She had no idea how this had come about but some sort of miracle had happened and she had been thrust into a new life, one she was afraid to begin because she was sure it would be very different from her previous life. She didn’t know if she were up to what lay ahead but it was exciting to wonder what was in store for her. She looked back to Petre and smiled a great big dazzling smile. He grinned back at her. Behind Petre, Gideon leered at her.
Mairyn shivered from the look she saw on Gideon’s face.
“You are cold and tired and sore, I am sure, from this strange day,” said Wulfgard. “We will take you to your new home and make you comfortable.” He smiled down at her and placed his arm across her shoulders and gave her a hug. She stiffened momentarily from the unaccustomed kind contact. She looked up at Wulfgard to see if she had insulted him. He smiled again, hugged her briefly and let her go.
“Gideon, run ahead of us and tell Cook to be prepared with a light meal for Mairyn. But make sure it is warm. And tell Maison to have the fire stoked in the green chamber and set out a fresh chemise for Mairyn.”
Gideon nodded and ran off to follow his father’s instructions.
“You can bathe in the morning,” said Wulfgard, “I think a good night’s sleep is what you need first.”
“Thank you,” said Mairyn. She was too shy of Wulfgard to say anything else.
“You’ll get used to us all,” he said. “Petre will be charged with helping you adjust and find your way around.” He gestured Petre up to join them. “You can manage that, can you not, nephew?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll be happy to oblige.”
“As I thought.”
Wulfgard addressed Mairyn again.
“Tomorrow, you and I will discuss your future. I’m sure you have been wondering what is in store for you.”
“It is permissible for you to say more than a few words.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Wulfgard and Petre laughed ay Mairyn. She blushed and then laughed with them. She would need a lot of time to get used to people actually wanting to talk to her.
As they walked through the town, various people called greetings to Wulfgard and Petre and many called Mairyn’s name too. She was astounded by how many people knew her name. She had never spoken to most of these people in the fourteen years she had been here. She looked at them wide eyed and made small hand waves to acknowledge their good wishes and greetings. She didn’t think anything of her appearance even though her dress was ripped and her face was tear stained. She never thought much of how she looked since she never had the opportunity to do anything about it. With one old work dress and half a comb and only house cleaning water there wasn’t she could have ever done before. Today had been the first day in her life when she had ever bothered with her looks. She really had no idea how closely she resembled Lauryn when given the chance to make an effort. And it would be a while before she found out that her smile captured peoples’ hearts but again she had never had reasons to smile much before. Her smiles had only been given to Petre and unbeknownst to her she had enslaved his heart.
The three of them arrived in the courtyard in front of Wulfhall as the last of the sunlight dropped behind the peaks of the Alps. Mairyn was glad they had arrived because she was cold and exhausted and the town was cold even in the highest of summer once the sun went down.
The courtyard was cheerful with many torches lit to light the way for the home coming. Several of Wulfgard’s men were waiting outside for them. One of the men went inside to announce their arrival. The other men gathered the torches and put them out as the group advanced on the entrance. Petre entered first and held the door open for Mairyn. She walked in and Wulfgard followed her and the men entered after them.
Mairyn stopped a few paces from the door. They were in a large hall with several fireplaces. Doors at the back led to what Mairyn thought were sleeping quarters. The walls were hung with large tapestries that helped block drafts and the damp from the stone walls. There were three large trestle tables with benches in the middle of the hall. Off to the right was the entrance to the cooking hall. On the trestle table nearest the kitchen, wooden bowls were arranged with horn drinking cups. A loaf of fat brown bread sat on a cutting board with a dish of sweet butter. Petre led Mairyn over to the table and showed her to a bench. She sat down and Petre joined her. Cook came out of the kitchen carrying an iron pot steaming and smelling tasty. She ladled a thick stew into three bowls, each one full to the top; she smiled at Mairyn and then went back to the kitchen. Petre broke off three large chunks of bread. He took his personal knife from his belt and used it to lather a thick layer of butter on each slice. Mairyn’s mouth was watering from hunger and from the unusual aromas coming from the food. Mairyn had rarely had butter during her lifetime. The last time may have been as long as two winter solstices ago. Petre handed Mairyn one of the slices of bread, placed one at the bowl across from her and kept one for himself. Mairyn look at Petre. He lifted his slice of bread and chomped a big piece out of it and began chewing with a heavenly look on his face. He nodded encouragement to Mairyn. She took a large bite herself, closed her eyes and chewed slowly. The bread was light and yeasty. The butter was sweat and melted in her mouth slowly. She kept the flavors in her mouth as long as possible before swallowing. She took a deep smell of the bread and butter before taking another, smaller bite. It smelled as good as it tasted. She tried to hold the taste and smell in her mind so that she would never forget them. She finished the bread and butter then realized she had nothing to eat the stew with. She looked at Petre. He was dipping his bread in the gravy of the stew and sopping it up enthusiastically. He used his knife to spear bits of meat and vegetables.
“Grab yourself another piece of bread,” said Petre. “Don’t be shy.”
She wasn’t used to having access to all of this food, let alone getting more when she wanted it. She reached for the loaf of bread like it was gold. She ripped a piece off, not as big as the first one Petre had given her. Petre handed her his knife and for the first time in her life, she buttered her own bread. She took her time covering the whole surface from edge to edge. Petre cleared his throat. She was taking too long with his knife.
It was as she was handing Petre his knife back that Wulfgard returned from where ever he was. He sat down across from her and handed her a beautiful knife with a black handle carved with runes and nature designs and a green stone in the pommel. She took the knife and it fit comfortably in her hand. It seemed familiar to her.
“That knife is now your personal knife. Tomorrow you will receive a kirtle with a sheath for it. Now, dig in to that stew before Cook finds out we have not finished and she’s ready to bring us seconds.”
Mairyn was happy to comply. The three of them ate quietly, finishing rather quickly once they began to concentrate. One of Wulfgard’s men poured them wine from a skin. Wine was something Mairyn had never had. She sipped at it slowly and decided it was something she could learn to love. Cook came back out with the hot pot of stew. Wulfgard and Petre took another full bowl each. Mairyn was so full from eating more food at once that she had never had before. She tried to tell the cook she couldn’t eat anymore. Finally, Wulfgard put a stop to the tug of wills. He told Cook that now would be the time for her little welcoming gift for Mairyn. Cook smiled and bounded out of the hall. Mairyn wondered what could be better than what she already had.
Cook came back carrying a small platter. Petre moved Mairyn’s empty bowl and Cook placed the plate in front of Mairyn. Mairyn stared at what was in front of her. She had no idea what it was. Mairyn looked at Cook, Wulfgard and Petre. They just looked back at her. The plate in front of her contained small pieces of something in a color she had never seen before.
“Go on, take a piece,” said Petre.
Mairyn took a small piece of the food gift and sniffed it. It had a smell she had never smelled before, like an exotic flower. She popped the morsel into her mouth. It was sweet and sour at the same time. She sucked on it and it slowly melt on her tongue. She moaned in involuntary pleasure. Cook laughed and clapped her hands. Mairyn tasted honey but she couldn’t figure out the other flavor.
“What is this little bit of heaven?” Mairyn popped another piece into her mouth.
“That,” said Petre “is candied oranges. Cook makes it from the rind of oranges that Uncle Wulfgard has shipped in once a year.”
“Cook is amazing, is she not, Mairyn?” Wulfgard patted Cook on the arm.
“Mmmmm,” said Mairyn. She finished the last piece of the candied oranges. “Thank you so much, Cook. I have never had more wonderful food than what I have had today.”
Cook left very happy and proud. Mairyn had won her over easily with her simple happiness and appreciation of Cook’s food.
“Now, I think it is time for you to retire for the night,” said Wulfgard. “You have had a very busy, exciting, traumatic and difficult day. You are to sleep as long as you like tomorrow. Do not rush out of bed.”
“I do not know how I will be able to thank you for all of this.”
“Hush, girl.” Wulfgard was gruff. He was touched by her appreciation. “This is your home now. Where is Roban?” Wulfgard asked this to the room in general. A girl about Mairyn’s age came into the hall from the kitchen. She came over to the table and stood by them.
“Mairyn, this is Roban. She will show you to your room and she will be your companion, helper and chaperone. She will sleep in your room with you. Roban does not speak and can not hear, but I am sure you will find ways to get your meanings across. She seems to understand everyone else although I don’t know how she does it. Petre tells me she can read people the way you can read a parchment.”
Roban took Mairyn by the hand and helped her rise.
“Sleep well,’ said Petre. “I will see you in the morning.”
“Have a good night’s sleep,” said Wulfgard. “We will talk on the morrow.”
Mairyn tried to stutter out her thanks again but Roban was gently pulling her along to the back of the hall where the sleeping quarters were located. Mairyn’s room was the third one from the right. There was a large fire burning in a fire place at the back of the room. The bedrooms were carved into the mountain and were the oldest part of Wulfhall. There was a small table with a bowl for wash water. Two stools stood beside the table. A chest was to one side of the door. When they entered the room, Roban closed the door. On the back of the door were clothes pegs and from one of the pegs hung a light wool sleeping gown. A large bed covered in furs and feather pillows was the only other piece of furniture in the room. The walls here were also covered in tapestries but Mairyn was too tired to notice their designs. The floor had several fur pelts on them to keep the cold off of the feet. Mairyn slipped out of her wooden clogs and walked across the furs. She climbed onto the bed and lay down. Roban tapped her on the knee. Mairyn sat up to see Roban holding the sleeping gown. Mairyn took her torn dress off. Roban took it from her and laid it across the top of the chest, folding it neatly. Mairyn had put on the sleeping gown and it flowed smoothly over her skin like a dip in the lake. Mairyn pulled back the skin blankets and climbed into the bed. The low flickering light from the fire place was adding to the hypnotic effect of the good food and warm cloths to make her very tired. She was almost asleep when she wondered where Roban was sleeping. Wulfgard had said she would sleep in Mairyn’s room, but where was she? Mairyn sat up and looked around. She didn’t see Roban. Mairyn climbed back out of bed and found Roban laying on one of the sheep rugs at the foot of the bed. She lay curled on the rug with another fur over her. Mairyn padded barefooted across the warm soft rugs to where Roban lay. Roban had her eyes closed but before Mairyn could touch her she was up and looking at Mairyn with a question in her eyes. Mairyn held out her hand palm up. Roban furrowed her brow. Mairyn pointed to Roban and then she pointed to the bed. Roban shook her head. Mairyn pointed to Roban again and then to the bed and nodded. Mairyn then reached down and took Roban’s hand and pulled her up and to the bed. Mairyn held her arms wide apart over the bed, pointing out how wide the bed was. There was no way Mairyn would be able to sleep if Roban was on the floor when the bed was so large. She gestured all of this to Roban and Roban understood. Roban pointed for Mairyn to get in. Mairyn obliged, scotching over to the far side of the bed. Roban climbed in after her. They pulled the sheep furs up to their chins, settled into the feather pillows, looked at each other and grinned. Mairyn was sure life didn’t get any better than this. The last thought she had before sleep completely over took her was to wonder where Gideon was. She had not seen him since she had arrived.
Mairyn’s dreams matched her reality. She dreamt she was warm and safe, with a full belly for the first time in her life. She was satisfied and happy. She reveled in being able to sleep in peace with no one coming in to wake her up to wait on them or to wait on a customer for the guesthaus. She started dreaming about what her life was like at the Lindwurm. She was asleep when she felt someone standing over her bed under the eaves, but she wasn’t asleep under the eaves at the guesthaus now. She was in an actual bed in her own room in Wulfhall but she felt someone standing over her. She hovered in that semi-conscious state between dreaming and waking. Then she remembered that Roban was in the bed with her. It must be Roban had woken and she was looking over Mairyn, but Mairyn felt uneasy. She didn’t want to wake up. She had been sleeping so well, but she kept feeling a presence hovering over her. She slowly opened her eyes and there was a dark silhouette standing next to the bed. She screamed and the shadow started to reach for her. She flung her left arm out and hit Roban, while at the same time reaching up to scratch the intruder with her right hand. Roban sat up, grabbed her pillow and swung it at the intruder. Whoever it was decided to run for it. The fire in the fireplace had gone down to bare coals so the room was dark. The intruder was out of the bedroom door before Mairyn could move. Roban jumped out of bed to follow the intruder but she reached the door after the intruder went through it and closed it in her face. Mairyn climbed out of bed and went to join Roban at the door. They opened it and looked into the hall.
A few of the men who slept on pallets around the hall’s walls were leaning up on elbows looking around. There was more light in the hall because the fireplaces were kept burning stronger than the fires in the private bedrooms. One of the men, Jonithon, who had been one of the men guarding Madame Gertrude, had a pallet near Mairyn’s door. He had woken up from all of the commotion. He asked Mairyn what was going on. She told him someone had been in her room standing over her bed. He rose from his pallet, alert. He asked if she could see who it was. She told him it had been too dark to see the person but she thought she had scratched the person when the person had leaned over her. Jonithon told her and Roban to go back to bed. He would place a guard on her door, inform Wulfgard and have the hall and grounds searched for anyone who wasn’t where they should be or for someone who had a fresh scratch. Jonithon called over Briin and told him to place his pallet in front of Mairyn’s door to guard it. Mairyn and Roban went back into the bedroom. Roban went over to the fireplace and placed several sticks on the coals. Mairyn pulled over a couple of rugs and a fur for her and one for Roban. Mairyn sat in front of the fire and wrapped herself in a fur. When the sticks were burning, Roban added some logs. Once that was done she sat one the rug and wrapped up in a fur too. The two girls sat in front of the fire warming up. Mairyn wondered who could have been in the room. The blazing fire began to take away her anxiety and she was getting sleepy again. She lay done on the rug and gestured for Roban to do the same. They lay there and looked into the flames. It wasn’t long and Mairyn was asleep.
She had no idea what time of the day it was when she finally awoke the next day. She was still on the floor in front of the fireplace and the fire was gently and steadily burning. Roban was not lying next to her. Mairyn stretched and curled back under the fur. This was like heaven not having to jump up before the sun rose and get to work. No one was yelling for her to fetch something or clean something. After only a few minutes of lying there, she began to feel itchy and restless. She decided to get up and see if there was any news about last night’s intruder. She took the sheep fur and put in on the bed. She put the fur rug back to where it was last night before she had moved it. She looked for her dress on the top of the trunk but it wasn’t there and it wasn’t hanging on one of the pegs on the back of the door. Roban’s sleeping dress was hanging on one of the pegs. Mairyn wondered where Roban was and she also wondered what she would wear. Was she to stay in the room all day long? She certainly couldn’t walk around the hall in her night dress. She thought about it and figured it would be ok to look in the trunk. If this was going to be her room the trunk and what might be in it must be hers too. She walked over to the chest next to the table and lifted the lid. Inside she found light wool under dress and a dress made from a fabric dyed a dusty red color. She had never had dyed fabric. She took the clothes and laid them out on the top of the bed. The material of the dresses was so soft and light, she just spent some time touching the material. Roban came in while she was stroking the dresses. Roban smiled at her pleasure. She took Mairyn’s hand and led her to one of the stools and had her sit down. She picked up the fine bone comb that lay on the table, walked behind Mairyn and began combing out her hair. Roban was very gentle with the many tangles in Mairyn’s hair. Mairyn never had a chance to comb her hair out completely. Roban spent considerable time combing Mairyn’s hair but when she was done there wasn’t one tangle left and Mairyn’s hair was smooth. Roban then braided Mairyn’s blonde tresses into one long plait down her back, tying the end with the red ribbon that Petre had given Mairyn. Roban pointed Mairyn to the wash basin and a cloth lying next to it. She helped Mairyn off with her night dress. Roban saw the welts and bruises on Mairyn’s body and shook her head in sadness. As Mairyn started washing, Roban left with her nightdress. In a few minutes she was back with a bowl of some steaming liquid. She placed the bowl on the table and took the wash cloth from Mairyn. Mairyn could smell the aroma of lavender, rosemary and mint wafting from the bowl of warm water. Roban dipped the wash cloth in the fragrant water and began whipping Mairyn’s wounds. The scented water made her sores feel better and some of the open welt tingled a little as the dried blood was whipped away. When Roban had treated all of Mairyn’s wounds she took the bowl of water away. Mairyn slipped into the under dress while Roban was gone. When Roban came back she carried a platter with thick slices of bread slathered with butter and honey. Mairyn’s mouth began to water and her stomach grumbled. She went to eat some of the bread but Roban pulled her away and helped her into the over dress. Roban took a pair of soft slippers from the chest and handed them to Mairyn. She put the shoes on and Roban took her from the room and showed her where the private room was located. It wasn’t until that moment that Mairyn realized how badly she had needed to evacuate her bowels. She was relieved she knew where they were located now and that she had gone before she had eaten. Now she could enjoy her food more comfortably. Mairyn decided now was the best time to try to start communicating. When she came out of the private room, she took Roban’s hands to get her attention. Mairyn said “Thank you.” Then kissed Roban on the cheek and then she smiled. Roban smiled back and nodded her head. Roban pointed Mairyn back to the room and Roban went off to the kitchens. Mairyn moved the stools over near the fire. She put the table, now empty of the wash bowl that someone must have come to clean, between the stools with the bread platter on it. She added a few logs to the fire and sat down and waited for Roban. Roban arrived shortly with a pitcher of warm milk and two cups. The girls sat in front of the fire and enjoyed their breakfast. Now Mairyn was ready for the day.
She went out into the hall as Roban cleared away the dishes. Roban would not let Mairyn help. Mairyn looked around the hall to see who was around. The hall was fairly empty. She saw Maison talking to a girl who was sweeping herbs around the floor. He spoke quietly so she did not here what was being said. Another girl was removing dishes and cups from the tables while a third was wiping the tables with a cloth. Otherwise, the hall was empty.
Mairyn began walking around the room looking at the tapestries hanging on the walls. They were woven of thick wool in various shades of brown and rusty reds. Any other colors that might have been on them had after many years faded. One tapestry was in geometric swirls, while another looked like ropes knotted around in its design. A third seemed to have birds flying over the lake where fish jump out of the water and another showed a large bear. One of the tapestries was so old that parts of it were bare with holes. It showed a man and a woman wearing torques around their necks. The woman had a long chain around her neck with a large stone hanging from it. Mairyn stood a long while looking at this couple. They seemed alive to her in their shabby portrait.
There other bedroom doors were closed as Mairyn passed them. She walked over to the hall door and went outside. The sun shone bright, not quite at its peak in the sky. There were a couple of men in the courtyard sweeping up rushes. They smiled at Mairyn as she looked around. She walked around the yard looking for someone she might know, especially Petre. She walked around the hall to the back where the horses were kept. This was where all of today’s activity seemed to be. Several horses were being walked while others were being brushes down with boar bristle whisk brooms. Petre was in the corral with Wulfgard’s large black stallion. He seemed to have personal charge of the beast. It snorted and tossed its head. Petre looked up and saw Mairyn. He waved her over. She went and stood by the fence. Petre walked over leading the horse.
“This is Midnight,” said Petre while stroking the animal’s mane.
“He’s very big.” Mairyn stated the obvious. Then asked what was upper most in her mind. “Did you hear about someone coming in my room last night?”
“Yes,” said Petre, “They got me and Gideon out of bed and rousing Uncle Wulfgard. We could not find anyone out of place or anyone with a fresh scratch on their face. Do you have any idea who the person could have been?”
“No, I wasn’t even sure someone was there until Roban hit the person with her pillow. I thought I was dreaming. I think the intruder was a man because I got a sense of stubble and bulk, but I’m not positive.”
“We will keep our eyes open but from now on Briin will guard your door each night.”
She had to be satisfied with that for now but she would keep her eyes open too. She had no idea why someone would want to sneak into her room at night but she would not let them do it again without catching the person.
“I need something to occupy my time,” said Mairyn. “I can not watch everyone else work.”
Petre laughed. “Uncle Wulfgard is planning to talk to you after the mid-day meal. You can bring up any and all of your concerns with him then.”
“I need something useful to do. Perhaps I can help in the kitchen. I excellent at cleaning pots.”
“Uncle Wulfgard may take you up on your offer.”
Mairyn frowned at the possibility.
“In the meantime, why don’t you take this time to just look around? Go for a quiet walk and see what there is to see without having to rush back to do some work. I have to finish working and grooming Midnight. When I’m done, I’ll come find you and we’ll go to dinner together.”
“I think I’ll go sit by the lake and watch the fishing boats. That’s where you’ll find me.”
Mairyn walked down to the lake. The town was quiet at this time of day and this time of year. Most people were at their chores, which didn’t involve being out on the town and this was not a market town so merchants were not hawking the wares. She saw a few children playing with some sticks tossing them back and forth on themselves.
She got to the lake and sat on the bench that was placed there. The sunshine down brightly, causing lights to dance on the ripples washing on the lake. The fishing boats were out in the distance each holding two men using nets to catch the fish. They looked like dancers performing just for her. Birds swooped over the water flying low and skimming the surface then shooting back up into he air. Mairyn closed her eyes and listened to their calls as they flew over the water. A shadow passed over her. She opened her eyes to see that Gideon had joined her and sat beside her on the right. She could see he had a fresh scratch mark on the left side of his neck.
Gideon had a scratch right where the intruder would have a scratch. Mairyn stared out at the water wondering what she should do. She couldn’t imagine why Gideon would be in her room at night. But she was not getting a good feeling from him. First, there was the leer he gave her yesterday, then he was in her room last night and he didn’t tell anyone it was him. As a matter of fact he had done a good job of hiding it and pretending it was someone else. Now, here he was again sitting next to her when she was trying to have some quiet time. She stole a quick look out of the corner of her eye and found him staring at her openly. She shivered, despite the sun shining on her. Gideon placed his left hand on her thigh. Mairyn stiffened at his touch. He squeezed her thigh, grinning at her. She tried to remove his hand but he held on to her leg and actually laughed out loud.
“Your father will be unhappy when I tell him what you are doing.”
“My father would never believe you. I would just deny everything. Why would I be after you, when I am so in love with Lauryn?”
“I ask myself the same question. All I have to do to get your father to believe me is point out the scratch on the side of your neck. He will want to know what you were doing in my room last night and why you pretended it was some mysterious intruder.”
“This is just one of many scratches I received while clearing the cats from the barn. I get them all of the time.”
“Your father is not stupid. He won’t believe such a silly story.”
“But I am his son and you are just some no body orphan girl he’s taken in just to spite Madame Gertrude and get some extra dowry money out of her. As your guardian, your possessions are his possessions. And now you will have as much as Lauryn. He’s getting two cash cows for the price of one. And so am I. Twin sisters will be a special treat and you and I will get warmed up and close before your sister arrives.”
“We will not be doing anything together. Your father put a guard on my door at night so you won’t be getting in there any more.”
“There are other places besides your room for us to play.” Gideon stroked and squeezed Mairyn leg.
Mairyn grabbed his wrist and wrenched his hand from her leg. She was surprisingly strong. He rubbed his wrist to get rid of the sting. Mairyn jumped up from the bench and backed away from him.
“You stay away from me,” she said. “If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll tell Petre.”
“Ha. He’s in no better position than you. He’s worse off actually as he has no possessions at all.”
“Your father loves him.”
“I am his son.” Gideon stood up and began to follow Mairyn. She kept backing away from him.
“You won’t be able to keep away from me for long, you’ll see. And I’ll have some fun with the chase. But I won’t be denied forever. I’ll have you before your sister becomes my wife.”
“You will never touch me again.” Mairyn yelled in her desperation. She turned to run up the street and saw they had an audience. Lauryn was walking towards them. Petre was coming down the street to fetch her for the midday meal. She saw a couple of other people but it didn’t really register with her who they were. Lauryn looked at her with complete hatred and she looked at Gideon in puzzlement. Lauryn was so sure she had Gideon enthralled and here she was finding him with Mairyn, obviously in some heated emotional encounter. Petre looked at Mairyn with concern and he too looked at Gideon wondering what was going on. Petre could tell that Mairyn was very upset and he was trying to figure out why. Mairyn stood still looking from Petre to Lauryn. She felt like an animal caught in a trap. Gideon walked passed her and stroked her arm as he went to meet Lauryn. He took Lauryn’s hand and kissed it, playing the dutiful and love sick groom. She tried to pull away from him but he held her hand tight. She spoke to him urgently. A few angry words reached Mairyn’s ears, mostly her won name. Gideon smiled at Lauryn and spoke back to her in low tones and a soothing sing song sort of voice. He put his arm around her waist and turned her back to the Lindwurm, gently guiding her away from the lake and Mairyn and Petre.