Friday, November 30, 2007


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.”

“Lucky you.”

“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?”

“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?”

Lauryn whimpered.

“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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“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.


Petre reached Mairyn.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

“Gideon is not the person I thought he was.”
“And what do you mean by that?”

“He is just different than what I thought he would be.” Mairyn did not want to tell Petre the truth. She knew he would get upset on her behalf and she did not want him to have problems with his Uncle. If what Gideon said was true, she would have to be very careful around Wulfgard. She determined that she would be on her guard and stay very much away from Gideon. It seems her new wonderful life was going to be fraught with new dangers along with the pleasures. She wasn’t sure her own bed was going to be worth what it would take to stay away from Gideon and she couldn’t imagine what things would be like when Lauryn and Gideon married and they moved into Wulfhall.

“Mairyn, what are you thinking? You face is positively stormy.”

“It must be time for the midday meal and I don’t wish to be late and upset your Uncle.”

“I don’t believe you and Uncle Wulfgard is not so easily upset. Why don’t you tell me the truth? You’ve never lied to me before.”

“I’m not lying. We should go. I’m hungry. Now that I’ve had a good meal, I’m looking forward to my next.”

They began walking up the street back to Wulfhall.

“Just remember that I am your friend and you can tell me anything. And Uncle Wulfgard is now your protector…from anyone.”

“I thank you, really, Petre, but everything is wonderful. How could it not be? I have never had it so good. I am happy.”

They walked the rest of the way in silence. Mairyn was worried that Petre was now mad at her because he knew she was not telling her the truth, but he was a good friend and he would wait for her to be ready to tell him when and what she needed. But she didn’t want him to be mad. Petre sensed her anxiety and wanted to lighten the mood up. He bumped his shoulder into her. She stumbled and then pushed him back. They broke out laughing and Mairyn took off running. Petre chased her the rest of the way to the hall, never quite catching her on purpose. They reached the door out of breath and giggling, stumbling into the hall. People were milling around waiting for dinner. They looked towards Petre and Mairyn and smiled. Mairyn was surprised at their response. She thought they would be annoyed, but they seemed to get pleasure from their happiness. She did not see Gideon or Wulfgard. The tables were arranged in a horse shoe shape for this meal. Petre showed her to the center table around facing the center of the room. He pointed to a bench to the right of a center chair which she assumed was for Wulfgard. He sat to her right. No one else was sitting yet.

“Should we be sitting?”

“We can sit before Uncle Wulfgard arrives. When he enters the room, we will rise and wait for him to sit, but the others must wait until he comes. We are family so we can sit.”

“I’m family?”

“Of course. Uncle Wulfgard has legally adopted you. You are now his daughter. He always want a daughter. You will be above Lauryn even when she marries Gideon. She will only be a daughter in law, not a daughter. You are even above me. And even though Gideon is his son, I think Uncle Wulfgard already likes you better than he likes Gideon. Actually he doesn’t like Gideon much at all. I think Uncle Wulfgard suspects there is something wrong with Gideon and it disturbs him greatly.”

Mairyn thought that maybe Petre suspected what had passed between her and Gideon and that Petre was trying to make her feel better, but she was not sure of her position. She had only been here for less than a day and she did not think Wulfgard would appreciate her causing trouble for him so soon. She would just be patient and keep away from Gideon. With that thought she looked up to see Gideon saunter into the hall. He saw her looking at him and he winked. She quickly looked down at the table. Gideon came over to the table and sat in his father’s chair, lounging back. The room became absolutely still. Gideon leaned back, looking at everyone in the room daring anyone to say anything to him. He jumped when his father spoke his name behind him.

“Father,” he said. “I was just talking with my sister.” Gideon stumbled in his haste to get away from his father and his chair.

“It will be many years before you may sit in my chair again, son.” Wulfgard did not yell, but his voice carried none the less and everyone heard his rebuke and knew his meaning. Wulfgard took his seat. Gideon blushed a furious red and sat on the stool to the left of his father’s chair. The rest of the people in the hall took their seats too. Mairyn and Petre had forgotten to rise when Wulfgard had entered with all of the excitement but no one seemed to notice.

Large platters with mutton, chicken and hams were brought in and placed on the tables. Other servers brought in bowls of potatoes, carrots and turnips. Loaves of hearty brown breads were also laid out with pots of sweet butter. The mid-day meal was the largest meal of the day and Wulfgard’s hall boasted a fine array of food.

“Help yourself, my daughter,” said Wulfgard. “You must take what you want and only what you want. I want you to be satisfied. We have many years to make up for.”

Mairyn smiled shyly at Wulfgard. She tried some of everything including the pickled apple relish. Her favorite was the smoked ham and the honeyed carrots. A hearty apple cider was served to drink and this also became one of Mairyn’s favorites. The meal last a long time and everyone talked and laughed and took their time eating enjoying several helpings of all of the food. Once when answering a question from Wulfgard Mairyn looked over at Gideon and he was not eating. He just seemed to be drinking one cup of cider after another and he wasn’t talking to anyone and no one made any effort to draw him out.

It didn’t take long for Mairyn to get full. She wasn’t used to having so much food in her belly. She just spent most of the meal listening to the conversations around her and observing the people. Petre ate heartily and didn’t talk much. He ate like the growing boy he was, with concentration, gusto and joy. Wulfgard ate with good attention, too. Mairyn had no idea what he had been doing during the morning hours but he ate like he had been working hard and she guessed he must have been, like everyone else. There was much to do and she seemed to be the only one, besides Gideon, who had not done any work this morning. She did not like being compared to Gideon, even if it was in her won mind. She would make sure she had received some tasks to do to maintain her upkeep. Her coming dowry payment meant nothing to her. She just knew that she needed to work to feel she deserved the good things she was receiving. She remembered that she was to meet with Wulfgard after the meal to discuss her future and her place in his hall and his family.

Finally, Wulfgard leaned back with his cup in hand. He patted his belly and pronounced the meal a great success. There wasn’t much left on the platters and in the bowls. Wulfgard certainly was not a stingy lord. His people worked hard and he rewarded them with plentiful and good food and drink. People finished up eating and continued to sit a while longer, relaxing. Finally, Wulfgard rose signaling the end of the meal. Everyone else got up and went about their business back to their various jobs.

Mairyn never even noticed Godeon had left.

“We will meet in my sitting room in a couple of minutes,” said Wulfgard. “Take care of any of your personal business and meet me there when you are done. Petre, I want you there with us, so that you know my wishes and can assist Mairyn adjust.”

Mairyn took the opportunity to go to the guarderoom. The toilet was reached by a hallway that ran along the back of the kitchens. It was at the very back of the hall. A room with several stalls like horse stalls each with curtains for privacy; the stalls had holes cut through the bedrock over an underground stream that flowed out to the lake deep under water. Over each of the holes were built benches also with holes in them. These were seats for people to sit on while they relieved themselves. The toilet was reached from the hall and there was also an entrance from the outside from the back of the building. Mairyn walked down the hallway and entered the toilet room. She walked into a stall and turned to pull the curtain closed. Gideon was standing there. He shoved her back into the stall. She began to scream and he hit her in the face with the back of his hand. She stumbled backwards and fell on the seat.

“Keep your mouth shut, bitch.”

Mairyn shook her head to clear her mind. She looked up to see what Gideon was doing. He reached down and grabbed her by the shoulders, spinning her around and bending her over. He grabbed the hem of her dress and began pulling it up. Mairyn began to fight, twisting and shoving backwards. Gideon grabbed Mairyn’s hair and yanked it so her head hit the stall wall. She cried out and he banged her head in the wall again. Gideon pushed her down on the toilet bench, knocking the breath from her body. She was dizzy and felt like passing out. Gideon was behind her fumbling with his breeches. Mairyn gathered a burst of fear and anger, jumping up and rushing into Gideon while he was distracted with his pants. He was caught off guard but he was still bigger and stronger than she was. He was slightly off balance, with his pants around his ankles, but he pushed her back and she fell to the floor whimpering. There was a sound behind them in the doorway to the room. Mairyn cried out. Gideon kneed her in the mouth. He knocked one of her teeth loose and she tasted blood. He stuck his hand in her hair, yanking her up and he threw her over the toilet bench face down again. He tore her dress in two from hem to waste. She no longer had any fight in her. She lay there simple waiting for his next blow. He stroked her hip and buttocks, almost a gentle caress, and then he pinched her butt viciously. She cried silently. She felt him lean against her. And then he moved back and there was a commotion behind her. Gideon yelled out in anger and she heard flesh hit flesh. The sounds of fighting moved further away.

Then Roban was there with a blanket that she threw around Mairyn’s back. Roban helped Mairyn turn around and sit on the bench. Mairyn covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Roban sat down beside her, placed her arm around Mairyn’s shoulder and just held her. Mairyn leaned into Roban and cried like she had never cried in her life, great big sobs. They sat that way for a long time, Roban rocking Mairyn and stroking her hair. Finally Mairyn calmed down and stopped crying. Still they sat there quietly a little while longer. When Mairyn sat up and wiped her face dry on her sleeve, Roban gestured that they leave. Roban stood up and held out her hand to Mairyn. Mairyn motioned to Roban that she still needed to use the toilet. Roban smiled and stepped out off the stall. She pointed to the ground indicating that she would stay there outside the stall until Mairyn was ready to go. Roban closed the curtain. Mairyn sat to pee and felt every sore spot on her body. Gideon had given her a bad beating. She wiggled her loose tooth and gingerly touched her swelling lip. Her thighs had bruises on the front from being pushed into the edges of the toilet bench. Her knees were skinned and oozed blood. She had a pounding headache and lumps were rising in two spots. Her arms ached and her back ached. But all in all, Mairyn suspected she had gotten away from something even worse. She had no idea how she would deal with Gideon. She would have to think of something. She couldn’t allow him to keep sneaking up on her and beating her or worse. She needed a bath and she wanted to lie down. Two bad beatings in as many days were wearing her down. She needed to leave the toilet. She couldn’t hide in here for the rest of the day. She wondered if it would be acceptable to spend the rest of the day in her room, maybe take a nap. She rose and wrapped the blanket more tightly around her, opened the curtain and stepped out of the stall. Roban was still there as promised. She turned when she sensed Mairyn behind. Mairyn walked out of the stall limping. Her legs were very sore. Roban took Mairyn’s arm and had Mairyn lean on her. Roban assisted Mairyn out of the toilet room and down the back hall. They went slowly because Mairyn’s legs hurt so badly. They reached the main hall and Mairyn stopped. She peeked into the hall to see who was there and she saw that it was empty. She was too grateful that no one was in the room to wonder where everyone was at this time of day. Someone should have been around. But she didn’t even think about it. Roban and Mairyn entered the room with Mairyn still leaning on Roban. They walked along the wall, passed the first bedroom door which belonged to Gideon. Mairyn hesitated to pass it but Roban moved her along and she saw that the door was closed. The next room belonged to Petre’s room and his door was closed too. At this point, she did wonder where Petre was but she didn’t think about it too long. She just wanted to lie down. The next room belonged to her. She had been happy that she had her own room before but now she was particularly grateful that she had somewhere private she could go to hide from other people. She didn’t think she could face anyone. She wasn’t sure what she had done for Gideon to treat her the way he wad been but she didn’t want to repay Wulfgard’s generosity by causing problems with his son. She would take some time to recover and then she would figure out somewhere to go so she wouldn’t be messing up the life at Wulfhall.


Roban opened the door and went into the room first. She pulled Mairyn in after her and closed the door. The room was very warm. The fire place had a blazing fire in it. In front of the fire place was a large tub for bathing. Mairyn went over to the tub and it was full of warm scented water. A clean sleeping dress lay on the cover of the bed. A soft warm large towel lay beside it. Mairyn couldn’t think of anything she wanted more than a bath but she didn’t think she’d be able to climb in the tub. Once again, Roban came to her aid.

Roban took the blanket from around her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. She untied the rope belt from around Mairyn’s waist and added it to the blanket on the floor. She had Mairyn sit on the edge of the bed and she lifted Mairyn’s dress over her head. Mairyn was sad at her ruined dress. She had only had the beautiful garment for one day and it was ruined and she didn’t even do any work. Roban tossed it on the pile. Roban looked at Mairyn’s naked body and shook her head at all of the black and blue bruises all over Mairyn’s body. Roban took Mairyn by the hand and took her over to the bath tub. She let Mairyn lean on her so that Mairyn could slowly climb her way into the tub. The water was very warm. Mairyn sat in the steaming water and leaned back. She closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of lavender and rye. Her limbs were already beginning to relax. Mairyn submerged herself completely, holding her breath and letting the warm water wash over her head and sooth the bumps on her scalp. She stayed under water until she couldn’t hold her breath any longer and then she surfaced in a sputter exhalation of breath. She sat back up and leaned against the back of the tub. Roban was by the fire ladling some liquid into a cup straining it through a cloth. Roban gathered the cloth and took it off of the cup. She brought the cup to Mairyn and put the cup in Mairyn’s hand. She indicated for Mairyn to drink. Mairyn sniffed the cup. There was warm wine in it and she could smell honey and cloves and something else she couldn’t quite identify. Mairyn pointed to the cup and gave a questioning gesture. Roban brought over the straining cloth and opened it for Mairyn to see what was inside. Mairyn saw the cloves which she could smell and there was also bits of licorice and willow bark. The wine and cloves would help her sleep. The licorice would keep the swelling down and the willow bark would take away some of the pain. The wine was hot but Mairyn took a big gulp anyway. She wanted to get some of the soothing drink in her so she could feel better. The shook was beginning to wear off and questions and thoughts were beginning to come into her head and she did not want to think. She could feel the wine spread warmth throughout her body, soothing muscles and taking away the pain. Her brain was becoming dull and thoughtless and her body was becoming numb. She finished drinking all of the wine and almost dropped the cup as she was handing it back to Roban. Roban put the cup down and came back to the tub with the drying towel and the stool. She helped Mairyn stand and climb out of the tub. Roban wrapped the towel around Mairyn and had her sit on the stool in front of the fire. As Mairyn sat there dozing, Roban combed out her hair and dried it with another towel. She wrapped Mairyn’s hair in the towel then helped Mairyn over to the bed. She pulled back the blankets, took the drying towel and helped Mairyn put on the clean sleeping dress. Mairyn climbed into bed, Roban covered her and held Mairyn’s hand until Mairyn fell asleep.

Mairyn woke during the night sweating. She sat up in bed, not sure where she was. She looked around and remembered she was in her room at Wulfhall. Roban should have been in the bed next to her but she wasn’t. Mairyn tried to get out of bed but it wasn’t easy because she was so sore. She moved slowly and carefully because her head began pounding again. Mairyn got out of bed and slowly made her way around the room. Roban was not there. The tub still sat in the room, the water now cold. The fire in the fire place was a pile of burning embers. Mairyn added a couple of logs so they could flare up and add some light to the room. Mairyn found her shoes and put them on. She had no idea what time of day it was r how long she had been asleep. She was still very tired so she didn’t think she had been asleep for very long. It was afternoon when she had gone to bed. It was possible she had only slept for a couple of hours. She didn’t want to go into the hall but she did want to know what time it was and she hoped to get more drugged wine and maybe some bread. She was hungry but more than anything she was in pain. Mairyn went to the door and opened it a crack and peeked out. The evening meal was in progress. It was a very quiet affair compared to the midday meal. No one was laughing and joking right now. Every one ate quietly. Someone noticed Mairyn peeking from the door and pointed in her direction. The bedroom doors were behind the head table. Wulfgard and Petre turned around and looked at her when the man pointed in her direction. Her chair sat empty between them. Gideon’s stool was empty next to his father’s chair. Wulfgard and Petre got up at the same time and came over to her.

“How are you feeling?” asked Petre.

“My head hurts along with the rest of my body. Could I get some more of the mulled wine Roban gave me earlier? It helped me sleep. Is it still the same day or did I sleep through a day?”

Wulfgard ordered one of the serving girls to fetch Mairyn some wine.

“It is still the same day,” said Wulfgard. “Come sit down at table and eat some thing while we wait for your wine.”

“I am not dressed.”

“We will not worry about that today. Come.”
He took Mairyn’s hand and walked her to his own chair and had her sit there. He had some one bring her an extra cushion for her back. Wulfgard sat on her stool and gave her choice soft pieces of meat. He tore up bread into pieces and soaked them in the meat juices to soften the bread. She ate slowly and delicately as her one front tooth and her lips were very sore. Petre sat to her left in Gideon’s chair. Someone brought her a cup of warm milk which tasted particularly good. She drank the whole cup in one long swallow. There was some applesauce sweetened with generous amounts of honey that she ate instead of the meat. The meat was too hard to chew. She stuck with the applesauce and the soaked bread which tasted really good with the meat juices. She didn’t eat a whole lot but she had enough to make her feel somewhat better. Everyone in the hall whispered quietly to each other, occasionally looking her way. She felt bad to cause so much trouble. Finally Cook herself came out with a cup of the drugged wine.

“I have added some Valerian to this cup to give you a long, deep and relaxing sleep. It is the best thing for you. This cup full will keep you asleep all night long. You should go to the toilet now before you go back to bed so that a full bladder does not give you bad dreams. Roban will go with you and Petre will stand guard along with Haas so you feel safe. We will be taking better care of you in the future.” Cook looked pointedly at Wulfgard.

“Cook is right. You will be guarded at all times from now on until this matter is settled.”

Mairyn did not want to consider what they were talking about. She just wanted to go back to bed and have a dreamless sleep. She drank the drugged wine. This time it had a very dry grassy smelled to it under all of the other smells. She drank it all down despite the smell. If it made her sleep it could smell like rotten eggs for all she cared. Roban joined her and together they went to the toilet room followed by Petre and Hass. She was glad they had reminded her to go. She needed it. They all trooped back to her room. She felt like she was asleep on her feet. Supper was over. People were clearing away the platters and cups from the tables. People were trying not to look at Mairyn. She was in such a daze she really didn’t even notice or care. The herbs and wine were starting to work really well.

At her door, Petre said, “There will be a guard outside your door all night long. You must sleep well and let nothing trouble you this night.” Mairyn mumbled her thanks, not making much sense in her sleepiness. She and Roban entered the bedroom. A couple of men were in there placing hot rocks under the skins of her bed to warm it up. The heat would help take away the pains in her body. Once again Roban helped Mairyn to bed. Mairyn wondered briefly how she had become so helpless in a mere two days but she was lad there was someone taking care of her. If Roban and Petre and Wulfgard were not there for her she would just curl up in a corner somewhere and die. There was nothing else she cared abut except getting into bed and going to sleep. She wanted to sleep forever. She never wanted to wake up again. Her life had gotten so much better and yet something was terribly wrong and she just didn’t understand it. She actually wanted her life to go back to the way it was. Her days used to be so simple. Now she felt like there were traps every where and she did not know where to go to avoid them. She did not understand this life. She was silly to think she could live among these people. She was just some cleaning drudge who someone had mistaken for a princess, but tomorrow everyone would know better. She had enough of everything. She would climb into bed and maybe she just wouldn’t wake up every again. She thought that might be possible as her body felt heavy like it could seep into the ground and meld with the earth. Her mind felt sluggish and dull like a light that could be put out by covering it with a bowl. Mairyn laid her head on her pillow and whimpered quietly. Roban covered her with the soft wool blankets topped with the sheep skins. Roban stroked Mairyn face until she quieted and the frown left her face. When Mairyn was breathing steadily, Roban got into bed next to Mairyn and rolled on her side to get some sleep too. Roban was very worried about Mairyn. It seemed Mairyn had lost some of her spirit when Gideon attacked her. After a good night’s sleep, she hoped Mairyn was more herself although she knew what an attack such as the one Mairyn went through could do to a girl. Roban took a few deep breaths and relaxed. They would see what tomorrow would bring tomorrow.

Mairyn rose early with the rest of the household. She had no opportunity to think about yesterday. Today was the day she would receive her dowry from Madame Gertrude and it would take place in the town square in front of the people of the town as witnesses as the law required. The sun was just skipping across the lake surface when the people of Wulfhall gathered in the hall to break their fast. Roban had gotten Mairyn up and dressed early enough to join them. Roban had brought Mairyn a cup of warm watered wine with willow bark steeped in it to ease Mairyn’s aches and help her through the morning ceremonies. Roban had gotten Mairyn a new dress from somewhere, Mairyn did not ask. Mairyn only ate a few pieces of bread soaked in warm milk with honey. She wasn’t very hungry and her mouth hurt, but Wulfgard and Petre insisted she eat something to keep her strength up. People talked around her but she didn’t respond or pay much attention to them. She moved through the morning in a daze, performing what she knew was expected of her. After breakfast was over, Wulfgard took her hand and lead her out of Wulfhall. Petre followed behind them and the rest of Wulfgard’s people followed after Petre. They left the hall and walked the short distance through town to the town’s center where Lauryn and Gideon’s betrothal had been announced. Most of the rest of the town’s people were already gathered there. Wulfgard, Mairyn and Petre went up onto the stage, where Jondan and Izabo stood waiting. As the town’s Druid, Jondan was responsible for remembering all contracts made between the people of the town and he also enforced the laws and rules that the town’s folk agreed upon. Jondan also had the task of meeting out justice and punishments for those people that did not follow the rules. He was very smart and he had a prodigious memory. He could recite stories at length for hours and each time he told the same story the story was told the same way. He could recite long lists of people and their ancestors and how everyone in the town was related. Izabo, as his apprentice was learning everything Jondan had to teach her. She was as smart as he was and had a very great memory too. It was unusual for a woman to become a Druid priest but it was not unheard of among their people. Women were usually the healers among their people, like Flora. Flora was also at this gathering as an important witness to the proceedings. The only people who were not there were Madame Gertrude, Lauryn and Gideon. While they were waiting, people spent their time taking secretive glances at Mairyn and whispering amongst themselves about how she had received her injuries. Some thought they had come from when Madame Gertrude had beaten her but that was two days ago and her injuries looked fresh. Others whispered that maybe Wulfgard had beaten her for some reason, but no one really believed that because they did not think Wulfgard would hit anyone let alone a girl and especially one he seemed to like as much as he seemed to like Mairyn. No one had ever heard of Wulfgard striking anyone. Except for fighting on the battle field and training for his soldiers he did not believe in physical violence, even against his animals. Instead of beating or killing law breakers, Wulfgard believed the criminals should pay back their victims or make up for what they did wrong. Some speculated that maybe Mairyn had fallen down some stairs but nobody believed that either. Wulfgard’s people were very loyal and they liked Mairyn so no matter how hard people tried to pry the truth from someone from Wulfhall or how they tried to trick someone into talking no one told anyone what had really happened to Mairyn. As far as they were concerned the situation had not been settled so they would not speak of it. Once Gideon had been caught and brought back from where ever he was hiding and Wulfgard had brought Gideon before Jondan for judgment and sentences, Wulfgard’s people would not talk. They also wouldn’t talk because Mairyn wasn’t talking.
Madame Gertrude was late. Jondan would have Izabo tell a story about the town’s history t entertain the crowd while he sent a messenger to the Lindwurm to remind her that she was obligated to be here. Jondan called over Franc and Llood. He gave them instructions to go to the Lindwurm and speak with Madame Gertrude in his name. They were to remind her that she was obligated to attend this gathering and bring the proscribed dowry for Mairyn. They were to accompany Madame Gertrude to the gathering. They left to do his biding. Jondan then instructed Izabo to recite the history of how the salt mines were discovered. Izabo began the tale and everyone paid very close attention. Izabo was a very good storyteller. She had a way of telling the stories that was almost like she was singing the words. While she told her story, stools were brought for Jondan because of his age and for Mairyn because she was not feeling very well. The day was turning very hot and there was no breeze coming off of the lake today. Even though everyone was paying very close attention to Izabo’s tale, everyone knew that Madame Gertrude was not coming and she should have been here by now with the messengers going for her. Just before Izabo was finished, Franc and Llood returned. Izabo stopped before the end of her story because she saw that Llood had a cut over his eye and Franc was leaning on Llood for support even though no one could see any sort of injury. The crowd expressed a collective gasp. Franc and Llood went over to the stage where Jondan was sitting. The town’s people were completely quiet, all straining to try to hear what was being said up on stage. The people up front could hear Franc and Llood’s recital of what had happened when they went to the Lindwurm to see after Madame Gertrude. They passed the information back to those people behind them as they heard the information.