fleece. It was an attempt
at comfort for "ladies" in this place of mostly men. Ami wondered how
many discussions it took for his counselors to decide upon the number of
fleeces two dainty women might require.
through slits in the wooden door, kept her abreast of the action, whether she
wished to know or not. Apparently the whores performed a dance of sorts to the
accompaniment of drums, while the men sat around and enjoyed the vulgar
"I do not see
Stryker Bloodaxe," Villette exclaimed at one point.
Relief cooled her
head like a sudden, unexpected shower of rain. But she shook it off. Why should
that matter to her? She was Ami the Unbreakable. Nothing he did would dent her
armor. She'd known him less than a day and what experience she had of him was
not exactly a sterling reference.
Ami made a fuss of
re-arranging her blankets before lying down and then called Villette away from
the door. "Blow out the candles," she muttered.
The maid took her
time, lingering at the door crack, but eventually she came to her bed, dragging
her feet. It was as if the long journey and the events of that day were already
forgotten and now she had a fresh burst of life.
heather on the moor, my lady. I shall gather some for you."
you take a guard. That moor is not a safe place for a girl alone."
mistress." After a pause she chattered onward. "The wedding is to be
tomorrow, my lady. He has brought it forward."
"How do you
know this, Villette?"
my lady," the maid replied. "I listened to gossip as you told me not
to. I fear it is a bad habit not easy for me to break."
maids, my lady."
She wondered what
else those giggling girls might have told Villette. But she would never ask. So
he had brought it forward. Why? He was anxious for her bridal purse of course,
was to be a week from today, but he has ordered it for tomorrow. A monk from
is to perform the
service and the neighbors are to come—a Norman knight and his wife. I hope your
wedding gown is not too wrinkled, my lady."
whatever state it's in, the gown will suffice."
"He'll probably rip it off you at night in any case. They say he is a
lusty beast. You shall not be cold tomorrow night, my lady."
Ami shivered and
curled up under her blankets, pulling them tight to her chin and over her chilled
ears. Tomorrow night. She had thought often of her wedding night, of course,
having come close to one four times already. Never had the idea set such a
whirl of anxiety spinning in her mind. The duties of the marriage bed were a
mystery to her and tonight she cursed her naïveté. She did not like handing control over to
anyone and yet Stryker Bloodaxe would take it from her tomorrow. Just as he did
under the bare trees in the forest.
Oh, don't think of that, you fool woman.
moistened at the swift recall of his clever, insistent tongue and its dastardly
Well, there was no
getting out of it. This husband wasn't sending her back. She hadn't been able
to frighten him off, but then she hadn't tried particularly hard. In fact, she
hadn't wanted to.
spoke up again, popping her head out of the blankets like a wriggling grub
emerging from a cocoon. "They say he never got over Elsinora
the neighboring landowner's wife. She was supposed to marry Stryker Bloodaxe,
but she chose another. It broke his heart."
Ami curled her
fingers around the blanket and loosened it from beneath her chin. "Who
told you this?"
soldier, Ifyr, my lady. 'Tis well known hereabouts. Elsinora is a great beauty
and he was in love with her. Funny to think of a great big man like that one
head over heels in love, isn't it? But Ifyr says your dowry shall make up for
She listened to
Villette's gossipy chatter, staring into the dark, her heart thrusting hard