The Wolf and the DoveBy: Kathleen E. Woodiwis
Aislinn sat more alert now as Ragnor’s features darkened with ill-concealed anger. His brows drew together like a gathering storm cloud.
“I fear no man,” he growled.
“Oh-ho!” Vachel hooted. “You say that bravely enough, but do you mean it? What man here tonight does not hold some uneasiness within him for the deed done here? Wulfgar gave his command not to draw the villagers into battle, yet we have killed many of those who were to be his serfs.”
Aislinn listened carefully to the words the men spoke. Some were strange to her ears but she managed to understand most. Was this man, Wulfgar, whom they spoke of with such apprehension, to be feared above these terrible invaders? And was he to be Darkenwald’s new lord?
“The Duke has promised Wulfgar these towns,” Vachel mused. “But they are of little value without peasants to work the fields and herd the swine. Yes, Wulfgar will have words to speak and in his usual manner not one will be uttered in trivial tones.”
“Nameless cur!” Ragnor spat. “What right does he have to possess these lands?”
“Yea, cousin. You are justified to feel resentment. It does test even me. The Duke has promised to make Wulfgar lord here while we, of noble house, have been given nothing. Your father will be greatly disappointed.”
Ragnor’s upper lip drew back in a sneer. “A bastard’s loyalty to another of his kind is not always just to those more deserving.” He lifted a glossy tress of red gold hair from Aislinn’s shoulder to idly rub it between his fingers, enjoying the silky texture. “I’d swear William would make Wulfgar pope if he could.”
Vachel stroked his chin thoughtfully and frowned. “We cannot with truth say Wulfgar is altogether undeserving, cousin.” What man has ever beaten him in a joust or bested him in a fight? At Hastings he fought with the fury of ten with that Viking ever near to guard his back. He stood his ground when we all thought William dead. Yet to make Wulfgar a lord—aaah!” He threw up his hands in genuine disgust. “That will no doubt give him the thought that he is our equal.”
“And when has he ever thought otherwise?” Ragnor quipped.
Vachel’s gaze shifted to Aislinn as she gave his cousin a contemptuous look. Youthful she was. Vachel surmised her less than a full score years, mayhap eight and ten. Already he had seen her fiery temper. It would not bend easily to obedience. But a man with an eye for beauty might find cause to overlook this flaw, for he was confident it was the only one she possessed. Her new lord, Wulfgar, would no doubt be pleased. Her copper hair seemed aflame around her and caught the light of the flickering firelight within each thick curl. An uncommon shade for a Saxon. Yet her eyes were what took him completely off guard. Now in her rancor they burned dark and purple, glowering as she felt his perusal. But when her manner was calm her eyes were a soft violet, clear and bright as the heather that grew on the hillsides. The long, sooty black lashes that rimmed them now lowered and fluttered against ivory skin. Her cheekbones were fine and high, and the same gentle pink that shone upon them graced the softly curving mouth. The thought of her laughing or smiling titillated his imagination, for she possessed good white teeth, unmarred by the blackish rot that many other fine beauties were plagued with. The small, slightly tilted nose was lifted proudly, defiantly so, and the stubborn set of her jaw could not disguise the daintiness of its line. Yea, she would be a hard one to tame, but the prospect appeared thoroughly enjoyable, for though she was taller than most and slender, she was not lacking the full curves of a woman.
“Aah, cousin,” Vachel concluded. “You’d best make merry with this damsel tonight, for the morrow may see Wulfgar with her.”
“That lout?” Ragnor scoffed. “When does he ever bother himself with a woman? He hates them, I swear. Mayhap if we find a fair squire for him—”
Vachel smiled wryly. “If that were but true, cousin, we could have him beneath our thumbs, yet I fear he is not so inclined. Yea, he shuns women like the plague in public, yet I believe he has as much of them in private as we. I have seen him giving one or two damsels his perusal as if pondering what merits they possessed. No man looks at a woman in that fashion when some lackey tempts him more. That he manages to keep his affairs private is only one more thing about him that seems to fascinate his women. But ‘tis baffling to me why the fair damsels at William’s court dangle their kerchiefs and posture so inanely before him. They must be tempted sorely by his cursed aloofness.”
“I have not seen so many wenches fawning over him,” Ragnor retorted.
Vachel chortled in glee. “Nay, cousin, and yon wouldn’t, for you are usually more than properly entertained yourself. You are far too busy leading fair damsels astray to be troubled with those who fancy Wulfgar.”
“You are indeed more observant that I, Vachel, for I still find it hard to believe that any maid should covet him, cursed and scarred as he is.”
Vachel shrugged. “What is a little mark here and there? It but proves a man is daring and brave. Thank goodness Wulfgar does not boast of those small attributes of battle like so many of our noble friends. I can almost bear his wretched dryness more than those boring tales of doing and dare that are told and retold.”