The Wolf and the DoveBy: Kathleen E. Woodiwis
Vachel beckoned for his drinking horn to be refilled and Maida came trembling to accommodate him. She exchanged a hurried glance with her daughter before slipping away to return to her mutterings and ravings.
“Never fear, cousin,” Vachel grinned. “We have not lost this game yet. What care we that William favors Wulfgar for a time? Our families are of some importance. They will not long tolerate this usurpery when we make this outrage known.”
Ragnor grunted. “My father will not be overjoyed when he learns I have gained no lands for the family here.”
“Do not be bitter, Ragnor. Guy is an old man and has old thoughts. Since he won his fortune he naturally assumes it is easy for you to do the same.”
Ragnor’s hand gripped his drinking horn until his fist whitened about it. “There are times, Vachel, when I think I loathe him.”
His cousin shrugged. “I am impatient with my father also. Can you imagine him threatening me that with the next bastard I make on some wench he will throw me out and cut off my inheritance?”
For the first time since breaking open the doors of Darkenwald Ragnor de Marte threw back his head and laughed. “You must admit, Vachel, you do your share.”
Vachel chuckled with him. “And you cousin, are not one to call the kettle black.”
“True, but a man must have his pleasure,” Ragnor smiled and his dark eyes fell to the red-haired wench who sat at his feet. He caressed her cheek, and his mind became intoxicated with the vision of her slender body pressed tightly to his. Beginning to feel impatient for her, Ragnor caught his fingers in the fabric of her gunna, tearing it from her shoulders as she tried to wrench free. The hot, greedy eyes of the invaders turned quickly to feast on the half-revealed bosom swelling above the torn garment. As earlier with Hlynn they shouted encouragements and obscene jests, but Aislinn did not relent to hysteria. She held the separated garment together, and only her eyes spoke of her hatred and contempt to each. One by one the men were silenced by her gaze, and they drew away to swallow their discomfort with a large gulps of ale, mumbling among themselves that this wench was surely a sorceress.
Lady Maida clutched a wineskin frantically to her bosom, her fingers white with the pressure of her grip. In pain she watched Ragnor fondle her daughter. His hands moved slowly over the silken flesh and beneath her garments, trespassing where no other man had dared before. Aislinn trembled in revulsion, and Maida choked on the fear and hatred that seemed to congeal in her chest, making it impossible for her to draw an easy breath.
Maida’s eyes raised to the darkened stairway leading to the bedchambers. In her imagination she saw her daughter already struggling with Ragnor upon the lord’s bed, the one she had shared with her husband and where she had given birth to Aislinn. Now Maida could almost hear the cries of pain drawn from her daughter by that fearsome knight. The Norman would have no mercy nor would Aislinn plead for it. Her daughter had the stubbornness and pride of Lord Erland. She would never beg for herself. For another, perhaps, but not herself.
Maida moved into the deep shadows of the hall. Justice would not be served until her husband’s murderer had felt her revenge.
Rising to his feet, Ragnor drew Aislinn with him and wrapped his arms close about her supple body. He chuckled as she squirmed against him trying to get free, taking brutish delight in the painful grimace that crossed her face as his fingers tightened on her arms.
“How be it that you speak the tongue of France?” he demanded.
Aislinn tossed her head up to meet his gaze yet remained silent, her eyes cold with loathing. Ragnor considered her haughty demeanor and released her from his savage grip. He thought no amount of torture could wring the answer from her lips if she refused to tell him. She had kept mute before when he had commanded her name. It was only her mother who had rushed to tell him when he threatened the girl with violence. Yet he had ways to humble the most arrogant of damsels.
“I pray you speak, Aislinn, or I shall strip your garments from you and let each man here take his turn on you. You would not be so royal then I vow.”
Reluctantly Aislinn replied, standing soberly against him. “A traveling troubadour spent much time in this hall during my years of childhood. Before he came upon us he wandered from country to country. He had knowledge of four tongues. He taught your own to me because it amused him.”
“A traveling troubadour who amuses himself? Where was the jest? I see none,” he returned.
“ ’Tis said your duke from his childhood fancied England upon his platter. My merry troubadour knew of this tale for oft would he play for the high born of your country. Twice or thrice in his youth he even pleasured your duke until he cut off his small finger for singing the tale of a baseborn knight in his presence. It pleasured my troubadour to have me learned in your language, that if one day the Duke’s ambitions were realized I could call you the scum that you are and have you understand me.”
Ragnor’s features darkened but Vachel chuckled in his cup.
“Where be your gallant troubadour now, damoiselle?” the young Norman inquired. “The Duke is no more fond of being called a bastard today than when he was a youth. Mayhaps your man will find his head missing instead of a finger.”