The perfect wife, p.18
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       The Perfect Wife, p.18
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           Lynsay Sands
Page 18

  Runilda had brought aleaf-filled branch withher and used it to sweeptheremaining ashesoutofthe tent. The moment that was done, she fetched some linens from Avelyn's chest's. Then she and Sely fashioned the furs intosomething ofa bedand made it up with the linens.

  "Here we are, then. "Lady Gerville urgedAvelyn to thelittle nest offurs andlinen.

  "Why don't yourest for a bit, dear? I shall have Runilda fetchyou whenthe sup is ready. "

  "Iam not hungry," Avelyn said dully as sheallowed herself to be tucked into the bed. She didsee theconcerned glances the women exchanged,but couldn'tseemto work up the energytocareabout it.

  "Just rest for now, dear,"LadyGerville said finally. "You'llfeelbetterafter some sleep. "

  Avelyn dutifully closed her eyes and was asleepat once.

  Chapter Eleven

  Paen hadjustcome in fromoverseeing the men's training and hadsettled himself at the trestle table to enjoy somemead when thesound of a woman's soft step made him tense and glance toward the stairs. He relaxed the instanthe realized it was his mother. Fora moment, Paen hadfearedit was his wife. He wasn't in the mood for hersad face just then.

  "Oh, Paen. "His mother moved alittle more quickly when she saw him. "Good - I wanted to talk to you. Where is your father?"

  "He's just coming up from the stables now. He shallbe here shortly," Paen answered,thenarched an eyebrow. "Where is my wife?"

  "She is in thesolar, sewing. "

  "Of course she is," hesaiddryly. Hiswife seemed everto be sewing, but hehad yet to seeany resultsfrom it. Paen assumed it was anew gown shewas working on.

  The few shepossessed seemed all to be dark,drab and too large for her. He'dbeen hoping shewas producing a new onethat would be more colorful and fit properly, but surely itdidn't take this long to make one.

  She had been sewing intheir tent the few times he'dpeeredin tocheck on heron their journey, and it was all she'd done in the three days since arriving atGerville,that or sleeping. Orweeping. Sometimes sheeven weptin her sleep.

  While Avelyn hadseemed a happychatterbug during the journey to collect his squire,all had changed onthelast dayof the journey toGerville. Since thenight of thefire, she'dbeen walking misery. Paen missed hercheerful chatter, butmorethan that, he couldn't stand to see her soweary and unhappy, especiallysince he didn't have aclue what to doabout it. He'd hopedshe was justmissingher familyand wouldgetover it, but rather thanrecover her good cheer, she seemed toget more melancholy eachday.

  "You neednot sound so putout. She is making new braes and a tunic for you.

  Again," his mother added testily as the hall doors opened and Wimarc Gerville entered.

  "Anewbraes and tunic? For me?" Paen asked with amazement. "Whatever for? She is the one who needs new clothes,not I. "

  "Aye," Lord Gerville agreed ashe approached the table. "The girl does not have a single gown that fits her,and every one she hasseems to be darkand drab. " He pausedto kisshis wifeon the cheek, thensettledon the bench next toPaen. "I supposethe blue one that burst atthe wedding dinner and the red one that went up in flames were theonly colorfulgowns shepossessed. "

  Lady Gerville frowned at herhusband, then turned to glare at Paen. "Yourwife stayed up nightsduring ourjourney sewing younewclothes toreplace those ruined in the fire. Tiswhy shewas always inthe tent of a night, and always exhausted duringthe day. She was making clothes for you. "

  Paen blinked at the news, but it was his fatherwho commented first. "Well,she is damnedslowat sewing if she isnot yetfinished. "

  "Wimarc. " Lady Gervillefrowned at her husband. "She had nearly completed them when they burned upin the tent. She was quitedistraught,but started on them again when she got here. I believe shehas another setnearly done. "

  "Hmm. " Paen's father scowled at thereminderof thefire. "Is that why she has beenso unhappy?Because ofa set ofclothes?"

  "Ibelieveit is partof it, butIthink she is also missing her family. " Lady Gerville turneda displeasedlook on Paen. "And you are not helpingwiththat. "

  "Me?" Hiseyes widened. "What can I do to help with this? I have done naughtto cause her unhappiness. "

  "Youhave done naught to prevent it either," she argued. "You payAvelyn less attentionthanthe dogs. You at least throw thema bone oncein a while. "

  Paen scowled. "Well, I cannotpay her attention,or have youforgotten my hands are injured?"

  "I did not mean bedding her," she said with exasperation. "Have you spoken more than awordtoherat all?"

  "Spoken to her?" he asked with disbelief, and his mother'seyes narrowed.

  "Have you been soblindallthese years? Or is it that you have been awayon Crusade so long that youhave forgottenthatyour father speaks to me all the time?"

  "That is notwhat I meant," Paen said with irritation. "I meant she is the one. . . well, she used to bethe one who. . . she was quite - "

  "Hemeans hecouldnot get aword in edgewise on thejourney here," his father said with amusement. "At least when she was on horseback. "

  "Aye, well,I suspect that was an effort to keep awake," Lady Gervillesaid.

  "Aye, Inoticed the girl likes to sleep a lot," Wimarcsaid dryly. "She slepton horseback one day when shewas supposedtobe learning to ride. "

  "Only oneday," Lady Gerville defended her. "Andthat was only becauseshe'd beenupall night sewing. " Shepaused, thensighed. "I promised not to tell you but I know she is also upset that you think she is so inept, so I am going to share something with you. "

  Paen and his father exchanged a glance. it was Wimarcwho said, "She is not so inept?"

  "Nay," LadyGerville said firmly.

  "Wife, I knowyou like her,but thegirlcannot even ride ahorse," Wimarc pointed out.

  "Aye, she can. "

  "She - "

  "Mother is right," Paen interrupted whenhis fatherwould have argued thepoint.

  "Avelyn may not have been able to ridewhen we first leftStraughton, butsheis a natural. She was very goodby the time we arrived here. Iwouldhavelet hermount her own horse on the wayback from Hargrove, but she did notfeel confident she could manageit on her own,so I letherride with me. "

  "You do not understand,"LadyGerville said. "She knew how to rideereleaving Straughton. "

  "Do notberidiculous,Christina," hisfathersaidwith disbelief. "Why would she lie aboutsomething like that and let us thinkherso incompetent?"

  "Tosave Paen's hands," she said.

  "What?" Paen stared at her with dismay.

  "You were insisting on handling your own mount. She - like me - feared you woulddo your handsfurther injury, so she let you thinkshecould notride sothat you wouldlet her take thereinswhile you'trained' her. "

  His father snorted at thesuggestion. "The chit slept through thesecond day. "

  "Because shewas upallnightsewing,"Lady Gerville remindedhim. "But she sewedeach nightafter that, yet stayed awake despiteherexhaustion. "

  Lord Gerville considered this news. "So, you are saying the girl is trained in proper wifery?"

  "Aye. Her mothergave me a list ofher skills at the weddingmeal. She is fully trained,probablybetter than most girls her age. "

  "Running a household? Tending injuries and illness? Instructing staff?" he queried.

  "Aye, all that and more. "

  "Thenwhyhas shenot tendedto Paen's injured hands? 'Tis always you checking andbandaging them. "

  Lady Gervillelooked uncomfortable. "Aye. Well, Ihave apologized to her for that, but. . . he ismyson. "

  "And this is your home to run," Lord Gerville saidwithgentleunderstanding.

  Paen's mother stiffened. "What do youmean?"

  "You said you think hersadness had to do with Paen'sthinkingher unskilled, as well as missingherfamily and home. "

  "Aye. "

  "Butmayhap it is more than that. "

  "What else could itbe?" she asked.

  "Shehasnot only lefther home andfamilybehind, Christina. She has cometo ours. IfAvelyn was trained
and is asskilledas you claim, it was so that she could be a properwife, so that when she marriedshe would be prepared tomove toher new homeand run it," he pointed out. "But thisisour home,yours torun. You have everything well inhand and she has nothing to do. Shehas nowayto make aplace for herself. She islike a guest here. "

  Lady Gervillemoved to the bench and droppedto siton itbetween herhusband andson. "Ihadnot thought of that. "

  "I know," Lord Gerville said softly. He was silentfor a moment, then said, "I received news on ourarrival here that old Legere is dead. "

  "Aye,I know,"Lady Gerville said withsomeconfusion. "You toldme at the time. "

  "He was my chatelain at Rumsfeld," Paen's fatherpointedout, speaking of his wife'schildhoodhome. The two lands had been merged when they married, butthey livedat Gerville.

  "Aye. " Now sheappeared moreirritated than confused.

  "Ihave been wondering who to replace Legerewitheversince. "

  Paenstiffened,understanding where his father was heading,even as his mother did. Hecould seethe dawning realization on her face. She didnot look pleased.

  "Wimarc,"shebegan,butLord Gerville continued. "PerhapsPaenand Avelyn should go there. "

  "But - "

  " 'Twould givethem a chance to get to know each other better without our interference,"he pointed outover her protests. "And 'twouldgiveher a home ofher own to run, someplace she wouldnot feellike a guest on sufferance. "

  "Oh. " Lady Gerville sighedin defeat.

  "Are you all right, dear?"

  "Hmm?"Avelyn glanced up at Lady Helen blankly. They were seated at thehigh table,eating dinner. Avelyn sat betweenLady Gerville and Lady Helen. Paen, as usual, was not there. He had been seated atthe table speaking to his fatherwhen she'dcome belowstairs, but had left shortly afterward.

  Avelynsupposedhehad leftto get awayfromher. Paenseemedalways to be avoidingher. . . to the point that he would not even sitat table andeat withthem. She didn't know where hewas sleeping either, but it wasn'twithher.

  "You sighed,dear," Lady Helenpointed out gently. "Areyou unhappy?"

  Avelyn forced asmileto her lips. Lady Helen was akind woman,as was Paen's mother. All of them had been wonderful to her sincetheir arrival at Gerville - kind andconsiderate and keepinghercompany all the time so thatshe hardly noticedthat her own husband couldn't be botheredwith any of that. Avelyn sighed againthen realized she'd done it and shookher head, impatient with herself. "I amsorry,my lady. "

  "You neednotapologize,Avelyn. " Lady Gerville joined the conversation and patted her hand. "It is hardly yourfault. "

  Avelyngrimaced atthe word fault. "But I should apologize to you for Paen's never joining us at table. That apparently is my fault. "

  "What?" Lady Gerville appearedsurprised atthe claim.

  Avelyn swallowed and admitted, "Your son does notseem pleasedwithmeas his wife. He avoids meatall costs now we are here. He will noteven eat at thetable because Iam here,let alone sleep in his own room. "

  "Oh,Avelyn. "Lady Gerville peered at herwith dismay. "And you thought this was because ofyou?"

  "What else could itbe?"Avelyn asked witha shrug. "I asked Diamandaand she saidthat hedid sleep in his roomand dineattable before I was here. Shedid not think it was my faultthat he does neither noweither,but couldnotcome upwith anotherexplanation. "

  "Becauseshe does notknow. . . " LadyGerville pausedandbitherlip.

  Avelyn was about to ask what Diamanda didn'tknow, butbefore she could, the older woman shook her head with disgust.

  "So many secrets - 'Donottell him this, do not tell her that,'" she said with exasperation. "I should haverealized that he wouldn'texplain. Theboy is just like his father in that regard. Well, letme save you some heartache, child, by telling youwhat it took meyearsof marriage to Wimarc to realize. If youdo notknow or understand something, you must ask. Never fear lookingfoolish by asking, for the only fool is the one whodoes not askandmakesassumptions inignorance. "

  She paused to take adrinkfrom her goblet,then said, "Nowtakeyourself above stairs. Go to the chamber on the rightof your ownand enter withoutknocking. You shall learnalot without saying a word, but after that you willhave to ask your husbandwhyhe hasnot slept with you. I suspectthe answerwill surprise you. "

  Avelyn stared at her with bewilderment. She hadn't understood much of what Lady Gerville had said. So manysecrets? Who had secrets?She supposed shehad made the woman keep one or two herself. Now itseemed that hersweren't the only secrets here.

  "Go," Lady Gervilleinsisted, drawing her from her thoughts.

  Avelyn glanced at Lady Helen, butDiamanda'saunt appeared tobeas perplexed asshe was. She got reluctantlyto her feet, stepped over the bench and moved slowly toward the stairs. Part of her wascurious atwhat shemight find upstairs, but most of her simply didn't want toknow. It wasbad enough suspecting herhusband could notbear to benearher. Toactually havehimtell her so wouldbe much worse.

  Avelyngrimaced at her owncowardice. Her parentshad not raisedher to be a coward, but so muchhad happened in the last week - shefelt rather like thecamel whose back mightbreak with the next straw setonit.

  Not thatit was allbad. Thingswere a little better hereat Gerville. In someways, living here was likebeing home again. Lady Gervillewas much like her mother, running the castle with seemingeffortless ease. It leftAvelyn with nothingto do but sew, but she didn't mind that so much. With her track record to date, she was relieved not to have tasks and chores to attend to that might further reveal the ineptitude she hadn't realized shesuffered.
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