The perfect wife, p.22
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       The Perfect Wife, p.22
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           Lynsay Sands
Page 22


  Avelyn folded the tunic andput it inthechest on top of the ivorycloth, thinking that perhapsit wasa good thingthat sheand Paen were going to Rumsfeld. She didn't thinkshe'dstart another tunic until shereached her new home. Just to be safe.

  Chapter Thirteen

  "Diamanda, I may havea faulty memory,but Iam sure you said Rumsfeld was quite lovely," Avelyn said weakly asthey rode close enoughto see the crumbling walls.

  "Aye. " The younger woman shook herhead helplessly, herown gaze lockedon the castle ahead. "It was when I saw it. "

  "How old were you?"

  "Six," she admitted.

  "Isee. " Avelyn let her breathout on a sigh, then triedfor an expression shehoped was serene as her husband slowed his horse to fallback next to them.

  it was a week since the morningAvelynhad discovered Lady Gerville's dogs sleeping on the ruined tunic. A perfectly peaceful, calamity-free week. Avelynhad come to the conclusion that her brief concern that someone might be trying to sabotage her efforts had just been too much imagination. Nothing had happened since then.

  Actually,nothingat all hadhappened during the last week. Ithad been astring of boring days and boringevenings. Paen had ridden out withhisfather to Rumsfeld first thing every morning. Thecastlewas a half-day travel away, and bythetime the two men had returned eachnight,it wasquite late. Avelyn wasoften asleepwhen Paen returned. If not, she was assoon as he collapsed into bed exhausted and began tosnore.

  Paen hadnotbeddedAvelynagain sincethe night they hadconsummated the wedding - muchtoherdisappointment - and she was once again fighting offthe fear thatit waspurely outof a lack of desire to doso. She tried totell herself that he was justtired,but it wasas if her three cousins had made a place forthemselvesinher head, for Avelyn could heartheir voices claiming thathehad only approachedher the first time out of duty and now could not bear to bebothered with herplump body again. When those voices arose, she pushed them away and told herselfto wait until they were at Rumsfeld to see what would happen. SoAvelyn had waited.

  In themeantime, she hadlearnedfrom Lady Gerville that there hadbeen some trouble with reavers at Rumsfeld over theyears. Scottish raiders had crossed the nearbyborderto stealanimals and harass the people of the area. It seemed thaton one or two occasions, they had attacked the castle itself. This last point, Lady Gerville claimed, was the thing thatupset Lord Gerville themost, for his chatelain, Legere,hadnever informed him of these problems. Instead, he'd chosen todealwith them on his own, much to thedetriment of the castle andits people. Apparently, there was a great deal to do, and Paenand his father had been rushingto get all in readiness for Avelyn and Paen to move there.

  Avelyn peered at the holes in the outer wall of Rumsfeld with concern. Theholes were clearly the result of attacks. Most of them weresmall, and there was evidence that several much largerholes had been repaired. In some areas,whole sections of the wall had obviously been recentlyrebuilt. She had no doubt thatrepairing the walls was one of the chores her husband andhis father hadbeen seeing to this last week. Neither man would havebeenwillingtobring theirwives to an unsafe castle.

  "Rumsfeld is notthe home it oncewas," Paensaidonce his mount was alongside her.

  Avelyn noddedat her husband's words, butmanaged nottocomment.

  "It was Mother's childhood home. "

  Avelyn glanced to where Lady Gervillerodenext to her husband. Paen's mother had decidedto accompanythemto Rumsfeld,so of courseDiamanda and Lady Helenhad joinedthepartyas well. Realizing thather husband was waiting for some sort of response,Avelyn nodded.

  "She willbe upsetwhenshe sees what time and troublehave done to it. "

  When Avelyn nodded again,Paen grunted withsatisfaction and urged his horse back up beside his father's. She stared after him, rather bewildered as towhat she was supposedtounderstand fromtheir briefconversation. She'dthought at firstthat he meantto warn or soothe her. Perhaps hewished her tohelp hismother over any upset thewoman might experience when they arrived.

  Avelyn would be more thanpleased to cheer and comforther new mother-in-law if the situation arose. The womanhad been kindness itself to her. However, if it was whatPaen wanted,she wished he'd simply saidso. Honestly,mencould be the most unforthcoming of creatures.

  Shaking her head, she remained silent for the remainderofthe journey, paying more attention to Lady Gerville thanthe bailey itself asthey rode through it to the steps of the keep. Paen'smother boreup wellat first, though her back did grow straighter with each stepthehorses took,her neck stretchingand head rising higher and higheruntil Avelyn thought itmight snap. Still, those were the only outward signs ofherupset.

  Theydismountedat the steps of the keep. Paen and his father took the horsesby the reins and begantolead themtoward what shesupposed must be the stables, but the building was sofullof holes, it was a wonderthatit wasstill standing.

  No one commented on the fact that noone wasthereto take the animals, but Avelyn saw Lady Gerville's fingerstightenwhere she had themclaspedinfront of her. Aftera pause, the lady straightened her shoulders andled thewomen up the stairstothe keep.

  It waswhen they stepped through the open large double doors and saw the state of theinterior that LadyGerville finally lost someof her composure.

  Her eyes widened, her shoulders drooped, anda soft "oh" ofdismay andpain slipped fromhermouth, which remained openafter the sounddied.

  Avelyn immediately took her arm lest shegrow faint. Her touchspurred Lady Gerville to speak. "This is. . . thisis - "

  "Easilyfixedwith a little effort," Avelyn finished firmly, garnering adisbelieving look from Diamanda.

  Fortunately, Lady Helen was more helpful, murmuring an agreement as they movedtoward thetrestle table in the centerof thehall.

  "Oh, Avelyn," Lady Gerville sighed, then turned large eyes on her. "Truly Ihad not realized. . . You cannot stayhere. This is - "

  "It will be fine," Avelyn assuredher, doing her bestto ignore her own dismay at thestateof the place. The floor wascovered with a scanty carpetof rushes so old there were plants and - worse - molds growing in them. The walls wereblackened and soot-stainedas ifthey had never beenwhitewashed,though Avelyn wassure theymust havebeenwhile Lady Gervillehadlivedhere. Thestairs to the upper floor were in a terrible stateof disrepair,with steps missing in places. There were also great large holes - some the size of beds - in the wooden floors of the rooms overhead.

  "My poor home,"Lady Gerville murmured as she sank onto the table bench under Avelyn'surging,andtumbled to thefloor when it collapsed beneath her.

  "Are youall right?" Avelyn askedwith alarm assheand Lady Helenhelpedher back to her feet.

  "Yes, thank you," Lady Gerville murmured as the women all proceededto brush at the dust and dirtherfall had collected.

  "My skirtis fine, itwill wash,"Lady Gerville said withasign when it became obvious their effortswereuseless. Shethenturnedtostareforlornly around the great hall, onlytopauseandblink. "Is that a pig?"

  Avelyn followed her gaze, herown eyes widening as she stared at the largesow rooting in thefilthy rushes in a corner. Asthey watched, thebeast pawedat the rushesseveral times, then dropped ontoits side with a huff, apparently ready to sleep outof themiddayheat.

  "I believe it is,"Avelyn said faintly, at a loss as to howto react. She knew many peoplekept theiranimals inside the keep at nightto keepthem safeand warm, but hermother hadn't been one ofthose people, and - aside from her dogs - neither was Lady Gerville. However, Avelynhadn't a clue what to do about the beast.

  "Your mother is bearing up betterthan I hadhoped. I tried to talkher out of coming today, you know,"Wimarc Gervillecommented as heand Paen finished withthe horses and startedback toward the keep.

  "Did you?" Paen asked.

  "Aye. Idid not wish her to see her childhood home likethis, but she's astubborn woman, your mother. Nothing would talk her out of coming to seethe twoof you settled in. " He grimaced. "Now I worryshe will tryto insist on stayi
nguntil itis set torights, orthatthe twoof you should not stay until it isbetter prepared. "

  Paennearly groaned at the idea. The last week of traveling back andforthhad been exhausting, butwhilethewalls of Rumsfeld hadto be repaired tomake it safe to bring Avelyn over, he hadn't been willing tostayhere by himself. The lure of his marriage bed had called himhome each night, and he had returned only to find himself tooexhausted to enjoyit.

  Hepeereddownat his handsand squeezedthem shut. His motherhad removed the last of the bandagesthatmorning, and while the skinfelt tight whenhe closed his hands into fists, he was wellpleased with their shape. They werea tad sensitiveand were not fullyhealed, but would do. He couldn't wait to touch Avelyn with them, andplanned to doso that verynight. Having only journeyedone way this time, Paen wassure the exhaustion that had been plaguinghim this last weekwould not be a problem and he wouldfinally beable to enjoyhis sweet, gentle wife again.

  "What the devil!"

  His father's startled exclamation made Paen glance toward thekeep. Bothmen stopped walking astheytook in thestruggle takingplaceat the top ofthe keep stairs.

  Paen's sweet, gentle wife, her maid and his usually dignifiedmother were yellingand shrieking and pushinga ratherlarge sowout of the castle. The three womenwere positionedat the back of the large, obviouslypregnant animal, bentover, handson the generous hindquartersas they shoved and pushed andtried toforce her through the frontdoor of the keep.

  Diamanda and her auntwere also there. With no room leftat the back of the beast, theauntstooda safedistance away with a dubious expression. Diamanda was jumping about, clapping herhands and yelling"shoo!" at the top of herlungs as if she thought the louder she yelled, the more likely the animal would hear and understand her.

  Heaving his breath out, Paen started forward again. "Iguess we had best seeto this ere they get themselves bit. Dotheynot know that pigs have teeth?"

  "Thequestion is,does the pig know your motherdoes?" WimarcGervilleasked withamusementas he followed.

  The two men reached the womenbefore thepig got too annoyed. Paen calmly used anapple to lead the beastdownthestairs, while his father ushered the excited women inside. The five of them were standing by the trestle table when Paen returned, his father shaking his head unhappily as Lady Gerville insisted, "They simply cannot stayhere, Wimarc. "

  " 'Twillbe fine,mylady," Avelyn said, but Lady Helen shookherheadand added hersupport to Lady Gerville.

  "Your wifeis right,my lord. Avelyn is a gentlybred lady,a noblewoman. You cannot expect thepoor child to stay in this rubble. "

  "Weare staying," Paen said firmly as hewalked up to them.

  Hismother turned a displeased scowl his way, but - despite his helplessness the last two weeks - Paen wasnot a child. He refused to back down. "We will have this placecleaned up and in proper order in no time now that Avelyn is hereto direct the servants. She can tendto the inside, while I see to the outside ofourhome. By the timeyou return fora visit, it will bein good shape. "

  "I agreewith the boy,Christina," Lord Gerville said. "This is tobe their home now, andtherepairswill gomuch more quickly if theyarehere full-time ratherthan wasting somany hoursriding backandforth to Gerville everyday. "

  "Fine," Lady Gervillesaid abruptly. "Then Ishall stay as well, to help. "

  "Christina," Lord Gerville chided. "Do you stay,youwill simply takeover the task asyou wouldat home. 'Tis the girl's home. Let her tend itas she seesfit. "

  "But. . . "LadyGerville peered around attheruin. "Thereis so much to get done beforethey willbe near comfortable. Help would make it allgo so much more quickly. "

  "Icould stay to help," Diamanda offered.

  "That is a fine idea," Paen said, then shruggedwhen everyoneturned tostare at him. "She can help out, and be companyfor Avelynas well. If Lady Helen willallow it," he added. Diamanda'sauntpursedherlips,thennodded.

  "Certainlywe can stay. It will be useful for Diamanda. After helping here, she will bemorethan capableof handlingany emergencya noblewoman might encounter,"

  Lady Helen said dryly.

  "But - " LadyGerville began, even as Avelynprotested, "Oh, that really isn't necessary. " They were both overridden by Paen's father.

  "Thatsounds aperfect solution. We shall send your things fromGerville when we return,and return ourselvesin a week to collect you ladies and bring you back.

  However, if you change your mindat any timeand wish to return toGerville before that, you are welcomeandPaen will supply anescort. "He waited for both womento nod, then clapped his hands. "Good, good. Well, we mayas well head out home thenand leaveyou to gather your servants for the task ahead. We'vea longjourney back. "

  "But, Wimarc, wejust gothere," LadyGerville protested.

  "I told you I did notplan to stay long and you shouldnottroubleyourselfto come," he pointed out. "I onlywished to besurethe last section ofwall was finished this morning as ordered. It had to be done ere Avelyn and Paencould stay here. "

  "Aye, but - "

  "I had Selypack apicnic for us to enjoy onthe return trip,"LordGervillewent on. "Let usgosothechildren can start setting things torights here. They shallwant much doneere nightfall so that they cansleep comfortably. "

  Paen held hisbreath,surehis mother would protest further, butshe gave in with a sigh.

  "Good!" He patted her arm. "I shall leave you to find out what the ladies wish sent fromGerville, and to say yourgood-byes, while Ihave awordwithPaen. "

  Paen walked outside with his father,noddingas theolder man gavesuggestions and advice onwhat to seeto next. Apparently,whileLord Gerville thoughthislady wife should not give advice to Avelynon running the household, he was not of the same opinionwhenit came to hisson. Paen didn't mind,though.
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