The perfect wife, p.27
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       The Perfect Wife, p.27
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           Lynsay Sands
Page 27


  Avelyn nodded, believing her. "May I ask your name?"

  She hesitated, then saidin a short, clipped tone, "Avis. "

  "Thank you, Avis. I am Avelyn. " She smiled faintly, then asked,"Can youmake both the mead and the ale in quantity?'' The woman blinked, then said warily, "I could. "

  "Then I wouldaskthat you doso and sendasmuch as you can make to the castle. "

  Avishesitated, probably debating whether shecould afford to tell her to goto the devil. But her eyes widened asAvelyn statedhow much she was willing to pay per keg for each beverage.

  There was silence as Avelyn waited for some response, butsheseemed to have shockedthe woman to the pointof being unable to speak. Avelyn supposed that, as poor asthevillagewas,no one was able to pay much for goods. What she offered must havesounded exorbitant, butit wasa fair price, and she told her solest the innkeeper's wifethink she was tryingto buy her way out of their resentment. The price Avelyn offered was no more than hermother paidon the rare occasionswhen she purchased such things. Straughton had its own alewife, so rarely needed to purchaseextra unlessan event such as aweddingcroppedup.

  "Willyou do that?" Avelyn asked finallywhenthe silence had drawn out so long it was becominguncomfortable.

  "O'course shewill," the innkeepersaid, even as his wife finally nodded. Theman was almostsmiling now, she noted.

  "Thank you,"Avelynmurmured, but noticedthe womanwas hesitating by the door, shifting on her feet as if she wanted to get right to work buthad a questionto ask.

  "Willyou want it regular?" Avis finally asked. "Or are youhaving acelebration or - "

  "Wewill need itregularly," Avelyn assuredher. "Wehave no alewife asyet. "

  Eyes wide and slightly dazed, Avis nodded several times,then turned and hurried back into the kitchen. Theinnkeeper hurried afterher,and Avelyn picked upher pastieandtook atentative bite.

  "Thisis quitegood too," shemurmured encouragingly toDiamandaand Runilda after chewingandswallowing the firstbite.

  Both women reluctantly began to eat, obviouslyuncomfortable underthe stares of the men around them. While the attitude of the innkeeper and his wife may have thawed toward them, theothermen were still eyeing themwith opendislike. It made the meal uncomfortable,but Avelyn would not allow them to scare her. Still, she was grateful when they hadfinishedand could leavewithout looking asifthey hadbeen frightened off.

  They steppedout of the innto findthat the crowd outside had grown in size.

  Avelynsensed Diamanda andRunilda movingcloser toher,butmerely led them toward what lookedto be a baker's premises. She didn't experience anyrelief at all on entering the shop, since the crowd followed theminside. As many ofthem who could packedthemselves into the small front room of the baker's, while the rest crowded aroundthe open door.

  On first entering, therewas nosignof the baker, and Avelyn wasjust wondering whatto do when there was a disturbance by the door and she heard someone snarling, "Get outof thebloody way, you fools,'tismyshop. "

  She watched theround little man enter, noted the anger onhis faceand knew she was infor atimeof it. Shewasn't surprisedwhen hefinally struggledinto the room, tuggedhis clothinginto place,glared at her andsnarled,"I'm not Avis, sodon't be thinking youcan buyyerway intome good graceslike I hear ye did her. Now be off withye!"

  Avelynstood very still asa murmurofapproval wentthrough the crowd,then nodded calmly. "Very well,sir. "

  DiamandaandRunilda started to move towardthedoor, only to pause whenthey realized Avelyn wasn't moving. Theyturned reluctantly back as sheadded to the baker, "However,I feel I shouldtell you I couldn't care lessabout your good graces.

  All I bought from Avis is aleand mead, enough for two hundred soldiers and servants, and allI wanted from you isenough baked goods to feed as manypeople. "

  She-wasmost satisfiedbythe realization that dawned on theman'sface.

  "Two hundred people?" heaskedfaintly.

  "Aye. Irealize 'tis a large quantity, butI thoughtmayhap youcould get the women inthe village who are the best cooks tomake some in theirhomes. It would have helped you and allowed them toearn some coin too," Avelyn pointed out,knowing the baker couldnot possibly handle such a large orderonhis own.

  "I must confess, I do not understand your attitude, sir," Avelyn continued.

  "Especially since Iam neither Legere,nor Lord Wimarc, but thenew lady of the castle whois inneed of goodsand would rather purchase themfrom the people. of her village - whoarein needof the trade - than sendthecoins out toanother town or village. However, as you are fool enough to turn down good coin for your pride. . . "

  Shrugging, she moved tojoin Runildaand Diamanda by the door asif preparing toleave. Shehadn't taken two steps when the man spoke. "Wait. "

  Avelyn nearly saggedwithrelief, but, aware ofall the eyes watching her, she tried to hide her feelings and simply turned backto the man tonegotiate terms with him.

  Inmoments, the baker was smiling, his pockets jingling when next sheturnedaway.

  Avelynled Runilda and Diamandato the door,noting theway thecrowdwent silent and parted asshe approached. She paused in thedoorway and peered over the sea of faces. Shecould notsee theother tradesmen's shopswith all the people there and so had no idea where to gonext. Aftera hesitation, she asked,"Are there any carpenters here?"

  Severalhands went up. One man didn't bother to raise his hand, but made his way tothe frontof thecrowd. "I ama master carpenter. "

  "Did you make the trestle tables inthe inn?" Avelynasked aftera reflective pause.

  They had been good,sturdytables, yetlookedeasily collapsible andhad shownfine attentiontodetailin the carvingof thelegs.

  "Aye. " He appearedsurprised.

  Avelyn nodded. "You willneedhelpfor what I want. "

  "Ihave it ifI need it," hesaid calmly, not looking as if hebelieved her.

  Avelyn shrugged inwardly,thenannounced, "I need new trestle tables. Enough for two hundred men and servants to sit at. Benches of course, and four chairsfor the high table. Four more chairs for thefireside and - nay, make that six chairsfor the fireside," shecorrected herself. As Lord and LadyGerville would probably visit often and she had noidea how long Diamanda and Lady Helen would stay, six seemed smarter. "I shall also need three large beds. " Avelyn hesitated again, wondering about how much she should spend justnow. Could sheafford to get chairs foreach bedchamber as well? It would be nice tohavea chairto siton while she dried her hair by the fire. Two chairsin their room would allowher and Paento sit by the fire of acold winternight.

  Avelyn decided to get thechairs. Shehad her owncoins. Herparentshad always spoiled her and hadincluded coins among the chestsof goods they'd sent with her.

  "Six morechairs forthe bedchambersandseveralsmall tables. "

  When she finished, there were several moments of complete silence; then the carpenter cleared his throat and admitted painfully, "Even with the help of every capable man here I cannotprovide this much furniture as fast asa larger - "

  "I realize that, sir,"Avelyn assured him,impressed with his honesty. Another carpenter would have beencalculatingthe coinsthis would bring him and unwisely assuring her he'd have it for her ina trice. Speakingclearly sothata good deal of the crowd could hear,Avelyn said, "WhileI would like the furnitureas quicklyas you can manage, I am willing to wait. Iwouldprefer to keeptheprofit from this venture herein ourvillage. "

  He nodded slowly. "Whatwould youlike first, my lady?"

  "The tables, then the beds, then the chairs, then the smaller tables," Avelyn answered, then glanced around at the crowd, becomingaware that the feeling in the air had changed. Shehadnot won them allover, butthe crowdwas swaying.

  Raising her head,she calledout, "Is there a grocer here whocansupplymewith herbs?"

  "Oh, Avy!You were wonderful!" Diamanda enthused as they left the villagein late afternoon.

  "I was, wasInot?" Avelyn grinned, buoyedup byher success. It had certainly not started
out well,andfor awhile she had fearedshe'dmade ahuge mistake,but it hadworked out wellin the end. She was very satisfied.

  "Iwas ever so impressed," Diamanda admitted. "Ido notknow where you found the courage to standuptothe baker when he was someantous, butyou yelled right back and even calledhim a fool. " Her eyes were huge and round. "I never would have had the courage to talk to him so. "

  Avelyn blinked. "Yelling?"

  "Aye. " Diamandathrew anarm around her shoulders and hugged her exuberantly.

  "Nay," Avelyn shook her head. She hadn't thought she'dyelled, and glanced at hermaid to ask. "SurelyI didnot yell?"

  "Like a fishwife," Runilda assured her proudly.

  Avelyn staredat her inhorror, and bothwomen burst out laughing.

  "You were brilliant!" Diamanda assuredher. "Iwanttobe just like youwhen I am married. "

  Avelyn felther lips twist wryly. After alifetime of feeling inadequate and wishing she weresomeone else,it was rather strange to hear that anyone would wish to be like her. Still,she hadimpressed even herself today. Perhapsshe wouldn't proveto be acalamitousfailure as awifeafter all,she thought hopefully.

  Buoyed upby hersuccess andencouraged by Diamanda'sobviousadmiration, Avelyn felt good as theywalked back tothe casde. It wasn'tuntil she entered the great hall that she began to deflate.

  "There youare, girls!" Lady Gerville walked upto greet them, abright smile of pleasureon herface as she wavedtoward thechanges in thegreat hall. "What do you think? It is much nicer now,is it not?"

  "You. . . " Avelynstared at the trestletables and benches now filling the center of the hall. Her gazethenslid to the small collection of chairsbythe fire, and she shook herheadhelplessly as her happiness began to flowout of her likewater outof apail.

  "You broughtfurniture. "

  "Aye. It wason the wagons with the servants. I did not mention itbecause I hopedtosurpriseyou. " Her smile fadedsomewhatat Avelyn's expression. "Are you not pleased? I thought youwouldbemorecomfortablewith. . . well,there was not a stickof furniturehere. "

  "Oh, yes," Avelyn said quickly as she realizedhow rude shewas being. "This is lovely. Much more comfortable. "

  "But wejustcame backfrom thevillage wherewearranged forfurniture and all sorts of things," Diamandablurted out.

  "The village, yousay?"

  Avelyn turnedto peer overher shoulder atWimarc Gervilleand Paen as they entered. Both men were frowning.

  "You went to the village?"Paen growled. "Youcould have run into trouble. I told you they were not pleased with us there. "

  "My lady handled itbeautifully. Hermotherwould havebeen proud," Runilda said firmly.

  "Aye," Diamandaadded. "When the bakerwas rude to us, shewas rude right back and evenyelledat him likea fishwife. "

  Avelyn closed her eyes with an inner groanas Diamanda and Runilda regaled them with their adventures in thevillage. The silence thatfollowed was long, and she finally sighed and opened her eyestofind everyonestaring at her. "Of course I shall cancelthe furnishings and - "

  "You will not," Wimarc Gerville said sharply. "Youhave done more today to repair our relationswiththe villagersthanany amount ofmytalking could have done.

  We will keep the furnishingshere until thenew carpenter hasreplacements done, thentake themback to Gerville. The castle is mighty bare without them anyway. "

  "And the breadsand so on that you ordered from the baker, as wellas the herbs from the grocer, shallbewelcome," Lady Gervillesaidfirmly. "The. baker'sgoods shall lessen theburdenon the cook while she settlesin andarranges things, and certainly theherb garden is not up to scratch. "Shesmiledbrilliantly. "You have done well, my dear. "

  Avelyn could feel herspirits lift. She haddone well, after all. Her gaze slidshyly toherhusband, and she thoughtshe sawadmiration and pride onhis face. Surely he would compliment her too? After all the calamities and accidents she'd caused, surely he would be impressed and offerher a kind word for this? Instead he offered her anapple. He had beencarrying it when he entered the keepwith his father,and now he peered down at it, hesitated, then held it out.

  Avelyn acceptedtheapple with confusion,then gave a startled gaspas he patted herrump.

  "Good," he said firmly, patted her rump again and walked off with his father toward thetrestle tables.

  Avelyn stared after him withamazement; as didthe other women. They were all staringafterhim as if he'd sprouted horns. Afteramoment, Lady Gervilleturned back to Avelyn and said, "Er. . . dear, why do you not go introduce yourselfto your new cook and see if shedoes not have refreshments yougirls mightenjoy after your walk. I needs mustspeaktomyson. "

  Avelynwatched her walkto thetrestletables,then headedtowardthe kitchens with Diamanda and Runilda on her heels. They had crossed half the hall before the rustling ofrushes drewher gazeto the corner andshe recalled the sow. The mother pig was still there, andPaen's squire,David,wasstanding nearby looking onwith wideeyes.

  Curious as to what had caught his fascination,Avelyn changed direction, heading for the boy. Runilda and Diamanda followed.

  "Oh, look," Diamandacooedas they reachedthe boy to find that it wasthesow's litter that had his attention. The pig wasa newmother several times over.

  "She hashadherbabies," David announced unnecessarily.

  "Aye," Diamandagrinned. "Are they not adorable?"

  Avelyn smiled faintlyat thegirl's words. The baby pigletswere climbingshakily all over each other ina battle toget to thesow's teats. They were indeed adorable with their huge eyes and floppy ears. She watchedtheirantics for a bit, troubled whenshe noted one tiny pig struggling to get a turnat suckling.
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