The perfect wife, p.28
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       The Perfect Wife, p.28
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           Lynsay Sands
Page 28


  "He mustbe the runtof thelitter,'' Diamanda commented.

  "Aye," Avelyn murmured. The poor little creature was a fighter, but he was weaker than the others and, no matter howmany times he tried,hecould notforce his way in to get to hismother's milk. Avelyn frowned. "He is a fighter. "

  "Aye," Diamanda said sadly,as ifknowing thatthe poorpiglet's courage would makelittle difference if he could not get to the milk.

  Avelyn wasworried too. "Doyou thinkLadyGerville brought anything we might feed him?"

  Diamandaperkedupat the suggestion. "We couldgosee. "

  Nodding,Avelyn knelt to scoop up thepiglet. Cuddling him against herchest, she smiled as the warm littlebody squirmed against her. She caressed him soothingly and cooed, "It's all right, littleone. I know you are hungry. We shallfind you something to eat. " She scratched his ear gently, then said, "I think weshall call you Samson because weintend for you to grow up big and strong. "

  "Just donot cut offhis hair," Diamanda teased, reaching up topet the piglet,then suddenly grimacing assheglancedoverAvelyn's shoulder. "Oh-oh. Aunt Helen is coming. Shewill makea fuss if she knows wearehandlingand plan to feed one of the piglets. "

  "Thenwe had best take him to thekitchens. "

  Avelyn said andstarted that way, beingcareful to keep the piglet hidden byher body as she moved. Runilda, Daimanda andnow David werefollowing her. They werealmost to the door when Avelyn asked, "Why does Lady Helen dislikepigs so much?"

  "She does notdislike them, she is terrified ofthem,"Diamanda explained. "She was bittenbyonewhenshe wasa littlegirlandhas beenterrified of them eversince.

  She will lecture you if she catchesyou taking him to the kitchen. "

  Avelyn felt a moment'sworry over this, thensuddenly realized thatRumsfeld was her home. She wasmistress here, and no onehad a right to lecture her for doing as she pleased. . . exceptperhapsfor Paen. . . and Lord and Lady Gerville, sheamended with a grimace. Still, while she would neverberude,if Lady Helen made too much ofafuss about what she chose to do, Avelyn decided she would just have to politely make her ownposition clear.

  "What wasthat?"

  Paen glanced upfrom theale he was enjoyingwith his father and blinked at his mother as shefaced him acrossthe trestletable. She had her hands on her hips and a very annoyed expression on her face. "Whatwas what?"

  "The apple, thepatonthe rump,andthe 'good,'"Lady Gerville saidimpatiently.

  Paen blinked. "I was praising my wife. "

  "Thatwas praise?" sheaskedwithdisbelief.

  He shrugged. "It is how I praise Midnight. "

  "Midnightis a horse!" she snapped irritably as his father burst out laughing, spitting outale.

  Paen shifted uncomfortably. He'd thought he might need otherways to increase his wife'sself-esteem, buttruly it was a tricky business and he hadn'tcome upwith anything asyet. He'dneverhad a wife before, and when he needed to praise his horse or hissquire,it was with a "good" or "well done" for theboy, and an apple anda pat on therumpfor the horse. He explained this now and watched his mother's irritation abate.

  "So you haverealizedthose cousins of hers have damaged Avelyn's view of herself," his mother said with relief.

  "Aye, butIdo notknow how to repair it other than to praise her when she does well," Paensaid.

  "Well. " LadyGerville relaxedherstance. "You could start by talking to the girl. "

  Paen rolled his eyes with exasperation. "Talk. Women always seem to think talking will fix things. A sharp sword oftensolves the problemmuchmore quickly andefficiently. "

  "Well, youcanhardly cut thepoor image outof Avelyn. And as your wifeis a woman like myself, mayhap you should try my suggestion," Lady Gerville said dryly. "It is sharp, unkind wordsspokento her over the years that have caused this poor self-image in Avelyn, soI suggestthatkind and complimentarywordsmay also - withtime - undo them. Youmightliketo spend some time with her as well. Go for walks with her and play chess of a night, things like that," she suggested. "Now I shalljust go have a wordwith cook about the goodsbeingbrought up from the village. It will make thingsmuch easier while everything is still in such an uproar. It was very cleverof Avelyn to go to the villageas she did. "

  Paen watched his motherwalkaway, thengave adisgruntled sigh. "With time. I do not wantitto take years and years to undothe damage those cousinsofhers caused. I want her to know nowthatshe is smart and pretty and capable. "

  "Hmm. "His father nodded his understanding, then brightened. "Well,Ishall help.

  If thetwo of uscomplimenther, it may speedit up. "

  LordGerville suddenlystood. "In fact, I will gocompliment herrightnow,and again tell her how wellshe did with her efforts thisafternoonin the village. "

  Paen watched thoughtfully as his father headed for the kitchens in search of Avelyn. The man's words had put a thought in his head. If the two of them complimentingher helped hersee that her cousins were wrong and she hadvalue, thenmany peoplecomplimenting her mightspeed it up even more. . . andif the whole garrison of soldiers and servants here did. . . Paen stood abruptly. He had to speak to his men.

  Chapter Seventeen

  "CanI hold Samson? I promise I will notdrop him. "

  Avelyn glanced downat David andsmiledat his earnest expression. She was becoming quite attached to the boy after several days of having him trail after her.

  It was a week since Avelyn's first foray into the village, and now they were returning from a secondtrip. She'd acquired Davidas her constant companion the day afterthat firstjourney. The lad had nearly gotten himself crushed by a boulder withhis clumsinesswhiletrailing Paen around the wall wherethemen were working.

  Herhusbandhadaskedherthatevening ifshe would keep theboy with her untilhe'd finished the wallandmovedontoa less dangeroustask. Avelyn hadagreed at once, happy to be of servicetoherhusband inanysmallway. Theladhad been following hereversince.

  Pondering the last week, Avelyndecidedthat - allin all - it had beena good one.

  Paen's mother and father had ended uponly stayinga couple ofdays. Lady Gerville hadacknowledgedthatAvelyn wasn't injuredso badly that she couldn'trun her own castle. . . andrun it well. The last part hadnearly broughttears toAvelyn's eyes as sherecognizedit for the complimentit was. Lady Gerville had confidence inher abilities, even if Avelynherself didn't. Butthat waschanging with eachsuccess she had. Avelyn could feelherself becomingmore confident with every passingday.

  The last weekhadseen the repairstothe castle speedalong. The entirecastlehad been cleaned,thekeep doors repaired and the sow andher litter moved. All except for the piglet Samson. Determined to save thefeistyrunt of the litter,Avelynhad kept him inside when the other pigs were shown thedoor,and she'd done all she could to improve his chancesof survival. Ineffect, Samson hadtaken up permanent residence in the castle,or moreprecisely, he'dtaken up permanent residencewith Avelyn,for if she was not carryinghim around, he was trailing after herunder his own steam,his little pink behind wiggling happily as he followed her from placeto place. The piglet seemedto think Avelynwashismother,muchto Paen's mingled amusementandexasperation.

  This week hadalso been theweek whenher husband had seemed tosuddenly notice herpresence. Notthat he'dbeen completely oblivious before, butthis week Paen had takenthe trouble to spend time withher - playing chess of an evening, going out with her for walks. Hestill did notsay much. Avelyn wascomingto realize thatherhusbandwas a man of few words. He tended togruntmorethan speak, but on a fewoccasions he'd had whole conversations with her. She always found these discussions interestingwindows into his thoughts. Avelynwashappy to learnthat herhusbandwas a good,fair and honest man.

  "Please?" David begged,remindingAvelyn of his request to hold Samson. She hesitated, then gave inandhanded Samsontothe boy.

  "Becareful, David. He is getting heavy," she warned. Samson had doubled in weight thislastweek thanksto some advice from Avis, the innkeeper's wife. The woman had riddento the castle with thefirst delivery of a
le and mead and had arrived as Avelyn wastryingto findsome way to feed the piglet. Avishad taken an interest and told her what her own father had done when they'd had a similar problemwith a foal. Her father hadmade asort of bladder out ofoiled cloth. He'd sewntheend intheshape of a teat, filledit withgoat's milkand useditto feed the foal,which had apparently done rather well onthe substitute fora mother's breast milk.

  Avis offered to help with theproject, andAvelynhad accepted gratefully. She liked the innkeeper's wife, and theywere becomingfriends. So whenAvelynhad headed into the village today to order moregoods and check on the carpenters' progress withthefurnishings,she'd decided to take Samson with herto show Avis howwell her suggestion was working. Samson had become plump, healthyand happy.

  Now they werereturning,and Avelyn was eager totell Diamanda about their trip.

  Theyounger girl had been pleasantenough before, butever since their trip to the village, the twoof them werebecomingfast friends, spending a gooddeal oftime together and laughing and chatting as they went about their chores. In fact, Diamanda had wantedto comewith her to the village today,but thegirl's aunthad refusedto allow it. Lady Helen insisted Diamanda remain home to practice her seams, as she was stillunable to getthem straight.

  Avelynsuspected the girl would be as bored asmudby now, andwondered if she was watching froma window andcouldsee them approaching the gates to the bailey.

  "He issquirmy. "

  Avelyn smiled faintly and glanced down at David's claim, just in time to see Samson wiggle his way outof the boy's hold. Dropping to the ground with aplop, the pigletraced off along the wall,andDavid promptlygavechasewith a squealthat justseemed to urge Samson tofaster speeds. Avelynsetoff after the pair, worried thatthe lad would trip over his ownfeet.

  Sure enough, Davidtooka tumbleaftera coupleof minutes,and Avelyn shook her head asshe slowed to a walk to approachhim. She knewher husbanddid not like anyone making a bigdealof the child'stumbles, so shepaused beside himand raised her eyebrows as Samsonturnedback and waddled over to snuffle athim.

  David giggledas he crawled to hishands and knees, then snuffled back.

  Avelyn shook herhead atthepair ofthem, andthen bentto scoopSamson into herarms as David climbed to his feet.

  "You have some dirtonyour braes," she announced, and was waiting patiently as he brushed itaway when a grinding sound overhead madeher glanceup. Avelyn's eyes widened in horror at the sight of a stone block plummeting down toward them from the wall. For asplit second, she wassure her heartstopped;then sheshouted and lunged forward, pushing David beforeher as she tried to get them out of the way.

  A grunt of pain slid from her lips as her shoulderwas struck a glancingblow;then the three of them were falling. Avelyn let go of Samson, hoping to keep from crushing the piglet while tryingto avoid falling on David. Then she hitthe ground witha crash that sent a jolt throughherwhole body.

  "Are you all right, my lady?"

  Younger andmoreused totumbles, David was the first torecover and crawled over to peer at her.

  Avelyn took a minute to catch her breath. Then she sat up, rubbed the pain from her shoulder and manageda smile as Samson wiggled between them. "Aye. I am fine, thank you,David. Were youhurt?"

  "Nay. " He offered a handtohelpherup, and Avelyn accepted it even though she actually got to her feet under her own steam. The boy wasn't big enough to trulyhelp her, but shewouldn't rebuff his attempt at chivalry.

  "Lord Paen will blame me," David saidmiserably, drawing Avelyn's surprised attention.

  "Why would he dothat?" sheasked as hergaze drifted up thewallto where the cut stone hadcome from. Avelynfrozeas she spotted Diamanda withdrawing from thewall directlyabovethem. Theblonde hadobviouslybeen leaningover, peering downat them from the spot wherethe cut stone hadbeen, but hadpulledback as Avelyn glanced up. Onesecond slower and Avelyn would havemissed seeingher.

  "Well, afterthe boulder nearly hit me while I waswith him, hemademe stop going with him to the wall everyday. He said I wouldget myself killed, and one dead squire wasenough,"David said, reminding her ofhis presence.

  Avelyn glanceddown to seehis eyeswiden with alarm.

  "Youdo not think hewill makeme stop spending time withyouand Samson now, do you?"

  Avelyn staredat David blankly, finding itdifficult to draghermind fromtheimage of Diamandapeering down at them. What had she been doing up there? Had the stone blockreallyjust fallen accidentally?

  "Hewill!". theboy cried unhappilywhen sheremained silent. "Oh, pleasedo not tell himaboutthis, mylady. He will make me stop spendingthe day with youand Samson. Please do nottell - "

  "Iwill not tell," sheassured himquietly,but had reasons ofher own tokeep this toherself. Avelynneeded to do somethinking. She considered Diamanda her friend, but there were so many questions whirling through her head at themoment. . . She thought suddenly ofthe ruined tunic saturated with the scentof pork,and the plank slamminginto her head and sending her through theholein the floor. And now a stone block had nearly crushed herand David. . . and Diamanda hadbeen standing upthere, directly where the cut stone had been.

  But Diamanda washer friend, she argued with herself. Avelyn trulyliked the girl.

  Of course, that didn'tmean the girl truly liked her back, she acknowledgedwith a sigh. However, her friendshipwithDiamanda madeher feel sheowed it to the girlto talk to her beforetellingPaen aboutthe incident.

  Of course,Avelyn wasn't a fool. IfDiamandadid mean her harm,shewould be an idiottoconfront her inprivate. She decidedshe would confront Diamanda infull view ofothers,just farenough away to be out of hearing.

  "Thank you, my lady. "

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