The perfect wife, p.31
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       The Perfect Wife, p.31
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           Lynsay Sands
Page 31


  "Willhe be all right?" Diamanda asked as Avelyn began to wrap a bandage around his forehead.

  "I do not know," she admitted, then glanced at Runilda. "Please fetch me something to mix themedicinalsin,Runilda. His headwill ache whenhe wakes,and I would have a tonic hereto helphim sleep sothat he may drinkit as quickly as possible. "

  Nodding, the maid hurried fromthe room. After a pause,the soldierswhohad been hovering began to fileout of the room as well, leavingDiamanda and Avelyn alone.

  They sat in silence forseveral minutes, but the silenceseemedto make thegirl uncomfortable and she cleared herthroat. "It was most impressive when youdealt withJoan. She has always made me nervous,and I could never faceup to eitherher or Aunt Helen like youdid. "

  "I wasrude toyour aunt andshall have to apologize," Avelyn muttered. "But leeches are the signof an unskilled healer. "

  "Idislikeleeches too," Diamanda murmured.

  When Avelyn didn't respond, the girl frowned slightlyand asked, "Areyou angry at me forsome reason?"

  Avelyn peered at the girl she'd thought ofas her friendand could holdher silence nomore. "I saw you, Diamanda. I knowwhatyou did. "

  Diamanda'smouth dropped open, andthey staredat oneanother insilence, both stiff and un-moving; then the girl drooped like a flower toolong without water.

  "I - "She shook her head, thenblurted,"I am sorry, Avelyn. I truly am. It was stupid and mean,andmyonly excuse is that I hardly knew you then and we had not yet become friends. You cannotknow how much Iregret it now. "

  Avelyn blinked in confusion. Whileit was true theyhad not been as closewhen she hadbeen knocked through the hole in the floor, they had certainly beenfriends today, when the girl hadsentthestone block crashing down. Or was thatwhat she was confessing?

  Avelynshifted, trying to thinkof a way to get the girl to talk withouthavingto admit that she wasn't sure what they were presently talking about. "Help me understand. Tell mewhatyou were thinking. Tell me everything from the beginning. "

  She held her breathafterthat suggestion, hoping it wouldwork. When the silence drew out a painful lengthof time, Avelyn began to think the girl wouldn't say anything at all. Butit seemed she was just collectingher thoughts,for she finally sighed and began to speak.

  "I wassix whenI came to Gerville. I knew I was tomarry Adam, but from the very first day I have alwaysloved Paen,"she admitted.

  Avelyn satback on her heels,hermind blank.

  "When news came to Gerville that Adam had died," she continued, "I was positive it was fate making sure that Paen andI could be married. Idid not know aboutyou. Noone ever spoke to me about your betrothal,and Paen was so much older than Adam and still unmarried, so I thought hewas not betrothed to anyone, or that his betrothedhad died. But then Paen returned and they announced we must pack and get readyto travel to Straughton so thatPaencould fulfill hismarriage contract. "

  Diamanda grimaced. "I amafraid I hated youat once, without everhavingmet you. You were stealing my Paenfrom me," she said sadly, then smiled wrylyand added,"I hatedyou evenworse once I met you. "

  "Why?" Avelyn gasped with surprise.

  "Because you weresobeautiful and niceand - " Shepausedabruptly, frowning whenAvelyn gavea shortburst oflaughter.

  "Diamanda, Iam hardly beautiful. "

  "Aye, you are," shesaid solemnly. "Youare notthin, but you are beautiful. "

  Avelyn blinked at this announcement.

  "Anyway,thenwhenwe were traveling to Hargroveand you showed me the tunic andbraes you were makingfor Paen, I becamequite upset. They were lovely, and it was so thoughtful of you to thinkof it,andIimmediately wishedIhad thought of it, but evenif I had, I cannot sew as wellas youand itwouldnot work outas well. So when I realized youwere nearly done and wouldpresent themto Paen, I was in a panic. " She took a deep breath, thenadmitted,"When Paen took you down to the river, I snuck intothe tent and set thefurs and clothesonfire. "

  "Idid blowout thecandle," Avelyn said on a sigh, and Diamanda nodded.

  Recalling the scentof pork on the second set of clothes she'dstarted for Paen, Avelyn asked,"And yourubbed porkon the second tunic andletthe dogs have at it. "

  Diamanda grimaced. "Thatwas the plan, but theyaretoo well trained and would nothave at it. I had to tearand cut thetunicmyself, then leftit for them to be blamed. " She sighed unhappily. "Iamsorry now,Avy. I started to like you despite myself once wewere here, andIbegan to see that youtrulycaredfor Paenand he was coming to care for you. The two ofyou are perfecttogether. I know what I did was wrong, andIamsorry about hurting and upsettingyou. I hope youwill forgive me. "

  Avelyn stared at her, confusion claimingher again. "But what about the wall, Diamanda?"

  "The wall?" Now it was the blonde's turn to stare at her blankly.

  "Isaw you on the wall," Avelyn announced.

  "When? Do you mean today?" She truly seemedconfused. "Aye, I went up there to think. Icame acrossPaen while he wasarranging the foodforthepicnic,and he was taking so muchcare and making such an effort. . . It was just anotherbit of evidence that helovesyou. Did you know he ordered the mento compliment youto try to helprepairthe damage your cousins' insultshad caused? He doeslove you, Avelyn, andafter only a couple of weeks. Whereas hehas known me for yearsand years and cares for me as nothing more than a little sister. "She shookher head. "I guess despite everything, it really sankin then and I went up on the battlementsto be alone. Iwas walking along andheard talking and paused to peerover the wall. I did see you and David,but did not realize you had seen me. "

  Avelyndropped back onher haunches. She was positive Diamanda wastelling thetruth. Thegirl could notfake suchinnocence andbewilderment. Diamandahad no clue as totheimportance of her being upon the walkway, because she hadno idea that aboulder had nearly crushed AvelynandDavid moments beforeher arrival.

  Avelyn was sure ofit.

  Perhaps the falling stone had beenan accident,she thought faintly. But then, who hadhit her and knockedherinto theholein the floor?

  "You must hate me now," Diamanda said miserably, and Avelyn frowned.

  "Nay, of course not. " She reached out totakethegirl's hand,giving it a squeeze, relieved toknow thatthegirl sheconsidereda friend hadnot set out tokillher. Of course,she had ruined Avelyn's attempts at sewing clothes for Paen,but she could forgive that. She might have been more angry had she known who was behind it at the time,but it allseemed solong ago, and shetruly believedDiamanda was sorry.

  "If you want me to leave, I shall return toGerville,'' Diamanda offered,though it obviously painedhertodo so.

  Avelyn shookher head. "That is notnecessary, Diamanda. Weare friends,and friends forgive friends forfoolish behavior. " She shrugged. "Youmade a mistake, you haveadmitted it and apologized. That is good enough forme. "

  "Truly?" Diamanda peereduphopefully from beneath her lashes.

  "Aye. "

  "You willstill be my friend?"

  "Most definitely," Avelyn said firmly. "I enjoy our friendship, Diamanda. "

  "Oh, Avy!" She suddenlylaunchedherself at Avelyn, hugging her tightly. "Truly, you arewonderful! Thank you. I promise, you willnot regretit. From now on, I shall be the best friend ever. " Sheshook her head and sat back totakeAvelyn's hands. "I cannot believe I thought youlucky to havePaen. In truth, I think weareall luckythat he got to marry you. "

  Avelyn smiled at the girl'sexuberance and foundherselftouched by her words.

  Then Diamanda glancedat Paen and frowned. "I shallhave to tell Paen, Of course. "

  "Ido not think that isnecessary," Avelynassured her.

  "Would you keepitsecret from him, then?" Diamandaraised one eyebrowand shookher head. "Itwouldnever work. Oneday you wouldslip and say something that made the whole pitiful talecome out, and thenhe would be angry it waskept a secret from him. Besides, he has aright to knowyou arenot as accident proneas he thought. "

  "Iam notaccident prone at all," Avelynassured her.

sp; Diamanda shook her head in disbelief. After a hesitation, Avelynasked, "Do you think you could watch over Paen for me for a bit? I need to go check on something. "

  "Aye, Of course. Go ahead. I wouldbe more comfortable telling him everything aloneif he wakesup, and Ishall fetchyou directly afterwardif he does awake. "

  Avelyn hesitated, considering telling her again that she needn't confess her mischiefto Paen,but then decidedto let hergo aheadand tell him. Diamanda was right that itmight slip out someday and cause unnecessary upset. And Avelyn trustedPaen to handle Diamanda with care.

  "Fine. Ishall not be too long, I just wish to check on something up on the battlements. Send someoneto fetchmeif Paenwakes up and youfinish yourchat before Iget back. "

  Up on the parapet, Avelynran herfingers lightlyoverthe spot where the stone blockthat had nearly hit her had rested. She then leaned over to peerdown at the boulder below. Avelyn's talk with Diamanda had made herbegin to believe that the falling stonetruly hadjustbeen anaccident, butshe'd known she wouldn't be fully convinced untilshe hada look atwhere thecut stone had come from. She ranher hand across the spotagain.

  There was nothing here to suggestthat anyonehad pushed itover the side. There werenochisel marks, or any marksat all thatwouldsuggest it had been levered out.

  On the other hand,it was hard to believe thatit had chosen to fall at the exact moment she was walking by. Avelynfrowned asherfinger ran over theslightridge in the center of the outside edge of where the boulderhadbeen. Bendingcloser,she ranher hand over thearea and saw that therewasa slightly upraised portion onthe outer edge. The boulder would hadhad toroll up over it.

  Thisboulder, if it hadfinally justgiven way,should have rolled theoppositeway, onto the walkway whereshe now stood.

  Avelyn straightenedslowly. Someone had pushedf the boulderdownon her. Not an accident. Like her fall through the room. Shehad beenhit and knocked through the hole. Only her skirt catching on theragged edge ofthe wood had saved her.

  So she was lessaccident prone than someone would have her believe, and the fatescertainly hadn't turned on her. Someone else had.

  Avelyn stareddown intothebailey, considering the matter. Diamanda hadlooked so confused when she mentioned thefalling rock, she wassure she'd had nothingto do with it. But if not her,who?

  Lord and LadyGervillecertainly had no reason towish her dead. Actually,no one did thatshe could think of. Diamandawas the only one whomightcomeclose tohaving an excuse to wish her dead. Still, shecouldn't believe it was thegirl.

  A scuffle to her rightmade her glanceto the side, and Avelyn straightenedas she peered at Diamanda'saunt.

  Chapter Nineteen

  Paen opened hiseyes and shifted inbed, thensucked in ahissing breath of air as painshot through his head. It wasonly then that he recalled slippingon the plumand hitting his head on the log. He was grimacingover his own clumsiness when a sniffling sound drew his gazeto the side to see Diamandaseated on thewindow ledge, weeping intoa bit of cloth.

  His first thoughton seeing thegirl was irritation thatshe must have wokenhim withherweeping. Paenwas inenough pain that he'd rather sleep than stayawakeand suffer it. His nextthought was to wonderwhy the girl was crying. It could not be over him. He was injured but would heal. It wasn't as if he were dying.

  Butwhatof Avelyn? Paen thoughthis heart might stop ashe realized the girl might be crying because Avelynhad beenhurtagain. . . or evenkilled this time. Hiswife had sufferedan unfortunate number ofaccidents fromwhich she had man-agedto survive relativelyunscathed, but her luck wasbound to giveout eventually.

  "Whereis Avelyn?"Colored withhis worry, the question came out sharperthan he'dintended.

  Diamanda stopped weeping and turned astartled face his way, then slidoff the windowledgeandmovedtothe bed. "You are awake. "

  "Where isAvelyn?" Paen repeated. "Was shehurt? Is that why you were crying?"

  "Oh!"The blonde'seyes widened as sherealized what hercryinghad led himto believe. She quickly shookherhead. "Nay. She is fine,Paen. Truly. "

  Paen relaxed backinto the bedof furs, realizingonly then thathe'd half sat up in his worry. Grimacing overthe pain allthe movement was causing him, he sighedand askedwearily, "Then why were you weeping?"

  Diamanda satdownon the edge ofthebed with a sigh. "Because ofwhat I have totell you. "

  Paen waited,andwhenshe merelysat there sniffling,askedimpatiently, "What?"

  DiamandabitherUp, then stared at her hands and said, "You will hateme. "

  She wantedto be coaxed into tellinghim, he realized witha sigh. Paen really was not in the mood for such games. "Just tell me, Diamanda. "

  "I am the one whodestroyed the tunic and braes Avelyn was making for you,"

  she admitted unhappily.

  Paen frowned. "Whichones?"

  "Bothsets," she admitted in a bare whisper. When Paen openedhis mouthto speak, Diamanda rushed on. "Avelyn had blown out the candle in the tent. I deliberately relit it and usedit to set the furs andclothing onfire. Then at Gerville, when she was nearly donewith the second pair,I snuck some meat from dinner awayfrom the table andrubbed it allover the tunic, then ripped itup and putholes initbefore Iused it toteasethe dogs. I left it with them, knowing they would be blamed. "

  She wasnow shredding the linen inher hands. "Itold Avelyn all this a little while agoandapologized. I toldherI intended to tell you. Shesaid I need not tell you,that the mischief had been made against her and so long asshe forgave me - "

  "She forgave you?"Paen asked.

  "Aye. " Diamandanodded. "Shewas very understanding. "

  Paenstaredather withbewilderment. He was glad his wife was understanding, but hedidn't understand atall. "Why did you do it? Youhardlyknew her when you burnt the first outfit, andshewaskind to youwhen you unintentionally said those foolishthings aboutyour pregnantcousin afterthe wedding. "
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