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.
"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.
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 h*ps 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.
"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 ale 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.