Excerpt from The Luck of Two Magpies, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.
No distribution or reproduction without the author’s express permission
Margarida noted the set of her son’s slumping shoulders. Her lord husband would be so proud of his heir. He’d be proud to see his castle completed, as well, retainers hired, soldiers come. If only he could see it. The past and future in the present.
“Mayhap that will make William happy, my man? A present more like the past he knew?” Duncan cocked his ears and stared, tongue lolling. “I doubt it. Tsk!” The dog’s ears dropped.
As a child, William was happiest at play with the Gandulf lads, climbing the newest parts of the ever-rising construction, always wielding the waster that mimicked his father’s sword. The children’s laughter rang bright in her memory.
She shook her head at the disparity between memory and the man she knew now.
Her attempts at conversation bounced off him like pebbles off brick walls, his occasional grunt as effective at ending dialog as the King’s Cheshire archers were at putting down uprisings.
“You remember Lady Barbenoire, my dear?” she tried again.
His glower would have stopped an infantry charge in its tracks.
She drew in a steep breath for courage. “She is widowed now…with two sons.”
William reached for his knife. “And most likely drove Isador Dedwell to his grave.” He stabbed a lump of pork and tossed it in his mouth as Lady D’Abella sat straighter in her chair.
Margarida smiled her charge’s way. “My son once did consider Lady Anna Barbenoire a possible choice for wiving.”
“I did not! You did that for me. And very nearly succeeded too, thank you so much.” His voice was over-sweet. “And now ‘twould be I in the grave.”
She sniffed. “She may have been a better wife to ye than she was to Sir Dedwell.”
“How can you say that?!” Must he whine in that falsetto? It set her teeth on edge. “That woman is no noble wife. Why, she would lie with any man with a—” He glanced at Lady D’Abella, then switched his glare of accusation to his poor old mother, color rising, tone sullen as he tugged at that unfashionable tail he still wore. “There are grave questions concerning her sons’ paternity.”
Margarida lifted her chin. “Ye are a much stronger man.”
“I would have to be an army of men to keep her! And that aside, lady, what man desires a wife he must keep in constant sight for lack of trust? Mmp!” William drank his ale glass dry and laid it so ungently on the cloth that she winced, figuring the cost did it break, but it did not. ‘Twas good, thick glass. Thick, like her son of a time.
“ ‘Tis merely I did think that since she is proven fertile, and ye wish an heir—”
“An heir, mother, not a whore.”
“‘Tis true! Deny it.”…
Margarida’s voice quivered. “My thoughts are always and only of ye.” And of his duty, for certainly, his thoughts ne’er were. Why did it always come to this? “Ye are two and thirty and yet unmarried. Have ye no concern for your line?”
“Enough!” he commanded, bits of bread spewing from his mouth.
She wrinkled her nose, but dropped her gaze to where William was bent on wearing a hole in her white cloth with his drumming fingers.
He washed out his mouth with more ale. “When I am ready I shall marry. Old men seek docile, pliant, young things to bear their heirs.”
Lady D’Abella snorted through a smile.
William glared imperiously. “You think me unable to win a young wife?”
“Are you kidding? Why, no, not now. But waiting until you’re old?”
“ ‘Tis done.”
“Like Isador and Anna? There’s a difference between winning and keeping.”
He glanced up, face red with gall at her impudence. “Is not.”
Lady D’Abella clasped her hands demurely. “In-in my time a younger woman only marries a much older man for a few reasons. There’s love, I suppose.”
“Presumably not,” William muttered.
“All right. Security, then. After all, he’s made his fortune, and he’ll die first, leaving her to inherit everything,” she said, leaving William choking, and Margarida to wonder where she came from that women inherited their husband’s fortune and title.
“Of course, we’ll assume he’s—uhm…” Lady D’Abella hesitated.
William dabbed at teary eyes. “Aye? Speak.”
Lady D’Abella’s cheeks reddened. “All right. We’ll assume he’s good in bed… For sex?”
William gaped. “What talk is this?!”
“Honest talk. You said the other lady was objectionable because she slept around—”
“Eh?! I care not where she sleeps!”
Lady D’Abella groaned. “No. I meant objectionable because she was unfaithful.”
“Then why did you not say that?!” He yanked an apple from Margarida’s favorite glass bowl, sending it reeling. Thankfully the bowl righted itself, though Lady D’Abella looked to have reached her tipping point. Margarida recognized the look, having suffered the same frustration many a time while discoursing with William.
The lass came half the way to her feet as Margarida cringed. “Fine! Was unfaithful! And my point, Lord Grifon, is that if a man can’t satisfy his wife, she’s not likely to remain faithful while she waits for him to drop dead.”
William stiffened. “This sort of talk is not for the company of strangers!”
“Well, you started it!”
He shifted his attention to his poor mother. “Can you not keep your charge under your control, my lady?”
Margarida glowered back from beneath her veil, not cowed, only unwilling to anger him further. ‘Twould not be a pretty thing to see. “ ‘Tis a thing we must learn, my lord,” she said quietly.