Grimme sat in his chair just after midnight and Brìghde had requested excusal. It was quiet but for the scraping of tables being pushed to the side and the erection of cots for his men. He had not realized that all through the meal, his father had been listening and there the two of them sat, father and son, silently contemplating.
“Trojan horse,” Sir John murmured.
Grimme nodded slowly. “It worries me, her lack of a sense of loyalty.”
“Son, she has no reason at all to be loyal to you. You abducted her, and the fact that it suited her purposes does not make it worth any loyalty, for you would have brought her here against her will anyway.”
“Aye.” He paused. “After our wedding, she wrote a letter to her brother absolving me of an act of war.”
“Oh? That’s … ”
“Loyalty to herself.”
“But she told you about her father’s plan, which, considered the proper way, is a gesture of good faith.”
He did not answer for a long time. “She has been very free with information. What if … she is not disloyal or acting in bad faith, but so desperate for a friend she will tell anyone who is kind to her anything and everything in the hopes that they will like her?”
“That occurred to me whilst she was speaking.”
Grimme shrugged. “No matter. I don’t befriend those I fuck and I don’t fuck my friends.”
“If you don’t intend to bed her, why did you wed her and bring her home?”
“I do intend to bed her,” he said testily. “Just not … today.”
“I don’t understand you. How are you able to turn down even the most beautiful of brunettes?”
“Papa, you fucked a dwarf.”
“She was comely and the price was right.”
Grimme rolled his eyes.
“I’d bed Bridget myself if I thought she’d accommodate my infirmities.”
“I knew you would before I brought her home. I regret to inform you she’s married.”
“Never stopped me before,” Sir John said blithely.
Grimme laughed and clapped his father on the back, rubbing his shoulder. “That’s my papa.”
“And with that, I shall find my bed.”
“And you, my son,” he said with a pat on Grimme’s arm.
Grimme sat slouched, his foot on the table, his chin on his fist, still contemplating what it meant to have in his household a woman capable of slaying an allied clan at her father’s behest for … a slight. How large a slight it was, well … Grimme had avenged himself for a slight before, but not to that extent. The thing that bothered him the most was that she did not know if she would have gone through with it once she became Lady MacFhionnlaigh and took up residence.
“Lord Grimme,” he growled without turning.
“Lord Grimme,” Emelisse pleaded, pulling out her—no, Brìghde’s—chair and sitting in it. She clutched Grimme’s hand and held it to her breast as she leaned forward, tears in her eyes. “Don’t let her come between us,” she whispered in French.
Grimme rolled his head on the back of his chair until he was looking at her. “Did we not discuss this last night? How many times must I tell you that I am not at all interested in bedding her—”
“But you must! For legitimate heirs. What if you acquire a taste for her?”
Grimme laughed suddenly.
“I am not laughing! She is beautiful.”
“That does not signify. She is not beautiful in a way that appeals to me.”
Her nostrils flared. “You sat at supper whispering with her the entire time. I tried to get your attention. Your harlots tried to get your attention. Your sons tried to get your attention. A few of your men tried to get your attention. You have never sat at supper and whispered with me all the way through.”
That was because he and Emelisse had nothing to talk about. He preferred it that way, but even if he didn’t, Emelisse had nothing of interest to say.
“Nothing could take your attention away from her. She pounded on my door and you laughed. She ordered you to get out of bed and you laughed.” Grimme started to snicker again. “You see? You would have put me away for days had I done such a thing to you. Never mind kicking in my door!”
“Make sure it’s latched next time.”
She gnashed her teeth. “Gr—Lord Grimme!”
“She amuses me. Think of her as … Aldwyn.”
“That is not what I see. You left my bed when your knight summoned you and you did not return until late morning. Then I learn she slept in your bed last night. You slept with her, did you not?”
“Aye. I slept with her almost all the way home from Scotland, too.”
She whimpered. “But—”
He huffed, no longer amused. “You misunderstand my marriage to her. I did not wed a woman. I bought a measure of safety from Sheffield’s plans for my death, and also had God’s blessing to get a castellain and a willing womb. She just happens to amuse me. Now, I weary of this conversation. If the boys are distressed by my having snubbed them, send them to my chambers.” That was the last thing he wanted to do, as they would want to wrestle and he was too tired to wrestle little boys.
“She is different,” she said flatly. “There is something about her that draws you to her.”
“I am not drawn to her that way.”
“Non, there is something else. I am going to lose you.”
“If you continue with this, oui, you might,” he burst out, exasperated.
“I mean, I am going to lose you to her.”
He looked at her with something akin to astonishment. “You see things that are not there. I bed you, not her.”
“You bed three or more others, too,” she said bitterly, “and do not tell me you did not get your cod satisfied on your journey to get her.”
“This again?” he asked with a raised eyebrow. “You know why. ’Tis not your fault, but do not expect me to curb my lust simply because you cannot pace me.”
“I do not disrespect you by demanding you do what you don’t want to do, so do not badger me with your unhappiness that I go elsewhere for those things. As to Brigitte, if you are cordial to her, she will be cordial to you.”
“After this morning’s display?”
“She told you immediately that she does not care about you or why you are here. She was angry at me because she was tired because my orders were not carried out because the servants are not under control and you four hoard them all and my chamberlain dismissed her and no one knew who she was so could not command anyone. That was all my fault. She has no interest in you as anything but a member of the household for which she, as castellain, is responsible.”
“I will not be commanded, much less by her.”
“I cannot think what she could possibly want you to do.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Oh, you cannot think. This morning she felt free to kick in my door—”
He somehow controlled his snicker.
“—and storm into it as if it belonged to her. Then she lined me up with your other harlots as if I were a servant and ordered me to choose two maidservants, then ordered me upstairs. Then she ordered Gaston and Max upstairs with me.”
Grimme found nothing truly untoward about that, but kept his thoughts to himself. “She is just getting the household settled. She will not need to command you to do anything once everything is put to rights.”
“Tell her she is not allowed to command me for any reason at all!” she demanded.
He sighed. “Go to bed. I will be there anon.”
It wasn’t long after she left that he heard, “Papa!”
He smiled to see his youngest son, of Maebh’s womb, running to him with a big smile.
“’Tis very late, Pierce,” he said and pulled the boy onto his lap. “Why are you not in bed?”
He blinked. “No one put me there.”
Of course not. “Would you like me to do so?”
“Aye, Papa, and will you tell me a story?”
“Mmm, let me see. I will tell you the story of how I plucked Lady Bridget straight out of her wedding.”
Exaggerated for best effect, of course. He had not gotten through their first night in the woods before the boy drifted off and his body grew heavier against Grimme’s chest until he released tiny snores.
He looked up to find that most of his men were in their cups around the hearth or sleeping. Grimme sighed and stood, the boy cradled in his arms and took him to his chambers, sliding him gently in bed beside his snoring brother. Once tucked in, Grimme looked down at his sons and smiled a little. Sometimes he did not feel as if they were his blood, just any four of many, many children in the keep and the bailey. How did a man feel his sons to be part of him? The boys’ mothers certainly felt them to be part of them, but Grimme could not comprehend that. Any sons Brìghde bore him would be his legitimate sons, but he could not imagine caring for them any more or less than he cared for the ones he already had.
He should start preparing them for their future, the way his father had prepared Grimme, Grimme’s brothers, and Aldwyn. They could be warriors or respected scholars or doctors of medicine or merchants or clerics or craftsmen, sure of themselves. He wanted them to enjoy their occupations as much as Grimme enjoyed his, and he didn’t much care what they were, so long as they weren’t thieves like Grimme’s older brother.
Troubled by his neglect of his sons’ educations, he clipped down the stairs to his own hallway and slowed as he reached the space between his door and Brìghde’s. Hers was wide open, candles and torches blazing, hearth also ablaze. She had servants running in and out, fetching buckets of hot water and leaving with empty ones.
He leaned against her door frame, his arm up over his head to watch. The girls curtsied to him as they went in and out of the chambers. One, a tall, willowy, blue-eyed blonde, didn’t curtsy. She gave him a long look up his body, met his amused gaze, looked back down his body, then settled her attention on his cod. He smirked. She raised an eyebrow at him.
He shook his head with a wry grin, and she rolled her eyes and shrugged, then went about her business, cupping and squeezing his cod as she went past. He looked over his shoulder and watched her disappear down the stairs. He puffed out a long breath.
“Oh! Grimme! Good eve.”
“Are you going to keep the maidservants up all night?” he asked, because if she didn’t, he would.
“Sweet Virgin Mary, I hope not,” she breathed, then flopped in an overstuffed chair and wiped her forehead with the back of her arm. “I’m drained.”
“Nay, but wine would not come amiss.”
He ordered one of the girls to fetch wine for both of them. She curtsied and scrambled, and he watched after her too.
“What is that scowl for, Lord Husband?”
He grunted. “I have never seen the servants work this hard or this fast.”
“There is a reason for that,” she said lazily, then yawned.
“They haven’t been working much at all, but this wanders into things you do not want to know about.”
“Indeed.” He looked around at her chambers. “I would you acquire things of your own taste, not pieces scavenged from forgotten corners. If these chambers are not to your liking, you are free to choose different ones.”
“Aye, I will, bu—” A huge yawn caught her. “—but there are too many things to be done first, particularly if your duke is going to be visiting anon. Do you know! There are fifty-two guest chambers in this keep that do not have furniture!”
“Well, it seemed like fifty-two. We shall need carpenters. And wood.”
“We will go to Hogarth and fetch some as soon as I can get away.”
“Thank you. Did you need me for something?”
“I was going to ask you to play chess with me, but I see you have a bath awaiting you.”
She nodded wearily, and said nothing whilst the remaining maid left. His brow wrinkled and he tilted his head to see if— “Bridget, are you crying?”
She dashed her fingertips against her cheeks. “I miss my dog,” she whispered. “I have never slept a night that he did not sleep with me since he was a pup and now … ”
“You slept without him on our journey.”
“I slept with you and you are almost as big as he is, and almost as intrusive into my sleeping space. Last night, for example.”
Grimme laughed. “Would you have been allowed to take him to MacFhionnlaigh?”
“He was awaiting me there,” she muttered.
“What’s his name?”
“Roman? Commerce?” he asked, confused.
“Speed. Mercury has winged sandals and helmet.”
He smiled wistfully and sighed, his smile fading. “Ah, yes.”
“I had a horse once,” he said, for some reason compelled to tell her things he had either never told anyone else or had forgotten. “Ares.”
“Greek god of war,” she murmured.
“He was born small and weak. He’d be dead in a couple of days, but my patron knight told me I could have him if I could save him. I was thirteen. I think. I sat with him and his dam night and day, slept with him, kept him warm, poured goat milk down his throat until he could nurse. His dam wanted him to live too; without her, he wouldn’t have survived. I spent every penny I had to keep him alive.
“So then, my knight took us to the best trainer in France, and loaned me the coin. I did the bulk of the training, with the trainer’s help, and he trained me how to train a horse to war. Ares carried me through every battle I ever fought as a knight, every tournament I ever entered, across France, up and down England.” Grimme wiped his hand down his face, wishing he’d never said anything, but now could not stop speaking. “I’ve never owned or ridden another horse that could match him. Intelligent. Fierce. A warrior.” She was watching him carefully, which made him angry because she saw too much. “I was approached about breeding him. I was very careful to breed him to mares who could match him and I made a lot of money. I have two of his sons and I only ride one or the other.”
“What happened to him?” she asked softly.
Why had he thought he could end the story there?
Because the story didn’t end there. It hadn’t ended at all.
“Sheffield has him. Marchand—my friend—rides him.”
Brìghde gasped, her eyes wide and her hands over her mouth. Indeed, her eyes were glistening again, and now he was happy because she could cry for him, that he had someone who would cry for him.
“Sheffield demanded him as tribute,” he muttered, looking down and scuffing his boot on the stone. “I had no choice. You will likely get to see him, too, when the duke visits.”
“Oh, Grimme,” she whispered.
He pushed himself away from her door jamb. “Good eve, and sleep well.” He halted, then said over his shoulder, “When the duke comes, he will tour the stables. Whatever you do, do not let him know how much you love Troy. He’ll demand him and I’ll have to give him to him because he’s my liege and God knows, Sheffield wants to possess everything I love.”