Once in their chamber, she had to assist him in removing his mail and leather armor. Underneath all that, he was in his soldier’s garb of breeches and plain tunic. It was linen and nothing a noble would wear whilst shopping in the most expensive part of Hogarth. Certainly, she was wearing nothing that said “Countess.”
He accompanied her to the very few shops she needed before going to the clothier’s and carried her purchases for her without once complaining. They received many contemptuous glances from exquisitely attired people who were nobles and commoners of means.
They were greeted at the clothier’s with subtle disdain. She turned to Grimme and said loudly, “Do you think the keep is too far away to send for a clothier, Lord Kyneward?”
His eyebrow rose and he looked straight at the proprietor and, flashing his signet ring, said, “Nay, Lady Kyneward. I can send for one from London, if you like.”
The man’s expression didn’t change. “Do you mean the estate that does not or cannot pay its bills?” He looked Grimme over and sneered. “Cannot.”
Brìghde and Grimme stilled and looked at each other. “We pay our bills,” Grimme said slowly.
“No, you don’t. You’ve bills outstanding for months.” He disappeared and Brìghde began to get a sick feeling in her stomach. Grimme was red in the face and clearly wanted to dash away. “You go,” she said softly. “Household business. I will take care of the matter.”
When the proprietor emerged, he had a stack of parchments. “Where’d his lordship get off to?”
“I am the new countess and castellain.”
He thrust the parchments at her. “Here then.”
She looked down at them and perused them. She checked the dates, which was, indeed, months ago, checked the names on the bills, summed quickly, and opened her coin pouch, paying for it all in full without a word.
His eyes popped open.
“On behalf of Kyneward, I apologize. Neither the earl nor his castellan would have left the bills to rot so. In future, do not sell anything to the mistresses if they cannot pay in coin. These bills did not reach the castellan, as he would have paid them.” Not happily, but he couldn’t do anything but lecture them.
He bowed deeply. “Thank you, my lady.”
“Just a moment and I will fetch my husband.”
Indeed, Grimme was outside pacing, his head dropped back and his hands wiping down his face.
“’Tis well. Come.”
The earl was too embarrassed, but eventually, she barked, “Grimme! I need clothes.”
He wouldn’t look at the clothier all afternoon.
Unfortunately, after taking measurements and choosing styles, fabrics, and colors, it was too late for them to visit any other shops. They went back to their inn, sat in the taproom and ate in silence.
Then he muttered, “I will assume ’tis the same all over town.”
Brìghde hummed noncommittally. “I was expecting merchant credit,” she said, “as in Waters.” Then she changed the subject. “Sweet Virgin Mary, this wine is good,” she breathed, then sucked it down and ordered more.
“Careful, Brìghde,” he said, apparently deciding to relax, propping his foot on a chair, dropping his arm over her shoulder, and reaching for the bowl of nuts on the table.
“I can hold my wine like a well-trained knight, I will have you know.”
“They can’t hold their wine, so that is no compliment to you.”
Grimme caught a serving wench going by. “We are Earl and Countess Kyneward. We would like to see the proprietor of this fine establishment, if you please.”
She dropped a curtsy. “Aye, m’lord.”
Soon enough, the proprietor scurried to them and bowed. He was twisting his hands. “Is something wrong, my lord?”
“We are looking for some learned men and skilled women to hire, and I thought that you might know of such or hear things in passing.”
He stopped wringing his hands. “Oh. What kind of help do you need?”
Grimme gestured to Brìghde, who said, “A land steward, a housekeeper for a small keep, and a clerk. Can you find them?”
“It might take me a while, but I can do it.”
“When you do, send them to Kyneward Keep. Send as many as might be interested. We will also need carpenters to build furniture for most of the keep. Please tell us where we can find those.”
“Aye, my lady. My lord.”
“Also, more wine.”
Grimme laughed, and dropped a stack of coins in the man’s hand.
“Thank you, my lord.”
After some time sitting quietly, drinking, and listening to the music, she yawned. “I am ready for bed.”
“’Tis all the horses you stabbed today,” Grimme said vaguely.
Brìghde turned her head to find her husband looking off into a corner of the taproom, his head tilted. A tall, willowy, blue-eyed blonde looked right back at him with a sultry look and a slight smile.
“I suppose I’ll have the bed all to myself tonight?” she asked dryly.
“You most certainly will.”
• • •
Brìghde didn’t know when Grimme came to bed, but she did know that she did not appreciate being jostled out of her slumber.
He grunted as he pulled her this way and that. “Brìghde.”
He huffed, stripped her covers, picked her up, placed her on the other side of the bed, climbed in beside her, then covered them both up again.
“Harlot?” she mumbled into the pillow.
“I’m finished. I don’t sleep with them, you know.”
She turned over and went back to sleep. Tried to, anyway.
“Do you know what we did today, Budgie?”
Brìghde’s eyes opened to the darkness. Grimme grunted as he struggled to make himself comfortable, bouncing the mattress in the process. Soon enough he was at her back with his arm in the curve of her waist.
“We argued,” he whispered, “and we’re still friends.”