Brìghde spent the next week with Grimme in the mornings riding Helen and Troy, accustoming the animal to being cared for gently, which seemed to be her biggest problem. Helen still threw Grimme if he wanted her to run without Troy, but the distances she covered before doing so were getting longer and longer.
After the first day, Brìghde requested that they not take Helen out or allow her to see Troy immediately, but that they take time to comb her and feed her a small treat and speak to her gently before she was saddled. It took several days before Helen would believe that where Brìghde and Grimme went, treats went also.
The third day, they met a groom teaching one of the mistresses how to ride astride; not long after that, they saw two others doing the same. They seemed to be acquiring the skill rather well.
“Did they object?”
“No,” Grimme said shortly.
Thursday was manorial court, or something approximating it, which she and Sir John attended. Father Hercule seemed to be a reasonable judge, only looking to her or Sir John in case he wasn’t quite sure what to believe or, if a monetary value was involved, what proper compensation should be.
Brìghde spent the rest of the afternoons with William surveying the servants with positions in the inner and outer bailey, and assessed their needs or opinions for improvements. They were not forthcoming. They met with the architect who was directing the work on the curtain wall to discuss new outbuildings and expanded storage. Sir John suggested they start surveying the villeins also, their abilities, their leaseholds, their crops, their services, and their families in anticipation of hiring a land steward. She surveyed them as to their contracted days of service to Kyneward as foot soldiers. They ended their task with Grimme’s two youngest sons in tow.
She had caught the two playing hide-and-seek in the keep and getting in the servants’ way.
After midday meal, she commanded them to accompany her to protect her honor.
Surely you have swords.
Aye, my lady.
Go get them. Go on. We have much to accomplish before supper.
They were only too happy to fetch their light wooden toy swords and set off, yet they were no less restless whilst she and William conducted business, so she set them to herding goats who had gotten loose from their goatherd.
When they returned to the keep for supper, she was greeted by one furious mother, who snatched Terrwyn to her side.
“You have no right to my son! I have been looking everywhere for him!”
“I had requested his services as a knight-in-training.”
That seemed to confuse her. “He is not a knight.”
“He will be one day.”
She gave Brìghde a long look, clearly not knowing what to say to that.
“What is your name again?”
“Dillena, I apologize. I should have instructed him to ask permission or at least tell you where he was going.” She stared at Brìghde as if she were a ghost. “Would you give your permission to allow me to see to his care when you are unable to?”
“I … suppose? God knows, Emelisse has ruined our chance of having any nursemaids.”
“’Tis unfortunate,” Brìghde agreed.
Her eyes narrowed. “Why are you being nice to me? You know exactly why I would be unable to care for my son, yet you offer to assist in my— Um. With Lord Grimme. You are his wife. Should you not be angry? I would.”
“I am here for the position of castellain,” she said wryly. “Sadly, matrimony to a noble includes the bearing of children, but if my lord’s lust for me continues unabated, I will die a virgin.”
She smiled hesitantly, and she cleared her throat. “Um … well then. ’Tis pleasant to make your acquaintance.”
“Please do not be offended if I cannot remember your name for a while.”
She shrugged. “We all look like Emelisse. There is a reason for that.”
Brìghde watched her go, taking Terrwyn. To Brìghde’s eye, the women and children were Grimme’s family and they had greeted each other that way when he returned. Yet when she searched her mind, she could not recall that he had spoken to any of the lesser three mistresses, even at mealtimes, much less carried on an entire conversation.
The only conversation he had had with any of them in Brìghde’s presence was the one with Emelisse, which involved rancor, with no expressions or overtones of love at all. Grimme had even dared Emelisse to leave with no hint that he might care about her absence, yet he did not put her out and he continued to swive her. What did they talk about deep in the night? Brìghde assumed that the only two words involved in the act of mating were “Oh” and “God.”
Thus, Brìghde began to wonder exactly what Grimme’s women were. Dillena believed that her only value was her cunte, and that she was chosen only because she looked like one of the other women Grimme was swiving. Was that … true? And if so, was that any better or worse than being repulsive?
“Come, Pierce. ’Tis time for supper.”
Once at table, Brìghde saw that Grimme’s two oldest looked as if they were ready to drop and Emelisse was furious.
“What happened to them?” Brìghde whispered to Grimme.
“I sent them out to the stables to muck stalls all afternoon,” he replied shortly. The other two were happy and telling their mothers all about their adventures with Lady Brìghde and William.
The next morning at breakfast, Grimme and Terrwyn’s mother—Dillena, she reminded herself—were the only parents present, and the only children present were Terrwyn and Pierce.
Brìghde didn’t dare ask after the other mistresses, but she did ask after Gaston and Max.
“In bed,” he said tightly.
He didn’t say much on their morning ride, except what he wanted Brìghde and Troy to do, and he left off grooming Helen in the middle, storming out of the stall in a rage.
Suddenly, Helen was much less calm, snapping at Brìghde and trying to bite. She would not take the treats Brìghde offered and she started to buck and kick the stall walls.
“Oh,” Brìghde whispered as she tried to calm her. “’Twas a woman who mistreated you, aye? Oh, me wee lassie,” she soothed as she backed out of the stall slowly and closed the door. Once Brìghde was out of the stall, Helen calmed and hesitantly took the offered treats over the door.
Presently, she heard Grimme’s angry voice far off, and then she heard children crying. As he got closer, she could see he had his two oldest sons with him, lecturing them in French, and telling them he was not going to allow them to sleep through breakfast. Every day but the Sabbath, they would be up, they would eat, and then they were to report to the head groom and do whatever he needed done. On the Sabbath, they would go to mass with him and Lady Brìghde, then they may rest.
The head groom met them. Grimme repeated his orders in English, and they were led off to the pony stable to muck stalls. They were not happy, nor was Grimme. He stalked into the mares’ stable and down the aisle, and Brìghde put her hand up when he was two stalls away.
“Stop. Release your anger first.” His nostrils flared, but she said, “Helen.” He blinked and his expression cleared, then she explained that Helen would not tolerate Brìghde alone in the stall with her.
Thus together they finished their pampering of Helen.
After midday meal, from which both Gaston and Max were absent, though a fuming Emelisse was not, Terrwyn’s mother would not allow the boy to once again accompany Brìghde and William—until Grimme barked at her that Terrwyn would be going and that he should take his sword.
She was utterly cowed, whilst Pierce’s mother cast a sly little glance at Pierce, which the boy did not notice.
“I did not want to get that battle started,” Brìghde grumped at William as they trod down the lane, boys in tow, “but it seems I did.”
William grimaced in sympathy.
At supper, Gaston and Max were nearly asleep in their chairs, whilst Terrwyn and Pierce were still ready for more adventures and could barely stay in their seats.
“I will not be able to go for our morning ride tomorrow,” Grimme muttered, but did not elaborate. He was in a foul mood that clearly concerned his sons, so Brìghde said only,
It was around midnight before she plopped her arse on her stool and bid Avis to brush her hair.
The door opened and Grimme stuck his head in. “You’re sleeping with me tonight. We have things to discuss.” The door slammed shut.
“Oh, I am, am I?” she drawled, as amused as she could be whilst she was so tired. Finally her hair was braided for the night, she dismissed Avis, and went across the hall to find Grimme half asleep, with his hands linked behind his bed. “We do, do we?”
“Aye. Tell me exactly what happened yesterday with Terrwyn.”
She dropped into bed, locked her fingers behind her head, too, and merely said that Dillena was concerned when she couldn’t find her son, which was understandable, as he did not tell her where he was going, and that Brìghde had apologized for not thinking before taking him along.
“Grimme, I really do not want to get between your women and their children, as I would not want another woman to come between me and my children. But you must set some sort of daily custom before they force me to. They will blame the wicked stepmother instead of the castellain bringing order to the keep. Sweet Mary and Joseph, my brothers would have destroyed the keep by now, locked up that way, and that, I will not tolerate.”
“And why must we have these councils in bed?”
“Because,” he said snidely, “You are my castellain and I can wake you up in the middle of the night to speak my thoughts when they are new, which I will not do to my father, and even if I would, I would have to get out of bed, dress, and go down the stairs. Or I would have to remember something until daylight when I can speak with him. Which I never do until the most inconvenient moment.”
“That is why you have a chamberlain.”
“You are also my wife. You will sleep with me whether you want to or not.” With that, he heaved himself to his side facing away from her and went to sleep.
Brìghde rolled her eyes, then rolled away from him and went to sleep.
The next morning after breakfast, William went about doing the surveying alone as he had every morning she had ridden with Grimme, and she was not terribly surprised to find Terrwyn and Pierce waiting for him at the front door, their toy swords in hand. She grimaced. “William’s gone already and I am going into Waters. I don’t know whether I can take you with me. Do you ride?”
They deflated and looked at the floor in shame, shaking their heads.
“You do now,” came Grimme’s deep voice from the threshold of the chapel.
Their heads snapped up and they gaped at their father. Brìghde almost caught herself gaping as well.
“You are coming with us, my lord?” she asked carefully.
“Nay. I am going to spend the day teaching my sons to ride.”
The boys jumped and whooped for joy, then bounded out of the keep. Brìghde looked at him, happy but confused. “Last night, you … ”
His jaw tightened again and he looked away. “You’ve made your point and I don’t want to continue to hear it.”
Brìghde pulled her lips between her teeth to keep herself from saying anything more. He followed the boys, brushing past her and saying only, “I will see you at midday. Or supper. Don’t go to Hogarth alone.”
“I am taking the cart,” she called after him. He stopped and merely tilted an ear toward her, and she skittered after him. “I must pick up my things from the seamstress, so ’twill be slow enough for them.”
He looked at her then, confused. “Why do they not deliver them here?”
“I want to count them myself as they are loaded.”
He shrugged. “Aye, then. Can you wait for me to instruct them a little? Or will you bound off when I am not quick enough for you?”
“Oh, stop it,” she huffed. “You were wrong. Admit it.”
“I already did,” he said dryly as they walked into the stables where Troy and Phobos and four ponies were saddled. “I won’t do it twice. And I will never admit I was wrong in writing.”
He bellowed for his two oldest to come, and when they found out they would be released from their brand new duties for the day and why, they were ecstatic.
The lads did know how to get into the saddle, but that was all. Whilst Grimme gave them a swift lesson, she ordered a cart hitched, a groom, and two manservants. Then she went to Troy, who had been begging her for attention, stretching his neck out and craning to look at her. She grasped the horse’s face between her fingers and touched her nose to his. He snuffed and nibbled at her cheek with his lips. She planted a kiss on his nose and fed him oats and carrots whilst her cart was hitched and Grimme got the laddies ready to ride.
He helped her mount, and then, in deference to the boys, walked Phobos. They were barely halfway down the lane that led to the main road when Emelisse came running out of the keep, screaming at Grimme to stop. He did and turned with an annoyed scowl.
“Where are you taking them?” she demanded in French.
“Riding,” he snapped, “which should be obvious.”
Grimme threw Phobos’s reins at Brìghde, stalked toward Emelisse, took her by the arm, and half dragged her up the lane toward the keep. He swung her around to face him and started speaking and gesturing. All four lads and Brìghde twisted in their saddles to watch this, straining to hear. When he was finished, he pointed to the keep. She turned angrily and stormed the rest of the way until she disappeared. Grimme started to stalk back toward them.
“Where was your mother, Pierce? Terrwyn?” Gaston, the oldest, taunted.
“Aye,” Max echoed just as contemptuously. “Don’t they care whether you’ll get hurt or not?”
“Our mother is Papa’s favorite,” Gaston added for good measure.
“My mother doesn’t treat me like a baby!” Pierce retorted. “I get to do what I want and you never get to go outside!”
“Like a baby—wah wah wah,” Terrwyn finished up.
Brìghde’s heart ached, but she did not step in because she didn’t know if she should. She would simply have to discuss it with Grimme, although thus far, her opinions of his sons had not been welcome.
They had, however, been effective.
“And Papa made you go work in the stables whilst we got to play with Lady Bridget.”
She grimaced. That was the last thing she needed.
Brìghde tossed Phobos’s reins back to Grimme, and they continued on. About a mile down the road, Grimme decided the boys could ride the rest of the way without his intervention, so he mounted Phobos. Both Phobos and Troy wanted to race, and Brìghde traded glances with a very impatient Grimme.
She reached out and patted his arm. “Be as patient and consistent as you are with Helen. ’Twill get better.”
“How do you know?” he snapped, and all four laddies whipped their heads around in anticipation of a spat.
“I have brothers,” she said with a simple smile. “I’ve watched pups trained to hunt, horses trained to saddle. I have not yet known of a trained cat, but they know their jobs from the litter, so there is no point.”
Grimme lost some of his tension and relaxed, then patted her hand. “Thank you, Wife.”
“You’re welcome, Husband.”
Brìghde was looking at the boys out of the corner of her eye or she would have missed it. Gaston and Max were angry. Terrwyn was confused. Pierce was hopeful.
“Very well, boys. Shall we trot?”
They trotted toward Waters, all the lads finding it difficult. Gaston fell off not once, but twice, then Max was thrown when he confused his reins and his knees. Each time, Pierce and Terrwyn, neither of whom fell off, giggled themselves into fits of coughing.
Grimme either didn’t notice or care.
Siblings fought; she knew this so very well. However, Brìghde and her brothers had a common enemy, so when they fought, it was always with the knowledge that when they got home, they would be allies. This felt different because Gaston and Max had obviously been poisoned and were punishing the littlest two on Emelisse’s behalf.
Soon enough they were in Waters, having ridden in to bows and curtsies and “my lord”s and “my lady”s. Brìghde instructed the groom to drive the cart to the seamstress’s shop, and she would meet him there shortly.
Grimme helped her dismount in the stable. “I’ll stay here with them for a while to teach them grooming and such.”
“Aye. Shall—” She hesitated to mention it. “Shall we have our midday meal here? Mayhap allow the lads to roam alone with some coin?”
He shrugged. “Aye. ’Twill do no harm.” She hesitated, and he sighed wearily. “Say it.”
“Firstly, they are at each other’s throats. I would advise you to allow them to fight it out. My brothers and I always battled until we were black and blue and bloody and broken, and tensions were gone. You said yourself that you adjudicate by allowing soldiers to battle to surrender or death. Secondly, have they ever been here? Or Hogarth? Your women must go to Hogarth quite often, but the laddies are far too happy to have an outing.”
His brow wrinkled and he turned. “Gaston. Have you ever been here? Any of you? Or Hogarth?”
“Have you ever been outside the outer bailey wall at all?”
“Just when you come home, Papa,” Max said.
“I have,” Terrwyn offered hesitantly.
“My mother lets me go where I want,” Pierce taunted.
The two oldest snarled and advanced on him, but he stood his ground, then Grimme growled. The lads stopped cold and all of them looked a little frightened.
“’Tis not you,” Brìghde hastened to assure them. “Grimme! You’re scaring them.”
“Papa, I’ve been here,” Pierce said with great satisfaction, preening at his two oldest brothers whilst their resentment flared.
Grimme was silent for a second or two, then said with strained patience, “How have you been here when none of your brothers has been?”
“I walked,” he said matter-of-factly.
Brìghde gasped, her eyes wide.
“By … yourself?” Grimme asked carefully.
Pierce nodded as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world. Grimme slowly turned to gape at Brìghde as if he’d been felled by a caber, which was not much different from how Brìghde felt.
She looked back at Pierce and said crisply, “Do not do that again, please. You will not like the consequences.”
He slumped. “Very well,” he pouted.
He shook his head, then turned Brìghde away and off to the side. “I can see why no one likes you.”
She gasped and looked up at him, hurt.
“’Tis because you are right.”
Her hurt gave way to smugness. “I know,” she sing-songed. “Say the words, Grimme.”
“You were right,” he growled.
She cackled. “In writing.”
He gave her a wryly amused glance and said, “Never. Go on, now.”