The screaming commenced as soon as the six of them were spotted rounding the turn into the lane that led to the keep just after suppertime. At first it was faint, but got sharper as it grew nearer.
The boys were slumped in their saddles, half asleep, more than ready to let their ponies carry them without direction and simply hold on to pommels and manes.
Grimme and Brìghde were leading the ponies from horseback, and their horses hadn’t had a good run all day so they were antsy and irritated, dancing and prancing and pawing. Grimme could almost see the ponies rolling their eyes.
Emelisse ran almost all the way down the lane, and if Grimme thought the screaming was intolerable then, when she got a good look at the boys—
“Emelisse!” he barked.
She didn’t hear him, sobbing over Gaston, hugging him as they plodded along. “Come, come!” she wailed in French. “Off that beast. We’ll get you into a nice hot bath—Max!” Grimme looked over his shoulder at Gaston with a stony expression daring him to submit to his mother’s coddling when that was exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to cry in Emelisse’s lap whilst she rocked him and told him how evil Brìghde was and this was all her fault.
Gaston, cowed, said, “I’m well, Mamá.”
“You are not well! I knew I should never have allowed you to go! Max! My love!”
Grimme turned the same look upon Max, who also reluctantly rebuffed his mother, staring at Grimme the whole time.
That was when Emelisse got a good look at Pierce and Terrwyn. She gasped and ran in front of Grimme and Brìghde to walk backward and scream at Grimme in French. “How could you allow this?! Were you not paying attention? I trusted you! You were off fucking her, weren’t you? Leaving my babies alone with those two little monsters!”
He rolled his eyes as villeins gathered to watch this. Dillena came running down the lane whilst Emelisse threw obscenities at him and Brìghde. It was a good thing Brìghde and the villeins, who were gathering in great numbers now, didn’t speak French. As Dillena came closer and saw Terrwyn, she began to grow angry, and would continue to be once Grimme told her Terrwyn would be going out to the field. She wouldn’t like it, but at least she was sensible enough to understand that this was the way of noble sons.
“What— What happened?!” Dillena breathed as she went to Terrwyn and inspected his injuries.
Emelisse stopped walking, bringing everyone to a halt. “Your monster did this to my babies!” Emelisse screamed.
“And look what yours did to mine!” Dillena screamed back.
“He’s less bruised than mine are!”
“Which only means that yours are weak! Good boy, Terrwyn!” Grimme almost laughed.
Emelisse released an ear-shattering scream of pure rage. “I hate you! You took Grimme away from me!”
“If you gave Lord Grimme what he wants, he wouldn’t need me!” And Dillena was the quiet one.
Bloody hell. Grimme didn’t know what to do or say. He was in the middle of a war he didn’t want to be in, but he was having a very hard time keeping a straight face. Suddenly he remembered Brìghde’s hoots when he told her his women got along—and that was before she met them.
It was a very good thing Brìghde and the villeins couldn’t speak French.
The argument between the women escalated into which acts Emelisse would and would not perform for Grimme, Dillena neatly outwitting her on every point.
He wondered if he should allow them to come to blows right here, in front of his people, the way he had allowed the boys to do. He bowed his head and rubbed his temples.
Sadly, it took him quite a while to notice that Maebh was nowhere to be found, but as soon as he did, anger shot through him. He did not care about the battle raging between his first and second mistresses whilst the whole of Kyneward watched with barely disguised glee. He cared that the victor got no welcome home, no loving mother, no one to fuss over his wounds.
He twisted to look back at Pierce, who sat with an expression of utter resentment, looking to the portcullis to see if his mother would come. Brìghde turned to see what Grimme was staring at and he supposed she saw the same thing he did, because she looked back at Grimme and nodded, as if she knew what he was thinking and would do whatever she felt needed to be done. Mayhap she did.
Emelisse was still screaming, but it was weaker now that she had screamed her throat raw.
Then, apparently realizing that Dillena was not going to be cowed, and not going to lose the argument, Emelisse turned on Grimme and Brìghde, and jabbed a finger at Brìghde. “It’s her!”
Grimme pursed his lips and nodded slowly.
“Choose, Grimme!” she snarled. “Her or me.”
“Her,” he said immediately.
Emelisse gaped at him and Dillena chortled.
“Recant your demand and I will forget you ever said it,” he said calmly. “Take the boys. Both of you. Give them their hot bath and their meals in their rooms and all the smothering you can give them because tomorrow they go into the field and they will not come home until their knights give them leave.”
“What?!” Dillena breathed, aghast. “But—”
“He’s seven,” Grimme told Dillena gently, “and he won the fight against his older and bigger brothers. It’s time.”
She gulped, tears in her eyes whilst Emelisse stood heartsick in front of him.
“The only thing I apologize for,” he said, “is not taking them in hand sooner. Emelisse, I have allowed you to baby them too long, so much that boys smaller and younger defeated them.” Gaston and Max began to weep quietly again, but Grimme was ashamed. Ashamed that a knight of his caliber had set aside his duty to his sons because he didn’t want to hear their mothers’ complaints and let them do what they wanted. He tilted his head toward the boys and said, “Go on. Take them. Because after breakfast tomorrow, they come with me and you will not see them again for a long time.”
Dillena and Emelisse scurried to get their sons. Grimme twisted to see Dillena merely assist Terrwyn off the horse and brace him so he could walk his soreness off. Emelisse dragged Gaston off his pony and held him to her like a baby, his arms and legs wrapped around her, whilst she twisted and rocked and stroked and cried. Gaston was big, but she could do it, which meant she had a lot of practice. But Gaston caught Grimme’s look and he squiggled down. She went to Max and did the same thing. He too wormed his way out of her arms. She took their hands and began to march them up the lane, but they resisted.
“We have to take care of our ponies, Mamá,” Max muttered, looking at the ground. Terrwyn and Gaston nodded in resignation.
Now that surprised Grimme and he smiled. “Well done, my sons,” he said immediately. They peeked up at him, then looked away in relief, but Gaston and Max were still discomfited that they had defied their mother and now she was pleading with them to allow her to take care of them.
Then Emelisse turned on Brìghde. “It’s you!” she raged hoarsely, in English now.
Brìghde nodded matter-of-factly and said, “Aye, ’tis me.”
“You have hated me and my sons from the beginning because you’re jealous! You want my husband!”
“I don’t care about you or your sons enough to hate you,” she said in a bored tone, but curiously, did not refute Emelisse’s assertion that he was Emelisse’s husband. It irritated him, but if Brìghde didn’t care, why should he? Then she chirruped to Troy, wheeled him around and took off into the fields for a well-deserved gallop.
Grimme watched her go, wishing he could go with her, particularly since Phobos was just as restless and wanted to follow Troy. He looked at Emelisse, who was shocked. “Recant, or I will never visit you again.”
She started to sob. “Grimme!”
“Boys, take your ponies to the stables and groom them as I showed you.” The three whose mothers had come to save them walked slowly and painfully, leading their ponies.
Pierce chirruped his and trotted on by. He was clumsy about it, but he rode out of sight long before his brothers disappeared. Father Hercule was right: Pierce did indeed seem to have a penchant for ruthlessness.
Grimme waited until they were out of sight, then dismounted and gathered both his women to him, kissing each of them on the temple. The reins in his hands, he walked the weeping women back to the keep.