Grimme slid Brìghde a stony look at supper when she raised her eyebrow in question and asked, “Well?”
“’Tis done, but do not make me do that again.”
Then she smiled sweetly at him and fluttered her eyelashes.
He dropped his head and started to laugh.
“Have some wine,” she said playfully and filled his goblet from the pitcher sitting in front of her. “Ye’re more amusin’ with a few goblets in ye.”
“You have a pitcher now?” he asked incredulously, noting that her brogue was quite thick, which meant she’d been drinking heavily. She only drank that deeply when she was very troubled.
She looked in the pitcher, poured the rest into her cup, and signaled the servant for another, which was promptly placed in front of her. “Me da,” she said archly, “once said he could outdrink me three to one an’ still work as if he had not drunk at all. He couldn’t, an’ me moom ridiculed him endlessly fer it. He didn’t speak to me fer a month. That was a wonderful month.”
Grimme closed his eyes and shook his head in helpless amusement. “Why has he not put you in the ground? Or your mother, for that fact?”
“Hrmph.” Her emerald eyes darkened and she stuck a piece of meat in her mouth. “I’m nae sure,” she muttered after she’d washed it down with an entire goblet full of wine. Then she poured another. Drank that. And a third. “He once accused me o’ bein’ a spawn o’ Satan. Then he sent me flyin’ ’cross the room wi’the back o’ his hand.”
Spawn of Satan. Grimme’s chest tightened a little, but this time he was careful not to show his discomfort. He wasn’t sure what his father had said to her, but clearly she knew that any talk of witchcraft or Satanic things unnerved him. “Is that why it was important to you to fall in with his plan to destroy MacFhionnlaigh whether you wanted to or not?”
She nodded hesitantly and wouldn’t look at him. Her mouth was turned down in a frown and she was suddenly picking at her food. Another glass, down her throat.
“What did you do that he accused you of such?” Grimme asked carefully.
“I didn’t do anythin’,” she muttered. “Me brothers had all gone off to different knights, so they had not been there to serve as a shield fer me. Moom was bedevilin’ him over somethin’, I walked into the room, he turned around, there I was, he accused her o’ bearin’ some other man’s bastard because he couldna possibly ha’e spawned somethin’ so ugly as me, she screamed back that she had to bear another man’s bastard so I wouldn’t be as ugly as him, an’ then he slapped me. I landed in the hearth. He said, ‘I am sorry, Brìghde.’ I said, ‘Very well, Da.’ He said, ‘I am sorry there was no fire there.’ ’Twasn’t the first time, but it was the last.”
“Brìghde,” he said softly, covering her hand. “You are not ugly.”
“I know that!” she snapped and snatched her hand out from under his. “Do ye know how many men woulda been glad to wed me, who’d treat me well, mayhap even love me?” Her lip curled in contempt. “Mayhap touch me and not run away as if I were a leprosy-befouled witch? Were ye afraid me vicious familiar Hades would rise from the dead to attack ye?”
His breath caught and he looked away, his jaw tight, only to catch his father’s dead stare. He turned back to her and met her contemptuous glare and murmured, “I’m sorry. I … ” He did not want to admit this, but he owed her an explanation. “I was embarrassed.”
“Aye, an’ so was I,” she drawled hatefully, then continued airily with another goblet down her throat. “Alas, I was already betrothed an’ couldna be courted properly by a proper man who’d take me to wife properly.” She put her elbow on the table and her cheek on her fist whilst she used her knife to stab at her food as if ’twere an unwelcome suitor. “I woulda liked that,” she said wistfully, her eyes sparkling with tears. “Verra much.” Then she reached for her pitcher, poured another glass of wine, and gulped that down, too. “Me grandmoom was a bonny lass,” she muttered. “We have a portrait. Me moom— She is also. Da, now,” she said, her brogue now so thick he could barely understand her, “he is uglier than a deerhound.”
Grimme would have laughed if he weren’t stinging from both his failure and her contempt.
“Have ye e’er seen one? They’re ugly. Me Mercury is beyond ugly, but I love ’im.” She paused to pour more wine, but the pitcher was, once again, empty. She held it up and waggled it for a servant to pass by and take it, then replace it with a full one. “My God, this wine is bonny,” she sighed in ecstasy as she sipped at her next glass.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not! Enough!” she said stoutly.
He decided to leave that alone. “And your mother? You said she rules the household. How does she do it when he is in disagreement with her decisions?”
“I doona know,” she said with wide eyes. “She’s somehow managed to conquer ’im.”
“What did she do when he sent you into the hearth?”
Brìghde began telling a story, her hands gesturing, but he couldn’t understand a word.
“That was English,” she said with exaggerated enunciation.
He took the almost-empty pitcher and casually handed it to his father. “What did your mother do?” he asked again.
“She threw a poker into ’is shoulder like a spear. Whoosh! Straight through. ’Twas magnificent. His sword arm, too.”
Grimme was shocked. “How long ago was that?” he asked low.
“Three years. I toldja—she’n’I could take MacFhionnlaigh and Fàileach by ourselves. She punished him ever’ time he raised a hand to me, but it didn’t stop him. Until that last time.”
“And he hasn’t learned how to fight left-handed yet?”
Brìghde said something—
He snapped his fingers in her face. “English, Brìghde.”
“His left shoulder, he injured long ago. It ne’er healed. She completely destroyed the right one. ’Twas why ’e ne’er struck me again. He couldn’t. I think— Sometimes I think they enjoy the constant warfare. I don’t. I don’t wanna be at war wi’ me husband, but I also doona want— Roger, me groom.” Her Rs were rolling off her tongue in rich waves that were almost musical. Grimme realized the rhythm of her voice and accent, whether she was drunk or not, had charmed him completely. “He was born a beaten puppy. An ugly one. Uglier’n’Mercury. I coulda commanded him to clean the garderobe wi’ ’is tongue an’ he woulda done it wi’ a ‘I hate you, Budgie, but o’ course I will!’” she chirped. “I dinna want that, either.” She looked up at him then, tears now spilling over. “Ye rescued me,” she said in a very small voice. She sniffled. Her mouth trembled. “Ye were kind to me an’ ye befriended me. I’d give ye as many bairns as ye want just for that.”
Grimme sighed heavily.
“I’m goin’a bed.”
He twisted around the chair and watched her go. She was steady on her feet and skipped up the stairs lightly.
He looked at his father, who returned him a stunned expression.
“Well,” Sir John finally said. “That explains much.”
“Papa,” Grimme asked with threatening levity, “why does she seem to know that the only thing I fear is Satan and witchcraft?”
“Don’t use that tone with me, Son,” he said softly, tightly. “I taught it to you.”
“She is going to use that as a weapon every time I hurt her feelings.”
“Explain ‘leprosy-befouled witch,’ ‘familiar,’ and ‘Hades,’ and I will tell you what I said and why, for she is not the witch in this house.”
Father and son looked at each other with locked jaws, neither giving ground.
“I didn’t think so,” the father murmured with a slight sneer. “See me to my chambers.”