To Brìghde’s surprise, Emelisse was sitting in the chair next to the empty lord’s chair. Sir John, standing behind his chair next to Grimme’s, looked entirely furious. The rest of the hall stood behind their chairs, silent, waiting.
Emelisse gave her a victorious, challenging look. Brìghde took a deep breath and, shaking her head at the prospect of a long war with her husband’s favorite mistress, glided to the head table. “Get up,” she said quietly, but firmly.
“This is my chair, Brigitte,” Emelisse growled low, glaring at Brìghde from under her brows. “I am the mother of his two oldest sons and have been at his side for eleven years.”
“And I am the countess,” Brìghde said matter-of-factly. “Get up.”
“No, you little bitch,” she hissed. “Just try to get me out of this chair.”
Brìghde grabbed her by the chin as hard as she could, jerked her face up, and touched her nose to Emelisse’s. Emelisse struggled with small noises as she was unable to speak, her hands clawing at Brìghde’s, but Brìghde’s grip was too tight. “Do not challenge me in my home again, Emelisse,” she murmured pleasantly enough, dragging Emelisse up and out of the chair by her face. Emelisse was taller and heavier than she looked, so Brìghde had to look up. Emelisse was struggling, but she, like her sons, was weak. “You will lose. You can be my friend or you can be invisible or you can be my enemy. Choose wisely because I can snap your skinny little neck right now.”
“BRIDGET!” Grimme roared from the doorway. “LET—HER—GO!”
Brìghde turned her head and looked at him whilst tightening her grip. Emelisse was trying to cough but couldn’t so she began gurgling, yet still Brìghde held on. “This is household business, my lord,” she called pleasantly. “I would not burden you with it.”
Grimme bolted into the hall and around the tables to grab Brìghde’s wrist and squeeze it painfully enough to force her to set Emelisse free. Emelisse fell back into Brìghde’s chair, sprawling, trying to catch her breath. “Is this what you meant?” he hissed, grabbing her other wrist between them and lifting her until their eyes met and her toes did not touch the floor. Brìghde could simply lower her arms a few inches and she would be on her feet, but she was strong and she held her elbows to her side so as not to show weakness. “About your iron fist?”
“Aye,” she said calmly.
“The punishment did not fit the crime.”
“’Twas no punishment, my lord,” she said matter-of-factly, her arms trembling from the effort to keep herself elevated, her wrists aching from his grip. “’Twas a warning. I may hate my father, but I learned enough about politics and warfare from him to be able to muster a force and seize a castle, never mind evict one jealous whore—” Emelisse gasped. “—from my rightful place. Only strength is respected and only the strong lead.”
Grimme’s brown eyes darkened and his jaw ground. He released her, likely intending that she should stumble, but she landed on her feet quite tidily and refused to rub her wrists, which throbbed.
“Don’t touch my women again.”
Grimme said nothing, but his nostrils flared.
“You said you would enforce my position, but every time she challenges me and I assert my authority, you balk until I remind you of the bargain. You enforce my position here, I give you legitimate heirs. That’s the bargain. How many more times must we go through this?”
“You laid hands on her,” Grimme growled.
“I,” she snarled, “am demonstrating my authority because you will not enforce it.”
She had him.
She did not like having him, particularly in front of the entire household and all his commanders. It weakened his credibility as lord for the lady to challenge him at all, much less so publicly, and that was the last thing the castellain needed.
“Your inability to control your women,” she whispered, “is damaging your credibility with your men. She dared me to pull her out of that chair, so I did. Get control of them or stand back and allow me to do it. Either way, your credibility stays intact.”
Grimme leaned to his right and said over Brìghde’s shoulder, “Emelisse, go to your chambers.”
She released an astonished, horrified breath in a sharp whoosh. “Grimme—” she croaked.
He looked back at Brìghde and snarled, “I will deal with you later,” then stormed out of the hall.
Silence reigned for all of thirty seconds before Brìghde looked over her shoulder at Emelisse. “You were told to go to your chambers. Do so. Now.”
Emelisse tried to squeeze between Brìghde and the table, but she had barely enough room. “I’m not done with you,” she hissed as she clambered by.
“I look forward to our further conversations, Mistress Emelisse!” Brìghde called brightly at her retreating form, her hand cupped around her mouth. Then she turned to the hall and said with a smile, “Eat! Eat! Don’t let me interrupt your meal.”
With that, she sat and slid a glance across Grimme’s chair to Sir John, who gave her a sly grin.