Twin Passions(4)

By: Miriam Minger

"Quickly, we must get her warm at once," Lady Bronwen ordered, taking immediate charge of the situation. She gestured for the thane to follow her, and a serving maid who also stood nearby. Holding a thick tallow candle in front of her, she led the way up a wooden staircase to Gwendolyn's chamber.

"Lay her down on the bed," she said evenly, setting the candle in a large brass holder. The thane hastily obeyed, then stood aside, not knowing what to do next. His eyes widened as Lady Bronwen began unceremoniously to strip the drenched clothes from Gwendolyn's shivering body. She looked up at him, a faint smile curving her lips. "You may go now."

"Aye, my lady." He nodded, red-faced. Without a backward glance, the sheepish thane beat a hasty retreat down the stairs.

"Go to the kitchen and fetch some meat broth and herbs," Lady Bronwen said softly to the young serving maid. The girl bobbed her head and scurried out of the room, close on the heels of the departing thane. Lady Bronwen turned back to Gwendolyn and helped her into the bed, gently pulling the warm blankets up over her delicate shoulders. She looked kindly at her daughter, her gentle eyes speaking a message of concern, yet also a mild reproach.

Overcome by her mother's tenderness, Gwendolyn felt hot tears burn her cheeks. "Mother, I . . ." she began hesitantly, but the words stumbled on her tongue.

"Hush, lamb, we can talk of this later," soothed Lady Bronwen. She moved away from the bed and lit several small oil lamps about the chamber. The faint rustling of her linen tunic and mantle was the only sound in the room.

"Here are the herbs and the broth, my lady!" the serving maid whispered breathlessly as she entered the bedchamber. She had run all the way to the kitchen and back, anxious to please her kind mistress.

Lady Bronwen nodded her thanks, then took the bowls from the girl and set them on a small wooden table by the bed. "Go now and find Leah. I have need of her," she said over her shoulder.

"Aye, mistress," the serving maid replied, hurrying out the door once again.

Stirring the herbs into the steaming meat broth, Lady Bronwen offered one of the bowls to Gwendolyn. "Here, lamb, but drink it slowly."

Gwendolyn cupped the bowl in her hands, bringing it shakily to her lips. She took a sip, savoring the richness of the beef broth. After several more sips a gradual warmth began to spread through her, stilling at last the shivering spasms that wracked her slender body. Feeling her eyelids growing heavy, she handed the empty bowl to her mother. Lying back against the soft down pillow, she could no longer keep her eyes open. Gradually she felt herself drift into a comforting sleep.

Tucking in the soft woolen blanket, Lady Bronwen gazed down at her sleeping daughter. How could such an angelic-looking young woman cause so much trouble? she wondered, shaking her head. Indeed, Gwendolyn's fair features shone with almost unearthly beauty. Her brows arched delicately, her nose was straight and slender, her cheekbones high and graceful. Her lips, lush and rosy, were curved in the faintest of smiles, and her emerald green eyes, closed in sleep, were thickly fringed with dark lashes that fluttered ever so slightly against her creamy skin. The only feature that gave a hint of her true temperament was the stubborn set of her chin.

Lady Bronwen sighed as she smoothed an unruly curl from Gwendolyn's forehead, remembering the many times she had tried to convince her daughter to grow her hair long. Yet all her pleas had been for naught. Strong-minded like her father, Gwendolyn had insisted since childhood that long hair was a nuisance. Besides, she had not wanted to be an exact replica of her twin sister, Anora. A bright smile at her father had always ended the argument, and Gwendolyn once again managed to have her way. Lady Bronwen shook her head. She truly feared that perhaps Godric had spoiled this daughter overmuch. Her wild escapade tonight was proof of that!

'Tis hard to believe so many years have passed . . . and so quickly, she thought, reflecting on her eighteen years of marriage to Earl Godric. Their union     had produced twin daughters, just turned seventeen, and one son who had died at childbirth. A flicker of sorrow passed across Lady Bronwen's lovely face. Her heart still ached at the thought of the lost child, a pain she had carried since his death.

Yet it was her husband, deprived of his only son, who had thrilled at the early interest displayed by Gwendolyn in such masculine pursuits as riding, hunting, and archery. He had encouraged her, and before long she had become proficient at all of them. Her skill and accuracy with all manner of small weapons, especially the knife, were well known. She had even accompanied her father on his twice-yearly hunts for wild boar, and had taken great delight in the dangerous sport. Never once had she shown the least bit of fear.

Ever the doting parent, Earl Godric had even allowed Gwendolyn to wear a boy's clothing, specially made to fit her slender form. She had taken to them happily, relishing the ease of movement the woolen shirts and breeches afforded her. From then on, Lady Bronwen had always been hard pressed to get Gwendolyn to wear a proper lady's tunic and mantle.

"'Tis no wonder Gwendolyn has such a rebellious nature," Lady Bronwen murmured resignedly. Finding a husband for her tempestuous daughter would indeed be a task. He would have to be a strong man to tame her, yet wise enough not to break her courageous spirit. She wondered if there was such a man . . .