This is the last of it for now, and no idea when I'll have time/spoons to work on more. But sooner or later, it's getting finished!
Twice Mildþryð nearly turned away. Her mother would laugh to see her. Her grandfather cringe. A daughter of Dragma, hesitating! But somethings were more intimidating than a charge of Nornish calvary.
Finally, laughing at herself, she raised her hand and knocked.
Sir Damian answered the door to the knights’ quarters. “My lady?”
“I wish to speak with Sir John.”
The quiet knight stepped back from the door, allowing her entry.
Sir John was seated on a bench, mending a torn strap on his armor. He looked up as she entered and grimaced. “My lady witch.”
“John,” Sir Damian murmured.
“No,” Mildþryð said. “That is precisely why it is Sir John I wish to speak with. He will tell me his truth where my husband and Sir Hereweald will give my courtly faces and you, Sir Damian, hide behind dignified silence.”
Sir John laughed. “You are right there, my lady witch.” He took a deep breath and let it out with a hiss. “So which of my lord’s secrets do you come to me for?”
Mildþryð smiled. “Actually, Sir John, I’m here for your secrets.”
He stilled and set down his work. “I have no secrets. As you rightly note, my lady, I am an open scroll.”
Something in that sent warning notes down Mildþryð’s spine, but she didn’t let the hint of threat deter her. “I suspect you have many secrets Sir John, but I expect the one I am after today you scarce consider a secret.
“Why do you hate me, Sir John? Why do you call me witch and burn with anger to see my husband kneel to me?”
Sir John growled. “I would have thought mockery beneath you, witch.”
Sir Damian shifted, but stayed where he was.
“My lord said something painfully similar last night before I had him send for you. You both are acting under a false assumption.”
“What would that be? That we are actually worthy of your mockery?”
Mildþryð laughed. She couldn’t help herself. “Ancestors bless, Sir John, I swear you are a breath of fresh air after days of seeking answers from Nornish stone! You are almost as honestly expressive as a proper Dragma warrior.”
For the first time, he looked insulted. “My lord’s liege or not, call me a blighted barbarian again, and I’ll cry challenge for the insult.”
“I mean no insult Sir John, and I care nothing for your challenge. As you and my husband seem to have forgotten I am an Anglish lady and daughter and granddaughter of Dragma ‘barbarians’. Cry challenge on me and my mother will demand right to be my champion and turn you into steaks.
“But that is not what I am here for. I am not Nornish, Sir John. I have no knowledge of your cursed ‘civilised’ ways. Until your darkened Conquerer tossed me to the wolves I could count on one hand the number of times I had seen Norns.
“So no, Sir John, I mean no mockery. I have not one star to guide me in this matter. Tell me Sir John. Tell me why you hate me. Tell me why kneeling to me is a shame that is destroying my husband. Tell me what I need to know to save him.”
Ælfwine looked up from showing Henre how to repair a broken armor scale as Lady Mildþryð swept into the room.
She stopped, just inside the door, and for the first time he could recall seemed uncertain.
“Henre,” he said, “go to the practice yard. Work on your right overhand until the dinner bell.”
“Yes, my lord.”
He waited til Henre was gone to set the armor aside. “My lady?” he got up and started to kneel, the motion almost natural after all these weeks.
“Stop.” She strode across the room put an arm under his elbow. “I don’t want you to kneel to me again.”
He froze, hardly daring to hope. “I don’t understand, my lady.”
“Oh, for the love of the Ancestors, Aelfine, I’m your wife, you can use my name!”
She rubber her face with her hands.
“I didn’t understand. I knew you Norns had your superstitions and restrictions on women and our behavior. I had no idea just how extreme this Nornish perversion ran.”
“Are you well… Lady Mildþryð?”
“I’m raving aren’t I? Like a dark-curst madwoman. This is what you’ve brought me to!” And she burst out laughing.
Before he could decide if he should excuse himself and send for the priest, she calmed down.
“I’m sorry, my lord. I’ve scared you, and that was not my intent. Please, sit down. We are going to talk, as we probably should have done weeks ago.”