In Bed With A Stranger(3)

By: Mary Wine

Anne screamed as she was pulled out of the baptismal basin. Philipa frowned as the baby turned red and the congregation sent up a cheer of acceptance. If the baby hadn’t screamed to release the devil, then it might have been shunned by its Christian community. Anne screeched loud enough to reach even the last pew.

At least she had managed to give the brat an unlucky name. The clergyman muttered a closing prayer before wrapping the infant in a towel and handing it to her. Philipa controlled the urge to sneer as she carried her goddaughter out of the chapel. The moment they entered the private hallway that led to her chamber, she thrust the child at a servant, turning her back on it. What she failed to see was the disapproving looks her maids gave her back as they cradled and soothed one of their own. Anne hiccupped before snuggling into the bosoms offered. The servants cooed to her as they stroked her dark baby hair.

The senior maid cast a look down the hallway her mistress had taken and frowned. “Some folks are mean hearted. Indeed they are! A baby is a blessing to the whole house! Everyone knows that. The mistress will poison herself with such meanness. It’ll bring dark times to everyone living on the land. Mark my words.”

The two under maids said nothing, holding their tongues in time-honored tradition. Speaking against the mistress of the house was grounds for dismissal. But not a one of them would admit to hearing anything from the housekeeper. Making an enemy of the housekeeper was bound to get a girl assigned the worst tasks. Instead, they reached up to touch the baby, smiling at the tiny rose lips. A healthy baby was good luck for everyone. Life was hard. Best to set your attentions on the good things when you could.

Warwickshire, the following spring

“Mother, come see. The swans have hatched.”

Philipa smiled. Her daughter scampered down the hallway, her nurse on her heels.

“Of course mother shall come and see, my precious one.”

Philipa followed her daughter toward the doorway. Looking down she smiled at the way Mary’s hair shone in the sun. She was pure blue blood. Everything about her fine and noble.

Unlike Ivy’s bastard.

Her daughter was perfection and legitimate. Joy filled her heart but it died in a sizzle when she gazed across the yard to see Ivy. The strumpet was big bellied once again and the gossips whispered that this time it was a male child. “Look Mother!” Mary pointed a chubby hand toward the swans but Philipa had lost all enjoyment of the moment. She glared at her husband’s mistress. Alice, her lady companion, spoke softly.

“You must reconsider my lady and invite your husband to your bed once more.”

Philipa turned on Alice in a sweep of the finest milled wool but her servant stood firm in the face of her displeasure. Alice had all but raised her and the disapproval drawing Alice’s features tight was hard to face, even for a mistress of the house as she was now. Inside she was still a little girl who had answered to Alice and taken discipline from her hand.

“He might send you back to your father with a divorce, my lady. It’s your duty. You need only give him a son.”

“But what if I birth another useless daughter?” Philipa shuddered. “You heard the midwife, Alice. My hips are too narrow. If Mary had been a bigger babe…I might…have…”

It was too horrible to finish saying. Alice shook her head in sympathy. “My lady, the first babe is always the hardest. Give the lord a son and your position will be secure. Then let the Copper girl bear the rest.”

Philipa’s entire body shook as she pressed her thighs tightly together beneath her skirts. Just the thought of birthing made her body run as cold as an icy winter river. She could not do it. She wanted to live. Not die in a pool of her own blood.

“I will not, Alice. I shall not ever bed my husband again! I swear it! Even if it means he sends me back to my father.”

Philipa felt her tears easing down her cheeks as she looked back at Ivy. Envy flowed into her heart, filling it. She welcomed it because it drove her fear away. Hate began to grow as she embraced her temper. An intense aversion for Ivy and her bastards and for everything they took from her, filled her heart.

She hated them. Hated, hated…hated.

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