Twin Passions(10)

By: Miriam Minger

"'Tis no matter," Gwendolyn replied. "Leah told me I would find you here." She walked over to the tapestry, stretched across a large wooden frame, and inspected the fine embroidery. "It appears they have kept you busy this afternoon."

"Aye, and Edythe kept us well entertained!" Anora laughed. "I would have thought it impossible to keep my mind on other things besides Wulfgar, but Mother saw to it that I had plenty to do. The hours have flown."

At the mention of Wulfgar's name, Gwendolyn felt her body tense. She pulled absently at a stray thread on the tapestry, barely listening as Anora happily recounted one of Edythe's bawdy tales.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the room. With a start, Gwendolyn realized Anora had stopped talking and was gazing at her with questioning eyes.

"What is troubling you, Gwendolyn?" Anora asked gently, clasping her sister's arm. "You have not heard a single word I said." Concern touched her delicate features. "Does it have aught to do with what happened last night?"

Pulling away from her sister, Gwendolyn turned aside. "Aye," she muttered tersely.

"Then tell me, Gwendolyn. What happened?" Anora walked around to face her sister, her gaze searching.

"I went for a ride and . . . and lost my way in the dark," Gwendolyn stated defensively, staring down at the floor.

"But how could that be?" Anora asked, puzzled. "Surely Father's thanes knew the way . . ." She paused, her eyes widening in stunned surprise. "Unless you were no longer with them!" Receiving no response, Anora shook her head in bewilderment. "Gwendolyn, I cannot believe you would have ridden off without a guard. Why, anything could have happened! We were all so worried about you, and now to find out that it was just a willful prank—"

"'Twas not a prank!" Gwendolyn cut her off sharply, her voice strained. Tears glistened on her lashes as she fought to hold back the torrent of emotions that had raged within her for so long, but it was too late. "How can you marry an enemy of our people . . . and . . . and so willingly?" she blurted angrily, her flashing eyes mirroring her deep sense of betrayal.

Not surprised by Gwendolyn's sudden outburst, Anora sighed unhappily. So, it has finally been said, she thought, gazing at her proud sister. Gwendolyn had not been herself for many weeks, and Anora had long suspected it was due to her impending marriage. Yet she also sensed there was some deeper, greater hurt hanging like a palpable presence in the small room.

For a long moment Anora was at a loss for words. How could she make her sister understand what it was like to be truly in love? "You judge too harshly, Gwendolyn," she finally murmured, taking her sister's hand in her own. "I love him."

"Love is but a word, Anora!" Gwendolyn retorted vehemently. "He is a Dane. Does that not matter to you?" She spat out the words, her hands clenching into small fists.

"Aye, it mattered before I met him," Anora agreed. "Wulfgar Ragnarson is a Dane, that cannot be denied, but I see him first as a man, Gwendolyn —a courageous man who is seeking peace for his people and ours."

"Aye, that may be so," Gwendolyn said angrily. "But can you not see that you are being used as a king's pawn?"

Anora nodded. "Aye, but I now consider it an honor, Gwendolyn. It is through this match that I have found my greatest happiness." She paused, choosing her words carefully. "I could have denied Wulfgar, Gwendolyn. I was given a choice. And as Father's favored daughter, I am sure you will one day be granted the same freedom."

Gwendolyn opened her mouth to protest, but she was silenced as Anora rushed on. "You know that to be true, but I do not begrudge that you have always held Father's heart. So you see, you have naught to fear that you will be forced into a miserable marriage."

Anora sighed heavily as the room fell silent once again. She could not tell if her words had served to convince her sister, or had made matters worse. Well, she could think of only one other thing that could possibly have upset her so. "Look at me, Gwendolyn . . . please," she murmured. "If you are angry that I have spent most of my time with Wulfgar these past months, then I am sorry for that."

Gwendolyn suddenly turned her head away. Her lower lip trembled with emotion, hot tears streaking unchecked down her face. She quickly wiped them away with the back of her hand, but it did little good. Her fair cheeks simply grew wet again.

So, it has been that all along, Anora thought, tears welling up in her own eyes. She knew her sister's pain must be great, for she had rarely seen Gwendolyn cry. She only hoped it was not too late to make amends.

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