Twin Passions(8)

By: Miriam Minger

Aye, it pleases me, Anora thought happily. It pleases me very much. The sudden creaking of the door startled her, and she whirled around.

"You have not touched your breakfast, my lady," admonished the maid as she bustled in the door. "It is almost midday, and your lady mother wishes to see you in the solar."

"I will try to eat something later," Anora replied, eyeing the buttered bread and honeyed wine with little appetite. Truly, she did not feel hungry at all, what with butterflies of excitement fluttering in her stomach!

Hurrying down the steps and into the corridor, Anora wondered how she would fill the long hours before the feast that evening. As she reached the solar, she heard laughter filtering through the heavy wooden door, and the voice of Edythe, her mother's lady-in-waiting, rising above the din.

"Aye, if I had a man such as Wulfgar to warm my bed, I might even marry again!"

"But he is a Dane!" a dissenting voice replied indignantly. "It matters naught to me. He fits his trousers better than many a man, be he Dane or Anglo-Saxon!"

Blushing heatedly, Anora pushed open the door, interrupting the merry conversation as the ladies-in-waiting sought to suppress their giggles. Lady Bronwen rose gracefully from her chair and quickly crossed the room to her daughter.

"You look lovely, Anora," she said approvingly, kissing her daughter's burning cheek. Taking Anora's hand, Lady Bronwen led her to an empty chair beside Edythe, who was suddenly very intent on the needlework before her.

A short, stout woman with a kindly face, Edythe had been married as a girl to an elderly, wealthy landowner who died shortly after the wedding. Vowing never to marry again, the rich young widow retired to her new estates, where it was rumored she amused herself over the years with many lovers. Now well past middle age, the thought of her dallying with a handsome warrior seemed unlikely, but one could never be sure. The twinkle in her eye and her flirtatious manner belied her advancing years.

Peering out of the corner of her eye, Edythe caught a ghost of a smile curving Anora's lips and seized the opportunity to make amends. "Pay no mind to an old widow, my lady, I meant you no harm. We are glad of your marriage to such a fine, handsome man!"

The other ladies nodded in agreement, including the one sour-faced dissenter, after receiving a sharp elbow in the ribs. Soon the room was once again filled with lighthearted talk of the wedding festivities as the women stitched at a magnificent tapestry that would one day grace the timbered walls of the great hall. Depicting a lively hunting scene, the tapestry told the tale of the giant boar that had been killed the past year by Earl Godric and his thanes. And, at her father's side, the small figure of Gwendolyn seated bravely on her dappled mare was immortalized in threads of every hue.

Lady Bronwen left the room quietly, assured that Anora would be kept busy the rest of the afternoon. Tradition demanded that she not see Wulfgar until the betrothal feast. Closing the door firmly, she turned her thoughts to the frenzied preparations taking place throughout the stronghold. "There is so much yet to do," she murmured to herself, as she walked down the wooden stairs that led to the kitchen.

Chapter 4

Locked in the throes of a vivid nightmare, Gwendolyn shook her head wildly from side to side. Dark, menacing trees were reaching out to snatch her from her mare, and their trunks were etched with leering faces that grinned demoniacally. She tried to fend off the grasping branches that scratched and tore at her, but she lost her balance and slipped off her mare's back. Rolling over and over down a steep embankment, she tumbled into icy, swirling water. The dark waves closed over her head for a moment. Then she surfaced, struggling and gasping for breath. Suddenly, rising up from the center of a giant whirlpool, a dragon creature loomed above her. She screamed as the apparition coiled its scaly tail about her body, but her voice made no sound. Once again she was dragged beneath the murky water. She felt herself sinking, sinking . . . surrounded by raucous laughter that rang in her ears.

"Nay!" Gwendolyn awoke with a start, her defiant cry echoing about the small room. Wide-eyed with terror, she felt her heart beating wildly in her breast. For a moment she could not remember where she was. Then a long, shuddering sigh escaped her throat as she recognized her surroundings. She shaded her eyes from the bright sunlight streaming into her room from the high, narrow windows.

How long had she been asleep? she wondered dazedly, sitting up in her bed. Faint memories of her nightmare, its twisted images blurred and foggy, still tortured her thoughts. Rubbing her aching temples, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and rose shakily to her feet. Swaying unsteadily, she felt her legs suddenly buckle beneath her and she crumpled to the floor.

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