The Brat Chapter eight

" 'Tis busy," Reginald murmured as he peered at the lords milling around them. They had already given their names to Robert, making their request to see the king, and had found a spot to wait in the corner. "We shall be lucky to get in to see him at all today."

"Aye." Balan scowled at the crowded waiting room outside the king's chamber. He'd been hoping to get Murie away from court today to prevent their marital problems becoming fodder for the court, but at this rate, it wasn't looking likely.

"Is that not Murie?"

Balan turned at Osgoode's surprised words and saw his wife bustling out into the hall. She moved quickly, a smile on her face, looking neither left nor right, so she did not see the three of them. Frowning, Balan took a step to follow her, intending to ask what she'd been about, only to pause as he heard his name called.

"Lord Gaynor?" the speaker said again, closer this time. Balan tore his gaze from his departing wife's back and peered at Robert as the man reached his side. "Aye?"

"You may see the king now."

"What of Lord Reynard? We asked to see him together," he said, glancing toward his now frowning friend.

"I was told to send for only you," the servant said simply. "This way, please."

After the briefest hesitation, Balan nodded and followed. His eyes sought Edward the moment he stepped through the door. There was no fury or upset apparent on the king's face, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. He was well aware that His Majesty could hide his emotions when it suited his purposes. If Murie had been here to complain about her husband tricking her, Edward might very well hide his emotions until he was ready to tear layers off Balan's back.

"Ah, Balan." Edward smiled in greeting. "Good. I asked you here to speak about Murie."

"Actually, I asked to speak to you for the very same reason," Balan replied. Worry drew his brows together.

"Really?" Edward glanced toward Robert in question, and the man nodded.

"He arrived and asked to see you just before you ordered me to send for him," the servant explained.

"Ah." Edward nodded. "That explains how you got here so quickly. Good, well, as I am the king, I will speak first, and then you may speak of your issue."

Balan gave a half bow. "As you wish, sire."

Edward nodded and got right to the point. "Murie is concerned about Lady Reynard's health. The two have been friends for years, and she holds a great deal of affection for Lady Emilie -  an affection that is returned. Unfortunately, it would seem this affection may be endangering the woman's health. She is with child and should really be at home resting before the babe comes, but she wishes to stay here and visit with Murie as long as she can. Murie feels that, were she to leave court, Emilie would agree to leave as well and return to her home."

"Ah," Balan said, realizing slowly that she'd not come to tattle to the king, but had done his work for him. What was the minx up to? He merely said, "Aye, Lord Reginald was saying something similar to me just this morning. In fact, that is why I wished to speak to you."

The king smiled. "Good, then we are in accord. I have agreed to forgo the celebrations we had planned and allow your party to leave early. Today, even." He paused and arched an eyebrow. "Is that a problem?"

"Nay, sire," Balan replied.

"Nay. I did not think it would be. I know how you dislike court, Balan." He added, "And you most likely have a lot to put to rights at Gaynor to prepare for the winter."

"Aye, sire," Balan admitted.

Edward nodded. "I have not yet had the chance to say it, but I was sorry to hear of your father's death. He was a good man."

"Aye. Thank you, sire," Balan said softly. Edward nodded again. "Well, you may leave as soon as you are ready, without need to see me again before you go. Murie is, no doubt, already in her. .. er, your chamber, directing the servants in packing."

"Thank you, sire."

Edward acknowledged his words with a slight incline of his head. "You may go."

Murmuring a farewell, Balan bowed and backed away, then turned toward the door, only to pause as Edward called out.

"Take heed, Balan." He glanced to his aide and then back.

"Becker does not think it necessary that I tell you this, but Murie is not as weak as everyone thinks she is. That weeping and carrying on .. ." He smiled faintly. "She is very bad at it." Balan's mouth dropped open. He stared at his liege for several heartbeats, then asked, "You knew she was feigning all those tears?"

"Certainly," Edward said.

Balan nodded slowly. "And yet you never called her on it?" Edward shrugged. "It amused me. Besides, it kept the other girls from harassing her further, while preventing the need for myself to intervene and adding to their ire."

While Balan processed that, the king added, "The females tormented her horribly when Murie first got here. So badly, I think it would have twisted the mind of a lesser person, but she has handled it beautifully. Had she continued trying to stand up to them as she first did, they would simply have moved in for the kill. Instead, little Emilie advised her to weep loudly and annoyingly, and it worked."

"You knew Emilie was the one who advised her to do this?" Balan asked, amazed.

"My wife is not as oblivious as she likes to let people think," Edward replied solemnly. "And she has more affection for the girl than she lets on. She could not show it for fear of making things worse. While she could have forced the girls to behave while in her presence, she could not be with Murie all the time, and Murie is proud enough she would not tell, no matter what horrible things the others did out of the queen's presence." He allowed that to sink in, then grinned and added, "Besides, Osgoode is not the only one who can set servants to spying. There is nothing that goes on in court that I do not know about." He began to chuckle at Balan's alarmed expression, then added,

"Treat her well. You will soon realize that she is a blessing to you."

"I believe I already do, sire," Balan said quietly.

"Then we are satisfied. You may go."

Balan turned away, and this time managed to leave the room without being stopped. He was shaking his head with wonder as he rejoined Osgoode and Reginald.

"Well?" the two men asked as he paused before them in the waiting area.

"We leave at once," Balan said, leading them away from the others. He added wryly, "Well, as soon as we can get the women packed and ready."

"Was it very difficult to convince him?" Osgoode asked curiously as they headed back through the castle.

"Nay. Murie had already been to ask the same thing."

"What?" Osgoode glanced at him with surprise.

"Apparently, that was why she was there to see him. She was concerned about Emilie and thought that if we left, Emilie might. She had already asked and been granted permission to leave early."

Balan did not share all the other things he'd learned in that room. He felt it was not his place to do so. Someday he might tell Murie that her weeping and carrying on had never fooled the king and queen, but it was no one else's business.

"Well," Reginald said slowly. "Murie is quite fond of Emilie and not fond at all of court. I suppose I should not be surprised, but. .." He peered at Balan. "Should she not have approached you rather than the king?"

"Aye," Osgoode agreed. "And what of her upset over learning you had really been in her room and it was not a dream?" Balan shook his head with amusement. 'You are always looking for trouble, Osgoode. Stop looking this gift horse in the mouth. I am just grateful it is all going as we planned. I will be glad to get home to Gaynor sooner than expected; and I know you, Reginald, are glad to be able to get Emilie home as well."

"Aye." Reginald smiled. "I should go break the news to her."

"And I should go have the boys pack our things," Osgoode said.

"Aye," Balan agreed. "I shall go and see how long it will take Murie to be ready to go."

Nodding, Osgoode set off. Balan followed Reginald to the stairs, but he was frowning as he considered they might not be able to leave today. He, Osgoode, and the Lord and Lady Reynard had only come to visit, so had just what they had brought to take away. This, however, had been Murie's home for ten years. She would have a lot to pack, he realized.

They reached Reynard's room, and the men parted, Balan continuing on toward the room he'd shared the night before with Murie. However, he paused when Reginald opened the door to his room and several women's voices could be heard. One of them was Murie's.

Returning to Reginald's side, Balan peered in to see his wife fussing around Emilie, helping her and her maid pack away her things.

"Oh, good. You are already packing," Reginald said to catch their attention. The three women turned as one.

"Aye." Emilie smiled widely at her husband. "Murie is eager to get to Gaynor to see her new home, and she managed to convince the king to let her leave early. And, as you have been fretting so about our leaving, I thought.. ." She paused and bit her lip, then said, "Well, I did not mean to presume, I just got excited. And if you do not wish to leave yet - "

"Nay, that is fine," Reginald assured her, moving into the room to slide an arm around her. "I am glad to leave." Balan watched him press a kiss to his wife's forehead and then glanced for his own wife. Murie was watching the other couple with a smile, apparently not at all concerned that Balan might not wish to leave. He did wish it, but she could hardly know that, and while he'd told Osgoode not to look a gift horse in the mouth, Balan could not think it a good thing that the woman cared so little for his opinion and intended to do as she liked regardless of how he felt.

This, however, was not the time to broach such a subject. He really did want to leave. If she showed such presumption again, he would tackle it. For now, he was annoyed but would let it ride.

"How long will it take you to pack, wife?" he asked, drawing Murie's attention.

"Not long. The servants are packing as we speak," she assured him. She added wryly, "The queen got wind that we were leaving and sent several of her servants to help. I was told to take myself out of the way, so I came to help Emilie."

Murie was smiling as she said the words, but he could see the hurt in her eyes, and it was obvious to him that she thought the queen had sent the servants along to speed up the process, to be free of her as quickly as possible. Balan decided he would have to tell her the truth of matters sooner rather than later. He understood why Queen

Phillippa had refrained from showing her attention, and it was true doing so had probably saved Murie even more torment, but it had left the girl feeling uncared for and unvalued. Balan would not have his wife feeling that way.

"With all that help, they shall probably be done within the hour," Murie finished.

"An hour?" Balan's eyes found Reginald's and saw the man's surprise equaled his own.

"I had best get the men together," Lord Reynard declared. Balan nodded and backed out of the room into the hall. "I will go let Osgoode and the boys know."

"I am surprised they didn't take exception to our presumption," Emilie said as the door closed behind the men.

Murie shrugged. "They wished to leave. We made it so that they may."

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"Aye, but as far as they know, we do not know they want to leave. To them it must appear as if we are just forging ahead with our own plans, uncaring of what they want."

"Oh." Murie frowned as she realized this was true. While she knew they had planned this and had simply facilitated what she could, they had no idea she knew. Sighing with exasperation, she snatched up an undertunic to fold. "Being married is far more complicated than I expected. Suddenly, everything is an issue, and he must be considered in all things."

"Aye," Emilie murmured. Then she grinned. "But it does have its rewards as well."

Laughing at the twinkle in her friend's eye, Murie hugged her and returned to packing.

With the three of them working, it was less than the hour she'd suggested before they were done. Leaving Emilie to wait for the servants to carry her chest below, Murie went to check on her own belongings, surprised to find the queen herself in her room, directing the servants.

"There you are, dear." The woman smiled. "I think we are nearly done. At least, with the clothes you shall need for the next few weeks until the remainder are sent on to you. They shall be sent along with the items you ordered as soon as those are got together, and Edward has agreed to send soldiers to guard your things on their journey."

"I... Thank you, Your Majesty," Murie whispered, wondering if the woman was being so kind just because she was so happy to be rid of her.


"Aye?" she said warily as the servants trooped out with the two chests they'd packed, leaving her alone with the queen. Phillipa closed the door behind them and turned to face her. "I wanted to tell you before you go how very proud I am of you." Murie blinked in surprise. 'You - Proud?" she asked weakly. Queen Phillippa nodded. "Aye. I know the girls and young women were awful to you here at court, but you never once asked my aid in handling them. You dealt with it in your own way. Other girls were constantly running to me, weeping at this cruelty or that, but not you. You faced your own problems and found your own way through them." Crossing the room, she clasped Murie's shoulders and said, "Out of all the girls who have been here over the years, I know I can let you go and not fear there is a situation you cannot handle. I know you will be fine and will be able to cope with any matter that comes your way in life. I am proud of you."

"Oh," Murie breathed, and she blinked her eyes rap idly to try to dry the tears pooling there. She did not wish to weep and make a fool of herself.

The queen smiled at her expression, then bent to press a kiss to her cheek. "Be happy, child."

Murie raised a hand to her cheek to touch the spot the woman had kissed and watched silently as the queen left the room. Her heart was aching from just those few kind words, and they put an entirely different light on the past ten years of her life. She just wasn't sure how. "Wife?"

Murie turned to see Balan in the doorway, eyeing her in question.

"Are you well?" he asked with concern. "Have you been crying?"

"Nay," she said quickly and flashed him a smile. She moved toward him. "I am fine, husband."

He stared at her silently for a moment, then grunted and caught her hand to lead her into the hall. "The horses are ready, and the wagon's packed. Osgoode is waiting with them. We are to meet Reginald and Emilie down by the stables."

"Aye, my lord," Murie said.

They walked quickly down the hall. Her eyes were skating over the trappings and decor of this castle, which had been her home for ten years. She was happy to be leaving, and yet some part of her felt sad as well. She had no idea why. Murie had suffered little but misery in this place. Still.. .

Mayhap it was because leaving meant the end of her childhood and the beginning of a new phase of life. She pondered the matter as they made their way to the stables.

"All is ready." Osgoode greeted them as they reached the wagon and the small group of armed men on horseback waiting nearby.

Murie glanced around, noting her chests on the wagon, as well as Emilie's. They had been arranged to leave a small pocket of room where several furs lay. She glanced at those curiously, then peered around the gathering. "We have beat Emilie and Reginald here."

"Aye. They shall be along soon, though I am - " Balan paused abruptly and turned his head, a hand rising to his nose as he began the repeated gasping inhalations of an oncoming sneeze. Eyes widening in alarm, Murie reached out quickly and slapped his left cheek, forcing his face to the right just as he sneezed. Balan turned to her with confusion the moment he'd recovered himself. "What - ?"

" 'Tis bad luck to sneeze to the left ere a journey, my lord. You must always try to sneeze to the right if you are planning a trip."

"I see," he said solemnly, his shoulders relaxing. His tone was rather dry, however, when he asked, "Is there anything else I should know about sneezing?"

"Never sneeze near a grave, and - "

"Here we are!" Emilie cried gaily, and Murie gave up her explanations in order to smile at the woman whose husband led her over. "I hope we did not hold you up too long. Reginald felt he should make his farewells to the king, else we would have been here much sooner. Fortunately, he did not have to wait too long to see him."

"That was fortunate," Murie agreed, and thought that Edward must have realized Lord Reynard was stopping to beg leave and so had seen him quickly to allow them to get on their way.

"Come, wife." Balan took her arm to lead her to her mount.

"Emilie is not riding in the wagon, is she?" Murie asked with surprise. Reginald had lifted his wife up into the back.

"Aye," Balan said as he caught her at the waist to set her on her horse.

"But - " Murie broke off with surprise as he stopped lifting her and kissed her quite thoroughly.

"Wife," he said when he'd finished.

"Aye?" She sighed, her eyes slowly opening.

"I was sneezing to my right. You turned my head to your right, which was my left." He grinned at her blank expression, then set her in the saddle and turned to walk to his own mount.

Murie stared after him with dismay, realizing what he'd said was true. They had been facing each other, and she had turned his face from her left to her right, which meant she'd turned his face from his right to his left. Oh, this didn't bode well for the journey at all!

They rode through the afternoon and well into evening before Balan and Reginald deemed it time to stop and make camp. Murie knew they had traveled so late to make up for leaving court so late, so she had not complained, but she was grateful to be off her mount.

She was doubly grateful when her husband proved himself very considerate by suggesting he take her down to the riverside to clean up while the rest of the men prepared camp.

Yes, she'd chosen her husband well, Murie decided with a contented smile as he grabbed her hand and led her into the woods around the clearing the men had chosen. So distracted was she with her own satisfaction, they had gone quite a way before she began to pay attention to the trees and vegetation around them.

It was pure chance that she glanced down and spotted the St. John's wort.

"Oh, nay, my lord! Be careful!" Murie cried, catching at Balan's arm and trying to bring him to a halt. She sighed with exasperation. "Too late."

"Too late for what?" Balan asked with bewilderment. She bent and urged his foot out of the way, then tried to fluff up the plant he'd crushed with his step.

'You must never step on St. John's wort," she lectured. "A fairy horse will rise up under you and carry you away."

Balan watched his wife's useless efforts to fix the plant, baffled, and then realization struck. This was one of her silly superstitions. Smiling faintly, he caught her upper arm and drew her back to her feet. "I think we can do away with that worry." She peered at him in confusion. "Why?"

"Because I am still here. No fairy horse rose up and took me away," he pointed out.

"Oh." She sighed, leaning into him as his thumbs caressed her cheeks. "Husband?"

"Aye," he murmured, fascinated by the way she was turning in to his touch like a petted cat.

"I like it when you kiss me."

His mouth curved in a smile. "Do you?"

"Mmmhmm." She nodded.

"Would you like me to kiss you now?" he asked, aware of several changes taking place in his body at the prospect. Just the thought had his shaft stirring to lazy life.

"Yes, please," she whispered, tilting her head a little more so that her lips were on offer.

Smiling, Balan shifted his hand, giving up caressing her cheek to catch his fingers in her hair. He held her in place as he lowered his mouth to hers.

Murie let her mouth open on a satisfied sigh. Taking advantage, Balan slid his tongue out, growling deep in his throat when she slid her arms around his neck and tried to move closer against him. She was shorter than he, however; Balan had had to bend to kiss her, and she could not get close. Releasing his hold on her hair, he reached down to catch her by the behind, squeezed her buttocks firmly through her gown and lifted her up to press her firmly against him.

Murie gasped into his mouth, her nails digging into his shoulders. Immediately an erection sprang to life under his cotehardie. Impatient, Balan let her slide back down to the ground and then set to work at the laces on the back of her gown until the collar slipped away, sliding down her shoulders. Giving up on the laces, he tugged the cloth down her arms until her breasts popped free, then immediately he caught one in his hand. Murie groaned and arched her back, her hands clutching at his arms and tugging in a silent demand for either one of two things: an end to the torment or a plea for more. Smiling against her mouth, he broke their kiss and immediately ducked his head to close his mouth over the nipple of the breast he was cupping. His wife's response was most gratifying. Crying out in excitement, she switched her hands to his hair and alternately tugged at the strands and pushed at his head, as if unsure whether she was trying to stop him or urge him on. As she couldn't make up her mind, Balan ignored her and did as he wished, his attention wholly focused on suckling the sweet nub in his mouth, drawing on it and nibbling lightly by turn as he kneaded with one hand the soft plump flesh. But soon that was not enough, and he straightened, catching her mouth once more with his.

Murie kissed him back desperately, a constant keening coming from her throat as her breasts rubbed across the rough cloth of his cotehardie. When she slid one tentative hand between them and pressed it against the erection so evident beneath his clothes, Balan growled into her mouth, his hips thrusting forward of their own accord.

Opening eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed; Balan spotted a tree a couple of feet behind Murie, and he urged her backward without breaking their kiss. Pressing her against it, he reached for her skirt, rucking it up her leg until he could slip his hand beneath. Murie gasped and sighed and moaned by turn as his fingers ran up her outer thigh and then dipped around and inside. Her legs briefly squeezed his hand as it slid between her thighs, but then eased apart to allow him access. Balan murmured approvingly when he found her warm and wet. The approval wasn't needed; his wife wasn't in any state to listen. She was sucking almost violently on his tongue, and her hand squeezed him almost painfully through his clothes.

Apparently unhappy with the interference, she released him, then found her way under the clothes to his erection. Grasping him firmly in hand, she pulled him toward her, making her desire known. She wanted him inside her.

Balan ignored the silent demand. Instead, he slid a finger lightly over her quivering flesh and then drove it into her. Murie broke their kiss and threw her head back with a cry, her body jerking and her hand along with it. He cried out as well.

Giving up tormenting her, Balan removed his hand from between her legs and slid it around to her behind. The moment he lifted her, Murie wrapped her legs around his hips, pulling him tight against her even as she released his erection to hold his cotehardie out of the way.

Balan groaned as he pressed against her slick core. Pinning her against the tree, he shifted slightly and slid into her. A relieved sigh slid from his lips as her body closed around him, welcoming him to her heated depths. He then covered her mouth with his again, withdrew himself and slowly thrust forward.

Murie kissed him back, her tongue dancing with his even as her body arched and shifted and urged him on. Aware that he was close to spilling his seed, but unwilling to do so until she'd found

her release, Balan caught her by the hips and swung away from the tree, then carried her quickly to a slanted boulder at the riverside, each step threatening his control.

Pausing at the boulder, he laid her on the higher end so that her body was at a downward angle. Without the need to hold her, he was free to touch, and he took full advantage, cupping her pale breasts in both hands and kneading briefly before sliding his hands down over her stomach, then across the crumpled material of her gown and further. One hand stopped at the core of her and began to caress, but the other continued on down to one ankle to catch and lift it before him.

Murie's eyes popped open, and she stared wide-eyed as he leaned it against his chest, then held it to help brace himself as he drove into her with more urgency. But her eyes soon closed and squeezed tight shut, her face tightening until she suddenly twisted her head to the side with a scream of pleasure.

Only then did Balan allow his seed to spill. Giving up his caresses, he clutched her leg with both hands and thrust one final time, his head falling back as he released his own shout of victory.
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