The Brat Chapter Nineteen

"How is Murie?" Osgoode asked quietly.

"She will be fine." Balan joined his cousin at the trestle table and accepted the ale pushed his way. He'd brought his wife straight back to the keep, where she'd told them all that Cecily had said. It sounded to him as if the poor creature wasn't right in the head. He'd voiced that opinion and then spent time soothing his wife in their chamber before putting her to bed and holding her until she fell asleep.

"She is weary and shocked by the events of this day, but she will recover," he added. "She is very resilient."

"Aye, she certainly is that," Osgoode agreed with amusement. His eyes found something over Balan's shoulder that made Balan turn to glance toward the stairs: his wife, rushing down from the upper floor.

Pushing his drink away with exasperation, Balan waited for her to approach him so that he could give her hell for being up and about, but she didn't. Murie hardly seemed to notice his presence and hurried across the great hall to the keep doors.

"Where is she going?" Osgoode asked.

Shaking his head with bewilderment, Balan stood to follow her. He stepped out of the keep, opened his mouth to call out to his wife, who was tripping lightly down the stairs, then paused as he noted the traveling party riding through the gates.

"What the hell?" he muttered.

"Oh, aye, I forgot to tell you," Osgoode said, suddenly at his side. "The men spotted a party approaching carrying the king's colors while you were upstairs."

Balan nodded and relaxed, then scowled at his wife, who'd joined the growing crowd of servants and men-at-arms at the bottom of the step. "Wife! What - "

He'd been about to ask what she thought she was doing out of bed, but she whirled to grin up at him, crying, "My things!" and so Balan shut his mouth, unwilling to berate her when she appeared so happy.

It was Osgoode who asked, "Your things?" as the two men made their way down the stairs to join her.

"I thought the two chests on the wagon were your things," Balan said with a frown. "There is more?"

"Oh, aye." She laughed and explained, "Those two chests were just a few gowns and such to tide me over until my other possessions arrived. The queen promised to pack it all and send it on to me, along with items I ordered just before the wedding."

"Oh." Balan stared at her, nonplussed.

Unable to contain herself, Murie clapped her hands happily as the company of men and wagons entered the bailey. She was as giddy as a child.

Balan was less so, as wagon after wagon rolled by. "Dear God. How many dresses does one woman need?"

Murie laughed and slapped his arm. "Fie, husband. There is much more than dresses on those wagons."

"There is?" Thibault asked curiously. He'd joined the other servants at the foot of the steps.

"Aye." Murie beamed at them all. "These are the things I ordered before I left. Cheese, flour and exotic herbs we cannot grow here, and - "

"Cheese, flour and exotic herbs?" Clement interrupted, with the closest thing to a smile anyone had ever seen on his face. While Balan had brought back a few vegetables, he'd not gotten cheese or flour.

"Aye." Murie grinned. "And wine, mead, more ale, wheat, and chairs and other furniture and linens, and more chickens, cloth, and there should be more servants, too; I did ask the king to have Becker hire me some and . . ." Murie broke off her recitation as everyone rushed past her toward the first wagon that was drawing to a halt before the steps.

"You have won their everlasting love," Balan announced quietly.

"And all it took was a bit of food," Murie agreed sadly.

"Nay. 'Tis not the food or wine or cloth, Murie," he said. " 'Tis you. 'Tis that you thought of them before you had even met them, just as you had a dress made for Juliana before you met her. You arranged to have all of this brought because you knew they were without."

"They are my people now, Balan. 'Tis my place to look after them."

Balan nodded and slid his arm around her, drawing her against him and out of the way. The servants and soldiers were charging up the steps to the keep with item after item.

"They shall have the wagons emptied ere night falls," he predicted dryly. "I have not seen them move so quickly or smile so widely in a long time."

"I am happy they are happy," Murie murmured. "These are the people who remained faithful and stayed behind while others left. They deserve some comfort and joy."

"Is that the king?" Osgoode asked suddenly, alarmed.

"Nay, it could not - Damn, it is," Balan realized with dismay as he saw the monarch turn and help Queen Phillippa down from her mount. "Dear God, what are they doing here?"

"You married me," Murie said with an unhappy sigh and turned to peer at him with concern. "Husband, I know my superstitions annoy you - " Balan started to protest, but she held up her hand to silence him. "My superstitions annoy you," she repeated firmly. "My maid tried to kill you, and now the king and queen appear to have decided to visit - and may do so again."

"Aye," he agreed on a sigh. There appeared to be no end of trouble in store for him.

"Are you now sorry you married me?" she asked. Balan turned shocked eyes her way. "What?"

"Are you now - " she started to repeat, but Balan stopped her with a hand to her mouth.

"Murie," he said solemnly, "I am more and more glad I married you every day. Aye, your superstitions baffle me. Aye, your maid tried to kill me. And, aye, the king and queen are now on my doorstep. But I would suffer that - and more - for you. Truly," he continued, "I never realized how placid and peaceful my life was until you entered it. It feels like we have been married forever." When Osgoode burst out laughing, Balan knew he'd bungled what he was trying to say. Murie's distressed expression verified it. He tried again.

"What I mean to say is: You have brought chaos and excitement to my life, and it already seems like years since we married."

Which just made Osgoode snicker harder.

"In a good way," Balan added desperately. "I mean - "

"He means life here was boring ere you arrived," Osgoode said, deciding at last to help him out.

"Aye, my lady. We were a dull, miserable group ere your arrival," Thibault said, marching past with a barrel of ale.

"No hope, no light, no laughter," Gatty agreed with a shake of the head. She followed the steward, a roll of cloth in her arms.

"You brought hope back to Gaynor, seeing the positive where we had seen only negatives."

"Aye, and you fixed my hair!" Juliana said earnestly. Balan sighed and turned to his wife. "I told you I am no good at speaking to women. But Murie, I cannot imagine not being married to you. It seems like you have always been here. Because you belong here." He paused with frustration and then said, "Dammit, woman, I love you. Is that not enough?" Murie's lips parted in a soft smile, and she leaned up to gently kiss him. "More than enough, my lord husband. More than enough."

Relieved, he caught her lips with his and kissed her deeply, then swept her into his arms and turned toward the stairs.

"Where are you going?" Osgoode asked with alarm. "Balan, you cannot leave me here alone to greet the king and queen. What do I tell them?"

Balan broke the kiss to say, "Tell them I love their goddaughter and shall not return below until I am sure she knows that." He took in Murie's sweet smile

and then added, "Tell them that will probably be several days at least, but they are welcome to stay for the duration if they wish."

"Several days?" Osgoode squawked.

"More likely a week, my lord," Murie murmured, and when Balan glanced down at her with surprise, she shrugged and said solemnly, "Well, the king knows I can be most difficult. He shall expect it to take longer to convince me than most."

"Brat," Balan teased affectionately, his eyes fixing on her lips as they spread in a smile that promised many splendors over the next week. Clearing his throat, he glanced at his cousin and growled, "Tell him not to expect us below for a week."

"A week?" Osgoode was starting to look faint. "But - " Ignoring his cousin's panicked bleating, Balan turned and carried his wife inside, thinking to himself that marrying the infamous Brat had been the smartest move he'd ever made. v1.0. Prepared for you with tender care and much loss of sleep by the crimsonfairy.

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