The Brat Chapter Six

"Now ..." King Edward turned to Murie with a raised eyebrow as his receiving room emptied out. "What was so urgent that you needed to speak to me alone?"

Murie flushed. She'd found it almost impossible to sleep last night, her mind flittering between thoughts of Balan and worries as to what her dream truly meant. Was he to be her husband? Or was he not? She'd debated and fretted over the issue back and forth until finally the dawn had begun to break. Murie had immediately tossed the linens and furs aside and leapt from bed. She'd been dressed and gone from her room ere Cecily even arrived ... only to find she was up and about far too early, and the king had not yet even left his bed.

Irritated that everyone else appeared to have no problem sleeping, Murie had taken herself off to the gardens to sit in the bower and think on Balan some more. She'd replayed the kiss from her dream over and over in her mind, and spent more time there than she'd intended. By the time she made her way back into the king's receiving room, it was already full of others awaiting their turn to see him. Murie had been vexed when she'd spoken to Robert, who was in charge of who entered next. Apparently, fearing the tears and fits that the disgruntled man read on her face, he had promised to get her in as quickly as was possible, to arrange for her to have a private audience.

"Murie?" Edward prompted when she did not speak. She grimaced at his impatience, understanding it when he had so many to see, but at a loss as to where to start this conversation. Her gaze slid to Becker. She'd been relieved to find the aide with the king. He usually was, but there were times he was off doing something for his sire and was not nearby. Fortunately, such was not the case today.

"Murie?" King Edward repeated, his voice gone hard, indicating that his patience was at an end.

She opened her mouth and blurted, "Sire, have you heard about the ritual to find a husband on St. Agnes Eve?"

"Ahhhh." He nodded with sudden understanding, then said, "I had heard that Lady Aldous talked you into testing the superstition."

"Aye." She shifted uncomfortably under his amusement. He arched an eyebrow. "Did you dream of anyone?"

"Aye," she admitted, blushing at the memory of the dream.

"Really?" He straightened up with surprise. "I was told you had not."

Murie grimaced. Word spread through court faster than a squirrel could dart through. That was something else she would not miss once she married and left.

"Only Lady Reynard and my maid know I did dream of someone," she confessed. "I did not wish the whole court to know I had, and who it was."

"Ah." He nodded. "That was perhaps wise." Murie nodded and glanced at her hands.

"Who was it? Someone you have known and thought handsome for a long time?" he asked indulgently.

Murie glanced at him, startled by the suggestion. "Nay. In truth, I had never seen the man before I dreamed him. I had no idea who he was."

His eyes widened. "Really?"

"Aye," she answered, then got to the point. "Do you know the proper tale, sire?"

He sat back, expression confused. "What tale?"

"About St. Agnes," she explained patiently. "On St. Agnes Eve, Malculinus said that if you either fasted all day or ate rotten meat, you would dream of the man meant to be your husband. But yesterday morn, Lauda said someone told her that if you fasted the man you dreamt of would be your husband, but if you ate rotten meat the man you dreamt of was someone you definitely should not marry, and I was hoping you could give me the truth of the matter."

"Ah, I see." He nodded, then said, "So, you are confused as to whether this dream man is the one you should marry, or one you should definitely not marry."


"Well..." Edward frowned, then glanced at Becker. "Which is it, Becker? You are more knowledgeable on such superstitions than I."

Murie blinked in surprise at the king owning up to his ignorance and asking his aide, but then she realized that was what an aide was for. And, perhaps true wisdom wasn't in knowing everything, but in being willing to turn to those who do know what you don't. After all, no one could know everything. Becker did not hesitate. "I believe Lord Malculinus had it right last night, sire. Fasting or eating the rotten meat would make you dream of the man meant to be your husband. As far as I know, there is no mention of anything making you dream of one you should not marry. In fact, such a bit would be rather silly. 'Tis obvious if you should marry one, all the rest are ones you should not."

Edward nodded and smiled at Murie. "There you are, then. Whoever this man you dreamt of is, he is the one meant to be your husband." He smiled faintly. "You really dreamed of someone?"

"Aye." She blushed again.

"And it is someone you have never seen or met before?" he asked with interest.

"Aye," Murie murmured.

"Hmmm." Edward's expression became concerned. "Murie, I appreciate that you do not wish to marry and leave us, but you cannot use a dream man as an excuse to delay in choosing a husband. Phillippa will not give ground on this."

"Oh, nay, sire," she assured him quickly. "I would never do that. Besides, when I went down yesterday morn to breakfast, I saw the man from my dream."

"You did?" The king looked stunned. "Well, who is it?" Murie hesitated. "Lord Gaynor."

"Lord Gaynor?" Edward repeated sharply. "No, he has not been to court in years. Not until the day before yesterday, and always left as quickly as he arrived, usually avoiding the feasts and balls."

"He has been here before then?" Murie asked with surprise, for truly, she'd never seen him before that morning.

"Aye, but you could not have met him and gained a tendre for him," he pointed out. She realized that he'd originally thought her dream a result of her own subconscious desires.

"Oh, nay, I had no tendre when I dreamt of him," she assured the king. "I had never seen his face before. And truly, I almost feared he was a figment of my imagination until I saw him."

"But..." Edward looked confused, then asked with bewilderment, "You really ate some rotten meat and dreamed of a man you had never before seen?"

"Aye," she answered.

"I see," Edward said. "And it was Gaynor. You are sure?"

"Oh, aye. I pointed him out to Lady Reynard when I spotted him, and she knew him. She is the one who told me his name, and I am sure she is right."

"Aye. I am sure she is," he agreed. He glanced to Becker.


"Aye, sire."

"He is a good man."

"Aye, sire," Becker agreed. "Balan. A fine and faithful warrior. His father passed during the plague, and he has inherited the holding."

"Aye." The king nodded. "I was thinking to reward him for his loyalty in France, and this would be a fine reward."

"Aye, sire," Becker agreed.

Murie's eyes widened in alarm. "Sire, I have not told him I dreamt of him, and I will not do so until I am sure we suit. And then, of course, he may not wish to marry me," she pointed out, hoping Edward would not interfere. "You said I could choose my own husband. What if it ends that we cannot love each other?"

"Love?" Edward looked at her with surprise. "You do not base marriages on love, child. I did not even know Phillippa when it was decided we should marry."

"Aye, but you did say I could choose my own husband," she reminded him.

"Aye, and you have," he pointed out. "You are the one who came to me with his name."

"But..." Murie bit her lip, trying to think of a way to tell him to mind his own bloody business without causing insult. It didn't seem possible, however. Besides, he probably wouldn't listen. The man was lost in his thoughts.

After a moment, Edward glanced about, seemingly startled when he spotted her still there.

"Oh. You are excused, Murie," he said at once, then turned to Becker and commanded, "Have someone fetch Gaynor." Murie groaned inwardly, but didn't see how to sway him from whatever course he'd decided on. She stood with resignation to leave.

"Murie, I want you at the head table for sup tonight," the king announced as she reached the door. She turned back, eyes wide.

"But I was to sit with Lady and Lord Reynard."

"Reynard?" Edward glanced to Becker. "He is - "

"Aye, sire," Becker murmured, apparently not needing to hear the entire question.

Nodding, Edward said, "They may join you at the head table. Now go, child. I have business to attend."

Blowing her breath out on a sigh, Murie escaped while she could, but as she hurried toward her room, she wondered what she'd set in motion. Unfortunately, she suspected she knew. She quite liked Balan and found him attractive, and his kisses in her dream had been divine; however, she had no desire to have him forced into marrying her. What if he did not like her or find her kisses divine? Nay, she needed to -

Her thoughts came to a shuddering halt, as did her feet, at the sight of the man moving up the hall.


She stared at him; then, without thinking about it, her feet carried her past the others in the hall and directly into his path, forcing him to halt.

"Lady Murie," he said with surprise.

"Aye." She nodded, bit her lip and blurted, "My lord, I must speak with you."

"Very well," he said.

Murie hesitated, her gaze shifting anxiously over the people passing by.

Balan arched an eyebrow in question. "What is it?"

"I..." Murie bit her lip, her gaze following those passing closest to them and knew a blush was coloring her cheeks. She really didn't wish to speak to him on this subject at all, but even more so, did not wish to speak about it where others might hear. This was embarrassing enough without that added humiliation. Seeming to recognize the problem, Balan glanced around, then took her arm and led her down the hall, then below stairs and out of the castle. He walked her across the upper ward to where Edward's tower was being built. Fortunately, it was a rainy day and the men were not working, but the walls were begun and offered them some shelter from the weather. Murie had to walk carefully to avoid sinking in the mud.

Seeming to note she was having difficulty in her dainty shoes, Balan suddenly swept her up in his arms and carried her to a stone where she could safely stand.

Murie managed a slightly embarrassed smile as he straightened from setting her down.

"Thank you, my lord," she murmured, peering at him curiously. She was now as tall as he, their faces on a level, and she'd not seen him this close before. His eyes were really quite lovely, a deep dark brown that was almost black. And he had the longest eyelashes she'd ever seen; startling on a man.

"My lady?" he said when she remained silent. 'You had something you wished to tell me?"

"Oh, aye," she said, and began to worry her lip. How to tell him? This was all so terribly embarrassing. Why the king felt he had to intervene, she did not know. If he would just leave her to deal with the matter on her own as he'd promised . ..

"My lady?" Balan prompted. There was a slight smile on his lips, and his eyes locked on her mouth as she nibbled at her lip. Forcing herself to stop, she opened her mouth, closed it again, tilted her head thoughtfully and then opened her mouth again, only to exclaim in horror, "Oh, gawd!"

Balan blinked in surprise, then caught her hands in his. "Just take a deep, calming breath and tell me what is on your mind." Murie did as instructed and sucked in a lungful of air, let it slowly back out and blurted, "The king!"

"What about the king?" he asked.

"Oh, 'tis awful, my lord. I never meant for it to happen; I just wanted to ask if he knew the rules, but he decided it was a fait accompli and now he will surely start spouting orders and telling everyone, and 'twill be so embarrassing and I do not know what to do to make him - "

Her words ended on a startled gasp as he covered her mouth with his. The panic immediately slid out of her, and a little sigh escaped as his mouth brushed over hers, soft and caressing.

"There," he said softly as he drew back. "Are you feeling calmer?"

Murie blushed but nodded.

"Good. Now - calmly - what is this about the king?"

"Oh!" Murie's eyes widened with renewed alarm. "I never meant for him to take it as he did, certainly not until I had spoken to you, but I - "

Her words died another abrupt death as his mouth covered hers again, this time moving more firmly, and then his tongue slid out to urge her lips apart and he was suddenly invading her as he had in her dreams. Moaning, Murie found her arms wrapped around his neck and their bodies pressed together. It was heaven. When he broke the kiss, she was panting softly and much slower to open her eyes. As she did, he smiled and said, "Are you feeling calmer?"

Murie nodded vaguely.

"Good, do you think you can explain things without becoming hysterical?"

"Was I hysterical?" she murmured.

"You seemed to me to be, and I thought a kiss much more pleasant than a slap."

"Oh, aye," she agreed on a sigh. "In fact, mayhap if you were to keep kissing me, I could explain better. It does seem to distract me from the worry of it all."

He chuckled and bent to press a kiss to her cheek, following an invisible trail to her ear, where he nibbled lightly before trailing down her throat. "Is this helping?"

"Oh, aye," Murie breathed, leaning into him.

"Speak," he ordered, his hands moving restlessly up and down her back and pressing her close against him.

"I told the king I dreamt about you and - ohm, that's . .. mmmm," she groaned as his head dipped and he nibbled at her collar bone. "Would you mind if we were wedded?" He stilled - his mouth, his hands, his very heart she suspected, stopping - then slowly lifted his head. Murie bit her lip and avoided his eyes, then grimaced and admitted, "I do not know if you heard about the St. Agnes Eve - "

"Aye," he growled.

"Well, Lauda, Lady Aldous," she explained, "she talked me into eating rotten meat."

"I know."

"You do?" Murie said in surprise.

"My lady, I doubt if there is anyone at court who has not heard."

"Oh." She wrinkled her nose and said, "Well, I told everyone that I had not dreamed that eve, but I did. Of you." When he didn't squawk in horror at the news, she continued.

"But the next day Lauda said that she was told that rotten meat made you dream of the man you should not marry; only fasting allows you to dream of the man you should marry."

"You do not suppose she was lying, do you?" he asked in a dry tone.

Murie blinked in surprise. "Why would she lie about such a thing? Especially when I claimed I had not dreamed of anyone." She shook her head and said, "Nay, I do not think she lied, but did wonder if this lady she spoke of might be mistaken. So, this morning I went to the king to ask which version of it was true, and Becker said - Becker is very smart, you understand; he knows everything. I always go to him when I am uncertain about knowledge. Unfortunately, I have to go through the king to get to him, because if the king thought I was going to Becker rather than him, I think his feelings would be hurt and - " This time, rather than kiss her to silence her nervous rambling, Balan simply covered her mouth.

"You went to the king to ask about the true version of the superstition. Nod or shake your head."

Murie nodded.

"And you told him you dreamt of me?"

She nodded.

"And now he has decided we should marry?"

Murie nodded again, and when his hand dropped away, she blurted, "I did remind him that he promised I might choose my own husband, but he seemed to think the dream was my choosing and told Becker to fetch you. But I did not wish you to walk in there unprepared, and if you do not wish to marry me, I surely understand and will not be offended and will do my best to talk him out of it. Though the king can be rather obstinate on some points, and I - "

Balan kissed her to silence her again, this time covering her mouth in an aggressive, demanding manner. It left her breathless. When he pulled away, Murie was swaying on her feet, her eyes unfocused.

"We shall marry," he announced, and turned to walk away. Murie blinked after him, the shock quickly clearing her mind. She then hopped off the tower stone and hurried after him, slipping and sliding in the mud but uncaring that it was ruining her gown. "Really?"

Pausing, Balan turned to glance at her, then frowned and scooped her into his arms. "Is it what you wish?"

"I... You ..." Murie paused, blew a stray hair out of her face and peered up at him, her body relaxed in his arms. "Well, St. Agnes seems to think it would be a good idea."

His eyes narrowed, mouth twisting with displeasure. "For any reason other than that?"

She considered the matter, then admitted, "I think you are very handsome."

"You do?" he asked. When she nodded shyly, he stared at her.

"And I find you lovely."

Murie smiled and added, "And Emilie and Reginald and even the king seem to think a lot of you, so I already know you are a good man."

"And you are not the horrible brat everyone believes you are." Murie blinked at the back-handed compliment.

"Anything else?" he asked.

She blushed but admitted, "I like your kisses, my lord." A grin took his mouth, and he bent to lightly press another to her lips.

"We shall deal well together," he decided, and turned to continue on to the castle, carrying her in his arms.

Murie stared at his strong face and gave a little sigh, then slid her arms around his neck. It seemed that the decision was made; she would marry Balan. Her mind immediately began to make plans: She would have a new doublet sewn for him for their wedding, a fine new doublet made from the best materials and of colors that would suit him. And she would commission a dress for the child Juliana to be given when they reached Gaynor. And she would order all the things she thought Gaynor might need. The list was endless.

With nothing to delay it, and wishing Emilie and Reginald to be able to attend, Murie did not protest when the king decided the wedding should be a week hence. It meant she would spend the week running in circles trying to get everything done, but with the help of Emilie, Becker and several other servants, she handled everything she wished and even managed to present herself at the wedding both on time and dressed in a lovely new gown of pale blue, with a surcoat of burgundy to match the doublet and houpelande she'd had made for Balan.

Murie was most gratified when her husband arrived in the new garb. He looked very handsome and even regal.

The wedding passed in a blur for Murie; all she could later recall was a buzzing in her ears and being surrounded by people. She was most grateful when it was over and Balan was pressing the wedding kiss to her lips. It was a quick, perfunctory kiss, nothing like the kisses in her dream or the ones in the shelter of the tower wall, but she hardly expected such in front of so many people.

Taking her hand, Balan led her back through the well-wishers and in front of the procession back to the hall for the feast to follow. That too passed in a blur for Murie. She had a vague recollection of Balan feeding her sweetmeats and pressing a chalice of wine to her lips with concern on his face, and saying something about her being quite pale; and then the queen was beside her with her ladies-in-waiting and Emilie at her back, announcing it was time for the bedding.

Murie would have liked to have swooned then and slept through what followed, but she had too hearty a constitution for that. She stayed awake all through the chatter and - not always kind - teasing of the women as they stripped her of her clothing and then put her in the bed. Only Emilie's reassuring murmurs, glances and pats on the hand kept her from striking out at one of the court cows or bursting into sobs. And this time her sorrow would have been for real. Fortunately, Emilie was there, her presence a calming influence that kept Murie teetering on the edge of panic but not falling.

Once in the bed with the linens drawn up, the worst of it should have been done, but Murie found what followed just as distressing. The queen gave her an encouraging smile and moved to open the door. The men immediately burst in, the king leading the procession and Balan in the middle being half dragged, half carried as if he were a prisoner of war. Osgoode and Reginald were among the men who immediately began stripping him, and Murie watched wide-eyed as her new husband was denuded before her.

He really was an impressive sight, with his wide strong shoulders and muscular chest tapering to a flat stomach. Mary swallowed as her eyes dropped lower, then quickly turned her gaze away and tried to pretend she was anywhere but there. The men finished stripping her husband and then pulled the linens away, briefly revealing her own nudity as they slipped him into the bed at her side.

Murie was in such a state, she hardly heard the ribald jests and approving comments before the linens were replaced and the room began to empty out.

Balan watched the last of the people vacate the room before turning to peer at his wife. Murie looked like a deer spotting danger: eyes wide, body seemingly frozen stiff.

He sighed to himself. This was going to be a long night. He would have to handle her most delicately, ease her into this business of the marital bed. She would be a virgin after all, with a virgin's sensibilities and no doubt all sorts of ridiculous beliefs put into her head by the church, beliefs about the relations between a husband and wife and all that they should and shouldn't do. Shaking his head, he turned carefully in the bed so as not to startle or frighten her, intending only to assure her all would be well; but before he could speak, she threw herself at him, plastering her mouth to his. After the briefest startlement, Balan shrugged and slid his arms around his wife, using one hand to hold her head at an angle he liked, and began to teach her how to kiss properly.

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