What She Wants Chapter nineteen

Willa shifted on the furs and grimaced into the darkness of the tent. She had a terrible need to relieve herself... again. It was a frequent problem of late, though it had only become inconvenient since the beginning of this journey.

They were on their way to court. Willa had no idea what the king's messenger had said, but Hugh had returned to their room after meeting with him to announce that they were leaving for court the next day. He'd said they were going to pledge their fealty and resolve the matter of her father once and for all. Willa had felt a touch queasy ever since.

Her father. Lord Tristan D'Orland. The man who was trying to kill her. Or, at least, the man whose nephew was trying to kill her... presumably at his behest.

Her discomfort forced her back to the matter at hand and Willa scowled with displeasure. They'd had to stop often and repeatedly that day to allow her to tend to this very need. It was most annoying. It was also embarrassing, since everyone had to stop and wait on the path for Hugh to lead her off into the woods to find a handy bush. Of course, he would insist on accompanying her, which had only made the matter more embarrassing for Willa. She supposed it was odd after all the intimate things they had done, but she found it rather mortifying to relieve herself over a log while her husband stood guard inches away.

Willa rolled onto her side and peered at the dark shape of her husband. She wished she could hold it until morning. Unfortunately, her body wasn't cooperating.

Making a face, she considered slipping out on her own to tend the matter, but knew that would infuriate Hugh. Besides, the idea of creeping about alone in the dark woods was rather daunting. Then, too, even if she'd found the courage to do so, there was a guard sitting by the fire in the center of the camp. She wasn't likely to slip past him undetected.

"Husband?" She gave him a gentle shake. Hugh snuffled in his sleep and rolled away from her. Willa shook him more vigorously. "Husband?"

He muttered something in his sleep and shrugged her hand away.

Willa scowled. She really had to go. She punched his arm. "Husband!"

"What? What!" He sat upright at once, taking the furs with him. Willa slid off the camp bed she and Eada had made earlier and felt around for her gown.

"Willa?" He hissed. "What is happening?"

"I am getting dressed, I have to go..."

"Go?" She could hear the frown in his voice. "Go where?"

"I have to go... you know." She grimaced into the darkness as she found her gown and pulled it on, then added meaningfully, "Now."

"Again?" There was no mistaking the irritation in his voice. It sparked a responding irritation in Willa. It was not as if she wished to go. Nor was it her fault. She didn't know why she was so plagued by the need of late.

"You needn't exert yourself, husband. I can tend the matter on my own. I simply did not wish you to get upset with me for wandering off alone." Forsaking her shoes, she sailed out of the tent in a fine snit.

"Willa!" Much cursing and rustling sounded inside the tent and she could imagine him bumping blindly about in search of his clothes. Willa offered an embarrassed smile to the guard when he glanced curiously her way, then began to tap her foot as she waited outside the tent flap. Hugh charged out a moment later in only his braies, nearly knocking her to the ground in his rush. He sighed his relief as he steadied her.

"I thought you had left without me," he explained.

Nodding, Willa turned and led the way into the woods. She hadn't gone far when her annoyance petered out under nervousness... and that embarrassed her, too. She'd grown up in an isolated cottage in the midst of the woods. She should not be so tense and anxious now. But she was.

"What is it?" Hugh asked in hushed tones when she paused.

"I cannot see where I am going," Willa lied. It was dark, but it was also a clear night and the stars were shining brightly. Her eyes had adjusted quickly and though she was not able to see as well as she could during daylight, she could make out trees and logs and things in her path as darker shadows. She simply wanted him to lead the way. Which he did. Taking her hand, Hugh stepped around her and began to lead her deeper into the trees.

It wasn't long before he stopped. Apparently he'd found a place he felt was appropriate. Willa peered at the dark spot he gestured to and grimaced. She was suddenly beset with a vast list of concerns. Snakes, poison ivy, insects and night creatures were among them.

"Well?" Hugh prompted.

Willa pushed her concerns aside and moved to tend to the matter. It was no less embarrassing a chore in the dark than it had been in daylight and she decided that traveling - something she'd done rarely in the past - was perhaps not for her. First off, Hugh would not let her ride astride. He'd not even been willing to consider it. No wife of his was going to wear braies and ride astride. Even after a whole day riding sidesaddle, she still found the position uncomfortable. Willa wasn't one to think of herself as needing coddling, but this traveling business was a damned nuisance all the way around.

"Are you done?" Hugh whispered and Willa rolled her eyes at the question. Surely he could hear that she wasn't done? To her, it sounded as loud as a down-pour of rain in the silent night. It was on that thought that she suddenly realized how silent the forest was. The rustle of night creatures had died. The night was still. She knew this was a bad sign.

Finishing quickly, Willa straightened. She set her clothes back in order as she joined her husband. When she touched Hugh's arm, she found him hard with tension. He was almost humming with it. Willa let her gaze slide over the shadows surrounding them. None of them seemed out of place or alarming. There was a tree, another tree, another tree that moved. Willa's nails dug into Hugh's arm, but he'd apparently seen it as well, and was even then grabbing her arm and dragging her behind a tree. Willa listened to her thundering heart and watched the dark outline of her husband. She was trying to judge by his pose whether he thought they had been spotted.

After a few moments of tense silence, she moved her mouth to his ear and whispered, "The guard."

Calling out for the guard at camp to come aid them seemed a good idea to her, but Hugh shook his head. Willa settled in to wait, then nearly gasped aloud when Hugh's grip suddenly tightened on her arm and he drew her slowly backward through the trees. When he paused again after a few moments, she pressed her mouth to his ear again and asked, "Why do we not just call the guard?"

"Because 'twould pinpoint our position, and I left my sword behind in my rush to follow you," he hissed back. Then he added, "He is between us and camp. He may just be one of our men looking to relieve himself as well, but I cannot be sure, and without a sword I dare not - " His words died an abrupt death as something whistled past their heads. Then Hugh suddenly whirled her around and shouted. "Run!"

Willa broke into a sprint at once. Crashing blindly through the trees, she winced as branches slapped at her face and pulled at her hair. It was possible the guard at camp had heard Hugh's shout and might come to their aid, but it didn't seem prudent to wait for him with arrows flying past their heads - for that was what that whistle had been, an arrow sailing by. Whoever the shadow was, he obviously wasn't one of the men seeking to relieve himself.

Aware that Hugh was at her back, vulnerable to any future arrows the man might send their way, Willa ran as fast as her legs would carry her. She had no desire to lose Hugh now.

Her husband jerked on her arm, turning her to the right, and Willa continued in that direction without breaking stride. She managed to avoid colliding with a tree by doing a twisting turn that Lucan had shown her to avoid an oncoming blow from a sword. The action briefly broke Hugh's hold on her, but when it returned seconds later, she guessed that he'd avoided the tree as well.

After several moments, Hugh suddenly jerked her to the left, though not as sharply as the first turn. She again continued to run without faltering. Willa was sure that her training during the last month was the only reason she was able to run as far and fast as she did. She was just starting to tire when the trees suddenly fell away. That was enough to make her slow. Unprepared for this sudden action on her part, Hugh trod painfully on the back of her heel. Despite that, Willa was grateful for her caution when she realized the deeper darkness yawning ahead was the edge of a cliff. She stumbled to a halt at once, throwing her arms out to prevent Hugh from racing past her.

"What is it?" he asked, grabbing her to steady them both. Then he came to her side and peered over the cliff edge where she had halted. A curse slid from his lips as he gazed down at the water bubbling far below. He turned away at once and Willa could see his eyes frantically searching for a hiding place in the moonlight. Now that they were out of the trees, it was much lighter. Light enough to see features and expressions. Light enough to be a good target.

"The trees," he said at last and took her arm to drag her back the way they had come. "We will climb one and hope he does not see us."

"But what if he does?" Willa protested, dragging at his hold. "We shall be plump pigeons for him to shoot down with his arrows."

Hugh paused and turned to his wife, frustration boiling within him. He could hear their pursuer crashing closer through the woods. The man was not far behind them. This was no time for Willa to be questioning his decisions. Why could she not just obey him? "Wife - "

"Husband," she countered quickly. "The trees are the first place he will look. He will not expect you to make me jump with you. And look." She held her arms out, drawing his gaze to the white shift she wore. "I dressed in the dark. I thought I had donned my gown, but nay, 'tis my shift."

Hugh swallowed as he felt alarm crawl through him. Her white shift was very visible in the night.

"Let us jump," she urged. "I am a strong swimmer. I spent many summer days swimming once we moved to the cottage."

The sounds their pursuer made as he ran after them were becoming alarmingly close, but still Hugh hesitated. He considered their chances; hers, then his, then theirs. Finally, he nodded and urged her back to the cliff edge. He peered down and almost changed his mind again. It was an awfully long way down, the jump risky. Unfortunately it was too late to change his mind. He turned and pulled Willa against him for a quick kiss, then instructed, "Swim down river as far as you dare. I would suggest you try to make your way back to the camp, but 'tis too risky. You might run into our pursuer. Instead, follow the river to the next castle and try to get help there."

Even in the night he could see her frown. "Are you not coming? Will you send me off on my own?"

Hugh's expression was tortured. "Willa... I do not swim."

"You told me that at the river, my lord. But do you not think this might be the time to make an exception?"

"Nay. You do not understand. I do not swim."

"Do not?" She was silent for a moment, and then her eyes widened in comprehension. "Do you mean you cannot? You do not know how?"

Hugh winced. He preferred the "do not" to the "cannot." He'd always forsaken such frivolous pursuits as poetry writing and swimming for the more lauded skills of battle. The skills he'd chosen to hone had served him well. Until he'd encountered Willa. Only lately had these less lauded skills seemed almost necessary. Much to his relief, Willa did not force him to admit to this lack in his abilities. Instead, she asked, "What will you do?"

"I will climb a tree."

"You cannot!" she cried. "There is no time now. He is almost upon us."

"All the more reason for you to go. Now." He urged her closer to the edge.

"Husband. Prithee, come with me. I shall swim for both of us."

Hugh started to shake his head, but she caught his face with her hands. Her gaze burned into his in the darkness. "You must trust me, husband. I shall not let you drown. I love you."

Hugh froze at this revelation. This was the absolute worst time she could reveal such a thing, and the absolute best. But did he dare allow her to try to carry them both to safety? He believed he had no chance if he did not jump. He also believed he had no chance on his own in the water. But Willa... Hugh was sure she had a chance on her own, but that he would be a burden that would much diminish her chances.

"Trust in me," Willa pleaded.

Torn, Hugh closed his eyes. Suddenly, the witch's words ran through his head as if she were whispering them in his ear. "What I see is that you will be perched on a precipice. If you choose one way, all will be well. Do you choose the other... death."

A rustling sound drew his attention and he opened his eyes to see that she'd removed her shift so it would not hamper her. Willa stepped naked before him and held out her hand.

Hugh hesitated briefly, then took it. In the next moment they had jumped and were sailing toward the water below.

Landing in the river was like leaping into a hill of snow. Willa gasped at the shock, then closed her mouth as the water covered her head. She shot downward and hit the river bottom with a jolt. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she pushed upward. Her hand tightened on her husband's, dragging him with her. Relief coursed through her as she broke the surface, but then Hugh began trying to free his hand. Gulping in air, she turned in the water, he didn't know how to stay afloat and was panicking. Willa quickly moved closer and wrapped her arm under his chin, pulling him back against her chest to keep his head above water.

"Do not fight," she panted, tightening her hold on him as he instinctively struggled. Fortunately, he ignored his instincts and obeyed almost at once. Willa felt relief course through her again. They could do this. She could do this. Her gaze slid up the cliff and she spotted the dark shadow of a man standing there. He was surveying the river, but she didn't think he could see them. If he could, she was sure he would be pointing his bow at them. Still, Willa immediately stopped fighting the current, allowing it to carry them down river and away from him.

They traveled a good distance like that before Willa judged that they had gone far enough; then she cut toward shore at a wide angle so she would waste as little energy as possible struggling against the current. It was still a wearying battle as she dragged him inch by inch toward the riverside. Hugh was trying to assist by kicking his legs, but he was less than helpful, especially since he was kicking her with every other move. She nearly ordered him to stop, but decided against it. This would be hard enough on him without taking away any small illusion he might have of aiding their escape. Willa was very aware that her husband felt he'd failed her several times since their marriage. His male pride needed no further battering.

"Are you alright? If you are tiring, let me go. Save yourself," Hugh said, and suddenly Willa realized that she was tiring. Her muscles were beginning to ache and she'd unconsciously slowed her efforts. She was not going to let him go, however.

Willa twisted her head around to see that they had covered perhaps half the distance to the riverside. They should have gotten farther than that, but then she realized that the current had grown swifter. The river must be shallower here. She let one foot drop, hoping to find the riverbed, but it hadn't gotten that shallow. Gritting her teeth, Willa renewed her efforts, grateful for the weeks of training that had strengthened her muscles and taught her to continue through the pain. She did the same thing she'd learned to do on the practice field; Willa ignored the pain and counted her strokes to distract herself. The trick worked. Still, when her heel suddenly brushed solid ground an eternity later, she could have sobbed with relief.

Willa immediately let both legs drop and floundered briefly as she tried to gain her footing. Apparently thinking her strength had given out, Hugh began to struggle, trying to catch at her and hold her above water even as he was sinking. Then his own feet hit the riverbed and she heard him mutter, "Thank God," as he stood and helped her to her feet in the water. The current was strong here and Willa was so exhausted, she needed his assistance in stumbling to shore.

The moment they were out of the grasping water, Willa collapsed to her knees on the ground. Hugh knelt beside her, concern on his face.

"Are you alright?" he asked, hugging her close as she began to shiver. She felt his hands begin to chafe her skin, trying to warm her. Hugh rubbed her arms vigorously, then her legs, then started on her back and sides. Willa's muscles began to relax and some of the chill left her. They were safe. They had escaped their pursuer and the river. Nothing else mattered. Not her exhaustion, not the cold, not her nakedness -

She pulled away from him and sat upright with a squawk.

"What is it?" Hugh asked, glancing swiftly around with alarm.

"I am naked!" Willa cried.

Hugh relaxed, a grin covering his face as his chafing slowed to a more caressing movement. "Aye. That you are, my lady wife. I rather like you this way."

Willa rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue impatiently as she struggled to her feet. Leave it to a man to see this calamity as a benefit. He was not the one who had to return to camp naked as the day he was born!

Hugh stood beside her, his lascivious expression fading to concern. "Mayhap you should rest awhile longer. You strained yourself to save us."

"We saved us," Willa told him firmly and struck out in the general direction she thought would lead them back to camp.

"You saved us," Hugh corrected, not sounding too pleased to say so.

"Nay," Willa insisted, batting at the branches that tried to scrape her tender flesh as she struggled through them. "We saved us. You saved us first, then I saved us. We saved us."

"How did I save us?" he asked with amazement, reaching past her to grab at a branch and push it out of her way.

"You saved us in the woods by detecting the presence of our attacker and then shielding me with your body as we ran."

Hugh snorted at that and reached past her to remove another branch from her path. "That was hardly saving us. You could have run through the woods alone."

"But I did not. I did not even realize there was a problem and would not have on my own. I would have sat there all unsuspecting, like a fat pheasant for him to shoot." She grimaced at the idea. "I can imagine my epitaph now. 'Here lies Willa Dulonget, shot through the heart whilst draining the dragon.' Dear God, the mourners would be giggling into their sleeves."

She heard what sounded suspiciously like a snort of laughter from Hugh; then he cleared his throat and asked, "Er... where did you hear that term?"

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"Baldulf," Willa told him, then cursed and paused to rub her foot. She'd stepped on something sharp. Releasing her foot as the pain eased, she started to walk again and explained, "He used it all the time. When I was young, I thought he was really going to drain a dragon, though I was not sure how you would drain one, and of what, exactly. I was curious to find out though, but Eada caught me sneaking out to try to see the dragon and had to explain that 'twas not what I thought."

"Hmm." He pushed another branch out of her way. "Apparently, she did not do a very good job in the explaining."

"What do you mean?" she asked indignantly. "Of course she did."

"Nay. She didn't. Else you would not have just used it."

Willa stopped walking to turn on him, hands on hips. "Why?"

"You haven't a dragon to drain."

She blinked in confusion at his words, then her gaze dropped to his braies and her eyes went wide as she understood. "Oh."

"Aye. Oh." Hugh laughed then scooped her up into his arms when she stepped on something else and paused to rub her foot again. Willa began to protest, but he merely shook his head. "Hush. You got us out of the water. I shall get us back to camp. Just rest."

After hesitating, Willa leaned her head against his chest and gave in. She was warmer in his arms and she did not have the trouble of stepping on things. Why fuss?

They fell into a companionable silence as he carried her. Willa would have spoken but did not wish to tax him by making him talk while carting her. Eventually, her eyes began to droop and she yawned. Before she was even aware of it creeping up on her, sleep had claimed her.

Willa wasn't sure how long she'd slept when she next open her eyes. Hugh was still walking with her in his arms, but the night seemed lighter. Morning was coming.

"How far - " she began, but he hushed her and suddenly slowed. Willa tensed in his arms.

After several moments of silence had passed, she could stand it no longer and asked in an anxious whisper, "What is it? Did you hear or see something?"

"Aye. I think the men are coming. The guard must have heard my shout. They have sent a search party." He frowned down at her, then around at the surrounding bushes. He started toward the bushes on their right, then paused. He was obviously hesitant to leave her there, but equally displeased by the idea of the men seeing her naked as she was.

"Cover yourself with your hair," he suggested at last. Willa immediately began pulling her damp hair around and arranging it over her breasts and stomach. Unfortunately, it wasn't as long as it used to be. The fire at the cottage had singed a good length of it and Eada had had to cut it off at waist level. It left her bare from the waist down, but Hugh shifted his hold so that his right arm was under her bottom. He tilted her up so that her front was toward him. All that would be seen was some of her derriere. That was mortifying enough.

"Could you not leave me here and fetch me back a gown?" she asked hopefully, but wasn't surprised when he shook his head.

"Our attacker failed. He has proven persistent. I will not leave you unprotected."

Willa's shoulders sagged with resignation. She buried her face against his chest as a call rang out through the trees and Hugh shouted back. There was an immediate flurry of activity and Willa guessed the men had broken into a run. She then heard what sounded like several people crashing into the clearing. The men must have stopped dead at the sight of them, for there was an abrupt silence and Willa could almost feel several pairs of eyes on her. She was suddenly grateful that it wasn't full light, for she was sure she was blushing all the way down to her bare toes.

"Jesu!" She thought that was Lucan. The barely breathed expletive seemed to act as a cue to everyone. Suddenly, there was rustling all around them, and the snapping of twigs as the men drew near.

Willa felt warm cloth being draped over her and blinked her eyes open. She turned to see that it had indeed been Lucan she'd heard. He'd removed his doublet and was even now laying it over her waist and hips. Even as she opened her mouth to thank him, she saw that Jollivet was there as well, and was shucking his own doublet. He rushed forward to drape it over her upper body. Baldulf was right behind him with his own doublet. It went over her legs. Even as he stepped away another man was stepping forward to add to her covering.

Willa peered around in amazement. There were at least six more men lining up to cover her nakedness. Of course, she wasn't naked anymore. In fact, as garment after garment was piled on top of her, Willa found herself with a new problem. She was growing exceedingly warm, but found she did not have the heart to reject a one of their offerings. They all looked so solemn as they buried her under the mountain of clothing, one would think she was dead. So Willa suffered the now uncomfortable heat and murmured her thanks, grateful when Hugh grunted and started forward again.

She listened idly as Lucan verified that the guard had heard his shout, roused the others and hurried out in search of them with torches. Lucan had found the arrow in the tree and Baldulf had found her gown on the cliff. They had deduced what had happened and started to follow the river in search of them.

As the men spoke, Willa had a sudden realization. Her husband spoke differently around the men than he did when alone with her. Around the men he mostly grunted and nodded and made short one- or two-word comments. When alone with her, he often spoke in full sentences. Hugh also tended to walk a little taller, brace his shoulders so they looked wider, and kept a much sterner expression around the men than he bothered with when they were alone.

She pondered these oddities all the way back to camp, and was still pondering them when Eada rushed forward to greet them.

"Are ye alright?" The woman asked anxiously, following Hugh as he carried Willa to their tent.

"Aye." Willa smiled at her over Hugh's shoulder. Then Hugh stepped into the tent.

"Let me see her," Eada ordered, waving him out of the way the moment he'd set her on their makeshift bed.

Willa cast her husband a sympathetic look as he moved out of the way. His expression was disgruntled and she knew he found it hard to put up with Eada's bossiness at times.

" 'Tis a chill night for a swim," Eada commented as she stripped away doublet after doublet, handing each one to Hugh.

Willa merely grimaced, then released a breath of relief as the last of the garments came away. Eada began to examine her for injuries. "I am fine."

" 'Tis not you I am worried about," Eada said distractedly. " 'Tis the babes."

"Babes!" She and Hugh cried the word as one. Willa sat up abruptly on the furs, while Hugh dropped to sit on them, the doublets slipping from his hands. Eada rolled her eyes at their reaction.

"Well, I told ye he would plant twins in ye the first time he bedded ye," she said with exasperation.

"Oh... aye. You did... I had forgotten." Her gaze slid to Hugh and she saw that he'd quite forgotten, too. He looked about as stunned as she felt.

"I think they're alright." Eada straightened. "Ye must be more careful, though."

"She will be," Hugh said staunchly, and Willa immediately felt concern grip her. She had a feeling his idea of careful and hers might clash. He was looking rather stern again... and there wasn't a single man there to see it.

Willa opened her eyes and sat upright. After Eada had declared her alright, Hugh had suggested she rest. He'd then stood at the flap of the tent to give his orders to his men before returning inside. Willa had just managed to make herself comfortable when he'd joined her in their makeshift bed and dragged her to his side. She'd been a tad annoyed as he arranged her like a rag doll half atop him, but had pushed the feeling away, deciding that his protectiveness was rather sweet, until he'd shoved her head against his chest and ordered, "Sleep."


Willa shook her head, sure for a moment that she was imagining that voice. Her memory was playing tricks with her.

"Sleep," Hugh repeated, this time grabbing her arm to tug her back onto his chest. He pressed her head down as he had before and lay still.

Willa pursed her lips, irritation running through her. She started to say that she was not tired, then changed it to, "I need to drain the dragon that is not a dragon."

"Agai - " He cut the complaint off and sat up, taking her with him. "Of course. The babes are probably bouncing on your bladder."

Willa grimaced at this description and pulled away from him to search for her gown. She dressed, then stood to await Hugh as he donned his belt.

Once he was finished, he took her arm and led her out of the tent. Willa had expected him to lead her into the bushes right away, so she was surprised when he paused and barked out, "Rufus, Albin, Kerrich and Enion!"

The four guards rushed forward.

"Come," was all he said. Then he walked Willa into the woods, followed by the four men. After several moments, he stopped and turned to the men. "Rufus, you, stand there. Albin, over here. Enion - "

"Husband," Willa said, interrupting his arrangement of the men in a square around the tree. A horrible suspicion was coming over her.

"Aye?" He appeared irritated with her interruption.

"What are you doing?"

"Stationing the men," he explained. Then he turned back to point to the third man. "Enion, right here, and Kerrich there. What is it, Willa?" he added as she tugged at his tunic to get his attention.

"The men. What - I mean, why are they here?"

"To help me guard you, of course."

He said it as if she must be daft not to have realized this. She had realized it, but had hoped she was wrong. She wasn't.

"Go ahead," he prompted when she merely stared at him.

"Go ahead?" she asked weakly. "You expect me to - With them - I - "

"Oh." He smacked himself on the forehead with the palm of his hand, apparently just realizing the problem. Then he ordered the men, "Turn your backs."

He waited until the four men had all pivoted so that they stood with their backs to each other as well as to the spot Hugh intended her to use. Then he nodded his satisfaction and glanced at her expectantly.

Willa released a whimpering sound. This immediately elicited an alarmed expression from Hugh. "What is the matter? Are you not feeling well?" Willa closed her eyes and immediately felt his hands clamp onto her wrists. "Willa?"

Her eyes popped open. They were blazing. "I cannot water the dragon with them here."

"Drain the dragon," he corrected with a frown.

"What does it matter?" she exploded. "I haven't a dragon to drain, but you know what I mean."

He released a put-upon sigh, as if she were the one being unreasonable. "Willa."

"Do not 'Willa' me!" she snapped. "I am not doing it with them here!"


"Why?" She stared at him, wondering how she'd neglected to notice that her husband was a complete clodpole.

"Aye. Why? They will not see you," he pointed out reasonably. But he was looking even more concerned over her outburst than he had at her whimpering.

Willa supposed she shouldn't be surprised. She did try to be a dutiful wife, but there were just some limits to these things. Or perhaps she was growing comfortable enough with him to allow her true nature to reign. Trying for calm, she said, "They will hear me."

"Hear you?" he asked with a disbelieving laugh, and Willa glared at him.

"Aye. They will hear me. That is enough to make it impossible."

They were silent for a moment, Willa glaring at him, Hugh appearing to chew the matter over. Then he cleared his throat, turned to the men and ordered, "Sing."

There was a brief silence; then each of the men turned to peer uncertainly at Hugh. He scowled at their disbelieving looks. "Aye. You heard me. Sing."

The men now glanced at each other, then back. One of them - Willa believed it was the fellow named Kerrich - cleared his throat and asked, "What should we sing, my lord?"

"I do not care. Just sing," Hugh said with exasperation, then added, "As loudly as you can."

There was another moment of silence. Then Kerrich began to sing in a rusty baritone. Willa caught the first few words of what sounded like a rather ribald song, and then Rufus began something entirely different. Apparently, he didn't know that song. Enion and Albin were quick to follow, singing two entirely different songs from the first two. The woods were polluted with four different songs in four different keys, the noise becoming a horrible clashing clangor.

"There!" Hugh shouted with satisfaction. "Now they will not hear you."

Willa gaped at him briefly, then stomped around him and started back toward camp. Hugh grabbed her arm to stop her. "I thought you had to drain the dragon?"

"I do. But I refuse to do so with four men standing guard. 'Twas embarrassing enough with just you," she shouted.

He frowned at this announcement, then yelled back, "Willa, I have heard that being with child makes women unreasonable, but surely you realize that I cannot send the guards away? Not after what happened last time. You cannot wish to risk your life as well as our babies' simply to save some embarrassment?"

That made her pause. She stared at his resolute face for a moment. It was obvious he would not be moved on this matter. It seemed to her that her options were either to relieve herself in the center of the singing men, or hold it until they reached court. It was a two-day journey to court. It could be the following evening before she could relieve herself. Willa was incapable of waiting that long for a privy. Deciding that someone was going to pay for this, she stomped to the center of her four-point guard. Pausing, Willa glanced around at the backs facing her, then at Hugh, who nodded encouragingly.

As the awful clashing noise carried on, Willa tended to business and wished she were dead.
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