What She Wants Chapter Nine

The murmur of voices made Hugh's steps slow as he neared the bedchamber he and his bride were to use that night. It took him but a moment to realize it was Eada's hoarse voice speaking.

"So never fear," she was saying. "I've read the future in the dregs of yer drink and ye'll be happy. Ye'll have much love and many children and live to a ripe old age. Now, I should go below and let yer new husband know ye're ready."

He heard shuffling footsteps move toward the door, and quickly backed up several steps as it opened. Eada stepped out into the hall and pulled the door closed.

"Is that true?" Hugh asked, uncaring that she would know he'd listened in on the conversation.

Eada turned from closing the door and arched an eyebrow at Hugh in question. "Is what true?"

"What you said," he explained, irritated with himself for giving the least credence to the woman's supposed visions. "About us being happy and having many children and living long. Was it true?"

"Aye. But I said she would. I don't recall mentioning you at all," the old woman snapped, then relented at his dismayed expression. "Ye'll come quickly to love her and, aye, ye'll give her many babes. In fact, ye'll give her twins the first time ye plant yerself in her."

"Twins?" Hugh peered at her in horror.

"Aye. And if ye untangle the riddle of her birth and remove the danger, ye may even live to see them nine months later."

"And if I do not?"

"Death awaits one of ye."

"Which one?"

The old woman shrugged. "Probably you. All I know for sure is that there are two possible endings. One is that the two of ye will live a long happy life together."

Hugh was just beginning to relax when she added, "Unless ye muddle things."

He stiffened. "Muddle things how?"

She shrugged again. "Don't know."

"You do not know? Did you not ask?"

Her glance turned irritated. "It's not like placing an order with the alewife, ye know. I see what I see, and what I see is that ye'll be perched on a precipice. If ye choose one way, all will be well. Do ye choose the other - " She shrugged. "Death."

"Where does the danger lie? Who would kill one of us?" She shrugged again and Hugh shifted impatiently. "Well, you must know something of use." When she merely stared at him solemnly, his eyes narrowed. "Know you who her parents were and who wished her dead as a child?"

"That is the riddle ye must solve." With those words, she moved passed him and walked away down the hall.

Hugh watched her go, then turned to the bedchamber door. His future lay beyond it. A future filled with the bliss he knew he would find in his bride's arms. He just wished he knew if it were a long or short future.

Realizing that he was giving credence to the old witch's visions, Hugh gave his head a shake. It must be exhaustion making him so muddleheaded, he decided. The hag could not tell the future. No one could. Feeling better, he opened the door and stepped into the bedchamber.

Willa had listened to the murmur of voices outside the door and had wondered what Eada and Hugh were discussing. She'd had no trouble recognizing the timber of their voices, though she could not quite make out what they were saying. She had wished they would hurry up, however, for she very much feared that it had been a mistake to disregard Eada's instructions and take the entire pouch of herbs. She was starting to feel quite unwell. So much so that she actually began to regret all the effort she'd put into distracting Eada so that she would not again ask about the pouch of herbs. The potion was definitely helping her to relax. The problem was that she was starting to feel almost boneless, she was so relaxed. She was also quite lethargic and a touch queasy. And was the room really spinning, or was that the effect of the potion?

Hoping that sitting up would help the situation, she struggled upright in the bed, not even noticing that the linen dropped away to leave her bare from the waist up. Willa had felt funny about not wearing a shift to bed, but Eada had assured her there was no need for one as Hugh would no doubt just remove it anyway.

Slumping back against the bedpost she began breathing deeply in the hope that it would either clear her head a bit, or ease the queasiness building in her belly. It was then that Willa noticed the top half of the linen was pooled around her waist. She thought she'd best cover herself, but it seemed like too much effort. She'd definitely taken too much of the potion. Much too much.

The sound of the door opening and closing reached her ears and Willa managed to force her eyes open again. It was Hugh. He stood by the door, apparently arrested by the sight of her and she felt relief slide through her. No doubt he could tell by just looking that there was something terribly wrong with her. Which was a relief, for she did not even seem to have the energy to speak at the moment. But that would be unnecessary. He could see there was a problem. He would fetch Eada.

Hugh didn't know what he'd expected to find on entering the bedchamber. His bride all tucked up under the linens, a shy smile on her face, or perhaps even a nervous smile. Mayhap even no smile at all, but stark terror on her face. Who could know what to expect from a virgin? Hugh certainly couldn't. He'd never bedded one before. So finding her lounging in bed in a rather sexy, languid pose that left her beautiful breasts bared to him was not what he'd anticipated.

"Thank you, Uncle Richard," he breathed, marveling over the fact that he had at first actually protested marrying this woman. He must have been mad, he decided, his gazed fixed on the two sweet orbs he'd been fantasizing about below stairs. His imagination was coming up with many more things he could do with them now. Touching, suckling, nipping...

Realizing that he was wasting time imagining these things when he actually could be doing them, Hugh moved forward, undressing as he went. His surcoat was off in two steps; his tunic hit the floor with his fourth; he undid the points of his breeches and began to shove them down. This brought him to an abrupt halt since he had yet to remove his boots and his braies were caught around his ankles.

Managing to drag his eyes from Willa's breasts, he pulled the breeches back up, lifted one foot to grasp his boot and began tugging it off, hopping awkwardly. It was quite a trick, but he managed it and quickly turned his attention to the other boot. With those out of the way, he let his breeches drop again, this time stepping out of them as they hit the floor.

Hugh peered at Willa's face to gauge her reaction to her first sight of his nakedness. He felt alarm course through him at the pallor of her skin and her rather sickly expression. He supposed he'd hoped that she would be as impressed with his muscular physique as he was with her own shapely curves. It hadn't occurred to him that the very size he took pride in might cause her some concern and distress. No doubt she was wondering how they would ever fit together. For a moment Hugh was at a loss as to how to reassure her; then he took a deep breath, lifted the linen to ease into bed beside her and said, "I am your husband. You have nothing to fear from me. I shall ne'er harm you. My duty now is to protect you and tend to your wants and needs. You must trust me in this."

Her hand fluttered on the linens like a wounded bird and her mouth opened and closed without sound. She merely stared at him out of eyes full of fear. Wondering what the hell Eada had said to frighten the girl so, Hugh searched his mind for the magic words that would ease her obvious terror about what was to come. Then he recalled the passion they had shared in the stable and decided that reawakening her desire was his best bet to erase her virginal distress. To that end, he smiled and scooted closer to her in the bed until his knee touched her hip.

"We have no need of this." He flipped the linen away from them both, his gaze immediately dropping to her body. She was beautiful. Full and curvaceous and smooth-skinned. He was quite busy devouring her with his eyes when a gasping sound drew his gaze back to her face.

Willa was trying to speak, but was apparently overcome by his own naked magnificence. Her mouth opened, then closed, her eyes jerking up and down, then side to side. She was obviously too shy to allow her eyes to study his male attributes for any length of time. Hugh felt himself soften and took one of her fluttering hands in his.

" 'Tis all right, my lady. You may look at me. I will not think you forward." Her eyes seemed to roll then and he almost could have sworn she looked put out when they returned to him. He must be mistaken in that, he decided, but frowned as he saw what he was sure was panic and horror flash in her eyes. "What is it?"

He leaned forward, using her hand to pull her closer to him. She seemed to have some difficulty supporting herself, however, and slumped against his chest like a cloth doll.

"Willa?" he asked uncertainly, running his hand over her head. "Are you unwell? Do you wish to put off the bedding?"

He really hadn't wanted to ask that question, but Hugh was no animal. If she was unwell, the consummation would have to be put off. Dear God, please let her be well, he prayed. God wasn't in the mood to humor him. Nor was Willa. Her answer came in the form of a retching sound.

"A simple aye would have sufficed," Hugh whispered, then swallowed harshly as he felt his gorge rise. Dear God, the woman had just puked in his lap!

He sat unmoving, frozen to the spot by horror. Willa, however, hadn't finished making her opinions on the matter known. Her body shuddered as it was wracked with spasm after fierce spasm. Hugh peered down at her bent head where he still clasped her close to his chest, alarm beating his stomach into submission. Something was terribly wrong. She wasn't just ill, she was violently ill.

Afraid of his own stomach's response when he saw what she'd done, Hugh continued to hold her in place as his mind began frantically trying to figure out what had caused her nausea. It could not have been drink that had brought on this attack. He'd kept an eye on her throughout the meal and knew she had drunk very little. Was it something she'd eaten then? Nay, that could not be, he decided. They had shared the same trencher, eaten the same food, and his stomach felt fine. Well, it had before she'd spewed her meal on his thighs and... other parts.

Was it anxiety then that had brought this on? He had known a warrior once with a nervous stomach who vomited before every battle. Was that what she was suffering? Was she so frightened and nervous that she could not keep her food down? He'd heard of frightened virgins, but this was more than he'd expected. Or - Dear Lord! Had it been the very sight of him that had turned her stomach? That possibility was enough to make Hugh feel sick, himself.

Her retching increased in violence, stirring Hugh from his rather stunned state. Scrambling quickly away from her and off the bed, he paused to peer down at himself and had to swallow back the bile that now crept up his throat. This was... well, frankly it was disgusting, he decided and snatched the top linen off the bed to mop himself off. Having cleaned himself to the best of his abilities, he hurried around the bed to grab the basin of water there. He made a quick detour to toss the water out the window, then rushed back to the bed to shove the basin under Willa's face.

Hugh climbed onto the bed next to his new bride and held her shoulders, then patted her back helplessly as she continued to heave and retch. After several minutes of this, he began to feel a bit desperate. This was no nervous stomach. Something was terribly wrong. She needed someone more skilled to aid her. Eada was the first person who came to mind. She was considered a witch not just for her supposed ability to see the future, but also because of her healing abilities.

Unwilling to leave Willa alone, Hugh began bellowing from the bed. After three or four shouts, he admitted to himself that no one could hear him through the door. He would have to leave her briefly to fetch aid. Hugh wasn't even sure Willa heard his words, but he wasted several moments telling her where he was going. Then, he left her there on the bed and rushed out into the hall.

Of course there was no one about above stairs. Everyone was still in the great hall below. He rushed to the top of the steps, uncaring of his nakedness and began bellowing again. This time his shouts had a more gratifying effect. Despite the music and laughter and general noise, a few people heard him. Or perhaps it was simply that someone happened to look up and spy him. Whatever the case, there were gasps at the sight of the new lord standing naked at the top of the steps, bellowing at the top of his lungs. The great hall went quiet as everyone turned to stare at him.

"I need Eada," he roared into that sudden silence. "Willa is unwell."

The old crone was immediately on her feet and rushing for the stairs. Satisfied that she was on her way, Hugh turned and hurried back to the bedchamber. Willa was hanging weakly over the basin he'd set before her. This was an encouraging sight, he thought. At least she seemed more aware and not quite as weak as she'd been at first.

Hugh rushed to her side and sat on the edge of the bed. He brushed her hair off her face. "Willa?" he said gently, relieved when her dazed eyes opened and fixed on him. "You have been ill. Do you know what happened?"

She seemed to try to nod her head, then whispered, "Potion."

"Potion?" Hugh frowned, then left her lying there and moved off the bed to look around the room. He found the empty pitcher by the fire. Two mugs and an empty bag sat beside it. Examining the bag, he realized at once that it had held herbs of some sort or other not long ago. And judging by the weedy remains in the mug she'd used, there had been quite a bit of potion in the bag and all of it had been used.

Cursing, Hugh tossed the bag aside and hurried back to the bed. "Willa?" Grabbing her by the shoulders, he gave her a shake. "Willa? How much potion was there? What was it? What did you take?"

"Too much," she moaned miserably. Her head dropped back and her eyes closed. Hugh didn't know if she'd fallen asleep, fainted or passed out. He tried rousing her again by first shaking her, then patting her face, but nothing seemed to work. He was relieved when he glanced toward the door to see Eada rushing in... until he saw that she was followed by Wynekyn, Lucan and Jollivet. Hugh opened his mouth to order them out, but Wynekyn spotted Willa and stopped abruptly. He nearly tumbled forward onto his face as Lucan and Jollivet crashed into him from behind.

"Are you alright?" Lucan asked, managing to catch the older man before he fell.

"Oh my!" Jollivet breathed, though whether the exclamation was at the sight of Willa's nakedness, or the smell and mess in the room was hard to say. Hugh didn't care. Moving around the bed, he waved Eada toward Willa and strode grimly toward the three men, ready to remove them bodily if necessary. It wasn't necessary. The men blanched and retreated, their noses wrinkling, their gazes dropping to his decorated lap. He'd done a rather poor job of cleaning up but he'd been more concerned with Willa at the time.

"If you are hoping that will be the new fashion, I fear 'twill not take at all," Jollivet commented drolly, then turned sharply on his heel and exited the room as Hugh's face twisted with rage.

"We will wait in the hall," Lucan assured him and followed hard on the other man's heels.

"Er... yes." Wynekyn backed toward the door, his concerned gaze bouncing to Willa and away when she began to retch again. "Do let us know what is happening once you have - " he waved vaguely toward Hugh's groin - "cleaned up."

He pulled the door closed behind himself with a snap.

"What happened?" Eada asked. Hugh turned to find her examining the girl.

"She said she took too much potion." There was no denying the accusation in his tone or his eyes as he glared at the old woman. She ignored him as she worked. Hugh allowed her to disregard him, waiting impatiently as she lifted Willa's eyelids, poked at her skin, looked inside her mouth.

"She will not wake up," he said at last when his patience had about run out. "She took too much of your potion."

"The potion was to relax her," the old witch told him calmly. " 'Twas to ease yer first night together."

"Aye. Well, as you can see, it worked. Too well. She is too relaxed."

"Nay," the witch said harshly. "She isn't relaxed. She's dying."

"What?" Hugh bellowed in shock. Ignoring him, Eada turned to peer about the room, then zeroed in on the pitcher and mugs by the fire. Hugh settled on the bed and half-lifted Willa to lean against him again as the crone crossed the room. He watched her pick up the used mug, sniff it briefly, then set it down and sniff the half empty pitcher. She stiffened then, her eyes shooting to him. "Did you drink any of this?"

"Nay. Why?"

" 'Tis poison."

"What?" His arms tightened convulsively around Willa. "She said she had taken too much of your potion."

"Aye." The witch picked up the empty pouch. " 'Tis probably what saved her. I told her to use it sparingly. A little would have relaxed her. The whole pouch is what made her purge the poison."

"Will she be alright?" Hugh asked, peering down at Willa's pale face with concern.

Eada's response was to set down the pouch, walk over to collect the empty chamber pot and carry it back to the bed.

"Lay her on her stomach with her head hanging off the bed," Eada instructed, removing the basin Hugh had fetched for her earlier. He shifted her around at once, then held Willa with one hand at her back, the other at her forehead to keep her head from falling forward. He watched curiously as the witch set the chamber pot on the floor beneath her and tugged a feather from a small bag she'd brought with her. She opened Willa's mouth and stuck the feather inside.

"What are you - " Hugh began, then cursed and tightened his hold on Willa as she began to shudder and convulse, tossing up some more of whatever mixture she had in her stomach. "Dear God, has she not suffered enough? Would you make her - "

"We have to make her purge all of the poison if she's to live," the witch interrupted calmly. She waited until Willa's fit ended then forced the feather down her throat to start another round of retching. She did not stop until Willa was bringing nothing more up. Hugh winced as her body spasmed over and over again without satisfaction.

"That should be enough," the witch announced. He watched affection move across her features as she looked at the limp woman he held; then her expression closed and she stood abruptly. "She will feel like death when she wakes up. Hungry, too, no doubt, but she probably won't be able to keep anything down."

"Why did you not see this coming?" Hugh couldn't keep his irritation out of his voice as he eased his bride around to lie on her back. When he glanced at the witch, however, she shrugged with unconcern.

"I don't see everything," she said simply.

"So much for my twins." The witch actually cracked a smile at his complaint as Hugh covered Willa. He wasn't amused, however, and let her know as much.

"I do not see what is so funny. This all just proves that you are an old fraud. You said I would plant twins in her tonight. Somehow I do not see that as much of a possibility. Do you?"

"I said ye would plant twins in her the first time ye released yer seed. I never said 'twould be tonight."

Hugh let the matter drop. He was too weary to argue. Besides, he was beginning to see that there was no sense in disputing the crone; she always seemed to have an answer. But then, what woman didn't? He watched her leave, then glanced down at Willa. She was still pale, but not alarmingly so as she'd been earlier. And even pale, she was amazingly beautiful. He brushed some hair back from her face, his fingers caressing the petal soft skin of her cheek. She was such a lovely creature. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad being married to her, even if he did have to deal with the hag.

That thought had barely entered his head when his sweet bride's eyes suddenly popped open. She lunged into a sitting position, threw up in his lap again, then promptly fell back on the bed, unconscious.

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