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The Next Installment Of The Wolfsburg Murders


Here is a bit more of the my last story:


“I’ll need to eat before I leave. I’ll bet Ofila is out of her cookies by now though. Hey, maybe if Gus and Conradin come with me she’ll dig out the good ale.”

Gus put his arm over Strausser. “She always has good ale. But I won’t refuse a chance to drink more of it. I got new dice too if you want to try your luck before you leave.”

“Huh. Don’t you have guard duty?”

Conradin said, “It’s the young sprat’s turn at the bergfried, and my duty is Margaret’s apartments. With my lady’s leave, we can all invade Ofila’s domain, though I do have to be back there before Lauds.”

“Oh, you never have time.”

“Come on. I can drink you under the table no matter how much time I have.”

The three men retreated down the stairs, betting with each other already. Giselle glared into the room, unseeing.

Bigitte kicked the ball up in the air, slid across the bare tiles on her stockinged feet, and caught the ball. “Whee! Good thing Strausser can be flattered into doing his job. There is nothing in the coffers for his extorting us.”

Brynhild shrugged. “Yeah, verba cheap.”

“Only sometimes.”

Margaret rolled her eyes, but Sabina held up her swaddling. “I don’t know. Latin is always too expensive for me.”

This earned her smiles from the other two women. Bigitte tossed the ball to Knut, and they were soon tossing the ball around in a circle. The sky slowly darkened, and the air grew cooler. Clouds formed and turned slate gray. Guards and servants popped in and out, taking directions and scooting off. Sabina crouched down with them, squealing. “Oh, it’s getting so cold these days.”

“The weather has been awful this year,” Brynhild agreed. She stood up and went to the window to gaze down onto the stretching shadows in the bailey and the glitter of lights in the bergfried. She peered further off, down the road. She hoped Karl was ok, and that it wouldn’t rain on the men as they traveled. She eyed the sky and then frowned. “It is going to rain. Again.”

“Ugh. I’m so tired of the rain. My cape is shot. You know, I embroidered a pretty flower on it Wednesday and the colors bled the very next day because it rained so much.”

“That’s annoying.”

Giselle remarked, “You should check for color-fastness then. Rain is a fact of life.”

Margaret shifted from where she was sitting with Rolland. “Go easy on the girl. A nice cape is a hard thing to lose.”

“Oh no! Do you think I ruined it?”

Margaret said, “Bring it here. I’ll check.”

Sabina dug her cape out of a chest against the wall and handed it to Margaret. They all examined the red-smeared wool and clucked sympathetically. And the colors hadn’t just run- the red stains revealed moth-caused holes and a fraying at the collar. Sabina sighed. “Well, now I can’t go out walking in this.”

Margaret patted her back. “It’s alright. I tell you what. We’re the same size, aren’t we? You can borrow mine when you go out. You don’t want to get cold in your condition, after all.”

Giselle flicked the cape’s edge. “I’d listen to her, since giving birth is all she’s good for.”

Margaret snapped, “Unlike you, dear Aunt, who has only produced an ugly ferret.”

Brynhild snorted and bared her teeth at her cousin, but Giselle bridled. “The only reason the ferret hasn’t replaced you as a lady-in-waiting is she’s more useful at Meiser, so watch it.”

“I haven’t been replaced because you need my rents and administrating.”

“Be nice to Mutti,” Rolland chirruped.

Giselle breathed through her nose, then nodded to the boy.

The bells started to toll. Margaret stood and patted her sons’ heads. “Time to go to bed. Let’s get to our quarters. Hilda! Take the boys to their room!” The boys protested and wailed that they weren’t tired, but their mother went out into the hall to call over their nurse maid. Her bed was in a pair of joined rooms up the hallway, and the boys slept in the adjoining room. Rolland and Knut vociferously complained.

Johan climbed on Bigitte’s lap. “Mutti, can I stay with you and Jutta tonight? I won’t be loud, I promise.”

Bigitte patted his head. “Of course, Sweetheart. You can wash our feet while we’re at it.”

He made a face. “Eww.”

Jutta giggled and climbed up next to Johan. “My rock needs washing too. I’ll wash its feet before bed.”

“Rocks don’t have feet, Jutta. And I’m not washing your feet. I’m older than you by a whole 30 minutes and I’m a boy, so I don’t have to.”

Bigitte laughed and buffeted his ear. He gave her a rueful look. “I was going to wash your feet. I like you better.”

Brynhild brushed his brassy curls back from his forehead. “Johan, that is not very gentlemanly. You be polite to your sister.”

“He’s not touching my rock anyway.” Jutta stuck her tongue out at her brother. She took a small obsidian arrowhead off her belt and put it in her mouth.

“Ewww…” Johan whined.

Giselle reached for the piece of obsidian. “You’ll make yourself sick doing that, child. That has elf magic.”

“I know. I’m turning into an elf.”

Bigitte studied her. “Sweetie, isn’t that the same elf arrowhead you were sucking on last week? It must not work that way if it hasn’t happened yet.”

Jutta’s eyes bolted wide open. “It doesn’t?”

“Not by eating it. Maybe if you rub it on your skin it will.”

Jutta vigorously rubbed the rock on her arm. Giselle gave Brynhild and Bigitte a hard glare, but they shrugged. At least she wasn’t cutting her lips on the sharp sides of the arrowhead now, and if the elf arrowhead hadn’t done its work before now, it probably was a dud.

“You’ll wash it tonight.”

“Yes Mutti.”

Jutta trotted off and came back after a few minutes with a bucket of wash water, warmed in the cauldron in the kitchen. She dipped the rock into it and rubbed it.

Sabina yawned and undid her hair. She went over to the wall where her chest of belongings sat and dug a comb out of the chest. She brushed out her hair. Bigitte took Jutta gently onto her lap. “Come on, let’s wash you up, and then we’ll say our prayers.”

Jutta was too absorbed in rubbing the rock to notice her mother taking a washcloth out of another chest under the window seat. This one contained her family’s belongings. It was a plain, battered pine wood box, and she pulled out combs after the cloth. She scrubbed both children’s faces, and carefully pulled Jutta’s overdress off the girl. The children let Bigitte and Brynhild dress them and wash them, and Johan insisted that he keep his promise to wash the older women’s feet. Sabina looked up from her own night ritual. “What about me? Do I get washed too?”

Johan looked surprised. Sabina chuckled. “I’m teasing, Cutie. I can wash myself.”

They put away the day’s things; Brynhild tucked her bag of belongings under the bed, and they pulled a pallet stuffed with straw out. They were soon in their night shifts, and tucked in. Johan and Jutta curled up between Bigitte and Brynhild on the pallet and Sabina curled up under the fur lining of the bed. Giselle stayed sitting on the bed, watching them sleep, far into the night.

**

“I feel the way Alfred always talks. I’ll fail horribly at this little job and then your mother will hate me, and the twins will suffer.”

“Mutti won’t hate you. For one thing, you already got her a warning to defend the toll road. For another thing, she doesn’t have enough hate left over once she’s done hating Vatti, Margaret, and I. Anyway, I don’t know anyone who has a sharper eye for good linen, and the vendors won’t dare cross you. I’m sure I won’t be able to stuff all the new linen in the closet once you get back. You’ve done it for your father for years.”

Bigitte shook her head. “This is different. Everything at Wolfsburg is fancier than at Fleeter, and I don’t get any leeway for being the boss’s daughter for when I screw up.”

Brynhild patted her friend’s hand. “You’ll do fine. I’m the one who is going to fail to find anything for Renate.”

Giselle poked her head into the stable. “Is Gus here? We need to check the roads to see if the plant life needs trimming and I want him to come with me.”

“Gus is probably in the kitchen, Mutti. He was there when I was getting breakfast.” Brynhild gave her palfrey a final inspection, and Giselle ran off. Brynhild shook her head. “You should be able to make it to town by mid-day.”

Bigitte nodded. “You’ll make sure the twins get to the tutor?”

“Siempre.”

“You and your Latin.”

Brynhild chuckled. “You get a lot of it around here.”

“I noticed. That and Margaret snapping at you.”

“Margaret’s like that. She always thought I wasn’t good enough, and after Vatti beheaded Uncle Leopold for treason and banished Cousin Heinrich, she has out-right hated me. Fortunately, Aunt Christina is gone, so it’s not like she will have any way to vent it.”

Bigitte shook her head and saddled up the horse. “No wonder you want to get out of here. I’m sorry the twins get their tutoring from Margaret’s tutor.”

“Don’t be. The twins don’t have to suffer because their Godmother’s cousin is a vicious viper.”

“He does seem good enough. I’m still missing Fleeter, though.”

“Which part?”

“Brindle.”

“You would just miss the dog.”

“She’s a good dog! Well, and Vatti too.”

They laughed at that. Bigitte got up on the palfrey. “I’ll be back before evening. Tell Jutta so she doesn’t have a fit.”

“I will. Ride carefully. Good luck with the linen.”

“And you have good luck with the books.”

She rode out of the stable. Brynhild watched her go. She sighed. The hay smelled sweet in the mangers and light hadn’t yet crept into the cold room. It didn’t help the tension between her ears. Fortuna pessimi, better tackle that linen closet first, as though she wasn’t spinning her wheels enough with her law book search. She would read her ‘De Animus’ later to soothe the tightness in her chest.

Strausser stomped into the stable, lips pressed together. He looked up at her. “I was just heading out before anyone could find anything else to give me. I might charge someone extra for all this travel.”

Brynhild forced a smile and batted her lashes at him. “Thank you so much. I know it’s a bother for you, but the weather will clear up soon, so you’ll be in good condition. Frederika was saying at Mass it should be perfect weather. Fortunate really since Galen recommends walking for one’s health.” The last statement was half true. Frederika, the local ale wife who made a side hobby of predicting the weather and whose predictions impressed Strausser, had been nowhere near the chapel for weeks on end. She hadn’t prognosticated either since her youngest child had started helping with the ale. As for Galen, his teaching that the blood the vital spirits are changed into animal spirits in the rete mirabile in the brain could passably be interpreted, by extrapolation, that jiggling the blood through the brain faster by exercising could get more animal spirits for a body to use. Either way, Strausser didn’t know the difference and accepted her pronouncement enough to not bring up an increase in pay again.

He grunted and saddled up. She asked after his plans and was regaled with all his feet problems and how no one appreciates him. She tsked and waited until he had ridden off before heading back up to the women’s quarters.

The twins were still asleep, but Jutta sat up when the door closed behind Brynhild. She blinked at her. Brynhild smiled. “Good morning, Girl-child. Ready for Mass?”

“Where’s Mutti?”

“She sent me to tell you especially that she had to leave on an errand for my mother. She’ll be back by the time you’re done with your lessons.”

Jutta’s face crumpled. “Why? I hate when Mutti and Vatti leave. They’re supposed to tell me before they go.” She stuffed her obsidian in her mouth and gnawed it hard.

“I know, Girl-child, but I have a special commission as your godmother to act in locis parentis. And remember that one of the virtues recommended in the Bible is patience. You will have to learn it.”

“No!”

Johan blinked and sat up. “Is it morning time? Can we all play melee now? Where’s Mutti?”

Jutta repeated Brynhild’s news and the boy pouted. “But I wanted Mutti to go with us.”

“I know, but as I told your sister, patience is a virtue.”

Johan huffed. “Are you coming with us?”

“Of course. Get dressed and washed. We can get the back pews.”

Johan hopped out of bed and headed to the chest of the family belongings.

Jutta straightened up. “I don’t want the virtues in the Bible. I want Mutti.”

“Xeno the Greek also counsels patience and calm acceptance as part of Stoic philosophy.”

“Phooey.”

“Besides, your mother will want you to be a good Christian.”

Jutta pressed her lips together and studied Brynhild. She made a little baby growl low in her throat, but, popping her obsidian in her mouth, she got up to dress.

They were in their wrinkled surcoats and Brynhild was brushing their hair when Mitzi walked in. She still wore the burnt overdress she had from when she escaped Bergdorf with Manfred, and it hugged her curves. Her hair cascaded down her back in one thick pale brown braid that swung as she walked. She carried in a brazier and started wiping the old ashes out of the metal bowl.

Brynhild gave Jutta’s hair a final stroke. “Mitzi, Mutti wants the linen closet re-organized. Would you have time to help me do that?”

“It would be good to get back to cloth, I guess. The laundresses can’t help you?”

“They’ll be getting in the washing. Judging from the sky, I’d say they don’t have much time. Besides, there is a strict hierarchy of jobs, and guest servants should have the opportunity to impress my mother. She will undoubtedly take it into account when she is looking to recommend someone for a raise.” (Giselle would do no such thing, and the ‘hierarchy’ was imaginary. Better to impress the laundress and get eager cooperation though.)

Mitzi looked out the window. A rain-scented gust pushed the wooden shutters against the wall. “I guess.”

“I’ll meet you at the linen closet after Mass then.”

Mitzi smirked and nodded. She lit the brazier and turned to leave the room.

Brynhild stood and grasped the twins’ little hands just as the bells of the chapel down the hill rang. Jutta put her obsidian in her belt as they walked out of the room. “Will you tell us a story while we walk?”

“Sure, Girl-Child. Which do you want? The one about King Alexander crossing the Etep?”

“Yes, that one.”

Brynhild smiled and rolled her shoulders, her braids shifting about them. “There was a King named Alexander from a country far away. Greece, like Xeno.”

Sabina’s trilling laugh floated up from the main hall. “So I talked to him, so what?”

“What do you mean, talk to him? You were draping yourself on him.”

“Really, Mitzi, why shouldn’t I? Gerhard’s cute.”

“He doesn’t care about you. He only talks to me.”

The trio reached the top of the stairs at the end of the hall and looked down. Sabina laughed, running a hand over her belly. “I doubt that. What does it matter? I’m married to Ulf already. Anyway, pity me. Ulf is a boring old man, and Gerhard’s a dashing squire. I had to have some fun.”

“Fun?”

Sabina shrugged. “Isn’t it?”

“It wasn’t fun for me.”

Sabina stopped twirling the edge of her mantle and looked up at Mitzi. “Oh. I suppose not. Sorry. Well, anyway, I’m stuck with Ulf. I’m not bothering Gerhard now. You can have him if you want him. Come on, we’re late.”

Mitzi fumed and followed Sabina as they left out the front door. Johan tugged on Brynhild’s hand. “Auntie Brynhild, is Lady Sabina talking about Opa’s squire?”

“Yes, but nothing serious.”

Jutta said, “Tell us the rest of the story.”

“All right. King Alexander wanted to explore the world and conquer everywhere, and one day, he took his host and retinue to the Etep. The river is deep there, full of fat salmon that jump in ice cold currents. He and his host came right up to where the river winds around the Arunder mountains and he decided that he wanted to see to the bottom of the river. It’s clear at the bottom of the mountains, and it looks like the rocky bottom is barely a foot down when it is really fathoms deep. It was full of shadows and he thought he saw glints of gold. So he had his retinue build him a hollowed out ball of wood, and seal it up with pitch. Then he had them put a pipe in the ball. They lowered him into the ball and then put the ball in the river. He went down into the deeps, where the seaweed wrapped around his ball and he peered out of the window they put in it. Oh, the wonders he saw. Fish bigger than a man and with ten rows of teeth. Monkfish. A- chicken!”

They had crossed the hall and went out into the bailey. The slate gray sky hung low over the castle walls. But that wasn’t what had stopped Brynhild’s story. A chicken had escaped the poultry yard and was now flapping around the bailey like she owned the place. The children squealed and laughed. Johan tried to run after it, but Brynhild held onto his hand. “No, no, Mass first.”

Johan groaned. Brynhild hailed a stable boy who was passing by to cadge some breakfast and pointed to the escapee. “Catch her, please, and you can bring her to Ofila for our meal if she gives you too much trouble.”

He laughed and trotted off to hunt the feathery fugitive.

Hilda arrived behind them with Rolland and Knut holding her hands. Rolland and Johan chatted the rest of the way out of the bailey and down the hill to the chapel. Conradin and Margaret were already at the burial grounds right by the chapel. A simple wooden cross stood at the edge of the burial ground, in the verge between the road and the cemetery. Margaret clamped her hands over her burgeoning belly as she eyed the slight convex shape at the foot of the cross. She pulled her cape close around her as she stood in the road.

Brynhild rolled her eyes. Margaret would keep that cape around her because she wanted another boy, even though it wasn’t really that cold. Mitzi stood next to her, whispering to her. Margaret waved her off and opened her arms to her boys. Brynhild’s ears twitched. What in the name of all the saints could Mitzi possibly have to tell her cousin?

Margaret showed no inclination to talk to Brynhild. She scowled at her and returned her gaze to a small grave right on the edge of the cemetery. A simple cross had stood there nearly 7 years now, and she stared at it with misty eyes. Rolland followed her gaze. Margaret motioned to it. “That’s where your grandmother is buried.”

Rolland had heard this before, and he nodded. “When I die, I get to be buried here too.”

Margaret tensed. “No. Not here. You’ll be somewhere better, Sweetheart.”

Johan pushed Rolland. “Let’s go climb on the tombs.”

“No,” all three women admonished. Brynhild grabbed Johan’s hand and glared at Margaret. “The boys need to be removed from temptation; don’t you think?”

Margaret made a face more sour than vinegar and tucked the boys in her skirts. “After you.”

Brynhild sheparded the twins a few feet to the church porch. She cast a glance over her shoulders, expecting Margaret to make one of her usual biting comments about how Brynhild should burn on touching the church. Margaret wasn’t looking at her though. She was looking wistfully at her mother’s grave. She said softly, “Mutti should be buried in a better place.”

Mitzi dipped into the chapel. Margaret nodded to Conradin, and he took her arm. He escorted the small family in.

After Brynhild deposited the twins with the tutor in the nursery with Rolland and Knut, she went up the next flight of stairs to the men’s quarters and main storerooms. The linen closet was in the back, facing north to avoid the sunlight. She waited at the door, peering into the chests lining the walls and stacked up on top of each other. It was a small room, and the shelves along the back were already crammed with sheets, winding bandages, and swaddling. In the dark, they looked like hills.

Mitzi came in and lit a candle. She put it on a sconce on the wall, and they circled the room. The raw linen that hadn’t yet been made into anything was crammed into a corner. Brynhild pointed at the chests. “We’ll stack up the guest’s blankets and refold the lengths. That should cut it.”

Mitzi nodded and pulled the linens out. Brynhild pushed the chests against each other and they scraped the floor. She turned and looked back.

The pile of linen in the middle of the floor tumbled with no one behind it. Brynhild frowned. She went out and looked down the hall. Margaret was standing at the end, and Mitzi had cornered her. They glared and gestured at each other, but they spoke too softly for Brynhild to hear them. Her ears twitched. What was going on? She edged closer to them.

Margaret huffed, and, cape whirling, stomped off. Mitzi shook her head. She came back up the hall.

Brynhild asked, “What was that about?”

Mitzi shook her head and stared at her feet. “Nothing.”

She wouldn’t budge from that stance the entire time that they were folding linens.

Rain was falling in fat blobs against the shutters by mid-afternoon. Brynhild had left Mitzi to finish putting up the linens and had lit some rush lights so she could read by the door to the kitchen garden. It was her favorite reading spot, consisting of a window with a wide sill that she fit in. She had the last law book open and she sat on ‘De Animus’ as she jotted notes on a scrap of parchment she had managed to trim from the back of her book. Not much here, but there was a law concerning abbatial property in it. Rain spattered her skirts as she sat, and a breeze sprayed a light mist across her face.

She looked up and scanned the kitchen garden. Bigitte hopped over the low stone wall, hitching her skirts up to swing herself over. Mud splotched her hose and her wimple had fallen to her shoulders, letting loose a raven mass of hair about her shoulders. Brynhild waved. “You’re back early!”

Bigitte strode across the garden and perched next to Brynhild. “Yeah, it turns out there were only two piles of linen to choose from and one vendor was desperate to move his stock. I hope your mother likes it. Mitzi picked it up at the gate, so it should put away by now. Did the twins behave for you?”

“They were little angels, as ever.”

“Hah!”

“Nothing got burnt this time at least. I still don’t know how they did it last time.”

“Oh, that might have been Karl and me. He read about a way to set a delayed fire and we had to check it out.”

Brynhild’s ears perked and she straightened. “Really? How did that work?”

Bigitte hopped down to the mud and picked up a twig. “Look, pretend this is a taper. Fun fact: the damn things don’t always work if they are damp, but they will smolder. Ok, and this- it’s a twig candle.” She snapped off and end bit and stuck it in the ground. Brynhild leaned over, straining to see as Bigitte leaned the taper twig on the candle twig so that it overhung it. She traced a line in the soil with her finger and shoved another twig at the end. “You put grease on the ground and the candle will burn down to it. The fire follows the grease and -ta da! Kerfloom.” She waved her fingers of the candle.

Brynhild grinned. “Fascinating.”

Bigitte sat on the windowsill and wiped off the dirt.

Brynhild thought of Mitzi and canted her head. “Was there much going on in the market?”

Bigitte shook her head. “Everyone saw the cloud cover and decided they could wait to do whatever they were planning. Anything exciting happen in the law library?”

“One lousy note. I found one maybe relevant law.” Brynhild held up her scrap of parchment. “I tell you what is exciting, though. Mitzi has been acting up.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, this morning she yelled at Sabina for flirting with Gerhard and then later she had some huddled conference with Margaret.”

Bigitte let out a short bark of a laugh. “Why would Mitzi get bothered by anything Sabina did regarding men? That girl throws herself at anything in braies. Hell, she flirted with Karl once.”

“No, she didn’t. When?”

“You didn’t see her last week at lunch? I’m surprised he didn’t have bruises; she was hitting on him so hard.”

Brynhild shook her head, wrinkling her brow. “I ate in the archive.”

“Yeah, it was hilarious. Went completely over his head for hours. What my brother knows about women can fit in a thimble. You would’ve laughed.”

Brynhild shrugged with one shoulder and smoothed out her expression. “I thought she preferred hot blondes.”

Bigitte grinned. “Having one myself, I can’t say that I blame her. They come highly recommended.”

“Anyway, Mitzi apparently didn’t take kindly to Sabina flirting with Gerhard. The really weird thing is her little conference with Margaret. I can’t imagine what she could possibly want out of her.”

Bigitte shook her head. “She’s probably looking for a more permanent living spot. She might not want to be Sabina’s maid, if she’s going to have a fit every time Sabina makes eyes at squires.”

“Sed fieri potest demonstrandum.”

“Even if it is to be demonstrated, it’s not our business. Spare all our sanity and drop it. Did I tell you the town crier’s spaniel had puppies? They’re so cute.”

Brynhild leaned back with a smile, ready to be told all about the fluffies.

Giselle paused in the hallway and frowned at them. “We really should install some glass in our windows, or at least oiled cloth.”

They waved to her and stood in greeting. Giselle nodded to them. “Bigitte, did you get the linen?”

Bigitte curtsied. “I did. Stephen the clothier was having a sale and we got 10 lengths for a groschen and pfenning.”

“His looms are loose. Well, the linens are bought. Have you recorded the transaction yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Do it before we start mending in the solar. Have you seen Sabina? We should be having our dinner now and it’s raining far too hard for her to be wandering around.”

“I saw her at Mass, Mutti, but not since. I don’t think she’ll fall off a wall if she’s left alone. I was able to live at Meiser alone at her age.”

“You’re a different case, Girl-child, and you weren’t pregnant.”

“She’s probably enjoying Ofila’s company in the kitchen, Mutti.”

Giselle sighed. “I hope so. Manfred will want a full accounting and a completely safe term for her, or he’ll flounce straight out and leave your father twisting before the emperor.”

“Doesn’t Vatti have enough clout to get him down here on his own?”

Giselle snorted. “Eric wishes. Frederick has a distinct aversion to Augston.”

Ofila walked up to them. She curtsied. “My ladies. Good evening.”

Brynhild smiled and waved to her. “Hey, what are you doing out of the kitchen? Isn’t it time for the evening supper? The pot boy isn’t giving you trouble, is he?”

“No, he’s been good since you gave him a talking to. I just have a chicken I want to roast with rosemary, and I wanted to get the herb myself.”

“Chicken? The one from this morning?”

“It pecked the stable boy and he said he had permission to off it.”

Brynhild laughed. The other women gave her a bemused look and she had to explain the whole morning with the feathery fugitive. They all agreed that it made a good story, and Ofila went out into the garden, dashing into the rain to keep her mantle relatively dry.

They walked up to the solar, passing the nursery to find that Hilda had the four children playing some complicated game that involved hiding under various pieces of furniture and then scurrying to other pieces of furniture. The twins ran to Bigitte and she heard out their day and asked after their lessons. Giselle insisted they had to stay with the nursemaid for their mending however, and there wasn’t any reason to break up the game, so they went to the solar without the children. Margaret met them at the solar, her mending already resting on her protruding belly.

“Where’s Sabina?” she asked.

Giselle shrugged. “I don’t know. Haven’t you seen her?”

“Not since Mass.”

“Where has that little chit scuttled off to? Girl-child, go fetch the women’s quarters serving men and tell them to send her here. Bigitte, you had better fill in the ledger. Don’t forget to record any flaws in the linen. Margaret, go tell the stable hands to see if they can find Sabina and to send her here if they find her. Ah, I suppose we had better get the shirts mended first. Girl-child, Margaret, if either of you find Gus, ask him how the verge trimming is going.”

Everyone shot off to do as Giselle wanted, and they reconvened as a muffled bell announced the hour of Sext. Sabina was being looked for, and Gus sent reassurances that, while the weather had put an early end to the road maintenance plans, they were well under way yet and could re-commence the next morning. They got half the shirts mended before the Ofila invited them down to the last meal of the day.

At the dinner table, the twins sat between Brynhild and Bigitte. “I don’t want to share my ale bowl with Jutta. She has grit in her mouth,” Johan complained.

Jutta stopped chewing the horn handle of her dinner knife to stick her tongue at her brother. Bigitte tapped their heads. “Gentlemen share their bowls, Johan. And Jutta, ladies don’t chew their knives. Show Auntie Brynhild the prayer you learned yesterday, Sweeties. Don’t make me break the trenchers on your head.”

“That was funny when you did it to Gerhard.”

Bigitte laughed and swatted their ears. “Go on and do as I say, you geese.”

Margaret sat her boys next to her and gave them whispered instructions. The dinner was quick, and the dessert of cookies was accompanied by Giselle playing her lute and the patter of rain against the shutters. The boys raced around the wide hall, calling to each other, and Jutta crawled under the table to see if she could draw on the tiled floor with the obsidian arrowhead. Brynhild considered reporting her, but the girl looked determined and she decided against it. She leaned back against the table, resting her elbows on the table, and stared into the fire. “I’ll have to leave tomorrow morning, I think. Maybe Gus will escort me, if Mutti will spare him and doesn’t have something else for me to do.”

Bigitte leaned back next to her, nursing her last bowl of ale. She watched Johan scramble under a tapestry. “You’ll want to move fast then. She’ll think of a reason to keep you if she can.”

“She knows what I need to do for the port.”

“She likes you here.”

Brynhild snorted. “She likes having less work on her plate.”

“No. She’s your mother. She worries about you.”

Brynhild shook her head and stretched her toes. “Anyway, you didn’t finish telling me about the Spaniels.”

“Oh, they were adorable. She had six, and the runt was a little black and white thing. I wish I could have taken it home, but your mother would probably have frowned on that.”

Gus opened the door to the dining room and bowed to them. “My ladies, the guards are changing at the gate.”

Giselle put her lute down. “Fine. How is the weather? Can you still start early on the road?”

“I think so. The rain seems to be letting up and old Paul thinks it will be clear tomorrow.”

“Good, good.”

Brynhild pushed herself upright. “Mutti, would it be all right if I borrowed Gus after he’s done on the road to go back to Meiser? I can’t stay longer, I’m afraid.”

Gus smiled. “I don’t mind taking her. It shouldn’t be more than a few days.”

Giselle frowned. “The road will take more than a day, and I’d rather you supervise the work crew. Anyway, Girl-child, we both know Meiser is in fine condition. It can wait until the merchant caravan comes through.”

Margaret snarled at Brynhild that she could just slink off with her fellow loose women, but Brynhild rolled her eyes at her.

Brynhild sighed through her nose. “Sooner is better. I’ll find someone suitable.”

Giselle eyed her, but then dropped her gaze. She strummed at her lute. “Gus, have you seen Sabina this evening?”

Gus shook his head.

Margaret looked up from the mending that she had taken down with her. “Maybe she’s just hiding out in one of the outbuildings. I remember my first pregnancy was tumultuous. She might just want some time to herself.”

“That doesn’t sound like her. If anyone loves company, that person is Sabina.”

Bigitte and Margaret both testified that pregnancy could do weird things to one’s humors, and Giselle didn’t disagree. All four also had to agree that Sabina was still a kid in many ways, and people act erratically when they’re young.

Still, Giselle asked the guards to keep an eye out for her and to hunt for her the next day if she didn’t show up that night. Gus promised and retreated.

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