|Daughter of the Moon
Author: Andreax PM
This story is an Historical AU containing characters inspired by Dana Scully as portrayed by Gillian Anderson and Fox Mulder as portrayed by David Duchovny and is intended as an homage.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 12 - Words: 70,807 - Reviews: 20 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 10 - Updated: 09-16-12 - Published: 06-29-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8269795
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Daughter of the Moon, chapter ten
Category: Historical AU
Notes: Thanks to Dan, Mimic, FatCat, Karen and Mendy for beta reading and Tanya for her ongoing support.
Mylward had prayed that he'd never have to think of camp followers again, but it was not to be. Taking a breath, he closed his eyes, He didn't want to see Edana's face when he told his story, but she deserved the truth.
"As I left Mercia, I imagined war to be glorious. The sun shone on green fields and glinted off my shining sword. Yes, our enemies fell, but in my mind's eye, they were seemingly undamaged. If I'd known the true face of combat I'd still be snug in my father's mill in Tamworth. I saw horrors no one should ever witness. If someone had tried to warn me about the reality of war, I wouldn't have believed them. So yes, I sought comfort in ways I never have before and never will again." Afraid to look at her, he opened his eyes, but kept them fixed on his lap.
"But the woman I met –"
He glanced at her briefly, but looked away when he found her still intent on him. "I know you can't fathom this, Edana, but no matter how much of a slattern that woman seems, any time with her would have been better than the sheer evil of the battlefield."
The room fell silent. The sounds of the town trickled in through the window. Chancing another peek at Edana, Mylward found her eyes fixed on the floor while she tugged at her bottom lip with her teeth.
He'd never wanted her to learn of those past encounters. Now he could only hope that she'd forgive him.
When she raised her eyes Mylward was surprised not to see anger, or disappointment or even revulsion. He didn't know what to make of it. When she stood up, he was sure his revelation was more than she could bear. He closed his eyes again, not wanting to see her leave the room. His eyes popped open when he felt her sit on the bed.
Picking up his hand, she stroked it tenderly and looked into his eyes. The intensity in hers had waned, though he thought he saw a much softer emotion there. Not being able to stand the silence any longer he finally blurted out, "Will you forgive me?"
"I don't know that I'll ever be able to understand what it must've been like if such women were a comfort…"
"I'm not sure it can be explained. It wasn't how they looked. I wasn't in love or even lusting – it was a way to forget. Like the drink that other men chose, it was a way not to think about all the things I'd seen or worry about what might, and almost did, befall me."
Edana's tongue darted out to moisten her lips. "Rowena says I shouldn't concern myself with things you might have done before we met."
"You told Rowena?" His voice rose. "She knows nothing about –"
She raised her hand to stop him. "No, no. I didn't mention camp followers. I asked about girls you might have known in Mercia."
"And she told you not to worry?"
"She said that men are unlike women. They have different needs and a handsome man like you would've had many conquests. She said it's what happens now that matters."
Mylward couldn't help a small smile. "I think she might be as wise as her husband." To his dismay, Edana's countenance didn't brighten.
"There is another thing that worries me after seeing that woman."
Mylward frowned. "What?"
"The earl's wife was so unclean! And you laid with other women like her. I've treated men with –"
He shook his head vigorously. "I didn't catch the burning. I know some who did."
She sighed. "I hoped you hadn't. I didn't see signs of it when I first looked after you. But sometimes the only symptom is the burning. The treatment is horribly painful-"
Mylward winced and squinted at her. "I know how it's cured."
"There is one more question I have." Edana's tone was solemn.
Mylward hoped they were through talking of unpleasantness. "What is it?"
"You will be true to me when we marry?"
He felt relief wash over him. She was still going to marry him. "Edana, until I met you I didn't think I could be true to any woman."
She cocked her head at him. "Why me?"
"I don't know. Why did you choose me? Can you explain it or do you just know?"
To his delight a smile played at her lips. "Maybe it's those charms you spoke of."
Reaching for her hand, he smiled at her. "Come here and let us be certain."
When Edana leaned in, Mylward pulled her close and kissed her. The shyness of their earlier kiss had fled and their mouths only parted for breath. Holding her in a tight embrace, he whispered his question again. "Do you forgive me?"
Edana rested her head on his shoulder. "There is nothing to forgive, but I don't like to think of you kissing a woman like –"
"Hold on. I never said I kissed them."
Edana leaned back to look at him, her brows furrowed.
He reached up to stroke her cheek. "There were no soft kisses or gentle caresses, my love. It was only about one thing."
"But you said it was for comfort."
"The same comfort found in a cup of ale – not in the sweet devotion of lovers." He cupped her cheek with his palm.
Leaning into his hand, she sighed. "I will never understand."
Sliding his hand into her hair, Mylward sat up and pressed his lips to her forehead. "And I don't want you to. In order to understand, you'd have to live it. I want to keep you from the evils of this world, not have you know them."
"Then let us never speak of it again. Besides, Dalton of Mercia is a miller, he knows nothing of battles save fireside stories."
Mylward kissed the tip of her nose. "He knows the love of a beautiful woman."
Edana eyes drifted closed. "I am a woman and I do love you."
He felt Edana's breath tickle his lips. "And you are very beautiful but I fear I may not deserve your love."
"Oh, but you do." She placed tender busses on his mouth. "You do."
As Edana graced him with her affections, Mylward ran his hand along her side. When he felt the soft curve of her breast, he squeezed it gently. Edana drew a quick breath and pressed herself against his hand.
Rowena's voice at the door made them both jump. "It's good there is a blanket between you."
Edana backed away from her betrothed.
"And also stew." The older woman nodded to the bowl on Mylward's lap. "You must let the man eat, Edana. The wedding is but a week away. We need Dalton hale and hardy."
"I'm sorry, Rowena," Edana murmured, eyes downcast.
The lady of the house laughed merrily. "Sorry? I was jesting. You were doing nothing to be ashamed of. I'm happy to see you sharing a kiss. Arranged marriages don't always work out so well." Rowena drew the chair closer to the bed. "Now let us talk of the wedding."
Edana turned to face their hostess but Mylward held up his hand.
"Before I am lost in wedding details could I please ask a few questions?"
Both women looked at him.
"I know this is something I should've asked my uncle, but there has been so much to discuss. Did he find the money in my pack to pay Bertram?"
Rowena smiled. "Ah, yes. While Edana was seeing to your health, my husband saw to your mill."
Mylward took Edana's hand and squeezed it. "I'm a fortunate man."
"Did you have another question, Dalton?" Rowena asked brightly.
"Yes, when Edana and I are wed, we'll be living at her house. Am I correct?"
Rowena nodded. "Yes, but it's your house now."
He took a deep breath, far more easily than he had but a few hours prior. "Until we are wed, I don't consider it such."
"Aye, but the Normans do, thanks be to God. Though Edmund had arranged for our eldest to buy it with Edana's money, in case you didn't make it back with Osric's promissory note in time."
Mylward turned slowly to look at his betrothed. "Edana's money?"
She beamed. "It was money my grandfather saved for my dowry. Edmund mentioned that he secured the mill for you with his own money. Now we'll be able to pay him back much sooner."
"I was speaking to him about that," Rowena interjected. "Since you no longer have the great house to supply with mead and ale, he'd be thrilled to have that debt paid with drink. Of course only if the arrangement is to your liking."
Edana's mouth hung open for a moment. "He will let us pay him back in ale?"
Rowena laughed and patted Edana's knee. "Oh child, you have no idea of the depth of that man's love for your ale. He's been in a sulk today because I warned him that the supply you gifted us with is running short. The suggestion to have you repay with ale had barely passed my lips before he agreed."
Edana shook her head slowly. "Rowena, Bertram's wife told me how much Edmund gave them to hold the mill for Dalton. How can ale repay such a sum?"
"What would be the point of giving you a penny for a month's supply of ale only to have you turn around and give it back to us?"
"But, Modrige," – Mylward referred to Rowena as his maternal aunt - "I supposed my uncle wanted to be paid back faster than a penny a month."
"Maeg, your uncle loves many things. Ale is but one of them and perhaps money less than ale. He loves prosperity, hard work and cooperation. To his thinking, all are connected. Nothing makes him happier than Keswick buzzing with industry. And," she lowered her voice conspiratorially, "I think he intends to clinch some deals with that ale of yours."
Mylward laughed heartily. "So the truth comes out!"
Rowena smiled. "Yes, but before the repayment starts, Edana must brew a large batch for the wedding."
"Yes, I'll start it tomorrow. I must check on my chickens, anyway. Dalton seems to be doing better so he can stand to be without me for a day."
Rowena's eyebrows furrowed. "What caused his collapse?"
"He lost much blood when that branch wounded him. It's still not in balance. Until his humours are restored, his organs will struggle. His lungs simply weren't up to the task he set them."
Rowena shook her head, wide-eyed. "That you understand such things confounds me. I don't know that I could ever grasp it. You are lucky your intellect doesn't threaten Dalton. Some men don't like a wise woman. Luckily Edmund was tolerant in that regard, as well." She winked.
Mylward squeezed Edana's hand tightly. "My uncle and I are among the fortunate to be blessed with wise, beautiful, gentle women."
The lady of the house looked at him askance. "And you inherited Edmund's honey tongue. Watch this one, Edana. He'll talk his way around anything."
Edana laughed good-naturedly. "I think your warning comes too late for me, Rowena."
The older woman nodded solemnly. "I fear you are right, my child. Now with your permission, Dalton, may we talk about the wedding? We have little time to plan."
"Sorry," he muttered. "I'll eat my stew."
Rowena leaned forward to touch the bowl. "Is it warm yet? I'll ask Astrid to get you more."
Mylward shook his head. "Warmer than many a meal I had – uh, on the road."
Rowena smiled. "Of that I have no doubt." Then she turned to Edana. "Edmund has sent a man to Whitehaven. He'll arrive tomorrow and the day after he should be able to find passage to the Isle of Man. Edmund knows many seafarers so his man will be treated well. Your parents should be here two days before the wedding if the seas are with us."
Mylward's spoon didn't make it out of the bowl. "Your parents are coming to the wedding?"
She smiled. "Yes. I haven't seen them in more than ten years."
"Ten years?" Mylward's voice rose.
"Like many a young boy, I was apprenticed to my grandfather when I was eight. I haven't seen them since they brought me here."
Mylward cocked his head at her. "You have no brothers?"
"I do, but they will follow Fader into farming. Mader said I was the only one of her bairns suited to Aldefader's work."
Rowena bent her head in deference. "It seems your mader had a keen sense for such things."
Edana chuckled ruefully. "Aye, but as an eight year old I didn't know it. I thought I was being abandoned."
Rowena tsked. "Poor lass, but your grandfather was a good man."
"A very good man." Edana nodded.
The lady of the house turned her attention to Mylward. "And we were heartily sorry that your parents didn't accompany you back from Mercia."
Mylward sputtered. "I -uh –"
"Forgive me, maeg. I didn't mean to trouble you. Edmund told me your fader wasn't well and his sister didn't want to leave him."
Mylward lowered his head. "Yes, but I'm thankful that I got to see him one last time." His voice cracked as he spoke. The tale was untrue, but his grief was real.
Rowena lowered her voice sympathetically. "Dalton, you must honour your fader by being the best man you can be. I know him not, but am I wrong that this would please him most?"
Looking at his bowl, Mylward blinked rapidly. "Yes, Modrige, that is exactly what would make him content."
The older lady smiled at him. "Then you are well on your way to making your fader a happy man. And you know Edmund will get word to his sister about your success."
As Rowena moved on to discuss various aspects of the church ceremony, Edana stroked Mylward's knee. He leaned against her for more comfort as he finished his food. With his belly full, he felt his eyes grow heavy. The women murmuring about wedding garments and garlands only added to the weight of his eyelids. When he woke next sunlight streamed into his room.
He was able to move around on his own easily and no one scolded him for being up and about. He was sure if Edana thought he needed rest, she would've left word with Astrid. The cook, however, seemed more interested in filling his belly than sending him to bed.
Although he missed Edana, Mylward thought he would have a quiet day, while the woman flitted about with their planning. He soon learned why Edmund was nowhere to be found. As soon as his fast was broken, Astrid took him upstairs to a seamstress Mylward didn't know was in the house. Rowena seemed to have a room she used solely for sewing. The only place Mylward had seen more cloth was in a market in Birmingham. He was told to stand still while Rowena and the seamstress draped many shades of wool over his shoulder. They tugged at him and spun him around. Comments were made about which colours went with his eyes. Then the women used pieces of yarn to measure his arms, his shoulders and waist. Just when he thought they'd finished they pulled out embroidery thread. That led to more discussions about matching hues and new talk of patterns.
When he was finally released from their clutches they sent him to the stable to help Swayn. The lad seemed overjoyed to see his 'cousin' and talked Mylward's ear off while the two of them painted Edmund's two-seat cart for the wedding. By the time they finished, he was covered in red speckles. Swayn had several smears on his brown tunic and a smudge on his freckled face. Mylward didn't want to be around when Rowena saw the state of her youngest. Mylward was cleaning the brushes in a bucket of water when he heard a groan behind him.
"Ugh, Swayn! The paint was for the cart."
Mylward looked over his shoulder to see Ulgar dismounting Gestum.
Mylward strode over to him. "Ulgar, well met! I'm pleased to see you." He embraced the man and thumped his back.
Ulgar retuned the embrace and then stood back to survey the situation. "It seems you made it in time, cousin, since Fader's cart is being painted red yet again."
"Yes, with much thanks to you, I made it in the nick of time. Let me help you with Gestum." Mylward then turned to Swayn. "I suggest you get to the well and wash as much of that paint off as you can before your mader catches sight of you."
Once the lad was out of earshot, the two young men shared stories of their respective journeys. Mylward spoke of haggling with every innkeeper. The reeve's son, however, was more interested in the quality of their ale. Ulgar was younger by a few years but they were close in opinion. Mylward hoped they'd formed a lasting friendship.
The days that followed were much the same, with Mylward put to work as an errand boy. Rowena would send him to fetch something from a particular merchant. He'd barely get a foot inside the door when Astrid would send him on a chase to the other side of town.
He had precious little time to steal sweet kisses from Edana, though he made it a point to every time he saw her. On the Sunday evening before their wedding day, Edana's parents arrived, but to his surprise, theirs was a party of three. He introduced himself to her mader, Maeve and fader, Wilburh, and though introduced, he wasn't told the relationship of the older woman, Burchwen. He presumed the woman to be Edana's aldemader on her fader's side. Though she didn't resemble the family at all, save her blue eyes. She might have been the tallest woman Mylward ever met and towered over Wilburh.
Edmund's large house had plenty of room for the guests and while they were fed a late supper, Swayn was sent to fetch Edana. Mylward looked forward to seeing her but aside from a hasty kiss, he had no time alone with his bride-to be. He spent the evening with Edana and her parents, but they talked mostly of people he didn't know. Her Mader did politely ask about his family and they listened while he spoke of Dalton's imaginary farm. The only snippets of truth were about his time as a dusty. Wilburh was a man of few words, but the stories of milling made him speak, albeit gruffly.
"I'm glad Edana chose a man with a good trade."
From the way Edana lit up, Mylward knew he'd received high praise.
Early the following morning, Mylward was dispatched to the smithy. Rowena needed tacks to hang the garlands. When he returned, Edana, Maeve and Burchwen were seated in the kitchen awaiting him.
Edana spoke first. "There's something we must talk about." Twiddling her fingers nervously, she flicked her eyes at the empty seat. "Please sit."
Mylward took the chair as requested, unsure of why Edana suddenly seemed anxious. Had her family decided to nix their match? He fiddled with the leather pouch of tacks he'd placed on the table.
Maeve cleared her throat. "As you know, Dalton, our family still practices the old ways. Edana has no problem making vows to your God. She has discussed it with Father Egbert. All he expects in return is that your children are baptized into the Church."
Edana spoke with widened eyes. "I expected he'd want me to convert, but he seemed more concerned about our children."
Mylward stilled his hands and furrowed his brow at her. "You don't have a problem with our children being raised as Christians?"
"I agreed to have them baptized. I didn't say I wouldn't teach them the old ways, too - not unlike your own parents did with you. Have I misunderstood your devotion to the Church?" Concern was evident in Edana's voice.
"No, not at all. I thought you'd agreed to give up your beliefs to wed me and I would never ask that of you."
Edana gave him a brilliant smile and reached across the table for his hand. "Thank you, Dalton, but that isn't precisely what we wanted to talk to you about."
"Oh." He took her hand and held on. Once again, he was unsure what the Manx women wanted of him.
Maeve took a breath to continue. "What we would like is for a traditional handfasting to follow the church ceremony. Edmund has agreed to let us use the town square. The crossroads will be perfect!"
Edmund agreed? When had they seen Edmund? The man had kept himself decidedly scarce since the wedding planning began.
Burchwen looked up at the ceiling. Mylward's eyes followed hers, but he saw nothing but beams. "Yes, perfect," the old woman said. "And the lady will yet be waxing. It isn't Beltane, but the signs are strong for you."
Mylward's grip on Edana's hand tightened. "I've never seen a handfasting. What is involved?"
The women's reluctance to ask him made him fear that bloodletting or lack of clothing might be a part of the ritual.
Maeve nodded at Burchwen. "The priestess will conduct the ceremony, perhaps she should describe it."
Edana's family brought a priestess with them? They certainly felt more strongly about their beliefs than Mylward ever had about his. He listened intently as the priestess explained. To his relief, the handfasting ceremony sounded innocuous and sweet.
Mylward looked into Edana's eyes when Burchwen finished. "I wasn't sure what you were going to ask of me, but I am fond of the idea of being bound to you. In my heart, I already am."
Maeve scrutinized his face with an intensity not unlike her daughter's. "I think my girl has made a wise choice in you. If I hadn't known the lengths you've already gone to for her I might think those words slipped too easily from your tongue. But many have spoken of your devotion to her, so I will put my trust in you." Then she turned to her daughter. "With that now settled, we have much to do."
The women all stood, but before they left him, Edana bent to give him a kiss. "Thank you, Dalton."
After she left the kitchen that morning, Mylward didn't see Edana again for two days - those days, however, sped by. He once again served as cook's assistant, this time not only to Astrid, but to Rowena and her daughters Cynwise and Leofwyn. He chopped onions, pitted plums and kneaded dough. He plucked chickens and geese. He beat eggs for custard until he thought his arm would fall off. He watched a pig roast on the hearth and yet he didn't see Edmund, not even at meal times. He was a wise man indeed.
In fact Mylward didn't see Edmund until the morning of the wedding. As the two men walked to the large church, the reeve spoke solemnly.
"Now Dalton, since your fader couldn't be here, I think it behooves me to speak on his behalf. I don't doubt that through your experiences in this life you have known a woman before, but the way we are with a wife must be different."
Mylward bit his lip in an effort not to laugh. "Yes, Eam."
"Edana is a beautiful, gentle creature and you must treat her with tenderness. I know you will be eager, but remember, she has saved herself for you. There isn't a greater gift a wife can give her husband but maidenhood. And you shall gift her with many bairns and the security of your earnings."
Mylward turned to look at Edmund. "My greatest desire is to keep her from harm."
"And I trust you'll not do her the injury of sharing the bed of another."
"I've made that vow to her already and I'll swear it 'til my dying day, Eam."
"That's what I wanted to hear." Edmund slapped Mylward's back. "Now you are ready to be wed."
Once at the church, Mylward waited on the steps for his bride's arrival. As soon as he laid eyes on her he knew it was worth the anticipation.
Her wedding tunic was woven of brilliant red wool. The collars and cuffs had been embroidered with the same sky blue of Mylward's garment in Edmund's pattern, signifying that Edana was joining that family. Her curls had been tamed and plaited into a single braid that hung down her back. Red and blue ribbons were woven through the strands. A garland of fall flowers circled her head. Ribbons of every colour in the rainbow flowed from the wreath and danced on the fall breeze. He was surprised to see blue slippers on her feet. Mylward had never seen her shod before.
"You are beautiful," he whispered as he picked up her hand. "Are you ready?"
Her blue eyes sparkled at him despite the clouds overhead. Her lips spread into a smile. "I am."
Hand in hand they walked through the open doors and into the nave of Crosthwaite. Father Egbert stood in the apse, his robe gleaming white. The crowd that had gathered outside followed behind them. As Mylward and Edana passed the transepts, the shuffling of feet and murmuring of voices grew louder. It hadn't occurred to him that so many would attend. It sounded like all of Keswick was behind him. The priest had to hold up his hand to silence everyone.
From his days at the abbey school, Mylward understood the Latin the priest spoke, but he had to squeeze Edana's hand when it was her turn to speak. Father Egbert didn't offer them communion - Mylward supposed because Edana hadn't been baptized. The priest gave a doxology and bade the couple turn and face the congregation. When Father Egbert announced in Latin that they were husband and wife, a cheer rose up. Edana looked at Mylward with confusion in her eyes.
He smiled at her. "He said we are married."
"Aye." She beamed at him in return. "But now let us be bound to each other."
Mylward thought the procession from Crosthwaite through the streets of Keswick to the town square must have been a spectacle to anyone seeing it. Then he realized there could be no witness, as the entire town trailed behind them. When they reached the crossroads a light drizzle filled the air.
Mylward sighed. "Would that I could make the sun shine for you, wife."
Burchwen waved his concerns away with a sweep of her long-fingered hand. "Ah, but this rain means you'll have a prosperous union. Let us fast your hands while it still falls."
Before she began, the priestess scanned the area. Then she placed Mylward and Edana in the center of the crossroads facing east, as they had in the church. When Burchwen was satisfied with their position, she pulled an elaborately carved stick from under her hooded green robe. The priestess walked in a large circle about them calling the Ancients and asking the Horned Hunter and the Lady of the Moon to join them.
If Mylward had been asked, he would've said there were already enough people in attendance.
After she'd circled them three times, the priestess stood in front of the couple. "Dalton and Edana, are you here of your own free will?"
"We are," they answered in concert.
Burchwen smiled. "Now please join your right hands so you can be bound to each other."
When Edana's hand slipped into his, Mylward felt a sense of completeness he'd never known. Even walking here from the church holding her hand didn't feel the same. Was this a magic the priestess had wrought?
When he looked at Edana, he found her eyes shining and her face glowing - surely nothing in the world was more beautiful than his wife.
Burchwen's voice pulled his eyes forward again. "Do you love each other?"
"Yes," he said more loudly than he intended. His voice drowned out Edana's response to his own ears, but the priestess must have heard because she continued on.
Laying a red ribbon atop their clasped hands, she said, "Then let you be bound together in love. Will you be faithful?"
Mylward turned to his wife and met her eyes. "I will."
Edana's smiling lips trembled when she answered the same way. A white ribbon joined the red one as the priestess murmured, "Then let you be bound together in faithfulness."
An orange ribbon was added to the others after they agreed to respect each other. Soon their hands were also topped with the blue ribbon of loyalty, the green of fertility and the brown of hearth and home. Finally Burchwen asked them to raise their hands.
As she knotted the ribbons together, she said, "The bonds of this handfasting are not formed by these ribbons nor the knots connecting them. The ties are created by your vows and pledges to each other. It is not your hands that are bound, but your hearts and souls. Dalton and Edana, please seal these vows with a kiss."
When Mylward lowered his head to press a kiss to Edana's lips the crowd behind them shouted their approval. He'd been so entranced by Burchwen and her words, he'd forgotten anyone else was there.
With their marriage sealed, the priestess removed the ribbons from their hands without untying them. Mylward was about to turn around, but Edana stopped him.
"She has to take the circle down first. It would be bad luck to break it."
When Edana assured him it was safe to move the newlyweds crossed the square to the reeve's home.
They made their way to Edmund's large dining hall, which had tables set up in a large square, mimicking the shape of the room. The couple had a table to themselves and they sat facing the open space in the center of the room. The remainder of the tables had been set with chairs tightly packed on both sides. Even so, Mylward noticed there were no children in the room. They must be taking their meal elsewhere. The only gaps between the tables were beside Mylward and Edana and one other by the kitchen door to allow people passage.
The feast the women had prepared, with his help, seemed endless. At the time Mylward had wondered at the vast quantities of food they were making, but when he saw the spread laid out in front of him, it was more splendid than he'd imagined. He soon realized that with the number of wedding guests, little of it would go to waste.
Everyone ate, drank and then ate some more. To Mylward's surprise a minstrel arrived. Children followed him in from the kitchen and sat on the floor or on someone's lap. The musician entertained the crowd with a song about Dalton and Edana's love. It told of his fall, Edana healing him, his journey back to Mercia. The crowd applauded when he sang of Dalton's gallant ride to save Edana's land.
The earl and his wife were in attendance, but luckily they'd had so much ale they didn't realize people were reveling about the Normans not getting the property. When the song moved on to talk about all the children the newlyweds would be blessed with, Mylward leaned over to whisper in Edana's ear.
"Is that woman with the earl the camp follower you met?"
Edana laughed. "Yes, but I had to look closely to be sure. She appears vastly different after a bath."
The minstrel sang more songs and had everyone's feet tapping. The crowd was dismayed when he stopped playing until he announced the Morris dancers. Their jingling bells and clacking sticks soon had hands clapping in time.
When the dancers cleared the floor, a makeshift maypole was carried to the center of the room. While more common at May weddings, Mylward knew they were a symbol of fertility, making his mind go to another wedding tradition he was eager to participate in. He tried to put that thought out of his head as he watched the young girls skip in circles around the pole, weaving their ribbons as they went.
With the end of that dance, Mylward hoped the feast was winding down, but then Edmund announced that it was time to bestow Dalton with the dowry.
Looking decidedly uncomfortable, Wilburh stood to make the presentation. After muttering a few words of good luck, he handed Mylward the deed to Edana's land and a large purse.
Mylward thought they would finally be released but then the reeve took Wilburh's place and began to speak. Having heard a speech or two of Edmund's, Mylward realized this gave him a chance to whisper with Edana.
He hefted the leather pouch in front of him. "This is quite the dowry. Did your aldefader think it would be difficult to marry you off?"
His jest resulted in a punch to his arm.
"Teasing aside, good wife, this is a substantial purse."
Edana spoke close to his ear. "Yes, Aldefader saved most of the money Osric paid him plus my parents brought a small dowry with them. We'll have a better start than most."
When she leaned away he found himself staring at her mouth. "I loved you when I thought you a backcountry healer. I would've happily married you without a dowry." Leaning in he kissed her softly.
When their lips parted she murmured, "I'm still a backcountry healer."
"And I still love you. What little I have is yours." He found her mouth again and was thrilled to feel her tongue caress his.
Edmund's laugh and a roar from the people separated the young lovers.
"Fear not, Dalton. We'll have you out of here soon - just a few gifts to be presented first."
The reeve's idea of a few was vastly different than Mylward's. The table in front of them swelled with pots, urns, vessels of all kinds, embroidered cloth, preserves and jams, linen, puddings, and breads. Edana's eyes grew wide as the gifts accumulated. She turned to look at her husband with her mouth agape. The pile grew so high Mylward could no longer see what was added to it.
At long last Rowena announced it was time for the couple to depart. The guests formed two lines, creating a path in the open space that the bride and groom must follow to leave the room. Edana removed her garland and handed out flowers and ribbons as they walked. Even so, many reached out to touch her and tug at her tunic. Nothing was luckier than a bride on her wedding day and people hoped some of that luck would rub off on them. Her well-made tunic held fast but by the time they left the house her braid had been unraveled and all the ribbons were gone.
Someone had hooked Gestum up to the two-seated cart. In addition to being red, it had been decorated with garlands and ribbons as well. As the newly-married couple pulled away from the house Rowena called that she'd have their gifts delivered the next day. Several young people ran after them shouting and grabbing at the garlands, but many soon gave up the chase.
Only a gaggle of boys, Swayn included, followed the cart out of town. Mylward knew they would follow the couple to Edana's house to fetch the horse and cart back to Edmund. They couldn't well leave Gestum tied to a tree overnight and there was no stable. Mylward's only hope was that they'd be safely inside before the boys caught up. He had one thing on his mind and it wasn't chatting with Swayn and his friends.
Once the horse was secure, he helped his bride from the cart. They hurried down the path and were greeted by a bark from Wulf.
"Who's been watching the hound?" Mylward wondered aloud as the animal ran up to them.
"I only spent the one night in town. My parents stayed here after that first night. Did you not notice we were gone?" She looked up at him quizzically.
"I know I rarely saw you but I assumed Rowena had you as busy as she had me. Where are your parents sleeping tonight?" he asked warily.
His question made Edana laugh merrily. "We'll be alone, husband, not to worry. They are staying in town and tomorrow they'll make their return to the Isle of Man." She took his hand as she mounted the stairs.
"Fader wants to get back to his farm. This is only the second time he's left it." They'd reached the top of the stairs and she turned to face him.
He was unsure why she didn't go inside. Was she nervous about what was to come? He certainly wasn't.
He smiled at her. "Shall we go inside?"
She put a hand on his arm. "Aye, but you must carry me inside. It would be a bad sign if I tripped over the threshold the first time we enter as husband and wife."
"Edana, you are more sure-footed than a deer and yet you worry at a threshold?" He opened the door.
Wulf had been waiting at the foot of the stairs, but upon seeing the open door, loped past them to lay down by the cold hearth.
She arched an eyebrow at him. "Are you willing to risk a happy marriage for the sake of lifting me for a moment?"
Moving quickly, Mylward scooped Edana into his arms. She squealed in surprise.
"It's not carrying you that concerned me - only how the sudden onset of clumsiness might affect our marriage." He took an exaggerated step into the house and then closed the door with his foot. Turning to his right, he moved toward the stairs.
"You can put me down now," Edana murmured.
He shook his head. "I think I know the real reason for this custom. Now that I have you, I'm not letting you go."
She took a quick breath, but said nothing. From her questions about camp followers and her work as a mid-wife, she obviously understood coupling, but Mylward wasn't sure how thoroughly.
Edana's room, the one he expected would be theirs, was at the top of the stairs. The door was open and the bedstead had been decorated much the same as the cart. Once inside, he set her down.
She smiled up at him. "You're not afraid I'll run?"
"Do you want to?" His deep voice echoed slightly in the room.
She shook her head slowly.
He pulled her into a tight embrace. "And yet somehow I still want to capture you."
Lowering his mouth to hers, he kissed her deeply. Her body pressed against his heavily and he felt like he couldn't get her close enough. As he stroked her bottom through the woolen tunic, he thought of how to achieve his goal.
While they kissed, he slowly gathered up the fabric of her garment. When it reached her hips, he slipped his hands underneath. His fingers skimmed her linen shift. And he could feel the warmth of her skin through it. They had to part when he pulled the tunic over her head. Tossing it to the floor, he stepped back to gaze at her in the linen shift.
The cloth stopped mid-thigh, tantalizing him with what it kept hidden. When her hands went to the hem, his first instinct was to stop her. He'd dreamt of undressing her many times, but the thought of her baring herself for him was far more appealing.
He hardly noticed the shift floating to the floor, so entranced he was by what she revealed. He'd felt the swell of her breasts in his hand, but seeing their fullness made him long to touch them again. His eyes were drawn to the curve of her hips and then further down her auburn patch beckoned to him. Pulling his garments off in one swipe, he stepped toward her. He watched her eyes as they traveled his body. He would look different than the last time she saw him naked. Did she long to touch him as he did her?
Reaching out, he stroked her cheek. "Do you know what happens now?"
Her eyes were wide as she bobbed her head. "And my mader spoke with me last night. She said I should ask you to go slowly."
Mylward chuckled. "I promise to start that way, but the ending will definitely be anything but slow."
Her forehead crinkled at his words.
"Let us lay on the bed. You'll understand soon enough."
As Edana crawled to the middle of the bed to lie down, Mylward thought his heart would beat out of his chest. Taking his place beside her, he kissed her. The kisses she returned were shy at first, but soon her mouth opened to him and he felt her body relax. He ran his fingertips over her skin, and gently caressed her breasts. When his fingers reached Edana's thigh, he was thrilled that she moved into his touch. He hoped to make her as ready as he was.
When he could wait no longer, he knelt between her legs. She looked up at him with complete trust. He'd never been so consumed by his feelings. His adoration overwhelmed him. "I love you, Edana," he told her breathlessly.
She smiled and reached up to stroke his cheek. "And I love you, husband." She drew a long breath as he slowly filled her.
At the first resistance he felt, Mylward said, "Join your ankles around my back." Edana complied with trembling legs. Lowering his mouth to hers, he kissed his bride until he felt her body calm. The last thing he wanted was to cause her pain, but he knew no other way.
With their mouths still joined he pushed past the barrier. Edana gasped making him stop within her. He lifted his head to look at her.
"Are you all right?"
She nodded, eyes wide.
He stroked her hair gently. "It will get easier, I promise."
She gave him a wobbly smile. "Mader said it would."
Wrinkling his nose, he squinted at her. "Let us not talk of your mader right now, please."
To his relief, Edana rewarded him with a small laugh. Lifting her hands, she cupped his face. "Kiss me, husband. I find it easier that way."
Granting her wish, he moved once again. This time she showed no sign of discomfort and he felt his finish approaching quickly as he'd predicted. Edana caressed his back while he shuddered above her.
When Mylward opened his eyes, he found his wife looking up at him. "Did I please you, husband?"
"Please me?" He pressed his mouth to hers for a loving kiss. "Nothing has ever made me happier and I hope that soon, I'll be able to delight you the same way."
Her eyes twinkled at him. "It wasn't altogether unpleasant. I liked the feeling of being one with you."
Easing himself off his bride, he rolled to his back and pulled her atop him. "Then let us get some rest, so we can be one again soon."
End chapter 10.