It was to be hoped that her groom was partial to cherries. For Avelyn feared
she would very much resemble one at their wedding feast. Too round, to red in
the scarlet gown that was all she could fit into…and perhaps too tart for
his taste? No doubt he longed for a sweet, biddable bride, one who was as tiny
and trim as she was trying to appear.
Paen Gerville longed for a lively, well-rounded woman, one whose plump breast
would cushion his head after the lonely, harsh life of a solitary fighting knight.
At first his wife-to-be promised no such delights—her form was unbending,
her health apparently fragile as she fainted into his arms as their first kiss.
But one split bridal gown later, her assets were eye-poppingly apparent and Paen
could only grin as he anticipated the surprises yet to come on his wedding night
with… THE PERFECT WIFE
That soft breath of sound made Avelyn turn where she stood on the trestle table.
Lady Straughton - her mother - had murmured the sound and now paused in descending
the stairs to watch with watery eyes as Runilda fiddled with the hem of Avelyn’s
Lady Margeria Straughton had been teary-eyed a lot lately. Ever since they
had received notice that Paen de Gerville had finally returned from the crusades
and wished to claim his betrothed. Avelyn’s mother was not taking the upcoming
nuptials well. More to the point, she was not reacting well to the fact that Avelyn
would be moving to Gerville soon after the nuptials were finished. Avelyn knew
her mother was happy to see her married and starting on grandbabies. It was the
moving away part that Lady Straughton did not care for. She seemed to see it as
“losing her babe”. But then Avelyn and her mother were very close.
So close that rather than be sent away while young, Avelyn had trained at her
mother’s knee, taught with patience and love.
“Oh,” Lady Margeria Straughton breathed again as she crossed the
great hall, her maid on her heels. Avelyn shared a smile with Runilda, then shook
her head at her mother and said with fond exasperation, “Do I look so hideous
that it would see you in tears, mother?”
“Nay!” Lady Straughton gasped in horror. “You look lovely,
my dear. Very lovely. The blue of the gown brings out the blue of your eyes. ‘Tis
“Then why do you appear so tragic?” she asked gently.
“Oh. ‘Tis just that you look so...so much a lady. Oh, Gunnora!
My babe is a grown woman now,” she bemoaned to the servant at her side.
“Aye, milady.” Gunnora smiled patiently at the words her lady had
been sighing ever since the notice from Lord Gerville had arrived. “And
so she is. ‘Tis time she married and left this home to build her own.”
Rather than soothe Lady Straughton, this saw the tears begin to pool in her
eyes at an accelerated rate. They were threatening to well over her lashes and
pour down her face when Lord Willham Straughton -- who had been seated quietly
in a chair by the fire -- stood with a squeaking of leather and the jangle of
“No tears, my love,” he chided as he moved to join the women by
the trestle table. “This is a joyous occasion. Besides, we had our Avelyn
longer than I had hoped. Were it not for Richard and his crusades, we most like
would have lost our girl at fourteen or shortly thereafter.”
“Aye.” Looking sad, Lady Straughton moved to lean against her husband’s
side as he peered approvingly up at his daughter. “And I am ever grateful
that we were allowed to keep her to twenty. Howbeit I am going to miss her so.”
“As will I,” Lord Straughton agreed gruffly. He encircled his wife
with one arm and told Avelyn, “You look beautiful, child. Just like your
mother on the day we were wed. Paen is a lucky man. You do us proud.”
For a moment, Avelyn was startled to see her father’s eyes go glassy
as if he too might cry, then he cleared his throat and managed a crooked smile
for his wife. “We shall just have to distract ourselves as much as possible
from our loss.”
“I can think of nothing that will distract me from losing our daughter,”
Lady Straughton said dismally.
“Nay?” A naughty look entered Willham Straughton’s eyes and
Avelyn was amused to see his hand drop from her mother’s waist to cup her
bottom through her skirts. “I may be able to come up with a thing or two,”
he said suggestively, then urged her away from the table and in the general direction
of the stairs. “Let us to our room so we might discuss these ideas.”
“Oh,” Lady Straughton sounded breathy and her next words, while
a protest, were somewhat weak. “But Gunnora and I were going to count stores
and see what-”
“You can do that later. Gunnora may go rest herself for a bit in the
meantime,” Lord Straughton announced and the maid grinned, then slipped
out of the room even as her lady protested, “But what of Avelyn? I should
“Avelyn shall be here when we return below,” he said as he urged
her up the stairs. “She is not leaving yet.”
“If she leaves at all.”
Avelyn jerked in surprise at that softly spoken chuckle from behind her. She
managed to keep her perch on the trestle table only thanks to her maid’s
quick action in straightening and grabbing her arm to steady her.
Avelyn murmured her thanks to the girl and turned carefully to face the speaker.
Her cousin looked as mean-tempered as ever. Her narrow face was pinched and
there was mocking amusement in the eyes that raked over Avelyn in her new gown.
“What do you think, Staci?”
Avelyn’s gaze moved to the two young men accompanying the woman. Twin
brothers to Eunice, Hugo and Stacius had matching pug-like faces that -- at the
moment -- bore cruel smiles. The three of them must have entered while she had
been distracted by her parents’ leaving.
Grand, she thought unhappily. If Avelyn had been blessed in having loving parents,
fate had made up for that kindness by cursing her with three of the most horrid
cousins in existence. The trio seemed to live to make her miserable. They enjoyed
nothing more than a chance to point out her flaws. They had done so ever since
their arrival at Straughton some ten years earlier when their castle on the border
of Scotland had been overrun and their father killed. With nowhere else to turn,
their mother had brought her children to Straughton where they had become the
bane of Avelyn’s young existence.
“I think,” Staci’s thick nose turned up as he dropped onto
the bench and tipped his head back to peer over Avelyn in her gown. “Once
Gerville gets a look at what a bovine his betrothed has grown into, he will break
the contract and flee for his very life.”
“I fear Staci is correct, Avy,” Eunice said with mock sympathy
as Avelyn flinched under his words. “You look like a great huge blueberry
in that gown. Mind you, I do not suppose the color is at fault, for in red you
look like a great cherry and in brown a great lump of-”
“I believe I get the point, Eunice,” Avelyn said quietly as Eunice
and Hugo joined their brother on the bench seat. She then tried to ignore their
presence as the warm glow that had bloomed under her parent’s compliments
died an abrupt death. She suddenly didn’t feel lovely anymore. She felt
frumpy and fat. Which she was. Only when her parents were around with their unconditional
love and acceptance did she briefly forget that fact, but then Eunice, Hugo and
Stacius were always there to remind her.
“I have ever found blueberries lovely and luscious myself.”
Avelyn turned toward the door at those sharp words to find her brother, Warin,
closing the door. She wasn’t sure how long ago he had entered, but the way
he glared at their cousins made her think it had been a while. She wasn’t
sorry when Eunice, Hugo and Stacius scrambled back to their feet and made a beeline
for the door to the kitchens.
Warin glared after them until they were gone, then turned to his deflated sister.
“Do not let them get to you, Avy. You do not look like a blueberry. You
look beautiful. Like a princess.”
Avelyn forced a smile as he reached up to squeeze her hand, but merely said
a quiet, “Thank you, Warin.”
His expression was troubled and Avelyn knew he didn’t believe he had
convinced her. For a moment, she thought he would insist she was lovely as a good
brother would, but then he seemed to let it go on a resigned sigh and instead
asked, “Do you know where father is?”
“He went above stairs with mother,” Avelyn told him, then some
of the twinkle returned to her eyes and she added, “To discuss methods of
distracting her from moping over my leave-taking.”
Warin’s eyebrows shot up, then he grinned and turned toward the doors
again. “Well, if they come down anytime soon, please tell father I need
a word with him. I shall be down at the practice field.”
“Aye.” Avelyn watched him leave, then glanced down as her maid
tugged at the material of her gown, pulling it this way, then that as she tested
its fit. “What think you, Runilda?”
“I think we might take it in another little bit in the shoulders, my
lady. ‘Tis a tad loose there.”
Avelyn tucked her neck in and tried to peer at herself. Her view of her shoulders
was too close and fuzzy to tell how they looked. She had a better view of her
overgenerous breasts, gently rounded belly and the hips that she considered to
be too wide in the blue gown. A blueberry, Eunice had said and suddenly the cloth
Avelyn had chosen with such care and found such pleasure in lost its beauty in
her eyes. She imagined herself a great round blueberry, her head sticking out
like a stem.
Avelyn fingered the material unhappily. It was lovely material. But even the
loveliest material could not make a silly old round chicken into a swan.
“Milady? Shall I take in the shoulders?” Runilda asked.
“Aye.” Avelyn let the material drop from her fingers and straightened
her shoulders determinedly. “And the waist as well. And cut away the excess.”
The maid’s eyes widened. “The waist? But the waistline fits perfectly.”
“It does now,” Avelyn agreed. “But it shall not by the wedding,
for I vow here and now that I shall lose at least a stone - hopefully two - ere
the wedding day.”
“Oh, my lady,” Runilda began with concern, “I do not think
‘tis a good idea to-”
“I do,” Avelyn said firmly. Smiling with determination, she stepped
down from the table to the bench, then onto the floor. “I will lose two
stone ere the wedding and that is that. For once in my life I will be pretty and
slender and...graceful. Paen de Gerville shall be proud to claim me.”
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