Merry sounds of music drifted upward to Bree’s ears.
She sat at her dressing table, looking into the polished
oval mirror hanging above it. Reflected back to her was
a young woman in her prime, an extraordinary beauty
with gentle grace. She studied her face for a long
moment. Not bad, she thought, though too skinny. She
“Why do ya look at yerself that way, milady?”
Honoria, her maid, asked. “Yer such a lovely wee lass.
And see how that fine handsome Sir Gavin has noticed
ya.” At Bree’s gasp, Honoria continued. “Why, he
could’nae take his eyes from ya today in the hall.”
“No, Honoria, don’t say such things,” Bree chided. “I
never did anything to gain his notice. The Holy Sisters
would have had me scrubbing stone floors for a month if
ever a man thought to look at me.”
Honoria chuckled but rushed to reassure her young
“Oh, I’m not saying ya had’nae done anything to
make him take notice of ya. Yer only too pretty a lass ta
ignore,” Honoria stated flatly in her lilting brogue.
“Now, up with ya.” She pinched both of Bree’s cheeks,
bringing color to them. “Go join in the party to celebrate
yer safe return home to yer clan.”
Bree loved the older woman like a mother. She rose
from the dressing table and ran small hands down her
long sleeved, yellow woolen gunna overdress. Under it
was a buck colored kirtle softly outlining her petite form
and over it, an intricate golden girdle set with pearls
completed her wardrobe. She wore an intricate necklace
of the finest woven gold with pearls around her narrow
shoulders. Her hair hung in gentle scented waves around
Honoria padded up to her. “Here ya are, milady.” She
reached up and placed a wreath of violets and yellow
wild flowers on Bree’s head. Tears glistened in the
maid’s doe-like eyes. “Oh, milady, yer blessed mama
would be so proud of ya today.” She sniffed and wiped
her nose on her sleeve.
Bree, a smile touching her lips, leaned in and
squeezed the maid in a hug. As she left the chamber, the
smell of roasting quail, pheasant, and boar rose to her
nostrils. As she descended the stairs, she felt the eyes of
the hall on her. She looked up as she reached the bottom
landing, and Thomas rushed to her side. Bree hugged
“Bree, listen to the minstrel. We’ve never had one
before.” The boy’s happy face gazed at her. The hall was
filled with people of every persuasion. Not only the
traveling minstrel troupe, but it seemed as though the
whole of the shire of Sheffield had turned out to
celebrate their lady’s return. In addition to the minstrels
filling the hall with music and merriment, there were
peasants, young and old, side by side with the bravest of
knights, tradesmen, shopkeepers and serving wenches
joining in the gaiety. Casks of ale were broken open and
skins of wine were freely dispersed amongst the crowd.
Bree hugged her brother again and laughed. She
couldn’t help but feel that a great weight had lifted from
her shoulders now that she was home.
As she made her way through the hall, she noticed
Gavin standing beside Malik near one of the long tables
in the hall. She took a moment to admire the man from
the curly top of his dark head to the twinkling golden
eyes as they traced her movements from the shadows
cast by the firelight. He was taller than she remembered,
with amazingly broad shoulders that tapered down to a
lean waist. He was clothed in a brown tunic which
tightly fit his muscled torso, closed with cross strings of
soft leather. Beneath the tunic were buck colored
chausses, the stockings snugly fitting along his hard
thighs. The fit that stretched across the hard maleness of
him was exquisite.
His sculpted face and his square jaw were closely
shaven, and his nose tapered perfectly between thick
black slashing eyebrows. She noticed that his eyelashes
were so long, that they curled at the ends. He was a
magnificent looking man.
Sir Robert swaggered up to her and, grasping her
around the waist, spun her into a drunken dance. She
gasped in surprise as she was passed down a row of
knights, each in turn spinning her into a short merry
dance in time with the music. She laughed heartily and
tried to keep up with their revelry. Finally, panting, she
bent and, placing her hands on her stomach, she
attempted to quit laughing long enough to catch her
breath. Thomas appeared before Bree and, taking up her
hand, spun her into another disjointed dance. She
laughed merrily at her brother’s antics.
Before long, more serving wenches appeared, bearing
trenchers laden with every kind of delicious food. There
were platters of roasted meats, eels, and fish in rich
sauces. In addition, trays of ripe fruits and steaming
loaves of newly-baked bread topped with freshly
churned butter joined the crocks of honey and filled the
long table. Everyone ate heartily.
Malik sat down at the long table and beckoned Gavin
with a wave of his hand and a broad grin.” Come, Gavin.
You drool as though you are a starving man; come and
feed on this.” Malik held out a small fruit to Gavin.
Breaking his own private reverie, Gavin tore his gaze
away from Bree’s pretty form. He stepped forward,
taking the fruit from Malik, and frowned at him.
“I should have left you where I found you, my painted
friend.” Gavin’s eyes twinkled as he chewed. He
referred to Malik’s smiling face, which was covered
with an intricate pattern of permanent marks in the
tradition of his ancestors.
“In my homeland, all men coming of age in my
village are tattooed with these marks. It is a tradition that
goes back to my father’s father.”
Gavin understood that this meant many, many more
generations, probably thousands of years.
“It gives a man vigor and potency with a woman,”
Malik boasted. He winked and grinned again, popping a
plump fruit into his mouth. “I have thirteen children,”
the giant said.
Gavin could well attest to Malik’s vigor. He laughed
out loud this time, a hearty rumble.