KIND EYES AND A LION’S HEART
“Good ol’ Melvin,” Barengar muttered as Melvin helped him onto the bed in the chamber given over to his use while at the tournament.
Like Melvin’s, it wasn’t large, but big enough for a bed, a washstand with a basin, ewer, linen and a candle, as well as a wooden dummy holding his chainmail, helmet and shield. A chest at the foot of the bed contained his clothing. His squire, Theodore, noticeably absent, slept on a pallet rolled up by the door.
“Where’s Theodore?” Melvin asked as he tugged off Barengar’s boots none too gently and let them fall to the ground. Not only had Barengar disgraced himself by acting no better than the village sot and was likely leading Theodore down the same path, he’d called him “Fatty” in front of everyone in the courtyard.
Including Lady Viola.
“Theo’s in th’ tavern,” Barengar slurred. “Passed out a while ago. Young fool still can’t hold his drink.”
He shouldn’t have to, Melvin thought with disgust. Barengar hated to drink alone, and he’d no doubt insisted the lad accompany him if no one else had a mind to.
“Wha’s the matter?” Barengar asked, hoisting himself on his elbows, his brow wrinkled.
“Go to sleep,” Melvin replied. “I’ll find Theodore and bring him back.”
He’d also offer the lad a word or two of advice about making himself scarce at the end of the evening so he wouldn’t feel compelled --
“I can always count on you, can’t I, coz?” Barengar said, grinning drunkenly as he sat up again. “I’ve got a favor to ask you, old man.”
Melvin crossed his arms over his broad chest. “If it’s to help you pack your baggage so you can go, I will be only too glad to assist.”
Barengar frowned. “Wha’s got into you? Just had a harmless bit o’ fun last night.”
Melvin didn’t answer as he started for the door.
He hesitated, then turned back.
“I need your help, old fellow. Really.”
Melvin regarded him warily. “I’m not fetching you any wine.”
Barengar got up and lurched toward him, taking hold of Melvin’s arm and regarding him with a pleading expression that actually looked sincere. “No, I really need your help! I wanna get married. It’s about time, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps,” Melvin replied with a sick feeling in his stomach that increased when Barengar continued. “To Lady Viola.”
Melvin tried to remain calm, telling himself Barengar would abandon this plan when he woke up and realized the lady herself wasn’t interested, even if her aunt and uncle might be. “Go to sleep.”
Barengar threw his arm around Melvin’s shoulder. “You don’t believe me? I really mean it, Melvin. She’s rich and she’s clever.”
“Don’t you think she may be too clever?” Melvin asked. He’d always assumed Barengar would want a dim-witted bride who wouldn’t realize the unfaithful, feckless husband he would be.
“Not a bit!” Barengar cried, smacking Melvin on the chest. “I need a clever woman to manage things. Granted, she’s not very pretty, but the bedchamber’ll be dark.”
Melvin threw off his cousin’s arm. “I think you should discuss your marital plans with somebody else.”
“Her aunt and uncle, you mean. That’s true. Her aunt’s keen, though, and as for --” Barengar’s eyes widened with a look akin to dismay. “Oh, God!” he cried before he rushed to the bucket, where he lost a good deal of the wine he’d imbibed.
This was not the first time Melvin had seen his cousin in such a state, or the first time he’d helped his cousin back to bed, where Barengar flopped down and started to snore.
It was the first time Melvin felt not a jot of pity for him.
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Note: This novella is PG13. With the exception of GWYNETH AND THE THIEF and THE WASTREL, my books are usually steamier.