KIND EYES AND A LION’S HEART
Viola took refuge in the corridor leading to the family apartments. No one would be going there for a little while, so she could be away from the company, the noise and the machinations of her aunt. She was especially happy to be away from the boastful, arrogant Lord Barengar. He was another in a line of greedy suitors, none of whom had inspired even a portion of the respect and admiration she felt for the kind and pleasant Sir Melvin.
“Here you are, Viola! What are you doing?” her friend Sylvia cried, hurrying toward her. Sylvia was dressed in the extreme of fashion in a pleated gown of rose-colored silk with very wide, very heavily embroidered cuffs. “The dancing’s about to begin and Lord Barengar is looking for you.”
“Did he say so?” Viola asked, making no move to go.
“No, but it’s quite obvious he’s wondering where you’ve gone.”
“I’m sure he’ll find someone else to dance with.”
Sylvia regarded her with amazement. “Don’t you want to dance with the handsomest man in the hall?”
“Since he is the handsomest man in the hall, I’m even more certain he’ll not lack for partners if I choose not to return.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to dance with him?” Sylvia demanded. “You’re not sick, are you? Or are you too tired? You shouldn’t have spent so much time in the tent for the wounded.”
“I’m not ill or tired. I simply don’t want to dance.” Especially with Lord Barengar, whose marital ambitions were all too obvious.
“Lord Barengar adores you, as anyone can see.”
“He adores my uncle’s power and estates, and no doubt would adore my dowry, too. As for what he thinks of me, he knows I’m a woman. More than that, I don’t think he cares.”
“Surely you’re wrong! And just think of being married to a man as handsome as he!” Sylvia gushed. “I’d think I’d died and gone to heaven.”
“Perhaps,” was all Viola trusted herself to reply, although she had been thinking about it. She would rather be in heaven than married to a man like that. He would likely never be faithful and he’d probably treat as little more than a servant, just as her uncle treated her aunt.
She didn’t want to talk about Lord Barengar anymore, but Sylvia was a font of information, so she didn’t hurry away, either. “Isn’t Lord Barengar’s cousin here, too?”
Sylvia giggled. “Oh, my dear, he is and he’s such a buffoon! He didn’t even make it to the first charge in the melee before he was off his horse. And his squire isn’t even of noble birth. He’s his steward’s son, if you can believe it!”
Viola could easily believe that Sir Melvin would give a steward’s son a chance to rise in the world, just as he’d given up any chance in the melee to help the injured lad.
“Only think of being married to a fellow like that!” Sylvia went on with a titter. “He can barely hold a sword, let alone a lance, and he’s going to be as round as a barrel in a few years. Lady Fishly says he can talk the hind legs off a donkey, too. He’ll probably talk his wife to death without saying a single thing worth hearing.”
“It all depends on what one considers worth hearing, I suppose,” Viola replied, not mentioning Sir Melvin’s mellifluous voice. She’d be happy to hear him recite a list of foodstuffs in that deep, smooth bass. “As for his shape, I don’t expect to be slender all my life, either, especially if God grants me children. And if he can barely hold a sword or lance, he won’t be running off to wars or tournaments or making trouble with the neighbours.”
“Why, Viola, such an ardent defense!” Sylvia replied with another giggle. “But then, you always champion the weak.” Sylvia looked down at the ground and a pink tinge came to her cheeks, reminding Viola that she was little more than a girl. “I suppose you think I’m petty and unkind. I don’t mean to be.”
Viola immediately regretted speaking so sternly. “I’m sorry, Sylvia, but there’s more to a good marriage than a handsome husband.” She put her knuckle under Sylvia’s chin and raised her face so that her friend could see her smile. “Of course, if one finds one’s future husband attractive, that’s a good thing. It shouldn’t be the only thing, though, or even the most important.”
She was tempted to tell Sylvia that Melvin’s lovely voice, kind eyes and gentle smile, as well as his genuine good nature and patience, more than made up for any extra bulk on his frame, but she did not. She didn’t want to give Sylvia any hint of her true feelings. Sylvia was as likely to talk too much as Melvin, and the results would be disastrous if her aunt got wind of her feelings. “Let’s go back to the hall, shall we? If Lord Barengar wants to dance with me, I shall.”
And she would say no more about Sir Melvin, or the other quality she had seen in him. That fury in his eyes when Barengar blocked his way was enough to tell her that whatever Sylvia or anybody else thought, there was a lion’s heart residing within Sir Melvin’s stocky frame.
Chapter Three begins on June 15.
This work is protected by copyright. See sidebar for notice.
Note: This novella is PG13. With the exception of GWYNETH ANDTHE THIEF and THE WASTREL, my books are usually steamier.