Twin Passions(7)

By: Miriam Minger

"Here, let me help you, my lady," the maid offered, setting the breakfast trencher on a low table near the bed. She straightened the camise about Anora's body, smoothing the myriad soft folds that fell almost to the floor. "May I suggest the blue tunic for the betrothal feast?" she asked, glancing over at the array of garments spread out on the bed. Lady Bronwen's seamstresses had worked many hours preparing the fine clothes for the wedding festivities, each seeking to outdo the other in their choice of fabric and decorative stitching.

Anora nodded her approval, sighing appreciatively as the silken fabric of the tunic was slipped over her head. The rich, sapphire blue silk felt cool to the touch, caressing her creamy skin. The neck, wrists, and hem of the tunic were stitched with fine embroidery of silver threads. After the tunic went a gray silk mantle fastened at the shoulders by two filigree silver brooches.

"Mistress, you are truly beautiful!" exclaimed the maid, clapping her hands together as she surveyed her handiwork. The gray silk of the mantle enhanced the emerald depths of Anora's eyes, which were dancing with anticipation.

Seating her on a cushioned chair, the maid brushed the few tangles from Anora's lovely hair. As a final touch she placed a finely etched silver circlet on her head, as a symbol of her maidenhood. After marriage, the circlet would be worn with a transparent veil to cover her hair. The maid then handed Anora a small metal mirror, holding her breath as she anxiously awaited a response.

A radiant smile lit Anora's face as she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. "Aye, I truly feel beautiful today." She blushed, secretly hoping that Wulfgar would also find her appearance pleasing. Thanking the maid for her assistance, she gently dismissed her, wishing to be alone for a while.

As the maid shut the door behind her, Anora stepped over to the small window and gazed out into the courtyard at the busy scene below. Servants were bustling to and fro from the great hall on their varied tasks, some carrying great rounds of cheese, others laden with piles of fine table linens, and still others hurrying toward the kitchen clutching squawking chickens. Large barrels of ale and mead were being wheeled into the hall from the brewing house, guests were beginning to arrive, and the sounds of boisterous laughter could be heard all around.

Anora spied one of Wulfgar's men crossing the yard and her heart leaped to her throat. How she had yearned for this day! Wulfgar had left her for his lands near York a few weeks ago to make preparations for her arrival after their marriage. Knowing that he would soon return for her was consolation enough, but the days had passed achingly slow. The thought of him—his handsome face, and the memory of his strong arms around her —had filled her every waking hour. But it had been her dreams—veiled, breathless images of passion she had never before experienced—that had caused her to awaken trembling and flushed in the night, calling out his name.

How different she felt now, as if she had never known life without him, she mused, remembering with some chagrin the day her father had told her of his agreement with King Edgar concerning her marriage. Shocked by the abruptness of his announcement, she had retreated to her chamber in a flood of tears. Earl Godric, who had been at a loss as how best to present the news, realized he had failed miserably as he watched his daughter flee the hall. With a reproachful glance at her startled husband, Lady Bronwen rushed out after her. Shaking his head at the strange ways of women, he had slumped resignedly into his chair before the fireplace.

Sobbing miserably into her down pillow, Anora had felt that her childhood dreams were shattered forever. With her mother's comforting arms about her, she tearfully poured out her secret wish that she would one day marry for love. She knew the marriage of her parents had been decreed by others, but fortunately a great love had grown between them. Grasping a glimmer of hope that her mother would be able to make her father understand her feelings, she had watched through tear-dimmed eyes as Lady Bronwen hurriedly left the room.

Anora shuddered as she vividly recalled the loud voices she had heard resounding from the great hall. Never before had her parents raised their voices to each other! Feeling fresh tears burning her cheeks, she had rushed dazedly back to the hall to tell her father she would accept the proposal — anything to restore harmony. To her amazement she found her parents no longer embroiled in a heated argument, but wrapped in a tender embrace.

Her father had asked her to be seated, then explained the king's reasoning behind the marriage and his hopes for a continued peace in England. Glancing briefly at Lady Bronwen, he continued in a low, solemn voice. She remembered his words as if they had been spoken only yesterday: "Anora, 'tis my hope that you will honor the agreement between myself and King Edgar, and accept Wulfgar Ragnarson as your husband. But as your mother and I do not wish for you to be unhappy, we have agreed to allow you to decide for yourself if such a marriage would please you."