'Then you will take him?'
She had seldom met the FitzWarin family. Occasional weddings and marcher gatherings had brought her into passing contact with the womenfolk. Eve FitzWarin possessed the beauty and responsiveness of an effigy. Mellette Peverel was an autocratic matriarch with a sword for a tongue. FitzWarin himself had sometimes visited Ludlow and had campaigned often with Joscelin in the war between Stephen and Matilda. He was not at ease with women the way Joscelin was and more than a little dour. But she had seen him laugh once and it had changed his face.
'Yes,' she said, 'I will be glad to take him.' She studied Joscelin. 'What are you not telling me?'
'Nothing.' He avoided her gaze. 'The boy will need gentle handling.'
She sat up and faced him. 'As Marion needs gentle handling?'
'No, not quite like that. But…' He made a gesture. 'He needs encouragement from me… and the tenderness of women from you. He's not had much of either in his own household. FitzWarin did not put it in those terms exactly, but I know what he meant, and after what happened at the fair…'
Sybilla raised a questioning eyebrow and Joscelin gave her an abbreviated account of Brunin's ordeal. As she listened, her indignation grew. 'The poor child,' she said. 'Even if FitzWarin is your friend, he is a dolt.'
'Sometimes,' Joscelin conceded, 'but you were not there to see the undercurrents. Whatever else, he loves the boy.
I'll have a scribe draft a letter on the morrow and send a rider to Whittington.'
She nodded. 'You had better tell Hawise about him, because I am not sure that she believed me. Marion certainly didn't.'
He chuckled. 'I promise I'll do it in the morning, straight after mass.' Draining his wine, he set his cup aside.
Sybilla gave him a considering look. 'You don't think FitzWarin is inveigling a match between his son and one of our daughters?'
'Of course he is,' Joscelin said easily. 'In his place, I would certainly have an eye to the future, but it is the secondary reason for his request. We can observe the boy's progress and measure our decisions as the future dictates. I am in no hurry to betrothe our girls, and I think you are of the same mind?'
'Indeed,' Sybilla said. 'I want them to be content with the choice we make when the time comes, and for that they need to be old enough to have a say in the decision.'
He took the end of her braid in his hand and ran his thumb over the wiry silver and dark strands. 'You want them to have the choice that you did not?'
'Yes.' She covered his fingers with hers, thinking that sometimes his perception was too keen for comfort. 'That is not to disparage you or Payne. Perhaps you also would have preferred a choice… a younger wife, for instance?'
He gave her that sleepy smile again. 'I have no complaint with my lot,' he said. 'Younger wives bring their own burden of troubles and there is much to be said for experience.' His hand left her braid and, with slow deliberation, he unpinned the brooch that fastened the neck of her gown. Leaning into his body, Sybilla closed her eyes and raised her face to his.
Usually he would fall asleep after they had made love, but this time he did not. 'The squires that attacked the boy… they belonged to Gilbert de Lacy,' he murmured as his heartbeat slowed.
Sybilla held her breath. Her cousin's name was one that had echoed down the years of both her marriages as he continuously pressed his claim to Ludlow. Payne and Joscelin had thwarted him at every turn, but that had not deterred him. Rather his persistence had grown until it was a constant, nagging pressure. A knot of apprehension replaced the languor of good lovemaking.
To be fair, he did not know about the assault on Brunin. I could see the surprise in his eyes.'
Sybilla raised up on her elbow and, by the light of the candles, gazed at her husband. His expression gave little away, but she knew how to read him by now. The tightness of line at his mouth corners, the
Nauti, wild (Riding The Edge)