The Forest House

The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley Read Free Book Online

Book: The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley Read Free Book Online
Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley
though there seemed no reason she should care, he fancied that this one did not like him.
    Cynric nodded and turned to a young woman who had passed by with a jug of milk. "Mairi, our guest is named Gawen, if you have not turned dairy woman in such earnest that you cannot even greet him.” The older woman bowed her head in polite acknowledgment, but did not reply. As she turned he could see that she was not plump, but exceedingly pregnant. She looked as if she had been crying.
    "And that’s all of us, except for my baby sister Senara,” Cynric said. This was a little girl of six or seven, with fair hair like Eilan’s. She looked out shyly from behind Mairi’s skirt and then grew bolder, saying, "Eilan did not come to bed with me at all; Mother said she sat by you all night long.”
    "Then I am honored by her kindness,” Gaius said, laughing, "but I have little success with women if the prettiest of them pays me no heed. Why were you not anxious to watch by me, little one?”
    She was a round-faced, rosy little thing, and reminded him of his own sister, who had not long survived his mother’s death three years ago. He drew the child to him with his good arm and she crept up on the seat beside him where she rested contentedly. Later she insisted on sharing his plate when the older girls, Mairi and Dieda, brought them food, and Gaius laughed and humored her.
    Cynric and Dieda were talking together in low tones. Gaius tried to deal with his food, but his bandaged arm made it difficult. Eilan saw the trouble he was having and came and sat on his other side. With a little sharp knife she wore at her belt, she unobtrusively cut up his food into morsels that he could manage, and told the child, in a quiet voice that did not carry beyond their own ears, not to bother their guest. That done, Eilan’s shyness returned. She went to the fireplace without speaking, and Gaius was content to watch her.
    One of the servants brought a child about a year old to Mairi, and the young woman, without the slightest self-consciousness, unfastened her dress and sat nursing it, chatting with Cynric. She glanced at Gaius with innocent curiosity, saying, "Now I can see why you sent to borrow my husband’s other tunic and breeches. He has gone off to—” She broke off, frowning. "I did not think he would mind loaning his gear to a guest, though he may have a word to say to me if he finds I gave his dry clothes away while he was shivering in the forest. Tell me, Gawen, are all the Silures as short as you, like one of the little people, or did some Roman creep into your grandmother’s bed one night?”
    Any answer Gaius might have made was drowned in laughter all along the table. Gaius remembered that the Britons were given to grosser jesting than a Roman of good breeding would think tasteful. It was true that the Silures were small for Britons, dark and fine-boned compared to the big, fair-skinned men of the Belgic tribes. Cynric and Eilan and Dieda and Rheis were of that type. But Gaius’s few memories of his uncle who ruled the Silures were of a man of power despite his lack of height, a man quick to fury or laughter, with tattooed dragons coiling up his arms.
    An answer came to him which he would not have dared to make in Roman company, but which might serve here. "As to that, I cannot say, Mistress Mairi, but they fit me well enough—and you were not unwilling I should fill them.”
    Cynric threw back his head with a great bass roar of laughter, taken up by all the others. Even the quiet Rheis smiled a little, but quickly sobered, as if she knew something Mairi did not. For a moment it seemed as if she were forcing herself to congeniality. She turned to Ardanos.
    "Father, shall we have some music?”
    Ardanos picked up the harp and looked sharply at Gaius. The younger man had a sudden conviction that the old Druid knew perfectly well what—and perhaps who—he was. But how

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