Men sparred in the bailey, their breaths like clouds in the morning chill. Renaurd felt his muscles tighten as he blocked the onslaught of maneuvers.
“Is that the best you’ve got, Gerald?” he scoffed at his friend.
The other man guffawed, “Nay, it isn’t.” With that, he arched his blade to meet the other.
The men had been up the entire night. It had started out pleasant enough with dinner and cider. The men and their wives enjoyed visiting together during the winter months. With the Lady of the house, Isamina , late into her pregnancy, Gerald and Peronell had made the trip this time.
Early last eve, they had all been sitting in the great hall taking turns telling stories of the year’s campaign. It was brought to a halt when Isamina began having shooting pains in her abdomen.
“‘Tis too soon,” she fretted.
“It will pass with no trouble,” Peronell told her.
They eventually realized that it would not pass and sent for the midwife. The women went above stairs to rest. They all waited and waited, but no one came.
“What is this then?” Renaurd demanded of the servant who bore the news.
“Apologies, my Lord…” he drifted off, not having any answer for the man and not wanting to incur his wrath.
An elderly Dunnick woman with grey weaving through her dark red tresses entered from the kitchens. “I believe I can be of assistance, my Lord.”
Looking down his nose, he replied, “Do you now?” Gerald watched the exchange from near the fireplace in amusement. A little boy sat at his feet banging toy soldiers together, and another sat off to the side studying.
“Aye,” she said, confronting his gaze steadily. “Delivered all of m’ grandbarns m’self.”
Renuard held her gaze. When the woman would not look away, he waved his hand dismissively, “Well be to it then.”
He returned to his friend, where they sat and drank until becoming too restless to sit any longer. The boys were taken to bed, and the men moved out of doors to work off some energy on the lists.
Their swords met again. “Gah! What is taking so long?” Renuard spat in frustration.
Just then, a servant ran up to them, staying clear of the blades. “My Lord!”
“Finally!” The men stopped their sparring and made their way across the yard to the building with the servant girl trailing behind. Before reaching the door, Renaurd turned on the girl and said, “It is a boy, yes?”
Her steps faltered, “Nay, my Lord.”
“Damn,” he said, walking into the keep.
Gerald laughed at his friend’s expense. “There is always next time,” he said throwing his arm over the other man’s shoulders.
“I suppose,” his mood was dark indeed.
“You have a daughter – and so what? I have sons,” he said proddingly.
Catching on to the man’s train of thought, Renaurd felt his mood begin to lighten. “You are right!”
They made their way up the stairs to his wife’s chamber. Gerald waited outside while Renaurd continued in. Peronell sat on blood coated sheets while pressing a damp cloth to Isamina’s forehead.
“I am sorry, Renaurd,” she said weakly.
He ignored the blood around the room, having seen much of it in his life. “Do not fret, Gerald and I have it sorted. Besides, they’ll be a boy next time.”
“I think not, my Lord,” the old Dunnick woman said from across the room. She held a small infant in her arms, rocking it gently. “The birth was hard on my Lady.” She said nodding to the sheets and piles of soaked linens, all stained red. The woman lying on the bed, nearly unresponsive, should have been evidence enough.
He did not let her words dampen his mood, but felt the need to remind her, “When was there ever a time a Dun knew more of this world…?”