Her Father's Daughter
With the Saxons still trying to keep the Normans out of England, a wounded Norman finds his way to Gwenhyfer's door only to find that not all Saxons are enemies and not all damsels are in distress.
“Calm down, Aelric.” The woman at the center of the group raised her voice above the boy’s yelling. “I know the Norman taxes are high, but we’ll pay them. The shearing starts in a few days, and, when we’ve wool, we’ll have enough to pay for all of us.”
Aelric stared at the lady of the manor. All the men there did. Beautiful like none the town of Wulfgren ever saw before. Deep blue eyes, long brown hair, not to mention a figure that the leather tunic only emphasized. But not one dared broach the subject of marriage with Gwenhyfer of Moerhab. Her father might have been dead, but his reach was still felt. Well more the knife that he gave her.
“You will have enough. They’re your sheep, your land that they live on. Hell, Lady, you own us.” Aelric glared.
Her blue eyes narrowed, and all the men took an unconscious step back. “My father gave you your land and your freedom. You’re not my serfs. Get that through your thick skull, boy. Do you want me to rescind the order and make you such again? I need men to work the sheep and land. What I’ve left isn’t fit for farming. Now do you want me to leave you to pay the taxes yourself on the little you don’t need to feed yourself, or are you going to work with me?”
“We’re the same age, remember.” Aelric got a hard hand to the back of the head as his father, Aethelred, made his will known.
“Ignore the boy, Lady. He forgets the days of his young life when we were left to such things alone. If my son has finished his posturing, let’s get to work.”
Gwenhyfer walked to the gate in the ten-foot high wall as everyone rushed around behind her. The stone manor house had heavy oak doors and shutters, all that stood for protection. Beyond it lay untamed land, with only the village of Wulfgren, for days. The taxes did not bother her. If not enough money came from the wool, she would dig into her own monies and make up the difference. Not that she would ever tell them that. The Saxons holing up in the area were what caused her the worry. The peddler that came through the week before told of the Normans closing in to rout them out. The village could not afford to be delinquent in paying the taxes after that. All would be suspected of being in league with the Saxons.
With a great pile of fleece in her arms, Gwenhyfer could hear a commotion. Finally letting the pile drop, she spit out a mouthful and looked around. The yard stood empty, but the voices grew louder, as she followed the sound.
Aelric, of course, stood at the center of about ten villagers. “You saw the fighting with your own eyes?” the boy asked.
“You should've seen it. Blood everywhere. One great Norman fellow took a man’s head off with a single blow,” Leofric boasted. The boy never wanted to work. He came by all the time disrupting the others with crude jokes and tales of the world outside Wulfgren. His mother always was complaining he’d get himself killed one day putting his nose where it shouldn’t be.
“Where are they hiding now? I have to join the Saxons.” Aelric crowed.
Gwenhyfer grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. “You will get back to work.”
“You’re not my master.”
Gwenhyfer shook her head slowly. “No, boy. I’m trying to keep your father from having to bury you if there’s that much left of you to find. It has been a year since Hastings; the Normans rule. These men hide in the forest. For God’s sake, use the brain in your head. Perhaps if they were some Saxon eoarl with a manor and men enough to fight, it might be worth it, but these idiots...Every person with a hungry belly is turning them in. Do you know how long you would last?”
Aelric straightened his back. “You mean, if your father still lived, there would be a chance?”
Her father, the knight. The giant Viking. The thought only made the loneliness return. “I don’t even know if he would've survived Hastings, Aelric. Even giants can be overcome when the enemy has long bows. I only know that you’ll die if you go to them. You've no skill at arms, and they’re on the run. They’ll not be able to teach you. I doubt they even have enough swords to provide you with the arms to protect yourself.”
“You could,” the boy whispered.
Gwenhyfer felt like cursing. “I shall not put a sword in your hand and get you killed when your father is getting too old to keep his farm together. Go find a girl and wed her. Raise babies so your father can rest.”
“Yes, Milady,” he muttered angrily. Aelric and the others wandered off.
Loneliness filled her. The same age as most of them, and yet, not one looked at her as if she might be alone. Oh, they looked often enough. She caught them staring when they thought her back turned. Never once would they consider courting her. She’d never felt so much like a matron. She ran a manor house alone, a wealthy beautiful ‘alone’. Scared of her father before, now scared of her.