The clang of metal on metal floated through her window. How was she supposed to hear the Greek chorus? How could she hear the ancient wisdom of Lucretius if her mother laughed as soon as her father fell to the ground with a grunt and a groan?
She buried her hand in her hair, pulling long white blond strands from her face in agitation.
“I got you, Hrafn!” her mother shouted, joyful in the early spring light.
“But for that puddle…”
Her mother laughed again. “Being aware of your surroundings is half the battle, my lord.”
Her mother cried out, the sound echoing from one side of the courtyard to the other. Gwendolyn rolled her eyes. If this wasn’t a common occurrence, she would have been worried.
Her father’s rich, deep laugh echoed up.
“Hrafn, no, that’s cheating!” her mother’s voice was rosy, panting out of breath. “No, that’s—”
Their sudden silence was even worse. It wasn’t enough her parents had to flirt for the entire castle to see, but to display this much physical affection? Distasteful.
A throat being cleared echoed in her window. “My lady? My lord? You must dress. Your guests will be upon us.”
Her mother’s voice, rosier now, a slight note of embarrassment. “Thank you, Butler. Have my bath prepared.”
Gwen rolled her eyes again. That much bathing could not be healthy.
Her door opened and Mathilde bustled in with a basket on her hip. “My lady…? You are not dressed.”
Gwen rose from the desk, conscious not to smear the ink on her blue dressing gown from her mottled fingers.
“Your intended is coming and you are not ready,” Mathilde said, shaking her head.
“Well, if he does not want of me like this, then I want no part of him.”
“But a duchess, my lady! You could be Gwendolyn, Duchess of Torrey.”
“Arch said I could keep my rooms when he takes my mother’s seat,” Gwen shrugged.
Mathilde sighed. “Will you be difficult about this?”
Gwen went to the window and looked across the long slope spread under the castle. “I’m nineteen and old enough to make decisions about my life. I will not be the debt paid to the Fitzhughs.”
“Shush!” Mathilde said. “If your mother heard you—”
“It is nothing my mother has not already heard. It isn’t fair she gets to live her life and I don’t.”
“Oh, la! If you said no, they would not force you.”
Gwen raised an eyebrow. “You think so?”
“Your father would never force you.”
Gwen considered a moment. “Yes, you are right. If I objected to this young Arthur, my father would support me.” She shook her head. “I know it was always my mother’s wish to join our houses.”
Mathilde pulled a dress from the armoire and shook it out. Sapphire blue with long dagger sleeves. “Just the thing for your hair.”
Gwen slipped into the dress; ink-stained fingers incongruous against the vivid blue. Mathilde pulled her hair back into a net hung with pearls.
Gwen surveyed herself in the mirror. She looked like an ice queen, pale skin and white blond hair. Cheeks with the barest hint of pink. But the dark blue eyes of her mother. Yes, an ice queen. He wouldn’t want her and she could stay here and learn the secrets of the ancients.
Although, she was so shy and retiring, it might be hard to carry out. Then again, she was the daughter of a duchess, the daughter of a prince. She had seen her mother be a great lady and she would, too. She huffed and went to her mother’s room so they could go to the meadhall together.