In Bed With A StrangerBy: Mary Wine
Warwick Castle, 1578
“She shall not touch my pearls.” The Countess of Warwickshire was a beautiful woman but her lips twisted into an ugly expression as she glared at her husband’s mistress.
“In sooth, she shall, Wife.” The earl entered on silent feet; even his spurs didn’t make any noise. He kept his voice even but there was the unmistakable ring of authority in it. Every servant in the room lowered their head in deference to the master of the house before continuing on with their tasks. But they listened to every word. The brewing discontent of the lady of the manor sent excitement through the staff. It had been growing since the day the lord’s mistress had been discovered with child. A reckoning was long overdue.
“She shall wear the pearls and the new garments I instructed you to order made when the babe was birthed.”
Lady Philipa bit into her lower lip as a scathing reply leapt to mind. She dared not voice it too harshly; men were such fickle creatures when it came to their cocks. She lowered her head to hide her frown as she curtsied to her husband. When she raised her face, her lips were smooth once more, a testimony to years of training at the hands of her governess. Women had to be much more controlled than men, in the world where they were owned by them.
“My lord, am I to have no comforts? Shall I be reduced to seeing my own finery placed onto your leman? Will you see me shamed in front of my own household?”
The earl stepped in front of his wife, his dark gaze traveling over her face as he lifted one finger in front of her nose.
“You are a bitch, Philipa. A truly spoilt, pampered bitch, who doesn’t even bother to perform the function of a true bitch.” His hand closed into a fist that he shook in front of her alarmed eyes. “Hear me well, lady wife! There will be no dishonesty in this house! Declare to one and all that you are without comforts and I will have your chamber stripped of its tapestries and carpets. Your fine gowns and jewelry will be shut away and the spice cabinet locked so that you may, in truth, live without comforts.”
The countess gasped but covered her mouth lest she spit out an angry retort and seal her fate. The earl nodded his head to himself before gripping her arm and turning her to face his mistress, Ivy Copper. Ivy was sitting up in bed with her new daughter at her breast. The babe kicked and pushed a plump fist against her mother’s swollen breast as it suckled. She was a lively babe, in spite of the fact that no one had swaddled it. The strips of fabric cost money and Ivy didn’t have any say over what she was given. The servants were Philipa’s to command. She had not commanded that anyone spend time wrapping the babe in strips of swaddling fabric to ensure that its limbs grew straight. Only a long shift covered the babe, like a peasant child.
Ivy’s hair was brushed into a soft shine over her opposite shoulder as she celebrated her sitting-up day. Philipa secretly hoped that her husband’s mistress might die of childbed fever, but she sat there looking the picture of good health. Even her milk had come in to ensure that her bastard would be full and strong.
“Yet, you are shamed, Philipa, shamed by the fact of your own cowardice.” Her husband turned her so she could stare up into his face. A shiver shook her as she caught a hint of his manly scent. Her weak female body enjoyed it. Avoiding his bed took discipline.
“Ah, you’re a coward, Philipa. You left my bed for fear of childbirth. Look at my new daughter, Wife. God favors the bold.” His gaze softened for a moment as he offered her a kind look. “You are my lady wife. Return to my bed and take up your duty as wife. If you do, I swear there will be no other taking your place. No bastard-born child set above your own children.”
Her head shook back and forth as she pulled against his grip. Fear strangled her, trapping her words in her throat. Giving birth was deadly! Over half her friends had gone to their graves as fever engulfed their bodies or, worse still, their babes refused to be pushed from their wombs. They died in withering agony, with long hours of endless pain.
The earl snorted with disgust. Pointing his thick finger at her, his voice boomed so that it reverberated against all the walls of the chamber. “Then you yourself shall place that string of pearls around my leman’s neck and follow her to her churching. You will stand as godmother to my new daughter.”