Father Brian hovered at the edge of the conversation, and then he caught their eyes.  He came forward.  "Good evening, Ladies.  Might I speak to Julia alone, please?"  Marian nodded and moved off to study a tapestry nearby.  She didn't quite make it out of hearing range though.

"Julia, is something wrong?" he asked.

"Just Sir Dennis stirring up trouble.  He was in a compromising position with Emily, alone in the side hall.  And he's been saying all kinds of things about our family.  Calling us cowards, and the like!"

Brian looked a bit uncomfortable.   "Well, I'll go talk to him.  Don't worry any more about it."  And with that he went across the hall to speak to Emily.

Julia shook her head, as she joined Marian.  "I suppose you heard?  Well, I told Sir Dennis that he'd be sorry if he kept insulting us.  And then I found him alone with Emily in the hall, holding her hands.  He said it wasn't what it seemed, but I don't believe him."

Marian sighed.  "Well, Brian is the one to fix this, if anyone.  Let him handle it.  You and I have other things to worry about."  She smiled as the Baron walked by, bowing to the ladies as he passed.

Things settled down a bit as the evening continued.  Julia went back to her attempts at catching eligible men's eyes.  Sir Thomas came and asked for dances from them both.  There was much about him that was similar to Rhys, but there were differences as well..  Rhys and Thomas were both skilled in courtesy and very similar in the way they moved, but Rhys obviously had the mantle of leadership on him.  His duties perhaps calmed the fires a bit that had not yet been checked in Thomas.

Marian mused on these things a bit when Sir Dennis's voice drew her attention. The musicians stopped with a sharp note at the same time.  Dennis glared at William the Fourth, who sat at a table with some of her other relatives.

Dennis was saying "I've now been threatened by a woman and a priest.  When are the men, the knights, of the Manston family going to do something about this?  Is Xavier the only one who has the courage to stand up for himself?"

Dennis and William immediately became the focus of everyone's attention. Rhys, Thomas, Kyle, and assorted others moved closer.  Some others moved farther away.  Julia grabbed Marian's arm, dragging her to a window embrasure where they both could see from its raised step.

William rose from his chair, his face florid with rage.  "I don't listen to insults from stupid barbarian borderers!  You, who spend your time with nobles who would be peasants, where do you think you have the right to criticize me?"

"When you send your women and your clergy to do your threats, rather than face me with steel yourself!  At least some of your women care to stand up for their family, while the rest of you hide."

William opened his mouth, but his first words were lost under a bellow. "THAT'S ENOUGH!  HOW DARE YOU SPEAK THAT WAY DURING THIS TIME TO REJOICE OVER THE LORD'S BIRTH!  FOR SHAME!"  Bishop Conner pushed his way to the front.  "Nephew, I will have words aplenty for you!"

Thomas and Kyle grabbed Dennis by the arms and pulled him from the room, while Conner and Rhys took the sputtering Sir William.  Brian stood there looking dumbfounded, a look that was echoed on  most people's faces.  Kyle's lady, Heather, glared at the musicians and they quickly started up on a brisk cheery piece.  No one was fooled. The tune jarred against the emotions that reverbrated in the vaulted room, but it helped those who remained to act as if such appalling behavior had not occured.

Eventually William returned, but Dennis did not.  Julia and Marian slipped away fairly shortly after that.  Those who were left were drinking heavily to distract themselves, and most of the guests made excuses to go to bed early.  The Baroness Felicia was upset and took it out on the youngest generation, snapping at minor ettiquette infractions, sending them all quickly away from the hall..

Copyright 1998 Bernadette Crumb and Jennifer Brinn

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