Lady Alayna watched in disgust as her host, Sir Sigmund Blunderbuss, devoured the remains of his pheasant. A thick line of grease rimmed the open cavern known as his mouth. It baffled her how this great oaf had wormed his way into polite society. Despite his acquired wealth, he simply lacked the suitability to be a part of the nobles’ refined circle.
She turned to her husband, whispering her displeasures and hoping for his support. He glared at her and simply shook his head in reprimand. “We’ll discuss it later.”
Alayna batted her sky blue eyes and her look of contrition melted Sir Edgar’s heart. He loved his new bride dearly, but her naïveté could be exasperating. Edgar patted his wife’s hand and turned his attention back to the other nobles’ conversations about pheasant hunting and the ongoing border dispute in the Northern Kingdom.
Attempting to fain interest in the men’s discussion was a trial for Alayna as was working her way into the women’s trivial exchanges. She hadn’t been part of her husband’s circle of friends long enough to really know the older women yet. She turned her attention back to Sir Sigmund. His appearance, at least, amused her. She looked at his tiny head and bulging eyes perched upon immense shoulders. His lips curled in a constant snarl, but as she looked at his grey eyes, she sensed a gentleness and good humor that contradicted his startling appearance.
Rumors had circulated for years about Sir Sigmund. He was believed to be the last of his kind—a mythical, magical ogre (part human, part animal). Most men respected his presence and might, but many believed him unintelligent, easily manipulated. Alayna’s recent marriage to a wealthy landowner now put her in a position to meet Sir Sigmund for the first time.
“Deep thoughts, my dear?” Sir Edgar interrupted her musings.
Alayna shrugged her shoulders. “Just wondering about Sir Sigmund. What kind of person is he really? Are the rumors true about him?”
“Well, my dear, Sigmund is exactly what he appears to be. He is the last of his kind—an ogre—if you will, who many years ago saved the King from death. The King rewarded him with knighthood for his valiant deeds and also granted him possession of all of the King’s lands in the Northern Kingdom.”
“All of the King’s lands . . . ?”
Edgar smiled at his wife, amused at her innocence. “Come dear. Let’s go home. The plates, forks and knives have ears, my dear.” His hearty laughter cut through the dining table clamor.
“Are you going, Sir Edgar?”
“Yes, my Lord. As always, your hospitality has been a delight, but my new bride hungers for a respite from this manly banter. I beg you to indulge our leave of this fine gathering.”
“Of course, Edgar. It is always a pleasure to have you. And, your Lady Alayna has charmed all of us this evening.” Sir Sigmund rose at the head of the table, brushing crumbs from his jacket, and approached his guests. His placid grey eyes shone as he bowed to Lady Edgar and Lady Alayna. “Godspeed, dear friends.”
Alayna watched as Sigmund returned to the table of noblemen. A deep sadness hung about him like a heavy cloak. Then, just as quickly, his laughter returned and he looked her right in the eye and winked.
Edgar turned to his wife, taking her arm, and leading her to the front hallway. Helping her into their carriage, he sensed her eagerness to continue their conversation.
“Yes, my dear. He is nearly as wealthy as the King. As a result, many of the nobles are jealous of his position. They feel he is unworthy of such an extravagant gift. Too many take every opportunity to cheat Sir Sigmund out of his property. They see him as a fool, offering him trades for lesser lands, produce, or livestock. Yet, he always thwarts their deals, refusing to relinquish the King’s lands. I believe he sees himself as the King’s steward, overseeing the King’s lands, protecting them, for his future use.”
“How does he manage it?”
“Over the years, I’ve observed him in many business dealings. Sir Sigmund is pure of heart, my dear. He desires no wealth or position. He is content with himself and all the King has bestowed upon him. He takes his responsibility to the King with great seriousness.”
An image of Sir Sigmund’s grey-eyed wink came back to Alayna. “He is extraordinary, yes?”
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