In the Great Hall, Delia and her brothers began talking quietly among themselves. They were quite subdued after their new stepmother's outburst. Indeed, Delia felt sick to her stomach every time she thought about Parnella's words. How could they show the woman they meant her no harm?
But as the servants brought out more and more elaborate foods, and as their new stepmother paid them no attention, Delia's brothers began to talk in louder and livelier tones. Delia thought to warn them not to get too boisterous, but Gerard was in the middle of telling a story and she did not want to interrupt him.
"Then the horse stumbled and Sir Bollivet fell forward, right into the muddy stream."
Her brothers all burst out laughing, Charles laughing the loudest and slapping his knee in merriment.
"What are you boys talking about?" Father demanded in a loud voice. "Telling stories about our training," Edwin said.
Father looked so angry, Delia spoke up. "They aren't doing anything wrong, Father. Only telling funny stories."
"They were laughing at me!" Parnella's face was cold, her eyes intense and dark.
Her father talked in hushed tones, leaning his head toward his new wife, but she interrupted him. "So you will let them ridicule and intimidate me?"
"Of course not. I—"
"Then send them to their rooms. How can you allow it? Insulted and ridiculed..."
"Go to your rooms, all of you." Father's face was flushed, and not from the wine. "I am ashamed of you for treating your new mother thusly."
Delia and her brothers stood up and slowly walked toward the doorway of the Great Hall.
"No one was laughing at you," Merek said, looking directly at Parnella, his voice clear and confident.
"Oh!" Parnella drew back as if he'd struck her. Father glared at Merek.
When they were all out in the corridor and heading for the stairs, Berenger said, "I cannot believe that woman could be so audacious."
"It makes me worry for you, Delia," Edwin said, his eyes soft but intent on her.
"No, don't worry." Delia tried to look confident and reassuring. "I will win her over. She will understand that we have no grudge against her and do not intend to harm her. I'll just have to be sensitive to her feeling like an outsider."
"Sensitive? Even if you kissed her feet you could not please that woman," Gerard said.
Merek snorted. "If she bothers you, Delia, I'll come back and stand up for you. I'll tell Father he can't let that woman treat you poorly."
"She certainly doesn't seem very sensible," Berenger added. Her younger brothers looked confused and sad.
"Don't worry." Delia bent to hug Roland. "All will be well."
Gerard and Berenger went to the kitchen while the rest of them gathered in Edwin's room. Gerard and Berenger came back with roast pheasant and sweet fruit pasties. They all ate and talked and laughed—though quietly.
"I am worried about leaving you here with that woman," Edwin said.
"I am sure I will be well." But as soon as she said the words, she realized she was not truly sure at all.
Delia hugged all her brothers that night, surprised that none of them protested or groaned in reluctance at her show of affection.
"Write to us, or send a servant, if you need us," Gerard said. "Yes, we will take care of you," Berenger said.
"Write often about how you are faring," Edwin added.
If only they could stay home longer. But perhaps with them gone it would be easier to convince Parnella that any evil intention toward her from Delia or her brothers was completely imagined. And then all would be harmonious between them.
* * *