The Book Quest

I convinced Isolde to embroider in the great hall, even though there was little breeze. As I embroidered, I watched Cecily as she moved between the hall and other rooms in order to see which room she most visited. She seemed to pass through the kitchen often, which was unfortunate. There were few reasons for me to visit the kitchen. But I had noticed an oak chest that stood in the kitchen–perhaps she kept it in there? I sat down my embroidery, and approached her.

“Cecily, we are short on bedding in the royal chamber. We need to borrow yours until it can be replaced. Do ye keep it in this chest?” I gestured to it along the left wall of the kitchen.

Cecily’s eyes got big and her face forlorn. She could not say no, which meant she would have to sleep directly on the floor.

I felt terrible after I asked, especially as a ruse.

“Yes, my lady,” she whispered in an almost wistful, childlike manner and motioned for me to gather up the bedding kept in the chest.

I walked over and opened the chest. The bedding, atrociously stained, wore the smells of the food that had been cooked over the hearth for many years. I tried not to breathe them in as I touched it.

I spotted a key! I pulled out the bedding gingerly, wrapping the key in it. I nodded thanks to Cecily and brought it over to Isolde, who still sat embroidering, slipping the key to hide in my dress.

Isolde gave me a look as though to ask what I was doing with Cecily’s pungent bedding.

“Isolde,” I whispered. “Just play along. Tell me ye don’t think this bedding is fit for the royal chamber.”

Her voice loud and clear, Isolde said,

“Brangien, this bedding is not fit for the royal chamber. Please return it to the kitchen at once.”

I carried it back to Cecily.

“Thank ye, Cecily, but the queen does not want this bedding.”

Cecily, relieved, took it back.

I had little time to try the key on the locked book room before Cecily realized it was missing. But there were too many people milling about, and the bolted door was visible from the great hall.

“Isolde, could ye create a diversion, leading everyone outside? I need half an hour.”

Isolde laughed a little at me and shook her head. But she stood up, walking at an angle in the direction of the door as though she had one of her bitter headaches and stated loudly,

“I don’t feel so well,” swooning and then bracing herself on the entrance door and then opened it, falling just outside.

A host of people followed her out the door, fanning her and trying to assist. No one was looking in my direction so I strode quickly to the barred room.

The key worked! I closed the door behind me and inhaled with delight. There were not more than ten to twenty books. Isolde and I had learned to read in Irish and most of these must be written in English, or so I assumed. I flipped through them quickly. Many contained maps, which although interesting, were not as tantalizing as others. I found a Book of Hours with Isolde’s name on it. Could I take one book with me? I shifted from foot to foot, indecisive, and constantly looked at the door. I grabbed the Book of Hours, tucked it under my dress awkwardly, and cracked the door a bit so I could peek outside. Isolde excelled in her role–the path was still clear. I quickly locked the door and headed upstairs to the royal chamber where I hid the book under my own bedding. I then walked outside to where Cecily stood with the others.

“Cecily, I found this key on the floor. I think it fell out of the bedding,” I told her nonchalantly and handed it to her.

Isolde stood up gradually.

“Thank ye,” she told the crowd. “I feel much better.”

She put her arm through mine, and I “assisted” her in walking to the royal bedchamber.

“Did ye get in?” Isolde asked when we were alone.

“Yes, and I borrowed a book that has your name on it. A Book of Hours, I think. It might have been a wedding gift.” I didn’t show her where I stashed it in case anyone walked through the door.

“What now, Brangien?”

“I will conceal it in under my skirts this evening. We will go for a stroll, and I will hide it in the forest so we can read it another day. We will have to learn to read English since the text is not in Irish. But wait until ye see it. The pages are so lovely.”

Isolde lay down in case anyone looked for her and I sat by the window and continued my embroidery.

“Brangien, what does the Book of Hours contain?” Isolde inquired.

I wondered that myself. I couldn’t yet read the English words.

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