Perinis agreed to sleep downstairs in the great hall to keep a watch on the messenger, and as I passed by the visitor in the evening, I saw him eyeing Perinis with disappointment.
“Isolde, we must find a way to make him leave sooner,” I said out of earshot.
“How do ye propose to do that?”
“I could prepare him a terrible drink so he retches his next meal?”
“But that would be traced back to ye, Brangien. Let’s watch him to see if he acts foolishly, and if so I will talk to the king.”
Fortuitously, we did not have to wait long for the messenger to leave. He departed in a hurry come morning, riding off with the shield and additional horse. What had happened during the night? I looked at Perinis as the herald strode out the door but couldn’t read his features.
Once I decided the herald must be long gone, I sought out the hawthorn, located again near the Adventurous Ford, and clambered up. I shivered not from cold, but something weighing on me.
I opened the book and traced the elegant writing with my fingers, which tingled at the texture of the smooth, supple pages. I noticed where older text spilled through newer letters and wondered what ideas had been lost there. I placed my hand on the text and leaned back, closing my eyes and inhaling the scents around me to ground myself. Could I name which were present?
From the book, I smelled the musk of animal hide and a surprisingly light scent muddled amongst food stuff likely used in the making of the parchment. The ford tumbled forth and smelled fresh like spring leaves with a slight edge to it, perhaps due a mineral or metal present. Closeby, my nose detected a rich, minty waft, but I was unfamiliar with this tree, one that did not concede its green spokes seasonally. On the forest floor, compacted leaves proffered a heady, decaying mash. I sighed in this relief that could be reached through the concrete, the senses.
A gentle, female voice called out to me,
“Bonjour, Madame, what are you reading?”
My eyes flew open.
A woman stood there, dressed in azure, staring at me, and seated on a small, dappled mare.
“Bonjour, Madame. It is a Book of Hours, the only text I could obtain. May I ask who are ye?”
“I had not thought to meet anyone in these woods,” and she laughed, the sound merry like a quick-witted brook. “My name is Marie, and I have a much more interesting tale for you–an aventure. I can tell you would appreciate such a story.” She hesitated, looking around. “Could you tell me how far I am from King Marc’s court?” She requested earnestly.
“I will take ye there, Madame.” I hopped down from the tree and led the way, careful to take a direct route where the path was worn and the brush would not snap in one’s face. Something marvelous, magical lingered around this lady. And why did she not have a knight to protect her? I kept looking back to see if she had slipped away.
She smiled at me reassuringly, her eyes bright and deep with intelligent mischief. Was she a “conteuse” [female storyteller] ? Surely, not.