Blanche-Rose’s Daughter

We reached the great hall, and Marie entered with a flourish.

“My lord, I am your cousin Marie. Your aunt Blanche-Rose is my mother,” she informed the king.

The king puzzled for a moment, pulling on his beard and studying Marie.

“Yes, yes…I see,” he mused, then introduced her to Isolde his wife and asked Cecily to move Marie’s possessions to the royal chamber.

Marie smiled winningly to Isolde and I, and came over to greet us.

“Bonjour, Mesdames,” she said to both of us. “We have already met,” she nodded to me.

“Ye must be tired from your travels. Would ye like to go upstairs to settle in?” Isolde asked.

“No, thank you, Madame. But I do have a terrible headache,” she said touching her forehead.

“Come with me, my lady. I will make ye a remedy,” I told her.

Marie followed me to the cottage, sitting on the doorsill, and I bustled around the small space, fetching dried rose petals, lavender, sage, and hay to brew a tea. I noticed her observing my garden and passersby.

“Madame, what did ye mean in the forest when ye said ye have an adventure to share?”

She stood and faced me, studying my countenance and what I was doing. I felt slightly unnerved by her close gaze.

“Tonight I will share my stories that I have gathered far and wide.” She glanced outside. “You don’t by chance have any local love tales of interest, do you?” Her eyes pierced mine.

I looked away to reach for the last ingredient. “No, we are quite dull here.”

“Truly? Nothing between the handsome knight that so lovingly looked at the queen, ready to protect her at any moment if needed?”

I blinked to cover my astonishment. How observant she was! I would need to be cautious.

“It is a duty for knights to protect the king and queen,” I said flatly.

Marie smiled slightly, not fooled.

“I need some water,” I said, almost a whisper and headed to the nearest bend of the stream, then returned to set the water to boil.

“Your tea will be ready soon,” I nodded at Marie, my lips pressed.

“Oh, I am sorry–I have offended you, my dear.” She seemed genuinely contrite.

“The grounds are so beautiful here. I think I will take a stroll,” she said gently.

“I will bring ye the tea when it is ready,” I told her.

She stepped out optimistically.

Once she left, I sighed worriedly. How would I warn Tristan and Isolde to be careful without Marie hearing?

The Visitor

I hurried towards the great hall in the wake of the rider, my herbal brew in hand and my skirts whooshing around me. Inside, I paused as the herald bowed before King Marc.

“My lord King Marc, I come from the Earl of Brittany’s court. He would like me to share his regrets that he could not come in person. There is a particular matter he has asked me to settle. A certain knight of Brittany passed away during your recent tournament. The earl would like his coat of arms and horse to be returned for they belong to his lord the earl.”

“My condolences to ye and your earl. Yes, ye may retrieve the coat of arms and horse. And ye must be tired from your journey. Please stay at our hearth and in our hall for as long as you need before ye return to Brittany.”

It was generous of King Marc to return this property, considering. The herald bowed and shared his thanks on behalf of the earl.

I skirted around the crowd, finding Isolde who looked not quite awake as of yet, and handed her the remedy.

“A ginger tea, my lady, as requested,” I offered.

“Thank ye, Brangien, but my stomach is not ill of humour today,” Isolde proclaimed, holding the drink uncertainly.

“Ye may need it…soon. The stomach turns at the likes of him,” I said, observing the herald leering at all of the women.

“Let’s retire to my chamber,” Isolde said, as I watched Perinis usher the Breton away, likely to the stables to see the earl’s horse.

That was easy for Isolde to say. The herald would not dare approach the queen. Although as lady-in-waiting, I had some protection, most of the female servants were at risk with such a lecher in close proximity. I felt sorry especially for Cecily. Still young, she would not be protected, even though the cook also slept in the kitchen.  

“My lady, I have a proposition. Could we not ask Perinis to sleep in the hall to protect the female servants? Ye know Cecily has not been kind to us, but I feel sorry for her and others who will be vulnerable to this stranger, as they sleep separately from the king’s chamber.”

Isolde paused, thinking.

“Ye are right, Brangien. Let me drink this down, and we will speak to Perinis.” She drank the beverage with swift determination and set down the cup then linked arms with me. We set off to find Perinis.

Tristan, still present in the hall, watched us pass and followed. I did not doubt he had observed the lewd messenger.

We took the a roundabout path so as not to meet the herald on his way back from the stables.

Tristan caught up to us.

“My fair ladies, where are ye going?”

“Tristan, we are going to ask Perinis to stay with the female servants in the hall to protect them from this Breton whose eye roves in a sinister fashion,” Isolde informed him.

“Let me pass along this message. I do not think it wise for ye to wander by the woods during his visit, though noblewomen ye may be. Please promise to stay close to the castle at all hours. That means no early morning visits to your garden, Brangien,” he stated in a beseeching manner.

He was right of course, but my heart fell at the idea of not being able to tend my garden and make herbs freely nor visit the forest as I wanted. How long would this fellow be at foot?

Tristan escorted us back to the castle, and on the way, we crossed paths with the herald. The visit to the stables had not taken long.

“Good day,” he said, his eyes raking Isolde and I. Did he not know she was the queen?

“Ye are speaking to the queen and her noble lady. Address them with care, herald,” Tristan said coldly. He did not mention our names. I wondered if he did not want him to know.

“My apologies, mesdames,” he bowed with a flourish.

Isolde and I scowled at him as Tristan escorted us past. It looked like we would be cooped up for however long this visitor decided to stay. Isolde tended to get grumpy with prolonged contact with the same people.

But then, what if we helped him leave earlier? A twinkle of mischief appeared in my eye.

Isolde was thinking along other lines.

“Why would an earl send a messenger all the way from Brittany simply to retrieve a horse and coat of arms?” She wondered aloud quietly so only Tristan and I could hear.

Herald

I went to bed chilled by the odd time kept by the candle, not saying anything to Isolde. On my side, I pondered alone in the dark. Was it not an ordinary candle? Had it to do with the forest through which I had traveled? I could hear rain pattering down outside the window. The sound proved meek comfort with the damp draft it brought in. A loneliness clamped onto my heart and wouldn’t let go for hours. I considered that I enjoyed the forest for a time while I was in it, but the wilderness could grow forlorn. The castle, on the other hand, a dose of comfort in familiarity and defined spaces, became cloying in the “expected”–daily life and behavior of people. But since I had spent time alone in the dark forest this evening, coming home to the darkness of the castle brought little reassurance.

Of a sudden, a warmth fluttered in my chest as though someone had rubbed their hands together and inserted a “toile” (canvas) of loving energy there to displace my ill humor. Even though it felt foreign to my body as though not from me, I appreciated nonetheless. I had never experienced such “intrusive” feelings before and wondered about their nature. Had the Spirit taken pity on me?

Thank ye, I said in silent prayer.

In the morning, the hunched candle looked the same. Perhaps the moisture in the air last night had quickened the burning of the wick? If I was truly curious about the candles, I could test a similar one on a dry evening. In the light, my practical nature manifested.

I headed to the garden to harvest ginger for Isolde. Last night I had told her I had made a remedy for her. The rain water pooled on the leaves and ground, the mud sullying my shoes and wetting the hem of my dress. I gathered the small, cream herb to start the drying process (in order to replace what I had been using), and took out already dried ginger to boil a tea. Isolde would be waking soon, and I would bring a cup of tea to start her day.

As the water boiled, I watched robins hopping around the garden, listening, then pulling up worms. A gray sky hovered, threatening.  

A rider I did not recognize galloped past me toward the castle. Who was this visitor?

A New Direction

Cecily made her way over to me.

“Brangien, ye had the key to the locked room. Did ye take a book?”

“What would I do with a book?” I responded, my face like stone.

“But ye were the only one who…” Cecily stopped speaking. I outranked her, and she was untoward in her accusation, even if I was a foreigner in this court.

I raised my eyebrows, and Cecily, scoffing, walked away.

Cecily did not bring it up again, but now I knew I had to be more careful where I read in the forest. And I could not bring the book back.

Isolde and I hurried to the royal chamber. Behind a closed door, Isolde asked softly,

“What are ye going to do?”

“I will travel deeper into the forest. But when will it be safe for me to go?” I sighed deeply.

“I am meeting Tristan tonight. I will ask him if he could move the book to the hawthorne near the Adventurous Ford.”

“Thank ye, my lady.” My eyes watered in gratitude.

I made my way to the stone cottage to make remedies, and looking behind me, I saw Cecily tracking me at a distance. She was not alone–others, including the barons, seemed to hover more closely. Or was it my imagination? I hoped the barons did not approach the king about this book affair. I would have to feign surprise at such news from the king (if it came to it).

I pounded the dried ginger reserve with a mallet, then a pestle until it crushed into a powder. The effort mildly released my frustration about human smallness that could bottle up an expanse as wide as the knowledge in a book. What good did Cecily’s counting of the books do when we all could be reading them? And if one went missing, how should it matter to anyone who would count instead of read a book, as if it’s only purpose was to sit on a shelf as a vapid, shallow number, a dispossessed possession, and collect dust, despite the deft fingers that had put such effort and skill into its pages?

I waited for Isolde in the garden, pulling lanky weeds into a pile. As the stars began to pierce the sky, Isolde returned from her visit with Tristan and passed by me, nodding in my direction as if to say, it is done. Farther from the castle, I slipped into the forest with a candle and moved cautiously, setting my feet on soft, silent ground until I reached the hawthorne. The book was safely tucked in. But when I climbed up, I felt movement. The branches swirled around me, as if rearranging to make a more comfortable seat. I wanted to stay and read, but the candle’s light would not last long. I could not let myself fall asleep here. So I reluctantly descended.

My surroundings were unfamiliar. Perhaps I had just gotten disoriented? I held up my light in the direction of the ford, but it did not catch the subtle movement of water. Oh no. Had the hawthorne moved with me to a new location?