Conteuse [Storyteller]

I couldn’t find an opportunity to speak privately with Isolde about Marie but kept a wary eye on her and stared forebodingly at Isolde.

“Why are ye giving me foul looks, Brangien?” Isolde asked, puzzled as we sat in the garden, embroidering. A waft of mint caught my nose.

I glanced at Marie a few feet away. She had not pushed further about Tristan and Isolde, merely planting herself and keeping watch of castle ongoings.

In the evening, we gathered in the great hall, everyone from the king and queen to perhaps the mice looking for crumbs from the table. Marie sat to play a melody on the harp, a tune that flew above like a dove and aligthed on the heart. She paused, pulling her hands from the strings and said to us all in clear yet hushed tones,

“I am going to share with you a story that took place in Brittany a long time ago.

Hoël reigned in a land that knew war as often as it did peace. Amongst his barons, one named Oridial, a courageous knight, was his favorite, and he had a son named Guigemar who became a handsome and valiant knight himself…”

I glanced around the hall, and saw how every man, woman, and child sat still with their eyes locked on Marie.

Marie continued her tale, saying that Guigemar was indifferent to love. He became injured and boarded a ship that took him to the garden of a lady imprisoned by her much older husband. She and her companion healed Guigemar. And his heart, like a battlefield, was struck with love for her. Although she tested his sincerity, she fell in love with him, too. But a chamberlain discovered them together. Guigemar had to leave. By the end of the story, Guigemar must lay siege to the land of a lord keeping his lady (who has traveled to find him) and prevailed.

Marie shared other tales, too–ones that contained exquisite fairies, magical animals, and painful hardship that led to joy, or human love that transcended.

When she finished, we quietly exhaled out the anticipation we had contained in our chests. Marie bowed her head in thanks and rose to sit back down at the table. The peaceful ambiance fled the room as soon as a baron led us in rowdy song. I glanced at Marie, but I could not read her face. I had misjudged her keen observation. It was not malice that drove her but a persistent thirst for stories, and perhaps marvelous hope she had not yet tasted?

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?