Read Roselynde Online

Authors: Roberta Gellis

Roselynde (3 page)

BOOK: Roselynde
13.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

They crossed the second drawbridge into the inner bailey with the
three vassals close at their heels. Alinor's men-at-arms did not follow. The
Queen's retainers would be lodged in the keep itself; Alinor's would have to
make do with whatever accommodation they could find in sheds and tents. It
would be no hardship in the fine summer weather.

In the inner bailey the better class of castle servants were
assembled, and a wave of movement passed over them as they knelt to the Queen.
Sir Simon, Sir Andre, and Sir John dismounted, bent the knee briefly, and went
to help their ladies down. Once on the ground Alinor prepared to curtsy again,
but the Queen stopped her.

"Enough, child. You make me giddy with all your bobbing up
and down. And I am fain to be in a cooler place." She gestured at the
kneeling crowd. "You may rise and be about your business. See that you are
as brisk about that as about staring and louring."

When they had passed through the forebuilding into the large guard
room, three sturdy retainers hurried forward. One stood between the foreshafts
of a high-backed, armed chair covered with fine new cushions, and two others
held the newly affixed strong rear poles. They knelt promptly, which set the
chair down on its legs. The Queen stared at the sumptuous affair with starting
eyes. Alinor blushed poppy-red. Sir Simon burst into a guffaw of laughter that
rang through the huge chamber.

"For what is that, may I ask?"

"I beg your pardon, Your Grace," Alinor gasped sinking
into a curtsy again. "It is—oh, dear— My grandmother—if she climbed the
stairs, she could not find her breath and a great pain took her across the
breast— And she was younger than you. Oh, dear! I beg Your Grace's pardon. I—I
did not know you were so—so young."

The surprised indignation faded from the Queen's face. She
extended a hand and lifted Alinor to her feet, drew her close and kissed her.
"You are a kind child, and very thoughtful. Of course you have my pardon.
None is needed for an act of kindness. You have my thanks for your goodwill to
me." Still holding the blushing girl close, she turned on Simon. "And
what are you laughing at, you old warhorse? It is fortunate I shall never see
an equal consideration from you, for the surprise would slay me outright."

Simon tried to swallow his laughter and succeeded only in choking
himself, so that he was speechless for some minutes. Finally he wiped his eyes
with the leather inside of his gauntlet and bowed to Alinor. "I was not
laughing at the kindness of the thought," he began gravely, but his
sobriety did not last. He began to laugh again. "She does not know you,
Madam, but to me, who have had much ado to keep pace with you, God help me, you
and that chair together are funny."

The Queen stared at him enigmatically for a moment. There was not,
nor had there been, any anger in her face in spite of her sharp words. In fact,
although her expression was grave enough, her eyes were dancing with mischief.

"Funny, eh?" she said softy. "Well, well, my Simon.
You have had your laugh, but I have just thought of a fine jest. We shall see
if you laugh as heartily at that."

CHAPTER 2

Although the Queen had lightly climbed the steep and winding stair
to the Great Hall and even the second flight to the women's quarters, she was
burdened by her years. Having arrived in the solar, she was glad indeed to sink
into a chair by the great hearth and then drink the goblet of sweet wine Alinor
hurried to bring her. Then she smiled wryly.

"I am too proud. Perhaps I had done better to accept your
chair, Alinor. I am weary, sore weary."

"Come then to the wall chamber, Your Grace, and lay you
down," Alinor urged. "It will be some hours until dinner is ready, I
am sorry to say. It is late, but I did not know when you would come, and all
was held back half done so that a fitting meal might be set before you."

The Queen nodded absently and followed Alinor toward her own
bedchamber, which had been swept and garnished, the huge bed—her grandfather
and grandmother's bridal bed in which her small form was completely lost—fresh
made with brand-new linen sheets that had been scented with crushed rose petals
and lavender flowers. A fire burned in the small hearth, for the wall chambers
were clammy cold even in high summer, carved as they were into the damp
rubble-work that filled the castle walls.

"If you will come this way, Madam," Alinor murmured.

"What a lovely apartment," the Queen exclaimed, waking
from her abstraction. "I would never have thought Lord Rannulf so given to
luxury."

"Oh, this is my grandmother's doing. My grandfather cared
naught for such matters. His chamber is on the floor below. He moved there
after my grandmother died and gave this apartment to me. You are quite correct,
Madam. We had much ado to gain his permission to place a simple bed and a comfortable
chair in his chamber. But he loved my grandmother. He loved her as knights in
romances love their ladies. If she had desired the moon to garnish her chamber,
he would have grown wings to fly and bring it down for her."

"Love." The Queen's voice was absolutely flat, so devoid
of expression that Alinor was surprised. "Did you know, child, that I was
once called the Queen of Love, and that—oh, many, many years ago in the clear
air of Poitiers—I presided over Courts of Love. Child, love is for books of
romance, not for great ladies who need to make blood bonds and to cement the
borders of estates."

Alinor's heart checked and her throat tightened. For a long moment
the two pairs of dark eyes locked. Then Alinor shook her head. "Then I
will never be a great lady."

"Great ladies are born. It is not a matter of their
choice."

Fear flowered in Alinor's eyes and was burned out by a blaze of
determination. Her lips had started to tremble, but they firmed and her little
round chin suddenly looked surprisingly prominent. She dropped into a curtsy,
but her head was lifted proudly.

"It is too late for me to learn your wisdom in this matter.
From the time I knew aught, I have lived with a knight and his lady whose love
lit and warmed the dark hall on winter's nights. Madam, my example comes not
from any book of romance. My grandparents walked and breathed; they kissed and
quarreled. This I must have, and I will seek it with the point of my knife in a
bad husband's heart if I can find it no other way."

To Alinor's surprise, the Queen neither blasted her with wrath nor
ordered her to be imprisoned in the darkest dungeon room in the keep. Instead
she laughed.

"And yet, you silly child, Lord Rannulf and his lady were
constrained to marry against both their wills. Indeed, his later passion for
her was a standing jest, for he had at first declared he would
not
have
her before the full Court." Then the Queen's eyes grew serious; she
hesitated briefly, then gave a. decided nod. "You will not be constrained
to marry unless it be sore needful, Alinor. And this I promise you. If you are
constrained, the man chosen for you will be worthy of your love—if you will
abate your pride and give it to him and not seek a golden-haired Lancelot. Now
get off your knees and show me these chambers."

Alinor was only a trifle easier in her mind. She did not delude
herself that her needs or desires would really influence the Queen much, but
the fact that reassurance had been offered rather than threats or punishment
meant that the Queen probably did not intend to marry her out of hand.
Moreover, the open resistance, although it would not change the Queen's mind or
stop her from taking whatever action she thought best, would be noted and added
to the other factors the Queen would consider before deciding upon the marriage
of the King's ward.

Actually Alinor's outburst had rather more effect than she hoped
for. The Queen had been engaging in an unusual struggle with her conscience
since she had first laid eyes upon the girl. Something had drawn her very
strongly to this dark haired, hazel-eyed child with her startlingly white skin
and her ready blushes that did not impede her equally ready tongue. It was not
until Alinor knelt to defy her that the Queen recognized the cause of the
warmth she felt. Alinor, the Queen realized, was enough like her own younger
self to be the kind of slightly distorted image one saw in a polished silver
mirror.

There was not much similarity in feature, actually. Alinor's eyes
were shaped differently, set slightly aslant, and her nose was much shorter,
tip-tilted instead of fine and classical; the mouth, too, was different, fuller
and larger. Nonetheless, the shape of the face, the carriage and gestures, the
very expression, were strongly reminiscent of the Queen. And it is from nature,
the Queen mused. I have been pent up behind stone walls all the years of the
girl's life. There is no chance of her aping to flatter. So the Queen's
thoughts ran on as she obediently turned to her right to observe a separate
chamber where the garments might be stored and the maids might sleep on their
pallets. If Alinor is like me in so much by nature, she mused, it is not
impossible that she is alike in other ways also. It might be no light thing to
bend her will, and to force her will doubtless enrage her vassals. The Queen
nodded and smiled, as much in answer to her own thoughts as to Alinor's
invitation to come to the other wing of the apartment.

Lord Richard, soon to be King if all went well in England, had
taken the Cross—much against his mother's will. Queen Alinor knew that huge
sums of money would be needed to support the Crusade. Because she had liked
Alinor at first sight, she had toyed briefly with the idea of finding a husband
for the girl before Richard came to England. Once the King examined the
financial situation of the crown he would realize that if Alinor remained
unmarried all the revenues of her huge estates—except for the modest sums
necessary for her own use—would flow into his coffers. Now the conflict was
settled. Since Alinor did not wish to be married, she might pay for the
privilege of remaining single. Richard would be pleased. What was equally
important was that Alinor would be available as a pawn in any new political
situation that should arise.

They recrossed the deep window embrasure that served as an
antechamber to both wall rooms. In it, where the light fell clearest, were two
chairs. An embroidery frame stood before one, a small table nearby holding the
skeins of bright-dyed silks. The shutters of the window stood wide, and the
Queen was suddenly aware of the sound of breakers. Even from the window of this
third level, however, the sight of the surf was cut off by the great stone
walls. Farther out, small whitecaps could be seen.

An archway led into a longer chamber in which a fire burned in a
small hearth. This, too, was furnished with cushioned chairs, and there were
tall candlesticks in which six-inch-thick candles stood ready. They were unlit
now because the strong sunlight provided sufficient light from the antechamber
window. On a dull day, however, it would be necessary to light the candles if
one wished to sew or read by the hearth. There was, however, no bed, and the
Queen felt a twinge of disappointment, which annoyed her. She was more tired
than she would admit. A few steps more showed another opening, an ell-shaped
extension that afforded privacy. Alinor hurried forward to turn down the bright
blue spread, pricelessly embroidered in gold and silver thread with fantastic
birds and beasts. The sweet odor of rose and lavender drifted outward from the
sheets and warred with the ever-present musty smell from the damp walls. These
were covered by handsomely worked tapestries, which kept out the damp somewhat,
but nothing could keep out the smell.

"Shall I help you to disrobe, Your Grace?" Alinor asked.
"I do not think the baggage wains are come yet, but you are so slender
that one of my robes would fit you full well. I have one brand-new, not yet
ever worn."

The Queen considered, then sighed. "No, I will stay as I am.
I must come down to dinner, after all."

"It could be brought to you here," Alinor urged.

In the dim light of this inner chamber, the Queen looked far older
and frailer than she did on horseback. Suddenly Alinor was fearful that she
might fail. It was one thing to tell another woman, who had had the experience
of being bought and sold like a parcel of goods, that you would resist such
treatment. It would be far different to face down the King. Of course, there
were other methods for handling men. Some of these techniques, together with
the knowledge that her body as well as her mind was an instrument to be used to
gain her purposes, Alinor had been carefully taught by her grandmother; others
she learned by observing her grandmother cozen whatever she desired from her
husband. And after her grandparents' deaths, Alinor had plenty of practice in
using what she had learned—together with a few variations she had herself
devised—in winding her vassals around her long and delicate fingers.

Nonetheless, there were dangers in such dealings. It was far
better to have a woman's protection. Alinor looked anxiously at the Queen, but
all her urging was in vain.

"I have much to do this afternoon," the old woman
sighed, "for I intend to ride on tomorrow."

Alinor's eyes widened. "Tomorrow, Madam? Oh! I thought you
would spend some days here, at least. I am not packed. If I am to come with
you—"

Again the Queen shook her head in negation. "That was my
intention, but since you are opposed to being wed, you will need a warden. The
man must come to know your estates and your vassals—"

BOOK: Roselynde
13.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Silent End by Nancy Springer
The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary
My Place by Sally Morgan
Sun Kissed by Catherine Anderson
Her Royal Bed by Laura Wright
Sanctuary by T.W. Piperbrook
The Vietnam Reader by Stewart O'Nan