24 November, 2013 by katelaity
Eleanor laughed, but on seeing him start, calmed her mirth. “I am sorry for laughing, but I was just longing for the beauties of the garden of my homeland. I am indeed grateful for this sanctuary within my prison,” she said with a sad smile. “Yet if you could see the gardens I grew up among! The maze is, why, at least ten feet high and if you become lost within its walls, servants would throw food over the walls until a rescue could be devised for a more cunning puzzle you never saw.”
“Heavens!” the knight said with wonder.
“It’s true.” Constance agreed as she carved some cheese from the rind to arrange in a pretty pattern upon a plate. “I was terrified to ever set foot inside it, though she always ran pell-mell into it and emerged triumphant without a cry.”
“Hours later, mind you,” Eleanor laughed. “I think I had a great deal of assistance to learn the ways of it. My mother walked with me there many a time before I wandered on my own. How could I be afraid in the home of my people?” Her face grew sad then, but she quickly recovered. “Have you a garden in your homeland?”
Guigemar nodded. “Indeed and my mother and father find great joy in walking it daily in good seasons. But it is our woods that I spent my time in, hunting with bow and falcon through all the groves and rivers of it.” It was the knight’s turn to feel a stab of sorrow then, but he too did not wish to mar the lovely day with his disappointments. “Did you not say you had a fine falcon once?”
Eleanor’s face fell and tear sprang to her eyes. “True, I did.”
“My lady, I’ve troubled you.” Guigemar took her hand gently, sorely regretting his words. “Forgive me for reminding you of something so painful.”
“No,” Eleanor said, wiping a tear away with a defiant look. “I shall tell the story and you can know the depths of this sorcerer’s tale and understand just how much of a prisoner I find myself.”
“I fear some horror awaits this telling,” Guigemar said sadly. I should release her hand.
But he did not let go and she did not try to remove her hand, though she looked off into the distance beyond the placid water of the pool. “I told you of my wooing and my removal from my land. I told you of the revelation that most of my husband’s courtly attendants were no more than enchanted rats.”
“Indeed, the tale nearly broke my heart. To think of you so deceived and by such treacherous means!”
“The one thing his magic could not fake was the lovely falcon that he used to play the part of the gallant knight. Our hunting master looked with envy upon that bird, for it obeyed its master with an almost human understanding and it hit any target it was instructed to pursue.”
“A rare bird indeed, my lady.”
“When he offered it to me as a gift, I was most proud and wore it upon my wrist at every opportunity. For my part I must say the tiercelet quite took to me, too, and seemed as tame as any dove. Have you really examined a falcon? Those eyes, so large and opaque, yet lively—they take in everything. There is something so handsome in the lines of a bird of prey. It has the pride of a knight, yet the lightness of flight. Quite a wonder all together.”
“I have great admiration for the falcon and the eagle. How I have longed to have their wings at times, to speed over great distances with seeming effortlessness. To be a bird must be so very like the angels.”
“An apt image, to be sure,” Eleanor said, smiling weakly. “For my falcon is but an angel now. He killed it.”
Her flat words shocked him. “He killed it? The sorcerer?”
“Yes, in a fit of pique and for no reason but that he knew I loved the bird.”
“Cruel and unnatural,” Guigemar said, anger flaring within his breast.
“I don’t recall what precisely provoked his anger that day. Perhaps I had not despaired sufficiently for him. Maybe I had even laughed at him. But I recall with painful exactness the moment when I had turned away in this very garden, speaking soothing words to my pet, and from his hand he let fly a kind of thunderbolt that Zeus himself would have wielded and it struck my poor falcon like an arrow.”
Guigemar cried out and gripped her hand more tightly. Her fingers returned the embrace as her tears fell.
“I wept bitter tears while he triumphed over me, but I heard not a word of his speech. I demanded a box in which to enclose his poor corpse and grudgingly he gave me a small casket. Constance and I adorned it as best we could. And we buried him there,” she pointed across the pond to a small tangle of tuberose.
“At least he allowed us that privilege,” Constance said, the bitterness in her voice unmistakeable. “Though we had to dig the hole ourselves and it was only the kindness of one of the gardeners to plant the blooms upon it.”
“And who doubtless paid the price for his kindness,” Eleanor added with a sigh. “We did not see him again, but that is the way of this castle. Those who work here we seldom glimpse and our exile is a lonely one, meant to punish us.”
“Other than old Father Domingo, who predicts nothing but gloom and doom and everlasting suffering.” Constance gave a defiant little toss of her head. “I much prefer the abbot we had at home, who told such lovely stories of the beauties of paradise and the tales of those clever girls who outwitted the Roman rulers, like Agnes and Catherine and oh, what was her name? The one who fought the dragon?”
Eleanor smiled. “You mean Margaret? I’m not sure being swallowed by a dragon counts as fighting. Our knight might not find that a useful technique on the whole, I suspect.” Her eyes danced as she tried to conceal her laughter.
“Any technique that’s effective should be employed as long as it can be done so with honour. And as I believe the lady made the sign of the cross and burst forth from the belly of the beast, it is certainly a technique to be remembered.” Guigemar laughed.
“You will keep it in mind should the circumstances require?”
“I will indeed, though I must admit I hope not to be in such circumstances any time soon!”
“And I wish it may never be so,” Eleanor said, staring at the tuberose with a dreamy gaze. “We do not expect to be tried like martyrs of old, put to the wheel and the rack and finally the executioner’s axe. Yet we find much strength in their brave examples and hope to withstand adversity with their bearing.”
“I am afraid I fall short of Catherine’s zeal,” Constance said. “And I don’t much fancy speaking away from a nearly severed head like Cecilia!”
Her lady laughed. “I am grateful not to live in the age of the martyrs when cruel governors ruled the land. I am glad to live in this good world of today.”
“Even though there is yet much suffering in this one?” Guigemar looked at her lovely face and saw the sadness there and yet something else as well. Perhaps it was defiance.
“There is always suffering. Did not the philosopher teach us that when he spoke of the wheel of life? In this world our only certainty is that the wheel is always turning. He who is happy today may be sad tomorrow.”
“She who suffers today may be restored tomorrow.” He wanted so badly to assuage the sadness from her life and be the means of restoring her happiness. The ache in his heart returned full force and without his meaning to do so, his hand flew to his chest as if to halt the pain.
“And if not tomorrow, perhaps one day not too distant,” Eleanor said, dropping her eyes to the piece of bread in her lap.
“There is only one cure for that sorrow,” Constance said brightly.
“Yes, to do our duty and to think not of this world but the next one,” Eleanor sighed. “For fate changes ever and we cannot rely on its nature.”
“No, my dear, I did not mean that,” Constance scolded. “I meant love.”
Her lady blushed but said nothing, picking at the bread in her lap. The knight found himself equally tongue-tied. After a couple of false starts, the lady finally spoke soft words that betrayed the fear that had kept her silent. “And if love is extinguished by cruel fate after a painfully short time, does it offer a cure—or only more suffering? My falcon loved me true, but met its end because of that love and left me once more bereft.”
Guigemar’s heart ached to see her grief. He dared not speak. What right had he to make his love known in the face of such sorrow?
But Constance had other ideas. “Tut, my lady. I am surprised at you. Is love not love if it lasts a short life? Better we should weight its truth not measure its length like a thread from a ball.”
“Brief love surely cannot be as worthy as a love that lasts long?”
“Would you say that to a mother who dies when her child is small?” Constance had a look of defiance but a small tear rolled from her eye like a pearl falling from a bodice. “Is her love—though brief—not perfect? And ought not the child bear that gift with her the rest of her life and think it precious? Or would you have her cast it away as a trifle?”
[I should reach my NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words tomorrow, but I suspect it will take another 10K to finish this first draft. Then the polishing begins! And of course, Airships & Alchemy will return to complete its adventures.]