The banquet/matilda/red dress scene tied with the old woman/herbs/Becon scene so I'll write both. But I hit a huge wall when I realized I absolutely could not write a believable character named "Becon" I mean, really. It looks like "Bacon". One scene with the word "salty" in it and I'd never recover from laughter. So my "Jamie" character needs a new name. I replaced it with "Nicolas" for tonight, but I'm taking suggestions if that doesn't seem to work (I suck with names...Jim named all of our children).
It turned out being in the wrong time and place in history was more lonely than full of intrigue. You didn’t realize how much you depended on all of the little things to connect as human beings. Put me in a room with a deaf patient from Calcutta and in five minutes we would be bonding over microbreweries and flash mob videos on youtube. Put me in a room with another twenty two year old female right now and I sat quietly in the corner while she played stoolball with her three children.
I couldn’t even figure out how to use the restroom. Oh, they were easy enough to find! Your nose led you straight to them no matter where you were inside Gravensteen. It was the wiping and hand washing I couldn’t reconcile and couldn’t discard. I’d taken to tying a satchel of anise to my belt which I rubbed between my hands with a few drops from the bottle of vinegared wine I’d hidden behind a statue of St. Theobald (who I thought probably wouldn’t be thrilled by his post sainthood bathroom assignation...poor guy).
I’d drawn myself a map of the castle on the the underside of my kirtle...in wine. The basement had three rooms for wine (which is where my map making and antibacterial handsoap aspirations began). I always wondered how they fed everyone without grocery stores. The answer was, they had grocery stores, they were called castle coffers. The larders were on the next floor up and they were more like pantries that housed the immediate foodstuffs. The Comte Himself also lived on the first floor in the center like a spider in a web. It was all really quite logical. Valuables and the lord were ensconced on the first story with kitchens and common rooms tucked in like pillows. Everyone else called the second floor home. Boys had their own wing, girls had their own wing and servants had their own wing (and never the three shall meet). Matilda had her own spider web going on, with her rooms in the center of the girls wing and everyone else’s room rippling off of it. I was such a far off ripple I was more like glimmer of a shadow. Maybe I was the dead fly at the edge of the web.
Madame Johanne didn’t seem much interested in my help (probably because she’d asked me to cure the bread and I had to ask the scullery maid what she meant, which ended with the scullery maid getting her ears boxed and my banishment from the lower kitchens). I may have been forgotten entirely if it was for Nicolas
I’d run into the blonde haired soldier in room off of a room off of one of the wasting rooms. Unlike my quarters, this small room had long windows with enough light coming in for me to try to mend the holes in my shabby attire. It had been a thorny problem of mine for days. I didn’t want to ask for new clothes, and no one was offering any, and the ones I had would quite literally leave me naked by Christmas if I didn’t do something to keep them from falling off me.
I’d found the room by accident on one of my map making treks. It had an inch of dust and cobwebs so I felt pretty confident no one had been in there for at least a year. Since I couldn’t very well mend my clothes while wearing them, and I didn’t dare show my lack of medieval sewing abilities, I decided this dust blizzard room was my best bet. Which is how I was found with bare legs, no dress, and one completely bare arm out of my kirtle by none other than that soldier I hadn’t seen since the first day. Sun glinted off his leather frock and blonde beard. I froze, needle poised in mid air. He glanced down at my naked thigh, then my naked shoulder, laughed then turned around and walked out.
I had been about to leap to my feet apologizing profusely as I attempted to stuff all my limbs back in their proper casings, but his laugh had triggered a wave of fury I hadn’t realized I possessed. I was doing the darn-freaking best I could under the circumstances, not that he knew that. I stabbed my needle back in sleeve of my dress and vowed to finish my mending even if he brought all of his men in to laugh too (Lord have mercy).
But I didn’t see him again until two days later when I was practically skipping for joy because Aimee had asked me to gather two buckets of red gill mushrooms with which to make dye. I was knee deep in sow thistle with my hands on a particularly good clump of fungi, when I saw him striding across the small clearing beside me. I lost my head entirely and sank to the ground hoping he’d not notice the overgrown ratty foreigner with stained red hands.
No luck. He came straight towards me.
“Lady Durand” he said, I noticed he didn’t bow or show any of the other signs of chivalry everyone else seemed wont to parade. I wasn’t sure if he was more arrogant than others, or it was just me he had so little regard for. I stood awkwardly.
“Yes...sir..” I realized I didn’t know his name.
He wasn’t offering it, instead he thrust a wool bundle into my arms. “The most estimable Lady Matilda sent these for you.”
I sensed a note of sarcasm on his voice, I wondered why? I shook out the what I assumed to be something else Aimee wanted done. It wasn’t. It was a blue kirtle of soft linen, a deep yellow tunic and a brown wool cloak.
I had been threatened, assaulted, questioned and effectively banished. I had successfully not been burned as a witch or locked up in a loony bin. I had gone without food, not spoken to a human being for days at a time, and had memorized (thus far) seven hundred and thirty two ways to walk, talk and carry myself in public. I should have been plenty up to the task of accepting a bundle of raiment with at least some measure of control. But no, my lip quivered and my eyes glassed over despite my stern inward lecture to the contrary.
“Thank you” I said, keeping my head down to hide my face, but it was too late. I felt a finger under my chin, forcing my head up to face him.
“Is someone treating you poorly?” The words were so calm and commanding, tears began to slide down my cheeks in total rebellion. I wiped them away, and straightened by back.
“No, everyone is fine... I’ll be alright... It’s nothing...please forgive me.”
"Ah, is it your father then?" His voice had that deep reverberating quality that sounded sympathetic just because it had won the genetic lottery in attractiveness. I made the mistake of looking up and making eye contact. Next thing I knew, I’d lost control entirely.
"No...I mean yes… I mean… I don’t know!" Overcome by the exhaustion of keeping everything together for the last few months, I gave up and collapsed sobbing like I hadn’t since...well ever really.
The poor guy (to his credit), held me awkwardly as I cried. He gingerly patted my head as if I were an injured hound or hawk rather than a strange girl. Instead of holding me at arm's length or calling for his loathsome men, he held me tight, muttering soothing ‘shhhh’ sounds that didn’t at all match his clanking swords, knives and leather person. I gave up trying to pull myself together, I surrendered to the grief I’d been holding in check for days...months.
Eventually I came to my senses and realized what I was doing. He was a soldier...and more importantly a man in an era before male female friendships were a cultural norm. I pushed myself away, apologizing profusely.
I dashed away the tears with the sleeve of my ratty kirtle and was nearly overcome all over again. Ugh, it was mortifying.
“I’m sorry...er...beg penance.” I couldn't think of the proper way to apologize as I backed away from him. His high cheekbones were stained with color, but he otherwise was the picture of composure.
“You don’t need to be scared of me.” As if this ought to be self evident. I didn’t dare argue with him, although I was a little offended he thought there was so little chance he’d do anything untoward with me.
Voices came down the dirt path that led from the fore building.
“Nicolas man… are ye with some tirlirly-puffkin?”
A man in heraldry clothing and a mail shirt popped into view. I no longer thought of anyone as dirty or unkempt...it had become the new normal. Besides, the pot couldn’t call the kettle black.
Nicolas. So that was his name...or christian name at least…which wasn’t much helpful when you came down to it. I still didn’t know his rank or address.
I didn’t quite have Aimee’s two buckets of red gills, but I didn’t think it wise to stick around here any longer, with a quiet curtsey (which I now knew how to do) I scampered back up the path towards the fore gate.
“If you’re trying to off thyself, I might recommend a different strain.” It was a croaky old lady sitting on the clay stairs to one of the many indiscriminate cottages that blended into the landscape. Startled, I looked down at my bucket...realization dawning slowly.
“Oh no, madam..” I was horrified, “... It’s for dye.” She beckoned me towards her, and I was either too stunned or too starved for conversation to disobey.
“You’ll not be wanting red gills for dye, it’s the pink poxies that hold fast the most you just have to add a touch of vinegar.” I noticed she had her foot propped up and swathed in bandages...or rather, I mainly noticed the bandages were a shocking shade of white hitherto unseen except in Matilda’s attire.
“May I inquire after thy foot?” I said the words slowly, going over them in my head to make sure they came out right.
“Oui, it’s nothing, just a touch of the ache and euel.”
Arthritis likely or gout perhaps? “Do you mind if I look at it.” My fingers were twitching to do what they were trained to do, despite the unconventional setting.
She eyed me sharply. “Usually it’s me asking that question mi’lady.” But she tilted her leg in my direction as if to offer it as an exam of my abilities.
I unwrapped the bandages gently. They’d been holding a poultice that reeked of camphor and peppermint. Her foot was gnarled and twisted, with minor edema and stiffness. Definitely arthritis, and no wonder. No ice, no ibuprofen, no way to manage it with diet or exercise. I set her foot down feeling useless.
“Giving up so quickly.” She sounded disappointed but not surprised.
I lifted my chin “Have you tried gelatin?” I asked, trying to remember what they called it “...aspic?”
She nodded her head, a little more pleased. “Aye, good…” she seemed to be waiting expectantly for more, so I went on.
“If you have turmeric, try that with a little cayenne, and avoid tomatoes.” I was totally exhausting all of my folk medicine...mainly gleaned from Natasha who was the resident health nut. Honestly I couldn’t see how her bones or skin were holding themselves together at all, I didn’t think anything short of a triplicate was going to offer any measure of relief.
“I think I’m a leetle too far gone to care about the tomatees, but you’ll do mi’lady...you’ll do...” She trailed off lost in thought. “What does Mistress Johanne have you doing, or are you solely in the attendance of The Ladyship?”
“Gravensteen is large and I am small.” I said.
“Not too small, methinks” She laughed “Tales of your grand height have gotten as far as Barges Hollow. “ I blushed, maybe I wasn’t so inconspicuous as I thought.
“Meet me here after the morning sup my dear.” She rewrapped her foot in its poultice, smoothing and tucking here and there with skill that would have made an orthopedic specialist jealous. Finally, she was finished and eyed me with such a stentoriously piercing look I was reminded suddenly of the proprietor of the photo booth at the festival.
"Be careful…” She had several chins and they all waggled as if in agreement “...there are those who know who you are.”
“Who I am?” I said “Besides a misfortuned stranger with possible leanings of madness?” I couldn’t keep in the bitterness and frustration.
"I did not say otherwise” she answered evenly “But if I were you, I’d mebbe not stay here too long.”
“I haven’t anywhere else to go!” Surely she knew that unless she was completely out of the loop, and she appeared to be anything but that.
“That,” she said “is unfortunate.” The great bell rang, sound reverberating through the walls, calling the arrival of evening and duties within the castle. She dismissed me with a nod, though I wanted to stay and argue with her.
The herald, who’d attended the soldier Nicolas, found me walking back to the castle.”
“You shouldn’t be walking out here unattended mi’lady.”
What, because there might be people like you about? I thought, but didn’t say aloud.
“My lord says it’s not safe.”
Apparently for me, nothing was safe.
To find out what happens next, help me nail down Matilda's brother's name so I can write the dress and banquet scene without cringing!