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Bellus Locus - A Fair Place - Chapters 1-3 - DECEMBER 2004 VERSION

by scriptsplayed 

Posted: 01 January 2005
Word Count: 7597
Summary: The initial chapters reveal the de Beaulieu’s relocation to England from France - at the insistence of Queen Isabella who arranged for the marriage of Philippa to her son, Edward III. A Fair Place begins its story in 1327 and centres on the orphan and misfit, Margaret, who is reluctant to move from the beautiful Hainault valley to the cold Cumbria hills.

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Half submerged, with a halo of auburn tentacles fanned around her pale face, she felt utterly condemned. Had all the twelve years of her life really led up to this point? She looked around her. Impatient to be free from the rock out of which it sprayed, the beck’s source spat violently from an inaccessible area high above the pond it fed. Into the depths of the pool below, white foam bubbled around moss covered boulders where, lining the fall’s route, a steep bank of earth offered a dainty picture of tiny purple and gold flowers that gripped easily to the soft clay. Over a vast area of bracken, so dense to make it difficult to walk through, parsley fern abounded and caught the sun to make it luminous. Margaret believed it to be a beautiful place to die.

Bewildering questions repeatedly invaded her mind until she resolved herself to a trance like state and the restrictive clothing began to float freely about her body. Her head sunk deeper into the cool water and she listened to the subdued sounds of the alien world that embraced her. As muffled choirs of sweet angelic melodies filled the air above she could be forgiven for believing she was in Paradise already. At breakfast that morning, she had resided in Hell itself.

A thick rope for grasping robbers about the neck was knotted tight to the arms of a knarled oak tree. Gaily swinging upon it, Margaret felt she had not a care in the world until she was disturbed by a shriek raised behind the thick stone walls of the ch’teau where a great fuss had begun to take shape.

By gripping tight and leaning forward a little, Margaret could see that Marye flounced from window to window in her exuberant manner. Her agitated state, Margaret assumed, came from important news being given to the family before she herself had been notified, for she had always insisted upon being the first to know.
Then Judith appeared.

Marye’s red-faced maid was always hurrying, scurrying and scowling. As she thundered across the lawn brittle leaves billowed behind her; she presented a picture of puffiness glaring up at Margaret with a face red and sour enough to make the child loosen her grip and fall ungainly into the bed of leaves below.

‘You’re to meet with the family in the Grey Room. Monsieur de Beaulieu orders it.’ she snapped as the girl struggled to stand.

Judith always snapped. As a maid of lowly rank within the Court, she went to great lengths to find some semblance of authority. Margaret, usefully, proved to be the inferior she could berate at her pleasure.

Monsieur de Beaulieu had issued a strange and abrupt demand and she was puzzled by it. Her young mind was not given to giving time to such serious thoughts while there was enough of it on her hands to play. Her mind, as her body, was free. Free to wander and free to dream and that indulgent behaviour was most certainly not handed over to solemn contemplation. The inconvenient business of business, she understood perfectly, was intended for old maids like Marye to worry upon. However, she certainly could not give it any thought while Judith hurriedly shooed her across the lawn and pushed her along the dark corridor until she blundered ungainly into the cold North-facing room.

Tarnished with a frosty atmosphere and limited light the room where they ate most of their meals, certainly lived up to its name with its dull décor littered with the garish gold ornaments only Marye favoured. Faced with its doom, Margaret was indeed restless to leave. But she held her nose aloft and attempted to coolly take her seat at the table beside Marye’s son, Richard.

Poised awkwardly, Richard wished for Margaret’s closeness to be far from him. At twenty-seven years of age he was well aware he should have earned the girl’s respect before now. As he looked down at his lap and saw his sweaty palms gripped so tight as to leave nail marks in his tender palms, he understood perfectly the ill-feeling of revulsion that welled inside his adopted sister.

Marye’s disapproving frown was fixed upon the child while, Thomas, her embittered husband, smirked and nervously played with his knife. Margaret always likened the ugly man to a grinagog (being one who smiled without enough reason), but now was not the time for her to tease. Seated among these irritably hostile people, she obediently awaited Monsieur de Beaulieu’s arrival. Thankfully, he wasn’t long.

He entered, took a proud position before the cold fire-grate and stared at them all with some intensity. In Margaret’s eyes, he was magnificent. Gilbert, as he was more frequently known, had gained a reputation as a rough, tough squire whom the high-ranking people of France held in eminent regard. Often, in his solemn manner, he would tell the child of the time he held her father, Philippe, in his arms on the ravaged battlefield of Bannockburn and of the promise he uttered to him; that he would ensure his child’s life would not end in peasantry. Of all the people within his Court, only Marye’s sense of jealousy had been offended by his taking what she deemed a wilful girl into his charge.

‘A full season from now,’ he announced gruffly, ‘you shall all live in England. And you, Richard,’ his gritty voice barked, ‘will prepare for marriage to Margaret.’

Thomas twitched, aware a storm was about to erupt. Fleshy and overly dressy, his chubby fingers carefully laid the knife down and, as if seeking another distraction, anxiously plucked at the big iron badge stitched securely into his suede cloak. Very quietly, he leaned his large torso back in the chair that awkwardly hugged his shape.

Marye was not so restrained.

‘That girl is to marry my son?’ her capricious wail of protest resounded as loud as a death knoll bell.
Instinctively, Margaret recoiled. Marye, however, immediately stood up and leaned over Gilbert in disrespectful manner as her voice scratched the air. ‘She is volatile and foul and all too eager and disorderly. Heed my advice, her ill-conduct will destroy any liberty that exists within this household!’

As those words burned into Margaret’s soul, resentment incensed her spirit and she could not help but retaliate. Up she sprang and ran the length of the room as a poorly slaughtered chicken might while she screamed uncontrollably. ‘Liberty? What liberty? Liberty certainly does not exist in this house!’

Margaret wrenched the heavy door open and at once an ear-splitting series of clangs and clashes announced her collision with a serving maid: breakfast would not be served that morning.

Margaret’s wild thoughts were a muddle of confusion, her head buzzed and her body was numb. The door slammed loudly behind her even before Marye had the chance to raise one thick brow in that familiar disapproving fashion of hers.

‘There! Do you not see how acrid and sharp she is? How coarse and rank as a scallion she is? That girl is a dark disturbance for my troubled emotions. Surely, Gilbert, you see the hatred brought forth with your rash authority!’

As Margaret helped the maid pick up the broken crockery, Marye’s words were very clear. The floorboards creaked impatiently as she paced the room back and forth and acidly rattled on.

For many years, Richard had scorned the irrational girl’s behaviour and marriage to the disobedient orphan his grandfather had taken pity on and his mother despised had not once entered his shallow head. He fought hard with himself. Restraining his own urge to scamper from the room as his new fiancé had.

Instead, a hoarse, pleading ‘Sire?’ tumbled from his lips. But Richard upheld an assumption that prudence was of paramount importance and, although alarmed by his grandfather’s decision, he broached the subject tentatively.

‘Margaret and I, we two are so very different.’ He awkwardly fumbled for words that would not offend the imposing man too deeply, ‘We two are so very different in our mannerisms, in our thoughts and our actions.’

‘Yes you are.’ Gilbert’s reply was terse.

‘It is obvious it doesn’t, it simply doesn’t seem,’ his search for words echoed the desperation in his voice, ‘suffice to say it isn’t right. And there is no obvious reason for your conviction in our match.’

Gilbert, exasperated, sighed.

His footsteps marched to the door and Margaret ran.

A brisk slap of the reins either side of her pony’s neck and at once she felt the power surge beneath her. Needing to escape the confining mantle that had been placed upon her, she rode hard and fast and deep into the valley. Anger heated her heart and her thoughts raged at the blows transpiring against her. Frustrated by her lack of ability to free herself from the irksome burden she knew she would struggle with for all of her life, she urged the sturdy beast onwards.

It thundered at breakneck speed, on and on she was whisked through the lush meadows, they skirted the thick oak forest low in the green fells and galloped on up the steep hill. Her pony vaulted towards the brawling, racing beck and astride its wide, bare back, exhilarated by her freedom in the boundless race she grabbed the stiff net that kept her coiled hair under tight control and tossed it aside. Her long auburn strands flared wildly behind, flaming red and gold as the soft morning sun speared arrows of light through it.

As some crazed person suffering a high fever she laughed madly until something happened she could not foresee; all too abruptly, the beast halted.

Margaret’s little body was immediately flung high into the air and landed very quickly with a painful bump and an enormous splash. Any abundance of wild abandon she believed was hers had been utterly and unforgivably seized.

Filled with sorrow that death had not claimed her, she hauled herself upright in the beck only to find her ears had been deceived.

It was not the Angels she had wanted to embrace that sang their beautiful melody. Before her she could see four maids carrying baskets laden with rich cloth. Labour appeared no burden as they toiled and frolicked and sang in noisy delight.

The water reflected a dappled light over their friendly, but dirty faces and their voices resonated so clearly, so purely. Heartened by their simple loveliness she was captured by such a longing of the heart. A longing so profound it overwhelmed her. She wanted to stay with them there in that paradise forever. To return meant only responsibilities: reservation, restriction and reverence. It was a well-rehearsed chant. One that Marye had insistently lodged in her mind and one that the maids had obviously never sung.

But it was their repetitive verse, not Marye’s, that pulsated through her ears over and over again. And besides, she thought, her fortune would probably lead her to heel not in the delightfully magical kingdom of Angels, but to the dreadful door of the Trolls where she would be banished, beneath the earth, unable to witness the sun’s rise ever in her life again.

A sob escaped her and the maids ceased their song instantly. They saw her, a bedraggled rat slumped in the water, and an awkward silence followed.

As they offered knotty smiles to the drenched wench Margaret wanted to tell them not to be sorry. She wanted to insist they continue with their beautiful song and to let them know what they had taught her. That because they were able to give the appearance of contented women while conducting their wearisome toil then perhaps she too could face her fate with some semblance of dignity. But she did not.

The sodden cloth sucked to her body as she freed herself from the muddy water and mounted her impatient pony. After wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her dress, instead of voicing her thoughts she ignored them and, more than a little humiliated urgently nudged the animal on its way.

Tall and straight and very impatient, Marye sat dressed in a stark blue habit that emphasised her long arms folded tight across her small chest. In the looking glass, she proudly observed her own finely honed features and breathed deeply her satisfaction. She had entered into that phase of life that brought with it a reverence only an older woman could command and, with full knowledge of this fact Marye, always keen for a quarrel, frequently offered her most cold and severe expression.

Long before now, Marye had been a lady of note. Her parents, having had the misfortune of seeing three son’s die in infancy, had divided their estate between their four daughters. Sadly, even the girls died through ailment, which resulted in Marye’s sole inheritance of their estates. Further, her release from a marital bondage that ended in her husband’s death four seasons after they had avowed their intentions, substantially supplemented her income and what arose within her character was a mean, stubborn nature. Of course, her grand position only encouraged her temperament to express less submission and obedience than most other women of privileged position.

But times were changing, as indeed they were bound to. With the Church gaining power over the people it presided and the role of women within it fast altering, restrictions placed on womankind were more commonplace in 1326 than they were eight seasons before. And for a long while, Jeane de Valoise, wife of William IV the Count of Hainault, upon whose land Monsieur de Beaulieu’s heirs resided, had been displeased with the strong-minded abrasive attitude they had witnessed within Marye’s character. Together, the Count and his wife conceived a plan; one that included Gilbert’s son Thomas’ whose inclement behaviour they deemed would do well to tame one of such a fiery disposition.

Anyone looking at Marye preening herself could see it had not. Her long foot tapped irritably which indicated she had lingered for far too long at Margaret’s expense. Marye understood well what the girl ran from. She, herself, had lived through countless, laborious birthing episodes in an effort to produce one sole heir. And Margaret had had the utter misfortune to witness them all. So, she reasoned with herself, was the girl really to be blamed for her ailment at the sight of woeful women purging bloody babes from their ugly, swollen bellies? She could see why Margaret sneered at the pomp and performance with vulgar disdain. It was plain to see the girl could not see past the suffering and death she had brought to her own mother. Marye had assured her of that many times and her explanations had most certainly left their scar. Fear was the position Marye wanted Margaret to occupy. For to fear her meant she would hold power over the girl. Therefore, she was most certainly not going to sympathise with the girl. Not now. Not ever. Not after all this time.

Entering her room, Margaret was indeed startled by Marye’s ill-favoured occupancy.

‘Good Lord in the Heaven’s above, girl! There is no time at all to prepare you for the celebrations tonight yet you return here looking as though you’ve been excommunicated by the devil himself.’

Margaret, wise to Marye’s quick temper, closed the door firmly, careful not to rile her further. In her brisk fashion, Marye slapped Margaret’s torn, damp skirts about her skinny legs in an effort to bring about some tidiness.

‘Peasant! No.’ she continued unabated, ‘Lowlier than a peasant you’ll be this day. Just what am I to do with you!’

It wasn’t a question for Marye was certainly not known for her inquisitive nature and it wasn’t long before she surrendered her pathetic efforts at straightening the disorderly gown.

‘Get out of those rags and into that bath,’ she snapped, ‘and please yourself to dress in some fancy finery.’

All fingers and thumbs, Judith hurriedly entered the room holding a glazed jug of scalding water, all the while her sly gaze judging Margaret as she undressed. The maid’s treacherous nature plotted further plans as she poured water into the bath. Impatient for Judith to commence her toilet, Marye’s pinched cheeks hollowed and her dark lips thinned at the sight of Margaret’s attire draped carelessly across the back of the wooden chair.

‘Heavens! I have no doubt your antics will have my head on a stick and I wonder how it might please yourself to feel then. You realise little the problems you cause.’ Marye continued, ‘Ignorance is bliss. These wretched maids have been scurrying up and down those corridors and up and down those hundreds of stairs just for you. Just for you. As if it is not enough of an easy task putting together the preparations for one young girl! And one who is mindful only to her own concerns at that.’

Marye continued her attack, unabated.

‘You are a barbarous, ungraceful girl. Your wild behaviour will not aid the family in its connections. Nevertheless, it will be of utmost importance to put together the transportation of valuable possessions, and you, you will be the most unfavourable of company for me while I stress myself with the arrangements.’

In the arduous moments that Marye chose to apply herself to her passion of twittering, Margaret had learned to be quite quiet. As Judith draped a gown around Marye’s skinny body her mistress continued unappeased.

‘This evening’s gathering is intended as a gesture of thanks to those who’ve honoured Queen Isabella with their Standards. I am mindful to enquire what you have done to assist in our own preparations? Not one thing! You hide yourself away in the woods and care not one dot for the gracious attire afforded you. I do not understand from where your manners originated, I can only deduce blood is stronger in the bones than wine on the palette. That mother of yours was certainly a wicked woman to witness.’

That was it. A devious reference to her dead mother was all it took to boil the young girl’s blood. She impatiently slapped the hot water and could not stop herself from retorting sharply, ‘Marye. Please. The Queen of England will be departing soon, so there will be ample time for stressful situations to be had by all.’

The girl knew when her bluntness had pierced too deeply. Marye’s glare, told her she would pay heavily for her remark unless she lowered her head indicating that embarrassment gripped her senses within their grasp. But she did not.

‘Honest, Margaret! Much as your flighty abruptness is considered an asset by Monsieur Gilbert, I do not believe you should enforce that character on me. It makes me giddy with weariness. Refrain from doing so. With immediate effect.’

Marye narrowed her eyes as she observed Eva padding Margaret’s body dry. She deemed Margaret a chubby twelve-year-old. Although her bones were long, her hips were wide and rounded and her breasts had already begun to swell, Marye deemed her figure fitting enough to produce heirs for her only son. And while absorbed in her observation, typically, Marye forgot our fray almost immediately. She flapped her hands to indicate Judith complete her dressing and took delight to reveal a little further news she believe no one else was party to.

‘There is to be an announcement before the feast begins this evening. It will be a very important announcement, one that the Count of Hainault will be praising for years to come, I shall no doubt expect.’

Though Margaret still smarted from their abrasive discussion, she was keen to obtain more news and enquired with as much sweetness as she could muster, ‘Is Queen Isabella the subject of concern?’

‘Who informed you of the details?’ Marye reacted immediately, she darted across the room and pushed her pointed face into Margaret’s.

Marye was so close Margaret could smell her breath. ‘I have none.’ she almost stammered, ‘I’m merely aware of rumours.’

Immediately Marye’s voice became acrid, ‘Rumours are the scourge of maids and peasants! You will retell no tale of rumours.’

Marye could not hide her sly smile from her as she indicated for Judith to continue draping the final outer garment of soft pink velvet and delicate cream linen around her. After she had fixed another elaborate gem to her costume, which was fast becoming voluptuously outrageous, she contemplated her appearance again. Content with the picture she presented, her hood and veil firmly fixed, she departed the room in haughty fashion with Judith scampering quickly behind her.

Margaret had no sisters. No kindly aunts either were on hand to advise her of any forthcoming duty towards her unwanted husband, so she began to panic. Her mother’s fate was to be hers. But, remembering the God given gift of free will, she attempted to calm her anxiety and breathed deeply.

Eva, however, chose that moment to pull her ribbons tight, so tight it hurt to expand her chest any further.

She bit hard, too hard, into her lip and it bled. Eva frenzied with swabs to save the dress and while she did so, she caught her reflection in Marye’s looking glass and could not help but feel a keen sense of pride well within her breast.

Over her hair Eva had draped a simple filigree of gold netting which pinned her smooth auburn locks firmly. Her outfit was deemed plain, as it was a sage green velvet with a band of plum linen that stretched around her short neck, over her breasts and down to her waist where a tiny gold buckle neatly clipped her body together.

She was to learn later that those hues were intended to specifically emphasise the delicate colouring she had and also to allow her grey eyes and pale lips invite her future husband to temptation.

Margaret loved to run her fingers over the fabric’s soft quality, although she didn’t like that the bodice suffocated her with its rigidity.

‘Why is it deemed correct to wear a garment I feel so ill dressed in?’

‘Because these feminine drapes look attractive to men, of course.’ Eva’s voice was mature, milky almost.

‘But surely, wearing something so tight that it is impossible to breath is tantamount to the pressing death? Why should I be tortured so?’

So she loosened the gown while Margaret gazed at the view and the sun descended beneath the horizon. She sensed the girl’s melancholy mood.

‘Mademoiselle, I may say a little thing, one that can be of small help.’

She looked into those big beautiful African eyes and asked her to speak freely, after all, she had nothing to fear from the girl.

‘Your marriage, to Monsieur Richard, forgive me, Madame de Beaulieu I know she has intimated it to be far worse than it is.’

Puzzled to learn a maid so young would have experienced much in the way of men, she was relieved when she continued her explanation.

‘I know of men, Mademoiselle. And I do not intend to be so bold as to oppose Madame de Beaulieu’s advice.’
She hesitated, at a loss as to how to express herself without giving offence.

‘A man can touch a woman and offer an overwhelming sensation of pleasure. And you, you are very fortunate Mademoiselle, for Monsieur de Beaulieu is not a clumsy boy who will twist and pant and grope roughly with sweaty hands.’

As mine Margaret’s were at her revelation.

‘He is able in these matters.’

Margaret, on the other hand, was not. The innocent girl inside her squirmed uncomfortably as her maid continued.

‘He is older than you, no? And he is very handsome, yes?’ Eva smiled proudly unaware of any embarrassment she caused. ‘He will have had carnal knowledge with many women. And, he will have learned how to give his wife pleasure in the performance of his duty.’

Margaret wanted to scream. She most certainly did not know how to accept these facts. When Gilbert had imparted the news of her impending marriage, Richard’s countenance was obvious: he did not want her. Her ill-temper and her blunt manner were enough to reconcile himself with that fact.

‘It is not his touch that troubles me, Eva.’ Margaret interrupted, ‘Marye has told me of my mother’s end and that mine is likely to be the same.’

‘If you do not wish him to leave you with child, there are ways to avert his doing so.’

Margaret’s quick temper simmered as Eva’s pleasant voice soothed her worries away.

‘When I was much younger, I was pleasured by the priest in our village.’

‘Oh Eva, priests are forbidden to bring carnal bliss to women! Everyone knows that.’ Margaret scoffed.

‘No, no, Madamoiselle. A priest is forbidden to marry a woman, but is not denied her body. He assured me that was the case.’

The young girl felt strangely disturbed by her own innocence and yet, at the same time, was reassured of her maid’s wisdom.

‘When his lust grew for me,’ she continued, ‘he always brought with him a herb wrapped in a piece of linen and he took great care to place it around my neck so it hung down along my body.’

Margaret watched as Eva traced a line between her large breasts down to the small swell of her stomach

‘You understand, no?’

Closing her eyes, Eva lowered her head and held her long, elegant hands to the air and Margaret pictured her dancing with her priest. As she lifted her face her smile was one of deep passion.

‘It happened, sometimes, he wanted to join his body with mine more than twice in one night and before he did so, he was very mindful to desire the herb before putting himself in my body again. You see Mademoiselle, with the herb, you are protected.’

Although not fully understanding all Eva had said, Margaret felt a little less tense. At least she felt there to be a way of evading the birthing and a prolonged and painful death.

‘Eva, you have lightened my mind.’ She smiled.

So obviously pleased to be of assistance, Eva laid Margaret’s gloves neatly on the bed and after accepting her young mistresses assurance she required no further service, she resigned quietly from the room.

Margaret began to think of the impending festivities. They were fast becoming more of a chore to attend than a feast in honour of Queen Isabella’s departure to England.

How she wished to be back in the beck with the angels singing their beautiful songs. There, she would not be constrained by the ephemeral province of courteous ritual. Richard would be in attendance, she was well aware of that. And she knew it would be expected of them, as intended marriage partners, to take at least one turn on the dance floor. The trouble was, she simply could not evade the image of Eva’s face as she pretended to clasp her priest’s hands.

Quickly, she stretched the linen gloves over her arms and made her way down the stairs.

The Count of Hainault’s house was of a much grander style than Gilbert de Beaulieu’s simple ch’teau. It had several tall stone piers that spiked the heavens with colossal lancet windows that arched gracefully under a single hood moulding. And there an ornate trefoil pattern completed its grand design. Captured within the ornate stone surround, diamonds of glass winked a rainbow array of colours in the soft dusk light.

Inside, the building was light and spacious and graceful. Slender columns lined the grand arched entrance hall, at the capital of each marble pillar were richly carved foliage motifs and fixed firmly to the walls were strikingly painted canvases that fused faith with divine importance. The Count had personally placed each piece in order to inspire visitors with an admiration and reverence of the glory of God.

On the day of the celebration, the Count’s daughter, Philippa sat in her dressing room attempting to loosen her worries from the commotion surrounding her. Today, being busier than on a market trading day, the large room seemed much, much smaller than usual. More servants than were absolutely necessary had bustled to the sound of harried preparation for herself and her sisters.

Philippa, meanwhile, took to examining the sprawling landscapes that lined the walls. Landscapes painted in subtle pastel colours brushed together with tender thought and patience that evoked in her memories warm summer evenings. The embroidered cloth that covered her bed was a feat she and her friend, Margaret, had accomplished. Together, they had stitched pink roses in full bloom and lilac lavender stalks to pretty its design. The same pattern had been imitated in her room with vases crammed with the same flowers and placed on every available surface. A heady perfume emanated from them and became heavier as the evening wore on. Philippa loved lavender because it helped to soften her sleep.

However that night, far from being soothed, Philippa was almost in tears. She didn’t like it when the servants avowed with fastidious labour as they continually added layer upon layer of cloth about her small body. Oh, she loved the adventure of choosing her clothing but she didn’t have the type of character to care that they deemed their young mistress fair enough not to be daubed with rouge to disguise her features. Nevertheless, they all still scurried around her anticipating her every fashionable need and seemingly aware of a subject that she was not a party to.

Her sisters were no help either. They enjoyed pretentiously fretting about the perfection required for their costumes and chatted gaily amongst themselves. While their servants hastened in their tasks the girls practically disowned Philippa from their conversation. Even if they had proved their loyalty towards her as a sister, they had never made her feel a part of their society. Philippa preferred, instead, to befriend Margaret.

Margaret, she knew, was not one to fuss in front of a looking glass or ornate herself with tawdry jewellery. Nor did she indulge in cruel gossip about the servants, especially while in their presence. And she did not make herself so obviously and embarrassingly available to any suitable young man that presented himself at the Count’s Court either. Not that they made any pretence of liking her anyway.

Completely unaware of it herself, everyone could see Philippa was a lady. Her dignified composure, captivating presence and polite mannerisms made her a favourite among the high ranking officials employed by her father right down to the lowliest maid who’s dreary duty it was to empty her chamber pot. Though, to be fair, Philippa went to great lengths to discourage her father’s public love of her. For she realised his favouritism encouraged an uncalled-for rivalry amongst her sisters.

Philippa vehemently wished that Margaret was with her while the unpleasant preparations were exercised. The world always seemed a pleasant place to be when her friend was around, being able to feel at ease and to cope with anything people presented to her.

But that evening was different. That evening, no one was allowed to enter her room without her father’s consent. And, to ensure this order was fulfilled, the Count had located himself nearby.

As her maid braided her fine hair and pulled it hard to fix it into place she could only look at her reflection and presume that, this time, Margaret had pushed the Count’s patience to the edge. She believed that he was not best pleased with this afternoon’s events, as news of Margaret’s absconding had reached Hainault fast. When she could not be found, Gilbert had ridden to the Count’s Court to locate her.

Philippa decided then that she would expressly apologise to her father and offer him assurance that she would categorically forbid her friend from acting with such indecent behaviour. Otherwise, she feared our friendship would be at an end.

When she was finally beautified she, and she alone, was summonsed to her father’s Library. That, in itself, caused an indecent quarrel amongst her sisters. So, without further argument she vacated the icy atmosphere, eager to exchange it for a warm welcoming one.

Whenever she entered that quiet understated room, ease fell upon her and a generous smile filled her face. There, in her most beloved of places, she felt a calmness descend. It was an area where she could immerse herself in books of learning and of poetry and through the open window, only the sound of the birds’ sweet evensong kept her company. Indeed, it was a pleasant interlude and she felt fortunate to be gifted with it after the fussiness that afternoon had presented.

She admired the long row of leather bound spines that lined the sturdy shelves and, though not particularly great in number, it was an impressive collection. Her father had instilled in her the torment men had sustained in order to present their knowledge in such an intricate art form and she appreciated those precious books were suffice enough to prepare her for expanding her world of knowledge. A knowledge her father had implored her to learn as much as she was able within the confines of her sex.

At that moment, he erupted into the room dressed in a splendid overcoat of ruddy chestnut that hugged the great bulk he displayed so very proudly. Large gold buttons decorated it to perfection and, she noted, hugging his large splendid head was his most favourite of bands: a fabric in deep mahogany and dark green interlaced with an intricate pattern of gold. When it captured the light his eyes sparkled, themselves twinkling like jewels.

As best she could in her tight gown and elegant slippers, she rushed over to him.

‘Father. Please? Will you find it in your heart to forgive Margaret for her indecent behaviour? You have my sincere promise that I shall not allow for her rash behaviour to become better than her honest character again.’

She curtseyed graciously low and held her hand expectantly high.

Taken by surprise by her admittance of such trivial nature he danced backwards in mock shock then quickly offered a loud laugh of reassurance. He grasped her pale hand tight in his and as his whiskers brushed it so very lightly his booming voice assured her, ‘My dear, my dear, my dear!’ It was William’s fashion to emphasise everything so very extremely and to repeat his words more than was necessary, ‘You have absolutely no need to fret your comely petite head over such dwarf-like and diminutive matters.’

Philippa hesitated as she looked up at him. He released her hand and pinched his fat fingers together for added effect. ‘Be very, very, very assured, I was not even aware of such trifling, worthless concerns.’

His smile was wide as he shook his head and announced abruptly with a smile, ‘Consider them inconsiderate.’
Philippa straightened and sighed with unexpected relief then wondered, why else would he call for her counsel prior to the feast.

Her answer was not long in forthcoming.

Behind him, entered the intensely authoritarian Queen Isabella and her vibrantly handsome lover, Roger Mortimer.

Candles twinkled from within their glass imprisonment. As they hung delicately from the high ceiling they threw impressive shards of light across the hundreds of finely dressed people who danced in elegant manner below.

On a large oblong table, roast pheasant, wild boar and a variety of local fish were placed among crisp fresh vegetables and deliciously fleshy fruit. Presented to perfection on the best silver plates and illuminated by tall dripping candles. It was deemed a truly magnificent feast.

Everyone was in awe of the lavish display before them, so much that Margaret had been able to slip in unnoticed and if anyone were to search for her, she was to be found stood in a dark corner. From there, she watched as Marye indulged in prancing and dancing around the room in her usual embarrassing fashion with the rotund Thomas in tow. And Gilbert, as was expected, had absconded to conduct business with the Count.

So Margaret was left alone. Alone to idle the interval speculating about nonsensical things and to make a particular play of studying the smooth stone wall with serious intent. The stone became her fascination; the stone of the wall that now trapped her inside, away from the beautiful summer evening that celebrated more honestly than the people within its confines. Even considering the generous food that had been prepared for them, she thought her rudeness infinitely preferable to accidentally catching Richard’s eye and, ultimately, a grudging request for a turn on the dance floor.

Aware of her own rather insolent behaviour she was oblivious to the fact that she looked dour in the process. Her thoughts could only keep referring to the fact that every day that dawned would bring her closer to her marriage and the more ill of the thought she became of it.

At least, she comforted herself, Eva had armed her with intimate knowledge of her own experience. Knowledge she was determined to consult on another occasion. Thankfully, it was far better to consult Eva than to make enquiries with Marye. For Marye had made it quite plain the girl’s body would be expected to bear her son a son and, at some point, that would mean he would have to enter her body without the aid of Eva’s herb. It was those thoughts that clouded her face as she pulled her gloves tight up to her elbows.

Gradually, the soft harp and gentle lute managed to lull her to relax a little, but then somewhat abruptly, a hush descended on the room and she wanted to complain. But she also was hushed when into the room entered people of royal position.

Although the King and Queen of France paid frequent visits to the grand Court of Hainault, it was on only special and so very few occasions that the Queen of England and her lover enjoined the festivities.

Everyone, including the disobedient Margaret, bowed. Very low.

Once she raised my head, she could see that the Count and Countess followed the Queen. And behind them, followed the Queen’s son, Edward.

And Edward, she saw, held the hand of none other than Philippa.

Her friend.

The girl she had grown up with.

The one with whom she had shared so many secrets.

The lady who was to become Queen of England.

It dawned on her then and she couldn’t believe she had been so stupid in her lack of thought. Her friend’s hand in marriage had been promised in exchange for William’s body of Knights for Isabella’s cause.

The puzzle pieces fell into place and she hissed vehemently to herself blaming her uncle for riding in haste to d’Ambricourt with ever intention to invite the English Queen to Hainault. It stood to reason, in Margaret’s young mind, if it hadn’t been for her uncle, everyone would be staying put.

Her young mind could not understand why Philippa’s father had agreed to his favourite daughter’s union in such a manner. Another French girl married to another English King when France was allied to Scotland in its cause for freedom from the English yoke? What was to become of them all?

It seemed, after all, even Philippa’s father believed position was a more important consideration than a woman’s independence, or a woman’s love.

It appeared even Gilbert’s hands were tied.

It was all too much for Margaret.

When blurred images began to invade her eyes again, Margaret had forgotten why the act of dizziness had befallen her. The faces that peered down at her were ugly and misshapen and she couldn’t see whether she resided in Hainault Court or Lucifer’s Hell. But then Philippa’s familiar, kindly, face appeared and she silently blessed her when she told the uglies to leave.

Philippa provided a picture of perfection. Margaret examined the coifs side of Philippa’s head that were stiffened with threads of gold and fastened with ruby gems. She deemed Philippa’s maid had deft fingers to complete their task of fixing the crown-like band so excellently. Draped around her friend’s slender body was an elegant, if overstated, blood red silk gown, which if she was honest, made her look a little too pale.

Philippa leaned over Margaret.

‘You must be fully becoming a woman, for this sensation is inconsiderate in its untimely manner.’

Margaret’s head still tingled and she had had enough talk of womanly matters to last for all time.

‘You are going to leave?’

‘I am to become Edward’s bride soon after he becomes King.’

Philippa was so obviously pleased with her magnificent news. Margaret, however, frowned as the shock of seeing her friend with the young Prince was recalled.

She cast Philippa’s statement aside, as though it were irrelevant.

‘I don’t suppose your parents have told you of the duties of being a wife? About the act you will be bound to perform?’

Truly embarrassed, Philippa toyed nervously with the ruby set firmly in her necklace. She lowered her delicate face towards her chest and kept her silence while, alarmed at our situation.

‘It is truly preposterous. I cannot quite believe it myself. And were you aware that I am to marry Richard?’

‘I had learned so small news on the subject.’

‘And you did not feel enough to inform me?’

‘It was not deemed my place to.’

Although Philippa was sincerely sorry, Margaret could feel nothing but rejection. She felt my friend had sided with her enemies and that she had no one in the world.

‘England. How illustrious do you think it will be?’ Margaret bit her lip in an attempt to be jolly and alter the conversation.

Glad for the shift in discussion Philippa’s reply was a zealous one, ‘I am told it is majestic. But very cold. And I have heard their castles can be very draughty and their houses so dismally damp.’

‘Lord, how we shall miss so very much our beloved France.’

‘Marriage is not such a dismal task, Margaret. In fact, it can be quite an undemanding pleasantry.’

‘Life as a Madame will not allow me the liberation I have in abundance as a Mademoiselle.’

Margaret strained to loosen the tight ribbons on her bodice and Philippa immediately reached to help.

‘Besides which, although I love Gilbert with an affection so deep as a daughter would a father, so very much indeed, I confess I do not feel any love for Richard.’

‘I understand perfectly, Margaret. But is there nothing you can begin to feel for him?’

‘Bewilderment. That is all I want to feel for him. At times I want to aim an arrow at his rump to get him to move with speed.’

‘Only in your mind! Surely?’ Philippa chuckled.
Margaret decided not to confirm or deny her friend’s question, but a long deep sigh issued from her lips when finally she felt released from the restraining bodice.

‘I have a desperate need to witness his anger, or hear him raise his voice, but he expresses no emotion whatsoever, of course, other than excitement for the business Marye issues him. He seems animated enough when examining the columns of numbers required for the rents arising from the estate.’

Margaret harrumphed rudely, slid off the bed and stretched her arms to the heavens. Standing as tall as she could she spun around and around and chanted aloud.

‘Love is what inspires musicians and poets to write. Love is what binds a mother to her child. Love is ...’ I laughed ‘Love is the cause of much jealousy and anguish!’

‘What is love ... ’

‘... But a temporary fever of the mind?’ Philippa didn’t get to complete her sentence for she finished it for her. ‘Hmm. You read too many books my dear!’
She sat down with her head hurting maddeningly.

‘I do wonder sometimes if I would have been better off being born a beast.’

‘How ugly and ungrateful you sound.’ Philippa offered her sincerest smile.

‘I have heard Richard say to people that I am a sow and that I am bad-tempered and a gossip.’ Margaret sneered, ‘It vexes me that he has agreed to wed a woman he likens to a sow.’

She slumped into the bed again and for a brief moment she leaned back on her elbows and took pleasure in the breathtakingly tranquil scenery Philippa created just by being there. She knew their lives were soon to be irretrievably altered and felt utterly bewildered by the notion.

‘To be born a woman is a black curse indeed.’

She slipped off the bed and stepped towards the window, ‘Four seasons from now I shall be a married woman. And that thought panics me so very much indeed.’
As she peeked through the thick drapes she could see the neatly manicured lawn spread out before a small clump of blade-brush bushes; waving at her in the maturing breeze, their razor sharp leaves perilously whipped the earth. From this omen, she gathered she was to be to scourged at the merest hint of any rebellion. Fate, it appeared, seemed more of a lofty, ludicrous gargoyle with power enough to crush her very existence, than a loving protective companion that could ease her distress. Her resolve conceived her to be a wicked companion. She heard no words of wisdom and saw no hand of protection. God had judged and criticised her ungrateful heart and found it wanting.

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Comments by other Members

TeeFoley at 02:07 on 11 March 2005  Report this post
Earthly descriptive together with narrative detail. Historically chilling. A woman's provocation towards the dilemmas of being simply that - yet - with the heritage undertones of reality then as it was.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the passion from within the mind of this potential masterpiece! More Please ...

scriptsplayed at 09:54 on 12 March 2005  Report this post
Thank you so much for your vote of confidence - relieved is a mild word to use for the way I feel. I've had so many rejections from agents and publishers (33 at last count) for this story I had almost given up on it. Your words are very gratefully received.

Anj at 20:42 on 12 March 2005  Report this post

I only have time to read the first chapter now, but I'll make time to come back to the rest. You've clicked "Go on! I can take it!" so I'll assume you can ;)

Reading, I got a real sense of time and place, your characters are very vivid and I've a feeling you have a cracking plot in store for us.

I felt though that while you had a very clear idea of your material, you hadn't got it down in a way that maximises it's impact.

Personally, I felt there were two reasons for that, the first being that your prose could do with tightening up to increase impact, eg

"By gripping tight and leaning forward a little, Margaret could see that Marye flounced from window to window in her exuberant manner" - there's a tense problem there, going from -ing to -ed; also "Margaret could see Marye flouncing from window to window" is enough - if she's flouncing, she wouldn't be doing it other than exuberantly, so that final clause detracts from, rather than adds to, the impact of the sentence.

... "Her agitated state, Margaret assumed, came from important news being given to the family before she herself had been notified, for she had always insisted upon being the first to know." This sentence needs simplified, to flow better and communicate the infor better. Personally, I think it would read better something like "Margaret assumed Marye's agitation was due to important news having been passed to someone before herself, which she always hated."

Sorry to rewrite, but it's much easier to explain what I mean by showing it. Because the prose isn't as focussed as it could be, I felt my grasp on events as a reader wasn't as focussed as it could be.

Which leads into the other reason, which I felt was point of view, which moved around and so made events unfocussed. Margaret is obviously your main character, and a cracking character she is; she's also the one in there we really care about and she is the one at the centre of the maelstrom - so I felt you should have stuck to her point of view alone, shown us other's reactions through Margaret's eyes and let us know her reactions to them. That way Margaret can be our guide through the events to come, keep us focussed on her and what's important, and we'll care more that she moves through them unscathed.

That all sounds very critical, but I thought there was a great deal to enjoy in here; it's maybe just that the technical stuff, the stuff that can be learned, is letting down your obvious feel for character, time, place and plot.

I hope you don't mind my being so honest - but you say you've had 33 rejections and I know how bad rejections feel, and 33 shows alot of perseverance, so I'm assuming you care enough about your writing to want people to be brutally honest. Of course, my brutally honest opinion is still only my opinion ....

Whatever, this opening chapter did have me sufficiently intrigued to want to keep reading, so I'll make time to come back and read the rest (if you still want me to).

Take care

scriptsplayed at 21:15 on 12 March 2005  Report this post
Thank you Anj, this is the kind of crit that I am eager for. You've highlighted things that I couldn't see as I'd become blind to them. At least with these comments, I can learn and (hopefully) get better at it and I know now where I am going wrong.
I feel it in my bones and KNOW the story is good, I just KNOW it, it's just my putting it together that's letting me down a wee bitty! (or perhaps a lotty!).
I sincerely appreciate the time and effort that you've put into this crit and would dearly love you to read the remaining two chapters that are up there for eager/discerning eyes.
Very many thanks, I'll take a look at your work (the one you mentioned in your email to me.

Anj at 21:47 on 12 March 2005  Report this post

I'm with you, I think you have a great story. Incidentally, on Isabella and the period, have you read Ian Mortimer's Roger Mortimer: The Greatest Traitor? If not, do - I couldn't put it down. Look forward to the next chapters.

Take care

darkstar at 09:10 on 13 March 2005  Report this post
OK, I'm trying to be as picky as possible ;) I've only looked at the first chapter - I'll come back later and look at the rest.

Your use of descriptive language is good, and that in itself shows you have a good sense of time and place.

I found the first paragraph confusing and since this is the one that must grab, that's a problem. From using words like 'beck' and the description of the bracken, I assumed we were already in Cumbria, but later this seemed not to be the case.

Anj has already pointed out the wandering POV, and it can be hard to keep firmly in one (don't I know it!)but you lessen the impact of Margaret's story with such digressions. For example:

Judith always snapped. As a maid of lowly rank within the Court, she went to great lengths to find some semblance of authority. Margaret, usefully, proved to be the inferior she could berate at her pleasure.

This information is interesting, but is it material that Margaret would necessarily be aware of? It's much harder to write in a single POV, but I think it can lead to a more satisfying story.

Furthermore, because the POV has wandered a bit in the para above, I was not entirely certain who 'she' was in the first sentence of the following para. Now, it's soon clear that it's Margaret, but anything that aids uncertainty in the reader is bad.

You describe Marye as an old maid. It was a bit of a shock to discover she is apparently an old woman with a 27 year old son. Now I'm not familiar with this period at all, so perhaps this usage is correct for the time, but I found it confusing.

You also want to be careful with info dump. It can be a real pain trying to get over information the reader neads to understand to the story without sounding as if you are giving a history lecture. Again, using the para I quote above, the second sentence is info dump. You could recast it into Margaret's awareness (and resentment)of where she stands in the pecking order of the court, which would then link it back to your characterisation of her.

I hope this helps.


scriptsplayed at 12:21 on 13 March 2005  Report this post
Cas, grateful thanks. I'm appreciative of these blatant comments (honest, I can take it!), and will alter the text accordingly.
I'm learning a lot from these comments ... hope to learn more!

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