Thea said passionately, ‘He married her, Grandmother. He married that woman whose brothers plagued him until he said yes. What about my mother? She should be my father’s queen.’
‘Do not speak of your stepmother in such a manner.’ Gytha looked icily at her.
‘I do not have a stepmother. I have a mother. That woman is a nithing to me.’
‘You are ridiculous, Girl. She is of our nobility, the queen, and your father is king. You cannot change what is. What is, is.’
‘I refuse to bow to her.’
‘You will bow to her, Thea. Now, leave your needlework. Go and ask Lady Agatha to help you pack your warmest clothing. Summer has not yet arrived in England.’ With those final words, Grandmother Gytha, the countess, stamped from the bower chamber, banging her eagle-headed stick against the coffers as she went.
Was it possible that Grandmother was angry at Harold’s choice of bride or was she just furious at her granddaughter’s rebellious words? Wearily, Thea packed away her threads. She glared at the Wessex dragon stretched across her tapestry frame, a dragon still requiring much attention. For a moment, she fancied that the embroidered monster spat angrily at her too.
They rode from Heathfield on a misty April morning that promised to become a beautiful day once the sun reached its zenith and the early morning frost had disappeared. Thea, wearing a determined smile, mounted Lady, her grey palfrey, determined that today she would not antagonise the countess. Countess Gytha who, despite her sixty years, loved to ride, sat erect on her jennet, Juno, heavily booted feet set firmly in the stirrups below her divided riding gown and her voluminous mantle. The journey to London would take two days.
After midday, Grandmother announced that they would rest for the night in the comfortable Bishop’s Palace at St Albans. There, they could be assured of soft mattresses, linen sheets, and despite its being Lent, a delicious meal cooked by St Albans’s excellent cook, Brother Lawrence, who had a talent with Lenten food, using spices and sauces in a clever way.
Thea glanced behind at the wagons carrying the maids, travelling chests and her grandmother’s dismantled bed with its goose feather mattress which, once they reached Westminster, she must share. She sighed. At court, Grandmother would be watching her constantly. There would be no opportunity to seek out the handsome Earl Waltheof and, once arrived, there would be a tapestry to finish during the month they would pass at the Easter Court. The countess never travelled to London without her embroidery threads. Under her sharp-eyed tutelage, the noble ladies would work on a hanging for the abbey building at Westminster, an Adam and Eve tapestry, begun at Christmastide and left aside once the court had dispersed.
Grandmother glared over at her as if she were reading her thoughts and Thea straightened up at once, reminded of how she must observe decorum. If she appeared contrite and obedient now, her grandmother might be lax in her vigilance and it might be possible to escape the palace bower halls and instead seek out her earl.
As they trotted through lanes ready to burst into leaf, along primrose-heavy banks and hedgerows threaded with robin-run-the-hedge, feeling the rising sun warm her back, smelling the sweet scent of horse, Thea dreamed of her favourite dish – beef and mushrooms in a honeyed sauce – and imagined sharing it with the handsome blue-eyed young earl. She thought of the Easter-tide festivities that would follow the feasting – the story telling, music and dancing long into the night.
THE DRAGON_TAILED STAR WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ‘1066 TURNED UPSIDE DOWN’ a compilation of short stories, all excellent. Find it on Amazon.