Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rosemary, Chapter 4

Letha spent the rest of the day wandering around like a ghost, peering around corners, cautiously opening doors and listening down hallways.
There was a room full of books, some of them had beautifully etched illustrations. There were maps framed on the walls. She spent a long time in this room, delicately turning pages, tracing the shape of the ornate capital letters with the tip of her finger, and marveling over the atlas.

The bedrooms were on the third floor, above the solar and library. The bed in her own room was freshly made and a small fire burned in the hearth. Across the hall was another door and this she knew must be the lord’s bedchamber. She peaked into this room only long enough to get a fleeting impression of spare utility before hurrying away again.

Curving along one side of the hall was a narrow staircase to the fourth floor, but when Letha walked up, she found the door was locked. Abashed, she quickly made her way back down the stairs, looking to see if anyone was about.

The tower seemed empty, the servants only came upstairs to clean or to answer a summons, otherwise they were busy downstairs, in the kitchens or the buttery or the stables.

At midday Greta brought her a meal of beef and marrow pie. Letha wondered what her father was eating, what the village people thought had happened to her. Had the lord sent any word there? Would they look for her?

As the sun began to set, her nervousness increased. Her shoes felt odd on her feet and her head ached from the sustained weight of her hair. There was a pin loose in the back that kept poking her scalp. Her very limbs seemed itchy from lack of use.

She began to pace back and forth in front of the fireplace in the parlor, stopping now and then to look out the bank of windows that overlooked courtyard. It looked cold out there, a gust of wind blew a billow of leaves over the wall; they skittered against the flagstones and then slid to a stop against the inside of the wall.

Beyond the wall was nothing but unbroken forest, the leaves mostly fallen from the branches, though here and there was a patch of russet brown, now turned living gold with the last of the sun, sitting low on the western horizon.

The sun set behind her. Letha saw the shadow of the tower stretch out darkly against the courtyard gate and the forest beyond, where it merged into greater shadow. The gold leaves faded into brown and then to gray.

She heard the sound of boot heels upon the stone steps and voices calling from the first floor. Letha swung toward the solar door, her heart beating in her throat.

“Good evening,” said the lord, coming into the room. He tossed his cloak upon the back of a chair as he came, his eyes seeking hers.

He wore the same close fitting, dark green brigandine as yesterday. The smell of the wind came into the room with him, and the smell of cold iron and crumbling leaves. His hair was the short, tousled brown of an animal’s pelt, trimmed close up his neck. His eyes were the gray of winter cloud with the sun just behind it.

The sight of his face caused Letha's breath to catch, so unexpectedly intimate and yet still the face of a stranger. She dipped in a curtsy, hiding her face in the nervous motion.

He stepped close and kissed her on the mouth as Letha rose from her curtsy. Her eyes closed, the tension slipped out of her shoulders and back as she leaned, instinctively, toward him.

“I thought of you all day, dear wife,” he murmured. “You were an excellent choice, for all that it was made on the fly.”

Sighing, he drew away from her, walked to the livery cupboard and from the shelves within drew down a green glass bottle and cups.

“Now, goodwife, tell me; how was your day?”

Letha’s nervousness returned, she struggled to put words in order.

He gave her a quizzical look. “Well, woman? Do you speak? Here- drink this, it’ll help.”

She took the cup he held out to her and sipped the dark liquid. It burned down her throat.
“I…I don’t know what to do,” she managed to get out.

“With what?” asked the lord, sitting in one of the chairs before the fire.

“During the day. And…”


“I don’t know your name…”
The lord gave her a look of mixed irritation and pity. "Stop whispering, woman. That, or come closer." He gestured to the chair opposite his. "Sit down."
Letha sat gingerly on the edge of the seat.
"I don't know your name," she repeated, keeping her eyes down.

He looked startled. “You didn’t hear it when we were married?”

“I couldn’t hear it in the Latin,” she admitted.

“My name is Cederic."

“Do I call you Cederic?” she asked in a small voice.

“Well, I don’t know what else you would want call me,” he said, smiling. His teeth were very white in his face, now aglow from the fire.

“What am I supposed to do?” she asked again.

Just then there was a clatter outside the door; the two serving women appeared carrying heavily loaded trays. They busied themselves laying out the food. The smell of boiled beef, cinnamon, cloves, onions and sage filled the air.

Letha rose to go to the table, but the lord shook his head and led her over to a small pedestal beside the door, hidden in a corner. On it was a shallow copper bowl, ewer and folded linen towels.

“Wash before eating,” he told her, pouring water into the bowl.
When they had both washed their face and hands, he sat her opposite from him and served the meat and bread. As before, Letha picked up a piece of meat with her fingers.

“No!” Cederic said sharply. He leaned across the table and picked up her knife by the blade and handed it to her. “Use this, not your hands. Use the spoon for the soup.”

Mortified, the girl took the knife from him and carefully speared a small piece of the beef, her hands trembling.

“As to what you should do with your time during the day, that is entirely your own choice,” he said. “Just do not disturb the rooms that are locked.”

“May I visit my village?” she asked, not daring to look up.

“If you like. But don't go alone. If you wish to go, you must take Coll the groom with you. But I doubt that you ride.”

Letha shook her head and put her knife down. “I can’t ride. I can’t embroider. I can’t read. I don’t think the servants want me in the kitchen.”

“Well, what right do they have to say about it?” Cederic retorted sharply. “Go down tomorrow and ask Marta to show you the stores. That is your duty now, and they can say nothing about it, whether they like it or not. As for reading, do you wish to learn?”

“Could I?” breathed Letha. Such a thing had never occurred to her.

“I don’t see why not, so long as you’re reasonably intelligent.”
"I would like to learn," Letha assured him.
"Very well. I will teach you."

 “What do you do all day long?” asked Letha, after a short silence, picking her knife back up.

“Now that, my sweet honeycomb, I will not teach you."

When Marta and Greta arrived, the lord stopped them as they went to clear the table.

“The lady of the house will be inspecting the kitchens tomorrow," he told Marta.
The old woman looked up from her humble position and their eyes met for a long moment.
“Give me the keys,” he said.

Fumbling slightly, she undid the clasp and handed them to him. “Yes, my lord. I assure you, the lady will find that all is well in the kitchen, as it always has been.”

“I’m sure she will,” Cederic said dismissively.

When the servants had left, he looked across the table at Letha, his face stern, his eyes bright and hard. “As mistress, you must carry the keys. But do not use them on the doors that are locked."

“Yes, my lord,” replied Letha, frightened.

“Don’t lose them either,” Cederic warned, rising. “Keep them with you at all times.”

He came to her side of the table and helped Letha out of her chair. As he did, he pulled her smoothly into his arms.

“Sweet, humble Letha... Sweet oblivion.” He looked at her down turned face, the eyelashes so dark against her tanned skin. “I could swear you are edible. But I have had my dinner and I will save my sweet for later.” 

He loosened the girdle she wore about her waist, a bright band of woven silk, and slid the heavy ring of keys onto belt.

“I’m trusting you with a great many important things, things which are vital to me, and therefore to you,” he whispered, refastening the belt tightly about her waist with a strong, decisive movement. “Don’t fail me in this.”