Friday, January 25, 2013

Rosemary, Chapter 5

"Let us see how well you learn your letters," Cederic said.

Taking her hand, he led her from the solar to the library. He sat Letha at the large desk, lit with three fat candles. From a drawer, he took a wax tablet and a wooden stylus and set them before her.
“You may as well learn to read and write Latin first,” he explained.
“Why?” asked Letha, touching the stylus curiously.
“It’s the language of the Holy Roman Empire and their language is the fountainhead from which many others sprang. Many important books are written in Latin.”
“Where is Rome?”
“I can’t teach you everything at once, woman. Is this lesson going to be on writing or geography?”
“Writing,” Letha answered quickly.
“Very well.” He picked up the stylus and etched a letter into the wax. “That is the last letter in your own name and the first in the Latin alphabet.” He handed the stylus to her.
Letha tried to copy his letter, surprised by how much force it required. She produced a clumsy version of his. He took the stylus back and wrote the letters of her name, and then gave her the sounds of each one.
“Practice writing each letter and say the sound aloud as you do,” Cederic instructed her.
The lord sat down to read, looking up from time to time to watch her. Letha was whispering fiercely to herself, her shoulders hunched up in concentration.
“I have run out of space,” she said some time later, turning in her seat.
Cederic put the book aside and came to look over her shoulder. Her writing had improved more than he had expected. Picking up the wax tablet, he held it over a candle flame until the heat began to soften and melt the wax. Letha watched curiously, the flame reflected in her eyes.
The next morning Letha woke once more alone. A hard rain was falling outside the windows. By the time she was finished being dressed and coiffed, the rain had turned to snow. Letha stood at the window of the solar and watched the flakes spin past.
The door opened behind her and Marta came into the room, carrying Letha’s breakfast.

“Good morning, my lady,” she said.
Startled, Letha swung around to face her, feeling with guilt the weight of the keys that hung at her side, fastened now to a belt of finely clasped silver links. Her hand went to the keys without thought; she closed her fingers about them.
“Good morning,” stammered Letha. “ You don’t think…Will it snow all day, do you think?”
“I think it will,” replied the woman, setting the tray down with a thump. She gave Letha a quick, measuring glance. “Why do you ask, my lady?”
“I was hoping to go outside today. I was thinking of going to see…my father.”
The woman gave a bark of laughter. “Outside today? The lord would have my head if he knew you risked your health going outside on a day like this. No, my lady, much better to stay inside where it’s warm. The lord sent word of your marriage to the village yesterday, they won’t be expecting you back.”
“I see,” said Letha, disappointed. “How far is it to my village from here?”
“Oh, that’s fully a half day just to get there, and there isn’t any road to go by.”
“I don’t remember there being a road at all, that night..."
Already it seemed to Letha like something that had happened long ago, and not two days before. She turned to face the servant.
The old woman stood in the doorway, her hands hidden under her apron. Her face was sunken where she had lost some teeth, her nose wide and red, her eyes were shrewd. Despite her age, there was strength in her rounded shoulders and back.
“There are no roads,” Marta said, a secretive smile passing quickly over her face.
“Why not?”
“That’s his lordship’s way, and who are we to question him?"
After her breakfast, Letha wandered back into the library. She brought a book over to the desk and sat down with it. Taking the wax tablet, she began to copy the letters she saw. When she recognized a letter, her eyes lit up, and she whispered its sound to herself.
When she had filled the wax tablet with letters, she warmed and smoothed it as she had seen Cederic do the night before.

She was amazed when Greta came looking for her, bearing the mid-day meal. Her right hand ached painfully from clenching the stylus. She shook her hand impatiently, bending her fingers back and forth.
After she ate, Letha gathered her courage and went down to the kitchen. Her feet in their kidskin slippers were silent. Before she reached the bottom of the stair, she heard voices echoing up from the stone of the first floor.
“His lordship must need a candle to find her in the night,” tittered a serving girl.
Letha stood frozen on the step, her skin tingling.
"Her hands are as rough as scouring sand," Greta added, her voice drifting up to Letha.
“Why should we wait on her as if she’s true blue blood?" answered the other voice angrily. "Why, she’s no more worth here than his sow. It’s insulting, is what it is. And mark my words, nothing good will come of it. It’s unnatural, is what it is.”
“Hush now,” come the old woman’s unmistakable voice. “He has his ways and his reasons. When he’s gotten from her what he wants, he’ll be done with her and so will we. If not, well, nature has a way of making right what’s wrong.”
Trembling, Letha began to retreat up the stairs. Half way up, she turned and ran to the second floor, paused there like a deer in flight, and then ran up to the third floor and into her room. She flung her burning face into the pillows of the bed, but still she heard the servants' words repeated again and again in her mind.
Her soul ached, but she did not know for what. She imagined being great and terrible, and sending Marta out of the tower into the snow while she begged for mercy.

That horrified her then, so she imagined instead Marta humbly begging forgiveness, singing Letha’s praises, offering to be as her own grandmother, and to teach her everything she must know to be a great lady and to win the admiration of her husband.
Letha looked at her hands through her tears, and despised their chapped, rough skin, the brown color, their scars.
Closing her eyes, she burrowed further into the pillows and imagined that she was a very high lady, nobly born, with skin the color of peaches and milk, soft as silk. She imagined Cederic loving her, wooing her, she imagined bringing him a King’s ransom in dowry.
She saw herself making beautiful tapestries to hang upon the wall, and playing the lute. She imagined her voice beautiful and tempered. She saw herself in the kitchen, putting everything to order, commanding the servants gently but firmly. She imagined Cederic’s warm praise, the delight and pride that would surely soften his face.
Imagining thus, she fell into a weary sleep and on into deeper, wilder dreams. She dreamed she was running swiftly through the forest, the tangled trees flowed past her. It was almost as though she could fly, for when she came to a deep ravine or fallen tree, she flowed up and over them effortlessly.
Looking up, she saw the branches whirling past and the branches became crows flocking against the sky, bunching together darkly and then breaking apart in a flutter of black wings.
Then she was flying up into the sky and looking down upon the crows from a dizzying height. She saw the wrinkled skin of the earth tilt and tumble below her, falling away and coming close. The crows were gone, but she felt a cold breath on her back and she stumbled in flight.

Terror flowed over her, she was too high, the fall would kill her.