The matriarch of the House of de la Coeur Grifon.
Excerpt from The Luck of Two Magpies, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.
No distribution or reproduction without the author’s express permission
Her hands went to the table, their mottled backs still for a time, until their slight wobble became a drumming whose sound matched the twitching in her eye.
In a moment she was gone from Cara Elisa.
She was almost thirteen again, and standing beside her mother, Angenna d’Eglise de Beaumont, on the curtain wall at Bien Venue. Her silk gown was new, the perfect blue to bring out the silver in her gray eyes and the platinum in her blonde hair, though the slim cut of it made her feel awkward.
She plucked at it.
Her mother tapped her fingers lightly. “Let it alone, daughter… See there. Earl Norburnshire’s party approaches.”
Indeed they did, with pennants waving, horses prancing. Hubert was a man in his prime then. He sat ramrod-straight in his saddle, dark hair gleaming in the sun, teeth flashing as he laughed and spoke to the lad who rode beside him.
She couldn’t see much of Dyrke. She knew he was eleven. She knew she was tall. She gripped her mother’s hand nervously. “Ma mère,” she whispered nervously.
Ma mère’s smile creased the skin around her eyes but made her look younger. “Our lord has prayed mightily o’er this match, daughter,” she said, trapping a flying wisp of Margarida’s hair in her fingers. “ ‘Twas made when ye were a babe. A most advantageous match for ye… bound to the second-most powerful House in England.” She tucked the blonde strand into one of the dozen ribbons braiding Margarida’s hair. “And yet our lord did petition God that in doing your duty you should also know happiness.”
Margarida nodded. She had been schooled in what to expect today. She wasn’t worried about this. It was only their first meeting. It was the future that caused the nausea in her stomach and the sleepless nights she was having lately. She’d seen animals rutting; watched the sows grow fat and push out their piglets, the cows drop their calves. There didn’t seem to be much to bearing young. But she’d begun to notice her parents’ role more. Of course her father, Breton, was in command, but her mother was always beside him. He conferred with her often, valued her opinions.
What of Margarida? She would be a wife, a noblewoman of stature, one day, a countess. Would this Dyrke be as enlightened as her father? What if he wasn’t?
Ma mère tugged at her hand. “Come. They ride beneath the portcullis.”
Down each of the hundreds of stone steps, Margarida’s stomach sank a bit further, her thoughts became direr. What if her future husband denied her books? Studies? She knew his decisions would be final, but what if he never included her in the process? What if he hated reading? Debate? Music? What if he chose her women-in-waiting instead of letting her choose? What if? What if?
“Have a care,” ma mère said as they descended into the last stairwell, this one a tight spiral in a slender tower lit only by arrow slits in the wall. She clung to her mother’s hand, wishing she were still a small child, and wondered, would she have some say in the running of the household? What if her mother-in-law hated her?
They emerged from the dark shade of the tower and paused a moment, blinded by full sun. As her sight returned, she saw her father and Lord Grifon breaking from a hug, holding each other’s arms, clapping each other’s backs. In the space between them, a raven-haired boy stood with his back to her. Dryke.
“Come,” ma mère whispered.
Approaching, she added disappointment to her fears. Dyrke came halfway up her father’s upper arm. Her temple grazed her father’s shoulder.
She began to tremble as her father caught sight of her. He flung his arm wide and called gregariously, “Daughter! Tarry not! Your future lord is here to pay ye court!”
Lord Grifon swung toward her, his stare appraising her as if she were a prized mare bought and paid for. She nearly threw up, and stumbled as ma mère urged her forward.
Dyrke turned slowly. He held her eyes. His were colored the most intense blue she’d ever seen. The breeze on her tongue told her that her mouth was open. She pursed her lips, at once jelly-limbed, and wondering if she could walk the rest of the way.
She didn’t have to. Dyrke broke into a grin that rivaled the sun for brilliance, and strode toward her.
“You are Margarida?” he asked as he held out his hand, palm up. “I am Dyrke. I understand we will be married in time.” The corners of his mouth quirked as he fought to keep from smiling again. “If you will have me.”
She laid her palm on his. It was warm; his grip as he folded his fingers around her hand was secure, but not too strong. His grin reemerged, fuller, brighter than before if that were possible.
“I will,” she croaked.
“ ‘Tis goodely, my lady,” he said confidently. “Of course, there will be much time before we wed, but that is good, as well, nay?”
“Aye. I wish to be as tall as my wife.”
She blushed, thinking he sought a way out. If he never got as tall as she was, he wouldn’t marry her. She dropped her gaze. “As you wish, my lord.”
He chuckled. “Nay, my lady.” He bowed perfectly. “I would be as you wish.”
And it had been as she wished. He never quite got as tall as she was, but that hadn’t stopped him. She learned he was persistent. They wrote to each other for the next five years, all through his private tutoring, his squiring in King Edward’s household, and while he studied at Oxford. She loved his openness, his willingness to argue, to accept defeat when she was right, to be modest in triumph. He left Oxford at graduation and rode straight to Bien Venue to claim her despite his father’s insistence on protocol. She learned he was stubborn.
In the years that followed, she shared every intimate detail of his life, even the ones she didn’t care to know. He was honest, trustworthy, intelligent, brave; the best a man could be. She adored him. And when, after years of worry and doubt, William was safely born, she knelt beside Dyrke and prayed God that their son should know the same fullness in marriage that they had.