Characters on Quill to Quill and Heart to Heart are based on the medieval novel, Loyalty's Web, by Joyce DiPastena. All material on Quill to Quill and Heart to Heart is copyrighted and may not be used without permission from the author.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Heléne to Her Father, June 5, 1176

To my most worshipful and beloved father, Lord Aumary de Laurant:

Your obedient daughter, Heléne, salutes you and prays that this letter finds you well. I write to assure you that I and Therri are in good health. My lord Gunthar could not be kinder or more generous to me. If Mama could see how he showers me with jewels and gowns… But perhaps it is better that she cannot. Is she still angry that I married him instead of Clothilde? You need not answer. We both know Mama too well. Of the past it is better not to speak.

So I will write to you of my new life here in England. My lord husband tells me you once visited here yourself. You never told me that, Papa! Then you must know something of this land already, how green and lush the landscape, as one might well expect in a country where it seems to do little else but rain and rain and rain. I think I can count on one hand the days of sunshine I have seen since I arrived, although one day the rain clouds parted for a pair of hours and the most glorious rainbow graced the sky. I dreamt the loveliest dreams that night. I held a babe in my arms, while two more played beside the fire and Hugh sat with the eldest of the four and taught him to play at chess. How I pray my dream may one day come true! I am so happy, Papa, despite the dreadful rain! I believe that Hugh my lord husband is happy, too. I fear sometimes that I may one day disappoint him, but he only laughs and kisses me when I say it and vows such a thing can never come to pass.

As well you know from our marriage contract, my lord holds many castles here. His favorite is called Lamhurst in the county of Kent, from which I write to you this letter. I think if he has his way, it is here that we will make the better part of our home, though he promises to take me on a tour of all his lands when summer comes. This castle is large and sprawling—ever so much larger than Pennault or any of your other fortresses, Papa. My lord says it was built by his ancestor, Rodulf le Féroce, a Norman baron who was awarded castles in Kent, Gloucester, Wiltshire and York by King William I for helping him conquer the Saxons. My lord has the most beautifully illuminated pedigree scroll in his library here at Lamhurst. (Oh, Papa, he has a library! I shall tell you all about it one day. Nearly all the books are in Latin, but Hugh my lord promises that I may be taught if I like, so that I may read them, so of course I told him I should like that very much!) I was about to tell you my lord’s ancestry and the history of his earldom, but I suppose you knew all that before ever you agreed to consider him as a husband for Clothilde. So I will only repeat that this castle is very large and strongly built, and stands atop a very high motte. The stones of the keep and towers have a reddish hue. My lord says that his grandsire, the first Earl of Gunthar, had red sandstone brought from a quarry in Somerset and transported to Kent to face the original stones of the castle so as to please his first wife. His lady came from Scotland and missed her home where the red stone was common, and according to a family legend, moped herself to death here in the south of England, despite her husband’s generous and very expensive gesture. I think she was most ungrateful, for the castle walls glow with a warm and beautifully rosy hue when bathed by the setting sun. (Which Hugh my lord promises me I shall see much more of when summer is fully here.)

At first, Therri did little but mope as well, much like the ungrateful Lady Iona, but he has cheered up considerably since my lord gave him a finer sword than he claims he ever hoped to own in his life, and promised not to make him learn Latin. He spends all the waking hours that my lord will allow him (which, indeed, stretch for most of the day!) in training with the other squires, even in the rain. My lord has promised to knight Therri with his own blade when he turns one-and-twenty, and if he will then swear homage to King Henry, Hugh says he may afterward go where he wishes. Therri grew glum at that and gave no promise, but I am sure he will change his mind before the two years are out.

Only imagine, Papa! Therri and I have met the King! Richard of Ilchester, Bishop of Winchester, met us as we stepped foot off the ship at Portsmouth and said he was ordered to escort us at once to the royal court. So we rode straight for Winchester Castle. Hugh made me wear the beautiful blue samite gown overlaid with the baudekin surcote he gave me in Poitou to meet the King, because he said it was the only gown I owned that set me to advantage. (He only let me keep two gowns from the wedding trousseau Mama had made for my marriage to Lord Heywood so that I should have something to wear for our crossing to England. He ordered the rest of the trousseau burned, calling all the gowns an abomination of repellent colors. I think it is better if you do not tell Mama that, though. He has since bought me many new gowns, but the samite and baudekin was all I had at the time worthy to be worn in the royal presence.)

I was very much afraid, Papa, that the King should be angry that Hugh had married me instead of Clothilde. He closeted himself with Hugh my lord husband for over an hour before he summoned me to his presence. I went trembling as if into a lion’s den! But whatever Hugh told him succeeded in soothing his temper, for he greeted me in the kindest way. He even called me “pretty” and said he liked the lively look in my eyes. (How I did blush at his flattery, Papa!) The King is not a handsome man, and yet one can hardly drag one’s gaze from him for the energy that radiates from him as the rays of the sun. He could scarcely stay still for two minutes when we dined, but had all his knights continually leaping to their feet every time he shot up from his chair to speak to some man who had caught his eye and whom he might have simply summoned to him at the dais, but instead approached with the familiarity of equals, though Hugh assures me the King knows perfectly well who is king and who is not, and woe betide the baron or knight who is tempted for one moment to think that the King has forgotten their respective places.

Oh, and Papa, lest you are wondering, yes, Therri went with us to meet the King. The King praised him as “fine” and “strapping” and swore Therri’s face would have all the women of his court in a swoon, so that Hugh would do well to keep his new brother-in-law at Lamhurst. (Which made Therri blush quite as hotly as I had done earlier.) There was not the least degree in the King’s manner, either then or throughout dinner, to suggest that he viewed Therri as a hostage for our family’s good behavior, though Therri knows he would not be in England otherwise, and that of course is what makes him so glum. But the King spoke in the friendliest way to him, and even coaxed a smile from Therri with one of his jests. I think Therri has still not forgiven himself for succumbing to the King’s unexpected charm. He still calls the King “a usurper of our Poitevin liberties”, but you may rest your mind that he is careful to say such things only to me, and never in the presence of my lord husband or any of his men or servants.

Hugh says I may use as much parchment as I like to write, but I know how dear it is, so I will stop. If Mama asks, pray tell her that my hair is growing nicely and is nearly down to my shoulders now. Give her my dutiful affection.

I miss you, Papa! I know you do not like to write, but I hope you will send me a word or two to assure me of your health, and also tell me of Clothilde and Triston, and their dear little son Perrin. Would I might have become better acquainted with him before we left Poitou, but as you know, my lord was impatient to return to England once the Bishop of Poitiers had wed us.

I will write more as soon as my conscience has eased concerning the parchment.

Until then, may God’s blessings be upon you.

Heléne de Bury, Countess of Gunthar (Oh, Papa, pray don’t think that I’ve grown proud! Hugh makes me sign all my letters this way)

Heléne de Bury, Countess of Gunthar (Oh, Papa, pray don’t think that I’ve grown proud! Hugh makes me sign all my letters this way)
Written from Lamhurst Castle
Kent, England
June 5, in the year of our lord 1176