Sunday, June 22, 2014

The third

The cool evening light slanted through the high windows of the hall and lay in great pools upon the floor. Birds chirped and sang outside. As their music filtered in past the sound of the musicians, I watched a servant at work with her weaving. The hour that all such tasks would finish was soon, but still her hands set to their mission and threw the shuttle through at a hypnotic pace. The soft syncopated sounds of the shuttle flying through the warp and weft followed by the beater hammering the threads into place served as a counter point to the chamber music.

I wasn't entirely sure what I was doing here. I did not have some grand mission in mind. I only sought company and felt some deep need to be here. Thus, I sat at the wall where courtiers waited earlier in the day for an audience with him. I assumed that since the high seat was vacant and the hall was fairly empty, that he was away elsewhere attending to some business. An ache, deep within my bone and heart, throbbed within me and gave the usually peaceful sounding music a melancholy tone.

A plump woman with a face that shone with kindness approached me. She sat down on the bench beside me. Her golden hair was bound into an intricate braid that I had no hope of repeating. A simple gown of green with yellow linen accents was in her arms. She had been sewing it across the hall in the waning daylight when she decided to come sit with me. Seeing that I was lonely and idle, she thrust the dress into my arms. "Idle hands breed mischief," she said with an impish smile of good humor.

I wanted to laugh at hearing my grandmother's expression in such an unexpected place but I only managed a sad smile. I took up the bone needle and set to stitching the neat hem where she had left off. The light dimmed over time as I stitched inch by tiresome inch. I had all but given up hope of seeing him when the hall became a bustle of activity.

Servants lit lanterns as trundle tables were set up down the center of the space. Men laughed and joked as they worked. Women moved amongst them laying out linen cloths over the tables or directing the placement of the benches where all would sit. At the high seat, a smaller table was placed at along the end of the long one formed from the others. The smiling woman who had brought me sewing was in the midst of directing others in the placement of a feast upon those tables when she spotted my interested look.

She motioned me over and patted a seat to the right of the high seat. On the left, another throne of heavy wood sat. Where the first had been carved with elaborate designs, the other was stark in its simplicity. I knew it was here that his lady wife sat. I always found myself uneasy with my nearness to her. I worried that my presence would offend, though she had always greeted my presence with warmth and kindness. Another serving woman took the dress that I had been sewing away at the direction of the stout matron.

As I cautiously sat down in the seat that I was appointed, I watched with some trepidation as merry makers came in from the wide doors out into the courtyard. Snatches of song and gales of laughter rang in the previous stillness. People dressed in all manner of clothes took their seats along the table. No one moved towards the feat, though many complimented the servantry upon the generous portions and the beauty of it. Then, the entire company seemed to take a collective breath and look towards the doors at the same time.

He walked in with his wife on his left arm. They smiled upon each other and spoke loving words, pausing to smile in greeting to their guests. They came to the high table and I stood, keenly aware that the rest of the company present remained seated and abuzz with conversation. His wife was a tall woman with a generous figure. Golden hair that shone with the light of the room was pinned up in elaborate braids that confused the eye. Eyes the color of peridot danced with laughter as he whispered something in her ear. Beside her, I felt small, paltry, and painfully out of place.

Then he turned that radiant smile upon me. I felt warmth rush into my face and suffuse through my body. Holding his wife's hand, he took mine and raised it to his lips. He placed a ghost of a kiss upon the back of my hand as her smile of indulgence deepend. I was torn between panic and delight. As though sensing my distress, his wife lightly tugged at his hand and turned his attention from me for a moment.

He nodded and moved towards his seat. As he did so, his wife paused close beside me. In a voice so low that I nearly missed it, she said softly, "You bring him happiness. You are welcome here in all things." My heart hammered and my knees threatened to give out beneath me. I hadn't dared to believe what I had heard whispered before when I was in his company, words that his wife had looked upon us with a smile and joy.

He turned that heart melting smile of joy upon her and then upon me. "Sit, drink with us," he said. Swallowing past my sudden nervousness, I took my seat at his left hand and did as he bade me. 

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