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Chapter 11 : The Feast
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beautiful chapter image by Azulive at TDA.
Once Ellyn returned, supplying me with a generous pewter goblet of bitter red wine, we settled into fitting me into the dress. Ellyn explained excitedly that it was one of the “auld duchess’ frocks” from when she had been young and merry, and that it had been lengthened and filled out to fit me by the village seamstress.
I cleverly had the hindsight to cast a multiplying spell on my bra and knickers when I had a moment alone the first day at the castle. Ellyn was most confused on why I insisted on wearing such things, but I would not let her dress me unless I was wearing a pair – not that I was a particularly self-conscious person, but it felt strange when I had been dressing myself since infanthood. The duplicated sets of pants were much tighter and scratchier and more likely to have stitches unravel than the original pair, so I had saved the latter for tonight, wishing that I had tried harder in Charms class instead of holding Scorpius’ hand under the desks.
Ellyn fussed as she tugged the under gown over my head and arranged so that it draped over my hips, though it was rather tight around the chest. Getting the green dress on was a slightly worse struggle: Ellyn laced the straps even tighter and arranged the sleeves so that the gold and white embroidered ornament of the under gown - the most interesting part of it – showed through a slit in the green dress. She murmured that it was “well becoming.”
I watched her and thanked her, a little bemused, wondering if tending to my dressing needs really was the pinnacle of Ellyn’s life as she so made it out to be. Beyond her fancying Richard’s brother, she hinted at no wish for something greater for herself. She was quite selfless and simply so, unlike anyone I knew in the twenty-first century. She placed the headdress on my hair, sliding it back a little so that the roots of my red hair peeked through. I argued with her, until she relented, that it was acceptable for my hair to hang down in its braid and not be coiled and tucked away beneath the headdress: doing such would make my nose look large and my ears stick out. I had always hated the way I looked with my fringe pulled back, but apparently letting it hang over my forehead was not modest enough here. I peered in the very dim mirror and decided that I looked ridiculous by twenty-first century standards, but sort of pretty in comparison to the village women I’d seen around Fotheringhay.
By this time Richard’s houseguests had begun to arrive and their servants and trains and attendants were all aflutter. I watched them enter the courtyard from my window, as grooms scurried back and forth from the stables to put up horses with water and hay, and to carry trunks and boxes into other rooms close to mine. I watched a finely dressed lady be escorted up the steps to the castle keep by her gentleman companion, shielded from my curious stare by the large conical headdress perched upon her head like two devil horns. I was quite tired of waiting around being fussed over and rather tipsy and happy off the wine I had been consuming while being attended to that by the time I was called down to dinner, I felt quite giddy.
Ellyn had explained to me that we – well, the nobles and me, the imposter - would dine at the high table in the great hall, and the common people would come in to watch their lord and be fed a little from the kitchens themselves. This was a most popular and regular occurrence in similar estates. Naturally, I was the last one to arrive, and the entire hall seemed to stare at me as I came in. I blushed and stammered and was relieved when one of the men, rather red-faced with the beginnings of a beard and a large ruff around his neck, stood up jovially and beckoned to the seat between himself and Richard, smiling at me in a rather open and friendly manner and giving me a little bow.
The great hall at Fotheringhay castle was large and lofty, open up to the third story of the stone keep. It was lit by several roaring torches which put me to mind of Hogwarts. I was seated on the dais with Richard and his guests: there were ten of us in total, seven men and three women. Richard introduced me to his company by my fake title: “Mistress Rose, daughter of Baron Ronald” and nobody seemed to question this for which I was quite grateful. Had they protested, I would have had to reluctantly cast a Confunding Charm, as was my backup plan. Agnes would surely disapprove.
Nobody paid me much mind at first. Wine was poured by the attendants: in the lower part of the great hall below the dais, the men and women of the village were being handed out wine and bread and cheese as well. I thought I saw Agnes’ stooped head among the crowd, and hoped that nobody had seen me residing with her and wearing the rags she had given me, and that if they had, they would not report it to any of this fine company.
The man who beckoned to me had round blue eyes, a face with plump cheeks and an impressive crop of curling brown hair atop his head. He wore a puffy doublet with padded shoulders and a fine ring with a bright red stone on it, which I admired immediately, and a great ruff tucked right under an elegant neck. He was young, and quite merry: in fact, most of the company was filled with people who barely looked older than me, though all of the other girls there were in the company of their husbands.
“You must sample the duck, milady,” my seating partner said to me, indicating for the server to deposit a mild amount on my plate. I smirked, thinking of what my vegan cousin Dominique would say. The centerpiece was a cooked pig, still shaped like a pig and currently was being hacked into by a grim-faced server. I nearly expected there to be an apple in its mouth.
The ruff-wearing young man seemed determined to make more conversation.
“Are you not the runaway baron’s daughter?” he asked cheerfully. He had very red cheeks. “I am the younger son of a baron, though only a mere knight myself. Our family fought under William the Conqueror.”
I smiled weakly, taking another sip of wine. It was quite strong, and I coughed a little.
“My father was quite beloved of the old king,” the baron’s son added in a low voice. “Though we were well pleased when dear Edward took the throne- what a magnificent man he is, may God bless him. My father was slain shortly after the battle of Wakefield, and may God keep him.” The courtier took a large sip of wine, and his goblet wobbled slightly as he returned it to the table.
“Have you ever been in battle?” I asked. The civil wars which had apparently been wracking England for decades were quite confusing to me. I knew that Richard’s elder brother Edward was the king, though he had not been born a prince and had stolen the crown through battling with the old king of whom my dining partner spoke. Beyond that, all anybody would explain to me was how wonderful King Edward was and how pretty his wife and daughters and what wonders they had done for the country, praising him up and down the castle keep until I was rather sick of it. The bloody bloke must have some faults, even if this lot is too frightened to admit them, I thought to myself.
My new friend chuckled. His voice had a bit of a Northern burr to it, rounding out his ‘o’s and ‘e’s. “Why no, my lady, I was but wee at the time! These last few years I have been away getting my… education: I’ve only recently returned to England to offer my services and friendship to good King Edward. He does nay trust me yet, seeing as my father was an auld Lancastrian boot, but the good duke of Clarence put in a fine word for me and Sir Francis has been a great friend indeed.”
His eyes traveled down the table, to Richard’s other side. My host was deep in conversation with Sir Francis, a tall, light-haired boy with keen eyes and a strong brow. I bit my lip. None of these names were familiar to me: none rang any bells. I secretly had been cursing my parents over the last few days for pulling me out of primary school and sending me to Hogwarts, where absolutely nothing I’d learned in History of Magic had prepared me for this. I could probably round off some of the dates of the goblin uprisings, or name a Death Eater or two, but this period of time was beyond me.
Sir Francis seemed to catch our gaze: he peeked out from around Richard’s dark head.
“Not telling the lovely lady false tales about me already, Sir Nicholas?” he teased. “Miss Rose will have given you her favor before the evening is through!” There was something distinctly boyish and carefree about his manner: he reminded me a little of Hugo and his friends. It was true that Richard was younger than twenty, though he felt much older, and Sir Francis had allegedly grown up with him at his uncle’s castle in the north. The whole lot of them were hardly older than myself.
I turned to my dining companion, the recently revealed Sir Nicholas. “What does he mean by my favor?” I asked, raising one eyebrow in skepticism and hoping it didn’t mean something inappropriate which I wasn’t supposed to actually comment on.
Sir Nicholas laughed at my concern and patted my sleeve lightly. “Only that we shall joust tomorrow in the morning, and he fears that you will give me a token of your affection for good fortune,” he said, smiling mischievously. “His own wife’s favor has not won him many rounds – has it, Sir Francis?” he called. Sir Francis narrowed his eyes at him. I glanced at Richard, a small smile caressing his mouth at this playful banter.
“Will you joust too?” I asked Richard quietly, turning to him. We were sitting quite close together. Over my shoulder Sir Nicholas was exchanging good-natured jabs and insults with Francis- it appeared the latter’s wife was also getting involved, from her shrewd smiles and high, giddy voice stretching over the din made by the common people in the lower part of the hall.
“Aye, I shall lead the first tilt,” Richard said quietly. He kept his gaze on his food, a rebellious dark curl slipping over his eye. His hands were deft and careful as he carefully sliced the bit of pork into even pieces. I watched them.
“Well, I’m sure you and Apollo make a lovely team, from what I’ve seen,” I replied, voice soft. I stared at his plate again. He speared a bit of pork with his wooden fork and placed it gingerly in his mouth, chewing and swallowing in slow, careful bites. “Are you enjoying the pig, then?”
“Would you like some?” Richard asked, looking at my own plate which was looking quite bare. I had not been sure how to get the servers’ attention and had waited for Nicholas to offer me his favorite delicacies. Using his fork, Richard poked through the slices of pork on his plate, putting a few rich pieces aside. He then scooped them up deftly with his fork and placed them gently on my own plate. His sleeve brushed against my arm. “Those are the best cuts- you must tell me if it pleases you,” he said in his typical stiff, solemn manner, but I thought I saw a little blush rise through his pale, clear cheeks.
“Thank you,” I told him. I felt a small nudge from beside me.
“I think the lady meant thank you, Your Grace,” Sir Nicholas corrected me gently. I pursed my lips.
“Yes, thank you, Your Grace.” The moment was broken, and Richard went back to speaking with Sir Francis and his wife, who had a keen interest in the local hunting possibilities.
I soon learned that Sir Nicholas was of a slightly lower social class and much less well-known among the circle assembled there, leading him to be the affectionate object of several jokes. To me, he was quite kind and courteous, even a little flirtatious in a most un-bawdy way, unlike the boys of my own time. There were no suggestive comments about my appearance, or aggressive teasing and hip-bumping which Scorpius had constantly subjected me to even after we were officially together: Nicholas was rather kind and seemed to be particularly interested in my father, the so-called baron Ronald and his political standards, and in talking about his own little manor near the shore and his jousting conquests and William the Conqueror, who was a real idol of his.
After the feast was finished and the locals shooed out – I tried to catch Agnes’ kind eye in the crowd but failed, though I was pleased to see her leaving with a fine cut of pork – the company retired to the large library for further frivolity. Two of the other women there, plain-faced girls with bored faces and dripping in jewels and finery, announced that they were going to retire privately and looked knowingly at the third woman, Sir Francis’ wife. The latter shooed the other two away and they went fluttering through the wooden-framed doors, arms linked and muttering to themselves.
I maneuvered myself away from Sir Nicholas to stand next to Sir Francis’ wife, Mistress Lovell, as she was introduced to me.
“Heya, I’m Rose Weasley,” I said hurriedly. I hesitated from the impulse reaction of putting out my hand for her to shake. “I’m a guest here. Listen, should I retire like those two other girls, or is it acceptable for us to stay here?”
“I am Mistress Anne, or Mistress Anne FitzHugh as I was called before my marriage,” the girl told me, smiling courteously and appraisingly. She was quite pretty, now that I got a good look at her, with small, delicate features and dark, blue-black hair tucked underneath her headdress which provided a harsh contrast to her milky skin. There was something calculating and dark in her eyes, something which I could not quite place, but in a quick moment the dark hint was concealed by her thin, spirited smile. She was quite short and small, her waist cinched in by her dress and her neck long and delicate from the embroidered undergown.
“Anne,” I repeated. I followed her glance towards the other end of the library, where Sir Francis was examining a leather-bound book with one of the other gentlemen, his fair hair shining in the candlelight. “How long have you been married? Your husband seems nice.”
“He is an eager puppy and a coward,” Anne said shortly. “He is a boy-child, and I was convinced to marry him so that my father might control his fortune and estates.” The hint of something ugly crossed over her pretty features, but in a moment it was gone. She caught my questioning eye on her and smiled up at me sweetly. “I think we shall be wonderful friends. You shall call me Annie, as I like to be called by my close associates, and I shall call you Rosie, for you are as pretty as a rose, a red rose, though you are as tall as an oak tree!” She giggled and linked her little arm with mine. I searched her words, certain I had somehow been insulted, but unsure where exactly the insult lay. Girls like this were impossible to interpret, even in this century. “Come and sit with me. We shall start up a game of cards, and the gentlemen will be sure to stake us.”
She tugged me over to a table, then flitted across the room to where the remaining men were standing. They looked down at her, amused, as one might look at a pretty little child.
“Rosie and I challenge all you louts to a game,” Annie said with a tinkling little laugh. “Shall you stake your purses, gentlemen?”
Sir Nicholas put a large hand to his chest. “I fear I have no purse, for I have gambled it all away,” he said solemnly. “Will you take my heart as a prize, little lady Lovell, tigress that you are?”
“I fear I have already eaten your heart up at the feast,” Annie said airily. “You have nothing left to bargain, and so are no use at all in our game of wits and hearts.”
I listened to this banter with a skeptical ear, resisting the urge to raise an eyebrow or snort. Sir Francis seemed unconcerned at the sly and sassy comments of his wife and his friend; if anything he was rather amused. A part of me felt a little jealous that Sir Nicholas had so easily turned his attention away from me. I was quite alien and unused to this sort of party, and had enjoyed having his support and ear to ask questions. Richard was of no use at all: since our exchange during the feast, he had barely looked at me.
Another man, Sir William, made a comment about his own wife having run off with his heart when she retired to bed for the night, and Sir Francis made a rather lewd comment about him running to go retrieve it. I whispered to Annie, grabbing her fancy sleeve, that I had no money to gamble with (with the unlikely exception of a handful of wizarding coins from the twenty-first century in my chamber), and Annie resolved this by asking which gallant young knight would stake her “darling Rosie.” Sir Nicholas generously volunteered, with the joking promise that I would pay him back with a kiss if I won.
“Bad form, my lord, not offering to stake your own guest!” Annie cried out at Richard.
“It’s fine, he’s done well enough for me,” I hastily cut in, throwing Richard a quick smile and hoping he had not thought I had expected him to pay for me. He was quite as unreadable as ever in this crowd of his friends, and I found myself wishing quietly for that first day when he had so shyly asked me to walk with him and invited me to stay at the castle. I resolved that I would be bolder and try harder to approach him in the following days, assuming I was still here in that time. Bugger my future self: she wasn’t going to have all the fun.
The game was a confusingly simple blend of placing bets on cards. Sir Nicholas staked me generously, and Sir Francis staked his wife, and we played against the two of them, Richard, and a man called Sir William. Richard offered himself to be the dealer: he watched all that was going on with a calculating, careful eye, and quietly teased Sir Francis not to cheat his wife out of his own coin. The three other stragglers from the feast were speaking merrily amongst themselves at the other end of the library: from what words I caught they were discussing tactics for the joust tomorrow.
The wine was flowing freely as well. A large jug of red wine was sitting on the table just beyond ours: when beckoned forward, the servant standing in the corner of the room would approach and fill each of our goblets with a careful, steady hand.
I kept a close eye on Annie and tried to behave as she did, not drinking any more than she put to her little pursed lips. She was flirtatious to all of the men, but in a frivolous, playful way which amused her husband rather than aroused jealously. Every movement, every pretty exclamation seemed deliberate, whether it was the slow turn of her wrist as she flipped over a playing card, or set a careful hand to her long tail of dark hair, or the careful rubbing of her lips together as if she were massaging in lippy while thinking about placing a bet.
The cards themselves were rather interesting. Sir Nicholas had ordered his man to fetch them from his things, claiming that they were newly created by the famous English printer, Caxton, and that he thought the company would find amusing. We were using two decks, both supplied by Sir Nicholas, though they were both similar in shape and layout, and quite delicate in their paper thinness. They were formed like long ovals instead of the usual rectangular cards I was accustomed to: instead of the four usual suits they dictated four different symbols: the first set showed four tools of the hunt, while the second showed four precious items: for hearts, little illustrations of swords; for diamonds, crowns; for clubs, cups; and for spades, snakes. Each card was illuminated beautifully, particularly the ones displaying kings, queens and knaves.
Whenever I had played with cards as a child or drinking-game adolescent I had always assumed the jack of the suit to be a prince. However, my current company insisted on calling him the knave: a term which was both affectionate and a little condescending. I thought to myself that the name ‘knave’ indicated fool or servant, which was quite different.
As the game progressed, the company grew louder and more enthusiastic. I spent a great deal of Sir Nicholas’ money – or so it seemed, I found it even more confusing than the Muggle money of my own time – and was careful not to drink too much. Sir Nicholas’ face grew redder, Sir Francis grew merrier and his wife grew more daring with her bets.
A moment of trouble occurred when the game was finished and all the cards had been dealt. Richard was pawing through the spoils of the two decks, carefully collecting those which belonged in each set and placing them in a gentle pile. He handed one deck, the second one, back to Sir Nicholas; the second he slowly sifted through and lay each face card on the table, facing upwards, so that all twelve cards were looking back at him from their tiny paper prisons. An unreadable expression on his face, Richard slid the king, queen and knave of hearts across the table to Sir Nicholas.
“It is rather curious, gentlemen,” he said quietly, quite quietly and dangerously. but instantly the merry room was hushed, their eyes turning towards him. “Rather curious, how these three cards remind me of certain persons who were once quite well-known in this country. One of whom is, to my knowledge, locked up in fine apartments in the Tower of London, though he is said to no longer remember who he once was.”
Sir Nicholas turned very pale, all his merriness and excitement of the previous hour fading. He moved his face to the carpet.
“As for the queen of hearts,” Richard said stonily, “she bears a strong liking to a certain woman – a witch, a she-wolf, I have heard her called – who at this moment is skulking in France with her tail between her legs, rallying forces of wildmen and waiting for her chance to return to England.”
I watched him, watched the serious, quiet faces of those around us. I understood nothing of what was going on. Richard then turned his attention to the family of diamonds, tracing a long finger over the faces of the players, lingering on the knave. “And if I am not mistaken, Sir Nicholas, I would say that these are the faces of the deceased Duke and Somerset and his wife. And who is the little knave? Could it be the child Henry Tudor, the Beaufort boy? And here, on the face of the King of spades, is that not my own brother, our honored king and my sister, his wife the queen? Shall I continue on to see what individuals you have pitted against the red family with clubs, sir?”
My mildly intoxicated thoughts involved irritation that, once again, Richard’s beloved brother was being brought up yet again. However, laughing or rolling my eyes seemed inappropriate, so I kept my mouth shut. Richard was on his feet, leaning a little against the table, his eyes sharp. He reminded me of a hunter, waiting keenly for the prey to tumble into his trap. Sir Nicholas was on his feet as well, and he gripped the back of the chair on which he had been seated next to me. The Lovells, Francis and Annie, kept their eyes lowered.
“It is merely a jest, Your Grace,” Sir Nicholas said faintly. “A jest, at the expense of the defeated Lancastrians, nothing more. They are in print all around London; I see no harm. They boast the victory of the Yorkist cause: see how the king of hearts’ eyes tremble, see how his son’s face is brutish and dumb as a bastard? I apologize, for I meant no harm by it.”
To my surprise, Richard seemed to accept this apology. He nodded, not taking his eyes off Sir Nicholas. “Clean up this mess, boy,” he called to the servant in the corner, who bowed and scurried forward. Richard looked around. “I bid you goodnight, friends. Tomorrow we shall rise early to prepare for this joust which you are all so eager to win.”
The inhabitants of the room murmured quick words of parting and bows. Without another word, Richard stalked from the room, passing me without a word of acknowledgement. The moment the thick oak door of the library closed behind him the guests began to whisper amongst themselves; Sir Francis tugged Sir Nicholas away into a corner where they muttered with hushed voices.
Annie turned her face towards me. “This is not good, Rosie, not at all,” she murmured.
I frowned at her. “I don’t understand what just happened. Can you explain? Is Richard quite upset with Sir Nicholas?”
Annie tugged my arm, pulling our heads closer together. “You must be discreet about what you have seen and heard, my darling country bumpkin,” she whispered. “I do not think the duke of Gloucester sees any true harm in Sir Nicholas, though it was very daring to bring those cards here. Duke Richard is loyal as a dog” – here she smiled a little, as if it was a private joke – “well, as some dogs. He loves his brother the king: at court, speaking of the old king and queen is taboo. I know you should not know these things as I have never seen you at court, while I am a favorite of the queen, common as she is.” Annie smirked. “I very much believe poor Duke Richard felt compelled to cause a scene in defense of his brother, though here in this isolated wilderness one can often get away with such things.” Annie stood up slowly. “Now, I shall go and retire to my rooms. Give me a kiss, my lovely, and we shall meet in the morrow.” She kissed my cheek and curtsied in the direction of both groups of men, then swept gracefully from the chamber.
I was rather uncertain of what to do without Annie there. I didn’t know the names of the men, and those whom I had met and were friendly- Sir Nicholas and Sir Francis – were huddled away in the corner of the room, stern looks on their faces. Shrugging, I bobbed a quick curtsey as well, which was quite clumsy and seemed to go unnoticed, and exited the room.
In the corridor outside I found Ellyn my maid waiting for me with a group of other servants, a sleepy expression on her face. When she saw me she straightened, and curtsied. I felt a twitch of guilt: I had no clue she would have to wait for me to finish with the guests before she could go to bed.
But Ellyn seemed chatty and eager as she walked with me back to my chamber. She tried to walk behind me, insisting it was proper, but I needed her to help guide me on the quickest way back to my room. She kept up a quiet stream of chatter all the way, telling me about the feast and how the servants had a good dance and romp in the kitchens, and how she had eaten so well she felt her belly would explode, and how grand were the gentlemen and how beautiful the ladies!
When we found my chamber Ellyn hastened in undressing me and helping me into bed, which I argued was completely unnecessary. In my defense, I was quite tired and she very insistent in doing her job right. She told me I was a most unusual mistress to serve, but that she could not ask for a kinder mistress and that I was her very favorite and the most beautiful of all the ladies there, which petted my ego a little.
“Mistress Rose,” Ellyn whispered to me as I sat in bed and tried my best to get rid of her. “I know it is not me place to know the affairs of great men, but what went on in there?”
I replied that I honestly had no idea myself, and asked her what she had heard.
“We saw the duke come out, face all angry and dark, and ‘e walked off in the direction of ‘is chambers. Then,” and here she blushed, as if she were telling me something she was not supposed to know, “and then the little lady, Mistress Lovell, came out, and she asked which day the duke ‘ad gone, and where ‘is apartments were, and she left in the same direction ‘e ‘ad, even though ‘er room is on the other side of the castle.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling very quiet and weak. The wine was beginning to float to my head, making it light and weary. “Well, I’m sure he just forgot something and she was being nice and brought it to him. Don’t worry about it: I’m not going to.”
Ellyn smiled sweetly and curtsied and blew out the candle, and I heard the shuffling of her little footsteps as she walked to her sleeping arrangements in the servants’ quarters. I soon fell quite asleep.
I had told Ellyn that I wouldn’t think about what she had told me. But I did.
Author's Note: Eep, okay I was so excited to post this chapter and I hope you guys enjoyed it. This is one of my favourite chapters and it's really entrenched in the past and introducing some new intrigue and drama. I'd love to know what you thought of all the new characters - a handful are 'real' historical figures who I've taken some creative license with. Thank you if you have stuck with this story for this long!
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