Excerpts from The Luck of Two Magpies, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.
No distribution or reproduction without the author’s express permission
“Lady d’Abella,”Beaumont said, “did I say ye that Julia Gandulf is near her time? We shall see to her birthing together, ye and I, eh?”
“Certainly, m-my lady. If you say so. What’s so special about this baby?”
“Naught but the mother’s age.”Beaumont rubbed an eye. “Ye will recall she has borne nine.”
Lady d’Abella’s head came up sharply. “I thought it was seven.”
“Nine…two did die,” she said as the Betrothed shook her head.
But Justin barely heard. Memory transported him to his mother’s garret at Kettlethorpe. Home for Christmastide, he sat at the window watching for his father’s arrival. His mother, one of his sisters, and a few of his mother’s women sat near the hearth, chatting, their needles pricking linen and silk, then sailing high above, slim fingers drawn in graceful arcs. Those were happy days.Oxford stretched his mind; the rigors of seminary life controlled his body. Escape from both was a decadent pleasure.
Entrenched in his reverie, Beaumont’s expert fingers became his mother’s. They bent the needle and thread to her will, creating sinuous vines and the skeletons of adjoining leaves along the placketed front of a linen chemise. The familiarity of it all was comforting. His spirits rose. The pop of needle through fabric, the sheen of the floss drew his focus. A chemise. Worn by all next to the skin. This one came to life, shimmering as a woman shrugged it off. A man’s hand—husband, no doubt—reached for the creamy shoulders of his doe-eyed wife, drawing her into his embrace and then into their bed.
The woman smiled. She was Elisa D’Abella. The man’s laughter was his own.
The lady’s laugh was musical, Justin thought as he watched Lady d’Abella approach. He was not certain what to make of Grifon’s betrothed. Involving other women in conversation was like trying to nail frumenty to a tree. Naught satisfying ever came from the exercise. But Lady d’Abella had a good mind. In the several mental tourneys they’d had, he had found her knowledge extensive. Even her intuited thought was extraordinary, almost mystic. Welladay, mayhap not that. Such future thought must be the province of sages and saints, and she was no nun to be locked in a cell, absorbed in prayer and meditation all the day to keep the knowledge that she was freezing to death at bay. Nay, she was warm—laugh aloud, argumentative, flesh and blood warm, he decided as she grabbed at her skirts and hopped a deep rut. And thankfully, she was no witch.
In conversation she shied away from no subject, even those that his calling or gender would make difficult. It was disconcerting to share discourse with a woman on all manner of subjects, but it was also an exciting challenge, working to keep their words circumspect enough to continue the exercise of the argument.
The lady spoke to her guardian hound. Why did she not look up? Up and at him. For in her expressioin, he’d know whether his company was welcomed or not. He would be disappointed if she wanted solitude, for he enjoyed her company. But he would not invoke her temper. And she did have one. He discovered that yesterday as they discussed ‘truth.’ He had argued for absolute truth, finding it in God and in the goodness of the virtues with which God had endowed mankind.
Lady d’Abella had argued that no truth was absolute; that one man’s perception of truth was colored by his viewpoint, and that, by his experience. He had argued that such views could be expected by man’s finite mind, but God’s Mind was infinite. She had said she’d never spoken with God on the subject, and that since we were finite, a man’s truth could only be what his mind could see, could only be found in his own soul. Her truths might not be the same as his, she said.
“Some truths must be the same for all men, lady. What of love? It is a truth. Yours, in fact.”
“You can’t begin to know anything about my truths,” she charged and fell silent, the kind of silence that is morbid and troubling. She resumed solemnly. “Even in love, I think there are no ultimate truths.”
She settled herself opposite him on the dais in the great hall, demure as she smoothed her skirt, forehead knotted in thought. The fire roared and pine sap popped and skittered across the floor. She extended a delicate foot and stubbed out the embers.
“I would consider myself lucky to love the same man for all of my life.” She looked past him, and for a moment was gone far away, but when her gaze plummeted into his, all of her features wore a poignant seduction that nearly overpowered him, as if her emerald eyes had branded enduring sadness into his heart. “Yes, that would be very lucky, indeed,” she said in no more than a whisper, her finger tracing a pattern in her skirt, as if she were writing figures or a word. “But it is the capability to love—to lose one’s love and be willing to try to love again, Father—that is a glimpse at eternity.”
“And so, lady, by your own words, there is a truth—a universal, absolute truth. The need to be loved exists in all of us. That need is a universal truth.”
He leaned back against the well and pulled his cloak about him. Aye, love, the need for it, was something he had denied himself for some years and was moderately content without. But somehow, this woman made him feel its lack.