Part of the work involved in creating a novel is learning when backstory adds to a story and when it’s extraneous, so that the finished product moves apace because the timing’s good and the writing sparkles.
This flashback scene, which originates in Grifon’s dining hall, was cut from the original Luck of Two Magpies, its important information woven into another scene. Still, it’s a lovely scene.
In The Luck of Two Magpies, Margarida calls Elisa by her Christian first name, Cara. As this scene is in Margarida’s pov, Elisa is referred to as Cara. Duncan is William’s dog.
Margarida wagged her spoon in Cara’s face. “Ye must ally yourself with a strong man. My William is such a man.”
“I must do no such a thing!”
“Aye. Ye must.” Her chin dipped authoritatively.
“It wasn’t that way for you. You told me so.”
Margarida dropped her gaze. “But also I did say ye we were lucky, my lord Dyrke and I. Truly. I loved my lord from the moment I set eyes on him.” She smiled, holding her palms to her cheeks to cool them. “And he me.”
Her hands went to the table, their mottled backs a sign of so many years passed. They were still for a time, until their tremor matched the twitching in her eye.
In a moment she was gone from Cara and the hall.
She was almost three and ten again, and standing beside her mother on the curtain wall at Bien Venue. Her silk gown was new, the perfect blue shade 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 the bodice.
Her mother tapped her fingers lightly. “Let it alone, daughter… See there. The Earl of Norburnshire’s party approaches.”
Indeed they did, with pennants waving, horses prancing. Hubert was a man in his prime her mother said. He sat his saddle ramrod-straight, 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, her palm moist.
“Ma mère,” she whispered nervously.
Ma mère’s smile creased the skin around her eyes but made her look younger. “Our lord your father 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 a most powerful House.” 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.”
She nodded. She had been schooled in what to expect today and wasn’t worried. It was only their first meeting. It was the future that caused the right hard twist in her stomach and the sleepless nights she was having of late. 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’s word was law, 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, countess to an earl. Would Dyrke be as enlightened as her father? What if he wasn’t?
Ma mère tugged at her hand. “Come. They ride beneath the drawbridge.”
Down each of the hundreds of stone steps, Margarethe’s stomach sank a bit further, her thoughts grew 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 of making them? 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 staircase, a tight spiral in a slender tower lit only by the arrow slits in the wall. She clung to her mother’s hand, wishing she were still a small child, wondering if she would 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. She could hear her father’s and Earl Hubert’s growled laughter, hear the muffled sounds of their back-slapping.
As her sight returned, she saw them break from a hug, hold each other’s arms, speaking words she could not quite make out. In the space between them, a raven-haired boy stood with his back to her. Black hair, like Hubert’s. 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 trembled 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 Hubert swung toward her, his stare appraising her as if she were a prized mare bought and paid for. She nearly vomited.
Dyrke was slow to turn about. He held her gaze. His eyes were 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 held out his hand, palm up. “I am Dyrke. I understand we will be wed in time.” The corners of his mouth quirked as he fought to keep from smiling again. “If you will have me.”
She rested her palm in his. He closed his other hand over hers. His fingers were warm; his grip 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 of their contract. If he never got as tall as she was, he wouldn’t marry her. She dropped her gaze. “As you wish, my lord.”
He laughed. “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, 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 that he wait according to 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.
She glanced up, aware that the hall was silent. Cara watched her, consumed by curiosity, but this reverie was private. She sighed in defeat.
“Aye, then.” Her head came up sharply, her chin a round, hard pillow of resolve. “I will not mention an alliance until—”
“Thank you, dear Lady Margarida!” Relief flooded Cara’s face. She jumped from her chair.
“Will ye ne’er learn ye must move slowly? Gracefully?!” Her instruction fell on deaf ears as Cara hugged her from behind, kissing her cheek. “Tsk!” She patted the arm wrapped around her neck. “Get ye gone, before my lord sends his squire for ye.”
“Yes, ma’am. William said not to be too long,” she said breathlessly, and ran off.
Margarida grunted. “Aye…I shall say no more about an alliance, until ye do both see the truth of it before your eyes.”
She tore a piece of brown bread from her trencher, but one look showed her the eggs and mutton it held were cold. She wrinkled her nose. “Duncan!”