Wednesday, July 15, 2009
He had married her, bedded her and gone off to war again, all in the space of a week, leaving her as chatelaine of the castle.
‘There’s a war on, woman!’ he declared. ‘And when there’s a war, there’s money to be made!’
He was speaking of the latest craze in combat. It was almost a game, but an extremely costly one. Lords carried their own banners into battle. Men looked for the banner of the richest, most powerful nobleman, then set about capturing him to hold him for ransom. There was nothing political about it, except that you had to capture some one on the other side.
The war never ended either, which meant infinite chances for an enterprising soldier. Of course, any one who was neither particularly rich nor powerful ran the risk of being killed and the weapons had become nastier since the introduction of gunpowder into the mix. Still, what better way could there be of making a fortune? It was far more appealing than grubbing about in the soil for vegetables. Let the wife organise that. A real man shouldered his weapons and went off to war, every chance he could…
Harry was a gambler at heart. He had inherited a small holding from his father, and the land was decent enough for mere survival but it never would make him rich or famous. He wanted to make a name for himself on the battlefield, but even more, wanted to bring back a fortune by bagging a careless Lord.
Before he left on his latest bid for fortune, he had married a young woman of noble blood. She was a pretty girl, but Harry had little interest in her apart from the need to put an heir in her womb. He sowed his seed there for a week, then bade her farewell.
‘Have a son for me when I return!’ he shouted as he waved farewell to her.
Jacqueline was from the South, where the climate was mild and the grapes were plentiful and sweet. The South was the centre of culture, where troubadours and poets thrived as well as the crops. Harry de Court would not have been her choice of husband but she had no choice in the matter. Women of noble birth were bartering counters and her father gained by trading her off to young Harry. The North with its endless fog and rain did not inspire cheer, and Harry’s obvious indifference made matters more difficult. The only ray of sunshine so far was his speedy departure.
At first, she was disposed to hate the castle. It was a prison, far from her true home, a place where neither sunlight nor love penetrated… She cried herself to sleep each night for a fortnight, then gave herself a stern scolding. If she were unhappy, it could be no one’s fault but her own. Life was what one made of it.
It was the North, but the land itself was good. She surprised the serfs one morning by joining them in the fields. She had brought some seeds and plants from her childhood home and these she planted, instructing the peasants on their care. As the months passed, the first flowers blossomed and the grapevines she had planted grew heavy with fruit. The child in her womb grew as well.
News from the battlefront arrived sporadically but seldom varied. Victories were won by both sides and the land changed hands again and again. If Harry was a gambler, the reigning King was even more of one, crossing the Channel to take land that belonged to his cousin on the basis of an old and very tenuous family claim. Harry yet had to make a fortune and in fact, was laid low by an illness caused by bad water. Jacqueline, not surprisingly, did not long for his return. In his absence, the castle itself had won her heart.
She had grown increasingly fond of Angevin Castle. The severity of the stone was softened by the ivy that clung to its walls outside as well as the wooden shutters and the lovely wooden trim that ran along the interior walls. The servitors grew to love her as well, discovering that their Mistress took a keen interest in every detail of their lives and although demanding, always was just. She shared in their labours as well as their accomplishments, celebrating the birth of any child on the estate and grieving with them on the occasion of any death. When her son was born, every one rejoiced.
She had lived at Angevin Castle for two years when the messenger finally arrived. The news was bad. Harry had been captured and demanded that she surrender the castle to his captors as ransom for his release. Nor had he been captured in honest combat. He had gone out to a tavern and had passed out in a drunken stupour. A man from the other side looking to make HIS fortune had surmised that a profit could be made by taking him prisoner. While still unconscious, Harry was trussed like an animal and carried off to his captor’s dilapidated home.
Jacqueline knew that she was little more than a chattel by law but her son was the future lord. She had been schooled to obey first her father and then her husband but two years as mistress of Angevin Castle had given her a different view.
She called together all the men-at-arms, the priest and the household servants and then surprised every one by including every serf in her summons.
‘Angevin Castle is home for all of us here,’ she said. ‘Our Lord has been captured and demands that we surrender our home to a stranger. I have called you here to make a decision. Shall we obey or shall we refuse? I will not make this decision alone because it affects all of us, but I am disposed to refuse for the sake of my young son as well as myself. Know that if we refuse to surrender the Castle, we may be forced to fight. If I surrender, some of you may have a future here serving the new owner, so think well before you decide.’
It was not for the child but for their Mistress that every voice was raised. ‘We will fight, if need be, Milady!’
The Captain of the household guard then spoke the thoughts of all. ‘This is your home, Milady. We vow to protect Angevin Castle with our lifesblood if need be.’
News took time to travel. They had a month or so to prepare the defences. Then, one morning, standing on the rooftop, she spied the glint of metal in the distance and heard the echo of drums. She sent out messengers to all her people to gather within the safety of the castle walls.
As the company approached, there was no doubt that they came to wrest Angevin Castle from her and her people. The heavy gates were shut. Both men and women, including herself, were armed. Angevin Castle was more than stones, wood and mortar. It was their Home.
Come see Angevin Castle at Castle Row. But be warned: Once you own Angevin Castle, you had best be prepared to defend her!
Castle by Wolves Bain
Story by Freyashawk