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Historical Fiction

Tarian of Wales forced herself to think about the great feast that would follow her wedding to Alexandre, the Duke of Guyenne. She had little interest in the match, and had not been able to eat for many days. The promise of indulgence in the traditional celebrations almost improved her mood. Today she would become a Duchess and lose herself as long as life endured. Only her brother Drew represented her birth family. 

     Duke Alexandre had commissioned a special gown for Tarian to wear on her wedding day. Fingering the fine fabric of the pine green linen bridal kirtle, Tarian sat in silent contemplation. Two new ladies-in-waiting, given to her by Alexandre, hustled about the chamber, pushing the indignant Belle out of their way.   

     To avoid giving the ladies a deserved tongue lashing, Tarian said, "Belle, darling, I have an idea. Why do you not go attend my brother? He will welcome you."      

     Belle bit her lip, clearly not wanting to leave Tarian in these women's hands. Yet she tipped her head in agreement, and left the chamber.                 

     Finally, they turned to the matter of dressing Tarian for her wedding. Tarian stoically cooperated with them, although there was nothing to this routine she could not do herself. The bodice of this gown fit snugly about her bosom, yet remained adequately decent for the church service. The green linen appeared to part at her waist, revealing a rosebud-patterned brocade underneath. Tarian held out her arms to look at the sleeves, which fell down below her knees and blended with the voluminous flared skirt of the gown.        

     "It is like you were floating," remarked one of the ladies, pointing at the hem which fell onto the floor and the long cauda which stretched out behind Tarian.      

     "I have heard it called proper to cover one's ankles and hide one's shoes on the wedding day," commented another lady. "Our pretty lady Tarian makes a modest bride, indeed."      

     Tarian smiled, disguising the twisting dread and anxiety in the very pit of her stomach. The slender string of freshwater pearls that fit around Tarian's slender neck had been a wedding gift from Alexandre, and Tarian now fingered each pearl much like she would her rosary beads. As each pearl passed between her sweaty fingers, Tarian murmured a prayer, a hope, that this marriage might bring great joy to she and Alexandre both.         

     They moved to dress her hair, but Tarian held out her hand. "No, leave it be," she told them. "I have never worn decoration in my hair, and I do not plan on starting."      

     "But surely a veil," said the first lady.      

     Tarian shook her head. "It strikes me proud," she claimed. "Is it right to go to my wedding looking brazen?"            

     With her long copper tendrils freely tumbling down her back, Tarian felt a bit out of fashion among the women of Verdon. Many of them had dressed their hair in coils on either side of their heads; still others hid their hair in a crispinette, a fine linen sack of netting which hung from a small, round hat. The addition of a black barbette, which cupped around the chin, made these women look somber, severe, even though they laughed gaily and talked of pleasant things. Tarian hoped that Alexandre would not expect her to adopt the fashions of Guyenne. She hoped her natural cascade of thick hair would be ornament enough.      

     "You look like an angel of the wood," Alexandre commented affectionately. "I am the lucky man this day, indeed."      

     Tarian eyed her soon-to-be husband in approval, noting how well the dark blue of his tunic complemented the blue of his eyes.      

     With the mass ended, Tarian and Alexandre and their wedding parties moved into the porch of the chapel, as the rest of the congregants streamed out the open door at the rear. In spite of the comfort of having her dear brother at her right hand, standing between she and Alexandre, Tarian shivered in slight panic and great anxiety. Now would she and Alexandre be married, the vows exchanged and witnessed. There would be no turning back. Tarian kept reminding herself that she loved Alexandre--she had to love him. Surely this union would bring her nothing but happiness.      

     Almost it felt to her that the priest had dropped a rock onto her hand, the ring felt so heavy, and she winced at the constriction in her finger which was both physical and spiritual.      

     "Those whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder," Father Perrin pronounced over the coupled hands of the married pair, bringing the wedding to a conclusion. With a final prayer and a blessing, Father Perrin declared that Tarian and Alexandre were man and wife.      

     Alexandre did not move to kiss her, then, and Tarian felt a certain relief. She believed he would have felt her inner chill and twisting malaise. Following her husband, Tarian affixed her signature to the marriage contract, and then the witnesses came forth to sign as well.        

     Immediately following the wedding, Alexandre escorted Tarian to the great hall. "I thought it most appropriate that you be introduced to my good vassals as soon as we were wed," he said in a gentle voice as he squeezed her thin hand. "You are my Duchess, and I would have you receive all the acknowledgement you deserve."      

     "That was sweet of you, my husband," Tarian replied absently. In truth, she felt rather tired, and her hunger gnawed at her insides. The smells from the kitchens, where the wedding feast was being prepared, wafted through the entire castle. Tarian had been far too nervous to break her fast before the wedding mass, and now the robust, spicy aromas tempted her to break away from this prescribed noble ritual. Hopefully, there would be a page in the great hall who could bring her some cider, lest she swoon completely.      

     Last Tarian had been inside the great hall of Castle Orelle, she had marveled at how large and how empty it was. Now, set up for the feast, the hall had taken on an entirely new appearance. The hall had been adorned with colorful carpets and wall hangings of all kinds. Looking to the far end of the hall, Tarian saw the high table, where she, Drew, and Alexandre and his closest vassals would sit for the feast. Dozens of trestle tables and long benches had been taken out of storage and set up perpendicular to the high table.      

     Tarian and her husband the Duke sat in chairs cushioned by soft down pillows, covered with splendid silk. She widened her eyes as she noticed the table setting, the silver salt cellar, cups and spoons dusted with gold and crusted with gems. One by one, the lords of Guyenne approached the newly-wedded couple at their high table to welcome Duchess Tarian Toussaint to the realm. Tarian spent the next few hours greeting each of Alexandre's numerous vassals, their wives and their children. Through it all, Tarian hid her weariness and unease under a facade of perfect graciousness and courtesy.           

     At last, Alexandre seemed satisfied that all of his lords had made acquaintance with Tarian, and the feast began. An attendant stood by her seat holding a bowl, and Tarian dipped her hands into the sweet rosewater. Sprigs of rosemary and sage, fresh bay leaves and tiny chamomile flowers floated around her wrists. Finished washing her hands, Tarian nodded to the attendant, and he moved on to the next person at their table.      

     After Father Perrin had given the blessing, Alexandre turned to his wife. "You look overwhelmed," he teased her affectionately.      

     "It is overwhelming, my husband. My father never had feasts such as this. And so very many people!"      

     Alexandre cupped her chin. "In my court, we celebrate in grand style," he told her. "I can think of no event for suited for a great feast than my wedding to the woman I love."          This reassurance relaxed Tarian, and she met her husband's eyes with a tender gaze. They remained transfixed as the steward led his assistants into the hall.   

     The pantler began at Alexandre and Tarian's table, distributing white bread and butter to the diners. "A mark of nobility," Alexandre remarked about the bread. "Most people only ever taste darker bread."      

     As the pantler moved on to other tables, the butler and his assitants stepped forward to pour the beverages. "Have you any spring water?" Tarian asked him.      

     "Nay, lady, not for a feast. We have dandelion wine, mead, heather ale--"       

     Alexandre cleared his throat. "If the lady wishes spring water," he said firmly, "and it is her desire to be clear of the head, then spring water she will have."      

     The butler bowed apologetically, and stepped away from the table. He quickly returned bearing a silver pitcher of clear well water for Tarian. "Good sir, my thanks," she whispered to him, and he smiled in gratitude for her kindness.      

     Course by course, dinner was served in a tantalizing pageantry. The pages kept everyone's cup full as platter after platter of intricate delicacies were brought from the kitchens. There were plates of blackmanger, spit-roasted chicken spiced with anise and honey, and served with rice and almonds. Fine fat saddles of mutton accompanied the blackmanger. Gentlemen carvers attended several stuffed piglings, overflowing with nuts, bread and spices. Alexandre had a liking for heavily spiced venison boiled in milk, while Tarian preferred the lighter fare of smoked haddock, cod and salmon. She also enjoyed dumplings filled with delicately seasoned meat. Greens made for lighter fare--onions, peas, cabbages, parsley, borage, mint, rosemary, thyme, purslane, garlic, and fennel dressed in verjuice dressing. 

    Yet the first marital disagreement happened before the fruit and sweets were served. 

     "Would my dear sister Tarian play for us?" Drew asked in a loud voice.      

     "My wife will not sing like a hired musician," Alexandre blurted.      

     Tarian gave Alexandre a sharp look. "There is nothing lowly about the making of music, my dear husband," she said in an overly sweet voice. "Only God is served."  

     Alexandre blushed fiercely at her reproof. "Very well, my wife. If it pleases you to play, then play you shall." 

    Tarian bit her lip. The anxiety returned. No amount of herbs or sweets could remedy her situation. 


Emilie J. Conroy

ejconroy778@gmail.com

November 27, 2019 00:57

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