by M. S. Barnes
“Irises are a lovely creation that can hardly match as lovely of a lady.”
"Elvira, where are you?" a voice yelled from far away.
"I’m with the irises," she shouted as she ran in the direction of the voice, "I’m coming, mother."
"You better not have been in them again, menina." Her mother said still a long ways off.
"Nye, mother, I was just weeding them."
"Child, that’s the gardener's job. You better not be dirty."
Elvira stopped just out of sight of her mother and looked down at her dress. It’s not as bad as last time. She then quickly brushed off as much dirt and mud from her dress, and wiped off her face with her hand. Leaving her face in worse condition than before. There, all better. She turned the corner and walked into the courtyard, "Mother, I’m here..." She was stopped short by the sight of a dozen people staring at her.
"Elvira, look, you’re a mess."
"This lovely little lady is my youngest. She has a fascination with irises." Her father introduced her to his guests.
"Irises are a wonderful creation that can hardly match as beautiful of a lady." One of the young men said as he bowed to her as though she was a princess.
"Thank you, sir, irises are my favorite flowers, but my father told me that I have not yet bloomed." Elvira said as she curtsied.
"It is hard to imagine you more beautiful then you already are."
"Thank you, sir, you’re so kind."
"Come on, child. I’ll take you inside to clean you up." One of the maids whispered as she led Elvira away from the group.
Elvira’s father ask as she was guided away by her maid, "Now, Lord Andrew, how about you tell us about Lancaster"
menina = girl in Portuguese
10 Years later
“Elvira, hurry we’re going to miss it all.” A light hair lady whispered to her friend.
“I am coming, Isabel.” Elvira whispered back as she climbed out of the window and down to the ground below. “I had to make sure everyone was asleep.”
“Hurry, I think someone is coming.” Isabel said as ran for a nearby leafy bush and was followed by Elvira.
“Who was it?”
“I think it was Mabel”
“Did she see us?”
“I don’t think so.”
“We better get going before we miss the whole dance.” They darted pass the walls to where their horses hide in the shadows, and mounted quickly. She had bribed the guard to conveniently stand out to sight of the back gate. Isabel provided the horses by the same means.
When they arrived at the dance there were people everywhere. Everyone there was about their age. Elvira and Isabel quickly stepped into the middle of things and soon they were enjoying themselves.
The dance has been carrying on for hours. Trent is handsome and the son of an Earl. What a surprise that he came to a dance that common people would attend. I am sure that his parents do not approve. That does not matter. What our parents do not know will not hurt them. I guess not too surprising since I am also of nobility, but I don’t think he knows who I am. He thinks I am a peasant. I cannot believe that he has danced with me this long. I have on seen dance with any of the other ladies. He has to be very interested in me.
“I think I’m going to suffocate it I don’t get out of here.” Trent whispered in Elvira’s ear. “There are too many people in the small barn."
“Aye, I do agree.”
“Follow me. It’s a nice evening for mid-spring.” Trent didn’t wait for an answer. He grabbed her arm and pulled her through the crowd and outside. “This is much better. Do you want to go for a walk?”
“Yes, I would love to.”
“I know a great place we can go and talk.”
“I would very much enjoy a good talk.”
They walked for awhile until we came to a small building next to the woods.“This was my father's favorite place to come when he visited the Earl of this area. He came here when he want to get away. It is really nice inside. It is something I think you would enjoy.” He said as he opened the door and held it for Elvira to enter. She walked in slowly.
Something is not right. Why are we here?
Trent followed and closed the door behind him. “Let us talk about you, Elvira, and about your beauty.” He said as he lit a small lamp.
“Please, Trent, I am not really that beautiful.” She said trying to hind the fact that she was blushing.
“Yes, you are, Elvira.” Trent said as he kissed her gently on her lips…
Elvira slipped out of her bedroom and quietly tiptoed through the hall. Mixed feelings fill her as she came near her freedom. I have just a few more steps.
"Elvira, please, don’t go." A familiar voice whispered.
Elvira turned around to see her sister barely visible in the moonlight. "What are you doing still up?"
"I am stopping you from hurting yourself." Mabel said as she blocked Elvira's path. "You can't go to another dance. I don’t want you to go. Isabel told me about last week. She said you left the dance with a man and you went by yourself. Ladies do not go unchaperoned with a man." With every word she became louder. "We also don't go to dances in barns."
"Mabel, someone might hear you." Elvira rushed to her sister to quiet her.
"Come back to bed and I will be quiet." She said as she stepped back from her sister.
"No, nothing bad will happen to me." Elvira tried to push pass her sister but failed.
"Elvira, do you remember what happened to Lady Merissa?"
"No, I don't and please move out of the way. I am already late." This time she managed to push her sister to the side.
"Wait, listen, she had a love affair with another woman's husband. They were found out and the wife annulled their marriage. Lady Merissa was ordered to marry the man she ended up raising his children who hated her for what she did."
"Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself."
"But I do. Sneaking out at night with your friend, Elvira, will only end badly. Please, go back to bed."
"I will for you, sister." She followed her sister to their rooms, but only to slip out again awhile later to meet Trent.
"I was wondering if you had forgotten about me." Trent greeted her with a kiss and guided her into the small hiding place.
"No, I had an unexpected delay."
"Oh, what was it?" he said with concern in voice.
"My older sister would not let me leave, sorry," Elvira was trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice.
"There is no reason to apologize to me. All that matters is you are with me. I am glad you were able to get here. I was missing." Trent said as he pulled her close to him and kissed her again.
"...don't worry; I would never do anything to harm you. I will take care of you always."
I am going to have to tell him, but what if he does not agree to marry me? Elvira was about to open her door when she heard a light knock. She opened it slightly.
“Where are you going?” Her sister, Mabel, whispered as she forced her way inside.
“What do you mean?” Elvira replied. I hope she does not notice my clothes.
“You are dressed in a peasant’s dress, and getting ready to leave. Do not lie to me, sister. You do not want me to get our parents involved.”
“Please, Nye, I am only going to go be with Isabel.” She said having to turn her face away from her sister. I hate lying to her, but she will not understand.
“You are lying to me. Isabel was taken to her betrothed today. Did you not know?”
Elvira stood there speechless. Isabel is gone? "Why do you lie to me? She said nothing to me. She would have told me."
“I do not think she even knew that she was going today. It seemed like her uncle told her none of the details.”
Then it was true my friend was gone to be married to a foreigner. Isabel had once told her that being King Marc niece came with it certain duties. Marriage to a complete strange was one of them. “I have to go and think.”
“You are going in the middle of the night? It is too dangerous to go at night.”
“I am going and I will be fine.” Elvira said as she opened her window.
She stopped just out of site of the small building were Courtesy Earl Trent of Durby was waiting. What if he rejects me? I will have lost a friend and a lover in one night. I will be left alone to deal with this situation. What am I saying? Of course he will not reject me. He said he loved me. Right? She pace back and forth; was trying to come up with the words to tell him.
"Elvira, what are you doing out here?"
"I-I ha-have to te-tell you so-something," stammered Elvira as Trent put her close to him.
"Alright, but wait till we get inside." he pulled to her to their meeting place and light the candles. Trent then pulled her close to him and asked, "How, what is it you wanted to tell me?"
“I am going to have your child.” Elvira whispered in Trent’s ear. He gave no reply. Elvira stared at him, puzzled. "Say something."
He stepped back from her a few steps and replied, "What am I suppose to say? Why should I care?"
“What do you mean? You said, that if I were to become with child, you would marry me.”
“I cannot marry you.”
“For one, you are a peasant and another I am betrothed.” He said as he turned from her and walked to the window.
“You heard me.” Trent shouted as he started for the door.
“How long have you been betrothed?” She shouted as she stepped in front of Trent.
“I have been betrothed since I was a child.”
“You were betrothed when you made me the promise.” Shocked and puzzled she barely managed to sit on the nearest chair.
“I have never been good with keeping my promises. I always seem to break them. Elvira a marriage between us would have never been accepted. You should have known.”
“Do not treat me like a low peasant. My father is a respected man.” Elvira said as she stood up and pulled Trent back into the room.
“Not anymore when everyone finds out that he cannot control his own daughter.” Trent yelled as he pushed her away from him.
Elvira knew that what he was saying was the truth, but all she could do was stare at him. She did not want to see him again. Elvira ran out of the building. She ran until she was exhausted.Why did he lie to me? She sat down on the bridge that overlooked a small creek. He said he loved me. The tears started to fall down to the water. I did not know he was betrothed. He was so caring before. Now he acts like none of this is any of his problems. Trent just wanted me to be his source of pleasure. How could have I been so stupid? How many other ladies has he betrayed in this same way? I hope I am the only one. No one else should have to go through this. No one should be treated like an animal. He said he...
The next morning Elvira decides to take a walk along the creek in an attempt to clear her head. What if my father finds out? The way his health has been this season I don’t know if he can take more stress. I cannot bear to see the shame on his face when he finds out....He will not find out. No, I have to hide it. He can never find out...
"Good morning, Milady." yelled an older man from the other side of the creek.
"Milady, could you tell me what way is Hope Abbey from here?"
"Aye, It is just a day rides north on the road over there. It is just on the other side of the forest."
"Thank you, Milady."
"You are welcome." ...No one must know. I can hide it from everyone. I cannot let anyone know. I cannot put my family to shame. Why have I done this? Why did I let myself be deceived? Why did I think that he could impossibly care for me?
Why did God let this happen to me? She said as she picked up a hand full of pebbles and threw them in the water. He is suppose help me make the right decisions. Right? Maybe he does not care either?
Does he even exist? If He does; it is too late for me. I don’t think he could ever forgive me for what I have done.
She stopped and looked back towards home. How long can I hide a secret like this? Two or Three months maybe, but that is just a guess. How will I keep this from Mabel? She will find out. Maybe I should tell her. She can help me. I know that she will have ideas.
Where will I go? I have to go somewhere that no one will know me. I could go to an abbey, but not Hope Abbey. It is too close. I heard there was another one a seven day ride from here. I doubt I would meet anyone I know there. What am I going to tell them when I get there? I could tell them I am a widow of a poor farmer and I don’t have any more family. That isn’t an uncommon situation for women my age.
Weeks when by and morning sickness was starting. I did not think of this. My family will notice me being sick. I hope they do not find out. I am not ready.
“Good morning, daughters, your brother has suggested that we go hunting the day after the day after the next.” Earl Garrett announced as the family was finishing up their morning meal.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea.” Mabel relied cheerfully.
“We all haven’t been on a hunt in awhile.” Anthony said, “What do you think, Elvira?”
“I-I don’t think I want to; at least not this time. Maybe I’ll go the next hunt.” Women in my condition are not to do anything to put any stress on the baby.
“Elvira, are sure you don’t want to go?” Her father asked concerned. “We do plan on bring the falcons.”
Elvira shook her head and rose from the table, “Please, excuse me.” She calmly walked away leaving four pairs of eyes staring in wonder.
Elvira whole view on life had changed. She no longer has much to look forward to in life. Usually she is cheerful, friendly, and constantly talking, but now she barely says a word. Now she just tries to live another day.
I am going to tell Mabel tonight. I have to. She will become curious and talk to our parents. I do not want them to think anything is wrong with me. I hope I am not too late.
The July sky was a cheerful as ever. Three months Bennett had not been home, and the intended war turned out to be a few short battles of chasing around his kings enemies. He was glad that it did not turn out to be like the war with King Robert which lasted almost six years. In a few days he will be home. There he will wait until he is needed again. He was relieved to hear that his knights and he was not needed to patrol the border. It would have been a great honor. In another way, I am concerned. King Seth’s armies did not fight as they should have.
“Lord Bennett, do you think it was odd that the battles were too easy?” asked one of his knights as though he could read his thoughts.
“Yes, I would have thought his men would have more to them. They did not stand their ground, and ran too easily. I had the odd feeling that he was hiding his best men somewhere and that any moment they would charge us. I am still hesitant to leave. I have a feeling that army exists.”
“Yes, I feel that way, too. Do you think King Seth is up to something else? All of it seemed too easy.”
“I do not know. It would seem that way.”
“We will probably be called back. King Marc will want us to escort him went he goes to sign the treaty. That is when we will find out if King Seth has anything else in store.”
“Yes, we will wait and see.”
Then one of the younger knights asked, “Lord Bennett, may I ask you a question, if it is not too personal, most of us have wives to go home to and you have never married. You never talk of marriage like other unmarried lords I have known. I just wanted to know your view on the subject.”
“I do not intend to marry while I am in service to King Marc. I have told too many widows that their husband die in battle. Seeing their pain, I do not want to put my wife through the same thing, but I am the second son. I do not have land that I need to have an heir for yet. I will probably wait until I receive my share of land. Until then I do not see any reason to marry."
“Mabel, are you asleep?” Elvira asked as she slowly opened the door. She will be cranky if she was asleep.
“No, I am not. What is on your mind at this hour?” the tone of her voice was calm. Elvira walked in to the room and closed the door tightly. “Is there something wrong?
“I-I,” I have to tell her. Tears began to fall down her face.
Mabel quickly got out of her bed and ran to her sister. “Elvira, what is wrong? Do you want me to get mother and father?”
“No, please, no, do not get them.” She sobbed as she embraced her sister.
“Does this have anything to do with the man you were seeing?” Mabel asked softly as she ran her hands through Elvira’s hair.
“Yes,” she said as she looked away.
“Did he say that he does not love you anymore?” Elvira nodded as she looked at her sister. “It will pass. There are men like that.”
The tears came harder. “But it will not pass.”
“What do you mean?”
“I am in trouble, Mabel.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I-I am with child.”
“Oh, Elvira, you poor thing.” Mabel started to weep softly.
“All I could think of doing was to run away to an abbey.”
“Run away? Please, no, there has to another way. Does the father know?” Her crying started to become louder.
“Yes, but he does not care.”
“He does not care? Who is he that he would not care?”
“Lord Trent, he is the son of Devon Grosmont of Derby.”
“Courtesy Earl Trent, I do know of him.”
“I do not know what to do.”
“We must tell father.” Mabel exclaimed as she pulled on her sister's arm.
“No, please, do not tell father." Elvira pulled her sister hand away. "His health has been bad. I am afraid he will not be able to handle the news.”
“I understand, but isn't there any other way to go about this.Do you really have to go to the abbey?”
“No, and I am going to change my name, too.”
“To what, sister?”
“Azalea will be my new name.” Then they both started to cry at the thought that Azalea was leaving.
“I wish you did not have to go.” That night Azalea left her family. She knew she could not stay there another day.
Azalea walked for miles that night. She left her family, her friends, and all of her past behind her. The moon was in the evening sky reflecting enough light for her to feel at ease. Azalea was walking silently at the edge of the woods because she could not risk being seen from the road. There is no telling what someone might do to her.
Then there was a low howl. It was answered by another dreadful howl. The howls started to become louder and more often as Azalea looked for a tree to climb. Now she could see them in the distance. They were heading straight for her. She quickly darted into the dark woods. Finally she was able to find a tree she could climb. Azalea struggled to pull herself up on the lowest limb. A wolf almost grabbed her as she lifted up her leg. She screamed for help. They circled the tree. Not letting her out of their sight.
Hours went by and they were still circling. Her body was beginning to ache, but she could not let go. Sleep began to overcome Azalea, and her voice started to fade away.
Then out of desperation she prayed, “God, please help me.” After a few minutes nothing happened and all she could do was hold on.
Then there was the sound of riders approaching her and the terrified wolves fled into the dark woods. One of the riders reached the tree just in time to catch Azalea as she succumbed to exhaustion.
Who is this woman? Bennett asked himself as he rode away from the tree she was clinging to. She is of average beauty, her hands are not that of the hands of a working peasant, but her clothes are not of a high born lady. Why was she way out here by herself and in the middle of the night? He once again looked down at the woman in his arms. Then he noticed something… she is with child! Where is her husband? Maybe she is a widow, but that does not explain why she was out her by herself. Is she in some kind of danger? Well, other than being hunted by a pack of wolves. She somehow seemed familiar.
Just then she lifted her head and looked up at Bennett with her greenish-brown eyes, and said, “You saved me. Thank you.” But before he could ask for her name, she was back to sleep. It can wait till morning.
“Hello, my name is Lord Bennett. What is your name, lady?”
“My name is Azalea Gardyne.”
“Why are you out here alone?” Bennett asked as he sat down next to Azalea on the ground with his legs crossed in front of him
“I am going to the abbey.”
“Where is your husband?” She wanted to tell him her made up life, but she could not bring herself to lie to him. At the same time she could not tell him the truth. I just met him? Can I trust him? Azalea did not know if he would tell everyone the truth if she told him. Every time I looked up at him and saw his gentle eyes, I know I could not lie to him, but can I trust him? The last man I trusted betrayed me. She was lost with words and all she could do was to stare at the ground.
“You do not have one. Do you?” Bennett said in a whisper so none of his men could hear him. “Men, I want you leave us. It will be easier for her to answer my questions.” They all agreed and left the area. “Please, tell me what happened. You can trust me.”
Azalea wanted to tell him everything but something still was keeping her back. I could not lie to him; he is too trusting. If I lied to him, it would not be any different than what Trent had done to me.
“If I am going to help you, I need to know how you got into this situation.” Bennett whispered pointing to her abdomen.
Shocked Azalea looked to him and began, “I-I was betrayed.” she finally managed to say.
“Who betrayed you, Azalea?”
She hesitated, “He-he said I could not tell anyone.”
Bennett stood up swiftly and turned away from her and said, “You can tell me. I am sure he is not around to hear. Did he blackmail you?” With the question he turned around with compassion in his eyes. All she could do was nod. Why does he care so much? He just met me. When she did this, pain was in his face. “I can guess that the man who did this to you is a son of a powerful man, and anything you would say would cause your family to be put to shame.” she nodded. “So you left to go to the abbey to escape from causing your family pain.” she again gesture that he was correct. “Do not worry, I promise I will protect you. I will take you to the Hope Abbey that boarders my father’s land. There they will take good care of you.”
“Thank you, Lord Bennett, for understanding and for helping me.”
“Azalea, it is not the first time I have heard of nobility taking advantage of peasants in this way and then leaving them to deal with the consequences. I only do what is my duty.”
“Come on, we better be going.” Bennett said as he extended his hand in which she accepted. Azalea foot became caught in the hem of her dress as he lifted her to her feet. This caused her to lose her balance and fall in Bennett. Red faced, Azalea snapped back away from him at such a force that she began to fall in the other direction. Bennett grabbed her hand as soon as he realized she was in trouble. Unfortunately, the momentum of Azalea’s downward motion pulled him down also. He somehow managed to do a summersault while jumping and cleared the sprawled out Azalea. She did not see him land. Thud was the only sound she heard.
“Are you all right?” Asked who she believed to be Bennett’s squire as he successfully helped Azelea to her feet.
“Yes, I am. Thank you for helping me.”
“Well, that was gra….” Bennett said as he was interrupted by a roar of laughter. He walked to his men an announced. "Alright you have had your entertainment for the day. We need to get a move on. We are to take a detour to Hope Abby."
"Yes, Lord Bennett." replied his men trying to suppress their laugher.
Bennett mounded his horse and extended his hand to her, "Please, take my hand. I am not going to allow you to walk." She then took a hold of his hand and he effortlessly lifted her up. She sat on the dark horse behind Bennett. "We should reach the abbey by night fall."
They reach the abbey about the time the sun was touching the hills. The abbey was surrounded by a few small fields of wheat and barley. Being mid-summer the fields where almost knee high. There was a small stream the flowed near the back of the abbey.
"Looks like they will have a great harvest." spoke one of the knights.
"Yes, the fields look full." added another knight.
"Here, let me help you down." Bennett dismounted his horse and gently lifted her down from the palfrey. "Follow me, Azalea; Abbess Mariah will want to meet with you right away."
The abbey is large. I wonder how many women live here? She stopped in looked up at the massive building in front of her. So this will be home.
"Azalea, please, follow me." Bennett had stopped just outside of the door and was waiting for her.
"Oh, I am sorry, I am coming." she replied and hurried inside the abbey. Bennett closed the door after Azalea was once inside.
"At this time of day Abbess Mariah should be in her quarters. Hopefully she will be willing to see us today." Bennett whispered as they walked down the wide hallway. They passed many grey or black dressed nuns who most have been heading to the dorter. Most of them seemed to not notice their presents. Then there were ones who looked on Azalea with judgmental glances or with pity. It is not uncommon for families to send away unwanted girls to be nuns. Some of them were deserving and others not. "We are here. It is best you keep quite unless she asks you a question."
"Yes, I understand"
Bennett knocked on the door and after a few moments it creaked open. The soft looking abbess walked out in to hall. "Lord Bennett, What brings you here that this hour?"
"I have brought Azalea here, and I was hoping to place her with you."
"Azalea," She paused just long enough to look her over, "We better find a room out of eyes of others" Abbess Mariah led them to a small room containing a few chairs and a table. "Please, take a seat." She closed the door and took a seat opposite of Azalea. There was another woman standing near the far window "Mary, please, stay with us." then she turned to Azalea and said "What brings you here, Child?"
"I have lost all my family."
"That is not uncommon. Many have lost with the wars and sickness. You must know I cannot accept just anyone. I have questions I must ask and there is the matter of a dowry."
"I will take care of the dowry." Bennett announced.
Why is he going to do this for me? He does not know me. A dowry could be a very large sum of money.
"Very Well, now that it is settled. It is time for Lord Bennett to step outside for a moment. I need to ask her a few questions. Lord Bennett, if you would?"
"Of course, Abbess Mariah.”
As soon as the door was shut the abbess started her with mountain of questions. "Do you have a last name to go with Azalea?"
"Um...It is Gardyne."
"Then I am guessing your husband's profession was a gardener?"
"Yes, he was a gardener." Why must I lie?
"Then you must have picked up on the trade by no doubt?"
"Yes," No, father’s gardener taught me just about everything he knew much to mothers disliking.
"Your skills will come in handy. Please, tell me about all you know."
Azalea started by informing the abbess of the different soils plants need to grow, and how much moisture was need. Then continued with how long a plant will germinate and how long it will take till harvest or bloom. "...and the iris blooms in mid or late May."
"I can see you have paid great detail in your husband's craft. I am impressed."
"Thank you, Abbess."
"How long were you married?"
"Two years." Another lie…
"How old are you, Azalea?"
"I am eighteen."
"That is a young age for a girl of your status. Why did you marry so young?"
"I was an unwanted child and my husband told my parents he was interested in me." More lies….
"I am glad you found a favorable marriage, so many do not. Is this your first child?"
"I have one more question. Do you know how to read and write? I am guessing you do from your knowledge of botany."
"Yes, I do know how to read and write."
"Something your husband also taught you?"
"Yes" and again another lie….
"Well that is settled, I will have Mary take you to the dorter and the others nuns will inform you what all you must do. I will talk to you further tomorrow of what dirties you will have. Right now I must have a word with Lord Bennett."
A young woman led Azalea out of sight. "Come on back in, Lord Bennett. Where did you come across this one?"
"She was being pursued by a pack of wolves. We were barely able to save her."
"She was in the forest by herself? Poor girl must have been though plenty. I am guessing she is of higher birth than she is saying."
How did she know?
"Her hands gave her away"
"Yes, I have notice also."
"You did not question her about it?"
"No, I thought she had been through enough already."
"Alright, you may leave her with me. You have always had a good sense of character."
"I will have to dowry sent over as soon as I return home."
"Farwell." She will be safe here. I could have not thought of any better place. Now, I need to head home.