Authors: Susan Sizemore
A Cerridwen Press Publication
Nothing Else Matters
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Nothing Else Matters Copyright© 2006 Susan Sizemore
Edited by Mary Moran
Cover art by Syneca.
Electronic book Publication: June 2006
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, El ora’s Cave Publishing Inc., 1056 Home Avenue, Akron, OH 44310.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
Cerridwen Press is an imprint of El ora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.®
NOTHING ELSE MATTERS
In the Year of Our Lord, 1175
“The queen’s at Salisbury and so’s my wife.”
Roger of Harelby was not surprised at Hugo FitzWalter’s words but he wasn’t sure how he should respond to them. So he nodded sympathetical y and
took another sip of Hugo’s fine French wine.
“She’s been a good wife,” Hugo went on without any urging from Roger. “It was a love match,” Hugo continued. “But she also brought me fine lands as
dowry. It worked out wel for us. Her Queen Eleanor married Count Henry and then Henry became our king.”
“Henry and Eleanor have been fine rulers,” Roger said, not wanting to give any opinion on his friend’s marriage or the current tense situation between the king and queen of England.
Hugo gestured around the high-ceilinged expanse of his great hal . “A good marriage I’ve had. But Jeanne was born in Poitou and her first loyalty has
always gone to Eleanor.” Hugo downed another cup of wine and mumbled into the empty vessel, “The meddlesome shrew!” Hugo banged a fist down
loudly on the table before them. Cups and trenchers clattered in the aftermath of his frustrated gesture. “I hope the king keeps the queen locked up in Salisbury for the rest of her life!”
“But that’s the rub, isn’t it?” Roger questioned. “While Queen Eleanor remains King Henry’s prisoner your lady wife won’t leave her side.”
“Precisely. Exactly.” Hugo looked around as if seeking something he could take his frustration out on. There were no servants on the dais at present so he contented himself with throwing a cup against the wal . As crockery shattered, Hugo went on speaking to his guest. “It’s a damn nuisance when royalty’s quarrels interfere with our lives.”
Royal family quarrels got other people kil ed, as Roger wel knew, never mind a bit of connubial inconvenience. He nodded at his friend’s complaint. “This particular quarrel has made the Scots think Henry’s rule in England is weakening.”
“You fought them off up north,” Hugo said, giving Roger a jovial pat on the shoulder.
Roger nodded. There was no need to point out that the Scots were never going to be fought off for long.
“The Scots are a nuisance,” he said agreeably then chuckled. He held out his cup for a refil . While a servant came forward with the wine jug and Hugo gave him a puzzled look, he explained, “I’m about half Scots myself, so that makes me a bloody nuisance about half the time. So, what wil you do about your wife?” Roger asked, getting back to Hugo’s problem.
Hugo rubbed distractedly at his graying beard. “Wait for her,” he admitted. “Can’t real y fault the woman for her loyalty to Eleanor. The queen’s been good to Jeanne. Like a mother. She helped her find wives and places for our younger sons. Stood godmother to our youngest girl. My Eleanor is named after
her godmother. Jeanne wants me to send our girls to her but I’ve said no. Though I don’t know what to do with them now that I have them back from that wicked court of Eleanor’s.”
Hugo gestured to the sunlit corner beneath the high windows. It was the spot where Roger’s glance had been constantly straying anyway. A pair of young women sat in the corner, the rich colors of their clothing shone like jewels in the light. Their fingers were busy with embroidery and their eyes were modestly downcast. The pair looked the perfect picture of demure young womanhood. Roger found more than their industriousness to admire as he
gazed at them. Hugo’s daughters Edythe and Eleanor were quite an attractive pair of young women. Edythe reminded Roger of an autumn wil ow,
slender, gold, fair and pliable. She was about the most beautiful woman he had ever beheld. Eleanor, with whom he’d shared a trencher and cup during
last night’s meal, had proved to have a quick mind, a gleam in her dark eyes and a lovely smile once he’d coaxed her into conversation. His acquaintance was brief, having arrived only the night before, but he thought he liked both girls very much.
“What am I going to do about the girls?” Hugo asked, cutting into Roger’s wandering thoughts.
“They should have been wed or in convents long since,” Hugo pointed out. “But Jeanne let them linger at that devilish court in Poitiers looking for
husbands who could spout poetry on command instead of proper knights. That place spoiled the girls for real men. And they’ve some notion that they
can’t be separated.” Hugo spat. “They’re like two peas in a pod, those two.”
More like beads, Roger thought as he looked over the pair, one of gold and one a black pearl. “I don’t think it’s possible to find one husband for two daughters,” he told his friend.
“Be a waste of their dowries,” Hugo said, total y unaware Roger was joking. “Jeanne wants them, but sending them to Salisbury would be like condemning them to prison. Besides, I don’t want the king to suspect I’m taking his wife’s side in their quarrel.”
“I can see your problem,” Roger acknowledged sympathetical y. “I spoke with your Eleanor last night,” Roger said. “A most intel igent girl.”
“I know. More’s the pity. I’ve thought of beating it out of her, but she’s too old to change her ways now. And I’ve no taste for beating women,” he confessed.
“But if her words bother you, tel me and I’l have the seneschal give her a thrashing she won’t forget.”
“No, no.” Hugo waved his friend’s offer away. “I found no offense in the girl.” None at al , he thought to himself. “She’l make her husband’s life interesting, I’l wager.”
Hugo banged on the table again. He glared at his daughters as if their court upbringing were their fault. “It’s finding the husband that’s the problem. I’m determined to see them wed—to men loyal to King Henry. I need strong al iances to counteract my wife’s behavior. Marrying the girls to Henry’s men
would do me good. But what proper Englishman would want such delicate flowers, I’d like to know?”
Roger brightened considerably at the question. Here was a subject he didn’t mind turning his attention to. He ran his hand over the bald spot spreading through his once thick brown hair. He smiled toward the oblivious sisters while Hugo spluttered on at his side. “As to your daughters finding husbands,” he said. “I might have a few ideas.”
* * * * *
Their father had retired early to sleep off an excess of wine so Edythe and she were heading the high table with Father’s guest seated in a place of honor between them.
“A son?” Edythe said from Lord Roger’s right.
The handsome older man turned toward her sister. Eleanor decided that her duties for the evening were already over as Edythe was ever so much better
at dinner conversation than she was. Edythe was as beautiful as a sunset, vividly heartbreakingly lovely. Eleanor knew that she was not. She sometimes joked that there were times when Edythe’s perfection made sisterly devotion very difficult. Fortunately, Edythe was also sweet-natured, gentle and a joy to be with. Edythe was easy to love and knew Eleanor’s tartness meant nothing. There was only eighteen months between their births, they had never been
parted and never wanted to be.
Eleanor could not claim to be sweet-natured. She knew she was temperish and sharp-tongued enough for a mother abbess, and tried hard to control
these unmaidenly qualities. Edythe cozened her and gentled her tempers, while she protected and spoiled Edythe to the best of her abilities.
Edythe was content with being beautiful. Eleanor couldn’t keep her busy mind stil no matter how hard she tried. In Poitiers her sharpness had been
considered witty. In Poitiers her love of books was shared by many another court lady. Wit and learning were not appreciated by her father. Or the
members of his English mesnie. Here al Edythe and she had were each other.
“A fine son,” Lord Roger went on while Eleanor crumbled the edges of her flat bread trencher in homesick misery. “About your age, Lady Edythe, or a little older. Near twenty, I think. Recently knighted.”
“A gentle and God-fearing knight, I trust?” Edythe asked. Eleanor smiled at Edythe’s easy compliment of the unknown knight.
Lord Roger laughed. The sound was so boisterous and merry Eleanor couldn’t help but be drawn out of her brooding over the lost, warm days in sunny
Poitiers. Eleanor liked her father’s friend. She knew the two men were of an age, but Father seemed ever so much older than the northern lord. She knew most of Roger of Harelby’s lands were on the wild Marches of Scotland, but the man was no more savagely barbaric than any other Englishman. He was
actual y more kindly disposed toward Edythe and her than any of the knights in her father’s rowdy household.
“Stian’s a good lad,” Lord Roger assured Edythe. “And gentle in his way.” He spared a glance for Eleanor. She noted the humor in his eyes as their gazes met. “He found a wolf pup last year and tried to raise it like a dog. Once it was grown he set it free.”
“He must be brave to deal with a wolf,” Edythe said.
“Very,” Lord Roger answered, stil looking at Eleanor.
It seemed he wanted some comment from her on his son. She didn’t understand why anyone would bother to raise a wolf in the first place.
“Why did he release it?” she asked.
“Because he loved it,” Roger answered.
“How could anyone love a wolf?” Eleanor asked, completely confused by the man’s statement.
“It’s the sort of man he is.”
“I see,” Edythe spoke up. “Gentle and loving.”
Eleanor didn’t think gentle men would take much interest in dangerous wild animals but she didn’t want to insult Lord Roger’s son by pointing this out.
“Sir Stian sounds…interesting,” she told his father.
His smile widened, showing strong white teeth. “Very interesting. You’d like him.” He turned to Edythe. “Both of you would like him. He can sing. I’m told singing was al the fashion in the queen’s court.”
“It was,” Eleanor agreed. She tried not to sigh for what was past.
Music did not ring out in their father’s hal s. He had even forbidden them practicing their lutes outside the ladies’ chamber.
“Not only sings but reads.”
“Your son?” Edythe asked, reminding Eleanor of the conversation. “Sir Stian reads?”
What was there to read, Eleanor wondered, in a land that had no troubadours? “Ovid?” she asked with little hope.