Rebecca drummed her long fingers against the dark wood, glaring at the row of gentlemen seated across from her. They had been at this current argument for roughly 4 hours now and were no closer to a solution than they had been at the start. Her daughter was not some piece of carpet or a prize pig ready for market, and her temper had nearly reached its limit. Magdalene was nearly 15 and, as of yet, no suitable husband had been found for her. She was a plain and homely girl, taking after her father in all ways, but this was hardly the issue. A son would marry whomever his father decided on, the problem was her dowry. Lord Ranolf had been a good and kind man, but a poor marshal of his lands, leaving Rebecca and their child almost penniless.
"My lords, do I need to begin exercising my rights as a landowner to get an answer?" she snarled, daring each man in turn to meet her eye.
None did. None of the great and worthy lords assembled had the nerve to push her patience further. They all knew what she was implying, the hidden threat that she would seize desirable plots of their lands in order to create a dowry dripping from her words. A mumbled noise of apology spread through them and, after a long and uncomfortable silence, Lord Tyion spoke.
"My Lady de Brough, I am sure we can arrange a satisfactory conclusion," he flourished, casting less than concerned glances at the elderly Lord le Garriot further along the table, who had unfortunately fallen asleep. Rebecca could have laughed at this outright hint that she should take le Garriot’s land as Magdalene’s dowry.
Tyion was young, only 24, but he understood how the world worked. Poor le Garriot was well into his 65th year and, despite three wives, had no children to succeed him. A crying shame for le Garriot but, for an upcoming player in the ongoing struggle for power like Tyion, it provided an excellent opportunity to expand one's influence. Rebecca’s keen mind caught the other, more subtle hint in Tyion’s words. Without a word to express it, Tyion had put himself forward as a potential husband for Magdalene in exchange for the rich and fertile farmland currently in le Garriot’s care. The other lords, minus le Garriot, continued muttering amongst themselves to try and agree which parts of their estates to give up for young Magdalene, completely oblivious to Tyion’s blatant proposal.
She bowed her head politely to him, acknowledging that she had heard and understood him, and leant back in her chair, letting the hard back support her. Rebecca knew it would be a fine match. Tyion was not only young but he had a way of making the people around him happy and content, which stood Magdalene in good stead to have a pleasant future with him. He was also already tied to her lands as a vassal, meaning that her lands would eventually pass to Magdalene by way of Tyion after Rebecca died. Rebecca knew that Tyion also had that same thought in mind when he made his offer, after all, Magdalene was an only child and all her paternal lands would become her husband's following her mother's death. She felt rather sure that Tyion would not be the kind of man to do away with said mother-in-law to attain the lands owing to Magdalene, but the ounce of doubt in her mind gnawed at her. At 29, Rebecca had known too many men who seemed incapable of terrible deeds, only to later discover them to be responsible for atrocious acts of cruelty.
She absently fondled the clasp of her cloak, a wedding gift from her own father, as she mulled over the options she had. To accept Tyion’s suggestion might well be tantamount to inviting the Devil to dinner but, on the other hand, to have a complete stranger pushing his boots under the table once Magdalene was in his bed could be far worse for everyone involved. Despite her position as liege-lord following Lord Ranolf’s passing, she was still just a woman and she would have little say in which suitor her vassals deemed appropriate for Magdalene if she left it all to them. A soft sigh escaped her and Tyion, attentive as ever, met her gaze with a concerned look in his eyes. Bless his golden heart, she mused, gently shaking her head to alay his worry. Still a child himself, in so many ways.
"Gentleman," she said sternly, commanding an instant silence from the gaggle of bickering old men and a sly smile from Tyion. "I require time to think. This is a large decision and not only my daughter’s future is at stake should we arrive at the wrong destination."
An almost gleeful murmur of assent rose from the men and all bowed their heads to her in agreement. Before she could reach the end of the trestle after leaving her chair, the room had all but emptied. Only Tyion lingered, obviously waiting for a private audience. She mounted the dias at the far end of the chamber and, after a brief word with her chamberlain regarding household events during the meeting, bade him to approach.
"You have more to say, I see, my dear Tyion," she pressed softly, offering him a bejeweled hand for him to kiss. Whilst happily widowed, Rebecca was still young herself and still enjoyed the little moments of attention she could snatch from those willing to play the game. Tyion knew this, they had practically grown up together, although in very different situations. They had first met 16 years ago when she had been brought to Gillingtree at 13 by her new husband, the 43-year-old Lord Ranolf. Tyion had been a squire in service to her husband, 8 years old and newly away from his mother’s hem. He had been a scrawny little wretch with a mess of black hair and a constant ability to become absolutely filthy within hours of waking, whilst she had been the pretty little plaything of his master, fawned over and treated as though she were made of glass. Rebecca had adored him for his friendly and playful nature. Everything about him had reminded her of her younger brother back home, so she had taken him under her wing and ensured that, with softly whispered suggestions, he had received the best training and education Lord Ranolf could provide. When his father died and left him the lord of Ranolf’s vassal lands to the north, Tyion had been well prepared to take up the reigns without a moment's hesitation at only 17. As time went on, Rebecca had often caught herself imagining what might have been different if it were a man like Tyion she were married to, wondering if she would have known what happiness and even love was, or if little Magdalene who grew faster and faster with each passing year would have had younger siblings to grow with. Lord Ranolf had been a gentle husband, but following his first success in getting a child on her, and his subsequent disappointment at said child being a girl, he had been an absent one. It was Rebecca’s fault of course, her domineering nature had soured the seed and produced a girl-child, or so Ranolf’s priest had hissed. Tyion had always given her what sympathy he could when he had caught her silently crying as she watched the masses of children playing together in the bailey, knowing that her pain stemmed from her lack of a large brood.
Yet here they now stood, both in very similar circumstances and grown adults. Tyion smiled warmly at her now that the other lords had left and managed to pull a laugh from her with his theatrical bow and the way he deliberately fumbled his kiss of loyalty, landing his warm lips against the pale skin of her hand rather than the cold gem on her finger. They were, in the opinions of most, too familiar with each other and, rather than stand for what could be a lengthy conversation, Tyion pulled the smaller dais chair across and sat at an angle to her, as old friends did before a fire. Rebecca had no need, or want, of formality with Tyion so his behavior went unchecked, much to the chamberlain's disapproving appearance when he returned with several ledgers for Rebecca to check. She waved him away and returned her attention to Tyion, placing her hands on the top of the books neatly stacked on her lap.
"I have, though it would not be my ideal solution." he smiled, giving her a flirtatious look that sent a warm shiver through her. Tyion laughed softly and affectionately patted her hand. "You know I will always do what I can to look after you and yours. If I can help protect Magdalene and her inheritance, I will do. Mercy, Rebecca, you should know this by now."
Rebecca nodded, gently stroking the vellum bound ledgers as she thought things through. The idea had entered her mind, following Ranolf’s death, to remarry and take Tyion as her husband, but it had been swiftly chased away by her other vassal-lords. They had caused nothing short of a riot when she had left mourning and suggested it to her council, proclaiming him an idiot and a poor leader. Yet, for all their barking and naysaying, Tyion had a keen mind and a true love for his lands, meaning he tended them well and she had never once had to step in to resolve any issues raised by his tenants. Her vassals had pressed the matter so hard that she had abandoned any desire to remarry, instead beginning the arduous process of finding a dowry and a suitor for her daughter. She would not lie to herself, Tyion’s subtle offer had constricted her heart, but she understood why he had placed them in such a situation.
"Thank you, Tyion. Your friendship is dearer to me than you know. I can, of course, draw up the necessary deeds to grant you le Garriot’s lands upon his death, his lack of an heir naturally reverts the land back into my care when the time comes." Her eyes scanned him for any glimpse of a greater scheme but she found nothing but compassion in his demeanor. "I will expect you to be good to Magdalene, she is all I have left..."
With a quick look around the hall to ensure no-one was present, Tyion leapt from his chair and embraced her, whispering so low that she could barely hear him. "I only wish things were different, my love."
Tears sprung to her eyes and her arms tightened around his waist, letting herself be cradled like a child against his broad chest, "I know, but this is the lot we were given." Her words came in small sobs, the sudden realization that she would be handing her only child into the care of the only man she had ever felt deeply about was breaking her.
The sound of shuffling footsteps in rear corridor forced them apart and, with the gap once again between them, Rebecca could see that he had also wept as all the hopes they once had were swept away on the tide. She had, by some small miracle, managed to compose herself moments before Magdalene shyly peeked around the tapestry which hung over the doorway. Rebecca smiled brightly, a rare smile that only the sight of her precious daughter could bring forth, and beckoned her to join them. Magdalene was a slender young woman, with long wheat coloured hair and warm brown eyes, and she looked so small to Rebecca as she reached the dais and bobbed an obedient curtsy. Tyion respectfully offered his chair to her and went to fetch a stool from by the great fireplace.
"Dearest, I have news for you," she began, gripping Magdalene’s hands and forcing her voice to remain level. "We have finally agreed on a husband for you. Our dear Lord Tyion has offered his devotion to you."
Magdalene’s eyes grew wide and fearful, reminding Rebecca of a stag during a hunt who knows its death is imminent, and instinct told Rebecca that it had nothing to do with Tyion. Her eyes grew cold and calculating, regarding her daughter in a whole new manner. Tyion, sensing a shift in the mood, inched away from the threatening storm building between the two women. Magdalene’s eyes shot to the floor, her sun-kissed skin burning crimson with shame, and Rebecca roared as she rose from her seat. "You little whore! Who was he?! Some boy-faced squire?! The farrier's lad?!"
The poor girl squealed in fright as her mother towered over her, throwing Tyion begging looks for help. Tyion, however, knew Rebecca too well. He had seen his fair share of servants, men and women, brought low by her rage and he had no desire for her to turn her fury onto him. Rebecca was livid, the entirety of the past four months completely wasted by the recklessness of her child. It would now be down to her, the grand Lady Gillingtree, to inform her vassals that her pure and virtuous daughter was nothing more than a common trollope. Her authority would almost certainly be brought into question, with the men under her command becoming doubtful of her ability. After all, if she could not control her offspring, what hope did she have for controlling her lands. Her hand came down across Magdalene’s cheek without a second thought, leaving a crimson welt and weeping nail-marks behind. Even Tyion, who had resolved to stay out of the conflict, leapt from his stool and threw his arms around Rebecca to hold her back.
"You have ruined everything! You stupid, foolish girl! How could you?" she howled, her voice so shrill it gave Tyion visions of the banshees his minder had warned him off as a child. Magdalene lay on the floor where her mother's blow had left her, crying and pleading for forgiveness. Rebecca’s mind slowly returned to the present moment, the warmth and strength of Tyions arms around her waist acting like an anchor against the storm within her. She had to be realistic about the situation. She could no longer, with any hope of success, ask her vassals to grant lands to form a dowry nor could she reasonably ask them to find a worthy buyer for damaged goods. Her mind swam with a million possible options but only one seemed viable, as much as her vassals would despise it. Tyion felt her relax a little in his grip and tentatively let her go, ready to grab her once more should she launch another attack at Magdalene. An audible sigh of relief broke from him when no attack came and, after a sharp look from Rebecca, he returned to his seat.
"Mother... Please... I’m sorry..." Magdalene’s frightened voice chimed, only to be caught short by Rebecca’s commanding tone. She hauled Magdalene to her feet, briefly concerned for her cheek, and held her firmly by the shoulders.
"You will tell me who, and you will tell the truth. Then you will return to your chamber and stay there until told otherwise." Her eyes were devoid of any emotion as she presented her orders. Magdalene swallowed hard and looked at the floor, absently rubbing her sore cheek as though reminding herself what would happen if she disobeyed. "Thomas... the blacksmith's boy... It started just after Father died, he was so... so... He made me feel wanted."
Rebecca almost laughed, but even her current mood would not stretch to such cruelty. "Poor girl, young Master Edmundson has a way with making girls feel wanted. Should I bring in every young maid in the keep and ask which of them have been loved by Thomas?"
Magdalene’s eye went wide with horror. "Thomas wouldn’t... He promised I was the only one... That what we had was special..."
Tyion sighed in disbelief, rubbing his temples. "You poor naive thing, boys will say anything to have their way. I’d wager you are not the only girl he has dropped that line to."
Rebecca nodded, still gripping her daughter, who slumped as though the floor had fallen from under her. "Girl, I was a married woman when I came to this place, and I heard those empty promises more than once from young men seeking to bed their lord's wife. It is a rite of passage for men, to have sullied themselves at least once before marriage and, as a woman, it was yours to remain pure until the night your husband claimed you."
Tyion stood and, without more than a subtle nod from Rebecca, left the hall with his hand on the hilt of his sword. This detail was missed by Magdalene, who stood dumbstruck with silent tears rolling down her face. Rebecca sighed and pulled her child against her chest, ‘You silly creature, how could you have let this happen? You knew I was bartering a marriage deal, why didn’t you say something?’
‘I wanted to but I didn’t know how... You have been so busy since Father passed, I didn’t want to cause more problems. I’m so sorry...’ A fresh wave of sobs washed over her, forcing her to bury her face in the soft wool of her mother’s gown. Rebecca, for all her simmering anger, could not help but attempt to sooth the young woman, gently stroking her hair and making soft hushing sounds.
‘Calm now,’ she urged, gently pushing Magdalene away and looking her in the eye, ‘Tyion will see to Thomas and you, as much as it pains me, will travel to St. Cecillia’s and take the vows. Only then will no shame come to your name or that of our family.’
Magdalene was aghast, mouth gaping in slow fish-like motions as she struggled to find the words to protest. St. Cecillia’s was a convent far to the north, well beyond the borders of her mother's northern vassal-lands, obviously chosen so that none of the lords could easily send their wives or daughters to discover the truth. Magdalene would, in essence, be stripped of her freedom, her title, and her inheritance and be forced into a life of silence and solitude. All her education, her finery, her hopes and dreams, would now go to waste. She looked at her mother’s stony face and knew, that despite everything, there would be no escaping this.
She sighed deeply and resigned herself meekly to this sudden change in direction, ‘When do I leave?’
‘Within the week, I shall inform the council of your decision in the morning and arrangements will be made accordingly,’ Rebecca stated shortly, as though she too had resigned herself to live as if she had never born and raised the woman stood before her. Tyion returned, wiping his sword carefully as he walked, eliciting a fresh bout of hysterics from Magdalene. Both Rebecca and Tyion ignored her as she crumpled to the floor clutching at her hair in grief. In the time he had been gone, Tyion had tracked down the young womanizer and offered him a round of friendly sparring as it was common knowledge that Thomas aspired to become a squire in his own right. Once out of sight of the bailey, and well beyond earshot of anyone who may be walking in the kitchen courtyard, Tyion had dispatched the youth with a clean thrust between collarbone and shoulder, piercing the heart in one move. The body, he tumbled into the river which ran alongside the keeps southern wall, watching as it bobbed out of sight.
The following morning, when the lords had once again assembled, Rebecca stood upon her dais, calm and collected. Her absence from the table made the lords uneasy, but what truly unnerved them was Tyion’s presence beside her on the dais. Taking a deep breath, Rebecca steeled herself against what she knew was to come as she addressed the group, announcing Magdalene sudden abhorrence to the idea of marriage and her wish to take to the holy orders of St. Cecillia. This caused the expected mumblings of suspicion and disappointment, nothing more than one could expect from a group of men who had spent so long arguing themselves hoarse over what to do about the girl's marriage. As the hall grew still again, Rebecca lifted her hands to request absolute silence, ‘I have another announcement, as Gillingtree is now without an heir, I have made the decision to remarry. As is my right, given that this is my second marriage and no longer need to be done with consideration to the furtherment of my father’s standing, I have already chosen Lord Tyion to be my husband. I will accept no refusals from anyone here present.’
The hall exploded into a wall of noise, threatening to deafen Rebecca and forcing her to shout in an attempt to restore order. In the end, it came down to a sheer threat of harm as Tyion and the keep guards drew their swords, instantly silencing the mob of angry lords. Only one man stood apart from the ruckus, Lord le Garriot leant against the trestle, smiling absently at Rebecca and Tyion.
‘Congratulations, to both of you,’ he said loudly, determined in his way to make sure everyone within the hall heard him. Le Garriot was well respected and, as a hardened warrior, carried his weight in fear amongst the other lords. He regained his balance, leaning heavily on his cane as he approached the dais, ‘You have finally done what no man here would have ever had the nerve to do, my Lady Rebecca. You have followed your own heart.’
Tyion laughed, his sword returning to its scabbard and his free hand resting on his head in disbelief. Rebecca stepped down from the dais and took le Garriot’s free hand, ‘Thank you, my lord, I am relieved that I have at least one loyal vassal.’
Le Garriot winked, mischief bringing some semblance of the young man he once was back into his face, ‘And as such a loyal man, it is my duty... nay, my honour to respect your choice of husband!’
A hasty murmur rustled across the hall and, one by one, the other lords stepped forwards and knelt before Rebecca with their congratulations and best wishes. Rebecca cast le Garriot a thankful glance and warmly accepted each man’s display of fealty with Tyion by her side. Le Garriot stood, quietly chuckling to himself about how fast a tide can turn, and watched the slow parade of well-wishers. After a lengthy meeting to finally arrange a wedding, albeit not the wedding anyone had expected to be discussing, and to make the travelling arrangements for Magdalene, the hall once again emptied, leaving Rebecca alone to her thoughts. Tyion had left with the other lords, needing to return to his hold to make arrangements for his chamberlain to take charge of running the estate in his absence.
She knew it was less than ideal, that she had to forsake one child in the hope of begetting another, but she told herself again and again that Magdalene’s actions had given her no choice. Her only comfort was that, after Magdalene had finally retreated to her chambers the previous day, Tyion had stayed long into the night discussing the future and had promised her that he would never try to force her from her place as liege-lord. Her fears of remarrying and losing her authority to a new husband were put aside. A small rustle of fabric behind her snapped her back to the present and Magdalene crept in and knelt before her.
Her eyes never came up to meet Rebecca’s but the ice-cold resolve in her voice sent chills up Rebecca’s spine. There was a threat there, one full of iron-clad determination, ‘I’m sorry I have disgraced you, Mother. I will go to St. Cecillia’s... but do not ever think that the convent walls will keep me there. You and Lord Tyion have taken all I have ever loved from me, so I promise you this, I will visit again if I am ever back this way.’