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Authors: Darcey Bonnette

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BOOK: Betrayal in the Tudor Court
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She prayed for her parents’ souls. The pain and guilt began to subside. She cherished their miniatures, keeping them on her bedside table that she might always be close enough to consult their likenesses should nostalgia call. As time passed, it called less and less.

Meantime the Pierces served as her distractions. They were a strange group; she loved them. She feared them. Their pain was tangible to one as sensitive as Cecily. She knew it, she felt it, even as she could not identify it. It shone out of Lord Hal’s wistful blue eyes, it rang like a mourning bell in Lady Grace’s soft voice, and was illustrated in Brey’s bewildered expression. In Mirabella it was disguised by an iron will and uncompromising conviction that Cecily did not bother to resist. It was far easier to acquiesce where she was concerned, and Cecily found Mirabella’s rare smiles worth yielding to. Besides, Mirabella was at odds with Lady Grace enough as it was; she did not need Cecily to add to the melee. If Cecily disagreed with her on matters of principle and anything in between she kept it to herself.

Finally there was Father Alec, who wore a mantle of melancholy of his own. He masked it with a kind smile, but it was there, deafening in its tortured silence. Cecily could not hope to reach it, to nurse it as was her inclination with anyone suffering.

She longed to heal them all. They had come together, all broken things, it seemed. She did not know why; perhaps she did not need to know. What mattered was that she was there and, in whatever way she could, she would try to bring joy to these people who were to be her life.

She did not yet possess the ability to comfort with words. So she comforted with actions, leaving bouquets of fresh spring flowers for Lady Grace and Mirabella, treasures from the outdoors to Brey, anything she could catch—frogs, mice, moles. For the men, Lord Hal and Father Alec, she left messages of hope in the small things—feathers, vibrant blue-green grass, shiny rocks, birds’ eggs. Anything that caught her eye.

She never told them; she was never one to tout herself. She knew she had given, after all, and sought no glory. She just left them. And hoped it cheered them as much as finding them cheered her.

Father Alec caught her one day. She had sneaked into his chambers and was leaving an interesting birds’ nest on his pillow. It was woven with such perfection, such delicate intricacy, that it rivalled the richest tapestry.

He cleared his throat upon entrance. “Lady Cecily, you know these are my private apartments.”

Cecily started, stiffening as she turned to face him. “I’m sorry, Father. It’s just that … well … I—”

“Did you look through my things?” he asked her.

Cecily shook her head. “No, sir. Of course not.”

His shoulders eased and he offered a smile. “I did not mean to frighten you. It’s just that I do not own much. What I do have, I treasure.”

“I understand,” Cecily said, and she did. She did not have much either. In truth she had more land and money and possessions than she could fathom, but they were inaccessible. What she had that she actually valued was very little and she would not want anyone tampering with it either.

“What were you doing in here then?” he asked her, his smile widening.

Cecily retrieved the birds’ nest, flushing as she handed it to him. “I saw it … I thought …” She could not speak. She did not want him to know.

“So it was you,” he breathed in his husky voice that Cecily had come to grow fond of. He sat upon his bed as he examined the nest. “I’ve been wondering for weeks now … all these little gifts. I have enjoyed each and every one,” he told her. “But why?”

Cecily bowed her head, embarrassed to be caught in the Act. She shifted from foot to foot, then slowly raised her eyes to the priest. “Because, Father, there is so much in this world to love.”

Father Alec slid from the bed to his knees, taking Cecily in his arms. “Darling girl,” he murmured against her hair. “Darling, darling girl, if there is any living proof of that it is in you. …”

Cecily wrapped her arms about his neck. No one hugged like he did. He engulfed her in his strong arms as would a great bear, holding her to his chest. She listened to his heartbeat. Strong, steady, and sure. A heartbeat she could count on.

There was no one in her world like Father Alec. With him she shared an inexplicable understanding that went beyond words. He always treated her with respect; he took her seriously. He answered all of her questions, even when Mirabella teased that they were childish and stupid. He was patient. He seemed to enjoy her company. He spent many an hour regaling her with tales of woodland creatures that talked, knights who rescued pretty ladies, or stories of the mischief he got into when he was a child.

He was the only person who seemed to completely belong to her. She did not know why. Yet somehow she knew it was reciprocated. That somehow, perhaps more than any little gifts she could offer him, it was her self that brought him the most peace.

What an uncanny privilege, she reflected as she looked into the kind hazel eyes, to know that she could be a comfort just by existing.

She did not leave him gifts after that day.

He did not need them.

“I cannot believe Mother and her May Day revels!” Mirabella fumed as the girls were dressed for the celebration Lady Grace had been planning since Lent. “I heard she is having bonfires after all! And she’s going to let the peasants dance around the poles just like pagans! There are going to be all kinds of wicked masques where the ladies will be half-naked!”

“Really?” Cecily asked, her breathless tone betraying her eagerness to participate in the pagan frolic. “Oh, Mirabella, but you must try to have a good time! You look so beautiful!”

Mirabella turned, gazing at herself in the shining silver glass. The red organza gown that her mother had made was indeed splendid, if one put great store in material things (which Mirabella did not). Its red velvet stomacher was embroidered with cloth of gold and seed pearls; the resplendent sleeves were in the French fashion that the witch Anne Boleyn was making popular, with cloth of gold undersleeves and kirtle to match. Mirabella’s black hair was brushed to a glossy sheen and flowed down her back in rippling waves under a red velvet French hood, embroidered with the same cloth of gold and seed pearls to match the stomacher. In all, a stunning ensemble.

She was beautiful.

She had not realised it before.

She put a slender hand to her face, taking in a slow breath. “Please send for Father Alec,” she ordered.

“But we’re expected to go down soon,” Cecily returned.

“I said send for him!” she cried as the child retreated. Mirabella was agitated with the little girl. As sweet as she was, Mirabella lost patience with her even, affable attitude. She was so accepting, so content. Why could Mirabella not be content? Why could she not accept the life her parents would no doubt choose for her? It was exhausting, this constant fighting.

Yet it was a compulsion. It was as natural to her as breathing, as eating. She needed to fight. She would serve her Lord. She would not get caught up in these trappings. She would escape. And once free, she would learn contentment, acceptance. She would have what Cecily had.

“Lady Mirabella.”

Mirabella turned to find Father Alec standing in the doorway of the nursery. He filled it up with his presence. Her heart clenched. She did not understand the feelings that stirred in her belly whenever she was in his presence. Perhaps it was his youth; at twenty-eight, Father Alec possessed an allure that was undeniably attractive. His well-muscled build seemed inconsistent with his calling; Mirabella could imagine him in a suit of armour or the finery of a courtier—imagine how hose would hug his legs … oh, what was she thinking? Mirabella squeezed her eyes shut, reopening them to find Father Alec bedecked in the humble robes of a priest. She lowered her head, feeling as though it were a sin just to look at him, as though somehow he would know she had involuntarily imagined him without his robes or a suit of armour or courtier’s finery for that matter.

“Father, I need to confess,” she said.

“You just confessed this morning, my child,” Father Alec told her in his ever-patient tone. “What could have possibly transpired within the last three hours?”

“I have been vain,” she said miserably. “I looked in the glass and saw … I saw that I was … well, I thought I—”

“That you were beautiful?” Father Alec asked, his lips twisting into a gentle grin.

Hot tears stung Mirabella’s eyes.

“Lady Mirabella,” Father Alec cooed as he held out his hands. Mirabella took them, trembling at the heat of his palms. “It is not vain to acknowledge your beauty. By recognising it, you can demonstrate your gratitude to God for bestowing it upon you. I hardly think you will become as Narcissus, my dear.”

“But nuns do not need to be beautiful,” Mirabella said.

“Why? Don’t they deserve beauty as much as anyone else?” Father Alec asked with a slight chuckle. “God made everyone beautiful, for His pleasure. It is not vain to appreciate it. Are flowers vain? Is a sunset vain?” He shook his head. “No, Lady Mirabella. They just
are
. Do you remember how God referred to Himself as
I am
? It is the same with the beauty He created. Beauty
is
. Do you see? Be, my girl. Just be. And find contentment in it.”

Contentment.
That word. It seemed so elusive here. Why was it she could only glimpse it at the abbey?

“It is hard to
be
at this celebration,” Mirabella said. “It just is not who I am, Father.”

“I know that,” Father Alec said. “But you will find that in life there will be many occasions that are not tailored for you. We have to adapt to our circumstances; in adapting, but not yielding ourselves over completely, we can retain our true selves and endure the rest. Can you do that?”

Mirabella considered. Then nodded. “Yes,” she said as she realised how simple he made things sound, how easy it could be. She did not have to like what was going on around her; she only had to be. She could exist in this world and be happy without conforming to it so long as she remained true to herself, to her Lord. “Yes,” she said, brightening. “I believe I can.”

Father Alec proffered his arm. “Good, then. Now. Let’s go down and forget this nonsense about confessing. Save me a real sin.”

Mirabella laughed before she could help herself and allowed herself to be escorted on the arm of Father Alec to the entertainment.

She murmured a little prayer thanking God for him.

No one understood her like he did.

The May Day revels were held out of doors in the garden under an elaborate tent strung with lanterns. Lilies and roses were entwined about all the supports and a wooden floor had been constructed special so that none of the dancers’ slippers would be spoiled by the grass. A table laden with the finest foods was set up; trays of pheasant, prawns, cheeses, breads, stuffed capons, and comfits assailed the guests with their aromas and any number of people could be seen nibbling throughout the evening.

Ladies in golden masks danced in gauzy white gowns trimmed with green to the assembly of musicians who entertained the guests, who were all dressed in their spring best. The dancers’ costumes were indeed quite revealing, baring their creamy shoulders and arms, which were encircled in gold bracelets.

Grace was pleased with the children this evening. Little Cecily was dressed to match Brey in the blue ensemble Grace had designed with her. Grace watched with fondness as the little baroness rubbed the cool satin sleeve against her cheek. She and Brey made the perfect pair. Grace’s heart contracted with wistful delight. Even Mirabella seemed happier than usual. She could not imagine what inspired the child to cooperate. Whatever it was, may it only continue!

Head tingling with the warmth of good wine, Grace threw herself into dancing till the soles of her feet throbbed and ached. When it came time for the ladies to unmask, Grace revealed herself to be one of the bare-armed dancers! Lord Hal’s eyes widened in mock astonishment as he toasted his wife.

“You are full of surprises,” he told her, drawing her close.

“I have to keep up,” Grace answered before she could stop herself.

Hal’s eyes lit with sadness. He averted his head. “You’ve outdone yourself.”

Grace squeezed his hand. “Thank you, Hal,” she said in gentle tones. “Isn’t Brey charming? Look at him dancing with little Cecily and the others. They are splendid together. She’s such a dear child.”

“Indeed,” Hal returned, his face soft as he regarded the children. “And Mirabella. Your choice of gown was exquisite. I have never seen such a stunning creature.”

Grace stiffened. “No, I suppose not,” she said blandly.

From across the tent she eyed her decanter of wine. She began to pull away.

“Grace, please, I didn’t mean—” Hal attempted to seize her hand, but Grace jerked away from him like a horse gone skittish. “Grace. Don’t.”

“What?” she asked him. “Have I not the right to enjoy my own revels?” She sauntered toward the table, lifted the decanter, and held it to her lips. At once a collective thrill of murmuring was heard among the gathering.

Grace had forgotten to use a cup.

It did not matter to her. Face flushed in a mingling of rage and embarrassment, she tilted it back and drank. And drank. Her throat burned, her gut ached.

Still she drank. She would drink till it went away.

But it would come back, in spite of everything; it always came back.

Cecily watched the night unfold in frightened fascination. It had all been so magical at first—the golden hue of the lanterns playing off the masked ladies, the gauzy costumes that clung to their forms so rounded and splendid, capturing the very essence of spring and fertility, all those things that were woman.

The food had been delicious. Cecily and Brey had stuffed themselves, then hid under the table afterwards to play with the pile of caterpillars they had collected throughout the evening and feed them crumbs. The children were hoping to build a house for them to keep in the nursery that they might watch the caterpillars’ transformation.

BOOK: Betrayal in the Tudor Court
11.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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