The Dragon and the Jewel – Virginia Henley

Eleanor Plantagenet Marshal, Princess of England and Countess of Pembroke, was renowned for her dark exquisite beauty. When her hair was unbound it fell to her waist like a glorious black cloud, its silken tendrils framing a heart-shaped face. Her large, deep-blue eyes were the shade of Persian sapphires, and she was known throughout the land as the King’s Precious Jewel. Her clothes and gems were the envy of the entire Court of Windsor where she dwelled, waited upon by an entourage of servants and handmaidens. Like most girls of seventeen, her thoughts were obsessed by her love for a man. Her passion had known no bounds. She would love him throughout eternity. Her cheeks ɻushed delicately as she remembered the warm, inviting bed and the Marshal of England’s naked body. A soldier’s body, wide shouldered, chest covered by thick, corded muscles, deeply bronzed, the ɹrelight accentuating every sinew of his powerful torso. It seemed she had waited a lifetime for this man to make love to her, to perform the hymenal rites that would teach her the secrets of her own sensuality and make her a woman. But something had gone hideously wrong! William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, was dead and Eleanor was covered with guilt. The doctors had been unanimous in their verdict. William’s heart had burst trying to satisfy the insatiable demands of his young wife. The scandal had been horrendous. The rumors ɻew fast and furious.

It was the talk of the court, the city, the whole country. It was extremely titillating to surmise just how wanton the princess had been to cause her husband, the virile Marshal of England, to expire from excess. Her mind relived her guilty secrets over and over. She recalled the heightened tension when he had removed her nightgown, making her feel faint with anticipation. His ɹngers and tongue caressing the tips of her breasts had made her cry out with pleasure. When his ɹngertips separated the tiny folds of her woman’s center to seek the jewel inside, she had been tempted to explore and taste his maleness. When he knelt above her to ɹll her with his hard, thick manroot, she thought she might die from excitement. Instead it had been William who had died. Eleanor had immediately sworn vows of chastity and perpetual widowhood, but it had not expiated her guilt in any way, nor had it eased her bruised heart from agony. The Countess of Pembroke was seen only occasionally about the court.

She was quietly aloof, speaking with none but her own attendants. It was almost as if she had fallen into a trance with the death of her husband—a trance from which it looked as if she would never emerge. Eleanor picked up her book and walked languorously down to her private, walled garden. She unlocked the only door, then slipped the iron key into her pocket, secure in the knowledge that none could ever intrude. I’ll never get used to this lump in my throat, she thought wearily. I wonder if I shall be upon the brink of tears for the rest of my life. She sighed and thought with inɹnite patience, It has only been a year. Perhaps in two years or three the tears will dry. Mother Superior had been pressing her to come to a decision, but Eleanor would not be hurried. I have the rest of my life.

I shall decide nothing in haste only to repent at leisure, she cautioned herself. Absently she ɹngered her braids in which the nuns had taught her to plait three knots on each side. The knots in the left side were for the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The three on the right were for chastity, obedience, and poverty. I have no trouble whatsoever with the ɹrst vow, she told herself, and my obedience improves with practice, but I’m not sure I can live with a vow of poverty. Though I’ve tried to cast out my love of luxury, I ɹnd it impossible. I still adore beautiful clothes and jewels. If I am being truthful, I have not changed one iota. Inside I am still the wild, willful, passionate creature I was when I was ɹve. I’ve simply learned to hold it all inside and show the world a facade of gentle poise and calm control.

William had donated land and provided money for the Order of St. Bride’s convent near Windsor, and she knew that before she took the veil she would have to stay there overnight in one of the cells to see if she could bear to give up her freedom. She was almost convinced she could, for what earthly use did she have for freedom? In the evening she tried to gather enough energy to go to compline, the seventh and last service of the day. If she took holy orders, how would she last through seven services each day? She asked herself for the thousandth time why she was contemplating the convent, and the answer came back the same: Guilt! Mother Superior insisted her guilt would be expiated, washed away forever, and Eleanor knew she could not live much longer with the crushing guilt. She rose and took up her jeweled dagger from her bedside table. With unseeing eyes she gazed from the tall windows of the King John Tower. She ran her ɹnger down the sharp blade of the knife. Do it now, do it now, a voice urged her. If she knew she could join William tonight, she would do it without hesitation. Another voice whispered, He has escaped from you … he never really wanted you … leave him in peace.

She cried aloud, “Untrue! Untrue!” Then silently she said, I don’t want to live like this. Then she recalled that suicides were purported to spend Eternity in Purgatory. What was the point in exchanging one Purgatory for another? she thought wearily. What was the point of anything? She dragged herself to the chapel where she spent a whole hour begging forgiveness, then she dully dragged herself to bed. In the morning when daylight crept into her bedchamber, she turned her face to the wall and pulled the covers over her head. She would escape in blissful sleep. She drifted into a dream where she was hawking with William. They always rode side by side. The crisp air was so invigorating, it tasted like wine. She stood up in her stirrups to cast her merlin and suddenly awoke with a start.

The dream had been so real, so tangible that it ɻoated in the air around the bed. What on earth was the matter with her? She’d taken no exercise in over a year. No wonder she had slipped into a decline, not caring if she lived or died. She hadn’t hawked with her little merlin from her beloved Wales for what seemed like years. The little hawk had probably forgotten her. She would need a riding dress. Her mind hesitated as she pictured the bold jade green not worn in over a year. She loathed the colors of mourning she’d long adopted. She’d do it, she decided. She would search out the riding dress and make her way to the mews above the stables.

As she impatiently ɻung back the bedcovers she experienced a strong feeling that she was reliving an experience. Her mind took wing, ɻying back over the years to her wedding day, when it had all begun. She could remember every minute detail of that fateful day that changed her life so completely…. PART ONE 1 Princess Eleanor Katherine Plantagenet opened her eyes to the sound of birdsong greeting the dawn. Her heart soared with happiness as she realized that the day had ɹnally arrived. She threw back the covers impatiently and ran barefoot to the polished silver mirror. She didn’t look any diʃerent from yesterday. Her black hair was a mass of impossible tangles, the natural creamy color of her skin was marred by too much sun, and her mouth was still set in stubborn lines that clearly showed she got her own way about everything in life. She always would, she decided. Getting your own way was what made life sweet.

Some things didn’t come as easily as others, but with unwavering determination, and also by making everyone else’s life hell, she always got what she wanted. She had ruled her siblings since she was ɹve years old and was the terror of the nursery. They were all older than she, one was even King of England, but by fair means or foul she bent them to her will. The corners of her mouth lifted as she remembered the day that had set her fate. Her brothers Henry and Richard, then fourteen and twelve respectively, had a ferret in a sack and were oʃ to hunt rabbits. “Wait for me!” she cried imperiously, struggling to pull on her shoes over feet still wet from paddling in the fishpond. “You’re not coming, Maggot!” cried King Henry. “You bugger! Stop calling me that,” she screamed furiously. “I’ll tell Nanny you swear,” six-year-old Isabella said. Eleanor looked at her sister with contempt.

“She knows I swear … you still pee yourself.” Joanna said from the lofty wisdom of her ten years, “We’re not to leave the garden. If you go off with the boys again I shall tell on you.” Eleanor snatched up the sack that held the ferret and thrust it at Joanna. Screwing her face into that of a hideous gargoyle, she threatened, “If you tell, you will ɹnd a ferret in your bed some dark night.” Joanna screamed, then took little Isabella by the hand. “Come away, she’s wicked.” Richard, Duke of Cornwall, cuʃed Eleanor across the ear and took the sack from her. “Go and play with the girls, Maggot, you’re not coming with us.” She dug determined little ɹsts into her hips and stuck out a belligerant chin.

“If you don’t let me come with you, I shall tell that you chase the maids and give them bellyburns with your newly sprouted whiskers.” “Maggot-faced little bitch,” swore adolescent Henry. Richard, although younger than the king, was stronger and more dominant. He suddenly threw back his head and laughed. “She’s no bigger than a piss-ant, yet she rules the roost one way or another. Come on, Maggot, I’ll bet you don’t have the stomach for this sport anyway.” In all truth she did not have the stomach for it. She watched in fascinated horror as her brothers slipped the slinky creature down a rabbit hole, then waited with a sack at the other end of the warren for the terriɹed bunny to pop out. All her sympathies were with the rabbits, and her heart was wrung over the furry brown creatures who went into shock from fear. Her brothers laughed at her tears and she dashed them away with grimy ɹngers, leaving rivulets of dirt streaking her face.

She felt sick and hurried oʃ in the direction of the palace before they could witness her disgrace herself. To her dismay they followed her, laughing, teasing, and taunting her because she’d allowed them to glimpse her vulnerability. Henry was golden-haired like his grandfather the great King Henry II, and Richard’s head was russet like his namesake uncle Richard the Lionhearted. Eleanor, the baby of the family, was the only one who had inherited the darkness of their father and mother, the hated King John and Queen Isabella of Angoulême. They used her coloring to tease her unmercifully. Richard said, “Did you ever notice how much the child resembles a black cockroach?” Henry laughed. “The last one of a litter is always a runt, but she’s so little I suspect she’s a dwarf.” Eleanor had never felt so miserable. She was nauseated, hot, and tired, and now a pain shot through her heel. She stopped running, took oʃ her shoe, and saw a large raw blister.

“Oh, balls!” she muttered, and threw the offending slipper into a bramble bush. They caught up with her just as the palace came into view. “Someone’s just arrived,” Richard said. “It’s the marshal!” Henry cried happily, recognizing the device of the Red Lion Rampant on a white field. Eleanor’s miseries dissolved like snow in summer. Saved by the marshal. Oh, how she loved him! The king and the Duke of Cornwall greeted William Marshal, one of their beloved guardians, a full ten minutes before Eleanor’s little legs carried her into his glorious presence. She tugged on his surcoat. “My lord earl, My lord earl!” He bent and picked her up, then sat down on a stone bench in the shaded courtyard. Her face was now wreathed with smiles beneath the grime.

“Sweetheart, you’ve been crying! Tell William what’s amiss.” Henry and Richard exchanged impatient glances. They wanted William Marshal’s undivided attention for themselves. He was their father ɹgure, their mentor, and their hero all rolled into one. “I’m ugly, like a little black cockroach,” whispered Eleanor. Her words startled Will Marshal momentarily, and he ɹshed in a pocket for a sweetmeat while he searched for words to comfort the child. Her eyes lit up at the sight of the sugared mouse, and she sucked it contentedly as she nestled in the crook of his arm to listen to his soothing voice.


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