The Raven and the Rose – Virginia Henley

“The King is coming!” cried Roseanna breathlessly as she ran into the great hall of Castlemaine Manor. In her excitement she failed to notice either the gasp of pleasure that escaped her mother’s lips or the sigh of resignation that escaped her father’s. A flush of excitement enhanced her face, and as her father watched her, he realized that her exquisite beauty outshone her mother’s by a hundredfold. “His Majesty sent a messenger ahead; he’ll be here in time for supper.” She picked up her gown from around her ankles and flew up the stairs. “Roseanna, where are you going?” her mother asked sharply. She paused on the step. “To change so I can ride out to meet him.” “You will not! I know it’s been over a year since we’ve seen him, but Roseanna, you are sixteen, almost seventeen—no longer a child. I will not have you tearing across the countryside on that wild animal you insist on riding!” Roseanna lifted her chin willfully. “Try and stop me!” “Roseanna, you must remember that Edward is the King of England and that you, I hope, are a lady. I forbid you!” Roseanna, now very still, drew herself up to her full height and said quietly, “Forbid? I think not.” “Ah, if you would only use some of that cool disdain in the King’s presence, it would be becoming. If you continue to ɻing yourself upon him, he will think of you as a nuisance.” She gave her mother a seething look, ran back down the stairs and outside, and slammed the door to the hall so angrily that it shook the armored shields upon the walls.

Sir Neville Castlemaine made no remark about his daughter’s behavior but said quietly, “I’ll go see how many we can expect in the King’s party.” Joanna’s eyes followed her husband as he left the hall. She brieɻy wondered what he was thinking, then swiftly dismissed thoughts of him as she realized that hundreds of things would need to be done before Edward’s arrival. Instead of going directly in search of the messenger, Sir Neville slipped around to the walled garden, where he found Roseanna angrily throwing pebbles into the lily pond. He smiled at the sight of her. Her dark hair fell like a cloud of smoke, reaching almost to her knees in its unbound disarray. Not even the plainest yellow linen gown could hide the lovely curves of her breasts. “The King could not possibly think of you as a pest, sweetheart.” “Oh, Father, why is it that every time Mother and I speak to each other, we fight?” He smiled. Neville Castlemaine was a quiet man yet a wise one.

“When you were a child and never questioned your mother’s authority, your relationship was a loving one. Now that you are both women, you rub against each other’s nerves. You resent authority; she fears losing control. You are natural rivals.” Roseanna’s eyes widened at her father’s insight. They were pale gray; the edges of the irises were ringed with purple. Her eyes were pools in which a man could drown himself. Brieɻy, he wondered if they had been wrong to allow her so much freedom while she was growing up. She had had the freedom of a boy, really. She rode, swam, hunted, and yes, even cursed and gambled with his more youthful men-at-arms on occasion.

No, he didn’t believe it had harmed her in the least to let her run wild, but clearly it was now time to train her in the gentler arts of being a woman. Past time, according to Joanna. “Why don’t you ride into the wind for an hour to sweeten your disposition?” he suggested. “But don’t be too late coming back, Roseanna. Your poor servingwomen will be frantic if they don’t have time to ready you for the royal visit.” Impulsively she kissed him, then lifted her skirts and sped toward the stables. Castlemaine Manor was famous for its horses. They were Sir Neville’s one passion in life. Roseanna had learned everything about their breeding that her father could teach her. It was as if she had a natural talent for horses; it took her away from the monotonous but serious business of being brought up to be a great lady of the manor.

Sir Neville was an advocate of selective crossbreeding. Ever since he had begun to listen to Roseanna—and he now took her suggestions seriously—they had bred some of the finest stock in England. As a consequence, the fame of Castlemaine’s horses was now surpassed only by the prices they brought. Joanna disapproved totally. It was the bone of contention that could always be counted on to cause argument between husband and wife and between mother and daughter. Joanna was horriɹed that Roseanna—whose delicate beauty resembled that of a fragile ɻower—should sprinkle her conversation with phrases about mares in heat, stallions in rut, animals in danger of abortion, and foals to be gelded. An aging man with a shaggy, gray countenance smiled his welcome as Roseanna stretched up to saddle Zeus. He reached under the stallion’s great girth to fasten the strap, then rubbed his shoulder joint where the rheumatism plagued him. “Dobbin, why don’t you ask Mother for some of her herbal rub for your aching joints?” asked Roseanna. Dobbin, so named for his lifetime association with horses, shook his head and replied, “Nay, my lady, the horse liniment I mixes will do me better than all your mother’s potions and pastes.

” He helped her up into the saddle and murmured, “Careful as ye go.” It was the closest he dared come to advising her that the brute was dangerous and would perhaps one day prove to be too much for her to handle. After she departed, Dobbin gave the nod to a young groom, signaling him to follow the mistress at a discreet distance to make sure no harm befell her. Roseanna, aware that he would do so, dug in her heels and let Zeus have his head until Castlemaine Manor was out of sight. The wind whipped her hair about like a sable mantle as she sped toward the fringes of great Ettrick Forest. With each mile the stallion’s hooves covered, her spirits lifted higher. The King was coming! Edward was her godfather. He had never made a secret of the fact that she was a favorite with him. They only got to see him when he came to his hunting lodge deep within the vast forests of Ettrick and Sherwood, which lay in Nottingham. Tonight the rafters would ring with merriment, despite her parents’ eʃorts at formality, for the King was not one to stand on ceremony when he was with old friends.

Roseanna’s sweetness of temper was fully restored by the time she returned home. The late afternoon sun had just begun its descent, throwing its golden glory across the skies. She lifted her eyes up and laughed, for it seemed that the heavens were heralding the King’s arrival: Edward IV’s device was the Sun in Splendor. Roseanna hummed a merry tune as she bathed, while her young tiring woman, Alice, brushed the tangles from her dark hair, which hung to the ɻoor over the edge of the bathtub. Alice was a soft-spoken girl with chestnut hair and blue eyes who admired her mistress’s daring ways. Roseanna was ready to capitulate to her mother’s wishes. She would act the demure maiden tonight. Her mother would ɹnd no fault with her. As she and Alice examined the lovely garments in her wardrobe, trying to decide on just the right gown, Kate Kendall came bustling in with her usual air of command. Kate, the plain-faced, North-country woman who was Joanna’s right hand and most trusted servingwoman, carried one of the new gowns that had been sewn for Roseanna over her arm.

“Your mother says you will wear this.” Roseanna forced a faint smile and bit back the quick retort that sprang to her lips at the gimlet-eyed Kendall’s tone of authority. Alice took the exquisite gown and posy cap with its delicate hair veil from Kate, who delivered another salvo before she departed: “I am to remind you to keep your tongue from the subject of horseɻesh, lest the King and his gentlemen mistake you for a stable-hand.” “Damn you both!” Roseanna’s eyes kindled with the light of battle, and Alice shrank back in anticipation of the heated exchange that was inevitable between these two. “How is it that no one ever ɹnds fault with my mother’s hobby? She doesn’t sit idle, plying her needle like a gentlewoman. She works endless hours at designing and fashioning jewelry, then sells it at exorbitant prices like a good businesswoman. But because I do the same with my horses, it’s all wrong!” “Your mother is an artist,” said Kate Kendall in a reverent voice that could have been used to describe the Holy Mother of God. Roseanna lowered her eyes and breathed deeply to regain a measure of control. In a quieter voice she replied, “You are right, of course. Thank you for bringing the gown, Kate.

” The older woman cast her a long, penetrating look, as if to discern what trick the girl would be up to next. Then she left without a word, her composure unruʀed. Kate contended that Roseanna had been born with an oversupply of “wicked juices” that bubbled over every once in a while, and that she needed a firm hand. After the thick oaken door was ɹrmly closed, Roseanna cried, “The bitches!” She walked to the bed and looked at her new garments with distaste. Only last week, when she had stood for the ɹnal ɹtting, the delicate white underdress with its trailing sleeves had brought her pleasure. Even now, Alice caressed the red velvet tunic and murmured, “It’s lovely. The red and white make a beautiful contrast.” Roseanna tossed her head. “I’ll not wear it!” Alice protested softly, “But you must, my lady.” “Ah yes, a command performance.

Well, so be it!” said Roseanna, stubbornness ɹrming her soft pink mouth. In a deceptively sweet tone, she bade Alice hang the white underdress in the wardrobe. She slipped the crimson velvet tunic over her head and smoothed its slimness down over her hips until it fell to her ankles. The overdress left her neck and arms completely uncovered. “You cannot go down like that!” gasped Alice, scandalized. “Why not?” demanded Roseanna. “It—it is so bare!” “My mother bids me to stop acting like a child, so tonight I’ll dress like a woman. Fetch me the coʃer with my gold jewelry, Alice.” She chose eight golden bracelets —two for each of her wrists and two to clasp about each of her upper arms. She fastened a golden girdle about her hips and surveyed the effect in the polished silver mirror.

As Alice came up behind her to cover her hair with the veil, Roseanna shook her head ɹrmly. “I shall wear my hair uncovered. Hand me the brush while I try to tame it a little.” Her eyes fell upon a dog collar of garnets that her mother had designed for her. Each stone had been chosen for its depth of color, and when she clasped it about her slender throat, they looked exactly like rubies. “Mm, Mother is an artist, you know. I must be a sore trial to her sometimes.” Alice said low, “Oh, dear. I feel quite sick.” Roseanna put her arm around the girl and hugged her warmly.

“Do stop worrying, Alice. It’s me they’ll punish, not you.” “But you look like a pagan, my lady!” whispered the girl. Roseanna smiled radiantly. “I think perhaps I am a pagan, Alice!” The good-natured laughter of the King reached Roseanna’s ears even before she entered the great hall. As she stepped through the archway, she easily glimpsed Edward’s golden-red hair; he stood head and shoulders over any assembly—six feet six inches when wearing his crown, it was rumored. Her father’s knights and the King’s gentlemen stepped aside to clear a path for her to the King. No man hid his admiration for her incomparable beauty. When Edward spied her, he almost snatched her up to the rafters as he always did, reveling in his great strength. But now, when she demurely went down before him murmuring, “Your Grace,” he raised her and kissed her hands.

“My Rosebud. I see you have begun to bloom!” She expressed her pleasure with a smile and took up the wine goblet her father oʃered her. As she turned toward Neville, her eyes widened in surprise. “Jeʃrey! I did not know you had returned.” “Sir Jeʃrey,” the King emphasized. “Your brother was knighted by my brother during his service in Ireland.” Sir Jeʃrey bowed to the King. “His Majesty graciously allowed me to travel from London in his party.” Roseanna smiled happily at Edward. “You have brought my mother the one gift in all the world that will please her most.

” Jeʃrey was one year younger than Roseanna. But now that he had ɹnished his service with the Duke of Clarence and had fought in Ireland, he looked the elder. Jeʃrey had his mother’s blue-black hair and his father’s handsomely shaped head. Roseanna knew without a doubt that he would set the heart of every one of her mother’s ladies aflutter. Edward winked at Roseanna. “I’ve a present for you, you saucy baggage.” She looked in wonder from the King to her father, who was fairly bursting to tell her the news. “A horse?” she ventured hopefully. Edward’s good-natured grin spread across his handsome Plantagenet features. “A pure-blooded Arabian.

I can’t wait to see what you breed from him.” The musicians arrived with their ɹddles, ɻutes, harps, and dulcimers. Close on their heels, Joanna made her entrance. She was as slim as a reed, with high, upthrusting breasts that belied her thirty-odd years. No posy cap and veil for Joanna, but a jewelencrusted device of her own design that lifted her blue-black hair high from her temples before it fell in a smooth waterfall to her shoulder blades. To honor the King, she wore the York colors of murrey and blue. Her underdress of pale blue was complemented by a velvet tunic of purplish murrey, its borders gilded by real thread of gold. Joanna did not so much as glance at Roseanna, having eyes only for her men, but her daughter smiled inwardly and reminded herself not to think her mother hadn’t noticed every last detail of her pagan attire. There would be a reckoning, but not now, not tonight. So Roseanna vowed to enjoy the royal visit to the fullest! The hall was crowded tonight.

All the Castlemaine men-at-arms had come for a glimpse of their King; they lined the walls, and young pages and squires sat high on the ledges of the casements. As the food was being brought in, Roseanna made her way toward the head table. Her brother Jeʃrey touched her shoulder. Whirling toward him, she looked into a face that had a strong impact upon her senses. She heard Jeʃrey’s voice as if from a great distance: “Roseanna, I would present my great good friend, Sir Bryan Fitzhugh. We were knighted together.” The knight who stood before her was her own age, perhaps a year older. He’s beautiful, she thought as her eyes lowered demurely; her cheeks ɻushed at his nearness. Through her lashes she saw him place his hand over his heart, and he bowed gravely. She saw his lips say, “I am honored, my lady,” but there was such a roaring in her ears, she heard nothing but the thunderbeat of her own heart.

He had a golden beard and a smiling mouth, and by a trick of the torch behind his head that bathed him in its golden light, he looked like the shining knight of her dreams. Her mind went blank. No clever phrase ɻew to her lips, and her voice almost deserted her along with her wits. “Sir Bryan,” she managed to whisper at last; then she fled to the safety of the King and her father. She knew not what she ate; swan or boar—it was all the same to her. When her dinner companions spoke to her, she did not hear them, and they had to repeat everything. She answered with sighs. Her eyes ever traveled in one direction, slipping along the diners to the young man seated next to her brother. Finally, she had to turn her head away, for her eyes would not leave him of their own accord. Suddenly she wished she had worn the delicate white underdress with its pretty trailing sleeves and matching hair scarf.

Sir Bryan would think her nothing but a bold piece dressed as she was, with her hair uncovered and falling to the backs of her knees. She panicked when she saw the servants stack the trestle tables to make room for the dancing. What if he asked her to dance? Or worse, what if he did not? She sat rigid, unable to move; then with vast relief she saw Sir Bryan take leave of her mother to retire early. Suddenly she relaxed, found that her saucy wit hadn’t deserted her after all, and rose to dance the first measure with the handsomest of the King’s gentlemen. The torches had burned low in their cressets and the hour was well advanced before the last servant at Castlemaine Manor laid down his weary head that night. Roseanna dismissed Alice to her bed quickly, for she wanted to be alone to savor the memory of Sir Bryan’s handsome image. She shivered as her body touched the cool sheets; then she let her mind wander dreamily to the man with the golden beard and the smiling mouth. But thoughts of her mother began to intrude. She tried to push them away as she concentrated on the young knight, but try as she might, the image of Joanna came stronger and stronger. Roseanna sighed.

The trouble was, her conscience was bothering her. She had. Spoken disrespectfully to her mother and had added insult to injury by behaving overboldly. She knew her mother loved her and wanted only what was best for her. This was the lady who had dismissed the servants to tend her herself whenever Roseanna was sick with a childhood illness. She turned restlessly in the bed, wishing sleep would claim her

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