“Who are you?” I demand, twisting around on my knees to face the slender twelve-year-old boy. I speak in French, the language of the aristocracy. He should understand, richly dressed as he is, in dark blue velvet with black stockings and shoes. With his pale face and grey-blue eyes, he looks very serious, altogether too serious for me.
He draws himself up and says, “And whom do I have the pleasure of talking to?”
I get up, brush my old blue woolen gown with muddy hands, fling my hair out of my face, and draw myself up. Mama has sent me out on this fine December day to care for my garden, a small plot of land, which lies between the eastern side of Bulmer’s Tower and the curtain wall that surrounds the castle.
“I am Lady Cecylee de Neville”, I declare, “youngest daughter of the greatest lord in the land, my father Earl Ralph of Westmorland.”
His mouth opens slightly.
“Who are you?” I repeat.
The boy eyes me carefully. Eventually he replies. “I am Richard, Duke of York.”
I know exactly who he is. Mama explained that someone called the Duke of York would be arriving soon. “Why is he coming here?” I asked. Mama’s mouth crinkled at the corners. “Your father wants you to wed.”
I toss my head and smile. “You don’t look grand enough, or old enough, to be a duke,” say I. “What are you doing here?”
His eyes widen, but he does not answer.
I try not to yawn, and resist returning to my roses. Eventually, I say briskly, “I’m busy. I have to put my garden to rest.” I gesture at the tools lying here and there, the roses, and my wicker basket full of weeds. “You may leave us,” I say grandly, adopting Mama’s manner in dismissing unwelcome guests. I turn my back on him, kneel, and dig vigorously while I sing.
He does not move. So I look around. There he is, staring.
I flush. Then impulsively, I say, “Would you like to help?”
Richard nods his head several times.
“You can do the digging over there.”
Silence falls again.
I say: “Do you like roses…What did you say your name was?” I don’t want him to think he’s so important I can actually remember his name!
Richard flushes. “It’s Richard…my lady.”
I start to laugh. “You don’t have to be so formal, you know. We’re very informal here. My family calls me Cecylee, except for Papa, who calls me Cis. You may call me Cis, if you like.”
“Well, Cis,” he says, “You may call me Dickon.” There is another pause, and then he actually says something. “I love roses. Are all these flowers yours?”
“They mostly are. Mama had them planted for me shortly after I was born, as part of my Garden of Contemplation.” I smile. “But Robin looks after them too.”
“My playfellow. Only of course, you can’t see him. He only appears to girls.”
“Does he?” asks Richard, who now frowns.
“Yes,” say I. “He appears to tell girls all they need to know about boys, so that when they get married, they know what to do.”
I stare at him expectantly.
But Richard only flushes slightly, and concentrates on his digging.
So I start to sing again.
Richard stops digging to listen.
“Do you know that song, Dickon?”
He shakes his head, and so I take him by the hand and say, “I’ll teach it to you.” He slowly begins to repeat the verses, which are written in English:
“A gardyn saw I ful of blosmy bowes
Upon a ryver, in a grene mede,
There as swetnesse evermore inow is,
With floures white, blewe, yelwe, and rede…”
Great-Uncle Chaucer wrote the lines. I made up the tune just the other day, to accompany the words.
“It’s fun to sing with you Dickon,” I say, giving him my sweetest smile. “What are you going to do when you grow up?”
He is silent for a long time. Finally he says, “I hope to be like your father, with a large estate to manage and a wife and family to come home to.” He looks at me. “You will marry.”
I toss my head and pull my ugliest face. “Oh, I don’t think so!” I squeeze as much determination into those words as possible.
Richard stares at me wide-eyed.
“I don’t want to marry,” I tell him, “because I don’t like people telling me what to do. It puts me into a very bad mood.” I pause for a moment.
“That’s the trouble with husbands,” I remark. They boss you around. My sisters always complain of it.”
There is dead silence.
After a while, Richard says very quietly, “So you mean you wouldn’t get married at all?”
“I might consider it, but only if the husband would let me tell him what to do.” I fix my dark grey eyes on him and speed up to my normal pace. “It would really be much better that way because I have so many good ideas about things, and I’m so often right.”
A little movement begins around the corners of his mouth. But he says nothing.
I toss the rose onto the pile of weeds. “But truly, I don’t wish to marry!”
“But Cis,” he says quietly, “Ladies are expected to marry. What are you going to do if you don’t marry?”
I open my eyes wide. “I have thought much on that,” I say. “I would travel to the Holy Land…” I look at him from under my lashes “…like Queen Alainor of Acquitaine.”
But Richard does not blink at my comparing myself with a powerful Queen, who divorced one husband and outmaneuvered another. He does not walk off or demand my retraction. Instead he says, “But you can be married and travel. I would like to travel too. You could come with me.”
“Ladies need a man to escort them around.”
“Well, I do not,” I immediately say. “I can manage very well without one. A man would just be in my way.”
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry. During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts. (c) 2009. All rights reserved.