I descend the stairs, and am helped onto my horse. The portcullis grates open, inching up, and the first party of horsemen ride out bearing my emblem of the Spade. Once they are arrayed in front of the castle, one of their number sounds a winding note on a horn:
dooh – DOOOOOH!
It is time.
As I ride out under the portcullis, I raise my head so that all might see me, my red-blond hair done in braids, held together by green velvet rubands that match the color of my gown. I am accompanied by my steward, wearing his chain of office, and my ladies. I pull gently on my horse’s mouth, commanding her to stop, and a groom helps me off.
The audience has begun.
Each gentleman takes the knee, kisses my hand, and presents a gift. I accept their gifts, smile my thanks, and hand them to my servants, who tuck them away in baskets, bags and boxes, knowing I am needful of all the wealth I can garner. I dart a swift glance backwards to be sure each gift nestles securely in its container before I pronounce my verdict.
I continue in this fashion until I reach the end of the line. Ah yes, there is one more, Sir Walter de Tosny, the most powerful magnate in the kingdom, my late father’s protegé. He is smiling, because he thinks he has me in his grasp. I accept his necklace of precious emeralds. My maid Adeliza puts it safely away, and then my servants leave, hurrying down a slope that leads to the river. I turn to de Tosny. He is nuzzling my fingers, almost nibbling them off in a show of ill-concealed joy. I wrinkle my nose and withdraw my hand.
“No!” I say. [To be continued.]