This is for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. Another part of the story, a sort of epilogue. I really must get on with writing it and stop paddling around the edges!
The house is a fine one, fitting for the rich demesne it represents. William le Maréchal built the original manor house, a single storey affair, as was the style in those days. Despite having gained the hand of Richard de Clare’s daughter Isabel in marriage, he was not granted the title of Earl of Pembroke. The title went to Richard’s grandsons; the old King Henry had seen to that. Out of the friendship he bore Richard de Clare, he had protected his lands and his daughter from the vultures. And le Maréchal’s sons would be the last of his line; Evienne would see to that.
William refused to live in the castle of Pembroke as long as he was deprived of the title that went with it. He built the manor house on the banks of the river Wye where he could look upon the imposing walls of the castle and admire his possession. On his death, one after the other, his five sons held the title Earl of Pembroke. All died violent or unexplained deaths. All died childless. His five daughters though had a wealth of children, all daughters. Evienne’s laughter could be heard ringing through the woods of the river bank at each new birth.
Two hundred years after William’s death, the house has been improved and enlarged. It belongs to the descendants of Isabel’s eldest daughter now, as do all the Pembroke lands. In a room overlooking the kitchen garden, a child plays with a puppy. The puppy is a gazehound, pure black except for her neat white feet. Her name is Whitefoot. The child’s name is Aline and her hair is the colour of red gold. She has finished her Latin and Greek lessons and in a little while her mathematics tutor will arrive.
In this house, the daughters are taught the same arts and sciences as the sons. The daughters marry men who respect and value them, and for the most part they are accomplished and fulfilled. It is part of the bargain, her mother told her once. Many, many years ago, one of their ancestors was eaten by a serpent because he wanted to marry his daughter to a man who was as ignorant as a pig in a sty. The serpent vowed to come back and eat up any lord of the manor who treated his daughters with less respect than his sons. Or some such tale, she’d said with a smile.
“And if you are shown respect, you must be worthy of it,” she had added.
It had always seemed a fair request to Aline, which is what she tells her eldest brother Amaury when he says it is unwomanly to want to know as much as a man.
“Stick to embroidery and strumming your lute. No man will make an offer for a woman who gets above herself.”
“And what does it mean to be manly then, brother?” she asks him. “To know Latin and Greek, to study Euclid, trigonometry and astronomy?”
Amaury is a brute, there’s no getting away from it; to inherit his father’s title is all that matters to him. He is a dullard and both Milo and Geoffrey are quicker and more advanced than he is. He frowns and his voice is low and menacing.
“Knowledge is a man’s prerogative. But a man who cannot rely on his own strength and skill at arms is no man at all.”
“So a man must be fearless, is that it? And wield a sword well?” He nods, his eyes narrowed, looking for a trap. “And you would dare to wade into the river and summon up the Guivre?”
“I’m not a fool!” he scoffs.
“So, you wouldn’t dare. I would though. Does that make me as fearless as a man?”
“It makes you a fool.”
“And you a coward.”
Amaury’s face pales with the insult. Milo looks up from his book and glances at Geoffrey. “We’ll come and watch.”
There is a bend in the river where a pool has formed, overhung with willows and thick with sedge. Aline knows the place well, how the water in the pool is always still as a mirror even on a windy day, where the clouds float and other things that she does not see in the sky. She hitches her kirtle up to her knees and fastens it with her belt. She leaves her shoes on the bank and wades into the cold water in her stockings.
“Take care,” Geoffrey says.
“We’ll come if you need help,” Milo says.
Amaury plunges into the water and grabs Aline by the arm. “Get out of here,” he snarls. “I’ll not have a girl make a mockery of me.”
Aline turns back to the bank, and a grin, quickly stifled, flashes across Milo’s face. They watch as Amaury, twelve years of manhood, wades into the pool, his drawn sword held clear of the water. He shouts, some senseless words of summoning that serve only to give voice to his fear. He stops, ceases his splashing and shouting, listens. He lowers his eyes, searching beneath the still surface of the water and screams. A child’s scream of terror.
Milo and Geoffrey start, their toes dipped in the water of the shallows, unsure. Aline watches the water, not her brother and his flailing limbs as he scrambles to the bank. She sees a graceful pale shadow slide like a wraith or a swan beneath the mirror. She listens and hears the bright tinkle of a woman’s laughter.
There is no Guivre except in the minds of the ignorant and fearful. The Guivre has gone, released into the past by a good man who kept his word. Grow strong and wise and deserving of trust. And Remember.
She turns to Geoffrey who has reached for her hand, her eyes full of white samite and her ears of long dead laughter.
“What was it?” he whispers.
“A mother,” she replies as tears bud in the corner of her eyes.