[This post kind of got away from me. Don't expect anything like it in return]
Kennilworth Keep, Kennilworth, England ~ 1265
Based loosely on events at the time but with a lot of artistic licence. If you know more about the period than I do, great but I am not on Lit for a history lesson.
Jocelyn De Lacey sat determinedly in the light of a nearby brazier, trying to will her eyes to focus on the fine embroidery in her lap. Only when they began to water with the strain as her fingers cramped with the repetitive movement of needlework did she set the fabric aside to sip from a cup of watered wine. Across the hall in his favourite fireside chair, her father chuckled at her.
"I do not imagine that my future son by marriage would wish for his bride to blind and cripple herself for his sake before they are even wedded. You cannot draw back the sun. Let it be."
Jocelyn scowled in momentary annoyance, her skull threatening to start throbbing in protest at the concentration she had been exercising. She rose from her chair and drained her cup before throwing a thick shawl about her shoulders.
"But he will be here tomorrow and I wanted this to be finished. What is a knight - be he knighted by a King or no - without his banner? I suppose there is no help for it now, unless I am up with the lark tomorrow and can persuade God to waylay William
until mid-afternoon. Perhaps I should take some air."
"This is no time to be waylaid, Jocelyn. The Marches get lonelier by the day... unless you're a woad clad savage. You will take some air in the courtyard or upon the battlements where I can be confident of your safety. And Jocelyn..."
"It is past time we arranged your nuptials. I was hoping for a more auspicious climate but there appears to be none upon the horizon. Your mother and I were lenient enough in allowing you some choice in your betrothal. I have always said that to yoke two deeply unsuited young people together purely for wealth or rank is to court as much disaster as if the couple were too besotted to be pragmatic. It is past time however that you were chatelaine of your own household. Now that William is returning home for Michaelmas there is reason for us to hope that he will be at his leisure for long enough to settle your future. King Henry cannot hope to cross the Narrow Sea again before the Spring."
Jocelyn tutted irritably, distracted momentarily from the prospect of her wedding and the naive fretting about the duties that would immediately follow.
"King Henry is a fool." She announced with quiet certainty. "He will beggar his realm buying Papal Dispensations against his oaths and it will make no matter. Magna Carta bears his seal. This inconstancy, irrationality and profligacy do nothing but evidence the charter's merits in curbing the excesses of wilful and wayward kings."
Baron Bernard De Lacey huffed at his daughter's words, lowering his voice to a dangerous pitch.
"Mayhap you are right daughter but it is only by King Henry's grace that I remain Lord of Kennilworth and all its estates. We are a very long way from the royal court but even so, oft repeated slurs on our liege monarch will find their way eventually into the wrong ears. Servants and men at arms have ears like bats, eyes like hawks and about as much discretion. Gossip is their stock in trade. If Henry hears anything of us. If he gives a moment's thought to our place on his borders then by God's teeth it must be a good report. Nothing disquiet's a king like the notion that his trusted vassals bear him no loyalty or respect. It would be the work of a moment for him to pass your birthright to some jumped up hearth knight who had impressed him in tourney or battle, someone at his side more constantly, following the royal court."
"Not since the Magna Carta." Jocelyn chided, lifting a brow.
"Quite so. Kings can burn decrees just as easily as they sign them, however; as Simon De Montfort and his Barons are discovering to their cost. Henry will get his dispensation and then God help us all. I do not know what is worse: For Henry to be forced to uphold oaths manipulated out of him when he was but a child or for him to be able to rule or his kingdoms with completely free rein. All I can hope is that God himself has some notion of where his anointed King Henry fits into his grand plan."
Weary of her father's talk, Jocelyn took her leave and walked up to the battlements. While there was light enough that she didn't trip on her skirts and trip down the spiral stone stairs, Jocelyn enjoyed the view from the battlements atop the keep. From here she could see the whole of her father's realm. Lands that would be hers one day. Well... lands that would be in her husband's keeping one day.
It had taken some time for her father to accept that his union with Jocelyn's mother was only going to produce one girl child. There had been miscarriages and after the still birth of a boy child when Jocelyn was five years old, Bernard had been unable to bring himself to persuade his grieving wife to try again. So Jocelyn was to inherit all and Bernard had been inundated with offers from other local barons and magnates. It was not so often that beauty, wit, wealth and rank all met together but in Jocelyn God had at least ensured that the surviving girl child had excellent prospects. She knew just how fortunate she was that Bernard had asked her opinion on the matter of her betrothal. She could not have endured marriage to a witless oaf or to a man determined to pulverise her spirit into dust with aggressive control and rough handling.
The wind atop the battlements whipped at Jocelyn's skirts as she breathed deeply and paced about to work the stiffness from her joints. She wished she could feel its cool freshness through her hair.
Shock went through Jocelyn as the cry went up and men all over the keep grabbed the weapons and raced to their stations. She knew this was no more than good sense as things currently stood but that did not make it any less startling. The men either side of her were squinting into the sunset, trying to identify the men approaching on horseback. Jocelyn had the advantage here though, s she knew every dent of this knight's armour, the shape of his helm and the way he carried himself in the saddle.
"William! I vow it is he." She announced to the nearest man. He swung round and then looked down at Jocelyn's five foot frame in utter bewilderment.
"My lady you cannot be walking about up here when we don't know who's out there."
He announced. "Your father would flay me if he could see you. Go to. Back to your bower."
Jocelyn was thus politely ushered back into the cramped stone stairwell but she went graciously. She hadn't even reached the bottom when the cry went up putting the men at their ease. Jocelyn wanted to run straight through the keep and out to the mud strewn stable block to welcome William but she knew what her father would think of such deportment. Instead she contented herself with summoning food, wine, guest accommodation and a bath from the next servant she encountered and made her way composedly through to the hall to receive their guest.
"Josie!" William was tired but ebullient, pulling her into a hug that crushed her against his hauberk before reluctantly letting her go again. Bernard did not censure occasional displays of chaste affection, especially after an absence but aside from that he guarded his daughter's virtue jealously. William himself had said that Bernard De Lacey could geld him with a single look. Nothing else was more guaranteed to dampen his youthful ardour for his betrothed. He contented himself with smouldering silently at Jocelyn as he accepted a cup of wine from her, before reluctantly acquiescing to Bernard's request for news.
Jocelyn flushed from her throat to her thighs when William looked at her like that. It was as well that no part of her was visible except for her face and hands. Although this was her home, she was an unmarried virgin and therefore expected to wear a wimple over her braids at all times. Once she was chatelaine of her own castle, she would not be required to veil herself in her own home. It would be worth enduring a wedding just for that one luxury. She retreated into the role of silent, docile hostess, hoping to hear the gossip of the royal court.
"The Pope gave no dispensation. I'll wager he took more than a king's ransom in coin but Henry is still bound to his oaths. After we crossed the Narrow Sea however, Henry was captured by De Montfort and his supporters."
Bernard's mouthful of wine went flying across the room.
"They laid hands on the King. Imprisoned him?"
William grimaced and continued.
"They maintain that Henry must be bound by the charter. The King might be anointed by God but because of that, he should be held accountable to certain standards and codes of conduct. Henry says the charter was only written in the first place because of his father, King Edward's reign. He does not intend to pay for his father's sins.
"God's wounds! Treason upon heresy. They must be made to see reason."
"That time is passed. Henry escaped his captors. He still renounces the charter. He is now with my father in Stratford-Upon Avon. He calls upon all his vassals to attend him and renew their oaths... to pledge to fight De Montfort and his supporters. To put an end to the Magna Carta once and for all."
Bernard's brown furrowed deeply.
"This is insanity. Do we not have enough war on our hands with the Welsh, the Celts and the French without slaughtering one another?"
"Henry is the King. This is his decision. He would rather be able to rule as he sees fit and be called oath breaker than bend the knee to a passel of barons who think themselves above him. God knows Henry is far from perfect but who should have the right to tell him how to rule?"
"Then why did the Pope not absolve Henry from his childhood vows? Even Louis of France support him in this."
"I cannot say. All I know is that a vast sum of coin was squandered in the attempt. Now Henry must fight and he lacks the resources. De Montfort and his barons stopped sharing their revenues with the crown months ago - while we were in Rome."
"Treason." Bernard snapped.
"Indeed. Lord De Lacey..."
"It will be 'father' soon enough."
"Not quite soon enough I fear. King Henry bade me send a messenger with your decision. Time is of the essence here. He will take your renewed oaths in good time but he needs to know on whom he can depend. Will you support him in quelling De Montfort's rebellion?"
Bernard sighed deeply.
"I can do little else. Do not misunderstand me, I have always been Henry's man. He would not have come to this pass though, had be not been so determined to beggar the realm for his own ends. Had he embraced the spirit of the charter, De Montfort would not now be trying to force him to the letter of it."
William sat silent and Bernard knew he could not say a word against his king. Being in Henry's royal guard had taught William about the vagaries of the royal court. Not one word of censure would reach Henry from his lips. At least the boy knew where his bread was buttered.
"Jocelyn, go summon a scribe and envoie."