Gisborne…the second instalment for FanstRAvaganza
If you want to read Gisborne from the very beginning, just click on the title Gisborne on the Page above and if you like what you read, you may also like The Stumpwork Robe for sale on Kindle and in print at Amazon. Feel free to read the first few chapters by clicking on the flipping book in Mesmered’s sidebar.
Otherwise read on with the next chapter of Gisborne …
Finally the bell rang for Prime and this time I met Thea in the cloister, feeling guilty at her pleased expression. At the end of the devotional, we followed the Prioress to the frater and I sat with a huge sigh, a platter lying in front of me and which lay empty. But the Prioress once again passed me a piece of crusty, fragrant bread and some cheese, and on the table was a pile of polished apples whose red and white stripes were the only colour in the room. For drinks we had ale, a shock when I expected water, and the air in the room was bright, as if the nuns were excited to begin a new day.
The Prioress led all the women outside and as I followed, she met me at the door and crooked her finger. She was a tall, stately woman who didn’t so much walk as glide and we moved along the cloister away from the Sisters who had gone to their separate duties.
‘Master Gisborne will be here within the hour and Sister Thea will collect you from your room. I am glad that you have attended our devotions and that you might have found some measure of comfort in prayer because I saw you at Lady Ghislaine’s graveside and I noticed in the chapel that you had been weeping.’
How alert you are, Reverend Mother.
‘I do not know the connection between you and I do not wish to, but we at St. Eadgyth’s are ever grateful to she and her son. Without the monies that Master Gisborne pays us, it is doubtful that we should continue here.’
I must have looked surprised because she swiftly counteracted any likely response. ‘You did not know? Then I must prevail upon your discretion. It would not do for us to betray Master Gisborne’s confidence.’
I nodded. Guy, you come at me always from secret places.
The Reverend Mother scrutinized me and I felt the pressure of her gaze.
‘I had thought you were family but I can see by your ignorance of our beneficence, that you are not. Let me say this. Lady Ghislaine was someone blessed by God. We loved her in her short time with us. She was dying when she arrived at our door and yet having her here was like having God’s Light shining. It is difficult to put into words but when she died she left us all better people. Her son knows this and whilst we did all we could for her and he thinks to repay us, in truth we wished we could have done more and he needs do nothing. Sometimes though, a Prioress must take what God provides and in this instance, he provides us with a gratuity. We are in turn, my dear, grateful.’
I wanted to say something but was without words. Would she understand if I said that I had come to love Lady Ghislaine’s son? Would she understand my fear of him and for him? I remained silent and as if she understood, she indicated my cell. ‘There is warm water for you to wash and we have taken your old clothing away. I am sure you will be happy for us to give them to the needy. Sister Thea will collect you when Master Gisborne arrives. In the meantime, perhaps you should rest.’ She began to turn away, her robes swinging around her. ‘And perhaps you might pray.’
With that she left and I knew I wouldn’t see her again, but a new dimension had been illuminated and I stored it in my mind to think upon in the darker times that might come. I washed my face and hands, using what was left of the piece of soap, took the small comb and ran it through hair that was then twisted into a knot and then I sat on the cot, waiting.
As ever I could not wait with ease and jumped up, my limbs busy, my mind busier. I wondered if it was anticipation of what was to come, or perhaps of seeing Gisborne but whatever the issue causing my distrait, I determined not to wait in the cell, but to go back to the bottom of the orchard.
Everything around glittered, the sun so autumn bright. The headstones in particular, being a pure white stone, glared in the sun and I squinted as I read Lady Ghislaine’s name. I did not speak this time but noticed a rose lay with my wreathed cluster of the day before. It must have been a very late flower, a bud that had almost but not quite opened, as if it were shy of showing what it really was. It was as faded as an ancient copper platter found in the burial mounds that littered the fields of England and I had never seen a colour like it, almost implausible. Kneeling on the dew-wet grass, I touched it with my finger.
‘You have found my mother.’
My heart clanged, and far less sweetly than the Priory’s bell. It clanged with warnings of unexplained emotions, of dangers past and present, of what was to come and I couldn’t help the way I jumped. ‘Guy, you startled me.’ I stood and looked from the rose to him.
‘Good morning Ysabel. Are you rested?’
‘Thank you, I am. And yes. As you say, I have found your mother.’ I dared him to speak, to laud her praises as the Prioress had done, but he maintained a silence and I felt prompted to speak again. ‘It’s a beautiful rose, a late bloomer.’
‘Indeed. It grows on the Priory wall and was a cutting from my mother’s garden.’
So she was a gardener. ‘It’s the colour of old copper.’ I could barely believe that we stood over his mother’s grave and blandly discussed horticulture and I resolved to change the subject. I reach up with my hand, indicating that he help me off my knees and his palm slid over mine and grasped. He pulled gently and as I stood, I looked directly at him. ‘It’s good to see you this morn. I confess to feeling at odds and awry with what is to come; your companionship gives me a modicum of strength.’
‘A modicum? Then I must try harder.’
He gave me that sideways look I so enjoyed.
I smiled. ‘Already I feel happier. I must tell you Guy that I have failed miserably as a would-be Sister. I am altogether too self-indulgent.’
We began to walk and I noticed he didn’t look back toward his mother. ‘Ysabel,’ he said, ‘whilst the doors of the church would always be open to you, I must say I cannot see you succeeding as a Sister.’
‘I can’t imagine succeeding at anything right now. I tell you, I’ve never felt more displaced in my life. A woman in straightened circumstances has little choice. Men are able to pull themselves out of their situations by many means, as you are aware. For women, there is the church, marriage or prostitution. None of those appeal, nor am I suited.’
He took my elbow and guided me through the opening in the hedge. ‘What would you do if you could cut your own cloth?’
‘If I could legitimately do anything I liked I should like to be a trobairitz. Do you know what they are?’
‘You surprise me. Such a profession! I think it is Occitan for lady troubadour is it not?’
‘Why yes, you surprise me that you know.’ We had reached the end of the path through the garden and had stepped into the cloister.
‘I know a little of Aquitaine, Ysabel, and can see the charm of what you would wish. Perhaps when this is over you can return to Montrachet and pursue such a thing.’
Perhaps I could, but whilst my Montrachet cousins adored the troubadours, they would not wish one of their own to become a travelling poet and musician. I could see Sister Thea at the door to my cell and I turned to Guy. ‘Excuse me for one moment, I have some things to collect.’
I left him and walked to Thea’s side. She gave me a warm smile – as if she recognized the blush on my cheeks from something in her past. We went into the cell, one after the other and she gave me a small sack that I pulled open as she passed me the comb to place in the bottom. She picked up the neatly folded cloths and I thought on the ache that was as pronounced as the previous day, my belly and breasts taut as if to remind me of my womanhood. She dipped her head as she placed these on top of the comb and I gathered the bag shut and pulled it over my shoulder but she stayed my hand.
She dug deep into the folds of her brown robe and pulled a small hemp string free. It was plaited and knotted at intervals and I knew instinctively that she was giving me support. That she had watched me use her girdle and had thought to assist me further. How kind and how prescient. I ran my fingers over the plait, stopping at each knot and when I looked into her eyes, they shone. I reached forward and hugged her and I’m sure it wasn’t my imagination that I heard a little intake of delighted breath.
We left in exactly the manner that we had done everything in the last day – Sister Thea at my side as she led Guy and I to the gate. We passed the scriptorium and the Sisters therein looked up. I would swear one face, younger than the rest, had a look of yearning. I wondered what her thoughts told her; to desist and follow the Path or to think on what might have been if her cards had laid a different way. As we reached the gate, I turned to Thea and took her hands. I could be silent no longer. ‘Thank you, Sister,’ I whispered as I squeezed her palms. She opened the gate with much key rattling and Guy passed through as I stood next to the little nun, almost as if I were afraid to proceed. But Thea gave me the slightest push and said very softly in a voice as sweet as the bell. ‘Go kindly, my lady, and God bless. I shall pray for you.’ Before I had time to acknowledge the effort she had made on my behalf, she had shut the gate and locked it.
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