Author's Note: Promise this one is getting finished. Promise! I think I just like medieval stories better. Title is taken from the Mediaeval Baebes song with the same name—though, it was written anonymously in 13th century English (Merry it is). Seemed fitting. Anyway, thanks for reading. Enjoy!
Miri It Is
A SCARLET SHADOW WAS CAST upon the hills of the English countryside, very quaintly passing through the branches of the spring trees. The grass was especially soggy; it had rained the night before, the rain followed by a gentle mist that very morning. Yet, there were no mists now. Only there was indeed a chill in the air; it was only early spring. The gardens had begun to bloom, soft lavender flowers opened up upon the tips of branches, and the once-dead town of Plymouth grew as fast as the moss upon the lord's house.
Thirteen-year-old Sibyl Nevile mundanely walked across the plains and began her way up the hill. There was a faint look of strange direness and hostilely upon her brow, for she had been picking apples and carrying back to the elder cook all day. Her palms were dirty, calloused, and dark, unlike a true lady of social superiority. Sibyl glanced back at the rising and falling tides of the English Channel, and sighed with the grace of a heavy heart. A fawn had died today; two arrows wedged between the flesh and bone of its back.
The grounds around the manor were permitted for the hunting recreation of the lord and lady alone; no such serf, villein, or peasant could so much as touch a tattered bow and expect to shoot anything with it. To the best of Sibyl's knowledge, the only thing they could hunt were squirrels and hedgehogs, but it never occurred to her to hunt a hedgehog. They were the most eccentric looking animals she had ever seen. To eat them would be a feat of great perseverance and bravery.
Her elder sister, Joan, sprinted from the manor, high atop the hill. With a look of small curiousity, she called into the wild, "Sibyl, supper. If you are not in here within an eye blink, Father will have your head!" She laughed and ran back inside, seeing her younger sister's shadow fall into view against the blood-red sky. "Now!" Joan cried again, and Sibyl heard her violently shut the door.
As soon as she reached the kitchen, with exhaustion, she let loose the coarse material of her dress and the apples tumbled out. "Why such a sad look, dearie? I thought ye didn't mind picking apples. Good season, spring," the cook noted and brushed a sweet, red apple against her apron. A flash of weary, tired green eyes sparkled toward Sibyl's direction, but the small girl was only quietly admiring the scent of cinnamon.
"Mayhap I am just a bit exhausted. I saw a baby fawn today, but some hunters slew it. I suppose that made me a little sad," Sibyl glanced toward the fat cook who had begun viciously slicing the apples in two's and then four's with a massive knife. It glimmered against the baking fire. "Mother says that animals don't really have souls, and that they will go to Hell. I would I did not have to believe that, for I think they have souls. I believe every living thing has a soul, even the ones who tend to mar it every once in awhile."
"Ye are so young, but ye have owl eyes," remarked the cook. Sibyl looked at her inquisitively.
"I have owl eyes? Mother did always say there were big, but that's a bit rude," said she, and crossed her arms over her chest in a protective way and frowned, but only slightly.
The plump woman put her hands on her hips, resting the knife, and laughed deeply. "I only meant that ye are very observant. It's naught against yer eyes, sweeting." She patted Sibyl's dark head then directed her gaze toward the square opening in the wall. "Oh, yer mother looks a bit angry. Ye had better go sit your little bottom down 'afore she goes mad. But quick, wash yer hands. They are filthy."
"Well, I went to pick apples," said Sibyl flatly. The cook patted Sibyl's bottom and the girl quickly washed her hands and ran to the table in an untimely fashion.
Her mother, the Baroness Plymouth, presented a cross sideways glance as Sibyl eased her way into a completely unsteady wooden chair. Across from her was Joan and beside her sister was Joan's betrothed, a burly handsome man with a full pale beard and clever eye for good bedmates. He amused himself by dribbling honey against Joan's neck and proceeding to tenderly kiss it off. Sibyl knew that this was all good sport, as Baron Plymouth made no objection. After all, Joan's betrothed was a quite seasoned knight of Somerset.
Most women married down because the ratio greatly rolled in men's favour, thought Sibyl. It was by pure luck that even a rank as low as an Honourable Lady was betrothed to a knight. Sir Morys was of good breeding and owned a large band of suitable archers and spearman, with an addition to some livestock, primarily two cows and some pigs. When they were married, of course, Sir Morys would reside at the Plymouth manor with his happy, pregnant wife.
Sibyl watched as Lady Plymouth's private troubadour began to instinctively pluck strings of the viol. A small smile crossed her lips as she ripped a piece of lighter bread from a huge loaf and dipped it in honey. The chilly, night's wind blew in from the stone chambers and she shivered. Little Sibyl was seemingly always cold.
"Most of the arrangements have been made," commented her father in a husky voice of authority. "One of the only things left is to decide where you are to be married, sweeting. The chapel near the forest is run by a good holy man, a man of good ties with the Church, and a cousin to our dearly deceased bishop. Otherwise, I am sure we can arrange something more suitable. How sounds that to you, Sir Morys?"
The coarse knight shook his head, breaking away from Joan's soft, white neck. "I have known no other method than to follow the father of the bride's wishes. Have you a good cook to make the cake?"
"Ah," said the baron, attempting to stuff a handful of bread into his mouth, "an admirable olde hag, really."
Joan began clapping to the troubadour's song as Sir Morys bent town to kiss her neck again. Her plump lips curved into a lager smile, yet Sibyl sat across from her in a calm jealousy and remorse. With a sigh, she gently demanded the servant pour her water from the spring, the freshest beverage she ever tasted. A wave of refreshing liquid ran down her throat, the cold chalice against her lips.
"I heard subtle tidings that the Baroness Elizabeth de Segrave requests ladies-in-waiting for her betrothal to an earl of Norfolk," mentioned the Lady Plymouth, inclining her head away from Joan and Sir Morys and in the general direction of her husband. "Because of the current circumstance, I think it would be a clever and just decision to send our Sibyl under Elizabeth de Segrave's house. She simply could not turn down the daughter of a baron. Besides that, I believe Cornwall and Plymouth are robbed of rich bachelors." The woman let out a high-pitched laugh. "Sibyl would find no dukes or earls here."
The Lord Plymouth nodded his head in accord. "It sounds pleasing. 'Tis better than sending her to a convent."
"Life behind convent walls would bore me," mentioned Sibyl, but her quiet voice was overlooked, "you know that. If the monks did not sign such beautiful hymns, I really don't think I could properly sit through Mass."
"Blasphemous," squealed Baroness Plymouth. "You better keep that tongue of yours in the presence of Elizabeth de Segrave."
Mother, I truly did not think you could hear me, thought Sibyl and dragged her water chalice to her lips once more, watching as her mother and father's eyes lit up with agreement and a sense of concluding Sibyl's position as a noblewoman. She was to become a lady-in-waiting for a baroness in Norfolk, the end of the English world for Sibyl.
After an unexciting supper of watching Joan and Sir Morys kiss one another and cringing in embarrassment for the troubadour's common mistakes and sharp notes, Sibyl planted herself by the hearth. She had found a small vanity mirror of her mother's and was gazing into it sourly. Her sister Joan appeared before her, skin warming to the embers. Upon the instant, Sibyl was crestfallen.
Not so much should depend on a person's outward beauty, but much did. It was as fair as their social rank or dowry size. Joan was a perfectly ideal woman with a fleshy bosom and hips for childbearing, a rounded face, white as a dove and smiling cherry-red lips. Her hairline was plucked so that it appeared higher and her cheeks were powdered with rouge blush. Then, in a sudden shrill of self-loath, Sibyl looked at herself in the reflective glass and made an acid face.
Her face was like a sharp wedge, broad at first but pointed like an elfin creature, with huge, glossy eyes and a mane of coal black hair, which fell in ripples past her shoulders. Generally, Sibyl was a small girl, with a height scarcely less than average and a slender build. Her breasts were half the size of her sister's, and whilst her hips were wide, men may be afraid that during lovemaking, they would break her. Sir Morys had said that, at least, though not straying from Joan's careful watch. It was merely a statement, though it hurt Sybil deep within her chest.
"Give me that retched thing," demanded Joan. "You have that look about your face; I have seen it many a time. Sibyl," she cooed, "you have a very different beauty. It seems to me that you are very eternal and that you will probably make a well aging wife for men who are constantly on the prowl for a younger lady. And I think your prettiest feature is your lips."
Sibyl bit down on her bottom lip. "I suppose. Perhaps I shall grow before I ride hither to Norfolk."
"You must promise to write me," said Joan coyly. "I should like to hear of your adventures. With you, I am sure I shall read one of your letters and hear you have run off to Scotland with one of those huge brutes we have been at war with for so long! Truly, I don't think I would be surprised."
Sibyl laughed. "Norfolk has a castle?"
"Aye, I believe so. I think the region actually has two great castles and a great horde of priories, but I could be wrong. 'Tis only what Father told me." Joan had recently picked up the vanity mirror and was playing with the blonde curls that had fallen neatly against her half-clad shoulders. "If Elizabeth de Segrave's betrothal is to an earl, I stake you will be living in a castle."
"I have heard they are very damp and cold at night," said Sibyl and let her eyes rest on the fire. "Perhaps I will not like it."
"And perhaps you will," Joan said and set down the mirror, noticing the spiteful eye her younger sister was giving her. Certainly, it was not her fault she was desirable. "But pray, remember to write. I am expecting two letters each year, at least."
Sibyl cast her glance in Joan's direction, meeting her crystal blue eyes. "I'll miss you, sister. No matter how many companions I make in Norfolk, I do not think I can ever, or will ever, forget my favourite sister."
"Your only sister," said Joan playfully as the last monastery bells of the night rang out against Plymouth, creating a lone, haunting silence afterward. "Make the best of Norfolk."