A private writing from January 2017; decided to make the private public in honour of International Woman’s Day. This fable/tale seems suited to the day.
Halcyon knew from the start she must be the changeling all called her. Almost as tall as her 3 older brothers, hair the mixed coloured of fall. Her younger sisters had busts that filled bodices. Halcyon, when dressed in her brothers’ cast off jerkins and leggings, looked a youth, not a woman.
A woman who stood in the way of her sisters’ marriage, as was the custom in this land that the eldest marry first. She did three things well – rile people, running and archery. Not the sort of activities excepted of a lady of her stature. To weave tapestries; be fine in voice, dance and manners; to be a dutiful wife, especially in the marriage bed; and to bear children – sons in particular. Her mother long despaired (and secretly her father) of ever making a match, no matter how high the bride price. Not with 3 ripe flirtatious sisters, well skilled in the womanly arts in line behind.
Her mother complained Halcyon, the feral wild child, could never be domesticated. What she did not know, was the origins of this lay in a jest her husband played upon her. Coming upon Halcyon playing with her brothers’ bows discarded for another game or sport, set up targets, showed her how to draw back the bow string, aim the arrow and . . . Three direct hits, one shot deflected by his wolfhound. Carrying the jest too far – husband and wife and mistress were at odds – he said nothing of the archer Halcyon was becoming. Her eye and aim were clear; she shot to feel the thrill of the arrow in flight, not to hunt.
Perhaps she was such a strong runner from trying to outwit games keepers who might mistake her, in men’s clothing, long single braid coiled in a cap, as a poacher. She could run blind, on moonless nights – the feel of the ground, the brush of a tree branch or prickle told her senses where she was. On the autumnal equinox, she ran naked, letting the cool air mingle with her sweat, run til even her lungs and legs could no longer move.
But the day she found a short cross bow forever set her life in motion. Too awkward and heavy, she set upon ways to create a lighter bow, one she could wear in a leather sling across her back. Running cleared her thoughts, allowing new ones in. She was thinking of a twitch in the design when “Halt. Thief. Poacher. What makes a man run from the devil or to him.” Her way was blocked by an entourage, no doubt to plead with father to lock Halcyon away so that her sisters may wed. Another false charade parade of her as chattel, then gone – disappeared in the night so easily arranged to happen to a lady. And the leader of this crew looked the part. Scruffy beard, hard riding sun wrinkles, leathered skin – a knight sans armour – back from the wars. “I ask the same of you, Sire, why do you trespass here.” Several of the men laughed, “Saucy squire there, milord – just right for your stables.”
“Milord” dismounted, and walked towards her. Standing her ground, she reached for the small knife she keep for archery needs carried in her sleeve pouch. “I heard twas a ball with a bride price so high, only a fool would say no.” His men laughed, “But I hear that the prize is not one at all, and has 3 lusty sisters. Disappear one, get the pick of three. Perhaps men, this squire can tell us where the main path is before he runs back to his master.”
Halcyon took off her cap, allowing the braid to flow down her back. The fine wire gem-studded circlet encircling her head, flashing more than her eyes. “You, sir, are trespassing – the main gate is 2 leagues south. I will not mention your plan to dispose of the prize to my father.”
She turned, bow sling across her back – “Wait, the soldiering one said, “you then must be the legendary Halcyon. I was not sure such a woman could exist.”
“Exist she does,” she retorted,” but not to worry, I don’t carry weapons to dinners, save small knife for eating, And yes, my aim with my bow is such I could pin your manhood to a tree, not matter the smallness of it’s size. – your manhood, not the tree.”
His men snickered, and milord knight felt she had slapped him well across the face. But as the bride prize he was seeking, he dared not return the blow. “You might recognize me this evening,” she added,”but I imagine my fine lusty sisters will keep you more occupied.”
And she was gone – running the short distance to the gate – she had given milord knight and solider a bit more time to think about his impudence. From her cache under a willow, she slipped off leggings and jerkin, pulling on the plain smock dress she wore around the castle. Kilterns and bodices limited movement – Halcyon always felt the need to flee. Perhaps if her changeling status was confirmed. Her weapons she stashed in an old dark part of the stables, with rotting timbers, and rain swollen thatch.
Her ladies in waiting were pacing impatiently – it took twice as long to turn Halcyon into some semblance of a woman. They bathed her in warm water scented with pomander of roses and lilacs. Wove ribbons of gold and silver into her burnished hair. Only her circlet, and sometimes a fine net – she refused to dress her hair outrageously. A special bodice with pieces sown into to enhance the tiny breasts she had, her kiltern wider at the hips to hide the lean, lithe boy’s body with no waist, nor ass. Slippers embroidered with nature themes, as the brocade bodice and forest green kiltern. “Always a thing of the wild” they muttered.
Halcyon was still simmering over the impudence of Lord Galvinway’s men – obvious up to no good while the Lord and her father talked bride price. She knew little of the lord high knight except his wife had died bearing him a son when he was off at the wars, that before and after he was a wild one – no doubt her bride price would be boon. She was sure the chattel parade would not work, and he, like his men, would set eyes on his sisters. Halcyon shuddered, remembering the warning about a woman out of her place – holding back other sweet plums for the picking.
Then it was time, and Halcyon put on her best smile and was lead towards the banquet hall by a coterie of women. Had not he the same amethyst eyes as Sir Scruff, she would ne’er recognized the tall knightly figured next to her father. “Imagine, dear,” her father chuckled, “someone sent Sir Galvinway and his entourage all around the long way.” “I scarce made it here in time,” Sir Scruff replied, his eyes twinkling.
Seated next to each other, Halcyon whispered –”So desperate your fortunes you come to set next to me at the dais. Fine husband then you’d make.”
“ A fine wife” he shot back back “if King’s ransom needed to have her wed.”
The rest of the meal passed in silence, and as soon as she could, Halcyon excused herself and disappeared to the forecourt prior to it’s filling for the dance.
“Well, my lady Halcyon,” she heard. “If I were to make you my wife, I would let you run and do archery all that pleased.”
“And the if”, she asked. “That you would agree to join me in battle, come to the wars with me.”
“And what if I should have nothing to do with war,” she asked. “Then, I should not ask you to bind to me. But think, how many husbands would think it fine and fit that their feral wives run and shoot.”
She remembered he lost his wife in childbirth whilst he was away. “And yes, then if I am to die, I will be with you.” “And I the same.” The amethyst eyes intrigued her, and the thought of freedom enticed her.
“When arguing bride price (we shall pretend this conversation not taken place), ask for Tregneigh Hill, a plot I believe borders yours. We shall live there.”
And so it came that Lady Halcyon did wed Lord High Knight Galvinway in a simple ceremony “Save the gold and gems for my sisters 3,” she laughed, “they will well want pageantry”
And they did join on the battlefield.
(c) Lorraine 2017