My Favourite Window

October 19, 2011

St Frideswide's Day

Extract from Beansetting
a novel in progress
Frida cradled Aelfgar’s head in her lap, nursing her burden of guilt at this course of events. It began with a night of love: she’d done it before.  It was easy enough when the visitors had been entertained in her father’s great hall at Beamdune, where the mead had flowed and she, the princess royal, had joined with some honoured guest in leading the dance; easy to follow desire into a byre or out into the Bush.  The envoys knew their place, and the edlings and their warriors knew her destiny.  Some of them came again, but nobody pressed her for marriage. Frida used mistletoe to guard against pregnancy, even as she oversaw the building of her priory and prepared for a life of chastity. Then Aelfgar came out of the West, full of hope:  hope of gaining time for Briton - territory even - with a Mercian-Saxon marriage. Aelfgar was small and dark and adamant… desirable: easy to love for a night in the flush of early summer.  But he had returned, in love with Frida and the idea of peace; bearing gifts for his new queen and promises for her father.  She, loving his smile at least, had weakened in her resolve not to receive him.  In the early morning though, Frida had touched her lips to his sleeping brow, caressed his black locks as they spread across her pillow and gone from Beamdune before he woke.  She had gone, regardless of the dangers beyond the Bush, towards her priory at Oxenaforda where two rivers provided some protection from attack, but the low marshy reaches that curved around the great sweep of the Temis gave access to the site.  Aelfgar, hampered by diplomacy as well as uncertainty about the route to Oxenaforda, left as soon as he could in pursuit of his princess.  She was resting, late in the afternoon and towards the end of her journey, in a swineherd’s cote, when the herdsman called from his vantage point amongst the pigs, to announce a horseman approaching.  Frida gathered up her cloak and staff and leaving a gift of beeswax candles with the swine wife, she slipped away under the eaves of the oak wood, hoping to evade her suitor. Withdrawing into leaf dapple and a tangle of undergrowth she watched Aelfgar blunder by on horseback; heard him urge his steed on as he reached clearer ground; heard a deer startle and Aelfgar scream with agony; heard his horse bolt… Dear God, let him be alright, she prayed.  He was lying curled on his side with his knees drawn up and his hands clutching his face sobbing her name. 
“Hush, I’m here,” she soothed, as she knelt and eased his hands away from his face. 
“Ah Frida, forgive me, forgive me. This is my punishment.” He searched for her face with unseeing eyes, both of them closed and already puffing up from the lash of a bough.
“I’m sorry too, I’ve led you a merry chase, and now I must care for you.  But” she added, “I will not marry you. Come” and she raised him up and placed her staff in his hand.  “Lean on me.  There is a place we can be while I tend your wounds.”
             And she led him to the hovel that had been the nun, Margaretha’s; she who had lived out her earthly life tending the chapel at Thornbyrig, and administering the healing waters of her holy well to pilgrims.  When Aelfgar was lying comfortably - grimacing from the fall from his horse now as much as the smarting blow to his eyes - Frida took her staff and began searching the undergrowth around the chapel with it. Aelfgar could not see her clearing away the brambles and snowberry but he did hear the splash and her cry of satisfaction, as she plunged her staff into the uncovered spring. He gasped at the cold as she bathed his eyes with a strip of her shift dipped in the spring water. 
“I think that you are just bruised. You will see again. You have not been struck blind for my sins,” she soothed.


Steve said...

Very evocative and really very cinematic. The flavour of it will stay on my tongue for the rest of the day.

John Gray said...

sounds like a film I agree

Jeneane said...

Steve: a certain irony to this piece considering your latest post... thanks for your feedback. It's great to have critique from a fellow writer. Cinematic! Do you mean I should be calling myself a screen-writer rather than (aspiring) novelist?

John: It doesn't sound quite as romantic, but it would make more money!