Chapter Twenty-Five (part I)

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My Brothers and Sisters, I write with strange news. Baelham holds a little bird in hand who says she is Eadgyth, daughter of Freeman Brand. Aethelhaid looks into it already. Duty calls us to Gather. Come at once.

(letter from Godfrey, Earl of Belrad, 15 Grassmonth, 529 CR)

.:.

I passed the night in a sort of despondent lethargy. In fits, I tried to think, I tried to plan, but mostly I just lay there in the little bed, wishing I wasn't who I was and where I was.

Early in the morning, Brytflad let herself in, ewer in one hand, ash bucket in the other. I rather resented the intrusion -- though, of course, it wasn't an intrusion, at all. I had simply forgotten how servants came and went about their business, as if they could neither see nor be seen. She left the ewer on the washstand, opened the curtains, and swept out the grate, then she let herself out again, as silent as she'd come.

Perhaps half an hour later, she was back again, this time with a bundle of clothes and a breakfast of porridge, dried apples, and bacon. She made the bed and swept the floor, then she braided up my hair and dressed me in a sturdy woollen kirtle dyed a dull and rather mousy color between gray and brown. It didn't at all suit me, it didn't fit me, either, and itched besides, but I was thankful I would not have to go naked til washing day.

When I was breakfasted, braided, and buttoned, Brytflad gathered up all the dirty dishes and went on about her next errand. Later, she brought me lunch, and later still she brought me dinner. I passed the hours in between alternately dozing and looking out the window.

I was very thankful for the window. A long seat was built into it, and though it was only cold, bare stone, I sat there hours at a time, just looking out. The sun was bright, and the air was fresh, and I could watch the goings-on in the courtyard below. That was enough for me, so long as I remembered the days beneath Aldhelm House and not the years of liberty before that.

At length, night fell, and Brytflad returned a last time. She undressed me and brushed my hair -- which was wholly unnecessary, but what was I to do...? She was the maid, and I was my lady -- and then she left again, and Gerard locked the door behind her.

The next day passed much the same way. I ate, I dozed, I watched the world beyond the window. Brytflad brought me my own clothes, worse for wear, but cleaned and mended and pressed, and I fell asleep listening to Gerard sing love songs to himself.

The day after that, Brytflad brought me breakfast of porridge, and then a lunch of more porridge with cheese and cold duck, and then she cast a glance at me where I sat by the window, shook her head, and muttered, "I tell ye true, I'd go mad cooped up in here..."

This seemed most unkind. I ate the last bites of my lunch -- or the last bites I could stomach, anyway -- sourly staring out the window so that I wouldn't glare at her.

She left on some errand and let herself back in again. With a nod at the dishes, she asked, "Are you done with this?"

"Yes, thank you."

"You didn't eat much..." She frowned down at me. "Don't you like duck?"

I liked duck just fine; I just hadn't found the cold, thick slices of this particular duck very appealing. The meat was greasy, and it smelled strange, like rust and rancid fat.

I shrugged. "I'm not very hungry."

Brytflad glanced between me and the remnants of my lunch a few times, and then quietly, rather furtively, she asked, "Well then, can I have it...? I'm famished."

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