Chapter 5 - The Rites of PassageRhemuth Castle
Duchy of Haldane
Twelfth Night, 1132
Baron Jerrill de Tehryn stood at the side of the great hall, part of a larger group of nobles waiting for the signal to send their sons forward to be pledged as Prince Nigel’s latest flock of royal pages. There were nine boys waiting with their fathers or sponsors, two of which were his own. They stood a little away from him, inching forward to better see the activity at the high table. Lady Amah had taken great care with their matching sable tunics adorned with the golden Tehryn wyvern on the front, worn over black hose and shoes. Their collar-length, auburn hair would be trimmed to the traditional page’s short bowl cut sometime in the next few days; Jerrill suspected they would be even harder to tell apart once that was done.
Their shadow stood between them, half a head shorter in an emerald green gown, her auburn braids tied with matching emerald ribbons. Jerrill had intending to leave Jäna farther down the hall with Lady Livia, but Jäna had managed to slip away and come forward with them. Perhaps it was better that she stayed beside him when the boys were called forward. Maybe it would make it easier.
Graham MacEwan, Duke of Claibourne and hereditary Lord Marshall of Gwynedd, looked to Prince Nigel and then with a slight bow withdrew from the high table and began to move toward the waiting group. Baron Jerrill tugged at his own sable court robe to ensure the wyvern was correctly aligned as the duke approached. Lady Amah had let the robe out a bit this year, much to Jerrill’s consternation, but he was sure that a few good practices with his broadsword would eliminate that small embarrassment in the spring. He was not an especially tall man, but the barrel-chested old soldier still commanded respect. King Donal Blaine had called him the “Bear of Tehryn” for very good reasons.
As Duke Graham stopped before them, they all bowed, except for Jäna, who dropped into a graceful curtsey. The duke had the young boys line up two by two, with the ninth, the oldest, standing alone at the end. Jared and Justin turned for a last look at their father, nervous yet excited at the same time. Jerrill smiled and nodded, and the boys turned to face front again as Duke Graham moved forward, the boys beginning to follow, two at a time.
Jäna hesitated for a brief moment and then moved forward to fill the empty spot beside the last boy at the end of the line. The Baron of Tehryn quickly intercepted his daughter, catching her firmly by each shoulder and moving her resolutely back with him. Jäna folded her arms across her chest and stood looking like a small thunder cloud, uncertain whether to release a bolt of angry lightning or a torrent of tears. One of the knights standing nearby started to chuckle, but quickly fell silent after a sharp look from the old baron.“Not this time, Jäna,”
Jerrill said quietly.“But there was a spot left for me, Papa!”“We have to let them go, Kitten. It’s time.”
Jäna stood in front of him, his hands gentle on her shoulders, refusing to shed the threatening tears and embarrass her father or brothers further. So she watched silently as Jared, Justin, and the other boys bowed before the king and then knelt and recited their page’s pledge as a group. Each stood as his name was called and stepped forward a pace for Prince Nigel to place the new page’s tabard over his tunic. Each boy then bowed again and stepped back into the line, remaining standing until the ceremony was complete. At Duke Graham’s signal, they all bowed together one final time and then followed the duke from the dais.
Duke Graham returned to the dais followed by the boys to be promoted to squires. In spite of her misery, Jäna watched with growing interest, and by the time each young man due to receive the accolade of knighthood was brought forward by his sponsor, she was focused on the unfolding ceremony. She watched closely as they received their spurs, were dubbed by sword and rose to receive their white belt, finishing with the oath of fealty. She began to take comfort in the fact that one day, she would see her brothers knighted in the same ceremony, maybe by the king himself. But first they had to be pages, starting tonight.
She looked up at her father and nodded; he smiled down at her and gave her shoulders a quick squeeze, knowing she now understood.
Jerrill de Tehryn stood scanning the crowd in the great hall, holding his daughter’s small hand. Men in brightly coloured court robes stood talking to acquaintances or those they wanted to become acquainted with, many with their equally resplendent ladies by their sides. Servants scurried to move aside the tables and benches to make room for the dancing that would shortly begin. Jerrill scanned the hall again, but the woman he was looking for was nowhere to be seen.
“Hell’s teeth,” the old baron muttered tersely under his breath and then looked apologetically down at his daughter. “Beg pardon, Kitten. Where was Lady Livia when you left her?”
Jäna looked across the crowded hall. “Over there, Papa,” she replied, sweeping her left hand vaguely in the general direction of the far wall.
Jerrill sighed. He needed to have a brief conversation with Prince Nigel before it became impossible due to the musicians and the increasing din of the celebrating crowd. He spotted a bench set against the wall and led Jäna over to it. With his free hand he indicated she should sit and Jäna did so, carefully arranging the folds of her gown to her liking.
“You stay right here, Jäna, until I return. Do NOT get up from this bench,” he said firmly, “no matter how interesting something or someone looks.”
“Yes, Papa, I will stay right here,” she assured him, her green eyes solemn, knowing he would know if she was not completely truthful.
“That’s my girl,” Jerrill said with a smile. “I will be back before Their Majesties lead the first dance.”
Jäna watched him thread his way through the hall, having to stop occasionally to respond to a greeting before moving onward again. There were so many people! They formed in small knots, talked for a short while, then moved on to form another knot. She heard snatches of their conversations as they moved along, oblivious to the girl perched on the bench. Not everyone was dressed in fine court robes; some were dressed in more serviceable tunics and hosen, passing through the hall to stop briefly to exchange bits of information with their lords or on other errands. One of these men looked directly at her for a long moment and then moved away. Jäna looked around for her father, hoping he would return soon.
Duncan McLain, Auxiliary Bishop of Rhemuth and Provost of the Basilica of Saint Camber, also noticed the girl in the green gown sitting on the bench. Her father had approached him the day before with an interesting request, one which the Deryni bishop had gladly agreed to.
Duncan tapped his cousin lightly on the shoulder and said, “If you will excuse me, I have noticed a lovely young lady I must acquaint myself with.”
“Indeed?” Alaric Morgan replied, raising one blond eyebrow in question. “Giving way to temptation?”
Duncan chuckled and nodded in the direction of the girl on the bench. “No, I think I am safe enough for the moment. But give the lady in question a few more years and I will have to fight my way through a line of suitors!”
“Best take the opportunity now, then. When Briony reaches courting age, the long line of suitors will have to fight their way past me!”
“I will be at your side, cousin, waiting to take their confessions.” With a grin, Duncan clapped Morgan on the back and left to move toward the bench.
“May I join you, my lady?” Duncan asked when he reached his destination. The young auburn-haired girl looked up at him in surprise, a look of uncertainty crossing her face. Duncan smiled and waited for her to respond.
Jäna de Tehryn had not been expecting a bishop to approach her bench. She knew she should pay her respects, but her father had told her very explicitly to remain on the bench.
It was Duncan’s turn to look mildly surprised as the girl rose to her feet on the bench and curtseyed carefully in place.
“Of course, Your Excellency,” she said, remaining standing until he could sit. She accepted his hand to steady herself as she sat back down, this time folding her legs to tuck them neatly under her skirt.
“I saw your brothers pledged as pages earlier,” Duncan said to draw the girl into conversation.
“Yes,” Jäna replied with a small sigh.
“You are not happy about it?”
“I am happy for them, Your Excellency, but not for me.”
“Ah, I see.” Duncan looked down at the girl with his most friendly, priestly countenance. “And why are you not happy for yourself?”
“Because they get to have all the fun and adventures. Just think of all they will get to learn!”
Duncan clearly heard the frustration in her voice. “You will have things to learn too, will you not?”
“Oh yes,” Jäna said miserably. “Lady Amah is going to teach me needlework.”
“That is interesting and useful, is it not? Think of all the skill required to make something like the Haldane banner.”
Jäna looked across the hall where the banner hung over the great fireplace. “I know, but…,” she looked up, directly meeting his eyes. “Did your father ever tell you a rousing story about needlework?”
Duncan thought carefully for a moment, knowing the likelihood of Duke Jared of Cassan telling his youngest son a story about embroidery was well beyond any possibility.
“No one ever slayed a dragon with a darning needle,” Jäna continued firmly. “And no one ever surrounded the enemy with an embroidery frame!”
“I believe you have a point,” Duncan answered. He considered her question a moment longer. “There are many other skills you must learn, though. A woman must be able to manage her husband’s holdings in his absence. Men can be gone a long time in service to their king.”
“Papa is never gone very long, certainly not more than a day or two. When he returns, everything is just the same as he left it.”
Duncan smiled. “Have you ever wondered why?”
Jäna looked up at the bishop with growing suspicion. “No, I have not. While Papa is gone, Lady Amah has a look at things from time to time, and everything is fine when Papa returns.” Jäna’s forehead furrowed as she thought on this further. “Oh.”
“You are trying to tell me that everything is fine because Lady Amah makes sure it is.”
Duncan’s smile broadened. “Yes, Jäna, that is exactly what I am trying to tell you. It is a very big responsibility. You will have to understand the ledgers, who to send to for supplies, even settle disagreements in your husband’s absence.”
“It is not the same, Your Excellency.”
“No, it is not. But it is more than just needlework, perhaps?”
“I will grant that,” Jäna said seriously, “if you will grant that it is not as exciting as being a page.”
“That I will grant,” Duncan McLain replied, matching her tone. “But give it a chance. I have been a page, and it is not always that exciting. Mostly it is a lot of work!”
“Am I interrupting confession?” Baron Jerrill de Tehryn asked, bowing to the bishop and kissing the amethyst ring when Duncan offered it.
“Papa! No, Bishop Duncan was trying to make me feel better.” She smiled up at Duncan, who did his best to look scandalized.
“She has seen right through me, Lord Jerrill. I thought I was being so clever about it, too.” Duncan smiled back and winked.
“Never try to outsmart a woman, Bishop Duncan. I gave up years ago.” Jerrill helped his daughter down from the bench. “And this one will remind me I promised her a good spot to watch the start of the dancing.”
Baron Jerrill bowed again and Jäna gave a confident curtsey. As they turned to leave, Jäna looked back and said excitedly, “Their Majesties will lead the first dance!”
Duncan McLain smiled and thought he probably had just enough time to approach King Kelson and suggest that a little girl in green would appreciate a royal smile if Their Majesties led the dance in her direction.