The Lion’s Kiss

From The Lion’s Kiss  2013 to buy click here 

 

Chapter 1

Château de Cerf summer 1176

 

Alysse is cross and she has a headache, and when she has one of these headaches everything is bound to go wrong all day long. She knows that when she opens her eyes she will be able to see things she doesn’t want to see shimmering around the edges of her vision. The things she has never ever dared talked about to anyone, or ‘’they’’

—-Being her elders and betters as they think themselves to be—-

Would either say she was possessed by the devils or making it all up.

All those shadowy people would be here yet again walking in their other worlds that have nothing to do with this one and yet seem to filter in and out of her line of vision. Why only yesterday she had seen that girl again, the one that looks exactly like her but always wears boy’s clothes. For a second they had looked at each other and she was quite sure that the girl could see her as clearly as a mirror image and then the girl had just walked on by through the bedroom door and disappeared.

—-Phut—-

Just like that as if it is a quite normal way of behaving and indeed by now she is starting to get used to all these comings and goings, they don’t really bother her any more except for these pounding headaches that seem to come with them.

Every time that Alysse is bundled to a new place, and there have been many of them recently, she not only has to get used to the strangeness of the newness but also the strangeness of the new other worlds that she catches glimpses of at random moments during the day. This Château is like one of those layer cakes that the cook had produced in the great palace kitchens in Paris for her last birthday. Here there is layer upon layer of meaning, each one distinct and separate yet each one intricately bound to the whole.

When she gets one of these headaches the ‘’other presences’’ get altogether much stronger, and she seems to be able to float into an in between space where she can hear echoes of voices, some of them calling to her. Mind you there is something very sinister yet special about this particular place; she has never come across her own double before. The girl looks exactly like her, same long dark hair and big sad brown eyes, tilted slightly upwards like cat’s eyes. The translucent pallor of her creamy skin is identical, even the same arch of the eyebrow, the exact oval birthmark on her fore arm. It is when she saw that, that Alysse had been really spooked and had darted out a hand to touch her, but there was nothing to touch. To begin with she had heard her voice only softly in the background of her dreams but since yesterday it has become stronger, and now she knows that it is her calling out in the breeze, drifting through the drafts from the attics, saying the same thing over and over….

—- ‘’ I know you’re there, help me help me, I need to talk to you, you need to help me’’—

The voice is more than an echo and yet less than a whisper, Alysse probably needs to pay attention to all this, to work out what it might mean, but not today, today she just wants to have some  fun for a change. She yawns and, stretches again, just how is she supposed to talk to this thin shadowy double person? She plays with the thin gold chain around her neck which holds the key to her journal, too lazy to write her usual morning thoughts down. If anyone needs helping it is probably Alysse, never mind some phantom girl from a distant world.  It will require thinking about this one, and possibly Bertrand could come up with a solution; he knows something about these sort of secret unmentionable   things.

That’s what she loves about him, he is the only one who will really understand, the only one who truly ‘’gets’’ her.  He has travelled all over the world, and he has even been to the Crusades and is initiated in the mysteries, Although up till now she hasn’t been able to get him to divulge the nature of exactly what mysteries he is versed in, yet he knows more about this area of France than he is letting on, and of course he has grown up around here. On those rare occasions when she is able to be alone with him she has noticed that he moves through the landscape with a sense of belonging, with a certain sense of grace that she envies.  Let’s face it if she admits it out loud which she doesn’t want to  There is something oppressive and slightly scary about this  Château and the huge towering  rock that  it has been built on,  which is the site of an ancient hill fort that can be traced  back thousands of years. There has always been a settlement here she knows that, she has passed the cave dwellings that are carved into the great rocks at nearby Montignac on her way here. The place had a primitive ungodliness about it that made her shiver, but yet it suits her present mood of defiance, and it calls to her in a way that none of the other places she has lived in did.

The people here about mutter under their breaths about it being the cradle of civilisation, though what they truly mean by this she doesn’t have a clue. It certainly doesn’t look like it to her, a girl used to the glories of Paris and Winchester. Where is the civilisation in the thick gloomy forest beneath her window or the wide unending flow of the river beyond? The river that curves around the lip of the forest like a silver chain set there to keep her in. Henri likes to know exactly where his possessions are and she is certainly a ‘’possession’’. .Still here at least she might have a bit of peace and privacy while Henri is away, hunting or at war or trying to sort out his recalcitrant wife Eleanor. Nowadays she doesn’t even really want to know which one of these tasks he is pursuing with his usual verve and indefatigable energy, as long as she gets a little peace from him. A treasonous thing to say but, there she has said it if only to herself and really he is far too huge too frightening and too tiresome to be around all the time.

Better still it is Bertrand who has said he loves her, which in her condition she supposes is also some kind of treason against the King, but quite honestly she doesn’t care. Everyone thinks that being a Princess must be amazing and powerful and make you happy, but it didn’t and she ought to know. First of all she had lost her mother, and then she’d been sent away to that freezing cold miserable England and had to learn their God forsaken ways, and then of course there had been Henri.

Sitting up and leaning against the pretty embroidered headboard of her bed she tries to work out when the first time was that she had experienced the very real sense of being able to see into other unreal worlds. Sometime around the time her mother had died and they’d taken her from her lovely Palace outside Paris and shoved her off to horrid freezing grey England to live in smelly castles and be betrothed to that idiot Richard who had never looked at her twice. One day it had all become too much, the cold and loneliness, her fear at never ever seeing her country or sisters again, that and the incomprehensible accent of the language in the English court. She simply hadn’t understood a word any of them had said for months, apart from the matter of fact things of course. Yes, something had snapped inside her, she had had what they classified as a childhood fever that lasted for a week and had them all muttering about death. But she hadn’t died, simply transitioned into something more than a child, and learnt to drift into a cosmic place that she trusted more than the reality she found herself thrown into. Dramatically in her feverish state the magical worlds had come closer and she had found solace there.

She didn’t linger inside the castles where all the shadows had been rather gloomy for a child, full of miserable phantoms with sad stories that roamed the corridors and old ladies that sat knitting on the end of her bed at night when she wanted to go to sleep. Out in the gardens is where she had found the most interesting kind of worlds. She was able to see the sort of things that she supposed Myrridin* the chief Druid at Arthur’s court, might have been able to see, but she didn’t know the names for them.  Her nurse had told her stories of the old days of the Angles and the Saxons, and the Viking Lords that had come with their thunder Gods and their bloodthirsty Valhalla. As soon as she could read she had scoured the Histories of Britain that were mostly written in Latin and had even tried to decipher the ancient language of the Angles where the poetry told of fights with dragons and voyages across distant oceans.

Anything magical intrigued her and Bertrand had told her stories of the power of the old Gods and the ways of the Druids. He had told her of the old religion that was predominant in this region, way back at the beginning of time where the people had a shaman who was a shape shifter and could talk to the ancestors, as well as be able to change the weather and   heal the sick. He told her that the Gods had come down from beyond the visible stars to help create the human race, he told her of the power of the night and the strange mid – summer ceremonies that used to go on here.  He had told her all this and she had believed him and begun to live more rather than less, in the world that he was describing, that is when she had become ‘’changed’’.

It is heresy of course, if anyone heard them talking of these things she would be denounced as a witch and he would be horribly killed, she gets goose pimples just thinking about it. Yet the old world and the magic ways hold a compelling fascination for her. From the shifting sands of time she feels and sees around her, she certainly believes him and in him, and of course it is a lot less boring than praying on her knees in cold dank churches. Although Saints are supposed to be interesting and do miracles and stuff she’s never actually met one so they don’t count, although she is partial to praying to Our Lady when she gets into any kind of fix.

You could say that Alysse is incredibly well educated for a woman, even demanding to learn the old Homeric legends of the Greeks and she has read as much as she can about the Celtic folk lore of the country she was sent to. She read about the labours of Hercules and the battles of Cuchulain but nothing explained the things she could see around her that others couldn’t. Certainly she never sees dragons or dwarfs or anything totally weird and positively mythical like that, no it’s more akin to vague shapes and colours around the flower beds especially at dusk or dawn. The very slow movement of something transparent and breathtakingly beautiful above the apple trees. Or she might be out riding her pony and having left her escort far behind by galloping off in front of them she would glance across what should be an empty field and see a whole village of people carrying on their daily life in front of her. The vision comes complete with cooking fires and the cries of children, and yet the field is definitely empty the next time she blinks.  When she has managed to escape alone on her horse down into the forest paths she sometimes hears the movements of what sounds like herds of animals, passing by her and sometimes it seems that they glide straight through her, yet not touching a hair on her head although it had spooked the horse and she had nearly ended up thrown off in a bush that day..

She can see horrid things too, like the walking waking premonitions of people’s deaths, or the vapours of disease clinging to the poorer parts of cities that they pass through on their grand progresses across the country with the King., Sometimes she has strange dreams, that aren’t quite dreams, and she is able to walk into what she understands is some kind of probable future that doesn’t contain Alysse. That is the fun part of it for then she is quite invisible. She stretches out and leans back more comfortably on her pillows; no today she can’t mention it to anyone, gossip might get around and ‘’they’’ will punish her again. She amuses herself by writing it all in her little leather journal that she keeps tucked safely behind a loose board in the wall of her room behind her bed. No one can find it there and it is a necessary outlet for her, without it she often felt she might burst with all the unseen unnecessary knowledge that she carries around with her. From Bertrand’s description she wonders if she is a shaman that hasn’t been discovered yet, but when she mentioned it to him he just laughed and kissed her and called her a silly little thing.

—-His silly little thing—-

If she had told anyone any of this they might decide it was the ‘’possession of the Mistral’’ that had got into her, whatever that was it seemed to be quite common for women in the region. It would mean another week or two stuck in the chapel every morning with that sweaty old priest who loved touching her in ways that they both knew that he shouldn’t. If they thought she is being at all dramatic as they call it, they would just be horrid to her, although because of her delicate condition they can’t be too horrid any more can they? She flings herself across the bed so violently that it makes her breathless for a second and she nearly falls out onto the dusty floorboards beneath.

It is supposed to be her court for goodness sake, she is practically a Queen already but ‘’they’’ are against her at every turn. All of them Henri’s spies, she had thought that this time she might have been allowed to pick her own friends to be with her instead of having to smuggle them in when the old fool is off fighting his stupid wars somewhere. She lies back on the sheets and squeezes her eyes closed again while passing her hand over her clammy skin under her thin gown. Her skin feels delicious, and her stomach is still as flat as it has ever been despite the fact that it has that ‘’thing’’ growing it. She can’t bear to think about it, she won’t think about it and she will go riding in the forest this morning even though she isn’t supposed to and what is more to the point she will take her lovely gorgeous Bertrand with her.

She twists in the clammy sheets of the great double bed, opens her eyes and squints into the strong sunlight streaming through the open shutters of the high window. She had chosen her room herself, it is perched high up in what they called ‘’the White Tower’’ and it is the best one in the apartments built for the Queen. But the Queen isn’t here is she and if Alysse has her way it is she who will be Queen soon. She spreads out an arm to feel the deliciously cool smoothness of the sheets beside her, at least she is alone, at least she doesn’t have to lie with ‘’him’’ at the moment, but she can’t put it off for ever. Thinking about ‘’him’’ Henri, the great terrifying bulk of the King she shivers and puts it out of her mind as quickly as she can.

She lies listening to the bustling of the household beneath her and the sound of her ladies voices from the adjoining room. The maid Odette brings in a tray of hot bread and cold milk for her and lays it on the bedside table, but still Alysse doesn’t stir, she just bundles herself further down into the sheets and closes her eyes again. She can hear the tap tap tap of the chisels of the masons who she has ordered to carve her new coat of arms into the arch above the main gate. Two lions on their hind legs rearing up and striking out at each other like a pair of fighting stallions.

— Perhaps she will be ill today, that would serve them all right, and it is so hot here even in the early morning how can she be expected to be anything else other than ill——–?

The sound of a lute playing under her window brings a sly smile to her face, Bertrand…..at last. Alysse leaps out of bed all thoughts of her headache gone and hurries to the pitcher of cold water laid ready on the wash stand. She splashes her face and all the usual bits and then throws on her thinnest chemise and a green silk bliaut swiftly bound with a double gold ceinture. It twists like a lithe snake around her still slim waist.   Her hair she leaves loose except for two pieces which she pins back on top of her head with pearl pins. Now she is ready, she wraps the bread in her handkerchief and throws back the glass of milk in one gulp. Bertrand has promised to take her to bathe in the river this morning and that means that all she has to do is sneak out the small back door where he will have the horses tied and then glorious freedom from all these silly women and their talk talk talk. Talk of stuff she really doesn’t want to listen to, she Alysse is sixteen and she is going to have a day by the water with her best friend without their interference, for who knows when she will next be able to escape.

*

 

 

 

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