Thursday photo #prompt #writephoto – Window dressing
I looked out my tower window, wanting to touch the roses through the lattice bars. Wanting to hold in my hand and take in a scent that could mask the foulness of a palace moat. Wanting…
Flowing when she walked, my daughter’s chestnut hair sparkled under her slender gold tiara. Radiant eyes, the color of her father’s shone with intelligence few but her tutors had witnessed.
“Mother?” Catherine asked. “What is it like outside the castle walls?”
“See the flowing grasses and meadows?” I asked. “I used to run through them and dream about being a princess in a castle.”
“Why can’t I run through them, too?” Catherine watched village children playing, their happy screams and laughter bubbling through the air.
“Because of my delusions,” I sighed. “When you look at me, what do you see?”
“Father says you are a queen of extraordinary beauty,” Catherine replied.
“I once milked the cows and enjoyed the stories my mother and father told us of far away lands,” I said, wiping away a tear.
“You wear the finest clothes, your ladies in waiting tend to your needs and you sit on a throne with father,” Catherine said. “You are greatly loved by our people.”
“How do I explain freedom to a child of 13 who hadn’t the favor of outside these walls?” I grumbled. “You were born never knowing how it feels to be without food for a day, or the joy of a good harvest when all from your village feast, dance and run through the meadows praising God for our bounty. I tended your brothers at my bedside until they were taken to another part of this castle for their education. As the only girl, you stayed with me to learn the skills of a queen. You do not know the realities of life.”
My daughter’s temper showed in the green fire of her eyes. “If you hate it so much, why don’t you leave this place?”
“My father, mother and 20 remaining siblings,” I said. “As long as I continue to be a good wife, mother and queen, they will never want.”
“Father says he rode through your village and saw through the dirt and rags a child of great beauty. He said that once you became a woman, he asked for your hand in marriage.”
“Princess Catherine,” I sighed. “I was helping my mother feed the chickens when I spotted my father bartering with a man in velvet clothing. The next day, I rode in the back of our cart to this palace. We were escorted to a place where ladies in waiting bathed me in warm water scented with rose petals, dressed me in satin, sculptured my hair and took me into a room where my father, mother and a man 20 years my senior waited.”
“I don’t understand. Father told me that you begged to be his bride and it filled him with such happiness.”
“That, my darling, is called a fairy tale,” I said with a bitter chuckle. “My father smiled at the bag of gold given to him, and a deed to the land he lived on that once belonged to the king. I will never forget the words my father said, ‘You now belong to our master.’ I didn’t understand and started to cry.”
“My father bought you from your father?” Catherine asked. “I cannot believe that!”
“I was only a few months younger than you. The king said that if I did not behave as a queen should, he would kill the youngest in my family. If my behavior persisted, he would kill the next…and the next. My father, fearful of loss, begged me to be a good girl.”
“Your tears show your sorrow, Mother, but I still cannot understand why.”
“Where have you lived but in the room adjoining mine? Who have you seen, but the tutors?”
“Rarely anyone else except family,” Catherine replied.
“What do you know of children, marriage and duty?”
“You walk with your hand on Father’s arm and smile. Kings compliment him on your beauty and father is pleased. We attend royal banquets and balls with my brothers, and your manners are impeccable. You are a graceful dancer, the envy of every queen and princess.”
“Then you have seen the facade and not the reality,” I replied. “I did well as a student, learning how to courtesy, to dance, to speak as I should, and wear my dresses well. I was wed to your Father at 13 and one-half years. My father, mother and siblings were there, dressed in finery. They looked well, Mother was so proud and people addressed my father as Baron. I knew that the king had kept his word to my family. But…”
I grabbed a silk handkerchief, unable to continue until I’d emptied my unhappiness into it. My daughter stood by my side, an arm around my shoulder. “What happened after your wedding?”
“I cannot convey the horror of having a man lay on top of you,” I said. “After that night, I refused to unlock the door to my room. I lived on water until, a week later, I heard my sister yelling for me. I opened it to find your father holding her by one arm. He threw her into my room and ordered me to say goodbye. She was only 5 years old, Catherine. I held her until he ripped her from me and stuck a knife into her heart!”
“I don’t believe you!”
“If I didn’t submit to him, he threatened to kill the next youngest. That is why I have never been allowed out of this castle and why I gave birth to one child a year for the first 9 years of our marriage. I suffered under him until your father sustained injury in battle and could no longer use his appendage to impregnate me.”
“Why did he choose you, Mother?”
“He said he had traveled the seas to find a woman of great beauty, and never had he seen a vision as lovely as me. But, my child, you have within you the same longing for life and fire of passion that drove him to end my sister’s life.”
The rage as she threw a vase I hated onto the floor! A gift from her father. I had wished it to break and at the same time was relieved it had bounced off the thick Persian rug I found equally as ugly.
“I’ll tell father of your lies!”
“Enough!” I exclaimed. “I tell you this at the behest of your father!”
“He is always kind to me!”
“He is kind to your face, for the time he can stand to have you in his presence. Your are the youngest and he is not willing to sacrifice his sons to force you to bend to his will!”
“We have played chess.”
“To test you for intelligence. He says you are not as intelligent as your brothers and that will make you a good wife for a king.”
“He played poorly but I allowed him to win,” Catherine said. “I was told by my etiquette tutor that the king must never lose. My reward was to hear that I am a beauty as rare as my mother.”
“And the king of our neighboring country agrees,” I said.
“Are you referring to Edward?” She asked, her eyes narrowing. “He is thrice my age, has a nose like a hawk and the eyes of a rat!”
“A merger between our two kingdoms will ensure peace between us, but only if you understand that a life of luxury has a price.”
“I will not marry that horrible man!”
“Catherine,” I said with a sigh. “I can attest to the fact that there are ways to punish a woman without leaving visible marks. Edward is not so careful. If you refuse to learn the ways of a queen, your father will do nothing to help when your husband beats you, whether into submission or death.”
I shuddered at the knock on my door, knowing all too well the sound of my husband’s rapping. Catherine ran to him, throwing her arms around his waist while sobbing.
“I see you have advised Catherine of her impending marriage to King Edward,” He chuckled.
Catherine stepped away from him. “You would marry me off to that ancient troll?”
He frowned, a deep and unforgiving sight. “Your mother is a rose of great beauty whose leaves are beginning to wilt. Her days as my window dressing are numbered. If you do not live up to your duty, I will dispose of her in front of you as quickly as I disposed of her sister, whose name was also Catherine.”
“It’s true that you treat women worse than farm animals?” Catherine asked.
“I told her to expect as much mercy from her husband as you gave the lions whose heads hang over our dining room,” I said. “I am nothing but a prize, only a treasure as long as I am not tarnished beyond repair.”
“You could have been so much more, if only you had willingly chosen to accept your station in life,” my husband said, as if there were some truth to it.
“I could say the same for you,” I replied. “You were too impatient on your wedding night, too used to giving orders to be kind. Yet I might have grown to love you, had you not killed my sister. And now, you are throwing my only daughter to a man worse than you!”
“What my tutor said is…is true?” My daughter mumbled, too faint for him to hear.
“Catherine, it is time to meet your future husband,” He said, holding out his hand to her. She spit on it.
Hands on her hips, she yelled out, “No! Kill me now!”
I didn’t expect my sons to come running when I screamed at the sight of the same knife that had killed a small child, or to lift their swords in defense of their mother and sister. But they surrounded him, pushing at their father to vacate my room. In the hallway, my eldest forced the knife from his hand and slid it through his father’s heart as quickly as my husband had thrust it through my sister.
“He did not know that we have visited our aunts and uncles often, at your behest,” My eldest son said. “We had not known the tyranny our people endure each day, nor had we known about the fate of our youngest aunt. Now that I’m king, you are free to take our sister and live with your family.”
“You want to marry someone you love and he forbid it?” I asked.
“No. He threatened to kill my youngest brother if I refused to marry the neighboring shrew with a hooked nose and a rats eyes.”
“Edward’s daughter?” Catherine asked.
“Dear sister, had father known of my love, she would have been forfeit instead of our brother.”
With so many other heirs to the throne in front of my eldest, the thing that lay dead in the hallway would not have hesitated to kill my youngest son if it meant keeping the next king in line. I doubt he believed his son would see to it that he became king sooner than expected.
“May God bless the love you have for the one you are about to marry,” I said. “Long live the king.”
Graciously, he bowed toward me. “Thank you mother.”
“May I visit my family often and live in this dreadful castle until your presence as king is accepted,” I asked. He nodded yes. “Please use my carpet to wrap your father in. I suggest you dump him in the forest and blame his death on highwaymen.”
“And what about me?” Catherine asked.
“Our father had often threatened to kill you if we didn’t follow his demands,” he said, with his brothers voicing their agreement. “When he ordered us to help him prepare you for marriage to a deplorable man, it meant certain death. We could not allow that to happen.”
“There are few men as caring,” I said to my eldest.
“I did not want to marry Edward’s daughter for many reasons. Above all her temper, like her fathers, is legendary. Why in God’s name would I want her father to marry my sister, a helpless child?” he asked. “To add to my resolve, the woman I love is my sister’s etiquette tutor. She begged me to save Catherine from a terrible marriage. How could I say no?”
I glanced at Catherine, whose eyes danced with mischief, and replied, “She will be a great queen.”