The Monster and His Keeper, part 7-12

by Lyle Dagnen

Part 7

He leaned forward out of the shadows and stood, using his right leg to support the left one that did not bend.  He was a tall man, she was tall for a female, still the top of her head just barely came to his shoulder.  He had grown his hair long to have it fall over his face as it did now.  He took his scarred right hand and moved the hair back from his face.  The flaming liquid that he had prevented from touching his monarch had burned the upper third of the right side of his face and a section of his scalp.  A face that at one time had been called handsome.  It was a horrible, scarred mask now.  Only he could not remove the mask.  He lived with the scars every day, every day a horrid masqued ball.. The burns had not taken his eye but his eye was locked inside scar tissue. 

“This is who you have been given to.” His voice was like a growl. It matched the howling skies outside his castle. He stared at her, daring her to scream, to run, to go weak-kneed and faint. 

“Given to?” Her comment shocked him for two reasons.  One, she wasn't running from the room screaming at the horror that was his face. Two, she had to be the most innocent, unaware female in the realm.  “Given to?” she repeated as a question.

“You're my reward,” he barked at her.

“Your reward." Her face wrinkled in thought, How am I a reward to anyone?  I am promised to the church.  I'm supposed to go the Abby in Canterbury in January. She kept saying she was promised to the church.  She looked him straight in the face.

“God's blood and bones,” he swore. “Did no one explain to you what this was all about?”

“Sir, your eight men came to my father's keep and delivered a letter to him.  He read it, looked at me, and told me to pack everything I owned, that I was going with them.  I packed, was placed on an abomination of a side saddle and brought here, in the rain.” She emphasized that she had traveled in the rain.   “For the last two, almost three days I have ridden in the rain to get here.  I am still soaked to the skin. I am cold. I am hungry.  I do not know why I am here at your keep and not in Canterbury.” 

She took a step in his direction. ”Those eight great louts would not speak to me or answer any of my questions.  I do not see myself as anyone's reward as I do not see myself as a prize at all.” She finished her tirade by turning to the fire.  She took a breath. She knew that she was jabbering.  She was accustomed to talking to herself, to an animal, to the servants who tolerated her jabbering with good nature, but not to anyone with any station in life.  Her frustration was spewing forth out of her mouth in a very unladylike manner.

“My face and my deformities do not frighten you?” 

She looked at him like he had to be crazy.  He wasn't answering her questions.  What did his face have to do with this; she told him so. “Why should your deformities frighten me?  You cannot help them.  Do you mind explaining things to me?  I have gone just about as far as I can stand without knowing the answers.” She turned her wet clothes to the fire.  She had dismissed the horror that was his face as if it were no more than a freckle perched on the side of his face.

His shoulders fell in a sigh. This time his voice was not a bark.  It was softer. “The king thought I should have a wife as a reward for saving his life and ending mine as a man in his army.  My hand,” he held up his scarred arm, “and my leg that took the arrow saved his life, but I am no longer any good in his army.  Since I had the misfortune to live and not die, he searched his kingdom for a woman as a reward to repay me for my sacrifice.  It appears you are the one I am supposed to marry.”  

She was a spirited thing, he was beginning to like her.  It was her animated face that first drew him to her.

“Marry?” her use of the word expressed her confusion.  “I was supposed to be a bride of Christ.  I don't know anything about...”She was at a loss for a word that described what exactly she didn't know anything about.  Finally her brain settled on “being a wife.”

Part 8

“That puts us at least at the same point, I do not know anything about being a  husband.  Not that I hadn't thought of finding a wife  sometime before I became this hideous form of a man.”  he dropped his head, allowing the dark blond curls to fall over his face.  She thought it was a gesture that he practiced.  “I sent for you because I thought that I would bring you here and you would run screaming from me. My men have stayed prepared to gather you and your belongings and take you back to your father”

She stood looking at this man.  He had been hurt, hurt bad enough that others might have died but he had lived.  He had in him such a desire for  life that he had recovered.  He had been willing to give his life for another.  He lived in the dark, believing he was so hideous that no woman could look at him without screaming.  And his king, without knowing anything about her, had chosen her as a gift for him.  She angered by the way he had been treated; if after his sacrifice, she was the best gift the king could find for him to take as his wife then he surely had not been rewarded.  Someone needed to tell him that his king had fallen short in the area of gift giving.

She wasn't sure she was a gift to anybody, she was not a well trained lady.  She didn't know how to dance, other than the folk dances of the servants, she didn't play any musical instruments and she sure didn't know the first thing about what a man would expect her to do as his wife. Somebody needed to tell him this, she was the only one here to tell him.

She knew about children because she played with the children in her father's keep but exactly how those laughing little creatures came into the world was a mystery to her.  She blinked her eyes and thought of the humiliations that would be her father's and his if she left.  She knew what it felt like to be ignored, over looked, and generally treated as someone who did not matter.  She decided to keep her mouth shut.

He had allowed the rumors of him being a monster to grow and develop so that people would stay away from him and from his castle. Now, she had been plopped in his midst.  It appeared that they stood at a portal; one they could walk away from or one which they could enter together.  

Part 9

She could not run away from him.  He was a stranger to her.  She knew that people were married to other people that they did not know.  This was the way of things.  In the eyes of the world she was an object to be traded, an object to be used, she had not escaped the fate of many women.  She was an object that had been awarded to the Earl of North Cumberland.

She breathed in a deep breath. “You may instruct your men to bring in my things and to unsaddle their horses.  It appears you have won me.” She smiled. “You may come to see me as not such a great prize, but that is just the way things are, it appears.” She turned so that she could warm her other side by the fire.  “I do not have a maid with me; I did not have one to bring.  I am not accustomed to having a maid.  This is the only dress I have that requires assistance to get into and out of. I've been wearing it since I left my father's house.  I am so wet that I have begun to think I will never get dry.  Hopefully, something I have brought with me has arrived dry. I have turned from you, not because I am offended by you, but because I am trying to warm myself.  I can move or you can come round to this side of me so that we may look at each other when we speak.”  She lifted her hand to rest on the mantle, she was shaking out the folds of her skirts.

“You're staying?” His question was soft, for her ears only.

“I am staying.  It appears to be the thing we are supposed to do.  I will depend on you to tell me what it is I am supposed to do, for I have no idea at all.”  She bowed her head.  “I am outspoken and untrained. I depend on you to be my teacher.”

He called out in a loud voice to someone named Fredrick.  He issued orders as one who is accustomed to telling people what to do.  One of the guards delivered the saddle bags and left the great hall.  “Is this all?” he asked her when the four sets of saddle bags were placed on the table near the fireplace.

“I was told to pack all that I owned.  That is pretty much it.  I had to leave my books and pens because no one knew I could read and write.” She put her hand over her mouth fearing that she had said too much.  It was good that he knew in case he wanted to rid himself of her, that way she would be spared repacking.

Part 10

“You are the daughter of an Earl? ” The rest of the comment implied that she should have more than what she had with her.

“I am the seventh child in a large household of older brothers and sisters who are all married with children. It is easy to lose the one who is promised to the church and needs nothing special to prepare her for the world.” Her answer was without resentment. “Sometimes, I think my father thought I was one of the servants.” She stood still for a moment. “Can you help me out of this wet dress? I am quite miserable standing here in it.”

He knew about women's dresses. He had not always been a monster in his appearance. He hated the sound of his dragging foot as he moved in her direction. “I can help you. I will find you one of the women to train as your maid.”

“That is not necessary. I don't need a maid,” she protested

“As my wife you should have a maid to assist you when you dress.” He got out his knife to cut the stitches that attached the flowing sleeves to her dress. He loosened the laces that held her dress to the form of her body. She might be wet to the skin but the fragrance of some flower filled his nose as the folds of the wet fabric came away from her warming body. The underdress was made of linen, its dampness made it want to cling to her skin.

He wasn't sure what it was about this female that he had been gifted with, but she was calling to him in ways no other female had ever called to him. For one thing, she had seen his face and had not flinched from him. She was also probably the most uninformed female he had ever met. He had come to believe that there were no innocents in the whole land, yet, here she stood before him warming herself by his fire. He would be willing to bet that her hand had never been kissed, let alone those lips that she kept chewing on. He helped her step out of the wet velvet. She left him holding it while she went to one of the saddle bags. She pulled out one of those yoked, rough fabric jumpers that he saw many of his female servants wearing. She dropped it over her head, then went digging for a comb for her hair.

She returned to the fire, working the comb through the tangles. No wonder her father had thought her a servant, she dressed the part. Immediately he wondered how it was that she dressed the part and had not been corrected. Here he was helping the woman he would marry out of her clothes and she had not batted an eye at the whole process, declaring that she did not need a maid to help her. He found himself just watching her as he spread the garment to dry before the fire. . “We will choose someone to be your maid. We will find the best seamstresses and we will have dresses made to fit your station as my wife.” His voice told her that the decision was made. She did not question him.

Part 11

“I can sew. I made the dress that I am wearing. I did not think I needed dresses because...”

“You were promised to the church,” he finished the now familiar comment. “Well, that is a promise that will not be kept.” He sat her on a stool in front of him, taking her comb from her and with a much gentler hand than hers began to comb the tangles from her hair letting the strands fall though his hands to allow them to dry. It was like silk drifting through his fingers. His mother had dried her hair this way before the fire. Before he had been fostered for training, he had spent time with his mother combing her beautiful blonde hair. “I know the name on the marriage contract. Cecilia Katherine Marie. What are you called?” he waited for her answer.

“You mean besides, hey you.” She rested her elbows on his knees. “I answer to Kat. The servants would joke with me about how I danced around like a cat trying to get though a room full of hungry dogs.” She paused. “The rest of the family just started talking to me when they took time to notice that I was even there.”

“You have a lovely set of names. I was named for my father, my grandfather and the king. Robert William Andrew. The king chose to address me as Andrew, he wasn't fond of my father and he chose William as his name of the set he was given. I would not allow the shortening of my name to Andy so I am called Drew by those who are close to me.”

Thee Women Combing Their Hair, by Edgar Degas
“In public places you will be called Lady Katherine and I will be called Lord Andrew. When we are together as we are now, privately, I will call you Kat and you will call me Drew.” As her hair had dried it had begun to feel cool as it slid through his fingers. Long straight pieces of silk. “It is late today. I will notify the priest and he will join us after we break our fast on the morrow. He will perform the service of marriage since there is no other official to do it. Since I did not expect you to stay, I did not have a room prepared for you. You may take my room and I will stay by the fire.”

“Nonsense!” was her comment. She noticed that he stiffened, probably unaccustomed to being opposed. “I slept by the fire most nights in my father's kitchen. It was warmer than my room and I liked to cook. I can sleep here and be comfortable.”

This was going to be her first lesson about being his wife. “Turn round and look at me.” He waited for her to face him. “Wherever you sleep tonight it will only be for this one night. Tomorrow you will be in my bed.” She looked at him, then he saw her process that information. For the first time since she arrived he saw fear on her face. “What are you afraid of?”

Part 12

“I remember the loud, rowdy bedding ceremonies of my sisters and brothers, of my parents and the other parents going into the bed chamber and hanging bloody sheets on the stairwell for all to see.” He immediately understood her fear. “I had thought I would not…”

“Have to face that because you were to be given to the church,” he finished for her. “Since we will only be attended by the priest and my man who will be a witness, this will not happen to you. There will be no bedding ceremony. We will keep the sheets for anyone who might question the fact that I am your first, but the sheet will not be hung in the hall for all to see.” he watched her as she processed the information he was giving her. By all the Saints’ Bones, she had not been told a damned thing. She had no idea that the blood would be hers and that he would be the one to cause her to bleed. “Damn.” He muttered the word and she sat back at the expletive. He'd explain that later. Tomorrow would be soon enough for that.

“So,” she began to share what she had reasoned “After tomorrow, when you marry me, I will sleep in your bed.” She looked at him for confirmation. He nodded in the affirmative. “Would you not be more comfortable with me here by the fire? Out of your way?”

She wasn't going to make this easy for him. “ I want you in my bed. “ He reached for her hand. “You are to be my wife. A wife belongs in her husband's bed, beside him.” He held her fingers with his injured right hand. Even damaged, her hand fit inside his. He held her fingers to his lips and kissed them. He watched her eyes grow large as she held her breath. He smiled at her.

She was looking at him with questions in her eyes. “Then if I am to share your bed why should I not share it tonight?” She knew that when the servants decided to become husband and wife that they just moved into the same house together. “That is what the servants do, they just move in together and claim one another.” Her parents might have ignored her but she had gathered a great deal of information by just be observant.

“Because you will be a lady when you become the wife of the Earl of North Cumberland. Our union must be sanctioned by the king and approved of by our two houses. Our children will be heirs to the fortunes of our two houses joining. It is a much more formal affair than just us deciding we are going to get married.” He paused. “Do you understand?” She nodded her head 'yes' but he knew that in her reasoning that it didn't make much sense at all. Her hand in his large one seemed small. He could feel the calluses from all the work she had done over the years. She was a puzzle he was going to solve. Her next question rocked him back in his seat.

(to be continued...)