Friday 6 December 2013

Talk of Marriage

He found Edith in the hall talking to Aethelstan. Neither of them saw him approach. The prince was holding her hand and looked up guiltily when Udric strode up to them. Jealousy rose like bitter gall in Udric’s throat. He did not notice the elegant blue gown she was wearing or the pretty veil which partly covered her long dark hair.
“We were taking of my late father’s wish that I marry suitably,” stated Aethelstan almost unnaturally quickly. “Now that the succession is settled my need to marry is less urgent. The lady Edith here ...”
Udric interrupted rudely, his long friendship with the eldest prince temporarily forgotten. “Is mine, betrothed to me with your brother’s blessing and her father’s permission.”
Edith quickly moved to stand beside him but her attempts to soothe him were brushed aside impatiently.
“Oh I know all that. Your woman is safe with me.  She is pretty I’ll grant you, as your own sister is, but I find myself unmoved by beauty at this time.  It’s a curious feeling, especially when I have wenched and boasted of my prowess with the serving women. My young cousin Aelfwyn, from Mercia, eyes me speculatively and also the daughter of a Welsh lord, but my brother now has the choosing of my wife if he cares to bind a contract with it.”
Knowing that he spoke the truth, as only recently the late king’s sister had been forced to marry the Northumbrian earl for reasons of state; Udric’s anger subsided as quickly as it had risen. Now feeling awkward he stepped back, colliding with a stool as he did so. He fell clumsily, arms and legs waving wildly in an attempt to save himself. As he lay on his back in the rushes both Edith and Aethelstan laughed at his discomfort before offering a hand to pull him to his feet.
“Thank God the rushes seem to be fairly clean!” Udric scowled as he brushed the straw from his best tunic and braies.
In a moment the old camaraderie returned, the misunderstanding swept aside as they all embraced, giggling unrestrainedly.
Aethelstan called for wine and sweetmeats to be taken to his room as with linked arms, the friends negotiated their way past the trestles and stools to the doorway.  Without separating, the lady Edith, having waved away her maid, turned the trio sideways so that they filed through, Udric attempting to hold her overskirt so that he did not step on it. Prince Aethelstan brought up the rear still laughing at Udric’s embarrassment.

from The King's Chalice by Janet KL Seal

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