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1st Day of April

    After Mass, I sent Tom the kitchen boy for pigeon's milk and asked William Steward to order me striped paint. They just grunted. I asked Morwenna to help me gather hen's teeth but she says I ask her that every Fools Day and it has never yet fooled her. I spent the rest of the day sulking in the barn. The kittens have grown.

2nd Day of April

    Mayhap I could be a hermit. I wonder what they do.

3rd Day of April

    Morwenna is on a crusade to tidy me. I could not go out this day until I had brushed my hair eighty times. When I finished I pretended I was going to join my mother in the solar but instead took up a position in the hall from which I could see Geoffrey as he set up the table and benches for dinner. I plan to follow him every day until I know his heart, or at least can guess well enough, in this matter of following me into the forest.

4th Day of April

    An unlucky discovery. Geoffrey looks like a hedgehog when he frowns. Mayhap he will grow out of it.

5th Day of April

    I am full weary tonight from following Geoffrey from hall to yard to village to stable to hall. It is more tiring to get from here to the stables by going behind the pig yard, around the dovecote, through the muck heap, and over the privy so that you cannot be seen that by just walking in a straight line from here to there.

    Geoffrey, I have learned, is good at games and swordplay, meek and quiet when serving my father, better on a horse than the other boys. He is vain about his clothes, taking care to keep them clean and free of wrinkles, but he cannot read and does not wish to learn. He is polite to the bigger boys but not so kind to the little ones. He is not exactly like the Geoffrey of my dreaming.

6th Day of April

    I could not follow Geoffrey today until near supper, for I was caught by Morwenna this morning and made to do all the sheet-hemming. I had not done these many days. Bones! I near wore out my fingers. But finally I finished and escaped to the yard where Geoffrey and the other boys were wrestling. Geoffrey had taken off his tunic and his shirt to keep them clean, and his body looked very beautiful in the sunshine. After, they all walked to the millpond to wash. I saw Geoffrey, with whom I was willing to share my life and my love and my freedom, hobbling about pretending to be Perkin while the other boys laughed.

    In my fury I marched right up to him and for the first time looked into his eyes. God's thumbs, he looked like my brother Robert! One good shove sent Geoffrey and his beautiful body and his precious fine clothes into the millpond. I hope tonight when he takes off his breeches a dead fish falls out.

7th Day of April

    I am badly out of humor. I have lost the possibility of Geoffrey, I am no nut-brown maid who can live in the forest, and Shaggy Beard awaits me. Mayhap after all this time he has forgotten me and moved on to torture some other girl with his unwanted affection. If not, I vow I will find a way to be rid of him. I will be no Lady Shaggy Beard.

    I can think no more on this now, busy as we will be with Holy Week praying and fasting and chanting and weeping and holy books.

    Corpus bones. I utterly loathe my life.

8th Day of April

    The young people of the village went palming before dawn today to gather willow branches for the church. Most had more greenery stuck in their hair and clothes than in their baskets. I foresee a large crop of babies come next Christmas.

9th Day of April

    This being the start of Holy Week, we now hear Mass every day and have two readings from a holy book. In between, I stole bread and cheese from the kitchen and ran outside. I could not let this first warm day of spring pass without my dancing in the meadow.

10th Day of April

    I noted as I climbed into my bed last night that Wat was trimming the rushlights. This morning, although I woke before dawn, the worst of the soot was cleaned from the fireplace, the cold ashes were gone, and a new fire was brightly crackling. It occurred to me that Wat had worked through much of the night and it also occurred to me that it had never before occurred to me. When does Wat enjoy the warmth of his bed?

11th Day of April

    We have received a message from my uncle George. He is coming for a visit after Easter. Now I have two worries: this joke of a betrothal to Shaggy Beard, and my uncle George. Is he still drunk? Does he still mope? Has my curse really blighted his life? Will I need to make myself more remedies against guilt?

12th Day of April

    Today we began to read of the Passion and death of Our Lord. It is a sad and tragic story and I do not sleep through it but watch it in my mind like a play unfolding. I picture Jesus like my uncle George, and my mother as His blessed mother. The evil Judas in my mind looks like the miller, scrawny and scowling and mean. Herod is my father, and Pontius Pilate that Sir Lack-Wit who was once my suitor. The apostles look like our villagers except for Saint Peter, who is Morwenna in leggings and a tunic. Saint Peter seems so human and unlike a saint. I think he may be my favorite, although Saint John is as beautiful as summer -- or Geoffrey.

13th Day of April

    This sad holy day we spent in church, marking the death of Our Lord. I wore my second-best kirtle so I would not ruin my best as we crept on the floor toward the altar. I don't know if that is fair to God but I do not believe He wants me to ruin the only good kirtle I own. I believe He likes me to look my best when I hear Mass.

14th Day of April

    My mother was not with us for the procession of Our Lord's coffin around the church. Being tortured with headaches and the bulk of the growing babe, she stayed abed with a tonic I made her of chamomile and honey. Her discomfort discomforts me.

15th Day of April

    Christ has risen! I got our of bed at dawn today so I could see the sun dance for joy as it is said to do each Easter. It rained, as it does each Easter. 

    The manor is full of guests celebrating the season, most of whom are sleeping in my chamber and my bed. I dream sometimes that I lie in bed and reach out my arms and fingers as wide as I can, and stretch my toes to the bottom of the bed, and do not touch anybody! And that I can get up and spin around my chamber, touching walls and bed and chest, and not bump into any other person. What luxury! I think if I were a king I would keep one room in my palace just for me, where I could go and be alone.

16th Day of April

    Today my family met the villagers in a mock battle on the fishpond. All of the rickety handmade wooden boats sank but the sun was out and no one drowned. There are woolen kirtles and tunics and leggings hung from every tree and bush in the village and draped over the ovens and the dovecote here in the manor yard, while their owners run around near naked and white as plucked chickens. 

    I cannot enjoy this week of Easter feasting. I am too distracted by the Shaggy Beard matter. Lent is over and I have no plan.

17th Day of April

    A messenger arrived this noon from Shaggy Beard. He is closeted with my father negotiating my sale. Until Morwenna found me and pulled me by my ear to the weaving loom, I listened to them argue. It was somewhat like this.

    First, feet shuffling on the dry rushes. Then sword-rattling and throat-clearing. Finally an unfamiliar squeaky voice began: "Great Lord Murgaw of Lithgow, the Baron Selkirk, Lord of Smithburn, Random, and Fleece, brings greetings to Rollo of Stonebridge and announces his desire to honor Lord Rollo by an association with his daughter, the lady Catherine."

    "On the contrary," my father replied, his voice low and as oily as buttered haddock. "My daughter, the lady Catherine, my pride and my joy, will honor the man she weds, not the other way around."

    "Of course, Lord Rollo. Acknowledging that, the great Lord Murgaw, the Baron Selkirk, Lord of Lithgow, Smithburn, Random, and Fleece, put aside reasonable demands and bade me ask for dowry only your wife's manor of Greenwood, which lies next his own, four hundred silver coins, six oxen . . ." God's thumbs, I think myself worth at least seven oxen!

    My father bellowed (I'll wager he turned purple), "Dowry! He wants a dowry of me? Pay the pig to wed my jewel, my treasure, my angel, my only daughter? Out, sir! Away, sir! No more, sir!"

    Aha, I thought. At last! I am delivered from the beast and the marriage by my father's greed. Another suitor gone. But then the messenger continued.

    "Lord Rollo, understanding your tender love and care for the girl, the great lord Murgaw is willing to take but four oxen . . ."

    Here Morwenna found me. I do not know if the messenger has been thrown out, if my father has choked from all the lies he tells, if Shaggy Beard is so determined to have me he will forego the oxen. But it matters not, for I still refuse to consider this marriage and will ignore the whole thing and hope the pig will die or fall in love with someone else or grow tired of my indifference.

18th Day of April

    The negotiations continue. From what I could overhear, the oxen are out and woven cloth is in. I am not consulted and no one has noticed that I am ignoring it all.

19th Day of April

    More talking. You would think my father and the agent of the loathsome Shaggy Beard were making peace with the Turks or preparing to invade France instead of arranging one little marriage.

    In the midst of all the talking, my uncle George arrived for a visit, bringing his new wife, my aunt Ethelfritha. She is as mazed and crackled as an old mixing bowl. Wearing his grandfather's straw hat and her skirts tucked up into her belt, she sits at George's table, rides by his side, and sleeps in his bed. My guts are much troubled.

    If not for my guts, I think I could love her. She fills our house, laughing louder than George, drinking more than my father, cooking better than our cook, and even ordering Morwenna about. She shed tears over every lovely, sad, happy, or holy thing in the world and will eat no meat or fish or fowl for fear of causing pain to the creatures. Her dead husband, she says, still advises her -- tells her where she left her straw hat or when to buy turnips. I would like to be like her when I am old. 

20th Day of April

    George told me of two cats who fought so fiercely that they ate each other up until nothing remained but their tails. I am pleased that he can still tease me, for else he seems much changes, slow and somber and silent. After supper I watched him doze by the fire, cradling one of the dogs Aelis brought to us long ago. I find I do not care for spells and meddling and being responsible for changing people's lives. I am going to bed.

21st Day of April

    I watched the villagers sowing the fields this morning. They looked like dancers, swaying side to side as they cast the seed left and right, followed by bows throwing rocks and sticks at the birds. In my head I understand the need to chase the birds away lest they eat all the seed and we have no oats or barley this year, but in my heart I weep for the hungry birds, and for a while I threw rocks and sticks at the boys.

    Marriage talks continue. What do they have to talk about? I will not marry him, so it all means nothing.

22nd Day of April

    My aunt Ethelfritha is behaving oddly. George says once long ago she was struck by lightning, which left her hair grizzled and her wits addled. Yestereve she sat at my mother's feet, strumming an imaginary lute and singing songs in make-believe Spanish. Today she thinks she is a sausage.

    I was greatly worried for her but George said, "Let her go. She always comes back."

    I am greatly worried for George, too. He is turning into a guzzle-guts, drinking and scowling and using all of my headache remedies. I am to blame for this. Remorse is eating my innards. If only he would smile again.

23rd Day of April

    This morning Aelis came to see George on his saint's day but he would not. He drooped and sighed about the yard, heedlessly throwing rotted apples at the pigeons. A wretched Aelis wept noisily all over my chamber. I was overcome with bitter guilt and had to doctor myself with clary wine and custard to lift my spirits.

    It did little good, for my turmoiling guts caused me to fight with my father about Shaggy Beard, with my mother about my father, and with Morwenna about everything. Normally I would talk to Aelis or George and feel better but they are too troubled to help me. I tried talking to Odd William who said, "In the illimitable sweep of time, what will it signify? What will you signify? What will any of us . . ." God's thumbs. I heaved a jug at him and fled the hall.

24th Day of April

    Geoffrey has been called away from here. His father found a more important place for him to foster. I rejoice to see him go but still thinking sometimes on his golden hair and his lower lip.

25th Day of April

    I saw Shaggy Beard's messengers in the yard, talking solemnly to each other. Were the negotiations not going well? I decided to use my wiles to help drive them away. Finally I had something to do besides worry and wait.

    I blackened my hair and teeth and acted like a fool, which worked once before, and for good measure let them hear my muttering to myself about meeting Gerd the miller's son in the barn. They looked at me with astonishment as I passed. Now, let it be over.

26th Day of April

    Shaggy Beard's messengers left before dawn this day. No one will speak to me of what happened. Is it over? Am I delivered?

27th Day of April

    I tried to talk to my father. He would not. When I pulled his sleeve, he cracked ma and shouted "Have off!" I think it is over. I have won. Deo gratias.

28th Day of April

    My father suffering from a sore throat, I made him a gargle of strawberries, water, vinegar, and dung of a white dog. Because of how hard he cracked me yesterday, I put in extra dung.

29th Day of April

    We had a peddler in the yard this day. He brought hats, ribbons, gloves, pots, and other treasures to trade for goose quills, beeswax, and salt. My mother sent me to buy ribbons for her and I saw, hanging from the timbers of his cart, small cages of wicker woven like tiny castles with towers and gates. I had to have some for my birds, so I ran to my chamber to see what I might have to trade. I have no silks or velvets or laces and can't imagine anyone wanting my embroidery. Finally I rummaged through the rushes on the hall floor and found amidst the bones and grease drippings a penny and two farthings. The peddler had gone but I chased him down the road and traded the coins for three cages, which I have suspended from my ceiling beams with lavender ribbons. My chamber looks more and more like Heaven, let others who sleep there complain as they will.

30th Day of April

    The village is bustling as all prepare to go a-May-ing tomorrow at dawn. My mother insists that Morwenna go with me, but I can easily avoid the old baggage if she spoils my fun.

    I left open the window shutters in my chamber tonight so I could see the fires lit on every hill. I believe they are shining for me, for a future without Shaggy Beard. I am filled with hope.

Next Chapter: September (End)