Prelude to Heaven
Disclaimer: I don't own Balian and all the other characters from the movie. (I wish I did though)
Chapter 1: 'His Name shall be Balian'
Pale spring sunlight filtered through the gaps in the thatched roof, illuminating particles of dust which floated gently down onto the ground. Inside the cottage, a girl with auburn hair was busy sewing her wedding dress. Her quick needle stabbed into the fabric and came out the other side, pulling the thread behind it. In. Out. In. Out. Her deft fingers did this automatically. She did not even need to think about it. Her mind dwelt on the upcoming wedding which was to take place that summer in the old church which looked as if it would collapse any moment. She was going to marry the village blacksmith, Balian. He was twice her age and a stocky man with sparse hair like the stubble left in the fields after harvest. His fingers were like the sausages her mother made before winter.
Solange sighed. Her breath came out as a puff of mist. She didn't want to marry Balian the blacksmith, but she had no choice. Her family needed the money which he could provide them with. As his wife, she would never go hungry. He owned a plot of land behind his forge and they could grow enough produce to feed themselves. He was also Lord Henri's prized artificer and the Baron paid him well for the cups and plates that he wrought out of metal. She wished she could marry for love, as the ladies in the stories did but none of the men in the village interested her. No, the only man fit to be her husband was Balian, and she did not love him.
Five months later...
The leaves were beginning to grow yellow and cold winds swept down from the north occasionally, signalling a bitter winter. Balian was in another town, selling his wares, leaving Solange all by herself. He did that often and she was glad. He was a kind man but she did not enjoy his company. She had been married for four months now, but her womb remained empty, mainly because she and her husband did not lie together often.
She was walking through the nearby meadows, enjoying the last remnants of summer when a troop of horsemen almost rode her down. She jumped out of the way just in time and tumbled to the ground in a heap of skirts. The rider in the lead stopped. Solange was about to throw acidic words at him but her voice failed her when she saw him. He was the most handsome man she had ever seen. His thick curly hair was cropped short and his eyes were bluer than a summer sky. He dismounted and held out a hand to her. She took it without thinking and he pulled her to her feet. His touch sent a bolt of pleasant delight through her body and her face flushed as she felt the urge to hold onto his hand for a little longer.
"My apologies, mademoiselle," said the man. She tilted her head to look up at him. He was very tall. "I didn't see you there, although I don't know why, with that striking hair colour of yours. I must have been blinded momentarily by it." His companions laughed and Solange blushed harder.
"It's nothing, sir," she stammered. What was wrong with her? Usually her words flowed out before she could stop them.
"Do you come from around here, mademoiselle? I don't remember seeing you before and I certainly would have remembered you if I had seen you."
"I live in that village yonder, sir, with my husband Balian."
"Balian the blacksmith?"
"Do you have a name, mademoiselle...pardon me, madame?"
"A beautiful name for a beautiful lady." The man swept down in a bow. "I am Godfrey de Nièvre."
"You're related to the baron?" said Solange, suddenly very aware of what sort of man she was talking to. Godfrey laughed at her surprise.
"I'm his son, actually; his younger son," said Godfrey.
"Forgive me, my lord," she said, dipping an awkward curtsey. "I did not know."
"There is nothing to forgive, Madame Solange." Godfrey smiled, flashing straight white teeth. "Would you like me to take you home?"
"No, thank you," said Solange, even though she desperately wanted to accept his offer. A woman of her standing could not afford to be seen riding home with the Baron' son. What would the gossips say? It would be the scandal of the century!
"Very well, then," said Godfrey. He put his foot in the stirrup and swung himself into the saddle. He kicked his horse into a canter. As she watched the men ride away, he glanced back at her and waved. "Farewell, Madame Solange!" he called. "I hope we meet again!"
Excitement coursed through Solange's body, sending warmth down her limbs. He wanted to see her again. The handsome son of the Baron wanted to see her again! What would it be like to be loved by a man like Godfrey?
Godfrey rode home in a daze. He had met Venus, the goddess of love, that afternoon, in the form of the blacksmith's wife. What a waste that she was married to that old donkey, Balian.
"I think she's smitten with you!" shouted Roger de Cormier. Some of the others gave wolf-whistles. Godfrey had never liked Roger but he was the son of the neighbouring lord and he had no choice but to be jovial. Roger was the eldest son, unlike Godfrey, and one day he would inherit his father's lands. When the baronof Nièvre died, Godfrey would probably join the army. Whatever he was going to do, joining the Church was certainly not it. The thought of just sitting behind a desk made Godfrey shudder.
Solange did not see Godfrey again until late next spring. Balian was up at the manor with the new baron, Lord Reginald, discussing extensions to the castle. Lord Henri had died during the winter of consumption. Godfrey went to the forge alone and found Solange sweeping the floor. Her hair was tied back with an old kerchief. "Good day to you, Madame Solange," he said. "Is your husband not in?"
The young woman curtseyed. Strands of copper hair escaped from the kerchief. Her gleaming locks glowed bright orange in the sun, as if they were on fire. "Lord Godfrey," she said. "Balian's not here. He's up at the manor."
"No matter," said Godfrey, sitting down on a wooden bench. He glanced outside. Behind the forge was a garden full of fragrant flowers. Bees and butterflies were busy dipping in their tongues to drink the sweet nectar. "It's a lovely garden," he commented "just like its mistress."
Solange blushed and her face turned a delicate shade of pink. "Thank you," she said.
"Would you like to give me a tour?" said Godfrey, holding out his arm. The girl bit her lip, then she nodded.
"I'd love to," she said, laying her hand on his arm. Her heart was hammering inside her breast. Surely Godfrey knew that Balian was up at the manor. He had come for her. Her Lord Godfrey.
The spring sunshine warmed them. They did not speak and just enjoyed each others' company. A breeze blew, loosening the kerchief around Solange's hair. It fell to the ground. Her hair tumbled in a wild glorious mess about her face and shoulders. She bent to retrieve the kerchief but Godfrey picked it up first. He held it to his nose and breathed in deeply. She reached for it but he held it out of her reach. "Can I deep this?" he asked, dangling it before her playfully. She smiled and it lit up her whole face.
"Why do you want that tatty old thing?" she asked. "Surely there are many more beautifully embroidered kerchiefs in the manor."
"Yes," said Godfrey "but none of them have tied up your hair before."
Solange looked down at her feet and wrung her hands. She desperately wanted to run her fingers through Godfrey's hair but wouldn't that make her unfaithful to Balian? For want of something to do with her hands, she began to twist her loose hair into a knot, but Godfrey stopped her. "Keep it free," he said softly. "I like it that way."
"Godfrey, I..." she began but he put a finger to her lips.
"Shh," he said. "We only have a short while." He brought his lips to hers. His beard tickled her skin. She knew that she should've pushed him away but her body answered to his and she opened her mouth to let his tongue in. His skilled hands gently brushed her hair away from her face. It felt so different from when Balian lay with her. "My Solange," he whispered. "My lady of the forge."
For a moment, Solange thought she knew how it would feel if she had married for love.
Godfrey left just before Balian returned from the manor. Solange barely had enough time to make herself decent before going back to the forge to wait for her husband. Her body still tingled from Godfrey's touch. He made her feel in a way that she had never felt before. The blacksmith did not seem to discern the difference in his wife and only grunted when she greeted him.
Two months passed and not once did Solange wake to find the bedding stained with blood. Balian had not noticed but she knew. She was pregnant, and it was not her husband's child. It couldn't possibly be. Balian had not touched her for many months. She could not bear to invite him to lie with her in order to cover up her adultery. After Godfrey's gentle caresses the blacksmith would seem as crude as a charging bull. She could not bear to find the herbs which would cause her to bleed either. She desperately wanted the child; it had been conceived out of love. Driven to the end of her wits, she waited until Balian left on one of his trips to the other villages then went to the manor to find Godfrey, only to be turned away when she asked to see him.
"Lord Godfrey has taken the Cross," said the man at the door. "He's in the Holy Land fighting for God now."
Solange felt numb. Her Godfrey had left without letting her know. She could not even tell him then news that he was going to be a father. She was alone and frightened. As her belly grew, she wore loose clothing to hide it. Soon, it would be too big to hide.
Three months. It was the end of summer and Balian suddenly found that he wanted to claim his wife as his own again. One night, as they lay beside each other on their straw stuffed mattress, he reached over to grab her by the waist, only to find that her belly was swollen with child. Inside, Solange was quaking with fear. What would become of her? What would become of her and her child?
Instead of flying into a rage as she had expected him to, Balian just pulled his hand away. "You will see the midwife tomorrow," he said.
The next morning, she did as he had instructed. The midwife said that it was too late to take the herbs which would cause Solange's body to expel the child growing inside it. Rumours spread through the village. Someone had seen her with Godfrey that fateful afternoon. At church, the priest preached against adultery. He preached to the whole congregation but Solange knew that his words were directed at her. She was ashamed and angry; ashamed that she had given into temptation and angry at Godfrey for leaving. She regretted not taking the herbs when she'd had the chance. Life would've been easier if she had taken them. She didn't want this child anymore.
Late winter. The labour pains gripped Solange as she prepared the evening meal. Taken unawares, she bit back a cry of pain that had almost escaped her lips. Balian made her lie down on the mattress then ran to fetch the midwife. Hours later, a squalling baby boy with a head of wet black curls as soft as down emerged into the world. Despite not having wanted him, Solange felt a surge of love for this noisy, thing wrapped in swaddling clothes as he was placed in her arms. She unlaced the front of her dress and offered him her breast. The tiny lips quickly found her nipple and the infant suckled greedily. "My little Godfrey," she said as she watched him drink. Small droplets of milk leaked from the side of his mouth.
"He is my son," announced Balian "and his name shall be Balian."
A/N: I wrote this on a whim. Please tell me whether you like it or not. If no one likes it then I won't continue.
Solange would have been about fifteen, maybe younger, when she married Balian the elder. In medieval times, women married really young. Age difference was not a problem. Illegitimate children were a problem however so Balian the younger will encounter loads of problems as he grows up.