Hear the Lady Sing in Welsh
by Amy L. Hull
Notes: Written for malo_malo in the Yuletide 2011 Challenge. Thanks to Merlin Missy for beta.
She should be glad to be home amongst meadows and castles familiar and dear. It is April when she steps foot as a woman, the first time returning since leaving, a girl and a bride, into Monmouth.
Every morning now up with the crow of the cock, Kate watches the golden sunbeams slice through the magic of mist that clings to the hillsides and rolls into the valleys. Spring lilies bloom amongst the daffodils.
It is April when he dies.
"Sing!" he said.
She started at his booming voice, then.
Then he was not yet her Harry, but her bridegroom, her lord and master.
So she sang. Her song, simple. Her voice, tremulous. Her words, Welsh, like those of the grandmam who'd soothed her with this lay and her wrinkled hands.
Her lord and master laughed, slapping his thigh, and she ceased to sing.
"Nay, but I'll have your song!" he commanded, clapping out a time that matched the song not at all.
So she sang, and she cried, and he took her shoulders in his strong hands and shook them. She cried all the more, despite that she struggled to stint the flow of tears.
And so he flung his arms in the air, declaring, "I never shall understand the humours of women!"
Placing a hand to her back, he led her to his bedchamber, as Kate had been told to expect. There she stood bare as a newborn before a man, and he before her. She trembled as he took her to his bed, and she swallowed salty sorrow as he moved with her.
He kissed dampness from her cheeks, saying, with the first gentleness she saw from him, "Were I not a man, I would show such womanly signs of love also, Kate."
Days lengthened into weeks, and Kate tended her duties as Lady of the house while avoiding encounter too frequent with her husband.
He regularly vented spleen upon whomever should have the misfortune to be nearby when his will was crossed. Kate grew ever more timid as he raged and stormed in the great hall, in the stables, in their bedroom, even in their bed. Although she learned to hide her tears, in her heart they flowed without ceasing.
The path she walks is narrow and rocky, and the cheerful babbling of a brook alongside and eager birds seeking meals overhead belies the solemnity of her purpose. She must find the words to tell Glendower, he who has done for her and her Harry so many a good turn, that she will endure his hospitality no longer.
Like her Harry, Glendower is a man large of voice and word. She knows he will object more than she has yet the strength to deny him.
Soon Glendower-well she knows men like him-will tire of her funereal pall and return to merriment, and this Kate cannot endure. She must return to the castle where her son is to be Earl for as long as that land yet belongs to young Harry.
Kate might have forever crept, mouse-like, through the vasty halls of Northumberland, were it not for a masque held in honour of the Archbishop of Canterbury on his progress throughout the land.
"Wife! Bring me my codpiece, that I may enjoy you while you dress me." Such pronouncements were the way of her husband with whomsoever he spoke; to be obliging was not in his nature.
Kate, silent and eyes downcast, retrieved the article of clothing, resembling most the part of his person that still disquieted her, and, instead, chose the most modest of that garment. His hands roamed her body as she tied the garment in place and he whispered in her ear his adoration.
When he saw it complete, he grew enraged.
"Wife, you do knowingly defy my desires in this. You know that I cannot allow such an unseemly presentation of my manhood at a gathering of all those in the North Country! Your lack of obedience shall surely-"
"My husband," she said, using a voice louder than his. "I am, as your wife, to care for your reputation and character, not to allow you to venture forth in manner undignified or like to bring upon you censure. I have been told by the Lady Maud that His Grace cares not for such a codpiece with which you most prefer to adorn yourself."
He opened his mouth and, knowing not whence came her courage and will, Kate stepped toward him and set a finger into his chest.
"Therefore, husband, you shall not wear that which you would."
He stood in silence, gaping, without expression. Then across his face stole a smile that grew ever wider until he gripped her arms and drew her to him. She let forth a squeal but was silenced by his eager and lengthy kiss. His hands, as was his custom, explored her, one entwined in her hair, the other reaching inside her bodice to stroke her back. When finally he drew back, Kate stood dizzy and breathless. He leaned forward and touched his lips once more to hers, then to her cheek, then to her other cheek.
"Thank you, wife," he breathed. "I should not have known I did wrong, nor what had caused me to fall into disfavour with His Grace. Your care of my person is greater than any man such as me has cause to hope for."
With that he turned and departed the room, only rejoining her when their carriage arrived.
The masque, given by His Lordship, the Earl of York, spared no expense, but rather was a lavish and extravagant affair. There was dancing, music, and great tables of food offerings. The wine and cheer flowed freely.
"My Kate, would you dance this with me?" Harry asked at least once in the half hour. He held her like she was a prize he wished to show to gain status, a precious and delicate commodity. And every time, he thanked her for the honour she did him with the grace of her step.
Even the King and his ne'er-do-well son, of whom all spoke as a fulfilment of the curse King Henry had brought upon himself and England by usurping the throne, were there. Young Prince Hal made merry as he was reputed to do regularly. He danced with every lady of every age who could stand.
The night was nearly done when Prince Hal approached Kate.
Still unsure of her husband's mercurial temper, Kate tried first to catch Harry's eye, but Harry, deep in another discussion, responded not to her overtures.
Thus it came about that, in the last thirty seconds of her time on the floor with the Prince, Kate felt the distance between her and the Prince widen.
"It seems your husband is somewhat of the jealous complexion," the Prince whispered in her ear.
"He is," Kate whispered, and found, to her surprise, that this thought now warmed her heart rather than placing an iron band around her chest.
When her Harry retrieved her from the Prince's arm, the Prince let her go easily.
"Just remember that you are mine," Harry said.
"And you remember," Kate said, "That I care to do what's best for you, including if that means to show our loyalty by a dance with His Majesty."
He raised her hand to his lips, holding her eyes with his all the while. "I knew with each step you danced for me, my love."
That night she understood for the first time why those long married would call bedroom activities "making love." Again she cried, again he stroked her cheeks with a gentleness he only otherwise ever showed his best horse.
Kate had never expected love. Contentment, perhaps. Fulfilment in hard work, certainly. She knew now that God had led her feet to the far north for this purpose: to be here to ease the way for her tempestuous Harry.
Kate's feet carry her to the far meadow, and she wipes the dampness from her cheeks now as he did then.
As he never would do again.
Her skirts, sodden with dew, are as heavy as her heart. Whence now would come her laughter and joy? The joys of their little Percy are as a bell lacking a clapper: empty without Harry to see his issue thrive.
Kate had never felt so ill. She needed no lady-in-waiting to tell her she was with child.
All that she ate roiled her stomach, no matter that it was either tasteless or noxious as she ate.
Harry brought tempting morsels and doted on her as none had ever done and as she never thought any would do for her. Each day he hunted and returned with meat for her, nuts gathered from where he sat with bow at the ready, and flowers or other baubles he hoped might make her smile. He ordered servants to bring and make cushions for her chair, to re-tick the mattress daily, so that she would be more comfortable.
Every moment he spent not in sport or hunt was spent in the castle, where he fussed about her, lingering so near that, before her belly even grew rounded, she was sending him on idle errands to be free of him.
Finally she suggested that, were she to break his legs, he would be both unable to follow her about the castle and unable to ride his beloved horse, a response which created, if not complete calm, at least occasional peace.
When the pain of birthing his child gripped her for two nights and a day, she begged him to fetch her mother or her sister, and he was on his horse in that same instant. With his departure, no longer did his shouted demands for someone to help his wife echo through the hallways, instead only her screams filled the castle, followed thereafter by the infant wails of their son.
Only once she was holding to her breast the dark-haired baby she named Henry for his father did she regret sending Harry so far. She sang to her son the lay of her grandmam, and the first song she sang for her Harry was the first song she sang for her little Henry.
It was a day before he returned, but he arrived with her mother and both sisters as well as their children, and a great celebration was had.
Harry, so brusque and awkward, held his son like the boy was so much fragile earthenware and he did shed "womanly tears" as his own issue reached for and grasped his nose.
She thought her heart would burst at the sight.
She feels her heart will burst now as she walks among flowers he will never bring her, under trees he will never climb and where he will never see his son hanging upturned with hair dangling toward the earth.
In the end, he did not trust her, and his attempts to protect her from his conscience-driven rebellion robbed her of last farewells and final kisses, and even of his body delivered whole to bury with honour and dignity.
She never told him, but in that day, waiting for Harry to return safely, she sang to little Henry also the raucous drinking songs she heard Harry and his friends sing late around the fire. She hums one now in the clear morning.
The sun is above the far treetops and it is time to tend to little Henry, perhaps to play with him a game his father might have taught him had he lived. Perhaps today will be the day she tells little Henry his father has died and teaches the boy the sad Welsh funeral song she sang for her grandmam so many years ago.