Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Isabel heard a wheedling cry from the next room. The baby, Robbie, had been christened a few days before. Iggy, in his one coherent act of the last week, had asked her to stand as godmother, along with his mother. The baby's godfathers were three-fold: his grandfather Robert, his great-uncle John and Tom Winters, who had been allowed to return to Scour for the baby's christening.


            He had grown brawny, with muscles evident in his arms.
            The cry grew louder. At a week old, all Robbie did was sleep, soil his diaper and take milk. No one else went to the child. Mary had assigned the baby a nursemaid and had not bothered to visit her grandson since. Iggy—when was the last time he had seen his infant son?
            Where was the wet nurse?
            Isabel stalked out of her bedchamber, where she had been practicing her lute, and into the baby's suite of rooms.
            The baby slept in an oak cradle, with the softest of linen under him. The wet nurse and nursery maid slept on pallets nearby, but they were nowhere to be seen. Isabel frowned. She would have a word with them, if Lady Mary would not.
Robbie was in his cradle, squalling, his little face and mostly bald scalp turning an unflattering shade of pink and red.
"Oh, dear, dear, dear," Isabel cooed, picking the baby up and holding him close. "You smell lovely. Not soiled? Hungry then?"
But Robbie quieted down, slowly, every minute swallowing more of his cry until he was merely whining.
"Perhaps the swaddling's too tight?" Isabel said. She went to lower the child onto one of the pallets to adjust his bands, but the crying began again. "Oh, all right. You only want to be held? You only want some attention?"
She paced the room with the baby in arms. His eyes were still a milky blue. Isabel wondered if they would stay that way or would they darken to a hazel or a brown, like Sir Robert's eyes?
The baby cooed, comfortable. Isabel could not help but smile at Robbie. He was still rather squished looking, for clearly, his birth had been an ordeal for both mother and baby.
The poor thing. Both Robbie and Margaret. She should have been the one holding him and cuddling him, singing to him as Isabel was now doing. She remembered snatches of songs that her mum used to sing to her, though Isabel had not thought about her long-dead mother in years. Footsteps sounded outside the room. Isabel glared a warning look at whoever was clattering around as they entered. Robbie was finally about to drift off into his newborn stupor of a sleep again.
It was the wet nurse. Isabel raised an imperious eyebrow at the woman, who was a villager who had recently lost a child, but still produced milk. Much in the way of cows, Isabel thought. Lord.
"He was crying," Isabel said, handing the baby to the woman. "Neither you nor the maid were here to see to him."
"Yes, miss," the wet nurse replied, head bowed.
Suddenly feeling irritated at the woman's manner, Isabel gave one last stroke of the baby's silky-smooth hair and left the room.

"You know," Sir Robert said a fortnight after Margaret had been buried. "I thought to attend court in the autumn."
"Oh," Iggy let out. His natural exuberance had begun to re-emerge, though he was still largely subdued. He held his namesake, a scabbering Iggy the rat, in his palm.
"I thought to leave you here, to become accustomed to running the estates with John's help," Robert said, nodding to his brother, who was a guest at Collins Hall. "But now…I think it best you come with me. Act as my secretary at court, for I will be serving the Earl of Northumberland." He sighed heavily. "A presence at court would advance us all mightily."
"At court? The Royal Court?" Iggy questioned.
Robert scoffed. "Naturally." He sent a laughing glance over to John. "'The royal court?'" He mocked. "Quite. We may not get lodgings at court, per se, but we shall dance attendance on His Lordship. Perhaps we shall be noticed by the King. John will look after our interests here in the north."
Stiffly, Iggy said, "If that is your wish, my uncle."
The plan was set. John would stay in York, seeing to Robert's business interests, running the estates, while Mary and Isabel would stay at Collins Hall. Robert, Iggy and some servants would journey to Hull, beg the hospitality of Edward Collins and his family, then take a ship down the east coast of England to London. It would cut the journey in half and ensure that Robert and Iggy would be settled in their lodgings and in court sooner.
In preparation, the village hatmaker and tailor were brought forth to measure both man and boy for court clothes: new hats, new doublets, new hose. New slippers, boots, and riding boots were made. All of the new items were packed away in trunks under the supervision of Lady Mary.
Robert spent the days going over his enterprise with John, leaving Iggy free to mourn Margie in private. He spent the days in quiet reflection and prayer for the repose of her soul. He visited his parents.
"To court," Clement mused. "You may meet a Dacre hither or yon."
Iggy only nodded.
"I'd like to have more of your letters. Court will be a different, new experience for you."
"Not another journal, please," Iggy muttered.
"Do you want to go to court, Iggy?" Clement asked.
"I'm ambivalent about it," Iggy said. "Not like I have a choice, though, right?"
Clement frowned. "Who told you that? Your illustrious uncle?"
"No. Mother," Iggy replied. "She's in one of her rages against uncle."
Benedicta, rages? Clement tried to reconcile the image that came to mind with his son's words. Benedicta had always, even as a novice, been self-contained. She had perfected the serene nun fa├žade. There had always been conflict between her and Robert, he knew, but he had thought she accepted Robert's words as law. Benedicta always seemed to him to be the epitome of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: "The meek shall inherit the earth."
           
The trestle tables in the hall at Greenwich Palace were the longest and most laden that Iggy had ever seen, bar none. In his page uniform, emblazoned with the Northumberland seal, Iggy sat at a table with other men and lads in his position.
He was a month at the court, living in housing just across from the great Palace at Greenwich with uncle Robert, who was at a different table. Robert seemed in his element in the exciting world of the court, working in the retinue of the Earl of Northumberland. Iggy was a page in the same household, a powerful faction at court.
"Ale, Iggy?" A lad beside him asked. Wearing the livery of the Dukes of Norfolk, the lad also had a northern accent. His name was Ralph Grey from Northumberland, he was of an age with Iggy.
"Yes, please. Most gratefully," Iggy replied. Ralph passed him a flagon. Iggy sipped. "Oh, quite good. I had to run a message to my lord the Duke of Suffolk."
"Ah," Ralph replied, sipping his own drink. Ralph had dark brown hair and brown eyes, but an impish, almost goofy smile, because of his prominent top front teeth. Another page joined table. Lord Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland, was a page for Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor.
All the way at the end of the hall stood the dais, where the tall, red-haired King of England sat on a large chair. Beside him was his wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon, her countenance impassive. Squinting, Iggy could also see Cardinal Wolsey and the Duke of Suffolk. He'd not spoken to any of those people on the dais, but he had glimpsed them at Mass or during the many activities that occurred at court. Each time, his heart pumped, astounded. How did he, the illegitimate Ignatius FitzClement, born in obscurity in a Yorkshire village of no significance, come to find himself here, in the midst of all the power in England?
From the side entrances leading from the kitchens, Iggy saw servants carrying trays and platters of food. They passed the dais first, the King and his guests taking the morsels they liked best, before the King waved the excess to the others seated in the hall.
It took several minutes, but the food eventually crawled to the pages, who all ate heartily, being growing boys still.
Ralph was telling him about a girl he pined after. She was a maid in the Queen's household, he said.
"What's her name?" Lord Percy asked.
Ralph, a smile playing about his lips, said, "Bessie Blount. She's marvelous fair."
"Yes, she is," another page answered. He glanced over Iggy's shoulder toward where the maids sat in a cluster.
"The King is besotted with her," Lord Percy replied.
"Is he, indeed?" Ralph said, smile still intact. "He can't marry her."
"He don't have to marry her," the other page remarked. "You barely know her, mate," the other page said. "Have you got your eye on anybody, Iggy?"
Iggy took a long swallow of ale. "Not particularly. I...It's been only two months since my wife died."
Silence descended over the table.
"I'm betrothed," Lord Percy said ruefully. "Have been since I was a child. I'm not sure how I feel about that."
"Do you know the girl at all?" Ralph asked.
"Some," Percy said. "Mary Talbot. Bit of a shrew. Are you precontracted, Ralph?"
"Nay, for which I am grateful," Ralph replied. "My lord father has mentioned it from time to time as I've gotten older, but no, I am not." He turned to Iggy. "What was your wife like?"
"She was my cousin," Iggy said. "She was fiery and sixteen years old. She died soon after giving birth to our son." Hmm. It felt damn strange to say that. A son. A son he hadn't seen at all since the mite was little bigger than uncle Robert's hands.
"Did you know her well?" Percy asked. "I only Mary Talbot a little and what I know, I don't like."
Iggy grinned. "Not well, no. We rubbed along well enough…toward the end."
"You are," Ralph said, "a very interesting fellow." He raised his cup in Iggy's direction.

"I saw you speaking to young Lord Percy," uncle Robert remarked late that night in their rooms.
"Oh. Yes.," Iggy said. "He said he's pre-contracted to marry. He doesn't think much of his future wife."
"Of course he doesn't," Robert said. "But who bloody cares? Anyhow, it's good that you've spoken to him. He's a page in Wolsey's office." With an approving nod, Robert added, "And Ralph Grey."
"He's not the Marquess of Dorset's son," Iggy said, knowing that those Greys were distantly related to the King with a long pedigree.
"No," Robert said, swatting the idea away. "Distant relations. Fifth cousins or more. His father's the Sheriff of Northumberland though, so they're a minor power in the north. Useful to cultivate."
Everyone existed at court for uncle to cultivate. For favors, for land and rents and important positions. To be closer to the King. For power.
Or at least Iggy surmised it to be so. As a member of the Earl of Northumberland's retinue, Robert had been given land and his knighthood. Now, in person at court, Robert could personally see to more.
"Oh, this came for you," Robert said, picking up a square from the table. Iggy took it and tilted the square folded paper toward the fire. The spidery script, written in precise, straight lines across, told him that it was from his father. Iggy excused himself to read the letter. Clement was writing in Latin, saying that he wanted Iggy to remember how to read the archaic language. He hoped Iggy was soaking up life in the seat of power and enjoying himself, but that he remembered God and his prayers—and the small, humble priory in Yorkshire. He said that Sister Benedicta missed him dreadfully and hoped that Iggy would remember to write to his mother.
Iggy finished reading the letter, the Latin as clear to him as his own native language, and sat back in his chair. For a moment, the gaping hole that missed Yorkshire opened and pulsed. Then he quickly pushed it away, for this was his life now, as his uncle's heir, and Iggy was too young to understand how divergent his path could have been had he stayed in the priory, unnoticed by his uncle.




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