Saturday, January 8, 2011

 The third week of May saw Iggy in the city of York. It was by far the largest city Iggy had ever been in and as he and Robert drew near the city's thick ancient walls, he felt his breath expel. It was the closest to home Iggy had been all spring, since they had left Scour for Routh. Now, having reached the tiptop of England--they had gone to Alnwick Castle, where Iggy had been awed by the defenses and riches in Alnwick Castle, home of the Earl of Northumberland. Then they had meandered southwards again, stopping to see Robert's daughter Anne at a country estate belonging to her soldier husband, then further down into Durham--where they had once again stayed with Elizabeth and her family--and now they were back in Yorkshire.
York City was ancient and important. The city walls had a seal carved upon them: the wide-open, white rose of York. Built on the confluence of two rivers, York was the crown jewel of the north of England. Here, Robert said, he owned his most profitable property. He owned two lots in the city marketplace: both of belonging to rich wool merchants--and he also owned a sheep farming property in the York suburbs.
"This is the center of my humble empire," Robert said, though he could not have meant "humble" in the least. Having spent near two months on the road with Robert, touring all that he owned, Iggy was beginning to see his uncle as not only a warrior, a man's man, but a shrewd businessman. 'Twas another quality his real father did not possess.
"York is, uncle?" Iggy asked.
            "Aye," Robert replied. "I make near a half of my money from those wool shops as well as my brother Edward's cloth business in Hull. And my baby brother John lives on the property outside the walls. He's my steward. Sees to the daily business of my property."
            After a quick ride down the main thoroughfare, in front of York Minster—now, this was the biggest building Iggy had ever laid eyes on, never mind Durham Cathedral—they left the city limits and after crossing a bridge, riding down a busy road a little way, Robert turned onto a smaller road, then yet again to smaller one.
            "Here it is," he called back and indeed, there was a smallish house surrounded by grazing land, the grasss dotted with sheep. In front of the house stood a youngish man dressed somberly in black. As Robert and Ignatius dismounted, the man came forward.
            The man's was outstretched. "Hello, brother," he said. "Welcome to your estate." He turned to Iggy and gave a small sort of smile. "Who is this?"
"Our nephew, Ignatius," Robert answered. "The sheep look well. And numerous."
"Aye, they are. As you can tell from the profits," the man said with a wink. He turned to Iggy and introduced himself, saying, "I am your uncle John. Be welcome to York. Have you never been here before?"
"No, sir," Iggy replied.
The man's grin was kindly and rather sweet, instead of calculating. Iggy wasn’t sure where he got that word, calculating, from except that it seemed to rather apply to uncle Richard in particular.
John Collins had been headed for a career as a priest and had gone to seminary until his brother required his strong business acumen for his own ends. John, an easier personality than his sister Alice, had agreeably put aside his own vocation and found that he had a talent for making a penny squeak. As John brought his guests inside and offered them refreshment, he looked at both Robert and at Iggy as he spoke, his blue eyes very vividly blue—and just looking at his uncle's eyes with their laugh lines crinkling forth made Iggy miss his parents, for they were also blue-eyed. He spoke in a similar fashion to Benedicta, the same rural accent, tempered by good education. Iggy realized that John moved his lips the same way that Benedicta did when she spoke. Odd, that.

The matter of Iggy's betrothal to Margaret had been wavering and unwinding in the background of this progress of two months. After all, Iggy would be the heir, but Margaret must also be married off and her dower lands were an integral part of Robert's small, northern empire. Thus, on the second day of their sojourn in York, Robert left Iggy at the house with John and ventured to the York Minster, a great Gothic pile, which had only been finished and expanded upon in Robert's own lifetime. There, he waited for the Archbishop to receive him. Robert could have waited to speak to the bishop in Hull, closer to home, but he decided to see the Archbishop of the diocese instead. The matter of affinity between Iggy and Margaret, while common enough in the lower orders and in the very upper classes, was close and the Church took cosanguinity seriously. Thus, Robert had asked for a dispensation when he married Mary; he would seek one for his heir and his daughter.
The Archbishop kept Robert waiting and when he was finally called in, the man gave him a signed and sealed parchment with tassels of large seals hanging—the official matrimonial dispensation of one Ignatius FitzClement to Margaret Collins.
Robert carefully rolled the parchment into a tube and then, carrying it under his arm, knelt at the altar and paid to have a candle kept lit for the next two months.
Thus, the moment Iggy and Robert returned to Scour, after spending three days in York, Robert went to the priory with Ignatius, accompanying him to his lessons. While Iggy scampered off to the library, his precious notebook under an arm, Robert went to speak to the prior. After a generous donation of a rather heavy pouch of coins, the Prior agreed to dispense with any objections due to the lines of affinity between Ignatius and Margaret. In truth, the great bulk of that obstacle had been removed at York, in the presence of the Archbishop of York. Thus, the betrothal could go ahead.
Margaret was told about her impending engagement by her mother, in the full fruitfulness of a Yorkshire summer, as she sat in the pleasure garden behind Collins Hall with a small piece of mending. She was not happy about the news; in fact, the girl screwed up her face in frustration, after being reminded that it was her duty and her obligation. She must be obedient toward her father, who knew what was best, and be humbled that a husband was awaiting her. After all, Lady Mary reminded her, this was a woman's lot.
Thus, the betrothal ceremony happened in the Church of St. Osana on a quiet evening in early August of 1514. Iggy was not yet fourteen, while Margaret was nearly fifteen. As they kneeled together in church to receive the blessings of the priests, a few of the priory monks and nuns at the ceremony to stand witness, Iggy and Margaret felt nothing but revulsion for each other.
Iggy found that though the Latin responses poured correctly forth from his mouth, Margaret's rather low-cut dress distracted him. With her eyes demurely downcast, her hands clasped together in prayer, Iggy found his eyes wandering to the expanse of her neck and the visible part of her upper chest.
            There was a celebration of the betrothal at Collins Hall afterwards, but before they left the church grounds, Iggy took his parents aside. Benedicta had her lips pursed and indeed, her normally shining skin looked an angry shade of pink. Iggy wondered if the marks he saw in her bottom lip were from her chewing and biting the lip. Clement seemed unflappable as usual, but as Iggy kneeled down for their blessing as he'd seen other children to in front of their parents, Clement's broad hand rested on Iggy's head for a full minute before Iggy was raised from the ground.
            "Thank you for the journal," Clement said. "I have not examined it yet. And you are to still be tutored by me for a while yet, so work on Plato, son."
            Iggy gave a tremulous grin.
            Benedicta gave a surreptitious look around, then embraced her son. Wordlessly, she held her; wordlessly, she let him go. They would not be attending the betrothal feast. Tom could not come either, as he was under the bidding of his master.
            But Isabel came, wearing a new dress and a recycled head covering.
            Ignatius and Margaret were seated beside each other on the dais in the main hall. Robert and Mary sat on either side, bracketing the two, while Richard Collins sat on the other side of Robert and Eleanor sat on the other side of Mary. Isabel, a guest, sat at one of the trestles, close to the dais. Robert gave a toast with rich, sweet, full-bodied wine, then out came the extra hired servers with platters of food, which they walked past the dais first with a flourish, before bringing it to the trestles. The dais had trenchers and cups with pitchers of wine ready. The two trestles were set up the same, the center cleared for the platters of food to come.
            The first course was laid out: an herb salad, a pottage of rabbit and leeks, and meat pasties. They were warm and when bit into, Isabel tasted spiced, chopped pork on her tongue. Delicious.
            In due time, the next course was set out. A roasted turkey with fennel, chicken with a loganberry sauce, more bread, and then, the centerpiece of the feast: a large roasted cow, providing beef for the entire company.
            Musicians played cheerful music from a corner, the sound of the lute carrying across the voices in the room, heartily drinking Robert Collins' wine and eating his perfect food.
            Even Isabel conceded that the food was excellent and of a quality better than any she had had in her life.
            The third course consisted of tarts: blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry; a blood pudding and bread pudding, which Isabel ate greedily. She eyed the company. Many, she thought, were relations of the family or else people Sir Robert knew. Some were from nearby villages, like Thirlby or Routh. Isabel thought a man at the other trestle was Tom's wool merchant master.
            As the eating ended, the people rose and the music grew louder. The trestles had been arranged so as not to impede a decent-sized dancing floor. Now, wine and ale flowed as people nursed their full bellies.
            Isabel relaxed and looked to the dais. Iggy was picking at the remnants of a tart. Margaret was sitting imperiously, staring straight ahead.
            And Richard Collins was staring directly at her. Isabel turned away.
           
            The feast had gone down without a hitch. The food was grand. The music was lovely. Iggy was even, by the time the large cow had appeared, able to forget that the feast was celebrating his betrothal.
            His eyes shifted toward Margaret. Though they shared a trencher, she had stringently eaten from her side of the trencher, picking the good bits delicately with her two thin white fingers. She did not say a word to him throughout the meal. She was like a stone, her face expressionless, mouth only opening to address a piece of food.
            Iggy heard his aunt speaking to his other aunt—Isabel's eldest sister—and Robert giving quiet orders to the manservant standing behind his chair. He heard the general hum in the room, of people speaking to one another. Even Isabel, seated at the end of the trestle closest to the dais, was eating and responding sweetly to another priory orphan—not Tom, but another lad Iggy knew well. The air was merry. Except in his place, with this block of a shrewd that was his cousin and his intended.
            A betrothal was a marriage contract. It was as good as a marriage, in fact. An annulment would be required if it was to be broken.
            The celebrations went on into the wee hours of the morning, but Iggy and Margaret were sent to bed—separate beds—toward midnight. 

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