This is the last part written during NaNoWrimo for this story. It's not connected to anything else written--though nothing really seems connected at all because hey, no chapters, no transitions--but this scene takes place about twenty years after the end of the last part.
It's what I call the Backstreet Boys in Tudor England.
Isabel surveyed the males in front of her. There was her Ralph, tall and lean, with his medium brown hair that curled at the nape and over his ears, which stuck out a little. He was laughing, the dimples in his cheeks flashing along with his two top front teeth. He'd grown a beard over the last few years, the brown stubble enhancing the sense of Ralph's growing up.
Ralph was speaking with Iggy, who was as tall as Ralph, but despite the square-shaped fashion, not as broad as her husband. Iggy had lost that awkward, coltish look of expectant growth. His fashions were English, but there was something in the way he spoke, with his hands, that made him seem not English at all. His hair was a burnished auburn color, his skin as pale as lamb fleece, and his eyes a stand-out shade of blue.
Samuel was the brother of Iggy's intended. A few inches shorter but nonetheless rather appealing in face and his awkward but earnest manner, Samuel was darker complected, his hair a honey-brown color, his eyes large and brown and shrewd yet open. His nose had a slight hook and he had a habit of nervously twisting his fingers together.
William Dacre, Iggy's cousin, was bluff and blond. A bit on the pudgy side, he was nonetheless appealing if a woman leaned that way. And he certainly dressed well.
Tom sat, holding a cup of wine. His clothes were better quality, but still simple. His hair was still the wild cloud of raven waves, his eyes still a knowing and observant green, and his red lips were still quick to smile, quick to laugh and joke. She'd once loved him for years, imagining and building a life between them—a simple life, to be sure, one Isabel had been sure would appeal to her much more greatly than the future baronial one she led with Ralph.
Would she have been as happy with Tom?
God had not given her a chance to know.
From the other hall came the sound of music. Lutes, a virginal, and a pure male voice singing with his technique and emotion. Ralph was a good singer. He'd entertained her many a cold Northumberland evening with his voice. Isabel remembered Iggy and Tommy singing in church—their voices were quite strong, too. What of the others? An accomplished gentlemen was supposed to ride hell for leather in the hunt, to play a musical instrument or have a good singing voice, play well at cards, dance well.
She imagined what the result would be if the five men in front of her would sing or dance a carol, as ladies would sometimes to entertain their mistress. Isabel stifled her laughter at the image. Ah, well, if they sang, the music would be quite good. Perhaps there would be a decent harmony, for their speaking voices were different pitches.
"What are you giggling about, Isabel?" She glanced up and saw her husband standing above her, the dimples in his cheeks showing his amusement. What had her face shown?
"Nothing, love," she said.
He raised his brow. "I don't believe you, Mistress Grey. Prithee, my love, tell."
"I'll not," she said, demurely folding her hands in her lap.
"A private joke?" Tom asked, grinning. "Is, you floated away."
"I was distracted. The music is lovely, is it not?" She asked the men in general.
"I think," Iggy declared. "I think Isabel may have been imagining a harem."
Samuel threw his head back and laughed.
"What's a harem?" Isabel demanded.
"A harem is…well, in the East, men are allowed to have multiple wives," Iggy said. Isabel heard Ralph and Tom stifle snorts. Naturally, their thoughts turned toward the King. "And the women live in their own quarters, called a harem. Or the Greek, anathema. Anyhow, I just thought, Is, that you might have been thinking of a male version of a harem."
"With Isabel as queen of it?" Ralph said, amused.
"I was not!" Isabel exclaimed, laughing. "Truly." She took Ralph's hand. "I was listening to the music. Ralph has a beautiful voice—a useful trait in a husband during those shut-in winters we have in the north."
"Among other skills," Ralph said with a wink. The lads laughed. Isabel rolled her eyes.
"Anyway," she said, eyeing Ralph. "I was wondering if the rest of you men could sing as well. I remember Tom and Iggy singing during Mass when we were children."
"Oh, aye," Tom replied. "Iggy always had an interesting timber to his voice."
Iggy stammered, "What do you mean, interesting?"
"I thought you could sing. As a group. You all make a fetching group. I am lucky to be the lady allowed to observe you all together."
Tom clapped, putting his cup down on a table. "Well said, Isabel."
"Indeed," Iggy said.
"You're terrible!" Isabel exclaimed toward them.
"Nay," Iggy protested. "We are merely your brothers."
"In priory," Tom quickly added.
Beside her, Ralph laughed. "Well, come then. Isabel requests a song. Who knows one?" At the expressions on Iggy and William's faces, Ralph added, "Not naughty or bawdy ones, please. My lady wife is present."
"I've one," Samuel said in his soft-spoken way. "It's a Jewish song. Not English."
"Please," Iggy said.
Samuel stood straighter, cleared his throat, then sang. His voice was not trained, but it was tuneful. The words sounded strange, akin to Spanish, but not. They had a rounded vowel rhythm that was pleasing to the ear. Isabel did not understand the words, but as Samuel hit a few high notes with emotion, she felt connected to the music he made. This was raw, plaintive. This was music as it was meant to be.
He stopped, gave a half-bow to applause.
"What was that called?" Iggy asked.
"'Adio, querida,'" Samuel replied. "Goodbye, my dear. 'Tis one of the songs the Sephards sang after the expulsion."
"It's beautiful," Isabel said. Tom made a noise in agreement.
"What language?" William asked.
"Ladino," Samuel replied. "My first language. Iggy's fifth."
"Shall I have my turn?" Iggy said. He began to sing, his voice with that gritty undertone to it that made it so lovely to listen to, as if Iggy were ripping a portion of himself open to the audience. 'Twas in English, a simple five-note affair of a man yearning for a woman, a fair maid of fiery eyes and hidden smiles. Ralph, sitting now beside her, squeezed her hand. Though they'd been married near ten or so years, had children, the emotions of younger folk still ran through them. The current between them, the cord that bound him to her, was as strong as ever.
Thank Christ for that.
The song was short, with a rousing refrain of "la la-la-la la la." He finished, bowed, then looked to William.
"Hmm." The blond man opened his mouth to sing a Scottish air, learned from his childhood near the Scottish borderlands, a Celtic melody full of heartache and melancholy that was nonetheless beautiful. It made Isabel think of stark skies of gray clouds, rained-over days and cold nights, of harsh winds—the landscape that grew hearty, strong people of few words and great emotions. She missed the north desperately. When Dacre ended his piece, she clapped, Northumberland and her humble stone fortress of a house on her mind.
"Tom?" Isabel asked.
"What shall I sing?" Tom asked her simply. After a minute of hesitation, Tom opened his mouth and out poured something Latin, a hymn. It was "We Three Kings." As he got further into the song, his voice caressing each note, rounding out each vowel, Tom translated a chorus into English:
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light!
His voice was all sincere.
Then it was Ralph's turn. He launched into a tune about a knight who lost his head in battle, only to find a sweet, fair maiden with blond hair who knelt by his head, buried it in her garden, with her sweet-smelling flowers. The knight revived, through prayer and the girl's steady devotion, and he arrived on the house's doorstep one night, whole and healed, and married the surprised but tender-hearted maiden instantly.
Everyone clapped when he finished.
"Hmm," Iggy said. "I thought we all lost our heads when we fall in love. Never heard of losing it beforehand."
"It does have that effect," Ralph said. "That sense of simultaneously losing one's head and then thinking that only your love could steady your head and heart."
"Well put," Tom said. "I'll drink to that!"