Queen Hereafter

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Book: Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan Fraser King
Malcolm to let them go. Crossing the bailey with her brother one day, Margaret suggested that Edgar arrange a ship to take her kinswomen away from Scotland.
    “It is their fervent wish,” she said. “They would prefer to sail to Denmark and then return to Hungary.”
    “And you?”
    “I would be content to travel by land back to Romsey Abbey. At any rate, your kinswomen would be safer in religious houses, away from war and raiding. Mama cannot bear it here.”
    “I am fostering a rebellion with King Malcolm’s support, and so my family will accept his hospitality for as long as he will offer it. And at whatever price,” Edgar said.
    “Choose rebellion and Scottish protection if you will, but let us leave, and soon.”
    “We will stay,” he answered firmly. “Our only safe haven is here.”
    EARLY, AFTER PRAYERS in her chamber, Margaret ventured out into the clear, crisp air with Finola. The girl, perhaps thirteen, could barely manage English, but she made herself clear enough and was aneager guide. She led Margaret outside into the wide, enclosed yard to visit the kitchen buildings, where one servant turned cakes on a griddle and another stirred steaming porridge in an iron cauldron and tended to sizzling bacon slabs. The cook gave each girl some porridge in pottery bowls, and Margaret tasted it, not used to much food in the mornings. At Romsey, they had shared dark bread and watery beer after dawn prayers, and at the English court, thin slices of fine white bread and some fruit might be taken. Now she ate the hot, salty porridge with a near sense of guilt, for Lady Agatha always said that showing a good appetite was coarse.
    Finola led her to the outer gates, and Margaret was astonished when the guards let the girls leave the bailey, turning away without offering an escort. She held her skirts up, for the hems of her green silk gown and linen chemise, and her yellow silk shoes were mucky from the yard. But she was glad of unexpected freedom after more than a fortnight in the Scottish stronghold, and hastened after Finola, who pointed toward the little glen below the castle mound.
    “You are wanting to pray today, lady?” Finola asked.
    “In the little church across the glen? Oh, aye!” Margaret had noticed the chapel on the hillside opposite the royal tower. She followed Finola through a wooded glen with quiet paths and waterfalls, and as they walked along the track, she heard barking. Turning, she saw two long-legged dogs, as big as ponies, running after them, tails wagging.
    “Dogs of the king,” Finola said in halting English, patting the animals, then walking onward.
    The plain little church, fieldstone with a timber roof, had an oaken door carved with intertwining vines. She stepped into the cool interior and sighed at the palpable peace, as if the prayers of generations saturated the very air.
    The altar was a large block of stone beneath a white cloth, and a wooden cross decorated with spirals hung on the wall behind it. Kneeling to pray, Margaret bowed her head, and Finola did the same. The dogs settled for a nap beside them, apparently used to being allowed inside.
    Hearing footsteps, Margaret turned to see a man in the doorway who wore a belted, hooded white tunic. His head was balding in front, his dark hair long behind, and a wooden cross on a string hung from his rope belt. Margaret stood quickly, as did Finola, while the dogs whumped their tails on the floor as if recognizing a friend.
    He nodded to Margaret and spoke to Finola in rapid Gaelic. “Ah, Lady Margaret! Welcome,” he then said in English. “I am grateful that you and your family were spared from the sea. I am Brother Micheil. I oversee this parish.” He bobbed his head and she saw that the front of his scalp was shaved from ear to ear above the forehead.
    “Brother, may I ask to which order you belong? I am familiar with the Benedictines.”
    “I am a monk of the Céli Dé, but most call us the Culdees.”
    “Ah. I have heard

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