Her High Horse
Despite Matilda’s petite frame, her palfrey mare was one of the tallest in Flanders. Matilda named her Delilah, as she always enjoyed the biblical story of a woman who could tame a man’s strength. As the of daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders and niece of King Henry of France, she always fancied herself with the means to tame any man.
On a particular Sunday, the warm Spring breeze blew through Brussels with the salty scent of the North Sea. From high above her side-saddle seat on Delilah, Matilda saw the spire of the church of St. Michael recently commencing construction. She and her ladies paraded through the bustling town as they did almost every Sunday, with a smile for all the passing people below. In such a sublime mood, she paid little notice to the scuffle until a man rode up and turned his horse to face her.
Her body seized with excitement upon seeing him, which surprised her. She had known William, the Duke of Normandy for several years now and he never before stimulated her romantically, believing him to be a temperamental oaf. However, today his eyes bore a vivid blue so intense they sparked fire, yet his expression was tight and angry and she knew why. She was the cause.
“William,” she greeted, attempting to soften his ire.
Without a word, he pranced his horse around Delilah and his gaze as sharp as daggers upon her.
Her body stiffened, her hair stood on end and her heart beat slow and heavy. “William, what is it?”
He grabbed her by the braid and yanked her from Delilah. As she fell, her life flashed before her - sitting on the throne alongside her uncle, King Henry as he always allowed her to do during her visits to Paris, watching the handsome knights at tourney, stealing a kiss on the cheek or two from knights after the competition and lastly, her bold rejection of William’s marriage proposal, the man who finally did the unthinkable - pulled her down from her high horse.
She hit the stone pathway hard, first wrists then knees, and then her chin and nose. Lifting her head, she felt every pain, but mostly that of her pride as everyone in town stood baffled by William’s violent act.
William stepped his horse around and over her. “You could have been my queen. Now, you are nothing.”
Looking up at him she thought. Queen? His gaze down at her shocked her. It wasn’t hatred or anger, but the pain of heartache and betrayal. “William? I’m so-”
He rode away disappearing in the crowd before anyone could come to her defense.
“Matilda!” one of her ladies exclaimed. “Are you all right?”
Guards, merchants, peasants, all who witnessed the attack came to her aid, lifting her to her feet. It wasn’t the injuries which made her limp, it was her shock. It wasn’t pain that bought tears, it was her vanity.
When her father’s carriage arrived to take her back to his castle, her ladies attempted to ride inside the carriage with her, but she shooed them away. “Out! Out!” She wanted to cry in private and she did.
As the carriage chugged onward back to the castle, her mind flooded with thoughts. What will my father do? What will Uncle Henry do? She had known William to be unpredictable, but never did she think he would attack her publicly. She let head fall into her palms to cry and upon lifting her face, she saw her own blood and only then did she feel the physical pain from the fall. “I can’t believe he did this. I can’t believe he made a mockery of me,” she said unto herself, and as soon as she did, the words impacted her with brutal force.
When the carriage pulled before the castle doors, she saw her father exit. Count Baldwin was a tall, bearded man, and even with his sword drawn, he could never match the fierceness of William. “Where is he?” Baldwin asked before even getting a good look at his bloodied jewel of a daughter, and once he did, his expression turned from irate to aghast. “Hurry! Help her upstairs!” he shouted to all around.
Her mother, Adele of France, the King’s sister gently took her by the arm. “Maud, come with me.”
Upon entering the castle, all eyes fell upon her, and not as they usually did. She was the gem of Flanders and even sparkled in her Uncle Henry’s court in France, but now she was a bloody and disheveled mess. Walking though the grand hall, she held her head low so no one could see her bruises.
Her mother guided upstairs to her bed chamber and to her bed. Servants arrived with cloth and a bowl of water to wash her face. Resting on the bed, she pulled her dress above her knees to see the bruises.
“What can you expect of a bastard? His upbringing rivals that of wolves...boars more like it,” her mother said, dotting her lip with a damp cloth.
“I did mock his marriage proposal, mother. Publicly,” Matilda replied.
“Are you saying you deserved the attack? You are the King’s niece. A Capet. You are royalty. He should have known a marriage to you was above his status,” her mother said.
Matilda paused, thinking and then spoke up, “He said I could have been his queen. What do you think he meant?”