Jennifer Ott is the author of several fiction and non-fiction titles. Her current WIP "Wolf Wild Heart" tells a tale of Anne of Kiev.
I have been in the King’s circle all my life, as our mothers were cousins. While my family didn’t rise to royalty, we were always present at royal functions. I have sat through funerals for King Robert, my aunt Constance and my second cousin Hugh, the heir apparent of the throne until he met his unfortunate demise in rebellion with his father. Despite all the mourning, I was happy to see Henry rise to the throne. He was the pleasantest of all the royal family, peaceful in demeanor and affable in personality. At times, I wished I wasn’t a relative as he did make for a good husband, but alas he was not to be my fate.
Romantic love was not something many of us saw as a destiny, especially those of us in nobility, marriages arranged for money, land and power. The best one could hope was for a likable spouse with whom procreation would not be met as a chore.
Myself, Adela, countess of Bar-sur-Aube was passed around from husband to husband, a widow twice over by age twenty before securing a marriage with Raoul de Valois several years my junior. At first sight, he was a laughable cad, so full of himself, yet not to have accomplished a thing, and yet despite his young zeal he was not a horrendous bore, nor a brute. His juvenile romantic air won me over, and after several disparaging marriages I found a decent one with Raoul.
My second cousin King Henry had similar romantic luck. While most didn’t say it aloud, one could wipe the floor with Queen Matilda, so when she had sadly passed away, we all eagerly awaited Henry’s new bride and France’s next queen. I was most curious when his foreign princess was to arrive from the East.
My husband, Raoul, of over a decade, was summoned by King Henry to escort the Princess along with Baldwin of Flanders through the Holy Roman Empire, so I took the trip to Reims myself, a special getaway able to leave the children with our wet nurse. For a short time, I was able to visit with extended family and mingle with noble society.
However, when the day arrived something struck me as different, or perhaps it was the Princess who was different. It was more than her exotic dress, her temple ring crown cascading over her cheeks and her mysterious Druzhina guard, it was her. All of France changed the day Princess Anna of Kiev arrived – for the King, for me, for all of us and for the life of me, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly her appeal. Maybe it was her exoticism. She wasn’t one of us; she was better than us.
Many in the French noble circles had taken nobility for granted, believing we were grander than we were until a person of greater prestige appeared. I watched as Princess Anna dismounted her horse and walked squarely toward Henry. I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell by his relaxed stance he was not just pleased, but relieved with his betrothed. It was as if a giant weight was removed from his shoulders as his beautiful girl before him and for the moment, I was truly happy for him and for France.
The Princess dismounted her horse, not from a customary lady-like side saddle, but that the saddle of a man. She stood before Henry, her shoulders squared and confident. “I am Anna Yaraslovna, daughter of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise.
We all waited in silence for Henry’s response to his bold betrothed. Instead he addressed my husband still lingering with the Druhinza guard. “Raoul, have you changed your allegiance. Have you joined with the Druhinza?”
That is when my world changed. It wasn’t just the King the Princess had bewitched; it was Raoul. Something changed. Something happened. A wife knows when her husband changes his love allegiance. In the midst of the welcoming ceremony, I said nothing, just watched as my heart sunk into a dull ache.
During our marriage, I never fretted too much on Raoul’s fidelity, what he did while galivanting around France. A good wife doesn’t question. Did he have concubines? I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know and he never let on one way or the other. What I did know was Raoul was a mountain among men. Despite not having the status of King, or even Duke, as a Count he stood with his shoulders always squared and a smile always on his face. No one knew what to make of him – was he going to attack, or make peace? Keeping everyone off guard was possibly his greatest skill. Having such a husband was a point of pride. I was the wife of Raoul de Valois, Raoul the Great as some often called him, and today I watched myself lose him.
Yes, he was still my husband, and yet devoted he was no longer. It showed in his expression, his normal grinning face full of melancholy and a posture full of disappointment. He wanted the Princess and she was completely unobtainable.
I silently told myself what would the Princess want with my husband, a man with just Count status when she was to marry a King and be Queen. To my own demise I noticed her give Raoul a fleeting flirtatious glance. She too fancied him. They desired each other. Along the journey through the Holy Roman Empire, they had fallen in love.
Henry was too full of glee to notice. His bride-to-be was beautiful and brilliant. The stars had fallen from the sky and were now sparkling in his eyes for her. Me, I slouched back into the crowd, into the shadows of the main hall of the castle, I became an observer to my husband’s and a princess’ love, wondering how far it has gone, and what was left for me.
In the spectacle of the Princess’ arrival, I had a hard time reaching my husband. He, with the other men went to the stable to board his horse, while I drifted along with the other women. There was even an odd silence among women. We didn’t even know how to gossip about the Princess, since she was like no woman we have ever witnessed. She led the procession on horseback, not side saddle like a proper lady, but as a man, and yet when she dismounted she was soft and regal. We women watched servants carry the Princess’ books and personal long bow and quiver of arrows. It was young Matilda of Flanders who was most curious of the Princess.
“Can you believe she didn’t ride side saddle? I wonder what she reads. I hear she has several brothers. I wonder if any are available,” Matilda rambled a serious of thoughtful questions aloud, as the rest us silently questioned.
“Will you stop,” her mother scolded. “We will learn of her soon enough.”
Matilda stood tall, a young and petite woman who never backed down from anyone, especially a scolding from her mother. “I’m just curious is all. Who is she? She has all the men bewitched with a slight jingle of her temple rings. I want to know her.”
“Well, you best not be gossiping about the future Queen,” her mother replied
I stood among them, desiring most to know if they saw what I did, the interaction between the Princess and my husband. Why would they? Why would they care? I sighed and stepped back and onto my toes, straining to see if I could find Raoul. I settled back onto my feet when I saw him engaged with William, the Duke of Normandy relieved nothing changed on that front. Those two were always caught politicking. The one thing for sure my husband failed to see this day, was me.