Pitch blackness surrounded him. He couldn’t see his hands on his knees or his bare feet on the wooden floor. Shifting his attention toward the narrow nook window of the castle, French Count Raoul de Valois saw nothing. It was as if he sat in a veil of darkness.
He thought of his own countryside in France, the beech, the oak and willow trees, while they gave shade in the day, they didn’t cover the sky at night, whereas the towering pines deep in the Holy Roman Empire shaded the earth as a canopy blocking out any light from the moon and the stars. He sat in his new surroundings recalling his evening. A wide smile crossed his face, a smile no one would see.
Turning his attention back to the room, he tried to adapt his eye sight to the darkness, yet still could not see a thing. There wasn’t much to see anyway. A wooden chair he used to drape his chain mail armor and tunic and a table set with a bottle of wine and plate of bread, cheese and grapes. After the large feast, he wasn’t hungry.
Laying back on his bed, he felt the furry body of his Grand Griffon Vendeen. “Off Henry,” he said, pushing the animal off the bed and onto the floor, where his other dog Odo slept. Entering his late twenties, he was still a boy at heart, never going anywhere without his hounds. They traveled with him everywhere, not for protection, but company. He trusted the dogs more than any man, even his provincial knights most devoted to his causes.
He rested on the bed. A cool breeze blew in from the window chilling his body, but he didn’t care. It felt good. Everything felt good here in the darkness, better than ever and he knew the reason why.
With his arms folded behind his head, staring at upward at nothing, he recalled his first sight of her face – bejeweled with a temple ring crown around her head and strands of brown hair escaping from her embroidered cap. She had the softest eyes he had seen, not sure of their color, yet they eased every tension he had in his mind and body. Her grin, however, excited him. Such a compelling contradiction for a woman, having the ability to ease and excite at the same time. He was indeed enchanted with Princess Anna from Kiev.
She reminded him of boyhood memories seated in church during mass, listening to the monks in the choir and the harmony of their combined voices of their chants. It was the sound of God and when he turned his head, he saw light streaming inside through the window creating patterns of light on the congregation. This was where he found grace and what he found in Anna.
As a boy, he realized there were three fates for a man – one was to follow the path of God as the monks, have a humble existence toiling over the land and the other was walk with the Devil. For nearly a century his family guarded the Seine in Vexin from potential attacks from Vikings. He was raised for war and he was good at it.
By age thirteen he could ride a horse better than most men, his swordsmanship excelled beyond his peers and he could hit a target with a crossbow at a far distance. It was clear, he was to do Devil’s work for God.
The Devil was behind his siege of Joigny in order to secure his wife, Adela. How many people he killed, how much of the village he set fire? he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. He was denied what he was promised to him and to all those responsible, he acted out in violent opposition.
Several years married to Adela, she bore him three children. He often questioned whether she was worth the fight. Surely, she came with a large dowry and status being the second cousin of King Henry, but was she worth the violence? Was she worth his pride? So much talk of love, and yet he knew little of it…until now.
Anna made him feel he was once again in God’s grace. He swore he could even hear melodic chants play as he looked upon her and a heavenly light shown on her face.
A smile crossed his face as he rubbed his hand over his chest and then reached down to pet the dog sleeping alongside his bed. Anna slept nearby in the castle, just down the hallway. He could go to her, if it wasn’t for the pitch-darkness, the fact she was heavily guarded and accompanied by her personal maid servant. Despite being under the same roof, it seemed as if there was a fortress between them.
One thing for sure, she was a not woman he could fight for. She was for the King; she was to be his Queen. There would be no siege, no violence to be rendered for her heart. It could only be acquired with peace, which was his greatest challenge. How to be peaceful, chivalrous…noble?
What a different man he was with her in mind. He could be gracious instead of despotic. He could be loved instead of feared. One thing for sure, his life changed upon first sight of Anna’s face – her playful gaze and wily smirk. Was she God toying with him, or was she the muse to lead him back onto the righteous path? He wondered.
Rolling onto his side, he closed his eyes allowing sleep to arrive. He yawned with a smile. His life will never be the same, and with that last fleeting thought, he fell asleep to prepare of the day ahead.