Queens Strategize Love
Matilda of Flanders plots love with Anne of Kiev
Seated in the first row of Reims Cathedral in France, the worst possible fate for twenty-year-old Matilda was to see, whom she perceived to be flawless Kievan Princess Anna crowned Queen of France. It wasn’t that she disliked Anna, she did. In fact, she saw her as the sister she didn’t have, a confidant and an equal. However, on this Spring day, Anna surpassed her status by being crowned Queen of the Franks while she herself still bore the bruises from William, the Duke of Normandy who knocked off her horse just a few weeks ago. Their fates couldn’t be any more diverse.
What was Matilda to expect? Anna was born with higher status as princess and she had no title, only niece to the king. Her father was merely a count and although one of King Henry’s staunchest advisors, he had little power in securing her a husband. Princesses were in high demand, daughters of dukes often sought after, the daughter of a count could easily be over-looked regardless if she was a direct relative of the King.
Status wasn’t the only thing upsetting to Matilda, it was adoration. Throughout her life, she had been the favorite of her Uncle Henry. He cherished her over his own previous queen, even allowing her to sit next to him on the throne, calling her his princess and giving her the assumption, she was royalty.
Anna, on the other hand was born and bred to be queen. Damn her father for not giving her the same opportunity. She didn’t even bother to condemn her own profanity before the cross and the bishops. “Damn. Damn. Damn,” Matilda spewed silently.
Feeling heaviness in her chest and a welling of tears, Matilda straightened in her seat. She glanced back, seeing Count Raoul de Valois with his head down, unable to witness Anna marry another man. All of France adored the exotic Princess from Kiev, all attended ready to celebrate, and yet for a young count, this marriage meant heartbreak. It was obvious to most he had fallen in love with her during the journey through the Empire into France. It gave Matilda some comfort she was not the only one discouraged by the marriage.
A few rows behind her sat William, whose energy Matilda could feel. He was watching her; she knew it. She dared to turn around to face him. His expression stunned her. Despite his resent assault, he offered an apologetic and an oh-so sweet smile, and it struck an arrow into the center of her heart. She whipped her head back around and grinned. Now that she was forbidden to marry him, she was overcome with curiosity and desire.
Matilda’s attention returned to Anna’s coronation. Her uncle, King Henry was beside himself with the prize he had acquired. Anna was more than a beauty; she was brilliant. Far more savvy in the ways of diplomacy than even King Henry’s most strategic nobles. As queen, Anna secured Henry’s throne and the kingdom of France with her intelligence and poise. Foreign dignitaries, knights, nobleman and even the clergy fell over themselves for her. Anna’s value was more than her father’s dowry, her prowess for nobility out-performed all at the wedding, above kings and emperors.
She always wondered upon Anna’s perceived perfection – her beauty and poise. She rode a horse and hunted like a man, could read and write and even take a profane joke. While other women bowed before Anna, Matilda desired her secret. What her upbringing failed her, she sought to learn from the new Queen herself.
After the wedding, during the celebration as most guests sloshed with wine and mead, Matilda found the newly-crowned Queen shirking in the shadows of grand hall. Matilda knew why she was there; she knew Anna’s one vice – Count Raoul de Valois and now crowned queen, Anna needed to mind her manners around him. She could only admire him from the shadows. It was Anna’s quality, Matilda admired most. Anna took the vow of royalty with a sense of duty, no chance of disgracing it with scandal, even if she had to sacrifice her own passions.
“Anna!” Matilda called to her. “Or should a I now call you Queen Anne.”
Anna’s smile bordered on whimsy and sarcastic. “You know not to toy with me, Maud. You and I are family now, we are sisters.”
“More like you are my aunt. Perhaps I should call you Aunt Anna,” Matilda teased, entering the shadows to stand alongside Anna. She looked out into the crowd of guests. “Raoul de Valois is handsome, not as dashing as some, yet shifty in nature. I think you enjoy his scoundrel side. You seem to enjoy verbal jesting over romantic persuasions, more so than the devout and gallant man. I must admit, he can be quite entertaining.”
Not to be taken in with Matilda’s jostle, Anna turned to her with a smirk, quick to turn the topic. “William is madly in love with you,” she remarked to play the coy sister’s game of teasing about the menfolk, but she saw seriousness in Matilda’s eyes. “Don’t tell me when you fell off your horse, you fell for him?” Anna asked with a laugh. “Dare I say, William was able to conquer the proud heart of Matilda of Flanders. So many men have tried, so many have failed.”
Matilda scoured the hall for William, finding he was not his usual bombastic self, yet humble and well-behaved, and chatting with Anna’s father, the revered Grand Prince Yaroslav. A smile crossed her face looking at him, this time differently than she had before. He had a cute boyish, almost innocent face, yet the build of a brutal warrior. “I did mock his marriage proposal.” She cocked her head toward William. “You say, he is madly in love with me. Is he still?”
“Yes. You only hurt his heart, but it does still beat furiously for you. There is much to say about the Duke of Normandy. One thing I know is true, he is loyal to his feelings. A noble attribute when so many men’s hearts are fleeting.”
“Too bad my father and my uncle refused our marriage.”
“Yes, but the Queen hasn’t,” Anna replied with a wink.
Matilda turned toward Anna. “What are you saying?
“A King and his noblemen strategize war, a Queen and her ladies strategize love,” Anna replied. “Do you now wish to marry William? Do you mean to accept his proposal?”
“Maybe,” Matilda said, her nerves tingling. “He said I could have been his queen. What did he mean by that?”
Anna nodded with a sigh. “Ah, is that what makes him suddenly interesting? You want to be queen. Is it ambition that drives you, or is it love?” She turned to watch William. “I have a softness for William. He is a man of great heart. I do not wish to strategize on his behalf for a woman who doesn’t love him.”
“Now who is being coy, Your Majesty,” Matilda said smartly. “You are Queen, and yet your heart beats for another man other than the King, my uncle.”
Anna bit her lip and paused before speaking. “King Edward of Wessex doesn’t have an heir. According me to my sources, he chose William as his successor.”
Matilda’s eyes widened. “Who is this source?”
“Let’s just say I have my allegiances.”
“A handsome Count with Norman alliance?”
Anna whispered, “A friend, a friend who has eyes and ears all over France.”
“What does the Queen suggest I do?” Matilda asked.
Anna wrapped her arm around Matilda’s. “The Queen suggests you follow your heart.”
“What about my father and your husband, the King?”
“Don’t mind the King,” Anna replied, “I can illuminate him as to the benefit of your marriage to William and once he concedes, so must your father. You see, the power we women have is the arrangement of hearts.”
© 2020 Jennifer Ott