A Woman's Cunning
Second day in France, and she had already found her place not with the ladies, but with the men. She had to smile at her own sense of empowerment, so much so, she didn’t want to wear the dress given to her by King Henry. No, she was going to dress in her traditional Kievan garb for dinner. She wasn’t going to be a pretend princess as she was last night. She wanted to show the French who she was...really.
Adorning her embroidered gown and temple ring crown, her personal servant arrived in her chamber to escort her do the dinner in the main hall. “You don’t like the dress the King offered you?” her servant asked.
“Tonight, I prefer my own dress,” Anna replied confidently.
Her servant said nothing in return, except gently took Anna’s arm and escorted her down the stairs where the hunting party celebrated, despite only she and William, the Duke of Normandy, scoring a prize. The King’s cooks already presented William’s rabbit as an appetizer to her main course – a large buck. She smiled at her success, but knowing full well the men in the hunting party may have provided their gallantry by allowing her have the best shot and she appreciated them for it.
All eyes turned to her as she entered the crowd, dressed in her custom Kievan attire. Anna smiled and tapped William on the arm. “I see you are celebrating your small prize,” she teased as if he were a brother.
“Had we all known how good your aim, we would have all upped our game,” he joked in return.
She squared her shoulders and proceeded to the head of the table to meet her betrothed, King Henry. While, he didn’t stir her passions, she liked him and saw him as a suitable companion with a playful temperament which matched hers, a rare quality for a king.
Surely, he loved to boast of his fiancée’s success. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Princess Anne. She outscored us all on hunt!”
Anna arrived at the head of the table and bowed slightly to show some humility regardless how her heart beat with pride. “Thank you!” she exclaimed with a drink of her wine and encouraged all to sit.
Finally, the cooks carried out a large venison roast accompanied with turnips and apples. Before they partook in the bounty, Bishop Gocelin offered a short prayer and all muddled their AMEN before the feast.
“That is quite an award, Princess” Bishop Gocelin said to her, referring to her kill. “You father must have taught you well.”
Anna sipped her wine. “Yes, he has, as well as my brothers and guards. But I must give most of the credit to my Great, Great, Great Grandmother because she has taught me the greatest skill of all and that is cunning. A great hunter must be able to outwit their prey before it makes a move.”
“I find it surprising a well-mannered woman could be so shrewd,” Gocelin said in a polite and well-meaning tone, and yet his comment sparked raucous laughter from all seated around the table.
“You sound surprised that a woman could be so cunning as to prey on such on a majestic animal,” Anna said, as she looked around the table at King Henry’s guests – his clergy at the far end of the table, Baldwin and his family, wife Adele and their daughter Matilda seated alongside her. On the other side of the table were bachelors William and the King’s brother Robert and Raoul with his wife Adela. She smiled daringly at them all, while she picked apart roasted venison with her fingers. “My Grandmother Olga ruled over Kiev for fifteen years.”
Matilda sat forward toward Anna. “She as Queen?” she asked eagerly.
“Grand Princess was her title, but yes. She was the ruler.” Anna regarded her audience of nobles and bishops.” Do you want to hear the story of how she came to power?” Gazing around the table, all eyes were on her.
“By all means, Princess,” Robert, the Duke of Burgundy replied almost in a tempting manner.
“It was after the Drevlians killed my Great, Great, Great Grandfather Igor. They sent diplomats to accompany his mutilated body back to his wife, my grandmother Olga. The Drevlians insisted in order to make peace, my grandmother needed to marry Drevlian Prince Mal. My grandmother agreed and told them to come back to Kiev tomorrow by boat and she will honor their request. The next day, the Drevlian’s returned by boat. My grandmother’s guards lifted the boat and carried them across the courtyard to an open trench where they dumped the Drevlian diplomats and buried them alive. While the guards buried dirt on the Drevlian diplomats, my grandmother asked them if their honor is to their taste?”
“So, she sought revenge for her beloved,” William interjected.
“Yes, but the story is not over.” Anna sat at the head of the table, before her a captivated audience, so she continued. “The next day, my grandmother Olga invited more Drevlian’s to court. Telling them this time, if they were to receive her, they must bathe first. So, when they obliged her, her guards locked the Drevlian diplomats in the bathhouse and burned them to death.”
“Drevlians must not be known for their keen intellect,” Raoul remarked with a chuckle gained from those around the table.
Anna sipped her wine from the tumbler and raised her finger to be patient. “There is more. Afterward, not knowing any Drevlian has been murdered, my Grandmother sent yet another message to Dereva, requesting to hold a funeral and feast for my grandfather, Igor. In a gesture of goodwill, my grandmother sent barrels of mead for the celebration. As my grandmother wept over my grandfather’s tomb, the Drevlian’s feasted on food and mead. When drunkenness came to all the Drevlian’s my grandmother had them all slaughtered.” Anna said with a casual shrug.
Several of the men, including King Henry set their wine classes on the table.
“My Grandmother’s last request of the Drevlians was for them to send birds as an offering of peace. She had her army attach a small a small piece Sulphur to each bird. At night fall, the army released the birds and set the Sulphur on fire. This fire consumed the entire village and all Drevlians. We now refer to her as Saint Olga.”
Anna bit into her meat with ravishing hunger. “The moral to my story is this, never cross a Kievan woman when it comes to love. She will bury and burn you. And this is how I learned of cunning when engaged with the hunt.”
Silence shrouded the table until the King’s sister, Adele spoke up. “And our mother stabbed several clergy in the eye with a staff.”
Everyone broke out in laughter, including Anna and the King.
“Mother had no good reason other than she was mad,” Robert replied.
King Henry patted her shoulder. “Well, all I can say it is good the Franks make an ally with Princess Anna. We want her on our side.”
Anna grinned, picking on meat with her fingers as her eyes lingered across the table at the prize who already conquered her heart, Raoul de Valois.