Jennifer Ott is the author of her current work in process, Wolf Wild Heart, the story of Medieval Queen - Anne of Kiev
Matilda of Flanders accepts the marriage proposal of William, Duke of Normandy
Rain drops plopped on the wooden roof of the carriage as it chugged along a rough road. Jolting back and forth on her seat, Matilda clutched her wool cloak to keep warm. So many emotions and thoughts rose in a tangle – shame, guilt…passion. Would he have me? Does he still want me? Why am I even on this journey? She wondered.
Her carriage arrived just as the rain cascaded down from the Heavens, seeming to determine her doomed fate. The door opened and her driver appeared with a dour expression. She knew he didn’t want to bring her here, it was against his better judgement, but she was his superior and his job was to accommodate her command.
“Mademoiselle, we have arrived in Rouen,” he said.
She stepped out into the pelting rain, pulling the hood of her cloak further over her eyes. She looked ahead at Rouen castle, significantly larger than her father’s compound in Flanders and even most of the castles of her uncle the King. All she could imagine was this was once the home of her own mother who was once married to Duke Richard before his untimely death.
Now it was her turn, after boldly turning down the marriage proposal of the current Duke William, which led to a humiliating incident where he knocked her off her horse. She had to laugh. In a way, it seemed to be a sign they were meant to be together, and she already concluded he would immediately banish her from the premises. Before the castle in Normandy, she betrayed her father, her uncle the King and even the Pope who have all railed against her marrying William.
Standing in the rain, she grew thankful as it covered the tears running down her cheek, not for any other reason than nerves. She didn’t know what to expect of him, or either of herself. When she lifted her head, she saw him exit the castle, nearing her in a fury and all she could do was stand still as a foe caught in his site.
“Matilda,” William greeted in a surprisingly warm tone, draping a blanket over her shoulders and escorting her inside. “What fortune has bought you to my door?”
She said nothing, as she entered the main hall of the castle. A shield with the Norman crest hung on the far wall above a large burning hearth where a few guards gathered, all turning with curiosity as the daughter of the Count of Flanders entered.
“Get my guest a cup of warmed milk,” he ordered of a waiting female servant with such authority it caused her to bounce upon his request.
William’s sister, Adelaide came to meet them at the steps to the upstairs solar. Her look showed concern as she hustled Matilda away and guided her upstairs to a chair near the fireplace upstairs. She helped her remove the wet cloak and offered her a chair. “My dear, what can I get you?”
“Your brother has a servant fetching me a cup of warm milk,” Matilda replied settling onto the wooden chair.
Adelaide looked to William who stood awkwardly by the door. “Would you like to come speak to your guest. She is not here for me.” As Adelaide walked away, she encouraged her brother to meet with Matilda. “Go. Don’t be bashful.”
William clasped his hands together and bowed his head. “Once again, I must apologize...”
“I believe we are well past that unfortunate incident. I should not have been so bold to refuse you for something what was not of your control.”
William’s servant stood in the doorway, awkwardly holding a tumbler. She coughed to get his attention.
“What are you waiting for. Can’t you see my guest is trying to warm,” he ordered.
The servant rushed to Matilda and handed her the tumbler. Matilda nodded her thanks and took a sip. All fears of coming melted away with the soft warm liquid. She looked upward seeing William still looming above. “Sit. You are of higher rank. You don’t need to stand before me.”
He sat opposite her. “You are the niece of the King.”
“It means nothing.” She sipped her milk, looking off to the flames in the fire.
An awkward pause came before them and it was William to break the silence. “Why are you here?”
“I hoped your marriage proposal is still available,” she replied.
“What about your father, the King...the Pope? I hear even he condemns our marriage. What made you change your mind?”
She took a deep breath unable to speak what was in her heart.
“Matilda, if so bad you may confess to my bishop.”
“Anna? Why? How?”
Matilda slumped forward and shrugged embarrassed.
“You can tell me,” he said.
“She is so adored. The King adores her, the people love her, even Raoul de Valois is in love with her. Why is it so?”
William gazed onto her dark eyes, which often shown a fire he desired, but now there was sadness. “I don’t know.” A smile crossed his boyishly brute face. “As you are well aware, I am not good with romance.”
A smile broke across her face, easing more in his presence and the room. “I want to be adored like Anna. I want to be loved, loved with all the madness in a man. I don’t want to be given away to one of my father’s political conquests.” She wiped her own tears. “I know that sounds silly, but I see it with Anna. What is wrong with me?”
He slid off his chair and landing on his knee before her. “My father claimed he loved my mother and yet left her for his commanders when he journeyed to Jerusalem. He left me and my sister at risk against the rebels who wanted us dead.” He held her hands. “I made a vow to myself and to God that if I were to live to adulthood, I would devote myself to those I love and not toss it so easily away.”
He shook his finger at her. “I recall the first day I saw you. It was my first day before Henry’s court, and you…you…were sitting on the Queen’s throne as if you belonged there. I always admired King Henry for how he allowed you to do so and I loved how powerful you were…twelve-years old and you were more power than any of the King’s nobles. I knew then, to have you by my side as my wife no foe would ever cross me again, because to do so, they would have to cross you.” He laughed. “I will adore you as wife and honor you as my Queen.”
Matilda broke a smile as she regarded William. He was more than a political arrangement, a husband, lover…he would be her greatest friend.