Iggy’s betrothal

As his guests watched the juggler perform amazing feats on the other side of the hall, Robert leaned casually toward his brother Richard.

            “So,” Robert said. “About the Routh girl?”
            Richard nodded. “Yes. Thirteen now.” Richard grabbed his cup and took a long sip of the excellent wine. “Time to at least think about her future.”
            “Marriage, obviously,” Robert replied. “Unless…is there a vocation to the Church there, you think?”
            Richard snickered. “Alice says Isabel’s closest friends at the priory are Ignatius and a boy called Tom Winters—lately gone to apprentice in Thirlby. That girl has no inclination to be a nun. If she does, what if she goes the way Alice and Mary did?”
            Robert gave his brother an evil look. He was mildly surprised that Richard did not drop dead right at that very moment.
            “So marriage it must be,” Robert said. “And you’re right, it’s too never too early to look for a husband. Have you anybody in mind?”
            Richard chewed his bottom lip. “Eleanor does. She’s most eager to have the girl wedded and bedded. More eager than I, in some respects, for I cannot make too many rich alliances with only one chit.”
            “Well, sometimes, you only need the one rich alliance,” Robert responded.
            “Truth. I have not anybody specifically in mind, no. Can you think of anyone? You’ve done brilliantly with all of our marriages.”
            Robert took the compliment. Casting an eye about the room, the juggler still entertaining, some dancers moving to a lively tune, he considered the neighbors. No, none of them would bring the sort of alliance Richard wanted—one that, no doubt, included land and an income and someone who would be beholden to Routh in some way.
            “No one is Scour really qualifies,” Robert finally said. “Perhaps one of the priory lads? The ones who are sent there for education?”
            “Perhaps,” Richard said in a dubious tone. “But are not those lads mostly headed to Oxford or Cambridge? To become priests and monks?”
            “Some. Not all. Some are merely scholars, like our brother Thomas.”
            Richard scoffed. “Thomas is paid handsomely, I gather.”
            “Well enough,” Robert snapped. “I cannnot think of anybody in Routh who could marry the girl and improve her station.”
            “I don’t want her to rise too far. Perhaps that wool merchant from Thirlby?”
            “Thirlby of Thirlby?” Robert said. “Hmm. He is well-connected.”
            “If I can marry her off by the time she is rising sixteen or seventeen,” Richard reasoned. “Then Thirlby will still only be in his middle thirties. Time for children yet. And think of it, Routh being connected to the wealthiest wool merchant in Humberside! We’ve sheep a-plenty.”
            “Hmm. It will be useful for me as well and brother Edward,” Robert said thoughtfully. “Will you approach him soon? You wouldn’t want him to marry someone else in the meanwhile. He is an eligible bachelor in these parts.”
            “True,” Richard said thoughtfully. “Eleanor’s sister Joan, my other ward, is to be married off soon.” He paused. “Second cousin of theirs. Apothecary in Hull.”
            “Well done.”           
            “Ah, ’twas nothing to do with me. The aunt Joan was sent to has been ailing, most severely,” Richard said in a tone that implied that he wished the aunt would just die already. “So Joan has been dealing with the apothecary quite a lot.” Richard narrowed his eyes. “She’s a pretty chit, eh, that Isabel?”
            Robert seeked her out in the gathering. He found her clapping along to a song the musicians were playing, a lively jig. She was dressed plainly, but the dress emphasized her budding shape. Isabel’s hip were still boy-straight and Robert rather thought that her bust was still flat as well. But her headcovering disguised what Robert knew was long, flowing blond hair and her skin was milky-white and perfect.
            “She is,” Robert agreed. “She should reel in a husband right quick once she is older and more capable of breeding. You said Eleanor was most eager to marry her off quickly.”
            Richard made a face. “Eleanor is eager to see her sisters settled into their own lives and out of our pockets—that’s what she said.”
            Robert gave a silent nod. “Perhaps you could sell her wardship?”
            “Perhaps,” Richard said. “Would your earl be willing to take her on? Or perhaps yourself?”
            Robert gave a grin. “I’ve married my daughters off. I could do the same for her.”
            “Yes, you could.”
            “When Ignatius and Margaret are officially married, then,” Robert said. “Then I will take your wardship of the girl and bring her here to live. Staying cooped up in the priory will give her a frigid, nun-like disposition. Most unappealing.”
            Richard grinned. “Not useful for the begetting of heirs.”
            Robert wondered if Eleanor wanted her sister away from their money, from their care, for another reason besides money.
            “I despise you,” Margaret hissed to Ignatius on All Saints’ Day, 1514. She was in the carriage beside her mother, while Iggy and Robert manfully rode their horses on either side of the vehicle. His breath coming out in white clouds, Iggy barely registered Margaret’s hissed insults. They were riding to St. Osana’s for Mass.
            Besides, since their betrothal, the girl had been telling him that she despised him at least once a day. Haughty bitch.
            St. Osana was near-full. The altar had candles burning, the denizens of Scour and the outskirts gathered in rows: the gentry at front, the others in the back in neat, standing rows. Robert swept down the center toward the front, the ladies and Iggy following.
            Margaret had good bearing. She stood with her back straight, gliding across the floor. Physically, she was attractive: regular features and a ready smile when she felt like displaying it, which was never. She had medium brown hair and wide blue eyes. The dresses she wore were tight about the bust and Iggy had often caught himself wondering about the size and heft of her breasts. But her personality curdled any kind feelings he might have had about her.
            Mass was familiar and mysterious; ’twas the feeling he always had about the Mass. The Latin words, understandable yet lending a mysterious air to the proceedings. The call and responses. Then, the ultimate climax, when the priest raised the host. Iggy’s heart pumped harder at the sight.
            As he lined up to take Communion, he eyed the glass window of St. Osana rising from her stone coffin. He no longer feared her story as he had when he was younger.
            After Mass, he had a few brief moments to greet his mother. In her ceremonial white habit with the black overskirt, her cheeks particularly red from the cold, Iggy bowed to his mother and then said, “His sermon was stirring.”
            “It should be,” Benedicta returned. “How goes it with Margaret?”
            “She hates me.”
            Benedicta frowned. “How so?”
            “She told me. Tells me so everyday. ‘I despise you,'” Iggy said, the latter in a falsetto.
            “I don’t wish my only son to have an acrimonious marriage,” Benedicta said. “Be kind to her. Be patient. She is likely as confused about these unwanted circumstances as you are—even more so, because she is a girl and she will, in due time, have to submit to you in order to beget children.”
            Iggy pulled a face. Benedicta stifled a laugh.
            “Margaret?” Iggy asked quietly, approaching the girl—his betrothed—in a gingerly manner. It was New Year’s Day and while the festivities at Collins Hall were still in full swing, Iggy found her in a gallery. The closest people were feet away and would not eavesdrop.
            Margaret turned, the ever-present expression of disdain on her face. She raised a thin eyebrow and said, “Yes, Iggy?”
            His hands shaking behind his back, Iggy smiled, saying, “I…I have a gift for you.”
            “Oh. Truly?” Her manner did not become happier or more friendly. Ice queen.
            “Yes,” he said and produced the neatly-wrapped package from behind his back and handed it to her. “Happy New Year.”
            Margaret took the package and unwrapped it, tugging on the ribbon to undo it. Inside, she found three small things: silk thread for her embroidery, which Iggy had bought in Hull when uncle Robert took his there for business (Iggy bought two of those, one for Margie, the other for Isabel); lute strings, for Margaret was quite accomplished at the instrument; and  two hair ribbons.
            “Thank you,” she said and her voice sounded more thawed than usual. “I appreciate it so much. I’ve a gift for you, too. May I give it to you later?”
            “Of course,” Iggy replied. True to her word, later that night, Margaret approached Iggy as he sat at a trestle drinking a flagon of mead with a neatly-wrapped package in hand.
            “Yes, Margie?” Iggy replied. She didn’t even flinch when he called her that.
            “This is your New Year’s present. As promised.”
            “Thank you,” he said, taking the package and gently opening it. Three square handkerchiefs were in there, mongrammed in the corner with “I.F.” His intials. “Did you embroider these yourself?”
            “I did.” She seemed pleased. “Mama suggested it.”
            “Then I shall treasure them. Thank you.”
            With a friendlier smile than she had ever given him, Margie left him to finish his flagon.
            “I am going to say, Brother Clement, that perhaps the time for education has ended and the time for application has begun,” Robert Collins drawled to the monk on St. Joseph’s Day in March.
            The frown on Brother Clement’s face deepened.
            “Ignatius will turn fifteen soon.”
            “I am aware how old my son is, Sir Robert,” Clement said, voice clipped, barely disguising anger. “He’s young yet, with much to learn.”
            “Yes. But how much of that learning will come from books?”
            “I teach him from charters, scripture, maps, illuminated manuscripts and from life,” Clement snapped.
            “And you’ve done a commendable job, Brother, but perhaps it is time to bring Ignatius under my aegis. He needs to learn my lands and my business interests as well as his wife.”
            “Your daughter and my son are not married yet, sir.”
            “No, but they will be. I intend to have them married before May Day. They’ve become friends at the very least. The timing is right. So. I’ll not send Ignatius up to the priory for lessons anymore.”
            That was his first order of business for the spring, to cut Iggy loose from his father and tutor. Robert knew Brother Clement hated him and he suspected that that would, in future, keep his heir apart from Robert. He couldn’t have that.
            The next order of business was to buy his brother Richard’s wardship of the Routh girl. Before the week was out, before Isabel’s fourteenth birthday came about, the wardship had been transferred. Robert personally went to see Isabel the day before her fourteenth year day with Iggy.
            “You are no longer my brother’s ward,” Robert told her.
            She sat up straighter at that news.
            “You are now my ward. I shall take you out of here and install you with my wife and daughter at Collins Hall. You shall learn the graces of a maid and then we will find a suitable husband. Are you amenable?”
            The wheels moved in Isabel’s head. It was true, Richard had been her legal guardian. Was being under Robert’s thumb any better? His influence was wider, true, but none of the Collins family were to be trifled with. And Isabel rather liked the priory.
            She watched Iggy, sitting across from her. With him living at Collins Hall, too, at least she could have her friend again. Tom was entirely at the mercy and whims of his boss and though he wrote letters, they were not the same as his presence.
            With great dignity, Isabel said, “I accept, Sir Robert.”

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