Alys Bailey took a deep breath and pushed back the carved wooden screen. Looking down into the great hall that was swathed with glossy bunches of holly and mistletoe, she could sense, in the early dawn light, that all was quiet. She headed quickly towards the stone stairwell and, lifting the hem of her trailing green cloak, made her way down the spiral staircase to the kitchen below.
The sweet, yeasty smell of bread dough and the sharp tang of smouldering wood greeted her as she quickly looked around. No one stirred, except, Ned, the sleepy kitchen boy, who, fiddling with his outer tunic scurried outside to the wood pile, intent on his early morning chores. He barely noticed as Alys slipped quietly past him and headed toward the stables.
The comforting smell of hay, and the quiet munching of horses greeted Alys, and as she looked around the stables she sensed that she wasn’t alone. A cautious rustle in the darkest corner suggested that someone else was abroad early. Alys waited quietly in the shadows until a sudden noise startled her and looking round she saw the dark shape of William emerge. Gently leading two horses, he greeted Alys with a small nod of acknowledgement.
“Are you ready?” he asked, with a thoughtful smile.
Alys nodded, and held out her hand for the horse's reins, “ Yes. I am ready. Come, let us go.”
As stealthily as they could, the young couple led their horses out of the stables and through the courtyard. Once clear of the manor of Hawkwell, they headed for the nearby village of Neston, and the priest who was, hopefully, waiting for them inside the church.
The sky lightened as they made their way across misty fields, which were sparkling with frost and crackling with ice, and both William and Alys, lost in quiet contemplation, wondered what the day ahead would bring.
Neston church appeared ghostly in the early morning mist as William and Alys tied their horses to the outside post. Taking Alys gently by the hand, William eased open the ancient wooden door.
A smell of incense, and the honeyed presence of candles, greeted them as they stood in the doorway. The village priest, Father Aldous, was waiting to greet them and quietly led them into the dark interior to stand before the altar to receive God’s blessing on their union.
“Quickly, Father”, urged William, “Our presence at Hawkwell may well be missed by now and Alys shall not be made to wait any longer to be my wife.”
He smiled, and turning to Alys said quietly, “And as my wife she will be mine forever and safe from harm.”
With careful instruction Father Aldous led William and Alys through their wedding vows and had just pronounced them husband and wife when a disturbance outside the church filtered through the peace of the wedding service.
The outside door was flung open, and dust motes swirled fiercely, as the burly figure of Thomas Osterley crashed inside, bringing with him a sense of disquiet and more than a hint of urgency.
“My Lord,” he spluttered, “We had no notion you were gone from Hawkwell until the groom noticed that your horse was missing. Why didn’t you call for me to attend you?”
“Be at peace, Thomas” said William, “ If I had told you where I was going, then the rest of Hawkwell would have wanted to be here, and this wedding service was just between me, the lady Alys, and God. The wedding celebrations can begin once we are back, but first, let me kiss my wife.”
Returning to Hawkwell as William’s wife was the perfect start to the Yule celebrations and Alys was well aware of how much her role had changed. From today she was no longer the quiet companion to William’s lady mother, but was, at last, William’s bride and the new Lady FitzAllan.
The great hall was now a bustling hive of activity and the heady aroma of roasting meat and scented spices made Alys realise just how hungry she was. Greeted at the door by Ellen, her maid, Alys was quickly taken to her room to wash and freshen her clothing. A sumptuous new gown of amber and gold lay ready for her and she made haste to prepare. With a fine gold chaplet covering her glossy dark hair, Alys was ready to attend her wedding feast.
William Fitzallan watched as his new bride entered the great hall and saw how, with quiet grace, she walked towards him at the high table. William noticed her perfect beauty and the calmness of her spirit but most of all he recognised the aura of love that shone around her and thanked God that on this blessed Cristmasse, in the year of our lord 1117, he had found his own true love.
©Jo Barton, 2017
Jaffa, Timmy and I wish you all a Blessed and Peaceful Christmas