[Eleanor]: 668.Margaret - Grethe.III

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2011-12-13 04:30:48
short story
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As its doors were open to any who passed the entrance requirements, I mingled with students who came from all walks of life throughout the kingdom in my four years at the academy. Having grown up as a privileged child in a privileged class, I was unaware that others did not have the same good fortune. It was a revelation to me to meet people my age who had known poverty and hunger, whose parents were not able to clothe them properly or begrudged the food necessary for their wellbeing and who gladly sent them to the college, not so that their talents in sorcery could be developed, but so that there would be one less mouth to feed at home. 

Not only was I shocked to learn of the existence of lower classes and the conditions they endured, but I also found that unconditional love was not a universal. I had been raised with affection and caring, not just by my royal parents, but from everyone in the palace, from my nurse to the cooks in the kitchen and the stableboy who worried my brother and I would be trampled to death by the horses. The only other child I had played with was Grethe, and she was an orphan upon whom Mistress Rose doted as though she were her own. There was no room for cruelty in the household I knew, or at least I had never experienced it. 

But suddenly I was hearing tales from my colleagues that exploded my notions of what familial love should be. It was there I learned that aristocratic women hired wet-nurses to feed their infants and nannies to look after them. These students confessed that they never really knew their parents, having been sent off to boarding schools at the first opportunity. I realized how privileged I really was and what a difference it had made to my outlook on the world and my views on life in general. As a princess, if I had not shown a predisposition to sorcery, it would have been expected that I would marry nobility to solidify a political allegiance. As it was, I was now exempt from that imperative. Still, I wondered if I were not now secretly relieved to have been spared from the need to produce heirs.

While my fellow students became a family away from my kin, I still experienced home sickness and looked forward to our infrequent holidays. The school year was scheduled so that our recesses did not coincide with solstices or equinoxes, as these were times when only certain sorceries could be performed. If a celestial event was imminent, whether an eclipse or a planetary convergence, our leave was cancelled and rescheduled for a less propitious time. Curriculum was more important to the pedagogues than consistency of scheduling, so my trips home were often quite far apart.

As a result, I did not experience the changes gradually that occurred in my absence. When I arrived home after a year away, I was shocked by Percy’s height and the grey in my father’s beard. My mother, ever beautiful, also showed signs of age that were accentuated by a sadness in her eyes and she seemed to sigh an awful lot. We found ourselves alone together in her dressing room one afternoon as I was trying on dresses she no longer wore.

“Mother,” I asked as she laced me up in a gown of dark green velvet that revealed rather too much of my bosom, “you seem sad. What is troubling you.”

She stopped lacing and sighed, then resumed her handiwork and said, “I miss you and Percy a great deal. I didn’t think it would be this difficult having the two of you out of the nest.”

“Percy?” I asked. “He’s not left the castle.”

“No,” she answered, “but he’s rarely here. Your father sends him out on diplomatic missions now so that he gets to know the kingdom better. He is often gone for weeks at a time.”

“What about father?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “Do you not have more time to spend together?”

“Less, actually,” Margaret responded. “He is caught up in signing treaties and meeting with trade delegations and we barely see each other, beyond breakfast and state dinners. I am beginning to feel somewhat superfluous.”

“But you have more time to practise your viol,” I said. “Do you still play?”

Margaret sighed again and shook her head. “No. I miss playing with your father and I really don’t like practising in solitude. Music is something that must be shared, like a beautiful sunset or freshly-baked bread. Playing by myself just seems to emphasize my aloneness.”

“Perhaps you could ask one of the court musicians to accompany you,” I suggested, “a lutenist or harpsichordist. I’m sure father would agree to that since he can’t find the time to play with you himself.”

“That’s an idea,” my mother mused. “I would like that. I do miss playing my viol.”

Before I left to return to the academy, I peeked in on Grethe in the kitchen. She was more beautiful than ever, but her understanding of the world around her was no greater. Content to wash pots and tend the fire, she did little else. I watched her work for a while, then turned on my heel without approaching her. She had forgotten me completely, and I felt a pang of something I could not describe as I realized that she could so easily live her life in the moment and I was burdened with memories.

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