[Eleanor]: 668.Margaret - Grethe.V
After my return to the academy, I immersed myself in my studies and paid scant attention to the goings on back home. My mother’s letters arrived every month full of news, but I scanned them quickly and put them aside to answer later. Then one day one arrived that put me at unease, not because of what it said, but because of what it omitted. Parts of it had been erased, then written over. My curiosity was piqued and I subjected the parchment to a spell which attempted to reveal what had been expunged.
Several times my mother had written “Stephen”, then erased it and written “Edward” or “your father”, then erased that and continued the thought started in the previous sentence. Her handwriting looked odd, as though she were holding her stylus too tightly, and I could imagine the tension in her hand as she formed the letters. Concerned, I used a simple scrying spell on a bowl of water to spy on the queen. But the exercise revealed nothing out of the ordinary. She sat in her receiving chamber embroidering serenely while Stephen played on the harpsichord and my father read a document seated at her ornate writing desk. It was a beautiful display of royal domesticity that brought a smile to my lips.
I had a visitor the next day. My brother Percy, having discharged a commission from the king in a neighbouring town, chose to drop by the academy to pay his filial respects. I was delighted. It gave me an opportunity to introduce my professors and friends to him and to show off my handsome princely sibling. I had not seen him since my last visit home and he had much news of the kingdom and our family.
As soon as we had some privacy, I bombarded him with questions. “Tell me about home,” I begged, hungry for news of our parents.
“I’m rarely there,” he replied. “Father has me riding over half the kingdom delivering messages and conducting land surveys. But I was back at the palace briefly about a week ago, before I set out on this most recent commission.”
“How was everyone?” I asked.
“Fine, older. Our school teacher, Master Fenton, is ill. There’s a new stableboy, Garand or something. Philip is grooming him to take his place, it seems. He’s good with the horses and my chestnut seems to get along with him, where he didn’t with anyone else. Mother’s maid, Ilsa, is retiring in a month to live with her niece’s family in the provinces.”
“Ilsa’s retiring?” I asked. “She’s been there forever.”
“Yes, it’s true,” said Percy. “I think Mother is a little distraught, actually. It must be very tough for her. Ilsa’s been her maid since before we were born.”
I nodded, thinking about the implications. Ilsa had been to Margaret as our nurse had been for Percy and me, except that we had outgrown the need for a nanny. A lady always needs a maid, especially the queen: someone to dress her, clean up after her, attend to the things she finds too demeaning to do herself. But our mother was not the kind to abuse someone in that position. Ilsa was more a companion than a lackey, a confidante and a friend. Except she wasn’t really a friend, but a retainer. She was paid to play that role. How complicated it all seemed when I actually considered it.
“What will Mother do? Has she found a replacement?” It was unthinkable that the queen be without a constant companion. It suddenly occurred to me that that sort of lack of privacy would be insupportable.
Percy shook his head. “She’s interviewing girls right now. But Ilsa will be very hard to replace. Mother is extremely choosy, as you know.” I smiled, remembering how long it took for her to find Stephen to accompany her. I hoped she found someone before Ilsa departed. Otherwise, she would have a succession of lady’s maids sifting through her apartments. That and the lack of privacy irked me even more.
“Percy,” I said, “doesn’t it strike you as strange that Mother simply cannot ever be alone, that she always has to have someone with her? Would that not drive you crazy after a while?”
Percy smiled. “I don’t know. I’m supposed to have a valet with me at all times. Sometimes when there is no one else around I will send him to deliver a message, and that grants me a bit of a respite from his constant surveillance. But yes, it does get a little tiresome. Often I forget he’s there, and am only reminded when he accidentally farts or belches.” Here he burst into laughter and I joined him. It had always been a source of amusement for us as children when our nurse passed wind. She would turn bright red with embarrassment and try to blame it on the cat, or dog, or some other servant. Suddenly I felt quite nostalgic for my old life.
As though sensing my mood, Percy asked, “When do you graduate from this place and what will you do? I guess you’re not collateral anymore for Father to marry off to some neighbouring prince.”
“Thank the stars I am not!” I exclaimed. “Life is so different here from what it was in the palace. I don’t think I could ever stand to have my own maid following me around, snooping in my things, reminding me my hair is a mess, tidying up my alchemical experiments. I certainly won’t ever play second viol to a man in power. If anything, I will be the one who is consulted before any action is taken.”
“Would you consider coming home and being our court wizard?” asked Percy. “I would certainly like to have you around. I miss you.”
I blushed. “I miss you, too, Percy. But I’m afraid that if I returned home, I would fall back into the old role of younger sister, and I can’t let that happen. Maybe later. We’ll see.”
“Well,” he persisted, “when do you get to come home again? Our parents miss you, especially Mother.”
“I can’t say,” I said with a sigh. “There is a planetary convergence during the usual holiday period, and we are not allowed to leave. Perhaps after that. I shall let you know as soon as I find out.”
Percy left the next day after a prolonged goodbye. I watched from the porch steps as he mounted his horse and rode off with his party of retainers and bodyguards, waving cheerfully, even though I wept inside at his parting. I was suddenly quite homesick and knowing that it would be a while before I was able to see my family again made the pain even sharper. However, there were tomes to be read and research papers to be written, so I turned my back on the now-empty courtyard and returned to my studies.