Knight in Highland Armor

By: Amy Jarecki



***

At least they’d allowed Margaret the evening to become accustomed to her surroundings. The only word to describe her chamber was ornate. The ceiling frieze alone must have cost a fortune. A deep forest green, embossed with gold leaf, the opulence numbed her mind. Rich tapestries of purple, green and burgundy shrouded the walls, each one woven with gold thread.

She’d slept in a four-poster bed with purple velvet curtains. Unfortunately, she couldn’t enjoy the luxury. In all honesty, this room stifled her breathing like the wooden slats sewn into her new gowns.

Ever since the king’s men had visited Dunalasdair Castle, Mother hadn’t stopped preparing for the fast-approaching wedding. The morning’s doting had driven Margaret to the brink of insanity. She could handle no more of her mother’s endless prattle. Did Ma not understand how nervous she was, how utterly devastated her world had become?

Dressmakers and their assistants filled her chamber, and even now, they sat in every available chair, embroidering and stitching seams with the finest silk thread, all of which must be completed by the morrow.

The tension in the room crept over Margaret’s skin and attacked her shoulders, clamping them like a vise. Trepidation of marrying the Black Knight worsened, if that was possible. Every time she closed her eyes, she imagined a grizzly old man snarling at her with yellow teeth and an unkempt beard.

She needed fresh air. “Mother, I should like to visit the fair below the palace grounds. Did you see all the tents? I imagine there are a great many wares on display.”

Mother looked up from inspecting a worker’s embroidery. “How can you think of traipsing through a muddy fete at a time like this?”

“And why ever not?” Margaret pulled away from the tailor, crossed to the window and drew the furs aside. She craned her neck for a chance to spy the activity. I need a moment of respite even if I go alone. “Please, Ma, come with me, just for a little while. I cannot stand being poked and measured for another moment. Master Tailor has it in hand.”

The man’s bony fingers stopped stitching for a moment. He glanced to Margaret with a thankful smile turning up the corners of his mouth.

It appeared she wasn’t the only soul in the room who needed relief. One more minute in this stifling chamber, being prodded, poked and pinned was more than she could bear.

Mother wrung her hands. “I don’t know. I should really…”

Margaret grabbed Ma’s arm and tugged. “Come. I’ll go mad if I remain inside—Black Colin won’t want to marry a lunatic. Mayhap you’ll find a suitable fur to replace your winter cloak. Pleeeease.”

Mother smoothed her hands over her white wimple and reached for a woolen mantle. “Very well—but only a quick walk around the grounds, and then straight back. I think ’tis best to keep you hidden from the nosy nobility. Let their eyes behold your beauty on the morrow.”

Margaret snatched her green velvet cloak and slipped the hood over her head. She cared not if she was covered—she was escaping this chamber and all the worrisome thoughts that had her innards twisted in knots.

Margaret looped her arm through her mother’s as they paraded out Stirling Palace’s fortified north gate, with two of her father’s guardsmen following at a respectful distance. The throng below hummed. White tents flapped in the breeze with a mass of colorfully costumed nobles and not-so-colorfully dressed commoners. They moved in a web of activity, accompanied by minstrels playing lutes and wooden flutes. Smells of humanity burned her nostrils—how invigorating it was to be out of doors. Everywhere Margaret looked, something was for sale—pigs, fruit and food to her right. Bright textiles, leathers, knives and everything imaginable ahead and to her left.

When she spied a bowl full of red apples, her mouth watered. She hastened to the display. “The fruit looks delicious.”

A dirty-faced vendor with brown teeth grinned at her. “Fancy a peck of apples, m’lady?”

“Perhaps.” Margaret mulled over the assortment of pears, dates and nutmeats. A young tot peeked out from behind the vendor’s cart. His blue eyes sparkled from beneath a layer of dirt. The child’s hair was matted, his cheeks sunken. Why, he appeared half starved. Margaret’s heart squeezed. She smiled at the child and snapped her gaze to the vendor. “I’d like a half-dozen each, apples, pears and dates, if you please.”

The man’s grin spread to his ears. “Aye, m’lady. Have ye a basket?”

Margaret bit her lip and glanced back to her mother. In her haste to leave, she hadn’t thought to bring one. “Have you a basket for sale? It appears I’ve left mine behind.”

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