We are celebrating the Holy Day of Christmas at Lyonstoke Castle, where I live with my guardian, Lord Gerolt de Warrenne. We have just finished a sumptuous feast, for Gerolt is very rich. The centerpiece of the final course (we had five altogether) was a great roast boar, surrounded on a huge platter with greenery and apples, one of the latter stuffed in the great beast’s mouth. The feast has lasted from midday until now it is early evening.
Candles and torches have been lit, while a massive Yule log flames away in the hearth, flooding the castle’s great hall with light and warmth. Throughout the meal we were entertained by tumblers, jesters, and minstrels, but now that we are all merry with food and wine (although Gerolt insisted I water mine), we seek other entertainment.
Servants whisk away the leftover food and dishes and push the tables back against the walls, though carefully so as not to harm the beautiful tapestries that hang there. Gerolt’s castle musicians alter the soft accompaniments they played while we dined and begin a lively carole dance. We hold hands in a circle and skip sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, singing as we do so.
“The holly and the ivy,
“When they are both full grown . . .”
Antony de Reymes holds my left hand in his right. Gerolt has given us leave to marry in a year when Antony turns twenty-one and becomes a knight. Loving Antony makes my heart sing even more than the music we skip to, but he is a great tease. Sometimes he tugs me too hard, trying to hurry the circle, throwing us out of rhythm, or alters the circle’s direction before its time, not because he has no sense of music but because he thinks it great fun to throw the circle into confusion. The more frowns he earns from the other dancers, the more widely he grins. I adore Antony and he adores me, but sometimes his antics grow a tiny bit wearisome, especially because I love dancing best when we dance the steps exactly right.
When the carole is ended, Gerolt takes his turn with me. The company breaks into smaller circles and the drums and pipes begin again. This dance begins with the ladies being turned beneath the gentlemen’s arms and moves quickly into more intricate steps and formations than the simple carole dance. Gerolt is the best dancer I know. He always guides me so lightly through the steps that I feel as though I dance on air. My joyful heart beats as one with the music. The slender gray shell Gerolt tied about my neck when I was twelve bounces merrily against the bodice of my embroidered green gown as I skip and whirl.
Antony frowns when I wear the shell, as though jealous of the gift. He is sometimes so absurd! Though Gerolt is my guardian, he and I are as close as brother and sister. I cherish the gift even more than the jewels my parents left me for the bond that it signals between me and Gerolt, one that no one, even Antony, can ever break. Even the shell’s color matches the cloud-gray shade of Gerolt’s kind eyes. I remember how oddly they warmed with an emotion I did not quite understand the day he tied the shell around my neck.
He is twenty-five now and I fifteen. For a moment as we dance with hands raised and palms pressed together, I think I glimpse that light in his eyes again, but the smile he gives me is the smile I have known and loved since I was nine-years-old, the one that makes me feel safe and treasured. I wish I knew a gift to give him in return for these six years we have shared but I can think of nothing he does not already have. I will miss him more than I can say when Antony and I are married.
Gerolt kneels and kisses my hand as the music ends, and Antony whisks me into yet another circle. But I glance over my shoulder as we go and pray that Gerolt can see the love and gratitude in my smile.
Though the medieval dance in this video is not set in a castle hall, it will give you an idea of some of the steps Gerolt and I enjoyed together this Christmas night.
See how my story with Antony and Gerolt turns out in Courting Cassandry.