for the garments. She had parted it in the center, yet let some wayward, forward curls tumble over her white brow. But the heavy masses of hair were neatly plaited and coiled in two huge circlets over each ear, except for the foolish curls at the back of her head which tumbled down the nape of her slender neck. She pondered wearing the heavy gold locket which bore the engraved imprint of her father’s crest, a white roe-buck, one foot raised in stride, with the ivy leaf behind; but decided against it. Of her few jewelry pieces, this thin gold signet ring would have to do.
She half-wished Constantia and Mary could see how well she looked, but they would only dart each other secret looks or gaze down their pert noses at the new country girl who had come to court and taken the Princess Isabella’s affections merely because she was some distant, long-lost relation and somewhat resembled the royal family in coloring and—she had heard them whisper—in her arrogant and self-important demeanor. How she would love to set them back on their silken heels by telling dear Isabella they had gossiped about that!
Joan walked slowly from the queen’s wing to the northwest section near the Chester Tower where Isabella and her younger sister Princess Joanna and the new baby Mary had their rooms when the Plantagenets were all here at court. Fortunately, she thought, she did not need to traverse the even more distant honeycomb of chambers where
stayed with his closest retainers when he condescended to visit.
Relatively few courtiers were in the main halls this early, for since the king kept late hours sequestered with his advisors planning some sort of grand retribution on the French, people tended to keep his hours. Some sort of covert English plans would be unveiled as soon as this present peace treaty ended and the Plantagenets could fairly claim their French lands owed to the English King through his French mother Isabella, the grandmother for whom her dear friend Princess Isabella had been named.
At least the guards at the princess’s door recognized her. No need to knock and have them call out her name today. When Edmund came back after fruit harvest at home to see how she got on in the vast court, she would perhaps have to tell him she was not prospering so well at all; other than Isabella and her eight ladies, who seemed not to favor her at all, she had only met the king once briefly, her royal guardian the queen not at all, and if Edmund asked about the Prince of Wales—oh, a pox on this whole mazelike place and all its busy, distant people!
“Joan, Joan, my dear friend, I am so delighted you feel put to rights at last!” The delicate Isabella bestowed one of her lightning-quick hugs and flounced back to her dressing table in a whirl of golden brocade robe. “Sit,
Joan. I am a bit late this morn and just about to soak my hands in this warm goat cream. I detest the stuff if it cools. Tell me now, do you prefer goat or sheep cream for your soaks?”
Joan sat on the cushioned stool wishing Isabella had at least noted her fine new kirtle and miniver
but what was that to her when she had gowns ten times ten that were far better and when she was so used to worrying only about getting herself ready to be
“I use neither, Your Grace, just wash water with sage and marjoram and essence of roses, since—”
“Oh, aye, that is what Constantia told me. How wonderful to have your natural beauty with none of this paint and art.”
“But, forgive me, Your Grace, you are so fair and younger than I. The older maids, I know, but—are you certain you need all this?” Joan’s hand swept in the direction of the clusters of perfume, paste, and unguent jars of fine, colored glass.
Isabella wiggled her fingers in the warm cream before she answered. “True, mayhap, dear Joan, for
—we are both fair, but it is the style, you know. Maud,” she called over her elegant shoulder to