her waiting, tiring woman, “dry my hands as I am ready for the rest.”
While Joan sat beside her princess wishing she had not arrived so soon, the nimble-handed Maud scrubbed Isabella’s teeth with green hazel twigs and polished them with a soft, woolen cloth. She rubbed sweet ambergris in the young woman’s scalp and essence of gillyflower cream on her slender, white neck. Carefully, she plucked a few stray eyebrow hairs and smoothed the pale, white cochinal paste made from delicate seashells over her brow and nose before applying tinted hues to her eyelids, cheeks, and lips.
Discomfitted and slightly bored, since she had frequently observed Mary and Constantia perform the same ritual, Joan sat woodenly, her mind wandering, wondering just why Isabella had sent for her so early, before the others. Now will that not add to their whispered chagrin when they discover I have been summoned an hour before? she thought grimly.
But as soon as Maud had finished with Isabella’s face and had begun to comb and plait her hair, the awkward silence was over. “Maud is a find, an absolute jewel among jewels, Joan. We shall have to see about finding you a skilled handmaid. I shall speak to the queen on it now she is nearly recovered.”
“But I have not even met Queen Philippa yet, Your Grace. I hardly think—”
“Oh, do not fuss so whenever anyone offers you a gift, Joan. It is done here all the time, I daresay. Besides, they give me whatever I ask, the king especially. That reminds me, I wanted to show you my new gowns but there is hardly time now. Did that porcupine seethed in almond milk I sent help to settle your stomach?”
“I believe it did help, though I did not know it was porcupine. I am so grateful for your gifts, please believe me, and I do not wish to seem otherwise.”
“Aye, well, the queen loves seethed porcupine when she is under the weather so I thought you might, too. Maud, fetch the gown or he will be here while I am yet half naked.”
Isabella rose so quickly from her little carved dressing table that all her cosmetic bottles jumped and shuddered.
“He, Your Grace? A man, some
is coming here now?” Joan asked.
“My dearest silly goose”—Isabella’s voice became muffled as an exquisite kirtle of white India silk embroidered with gold thread was slipped carefully over her coif—“it is only my brother Edward. Surely, you know a lady with any sort of reputation to guard does not receive
in her chambers.”
Prince Edward, here, soon. That was why Isabella had summoned her early, of course. He had arranged it to force her out of her safe haven. He would amuse himself by teasing and taunting her in front of the others who would swarm in here like butterflies—no, more like buzzing bees or stinging wasps—in just a little time.
“Now, Joan, do not look so ponderous, if you please. I meant not to scold about
You have only been here a little while and you are so lovely, you will attract someone, you will see. And do not be nervous about meeting my Edward,” Isabella chattered on, alternately surveying the array of winking jeweled rings Maud offered her on a velvet-lined tray and popping one or another on her slender fingers to admire as it glittered in the light. “You may have heard somewhere that our Prince of Wales is stern and moody browed, but do not be afraid. With me he is always a mere puppy and we get on famously. He has only been here for two days now as he is always out riding circuit to his lands somewhere. He has visited me each day, and today he has said all my dear friends should be here and he especially wanted to meet you. It is such fun, dear Joan—all of the ladies go simply aghast and blush and stutter all over themselves when my dear Edward spends the little time with us he does. It is such a great jest how they act. I tease them for days after.”
In the moment’s respite while Maud and Isabella conferred about what gems should dangle from