20th day of the Dog Moon, 1192
It was the day before Thaeliana and the residents within Karivane Castle prepared for the Thaeliana celebrations. Queen Gaelynn of Greycliff, formerly the Countess of Faucione, was busy wrapping gifts. She had tried her best since her arrival in Thaelia’s World from the modern USA to fit in with the various holidays. Thaeliana was just another name for Christmas as far as she was concerned.
Outside the keep, a fierce winter storm dumped a heavy snowfall on the land. No one went outside unless absolutely necessary. In the mornings, servants broke a thin sheet of ice in Gaelynn’s wash bowl. Even with the stone walls covered with a fine wainscoting and heavy tapestries, the chill of the season drifted inside. Every available fireplace or brazier was home to a blazing fire. This didn’t stop the people from walking around with cold hands or chilled flesh.
Sipping from a mug of mulled spiced wine, Gaelynn studied the pile of presents. Her dog, Pu Li curled up on a lush carpet in front of the fire.
Only half were wrapped.
“Pu, I’m never going to finish my Christmas preparations if I don’t get these gifts wrapped. It’s just so cold, I don’t have the energy. I wish Chris was able to get a break form his training with the Silver Serpents. It would have been nice to have my brother here.” She let out a big sigh. “I’d love to have all my children home. I hate fostering them out.” She stood up and stretched her back.
Suppressing a shiver, Gaelynn tightened the sash on her rabbit-lined silk robe. It has been, what, 14 years since I arrived here. I was a naive girl of 19 who only wanted to be a knight. I never believed I would end up a Queen.
She looked at the stack of presents. There was a set of amber jewelry for Sophie, a new chain metal hauberk for Ranulf, an illustrated book on plants and their medicinal uses for Anselm, a new cloak made of Royalem linen lined with wolf-fur for Otto, and a Livanyan steel dagger gilded with gold and with a large amethyst for Arken. Her knights each received a gold chain of office. Her ladies-in-waiting each received new dresses. There were toys for the children and scented hand lotion for their care-takers. All servants would receive a silver coin and new blankets. Many of the items had been obtained from her trading company. She had a wolfhound puppy for young Arken, a soft doll for Ranaia, and a knights & horses toy set for Rivolyn.
“I’m going to need help getting these to the tree.”
A knock on the door distracted her thoughts. Without looking, she answered, “Come in.”
Sir Ranulf de Corbeau and Sir Otto stepped through the archway. “Good afternoon, Your Grace,” Otto said with a smile, “I expect you’ll need some assistance taking the gifts to the main hall?”
Sir Otto, Gaelynn’s Knight of the Sacred Shield, this world’s equivalent of a Templar Knight, had to be as old as her father. His short-cropped hair, including matching beard & moustache, was black with streaks of grey. Whatever his age, Otto was no slouch. He had the body of a man twenty years his junior. Ranulf put Otto to shame with washboard abs, hard muscles and the grace of a tiger. His oval face with a strong jaw and slightly crooked nose gave him character. The scattered scars, proof Ranulf survived more battle than she could count, made him dangerous.
Ranulf picked up a small package wrapped in red & silver brocade with a silver ribbon & bow. With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he gently shook the box. He heard a thump as the contents rattled around inside.
“Hey, that’s not yours! Stop doing that,” Gaelynn laughed as she took the present from the Captain of the Queen’s Guard and her secret lover. Damn, he looks good enough to eat. Maybe a Goddess will grant me a special Christmas wish and send my husband away for a while. I miss being in Ranulf’s arms.
“Where’s mine?” Ranulf asked as he eyed the pile.
Gaelynn crossed her hands in front of her chest in a mock display of annoyance, “Really, Ranulf, you’re as bad as the children when it comes to Thaeliana gifts. Have some patience; it’s only a day away.”
Pu barked from his comfy spot. When Gaelynn turned to her canine companion, he wagged his short, curly tail with happiness.
“Zabe’s Blood, what is that poor beast wearing?” Ranulf exclaimed in horror.
The dog had a large green velvet ribbon tied around his neck hung with two small silver bells. The ribbon contrasted with the dog’s reddish coat. The dog also wore a green blanket embroidered with silver stars.
“It not as if I can get a pair of reindeer antlers for Pu to wear! I think it’s cute.” Gaelynn replied,
“And he likes it.”
Otto and Ranulf made groaning noises, Ranulf mumbling about spoiled beasts.
Otto spied the package with Ranulf’s name. He bent down to pick it up. “I’ll just take this to the tree.”
“Who is that one for? It looks heavy.” Ranulf inquired.
“Don’t worry about it, Ranulf, just grab a couple of gifts and help us bring them downstairs.”
Gaelynn said, trying to divert her favorite knight from seeing his name on the cloth tag.
The trio placed the gifts under a tall pine tree. The ‘glittering monstrosity’ as Otto called it, was decorated with multi-colored ribbons, cranberries on a string, and various ornaments. It matched the theme of the Great Hall. Ribbons streamed from the rafters, pine wreaths were nailed between heraldic shields. Bowls of simmering potpourri filled with pine needles, cinnamon sticks, and other herbs sat on different tables filling the room with their scent. Above the hall, in the minstrel’s chamber, festive music wafted down to put people in a cheery mood despite the nasty weather.
“The Hall is bright. I’m still not sure about having a tree inside the keep but I shall admit I like our people good cheer.” King Arken, Gaelynn’s husband stated as he gazed about the room. Regardless of the weather or days plans, Arken never went without his sword or dagger. Today he wore dark blue breeks, a green tunic and black riding boots. The colors complimented his black hair and green eyes. His weathered face with his short beard made him look especially dashing.
Gaelynn acknowledged his compliments with a graceful “Thank you, Arken. All the folks are excited about Thaeliana tomorrow. I don’t care how old we get there is something about unwrapping presents. It brings out the child in each of us. Don’t you think?”
The tree and its colorful treasure were guarded by two squires with orders not to let anyone near the gifts until the next day at the official presentations.
He paused as he watched a squire guide to child away from the tree. “I suppose. I will be visiting your chamber tonight after supper. Be ready.” He left without waiting for her reply.
Furious at his coldness, Gaelynn tamped down an urge to run after him and refuse his attentions. I can almost bet he’s spending the afternoon with Rosamund. How like Arken to jump from one bed to another! Trying to put aside her irritation, Gaelynn closed her eyes to enjoy the music.
After assuring herself all gifts had been arranged beneath the tree to her satisfaction, Gaelynn went to the kitchen to check on food preparations for the morrow.
Jessup, Karivane’s chief chef, had a multitude of assistants rushing about the massive kitchen. Two large hearths, two ovens, and four long tables were all full of food items. The smell of roasting pig mixed with the aroma of fresh baked bread and fruit pies.
Thanking the staff, Gaelynn went to see how the children were doing. The twins, Ranaia & Rivolyn were having a bath. Young Arken gnawed on a carrot stick. There should be more kids here. Amelia is off with Arken’s mother, Sareane, and Emrhys is at Sealwyck's keep in Cusbergh. The memory of her step-son, Prince Kyrold and her boy, Averell shot through Gaelynn like a bullet. It was a year and a half since the two had died from the red fever. Her sons from her first marriage, Christopher and Phillip were at different keeps, too. I miss my boys. “Hellfires, if my brother Christopher could be spared, it would help with the emptiness.” Christopher had sent his regrets as his training with the Silver Serpents was too intense to leave Foxwarre.
Holding back tears, she left to seek the solace of her private solar. She asked a servant to bring her some hot tea.
Gaelynn had been musing over her lost family when the door opened.
It was Ranulf.
“I’m glad I caught you here.” He said stopping at her side. “Stand up. I have a special gift for you.”
Taking a chance at being discovered, Gaelynn put her arms around him. Being surrounded by his scent of leather and horse comforted her. “What is it?”
“This.” He reached for her face to bring her close. He dove in with a passionate kiss. His lips lingered on Gaelynn’s. “Merry Christmas, love.” Ranulf handed her a small box covered with silver cloth. Only Ranulf, Otto, Kevin, Aumery, and Edward – her family – knew of Gaelynn and Christopher’s true origins. Ranulf’s reference to Christmas was a reminder of her trust in him.
With a quick kiss Gaelynn uncovered her gift. Inside a box lined in blue silk was a pair of sapphire earrings. “Oh my, they are gorgeous. Thank you!” She kissed him again. “Yours is in your chamber, under the covers of your bed, thanks to Anselm. You can open it when you return to your room.”
Ranulf hugged her tight, inhaling her signature scent of roses. “I’m looking forward to it. One more kiss, and then I must go.” He crushed her mouth with his. Letting her free, he whispered, “I love you, Gael.”
“Oh Ranulf, I love you, too.” She whispered, praying no one was spying on the two of them.
He left her staring outside the window at the falling snow.
Ranulf found the gift where Gaelynn said it would be. A medium-sized package covered with green silk and a gold ribbon. He poured a glass of vorane and sat down. Carefully unwrapping his present, Ranulf couldn’t believe his eyes. Gaelynn had given him a small painting of his home, Orgryt Keep. “She captured my home perfectly. I can almost feel the stone of the walls and smell the flowers from Edith’s garden. “How did she do this when she’s only visited once?” Gaelynn had even included hooks and line so he could hang the picture up.
Letting his emotions out, Ranulf wiped tears from his eyes. A piece of his childhood would help to ease the pain of watching the love of his life interact with her husband. Someday, she will be mine. I just pray I can hold out that long. Tomorrow I must keep my distance and smile when King Arken stands with her. Merry Christmas my love. May the Gods grant our wish to be together soon.
Happy Thaeliana from all of the characters in Thaelia’s World
Stay safe out there!