As promised, in celebration of the release on July 31 of For Love of the Rose, Book Two of the Ballads of the Roses, I have a special post for you.
When I published Rose of Hope, I deleted the entire, chapter length, ‘prose form’ prologue. Now, for the first time, I release that prologue for those of you who loved Cynric.
Imagine yourself sitting around a campfire with friends on a warm summer night. Others have shared their campfire tales. Now it’s my turn. Listen while I tell, in narrative form, the tale of how Cynric met his sister, Ysane.
Waltham Forest, northeast Eastseaxe, Angelcynn [England]
High Summer – the Month of Mowing, 1060
Across the width of the sunny glade, clear eyes of moss green met a wary gaze of feral gold.
A sound, a cross between a whine and a growl, vibrated low in the she-wolf’s throat at the enemy so nigh, but hunger gnawed her shrunken belly and her prey was but a leap away. For a few fragile, terrible seconds, she hung between fear and the caution of instinct engendered by sight and scent of the man. The fear warred with the hunger. The hunger won. She leapt.
The high-pitched shriek of a child muffled the twang of the bowstring as the arrow sped to embed itself in the she-wolf’s heart. She was dead ere she hit the ground, never reaching her quarry.
Cynric Wulfsingas, a young man of seven and ten summers, with eyes the color of the green moss that grew beneath the trees, sprinted across the glade and lifted the flaxen-haired little one in his arms. She was his sister, but ’twas the first time he had touched her, and he held her close, whispering words of comfort, and cradled her in strong arms until her fear faded and her innate curiosity arose.
As he carried her toward her home, she chatted to him about her adventures. Pudgy, mud-streaked fingers explored the straight length of his nose and the scar that marred his right cheek. She petted the fuzz of his golden beard as she would stroke the fur of her favorite cat, then sniffed and told him he smelled good.
The tiny imp was Ysane, daughter of Kenrick Wulfsingas, King’s Thegn and Lord of Wulfsinraed, and barely four summers old. Her parents had taken her along when they went to enjoy a quiet lunch at a meadow nigh their home, during which time she had wandered away and gotten herself thoroughly lost in the forest.
’Twas a day of pristine beauty, the kind of sun-basked moment created for throwing a quilted pallet onto soft meadow grass and sharing a basket of bread, slices of baked chicken, sweet ripe berries and creamy cheese. Wildflowers bloomed in profusion, the scent heavy on the warm, humid air. Their fragrance mingled with that of the sweet meadow grass and the rich, damp earth. Butterflies and bees fluttered and zipped, while dragonflies flitted between them both. Ants and flies competed with each other in their efforts to reach the bounty left in the basket. Occasional black clouds of annoying gnats were encouraged to whisk away to other locations by the waving of the linen squares that had wrapped the food.
After the meal, Kenrick and his wife Edeva laid Ysane down for her nap, for she was warm and drowsy from a full belly and a morn of laughter and play. Thinking the little one safely immersed in sleep on the far edge of the blanket, they turned their attention to each other. Soon, they were engrossed in loving, and unaware when she awoke and wandered away, following a bright-winged butterfly.
She had rambled a very long way indeed for one so small.
Cynric’s heart thundered at what would have happened had he not heard the panicked cries of her parents and learned she had disappeared, and could not be found.
With the consummate skill born of years of woodland living, he tracked her.
She had lingered awhile at a small pool that gently foamed at the base of a low waterfall. Upon a large flat rock a blue hair ribbon, and pieces of shredded fern laid out in a ragged pattern with pebbles from the edges of the pool, gave evidence of how she had played there. Had she not done so, he would not have caught up with her in time.
Now, safe in his arms, she grew sleepy again. The steady rocking motion of his strides was lulling her back to her broken nap. The pauses between her chatters grew longer until they ceased altogether, when a tiny thumb slipped into her mouth and she began to suck. The lids over her moss green eyes, so like to his, grew heavier. Pale lashes fluttered. Moments later, they closed and she slept, her trust in him absolute as none but a very young child’s could be.
He brought her back to the edge of the meadow from which she had wandered.
Surrounded by her women from the hall, a weeping Edeva waited for word. He called out to her. Even as she cried out in unrestrained emotion and ran toward them, he laid the little one in the grass. He turned and disappeared back into the forest ere the mother could reach the spot where Ysane now lay innocently sleeping, blissfully unaware of the consternation she had caused.
Edeva cried to him to wait, but he was already gone, and she had no room in her heart for wondering why when her joy so fully overflowed. Sobbing her relief, she scooped up her child and covered the dirty little face with kisses. Ysane awoke and immediately began to fuss, agitated at such confusing and unwelcome attentions.
Not long after, Kenrick returned, his heart heavy with fear and loss. Both turned to gladness, and unashamed tears streaked his own cheeks when he found his daughter safe. He, too, wondered at the whim that took her rescuer away ere he could be properly thanked. But his curiosity carried a speculative edge, for he knew better than anyone else the probable motive behind Cynric’s evasiveness. Despite himself, his guilty response was relief.
As the laughing, rejoicing family and all those with them returned home, Kenrick determined in his heart to find a way to reward the young man. Some days later, he decided upon what he thought was an appropriate recompense. He journeyed to the cottage in the forest where Cynric dwelt alone.
No word was said, but tension vibrated between the two as they met, and Kenrick thought Cynric would refuse him entrance. In all fairness, he would not blame him. But finally, the young man stepped back, inviting him in. The father glanced around the cottage, noting that while a poor space, ’twas yet warm and comfortable. Kenrick’s moss green eyes took special note of the beauty and skill of the intricate carving of the furniture that graced the otherwise rude interior.
Over cups of cool spring water, Kenrick came quickly to the point, asking Cynric to become the master woodcarver for the hall. Their old carver had but recently died and there was no one experienced enough to take his place. Once again, Kenrick expected the young man to refuse, but instead, Cynric nodded in agreement.
Cynric noted the surprise and smiled, but the movement of his lips was grim, and not amused. He would accept, he said, but only on one condition. He must be allowed to continue to live in his own home, and have no more contact with the hall and its inhabitants than was needful to accomplish his task. He lived a solitary life, and ‘twas his choice to remain apart from all others.
The lord agreed. They grasped wrists, their moss green eyes meeting and holding for longer than was wont. Kenrick nodded once, and then went on his way. Cynric stood in the doorway of the cottage and watched as the deep shadow beneath the trees swallowed the figure of the older man.
The skin around his eyes crinkled as a smile of satisfaction curved his mouth. He was pleased. The new position would continue to afford him the solitude he craved, while at the same time allowing him greater ease in watching over Ysane. This last was of prime importance to him, for though he had only rarely seen her, he loved her, and at her birth had named himself her protector.
Over the course of the following years, as Ysane grew into a beautiful and happy girl, he kept his watch over her. He saved her life a second time when she was nine summers of age.
In disobedience to her parent’s admonition, she was wading alone, downstream in the river. Observing her antics from behind a tree, he was chuckling in open amusement at her imitation of a large wading bird. The skirts of her cyrtel were hiked up around her thighs to keep them dry, and she stood on one foot, attempting, rather ludicrously, to lure a brown trout, hiding in tree roots by the bank, nigh enough to catch. But a small green snake glided by, and its sinuous body brushed against the bare skin of her leg from behind, startling her. She fell.
The river ran neither fast nor dangerously deep in this spot, but the folds of her cyrtel became entangled in the submerged roots, holding her under. She could not free them, nor could she reach the surface to breath and she foundered, her limbs thrashing in blind panic.
Cynric was beside her in moments, lifting her head above the water. She coughed, and sputtered and choked, but she had not been under long enough to be in serious danger of drowning.
He freed her skirts and carried her ashore, but then the backlash of the wild terror he had felt when he realized she could not breathe took over and he gave her the tongue-lashing of her young life. He yelled that if she ever again did aught so stupid, he would certainly thrash her.
Ysane stared in disbelief into eyes of the same brilliant green as her own. Stunned that this strange man whom she barely knew would speak to her in such a way, she yelled back at him, reminding him haughtily that she was the thegn’s daughter and he was but the woodcarver. He had no right to speak to her that way.
The hurt that flashed across his face was quickly masked, but even at her tender age, she saw it. Sudden shame flooded her. This kind man had saved her life, and she berated him as if he were naught but the lowliest serf. He turned to leave, but quickly she called him back and found the words to tell him of her repentance. She asked his name, and then reached to flit her fingertips over the scar that jagged across his cheek. He tried to flinch away, but she would not allow it, and held his chin with her fingers so she could search his face.
She smiled, then, and motioned him to turn around while she changed out of her wet cyrtel, to slip instead into the syrce she had left on the shore. Pulling him down to sit beside her in the warm sun, she unbound her hair from its braid and spread it out to dry. His green eyes filled with awe at the sight. He tentatively grasped an almost white strand and rubbed it between his fingers.
She watched, and filled with curiosity about him, she urged him to speak of himself, but he would not. So she chattered to him of her life, most of which he already familiar, though she knew it not.
She wanted to know where he lived, for he resided not at the hall or in the village. He told her briefly of his cottage in the woods, but when she asked him to take her there, he refused. The cottage was his home, he said, and few came there. Her curiosity further piqued, she persuaded and cajoled, and finally tickled his ribs until he agreed.
That happy, carefree day began a strange, off-and-on friendship between the lonely, silent woodsman and the thegn’s lovely daughter. They met only occasionally, always in the forest, and never when others were about. Both felt the pull of the powerful connection between them, as if they had always known and loved each other.
Only he knew its cause, but he never spoke of it, never told her they shared the same father.
She grew closer to him than ever she was to her siblings, for though they loved her they far exceeded her in years, for she was not the offspring of her parent’s youth. She had been an unexpected but welcome creation of the love of their declining days.
Her elder brother and sister knew of her friendship with Cynric, but she swore them to secrecy. Her parents, though they also loved her were busy with the cares of life, and thus had no eyes to see. Her friend Domnall, the First Marshal of her father’s hearth companions also learned of it, but he knew Cynric’s paternity, and so found naught in the relationship to foster concern, though he watched it from afar.
Time passed, and Cynric learned from her constant chatter all there was to know of her simple but happy life, while she gleaned almost naught of his beyond what was obvious on the surface. The self-absorption of youth kept her unaware of the odd imbalance. He did not mind.
One day she brought to him a wonderful thing that she wished to share with him. ’Twas a precious object, exceedingly rare and immensely valuable, a book concerning an ancient Grecian warrior who made a fantastic odyssey across the seas. As she read to him, they discovered another thing they shared: a love for the rich tales and stories of the past. He could not refuse her offer to teach him to read, for he desired to study these glorious tales for himself.
Their affection for each other deepened, yet still he would not leave his reclusive retreat in the forest, though she begged him oft. Thus, she came to him, and she brought the precious books, and found him an apt pupil. ’Twas not long ere his skill at reading matched her own, while his comprehension surpassed hers.
… And so time passed, and a deep, comfortable, familial love grew between them. He was the one whose admiration she sought first when her father gifted her with a new gown. He listened with carefully hidden amusement as she spun webs of romantic nonsense about her betrothed, whom she had never yet met. ’Twas from him she sought advice for answers to her questions about growing up, for despite the solitude that characterized his life, he was wise in the ways of the earth. He had learned early that in nature one could find the answers to most of life’s most profound questions.
’Twas to him she fled for comfort when first her mother, Edeva, died from a strange fever, and then again, two years later, when her brother Kennard’s life was lost during a hunt for wild stag. The broad woodcarver’s shoulders bore the brunt of her agonized tears and his calloused hands shook with his own pain for her grief as they stroked her flaxen hair.
Mayhap the strange friendship would have continued indefinitely on the same straightforward course had not life, as so frequently happened, intervened. But events occurred that set them both on paths that not only tore them apart, but also set him against her in ways he had never foreseen. He became a man torn by loyalties she could not understand, for he could never tell her the truth.
Yet, in the mysterious dance that is life, fate does not always remain cruel, and fortune favored the two. In time, and at the very nick of time, he learned the truth of where his true loyalty should lie, and found the courage born of love to act upon it. Had he known the cost, still he would not have faltered. For he was her protector, and through all that transpired in those days, that one reality endured: love.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the early life of our hero, Cynric.