|Chapter One, in which Grandma learns to knit and we meet a handsome prince.|
When I was a girl I didn't spin yarn or wind it into balls for my grandmother like you do, Beatrix. When I was a girl I did embroidery and I did it badly. Likely as badly as I would do it now, blind as a bat, because I hated it. I hated everything I was supposed to do because most of it was boring to me and the parts that weren't boring, like learning to read, were wasted on the most rediculous subjects.
One day, in my twelfth year, after I had bled on yet another piece of expensive fabric because I was distracted during my "work", my nurse had enough and sent me down to the ovens to learn to help with meal preperation. She thought after a dreary afternoon of difficult and heavy work I'd be glad to embroider the next day. She was wrong. Instead I learned the fun of baking bread, or rather, playing with bread dough. Soon I was spending all my time helping with stews, learning to skin small game, and of course playing in the bread dough. I became the charge of the head of the kitchen who recognized some small talent in me and decided to introduce me, covertly, to her sister.
Penryn (third row, center) was an anomally to me. She was young, pretty enough, but had no husband and no children. She rode her own horse. She was different from any woman I had seen yet in my short life. She was also the purveyor of special goods that sent the whole kingdom into a frenzy whenever she came through: knitted hose. My dear Beatrix, in those days knitting was very new to us. All our cloth was woven, which was fine for a good many things, but the knitted hose were clearly supperior. So much so that people were willing to trade almost anything for a knitted garment even though they had to trade with Penryn who was... less than respectable, some even said she was a witch. So of course I liked her right away since my boring nursemaids and mother didn't (though they bought much of her goods) and as it turned out she liked me also.
I reminded Penryn of herself a bit, I think, and she was all too happy to show me how to do this craft of hers. She stayed with her sister for several weeks showing me the basics of how to knit and teaching me special songs that would help me learn the stitch patterns. Finally, though, it was time for her to move on. She had exotic places to go and get supplies for her next batch of finery (those goods would change the whole future of everyone in the kingdom but I'll get to that later).
Before Penryn left she presented a gift to parents, a case of knitting needles. Some were made from a dark black wood no one in our kingdom had ever seen and topped with little figures of animals carved from bone and others were made from wood that was striped, those had a point at each end. My father graciously accepted the gift from the strange woman but said to her that they were of no use as we didn't know the secrets of her craft. She told him that the needles were magic and that they would choose who truly owned them, that they should belong to whomever could use them. She tricked my father based on her reputation and it worked like a charm. She knew they'd never give a precious treasure like that, however useless to them, to an unruly girl without good reason.
Soon enough it was like that Arthur and the sword in the stone that they speak of in the west, who could use the needles? I knew they wouldn't let me try since I was young and they had little faith in my ability to do anything but cause trouble so I came up with a plan. I did a great deal of hiding and sneaking and spontaneous hugging to get ahold of all threee keys needed to get into the wing, the room, and the case that the needles were held in. I waited until the night before the next big attempt to find a woman who could use them (it didn't even occur to them that some man might be able to use them, like the men who make all the fishnets, I'm sure they could have figured it out with a little time). I snuck in with a ball of fine wool I had taken right out of the waever's basket. I selected a set of needles and cast on, hoping I could remeber all that Penryn had taught me. I knitted and sang my pattern song, working as quickly as my clumsy little fingers would allow. My mistakes were few thanks to the song and by the time I fell asleep I had several inches of a tube that would become my very first stocking. It wasn't thin and fine like Penryn's because all I had was wool, not the slick thin fiber that she used, but I thought it would get my point across.
Morning came and with it the bustle of everyone's early work. I had gone missing in the night so the women were frantically looking for me before my mother found out that I was gone. It didn't take long for mother to hear of it and join in the search adding more of the house staff to the task.
In my father's realm it was a day as usual but with the small bonus of having just about every woman in the kingdom parade through the stronghold in their finest dress. There was training of troops to be done, however, and he had recieved a new group from an ally that included that regent's son. It was very important business to train and look after the boy since he was a probable husband for one of my sisters (certainly not for me, I was no prize and this was a good ally perhaps even a friend). It was he who finally found me, lost as he was, on his way to find my father.
Durrow was everything you would expect from a handsome prince. Except he wasn't tall. He was still young, five years older than I, he still had a little height yet to acheive, though when he did he was still not the tallest man but not the shortest either. He was lean from training and riding. His hair was dark but streaked a bit from the sun, clear tanned skin, and shining eyes. If he had found anyone of my sisters I'm sure they would have been caught in those eyes, they would have been stricken with his handsome face but not I.
"What are you doing in here?" I asked this stranger.
"I'm looking for King Samus, I was told he was this way," he replied with a smile. "It looks as though I'm lost. What are you doing?"
"It doesn't concern you. What should concern you is being found all alone with the King's young daughter who went missing last night. I'm sure the whole place is in a tizzy looking for me."
"Ah, it's you they're looking for," he cocked his head to the side and his smile grew, "with all the hustle I thought they were looking for someone important."
"No, they're looking for someone who is a constant source of trouble. Why else would they be in such a hurry? They must hide me before people start arriving to try the needles."
"So Miss Trouble, what are you doing? Sabotage of some kind?"
"No, smart guy, I was trying the needles myself. With much more success than anyone else."
"Yes really," I held up my work to show him.
"Well done. Now if you could just point me in the direction of your father, I'll get out of your way."
"I have no idea where he is."
"Good, thank you," he said stile with that insipid smile and turned and left, stopping in the hall to tell where I was and ask directions to my father.
I'd like to say that what happened next was that everyone came running in to see what I had done and lauded me as a hero and that Durrow was won over by my beauty and obvious skill and we all lived happily ever after but that's not what happened. What did happen was that my nurse came in and scolded me followed by my mother who scolded me. When I showed them my work they were amazed for a number of reasons but decided not to change the day's plans. They just had me go through the line with everyone else.
I did get the needles and to me they were magic. They gave me freedom. Freedom from embroidery and kitchen work. They let me do what I wanted and go where I wanted, within a few limits. I was finally someone other than just a troublemaker. I saw much of Durrow that year, as he lived with us, and I grew to like him though he was smug. He took a fancy to my oldest sister and came to me often to find out what to say to her or give to her. There was quite a bit of training going on and new groups of men and boys arrived all the time to meet with my father and learn to ride and train their horses like he trained his. I had no idea this was because there was a coming threat, I just thought it was good fortune to have new people to meet with new stories to tell.
The year went by very quickly and soon I was accomplished at making crude stockings and breeches for my newest sibling. Before we knew it, Penryn came back to trade with us and she had something new, something that would become very important...
See you back next week!
(Prologue Link, Chapter Two Link)
Labels: Ill-fated story