ONE: Glastonbury Abbey
The girl wrinkled her nose at her supper.
Peas and soup. Again.
The nuns in charge of serving supper tonight walked along the table, ladling peas and soup into each woman's bowl. At the girl, the nun serving peas skipped her, leaving Lynette, the youngest child of the late Sir Danvers of Lyonesse, with only a bowl of the thinnest and most unsatisfying broth that she had ever laid eyes on.
"Why can't I at least have some peas with this soup?" She protested immediately to the nun doling out minuscule portions of the green vegetable.
"The prioress has instructed that you are to be punished for your disobedience to Mother Grace today." The serving nun replied plainly, showing neither sympathy nor maliciousness toward the girl. She had been with the convent at Glastonbury Abbey for over ten years now, and had seen many different forms of punishment doled out. Withholding food was one of the milder ones, compared with the whippings that went on about Glastonbury.
Lynette held back an oath that would have cost her more food. She could not believe that failing to complete as much stitches on her embroidery as the other girls in the afternoon counted toward food deprivation. But then, she was hardly surprised at the harsh punishment for the light crime; her two years at Glastonbury had already had her chafing against many rules of the convent.
"What have you done now?" Guinevere sighed.
Eighteen-year-old Guinevere of Cameliard, unlike the fourteen-year-old Lynette, was considered the model being at the Glastonbury Abbey. She was obedient, industrious, and deeply devoted. She was never late to morning prayers, never complained when the convent skimped on food in the harsher months of winter, and was extremely well-versed on the Holy Bible. On the other hand, Lynette was considered unruly, lazy, and at times deemed blasphemous by the nuns. She was chronically late to vespers, always the first to lodge complaints concerning working in the field and general quality of life at the convent, and displayed more interest for classic Latin poetry than verses in the Holy Bible.
Despite their differences, the foster sisters had become as close as real sisters. Lynette had been sent to her foster father, King Leodegranz of Cameliard, when her real father had died. Within two months of Lynette's arrival in Cameliard, King Leodegranz had decided to send both his foster daughter and real daughter to the abbey at Glastonbury to stay indefinitely, until he could arrange betrothals for them or manage to send them to Court. Over the course of their four-year stay at Glastonbury, Lynette and Guinevere had developed a loving relationship and mutual attachment to each other, with Guinevere acting the role of the older sibling and Lynette the flippant and carefree child.
"Nothing." Lynette whispered back. "Just didn't sew as much as Dame Isabel would have liked to see, that is all."
"You would sew much more if you would spend less time staring out the window and more time looking at your work during those hours," Guinevere said gently. This had been an issue ever since the first time the nuns had Lynette touch a needle.
"La," Lynette brushed everything off with a wave of her hand. "I shall be fine for now."
She forced herself to down the unappetizing broth, then sat and waited impatiently for everyone else at the table to finish so that they could speak a quick prayer before mass. As per the usual routine for the last four years that she had been confined in Glastonbury, Lynette and the rest of her compatriots were ushered to their quarters for novices who had not yet pledged to take the veil for life.
Though Glastonbury was one of the foremost abbeys in Britain and housed the daughters and widows of some of the country's wealthiest men, its lodgings were no more elegant than any common small convent, owing to the recent emphasis on plain things and simplicity from Rome. Thus, Lynette shared a cramped cell with Guinevere, King Pellenor's daughter Elaine, and Elsa, a young girl whose father was lord of some distant lands that Lynette had never heard of.
"Would you like some carrots?" Elaine whispered as soon as Lynette entered. "I saved them from dinner, and I know you were punished to have naught but broth."
"Oh thank you darling," Lynette beamed. She was not precisely sure what she had done to earn the younger girl's fierce loyalty and admiration, but she was grateful for it all the same. Twelve-year-old Elaine, like Guinevere, was also obedient and exceedingly pious, except for the moments when she quietly bent rules to help Lynette. The nuns adored Elaine as much as they loved Guinevere; oftentimes, Elaine was called a younger version of Guinevere.
"Elaine," Guinevere sighed. She heartily disapproved whenever Elaine aided Lynette, since she believed that Lynette would never learn her lesson, but she was not so cold-hearted that she could stop it outright.
Suddenly, Mother Grace, the abbess of Glastonbury, appeared at the door of the girls' chamber. Lynette swallowed all the carrots she had shoved in her mouth just seconds before and attempted to look inconspicuous.
Fortunately, the abbess' eyes were trained on Guinevere.
"My dear girl," the benevolent nun said. "Your father has sent for you."
She brandished the letter at Guinevere, then cast an appraising look about the cell, her gaze seeming to hold on Lynette the longest. "Girls, do behave yourselves. I expect you to quiet and sleep at the regular hours, despite this…exciting…turn of events." With a curt nod, the abbess swept out of the small room, leaving the four girls to gaggle.
"What does it say?" Elsa near from inability to contain her excitement.
"My father writes to wish me well. He says that he is sending an escort to come for me in a few weeks…and why…" Guinevere suddenly flushed.
"What is it?" Lynette demanded; she could not stand suspense, and this letter was possibly the most exciting thing that had happened in Glastonbury during her entire time here.
"I am to be married!" Guinevere cried.
"Married! Oh Gwen, how wonderful!" Elaine breathed.
"Why, that's marvelous!" Lynette laughed with delight.
All of the unmarried girls at the convent dreamed of a day when their betrothed would come to rescue them from the miserable, dank abbey. But none more so and more urgently than Guinevere, for she was already eighteen years old, and would be, within a few years, past the marriageable age.
"To whom are you betrothed?" Elsa pressed.
"I do not know." Guinevere said. "My father does not say. The letter only reads that a knight will be coming to Glastonbury to bring me to Caeleron."
"Caeleron? The High King's court?" Lynette raised her eyebrows. "Your betrothed must be a very distinguished man, if he is going to hold a wedding at Caeleron."
"How grand!" Elaine sighed dreamily. "Promise that you will write and tell us of it, Gwen."
The convent at Glastonbury Abbey was closed to all but the most major of outside news. As a result, the girls knew very little concerning the state of affairs in their homeland. When Lynette had entered, it had seemed that all of Britain was wrought in turmoil, with the death of the High King Uther Pendragon, the on-coming invasion of the Saxons, and no kings being able to agree upon who should be the new High King to lead. Two years later, news had gradually trickled to them that a new, and exceptionally young, high king had been found and crowned. Despite his age, this new High King had proved himself adept at battles, and had already won a number of large victories against the foreign invaders, and along with it the admiration and support of other kings. Caeleron was where High Kings traditionally held court. It was rumored that the young King Arthur's court was grander and more vivacious than any that had come before it. Lynette, Guinevere, Elaine, and Elsa all dreamed of visiting it some day, and perhaps being able to reside in it, should their fathers remember to take them out of Glastonbury.
"I will." Guinevere promised.
King Leodegranz's letter sent the convent into a flurry. In the coming weeks, Mother Grace was beside herself. The entire establishment had to be cleaned to look presentable to Guinevere's escort, so that he would report favorably back to King Leodegranz. The numerous statues of Jesus and the blessed virgin Mary had to be wiped clean, the floors had to be swept, the furniture polished, the gardens' shrubbery clipped and trimmed to perfection. This meant backbreaking work for everyone at the abbey. Lynette had never worked so hard in her entire life. The bell rang two hours earlier than her usual wake time, meals were even less satisfying than before (as the good food had to be saved to make a somewhat decent meal for Guinevere's honorable escort), and she spent nearly all day on her knees waxing or scrubbing some old relic or other. The only bright spot in all of this was that, so busy was the convent with work, Mother Grace was left little time to ensure the daily prayers and spiritual well-being of her charges. Asides from an abbreviated morning vespers and a reminder at suppertime to pray at night before sleep, the girls were entirely free from their religious duties. Though Guinevere, Elaine, and Elsa all obeyed Mother Grace, Lynette laid her head down every night as soon as she could, earning herself an extra half-hour of hard-earned sleep.
As the expected arrival time for Guinevere's escort came sooner, Guinevere was halted from completing the strenuous tasks so that she might rest herself and prepare so that she could make the best presentation possible to her escort. This, of course, meant even more work for the other novices. It was difficult not to keep from being jealous of Guinevere. While everyone else completed backbreaking labor, Guinevere was allowed to sit and primp and rest in her chamber, with the prospect of escape from Glastonbury ripe before her.
Lynette told her foster sister as much.
"How I envy you!" She cried as she threw herself down on her pallet after a particularly difficult workday in the garden. Her arms were streaked with angry scratches from struggling with prickly shrub branches all day.
"I am sorry, Lynette." Guinevere said, and she truly looked it.
"I would that 'twas I going to court." Lynette sighed.
"I am eighteen, remember?" Guinevere said gently. "You are still much younger."
"What is the matter?" Elaine asked as she settled into the room.
"Lynette is quite miserable about her prospects at Glastonbury." Guinevere explained.
"Don't worry Lynette," little Elaine said with a poise that was mature beyond her twelve years. "I'm sure that your foster father will find you a good match soon. After all, he will be sure to run into another respectful man when he is attending Guinevere's wedding."
"I hope so." Lynette said darkly.
Realistically, she thought her own chances dim. The future looked bleak for her. If it had taken Leodegranz four years to take his own daughter out of the abbey, it would no doubt take much longer for the distant king to remember his foster daughter. Additionally, she had not heard from her own sister, her only other guardian in this world, since she had entered the Glastonbury Abbey, and she did not know where Lorena was now. While Lynette had been dispatched to her foster father upon her father's death, her older sister, Lorena, had been sent immediately to a nearby convent, with the understanding that upon her twenty-first birthday, she would inherit the grounds of Lyonesse. By Lynette's calculations, Lorena would be twenty four years old by now and running Lyonesse. However, lack of communication from her sister indicated to Lynette that Lorena was likely too pre-occupied with her own affairs to remember that she had a younger sister alive.
Guinevere read Lynette's mood correctly. The younger girl had, in previous intimate conversations, confided in Guinevere her fear concerning her absent sister. It was perhaps due to the lack of Lorena's presence that Lynette had grown so close to Guinevere.
"If neither your foster father, my father, or your sister send for you by your sixteenth birthday, that is to say, in two years," Guinevere reached out and squeezed Lynette's hand. "I will do all that is in my power to bring you out of Glastonbury."
Lynette's eyes widened. "You jest not, Gwen?"
"You know that I've no siblings; you, Lynette, are as close to a blood sister as God has permitted me to have in this world." Guinevere said solemnly. "I shan't forget you nor break my promise, Lynette. You've my word."