I’ve been seeing Judiths posts on Twitter for sometime, and finally got around to emailing her! I was overjoyed when she agreed to send something in, and I am certainly not disappointed. After reading this, I was instantly reminded of Ken Folletts World Without End. That is one of my favourite books, so I am very interested in reading Sisters of Arden! If you’re interested in more of Judiths books, click here
A bit about Judith,
When Judith Arnopp began to write professionally there was no question as to which genre to choose. A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds an honours degree in English and Creative writing, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of Wales, Lampeter. Judith writes both fiction and non-fiction, working full-time from her home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales where she crafts novels based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women from all roles of life, prostitutes to queens.
Sisters of Arden
“The prioress says you are to wear these.” As I place the pile of clothing on the counterpane, she turns with a rustle of silk and moves toward the bed. Tentatively, she reaches out and tests the quality of the material. Then she closes her eyes with a grimace.
“It is so rough,” she whispers. “How will I bear it?”
“You’ll get used to it. It is what we all wear.”
“The prioress doesn’t. Her habit is much finer, and I’ve noticed her linen is of the finest weave. So much for humility.”
I make no reply; it is not my place to criticise my betters. She looks down at her gown, soiled now after too much wear.
“Would you like me to help you?”
She turns to look at me, blinking away tears. I see her throat move, testament to her inner agony, and pity tugs at me.
“Oh, heavens, when I replace this gown with that beastly habit, it will be like stripping off my skin and wrapping myself in someone else’s.” Her shoulders droop as she stares into an empty corner. “I am not sure I can do it. I am not sure I am strong enough to go through with this.”
I step closer.
“Of course you are. It’s only a change of clothes. Here, let me help with the laces.”
Her head is bowed, exposing the wisps of hair at the back of her neck, and my fingers graze her skin as I struggle with the knots. I tug at the strings that bind her, pull off her sleeves and unlace the bodice. Our faces are so close I can feel the hush of her breath on my cheek.
“Oh Margery,” she whispers and I look up, startled. She has never used my name before. I shake my head, screwing up my eyes.
“I don’t understand, Mistress. Why are you here if you still long for your old life? Why have you come to Arden?”
She spins away, tripping over her loosened skirts; her fingers are like claws, her throat a network of agonised sinew.
“Do you know anything of the world out there, Margery? Do you think women like me are free to choose where we go or what we do? Do you think we have a voice, or an opinion? Do you think our wishes mean anything?”
I shake my head.
“I wouldn’t know, Miss. I’ve never been anywhere; not even as far as Hawnby.”
She stops, plumps onto the bed and stares at the rough habit as if it is unclean.
“And I will probably never leave here now, either. I will end up old and wasted; wizened like the rest of them.”
Her voice breaks. She balls her fists, presses her knuckles into her eyes and sways back and forth while I look on, not knowing what I can do to make her feel better. Her shoulders shudder, and when I can bear it no longer I sit beside her on the bed and place a tentative hand on her arm.
“Perhaps … if you tell me about it, it will ease you.”
She raises her head, a string of spittle on her parted lips, her lashes separated and wet with tears. My own eyes prickle in sympathy. For a few moments, she blinks ferociously and I think she is not going to reply, but then she clears her throat.
“My family comes of gentle stock. We are well born but not immensely rich, but my father is – was – an ambitious man. I was set to be wed to a neighbour’s son. At first, I protested and didn’t like it at all but then … as I came to know him better, I came to love him and we were both happy with … the arrangement … more than happy. We were … impatient to be joined, but last summer, when the sweating sickness came, my father took ill and died and my … my betrothed died also …”
I gasp, making her look up, and her hand tightens about my fingers.
“I am my father’s only child. Had he lived, I should have inherited the house and lands and my son after me, but … because I am unwed, by some cruel facet of the law the property goes to my cousin, William, who is a cruel and ruthless man. When I wouldn’t … comply with his demands, he sent me here, with orders that, afterwards, I must take the veil.”
“Can he do that?”
She nods and weeps again, her body shuddering as she clings to my hand. My arms slide around her and she falls upon my breast, where I let her scour the sorrow from her heart; sorrow that I see now has been repressed for too long.
After a while, I find I am rocking her back and forth, as if she is a child in need of comfort. She sniffs and shudders while my mind considers the story she has shared. I rest my chin upon her head and wait as she begins to calm. By the time she pulls away, my arm has grown numb and there is a pain beneath my ribs from the awkwardness of our position. She sits up, gropes for a kerchief and dries her eyes, smiling ruefully, embarrassed by her outburst. “Come,” she sniffs, “you’d better help me into this beastly thing.”
She pulls off her shift and I avert my gaze as I drag the fresh rough linen over her head, tugging it down to cover her nakedness. Next comes the habit that swamps her frame, dulls her beauty, but somehow also serves to accentuate her fragility. When I notice how she struggles to knot the girdle, I kneel at her feet and do it for her.
“What did you mean when you said, ‘afterwards, I must take the veil’ – after what?” She looks down at me and our eyes meet, hers full of disbelief at my question.