They’d told her that she was going home with a new dress as a reward for helping Prince Terrence. A new dress, a completely new dress, never worn by anyone else before was certainly worth bathing for. Jonna could agree with that but she hadn’t expected the enormous bath tub that could hold her and one of her sisters easily, someone to scrub her back, someone else to wash her hair and the towels. Towels almost as big and as thick as blankets. The maids had descended on her with those as soon as she’d climbed out of the water and then, when she was dry, they’d dressed her. Jonna had protested at that, only small children needed help with their clothes, and when they’d stood her in front of a mirror (a full length glass mirror!) she’d been horrified.
“I can’t wear this!” She’d tugged at the skirt made of a fabric she’d never touched before. “It’s silk isn’t it? I can’t wear this, it’s only for ladies. Besides, I’ve the pigs to look after.” Jonna couldn’t help but feel that this was going to end badly.
“Well, you couldn’t expect a gift from the king to be anything less than silk,” pointed out the oldest of the maids. “We’ll parcel your old dress up for you and you can keep this one for best.” Jonna would have been happy to have a dress just like the maid’s for best. The king no doubt meant well but her family couldn’t afford to keep a silk dress, not when selling it would get them money for something useful like a barn or a cow byre and a cow. “Sir Wendell will be here in a moment to take you home,” the maid tweaked the skirt out of her hand. “Everything will sort itself out, I’m sure.”
Sir Wendell did arrive shortly and he escorted her carefully through the hallways, down the stairs and out to the coach. He seemed to consider it normal for him to offer her his arm for safety’s sake going down the stairs and she was glad to take it because her skirts were a little longer than she was used to. She was glad, as she avoided tangling her feet in her own hem, that the parcel of her own dress and shoes had been sent down to the coach by footman.
Sir Wendell helped her up into the coach and climbed in to sit on the seat beside her. Jonna, of course, had never been in a coach before and she wasn’t sure that it compared favourably to a hay wagon but she’d been more relaxed on the hay wagon. Here she was worried she might damage dress or the interior of the carriage. However Sir Wendell began to talk to her almost immediately about the weather, which led into last winter’s floods, trouble maintaining the King’s Highway where it crossed the loops of the Seridwine near Jonna’s village, the prospects for this year’s harvest and the salt trade.
“Of course we’re interested in how much salt is,” Jonna told the surprised knight. “We have to buy it for ourselves, of course, but we raise pigs. If people can’t get salt then they can’t cure the meat so they don’t want as many pigs.”
Which was when they drove in the gate of another castle.
Jonna looked accusingly at Sir Wendell. “You told me you were taking me home!”
“I did, I’m sorry.” He looked entirely unrepentant. “There are reasons you were brought here.” The carriage came to a stop. “Now we need to get out.” The look Sir Wendell gave her wasn’t unkind but it was firm, “Please, I would prefer not to sling you over my shoulder to get you out of here.”
Jonna stepped down from the carriage to find that there was a second carriage in the enclosed courtyard backed by a tall tower. The king, a priest, a middle-aged lord and a young man were clustered beside the other vehicle. Sir Wendell put her hand on his arm and led her over to the small group where he bowed and Jonna did her peasant’s bob of a curtsey.
“My dear,” the king smiled broadly at her, “I do hope you had a comfortable trip. May I make known to you: my chaplain, Father Tain; Lord Addew who is the Warden of the Tower; and my younger son, Prince Rupert?”
Jonna bobbed to each of the men in turn. Father Tain blessed her and the two other men bowed in their turns.
The king went on, “Prince Rupert, this young lady is your wife. Her given name is Jonna.”
“Wife!?” Jonna and Prince Rupert exclaimed in unison.
“Yes,” the king continued to smile. “The two of you were married by proxy this morning.” He added kindly, “You were bathing at the time. It was a very touching ceremony – the queen and her ladies cried.”
“Married?” Prince Rupert, who was wearing brown leathers and looked like he’d been called here untidied from something he’d been doing, looked at the priest and asked, “Shouldn’t there be rings and things?”
“I have your marriage bands here,” Father Tain said, handing something to the prince. “Normally for a royal wedding there would be an illuminated declaration as well but this all happened so quickly it will take a while for the scribes to catch up.”
“Thank you, Father.” Prince Rupert walked over to Jonna who was working hard not to cry. He picked up her left hand and said, “Here, let me put your ring on,” and slid a plain gold band onto her ring finger. “Now let’s you and I go for a little walk over here and you can tell me what’s wrong.” He led her far enough away from the other men to give the illusion of privacy and asked, “Now, what’s the problem?”
Jonna looked up at him for a moment. He seemed calm, capable and rather like Shrimblestraw Jack back in her village. “I was going to go home,” she told him and burst into tears on his chest.