“I must beg you. A moment if you please. For I have travelled far. “
He looked up and nodded at me. Then went back to staring into the looking-glass. I could see his reflection in it. But I couldn’t see mine. That was to be expected. I’m sure I would become inured to that. In time.
Pen and paper beside him. That much I could understand. A desk, yes that was familiar too. Papers scattered around him. Books lying open. Him lolling in a leather chair : a king in a monastic cell.
I stared although I didn’t need to. I twisted both of my hands together. One went through the other. Indeed the habits of a lifetime are difficult to break. But there’s time enough for that.
This was no mirror. It was a window. With writing.
Which moved as his hands did. I looked down. He had writing underneath his hands. Each time his hands moved the writing appeared in the window. What sorcery is this? His hands writing in a window.
Then the memory returned to me. I still hadn’t yet mastered yet the skill of recalling my past. That would come too.
Wooden carved letters covered with ink…used for printing cloth.
This man is a printer : a maker of books. He presses letters and ink appears on a window. But how do the letters get to the window?
The question was unanswerable. So impossible to contemplate that I stopped myself. I was daydreaming again which of course is the best refuge of a prisoner.
But how do they get from the window? I was forgetting my mission.
“If you please…” I began.
He looked up and waved me away like King John dismissing a fly. And his fingers tapped the writing.
I breathed. I laughed. But neither made any sound. I held my breath.
“Arthur of Brittany,” the window wrote. My brother’s name.
I sigh. After my journey, if nothing else came of this at least I have arrived at the correct moment.
My dear lost younger brother : a sure and future king. Taken away so cruelly. With the truth hidden from history.
He kept pressing the letters oblivious to my presence.
And Lo! It is like the end of the World! When the Last Book is finally opened and the words of all that has happened spring forth. For the window is a mirror. It answers him with words and pictures and maps.
Why in this man’s mirror, is the answer, it seems to all my questions and prayers. Perhaps the last part of my quest. Yes this stooped, grey, window watching man has the key to my history.
But he notices me not. A Princess, a Duchess too, a noblewoman : one word from me, one flick of my finger would call him to order. One who history has overlooked and consigned to a silent grave. One whose one solitary wish now granted momentarily is to avenge my brother’s death, reveal the truth and arraign the murderer. Though humbled by my imprisonment, I held fast to the truth. Even in my last, my wishes which were respected, in my internment at an abbey whose patron saint was the son slayed by a false king.
But the man bent over his slate of letters only looking up to reflect upon the magic mirror, is too engrossed to be swayed by me. I know his pose, for it too is mine. The poise of a scholar, forever bound to seek knowledge until life releases one from it.
“I beg you,” I importune him. He cannot hear me.
I take another deep breath. I will give up this habit I promise if he grants my request.
Then I realise. Of course he cannot see me. For his gaze would have not left me : it was not for naught that I was titled the Pearl.
He folds his arms. He embraces himself briefly. It becomes clearer to me now. For he can feel the chill that I bring.
He reaches down for another book from the floor. He almost shoulders me. I am too quick. I move away and next I return : standing beside him.
He opens the book. He thumbs page after page. I see it. The name leaps off the page.
Him: William de Broase. The man whose history ran in time with ours. The man who knows. But never told.
I stifle my scream of joy. Even though he cannot hear me, I have so little time. For if he doesn’t find out the truth Arthur will remain unknown and his real murderer unpunished.
He returns to the window. I squint to see more closely. Indeed human habits remain hard to break.
Perhaps this was how Merlin foresaw the future. Even though it is an ancient legend. Even though in this new world, I cannot prove even that. Though this mirror certainly shows more the past than the present.
The mirror traces what happened to us. Mirabeau in France.
It was so unexpected. One moment, my brother and I were encamped in our lodgings, awaiting the final battle that would deliver the castle to us.
And Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine : the most prized hostage of all. The usurper King John’s mother. And our aunt. With her in our keeping, we would redeem my brother’s true inheritance and birthright : the rightful King of England.
Overnight, Arthur’s men had breached the outer castle walls. With the morning dawn, with fire and sword, they were assaulting the keep. In truth, we were within a door’s splinter of victory. Until the sunrise found us thwarted.
We hardly heard them. Soft step King John’s army surrounded us. They could not have ridden that quickly. They were more than a week’s ride away. Yet they were upon us.
The guards were taken. As the usurper’s men entered our tent, Arthur had no time to draw his sword. All of us were taken and the siege of Mirabeau lifted. There was not even time to conclude the morning’s repast.
Two hundred knights, Arthur and myself all separated. I was sent to England under close guard. John’s men moved me from castle after castle until I finally alighted at Corfe Castle : where I witnessed first hand the usurper’s cruelty.
And I never saw or heard my brother again. All I heard were the whispers of his death. From my brother himself. But the written record is untrue. And with his forbearance and blessings, I have taken it upon myself having gained a spiritual boon to regain his inheritance.
Although he has happened on the clues. Perhaps if I wait, he will be guided by my presence and find out the truth. For I can do but nothing else.
I am transfixed as his window tells the story. For the murder of my brother Arthur centres upon this man and the king he served.
Arthur’s imprisonment. King John’s orders to pluck out my brother’s eyes and castrate him. The words written so long ago are still too heavy a burden to bear. I shrug my cheeks as the tears come yet again, Yet the king’s chamberlain, Hubert de Burgh defied the orders. De Burgh let it be known that my brother was dead and in regret announced that he was alive. “Yes, yes,” I say as I sigh my tears away,”all of this is known. But the stone of the cherry still remains unbitten.”
Through this looking glass, I discern but indistinctly. King John’s return and attempt to placate my brother. Arthur, who could blame him after being treated so ill, defies the usurper. King John in his anger, as I saw with my own eyes, orders the imprisonment of twenty two knights in Corfe Castle. Arthur still defiant still imprisoned now at Rouen refuses to concede. And so, Prince John, I can barely call him King after this, orders them starved to death.
I brush away my tears. I can see their faces in front of me. Noble knights and lords of Normandy, Anjou and Brittany. Loyal kinsmen who had laid down their lives for Arthur and for me. And now had been captured and killed dishonorably. I know that I could call them and they would come. But they are not needed now. Their work is done and now they slumber in peace. It is best left that way, I’m told.
All of this is known to William de Broase. But history has kept the truth silent. Until now.
The man at the desk swears. I smile. I laugh out loud in relief. Yes indeed there are words that do not change throughout the ages. He inclines his head as if to hear better.
“I know,” I say. He looks up in surprise as if my cold whisper has caressed his bare neck. He begins the search for Arthur’s murderer.
He types the traitor’s name : William de Broase. Arthur’s captor and our betrayer.
The one that knew who killed my brother. Yet de Broase was absent when the crime was committed.
If I had blood in my veins it would be molten gold, if I had voice I would be screaming,
For the falsehoods appear. I nod knowingly: unknown to my witness. De Broase was here and he was there. But he was never at Rouen when Arthur died.
In fury I lash out. The letters click and the writing in the window changes.
My historian hits another letter. The writing disappears.
I’m far too swift for him. Each time he presses a letter, I make it disappear. Then far too quickly for him to intervene, I press my own.
Maud de Broase and William de Broase and Corfe Castle and King John appears on the window. He sits there transfixed. He must think that the magic window has been bewitched.
He swears again and I feel his exasperation as he lifts all of the letters. I feel his anger leave him. He puts down the letters as he stares at the window.
Words and pictures and maps fill the window once more.
Maud de Broase’s accusation against Prince John that he killed Arthur of Brittany. His imprisonment of her and her son William in Corfe Castle until both starved to death. Her husband’s inaction. Her husband’s knowledge of the true murderer of Arthur of Brittany. Her husband’s revelation of the truth.
I waft away from him. There are others to attend to. I have all the time in the next world.