11921212 Cautious Curiosity
Late mornings are the best times to venture outside, the air is not as hot as it will get later during the day, and there is a most welcome tranquility to be found here in the pleasure gardens, compared to the bustling activity inside of the Royal Palace.
And so Ophelia d'Avesnes has decided to go for a little walk this morning, in the company of her dear chaperone Maryse and her old guard Florent, the latter keeping to the back rather while keeping a friendly but vigilant eye on his young charge. The Avesnes lady beams as she lets her grey-green eyes wander over the plants and bushes, until they come to linger upon the statue of the Virgin and the Child by the pool. Enchanted by the sight she draws nearer to pause before it for a short and silent prayer, lowering her head and folding her hands before her.
The tranquility is broken by the sound of a lyre and a soft voice singing an ode to the morning and God's beautiful creation coming to life once more. The singer is probably not alone, as there's some whispering, a giggle and finally some clapping to be heard as well - the typical sounds of a small audience.
Hearing the song and the instrument that accompanies it, Ophelia raises her head, her bewilderment soon replaced with curiosity on her young and so very innocent features. Turning to Maryse, she smiles with delight. "Tis the minstrel again. It must be. The one I heard the other day, when I paid Sir Chlodric the visit." Yes, it has been only that one visit so far. The young lady-in-waiting has kept much to the inside of the Palace since then, and the Flemish knight is said to have left it by now - no longer in need of medical care.
However, Ophelia rushes here and there with an enthusiastic swiftness only the young possess, casting glances about the more hidden areas of the garden, until she has located the source of the enchanting music - and that audience too, probably, whose giggles and applause she has heard a few moments ago. Her chaperone tries her best to keep up with her, but when she reaches her she seems slightly out of breath. "Dear Ophelia, have a little mercy on me." , gasps Maryse, a rather plump woman in her early forties. "I am not as young and agile a woman as you certainly are."
The audience is actually mixed this morning - there are three young ladies with their chaperones, but also a slightly older woman in the black garb of a widow and two middle-aged men whose scars tell of the battle they fought. The widow asks a question of the minstrel, which is apparently a request as he smiles and nods. Looking up briefly, he notes the new arrival and offers Ophelia a warm smile, before plucking the strings of the lyre again. This one a slow plaintive melody - a psalm of hope and grace set to music. He sings this one in the Frankish langue d'oeil, apparently for the widow, whose eyes soon begin to water.
Oh and they are watering because the psalm has some meaning to her. Not because the singer is bad.
Ophelia's guard seems to have more stamina than the chaperone, his breathing is calm as if he hadn't exerted himself at all when he arrives, a short moment after the two women have reached the little gathering. "Hmm, a minstrel." he mutters more to himself in his raspy voice, smiling at the young lady. "Aye," Ophelia replies, returning Florent's friendly gaze. "I have heard him before, from afar." But Raimon's smile, offered unmistakably in her direction, makes her blush a little and lower her gaze, it makes her even fold her hands before her and engage in nervous fumbling. It is clear that such a direct gaze is slightly uncomfortable to her and makes her feel awkward. But when the music sets in, those restless eyes calm and raise to behold the minstrel as he performs the slow paced song for the widow. "Oh dear." the young Avesnes murmurs in Maryse's direction as she notices the woman's emotional reaction. "She is about to cry, isn't she?"
"Oh love the Lord, all you his godly ones.
The Lord preserves the faithful
And fully recompenses the proud doer.
Be strong and let your heart take courage,
All you who hope in the Lord..."
As the psalm draws to a close, not only the widow is crying but the girls are sniffling as well and even the two men are somewhat misty-eyed. "I need to rest now.", the widow decides in a wobbly voice, "Come, help me!" She rises from her perch on a bench, holding her hand out to one of the girls. She hands some coins to another girl who duly passes it on to the minstrel who smiles and bows deeply in gratitude.
As the women depart, the men seem to losen up a little. "How about something to lift up the spirits, singer?", one of them asks, "Do you know the song of Gina the Gypsy Girl?" The minstrel chuckles. "I may know, Sir, but there is another lady present." He nods towards Ophelia, "We do not wish to insult her sensibilities..." The men turn and bow to the young newcomer as well.
In contrast to the widow and most of the other young ladies, Ophelia stays remarkably distant, apparently not moved as deeply by the song as the others. Still, she watches and listens with attentive curiosity. Her hands let go of each other, though, as she wraps her arms around her, in what might be an unconscious gesture to protect herself from those deeply felt sentiments. Her gaze thoughtfully follows the widow as she departs with the other women, and she stands there for a moment lost in her own contemplations when songs of another, probably more bawdy kind are requested. Turning back to the minstrel and what remains of the gathering, Ophelia realizes she is indeed the last lady present. Her grey-green eyes widen a touch as she turns to Maryse. And it is the chaperone who replies to Raimon's words, not the young lady-in-waiting. "Indeed, you should not.", the woman says with a firm voice, that is slightly softened by the friendly spark in her eyes. "Or if you indeed should choose to, we will be off as well."
"I would very much hate to drive a fair lady off.", Raimon replies politely, then turns to the men: "The hour is too early for tavern songs I believe. I shall be at the Golden Rooster Inn near St.Demetrius Square in the later hours today, so why don't you join me there for some entertainment?" The men nod their agreement to this and wander off, not without handing a few coins to Raimon as well. "Thanks for the psalm, singer. I hadn't heard it since..." He leaves it at that and abruptly leaves, his friend in tow.
Raimon looks at Ophelia and her chaperone again with a questioning look. "Is there any song you might wish to hear, Lady...? I would so love to magick a smile onto your lovely face."
When Ophelia watches the men depart, there is a nervous flicker in her eyes, although she tries to hide her unease with a little smile. Raimon's questioning look seems to make things even worse. Blushing lightly the noble lady lets her gaze drop to the ground, as if studying her feet in those light leather shoes that do not go too well with her orange dress will offer any assurance. "I... umm..." she stammers, her voice almost too low to be heard. "Maybe... some delightful song about a knight and his maiden?" This offered in a slightly louder voice, as Ophelia raises her gaze a little, her cheeks deep red, before she lets it drop again.
"Certainly, mylady.", Raimon agrees lightly, gesturing towards the bench the widow vacated earlier. "Please take a seat... both of you.", he includes the chaperone. Then he begins the story of a Galician campeador who fell in love with a fair maiden whose hand was promised to another she did not love. The future spouse exiled the hero to the Balearic islands but he swore to come back for his lady. In the meantime he caused trouble as a pirate in Iberian waters, came face to face with his nemesis and sunk his boat, then went home to Galicia to claim the lady and fulfill his vow.
The song is sung in the provençal langue d'oc, though there are clearly some traces left of the Spanish original, the grammar a bit dodgy and some Spanish words left in for more color. It's still a cracking good story though.
There is a short moment of hesitation at Raimon's offer of a seat, but then, after a quick exchange of glances with her chaperone, Ophelia agrees, offering a tiny curtsey. "I thank you, minstrel. By the way, what are you called?" she inquires, easing herself onto that bench, her manner still a little cautious but assured by Maryse's presence beside her. "I am Ophelia of Avesnes. My uncle, Sir Jacques was a hero - at least he died as one, in the Battle of Arsuf." The chaperone studies Raimon with a friendly smile, obviously not offended that Ophelia failed to introduce her as well. The guardsman, although not invited, steps a little closer too, moving behind that bench where he has a good view of any trouble that may approach - and the performance, of course.
Raimon has his priorities straight and so he sings his ballad first, before he finally lowers the lyre with a smile. "I hope this little tune pleased your ears, Mylady. I translated it from Spanish myself after finding myself enchanted by the stirring tale of Don Miguel and his fair Mariana. My name is Raimon des Baux, by the way. Feel free to call upon me whenever you feel yourself in want of a tune to brighten your day."
The performance did manage to brighten up Ophelia's features with a bright smile. Or maybe it was the gripping tale that made her forget about her unease and all. The blush has vanished from her face, leaving it perfectly pale against the colourful orange of her dress as she meets the minstrel's gaze with a most amiable smile. "It *has* pleased me. You are... quite capable. Raimon, the minstrel." , she says inclining her head towards him before she turns to look at her chaperone. "Maryse. You found it quite delightful as well, I am sure? Pray give this Raimon a few coins. He has indeed earned them."
Nodding to her young lady's words, Maryse rises to search in that little pouch of hers, hanging from her belt. And after a little while she hands the minstrel two silvers and another one, after a glance to Ophelia. Gathering her skirts, the Avesnes lady gets to her feet as well. Although she makes sure to keep a safe distance towards Raimon. "I will remember your offer and take you by your word, if there should be a tedious afternoon of brooding." she remarks pensively. There is a certain frailty about her as she inclines her head for a last time, before she wanders off in the direction of the Palace's entrance hall, with her chaperone and her guard following behind.
Raimon inclines his head gratefully to Maryse when she hands over the coins, then rises to his feet for a deep bow. "Thank you, Mylady, that is very kind of you. May God watch over your path." When she's gone and he is all alone, he discreetly counts the coins he's made this morning, then scurries towards the exit and the pubs with a happy grin.