toward Finola. “
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum
,” she whispered in an encouraging tone. “Go on. Now you say it.”
Finola shook her head shyly. Astonished, Margaret realized the girl did not know Latin.
“What is the state of devotion here in this place,” Cristina said later, as they readied for bed, “even worse, the state of Scottish souls,if they pray in a barbaric tongue that God and the saints will not recognize?”
Margaret hesitated. Finola seemed a sweet girl with an innocent nature despite her somewhat savage upbringing. “We will say extra prayers on their behalf,” she suggested.
“They should be taught proper Latin, if they have the brainpans for it,” Cristina said.
STEADY RAIN KEPT THEM indoors for days, and still the king did not arrive. Margaret and her kinswomen settled into a routine when baskets of needlework were unearthed from one of the wooden crates that had come off the longboat, and Lady Agatha found linen panels that needed finishing. Following morning prayers and a meal, the women gathered in the small bedchamber given Lady Agatha to work, talk, and wait out the days, uncertain what would come next.
Glad to have her embroidery things, for she loved stitchery work and had a deft and delicate hand for it, Margaret was content enough. The silken threads in an array of colors, the feel of the fabric textures, the shush of threads drawn through linen were small joys that soothed her spirit, and she enjoyed watching each piece grow toward its completion. Her work was competent and meticulous, but her sister, Cristina, was a master, the artistry of her needlework surpassing even that of their mother, whose handiwork was always impressive.
That morning, Lady Agatha was couching minute gold filament threads in tight looping stitches to create a border for a priest’s vestment; she had finished the fabric in whitework, the application of white silk thread on pale linen to produce elegant and detailed designs. While Margaret was capable in all forms of needlework, she tended to worry over the perfection of her stitches even while wishing for the facile touch of her kinswomen. But she was grateful for the skill that had taught her patience, her fingers nimble, her thoughts focused, her spirit quieted by the demands and the rewards of the work.
Now she set down her fabric, hearing a commotion of horses’ hooves and the shouts of men down in the bailey. She stood and ran to thewindow, peering out just as Cristina joined her. The other women, curious, too, came to look.
“Who are they?” Cristina asked, as they watched dozens of horsemen stream into the yard through the open gates. For a moment Margaret felt a stab of fear, remembering the Norman invaders riding into the yard at Winchester, followed by the arrival of King William—and then the splitting up of the royal family to convents and captivity. Gazing down, she saw with relief that these men were heartily welcomed here.
“The Scottish king!” Cristina said as the women crowded at the window. “See the large man on the black horse, with the bannerman beside him, holding a pole with a blue boar stitched on silk? The blue boar is Malcolm’s insigne. I remember seeing it at Winchester Palace, years ago, when he came there.”
Margaret looked down. The king was taller and broader than most of the other men, his glossy black horse powerfully muscled. The rider lifted away his helmet to reveal a thatch of dark hair and a full beard, and as he tore off leather gauntlets and tossed them to a groom, Margaret heard him snap a command. The groom ran off as De Lauder approached, bowing.
“Malcolm? Good,” Lady Agatha said. “Now we shall learn his intentions for all of us.”
Margaret went to her seat in silence and took up her needlework, but stabbed her finger, her hands trembled so. Blood beaded on the linen, and though she rubbed it away, the stain remained.
MARGARET GINGERLY DREW her skirts up and lifted her feet