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Normandie, January 1571
She had been forgotten.
Katherine knew that there was no other possible explanation for her having languished for almost six long years in the Abbé Saint Pierre-Eglise. Beneath her knees, the stone floor of the chapel was hard and as cold as ice. She murmured the prayers which she knew by heart but thought instead of the fact that none of the letters she had sent home to her father in Munster had been answered, not one. Finally, in despair, last summer she had sent a missive to her stepmother, Eleanor. That, too, had failed to elicit a response.
Katherine choked on both fear and despair. It was prim, the beginning of a new day, and although she prayed with the other sisters of the convent, today was the day that her life must begin anew. Today was the day that she must gather up all of her courage -- today she would confront the abbess about her situation
She had no choice. She was eighteen, and growing older with every passing moment. Another year had concluded, and in a few more months Katherine would be nineteen. She could not grow old in this secluded convent. She could not! She wanted to live. She wanted a husband, a home of her own, children. She was of the age when by now, she should have already had one or two or even three sturdy babes tumbling about her skirts . Oh, God. How had they forgotten her very existence?
Six years ago she, had been too numb with grief to care when Eleanor suggested, no, insisted, that she enter a convent. Her family had been in disarray after suffering tremendous losses in the Battle of Áffane back home in southernIreland. Three hundred of her father's most loyal troops had been massacred by the forces of Tom Butler, the earl of Ormond, on the banks of the Blackwater River, and her father, the earl of Desmond himself, had been wounded and captured by Butler. But Katherine suffered more than just the defeat of her kinsmen and the capture of her father. For she had lost her betrothed that day.
Hugh Barry had been fatally wounded in the ghastly fray. Katherine had been betrothed to Hugh from the cradle. The Barrys were kinsmen, and she and Hugh had grown up together, Hugh being but a year older than she. He had been her childhood friend, her childhood sweetheart; he had bestowed her very first kiss on her. His death had destroyed her dreams, and with them, it seemed, her future.
Numb with grief, Katherine had obeyed her stepmother, glad to have a reprieve in a far away convent before another marriage could Be arranged. Losing Hugh had been especially difficult for Katherine to bear because the year before Affane, her own dear mother had died. The earl of Desmond had been Joan FitzGerald's third husband, and Katherine was their first and only child. Mother and daughter had been close. Katherine had yet to cease missing her.
But she had thought that a new marriage would be swiftly arranged, that she would spend but a year or two in the nunnery, and that she could be wed on her fifteenth birthday as planned. Yet Eleanor had only written to her once, later that first year, explaining that she was with the earl, who was imprisoned in the Tower and awaiting the queen's pardon. She had received no other word from her father or her stepmother in five and a half endless years.
And the truth of the matter was that Katherine was afraid.
The prayers were finished. Katherine crossed herself, murmured "Amen," and rose. She hung back, allowing the other ladies to file out ahead of her. They were all noblewomen like herself. Some were widowed, others were too poor to make marriages, or were one daughter too many for the family to bear. Silk and brocade gowns rustled as the ladies left the chapel. Outside it was frigidly cold, and Katherine gripped her worn, fur-lined mantle more closely to herself. She paused in the courtyard as the noblewomen entered the dining hall, where fresh breads and warm cakes, meats and cheese, and ale and wine were being served.
"Will you do it?"
Katherine tumed, shivering, more from her nervousness about what she had to do than from the cold. She faced her dear friend and only confidante, Juliet, who would leave the convent in February, in spite of the winter weather, for her guardian had ordered her home to Cornwall."Yes."
Juliet, startlingly fair of skin but dark-haned with a full, rosebud mouth, looked Katherine directly in the eye, "Surely the abbess will give you permission to leave now. How can she refuse you yet another time?"
Katherine's heart pounded harder. Immediately she took Juliet's hand. "I am afraid she will refuse my plea again,"she admitted. Katherine had already petitioned the abbess twice before for permission to go home. The abbess had refused, explaining that not only did Katherine not have her father's permission, she had no escort, either.
Juliet smiled. "It would be, wonderous, to travel together. Oh, how I hope the abbess listens to your plea and judges fairly!"
Katherine flinched. She was very desperate, but she was not hopeful. Although the abbess was kind and well intentioned, and generally of a soft nature, she was a firm administrator, as she must be to oversee a nunnery fined with ladies entrusted to her care by rich and powerful families. But Katherine's will had never been stronger. She must convince the abbess that she should return home now, even without her father's permission. She had prepared her arguments. It was 1571. A new year. A time for new beginnings.
The two girls crossed the courtyard, Katherine too preoccupied to, speak or even notice the bitter winter chill, while Juliet chatted about how happy she was ...