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The Cure for Envy

There was no other word for it. It was envy.

Strolling through the dense forest surrounding Lutterworth Manor, Lady Alice contemplated its abundant life. Two hares scampered across her path; a dragonfly darted among the vines; birdsong rang out from above; leaves rustling in the gentle breeze spoke to her in hushed tones. She gasped at the sudden awareness of how free the creatures in her beloved forest were.

"These creatures are free and I'm envious of a dragonfly!" she thought.

The soft autumnal wind caressed her ivory colored cheeks and created patches of soft pink as if she were a blushing bride. Her jewel-like eyes fringed with long lashes fluttered holding back tears of desperation. She released her long, chestnut brown hair from the headdress and relished the feel of it dancing in the wind. If only she could be like her tresses at that moment.

"Begging your pardon, my Lady. Lord David will be returning shortly from the hunt. We should return to the manor. He will be expecting you in the great hall," Lady Alice's handmaid, Mary, spoke softly. She recognized her Lady's mood but would never dare to speak of it.

"Thank you, Mary. We shall return," Lady Alice said and shook her head in an attempt to release her melancholic feeling.

Lady Alice turned her gaze down the path toward the manor house and lifted her heavy skirt just enough to allow a longer stride. As she walked among the patches of moss and speckled leaves, she mentally braced herself for Lord David's return. The steel web he had spun around every aspect of her life was sucking the life out of her. Once again, she felt like a fly caught in a web fighting for survival.

Upon entering the great hall, Lady Alice composed herself. She resumed the deportment of a lady and strode with a regal air to the set of high-back chairs in front of the fireplace. Sitting with a straight back, she swept up the loose ends of her hair and took a deep breath. He was coming. She could hear the sound of hooves, men laughing and the hounds barking. When the grand doors opened, her body tensed. It took every ounce of self-control to remain still and calm. She prepared herself for his bold presence, rough touch and demeaning speech.

When Lord David entered the hall, she was reminded of their first meeting. At age eight, she was presented to him as his future wife. He seemed like a giant of a man who smelled of whiskey and horses. His head was a mass of scraggly hair. Small green eyes pierced through the bushy eyebrows and his gaze was like a knife cutting through her body. She had stared up at him and began to cry. When she had stepped behind her mother's skirt, her father reprimanded her and reminded her of duty to family and King. She was to marry whomever King John and her family desired. That afternoon, Lord David had negotiated a good marriage. She had no choice.

Today, at age nineteen, Lady Alice was his wife of four years. She watched as he swaggered through the hall toward her. His clothes were covered with dirt and blood from the hunt. Mud clung to his boots and the smell of lager reeked from his pores. He slouched down in the chair opposite of her and drunkenly surveyed his wife from head to toe.

"Well, my lady. You are looking very proper today. Have you fulfilled your duty as a wife? Are there any signs of a child yet?" he sneered.

"No, my Lord. I do beg your forgiveness for disappointing you. All is well here. It is pleasant to see you safely home after such a long time away from the manor," she said as she reached down for her embroidery in the basket next to the chair.

"You are a disappointment, my lady. I will see to my duties with you later tonight," he added as he rose from the chair.

Lady Alice's stomach lurched at the thought of her duty. Memories of her wedding night flooded her mind. No one had told her what to expect that night. After consummating the marriage, he had laughed and left the room to spend the remainder of the night boisterously partying with his friends in the great hall. She remembered laying in her marriage bed weeping and acknowledging that she would have to bed him whenever he wished. It was her duty.

The morning after his return from the hunt, Lady Alice found her husband studying her entries in his finance ledger. His frown did not concern her. She knew her work was accurate and beyond reproach. If is wasn't, she would be severely punished. Her husband's form of discipline had worked. She would never let him find another reason to lock her in the stables at night under the watchful eye of a servant. He had done it once and she swore it would never happen again.

"My Lord, I beg your pardon. I do hope you find the ledger accurate," she stated.

"As it should be. Why do I see you standing there? Don't you have a house to manage?"

"Yes. I understand you have invited Lord Thomas as a guest at this evening's meal. I beg your permission to walk the forest. We are in need of herbs, berries and mushrooms."

"Right. You and Mary will be serving us. No one else is to attend us. Our conversation will not be repeated beyond the walls of the solarium. Do you understand?"

"Yes. I will inform the servants of your wishes. A table will be prepared in the solarium."

"Good. Now don't bother me with mundane things. Go. Take Mary with you," he snapped and dismissed her with a wave of his hand.

A few hours later, Lady Alice and Mary, with baskets in hand, entered the forest and began their search for ripe berries, delicate herbs and edible mushrooms. Mary positioned herself slightly behind and to the right of her mistress. Their baskets were half full when Lady Alice bent down and picked a mushroom. When she brought it to her lips, Mary quickly swatted Lady Alice's hand and watched the mushroom fall to the ground.

"Lady Alice, no! No, you cannot eat that one! It's a death cap mushroom! You know that will kill you!" she cried. "Oh, my God in Heaven, what are you thinking?"

Lady Alice broke into tears. She covered her face with her hands, leaned into Mary and allowed her embrace. Mary felt her mistress's body trembling. Realizing her gesture was too familiar, Lady Alice broke the embrace, stepped back and stared at Mary.

"Mary, please. I can't live this way. I can't take another day of being his wife."

"My Lady, I understand. But, the Lord in Heaven will never forgive you. I assure you, I will never speak of this to anyone. You must find a way to tolerate him."

Lady Alice wiped her tears, lifted her head to its proper position and pulled back her shoulders. She begged Mary to remain faithful to her and apologized for putting her in such a situation. She grabbed Mary's hand and gently squeezed it. After releasing it, Lady Alice turned around and stepped down the path leading back to her prison.

"I will find a way," she murmured.

The kitchen servants prepared a meal of roast chicken, venison pie, red-purple carrots, bread trenchers and leeks. For sweets, they laid out a platter of figs, dates, berries and strawberries. The food was placed on a table in the solarium. Lady Alice and Mary inspected the food, sat down by the fireplace and waited for the two Lords.

Lord David's request for secrecy intrigued Mary but Lady Alice did not care in the least. She had stopped caring about her husband's dealings with other Lords. Even though the secrecy was an unusual request, she felt nothing he would say or do could improve her condition or relationship. She would simply obey his command for confidentiality.

During the meal, the conversation revealed the need for secrecy. King John had signed the Great Charter and he was trying to reverse the agreement. The Charter stated that a ruling monarch was not above the law and King John was not complying. The nobility were duly outraged. They were preparing to fight in the name of increased rights even so far as to lead a rebellion.

There was one new law in the charter that made Lady Alice's heart skip a beat and a spark of hope ignited in her mind. The law allowed a widowed noblewoman to remain unmarried and inherit her husband's property. A monarch could not force her to remarry.

"With this new law, when he dies, I will be free," Lady Alice thought.

As she sat with her hands neatly folded on her lap and her eyes cast down, she exalted in this new information. She repeated the new law quietly to herself.

"When he dies, I will be free," she thought.

It was her next thought that scared her. It was a thought she needed to suppress.

"If I kill him, I will be free."

Over the next few weeks, Lady Alice and her servants noticed a change in the Lord's manner and speech. At times, he rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, swat the air as if bees were buzzing around his head. He scratched his arms, pinched his skin and sucked at imaginary sores. He would turn quickly and claim someone was stalking him or draw his sword and swing it at the air. He was becoming unpredictable, extremely irritable and irrational. Lady Alice thought he was possessed.

Seeking help, Lady Alice called for Wallace, the village surgeon. Within an hour, he arrived and bowed to her. She flinched at the sight of his oblong face dotted with pockmarks and scars. She hid her reaction to his looks, described Lord David's behaviors and asked for his diagnosis.

"May I have your opinion, Wallace? What could this be? I am not aware of any cure for this type of ailment. Do you have a remedy to offer? Perhaps, a polstice, wine or certain herb?"

"Yes, my Lady. This sort of behavior is familiar to me and others of my craft. The best cure is to release the evil spirit living in his head. I can pull back the scalp from his forehead and drill a hole in his skull. The evil spirit will have a way out of its confinement in your husband's head. When it is released, my Lord will return to his normal self," he suggested with a hint of excitement in his voice.

"I have heard of this operation and how unsuccessful it is. I will consider your suggestion and let you know my decision. In the meantime, I will give him your medicine to help him sleep," she replied and quickly excused him from her presence.

The next day, while Lady Alice and Mary sat quietly near the window in the solarium working on a piece of embroidery, Lord David entered the solarium clutching his head, opening and closing his eyes and yelling profanities."Lady Alice, get these things away from me! They're biting me! Get them away from me! Where's my sword? Kill them! Kill them!" he screamed in terror.

"Lord David, there's nothing there. I don't see anything. Please, my Lord, come sit here in your chair," she begged. "Mary, get Lord David a cup of claret. Hurry! Get it at once. It will calm him."

Mary fled down the stairs to the kitchen and poured claret into a cup. She reached for the small pouch in her skirt pocket, opened it and sprinkled the crushed Bittersweet herb into the wine. She rushed back to the solarium and handed the cup to Lord David. He sat down, threw back his head and gulped the ruby-red liquid.

Within minutes, Lord David ran about the room swinging his sword and screaming at a vision only he could see. His face contorted with fear. He panted and gasped for air. Then, he staggered to the window and jumped.

"My God, Lord David, no!" Lady Alice screamed as she bolted to the window. She looked down at his body, spun around and ran to the stairs.

Mary did not move. She smiled.


The author is a retired reading specialist living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She enjoys photography, reading, and conversation over a cup of coffee.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Nov 08, 2023

What an interesting, gripping, and well told story. It was a delight to read. Mary had Lady Alice's back!

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