Quill to Quill is based on the characters of Joyce DiPastena's medieval novels. All material on Quill to Quill is copyrighted and may not be used without permission from the author.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Heléne to Siri, October 8, 1179


To Lady Siriol de Brielle at Vere Castle

My dear Cousin,

It brings me such joy to call you that! But please, you must not call me “Countess”. I would not have signed my letter to you so formally, except that my husband insists upon it. “You are my wife and my love,” he says to me, “but you are also my lady and mistress of my lands, and no one must doubt the honor and esteem I hold you in.” He can be very proud and very stern, but also ever so generous and kind! It is his pride that requires me to cite my title with every letter that I write and though he respects the privacy of my contents, even after three years of marriage he is not above demanding without the least warning that I hand him over the parchment that he might scan my signature before I set my seal to it and give it to his messenger, and so I must humor him.

But you and I are kin, and so he will understand if I insist that you call me Helen. Or Heléne. Oh, I should like to be called Heléne again! Everyone here calls me “Helen” in their odd, accented French, even my husband, which I do not mind at all, as he has called me that from the first and he knew how angry it made me, for I caught the twinkle in his eye as he spoke it and saw the way I bristled at him. How I laugh at the memory now. He understands the accents of our Poitevin tongue perfectly well, so I knew even then he turned my name so only to provoke me. Now, I know that he speaks it with love, so it has become quite dear to me to hear it on his lips. It is only the accents of his Anglo French that are slightly different from our own, in the same way as the French of Normandy or Paris sound different to our ear yet is perfectly understandable to the mind. This—H-E-L-E-N—is the best way I know of rendering the way it sounds in his tongue.

I am presuming, of course, that you speak Poitevin? My father wrote something of you hailing from Venice, but that your father was Poitevin by birth. Forgive me if I leapt to conclusions, but you seemed to write so easily in French that I assumed it to be your native tongue until I remembered just now my father’s letter. If Italian is your first language, perhaps it is our tongue that sounds accented to your ear!

Thank you for telling me of Perrin. I am happy to hear he is excelling so well in his studies. Pray tell him that his aunt is learning Latin, too! He will not remember me, of course. But indeed, it is true. My husband has a great passion for knowledge and has set aside an entire room at Lamhurst Castle for the books he inherited from his father and has purchased for himself. It is the most wondrous thing I have ever seen! Triston would be ever so happy here, for I remember how I sometimes caught him sitting with a book by the fire when we were young. Some of my lord’s books are in French, but most are written in Latin, and so he has had his chaplain teach me so that I might learn to read them. Tell Perrin to continue to study hard and perhaps I shall show him our library someday.

I should like to ask you more about the “dark days” you referred to between Perrin and his father, but the messenger is waiting for me to finish this letter. My husband writes me from Winchester that the King is sending him to Poitou to investigate rumors of discontent among the barons there caused by some high handed behavior of his son, Duke Richard. As soon as I heard it, I summoned William of Lonsdale. I trust you will remember him as the bearer of my former letter to you. I shall send him with this letter to join my husband, and while Hugh conducts his business in Poitou, William shall carry this message to Vere Castle. But if I do not send him off now, he will not intercept my husband in time, and so I must close.

God’s blessings be upon you.

Heléne de Bury, Countess of Gunthar


Heléne de Bury, Countess of Gunthar
Written from Lamhurst Castle
Kent, England
This eighth day of October in the year of our Lord 1179

Monday, July 19, 2010

Siri to Heléne, September 21, 1179

To Lady Heléne de Bury, Countess of Gunthar

My dear Countess,

I own, I was both surprised and pleased to receive your letter.  In truth, nothing could give me greater joy than to call you “friend”! Triston speaks of you with the greatest fondness. I regret that I have not yet met his brother, who remains at the Young King’s court, but Triston says that you and Etienne grew up almost as brother and sister. If so, then surely that must only add to the bond between us, as well. I, too, look forward to the day when you and I may meet!

Your nephew, Perrin, does well. I do not know if you are aware that there were some dark days between him and his father after his mother’s death, but all seems to be mended now. Triston has not fostered him yet, I think because of the days he feels were lost between them and which he hopes to make up before he sends him away to begin his training as a page. In the meantime, Perrin continues his lessons from Triston’s chaplain, Father Michel, learning to read both Latin and French, as well as arithmetic, and even geography! I do not know what Triston hopes he will do with such knowledge as that one day. I think perhaps he secretly wishes that Perrin could attend the thriving cathedral school they are calling the University of Paris when he is older, where they are said to teach such things as geometry, astronomy and rhetoric! But that is where clerks and younger sons go to try to make their fortune, not a rich knight’s heir. And Triston is rich now, thanks to my inheritance, though he maintains his modest ways. There is no choice but for Perrin to follow the traditional path towards a future knighthood of his own, though I am sure that Triston hopes to place him with some man who will agree to let Perrin continue his studies. Suffice it to say that you would be more than proud could you see your nephew now.

Pray tell the Earl you husband how I appreciate him sparing one of his own men to bring me your letter. I do not wish to make him linger away from your husband’s service longer than is necessary, so I will end this now.

Your devoted Cousin,


Lady Siriol de Brielle

Lady Siriol de Brielle
Sent from Vere Castle in Poitou
The twenty-first day of September in the year of our Lord, 1179

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Heléne to Siri, September 6, 1179

To My Lady Siriol de Brielle,

I have tapped this quill against my lips so many times that my nose has been sorely tickled while I rack my brains for the best way to introduce myself. There seems to be no delicate way, or if there is, I have not discovered it. Dare I call you “Cousin”? The most incredible tales have reached these shores of an uncanny resemblance you bear to my late sister, Clothilde, but my father writes that the stories, in his opinion, are exaggerated. He has investigated for himself the claim of our kinship, however, and says it is true that our grandmothers were twins, so that if some should see in you some memory of Clothide, it might indeed be understood. Perhaps we shall meet one day and I may judge for myself. I pray that day might truly come, for I should dearly love to meet you!

Does that surprise you? In truth, it is why I write. I fear lest you might think my family should shun you as a usurper to my sister and mother to my nephew, Perrin. I wish to assure you that it is not so! Nothing could bring me more joy than to know that Perrin is well cared for, and although we have never met and Triston undoubtedly fears to write to me—there remains, I regret to say, some small tension from the past between my husband and yours—I know he would not take to wife any woman who would not love and cherish his son. It saddens me that I had so little time to become acquainted with Perrin before my lord husband swept me off to England after our wedding. All I remember is a sturdy, mischievous boy, with his father’s black curls and my dear sister’s eyes of blue. How much he must have grown since then! Three years… He must be seven now? Has Triston already fostered him to train as a page? I am sure that Triston has chosen well, and yet I have some hopes…

But how I rattle! These things can be saved for a future time. I hope you will accept this letter with kindness from the hand of a cousin, once unknown, but who this day extends her friendship should you wish to receive it.

God’s blessings be upon you.


Heléne de Bury, Countess of Gunthar

Heléne de Bury, Countess of Gunthar
Written from Lamhurst Castle
Kent, England
On the sixth day of September, in the year of our Lord 1179