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
This eighth day of October in the year of our Lord 1179