The first several weeks of my companionship with Leslie were positively drab. While Kellan had always had a taste for adventure and action (which was the reason that she had needed a companion in the first place), Leslie preferred tamer past times.
She couldn’t wait to be married, and every spare moment of the day was spent making things for her dowry. Leslie adored all things that were proper, and she firmly believed that a woman’s role was nothing more than to be a fair flower to the public eye and the one who managed and cared for her husband in private.
I couldn’t understand how she could be satisfied, and she thought the same of my in my unmarried status. We spent hours sitting in silence because of this, her occupied with her needlework and I absorbed in my reading.
“How can you stand to stare at those words for so long?” she asked me once, her needle flashing in and out of the material quickly. “Don’t you know that it will ruin your eyes?”
“No more than staring at those miniscule stitches you’re so keen on making will,” I responded offhandedly. She blushed.
“But I heard that reading fills a woman’s head with dangerous thoughts,” she said her voice dropping down to a whisper. “How will you ever manage to get a husband if you are ruined by your reading?” I closed my book sharply.
“And what if I do not wish to marry?” I asked her. She shot me a startled glance.
“Do not say such things!” she exclaimed. “Of course you wish to marry. All women do.”
“Not necessarily,” I murmured to myself, rising and crossing the room. A maid had just brought in a tea service, imported from Arabia. Uncle had bought it off of a trader from Milan, who had gotten it from someone in Venice, who had connections with the eastern lands. Since it had arrived with the tea leaves, I had become fond of the beverage although it vaguely reminded me of the herbal concoctions the healers would give us when we fell ill. “Tea?”
“Oh, heavens, no,” she said with a delicate shudder. I sighed and poured myself a cup of the hot beverage. As I returned to my seat she studied me in a disappointed manner. “How can you bear to drink that awful stuff? It’s so bitter!”
“Is it, indeed?” I asked serenely opening my book again.” I simply cannot please you today Leslie. From my choice of hobbies to my choice of beverages, you disapprove of them all.”
“Well, it is your fault, really,” she said, sniffing delicately with thinly veiled disgust. “You have such queer tastes, and you don’t behave as a lady ought to at all.”
“Oh?” I asked, looking at her. She stared back at me, the expression on her face one of an upright old woman, despite the fact that she was only nine. “I suppose you are right. The traditions that you so adore have always seemed stifling and unfair to me. After all, a boy becomes a man at a much later age than a girl becomes a woman, so no one expects him to marry while he is still young.” The look on Leslie’s face was the perfect expression of horror. I continued, restraining my desire to laugh at her.
“So girls are married while they are little more than children. They are only there for their husband’s pleasure, and for the continuation of his family line. A woman is disposable if she doesn’t please him. It’s rather unfair isn’t it?”
“Men are supposed to protect their wives,” Leslie blustered, horror and anger mixing nicely on her face. “They are better equipped to deal with the outside world.”
“And why is that?” I mused aloud. “Of course it would have nothing to do with the fact that men are generally better educated than women? Or that they have opportunities to see the world that women are not granted? Women are not expected to think, so they sink into thoughtlessness.”
“Women are to give beauty to the world,” Leslie managed, her anger growing. “A woman’s duty is to be a wife and a mother. She must make sure her husband’s needs and desires are met. The only thoughts she should need are those that duty requires.”
“Doesn’t it seem odd to you, though?” I asked. “That only men are allowed to think lofty thoughts? Why is that, do you suppose?”
“Men are better equipped to think,” She said, her voice growing tight.
“Is that so?” I said doubtfully. “If a woman was given the chance, do you think that she could be equal to men? Do you think that, in time, a woman could even become smarter than men?”
“Morgan,” she hissed. “It was thoughts of dominion and vanities like that which caused the devil to fall. Don’t speak of this heresy to me anymore.”
“Very well,” I said simply, still toying with the idea. Could I become as smart as any man? If I were to dedicate my life to learning, could I prove that a woman was not too fragile and delicate to handle the truth?
Those thoughts and others spun through my mind for several weeks, and the more I thought about it, the more determined I was to try to prove myself. I was confident that I would be able to understand the things that men understood- after all, I had been reading books from my uncles shelf since I had arrived with mother, and was down to only a couple of untouched books.
It all made me wonder. Most of my uncle’s collection was about his imports and exports, a written collection and account of all business he had had, so I had begun to understand the complexities of finances. After watching my uncle teaching his new book-keeper how to keep the books like he liked them, I was sure that I knew how to do it.
Leslie warned me at every possible chance to steer clear of the men’s work. Her warnings annoyed me, but I kept doing as I wished, although I tried to keep it a secret from her.
Three years passed in this manner, and after I had exhausted my uncle’s library, I turned to the local clergyman for literature. He had a vast collection of books and records on a wide range of subjects, and i read everything from poetry and plays from the empires of Greece and Rome to the science and religion of the clerical order’s beliefs.
The more I read, the more I longed to know. I longed to travel, to see the sights described for myself. The richness of the written word excited me as the thought of marriage excited Leslie.
All the while, I knew that I would have to come up with a reason why I should not be married off. Aunt Mary made a point of bringing eligible young men to uncle’s dinner table and coincidentally seating me near or beside the man of the week.
I scared off some of them, I’m sure, because they never returned after a discussion on thing supposedly too “lofty” for a woman to attain. Others seemed amused by me, which failed to amuse me, for some odd reason.
Aunt Mary began to lecture me on the difficulty of finding a husband for an ingrate like me weekly. As Leslie’s wedding drew closer, these lectures became more and more infrequent, for which I was grateful.
My fourteenth birthday passed relatively quietly, lost amidst the wedding plans. Uncle was hosting this wedding, and there were preparations to be made for the guests’ arrivals and comfort.
Leslie was the only one to recognize the fact that I had turned another year older, but it wasn’t a happy thing for me. She made a lot of comments about how it was “so shameful that you are fourteen and haven’t married yet.” After listening to such comments all day I was grateful to escape to my place beside the latest bachelor, who was a young self-proclaimed poet. His poetry was no good, but at least it was meant to be flattering.
A couple of weeks later leslies future in laws arrived, bearing gifts. I had no need to be with Leslie every minute of the day anymore as she was surrounded by women being primped and prepared for marriage.
On one of these days Leslie’s aunts had sent me away, saying that there was no need for me. I gladly took my leave and made my way to the top of the keep’s only tower, ready to escape the stuffy rooms of the palace.
As I pulled the door open I was smiling, fully aware of what Leslie would say of my behavior. It’s not lady like, she’d protest. A woman does not leave the shelter of her home unless she is accompanied by either a party of other women or under the protection of a male guardian. While it may have been un-lady like, I enjoyed the sense of freedom that I gained from sitting up on wall, looking out over my uncle’s land.
I stepped out onto the roof and stopped, surprised to see Leslie’s betrothed, sitting in the spot where I usually sat. I turned to leave, but he looked up and saw me.
“Lady Morgan,” he said, sounding surprised. “What are you doing here?”