William rode his horse furiously. As fast as he rode, he could never get away from the insult added to his name, "William the Bastard." It was like waving a red cape in front of a bull. He had confronted many a man on a battlefield and come out victorious, but gained little triumph as long as some were left of his enemies to besmirch his reputation and that of his mother.
His mother, Herleva the Bold had been beautiful. He slowed his horse as he thought of her. Though her father was not of royalty, she had caught the notice of Robert I, Duke of Normandy. Like King David, he was up on the castle wall when he looked down from the ramparts and saw her with desire in his heart. He sent his servant to bring her to him. Like Samson, he said, "She looks good to me." The girl refused. The beauty would not be brought the back way to be used as a mistress even for royalty. The message she sent back was if he truly wanted her, she must arrive on a pure white horse led through the front gate for all to see. She insisted that their relationship be honored by all, though impossible to be approved of and sanctioned by the church in a real marriage. Robert had loved her and William was the result. When his father had died on a trip to the Holy Land, the lad was only eight. His father had insisted before he left that William would be recognized as the future king. Conspiracies abounded and several of the father figures in his young life who were to control his future were murdered. Time after time he himself had been sent away to be hidden among the village families so his royalty would not make him a target for those with evil intent. Finally, with the help of Henry, King of France, William came of age and subdued his kingdom. He had even gone to England and had his cousin, the childless Edward the Confessor, King of England's promise to inherit his crown upon his death Yet, in spite of all this, he was sent into a rage when he heard his name spoken with a slur from his enemies.
But nothing had enraged him as much as this slip of a young girl, no larger than a child, with dark eyes and raven long braids who brazenly flaunted his name to his face. She was beautiful, and she knew it. La petite jeune fille filled his thoughts no matter how far he rode. Whenever he approached her, she would laugh practically in his face. He was the King! She was insufferable. He was filled with fury.
One day as he approached her village, he saw her riding a white horse home from the church surrounded by her ladies in waiting. When he rode up to her, he could overhear her openly disparage his name with the insult practically throwing it in his face. The girls were giggling. William pulled his horse next to hers and suddenly yanked her off the horse by her braids. The girl landed on her backside in the mud. "Who's laughing now?" William taunted before riding away from the gaping mouths of her entourage. Then he heard her scream of outrage.
Now it was William who was calling himself every name in the book. "Stupid! You are a king, not the village idiot!" He had acted instinctively, impulsively, and looked ridiculous in the eyes of all the village attacking a mere girl. Her father would be fighting mad. He would need to apologize, eventually. William did not trust himself to be in her presence yet. He laughed abruptly at the thought of the small figure attacking him back: she was barely over four foot tall while he was over six feet.
Matilda walked into her father's study caked with mud from head to toe and stamped her foot. "He did this to me! I hate him!"
Her father rose from his chair with a growl, "Who dared to lay a hand on you. I'll rip him to shreds!"
He began calling for his men to prepare to ride to avenge her.
Matilda took a step back recognizing the murder in her father's eyes. "I'm not really hurt, father, just mad. I don't think you want to attack the man who did this."
"Who dared to lay a hand on my daughter? Who is this cur?"
"William, the King," she whispered.
" King William," she said just loud enough for him to hear.
"You had better tell me all, daughter, before blood is spilled for your honor," he said through gritted teeth.
Matilda burst out crying confessing her awful insult to the king's face.
"Why would you do such a thing? Many of his enemies have died with that taunt on their lips. Now what am I supposed to do with this insult to you in front of the village. I can't ignore it, yet to face the king is treason!"
"I will marry him."
"What did you say? After what he has done to you, you dare to say this? How do you know that this is his desire? You can't just ride up to a king and propose!"
"I know his eyes have been on me in the way a man looks at a woman. I went too far in my teasing him with that taunt. I must ask him to forgive me." Matilda was determined.
"Are you sure, daughter? It could be your undoing if you are wrong. You could be laughed out of the kingdom."
"I am sure. Perhaps, I may be more bold than his own mother."
"Well, bathe and put on your finest. I will ride with you to find this king who pulls a girl's braids like a village boy. May the Lord help us."
Matilda made sure her white horse was groomed until he gleamed. She hoped the symbolism would not be lost on the king. She wanted to be led through the front gates of the castle into his presence as his mother was. Her head would be held high. After all, she was no commoner. She wound her glossy braids that normally fell down her back to her waist up on her head with strands of pearls interwoven. Her dress was to be white as well and trimmed in ermine and gold thread. When she reentered her father's study, he was taken aback. His little girl was a vision of loveliness. He knew this would not be lost on his virtuous king.
"I do not believe William will spurn your apology, Matilda. No man would, not even a king." He took her on his arm and led her out of his home.
William watched them approach from his hunting grounds and rode ahead to meet them in his castle. He dressed in his finest, laying aside his vestments of war. He would apologize to the girl's father, and hopefully would not have to speak to the lady. He still didn't trust himself with his emotions concerning her. She stirred him as no other. He thought that in his room, but found deeper emotions than he had ever felt when he saw her ride through the gates on a white horse dressed all in white. His eyes met hers. There was no taunt left, yet no humility. She was a young lady who knew what she was doing to his heart unapologetically and returned his look evenly with hers. In spite of her small size, he was conquered.
The king walked up and lifted her gently down off her horse. His hands could span her tiny waist. She was as fragile as a bird. He felt like a giant, nay, an ogre beside her. Then she smiled. He was a lost boy, an orphan with a mere kingdom to offer her. He paid no heed to her father's apology, only found his forgiveness in her eyes.
"As for the other day..." he began.
"I'm sorry," they both said practically in unison.
William's laughter filled the court yard, and her father wiped the sweat from his brow. Matilda knew that the two of them would be as the priest spoke of in Scripture," as iron sharpens iron." Sparks might fly, but they would find strength in each other. She was a girl in love. Matilda would keep her braids tightly wound up under a crown as queen of his castle though: no more braid pulling. She would make him promise. Later, she would wear them tucked under another crown as the first Queen of England.
(Harpers through Captain's wife Sarah)
"Iron sharpens iron, so one...sharpens another."