Here's a clue...
Queen Emma sat at the window gazing out at the various shades of green and gold fields, and the shadows of the vibrant woodlands with their trees of oak, ash, alder, birch, beech, hazel, holly and elm. Beyond, the sea sparkled in the sunshine, the haze of a far-off distant realm could sometimes be seen as a misted blur along the horizon. Above, fluffy puff-ball clouds ambled lazily over the sapphire blue expanse of the sky. At night, the black vault was lit by a blaze of stars, scattered there like tossed jewels - diamonds, rubies, topaz... She sighed. It was all very well living this peaceful, idyllic life, but it was... Boring.
The door of the chamber opened, and a woman flounced in, her wild mane of copper-coloured hair, billowing about her face and shoulders as she inelegantly plonked herself into one of the comfortable chairs with an audible grump of a sigh.
Emma stared at her, disapproving. After the woman had emitted another loud sigh, said, "So, Madam, what is it that vexes thee?"
The red-head stared back at her through her green gold-flecked eyes. "This place, if you must know. There's nothing to do here! I like being active. I used to accompany my husband, even fought alongside him on occasion, I..."
"Well you are not the only one to lay such claim!" Emma snorted. "I was an anointed Queen. I had status with my first husband, ruled as Regent for my second. Fought - with words - for the right of my sons to rule after his death." She snorted, muttered, "What a waste of time that was for my eldest-born. I should have ensured he was ordained and left him for the Church to deal with his sanctimonious, selfish, behaviour. Celibate? My arse. Since when has that been an euphemism for utterly incapable?"
"I had sons too," the red-head said, ignoring the other woman's bitterness, the sadness of longing in her voice. "They would be men-grown now, I suppose. I'm not sure I would recognise them - not unless they resembled their father."
"Oh my pious, imbecile son resembled his father alright! The pair of them, as useless as a bow with a broken string." Emma tutted again. "In bed and out of it! A peasant farm labourer could have ruled better than either of them put together."
"And the other son?" the red-head asked. "What of him?"
Emma wavered a small, tentative smile. "Oh, he was a most capable young man, when he applied himself. He would have been a splendid king, had Life and Death permitted him to rule longer than he did."
The other woman sighed again. "That's the trouble with men. They leave us too early to our fate."
Emma's brow dipped into a deep V of disapproval. "Your husband," she admonished, "was an old man. Unlike my beloved who was but in his prime when he Passed."
The red-head smiled. "That he was, I concede your point. But he was magnificent, as a boy, as a man, as a king - as a legend. In the field of battle," she broadened her smile, "and in bed."
The door opened and a black-haired woman, much younger than the other two, walked in. She was very pretty, petite of stature yet every inch of her was regal as they were - although they held the rank of Queen, she held only Midwife and Healer, but alongside those, no arrogance or the need for superiority. There was more to life - and death - than the possession of power and status. There was humility, caring, compassion. Love without condition.
"Bed?" she queried. "It is much too early in the hours to be thinking of bed, is it not?"
"Not," the red-head answered with a mischievous grin, "if you are thinking of other things, aside from resting or sleeping!"
The black-haired woman laughed. Agreed. "Anyway," she said, changing the subject, "I have spoken as best I can for both of you, and we can expect an answer this evening."
"Why not now?" Emma asked, impatient. "I am so tired of waiting here - how long now for 'them' to make their wretched decisions? It is not like I deserve this. I did my duty as Queen, I cared for my subjects, I tried my best to..."
The black-haired woman interrupted, "All that is known, ma'am, alas, your son has been raising objections."
"Pious little shit," Emma muttered. "He ruined everything for me. He cannot do so again. I will not permit it." She folded her arms, glowered. Had she been standing, would have stamped her foot in angry frustration.
The black-haired woman said nothing. Yes, Emma had ruled as Queen, but she had abandoned her first-born two sons, there had been rumours of adultery, even murder of her rivals - although these were probably untrue, mere gossip spread by her enemies. And there had been several of those, her own son first among them.
"And what have I done to deserve this endless waiting?" the red-head asked. "I was loyal, I was faithful - unlike my husband who had a roving eye and breeches that had insecure fastenings all too often!"
The black-haired woman thought, And yet, despite your love for him, you still hold jealousy for those meaningless indiscretions? Said, trying to think of something tactful to say, "That is what is causing your problem; one of those other women is claiming priority over your husband."
"What?" The red-head stormed to her feet. "Who?" Her face puckered into a sneer. "I bet it is his first wife. Ye Gods but she can be a vicious, power grabbing witch when she wants something to go her way!"
Ais, the bitter remnant of jealousy, even if it was justified. The black-haired woman walked to a side table, poured herself a crystal glass of red wine. She raised the bottle, indicating to the other two whether they wanted any. They both shook their heads.
Queen Emma rose from the window seat, smoothed her gown. "I think I will go and see if I can chivvy things along a little. This waiting is so unnecessary."
The red-head beat her to the door. "I'll come with you. Two insistent voices are better than one." She looked across the room at the black-haired woman. "What about you, Mistress Tiola? Do you not think that we have waited long enough?"
The woman, Tiola, smiled, "I'll join you later, perhaps."
"Very well. Thank you for your assistance with this, my dear, for begging our claim to those who decide these things, it is much appreciated." Emma gave a brief bow of her head as a gesture of thanks.
"It is part of what I do," Tiola, the Wise-Woman of Craft - Healer, Midwife, White Witch, immortal Old One. Mediator...
Emma was already outside, she stood, tapping her foot, impatiently. "Are you coming, my Lady Guinevere? Or are you going to stand there chitter-chattering all afternoon?"
The door closed behind them, Tiola listened to their indignant complaining about their enforced time of waiting, sighed, went to make herself comfortable in the window seat where Queen Emma had been sitting. It had, she conceded, been a long wait.
She gazed out of the window, could see a ship nearing the harbour, its sails being hauled around to catch that last puff of wind to ease her into the right spot before dropping anchor. Tiola had also been waiting for the man she had loved beyond the power of life and death.
She felt sorry for the other two women, the Queens Emma and Gwenhwyfar - Guinevere, the later histories had called her. Proud Emma, who had been wife to the King Aethelred, mother to Edward, later known as The Confessor, and Harthacnut the son of her second marriage to Cnut the Dane. Gwenhwyfar, wife to Arthur, the King of Legend.
It had taken many, many, years before the approval to be agreed for them to join their husbands - as it, finally, would be within the hour. That was always the problem where matters politic and first wives were involved. Even here, in this place of supposed peace and tranquillity, those influences stretched far in reach and interference. The dotting the 'i's, crossing the 'T's for the rules and regulations of past marriage vows to be discussed, queried, mulled over. The passage onward from the Waiting Rooms - however peaceful they may be - into the everlasting of Eternity approved or denied by the Gatekeepers.
Tiola again looked out of the window at the river that connected the living world to that of the spiritual of Beyond. Ah, here came her love. At last. For her too, the waiting was over.
Story inspired by
George Ezra - Paradise
Queen Emma: 11th Century Queen of England from A Hollow Crown (UK title) / The Forever Queen (US title - a USA Today Bestseller.)
Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) from the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy
Tiola: from the Sea Witch Voyages