Joanna Dreams – a short story
She is pressed to marry by her brother, King John of Portugal, a son of the English House of Lancaster. She is the Infanta Joanna and many rulers seek her hand in order to make strong alliances with that great nation of trade and travel. She rejects them all; she wishes only to marry Christ. Brought before her brother and his court, she is insulted and bullied into marrying these rulers. King John reminds her of her age and her long sad face which draws no man’s attention. In her darkened room, she weeps and prays that God will rescue her and send her to her beloved Dominican sisters in Aveiro.
As she twists and turns under the hot coverlet, she falls into troubled slumber. Mist rises and through it she sees an image that shines as bright as the Dog Star. She reaches out for this precious object but as she does, it again disappears before her eyes. She wakes, startled, but not unhappy. The object seems to offer hope not despair.
Her brother presses her again: he would like her to marry King Charles of France. But he is a child of fifteen and she turns away in horror. She is thirty-three years old.
That evening the dream becomes as sharp as it never has before. It is if she were looking through the new invention called the camera obscura. The pinpoint bright shining object comes close and appears to be polished silver armor. It is the kind of armor that might be worn by a knight. She looks desperately for a face but all she sees is a slender white hand extending a white rose – to her? She’s unsure but reaches for it all the same. It falls into the mist.
Still the negotiations go on with King Charles of France. He is said to be a pleasant boy but Joanna only wants to be reunited with Christ. This boy-king, she knows, will only bring her despair. But her tall, dark, powerful brother frightens her so that she almost agrees to such a marriage.
So Joanna dreams. And in this dream, she sees the entire figure of the knight. He holds out another white rose to her. He is more beautiful than any man she has ever seen – as if he has walked out of the sun. He is tall with soft blue eyes and tumbling blond hair and the sweetest curve to his perfectly-formed lips. Is he an angel? She wonders. What hope does he bring her? He seems to be encouraging her but she cannot make out his words – she doesn’t hear in her dreams. He suddenly draws a veil aside and she sees a young prince on a wide unknown plain. He is quite different from the golden knight. He is lean and dark-haired and straight-backed as he sits proudly on his tall white stallion. He, too, wears the silver armor of a great soldier and a quilted tabard jacket. Around his head is a fiery circlet of gold. He has a serious, quiet face with intelligent grey eyes. She would even say a pious face. He beckons to her. Joanna runs to meet this intriguing prince, forgetting all thoughts of home and duties of the realm.
When she suddenly awakes, she pounds her pillow and cries tears of genuine pain that she could not speak to the soldier prince. She no longer thinks of her marriage to Christ. Instead, she dwells on the young man on the tall white horse. She sinks to her knees and prays that God forgives her failing vocation.
Great wars are coming to England. Joanna hears this at a distance. Her brother wants to build an alliance with England and Portugal. He believes the two houses of Lancaster and York can be reunited and thus end the War of the Roses. These wars have devastated England and created havoc abroad.
“Dear Joanna,” says her brother, “I have an offer for your hand in marriage. He has been a widower for a year and he is quite young. He is your age – thirty-three. He has been kind enough to send a small portrait of himself. Would you care to look at it?”
Joanna, still dream-walking towards her soldier prince, is not inclined to look. Nonetheless, she slips it out of its white silk cloth curiously embroidered with a tusked boar. The small portrait shows quite a nice face – calm grey eyes, straight lips and high cheekbones. His hair is long and dark. The only hint that he is a man of substance is the heavy gold collar of office he wears upon his shoulders. His expression is so serious, so pious–
Her heart begins to beat.
“Who is this, Brother?”
“It is Richard, King of England. He wishes to marry you.”
“Is he a soldier?””
“One of England’s greatest. It has been the sum total of his career until he assumed the throne of England two years ago.”
“What is he like, Brother?”
The King sighs. He is used to his sister’s many questions about her various suitors.
“He is a good king and a widower without issue. Do you like the portrait?”
“He is not unfamiliar.”
Seeing, for once, that she is not obstinate, he leans down and kisses her tenderly on her high white forehead. She returns to her room admiring the portrait.
No angel visits her that night. Se wakes disappointed but not unhappy. The next morning, she runs to her brother the King and tells him she agrees to marry Richard. He is overjoyed and swings her up into his arms and dances with her about the gallery. The entire court is overjoyed.
King Richard, it is reported, is headed to a place called Redmore plain to fight a battle against a man called Henry. Joanna prays for her soul and safety. She says many rosaries in the cold dark stone chapel of the palace.
Tonight Joanna dreams.
He appears before her. He opens his tabard and many white roses tumble towards her. She laughs and grabs at them and he smiles and laughs in return. He mounts his beautiful horse, turns once to take her into his mind’s eye and rides away. She stumbles towards him but he is lost in mist. When she wakes, she knows she will never be as happy as she is this day.
Still a pious woman, she continues to pray to he Virgin Mary and seek Holy Communion. Eventually the diplomat, Sir Edward Brampton arrives from London in late August and begins negotiations for the marriage. After a day of signing contracts, King John kindly reminds his sister to pray and mediate on this marriage. She humbly agrees, suppressing her happiness lest he be too surprised at her unaccustomed gaiety.
Joanna dreams. The mist arises again and unexpectedly she hears the sound of distant drums. Her angel returns and swiftly draws back the veil to reveal her soldier prince, King Richard. But he is no longer upon his great steed. He is on his knees before her. Again, he opens his tabard to present her with white roses and she rushes towards him. But the flowers are not white. What tumbles out are red roses but as they continue to fall in multitudes, she realizes to her horror that they have turned to blood – river and rivers of blood. She tries to staunch his wounds with her hands. She wipes away the bloodied hair from his face. The angel draws the veil and mouths words that she can barely hear:
“Your Richard is gone from the living.”
Joanna wakes screaming. To the horror of her ladies-in-waiting, they see that she is covered in blood. Her hands are red with it as is her face and nightdress. A doctor is summoned but they cannot find any wounds upon her body. All they can find are white roses scattered on the bed; but the thorns would not draws so much blood. The court is in an uproar; even an astrologer is brought in to attempt to solve the mystery. Joanna fight them off, refusing to change out of her bloodied gown.
King John finally prevails. She is helped into fresh clothes and put to bed with magical draughts that will make her sleep.
But like many people who dream, she remembers nothing.