I’ve been quiet, I know. My husband and I are caught up in providing hospice care to our fragile elder kitty, Agrippa, who is dying of congestive heart failure. He’s having more frequent crashes, panting for breath, his heart hammering. My husband and I approach life differently—he’s the problem solver, I’m the intuitive—but we’ve come to appreciate how we work as a team. Deep down we trust we’re both motivated by love for this sable-coated being who came into our lives almost 16 years ago. We’re emotionally raw, at our most vulnerable, and we occasionally snap at each other, but we know from all the last illnesses of humans and felines we’ve faced together that the snapping is just a sign we’re fighting the bigger emotion, the grief. This is one of those life experiences that awakens the dragons deep in our psyches.
Once upon a time I sat onstage with several other crime writers at a book fair defending my decision to have Owen and Lucie marry after one book. A panelist had stated that one of the most reliable series killers was the marriage of the couple who provide sexual tension. Though the panelist was a crime writer, not a poet, the memory of this discussion always brings to mind Anne Sexton’s droll commentary on happily ever after in the collection Transformations [Houghton Mifflin 1971], seventeen poems based on Grimm’s fairy tales.
“They played house, little charmers,
So, of course,
they were placed in a box
and painted identically blue
and thus passed their days
living happily ever after—
a kind of coffin,
a kind of blue funk.
Is it not?” —The White Snake
Yes, it was a big risk to make them husband and wife. Yes, I could have played out the courtship of Owen and Lucie over many books, like Lorelei and Luke in the Gilmore Girls. But I would rather explore what happens after the romantic, hormone-blinded courtship, how it is once a couple settles down together and gradually comes to understand that their partner will always be the other. Mysteries abound. How well do they know each other? What revelations will test their love? What happens when the dragons are awakened? Owen’s long sojourn in Wales tested Lucie’s faith in him , and his commitment to her (A Spy for the Redeemer). Lucie’s depression after a miscarriage tested Owen’s patience and his faith in her strength (The Cross-legged Knight).
In fact, looking at my published books, marriage has been a significant subject in all of them–Margaret Kerr’s adventures all begin with her husband’s disappearance (A Trust Betrayed), Alice Perrers winds up at court because of the secret that dooms her marriage to Janyn Perrers in The King’s Mistress.
The dragon that inspired me to explore Joan of Kent’s marriages was her choice to be buried with Thomas Holland, her first (or second) husband, not Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, her second (or third) husband, supposedly the love of her life. I mean, he was the Black Prince! Their son together became king of England. Why is she buried beside a mere earl, and one who came to that title through her? Who was this Thomas Holland? I asked.
“The knight married her
and she wore gowns as lovely as kisses
and ate goose liver and peaches
whenever she wished.” —One-eye, Two-eyes, Three-eyes
It’s never that simple. Just wait until they’re caught up in grief, or tested by a long separation. Here be dragons.