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Centila opened and closed her fingers, staring at the wagon cover arching overhead. There, black eagles winged through a painted sky sprinkled with golden crosses. Centila pretended her hands were a great bird, twisting them this way and that, sailing up into the clouds. She wanted to fly far away, to soar up into that blue, blue sky.
“Gisella?” Queen Hildegard called out from the next wagon. “Gisella – I need to get up.”
Centila’s wagon rocked as Gisella, her nurse, rose to answer Hildegard’s call. “A shame to drag that poor girl – all of fifteen and big with child — up the mountains in a wagon,” Gisella muttered. She quickly tied back her hair, and covered it with her veil.
Centila made a face. She did not care how her new mother fared, this dark haired, long nosed Hildegard. She did not know why, but Hildegard would not let her see her father.
Centila had been born in 768, the year Papa was crowned. “They made me King of the Franks because of you,” her Papa would say as he lifted her up. “You’re my luck.” But Centila’s real mother had gone away, and Hildegard came, and now she couldn’t see Papa any more.
“Gisella, where are you?” Hildegard’s call came louder now, more querulous.
The bird made of fingers swooped down to peck Hildegard’s head.
“Coming,” Gisella called. She tucked a circlet atop her veil to hold it in place, and turned to Centila. “Stay with your little brother and sister. I won’t be long.”
“I don’t want to,” Centila said.
“Do it anyway.” A shaft of light lanced into the wagon as Gisella lifted the entry-flap. The wagon rocked again as she descended.
Her little brother’s breath caught, then slipped deeper into grunts and snores. She watched the misshapen arch of his ribs rise and fall with each breath, every bone visible under his thin skin. Pepin lay as loose-limbed as a puppy. Centila rolled her eyes and flopped back onto her pallet. She did not understand why, after Pepin was born, her mother had to go to the convent. But she hated him for it.