This seems a great time to share a Christmas scene that didn’t make it into print. The following would have been inserted between pages 168 and 169 of Agnes.
After the Christmas feast Head Cook appeared exhausted and preparation for New Year’s still lay ahead. Agnes and Emmett talked her into going to the cottage as the evening meal was being cleared. “We can handle hot cider and breakfast,” Agnes insisted.
That evening Karolus invited his Saxon guests to swim in the warm pool that drew him northward each winter. The Queen and the other women gathered in the Great Hall, chatting about the entertainment, the food and vespers, and waited to share cider with the men when they returned. Finally, her strength waning, the Queen sent a runner to ask Karolus his plans and to beg permission to return to her room.
The runner returned with apologies to the Her Highness and a request that hot cider be sent to the pool. Fastrada nodded tiredly and, taking her two young daughters, left the hall. Imma oversaw the kitchen workers ladling cider from the huge iron vat to pitchers, and Agnes and Linza were to find servers; women were not allowed near the pool, even when it was not filled with naked Saxons.
Fortunately, men who had not been invited to swim were now waiting in the Great Hall and eager to carry jugs of the hot cider. Agnes still sent a man to the stables to get Deter. He was a good observer and would tell Head Cook or Imma what he saw. Although Karolus often soaked in the warm waters, he seldom called for servers to attend him there.
A fine snow was falling by the time six men returned for more cider. Laughing and jostling, they looped a stout limb through the iron rings of the simmering tub and carried the whole thing away. Imma and Agnes looked at one another, shrugged, and retired. A messenger would wake them if Karolus needed anything more.
Next morning Deter could not spill his account fast enough to satisfy those in the kitchen. The Saxon guests had made a contest of warming in the pool, then standing on the path until ice crystallized in their hair and eye brows before jumping back into the waters. Karolus, even though past fifty years, had endured the cold as well as any chief. Most of the time, however, he had been in the pool conversing with one or another of the Saxon chiefs.