The song was as old as the buried stones, though the words had changed through several languages, and perhaps no longer made much sense, if anyone cared to examine them. But they did not look closely, for it was the feeling of the song that mattered, the sense of being at one with all the other women, and with the queens in their houses, the queens who were the minds and hearts and souls of this great metropolis of bees.
As the last note came from the assembled women and faded into silence, the bees answered. Deep in the hives there were thrummings and rumblings, and great droves of bees rose from the meadow and buzzed together, so many in number that the buzzing sounded like a mighty cascade, and a breeze blew across the mound, made from the beating of myriad tiny wings in unison.
Then the breeze faded, as the bees returned to their business. The women relaxed, letting go the slight stiffness of apprehension, that small fear that perhaps this year the queens would not answer the song, the meadows would fade early, and the honey would be sparse. To many families of Coventry, their bee-house and the honey it would provide might make the difference between comfort and privation, or for some, even a bare sufficiency and starvation. Few ate much of the honey themselves; it was too valuable. But sold at autumn fair, it would make silver to see them through the winter.
Godiva relaxed too, for it was a great responsibility to lead the singing, and this was only the third time she had done so. For a few minutes, lost in the song and the bee-sound, she had also managed to forget some things that were disturbing her mind, most principally the altered behaviour of her husband Leofric, the Earl of Mercia. In recent months he had become withdrawn, from his family and his court, and even more troubling, had taken certain decisions which were alienating the people of Coventry. Leofric had always been so reasonable, but now he would no longer listen to the counsel of Godiva or any of his former most trusted advisors.
This change in Leofric stemmed from the arrival in their court of one Ralph, a Norman knight and ferromancer, who Leofric had immediately appointed as his steward, replacing the good Athelbard who had served both him and his father before him well, and was not too advanced in years to continue for many years ahead.