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        “Gaspar!  Bring her here!”

        “Ah -- your unclothed maid-of-all-work.  Her savage beauty is well known, cousin.  What is her name again?”

        “It is a crude Anglish name, Alysoun.  I have not given her a proper one.”

        “She bows obediently.”

        “Yes, she is well behaved.  Though what notions reside in her half-formed mind, only God knows.”

        “One must concede that nature by itself often produces a beauteous body.  She is like a finely bred horse.”

        “Yes, indeed.  She is not fair white but brown, the sun having done its damage, but I see your meaning.  -- Gaspar!   Tell her to display herself! -- Note the coarseness of her hands.  She has spent a life in rough work.”

        “I see.  And thus she was when you claimed her?”

        “Yes.  Note her feet also.  She is a stranger to shoes and stockings.”

        “Are you of a certainty that she cannot understand our French?”

        “You jest.  The Anglish do not have the capacity.  Even their own rude gruntings cannot be put in writing.”

        “Surely you know of Alfred’s Chronicle.”

        “Yes, but the only civilized minds of that vanquished race have long since disappeared from our mortal world. -- Gaspar!  Tie her and trawl her!”

        “What is this?  Tying her hands to the ropes?  And Gaspar using his steed to haul her on her -- belly?”

        “Yes, it is a unique diversion.  You will see.  We will ride behind.  -- Go!  A slow pace, Gaspar!”

        “I see we are rounding this field -- and the grass is rasping her teats, and her -- womanly gates.  Is there no danger of injury?  You should not risk such a valuable slave.”

        “Fear not.  Gaspar and his boys ensure that no stones or nettles exist.  They inspect this ground daily.”

        “Yes, the grass is lush and beautiful.  It’s a fine morning.  The cold dew is disappearing in the March sunlight . . . Tell me, how did you find this bint?”

        “That is an oft told tale.”

        “Yes, but I want to hear it from the King himself.”

        “It was the hot August, that cursèd Oswin’s Day.”

        “I wonder why you continue that Saxon tradition.”

        “One must concede some things.  On occasion noblesse oblige has its purposes.  Remember we French are still of lesser numbers here.”

        “The annual event does attract the common crowd.  It is a privilege for any of those Anglish wretches to be selected for the King’s Household.”

        “Oui, oui, though it means we have to go to that stinking gully every year.”

        “So this is who you selected?”

        “It was two years past.  The vermin were pressing toward my carriage so fiercely that my guards had to clip them over the head to stay them from unwitting treason.  However I saw one lovely maiden whose features were most arresting.”

        “Her face, though a product of crude nature, is strikingly beautiful.”

        “Yes.  Dressed in rags, shoeless, yet I could not deny her pleading eyes, bright and blue like the sky, rounded by wild hair the color of the sun.  Well did the Holy Father Gregory declare that some Angles look like Angels.

        “I motioned for Eadred to bind her and bring her hither, but then she brought forth two small children, barely of an age to walk.  She would not come without them, though Eadred press the issue most forcefully.”

        “So instead of leaving her to the putrid swamp, you brought the two little ones along with her.”

        “Yes.  It seemed no special burden.  Upon questioning by Brother Cnary it turned out that they were not her children but rather her siblings.  And that she had cared for them after their mother did not awake one morning under the snow.”

        “Under the snow?”

        “The Anglish are a hardy breed.  Those without a roof over their heads can sleep in rags in all weathers.”

        “And their father?”

        “Guillaume, you astound me sometimes.  When does an Anglish man, once he plants his seed, linger to take on the commission of St. Joseph?  I hear that it happens, but only as the teeth of a hen.”

        “Well then -- what -- what is that now?  Is she struggling in her bonds?”

        “I urge you to watch closely.  See how the grass exacts its tribute from her seats of pleasure.  See how she gasps and moans, her face down so that she is almost taking in the grass, breathing in what is opposite of Heaven.  Yes, it does look like she is struggling.”

        “Henry!  Was that -- did we just behold --”

        “Yes, Guillaume.  She was experiencing the Sacred Moment.”

        “May Christ Jesus save us!  I never did see such a thing!”

        “Yes, for a man it is necessary, to propagate the race.  For a female it is sinful -- but an Anglish creature knows little of that.”

        “She is crying in pain now.”

        “Yes, God’s punishment for succumbing to sinful temptations.  As she is drawn along by Gaspar’s unceasing pacing.”

        “This is very unsettling, cousin.”

        “Fear not.  We are only seeing wild creation at work.  Anglish females make little attempt to defend themselves against such perfidy.  This was demonstrated to me by Cnary.  He took me to the Place of Witches.”

        “You should tread carefully.  You are our King.”

        “It was for instruction only.  A King must know what forces stand against him.”

        “One hopes your visit was instructive.”

        “It was.  The girl being always in her natural state quickened my visit.  She was tied on a table with arms and legs extended and the witches did their work with tongues and fingers and -- candles.  She made a show of resistance but before long revealed her true nature.  The incense was thick but at length the foul scent of her ardor defeated it.  A good Christian woman would have survived such a trial with her soul unblemished.  She did not.”

        “And so -- Good God!  Is that what I see again??”

        “Yes, it is true!  Cnary says that a woman, once she has fallen, can experience the Sacred Moment many times, past what we men can scarcely imagine.  Though in doing so she only thrusts herself further into perdition.”

        “She cries more loudly this time!  The very woods throw back her voice!”

        “Yes, many times I was wont to have Gaspar whip her for such impertinence, and she was able to strangle her cries, but nowadays I find the free song of Jezebel most enlightening.”

        “And now her travail is more prolonged.”

        “Yes, the greater the measure of illicit pleasure, the greater the punishment.  Sometimes the Lord’s justice is stern and swift.”

        “Henry, I owe I have feelings now which the Lord warned against.”

        “Worry not!  Nobody is pure.  Let us talk about other things.”

        “You can tell me why she is in this natural state.  You keep her thus always?”

        “Yes.  Cnary has heard of a pestilence in the East, spread perhaps by unclean clothes.  When she and her little ones were delivered to the drawbridge he had them stripped and their clothes burned; they were then bathed, to which they took strangely, it being the first ablution of their lives.  The little ones were put into what servants’ tunics and boots could be fitted.  As for her, I had them leave her as she was when she was lifted from the bath.  It is my prerogative.”

        “Has she been thus always, nigh these two years?”

        “Yes.  She is always to be exposed to the world.  She sleeps on a cot without covers.  She can withstand the weathers, clearly.  Though it is good to make her feel the cold.”

        “You have made that very clear.  I well remember the tournament last month, when she helped your daughter dress.  Standing in the snow, in the teeth of Neptune’s wind, clothing the Princess with overcoat, gloves, scarf . . . it was a display of your authority.”

        “I am allowed to express the King’s Displeasure.”

        “You must not miss that the appearance was of cruelty.  Whichever way she turned, her teats pointed sharply as if in accusation.  We longed to avoid their shivering aim.”

        “Guillaume, this is why you share with your forebears a lack of royal temperament.  The King must show that he and no one else is the one to be obeyed.

        “What one might call cruelty has a purpose.  It has improved my household.  There is a hook in the ceiling of the galley from which the bint can be hanged by her wrists.  When someone misbehaves, it is she who is whipped, in full view of the assembled Anglish.  Nedrig reports that since he started this practice there has been no trouble.  It serves two offices.  It is also the punishment if any person evinces an attempt to give her clothes or shoes.”

        “Am I understanding you aright?  If a misguided soul tries to clothe her -- it is still she who gets whipped?”

        “Yes -- in the enforced proximity of the misguided soul.  But heed well -- see you any whip marks?”

        “No, her hindquarters in their bareness are pristine.”

        “Yes.  Whipping has become a rare thing.  And I should give this Anglish girl her due.  Strange to say she has a natural talent for clothing.  She has learned to mend my daughter’s gowns and accoutrements.  She is a faithful dog and as such has her uses.  My late Queen would have benefitted well from her services.  We feed her adequately and Cnary attends to any medical needs.  She lacks for nothing except earthly wrapping.”

        “You must indulge me, cousin, if I ask -- have you ever taken your pleasure of her?”

        “I allow that it is the King’s prerogative -- but --”

        “You seem ill at ease.”

        “Guillaume . . . when she was out of the bath and I instructed her to lie on the cot -- she -- did not -- array herself -- as one would expect --”

        “You mean -- ?”

        “Yes.  She expected me to -- forgive me for being of clear words but --”

        “I fear what you might say.  You may remain mute.”

        “No, I will speak.  She expected me to commit -- the sin of Sodom.”

        “Lord Jesus!”

        “Yes.  I believe that was the barter by which she sustained herself and her little ones.  Her rags did contain a small savings of pence.  This is perhaps why when Cnary probed as a physician he found that she had never been great with child.”

        “That is quite a tale.  You were right to refuse such an invitation to the lake of fire.”

        “It somehow seemed meet that from thence on she should not hide any part of herself from any man.”

        “Cousin, I well understand the means by which you control of the palace.  But it is not your Household I fear.  I hear the Anglish continue to congregate in the fields.”

        “Only to drink and hear retellings of their sagas.  I sent Eadred to spy on them the week past.”

        “What did he report?”

        “Merely a few hundred creatures, in the low valley half a league hence, making merry with their mead and crude jokes.  Then Old Etheldred the tanner held them spellbound with a recital of the tale of -- what is the name?  Grendel? -- yet again, which lasted half an hour.  It is no fire under their hearts.  It is but honey for ants.”

        “Was this -- Alysoun -- there?”

        “Yes, with the little ones.  In an honored place -- after all, she does toil in our Household.  Yet even at the gathering she was kept without clothing.  They are aware of my strict instructions and fear spies.  As indeed one there was.”

        “What do you do with the little ones?”

        “They help clean the kitchen to the extent they are able.  Nedrig wishes to instruct them in Latin, perhaps for the monkly life, but I believe that is a forlorn hope.  I must tell you, cousin, of an amusing event.”


        “I made the mistake of whipping the girl myself with the little ones present.  Can you conceive that they started kicking me with their little boots?  Of course striking the King is immediate death but Nedrig knew not what to do.  I laughed and told him to simply pick them up and put them on the chairs.  The incident passed -- though I fear their boots too much to wield the whip there again.”

        “It is good to see you smile, cousin.  The crown oft weighs too much upon you.  -- Ah!  I see she takes her pleasure a third time.”

        “Yes, with more deference.  She concedes her true nature.”

        “She seems tired now.  And her submission to the subsequent pain more -- resigned.”

        “See how she cries now, softly, like a widow after a fortnight.  It is but a ruse.  Let us throw one more bone to this dog.  Gaspar!  Faster!”

        “How many times can she achieve the Sacred Moment?”

        “Cnary believes there be no limit.  Hark -- !”

        “Oh Lord!  Such screeching!  I cover my ears!!  It is from the depths of Hell!”

        “I must raise my voice!  See how she jumps and flips like a caught fish on a ship deck!”

        “Cousin!  I cannot bear this!”

        “Only a moment more.  There, she quiets.  No, she is not dead.  We have completed three circuits of this field.  I do not want her energy wasted from her other duties.  Gaspar!  Stop!  Untie her and leave her!  Return you to the stables!”

        “And so here she is in front of us.  Two noblemen finely turned out and one . . . creature, lying unclad on the grass as a child in the womb.  I see her front is stained with green, and her face.  Are you sure, dear cousin, she cannot understand us?”

        “You must trust me.  I am your King.  Which brings me to the object of our meeting.  I desire to attack Normandy. My brother once again has designs, this time with the Flems to the north.”

        “Oh Henry -- not again!  Please tell me you will not lead.  You are no general.”

        “You should give me some credit for learning, Guillaume.  I desire three of your regiments.”

        “At least tell me you will put a commander of good standing in charge.  Winning tournaments is a poor school for the field of battle.”

        “Very well.  Give me Robert of Whittingham.  What say you?  Do you resist?”

        “Of course not.  Your great-grandfather defeated my great-grandfather and that is the only star by which I steer.  I do not wish the throne.  You know that well.”

        “I will leave in two weeks’ time.  The day after St. Benedict’s service.  I will meet Robert’s forces at Dover.”

        “I would not speak so loudly, cousin.”

        “How many times must I tell you?  This Anglish bint is too stupid to be a wise listener.  Even if she spoke our French, she would not comprehend the import of this conversation.  Guillaume, let us visit Lord Auberge for luncheon. A suckling pig awaits.”

        The realm’s only naked servant girl, at first unable to stand, rolled over onto all fours to catch her breath.   She staggered to the palace, and climbed up to the clerestory, her bare feet slapping on the cold stone steps.  Long bolts of colored cloth waited to be made into the Princess’s new gown.  The girl placed the red one in the large window where it flapped in the wind and could be seen from the fields being worked below.  Piers then dropped his plow and ran off, in the direction of the low valley.


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