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winter afternoon, 1554

After lunch Whyte waits until his wife and the houseboy leave and there is no more need for small talk.


They both look at the garlic necklaces and St. Benedict medals, on the window sill.


Whyte says, “You see my concerns.”


“I never saw such a depraved being. But . . . ” Even though no one can overhear them, Rydall speaks quietly. “Is this truly witchery? Has she cast any spells?”


“None that I can tell. Or my wife, or Piers.” Piers is the houseboy. “Although both are afraid to get near her.”


“Witchery is too often accused these days.”


“Yes, these are troubled times. Poor Lady Jane. Now our throne has become the tool of Popery. Our new Queen Mary seems determined to drown the realm in blood. Cannot Cranmer do anything?”


Rydall, having come from London, is closer to that scene. “He is still Archbishop but his powers are limited. He is an empty mitre, without a rod or staff to lead. I fear he will not last much longer.”


They both look out the window, to the copse behind which lies the mill, where a naked girl is still toiling. Then Rydall says, “This girl -- Tarte -- scarcely can be accused of Popery.”


“Indeed. Pomposity in dress is the opposite of what she lives.”


“Have you thought of clothing her?”


Whyte shakes his head and holds his hands out. “I will not interfere with what has been decreed. Though I know not the particulars, or by what authority it was issued.”


“An ordinary child without the benefit of clothing cannot survive with just a barn for shelter.”


“Yet she does. How can that not be witchery?”


Rydall says, “Perhaps it is some protection from above, not below.”


“I cannot believe such.”


“Perhaps the Almighty protects her as He protects animals.”


“She is surely more animal than human. But certainly no Christian. Not by living her days in that . . . state.”


“That -- stick -- you gave her?”


“It is from the barn. One day, surveying the holding, I heard her sinful cries coming from within. It was my duty to investigate. I thought with dread that she was in bestial congress with one of the animals. When I passed through the opened gate, I saw she was lying on her bed of straw, violating herself with that gross mimicry of a male member. She looked my way and then, as if I were not there, continued her sinful pleasures. Then she” -- Whyte pauses as he finds this hard to describe, such words having never passed his lips -- “achieved the Sacred Moment.”


“Lord have mercy!” Rydall thinks for a moment. “Did we see that at -- the mill?” He has heard of female orgasm but has never actually seen one. That is, until this visit.


“Yes, truth be told.” Whyte has never seen one either, except from the naked girl. It is unspoken but both men cannot think of such an unsettling sight as anything but witchery. It resembles the accounts they have read of demonic possession. “And that is not the worst. Still not sated, she continued, again barely taking heed of my presence. She was approaching a second -- desecration -- when I had to turn and flee.”


“So it is only with this rude stick that she violates her maidenhead?”


Whyte laughs. “I doubt she ever had a maidenhead. One can write a book about her without need of that word.”


“You say your wife and Piers stay away from her. Is it only with you that she -- deals face to face?”


Whyte waves his hand to the outdoors. “Past the far trees, out on the moor, villeins live in wretched state. When her daily work is done she probably wanders out there and plays with their children. Lord knows. They wear clothes but are scarcely more civilized than she is. My fear is that some saucy urchin will get her great with child.”


“That, indeed, would be a day of concern. I envy not your predicament, brother.”


“What can I say to the good? She saves me from having to pay a stable boy. In fact she does the work of two or three. At your next visit, in better season, you may take view of the property. You will find the fields plowed, the hay rolled, and the animals properly herded.”


“I will visit you in sixmonths’ time. I intend to make Yorkshire my regular rounds.”


“See that you are not detected. Even in this part of the country the Red Lady of Rome has spies.”


“I take heed, and will give no outward sign of any plan.”


They down the last of their mead. Whyte says, "You will come to church with me tomorrow. And meet Revered Macready. A true vicar of our Lord.”


“Of course.”


“We will be conveyed in a unique manner.”

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