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RAMPANT extreme precaution Is the territory through


Rampant {Pendragon} (Mf wl hist 1st cons)

IF YOU ARE UNDER THE AGE OF 18, or otherwise forbidden by law to
read electronically transmitted erotic material, please go do
something else.

This material is Copyright, 1998, Uther Pendragon. All
rights reserved. I specifically grant the right of downloading
and keeping ONE electronic copy for your personal reading so long
as this notice is included. Reposting requires previous

If you have any comments or requests, please E-mail them to
me at

All persons here depicted, except public figures depicted as
public figures in the background, are figments of my imagination
and any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly

# # # #
by Uther Pendragon

Chapter One
July 2, 1213

Elizabeth was supervising the sweeping out of the winter rushes
from the living quarters when she heard the horn from the gate.
Mother had taken charge of the great hall and the rest of the
keep, and Maria was "helping" Elizabeth.

"A raid?" Maria asked anxiously. Elizabeth missed the little
sister who had greeted all the world with love the previous
summer. Since then, winter raiders caught a peasant girl who had
tended Maria on many excursions into the fields and villages.
Maria still told of nightmares concerning the sword-chopped body.
Elizabeth, who suspected that swords were not all that had
penetrated the girl, kept her own bad dreams to herself.

"Never borrow trouble, little sister," she said. "Would raiders
ride up to the gatehouse to announce their presence?" If it were
a formal siege, she knew, they were in serious trouble. Her
father, two of their three knights, and all but one squire were
out hunting. How else would it have been possible for her to be
in the knights' quarters?

"Argent, second quarter griffin rampant, gules," a man at arms
bellowed, repeating the call from the gatehouse. Some offshoot
of the Danclaven, then; the whole duchy knew the red griffin.
"Ten riders, four on foot."

"Girls! Come down immediately!" mother called.

"Is it war then?" Elizabeth asked. Those numbers did not sound
like war to her. Besides, they were entitled to a week's

"Worse," mother replied. "We are provisioned for siege, but not
for hospitality to the Danclavens." Far off the traveled ways,
they gave little hospitality to any but their nearest neighbors
and their liege lord, Count Descries.

"I want you girls to go upstairs on our side and dress in your

"Yes mother. Come Maria, dost thou want to bathe first?" That
was a safe offer, as Maria treated bathing as an ordeal to be

"Thou canst not have any of the baths. I shall have to offer
them to our guests, to wash their feet at least."

"Mother, please look at me! Will wrapping my best clothes over
this really impress?"

"Thou art right. Wash thou Maria as best thou can and see to
dressing her. I shall send a bath up before thou art to come
down. Take thy time, and thou shouldst wear my blue pellison and
thy silk bliaut. Now go! I have to greet our guests."

The servants being too busy preparing the space for the guests,
Elizabeth was the one who arranged Maria's hair. Then, having
been trained since she was Maria's age that no one can supervise
work unless that person can perform it at need, she swept out the
rushes on that floor herself. She needed the bath more than ever
by the time that a party of servants brought a tub and the
buckets of water upstairs. Only old Helga stayed to bathe her.

While she was drying off, mother brought three more maids
upstairs. She dunked herself in the bath before being dressed
hurriedly. "Take some care with her hair," she said before
disappearing down the stairs. Having their orders, the four took
some time with Elizabeth's hair. When they were done, half of it
hung down her back weighted with a cloth-of-gold and pearl piece
of Mother's. The other half was in counter-circling braids
making a coronet on her brows.

She was already wearing a white linen shift that just covered her
knees. They held the pellison while she put her arms through the
sleeves. It was Mother's and the edges wrapped to her sides.
They fastened a girdle around it so the bottom edge was raised up
to her ankles. When that satisfied everybody, she raised her
arms for the bliaut. They tied it so it fit tightly from her
waist to just under her breasts. The looseness above that, she
knew, implied an abundance which she did not yet possess.

Her father had objected to that the last time it was done, but
she was careful not to mention that. It was long past time to
show her figure; she would be fifteen, and marriageable, this
month. The horn was sounding for dinner when she came
downstairs. She scurried across the courtyard but did not reach
the company until they had paused at the washstands.

"Ah," father said, "the last member of the family. My lord and
gentles, may I present my lady daughter Elizabeth? Elizabeth,
this is Sir Karl of Danclaven, Sir Hector, Sir George. Frederik
is squire to Sir George as Paul is to Sir Hector and Roger is to
sir Karl." She curtsied to them all, and noted their bows as
their names were said. The last named squire was a boy, the
first named one was an armiger who looked older than the first-
named knight. Sir George and Sir Hector looked a little younger
than Father, but appeared dangerous men to cross and used to

Sir Karl was tall, fair haired, and clean-shaven in the new
fashion. She thought that he could not be much past twenty,
although his face was grave for one so young. She shared
porringer and cup with him at table. "And will we have the
pleasure of thy company for long?" she asked.

"Alas, no," he said in a deep, pleasant voice. "We must leave in
the morning. Sir Benedict Descries was a squire of my father's.
He was very friendly to a young boy at that time. I am on my way
to pay my respects to him on his name day. It is the first such
occasion since I was knighted, and the celebration is in the
castle of his father the Count."

"Our loss is thy gain. I hear that the valley is at its most
beautiful this time of year."

"So I have heard, but the scenery pales before what can be seen
here." She looked around the hastily-decorated great hall
incredulously before realizing that she had been paid a
compliment. Then she decided to make her error into policy.

"Thou givest our poor decorations great honor."

"Oh, thy keep is a pretty enough setting, but the imperial court
itself would not be worthy of the jewel it holds."

Elizabeth felt very warm. The fire was close and Mother's
pellison contained more fur than she was used to. Even so, she
suspected that the company contributed as much to that feeling as
the clothing. She looked down at the porringer. She had been
taking the coarser bits of meat off the chunk of bread to leave
the dainty ones for the guest; he had obviously been doing the
same for the lady. She took a bit of meat anyway, and chewed it

Her father rescued her. "Glad as we are for your company and
happy to serve guests of my liege count, I cannot believe that we
are on the direct route to Castle Descries from anywhere."

"Well, my lord, nowhere that honest men dwell. But I asked Sir
Hector to show me the south side of the mountains. He has been
this way before, and has been showing me the roads."

"I hope," Elizabeth found herself saying, "that thou dost not go
too far into the forests. They are infested with reivers." Then
she bit her tongue. He would think her casting doubt on his

"Indeed they are," was his only answer.

"That is why we are in haste now," Sir George put in. "We
crossed the trail of a small band of those bandits, and it took
us three days out of our path to catch them."

"I will give a trial to those miscreants as thou didst ask," said
Father. "Really, no-one would have minded if thou hadst hanged
them out of hand."

"It would have been abrogating thy rights, my lord," said Sir
Karl. "The swordplay was one thing; but once those four
surrendered, it was a matter of doing justice. And the right of
doing justice on thy lands is not mine."

Elizabeth watched the party of ten ride out from the castle after
a hearty breakfast the next morning. Her parents waited until
after dinner, though, before discussing the visit with her. Sir
Daniel, Father's seneschal, stayed with them. The old knight was
more than second-in-command of the castle; he was the family's
most trusted adviser. "Well, Elizabeth," mother asked, "What
didst thou think of Sir Karl?"

"A very worthy knight, from the little that I saw, and very
gently spoken." If she had volunteered an opinion of a knight,
Father would have upbraided her for making the comment. A
positive answer, however, seemed quite safe.

"That is all very well," said Father, "but they will want
Festmauer, and I have two sons and another daughter." Festmauer
was a small stronghold on the Spait river which father held from
a baron. Her brother William was Father's castelan there. What
it had to do with the visit, she could not tell.

"If they want Festmauer," said Sir Daniel, "they will find a way
to have Festmauer. Far better that they have Festmauer as a
dowry than as a conquest." Which explained what it had to do
with the visit, and why she was here. "I would suggest that thou
offerest it as a fief from thee."

"Even so," said Father, "Baron Guy will not like that transfer."

"He will not. But neither will he object formally, and he will
attend the wedding." Apparently her casually polite statement
that Sir Karl was a very worthy knight was her acceptance of the
engagement. "He does not want a quarrel with the Danclavens.
That could cost him his own castle, ducal fief or no ducal fief."

These were weighty issues, not to be decided quickly. The talk
went on for another hour, and was not concluded even then. As to
her own mind, it was even less settled.

Elizabeth wanted to be wed and mistress of her own hall; her body
had begun whispering to her of unexplored mysteries well before
it began bleeding eight months before. Neither her interest in
the religious life nor her never-expressed infatuation with one
of her father's previous squires -- now Sir Henry -- had lasted
long. There was no competing interest, and Sir Karl had been
impressive and well-spoken. She could easily grow to love him.
A daughter-in-law of the Viscount of Danclaven would have more
social prestige than any other match that she could envisage.
And there was safety, besieging a Danclaven-held tower at the
edge of Danclaven land was an undertaking which even a ducal army
might shun. He was young, as well; she did not think that she
would like sharing the bed of an old man as he decayed, and many
young wives did that.

She wanted to be a mother, she could see the joy (and power)
which that brought; but she remembered Mother's suffering from
the birth of Robert. Her baby brother had been quite reluctant
to enter the world. And she was not sure that she was ready to
be a wife; her body could whisper of mysteries all it wished, she
could dream of running a household, but a wife was property of
her husband in a very intimate way. Father, Mother, William
(and, for that matter, the seneschal) could order her about; she
served the Count on his annual visit and helped to bathe his
knights; but those orders were far from *her*. She had seen Sir
Karl once; did she wish to give control over her body, possession
of her body, intrusion into her body, to him?

"Mother," she asked a few days later, "did Sir Karl truly ask for
my hand?"

"There was nothing that definite, daughter. Indeed, it may have
been as they said. On a trip they caught some reivers; they
handed them over to the lord of the land on which they had caught
them; they continued on their trip. Certainly the guest-gifts
they gave us were some of the arms of that band. But think a
minute. This was a friend of the count's son, he could have made
a report to the count of his doings and been praised for it.
They trailed the party from a burned village on the lands of
Baron Hugh, returning them there would have brought great praise.
It is likelier that they planned to stop here all along, and thou
mightest well be the reason for those plans. Thou hast seen him,
he has seen thee, wert thou well satisfied with him?"

"I just feel..." she waved her hands.

"Well, we may have heard more than they said. But, if they do
offer, waving thy hands will make no difference."

At one time, she had ridden the shoulders of Sir Daniel as often
as Maria did these days. Their relationship had been much more
formal this past year. The seneschal's duty, even so, was to
give advice; and she knew that he would not lie to her. "My lady
Elizabeth?" he greeted her. The "my lady" in front of her name
had once been a rarity from him, saved for the most formal
occasions and the most outrageous teasing. Since the first time
that she bled, however, he had never omitted it.

"Sir Daniel, I seem to have a suitor whom I have seen but twice.
What knowest thou of this Danclaven?"

"This one was knighted recently by the Duke's son," he replied.
"I saw him not all that much more than thou didst. The family is
well known, and he seems to fit the reputation."

"But thou hast more knowledge of that reputation than I do. What
I remember of the tales before the fire is all about war. I am
not in danger of being besieged by the Danclavens, but of being
wed to one of them. What say the stories about that?"

"Little enough. Which, after all, is good news. The first of
the family to hold Castle Dan wed the widow of the previous
holder and then her daughter. No one suggests that the women
wished to wed the slayer of the husband or father. Recent
generations, however, have had no rumors about their marriages
except for a good many widows joining the cloister. If the
family had the habit of locking up their wives or beating them
unmercifully, we would have heard." Beating one's wife to a
reasonable degree, she knew, was within the husband's right.

"The Danclavens have," he continued, "as you say, something of a
reputation involving sieges. No castle that they held has fallen
to siege. They have taken more by siege than any count in the
duchy. A more remarkable fact is that we speak of this family as
a unit. There is no story of the son making war against the
father or the younger brother against the older. These facts
work together; besiege *a* Danclaven and you war against *the*
Danclavens. And it goes the other way; they can always find some
fief for any of that name, even cousins. And that is possible
because their holdings have increased as rapidly as their

Sir Daniel had a great deal more to tell. He spoke of the
family's reputation for tightfistedness, including a total
aversion to dice. Many said that the Danclavens were much more
calculating than a good, reckless, knight should be. Not to the
point of cowardice, he hastened to add; Danclavens led the rushes
that went with their successful sieges. Many felt that their
sergeants, mounted men-at-arms, were better trained and better
armed than base men were entitled to be. "Even so," he noted
wryly, "no lord who can levy the Danclavens ever excluded their

Elizabeth much more information than that to ponder, but she
thought that it did not really deal with the point of her
worries. Sir Karl would probably be a brave-but-prudent knight,
not overly generous, respectful of the church but careful of his
interests relative to church lands, and vicious towards reivers.
That was all well and good, but what sort of *husband* would he

She heard no more of this, however, and she turned her attention
to other concerns. Her parents gave her her very own sparrowhawk
for her fifteenth birthday. She named it Saebelin, and spent
long hours in the mews learning to care for the bird. She looked
forward to afternoons hunting with Father, but she learned how
much later that came than habituating the hawk to her presence.

Their neighbors knew that she was now of marriageable age, and
her family received a few feelers. None of the matches suggested
appealed to her parents, and none of the men appealed much to
her. Sir Karl, at least, was an unknown quantity rather than a
widower who had mismanaged two dowries already, or a pimple-faced
youth sufficiently her junior to require several years of
waiting. The question was whether Sir Karl was interested.

The Danclavens were interested... interested in Festmauer at
least. Before the rains closed the roads, Sir George was back.
It was difficult to tell from his combination of elaborate
compliments and stiff bargaining whether Sir Karl was begging his
family for this bride or reluctantly acceding to their wishes.
One question was what father would get for Festmauer above what
he owed Baron Guy for the fief. The three knights plus their
attendants for forty days whether Baron Guy required them or not
was a given.

Sir George rode home In October with the understanding that both
sides were interested. Later feelers from the neighborhood were
answered with regrets. Although agreement had not been reached,
and a fine enough offer from another family would have been
considered, father fully expected to close the bargain and hold
the engagement in the spring. Instead, the Emperor decided to
invade France. The Duke, needing help from the Emperor on other
issues, called every levy to join in the war.

Private business was suspended while preparations were made, but
finally the troops gathered in June. Elizabeth had never
considered her father an old man until she saw him on his return
from Bouvines. "William is a prisoner," he told her. "As for
thy suitor, I heard that the Count of Danclaven lost his son."

The castle was in too much bustle trying to raise William's
ransom to celebrate Elizabeth's sixteenth birthday properly, much
less mourn a man who had visited once the year before. Elizabeth
felt guilt over her selfish thoughts about her missed celebration
and missed opportunity. Lying awake in bed after Maria had
fallen asleep, though, she wept for the life she might have had
and the knight who could have been her husband. Possible suitors
began to be hinted more seriously, although the family could not
afford a wedding when it would be in debt for the ransom nor
reasonably levy an "aid" for both at the same time.

Then, one day, the gatekeeper called: "Argent, second quarter
griffin rampant, gules." She rushed down, not believing that
this could be he, but it was.

"Thou livest?" she said. "We had heard otherwise." Then she bit
her tongue. That was not the fittest greeting she could have

"My brother died at Bouvines," he answered. "Would that I had
died in his stead!" He looked as though he meant that.

"My lord will forgive us, I hope," father said, "for not sharing
that wish. We welcome thee and thy company."

At that point, Sir Karl introduced those who had not visited
before, including his new squire, Philip. "Who served my brother
well while Robert lived."

Elizabeth helped her mother bathe the feet of the knights. She
sat between father and Sir George at supper, as well, while her
mother shared cup and porringer with Sir Karl. She was a poor
companion, thinking only of the man three seats along from her.

Soon after supper, she went up to bed. She lay awake beside
Maria. Karl was alive; apparently they were to wed. All her
fears of the past month were swept away, but other fears

She was to be wed, to lie under Karl and have him enter her. It
was an exciting thought, and she remembered all that the priests
said about the evil of that excitement. But it was also a
sobering thought. She tried herself down there, not for the
first time. Her little finger went in easily, her forefinger fit
with difficulty. She had been sneaking peeks when visiting
knights were offered full baths, she knew that their members were
of somewhat different sizes. None, however, were as thin as her
finger. The first time was painful, she had heard. Would it be
especially painful for her?

Even if it were, it would be nothing to the pain of childbed.
And that, she knew, followed the other. Whatever the future,
however, the matter was settled. One whole set of worries was
over. She thought of William, then, and guiltily slipped out of
bed. She prayed for his release, even though his ransom would
necessarily delay her own wedding.

On the morrow, she learned the opposite. Her mother drew her
aside after mass. "I know that thou hast been of two minds about
this marriage, although I could not see why. Well, it is too
late to wave thy hands now. Thy suitor will lend us the entire
ransom for William. Festmauer will be his under Baron Guy, not
as a fief from us. If thou dost reject this marriage now, thou
dost condemn thy brother to longer imprisonment."

"Mother, I give my consent."

"There speaks a loving sister. Although I can hardly think of a
better marriage for thee."

"Can Christians lend to Christians?"

"Lending is not forbidden, only interest. Which is why so few
will lend. But we must hurry this wedding. William will
languish in Champagne until it is accomplished."

But Karl had been more generous than that. The engagement was
two days later, with the wedding planned for early September.
Then he returned to Castle Clavius to send the ransom on from

William was freed in time to come to the wedding. His presence
gladdened her heart more than that of the Duke's son, the Counts
of Gitneau and Descries, and the officiating bishop of St. Basil.
Karl's father, his eldest remaining brother, and many of their
knights and vassals came, as well as most of her family's
neighbors. The hospitality and the ceremonies occupied her
thoughts all day and even during what waking time she had some of
the nights. The incredibly long wedding mass was the first time
she could draw a quiet breath in the whole month. Even then, she
was supposed to be following the service. Then that service drew
to a close.

The bishop kissed Karl, and Karl kissed her. Somehow his kiss
felt different than kisses from others had. Then Karl and she
led the way to the feast. They sat together under the canopy
each pulling up tidbits to give to the other. He pressed the cup
on her again and again, and she was quite giddy by the time they
rose for the dances. She stumbled once or twice in these, but
Karl was there to steady her. She had sobered completely,
though, by the time she followed him into another tent. They
knelt there while a priest blessed the bed, then the men left
while the women stripped her and put her to bed.

The constant bustle, the dressing, the congratulations and
ceremony and dancing, had kept her mind off this moment. She
wanted to be a wife, the head of her own household; she wanted to
be a Danclaven, one whom reivers feared rather than fearing them;
she wanted to be married to Karl, who was impressive and handsome
and clever. She was less sure that she wanted his body on hers
and in hers, however. She was entirely sure that she did not
want the pain that she knew would come with his first entrance.
Now she lay wondering about this and worrying about it. She
wished the men would bring Karl back and end her worry; she
wished they would stay away forever and delay her pain.

Only minutes after the women had left, however, the men were
back. They shoved Karl forward as he laughed and pushed back at
them. He was soon stripped and was pushing his friends towards
the tent's entrance. "And *tie* it, Roger," he called.

"On my oath," Roger piped from the crowd outside. Karl turned
back towards the bed. He was a truly handsome man, with a tan
from neck to waist much lighter than his face. His muscles
worked cleanly under his skin, and he was without obvious scars.
She tried to concentrate on broad shoulders, solidly muscled
chest and belly, and gracefully striding legs. All she could
really see was the projection from his center. It seemed so very
large and seemed to be growing larger. And it seemed pointed,
that couldn't be right. It was rising from the horizontal as he
approached the bed.

When he joined her there and covered himself, she could finally
look into his face. There was kindness in his look and a more
than a little laughter. He must have thought that she was
looking at him with lust; she felt herself blush crimson. He
kissed her cheek. "What passes between us," he whispered, "is
between us, save that this night thou needest bleed." She
blushed again, and shivered. That thought had been preying on
her mind, and he had brought it to the forefront.

He kissed her, then, on the lips. The sensations were quite
different from those brought by the kisses of Mother, her sister,
and her nurse. He licked her lips before moving his kisses to
chin and neck. These sensations, as well, were new. His arm
about her waist reminded her that neither of them wore anything.
The hands of the maids, who worked in the fields during the
harvest and wove or spun the rest of the time, had never been
soft; but this hand, rubbed by reins when it was not gripping a
shield, was much more callused. It passed up her side as his
lips kissed down her throat. The hand reached her right breast
as his mouth reached her left. She felt an excitement that she
could not really identify, as if the wine were still having its

When he began licking at her nipples, the excitement was much
stronger, so strong that it frightened her. "My lord," she

He drew back for a minute. "Thy husband," he corrected. That
was true. "Thou art so beautiful," he said. He was looking at
her breasts, the blanket having dropped to their waists. The
tent contained a dozen lamps, more obvious now with the outside
truly dark.

His hand left her breast for a moment, but only to stroke down to
her waist and beyond. Her legs came together without her
thinking about them. His hand stopped just before the juncture
and played with her curls. "So very beautiful," he said again.

She wanted to be beautiful, she wanted him to think her
beautiful; but she did *not* want him looking at her breasts.
She got that wish soon enough, for he went back to lipping her
nipple. The feelings grew stronger and concentrated below where
his fingers were stroking her hair. Then he kissed her mouth
again. That brought his hairy chest across her wet and throbbing
nipple. The sensations of mouth and breast came together to join
those from his fingers teasing her between her spread legs. When
had she spread them? she wondered as she brought them back

"We are married. Thou shouldst know that," he said quietly.
"Thy mind may have wandered in church, but hadst thou not noticed
that much?"

"Yes my lord, ... my husband." She spread her legs again, but
his hand lay still. It, however, held her where no one else had
ever touched her. He gasped when her leg brushed against his
projecting organ. The motion of his chest hair on her nipple,
which was somehow more sensitive than it had ever been before,
tickled and excited her.

He kissed her again, lightly this time. "Is more of this
touching going to make my entry any easier for thee?" he asked

"No, my lord," she answered. Then, having remembered what the
alternative was, she almost corrected herself. It would have
been untrue, though; and she wanted to deal with her new husband
with honesty.

While her mind was poised between two answers, his body had been
moving between her legs. He reached out to the nearest lamp and
snuffed its wick. That hand was covered with oil when he touched
her. Looking down between them, she decided that he could never
fit. He stroked himself once with the oily hand and then fit
himself against her. He straightened above her and looked into
her eyes. His hand came up to cover her mouth just before he
drove forward. Her scream was muffled but heartfelt; he was
inside her and it *hurt*.

"That was the worst of it," he whispered. "I think it will hurt
less if thou dost raise and spread thy knees more." She did as
he directed, and the pain did ease. It was hardly the worst pain
that she had ever felt, but it was more personal than most. "I
shall try to be brief," he said quietly.

His motion renewed the sting, but not enough to distract her from
his face inches from hers. He looked at her with consideration,
then with concentration. His gaze unfocused, as if he could see
through her. He looked worried, then agonized, as his motion
sped; this motion increased her pain but not to the original
level. Then he drove deeper into her and groaned. She could
feel him filling and throbbing in a part of her that she had not
known she had. Then he lay gasping on her, pressing her deep
into the feathers.

Soon after, he withdrew. "Sit up for a moment," he said. She
did, and an echo of the sting returned where the sheet met her
torn flesh. There was also a dripping there, as if the moon were
in a different phase. "That will attest to thy honor," he said.
"Does my lady want to see?" She did not; she could tell that she
was bleeding. "Canst thou sleep with those lamps?" he asked.

She was certain that she would not sleep that night, but the
lamps had nothing to do with it. She nodded. He lay back down
and took her in his arms. "Sleep, then. That pain will not come
again. We can deal with the pleasure another night." All the
worry as to whether he would fit, she thought briefly, was the
wrong question. It was like worrying if the doorway to a peasant
hut was wide enough for a battering ram to pass through.

She drew the blanket up to cover them, although more for modesty
than for warmth. Thinking that she could not possibly sleep in
his arms, she planned to move from them once he was asleep.
Maria, whatever her faults as a bedmate, had kept apart except in
the coldest weather. When she was awakened by thunder in the
night, however, she was wrapped in his arms. With the air
getting chillier, she burrowed back against him. The stiffness
pressed into her hip worried her for an instant, but when he made
no move she relaxed.

So this is marriage, she thought before she returned to sleep.

Chapter Two
September 6, 1214
Elizabeth awoke, the air she was breathing was distinctly chill.
All the lamps had gone out in the tent in which she had spent her
wedding night.

The tent fabric was slightly lighter than where she was in the
bed. There was a fur as well as sheet and blanket over her and
Karl. She was enclosed in his arms. Indeed one of his hands was
holding her breast. She pushed against it, to no avail. It was
like trying to lift a portcullis. His response to her attempt
was a kiss between her shoulder blades.

"We will have visitors any minute," she warned him.

"Yes," he responded, "and they need to find us abed. By the way,
wert thou gladdened by thy brother's presence?"

"Very much so." It was a rather dutiful response; she was
thinking more of the coming inspection.

"He must have changed some from the boy who bedeviled thee when
thou wert young."

"He was never like that," she answered. "He was six years older,
after all, and seldom home after I turned eight. Margaret was
closer to his age, and may have quarreled with him more often,
but even she looked forward to his visits while he was a squire.
Me, he would toss in the air until I screamed, but it was never
*real* fright."


"My older sister. She died three years ago."

"My lord!" Karl's squire called from without.

"Let them in, Roger," Karl answered.

The crowd jostled in, stripped off the bedclothes, and looked at
the spot of blood on the sheet. She thought that it was very
small, but no one else commented.

"I'll freeze," she complained. It was much colder than it had
been on the previous morning. Then too, everyone was dressed but
the two of them.

"She's right," said Count Descries. "Let the Danclavens dress in
peace." It sounded strange, but the count was right. She was a
Danclaven now.

Mother had sent two servants with a change of clothing. Roger
dressed Karl and they all went off to mass. It was longer than
usual for a weekday, but not nearly so solemn as the marriage
service. She knelt during the chanting and asked God to make her
a good wife.

A crowd was waiting as they came out; one of the sergeants
scattered coins among them crying "from the bride." Roger did
the same, except he called "from the groom." One of Father's
falconers brought Saebelin to her. mother had explained that it
just would not do to have her sparrowhawk on her wrist on her
wedding day. She had not explained why it would not do, however;
many of the guests had held theirs.

After breakfast, Karl did homage to Baron Guy for Festmauer, her
dowry. "Well, my wife," he said after the ceremonies, "Festmauer
is indeed ours. Dost thou think that Sir William would be a good
castelan there?"

"Oh, my lord! Could he be?" She was going to live more than a
hundred miles from her family. Her brother William, at least,
would be closer. He would have business with his overlord, as

"Let's find if he has other plans," was all Karl's answer. She
knew quite well that he didn't. He had been Father's castelan at
Festmauer. He had enjoyed being in charge of his own domain,
however small; and he had chafed at being back in his father's
hall, however welcome he was. "Roger!"

"My lord."

"Be so good as to find Sir William, my lady wife's brother. Ask
him to attend us in ... " he looked at her. "Where would be a
good open place to meet?" The rain had stopped, and he clearly
had no desire to be within walls.

"The hayfield by the frog pool," she said. William would
remember where that was.~

"The hayfield by the frog pool," Roger repeated.

"And now," Karl said, "why not lead me there?" She took his
finger in her right hand and led him onward. Saebelin, on her
left wrist, wanted to be as far from Karl's great gyrfalcon as
possible. It seemed less fear than a sense of inadequacy.
Elizabeth could understand. She felt somewhat the same way about
the falcon's master. He was so strong, so strange to her, and --
right now -- so silent.

Made anxious by his silence, she told him about the pool where
the stream widened out and almost became a bog and the pleasure
that the children had there hunting frogs. He seemed content to
listen until their path led through a copse.

There he grasped her by her wrist and stopped her. "Do I talk
overmuch?" she asked. He nodded, then pulled her to him for a
deep, searching kiss. He reached under her cloak and pressed her
to him with his hand on her back. Then he reached below her
girdle to clench and unclench on her hip. She felt a fluttering
in her belly and she felt hot in his embrace despite the weather.
Oddly, her nipples hardened against her shift as if she were
chilled through. He left her mouth to kiss her face and
forehead. When he released her, she was not certain that she
wanted him to do so. She took a deep breath, remembered where
she was, and led him forward in silence. She was a matron now,
and would learn to guard her words.

"And," he asked a minute further along the trail, "did any of you
ever actually catch frogs?"

"William did once, and Margaret found one which must have been
injured.... I thought that thou didst not want me talking."

He pulled her to him again. "I thought..." the kiss was light on
her lips... "that there were more..." this kiss was longer and
firmer against her mouth... "pressing?..." he kissed her deeply
this time, and licking her lips open before continuing -- he was
holding her so that her side was pressed against his front.
"Yes, there were more pressing needs for those lovely lips..." He
kissed her lightly again, "... and tongue."

His tongue entered her mouth and pressed upon hers. There were
new sensations enough in that to fully occupy her mind for the
morning. She couldn't give the sensations from his tongue their
due, however, because his hand was arousing other sensations
throughout her body. It passed upwards from her waist to her
breast. She suddenly needed the support of his body, but the
pressure was not only against his muscled chest and thigh. His
organ was hard against her waist, and her girdle wasn't quite
high enough to cushion all of its length. While her mind was
engaged with the sensations from her body, her tongue had
responded to invasion of her mouth by his. It was merrily
licking and pressing against the invader. When his withdrew, she
decided to follow. Her own hands, acting quite without her will,
moved toward his broad chest until Saebelin objected. She sprang
back at the bird's call.

"My lady's voice is sweet," he went on, "and like grazing cattle
on fallow land, her words are a pleasant use of lips and tongue
when they cannot fulfill their real purpose." She wrinkled her
nose, not sure whether she liked the simile. "Come here," he
said, "and then we should get on." She came into his arms again,
but all he did was kiss her lightly on the nose.

She led him the rest of the way in silence. Her thoughts were on
his kisses, and his hand, and her sensations. They were not
seemly thoughts to share, even with him. It suddenly occurred to
her that perhaps matrons had more dignity because their thoughts
were more often ones to keep to oneself.

William was waiting, on horseback, when they reached the field.
He immediately dismounted. "Sir Karl?" he said in a neutral
voice. He clearly had no idea why Karl wanted the meeting.

"My brother," Karl responded. They embraced. When they stepped
back, William shot her a shrewd look. Once he knew that this
wasn't a quarrel, he seemed to guess why they had taken so long
on the path. She could feel herself blushing.

"My lady wife and I have a problem," Karl began, "whose solution
may lie in thy hand. When first I began courting thy sister, I
expected us to live in Festmauer. Unfortunately, I lost my
brother, Robert, at that cursed battle." William, who had been
captured there, would curse Bouvines as well. "Now, I shall
spend most of my time at Castle Clavius. I need a castelan at
Festmauer. My lady suggested that thou mightest be that person.
It is not the same as being castelan to thy father, I know. But
we would be grateful if it could be done that way."

A castelan was almost an employee, albeit in charge of the
castle. He didn't have any fief, any right to the land for his
heirs or even for his own person. The liege who put a castelan
in charge of a place expected to be able to remove him at will,
although neither would attempt to replace the farrier or chief
cook of the place without just cause.

A castelan who was also an heir was in an entirely different
situation. Even if he were managing his sister's dowry, he was
the master of the place in a much more definite fashion. Still,
William had a future on this land; he could hardly hope to be
enfiefed with a permanent stronghold elsewhere, even if the
establishment of new strongholds were still common. Staying here
was always a possibility; but the heir waiting in the place
always seemed to be, and often was, waiting for his father to die
or retire.

Then too, Karl was simply being courteous in his expression of
his "problem." Any of the knights who accompanied him could hold
Festmauer. William, who had become much less assured of his
martial skill since his capture, saw that clearly. "My lord is
too kind."

"Let us have the investiture after dinner, then," said Karl.
"Our party leaves soon after. We will expect a long visit and
full accounts at Castle Clavius after Michaelmas.

"I could ride with thy party this morning."

"And so thou couldst, but I am depriving thy father of one of his
children already. Take a day or two with thy family. The
preparations for the wedding cannot have left much time for them
and thee. Be a son this day and the next, thou wilt have time
enough to be a brother."

"And, my lord," said William, "Elizabeth will be too busy being a
wife to be a sister." Her face warmed at that.

"That is certainly my hope," said Karl. "In any case, thy sister
and I will expect thee to attend us at Clavius and entertain us
at Festmauer. Though, if thou art no better a hunter of stag
than of frog, we will have little enough to eat there."

William shot her a look then which made her blush again. "I
think my lord will find that my hunting skills have increased in
the past twelve years."

"I do not doubt it. Do not blame Elizabeth for my jest, pray.
For that matter, I am not at all sure that I could catch a frog
even today. She and I might try it."

Taking the hint, William walked his horse to firmer ground and
then he mounted. When he was gone, Karl turned back towards the
copse. The walk back had even more delays than the walk towards
the field. They were still on their way, indeed, when the horn
sounded for dinner. Afterwards, William was invested as
castelan; the ceremony was minor compared with a homage ceremony.

Their company was the fourth to leave. Her goodbyes from her
parents and sister were long and tear-filled. She wept over
Robert, but he seemed not to understand that she would be gone a
long time. She felt almost as sad to leave her father's favorite
brace of hounds, often her companions these last few years. But
it would have been wrong to ask for them; they were her father's
companions more. Her sister Maria's parting from Helga was far
wetter than Maria's parting from Elizabeth, but Helga had always
been Elizabeth's servant; Maria had Gertrude.

She took only five servants with her from her parents' home, and
one of those was a farrier who only came because he was married
to Helga. "There are servants aplenty at Castle Clavius," Karl
had said. "Thou wilt need only the ones who will prevent thy
feeling alone among strangers." mother made sure, however, that
she had a nice age mixture; she, herself, would only have chosen
the old ones whom she knew best.

The company included Karl's sister Catherine, the sister's
husband Frederick Baron Chataignier, one of the baron's knights,
four knights from Clavius and one from Castle Dan, nine squires,
ten sergeants and a chaplain. There were only twenty servants in
all, besides hers. Of course, the sergeants could do any of the
chores en route; while they were armed riders, they were of
common birth and not above any work when a knight ordered it. As
the squires served their knights, servants were barely needed.

Karl's father and brother would take the other road later to
visit with Count Descries.

She rode beside Karl, at the head of the company save for a
vanguard of two sergeants a bowshot in front. They could talk
with only Roger to overhear. "Should I expect trouble, my lord?"
she asked.

"In this company?" he asked. "There are very few strongholds
between here and Clavius which could challenge us without
summoning a levy." And that, she knew, should take a week's

"Thy party seems to be riding at a high level of preparation."

"Why, so our party is. It is good for discipline. We are still
on thy father's land are we not. Is this castle land, or is
there one whom I met who holds it in fief?"

So she described the land thereabout, and her times visiting it.
He seemed interested in hearing both her information about the
country and what her life was like while she grew up. When her
voice tired, he told her a little about his youth. She found
that he could read, not just a few words or the castle accounts
but as well as many a monk. He told of a recent hunting accident
and of the squire that he had left behind at Castle Clavius
recovering from wounds acquired in that hunt.

They passed a few other parties on the road, mostly scatterings
of serfs on foot but also one substantial party of merchants and
a trio of monks on donkeys. Every few miles there was a booth or
some other arrangement for collecting tolls from travelers. As
nobles, they were immune, but occasionally the barrier would not
open until an actual knight rode up.

The exchange of information ran out before the sun was highest in
the sky. Then they rode in silence for a period, while Karl cast
careful looks around the country between stares at her. The
stares flustered her, and she resumed telling stories of her
youth. They rode together, speaking only to one another except
for rare reports or questions from the knights of the party.

Instead of turning in to visit a hall, they stopped in a field
for supper when the sky grew dark. There was a tent for her and
Karl, another for her sister-in-law and her husband, and a third
for all the other gentry. Their bed that night was stuffed with
new-cut grass.

They retired to it early while the talk around the bonfires was
still loud. Once they were alone, Karl climbed into bed on her
left. He offered her another cup of wine before addressing her:
"Thou art sworn to do my will, art thou not?"

"That I am, my lord." Indeed, she remembered both her oaths to
God that morning and his kindness regarding William thereafter.
It was a strange question, even so.

"Then thou wilt easily guess my will in this," he said, and began
to kiss her. Indeed, she could not, nor even guess what "this"
was. Soon, however, the pleasures of the kiss swept away that
worry. He had been unfailingly kind to her; he would not beat
her for her inability to guess his wishes.

Well before his hands reached her breasts, she had forgotten the
conversation entirely. Giddy from the kisses, she welcomed these
caresses. His mouth followed his hands, and she panted under the
sensations. Finally, his hand stroked her thighs while his lips
found her nipple. These caresses suddenly provided too much
sensation; her legs clamped together to resist. Karl persisted
in his licking on her nipples but moved his hand upward to her

Once there, he stroked through her sparse hair before beginning
to press rhythmically on the soft area just below it. This
scarcely reduced her sensations; she tried to hold herself still,
but found herself moving against his hand. She gasped when he
sucked much of her breast deep into his mouth. The sensations
were different but as intense when he slowly let it ease out,
pulling on the nipple with his lips before it finally slipped
out. He brushed the hair off her forehead with his other hand.
He kissed her lips briefly, then her forehead.

"Loveliest of women," he said, "most beloved of wives. Allow thy
feelings to flow. This is thy obedience, to feel. Feel how thy
husband loves thee." Feeling was no task to perform; feeling was
unavoidable, inescapable, irresistible.

He kissed her lips again and then leaned over to begin kissing
her right breast. His hand had never stopped moving. Now, as
her legs spread to support her responsive pushes against that
hand, it slipped lower. His lips sucked on one nipple, the wiry
hairs on his chest tickled the other one, his hand pressed and
played with and parted her lower lips. There were more
sensations than she could follow clearly. She couldn't breathe.
Then every feeling spiraled upwards. She felt as giddy and
overpowered as she had felt when thrown from a horse as a girl.
She knew that she would crash against the stone-hard ground in a
moment, but could feel only exultation now.~

When she did fall it was into his arms, safe, secure, but
breathless. Something had disturbed the birds, though; they were
calling out.

"My lord?" Roger called from outside the tent.

"Nothing, Roger." Karl roared. He covered her ear somewhat
belatedly. "Rather sapling."

"Yes, my lord," said Roger, before beginning to sing.

"We are here," Karl said. "No one will enter. We are two
together. Thou art Elizabeth, married to Karl of Danclaven.
Thou art safe, and very pleasing to thy lord."

"But," and she had just remembered this, "thou didst want me to
guess thy will about something. And I have no idea. I still
lack any hint of what thou didst desire. If my lord loves me,
tell me what thou desirest."

He began laughing at that. "I do love thee. Truly I do. All I
was asking was that thou wouldst do just what thou didst; lie
there and accept that love; lie here and feel that love. Thou
didst please thy husband very much. Now dost thou not think that
it is time for sleep?"

She did and she did not. She had ridden long after several very
exciting days. Whatever had possessed her had left her very
sleepy. She did need her sleep. She had expected, however, that
he would renew his possession of her body. She vaguely believed
that married men did that every night that they were with their
women. She could not say that she *desired* it however. Her one
experience had been painful; and, while she knew that this pain
was because she had been a virgin, she also expected the next
time to hurt as well. His last sentence, in any case, was more
of a directive than a question. He pulled her to him and, with
his organ pressed against her back, held her while they both
drifted off to sleep.

Just before the blackness overtook her, she heard another squire
begin another song.

She awoke in his arms and slipped out of them to use the slop
bucket. He used it as soon as she came back to bed. The bed was
nice and warm after her little trip, but the same couldn't be
said for his skin when he held her again. She shivered and felt
him harden against her shaking rump. He kissed the back of her
neck, which made her shiver again even though his lips were warm.
His beard was scratchy against her shoulder, his chest-hair
ticklish on her back, his hands were still chilly on her breasts;
it seemed that she felt everything more acutely. "What is the
time?" she whispered.

"Not yet dawn. Dost thou want me to go out and look at the
stars? It would chill me a bit, but I have someone in my bed to
warm me again." Put like that, it seemed a bad idea.

"Thou needst not bother. We can call it time to go back to

"I call it time for thee to kiss thy husband," he said. When she
was slow to respond, he said nothing further, merely stroking her
breasts more firmly. He was her husband and master, however kind
he had been; and he had been kind. She had made all those
promises to God. Besides, the kisses the other morning had been
quite enjoyable. She turned and tried to kiss his mouth. What
she reached was his nose. He snorted.

"Well, it is dark," she said.

"I said no word of criticism." Which was true, although there
was more than a hint of laughter in his whisper. "It is merely
one more evidence of a lack of experience. Take as much practice
as thou needest."

Practice! She might not have had long experience, but she had
had a great deal of example these last two days. She reached his
mouth, and adjusted her position to make that comfortable. Then
she attacked him, pressing her lips against his as firmly as he
ever had pressed hers and sucking hard. He was still laughing,
which gave her an opening. She invaded his mouth much more
forcefully than he had ever invaded hers. His laughter stopped

His tongue met hers and both his hands went to her breasts. As
now-recalled feelings began to course through her, she relaxed
her pressure on his mouth. He didn't relax his, and slowly his
pressure and her relaxation moved her back until she was lying
down with him half over her. She felt dizzy, and hot, and
chilled. His hand left her breast only to sweep over her body,
those caresses returned to her breast again and again. Then he
stroked down her belly into her hair. Her legs parted of their
own accord, and he grasped her between them. He left her mouth,
and she could sense, if not see, his face above hers. "My lord,"
she said. What was happening to her?

"And thy husband." He kissed her right breast, arching above the
other so that he barely touched it. With one nipple tickled by
his chest hair, the other lipped and licked and suckled by his
mouth, she felt overcome by still-strange sensations. His hand
quietly holding her secret places was comforting, but also
arousing. When he changed his position to suck the other nipple,
his fingers began exploring her folds. It wasn't really like
being tickled at all, yet her body writhed under all those
sensations as if they were tickles. She abandoned her last
attempt at controlling those writhings; she could only feel and
gasp for air. The tent above and the rustling grass below
disappeared and there was only her body and those sensations.

Then the sensations soared upward like a falcon, a falcon which
she rode. Then the falcon dove and she was its prey, pierced,
shivering, shaken to bits. Then it dropped her. While she fell
she heard a moan from somewhere, seeming to echo in the tent and
in her mouth. She landed on the bed and into Karl's arms. There
was not one soft place on his body, but that hardness was a
comfort and a shelter after her experience.

As her breath returned, he eased her back onto the bed. He and
she were all alone in the world except for the joy she had just
experienced. When he pulled on one leg, she spread both. Karl
was moving over her to shelter her from the dark unknown when
they heard a call from the tent entrance.

"My lord?"

She stiffened at Roger's voice.

"Roger?" Karl responded.

"Didst thou call, my lord? I heard..."

"Ignore *us* Roger."

"Yes, my lord."

Karl kissed her, but she lay stiff under him. She knew her duty
as a wife and made not the slightest resistance to him. She
could even remember that she had felt great joy and comfort in
Karl's presence. She could not, however, bring those feelings
back although she tried. Karl tried too; he kissed her mouth and
breasts. Her mind, however, was filled with thoughts of the
squire one thickness of cloth away.

Finally, Karl moved over on the bed. He lay on his back, and
pulled her to lie with her head on his shoulder.

"Sleep like this," he said. "And think of a room with solid
walls and a squire-skin rug on the floor."

She laughed. "It wouldn't have much fur on it would it?"

"No, but there would be compensations."

He stroked her arm and then kissed her forehead like father used
to do when she was younger. Would it be so bad? she wondered.
She was feeling better and Roger would be asleep soon. She was
wondering how to offer Karl a token of acceptance when she
noticed that he was asleep already. She took a moment to drink
in the feeling of him beside her. Even with muscles loosened in
sleep, he felt hard against her body. Shelter! she thought as
she slipped into sleep herself.

Chapter Three
September 7, 1214
The birds were singing outside when Elizabeth next awoke. The
birds were singing and a hand was stroking her breast. Oh, yes.
She was a married woman, and although she had to get up
momentarily, the hand was licit and even pleasant. She tried to
lie still; but it was morning, and she had lain in an unfamiliar
position. When she stretched, Karl moved back to give her room.
She ended on her back with her hands outside the covers in the

"Repeat thou that stretch," he said. Right gladly she did,
stretching further and yawning more deeply. He rested his hand
on her belly while she did so. When she collapsed back with all
the tension gone, he moved it up to cup her breast. She had some
memory of that hand from the night; mostly, however, she was
remembering the lovely wedding mass and dinner and celebration.
She was truly a matron, blessed by a bishop and toasted by a
duke's son. And, oh yes, Karl had been so kind about William;
and he had kissed her so thrillingly under the trees.

He was kissing her now, indeed. He licked her lips and her teeth
before passing his tongue between them. His hand under her was
kneading her rump, and the other hand was between her and the
sheet caressing everywhere else. She thrilled to these caresses,
welcomed them, even gently returned them. She passed her hand up
his iron-hard arm and felt his shoulder muscles flex as his hand
explored her. Her tongue licked his and played tag with it.

He swept the blankets aside, baring her to her waist. The cool
air only partly mitigated the heat which his hand was generating.
He abandoned her mouth for her breast, kissing a path up the
small left mound to the top while he held the right one with his
hand. Her nipples felt hard and hot in the cool air even before
he sucked on one while fingering the other.

Warmth from those kisses somehow concentrated in her lower belly.
This began moving of its own volition even before the fingers of
his right hand started upward. At first, these fingers clasped
her thigh where it met her rump. This area was sensitive enough,
but soon they were teasing the lips between her tight-closed
thighs. Unable to remain still under that assault, she spread
her legs for purchase on the grass-stuffed mattress.

At this, his other hand finally left off teasing and tweaking her
right nipple. It stroked down her belly until it found her lower
lips. Those fingers, as well, stroked and pushed on her lips.
When she was writhing from that assault, they parted them. At
first, the gentle rubbing there accentuated the heat in her
belly. Then his finger struck some chord and she shivered apart
in fire and joy.

When she came back to the tent from wherever the fire had taken
her, he was above her and between her legs. He stroked between
her lips four or five times, causing echoes of the previous
desire so acute that it was almost pain each time he reached the
top. Then he pressed against her entrance. There was a twinge
from that; and she, half in memory of his previous advice -- half
by instinct, raised and spread her knees. This movement,
combined with one of his, brought him a fingerbreadth within her.
The stretching had still a remnant of pain, but the feeling of
fullness was voluptuous at the same time.

He bent to kiss her lips, then straightened so that he entered
her more fully. She adjusted herself again and he was farther in
yet. He pushed once more before retreating. Then he was moving
in and out by two or three fingerbreadths at a time. The motion
aroused her in the way that was similar to and yet different from
the feelings that his fingers had aroused there.

"Does this pain thee?" he asked.

"Very little." Indeed, she was enjoying it.

"Likely the stretching is necessary." He pressed forward,
filling her completely, and stopped moving. He kissed her nose
from that position and straightened. "And this?"

"Not at all." It was a lovely feeling.

He pressed forward again, and she felt a twinge from deep inside.
"And this?"

"It really does."

At that, he pulled back well before the second point. "A shame,
but that will change in time. Do thou tighten thy legs about me

When she did, he started moving again. All the talk had rather
reduced her voluptuous mood. The sensations of his short
movements in her rekindled this slightly. Now, however, it was
no longer dark. She could see as well as feel, and the sight of
the transformation of his face above her took her attention. He
looked concerned, then distracted. Then, while his pace down
below hurried, he grimaced in what appeared to be pain. Then he
drove inward despite the resistance of her clasped legs and
throbbed deep inside her. He looked agonized for a moment then
his face relaxed in peace and his body slumped over hers.

She held him. The sensations had been nothing like the intensity
she had experienced while his fingers stroked her, but this
occasion had its own attractions. Elizabeth was locked in a
hierarchy; her status was fairly elevated and would rise as she
aged, but she would be the subordinate to Karl and in his power
in every situation for all of their lives. She had just glimpsed
a situation, however, in which he was in her power. She had seen
this impassive knight, who was grave even when he jested and who
never tensed his face even to bellow, transformed in her arms.
Well, she amended, transformed between her legs. Whichever it
was, she had a power over him that neither his Duke nor his
liege-and-father had. She stole another look at his placid face.
It was turned towards hers, and she could see clearly in the
greater light. She must have been smiling for he smiled at her.

Greater light! It was past dawn! "My lord," she said, "we will
miss mass." And the whole camp would guess why.

"He is my chaplain," he said. Of course, father David wouldn't
start without him. "But still we have a long ride ahead of us."

He turned his head away from her. "Roger!" The volume was still

"My lord?"

"My lady's servants. And then my clothes."

"Yes, my lord."

After Karl used the slop bucket, he unselfconsciously washed his
organ. It seemed much smaller than it had when poised between
her legs two days before, and somehow a different shape. Then he
washed hands and face. He handed her the damp towel. "Thou
probably shouldst wipe thyself," he said. "We have another

There seemed to be a good deal to wipe off. Despite her care,
however, a drop of something landed on her calf while the maids
were slipping her shift over her head. The maids did not seem to
notice, but Roger was blushing crimson when she got the shift far
enough down to look over at Karl. Roger did a lot of blushing,
however; he was that complexion. Trousers and bliaut followed
the shift, and then boots and a cloak.

After mass and breakfast (day old bread and sour wine), Roger led
a caparisoned mare up to her. Of course, Belle would be tired
after the ride the previous day. Karl scattered some salt on her
hand and dropped a few oats on it. "Feed her," he said. She
held out her hand, and the horse lipped up the oats and then
licked off the salt. Karl helped her to mount, lifting her
higher than she had needed these two years past. The mare
shifted the way men and horses do to firm their loads, but didn't
try to resist her. Roger handed up the reins while Karl dealt
with a question from one of the sergeants.

"What is her name?" she asked.

"George, my lady," Roger answered. "She is thine." He was
blushing again.


"George," answered Karl. "That tale is worthy of a quieter time.
And, Roger she isn't hers, yet." That hurt. Karl had been kind
to her, but she had also done everything which he had asked.
What must she do to earn this mare?

"And," Karl continued, "scattering obols to the crowd of peasants
is one thing; when I wish to give a present to my lady wife, *I*
will give it. There is no need for thine intervention."

"I am very sorry my lord." This blush was a record hue even for

"Accepted. I shall forget this. Thou shouldst not. Now there
is the matter of my mount."

"Yes, my lord." And Roger scurried off to get Karl's palfrey.

With a great hustle and bustle, the party started on its way,
roughly in the same order as the previous day. Once they were on
their journey, however, Catherine rode up to where Karl and she
were talking.

"If you tell each other everything this trip," she said, "you
will have nothing to discuss for the next twenty years. Allow me
to make the acquaintance of my new sister." Karl laughed and
dropped back. Everyone else of whatever age in their company
deferred to his rank; Catherine treated him like a young boy.

"Men think," Catherine said, "that giving thee half an hour of
pleasure at night justifies boring thee through the whole day
with prattle on their concerns." In truth, however, Karl had
always turned the conversation to Elizabeth's past. Catherine,
after an hour's tribute to Elizabeth's wedding, concentrated on
her own home and family. Despite being twenty-six and married
for "one full decade last Christmastide," she had only three
living children, Joachim, Karl and Maria. She never mentioned
whatever tragedies lay behind that fact, and Elizabeth did not
ask. Instead, Catherine joked about the ones who remained. "I
shall tell thee what the boys' greetings will be when we get
back," she said. "Joachim will say, 'Good day, mother; good day,
father; ROGER IS HERE!"

At the imitative shout, Catherine's horse broke into a trot. An
experienced horsewoman, she let it run up to the horses in front
of it. With her way blocked and no more shouting from her back,
the mare settled down; Elizabeth caught up in a few minutes. "We
shall be very lucky," Catherine continued as if there had been no
interruption, "if Karl greets us at all before centering his
attention on Roger." Their uncle's squire, a few years older but
much better traveled, was a great favorite with the boys, it
seemed. "They are all eager to be fostered themselves, not an
eagerness that I share. Enjoy thy sons when they come, my dear.
They will leave thee soon enough. Now Maria is only three; I
will have her with me for twelve years yet, God willing."

The first time that Elizabeth asked for tales about Karl, she
committed several stories of her husband's childhood to memory
before discovering that Catherine was actually talking about her
younger son. "Well," Catherine observed when the confusion was
cleared up, "there is little damage. One little boy gets in the
same scrapes as another. I am sorry, though. I should have
remembered that thou art newly wed and still think that thy
particular man is unique." Then she did speak of her brother's
younger years.

Elizabeth was glad of the distraction. The first hour into the
ride, she had become painfully aware that the activities of the
previous nights had not left her unscathed. The insides of her
thighs where she had gripped Karl so tightly were a little
scraped. Not painful at the time, these scrapes announced
themselves as the morning went on.

They traveled fast and hard, but the sun was nearing its zenith
before they passed into Sir Frederick's barony. The knight
called a peasant out of the fields and sent him running headlong
with a wand and a token. These, but not the peasant, would reach
the castle in little more than an hour although it would take the
riders nearer two. Catherine and Sir Frederick conferred for a
few minutes before Sir Frederick rode to where Karl and Elizabeth
were once more beside each other. "I would hate to offer such
scant courtesy," he said, "but my lady wife suggests that we all
dine in our traveling clothes."

"Thy lady wife," Karl replied, "has changed much if she suggested
that instead of deciding that. However, between my house and
thine is too much friendship to take an offer of greater comfort
as a scanting of courtesy. What does my lady think?"

"Think about?" she replied.

"Eat first, change later."

Her stomach thought that it was a wonderful idea. It was already
an hour past what she considered late dinner time. "If my lord
agrees, I would like it very much."

Even so, it was well past the hour of prime and the eastern walls
were casting noticeable shadows before they turned in to the long
path leading up to the drawbridge. The people from Castle
Chataignier, gentles and servants, broke into a canter. The
others ranked themselves by status. Sir Frederick, a few minutes
after being their companion, was their host helping Karl down
from his horse. His seneschal helped Elizabeth down. The sons
belied Catherine's prediction; all three children were still
clustered around their mother when the horn blew for dinner.

The castle's two knights who had stayed behind and their squires
served Karl, her, their lord, and their lady. This was great
formality, but also the practical matter that they had dined
before hearing that their lord had returned. When Roger finally
came in, he was greeted with great pleasure by the boys.

When she did receive the welcoming bath, it was a full one and
not just a washing of feet and legs. She had bathed, as she
assumed Karl had, the night before the wedding; the others
probably had not since leaving their domain and could not be
offered a bath unless their lord and lady had. This bath was
welcome to her, even so, more as a relief of soreness than of

Dressed in a guest robe, she went looking for Karl. He and Roger
were in the court dueling with blunted swords when she saw him.
Catherine's two boys were cheering on their hero without much
effect. When she called her greeting, Roger turned to look and
earned a buffet to his head for his inattention. He had a padded
helmet, and Karl used the side of his sword; but it looked
painful all the same. Karl slapped the sword out of Roger's hand
before answering her greeting.

"We will be another hour," he said. "Where shall I seek thee?"

"I shall be with thy lady sister." She found Catherine sewing as
well as she could with her daughter on her lap. After a moment
Elizabeth took up the pieces of what looked like a bliaut cut for
young Karl. She began sewing the side onto the back, taking her
smallest stitches. How much she sewed did not matter; having her
hostess take out her work later would.

Sewing led naturally to singing. She and Catherine sang Maria a
lullaby in duet. It gained the girl's attention instead of
lulling her to sleep, but she dropped off anyway; she had had an
exciting day. They mostly alternated after the girl's nurse
carried her away, but it was during another duet that Elizabeth
looked up to see Karl and Sir Frederick in the doorway to the
room. They applauded the end of the song and then nodded to each

Then the men sang their own duet, in Provencale. She could
follow it well enough to tell that it was a love song. Sir
Frederick ended it with his arm around Catherine, but Karl ended
on his knees with his arms spread dramatically towards her. She
could find no response but a blush. The older couple were
watching them with the sort of patronizing approval that parents
give to the first staggering steps of their children.

That made her blush hotter. She was a grown woman now; they had
no right to treat her as a babe. Catherine was so kind to her
and good natured, however, that she regretted her resentment
immediately. Sir Frederick sent his younger squire, Andrew, to
fetch a viol. Andrew accompanied Sir Frederick and Catherine in
a duet which the three had clearly practiced often.

After that, it would seem to be time for a duet from the other
couple. Karl looked at her, but she could think of no song to
suggest. This drove home to her what strangers they were still.
Sir Frederick noticed the awkwardness and mentioned that he had
justice still to perform. Karl offered himself as witness to the
judgments. "A moment, brother, of thy time," said Catherine, and
followed him out the door.

She said something in a low voice, but Elizabeth could hear his
response of "Right gladly!"

Dinner having been late and heavy, supper was late as well.
Baron Frederick's guests included several vassals and an
Augustinian priest whose abbey had business with Castle
Chataignier. The many people in the castle who had dined earlier
would have been shocked at the suggestion that their comfort
might be considered as important as Baron Frederick's, much less
his principal guests'. On the other hand, dinner having been
plain if abundant, the kitchen felt honor-bound that supper for
the guests would feature fancy meat pastries and other dishes for
a feast. She felt a little bloated at the end, and glad that the
next day was Friday. Karl had, however, been watering their wine
with a heavy hand; they were both cold sober throughout the meal.

The boys had to be restrained from calling to Roger as he served
table. Finally, when the food had all been served and the
company had passed from eating to drinking to talking, Catherine
had a suggestion for her sons. "Would you like Roger to share
your bed tonight?" They enthusiastically would. "Then why do
you not ask your uncle?"

Joachim dragged his brother with him to kneel in front of Karl's
place at table. "Please, Uncle Karl, could he?"

"Please, Uncle," seconded Karl's namesake.

Karl's mouth was set in a stern, commanding line. From her
vantage point, though, it could be seen to twitch upward
occasionally. "After he finishes all his tasks," he said, "but
only then." The boys' thanks were loud and sincere. Roger's
seemed as sincere, although expressed formally.

Soon after supper, their hosts escorted them to their room and
offered them a last cup of wine. Karl sipped from it but urged
her to drink deep. Quite soon, they were alone in bed behind a
stout door. The fire was new and bright, one of Roger's last
chores. The falcons were dozing on stands well apart. The bed
was softest feathers over fresh straw.

Karl kissed her deeply and then cupped her breast. The
sensations were becoming more enjoyable as they became more
familiar. During the kiss she noticed that he was fresh-shaven.
She let her tongue play with his as her body relaxed into this
new pleasure. She was, indeed, beginning the shift from
relaxation into an anticipatory tension when Karl's hand pressed
too hard on a sore part of her thigh. She started, and he

"What is wrong?"

"Nothing. Nothing really." She could tell he was waiting.
Indeed she could see his questioning expression in the firelight.
"It was only a scrape on my thigh. I have ridden at a gallop
often enough, but I don't think that I ever covered as much
ground in three days as in the last two." All this was true.
The scrapes had been begun, however, by his hairy thighs pivoting
there while she gripped him tightly.

"Always tell me," he said. "Always tell me. There is nothing
wrong with an 'It is nothing.' God knows that priests would have
no time to eat if we confessed as lies every time that we said
'thank you' when we were not grateful in the least." She smiled
at this. "But after that, thou needest to tell me any problems.
I cannot deal with the problems which I do not know."

She was tempted to mention the beginnings of the scrapes then,
but he continued on. "I am sorry about the mare. We really
believed that she was the best mount for thee in my stable. If
her gait does not suit thee, we shall have to find another. We
will have scant choice, however, until we reach Castle Clavius."

"Thou hadst planned to give her to me?" she asked. What task had
he planned to set her to earn that gift?

"I had planned to allow thee a choice. George was merely our
opinion as to the best of my mares. Of course, some mares at
Clavius are not in my gift. Thou mayest ride any of them while I
am master there, but a particular palfrey should be thine, and it
should be chosen from among those which are mine." He had not
meant to set her a demand or a task at all! He had intended to
be more generous than Roger's hasty words had implied, not less.
He seemed to be trying to read her face while she thought that
over. If so, he read it wrong.

"Thy fondness for Belle is well placed, indeed the name is apt."
(Belle was an old friend, but Elizabeth was too honest to think
for a moment that her mare compared favorably to George.) "Thou
truly needest more than one mount, however. Not much over half
my nights will be spent in Clavius. And, except for the wars,
thou wilt be expected to accompany me. Well, business is for the
daylight." He resumed his kisses.

His mouth followed his hand to her breast, and she was panting
when he next spoke. "Poor dear," he said. "Where was it the
saddle hurt thee?"

It seemed a strange interruption, but she indicated the areas on
her thighs. "Poor legs," he said. Then he kissed the spot his
thighs had irritated. The kiss had small effect on the sting of
the skin, but it had great effect on her. As he kissed upward
from that spot, she felt overheated, and giddy, and tickled. She
writhed under that tickling, which seemed centered on her belly
rather than on the thigh under his lips. That feeling
intensified as he approached its center until he suddenly broke

"And the other leg," he said. This time he began a handsbreadth
lower than the bruised point. Even so, she still felt overheated
and tickled. His only response to her writhing was to hold the
ankle of the affected leg. She wished he would stop, she wished
he would move faster, she gloried in the sensations brought by
this particular approach. By the time he had reached the
juncture, she was gripped by a strange sense of need. None of
her body was under her control; where Karl wasn't holding it
still some other force -- even less susceptible to her will --
was moving it in slow waves. Her torso was stiffening in the
midst of that undulation. She clenched her teeth, always an aid
to control in her previous experience; but she got too little air
that way and was forced to open her mouth to gasp. At that
point, when there was nowhere further for Karl to go, but she
could not possibly bear for him to stop, he did stop.

He lifted his mouth from her leg to say, "And there is another
sore where I stung thee grievously these two nights back." She
could make no sense of that before he parted her folds and began
to kiss her there.

Sensations which she had thought unbearable a moment before
doubled and trebled. Then each touch of his tongue pierced her
with something which, while not quite pain, was much too intense
to be pleasure.

She soared away from him, but this time his mouth -- at least --
followed. As she spiraled upward into an untimely dawn, his
licks and kisses drove her onward. It was glorious. It was
ultimate joy. It was a glimpse of heaven.

And then it was over. She fell through light and joy and air
into the bed. The fire was too hot on her bare skin, and there
was no air to be had however hard her chest labored. Someone was
beside her and covering her with a sheet and a blanket.

"Hot," she complained when at last she could spare the breath to
speak. It was less true by then, however.

"Indeed thou art," someone answered. It was Karl. Oh yes, she
was married and on her way to her new home. "The blanket is
safer, however. Thou art covered in sweat." She was, indeed.
And she was no longer hot. A moment later, she shivered. Karl
held her.

"Dearest heart," he said. "Dear love. Beloved wife. Rest here
and catch thy breath. Thou art hot in very truth." It was no
longer true, however. She was cool and welcomed the blanket.
Karl's closeness was even more welcome. She moved closer to him,
and he embraced her. The contrast with Maria's distance no
longer bothered her. The warm embrace from this hard-muscled man
was a comfort, and she was languidly drifting off when his hand
began to roam over her.

At first it was a minor annoyance; then it was a mild pleasure;
soon it was a renewed excitement. She turned in his arms, then,
and kissed him. She could feel his lips smile under her kiss.
He licked her lips before penetrating her mouth. Then his hands
roamed with even more license. He kissed and licked her breast
before pushing her gently onto her back. He threw the covers off
to one side, but kept his hand playing on her nether lips while
he climbed between her legs. She caught a glimpse of his organ
projecting outwards and looking red and pointed in the firelight.

"We do not want to aggravate those bruises," he said, although
she had quite forgotten them. "Hand me a pillow, please." He
lifted her legs so only her shoulders were on the bed; then
lowered her rump onto the pillow. Somehow this lifting made her
feel like a little girl, quite inappropriate to what she knew
must ensue, but a somehow comforting feeling. "And," he
continued, "entering too deeply might hurt thee. Canst thou
reach me with thy arm at thy side?" She reached down, and he
took her hand in his. "Put two fingers... such a small hand!"
(She thought that her hand was the natural size. His was one for
a giant.) "Put three fingers around me like so."

He placed her hand on his organ with the little finger curled
underneath touching his sack. It felt so strange. She had never
touched a man there before. She had touched Robert once, and
that had been odd as well. But Robert was a baby, his organ was
tiny, and the oddness was in the loose dangle which she had had
to move aside to clean him. What she held now felt like a bar of
iron inside a silk sleeve. It also felt like something
independently alive, a dog ready to spring.

"If thou holdest me so," he continued, "there is no danger of my
entering thee too far." She tightened her grasp, and it jumped a
bit in her hand. "Oh lady!" he said. He parted her nether lips
and advanced forward slightly. She had the idea, and helped
guide him to the right spot.

They were both looking downward although she, for one, could see
nothing of the process. When he entered her the first little
bit, she glanced at his face. He looked concerned rather than

"If thou wouldst raise thy right leg," he said. She did, and he
raised it more before putting his arm across the insides of her
knee. "And now the left ..." They repeated the maneuver. The
position was not particularly comfortable and felt slightly
ridiculous. None of her abrasions were touched, however. He
pressed inward until her hand was caught between his loins and
her hip. He looked directly into her eyes and smiled before
starting to move.

The feelings in her belly from this strange penetration were
exciting if much less intense than those his lips had evoked.
They exchanged looks again just before the fire sent a shower of
sparks up the chimney and died to glowing coals. Then she could
only feel and hear. She felt him rub within her slowly and then
more rapidly. Her body responded with its own motions, without
seeming to consult her head. She heard his breath quicken to
gasps. Then he was moving faster yet. Her hand was driven
against her hip each time, and he seemed to swell within her
fingers. She tightened her hold.

"Oh love," he said. Then his force redoubled, and his words
turned to groans. Suddenly the shaft within her fingers was
shaking and pulsing. He pressed forwards twice as hard and
reared above her in the dark. He grunted, and gasped.

Then he pulled out and fell sideways, still entangled in her
legs. Her hand was smeared before she let go of him. "Girl,
thou wert wonderful," he said. There was a silence except for
his breath. "Wife, I meant."

She had been a girl so long and so recently that the first
comment had seemed nothing amiss. The correction, however,
alerted her. As he rearranged himself, her, and the covers, she
thought about the implications.

She had never expected to find that Karl had abstained from women
before the marriage. men with that much control entered the
church. (And if the droll songs had any basis in fact, many more
men entered the church than had that much control.) Neither had
she expected, however, to be compared to the women of the camp.
She was, after all, gentleborn and his lawful wife.

On the other hand, being called "wonderful" in any context had to
be a compliment. And she had not received particularly many
compliments in her sixteen years. Karl would learn to call her
"wife," she knew; she wanted him to keep calling her "wonderful."
Whether in physical pleasure or in mental satisfaction, marriage
seemed to have benefits which she had not expected. She pressed
back against her lord, and he cuddled her to him although he
seemed asleep. Soon she was, as well.

Chapter Four
September 8, 1214
Elizabeth awoke still in Karl's arms, and feeling quite cramped.
She moved away from him to stretch, and then remembered the
previous morning. He was just waking when she took his hand to
place it on her belly. Then she stretched and shook until she
was rid of all the kinks from sleep.

"Thou art an adorable woman," he whispered. "Didst thou know

Well, she was a woman whom he adored; she had begun to learn
that, and be well pleased with it. "And thou art a handsome

"Hmpf! I was not speaking of thy comeliness, although thou art
right comely. It was thy manner which I was calling adorable."

"Well, thou didst seem to enjoy my morning stretch yesterday."

"And so I did," he said, "and enjoyed this morning's as well.
Dost thou desire another stretch?" She stretched, but it was all
play-acting. "I even enjoyed that. But what I enjoyed most was
that thou didst invite me to have that pleasure."

"But thinkest thou that I have a comely face?" Suddenly, this
was important. Her mother and the priests could say all they
wanted about the unimportance and fleetingness of mere fleshly
beauty (although her mother took enough time at her own toilet);
this man was important to her, and she wanted to be beautiful in
his sight.

"Now thou art fishing for compliments. I do think that thy face
is very pretty, although thou dost not need a husband to tell
thee that; a glass would do. What I said was that thou wert
comely, and I was not thinking of thy face particularly. At
least thou wert comely in the firelight; let me check whether any
changes have occurred."

The checking was quite thorough and included parts of her that he
could hardly have been said to have seen, much less have
considered comely. She warmed considerably, but finally was led
to protest.

"My husband, that breast has been checked three times already."

"It has?" he responded. "We must find some way of marking the
explored territory." He kissed her right breast then, while
fondling the other. The pleasure from that sensation flowed
through her and increased her daring.

She pulled his hand off her right breast and raised it to her
mouth. She kissed each finger before saying: "Now my mouth has
been explored and needs marking."

His laughter interfered with the kiss for a few moments, but then
his tongue dueled with hers. He explored her mouth in earnest
while his hand delved below. She was beginning to tense when he
asked: "Canst thou remember how thou didst hold me last night?"

She could. After he had climbed between her legs and helped her
spread them wider, she gripped him with the three fingers as she
had gripped him before. He moved back and forth between her
folds although she tried to direct him to the right spot.
Finally correctly placed, he moved inward with one smooth motion.
Driven against her hip, her hand was almost displaced. She
tightened her grip. His organ, seemed to jump at the closer

"Oh love!" he said. Then he was moving in and out of her. The
sensations, so different from what his hand had evoked from the
entryway, had similar results nonetheless. Her hips began to
move of their own accord. This interfered with his movements at
first, but then she and Karl reached a mutual rhythm. He came
down when she rose and withdrew when she fell. She could feel
herself filled with each of her upstrokes. Delicious sensations
flowed from that spot until her whole body was stiffening in
expectation of something new.

As if his motions and the swelling under her fingers were not
enough, he told her of his own pleasure. "Oh love," he said, "oh
dearest." His speed increased until he could put only one
syllable into each stroke. "Oh ... love ... Oh ... dar ...
ling! ... Oh ... dear ... rest." She felt something unnameable
slowly possessing her, and she was pressing towards it when he
paused at his upstroke. Barely within her, he said: "Oh my
darling, darling, ..." then drove into her and rammed her hand
against her hip. He was already pulsing within her fingers and
within her secrecy when he groaned out " ... love!"

He pressed hard against her and loomed stiff above her for
moments longer. She felt a throbbing within her fingers, then a
pause, then one more throb. She felt her body retreating from
whatever threshold it had reached. Then he softened slightly in
her fingers just before he collapsed into a heap beside her and
across her leg.

When the weight on her leg felt too great even in a feather bed,
she dared to ask, "Couldst thou move thy leg?" He readjusted
himself so that his legs were a little away from her and his
chest pressed into her side. He breathed heavily beside her ear
and hugged her with his arm.

The ebbing of all those new sensations had left her distinctly
uncomfortable. Her lower lips were sensitive, if not quite sore;
and the sensations of leaking fluid bothered her. Her bladder
was also threatening to surrender control, which made the other
leak that much more embarrassing. She pushed on his arm, to no
immediate avail.

"Must thou?" he asked.

"Truly," she said. He released her and she shuffled over towards
the slop bucket. She found ewer, bowl, and towel; having washed
a few critical areas, she came back to bed a little cleaner and
much colder. Karl's arms were welcome then. Give her new
husband his due; he shivered twice but made absolutely no
complaint. Indeed, he hugged her close until she was warm.

Then it was his turn to make the trip. "I think," he said, "that
the day may have begun despite the dark window." He opened the
door. "Ah, Roger. Are my lady's servants here?"

"No, my lord," said Roger's voice.

"Guest robes again," Karl asked her.

"Yes," she answered. It was only appropriate.

"Fetch them and a fresh chemise."

"Boots, my lord? It rained in the night and threatens even now."

"Roger, thou wilt make a squire yet. Yes, boots and a cloak for

Even when they left the chapel after mass, the sky yielded only a
grudging grayness, and the crash of thunder interrupted breakfast
more than once. Having washed their breakfast bread down with a
little beer, the company looked out at the drenching rain hitting
the courtyard and sought reasons to stay in the great hall.

Sir Frederick had business with the Augustinian monk, but offered
any entertainment that they wished. "I had planned some falconry
after dinner," he said. "That is no longer possible."

"Would my lady enjoy a game of chess or one of backgammon?" Karl
asked. Again she was taken by a sense of how great strangers
they were. She played both passably; she had no idea of his
strength in either. For that matter, one of the few things she
knew about him was his family's aversion to dice; did his mention
of backgammon mean that he did not share it? Either to beat her
new husband before an audience or to be crushed by him would be
an embarrassment. She opted for backgammon, as the dice could be
blamed for any result.

The first game went to eight before Karl defeated her in the end.
Only rolling a double saved her from being gammoned. Karl didn't
touch the doubling cube in the next three games which went
two-to-one in his favor. By their fifth game, only Roger was
watching. When Sir Frederick summoned Karl to witness the
contract he was negotiatiing, Karl asked Roger to sit in for him.
Roger doubled at his first opportunity and won soon after.

"These dice seem to dislike me," she said.

"It is not the two cubes which betrayed my lady," said Roger.
"It was the one." She looked at him quizzically. "Sir Karl says
that there are two games inside the game of backgammon," he
explained, "the game of two cubes and the game of one. He
forbade me the doubling cube for my first year as his squire. I
was supposed to learn the game of capture and territory first.
Then he taught me to double, and accept doubles, and -- most
important of all -- to reject doubles. My lady should have
rejected my double."

"But then I would have lost." She paused for a second. "Well I
did lose, but I still had a chance."

"But my lady had not one chance in four. Not one in six, if it
comes to that. Sir Karl says that the simple case to consider is
that of four games from the same position. If the weaker player
would win one of those, then he would get two points to the
stronger player's six. He says that it were equally worthwhile
to yield all four games and lose but four points. Sir Karl says
that any weaker position should refuse a double and any stronger
one should accept it. Sir Karl tells me that I must learn more
arithmetic before he tells me the refinements. Sir Karl thinks a
baron should know arithmetic and requires me to study it." He
set the men up again.

She rolled six to his five and immediately advanced one of her
men from the one to the twelve. "Sir Karl tells me that that
move is premature," Robin said; then he grinned. "But it is fun
to use." The rest of the play came with a running commentary
consisting almost entirely of quotations from Sir Karl.

She was first enlightened; this was a level of analysis that she
had never seen applied to this simple game. Then she was amused.
She was closer in age to Roger than to Karl, but Karl and she
seemed near contemporaries, while Roger appeared so boyish.

Finally she felt overwhelmed. She respected her husband and was
coming to love him. But how could mere love and respect impress
a man who was anointed every day by the worship which gushed from

For all the lectures on strategy, however, the score flowed only
slightly in Roger's favor. Having passed a ten-to-two lead to
his squire, Karl accepted a 21-to-10 lead on his return. He
seemed to play a very conservative game after that, seldom
doubling. This was as much privacy as they could expect for a
discussion, but she wished Roger were elsewhere. He was giving
more attention to the board than the players were, however,
occasionally writhing on his stool in his desire to play the
pieces. He writhed in silence, though, his tongue having learned
some discipline in Karl's presence.

She had an inspiration. "Roger," she requested, "couldst thou
look out the windows and the doorway and see what the state of
the courtyard appears to be from each?"

"There is no need, my lady. I have been here in rainstorms
before. The water will be rushing out through the gateway now,
but the mud will be deep if the rain continues until Nones."

"In that case," Karl said, "the horses should be exercised now.
Do thou walk each around the courtyard so they do not stiffen
from their exercise yesterday. Twice around should do for the
palfreys, but five times for Partizan. An eye at the care that
Belle is receiving could not hurt either. After each horse is
walked, dry it off before taking out the next. And, speaking of
drying off, bring a complete, dry, set of thy clothes back to
this hall when thou art finished with the horses. Everything,
skin to cloak. Bring thy lute as well. Now begin."

"Yes, my lord."

"I really didn't need all that much time," she said.

"Someday he will be a baron, and a queen might ask him a favor.
One cannot apply a switch to a baron's rump, although I have met
a fair number whom it would improve. He is too old; his only
discipline is war." He rolled and moved, but retained the dice.
He rolled again, looked at her for a moment, and then rolled

She couldn't understand what he was doing. "I believe it is my
move," she said.

"Why so it is. What is it that requires the absence of the
squire who is privy to all my secrets?" He rolled again.

"Thou didst tell me that I should mention any problem."

"And so I did."

There was no gate into this subject, she would have to breach a
wall. "My lord husband, what crime would I commit that the
punishment was that I had to ask permission whenever I wished to
leave a room?"

"I cannot imagine such. Is it not early in our marriage to plan
a crime against me?"

"Is it not early in our marriage for me to be subject to that

"Thou art not!" The words echoed. He lowered his voice. "Our
door is not locked. We are guests here, but every door is open
to thee which is open to me, save that the sentries might not
prevent me leaving the castle itself. But that is a matter of
thy protection; men are permitted foolhardiness."

"That is true all day. But at night I am locked in thine arms
and must ask permission to move."

He suddenly rolled the dice again. Anybody looking at them would
see them still engaged in the game. "Is being in my arms so
onerous? I was merely expressing my love for thee."

"Indeed being in thine arms is a comfort.... Especially when I am
chill." He smiled at that, and rolled yet again. "It is the
need for permission which makes me feel restricted."

"So I may embrace thee so long as I let thee go. Truly, I meant
it as an expression of love."

"And I took it as such, and as cherishing, and as shelter. But I
am gentleborn, and thy wife. How canst thou trust me to run thy
household if I have to consult thee on the question of whether my
bladder is full. Truly I did not think that thou were expressing
distrust. I only felt that thou shouldst know what I felt."

"And the speaker said one thing and the hearer heard another," he
said abstractedly. "I shall try to remember."

"That is all I ask of thee, my lord. Truly, I am sure that I
have much to learn. And not only about backgammon."

"Filling thine ears, was he? Now we are truly speaking of one
who has much to learn. More than thee, certainly; perhaps as
much as I."

"I doubt that he has more to learn than I. He has been thy
squire for well more than a year now, and I thy wife for three

"A good man trained me for knighthood, but no one trained me to
be a husband. Well, the rest of the world seems to learn. I
will remember thy words. Hmmm.... Thou didst well in bringing
the question to me.

"There is more to discuss," he continued, "but we can have real
play for this subject." He surrendered the dice to her and she

After her move, he began to explain the situation at Castle
Clavius. His family pattern was for the viscount to rule in
Castle Dan while the heir was his castelan for Castle Clavius.
The heir needed no estate, since he had present power and future

So Robert his eldest brother had ruled Castle Clavius for nearly
seven years. He had married the widow of a vassal of his
father's a few years before. While the marriage was a great step
up for Ingrid, the widow, his death had left her worse off than
her first widowhood had left her.

Godfrey was the present heir to the Danclaven estate. Although
only a year older than Karl, he had been knighted several years
earlier. His father had settled a significant fief in the center
of the County of Gitneau on him, and he had received a
neighboring manor as dowry. Godfrey was too entangled in local
obligations far to the north of the Spait to move to Castle
Clavius. So Karl had become the castelan without in any way
becoming the heir.

"Ingrid has remained as chatelaine of Clavius. Now, as there is
only one sun and only one moon in the sky, there is only one lord
and only one chatelaine of a manor. Thou wilt be the chatelaine,
but any gentleness thou canst apply to her will be appreciated.
The poor woman has lost two husbands and four children, and she
has just passed thirty."

Elizabeth's heart went out to the woman who had been described.
"Has she any children to comfort her?" she asked.

"A daughter from her first marriage, Sarah, now nine. A son,
Richard, from Robert. Richard, although I wouldn't tell
Catherine this, is the boldest babe that I have ever met. He is
not yet two."

The game continued until Roger came in, dripping. Karl rose to
meet him. "My lord," said Roger.

Karl led him over to where his sister was sewing with several of
her maids. "Roger!" she said. "Thou wilt catch thy death.
Zilpah, Maria, take him to the fire there, strip him, and dry him
off. Do we have dry clothes that will fit him?"

"I have my own, my lady," said Roger. "Sir Karl bade me fetch
them when I had finished walking the horses." The maids dragged
the willing-enough squire over to the fire. Lady Catherine
looked Karl up and down.

"Didst thou want anything from me?" she asked.

"Merely what thou hast given already," said Karl.

"Brother!" was her only reply. She sat down, ignoring him. Karl
wandered back, looking amused.

Roger looked none the worse for the drenching when he joined
them, merely a little abashed from being dried and dressed in
public like a babe. His previous clothes were steaming by the

"Roger," Karl began, "my lady wife knows that thou wilt obey any
command of hers not leading to her peril."

"Yes, my lord?" Roger, a blunderer but no fool, knew that more
was coming.

"Lady Elizabeth, however, is gently born and reared. She knows
that thou art my squire and not hers. Save at need, she will
give thee no orders, only requests." Roger saw where this was
going, and his ears turned scarlet. "Wherefore, thou shouldst
treat her requests as seriously as my commands. Now what wouldst
thou have done if *I* had told thee to look out every window?"

"I would have looked out every window, my lord." He looked over
at her quite downcast. "I am truly sorry, my lady. I shall
never treat thy wishes lightly in the future."

"If thou art truly sorry," she replied, "come here." He
approached looking brave. He was more prepared for a blow than
for what he received.

When he was close enough, she hugged him with one arm. "Listen,
Roger," she said, "thou art with Sir Karl to learn. Even he had
to learn those things once, and I -- for one -- am learning yet.
Thou needest not be so terribly embarrassed that thou knowest not
everything already." He turned a much brighter red at that, and
squirmed in her arms more than he would have at a thrashing. She
noticed, however, that the squirming did nothing to break her
rather light hold. She waited until he stopped and then let him

"And," said Karl, "speaking of learning. Please tell Sir
Frederick that I would be grateful for another lesson for thee on
the lute from Lawrence. Thou hast much to learn from me, as my
lady wife said, but not in lute-playing. If it is an
inconvenient time, return here."

The mention of music reminded her of her embarrassment at the
lack of a common repertoire between her husband and herself. She
brought it up, and they compared song titles until the servants
began setting up the hall for dinner. Gathered in the entrance
way, the gentry could see that the rain was abating.

"Dost thou still intend to ride tomorrow?" asked their host.

"Alas, brother, all Clavius is waiting to see their new
chatelaine. The roads will be a problem, but the season
threatens that they will become worse instead of better. We will
be back. Or come visit us; the distance from here to Clavius is
no greater than from Clavius to here."

"You are stopping at Beregemont?" asked Lady Catherine. At his
nod, she said: "Much as we enjoy your company, I cannot deny
Lady Alice the pleasure. She needs distraction just now." Then
the tables had been put out and set, and Roger's clothes had been
discreetly removed to the kitchens.

For all that it was a Friday, the meal was only technically a
fast. After dinner, she asked father David to hear her
confession. The chaplain of Castle Clavius led her to the
chapel. She confessed her vanity of the morning and various
other sins of pride and anger. When she got to her anger of the
day before, she said: "They meant well, but I felt that as a
matron I should not be treated as a babe."

"But, my daughter," the priest responded, "thou *art* a babe at
being a matron. All our lives we start over. Dost thou think
that a decade of being a country priest left me nothing to learn
about being a chaplain for a great castle? Or that my training
in Latin made me a good priest the first time that I assisted in
a parish? But that is neither here nor there. Art thou

"Yes, Father, and more so after thy words." She paused.
Priests, in her limited experience, were patient with pauses; she
suspected that she wasn't the only one to stop to marshal her
thoughts. At this point, however, her thoughts were no clearer
than they had been for two days.

Finally, he asked: "Daughter, hast thou any more sins to

"Father, I am really unsure. It is a matter of lust."

"So soon after your marriage? That is a grave sin. Thou needest
to avoid that person and concentrate on thy husband."

"That is the person for whom I feel desire." What did he think
she was? "But is it lust? ... When it is my husband?"

"That is a good question, my daughter. Augustine tells us that
every time a husband knows his wife it is a venial sin. But God
has commanded married couples to be fruitful and multiply. Which
requires that the husband know his wife... and requires desire on
his part at least. And thou hast sworn to God to honor thy
husband. What greater dishonor is there than to treat his
attentions with distaste?

"This is a case which thou needest to decide for thyself, my
daughter. There are laws, and there is conscience. If thou dost
disobey the laws of God, thou needest to confess that. God has
put mother Church and various authorities over us. To disobey
The Church or The Emperor or thy liege or thy husband is a sin,
for they have been put over thee by God Himself. That must be

"But God also put a conscience within us. We must obey that, as
well. If thou hast gone against thy conscience, then thou
shouldst confess that."

"Father, I confess that I have been stirred by lust towards my

"Very well, daughter, but remember that conscience is part of us,
although from God. It is imperfect. Thou didst what would have
been a mortal sin a week ago. It is possible that thy conscience
is still following the old laws. While thy conscience accuses
thee, confess it."

"Yes, Father."

Father David's penances tended towards Paternosters. She recited
them in the chapel before returning to the Great Hall. The rain
had stopped, and Roger and Lawrence were fencing with blunted
swords in the courtyard. Karl was watching the battle with
still-sheathed sword in his hand. Without withdrawing his
attention, he called out: "The great hall is empty," while she
had not walked much past his shoulder, and eight feet distant.

"And where is thy lady sister, then?" she responded.

"In the family quarters." His face was still towards the youths.

She found Lady Catherine sewing with her maids; the season was
changing, after all. She put her sparrowhawk on a stand and
joined them, and listened to the gossip. The talk was little
different from what she heard at home, except that she could put
no face to any name. Maria, having reasserted her sovereignty
over her mother, was now in a mood to explore new territory.
Elizabeth held her, and later sang her to sleep. After she had
returned to sewing, Karl came in and asked to "ransom their

He kissed his sister on top of her head, but each of the maids
received an obol. "Someone else can finish that bliaut," said
Lady Catherine, laughing.

"Not many, my lady," said one of the maids. "The stitches would
have to match my lady Elizabeth's." Elizabeth flushed at the
compliment as she was dragged off by her finger. Although he was
not carrying his falcon, he delayed while she caught up Saebelin
with her other hand. Karl led her up to the northwest
battlements. They watched the sunset together in as great
privacy as a castle afforded.

"I want to thank thee for thy gesture towards Roger," Karl said
without any preamble. "He is young yet, and sometimes needs a
little mothering. Not that he lacks any in this castle. My
sister has three of her own, but still looks for more. When she
was young, bitches had to hide their puppies from her. Still, we
will be gone soon. Roger needs a little softness which it is not
my task to provide. I am grateful for thy provision of it."

"Truly, my husband, I saw none of that. I merely responded to
what had happened."

"Then forget what I said here. Do not plan things, do thou
'merely respond' when thy feeling tell thee to." They continued
to watch the shadows lengthen over the countryside. She felt
more comfortable in his presence than she had ever felt before,
neither needing to speak nor experiencing any constraint on her

The servants were just beginning to prepare the great hall for
supper when Karl led her to the tower to descend. She regretted
ending the moment of companionship so soon. Karl, however,
stopped her where the stair concealed them from both the floor
above and he floor below. His kiss was sweet, and then
demanding. His hands on her robe excited her to the degree that
her own free hand wandered over his back. She enjoyed feeling
his hardness press against her.

She was quite flustered when she heard the horn blow for supper,
more flustered yet when they turned to see a man-at-arms standing
on the stair below them. He backed down to allow them passage,
but his expression could only be called a smirk.

By the time that they were seated she had composed herself. The
kitchen was still cooking for company, but the dishes were
plainer. She ate the first turnip that she had tasted since her

Not long after supper they retired to bed, this time with Roger
just outside the door.

For a while they spoke of their plans for travel on the morrow.
The trip was about thirty-four miles. If they rose from dinner
at ten, they could get to Beregemont by four if the weather were
dry. That would give their hostess's kitchens an hour's warning
of guests for supper. Elizabeth was quite willing to take an
ordinary meal by now, but she knew how mortified her mother would
be at the prospect of feeding newly arrived guests the
stretchings of an ordinary meal.

If the weather would be wet, the trip would be slower.

None of this conversation distracted Karl from caressing her
whole body with one hand. While he was polite enough to allow
her to finish her comments before he kissed her mouth, he would
kiss hand or forehead or ear or the inside of her elbow (or her
nose!) while she was speaking, raise his mouth to make his own
comments, and then kiss somewhere else. When he licked the peak
of her breast, she gasped. Then complained: "I cannot think to
speak when thou kissest me that way."

"That is pleasant news. Have we discussed our few options
enough?" His hand was passing between her thighs as he spoke.
She could think of nothing else she really had to convey. She
could not tell whether that was because -- after all -- it would
either rain or it would not, or because her body's shouted
reports of the activities of his hand and lips distracted her
from the whispers of her mind. She abandoned thought to
luxuriate in sensation.

Soon one hand was clasping her left buttock tightly while the
other stroked gently within her cleft. He sucked and teased her
right breast until she soared again into the light. "Beloved,"
he said. Then he was sucking the other breast, and she was
soaring again, and yet again.

When she finally fell, she fell into his arms. She sobbed and
gasped in those arms while he kissed away the sweat from her

She was almost asleep when he asked, "Art thou ready?" The true
answer was that she would much prefer to bask in the passive love
of his comforting embrace. If she were not particularly ready,
however, she was enraptured of this man who had brought her such
joy. Then too, good wives (as her mother had not needed to
inform her the week before her wedding, but had) do not refuse
their husbands save for grave causes.

Once his member was in her hand and stroking up and down her
cleft, some little of the excitement which had stirred her under
the ministrations of his hand and mouth returned. She was well
past readiness into desire before he whispered "place me." When
she had done so, the slow, inexorable, filling of her most secret
place brought voluptuous pleasure. His slow strokes within her
reawakened the arousal which she had so recently experienced.
Well before her mind, her body responded to that rhythm; her
loins pressed up to meet his and fell back at his withdrawal.
When he sped his pace, however, she had to consciously speed

These rapid strokes generated a tingling in her loins. The
overwhelming realization was, however, that Karl had lost all
self control. He was driving within her and grunting above her.
His iron will was overcome for once by his body -- and by hers.
At that thought, her mind advanced beyond her body in desire.
Her body was only beginning its upward spiral when Karl moaned,
bent like a drawn bow, drove her hand tight against her buttock,
and throbbed within her hand and within her body. He remained
like that for a moment, filling her with his pulsing member and
with his seed.

Then he tumbled sideways, managing to extricate his legs from
hers, but taking all of the blankets with him. She was quite
calm before he regained enough control to rearrange himself so
that he was lying on his back, and under the sheet instead of
atop it. He placed a pillow on his shoulder and said "lie thou
here." When she did, he hugged her tightly for a moment then
relaxed into a gentle caress. "Have I mentioned that I love
thee?" he asked. Actually he had, but she was neither so
complacent as to want no more expressions nor so naive as to
answer when silence would bring one. "Well I do," he continued.
"I Love thee more than words can express."

"I love thee as well, my husband."

"Dost thou?" He sounded both pleased and concerned.

"Truly, I do."

They lay there without another word passing from their lips. It
seemed to her, however, that their unmoving bodies were speaking
words of comfort to each other. Thinking to rise and wipe
herself off, she moved his hand away from her side. It was
heavy, but he made no resistance. On returning, she rested on
his shoulder, pressed her back against his side, and returned his
hand to where it had been clasping her. There were reasons to
accept ones husband's advances, she thought as she drifted off to
sleep, other than the ones her mother had mentioned.
Chapter Five
September 9, 1214
"My lord!" called Roger. "The stars could be seen from midnight
on." Astrology reports at this hour?

Karl covered her ear before bellowing, "Yes Roger. Guest robes
this morning and dressing after breakfast. Summon my lady's
servants." He clasped her tight and kissed her hair before
releasing her. "I love thee, but we must rise." She was willing
enough to rise. They both were up and washed before Roger
returned with the maids. The Augustinian said mass that morning,
and left after breakfast. For his sustenance, the breakfast
included meat pies as well as the usual bread and beer.

She and Karl dressed separately for their traveling, and did not
meet again until time for dinner. She spent her time sewing and
saying goodbye to Maria. The babe was adorable until she tried
to see if there was any sustenance under Elizabeth's bliaut. Her
nurse took her away crying.

Despite the breakfast, dinner was early and abundant. Extra
tables were put up in back so that their servants could eat at
the first seating. Even Roger sat (with the boys, to his
embarrassment but their great satisfaction). They rose from
table well before ten and were on their way not too long after
that hour. She rode George for the first lap; the gentles all
had second mounts. The east was gray, and they all had mantles
tied behind their saddles. After their hosts helped them mount,
Frederick and another knight escorted them for a mile.

"Remarkable friendly to the Danclavens, considering what he got
from us," Karl commented as their escort trotted back.

"Now husband!" she said. She felt comfortable enough with him
now to scold him on this. "Thy lady sister is a fine woman. She
seems an excellent chatelaine, mother, and wife."

"Hmpf! Well, she may be better in the role of wife than of
sister. She was born to be a mother, that is for certain." She
still could not quite tell his jests from his serious speech.
The tone of the two was much alike.

Then he began one of the songs they had both seemed to know. Her
tune could match his. They found several songs on which their
duets, if still ragged, were melodious. He turned his attention
to the lands through which they were passing. He recited, for
her benefit and for Roger's, the history of every manor and the
present occupants of that manor. Now part of County Descries,
this land had once been under the Counts Du Montagne. Some of
the vassals had been transferred, others had been replaced.
Hardly a family lacked some ancient reason for gratitude or
grudge against the Viscounts Danclaven. Many had both motives.

When they came to a clear stream, a little more than midway
through their journey, all relieved their thirst, both people and
horses. Roger filled a horn and proffered it to Karl, who passed
it on to her. She expected to share it with him, but he drank
from his hands.

They paused for a third of an hour for the horses to graze. For
a while longer, the company continued on foot leading their
horses. Only four sergeants were mounted. Karl led Partizan,
normally Roger's task, so that Roger could accompany them on the
lute for another duet. The destrier, burdened with only a shield
on one side and a helmet and lance on the other, was clearly more
in the mood for a canter than for this slow pace. Sooner than
she would have wished, Karl summoned Belle from the train. He
lifted her onto the saddle. Then Karl mounted his other palfrey,
Roger resumed Partizan's reins, and they proceeded at a faster

She and Karl ran through the series of duets once again before
Karl took up the tales of the neighboring fiefs and their
relationships: geographic, agricultural, feudal, familial, and
historical. Well before Karl stopped speaking, she had stopped
listening. A cycle of song among the squires and knights of the
company revived her interest, especially as she was called on to

When Karl renewed his discussion of politics, however, she forced
her attention on it. He centered on the castle which they would
be visiting. By the time they rode into sight of it and Karl
assumed his shield -- for identification, rather than combat,
purposes -- she knew the history of the place, of her host's
family, and of her hostess's family. The baron had been at the
wedding, but she could not distinguish him from Karl's
description. So many had been there, and her thoughts had been
concentrated elsewhere.

She knew that it was a second marriage for the Baron, who had a
nine-year-old son from the first. She knew that the Baron's
family had originally held a small barony (but held it from the
Duke) inside the Danclaven area and exchanged it for holding
Beregemont as a subinfeudation from the Danclavens who held it
from the Descries (because the Danclavens had captured it from a
family who held it from the Du Montagnes). She knew that the
baroness was third daughter to a poor offshoot of the Descries.

The only two details which Karl had not supplied became apparent
when their hostess waddled out to greet them. Lady Alice was
close to Elizabeth's age, and she was very pregnant. Karl
dismounted before she could offer any help. "My lady," he said,
"I bring thee a direct order from thy liege lord, the Viscount
Danclaven." That bought her up short. "Thou art forbidden to
exert yourself, kneel, or bend in offering hospitality until a
week after thy babe is born. Thy husband and baron" (for she was
technically subject to the lord of the land as much as any
villein) "seconds that command."

That was far more power than the lord-vassal relationship
bestowed, but was too kindly meant for her husband to take amiss.
With his consent, she had no grounds for protest. "My lord," she
argued, "I am really able ..."

"My lady, I was commissioned to deliver the message, not discuss

"Yes, my lord. Dost thou bring me news of thine own life?"

A knight had helped Elizabeth down, and she approached the pair.
"My lady," he began, "may I present Elizabeth of Danclaven,
Baroness of Festmauer and Chatelaine of Clavius." Put like that,
Elizabeth sounded much more impressive than she felt. "My lady
wife, this is Alice of Habichtbrach, Baroness Beregemont." They
embraced rather clumsily. The babe seemed destined to outweigh
the mother at birth.

With clean feet and dressed in guest robes, the company came
together when the horn blew for supper. There, Elizabeth shared
cup and porringer with a vassal knight who was also visiting.
Once the meal was over, Lady Alice wanted to hear all the details
of the wedding. She asked Elizabeth to share her bed, while Karl
was put in a room by himself. This was too great an honor to
refuse, but it seemed to her that the offer was a bit
unimaginative towards a couple wed less than a week.

Not from Lady Alice's perspective, however. "My dear," she said,
"I was in thy position a year ago last May. I know how
importunate newly-married men can be. Take thou what respite
thou canst. I expect my husband back in another day or two.
Anyway, thou hast not told me who was at thy wedding. Was it the
Count of Descries himself? He came to mine."

"So he did to mine, with his wife, two of his sons, and an
unmarried daughter. And the Count of Gitneau, with his son and
his son's wife. The Duke's son was there as well. The Duke sent
congratulations but was detained with business regarding raising
the last ransoms."

"Importunate" was not a word that she would apply to Karl, but
she decided not to say so. Indeed, she could not imagine him
begging. She could imagine him forcing her, regarding his
requests to her the way he regarded hers to Roger, commands
sheathed in politeness. She knew that physical resistance to the
man who lifted her effortlessly would be useless. She could
imagine him accepting a denial from her; he had, after all,
treated her with remarkable gentleness since the first time.
Taking her refusal or taking her refused body were both
consistent with the Karl whom she was beginning to know; begging
was not.

But, even if she could have sorted those complex thoughts into
simple words, she was not prepared to share them with Lady Alice.
Partly it was a sense of her own privacy. Partly it was
consideration for her bedmate.

This woman, she had already learned, was two months younger than
herself; her servants barely regarded her; her stepson almost
ignored her; the child she carried would not be the heir.
Telling her that some men loved their wives, and praised them,
and led them to heights of pleasure, would only cast further
shadows on her own situation.

Lady Alice, aside from not providing the special solace to which
Karl had begun to habituate her, was a restless bed companion.
The morning brought Elizabeth two compensations, however. She
could feel especially virtuous at mass after the discomfort she
had experienced providing her hostess with needed distraction.
And Karl looked distinctly unhappy. She put on her most blithe
expression to greet him as they went in to breakfast, where again
they sat apart.

"I missed thee last night," he said when they could speak in
relative privacy; only Roger could overhear.

"And I missed thee, as well," she said, as if it had been no
great matter. She went to help their hostess who was trying to
supervise women at four looms. Elizabeth chose out the least
respectful one. She rested her hand on the woman's neck and
said, "I believe that thy mistress told you to batten the woof
firmly." At the last word, she pinched the earlobe until her
fingernail almost drew blood. That weaver's quality improved
greatly while she stood there. It was too late for pinches,
though. Her mother, assuming her mother ever let things get this
far, would have dismissed the worst and had two others lashed.

The Baron arrived before suppertime. Once she saw him, she
vaguely remembered his face from the wedding. Karl and she
shared the same bed that night. "So thou didst miss me last
night," he said.

"Oh yes," she said in her sprightliest voice, "but our hostess
offered me a great honor. And we had a conversation to

"Ah yes," he said. "We have to consider the honor she showed."
He kissed her deeply then, and seemed to abandon the subject.
His kisses strayed from her mouth to her ear and her neck. As
she writhed under these attentions, he teased and tweaked her
nipples until both stood at attention. Then his mouth swooped
from her collarbone to her right breast and sucked much of it
inside. Her legs were well-parted to support her wiggling frame,
and nothing impeded his hand from clasping all of her loins. She
collapsed and brought her legs together.

"Why is it," she asked, "that I must seek after thy mouth in the
dark with mine, when thy hand can find any part of me like a hawk
stooping on a hare?" She blushed then in the dark. The answer,
she could see after blurting out the question, was that he was a
practiced lover. He had kissed many other mouths and grasped
many other loins.

"Like the hawk," he answered, "my hand is concentrating on its
goal. It worries not concerning what honor it has been offered."
His mouth covered hers immediately after that response. Having
no opportunity to give a reply, she decided that she need not
consider one. Instead, she concentrated on the kiss. Soon after
his tongue had passed between one set of lips, however, his
finger passed between another. She could not resist writhing for
long; and she needed her heels wide apart to support that. She
was gasping into his mouth and beginning to stiffen when he
abandoned her mouth to kiss everywhere on her right breast but
its peak. His fingers slowed their strokes within her lower lips
and concentrated on the lips themselves rather than the sensitive
spot between them.

She felt herself pause when she was on the brink of spiraling
upwards. She desired that pleasure; she needed that relief. At
first she tried to move his mouth where she wanted its touch; his
only response was to tense his muscles. She should have learned
by now that this man couldn't be pushed. Her body tensed as
well, but to no avail. Her muscles began to ache, but still he
held her a little bit on this side of the point of release.

If he couldn't be moved, she would move herself. She pressed
herself toward the stroking finger, to move the sensitive spot
under that friction. He easily evaded her. Then he did lick her
nipple once. She gasped, but he moved away too quickly. "Oh
please!" she said. He gave her another brief lick.

"Please what?" he asked. "Didst thou miss ..." the tiniest of
sucks on her achingly-hard nipple, " ... this when thou didst
sleep out of thy proper place?" Something was amiss in his
description of accepting the bed that their hostess had offered.
However, she was in no condition for conducting a debate with
anyone, much less one with this supple mind.

Besides, winning a debate was the least of her desires just now.
She needed him. "Yes. I missed that. Please!" She felt what a
crossbow must when it has been wound up and then laid aside.

He licked her nipple once more before sucking it into his mouth.
Those sensations satisfied one need while intensifying another.
She grasped his wrist in both her hands, but she knew that
pitting her strength against his was no solution. "Please!" She
said again. "I need ..." she had no words for what she needed.

He relented, however. His hand pressed her mound hard enough to
flatten her to the bed. His fingers fluttered over her most
sensitive point rapidly but gently. His lips and tongue inflamed
her nipple.

She was that crossbow wound tighter and tighter. Then it was
released and she thrust upward against all his strength and
weight. She shuddered and shattered under his hand. Then she
was the bolt that the crossbow released, flung through space in
an arc. And it was glory at the top of the arc. Then it was a
long, almost frightening, fall. Then she was safe in his arms.

"Didst thou *truly* miss me?" he asked. She nodded her head and
tried to speak.

"Truly!" she finally gasped.

"Minx. Teasing is like dice; thou shouldst not engage to play
until thou knowest the forfeit." He kissed her mouth lightly and
briefly, then her forehead and hair. Well, the forfeit had been
agonizing enough while it was happening, but she had quite
recovered now except for her breath. She felt delightful,
actually. "Art thou recovered?" he asked.

"Nearly, my lord husband. I beg thee for another minute to
breathe." He relaxed beside her while she took deep breaths
until she felt giddy. Then she rolled over towards him.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Not yet," she said, and began to kiss his shoulder and torso.

"Hmpf!" But he lay still until she reached his nipple. This she
sucked hard. He gasped and rolled her over onto her back. Most
of the blankets went with her. He lifted and spread her knees
with no resistance from her. He climbed between them while she
groped for him. It wasn't until he was actually in her
entranceway that he paused long enough for her to reach him.

Then he moved back to kiss her breast once. "How didst *thou*
like to be teased?" he asked while he moved forward. He seemed
to have more trouble finding her entrance with her help than he
had by himself. Then he was there. He slid inward until her
wrist was pressed against her rump. He stopped to kiss her nose.

"I liked it pretty well, actually," she said. He straightened
above her in surprise. Then he laughed.

"Minx!" he said. "I love ... a ... lit ... tle ... teas ...
zing ... minx." He moved in on each word and withdrew in the
pauses. Then he chuckled as he moved more rapidly. The chuckles
turned to groans as he sped further, and then to grunts. Then he
was stiff and still above her while all of his weight drove her
hips into the mattress. Within her fingers, though, and deep
within her secretness, he pulsed and quivered.

Then he collapsed half on her. She bore the weight gladly, but
the uncovered half grew cold quickly. Finally she pushed him
over. After several attempts to extricate the blankets, she got
out of bed, pulled them from underneath him, tossed them over
him, and crawled underneath. She was a bit chill by that time,
but he seemed to have enough heat for them both.
She awoke with his hand on her breast and his kiss on the back of
her neck. They heard mass in the village church and returned for
breakfast. Then the knights and older squires tilted at
quintains, manikins intended to represent opposing knights. She
and Lady Alice were the primary audience. Lady Alice was
attended by two maids and she by Helga. The sergeants in Karl's
service were off to one side talking much and only watching in a
cursory fashion. She congratulated Karl on his perfect score
when they met at the washing before dinner.

"It is remarkably easier against an opponent who has neither a
brain nor a horse of his own," he replied. He did take Roger out
to practice on these "remarkably easier" opponents after dinner
while she and the baron reprised her whole wedding once again for
Lady Alice.

They were still on that subject when Karl returned without Roger.

"I do not suppose that thou canst tell me what young Lady Maria
Descries wore at the wedding either?" Lady Alice asked him.

"A mantle at the service? It was a cool morning. Bliaut over
pellison at the dancing; I saw her there.

"Dost thou remember," he suddenly asked Elizabeth, "the way that
thou didst wear thy hair when first I saw thee? Lady Maria's
hair was in the same style. Except that she wore a coronet over
it. But then she *is* daughter to a count and was celebrating an
occasion. I thought thy braids a more comely coronet, even so."
She could well remember how her hair was styled when first they
met, but she had not expected him to do so. She would have to
think on that.

"I had not thought her to be dancing naked," Lady Alice put in
suddenly. "A bliaut over a pellison is what every lady at that
wedding wore."

"Not so. Several nuns were there."

"Thou canst not escape the guilt of thy sex by fancy wordplay,
Sir Karl. Why do men not see women's clothes? But I would have
expected Lady Elizabeth to have noticed."

"It *was* my wedding!" she put in. "I did have other matters on
my mind."

"And," Karl pointed out, "mine as well. Be not distraught. My
sister will visit soon with every frill committed to memory. By
that time, of course, thou wilt have no interest in the wedding
and wilt wish only to hear that thy son is the handsomest babe
ever born. And she, who will consider that three babes were
incomparably handsomer, will perjure herself for thy sake. I was
a bridegroom. I had eyes for only one damsel there."

"Piffle," said Lady Alice. "What was that lady wearing then?"

"For the important part of the wedding, she wore a sheet and ..."

"Husband!" Elizabeth said. She felt hot, and bashful, and
strangely proud. But there was nowhere that she could look.

"Thou dost not escape me so readily, my lord. What did thy bride
wear when thine eyes were on no other lady?"

"Well! In the mass, she wore a mantle of deep blue. There was
not a trace of gray in the wool and the trimmings were of whitest
winter rabbit. She wore it during dinner as well, but the hood
was thrown back to show a diadem of silver with stones which I
would have taken to be the brightest of blues if they had not
faded in comparison to her eyes. Her hair was in two braids
resting on the swell of her breasts." Just when she was looking
up again, too. She blushed again. "Her bliaut was of silk, I
think. It was grass green, loose fitting, elaborately
embroidered, and quite long. Her pellison was of some sort of
red. It was close fitting and completely trimmed with ermine.
Her shoes were of red leather, although I had few glimpses of
them. Her girdle was of gold links set with a variety of

Lady Alice was looking at him. "There is one man who notices
clothes. Why couldst thou not remember the others?"

"My lady, I did not notice those clothes then, but I can close my
eyes and picture my bride beside me or dancing with me." She
would have to think on that, as well. "Or picture her lying
beside me or under me." And she would have to try not to think
about *that*.

There was a jongleur in the hall after supper. Their party had
been the first wave of departures from their wedding, but others
were catching up, this jongleur included. Despite the
entertainment, Roger looked depressed when he came to undress

She could feel sympathy, they were both starting out on careers
that others had mastered. "It looks so easy when the knights do
it, does it not?" she said. The look that Roger threw Karl would
have befitted a kicked puppy. "Come! He said nothing other than
that thou wert going to take thy practice. Thy long face now and
thy absence from company earlier told me the rest."

"I did better six months ago. I am getting worse."

"Thou art getting larger," put in Karl. "Thy clothes should tell
thee that."

"But that should give me more control."

"And so it shall," she reassured him. "But right now, everything
that thou hast learned is just slightly wrong for thy new size."
Roger gave her a look of annoyance. "I am a baron's daughter,
child. Dost thou think that I have not seen squires' practice?"

"Answer the question," Karl said gently.

"No, my lady."

"Then I have seen this happen before. For that matter, thou art
a baron's son. Had thou not seen squires' lance points dance

"Yes, and laughed at them."

"That was naughty of thee. It looks so easy while Sir Karl does
it, and it feels so difficult when thou tryest right now. I will
wager that he went through a stage like yours once."

"Thou wouldst lose," Karl told her. Roger's expression was a
strange mixture of awe and dejection. "Now If thou hadst wagered
on *thrice*.... Thou art with me to learn, Roger, as the lady has
said. Do not be distraught that thou hast something to learn.
It would be a dull period if thou knewest as much now as thou
wishest. Now the *clothes*!" Roger finished stripping him, and
Karl slid between the sheets beside her.

She shivered at the touch of his skin. He drew a little away,
but she pressed against his back. They watched Roger put the
clothes in the traveling chest. (They were to depart in the
morning.) It seemed to her that this took an extraordinarily
long time, but Karl's skin was still chilling hers when Roger was
finally done. He bade them good night and they returned the
wish. Then the door latched behind him.

Karl turned in her arms and kissed her forehead. "At last," he

"At last," she echoed. Karl's chest was even colder than his
back, and her breasts were quite chilled where they pressed
against him. That was, perhaps, why her nipples were so hard.

They grew harder yet, however, when he abandoned her mouth to
warm her breasts with his breath and lips and tongue. Somehow
they shifted without her noticing from lying side-by-side to her
sprawled on her back while he lay half above her. His chest
pressed against one breast while his mouth toyed with the other.
His calloused hand passed all over her in gentle caresses; well,
over *almost* all of her. She spread her legs wider to ease
access to the neglected part. For long moments, however, he came
no closer than to stroke her thigh or scratch his nails through
the hairs on her mound. Then he clasped her loins and sucked
most of her breast into his mouth. Thrilled, she tensed and
clasped his head tight against her breast. He licked the peak
while his fingers played with her folds.

He left the breast to kiss her mouth again, exploring her mouth
with his tongue while he explored her innerness with his finger.
She lost what little control she had left; she tensed and swayed
and pressed against his hand. She cried into his mouth when she
soared away into bliss.

When she returned this time, he was still stroking the suddenly,
even painfully, sensitive spot at the top of her valley. He
teased her other breast for a moment while she began to tense
again. Then he climbed between her legs.

She was more conscious of the stretching than she had been at any
time since their first night. He had to bring her hand onto his
organ before she remembered to clasp it. Only the slowness of
his first few strokes allowed her to adjust her hand to get a
sufficiently firm grip. This motion, which felt entirely
different from the teasings of his fingers or tongue, had a
similar effect. She found her body tensing and her hips rising
to meet his without any thought on her part.

"Tight," he said, "oh, so tight." Was she? Most probably. He
certainly felt very large within her, but no larger under her
fingers. Every thrust of his stretched her, and filled her.
That thought was somehow exciting, but the new worry pulled her
attention back from her own body.

"I am sorry, my husband," she said "for the tightness. I have no
idea how to ease it."

"'Sorry!'" he said. "'Ease! Oh my innocent!" He drove inward on
every phrase. Then he was stroking rapidly in and out of her and
speaking on every thrust. "Oh... My... Sweet... Tight... In...
No..." He thrust harder then ever. "Love! Love! Love!" he
said, driving against her and spurting within her at each word,
not withdrawing at all.

A moment later all that tension went out of his body. Hers,
however, took a long time to relax. She lay stiff on her back
while he adjusted the bed covers and then fitted himself to her
side. "I love thy tightness," he said. "I love being within
thee. I love thee."

"Truly?" she said. She was easing down from her tension. Her
husband had expressed his love several times. More tellingly, he
had proven that he could picture her at their wedding. And could
picture her hair style at their first meeting. She was beginning
to realize that she meant more than an unavoidable adjunct to her
dowry to him.

"Truly," he said. "Have I not said so repeatedly?" He sounded
sincere, if more than half asleep.

"Festmauer comes with some advantages, then," she teased.

"Who told thee that?" Suddenly he was not one bit asleep. "Did
Roger? It is not that I would keep secrets from thee, but only a
few are supposed to know our plans. Roger has no permission to
disclose anything except as direct messages from me." The
fondness and indulgence had been stripped from his voice as
decidedly as the sleepy relaxation.

This was a man who sent troops into battle to be killed and men
to the gallows. This was not strange to her; her father had done
the same. But her father had never used that cold tone to *her*
even when he was ordering her switched. The standard penalty for
bandits within the Danclaven domains was hanging over a slow
fire; she had thought that delightful when she heard it, but the
memory suggested ruthlessness just now.

She was as puzzled as she was frightened. "My lord," she
answered, "none but thee told me anything. I merely suggested
that thou mayest have found me a tiny benefit to the marriage
alongside the great benefit of holding Festmauer." She lay
worried beside this frightening man whom she really did not know.

Suddenly he relaxed. He rolled over on his back and roared with
laughter. It hurt her ears at first, but the relief was worth
it. When he was nearly laughed out he said, "Fugit impius..." he
gasped in air, chuckled, and continued, "...nemine persequente."

Impius? Pius meant obedient! What had she done wrong? "How was
I disobedient, and why wert thou so angry with me?" she asked.

"This is important. It will be part of the rest of our marriage.
I was not angry with thee. I was angry indeed, and thou wert
here. But that does not mean that the anger was addressed at
thee. There are times when policy forces me to conceal my anger;
do not make me do so when we are alone in bed, I beg of thee."

"I will try to remember that." The cold voice she remembered was
frightening enough even if it were not aimed at her.

"This particular time," he continued, "the anger was foolish on
my part. Thou wert not wicked, nor did I consider thee so, even
at my most deluded. 'The wicked flee where no man pursues,' runs
the proverb; and those with secrets see them exposed by the most
innocent of jests. Dost thou see the parallel?"

She did, but this constant dwelling on her innocence was
beginning to pall. She was no babe, she was sixteen; she was a
matron and -- as he had noted -- a chatelaine. She had been a
woman for some years now, and he had taken her very last
innocence. Something he might keep in his memory, as it had
*hurt* when he had done so. She expressed none of these
annoyances; indeed, she recognized them as partly due to the
tumultuous emotions of the past hour.

"In any event," he continued, "I wed thee, not Festmauer. I got
thee, thy delightful mind and thy delightful body. Some
advantages came with thee. All can see that Festmauer did, but
only a few know how well-situated it is. All know that thou dost
grace my bed, but only I know of thy *delightful* tightness. Thy
husband is very pleased with thee. Truly."

"And I am very pleased with my husband and lord." She pressed
back against his warmth.

They would ride in the morning, more than forty miles. They
needed to sleep now. Soon they did.
Chapter Six
September 12, 1214

Once again dinner was early and abundant. They had more than
forty miles to go before suppertime. Afterwards, Karl marshaled
the party to leave. Both knights and sergeants wore hauberks,
coats of mail. So did all the squires but Roger. It seemed an
extreme precaution. "Is the territory through which we travel
that dangerous?" she asked.

"Not really. The Count Du Montagne sees his power slipping away. Under
that circumstance, it would be foolish of him to make an attack unless it
were one that the Duke or the Emperor would sanction. Even more foolish
for one of his vassals to do so. On the other hand, people often make
foolish moves when they see their power slipping away."

This time, the help in mounting was more than ceremonial. She
rode Belle; George was being saved for the ceremonial entry into
Clavius. Aside from the armor and the sergeants riding ahead and
behind, the knights seemed neither bellicose nor particularly
worried. She and Karl rehearsed one of the duets again, and then
all the gentle males sang a long section of the Song of Roland.
They were interrupted by a long roll of thunder.

Soon it was raining steadily, the kind of rain which drives
itself into cloth however tight the weave. The hawks were
quickly transferred to covered cages on the pack animals. Less
than an hour later, she was soaked through. Their horses plodded
on, appearing less disturbed by the weather than she felt.

"At least," said Karl after a few tries at song had petered out,
"this weather makes an attack even less likely." And, in truth,
no armored man would patrol in such weather except for specific
need. "Did I promise thee the tale of how thy mare got the name
'George'?" he continued.

"Something like that. Thou didst say that it was not a tale for
that moment." She had to raise her voice to answer him; Karl did
not seem to have that problem.

"Never mention her to my father," Karl began. "George was the
name of his last child. My stepmother is never going to bear
again, and there are many arrows in his quiver. (Although, God
is my witness, there never seem to be enough.) Anyway George,
the boy, was a scamp. Somehow, behavior that would have broken a
switch on my hide -- or even my sisters' -- brought him a
scolding. I will admit that he got nearly as many switchings as
we; it was just that his mischiefs were much more numerous.
Anyway, despite being my father's favorite, he was well liked by
the rest of us. He laughed with such glee, he ran so excitedly
to greet any of us on our return, his adventures were so
outrageous, you couldn't help loving him. The very peasants
whose chickens he chased adored him. I was a squire, home
seldom, before he was walking, but I loved him well.

"When it came time for him to learn to ride, he was put on top of
the gentlest horse in the stable, an old mare called Schreiterin.
You know how it is at that age; one less rides the horse than one
sits on it. George was nervous for two minutes, and then he fell
in love. I would have expected him to demand a faster-stepping
horse too soon. Instead, he wheedled to ride Schreiterin every
day, sometimes several times a day. Nor did he try to gallop
her, it was always a gentle walk with George perched on top. The
times I saw them, they looked more like a boy sitting on a hay
bale than horse-and-rider. After well more than a year of this,
George learned that Schreiterin would have a foal. (First he
noticed that her girth was growing faster than his legs.) He
pestered my father to allow him to name the foal after himself.
Perhaps he was convinced that the foal would be male, perhaps
not; sex means little at that age.

"Then George caught some inexplicable fever and wasted away. I'm
told that, by the time Schreiterin had her foal, George had
hardly any flesh on his bones except for a grossly swollen belly.
However ridiculous the name, it made him happy for several
minutes in a week when no other news interested him at all.
After he died, my father gave Robert mare and filly, with the
request that they be kept away from Castle Dan and his presence.
Robert gave the filly to me after my knighting."

Her first impulse was to put her arm around him after that story.
The hauberk, however, effectively prevented that. Instead, she
reached over and put her hand on his rein hand. Hands and face
were the only skin that he revealed, and there was enough rain on
their faces to hide any other dampness.

They rode in silence after that. Who was this man to whom she
had joined her life? She thought of all the characterizations
she had heard of the Danclavens.

A little tight-fisted? That seemed accurate. Karl wore little
more fur on his clothes than did her father's vassals. More than
a little calculating? That was certainly true. From his play at
backgammon to his schedule for Roger, Karl seemed to think out
more moves ahead in every aspect of his life than her father
would have spent on planning a siege.

Karl certainly spoke as if the notorious Danclaven solidarity
were fact. On the other hand, the two of them had been given
only brief times when they could speak in private. It was
certainly possible that he had ambitions at the expense of his
family which he planned to share with her later -- or ambitions
he never planned to share; he was a self-contained man.

All of this was slightly off the point of her impression of this
particular Danclaven. Karl had been unfailingly polite to her,
which was only her due; and he had been remarkably considerate as
well. He had also been what she could only call "encouraging."
And he had been enticing, oh yes! He seemed set on seducing her,
and she was well content to be seduced. Their courtship,
although long, had been more about Festmauer than about her
person. It seemed almost as if Karl courted her after the
wedding, and she enjoyed his doing so.

Reassuring thoughts did little to brighten the wet, cold day; but
the rain gradually eased. Then, the hooves rang on stone. They
turned left and were on the Roman road. Shortly after, the sun
came out on their backs. It hardly cast any shadow, much less
warm them; but it showed that the rain was finishing.
"Heinrich!" Karl bellowed.

One of the sergeants trotted up to them. "My lord?"

"Have one of the servants unpack another mantle for my lady and
bring it here -- warm, not dressy."

"Should I send it with Eagle, my lord? The other servants'
horses are too tired to trot."

"I think that would be safe; there are empty fields on both sides
of the road."

She knew that the new mantle would only get damp from the inside,
but it did feel a little warmer. "What does safety have to do
with which servant does a task?" she asked after the man --
presumably Eagle -- had dropped back. Karl emphasized,
especially to Roger, that she was the chatelaine of his castle
and was to be obeyed; but she had no part of the shared history.
Occasionally she felt like a stranger within a company that all
spoke another language, Flemish perhaps, or Sicilian.

"Elijah, as you saw, is still a boy and light of weight. He
rides a horse of good quality. If we are attacked, he is to ride
for Castle Clavius."

"And Elijah is Eagle?"

"That is the command for him to take flight, although he should
act without command when he sees an attack. There is no great
secret to Danclaven word-code. We work out what messages we
might want to convey and then put a word to each one of them. It
is useful, but there are weaknesses. Suppose I tell my men to
suspect treachery in the castle that I am about to visit. I warn
them: 'If I say "destrier," then draw your weapons and attack
our host.' Then Roger comes into the hall and reports on
Partizan's condition. 'And what is Partizan?' asks our host.

"I reply, 'Why Partizan is my.... Uh... it is the horse I ride
into battle.' At best, he thinks me a dunce; at worst he guesses
the code word, and suspects why I needed one."

She smiled at the picture, but her sopping clothes soon darkened
her spirits. She had company in her misery, however. A stream
of drops scattered from the edge of Karl's hauberk. With the new
mantle, the weight of all the water on her back had decreased.
She was considering what weight there must be on Karl's when he
lifted another song. She joined in, and Roger added some trills
around their voices.

An hour later, well past the half-way point, she and Karl changed
horses. Karl showed a little strain in lifting her onto George
that time, but he placed her gently in the saddle.

Soon after they resumed their journey, the Rhine came into view.
The road followed it in general, but avoided most of its swings.
When the river could be seen by the rearguard, one of them burst
into song.

"Whom do we bring to her rightful place?"

"Lady Elizabeth," all the other sergeants sang.

"Who is the fairest dame of the Rhine valley?" another sang.

"Lady Elizabeth," the chorus responded.

They sang until each had sung his solo. Her face warmed at each
compliment, and burned at "Who can ride all day and be ridden all

That song out of the way, older ones arose from the company as
they traveled. They had seen no other travelers since shortly
after the rain began, but they now passed peasants walking in
both directions. Sometime later, a body of merchants passed them
heading south. Another came into sight a soon as they passed the
first. The road was broad, however, and the traffic in the other
direction hardly needed to narrow itself to give the noble party
free passage.

They splashed across a shallow puddle from a ditch that ended at
the road. A dirt wall, much too low to be defensible, spread on
either side of the road. "Clavius land," Karl said. "Heinrich!"

Heinrich trotted up again. "My lord?"

"Send Elijah forward. I have a message for the castle. And tell
another servant to bring my lady's best mantle." When Elijah
trotted up he told him: "The best speed that will not harm thy
horse. Tell Sir Stephen that we will dismount in the middle
court and address the castle from there. We will sup half an
hour after arrival. We will need a change of clothes for the
knights and Master Luke to meet me there. Have a room set apart
for my lady. Now go!"

When he trotted off, the servant took her mantle and draped the
blue one she had worn for her wedding over her shoulders. It was
a very clumsy job, the servant's horse being a good two hands
lower than George. Elizabeth adjusted the mantle herself. When
she looked up again, the castle was in sight. The walls seemed
to go on forever, climbing the hill to their left and entering
the river to their right.

"But it is immense!" she said.

"Large," said Karl, "but not so large as it looks from here. The
low walls on either side enclose nothing. They merely make it
difficult for foes to pass us by on the hillside."

Nevertheless, she could see that it was a formidable fortress
that they approached. The walls stretched straight on either
side, embellished by a large gatehouse and several round towers.
The ditch was wide and had no further bank, exposing the wall.
There were two bridges over it, side by side.

Once through the gatehouse, they broke into a trot. Elizabeth
found herself still on the Roman road. Now, however, there were
walls on either side, with not more than two feet of grass
between road and wall. The wall on the left rose well above the
lances that the knights were now carrying erect from stirrup
height, she guessed it at six or so feet higher than the walls
around her Father's outer courtyard. The right-hand wall was at
least eight feet higher than the left.

The road ran straight and empty towards what must be another
gatehouse. They were still really not in the castle. Finally,
they came to a gatehouse on their right. They passed within, and
came to a large courtyard. This contained a crowd, which cheered
as they entered. There was a more-or-less clear section to their
right, and Karl rode that way, saying "Follow."

They circled to the right until they reached a shelf of stone
against the outer wall. It was about four feet high, and twelve
deep. There were wooden buildings atop it, preventing her from
seeing how far it ran. Karl, still mounted, plucked her from the
saddle and moved her atop that shelf. She found some footing,
and he released her so she could stand. He turned his horse so
that his back was turned to her.

Karl's voice carried the courtyard with no trouble. "People
of Clavius," he began, and then waited for the echo to die away.
"Vassals, villeins, and visitors...
"I present to you...
"Elizabeth of Danclaven...
"Baroness Festmauer...
"Your chatelaine...
"And my wife....
"What you hear from her...
"You have heard from me.

She, perforce stood there while the people cheered and shouted
welcome. There was only one way she was going to get off that
shelf unless she wanted to risk her introduction to her new home
to be falling on her rump in the mud. A knight came forward,
saluted her, and then helped Karl to dismount. The two of them
walked over to her. Karl held up his arms, and she grasped them.
She stooped until he could get a firm grip on her waist, and then
he lifted her and swung her down. When she found footing in the
mud, he released his hold.

"Sir Stephen," he said, "seneschal of Castle Clavius."
Apparently her public introduction sufficed for introduction to
him. A gentlewoman came forward next. "Lady Ingrid, Baroness
Adlernest, my brother's widow." She embraced Elizabeth gingerly.

"Sister," Ingrid said, "thou art soaked. We have a room set
aside for thee, and thy clothes should be there before us. We
have much to discuss, but nothing which cannot wait until thou
art dry." Indeed, the walk through that courtyard and over the
drawbridge into the next was quite enough delay for Elizabeth.

The room was not particularly small, but it was crowded. The
maids who had accompanied her were more than matched by the maids
whom Lady Ingrid had provided. A fire blazed on the hearth, and
there was a small tub. "We really lack time for a proper bath,"
said Ingrid.

"I know," Elizabeth responded. The cluster of maids stripped her
in record time. As soon as one pair removed one garment the next
pair was reaching for the next garment. She stepped into the
bath as soon as her stockings were removed. It was scalding, and
there was no room to sit down. Lady Ingrid wiped the water over
her legs, and she stepped out. From the knees down, she was a
bright red from the heat of the water.

Helga and a stranger dried her in front of the blazing fire.
Helga giggled at her two-tone appearance, receiving a slap from
Lady Ingrid for the insolence. Helga had been Elizabeth's from
birth, and Elizabeth herself almost never slapped her. She did,
however, realize that Helga would profit from the stricter

Her own servants had precedence when it came to putting the
clothes on. They knew what she meant by her description and had
a good guess where it was packed. She chose the clothes that she
had worn for her wedding, but asked for another mantle. The blue
one was now wet.

"There is one article of clothing yet missing," Ingrid said. She
removed the belt and keys from around her own waist and put it
around Elizabeth's." While practical, unlocking nearly every
chest in the castle, this bundle of keys was also the symbol of
the Chatelaine.

Elizabeth hugged her, and Ingrid hugged back more fully now that
she was dry. "I have been trained to manage a household," she
told Ingrid, "but I will need thy help and advice regarding
*this* household."

"I truly credit both statements," said Ingrid. "This is an odd
castle in many ways. Do not worry that I will challenge thy
rule. I have lost husband as well as keys; I regret my husband

"That I can well believe," said Elizabeth. Then she needed to
ask directions to a latrine closet in the castle where she held
the keys. The two ladies walked hand in hand to the great hall
when the horn blew for supper. The great hall was in the center
of the residence. This was a long stone building against one
wall, defensible, but not so uncompromisingly military as the
circular keep.

No less than five clergy preceded three knightly guests and she
and Karl into dinner. The Clavius folk seemed to take the set of
visitors for granted. These were seated where they deserved and
fed richly enough, but no one asked after their news. She was on
the Roman road, she realized; Clavius had the news. For that
matter, her own wedding was probably still the news of the day.

She sat on Karl's right. This, she suddenly realized, was her
seat for as much of her future life as she could imagine. The
porringer under her bread looked like silver, and the cup that
she shared with him certainly was. Saebelin and Karl's gyrfalcon
were on matching perches behind their seats. Even with Lady
Ingrid's support, managing this establishment would be a task;
but it was the task for which she was trained.

As they rose from supper, Karl asked, "Art thou happy with thy
new role?"

"Quite happy, but then I have not yet dealt with the duties, even
to the extent of unpacking my distaff."

"Well, thy first task is to bathe thy husband who rode through
rain this day." That was her duty, and no great burden.

"My lord, whom do I order to prepare the bath?"

"I have taken care of that detail." He took her by the finger
and led her to the family side of the residence. The lord's
apartment was on the second floor. It was larger than her
parents' room, but the same general plan.

The area to the right of the door was no longer than the room was
wide, perhaps ten feet. To the left, there was a large hearth
against the outer wall; a kettle was over the bright fire. The
chair of state faced the hearth. A platform bed -- a little
above waist high for her -- with the curtains drawn back blocked
sight of most of the rest of the room, which was dark anyway.

There was a large, circular, bath set up between the chair and
the fire, with pails beside it. This section of the room was
brightly lit by pitch torches. The rushes on the floor were
fresh, and she could smell that flowers had been mixed with them.
Again, the perches provided for the two hawks were matching. It
was a minor point, but such minor points would convey to the
whole castle that Karl expected them to take her seriously.

"My lord," said the only man among the four servants waiting
there. Karl did not respond. "Ah! And my lady."

"Your seating of supper will have begun," said Karl. "Get you
there. My lady needs no assistance in bathing a knight." They
left. Karl turned to her. "Dost thou?"

"No, my lord husband." She began to remove his clothes. She lay
each garment on the chest at the foot of the bed. Ladies cared
for knights, they did not put away clothes. Not since the first
night had she seen Karl naked in bright light. His organ looked
like any other knight's -- not pointed at all. She looked longer
at it than was seemly, but luckily he was busy easing himself
into the bath. "These are the best clothes that I own," she
warned him.

"If thou wouldst prefer to bathe me in thy shift," he said, "that
would be proper." She put her clothes beside his on the chest.
There was not that much bathing involved. The servants knew
their lord's taste in water temperature, and the bath was quite
hot. She dipped water out of kettle and pail into a dish, then
she poured from the dish over the parts of him that showed above
the water. They each had a rag; she rubbed back and arms, but
legs and front were his responsibility. He stood and she poured
a rinse over him. Then he came out and took the dish from her to
rinse off his feet in turn.

"Dost thou wish to bathe as well?" he asked after she had dried
him. Really, she did. The water was still warmer than her
preference. She poured more from a bucket into the bath. Then
she tied up her hair and doffed her shift to enter the bath. He
stood to the side of the hearth to absorb some heat without
blocking her from the fire. Still, the parts of her that were
above the waterline and turned away from the fire were cold. She
had never heard of a man helping a lady to wash, but he came over
with a rag and started on her back. Unlike her help to him,
however, he did not confine himself to the back, and soon his rag
was brushing across her breasts. Between those sensations and
her growing chill, she had reasons to hurry her washing. When
she got out, he helped towel her off in front of the fire. There
seemed to be a great many towels.

He went from rubbing her back to rubbing her rump. Then he was
kissing her back and dabbing at her breasts. In one-tenth of the
time he spent on her legs, one of her servants could have had
them dry, but his towel reached no further than half way to her
knees. It's strokes on her thighs became caresses and tickles,
and his hands were warming her more than the fire was. By that
time, the legs were mostly dry anyway; and she had stopped
caring. Her knees were a little weak by the time he picked her
up and cradled her in his arms. He kissed breast and belly
before setting her on the bed.

He eased her down into the feathers with her legs dangling over
the edge. His kisses were insistent, first on her mouth and then
on her throat. By the time that his lips reached her breasts,
his hand was caressing the insides of her thighs. She clasped
his head against her breast to increase that sensation and
writhed to escape the tickles below. Every motion of tongue or
finger thrilled her, but she needed more and then even more.
When his hand finally parted her folds, she stiffened in
anticipation. Then lightning struck her belly -- struck again
and again.

She soared into joy, and fell into peace.

When she could next turn her attention outward, Karl was standing
between her legs, stroking her belly and thighs. She gathered
enough breath and energy to raise herself to watch those hands
play. Framed by his arms and her legs, with its base hidden by
her own body, she saw his organ. It was bright red in the
torchlight, bent upwards, and it did have a point. When she
looked away, it was to his face. His broad smile seemed to hint
that he had seen the direction of her gaze, but he hid that smile
between her breasts. Even on those sensitive surfaces, his
cheeks felt smooth.

A brief series of kisses on her breasts renewed her desire. Then
he trailed kisses down her belly. New to intimacy as she was,
she guessed his goal and silently urged him on. Taking his time,
though, he paused at her navel and circled it with tiny nipping
kisses before filling it with his tongue. She writhed and
squealed, feeling his laughter as hot breath on her belly.

She was still writhing as he kissed and blew on the sparse hair
on her mound. He paused, then, to kneel and pull her hips down
against the bed before finally touching her sensitive folds.
First he blew across them, and her whole body stiffened. Then he
parted them with his fingers and licked up each side. She, who
had felt chill despite the fire, suddenly felt overheated. This
was what she had been wishing for while he dallied on his way
across her belly.

But it was not quite. Every touch was a thrill, she stiffened
every time his tongue passed over one of her folds. The higher
he went the more exquisite the sensation. Yet these sensations
did nothing to sate her desires but only increased them.
Something, whether instinct or the clouded memories of a few
nights ago, told her that satisfaction required his going a
little further than he had been. When she gripped his head to
move him that extra hairbreadth, she could feel his chuckle
against the center of her sensitivity. His tongue avoided that
point, however.

Suddenly he took her hand and stood back from her grasp on his
head. She moaned her frustration, but wrapped her hand around
his organ as he had taught her. He pierced her slowly but
firmly. The stretching was mildly uncomfortable, but it somehow
partially slaked the thirst which his tongue had kindled.

As he stroked within her, slowly withdrawing and then filling her
more rapidly, the sweet friction rekindled that thirst and
doubled it. She was relishing every sensation, but she wanted
more. Then he paused while he covered her lower belly with his
hand. His thumb just brushed her center of sensation in time
with his renewed strokes. The pleasure doubled, but the need
increased a thousandfold. Then she soared into glory, and soared
again and again. Vaguely she sensed him pulsing within her, but
leagues away.

Then his head was on her belly, and he was breathing as rapidly
as she, and she was cold everywhere except where he touching her.
When she pulled the sheets on top of her, he roused himself and
helped her get straight in the bed. This time, at least, he
supported her own motions rather than picking her up to set her
where he wanted.

He splashed for a minute in the tub of water in which they had
bathed. Then he returned and handed her one of the rags which
they had used for washing. He stood there beside the bed while
she wiped between her legs. He was so considerate, and marriage
to him had other unexpected benefits as well. She gazed at him
with love, remembering the pleasure which he had so recently
brought him. Then she gazed at him with curiosity.

"My lord?" she kept her voice as demure as possible. She
suspected that her question was not one a respectable wife should


"Your member." He made no answer to that. "It looks different
than it did when...."

"When...?" He was smiling broadly. She could not find polite
words to express her thoughts. A moment later he relented.

"It needs to be stiff to enter thee. It stiffens and extends a
bit just as an animal's extends. Certainly thou hast seen dogs
and boars breeding." She had, and had seen their organs extend,
and knew that those had points on them. But...

"But then your organ had a point, like an animal's. Now it does
not." This discussion was embarrassing enough. She was not
going to mention the organs of other knights; a modest maid would
not have noticed them.

"Point?" Then he dissolved in laughter. He dropped onto the bed
like a falling tree, missing her by a scant inch. She took some
comfort in his laughter, at least he was not angry. She took
some offense at it, as well. He knew that he was getting a maid
in marriage; he need not find her ignorance so humorous.

When he had laughed his full, however, he relented and explained
the matter of his foreskin. He lay beside her on top of the
blankets and invited her to inspect him in the light of a bedside
candle and what torches shone inside the canopy. Neither the
chill of the room nor her hands on his organ seemed to disturb
him in the slightest. "Thou dost not find my curiosity
immodest?" she asked. She thought it rather daring, herself.

"I find thy curiosity understandable, and thy ignorance attests
to thy innocence. Or would so attest had I not already received
full proof of that. I, moreover, find both thy curiosity and thy
way of satisfying it quite delightful." His organ was stirring
in her hand, indeed. She was wondering where that might lead
when there was a loud knock on the door.

Karl rolled off the bed and gripped his scabbarded sword before
unbarring the door. He had ensured that they would be
undisturbed during -- and after -- their bath, she noticed. Sir
Steven came in the door with a ring of keys. Just as the lady
kept keys to every chest, the seneschal kept keys to every door.
At night, he personally checked that bridges were drawn up, gates
barred, and doors locked; then he delivered the keys to his lord
for safekeeping through the night.

"The men are here to fetch back the bath, my lord," he said. The
servants would rather wait all night than knock where they were
not wanted. A seneschal's advice, however indirect, was
something that he owed to his lord; Karl would appreciate it, and
probably would not tolerate a seneschal who worried whether it
would be resented. "And my lady's servants are there, as well.

"My lord," Sir Steven continued, "if my lady keeps all her old
servants as her personal attendants, she will isolate herself and
them from the castle folk."

That is something which she had not considered, but he was right.
If all the women whom she had brought with her slept in here,
then they would look like favorites and never hear the gossip of
the others. She wanted to be mistress of this castle, rather
than its distant lord's more distant lady. Her mother might not
have explained that a man's organ comes with its own sheath, but
she had explained the internal politics of castles. Helga could
stay in here, at least until Elizabeth had a child for her to
mind. The others could be distributed across departments, but
that should involve consultation with Lady Ingrid. Could that
not wait for morning?

"I had thought of that," said Karl. He would have. "But they
may sleep in here tonight. They know my lady's clothes, after
all. Have them wait out there for the bath to be removed." The
indirection was a matter of courtesy towards the seneschal.
Everybody in the hall heard him, and the servants began removing
the bath and buckets without a word from Sir Steven. "And is
Roger there?"

"My lord," Roger answered from the hall.

"When the bath is removed, show my lady's servants the wardrobes
which we have set aside for her clothes. When thou hast hung up
mine and banked the fire, thou art done for the night."

"My lord."

At that, Karl came back to bed. He slipped inside the covers
this time. She told Helga to loose the curtains when she came in
a moment later. Alone in the draped dimness, she and Karl
nestled together while the servants arranged her clothes and
their bedding. Lying with Karl's arms around her was beginning
to feel familiar.

It was, she realized, the rest of her life.
The End
Uther Pendragon
For a quite different story set in a quite different period of a
woman yielding up her virginity, see:

This story is indexed in these two sets of my stories:
Wedded Lust
mf.txt and:
Mf: older men and Younger Women

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