The Bliss of the Virgin

Nis 15, 2024 // By:analsex // No Comment

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Balls

This is a story that I published years ago on another story repository, under a different pseudonym. Much of the backdrop is historically accurate, though the principal characters are my invention. The influence of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael stories is rather obvious. Note that the nun described below is *not* supposed to be the famous English mystic Julian of Norwich, who lived some three hundred years after the events in this story. I’ve made King Henry I a nicer character than he probably was. Couldn’t resist the impulse to make the old blighter talk like Col. Blimp, what? His daughter Maude is referred to as ‘Empress’ because of her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, though she is a widow by the time of this story. The Norman Conquest happened only a generation earlier; the nobility still speak Norman French, not English. All sexually active characters are above the age of 18. No animals were harmed in the writing of this story. May contain nuts.

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Freighbury Castle, Norfolkshire, 1127

“Listen to that wind howling out there, my Lady,” muttered Aedgyth the cook. “But the thaw won’t be more’n a few weeks away, howsomever hard the winds blow right now. The cattle are already impatient for breeding.”

Aedgyth and Lady Emma sat companionably in the kitchen house. They were almost finished with the last batch of honeyed wafers for the morrow’s feast of St. Peter, the wizened old cook brushing the thick batter onto the iron baking racks, while the stout, middle-aged Duchess loaded them into the oven. Aedgyth didn’t really need her supervision, Emma knew, but the aroma of the baking wafers was pleasant, and the warmth radiating from the ovens offered respite from the dank February chill of the castle keep, and from the monotony of spinning and weaving. And besides, Aedgyth was helping her learn the villein’s language, English.

“Pardon, Aedgyth, what is ‘breeding’?”

“The same as ‘fucking’, my Lady. I know you know that word: I’ve heard you use it yourself.”

Lady Emma blanched. “Holy Virgin! That impudent knave of a priest, Father Cuthbert, said that my daughter Isabelle was a lady of ‘good breeding’. And I took it as a compliment.”

Aedgyth cackled. “And so it was meant, my Lady.” Suppressing her laughter, she explained. “‘Good breeding’ means ‘nobility,’ or ‘noble birth.'”

“You English must be lewd indeed,” the Duchess shook her head in mock indignation. “The same word for ‘fucking’ and ‘nobility’,” she chuckled with amusement.

They returned to their task. She could not neglect St. Peter’s feast at Freighbury Castle. It had been the nameday of her late husband, Peter de Bracy, Duke of Norfolk, dead these five months past. He had been a ruthless, violent, grasping man; she did not mourn his loss. Nevertheless, her knights would be expecting the customary feast. And now that she had survived him, she could afford to be gracious to his memory. After all, her son Hugh was now Duke of Norfolk, her three daughters had married well. And she herself was left, at the age of two-score and six, holding Freighbury Castle and the surrounding lands as her dower right. Nor would King Henry force her to remarry, selling her off to one of his barons, eager for her lands: her younger brother was Bishop of Lincoln, and he had sufficient influence to block any marriage that Emma objected to.

They were startled by the sound of shouting from the bailey. Emma emerged from the kitchen house, wrapping her ample figure in her fur mantle against the biting wind, to see the sergeant of her men-at-arms, one Barnabas, yelling at a stranger, a raggedly dressed youth who was staggering, queerly, through the postern gate, pushing past the outraged sergeant.

“I said to be off, you drunken lout. Before I cleave your skull with this axe.”

“Barnabas, that will be enough!” the Duchess commanded.

The youth wheeled round towards her. His features were fine, almost delicate. He would have been quite handsome, despite his dishevelled state, but there was a disoriented, frightened look on the lad’s pale face. This is not drunkenness, she thought. He lurched forward.

“My Lady, I pray you, help me. I… I’ve been wounded. By brigands.” He spoke good Norman French, though his voice was high and weak. Then he collapsed in the snow at Lady Emma’s feet. The sergeant turned white.

“My Lady, I… well, he appeared to be a common vagabond.”

“Even common vagabonds are entitled to alms at Freighbury,” she snapped, “now that I am Lady of this castle. But this is no vagabond, nor drunkard. See, he’s badly wounded in the thigh; and now he’s fainted. Help me get him into the great hall.” Taking him by his shoulders, the two carried him into the hall. He was surprisingly light. They laid him down on the rushes before the roaring hearth.

The youth’s skin felt feverish. “Sergeant, hasten and fetch Alfwith from the village. Leofwyn, boil me a kettle of water and bring me some clean strips of linen, samsun escort quickly girl!”

Taking a knife, Lady Emma gently cut the mud-caked chausses away from the youth’s thigh. The wound was deep and festering. Tenderly, she began cleaning the wound. Even unconscious, he flinched at the slightest touch. Then she noticed the broken stump of an arrow shaft protruding from the lad’s shoulder. She cut a slit in the tunic and drew the cloth back from his shoulder, when she saw… a woman’s breasts?

“Mother of God, it’s a maid!”

=======

They moved her to Lady Emma’s own bedchamber. Alfwith, the wise-woman, drew the arrowhead from the maid’s shoulder while the Duchess and her women held the delirious girl down. The maid lapsed back into a coma as the wise-woman staunched the bleeding, and set poultices of comfrey and aloe to the wounds in her thigh and shoulder. She said prayers to the Virgin and the old gods, and tied an amulet to the maid’s wrist. Lady Emma rewarded Alfwith handsomely for her services, with a young sow and a crock of honey.

The maid slept fitfully. At times she kicked the covers from her naked body, sweating with fever; and Lady Emma sponged her with cool damp cloths. At other times, she shivered with chills; Lady Emma covered her again, with wool blankets and her own fur mantle. At last, around dawn the next day, the fever broke, and she slept peacefully.

Her son Hugh arrived from Norwich, to preside over the feast of his father’s nameday. But Lady Emma absented herself from the hall, watching instead over her mysterious patient, sometimes dozing beside her. Even with her hair cropped short like a boy’s, the maid was beautiful, in a queer, elfin sort of way, that tugged at Emma’s heart.

=======

Towards evening, the maid awoke. The fear and tension suddenly returned to her eyes. It grieved Lady Emma beyond measure to see terror on the face of such a lovely young woman. It was not, the Duchess guessed, a mere skirmish with brigands that had given the maid these wounds, this fear.

“Easy, my dear. You are safe here. No one will harm you.”

“Where am I?”

“At Freighbury Castle. I am Emma de Montvert, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. And upon my honour, I pledge all the forces at my disposal to your protection. Now, drink this decoction of willowbark: it will ease your pain.” The maid looked at the beaker warily. “Very well,” sighed the Duchess. “I will swallow some myself. Ugh, it’s bitter, but see, no poison. The wise-woman told me you are to drink as much of this decoction as I can get into you.”

The maid took the beaker, and with some effort, swallowed it in a few quick draughts. “I am sorry for my mistrust, my Lady. You have been exceedingly good to me, and I pray the Holy Virgin reward you for your kindness. But … I was recently betrayed by … by one whom I trusted most.”

“Are you hungry?” The maid shook her head. “Nevertheless, you should try to take a little food. Try a honey wafer.”

The maid took a nibble. “It is very good,” she smiled. That glimpse of a smile seemed to lighten the chamber like a ray of midsummer sun. She devoured the wafer, then took another. “It seems,” she blushed, “that I am hungry after all. I suppose it is several days since I last ate.”

“Here then, try a herring pasty; and a little wine will strengthen your blood.”

The maid sat up, wincing at the throbbing pain in her shoulder. She took the food and wine that the Duchess set before her. Lady Emma could not help staring at the maid’s bare breasts. The Duchess had not often seen other women naked, other than her own daughters when they had been girls. The sight of this maid’s body had been creating unfamiliar stirrings within her. Presently, she realized that the young woman was gazing back at her, a quizzical smile on her face. The Duchess blushed deeply. “I, yes… well, I… I have here a clean linen shift that you may put on.”

“Thank you, my Lady.” She pulled it on over her head, again wincing as she moved her shoulder.

“Do you feel strong enough to tell me your story?”

The maid nodded, and sighed. “My name is Julian. I am a Benedictine novice at Thurbridge Priory in Essex.” She looked down, somewhat guiltily. “I … I will not hold you to your promise of protection. It was unfair of me to ask your aid, to tell you it was brigands who had attacked me. I do not wish to bring danger down upon you, after you have been so good to me. But my predicament concerns the King’s life, and that of his daughter, the Empress Maude. I will perhaps be well enough to ride by tomorrow. If you could lend me a horse, I will try to make it to the King’s court at Westminster.”

“Little good that would do, my dear, since the King keeps Lent this year at Oxford. And you would not make five paces on a horse before you fainted with pain. Come, my dear Julian, I appreciate your concern for my safety; but it is not your place to tell a Duchess that she should forswear urfa escort her oath, is it? Perhaps you could explain to me what a Benedictine novice has to do with kings and empresses?”

Julian blushed. “Yes, my Lady.” She took a deep breath. “Those who seek my life are Walter de Carcassone, the Earl of Essex; Peter FitzHugh, the Archbishop of York; and,” she shuddered, “Dame Eleanor de Carcassone, Prioress of my own convent.”

Lady Emma was too intelligent not to be frightened by this. The two men Julian had just mentioned were among the most powerful and ruthless in the kingdom. Nevertheless, she chuckled dryly, “You have good taste in enemies, my dear. Go on.”

“A week after Ash Wednesday, our Prioress received certain visitors: her brother the Earl, and the Archbishop … and one who gave his name to our porter as ‘Anonyme de Lobis.'”

“A curious name …”

“My Lady, ‘anonyme’ is Greek for ‘nameless’.”

“Is it indeed? Continue.”

“Two other novices and I were called upon to pour wine and serve the supper to the Prioress and her guests. At a certain point, their conversation switched into Languedoc.”

“The language of Aquitaine? How peculiar.”

“They trusted no one else would understand their speech. But, as it happens, my mother was from Toulouse: Languedoc was our private language when I was a girl. I understood their speech well. The nameless one, he said it was getting late, he had to ride for the coast that evening; he must know then and there, where did the others stand regarding his claim? The Archbishop addressed him as Stephen, saying they supported his claim well, why did he think they were here? The Earl added that he would never accept Maude as his ruler, no matter what King Henry wished. And what were they going to do about it? asked this Stephen. Essex informed him that King Henry and his court would be keeping Whitsuntide as his guest at Bufford Castle. It would be easy enough to arrange for Maude to take some drink that disagreed with her, and for the King to have a hunting accident, such as had befallen the King’s brother Rufus. Essex would ensure that the barons then declare Stephen King, and the Church would back him.

“Stephen responded that this was heartening news indeed. The Archbishop added that Henry Beauclerc was a pagan, and insubordinate to Holy Church. And of course, rule by Henry’s daughter, or any woman, would be anathema. The Church wanted a new King who would support ecclesiastical reform in the matter of investitures, clerical celibacy, and such. The Prioress then asked what reward her brother could expect for his services. The Earl proposed that in return for the crown of England, he be granted the southern parts of East Anglia and Kent, for him and his heirs, free of the royal writ, like the Welsh Marches. Stephen readily agreed.”

“It is Stephen of Blois you are speaking of,” said Lady Emma slowly. “King Henry’s own nephew. But of course, ‘Lobis’ is an anagram of ‘Blois’. So Stephen would let England fall back into separate principalities, as in the days before good King Alfred. Continue.”

“I was horrified by what I was hearing. You see, my … well, my particular friend at the Priory, my teacher and adviser, Dame Margery, she had been a tutor and companion to Maude in her youth, before she wed the Holy Roman Emperor; and Dame Margery had often spoken to me of her before she died. I felt a loyalty to the Empress Maude, but I did not know what I could do to help her against these …”

“Traitors.”

“Yes, traitors. I simply tried to mask my own alarm. But it must have shown in the trembling of my hands.

Julian was quiet a moment and then continued:

“The next day, the Prioress summoned me. She commended me on my service the night before. Then she asked me if I had understood any of the talk. I said I had understood none of it. Too late, I realized that her question had been in Languedoc.

“We glared at each other. Finally, she said, ‘I’m sorry, little one, but we cannot let you remain alive.’ My own Prioress, head of the community of sisters to which I had pledged my life, she who should have protected me, she who claimed to be a friend to my Dame Margery …” Julian fought back a sob of helpless rage. “She lunged at me, tried to get her hands round my throat, but I grabbed a stick of kindling from the hearth and struck at her, enough to stun her. I bolted from her chamber and made for the stable. The Prioress raised the alarm, and then one of Essex’s knights was running after me. I stole a horse and galloped out of the priory, not thinking where I was going, for I soon heard several knights riding hard in pursuit of me. Fortunately, the horse I had taken was faster than theirs, and I was lighter. In my terror, I continued riding till well after dark. Stupid. I might have lamed the horse, and then I would have been at their mercy.

“Oh, my poor angel …” Lady Emma took Julian’s hand in her own.

“I rode north, sinop escort I suppose. It grew cold, and I had no mantle. I left the road and eventually found an outbuilding of a farmstead. There were some sheep within, and a hayloft above. I was wakened shortly before dawn by the ‘chink-chink’ of a knight in hauberk, on horseback, drawing near to my hiding place. I scrambled into the loft. He threw open the door and saw my horse tethered to the centre-beam. ‘Come out, little nun,’ he called, ‘I won’t harm you.’ But he drew out his axe.

“He began searching the dark corners of the barn. I noticed some large stones in the loft, such as are used to hold down thatching. When his back was to me, I threw one down on him. It glanced off his helmet. He chuckled, looking up at me, and began to climb the ladder to the loft. I flung another stone; this one caught him full in the face, smashing his jaw and cheek. He lunged at me, swinging wildly with his axe. It bit into my thigh. But he lost his footing, plunged from the loft, and sprawled unconscious on the ground. I hobbled down the ladder, and I … I finished him off with his axe.

“I bandaged my leg as best I could, and donned the dead knight’s clothes, thinking they were better suited to riding than my novice’s habit. I also took his dagger and crossbow, and continued on my way. As a Benedictine novice, my hair was already close-cropped, and so I suppose I looked like a rather unkempt young squire, to any whom I passed.

“All the lands about the priory belong to the Earl of Essex, or his vassals, so I didn’t dare stop and ask for help. I just kept riding, thinking only of getting beyond Essex’s reach. On the third day, another of the Earl’s men-at-arms overtook me on the road and gave me a crossbow bolt in the shoulder. I fell from my horse, but scrambled off into the woods on foot. He rode into the woods after me, not realizing that I too had a crossbow. I hid behind a tree. With great difficulty, I spanned the bow with my good arm. I loosed the bolt right up into his neck as he plodded by me. His horse galloped off. I went back to the road, but my horse was dead: he had cut its throat. I went on by foot. But with a gash in my thigh, and an arrowhead in my shoulder, I could not travel far. I grew weak with fever, and with hunger. As it’s still winter, I could find no food nor healing herbs. I stumbled on a patch of thin ice; it cracked and I sank into the bog beneath, up to my teats. I almost did not make it out. I prayed to the Blessed Virgin. I saw this castle in the distance, and headed for it, not knowing if you would be friend or foe, but knowing I would die unless I could find help.”

“Oh, Julian …” Lady Emma took the maid’s hand and kissed it, her redoubtable bosom heaving with emotion. “I would give my very life to help you. And to defend my King and his daughter from this treason. But … tell me, why did you not flee to your home, to your family?”

“My Lady, I have no home nor family but Thurbridge Priory. Now I have not even that. My mother was concubine to a mercenary knight who came to England with William the Bastard’s army. He died in a raid on the Welsh border. His heir drove my mother and me from his lands when I was but a babe. My mother, trying to keep us from starvation, found herself a place at Thurbridge Priory in the kitchens. When my mother died, Dame Margery, the priory librarian, took me under her wing, taught me to read, taught me Latin and Greek and music. We grew … um, very attached to each other. She prevailed upon her brother, the Earl of Leicester, to pay my dowry to the Priory, so that I might become a nun, and so we could remain together always. But then she died of a fever, and I was left alone.”

“Not alone. God’s Mother surely must be with you, for you to come through this terrible ordeal alive. She has brought you to me, and I will not fail you. Now, you must rest, my dove. You are still very weak.”

=======

It was only a matter of time, Emma knew: if one of Essex’s men could track Julian to Herns Forest a day’s ride away, other men would eventually track her to Freighbury Castle. They could all flee the castle, but what if Essex attacked them in the field, before they could join with King Henry’s forces? It was safest to remain at Freighbury.

Lady Emma strode into the rush-lit hall. The musicians stopped playing. The guests and retainers turned their eyes upon her.

“My Lord of Norfolk,” she curtsied to her son. “I have dire news. Freighbury may soon be under attack from the Earl of Essex. We must prepare for a siege.”

Her son lurched from the table, and collapsed in a drunken stupor. The Duchess shook her head grimly. Mustering the few knights and men-at-arms who were still sober, she gave orders for the villeins to be brought into the castle, the drawbridge raised, and a double watch set on the castle walls.

At dawn the next day, she sent young Simon White, her best rider, on her fastest horse, with a message to the King and the Empress Maude at Oxford, warning of the treason. She prayed he could avoid interception by Essex’s men. Hugh, nursing a hangover, reluctantly sent word to his seneschal at Norwich to muster his knights and bring them to Freighbury.

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