The King and Her Queen

Chapter 8:  Private Lessons



Since Airianne would be studying with Wybrenne, Bedivere decided that it would be a good time to go down into the valley and buy supplies for the ball.  Airianne provided them with a basket and some knapsacks to carry their purchases.  For Bedivere, she presented a corded belt and a velvet cloak to replace her worn sword strap and riding cloak.

"Tis in fashion and will suit thee."  explained Airianne.

Bedivere replaced the strap on her sword and belted her sword on her waist.  Then she unfolded the cloak.  She gasped aloud when she saw the patch in front.  It was an embroidered heart which encircled three roses of red, white and yellow.

"Lady Airianne, tis an heirloom!  Tis I who am unsuitable to don it."

"Mama gave it to me.  She insists that ye wear it.  It would lift her heart to know that the colors of Rosenharte art displayed proudly."

Bedivere nodded in understanding.  "Then I shall be honored to wear it."

After Bedivere put on the cloak, they made their way to the lower levels to fetch their horses.  Then Airianne operated the platform so that they descended into the mine.  With Bedivere's tracking skill, they emerged from the mine into the bright sunshine of the valley.  Bedivere helped Rin on to her saddle and then sat behind her.  She threw Arturia a sly grin.

"Last one down is a rotten egg?"  challenged Bedivere.

"I am at a disadvantage with this common pony."  protested Arturia.

"Mine horse bears two riders."

They sized at each other up.  Arturia laid down her conditions.  "Only if thou let me ride with Rhynne.  And, should thou accept mine terms, I will allow thee to start as fitting."

Bedivere sighed.  "Oh very well..."  She and Arturia got off their horses.  Bedivere handed the reins to Arturia.  "No leaping."  she warned.  Arturia nodded.

Rin stiffened at the word leaping.  "Hold thy horses!  What saith thee about leaping?"

"Fret not, Rhynne.  Haut will not leap in this race."  replied Arturia as she mounted Haut behind her.

"But..."

Arturia's hand slipped around her waist to grasp the reins.  "I am with thee.  Please trust me."

With that, Bedivere spurred her horse down the path and rode it to a gallop.  Arturia urged Haut to a slow canter.  Rin stared at her hands clinging to the rim of the saddle.  She had ridden horses before, but not one that was as large and tall as Haut.  As she watched the pebbles on the ground, she felt a sense of vertigo.

Suddenly, Arturia whispered softly near her ear.  "Rhynne, tis better to look up and see beyond the path."

Rin looked up and was rewarded by the magnificent sight of the valley below.  She marveled at the gentle slopes of the green hills and the scattered patches of forest.  The roads snaked across the valley like stitches on a quilt.  Here and there, farmers looked like ants in their fields of golden grain.

"Amazing..."

"Yea.  Our rooms art on the west side, while the village is on the east."

Arturia felt Rhynne lean back, so she shifted slightly to let her settle against her.  The mountain breeze played with the strands of her hair and brought the familiar scent of camellia to her nose.  She turned her head slightly and allowed Rin's hair to brush against her face and lips.  Somehow, the scent felt very soothing, and she felt an urge to bury her face in Rhynne's hair.  She managed to restrain herself and just let the scent envelop her senses.

As they admired the scenery, a question popped up in Rin's mind.  "Arturia, why didst thou decide to race?"

Arturia laughed sheepishly.  "Oh that.  Bedivere and I would often race each other when we went hunting.  Tis a sport for us.  And the loser must grant the winner a boon for the day."

"I see.  So if thou win, what boon shall thou ask for?"

Arturia thought for a moment.  "Mayhap, I shall ask to ride Haut instead of the horse."

"Will I be riding with thee or with Bedivere?"

"With me, of course.  I doubt that the horse would enjoy carrying two people.  Haut's strength far exceeds that of a common horse.  He is used to carrying Bedivere and her weaponry."

Rin nodded in understanding.  She remembered how heavy Bedivere was when she and Shiro tried to carry her.  She craned her neck to see if she could spot Bedivere.  As she wondered whether they could catch up with her, an idea popped into her mind.  She untied a short red ribbon around her sleeve and tied it around Arturia's wrist.  "Tis a race, so I shall cheer mine champion on."

Arturia recognized the token and laughed.  "I am honored to be thy champion.  Mine heart gladdens with thy support."  Then with a twinkle in her eye, she asked jokingly,  "Art thou cheering me on because thou wish me to win, or because thou wish to ride with me?"

Rin blushed at the question.  She was hoping that Arturia would win so that she could ride with her.  But she felt that she did not need to hide that wish, so she answered,  "Both."

Her heart leapt with delight at Rhynne's answer.  She felt happy that Rhynne wanted to ride with her.  "Then I am doubly glad.  I shall surely win this race for thee."

They rode on for a while until Arturia caught sight of Bedivere on a path below.  Arturia whistled loudly to warn Bedivere that she was starting.  "Tis time, Rhynne.  Please hold on."  Then she snapped Haut's reins and urged him to run.  Haut neighed in eager response and began to gallop.

Rin clung to the saddle's rim as firmly as she could.  The mountain path sped past her in a blur.  They rounded several bends and the path became straight for about two hundred yards.  The side of the path leveled off steeply down to the next path below. 

"We shall go this way.  Please hold on to me."  Arturia warned Rhynne as her arm snaked around her waist to hold her close.

To Rin's great horror, Haut turned off the beaten path and galloped down the very steep mountainside.  As they gained speed, panic rose within her and she screamed in fright.

"Mine apologies, Rhynne."  Arturia's words were diminished by the wind whipping by her ears.

Haut reached the path below leaving a cloud of dirt behind him.  They galloped down the path and around several bends.  They came upon another path with a similar steep slope that ended down at a path on a lower level.  Bedivere was on that lower path and rounded a bend.  However, they continued on the path. 

Rin realized that if they had gone down the slope, they would have caught up to Bedivere.  But Arturia did not go down.  "She's worried about me."  thought Rin.  She did not want to be a burden.

"Arturia, if by chance thou may come upon a slope to take us to a lower path, thou must take it!"  yelled Rin into the wind.

"Nay!  I can not risk thy well being!"

"I was surprised!  Thou need not worry!"  She put her hand on top of Arturia's and squeezed it.  "Trust me!"

They were nearing the base of the mountain.  Based on their last sighting of Bedivere, she was quite ahead of them.  They rounded a bend and the path straightened for a while.  To Rin's relief, it had a slope that led to a lower path.  "Arturia!"  she cried.

As if on cue, Arturia guided Haut down the slope.  Rin shut her eyes and gritted her teeth until she felt the ground return to a normal level.  She released her bated breath.

They rounded several curves and the path straightened out once more to reveal Bedivere racing towards its end which widened to empty into the main road.

"Tis the last leg!"  cried Arturia.  "Come Haut!  Let us meet thy master!"

As if encouraged by her words, Haut quickened his pace.  His hooves tore up the path with his thunderous gallop.  The road seemed to shorten before them. Bedivere was halfway to its end.

Arturia urged Haut on once more and he seemed eager to comply.  The distance between them began to shrink.  Finally, they rode side by side within thirty feet of the main road.  As Haut thundered past to win by a head, Arturia crowed with victory.

They slowed down to a canter on the main road.  Arturia's face shone brightly while Bedivere's face was a thundercloud.

"I hath seen thy trick, Arturia.  How dare thee employ such... such... tactics?"  Since Rhynne was present, Bedivere reigned in the foul words on her tongue.  She got off the horse and went over to stroke Haut's head.

"Thou only saith to come down.  Thou did not saith how."  said Arturia smugly.  "Will thou grant mine boon?"

"Yea, what is it?" asked Bedivere sourly.

"Allow me to ride Haut until we return."

Bedivere's reaction was like that of a child whose favorite toy got taken away.  Arturia sneered calmly at her, patiently waiting for her compliance. 

"As thou wish."  she bit out.  Then she turned to Haut.  "How could thou let thy master lose?  Thou could have slowed down."

Haut snorted in response.  Rin wondered if he really understood while Arturia added, "Haut hath his pride.  He will not lose to a common pony."  Haut neighed as if in agreement with Arturia's explanation.

Bedivere's frown was replaced with a proud grin.  "Thou did well though."  She kissed him on his forehead and patted his cheek before returning to the other horse.  "Come.  We have a lot to procure."

They rode to town and stabled their horses before going on foot to the marketplace.  Rin swore that she could feel the eyes of the villagers as they walked by.  All three of them made a rather unusual sight among the plainly clothed villagers.  Bedivere seemed to draw stares of admiration from men and of envy from women. 

Meanwhile, Bedivere noticed the red ribbon around Arturia's wrist.  When she saw Rhynne's unfettered sleeve, she realized the significance of the token.  Her calm face masked her displeasure over this new development.  When she noticed her own reaction, her lips drew taut.  She gathered her thoughts. 

"E'en if this is her decision, I will support mine King."  She forced her irritation aside and concentrated on finding good supplies.

Every merchant that they dealt with seemed more than happy to receive their patronage.  Bedivere stopped by the local blacksmith to pick up her repaired battle gauntlet for her left hand.  She asked Arturia to test it.  Rin watched in fascination as she slid the switch below the palm.  The fingers opened and closed in response.  Bedivere complimented the smith for his work and paid him.  Then they continued searching for supplies.

Soon, they acquired the necessary supplies and filled their basket and knapsacks.  They took their horses from the stables and strapped their purchases on the backs of their horses.  When they were ready, they rode out of the village in high spirits.

Bedivere rode off the main road.  She led them into a meadow and to a grove of fruit trees.  She selected a shady spot and dismounted.  "Methinks, that tis a good place to take our noon time meal." 

Arturia and Rin dismounted while Bedivere opened a pack on Haut's side to take out a blanket.  Arturia took the blanket and spread it out under the shade.  Rin took out wrapped sandwiches, fruits and a water skin.  Each one selected a sandwich and began to eat.  Bedivere opened the water skin, drank and handed it to Arturia.  Arturia drank in turn and handed it to Rin. 

Rin stared at it for a moment.  The thought 'indirect kiss' floated in her mind.  She shook the thought away and drank from the water skin.  To her surprise, she tasted wine, not water.  And it was very good wine. 

The food was good, the meadow was beautiful and the company was pleasant.  Rin felt very happy.  Her day was perfect.

"Arturia..."  whispered Bedivere in a low voice.  "We're being watched."

"Yea.  I count five."

"Shall I take care of them?"

"Do as thou wish." 

"Wait!  Thou art injured.  Allow me to deal with it."  offered Rin.

Arturia held up a hand.  "Nay.  Let us not give them cause to despise mages.    If they invent malicious tales of thy witchcraft, thou may ne'er come to the village again.  I shall deal with it."

"Then I shall refrain from casting.  I have some skill in defending myself.  Allow me to aid thee."

"I beg thy pardon, but thou art not a warrior."

"I do not need to be, because I am with thee."

Arturia blinked several times.  Rhynne seemed very serious and confident.  She was also brave enough to endure the race despite her initial fear on the mountain slope.  She could trust her.  "Thou may aid me on the condition that thou will not tire thyself."

"Yea, upon mine honor."

"Here they come."  warned Bedivere.

Five young men dressed in drab clothing walked across the meadow to them.  The tallest one spoke first.

"Wael looky here... Rosen'arte lassies with no escort?"

A scruffy one spat out the twig in his mouth.  "We'd be 'appy t' be yer escort.  'ow 'bout we escort yerselfs 'ome.  Me 'ome's not far."

Arturia stood up and walked half the distance toward them.  "Please leave."

"But we've just met.  Come on, dinna be shy..."  The tall one strode over to Arturia to grab her shoulder. 

Arturia batted his hand away.  "Methinks that ye need a lesson in manners, uncouth knave.  If ye persist with unruly cause, ye will find me a most exacting teacher."

"Oh, tis a frisky one."  He moved in to grab her wrists. 

Arturia blocked his attack and grabbed his sleeve to yank him down.  At the same time, she cocked her arm to drive her fist into his nose.  The man staggered back with a bleeding nose.  His hand went up to nurse it.

"Ye blode me node!  Ye'll pay fer tha'!  Get 'er!" 

The men began to surround Arturia.  She assumed a boxing stance.  Suddenly, there was a whistle to her left.  From the corner of her eye, she saw Rhynne standing about twenty feet away.

"Hey boys... can I have some fun too?"

All the men turned their heads to look at Rhynne.  One of them began to edge towards her.  Then she realized what Rhynne had done.  She lunged at the closest man and decked him under his chin.  Then she drove her fist into the stomach of another and gave him the knee.

Rin watched the young man edging towards her.  When he rushed to grab her, she stepped aside at the last instant and landed a hammer fist on the back of his neck where the skull meets the spine.  Another one tried to grab her arm, so she diverted it with a circular motion and repositioned her hands to do an elbow lock.  She twisted the arm until she felt a satisfactory pop under the skin.  The man screamed in pain and crawled away from her with a limp arm. 

During the war, she received a very painful first lesson in unarmed combat from Kuzuki-sensei.  Since then, she devoted some time to training in Aikido and grappling.  Finally, all those long sweaty hours and bruises were worth it.

Meanwhile, the man who received the hammer fist recovered from it.  He circled Rin warily.  Rin backed away slowly in Arturia's direction and kept an eye on Arturia who was beating the rest of them into a pulp.  She continued to back away until the man grew bold enough to lunge at her once again.  She stepped aside and grabbed his arm to execute a throw.  She directed his momentum towards Arturia's opponents.  The man flipped head over heels to tangle his legs with another man who lost his balance as he landed.  Those who were on the ground scrambled to their feet and they all retreated a distance of fifteen feet.

"Saucy wenches!"  The fat one snarled angrily and reached into his coat to pull a dagger out.  His companions did the same.   

They stalked towards Arturia but stopped as the screech of steel scraping on steel reached their ears.  They stared in disbelief beyond Arturia.

Bedivere strode over to Arturia with her large sword held at her side.  At the sight of it, Rin wondered how heavy it was.  The blade was over four feet long and its width was at least three inches wide.  Bedivere presented the handle to Arturia who grasped it with both hands and held it before her.  Then Bedivere casually walked back and resumed her meal.

"Tis yer last chance to leave."  growled Arturia in a low voice.  "Or else..."

The men started talking amongst themselves.  "There be five o' us!"

"Nay, jus' four!  Trent's gone!"

"She cannae swing it!  Tis too big!"

"Aye, we'll go 'round 'er and attack 'er all t' same."

They nodded in unison.  Meanwhile, Rin was dumbfounded by the idiotic situation.  "Um... hello... we can hear you..."  she thought.  She returned to the blanket and sat with Bedivere.

Arturia brought the blade behind her and held it at waist level parallel to the ground.  She waited until the men advanced close enough before she swung it in a large arc from side to side like a farmer cutting grain with a scythe.  The men backed away as she advanced in their direction, but one of them was too slow.  The blade cut his belt and his breeches fell to his ankles.  He leapt out them in fright and ran behind a small boulder.  Arturia continued her advance and slashed the sword in his direction to chop off the top of the boulder like a knife upon butter.  The chopped top went flying ten feet into the air.

The man stared in horror at the chopped boulder and then at the apparition of death before him.  He was smart enough to run.  At the sight of their fleeing comrade, the other men ran away as well.

When she was satisfied that they were gone, Arturia walked back to the blanket.  She rotated the sword around and presented the handle to Bedivere.  "Mine thanks."

Bedivere accepted it and resheathed the sword.  "Twas mine pleasure.  Mine only regret was that twas not I who greeted them."  She cast a glance at Rhynne.

"A physic must look after her patient." 

Bedivere handed the water skin to Arturia.  "Come, Arturia.  Finish thy meal.  I wish to leave before they come back with friends and prompt us to resort to more drastic measures."


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They returned to the Aerie without further incident.  For most of the afternoon, they stayed in the library to keep Airianne company as she studied.

As part of her education, Bedivere told Rin the basics of court etiquette.  It was then that she learned the difference between High speech and common.

"One uses High speech in formal occasions, such as in court.  Tis also used to denote a sign of respect to the person whom one is speaking to.  Furthermore, if one is addressed by someone in High speech, then one must respond in High speech if one is knowledgeable in it.  Twould be disrespectful not to.  Of course, one can converse in common if the other party requests it.  Common is used by merchants and peasants because they lack the necessary education to speak High speech properly."

From her explanation, Rin discovered that one could gage the social position of a person by judging the way they spoke.  It was an unusual way to determine the other person's place in society.  Then another thought occurred to her.  Arturia used High speech with Bedivere and used common with Airianne.  However, she did this to match Bedivere's and Airianne's preferred speech pattern.  But for herself, Arturia chose to address her in High speech from the very beginning.  Was her appearance and manner worthy enough for Arturia address her that way?  The idea warmed her heart.

When they were done, Arturia came over with a book on Welsh grammar.  "If thou art not tired, shall we continue thy lessons?"

Rin's face lit up.  "I am not.  Pray, continue thy instruction."

"What is this instruction?"  asked Bedivere.

"Since a lot of mage lore is in Welsh, I am teaching Rhynne how to read Welsh."

Bedivere nodded.  "I see.  Then I shall see both of thee later.  I wish to brush Haut."

When she was at the door, Bedivere looked back at Arturia and Rhynne.  They sat close to each other and were bent over a book.  Arturia would point to a word and Rhynne would repeat it with a shy smile on her face.  It was quite a remarkable difference compared to the impassive expression she wore when she taught her.  Bedivere shook her head and left the room.


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When Airianne was finished with her studies, they adjourned to the great hall to practice dancing until dinner.  Once again, Rin was paired with Bedivere. 

Rin grasped Bedivere's gloved hand.  Just underneath the leather, she could feel the metallic bulge of the gauntlet.  She felt sad holding it, knowing that her left hand was not there.  At least, she was able to do something about her arm which was supported by an iron brace.  The brace was fashioned from her armor and seemed out of place when Bedivere wore a dress.

"Please give me thy undivided attention."  said Bedivere as she swept her away into the waltz.

They danced for about half an hour with Rin stumbling and nearly stepping on Bedivere's feet.  Bedivere waltzed further away from Arturia and Airianne.

"I am sure that if thou give me but a fraction of thy enthusiasm when thou learned Welsh, thou would surely master the basics." 

Rin blushed with embarrassment.  "Mine apologies.  I shall be more attentive."

At her blush, Bedivere thought of an incentive to motivate her.  With a silly grin, she wondered what Rhynne's reaction would be.  She leaned close to her ear and whispered.  "If thou perform this lesson to my satisfaction, I may be persuaded to offer a hint on how to court Arturia."

Rin's eyes grew wide with surprise and she was speechless for a few moments.  When she gathered her wits, she protested, "Methinks thou art mistaken!  What prompted thee to think that I... would want to do THAT?" 

"Me, Merlyn and Airianne art in accord.  Surely, three people can not all be mistaken."

"Is it that obvious?"  thought Rin in a panic.  She shuddered slightly.

As if she sensed her panic, Bedivere said, "Fear not.  I shall not reveal thy affection.  But do keep mine behest in mind.  Tis tiring to dodge thy feet for an hour."

Bedivere waltzed a rather embarrassed Rhynne back towards Airianne and Arturia.  Half an hour later, she noted an improvement in her technique.  She smiled to herself and thought, "Mayhap, there is hope after all."


--------------------


It was amazing.  She actually won.  And everyone else would be singing for her.  Arturia would be singing for her.  She waited with excited anticipation as Arturia sat on the stage with her harp.  To her great surprise, Bedivere declared that she would join Arturia on the stage.  She selected a smaller harp and sat on the stage. 

Arturia started a melody and then Bedivere's quick and nimble fingers followed up with a simple counterpoint.  Then Arturia's voice entered the melody.  After singing a stanza, Bedivere continued with a deep alto that was almost within the range of a high tenor.  Their voices mingled harmonically in the chorus. 

[Author's note:  For an example of their playing, listen to:  The Maid and Robin.  Sorry, no voices.]

Rin was stunned by the sheer elegance of their singing.  She was even more amazed that Bedivere could play with one hand.  When they were done, she gave them a standing ovation.  "Bravo!  Magnificent!"

"Bravo?  I hope that tis a word of praise."  remarked Arturia jokingly.

"Yea.  Tis of Italian tongue."

"After that, mine song will be a poor offering."  said Airianne with mock sadness.  

Bedivere patted her gently on the shoulder.  "Allow me to be thy judge, for I hath not heard thee sing.  E'en now, thy speaking voice is musical to mine ears, so it must be that thy song would shame the choirs of heaven."  Then she smiled with sweet sincerity.

Airianne blushed at her words.  "I will do mine best!"

"She's smooth..."  thought Rin when she heard their conversation.  "She really knows how to treat a girl nicely."  She glanced briefly at Arturia and sighed.   

As the singing went on, Rin felt that she was in heaven.  When the clock struck ten, she was surprised that time had passed so quickly.  With great disappointment, she bid Airianne and Bedivere good night.  Airianne and Bedivere wished them good night as well, and left the room together.

As they walked back to their rooms, Rin wondered why Bedivere left with Airianne.  She was jolted from her thoughts by Arturia's voice.

"How didst thee fare in thy lesson?"

Rin smiled widely.  "Bedivere saith that mine step hath improved.  With a bit more practice, she saith that I will master it."

"Really?  If thou art close to mastering it, shall I further thy instruction?"

"Is she offering to teach me?"  she asked herself.  Suddenly, Bedivere's parting reward surfaced in her thoughts.  "If Arturia offers thee a favor, thou must refuse thrice before accepting.  She will think that thou art concerned about inconveniencing her and art considering her efforts.  She will be delighted by thy concern and will think that thou appreciate her efforts."

"Oh, what the hell..."  thought Rin as she threw caution into the wind. She replied, "Nay, thou must be tired from thy playing."

"I moved mine hands, not mine feet.  I am not tired at all."

"Okay, second excuse... hmmm..."  thought Rin.  She quickly protested, "I am a poor dancer.  I will surely step on thy feet."

"I doth not mind."

"But what if Bedivere doth not approve of thy instruction?  She will be cross with thee."

Arturia winked at her.  "Then, we shall keep it secret."

"Whither will we waltz?"

"This way, Milady."  Arturia beamed her a beautiful smile and offered her hand in the customary gesture of invitation. 

Rin put her hand on hers and was careful not to get too close to the mark.  She let Arturia lead her into her room.  Then they assumed the starting position of the dance.  Arturia began to hum and they waltzed in the basic pattern. 

Rin felt awkward at first, but managed synchronize with Arturia's rhythm.  As she gazed into Arturia's eyes, she let her body flow with her rhythm.  They just danced and danced.  Rin lost track of time.

Arturia stopped humming but continued to guide her.  The rhythm played in Rin's brain and she kept up with Arturia.  After a while, Arturia smiled proudly at her.  Her heart leapt at the sight.

"Thou no longer look at thy feet.  And thou followed thy partner's lead e'en without music.  Tis well indeed."

Rin blushed.  "Mine heart gladdens with thy praise.  But methinks I can still improve."

"Yea.  I look forward to it."

Rin was loving this day.  The race, the picnic, the singing... she enjoyed every moment of it.  And now, dancing the night away with Arturia filled her cup of joy to overflowing.

Suddenly, her foot caught on the edge of a rug and she reeled backward.  She reached out to try to grab something.

Arturia felt Rhynne slip and tried to catch her.  Without thinking, she grabbed her hand. 

The room melted away into darkness.  When she opened her eyes, she saw that she was on a dingy bed in a dimly lit room which was illuminated by moonlight shining through broken windows.  Rhynne was sitting next to her.  Syrowe was standing a few feet away with a concerned expression on his face.  She felt really weak and could not move. 

Rhynne pulled the ribbon off her shirt.  Then she unbuttoned her shirt halfway and slipped a hand in to caress her nipple.  She gasped at the sensation.  She felt lips nibbling the tip of her ear.  Rhynne's lips traveled down her neck trailing soft kisses while her hand moved from her breast to her stomach.  Her breathing became ragged as Rhynne sucked the nape of her neck while her hand slipped under the waistband of her skirt and twirled the curly strands of hair over her loins.

Then the room faded away and her eyes focused on the pattern of a rug.  With her elbows, she lifted herself up.  Her eyes left the rug to focus on Rhynne's apprehensive face.  The vision of that room flashed in her mind.  She could almost feel Rhynne's touch on her bosom. 

She hastily sprang to her feet, her arms crossed before her as if to protect her chest.  The kisses lingered on her neck.  Her hand involuntarily rose to touch the place where Rhynne had planted them.  "Why?!"  she thought. 

"Art thou all right, Arturia?"  asked Rhynne who sat up. 

Was the vision true?  Was it a dream?  Her palm tingled with the answer.  She trembled at its truth.  But the truth nagged at her and finally, she blurted out, "Rhynne, what am I to thee?"

Rhynne seemed startled at her question and did not answer right away.  When she did, she spoke softly.  "Thou art mine friend."

"Is that all?"

Once again, Rhynne did not answer right away.  And when she did, she turned her head away and answered, "Yea.  Thou art mine dear friend."

She had to get away.  So she did.  Before she knew it, she had left the room and ran to the lower level to find solace in something that she knew to be true.  To her great relief, she found Bedivere crooning Haut to sleep.  At her approach, Bedivere turned to her with a puzzled expression.

"Bedivere... I must speak with thee."

Arturia seemed very agitated.  Something must have happened.  Bedivere patted Haut and kissed him good night.  "As thou wish.  Come, let us go somewhere more appropriate."

She led Arturia to the library and stepped into one of the private rooms.  "Say what thou wish.  This room is enchanted so that none may hear beyond its walls."  She pulled up a chair for Arturia and sat on another chair nearby.

Arturia sat down and started slowly.  "Dost thou remember the marks upon mine palms?"

"Yea.  Thou wisheth to keep it to find thy memories."

Arturia nodded.  "Yea.  But to do so, I must match mine marks with Rhynne's.

Bedivere's eyebrows shot up.  This was new information.  She wondered if Merlyn knew about it.

"Whenever the marks match, I have a vision.  Most of the time, Syrowe and Rhynne art in the vision.  But they both look younger.  Tonight, mine hand touched Rhynne's as I tried to stay her fall.  And I beheld a vision of a most disturbing nature.  I was in a dark room upon a bed with Rhynne.  She... she... touched my bosom.  And then she bit mine ear and swept kisses down mine neck... and then her hand... her hand slipped under mine skirt to... to touch mine..."

"Thou need not tell me if it makes thee uneasy."  interrupted Bedivere.  She had heard enough.  Her face was hot and was probably as flushed as Arturia's.  Her description matched Syrowe's memories of the mana transfer incident. 

Bedivere's thoughts raged with disgust.  "Damn these mages and their perverted rituals!  Why must mana transfers require such intimate contact?"  Involuntarily, her hand covered her mouth.  She had no right to complain.  Each courtly greeting shared with Arturia transferred the mana that maintained her youth.  She returned her hand to her lap and wondered how she should deal with Arturia.  Since she had seen Syrowe's point of view, perhaps it would be best to determine Arturia's state of mind. 

"How didst thou feel when she touched thee?"

"I felt... embarrassed.  Syrowe was watching and..."

"What if Syrowe was not there?  How didst thou feel?"

"... Her touch... made mine skin tingle.  Her kisses filled me with a strange sense of exhilaration.  But... I felt that it was wrong."

"Why?"

"It seemeth to me... that she hath done so out of necessity.  During that time, I felt weak... so weak.  I did not want her to do something inappropriate because of mine weakness."

"Aha!"  exclaimed Bedivere internally.  A mote of understanding formed in Bedivere's mind.  Arturia was more concerned that Rhynne was being forced to touch her.  Now she had something to work with.

"Arturia, tis not a flaw upon thy character to ask for aid."

"But... to do such an... an intimate thing with me... tis far too much to ask."

"Dost thou revile her touch?"

"Nay!"

"Oh, so will thou accept her touch?"

Arturia fell silent.  Was it all right for Rhynne to touch her?  She thought back to the time when Rhynne bandaged her in the inn.  Then she remembered the times that they bathed together.  Slowly, the answer crept out of her lips.  "Yea..."

"So... why dost thou think that she will not want to touch thee?"

Arturia's eyes grew wide and stared at Bedivere.  Until now, it did not occur to her that Rhynne would want to touch her.  It seemed unlikely.  "She hath no reason to want such a thing.  I'm sure of it!"

Bedivere rubbed her forehead with exasperation.  As usual, Arturia was being very oblivious.  She had to phrase her words carefully.

"Suppose then, that she did want to touch you.  Would thy vision disturb thee so?"

Arturia blinked.  If Rhynne did not mind touching her, then there was no need to worry about her being forced to do something inappropriate.  But the very thought that Rhynne would actually want to touch her still seemed unlikely.  "Why art thou suggesting such a thing?  Rhynne is... she is..."

"Thou didst not answer mine question.  Would thy vision disturb thee if she didst want to touch thee?"

"Nay..."

"So then, if thou knew that she didst not mind touching thee, then thou would no longer be disturbed.  Is that correct?"

"Tis true... mine heart will be at ease if Rhynne didst not mind it."

"Thus we art left with one more question.  Doth Rhynne mind touching thee?"

"I... know not..."

With a mischievous grin, Bedivere asked, "Shall I ask her for thee?"

"Nay!"  Arturia stood up with a face full of indignation and embarrassment. 

Bedivere held her palms out in resignation.  "Well, I know not her mind either."

Arturia sat down and cradled her head in her hands.  "What should I do?"

Bedivere slouched in the chair and thought for a few moments before an idea manifested itself.  She smiled at herself for thinking of it and even more as she imagined Arturia following her suggestion.  She put aside her own amusement.  "Instead trying to pick up the pieces of thy past, why not start anew?"

Arturia looked up.  "Start anew?  Pray, elaborate."

"Court her."

"Court... her...?"  Arturia stood up and began to pace.  Eventually, she stopped and mumbled.  "But I'm not sure if I desire her that way..."

"Mine ears reject thy words.  Doth she not sleep in thy bed?"

"That is a different matter!  Mine dreams have been ghastly as of late."

"What didst thou dream of?"

Arturia gripped the cloth of her skirt and shuddered.  "In one dream, I was in a battle.  Many fell before mine blade.  But... when I beheld their faces... they had none..."

"None?!"  exclaimed Bedivere. 

"Yea... no eyes, no nose, no mouth... tis very unsettling."  Arturia paused.  "But... there was a knight who challenged me... she wore a helm and smote me with such mighty blows.  But eventually, mine blow struck true and her helm sundered twain.  And, when the helm fell, I beheld... I beheld a face like mine own."

Her tears were streaming down her cheeks.  She could not stem their flow.  Her heart wrenched at the sight of that face.  With a trembling voice, she cried out, "Oh!  What have I done?!"  She bent over and wept into her hands.

Bedivere took her into her arms.  She held her in silence.  Her thoughts wandered to that awful battle.  When she finally spotted them fighting, she rushed to them as quickly as she could.  But in the end, she watched in horror as a parent struck down her own child.

She slew the enemies around Arturia and carried her out of the battlefield.  Then she tended Arturia's injuries as best as she could.  With a silent prayer, she went to look for Mordred.  When she found her, she hoped that her mutilated body would still show signs of life.  Sadly, her hopes were in vain and she returned to Arturia with a prayer to God to save her.

And thankfully, God was listening and led Rhynne to Arturia.  Bedivere held her closer.  She wanted to be God's instrument in saving Arturia.  But Rhynne was granted that honor.  Ever since she came to the Aerie, she could only watch silently as Arturia showed Rhynne her kind smile, her cheerful laugh, her gentle touch, and most of all, her trusting gaze that betrayed the warmth of her heart. 

Bedivere sighed.  At least, Arturia was alive.  That was enough for her.  

When she had calmed down, Arturia asked in a muffled voice,  "Bedivere... who am I?"

Bedivere paused for a moment to choose her words carefully.  "Thou art a knight like me."

"Will thou tell me about mine self?"

"Mayhap, a little.  But Merlyn saw it fit that thou should wait until thy memory return by itself."

"Why?"

"I doth not know.  When she returns, thou may ask her.  But for now, I shall heed her counsel."

"I see."  Arturia paused.  "Canst thou tell me the lord whom we serve?"

"We serve God and country." replied Bedivere evasively.

"Then who is our king?"

Bedivere repeated Merlyn's message with a note of finality.  "Constantine is king."  It was done.  King Arthur's reign was over.  She stroked Arturia's head.  But Arturia was still alive and she was determined to fulfill her oath until she released her from it.

"Oh.  Methinks I doth not remember him."  Her hands gripped Bedivere's dress.  "Must I return to his service?"

"Nay.  Thou art granted leave until thy memory returns."

"I am glad.  For e'en thou I know not mine self, mine time here hath been most pleasant."

"And I am in accord with thee."

They held each other in silence for a while.  Finally, Arturia spoke up.  "What should I do about Rhynne?"

"Dost thou still wish to know her heart?"

"Yea... though mine own beats with trepidation on acquiring such knowledge, mine curiosity remains unabated."

"Then tis a good time to find out."

"How?"

Bedivere smiled sweetly at her, but there was a wicked glint in her eyes.  She lifted her chin with her finger and lowered her face to gaze into her eyes.  "I hath given thee instruction before.  Shall I refresh thy memory?"

Arturia shuddered as she remembered those lessons.  "Nay... I remember."

"Tis well, for I would be shamed if mine pupil neglected to apply mine instruction."  She spread her hands to her sides as if she were presenting a play.  "The stage is thine.  I look forward to thy performance."

"Will thou be mine judge?"

"Nay.  Rhynne shall be thy judge."  She grinned widely at her.

"Art thou amused by mine misery?"

"Nay, thou art mistaken."

"Then why dost thou sport a grin on thy face?"

"Thou remindeth me of mine son when he came to me for counsel on how to court a certain maiden."

"Why did he come to thee?  Should he not ask his uncle?"

"I asked him the same question."  Bedivere blushed.  "He replied that he hath heard many a court lady spake fondly of me.  At first, I was shamed that he hath heard such inappropriate rumors, but he assured me by saying that he was proud to be mine son, for not many can boast that their mother is a knight of such noble bearing."

Arturia laughed.  "Tis an amusing tale!"

"Not as amusing as the time when mine daughter sought me for the same counsel."

"Nay!"

"Yea.  It seemeth that a young maiden hath captured her heart.  As a mother, I had to caution her of the pitfalls of such an endeavor, but I wisheth her well all the same."

Arturia's face grew serious again.  "What counsel didst thou provide her?"

"Not the same as thine, Arturia.  Thy lessons were special."  Bedivere held her hands in her own.  "For thee, I hath given all that I can give."

Arturia blushed at the memory and looked down.  Bedivere had done her best to instruct her.  She must do the same.  She faced Bedivere with sincerity laced in her voice.  "Mine spirit hath lifted with thy counsel.  Know that I am in thy debt."

"Tis mine pleasure to provide thee counsel."  Bedivere put her arm around her and walked her to the door.  "Tis late.  Shall I accompany thee to bed?  For e'en if thy dreams plague thee, we shall face them together."

Arturia laughed and opened the door.  "Then I shall expect thee in mine dreams."

They laughed at themselves and headed towards Bedivere's room to get some sleep.  After they changed into their nightgowns, they slipped under the covers.  Arturia fell asleep within a few minutes.  Bedivere stared at the bed's canopy.  It had been a long time since she and Arturia shared the same bed.  She closed her eyes and remembered a past that she would never forget.


---------------------


The wine gushed forth like a geyser.  Bedivere hastily brought her hand to her mouth to keep the rest of the liquid in.  She swallowed quickly and put her goblet down.  Then she pulled her handkerchief out and wiped her mouth.

"Milord, stay thy jest when I drink wine.  Thou hath made me spill a most excellent vintage." said Bedivere with a slight frown.

"I jest not."  Arturia stood before her with nervous determination.  "Once again, canst thou tell me how to consummate mine marriage?"

"Surely, thou must have heard something from Sir Kay about the method."

"I hath asked him, but he always hath some matter to attend to."

"And thy sister?"

"She is away on a voyage." 

Bedivere leaned back and tapped her fingers on her leg in thought.  "Why now?  I thought her Majesty was content to be thy queen in name?"

Arturia began to pace.  "Yea, twas mine thought too.  But recently, she hath beseeched me several times to... to lay with her."  Her cheeks flushed.  "I pressed her to tell me why and she claimed that she loved me.  But I continued to refuse and eventually she told me that she wanted to bear me an heir.  Then I tried to explain to her that I hath no manhood to accomplish her behest, but she insisted that we must make an attempt anyway for surely I will find some means to give her a child."

"Even Avalon can not do such a thing."  Bedivere paused.  "Is she aware of Avalon?"

"Nay.  Twas no need for her to know."  

Bedivere sighed.  "Tis inevitable, I suppose.  Eight years hath passed since thy marriage and she hath not given thee an heir.  She must have overheard the scorn of some court lady about it."

Arturia sighed.  "Mine apologies.  I hath asked something inappropriate of thee."

"Nay, thou need not apologize.  I hear and obey mine King's command.  I will be honored to instruct thee."

"Thou will?"  asked Arturia excitedly.

"Yea."

Arturia wrung her hands.  "So... uh... how will we proceed?"

"From the beginning.  First, thou must express thy love to thy lady.  But thou must accomplish this in a way that will make her feel special."

"How?"

"Sing her a song about thy love, write her a poem extolling her innumerable virtues, and so forth.  Since we have the entire day to ourselves, why not sing me a song, Milord?"

"Ah... all right."  Arturia cleared her voice and began to sing nervously.

  Alas, mine love, thou do me wrong,
  To cast me off discourteously.

Bedivere held up her hand.  "Nay.  E'ery minstrel from moor to high tower hath sung that to countless maidens.  Thy lady is the love of thy life.  She deserveth much more than a paltry wayside song.  Hmm... methinks twould be best if thou accompany it with an instrument.  There might be a harp in the storeroom."

Arturia sighed.  "Very well, I shall fetch yon harp and sing thee a song."

Arturia found the harp and tuned it.  She took a deep breath and began to sing in a crooning melody.  Bedivere had not heard this song before.  The harp's harmony wove through her song like silk.  The lyrics were sweet and endearing.  When she was finished, Bedivere clapped graciously. 

"Whither hath thou heard this song?"

Arturia put the harp down on the table.  "When I was a squire, the bard Taliesin graced Sir Ector's hall with a visit.  When he was done, Sir Ector asked him to pen down the words of the song.  Then, when no one was near, I would spy upon the writ song and sing it until I committed it to memory.  Is it to thy liking?"

"Verily so.  I am taken by its elegance.  Thou wert lucky to have heard such a song from such a famous bard."

Bedivere refilled her goblet.  "Since thy song hath mine approval, I beseech thee to take up a quill and pen me a poem."

Arturia got some parchment, a quill and an inkbottle from a cabinet.  She sat down on a table and began to write.  While waiting, Bedivere sipped her wine and munched on an apple.  Finally, Arturia stood up and handed her the parchment.  Bedivere made no move to take it.

"Nay, Milord.  Thou must present thy poem appropriately.  Thou may recite thy poem to thy lady or enclose thy poem in a bundle of flowers."

Arturia nodded in understanding and read the poem to Bedivere.

  Oh mine love, thou art true and strong.
  No three men smite more than thee
  For thy sword is sharp and long...

Bedivere cleared her throat.  "Milord, thou must speak of thy lady's beauty, her grace, her kindness and so forth.  Mayhap, thou might examine Taliesin's song for an example."

Arturia tried again and recited her new poem.  Bedivere nodded in approval.  "Tis well.  Now, I shall present thee several situations with thy lady.  After I describe it to thee, thou shall answer with thy course of action to deal with the situation.  Art thou ready?"

"Yea.  Let us begin."

Bedivere patiently described each scenario to Arturia and evaluated Arturia's answers.  She explained why it was more appropriate to do one thing versus another.  She ended the exercise by saying, "Thou must show that thou hold her in the highest regard and art considerate of her well-being above all others.  E'en if tis not true, thou must make it appear so."

Bedivere glanced out the window and noted the shadows cast by the sun.  "Shall we have our noon day meal?"

"Yea, I am quite hungry."

"Then let us have it outside.  When thou take thy lady out for a picnic, thou must prepare the food and a blanket to sit upon.  The kitchen should have some food and a basket to put the food in.  I shall prepare our horses and await thee outside."

"I understand.  I shall be with thee anon."

When Arturia was ready, they secured the manor and mounted their horses. 

"Lead the way, Milord.  Find a place suitable for a picnic."

Arturia thought for a moment and smiled.  "Methinks I know of a suitable place.  Follow me."

They rode through the woods and up a steep hill.  They rode down the hill and stopped by a stream.  A small waterfall that was flowing out of a rocky crevice on the side of the hill fed the stream.  On both banks of the stream were bushes of blooming wild flowers.  Arturia dismounted near a thick patch of grass.

"Is this satisfactory?"

Bedivere dismounted as well.  "Yea, tis quite admirable.  Well done." 

Arturia laid out the blanket and the food from the basket.  Bedivere sat down and selected some food on a plate.  When Arturia finished picking her food, she held out her plate to Arturia.

"I will feed thee and thou will feed me."

Arturia blushed. "Bedivere... this... what thou ask... is it not embarrassing?" 

"Of course it is, since I am not thy heart's desire.  But when thou art with thy lady, thou may not mind at all."

"Really?"  Arturia fell silent for a moment.  "I am ashamed to admit that... I would be embarrassed to do this with Guinevere."

Bedivere looked at Arturia sadly.  She held out her plate once more.  "Here..."

Arturia took the plate and gave hers to Bedivere.  After a bit of practice, Arturia got better at feeding Bedivere without shoving her fork too far into her mouth.

Bedivere picked up some grapes.  "Now feed me some grapes, Milord."

Arturia took a grape with her index finger and thumb and held it out to Bedivere.  Bedivere leaned forward and captured it along with the tips of Arturia's fingers.  Arturia gasped and withdrew her hand hastily.

"Must thou do that?"

"Yea, and thou must do the same."

Arturia blushed and did as she was told.  While they ate, Bedivere gestured towards the patch of blooming flowers.  "Milord, dost thou know the meaning of those flowers?"

"Meaning?"

"When a lady presents thee a red rose in a tourney, dost thou know what she wisheth to convey?"

"Uh... to ask me to be her champion?"

"Tis true that she asks that of thee, but the rose bears the meaning that she fancies thee.  Thus, she is able to convey her heart at the same time."

"Oh.  No one e'er explained that to me."

Bedivere sighed.  "Then listen well, Milord.  I shall tell thee the meaning of each flower nearby."  She gestured to each one and told her what it symbolized.  Then she discussed the meanings of flowers that were not present.  She ended her lecture by saying, "So when thou assemble a bundle of flowers for thy lady, select ones that will convey thy heart to her."

When their meal was done, they packed up rode back to the manor.  They stabled their horses and went back inside.

"Come, Milord.  Let us refresh ourselves with a bath."

They went to the bath and undressed.  After gathering some towels and soap, they went to the washing area.  Bedivere handed Arturia her washcloth.

"Let me guess..." said Arturia dryly.  "I must wash thee and thou must wash me."

Bedivere smiled smugly.  "Thou art learning quickly."

They washed each other and rinsed.  Then they soaked in the small pool. 

"Milord, massage mine shoulders."

"Uh... I doth not know how..."

"Then tis a good time to learn.  I shall instruct thee."

After a bit of practice, Arturia softened up the muscles in her shoulders.  Bedivere sighed contentedly.  "Milord, when thou art done, massage mine feet."  Arturia nodded and went to her feet to massage it.

"Bedivere..."

"Yes, Milord?"

"After all this... I can not help but wonder... why thou would do this with... them...?"

Despite the warmth of the bath, Bedivere felt her cheeks flush.  Did Arturia hear those wild rumors about those court ladies?  How should she answer?  After a few seconds of thought, she decided that she would satisfy Arturia's curiosity but not betray their trust.

"Milord, I know all too well the demands of duty.  Thus, I acted out of compassion for those who sought solace.  However, tis unchivalrous of me to discuss any details.  Thus, I beseech thee to press no further."

Arturia silently nodded and continued massaging.  When they had finished bathing, they wiped each other dry.  Bedivere asked Arturia to brush her hair.  After her hair was brushed nicely, Arturia reached for her clothes but Bedivere stopped her. 

"Nay.  We shall wear these robes, Milord."

Arturia's face betrayed her puzzlement, but she obeyed.  Bedivere led her to the upstairs bedrooms.  She selected a spacious room with a large bed and closed the door behind them.  Then she went to each window and drew the curtains shut.  She took Arturia's hand and led her to the bed.  She pulled the bed covers aside.

"Milord, take mine robe off.  Slowly."

Arturia reached over and unknotted her sash.  Her hands rose up to grasp the lapels of the robe and slowly pulled them apart.  The robe slid off her shoulders and down her arms to reveal her ample bosom. 

"When thou undress thy lady, doth not forget to marvel at her God-given gifts."  said Bedivere as her robe fell to the floor. 

Bedivere reached over and disrobed Arturia in a similar manner.  Then she took a step towards Arturia and gazed into her eyes.  "Milord, please pay attention to what I am about to do.  I beseech thee to be patient and allow me to do as I wish."

Arturia swallowed.  "Very well."  she replied in a nervous voice.  "Do as thou wish."

Bedivere smiled and ran her fingers through Arturia's hair.  Then she lowered her face to kiss Arturia's lips.  She felt Arturia stiffen so she gently caressed her lips and brought her hand down to her cheek to stroke it.  When she felt Arturia relax, she parted her mouth and slowly guided her tongue in.  She explored the inside of Arturia's mouth and noted her reactions.

Bedivere's hand slid down Arturia's arm and slipped around her waist.  Slowly, she turned until she faced the bed.  Then she lowered Arturia onto the bed.

She ended the kiss and trailed kisses down Arturia's neck.  Meanwhile, her hand crept up to Arturia's breasts to play with them.  Arturia gasped as she tickled a nipple.

Bedivere's lips settled on the nape of her neck.  She licked it and savored the taste of Arturia's skin.  Then she sucked on her skin gently.  Arturia gasped again and squirmed under her.

Her right hand traveled lower and her legs slid between Arturia's to part them.  She watched Arturia's face as her fingertips raked across her stomach and abdomen.  Arturia's lips trembled as she did so. 

Her hand reached the curly hair above her loins.  She ran her fingers through them, enjoying its downy softness against her skin.  Then her fingers slid further to caress the soft flesh between her legs. 

Bedivere lowered her head to take Arturia's nipple in her mouth.  Her fingers explored the folds of her flesh and stroked its sensitive spots.  Arturia brought her hands up to her shoulders, as if she were preparing to push her off.

Bedivere looked up questioningly.  Arturia was breathing heavily.  She stared blankly for a moment and then closed her eyes.  She lowered her hands to her sides and nodded.  Bedivere understood and resumed sucking on her nipple.  Arturia squirmed and gasped as she played with the nipple with her tongue.

Her legs parted Arturia's even further and her mouth left her breast.  She trailed kisses down her stomach and abdomen.  Soon, she reached Arturia's loins and spent a few moments looking at it.

"Bedivere..."  whispered Arturia hoarsely.  Her face was flushed and turned to the side.  "...must thou look?"

"Yea... and thou must do the same for thy lady.  Prepare thyself."

Arturia let out a loud gasp and gripped the bed sheets with her hands as Bedivere expertly stroked her flesh with her tongue.  She continued to gasp with each stroke.

Bedivere looked up.  "Thou must observe thy lady carefully.  Watch her face, hear her breathing, feel her move under thy body... watch and learn how she reacts to thee.  For instance, how is this..."  Bedivere flicked her tongue at a certain part of her flesh.  Arturia gasped in response.

"Compared to this..."  She located that sensitive spot and sucked on it slightly.

Arturia let out a small scream.  Bedivere smiled in satisfaction and crawled up to meet Arturia's flushed face.  "Watch thy lady carefully, and thou will know her need."

She turned Arturia's face to gaze into her eyes.  "I didst not take thee.  Thy chastity is intact."

She slipped her arms around Arturia's back and straddled her.  Then with a flip, she brought Arturia to lie on top of her.  Arturia lay upon her as if exhausted.  Bedivere waited until her breathing returned to normal.  Then she bent close to her ear and whispered, "Didst thou pay attention?  If so, do unto me as I hath done unto thee."

Arturia lifted herself up with her elbows and stared at Bedivere.  Bedivere leered at her.  "Art thou afraid of me, Milord?" challenged Bedivere.

"Nay... tis I whom I fear."

Arturia bent to kiss her lips.  For the next ten minutes, Bedivere gasped, squirmed and writhed just as much as Arturia had.  This time, Arturia wore a smug smile on her face.  "Was that satisfactory?"

"Yea... verily..." replied Bedivere hoarsely.  "Thou art an apt pupil.  Now... go down to mine loins... and feel it once more."  Arturia obeyed.  "Dost thou feel the wetness of mine flesh?"

"Yea, tis rather slick."

"That is a sign that thy lady is ready for thee.  Feel around mine flesh.  Thou will find a small cleft that deepens."

"Is this it?"

"Yea... now take thy finger and plunge it into the cleft."

"What?!"  exclaimed Arturia in surprise.

"Do it.  It will not hurt me."

Arturia swallowed visibly and did as she was told.  Bedivere felt Arturia enter her. 

"Listen carefully, Milord.  That is where a man's manhood enters to deliver his seed into his lady.  He will thrust his manhood repeatedly within her to coax it to dispense his seed.  With God's grace, that seed may bear fruit as a child.  But... thou art not a man.  E'en so, thou may still give thy lady pleasure.  This part of a woman's loins is very sensitive.  Thou only need to discover how to stroke it to delight thy lady. 

If thy lady is chaste, enter her slowly, for a part of her flesh bars the entrance of the cleft.  This will lessen the pain that she will feel.  But be at ease, for the pain will pass.  And, just above this cleft, is another sensitive piece of flesh.  When thou screamed, twas that part that I touched."

Arturia trembled at the memory.  "I suppose then, that I am to discover what delights thee?"

"Correct.  Stroke the insides of her flesh and that part above the cleft.  Use everything that thou hath learned so far.  Master her body as thou mastered thy harp, and she will fill thy night with her song.  When thou had pleasured thy lady enough, a strong tremor will run through her body and she will convulse and writhe against thee with great fervor.  That is a sign that thou had achieved thy goal.  Art thou ready to undertake thy lesson?"

"Yea."  Arturia planted her lips on Bedivere's neck and began. 

She was an apt pupil indeed.  Bedivere squirmed and gasped in pleasure as Arturia's fingers ran rampant all over her skin and within her.  Slowly, waves of passion built up within her.  Then it gathered itself to a mighty crest and swamped her senses under.  She screamed hoarsely and shuddered against Arturia.  But Arturia did not stop.  Instead, she coaxed those waves to well up again, like a cavalry regrouping for a second charge.  The waves crashed again and her other senses were dulled by the fire raging between her legs.  She threw her head back and cried out in bliss.  There was a sound of fabric being torn. 

Arturia stopped and lay down on her side to face her.  She was flushed from her efforts and was breathing hard from her exertions.   Bedivere took the moment to catch her breath.  She lifted her hand to wipe the sweat dripping into her eye and was surprised to find feathers clinging to them.  She glanced to her side.  The bed sheet was ripped and downy feathers spilled out of the tear.

"Behold what thou hath made me do..."  whispered Bedivere.

"Me?!  Twas thou who clawed the bed like a mad beast!"  Arturia paused.  "Art thou satisfied with mine performance?"

"Yea... twas more than I expected... much more."

Arturia leaned back to lie on her back.  "Am I ready to... lay with Guinevere?"

Bedivere paused for a moment.  "Nay... I have one more lesson for thee."  She lifted herself up on her elbows and caressed Arturia's cheek.  "Milord, when a lady gives herself away, she bares both her heart and body.  She doth not do so lightly, for as thou hath seen, she loses both her innocence and her chastity.  Once she loses her chastity, she can not take it back.  That is why it is so important for her to give it to the one she loves." 

Bedivere paused and reflected on her past.  "When I married mine husband, I did so out of duty, not love.  Our first night together was very painful for me.  There were nights when I wept silently after he took me.  At the time, he did not have a place in mine heart, and e'ery time he entered me, I felt that he invaded mine heart."

A scowl began to form on Arturia's face and Bedivere noticed it.  "But do not despise him so.  For if it were not for our marriage, God would not have gifted me with mine children.  And, when thou requested that I join thy court, he was kind enough to look after mine children's needs and education whilst I was away in court.  So, by the time he joined God in heaven, he hath earned a place in mine heart as a friend."

"So when thou lay with thy lady, think of the trust that she hath in thee and of the gift that she offers.  If thou art unsure, imagine thyself in thy lady's place, and think of offering thyself in the same situation.  Let thy heart and judgment guide thy actions."

"Bedivere, thou contradict thyself!" cried Arturia in alarm.  "Why didst thou let me take thee?"

"Because, Milord... I love thee." 

Arturia's eyes grew wide at her confession.  She stared at her in shock.  When the shock passed, Arturia blurted out, "I was a fool to beseech thee in this manner!  Mine heart aches at the immensity of thy gift.  I must repay thy kindness!"  She grasped Bedivere's arm and pulled her towards her.

Bedivere pushed her away slightly and said in a firm voice, "Nay, Milord!  Thou wert not paying attention!  No matter how much thou command me, I will not take thee."  Then her eyes softened.  Ever since they started this morning, she tested not just Arturia's skill, but also her heart.  The signs that she saw from Arturia told her the answer to her own question.  She tried to restrain the disappointment in her voice.  "That honor is reserved for the one who hath won thy heart.  And though it pains me to admit it, I am not the one."

Arturia cupped Bedivere's face in her hands.  "What must I do to compensate thee for thy gift?"

"Nothing, Milord."  Bedivere lay back on the bed and closed her eyes.  "At the moment, I feel very compensated."

"There must be something..."

Bedivere turned her face towards her.  "The only thing that I might wish for, is for thy permission to serve thee and stay by thy side."

Arturia smiled.  "That I can grant."  She held out her hand.

Bedivere looked at her hand until her intention dawned on her mind.  She clasped her hand firmly with her own.

Then Arturia pulled her into a kiss to reaffirm the oath of service between them.  Fresh mana flowed from her lips into Bedivere's mouth. 

When the transfer was done, Arturia pulled away and leered at her.  "There art still a few hours before sundown.  Shall I compensate thee some more?"

Bedivere trembled visibly.  "Nay, Milord.  Methinks the bed will not last.  And twould be difficult to ride back if we exhaust ourselves."

"What should we do?"

"Allow me to rest, Milord.  Unlike thee, mine stamina hath limits.  And thy instruction was tiring."

"I shall accompany thee."

They slept for a couple of hours before they dressed up and rode back to Camelot.  When they dismounted at the courtyard, Guinevere greeted them.  Her finely chiseled face reflected her noble Roman bloodline.  A fragile but intricate gold headpiece which symbolized her crown nestled in her braided brown hair.  She wore a blue and beige gown which was richly ornamented with gold embroidery.  Her poise and dignity befitted her regal manner.  Bedivere knelt on one knee in her presence.

"Good evening, mine King, Sir Bedivere.  How didst thou fare in thy hunt?"  Guinevere extended her hand to Arturia.

Arturia took Guinevere's hand and kissed it.  "Poorly.  As thou can see."

Guinevere turned to Bedivere.  Her hazel brown eyes narrowed as she looked down at her.  She extended her hand.  "The deer must have become crafty to evade thy renowned tracking skill."

Bedivere noted the slight chill in her voice.  Her brother's warning came into her mind:  "Have a care in her Majesty's presence.  Methinks she is envious of the bond thou shareth with his Majesty." 

Keeping her head bowed, she took Guinevere's hand and kissed it.  "Methinks thy assessment is correct.  I must devise new methods to find them."

"Mayhap, Sir Kay may share his methods with thee.  He hath returned with a fine buck an hour ago."

Bedivere ignored the subtle accusation.  She lifted her face slightly to show her elation.  "That is splendid news!  I shall consult him as soon as possible."

"Shall we go, mine Queen?"  Arturia offered her arm to Guinevere.  The conversation was taking an unusual turn, and she felt the need to separate Guinevere and Bedivere.

Guinevere hooked her arm with Arturia's and sidled up to her.  She smiled winsomely.  "As thy Majesty wishes."

With that, they parted ways.  Arturia escorted Guinevere to the inner keep of the castle while Bedivere went to her quarters in the outer keep. 

The next day, Bedivere rode out for her usual morning gallop.  After she was done, she rode to her favorite tree and sat down to have some breakfast.  While she was eating, she heard the sound of galloping and was surprised to see Arturia.

"Good morning."  greeted Bedivere as she put her food away and stood up.

"Good morning."  replied Arturia as she dismounted.

"How art thou?"

Arturia did not reply at once and turned her gaze to the valley.  Her eyes stared into the distance sadly.  Finally, she spoke, "I could not do it, Bedivere.  I could not take her."  Arturia faced her.  "Have I failed in mine duty as a husband?"

"One may argue that thou hath failed."  Bedivere strode over to stand next to Arturia.  "I will not judge thee.  And I will smite anyone who judges thee."

"Thy last lesson was too harsh."

Bedivere looked around to see if anyone was nearby.  When she could see no one, she hugged Arturia.  "As thy teacher, I must do mine duty to the fullest of mine ability." 

She paused and reflected on Arturia's decision.  "If it is of any solace, tis mine thought that tis better to be hated than to do something that will scar thy conscience for the rest of thy life."

Arturia tightened her hug.  "Mine thanks.  Mine spirit lifts with thy words."  Arturia pulled away.  She looked at Bedivere sadly.  Then she reached out and grasped her left wrist.  She put her hand on the gauntlet that replaced her left hand.  "Thou hath given me so much..."

"Nay, Milord.  Thou hath given me much more.  If thou hath not called me into thy service, I would have lived the rest of my life as an ordinary married woman.  For that, I am grateful.  Very, very grateful."

"Mine thanks.  It gladdens mine heart to hear that."  Arturia let go of the gauntlet.  "Court will commence soon.  I must prepare.  I shall see thee later."

"Later, then."

Bedivere watched her gallop away.  Then she sat with her back against the rough bark of the tree.  She closed her eyes, and with a smile, relived yesterday's events.




Chapter  9
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