It was that time of the year again.
So quickly it reappeared. The years vanished with a flurry of regularity and routine and now this was my third witnessing of this particular event. I sighed. Not only did I dread the coming week but I also lamented the fact that three years of my life had gone by with no change or improvements to my predicament. I closed my eyes and forced myself not to think about it. I had much to do. Too much to do with too little hope that it would make any difference.
I turned to look out the window again. There they were. Yet again they marched forth with their clumsy and false pageantry. They were oafs masquerading as peacocks with bright garments and embellishments of garish colors. The seemed so very proud as they paraded themselves to the peasants who cheered just because that was their rulers wish. Soon the horses would be dismounted, and the field would be a hive of activity as the many tents would be raised, flags hoisted, and the fires would be lit. And somewhere in between the drinking would commence.
These were the last days of Autumn and marked the end of campaigning season. The return of the Army meant the start of the worse week of the year for me and the beginning of a miserable winter irrespective of how cold the weather turned. I shouldn’t complain, it wasn’t going to make any difference to the outcome. And yet I couldn’t help but glare out at the hoard and wish.
There were two separate groups arriving, they were joined together for seven days and during that time they would create mayhem, and then most of the army would disperse. It was not usually these, the common soldiers, who worried me. The men, who I could see congratulating themselves and who were now occupying the south field, these were the Kings Guard, and these were the ones who represented the largest problem. They were not farmers or herdsmen but professional warriors and knew only war. They had no lands to tender, no wife to return to or children to parent, for war was their only love. All winter they would stay housed together, drinking and telling tales of war, honor and glory on the battlefield.
In Spring the mud would subside, the fields would be planted, and the bards would come with tales of far-off villains, of injustices that begged for correction, and of easy victories. They filled the children’s heads of brave heroes who slayed creatures so vile and rescued maidens so pure and so beautiful that mortal men could not stand in their presence. The eyes of the men and the boys would widen as they sharpened their swords and prepared their armor. The Kings Guard never lacked for volunteers when recruiting and the army would swell. The women always wept as they waved their husbands and sons off in the knowledge that the chance of them returning was slim but the chance of them returning a hero was near on impossible.
The long summer days would pass as the women and children work the fields and tend to the crops. Then, as the days grew short and the harvests ripened, the woman would turn their heads to the road north in anticipation of the return of the men. Those weeks were tense with anxious women and much bickering. Yet once the heralds rode in announcing the Kings return, the atmosphere changed again. No one slept as the castle was a hive of chaotic activity with the many chores that needed to be completed in order to welcome the King and prepare for the celebrations.
And now the King and his Army was here, the cycle would start again.
But first I had the celebration week to survive. Over this coming week the entirety of the Kings forces would feast and toast those who did not return. They would tell their stories, sing, drink and celebrate their return. And approximately nine months afterwards the babies would be born.
Many of these children were born in wedlock and to proud parents. Those were not the ones who concerned me. I turned to the giggling and wide-eyed young ladies crowded in my sitting room. It was the babies who were born to crying girls that concerned me.
“Young ladies, I have asked you here this morning to listen to me and to heed my advice. You have all seen the tents. You all know that the King and his army returned in the early hours of this morning.” An excited buzz filled the room, “Some of you remember previous year’s triumphant return and the celebrations that followed, but some of you are new to my staff.”
My eyes searched out the girls who I knew to be fresh and new and was met with vacant looks
“These men have fought and have killed on the battlefield in the name of our Kingdom, they are worth of our respect and our awe. We owe them much. We owe them our gratitude.”
I paused to let the trilling agreement settle and to allow my words the emphasis they deserved.
“However, we do not owe them our virginity or our virtue. You are not required to lie with them just because they picked up a sword and gained a scar. They are the same men who left here all those months ago, war has not made them into heroes nor should it make you into weak minded whores.”
The room was silent, the ladies pink cheeked and avoiding eye contact. Their embarrassment would be short lived. I knew I had to push further if I stood any chance of making a difference this year.
“You are under no obligation to spread your legs for any of these men,” I said the words slowly hoping that they would sink in, “They are not your husbands, and they will never be your betrothed, no matter what they promise. This week they will drink and then they will beget anything that moves. They will not see you as the beautiful young ladies that you are, instead they will see you as conquests, as the final victory in their campaign. You will be little more than vessels in which they spurt their seed.”
I stopped and took a breath. It wouldn’t help matters if I became emotional.
“The only thing they can promise you is one short moment of sex,” I said bluntly, “Any words implying a life together after he has spent his seed within you, are a lie. Love does not exist for these men, no matter how genuinely they profess themselves. They only seek another chapter in their story or another verse to their song. They won’t even remember your name.”
“You deserve better than the misery that such an indiscretion will bring you,” I made my voice stern and glared at them all, “Let the whores satisfy their lusts. You are ladies of the court, remember that. Any child conceived will ruin you, causing you to lose your position on my staff, be disowned by your family, ostracized by your peers and birth the child in solitude and poverty. You all know this to be true.”
I let that sink in before I continued in a softer voice.
“You all have bright futures ahead of you which promise loving husbands,” I tried to catch the eyes of those who I was most concerned for, “When you meet that perfect man and he carries you across the threshold and places you on the marital bed, do you not think that he will expect you to be intact? Men have abandoned their wives for sins less severe.”
“A good man expects a good wife,” I sighed, I was starting to drone on. I knew it and so did my audience.
“Travel together, support each other,” I said with defeat, “Remember that these men have known only violence over the campaign season and with alcohol they may forget their honor. Do not give them the opportunity to take the action without consent. We are a family. Look after each other. And remember my warnings.”
I watched the young ladies leave before I turned to Aine.
“I know, but I have to try,” I said to her knowing look.
“I especially liked ‘beget anything that moves’ and ‘vessels for their spurting seed’,” she smiled a cheeky grin, “those were new this year. I personally would have been more direct, ‘ladies of the court these are not men but walking hard flesh swords with only one purpose, to ejaculate as often as physically possible over the coming week.’,”
“Yes, thanks for that Aine,” I shook my head with a grimace, “Very in keeping with my Lady of the House title. Next year I will get you to write, and deliver, the speech, maybe your way might yield better results.”
“That would definitely ruin any chance I have of finding a good man as a husband,” she laughed.
“True, so the chore remains with me,” I signed, “Did you see young Ginny, her eyes were glazed over. She has probably been up against the wall already, petticoats bunched up and a squire ramming himself into her soft flesh. How many do you think will be lost this year?”
“Hard to say, but it is better each year,” she shrugged, “Remember our first year, the girls from the previous hero’s return. There were seven lost to the convent that year. Five the next year, the first year of your speech, and we only lost two this year when their indiscretions could no longer be hidden. That was a good year. I will keep an eye on Ginny and ensure that she is kept in the kitchens. Ohh, and did you hear? He’s brought back a foreign Knight this year.”
“Yes, there is much gossip about that one, “ I snorted a laugh, “He is suppose to be the reincarnation of Archimedes, a true demi-god, a genuine hero. He even has his own followers. I suspect he will be trouble if he believes himself to be a god.”
“Yes, the King is quite smitten with him,” Aine laughed, “Should be fun.”
“I hate this week,” I groaned as I left her and went to supervise the feast preparations in the great hall.