Chapter Nine: Mediaeval Wedding
Fourteen days. Fourteen days of riding on horseback through some of the worst rain and muck and mire in the land. Fourteen rotten days without bathing, water dripping down my back like a waterfall. Boots so soggy I swear they were made out of moss.
My poor horse. He had not been dry in a fortnight, sleeping wet at night, often as not under trees dripping with moisture. A barn or a shed, if we found it, damn near as wet as the soggy ground outside.
My squire, uncomplaining, yet looking soggy and miserable as any man can look.
There was only one possible reason I would ride through such lousy weather for such a long time without regret. A woman.
Why else is a man driven to do crazy things?
But not just any woman. God, she was beautiful. Hair of gold and eyes of green fire. Skin so fair you’d swear it was cream. And not just a pretty face, but a tongue so quick and a spirit so bold and daring that lords and ladies hid in terror when she got her dander up. But for all of that, she was a lady, with a heart as kind as an angel, and a love for children and animals unequaled in all the kingdom.
And to my good fortune, not only would she become my wife in three days time, she loved me. And I, her, with all my heart and all my soul.
I had been away in the north country, meeting with the Lord of the county as emissary of the King. Unexpected distractions, like raiding bandits from the west, caused me to delay my return. And this unexpected monsoon rain in May was doubling my travel time.
She would be worried, I know. Carrier pigeons had been sent, but with the weather I had no idea if they even arrived. And if they did arrive, how to explain my delay?
But preparations being preparations, no doubt events were moving forward with great fanfare and panoply. For a wedding is not just a union between man and wife, but a cause for celebration for the entire community. For did not a roving bachelor settle down and become a stronger member of the community when wed? And did not other suitors rejoice that one more competitor for the target of their own affections remove himself from the field? And did not mothers and fathers rejoice that a headstrong and impetuous youth was going to be guided by the love and responsibilities of a wife and home, not to mention the promise of a warm bed at night?
Yes, the womenfolk would be busily planning, hustling and bustling while no doubt gossiping among themselves about the reasons for my delay. Might I be getting jittery at the prospect of settling down? Might I wish a dalliance with a fair maiden in a far land, free to enjoy a moment’s pleasure and leave when whimsy dictated?
And the men. Ah, my friends and compatriots, with whom I had shared campaigns and drunk many a tankard of ale in pubs near and far. They would be wagering among themselves: would I show for the wedding? Was I late because of jitters? A wench in a tavern who turned my head—and my other head? Would I show at all? And I would wager that bets were placed on what day and time I arrived, no doubt with me having to buy a round or two as token amends.
And as the wedding day grew closer and I still had not arrived, a rippling undercurrent of worry would spread throughout the castle. She would not worry at first, but quiet whispers and questions in the corners would drive her to wonder just a little. She would be more worried of my safety, knowing that nothing short of hell’s own fury would keep me away.
And so I rode on, through the rain and the muck and the mire, having exhausted all previous methods of entertainment and conversation. I placed bets with myself on what bets would be made; I wagered on which protective mother would first whisper that I was not going to make the wedding; I pondered on why men and women married in the first place.
The first two subjects were fertile ground for thinking. The last was one that defied logic, and thus kept my mind occupied for hour after hour over several days. But even that subject began to tire, with me no closer to solving that riddle of life than flying home like a bird, rather than riding through the rain and the muck and the mire.
And so I rode on with my squire, too miserable to talk, through the rain and the muck and the mire.
The wedding was scheduled for Sunday. Not that such things were very punctual, but one needed a named time to tell everyone about. If this event went according to history, we would be wed just as the setting sun touched the horizon, with the last rays of the sun shining through the colored windows in the cathedral, casting an ephemeral glow with the torchlight reflecting off the ceiling.
I rode through the castle gate on Saturday, just after sundown when the only light came from torches. I looked a pitiful mess, yet still trying to sit proudly on my sodden steed. My squire held his head high as well, managing to look dignified despite soggy hair caked with mud, his speckled horse looking chocolate-brown.
Having been gone so long I did not know the passcodes. Being sodden and miserable I was in no mood to enter into engaging banter with the guards to convince them who I was. When I told them I was the prince and was to be married the following day, they guffawed deeply and shot back with some ribald answers to my request to raise the gate.
Finally, after several minutes of jokes at my expense, I shot back with, “Damn it man, my squire and I have been riding for 16 days and nights in the most miserable fucking weather this side of hell. We haven’t had a bath, we smell, we’re wet, we’re miserable. I just want to take a hot bath and kiss Katrina, in either order. Now open up the fucking gate!”
“!” I heard a voice cry down from above. “It is you!”
“Katrina! What are you doing out on such a soggy eve?” But my question went unanswered as I heard her steps clattering across the stones on the parapet, disappearing in the night as she entered into the stairwell.
“Your highness, forgive us,” pleaded the guard as he realized who I was.
“Shut up, man, and open the fucking gate.” I was too tired to be polite. This close to a hot bath, a roaring fire and a soft bed, all I wanted was to get inside the gates, turn my horse over to a groom, and collapse.
The gate was raised and my squire and I rode through as Katrina came rushing up to greet me.
“Oh, , I was worried about you. We had no word! What happened?” she intoned, practically leaping onto the horse to greet me.
“Bandits from the west, causing a small delay. Then this accursed weather, turning the land into a swamp and doubling the length of our journey. Nothing more simple than that, but damnably frustrating all the same,” I answered. “And how is the gossip in this fine community about my demise?”
“As you would expect, my love, getting stronger every day, becoming especially irritating today since tomorrow we are to be wed.”
“Ah, this reminds me, are we supposed to not see each other the night before the wedding, for fear we would lose interest and not wish to wed tomorrow?” I asked, teasing my betrothed. Pretty witty banter for one so tired as I, but then, Katrina’s presence always did have a rejuvenating effect upon me.
“Oh, tradition be damned!” she laughed, her golden locks capturing my eyes as they bounced from her laughter. “Nothing will cause me to lose interest in you. But you are here, and now I must take care of you so you will have your strength tomorrow. For you will need it, my love!”
“Enough of this banter, Katrina,” I was tired, and even Katrina’s presence could only work so much magic on me. “I must have a hot bath and a good meal, else I shall pass out on the street. And that will certainly get tongues to wagging.”
I turned to the guards, tossing them each a coin. “A sovereign for each of you to keep your mouths shut about my arrival. And if you breathe a word of this to anyone you’ll be on garbage detail for a month!”
I doubted that my command would keep my arrival quiet for long. But a sovereign for the guards would increase their loyalty, and their whispered rumors to their fellows would help win their respect and support in the future. I hoped that my bribe would at least buy me enough time to get a hot bath and a warm meal before the hordes of family and well-wishers descended upon me.
With that, I gave my horse to my squire and instructed him to turn them over to a groom and to get himself a hot bath and meal of his own.
No sooner did I get into my tub, filled to the brim with luxurious, nearly scalding hot water, and lean my head back and give out a long sigh, than my father and three captains rushed in, trailed by their squires and assistants and assorted hangers-on, peppering me with questions.
“Out!” I commanded, to no avail. So I leapt out of the tub, stark naked, grabbed the nearest broadsword off the wall and started advancing toward them with darkness in my eyes. “Get the hell out until I’ve finished my bath and had a hot meal. THEN I’ll answer your damned questions and not before.”
I must have looked quite a sight, with muddy water dribbling down my naked body, hair plastered against my head, threatening some of the toughest soldiers in the kingdom with nothing more than a full broadsword.
It worked. They didn’t leave quietly, but they did leave, albeit leaving behind caustic comments on the condition of my family jewels and whether my betrothed might want to find someone else to marry on the morrow.
I got back in the bath and relaxed once again, only to hear a door open behind me. “Enough already! I’ll answer your damn questions when I’m damn good and ready!”
Only it wasn’t my over-eager family. It was Katrina, resplendent in a night gown that showed her fine figure without revealing the details beneath. Damn all women, I thought to myself. Sometimes a man just wants his woman naked and alluring, without all the carefully prepared and beguiling ways women are so crafted in. There’s a time for tempting and mysterious, and a time for simple lovemaking. This was a time for simple lovemaking.
I smiled in spite of myself. “Care to join me?” I asked.
“Hmmm. Tempting thought,” she answered. She ran her finger along my arm, teasing, provocative. “Maybe I will.”
She walked around in front of me, casting me sidelong glances with those fiery green eyes of hers. “Close your eyes,” she commanded.
“What???” I asked, incredulous.
“You’re not supposed to see your bride on the night before your wedding,” she chided me.
With half a smile on my face I closed my eyes, wondering what bedevilment she was up to. When I felt something intruding into my bath water, I started to open my eyes. “Keep them closed, mister,” she chuckled breathily.
I felt her lower herself into the tub. The water rose as her derriere entered the soapy mixture, pictures cascading into my mind in a tumbled array. The water level rose higher as I felt her legs on either side of me, exploring, looking for a place to reside. I imagined her breasts as the water slowly inched up her smooth stomach, reaching those gorgeous orbs, then slowly climbing over the nipples, finally coming to rest against the sensual curve of her throat.
“Open,” she commanded. And like a dutiful servant, I complied.
Her hair was piled on top of her head in a way that suggested a coziness and intimacy we had only shared with words in the past. Her eyes twinkled and the half-smile on her lips danced in my mind.
“Hello,” she said, in that throaty voice of hers, nearly driving me to take her, right then and there.
In a moment of pure inspiration, I simply replied, “Hello.” It seems my mind had disengaged from me, gone to some other place and left me, utterly awestruck and speechless, at this lovely apparition in front of me.
“Isn’t there any soap?” she asked. “Can’t take a bath without soap.”
And with that, she very calmly and gracefully washed every part of me, from my head to my toe. Her lack of embarrassment gradually melted my stiffness and discomfort, and soon I felt as if we had been that way for centuries. Open, intimate, gentle with each other in the way that true lovers are.
Gradually I became aware of the cooling of the bathwater. “It’s getting cold,” I said, no longer needing words to communicate.
She just smiled, said “Mmmm,” and stood up so elegantly I almost fainted from exhilaration. Her nipples were standing at attention on her perfect breasts, the water slid off of the curve of her hip and waist like a miniature waterfall. The droplets of water clinging to her skin seemed to twinkle from the candles lighting the room.
She walked over to the towels, and bending, gave me a glimpse of heaven between her milky-white thighs. A jolt of electricity went through me and I felt my spirit intertwining with hers somewhere out among the stars.
We made long, slow passionate love on my bed—our bed on the morrow. Despite being beyond tired from my arduous journey, her energy filled me and made me whole. The tiredness in my limbs faded away beneath her tender embrace. Her hands, tracing paths along the sinews of my arms and legs, brought new strength to those tired and weary bones.
It was as if her touch was filled with magic, with life itself. Where before there was emptiness, nay, a craving for sustenance, when her finger passed by each part of my body it became fulfilled and rested, content. My feet, my legs, my arms, my chest, even the muscles in my neck and head were rejuvenated.
She saved the best for last. She brought new life to that most unused part of my body during the long trip, and it rose to the occasion. We made love again with a fever of passion that consumed us in its fire, going beyond the bounds of mortal man and screaming into the sky like a pair of eagles, climbing and diving into depths of our souls that no one had touched before.
Finally, at some point, I know not when, we slept.
I awoke to a clamor in the next room. It took a while to gather my wits about me and remember where I was. I had been traveling in rain and mud for so long that waking in a dry bed, warm, and rested, was as foreign as I imagined waking on the moon.
The sun was actually shining. The next thought that popped into my head was that it was a good omen, without having any clue about what the omen was for. I luxuriated there, feeling my body bit by bit, wiggling my fingers, my hands, my toes, finally each arm and then the legs, and realizing that they felt good. Not sore, not tired, not exhausted, but whole. Inventory of self complete, I looked around the room. The sun was up for over an hour, I could tell. Birds were chirping outside and it seemed that spring was indeed upon us. I smiled, comparing my current fate to the weeks of slogging through mud and mire.
With that lovely thought, the reason for slogging through mud and mire hit home: today was my wedding day! I sat up in the bed, having startled myself. I was alone, startling myself with that realization as well.
The events of the night before played in my mind and I was sure I was dreaming. I could find no evidence of any woman in my chambers, much less my betrothed. Nothing could be that good, I thought to myself, and laid back down, hoping that I could fall back asleep and continue the dream from where I left off. Or perhaps another dream, adding on to the first?
I pulled the covers up and buried myself underneath a mountain of warmth. Faintly, oh so faintly, I detected a trace of her scent, buried in the sheets. It was fresh, with a trace of soap and sex mingled in. I smiled, confirming in my head what my heart was telling me was true.
The clamoring in the next room became a pounding on the door. It seems I could no longer forestall the events to befall me that day. I could no longer wile away my life under those luxurious quilts without a care in the world.
There was to be a wedding. Pomp and circumstance, ritual and procedure, with obligations and duties to perform long before even approaching the altar. After all, I was to be married that day, and it seemed half the country would be there to witness it.
The day passed by quickly. Breakfast with parents. Lunch with my fellow captains. One set of clothes for this event, a change of clothes for that event. My god, the scheduling! I swore if I ever became king I would do away with all of this, this stuff and just have nice friendly parties. Some ale, some food, pleasant company and good conversation were much better for the soul than stiff parties with carefully manicured nails and artfully coifed hair. But the events of the day were beyond my control and I dutifully went through the paces required of this husband to be.
At last, the afternoon arrived and it was time to prepare for the one event that was of my own choosing. The wedding. As sorely tempted as I was to elope earlier, when the time came I knew that this was right. This ceremony truly would mark the love I felt for this girl, this woman, done with the proper sincerety as befitting—aw, hell, even a man can be madly in love.
The pipe organ in the cathedral started an hour before the ceremony, beckoning those who would attend. Jugglers and mimes performed in the square for those who came to enjoy the festivities, but were not allowed inside. Thousands were there for the merrymaking, with only room for a few hundred in the cathedral proper.
As the coach and four spirited me off to my destiny, I gradually became comfortable with the finery adorning me. My first preference was to wear a simple field uniform. Instead I was resplendent in a special combination of armor and leather and silk. I know it sounds strange, but I started to feel like a true warrior, a soldier, despite the extra frills and decorations. The body armor shone from polishing. I remember thinking that if we were to polish all of our armor to that degree, we could blind our enemies and never have to strike them down with sword.
By the time I arrived at the church, I felt ready. I wore no helmet, carried no shield. A small sword was at my side. I carried no shield as a symbol that I would hold nothing between us. I carried the sword to symbolize the strength and protection that I would provide.
The next thing I knew I was standing in front of the altar, waiting for her to appear. The sun was shining through the stained glass windows. The choir was singing a mystical piece, the voices blending and harmonizing in a way that was spiritual beyond words. The pipe organ trilled and “brummed” in the background. It was perfect.
It felt like something beyond this world.
I knew the exact moment she arrived. I felt it in my heart, in my soul. Somehow I was outside of myself and could see her clearly as she stepped through the doors of the cathedral, the coach door shutting softly behind her. She was—words are not enough to describe.
Beautiful, elegant, radiant, simple, breathtaking. She was my love.
As if by some magic sign, the choir became silent. No sound could be heard. The organ started playing a tune, the high notes trilling and fritting faster than my ear could follow. In that sun-lighted place of worship, it seemed that God himself was at the keyboard.
As if on cue, I turned as the great door opened and she stepped through the door. Everything else in that great room disappeared from my sight. She had a veil over her face, yet I could tell it was her just by her presence.
Our spirits touched and smiled. I felt her hand in mine when she was still a hundred feet away. She seemed to glow, shining brighter than the sun, making all the world seem a beautiful place. I could see the life in her eyes and the love in her smile. I was smitten all over again, from the depths of my soul to the tips of my being. She was beautiful.
I know her father walked her up the aisle, but I never saw him. When she took her place by my side, it seemed my universe grew by leaps and bounds, far beyond what I ever dared conceive. It was not just my universe, it was our universe, joined by hand in the real, joined by spirit in the ethereal. We were one.
The organ changed into a strong tune, the music reverberating and cascading in torrents of sound, pleasing and lifting and stretching our imagination beyond the here and now. It was as if the skies had opened and heaven was pouring down upon us. Or if one dared believe in old mythology, the gods from were celebrating and reaping their blessings upon us in wave after wave of trumpeting acclaim.
The organ fell silent and a still descended upon the cathedral. The sun had lowered and the rays glanced off the stone bastions, casting long shadows through the hall. Candles were lit in silence and the flickering cast a strange, almost dreamlike spell upon us. The priest started singing a litany in Latin. I never knew the words, yet somehow that night I became blessed with a clairvoyance and understood perfectly what he meant. Next to me, my bride quivered with energy. We looked into each others eyes through her veil. It seemed to me that gossamer fabric melted away and her full visage was in front of me, looking deep into my eyes from the depth of her soul.
Her hand gave mine a squeeze. Suddenly, I seemed to be behind my body, looking ahead and down at the two of us. And yet I still felt her hand in mine. Surprised by this, I turned to my left and saw/felt her next to me, part of me.
We watched our bodies kneel in front of the altar as the priest cast his blessings upon us. As we knelt there, the choir joined in song, singing the praises of God and joy to the wedding vows. During this haunting chorus, we watched ourselves being given the communion. Then, with a wave from the priest, our bodies rose and stood before him.
I felt Katrina’s hand in mine squeeze gently, and we rose up to the beamed ceiling, becoming one together, far beyond what we had experienced the night before. We blended and melted with each other, becoming one.
I felt her kiss on my lips, not hungry, but loving and gentle, as only she could make it. Opening my eyes, I saw her face in front of me, and yet I felt surrounded by her and part of her, becoming one together. Two bodies, one life, one soul.
We turned and faced the throng as the priest presented us. Clapping ensued, then in the back, the captains started to cheer and a roar engulfed the cathedral.
We had joined together. Forever.