Nesta, she not quite herself since ere the last night in Rouen, brachtèd up the subject she herself decided no one, naught but God, to tell. And yet, as well: “He came upon me, Imogene. In the night time of your absence from the castle there.”
“Who came upon you, Ness?”
“Odo? He my raptor with the silken sable mane? That man you mean to say?”
“Nay. You must have misconstrued. Did you take drink again belike the prior feast?”
“I—do not know, my dam. But know the thing a man wants when his civil case doth fall away from him.”
“I’ve never told you of that thing. How you could know of it?”
“He came and told me I to be the second Virgin Mother, and he visited to make me so. This spake he, Imogene.” The grim admission chilled her, for he’d said the same to her some years ago.
“No,” said Imogene, and firmly now. “It happened differently than this. This is what I warned about, my starling: keep strong drink away, for raise it passion of the loins, and take way acclivity of thought. I understand you must desire of our Bishop, as most every girl in Normandy would do--”
“—Desireth? Me to him? Imogene! He is a horrid man!” And Imogene reared back and slapped her charge in anger, for the second time about the Bishop Odo as the subject of correction.
They stopped and looked – each servant girl and woman, and the ladies Gen and Nesta there. Nesta’s mouth fell open and her eyes welled up. And Imogene’s as well did open and as well her eyes welled up, four wells for tears of inner wounds displayed.
Nesta stood and turned to one the girls, and thus commanded: “Dry me off and dress me once again. I wish to take a bracing walk about the outer curtain of your pitiful château.”
Imogene rose up as well, her heart near wracked too heavily to bear, and grabbed a servant-girl about the nape. “Girl. I wish to have a meal of honey, wine, and newly bread. Baguettes! Baguettes! Make sure the setting place is ready for me, down within the kitchen!” And with that, dame Imogene flung forth the waif and threw her bodily outside the little tent. “Make haste!” She shouted after her, and balled her fists up, showing those who knew her well her inner gravely insult, hearing word from Rouen of the scoundrel’s game; an insult to her heart from Heart of Normandy proclaimed.
|“Dry me off and dress me once again."|
Later on that languid afternoontime, Nesta sat against the curtain wall aside the gate, with knees drawn up and head bowed down, the seabreeze cooling her. Uncomfortable was she, inside and out. Imogene approached and was atop of her position ere before dame Nesta saw she had appeared. Imogene sat down before her there.
“Never trust a man of God when acting as a man of flesh,” she coolly said.
“Never did and never will,” did Nesta then reply, but never raised her head to meet her master’s eye.
“It’s time to make your homage to the Duke.”
“And over that, my homage given ere direct to him, a priest will minister to that transaction, I suppose?”
She looked at Imogene, “Then what’s it mean? This homage? If between my Lord and me, there’s God’s own man to make a mockery of freely given hand?”
“Perish,” Imogene then said, for second time this day. But here, in earnest did she grant. “These ways are the ways it’s done. You’re insolence will cost me. And cost you, of course. But when you spend your reputation of your own, it’s yours to spend. Ask not for usury against my own supply. You mind?”
“I mind you, Imogene. I’m sorry for the folly me of questioning.”
“Every man has place within the World. It is God put down the order of the Firmament,” she said, looking up at skies unrestful now. “Some have man makes himself the order from ere Chaos where before the Gods firm hand. I mean to say, they said it in Antiquity like that. You knowest this from history, my charge?”
“Aye, since I very small, Cael Morth and some the tutors back at Wolvesey taught me this and other things from back in ancient times. My favorite is Juno, wife of Jupiter, and patron of the peacock, of all women and of Rome. For she was clever, and she loved us, Imogene. She gives us of our agency deliver out a babe, and gives us the ability to learn and grow our intellect – whacht men may scoff! But also did she have the failings of a woman, stark reminder to us always to be guarded ‘gainst our own weak failings, inspext to our sex.”
“My favorite,” said Imogene, “was Leda and the swan. For Leda, she seduced by Zeus when in disguise, bore him two children: Helen and Polydeuces; but also did she bear for Tyndarus two children: Castor and the girl named Clytemnestra. Four children, each a hero or a consort to a hero be. Two men: One the king of mighty Sparta, and the other God to Greeks. She changed the ancient world through holding good fidelity to motherhood, and thought she highly now, despite her virtue take’d in subterfuge.
“And now upon my afternoon in daydream wrought, and contemplating Odo and my heart, I feel a greater sistership to Leda than before.
“Now come with me and be presented to the Duke.”
And so she did. “Don’t you wish to know what thence transpired? When he came upon me, Imogene?”
“…No. Perhaps? I do not know.”
She spoke now not to Nesta, but herself. “For there is peace in letting that which will not change be also something one will never know. It’s done. There is no second act to play.
“But curious is she whose heart is twain: one side spurned by vile comedy, and one side t’ward his heart it doth remain. It’s worse to know than not to know, for half a heart beats firmer in our breast than none at all; however, God hast made from Adam woman to betray. And ere, within the matter of her heart, betray herself. It is our lot and pain.
“When men make feast of lamb, they are like wolves. They hunger, slaver, famished they of flesh. ‘Tis true of them, whichever were the lamb be food for stomachs or for loins. They have no high civility when the hunger in their case they feel for thee. They’re wolves.
“The lamb is slaughtered, dressed, and fed unto the wolf; the skin of her is tanned. The glover makes then iv’ry colored gloves from her, to separate the skin of precious youth from raunch and nast and slime. Tell me now, what purpose is the glove?”
Nesta tried to answer her, but Imogene was speaking t’er but naught.
“The glove protects the hands from fraudulence and base, and keeps good virtue good and whole, against poor custom and some down acclivities. But also from the touch of something greater: ere, good passion. Good passion dost it cloister off a woman from her wedded master.
In daydreams then, did Imogene continue thus to speak now to herself: “Why then, do we wish ours to keep the glover’s wrought between ourselves and hands most gentle, Imogene? Ah, Genny! Would but thought this raptor would take to us and together make a roost! And so dazzled by him, Sunna in the Eastern morningtide, mistook his claws for plumage of the crest. He rent me, Leda! Ach! He rent me!
“But were the child here before me, Leda, gloved before she were in hand? Or were she now made shewn the fallen world, the foul fallen dignity, and gobbled up her virtue by a predatory swan? Were she made a roustabout by artisan of basest infidelities? Woulds’t she be Medusa, laid to rape, and then admonished for her fall? And he, Bayeux of deviltry, there residing up within the girl ere now? She pregnant? What to say! Oh, Imogene, would William think of me, should bring him up an ingénue, when lioness the promised be?”
Nesta shook her then and said, “he didn’t take my virtue, marm. I stabbed him in the leg.”
This woke Breton brains back from their murky reverie. “You stabbed him in the leg?!”
“But wee.” She shewed her mistress off the dagger in her boot. “It never leaves my ankle, for necessity of valor knows not proper season ell to roost.”
Imogene broke into shivering and tears, and held her Nesta tight. “This you tells’t me is good. ‘Tis good!”
“Have ye faith in me, my mistress. Never shall a man me overcome!”
“He lives, you think?”
“He lives. It was a cut of admonition, not of deadly fell incision.”
And presently, the pair approached the donjon once again, and met Duke William in the garish-colorful great hall there at Caen.