"The king hath promised me Isabel, for wife."
"Of Pembroke ?"
"I've seen her at the auld king of Leinster's court once. Such a pretty lass."
"But fifteen years of age yet ?"
"I think not yet."
"She'll make a great knight marshall as great a wife as can ever be. She spoke to me in Latin!"
"French, too. A good head on her shoulders and all the Pembroke lands."
"You'll be the richest man of the realm by this match."
"Mayhap among them, good sir Percival, mayhap among them."
"If there's man in England fair to hold all that together it is thee, sir William."
"I fear the king sees with thee and thusly fears, ma foi."
"A year or two's delay's not hindrance. But you should have her young."
"Or young, or not at all."
"Were we at home I'd toast to thee and health, a harem mixed drink, dark, and rich."
"What's that you say ?"
"While I was, as you have heard, aship in the Seas of Jerusalem I made the acquaintance of some Moores."
"Heathen pagans of the East ?"
"Sir William, the matter's confounded. Though all the Moor's a pagan not all's a fiend."
"How can this be ?!"
"I know not rightly how, but mark that not all Welshman's a fiend either, though pagan they may be."
"Ha-ha! Well spoken, good sir knight, the like as Roman scholars do."
"There are, among such Sea as there is found, Islands as there in the Sea may be, by God's own council just. There's many, most are small, a plot of land too dismal for a poor landless knight to take his own, and raise a goat ; but some are great, as great or greater than the whole of county Kent, and they carry to greatness their appointed lords, like any realm. Those lords, though they be Moores, yet are just men."
"Such lords, like any lords, may by the tides ally, though they be Moores, with even His Holiness the Pope in Rome! Alliances may shift, and come and go ; but by well bidden time and with facility of tongue and friendship one who thereby errants may well acquire friends, for men be just men and words spoken but once, for Moor and Christian both alike, though not for woman or for Jew."
"Sounds just like thee, sir Percival, and thy's life's work."
"Such it may be ; but at a time, as we were sailing in escort, to protect ships carrying burthens to the Hospitalers, Pirates spotted aloft! We broke off to make after them, for they were slow."
"A ship that's laden's slow."
"Indeed. And on that ship we caught with there was found not just their booty, but still more : sixty-eight maidens fair, though none were Christian; Pagan all."
"The Moor enslaves Moorish women on their pirate ships ?!"
"They were not Moors, but fair, still pagans though. They're from the lands far in the East, long past the Sea and Jerusalem. Their land's called Circassia by the Greek and I not know what Moors do call it in their tongue."
"Thee mean it fair by complexion, of golden curl, as it is meant ?"
"Indeed. Though they be not Moor, yet from the East, their skin as white as milk, their hair as gold."
"This new learning amazes me, good sir knight."
"In council on the ship t'was held to sell them, for bounty and supplies, at the Moor's."
"As slaves still, you mean ?!"
"Such as they were. At home we could not return them ineways, for neither we knew whereabouts it was nor could they in human tongue tell, nor any knight yet wandered thus ; 'sides which, God's will. A girl that's left the home's become a woman thereby, and never to return."
"We all took charge then of some such wards, and I, with a dozen of them..."
"You mean, in chains ?"
"No, gentle as doves they all are, and naught a mind to put good iron chain on them more than on a flock of geese. For they stick together with each other and follow after lead like household fowl."
"Indeed! As all good maiden should."
"Some say it is their calling from those parts, the women I mean, to be like slaves and enslaved. For they accept it well and no complaint. The Moor does favour them for harem above all."
"They say they marry more than once in those lands."
"At the same time ?"
"Yes, by the dozen even, so they do."
"Must be a diffrent breed of gentle womanhood prevailing in those parts. A one's enough handful from the Northern lands, a Dane or a Swede worse than death."
"'Tis so, sir William. They're gentler and more loving than even the Albigens girls of Sun-kissed South."
"But as I had with me these women, the lord Moor I was talking to did bid me in his harem, where I were met his own. They were disrobed such as t'were never seen but in the Florence paintings of the gods. All could be seen, and even where the escutcheon lays in woman, to abscond, still they were bared."
"Bared how ?"
"Like man may shave his beard, sir William."
"C'est ca. And there together mine and his comingled, and they danced and spoke among each other for of them some came from like lands, as York may far abouts in Toulon meet with York so there they met, unknown to all but them, the same."
"Fate hath made it so."
"It had. But there my host, he served me the harem drink as they did call it, as come upon by one of his, which is, in a tall goblet made of crystal without blemish, and none metal nor gold nor silver naught at all, and I think worth more than a barony itself, crushed ice."
"Such as Winter snow ?"
"But coarser, yes."
"Is it not warm in those climes ?"
"It is, a balm and pereternal Spring."
"Then ice, how ?"
"I do not know. But there it was, and on it poured the sweet, deep red Italian vermouth of Taurinum Augustum, in Piedmont, by the mountain, on the Po."
"I've had those sweet aged wines of that land. A sovereign a sip, no less, and like a raisin mead. Perfume more than ale."
"Indeed, an angel's kiss, made such as they are of herbs for health, majorana, thyme and yarrow and what else not known. Then splashed thereupon Curacao Blanco Triple Sec, made in Saint-Barthelemy d'Anjou, of sour and sweet oranges."
"The French King's royal drink, that they pour for the courtly ladies in thimblefulls with their Champenois of Perignon."
"And at coronation, in Rheims, yes."
"But does this Moor not have any drink of his own land ?"
"Indeed not, sir William. Their heathen god forbids them drink."
"Then rich indeed must be the Moor, like one who eats not bread and drinks not ale, but stuffs from a hundred days' journey away, and then so costly in their land as to be only given to the king and his mistresses and pretty ladies about."
"Richer than Mammon they must be. Tell me, sir William, you've ransomed knights before, have you not."
"To this day I have kept the count, and there have been three hundred sixty eight I ransomed yet."
"And for how much ?"
"All in all forty-five thousand marks or thereabouts. But you must bear in mind, good sir knight, that this was over many years, twenty-five almost. Then there's the armors, the swords and horses, all the pages -- of which I've buried five ; and then..."
"I mean it not that way, but think just this : it comes to maybe a hundred silver marks a head, the more or the less ?"
"The girls each sold, for they were then and there bought in bulk, the flock entire, and I returned to my ship with thirty thousand marks' worth, in gleaming gold. For twelve. And all the other captains fared the same."
"You say the Moor paid two dozen knights' ransoms to the wench ?"
"Indeed, and more in gifts, and... how many marks a pound of ice in the summer, sir William ?"
"The Moor is rich indeed."
"They are, for all the jewels in this land, and all in Rome, and everywhere jewels are, diamonds rubies emeralds garnets topazes all that are, come from his land. Then silks and many other things. For the Moor's land is large. Larger than all of France, of Aquitaine and Burgundy and all, together with the German lands. Larger than all we know, as large or larger still than the old empire stood."
"Yet we best him in Jerusalem ?"
"Not often, and when we do it doth not last for long. And he hath all the Spains..."
"Sir Percival, though our throats be parched from marching, though the last wine's turned sour Wednesday last, though none of what you say is here in sight, let me to thee say in good heart that I am more grateful of what you'd toast me in your mind than of such wine as one can carry here in his hand. Thank thee, and God's will great!"
With that call they both fell silent ; but then the old banneret straightened like a spring. His eye had spied a pretty girl meandering through the grass towards the river side, a flock of geese following their own pace after hers. Sir William turned his horse in that way ; the girl, watching the passing men at first indifferently, gave a great yell and ran towards the pussy willows as fast as her bare feet carried her. She was quick enough, holding her long chemise crumpled up by her hip with each hand s'as to free her legs way past the knee, and not impede her step ; but even under chainmail, arms and provisions, sir William's warhorse was faster still than any lass could ever hope to be, and soon he was upon her. She turned this way or that, like rabbits despaired of escaping hounds. He for his part touched her skin with his long horse crop, under the shoulders on the sensitive meat between shoulderblade and armpit, and on the buttocks and the thighs, and on both sides underbreast. He kept her step, turning his horse to and fro, and piqued her each turn with the sharp fire in his hand until she fell, crying, to her knees.
At that he dismounted, and walked after her ; on seeing him dismount she gave another yell, though not as great much more despaired, like a dying bird's last call, and set to running unsteadily away from him. He followed after her, not breaking into run but patiently following her ungainly gait, like kingly lion after hurt gazelle, not caring to exert himself to speed doom inevitable, for what could possibly be gained by the rush. His progress brought into view her bleeding of herself out of her own flesh, making a sport of it, put on display, made visible and to be admired. The whole convoy stopped to watch. Will she collapse at that grassy clump, or just stumble and rise again, and carry on ? Does she still have breath in her, or is she out ? When, at which juncture, on which spot of land will she, at last, make peace with herself ?
She wasn't gaining much on him at all, though with great effort and wild, useless movements flailing all about. Eventually he pushed her, one firm crisp heave of his right arm landing palm first between her shoulders. It sent her flat to the ground, face down, and there she lay, as paralyzed. He covered the two paces to her. As he kneeled down she started to squirm away ; but between his arm resting on the small of her back and his knees coming down on her thighs she was vised to the ground. Sir William extracted his ornate Florentine dagger from its scabbard by his side, and split her garb from neckline to between her knees, wide open. He caught her left hand, forcing the sleeve off of her, freeing her rosy carnation, from neckline to hipline out in the open, her left breast heaving heavily with her gulped breath. He twisted her arm behind her back in his right, and she extracted her right out of the cloth remnant herself. Her squirming had subsided, replaced instead by her arching her back and lifting her buttocks up to him, like a cat in the late Winter night. The rags that once were her clothes lay on the ground, discarded, so far away from her as furthest could ever be.
He took his rod out and bestowed its blessing upon her, slowly and by degrees, with a delicacy unwarranted in the circumstance. Her hands, free, grabbing spasmodically at the grass, pushing into the dirt to press her into him, his hand resting on her uplifted head. His movements turned fluid, regular, and her breath turned to a regular, stroked moan. Eventually she spun around, to her side, to give him better purchase and ease his run of pounding into her ; he removed the muddied rags from off her legs and cast them away for good. She spread her legs apart, and with closed eyes reached down her hands, squeezing her breast taut in between her arms and spreading herself on her own fingers. He let out a great howl and then they both shuddered together.
There they lay a moment, the legendary beast of two backs, a knight's and a maiden's fair ; then he stood up from over her, grabbed her by the hips and threw her over his shoulder, like quarry in the hunt exactly, except the doe they carry with hindquarters afront, whereas he carried her with her arms dangling as dead in front of him, her eyes closed, her head bobbing to and fro with his gait. He put her in front of his saddle, his hand on her womanhood as he rode back, then he lifted her again and set her in one of the packhorse's saddle. She kneeled in there and hid herself from sight, her nose and the tips of her fingers the only visible parts left of her. The company gave three cheers as Sir William took his place by his companions, and they resumed their march.