by Larry Kimmel

Copyright 1996

Scene 1

Clip-clop-clip-clop; two steeds (one grey,
One chestnut) crossed the drawbridge. "Heigh-ho,"
The duke's son shouted. "A merry day
Whichever way we go."

"Heigh-ho, a merry day
Indeed, my cousin," his comrade on the grey
Horse shouted back. "You choose the way;
On your lands I obey."

They spurred their steeds and left behind
A castle plated gold by morning's sun
And galloped east across a wind
Stirred field of green. The run

From castle to forest's edge was brief,
And there they reined in to an amble. "Tell now,"
The duke's son said (he plucked a leaf
As he ducked a drooping bough)

"Have you, as the priests are wont to say,
Known a woman?" "Sort of." "You have or haven't.
Which?" "I almost had my way-- "
"Come now, don't circumvent

The question." "I've fondled a maid or two."
"That doesn't count." "Have you done better?" "Have I
Done better? that's a laugh. I knew
My first wench last July."

"You've known more than one?" "By now
A dozen." The brooding forest closed around
Them, silent, cool, and dark. "But how
Is it you've not been found

Out? for little happens in
A castle that isn't common knowledge." "My dear
Cousin, your education's been
Neglected, but never fear

We'll soon take care of that." "But how?"
"We'll find a peasant girl." "And then?" "You'll see."
The forest seemed to force a vow
Of silence. A scenery

As dense as twilight pressed around
A path where roots stood out like veins upon
An ancient hand. The clomping sound
Of hooves went on and on.
. . .

Scene 2

"Be mindful of your hands, Will." "Why?
We're to be married, aren't we?" "Our fathers say
So." "Then it's settled." "Not yet, and I
Won't let you have your way

Until the ceremony's over."
"But Angela ... " Their voices floated down
Across a pasture where blooms of clover
Seemed woven in this gown

Of green that flowed from forest's edge
To clustered hovels by the valley's stream,
While they stood hidden by a hedge
Of horse-high brush. "You seem

To think yourself the duke's own son,"
She said, her arms akimbo, her long, fair hair
Wind tossed. "I'm not the simpleton
You think. I know you'd care

More for a purple cloak than me."
He stood as gangly as a new born calf.
"Don't pout now. Really, Will, don't be
So childish." "You'd best not laugh

At me," he said. "And if I do?"
"You'd better not, that's all." They glared at one
Another. The bleating of a few
Thin sheep; the morning sun;

A thrush's song--this pastoral scene
Ignored their small tableau of strife and went
On with its honeybee routine
In heedless self-content.

Then Will stalked off. "And all I meant,"
She said, "about the duke's son was that Will
Takes liberties, a compliment
If you ask me." She still

Stood arms akimbo behind the hedge,
As she'd been left, disquieted by doubt,
When from beyond the forest's edge
She heard a gleeful shout.
. . .

Scene 3

She stood one step beyond the shadows
Of the hedge, transfixed; the sunlight through her hair,
A golden nimbus; while squawking crows
Announced the raucous pair.

They burst out from the forest's edge
And cantered down across the field to where
Slim Angela stood by the hedge.
"Ah, but she's a fair

One, cousin," the duke's son said. One grey,
One chestnut steed now hemmed her in. She glanced
At one lad, then the other. "What say
You, cousin, now you've chanced

Upon a gem of peasantry?"
"Aye, a fair one," his comrade said. "Well, then,
Let's hear you speak some pleasantry
To this fine specimen

Of maidenhood." "I don't know what
You say to them." "So you're afraid of her."
"I'm not afraid of her." "You're but
A mere philosopher

Regarding Eros, then?" "I'm not."
"Let's see some proof." Then from a leafy hill
A cloud appeared; two cherubs fought
The slowest duel until

The wind transfigured them. A shadow
Crossed the stream, slipped through the hovels, to climb
The green gowned hill. The sheep below
This curious pantomime,

This shifting art of fluff (now ewe,
Now wolf) cropped unconcerned, while every eye
Of human kind glanced up to view
The cause of darkness. The cry

Of fledglings from the bushes broke
The spell. "Hey," the duke's son cried, "she's slipping
Through the brush." And as he spoke
Angela went tripping

Into the grazing sheep. "Dismount!"
The duke's son shouted, "for we shall catch her best
On foot." "Perhaps, but I wouldn't count
On it." "Let's to the quest

And stop the quibble," the duke's son said
As he dismounted. "She's half way to that wood,
Already," the other said. She fled
The rakes as best she could

With her long, brown skirt up to the knee,
And her bare feet trampling the red-white clover. "Pursue!
Pursue!" the duke's son shouted; both he
And his comrade were running through

The milling sheep now, pell-mell,
In chase of Angela who turned to see
How her advantage held and fell
On the roots of an apple tree.

She lay face down in the scented grass,
Breathless and benumbed until rough hands
Rudely turned her over. "Come lass,
Tell us your name; these lands

You thrive on are my father's, and I
Have every right to know the doings of
His vassals." She stared up at the sky,
Saw the cloud above

The valley begin to glide away
Across the forest top, then squeezed her eyes
As sunlight pierced their blue. "Now say
Your name and rise."

"Angela," she said, as rough
Hands yanked her up and held her arms behind
Her back. "She's got charms enough,
Though somewhat unrefined,"

The duke's son said, then asked, "Why did
You run? My cousin only wished to give
A gold-piece for your pleasure. I bid
You be appreciative."

He gave her arms a jerk. She stood
Head down. "Well?" The wind soughed through the trees.
"You still might have it if you would
But willingly appease

Our wishes." Angela began
To struggle. "Help me hold her," the duke's son said,
And grasped her 'round the waist. "A man,
Beyond the hovels, has led

Some cows to the river bank." "So?"
"Someone might see us here." "You're right, let's take
Her to the castle." "Let her go,
We do not want to make

Her go against her will." "Are you
Afraid of her high spirits?" "Look at her fight,
It would be sheer abduction." "Who
Would say so, cousin?" A flight

Of doves circled above the three,
Making a dappled shadow, and then they flew
Out toward the valley. "Besides, we'll see
She's a gold-piece when we're through."

Far below the river glittered
In the morning sun as it meandered through
The verdant valley. A sparrow twittered
Close at hand, then flew

Up from the grass into a tree;
A rabbit bounded across the pasture; a distant
Barking faintly came; a wee
Spider patched its tent.

But though her struggles had diminished
It still took both the lads to tie her on
The chestnut horse, and when they'd finished
The deed and sat upon

Their steeds, the nephew said, "What will
Your father say?" "He's in the west fields hawking."
They spurred their horses up the hill
And in the wood ceased talking.
. . .

Scene 4

"What's this?" they heard as they rode through
The gate into the castle's courtyard. "I thought
You said he'd be out hawking." "I do
Believe that we've been caught,"

Was all the duke's son said. "Fine thing,"
The duke said, when they reined in beside the well,
"I get a message that the King
Is coming, so I tell

The Sergeant-At-Arms a tournament
Is in the offing and ask `how goes the schooling?'
And now I see he didn't invent
The tale about your fooling

With the peasantry. Cut
Her down, tend to your horses and then go to
The Duchess; hurry now; and what
Rare mood made you and you

Bring her into the castle? Here,
Lass, a gold-piece for the inconvenience."
The duke turned on his heel. "And hear
Me lads, no dalliance."

Bewildered, Angela stepped through
The courtyard's bustle. A din of voices all
Around, and yapping dogs, while two
Merchants against a wall

Displayed their silks and earthenware.
A dwarf went juggling by. The sight and sound
Of splendor was beyond compare,
And left the young girl spellbound.
. . .

Scene 5

Angela made her barefoot way
Along the root veined path amidst the twilight
Of dense foliage, beyond which lay
The forest's secrets. "What might

Have been!" she said aloud, "Well,
I've a gold-piece, anyway." The forest's hush
Was perfect as a magic spell,
But for a songful thrush.

She made her way along the root
Veined path until the leaves thinned overhead,
And here she took a less used route
Which in a short time led

Into the pasture, where her father
Had herded the sheep to graze between the brush
And forest's edge. "You needn't bother
Your royal self to rush

Back to your chores," he snapped, "I'm just
A half-a-day behind because of your
Shenanigans. You are, I trust,
No longer what priests call pure?"

"What do you mean--`no longer pure'?"
"Don't play dumb with me. I saw. While I
Watered the cows, I saw. For sure
Your struggles were all a lie."

"And if they were, and if I'm not?" A gust
Of wind blew golden wisps of hair across
Her face. "I'm going to curb your lust
With this; you'll see who's boss,

You sassy bit of she-wolf." She stood,
Her arms akimbo, feet apart, and waited.
Sheep bleated; wind soughed through the wood;
The afternoon sun sated

A snake coiled on a rock as all
The world ignored their little drama. Pitched
Across his knee she could recall
No other time he'd switched

So righteously her naked thighs
And buttocks. He beat her with the switch until
She bled, and then, beneath the sky's
Blue calm, face down and still

Among the sweet-scented clover
She lay, long after he had gone his way,
Until a voice made her roll over.
"Will!" "I came to say,"

He said, "how sorry I am over
What's happened to you." Their voices floated down
Across the pasture where blooms of clover
Seemed woven in this gown

Of green that flowed from forest's edge
To clustered hovels by the valley's stream,
Though they were hidden by the hedge
Of horse-high brush. "You seem

To tremble, Will, why is that?"
"What they did to you." "It's not your fault." "But I
Was near, I could have shouted at
Them, or " "Or what? Defy

The duke's own son! No one defies
The duke or any of his kin, you know
That Will." Will dropped his eyes,
"Could've your father though.

Could've stopped his thrashing you."
"So you saw all that happened on this hill?"
"And sorry I did." "Then know it true,
Unlike my father, Will."

There was a moment's pause; he stood
As gangly as a calf while overhead
A flight of doves flew toward the wood,
And then he said,

"What do you mean?" "They never had
Their way with me." "In truth?" "In truth." Will knelt
Beside her now and smiled. "I'm glad.
You can't know how I felt

About ... you know." "I know. I fought
To save myself for you, and I've been thinking
That maybe you've been right, we ought
To ... well, you know--" and blinking

She turned her eyes from his and gazed
Into the sky where the golden sun faded
The flawless blue; a thrush sang; sheep grazed;
While all around bees raided

The clover, and then she looked him in
The eye, "Take what's yours while the taking's good.
You saw how eas'ly what might have been."
"H-huh," he stammered and stood

Stock still, and she, she slipped her arms
Around his neck. "Here?" he gulped. "Why not?"
"Because--" "Because I haven't charms
Enough?" "--it's not the spot

To--" She laughed and said, "You're scared." "Someone
Might see." "That hedge of brush will block their view."
And so beneath the pleasant sun
Among the sheep they knew

Each other (as priests are wont to say).
The valley went about its honeybee
Routine, and for a while they lay
Together quietly.

"So that's what it's about?" "Yes;
I hope that I didn't hurt you much." "No,
You didn't," she said, and then, "I guess
It's time for you to go."

"I hope you liked it some," he said.
She stood and clapped her hands to herd the sheep.
"I guess I'll have to when we're wed."
She turned, but not to weep.
. . .

Scene 6

"And the gold-piece?" "He gave it to
Me." "The duke's own son?" "That's what I said." "Tell
Me everything again." The two
Girls saw the evening swell

In the western sky like a rosy bruise
Above the stand of trees that hid them from
The hovels, as they undressed to use
The stream for bathing. "Some

Might say--" Angela began
As she (fair and slender), Katherine (dark
And chubby), hand in hand now, ran
The muddy cow path, stark,

Down to the river's bank, "--that I did
What I did for a piece of gold (though where's the sin
In that, I ask)--" arms wide she slid
To the glinting water, "--and grin

All knowingly, but they'll be wrong."
She took the brook between her legs, her chest
Catching as it lapped her thighs. "The song
He sang, alone, would test

The virtue of a nun." "Then it
Was worth those welts your father gave you?" "Yes."
"And the castle, is it every bit
As great as people guess

It is?" "Oh, yes." She shivered. The stream
Flowed fondly about her waist. "He took me to
A golden chamber; that's where the dream
I've always dreamed came true--"

"You mean--" Katherine ventured as she
Splashed water to her face. "--he laid me on
A scarlet bed and sang to me,
And then he kissed me upon

My lips--" "On the mouth!" "Oh, Katherine,
Don't be so vulgar, the lips--" "And then?" "I've told
You all already; besides we've been
Too long at this; I'm cold."

"Then you splash me, and I'll splash you,
And we'll be finished bathing," Katherine said.
"All right. Ready?" "Before you do--"
"Yes?" "--is it as dread

A thing as old wives tell, or no?"
"Like the tearing of a nail, but worse; it's --Hey!--
There's Will, stealing our clothes; let's go."
The two girls made their way

From midstream up the bank, then ran
After the boys who'd snatched their dresses from the brush
Where they had spread them and began
To giggle, squeal, and blush.

The pinks and gold of eve gave way
To twilight greys and somewhere in the brush,
As plaintive as the end of day--
The last song of a thrush.

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