A captured swordsman is challenged by the vengeance of the man he came to slay.
They called me Boris. I was the younger of two brothers who were considered outlaws by our King. He was a good king, and fortunately for us, our offenses were limited to hunting in his private preserve, a forested area on the border of our kingdom and two others. My brother, Sergie, and I often told the authorities about incursions into the other kingdoms. I believe we were tolerated and not hunted down like the deer we used for food because we served a purpose.
King Harvey kept taxes tolerable for his subjects, had reduced thievery and murder, and kept the peace with our neighbors. That was until the Kingdom of Slovat, one of the bordering kingdoms near our forest, was taken over by Hasamonis, an outsider to this area, who cared nothing for his people and ruled with an iron fist. King Harvey tried to keep the peace, but the Slovat knights continually invaded our land. Sergie and I had a tough time fending off these knights even, with the occasional help of King Harvey’s small army.
We were able to capture ten Slovat troops. They seemed to fight as if they were under a spell. In fact, when King Harvey’s witch was able to deal with those soldiers, they acted as if they had awoken from a dream. It was King Harvey who realized these solders didn’t fight of their own free will. Out of this desperation and with a heavy heart, King Harvey declared war. Immediately he asked for volunteers to help defend our kingdom.
Sergie and I were two of the best bowmen in the country; and we wielded swords better than most, but we were still outlaws. We sent our sister, Margaret, to the castle with a note that offered our services in his army for the duration, in exchange for full pardons.
Knowing of our skills and past service to the kingdom, King Harvey quickly agreed to our proposal. He insisted that we be part of his son’s regiment. Crown Prince Lorenzo was a young man with little experience in warfare. Sergie and I had been in war, and we were no strangers to hand-to-hand combat having lived by our wits in the forest.
“I want you to keep a watch on my son during the campaign,” King Harvey told us when we finally had a private audience with him. “I am afraid that his youth and inexperience could cost him his life.”
“Does Prince Lorenzo know we’re to be his advisors?” Sergie asked.
“He’s aware you will help him,” our king replied.
“And if we fail to protect him?” I asked.
“You will not fail, but you will not be punished should things go wrong. You’re the best; and I trust you as I trust no other in my realm.”
“We will train and advise him as best we can, your majesty,” Sergie promised, “and also protect him.”
“I can ask for nothing more. Tomorrow you may start his training. Your regiment will contain some of our brightest recruits in our army. The chief cook has prepared a meal for you in the kitchen. Afterward I suggest you turn in, as you shall start early. I will inform my son that he is expected to follow your instructions under all conditions.”
“What about when we are fighting?” I asked.
“Technically he is your captain and you’re his lieutenants. However, I will advise him to constantly use your strategies.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” my brother said, as we bowed to our king and left for the kitchen.
We ate a hearty meal I believe tasted better than the deer from King Harvey’s forest. When we finished, a guard first saluted us as officers, and then showed us too our room. It had two soft beds that neither Sergie nor I were used to, but we accepted the situation as a nice temporary luxury.
We rose early in the morning, and then had the prince roused. He was used to staying up late and waking even later, but we explained that it was important that we have the time to do what can be done while there was light in the day. Over the next few hours we started to train him and the other fifty bright young men assigned to our company. The prince may have been officially the head of our unit, but we were the ones that gave the orders and whipped them into shape. By the end of that first day we were exhausted and our recruits, including Lorenzo, were in even worse shape.
We continued the training over the next few weeks. First we built up the recruits’ stamina. Then we taught them how to use a sword, bow, ax, and other weapons. When we were beginning to be satisfied with the progress of these new solders we took them to the smith who forged new weapons with the assistance of King Harvey’s witch. She added some magic, which included allowing the weapons to be wielded easier. I personally ordered an excellent broadsword and a specially crafted dagger. Sergie and I were also appreciative of the iron-tipped arrows we added to our homemade wooden ones.
We taught our boys how to ride a horse, and finally how to fight on a horse. We even taught them stealth. Each day we stretched their limits a little further as they became men we would rely on to fight for our kingdom’s freedom.
Finally it was time for a training exercise in the forest that Sergie and I called home. There we taught the recruits how to climb trees, use vines, and forage for food. One of the solders objected to us hunting in King Harvey’s forest. Sergie explained that as King Harvey’s men we had the right. I said it was a great place to train because we needed to be able to obtain our food from the land as we traveled. By foraging we could travel lighter and faster. Finally, Lorenzo stood up and explained that King Harvey had already approved our training exercise. In the two weeks that we were there, our troops finished the process to become self-sufficient warriors.
It was during this time we stopped for a time at Beguiled Lake. A mermaid sunned herself on a rock near the shore. Sergie and I had become used to seeing mermaids by that lake, but some of the men were uncomfortable, as they’d heard fables of their powers.
“Greetings, brave warriors,” she said.
“Greetings, Maiden of the Lake,” Lorenzo replied.
He was beginning to understand his role as captain of our unit.
“Thou art the king who will unite this land with Slovat,” she said.
“I may someday rule, Seer of the Lake,” Lorenzo admitted, “but I am just the son of the king. I expect to inherit his kingdom some day, but there is no guarantee.”
“Your destiny is to use love to unite this land with theirs,” she told him as her long blonde hair flared in the breeze.
“I would prefer to unite these two kingdoms through love and without bloodshed, but I fear that you’re mistaken as we will be entering Slovat to stop their incursions onto our lands. Unfortunately, we are at war. As crown prince of this country, it is my duty to defend it and its people.”
“You will succeed as I say,” the mermaid insisted. “One who stands with you today will be your queen.”
“Your eyes deceive you, fair mermaid,” I replied. “There are none here in our company except men. One cannot be both a man and a queen.”
“You will sing in another part of the choir, fair lady,” the mermaid told me. “You will be happy to rule with this handsome man. If I were human you would have competition.”
“Me?” I asked, totally perplexed. “I like women. The way they look, smell, and because they’re so sexy and practically beg me to be their lover. They seem happy that way, but I would not wish to be one, nor would I ever want sex with a man.”
“You will change your mind when you can see Lorenzo the way I see him.”
“Never,” I growled, repulsed by the idea. “I know you’re the seer of the lake, but on this you’re mistaken.”
The mermaid dove off her rock, as the men gathered around laughing at what had been said. No one could take such a prophecy seriously. I was one of the best hunters in the land. To be changed into a lady and married to the prince?
We made camp. My sleep that night was disturbed by the mermaid’s strange predictions. Could I somehow be turned into a woman? Could I like being a woman? Could I even make love to a man? Could that man be the one I swore to protect in our fight with Slovat? As dawn interrupted my fitful sleep, I decided I would rather die as a man in battle than live life as a woman, even if I became a queen.
On the fifteenth day of our forest exercise, Sergie heard men coming through the forest from the direction of Slovat. He gave the signal for our troops to hide behind the trees near a clearing. About thirty Slovat knights heading toward our capitol had caused the noise. Serge signaled the attack and we sent arrows at the surprised knights. Two knights and a horse fell from our first onslaught. One of the downed knights was still living. The other I was not sure. With our swords drawn and using vines to swing down on them, we attacked the remainder.
I cut and slashed. Our ranks moved forward, which indicated we were winning. I managed to kill or severely wound at least three. During the battle five or so of the Slovat knights escaped back to their kingdom, while we were able to capture about fifteen. Most of them were wounded. Ten of them were dead and so were two of our men. Sergie said that he saw one of our two dead fight with excellent valor. Both would be sorely missed.
Lorenzo asked the Slovat knights the names of their dead; and I wrote them down. He then told the Slovats to bury their dead. Grateful for the kindness to their fallen comrades, they dug the graves. Sergie and I had some of our men carve pieces of wood with each name of the dead and placed them on the appropriate graves; then we held services.
I hated Hasamonis. I had killed brave people because of him. The ones that day were not the first; and I suspected they would not be the last. Our two deaths and those from Slovat killed by my men were also my responsibility, because I had given the order to fight. I’ll always wonder if there might have been a better way. Few who have never gone to war or killed another human understand how badly this changes a man.
You may argue that I slew animals before I killed a man. It is true, but there is a huge difference. We eat the animal’s flesh. We wear its skin. We use its bones for tools. The animal may not appreciate dying, but its death serves a purpose. There is no purpose served by killing another person. It is a waste that usually produces hate.
With these thoughts in my mind we rode back to the capitol. Our men were now the battle-scared veterans we needed. As we returned, some of the men discussed with me the fact that they had killed brave soldiers. They didn’t like their feelings. I told them killing good men was a fact of war, and maybe some day people would understand that and war would not be necessary. Many of them hated, but they didn’t hate King Harvey because they knew he tried to avoid war. They knew this war had been thrust upon us and fighting was King Harvey’s last resort. They hated Hasamonis because he starting an unnecessary war just for his glory.
Two days later our troop left the capitol. Women, children, and old men lined the road leading from King Harvey’s castle to Slovat and cheered us. Many of the women threw flowers; and buglers on the parapets announced our departure. Both of the two villages we passed on the way also cheered on our advance.
Ten days after we left the capitol we reached the small river that for generations had been our border with Slovat. On our side was a small mountain that was unguarded until recently. The small garrison that fortified the hill gave us lodging for the evening. On our side the farmers of the valley were near the end of their planting season, but across the river weeds and small trees showed that the rich farmland was being wasted.
We continued on that road for a few hours until we entered a hamlet serving very fertile farmland. The hamlet was small, consisting of a few houses, an inn, a blacksmith, a bakery, and a church. The inn also served as the main meeting place and town hall, while the church contained a school. A number of people with animals walked the streets of the town so we assumed it was a market day.
“We need provisions,” Lorenzo told us. “We should take what we need.”
“We could do that, sire,” I agreed. “But we need to win the peace after we win this war. I suggest we purchase what we need.”
“How will that help?” he asked.
“If we take from these farmers we would deprive them of some of their livelihood. They will then hate us and be our enemy. Even if we win this war they will be a source of rebellion, but if they are paid for their goods they will have no grudge against us. If we sweeten the pot with a little extra, they will either use the money to survive until they replace their goods or may increase their production. Either way they will not resent us and may even become our allies.”
“I like your thinking, Boris,” Lorenzo told me. “After I succeed my father, I will ask you to become one of my advisors.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” I replied. “And if you still believe that then I will probably accept the honor.”
He turned, looked at me, and grinned. “Besides you’d make an ugly woman.”
The men around us roared.
“I guess I’ll be ribbed about the mermaid’s wild story until our mission is over.”
“Or, until it is normal for you to wear a dress.”
We both laughed, although mine had an edge to it.
“Quartermaster,” Lorenzo ordered as he handed his purse to the solder, “you heard Boris. Make a list of the provisions. Take some men and BUY what we need. And like Boris suggested, overpay them ten percent.”
Again, our wagon was full. Happily, no one from the village tried to sneak away to warn Hasamonis.
That evening Lorenzo, Sergie, and I were sitting around the campfire.
“Your Highness,” I said after a satisfying meal, “you’re willing to listen when you have the time to think. That is a quality your father has and will serve you well when you do rule. Just understand that in the heat of battle you must give quick and firm orders that must be obeyed without question.”
“I know Boris,” Lorenzo told me. “And I will not hesitate. My sword will be out leading the charge. We will be able to take Hasamonis’s castle and rescue this kingdom from his cruelty.”
“My brother and I have been to the castle, Your Highness,” Sergie replied. “It is a strong fortress and not easily conquered. I suggest we try some strategy to attack it.”
“If memory serves me correctly, there are some underground passageways that lead far outside the castle walls,” I added. “I believe we can use those to our advantage.”
“Do either of you know where these entrances are?” Lorenzo asked, eyes wide with anticipation.
After we looked at each other, Sergie replied, “No sire. However, I suggest we send out scouts.”
“Assign the men while we discuss the attack of the castle,” Lorenzo commanded. “If we can find those entrances we might not have to do a siege - - which we might not be able to win. Just in case we need to find the wood and stones for a catapult.”
“May I suggest a strategy for using the catapult, sire?” I asked. He motioned for me to continue. “Aim at only one spot of the wall. We will attack through that hole.”
“We’ll look for a weak spot on the wall that will serve our purpose,” Sergie added.
“If we need to, we will try that approach,” Lorenzo agreed.
We finally turned in. I slept fitfully because of strange dreams, but I still awoke refreshed. Although it usually wasn’t necessary for me to keep clean I felt unusually dirty, so after breakfast, I decided to take a bath in the stream that we had passed about one hundred yards away from camp. I took Robert with me to stand guard just in case any of Hasamonis’s men were nearby. The dirt and sweat of travel washed off of my body. I got out of the stream and looked up into an unwelcome sight -- five Slovat knights. One of the knights was huge, a head taller than me with shoulders that could hardly fit through a normal door. Two of the other knights had swords pointed at Robert’s throat, while the big man and the other two pointed swords toward me.
“I surrender,” I said. “May I get dressed before you take us?”
“You may,” their big leader said, “but first tell me where the rest of your party is.”
“We are alone,” I lied. “We thought a small party of two could better get into your castle and kill that monster you call King. I guess we were wrong.”
“Why isn’t your brother with you?” he asked.
I was surprised he knew of my brother.
“I know you’re Boris, the outlaw who lives in the forest at our border,” he continued.
“If I succeed in my mission it would not be necessary for him to come. If I don’t, our king will send Sergie with an assistant. If that doesn’t work we will send an army. That way we would have more of a chance for success.”
“I know you’re lying,” he said flatly, “but that is not important. Your fate is such that you will not be a threat to King Hasamonis.”
By the time I had dressed they had already tied Robert to a horse so that he would ride on his belly. Then they tied me the same way. We rode most of the day to the Slovat capitol. My stomach became quite sore because of that ride. I was glad to get off of that horse. Robert was in no better shape.
We were stripped naked and taken to a room, and then the door was locked on the outside. Freed of our ropes we tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. The room contained two beds, and had two small windows that were so small only a young child might squeeze through to escape. Hanging in the closets were clothes for women. There was no way that either Robert or I could fit into them without ripping their delicate fabric. We sat on one of the beds.
“Well, when the fighting begins,” I whispered to Robert, “we should be rescued.”
“I don’t think they will recognize you,” a woman told us.
We both tensed with surprise, as we hadn’t heard the door open.
“Just put down the tray of food on the breakfast table over there,” she said to a girl servant girl who was with her. She then turned toward us, “Please join me. I’d hate to eat alone.”
As the servant girl opened the door to leave it made enough noise that I knew that the woman and her servant hadn’t entered the room through normal means.
The woman was in her early twenties with long blonde hair. I wanted to ravish her then and there, but thought better of it until I could find out if I could gather any information from her.
“You men always think of sex,” she noted. “Besides, I am considerably older than you, young man. Please eat.”
“I doubt that very much,” I countered, almost convinced she’d read my mind. “You look barely out of your teens.”
As we feared the food was poisoned, neither Robert nor I ate.
“I am Gwendolyn, Hasamonis’s witch,” she told us.
I scoffed. “According to the legends Gwendolyn was around in my grandfather’s time, yet you plainly appear to be a young woman.”
“If he was still alive, your grandfather’s grandfather would not be as old as I am. I have used my magic to keep me young.”
She ate a little of everything. Satisfied that nothing happened to her we ate.
“Now to business,” she said, as Robert and I both continued to eat. “Hasamonis asked me to change the two of you into women. In a day or two both of you will be girls.
“The good news, Boris, is that you will be twenty again. The bad news for both of you is that you will be able to bare children as women have done for ages, and when you’re not pregnant you will have a woman’s problem once a month. Boris, you will have Hasamonis’s children because you will also be his bride in a fortnight.”
“Me, his wife? Why me?” I asked; I didn’t believe anyone’s magic was that strong, so I humored her. Robert had been staring open-mouthed, but was buoyed by my high spirits. We both tore another piece of bread from the loaf.
“Because Hasamonis has a unique sense of humor and would love to have you as his bride. You and your brother have been a thorn in his side getting in the way of his efforts to conquer Hartel and make King Harvey his vassal. It is a way to neutralize you that will send a strong warning to all others who might challenge Hasamonis. Don’t you agree?”
“How are you going to change us?” I asked, almost laughing.
“The process has already begun,” she answered, with a smile. “We’ll see who will be laughing in a day or two, my pretty young thing.”
I looked at her, tempted to mock her insanity.
She took the mug from my hand and threw it against the floor. With a wave of her hand the mug reassembled itself and the beer leapt back inside. “The food had a potion in it that will change your sex.”
We dropped what was in our hands.
“It doesn’t affect me because I am already a woman, but any man or boy who eats even a small amount of this food will become a women or girl. It is too late to stop the process, or even slow it down. You both will need to lie down, but if you’re hungry you may as well continue to eat. The food has a narcotic in it that will make you sleep. The pain from the transformation is eliminated that way.”
“And where do I come in?” Robert yawned and stretched -- blinking to keep his eyes open.
“You’re going to be her Lady-in-Waiting,” she told Robert, pointing to me.
“Who is her?” Robert asked, as his eyes closed then opened as he tried to shake the sleep away.
“Boris,” she explained. “Or should I say, Berta.”
“You’re sick,” I declared. “I still have my doubts you could change me into a woman, but even if you did change us why would I consent to have sex with a man, especially that evil one?”
“It is part of the magic,” she replied.
Despite struggling to stay awake neither Robert nor I could fight her suggestion of sleep. We feel where we’d eaten, together on the same bed.
I awoke to what I assumed was the next morning. I had no way to determine how much time had actually passed. Next to me was a pretty girl of about twenty with a boyish cut to her brown curly hair. She was naked and her back was to me.
As I moved from my dreams to the reality of her beautiful body, I moved closer to the wench and reached around her to rub her breasts. I heard her girlish voice moan slightly from my massaging as she continued to sleep. I felt a stirring in my loins, but for some reason it felt different than I usually felt at the beginning of sex. She turned over toward me and I felt a soft, small hand massaging my chest, and it felt better than I ever known.
We continued to fondle each other. About the same time I went for her opening, her hand went down to my crotch. I felt her finger slide into me as one of mine entered her. We both froze.
“Rob?” I asked, as I searched for any evidence of Robert in the girl’s face.
“Yes,” she replied, sweetly gazing into my eyes. “Although I think my name should be different. And would you, sweet lady, be my captain, Boris?”
“Yes. Although like you I don’t think I should respond to that name anymore.”
“Berta, I would love it if you continued what you were doing,” Robert said as she smiled. “I would also love it if you were to call me Roseanne. It’s a family name that I will be proud to wear.”
We continued and quickly discovered how beautiful female organisms can be. In the end, we held each other in the bed, lip-to-lip, breast-to-breast, belly-to-belly, and bush-to-bush. The after glow of our lovemaking being as satisfying as the act itself.
Gwendolyn, the witch, woke us later that morning. With her was a girl who also appeared to be in her early twenties.
“Good morning, ladies,” Gwendolyn barked. “Do you still doubt my powers?”
I blushed and averted my eyes.
“My potion was strong,” she cackled. “You two former strong men couldn’t wait to make love to one another.”
Much to my disgust I moaned as I remembered the ecstasy I just shared with Roseanne.
“Marie is here to teach you everything there is to know about being a woman, and a lady of the court. Follow her instructions carefully. If she doesn’t succeed she will be punished.”
“How will she be punished?” I asked.
“She will be whipped and both of you will watch so you will know that you’re responsible.”
Roseanne and I both sat up, although we were still naked. Instinctively we covered our bodies up to our chests with the bed sheets.
“Good, both of you’re beginning to react like women,” Gwendolyn noted. “The spell works faster when you add sex.”
“Marie,” the witch continued, “your job may be easier than you expect. Learn from her, GIRLS. Your lives and her safety depend upon it.
A festival was held that evening; and I was forced to eat sitting next to Hasamonis, as if he were already my husband. I did like his looks, but his stare made me feel dirty. About mid-meal I feigned illness, claiming it was my time of the month, and left the festivities. I thought I was lucky, as I heard music and dancing as I ascended the stairs to my bedchamber prison.
The next day, Gwendolyn had Marie whipped for my indiscretion. She made Roseanne and me watch. I turned my head, but Gwendolyn had one of the men hold me so I had to watch. Tears filled my eyes while I heard Roseanne sniffle. When it was over we carried Marie back to our room and administered a healing lotion to her wounds.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t think they’d do that. I won’t let them do that to you again, Marie,” I told her.
“Be strong, my lady,” Marie replied through her pain. “I will survive.”
“But I must do what I can to prevent these whippings.”
“If we lose you to his ways then I don’t know if we can get rid of him, and we must!”
“Right now rest, dear,” I demanded stroking her forehead as my mother had mine. “We’ll figure a way to defeat him.”
“I have an idea,” Roseanne told us much later, when Marie woke.
She explained the details of what seemed to be a good plan. Part involved sending a letter to Lorenzo and my brother. I wrote the letter and had Marie take it to them under her skirt. If their attack happened as planned, Hasamonis would be the only casualty. The only part I didn’t like was the chance that in the mean time I might become Hasamonis’s wife.
Marie came back from her trip outside the walls of the castle. “I spoke to Lorenzo and your brother. The scars and new cuts on my back from the whippings helped to persuade them the letter and what I said was true. It also helped that I showed them the way I was able to get out of the castle undetected. They think we have a good plan, but they need time to survey the castle and prepare for the attack. I’m supposed to meet them tomorrow.”
“Can you get them inside to scout the castle or draw a layout for them?” I asked.
“We will see,” Marie answered. “Your brother and Lorenzo had a difficult time understanding that you’re now ladies, until I mentioned the mermaid -- as you requested.”
“I knew that would get their attention,” I replied. “Are they well? Are the men ready to fight?”
“Yes they are. But enough talk about the war. We must prepare for your wedding, my lady. Hasamonis has decreed it will be in ten days. If I’m to avoid another whipping you have to be perfect in every way.”
I reluctantly tried on the bridal gown and underskirts.
“I kind of fancy your brother,” Marie told me as she took off my wedding dress after the fitting.
“Do you think he likes you?” I asked. “He IS single.”
“I think so. He tried to stay close while the three of us were talking. And just before I reentered the castle he kissed me.”
“That’s good,” Roseanne added as she smiled.
“It wasn’t just a kiss. The way he held me -- made me want him to take me.”
“Why didn’t you let him?”
“We both knew that the mission was more important. Besides, it would have been rushed.”
She then went into great detail as to how a woman must act toward and with her man. Evidently Marie had been bedded by excellent lovers, as she told us of things we could do that would drive men to unbelievable levels of ecstasy. Roseanne and I soaked up every word, eager to try what she had taught. NEVER with Hasamonis, I thought, overwhelmed by my disgust of the thought of him.
“After this is over you will have more time to let him take you,” I kidded her wanting to put thoughts of the scurrilous king out of my head.
Returning from her second trip to our army, Marie brought me my dagger, which I’d left in my knapsack that fateful day I went to bathe and was caught. We decided that we would change my wedding gown so that I could hide the dagger under it. We ripped a hole on the seam. To make it look like a natural part of the design we put pearls and fake buttonholes around that seam.
After the changes, I again reluctantly put on the bridal gown and underskirts over my deadly surprise and tried to walk without anyone noticing it. I also sat and kneeled a few times to make sure I could do it without it being notice.
We devised a plan so they would attack inside the castle during the wedding ceremony. When the attack started I was to kill Hasamonis. Marie met constantly with Lorenzo and Sergie. More than once their meetings seemed to take too long. Suspecting what happened, we made her give all the details. She intrigued us with the nuances of their lovemaking.
During that time I walked constantly with that dagger under my skirt. Although I got used to walking with it, sitting was another matter. None of us could find a way for me to sit without it either showing or making me look unladylike, or uncomfortable. Sometimes it was all three. Marie added another layer of petticoat, it hid the dagger, but it would take longer to get to it. The timing of the plan was critical or I would be dead.
The night before our nuptials I was again forced to sit next to the Usurper as we ate.
He rose, looked at me, and raised his chalice.
“I have a wedding present,” he said, as he stared.
The stare made me feel uncomfortable, like he was undressing me with his eyes. He looked like a forest boar in heat.
“I will be hanging ten thieves tomorrow before the wedding,” he continued. “I wish to make our lands safe for us.”
“My Lord,” I implored. “I refuse to marry on death’s heels. It would portend bad luck for our children.”
“If I execute them the next day would you allow the wedding to happen?”
“I’m afraid that might not be good enough,” I replied. I told the story of the mermaid forecasting my fate. “We all know how compassionate they want humans to be. To be sure we don’t incur her wrath you probably should pardon them. Do it for me, kind sir.”
“And if I do?” he leered.
“I will willingly marry you, my lord. I give you my word that I will go through with the ceremony with no qualms, but you must pardon them in front of me, and then either let them out the gate or allow them to join in the celebration.”
There, I’d said it. If I was to do anything for the people of this land and have their assistance in overthrowing this abomination, I had to show everyone that I would sacrifice myself in order to do it. If our plan worked it wouldn’t matter, if it didn’t I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be able to fight the spirit of Gwendolyn’s spell. I would provide him with children.
Besides, he did look handsome. If only his heart were as beautiful as his sculptured body. What was I saying? Had I become that much a woman in the two weeks that I looked at men the way I used to look at women? Was I losing to the spell already? Could I spill his blood when it had to be done?
He smiled. Perhaps I didn’t need to kill him; perhaps I could control him with womanly wiles.
And — perhaps I could also keep vipers as pets.
After the meal we danced a bit. He was graceful and charming. However I began to feel drowsy. When he finally noticed, he told me that he understood and suggested I could retire to my bedroom. He had Marie escort me.
“Maybe he isn’t the monster I thought him to be,” I told Marie.
“I don’t know if either Hartel or Slovat can afford the time for you to tame him,” she replied. “You must fight such thoughts. My guess is Gwendolyn put something in your drink to cause you to dream of him tonight. I will stay with you and keep you awake so that you don’t wake up in the morning lusting for him.”
Neither of us closed our eyes and by morning light my drowsiness had gone away. My senses were on alert as they always were on the morning of a hunt.
Before the wedding the ten prisoners were set free. Those nine men and one woman were given the choice of either staying for the wedding and feast or leaving. All decided to stay to honor me.
The wedding was held in the main dining room of the castle. I was able to see Hasamonis out of the corner of my eye and noticed how handsome he looked in his wedding regalia. I could have easily melted in his arms. Killing him would be harder than I had thought.
The wedding music began and I knew it was time for us to get married. With the holy priest standing at the altar and the wicked Gwendolyn by Hasamonis’s side, it seemed an abomination. What other spells had she cast? Would I be so fertile as to become pregnant with every assault of his manhood? Finally, she left the sanctuary and took her seat in a front chair.
Then it was my turn to proceed to the altar past the seated guests. Roseanne and Marie held my nervous arms as I sleepwalked down the isle. The priest told the guests and us the importance of the sanctity of marriage. He told us how in marriage it is “in death do us part.”
He would find the truth of those words in a few minutes. Either Hasamonis or I could be dead and our marriage ended just seconds after it began. I held my peace, as I needed to be queen of this kingdom in order to pull off my plan. He was holding my hands in his. The calluses from the evil deeds he’d done in the past scrapped against my soft, smooth skin.
I heard him say, “I do.”
The priest spoke, but I didn’t hear his question.
“Do you, Berta, take Hasamonis as your lawful wedded husband?” the priest repeated.
Somehow I said, ”I do.”
“I now pronounce you man and wife.”
As the priest said, “You may kiss the bride,” I heard shouting from the balcony.
Unafraid, Hasamonis kissed me passionately, and then turned and drew his sword. I didn’t expect his kiss, and was stunned.
A swordsman wearing the colors of my homeland swung down toward Hasamonis. As he concentrated on the soldier I brought my dagger out from under my petticoats. I plunged it into his back. He screamed as he fell, but he was still alive. I heard a woman’s shriek, as I pulled my dagger from his back and stabbed him again and again - - until he stopped moving. A minute later he looked ashen. Checking his eyes for signs of life and then a pulse the priest pronounced him dead.
My eyes ran with conflicted tears. I had used unflattering words to describe him while he was still alive, but in the end he was human and NONE OF US are perfect. I was also a flawed human because I’d used the end to justify the means, when I always tried to use the means to justify the end.
I took the crown off of Hasamonis’s head and handed it to the priest telling him, “Crown me.” I demanded.
Inwardly I giggled thinking of checkers.
The startled priest came to his senses, and then requested I bow -- before placing the crown on my head.
“As I was Hasamonis’s wife I am now your queen!” I stood and shouted as the fighting continued. “I declare a truce. Slovat officially surrenders!”
My first act as monarch was to make peace! Over the next minute or two all the fighting in the castle ended. I gave a sigh of relief. I turned and saw both Marie and Roseanne had swords in their hands with blood on the blades.
Roseanne curtseyed to me, “I’m sorry your majesty, but we had to kill Gwendolyn. She was about to kill you.”
“Why are you sorry. She was evil and . . . ” I stopped “Oh . . . I’m sure you realized that with her death all hope of you returning to manhood has ended.”
“I knew that,” she whispered, “but my duty to you. . . . And now you are stuck as well.”
I nodded feeling only fleeting remorse. The life of a woman had its appeal. My regrets were for how I became one.
Fortunately, the witch and Hasamonis were the only two deaths in the battle. I gave orders to have the wounded attended to immediately.
I then sat down on Hasamonis’s throne. By taking the throne I asserted my right to rule Slovat. After curtseying to me as they arrived at the chair, Roseanne and Marie stood on either side of me with their swords drawn.
“The king is dead,” they shouted. “Long live Queen Berta.”
We heard a chorus of, “Long live Queen Berta.”
There was a slightly smaller throne next to mine that I was supposed to sit in it after the wedding, but I would never use it.
The soldier who had swung from the balcony came forward and raised his visor. It had been Prince Lorenzo, who led the charge.
Standing before me, he smiled. “I see your plan worked, Your Majesty. He bowed.
“As you’re royalty and you’re an honored guest in my kingdom,” I told him. “I invite you to sit it this seat next to me. If I had more time to prepare this seat would have been of equal size.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty,” he replied, as he walked over to the seat and bowed again.
“It is our pleasure, Your Highness,” I replied, as I stood and curtseyed.
Before I moved to consolidate my claim to the throne I told the priest, “Burn the bodies of Hasamonis and Gwendolyn. No one who used magic to conquer evil deserves to be buried in hallowed ground?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Burn their bodies and throw the ashes with the garbage.”
I proceeded to consolidate my throne.
“Bring us the leader of my army,” I declared.
“Bring Eric the giant here,” came a shout from the balcony.
“Coming Your Majesty,” a huge man exclaimed, as he ran down the stairs.
He stopped before our thrones and bowed.
“I am Eric, Lord of Mistal and your general.”
“Eric, Lord of Mistal, our kingdom needs you to pledge your allegiance to me as your queen.”
Slowly he drew his sword held it in both hands with the blade in his palms, and then bent down and presented it to me.
“I pledge my loyalty to my queen, Berta,” he said.
“You may rise, Eric, Lord of Mistal,” I said. “Were you the leader of the knights who captured me?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Why were we tied to the horses on our bellies?”
“Those were the king’s orders.”
“From now on if you have a prisoner you’re to treat him with courtesy as long as it doesn’t allow that prisoner to escape or risk your safety.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. It will be done.”
“And now, Eric, present your officers.”
One by one they came and pledged their loyalty to me as their queen.
“Where is my counsel?” I asked.
“They are in the dungeon,” Eric replied.
“Go get them, clean them, and present them to us,” I commanded. “If necessary, feed them. Then you may rejoin the feast. While we wait I wish my nobles to pledge their allegiance.”
All the nobles present bowed and swore to protect my kingdom and me.
“All rise and proceed to the banquet,” I commanded. “We still wait for the counsel, but we have guests that expected a feast. Let us eat.”
About an hour and a half later three emaciated men with sores on their bodies came in. They looked like they were nearly starved. One of the men seemed to have difficulty standing.
“Bring these men chairs and food,” I commanded.
“Are you my counsel?” I asked the apparent leader after chairs were brought and they sat.
“We are the remains of the counsel of Hasamonis’s predecessor. Hasamonis refused to listen to us.”
“When we protested his cruelty we were thrown into the dungeon,” one of the other men said.
“How many were you?” I asked.
“We were seven,” replied the same man.
“Where are the rest?”
“I heard that two died,” he answered. “I know not of the other two.”
“I need the three of you to pledge your allegiance to me. We will require you to counsel me. That includes things that I may not want to hear. I expect the truth from you. Obviously, the final decision is mine.”
The two healthier men knelt and pledged their allegiance. The third started to stand in order to kneel.
“No, kind sir, you may do so in you seat,” I commanded. “For now you have my permission. I do hope your privilege is not permanent.”
He had a tear in his eye. He first thanked me, and then pledged his allegiance.
“Were you the head of the counsel?”
“Yes, Your Majesty” he replied.
“What is your name?”
“Mark of Bothwell, Your Majesty.”
“Mark of Bothwell, for now you shall be head of my counsel. You will include Eric, Lord of Mistal in your counsel. Does anyone else claim a right to be on this counsel?”
“Jose,” came a reply that was followed by repeats of his name.
“Is this Jose present?”
“I am Your Majesty,” replied a man from the balcony.
“Why do they believe that you should be on this counsel?”
“I am a prominent merchant and usually speak for many of us.”
“Are there any objections to this Jose being on the counsel?”
“There appears to be no objection. Jose, please come down, pledge your allegiance so you may be, as of now, the junior member of my counsel.”
He came down the stairs, bowed, and gave his allegiance.
I heard a womanly sigh from Roseanne.
I pulled her over and whispered, “If he is single, and if it works out, you have my blessing.”
I saw her blush slightly as she whispered her thanks to me.
“Now let’s continue the feast.”
I turned to Lorenzo, looked at him, and smiled. He WAS handsome, just like the mermaid had told me. I fumbled for words because he was taking my breath away.
“Did I do well, Your Highness?” I squeaked, seeking his approval.
“You did excellent, Your Majesty,” he stammered.
‘He likes me!’ I thought. ‘And he’s a little shy.’
The party at the castle went into the early morning. As it was late, most of the guests slept in the castle.
The next morning, after dressing, I ate breakfast with Lorenzo.
“Lorenzo, I feel bad about killing Hasamonis.”
“It was necessary for the people of Slovat and Hartel.
“I know, but killing is still wrong. I wish there had been another way.”
“That’s the point,” he explained. “There was no other way. If there were, you or I or my father or any one of a number of people would have thought of that method. But it was war, and war means killing. I don’t like what happened either, but we do the best we can.”
After breakfast, with Lorenzo at my side and the counsel in front of us, I began listening to petitions from my new subjects. Some had asked relief from the taxes that were imposed. I promised to look into the entire tax structure and where possible reduce or eliminate the imposed taxes. I then asked what the tax structure was, what it had been under Hasamonis’s predecessor, and the present condition of the treasury.
Jose suggested some new public works projects that would help the communities. I liked his thinking. As I had stayed up late the night before and the affairs of state were new to me, I retired early. For the rest of the week, we repeated the process of Lorenzo and I having breakfast, and then listening to petitions.
On the seventh day, after being assured the treasury would not suffer, I signed into law the tax structure at what it had been just before Hasamonis stole the kingdom.
As I was signing the document and having copies made for the entrance walls of all the castles in my kingdom, I said, “The reduced tax is a step we can do quickly. I have modest needs, and a righteous kingdom has little use for coin not having a purpose or for emergencies. I will see if more can be done.”
On the eighth day, Lorenzo spoke to me as we ate. “I need to return to my own kingdom. My father is probably worried about me and our mission.” Lorenzo had long ago sent word by messenger of Hasamonis’s death and the casualties we had suffered, but he knew his father wouldn’t rest comfortably until he saw his son with his own eyes.
I longed to be at Lorenzo’s side. “If you don’t mind, I shall accompany you. I need to negotiate a peace treaty with your father.”
“I would like that, very much.”
We sent Lorenzo’s best horseman on the fastest horse in my kingdom to notify King Harvey we were coming. Leaving my brother, Sergie, in charge of Slovat, we left the next day. Roseanne accompanied me in the coach as Lorenzo’s army and some of my knights led the way. I had insisted that Jose join us and he usually rode his horse with the army. Marie begged me to allow her to stay at my castle, and I agreed, as I noted that Sergie constantly kept her company.
I spoke to each of them individually, “Try not to need a wedding until I come back.”
The first night we set up camp by a stream between the Slovat capitol and a trading town. After a frugal supper, I sat alone by the fire to keep warm. While I was looking up at the stars Lorenzo walked over and sat next to me.
“They are pretty,” he said.
“What?” I asked demurely.
“Yes.” I agreed, with some disappointment that he hadn’t meant my eyes.
“And you’re too.”
“Why thank you, Your Highness.”
“Lorenzo,” he requested, as I shuddered because of the cold.
Realizing my discomfort he took off his jacket and started to put it around me.
“I’d rather we share your jacket,” I suggested.
He came closer and I moved between his arm and chest. We sat not saying a word. I felt warmer and safe -- it was as if I belonged in his strong, manly arms.
“I’m beginning to believe the mermaid was right,” I said, after a few minutes. “I feel I belong at your side.”
“That’s good,” he replied, “because I’m beginning to love you.”
I smiled, and looked up into his eyes. “I’m beginning to love you, too.”
As that was as it should be; and I loved him. After, I sighed, content to be in his arms. When it was time for sleep I needed to tell him it was too soon to have sex. While I was falling asleep I realized that sex was much more than a distinct possibility with Lorenzo. I had found my prince and only had to kiss one frog.
When I finally went back to the wagon to sleep I was alone. Roseanne hadn’t come back from her rendezvous with Jose. I was pulling the covers over me when she came in. She had a glow and that “cat that ate the canary” smile.
“You didn’t,” I said.
“Yep, we did,” she replied. “And it was wonderful. Where were you?”
“With Lorenzo,” I replied, smiling.
“Did you two?” she asked.
“No, but soon. I don’t want to tell King Harvey that I am carrying his grandchild, even if it might give me more leverage.”
“Is there any other reason?”
“I need to make sure that the love between us is real. There is that spark. Let the fire grow.”
“What are you two afraid of?”
“I worry. Am I doing this for convenience and our countries, or am I doing this for love? You have it easier. There is little for you to gain because of Jose’s station — so you know your love is pure.”
“Are you going after Lorenzo because you rule Slovat?”
“No, I’m looking for love, but I have to be concerned for the welfare of Slovat.”
She gave me a hug, “Poor baby. It must be hard.”
“I hope it will be.” I giggled, but felt a tear run down my cheek.
The next day we entered the town where we had not too long ago purchased the provisions. The townsfolk insisted that we join them in a celebration. After a short discussion with Lorenzo and other leaders of our entourage, we agreed.
It was during this celebration that Lorenzo pulled me aside into a quiet room. “Would you marry me?”
“I need to negotiate proper terms with your father,” I replied. “If either of us wasn’t royalty I would be saying a definite ‘yes.’”
“What do you have in mind?” he asked, after we kissed.
“I might as well let you know,” I hesitated. “This is my plan. . . .”
The celebration went long into the night. The members of the town made sure we all slept in soft beds. I knew that luxury might not happen again until we arrived at King Harvey’s castle. Before retiring, I told the mayor and the town’s priest that we were paying for the expense of the celebration.
“But Your Majesty,” the mayor objected, “we did this out of our heart.”
“And we accept the gesture as it was intended,” I explained, “but I am your queen and must be concerned for the welfare of my subjects. We can absorb the financial loss better than your town can. Please, let us pay the expenses.”
“No,” the priest replied. “Some of the people would be hurt because you paid for this.”
I thought for about a minute.
“Is there any project that your town needs?” I asked.
“A road to the town of Northumber,” the mayor replied. “I believe it would increase commerce between us. Now, we either have to climb Mt. Easlat or take a journey to the capitol and then take the road to Northumber.”
“It will be done,” I replied. “Speak to Jose in the morning. He will have my counsel give me the details.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
We continued our journey in the morning. We were able to reach the river and mountain that marked the border between my kingdom and Hartel.
Gazing at the uncultivated land on my side of the river I summoned Jose to my carriage.
“Jose, who owns this land?” I asked.
“You do, Your Majesty,” he replied. “Hasamonis took it from his predecessor and never had it used.”
“This looks like excellent land. Is there any reason it couldn’t be farmed?” I asked.
“No, Your Majesty, I agree that this could be good farmland, especially if we have peace with Hartel.”
“Are there poor in my kingdom who could be good farmers?”
“I believe so, Your Majesty,” he replied.
“Have this land surveyed. When we get back to Slovat, distribute it to those poor who can farm it. I want this land productive. If they can farm it successfully for thirty years it is theirs.”
“It would be my pleasure, Your Majesty,” he replied with a grin.
“Now, please inform the prince that we should rest,” I told him. “I wish to talk with him for a while.”
As it was late afternoon, we forded the river before making camp.
“Berta, what is it?” Lorenzo asked when he arrived.
I lighted onto his horse behind him and gave him a hug. “Let’s ride to the mountain,” I whispered. “I have an idea.”
We rode to the base of the mountain and I again whispered in his ear. “Do you think your father would give us this mountain?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Our home would be a castle on the border,” I told him as I gave him a squeeze. “The river could be the beginning of a moat and the mountain could be a fortress. The town that would grow around it would attract people from both kingdoms making the union stronger.”
“Then you will marry me? “ he implored.
“My answer is still the same. First I must negotiate the peace, but you can start the designs for the castle.”
Fanfare greeted us when we arrived at the capitol. King Harvey and his wife, Nancy looked over the wall as we entered the gate. Greeting us was Lorenzo’s brother, Raymond, with Margaret’s hand around his arm.
“Guess you won’t be teasing me anymore because I’m a girl,” she said, when she finally recognized me.
“My sex change will have nothing to do with me teasing you, Maggie,” I replied. “However, is there something happening between the two of you?”
“Most definitely,” Raymond informed us, “we’re getting married.”
“Then I think I know the perfect wedding present, although I don’t think you will receive it for a number of years. I won’t tell you until I know it is definite. Now may we see your father, Lord Raymond?”
“Right this way,” he instructed.
Lorenzo and I followed our siblings to the great hall and throne room where the King and Queen were already sitting on their throne.
“Speak, my son,” King Harvey commanded.
“Father, we won,” Lorenzo smiled. “Slovat now has a queen, but no king. Berta killed Hasamonis, and his witch is also dead. I led the charge.”
“I shall reward you, madam,” King Harvey said.
“I was Boris, and am now Berta, Queen of Slovat,“ I explained. “I killed Hasamonis just after I became his wife, and am now a widow. I wish to marry again, but first I have concerns about the future of my kingdom and yours.”
“We were at peace with your country for centuries,” King Harvey replied. “We were at war only because of the incursions into our land that your predecessor commanded. We have no need to fight your kingdom.”
“That is true, but now there is more involved. Lorenzo and I are lovers.”
“Tell me the truth, Lorenzo,” King Harvey inquired. “Do you love her?”
“I must be sure your passion is not to gain her kingdom, boy.”
“It is an added bonus, but I’d love her if she was a poor peasant girl.”
“And you, Berta. Are you attempting to take my country through marriage?”
“My love for Lorenzo is as true as his for me.”
“I can see it with my eyes. You have my approval.”
We bowed and smiled.
“So what do you propose?” King Harvey asked.
“You will rule Hartel and I will rule Slovat until we die,” I suggested. “We will have an alliance that requires us to come to the aid of the other in case of war or disasters. Lorenzo and I are to be allowed to marry, the same with Margaret and Raymond. When the time comes Lorenzo will inherit your kingdom. On that day Sergie will become my vassal and rule over Slovat. Raymond will become Lorenzo’s vassal and rule over Hartel. One of your grandchildren will rule this united kingdom and one will be the lord of Hartel. I believe in the concept of blood being thicker than water and therefore we should have peace.”
“I like your idea,” King Harvey smiled as Lorenzo came to my side and put his arm around me.
“There is more. From now on, there will be no tariff for goods between our kingdoms.”
“A subject of one kingdom has the right to be a subject of the other kingdom.”
“Good idea,” King Harvey said. “It will probably increase commerce.”
“Lorenzo and I want Mt. Mortain as our home. It is on the border and a castle there could be well defended. We need both treasuries to provide for the construction. We believe that a town would attract people from both kingdoms.”
“The land will be our wedding present to you.”
“And finally, the law must be changed in both kingdoms to allow a woman to inherit, not just me and my family -- but all women under our reign.”
King Harvey thought for a moment. “Agreed.”
“I think I’ve said enough.”
“In that case I’ll have the royal scribe document the treaty. If the wording is agreeable to you, we will sign tomorrow, but tonight you’re our guest at a banquet in honor of you ascending the throne, your victory, your return, and most of all your love for my son and his for you.”
Within a few months Lorenzo and I were married. Margaret, Roseanne, and Marie were my bridesmaids. That honor also fell to me for their weddings. Six months after my wedding I gave birth to a baby girl. She was a teen when King Harvey died of old age. When Mortain Castle was built we permanently moved into our home.
I thank Angela Rasch and Holly Logan for their assistance and Maggie O Malley for her encouragement.
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