Elaine and I were married in a very simple ceremony in the late afternoon of a clear, crisp October evening with a full moon just coming up in the eastern sky. Considering that the official part of the ceremony lasted about three seconds—Arthur pronounced the words, “I grant you this woman as your wife” and we were married—it took a hell of a long time to get ready.
Despite my cavalier attitude—I was entitled to be somewhat cavalier, since I rode a horse in my primary occupation—I was worried about how Arthur might react. He’s far more open-minded than any other king I’ve ever met, but he’s still a king. When you’re king, there’s no pressure for your ideas and beliefs to be logical. They don’t have to make sense: you get to have them anyway. And the gap between our social standing and my own—Elaine a princess, I a mere knight—would be an affront to the accepted group mores.
On the other hand, Arthur liked to poke a stick in the eye of accepted standards.
In a few days under the determined tutelage of Queen Morgan le Fay, I learned more about sex than I had in the first forty-five years of my life. In one stolen afternoon with Princess Elaine, I easily doubled that knowledge. And if I didn’t even get to use any of the tricks Morgan had taught me—well, there would be other days.
The single biggest trove was a thorough understanding of what I’d first glimpsed at Morgan’s: nothing increases sexual enjoyment as much as being in love. Youth and vigor, a comely partner, great tits, raging horniness, all the tricks of the trade, even a lover who’s bathed recently—all pale in comparison. Apparently there is an emotional aspect that I’d only now begun to suspect. I guess that’s why the bards call it ‘making love’ when they’re telling the great love stories like Tristan and Iseult.
After my emotionally-exhausting cogitation and my physically-exhausting foray out of bed, I was ready for a nap. Elaine was there holding my hand when I awoke, although I didn’t know if she stayed the whole time to gaze upon the manliness of my face or had been off doing something useful and returned with fortuitous timing.
And then the Princess was off to teach noun declensions to her two young charges who were destined to save the world, leaving me lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. The pounding in my head and the savage stabbing by which my ribs reminded me that I wasn’t supposed to move around were nothing compared to how badly my feelings were hurt.
But gradually I calmed down enough to think rationally about what Elaine had said.
I will sleep with you, any time you ask. Oh Kay, how bad could that be? I mean, isn’t that what traditional marriage means for most men anyway? Continue reading
I stumbled around on the fringes of consciousness. Discovered the Holy Grail, just as Morgan had described it, sitting dusty and draped with cobwebs on a shelf in Merlin’s cottage. Was savagely pounded by a giant with a wooden maul until I hurt all over. Rode through an apple grove with George Foster on steel horses that trotted stiffly and blew smoke out their noses. Heard voices that might have been discussing me or possibly the weather. Hurt some more. Walked arm in arm with Morgan down a forest lane until she stopped to undress and became a Valkyrie.
Obviously there wasn’t a god whose responsibility it was to control the weather; otherwise, it would have been gloomy and overcast. Maybe the brash sunlight signaled that it was only gloomy from my perspective; the gods, having cast their lots with Maleagans, were heading out for a picnic. Or perhaps the pantheon alternated jobs like the knights did at Morgan’s Happy Camp for Wayward Boys, and this morning it was Fortuna’s turn at weather control and, well, she’d slept in (as Fortuna often does). But for whatever reason, the morning sun shone bright and cheerful, with promises that it was going to be a hot July day. My gravediggers were going to get sweaty before it was all over.
Civilians believe that Midwinter is the longest night of the year. As December deepens, dark comes earlier and earlier while dawn sleeps later and later until there’s practically no day at all and only night. The superstitious dance and pray for the sun to come back. Ha! It’s all just an astronomical trick. Merlin showed me why the nights were longer, using an apple for the sun and a crabapple for the earth.
What I wanted to do was to throw a red-faced, screaming tantrum, like a hungry baby snatched from its mother’s tit. But the little pebble of my brain that was working convinced the rest of me that not only would that be horribly unmanly, it wouldn’t do a lick of good. And it certainly wouldn’t impress Elaine. Her calm serenity was remarkable, she who had not been kissed in a quarter century.
The princess smiled as she planted a gentle kiss on her finger and laid it across my lips. Then she was gone.
While I waited, I fretted. While I fretted, I paced.
My footsteps seemed offensively loud on the bare timbered floor.
Elaine’s image was burned into my memory, but doubts assailed me that I even remembered accurately what she looked like. I had scarcely cast my eyes on her at all, and much time had passed since then. Only once had I seen her in full light, in Maleagans’ well-candled Great Hall, and then only for a mere handful of minutes. Then an hour but in dim moonlight, a glance as she stood on the distant wall as I rode away, and those misty glimpses through Morgan’s scrying bowl. And that was all my aging memory had to work with.