Margarete looked across at Lise, and attempted to widen her eyes into an expression of entreaty. "Oh please?" she begged, "Just once!"
Lise was sewing tiny stitches into a small cloth pouch containing fragrant herbs she herself had collected early that morning.
"No," she replied. "I am still weary from long riding, and it's the sort of thing one must be in the mood for, or else being paid to do."
They had been passing the time by reminiscing about their meeting 4 years previous. Lise had been a tumbler and player in an itinerant group of entertainers. Margarete had been remembering the impressive sight of Lise, up-side-down, walking across the courtyard of an inn on her hands.
"Please do it?" Margarete pleaded. It's a remarkable feat which would entertain me mightily! Although, perhaps, well, that was 4 years ago... It is too youthful of an accomplishment for me to ask of you, pray put it out of your mind. Indeed, you must be still fatigued, you had a long ride, I understand."
Her expression of kindly condescension was too much for Lise. She was only 10 years older than the young Margarete, and she knew her mistress was trying to goad her.
"Very well," she laughed, indicating her handy-work. When I have seen you stand on one foot for the time it takes me to complete one side of this sashay, and the other foot while I sew the other side, then will I amuse you with my tumbler's tricks."
Lise had long ago introduced Margarete to this game as a way to teach the younger woman poise and balance. As a noble-woman, Margarete had possessed a prideful baring and a graceful demeanor, but Lise had sought to add strength and physical confidence to her carriage.
Margarete made a face. "Oh very well," she replied irritably. She stood up.
"Of course you must raise your skirts that I may ensure you keep your end of the bargain," Lise smiled. She glanced at the window, curtains drawn against the wind and the infernal rain that fell outside. They had been in Scotland only a short time, but already Lise felt that she had seen enough rain to last her a life time. As Margarete's favored attendant and sworn companion, Lise would have followed her into worse lands, but she wished that her mistress's marriage might have been to a man of their native Southern France, or of Spain, somewhere warm and dry.
This was their last day of rest before Margarete's bridal party would reach the lands of the Lord Colin MacLean. They were being accommodated in another in a long succession of religious houses which lay just outside the lands which, on the morrow, would become their new home. Lise sat back with her sewing in her hands, prepared to enjoy their last day alone together, what felt like their last day of freedom.
Margarete had gathered her skirts in her hands, and raised them above her knees, displaying slender ankles and graceful calves. She stared intently at Lise.
"You're not sewing!" she snapped.
"Of course," Lise replied smiling, and resumed her work, "Although it would be much more entertaining for me to see all of your legs, not merely the lower part." The subtle but unmistakable glint of mischief in Lise's eye caused Margarete to remove the obstructing layers with a good grace.
As Margarete lifted one foot and placed it carefully across the knee if her straight leg and found her balance, Lise tried to pay attention to keeping her stitching straight, but her eyes were drawn compulsively to Margarete. Her legs, though lacking the developed musculature of Lise's own, were smooth, elegant, and, as Lise knew well, soft and yielding to the touch. Now, however, they showed the occasional quiver, and heightened definition of effort. Margarete's young face wore an expression of intense concentration that captured Lise's gaze. How beautiful her mistress was, the confident tilt of her graceful head, the soft sweep of her fare hair, left loose on this day of rest, the symmetrical curves of her young woman's body.
They had prepared well for Margarete's coming marriage, but for the first time, Lise felt a twinge of resistance. She had a brief but sharp sense of distaste at the idea of handing this lovely, playful, inexperienced girl to a rough Scots barbarian who would feel it his husbandly right to use her as he wished. Lise felt a stab of possessive longing to seize Margarete in her arms, to share the pleasure they had so often known together, to keep her for her own. With the practiced discipline learned in her years before Margarete, Lise looked away, and back to her stitching.
"I think you are lagging in your work!" Margarete said through gritted teeth. Her straight leg trembled with fatigue.
"Indeed," Lise replied cheerfully, and applied several quick stitches until one side of the sashay was complete. She held it up.
"There," she said, "You may rest while I rethread my needle." While Margarete rested, then balanced on the other leg, Lise tried to keep her eyes on her work.
While she stole frequent glances at Margarete's balanced form, Lise remembered the night she had spent in the bed of Margarete's soon-to-be husband. Nervous as any bride, Margarete had been agitated to distraction by an added worry about her coming marriage. Her father and brothers had arranged it with this Scottish stranger based solely on his nobility, and his wealth. Reckless and irresponsible, they had amassed prodigious debts, and looked for Margarete's groom to rescue them. Margarete knew that, soon after her wedding, her new husband was going to be prevailed upon by her kin, to open his purse wide to assist them. She had begged Lise for help in learning how best to please him, to bind him to her, to enslave him so that the entreaties of her kinsmen would fall on receptive ears.
Seeing the true distress of her beloved mistress, Lise had set out alone on a daring mission. In the guise of a masked player, she had gained entrance into the Lord Colin's bed chamber, and partaken in his last revelry before his wedding. She had come back with a purse of silver, intimate knowledge of Lord Colin's tastes, and some unexpected and highly pleasurable memories of raucous pleasure. She had shared all with Margarete, and tried to prepare her for what to expect, tried to advise her on how to combine enticement with naivety in just the right way to captivate him.
Lise finished the stitching quickly. "There," she said, "you may rest. You did well." Margarete flopped down on the bed with a gusty sigh.
"Now it's your turn, and I think you must remove more than skirts for this feat!"
"Do you?" Lise replied, a note of amused challenge in her voice. "Then perhaps My Lady should decide on my attire."
She stood still in the centre of the room, daring Margarete with her eyes. Fatigue forgotten, Margarete leapt up and began removing Lise's garments.
"Must I be naked then?" Lise asked as Margarete hastily tugged the last of Lise's clothes off and stepped back.
"It is safer," Margarete answered, you must be unencumbered."
Lise stepped back, noting with pleasure, the combination of childish anticipation and sensuous enjoyment on the younger woman's face. Calling to mind her years as a tumbler and acrobat, she brought her concentration into her own body, studied a spot on the floor some distance ahead of her, knelt, positioning herself carefully, then lifted first one, then the other leg into the air, supporting herself first on her head and hands, then, slowly raising herself higher.
Margarete's face came alive with wonder and excitement, a sigh of delight escaped her.
"OH, now walk!" she demanded, with the eagerness of a child.
As Lise made a slow and deliberate progress around the chamber, Margarete studied her body from this unaccustomed angle, the long, straight, defined legs, the lithe torso, the shoulders and arms, so unexpectedly strong.
Lise lowered herself slowly and gradually to the floor with a long heartfelt sigh. Margarete clapped her hands in delight, and cried, "Oh, you are truly a marvel!"
She went to where Lise lay full length on the floor, studied her with pleasure, then held out a hand to help her up. Lise drank in the vivid, excited expression on Margarete's face. She loved Margarete's animation, her capacity for exuberance. Margarete hugged her close and gave her a resounding kiss on the cheek. "You are wonderful!" she exclaimed. Lise's hands claimed Margarete, one at her hip and one at her shoulder. "And you are beautiful!" she replied, taking Margarete's earlobe quickly between her teeth.
They pressed close, each clinging to the other. Margarete nestled against Lise, pressing her lips into the hollow of Lise's throat.
"After I am wed," she said softly, "Shall we still, still... Shall we be as we are now?" She put her arms tightly around the other woman, seeking both sensual enjoyment, and reassurance. Lise cupped her hand around Margarete's round bottom.
"As long as we are together," she replied, "This feeling which is between us will not fade. I have sworn myself to your side, and never will I tire of your sweetness." Her other hand slid down over Margarete's breast, down to the warm mound between her legs, resting their gently. "Though, perhaps, once you have known your husband's attentions, you will no longer crave mine." She tried to make her tone mildly teasing, but she experienced a stab of genuine anxiety.
She felt an unaccustomed tension in the younger woman, and pulled a little away to study her face. Margarete's eyes were wide, slightly glazed, and shone with unshed tears. "What is wrong?" Lise demanded in surprise. Margarete's face contorted slightly, but words failed her. Finally, she whispered "I am afraid. Oh Lise, never leave me, swear it again!"
Lise pulled her close again. "I swear it as many times as you wish," she replied, and felt the swelling of love for her mistress and friend.
"Come now," she said, while Margarete shook with silent sobs, "you must not do this. Tomorrow is your wedding day, and your eyes must be clear, bright and unblemished.
Lise led her to the bed, pushed her gently down and began rubbing her back slowly and tenderly. Margarete gulped, trying to contain her fear.
"I will never leave you," Lise said again. "This country is alien, and your husband is a stranger, but you will learn to live in this place, and perhaps soon there will be a child." Margarete clung to her compulsively. Lise felt her body quivering, but the tears had stopped. Lise was relieved. A woman's armor was scant enough, and Lise knew that Margarete must rely on her pride, dignity and beauty in order to secure her place in this new life.
Watching the younger woman's silent struggle to regain composure, Lise was moved to compassion, admiration, and a fierce possessiveness. She held Margarete tightly, moving her hands eagerly over her body, filled with a hunger to claim, to feel, taste, possess, to bind Margarete to her anew. A fleeting awareness told her that Margarete was not the only one who feared.
Lise pulled a warm quilt over top of them, and rolled to straddle Margarete, covering the delicate skin of her face with hungry kisses. When their lips met, the tension of Margarete's fear began to shift into the tension of longing. She pressed herself upwards against Lise, winding her limbs tightly around her and making soft sounds of yearning enjoyment.
Lise's mouth moved down to Margarete's throat, then to the delicious contrast of soft breasts and hard, pointed nipples. She opened her lips widely, as though to consume the tender flesh. For all Margarete could appear so cool and aloof, Lise reveled in the familiar heat that emanated from her skin. Always, Margarete's flesh exuded a vital, vibrant warmth that made her comforting on a chilly night, and eminently provoking in passion.
Lise covered Margarete's warm belly with kisses, then pressed her cheek against the soft skin, while her hands reached under to grasp the rounded, feminine hips. Her fingers dug into flesh, and she drank in Margarete's scent.
Margarete's tension would not allow for passivity, and she pulled Lise up till they were again face to face. She pressed her lips wordlessly to Lise's, and with a long, deep kiss, she turned so that they lay on their side, facing one another. Margarete ran her hand eagerly up from Lise's muscular thigh, along the sweeping curve of a shapely hip and waist, then across her ribs to cup Lise's full breast. She bent her head and took the nipple between her lips, pulling with unaccustomed firmness.
Lise threw her leg over Margarete's and began rocking her pelvis rhythmically. She felt an unfamiliar selfishness. She grabbed Margarete's hand and put it between her legs, and thrust her other nipple toward Margarete's lips. She pushed her hips strongly against Margarete's probing fingers, and, intuitively understanding Lise's desire, Margarete thrust 2 fingers inside, while making circular motions with her palm against the swollen clitoris.
"Harder!" Lise gasped, a rare note of command in her voice. Not knowing which movements Lise meant, Margarete sucked harder, and thrust more deeply.
Lise's body arched, her breath was horse and uneven. She felt a sense of passivity and abandon that she did not associate with Margarete. It was very welcome, and she did not hasten the peak of her pleasure. She urged Margarete back and forth between her breasts, first one distended nipple, then the other disappearing between Margarete's eager lips. Lise looked down, utterly consumed by the sight of her sensitive flesh disappearing into Margarete's mouth, the feeling of stimulation between her legs. She spread her thighs as wide as possible, and completely relaxed her inner muscles. She felt a keen receptivity, a complete openness, no barrier of apprehension, nor guard against unexpected roughness. Margarete's movements were strong and firm, but Lise felt no impulse to guard herself as she usually felt with men; even the most skilled and graceful of them.
Finally, without thought or anticipation, the peak of excitement overcame her. She lay utterly passive, completely open to its flooding presence. It washed outward from her centre as a swift tide, running through her entire body to fill her belly, flow down her legs, out her fingertips, outward from every part of her until she felt as though she was surrounded by a glowing aura of warm light.
Sensing the profundity of Lise's experience, Margarete rested quietly beside her, neither moving nor speaking. For several moments, Lise felt transported, as though she and Margarete were somewhere completely removed from this spare, monkish chamber. They were nowhere and everywhere at once.
She was accustomed to taking the role of protector, teacher, guide to Margarete. Now, shaken deeply, she was aware of a subtle and disorienting shift. Very slowly, she turned to face the still silent Margarete. With great tenderness, she kissed Margarete's cheek.
"You have given me an un-looked for gift," she said very softly, "one I shall not forget."
"Your devotion is an incomparable gift which you give anew each day. You will have no need of memory, for it is a joy that we will share as long as we live. I swear myself to your side, as you have sworn yourself to mine. You will always have refuge with me, and my devotion to you, and to what we share will not waver."
To her own amazement, Lise felt tears fill her own eyes, she who had forsworn tears many years ago. She reached out a fingertip and traced the well-known contours of Margarete's face with great gentleness.
"Why do you weep?" Margarete asked, curiously unsurprised by this unusual sign of emotion.
For a moment, Lise did not reply, only continued to caress Margarete's face. "I hardly know myself," she said finally. "They are tears of gladness, not of sorrow. More I cannot tell you. Someday perhaps I will be able to."
Margarete pulled the quilt completely over their heads, and they lay for a long time thus, not speaking, each drawing immeasurable comfort from the nearness of the other.
After a long, quiet time, Margarete stirred. When she spoke, a note of gentle mischief had crept into her tone. She writhed a little against Lise and said, "Perhaps you weep because you long to taste me one last time as an unmarried woman."
Lise gave a throaty chuckle and slapped Margarete's behind playfully.
"Indeed your taste would entice me were you a dozen times a bride. However, I shall not enjoy your taste today, nor you enjoy the tasting. I see you have been roused, but today you shall remain unsatisfied. You shall enter your husband's bed hungry, it will be better so."
Her tone was light, her words easy. Both women had lost the edge of fear. What they had shared had strengthened them, renewed their courage, and they could speak lightly of what was to come on the morrow.
"There is something you must understand," Lise went on, pulling the quilt closer about them. "Your husband must not know what we share. It is not a common thing, and not a thing to be understood by a man, especially not when it involves his virgin bride."
"It is true that I know little of men, but as for being uncommon, you yourself told me that the Sisters at the convent outside Paris were all engaged in such activity! And the practices you ascribed to the sisters at the priory at Calais..."
Lise let out a hearty laugh. "You should not repeat such things to anyone else! At least you must not identify me as your source for such scandalous speculation. In truth, I know not how many women share as we do, but I do know that a man will associate such things with the lewd display of whores. It will not be understood."
"It is I who do not understand," Margarete said, her face showing her confusion. What has this to do with whores?"
"Lise sighed. "I do not know if I can explain, or even if I understand myself." She was silent a long moment. "Men and women are different in ways other than the obvious ones. We are separate. Sometimes, rarely, if you are lucky, the separation can be breached and the two may know true sympathy. In passion this can be true, but also, I have sometimes seen an intimacy of glance and gesture between two who have been married many years. I do not say that we are fated to always be divided by our sex, but it does not serve a woman well to be careless in her dealings with men. Your husband will expect a bride who is virgin not only in body," (she laid a complacent palm over Margarete's pelvis,) but also in mind and experience. You are awakened in ways he will not expect or understand. You must be careful to display eagerness and ignorance together. He will be most captivated by you if he believes that he alone has guided you into pleasure and passion."
Margarete considered this. "I am guided by your wisdom and experience," she said finally, "But it sits ill with me to treat such joy as you and I share, as a guilty secret."
"Ah my little flower," Lise said happily, kissing the tip of Margarete's pert nose, "Every moment I love you more! Think of it not as a guilty secret, but as something private, a well of rest and delight that is only ours."
Margarete lay tranquilly, feeling no impulse to leave this cocoon of safety, warmth and love. "I will," she answered peacefully. There was a restful silence.
"I wonder how the Lord Colin passes his time today," she said then. Lise stretched, then settled again against Margarete.
"If he is any sort of gentleman," she replied with a comfortable yawn, "he'll be setting himself to recover from his drunken revels. Judging from what I witnessed, some extreme measures will be required to ensure he presents a respectable face at his marriage, and not the green and hollow-eyed aspect of a whisky sodden drunkard."