Author: Sandi aka umgaynow aka That Big Tease
What to do? What to do? Willow pondered the question feverishly as she trudged along the road to the marketplace. Suddenly, it hit her.
Yes, that was certainly the very thing for it. She would determine the boons and pitfalls of each option, before sorting the results into sets of smaller more precise lists, based on commonality and objective reasoning. Next, she would endeavor to create some sort of organizing system to facilitate the process of comparing and contrasting the various facts and notions, in order to arrive at the truest conclusion possible.
Just as she was considering the availability of various hues of ink and the probability of being able to talk the monks into giving her some, Willow remembered that she could neither read nor write. Bollocks! Ah well, she would just have to settle for analyzing each and every bit, in ridiculous detail, within the confines of her own very busy mind. Truly, it was better this way. For even the most skilled apothecary could not mix the colors that her heart could conjure.
Plan #1 - Allow Father to sell me, like a fatted hog, to the first man who comes along with enough jingle in his purse. More likely than not, some hairy, foul-smelling brute, who will expect me to scrape the dung from his boots, dress and cook his kills and...[i]Oh God! She supressed a gag reflex. Moving on then...
Plan #2 - Take the veil. Not the most obvious choice, I will grant you, but do the sisters really need to know that my mother's folk came out of Judea? Then of course, there's the whole not believing in God or Jesus bit. We could work around that, right? Still, I suppose lying, particularly on that subject, would rather go against the central idea of the place. This is definitely going to take a little more thought...
Plan #3 - Take my own life. Hardly my favorite choice, but outwardly the most foolproof of the lot. T'would be rather hard to cock up dying, I should imagine. Then again, as miserable as my life here may be, what proof do I have that being dead would be any better? For all I know, walking into the pond with a pocketful of stones could just spawn a whole new flock of problems.
"Come on now, Red! You are thinking like you've got a black cloud stuck up your arse! Try to look at the good things that might come of a new path!"
Hmmmm...Red...I suppose there is Alexander. He is a good boy, sweet and gentle, but every time he calls me Red I want to thump him over the head with a bale of hay. I've no doubt that he would marry me as soon as look at me. He has been following me around like a whelp for the last ten years, after all.
Willow tried to imagine herself into wedlock with the Baron's page. It would mean a place at court, a lowly place, but certainly warmer, cleaner, safer and better fed than she was now. Also, it would save her being traded like livestock by her brutish father. Doubtless to some hardscrabble farmer, dooming her to a life sentence of muck and drudgery and perish the thought, childbearing, lots of it.
That last bit would be a hard one to avoid, no matter the man, but she felt sure that Alexander, at least, would not force her. Although the facts seemed to dictate that he should be her salvation, somehow she simply could not bear the idea.
There was no denying that her life had always been a spare one, barely scraping by from day to day. Subsisting on the paltry sundries not spirited away to the manor, along with the few morsels she could grow on her own or gather in the wood. Still, every bite that passed her lips was paid for in full, with the sweat of her brow and the ache of her back. She did not live, like a lapdog, off the table scraps of the royals, which was not only descriptive of Alexander's eating habits, but essentially his whole existence. While it was true that he was indeed a good boy, she only wished he were a good man instead. Now, you mightn't think that self-respect would be a high priority for someone who passed her days amongst large piles of dung, but it was all the girl had that was her own, the one thing that kept her from simply laying down and dying.
Then there was that other matter. A secret the redhead had been keeping tucked close to her heart, since even before her courses had come upon her and it was hardly the sort of thing one could share with a perspective husband. Not even the gentle Alexander was that understanding.
You see, Willow had realized quite early on, that the shiver of joy that bubbled up inside her, each time she saw the ladies at court done up in all their fine jewels and lush gowns, had very little to do with the shining pearls and intricate brocades. The way her heart would flutter like a captive sparrow, the fire that seemed to run through her veins, was much more about those wonderful plunging necklines.
The quiver of soft, white bosoms as the frivolous girls giggled and gossiped, coupled with thoughts of the natural womanly curves hidden beneath all those undergarments, took her breath away more than the most constrictive corset ever could. In truth, the thought of any man's rough, calloused hands on a woman's smooth, pale flesh made her feel ill. Of course, the redhead kept such truths to herself. Even an illiterate stableman's daughter knew how those sorts of thoughts could get a girl a quick date with a very large stake, a pile of kindling and a torch.
Plan #1: Conclusion - Alexander is too nice a boy to be saddled with a wife who doesn't love him, who can't love him. Yeah, that sounds convincing...and since he is the only even remotely acceptable prospect, avoid this option at all costs.
Perhaps the veil might not be so bad at that. At least in the nunnery she would be free of the constant stench of the stables. Hadn't she heard something about ritual baths? Maybe she could actually be clean for once, really clean, like a lady of the court. She allowed her mind to drift off into lovely clean thoughts, but with her next step, her rather educated toes sent her a message that the dung in her shoe was now dry enough to dump without leaving any nasty moist traces behind.
As she beat the shoe on a rock, then slipped it back on, she chuckled and spoke aloud, "That's me, Lady Willow of the Burgh of the Roses."
The girl had been so wrapped up in her musings that she hadn't even noticed that she'd reached her destination and so, when a group of boys began to hoot and howl with laughter, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Some of the lads clutched at their sides, doubled over in mirth and gasping for breath, while others pranced daintily on tiptoe, holding up their trouser legs as though they were the finest silks.
"Ooooh, look at me!" they trilled, "For I am Lady Pigslop of the Dung of the Horses!"
A single baleful glare on Willow's part was all it took to send them running off toward home. For as any child knew, you should never meet the eye of a crone or a redhead, lest you be captured in the gaze of a witch or even the devil himself. Also, the boys were old enough to have learned that it was never a good idea to anger a woman who could heft half again her weight in horseshoes. They might have been ignorant peasants, but they weren't dumb.