A woman who loves her king. The betrayal, death and madness that follows.
|Before the glory days of King Arthur, before the Knights of the Round Table, before peace came to the ravaged lands of Europe there was a time known as the Dark Ages. It was a time when King fought King, brother accused brother, and where greed for power was the ambition that ruled. Among the wars for land, riches, and the right to be named King were those smaller battles. Those that rattled the very foundations of home and the true nature of betrayal was witnessed. It was also when whispers of witchcraft ran rampant through the lands and many a bonfire with a writhing soul within its wicked flames was to be seen.
The tale I am about to tell is one filled with the desperate dealings of one woman to keep a King at her side. It drove her to whisper those dark words, drove her to murder, and then it drove her mad.
In the solitary home in Cubbox, on the farm of Bogha, lived a woman named Elspeth. She was a quiet woman and there was nothing to bring her to anyone's notice until she smiled. It was a transformation of magical proportions that brought a pretty woman into a stunning beauty. She was a small, barely five foot tall with thick flame gold hair that was always in a kempt braid that hung down her back. Eyes so green that one would swear they were looking into fields of new spring grass. Her temperament was one of gentleness but she had a strong soul to survive the world alone as a woman. She was a rare one this Elspeth and her destiny was riddled with trials.
An herbalist and farmer she lived alone on the farm as her husband had been taken ill the year before by a fever and was lost to her. Intent on keeping the farm running she worked hard all day and made enough just to get by. She sold her herbal products in the nearby village to add to the coin she made off the fruits of her labors on the farm.
One spring day a man came riding into her yard. Chickens scattering to and fro underneath the hooves of the warhorse the man handled with ease. Elspeth went to meet this stranger who was cloaked in gray wool from head to toe. She was unable to see his face clearly.
"Mistress, may I beg some food and perhaps a bed in your barn, for I am weary from my travels. I can pay."
His voice was like that of rolling thunder heard at a distance. Elspeth was taken by its gentle but authorative timbre.
A nod up at the man she kept a wary distance from the snorting and pawing war horse and said in a not so weak tone,
"Ye may come stay in the barn milord. I shall make the meal and ye can join me in the house proper."
With that said she spun on a muddy boot heel and strode into the house. Her mind pondered how much he would pay and thought that luck had come to Bogha farm this day.
A knock at the door startled Elspeth and she called out for the man to enter. She went about setting the stew in a stoneware bowl upon the table. Her gaze kept flicking to the large man that still wore the gray cloak as he made his way into her home. He moved with a grace that only a seasoned warrior had and she wondered what battles he had fought. She took her own bowl of stew and settled down upon a three legged stool near the hearth and said to the man,
"Yer stew is upon the table milord along with bread and ale."
The man had pushed the hood of the cloak back and his green gaze took in his surroundings. He took note that she sat alone, near the hearth, and he almost smiled.
"Ye will sup with me milady?" he asked softly as his cloak was pulled from his tall form.
Elspeth was startled at the request as he looked every part the nobleman and she was the poor farmer, not fit to sit at the table with the likes of him. She rose from her stool anyway and moved to the other chair at the table. She could not help staring at him as she settled at into her chair. Green eyes that seemed to penetrate into her soul when they caught her own and hair as black as midnight that was worn unfashionably long. The unadorned forest green tunic he wore was stretched taunt over the wide breadth of his shoulders and she kept her gaze from examining further. That would not do, to be staring at this man like some open mouthed fool. She knew this man though, from somewhere, and somehow she knew him.
"I know ye, don't I?"
She asked softly as she watched his spoon laden with stew pause on its way to his mouth. That green gaze flicked to her briefly then without a word he began to eat. Elspeth dropped her gaze to her own bowl and knew this man was one of power but from where she did not know. She began to eat as well, thinking that he is not much of a talker, but then most men were not.
The small cottage was cozy with the hearth fire popping, the smell of the stew and bread filling the air. He occasionally glanced to her as they ate but words were not uttered. They broke the bread and indulged in that as well. Elspeth realized halfway through the meal that they had not said grace and it shocked her. Inwardly she asked for God's forgiveness for being lax in her duties and she would pray extra long before sleep this night.
The man leaned back in his chair, seemingly sated from the meal, and pushed his bowl away. Elspeth took that as the signal that she could rise and clean up. The crockery was removed from the table as well as the basket of bread. As the bowls were set into the washing tub she heard the distinct sound of coin clinking against the table. She turned to see the man had risen to his feet but she had not heard him rise at all. His gaze was upon her with an intent expression and it made her shiver inside.
"Your payment for the food and lodging milady. I shall leave you be and get my rest. I will leave at dawns first light. Thank you for a wonderful meal and your kindness."
The man said with a gentle tone, but made no move to leave.
While he was speaking Elspeth had moved to the table to lift the small bag, marveling at the weight of the coin within. Whispering almost in shock to him.
"Milord, this is too much for a simple meal and a bed of hay in a drafty barn."
Her dark green gaze lifted to meet his own and she saw a smile appear on his handsome face.
"Nae, tis not too much. Too few are kind these days. Take the coin and buy what you need. Or even a pretty bauble that would please you. I can see you are alone here milady and I admire your courage."
The man said in a tone laced with gentleness and caring.
A bright smile lit her face and her eyes took on a pleasure filled glow. When she heard his sharp intake of breath she took an involuntary step backwards out of startlement.
"What..what is it milord?" She asked cautiously as her eyes flew to his. The smile having faded from her lips as she wondered if she had done something improper. She had no idea how to act around someone of noblity. Something was happening here but she had no idea what it could be, but she knew there was a heat within her. A smoldering ember of something unknown was coiling within the heart of her soul. A plesant warmth spread through her limbs as he began to move closer to her with a gleam of wonderment in his green eyes.
He was stunned at what he saw once the lady smiled. It was like magic had touched his soul at that very moment and he knew he must see that radiant visage once again. Before he could stop himself he was moving around the table, his eyes never leaving hers, and came to a stop scant inches before her. One finely manicured finger lifted to touch the soft skin of her cheek. His voice came forth in a strangled whisper.
"Milady, please smile for me again."
His gaze made Elspeth feel weak all over. Her knees felt as if they would give out any moment. The gentle touch of one finger to her skin was like a burning brand within her heart. To have such a man staring at her with such need in his eyes was startling but she was inwardly pleased. She had not been looked at like that since before her husband passed and even he did not stir her passions like this man did. A shy smile appeared on her lips, it came unbidden like a spring storm, and she gazed in wonder at the man who was gaping at her once again.
"You are a vision milady. A magical light that has brightened my weary day."
His finger had now been replaced by his hand on her cheek. He caressed her jaw as he marveled at such gentleness and beauty within this small treasure of a woman.
"Milord, I thank you for such kind words. But, please tell me who you are."
Elspeth said in a rush as she desired with all she had to know who this man was.
"I do not know if I wish to reveal who I am my little flower."
He said with a gentle smile and dropped his hand away from her soft skin. His hand felt like it was on fire from where he touched her. His whole body trembled with a need like he had never known and it frightened him a little.
"Milord, I know that I should not ask. I do know you are noble but at least grant me your given name?"
She asked quickly and stepped forward to stare up into his eyes.
Her closeness was making it hard to concentrate. All he could stare at was her lips and wonder what they tasted like. In a daze he uttered one word. "James."
Her cry of surprise snapped him out of his daydreaming and he groaned inwardly as he realized he had told her his name.
When that name was uttered so softly she could not hold back the cry of alarm and pain that came forth. Down to her knees she went before the King of this land and trembled with so many emotions she thought she would burst. Gentle hands were on her shoulders giving her a small shake and his words floated through her denial as she bowed to the King.
"Please, milady. Do not kneel. Please. I just wish to be here with you and not be bowed and scraped to. And now you owe me the pleasure of your name."
He said lightly as he wanted her to look at him like she had earlier. To talk with him, share her tales of life with him while they enjoyed the fire. He knew not where these seeming simple desires had come from but they were what he wanted at this moment. To just be a simple man enjoying the pleasure of a beautiful woman.
His hands upon her sent shivers of pleasure racing through her small form. Her gaze lifted slowly to meet his saddened green gaze. She felt silly for acting such but he was the King! A tremor washed over her form but she shoved her misgivings aside and said softly.
"Elspeth, my name is Elspeth."
He kneeled on the floor with her watching so many emotions fly through those green eyes it tore him to shreds. He did not know why this little slip of a woman intrigued him so, but she did. His heart felt light and his mind muddled with visions of her. He admired this brave woman who ran a farm alone and was kind to strangers.
"Elspeth." He breathed her name softly then without thinking his lips descended down to capture hers in a gentle kiss.
The way he said her name undid her. Warmth spread throughout her small form and her hands lifted to fist into the forest green tunic he wore. When his lips touched hers she was lost to intoxicating sensations that she had never known. Hot tendrils of need snaked through her limbs to pool into her belly. A soft moan tumbled forth at the feeling of his tongue brushing lightly over her lips. Opening to him was magical and the kiss deepened as she was gathered into his strong embrace. All rational thought left her mind and all she knew was the feel of him against her. The warmth of his body, the way his tongue swept through her mouth, and the woodsy smell of him that seemed to permeate everything.
He indulged in the taste of her. Cradled her in his arms like she was the most delicate of flowers. Cherished the gift she was giving him and he would always cherish such. As he moved away from her, his green eyes alive with a smoldering passion he whispered.
"Elspeth. I feel as if I know you. I think I was drawn to this farm and to you. I was not in need of rest that badly and I could have kept on to the castle but I needed to come here. Now I know why."
As he spoke his fingertips brushed across her jaw line and cheek.
"May I remain here with you for a while longer. I would like to talk with you and get to know you."
Elspeth trembled within his embrace and as he moved away she felt as if her body was on fire. Inwardly she railed at herself for allowing a man to take such liberties with her. Never would she have allowed such but something felt right. As if it were a door to destiny being unlocked and she was being tugged through it whether she liked it or not. His words startled her but then she knew they were true. Why had she lingered in the yard all day and not gone to the forest like she had planned to find herbs? She now realized she had been waiting for him.
"I would like for you to remain and talk with me. So few talk to me these days."
She said softly with a gentle blush staining her cheeks.
He released her from his embrace reluctantly and helped her to her feet. They settled into chairs before the hearth with fresh mugs of hot cider and began to talk.
James spoke of his life at court. His wife, whom he did not care for as it was an arranged marriage. The priests who tried to undermine everything he did. The joy of seeing his people prosper. The horses he loved to raise and ride.
Elspeth spoke of her life with her husband. How he died and how the village council tried to make her give up her farm. She proved to them she could manage and they accepted her as herbalist. She midwifed as well for those in the village. She spoke of loneliness and frightening times in the forest being pursued by wolves.
They spoke long into the night telling one another things that no other soul than God had ever heard. James kissed her gently before heading off to his bed of hay in the barn as was proper and Elspeth floated to her own bed in her room. Both dreamed of different times when they could be together and both dreamed of the other.
Hence, here is where the love affair between James and Elspeth began.