Quick Terry Story, circa 1590, in some country lord's house following Queen Elizabeth's entourage while she went Visiting.
A Holiday in the Garden
We stood in the garden, side by side. The failing light of the setting sun set her blond hair afire, and her eyes reflected a violet deeper then the orchid's most secret private parts. She turned her face up to mine and smiled, radiantly. Inside I melted, and yet still, she was a stranger.
She waved to the small walled patch of flowers and vines, manicured and tailored into careful shapes, in the center of a much larger, well manicured garden. "Don't you believe they are beautiful, Lord Terence?"
I glanced down into the box, and let my eyes skate across well-formed Celtic knots, picked out in a blaze of flowering herbs. I grinned, slightly. "They are quite beautiful. Risqué. Almost... erotic, even."
"Erotic?" she asked with a small smile.
I took a step closer to her, and lifted her hand in mine. I spoke to her in my hoarse, deep voice of wooing, dark, poetic, and full of angst. "When the shapes intertwine, they are almost, but not quite touching. It is like the hot breath of forbidden love, hearts beating so close together, just enough to feel the rabid heat from their bodies, but never to imbibe in earthly love. It beats with the heart of forbidden sexuality. It is definitely erotic."
She blossomed into a full smile. "And here I thought, all along, it was just sage and rosemary. Who would have thought?"
I walked up behind Lord William, Earl of Leicester as he polished off another glass of our host's best wine from the cellars. "Do you know who the girl in the garden is?"
He rounded on me, his ample belly cutting a swath of air before him. "Terence, my boy! Where have you been hiding?"
I waved to some vague point in the wall. "Out in the garden, actually."
He patted me on the arm. "Good, good." He was always a jolly man, and he gave me one of his jolly laughs. Then he leaned in with a conspiratorial leer and wink. "So tell me, my boy. Your wonderful wife Anne has told me some very interesting news about our Sir Edward, who has taken great pains to travel with us."
"Well, I hear he harbors quite a mistress," I said, feeling the strengthening grip of a good rumor. "At least that's what I hear. It's all, of course, such hearsay."
The Earl nodded, sagely. He patted me on the arm, like a son to a father or a ruler to his trusted confidant. "You must tell me all about it, my boy. It would not do for you to keep such information bottled up inside."
I was pushed aside by a pair of servant boys who were carrying trays of ransacked pig bones and left over rabbit. I did a small dance in the hallway to avoid their onslaught, and ended up being pressed against the wall. The sounds of talk and merriment wafted down the corridor to me, and I was suddenly reminded that I was missing a good chance to mingle and pick up a few more good stories.
"Why do you have no children, Lord Terence?" Agnes asked me. After much asking, I finally learned her name was Agnes, and she was a distant family member, a minor cousin who had been given the job as the gardener attached to the manor house. She grew the most beautiful roses I have ever seen, and now we strolled between the vines.
I cast my eyes up to the sky, looking beseechingly at God, and said, with great reverence, "Ah, the good Lord has cursed me and my family, for my wife Anne is barren and childless. But I do my best to make sure she is happy and comfortable and has everything she would ever want."
She clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth, and shook her head. Her blond hair shone like white flame. "That is a terrible shame."
I shrugged. "I have sent her to healing baths for cleansing and to holy cathedrals to pray for a child, but no matter what we try, she cannot conceive. She spends many hours in the company of her dear lady friends, to alleviate her loneliness."
Agnes tugged on my sleeve. "Maybe she'll finally get her miracle. Oh, come here, Terence, and smell this rose! Isn't it delightful?"
"You are a man of the utmost morality," I said to Sir Edward in a confidential tone over supper so as not to be overheard by the rest of the guests. "No one would ever doubt your faith to your lands, your God, or your wife."
Edward's brow furrowed. "There has been much malicious talk and slander about my person, Terence. But you, you are a trustworthy man. Tell me, for surely you know, who has been talking about me?"
"You promise not to tell?" I whispered to him.
"Just tell me, man," Edward hissed.
Ah, I thought. So the tales were true, and he was carrying on in a most ungainly fashion with a young girl of very noble birth. Well, it was not good to pass around bad information. I nodded my head toward William, Earl of Leicester. "Lord William would have your lands, I'm afraid."
Edward peered at William across and up the table with eyes slit with anger. "The old man would have it in for me."
Well, certainly, I thought. You did have a bit of a fling with his granddaughter last fall, you young fool. "But fear not, Edward," I said in the voice of a closest friend who can be trusted, "He is old and will pass on soon. Then his young grandson will become Earl, and you will find yourself in a superior position for a time. Don't worry my friend. It'll all work out."
Edward nodded his head, and pushed another forkful of beef into his mouth. He chewed, considering. "You are right. What would we all do without you, Terence?"
I grinned, and had just enough time, just a glimmer out of the corner of my eye, to see my dear wife Anne looking at Edward.
She laughed with pleasure, and her cheeks suffused with a warm glow. Her clothing smelled of soft lilac petals, blowing in the soft June breeze. "You've written me poetry, Lord Terence?"
"I have," I said, and pulled her down next to me on the small bench among the flowerbeds. "I have composed a small sonnet to express my true feelings for your undying beauty. Allow me to read it to you, dear Agnes."
She sat down gracefully, and pulled her skirts around her ankles. "I cannot see how a mere poem would cause any harm." She waved a hand in a dismissing gesture, and told me with a grin, playfully, "Fine, I consent. Read away, my Lord."
I knelt down on the dirt path before her on the knees of my silken hose, and lifted the small rolled up slice of parchment from the slim leather satchel I wore at my waist. I unrolled it with my fingers and recited to Agnes in a low voice, laced throughout with love and reverence.
A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.*
Agnes clapped her hands, and laughed with delight. "That's marvelous, Lord Terence! I did not know you were such a poet."
I handed her the sliver of parchment still clutched in my hands. "Would you like to keep this, dear Agnes? A token of my true undying love, which can never be reclaimed?"
She leaned over and broke a lily from its stalk. She entwined it into my hair. "Oh, Lord Terence, you are so romantic. Your wife is blessed."
William, Earl of Leicester, complete with his rotund stomach, grabbed my upper arm just as I was off to go have a few words in a corner with our good host. I had a tale to tell about a certain young woman on his cooking staff who was making eyes at one of the other lords in the entourage. "Lord Terence!" His voice was bereft of its usual merriment.
I feigned surprise. After all, the manor house was not very large, unlike his personal rounded girth. It did not take much effort to locate one another. "My good Lord William. And a good evening to you, I might say."
He nodded through the doorway. "Our host is busily fussing over Her Majesty and her closest advisors, so I have taken this moment to speak with you, personally. On your own, as it were."
I blinked at him, and bobbed my head in his direction, a show of courtesy. "My Lord, I am here and willing to listen. Consider my time to be your time."
"I have heard the most distressing news," he said. "Sir Edward has been telling some of the other houseguests that I mean to scheme to remove him from his lands and bankrupt his family. How such a tale began is beyond me, but now there is much idle chatter. As you know, such talk can make its way to the ears of the Queen, and foul happenings could come from that. It is all because that vile young man is opposed to my speaking out against his very unChristianlike behavior."
"Ah," I said, and patted him on the arm in a friendly matter. "I assure you, Lord William, it is nothing more then idle chatter, the aimless speech of an angry young man. I will have words with him, and straighten this all out. I assure you, my Lord, that such tripe from a young man of such low caliber will hardly be taken as gospel."
He seemed a bit relieved. "Lord Terence, you are a godsend. Bless you."
I broke into a wide grin. "Why, Lord William, thank you, for you are wise far beyond your years. Good evening to you, sir."
A warm milk white breast under my hand, a crush of clothing, a soft mewling into my neck. In the summer sunshine, locked behind a door in the secret garden, I made slow passionate love to Agnes, the new love of my life. It was as beautiful as I had expected, and certainly as sweaty.
I lay in our pile of our mingled strewn clothing, and gazed up at the deep blue sky, its perfection marred only by a few clouds and the occasional bird. I could smell her still on my hands and taste her on my lips. Her warm lithe body pressed against my side, and I ran my fingers through her flaxen hair.
Agnes kissed my shoulder and propped herself up on one shoulder. "So talk to me, Lord Terence. Tell me about Anne."
I looked at her in confusion, and then laughed. "You jest."
"I do not," she told me with a glint of merriment in her eye. "I am simply curious about what sort of woman you would have as your wife and life partner."
I put my hands under my head and watched another bird fly overhead. Speaking of my wife to my lover seemed awkward at best. Although, on reflection, Agnes didn't strike me as one who would run off and tell all to my wife, as if she were she would have long before. She certainly wouldn't have consulted to our little private afternoon behind a closed door in the secret garden.
All considering, I would probably never see my darling Agnes again after we departed from our host's company. I sighed, as if my heart would break. Ah, the trials and tribulations of young love.
She tapped me on the chest, and played a little with my hair. "Oh, come on, Lord Terence. Humor me. It'll be fun."
"What is it you would like to know?" I asked.
She twirled her fingers in my hair, and then let them dance across my chest. "Anything. Anything at all."
"Well, let me see here." I pretended that I was thinking deeply, to show my concern on this subject. "I met Anne through her father. It was terrible, actually. She was growing older without a proper suitor, and her father was running low on money for her dowry. I couldn't let a shining pearl like her sit inside for the rest of her life, closed in from the world, so I had no choice but to ask for her hand in marriage."
"How romantic," my beautiful Agnes said with a touch of humor.
"Oh, it was, I assure you. Quite beautiful actually," I said, thinking back to the wedding that had been thrown for us. "Poor Anne, her life full of disappointments. At least she was married, and didn't end as an old matron. What she really desires is a child to make her life fulfilled, but alas, the poor dear is barren and childless. So she spends much time travelling and visiting, you know. Friends and her womanly gossip keep her busy many nights. She is always bustling too and fro, needing to go somewhere else, or have another guest."
Agnes nodded. "Poor dear. That poor dear."
I sighed. "I do my best to make her happy."
"Clearly," Agnes said. She poked me hard in the chest, to which I made a little noise. "So tell me a little bit about the mysterious Lord Terence, then. What about his family, his life?"
"Ah," I said as I watched the fluffy clouds occult the blue sky. "There is nothing to say. Nothing remarkable about me in the slightest, I'm afraid. I'm rather ordinary, in fact."
Agnes laughed, her voice tinkling like little bells on the breeze. She reached over, pulled a small frond of rosemary toward her, and pulled off a few leaves. She allowed them to roll around in her fingers, scenting the pads with their sweet smell. "Lord Terence, man of mystery without a past! How fascinating."
I stepped around the two fighting men as I crossed the threshold of our host's manor house, as I adjusted my belt and my buttons. Lord William and Sir Edward were involved in quite a row with each other, in a manner most unbecoming of two men of noble birth. Like everyone else in the house, I had no choice but to be completely scandalized by such a showing. Why, Edward had just made a comment about William's prominent girth, and William had retorted by offering to feed Edward to the dogs! Scandalous!
I walked into the hallway, chuckling and shaking my head. What had ever gotten into them?
I smiled and nodded my head to my host and made a few low comments to the poor man that he had, otherwise, done an excellent job preparing our feasts and lodgings. It was unfortunate, that some of his guests had to be undignified about things, especially when the Queen was in residence, but these terrible things happen. I made a point of showing my sympathy, since the poor man seemed very near breakdown.
Afterward, once our host seemed a little more content, I went and paid my respects. My lovely and loving wife Anne, who looped her hand around the crook of my elbow and beamed, joined me.
"Hasn't this just been a lovely holiday, Terence?" she asked me, as she nodded her head to other guests.
I reached over and patted her hand. "Are you having fun, Anne?"
She bobbed her head at another dignitary. "Oh, certainly. It has been quite restful. I see you have been enjoying the gardens?"
"The flowers are beautiful this time of year," I replied as my attention was being distracted by someone across the room. "Quite beautiful indeed."
My heart was heavy as we watched the servants take our bags out to the carriage. I decided to take one final stroll through the garden before I would be forced to bid the host and his home goodbye. My heart lay heavy in my breast as I slowly strolled among the well-manicured banks of flowers and herbs.
Agnes came from behind, the failing sunlight reflecting in her violet eyes. Her hair was alight with the flame of the sunset, her skin a rosy sheen. And she smiled. "Were you going to leave without even saying anything?" she asked playfully.
"I came out here to do so, actually," I said. "I was hoping to find you out here."
"Ah," she replied. And then I took her in my arms and kissed her.
When we broke, she lifted a finger and tapped me on the nose. "You're very sweet, Lord Terence. Like the briar rose just before it comes to full bloom."
"I know," I said.
She lifted an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Certainly," I replied, unwavering.
She chuckled, her voice like a running brook. "Well, then. For such a sweet person, I have provided you with a sweet present. I couldn't allow you to leave without something to remember me by, now could I? Here, lean down so I can whisper it into your ear."
I leaned, and gave Agnes access to a ready ear. I felt her hot breath as it passed over my neck, sending shivers down my spine. I closed my eyes, and her heady scent filled my nostrils. Her warm hands were on my collar, then brushing the hair back away from my ear.
She breathed, and whispered, "Your wife Anne is with child."
I was straightened like a shot, and narrowed my eyes at her. "What?"
"Your darling wife, and she is such a dear," Agnes said as merriment played in her eyes, "she has conceived. Isn't that wonderful news? Lord Terence, you'll soon be a proud father."
"How can this be?" I asked, a little louder then I would have hoped. I quickly looked around to make sure no one had heard.
Agnes poked me in the chest with the tip of her finger. "My dear, I simply arranged for your darling wife to have a small fling with a respectable young man of good solid birth while you were otherwise distracted. She was wilting here, and she certainly perked up once she was shown attention. A little bit of fun is good for the system."
"She had an affair?" I asked, my voice held down below a small roar by force of will alone.
She laughed at me. "Didn't you?"
"Yes, but... but how do you know she conceived?" It was suddenly hitting me, something fishy was going on and I was caught up in it. I was suspicious.
Agnes just smiled at me, big and beautiful. "The Lady Novalis knows, my dear Teraphim. She knows." She leaned forward and kissed me again, long and passionate and filled with love. I could do nothing but try to return it in kind, while my brain reeled.
"I've been had!" I finally gasped.
She shook her head. "No, my sweet, you've been loved." She laughed. "You're very sweet. You're very shallow, but you're very sweet. I'll see you again, my dear, I promise." She patted me on the cheek. "I'll keep your wonderful poems, even if they were a bit plagiarized. But the thought counts. Ta!"
I stood in the failing sunlight in the middle of the garden, my worldview out of kilter as she walked into the house, and disappeared forever from my sight.
* = Shakespeare's Sonnet XX
Emily K. Dresner Page 7 5/27/98