(A very long time ago I wrote a story in the voice of Bertilak’s wife in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which later evolved into a very different novel I am currently shopping around.
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I do what they ask of me, and play the part that she requests. And my husband- I call him my husband for she prefers to think of us as like them, I don’t know why- visits me from time to time, mostly to see her, and I am the dutiful wife at the same feast again and again.
She wishes us to appear a most accurate facsimile of rulers, and since she is now old, or no longer wishes to play my part (the childless matriarch being a beautifully crafted role which she has now perfected).
So, I must suffice. Her illusions are not complete- my husband, although I call him by the male pronoun and speak of him as a man- is neither a man, nor a person, nor a god but that which was there before, fashioned into the shape of a man, I suppose.
So accustomed to behaving as one that were I to attack him, to lash out in a rare moment of power and tell him to… return to that he once was, the poor thing would scarcely comprehend. He is a shadow of her perfect illusion, the trickery she plays on them, of which we are a part.
I think I know why she prefers us to behave like them. We are dull to her games, we do what we are asked, and serve, and are dutiful. When she asks us to ape them, to assume their drab lives, she is hoping that she might achieve for a duration of time what I have seen in glimpses.
When she returns, and they are caught, like my poor husband’s quarry, her power seems manifest, she is beyond her age (which I do not know, but to estimate it feels as though it would be unwise. Very unwise)
Just before that moment, when she is toying with them, she lives for the game. She watches them be trapped, and their futile efforts to escape, and loves their belief that they are free, and can preserve this.
That is why we live in this… tableau, and I am beautiful each evening, and when they visit they think that she is my elderly lady in waiting. And why she is that, for if they saw her as anything else, they would not fight and she would lose the pleasure.
She tells me that I am more important than a doll like figure at the head of the table. She soothes and cajoles, since I am obliged to affect dissatisfaction.
In truth, I feel nothing, perhaps more than my husband, perhaps enough curiosity or boredom to be fashioning this narrative, and to be speaking to you, my dear. She tells me that soon there will be a different type of guest, not those merely left to my husband, or to her wiles in the lands outside.
(We are seldom allowed outside, for the forest is hers, not that it is much of a forest, and few would wish to walk in it. I looked on the maps of the castle, another of her passions, once, and they showed what seem to be my orchards, given to me as a wedding present. But I cannot see them outside, nor do I care enough to ask).
I do not entirely believe her, and I do not mind my position as a moving statue.
If I were romantic, which I am not, I would cherish dreams. But I am warm, and clothed, and since I am not (and perhaps never was) like them I do not need sustenance.
So I am content, I suppose, and I watch their pursuits. I dress, and I simper, and weave, and amuse myself, and that is all I require for the moment.
My husband was absent for an unusually long time. The feasts ceased, since she does not want an imperfect illusion, and I have been left to myself. She is seldom in my quarters, although probably in the castle. I have become accustomed to languishing, accustomed to myself.
I take pleasure- or something like pleasure- in dressing each morning, alone, and feeling each garment, then myself. My underclothes, my bodice, my dress, my headdress and the decoration on my skirts, my belt… it pleases me, and I have a sense of being, of existing outside the game. But truly I appreciate the tricks, for this dress, these stockings, all I own is a product of it.
I do not get lonely. Nor do I tire of this place. It is… a relief no longer to dance attendance. It will be a short respite, I know that, but it is valued. The seasons are changing, it is less cold and soon I may leave the castle. For very little time, when I am attended properly, but I may. And maybe she is telling the truth about my importance.
My husband has been instructing me, as has she. Apparently in the months alone I have become slothful, sullen, not what they need. My silence, and occasional smiles, are enough at the feast, but I am to be witty and gay. They walk with me, and attempt to teach me jests, ways of replying, and how to move round words to obscure their meaning. He tries to assist her in this, but normally merely responds to hers, shows me the desired affect of my conduct. I am supposed to be improving. She is not sure quite how I decreased so much in power, although I can see her pleasure as she attempts to form me.
The same type of excitement as before she traps them.
Perhaps I am not a mere instrument, but another that feeds her excitement. Either way, she must hide her power before they arrive. And I am almost ready.
I have been shown books which contain the ladies I must imitate, in which they flirt and engage, and I have a role other than duty. I must be purposefully undutiful, if I understand correctly. But it is not my purpose to understand.
My husband was absent for a little while again, but this time I was not left at my leisure, the illusion must be maintained. So I have stood at the top of the feasts, and challenged his companions to bring back still more exotic prizes, and courted their favours and declined their advances.
It is now a relief that my husband is back. Her quarry is arriving soon, and we must be ready.
I have been bade prepare for my purpose, and she is hiding herself away. Sometimes she comes to my quarters with final touches for my persona, other times she tells me to rest. I am enjoying the return to blank obedience, the tedium of being an object. For it will not last, and I will soon be exhausted.
I don’t seem to share her excitement, much as I might like to do so.
The youth arrived tonight, dwarfed by my husband, and exhausted after his journey. I needed to do very little, so grateful was he for his bed, fire and food. The feasts are more interesting when there is a genuine guest, so I can see her temptation. But not this one. He was intoxicated by the end, and my husband (I assume) pretended intoxication. But I am not. My husband will be gone by the time I wake, and I have been told to sleep before following my instructions.
The youth is elegant, uninterested, and the kind who would crack completely were he to glimpse her. He acts properly, from what I have read and been told, and I can see why she wants him. I longed to touch him for much of our interview, not because I want to act out my role in full but to see whether I could feel his certainty.
He knows he is right, and I am to prove him wrong.
I long for the satisfaction of that, for when I finally did touch him I felt the force of his belief, and I wanted it to be mine. It was not the fragile force of which she talks so gleefully, hope, because he was unaware that there was a reason to abandon hope, but something stronger.
I understood him, and her at the same instant, and I think he saw that, for he was frightened and withdrew from me. I left, and he joined us and made merry, and this evening as I departed the feast, she congratulated me. Which just shows that this one is unusual, since they do not normally require skill, or none more than hers.
This morning I awake him again, and there is the look in his eyes I have seen in those of the others, but only for a second. Then he is whole again, and he engages in trifles with me, and regards my banter with him as a gentle form of the sports he enjoys.
He is less tired, but his resolve is sapping.
It is stronger than it could be.
Is this because she has left him untouched, or he is in some way remarkable? I do not know.
He is afraid. He tries to talk of fear to me, but I profess not to understand it. I do for a moment, when I touch him again, but I cannot explain that to him. For then he would lose immediately, and we want to beat him.
I want to beat him. I am being entrusted with the moment at which the look of fear turns to defeat, even without his knowledge, and I yearn for it.
It will deprive me of my games, and I will gain and lose tomorrow.
He will not know until later.
And he recoils less today, feeling that he is surer of his ground, and knows how to cope, and it is as though he is regaining something, and there is a last surge before his defeat, and although he will not admit this, to me or to himself, he is proud of the fact that he masters his situation.
I have become, briefly, attached to him.
I have felt his fear and his pride.
Although she will feel it more when he is crushed, I do not want to lose it completely. But I shall in due time, and tomorrow I shall rise for what is in truth the end of his story.
It was of course easy, and I shall not know for sure for another day. But I felt him, and he has lost something. He struggled, briefly, and I charmed him, for the first time truly, and it was something like I had not felt before, and beautiful.
She has not come to see me, and I am puzzled. Maybe she is waiting for the power, although I am afraid that may be mine.
Or that I have more power than I did several days ago, or yesterday, and it is because of him.
He is mine, now.
I have anointed him, I have blessed him and I desire him.
Not in the way that I have been implying, but to be mine.
Now I understand truly why she wishes for us to act like them, for I have controlled one of them and it was glorious.
I feel like my mistress, and I feel the power which is invested in me, and it is changing me. Were I truly like one of them I would be afraid, but I am curious.
True, there was a certain sadness in taking my leave of him, but not that great a sadness, for this was greater than any youth, and he was only the vessel for it.
Just as, I suppose, I am but a vessel for the power now, and biding time.
He has lost, and he knows it, and I know now I cannot find her, the crone, and my husband has gone, returned to a form she gave him before, faced himself, and I feel his defeat as well. I feel all their defeats, even hers?
I pace the castle looking for her, as I have for many days. I walked downstairs, and attempted to assume the position she gave me before, for the feasts, until the folly of this struck me, and I abandoned it.
Now I walk outside, and again the seasons have changed, although I have not noticed time in my ecstasy.
There are fruits and flowers on the trees.
She is not coming back. I know this place is neither hers, nor my husband’s.
I know that it is mine, and for the present moment I am content.
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