Sometimes at research, following an unintended path leads to a spark of creativity and whole scenes unfold. So it was one afternoon when I began to research Books of Hours and found that they were personalized books of prayer and meditation commissioned by wealthy or noble parents upon their children’s birth. A book of hours was to be read throughout the child’s life to provide a path to salvation.
Books of Hours led me to a French theological writer named Peter Comestor. His commentaries on the gospels, Scripture allegories and on St. Paul have never been published. His sermons do exist in several manuscripts, but the published work for which he is known, a sacred history entitled Historia Scholastica, was composed for students. It met with great success and was popular from the 1100s when he lived through the 1600s, even though–or perhaps because–he borrowed from profane writers and included inaccuracies often posing as fables.
One such story determines that the sins of women were responsible for Christ’s crucifixion, the full explanation noted below in the scene that exploded from my warped little brain fully formed.
Of course, as with many research inspired scenes, this one was excised early on as extraneous, though it is still copyrighted by me and may not be reproduced without explicit permission.
It is R-rated.
The floorboards squeaked just enough to wake him as he drowsed comfortably, Elisa beside him. From the corner of his eye, he spied Mistress Hood’s red hair stream down her back as she left his chamber, a covered basin in her arms.
Who would have thought a woman would serve in his chambers? Yet, this morn, less than a month after his wedding, it was not only so, but as normal as using the piss pot she carried.
He allowed his mind to wander. Contentment filled his life these days were it not for the lost box.
He banished it from his thoughts and concentrated on his wife, a precious jewel he coveted and would protect with his life. She pored over his books with the practiced eye of a factor; was ever patient as his secretary. On fair days, she rode out with him. On foul ones, she told him stories of her world. And in the evenings? Ah, the evenings. He had never known such heated excitement, such ecstasy, such satisfied exhaustion as with this woman. She drew him like steel to a magnet, and he thanked God once more for the gift of a wife he could love.
He kissed her neck and lay on his back, Elisa tucked close, his thoughts for once, blissfully at peace.
“Penny for your thoughts,” she said.
He glanced sidelong at her. “Eh?”
“I say I’ll give you a penny if you tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Why would I tell you my thoughts and have you pay me for it with my own penny?”
He fought to keep from smiling. “Aye. Did you bring one from your world?”
She wrinkled up her nose and stuck out her tongue.
He laughed soundly as he rolled her way and hugged her. “It matters not. For you are mine, as well.” He exhaled a dramatic sigh. “You are mine, the penny is mine.” He crushed her against him playfully and rocked her back and forth. “All well and goodely for I am a good man.”
“And I’m not a good woman?” she squeaked from somewhere in his arms.
“Oh, aye. At some things, ve-ry good.”
She punched his shoulder, a glancing blow that he paid no mind to. All was perfect. Peace, quiet, his wife beside him.
Her palms slid up his chest. She shoved him away. “Y’know, Will,” she said. “At our wedding? That friend of our mother’s… Dame Dunstable—”
Was there no end to that shrew’s trouble-making? “Dunstable’s woman is no friend of mother’s. She is wife to my father’s vassal who is now mine. What did she say you?”
“That I should have bargained better.”
“Bargain for better than to wed with me?” He snorted.
“No. Bargained for money for me…An allowance. So that…uhm…if we had only girls and I wanted to pay to have prayers said for sons… or if I wanted to support some priests or monks or other, I’d have money to do it. Or if I had to support—”
She shut her mouth so quick he heard the small ‘pop,’ and the red that blotched her cheeks made him curious about what she hid.
“No need for an allowance. Why would I not pay for sons, woman?” he drawled, straining to keep laughter from his voice. “Prayers for my heirs should come from my purse, eh?”
“I suppose.” She pouted now he’d stolen the wind from her sails.
“What other reasons?” he asked as idly as he could.
“None. Never mind.”
“Which is it? There are no others? Or none you wish to tell me?”
He could see his laughing gaze mirrored in her eyes, and then he lost the use of her mirror as she narrowed her eyelids.
“Fine,” she said on a growl. “She said I should have lots of money of my own. That way, when you presented me with bastard sons—as you were sure to do—I’d be able to provide for them, as was my right,” she said tartly.
His laughter exploded like cannonade even as she glowered at him. “For certes, no need, then,” he said as he folded her back into his arms. “For I will ne’er have another woman, my heart.” He glanced down to find her mouth pursed and sulking, but ‘twas for show, he was certain, for her eyes were soft with pleasure. “I did say you that you were the only woman for me… ever.”
He took advantage of the effect his words had on her, and rolled her onto her back, leisurely suckling at her nipple.
“That John Dunstable…he seemed so-so saintly looking. Did he really have that many children with other women?”
“If you did marry for the widow’s dowry as Squire Dunstable did, and along with the dowry you must take the shrewish widow, as Mathilde is, then you would seek your comfort in the arms of sweeter flesh and softer tongues… as John Dunstable does.” He aimed for Elisa’s nipple again.
He marked the incredulity in her voice. “Aye.”
“How many children?”
“How long have they been married?”
He released her nipple with a loud snap. “Much longer than we are and if you will not let me take my pleasure his count will be far higher than mine.”
She giggled. “Do you mean to catch up?”
“With Dunstable or you?” he grumbled as he settled between her legs.
“Ah, good. Then there is a chance. For I could ne’er out-talk you.”
She wriggled against him as he began to move. “Will?”
“Umph!” All activity ceased. “ ‘Tis a true thing, then.”
“That woman did crucify the Christ.”
Her mouth fell open. “What are you talking about?”
“That the purpose of your gender is to lead man astray from his rightful purpose.”
“How ridiculous!” She fell quiet while he resumed his rightful purpose.
He froze. “What is it?”
“How is it that we women were responsible for Christ’s crucifixion?”
His blood rose, and not where ‘twas wanted. “This can not wait until…until after?!”
She arched her brow and sniffed. “After the slur you made? I feel responsible for all womankind.”
Groaning, he rolled off her. “Eve tempted Adam with an apple. The apple did grow on a tree in the Garden of Eden, aye?”
“Christ was crucified on a cross fashioned from the wood from that same tree. Therefore, womankind crucified God.”
“The whole idea.”
“So it is written by Petrus Comestor, monk and documentor. So it is written in many Books of Hours, including my father’s. Christ died on a cross of woman’s making.” He stabbed her breastbone with his fingertip and rolled onto his back. “And so will I,” he grumbled, annoyed further when she laughed.
“That’s ridiculous, Will. The whole thing.”
‘Twas he who pouted now. “Is it?—Unh!”
“Yes,” she continued from astride his chest. “First, it’s highly unlikely an apple tree would live two thousand years.”
“Aye, in truth,” he said, “ ‘twould be all of the years of the Old Testament and two-and thirty of the New,” he figured as he ran his palms down her calves.
“Then you’ve proven my point.”
“And the other?”
“You did say ‘first’. I did assume there was another.”
“Well, there is. It’s a commonly accepted fact that Adam and Eve were fables.”
“Fables?!” Surely this was blasphemy.
“Yes—Why are you moaning? Most scholars agree there was no such thing as a Garden of Eden.” She slapped his chest. “Evolution’s the thing.”
“Ah, aye…e-vo-lution.” It felt false just to get his mouth around the word. He could not believe it when she’d explained it, nor the thought that the world was round. How could it be that oceans and people clung to its bottom without falling off? For days after she told him about earth’s roundness, he would glance up at the sky, expecting to see a cow or long-house fall from it. He scowled as she laughed soundly.
“You don’t believe it, do you, Will?”
“Nay.” He wrinkled his nose. “Not natural.”
She laughed. “It’s useless to argue this. I know you won’t accept the concept of cells and mutation and acclimation.”
He only shook his head, though he suspected that some part of him ought to be insulted by her slander of his intelligence.
“Tell you what.” She leered at him in the way she had that drove him mad. “I’ll give you a chance to get even for the awful things my sex has done.”
It sounded promising. “Aye?”
He gasped, horrified. “Elisa!”
She shrugged. “You’re as big as a tree…Nail me.”
She shocked him to silence. Of course his wife could be crude. That bothered him not. In fact, he liked it, but there was one thing that left him uneasy. She had the unsettling habit of combining her lewdness with something that sounded like sacrilege.
“I have told you before to be careful what you say, little wife.”
She shrugged. “I didn’t say anything wrong. You inferred it. And besides, there’s only you and me here.”
He pulled her down and kissed her hard. “And there is only you for me, my heart, and my cautions are given so that you will learn to be circumspect and will not be taken from me.”
This was his greatest fear. That someone would mark her a witch and she would be taken from him, killed. So far as he knew, no one had been burned at the stake in England but it could happen. And were it to happen to Elisa—
His chest closed so tight he gasped for air. It felt like the day Obstine rolled onto him. He stared into her eyes and shook her by the shoulders. “You must heed me in this.”
She nodded, no doubt feeling guilt were he to go by her gaze as it darted o’er his features. Was it the guilt of woman for weakening man as Eve did Adam? Or was it for wanting love and pursuing it past reason? If so, he shared her guilt.
“Yes, Will,” she said softly as she rubbed at her chest, her own breathing as labored as his. The guilt in her gaze grew into worry. Was it for their future? Their children’s?
And yet the rebelliousness was there, that wildness that appeared in her eyes when some thing in his time frustrated or angered her. Aye, it was there, and the fear, as well, and love gleamed through flipping motes and drowned out the other emotions, until the woman who sat astride him trembled around him, the timorous smile claiming her lips so at odds with the fierceness of her stare.
“You win.” She sighed, stretching, arms high over her head, the undulation rolling through her shoulders, ribs, belly and hips. Ah, vixen that she was. His want grew.
He filled his palms with her buttocks, twisting until he pinned her beneath him. “Serpent thou art,” he whispered in her ear. “Sinner and saint and woman and mine.”