Read Make Me Beg for It Online
Authors: C. Margery Kempe
Make Me Beg for It Copyright © 2013 by K. A. Laity.
This book was produced using
For the buccaneers (but only the fictional ones) –
Once upon a time there was a heroine and she met a noble knight. At first they were perfectly happy, but then he lost his head. For a time, she tried to continue on as they had done before, but an empty headed knight suits no one. She wrapped up all the food in the larder and hit the road to find her luck, because it turned out that she didn’t really need a noble knight (who wasn’t all that noble after all…)
She made new and more delicious dishes from the food. And she lived happily ever after.
Freawine sat looking at the straw all around him and panic rose to his throat like a choking hand. What to do? Only two options came to mind: He could continue to curse his braggart father as he had done for the last quarter of an hour or so, or he could begin to think what life might be like without his head.
Rather short, he imagined.
If only his father had not made that stupid boast in the tavern yard. If only the prince had not been passing by with his entourage of noble ladies and gentlemen, falcons on their wrists and laughter on their lips. If only the prince had not taken it into his head to make a grand offer — and an ominous threat.
If wishes were horses, his mother would have said, then we would all ride with the nobles. At the moment, Freawine preferred to imagine that wishes might be doves that could carry him far from this tower room and his troubles. He sighed and looked at the spindle in his hand. The situation was hopeless. “Mother,” he whispered, “what should I do?”
But hers was the silence of the grave. Her fears had changed everything since the day she bore him, the day she made an impulsive decision. “After all these years, I feared I might never have a child,” she always told him, twining her fingers in his long golden hair. “You were too precious to lose. The war has lasted so long and the king is always hungry for more soldiers.” So she dressed him as a girl and called him Frea and he did not go off with the other boys who disappeared in the king’s endless battles far from home. His mother hugged him every morning with joy and relief while the other families mourned.
This life did not come without its costs. Freawine could not bathe with the other girls in the bathhouse and so they thought him odd, living above his estate. He learned how standing out from the crowd was never good. To make matters worse, he spun the finest threads from the rich wool yarn to the strong strands for weaving. His skill invoked envy, which he soon discovered to be a dangerous thing.
Freawine looked around the tiny room for the hundredth time. Nothing but straw and the crisp night air coming in through the tiny window. A single candle burned to light his labors, but he had done nothing and night was surely approaching its darkest hour. Once more he cursed his father’s drunken excesses.
Spin straw into gold, indeed!
Freawine had sat mortified as his father grew successively louder with each foaming tankard of ale. Normally, he avoided any mention of his “daughter” or her skills, but once riled he would defend anything that was his unto the ends of the world. Since mother died two winters before, there had existed between them a strained silence, broken only when his father would rail at him in a drunken fury, accusing Freawine of hastening his mother’s death.
But today had been different. Maybe the prince’s presence was to blame. The crowd grew nervously aware, frightened of his royal highness, who had a cruel mouth and wore a brilliant coat of arms, his skills having been honed on the battlefield with his late father. He had not taken the throne upon his father’s death, which puzzled folks. Not that his mother ruled badly — in fact, the last two years had been remarkably peaceful and the crops abundant. The assizes left fewer unhappy folk in their wake and a mood of gaiety suffused every festival.
But Prince Eadwine did not seem to share the mood. Even in the company of friends, he wore something of a scowl on his face. Old Marieta said he would surely take the throne when he married, but no brides were called for from nearby realms and he did not seem inclined to choose from among the landed gentry. Freawine had stolen a look at him while his father bellowed with his own mates. The prince and his friends took a table on the side as everyone moved away in deference and the host nearly spilled all the ale in his haste to serve them. The prince hardly seemed to notice the hurried bowing and scraping around him, but Freawine could see his jewel-blue eyes were far more observant than his expression betrayed. While his mouth seemed cruel, a great deal of handsomeness colored the lines of his face, despite the battle scars that marred his cheek, glaring white through his sable beard. His tumble of black hair curled like his stallion’s mane and the broad shoulders looked as if they were meant to support armor. Unlike the simpering nobles in his entourage, pale and weak looking, the prince seemed ruggedly alive, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.
However, Freawine had not expected him to spring into action over his father’s trivial boasting. His father’s outings were always the same. The more he sloshed the ale, the louder he always became. Didn’t much matter what the topic proved to be, his father would always shout down everyone else. He had moved the biggest rock, survived the coldest winter, eaten the most porridge in one sitting — pointless, stupid boasts.
And when the smithy claimed his daughter could spin more wool in an afternoon than anyone in the shire, Freawine winced because his father had laughed out loud, slammed down his tankard and jabbed a finger in Freawine’s direction. “My Frea,” he said, unsteady on his feet and obviously oblivious to his child’s discomfort, “can spin more wool than all the girls in this village. She can even spin fine thread from cow’s hair.” A chorus of laughs greeted this pronouncement, but rather than discouraging him, Freawine’s father only puffed his chest out more and continued his boasts. “Can spin a wooly yarn from ivy.” The laughs were louder and catcalls drowned out his protestations of truthfulness.
Freawine had slouched lower, wishing he’d stayed at home. An afternoon spent cleaning their small cottage was preferable to this. Since his mother’s death, his father had grown more and more outlandish in his behavior. Freawine never ceased worrying about what he might get into while out on his own. He’d said a quick prayer his father would sit down and stop bragging, but the old man wasn’t done yet. He swayed on his feet, using his hands to quiet the storm of derision in order to make one final pronouncement.
“My Frea can spin straw into gold.”
Howls of approval and loud guffaws met his proclamation. Oswald, the cooper, clapped him on the back as if the lie were somehow a wonderful accomplishment. Freawine buried his head in his hands and wondered whether his humiliation had finally ended. His father’s claims certainly couldn’t get any more fantastic.
The prince chose that moment to step over. “Straw into gold, eh?” He spoke softly yet the entire crowd fell silent. Freawine looked up, his breath catching in his throat. He willed his father to remain silent, but the old man wore a familiar, sullen look which always boded ill. Prince Eadwine continued. “I have a stable full of straw and am always in need of gold. Is your child here?”
To his credit, Frea’s father confined himself to nodding. Freawine rose, heart pounding. The prince looked at him, his gaze narrowed like that of a buyer who expected to be cheated somehow. An eternity seemed to pass until the examination ended, while Frea’s heart continued to hammer at his ribs. In the end, the prince merely said, “Come along then. We’ll put you to work tonight. If you do as he says, I’ll give your father fifty mancusas. Otherwise — well, my executioner is not busy.”
Freawine’s gaze shot over to his father, but he did not return the look, training his eyes instead on the golden depths of his ale. Freawine’s cheeks grew hot, but at least the anger drove away some of his fear. He picked up his skirts and trotted after the prince, who had already mounted to head back to the fortress. A hundred panicked thoughts raced through Frea’s head, but none offered any kind of solution. He stared at the prince’s back as they wound along the path. Even in a time of peace he looked ready for battle.
Now, looking around the small room, Freawine sighed again. When the prince had brought him here, his servants were still piling up the straw. With a smirk, a lady in waiting handed Freawine a spindle and distaff. He met her look with a fierce one of his own, but when the prince addressed him, arms crossed, Frea found himself unable to meet the monarch’s gaze. “Well, we shall leave you to it. I will be back at dawn.”
Freawine stared at the prince’s boots as the man stalked away, noticing the exquisite leather on the trim legs. Not made locally then, something from his travels. A twinge of regret followed the prince out the door. What might my life have been like, Freawine thought, if I had lived as a boy? He admired the strong prince, his confidence, the authority in his tone.
Well, as long as he didn’t think about that stern voice barking out the order for his death.
What could he do? Nothing, that’s what he could do. Freawine had made some feeble efforts to attach straw to the spindle, but the attempt had proved useless. It simply couldn’t be done. Surely midnight had come by now and Freawine clutched the spindle while he stared out into the dark. The window was too small to allow escape, even if the drop wasn’t enough to kill him. At least he could smell freedom for a few more hours while he still had a head.
“You look down in the mouth,” a voice said behind him. Freawine jumped. In the dark he glimpsed the outline of a man so misshapen and squat Frea couldn’t be sure he was human. Without thinking, he made the sign to ward off evil, but the man only chuckled. “I know what you promised.”
“My father promised,” Freawine corrected.
“Straw into gold,” the stranger agreed. “Having much luck?”
Another chuckle, and despite himself, Freawine found he liked the little man.
“If I help you, what will you give me in return?”
Freawine stared, unblinking. “Help me?”
“Yes, I’ll spin your straw into gold. For a price, that is.”
Freawine thought. Not that he believed the man could do it, but what choice did he have? “I have this,” he said, lifting the strap from around his neck. “It belonged to my mother; it is the most precious thing I have.”
The man regarded the small leather pouch in the moonlit room. He held the charm up to his nose. “Mugwort and betony?”
Freawine nodded. “And a text in Latin written by His Holiness the Archbishop. Keeps you safe from harm. My mother put it around my neck when I was born.”
“And yet you are here,” the man said. His eyes appeared to glitter in the darkness. “Perhaps it was your charm that called me. Well then, this prize will do.” Without another word he stuffed the charm into his pocket, sat on the stool, took the spindle in hand and while Freawine watched open-mouthed, he spun the straw into fine gold. As the spindle filled, Freawine helped bunch the threads into skeins. By the time the first hint of dawn colored the sky, the sun’s pink light reflected off a substantial pile of golden threads.
“I can’t thank you enough,” Freawine said.
The odd little man merely smiled, nodded and in a flash, he vanished.
Freawine had no time to wonder at his savior’s disappearance for the door burst open and the prince strode in. “Well, you have been busy.” He walked over and picked up one of the skeins and examined the threads closely. “Aren’t you the clever one?”
Freawine flushed and looked at the prince, then flushed again. Up close, the man appeared god-like in his perfection. Frea took in the prince’s startlingly blue eyes before dropping his gaze once more to the stones beneath his feet. But the effect lingered, the curve of the prince’s cheekbones and the white of the scars crisscrossing through his beard remained in his mind’s eye.
“I will send your father fifty mancusas for a job well done. Now, you must eat. Mathilde will take you to the bath and then lay a meal for you.” He turned toward the door, but Freawine managed to peep out a quick reply.
“No bath, please.”
The prince stopped and turned back. “No bath?” He reached for Freawine’s chin and brought his face up to meet his scrutiny. Frea couldn’t resist drinking in the man’s handsome countenance. When the prince spoke again, his words were gruff, but his gaze only curious. “Are you afraid of drowning? The baths are smaller than those in your bathhouse in the village.”
“No, your majesty.” Freawine’s face grew warmer and doubtless pinker, too, but knew he had to remain obstinate. The hand on his chin felt as if it was made of coals, but the prince’s eyes were cool.
“As you wish,” Prince Eadwine said at last, dropping his hand to his side. He turned to go, nodding to an older woman who appeared at the door. “Mathilde, take this young lady down for a meal.”
Freawine followed her down the stairs and through a series of corridors until they came to a room more sumptuous than he could ever have imagined.
Mathilde pointed to a jug next to a bowl. “Wash up if you won’t take a bath. You’re not going to eat with dirty fingers.”
Freawine stepped up to the jug, just barely containing the sharp words that rose to his lips. Typical . . . . The servants here still thought themselves far above mere village folk.
He forgot his anger when he saw the repast set before him. Pigeon pie and real beef stew and two different kinds of mince pie. Such a feast! Instead of ale they served wine, which tasted funny but he drank two cupfuls anyway, memorizing every detail to tell his father later. When at last he could eat no more, he followed Mathilde to yet another room, where he curled up on the softest bed imaginable and fell at once asleep.
“So what will you do tonight?”
The words awoke Freawine with a start and he leapt up in alarm. The prince stood before him with arms crossed, but the look on his face seemed amused. Freawine marveled again at the power and confidence with which the royal son stood. He was probably only a few years older, but his lineage shone through. “Your highness?”
“I am pleased with your work. What will you do tonight? What can I offer you to spin more gold? Let’s say half of whatever you spin. That will give you an incentive, yes?” He grinned.
Freawine noticed the smile lit up his face in an entirely unexpected way even as the terror overtook him. More spinning! ”Your highness, I-I would rather not.”
An eyebrow arched up, but the smile remained. “You would rather not?”
He laughed. The sound echoed through the room, shot through with such genuine humor, Freawine wanted to join in, but knew better than to try.