01 August 2006

Rubbed the Wrong Way

    Amelda was as long as the day was cold. Fully head and shoulders taller than most every man in the kingdom. Her elongated noggin gave her an unnaturally sad countenance, which, when added to her slight frame and choice of a high hairstyle, made her look more like a totem carving than a potential bearer of heirs. When sports meets came to the javelin throw, she was always careful not to stand too near the competitors lest she be mistakenly lofted down field. Still, she was the only daughter of king Amadar, who could have been called a cross between Solomon and Genghis Kahn... so no one batted an eye when his visage on the local coins carried the subtitle "Ruthlessly Wise".

    Amadar, when still a vital man in his late twenties, figured to leave his small empire to a son. Unfortunately, he discovered his wife's indiscretion with the head bishop and had to give them both the axe... literally. After such a messy affair, he gave over any ideas of his own romance and announced that the five-year-old girl (which he had fathered with a washer woman) would be his only heir. From that day, Amadar lavished Amelda with every attention the local taxpayers could afford. The king also set his sights on a grandson, whom he could help to mold to fit the crown he'd be ready to leave by, say, the ripe old age of forty-five. Ah, those were the days, eh?

    Time passed. Amelda grew tall and spindly but the king had not been sitting on his hands. Just after New Year's, his daughter reached the mate-able age of 15 and Amadar made a proclamation. He decreed that on the last day of winter Amelda would choose a mate. The two would wed that day and the future of the kingdom would be set. Amelda was amenable and all was made ready.

    This was a long time ago, in a remote kingdom, so it's only natural that they'd never heard of either monkeys or wrenches. Be that as it may, there was, of course, something else going on.

    As stated this kingdom was quite the literal place. This is important to know because certain job titles had particular duties, which might not immediately be apparent but make perfect sense if everyone takes things on a very literal basis. The important fulcrum on which this story, and all its players, pivots is just such a position... the job of handmaiden. Normally the job of such a young woman in the court is to be "at hand" whenever her superiors require anything they would not normally lay hand to themselves. In Amadar's kingdom, there were more specialized duties.

    In those days and even, to some degree, these days, there is a special value placed on chastity and especially for a female. One's maidenhood was to be protected against all comers until the bonds of matrimony can be permanently tightened snugly around one's chosen partner. Further, it was also the local custom that urges of the flesh were not to be self-satisfied and certainly, such base activities, would never be dreamt of by the ruling class.

    Rules are all fine and respectable but, alas, human beings are not always the creatures they write themselves down to be. Credit must be given them though, for they do try.

    Suffering these undeniable urges can lead to all sorts of bad humors in the body; illnesses of the mind and, if one is not allowed to scratch that particular itch personally or romantically, some other solution must be devised. Hence the handmaiden.

    Details should not be necessary except to say that, when certain desires can no longer be withstood and maidenhood could be placed in jeopardy, one of those privileged young women who wait upon the kingdom's elite, would be called upon to... lend a hand.

    For the last year or two it seemed that Amelda was having a particularly rough go with her baser desires, requiring her closest of handmaidens to be available at moments notice.

    Norisse, the woman so honored with this duty, though veiled and always conservatively bedight, was, she could not hide it, gorgeous. Her proportions were perfect. Her face, a beacon that would beckon the best in men's souls. Her disposition gentle, compassionate, clever and kind. Her unmentionable duty she carried out deftly with neither comment nor unpleasant expression, but, alas, she too had a secret.

    In that free time Norisse had away from the requirements of Amelda's desires she, with the exact same dispassionate expertise, kept the king's passions from unexpectedly spilling over. While his requirements were less frequent and less time consuming than his daughter's needs, she felt some pride taking royal matters in hand, so to speak.

    It's hard to believe that, juggling all this, Norisse would find time to keep her own desires in check, but she did, for the most part. Norisse fancied Billiam, a very handsome young man of the court, who had made it known that, should he spend time in the castle, he would surely wish to take her into his own service and give her poor wrists a rest.

    The rainy spring extended the cold and dark by an extra fortnight and everyone was becoming quite tense over the betrothal that would follow the declaration that winter was done. The king was tense. The princess was tense. Billiam was tense. Norisse was missing sleep and developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Then the sun rose on a cloudless morning and shone warmly through an entire day. That evening the king called the court to order.

    The herald announced that Amelda would today choose a mate and asked that all the gentlemen gather on the west end of the courtyard. As the women separated out, Billiam passed Norisse whispering that, even should he be chosen as groom, he would still spend every possible minute in her embrace. This overheard promise was repeated into the ear of the princess who, until that moment, had highly considered young Billiam. It was that revelation that put the king?s only child in a strange and perverse state of mind as she stepped out into the courtyard that golden evening.

    That same bit of information was relayed to the king as well and was firm in his mind as he stepped onto the balcony above the court. He, too, had hoped that the tall, athletic Billiam would temper the oddity of his family's gene pool. Still reeling for an idea to salvage that dream, his blood boiled at the thought of his daughter's potential humiliation... with no release in sight.

    A trumpet blew the crowd to silence. The king shouted that the princess, who was to bear the next king, would now choose the mate of her heart and soul and life forever after. Wishing to embrace whatever choice she made, he left the balcony and made his way downstairs. The princess looked over the crowd and stepped one of her oversized silken slippers into the nearly hardened mud at the edge of the walkway, which had been almost covered with red carpet for the occasion.

    She addressed the crowd in her, to put it kindly, interestingly deep voice to which, no matter how painful, every ear was now tuned. She told that no woman could promise them a king but that she was not averse to trying (She always did well when she opened with a joke). She then confessed that she had chosen a direction that seemed now closed to her but that she would today, nevertheless, make a choice. That there was one who had taken ahold of her heart, had a grip on her emotions and had, indeed, laid hand to the very most tender part of her soul. She then stepped forward, turned her back to the men and chose Norisse as her mate.

    In the silence one could have heard the smallest of pins drop - instead the next noise in the courtyard was made by the king's axe as the unsuspecting peasant girl got her second big surprise of the day.

    The next silence was followed by the king's bellowing for his daughter to pick again, as he hefted the big, double-edged weapon back onto his shoulder. This vision of their monarch made the motto on the money seem tame.

    This time, realizing that the threat of infidelity had been chopped out of the picture, Amelda turned and chose Billiam from the trembling forest of petrified bachelors before her. The king pronounced them wed on the spot and went inside to wash.

    And they all lived carefully ever after.