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Competing Vows – Longer Version

On April 12, I posted a 100-word story called Competing Vows. There were people who were curious about the situation surrounding it, both what had come before and what happened afterward. So, here is the full story.

Competing Vows

Our candles were the fireflies that darted around, our incense the scent of the lilacs and lavender in full bloom in the bower chapel. I arrived first, with two of my friends as witnesses. A moment later, I saw Francesca appear with two of her ladies-in-waiting, ducking to avoid catching her hair on the low-hanging branches. My beautiful, forbidden bride.

I had just taken her hand when the priest arrived, stepping in silently from the other side of the grove. He was young to the point where I wondered briefly if he even was a priest.

“Thank you for coming,” Francesca said to him. “Thank you for doing this for us.” He nodded, pulled us closer together and started the marriage ceremony.

The words of the wedding mass flowed over me, but I could hardly believe this was actually happening. I was marrying the duke’s daughter, snatching her from the arms of the man she was promised to, a week before they were to be officially betrothed. I, in my cowardice, had been willing to concede defeat, but Francesca had fought for me. At least, secretly.

We joined hands and there in front of God, a farmhand, a tavern assistant, and two ladies-in-waiting, two became one. Five minutes later, Francesca and I left the bower together.

I had no money for preparations, but Francesca had rented a cottage not far away for our wedding night. My friends escorted us there and then with grins and slaps on the shoulder and cries of “good luck!” they said good night.

There was wine, cheese and bread waiting for us on the table inside. I built a fire while Francesca served the food. We sat on the rug in front of the fire and ate together, feeding each other and laughing, nervous and excited. But we both had other appetites on our mind, and only half the food was eaten before we fell into each other’s arms and abandoned food altogether.

I awoke the next morning to the crow of some distant rooster. The air was chill but the covers around us were warm. Francesca was lying next to me, her dark hair spread out like a halo on the pillow, my sleeping angel. I snuggled closer to her and was about to fall back asleep when there was a pounding on the door. We both sat up and I saw the fear in her eyes.

“It has to be my father’s men,” Francesca said, her eyes wide. “They’ve found us.”

“What do we do?” I asked. She had assured me that although her family would not be happy with our marriage, once it was done, they would accept it. I had trusted her because I had no choice. Now I was not so sure she was right.

We got dressed quickly as the pounding continued. I was just moving towards the door to open it when it burst open and soldiers pushed their way in. There was no discussion with them. One of them knocked me to the floor and as I picked myself up, I saw two of them escorting my Francesca out the door and out of sight. The clop of hoofs and rattle of carriage wheels told me that she was gone.

They took me back to the duke’s palace, back to the stables where I had worked for my whole life. But it was too much to hope that things would go back to how they had been. The soldiers guarded me until the duke appeared, striding purposefully towards us. He drew his sword. I stared back at him defiantly and waited for death.

He rested the sword against the side of my neck. “I took you in as a child, a beggar on the street and you stab me in the back like this, by stealing my only daughter away in the dead of night? What do you have to say?”

“I love her,” I said. I had no other defense.

“My wife wants your head on a pike outside her window,” the duke said. “I will spare your life for now in gratitude for your service to us. But if I see you again or hear news of you in this duchy, your life will be forfeit.” He sheathed his sword and turned back to the palace.

The soldiers escorted me to the outer gates and suddenly I was homeless and a new husband with no wife.

I was walking to the village when I came across Maria, one of Francesca’s ladies-in-waiting sitting by the side of the road. Her dress was dirty and torn and she was sobbing. When she saw me, she fell down and clutched at my feet.

“Forgive me,” she said. “The duchess discovered my lady missing this morning and beat us until we told them where you were. They turned us out.”

“Where is Francesca?” I asked. “Is she okay?”

“They are sending her to St. Margaret’s,” Maria said, referring to the convent in the hills east of the village. “It was her mother’s wish for her anyway and now that her father considers her spoiled, he has consented.”

“I need to see her,” I said. “Can you get a message to her?”

Maria wiped her eyes, and I helped her stand. “I will try,” she said.

Maria had contacts within the palace, and that afternoon she sent me a message at the tavern that Francesca would try to meet me at the convent garden gate after the Compline prayers. I spent the rest of the day in nervous tension and finally set out for the convent long before the arranged time. I arrived as the bells for Vespers were ringing and waited in the trees as the shadows got longer and darker. The Compline bells rang, and still I waited. It was dark when I heard a creak from the garden gate.

It was Francesca, and she bit her lip when she saw me. We were both trembling. She was still beautiful, even swathed in her crisp, new habit. I wanted to embrace her, but instead, I took her hand.

“Hello, wife,” I said, still unused to that glorious word.

She looked troubled. “The abbess said the cardinal has annulled the marriage.”

“We didn’t agree to that! Did you?” She shook her head. “Then God still honors our vows. Come, you can’t stay here. Run away with me. We can go tonight.”

“Go where?” I could hear the hopelessness in her voice.

“There must be somewhere your family can’t find us.” I tried to draw her outside, my body aching for her. “Do you have some time, at least?”

She resisted. “They made me take other vows here.”

“But ours came first.”

“I know.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I felt like I was losing her, had already lost her. This day which had started so perfectly with Francesca waking up in my arms was ending with this gulf between us.

“I have nothing right now,” I said, “but if I earn enough to take you away from here and provide a place for you to live, away from your family’s reach, will you come?”

She smiled for the first time since I had seen her that evening. “I will,” she said. Then she leaned forward and kissed me. “Don’t forget about me, Bernardo.”

*         *         *

Seven years later, an expensive carriage rolled up to the gates of the Convent of St. Margaret. Even before the well-dressed man and woman were helped out by their footman, the abbess had been alerted and was waiting to greet them.

“Welcome, my lord and lady,” the abbess said, who could sense a large donation when it approached. She bowed. “How may we be of service to you?”

“We are setting up our manor and would like one of your nuns to come perform services in our chapel, at least temporarily,” the man said. “Of course, I would glad to donate something to the Lord’s work for the inconvenience to you.”

“I would be happy to be of service,” the abbess said, bowing again. She eyed the carriage, looking for a crest. “You are a count, perhaps?”

“Simply a merchant,” the man said, “at least for the moment. I provide horses to the Papal States and other kingdoms as well.”

“Please come in. I will select one of our most experienced nuns to come serve you,” the abbess said.

The man held up a hand. “Actually, my wife would like to select one, if it is okay with you. Can we see them?”

The nuns were summoned and stood around the edge of the courtyard while the man and woman strolled by them under the watch of the abbess. The woman walked in front, inspecting the assembled nuns and giving quick glances back at the man. They made it halfway around the courtyard when the man stroked his beard and the woman stopped.

“What is your name?” the woman asked the nun in front of her.

“Sister Amelia, my lady,” the nun replied. The woman glanced back and the man nodded.

“We’ll take this one,” the woman said.

“Immediately?” the abbess asked.

“If possible,” the man said. “She needn’t bring anything with her. We will provide everything.”

The footman helped the man and woman back into the carriage and then held out his hand for the nun to join them inside.

“It’s you, Bernardo,” Sister Amelia said as soon as the door was closed. “I recognized you as soon as I saw you, even with the beard and fine clothes.”

“I told you I would come for you.”

Sister Amelia glanced over at the other woman. “You’re married, I see.”

Bernardo nodded with a smile. “I’ve been married for over seven years.” He indicated the other woman. “This is Genevieve, one of your new ladies-in-waiting. I apologize that I had her wear one of your new dresses, but she needed to play the part. It’s a six-day journey to our house. Do you think that is far enough away from your family?”

“They have forgotten about me. My mother still comes once a year to see me but that is all.”

Bernardo reached over and took her hands. “I am afraid Sister Amelia must die, in order that Lady Francesca can be reborn in her place. I am sure the abbess and your mother will mourn her when they find out.”

She played with his fingers and looked up with a sly smile. “You would have me break my vows to God that easily?”

He grinned back. “What God has joined, let no man separate. Don’t you remember? Our vows came first.”


Grandpa and the Piano of Secrets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

copyright John Nixon

I was sure the piano had eaten Grandpa. I only stepped away for a moment and he vanished.

As I approached, I could smell roasting flesh. Dear God, it had sucked him in and was cooking him!

“You monster!” I shouted, grappling frantically at the keys. A door in the knee panel fell open, revealing a ladder.

I found Grandpa in a cellar, hunched over a grill like a barbecuing troll. He spun around, then relaxed.

“I thought Grandma made you guys go vegan?” I said.

“Six years ago,” he said. “Right about the time I took up ‘piano lessons’.”

 


5 Mind-blowing Facts about English that Historians Don’t Want You to Know

Please share this post. People deserve to know.

It’s easy to take our language for granted and not think about where it came from or what it looked like only a short time ago. However, the English language has had a twisted and bizarre past, and historians have tried to cover up some of the most startling facts. Here are five facts about the English language that they don’t want you to know, which will literally blow your mind.

5. Shakespeare created the future tense.

This is hard to imagine but before William Shakespeare, there was no future tense. Time in that period of history was divided in two: past and present. This was the case not only for English but every other language up until that point.

The main reason for this was that in ages past, life was very hard. Hopes for the future were slim or non-existent and people did not dwell on it. A popular proverb in Old Germanic translates as, “Let it be so: we shall all die today anyway.” Today, in this case, meant either the present or the future.

We still have a vestige of this in today’s grammar, in the expression “to be going to” as in “I am going to eat a bucket of gerbil heads.” Even though we know this means the future, it is still technically the present.

Shakespeare, however, was the first person in history to have both hope and a way to express it: i.e. through his writings. He created the future tense and then, when trying to think of a word to use for it, decided to use his own name. At first, people were confused at this new word will, but Shakespeare cleverly always used it with a future time phrase and soon people accepted the new word and the idea of the future. Eventually, many other languages noticed this and formed their own future tenses.

4. Spaces Between Words Were Created During WWI.

This one may surprise you, but take a look at any book written before 1914 and chances are, there will be no spaces between the words (later editions of these books have since put in the spaces for the benefit of the modern reader). The reason for this was that paper was extremely expensive and so publishers would push all the words together to save space. Authors were allowed to have one blank line between chapters, although they were charged 1 cent per line by the publisher (this is where the term “publisher’s penny” comes from, when referring to line breaks.)

Actually, spaces between words used to be a hot issue, with many authors in the 19th century fighting for their use. Other authors, however, were against them. Jane Austen once famously said, “I want my words huddled together so as not to catch cold, when read upon a cold winter’s night.” To give you an idea of what this looked like, here are the first few sentences of Pride and Prejudice, as they would have looked when first published:

jane austen no spaces

Jules Verne, another supporter of no spaces, declared that reading novels with no spaces “caused the reader to strive mightily and through great toil, to attain the true meaning of the text.”

Kind of like this, but with words (copyright Universal Pictures)

Kind of like this, but with words (copyright Universal Pictures)

World War One, however, changed all that. Suddenly, troops at the front were having to read dispatches quickly and accurately. They began to put spaces between words to make them easier to read in the trenches. After the war, authors who had been soldiers adopted this practice and within a few years, it had become standard, to the point that now it seems inconceivable to have text with no spaces in it.

3. The Semicolon was Created in a Bar Bet

semicolon cat

[*]

In 1871, two writers, Lewis Carroll and Benjamin Disraeli, were drinking together in a tavern in Oxford. Carroll argued that there were no more innovations to be made in literature and that the art form was more or less dead. Disraeli declared that he could create an entirely new punctuation mark and have it accepted within 5 years. They wagered a Nebuchadnezzar of fine Bordeaux wine on the attempt. Disraeli drew a period and a comma on a napkin and although he meant to draw them side by side, his hand was shaking and he accidentally drew the period above the comma. He liked the effect and this is how it has remained.

Its usage was somewhat in debate at first. Disraeli first declared that it was designated for “full stops that have not yet a full-committal” or as Punctuation Daily editor Mark Groobinsky put it, “when you think you want to stop, but you’re not sure.” It would take fifty years or more before the modern usage of the semicolon came into standard practice.

Over the next few years, Disraeli included this new mark in all his writings and even gave talks on it. Initially, he called it the ‘perio-comma’ but it was later renamed ‘semicolon’ since it “partially resembles that particular body part.

The semicolon was slow in catching on and Disraeli eventually lost his bet. However, by the turn of the twentieth century, the semicolon was an accepted punctuation mark.

2. The US Almost Adopted its Own Alphabet

Although the US has never had an official language, back in 1795, it almost had its own alphabet. Right after the Revolutionary War, there was a great deal of anti-British sentiment in the United States. It was generally agreed that changing the language would be too hard, but some senators proposed changing the alphabet to make it purely American.

It was known as the Stockton-Bloodworth Plan, named after the two senators who proposed it. The idea was to replace the standard letters with American symbols that started with those letters. Thus, “T” was replaced by a sketch of a turkey and “G” was replaced by an upright gun. Today, there are only a few examples of this type of writing in existence, all of which are stored in the Library of Congress archives.

The current American alphabet [*]

The current American alphabet [*]

Critics of the plan pointed out that many of the symbols were not uniquely American (the letter “H” was a horse); some were very hard to draw (the letter “F” was an American flag, complete with all fifteen stars and fifteen stripes); and others simply did not make sense (the letter “X” was represented by a picture of a man kicking a puppy.) Ultimately, the proposal was defeated in Congress with a vote of 18-14.

1. For a Period of 300 Years, All English Words Were Palindromes

Henry II was crowned king of England in 1133 AD. He always had trouble reading and in 1135, his court doctor declared that he “had a right-moving globe of Apollo”, as opposed to most people, whose globe of Apollo apparently moved left. This meant, according to the doctor, that the king could best read words from right to left. To facilitate both types of reading, the king declared that all words be made into palindromes, so that they could be read from either direction. The court scholars worked for two years to perfect this system (some of these words, such as “level” and “refer” still persist in English today).

The king trumpeted the achievement as a great step forward for both right- and left-moving globes of Apollo, despite the fact that he was the only person to have ever been found in the former category (historians now believe this was actually a form of dyslexia.)

Here is a sample of this type of text from the Old English version of Orosius’ The Amazons, converted to palindromes:

Old English Palindromes

Spaces added later for modern readability

This type of writing became established and persisted long after Henry II’s reign. It was finally abolished in 1443 by Henry VI when a major ink shortage caused the king to look for ways of shortening the language. Still, whenever you talk to an “Anna” or do anything “civic”, think of Henry II and his right-moving globe of Apollo.

 

 

The preceding article has been rated “S” for satire.


Demon in the Light – Friday Fictioneers

I’m a bit weird when it comes to Friday Fictioneers. I look at the picture, try to find the most likely story, then do something completely different. To me, this picture has the look of fantasy, so I avoided that. That’s just me though; I look forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with.

copyright Kent Bonham

copyright Kent Bonham

Demon in the Light

“The book’s published.”

With those words, everything I had worked for started slipping away.

“Why do you think Walt did it?” I asked. “Why did he ruin his legacy and put our whole organization in jeopardy?”

“I guess he wanted a clear conscience.”

“But at what expense?”

Demon in the Light was a bestseller. The autobiography of Walt Brody, the founder of Asian Mercy, meticulously detailed his life of secret crime.

Now our donations are in freefall and I’m desperately trying to convince people to keep giving, for the children. And I keep wishing Walt had kept his veneer intact.

 


My Secret Wife – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

My Secret Wife

“We had a report of some missing Genetico property here.”

“Sorry, it’s just my wife and I.”

“Ah, your . . . wife. How did you meet?”

“eHarmony.com.”

eHarmony, ha! I found her terrified in an elevator shaft. I fed her, taught her to speak, ignored the corporate barcode tattoo on her arm. We may have no marriage license, but the bands that connect us are stronger than gold.

“Is it okay if I look around?”

“Of course not,” I say. “This is my house.”

The door shuts and I see dark, fearful eyes peering from behind the couch.

“It’s safe,” I say.


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