Their arrival in Jarlsgard two days later was greeted with great fanfare. The people of the city were out in full force, shoving and pushing each other to get a view of her. Many of them had never laid eyes on the sovereign before. Children scattered dried rose petals under the horses feet and the wheels of the carriage as they passed through. The crushed scent of them mixed with a flurry of others; the skewered sparrows being roasted over open flames by a nearby street vendor, the largely unwashed crowds, bread baking in wood fired ovens, hastily emptied chamber pots, the cloying stench of the city tanneries. Indeed it was not all pleasant. But the Queen knew the people had to live and that living for many was not all rose petals, harems and silk sheets. The people needed the tournament to augment their difficult lives. She eyed the brass banded treasure chest at her feet, filled with gold coin and smiled in the knowledge she would make sure that they enjoyed it and that they would remember her visit with great fondness for many years to come.
As they navigated the crowded streets, they came to a quarter of the city where the mood was relatively more somber. The reason for that became apparent when a group of seven priests came into view, all dressed in black, dour faced and emaciated looking. The one that appeared to have seniority amongst them, boldly stared Naphtalie in the eye.
‘Whore! Cursed whore of Babylon!’ someone yelled. And a missile in the form of horse shit ricocheted off the side of the carriage. Instinctively, Naphtalie ducked and shouted for the carriage to halt.
‘Get back your Majesty!’ cried Ryleigh, throwing himself in front of her.
Naphtalie shoved him to one side.
‘Get off me man! I can attend to this myself. This is my queendom, is it not?’
‘Yes, my lady.’
‘Come then,’ she said. ‘Follow me and stay close.’
He followed her out onto the street with a strange glowing in his chest at her need of him but also a burgeoning sense of fear. Nearby soldiers now seemed to have apprehended someone who was struggling violently on the filthy ground.
‘Stand aside!’ ordered Ryleigh. ‘Make way for your Queen!’
The masses parted fearfully and Naphtalie looked down at a dirty already bruised boy, who could not be more than fifteen.
‘On your feet!’ she hissed.
Shaking, he did as he was told, looking as if he wanted to fold in on himself and disappear.
‘What know you of whores then?’ asked Naphtalie, circling him with a watchful eye.
‘Na, na, na, nothing, your Majesty.’
‘Then why say it? Why attack the Queen’s carriage?’
His eyes were wild and he licked his harelip nervously as he scanned the crowd.
‘I could have you hung for this. You do know that, don’t you, boy?’
‘Yes, my Queen. Please don’t. Please! I didn’t mean it. I swear.’
The loud muttering of those assembled hushed and another figure appeared. The priest, followed by his brothers in the faith.
‘What have you been doing my child?’ he said in a disappointed voice, head tilted to one side.
‘Father Ashley! I only did as you…’
‘As I what?’ said the priest loudly. ‘Did you have one of your turns again Peter? Is that what this is?’
‘Do you know this boy then Priest?’ asked the Queen.
‘I do, your majesty. He resides at the Brother’s of St.Luke’s orphanage with us. I’m afraid he is not a well child at times and can do strange things. Ungodly things. But we are working on removing these inclinations from his make-up. Aren’t we Peter?’
‘Deranged or not, he has launched an attack on the Queen and must be punished,’ declared Ryleigh, pushing forward.
Naphtalie held up her hand.
‘If you give me your word that you will continue to work with him and demonstrate to him the error of his ways, I am content to let this matter pass,’ she said graciously.
‘We will redouble our efforts,’ promised the Priest, bowing with a thin smile.
‘Very well then,’ she said.
The boy hastily dropped to his knees. ‘Thank you my lady.’
Naphtalie nodded and headed back towards the carriage, whilst behind her, Ryleigh scanned the crowd for threats, unconsciously puffing out his chest and gripping the dagger he wore in his belt tightly. He made a decision to speak to the Queen later about improving her security as soon as possible, whether it was his place to do so or not. She might not like him offering his counsel, but even a leader as beautiful and benevolent as she, appeared to have those who would wish her harm apparently. And if he wasn’t mistaken, the outwardly virtuous Father Ashley was one of them, so steps must be taken to safeguard her.
Later that evening, a banquet had been laid on in honour of the Queen by the Countess of Drabensgudt, the Queen’s cousin, Sophia.
‘So I hear there was a little drama upon your arrival here today cousin,’ smirked Sophia, breaking apart a spiced roll and spreading it generously with peacock liver pate.
The two of them were sitting at the head of the table which made any actions of theirs rather conspicuous to those seated round about. All eyes in the Great Hall were discreetly upon them, most especially those of the Queen’s Seed Bearers.
At the far end near the mighty fire that constantly needed to be fed dried timber by the servants, Gavin, also known as number seven, supped his mead and turned to Jared who was seated to the left of him. ‘Do you suppose she’s told her about us…and what we do?’ he said.
Jared was tackling a haunch of venison, sawing great slices off it with a serrated knife, between furtive glances in the direction of the two powerful women.
‘Probably. Women love to talk and the two of them are cousins.’
‘Don’t you mind?’ asked Gavin.
‘Mind? Why should I mind? Out of all the men she could have chosen, she chose us.’
At that moment the two women laughed loudly at some secret exchange between them.
Gavin appeared disconcerted. ‘Yes but she could be saying anything. She could be telling her about our performance. It will be all round the kingdom by tomorrow.’
Jared sighed. ‘To my knowledge my friend, there’s nothing to tell in respect to you. You’ve not even rutted her yet. Just a couple of quim licks in her boudoir when we were both there that day. So stop fretting and eat your victuals, you may need your strength for later if you’re lucky.’
As it turned out he did. But for very different reasons.
Part way through the evening’s entertainment, Naphtalie laid a weary hand upon her cousins.
‘I fear I must retire to bed early Sophia. Too many cups of wine and travelling have got the better of me.’
‘Hm, and all the loveplay with your stallion’s on the way, no doubt,’ joked Sophia, getting to her feet also.
A little overtaken by the wine herself she failed to realise the extent of Queen Naphtalie’s exhaustion until the monarch toppled backwards and flopped to the ground in a heap of golden silks and lace.
‘My lady!’ she cried, dropping to her side in distress. Within seconds her ladies in waiting were by her side, along with her deeply concerned harem. Cloths soaked in cold water were applied to her brow by the maid named Penelope who appeared about ready to faint herself judging by her pallor. Another maid appeared with a swan’s feather she had scorched in the fire which she placed under Naphtalie’s nose for her to inhale.
‘Josiah! Fetch Father Ashley! She needs prayer,’ ordered the Countess.
Naphtalie’s eyelids fluttered and she reached out her hand to touch Sophia’s arm.
‘Not necessary cousin. I am in need…in need of sleep is all. Send Penelope to the kitchens for some warm spiced milk and have her bring it to my chambers. Gavin and Ryleigh will bring me to my bed.’
With murmured good wishes for her speedy recovery and rest from those present, Gavin knelt and lifted her from the cold stone floor.
‘She is frozen cold,’ he told Ryleigh.
Ryleigh scowled. ‘We will warm her once we get her to bed. Make haste!’
So the two men strode through the corridors of the great castle, taking turns to open doors and reassure the Queen whose teeth were beginning to chatter.
Inside her room they found a robust fire burning in the hearth and the spiced milk already sitting on a table by the bed. They laid her down gently and looked uncertainly at each other as she sipped slowly.
‘What would you have us do, my Queen?’ asked Gavin, as she finished the last of the milk.
‘You may undress me and then warm my body with your own whilst I sleep,’ she mumbled.
So they did, tenderly and carefully without any sexual aspect at all. They were just two submissives serving the immediate needs of their mistress and the pride they felt in doing so was immense.