The Virgin Proxy

By: Georgia Fox

The Conquerors, 2

Chapter One

Wessex, England 1080

“I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me.”

These words, frequently uttered, rolled easily off her tongue.

To be just as often and just as smoothly ignored. “Brother Saul said he distinctly heard your laughter.”

“He was mistaken.” The young woman knelt with her hands held out and once again denied it was her bare posterior hanging from the bell-tower that previous evening. She solemnly maintained that Brother Saul’s shock, when he looked up to check if there was a full moon and found that, yes indeed, there was one —of a less celestial nature, had naught to do with her at all.

“We shall get our proof, girl.” Sister Agnes wrapped her across the knuckles with a knotted stick.

The miscreant kept her stoic face. “How? Bend us over in a parade, so he can look at all our asses?”

Incensed, Sister Agnes swiped that stick once again across the suspect’s hands where two scarlet lines already formed. It wouldn’t occur to the nuns that the woman before them enjoyed the fiery sting of pain, but she’d learned, over the years, that this was one way to be sure she still lived and breathed when all else around her suggested the contrary. In this place where the sensation of pleasure was strictly forbidden, it was better to feel pain than nothing at all.

The door behind her creaked open and immediately the inquisitor bowed a respectful head. “Mother Superior.”

A tall, rail-thin figure glided across the floor. “Stand, Deorwynn.”

The accused stood, fists at her side, her gaze unwavering. Although she made an attempt to subdue her lips, they were untamable. A slight upward quirk on one side, punctuated by a deep dimple in her cheek, made her appear amused even when she was not.

Surly and irritable, the Mother Superior exclaimed, “Since you are now orphaned and no marriage provisions were apparently left for you, I’m afraid we must take you in as one of our own. You will…”

“No!” Her entire being was ready to fight.

The old woman paused, eyes gleaming with spite, before she continued, “You will become a Bride of Christ.”

“I’d rather die,” Deorwynn replied flatly.

“So you will. Eventually. We must all meet our maker in time. And I daresay the Devil is especially eager to get his hands on you.”

The Mother Superior turned away, signaling to the nuns behind her. They left their charge alone, closing the door with a hearty thud in their wake.

A great wrenching fear burned in her throat as she heard the bolt drawn across, but she swallowed it quickly back down. Let them take away every material thing she had. There was one thing they couldn’t take with their cruel, gnarled claws—her spirit.

Deorwynn of Wexford would not be down beaten. Many people had tried to crush her and failed. When she first came to the convent, as a child of six, her family were wealthy and important, her father an Eaorl, one of the powerful overlords of Saxon England. But only a year after she arrived at the convent the filthy Normans came to conquer. They stole away her family’s land, her home, and they slaughtered three of her brothers on the battlefield. Her father and one remaining brother became prisoners of the new Norman king. From that point onward Deorwynn’s status changed. The nuns gleefully used a firmer hand in her “guidance”, but to no avail. The “rot”, as they called it, had set in.

During her fifteen years at the convent, Deorwynn had received more lashes for her disobedience than anyone else in the history of the place, according to Mother Superior. And Deorwynn basked in her fame. May as well be known for something, she thought. Deep inside, she clung to the hope of being rescued one day. Having watched other girls leave, one by one, fetched by their families or their betrothed, she waited patiently to be remembered. But she waited in vain. Now her dispossessed father had died of a fever in the Norman king’s custody, still refusing to pledge fealty to the conqueror. Her one surviving brother remained a prisoner, but the nuns had clearly given up waiting for him.

Blowing on her throbbing fingers, she pondered the milk-white sky through the window and assessed the possibility of squeezing her body between those iron bars. Perhaps, five or six years ago, it might have been possible – when she was a slim, shapeless creature. Sadly she now had breasts and hips. She was once warned that she would regret them when they filled out; sure enough, she now cursed them bitterly for their inconvenience.

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