By female voices.
We have bathed, where none have seen us,
In the lake and in the fountain,
Underneath the charmed statue
Of the timid, bending Venus,
When the water-nymphs were counting
In the waves the stars of night,
And those maidens started at you,
Your limbs shone through so soft and bright.
But no secrets dare we tell,
For thy slaves unlace thee,
And he, who shall embrace thee,
Waits to try thy beauty’s spell.
By male voices.
We have crowned thee queen of women,
Since love’s love, the rose, hath kept her
Court within thy lips and blushes,
And thine eye, in beauty swimming,
Kissing, we rendered up the sceptre,
At whose touch the startled soul
Like an ocean bounds and gushes,
And spirits bend at thy controul.
But no secrets dare we tell,
For thy slaves unlace thee,
And he, who shall embrace thee,
Is at hand, and so farewell.
Thomas Lovell Beddoes
Strange that I should remember that poem so well, though it has been some time since I read it. I was put in mind of it after Gwyn showed me one of the deeper caverns of the Underhill. We were sitting, drinking the mead, chatting about what goes into it and speculating on what additional fae ingredients might be included. She told me she had found a cave with a pool and waterfall. Naturally, I had her show it to me, as I had not really explored the Underhill much. Surprisingly, it was not very far from the main cave, just in a direction I had not yet explored. It was a most pleasant place. Water gushed out of a small opening in the rocks above our heads, making a very pretty waterfall over a rock face, then plunging into a crystal-clear pool that filled most of the cavern. A series of flat rocks provided a route through the cave to the one beyond as well as providing a convenient refuge in the middle of the pool. It was an exceptionally pretty spot, with hues that somehow went very well with my eyes and Gwyn’s pale skin. I gathered her into my arms for a kiss, speculating on some of the other alleged properties of the mead. She joked about not doing anything that we would be ashamed of later and told me that the further cave eventually led back outside, near the steps to the giant tree. That did not really surprise me, for I had no idea where I was relative to the outside, having rarely explored cave systems much, aside from visiting a cave in Cheddar Gorge with the family once on holiday. My imagination was fired up and I joked about secret portals behind waterfalls; a staple of some of the adventure books I had read as a boy. She said she hadn’t looked, but we could try it if we wanted. I told her I didn’t have a bathing suit and asked if they had bathing suits in her era. She blushed prettily and said of course they did. She said she had been alone when she previously bathed her. Of course I drew the obvious conclusion from that, and I had to admit it was a pretty image.
I didn’t have to imagine it for very long. The shyness she has about her body seems to have vanished since we have been out here in the fae parts of the island. She pulled the lightweight dress she was wearing over her head and was suddenly standing there in her smalls. And, they were very small, just a few small triangles of soft fabric covering the bare essentials. No lace, no frills, yet somehow, much more erotic than the satin and lace of the outfits of the Fiendish Pleasures muses. I felt the pull of her body, and my groin responded. Since I had stripped down to my shorts by now, I stepped into the water before my desire became too obvious. I distracted myself, ducking under the waterfall and exploring the rock face behind it. The cold of the water would have taken my breath away, but, as has often been noted, I don’t have any to take away, except when I remember to do so. Disappointingly, despite much probing, and attempting to climb higher up to the source of the water, there were no hidden entrances.
I turned back to Gwyn, feeling a little more relaxed, now the cold water had achieved the desired effect, as a thought occurred to me, remembering Aoibheann’s description of me some while ago, back in Jasper Cove. This was almost certainly the first time Gwyn had seen me other than fully dressed, so I sought her opinion, trusting her not to be too biased in my favour, affecting a suitable pose, as if being painted.
“So, tell me,” I asked, “as a woman… Aoibheann thinks I am scrawny. Do I look scrawny to you?” She stared openly, unabashed.
“She thinks you’re scrawny? Would that be because she has mostly been with super-heroes or gorillas, or gods, or whatever?” She looked away, down into the water. “It does feel great, doesn’t it? And you’re fine. You’re not scrawny; you’re just fine.” I had to laugh, thinking of those males that seemed to appeal to Aoibheann.
“Yes, her taste does tend towards the primal, doesn’t it,” I said, approaching her cautiously. “I like to think I am a little more refined.” I looked her up and down. I could feel the appeal of her, standing there in such flimsy clothing, but still felt a little uncertain. “You are lovely,” I said. I slid my arms around her and kissed her. She looked a little nervous at first, but surrendered to the kiss, sliding her arms around my back. The feel of her skin against mine was electric.
“I’m glad you think so,” she whispered, her hands exploring my back. “But what’s more primal than two half-naked people under a waterfall?” The sense of closeness was palpable, and I could feel her heartbeat against my chest, speeding up. I sighed happily, happy that this new level of intimacy was pleasing to both of us.
“The other half?” I replied, in answer to her question. My hands explored her back, her sides, the curve of her hips, as I started kissing her neck, her ears. I could hear her breath quicken.
“You are terrible,” she whispered. “But not in a bad way.” She buried her face in my shoulder, running her hand lightly, tentatively up my back, and bringing her hand into my hair. Her fingernails grazed the back of my neck. “Not in a bad way at all.” I shivered, enjoying her touch.
“That’s nice,” I told her, “And you are not bad either.” It was an intense, intimate moment, and who knows where it might have led, had we not been interrupted by the sound of Aoibheann out there in the nearby cavern, calling out my name. Reluctantly, I broke of the kiss and the embrace. “She does have an amazing sense of timing, doesn’t she?” I commented, stepping a little away and ducking my head into the water, as though I had been washing my hair. “We’d better look as if we were just bathing, otherwise her head will explode or something.” Gwyn sighed and wondered if she should put her dress back on. I told her that was entirely her choice. Aoibheann was going to be scandalised either way. We decided to call out to her, so she would get here sooner rather than later. I heard her call out my name in a sing-song voice, cut off when she heard her calling to her. I could hear her approaching, so grinned at Gwyn and started to pretend we had been discussing poetry.
“So, what’s your take on the metaphorical aspects of Blake’s ‘The Sick Rose ‘?” I asked her with a wink. She picked up on my plan straight away, as I suspected she would.
“It’s a lot less romantic than Donne’s ‘The Flea?’” She chuckled. “I think it makes desire into something much more dark and ugly than it needs to be, but some of my students see it as rather more titillating than that.” I raised an eyebrow, intrigued, even if our conversation had started out as a mere ploy.
“Titillating? Really? I’ve never thought of it that way. A commentary on desire, yes, but titillating in its own right?” She smiled and said we could go into it later, hearing Aoibheann coming up the passageway. Aoibheann arrived, looking somewhat the worse for wear, again, this time with ink-stains on her face. She seemed only slightly nonplussed by our near-nakedness, or maybe the excitement of her news overrode any reaction to that.
“Nathaniel! Gwyn!” she exclaimed, uncharacteristically loudly for her. “Rachel gives her word that Patch was the individual whom started the fire, and that he worked alone and that no others were involved in its creation. Not that I’m sure what Rachel’s word is good for. Or really entirely certain that Patch is male… But anyway, that gives you something to report, but now, I must away… I’ve things to do.” I was surprised by that news. The only Patch I could think of had been one of Vedis’ clan, hanging around Fiendish Pleasures and occasionally performing there. I had not known he had made it here. Gwyn, obviously not knowing that, asked who Patch was. I stood up, sliding off the rock into the water.
“Patch? Vedis’ pet demon? He’s here? He caused the fire? Hmmm, I knew he was a bit strange, but… I wonder if that would square with the Hunstman’s version. He presumably knew who he was hunting.” I thought for a moment. “Well, I would be the first to doubt Rachel’s word, but that seems like an extremely unlikely lie for her to make up.” I walked towards her, forgetting my state of undress. “Are you alright? You look like you’ve been in a fight or something.” She ignored my question, and addressed Gwyn’s instead.
“Patch is a demon, I believe he has some association to Clan Seid,” she explained “But Rachel seemed most ardent to suggest that Patch acted alone in this.” She watched us, still seemingly unaware of us not being dressed perfectly properly. She then changed the subject slightly. “Regardless, Gwythyr, King of the Unseelie, has told me that he expects to have a meeting arranged with all of the former residents of Jasper Cove. I am fine, but I must get in contact with her majesty.” She thought about that for a moment and clarified, “Queen Isabella.”
“I haven’t seen her in yonks,” said Gwyn. “I… should we be… I mean, isn’t he even scarier than Her Majesty? Queen Faermorn, I mean.” I stepped out of the pool, slapping the water off of my skin and seeking my clothes. I remembered what Valene had told me about Gwythr.
“Val warned me, about the hands of power,” I said. “Gwthyr’s power is fear, if I recall correctly, whereas Faermorn’s is desire. So yes, if he wished to be, he could be very scary. Did his majesty say when? Some of us keep very odd hours.” Aoibheann confirmed my opinion.
“He is perhaps more terrifying than the Huntsman,” she told Gwyn. “And his motives are harder to guess at, for me, at least. He said ‘very soon’,” she answered me. “But I suppose, that is not quite so soon to the fae as it would be to us.” Gwyn finished dressing and combed her hair with her fingers.
“Right,” she said. “Well, I guess as long as I know when it’s going to be I can psych myself up for it or something. Listen, are you sure you’re all right? Have you eaten?” I finished dressing.
“Fear can be handled, especially when it is being expected,” I told Gwyn. “Well, I’m sure he knows how to find us when it happens.” Aoibheann assured Gwyn, not very convincingly, that she had already eaten, then spoke more of Gwythr’s request for a meeting.
“I do not know what he wants of us; only he says he has an offer to make us. But I imagine, whatever it is, he will be not at all pleased should we reject it.” That, at least accorded with what I knew of him from Valene. However, I wasn’t going to worry about it now, not until I knew what he had to offer. Gwyn headed out, heading in the direction of the main cavern, whispering that I should find her later. I told her I would, whispering that maybe we could discuss more of Crimson Joy. She went off, dragging Aoibheann along, saying she was going to find something to eat, and insisting that Aoibheann had something too, as she was looking pale.
I let them go on, thinking I needed to pass on this latest development. I scribbled a quick note to the Unseelie Queen, bidding one of the servants to take it to her. My reputation seems to have spread among the servants, for she tarried a while, then shyly offered her wrist. Far be it for me to refuse a young lady, so I fed, doing my best to make it enjoyable for her. Thus refreshed, I left the cavern for a while, intending to find Gwyn later, when I could.