"Come home with me, little Matty Groves, and sleep with me till light."
A holiday, a holiday, the first one of the year.
Lord Darnell's wife came into the church, the gospel for to hear.
And when the meeting it was done she cast her eyes about,
And there she saw little Matty Groves walking in the crowd.
-"Matty Groves," traditional.
"Lust," said the parson. "Lust and deceit are the handmaidens of the devil."
Alexandra sat in the last pew and counted the panes in the stained glass windows. The parson's voice made it hard to concentrate.
"We must resist evil in all its forms, even those that promise the satisfaction of easy pleasures," said the parson.
Alexandra dozed off a little. The sound of everyone standing at once woke her up, and she hoped no one had noticed. She remained seated until the others filed out, and then thanked the parson for his stirring sermon. He beamed.
"And I thank you, lady, for joining us. It sets such a good example. It's a shame Lord Darnell couldn't be here."
"He has business," said Alexandra. "But he wishes he were here." He could use a nap, she thought.
They left the church together. The others had gathered on the green. It was a holiday, and an excuse for festivities, and since it was winter that meant the villagers could build a great fire without the parson disapproving of their pagan ways. They kept apart. The parson talked about sin and temptation, and Alexandra paid no attention. She watched the people. Someone caught her eye.
He was a very young man, almost a boy really, and seemed even younger because of his small stature. But she knew, from his fair hair and simple smile, that he must be Matty Groves, who the village wives were always talking about. His reputation had reached even her ears.
"Excuse me," she said to the parson. "I'm feeling a bit faint. Please let me to get some air."
"Of course," he said, with a small smile. "I should have known not to burden your womanly frailty with such weighty matters."
Alexandra didn't think that the parson's conversation weighty enough to burden a sapling, but she thanked him anyway. As she walked past Matty Groves, she dropped a handkerchief at his feet. Matty picked it up and followed her.
They met behind the church. She pretended to be looking at a point on the horizon and did not turn around, even when he held the handkerchief out to her. In the end he had to put it in her hand himself, and she held onto it very tightly. It was still warm from his touch.
They stood side by side, each looking at nothing. Then she whispered something in his ear. Matty shook his head.
"I cannot," he said.
He took her hand. "I see the rings on your fingers. You are Lord Darnell's wife."
Alexandra took her hand back, covering the rings with her handwarmer. "Well," she said, "if I am Lord Darnell's wife, Lord Darnell is not at home. He's out in the far country, bringing the yearlings in. He will not be back for at least a day."
She smiled at him. "You're not afraid, are you, Matty Groves?"
Matty shook his head again. "What makes you think I'm Matty Groves?"
"Because you followed me," she said.
"Anyone would have done that."
"No. Anyone else would have been afraid."
They left together, not realizing they were being watched. The parson let them go, then thought a while on what to do. When he'd decided, he set out. He knew where Lord Darnell could be found, and if he was willing to swim the mill stream he could get there before sunset.
For the parson was a poor man, and Lord Darnell a rich one, and he hoped that this favor might be rewarded. All things in the service of the Lord, of course.
Alexandra sent all the servants to the festival, and when they were all turned out she took Matty Groves in. He was delighted by the size of Lord Darnell's bed, which he thought to be bigger than his entire house. While he amused himself with it, she undressed, taking particular satisfaction in tugging her rings off and rubbing the sore places where they pinched. She sat next to Matty dressed only in her chemise, laying her head on his shoulder.
"I didn't think you would come," she said, rubbing his chest.
"Why wouldn't I?"
"You're not afraid of Lord Darnell?"
"Yes. But I'm always afraid of him, no matter where he is."
She held his face in her hand. It was a handsome face, but weak around the jaw, and his eyes never stayed still.
"I've never kissed any man but my husband," she said.
"What do you think it will be like?"
"I don't know," she said. "I've been afraid to even dream about it."
He kissed her once, and when he tried to pull away after she wouldn't let him. She wrapped her arms around his body and refused to let go. She pushed him onto the bed and straddled him. He looked a bit bewildered.
"Am I beautiful?" she said.
"You've been with lots of women..."
"Now, what have people been saying about me?"
"You've been with lots of women," she said again. "Am I as beautiful as they are?"
"Yes-" he said, but she kept talking.
"Even without my dress? Without my jewelry, and make-up, and perfume, and with my hair down, am I beautiful?"
She was crying a little and he brushed the tears off of her cheeks.
"You, of course," he said.
She took off her undergarments. Her body was milky white, and her breasts were small and crowned with dark pink nipples. Her hands were small and very soft; pampered hands. Matty told himself he should not be doing this. Of course, he was always doing things he shouldn't, but this was different. But she was beautiful, and he was flesh and blood, and he was of the impression that she would not allow him to leave now even if he wanted to.
He touched her body, as if to make sure it was really there, running his fingers down her hips (narrow, not made for childbirth) and across the naked plane of her thighs. She toyed with his long hair, twirling the strands around a finger while he kissed her legs, tickling the spot just behind her knee with his tongue.
He ran his hands over her legs again, starting at her ankles and then cupping her calves, moving up her thighs, and then he kissed his way up her belly (flat and undernourished, as though she had never eaten), his beard tickling her navel.
He kissed her sex (the one thing that was the same on any woman) closing his eyes and parting those lips with his. She tasted acrid and wet. He put his hands against her knees, spreading her wider, and kissed her deeper, using his tongue, licking just inside the slit. Alexandra put her arms around his shoulders, and he felt her go limp.
He pushed his tongue inside, flickering it in and out. She was unresponsive except to grow hotter, and occasionally to whisper his name along with a string of half-heard syllables that meant nothing. He licked around the inside of her, then up the length of her, stopping at the most sensitive spot. He'd never heard a woman cry out the way she did then. It frightened him, and he wanted to stop, but he was frightened to do that too, so he kept on.
It was some time before she dragged him up, going to kiss him but then stopping, as if hesitant to put her lips on his so soon after they'd be on her. Instead she put one hard nipple against his mouth, and he kissed it gently, and when she responded to that by pinching the flesh of his shoulders he kissed harder, and then bit, and she cried out again, making his blood turn to ice. She kissed his mouth then, and pulled him on top of her, wrapping her legs around him.
It was difficult to undress because Alexandra kept tugging at the garments and trying to take them off the same time he did. He wondered, idly, whether she'd let him take one of Lord Darnell's suits of clothes if she ripped his own. Soon he was naked, and she had him between her thighs, and she didn't seem to quite believe what was happening until the moment he entered her.
He moved inside of her, thrusting with long, slow, even strokes. She was tight around him. Every time he pushed, she pushed back. When she moved her muscles rippled, and her lips would twitch, just a little He thrust up into her again and again, and her eyelids flickered open and shut, and the only sound that she made was to sigh or sometimes gasp, with her mouth open, as though she was suffocating for just a few seconds.
Once he grabbed her hair and pulled, and then she really did scream, a normal scream, as though he had hurt her very badly, and he let go, immediately full of regret. She held herself against him and made a sound like she was crying, but when she lay down again and her face was blank and it seemed nothing had happened at all.
They went on like this, and Matty soon began to worry about the faraway look in her eyes. He was sweating and exerting himself, and she seemed lost to the world, though her body was responsive enough. Eventually she stopped him for a moment.
"Matty?" she said.
It was a moment before he caught his breath. "Yes?"
"I have the most amazing feeling of being unaccommodated."
Matty had no idea what this meant or how he should feel about it, but it seemed a good thing in the end, as she kissed him some more and pushed herself up against him, twisting her hips. She was throbbing and wet around him, and he was rigid and aching, and they couldn‘t stop. Even after he released, gushing, inside of her, she would not relent, forcing his shaking, exhausted body to go on and on.
He thought that whatever end she was building toward might break her in half. She seemed to be retaining everything, saving it for one momentous event. When it came though, it was a small thing, a sigh that sounded different from the others, and a brief moment when her eyes rolled back, flickering under their lids, and her body became warmer and wetter all in a rush, and then she lay down, satisfied, with her head on his chest, and soon fell asleep.
Matty Groves watched her, and held her, and had the feeling of having found something very precious.
Matty slept a little, and when he woke up a man was sitting at the bedside, with a drawn sword across his lap and another at his side.
"You're awake," said Lord Darnell.
Matty said nothing.
"Tell me," said Lord Darnell, running a finger over the blade of the sword, "how do you like my feather bed?"
Matty swallowed. "Well," he said.
"And my sheets? How do you like those?"
"Well," Matty said again.
"I see. And my lady?"
Matty looked at Alexandra, still asleep, her head on his shoulder.
"Better than all," he said.
"Get up," said Lord Darnell. "Quick as you can. I won't have it said that I killed a man naked in bed, even if it is my bed."
Alexandra woke now, and did not look surprised at seeing her husband, nor frightened, nor angry. She held Matty close and watched Lord Darnell out the corner of her eye.
"I won't get up for my life," said Matty. "If you're not inclined to kill me in bed then I see no reason to get out of bed, not when you have two swords and I have not even a knife."
Lord Darnell mused for a moment, and seemed about to laugh.
"It's true I have two swords," he said. "But I'll give you this one; it's longer than the other, but lighter, and the blade is sharper. And I'll let you have the first blow, if you're man enough to take it. No matter what you do, I mean to kill you if I can."
Matty got up and dressed despite Alexandra's attempts to stop him. "Can't spend the rest of my life in a bed," he said. "However much longer that may be."
The household gathered in the courtyard to watch. Alexandra, half-dressed, was restrained by two servants. It was getting dark. It began to snow. Matty Groves lifted Lord Darnell's best sword, testing it. It was heavier than he'd expected.
"Are you ready, boy?" said Lord Darnell.
Rather than answer, Matty went to Alexandra. She held his hand with both of hers. When he kissed her, the servants made as if to stop him, but Lord Darnell waved them off. Then Matty went to meet Lord Darnell in the center of the courtyard.
True to his word, he waited to let Matty make the first move. Lord Darnell was taller than he was, and his arm's reach was longer, so this would be his only chance to get close. He looked the other man up and down, and tried to match the position of his feet. Lord Darnell smirked.
Matty had trouble holding the sword steady. One of the servants jeered, but his fellows stifled him.
"It's harder than it looks, isn't it?" said Lord Darnell.
"You may think you can use my things-"
Matty waited until Lord Darnell's eyes flicked to one side for just a second, then dove in. Lord Darnell moved to parry, but knowing that he kept his guard high Matty came low, and he felt the hilt jerk in his hand as the blade drove in. He cut a bloody gash inside of Lord Darnell's hip, and Lord Darnell cried out, dropping to one knee.
If Matty Groves had been an experienced duelist he would have ended it there. But he hesitated, and when he tried to pull the sword out the blade stuck for a second before coming free, and that small time was all Lord Darnell needed. He thrust his sword once, and Matty was close, and his blade was down, so that was the end.
Alexandra broke away from the servants and ran to where Matty fell. She brushed his hair out of his eyes and tried to shelter him from the falling snow. At Lord Darnell's instruction, servants picked her up and carried her to him where he sat under an awning, having his wound dressed. Blood matted one trouser leg, and he was pale and sweating.
He sat his wife on the knee of his uninjured leg, and when she would not look at him he forced her to.
"I'm not angry," he said. "I know how women are. You must do these things from time to time. But tell me, who do you like the best of us now; Matty Groves or me?"
Alexandra looked at Lord Darnell, and then she looked at where Matty lay, bloodied and slowly disappearing under the falling snow, and she said:
"I'd prefer one kiss from poor dead Matty’s lips to you and everything you own."
Lord Darnell jumped up, and his wife fell into the snow. He made to run her through, but hesitated in mid stroke. Only the tip of the blade pierced her skin, and she gasped as a few drops of blood spilled onto the snow.
Lord Darnell stopped, but as he still used the shorter of his swords that meant his wrist was within reach. Alexandra grabbed his hand and pulled him down, and as he fell the blade slid in, splitting her breast. Lord Darnell screamed and collapsed on his bad leg. He reached out for her but she pushed him aside.
Alexandra tried to crawl to where Matty lay, but she'd lost too much blood already. She only made it halfway. When Lord Darnell saw her falter, he too could no longer stand, and in the end the servants had to carry all three of them in out of the cold, each of them bloody, and silent, and unmoving.
The funerals came two days later. Lord Darnell had Matty and his wife buried together in the same grave, in the plot that was supposed to have held his bones someday instead. He had not left his room since the day of the duel, and when he emerged everyone saw that his hair had turned white.
He leaned on a cane, as he would for the rest of his life. His leg never healed right, and it gave him great pains every morning, particularly on the first holiday of the year. The parson threw a handful of dirt into the grave and said some words.
"Wrath," he said. "Wrath, and pride, are the handmaidens of the devil. We must resist evil in all its forms, even those that promise us the quick satisfaction of revenge."
The parson talked at length, but Lord Darnell said nothing. Nor did he say anything after, nor would he say anything ever again, for the rest of his days.
"Come home with me, little Matty Groves, come home with me tonight.
Come home with me, little Matty Groves, and sleep with me till light.''
``Oh, I can't come home, I won't come home and sleep with you tonight.
By the rings on your fingers I can tell you are Lord Darnell's wife.''