Chapter 12: The Archbishop’s Wife

I awoke with Nevianne’s arm cast over me carelessly. Her lips were about two inches from my ear, and she was snoring softly. That was what had awakened me.

Or maybe it was the slightly suppressed noises coming from the sex show taking place on the other side of the room. There weren’t any lights on, but the moon was high and it was shining through the open windows, almost like a spotlight on them. Houses hereabouts weren’t big on open windows on the ground floor. Such windows as there were, were small and the shutters were securely latched at night. Second floors had bigger windows for ventilation, especially given Agus’ usual summer humidity. There were burglars, of course, but there were also lots of “Cave canem” (“Beware of the dog”) signs. You entered a yard at your own risk.

The sex show involved a young couple, maybe a year or two younger than Nevy. They were naked as a pair of eggs. The boy was slim, his body pale. He had thick black hair and lots of enthusiasm. The girl had long, thick hair that also looked black in the moonlight, a face that looked like it might be pretty, and small, perky breasts that were under a pair of fondling hands at the moment. She was straddling her lover and they were having a high old athletic time.

Nevianne poked me in the ribs. She often communicated like that. She was pretty good at it, in fact. “Don’t watch!” she hissed. I guessed the sound of my eyelids parting had awakened her.

It took me a few moments to translate from Saxon-English, so she just took me by the hair and pulled my face down to be kissed, followed by patting my cheek. “Where’d they come from?” I hissed back. “Who are they?”

“The archbishop and his wife,” she whispered. “Give them their privacy!”

“That’s not them,” I whispered. “That’s a pair of teenagers!”

“I think it’s worth learning how to do that,” she told me sweetly. “We won’t always be young, my love.”

First I had to translate, then I started to ask what she meant. Then I caught on. Old Simon had told me that transformation took a lot of energy. I had thought he was referring to the process itself.

“I think you’re right,” I told her, stroking a sweet protrusion. “As soon as I learn how to make fire, I want to learn that!”

“Not until we’re married,” she warned.

“Just learning how won’t hurt anything,” I assured her, patting the loveliest butt I’d ever seen or felt. “It never hurts to be prepared.”

She nibbled my neck in return.

* * *

Morning rolled around and the archbishop and his wife were their (very) old selves again, though I thought they looked more relaxed; it’s hard to tell when they’re that rickety. Nevy and I and her Mom and Blæda rubbed the kinks out of each other’s backs and necks. Nannakussi and family did the same, then hurried off to get our breakfast. Church floors are hard, but since Simon and Helen slept in their sanctuary too, we weren’t complaining.

There was a bathroom of sorts downstairs. We dumped the chamber pot, washed it out, did our morning business, then washed our hands and faces and shared the toothbrush. There was a kitchen area, where the Nannakussi family had breakfast waiting for us. It consisted of peaches, plums, apricots, a hard and fragrant cheese – a cross between Romano and Provolone, to my taste buds – and rewarmed bread. From the expression on her face, Chulëntët had started the fire for the bread. I made a face at her and she gave me donkey ears in return. I thought she might be lacking respect for her elders, so I thumbed my nose at her, wiggling my fingers just to make sure..

“You will learn to make fire today or tomorrow,” Helen told me, gumming her breakfast bread. I tried not to look. “Today, I think.”

“Good,” I replied. “And what next?”

“Not transformation. Simple spells, perhaps.”

I could feel my cheeks turn red. She knew I’d watched! I could tell by her expression.

Chulëntët was chattering to her nuxa (daddy) and showing him just how to wave his hand to make fire. Damned if he didn’t. Winky couldn’t raise so much as a spark, which put her in the same talentless category as me. But my servant could set fire to a chunk of maple or oak without raising a sweat, to his own great surprise.

“We’ve got to get some fresh clothes,” I said by way of changing the subject. My clothes smelled worse than I did, and I stank.

“They will clean them for you at the thermae,” Archbishop Simon told me. I was happy to hear they still had Roman baths. I thought it would be neat to go to one. “Give them to the shopkeeper inside the door and she will have them ready for you when you leave.”

I asked how much the baths cost and was surprised at how cheap it was. They were a city service and the cost was nominal – a pentanummi per person. The pentanummi was five nummi. There were forty nummi to the follis, which was the biggest coin currently in regular circulation. There were 420 follis to the solidus, which was about a half ounce of gold, .993 fine. I think the pentanummi might have been the Imperial equivalent of ten cents.

Off we went, using money out of the poor box to pay our way, since we were poor. We paid at the door, left our clothing with the nice lady, and took a communal bath. The archbishop and his wife came with us. They looked a lot different naked this morning from what they had looked like the night before. We all tried not to look. Great age doesn’t bring great beauty.

Do they have baths like this in thy realm, lord sweetheart?” Nevianne asked me when we hit the big pool, which was tepidly relaxing.

Sadly not usually, lady love,” I told her, admiring the view. “There are Turkish baths – Anatolian or Phrygian or something, I guess you’d call them – here and there, but they’re not co-ed like this is. We have public and private swimming pools though.”

“Hast thou one?”

“Nay, but to please thee I will,” I promised.

I looked at her and all of a sudden we two were alone in our new swimming pool back in Delaware. The water was cool, much cooler than the water in the thermae. I could feel the sunshine on my face; I’d gotten a bit of a burn on my shoulders because we’d stayed in too long. Nevy was just as scorched, her shoulders covered with freckles under a layer of fresh burn. She was fairer than I was; she was going to blister. She wore a flower-patterned bikini and she had prune fingers. She had such a pretty smile! She was telling me, in slightly accented but perfect English, that we should be getting out or we would be late for dinner with the Coopers. She looked like she was about four months pregnant, just beginning to show.

I caught myself with a jolt and I was back in the public baths with Nevy, her mother, Blædswith, and the Nannakussi family in Flumen Martii. It had been weird. Nevi and I in our swimming pool had been just as real to me for those few moments as the girl herself standing in the water next to me.

What is’t, my love?” she asked, noticing my weird expression.

“I saw thee in our swimming pool at home,” I told her. “It was… very real to me.”

She hugged me and kissed me joyously. “Blæda!” she called. My love’s best friend splashed to her side. A quick conversation followed in what was much more Saxon than Anglo. Helen joined in, looking happy for us.

Then Nevy switched back, using most of her English vocabulary and trying to pronounce Saxon words like they were English. “Usually the Wit cometh slowly, if it cometh at all, my lord sweetheart,” Nevy told me. “Thou hast grasped it first, before even making fire. What else doth thou remember?”

“You say it was real?” I asked.

Aye,” agreed Helen. “Thou had ye look. Thou wast there, but not here. Thou Saw thy future, possibly.”

“Possibly?” I asked.

“Possibly. Futures be not certain until they happen. But thou hast seen it, so it be a strong future, a likely one. What else dost thou remember?”

Mmm… I didn’t see him,” I began, “but Nannakussi lived nearby. We were going to stop by his house and pick them up. We were going to dinner with some people I know. Little Bird was going to go riding scooters with their kids. I think she was eight or nine, maybe even ten. She has two little brothers and they gang up on her. Leofgif was there too. I knew she was close by, but she was busy with her own affairs. I think Nevy complains we don’t see her enough.”

I had to pause to explain what scooters were. The archbishop thought they sounded like fun and wanted to build one. I worried about broken hips and such until I recalled that they could turn themselves into eighteen-year-olds when they wanted a bit of physical fun.

I caught my breath again, not because I was foreseeing the future this time, but because I had actually done magic. Really. I hadn’t felt weird or anything, just talking to my sweetie. There hadn’t been any irritating atonal music when it happened, not even a minor key burble. Now I wanted to See other things.

Nothing came to mind. Blæda explained that it took lots of practice to control the Wit, and that some people never could. Her own sometimes wouldn’t come when needed. Nevy’s was sporadic and Leofgif’s was downright rare.

So that was it. I decided that magic was the result of some sort of psionic action. I could see it as such for things like levitation and even clairvoyance. There were enough science fiction stories written featuring them. I wasn’t real sure about things like transformation or necromancy – communication with the dead. I wasn’t sure where they fit, but I believed more firmly in magic.

I tucked my thoughts into the back of my mind somewhere and concentrated on getting thoroughly clean and flirting with Nevy. It had been awhile since I had had a thorough scrubbing, and the sight of my sweetheart naked always made me feel good. Scrubbing her made me feel even better. Donning clean clothes when we left felt good too, though they’d had no idea how to clean my sneakers. They definitely needed machine washed by now, and a heavy dose of foot powder. I think they’d started to ferment.