When Yvain presented herself at the castle after her wedding and knocked at the gate, a manservant had opened the door, expressionless. He wore green pantaloons and a green tunic: that was the Siegneur’s livery.
He lifted her wedding gown over her shoulders and off, in one practised gesture, so that she stood naked before the crowd of her fellow peasants. She’d expected that. She’d seen it done to other girls. She turned to face the castle.
Some of the women in her party were weeping. This had happened to them too. There was always a lord in the castle, and he had the right of the first night with any of his peasant girls who married. Every married woman on the estate had given themselves to at least two men: the Seigneur, and her husband. The lords always used that right. It was part of life.
The manservant clasped her ear and pulled, so she had to crouch as she walked naked into the castle. Only when he had slammed the gate behind her did he drape her in the simple off-white robe he’d had over his shoulder. He made her walk in front of him as they climbed a long, stone, spiral Starway. The robe reached to the lower slopes of her buttocks: from below she might as well be naked.
When they reached the top of the stairs, and stepped out of the stairwell turret into a small anteroom he came up behind her and held her, his arm under her breasts. He pulled her back, slightly off balance. Her bottom pressed against him. He was erect.
A woman, who she had not seen at first, rose from a chair against the wall. She was tall and solidly built. She greeted the servant – Yvain learned that his name was Karl – and did not smile at Yvain.
She walked up to her, parted her robe at the front – it had neither buttons nor ties – smacked her belly with her great ham-like hand as a warning to keep still, and pushed one thick finger, then two, into her slit.
Yvain gasped. She had not expected this indignity. She felt the woman’s finger reach an obstacle, and the woman finally smiled, though at Karl, not at her.
“Holy blessed mother of god,” she said. “We’ve got a good girl!”
“A virgin? Really? Her husband must be the stupidest peasant in all the land.”
Yvain jerked her body forward, trying to escape Karl’s arm. “My husband is not a – “
But the beldam only slapped her face, and she stopped, cheek blazing. The beldam looked at her, and for the first time smiled. Yvain felt fear. “Were you told to speak?”
Yvain, eyes wide, shook her head.
The beldam smiled. “So the Seigneur gets a good girl with a little colour on her arse to show she’s capable of being bad. He’ll be very happy with you, my dear. Twelve strokes, please, Karl.”
Yvain’s heart sank. She’d been whipped before, and the hurt of it was part of her everyday life. But she’d not expected to be delivered to the Seigneur shamed in this way.
Karl detached the strap from the rope at his waist. “Put your hands on your ankles, girl. Don’t make a sound, and don’t move.”
Yvain sighed. She’d brought this part, at least, on herself.
She bent forward, assuming the position, as Karl instructed.