Written for Cleo2584 as part of the 2008 "while we tell of yuletide treasures" obscure fandoms secret santa project.

Many thanks to Femme and Shay for beta'ing this story

The Seconde Tale of the Wyf of Bathe
by Beth H.
(c) December 2008

Once, many years ago, there lived a woman in the town of Bath.

Alisoun was this woman's name, and she was, by trade, a cloth maker. Not simply a weaver, although she could both weave and spin; this Alisoun was a clothier who had taken upon herself the running of the business which had belonged to the first of her five husbands at the time of his death. She was successful in her trade and soon was well known by wool merchants throughout England and beyond for the quality of her cloth, which was said to be far superior to that which could be purchased in Ypres or Ghent. [1]

Alisoun was not known only for the caliber of her cloth, however, for she had also earned some small measure of fame for her skill as a storyteller. Few of the tales she spun were known beyond the boundaries of her own small circle of friends and acquaintances, but within this set, Alisoun was acknowledged to be the finest of the Bath Narrative Fellowship. [2]

Twelve times each year, Alisoun's husband, Jankyn, travelled from their Broad Street home to the Port of Bristol, overseeing the monthly delivery of cloth to ships bound for Ireland, and in Jankyn's absence, Alisoun was free to host gatherings of her friends. The usual pretext for these gatherings was the discussion of devotional works (the mere mention of which helped guarantee that none of the women's husbands would wish to be in attendance); but the true reason these women gathered so enthusiastically was to hear whatever new tale Alisoun had prepared for their entertainment.

Late one afternoon in May, not long after Jankyn had set off for his monthly journey to Bristol, Alisoun placed on the table a jug of spiced apple cider and a basket of buns she'd purchased from Margaret Lunn, and prepared to welcome her guests. Perhaps, she thought, the story she'd planned to tell of Atalanta and the Golden Apples could wait until another day, for she had not yet finished telling the tale of the love which was shared (or so Alisoun had always imagined) between a young Geat warrior and his much beloved King, whose destiny it was to be fatally wounded in battle with a dragon. [3]

However, when her friends arrived, three of the women were all aflutter at the prospect of hearing not one of Alisoun's stories, but rather a new tale that had been carried to Bath by a bard in the employ of Reynard Broadsides, Ltd.

"Right in front of the Abbey, he was," said Alys excitedly, handing the newly purchased - and as yet, unread - parchment to Alisoun. "Such a fine speaker - and so very handsome!"

"I wouldn't say handsome, exactly," sniffed Cecily, the only one of the four who appeared not to have been taken in by the stranger's charms. "Truth to tell, he looked a bit too much like that reprobate Geoffrey for my liking."

Alys rolled her eyes. "You think all bards look like Geoffrey!"

"How can you say that?" Cecily asked, her lower lip quivering. "You know full well that I . . . ."

Back and forth the two women volleyed, while Griselda and Constance listened with rapt attention, just as if these exact words had not already been spoken a dozen times or more. But Alisoun heard nothing of the debate still raging between her friends, for all her attention was fixed on the poem in her hands.

A tale of love, written by a knight? What did knights know of love?

Once, as histories make known to us,
There was a duke whose name was Theseus;
Of Athens, he was lord and governor,
And in his time was such a conqueror
That there was no one greater 'neath the sun . . . .

She read on, but try though she might, she saw no passion bloom between Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, the Amazon queen he'd defeated in battle. In fact, she found no romance at all in the lines of the poem written by this unknown knight who knew so much of war and weaponry, but so little of loyalty and love - -

- - until she read of Arcite and Palamon!

Here, then, Alisoun thought, sighing to herself, was true love. These two young knights, closer than brothers, who lay side by side, wounded, near death, and who were then taken captive, and . . . oh yes, this was a romance worth reading.

Alisoun's rapture lasted little more than two-hundred lines, for when Palamon caught a glimpse of Hippolyta's sister Emelye in the garden outside his prison walls, he fell immediately in love with the young girl, and was then joined in this seemingly-hopeless devotion by Arcite a mere forty lines later.

Alas that ever I was born! mourned Alisoun. So fine a pair of knights, yet upon so little acquaintance with them, certes I understand them far better than their creator ever did or could. To let their love be torn asunder, and all for the sake of a young girl's pretty countenance? Never could this be! Ah, if only they were mine, she thought, I have no doubt but that their fates would be far happier than they were in the tale this Poet-Knight dreamt into existence. If only - -

"Alisoun? Are you all right?"

"I am, my dear," she replied reassuringly, the worried tone of Alys's words having pulled Alisoun from her reverie. "All is well." She looked down once more at the parchment in her hand, and in an instant, what had been the merest ghost of an idea suddenly began to take form in her mind. Seating herself upon a bench, Alisoun said. "Come, ladies, shall I now read the story aloud to you all?"

All together, the four women settled themselves with fresh cups of cider, waiting eagerly to hear Alisoun tell the Tale of the Knight.

Alisoun began to speak, but . . . it must be admitted that the story she told that afternoon was a rather free adaptation of the Knight's Tale.

It was, Alisoun told herself firmly, the story as it should have been - and it appeared that her friends felt the same way, at least judging by the happy sighs which greeted each twist and turn of the tale. Hippolyta's marriage to Theseus after his defeat at the hands of her Amazons on the field of battle, Emelye's adamant refusal to wed and her eventual transformation into an archer in the company of the Goddess Diana, the introduction of an original character (a mysterious daughter of Jupiter, with violet eyes and hair of flame, whom even Pluto, the stern god of the underworld, could not help but love) . . . .

And as for Palamon and Arcite, well, two such brave young men should never have been taken prisoner by Theseus in the first place, thought Alisoun. Her Palamon and Arcite defended Thebes from Creon, then retired to a private garden, deep within the palace walls, to speak the words that never had been spoken between the two men.

The 'smaller knight,' with eyes cerulean [4]
Gazed up in adoration at his man.
'Dear Arcite,' he sighed, "You are my love,
And this I swear upon the gods above:
That all my heart and soul belong to you
And whilst I live, I ever will be true.
His love then carried Pal'mon to a bower -
A shaded recess strewn about with flowers -
Then gently Arcite did lay him down
Amidst the flower petals on the ground.
And after they had shared a kiss or two,
They did what Nature maketh them to do.

*Fireworks burst in the air, flowers bloom, the scene fades to black . . . .*

Epilogue: somewhere near Thebes

Arcite, his eyes closed against the brightness of the noonday sun, lay upon the hillside, his head resting lightly on his lover's bare thigh. He could feel Palamon's fingers sliding idly through his hair, could smell the lingering musky scent of their recent lovemaking.

It had taken a blue silk scarf, two gold bracelets, and a small bag of silver coins before he and Palamon had been able to convince the poet from Albion to alter the story of their lives in his "Knight's Tale," but they would have given all that and more to guarantee that their private lives remained private. No readers of poetry, he thought, would ever now be able to discern the true nature of their relationship, not unless the gods willed it to be so . . . .

. . . or, perhaps, unless there lived a woman in Bath with a special gift for seeing sub-text.

fin [5]

[1] Disclaimer: it's best to work under the assumption that if you see anything in this story that appears familiar, it can probably be attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer.
[2] Bath Narrative Fellowship (or BNF, for short). It should be noted that the irony of using the word "Fellowship" for a group composed entirely of women was lost on Alisoun and the others, but since the word was selected by the author of this tale solely to make the admittedly-weak joke of the acronym work, perhaps we can give Alisoun a pass.
[3] These two are, as many of you have realized by now, Wiglaf and his king, Beowulf, from the great Anglo-Saxon epic poem (with which, I'm forced to admit, neither Chaucer, nor the Wife of Bath would be familiar).
[4] If fanfiction.net had been in existence in the medieval period, I think we all know where the Wife of Bath would have been posting her stories.
[5] Somewhere in this tale, I had meant to insert some kind of theological joke involving Lollardy and Catholicism, which would, no doubt, have resulted in the abbreviation LolCats, but even I, on occasion, am able to show some restraint.

Chit chat, Critiques, Gratuitous Praise: bethbethbeth (at) gmail (dot) com

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