Story from Februs 28.
The Legend of Lady Lenora
An Historical Romance by Matthew Silk
Every night she walked around the castle ramparts, the cold sea breeze sweeping back her long black hair as she gazed across the lonely dunes.
Her pale face was set against the wind, her eyes searching the bleak distance where somewhere, she knew, her lover must be.
For five years she had walked along the castle walls past her smirking guards. Five years enduring her spartan exile waiting for her lover to reclaim her. Five years of public whippings by her gaolers on the orders of her husband.
Some said her lover would never come, others that her love for him had deranged her. She knew all they said about her but her heart remained unbroken.
Many remembered her as their lord's sweet young teenage bride. How beautiful she had looked as she stepped among them on her lord's arm, a garland in her lung silky hair, a posy in her hand, smiling and laughing in her love.
And her lord was equally proud of his maiden. He was a man of generous heart, moral, strict, but fair with a strong Christian belief. Their wedding celebrations lasted for weeks with the finest foods from his lands brought to their laden table every day and music and dancing for all to enjoy. The generosity of their love and laughter inspired all who saw them.
That first year of marriage was idyllic. Some said it was as if they had been sent to earth by God to show how love should be.
And then her lord had announced he was leaving on a crusade. His love, he told her, would keep him at home, but his faith and Christian duty called him away. She pleaded and begged him not to abandon her, implored him on her knees, but he was so sure of both his love and his faith he castigated her for her selfishness and made her pray with him to the higher love of God.
And so he left with the finest soldiers of his army and she remained at home weeping and distraught.
Some men locked their wives in chastity belts but he had no such doubts of their love. And indeed she did stay faithful for the five long years he was away despite the attentions and temptations offered to her by the young men who came regularly to her court, attracted by her young beauty.
In time she enjoyed their games and flirtations, laughed with them at their table as she had laughed with her husband, but she never let their ardour, however passionate and sincere, take hold in her heart.
Finally, her lord was wounded in the leg in a bloody battle and he was persuaded his work was done and he should return home.
The celebrations she organised for his arrival matched those of their wedding. After so many years living on soldiers' rations in the fields he seemed overwhelmed by the plentifulness she laid out for him.
She put his unease down to the weariness of his travels and vowed to nurse him back to happiness.
But as the days and weeks passed his mood rarely improved. In the five years of absence they had both changed. She was no longer the innocent young bride, hanging on his every word and arm. She had grown into a confident and accomplished woman. While he had lost the bravery and clarity of his youth, doubts about his faith and the purpose of the crusade made him angry and bitter. His mind, like his limping body, seemed twisted and turned him to drink. The love they had, which had been allowed to burn on such a short taper, began to flicker away.
Inevitably the rumours of their dying love spread and it wasn't long before the young men returned noting her loneliness. Their attentions displeased her lord but in her despair she knew not where else to turn.
* * *
One young man in particular, Gavin, reminded her so much of her lord before they were married. He was strong and kind and open in his love for her, a little too open for his own good, yet his naivete was in itself touching.
Her scowling lord became increasingly jealous and their rows frequent. During one he yelled at her: 'In the desert lands they have many wives and they whip the ones who disobey them.'
She picked up a belt and held it out to him. 'Whip me then. Whip me in our bedchamber if I displease you. I would prefer you to whip me until I faint and love me than the indifference you show me now.'
For the first time in his life he looked stunned. Perhaps if he had taken the belt to her then the fires he lit across her buttocks would have been enough to rekindle their love. But he threw down the belt and stormed out.
When she told Gavin as they walked secretly in the woods he told her: 'When I whip you it shall be for love, not punishment.'
'For love young sir? I could not imagine you being so cruel to me,' she teased.
'It would not be cruelty but all pleasure, I assure you, my lady. Every one of your howls would be music to my ears,' he laughed kissing her neck.
They were standing near a birch tree. She began gathering some fallen twigs together into a switch and handed it to him more animated than he had ever seen her.
'Then if you truly love me prove it. Whip me here, now,' she said looking at him with a fierce intensity.
He ordered her to turn round and take off her dress. She stood naked and trembling with her arms around the narrow trunk of the tree in the dappled sunlight of the woodland, her buttocks nipping together with nervousness.
He whipped her as she stood, stroke after stroke marking her fair skin with red swathes but she refused to let him stop until she could bear no more.
And afterwards they made love against the birch tree. For the rest of her life she remembered the bark pressing her back as she clasped his passion inside her, the tide of his desire breaking her vows.
Once her drawbridge had been lowered the invading forces of his rampant love swarmed through her plundering every part of her, rendering her as helpless as a captive slave.
They became as one, he was in her blood, constantly in her mind. Such passion cannot be resisted and made them both blind to the dangers.
It was while her lord was on one of his frequent three day hunting trips the lovers were discovered. The hunting had been poor and the wild boars elusive. Her lord had decided to return a day early. As his party rode their horses through the woods they came across the naked lovers her back against the silver birch, her arms around her lover's neck her legs around his waist. In that moment of careless passion she was ruined.
Gavin wanted to stay and fight, to die by her side, but she begged him to save himself.
A gorge separated them from her lord's soldiers giving him time. So with one last kiss he leapt upon his horse vowing to return to rescue her.
For a month they pursued him through the forests and frequently he only escaped his death by daring, luck and charm. Eventually he slipped away travelling through the night, dressed as a peasant.
Lenora, meanwhile, was left naked and helpless in the woodland at the mercy of her lord. His anger knew no bounds, the fires of his rage stoked further by the fresh red marks of her lover's switch across her buttocks and thighs.
'If it's a whipping you want, I shall whip you,' her lord roared.
Bui instead of taking her to his bedchamber he made her walk naked in disgrace in front of the hunting party and whipped her all the way back to the castle.
Where she had walked across the drawbridge in love and triumph after her wedding she now entered in shame, flogged and humiliated, the deep whip lines from her husband covering the switch marks of her lover.
She was thrown into the castle dungeon, normally reserved for beggars and thieves. He would have had her killed, but her family was too powerful. Instead, unable to bear her treacherous presence any longer and with the agreement of her family for the disgrace she had brought him, he gave her one hour to gather her things and then sent her into exile to a castle on the coast at the remotest part of his lands.
As she was driven out through the castle gates her husband, drunk and staggering on his weak leg, shouted: 'Take her, take her from my sight and don't let her back until she has repented of the hurt she has done me and the shame and humiliation she has brought me.
Whip her on the first day of every month, a stroke for every day of the month. 365 strokes a year until she agrees to crawl back to me on hands and knees to beg my forgiveness.'
* * *
The journey was long and took more than a week through forests and over hills until they arrived at the grey stone walls of the castle standing alone in the barren landscape. They put her in a sparse room at the top of a turret with a thick oak door. A warden and a handful of soldiers guarded her. Only a couple of dozen other peasants, fishermen and servants lived within the castle walls.
Her bedroom door was locked at night but otherwise she had the freedom of the castle. And occasionally she would be allowed to walk along the beach and bathe under guard in the sea.
She took to reading and quiet contemplation, reliving her life through her memories and thinking constantly of Gavin, wondering what happened to him and praying for him.
When the first day of the month came she found the bedroom door still locked in the morning. She hammered on it with her fists, unaware of the day and having forgotten her lord's drunken last words. But the captain of the guard had not forgotten and he had passed them on to the warden.
It was the warden, a large swarthy bearded man, who entered her room at midday with a many tailed whip and informed her that it was the first of March and time for the first of her monthly floggings ordered by her husband.
'No,' she protested, 'you can't whip me. Isn't my exile enough?'
'Those were the lord's orders. A wife should obey her husband's wishes,' the warden insisted.
'But he didn't mean them! He was drunk! I may be in exile but I am still his lady wife. You cannot do this to me!'
'Mean them or not he said them and they were witnessed and until I hear otherwise I do not intend to risk my livelihood by defying them.'
Two burly soldiers seized her and dragged her down the stone stairs to the courtyard. There, every occupant of the castle had gathered to witness her whipping. It seemed that everyone except her had been aware of her forthcoming punishment. She looked at them and shook off her guards realising that resistance was futile and compliance was her only hope of retaining any dignity.
The warden was standing by the stone water trough in the centre of the yard.
She walked slowly toward him determined not to give them the satisfaction of seeing her beg to be spared. It was a blustery spring day and she kept brushing her hair away as it blew across her face.
'Take of your dress,' the warden ordered as she stood on the stone flagstones by the trough.
She opened her mouth to protest but saw the soldiers ready to strip her and thought better of it. She unloosed her dress letting it fall to the flagstones and stood naked before them all. The crowd gasped as one at her loveliness.
'Now place your feet at either corner of the trough and bend over with your hand on each rim,' the warden ordered.
She carefully placed her feel in position and leaned forward over the length of the trough, her legs humiliatingly split by its width, her breasts hanging over the water as she rested her hands on the cold stone rim keeping her arms straight.
She looked back through her splayed legs, the breeze brushing her gaping buttocks and saw the warden and soldiers gathered behind her.
She averted her eyes. Looking down, she saw the reflection of herself spread over the trough mirrored in the surface of the water.
The warden handed the whip to the Captain of the Guard. He dipped the strands in the trough right in front of her, wetting them to give the ends added weight. The ripples momentarily obliterated her image. When the water settled she saw the reflection of the captain holding the whip towering over her, a smirk on his face.
'3l days in March Captain, a stroke well laid on for every day, if you please,' the warden pronounced.
'Aye, sir, 31 strokes it will he,' the captain replied with a relish speaking directly at her.
He walked behind her out of view. She had no idea what he was doing and dare not look. But, cruelly he kept her waiting for an age until she almost wanted to scream at him to start.
Then at last the wetted thongs whipped her, landing heavy on her flanks almost twisting her round. She gripped the trough and shrieked under the scorching pain but her cry was as fleeting as the call of a seagull high on the sea breeze. For there was no-one for miles outside the castle walls to hear her and no-one inside them who was going to stop the whipping.
That first flogging always remained vividly with her. She managed to keep her legs defiantly straight, her mind and body unbending to their will. But she never forgot afterwards that however kind they were to her in the castle, she was always their prisoner.
She immediately wrote an anguished letter to her lord complaining bitterly at her flogging. 'I am still your wife and a lady of England I beg you write and stop them before the first of next month.'
But although she asked for his letter every day it was another two months and she had suffered 61 more burning, humiliating strokes before he replied. And then his response was not what she was looking for.
'In my drunkenness I had forgotten I had ordered your whipping. Thank you for drawing it to my attention. Now sober, it seems a most appropriate punishment for your treacherous disloyalty. I have thought about you on the first day of the last two months and felt only pleasure at knowing yon are receiving the punishment you deserve. I have written separately to the warden confirming that the whippings should continue until you show a genuine desire for forgiveness.'
She wrote back after every whipping imploring him to give their love a second chance. 'How can our love grow if we are apart? Whip me yourself in our bedchamber if you want but spare me the humiliation of being flogged by my gaolers. All I see is their leering faces taking pleasure in spreading me over the trough and whipping me like a whore in a marketplace.'
'You are a whore to me,' he wrote back. 'Despite the whippings you show no signs of repentance. I recommend you spend your time with your bible and seek forgiveness through your prayers. I have instructed the guards to burn any further letters you attempt to send.'
She realised it was hopeless and became resigned to her fate.
While her lord's heart remained closed to her she could not ask his forgiveness nor convince herself she had anything to be forgiven for.
All she had done was follow her heart and the truth of her love.
* * *
As the months passed the floggings seemed less a punishment from her husband and more a test of her love for Gavin.
She remembered how much he had enjoyed whipping her with the switch in the woods and how he had told her he would take pleasure in her every howl.
Her only hope was that Gavin was alive and would one day come for her. She managed to make discreet inquiries and discovered he was making money as a mercenary soldier abroad. She greeted the news with grateful joy.
But the whippings were still hard to bear. The warden and the soldiers showed her no mercy believing it was their duty to punish her for their lord.
Come rain or shine on the first of the month she was brought into the courtyard, stripped naked and put over the trough. The men never tired of watching her take the strokes whether it be on breezy spring days, in the dusty heat of the summer, the muddy wet of the autumn or the freezing cold of the winter.
The soldiers guarding her came for three months at a time before being replaced. It was, needless to say, a popular detail. The captain of each guard would carry out the whipping. Each was different. Some were quiet and cruel, others more sympathetic, although their strokes were scarcely lighter. One liked to abuse her calling her a slut, another had sea water thrown over her, the salty brine stinging her weals.
She look all these humiliations with as much dignity as she could muster, enduring all her suffering to protect the love inside her.
She recorded every whipping fully in a secret diary which she hid in her room. Each was numbered in sequence and began with the date and the running total of strokes. She wrote every detail from her mood, the description of the crowd, the weather and the effects of the strokes. One of the most memorable punishments was carried out in a full storm in front of a couple of poor bedraggled spectators. The rain ran off her naked body but soaked into their heavy clothes. Her diary faithfully recorded how triumphant she felt.
Each diary entry ended, 'borne for you my love.' When her lover returned she was going to give it to him as a testament of her love.
Now she walked the ramparts enjoying the cool night breeze and smell of sand dunes. It had been five years this month she had been apart from her lover, exactly the same time she had been separated from her husband when he went away.
She returned quietly to her room and soon after heard the key turn.
In the morning she bathed and read her bible quietly waiting for them to come for her. About mid-morning she heard a clatter of horses in the courtyard. She looked down from her window and saw a knight and a guard of soldiers arrive. It was unusual for there to be any visitors to the castle although occasionally they stopped to refresh their horses and were made welcome. They would no doubt slay to watch her whipping although who saw her did not bother her now.
At lunchtime, when her whipping was due, she was instead brought lunch. Her attendant told her the knight had asked if he could whip her and he was such a fine and strong young man the warden had agreed but they were having lunch first. A little later the woman returned to tell her there was another delay because the knight had sent out to the woods for some fresh birch twigs to be gathered and cut into a switch to whip her with.
Lenora felt a tremor run through her at this news. Only Gavin had ever whipped her with such an instrument. She watched from her window as the soldiers, replete from their lunch, lounged in the sunshine waiting for her to be brought into the courtyard.
She felt a strange inexplicable fluttering in her stomach. She told herself not to be so foolish and to stay calm. The gathering of the sticks for the switch was probably just a coincidence, of no significance, yet despite her better judgement she convinced herself that this knight had been sent to her by Gavin and that the making of the switch was a signal to her.
She could not read or pray as she normally did and by the time they came for her she was in a state of nervous agitation.
She walked unsteadily down the spiral steps between her guards and out into the afternoon sunshine of the courtyard. There was a larger than normal crowd gathered, swelled by the talk of the knight's arrival.
She walked as usual to the trough and stood there concealing her nervous excitement as best she could.
The warden came out of his rooms with the knight who was carrying the switch and dressed in his full armoury and chain mail, a helmet hiding his face. They emerged from the shadow into the sunlight and stood behind her.
'So you are the lady of disloyally,' the knight said loudly.
As soon as he spoke she recognised his voice and nearly fainted. After five long years of whippings she had suffered for him her lover was here. It took a supreme effort not to turn round and throw herself at his feet.
Shaking with emotion she replied: 'I am loyal to those who love me, sir.'
'Do you not have any repentance even after all this time for the sins you have committed against your husband and your faith?'
His tone was so convincingly harsh she wondered if he had also turned against her in his absence and really had come to whip her and cure her of her love for him. If so she would kill herself.
She chose her words carefully. 'I pray for forgiveness for my sins every night to my God, sir. As to my lord, a woman must follow her heart.'
'Do you have no sense of wifely duty or honour, no sense of shame for going whoring in the woods with your lover? Have your floggings taught you no obedience whatsoever?'
The rebuke stung her but she remained strong. 'Love is not a duty, sir. A whore is faithful to those who pay her. I am faithful to those who pay me dues with their love.'
Her brazen defiance and coarseness brought a gasp of astonishment from the crowd.
'Then let us see how faithful you are to your lover when my switch gets to work on your feckless buttocks, my whoring lady. Take off your dress.'
She stripped and stood naked before him, glad to be whipped like a whore if it meant she could prove her love to him.
'Get over the trough,' her knight ordered coldly still giving her no hint of recognition.
She lent forward placing her hands on each side of the trough, her legs spread and her buttocks thrust out toward him. Normally she would be as solid as a rock but her arms were shaking so much they were barely able to hold her weight.
It was as if they were back in the dappled sunshine of the woodland and he was behind her with the switch. Nobody else in the world existed for her. She watched him through her legs place the switch against her quivering, expectant buttocks.
He whipped her, casting a thousand stings in a swathe across her raised buttocks. She tossed her head back and openly howled. Her five years of floggings were wiped away in an instant. It felt as fresh as the first time he had whipped her against the silver birch tree.
The crowd reacted with more surprise. Normally she was restrained, so stoical and dignified. They had waited a long time to see her broken like this.
He whipped her again and her whole body seemed to tremble as she absorbed the stroke, drawing it into her. There was no other feeling to compare to the spreading sharpness of the switch across her buttocks, no other sound like the hissing swish of the switch in its descent.
His switch struck a third time. After five long years she was alive again, her defences washed away like a crumbling sandcastle. The crowd had never heard her howl like this nor writhe so. She seemed to have lost all sense of shame. Instead of containing her suffering, keeping it for herself as she normally did, she was demonstrating to all who could see her the full effects each stroke was having on her as if she wanted them to see everything he was doing to her.
One of the warden's guards watching her nudged another and winked: 'She'll be begging her husband's forgiveness after this all right.'
But she was oblivious to any humiliation even though the strokes were just as hard to bear as if she really was being punished as a whore. He was showing her no mercy. His switch fell just as smartly, her buttocks reddened just as furiously as a whore's would have done.
Tears rolled down her face and she began to sob as she let go inside her but his switch continued to beat her relentlessly, counting off the strokes, and the crowd, frustrated for so long by her composure, enjoyed every moment of her surrender.
No-one who witnessed the whipping ever forgot it. Lady Lenora, was gladly taken to her limits and beyond by her knight until the 31 strokes had been completed.
For it is true, and has always been so, that a woman may be whipped by one man and feel only pain yet the same woman can be whipped by another man and feel only love.
At the last stroke Lenora's arms buckled and her hands slipped and plunged into the trough. She remained there for a longtime, her breasts dipped in the cool water, her whipped buttocks raised in the air, displayed to all, beyond humiliation.
Eventually Gavin made her stand and kneel to thank him. He handed her the switch to kiss and she pressed her trembling lips to the sharp twigs.
'Take the switch with you to your room. Let it be a keepsake to remember your whipping today,' he said.
She walked slowly from the courtyard carrying the switch in her arms while the crowd buzzed with her capitulation. When she reached her room she took her bible, knelt and prayed. Opening her eyes she saw a message inserted in the handle of the switch.
'Gather up your possessions. Be ready to leave at midnight. Your everlasting love, Gavin'
Her heart leapt with joy. She took a bag and gathered up her jewels, the switch, her punishment diary, her bible and cross and waited.
She could hear merriment downstairs. Gavin had brought bottles of wine and invited the warden and his guards to drink with him. But while the castle guards drank down their cups Gavin's soldiers were drinking from their own watered down bottles.
At midnight, the warden and his guards were soundly asleep. Two of Gavin's soldiers came and took her to the ramparts where a ladder had been placed against the outside castle wall. She climbed down and ran to her lover who had a horse waiting and they galloped away into the night.
* * *
Within a week they had arrived at his chateau in Normandy which he had been allowed to build with the rewards of his soldiering.
In the ensuing days and weeks she enjoyed with her lover the happiness she thought she would enjoy in her marriage. Each day, each moment, was worth every stroke of the five years of whippings she had suffered to be with him.
Yet as the weeks passed Gavin noticed an almost imperceptible paling of their passion, an unfathomable air of distraction in her moods.
She was also worried that their love was burning out just like her marriage. She seemed unable to convince him or herself of the depth of her feelings.
One day she awoke to find him kissing her buttocks beneath her nightgown. He was in rampant mood and she saw he had been reading her punishment diary. A fresh switch lay on the pillow.
'I've been a fool, forgive me, I have not demanded enough from you have I?' he said.
She looked at him puzzled, 'What do you mean my lord?'
'It wasn't until I read your meticulous descriptions of your whippings in your punishment book I realised the truth. I had thought all those years of floggings had just been a sacrifice for me and that you would want to forget them.'
'They were my lord,' she protested.
'Yes, but they were not just a sacrifice were they?'
He guided her to the window and covered her eyes with his hands and then released them. Down below in the centre of the courtyard he had placed a stone trough full of water.
It was like a Trojan horse brought inside her. Already she felt herself surrendering as her pulse quickened.
'There is a market every month in the town. I have sent the whole household. Take off your nightgown,' he ordered quietly.
She lifted it off dropping it on the floor while he picked up the switch from the pillow and pressed it to her buttocks, the freshly gathered twigs prickling her skin and bringing her whole body alive.
'From now on you will find me the most demanding of lovers, I promise,' he whispered.
'Demand everything you want from me. Never spare me, my lord I shall give you everything I have to give, that is all I have ever wanted,' she said.
He took her by the hand and led her down the stairs to the trough.