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January Sixth, Or What YOU Will

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"A plague on't," said Malvolio, fumbling for the tinderbox chained at his waist. "The darkness falls so early, and so swiftly, and all the wealth of the Indies must be expended merely to warm Your Ladyship and light her way…"

"Yes, yes, very well, Steward," the Countess Olivia said. "Light the candles, build up the fire, and leave us."

When that had been done, and Malvolio's torch-lit footsteps could be heard sounding in the corridor, Olivia turned to the beautiful young page. "Cesario, I must lie with you, though I lose my soul past shriving for't."

Viola drew in a shuddering breath, looking at the matchless face and form, gilded by the greater and lesser flames, of the cruelest She alive. "Lady, have thy will," she said. "But my stay must be brief, the room must be dark, and we must speak no word. I shall haste now to your chamber, and draw the curtains, and hide beneath the bed. Come to me once the glass has run" (Viola turned it over, her hand not quite steady, as she spoke) "Bring but a single taper to light your way, and extinguish it once I have clasped you in mine arms."

Viola loved the Duke, but a portionless maiden must take her pleasure where she finds it.

Sebastian of Messaline, shivering in the winter wind, hoped desperately for some shelter before night closed in completely. At first, he thought that the building whose windows glowed with light must be an inn, like the Sagittary, where he had left Antonio in a sleep of exhaustion and repletion.

It would be impossible not to be grateful for having his life saved, and Antonio was not entirely unattractive, in a burly and hirsute fashion, but his florid devotion made Sebastian feel as choked off as if they had spent the nights fisting one another's throats rather than…

His next conjecture was that the large building must have been an abbey, but when he drew closer he realized it was at the very least a gentleman's house, and perhaps a nobleman's.

He found a door open, and slipped through it. He was getting the lay of the land by rushlight when he encountered a liveried servant in one of the corridors. "Oh, there you are," the man said. "Hurry up and bring him his supper, though why His Lordship will have his supper served by his page and not by a proper servingman, and if he will eat at all hours alone and not in his Hall…"

It was not difficult to locate the kitchen—it was in much the same place as in his own father's house—and the tempting odors pointed the way. "God's wounds, Cesario, th'art a lazier lubber every day," said a cook, whose fingers obviously itched to belabor Sebastian's ears with the huge wooden spoon he held.

"Thou dar'st not strike me, for fear of His Lordship," Sebastian said calmly. He strode to the corridor, the laden tray in his arms. He paused for a moment to cut a slice of pandemayne with his dagger, and wrap it around a few fast-cooling slices of aromatic civet of boar, and to try to puzzle out where the Lord's chamber might be.

In the third lordly chamber he looked in at, there was a man in a beautifully embroidered and jeweled doublet lying on the silken Bokhara rug, propped on a pile of cushions, listening to a promisingly plain boy playing the lute.

"Ah, Cesario!" the man said, his gaze briefly raking the tray of supper and more lingeringly so its servitor.

"My lord!" Sebastian said, kneeling to present the tray, looking up under his eyelashes and tilting his face to the better three-quarter profile.

"Leave us!" Orsino told the boy. "Take a cup of wine with me, Cesario," he said. "Come, play the Ganymede with me. Why, I see thou wearest still thy cloak."

"I came in haste to serve thee, Lord," Sebastian said.

""Tis a new cloak. It becomes thee well," Orsino said.

Sebastian didn't think it would help at all to say that Antonio had bought it for him, although he thought that if he played his cards right, tomorrow morning he could hint that the cloak was a thing of naught, and Orsino should provide him with its better.

It had cost Orsino some pangs of conscience to realize that he desired this lovely boy, but he was able to coax those pangs to sleep by reflecting that, if the Duke wished to tumble every page and traveling player and servant in the castle, then no one could gainsay him.

Viola didn't think much of Malvolio, but she had to concede that he kept the household staff in line—there was scarcely a grain of dust beneath the carved bed where she hid.

At last, Olivia glided into the room, accompanied by her gentlewoman.

:"By the Mass, 'tis dark," Maria said. "I'll fetch more tapers…"

"Nay, Maria," Olivia said. "My head aches, and I would repose me. Unpin me, fetch me my nightgown, and be off."

When the coast was clear, Olivia blew out the brief candle and whispered, "Art here, my dearest one?"

Viola climbed into the bed, and moments later, Olivia was in her arms, wriggling until Viola's codpiece pressed between her legs. Viola kissed her deep and long, and when Olivia's head pressed back against the firm goose-feather pillows, Viola licked and bit at Olivia's neck.

Olivia moaned, and Viola stroked Olivia's mouth and whispered, "Shhh!;" it would do no good to bring the whole domestic staff running in the hope that the rape of Lucrece was being reenacted. Viola pulled at the ribbons that closed the fine linen nightrail, and sniffed at the smells of sweat and the pomander that Olivia dangled by day between her white breasts. Viola pushed the small, exquisite breasts together, and kissed all around and under them. Olivia's hands clutched at the arse in the tight hose beneath the loose skirt of the doublet.

Just as Viola's teeth closed on a stiff nipple, Olivia seized one of the soft, full pillows from behind her head and bit down. Viola smiled, and took another pillow and pushed it underneath Olivia, then pushed the nightgown out of her way.

"Why, thou hast not quit e'en an inch of thy raiment," Olivia whispered. "This is not the fine velvet I hoped to touch, here in our bed in the dark."

"'Tis for the humble to serve, and the lady to be satisfied," Viola said, every movement sliding her shirt against her nipples as if it were Nessus', every twitch of Olivia's thigh (where she rode) intensifying the throbbing of her case. Dark as it was, Viola could still see red blazing behind her eyelids. She dared not reach her hand to bring herself to the completion that Olivia had already reached, so she used one hand to press down on Olivia's hip, the other to tap and stroke and then thrust inside the fair thought that lies between maids' legs. Viola knelt and bent to lick and kiss as well, and in the amorous battle, Olivia turned clear around, tumbling down to the bed with her hair in disarray.

"Namore than this, fair youth?" Olivia whispered. For a moment, Viola's anger flared—Olivia had will and will and will in overplus, while she herself was unslaked, and so desirous that she thought nothing in all the world could quench her. Viola forced herself to lower her voice—to speak low, and to whisper: "We must risk no disgrace," she said.
"But what satisfaction canst thou have tonight?" Olivia said.

She sat up, struck a light, and lit a candle. Viola tried to turn away. Olivia seized Viola's codpiece, ignoring the carefully-placed stuffing, and unpicked the laces, finding the gates already spread wide for her triumphal entry. She granted, lest faith turn to despair.

And when the two women lay face to face beneath linen and blankets and embroidery, Olivia said, "D'you think that I shunned Orsino because to be Duchess of Illyria is so hard a fate? Nay, Cecilia—or whatever your name is—I repelled his suits for he cares for naught but the fair sight of his own melancholy face in his gilded glass. But because he is a blind fool who sees nothing means not that thou art nothing, or nothing to be seen."

"Viola," Viola said.

"I long to see thee in thy woman's weeds," Olivia said.