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Retreat

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A retreat. Not an abandonment. Not giving up on everything and trying to get away from it all. They had sold her on the idea of simplicity - no concerns about the outside world for a week. They had offered her the no-speaking retreat, but Buttercup felt that not talking for a week, with all the things that were in her head and threatening to get out, would be tempting fate in a very unhealthy way.

She loved Westley. Even more so now that he had passed the mantle of the Dread Pirate Roberts onto Inigo. It wouldn't do for the new Prince to nip off occasionally and commit acts of piracy. Much as Buttercup thought it would make a great excuse to get away from the court. Similarly, she couldn't just find a nice farm and settle down with her Boy. If she had asked, he probably would have just said, "As you wish," to her.

Her heart still fluttered when he said it.

"Unfortunately," she muttered to herself, as she approached the temple, "I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my husband to go adventuring with, and the court to frame for it; I'm swamped."

Pulling her head from the wedding plans still running through her head, Buttercup took another look at the temple. It was small, which was fine with her. Pulling up her horse to the gate, Buttercup expected to see, or at least hear, the sounds of people engaged in holy devotions, but the temple was silent and seemed deserted. Perhaps she would get the silent retreat after all.

"Welcome, Highness," said a voice from just beyond the door. "We've been expecting you." A robed figure peered out from behind the door. "I'll show you to your cell. Follow me, please."

The young woman led Buttercup through hallways, around corners, and through what appeared to be several courtyards. Buttercup could have sworn the temple wasn't large enough for all of those courtyards, but perhaps she had misjudged its size. After several turns and loops, Buttercup began to wonder if the acolyte even knew where they were going. More turns after that, Buttercup resigned herself to just following the path in front of her.

She almost didn't notice when the acolyte stopped. "Here is your cell, Highness," she said, opening the door. "Dinner will be in a little while. Make yourself as comfortable as you like."

The cell was fairly basic - bed, water, chamber pot. Buttercup thought the servants of the goddesses of pleasure would have had more ornate living, considering what the required donations were just to talk with the disciples. Perhaps these cells were meant to impress visitors and get them to believe the temple wasn't doing as well as they had thought.

Her feet reminded Buttercup that she had been walking around for... she tried to think about how long she had been walking, but realized she hadn't a clue. Long enough to make her hurt, but that was all Buttercup could remember. Sitting on the bed to take the pressure off her feet, Buttercup wondered whether the rest of her time would be equally as painful.

A quick rap at the door signaled the return of the acolyte that had escorted her previously. "Dinner is ready, Highness."

The trip to the kitchen was significantly shorter and more direct than the previous one. Buttercup managed to wait until they had sat before asking her question.

"Why did it take less time to get here than to get from the front to the cell?"

"Perceptive as always, Highness," the acolyte said. "Long walks with no apparent end in sight are good for getting people to leave their cares and worries behind. As are silent meals."

Taking the hint, Buttercup examined the fare before her. A bit of bread, some vegetables of various colors, and a small strip of fish. A little bit less than what she had been given as Humperdink's prisoner, but certainly enough to stave off hunger. She ate slowly, following the lead of the acolyte, who seemed to take neither pleasure nor disgust in the food presented to him, and ate in a way that Buttercup wanted to classify as meditative. As if someone could discover the secrets of the universe in a potato. Buttercup had seen much and experienced more than what a princess might be expected to, but even she had her limits.

With dinner finished, the acolyte rose and took her to the scullery, where they both proceeded to wash their dishes and leave them to dry in silence. The night seemed ready to provide her with plenty of experiences outside what a princess might expect before her wedding.

When the acolyte led her into a great chamber with a large statue in the middle, Buttercup supposed she would pass the evening in silent prayer and meditation. The acolyte disappeared into one of the passages leading from the sanctuary, leaving Buttercup to examine her surroundings. Once her eyes adjusted to the light, Buttercup took a closer look at the statue.

She was thankful she was the only person in the room, for the shock on her face would have been the subject of court gossip for months. Instead of the depiction of a god or hero in a slightly-bored look, this statue captured the act of a man and a woman making love, with no detail left untouched.

The statue seemed alive in the firelight, flickering shadows and apparent motion as the flames shifted on their wicks. Buttercup's eyes flickered over the picture in front of her, trying to find a safe place to rest her gaze, but the clear ecstasy on the faces of the participants gave her no such purchase.

When the robed acolyte returned, Buttercup had a brief moment of relief to have something else to concentrate on before her anger took over.

"What sort of temple is this," she demanded, "that displays such things as this in its sanctuary?"

"The Goddess of Pleasure, Highness," said the acolyte, but this time with a man's voice that sounded much like Westley's.

"How is this an appropriate place for a princess before her wedding night?"

"Entirely appropriate, Highness. If you spent more time in your books, you might have known that it is a tradition of this kingdom for members of the royal family to spend the night before their wedding in service to the Goddess of Pleasure, asking for her blessings of fertility and good health."

Buttercup had read all of those books, and she knew very well there was no such thing in any of them. She seized something nearby that looked heavy and brandished it protectively.

If there were a way for a hooded figure to display boredom through body language, this acolyte appeared to have unlocked the secret.

"There will be no need for that, Highness," he chuckled. Stepping further into the light, he advanced on her.

"Stay away from me." Where before Buttercup might have panicked, this time her resolve held. The heavy object helped some with that.

"As you wish."

The magic words flew straight to Buttercup's heart, and she was certain who this acolyte was. "Westley, my love! What are you doing here?"

"It is tradition for a royal couple to spend the night in a temple in contemplation of their vows and their upcoming nuptials," he said, lowering his hood and grinning at her with that Roberts grin. Buttercup recalled, with a start, which book and passage he was quoting.

"It does not, however, specify the temple." Westley's grin broadened. "So I thought you might appreciate the opportunity to mediate on your wedding in the pleasurable company of a devotee."

Buttercup considered. "Would it be breaking my vows to spend the night in the company of a priest of the goddess of pleasure?" She thought of a contemplative life, leaving behind the crown and the planning and everything else for a life of service to pleasure, with Westley by her side.

It had appeal.

Many pink-cheeked girls abandon the world.
Many vain spouses break their marriage vows.

-Buddhist Nun, Ho Xuan Huong