Ganymede gazed wide-eyed at her sister-cousin, unable to credit the pronouncement Aliena had just made. Aliena, for her part, smiled shyly as though the feelings she had confessed to were in any way acceptable. Ganymede took a breath and plastered a bright smile on her own lips.
“Forgive me, Aliena,” she said, “I have missed your meaning.” She wet her lips. “You are in… love? With Oliver de Boys?”
They were both sitting on the ridge of rock that bounded their little sheepcote, empty right now apart from Corin the shepherd and Touchstone the fool. The sheep were out in the pasture where Aliena had been charged to watch them faithfully. She had stepped away for only a moment, to tell her dearest heart about the man who had become her other dearest heart.
Ganymede was not as pleased for her as she might have wished.
Aliena’s smile wilted a little. “Your father loved his father dearly,” she offered.
“Yet your father hated his father dearly!”
Aliena gave Ganymede a pointed look. “Then shall I say that my brother loves his brother with an impassioned heart?”
Ganymede ignored that with a dignified flounce. “Good Aliena, say not so, that you have been felled by so bitter an arrow from Cupid’s bow!”
“No more bitter an arrow than thine own, cousin!” Aliena returned, stung. Ganymede shushed her, glancing over her shoulder to where Corin was busy at work skirting a pile of fleece. Aliena winced. “Brother. Your arrow flew every bit as fast as mine, if I remember.”
“Did it? I don’t recall.” Aliena swung the haft of a rake at her brother’s ankles and Ganymede pulled her feet back, laughing. She took advantage of Aliena’s stretched balance to scoop her in against her chest, clutching her like a child. “Dear sister! Sweet, my sister! What affliction has o’ercome you? I will not have this lunacy in your lovely eyes. No.” She held Aliena by both shoulders at arm’s length. “I will see thee cured.”
At this, Aliena burst into a peal of laughter that disturbed both Corin from his diligent work and Touchstone from his diligent indolence.
Ganymede took high offence. “I’ll have thee know, sister,” she said, “that my physic has a record of success – why I have set three maidens in my time on their path to be wedded to their high lord God and foreswear the absurdity of love.” Her lip curled expressively at the word. “This was my manner of doing so: I did offer to woo each of the four ladies in the guise of their four loves, and I was as inconstant and careless as I know all men to be. I was in turns forceful and forgetful, I did proclaim my affections in prose and poesy, and in posies and other small gifts. I did dandle the five poor mistresses along until their humour could take no more. The convent had barely room for them all! But to the convent they must go, to be free of this imposition of ardour.” She cocked her head like a coquette. “And thus did I cure them.”
“These lies!” Aliena laughed, scandalised by her brother’s bold deceits. “I know your physic well enough, brother, and I know its true purpose. Your days with poor Orlando--”
“Nonsense, sister. I will hear no more of it. No sister of my blood will be hoodwinked so by love, not while I can assist her.”
Ganymede jumped down from their perch on the rocks and reached up a gentlemanly hand to her sister. “Good Aliena. Will you let me woo you?”
Aliena met her brother’s eye. That glint of mischief, the light of a gaming disposition that had been so long missing from Rosalind trapped in her uncle’s fickle graces. That smile that Celia had abandoned her father’s court for just the chance to see it again. She rolled her eyes. When would she ever be able to say no to that face? Rosalind or Ganymede, Celia or Aliena, she was helpless against it. With a maidenly blush, she extended her own hand and consented to be helped down from her rock. “I will allow it, brother.”
Ganymede led her down from the ridge and placed a hand at her hip to steady her. “Nay, Aliena,” she admonished. “You must call me Oliver.”
Silvius sat on the tree branch where the pretty young shepherd had bid him, fidgeting nervously. The source of his nervousness, and his delight, and the warm beating of his heart, sat mere inches away – Phoebe. His Phoebe, the soul of his soul. And her dark eyes and all the light within them was all for Ganymede, and none for Silvius.
He couldn’t blame the boy. Ganymede had been a fast friend to him before he had stolen Phoebe’s heart all of a fateful blunder. Silvius could not be less of a friend to him now. And he could not blame Phoebe, not for following the song of her heart the same way Silvius followed the song of his own. Besides, he supposed Ganymede was a very pretty youth, and Phoebe a very discerning maid. If she had to fall in love with a man who was not Silvius, he would rather she fall in love with a beautiful man, or a clever man, or a virtuous man – and although he wished that he could say otherwise, Ganymede seemed to be all of these. He leaned his weary head against the bole of the tree with a heartfelt groan.
“Then you believe,” said Phoebe slowly, and Ganymede nodded encouragingly from his vantage point below them both, “that this love we feel – and I do not admit to feeling any such thing, for all your witty words and comely face – this love is a sickness? And one you would cure us of?”
Ganymede beamed. “I do! And if you should need something to convince you, look only to this benighted lover beside you! This good man, who you have been so eager to spurn--” Silvius groaned again, even more heartfelt, and Ganymede hurried to revise his words, “This, this prince of Arden who has been so mistreated by devotion.” The youth bit his lips in consternation. “No, indeed, this love will not bring either one of you happiness, not in any way that you deserve.” He hesitated. “Perhaps in ways that you may deserve, the sharp-tongued shepherdess that you are…” He shook his head. “Love will bring neither one of you happiness but will sooner make you weep, therefore--” He spread both arms out wide. “Let me cure you!”
Silvius sighed. “Good shepherd, I would that I could convince you--”
“You wish to bring us happiness, youth?” Phoebe’s hands were both over her heart, and Silvius hurriedly placed a hand on her back to steady her on the branch. “Why it would be crude to refuse you. You say you would woo me, and be wooed by Silvius while he calls you by my name? Indeed, I see the wisdom in this! You will give us both the thing we yearn for – though by my troth I profess no such yearning – and by this courtship we will… ah…”
“You will come to find it so very tedious that you will at last understand what folly it is to follow a blind heart!” Ganymede finished, smiling widely. Silvius thought he could see some flaws in this reasoning, but Ganymede’s enthusiasm for his plan was endearing to the point of crowding out reason altogether. Still…
“So wise!” gasped Phoebe. “Wise beyond your years, and so good, too, to share your wisdom with us! You are generous to offer your cure to love, and to offer to woo and be wooed, and although I am afflicted by no measure of this madness love, I do confess that my heart compels me to accept your offer. And not my heart at all, no, my reason compels me to say yes, and so – Yes! I accept your suit to court me. I will say yes!”
Silvius sighed again. “And I will say yes as well.”
Orlando followed the stony ridge toward the sheepcote where his beloved was surely waiting, to find Ganymede sitting in the shade of the little olive tree that the youth loved so well.
“How now, Rosalind!” he called. Ganymede’s head whipped around fast enough to catch himself a blow against the twisted trunk of the tree. He gave a squawk of distress, and Orlando cursed and ran the last small distance towards him. He cupped the young man’s cheeks in both hands and inspected him for injury.
“I did not expect you!” Ganymede said peevishly.
“I come within an hour of my promise,” Orlando offered with a teasing lilt. After being scolded for his late arrival on their first tryst – their wedding day – and after being delayed entirely a day later, he wanted to leave nothing to chance.
“Sir, you have made yourself from an amorous snail into a hare, that leaps quicker than it should into the fire.”
“Perhaps I am like enough to a hare,” Orlando allowed, “for though she leaps full into the flame she is not burned, and so – sweet Rosalind – I would leap into a hundred fires for your sake.” Ganymede blushed prettily at the honeyed declaration. Orlando pressed a kiss to his battered brow and released his face. “There. You are well.”
“Indeed, and I thank you.” Ganymede’s face was a deep rose. “For it is widely known that a wife requires her allotment of kisses each and every day, else she should waste away for it.”
Orlando resisted the urge to deepen that blush in any way he could. He was not a vindictive man. Instead he stepped back to allow the youth to regain his composure.
“I hear,” Orlando said, to change the subject, “that you are reluctant to give your consent for my brother to woo your sister.”
“That I am. If I allow it, then your brother should become my brother! And my sister, your sister – then you and I… why the scandal bears not thinking about.”
“My brother cares deeply for the lady,” said Orlando. He felt out of fraternal piety that he ought to speak in favour of his father’s son. That his brother had only recently deigned to show the same brotherly loyalty meant that the words came out weaker than they might have.
Ganymede was not convinced regardless. He scowled expressively. “Your brother is a man and men when their temper is high are more akin to the black-backed jackal. They tear strips from their prey too subtly for the poor things to die, but their teeth are no less sharp for it.”
Orlando raised an eyebrow. “If that be so then what are you?”
He watched Ganymede blink at the unexpected question, then he twisted in place to rest himself against his olive tree – inviting Orlando to lean closer in towards him.
“I, sir, must be the fox,” He decided. “For a fox is neither one thing nor the other. It is too much a cat to be considered a dog, but too dog-like to truly be called ‘cat’. It is too bold to be any creature’s prey, but it is hunted nonetheless. Not quite red, but not truly brown. Does it run in the day or in the night? I know not, nor does the fox. I run when I have the disposition to run.”
Orlando placed his hand on the olive tree’s bark, above Ganymede’s head. “And I?” he asked.
Ganymede looked up through his lashes at Orlando and spoke almost too low to be heard. “Perhaps you are the hunter’s hound.”
He slipped away under Orlando’s arm and around the little tree. “Or else a peacock!”
“A peacock,” Orlando parroted dumbly.
“The consideration you do reserve for your dress would have you no other than the king of many-hued fancy. I see you have again your neatly gartered hose.”
Orlando looked down, involuntarily checking Ganymede’s one hose. Ungartered, with trailing ribbon of course. And his shoes too large for his dainty feet.
“And much like the peacock you do possess the beauty of an angel, yet… you exhibit none of the o’erweening pride of one. The peacock, you should know, bows before no man, but bows before god. And the eyes on a peacock’s tail may be immortal but their lustre, I fear, is paler than thine. No, perhaps not a peacock.” Ganymede bit his lips, contemplative. “I shall have to think more on’t.”
“Then what is Rosalind?” Orlando asked, to hide his own blush. Ganymede’s face split into his widest smile yet.
“Why, your Rosalind is me!” He held out both hands to his ‘husband’. “Come, now, have you brought no courting gifts?”
Gifts? Gifts. Orlando winced. He had assumed that now he and ‘Rosalind’ were married the time for courting gifts had passed. He should have been wiser than to assume any such thing where Ganymede was concerned. He held up a hand to Ganymede’s face, and slid the youth’s eyes closed. He savoured the sweet intake of breath when their skin touched, and then turned away searching.
There, near a patch of spiny thistles – a pretty white flower. He tore it from the earth and knelt before his wife. “If it please you,” he said.
Ganymede’s eyes opened slowly and met his. His face lit up at the sight of the flower, and he snatched it from Orlando’s fingers straight away. “For me?” he breathed, his voice hitching. Orlando wondered, not for the first time, at the authenticity of each emotion Ganymede mocked for him. He might believe this flower to be the richest gift that ever man brought a woman.
Ganymede brought the bloom to his face to breathe in its scent. “I will keep it ever the nearest to my soul,” he said, and wound the stem into his hair. Then he held his hand out again. “What else did you bring me?”
Orlando schooled his features to keep from laughing. Ah, now he understood what today’s game would be. Ganymede’s eyes sparkled with merriment. Warmth blossomed in Orlando’s chest. When they had met in Duke Frederick’s court, he had planned a grand courtship of his Rosalind. In the future when they were married by a priest more legitimate than a shepherdess, he would be wiser than to believe any of his plans could surpass Rosalind’s.
“Close your eyes for but a moment, my heart.”
Aliena looked up from her work as Ganymede came tripping back into their sheepcote, his fingers trailing through the ivy on the walls.
There was barely more ivy on the walls than there was in her brother’s hair, a halo of flowers and leaves and vines.
“What?” she laughed, “Do I spy Bacchus returned from his revels in the forest? Or do I spy Flora, goddess in her sweet bloom?”
Ganymede was smiling that besotted smile that she always bore after seeing Orlando. It made Aliena happy to see it. “Not either of these, dear Aliena. You spy your Oliver, come to lure you away into a life of debauchery. Come live off the fruits of the forest with me!”
Aliena cast her eyes to heaven, but she did it with a smile. Her cousin-brother was lucky, she thought, to have so indulgent a sister-cousin as her.
The setting of the sun tinted the sky redder than fire as Phoebe sought out Silvius to sit with him. He had already brought in the sheep, so there was no reason to watch the hills, but they watched in companionable silence anyway. It was the close of their first se’ennight of Ganymede’s treatment, and so they had a great deal to think about.
It was Silvius who broke the evening’s quiet first. “Though I am grateful for his counsel,” he said, “I worry that our physician may have overextended himself when he did pledge to cure us both.”
Phoebe nodded in fervent agreement. “I cannot, in good conscience, doubt his keenness. But I do wonder if…”
“Did he forget which part he should play when he came to woo you?” Silvius asked. Phoebe broke into a smile.
“You as well?” she asked. Silvius nodded. “I know not who Oliver is, but the young shepherd did eviscerate the poor fool’s name! Though I may know nothing of Oliver, I know that I like him not at all. Though… in his name, Ganymede was gentlemanly and polished. I cannot say I disliked how he spoke, nor indeed how he held himself. In that his eyes were Ganymede’s eyes, I liked them well enough, so I cannot say I disliked his eyes. But he was so forceful! To have Ganymede take my by the waist and profess that he did love me so very ardently… and to say that he would have me to wife or he would die for want of me… and to look so passionately upon me…”
“Phoebe,” Silvius pleaded, and Phoebe stopped with an apologetic air. He averted his eyes. “You may have liked Oliver poorly, but at the least he came to woo you instead of to be wooed. The youth did forget entirely that he had asked to be called ‘Phoebe’ – when he came to me, he said, I am your Ganymede and courted me!”
Phoebe gasped, then giggled. “No!”
Her eyes were so wide Silvius could not help but laugh himself. “I am forced to say that I liked his courting more than I thought myself able.”
Phoebe leaned her head against his shoulder, watching the clouds roll over the carpet of the night sky. “He bid me call him ‘Rosalind’,” she said. “And as a maid he danced with me and we whispered sweet words. It was… not entirely objectionable.”
“He makes for quite the comely maid,” Silvius admitted.
“And indeed, for a handsome young man”
“When… Rosalind… courted you, did she curl her fingertips against your palm as though she would tell you secrets if the pad of her thumb knew but how?”
“Hm,” Phoebe nodded her assent. “And when Ganymede courted you, did he set his hand at your waist to steady you as you walked, as though you were a thing precious to him, and a pearl to be protected?”
“Ay,” Silvius murmured, turning his head to breathe wistfully against the crown of Phoebe’s hair. “And he bent to kiss my hand. As though we were courtiers in the duke’s castle.”
“He is gentle, is he not?”
“No less gentle than she who wooed you.”
“We are fools to love him, are we not?”
Silvius’ lips curved into a smile against her hair. “No less a fool than I am to love you, Phoebe.”
“What a pair we are.”
“What a pair we are.”
The warmth of the day drained slowly from the forest. At last, Silvius drew the wool from around his own shoulders and spread it around them both as a blanket. Phoebe leaned closer into him to make room.
“You will not find her,” said Aliena without looking up from her spinning. Orlando paused on the threshold of the cote, a posy of love-gifts in his hand.
“I will not?” he asked, trying to hide the disappointment in his voice. “My lady gave me leave to call. I have not come late, have I?”
“No, to be sure, you are the very soul of punctuality.” Aliena tugged at a snarl that was forming in her whorl, and held the spindle between her teeth. “Your la’ee is c’m lah,” she mumbled.
Orlando rushed forward to ease her juggling of spindle and yarn. “Here.”
“Ah!” Aliena exclaimed brightly as the snarl came neatly undone. “Thank you. Your lady is come late. And his time is poorly constructed too – In the hour that he had sworn to be your Rosalind, he has agreed to be another man’s Phoebe.” Aliena clucked her tongue in feigned disapproval. “It is no proper behaviour for a virtuous young maid.”
“Oh,” Orlando said. “Silvius, then?”
Aliena glanced toward the sun, tracking its progress across the sky. “Not even so. Now he is playing the part of Ganymede – which is to say, his own part, of course – to Phoebe. If he is not swift in it, he will come late to Silvius, and later to you.”
As if summoned, Ganymede’s voice drifted from the woods, twined around with Phoebe’s raised in plaintiveness. Orlando and Aliena looked up as the pair came close enough to hear their words.
“--care not if I have; it is my study to seem despiteful and ungentle to you. You are there-- Orlando!” Ganymede stopped in his tracks so abruptly that Phoebe ran smack into the back of him.
“Heigh, ho, sweet Rosalind,” Orlando called by way of greeting.
“You’re here!” Ganymede said dumbly. “Did I call for you to be here? Today?”
“You called for me every day,” Orlando reminded her. “For the reason, you said, that you--”
“--love you every day, yes, I did say that. I recall now! Orlando, I am so very remiss…” There was a rustle of leaves from the other side of the sheepcote, and Ganymede clapped both hands to his head. “Silvius!”
“Oh, gentle Phoebe,” Silvius called, entering the clearing. Behind Ganymede, Phoebe herself coughed.
“I will away,” she said stiffly. “I have little desire in me to hear entreaties of love made with such a longing voice.” She turned on her heel.
Ganymede straightened his shoulders and shadowed her movement. “I will away,” he repeated, in an excellent mimicry of Phoebe’s voice. “I have little desire in me to hear entreaties--”
Phoebe’s gasp drowned him out. “You mock me!” With a frustrated growl she stamped her foot and ran into the forest.
Silvius looked conflicted for a moment – just a moment – before leaping into pursuit. Ganymede was already preparing to give chase to them both before he remembered Orlando. “Forgive me, my beloved,” he said. “Yon poor shepherd is so close to being cured of his madness – I cannot leave him now!”
Orlando made shooing motions. “I understand. He needs you far more than I – go, go! Farewell, my dove!” he called. “I will await you. But return soon, for my heart wilts when you are not here!”
Ganymede’s eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to answer. But instead of some fast wit or wisdom, all that came out was an overwrought giggle. He blushed heavily and ran after his shepherd without another word.
Orlando laughed and turned away to find Aliena watching him from the bench with a fond appraisal. He smiled at her.
“How long have you known?” she asked. Orlando breathed in.
“That my Rosalind and my Ganymede are one and the same?” he said. “Since you married us. It was her eyes.”
Aliena slid over on her seat and beckoned Orlando to sit with her. He went gratefully, relieved to finally speak the thought out loud. Aliena – Celia – placed a sisterly hand on his shoulder.
“You have questions?”
“Most all of the questions I asked myself had plain answers,” he said, then paused. “I have one though. I… Does…”
“Yes,” Aliena said. Orlando smiled ruefully. He was as easily read as a verse pinned to a tree. “Rosalind loved you from the day your eyes first met. If you trust nothing of this, you can trust that. She was struck no less than you were.”
Orlando’s shoulders fell slack. The tension of uncertainty left them. He had believed, always, but it was a relief to know. He nodded, then-
“If Rosalind has the quotidian of love on her--” Orlando gave a poor impersonation of Ganymede’s earlier assessment of him, “--then why does Ganymede offer to cure love?”
“Sir, I would that I knew! There were certainly more simple ways to entice you to woo!” Aliena laughed, and it was infectious enough that Orlando fell into laughter with her. The two of them laughed perhaps longer than they should have, and there were tears on both of their cheeks before Aliena pushed back her hair from her face and drew enough breath to speak. “Perhaps,” she suggested, “it is the chance to behave as wild as love makes him feel?”
“If that is so, then I love him no less for his wildness. I think perhaps I love him more.”
“You are not false in your judgement.” Aliena sighed. “His attempts to woo are never as loathsome as he tries to make them.”
Orlando nudged her gently with his shoulder. “Perhaps I do see the marks of love upon you,” he said. “Well, then. I suppose the grand game must end then.”
Aliena started. “Why, what makes you say so?”
“It can hardly continue,” said Orlando, “not when my knowing of it is known.”
“You are too quick to give in. My brother does not know of your knowing.”
Orlando’s smile began slowly to return. “That is so.”
“Though I must entreat you – if he should come to know it, pray ensure that he never knows that I knew before him.”
“If he does come to know,” Orlando mused, “we may just as well ensure that he does not know that either one of us knows that he knows. Do you know?”
“I do know! Or I do not. Who knows?”
Over the sound of their scheming, and then the sound of their laughter – over the susurrus of the wind in Arden’s leaves floated the sound of true lovers pursuing one another through the trees. Always to pursue and never to be caught, far away from the court and its confines, they fleet the time carelessly as lovers did in the golden world.