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Love, Thee and I

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The roof of their shepherd's cottage leaked. But where she and Rosalind dwelt, it were the sweetest bath.

Their new home had but a loft room, a kitchen common space, a root cellar full of roots, and a covered midden where they might release their nightsoil. But where she and Rosalind were together, it were a hundred room palace all in Italian marble carved with sweet cherubs above the wide windows.

There were no servants, but the Clown, and he had no skill at food or the thousand myriads that a sylvan dwelling in the woods were heir too. But where she and Rosalind labored together, were they chained at the bottom of Hades' mines, and were they chained together, they were the sweetest of labors.

In that loft room, there was but space for a single narrow tick of meadow grass and though it had long been their custom to sleep one next to another, this was the sweetest of all. The pillow upon which Cecilia slept, it bore the sweet scent of Rosalind, for there she had lain her head. Not across miles of sheets and doughty cotton, but a bare hand's breathe away. A breath that could be breathed, but not be reached across.

These feelings were not new in the origin. They were not the moment of a chance meeting in a bucolic dell or in a marble hall. No, these feelings were the result of years of earnest study of her cousin's most deserving nature. It were easy to divine a divine nature to a stranger. Her most beloved cousin, was no divine. She snored a tiny noise in her throat. She had a wicked temper and a more cleverly wicked humor. Her jests some betimes could sting. Yet, these feelings not asked for, and not desired, they had grown clever weeds in Celia's heart that then bloomed into brilliant flowers.

All of this being true, to Celia, having put aside Celia and Aliena become, their palace exchanged for rude cottage were a sylvan paradise. And yet, for Rosalind to have lost the palace of her birthright; to have lost her very sex and become Ganymede, the page of Jove, for that very Rosalind to sigh was to Celia a string most cruelly pulled upon her heart.

There was nothing for it but to say, "Sweetest girl, though in ruddy buskins you now stand, have no fears. Soon my father, having lost both a daughter and a niece, and no other heir besides, will relent and word will come that to the palace and your deserved highest honor, you may then return."

Rosalind pushed back her roughly cut hair, like burnished bronze upon a carved ivory, and smiled. "Coz, sister, that is not why I sigh. I do not regret the palace where I was not welcomed, and that should have been my father's to hold. No, I sigh over nearer pains. That having met Orlando, his father beloved of my father, his skills manifest in his overthrow of Charles, the wrestler, on so brief a meeting and a parting, I sigh."

"Oh." Celia looked away and in the churlish smoke that emitted their wooden stove blinked back tears. "So, quickly then you love. So soon you desire to put a man in your belly."

"Oh, aye," Rosalind licked her lips then, "for such a sweet a man as that." Celia watched those lips and that tongue. "Oh, dear coz, your pardon. Wearing a man's martial bearing has had a rude change upon me. A curtle axe at my side and a boar spear in my hand, I find myself taking on manly manners. Your pardon." She bowed as a gentleman may to a lady that he has offended. "I merely mean that his visage set my mind to Hymen, and the sacred vows that bind a man and woman."

"Ah." Celia blinked once more at the billowing smoke of the stove and retrieved their bread from its hold, so much hardened brick. Had they other victuals, she'd have consigned it as lost. As there were no other. She put it in the sludge of stew to which the adding of bread could certainly do no harm. When she had gathered her thoughts, she said, "So moved were you by his face? I had thought that you meant to seek a man based on his knowledge being like unto yours." She went delicately then. "For a man of gentle birth, he seemed most lacking in education."

"Orlando, what a name Orlando. Education may be acquired, but such great heart as his to so defeat a champion of many battles, that cannot be learned."

Celia stirred the great iron pot. "Or may indeed be learned, as Charles himself did learn it. But what of his wits. On short acquaintance, his wits did not seem to slice and cut, and you always declared to hold yourself waiting for the sharpest of minds."

Rosalind smiled and moved some rushes about on their floor to no great advantage. "He is but a knife, unsharped. I shall take great pleasure in being his whetstone upon which to sharpen his wits. But Coz, why do you batter at me so.? Did you take some offense at him? Please, tell me."

Celia stared down at the black iron pot that she then stirred. "No offense, merely I wish you to be careful in how you give your heart. What do you know of him, but that you father loved his father, while mine hated in kind?"

"I know that I loved him from the moment that his unbearded face hove into my gaze." Rosalind cast aside her broom. "But you are right, Coz. I love, but I do not know his heart. For all that is known to me, he has perhaps cast his eye upon some rude country maid skilled in country matters. While I from the court am but recently derived."

"For him to see you, he cannot help but love you." Celia put aside the pot from the fire. Only ill could come of cooking now.

An idea came to her then. She sat upon the bench before the table. "If he were to woo you, how would you wish him woo? Come, let Aliena be Rosalind, and Ganymede be Orlando. Your swain has come to you in your country kitchen. What now?"

Rosalind nodded. "I would wish him to sit next to me."

"Then sit." Celia slid her hand across the rough wood of the bench, taking only one or three or ten splinters in doing.

No matter for Rosalind sat next to her.

"And then?" She could not help but prompt.

"I would wish him to take my hand and hold it to his breast that I might feel his heart, declared as mine." Rosalind plucked up Celia's hand and held it to her doublet.

"And as Rosalind, might then I declare in turn mine own heart to be his." Celia felt her heart beating doubly quick. But had she not forsworn to be Celia. Was not now Aliena herself sworn to be Rosalind in her place. She moved to pluck Rosalind's unencumbered hand to place it at her own breast and there her beating heart. "And in so doing, from daring to daring, I might move myself closer. That same heart a lodestone seeking the unalloyed metal of my heart's desiring." She moved closer upon the bench until slender line of Rosalind's woolen hose ran parallel to her own rough spun skirts.

Rosalind swallowed. "Orlando, then, I might wish, so close, in the privacy of our rude exile, might steal a kiss." Her lips were soft and tasted of the wild honey that they had found in the root cellar.

Celia's own lips parted at the long longed for kiss. "One kiss or ten?" She returned that kiss in kind.

"Oh, a hundred kisses, I could so desire." The hand upon Celia's breast spread fingers wide to dip somewhat within her bounded chest. While bound heart heaved exchanged breath to breath as lips gave way to tongues that spoke not words but sighs.

Rosalind pulled away after some hundred kisses and whispered, "But a maiden's modesty must put an end to such kitchen exchanges lest we grow to bake what should not be in a maiden's belly."

Celia, who was not Celia, not cousin, not sister, but Rosalind with her Orlando, whispered, "Having exchanged those kisses, and vows to wed, and then to Hymen called and wedded vows exchanged. Orlando, I Rosalind having taken you to husband then, and you Orlando, having taken me to wife, what now would you of your Rosalind?"

"To bed." Rosalind moved not, but applied a hundred more soft kisses of wild honey's origin.

It was left to Celia to break away, but not away. Her husband's hand, for was not Rosalind now Ganymede? Did not Ganymede play Orlando's wedded husband's part? She led her husband up the stairs and into their loft. She closed the door upon the lower floor with only a bare tallow candle then by which to see her way. She put aside her dress and only in kirtle stood. That too she then removed. "And now my husband, what would you of your Rosalind?"

"To bed." More kisses then and of greater warmth as the sun is to a kitchen fire. It were Rosalind's turn to lose her doublet and hose. She lost her assumed gender, and perhaps her greater part. She whispered, "Oh, my love."

"It is all yours as it has ever been." Celia paid tribute as her ambassador lips went to each of Rosalind's nation parts in turn to pay them their due. Much homage did she pay in the form of lavished love, so many years did she have in store. She could not be quit of tribute until each of Rosalind's breasts had been paid their fit due. Until she cried out, "Orlando," and pulled up Celia's ambassador mouth to pay embassy to her own lips.

Celia could take that name. She would take any name and go whither wherever Rosalind went. Her hands upon their own missions, not idle all this time, went to that place where for all her boar spear, Rosalind ever carried a woman's part. She parted Rosalind's sweet nest and played surface tribute for a time until her Rosalind cried out.

Celia made journey deeper then with one and two and three fingers. Such she had practiced many a night, as Rosalind softly snored and Celia imagined Celia's hand were Rosalind's fingers. Now Celia's hand to Rosalind these lessons applied. Until Rosalind cried out sweetly as a dove.

Until Rosalind, clever Rosalind, applied herself to the returning of honors and played Orlando's part once more. Rosalind's imagined hands became Rosalind's hands and Rosalind's lips and err long the tallow candle having exhausted itself, the imagined husband and wife slept.

It were morning again and Celia breathed in the sweet scent of their shared bed, made the sweeter from their shared wedded bliss to find Rosalind once more Ganymede dressed.

Rosalind cleared her throat. "This is a strange time we find ourselves in with we ourselves, not ourselves."

Celia blinked at the sudden light of a freshened lantern.

"Perhaps as we are given out to be brother and sister, it would be more fit if I were to take my bedding below and the Clown consigned to the hayrick." Ganymede would not meet her eyes. Nor Rosalind either. Nor even Orlando. So many faces, but not a one for Celia.

Celia said nothing. Celia had no words. Aliena had no words. Rosalind had all the words. Clever Rosalind.

Celia went from their, now her chamber and went for a walk upon this new day in fresh exile. There upon a tree she found bad fruit. All the trees in the forest seemed at the bearing of them. As she found Rosalind in a study of one such poem, she knew that the ill fruit had already been consumed.

She put on her best sister face, for had she not the years of long practice, and went to tease her cousin as a cousin at the consuming of them.

Fair Rosalind, sweet Rosalind, cruel Rosalind, her witty jest but then took on the cruelest cast. For Ganymede with her Orlando played Rosalind's part while Aliena watched. Worse and worse, she played at Hymen's ceremony. She turned to Celia, all innocence in her eyes, all the terrible wit to which she was sometimes given and said, "Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing? Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us. Give me your hand, Orlando. What do you say, sister?"

Celia choked then. She choked on her own hopes, the bitter fruit of love that had like a weed grown in her heart and flowered to now bear the bitterest of fruit. "I cannot say the words."

Fair Rosalind, sweet Rosalind, cruel Rosalind, she cast her eyes wide at her Aliena for her sake and the words found their way through Celia's lips to wed that which she loved to what she loved. Even here in jest, it were sorrowful.

When Oliver, the brother of her love's love courted, she meant to spurn him as she had so many. Instead, in the depths of sorrowing, his sorrowful desire seemed most fitting. That Phebe should love Ganymede and wed Silvius seemed most fitting. That her father, the Duke, should give way before Rosalind's father, the Duke, seemed most fitting. That Rosalind should take to marriage bed that seemed most bitter. A bitter fruit indeed.

Celia minded herself that women had died and worms had eaten them, but they had not died for love. Better yet smile at her new found husband. Smile yet more as her uncle, hearing of Celia's great courtesies to Rosalind, offered them rooms of honor within the Ducal palace itself. What worms at the fruit of love.

Better yet to say that all the world's a stage, and all these lovers, but players to be moved about until the next act.

Now, it may seem after ending most resolved in wedded state out of fashion to find a lady in the epilogue.

It may even yet seem unneeded. But in seeming, it would not be so.

It may be that after the first blush was off the rose of wedded bliss and those rose hips brewed in tea, that Orlando may have had occasion to ask his wife why she went so often to visit with Celia in her wedded chambers. It may not be, but was so.

Just as surely as Phebe went to lie with a raggle taggle carter's lad within a thicket and took much pleasure of her black eyes from him, as he took his pleasure of his boxed ears from her.

But in answer to her duly wedded lord's question, Rosalind's answer was always, "I would visit my sister, husband, where we will spend our quiet hours speaking of you."

If sometimes, it was Rosalind's fancy to call out her own name in their wedding bed, it was of no matter. Orlando was not always there to hear it, as he took to his own chambers. Rosalind did betimes snore and took great comfort of her sister as their husbands took to the next act, a soldier's part. Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard. They went about the deeds of men in the forest and in battle.

While Rosalind and Celia, they played the lady's parts.