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"Well, not quite that," I admitted. "But it's probably opposite polarity for the same thing. Fluttery, anyhow. Chills and lightnings. How do we get married around here?"

"But, milord—my love—you always astound me. I knew you loved me. I hoped that you would tell me before—well, in time. Let me hear it once. I did not expect you to offer to marry me!"

"Why not? I'm a man, you're a woman. It's customary?"

"But—Oh, my love, I told you! It isn't necessary to marry me. By your rules...I'm a bitch."

"Bitch, witch, Sing Along with Mitch! What the hell, honey? That was your word, not mine. You have about convinced me that the rules I was taught are barbarous and yours are the straight goods. Better blow your nose—here, want my hanky?

Star wiped her eyes and blew her nose but instead of the yes-darling I wanted to hear she sat up straight and did not smile. She said formally, "Milord Hero, had you not best sample the wine before you buy the barrel?"

I pretended not to understand.

"Please, milord love," she insisted. "I mean it. There's a grassy bit on your side of the road, just ahead. You can lead me to it this moment and willingly I will go."

I sat high and pretended to peer. "Looks like crab grass. Scratchy."

"Then p-p-pick your own grass! Milord...I am willing, and eager, and not uncomely—but you will learn that I am a Sunday painter compared with artists you will someday meet. I am a working woman. I haven't been free to give the matter the dedicated study it deserves. Believe me! No, try me. You can't know that you want to marry me."

"So you're a cold and clumsy wench, eh?"

"Well...I didn't say that. I'm only entirely unskilled—and I do have enthusiasm."

"Yes, like your auntie with the cluttered bedroom—it runs in your family, so you said. Let it stand that I want to marry you in spite of your obvious faults."


"Star, you talk too much."

"Yes, milord," she said meekly.

"We're getting married. How do we do it? Is the local lord also justice of the peace? If he is, there will be no droit du seigneur; we haven't time for frivolities." "Each squire is the local justice," Star agreed thoughtfully, "and does perform marriages, although most Nevians don't bother. But—Well, yes, he would expect droit du seigneur and, as you pointed out, we haven't time to waste."

"Nor is that my idea of a honeymoon. Star—look at me. I don't expect to keep you in a cage; I know you weren't raised that way. But we won't look up the squire. What's the local brand of preacher? A celibate brand, by choice."

"But the squire is the priest, too. Not that religion is an engrossing matter in Nevia; fertility rites are all they bother with. Milord love, the simplest way is to jump over your sword."

"Is that a marriage ceremony where you come from, Star?"

"No, it's from your world:

‘Leap rogue, and jump whore,

‘And married be forevermore—‘

"—it's very old."

"Mmm—I don't care for the marriage lines. I may be a rogue but I know what you think of whores. What other chances are there?"

"Let me see. There's a rumormonger in a village we pass through soon after lunch. They sometimes marry townies who want it known far and wide; the service includes spreading the news."

"What sort of service?"

"I don't know. And I don't care, milord love. Married we will be!"

"That's the spirit! We won't stop for lunch."

"No, milord," she said firmly, "if wife I am to be, I shall be a good wife and not permit you to skip meals."

"Henpecking already. I think I'll beat you."

"As you will, milord. But you must eat, you are going to need your strength—"

"I certainly will!'

"—for fighting. For now I am ten times as anxious that we both live through it. Here is a place for lunch." She turned Vita Brevis off the road; Ars Longa followed. Star looked back over her shoulder and dimpled. "Have I told you today that you are beautiful...my love!"

Chapter 11

Rufo's longhorse followed us onto the grassy verge Star picked for picnicking. He was still limp as a wet sock and snoring. I would have let him sleep but Star was shaking him.

He came awake fast, reaching for his sword and shouting, "A moi! M'aidez! Les vaches!" Fortunately some friend had stored his sword and belt out of reach on the baggage rack aft, along with bow, quiver, and our new foldbox.

Then he shook his head and said, "How many were there?"

"Down from there, old friend," Star said cheerfully. "We've stopped to eat."

"Eat!" Rufo gulped and shuddered. "Please, milady. No obscenity." He fumbled at his seat belt and fell out of his saddle; I steadied him.

Star was searching through her pouch; she pulled out a vial and offered it to Rufo. He shied back. "Milady!"

"Shall I hold your nose?" she said sweetly.

"I'll be all right. Just give me a moment...and the hair of the dog."

"Certainly you'll be all right. Shall I ask milord Oscar to pin your arms?"

Rufo glanced at me appealingly; Star opened the little bottle. It fizzed and fumes rolled out and down. "Now!"

Rufo shuddered, held his nose, tossed it down.

I won't say smoke shot out of his ears. But he flapped like torn canvas in a gale and horrible noises came out.

Then he came into focus as suddenly as a TV picture. He appeared heavier and inches taller and had finned out. His skin was a rosy glow instead of death pallor. "Thank you, milady," he said cheerfully, his voice resonant and virile. "Someday I hope to return the favor."

"When the Greeks reckon time by the kalends," she agreed.

Rufo led the longhorses aside and fed them, opening the foldbox and digging out haunches of bloody meat. Ars Longa ate a hundredweight and Vita Brevis and Mors Profunda even more; on the road these beasts need a high-protein diet. That done, he whistled as he set up table and chairs for Star and myself.

"Sugar pie," I said to Star, "what's in that pick-me-up?"

"An old family recipe:

‘Eye of newt and toe of frog,

‘Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

‘Adders fork and blind-worm's sting,

‘Lizard's leg and howlet's wing—‘ "

"Shakespeare!" I said. "Macbeth."

" ‘Cool it with a baboon's blood—‘ No, Will got it from me, milord love. That's the way with writers; they'll steal anything, file off the serial numbers, and claim it for their own. I got it from my aunt—another aunt—who was a professor of internal medicine. The rhyme is a mnemonic for the real ingredients which are much more complicated—never can tell when you'll need a hangover cure. I compounded it last night, knowing that Rufo, for the sake of our skins, would need to be at his sharpest today—two doses, in fact, in case you needed one. But you surprised me, my love; you break out with nobility at the oddest times."

"A family weakness. I can't help it."

"Luncheon is served, milady."

I offered Star my arm. Hot foods were hot, cold ones chilled; this new foldbox, in Lincoln green embossed with the Doral chop, had equipment that the lost box lacked. Everything was delicious and the wines were superb.

Rufo ate heartily from his serving board while keeping an eye on our needs. He had come over to pour the wine for the salad when I broke the news. "Rufo old comrade, milady Star and I are getting married today. I want you to be my best man and help prop me up."

He dropped the bottle.

Then he was busy wiping me and mopping the table. When at last he spoke, it was to Star. "Milady," he said tightly, "I have put up with much, uncomplaining, for reasons I need not state. But this is going too far. I won't let—"