The Monk

Coby Lubliner


“The people have said,” the archdeacon told him, “‘let them put the monk on the throne!’ And the lords of Aragon have agreed.”

“But I am not a monk,” he said. “I am a bishop.”

True, he was but a bishop-elect, not yet consecrated, but already had been a consecrated bishop before becoming abbot of Old Saint Peter’s, and, as he had been taught long ago, semel consecratus semper episcopus. Once consecrated, always a bishop.

Still, the people – with whom, until recently, he has not had much to do – call him the monk.

And tonight he is going to be a monk, if only for a while.

He is in a cell, or a room made to look like a cell. It is in a cathedral, not a monastery, and was once the bishop’s room, before the see was moved to Huesca.

There is a crucifix on the wall, a bed, a chair, and a table with candlesticks, a handbell and two books. The fireplace is lit. It is a November evening, and November evenings get cold here in Jaca.

The bed is larger than a monk’s bed would be. The last bishop to officiate here, Pedro, was a large man.

He, Ramiro, is not a large man. But tonight he will not be alone.


It was here, in the cathedral of Jaca, that he learned his first letters. Bishop Pedro, the successor of his uncle Garcia, was his first teacher. From Pedro he learned to love the Church more than the kingship, the cathedral – which his father had ordered built in the Norman way, by builders who had come from the far north with his mother – more than the royal palace that was built, in the older Lombard way, on orders of his namesake grandfather.


He does not remember his mother. Her burial, he was told, had been in this same cathedral, but his earliest recollections are of weddings: of his oldest brother Pedro’s with the Aquitanian Agnes – whom the Aragonese called Ines – and of his father’s with his stepmother Philippa. It was from her that he learned to speak the Tolosan Romance, which he liked so much better than Aragonese.

He is here to pray. The two books on his table are his breviary and the Song of Songs of Solomon, his favorite among sacred books.


He had no desire to live like a prince. The years of his youth, he knew, were a glorious time to be Christian king or prince, or even a knight, in Spain. While the Franks had to travel far, across the sea, to the East, to fight the Saracen, here in Spain there were Saracen strongholds, to be conquered in the name of Christendom, within a few hours’ journey.

His father, his big brothers – Pedro, Fernando, Alfonso – were warriors. They all died gloriously in battle, fighting for Jesus Christ and His Holy Church, and are all in Heaven now.

He, Ramiro, was not a warrior. He was small of stature, and did not like horses. He knew early on that his way to Heaven would be through the Church.

He was content to hear the tales of his father and brothers storming castles, assailing strongholds, breaching towers, all the while spilling Moorish blood in the sacred duty of Christendom. But he preferred to spend his time in prayer.


Tonight, after he finishes praying, he will breach a tower. No blood will be spilled, for the tower has been breached before. But he, too, will perform a sacred duty on behalf his Christian kingdom.

He is waiting for his bride. Another Aquitanian Agnes, the niece of his sister-in-law, and the daughter of his stepmother. For Philippa was but a girl when his father married her, and whether or not the marriage had been consummated – he, Ramiro, never knew – there were no children. But when his father died, Guillem of Peitieus, the heir of Aquitania, came to Jaca to woo and win the young widow.

Now he has married their daughter, and is waiting for her to come to their marriage bed, here in his cell.

It is time to pray.

He recites Ave Maria as he lights another candle, then another.

He opens the breviary. He turns page after page, but cannot find a prayer or psalm to suit his state.

He closes the breviary, then his eyes. After a while he opens them, and then the other book.

It is a beautifully decorated manuscript, made for him by a monk at Sahagun, a noted scribe, when he was abbot there. The initial O of the first page is filled with an image of the crowned bride in a white nun’s habit, standing erect just like a tower.

He had shown the picture to his bride, and she had agreed to come to him just like that. She will be his tower.


He was an adolescent when he saw a tall nun whose large breasts pushed her tunic out in front so that it hung straight down and made her look like a tower. The sight brought to his mind the words from the Song of Songs, ubera mea sicut turris, ‘my breasts are like a tower.’ The image came to haunt his dreams, which took many forms: sometimes a tower of stone would turn into a tower woman, and other times it would be the other way around; sometimes he would be riding on horseback at breakneck speed toward the tower, and other times he would be scaling it. Often, when he awoke from the dream, he would feel a battering ram, ready for the assault, between his legs. He would then, as a rule, get out of bed and pour cold water over himself while reciting the Pater noster, repeating et ne inducas nos in temptationem over and over. But he never saw fit to bring the sin up in confession, inspired as it was by a sacred text.


The words leap out at him.

Osculetur me osculo oris sui, quia meliora sunt ubera tua vino, ‘Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth, for thy breasts are better than wine,’ Fraglantia unguentis optimis, oleum effusum nomen tuum; ideo adulescentulae dilexerunt te. ‘Smelling sweet of the best ointments, thy name is as oil poured out: therefore young maidens have loved thee.’ Trahe me post te curremus; introduxit me rex in cellaria sua; exultabimus et laetabimur in te, memores uberum tuorum super vinum; recti diligunt te. ‘Draw me, we will run after thee; the king hath brought me into his storerooms; we will be glad and rejoice in thee, remembering thy breasts more than wine; the righteous love thee.’

A Mooress from Saragossa, who had been in the service of the Saracen queen but who married a Christian knight and was now a good Christian herself, would see to it that the bride would bring to their marriage bed the finest fraglantia unguentis optimis.

And her ubera, uberum, uberibus, ubera...


Some thirty years ago, when he first came back to Aragon as an ordained priest, he met, at his brother Alfonso’s court in Huesca, the learned Jew Moses, who was about to be converted to the true faith, baptized as Pedro – he was to become the great Christian philosopher Petrus Alfonsi – and he, Ramiro, was to assist Bishop Esteban at the baptism. Afterwards he and the new convert talked of many things, and when they came to the Song of Songs Pedro told him that Saint Jerome had been misled in translating those verses by the Septuagint, whose translators had confused dodim – loving – with dadim – breasts – and that when Solomon meant a woman’s breasts he wrote schadaim, as in the verse about the tower. The first verse should read meliores sunt amores tui vino, Pedro said.

He could not accept that. In his youthful zeal he insisted – and Pedro finally agreed, as he later wrote in his Dialogi contra Iudaeos – that if the Jews’ interpretation of the Hebrew original was different then the Jews had it wrong, just as the Jews denied that Isaias had prophesied the Virgin Birth. Jerome was a saint and a Doctor of the Church, and his words are God’s truth.

Of course he knew that the Song of Songs has to be interpreted figuratively, as describing Christ’s love for the Church. Of course a real woman’s breasts could not be better than wine, but these verses are about the breasts of the Mother Church that her children suckle for the milk of the true faith, which is better than any wine.


But tonight he will taste the breasts of a woman of flesh and blood, and he may even say to her, meliora sunt ubera tua vino. And pulchriora ubera tua vino, as in the fourth chapter. Will I be committing blasphemy? he asks himself, and he answers himself, no, for I am king of the Aragonese by the grace of God, and whatever I do tonight will be for the glory of my kingdom and hence for the glory of God.

It will be his first time. He has passed fifty, and has never known a woman’s body.


It all began a year ago, when Alfonso died at San Juan de la Peña, from the wounds he suffered while besieging Fraga. Sixty-one years old, and he had never stopped fighting.

He had won twenty-nine battles. But as great and fearless a warrior as he was – Alfonso the Battler, the people called him – he was never content to be fighting only in Spain. He had wanted to go to the Holy Land and fight there alongside the Franks. “My mother was French,” he had said to Pedro, “and so I am a Frank. I should obey the Pope’s call.” “Here in Aragon,” Pedro answered, “I represent the Pope, and you will obey me.” And then Pedro died, his son and daughter by Agnes having died before him, and Alfonso became king.

All this happened while he, Ramiro, was in Tolosan lands, a monk in the abbey of Saint Pons, in the county of Carcassona, where his father had sent him in the care of the abbot Frotard. By the time he returned to Spain as a priest, Alfonso was already king, and the more battles he won, the greater his ambitions grew. For five years he was married to the horrid Urraca, queen of Castile and a widow with a son and daughter, and styled himself Emperor of all Spain. But he was not a woman’s man, and did not mind when the Pope annulled the marriage. Then Alfonso turned all his might to conquering more of Spain from the Saracens, all the way to Gibraltar, so that a way could be found to the Holy Land by way of Morocco and Egypt.

He had no children, and he willed his kingdom to the crusading orders of knights: of the Temple, of the Hospital, and of the Holy Sepulcher.

But the lords of Aragon wanted a king of royal blood. “Let’s put the monk on the throne,” they said to one another, assembled in Jaca. He was already bishop-elect in Barbastro when the archdeacon from Jaca brought him the news of his election as king.

Then his troubles began.


He closes the book, and opens the other, to a page that he knows well, the one with the Psalm from which he recited many a time in those days: “Qui ostendisti mihi tribulationes plurimas et adflictiones...” ‘How great troubles hast thou shown me, many and grievous...’


First the lords of Pamplona, which had been a part of his father’s and his brothers’ domain, chose one of their own to be their king. So much the better, he thought; he wouldn’t have to learn Basque. But then they proceeded to annex Tudela, which his brother had conquered for Aragon, and he was powerless to stop them.

Rumors came from Italy that the Pope, who would be his suzerain since his father had put the kingdom under the tutelage of the Holy See, would not recognize him as king, both because he was a cleric and because of his brother’s will.

And then Alfonso Raimundez, Urraca’s son who upon her death became king of Castile and Leon, annexed Soria, another of the Battler’s conquests, and laid claim to yet another, the greatest prize of all: Saragossa and its kingdom. Once again, he felt powerless.

He fled from Huesca. First to Barbastro, where he would have been bishop. Then to Roda, the former see of the bishopric. Finally to Besalu.

He sought help in the only way he knew: he prayed. And help came.


“... conversus vivificabis nos et de abyssis terrae rursum educes nos...” ‘... turning, thou hast brought us to life, and hast brought us back again from the depths of the earth...’


Neighboring counts came to his side. Those of Catalonia to the east – especially the one of Barcelona, the young Ramon Berenguer, who ruled over the others – took his side. And, to the north, Alfons Jordan of Tolosa, a cousin of his stepmother Philippa, also took his side. He had fought against her when she, with her second husband Guillem of Aquitania, tried to take the countship from him; but after they died he made peace with their son Guillem.

Most miraculously, the saintly old Olegar, who was not only bishop of Barcelona but also archbishop of the newly reestablished see of Tarragona and as such his ecclesiastic superior, decided that he would rather see him as king than as bishop.


“Multiplicabis magnitudinem meam et conversus consolaberis me.” ‘Thou hast multiplied my greatness, and turning to me thou wilt comfort me.”


He could return to Huesca, where the lords welcomed him as king. Meanwhile Olegar and the counts, with their knights, went to Saragossa to take its rule away from Alfonso of Castile, and they stopped in Huesca to meet with him. The archbishop absolved him of his vows and gave him permission to marry, so that he would have an heir.

“Then I need to find a wife who is not too young, but fruitful,” he said, speaking in Latin as he usually would to an archbishop. He had meant to say uber, meaning ‘fruitful’ and having the same form for masculine and feminine, but the habit of speaking Romance made him tack on a needless feminine ending, and it came out as ubera, making those of the nobles who knew some Latin laugh. He blushed.

Ubera placent vobis, domine?” Alfons Jordan said, and went on in Romance. “My cousin Agnes, the daughter of my late cousin Philippa, has beautiful ubera, like her mother. You remember her, don’t you, sire? She was your stepmother. And her aunt was your sister-in-law. So she has queens of Aragon on both sides.”


Recalling the meeting, and his embarrassment over his grammatical mistake, he feels his cheeks growing hot, probably red – there is no mirror in the cell. But it is a pleasant sensation.

He feels almost ready for pleasure.


“I meant...” he stammered, “I meant... that she can still bear children.”

“She is only thirty-five or so. She was married to one of her father’s viscounts, who was always away fighting somewhere, but whenever he came home, he would leave her with child. She put those ubera to good use.” There was general laughter, in which even the elderly archbishop joined.

“I have heard about the lady,” he said, also speaking Romance but of the Catalan kind. “Her father was a notorious sinner – a bigamist – but she is a good Christian widow. She lives at the abbey in Fontevrault.”

“Is she a nun, then?” Ramiro asked.

“No,” said Alfons Jordan, “she lives with the penitents. Not that she has anything to do penance for – she has led an exemplary life – but she wears the habit, and studies holy books.”

So this was the young Agnes whom he remembered meeting when, on his last voyage back to Spain from Sant Pons – Alfonso, who was then ruling Leon with his wife Urraca, had called him back to make him abbot of Sahagun – he stopped at Tolosa to visit his stepmother. In those days Philippa was trying to rule the county with her husband Guillem – who, at the time of his visit, was away, fighting rebellious vassals – against the wishes of the Tolosans, who eventually expelled her and brought back Alfons Jordan.

He remembered Agnes as an adolescent girl, a child by her speech but a ripe young woman by her semblance, and by her mother’s talk of marrying her off.

A thought suddenly struck him. “But what about the Pope?” he asked.

“Which pope?” the Count of Urgell asked in return. “The one in Rome or the one in Pisa?”

The archbishop opened his mouth to reply, but Alfons Jordan, who was baptized in the Holy Land and showed no respect for clergy, cut him off. “Anacletus, the one in Rome, will do whatever you ask him. My cousin Guillem of Aquitania, your future brother-in-law, is on good terms with him.”

Future brother-in-law, he said, as if the match had already been made.


He is ready.

He rings the handbell, three times. He crosses himself and recites three Ave Marias while waiting for the footsteps.

He is sitting on the bed, looking at the door, when she opens it without knocking and glides in, holding a candle in one hand and a book in the other. She is dressed in white, a surplice over a tunic, and a wimple on her head, with the coronet she had worn at the wedding over it. On her feet are simple sandals. Without looking at him she walks to the table and puts down the candle and the book next to the ones already there. Her hands free, she removes first the coronet and then the wimple, which she drapes over the back of the chair, and shakes her long blond hair loose before putting the coronet back on. She then pulls the surplice over her head and hangs it over the wimple.

She straightens up and slowly turns toward him. As her gaze passes the crucifix on the wall she stops to cross herself, her side facing him. Through the short, wide sleeve of her tunic he can see the incipient bulge of her breast. The front, pushed outward, hangs straight down. She is the crowned tower of his dreams, the one that he at last will breach.

When she finally looks at him she smiles. He reaches his hands out to her. “Welcome to my cell,” he says.

“Our cell,” she says as she takes his hands and turns around to sit beside him.

“You brought a book,” he says to her. “What is it?”

“It’s also a book about love,” she answers. “You will see when we read it.”

“Sacred love?” he asks.

She blushes as she smiles. “Not sacred as in the Song of Solomon,” she says, “but also pure love. ‘Fine love’ we call it in our country.”

He had occasionally heard people speak of fin amors, but knew that it was the profane kind, the kind that, until now, had been forbidden to him.

The fragrance provided by the Mooress begins to reach his nostrils.

“My book is about sacred love,” he says.

“I know,” she says, “you have shown it to me. Let me look at it again.”

He gently untangles his hands from hers, picks the book up from the table and hands it to her. She opens the book, looks at the illumination on the first page and smiles, as though recognizing herself in the picture. She turns the pages, each of which contains one chapter, and examines the initials: the E of the second chapter with flowers twining around its stem and branches (Ego flos campi...), the I of the third showing a figure in a bed of white linen (In lectulo meo...), the Q of the fourth with tiny goats on a background of golden hair, doves flying among them...

He puts his left hand on hers to stop her from turning any more pages. “Would you like me to read to you?” he asks

She blushes again, like the young girl he remembered in Tolosa. “Yes,” she says.

He pulls the book onto his lap and begins to read.

“Quam pulchra es, amica mea, quam pulchra es, oculi tui columbarum, absque eo quod intrinsecus latet...” ‘How beautiful art thou, my love, how beautiful art thou! thy eyes are doves’ eyes, besides what is hid within...’

As he reads about that which is hidden, he looks down at her groin. She blushes yet again.

He continues to read, about her teeth and her cheeks and her speech and her neck, and when he comes to the fifth verse he looks at her chest.

“Duo ubera tua sicut duo hinuli capreae gemelli qui pascuntur in liliis...” ‘Thy two breasts like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies..’

He puts down the book and clasps her in his arms, and feels the twin fawns feeding among the lilies that are the hairs on his chest. He begins to feel very warm. It is like nothing he has ever felt before, not even at his nocturnal awakenings from his tower dreams.

She turns her head so that her cheek is against his mouth.

“Sicut fragmen mali punici ita genae tuae absque eo quod intrinsecus latet...” he murmurs. ‘Thy cheeks are as a piece of a pomegranate, besides that which lieth hidden within...’

To his surprise, she responds by quoting the first verse of the first chapter from memory. “Osculetur me osculo oris sui...” Her voice is melodious (“eloquium tuum dulce,” he has just read to her).

He kisses her cheek. First lightly, but then he pushes his mouth, forcing her jaws to open. She laughs, and pulls away from him.

“Let’s read my book now,” she says.

She shows him the manuscript. He sees that it is written in Romance, not Latin. He attempts to read it, but has difficulties in making out the words, accustomed as he is to reading only Latin. He knows that in Aquitania and Tolosa there are poets who make verses in Romance, but he has never seen Romance written before.

“What is this?” he asks her.

“It’s a song found by my father.” He knows that trobada, ‘found,’ means ‘composed,’ and that her father, the excommunicated sinner, was the first of the “finders,” trobadors, of such songs. “You will understand it when I sing it.”

She hands the book to him and sings from memory as he tries to follow the text.

“Molt jauzions mi prenc en amar, un joi don plus mi vueill aizir, e pos en joi vueill revertir,

Ben dei, si puesc, al meils anar, quar meillor n’am, estiers cujar, c’om puesca vezer ni auzir.”

This Romance, probably Lemosin, is different from the Tolosan that he knows – jauzions instead of gaudions, cujar instead of cuidar – but he understands it perfectly. ‘Most joyful I set out to love, a joy of which I want to feel more, and, since I want to return to joy, I well ought to, if I can, go to the best, since I love the best, beyond imagining, hat one could see or hear.’

Looking at the manuscript, he can see that there are many more stanzas, but she stops singing, as though waiting for his reaction. “It is beautiful,” he says, and kisses her cheek once more.

It is only then that he notices the lace, like that of a shoe, that holds the bodice of her tunic together up to the neck. He begins to open it. She puts her hands on his, but does not stop what he is doing.

As he unties the lace, slowly, her breasts come into view. He tries to speed up the untying, but her hands restrain him.

When he has finished, she pulls the shoulders of the tunic down with her own hands and bares her chest to him.

Her nipples are large, as thick as his index finger.

He lowers his head and begins to suckle, first on the right, then on the left. He looks up to her face and at last recites, interrupting the recitation with kisses on the breasts, the tenth verse, as he has been waiting to do all evening.

“Quam pulchrae sunt mammae tuae... soror mea sponsa... pulchriora ubera tua vino... et odor unguentorum tuorum super omnia aromata.” ‘How beautiful are thy breasts... my sister, my spouse... thy breasts are more beautiful than wine... and the sweet smell of thy ointments above all aromatic spices.’

He moves his head up and finally kisses her lips. Between kisses, he continues to recite. “Favus distillans... labia tua... sponsa... mel et lac sub lingua tua...” ‘Thy lips... my spouse... are as a dropping honeycomb... honey and milk are under thy tongue...’ He sniffs at the shoulder of her tunic and goes on, “et odor vestimentorum tuorum sicut odor turis.” ‘And the smell of thy garments, as the smell of frankincense.’

She wriggles her arms out of her sleeves and pulls the tunic down to her plump belly. She draws away, lies on the bed, and continues to pull the tunic, past her full hips, until quod intrinsecus latet is hidden no more.

It is his turn. He gets up, and pulls her tunic off past her legs and feet, pulling her sandals off in the process. He pulls his own over his head and stands before her, naked.

As he stands, he suddenly feels that his battering ram is losing the stiffness it had held since he first felt the twin fawns.

She reaches out to him with her right hand and grabs him by the softening member. She grasps it firmly as she pulls him toward her. When his knees are on the bed, she grasps his right shoulder with her left hand and moves him on top of her, all the while directing his member to the place where it belongs. By the time they touch, he can feel it stiff enough for her to pull it inside her.

She then pushes his chest upward and begins to move up and down. “Ride me like a horse,” she says.

But he can do so only for a few moments. He collapses onto her breasts, and feels his body pouring its vital essence into her.

“Osculetur me osculo oris sui,” she says again.

He kisses her lips for a long time. “Sicut vitta coccinea labia tua,” he says. ‘Thy lips are as a scarlet lace.’ He rolls off her onto his back, exhausted.

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

Molt jauzions,” he answers, in the accents of the song..

Suddenly he feels a cold shiver. “Let us go under the covers,” he says.

“Let me wash you first, sire,” she says. But instead of going to the washbasin she licks him clean, like a cat.

“Do you want to return to joy?” she asks him between licks.

His body answers for him. She moves her mouth upward along his belly and torso, she mounts him, sits up and rides him like the expert horsewoman that she is (his first sight of her as his bride-to-be was when she came into Jaca on horseback, not in the royal coach he had sent to meet her at the Somport pass). He watches in fascination as her breasts move in ever-greater arcs, until she rides herself to exhaustion, uttering a loud cry. Now it is her turn to collapse onto him.

“I have been eight years without a man,” she says hoarsely as she slips under the covers and moves to the far side of the bed. He follows her, but keeps a distance between them. They are lying on their sides, facing each other, he on his left and she on her right. One of the candles goes out.

“And I have been fifty years without a woman,” he answers with a laugh.

“But you are a monk,” she says. You are, she says, not you were.

“Not any more,” he says.

“But you will be one again,” she says, “if not tomorrow then in a year or two.”

“How do you know?” he asks.

“I know monks,” she says. “In Fontevrault, where I have lived for the past eight years, there both nuns and monks.”

“I know,” he says, and, after a pause, adds, “Perhaps you are right. I don’t really want to be king. If we have a son, I will give him my crown once he is old enough. If we have a daughter, I will marry her to a prince and have him rule the land. Perhaps I will go back to being a monk. Well, I will not take vows, since I am married to you, but I like to live in a monastery better than in a palace.”

“If we have a son, what do you want to name him?”

The question catches him by surprise, all the more so because he had not thought about it. “Peire, or as we say it in Spain, Pedro, for my oldest brother,” he answers after thinking it over, and, as an afterthought, he adds, “and for my first teacher, and for my monastery.”

“Then,” she says, “if we have a daughter, we can name her Petronilla.”

He ponders the name in silence. He knows it to be the name of a Roman saint, but he has never known a living woman by that name.

“It’s the name of my... of the abbess of Fontevrault,” she adds. “She was my mother’s friend, and she has been like a mother to me.”

Another candle goes out. Now only two are lit, and one of them is flickering. Her face seems to be going in and out of the shadow.

One of these days they will compare their memories of the woman who was his stepmother and her mother. She has already told him that in the Romance of France, which she is now mostly in the habit of speaking, the word for ‘stepmother’ and ‘mother-in-law’ is the same, and that her brother Guillem, who married the daughter of the wife that their father took when he abandoned their mother, already had occasion to use the word in both meanings for the same woman.

She bends her right leg and moves her knee toward him, until it touches his manhood. He feels another call to perform his husbandly duty. He raises his body over her right thigh and enters her with ease. This time their movements are slow and go on for a long time. He feels her left nipple against his chest, and it is as if it were burning a hole there. He is tired. He tries to move away, but she does not let him, clasping him with her left arm. She begins suddenly to move fast, and loses herself in pleasure. He follows her there.

It is dark. A half moon has risen outside, but only a few rays come in through the alabaster panes of the window, and he can barely make out his wife’s outline. She is on her back.

She begins to snore. It is a soft, gentle snore, and he finds it soothing. He turns away from her.

He feels his bladder full. He sits up, pulls the chamber pot from under the bed, and empties into it. He feels cold, and crawls back under the covers. He finds that she is lying on her side, away from him, fully stretched, like a fallen tower. She is no longer snoring. He feels at peace, as he thinks a conqueror might feel after a battle. Visions of his Agnes as a white-clad tower invade his mind.

As is his body’s wont, it awakens well before dawn, in time for Prime. But his mind is still dreaming, this time of a flock of goats in a mountain meadow of autumn-gold grass, with himself as a goatherd wielding a gilded staff, like the crosier that had waited for him at the see of Barbastro. As he begins to feel his body he notices that the staff he has been holding in his hand is none other than the battering ram of his tower dreams. His feet begin their habitual outward journey from under the covers, so that they can carry him to his ablutions and penitence. Then he hears soft breathing beside him, and his mind awakens at last. He remembers: he is a married man.

The memories of the evening’s fucking reinforce his stiffness so it is almost unbearable. But now he knows that his state is not sinful any more; it is a sign from God that he is to perform his duty as husband and king. He must produce an heir, and one never knows how many times the seed must be sown.

He must wake her up. But how? She is still on her side, facing the wall, but now her hips and knees are bent. If he were to grasp her right knee and use it as a handle to turn her onto her back, he could climb over her thigh and enter her gate. But he would rather have her awake before doing that. Indeed, it is the memory of her riding him that brings back the fondest joy. En joi vueill revertir, his mind hears her singing.

He turns onto his left side and moves up beside her so that the whole front of his body touches the back of hers. He presses his battering ram, stiffer than ever, into her back as he kisses the back of her neck.

Suddenly she jumps up, startled, into a sitting position, her breasts quivering. She too seems lost as her gaze roams around the half-dark room before it takes account of him. Her mind, too, is slow to take on awareness, until she smiles.

She slowly lets herself back down onto her back and helps him climb onto her.

He finds that her entrance is not so wide open as it was in the evening, while his ram feels thicker than ever, so that he must press hard in order to get past the doorway. It takes several assaults to get in, and in each one the force of his seed striving to get out is stronger. He worries for a moment that he may commit, against his will, the sin of Onan. By the time he is inside he has only a few thrusts left.

He feels relieved, but not joyful as he had in the evening. And the relief is more at having avoided sin than from assuaging lust.

He hears the cathedral bell ringing Prime.

No longer a monk, he is not obligated to observe the canonical hours. As a newlywed, he is expected to attend mass, with his wife at his side, at Terce, not before. But prayer is what he craves most at this moment.

Agnes has gone back to sleep, on her back, snoring softly as she did at night. This time he does not find it soothing but disturbing. He would rather be alone.

It occurs to him that the licit carnal desire he feels as a married layman is more burdensome than the sinful one he felt as a monk. Since he was a boy, he always knew exactly what to do with the latter; all it took was a simple acknowledgment that the flesh is weak. But now there is another being, with desires of her own, and with an experience of marriage that, though it made his wedding night infinitely easier than it would have been with a virgin, is alien to him.

He steps out of bed. The cold water he pours between his groins serves to wash the pollution of gratified marital desire rather than to drive away unsatisfied sinful lust, but the cleansing effect on him is the same.

As he dries himself and puts on his tunic, his memory goes back to the time he met Agnes at his stepmother’s court in Tolosa. What a pretty young girl she was! Though he was already a monk, he was a healthy young man in his twenties, and he could not help being aware of the ripeness of her young body. Of course, he knew how to avert any impure thoughts that this awareness might arouse.

But what, he muses as he steps into his sandals, if God had granted him the foresight to know that Alfonso would not have a child by Urraca, and that he would not marry again, so that he, Ramiro, would be the heir to the kingdom? Would he have left the clergy, when he was still a simple monk, perhaps to rule over Ribagorça and Sobrarbe under his brother’s suzerainty, as his father had done in his grandfather’s lifetime?

He takes a look at the sleeping figure in the bed; by now there is enough light so he can make out her features. If all this had happened, he thinks, along with the task of finding a bride, would not his choice have fallen on the only nubile maiden he knew, the one who was almost, but not quite, his stepsister? And would not her parents have preferred to see her as the future Queen of Aragon rather than Viscountess of Thouars?

He quietly opens the door and steps out the cell into the hallway. Perhaps that had been God’s plan all along, he speculates. Had he left the clergy then, as a prince he would have been obligated, much to his distaste, to go into battle, and he might have been killed.

He walks out into the cloister, headed for the chapel where the archdeacon will say mass. He feels the chilly morning air penetrate the cloth of his tunic. Surely he will have other occasions to wear the royal robes that he has been, over the past year, gradually becoming accustomed to. For now he is content with being a monk, if only for a while.

© 2006 by Jacob Lubliner

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