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George & the Virgin
By Lisa Cach
Copyright © 2002
All right reserved.
Except for Milo, who had become like an uncle, it had been
twelve years since Alizon had spoken to a man. It had been
twelve years since she had met anyone other than a frightened
young girl, whose fears and thoughts and moods were easily
predicted. She might as well be preparing to speak to a lion,
the giant she had caught sneaking up the mount was such an
unknown and potentially dangerous creature.
A shiver ran through her as she pictured him as she had last
seen him, bare skin under the thin surcoat and with those
other worldly breeches clinging to every contour.
Faint, unwelcome excitement tingled over her skin, an echo of
the fantasies that had filled many a long and lonely night.
Whatever her mind said to the contrary, her body suspected
that the answer to years of secret desires lay behind that
God's breath. She had better watch herself, and watch the
others, who might be feeling much the same. They had none of
them freely chosen to live chaste lives, and all
wondered-sometimes freely and at length, especially if the
wine had flowed heavily that night-what it would be like to
lie in the arms of a man.
This man was real, though, and thus a danger. However
beautiful his body, the passions of her flesh were the least
of her concerns, and she had best rememberthat.
She approached the door. Balancing the tray on one hip, she
knocked lightly, then slid the heavy iron key into the lock.
Milo stood behind her, ready to catch the man should he bold
out like a hare.
"Come in," the stranger said pleasantly enough, his voice
accented but comprehensible. So he did speak English. That
would make this easier.
She pushed open the door, keeping her head down and her
shoulders hunched as if they were those of an old lady. She
held the shaking tray in two hands again, her fingers hurting
from their tight grip. The beer was sloshing out of its cup,
the bowl of porridge in danger of bouncing off the edge of the
The stranger was standing halfway across the room, in a wary
Good. Let him be uncertain.
She needed no lantern now to see his bare chest and that bulge
in his silver breeches, which drew her eyes as if it possessed
a magical power of its own. She had to force herself to raise
her gaze from it to his elegantly featured face, now stubbled
with dark whiskers. The screen of wool in front of her eyes
was suddenly a torturous annoyance, keeping her from seeing
him as clearly as she wished.
"Good morrow," she said, pitching her voice high and trying to
speak in the quavering tones of an old woman. "I have brought
you food to break your fast." More beer sloshed onto the tray.
Maybe he would think it was her age that made her shake so.
"Thank you," he said, and slowly came toward her.
She could feel a mist of seat dampening her brow, but she
stood her ground as the giant approached.
God's breath, but he was huge! Her head reached only to his
shoulders, and she was a tall woman!
When he was directly in front of her, he reached out and
gently took the tray from her hands. He stepped back, holding
it, and she tilted her head back far enough that she could see
There was nothing threatening in the stranger's expression,
just wary curiosity and, of all things, a trace of humor-as if
he was savoring a private joke at her expense. That thought,
and his lack of fear, gave irritation a chance to wear away
her nervousness. He looked as if he thought he was more in
control of the situation than she, although the opposite was
clearly the case.
"Eat," she ordered.
"May I sit?"
She waved her hand, gesturing to the floor. He grinned with
astonishingly perfect white teeth and lowered himself
cross-legged, then grimaced when his buttocks took his weight.
Last night she had held his legs, and Milo his shoulders, as
they hauled him up the path. Her strength had not been equal
to the task, and several times she had accidentally let the
stranger's buttocks drag on the ground or dropped him
completely as she struggled to catch her breath. His behind
was likely three shades of blue. The thought gave her
Even sitting, he was uncomfortably large. At least the tray in
his lap hid his crotch, so she was saved the temptation to
stare at it. His white surcoat was soiled now, ripped in
places, but she noticed now the red cross of St. George upon
Was he a knight, then? A crusader?
He picked up the spoon and shook drops of spilled beer off it,
then stirred the porridge. They had honey and butter in the
kitchen, but she had decided against giving him any for fear
he would wonder how the crone of the castle could live so
well. She told herself that he really should count himself
fortunate to be getting even bland porridge.
He took a spoonful, sniffed it, glanced at her, then put it in
his mouth. The expression that followed was not one of
delight, the corners of his mouth pulling down, although she
could see him trying not to let his distaste show. He reached
for the beer.
"Who are you?" she asked. Let him talk while he ate the food
she had given him, so he would know he owed her answers.
He took a swallow of the beer, and this time he could not hide
the grimace of revulsion.
She tucked in her chin, taken aback. It was very fine beer!
They had brewed it themselves.
He regained control of his face. "I am Saint George."
"I am Saint George, and I have come to slay the dragon!" he
said more loudly, and punched a fist into the air.
She jumped back, startled. "You are not!"
He frowned at her, not looking particularly upset. "Yes, I
"You cannot be Saint George."
Because Saint George would not walk around half naked, with
the bulge of his privates for all to see! "You could not best
Milo. If you were Saint George, you would have gotten past
him." And if he truly were Saint George, she had much to fear.
"I am a saint. I do not hurt people. I wanted to get to the
castle, and to the castle I have gotten."
She crossed her arms over her chest. "Where is your horse, and
your spear, if you have come to kill the dragon?"
"I thought it was a sword I needed."
"Where is it? And your horse and armor?"
He blinked at her and gazed off up to the right, as if
watching a fly on the ceiling. "Stolen?" he asked, looking
back at her. "My hope was to borrow a sword from you. I had a
pitchfork, but I lost it."
She laughed, shaking her head. The man, for all his size, was
nothing more than a child. She had nothing to be afraid of. "I
should let you try to kill the dragon, and let it thus free
the world from a fool!"
"All I ask is that you let me try."
She narrowed her eyes, her amusement dying away. Was he more
clever than he appeared? Perhaps he hid strength and
intelligence beneath a harmless demeanor.
She watched him neatly eat his porridge, his back straight and
his long fingers delicately holding the spoon. What to make of
"Saint George died centuries past. How do you come to be here,
if you are he?"
"I was needed. A woman called for me using a magic crystal,
and I came."
She smiled. "It is so simple! I wonder no one else has thought
to do the same. This woman must have needed you very badly, to
draw you from heaven."
"She does. Her daughter is to be in the next lottery of
Alizon's breath was stolen by that simple explanation. A mix
of grief and anger welled up inside her, undiminished since
the day she herself had been sent to the mount. Her next words
came out hard. "Why does she not take her daughter and flee
the town? She seems a foolish sort of woman, to trust in
prayers to a saint to save her child from the dragon when she
could save her on her own."
"She did not strike me as foolish. After all, I am here. I
"With no horse and no spear. How much did you demand she pay
He set aside the tray and moved to stand up. She backed away.
"I am not going to hurt you," he snapped, rising. "But I'll be
damned if I will sit on the floor while you, of all people,
insult my honor."
"I beg your pardon!"
"As you should, Sister. What manner of nun throws innocent
girls to a dragon? Is that not a sin?"
It took her a moment to remember she was supposed to be the
crone, who had been a nun. She had not expected confrontation
of this nature. "It must be done. If it was not God's will, He
would not let it happen. He would not have formed the dragon
so that he was appeased by virgin flesh."
"If it wasn't God's will that I come here, then I would not be
here. You had best lend me a sword and take me to the dragon."
He crossed his arms and smirked at her.
"You speak nonsense!" He had put her on the defensive, and she
did not know how it had happened. He was her prisoner! He
should be bowing down to her, asking forgiveness for invading
her island, not smirking at her like an over-smug child!
He did not look in the least repentant, standing now with one
hand on his hip, the other gesturing as he spoke, as if he was
carrying on a normal conversation. "I speak no more nonsense
than you. If you are going to say that the one is God's will,
you must say that all is His will. So, now that that is
settled, will you lend me a sword and show me the passage to
"He will kill you."
"Then you will no longer be troubled by my presence."
"You will die a most horrible death. He will tear you to
"You sound as if you are trying to frighten a child. Why do
you bother? My death will be no worse than that you have meted
out to dozens of girls."
"It is the dragon who kills them, not I. It is as God wills."
She wanted to shout out that she had sent no one to her death,
that she had saved almost a dozen girls. She wanted this
infuriating man to know that he was wrong, wrong, wrong!
But of course she could say nothing of the kind. Everything
she had built would be destroyed: the tapestry workshop, the
peaceful lives, and most of all the retribution they steadily
wrought on the townsfolk of Markesew, by year after year
demanding more and more of what they valued most-sheep.
"One might almost think you did not want the dragon killed,"
he said. "Do you enjoy your work here so much?"
For a moment she thought he had seen into her thoughts, that
he knew the reality of Devil's Mount. Then, just as quickly,
she realized that such was impossible. He knew nothing.
She tried a different tack. "I fear that you will enrage the
dragon. If you wound it before it kills you, it may go out and
wreak revenge upon the shore. Many could die. You do not wish
that to happen, do you?"
"Then I must be certain to kill it."
"Why do you persist in seeking your own death?"
"I made a promise. I will not leave the lady to fight for her
daughter's life alone."
Ah, Jesu mercy, how was she supposed to argue against that?
"Who is this lady who holds such sway over you?"
"She called herself Emoni. You sent her dearest friend to the
dragon a dozen years past, a girl named Alizon."
"Emoni?" she whispered, stunned.
"Do you remember the girl Alizon?"
"No," she said, her voice hoarse. She felt a tingle in her
nose, and the sting of tears in her eyes. Emoni, dear Emoni,
had not forgotten her.
A thousand times Alizon had stood on the north terrace and
looked to the distant town and fields, asking herself if one
of those tiny moving people might be Emoni-and might Emoni
know, somewhere in her heart, that Alizon still lived?
"She named her daughter Alisoun, after her friend."
Alizon could not answer. Tears tightened her throat.
"Would you have so much be taken from this woman, both a
friend and a daughter?"
The denial squeezed from her throat. "No."
"I am Saint George. It is my duty to kill the dragon."
"You will fail."
"Then I will try again, and again, as long as it takes."
"You will enrage it, and cause it to maraud on shore, and then
this Emoni and her daughter will be eaten just the same."
"Then give me three tries. If I cannot kill it in three tries,
I will go back to the village and tell the lady I have
Whoever this man truly was, Emoni believed he was her only
hope. Alizon could not send him back to her saying he had not
so much as seen the dragon's lair.
She would give the man his three tries, would make sure that
neither he nor the hidden dragon suffered for them. Then he
could return to Emoni and persuade her to take her daughter
and leave Markesew. Her friend's daughter would not go to the
dragon even if she was chosen in the lottery, but Emoni had no
way of knowing that. She would think her child lost to her
forever as soon as she set foot on the causeway.
"Three tries," Alizon relented.
The stranger grinned, his unnaturally white teeth shining.
Excerpted from George & the Virgin
by Lisa Cach
Copyright © 2002 by Lisa Cach.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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