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Please note that GLBT Bookshelf -- the community wiki which was the parent to this fiction blog -- went offline on May 31, 2016, after seven years' service to members.

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Beloved Pilgrim, by Nan Hawthorne

It is the year 1101 CE and thousands of pilgrims are on their way to Constantinople to lend their aid to the forces of the First Crusade.  Among them is Elisabeth who has disguised herself as her late twin brother Elias and, with his former squire and lover Albrecht, is on her way to fight as a knight.

Rated R for explicit sex

The streets of Bologna were crowded and festive with the market day press. Elisabeth and Albrecht found that just getting from one side of the street to another required all their brute strength and still took far too long. Elisabeth turned to her squire to suggest they return to the inn they had found, but she could see no sign of him. She stood on the tips of her toes and scanned what she could see of the tops of heads, but nothing looked either like Albrecht's hat or, if it had been knocked off or stolen, his chestnut curls. She was about to step up on a crate when a hand grasped her arm and pulled her away.

"Elias, my good friend! I owe you for that tavern bill. Come with me and I will make amends."

It was the leader of the mercenary band, Ranulf. She had occasionally seen him and his ragtag crew on the journey south, but had no reason to speak to him or any of his soldiers. "But . . . my squire?"

Ranulf pulled her along with him, brooking no objection. "Your squire? You don't need him and his purse. This is on me this time." He grinned sideways at her. "Is he your squire or your nursemaid? Or . . . ," and now he leered, "your leman?" He laughed when she looked affronted. "Never mind. Where I am taking you, you need no lemans anyway."

Elisabeth was unsure whether to worry more about Albrecht and what he would think of her disappearance or just where this blackguard was taking her. It seemed to be a place the man knew well, for he sailed through the crowd unerringly, down the street, into an alley that was little less crowded than the street, and then down an even narrower alley. Elisabeth felt her shoe sink into something squishy, but it was so dark she could not see her own feet when she looked down. The constant rubbing of bodies against her own made her worry about two things, about the loss of her purse and that someone, maybe even Ranulf, would detect a most unmanly body part under her clothing.

She was relieved when he propelled her into a covered walkway that was all but empty. Her first action was to check her purse. It was still there. Then she made sure her clothing covered everything that must be.

"You look wonderful." Ranulf gave her another amused look. "Besides, they don't care how you look."

"Who doesn't care?" Elisabeth demanded.

Ranulf did not reply as at that point he pushed open a rough door that seemed to go into an undercroft of a very old, sagging, wooden structure. Passing through a low door with a sign showing seven coins, Elisabeth found herself suddenly in a dark, low-ceiling space that was overly warm and extremely smelly. It was almost more loud than warm or smelly. It was not as packed as the street, but she could hear many voices, some men's, some women's, some raised in song.

"What is this place?" she protested, but she could not hear her own voice, no less could Ranulf have heard her. He pulled her through the throng to a table in the back. As her eyes adjusted, she recognized the mercenary band. "You!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, us! Aren't you happy to see us? Welcome to the Settaducati!" Ranulf shouted in her ear. He gestured for Thomas to move over on the bench, and then shoved her next to the silent man. Ranulf slid in next to her, reviving her fears of close body contact. She wished she had worn her gambeson.

Ruggiero was across from her again. His dark face and beard now sported a smile. It somehow looked more sinister than the man's former scowl. "So you brought the lad, Ranulf. I suppose you thought it was time the little saint got his cherry popped." The Italian raised his cup of wine in salute.

Elisabeth went pale. "My cherry? What cherry?"

The Italian laughed. "You know, your virginity."

"What makes you think I am a virgin?" Her head held high she protested, "I am no virgin!" She caught her breath. Did they know she was a woman? Men don't have cherries.

"All right, all right, so you are no virgin." Ranulf winked at Ruggiero. "So tonight will be your second time. Or fortieth. What does it matter? I am paying for it."

Elisabeth stared at him disbelieving. "You are paying for me to sleep with a whore?"

"Sleep, fuck, play dice with, whatever you want."

Elisabeth paled. "But I can't!"

Ruggiero commented, "You just said you had, so you must be able to."

Elisabeth went scarlet this time. "I mean I pledged my chastity! For the pilgrimage. I must keep myself pure."

The two men erupted into guffaws, and even Thomas smiled humorously.

Ranulf shrugged. "Have it your way. That was a damned silly pledge, if you ask me. You are going to the Holy Land to be killed and have your guts fed to the carrion birds and worse. What harm is there in a little fucking beforehand?" He looked up and called, "Giuliana! A cup and wine here!"

Elisabeth scowled at him.

"Little prig," Ruggiero muttered.

Ruggiero jerked as if shoved aside and a woman appeared squeezed in beside him and Ragnar, whose own attention was on a slip of a girl he had on his lap and was tickling, making her scream with laughter. Elisabeth found herself staring at the serving-woman who leaned forward to pour wine from a pitcher. There before her eyes and barely obscured by the woman's tight bodice were two magnificent breasts the like of which Elisabeth had never seen before on anyone other than some old peasant woman and these were taut, full and not hanging to her waist. Her jaw dropped.

Ranulf laughed. "This is Giuliana and her face is several inches above where you are looking."

Ragnar finally noticed the newcomer and leaning in front of Giuliana said to Ranulf, "It looks like your suspicion of our fey young friend was groundless, my friend."

"Indeed," the leader chortled. "In that case, we needs must settle your own guess, my pale-eyed friend."

Elisabeth could not turn her face away from the delicious prospect, though she had to look up now as the breasts were raised on the standing woman. "What guess?"

A rich contralto with a musical lilt replied from somewhere above the breasts. "That you have never been with a woman, signore," it smiled, its German heavily accented.

Elisabeth's eyes went up, traveling from those Alps and their deep valley to a white throat and thence to a pair of lips so red and rich that they could only be matched by the dark, lustrous eyes that sized Elisabeth up.

Ruggiero spoke to the woman in Italian. She shook her head and replied in a peevish voice.

Ranulf reached to his belt and fumbled in a drawstring pouch. He produced a gorgeous gold ring with a small but brilliant red stone. "Not even for this?"

Giuliana's eyes were now as riveted on the gem as Elisabeth's had been on her breasts, where they again rested. "But I do not like to be their first. They come all over you and then they weep. They fall in love and fight the men you take to your bed." Nevertheless she asked, "Is it real?"

"See for yourself," Ranulf grinned and handed the ring to her.

The woman examined it, leaning to a candle, and then bit the stone. "Jesu Christe!" she swore.

"I told you," Ranulf retorted. "Now how about it?"

Giuliana eyed Elisabeth. "You promise not to get your spunk all over me?"

Elisabeth nodded dumbly. What little consciousness that remained told her she had no spunk to spill, so it was no lie.

"And do you promise not to fall in love and think you own me?" the woman persisted.

In Elisabeth's ears it was an angel chorus, but something seemed to be expected, so she nodded again.

"I promise," she breathed.

"What did he say?" Giuliana demanded. "I couldn't hear him."

Ranulf grinned. "He said he wants to fuck you."

"I should think that is obvious," Ruggiero remarked. "And suck and bugger and lick your feet and whatever else you will allow."

"All right," the woman said dubiously. "But later. I have a customer who gets in first."

Ranulf reached out and deftly plucked the ring from her hand. "The whole night. Or nothing."

She frowned. Looking over the heads at the nearby tables she studied a man who seemed to be starting to fall asleep. "Well, all right then. My customer appears to be about to pass out anyway. Come along, lover boy. Let's get this over with."

"The whole night!" Ranulf repeated, pulling back his hand with the ring clutched in it as she reached for it again.

She rolled her eyes and shrugged. "All right. The whole night. But he won't last that long."

Ranulf winked. "Then you will have the night off. And get paid." He handed her the ring.

Elisabeth's eyes followed the woman's retreating form.

"Where did you get that ring?" Ruggiero asked.

"I stole it off a bishop," Ranulf answered, eliciting nothing but a nod from the Italian. "Well, what are you waiting for. She's over there waiting for you." This was addressed to Elisabeth.

Feeling the man's rough poke in her ribs, Elisabeth, her mouth still open, stood and looked, first at Ranulf and then at the woman who stood at the back door of the place. Giuliana shook her head, then laughed and ran one palm  provocatively over her own breasts. A burst of obscene noises and comments greeted the gesture. Elisabeth felt as if she were tethered to the woman by an invisible thread. She advanced, bumping into the table as if she thought she could pass through it. "Oh for Thor's sake," Ragnar swore and stood. He came around the table and took Elisabeth's shoulder, guiding her through the spaces between tables until she stood in front of the woman. "Here, before he comes in his britches. Take him."

Elisabeth let the woman take her arm and propel her out the door into a courtyard. It was damp and full of refuse, but if Elisabeth had to recount her evening's experiences, she would describe it as a garden of fragrant flowers. Giuliana guided her to a stairway up to a gallery, then across the creaking and irregular floorboards to a door.

"In here," she directed.

Elisabeth stared into her face and shook her head. The woman sighed and shoved her in. She shut the door behind her.

"Do you want a light?" the woman's voice sounded in the darkness.

Blind, Elisabeth asked, "A light? What for?"

A deep musical chuckle told her where the whore was. "So you can see me, you dimwit."

"Oh." Elisabeth was starting to realize where she was and what was happening. "But I can't . . . "

A flint sparked and the scraps of linen in a tinderbox caught and flamed. Giuliana tipped a lantern so the wick caught. She blew out the flame in the tinderbox. She replaced the horn cover on the lamp so a dull golden glow lit the space between her and Elisabeth. She set the lamp on a table and looked at her young knight. With her hands on her hips she said, "Can't what? Can't get it up? That's my job." She came to Elisabeth and pressed her magnificent breasts against the front of her tunic. Elisabeth closed her eyes and moaned. The woman reached down to put a hand on Elisabeth's groin. Elisabeth felt her mound cupped and moaned again.

"Oh!" Giuliana exclaimed. She felt more searchingly. "You are a woman! Do they know? I will get them good if this is a jest to make a fool of me."

Elisabeth stepped back. "No, no, they don't know. And please, I beg you, don't tell anyone. It's a secret."

Giuliana smiled gently. "Clearly." She looked Elisabeth up and down. "Well, what do you want to do?"

Elisabeth looked about the dim room. She could just make out a bed with the covers cast about. There was little else. The single window was shuttered and only a thin sliver of light showed where it was sagging on its hinges. "Can we just stay here? All night? So they think I . . . you know . . . ?"

Giuliana gave her a wicked grin. "We can do better than that. You can't fuck me, but we can still have some fun. In fact, for once it will be fun for me."

She came forward and pressed her breasts against Elisabeth's again. She reached up with her arms and, putting them around Elisabeth's neck, pulled her stunned face down to hers. She put her lips on Elisabeth's and took in a deep, sighing breath. "Mmmm," she murmured and slid her tongue into Elisabeth's mouth.

"But . . . but . . . it's a sin!" the young knight protested.

The woman stepped back and put her hands on her hips. "Who says?"

"Well . . . the Church."

"They are all buggering each other when they aren't in here slobbering over my girls. And does it really say making love is a sin? In the holy books, I mean?" The woman cocked her head.

"Th-thou shalt not commit adultery, that is what it says." Elisabeth's brain was too foggy to think further than that.

Giuliana stepped forward again and reached a hand to toy with Elisabeth's cropped tresses. "I thought adultery is when you sleep with someone who is married already."

Elisabeth gaped. "Well, yes, but . . . "  She supposed she ought to tell the woman that she was in fact married, but for some reason was reluctant say it.

The woman leaned in with her face to nibble on Elisabeth's throat. In between nibbles she said, "I always thought they just didn't want a lot of little fatherless bastards running about begging. And we can hardly produce any bastards, can we?"

"I guess not." Elisabeth raised her arms and put one palm on each breast. They were firm to the touch. She kneaded and moaned. Her thumbs found the nipples and discovered they were as hard as little nuts. "Touch me there again," she heard herself entreat.

"Let's get these clothes off you first," the whore said. She expertly untied laces, raised the cloth, pushed down other cloth, and all the while her hands stroked the flesh through and then under it all. By the time she was naked, Elisabeth was trembling all over.

"I want to see you," she begged.

Giuliana smiled languidly. "Then take off my clothes."

Elisabeth reached around the woman to untie the laces that closed the bodice down the back. This made her crush the woman's breasts and she grinned. "You really like this?" she asked. "With another woman, I mean."

"I like it, si, much more than with a man. A woman will seek to please me."

"And men do not?" She pulled the bodice forward so that it slipped over the woman's shoulders. The breasts were now covered with only a thin linen shift. She took one in her hand and flicked the nipple.

Giuliana groaned with delight. "Some do. Some men know that giving pleasure makes the whole thing better. But they don't have women's bodies, so they don't know what we like. Have you never made love before?"

Elisabeth had loosened the tie that held up Giuliana's skirt and let the garment fall to the floor. "Love?  No, I have never made love.," she answered bitterly. Elisabeth undid the drawstring of the woman's shift and drew the neckline over her shoulders to expose her breasts. She sighed as she saw them. She leaned to take a nipple in her mouth, licking and sucking.

Elisabeth learned delights that night that she could never have imagined. Giuliana's hands on her breasts made them seem to swell with pleasure. After the woman had lowered herself where they lay on the bed and started to tickle between her lips within her mound's soft downy hair she felt as if someone had touched her in her in a most sensitive place with cold steel. Her orgasm came slowly, reaching inside her more sharply and strongly than she ever had through her own tentative explorations. She found herself crying out, sobbing, and moaning. She writhed on the bed, then lay gasping.

"Let me do that to you!" she pleaded. Spreading Giuliana's lips and taking in the rich aroma of her sex, Elisabeth dipped her tongue in a salty-sweet woman's brew. She tried to remember the technique the woman had used on her. Whether she did it as well or not, the woman responded. As her cries and moans became louder, Elisabeth begged, "Say, 'Fuck me, Elias!'" The woman smiled and complied. Elisabeth hoped the mercenaries were listening.

Settling into each other's arms, the two women took turns resting their heads on the other's shoulder. Elisabeth discovered she was thinking how this soft, warm cuddling was almost-almost-as wonderful as what they had done first. The comfortable laziness was far from chaste however, as they reached to stroke some special spot on the other and the more active lovemaking recommenced.

At the sound of a cockcrow, Elisabeth sat up, unsure at first where she was. Then she felt and smelled Giuliana next to her. Leaning over she put one arm around her and pressed her breasts against the warm smooth back. Her hand rested on a breast. She heard Giuliana sigh. "What is your real name, Elias?" the woman crooned.

"Elisabeth," she whispered.

"Grazie, Elisabeta," the woman said.

She turned her head to be kissed. Elisabeth did as she was expected.

They both started when a fist hammered on the door. "Elias! That's enough. Time to get mounted." It was Ranulf's voice, interrupted then with guffaws.

Ruggiero's voice jested, "Don't tell him to mount. In fact, he probably already is in the saddle." More laughter.

Elisabeth called out, consciously deepening her voice. "Can't you wait? I will be out in a minute."

Three male voices made lewd sounds.

"All right, but hurry. Conrad wants to get back on the road."

"Already?" Elisabeth groaned.

After a short time, the door to the room swung in. Elisabeth, fully clothed, stood with a mostly naked Giuliana in her arms locked in a deep kiss.

The four men out on the rickety gallery stared. The whore had her hands clasped on Elisabeth's buttocks. "Come back, my lord, I beg you. I have never been fucked like that before. I want it again and again."

     Elisabeth gratefully smiled into the woman's twinkling eyes. "I already did that. All night." She bent in for a last long kiss. "Arrivederci, bella," she said gently, then turned to the mercenaries. "Well, what are we waiting for?"

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