Chapter Six

A day like any other, except was sunnier than most.

Gelda awoke slowly, aware there was some awful noise disturbing her. In her half-asleep state, she wondered if one of the elephants had escaped from the byre and was trumpeting outside the window. 

As she came to, she first realised that they did not have any elephants on her farm, and secondly the thunderous noises were coming from her husband, Gortan. 

And he certainly was not an elephant, no, Gortan was a pile of shit, the kind of shit that pigs produced when they were ill, putrid, running and useless, just another mess that needed cleaned up. Then she remembered one time when one of the cows had an eye infection, bloodshot and oozing, Gortan was more like the pus that came from that: festering and nauseating.

Harnakos, she hated him, hated everything about him. Hated, hated, hated him. She peered at him. His face was red and bloated and jowly, he had stubble, perhaps three or four days old. How did he always have stubble that was three or four days old? How was he never clean shaven but he also never grew a full beard? His hair was thinning and matted. He stank because, though he never worked, he never washed either, and she was damned if she was going to clean him or his clothes ever again. 

Harnakos, she hated him!

The one good thing about Gortan was that he drank. This meant she did not need to see or deal with him until well after lunch. Unlike many a wife, Gelda was delighted to supply Gortan with as much liquor as he could consume, and he never went short. The more the better! If he was too incapacitated, he could not go into Alamata to gamble and waste the profits she made from the farm. And she had no idea when he came to bed, well after she had fallen asleep herself. 

Why couldn’t he sleep in byre with the other pigs?

At least he no longer tried to mount her, no longer tried to sweat over her and paw her. The drink had so got hold of him that he could not maintain an erection, and, besides, she was simply far too strong physically for him. She would push him off, and after a while he would fall asleep and then start snoring. 

She had got used to the snoring in all its different manifestations — and there were many: the snort, the whistle, the gasp, the moan. Sometimes he would seem to stop breathing all together, and then there would be a huge wheeze. Gelda would lie listening, never certain that she wanted the breath to come, but then terrified of the consequences should he not.

Harnakos, she hated him!

Gelda was a big girl, but not fat or even overweight, twenty-five years of age or so. She was tall and very broad, but with a narrow waist and large hips. She had an enormous chest, thick arms and legs, and a wide bottom. She worked on the farm every day and was immensely strong and fit and, if had not been for Gortan, she would have been quite content. 

Once Gortan had been her equal in strength and stamina, and she had respected him, even when she did not always like him. But now he was lazy and gambled and drank and did no work. Now he was flabby and weak, she could fight him off with ease. 

Now she had no respect for him whatsoever. 

He knew he was unable to match her, so he attacked her with words, attacked her personality, attacked her appearance. Called her fat and ugly and sweaty and odorous and mannish. That was rich coming from him. Not that she cared any more. 

Nobody would ever accuse Gortan of being mannish.


The daylight was glimmering in the window. She dressed and then left, glad to be free of his stench. She went down to the large kitchen. The fire had burned low, but embers were still glowing. She cleared out the ashes and set kindling and soon there was a merry blaze. 

A large, heavy pot hung from chains over the fireplace, so she swung it over the flames and soon had the meat stew bubbling. 

Hanging from the chimney breast were sausages and dressed meat. She was a good cook and enjoyed her food. She hugged herself. 

The smell made her stomach rumble, and she spooned some out, ate it at the table with yesterday’s bread softened in the gravy along with some good ale.

Now that Gortan was out of her mind, she was gladly planning the day’s work around the farm and house, which was called Straven, and was located in the hills of central Dandamata province. 

Gelda loved Straven, loved the place — the house and the fields, the avenue of old elm trees up to her home, and the garden and the orchard and the woods and the beasts — with the same fierceness that she hated her husband. Straven had been her father’s before her and his father’s before that, generations of her family were buried in the small graveyard by the house. The cemetery was a pleasant, tranquil place, surrounded by old yew trees, she hoped one day that she herself would be buried there to rest for eternity, to take her place. 

In fact, the only use for Gortan had been to keep her at the farm. Females were not allowed to hold property in the Fenigruin Empire, and in truth Straven belonged to Gortan. As an arrangement this was far from satisfactory, but at least she had the farm, and Gortan was fed and watered, despite never doing any work. 

Consequently, though she fiercely hated him and wanted nothing to do with him, she also did not really want anything to happen to him. Were he to die, that would spell disaster for her.

Of course, if she had had a son everything would have been different. But she had never got pregnant. 

Gortan blamed her. He oft repeated that this was because she was fat and too large and too manly. She, however, wondered if the problem, was really him. Not that they had actually had sex for as long as she could remember, although a child was the only reason she had ever wanted to fuck him, even when they were first married. Now, she could not bear his touch. 

He did not look as if he was going to die any time soon, but that was a worry. Should life leave his stinking and flea-ridden corpse, Straven would go to his next of kin and she would be left destitute, with only her dowry to keep her, assuming that he had not also spent that. She hated Gortan, but — alas — she also needed him. 

Anyway, there was no point worrying, if it came she would have to deal with it then. The most immediate worry was Gortan waking up, and that would probably not happen for hours yet. So she had at least the morning to herself, when she could do as she pleased.

She tidied away her breakfast things, and any detritus from Gortan’s drinking, scrubbing the table, sweeping the stone floor. The house was always clean, well ordered and tidy, Gelda was proud of her house. Homely and comfortable and well ordered. She squeezed herself in pleasure.

She went to the kitchen door an hour or so after the dawn, opened it, looked out. A good day for working outside, sunny and warm and clear, but not too hot. She sniffed the air, satisfied it boded well. 

The afternoon was the time for the tasks away from the house. Gortan invariably woke feeling hungover and bellicose, so she was wise to be away. 

By the time she would get back in the evening, he would already be drunk. Often, in fact, he would go through a more pleasant phase, when he would be friendly and even charming, and he would tell her he loved her. He would caper around, try to dance with her, would act like a spoiled child if she refused. 

If he only stopped then… But his good humour never lasted, he would have to drink more and more and more. Later he would become angry and aggressive, swear and curse in an impotent rage, or make ludicrous plans for the farm and himself. 

Forget him, she told herself.

A beautiful day. 

God, she hated him!

But a beautiful day!

If only she could forget him.

She had other things to do. She went to one of the sheds to milk her half-dozen cows and busied herself churning milk and inspected the cheese in its moulds. Soon she was busy and her mind occupied, she even smiled and hugged herself. Gelda’s cheese was renowned in the village and fetched a good price in the market and this was an especially fine batch. She nibbled at it, then a little more, and then a larger piece. Then she fed the chickens and the pigs with the remains from the kitchen, letting them out to roam in the enclosed area in the woods.

A large vegetable garden was tended on two sides of the house, surrounded by a high stone wall. Here she grew beans and peas and cauliflowers and cabbages and carrots and lettuces and much, much else. The soil was excellent, sandy but very fertile, cultivated and improved by generations of her family. The climate was also good, wet enough to keep the ground moist throughout the summer but there were few frosts, the farm was in a valley and was sheltered from the worst of the winter gales. 

She checked over the crops, weeding here and there, making sure there were no pests or diseases, pruning and snipping, thinning out new planting. Carrots needed lifted and peas were waiting to be shelled. She hummed to herself while she worked. She loved it.

She had been working for about two hours, though still early in the morning. She went back into the house and built up the fire. Realising there was not enough firewood for more than a couple of days, Gelda went into the patch of the woodland that grew up the slope of the hill above the house, taking her large axe to chop firewood. 

Before she started, she stood for a moment just enjoying the smell and sounds of the trees. The birds were chattering away, chirping to one another, and somewhere further off she could hear a robin singing. 

From where she stood, she could look out east across the valley to the higher hills beyond shrouded in a silver haze.

So good to be alive!

She cut enough wood for a few days and then transported it back to the house, stacking it neatly by the chimney breast to dry. 

She decided to do some baking. She had flour that was already ground, so she made up some dough, kneaded it, let it sit while she did other work, and then, when ready, put it into the bread oven beside the fire. There was some honey from their own hives, and she made some sweet cakes, half for her consumption, half to sell when she went to market.

When the cakes were ready, she took them out and ate two scalding hot. They were delicious, so she had a third just to make sure. She hugged herself several times. 

She had eaten them sitting on the bench that she had made overlooking the flower and herb garden. Vines trailed up and around the bench and over the gable of the house. The garden was alive with colour and scent and buzzing insects. Many of the plants had medicinal or culinary use, but she also grew many others simply for their bright or beautiful flowers or foliage. 

She finished eating and then went and did some weeding, she crushed some sage between her fingers and drank in the fragrance. There was some snail damage to her marigolds. She tracked the snails down one by one, following the slime trails or searching in sheltered places. She crushed them underfoot with a satisfying crunch, imagining each one to be Gortan’s swollen and ripe head, bursting with grey and oozing brains.

Her next task was to take a tour of the perimeter of Straven. Hers was a large farm and would have taken many hours by foot. She took her horse out of the barn. He was a large and solid creature, docile and obedient, more of a beast for pulling a plough than for riding. She had no saddle or bridle, she just heaved herself on, and they set off at a decent trot.

Gelda went down the valley first, making sure no sheep or other beasts had strayed, that the walls were intact. She rode for about ten minutes down a lane, and then turned east down another track along the edge of her apple and pear orchard. Everything was well ordered and just the way she liked, and the fruit was ripening nicely. 

Later she turned to the south and went along the edge of her own lands and the neighbouring farm, Louran, which was owned by her cousin, Friedal. 

Judging by the sun not yet midday, so she decided to go and see Friedal and his wife. She cantered easily towards their house and slid down the side of the horse.

‘Auntie Gelda, Auntie Gelda,’ said a small girl, who ran out of the house and into Gelda’s arms.

‘Hullo, poppet,’ said Gelda, crushing her in an embrace. ‘How are you?’

‘I am fine, Auntie,’ said the child. ‘Blackie has had four kittens, well five but one of them died. We buried it in the garden.’

‘You must show me later. Are your mother or father about?’

‘They are in the kitchen,’ said the girl. ‘I will show you.’ She took Gelda by the finger and led her around the side of the house into the kitchen. Friedal and his wife were sitting at the table, his wife, Sara, was heavily pregnant.

Gelda greeted them, Friedal hugged her.

‘Not much longer now,’ she said to Sara, who had got to her feet with difficulty when Gelda had come in.

‘No, and I will be glad of it,’ said Sara. ‘My back is agony and I’ve been peeing every ten minutes. Frie can have the next one.’

‘Can I do anything to help?’ said Gelda. ‘Take the weight off your feet.’

‘No, you’re fine,’ said Sara. ‘I need to get on. I was getting up anyway. Call of nature.’ She left the kitchen.

‘So how are things, Gelda?’ asked Friedal.

‘Oh, you know, much the same,’ said Gelda.

They discussed agricultural prospects, found they were not too bad.

‘And Gortan?’ Friedal had said.

‘The same as usual.’

‘Still no baby?’

‘Friedal, we haven’t had sex for six months or so. Actually, probably more like a year.’

‘Could you not put a sack over his head and pinch your nose?’

‘I gave up with even that,’ she told him. ‘He can’t, well, rise to the occasion.’

‘There are other ways, Gelda,’ he said softly. ‘You know what I mean. You are an attractive woman. If it wasn’t for Sara, I would be happy to oblige.’

‘You are sweet, Frie, but it might look a bit suspicious when we haven’t had relations.’

‘Tell him you have,’ said her cousin. ‘He will never remember.’

‘What, you are suggesting I take a lover?’ she said with exaggerated shock.

‘Why not?’ he said. ‘I can’t believe you have not considered that.’

Gelda hesitated for a moment. Not such a bad idea, and she had thought about it. But who? She liked Friedal well enough, but she could not do that to Sara, even if she was not expecting.

‘Well,’ Gelda said suddenly, ‘I better get going.’ She had yet to check the higher pastures and ensure that her sheep were fine and there had been no attacks by wild dogs during the night.

She made her farewells. Friedal helped her onto the horse.

‘The offer stands,’ he said, and she realised that he was suggesting that he sleep with her.

‘You’re sweet, Frie,’ she told him again.

And she rode off.


Gelda completed her tour of the farm, and she then had to decide what she wanted for lunch. Sausages, she decided. Gelda made a particularly tasty and spicy pork sausage, smoked over the fire. 

She rode up to the house, dismounted and stabled the horse, her mouth watering. The house was still quiet. She made an excellent lunch of sausage, freshly baked bread, newly podded peas and some carrots. 

She cleared the dishes away and set off again, taking a spade, axe and crowbar, and some more sausage to eat as a mid-afternoon snack.

Gelda climbed the hill and came to the edge of her farm. There was a long drystone wall along the boundary but this had slipped down the hill over time. Over the last few weeks, she had been rebuilding the wall, although for some parts this meant digging a new foundation and clearing undergrowth away and even felling small trees.

The day was still beautiful but not hot, and she set to work, lugging stones and digging and hacking and building. She did not mind the more boring tasks, such as excavating the new foundation, but she especially liked building the wall. The stones were long and flat, and she enjoyed going through the masonry and choosing just the correct one or packing larger rocks with smaller stones. The wall was built with a batter, so thicker at the bottom than the top. At the beginning she had needed a plumb line, but now she could judge the angle of the batter and the height of the wall with the naked eye. Now she could take a stone and know where it should be placed.

Her mind was clear today, and she proceeded quickly and efficiently, she had completed a long section of the wall well before sundown. Long and straight and neatly built, with few spaces between the masonry, capped by larger stones. 

Gelda hugged herself several times.

She peered at the sun, finally time to finish up and go back to the house. She sighed. In a spring bubbling she washed her face and hands, took a long drink of the icy water. 

Then she went back down the hill as the light was fading, thinking that she was sweaty and would need a bath.

Gelda put the tools away in the shed, then went into the kitchen. 

Gortan was there, his back to her when she went in, a bottle of wine in front of him, he had a mug in his hand. Gelda tried to ensure that he only drank wine, because it took him longer to get inebriated and he was less aggressive. Half the bottle was gone. She was not sure if that was his first bottle, though.

‘Husband,’ she said in way of greeting.

He grunted in response.

God, she hated him! She considered bashing his head in with the cauldron.

‘Have you had anything to eat today?’ she asked him. ‘There is still some stew or I can fix you some sausages.’

He did not respond, just continued to sit with his back to her.

Gelda sighed, swung the pot over the fire and began to prepare the meal. She also heated kettles over the flames to warm the water for her bath.

She got a mug herself, and then sat down at an angle to him, helping herself to some of the wine. She drank it, waiting for him to speak, but he said nothing. This was unusual, she wondered if something had happened.

‘Gortan, are you all right?’ she asked him.

‘Oh, Gelda,’ he said, ‘I am so sorry. To have treated you like this.’ He sounded drunk but not especially so, certainly he was comprehensible.

She drank more wine, waiting for him to elaborate.

‘Very well,’ she said at last.

‘Perhaps I could make it up to you,’ he said earnestly. He looked up and held her eye.

Gelda checked her tongue then. So many replies came to mind, but none would have been very helpful. The kettles were boiling on the hearth.

‘What can I do to make it up to you?’ he said again. ‘I have behaved like a beast.’

She got up, took the kettles off the heat.

‘We could start again,’ he said. ‘We can start all over.’

Gelda was not sure what to say, he did not sound drunk, yet his attitude was unexpected and had left her lost for words.

The sweat had gone stale on her body, she could smell herself.

‘I need a bath,’ she said, rather abruptly. ‘We can talk about this later.’

Carrying the kettles with a rag, she went through to scullery, filled the bath. She liked to use boiling water, so that it heated up the iron bath. She then added cold water already collected from the well. There was lavender and mint hanging from the ceiling, so she added this to water, along with some rose petals. She peeled off her dress and kicked off her boots, lowered herself into the water. It was warm but not too hot.

She lay back, enjoying the feeling of the water and the warm metal against her skin.

Then a mad impulse took her. She climbed out of the bath, naked, went back through the kitchen. Gortan turned to look at her and his mouth opened. She picked him, with no more effort than he had been a child. She lowered him into the bath. He made no protest.

She took soap and washed him, first his clothes and his hair and his face. Finding a sharp knife, she brandished it at him. He shrank back. 

But she grinned and said: ‘Hold still.’

She shaved him and then trimmed his hair. He still made no protest.

‘Hmm,’ she said, ‘that is much better.’

Then she undressed him in the bath, washing him as she went, lathering him up with soap. His tunic she put aside for washing, and then she helped him off with his breeks. He was erect as his clothes were dragged off, and she washed him thoroughly. He groaned when she touched him. His hands were shaking.

Gelda had not had sex for much longer than even she had thought, and desire not so much overwhelmed her as crept up like an assassin.

She kissed him and he responded, his hands were on her throat and her breasts and her stomach, urgent. Bodily, she lifted him out of the bath and onto the stone floor, knowing that she might not have much time, that it would not take him long.

‘Oh, Geldy,’ he breathed.

He was stiff and she stroked him a couple of times, making him squirm, while she also touched herself. Straddling him, she lowered herself down onto him and felt him slip easily into her. It actually felt really good and she swallowed. She raised her hips and then brought herself down hard onto him with a grunt.

‘Oh Geldy,’ he gasped.

As she came down again, he thrust upwards. And then again. For a minute or so more it lasted, then she could feel him stiffen further and then that was that. 

She was surprised how much she had missed sex.

‘Oh, Geldy,’ he murmured.

She lifted herself off him and lay down beside him, panting, her bottom and back against the cold stone floor. But he climbed onto her and kissed her and touched her. She reached down and held him, he was smooth and wet and stiffening again.

‘Oh, Gortan!’ she sighed.

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