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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 264 - To the Fair Muse who, Loving Me, Imagin'd More by Annemarie KD

Saturday, July 29, 2023 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 264 - To the Fair Muse who, Loving Me, Imagin'd More by Annemarie KD - transcript

(Originally aired 2023/07/29 - listen here)

Seventeenth-century English playwright, poet, and spy Aphra Behn appears in this podcast startlingly often, in multiple guises. I recorded an entire episode about her. She gets discussed in my interview with author Janet Todd, who wrote the definitive biography of her. She’s a secondary character in one of Catherine Lundoff’s pirate stories. And now she is the primary focus of this month’s fiction episode: “To the Fair Muse who, Loving Me, Imagin'd More” by Annemarie KD.

The title is adapted from the title of Behn’s most overtly gender-bending poem: “To the Fair Clarinda Who made love to me, Imagin'd more than woman.” Here it takes on new meanings, when Behn meets one who becomes her muse and opens new possibilities in her life.

The background of the story is Behn’s career as a spy for King Charles II in the Low Countries. We know relatively little about the details of that career other than the constant struggle to receive promised payments, and the names of a few other key players. Female spies were not at all uncommon in this era and I highly recommend researching the topic for those looking for interesting fictional settings. Too often, popular culture tells us that women in history could only have exciting adventures by aping men. But 17th century espionage was not a gendered profession and there are plenty of opportunities for danger and romance.

Another major thread here is the use of classical themes and reference, in particular the myth of Hermaphroditus, who combined male and female in one body. This is the central image of the poem referenced in the story’s title. The Clarinda of the poem is seen as attracting both male and female desire, and the poetic persona—whom we imagine to be Aphra—desires both aspects.

Annemarie KD was born under a gibbous Gemini moon, and has the eclecticism to prove it. She is, among other things, a librarian and a florist. Her librarian's proficiency and passion for research made seeking out and studying the histories surrounding this period in Aphra Behn's life a meticulous joy. It was her work and play and prayer with flowers, however, that gave her the confidence to return to authoring fiction after over a decade. Her writing is indebted to, and inspired by, the quietude, partnership, and beauty of senescence and rebirth inherent in creating with that vivacious medium.

Annemarie lives in the dappled shade of a beloved oak tree, with her dog and two cats. She spends as much time as possible enjoying the interplay of water and light. She dreams of a world in which liberation begets an equilibrium of pleasure and reciprocal, loving care.

The narrator for this story is yours truly, Heather Rose Jones.

This recording is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License. You may share it in the full original form but you may not sell it, you may not transcribe it, and you may not adapt it.

To the Fair Muse who, Loving Me, Imagin'd More

by Annemarie KD

So this is what a year of playing at intelligencer in the Low Countries wrought?

Aphra had allowed herself to be carried hither on a tide of sighing memories: of flirtations lit by a youthful exuberance, exchanged with a man blithesome and droll.

The one before her now could hardly be the swain of her sun-stained recollections. He wore a hounded look, underlined by the shadows that clung below his eyes, mimicked by the glances he shot towards the door again and again.

“Do you have it, then?” His eyes shifted from the door to regard her, quavering.

“I was provided some small allotment; a promise of your full reward to come, I’m sure.”

“I need more than promises. I need certitude that my return to England won’t be to a courtroom and the Tower, or worse,” he hissed.

Then, seemingly growing conscious of the disagreeable impression he was making, he changed his approach. He leaned in and spoke just above a whisper. “You know the reward that was meted out for my father.”

She matched him in nearness and volume. “You’re no regicide, William. The King will reward faithful service.”

A wheeze escaped his lips, that poorly masked a bitter scoff. His eyes jumped once more to the door that led from the inn to the street beyond.

“There are too many ears pressing in on us here. Come.” He stood, and in a muted echo of the gallantry Aphra remembered from their former time together, extended a hand to her.

The coach they hailed certainly promised to banish the press of ears that had concerned Scot, though his countenance didn’t lighten. As they clambered in, his agitation seemed to set the compartment buzzing. He violently pulled the drapes near him shut, and leaned over her to do likewise on her side. She put a placating hand on his arm and took the curtain between her own fingers. A contrite smile drifted across his face, and he returned his hand to his lap.

She turned to cover the window, and as she did, she caught the dark shape of a man, standing alone, watching them. He wore a tall black hat, its brim turned up sharply all about it. Before she could focus on the vague figure’s face, however, the coach lurched forward.

“The pardon, Astrea.” Scot’s voice recalled her attention. She drew the fabric over the window. “I can do much for His Majesty with the confidences I’ve won here. But without that safe-guard, I cannot hazard action that would land me in a Dutch prison.”

Aphra was not without sympathy for him. She would entreat London for Scot’s pardon in her next letter, without fail. But she could little neglect her purpose, and catching wind of Scot’s crowing about “confidences,” she gave chase.

“If your wit has remained the same refreshing drollery it was in Surinam, I’m certain you’ve made no shortage of friends here.” She angled the bow of her lips in a smile towards him. “You can delight me with an abridgement of the most notable goings-on and players.”

“An accurate abridgement would be that they are all rogues, not a one among them to be trusted. The most inveterate villain of them all being my ‘Colonel,’ Bampfield,” Scot sneered. “Though he shall not have that over me much longer. I mean to quit his service soon, and go to the Hague. There I could be sharp eyes and ears for the King.”

Aphra tried to hide her irritation at all his equivocating. She armed herself with a tilted chin and dancing eyes, aimed to flatter. “Ah, as smart as your eyes and ears are, you have a mouth to match, and it’s that which has charmed me since first we met. So, Celladon,” she said, invoking their names for each other from their former, gauzy dalliance, “tell your dear Astrea, with that delightful tongue of yours, why should His Majesty beware of this Bampfield?”

The praise did little to soften Scot, who continued his ranting unabated. “He is treachery personified. Was once Colonel to the late King, you know, before he amassed his own regiment of dissidents in Holland. He hinders me at every step. Trails me, close as a shadow.”

A shadow. “I saw a man outside the inn as we set off. He seemed to be watching us. Wearing a tall hat, with a sharply upturned brim.”

“I pray it was not him. He is wary of me leaving his service for another. I must have protection before I’m at liberty to divulge all I know.”

It did not escape Aphra that this Colonel Bampfield had due reason to suspect Scot. Was not this coach ride proof of it? Her London correspondents, equally, would be wary of placing full credit in a man who had joined the King’s opponents in Holland.

“Then give the King what proof of fidelity you can. Something to aid me in my bargaining for the pardon you desire.”

Scot looked ahead with a spiritless expression, as if all other directions had been cut off, and hope of evasion with them. When he spoke, his voice sounded thickly.

“If I’m to sing, I shall require a drink to whet my beak.”

# # #

Aphra sighed to the darkness of her room. Scot, son of a man executed for regicide, may yet be redeemed. The same could not be said of Celladon, the object of Aphra’s youthful pastoral fantasies. That man, along with any attraction to him that might have once lingered, was lost.

She shrugged her coat from her shoulders, and slid her rings from her fingers. Carefully, she placed them in a small bag. She’d left London with £50 from her employers. After exchanging it in the Continent, only £40 remained. The day’s ride Scot insisted on had cost over £10 - not to mention the ales he quaffed. It had scarcely been a week since her arrival. How was she to manage the continued costs? She worried the muslin-swaddled rings between her fingers.

And what had she to show for it? Scot’s pledge that he would tell all when she came to Holland. The name of Bampfield, and of another Englishman who, Scot charged, was employing agents to spy on English merchants. Hopefully it would be enough to coax further support from London.

She nestled the bag of rings in her travel chest, inside one of her gowns. Fetching a candlestick, she resolved to write a letter to her correspondent, to send out with the next post. Then, to put out the light on this long, tiresome day.

# # #

The very day Aphra was to cross into Holland, news came that threw all plans into a tumult. English forces had set fireships among the Dutch merchant vessels crowding the Vlie channel. The conflagration was spectacular. Holland was in a state of high alarm, and Englishmen much more prominent than herself were being apprehended and questioned by Dutch authorities. Going into that country now would be walking herself into certain detainment.

She dispatched a letter to Scot, rearranging their meeting for two weeks hence, at a house a couple miles from her inn. She wrote her London correspondent of the change in plans.

There was nothing more to be done for now. Perhaps she would go into the city center. She might overhear something useful, herself. Her command of Dutch was meagre, but it was nonetheless greater than Scot’s, which was non-existent. He confessed to her never having bothered to learn, all his dealings being with English dissidents and exiles.

There was still the issue of funds, however. Wherever she might go, it would have to be without charge. She donned her coat and rings, and made towards the innkeeper’s desk, to enquire after places that met her criteria for cost.

As it happened, he informed her, the newly-established Academy, modeled after Paris’ own Academie Royale de Peinture, was open to visitors this day. It was housed in the Bourse - not too far by foot, he assured her, if she wished to avoid the price of a coach.

It was a welcome suggestion, as it promised a setting in which she could linger and observe without drawing suspicion. Having ascertained the way, she left the dim interior of the inn, and stepped out into the mild warmth of a waning summer.

# # #

Inspired by the Parisian Academie though it might be, so far, the feel was decidedly Netherlandish. Aphra stood in the Academy’s antechamber, in front of a regiment of portraits and paintings ranged together. The expected stern and solemn likenesses of a succession of aldermen and burgemeesters were in attendance, and several compositions depicting silver ribbons of water weaving among level expanses of green, all under great barrels of clouds. In total, the collection gave the impression of staid sureness; a conviction that the patrons of this guild were as inevitable, as rightful in their place as the land, itself.

Among the drab, larger-than-life city fathers and dark wood, however, one small stretch of canvas stood in contrast; not least because its diminutive size and its tones of mild blue, and of a gold like sand at daybreak, made it seem a portal onto another world entire.

Two figures crowded its foreground. Another stood off in the distance, strangely innumerable. The foremost scene would be recognizable to anyone: It was a struggle, between pursuer and pursued. A woman stood, her fierce determination to capture her quarry evident in the bend of her waist and the twist of her neck.

Where the arc of her figure spoke to her firm resolve, the carriage of her prize was all elusiveness. The hunted youth seemed to Aphra to be very difficult to pin down, indeed. He wore a look of pleading, but for what outcome? Even his gestures seemed uncertain in their purpose. Was he trying to pry the huntress’ fingers from his neck, or was he wrapping his palm around hers?

The scene in the distance was as inscrutable as the woman’s intent was plain. Two heads sprung up from two bodies joined into one. What had once been two pairs of legs were now enmeshed beyond disentanglement, beyond discernment as anything but a single pair. It was a perplexing form, difficult to capture in a description. If she were made to try in one word, it might be- -

“Queer, isn’t it? That figure being so distant. Almost as if to ensure it remains illegible to any but the most curious, the most knowing observers.”

A woman stood next to her. Though she was addressing Aphra, her gaze was occupied with studying the painting. She was finely dressed, in a gown of a blue so deep, it was near black. Her lustrous, wavy hair was just as dark. Aphra could not help but notice that she was strikingly pretty.

Suddenly, she turned a pair of glittering eyes on Aphra. “I’ve no doubt that you’re one.”

“It certainly tells a less obvious story than its neighbors,” Aphra said, looking back towards the somber portraits in hopes of masking her sudden thrill at the strange compliment.

“And more imaginative, too,” the woman said, a ripple of amusement in her voice. “Gossaert’s depiction of Ovid’s Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. Do you know the tale?”

“The water nymph, and the child of Hermes and Aphrodite. I am familiar with it; in translation, at least. It is a great regret of mine that I have yet to master Latin - one that I hope to remedy before the end of my days.”

Aphra turned back to face the woman. She was still fixing her with that insuppressible twinkle lighting her eyes. My, but something in Aphra’s chest leapt, being shone on by those two beams.

The woman smiled. “I wonder what other desires you might regret failing to satisfy?”

# # #

The last two weeks would have been devastatingly bleak if not for Mrs. Jennings. Aphra’s meagre supply of funds from London had dried up long ago. She’d been reduced to pawning one of her rings, and skipping meals to save charges.

So if Cyrene (Mrs. Jennings insisted on the familiar), a widow - like Aphra - without children, a woman of quality English stock, who’d lived in Flanders for years, wanted to show Aphra some dearly appreciated hospitality in the Antwerp establishments she relished most, why should Aphra deny such kindness? Surely she was obligated to stretch out His Majesty’s coin with whatever means were appropriate?

It wasn’t as if she was neglecting her duties. Outings with Cyrene gave her pretense and means to observe goings-on in the city. She introduced Aphra to interesting people, useful people: merchants, and artists, and even one Edward Butler, Secretary to the Duke of Ormonde. And in all their conversations, Aphra hadn’t let her purpose slip. Besides, she had yet to receive news from Scot, all the time until this, the day appointed for their meeting.

That Cyrene was witty, and beautiful, only made her a more fitting companion to comfort Aphra in this strange place. And she was beautiful, wasn’t she? Dazzling, with an effect that Aphra was unaccustomed to, for she often found herself uncharacteristically slow in her replies, for all the dreaming she did in Cyrene’s presence. Sometimes it was wondering at the mind that produced some shimmering insight or turn of phrase…and sometimes it was wondering if her cheek would be warm and soft under Aphra’s hand, if the skin there would pink at the touch. If Cyrene’s lips would part with the faintest whisper of a breath as Aphra inclined her mouth forward…

An abrupt thump roused her, and Aphra looked up to see Scot already over the threshold, the door closed behind him. He sat and tossed a packet of folded papers onto the table between them.

“Were you followed?” Scot coughed out, glancing towards a window.

“I was the picture of discretion, Celladon.”

He turned weary eyes on her. “Do you have it yet?”

“Patience. I hope what you’ve furnished here will sway them.” She read the papers as she spoke. In addition to more querulous talk of Bampfield, Scot had spat out the names of at least five Englishmen - and one Englishwoman. Englishmen who, Scot said, were aiding the King’s enemies abroad. As he himself once had.

As she read, Scot rambled. He was begging her to ensure that her employers not prosecute one of these men in particular. Otherwise, he would know it was Scot who turned him in, and would send someone to enact retribution.

It was an unpleasant business, this betrayal of one’s countrymen. And by now, Aphra had noticed how readily Scot did it. She tried to delicately point towards another avenue.

“Whitehall seems keen to have word of Naval intelligence—”

Her distaste must have showed, however, because Scot set his neck low over his shoulders and rasped, “What England is most keen for, my dear Astrea, is that for which it has always thirsted: Blood. That is absolute, and it matters little if it be Royalist or Republican who offers up the sacrifice, so long as it is made. Or have you forgotten that ‘the land cannot be cleansed but by blood’?”

Aphra was momentarily stunned silent. She had been a mere child when the regicide happened, but she grew to understand how the cry for blood to answer spilt blood had sealed King Charles’ fate. Above the queasy twist of her stomach, she scrambled until she found the sure footing of her usual wit.

She rose from the table to head for the bar. “And I suppose what you thirst for, my dear Celladon, is a good ale.”

# # #

Taking in Sunday mass the next day at the Our Lady cathedral, the services were three-quarters over when Aphra realized that they had failed to make any lasting impression on her. Her thoughts had been occupied with what to make of Scot’s document, what to write to London…and how much more enjoyable this day would be if she were spending it with Cyrene.

She’d told her charming companion that she would be missing for the next few days, giving the excuse of a visiting friend, some wife of one of her late husband’s business partners. And so she was returned to whiling away her time in places where her entry was not barred by money.

As she left through the spacious central nave, she became increasingly aware of a persistent shadow, floating starkly against the white and rosy marble interior. She increased her pace, and the dark figure matched her for speed and direction.

She ducked swiftly behind a pillar and paused.  She tried to differentiate the various patters of footfall echoing off the stone, but between the multitude of congregants, and the hammering of her heartbeat in her ears, it was a complete cacophony. Peering around one side of the column, she saw only the russets, blues, and whites of the church-goers and clergy.

Then she wheeled around, right into that murky, leering mass.

“Thinking of converting?”

The man wore a heavy cloak, an odd match for the gentle weather. His features had certainly made him a handsome youth once, but they now bore evidence of hard use by pain and fear. Pockmarks riddled his sullen cheeks. Perched on the top of his head was a tall black hat, with a brim turned up all about.

“More, curious to learn how others serve our Lord.” She kept her eyes locked with his as she spoke, but surreptitiously edged towards the great hall.

“As am I, to learn about your devotions. I know of your trysts with that slimy villain Scot. Where is he?”

So this was the man she’d spied from the coach weeks ago. Was he the dreaded Bampfield? She steeled her nerve, resolved that this encounter should garner her some insight helpful to her mission.

“Surely this is no proper way to make your introductions to a lady. Mr…?”

“Corney. Doubtless that wretch Scot has told you of me. Unless, perhaps, he is too ashamed to reveal the base treachery he dealt me during our former acquaintance. Though I can scarcely imagine the rogue capable of even one whit of shame.”

“If this conduct is any measure of your character, perhaps there was reason for his harsh treatment of you.” She tipped her jaw defiantly at the space between them, narrow for how he crowded in on her. “Mr. Corney.”

He withdrew at that, and gestured for her to lead the way, cloak hanging from his outstretched arm like a streamer. She leveled her chin and walked past him. Immediately, he matched pace at her shoulder.

“And you are Mrs. Behn. You style yourself cunning, but know not the first thing of the man you keep council with. Your ignorance of me proves it.”

“My ignorance of you proves only my distaste for the company of impudent scoundrels. If you must prate on, kindly tell me something worth the strain on my ears.”

He choked out an affronted bark. “Then listen and take good heed, madam, because that man Scot is a traitor no better than his father before him. I had secured knowledge of the East-India fleet, intelligence that would have greatly aided His Majesty against the Dutch. Before I could send it, the cut-throat betrayed me to Bampfield. Moldering in that prison, I envisioned a thousand manners of death to inflict upon him, the vile, abject serpent—”

“Mind your setting, Mr. Corney.” She bowed her head at a clergyman walking towards them. They walked in silence until the holy man had passed, a drifting cloud of white robes. Reaching the entrance, Aphra turned to face Corney, taking large steps back.

“I shall take my leave of you now. God speed you, Mr. Corney,” she turned, and as she walked out into the late morning’s light, she amended, “to whatever end you’re due.”

# # #

Scot was pacing the small room without pause. “Aphra, I’m good as dead!” he howled.

“Celladon, please compose yourself. You should have seen Corney flee when I showed him my pass from Whitehall. He believed me a sparrow that he could harry, installing himself outside my inn these last two days. I gave him a shock when I turned the game on him.”

“It matters little if he’s aware that you’re here on the King’s business!”

“Surely it matters greatly,” she huffed, “if he’s the friend to the King he claims.”

“Don’t you see? I demonstrated to him how to play the field. It could be dangerous to imagine him above the same tactics."

"You mean he would betray me to the Dutch?"

"For your sake, my dear Astrea, I hope that he is still as much the unimaginative puppet as ever. I, however, cannot take such chances. I must make haste back to Holland. Have you received more money from London yet?”

“Not yet. I sent a request just before you arrived—”

“Aphra.” He grasped her hands and gave them a beseeching shake. “Please. If Corney finds out where I am, he will kill me. Swiftly, I beg, get me coach fare and send a messenger to bring it here.  Do not dare return, lest he follow you. Go. Now!”

# # #

“I have a surprise for you today.” Cyrene had led her to a small, unremarkable door, in a modest quarter of town. She doubted that anything behind the door would match the thrill of merely being with Cyrene again, but she allowed herself to be led by the warm hand on her shoulder.

In the center of the room was an easel, draped in a sepia cloth. Canvases were tucked into every corner of the space. A settee stood against one wall.

“Cyrene, do you paint?” Aphra stepped into the warmth of the bright, indirect light filling the space.

“Yes. This studio is not grand, but it’s mine.” Her hand drifted to the small of Aphra’s back, and she guided her towards the shrouded easel. She reached her other hand over them, lifting the fabric to reveal the canvas underneath. “I want to show you my current project.”

It depicted a woman, draped in layers of luminous silks that clung to her form. She stood in quarter profile, her back towards the viewer. She gazed up at her outstretched right hand, in which she held a mask.

“Beautiful,” Aphra murmured. “One of the Muses?”

“Yes, Thalia, Muse of pastoral comedy and wit.” Cyrene took a step back, flicking her eyes between Aphra and the canvas. “You remind me of her.” She took Aphra’s right hand in hers, lifted it to mirror the painted figure’s pose.

Aphra’s heart bobbed in her throat.

“You’re missing your rings.” Cyrene ran the pad of her thumb over the bare backs of Aphra’s fingers. “I haven’t seen you wear the ruby in some time, but you were never without your little golden band.”

“Ah, my friend…she had sudden need, and there was no time to send for money from home…” It was mostly true, save for the reversal of Scot’s gender. “I had hoped to save the gold band. It was the lesser of the two in value, but it was passed down from my mother’s side. Necessity triumphed over sentimentality, however.”

Cyrene brought the back of Aphra’s hand to her mouth. “So generous, Aphra.”

Aphra’s breathing grew shallow. It was becoming difficult to dismiss Cyrene’s touch, the warm breath on her fingers, as mere friendly gestures. “At the Academy, you said you had ‘no doubt I was one.’ Someone who could decipher what remained illegible to others. What did you mean?”

She prayed that Cyrene’s words meant she was one, too. Unless she had somehow discerned that Aphra was a spy? She could scarcely tell which possibility made her heart race faster.

“I suspect you know what I meant.” Her dazzling eyes held Aphra’s. One by one, she took each base of Aphra’s fingers between her lips, closing her eyes as she traveled the back of her hand with soft caresses of her mouth and tongue.

Aphra pulled in a sharp breath. She had been assigned the role of Hermes, the messenger, dispatched here to relay back what she learned, in code and cypher.

But could she not also indulge in the charms of Aphrodite, in pleasure and sensuality?

“Then I’ll give my answer to the question you posed when we met. That if I don’t kiss you now, I shall regret it for the rest of my days.”

And then all was surrendering: to the pull of Cyrene’s hand on her wrist, the crush of their lips meeting - and to the plush velvet cushions, beckoning from the settee.

# # #

For a while, the late summer days passed in a parade which had little to differentiate one from the other. Scot’s letters were interchangeable: a few names of Englishmen to pursue, his need for money and the pardon (of which her London correspondents—when, finally, she received a reply—had made no further mention). Aphra’s arrears to the innkeeper continued to grow. Corney hounded her at church and inn, boasting that she had no hope of rendezvousing with Scot, now that he’d warned everyone he knew in Holland.

Little to differentiate the days—except for her meetings with Cyrene.

Afternoons together in her studio, imbued with painter’s light and the warmth of Cyrene’s laughter, became a rare bright spot in Aphra’s hours of anxiety, waiting, and want.

Indeed, all anxiety, waiting, and want dissolved under Cyrene’s deft fingers and mouth.

The warmth of those afternoons seemed improbable, now that autumn had brought such chill: London had burned. She couldn’t imagine the ruin she’d return to, should she ever be able to return. Over a month had passed since she’d received any funds. Everything she had—save the clothes she wore—was promised as payment against her steep debt. And now, her mission lay in tatters.

Scot had been imprisoned.

Aphra laid the blame on only one man’s shoulders.

Her tattered sole pair of shoes felt ready to split with each brisk step towards the Bourse. The buffoon often bragged of his “perambulations” about that grand colonnaded square. He prated on about the poetic irony: he had been strolling Amsterdam’s Bourse when he was apprehended by the men Scot betrayed him to. She would give him something to trouble his memories of this place, as well.

Aphra perched against a column. The plaza was a sea of tall black hats and, now that the weather was turning, dark cloaks. She nearly despaired of finding him. Until a booming, odious laugh caught her ears.

“I wish it had been me who caught him!”

She followed the voice to its source. Corney walked towards her, though he didn’t seem to have spotted her. He was speaking to someone on his left. Someone wearing dark blue. Someone who, presently, glanced up—with a pair of glittering eyes that caught Aphra’s.

Aphra turned and fled.

# # #

“Aphra, please listen…”

“To you? Corney’s man?”

“You know I am decidedly neither.”

“I know you are a traitor. From the very first. Ours was no chance meeting, I see now.” The words were bitter on her tongue.

“It’s true that Corney sent me, but I’m no traitor. I did not betray the true allegiance of my heart—of which he knows not.”

“Then I am as woefully ignorant!” Aphra spat.

“My devotion is to beauty, and life. I suggest you ally yourself similarly, Aphra. Do you know that, to the last, Scot was meeting with informants for the Dutch?"

The revelation stung. Aphra attempted to brush off the pain. "You know not for what end. Perhaps he was gathering intelligence—"

"Aphra. Isn't it evident that the ‘end’ is always the same? These men hunt and eat each other, always looking over their shoulder for fear that they will be the next one consumed. Don’t you tire of fetching game for a master who fails to reward you with even the merest scraps from his table?” Cyrene gestured at Aphra’s room, miserably empty of all her possessions.

Aphra bristled at such low, hypocritical talk of the King's service. “And yet, you hunted me.”

“What we have been pursuing, dear Aphra, does not destroy. When we chase our ambitions—our desires—the hunt does not end in gluttonous blood and death. Instead, our senses feast: painting.” Cyrene clutched the fabric at her breast. “Poetry.” She held a hand towards Aphra. “Pleasure.” She took a step closer. “Everything mysterious and bright that makes life in this dreary, unimaginative world worth living.”

“Stay back. For all your high talk, the fact remains: you were false from the start.”

“No, Aphra—”

“I wish to never see you again!”

“Please.” Cyrene’s voice cracked to a whisper.

“Get. Out!”

# # #

A knock roused her. Aphra rose from the bed, drawing the blanket around her to keep off the deep winter’s chill. 

A voice sounded beyond the door. “Ma’am, shall I load your trunk on the coach?”

Was this some trick? Her belongings had been ransomed to the innkeeper long ago.

“Everything’s been settled, Ma’am…” the voice anxiously prompted.

“How?” Aphra’s voice rang in the bare room.

“A loan, Ma’am. From my master, Mr. Edward Butler.”

“I didn’t contact him…” she muttered, opening the door.

“Ah!” The young footman brightened. “I’m to give you this, as well.” He handed her a little package, wrapped in dark blue silk.

Aphra unwrapped the fabric, and opened the small box within. The gold of her little band winked back at her. And coiled in it, a note. She unfurled it, and read,

Darling Thalia,
Flee if you must. I remain;

“Ink and quill, please, and a scrap of paper.”

Being so furnished, Aphra replied,

Yes, I must away, but I shall heed your words.
I quit the game, but I shan’t give up the chase.

“See that Mr. Butler forwards this to Mrs. Jennings.”

“Understood, Ma’am. All set?”

Aphra inhaled, gathering strength for her next step. “Onwards.”

Show Notes

This quarter’s fiction episode presents “To the Fair Muse who, Loving Me, Imagin'd More” by Annemarie KD, narrated by Heather Rose Jones.

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

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