Author's Note--This is a belated birthday prezzie for Soledad, President Emeritus of the Dirty Old Ladies' Club, and Andrahar's biggest fan. Thanks also to E.W. and Miryam, who both egged me on.
Boromir pulled on his boots, finished fastening his breeches, and looked at the girl on the bed.
"Are you well, lady?" She looked surprised at the inquiry, though she had not been entirely unable to disguise some uncomfortable squirming. There were bruises coming up on her shoulders and arms, from where he had grasped her during their congress, and he suspected she was bruised in other areas as well. He was not one to hit or abuse a woman intentionally, but he had taken her with far more force than he suspected she appreciated.
"I am well, my lord. You are a stallion, a bull, a--"
Boromir sighed impatiently, and interrupted her. "--I know, I know. Spare me the list of rutting male animals I resemble." Her blue eyes watered up a bit in hurt. She was very young, and he had been one of her first customers, though not the one who had taken her maidenhead. Perhaps, he thought dryly, she'll rethink her choice of profession now.
Donning his tunic, and belting it, he reached into his belt pouch, drew out five gold coins, and handed them to the wide-eyed girl.
"I have already paid your mistress. This is for you." The girl started to stammer thanks for the extremely generous tip, but he cut her off once more.
"And I paid her well, so see that she gives you a day or two off." She nodded, but said no more. He slung his cloak on, and left without another word.
"So, how was she, my lord?" the captain of his guard asked with a grin, as he joined him and the escort at the stables. "A sweet piece she looked to me."
"She was adequate."
"Just adequate?" He looked surprised. "I'd have thought she'd have been better than that."
"You fancy her so much, you can have her on the return journey. I'll even pay for it!" snapped Boromir as he swung up on his horse. "She was adequate." And therein lay the difficulty.
He could not determine with any surety when he first began to realize that he had a problem. Certainly, his early explorations of the feminine sex, starting at age fifteen, were as excited, enthusiastic and thorough as anyone else's. His father had even been forced to curtail those explorations by restricting him to one very discrete, very clean brothel, and informing the madam that he would pay for one visit a week, and nothing more. Denethor felt that his son's full-bore descent into carnality was affecting his training in both military and scholastic matters, but he did not wish to discourage him entirely, lest his dynastic duties suffer when the time came for him to take a wife.
As Boromir grew older, the first flush of enthusiasm faded, and his appetites became more moderate. He had certain courtesans he preferred to patronize upon a regular basis, though he would from time to time try a new girl in his bed. His reputation as a lover was quite established, and several years previously he had even seen to his younger brother's sexual initiation by giving him an evening with one of his favorites for Faramir's sixteenth birthday present.
Yet somehow, as the years passed, he began to feel that something was missing. Certainly, he was able to achieve satisfaction with women, to quiet his body's urges for a time. But even allowing for the exaggeration that men always indulged in when speaking of such matters, he began to get the impression that other men were deriving more pleasure or a different sort of pleasure from the act than he was, that they obtained an emotional connection or release that he was not experiencing. His preference for the company of soldiers began to take on a significance beyond that of mere fellowship.
Neither naive nor uneducated, Boromir eventually began to understand the nature of his problem, and he was not much pleased at the discovery. He was under considerable pressure from both his father and the Council to marry, and this realization was yet another reason in an ever-growing list that made him disinclined to take a wife. There was no desire in him to wed and sire children, only to have his wife and heirs destroyed by the Enemy, should Sauron prove victorious. Nor did he wish to cleave unto a woman and use her only as a broodmare. True, there were ladies a-plenty at court who would settle for such a sham of a marriage to find themselves in the position of power and influence the Steward's wife would wield. But he did not think he wished to ally himself in any way to a woman who was so motivated.
He began to analyze his situation. There were young men as well at the exclusive house he patronized in Minas Tirith. Studying them, he found that they did not cause him to feel any particular excitement. They were for the most part effeminate in nature, and that held no appeal for him at all. 'Twas soldiers who interested him, men of strength and power. But he could not test his theory to determine if he were truly a lover of men or not. Discrete as the house he patronized was, if he took a young man to his bed, the word would certainly get back to his father, who knew everything that passed within the seven circles of the White City. And he would not compromise his command by approaching either his captains or anyone in the rank and file.
What he needed was a captain who was a lover of men, who was not within his chain of command and whose discretion could absolutely be relied upon. And there was only one place he knew of where he could find such a man. Which was why he had wheedled long-overdue leave from his father, and was braving the early winter weather to travel to the royal seat of his mother's kindred, the city of the Swan-lords, Dol Amroth.
Four years had passed since Boromir had last come to the proud white city above the Bay of Belfalas, and that had been for an unhappy occasion, his Aunt Nimrien's funeral. He had been almost continuously in the field since then. Denethor had frowned upon hearing his intended destination, for he had ever been at odds with his brother-in-law Imrahil, but he could not deny that Boromir was owed the leave, nor could he refuse him the right to visit his mother's family. He did, however, give his son a large packet of reports and dispatches which he desired to be delivered to Prince Adrahil, saying that if Boromir wished to take the time to jaunt clear across Gondor, he could perform a courier's function while he did so. And after a moment's reflection, he further added that if the Heir would just take a good, appraising look at the high-born maidens of Belfalas with an eye towards taking one to wife, and report back to the Steward upon them, then he could stay through Yule. Which capitulation was certainly indicative of Denethor's increasing desperation to see his son wedded, bedded, and with an heir or two.
Boromir agreed to do so, for he always enjoyed visiting his grandfather and uncle, and the mild hardship of having to pretend to be interested in courting was preferable to spending almost three weeks riding to the coast only to turn about a few days later and have to return again through what was usually miserable early winter weather.
Dol Amroth's hospitality being without parallel in all of Gondor, but a short time passed after his arrival before his men and horses were housed and fed, and he himself settled in a princely chamber, bathed and offered clean, dry clothing. When his grooming was complete, he went back downstairs to the Prince's study, where he found a roaring fire and his mother's brother and father awaiting him with some very good brandy and welcoming smiles and embraces.
"Boromir, lad! What a pleasure! Are you staying for Yule?" Prince Adrahil's face had become more deeply lined in the time Boromir had been away, and he had lost flesh, but he stood as straight as ever, and the pure silver splendor of his hair shamed the circlet that bound his brows. He seemed as some sage out of ancient legend, which was not far from the truth--a cannier, wiser man than the Prince of Dol Amroth would be hard to find.
"Yes, Grandfather. I persuaded Father that he could do without me this year. After all, he has two sons, and one heir should suffice to oversee the festivities in Minas Tirith."
"Poor Faramir!" Imrahil said, shaking his head. "I wish he could have come as well. He never much enjoyed all that fuss." Boromir had no doubt about his uncle's sincerity--Imrahil had always been especially close to his brother. And he was glad to see that the younger Prince of Dol Amroth seemed to have almost become once more the gallant, merry man he remembered from his childhood. Imrahil's eyes were still shadowed, but he was not the devastated widower he had been.
"He may find it an improvement on Ithilien!" Boromir laughed. "'Tis a fireless camp they keep there, to avoid detection--it makes for a cheerless Sunreturn!"
"How does Faramir fare there?" his grandfather inquired.
"Very well, I think. He commands there now, and I can find no fault with him. Father, of course, is another matter." Three pairs of grey eyes exchanged knowing glances.
"Well," sighed Adrahil after a moment, "I suppose that some constancy in an ever-changing world is a good thing, though I could wish your father were consistent in some other way."
"What have you there, Boromir?" Imrahil inquired, looking at the oilskin packet his nephew had carried downstairs. Boromir handed it to him.
"Oh, reports, dispatches, things Father thought you needed to see. Nothing urgent. He decided that he might as well get one last bit of use out of me while I was on leave." Imrahil chuckled.
"And he no doubt gave you an admonition to look at the local ladies while you were here!"
"Indeed, that was the condition laid upon me if I wished to make an extended stay," Boromir admitted. "And since I wanted to spend some time in the company of my favorite relatives, I agreed to it."
"Then we will try to make it as painless as possible!" Imrahil declared. "I know, nephew, as perhaps does none other, what it is to be pressured to marry by a parent impatient for grandchildren to spoil! Why, Father once threatened to bring me before the witnesses bound and at sword's-point!" Boromir cocked an eyebrow, and Adrahil gave his son a cool and pointed look.
"Yes, I did. And I believe you were but a couple of years older than Boromir at the time, so perhaps we have no good ground to stand upon when we say Denethor is being unreasonable!"
"Very well, I will grant you that he is being the soul of patience and reason about this one thing!" Imrahil declared, and the three of them laughed.
"Would you care to eat in the hall tonight, Boromir, to announce your arrival?" the ruling Prince asked his grandson. Boromir shook his shoulders out, to remove the travel kinks, and then his head.
"Could it just be the family tonight, Grandfather? I have little desire to be social. But I do desire to see how my cousins have grown."
Imrahil, who had been flicking through the Steward's packet, looked up. "You will not see all of them, unfortunately. Erchirion is at sea, though he is expected back for Yule. And Elphir is here, but he is an esquire now, and will probably have duty in the hall tonight. However, Amrothos and Lothiriel will be present."
"Goodness, how old is 'Thiri now? The last time I saw her she was little more than a babe!"
"Eight, and you'd best not mention anything about that! 'Thiri is very much aware that she is a young lady!" laughed Imrahil. "Prepare to be expected to dance with her while you are here. And she will undoubtedly want to see to your comfort--she fancies herself quite the lady of the keep!"
"Oh dear!" Boromir exclaimed with a look of mock concern. "Will I survive her ministrations?"
"I'll see to it that Tirathiel keeps her from being too much of a pest," Lothiriel's father promised him with a grin, "Though I fear I won't be able to do anything about the dancing-she will be adamant about that!"
"Then I shall try to comply with the lady's demands to the best of my ability and endeavor not to cripple her for life with my large feet!" Boromir promised, and both of his kinsmen laughed.
Dinner that night proved to be a bit of a trial, but not because of Lothiriel's demands. She was actually a rather charming child, Boromir thought, though he'd had no real experience with young girls. Certainly she was pretty in her pink brocade dress, her table manners were dainty, and her occasional inquiries as to whether he was enjoying a certain dish were not oppressive. Once she made an artless query as to whether he was getting enough wine, and if the quality were appropriate since "Father said you liked to drink a lot," and was immediately quelled by Lady Tirathiel with more force than Boromir thought necessary, given the minor magnitude of the offense. But as Lothiriel's feelings seemed more injured by her grandfather's and father's laughter than Tirathiel's reprimand, in the end the Captain-General decided that the legendary Iron Lady of Dol Amroth must not have been too harsh after all.
No, the excitement of the evening was provided by Imrahil's youngest son Amrothos, one of the oddest children Boromir had ever known. Small for his eleven years, and slight and pale, he'd brought a book to the table, which his father had removed from his hand before permitting him to eat. Then, after the briefest greeting to his cousin that politeness would allow, he had lapsed into what would have been seen as deep thought in an older person, and was silent after that, though he consumed his food with the typical ravenous appetite of a growing boy.
These profound thoughts were apparently centered around the hibernation habits of serpents. He had secreted a small dormant one in his belt pouch, endeavoring to determine if he could awaken it by close proximity to body heat and the warmer interior air of the castle. His experiment proved successful halfway through the meal, when a small head with a flicking, forked tongue insinuated itself onto the brocaded table cloth at the exact moment one of the kitchen maids was bringing in a tasty seafood stew. With a shriek, the maid hurled the tureen into the air, and the meal came to an ignominious, early end as the royal house of Dol Amroth and their exalted guest were covered with a nice warm red sauce and bits of mollusk and shrimp.
Tirathiel icily commanded Amrothos to remove the serpent immediately from the precincts of the castle as she tried to find a dignified way to pick seafood from her hair, while Prince Adrahil had to forcibly restrain his granddaughter, who was most wroth at the ruination of her favorite gown and shrieked promises of retribution at her brother.
"You....you weird, unnatural......thing, you! You varlet! You serpent-lover! Just you wait! I'll ruin something of yours! I'll destroy all of your stupid experiments!"
Imrahil contributed no useful effort at all to the proceedings, merely laughing till tears made silver tracks through the sauce on his cheeks, and shrugging apologetically at his nephew. Boromir, who recollected the warmth and closeness he'd experienced here in his youth, found things gratifyingly much as he remembered, even without his Aunt Nimrien, and felt the evening to be quite a success.
Enjoying the all-too-rare luxury of sleeping in, Boromir did not go in search of the object of his journey until mid-morning, close to the end of morning arms-practice. He found Andrahar upon the practice field, drilling one of the esquires individually, while the other Swan Knights oversaw the rest of the class. Moving closer to the side of the field where Andrahar and his pupil sparred, he watched the bout with interest, for he suspected he knew what was happening. From time to time, the Armsmaster would find an esquire he felt had a decided talent for the blade, and spend additional time teaching him. Judging by the prowess this very young man displayed, he was such a one.
Andrahar, who rarely missed anything, flicked his eyes quickly in Boromir's direction as acknowledgment that he'd seen him, his strong-featured, hawkish face expressionless, his attention immediately returning to the formidable youngster before him. Quickening his pace suddenly, he found a weakness in his pupil's defenses, which the lad was barely but miraculously able to block. His sword went flying from his hand the next moment though, as he'd been unable to follow the block with another move swiftly enough.
"That's enough for one day, Liahan. Go wash up," Andrahar instructed the esquire, who bowed respectfully, giving Boromir a curious look as he departed. Eyes following Liahan's progress as he racked the practice sword and headed for the water barrel, Boromir sighed. The young man had a lithe yet coltish attractiveness to him that was very appealing.
"It is good to see you, lad," the Armsmaster said, plucking a towel from the railing that surrounded the practice field, and rubbing his neck and face with it. The Steward's son did not remember seeing the silver threads that were scattered throughout Andrahar's dark hair on his previous visit.
"And you, Uncle Andra," Boromir said with a grin, embracing his former teacher without concern about soiling his fine garments against the sweaty gambeson.
With a pleased smile, Andrahar asked, "What do you think about my latest pupil? Well, not really the latest. His family sent him here when he was eight, and I've had the making of him totally."
"It shows," the Captain-General commented. "I'd like to do a round with him."
"Come back tomorrow, and you'll be welcome to. It would be a good for him to fight someone different for a change."
"But I'm on leave!" Boromir protested, like the veriest lowly foot soldier. The Armsmaster gave him a chiding shake of the head.
"You know the rule. More than two days off the field, and you begin to lose your edge. I'll give you today and even tomorrow, but I'll want to see you on the field the day after. How long were you planning to stay? It is good to see you again." He ducked under the rail and began walking towards the water barrel, obviously expecting to be followed, but Boromir stopped him with a hand upon his arm. There was a cluster of knights and esquires about the barrel.
"Uncle Andra, I need to speak with you about something. It is why I came all this way down here."
Andrahar's eyebrow flicked upward. He gave Boromir a curious look.
"You do? About what?"
"I cannot speak of the matter here." Curiosity became concern.
"If it is so grave, Boromir, shouldn't you take it to your grandfather or Imrahil?"
"I cannot speak of this to them. Only you."
"Well, you are certainly being mysterious! I take it you would prefer this to be a private conversation?"
"Absolutely!" the Captain-General declared fervently. Andrahar's brow furrowed.
"More and more curious! If it is a matter of such urgency, will this evening be soon enough? After dinner, perhaps?"
"That would serve quite well," Boromir answered with relief. "Where shall we meet? My rooms?" Andrahar shook his head
"If you require discretion, my house would be a better choice. I'll come to your rooms this evening after dinner and take you there."
"Your house? I thought you lived in the castle."
"This is a recent development. I'll acquire some wine for us, take you to my home, and you can have this speech with me that you seem to need so desperately. The third hour after sunset, if that suits you."
"It suits me very well, Uncle."
"Very well then. Now let me go--I must needs go oversee the mounted practice today--Peloren is ill." And with a soldierly clasp of arms, the two parted company.
"This is Aunt Nimrien's old house!" Boromir exclaimed later that evening, very much surprised at their destination. He remembered the house from childhood visits. Lady Tirathiel had lived there for a time alone, after Nimrien had married his uncle, but then she had moved into the castle as well. He had thought it long since sold. Andrahar unlocked the door and beckoned him in.
"Yes, she willed it to me. Thought I might like a place of my own." The house was dark and cold, but he carried the lantern over to the fireplace, took a match from a cup of them there, and lit it from the lantern, lighting in turn a fire that was laid ready upon the hearth, and two lamps in sconces above it. Boromir looked about, curious. The furnishings were simple but tasteful, neither feminine nor masculine in nature. He suspected that they were much as his aunt had left them--Andrahar did not seem the sort to worry too much about such things, so long as they were functional. The place was also scrupulously clean.
There was little about, save for an armor and weapons rack, that spoke anything of its current owner's personality. Andrahar had never been one for possessions, other than the finest tools of his deadly trade that he could afford. His true home and dearest possession was the people he served, Prince Imrahil and his family, and the house reflected this. Nimrien, who had not lived in this house for decades, was a more palpable presence here than the living man who currently occupied it.
"Warm yourself up a bit," Andrahar commanded, then walked down the hall and into what Boromir remembered as a bedroom. The Captain-General could hear him moving about in there, but he soon returned, pushed a couple of high-backed chairs closer to the fire, and indicated that Boromir should seat himself. Dragging a small table closer to the fire and positioning between the chairs, he placed the wine and some pastries he'd purchased at a tavern upon it, and left again, returning this time with a couple of glasses. He poured for them both, then seated himself, watching the growing flames lick at the well-laid fuel, and picked up his glass.
"Now, Boromir, why don't you tell me what is troubling you so greatly that you had to travel all the way down here to talk to me?"
Boromir looked across the little table at him, and swirled his wine about in his glass unhappily. Now that he had arrived at the moment of truth, he found himself at a loss for words. This man had put him on his first pony, had given him his first lessons in arms, and many others at intervals throughout the years. He had staunched Boromir's first wound, taken in arms practice when he'd dueled with live steel against Andrahar's recommendation. Throughout the years, Prince Imrahil's Armsmaster had set an unwavering standard of excellence for the Steward's son to emulate, and had been the faithful shadow and fiercest protector of the man Boromir loved best in the world after his own father.
Denethor distrusted Andrahar's Haradrim blood--Imrahil's championing of the man was probably the chiefest reason the Heir to Dol Amroth and the Steward of Gondor did not get along. But Boromir knew that Andrahar's loyalty to Imrahil, who was his sworn blood brother, was without question. And he knew that as that man's nephew, anything he told Andrahar would go to the grave with him. His hesitation was not so much because he was embarrassed to admit what he intended to speak of to the Armsmaster, but because there was the slightest possibility he could be entirely mistaken about what was rumored about Andrahar, and he did not wish to offend him.
"Boromir, if you have something to say or ask, then speak it! The hour is late and I wish to seek my bed." The Armsmaster's voice was tart, and to his consternation, the Captain-General of Gondor's army felt his cheeks heat like the veriest lad at the unfortunate images Andrahar's words conjured up. Andrahar, noticing this, cocked a heavy eyebrow. "What is troubling you, lad?" he asked a moment later in a gentler voice.
Boromir laughed, a brief, unhappy laugh. "Oh, Uncle Andra, I am not sure how even it is best to begin! I do not wish to offend you, or have you think less of me." He stopped playing with his glass and tossed some of the wine down quickly, in callous disregard of its quality. Andrahar sipped from his own glass with more respect, his dark eyes staring at the younger man over its rim curiously.
"The beginning is usually a good place to start," came his dry suggestion. Boromir nodded, sighed, set the glass down, leaned forward, elbows on knees, and stared into the fire.
"Very well, then. I have come to believe that it is possible I might be a lover of men." A quick, sidelong glance at his former teacher after that statement showed no surprise upon Andrahar's face, but rather a thoughtful expression that also conveyed a certain wariness.
"Why do you believe that, and why have you come to me with this problem?" he asked after a moment's contemplation.
"I have come to you with this problem because you have never taken a wife, nor been seen in the company of women, and it is rumored that you in fact prefer your own sex, though no one seems to be able to say that for certain--you are not seen in the company of any men either. As to why I believe it--that is a longer story, and will wait until you tell me if the rumors are true. Are you a lover of men?"
"There are men who would kill you for implying such a thing about them," Andrahar said quietly, but Boromir noted there was no anger in his voice. "I, however, am not one of them. What you have heard rumored, is, in fact, the truth. I do not fancy women in the least, but Imrahil does not object to my.....preferences so long as I keep them outside the chain of command, do not take any of the esquires entrusted to me for training, and am careful. In truth, I do not desire most men either. I take my lovers only from those whose discretion I can rely upon absolutely. As the number of men who are truly inclined to take male lovers is small, and the number who are utterly trustworthy smaller still, and the number I feel attraction for even smaller yet, I do not often have lovers. Now that we have established my credentials as an expert to pass judgment upon your problem, I ask you again--why do you believe you are a lover of men? Too many nights I've spent watching you sneak back into the castle after an evening with the wenches to be easily convinced of that."
Boromir sat up, reached for one of the cheese pastries, tentatively nibbled it, found that it was very tasty, and devoured it in three appreciative bites, taking another drink of the wine afterwards.
"This is a good vintage!" he exclaimed in surprise. Andrahar gave him a ironic smile.
"About time you noticed! Your problem, Boromir?" he prompted a bit impatiently.
"It has taken me a long time to realize it," the Captain-General finally explained with a rather sheepish expression. "I find that sleeping with women does not satisfy me as it once did. I have....inappropriate thoughts about certain of the men under my command. I find them attractive in ways which are not acceptable in polite society." He frowned, obviously very troubled. "I have even found myself looking at Faramir in that way, and that certainly won't do!"
Andrahar seemed neither shocked nor surprised by this revelation. "Looking and thinking, and acting upon those thoughts are two entirely different things, lad. You would not be the first brother in all of history to be attracted to your brother or sister. Faramir has grown up and become a beautiful young man. And siblings, it seems to me, are often prone to very strong relationships of one sort or another. I have known some who absolutely hated each other," and here a shadow passed over his face, "and others, like you and your brother, or your cousins, who are extremely close. You and Faramir endured an early loss, and you have looked after him for most of his life. It is not unexpected that you might harbor such thoughts about him. So long as you never act upon them, you are not a monster, Boromir."
"I thought that you would be repulsed if I admitted such a thing." Relieved, Boromir began sipping his wine again more slowly.
"When I was a young boy, I ran wild in the streets of Umbar, stealing and selling my body to men for the coin I needed to survive. Such a childhood leaves one with very few illusions about human nature," Andrahar said matter-of-factly. Boromir gave him an astonished look. All sorts of fanciful speculation surrounded the Armsmaster's early life before he had come to Dol Amroth. It was a favorite pastime of esquires smarting under his rigorous instruction to suggest that he had been spawned in the slag pits of Mordor. But this was the first time that even Boromir, as close as he was to the house of Dol Amroth, had ever actually heard anything definite about Andrahar's childhood.
"I am sorry, Uncle Andra," he said after a moment. "I had no idea."
Andrahar's heavy black eyebrow flicked upward. "You were not supposed to. And Imrahil took me away from all of that a long time ago." Something in his tone caught Boromir's attention, and as revelations seemed to be the rule of the evening, he asked the question, unbelievable as it seemed to him.
"Where you and Uncle ever.....together in that way?" Uncle Imrahil was ever the ladies' man before he was married, or so the stories say, Boromir thought, but then, so am I considered to be! Could he and Andrahar be lovers even now?
"Only once," Andrahar said after a moment's hesitation. "We were both very young. I desired him very badly, and because he loved me, though not in that way, he agreed to make the attempt. You know Imrahil--he can deny nothing to those he loves. It was not a great success. I knew well enough how to please a man, and used every skill at my disposal to convince him that he belonged in my bed forever; but in the end, though he derived some pleasure from the act, I could tell that it had not meant the same thing to him that it had to me. He offered to try again a couple of times after that, but I knew after the first occasion that he was truly a man for women, and my pride would not permit me to take what was basically pity from him." Pain that was decades old, but still sharp, roughened his voice. "It is of no matter now. Imrahil loves me in as many ways as he can to the best of his ability, and it suffices, most of the time." He gave Boromir a piercing look. "You need not feel sorry for me."
"I wouldn't dare!" the Captain-General admitted honestly, and Andrahar actually laughed, his short, sharp bark of a laugh that was usually at someone else's expense.
"Ah well, all this maundering about what is past and done with does not aid you with your current dilemma! What is it exactly that you wish from me? If you wish me to tell you if I think that you are a lover of men, then I will say that from what you have told me, I deem it quite possible. If you would know what I think you should do about it, then my suggestion is that you find a man you can trust to bed you, and see what happens. It is the only way that you will know for certain."
Boromir nodded, finishing the rest of his glass in another impetuous gulp. "Your counsel is wise as ever it was, and it only confirms what I have felt in my own heart. I have but one more thing to ask you, Master. Would you be so kind as to bed me that I might settle my mind about the matter once and for all?"