Disclaimer and Author's Note: I'm not Ken Follett. Thank your lucky stars. Written because I need a break from more serious stuff.
The day our story begins, Caris and Merthin were reclining, naked, in their isolated forest glade, their toes submerged in the slow-moving stream while birds chirped love-songs in the swaying branches above. Caris's eyes were glazed over and her mouth half-open, but it was not because of the perfect pleasure Merthin had just given her. It was because he had started talking about architecture again.
"Now the trick, of course," he was saying, "is to make sure all the forces acting upon the bridge are in equilibrium, such that – "
"Merthin – "
" – neither the compression acting on the top portion of the beam nor the tension acting on the bottom overpowers the beam's ability to hold its shape. And according to Hooke's Law, if I could know it – "
"Merthin, I'm sorry; I just don't honestly give half a damn."
"Oh," he said, looking a little disappointed. "Well I thought you wanted to talk. Should we just make love again?"
"I'd rather not." Caris sighed. Merthin had returned from Florence not long ago with his bratty little daughter Lolla, and he and Caris had been messing around – secretly of course, as she was a nun – ever since. A year ago, she would have been overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of being with Merthin again, but lately she had noticed herself becoming weary of their trysts.
"What's the matter?"
"I don't know...I..." It wouldn't hurt to tell the truth. "I guess I'm bored."
"Oh, well...should we try it somewhere else? I bet we could find another of these idyllic glades."
"It's not the location."
"I don't know, Merthin, it may be that you don't really have much of a personality."
"What do you mean? I'm tenacious, fair-minded, intelligent, and ahead of my time – exactly like you. We're a perfect match."
"That's just it. We're Mr. and Mrs. Gary Stu, Merthin."
"Aren't they the bakers?"
"I mean we're too perfect."
Merthin's blue eyes sparkled with confusion. "Is that possible?"
"If you had a few flaws – like you were a conniving son-of-a-bitch now and then, and you didn't pine over me and follow me around like a lost puppy – things might be a little more interesting."
"Oh. You…you want me to slap you around a bit?"
She sighed. "No, Merthin."
They made unsatisfying love again, and then Caris donned her habit and returned to the priory, as she had to do some nun thing or other.
Roughly twelve hours later, at half-past one in the morning, she was writhing in throes of pleasure on the floor of the cathedral.
The whole thing had started about three weeks ago, not long after the nuns had received Bishop Henri's delayed response to their complaint about Godwyn stealing the nunnery's money. The bishop had decided not to do anything about it. Godwyn, in his smug, sanctimonious way, had delivered a sermon about the importance of generosity, and Caris had been possessed by the urgent desire to strike him over the head with one of Merthin's hammers. She had decided to settle for at least chewing him out, and had cornered him behind the cathedral when no one else was around. Somehow, berating him had turned into something else entirely. Caris wasn't usually one to act on her more bestial emotions, and Godwyn certainly wasn't, but nevertheless their mutual hatred had chosen to manifest itself this time in a frenetic and passionate embrace. Every night since then they had met in secret in the darkness of one of the furthest corners of the cathedral. Usually they wouldn't speak. There wasn't any need for it. This time, though, she felt the urge to say something.
"Godwyn, we need to stop this."
She had rehearsed this in her head all day. She was going to express how wrong this was on so many multidimensional levels – how it had started as an innocent thing, just for kicks, a break from the terrible monotony and enforced chastity of nunnery life, but how it had become something more troubling, a distraction from Merthin, who was clearly meant to be her true love, how she had started to look forward to their midnight meetings in a way she didn't want to. But in her post-coital befuddlement the only thing that made it out of her mouth was, "this is incest."
"It's the fourteenth century, and we're cousins. It's entirely legitimate."
"All right, fine. But I have Merthin now."
"He only came back to you because his wife is dead. That shows true devotion, doesn't it?"
Caris liked Godwyn much better when he wasn't speaking. Every time he opened his mouth, she felt like punching it. "I'm saying that this can't go on. What if we're discovered?"
That was a genuine concern. In fact, was probably only due to the general stupidity of the population of Kingsbridge that no one yet suspected anything was up. Even Philemon, who followed Godwyn around like a baby goose imprinted on its mother, never realized where the prior slipped off every night. And Merthin, who was by far the most intelligent man in the town, was too used to Caris giving him the cold shoulder to suspect anything was different. But things could change. One slip-up was all it would take. And then…
"You know exactly what would happen," Caris continued. "You would blame the whole thing on me and probably have me hanged for enchanting you with some kind of heathen spell."
Godwyn looked thoughtful. "Yes, I could do that."
It took a great act of will not to hit him. "That's why this needs to end now."
"All right, then." It was probably better this way, to be honest. What they were doing was a sin. But if Godwyn was good at anything, it was justifying things to himself. He had come to terms with this business by telling himself it was Caris who had started it – that was actually true – so if either of them would burn in hell it would surely be her, it was a welcome release from the pressures of being prior, and perhaps, in some roundabout, unfathomable way, it was God's will. It was easiest to think of things that way. In reality, Caris probably fulfilled some deep sort of existential need, possibly connected in some way to an unconscious conflict with his mother, but that escaped him entirely. He had never been a particularly introspective man.
What need he fulfilled in Caris was similarly incomprehensible. Godwyn had never understood women at all. For a long time that had been unproblematic, since, as a monk, he was not supposed to get within ten feet of one. But now things were different. Women, he realized with some chagrin, were a little bit like God. It was impossible to understand why they did what they did, but one had to have faith that, on some invisible level, there was a method to it.
"Good," said Caris briskly. "That's settled. Goodnight."
They both left.
The next night, they were both back.