Archibald was Patience’s best friend . Everybody knew that, because Patience told them. The adults didn’t seem to care, but the cows were very good listeners. When her mother wasn’t with the cows, and Archibald couldn’t come out to play, Patience went and sat on a milk stool and talked to her cow-friends. They couldn’t talk back, but Patience didn’t mind. She had Archibald for that! He always knew where to find her, but she waited for him outside his gate every afternoon anyway. He always smiled when she did that, and then Patience smiled, even if she’d spent the morning helping her mother with the manure.
That afternoon, Patience ran and ran and finally caught up with Archibald on a hillock at the edge of the pasture. She grabbed his collar and pulled him down to the ground.
“Yield, dread pirate!” She yelled triumphantly
“I yield at once!” He cried back. She released him and he sat up, pouting. She giggled and he pouted more fiercely. She reached over and mussed the mud out of his curly blonde hair. By the time she had finished, he was grinning up at her through his fringe. She flopped down next to him and stared up at the sky
“Because of his unwavering dedication to our Queen and Country,” Archibald said suddenly, “Father is being honoured with a full promotion and a new command over a posting abroad.”
Patience’s eyes widened. “What does that mean?”
Archibald frowned. “I don’t know.” He bit his lip and then brightened up again. “Mother says it all the time, so it must be true!”
Patience cocked her head to one side, trying to make sense of all fancy words. “If it is a post-ing, perhaps he has got a letter! From far away - from Timbuktu!”
Archibald grinned. “Yes! From Timbuktu! I know - it is a letter, telling him about all the foreign countries, and how to get there, and how to avoid the pirates on the way!”
“And the sorcerers!”
“And the ghosts!”
One day, Archibald didn’t come out to meet her at the gate. She stood there for an hour, and then she got tired so she sat down on the grass. She stayed there all afternoon until she heard the cow-bells ring and she had to rush back to the dairy as fast as she could. Whilst her mother milked the cows, Patience sat beside her on her own stall and replaced the buckets when they were needed.
“Archibald didn’t come and play today.”
“Not at all?”
“No. I waited and waited and he never came.”
“Well, how odd.”
“Why wouldn’t he come, Mother?”
“Perhaps he was ill.” Patience gasped, and her mother went on. “You have had him running all over the hills for weeks now! I’m sure he has never done so much in his whole life.”
Patience ran out of the dairy sobbing. Was this her fault? Had she made her best friend ill? Was he lying in the dark, moaning and unable to move? Was he dying ? She ran straight to the larder in their house, and got down all the things that Mother gave her when she was ill - strawberry jam, Sally Lunns, muffins and eggs and everything else, along with a new bottle of milk. She found a basket to put it all in and then ran panting all the way back to Archibald’s gate. It was getting dark, but no lights were on in the big house. Her heart leapt to her throat, and for the first time, she opened the gate. She wasn’t really allowed inside, but this was different. Archibald was ill. She had to help him.
The front door was very big. She set down her basket, and looked up at the brass door knocker. It gleamed and sparkled in the setting sun. Patience looked down at her hands, dirty and muddy from tripping and catching herself in her hurry to get here. She wiped them on her dress, but it only made them worse. She sobbed again. She had to do something for him. The basket - the basket would help. She left it in the middle of the step, where they would have to find it. Then she ran away before anyone knew she had been there.
Two days later, and still they had heard nothing from Archibald. In the middle of the morning, as Patience sat eating toast with her mother, there was a knock at the door. Mother got up and went to answer it, and Patience huddled behind her, hiding in her skirts. A man in a fancy red coat stood behind the door.
“Good morning, ma’am.” He said, doffing his fancy hat.
“Good morning, sir.” She bobbed down into a little curtsey and avoided looking at his face. “How can I help you?”
“I am Joseph Porter, articled clerk, ma’am. I believe you run this dairy?”
“I do, sir.”
“That is quite an accomplishment, ma’am.” Mother blushed red, and Patience decided that he was a nice man. “I have come as I must return this. I am sorry, but much of its contents must have perished.” He held out the basket that Patience had filled. Patience gasped and buried herself further behind her mother.
Her mother took the basket slowly. “My daughter made this for the little child of Major Grosvenor. Did he not want it?”
“Your daughter is very kind, but alas young master Grosvenor is not here anymore to take it.”
Patience shrieked and pushed forward past her mother. “What do you mean?”
The fancy man blinked. “Good morning, young lady. I mean to say that Major Grosvenor and his family have left the country. Master Grosvenor will now be on a boat, setting sail for the Americas.”
Patience was inconsolable. She would not move from the bed but to sit on the cliffside looking out to sea, in the hopes of seeing one particular ship. She cried and cried such as she had not cried since she was a tiny babe and her mother could not do anything about it.
“These fancy rich people are different to us, dear Patience,” she would try to say, “They never stay in one place, and they couldn’t understand us. He would have grown up and changed and treated you very differently” - at that, Patience, had stormed out of the room - “I think it was for the best!” Her mother called after her. Patience did not listen. Her mother sighed. Young children played with each other no matter their wealth or their clothes or their muddiness, but she had to be glad that her baby girl would not experience the growing scorn of a Major’s son towards a simple milkmaid. She had to remember that, but it still broke her heart to hear her daughter crying. She was suddenly incredibly grateful that Patience did not remember her father, if only that she was spared that pain. She would grow, and she would forget. She was only four years old, with her whole life ahead of her. Plenty of time to make more friends.
Do not fear, the le(g&)sbians approach.
This is the first time I'm posting a chapter of a multi-chapter fic before finishing it in a long time, but I swear to you that I will finish this work! I actually have it planned, which is a lot more than can be said for my earlier doomed writings.
Chapter 2: A Ward in Chancery
When Patience was nine and a half, a new family moved into the house that the Grosvenors used to live in. The scary man was their new landlord, and his daughter was about Patience’s age and Patience did not like her . She wasn’t Archibald.
She was scared of the cows. Idiot.
The girl who was Phyllis’ new neighbour really didn’t like her. Phyllis couldn’t work out why. She was so much braver than Phyllis - Phyllis had seen her sitting right among the cows and singing to them when she thought no one else can hear. Anyway, wouldn’t it be nice to have a braver friend? And Phyllis thought it would probably be nice to have a friend who’s more scared than you, so you can feel important and protective. Nurse Ruth said that the girl didn’t want to be friends because she was like a boy, all showing off her strength and having a proper job at such a young age, rather than looking after her mother. Phyllis didn’t think that was particularly boyish - if her mother had been alive, Phyllis wouldn’t want to stay in all day with her. It was bad enough to have Nurse Ruth’s lessons every morning. Yes, yes, she needed to learn her letters and everything, but she could already spell all the words she used. What use were any more lessons?
Phyllis spent her afternoons walking around her father’s new estate. Well, Father called it an estate. In Phyllis’ view, it was just a farm. A nice farm, but just a farm. She would walk all around the border of their fields up to the hill which she wasn’t allowed to go over because it was out of sight of the house. She would avoid wherever the cows were on any particular day - they were far too big for her liking, and they worried her.
The two girls existed in an uneasy stalemate. Phyllis desperately wanted a friend, but not if she had to fight her way through a herd of cows to get to her. Patience also desperately wanted a friend, but could not admit this to herself. Besides, she was convinced that no one could be as good a friend as Archibald had been. As the weeks went on, they would see each other as they went about their days: Phyllis always said a sunny ‘hello’; and, every time, Patience would reply with a curtsey whilst looking at the floor, just like her mother had done to the fancy army man all those years ago.
One early spring day, Phyllis’ father bought a flock of sheep and hired a shepherd to live in the tiny cottage by the pond to the east of their house. Nurse Ruth wouldn’t let Phyllis out in the morning to see the sheep arrive, but as soon as she was released after lunch Phyllis gathered up her skirts and ran towards the eastern pasture.
She quickly determined that sheep were much better than cows.
Patience always collected the bottles from the farm houses in the evening so that they had extras for the morning milk round to cope with unexpected accidents. The cottage by the pond had been empty for years now, and Patience had never delivered or collected from there before. It was a nice enough cottage, she thought as she crested the little knoll above it, but very small. She was glad that the dairy came with something a bit bigger.
She looked up to see Phyllis sitting right in the midst of the flock of sheep stroking a ewe’s head, and dropped her basket in surprise. The clattering startled the sheep who began to leave, but Phyllis sang a little melody and stroked their wooly backs and they stayed with her. Patience crept forwards. The sheep nervously accepted her, parting to let her through. She sat down next to Phyllis and bit her lip before finally looking her in the eye.
“I’m sorry for scaring them, I didn’t mean to.” She said quietly.
Phyllis smiled a smile so bright she seemed to shine. “That’s quite alright! I was rather shocked the first time I heard you singing to your cows.”
Patience tensed. “You’ve heard me singing?”
“Yes, to the cows!” Phyllis said. “I think it’s very sweet.”
“Oh.” Patience frowned. “I thought people would find it odd.”
“Well, that is probably true. But - most people aren’t milkmaids, after all.”
“I suppose not.” She said. “But you’re not a shepherd, are you?”
“I’m not a shepher dess .” Phyllis stressed. “I just saw these lovely sheep earlier and I had to come and meet them.”
“They like you. Do you think they like me?”
“They will if you say hello properly.”
Patience stared at her with eyebrows raised. Phyllis shrugged.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” Patience began and Phyllis giggled. “My name is Patience and I love in that cottage behind the hill with the cows.”
The next day, Patience cleared away after lunch and then Mother sent her outside. She squared her shoulders and looked at the house. She walked up to it and stood by the gate. As she had with Archibald, she waited for her friend to appear. When Phyllis opened the door and her mouth dropped open in shock, Patience smiled.
“Do you want to meet my cows?”
It’s like it always was with Archibald, but better. Phyllis stayed. They grew up together, the two girls and the cows and the sheep. Phyllis learned to play the pipe and tabor and Patience took on more and more of the dairy when her mother was happy to have the free time. They were each others’ closest confidantes, and Patience only once set the herd on Phyllis when she was really angry and no one got hurt. They gossiped about the farm hands and the manor servants and the market traders; they joyfully spurned the annoying boys in the village; and they slowly took over the shepherd’s work as he got more and more useless. Phyllis wouldn’t tell her father because she didn’t want the flock to go, and because she wouldn’t be allowed to go to the pond if he knew about the shepherd’s drinking. Nurse Ruth would have noticed something was amiss with the sheer amount of rough work clothes Phyllis got through, but Nurse Ruth had left by the time Phyllis was twelve and Patience eleven. They didn’t really know why, and Phyllis’ father wouldn’t tell them. Phyllis did not mind one bit as it meant she could be a shepherdess in all but employment and she treasured every moment of it.
Phyllis’ father started visiting the manor frequently. Patience’s mother said that the man who lived there was extremely rich and extremely important - she called him the Lord Chancellor, but she didn’t know what he did. One morning after one of her father’s manor visits, Patience found Phyllis hugging a lamb to her bosom and sobbing into its wool.
“What on earth is the matter?” Patience cried, and held her friend close.
“Because of his dealings with unscrupulous limited companies and the bailiffs,” Phyllis said between sniffs, “Father is being stripped of his honours and is being sent to Australia.”
Patience froze. “What does that mean?” She whispered, feeling like her world was falling apart.
“It means Papa is going away, forever!” Phyllis howled.
Patience breathed again. Phyllis was not leaving. It was horrible, to be relieved that her friend would be separated from her father, but Patience couldn’t help it. She was relieved, terribly so. She couldn’t stand to lose another friend to distant shores, and especially not Phyllis. Phyllis was everything to her. Patience hugged her tightly.
“I will always be here for you. Always.”
Phyllis was placed as a Ward in Chancery, which was apparently why her father had been making all those trips to the manor. The Lord Chancellor was a nice enough man and was happy for Phyllis to stay in her father’s house, as it was barely a mile’s walk away (Patience should know, she delivered the milk there every morning). The new landlord had his own house in the village, and his first act was to fire the old drunk shepherd. Patience’s mother strode out to his house the moment she heard of it, and with the application of fresh butter, cream and considerable persuasive skills, Phyllis was immediately instated as the new shepherdess. She had just turned thirteen, barely old enough to have such a role, and the landlord insisted on the hiring of a village boy as well. He was eighteen and scared of cows, but he never once participated in the awkward courting attempts of the other boys. Phyllis and Patience decided that he could stay once they realised that Strephon played the flageolet.
Chapter 3: Giving Agreeable Girls Away
Phyllis glared at her reflection in the mirror.
“I hate it.”
Patience grimaced. “So do I, sadly.”
Phyllis groaned. “The colour is horrible, my bosom looks huge and I won’t be able to get down any stairs without falling.”
“The colour is in fashion this season, your bosom is there purely to attract men, who we don’t care about anyway, and I will personally see you up the steps into your guardian’s carriage.”
“I don’t want to attract men, Patience!” She said. “I am not a lamp for moths to fly to!”
“Perhaps you are a candle for men to burn themselves on.”
Phyllis gasped and swatted Patience on the arm. “That does not appeal to me either!”
Patience giggled. “Phyllis, my dear friend. You look like the very model of a modern young lady. You will go to London this afternoon, meet the Queen for all of a minute, be complimented by every woman you meet, be pampered at the Lord Chancellor’s town house overnight, and be back here with me by the time I have finished the milk round. Then it will be over, and you can moan about it to me for as long as you like.”
“You really think the ladies will compliment me?” Phyllis asked.
“Of course they will! I may find the get-up of an Arcadian shepherdess much nicer to look at, but for them, this is what they wish to look like!”
“But I’m…” Phyllis gulped. “I’m not a Lady. I’m just a shepherdess.”
“And they would not be Ladies themselves if they said anything of the sort. If they do, I will fight and defend your honour, as you are most certainly a lady to me.”
Phyllis bit her lip, but a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Thank you, Patience.”
“Always, Phyllis.” She held out her arm, and Phyllis took it, wobbling slightly in her impractical shoes. Together, they walked out to the waiting carriage. The Lord Chancellor stood beside it, and the two girls curtsied. He looked like he intended to take Phyllis’ arm, but Patience ignored him and helped Phyllis into the luxurious cabin herself.
“Enjoy the party, dear friend! It is all for you!”
Patience watched the carriage round the hill and disappear. Her sunny smile disappeared with it. She walked back to her cottage and did not sing. Irritatingly, she was not able to properly mope, as Strephon came along his merry way playing his little flute and generally being happy. As soon as he saw her he stopped, put his hand on her shoulder and lead her to his tiny cottage.
Once they were sat down at the table that they could barely fit their legs under, he spoke. “So. What is wrong with you, that the storm-clouds have gathered over you?”
“This D____d Coming Out ball, obviously!”
Strephon flinched at her language. “When the three of us discussed it last night, you seemed perfectly happy with the concept.”
“Because Phyllis was there!” Patience replied. “And I didn’t want to worry her more than she already was.”
Strephon frowned. “You are concerned about her safety?” He asked.
She sighed. “Not really. More like her innocence.”
Strephon snorted. “Phyllis hasn’t been innocent since the village idiots started professing their undying lust for her, and you know that.” He stood up. “Stay there, I’m making tea.”
Patience did as she was told, because it wasn’t like there was anywhere else to go. Strephon returned with tea. “Well then. Her innocence.”
“The village boys are nothing compared to the type of idiots she’ll meet tonight.” Patience said. “They’re idiots with power, and wealth, and fine clothes and fancy words.”
Strephon paused whilst sipping his tea. “Are you jealous ?” He asked.
“What? Of course not.”
Strephon waved a hand in her direction. “Go on.”
“The only reason these supposed gentlemen are attending the ball tonight is to ensnare a bright young woman to do their bidding and submit to their every whim. I do not want to see my dearest friend be forced into such a marriage.”
“And you would miss her.”
Patience scoffed. “Of course I would, but this isn’t about me.”
“What sort of marriage would you wish for our Phyllis, then?”
She blinked at him in confusion.
“She will have to marry. She is a Ward in Chancery. She will be married off, sooner or later.” Strephon said bluntly.
Patience slumped in her chair. “Someone who cares for her.” She said. “And who would not stop her being the wonderous woman that she is.”
“You do not think that any of the noblemen she will be introduced to tonight will do that?”
Patience laughed once, and finished her tea in silence.
When she came back from her milk round the next morning, Patience found Phyllis sat at her kitchen table, back in her proper clothes.
“If I were to kill a Lord,” Phyllis began, “Would you help me hide the body?”
“Of course. I don’t know the country around London at all, so we would have to configure a reason for him to be down here.”
Phyllis nodded slowly. “I think I can arrange that.” She groaned, and held her head in her hands.
Patience sat down next to her and stopped playing games. “It was that awful?”
“Oh, I’ll probably be able to find it amusing in the future.” She said. “It wasn’t particularly terrible, just dull and at times excruciating. Whoever taught the Right Honourable Earl of Tolloller the Lord Speaker to flirt deserves a painful death.”
Patience bit her lip. She met Phyllis’ eyes and they both burst into giggles.
“Tell me everything.”
“Patience, my daughter!”
Patience smiled, and set down the milk pail she was carrying to go to her mother sitting in the porch. “Good mother!” She kissed her cheeks, and sat on the floor in front of her. “Are you well?”
“Oh quite, you needn’t worry about me.” Her mother grinned. “I will still be milking our cows for years to come. But,” she said, wagging a finger at Patience, “I will not be able to forever.”
Patience smiled again. “I know, dear mother, but I will happily provide for us both.”
“Patience, I would never ask that of you.”
“Of course, you must find a husband, so that he can make a living for your family when you have to look after me.”
Patience gasped. “Mother, I do not want a husband!”
Her mother rolled her eyes. “Nonsense. Anyway, no matter your desires, you will simply have to marry.”
Patience knelt and took her mother’s hands in hers. “Mother. You ran this dairy and provided a loving home for me for nine full years before I was able to give you any useful help. I am young yet, and I know our herd, our land and our rounds like the back of my hand. I do not need the help of some farm hand who knows nothing about dairy.”
“Patience.” Her mother’s voice softened, and she took a hand and placed it on Patience’s cheek. “I fear for you, my loved one. No,” she said as Patience began to speak, “Listen to what I have to say. My life was hard after your father died. I did not let you see much of my burden, because you were a child and I wanted the best for you. It is very hard for a single woman to survive in this world, let alone be a tenant farmer running her own dairy. And I was a widow, who was considered perfectly respectable for raising her daughter on her own. Many women marry again, but many others do not. I could not betray your father like that, and so I stayed alone. And yet I was still ridiculed, hurt and passed over in nearly every part of my life. We have what we have now because I fought so very hard for it.” She kissed the top of Patience’s head, and continued. “I do not want your life to be so full of hardship. Do not marry a farmhand if you don’t wish to - find someone you love. Marry him. He will help you through all of life’s journeys, and you will enjoy them together.”
Patience said nothing for a while. “For you, Mother, I will find someone to love.”
Patience had reached eighteen years of age but one week ago, and already her mother had received offers of sons in marriage from three of the local merchants. Patience had thought that deflecting the attention of bored village boys had been difficult, but now she truly understood Phyllis’ constant plight. Men who believed that they deserved to marry you by dint of their birth or their profession - men who believed that you should be begging to marry them - frankly she was surprised that Phyllis hadn’t gone through with at least one murder. Patience and her mother had sat together and looked over the proposals, and they had simply laughed at them. Her mother would wait for her to find a man that she loved. Patience was rather worried that she would have to wait a long time, and her mother had named her daughter for a virtue that she didn’t possess.
Those days, when Phyllis and Patience met, the topic of men unfortunately entered their discussions. They tended not to dwell on the matter, because they found card games and legends and sheepdog trials much more interesting, but it did still sneak its way into their thoughts.
“In all these fairy-tales,” Phyllis was saying, “I think the single least-believable point is to imagine that any women, wing-ed or not, would give up immortal life and untold power for a mortal man . It makes no sense!”
“All these stories say that she is in love with the man, as though that explains everything.” Patience said. They sat together around Phyllis’ empty fireplace, knitting needles clacking away underneath their conversation.
“I simply cannot understand love. I definitely do not understand its application to marriage.” Phyllis said.
“What do you mean?” Patience asked. “I certainly could never marry if it were not for love.”
“And I agree - but I cannot ever conceive of loving a man!” Phyllis responded. “The very thought is madness!”
Patience paused in her knitting. She stared down at her hands in her lap. “Indeed it is.”
Once, after a particularly enthusiastic shared rant about the idiocy of the men trying to gain their affections, Strephon offered himself in marriage to either of them. Phyllis and Patience had smiled at their friend and thanked him for his kind thought, but had declined. He was lovely, and willing even to marry them to put them out of their courting misery, but they did not love him.
Patience shrieked as her door was flung open in the middle of the night. She pulled her night gown around herself and was prepared to leap on her attacker when she realised it was Phyllis. Phyllis gasped at her reaction, and apologised profusely, before running out again. Patience said something unlady-like, shoved a coat and shoes on over her gown and rushed after her.
Phyllis stood breathing heavily on the grass in front of Patience’s house. When she heard Patience approach, she spoke. “The Lord Chancellor told me this evening that I have to have chosen a husband before the end of this season, or he will choose one for me.”
Patience’s hand flew to her mouth, and she herself then flew to embrace her friend. Phyllis turned into her arms and buried her face in her loose hair.
“I never want to leave you, Patience. You are everything to me, the best companion a woman could ever hope for.”
Patience bit her lip. “I never want for you to leave. We have grown up together, and none can know me and comfort and entertain me as much as you.” She took a deep breath. “I think you are the dearest thing to me in the whole world.”
Phyllis sobbed. She stumbled out of Patience’s grasp, and turned to face away from her. “Yet, you must marry, to care for yourself and your mother. And I must marry, to continue to live in any way. If we are ever to find husbands, we must marry soon, or else…” She shook herself, turned back to Patience and sang, as they had sung to each other throughout the many years of their friendship.
“ If we’re weak enough to tarry
Ere we marry, you and I,
Even though you are a maiden,
To your bosom I would fly.”
Phyllis ducked her head down to look at the ground, but continued.
“If by men we should be parted,
Broken-hearted I should die –
Yet they say we musn’t tarry
Ere we marry, you and I.”
Phyllis finally looked up to see Patience with her hands clenched over her heart. Patience sang back a song that filled her heart.
“If we’re weak enough to tarry
Ere we marry, you and I,
All these feelings you inspire
Like a fire will flame high.
But the peers with flowing coffers
Press their offers – that is why
I am sure you should not tarry
Ere you marry, by and by!”
Patience gasped and ran towards Phyllis. They met in the middle and clasped hands. Patience was sure that, if she could wrench her eyes away, she would find Phyllis' gaze also latched onto their entwined fingers.
If we’re weak enough to tarry If we’re weak enough to tarry
Ere we marry, you and I, Ere we marry, you and I,
Even though you are a maiden, All these feelings you inspire
To your bosom I would fly. Like a fire will flame high.
You and All these feelings you inspire
I! Like a fire will flame high!
Patience flung Phyllis out into a twirl and back into a waltz hold, until she was close enough to feel her breath on her cheek.
If we’re weak enough to tarry If we’re weak enough to tarry
Ere we marry, you and I, Ere we marry, you and I,
Even though you are a maiden, All these feelings you inspire
To your bosom I would fly. Like a fire will flame high.
Phyllis sent Patience spinning and then spun out herself, and they danced back into the middle as they sang a refrain that neither had dared imagine could exist.
Yes I think that we may tarry
Ere we marry,
Ere we marry, you and I
You and I
You and I!
As Phyllis soared up to the top of her range, Patience leant in to close the final gap, and pressed a kiss over her dear friend’s lips.
They stood like that for a while, in stunned silence.
“I cannot tell what this love may be,” Patience finally said, “But. perhaps, this is it?”
“Well, I know that I would much rather have a maiden I do love,” Phyllis replied, “Than a dozen men I don’t.”
Patience grinned and it was as though the sun had dawned on Phyllis’ face. “Then it is settled.” She sang, and Phyllis replied, and they glowed in each other’s happiness.
Though to marry you is impossible for me
Hey but I’m doleful, willy willow waley
I will all the same continue loving thee
Hey willow waley oh
All the world ignoring, I’ll go on adoring
Hey willow waley oh
[The formatting may not work very well on mobile - I would suggest viewing a desktop site.]
This was the chapter that inspired the whole fic :)
Chapter 5: My Heart is Given
For days on end, Phyllis and Patience practically glided across their fields, fueled by their abiding joy. Patience sang to Phyllis’ pipe and tabours, the sheep followed them in content confusion, and they laughed and kissed and ran riot with not a care in the world. It was all very sweet and Strephon hid in his cottage until it was all over because they were being too ridiculous.
A knock on Phyllis’ door one morning brought her skipping down the stairs with glee. She opened the door and was unpleasantly surprised to be greeted with the crowned face of Lord Mountararat. She schooled her expression into something less insulting and as she curtsied she heard the worrying sound of a brass fanfare in the distance. She steeled herself, took the Earl’s proferred arm and walked towards her guardian’s nonsense of the day.
“My Lord, I have much pleasure in announcing that I have succeeded in inducing the young person to present herself at the Bar of this House.”
Phyllis took a deep breath, and came past Mountararat to curtsey to the Lord Chancellor in front of his country house, with the full House of Lords beside him. “ My well-loved Lord and Guardian dear, ” she sang, “ You summoned me, and I am here! ”
There followed a horrific amount of horrific flirting from the Lords and frankly it all got a bit too much for Phyllis. Usually, she would simply turn them down kindly, and move on until their next attempt, all the while making it seem like she was trying to choose between them rather than trying to choose anyone but them. But this time - this time was different! She could not marry these men with Patience waiting for her at home! She simply would not! She had to tell them so, and she burst in after Lord Tolloller’s ballad.
“ My Lords, it may not be. With grief my heart is riven! You waste your time on me ,” Phyllis could not help the giddy grin that grew across her face, “ For ah! my heart is given !”
“ Given ?” The Lords cried.
“ Yes given! ”
“ Oh, horror! ”
The Lord Chancellor advance on her, and she paled before him. “ And who has dared to brave our high displeasure, and thus defy our definite command? ” Phyllis gulped. She truly had not thought this far ahead, but the only thought that could enter her mind at that moment was that her guardian would be most displeased if she told him about the milkmaid who had captured her heart.
“ Tis I !” The whole company turned at once and Phyllis gasped aloud. “ Young Strephon! Mine this priceless treasure! ” Strephon darted forward, took her hand and pulled her away from the Chancellor. “ Against the world, I claim my darling’s hand !”
Phyllis pulled him into a hug into to gain access to his ear. “What are you doing?” She hissed at him.
He embraced her and whispered back, “Trust me. I will not see you marry any one of these sods.”
To Phyllis’ great confusion, he began to sing a song about being a shepherd. She joined in out of in-built self-preservation, and when the Lords started to flail about their bruised hearts, she thought that she might be beginning to understand Strephon’s wild scheme. The Lords all flounced off to the Chancellor’s house and Phyllis took her chance to flee.
She ran straight to Patience’s house, grabbed her lover’s hand and ran back whence she’d came, explaining as they ran. They hid behind a bench in the Lord Chancellor’s garden to eavesdrop on her guardian and their best friend.
“An affidavit from a thunderstorm,” the Chancellor was saying, “Or a few words on oath from a heavy shower, would meet with all the attention they deserve.”
Strephon sighed dramatically and clutched at his breast with one hand, reaching out towards the Chancellor with the other. “And have you the heart to apply the prosaic rules of evidence to a case which bubbles over with poetical emotion?”
Phyllis bit her lip, but Patience just giggled. Phyllis shoved her hand over Patience’s mouth, but Patience licked it in retaliation and then they got distracted for a while.
Once he was alone apart from the suspicious bench to his left, Strephon coughed conspicuously. There was a flurry of movement behind the bench, and then Phyllis and Patience slowly poked their heads up from behind it.
“Oh. He’s gone?”
“Yes. Are you done?”
Phyllis blushed bright red and Patience rolled her eyes as she pulled her out of their poor hiding place.
“Well, before you...stopped paying attention,” Strephon said in a strained voice, “Do you think I gave a good approximation of love? I still have no idea what it is, but you two seem to have it figured out.”
“I do not rightly think that our love is anything like how the Lord Chancellor would conceive of the word.” Patience said.
“That, sadly, is true.” Strephon replied.
“Strephon, my dear friend, what are you doing? I do not understand!”
“I’m saving you from that lot!” He said, gesturing wildly towards the Chancellor’s mansion. “If you actually did marry me, it would chance nothing between us, but no man would ever bother you again.”
Phyllis’ eyes widened. “Goodness. I had quite forgotten all about my guardian’s insistence on marriage, but you barely give me any time to be upset before you bring hope back to my heart!”
Strephon smiled, and Patience squeezed her hand. “I don’t love you, Phyllis,” said Strephon, “You are my dearest friend, and I would very much like to help you out of your predicament.”
Phyllis turned to Patience. Patience tipped her head on one side, before coming close and kissing her forehead. “It seems like a fine scheme to me.” She said. “If only we had another friendly shepherd for me to wed!” If she was making idiotic jokes, Phyllis knew that she truly was happy with the unprecedented solution.
“Now, Phyllis, go to the Lord Chancellor and distract him,” Strephon instructed, “Patience and I will plan how to get us married!”
Once Phyllis had rushed off to appease her guardian, Patience turned and hugged Strephon.
“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
Strephon gripped her tightly back, lifting her just off the ground as she laughed. “For the two of you, I would do anything.”
“Frankly, I didn’t think men could be as nice as you are.” Patience said.
Strephon blushed. “I am… not like most men.”
“That you are not. Now, what is the next step in your mad adventure?”
Patience was a little sceptical as they waited next to the pond behind Strephon’s cottage. It was fairly large, but it was home to frogs and little else.
Suddenly, she regretted all her dismissals of the pond as the water rushed down to meet something coming out of it, large and getting larger as it left the pond, and absolutely covered in pond weed. The...thing reached the bank, tripped up onto the grass before singing and dancing in a litte circle. As it sung, the weed flew away from it, to reveal a young, seemingly human, woman.
Patience panicked. “You can’t marry Phyllis if you have a selkie wife!” She yelled.
The strange women stared at her in confusion without speaking, but Strephon was quick to respond.
“No! No, this is my mother!”
“And selkies cannot live in freshwater - she is a fairy!” The woman, Strephon’s mother, waved at her shyly, and spread a pair of gossamer wings.
“Oh!” Patience gazed at her in wonder. Then, she grinned. “How exciting!”
Strephon breathed a sigh of relief. “I have to say, I wasn’t expecting your objection to this revelation to be that I had imprisoned one of the merfolk.”
“Well, my child,” the fairy said as she walked towards them, “I was rather covered in slime.”
Strephon laughed, and the little family sang good morrow to each other. Introductions were made, plots explained and Patience assured that she had not been rude for not leaving out any milk at night.
Patience went to meet Phyllis in her guardian’s house and told her about Iolanthe, her soon-to-be mother-in-law. It took a little more convincing than Patience expected, as apparently children who grow up in town are not given a proper education on the fair folk. Eventually, Phyllis conceded that she trusted Patience, and that if Patience said that their best friend’s mother was a fairy, then she was. Before Patience had a chance to explain their plans, their sanctuary was invaded as Lord Mountararat yet again insisted that Phyllis follow him (and who ignored Patience’s very existence).
As they left the house, Patience realised that something had gone very wrong. Phyllis’ face scrunched into a frown at the sight of Strephon and Iolanthe standing as close as lovers. Patience quickly whispered in her ear before the Lords took her away, “This is Iolanthe!”
Phyllis’ face cleared, and she happily went with Mountararat to hide, yet again, behind the bench. Patience secreted herself behind a climbing rose trellis, and watched the drama unfold. Sadly, everything went down hill from there. Very quickly.
Tolloller and Mountararat dramatically revealed themselves and accused Strephon of infidelity. The Lord Chancellor appeared, Iolanthe fled, and the Lords spun a tale of Strephon’s dalliances with a young maid. Strephon attempted to prove his relationship to Iolanthe, but was swiftly dismissed by the Lords, who called upon Phyllis to give her heart to one of them. Strephon then summoned an entire court of fairies and their Queen . Patience was very proud to say that she did not faint.
“Looking back at it all,” Strephon said as he, Phyllis and Patience collapsed around Phyllis’ table, “My being made de facto ruler of England was not the worst thing that could have happened.”
“Mother, none can resist your fairy eloquence;” Strephon said, whilst Iolanthe looked confused, “Will you go to the Lord Chancellor and plead for us?”
Iolanthe flinched and Phyllis was disconcerted to realise that her feet were hovering just off the ground. “No, no!” Iolanthe cried. “Impossible!”
“But Phyllis and Patience’s happiness - their very lives - depend upon our obtaining his consent!”
“Oh, madam, you cannot refuse to do this!” Phyllis pleaded.
“You know not what you ask!” Iolanthe looked away from them, evidently in much distress. Phyllis and Strephon grasp hands and hope for the best. Unfortunately, they instead received a song about Strephon’s father (the Lord Chancellor!) and the death penalty on Iolanthe’s head.
“Madam, you must not risk this!” Phyllis said, struck with terror at the thought of her best friend becoming an orphan like her. “We are not even in love, it cannot be worth the pain!”
Iolanthe came and took Phyllis’ hands in hers. They were small, and so soft that Phyllis though they might fade away. “It is for Friendship, and for my Strephon’s happiness. It is pointless for me to live in hiding from my husband if my child is not happy.”
The Lord Chancellor’s quick contractual thinking raised Patience’s assessment of the man, but not by much. Sadly, no fairy asked to marry her to save their life, though Tolloller and Mountararat got off easily with a fairy wife apiece. Patienced settled for hoping that the Earls enjoyed their new-found freedom to live and love together for eternity in Fairyland. Overall, the largest upset was caused by the sheer number of fair folk in attendance of Strephon and Phyllis’ wedding, which was a nice problem to have, Patience thought.
In the vestry, Phyllis waited for the Lord Chancellor to collect her to walk down the aisle, and Patience waited with her as her bridesmaid. Somewhere, supposedly, were Lord Mountararat and Lord Tolloller, waiting to act as Strephon’s groomsmen, but neither Patience nor Phyllis had yet seen them.
“So,” Phyllis said, worrying at her dress with fidgeting fingers. “We tarry no more. I’m to be married today.”
Patience drew Phyllis toward her until they were partially concealed. “You are. And I am very happy for you, but more so for me.”
“Oh?” Phyllis enquired.
Patience leaned in and whispered in her ear. “After this afternoon, I will have you all to myself with no one in the world to stop me.”
Phyllis grabbed her face in her hands and kissed her. The world stopped, just for a while.
The village church’s little two-manual organ began to play seemingly out of nowhere. Patience and Phyllis parted so suddenly that Patience tripped over her own skirts, landed with a crash against the wall and pulled Phyllis on top of her. Almost at once, another crash emanated from behind them and Lord Tolloller toppled out from behind a curtain. Lord Mountararat followed immediately after, and all four stopped short. After an awkward pause, Tolloller took Mountararat’s hand to lever himself up in a more or less dignified manner. Phyllis extractated herself from Patience’s arms, and they all turned to the middle of the vestry once more. Tolloller looked like he might have been about to speak, but Mountararat stood on his foot. Mountararat opened his mouth, thought the better of it, and tried again. “The sacred ties of Friendship are paramount.” He said sagely. He and Tolloller bowed to them before swiftly exiting the vestry.
“Friendship?” Patience asked.
Patience’s mother cried, but she assured Patience that she always cried at weddings. Once the ceremony was over, the fairies flew up and away to Fairyland, although Iolanthe stayed to talk to Patience’s mother. Phyllis and Strephon walked hand in hand back to her house, and out of view of any remaining guests, hugged tightly.
“Thank you for everything, my dear friend.” Phyllis giggled. “My dear husband!”
Strephon laughed with her. “Anything for you, my dear friend and wife.” He left her at the gate, humming merrily to himself as he wandered back to his own cottage.
As Phyllis returned her gaze to the house, Patience came out to meet her. She opened the gate and with barely a warning hoisted Phyllis into her arms in a bridal carry. Phyllis laughed into her lover’s chest as she carried her up to her front door, over the threshold, and kicked the door closed behind them.
Blessedly little changed after Phyllis married Strephon. Phyllis was free of the House of Lords (as was the rest of the mortal world) and was ignored by all the local gentlemen who realised that she was no longer ‘on the market’. Phyllis shuddered when she heard them discussing her in such a way, but then Strephon would make sure no market vendor traded with them and Patience would threaten to punch them, so Phyllis felt better. The only slight negative was that Patience’s mother became even more insistent on her marrying, but Phyllis would take her hand and run with her across the fields and Patience would forget all about the whole ordeal. Patience and Phyllis spent most of their hours together, and sometimes with Strephon as well, and all three were very happy with their lives. The flock and the herd were content and provided them with ample income, and the world was good.
Phyllis and Patience always enjoyed new people coming to the village, as they could go and watch their interactions and giggle over the exploits of their neighbours through a new lens.
“This poet,” Phyllis said as they watched the man in question contort his body in mad ways all to put pen to paper, “Is causing more hilarity in this village than I have seen for years .”
“If I am ever feeling unhappy in the future, I can look back to this day, and laugh over these foolish maidens.” Patience replied. They sat on a wall by the market, eating ice cream and commentating on the acts of the lovesick villagers like they were at a theatre. “It is almost as if he is doing it just to amuse us, as he clearly doesn’t care a whit about them.”
Phyllis laughed, and reached over to kiss Patience’s cheek. “As though such a ridiculously elegant man could be interested in a milkmaid or a shepherdess.”
A few months after Reginald Bunthorne’s arrival, Phyllis came from her morning check on the sheep to find Patience in her dairy.
“Phyllis!” She heard Patience call. She wandered in the direction of her voice, mildly confused as to what would cause her lover to be so excited to see her. They had only parted mere hours ago… She rounded the corner to see none other than Bunthorne himself standing far too close to Patience.
“I’m truly sorry, Mr. Bunthorne, but I simply have to go!” Patience said. “My dear friend Phyllis and I are-”
“Going to start sheering the sheep!” Phyllis cried out.
“Ah, such is the misery of the millstone of life. One cannot have a true moment of deep feeling without it being reduced to-”
“Farewell, Mr. Bunthorne,” Patience called out as she walked briskly to Phyllis and they hurried away, “Please do not eat any more butter, it is not good for you!”
When they were out of sight of the dairy, then ran. Reaching Phyllis’ garden, they stopped to get their breath back.
“Sheering the sheep?” Patience panted. “‘Tis September!”
Phyllis groaned “Oh hush, I hardly had time to come up with anything. Besides, it’s not like his high-and-mighty-ness would know when to shave a ewe.” Patience nodded reluctantly. “What on Earth was going on?”
“Mr. Bunthorne,” Patience said, “Has decided that of all the wonderful, eligible, infatuated ladies in the village, he is in love with me.”
Phyllis grasped Patience’s hand. “Well. He shall not have you.”
Frankly, Patience had had enough of strange men approaching her to ask after her day, but a proposal of marriage after just one duet together was far too bold. She picked up her pails and turned away from the stranger, but he called back after her. She groaned, but she could not afford to be rude to potential customers.
“Can it be that you don’t recognise me?”
Patience laughed. “Recognise you?! No, indeed I don’t!”
“Have fifteen years so greatly changed me?”
Patience put down her pails, and prepared to deal with an idiot. “Fifteen years? What do you mean?” She asked sweetly.
“Have you forgotten the friend of your youth, your Archibald? Your little playfellow?” He said. Patience’s eyes widened, but he continued and wailed into his hands. “Oh, Chronos, Chronos, this is too bad of you?”
“Archibald?” Patience breathed. “Is it possible?” It was he. Oh, how he had grown, but still underneath time’s changes she could see the curls of the boy she played with, and the eyes that she had last seen in her dearest friend’s face at the age of four. He claimed that women pronounced him beautiful, but Patience knew far greater beauty closer to her own heart.
“But you are a poet?” She inquired at one point.
“Yes!” He replied. “I am the Apostle of Simplicity. I am called “Archibald the All-Right” – for I am infallible.”
“That seems much more respectable than whatever paragon that Mr. Bunthorne claims discipleship of.” Patience said, relieved. To have found her long-lost friend only to loose him again to bilious poetry would have been a horrible pain. “And is it possible that you condescend to wish to marry such a girl as I?”
“Yes, Patience, is it not strange?” Patience snorted. “I have loved you with a Florentine fourteenth-century frenzy for full fifteen years!”
“Oh, Heavens, not you as well.” She said. She prepared to forget that Archibald had ever returned, as he had clearly changed for the worse in all the ways that mattered. “What do you truly mean by that?”
Archibald frowned at her change in tone. “I don’t rightly know.” He bit his lip and then brightened up again. “Mother says it all the time, so it must be true! Patience.” He came up to her and held out his hand, but without actually taking her hand. She warily took it, prepared to snatch it away at any sign of romantic entanglement. “Patience, I want to marry you because I have no wish to marry anyone at all, but they will not stop harassing me until I do. For all these years, you have been the only person I could even conceive of marrying, as you have never once appealed to my beauty.”
“I was but four, Archibald, I sincerely hope none of your other childhood friends would have done such a thing.” He ducked his head, chastised.
“But that matters not!” She placed her other hand around his. “Your arrival here is perfect, for on the subject of marriage I feel quite the same!”
When they returned to the farms, Phyllis was not in her house. A note on the table indicated that she was leading the flock to a neighbouring market and might take longer than Patience to return, and so Patience took Archibald to sit in the kitchen.
“It is odd for you to lead me around this house like it is yours,” Archibald said, “When did you and your mother move in?”
“Oh, we didn’t.” Patience said as she made them some tea. “My dear Phyllis came to this house some years after you left. She is out for the afternoon, so we must wait for her return so that she can consent to our marriage.”
Archibald frowned. “Why is that?”
“Oh!” Patience laughed. “Because I love her!”
Archibald blinked rapidly. “So you know what love is? Well, I suppose I am happy for you, though I am still deaf myself to the voice of love.”
Patience winced. “It is for Phyllis that I knew I must find a truly nice gentleman to marry, as otherwise our love would be constantly attacked by the interruption of men. Will you still marry me?”
“Certainly!” He said, and Patience sighed with relief. “My mission to marry and be spared of the incomprehensible love of thousands has not changed.”
“You truly are wonderful, Archibald.”
“You are equally supportive, my oldest friend.”
Patience took Archibald up to the hillock at the edge of the pasture that had been the limit of their childhood world. They did not play at pirates and custom house, but they did talk.
“If, as I think it will,” Archibald was saying, “our marriage would provide a means whereby I could escape the inconvenient attentions of every woman I meet, I would be the happiest man alive.”
“Well,” Patience said, “However popular it may be with the world at large, your appearance is absolutely commonplace to me.”
“It is?” Archibald crowed with happiness and kissed Patience’s hand. “Oh, thank you, thank you! How can I express my gratitude?”
“By stopping to make false boasts about you popularity at once! You simply must stop purporting that no woman can resist your temptation when the more intelligent among us have eyes only for the fairer sex!”
“Oh, but if that is all - you do not wish me to halt my poetic inclinations?” He asked.
“Heavens no, it is extremely entertaining.”
“Then, I yield, cheerfully.” He grinned. “Besides, once we are married, I will be madly loved by no one, which is a perfectly reasonable and long-searched for pretext for such a change as you suggest.”
They heard the sheep coming before they saw them, and Patience and Archibald ran down to meet the flock as they came home, lead by Phyllis and Strphon.
“Phyllis, my darling!” Patience rushed to kiss her lover’s cheek.
“Patience, my own!” Phyllis kissed her back and they embraced as though they had been parted months, not hours.
“But who is this?” Strephon asked.
Patience broke away from Phyllis’ embrace to address them all. “Strephon, Phyllis, this is my long-lost Archibald!”
Archibald bowed extravagantly.
“Oh! But he looks to be a common-place, everday young man.” Phyllis said in confusion.
“Oh, thank you, thank you once again!” Archibald cried. “I have received such slashes at my self-confidence today as I have not received for years!”
Phyllis, Patience and Strephon exchanged smiles.
“And he will clearly be a perfect husband.” Phyllis said and shook Archibald’s hand. Then she laughed aloud and ran back into her love’s arms, who picked her up and spun her round, singing all the while.
After much debate internal,
I on Archibald decide,
Archie now is free from turmoil
Finally I am a bride!
Phyllis giggled and sung back:
In this case unprecedented,
Lovers we shall live and die –
We are very much contented
With our topsy-turvy life!
As Patience and Phyllis were distracted by each other, Strephon and Archibald sung their contentment before all four joined together in song.
In this case unprecedented
Lovers they/we shall live and die
We are very much contented
With our topsy-turvy life!
Strephon took Archibald’s arm and showed him the way back to the house that he had lived in for the first five years of his life. Phyllis and Patience held hands as the two men left. In the sunset, it was as though the world was reduced to the pair of them and their love.
Greatly pleased with one another,
To get married we decide.
Each of us has wed another,
Yet we are each other’s brides!
I have really enjoyed writing this fic, definitely one of my best spontaneous decisions. Also - I wrote and completed a multi-chapter fic! For the first time ever!!