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The Hall of Heroines
"Try On The Crown. . . ."

From Firelord, by Parke Godwin

Arthur reflects on what brought about Guenevere's affair with Lancelot.

     "Christian she was, but of the ancient Parisi, whose royal women were always associated with the fertility goddess in times not far removed. This attitude survived conversion. Bishops like Anscopius might mutter and warn, but if the princess's bed was no longer an augur of fertility, it was at least her own business.
 
     "Promiscuous? Hardly. Grant to any affectionate, well-governed wife that she won't commit adultery on sheer impulse alone, how much less likely for the most public of all women to succumb? If and when she does, it follows that more than one day prepared her for it. When Lancelot came back to court, Guenevere had worked at statecraft daily, girl and woman, for many years.
 
     "Daily, I said.

     "For a moment now, you are Queen of Britain. Try on the crown.
 
     "You rise near dawn. While your women dress your hair, you're already reading half of the day's first dispatches while your husband reads the rest. You discuss the most urgent over breakfast while other business is already crowding in on you. The morning audiences: which are important, which not? You oversee all negotiations with Cador [Guenevere's father], who still uses the blood tie to further his own aims. Where do you bend, where draw the line?
 
     "You think on your feet, you listen and judge from waking to sleep again. Which of your household can be trusted, who are spies for Cerdic? Marcus Conomori? Your own father? Some must be. You maintain people to do the same for you, because the name for a trusting and uninformed ruler is corpse. 

     "Every waking moment has some strain on it, speaking in one breath Latin to one ambassador, British to another. How realistic must you be with your father? How idealistic with Dyfneint or shrewd with Cornwall? You command where your husband can't because he's somewhere else just as important. You sign documents that grant or deny, bring life or death, the dirty laundry and the housekeeping of kingship.
 
     "And when you wake one day to find yourself pregnant, the whole world doesn't stop to coo over your fecundity, nor can you. You go on riding, writing,  judging, listening, commanding, working to exhaustion, charming this or that ambassador at table and not drinking half as much as you'd like because your ears must be open and your mind working.
 
     "For a few minutes before sleep perhaps you can share with your husband whatever is personal between you, this child in your body often forgotten completely through the hurtling day. And that day doesn't wash off at night but leaves a residue, the thickening grime of state that comes to bed with you, lies in your arms and your dreams.