ildegard walked the forest in a squeaking body of armor. Her chest plate was bronze and had dings from all the arrows that had tried to pierce her heart, but never made it. Her waist was tiny and bound by a wide leather belt fringed with hard studs designed to keep hands off. Her long legs were sheathed in brown leather too tough to rip, and she kept her flowing hair — so black it shone blue — tucked under an iron helmet to avoid attracting too much attention.
Hildegard only wanted to be noticed for her quick reflexes and artistry with the sword. She had a habit of driving the instrument’s sharp point at potential lovers and enemies — she couldn’t tell the difference — and bellowing, “Stand back!” Some took her on and clanked swords, but eventually they realized they were no match for her looping blade and fancy footwork. Let’s face it, though, her premature victory cries — in French, no less — made even the staunchest romantics turn and flee into the forest never to be seen again.
One day, as Hildegard was walking her favourite trail — the one covered with the dancing wildflowers — she stumbled upon a cave at the base of an escarpment. “Hell-o-o,” she called, “Is anyone there?” She pulled out her sword and held it in front of her as she walked down into the darkness. There was some commotion and a flutter across her cheek as a nesting swallow tried to move out of her way. Dripping water from an underground stream pinged against her helmet and thick mud tried to stop her in her tracks the whole way through, but Hildegard was determined to lift her legs out of the muck and keep moving forward.
At the back of the cave she came upon a room illuminated by tallow candles and saw a figure lying motionless on a plinth. It was an ancient hag. Hildegard stood over the old woman, watching the slow rise and fall of her chest and taking in the details of her waning body. Her wiry hair flowed in dry waves over either side of the platform. Her deflated breasts were heading over the edge too. She had pointy hip bones, like an old cow, and feet as gnarled as tree roots. Hildegard’s eyes were moving on to the colourful assortment of stuff happening to the hag’s hands, when the old woman opened one eye, then two, causing Hildegard to jump back.
“Why are you trying to outsmart love?” asked the woman.
“Because it’s not worth the pain,” said Hildegard.
“And how does it feel living a pain-free life?”
“So then take off that ridiculous chest plate and free those legs from their leather casings. And, while you’re at it, toss the helmet too.”
Hildegard unbuckled the shield encasing her soft chest and leaned it against the stone wall. She removed her helmet and her conditioned hair fell in a tumble down her back. The leather pants were the last to go. As she stood there in her camisole and thong, the old hag pointed a knotted finger to the storage space under the platform. Hildegard felt around in the darkness and dragged out a treasure chest into the middle of the floor.
“Open it,” instructed the old hag. The lid creaked like it had never been touched before. Hildegard held up a cream satin slip dress with the price tag still dangling from it, then fished out a pair of matching flats. She even found a Hawaiian lay of fresh flowers. “I dreamed of wearing those,” said the old hag, “but I kept putting it off.”
Hildegard dropped the dress over her head, slipped on the shoes and was adjusting the lay when the old hag said, “Now, go back out there.” As Hildegard turned to leave, she didn’t give a second thought to the expensive sword she was leaving on the floor next to all of her other top-of-the-line equipment. The light pulled her along. When she reached the entrance to the cave, the noonday sun warmed her face and the wind lifted her long hair.
A week later, the old hag arranged for Hildegard’s equipment to be returned to her by courier, with the note: “Keep the dress.” Hildegard took it one better: she kept the dress, the equipment (for regional tournaments), and said yes to coffee with the courier.
Decorative “H” courtesy of the talented Jessica Hische.