Erin dismounted from the horse. Her foot caught in the stirrup, and she let out a loud curse as she plummeted face first into the mud. Her face flushed and she felt the tips of her ears redden; being covered in mud was not how she wanted to meet the Baron. She pulled her canteen out of her saddlebag and cleaned the mud from her face as best she could with the lukewarm water.
“It will have to do,” she told the horse, as she adjusted the sword in its scabbard. She hoped that her unkempt appearance would not take away from the importance of her request, but if the Baron would refuse to help her due to a little mud, then he didn’t deserve the title.
Erin straightened her back and walked up to the manor’s front doors, giving the bell pull a firm tug. A surprisingly pleasant cacophony of bells rang out, followed briefly by the opening of the manor’s front door.
An elderly matron, one of the Baron’s longest serving attendants gave Erin a brief appraisal, taking in the mud, before saying, “Lady Eocyn, this is most unexpected.”
“I have an urgent request to make of the Baron, so I must see him immediately,” Erin replied, her face chiseled as if in stone to reflect the importance of her words.
The grey-haired woman, she was called Geraldine if Erin’s memory served her, nodded and gestured for Erin to enter the manor. Geraldine led Erin directly to the Baron’s audience room, and instructed her to wait there while she informed the Baron of Erin’s presence.
Erin pace the large room, feeling the cold mud drying and clinging to her hair, neck, and clothes as she collected her thoughts. After what seemed and eternity, but in reality was only three minutes, Geraldine returned with Barron Rennis, whose demeanor indicated his displeasure.
Erin started to speak but the Baron cut her off, “What is it this time, Erin?” his voice filled with weary indignation.
“Milord,” Erin began, “as you know, I am the last surviving member of my blood line, and as such, my lands are at risk without an heir.”
Rennis gave a loud sigh and rolled his eyes as he took his seat.
Erin continued undaunted, “As you also know, Mistress Constance is regent for Count Larrimore until he comes of age in fifteen years.”
“By the gods, girl,” the Baron said, his eyes widening, are you suggesting you should be betrothed to a one-year-old child?”
“Of course not,” Erin replied, “I wish to be betrothed to Constance.”
Rennis gave a gasp, “To…to…you can’t marry Constance.”
“You’re only saying that because no one’s ever done it before.”
“Well, no one’s done it before because it’s not what’s done.”
“Please, Milord,” Erin begged, “It’s the only way I can protect my family’s lands.” She took a breath and spoke rapidly before the Baron could respond, “You would be able to set a precedent for other lords in the realm.”
“A precedent from which I may never recover.”
“But with the plague spreading through the realm something needs to be done if any of our bloodlines are to survive.”
“Plague or not, what could I possibly say to the other lords to justify this…” His voice trailed off as he raised both hands in the air in a gesture of helplessness.
A thin smile spread on Erin’s face as she’d been waiting for this opening. “You tell them that love, true love, has no borders, and that no plague can ever erase it.” She could see the Baron’s eyes glazing over, he just wasn’t getting it.
“This isn’t just a trick to try to save my land,” Erin stated plainly, “I love Constance, and I have for many years, despite the lack of understanding we face for it.”
“But the other lords,” the Baron said, his tone petulant.
“The other lords will understand more than you think they will,” Erin said, “especially since many of them have ‘dalliances’ of their own in a similar fashion.”
“What happens behind closed doors and out of sight is one thing.”
“So open those doors and let the light of love shine openly through them!”
“It’s not as simple as that.”
“It is if you make it so.”
Baron Rennis sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, “You’re too young to remember.”
“Remember?” asked Erin. “Remember what?”
“You were a part of that?”
The Baron sat up straighter in his chair, “I led it.”
Erin’s jaw dropped open, and she stammered out, “But that means…”
“That I was born as Baroness Rennis.”
“Then you know how I feel, and there’s no reason for you to disapprove of my request.”
“I do know how you feel, and while I personally understand your request, I won’t enact it.”
“But you can,” Erin pleaded, “You’re the only one who can.”
“You don’t understand, if I do what you want everything will change again.”
“You say that like it’s something that isn’t necessary, like it’s not exactly what we need.”
“So you’re willing to become Lord Eocyn, and for Mistress Constance to become Master Constance?”
“No, you don’t need to change who you are in order to be who you need to be.”
“But that’s what you fail to understand; if I change the law to allow you to marry, the curse that I am under, that caused the Transition, will happen again. All genders will switch. Are you willing for that to happen?”
“I’m willing to allow my family’s bloodline to fade into nothingness, and I’m willing to bequeath our lands to a baby in order to save them, so if I have to give up my gender to be with the one I love in order to make that happen, then so be it.”
A glimmer sparkled in the Baron’s eyes, and a faint smile played over his lips, “Very well.”
The Baron closed his eyes, furrowed his brow in concentration for a moment, then nodded his head and said, “It is done.”
Erin walked outside and patted his horse, getting use to the movement of his new physical body, but feeling no different on the inside.
The Baroness called out, “Do you think he’ll still love you?”
Erin turned and smiled, “Of course he will. After all, real love ignores the surface and dives to the depths of the soul for acceptance.”
[Author's Note: Coy and I wrote this story together between visitors to our booth at a recent con. I started out with the first sentence and we alternated sentences after that, each providing a new line to the story as we went along. But we didn't discuss what we were thinking about the characters or story and played off each other as we went. We offer it here for your enjoyment with minimal edits or changes from how we wrote it out that day at the con. We hope you enjoy this little writing experiment.]
Image from a painting by Edmund Leighton (1852-1922) titled "The King and the Beggar-maid"