The dungeon, Magnihilda reflected, was not so bad. The architect, praise be whatever whore squatted him onto this earth, had done his job well, and the floor and walls were dry, the stones fitted tightly together so few insects came, and those mostly in the hay strewn upon the floor, which she noted was fresh. True, there was little in the way of fresh air, but it was cool and the busy noises of the castle were muted to a kind of echoing murmur.
It was not, perhaps, the best place for the swordswoman to sleep off a hangover, but she had endured far worse. So she stretched herself out on the stout wooden bench set against the wall (there was no cot, and by the Virgin she'd be damned to sleep on the floor). It was somewhat shorter than her six-foot frame, which left her boots to dangle over the edge, but she had slept six-to-a-bed at some inns on campaign, and the prospect of a night's sleep unmolested was far from unwelcome.
So the night passed, interrupted only occasionally by vile interruptions and trips to the corner to void her bowels or gullet, before finally body and mind settled into a deeper slumber.
Magnihilda awoke, aware even as she feigned sleep of the holy woman gazing at her through the barred window of the cell.
"Wake up, sir knight." The voice was calm, cultured, the lilt of French over her German, though the swordswoman could not place the province or city.
With a single smooth motion, Magnihilda rose from prostrate to a sitting position, hands braced on the bench. Eyes opened wide in the darkness, she beheld the boxy headdress, the rich cloth of the dress. An abbess at least, if she was to judge.
"If you're here to take your pleasures with a rogue, madame," the prisoner grumbled, "I am afraid my imprisonment has me at a difficulty to attend to your desires."
The abbess did not snicker or show any sign of shock.
"Impersonating a man is illegal in this district. The local baron could see you flogged and branded - if he knew of your offense."
The swordswoman rose an eyebrow.
"No, he does not yet know. Indeed, as far as the guards are concerned, you are only a drunk and quarrelsome landless knight, one who wears his wealth in his arms and his horse. If your secret was kept, the baron might even offer you a position as a mercenary."
Magnihilda raised one hand.
"Enough, your holiness. By the Virgin's tits, tell me what you want of me. I will die of thirst and boredom if we might go through the tired dance of threat and reward. State your purpose for me."
Now the abbess smiled, and the swordswoman felt her piss run cold. "I will speak to the baron on your behalf. I will tell him you will seek repentance for the misdeeds in your life, by going on pilgrimage to the Holy Lands, there to join the Crusaders in their war against the Mohammedans."
"I've killed Turks, Moors, and stranger folks." Magnihilda mused, "Though I never pretended any particular piety to it. Is this a ruse for some other errand?"
"Yes and no. You must journey to the Holy Land, and you will do so in the guide of a Crusader. But your quest is to recover a certain relic, held we think among a group of heretics in Syria."
"Syria!" the Swordswoman let out a groan. "What in Mary's sagging udders do you want there?"
A strange look crossed the abbess' face, though only for a moment. "You have heard, perhaps, how our Lord and Saviour ascended bodily into Heaven, so that there are no remnants of his body?"
The swordswoman frowned. "I had heard the Holy Prepuce survived," she hedged. "But yes, I am familiar with the theology."
"The Prepuce, yes," The abbess nodded. "And too, there are images of his body that by the grace of God, remain to us - captured in the veil of Veronica, and the shroud that wrapped his body." She paused. "You have seen dead men, have you not?"
Magnihilda's frown deepened at this sudden turn in the conversation. "Aye, and made more than a few of them myself, through the years."
"You have seen...naked dead men."
"Corpses in gibbets, and the victims of war stripped of their worldly goods, aye."
"Then you are aware, that in the hours after some deaths, there is a...miraculous occurrence with their members."
"Aye, their pricks get hard, standing stiff and proud." The swordswoman chuckled. "There was once I saw, in the aftermath of a massacre, the dead were all laid in rows, naked as the day they were born, and though they all laid upon the earth yet they all stood at attention, the silly men..."
"And you have heard of the candles made of some of these dead men?"
"Waxen molds of hanged men, to cast macabre toys for bored nobles...no." Magnihilda stopped and shook her head. "You cannot be serious."
"It is a story, a legend, passed down within our order." The abbess affirmed, that strange look upon her face once more. "Mary Magdalene, seeing the state of her fallen Savior as he was prepared for burial, did capture its image in wax, and after his Resurrection, from this mold she did cast a replica of his Holy Member, perfect in every detail. And to this relic has been attributed many miracles."
The swordswoman's mouth was open, and dimly she became aware of it, and shut her mouth.
"I charge you, sir knight, to go on Crusade. To recover the Holy Member from those infidels who hold it, and earn for yourself forgiveness for your sins in this life. Will you accept this challenge?" She paused. "Or..."
Once more, Magnihilda held up a hand. "No ors, madame. Not between us. No, remove me from this dungeon and I will be your man," she smiled, "and recover this relic for your order, if it does in truth exist. By my troth, I swear it."