Authors: John Crandall
Normally oblivious to the hurt of women,
Selric now felt that to which he had long known ignorance. It was not that
Selric did not care, he had simply seldom noticed. Selric was always breaking
hearts when he could no longer carry on a relationship for whatever reason. He
had grown used to it. But now...now it was different. Selric really did not
want to hurt Angelique. He had always felt, in a vain manner, that by loving a
woman she received a gift, and when he left her she was better from the encounter
even if saddened by its demise. But he had not loved-and-left Angelique. She
liked him not for the physical or monetary reasons that most of the other women
did, and for that he hurt. Angelique loved Selric only because of who she
thought he was.
“Hello, Jewel-of-the-Heavens,” Selric
said. Angelique simply smiled; enchanted. Selric licked his lips and took a
“Is something wrong Selric?” Angelique
asked sweetly; sprightly. She smiled an innocent and charming smile: her
teeth beautiful, nose a button, mouth narrow with the lips in a permanent
glistening pout, hair golden and feathery, and her emerald eyes reflecting the
torchlight as vividly as the jewels around her neck.
“No, nothing’s wrong Angelique. Nothing
at all.” Selric took Angelique by the hand and led her to the balcony’s edge
where he leaned against the rail. “Did you realize that my parents are very
fond of you?” Selric asked, looking out over the city, his eye caught by a
painted lady standing under a lamp post several blocks away, the city darker
and seedier the closer it slid down the hill to the docks.
“And my mother, of you,” Angelique said
with a smile, her eyes locked curiously on Selric’s pained face. Selric looked
over at Angelique: she was watching him, intently, waiting for him to say what
troubled him, her brows raised. Selric bit his lip, a perplexed look crossing
his face. “Just say it Selric. We have known each other for over twenty
years, meeting at these parties and such; my family, your family. I remember
you wanting to pretend that we were married when we were eleven. You wanted me
to kiss you.” She smiled proudly, her face longing from the sweet memory of a
dear childhood friend.
“You wouldn’t,” Selric said pleasantly.
“Yes, they do,” Selric said nervously.
“You know, my parents think you would make me the best bride.”
“That is very sweet of them,” Angelique
said, still waiting patiently.
“What do you think?”
“Is that a proposal?” Angelique asked,
then paused, but when Selric opened his mouth nervously to answer, she began
again. “I am merely jesting with you.” She turned Selric to face her, taking
both his hands in hers. “Selric, I know that you are not ready to marry. And
even when you are, it probably will not be me who you want to wed, though I
admit I have often wondered why.”
“That’s not true,” he insisted, lifting
her hands to his lips, his eyes sad and lying.
“What is not?” she followed.
“That it won’t be you...necessarily. But
no, I am not ready. I’m sorry. That much is true.”
“Do not be sorry,” Angelique scoffed with
a giggle. “You must do what is best for you. What if I said that I would do
what you wanted, to show you how I felt about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“To be frank, I have heard about your
reputation. It is not ladylike or proper to listen to gossip, I know, but I am
pretty sure that this is true. Is it not?” Angelique smiled, cocking her head
at a confirmatory angle.
“I would never want that,” Selric said.
“What am I saying?” he thought to himself, “that’s all I’ve wanted from her
since we were twelve.” But at that moment, he did not want to lie with her in
love, not when she offered in that way; that unselfish, self-sacrificial way.
“I know. You are a gentleman. But I
wanted you to know that I think I could really come to love you...as a
husband. I already do as a friend.”
“But we’re so different. You really need
someone who’s at home at these functions. I’m uncomfortable,” he said, looking
around, as if waiting for someone to pounce on him. “You’re at home, you
shine. You’re patient. I lose control with the pomposity and the
condescending tone whenever the ‘commoners’ are mentioned. You wouldn’t like,
or fit in at, the places in which I
comfortable. Take the
Angelique gasped. “You go there?” she
asked, her eyes wide and mouth slightly ajar in an innocent and sweet manner of
shock. “I have heard that people have been killed there...and...and that they
have prostitutes...and...and that it is dirty...” She looked aghast, losing
her tongue and ability to go on speaking.
“But it isn’t, you see. It’s all right
when you’ve been there a few times.”
“Then I could go?”
“No...no,” Selric stuttered quickly.
“It’s not a
place. It’s not a tea party or something like that.
It’s only okay if you can handle yourself...and if you fit in. You wouldn’t.
You’re...well, too sweet. They’d be jealous or hate you because you’re noble
or something. I can’t explain, but it’s the truth. I’m not trying to
discourage you, honestly I’m not.” Selric looked at Angelique pleadingly,
wishing he could find the exact words to make his pain clear. Normally
well-spoken—more glib the less important the topic—Selric now could not form
sentences to explain what his heart yearned to share with explicit clarity.
“It is all right, I believe you. I know
what they can be like.”
“See? You’re doing it now. You’re being
snobby. What do you mean
? On the whole, the rabble is no worse
than the snobs. Each group just does things in its own way. Neither is
superior, but they undoubtedly cannot get along with one another. And I feel
“Yet you said they would hate me for
being noble. So are
not as prejudiced as I?”
“I guess you are right,” he said softly.
“So what are you saying?” she asked as if
mildly frustrated; betrayed.
“I don’t know,” Selric said dejectedly.
“Just that people should be judged individually, not because of his or her
social class. Someone is not a bad person because they have less manners than
another…or…or because he doesn’t have the blood of a particular family in his
“I see,” Angelique said. “Well, if you
ever want to settle down to your inheritance and a refined life, I may want to
mix my family blood with yours.” She looked slyly at him, smiling slightly,
compassionately. “Our son would be the most handsome, sophisticated lad,” she added
with a winsome sigh.
“You are certainly...
Angelique. I don’t know if I’ll ever settle down in that way, but a part of me
certainly hopes that I will.” Selric wrapped his arms around her waist.
Angelique’s smile faded quickly, her lips
parting as she placed her own arms around Selric’s neck, waiting, and edging
forward. Selric leaned Angelique to the side and pressed his lips to hers,
finding them naturally warm, soft, and oddly receptive. He slipped his tongue
into her mouth and ran it over her teeth, feeling her gasp, and he inhaled her
sweet, cool breath. Angelique touched her tongue timidly to his, and feeling
its slickness, pulled it back away. But Selric held Angelique tightly and ran
his tongue over hers, despite the fact that she tried to hide it in the back of
her mouth. Slowly, she brought it out, intermingling it with his. Then he
stopped. Angelique’s heart thumped. She knew that he must be able to feel it,
pressed together as they were. She was queasy, light headed, and when Selric
stood her upright again, she fell immediately back into his arms, unable to
look him in the eye.
“Shall we go back in?” he asked, his arm
around her waist for support. Angelique nodded and walked, ever more steadily,
with him. She knew, sadly, that kissing would never be the same.
“I really owe you for getting me that
job. I can’t believe I start tomorrow. How can I repay you?” Melissa asked.
Dirk was wondering just that as they stood outside the warehouse, Melissa
stroking Candy while Dirk loaded the wagon.
“That’s okay,” he finally said, realizing
he liked having her near him; that was payment enough for Dirk.
“Would you like to come over tonight?
I’m cooking a chicken,” Melissa asked as if that would be payment enough. In
fact, to Dirk, it would be. He had not eaten chicken since his last dinner at
, where he ventured each month only after saving enough
money. Dirk’s meals usually came from the market, consisting of cheap
sausages, hard bread, and watered beer.
“That would be good,” he said calmly, but
his mouth began to water and his stomach rumbled as he imagined the wholesome
food. Melissa heard and smiled.
“See you...a little before sunset?
That’ll give me time,” she said, looking at the sun, “to buy it and clean it
“All right,” Dirk said. “What time?”
“Time?” she asked.
“What time…what hour?” he asked. When
she still seemed puzzled he laughed and added, “Can’t you tell time?”
“Tell time? Tell it what? Huh?” Melissa
asked, then she remembered having been asked that same question before. “You
mean that big tower...clock thing?” The great clock tower could be seen from
almost all parts of town, and heard from even farther.
“Yes that tower-clock thing,” said Dirk,
finding her country innocence charming. Melissa blushed, but such emotions
made the strong girl uncomfortable and she tended to hide it with anger.
“That’s okay, I understand. I’ll be there around dusk,” Dirk said kindly. They
smiled at each other, said good-bye, Melissa gave him directions and Dirk
finished loading the wagon so that he could make the final delivery and then
get ready for the big meal that night.
Dirk arrived early at Melissa’s. He
waited on the street as long as he could bear before going inside and trudging slowly
up to the top floor of the three-story building, trying not to be too early.
He knocked: timidly at first, each rap more bold than the last. “Come in,”
Melissa’s voice rang out clearly through the thick door. Dirk peered inside:
Melissa stood by a small table which was littered with a bloody mess of
feathers. A long hunting knife, also blood spattered, protruded from the table
top. Near Melissa was an old stove and on it were two large iron pots, steam
rolling up from them. The only other items in the small room were a bed (the
covers on it messed), a large chest, and a tremendous longbow sitting in the
corner. “Well, come in,” Melissa repeated. “Have a seat.” She motioned to
“You shouldn’t just say ‘come in.’ What
if I had been a bad man?” Dirk asked as he looked about.
“I think a bad man might find that I can
be a worse woman,” she said in a rather fell way. Her eyes were lost for a moment
then she laughed lightly and nodded. “Well, sit down.”
Unsure of just where to sit, Dirk put
himself at the foot of the bed, on its very corner as if afraid to touch the
bed itself. Melissa cleaned up the carcass and stored her cooking herbs in
their pouch. She pulled a lantern from the chest, placed it upon the lid and
struck it alight. With a heave, she shoved the table toward the bed, the legs
skipping and sputtering as they slid across the warped, knobby floor, then set
the light upon it and slid the chest around to sit opposite the bed.
“Maybe you’ll be more comfortable here,”
Melissa said, patting the lid of the cedar chest. Dirk rose and moved around
the table, but he was not yet ready to sit down.
He was surprised; the room was a lot like
his own. He knew that furnishings were not all that important, since, if like
him, Melissa spent very little time inside anyway. For the working class of
Andrelia, there was always work to be done, earning what little pay people of
their lot could. The lantern was dim, not more than a few candles worth of
light, casting long shadows into which Dirk ventured to reach the bow in the
corner. “I hope you brought a knife,” Melissa called as she stirred the pot.
“Yes,” Dirk said, feeling for the small
knife that he always wore on his hip he used for cutting knots, opening crates,
and other work-related tasks, as well as for eating. He then picked up the
bow, pulled it, and pretended to shoot an arrow.
“Did you have a hard time finding me?”
Melissa asked, looking to the dinner and not at her new friend in the corner.
“It should be ready soon...the dinner, I
mean.” Melissa stopped primping the food and turned to look at Dirk, leaning
against the wall with her arms folded. Dirk glanced up from the bow as he
lowered it, placing the weapon back in the corner.