Promises – Part 21

A knock on the door woke him from a fitful sleep. Jack’s eyes shot open, and he looked frantically around the room. The first rays of sunlight were creeping through the curtains of the window. The knock  came again, and Jack leapt from his bed and headed to the front door. Along the way he picked up one of his sturdier canes, but did not use it to aid his stride. When he reached the front room he saw a woman peering in the store window. When she saw him her expression perked up and she waved excitedly at him. Jack wracked his brain about who this woman was, and why she was at his door so early in the morning. It wasn’t until he reached the front door that he remembered her: Krissine’s friend Jannette. Jack opened the door and greeted his guest.

“Good morning, Jannette.” Continue reading “Promises – Part 21”

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Promises – Part 19

This is going to leave a scar, Jack though while he inspected his wound in the slanted mirror that he had for customers to see how his wares looked on them. Especially if I let it heal like this. The cut had been closing crookedly on the ride back to his shop, with nothing holding the two sides of flesh together to have it knit properly. Jack pulled out his knife and positioned it very carefully at one corner of the still-open slit in the skin. At the first, sharp pain he was suddenly very far away from it all. He watched the blood flow in the wake of the metal, vaguely aware of the pain, but with a heavy veil of mental fog between himself and the reality of what he was watching. His hands moved the skin more evenly next to each other, and the two sides re-knitted themselves back together more efficiently than the previous attempt. When the hole seemed like it would hold itself closed, Jack’s hands carefully moved away, and he watched it become a fresh, pink line of scar tissue. At least this time it was more of a straight line. He leaned forward and pressed his palms onto the countertop, closed his eyes, and breathed slow, shaking breaths. When he opened his eyes again, the world was real, and he focused on cleaning the fresh blood off himself, his knife, and the counter. The shirt was unsalvageable. Jack began unbuttoning it with shaky hands, struggling to keep a slower, normal speed at the task. When he reached behind his back to undo the two lines of buttons that closed the shirt around the base of his wings, though, he lacked the dexterity, and instead fumbled with increasing frustration. No matter what he did, he could not get even a single button through the damned hole. The side of his fist slammed into the wall. His eyes burned with the threat of tears. Why was this happening? Why was he like this? Why today?

“Do you want some help?” Continue reading “Promises – Part 19”

Promises – Part 18

Jack was sitting on the bench of his cart. Now that he was alone he was having a hard time bringing himself to function enough to take the reins and go back home. So instead he sat with his elbows on his knees, absently playing with his knife. He traced a thumb along the silver inlay in the blade. Then he slid the thumb down to the edge, and let the minor pain give him something to focus on. Slowly, achingly, the panic faded. It was just him, in his cart, alone, and safe. When he heard the woman’s voice, he didn’t understand the words at first. It was the second time that he heard a “Hey,” and turned his head. The woman speaking to him was a dragonian in a modest dress, with piercing eyes framed by dark hair. Continue reading “Promises – Part 18”

Promises – Part 17

Meanwhile Jack was content to observe the goings-on around him, just as he’d always been. At least, it felt to him that that’s how it had always been. So he sat as a stone in the rippling pond of activity around him as family and friends reunited for the joyous occasion between two people who were barely more than acquaintances to him. Occasionally someone would notice him, but they would leave their interactions at a smile, sometimes a nod. That was perfectly fine. Jack didn’t see the need to fill a deeper role than just the enigmatic jeweler. It was a role he was good at, keeping everyone at arm’s length for, what was it, over a year now? Continue reading “Promises – Part 17”

Promises – Part 16

Warm sunlight filtered through the leaves of the trees that shaded the dirt road that served as the main street for the small town. Every-so-often, the clattering of a cart and the dull thud of hooves interrupted the tranquility of the near-empty stretch of road. A line of small buildings lined one side of the road, and stalls lined the other, creating a small attempt at a bazaar for such a tiny village in the midst of the vast stretch of farmland that led down the slow slope to the nearby coastal town. Here the farmers and fishers traded and bartered the day’s haul, and shared the news from their respective lives. This day was a slow day for business, as everyone was preparing for the harvest celebration.

A set of hooves once again broke the quiet as a small dragonian woman rode down the road with a fervor. She was off her mount before it had come to a full stop in front of one of the small buildings and tried the door. It opened with the sound of a small bell and permitted her entrance to a tiny shop front lined with glass cases in which glittered all manner of gem and jewelry. From the back room the woman could hear the small ting of metal being hammered.

“Jack! What are you doing? You were supposed to be at the Collins’s half an hour ago.”

“I’m almost done, Cathy.” Jack called from the back room. “Charles came by earlier today and brought the most fantastic addition.”

The hammering ended and Cathy crossed the storefront to the door of the workroom. The room itself was plain and sparse, with the only furniture being the workbench, an armchair, a small cast iron stove, and a bed. However, the precious jewels and metals that were strewn about the space made it resemble someone’s prized trophy room. Jack was presently seated at the workbench, his back to his visitor. Suddenly he popped his head up and turned to look at her. “It’s done. Do you want to see it?” Cathy nodded and he picked up the object and presented it. It was an intricate silver tiara, with thread-thin wisps of gold entwined through the spiralling designs. At the center of the design was a polished gem that looked as if it held fire within in.

Cathy put a hand to her mouth. “It’s beautiful, Jack. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Jack nodded and turned back to his workbench. He lovingly placed the product into a plain wooden box, and rose from his seat, taking the box with him. When he reached  the door to the workroom, he stopped at a full cane basket that was tucked into the corner and pulled out one that was elegantly carved.

“You’ve got quite the collection going,” Cathy quipped. “I’m starting to feel like it’s less of a help to you and more of an accessory.”

“You know me, Cathy,” Jack responded, “I can’t pass up the opportunity to turn some heads.”

Cathy had noticed that Jack rarely ever leaned on the canes anymore, and in fact he was usually without one when in private. Every so often, though, she caught him gripping the top of the cane tightly, or staggering, just a little bit, as he walked across a room. Today he put just a little more weight on the cane as he traversed the storefront. Cathy waited for him to lock the front door and return to the back room before asking if he wanted her help hooking up the carriage.

“No, I got it hooked up earlier with Charles.” Jack said, and the two made their way through the workroom and out the back door of the building. Waiting out back was a small plain carriage hooked up to a sturdy horse. Jack placed the box and his cane in the small luggage area in the back while Cathy untied the lead, and soon they were loaded up and on their way.

Cathy watched the buildings fall away to the sea of browns and greens that rolled softly with the cool breeze. Autumn was waning, the final crops of the season had been harvested, and the preparations for winter had begun. As she soaked in all the natural beauty around her, she understood why so many city-dwellers wanted to leave. The air was cleaner, the pace was slower, the people were friendlier.

“It’s hard to imagine we ever lived in the city,” she mused.

Jack gave a small noise of agreement, but Cathy caught the distracted tone behind it. She turned her attention to him to try to glean more information from his expression. It had little to offer, but behind the stony mask she saw how his brows were creased together, just a little bit, and his jaw was firmly set. Cathy could only sigh in soft resignation. There was no use dragging out the same tired conversation they’d had nearly every day they’d first arrived in the house Charles had purchased. It was the same conversation that drove Jack to move out of that house and into the back room of his shop months later. So instead she returned her attention to the rolling fields for the remainder of the trip.

Soon enough they arrived at the Collins’ farm, which was moderately decorated in all manner of seasonal fare. Tables were laid out with cornucopia centerpieces that were bursting with various harvest goods. Charles’ Aether lights were strung between poles in preparation of the sunset. The spotlight of the event was at an old, ornate wedding arch that sat atop a small mound at the edge of the clearing, just before the start of the crop land. It was there that Jack and Cathy went after dismounting the cart and securing the lead. An older, plump naga woman rushed up to them before they set even one foot on the mound.

“Jack, deary!” the woman exclaimed as she pulled Jack into a tight hug. “You’re just in time. Krissine is almost done with her preparations.”

“Then you’ll want to make sure she has the final touch,” he replied with a grin and handed her the wooden box.

The woman bounced back, nearly folding over herself with joy. “Oooooh, she’ll be so excited. I’m excited.” She lifted the lid of the box ever so slightly, then snapped it shut again. “No, I shouldn’t. I want to be just as surprised as she is.” And with that, she hurried off to deliver the parcel.

Jack shook his head and made his way to one of the chairs toward the back of the wedding area. Cathy started to sit next to him, but when she got close to him she decided instead to just pat him on the shoulder and say, “Try to have a good time today. There’s still a lot of people around here you don’t know yet.” Then she walked away to find something with which to busy herself. With any luck, if she left him alone long enough, Jack might just find someone to take his mind off Nadine for once. She doubted it, though.

Promises – Part 15

Nadine was inconsolable. She spent entire days holed up in her room, refusing food and shirking all request and visitors. A small mound of gifts and flowers began piling in the corner. None of them were touched. Queen Sathira had just about worn out her last efforts to communicate with her daughter when one night she suddenly burst through the door into the queen’s chamber.

“Have you found him?” Nadine asked her startled mother. She had dark bags under her eyes and was looking pale.

Sathira set her book down and rose from her chair. “Found whom, dear?”

Nadine slammed her hand against the wall, making her mother draw back a bit. “You know damn well whom, mother!”

Sathira moved carefully toward her daughter. “Nadine, dear, come sit down. Please.”

“I will not. I cannot. I will not rest until I find him again.” Nadine was moving swiftly around the room, never pausing. “My life means nothing now! I mean nothing.”

“You mean everything,” came a voice from the doorway.

Nadine whipped around to face the one who dared intrude on her self-loathing. It was Roger, straight-backed, holding a bouquet in one hand.

“Please,” Roger cooed as he cautiously entered, “allow me just a few moments of your time to show you it’s true.”

“Yes, daugther,” Sathira pleaded, “please. Take your mind off your troubles, at least for a while.”

Roger approached Nadine, who was frozen in an arched poise. He gave a full bow and offered the bouquet to her.

“We will send the guards out once again to find him,” the queen assured. “No matter where he’s gone. Now, please go out and have a lovely time.”

Nadine stayed frozen. Her eyes darted from her mother to her suitor. Sathira was wringing her hands. Roger stayed as immobile as her, waiting for her decision. Finally, mechanically, she straightened herself, smoothed her gown, and took the bouquet. “I must change,” she said in a quiet monotone. “I will have our servants bring you chocolate while you wait.”

 

Roger and Sathira were quietly talking about nothing in particular while they held tiny cups of chocolate that they never drank from when Nadine re-entered. Her dress was a stunning afternoon affair with her hair coiffed under a decorated hat. The bags under her eyes and the tear stains under her cheeks were expertly covered with the finest makeup. She seemed like a whole new woman. A servant announced her, and Roger set down his cup and rose from his seat. He was beaming with delight at the sight of her.

“Your Highness, if you do not mind my saying, you look ravishing,” he told her.

Her smile of response felt to her like it required all the effort of every muscle in her face, but it seemed to pass inspection.

Roger approached her and offered his arm. “Shall we?”

Nadine nodded and placed her hand delicately onto his arm. She was a perfect, porcelain, mechanical doll all the way out to the courtyard. Along the way, Roger made no attempt at idle conversation, but he did greet and acknowledge every servant that they passed. It was only when they reached the light and fresh air of the courtyard that he finally addressed her.

“I’ve been told that the courtyard is your favorite part of the castle,” he said casually. “Is that correct?”

Nadine nodded. “Yes. I used to spend every moment I could out here, when I was younger.”

“I can see why. It truly is a beautiful place.”

The princess gave another, silent nod.

The two traversed the lined path that swirled inward around the courtyard, its progress only interrupted by the cross of paved walkway that jutted from the four entrances to a central dias. In between the two conflicting designs was a variety of lush foliage, all imported from far off places and painstakingly cared for by the castle gardeners. The sight and fragrance of the strange and beautiful plants began to draw Nadine out of her cloistered depression, and her movements became more relaxed.

Roger seemed to sense it, and she caught him smiling down at her as they went.

“Do you enjoy the arts?” he asked her.

“I do,” she said.

“Then would you do me the honour of accompanying me to the ballet? I have a box there, and they are having a performance tonight.”

Nadine stiffened again.

“I apologize if I’m being too forward,” Roger quickly added. “I understand that things have been difficult for you these past few months.”

The princess looked down at the path. Roger let her fall into silence while they  continued their trek. They had just reached the opposite end of the courtyard when she finally said, “Roger, why are you here?”

“I enjoy your company, your highness.”

“You don’t know me, though.”

“I would like to,” Roger said with a glance to her, “if you’ll permit me.”

Nadine did not look up from the path. “And…What are your thoughts on…” She was absently rubbing the palm of her hand.

It did not take long for Roger to fill in the blanks. He gave a small sigh, stopped, and gently took her hand. He unfolded her fingers to reveal the scar on her palm, and lightly traced his own finger across it. “You are a very brave woman, Nadine. You have made decisions based on your own judgement, and followed through with conviction. I want that in a wife. It seems far more exciting than someone who only thinks of others’ perception.”

Nadine was looking at him now. Roger looked into her eyes and said, “I want to be there with you, and your son, through all the wild fancies you have. If you will have me there.”

Roger watched as a tear rolled down the flawless mask of makeup on Nadine’s face, followed by another. Suddenly Nadine’s face was buried into his chest, her arms wrapped tightly around him, and her body heaving with powerful, but quiet, sobs.