Nadine could not remember the last time she was so happy. It seemed to her that even the birds were joyous for her in their morning song. She hummed a tune of her own while she carried her son down to the dining hall for breakfast. She sat and smiled to the servant who brought a crib for the baby, but did not utilize it. Instead she sat the toddler with his back against her belly, and began handing him pieces of soft potato. Continue reading “Promises – Part 23”
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”
It took both Jack and Charles to restrain Cathy when she jumped out of her seat and began storming to the door while spouting vulgarities and brandishing a knife that neither of the men were sure how she kept it in her cleavage like that. Continue reading “Promises – Part 20”
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”
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”
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.
The entire building was chaotic when Nadine made her way in through the back entrance. Flurries of gossiping neighbors and movement filled the halls that were normally barren at the dead of night. Though she couldn’t make out everything that was being said, she heard “the princess” enough times to decide that she shouldn’t be seen. She curled into a sitting position on the floor of the darkened storage room to think. Soon she heard voices she recognized come closer, and the door opened. Nadine made a hasty move out of the direct line of sight of the door, but watched Jack’s friends enter, each with a sack or two in tow, heading for the back door. Along with them came jeers and a couple “Good riddance” remarks from the crowd in the hall. Once the door closed, Nadine moved toward them. “What’s happening?” she asked. “Where’s Jack?” Continue reading “Promises – Part 14”