Run. All that filtered through the emaciated woman's mind was to run.
The sun had set almost four hours previous and the last curtain call had already been drawn to a close. She could still hear the crowed of paying customers and onlookers as they cheered and stood for a final ovation. But the flush on her hallow cheeks at the moment had nothing to do with pride or fulfillment, but of endless fear.
She glanced back at the shadows chasing after her, listening as the howling and growls became louder with each passing second. Her ankles and legs hurt with a fearsome ache for air, but she damned herself as she even considered to stop and rest. She looked down at the small boy in her arms, wrapped tightly against the winter chill, barely more that five years old. He was his father's child and was blessed with his deceased sire's blonde curls and bright hazel eyes. He would grow into a young man and she would make sure of that, but first she needed to find the ally way that would hold sanctuary for her son.
Her dark gaze searched for an instant before she turned down one of the many incongruous dark ally ways that littered the small colonial French town, praying for them to be there. Once spotting the rose engraved door she pushed and pounded, scattering the loose paint chips onto the cobbled ground. Looking back to the mouth of the ally way and seeing the first sign of lamplight and running shadows, she hurriedly place the wriggling boy next to the door and kissed the pale forehead. "I must leave you, mon chéri." Her eyes glazed over with unshed tears as the little boy stared blankly at her, not understanding a single word that was coming from his mother's mouth. As she turned to leave, the little boy grabbed onto her tattered skirts and whimpered in protest, shaking his head. But all she could do was to shake his small hands from her skirts before looking up and down the ally and start to run again.
The little boy looked on from his dark corner as two silhouetted forms rushed passed him and down the ally where his mother had sprung. His hazel eyes widened impossibly large as the sound of a thousand booms echoed in his ears and his mother's last scream drifted into the cobbled streets beyond the ally. Lights suddenly illuminated the windows above him and as blood red liquid encircled his mother's form the heavens opened up and God started to cry.
Lucian Van Bervick tucked in his tunic and threw on his embroidered overcoat. He knew his state of dress would arise questions for his motives and plans for being out at such a late hour, but he planned on hiding underneath his manservant's rumpled cloak for disguise. Lucian untangled his dark wavy hair from the long braid that it had been in, letting it fall in rivulets down his back and broad shoulders. He then began the task of putting on the smudged and shabby boots that also belonged to his manservant. Once he had completed that, Lucian grabbed the small coin pouch from his dresser table and proceeded to delicately climb out of his balcony window with as little sound as possible.
Using the vines as rope to swing down to the ground, Lucian prayed his mother and father would stay in their rooms for one night and not decide to check on him as if he were still a child not yet finished with suckling on his mother's breast. He fought tooth and nail with them to be able to live his life freely, but after loosing his older brother, Gabriel, to a hunting accident his parents always seemed to meet his logics with a stonewall. As he dropped to the ground, Lucian was sent rolling down the sloping incline of green, summer hill.
The night was warm, but whispered of a cool breeze as the evening hours waned. Lucian stood as he dusted himself off and looked out upon the small town his father looked after. Lights could be seen and music heard as it floated along the wind, and laughter bubbled up from the town square were the traveling gypsy acting troupe had finally arrived for the summer months. Lucian grinned and climbed the encircling iron gates that locked others out just as well as it locked himself inside the overlord's manor house.
Lucian breathed in the warm smells of baked bread and yellow jasmine as he reached the town square. The play was about to begin and a crowd of spectators had juggled themselves into a tight mass to be able to witness the first act of the show on time. Street vendors called out, selling hot nuts and toys for the children nestled under their fathers' cloaks and mothers' skirts. Lucian smirked at the energy and bustle of the evening. In the manor and at the ballroom parties (that always seemed to take place no matter the consequence and lasted until a body felt to be dead) nothing had ever shown as brightly or characteristically as the present night's events. The warmth of the people and the jubilant atmosphere was enough to make him never want to go back to his cold, drafty bedchambers.
He had visited the town square to watch the gypsy troupe and especially a certain actor, on more than one occasional summer before, and he had yet to tire from it. Each time he went a new play was put on with a greater amount of talent than before, and the peasants always loved the small distraction from their plain, laborious lives. Lucian pitied the people his father governed over. But his attentions were not focused on the peasants (which he reminded himself were of no importance to him and had no effect on him) but on the beginning act of the show and the rising curtain…
Sasha knelt in the middle of the feebly made stage. The hush of the audience was his cue and as the small group of musicians began to play the haunting drone of a melody he began to rise. He looked into the crowd, not actually seeing anyone but the night sky beyond the roofs of dozens of homes. His breath came in small puffs as his body curved and twisted to the beat of drums and flute. His adrenaline rushed and all he could hear was the solid pounding of warm blood in his ears.
His shorter-than-normal golden curls bounced along his shoulders with each step he took and the chimes on his ankles rang with strong clarity on the fresh river night air, like a gypsy's whisper. His hazel gaze left the sky of millions of stars until he was met with familiar stunning blue orbs that shown extravagantly against the firelight illuminating the square.
Sasha let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and turned, stomping his left foot as his arms lifted above his head. He was becoming distracted and distraction was not an option during a performance. The tips from the paying audience would either decide if he ate or if he would be drinking warm water again that night, like he had been for that past few days the troupe had been traveling. And his tips depended on if his audience loved the performance or not. Likewise, distractions got a body killed either slowly or quickly, but none-the-less very much dead all the same, especially tall dark and handsome distractions. Sasha closed his eyes tightly and shook his head, trying to dispel the deep blush creeping into his cheeks. It wasn't the time to think about such things and Sasha berated himself for even taking his mind of the task at hand. He danced freely and fiercely, flowing continuously along with the music until the very end of the act where he was taken prisoner by nameless nobles, of a nameless province, of a nameless town.
The crowd of poor raised their voices in praise as the troupe of actors came out for a final curtain call, throwing as many small bits and tokens to the performers that they could realistically afford to give away. But as the glittering gypsies bent to collect the items, the crowd could not help but noticed the absence of the bright, golden haired dancer from the first act. The only evidence of his presence ever being was the sound of ringing chimes drifting on the wind.
Sasha pulled the quilted sheet around himself tightly, staring into the shifting swirl of the river. Fireflies buzzed and lit around him, giving the river an otherworldly glow. His toes melted into the cool putty of mud near the bank and crickets sang their night song. He swayed back and forth with the wind for a time until the sound of footsteps approaching made him turn.
The dark figure approaching reached out quickly and grabbed him by the arm, then covered the blonde's mouth with a large hand. Sasha pushed away from the shadow, panic clouding his thoughts and senses. As the arms drew him near Sasha kicked out and upon hearing a grunt come from his attacker, punched the side of man's jaw, sending him flying down into the soft, cushioning mud.
"Mon Dieu! Jésus le Christ, Sasha!"
Sasha paused in his initiate impulse to flee at the hissed out explanatory curse. Bending down over the big lump of person on the ground, Sasha pulled back the golden curls falling into his eyes and peered down into the face of his would-be attacker. As hazel eyes connected with heated blue Sasha snorted and preceded to laugh at the man caked in mud. "Oui, you think it is funny now, Sasha…" Lucian grumbled under his breath as he reached for a hand up.
Sasha giggled out in exasperation, "Lucian, mon cher ami… What is wrong with you? Prancing around at night and rolling in mud like you are!" Lucian grabbed Sasha's hand and pulled himself up out of mud, glaring daggers into Sasha's laughing face. He didn't need the extra questions he knew he was going to get for the mud caked clothing as well as the newly forming bruise. And Sasha only made everything worse by laughing at his ills in such gusto. Lucian tried to wipe off the mud on his clock, only to wind up smearing the chunks of wet earth even more, earning more laughter and a bigger grin from Sasha.
"Lucian…" Sasha chuckled, "Lucian stop! You're not fixing anything you twit!" Lucian glared heatedly at the blonde once more, leading the latter to believe that the look would eventually become permanent on the handsome face. Then, without warning, Lucian reached out and tackled Sasha to the ground and into the mud, wrestling with the other man until he ended up on top of the other.
Sasha sputtered and spit at Lucian in harsh curses as the other man leered at him and calmly smeared mud into blonde locks of hair. "This was my good cloak and tunic you jerk! Do you know how much I had to steal to even be able to afford this type of material!" Sasha exclaimed in a heated rage. Lucian bent down and rested his smudged forehead against the other man's, laughing softly. Sasha turned away and glared at the ground. Sasha huffed and turned back to Lucian as the dark haired man continued to lie on top of him. "Lucian, you big ox, get off!" Sasha heaved Lucian off and breathed a sigh of relief as the weight on his chest lifted, the other man rolling onto his back.
"You are such a fool, Lucian… What would your mother say?" Sasha sighed in exasperation. Lucian grinned and slung an arm around the rising man's shoulders to pull him back down onto his chest, "My mother would not say a word and is not in particular interest to me at present." Sasha rested against Lucian, both covered in mud and foliage. He sighed and smacked the other man's arm to continue on with decent conversation.
"I have been gone for a long time, chéri. Tell me what has been happening please?" Sasha asked, closing his eyes as he listened to Lucian's deep breathing and felt the rise and fall of the lord's chest.
"Since you have been gone, mon cher, the peasants have started to rebel. My good father still does not look at what he is doing to the town and refuses to acknowledge the signs of rebellion. You were correct when you predicted the rising tension in the townspeople." Sasha's eyes opened and he reached upward to entangle his fingers in the other man's thick hair in a sign of comfort.
He had known about Lucian's father and the rising threat of rebellion years before, when he and the other young man had first met. Sasha's mother had been killed because she was accused of helping the peasants organize a strike. He knew all about the over taxation on the people of the town and the dwindling savings on the Van Bervick estates. But the fact that Lucian had finally taken what was happening into account gave him a bit of hope for the poor townspeople. Lucian would be the next lord to continue on or right Lord Van Bervick's mistakes and carry on his legacy. And Sasha was confident that Lucian would be a worthy, just ruler for the town and its people. Sasha did not even think Lucian knew how steal from people. "What will you do, Lucian?"
The question startled him. Lucian hadn't thought of helping the peasants or anyone else. He didn't know where he could really begin to help. He was never told or taught how to negotiate situations with defiant peasants. So Lucian decided to be honest with the matter, "I do not know, mon ami. My father is his own man and plays the rules at his whim." Lucian looked down at Sasha and raised his hand to grip the one tangled in his hair. He leaned over to rub his nose against Sasha's in an innocuous kiss, which led into a more heated embrace.
Lucian cracked his neck for the fourth time that night as his father's drone speech carried over the dinning table to the Lord Chancellor and his wife. He had been sitting, staring at the white lace cloth that covered the table for nearly two hours and the conversation was still on the first topic of the evening: children. Lucian desperately wished he were out with Sasha at that moment, enjoying what little time they had left of the summer months, instead of listening to how many times the Lord Chancellor had been able to knock up his wife before they had a legitimate heir.
"So, Lucian, I hear you have not been able to find a charming young lady yet, am I correct?" Lucian tried not to roll his eyes as the fat, sweaty man questioned his sexuality. Indeed, Lucian was twenty-four, far beyond the age of marriage and adulthood. He should have had at least conceived five children in his lifetime as of yet, much as the gracious Lord Chancellor himself had. But Lucian hardly considered whom he bedded as proper dinner conversation or any of the Lord Chancellor's pudgy, red-faced business.
Lucian stopped himself from spitting on the table at the insult. "Your grace is quite right. But you must understand that all of the charming, handsome, young ladies of this province have all escaped to married others and there has not yet been one to catch my eye's fancy." His father and the other lord laughed in understanding while the chancellor's wife, his mother, and younger sisters all blushed at the comment.
"Come now dear boy! I hear you are a wonderful pleaser yourself, Lucian. Unless, that is, you hold fancy for another taste all together?" The young man in question bit back the harsh retort that died to spill from his lips. He would not fall prey to the lord's words and would not look a fool in front of his mother and sisters. So Lucian only smiled and nodded in neutral acceptance, not commenting for fear of further harassment, and drifted away into his thoughts of Sasha and a warm summer breeze.
As the conversation continued and the women left the table the real matters began to come to the surface. "The peasants are becoming restless, Basil. I hope you plan on quieting them soon before matters reach epic proportions." The lord was saying to Lucian's father. Lucian turned to see his father's response and became acutely aware of just old his father really was; of how hallow and thin his father actually looked beyond the chandelier lighting and luminescent candles. His father took in a deep breath before letting it out quietly.
"Oui, Jasper, I am aware. Matters are being settled as we speak, mon ami." Lucian's eyes narrowed as the Lord Chancellor smiled and nodded in acceptance, reaching for the sherry filled glass sitting before him. "I do hope so, Basil. The One Lord and Majesty would not be pleased at all if one of his most loyal were to fall because of a small uprising of peasants, of all things…" Basil nodded grimly in agreement before turning the rest of the night's conversation towards more "pressing issues."
"Father, what are you doing about the rebellion? I understand you have told the Lord Chancellor that you have it under your control, but the peasants will not wait for long until they resort to something drastic. I am only worried for the town and province, Father."
Lord Van Bervick glared at his son, scrutinizing the boy as he sat with him in the lounge. Lucian had never once shown interest in the peasants or the small farming town his family had governed over for countless generations past. The new interest stilled him and raised unwanted worries and fears. The boy had also been sneaking off into the night for the past few months in servant apparel, which caused greater worry. If his son had been trying to organize the peasants against him then he would be forced to flog his only son and then the estate's inheritance would be put at risk. He would not allow his estate and land to be given to another lord and family after his passing. Another observation came to Basil then, as he gauged his son's inquiring.
What Jasper had been hinting at earlier that evening was true; Lucian had not yet chosen a bride nor had fallen upon the misfortune of begetting a bastard son or daughter. And since the beginning of Lucian's "secret outings" the boy had been coming back to the manor in a disheveled array, as though he had been to bed with someone. Basil leaned back into his plush chair next to the fire, folding his hands on top of one another, "Where do you go at night, Lucian?" The question severed its purpose as his son was instantly distracted from his earlier probing. Basil could see the magic his inquiry had on the boy as Lucian's brow scrunched and he began questing for an answer to his father's inquisition. Basil smiled as he saw his son become rigid in the seat he had been lounging in, realizing that his nightly slips had been noticed before he could rationalize a story behind them.
"Whatever do you mean, Father?" Lucian said slowly, but was cut off by Basil's e harsh hacking laughter. "Really now, Lucian! I pay your manservant and the maids that order this manor. Very little you do goes unnoticed or unreported. I know you have been sneaking out every night since the beginning of summer, the only question is why." Basil's eyes narrowed as his son turned a bright shade of red. "Why is it you have not chosen a bride yet, Lucian."
Lucian turned away, knowing that the statement was not a rhetorical question, but one that had been spoken for an answer. He couldn't tell his father he was sleeping with Sasha, who was a gypsy no less. It would destroy his father's heart and his family as a whole. "Lucian." The sharpness applied to his name made him turn to look his father in the eye.
Sasha wiped his forehead as sweat dribbled down the side of his face. The sun was setting in a cascade of oranges, purples, and pinks, painting the sky beautifully. He had spent the last few hours practicing on the river's bank for his next performance that would be put on that evening. However, Sasha had a bad feeling and numerous doubts that nothing good would come of the setting sun's departure, no matter how serine and gorgeous it was.
Sasha turned away from the swirling waters to venture back towards the rest of the company and nearly screamed as he came face to face with his dark haired lover. "Lucian! Mon Dieu, you nearly gave me a death!" Lucian smiled thinly as he reached out and grabbed hold of Sasha's hands, interlacing their fingers together. Sasha stared back, concern creasing his brow as he studied his lover's appearance. On one shoulder a heavily packed sack was carried and dark hair had been tied back hastily. And on further inspection, Sasha noticed the plain clothing and boots the other man wore. "Lucian?" Sasha shook his head, not understanding what Lucian was doing in front of him. But Lucian only nodded and gazed at Sasha in expectation.
That was when Sasha understood and quickly took Lucian into his arms. "What happened? How did they find out?" Sasha whispered as he combed his fingers through thick hair and rubbed Lucian's back in comfort. Lucian shook his head and wrapped his arms around Sasha's waist, "It doesn't matter now, Sasha. But we can leave together now… Travel the world, away from here." Sasha smiled at Lucian's brave face, knowing intimately just how confusing and frightening it could be to have been abandoned by your family, your home.
"You are very brave, mon ami, very brave." Sasha shook his head, golden curls bouncing from the movement, "But are you ready for what it is like to be a peasant? Do you understand that you will not be able to eat for days on end at times? That people will spit at you, especially if you travel with gypsies like me? Do you know how it is to not be able to shelter yourself from the cold, to be cursed at, or to not be able to quiet your stomach when it desperately wants attention?" Sasha grabbed Lucian's shaking head, making the other man's glossy blue orbs meet his golden ones. "Do you, Lucian? Because I do not think you truly do, mon petit oiseau chéri! You were meant to live in wealth! You cannot travel with me… You are not a peasant. You cannot be, and I won't let you become one!"
Lucian stared into Sasha's eyes, holding onto the blonde's fists that now lay upon his chest. But he was not frightened and did not quiver where he stood. "Non, Sasha. I was meant to be with you, do you not see? And I will not go back and become one of my father's sniveling servants. My home never rested in that tomb they call a manor, it was always with you… From the very first time I saw you and fell in love." Sasha's mouth opened and closed, and then opened again. But nothing came out as he stared dumbfounded at the man in front of him.
"You fool…" Sasha whispered as he rested his forehead against Lucian's shoulder. "Vous Dieu soyez trois fois imbécile damné..." Over his head Sasha could hear the man holding him laughing at his comment, but as the sun finally set past the river's mouth, Sasha surrendered to the other man's inane computations and smiled in warm contentment.
The night was sticky and unnaturally bright with uncontrollable flames. Sasha ran against the confusion of people, stumbling over the bodies that had been trampled in the rush to flee from the town. The manor, the small farms, everything was in flame. Sasha could not gauge were all of the screams were coming from nor where the fire could have actually first originated from. All he new was that he had to run and he did. He ran, hair whipping at his face and tunic clinging to his sweaty body as fear pumped his legs and he searched the burning town square for any sign of Lucian.
The night had been peaceful, quiet even, after the final performance of the summer. Lucian had been watching from the front seating in the square when the huge blast was first heard coming from the outer realms of the town and then everything was in flames, all at once. Sasha had jumped from the stage and had looked frantically for Lucian who had disappeared in the throng of hysteria. The townspeople had panicked and rushed at each other in their confusion, compressing mothers and children to the ground that were too small to hold themselves against the throng of hysterical people.
Sasha ran towards the manor, praying that Lucian had not been killed by one of the crumbling, burning buildings or the smoke. Sasha coughed as he weaved his way through the clamor of people and debris when he spotted his blue-eyed lover, climbing the gate guarding the burning manor. "Lucian!" Sasha ran faster as the other man continued to climb and then run up the hill to the place he had once called home. "Lucian! Lucian, don't you dare go into that building, Lucian! Lucian, stop!" Sasha coughed, shouting at the top of his lungs, tears starting to trail down his soiled cheeks. But Lucian did not stop until he reached the double doors of the manor, looking for his family.
Servants ran out of the manor, some burning and others crying, all trying to escape the flurry of flames. Lucian spotted his mother and sisters huddled against each other near the fountain that was placed strategically in the center of the path to the manor. Lucian ran towards them and grabbed his mother's hand as she cried and held onto her other three children. "Mother, where is father?" Lucian yelled over the flames, trying to be heard against the rush of the inferno behind him and screams that came from everything and nowhere all at once.
The woman shook her head, her mirrored blue gaze telling him everything he needed to know. Lucian turned to rush into the manor, but was stopped as his mother grabbed his arm and held on to him desperately, "Not you too, Lucian! He is gone! We have lost everything, Lucian and I will not loose you as well!" His mother's lips trembled as she squeezed his wrist and tears streamed down her pale cheeks. Lucian shook his head as he turned back toward the burning manor, but his legs would not move. His mother needed him and his father was gone. That was the end, and they had lost everything with the fire.
Lucian turned at the cry of his name before being tackled by Sasha. Lucian grunted as he was slammed into, but held his place, wrapping his arms around the other man. Sasha gripped his lover's tunic in unyieldingly before pounding into the man's chest. "How dare you…how dare you!" Sasha hissed out between pants, tears staining his cheeks as he beat on Lucian's chest. Lucian held Sasha firmly, lowering his face into smudged golden curls, as the other man finally calmed down and rested against his shoulder. Sasha gripped the sides of Lucian's tunic, crying into the man's shoulder silently, unawares of the dark haired man's mother and sisters watching quietly only a few feet away.
"Don't ever do that again… Vous avez trois fois damné l'imbécile..." Sasha spat heatedly as he pulled on the tunic in his grip. Lucian smiled into the golden curls and tightened his arms around Sasha before whispering so low the other man would not have heard it at all if not for the burning wind.
"Never, mon amour doux, jamais..."