Blood and Satin
I'm playing with my style in this one, and accents. Please let me know if they're obnoxious! I really want to differentiate the way members of different classes speak, but I'm afraid I'm too clumsy to write it well.
I've also been having some trouble writing this so please point out any problems so I can see where I've been going wrong! I'd like to thank my reviewers for helping me with ideas for editing this piece. 谢谢！
"Dark flowed her blood in the lamplight,
red as the frills of her dress,
quick as the horses of Hades;
As she fell in his arms in the lamplight,
The dagger still through her chest."
He found the lines scribbled along the wall two weeks later, written in a neat scrawl by a better scholar than himself. James Wright took another swig from the bottle before he could look again, trace the cramped letters beside the window, note the little revisions, the removal of 'Ran' and addition of a comma or two. Beneath it the poet had tried to continue, though those lines had been scratched out; however he could make out the words 'time' and 'magic' beneath the sharp strokes of what he assumed to have been a quill. He didn't know anyone with enough money for a pen and little enough sense to come there, well, except her.
Another swig to calm his nerves at that thought, and then he was seeing her again as the darkest part of the scene replayed in his mind.
She was only fifteen and falling, falling down before him, the dress' ruffles spreading, crimson, through the air, dark hair trailing ivy-like tendrils. Falling, slowly, agonizingly, as his arms reached up to catch her. Fifteen years old to his seventeen, both children by the laws standards, but then the law hardly applied to the very poor or the very rich. He feared she was gone before he even touched her.
James Wright shook his head to clear that memory and shifted to one a bit earlier. He thought that he might as well relive the whole ordeal once before he moved on.
They had been fighting, as they often did now.
No, he told himself, back further to the start.
She had snuck out of the ball to see him. Excited and flushed pink, she had taken a carriage and come to the tavern alone. Of course by this point everyone there knew her by sight and name. She was the wealthiest patron by far, a lady among brigands in the most literal sense of the words. Iin she'd flounced, satin and lace as red as blood, lips as deep as wine, hair and jewels shinning by candlelight, and those sharp grey eyes looking for him.
"The ball was awfully boring, as always, but Mama bought me a new dress," she called across the room when she spotted him. Without a care she skipped between the tables (to an unhealthy number of admiring looks) towards his secluded back corner. "What do you think?"
Lady Aurelie Dielle performed a formal curtsy, tilting her head expertly, bending at her knees and waist as her arms fluttered out, letting the fabric slide through her fingers and fall back into place as she rose in one smooth curve, like a waterfowl. His eyes slid along the too-low neckline to the wide sleeves, saw the gold embroidery, the flare of fabric from her waist into a broad skirt, all embroidered. There were gold baubles at her ears and a chain dangling from her neck and he counted it all in loaves of bread and days of work.
"You look ridiculous," he muttered over the top of his mug. She flushed and clenched her jaw, all the excitement fading from her eyes. "And don't bend over again, I can see down your dress."
"I believe that is the point," she replied, her intonation changing back to its natural form, elevating and immediately making him feel inferior.
She had taught him proper grammar and pronunciation, but he could never quite master that intonation that they used with servants and other lesser beings. He did not know if they spoke that way in private, to each other, and shuddered to think of it. The only noble he knew was Aurelie, and she hardly counted since she spoke like a maid most of the time they were together. She was a hideously excellent mimic.
"I think that everybody else likes my dress," she continued and he wanted to reach across the table and pinch her nose to make it stop, to make her switch dialects, anything.
She glanced back, looking for somebody she knew by name to support her against him, and there were many smiling faces around the room, all trying to catch a glimpse of their dear little lady behind the pillars that blocked off the more private area of the tavern. His chair creaked and scraped as he pushed it back and stood. It took only a few steps to get around the table and stand before her, cutting off her view of the rest of room. Even her growth spurt had failed to catch her up to his height and the thief frowned down at the lady while she glowered up at him, her nose crinkled and lips pulled back enough to bare a few teeth.
"I can't believe you're wearing red. You! Are you getting married or dying?" he asked, picking up one of her trailing sleeves and frowning at it.
With a swift jerk, she freed the sleeve from his grasp before turning her back to him. "I can see when I'm not wanted, James Wright. I'll leave you to your grog then, shall I?"
He wanted to shout, to shake her, to take her in his arms and kiss her, not playfully as he had done when they were younger but as a man kisses a woman. He wanted so many things and knew none of them were possible, not in this world, not with her.
"How 'bout you don't come back then," he growled and watched her flinch.
She turned back to him, her grey eyes momentarily pleading before they narrowed and went cold. Her anger grew and he watched it, fascinated by the hardening of the lines in her soft face, her posture shifting to a fighting stance.
"The Hell's wrong wit yeh nowadays?!" she shouted in slang he had never heard her use in public before. It was harsh sounding and coarse, like him; reserved for when she was furious, edge of cursing someone into oblivion and raising the dead angry. She only used it with him.
"What's wrong wif you?" he responded just as angrily, batting at her elegantly arranged tresses. "Who are yeh, changeling? What d'yeh do, slowly devour Aura? Yeh don't even look like her!" His pronunciation was slipping now, just as hers had, but it embarrassed him, which only fueled his anger, and his sheer frustration with her and her perfection.
"Well excuse me for not looking the same as I did when I was eleven! I'm sorry you can't be friends with a lady. I'm sorry I'm not a boy!" She was nearly shrieking now, pressing in the bodice of her dress. "Have you got anyone else here who's upset about that as well, that I should apologize too while I'm at it? I bet you'd make great friends with Papa."
"Dat's—that's not what I meant!"
"Not even you can accept me! I'm still not good enough. I'm always too stuffy, too stuck up, too weak, too idealistic, and of course the worst crime: too much a girl!"
"Gods damn you Aura!" he shouted, reaching out for her, but she jumped back, knocking into the table. He made another grab, successful this time, as he caught her arms and tugged her towards him. "Yur so stupid, yeh can't even see tha real problem," he whispered and felt her shiver as she looked away.
This was good drama for the rest of the tavern who, silent and breathless, were all leaning halfway out of their chairs in an attempt to see what was going on in the back. Not a few wagers rested on the outcome of this fight, with many more placed on the course of the relationship itself.
"What's the real problem then?" she asked in a whisper as quiet, her eyes fixed firmly on a spot of floor a few feet away.
He pulled her closer then, as he had wanted to do for so long. She was stiff and frozen in his arms as he held her, feeling the satin of her dress as one arm slipped around her waist and drew her a little nearer, just enough for him to lean down and whisper in her ear.
"Me," he said and their heads almost collided as hers whipped towards him, her stormy eyes fixed on his.
"Jimmy!" came a shout from behind them and they both turned to see a stocky redhead stalking across the tavern towards them.
"If you done playing with yer woman for now I'd like some words wit'cha," he growled low in his throat as his unsteady steps threaded towards them.
"Max!" James exclaimed, releasing Aurelie and taking a step towards the young man. "You alright?!"
"No thanks t'yeh, yeh scheming dog. Yeh jus' leave me on my own with all them guards and dogs around. I'm lucky t'be alive!"
James Wright dodged just in time as the knife flashed its silver arc through the space where he had just been standing.
"Max! What are you doing?" Aurelie exclaimed only to have the knife jab in her direction.
"You stay out of this, Dielle. Ain't'chour fancy business."
"Max, I got lost upstairs. I thought they'd got you—"
"They almost did, thanks to you, yeh bastard. Jus' left me—"
The redhead was advancing with the knife drawn as James slowly backed away, his hands before him, empty palms out. Max made another swipe and the other boy dodged again, circling back towards his table.
"But I went back for yeh and you were gone! Didn't know what happened!"
"I wasn't gonna wait around once yeh left, that's what happened!"
The knife slashed again and James blocked with a chair. Again and again Max swung and stabbed, knocking the chairs away as they were thrown at him, ducking James' punches and kicks to get in a few slices. Like a madman he raged, not even a solid punch enough to take him down or make him lose his grip on his weapon.
"I'm gonna show yeh what a no-good traitor gets!" he screamed as his kick connected with the backs of the other man's legs.
James' knees hit the cold stone floor sending a shockwave of pain through his body that left him momentarily stunned. He saw Max's grip on the knife shift from slashing to stabbing position, registered that he was about to suffer a serious injury, and realized that everyone in the tavern knew when his business was public business, and when, like now, it was his own. He tried to push himself up, but the throbbing pain refused to let him move.
And there was Max, lunging.
And then he saw red.