Thursday, October 13, 2011

Short Story : Hearing from Bets

As I said in my post just before, I struggled with Bets' version of events for this short story assignment. So here is her point of view in a kinda polished but "boy was it a struggle" kind of piece. Not perfect by any means, but the beginning in particular gives an interesting flipside of the story. This is just over 1700 words.

Bets nearly wobbled on her note as she spied that familiar thatch of red hair in the crowd. But she held it clear and fine, just as Giles had taught her to, and finished the song to loud applause and a fair shower of coins. The sight of him after two years made her fingers clumsy as she gathered the coins from the wagon bed that served as stage.


When she stood again, there he was. But he wasn’t staying for their next song. He was…mounting a horse? Rosso didn’t know how to ride.

The man was much too broad. It must be somebody else; some ill-favored knight with hair as red as a fox. See, he had a mounted squire and a white donkey loaded with baggage. All the trappings.

‘Twas a stranger. She was certain of it, until he turned and looked her way.


There was no way she could mistake that one’s roguish grin.

The tinkle of lute strings sounded far away as she watched Rosso click at his horse and turn from her.

“Bets.” Giles voice was low, but urgent.

She realized he’d been playing the introduction more than once. Nodding, she started singing. Was it the Fates who prompted Giles to pick this song, or merely chance?

“Come, my love, oh come to me.
And I’ll not deny how I’ve missed ye.
Come claim me, dear one, my heart still yearns,
To kiss your lips, herald your return.”

Bets heard the longing in her own traitorous voice. He was turning. Listening? She could feel the blush heating her face.

Giles had her perform this as a flirty “come-hither” type of song. Usually she swayed her hips and gave a wink or two. It always brought good coin. Why couldn’t she do that as he stared at her from across the market square? Instead her voice went low, husky, promising.

“I’ll loose the ribbons from my hair
And wind ye in my ensorcelled snare.
Where’er ye roam as ye wander free
Return to my arms, oh, return to me.”

He paced his horse towards her, through the crowd. The folk started glancing back, moving aside as the chestnut beast brought him closer and closer.

Giles played the music bridge leading up to the third verse and swore under his breath. “Do ye know him?”

“Aye.” She hissed back.

“Are ye willing?”

Bets glanced back. Giles raised his eyebrows suggestively and jerked his head towards Rosso.

Was she willing? She wasn’t sure. Her confusion must have shown.

“If he doesn’t shift his arse, there’ll be no coin from this song or the next. They’ll assume you’re bought by him.”

Bets could only shake her head.

“Let’s change the tune, then.” He fingered a few chords and transitioned into the ‘Ploughman’s Pledge’. Giles took a step and faced her, singing the earnest words of the lovelorn plough boy. Bets sang her parts as best she could, but nearly choked as Giles made faces of agonized love and hopeful admiration. The audience began to laugh at his comic antics. Bets dared not look Rosso’s way until the song was over, the coins tossed and collected.

He was gone.

Giles gave her a gentle shove. “Go and follow him, then. I’ll not get any decent singing from ye ‘til it’s settled.”

“Nay. I only…”

“Be off with ye.” He gave her a chuck under the chin with his knuckles and she scrambled down from the wagon.

At the edge of the square, she asked a boy where the man with red hair had gone.

“Aye. The Chevalier du Reynard? Gone to the Oak Leaf.”

She tossed him a copper and found the inn and his room.

A rap on the door, a silver coin in the wide-eyed squire’s hand and she was escorted inside. A further jerk of her head and the boy left.

She made sure the door was bolted and turned to face him, taking in the large green banner with a bright red fox embroidered upon it, propped against the wall. He wore a matching green tunic. He looked ridiculous, of course. Anyone looking at his face, now filled out with good food and his arms, thick and well-muscled, would assume he had been born in a two story house to a landed lord. No one else would see Rosso, the sharp-eyed piper, the pickpocket, the thief.

“What game are ye playing at, Rosso? Ye can be killed for just putting on a knight’s clothes, let alone riding his horse into the middle of town and asking for a room in his name! Get out of those things and high-tail it back to Montargent before I have to watch ye swing from the gibbet!”

Rosso just leaned back against the wall and gave a cocky half smile. “Didn’t know ye cared so, Bets.” His voice was like running a hand through velvet.

“Do ye have to make a joke of everything? What were ye thinking to come here and pull a trick like this? Showing off like a strutting cockerel? Is this some new effort to win my attention? Because I swear to ye, Rosso…” She shook her finger, like an alleyway mama.

But, he caught her hand in both of his and pressed her fingertips against his lips

The stubble of his chin contrasted with the softness of his kisses. Her words melted away.

“I’m not pretendin’ to be a knight, Bets. I earned it. During the rebellion, I led the street boys. We clobbered just as many Ravenbacks as the soldiers. Cornelius made me a squire. I was shy about telling ye. ‘Twould seem I was braggin’. I waited, tryin’ to find the right moment. But then ye left…”

He broke off and looked away for a moment. She watched a muscle jump in his cheek before he continued. “’Twas an ugly time, Bets. I was tossed with jealousy. Couldn’t stand thinkin’ of Giles holdin’ ye.”

She crossed her arms. “I only sing with Giles. He tells everyone I’m his little sister.”

That brought him up short.

“Oh. Aye.” He cleared his throat. “So…I’ve been learning soldier-craft. Cornelius offered to train any man and give places to the best. I threw myself into it. Practiced day and night. Ate whatever they put in front o’ me and practiced some more. He wants us to know strategy. Teachin’ us himself. He helped us learn writin’ and flag signals. It’s a trade I’m good at, Bets.

“We were in a skirmish over in Savonie last year. Helped the old Duke keep his lands from being overrun by Sauer. It looked like it was gonna be easy. But they had a few tricks, we didn’t see comin’. The old Duke, he was wounded and was brought past where I was fightin’, when a whole rash of Sauer’s men charged us. We were nearly overwhelmed, we were. And…” He ducked his head. “I ended up keepin’ the old Duke alive. When ‘twas all over, he proclaimed me a knight.”

Bets frowned. “Ye are a knight?”

He shrugged. “Nobody else believes it neither. The other lads, from the street, they’ve been chafin’ me for months. Can’t decide to clap me on the shoulder or punch me in the nose. Bit thorny. So th’king sent me off to find some daring-deed-to-do. I’ve been making my way through harvest fairs doing jousts and melees and such. ‘Tis a good way to make a living. Better than…other ways.

“So ye’re truly the Chevalier du Renard?”

“Aye. Knight of the Fox.” He rubbed his fire red hair. “Duke and everybody seemed to think it ‘befitting’.”

“Aye, even your ma named ye Rosso.”

“Nay, she didn’t.”

She stared at him, puzzled.

“Rosso’s my street name. Ye truly think my ma woulda called me that? Didn’t you hear the stories ‘bout my da leavin’ us when my hair grew in red, figured I wasn’t his son? Nobody ever sees past this thatch. Not even you!” His hands gripped her shoulders. “I thought there was more between us, Bets.”

She bit her lip. “I had to leave. ’Twas hard enough to see the kindred sorrow in other girl’s eyes. Yet, when ye looked at me, Rosso, there was no sorrow. Your eyes, they’d burn with fire, eating at ye, bringing back the demons of that night. I watched ye, Rosso, practice with the staff ‘til your arms could barely move. Fighting men that were dead and gone. Trying to rescue what was already lost.”

“Bets…” His voice was a croak. He reached for her cheek. But she stepped back.

“’Twas worse when ye didn’t remember; when we’d walk together on summer nights. Ye…ye’d look at me like a priest staring at a holy relic. Ye didn’t see me, truly.” She took a quick breath. “I didn’t want a protector or a priest. And I sure as snowmelt wasn’t ready for a husband.”

“What about now, Bets?”

Her chest tightened and her gaze dropped.

He ran a fingertip along her jaw. “Are ye still so haunted by all that?”

Bets thrust out her chin, to keep away the tears. “Aye. Happens to a girl when five Ravenbacks have their way with her in a stinking alley.”

“But that night’s not who ye are, Bets, same as…”

He turned away, tugging at his hair in frustration before facing her again.

“I hoped to find the girl I remembered. The girl who had sunlight in her soul, the girl who sang a jaunty tune while scrubbin’ pots or haulin’ water.”

A lump in her throat the size of a turnip kept her from speaking.

“Mayhap that girl’s gone. Mayhap only a bitter girl’s left, and I’d understand. But, if the old, sunny Bets is still ‘round somewhere…”

He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers, soft as a butterfly on a bloom. Her breath caught and her body swayed. Then, his hands were at her waist, his belly pressed against hers. Whiskers grazed her cheek. She breathed in his scent of leather and juniper.

Sighing, her lips found his again.

Her shoulders relaxed and she snuggled closer. Rosso. She felt the fine wool under her fingers and the broad chest underneath. He was a different Rosso, a new rendering of her old chere ami. He wasn’t even named Rosso.

The floor seemed to shift beneath her feet as he deepened the kiss, like a bee questing for honey.

It didn’t matter what his name was. He was her Rosso. And she was his Bets.

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