Okay, so here is my last assignment for my writing workshop and I'm getting sad that it's coming to a close!
So I've been thinking about my character Bets and wanting her to have her own story once my current work-in-progress is complete. A sequel? Maybe!
So I wrote a scene for our last assignment on plot and theme. This one could be three times longer, so I was excited. But I could not wrestle the thing down to 1500 words. I cut over 600 words, but couldn't get it any smaller without cutting whole limbs off the piece. So I abandoned it (so to speak) and went and read a book. (Two books actually. Finished one, started another)
When I came back, I had a eureka moment. I would try the scene from the other character's point of view. And "Voila!" It worked! At exactly 1500 words. Phew!
A fine, high voice lifted above the market noise as they entered the main square.
He turned his head and spied her standing on a wagon-bed singing to the crowd. After searching dozens of towns, she was here. He sucked in a breath and grinned, before he saw, strummin’ behind her, the long-haired son-of-a-gypsy who had stolen her away.
His hands clenched the reigns, unconsciously sending signals to his mount, which stopped.
He clicked at the horse, turning away. But her voice caught at him, like a net ‘round a fish.
“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.”
By all the silver in the hills, if she was a siren, she couldn’t have done the job better. He turned back. Her hair was loose, the breeze tossing her curls round her shoulders.
“I’ll loose the ribbons from my hair
And wind ye in my ensorcelled snare.
Aye, that was the truth of it. She had bewitched him for ages, and her spell had only grown stronger, no matter that it was two years since he had seen her.
Where’er ye roam as ye wander free
Return to my arms, oh, return to me.”
He swore under his breath. It was as if it were only the two of them, the way her voice got all low and husky.
Then, that thrice-cursed fool of a minstrel stood started strummin’ a different song, singin’ about a rough-edged ploughboy who longed for the beautiful girl that would never notice him. He waggled his eyebrows and coaxed laughter from the crowd.
T’was a knife to the ribs.
If that was the kind of man Bets wanted, she could have the damned caitiff.
He swung his horse around and went down the first street, blindly searching for an inn. His squire took care of the arrangements, as usual. They always got better rooms when Sergio did the talking.
The innkeeper had just finished settling them in the room when a fist pounded on their door. Sergio checked it and let in…Bets.
The Fates were kind.
She must have given Sergio a coin or a glare, for he slipped, quick as a cat, out the door.
Bets turned to him like a smith’s wife on a bad day, barely giving his new togs a second look.
“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!”
He smirked. She thought it some lad’s prank. And the sharpness in her voice disguised her worry.
“Didn’t know ye cared so, Bets.” A blush. Good.
“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, and he couldn’t stop himself. He snatched her hand and brought it to his lips, her fingers soft. Hardly a callous left upon them.
Her lips parted, but no sound came. Her face softened. Hope fluttered in his chest. Now was the time to tell her everything.
“I’m not pretendin’ to be a knight, Bets. I earned it. Back 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 cursed himself for the crack-knobbed fool he was. ‘Tweren’t helpful to bring that painful bit up. He steadied himself. She might as well know.
“’Twas an ugly time, Bets. I was tossed with jealousy. Couldn’t stand thinkin’ of Giles holdin’ ye.”
He was squeezing her hands too tight. She pulled away and crossed her arms.
“I only sing with Giles.”
Not sleep with him, her eyes seemed to say. As if she could see the visions that haunted him every night.
“He tells everyone I’m his little sister.”
‘Twas as if she had turned him upside down. He tried to remember the rest of the speech he had prepared months ago and had muttered into his horse’s ears for leagues and leagues. ‘Twas all but gone.
“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.”
He remembered the flags and swords of the ceremony like a dream.
Bets frowned. “Ye are a knight?”
Aye, who woulda thought it of Rosso the street rat? “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.” He felt his cheeks flame.
“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 ‘bout my da leavin’ us when my hair grew in red, figured I wasn’t his son? Nobody sees past this thatch. Not even you!” He 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 girls’ 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…” Hope slipping away. 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 couldn’t see herself as the treasure she was.
“I didn’t want a protector or a priest. And I sure as snowmelt wasn’t ready for a husband.”
“What about now, Bets?” Any hope at all?
Her gaze dropped.
He ran a fingertip along her jaw. “Are ye still so haunted by all that?”
Bets thrust out her chin. “Aye. Happens to a girl when five Ravenbacks have their way with her in a stinking alley.”
He remembered finding her crumpled against the wall, covered in blood and bruises, her skirts torn. Thrown away like rubbish. He silently cursed the black-hearted buzzards who had done this to her.
“But that night’s not who ye are, Bets, same as…”
Her hopeless expression made him turn 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.”
She only stared at him with wide, troubled eyes.
“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, brushing his lips against hers. Gently, gently, ready to step back. She swayed towards him and he couldn’t bridle himself any longer. He gathered her in his arms and breathed in the sharp scent of lye soap mingled with flowers.
Sighing, she turned and met his lips.
He kissed her deeply then, like a bee questing for honey, savoring the hope flooding through his veins again.