Michelle has found the reason she was summoned into the realm of Fae and her first set of clues she needs to complete the task at hand. DeSorcy has been taking the brunt of the rough treatment from the dark creatures they have been dealing with, however, and after a particularly harrowing encounter with Rejak the Troll, Michelle and DeSorcy return home to patch the knight's wounds.Michelle picked herself up and dropped over the edge of the walkway into the water channel below, hurrying through the wet to offer her hand to DeSorcy. "Are you all right?"
"I keep forgetting you seem to lack a sense of caution." He grimaced, clutching at his ribs.
"I just don't want you to get bored. How bad is it?"
"I've had worse. Have you ever been knocked off a horse with a lance at a full gallop?"
"I fell off my bike once."
He gave her a look. "Well, then. You know how I feel."
"If that's all, let's get going, you slacker." She watched him with concern as he grew suddenly pale from an experimental deep breath. "Don't pass out on me."
"Never, Lady Licciardi."
"So," she made conversation as they headed home. "Does Rejak the troll do for a living what I think he does?"
"Probably, except that I wager it to be more of a hobby. Incidentally," he turned a stern look on her. "I could warn you against impertinent comments to a troll, but if having one breathing down your shirt front isn't going to inspire some common sense in you, I seriously doubt anything I can say will."
"You are as wise as you are brave," Michelle smiled demurely at him.
"If only one could say the same about you. However I would like to ask that generous as your intentions might be, in the future please refrain from defending what you perceive to be my honor. Especially if you have to speculate on my personal matters to do so."
"You're very sensitive about that."
"Yes, I am." DeSorcy looked straight ahead as they trooped through the sewer. "I'm not proud of what I've done."
"Let me get this straight," Michelle stopped, causing him to pause and turn to her. "You had a relationship with a woman for twelve months when you were what, twenty? Twenty-one? Decided that it wasn't going to work out and have since maintained a life of celibacy and solitude for the past..." she did some quick mental math, "fifty or sixty years... and you're still beating yourself up over it?"
"I was betrothed to another."
"By your choice?"
"Does that matter?"
"If you've been beating yourself up for being 'unchaste' all this time, yes. I would hardly call you a slut."
"I was inconstant."
"Even your fling lasted a whole year. What part of your story do you consider inconstant? I find it uniquely hard to believe that young men in your era were expected to remain completely chaste, before or after marriage. I assume willing peasant girls were fair game, at least."
"Well. There are some who would say that doesn't count." He had the grace to look a little embarrassed.
"Are you one of them?"
"Not really. Though I... might have known one or two in my day."
Michelle put her hands on her hips. "I don't see you berating yourself over that."
"I didn't abandon my family and fiancee to their deaths for a comely milk maid."
"So that's the core of the matter. You went off on a grand adventure, like any young man of your station would. Fearless, like you had been encouraged to be. Met a beautiful and powerful woman who wanted to have a dalliance with you and you proved your virility, like any young man of your station would, since she would obviously not want to marry you and it would not interfere with your future obligations in that regard. And everything was going along smashingly until you realized that tragedy had struck in your absence. And you are somehow convinced that your being at home to fight and die alongside your father and brothers would have made some sort of difference. That if you had been there, you would have somehow saved everyone so you could all live happily ever after."
"At least Antoinette wouldn't have died alone of a broken heart in the convent."
"Yes she would have, because you would have either been dead on the battlefield or imprisoned for life. Why don't you ease up on yourself? I think you've done your time."
DeSorcy stopped in the darkness and stared at her for several long moments, as if searching for words. "But that's just it, my lady. Sometimes we make choices that we can't make amends for. If I had committed my youthful folly in the mortal realm, I could atone for my sins and stand before God in judgment at my death, then He would decide if I had 'done my time' or not. But I succumbed to temptation here in the realm of Fae. I cannot leave, I cannot die. My soul is lost."
"Then what does it matter? Why live like a monk in solitude?"
"Because empty pleasures hold no appeal to me. Bread and wine without work are lies. A woman without love is mockery. And to try to uphold the tenets in which I believe simply out of fear of going to hell is cowardly. I choose to live the way I do because I believe that God was right when He laid down His laws, not because I seek some reward from Him or am trying to avoid some punishment."
They stood and stared at each other in the dank sewers. The torchlight danced off the moist walls and illuminated the occasional droplet of water as it fell into the runoff at their feet. Finally, DeSorcy demanded, "What? Why are you looking at me like that."
"I'm pretty much intimidated by the depth of your moral integrity," Michelle admitted bluntly. "You're kind of making me feel like a shallow piece of crap."
"I wouldn't have described you that way," DeSorcy said mildly, turning back to continue walking. "There." He pointed. "That grating. I think we can exit through it. I'll hoist you up. After this evening's events, I trust that you are bold enough to dissuade any foot traffic from running us over as we try to climb out."
They walked over to the grating in silence, then peered up through it. "Ready, my lady?" DeSorcy held out his hands to her. Glumly, Michelle nodded and stepped forward, putting her hands on his shoulders while he took hold of her waist. He braced his feet and sunk a bit in preparation to hoist her, then stopped abruptly and straighten up again. "What?"
"I've spent the better part of our acquaintance trying to get you to stop talking to me. Trolls and gorgons have tried to get you to stop talking. Suddenly you're silent. Are you ill, lady?"
Truth be told, after the revelations of the previous conversation, she had suddenly realized how little they had in common, this handsome hero with impossibly high standards. Educated. Well-bred. A sense of morality that made her ashamed that she had never given thought to religion besides trying to weasel out of going to Church when she was a girl. For a short while, she had begun to think that maybe she was just what a lonely knight might need to break up the tedium of his humdrum routine, but if the lawless Queen of the Fae couldn't do it for him, a semi-agnostic schoolteacher didn't stand a chance. Still, the fact that he was concerned enough at her silence to tease her went a long way to brightening her mood. It was hard to be depressed when a man that good looking was standing naked to the waist with his arms around you trying to get you to smile. She ducked her head and blushed, trying not to smile and failing. "Ah, just too aware of my own inadequacies."
"You're well aware of everyone's inadequacies. Lord Rejak and I can both attest to that."
She tried not to laugh. "Just feeling... foolish and not very profound is all."
"For heaven's sake, Lady Michelle, you're how old? Eighteen?"
"Twenty-five!" she corrected sternly.
"Women marry later nowadays, don't they?"
"A lot later, I think. It's kind of frowned on to get married before you're in your twenties. Some women wait until they're in their forties or fifties. Or sixties. Or more."
"Now weren't you just taking someone to task for expecting great depths of wisdom and fortitude from someone in his early twenties? Do I sense a double standard? Perhaps I shouldn't have expected so much from myself because I'm so primitive. Is that it? Has mankind evolved that much since my time? Am I just from a more stupid era?"
"A more sarcastic one, apparently. Stop talking and lift me up. Oh, and show me where your ribs hurt so I know where to aim with my feet. It's nice to have you confirm that I'm young and stupid, by the way."
"Good girl," he chuckled and hoisted her up to the grate. "You'll grow out of it."