Summoned into the realm of the Fae to find a criminal, Michelle and her reluctant guide, Sir DeSorcy, have spent a long day of fighting with trolls, gorgons and each other. DeSorcy's injuries call for a night's rest, and the slow walk home has afforded opportunity for more amicable conversation.
They lugged the crate of water back to his house. He hesitated as they walked in. "There... is a bath with heated water." He glanced toward the master bedchamber with a faintly troubled look. "It's a bit dusty, but I could clean it up for you."
"What do you normally use?"
"The pump out back."
"I like pumps." Michelle stated firmly. The hell with the frivolous luxuries of the wicked Fae Queen!
Predictably, they argued over who was to bathe first. Michelle won the right to go second, insisting that his wounds needed tending to, she was just going to get her clothes wet again helping him clean the gouges on his back, she needed someone to show her how to bathe under a pump, and she was not about to accept any towel or clean change of clothes from him until he had washed his hands thoroughly anyway. "You've been poking about in dead bodies and trolls and things."
"Lord have mercy on the man you finally marry," DeSorcy sulked, his attempts at chivalry thwarted.
"He'll only need it if I marry an idiot who wants to rummage through the clean linens after he's been playing in rotting corpses."
"And I assume you have higher standards than that."
"Nah. Depends on how good looking he is."
The pump water had gone from tepid to cold by the time her turn came, but the evening air was still and hot. She wore his clothes -- a faded silk tunic and a pair of soft breeches rolled up at the cuff for her shorter legs. Her canvas sneakers were set with the rest of her clothes, thoroughly scrubbed out and left to dry overnight. DeSorcy was sitting on his front porch when she finished, admiring the sun setting over the orchard, sipping a bottle of water.
"Maybe I'm remembering."
Michelle took a seat beside him on the step. "If your water tasted like it came from a plastic armpit back then, too, then times weren't as romantic as the books say."
"Actually, we rarely drank plain water. Wine, mead, tea."
"I've never had mead."
"I prefer wine, but a hot mulled mead on a cold winter night can be a fine thing."
"What are you going to eat, Sir DeSorcy?"
He looked slightly irritated and she knew she had caught him attempting to be stoic again. "I'm not hungry."
"You need to eat something. You've been hurt."
"I would feel terribly uncomfortable eating in front of you."
"You will feel terribly uncomfortable with my endless haranguing."
"Fine." He got up slowly and turned to stomp into the house. He came back after several steps and poked his head out again. "This is two. I'm keeping tally."
"Let me anticipate three for you and tell you that being the one without cracked ribs qualifies me to be the one who sleeps on the floor."
"Who says you're invited to sleep inside the house, madam?"
It was a remarkably pleasant evening. They sat on the step while DeSorcy ate some dried meat and bread and drank a flagon or two of wine to dull some of the aches. They shared trivia from their respective eras. He seemed impressed with her choice of career.
"You are a tutor?"
"A teacher. I teach children."
"No. I teach high school children. History and literature."
"High school. Older children, then?"
"Yes. Usually about fourteen to eighteen years old. I usually get the juniors and seniors, which puts them at sixteen to... what's that look for?"
"Those are young men and women, not children."
"And what, pray tell, do you find so amusing about that?" Michelle demanded.
He had a slight smile. "I was just having a difficult time imagining you spending your days with little children. Training headstrong young men -- and young women like yourself -- seems much more likely."
Michelle squinted at him. "Thanks. I think." She grinned suddenly. "Yeah, come to think of it, facing trolls and gorgons isn't that much more intimidating than trying to instill order on a bunch of little gang-bangers."
"Beg pardon?" That sparked at least another hour of discussion, at the end of which the sky was quite dark. "You're certain you refuse the cot?"
"You realize you are causing me to impugn my own honor, sleeping on a cot while a lady sleeps on the floor?"
"I trust this is not a clever way to try to get me in the cot with you," she said primly, just to see him blush. It worked. "I was actually going to compromise your honor even further and make you a prince among villains." She paused just a moment to let the blush deepen and watch him sit up straight and start to sputter. "I was thinking about what you said earlier about not inviting me to sleep in the house. Is it safe to sleep on the front porch here? It's certainly warm enough."
He glared briefly at her innocent smile, then squinted. "Why?"
Michelle pointed up. "I'd have to travel a long, long way to see stars like that where I come from. It's spectacular." The sky was perfectly clear. No smog, no dust, no haze, no humidity. The Milky Way lay draped across the sky like a glittering silk scarf.
"I don't see that anything would trouble you here. Just don't go spreading word around that I'm having young women sleeping on my doorstep. And refusing to feed them."
"Don't forget how often you've spoken rudely to me," she added helpfully to his list of crimes as he went inside to fetch her some bedding. He came back with an armload of blankets and a pillow. The pillow he pitched at her face, the blankets he insisted on spreading out for her.
"You're a man. You'll just do it wrong." There was a high degree of satisfaction using his own conventions to thwart more of his conventions.
"Here are two extra blankets." He ignored her comment pointedly. "If you need more, you are to come and loudly demand some. There is no room for discussion on this point."
"Are you expecting a freeze tonight? I already have serious concerns about smothering under the weight of all that fabric as it is."
"My apologies, my lady. I admit to being afraid you don't stop talking even in sleep. I was hoping to at least dampen some of the sound."
"Try a foot or two of stone," she pursed her lips at him.
"You are too kind. I will look into that. Sleep well, Lady Michelle."
"Peaceful dreams to you."
The night was incredibly still and silent. Upon a moment's reflection, Michelle decided that it would be better said that the night was devoid of the sounds of mankind. The horse lazily moved from stall to paddock, with a clonking of hooves upon the doorframe. What sounded like tree frogs, or maybe some large cicada type bug for all she knew, sang from the orchard. Crickets caroled from the tall grasses. At one point during the night, a sound like a dozen insane devils laughing evilly erupted from the depths of the orchard and she sat bolt upright, wondering if something dark had come to take her unclaimed soul. DeSorcy's door was not far from the open front door and she heard his sleepy voice mumble, "Coyotes, milady."
Feeling foolish, she lay back down and listened to them sing to each other, sounds that sent delicious chills down her back when she let her mind wander to imagine what they sounded like. Somehow, her wandering mind seized the topic of fast food and she lay there imagining greasy burgers and hot, salty fries. Milk shakes. Pot roast and mashed potatoes. Pancakes and maple syrup and sausage and...
The sounds of the pump in the back yard intruded into a very realistic fantasy that she was at an all-you-can-eat buffet, hiding from the manager because she had already eaten more than six normal people and was still ravenous. She blinked a few times and realized the sky was turning light. Time to get up.
"Good morning, lady." DeSorcy looked stiff but well rested, on hand to give her a bottle of water as she wandered in from the porch. "I trust you slept well."
"It was a pleasant night," she replied, since that was closer to the truth. "How are your ribs?"
"I've had worse. I apologize that I can't offer to cook you something to break your fast."
She opened the bottle of water and took a swallow, grinning. "You cook?"
DeSorcy frowned at her a bit, looking around as if for the imaginary household staff. "I do all my own cooking here. And washing and mending and cleaning." He paused for a second, shooting a few quick glances around the dusty little place in response to her widening grin. "I don't often have company."
"I have no complaints. That was the finest front yard I have ever slept in."
Washing up was cool, but took the place of a cup of coffee for waking her up. DeSorcy had his ribs wrapped and was ready to go by the time she was finished. They walked through the door and back into the bustle of the city, where day break seemed to still be an hour or so away. The noise of the streets was muted by a thick fog that hung between the buildings and made the gargoyles look more menacing and took on the colors of the lights to lend the heights a soft, rainbow haze.
The smells of hot coffees and chocolates, cinnamon buns and fresh breads, were maddening. Michelle recalled DeSorcy's description of food here in the realm of Fae as her mouth watered at the perfect smells. "Fortitude, milady," he smiled, placing a hand on the small of her back to propel her forward when the scents from a bewitching bakery caused her to lag.
"We need to find this guy fast. If the devil showed up right now with a Big Mac, my soul would be in deep trouble."
"Whatever a Big Mac is, you'd have a long, long time to regret it."
"That happens in the mortal realm, too. See this?" she patted her bottom "That's still the remnants of my freshman fifteen -- the weight I put on when I went off to college and began living on mostly Big Macs and pizza. I'll never be the sylph-like young girl I was again, but she's trapped here somewhere under these monstrous hips." DeSorcy was shaking his head slightly and trying to ignore her. Having pity on him, Michelle changed the subject. "How can it be so cold here when your place is in full fledged summer?"
"I don't know. A gentleman I talked to once tried to explain to me about hemispheres and weather patterns, but he hadn't paid enough attention during his education to recall clearly and there were no public books available on the matter. I know the house is much, much too far to ride to from the city, if a mortal should dare attempt such on his own. Day and night, summer and winter do not correspond directly. Time travels more slowly here in the capital than anywhere else. Magics, lady."
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