Disclaimer: The characters in this story are copyrights of Paramount and Fireworks Productions. No infringement is intended. The story plot is original and copyright to the author, Maril Swan.
Author's Note: This vignette came from a challenge at the Queen of Swords Fanfic site wherein those who want to participate are challenged to write a short story that contains either three random items, or one of two quotes. This story is a quote challenge. The quote is: "If I were to take up shroud making, men would stop dying - if I sold candles, the sun would never set". -Abraham Ibn Ezra (born 1089-1167, Cordoba)
"If I were to take up shroud-making, men would stop dying - if I sold candles, the sun would never set". Have you ever heard that saying before, seņor? I see you are unfamiliar with it. Well, when you hear my story you will know why I said it. I see your glass is nearly empty. Please, accept some of this fine cognac for your benevolent patience while I tell you what you are so obviously anxious to hear.
It all started when the British merchant ship anchored in Santa Helena's harbour. While the sailors unloaded the ship's trading goods, the passengers came ashore. I was passing the cantina when I heard something that sounded like music to my ears - a woman's laugh. As I turned toward the sound, I saw a vision. I know it seems an exaggeration, seņor, but I felt as if an earthquake thundered under my feet when I saw her. Her green eyes captured mine as she gazed at me boldly, and I blush to admit it, but she seemed to be impressed by what she saw. Her face was like that of a porcelain doll, a perfect oval with high classic cheekbones. And her hair was a blaze of glory - the most vivid red you've ever seen. I see you're impressed, seņor. And well you should be. She was beauty itself!
Her eyes never left mine, and I felt emboldened to pay my respects to her. She was sitting with a party of passengers from the English ship, and as I approached I could hear that barbaric tongue being spoken by the men and women at her table. I speak a little English and so I introduced myself. "Colonel Luis Ramirez Montoya, at your service, seņora." I could see she was past the blush of first youth. She had that wonderful self-contained maturity only the years can bring. She smiled at my English and replied in the most perfect Castilian, "I am Lady Veronica Samson." Then she held her hand out to me and as I kissed it, the most delectable fragrance wafted from her warm skin into my nostrils. She said, "Please join us, Colonel Montoya. We were just saying how lovely this village is. How peaceful."
I see you laugh, seņor. I nearly did too, but checked myself in time. Peaceful? Well, it was peaceful since the Queen of Swords had been absent for over a week. Of course, I joined their party and Lady Samson bade me sit next to her. On her other side was a prune-faced matron whose mouth was pursed as if she was perpetually tasting something bitter. Her maid, I assumed correctly. From the moment I saw Lady Samson, I was caught in her spell. Her unearthly beauty and charm completely undid me. As I gazed at her, I felt as clumsy and inarticulate as a schoolboy. You may smile, sir, but I assure you, I was as smitten as any young swain with the first love of his life. My heart raced and I felt hot and cold; I was dizzy with delight whenever she turned those green eyes upon me.
Finally, I had to excuse myself and get back to work. But I could not let her go without seeing her again. I knew her ship was leaving in the morning so I suggested a dinner party for seven o'clock at my villa. I invited all the passengers. There were only five of them, so it would be no hardship for my cook to prepare a large meal.
As I crossed the square to my office, I saw Seņorita Alvarado talking with the doctor. I approached them and invited them both to the dinner, as well. Do you know the seņorita? Well, she has refused two of my invitations recently, but this time she accepted. Yes, I know. What else could she do without being rude? I really think she accepted because the doctor said he would be there. Since there would be English guests at the dinner he said he was eager for news from his homeland. I think she is infatuated with the doctor, but he only seems to see her as a spoiled nuisance.
I shouldn't laugh, seņor, but whenever Seņorita Alvarado and the doctor are at one of my dinner parties, I place them as far apart as possible. Yes, I know it is unworthy of me, a petty torment to a young and inoffensive girl. But, I get so few chances for a little diversion in this dull town. You may think better of me now though. That night, I sat them together, much to the seņorita's delight and the doctor's irritation.
Your glass is empty again. So is this bottle. Wait, I have another. Let us drink to the woman.
I had Lady Samson placed on my right and Grisham on my left. Yes, I had to invite him too. As the evening wore on, my mind was filled with the most romantic and impossible ideas. With Veronica at my side, I would preside over the society of the area, even attain to the Governor's mansion in Monterrey. With such a woman beside me, what ambitions could I not fulfill? She was everything a man could dream of and more.
The evening passed in a blur and finally, all the guests departed. Veronica stayed behind just as if she were my hostess. All evening long, I watched Veronica as she laughed and joked with her friends, and was pleasant to the seņorita and the doctor. She was the perfect woman to adorn my household and bring charm and grace to my table.
All evening, I felt her presence near me, the fragrant warmth of her body so close. Those green eyes bewitched me and I found myself holding her gaze too often, too long. I was maddened with desire for her, and my mind filled with thoughts of the evening and night yet to come. But the maid, Margaret, hung on like a limpet, never leaving us alone for a second. Finally, Veronica said to her, "Margaret, you go on to the hotel. I will be there shortly." The maid's mouth pursed even more if that is possible, but she went and left us alone.
It was as if we both had one thought as we embraced as soon as we were alone. She showed none of the coyness or reluctance of an inexperienced young girl, but was as avid as I to make love. I won't convey all the pleasures of that night, but suffice it to say I fell in love with her and she took me to heaven in her arms.
The next day, the ship sailed away, but Veronica and her maid remained behind. She said she would take the coach to Monterrey on its next circuit through from Santa Monica. To my absolute delight, the coach was not expected for another week. I invited Veronica and her maid to be guests at my villa and they moved into the guest rooms. Yes, seņor, I know it was very indiscrete of us, but I cared nothing for what people might say, and to her credit, nor did Veronica. We spent our nights making love and talking until all hours. She asked me all about my life in Santa Helena and I told her about that damned vigilante, the Queen of Swords. She said she knew how to capture the Queen. It was a delicate moment, seņor, and I tried to be gentle with her, but I told her no trap that was ever set could catch that diabla.
Veronica laughed, and said, "That's because she is a woman and thinks like a woman. No wonder you can't catch her. What woman could be caught unless she wants to be? You have to think like a woman to catch her." I told her at that moment I wasn't interested in thinking like a woman. Much later she began to discuss the idea of capturing the Queen herself, and to my surprise, she said she would expect the reward for doing so. I humoured her, of course. So would you, if you were in my situation, seņor. Another glass of cognac? The day is still young, seņor. Another toast to the woman. You are a most excellent companion; the best kind - a silent one.
One night, after a most enchanting dinner, I asked Veronica to be my wife, and she accepted. I had visions, seņor, of a life with Veronica at my side, my lover, my hostess, and the mother of our children. Oh yes, I could almost see their little red heads as they scampered about the grounds of our hacienda. Of course, I would become a don and take my place in polite society. No more the military ruler, but a master of my own household, my only concerns those that normally rise up around a man in his domestic environment.
A few days later, Veronica had been absent the whole day and as the night fell, I began to worry. Finally, she arrived wearing a most unusual costume - men's trousers, high boots, a rough jacket and a sword at her side. For all the world, she looked like a buccaneer. I was as surprised as you, seņor, but the greatest surprise was yet to come. She led me outside and there, tied on a horse, was the Queen of Swords. I was so taken aback, Veronica began to laugh, and then I too laughed. The Queen just sat there, trussed up like a goose. I wanted to kill her immediately, after I unmasked her, but Veronica had a better plan. "Luis, you will have a greater dramatic effect if you unmask her at the trial. The dons will know you are a fair and honest governor." Yes, seņor, she expected that the Queen would get a trial. I could not disappoint her, and I did not want her to think I was unjust. So we threw her majesty into a cell and doubled the guard.
Once it was known we had the Queen, pandemonium broke loose in the village. The peasants threw rotten fruit at the soldiers, my own villa was pelted with dung and all manner of malodorous things. Grisham was worried about a rush on the prison to free her. Through it all, she just sat there, imperturbably ignoring the noise outside and my questions.
I gave Veronica her reward. I was never so glad to give anything to anyone. She did not explain how she captured the Queen, though I pressed her for an answer. "It is my business, Luis," she told me. I had to be satisfied with that. Our lovemaking that night was more intense and passionate than ever before. I could hardly wait for the dawn and the trial. By afternoon the following day, I would be rid of the nightmare of the Queen forever. I slept the sleep of the just.
Toward dawn, I woke to the sound of an enormous explosion. Veronica was not in my bed but I had no time to think about that. Outside there was shouting and shots being fired, and the sounds of horses pounding through the village. I rushed into the chaos and saw smoke coming from the prison. I knew before anyone had to tell me - the Queen had escaped...again. Si, seņor, I know I was a fool to delay killing her, but my Veronica had begged me not to, and I could refuse her nothing.
Suddenly, I thought of Veronica and wondered where she was during all this. I ran from room to room in my villa searching for her. She was gone. On my desk, there was a note. I tore it open and read...ah, seņor. What a heartless wretch she was! She wrote, "Dear Luis, do not look for me as I have gone with the reward money. I could not let you kill the Queen of Swords and have freed her. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but this past week with you has been anything but cold. In the heat of passion, I have loved and hated you at the same time. I now leave you with this thought. Carlotta, my dearest friend, is avenged."
So, seņor, now you know why I am the unluckiest man alive. You have been such a good listener, I will pour us both another glass of cognac, and we will toast the woman one last time. Her name will never cross my lips again."
As Tessa approached the church, she noticed Grisham and the doctor sitting on the steps. She reached the door and pulled. It was locked. She turned to the doctor. "Why is the door locked? The church is never locked during the day. I want to go in and light a candle for someone."
Grisham grinned sardonically. "The Colonel locked himself in and won't open the door for anyone."
The doctor added, "He's been in there for hours with the soldier who was killed this morning in the hail of bullets that accompanied the Queen's escape."
"Well," she said indignantly, "does he think the church is his private chapel?" With that, she hammered on the door and called out angrily, "Colonel Montoya! Open this door."
"So you do know how to knock on a door, Seņorita Alvarado. You might try practicing on my door next." Dr. Helm gave her a wry smile to which she returned a haughty glance and resuming pounding on the door.
Suddenly, there was a sound of glass breaking and a muffled curse, followed by, "All right, all right. I am coming to open the door."
The colonel staggered out through the open door and collided with Tessa who grabbed him before he fell. She turned her head quickly from the alcohol fumes he breathed on her. His hair was mussed and his pale eyes were moist and bloodshot as he looked blearily around in the bright sunlight.
"I'd better get him inside before anyone sees him like this," Grisham laughed. He quickly took hold of the colonel and began to half carry, half drag him toward his villa.
"I almost pity him," Dr. Helm commented as they watched Grisham and Montoya disappear into the villa.
"Because of the sick stomach and headache that will surely follow this drinking bout?" Tessa asked.
"No. That will go away in a matter of a day or so. It's the other pain that will probably burn in his soul forever. That's what I pity." He looked up and saw a sympathetic expression on her face as she glanced toward Montoya's residence. "Well, now you can go in and light your candle, seņorita. Who is it for, if you don't mind my asking?"
"An enemy and a friend," she said over her shoulder as she entered the dim interior of the church.
©The Shroudmaker - Maril Swan - March 2001
I'd love to hear what you thought of this story - Maril Swan
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