Fiction

Lady Shard

By Jeff Franzmann

A silver disc in the velvet sky, pinpoints of light flickering above the fields and snow capped hills, all sounds absorbed, contained, by the night. Against the backdrop of the sky, barren trees, naked and sullen, shrouded in the moon's radiance, and a great mansion in the vale, known to many, visited by all too few.

Alone she sits by the great window, candlelight spilling out over the snow draped pine and willow which stand just beyond the ivy coated walls. Tapers burn low, pale shadows dancing against the walls. She stares at them, seeing in those dark, shifting forms the promise of a thousand dreams. Within there is hanged man, a swan in the middle of a lily coated pond, a flock of starlings. To so many others it is simply shadows against a wall.

The door opens, though she senses a new presence more than she hears the sound of footfalls against the soft carpeting. The candles drift and flicker as the air is disturbed, several wink out, tendrils of smoke wrapping themselves about her body. She would not think of turning, even as the presence comes in behind her, breath warm against her neck, for as quickly as it arrives, it is gone, as tangible and as real as a memory.

"Canticle?"

As ever, the query is unanswered, although she knows there is no need to ask. In another time and place, he had given his promise, and his gift, and from that moment on what had taken place was forever. The man may have been mortal, his flesh weak, but his passions were eternal. Love never dies.

She shook her head, smiling. In all the years since his death, she had been visited on this night, and though the course of her life flowed on, she made it a point to return here that same night every year, no matter what efforts it might entail. She knew he would understand if she could not make it, one cannot dwell on the past. It was something she wanted to do. She closed her eyes, and drifted back in time…

The Magistrate of Blacksand was known far and wide for the elaborate efforts with which his soirees were put together. The great mansion which dominated the hill looking over the city was illuminated by hundreds of wrought iron lanterns suspended upon poles, each casting a small pool of radiance about them, until the pools were absorbed into each other, a pale and ghostly illumination which only added to the majesty of the mansion. Guests were brought to the great filigreed gates by horse drawn carriage, silent coachmen in black greatcoats and top hats bringing them gold embossed invitations to the event, offering their services in lisping voices from behind the thick black scarves which obscured their features. And the guests would invariably dress in their finest. Silk corsets, lace cuffs, finery without compare in the most decadent court was everywhere.

When he first arrived, few were aware of who he was, only that he, like they, was an invited guest of the Magistrate, and therefore worthy of respect. His black shoes were polished, silver buckles standing out without being overwhelming. The tails of his black waistcoat came down almost to his knees, the silver trim emphasizing the simple yet stunning manufacture. A black vest with silver buttons, a white silk shirt beneath, completed his attire. His hair, swept back to reveal a widow's peak, tied with silver cord, was striking in its simplicity. While many attempted to court favor with the ladies with elaborate powdered wigs or even natural curls, he kept it simple. His features, harsh and defined, seemed delicate in the weak light offered by the lanterns about the grounds of the mansion. It was his eyes that caught attention, emerald pools, filled with knowledge, with sorrow, and something else that no one was quite able to place.

She had looked into his eyes at that moment, and realized then that there was something different about him. Though many eyes were upon her this evening, few rose past the silver cording which lined the top of her black velvet corset. His eyes passed over her, almost ignoring her, although in that brief glance a thousand different possibilities seemed to cross over his features. In the eyes of many, there was lust, desire, need. In his, something different.

She nodded politely to the young courtier who had held her attention for most of the evening, a pleasant, if persistent youth in service to the Magistrate's Guard. He blinked as she excused herself, and nodded nervously as he stepped over to a group of his friends. He was not used to be being brushed off in such a manner by women.

She slowly made her way over to where the newcomer was standing, adjusting her hair, and the silver chain which fell from the elaborate curls like a cascade. The flowing black skirt which she wore hindered rapid movement, and at the same time accentuated her form, something which drew even more attention in her direction. She brushed the hurried introductions and advances aside, intrigued by this lonely stranger.

Past the lantern's pale light, and beneath the natural, ghostly light of the moon, near the entrance to the gardens, he stood looking at the stars. She stopped, unsure of how to approach.

"I look into the sky, milady, and see things I could only dream of experiencing. It would be to my honor if one such as yourself were to join me."

She stepped forward, hesitating briefly.

"It is a wondrous night indeed, though I fear we have yet to be introduced…"

He smiled, briefly, and nodded.

"I am Canticle, though if you desire, you may call me Cernwin…"

"Strange, for names which you have taken to seem so different."

He shrugged.

"A name is no different than the clothes one wears. It suits, or it does not, and you may take as many as necessary, should they fit."

She nodded, and began her own introduction, but he simply put his finger to his lips.

"There is no need, milady, for I have known who you are for a very long time."

"I beg your leave, but we have never been introduced…"

He smiled, laughter in his eyes.

"There are times in this world, milady, when one does not need to hear a name to know who one is. You need only know that I have loved you from the moment I saw you…"

He turned from his contemplation of the stars, and made his way to the gardens. She stood there, blinking, an astonished look upon her features. After a few moments, she followed him into the gardens.

"Milord, you flatter me indeed, but you have no idea who I am…"

Canticle stood before a shower of chrysanthemums, his features outlined against the moon.

"You will find, milady, that there are many who will not know who you are, and yet desire something from you. You have seen the looks which men pass in your directions. They engage you in conversation, yet they desire something else entirely. They hear your words, though they would prefer you did not speak. And as the evening progresses, you will find that with enough wine in their bellies, they will be far more forthcoming about their true desires," he paused, leaning over to pick a black lily from a bed of flowers. He handed it to her, "I have simply stated what it is that I have felt, and have no desire to keep hidden. You know how it is that I feel, and you may now act without wondering at my intentions."

She blinked once again, although a smile was on her lips…

She opened her eyes, looking out from a darkened room. The candles had burned themselves out, and the moon was slipping beneath the horizon, the faint blue dawn fast approaching. She rose from the chair, and made her way to the door. It would be another year before she would return, and as she always did, she captured the moment in her mind's eye.

Love never dies.

Dedicated to Lady Shard
Copyright © by Jeff Franzmann