((An evolution, if you will, of something dated.))
. . . . . “Hoi, brother.” A lanky shadow fell across me, blocking the warm shaft of afternoon sun I'd been basking in. I cracked an eye open and focused on my twin. We were not identical, but quite similar, sharing the same warm brown eyes, thin and broad builds, large hands, and wooly hair. Theo let his curls grow long, tying them back in a puffy mass which resembled the belly of an ewe – while I kept my own too short to be springy. One of his curls dangled near his left ear, and I knew that was the one he tugged on when he was paying attention to something else.
. . . . . It was mid-afternoon. The grass beneath me was spry and the tree at my back sturdy and happy. I blinked a few times and looked to my right. While I'd been napping, the painter had packed up her easel and departed.
. . . . . For several hours here in the park, I'd watched her practice her art, sketches of passersby turning into quick, colorful paintings. The last had been an exotic, dusky couple stopping at at sweets vendor along the walk. The petite, dark-haired woman bought a rosewater confection and the towering man behind her took it from her upraised hand, removing two bites which he appeared to relish before sharing the morsel with his lady. The artist had been halfway through something beautiful in deep reds and warm golds when I'd fallen asleep here in the sunshine.
. . . . . Now here was Theo interrupting my basking.
. . . . . “What,” I groused flatly, closing my eyes again and trying to wave him out of the warmth.
. . . . . The leather of those damnable too-tight pants he insisted on wearing creaked as he crouched by my side – blessedly out of my sun now. “Get up,” he hissed, “I need you to take my bag home for me.”
. . . . . “You take it home for you.”
. . . . . “I can't.” He drew out the last vowel into at least four extra syllables.
. . . . . “Why not?” I did the same.
. . . . . I felt my hair ruffle and smelled cheese – a blown-out breath of exasperation. “Because I don't want to haul it to Master Vincenzo's.”
. . . . . “Wouldn't you want to take your work to your master?”
. . . . . His knuckles connected with my shoulder, jostling me from the tree. I felt momentarily bereft. “Because he invited me to dinner.”
. . . . . That finally convinced me to stop lolling in the grass. “What.”
. . . . . “Master Vincenzo,” my little brother said slowly as if speaking to a dim-witted child, “invited me to his home. For dinner.”
. . . . . “Oh ho!” I cackled like a bold hen. Or was that old biddy? Eh, details. “Aren't you going to go home and change first?”
. . . . . “Cha-... OH!” Theo threw his hands up in the air and rose so fast my head spun with the motion. “I should change!”
. . . . . I scooped the skin of water next to me off the grass and wobbled my way upright. “Take your bag back home with...” He was already fifty yards away. “You.” I sighed and picked up his satchel.
. . . . . For three years in Tiberium my petit frère and I had lived in what the richer students who attended the University called squalor. Accustomed as we were to our simple farm, it was only marginally lower class than we'd hoped to afford. Our mattresses were repacked with straw twice a month. Our second floor status kept us from being nose-level with the gutter offal. Our wobbly table was easily shimmed up with a chip of tree bark. Our landlady condescended to share two meals a day with us – a rough breakfast and an occasionally tasty dinner.
. . . . . Only Theo attended the University. I had no interest in it myself, content to while away the days doing odd gardening jobs for the ladies of the city and earning the coin to keep us housed and fed. With my distinctly Kriti visage, it took hearing me sing to their gentian and primrose in flawless D'Angeline for them to realize I might be more interesting as more than a gardener. I may not bear the blood of angels, but I bear the mantle of Anael with pride and pleasure should blossom in all gardens.
. . . . . By the time I made it to our flat, Theo had torn a small whirlwind around our room, strewing clothes haphazardly in all directions. I plucked his shirt off the wall sconce which had thankfully not yet been lit in mid-afternoon and leaned against the wall.
. . . . . “Diyofh,” he cried, muffled by the shirt he was pulling over his head, “fair's er pronsh orrersh?”
. . . . . He was asking for my bronze laurels, of course. A gift from our mother Metrodora, the long, slender Kriti bronze emblem I wore around my neck was about five inches of laurel leaves twining around a slender pillar. It had been given to me in recognition of my vows made to Anael and for luck. I didn't always wear it, and in a pinch, Theo would borrow it for a hair-stick to hold his curls back in a twist-knot.
. . . . . I waited until he'd finished pulling his new shirt over his head before I threw the old one in such a fashion as to obscure him once more. “Give me a moment to find it.” Leaving him spluttering indignantly, I went to my trunk and fished around until my fingers hit the catch inside the bottom which would release the false side and reveal the small drawer hidden under the trunk where I stored our coins and valuables. The rest of my trunk appeared to be full of gardening rags and weighted with paving stones, so carting the whole item off would be a waste of time. My laurels and their long chain rested there. I pulled the jewelry out and the thin stick off the chain.
. . . . . Resting the chain around my neck, I carried the rest of the bronze piece back to Theo. He was trying to lace his right cuff with his left hand and teeth.
. . . . . “Oh, for Elua's sake... Here. You're hopeless.” He sighed gratefully as I took the ties from him, pressed the bronze into his left hand, and laced his shirt cuff around his right wrist. “Where are your boots?”
. . . . . Hands already tangled in his curls, he jerked his chin towards the front door.
. . . . . “Sit.” My brother found a seat while he tamed his hair and I helped him into his boots. Properly attired and coifed and cleaned, I clasped his forearm before he grabbed the door. “Be good at dinner, little brother.”
. . . . . We may have been Kriti by parentage, but his grin was pure D'Angeline from birth. “I'm always good!”
. . . . . When we look back on events in our lives, it's easy to convince ourselves that there were signs, that we should have known, that shadows of foreboding and shivers of warning touched us. In truth, though, none of us can know the future before it becomes the present.
. . . . . My present was a hangover, courtesy of a nice bottle of wine bought for me by a friend among the students that evening. I greeted the dawn with something a whole lot like “Blurgh!” and a yank of blankets over my head. It was so nice of my baby brother to be quiet this morning. Usually, he snored.
. . . . . I heard no snoring.
. . . . . I sat up in bed, eyes squinted close against the light as the blankets pooled around my bare waist. I listened hard. His satchel was on the table, so he wasn't at lecture. By mutual agreement, we'd situated our mattresses in a fashion as to allow semi-privacy in the single large room we shared, with table, chairs, and trunks set to provide barriers. Privacy be damned though, I clambered out of bed open to the breeze and padded barefoot over to his bed. No Theo in it.
. . . . . “Theo?” I called out quietly, as if he was waiting under a chair for me or something. “Timotheos?” It was strange for him to not come home by morning, dinner out or not. Ah, well, perhaps he was lucky and one of Master Vincenzo's wine-bearers was Hellenic instead of Caerdicci. The Hellenes were far less uptight about men like my brother than the Caerdicci were. With an unselfconscious scratch of my balls, I padded back over to my trunk and started fishing out clothes. Lady Ionna needed someone to tend to her...orchid...today.
. . . . . “The students are just a pox!” To my disappointment, Ionna had a gaggle of guests over for tea, so I really was left tending to her azalea bushes. I was humming as I picked gall-infected leaves off a bush by hand in the courtyard while her friends tittered over cups of yansoon imported from Menekhet. Murmurs of agreement followed the stately older lady's pronouncement.
. . . . . “Violent wretches,” another lady interjected. “What happened to Basilia is absolutely horrible!”
. . . . . I murmured gentle platitudes to a bright pink bud. The bush was just on the verge of bursting forth in paper-thin fuchsia blossoms. It just needed a little care and coaxing, really.
. . . . . “However will Master Vincenzo get along without her?” gasped Ionna as she fanned herself.
. . . . . I froze, everything from lungs to limbs shutting down as if that could make sounds clearer.
. . . . . “I heard it was one of his own students!”
. . . . . A pile of poxed azalea leaves fluttered to the ground in my wake as I tore out of the courtyard as if the hounds of heaven were on my heels.
(To be continued when my brain cooperates on the scenes to follow.)