Another short story – ‘Summer Wine’

Okay, so I know I said I’d try to finish ‘Words, Words, Words’ but I got distracted on Monday when I was listening to music and a song called Summer Wine came up on the playlist I was listening to. I first heard this song in the middle of last year (several friends of mine are fans of the male vocalist) and when I heard it the first thing I said was ‘Oh its a fairy tale’. Six months later this little peice appeared and insisted that I put it down on paper. I have to admit though I haven’t actually managed to write much since, just a little revision on one fanfic peice I wrote and some small progress on ‘Words….’ and another short story that might make it here at some point. Any way, here it is.

Summer Wine: A fairy tale

The midday sun held the world still for a moment.

She watched as the stranger walked in to the village inn.  His eyes were forest green, just like the old king’s had been. His back was straight and strong, his shoulders narrow and skin pale. She laughed as she loitered in the shade of the trees; he was so very like the king had been so long ago.

As she stood deliberating her next move the man reappeared through the door carrying a small bag. He remounted his horse and continued on his way. She followed in the shadow of the woods. Slipping through the trees silently, the lady easily kept pace as the man’s horse ambled along. He ate some fruit, drank some water as he rode. She couldn’t get too close, the horse would sense her; they always did. Whoever started the stories about her kind riding out had been fooling themselves. When they went out in to the world they walked.

She followed him until he turned in to the woods on the opposite side of the road, and hesitated.

Twilight descended.

He’d ridden all day. There was a marker by the road. A few yards in to the woods was a shelter, a stack of wood and a well. Travellers rest, neutral territory, a safe place. He fell from his horse, bone weary. Once on the ground he lay there for a few moments, trying to decide whether it was worth getting up or not, he could easily just stay where he was, sleep in the dirt. It wouldn’t be the first time since his exile that he’d slept under the trees.

He stared up at the trees for a while, until night started to close in and his rumbling belly reminded him that he needed to eat at some point. His horse had wandered away to munch on some grass. Ah well, he thought, I suppose I’d better move. The man rolled on to his hands and knees, large hands pushing himself upright, long legs flexing until he stood and stretched upwards working the kinks out of his muscles.

He cared for his horse, removing its tack and brushing it down. Then he tethered it, he couldn’t afford for it to wander off in the night. He pushed open the door to the shelter, allowed the lingering light into the gloom. He spotted the hearth in the back wall. Dropping his pack to prop the door open he collected some fire wood went inside.  He made a fire in the hearth, gently blowing on the kindling until the flames licked at the wood. The summer evening began to cool as he took in his surroundings now that he had more light. Turing around he noted the store cupboards on the walls. He walked to the opposite wall, and started rummaging through the cupboard. He found oil lamps stored in a cupboard and lit one, placing it on the table in the centre of the room.

He hadn’t washed for three days so he heated water in a large pot and dug out the last of his soap. He’d tried to ration it, slicing tiny slithers off when he felt the need for more than just a cold water wash. These travellers’ refuges usually held a supply of essentials but soap wasn’t one of the things considered essential.

He stripped off his shirt, checking the once fine garment for further damage. He fingered the fraying cuffs and rips in the sleeve, the result of a mugging attempt. He flung it over the back of a chair. He’d repair it once he’d had a wash, maybe even wash it first. He was so grimy from the road that his fading tattoos were beginning to disappear; it really had been too long since he’d been properly clean. He thought longingly of the deep bath, the steam room, the soft towels and ever so helpful servants of his old life. He closed his eyes and sank for a few moments in to a day dream, the last time he’d had a real bath in his father’s tower and the sweet servant who would do anything for him. He smiled a little at the memory and then forced himself back to the here and now.

Quickly he grabbed his wash cloth from his pack and he sliced a little more of the soap in to the heated water before taking in off the fire carrying it to the table and setting it down, before dipping the cloth in. He washed his face and neck before dipping it in to the hot water again, wringing it out and running the use roughened material over his chest and tight muscled stomach. He moaned at the feeling, clean at last, warm water running over his belly and pooling around the waistband of his trousers before soaking in to the material. He dunked his head in the pot of water and cleaned the road dust from his shaggy hair. Oh it felt so good! His hair had always been his pride and joy, it was slightly curly and he usually wore it shoulder length because it suited him. He had washed it every day and always kept it properly trimmed. This scruffy mess irritated him.

Next he unbuckled his belt and slid the tight black trousers off his narrow hips and down his thighs before continuing to wash. He fell back in to his daydream, his servant washing him, helping him to relax properly. He shut his memory off just as he got to the fun bit. His father had walked in to the bathroom and seen them, the memory was painful and he didn’t want it to go on. He stood stock still as the images flashed across his mind. His father pulling his servant off him, throwing them across the room, the shouting, his scrabble to climb from the bath, to get to his servant before his father could do more damage. He’d been exiled the next day, forced from his life on to the road. His tears fell in to the washing water as he remembered the beating his servant had received; he’d been unable to stop it, to help, to do anything. He was useless.

‘FUCK’ he screamed in to the night, pulling his trousers back up, not bothering to dry himself properly. He fought against the memories, calming himself with closed eyes and half remembered songs.

Eventually he came back to himself and continued with his task. He dropped the wash cloth on to the table and picked his shirt up dunking it in to the water. The rhythmic movements necessary to properly clean his garment calmed him further and he lost himself in the details.

Night had deepened.

Beneath the trees the silver light of the moon and stars was filtered by the thick leaves above her head. She’d waited until full dark before slipping out beneath the moon and flitting across the road in to the opposing woods. The man was not to be seen, but his horse was close by, he must be in the shelter, she reasoned before noticing the smoke rising from the chimney, yes he was definitely still here. She slipped towards the edge of the clearing, needing to get within the boundaries herself.

She watched for a while, hoping none watched her. This was enemy territory technically, she shouldn’t be here.

The horse pricked its ears as she moved closer to the shelter, its eyes searching her out in the dark. She whispered words of peace to it, hoping it wouldn’t cause too much fuss. Crossing the line in to sanctuary she felt her strength return. She hadn’t realised until then how much being out of her own territory had weakened her. Of course in her own lands she was so very much more than she was in this world, but that was the nature of the place. In the sanctuary she felt some of that power return to her. She smiled; this mortal man would be hers. She wanted something from him, and if he was really lucky he might get something in return. The horse sensed the change in her, looking up and whinnying wildly. The man appeared at the door, looking around. Hi hair was damp and he was shirtless, she marvelled at the intricate marks on his skin and the whipcord body presented before her. He was even more beautiful than she had thought; he must be more than mortal.

She made it so he wouldn’t see her; she was only starlight and moonlight. She watched the man as his horse watched her. He went to the animal and tried to calm it, whispering in its ear and scratching. Soon her magic worked on the beast and it no longer felt her presence. It calmed and the man returned to the shelter.

He shut the door behind him, feeling the hairs on the nape of his neck rise; he felt certain someone was out there. His horse was not ordinarily skittish, but it had calmed when he had talked to it, perhaps it was some small night animal that had set it off. That didn’t make sense; he felt it in his bones. Something wasn’t right.

The water boiled on the hearth, the hiss and spit as it over boiled on to the fire pulled him from his thoughts. He quickly crossed to the fireplace, grabbing a cloth from the table he bent to pick the pan up and move it away from the heat.

‘Damn’, the water splashed on his bare arm in his rush to get it moved. He sucked at the burnt spot trying to make the pain go away, ‘Damn, damn, damn.’

He crossed to one of the cupboards and found a jar of dried beans and another of oats.

‘Hmm, pottage it’ll have to be then. How exciting!’

He was getting used to his peasants diet now, but it was so dull at times. He salivated at the thought of the roast boar he would be missing today. They always had roast boar at this time of year. He sighed, wiped the drool from his chin and went back to his pan. He stirred in the beans and oats before sliding the pan closer to the heat again.

He went back to the table, pulled out a chair and sat down. Reaching in to his pack he pulled out the only book he’d managed to bring with him. By the light of the lantern he tried to read, but found his eyes kept losing focus, the words slipping about the page before him. After reading the same sentence five times and not understanding a word he threw the book down on to the table. Pushing the chair back roughly, the legs scraping across the flagged floor, he stood and went to check his food.

Almost cooked. Good, he was famished. He’d never been hungry before this year. Not even when he went to war had he suffered, really, his life had been easy. He’d thrown it all away because of his lust. He knew what he’d done was considered wrong, and he could have stopped it but he didn’t want to. Why should he? No one got hurt, until they got caught.

‘Damn, when did I turn in to such a woman?’ he whispered to himself, cuffing tears away. His father would be even more shamed if he knew his eldest son cried so much now.  He shook his head to clear it, tried the food again and decided it was cooked enough. He pulled the pan off the fire and took it to the table. He briefly contemplated putting it in a bowl but decided that would be too much like hard work. Grabbing his spoon he sat down at the table, hunched over his pan of pottage and stirred it until the food cooled enough to eat. He shovelled the food in to his mouth one spoonful after the other.

He stopped when his belly was full. There was still half a pan left but he pushed it away, he’d eat it in the morning. He propped his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands. He should sleep, but sleep didn’t come easily these days. He’s exhausted his body, his muscles are just about ready to give way under him but his mind won’t shut off. His thoughts run in circles through the night as he stares at the blank wall before him, his back warmed the fire. He zones out slightly, something approaching sleep comes.

As midnight approached she slipped in through the door, the beautiful vagabond was slumped in uneasy sleep at the table. She walked over, brushing her hand through his hair. It felt like silk, tangled slightly where he had washed it and not brushed it.

She worked her hand through his hair pulling the knots out. He started to stir, moving slightly; she shushed him and he relaxed again, resting more fully on the table. Her hands moved down to his neck, rubbing the muscles until they relaxed. He was so tense! She moved over his shoulders, smoothing out the pain she found there. She traced her hand down his spine until she reached his waistband.

‘Come now, handsome, let’s get us to the bed.’ In a sleep daze he stood, allowing her to guide him to the sleeping platform, placed at one end of the shelter, away from the door. She saw that he had already laid out his blankets. Lying him down on the blanket she finally decided it was time to wake him up.

‘Hmm, aren’t you fine looking.’ She smiled down at the man.

‘Wha? Who are you?’ his voice was scratchy with sleep, he swallowed a little, trying to remember when he’d had a drink.

‘A fellow traveller. You we’re asleep at the table. Drink?’ She pulled a flask from a small bag tied to her belt and held it up before him.

He looked her over, trying to decide if he was dreaming. The woman before him was beautiful, more than beautiful, and he was tempted by her eyes and the way her hair seemed to be captured starlight, a pale blond that was almost silver white. Her skin was flawless; her clothes were of the finest cloth, flowing silk and damask. She smiled as she offered him a drink.

His instincts started to kick in when he saw a flash of something not quite right in her eyes. The smile didn’t flicker an inch but her eyes weren’t right.

He shook his head, where had these thoughts come from? He looked at her again, she appeared to be as she’d claimed, a fellow traveller in road stained clothes, well-made but certainly nothing extravagant, pretty certainly but nothing more. His mind was playing tricks from lack of sleep and grief.

‘What is it?’

‘Something that will help you feel better.’

‘What’s in it?’

‘It’s my summer wine. It’s made from sunlight, moonlight, the smell of strawberries and elves tears.’

‘Wine? Sorry I don’t drink alcohol.’

‘There’s no alcohol in this, I told you what I make it from, try it, it’ll be good for you.’

‘You drink it first.’

‘Suspicious aren’t you?’

‘I have enemies, I don’t know you.’

‘I have no reason to harm you; I don’t know you, trust me.’ She put just a little compulsion in to the ‘trust’.  She was rewarded when he reached forward tentatively to take the flask.

He took the flask, his fingers brushing against hers, he tingled where they touched. He caught her eyes and held them as he sipped from the flask. Liquid fire burned his throat as the flasks contents slipped down in to his belly. She took the flask back from him and returned it to her bag.

‘Not drinking yourself?’

‘No, I don’t need to. Feel better now?’

‘Much.’ And he did. For the first time in months his head was clear, he knew what he would do, where he would go. This wandering life would end tomorrow he would head to friends in the capital. Just because he had been banished from his home didn’t mean he was alone. He would regain his name and honour, force his father to welcome him back and lift his exile.

She saw the light spring in to his eyes, smiled and finally spoke, interrupting his planning.

‘Calm my dear, calm. I’m glad you can see so clearly now, but you know, nothing comes for free.’

‘What do you want?’

‘You.’

‘What?’ he sputtered out, crawling back from her in shock, trying to stand.

She laughed. ‘Don’t look so scared, I don’t mean forever, I mean just for tonight.’

‘Oh, well, erm, I suppose. What are you?’

‘Something you will probably never meet again. Or at least you should hope you won’t.’

He started again.

‘Don’t fear me.’ She pushed the glamour over him again watching him relax. ‘That’s right, now just lie down.’

The man lay back, his head whirling, he felt drunk. The woman lay down next to him on her side. She looked down in to his eyes. She rested her head on one arm and trailed the other across his belly.

She took her time.

Soon she made a noise of frustration. He lifted himself up on his arms, looking down his body at her.

‘What’s wrong sweetheart?’

‘Your boots, I need you to take them off.’

‘Can’t you?’

‘No.’

‘Oh, right.’ He sat up properly, leaned forward and unlaced his boots before pushing them off the end of the bed.

The lady hissed as the cold metal of his spurs accidentally grazed her hands. He didn’t seem to notice and if he had, well she pushed it from his mind quickly enough.

Dawn came creeping over the horizon and soon slipped in to the shelter.

She rose quietly and dressed. Picking up a cloth from the table she returned to the bed and fished around at the end of it until she found his boots. Wrapping them in the material one after the other she removed his silver spurs, being careful not to touch the areas where the silver has worn away exposing the iron beneath. She dropped the spurs in to her bag with the flask of summer wine and crept out into the twilight of dawn. Flitting through the trees and over the road that was the border between her lands and the young king’s lands, she smiled quietly.

She knew for certain that the man was not entirely human, and their child would have something of his when the time came. Her husband might be long gone, but his bastard grandson would give her the heir she needed to regain their lost lands. She would teach her child to lead and then they would march out against the young king. Her smile didn’t fade for an instance, not even when the flint tipped arrows flew through the trees; she was across the border and they were way too late to stop her.

He woke late, too late to travel further that day. His head was pounding. He felt drained and at the same time energised. He rolled off the sleeping platform and wandered to the door. She was clearly gone, but he thought he’d check outside just in case she was just getting water. He walked outside, checking his horse. The sun was high in the sky, and he certainly wasn’t uncomfortable wandering around naked. As he pulled a bucket of water from the well he caught a glimpse of figures moving around in the woods, or thought he did. When he stood and looked properly there was nothing there.

He shook his head and turned to go indoors. He formulated a plan as he walked from the well to the door. He’d wash dress and sit out here in the warmth of the day resting and repairing his clothes and tack. He could manage on cold pottage for now. Tomorrow he’d be up by first light and head towards the capital, find some of his old friends and get his life back.

All afternoon he lazed in the sun doing his repair work, trying to make himself and his mount presentable. And yet all afternoon, out of the corner of his eye figures flickered outside the clearing. Who, or what, ever was out there was keeping a close eye on him. He finally started to think about the woman from last night. She hadn’t said much, given him no information, but he had an idea that she was not of this world. And whoever was outside the clearing was more of her world than his.

While he worked and pondered his horse became more and more agitated, finally stamping at the ground and trying to pull the tether from the ground. He stopped his work, stood and walked to the edge of the clearing.

‘Well?’

The flickering shadows stilled.

‘Well?’ he asked again.

He felt a gaze upon him but could see no one.

‘Well?’

Third time lucky. A figure stepped forward from the shadows.

‘Brother.’ It said.

‘I’m not your brother.’

‘Cousin would be more precise. Our grandfather’s wife seems very fond of you. She left you your soul.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘No, you probably don’t. Answer me this, did you come here deliberately?’

‘No, I was lost and wandering, but now I know my road again.’

‘Our grandfather’s wife, have you ever met her before last night?’

‘No, I don’t know who she is or her name.’

‘Be glad, you really wouldn’t want her to take a long term interest in you, Cousin.’

‘If you say so, I’m sure you know the lady better than I.’

‘Unfortunately yes.’

‘So was there anything else, or do you intend to scare my horse to death?’

‘No, of course not. Travel safely Cousin. You may see some of us on the road, but none will harm you. Their king commands it.’

They bowed to each other and backed away. When the figure blurred and the flickering shadows left the edges of the clearing he returned to his task, thinking over the past day. It would appear that he had unwittingly been pulled in to someone else’s war. Well, they could keep it, he had things to do and it had nothing to do with the shadow world.

When he rose in the morning he washed quickly and pulled on his clothes. Last of all he pulled on his boots. Something felt wrong.

He looked down and realised that his silver spurs had gone.

The End

Sorry it’s so long, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, any constructive criticism would be helpful.

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