Silver and Gold: A Story of Damien
“It is not going to get any better no matter how much you pull at it,” an amused voice said from the doorway. Damien turned to find his older, and only, brother there, leaning against the door frame in his own ludicrous get-up.
“I see no reason why we must participate in such an embarrassing event. There are many things better suited to our time,” Damien griped, and adjusted the stiff fabric of the elaborate brocade vest. The embroidery was silver, and scratched at his skin like a deranged cat, and it was made to match the mask sitting on his dresser.
“Everyone needs a break, now and again, Damien–even you, though you’ve yet to realize it,” Elias said with an amused grin. In his brother he saw a reflection of himself, in some ways, such as the strong jaw, just above average height, and wide shoulders made to carry burdens. The greatest difference was their coloring; Damien was paler, and had hair as dark as a starless, moonless night, while Elias had the light brown hair of maple leaves and tanned far easier.
Damien’s clothing was made to match his hair; at the thought he tugged down on the vest once again, and wondered if the seamstress had rounded down when she sized him for his breeches. At least the boots fit well, but they’re not good for anything except dancing, he thought, disgusted at such a waste.
“Some of us take too many breaks,” Damien replied, and cut a look toward Elias, whose honey brown eyes were fairly glowing with delight. Elias laughed, a deep, hearty belly laugh that burst from him like the boom of a cannon.
“Hanne said the Healers say it will be a little girl,” Elias reported, as the proud, happy soon-to-be father. Despite his foul mood in regards to the masquerade ball they were being forced to attend this evening, Damien smiled.
“Congratulations, brother; I am sure you and Hanne will make wonderful parents,” Damien said, and his brother wrapped him in a big, boisterous hug. Damien returned it, and kept in mind this might be the last time he’d see his brother for a while. In fact, the next time would likely be months after he’d, officially, become an uncle.
“From happiness to grim, just like that,” Elias said and snapped his fingers. “What is bothering you?” he asked, and moved back to lean against the doorway again.
“Just thinking on my first assignment,” Damien said, and didn’t look his brother in the eyes. Elias was much older than Damien, and had been fighting with the Disciples for almost as long as Damien had been alive. The ease with which he spoke of such things made Damien proud to have him as a brother, but a little jealous as well; he wasn’t sure if he could ever get rid of the nervous tangle in his gut.
“Ah, yes, up into the mountain ranges for you all, yes? And I hear your commander is a real hard-nose when it comes to new recruits,” Elias teased, just a little. Damien scowled at him but didn’t respond, just grabbed the mask from the dresser and glanced at the packed travel pack near the doorway. He’d be leaving tomorrow around noon, since the Head of the Disciples decided to have the masquerade after a particularly grueling fall campaign to lighten spirits, and no one was expected to wake early.
Damien did not plan on staying all night; in fact he would make an appearance and then slip away to get a good night’s rest. The only reason he, a new recruit, got to go to the party was due to Elias’ status as a commander.
“I guess we will have to see,” Damien said, and though his brother was likely just trying to scare him about the commander, Damien felt that a little toughness and a stickler for rules was needed around here.
“Well, come on, then, or Hanne will send the guards after us,” Elias said, and the two of them left Damien’s room and made their way to the great hall. The long tables which usually sat the Disciples who came and went to write reports and eat their meals, were pushed against the walls to clear the floor for dancing and mingling. The tables themselves were covered in beautiful pure white tablecloths, and enough food that the wood almost groaned beneath the weight.
Disciples and other honored guests such as the Lords and Ladies of the noble Houses, were talking, laughing, and some danced to the light, heavenly music. Elias and Hanne were embraced and swayed slowly to the song, and Damien doubted much could have wiped the smiles from their faces. Everyone wore masks, though if one knew what to look for, being able to tell who was who was easy enough.
“More of a people watcher, are you?” The question came from behind his right shoulder, the voice warm as the sun in spring, and Damien turned to see a woman whose dark chestnut eyes were amused, but so intense Damien almost took a step back. Her face was mostly covered by a golden mask that accented her brown skin and eyes beautifully, and her dress was an ornate affair with fiery colors of red and orange embroidered with gold to match her mask.
Instead he straightened his spine and inclined his head. “As you say, Lady; I am not much of a conversationalist, or dancer,” he stated, though for a brief second he almost wished he was.
She inclined her head in return, which was quite a feat in Damien’s mind since her light brown hair, the color of leaves turned in the fall and left to lighten in the sun, was piled artfully on top of her head. One wrong move and it appeared it might all come tumbling down. Not a bad option, the back of Damien’s mind piped up, but he squelched it. He had no time for such dalliances.
“Nonsense,” she replied, as thought she could hear his thoughts, and hooked one of his arms with hers and led him to the floor. “Everyone can dance if they find the right partner,” she concluded. Damian was so taken aback with the contact, and her bold attitude, he let her lead him along like a dutiful child. When his first foot hit the dance portion of the floor his mind flew into a panic, and he cast about for his brother. He caught Elias’ eye but his brother just grinned, pleased at Damien’s predicament. Curse you, Damien glared, and he didn’t hear his brother laugh but he certainly saw it.
“Now place your hand here..” she instructed, and continued to do so for the next twenty minutes or so. Gradually, Damien relaxed into the dance, though by no means did he believe he improved, but at least he hadn’t stepped on or tripped anyone. A major improvement in his book.
“You are a lovely dancer, but you need to learn to relax more,” she said, and Damien flushed at the praise but made no response.
Eventually the woman led them off the floor with the pronouncement; “I’m famished!” They headed to the tables and Damien dutifully held their plates as she filled them.
“We have danced for quite some time and yet you still have not introduced yourself, Lady,” Damien said. “My name is–”
“Damien, yes I know,” she said, but wasn’t deterred from her task. She continued to gather food despite Damien’s shock, and when she walked away from the large banquet tables to the smaller ones set up for people to dine at, he followed.
Damien was not so well known outside of the Selection recruits, and it made him wonder how she knew his name.
“And your name?” he asked, and placed the plates on the table she’d chosen. He pulled her chair out for her and she gracefully sat down, despite the stiffness of the dress, which meant she was likely from one of the noble Houses; to have that much grace with sitting in such a stuffy dress would take some time and practice.
“This is a masquerade ball, so why not enjoy the mystery?” she asked, and when it was clear that Damien was hesitant to sit down after such a question, she shrugged and began to eat.
It irritated him, and he was appalled at her lack of manners, but he sat and started to eat, too. Dancing was hungry work, after all. When their plates were finished and cleared by some of the waitstaff he went to ask her, again, what her name was, but she stood. Damien stood as well, surprised at the sudden movement, but his was merely an automatic response to hers.
“I think I will be off to bed now; long day tomorrow. It was lovely meeting you, Damien, and I hope to see you again sometime soon,” she said, a smile on her face as warm as her voice. Before he could respond she turned on her heel and left the room.
Damien stood there, somewhat in shock, but all he could think to himself was; Not likely, as I will be leaving on assignment tomorrow. He started back toward his chambers and though it was just a little later than he would have liked to have stayed out, he grudgingly had to admit it was worth it. I would like to see her again, once more, before I leave. Then he sighed, a little irritated by his response to such a rude, yet enticingly mysterious woman, and flopped into bed. The rest of that night he dreamed of dancing, her soft touch, and the mischief in her eyes.
The next morning found Damien groggy, as his usually deep and peaceful sleep was fitful and difficult to keep a hold on. It is all that blasted woman’s fault, he thought, irritated, as he shoved his legs into his pants with more force than necessary. In the morning light all, or almost all, desire to see the woman again had fled his mind. Instead he wished he could go back and get more rest. Perhaps more rest with her, eh? his brother voice sounded through his mind, and his scowl deepened. Truth tended to bite the worst.
He made his way down to the great hall to have his breakfast, and everything had been put to rights after the party. The familiarity was a balm on his soul–that and a nice helping of eggs, bacon, and potatoes. He made his way down to the courtyard and waited for the others to arrive.
Slowly, the rest of the Selection recruits came into the courtyard and fifteen minutes before noon they assembled by height. Damien was in the back, though he wasn’t the tallest there. The sergeant of their group came into the courtyard from in front of them, and he called them all to attention. A scant moment later a door on the other side of the formation from where Damien was, slammed, and he heard the slow, measured step of boot heels on the stone.
“Good afternoon, recruits,” the warm voice said, and though it was louder than the night before, Damien jolted at the familiar sound of it. From his peripheral he saw the woman from the night before move to the front of the formation, and though she made no outward indication of her recognition, amusement lit her eyes as they swept over him.
“My name is Commander Arella and this will be your first real-world training exercise. It is meant to give you something to sink your teeth into but not get you killed. We will likely experience skirmishes, though nothing as heavy as a pitched battle with the Society. Your job is to learn from those who know more and have more experience, and my job is to make sure you all come back in one piece,” Arella finished, and looked around at the recruits. She nodded once, as if she liked what she saw, and turned to speak to the sergeant.
Their brief conversation over, she left the area and the sergeant ordered them to head over to the stable area to get the wagons, horses, and their assignments. The preparation had been done well in advance, so they were out and on the road within an hour–enough time to have a few hours of travel on the road before dark.
He refused to seek that confounded woman out, but regardless she was making her rounds of all the recruits; talking and getting to know them, and of course she saved Damien for last. Her humor redoubled at the sight of him, scowling and irritated, but she remained composed and didn’t smile–or at least not overly much.
“Greetings, Recruit Damien,” she said, and Damien straightened his spine. While he might not be happy with her, she was still his commander.
“Greetings, Commander Arella,” he replied, but refused to take the conversation any further.
“Do you have any questions for me?” she asked, though there was no teasing in her tone to allude to the night before, for which Damien was grateful–though he still wasn’t pleased.
“Not as such,” he replied, though that was almost certainly a lie.
“I see,” she said, and this time she did smile. “Well, if you come up with anything feel free to ask. The sergeant and I are here to help,” she finished, and moved back toward the front of the caravan.
When she was out of sight, Damien slumped his shoulders and blew out an exasperated sigh. That woman is going to be a handful.