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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Magenta - Part One


Yes mother?” Mildred asked, looking up from her embroidery. Another two minutes and she would finally be done making her wedding dress!
Look after the babes a minute!” Her mother insisted almost frantically.
Of course...” Mildred agreed with a sigh, setting her dress aside.
Back when Mildred's mother and father first got married, they'd bought and moved into a small one bedroom house in a decent neighborhood. Had their lives gone according to plan, they would have moved into a bigger house after having a couple of babies, but life hadn't been so simple. They'd never had enough money to move, and so the whole family still lived in a one bedroom home – with a loft – in what was now a very poor neighborhood.
Mildred walked into her mother's bedroom to try and calm the three crying babies. One was outright screaming while the other two were simply whining. It seemed like the best idea to soothe the screamer first, so she picked him up and bounced him in her arms as she walked back and forth.
This was her older brother's second son; his first was outside somewhere playing with the rest of the children. The other two babies calmed down ever so slightly as this one's screams got quieter. Sighing in relief, Mildred used her best tool to soothe them.
Darling baby of my brother,” she sang beautifully. “There's no need to cry, Auntie M is here if no other...”
Her songs were usually made up on the spot and almost never rhymed or made sense. Even so, the babies seemed to be paying attention, their cries sounded half fake as they watched her pace back and forth. Both of the ones still in the crib were girls. One of the girls was her youngest sister, and the other belonged to her 15 year old sister – the product of an terrible rape.
Since the song was working, Mildred kept it up. “Auntie Mildred's getting married next week. We've been betrothed since we were ten, but he had to go defend the Kingdom from the greedy brother of the King, which is why I'm not married already even though I'm almost 19! Now he's back and soon we're going to have our own roly poly little babies!”
Mildred devolved into giggles as she thought about the day Gordon had returned after being gone for three long years. They had been so happy to see each other that they had gotten completely carried away. With another giggle, Mildred very softly resumed her song.
To tell the truth, you might already have a cousin on the way, but shh, that's a secret!”
Bursting with happiness, she danced and swayed as she sang nonsense until all three babies were sound asleep. And then she kept going just because she hadn't realized that they were already sleeping. Her song made her laugh even as she continued.
I've been making my dress for almost 5 years, and now it's almost finished. When I walk down the aisle, I'll be the most beautiful bride! I'm going to glow like an Angel, and then I'll move with my husband into our new house and we'll unpack all our wedding presents. He'll carry me over the threshold, and our new life will begin!”
Her mother startled her by bursting out in raucous laughter. “What? Did you bore them to death?!”
Mildred frowned petulantly. “Why would you say that? You know my singing always calms them down.”
Darling, it's time you knew something important,” her mother began, placing a hand on her shoulder. “You have a terrible voice. It's like listening to cats in heat! I am certain that the babies only go to sleep when you sing because they can't stand listening to it!”
Mildred gasped, both incredulous and offended. “What?!”
Don't be upset, love,” her mother stated with an encouraging smile as she patted Mildred on the cheek. “Gordon isn't marrying you for your voice.”
Mildred pursed her lips and glared at her mother, but didn't say anything.
Now, if you'll be a dear, go finish making dinner. I need a moment to rest,” her mother said, sounding exhausted.
Yes mother,” Mildred murmured before leaving the room. In the kitchen, she stirred the stew three times before tasting it. “Ugh! She never adds enough salt!” Mildred muttered quietly before adding some salt and a couple other seasonings to the pot. A thorough stirring later, she tasted it again. “Better...”
A glance at the clock told her that her brother and his wife would be home from work soon – as would her oldest younger sister (the 15 year old). The rest of her siblings were outside – the older ones keeping an eye on the younger ones as every child in the city from about two to 13 roamed the streets looking for odd jobs and scraps of food to eat.
Then, after dinner, Mildred would leave for her job working in a tavern. She may have to deal with drunkards and louts, but she was slightly lucky in that usually even the babies were asleep by the time she got home from work. She'd crawl into her small corner of the loft and pass out. If she was really lucky, no one would wake her when they all got up to eat breakfast in the morning.
Even so, it was no fun squeezing nine adults/children and two babies in one small loft! I am so ready to live in my own house! Mildred thought with a secretive smile.
Technically, she would be living in Gordon's house with his parents, but since his only sister had already married and moved into her husband's house, Mildred felt as if she would practically be living in a mansion! Just one more week! She reminded herself happily.
The small house had one last moment of quiet as Mildred set the table. She could hear her family gathering just outside the door and knew that they wouldn't come in until their father got home from work. Judging by the booming rendition of a very bawdy song, there was just barely enough time to place the pot of stew on the table before he burst through the door.
And then she slapped me across the face!” Her father sang out, finishing his song as he entered the house. He swept Mildred into a lively dance for a few seconds as he announced: “Bernice, my love, I'm home!”
I'll be out as soon as I finish feeding these babes!” Mildred's mother called out.
Here, let me help with that,” her sister-in-law offered, rubbing her aching breasts. “If I don't feed something soon, my tits are going to explode!”
Mildred pulled her younger sister into a comforting hug, knowing without asking that she felt terrible that she never managed to produce enough milk to feed her own baby and had had to rely on their mother's ample supply. She still wept with jealousy when she thought no one was looking.
How was your day, love?” Mildred asked her sister as their father and brother took two of the only four chairs they had. The other two were for Mildred and her mother while the rest of the family had to crowd around the table and kneel. Unless they were too small to kneel, in which case, they stood.
Exhausting!” Her sister pronounced. “If I don't eat soon, I'm going to die!”
Take my chair,” Mildred offered, feeling a tiny bit guilty that she got a chair simply because she was older even though she hadn't worked yet today. “I'll stand.”
As always, dinner was an energetic event as everyone fought to get their fair share of food. Aside from the only two bowls – which their father filled first and set aside for the breastfeeding women – everyone had to eat directly from the pot. This made it necessary to elbow others out of the way in order to access the pot.
Mildred only claimed two bites before deciding to give up. If she left for work early, she'd be given something to eat by the tavern owner. It was one of the best parts about working there, in her opinion.
If any of you dares to wake up those babes before I finish eating, I'll murder ya!” Bernice warned as she took her seat next to her husband.
Yes ma,” her children all grumbled.
Satisfied, she gave her husband a kiss. “How was your day, John?”
Same as always, love,” he replied, giving her a kiss. “And you?”
Frustrating!” Bernice grunted after swallowing a bite of food. “I think our grandson is coming down with something. He's been hollering all day!”
Mildred didn't wait for them to stop discussing their day. Instead, she simply poked her head between her parents and gave them each a kiss on the cheek. “I'm off.”
Her father kissed her hand and nodded at her while her mother simply waved goodbye. Mildred gathered up her wedding dress and the thread she was embroidering it with and set them in a chest so they wouldn't be damaged. With a tiny wave to her sister-in-law in their parents room, she left for work.
After I get paid tonight, I should buy a spool of thread to embroider my veil with since I'll have a little time...” Mildred murmured to herself. After finishing the last little bit of her dress tomorrow, she should have just enough time before her wedding day to embellish the veil.
It took her a quarter hour to walk to work, but then she had plenty of time to eat before her shift started. She grabbed a bowl of stew and sighed in pleasure as she got to sit down at an empty table and enjoy her meal in relative peace. It was an almost unimaginable luxury!
There were only two patrons in the Tavern at the moment since the majority of the regular patrons arrived after eating dinner at home. They'd drink the night away before returning home and passing out until it was time to get up and go to work again in the morning. The irony was that they spent enough of their hard earnings in the Tavern to make the owner a mildly wealthy man even though they themselves were just barely getting by.
If I had more patience for drunks, I'd consider being a Tavern owner myself someday,” Mildred muttered to herself. Her boss overheard her as he made preparations for the inevitable rush and laughed.
Or you could always marry me and take over here when I die!” He suggested with a wink.
Maybe if I wasn't already set to marry Gordon!” Mildred called out. She looked away so that he couldn't see the expression on her face. To tell the truth, if Gordon hadn't returned home when he had, she would have married her boss in a heartbeat! He may be older than her – enough to be her father – but he could offer her financial security that not even Gordon could. But Gordon had always been her first and only true love.
The two men – obviously travelers – that sat quietly in a corner decided that they were bored. “Do you mind if we play something, my good man?”
The Tavern owner – Ben – grinned with obvious delight. “Not at all!” He knew that if they were even halfway decent, it would be in his best interest to encourage them to play.
One of the men lightly strummed a small guitar while the other tapped on a set of hand drums. Mildred hummed softly as she ate, liking the vaguely familiar rhythm. The moment she finished eating, she stood up to carry her bowl to the kitchen, softly singing to herself.
A week, a week, a week until I'm married!”
The two men stopped playing abruptly, making her blush. “I'm sorry! I didn't mean to interrupt you.”
It's not that,” the guitar player replied.
We just wondered if you know Rose of Winter?” The drummer asked.
Mildred blushed because the song had highly suggestive lyrics – thus making it one of her father's favorite songs. “Yes...”
With a grin, they started playing the melody to the song. Mildred's boss took the dirty dishes from her hands so that she could entertain his patrons. With a reluctant sigh, she walked over to them and took a deep breath.
How do you survive the coldest winter? You find yourself a warm and bonny Rose!” Mildred sang. At first, she was nervous, but by the chorus, she had really gotten into it and was singing with joyous abandon. Even so, a blush stung her cheeks.
And you thrust, thrust, thrust, into the Rose of Winter!”
Mildred completely ruined the ending by slapping a hand over her mouth and giggling. “How can anyone say that out loud?!”
Her boss and his two patrons all laughed at her, finding her embarrassment adorable. “Saying it is almost as fun as doing it!” The guitar player informed her with a flirty wink.
Mildred rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I'll have to take your word for it.”
The drummer grinned at her. “Do you know the Girl I Adore?”
Mildred nodded, looking away from them. “My father regularly sings all the bawdy songs...”
Excellent!” The musicians both exclaimed as they promptly played their instruments.
Go on,” Ben encouraged her with an amused smile.
Taking another deep breath, Mildred forced her embarrassment to the back of her mind. “Have you seen the girl I adore? She's got legs, a face, and bosom galore!”
As she sang, it occurred to Mildred that this song made it sound like she was having an affair with a woman. This thought made her gasp. Her eyes bulged incredulously.
Don't stop now!” A new patron called out. He and his friends had arrived towards the beginning of the song and had joined in.
Placing a hand on either side of her face so that she didn't have to look at anyone – just the fire in front of her – Mildred forced herself to continue. When that song ended, another was requested. By the end of an hour, Mildred was no longer embarrassed by the lewd lyrics, and sang them with gusto. The Tavern was now packed, and patrons insisted on dancing with her as she sang.
With a girl on my left and a girl on my right, I proved to all my stamina and might!”
Word spread of her singing and the Tavern soon grew more packed than it had been in a very long time. Her boss promised her a bonus, which made Mildred wonder why she had never thought to sing like this before. Not only was she having a blast, but she was excused from her normal serving and cleaning duties.
When the musicians finally got tired of playing, they took her aside and each gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You have one of the best voices I've ever heard.”
Really?” Mildred asked in disbelief. “My mother says I'm terrible!”
Then she's clearly tone deaf!” The drummer informed her with a laugh.
I don't suppose you'd consider traveling with us?” The guitar player asked. “With you along, we'd almost certainly make a fortune!”
Mildred shook her head, certain that they were simply teasing her. “Nah, I'm getting married next week.”
Pity,” they murmured, but then waved goodbye as they made their way to the room they had rented for the night.
After her shift was over, Mildred prepared to trudge home. All that dancing had plumb worn her out! Pulling her shawl tight, she left the Tavern.
I hear you had an interesting night.”
Gordon!” Mildred called out happily, flinging her arms around his neck. “What are you doing here?”
I thought I should walk you home. There's no telling what might happen at this time of night,” Gordon explained as he wound his arms around her waist and held her close. He captured her lips in a possessive kiss.
Mmm,” Mildred moaned blissfully. “I so can't wait for our wedding!”
Me either,” Gordon agreed. “Too bad we can't just elope right now and be done with it, but my mother would kill me!”
So would mine!” Mildred confessed with a giggle. “I'm her oldest daughter – after all – and she's almost as giddy as I am that I'm finally getting married!”
I'm sure the bride price is desperately needed,” Gordon murmured.
Mildred shrugged sadly and admitted. “Yes...”
Even though tradition stated that the groom's family pay the bride's family a price for her hand and the bride's family pay for the wedding, Mildred and Gordon had had to pay for almost everything themselves. If her family was very lucky, there'd be enough of her bride price left over to pay for part of the wedding when one of her sisters got married.
Mildred snuggled into Gordon as he slung an arm over her shoulder. They walked slowly in silence for more than five minutes before Mildred gathered up the courage to kiss him again. Gordon groaned in longing.
If only we had someplace private...” he murmured between kisses.
Mildred knew that they would find absolutely no privacy at her home, and that going home with him would not be allowed either until after they were married. She sighed in disappointment, kissing him again simply because she could. Suddenly, an insane idea struck her.
What about here?” She suggested softly as she pulled Gordon into an empty alleyway. “It's the middle of the night and everyone's asleep. Who would know?”
Gordon gave her a funny look. “I can't decide whether to be impressed or concerned by your suggestion.”
Mildred looked down and blushed. “I'm sorry. It's all those songs I sang tonight...”
Gordon used a finger to lift her face so that he could kiss her. Slowly, he pressed her back against the wall and lifted her skirt. “Are you sure you want to do this?” He whispered in her ear.
More than anything,” Mildred murmured huskily. “I love you so much!”
I love you too,” Gordon informed her as he nibbled on her neck.
Mildred gasped happily when he wrapped her legs around his waist and slipped inside her. They pressed their lips together to muffle the telltale cries of passion. Barely two minutes passed before Gordon groaned in disappointment and rested his head on her shoulder.
I'm so sorry!” He gasped in shame. “I had a long day...”
Don't worry,” Mildred assured him with a sweet smile. “I'm certain our wedding night will last longer.”
It will,” Gordon promised firmly, kissing her again.
What the – help!” A man called out from down the street.
There's no use making a fuss,” another man laughed menacingly.
Yeah, who's going to help at this time of night?”
Gordon hastily stuffed himself back in his pants and tied his laces. “Stay here!” He whispered urgently even as he smiled at her reassuringly. The moonlight highlighted eyes for a split second, making her return his smile. A moment later, he was rushing to rescue the victim from his four attackers.
Stop right there!” Gordon shouted confidently. “I'm a soldier in the King's Army, and I have the authority to place you all under arrest!”
Mildred clung to the wall of the alley, grateful for the shadow that hid her as she watched her soon-to-be husband stand between the muggers and their would-be target. Even without a weapon, he was more than capable of defending himself. He was so strong and confident that Mildred felt her heart burst with pride.
That's the man I'm going to marry!” She announced in a soft whisper to no one. She felt a sense of awe fill her as she realized that he was going to make a wonderful father someday.
The victim had run away as soon as he could, and now was returning with a pair of town guards.
Let's get out of here!” The attackers called out to each other.
Suddenly, Gordon fell to the ground and the bad guys ran away as fast as they could. Mildred gasped, torn between rushing to her beloved and staying out of harm's way as he had told her to. The town guards reached him before she could make a decision.
That's the man that saved me,” the victim informed them.
A guard knelt over Gordon for a moment before looking up at his partner. “He's dead.”
What?!” Mildred wailed, racing to prove that it couldn't possibly be true. She tripped and skinned her knees just steps from his body, but she didn't care about the pain and crawled the rest of the way.
Gordon?” She called out breathlessly, cradling him in her lap. “Gordon?!” She shook him lightly. “Please tell me that this is some joke! Wake up!!”
Miss...” One of the guards murmured sympathetically. He tried to place a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she shook him off. “He's dead...”
I'm sorry,” the other guard stated softly. “But we're going to need you to tell us what happened.”
No!” Mildred wailed in anguish and disbelief. “He's not dead! He can't be dead!”
I'm so sorry...” The guards reiterated as gently as possible, trying to pull her away from the body.
No!” She roared, clinging to Gordon fiercely. “No!” Her roars turned to wails that pierced the silence of the night. The guards let her sob for a few minutes as they sent the victim off to fetch the undertaker, but when he arrived with his wagon, they felt it was time for her to calm down and let go.
Except that she resisted them. She fought to keep a grip on the body of her fiancé because she was certain that if she just willed it hard enough, he'd wake up. It took both the guards and the undertaker to pull her away from him, and they'd had to be rough enough to give her a few bruises.
She screamed and wailed like a banshee, fighting them as they carried her to a guard post and threw her in a cell.
What did she do?” Another guard wondered curiously.
She witnessed her man die,” one of the guards stated with a shrug. “After she calms down and tells us what she saw, she's free to go.”
Then why lock her up if she didn't do anything wrong?”
She bit me!”

Mildred eventually ran out of energy and sat staring at nothing. The guards took her statement and then let her go, escorting her home so that nothing happened to her in the early light of dawn. They arrived at her house just as her father and brother were leaving for work.
By all the Gods!” Her father cursed when he saw her. “What happened to you?”
Mildred was too numb to speak. Unable to go any further, she fell to her knees, and then sat on her feet. Bending her head, she wept.
It seems her fiancé was murdered a few hours ago...” one of the guards explained.
It happened right in front of her...” the other added.
Murdered how?” Her brother asked, frowning in concern.
As far as we know, he rescued a man from robbers and they killed him before getting away.”
Oh Mildred...” her father murmured gently as he lifted her into his arms. “Thank you for bringing her home.” He carried her to his room and settled her in bed with his wife and their youngest baby.
Bernice opened one eye a crack, then frowned in confusion. John kissed his wife tenderly on her temple and whispered in her ear. “Gordon was murdered... let her rest undisturbed today.”
That's horrible!” Bernice gasped softly. John squeezed her hand for a moment before he and his son rushed off to work. They couldn't afford to be late.
Bernice repositioned her sleeping baby so that she could put her arms around Mildred. “My poor darling...”
After sleeping for only a couple of hours, Mildred got up and silently finished working on her wedding dress. The house was quiet since those who had jobs were working and those who didn't were gone – except for her mother and the babies. Her mother watched her with a feeling like her heart was breaking, but didn't say anything.
When Mildred was done, she gathered her wedding dress and the matching veil up carefully, wrapped them in a protective cloth, and carried it out the door. Her mother nearly leapt to her feet, but couldn't as she was nursing her grandson.
Wait! Where are you going?!” Bernice called out in concern, but Mildred didn't answer.
A half an hour later, Mildred held out the precious package she carried to a seamstress she was friends with. “Can you dye this black for me? I need it as soon as possible...”
Her friend scanned her disheveled appearance with a frown, and then opened the package curiously, gasping in dismay. “Dye it black! But this is your wedding dress!” She well knew that Mildred had spent every cent she could spare for years buying materials to make the dress.
Yes, well, I don't need it anymore...” Mildred mumbled sadly before turning and walking away. “I'll be back for it tonight.”
The rest of the day, she devoted to Gordon's parents; helping them in their grief. They had very little time to accept the news because the Town Guard had just barely informed them, and the vigil was already set to happen that night. They each hugged her just once, concerned that she still wore the dirty, blood-stained dress and bore bruises from her struggle with the guards.
We thought... when he returned home from the war safe and sound, we thought... that...”
I know,” Mildred whispered softly. “I thought so too...”
After that initial bit of commiseration, they seemed to push her away. It was like they couldn't bear her reminding them of their son and the happy life he was about to begin. When she couldn't stand their coldness a moment longer, she left.
Despite being hours before her shift, she stopped in at the Tavern. They had a few stragglers left from the lunch hour – men who were probably jobless and drowning their sorrows in cheap ale. Plus the two travelers from the night before.
Her boss looked up when she entered the Tavern and swore. “By the Gods! What happened to you?!”
Mildred shook her head repeatedly, unable to talk about it. Finally, she managed to say: “I won't be working tonight. I have a vigil to attend...” She turned to leave, but her boss rushed to stop her.
Wait! What happened?” Ben demanded, worried about her.
Mildred wanted to tell him, but no words came out of her dry throat. Just then, the Tavern door burst open. A frantic looking man stepped inside and pointed at the owner.
Barkeep! My brother-in-law was murdered last night and his vigil is tonight. I want you to make up a basket of food to sustain us through this long night!”
Mildred felt tears sting her eyes again as she turned to look at the man who was married to Gordon's sister. His eyes boggled when he saw her. “Mildred!”
Narrowing his eyes, he marched over to her and grabbed her by the shoulders. “They say you saw what happened! Who did this?!”
Mildred let out a small sob, but shook her head. She hadn't really gotten a good look at any of them. It had been dark after all.
In frustration, he shook her roughly. “Tell me who! I'll see to it that justice is served!”
That's enough!” Her boss roared, pulling her into a protective embrace. “Can you see that she's suffering?!”
Mildred pushed against her Ben until he let her go, and then ran from the Tavern. She ran without caring where she was going, and kept right on running until she fell. Her ankle hurt from whatever she had tripped over, but she didn't care. She could be lying in the muddy street for all she cared, but luckily, she had made it all the way to the temple to the God of Death where the vigil would be held. Exhausted, she cried herself to sleep as a sympathetic priestess pulled Mildred's head into her lap and stroked her hair as she cried.

Since word had spread of Gordon's death, Mildred's seamstress friend brought the dyed dress to the temple in the middle of the night. It had taken a long time to fully dry, but she was certain that Mildred would want it before the funeral in the morning. Having slept until the vigil started, Mildred was actually awake but seemed numb. She barely had the presence of mind to thank her friend.
In the morning, she stared at her dress for a long time before the priestess offered to help her into it. “It's lovely...”
Mildred smiled weakly before looking down sadly. “It was supposed to be my wedding dress...”
Ah...” the priestess murmured in understanding. Once Mildred was bathed and fully dressed, the priestess brushed out her long blonde hair before twisting it up into a bun and securing the veil over her head.
You look beautiful, despite the circumstances,” the priestess murmured. “You would have made a wonderful bride...”
Thanks...” Mildred whispered, glad to hear that even as she was sad.
It's time,” a priest announced, his voice full of compassion. “Everyone has gathered.”
Mildred wondered how many people had come. In a city this size, not many employers allowed for time off to attend funerals. Only those brave enough to demand the right to a few hours off would be here, and even then, they'd be worried about losing their jobs.
To her surprise, the ground surrounding the prepared hole was crowded. As a member of the King's Army, Gordon was honored as a fallen Hero. The Town Guards had spread the word that he died trying to defend an innocent man, and because of this, no employer dared to refuse anyone time off.
Mildred walked down an small aisle that had been formed by the crowd to give the pallbearers room to carry the body, when the time came. She felt strangely like a bride, only she would never get to be his wife. A hush fell over the crowd as she walked, but eventually, she was standing next to his parents and sister.
Mildred looked into the eyes of the woman who would have been her sister-in-law and saw not just grief, but anger as well. Her husband stood behind her and also looked angry. Neither of them had spoken to her during the vigil, and both seemed to bristle as if they felt that she didn't belong there.
Even his parents seemed to shun her, which made her feel all alone. Her parents were part of the crowd somewhere, but not close enough to comfort her. Taking a deep breath, Mildred settled herself on the only open patch of ground next to the hole, arranging her skirt almost decoratively simply because she had nothing better to do and felt fidgety.
Men who had served by Gordon's side in the King's Army carried his body on a stretcher to the prepared hole. They were all very sharply dressed in their uniforms, and had an air about them as if this was something that happened every day. They were sad – of course – but also accepting, which was something Mildred hadn't been able to manage yet.
Gordon also wore a pristine uniform and looked at peace. His comrades set him down next to the hole and then wrapped him in the special shroud made for those in service to the King. As they did so, they each told stories of him. Their respect for him was clear to all to hear.
Eventually, Gordon was ready and they all carefully lowered him into the hole in the ground. As a soldier, he had been given a few burial options if the time came, and this was how he had wanted it – the traditional soldier's burial. It was almost as beautiful as it was heart breaking!
Next, the priest and priestess took turns reciting blessings. Then, the soldiers each told more stories of Gordon's heroism and bravery as they slowly shoveled dirt into his grave. Mildred couldn't help it, she was sobbing again! Their tales only served to remind her of the wonderful man that she would never get to marry.
Others eventually chimed in with anecdotes – each shoveling dirt into the grave as they did so. His parents, his sister... it seemed like everyone took a turn but Mildred. As they did, she had time to calm down once more. As a gesture of respect, Gordon's best friend handed her the last shovel full of dirt.
Gordon never stopped talking about you,” he informed her. “He told us all at least once a day that he couldn't wait to go home and marry you. According to him, Mildred is the most beautiful girl in the world...”
Mildred nodded in thanks, and then slowly placed a handfuls of dirt on the grave. Without warning, a song burst from her.
No I can't forget that evening, or your face as you were leaving, but I guess that's just the way the story goes. You were smiling, but in your eyes, your sorrow showed, oh did you know? …
I can't live, if living is without you. I can't live, I can't give anymore. I can't Live! If living is without you, I won't live, I won't live any more! Ohhh-ohh-oh-oh-oh-oh! Ohhh...” She vocalized for a few seconds more before sobs wracked her once again. She lay on the grave and prepared to never move again.
Most everyone was teary-eyed as they left. The majority of them needed to get to work as soon as possible, but a handful lingered. When it was just the immediate family left, Gordon's sister sighed and knelt next to Mildred.
I'm sorry... I thought that you were somehow to blame, but now I see that you clearly loved my brother. I pray that you find peace, someday...” After that, she took her husband's hand and let him walk her home.
Gordon's parents stood over her next. “I know this may sound cruel, but please, don't ever come visit us again,” his father stated.
I can't bear to see you and think of him!” His mother cried out, sounding anguished.
Mildred nodded numbly. After the way they had shied away from her during the vigil, she had expected them to say this. She didn't care because she didn't plan to be around for very much longer.
After they left, it was just her parents, but they couldn't stay. Each one stroked her back a couple of times and murmured sympathy, but then informed her that they had to go.
Love you! See you when you get home,” her mother stated, wondering just how long Mildred planned to lay there, crying in the dirt.
Soft sounds let Mildred know that the priestess was still nearby, but for the moment, everyone was giving her time to grieve. Nearly an hour passed before Mildred thought that she might have an opportunity to stab herself with the knife she'd hidden in her bodice when the priestess wasn't looking. She sat up to look around, and saw two men approaching her.
Curiosity prevented her from reaching for the knife once she realized that these were the traveling musicians from the Tavern. They were dressed somberly and sat on the ground next to her – one on either side.
Singing helps,” the taller, brown-haired one informed her.
What?” Mildred asked in confusion.
The shorter, black-haired one smiled sympathetically. “When you lose a loved one, it's like a bone deep ache that never truly goes away, but singing can help soothe the ache.”
You did it naturally about an hour ago,” the first added.
Each carried a bag over their shoulders, which they set on the ground abruptly. From one bag emerged a harp, and from the other, a violin. Ignoring Mildred completely, the two musicians played whatever crossed their minds. The music was hauntingly beautiful, and strangely, it did actually make her feel better.
Eventually, words formed in her head and swirled in circles until she just had to let them out. It was mostly nonsense, but it seemed to lift the darkness from her heart. At least an hour passed like this, and then – almost as abruptly as they started – the musicians stopped playing.
We're planning to be in town for about a month. If you feel up to it by the time we leave, why not come with us?”
Mildred sighed in frustration and disappointment. “I am not going to be ready for a new lover in just a month's time. So you may as well forget about that right now.”
The two looked at each other in bafflement. “Who said anything about lovers?”
Well?” Mildred demanded impatiently. “Isn't that what you are implying? That I travel with you and provide comfort with my body?”
No!” They both blurted out, waving their hands hastily. “We just want you to sing with us!”
Tall and brown-haired chuckled inexplicably. “And actually, we're together...”
Mildred frowned in confusion. “Oh? Together?”
Jasper is my heart,” short and black hair stated before leaning across her and kissing his companion full on the lips.
And Onyx is the reason I get up every morning,” Jasper informed Mildred, returning the kiss.
Mildred blushed redder than she could ever remember doing before. “OH!” She gasped in sudden understanding. “You're together...” She bit her lips as she looked them over.
What?” They wondered, tilting their heads curiously.
But you don't look like the type,” Mildred murmured, referring to the rare man she saw that liked to look feminine, whether he wore dresses or not.
Jasper and Onyx both shrugged. “You'd be surprised how many men that don't look it are interested in men.”
This gave Mildred something to think about. She placed her finger and thumb on her chin and looked to the ground for a moment. Thoughts circled around her head until she shook them away.
Well, why me?” She wondered, unable to think of a single good reason.
You have a voice that we think will really bring in the crowds,” Onyx answered bluntly.
We're certain that with you in our group, we'll all make a lot of money!” Jasper added.
Hmm...” Mildred murmured softly, not quite believing them. “I'll think about it...”
Good!” They stated, sounding relieved. Each gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, and then got to their feet and left.
It took her a few minutes, but Mildred eventually realized that she no longer felt like killing herself. With a tiny wry smile, she pulled the knife from her bodice and lay it on the grave.
Maybe I will see you again soon, my love, but not today...”
After that, she carefully got to her feet and walked home.

Go To Part Two 

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