Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Night I Should Have Just Gone Home




If you had said it to me then, I would have argued and denied it. Vehemently, even.

But, looking back from where I sit now -- for when is our vision clearer? -- you could have been right.

I wasn't supposed to be there that night. Not in that courtyard. Not down that alleyway. And yet, I had gone. I had crept down it silently, keeping to its shadows. No one could know for it was forbidden.

Not to everyone, but to me. And so I was the mouse,the rat, the vermin.

I couldn't say now why I had felt compelled to go. Why hadn't I just left well enough alone? Done what I was told? I should have gone home. But curiosity had me by the tail and wouldn't let go. I didn't want to be part of it necessarily - I just wanted to see it happen.

The alleyway opened into the light and I skirted its edge. I could have withstood the consequences of recognition, but it was easier without them. So I drew my cloak close and joined the edges of the crowd.

There is anonymity in the mob. There always is, and there would have been that night - if only I had kept to the pack.

He was already at the gate, holding court-- he on his side of the gate, the crowd on ours. There were sighs. Women swooned. You will say that I'm exaggerating, but I tell you, I am not.

It was a bit surreal to see him in life -- like a picture that had jumped off the page when you looked away and now suddenly wouldn't return from where it had come. I was too far away to hear the words he said, but the music of his voice reached me on the wind.

There was a spell in the timbre of it.

Soon, another from the Court emerged into the courtyard and the mob followed, like dogs after the scent. The corners of his mouth turned up with a glint of sardonic humor and he made his way back to the Castle doors.  The mob would come again as they did every night and, when they did, he would weave his spell once again.

I didn't follow after the mob. But I didn't leave either. I found myself alone, hands wrapped around the steel of the gate, wishing to speak but afraid to utter words. How had I even gotten to it? Someone called his name from afar and he turned to wave them away until the next moonlight. But, his eyes caught mine instead, and he stopped.

It was too late to run. Anonymity was no longer mine. I was still the mouse-- but the mouse that had ventured across the kitchen floor and was now in the sights of the housecat. He smiled as he returned to the gate, his guard following in his wake.  I didn't know what to make of that smile. When he spoke, I could feel the music of his spell float around me and I shook my head to ward it off.

I understood how he held the mob in such thrall. It wasn't that he was handsome, though this was what was said. It was that he was charming. My mother had taught that a charming man was a dangerous man.  That a man who oozed charm always knew what to say to turn your head at the right moment from the things that you should be looking at. That a man who knew what to say could never quite be trusted to mean what he said. In everything that passed after, I would always wonder who I was speaking to -- the charmer or the man who lay underneath him.  Maybe they were always the same.

He lied to me that night, and not for the last time. You will hold that against him. Maybe you should, though I will rush to excuse him. It wasn't a lie meant to harm, but to shade a truth that might have wounded. A lie is like that sometimes. It feels like kindness, but...

If he had fed me the same lie today, I would have called him on it and we would have laughed. But, I didn't see it or I chose to ignore it... or I just didn't know that I could.

I must admit with chagrin that his spell worked on me that night, despite my convictions to the contrary. I should have known. As we spoke, I forgot who he was and who I was. But the guard cleared his throat and looked pointedly at my hands still clutching the railing of the gate, too near to his charge.

I lowered my eyes and stepped back, chastised. I had forgotten that we were from very different castes, very different worlds. His spell, his words, his laughter... they had made me forget and the spell he had woven nearly crashed around me with the remembering. He glanced behind him with annoyance and stepped up to the gate himself, leaning across it as he quickly re-wove the magic.

I felt a flush of gratitude toward him in that moment as I listened to his voice.  And while I would have denied it then, that was the moment I began to love him. Perhaps the spell still holds sway.

Perhaps it is better that way.


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