Photograph by Lisa Shambrook (Please link if used)
Blake didn’t mean to stare, but many years away out on the battle front meant he’d not seen any frivolity, let alone so many beautiful women in quite some time. Silken dresses, yards of them, coiled around his legs as he passed through the whirling dance, intoxicated by mystery and opportunity. Never had so many hands brushed his and masked faces caught his eye with tantalising promise.
He watched through his simple, leather bandit mask and scoured the low-lit ballroom; searching for only one face.
And when he saw her, clothed in olive-green velvet, he moved swiftly to her side.
Alicia was alone within the writhing mass, like a pale-rose amongst a meadow of gaudy blooms, and his fingers urgently sought hers. She turned, startled, and her plum-coloured lips opened in surprise. His mind reeled as his memory raced rewinding to the moment, years ago, when he first kissed her beneath the orchard blossom, those same lips now quivered as she interlaced her fingers with his.
“Where is he?” asked Blake and she shook her head. “Your husband…” bitterness bit deep, “the life and soul…”
Then he saw him, his brother, and his finger loosened his bronze cravat as scarlet rage rose. The buffoon held court amongst businessmen and loose women, and Blake watched as the man’s hand trailed across the breast of the woman in his arms. The lewd whisper in her ear, her wanton giggle, and the suggestive way his hand stroked down her spine and across her much-padded behind, was too much. Blake grabbed his brother’s wife and swirled her onto the dance floor. They danced until he could bear being so close to her no more, and he danced her out of the ballroom and across the lawns to the old willow.
“Come away with me,” he begged as his hand cupped her face and moved a spiralled strand of hair, away from her slender neck where it masked an angry flourish of purple.
Her eyes glistened behind her emerald mask and she shook her head. He tenderly kissed her temple and fingered the green heart tied at her neck with brown ribbons. He released the ribbons and growled as the honey-green jewel dropped. The choker hid pale bruising and his eyes smarted as he took her wrists in his hands. He concentrated on the Murano glass beads around her delicate wrist. “Does this bracelet hide bruises too?” he asked softly. A tear rolled from behind her mask and he released her as she pulled away. She drew out a chain, concealed behind her corset within her bosom, and pressed the locket into his hands. Blake’s trembling fingers opened the familiar treasure and stared at the old, browned, but cherished photographs. His and her teenage eyes stared back; he closed the locket and held her close. Time was running out.
* * *
Blake stood opposite his brother on the morning’s fresh, dewy grass and chose his pistol.
Today he would reclaim his beloved family jewel.
Written for Darcy to Dionysus Twelfth Night Masquerade contest.
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