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A (Maybe Not So New) Love Story: Chapter One
When a fist is making a direct path for one’s face, one – under normal circumstances – ducks, and then swings back in revenge.
In short, that is the point of most stories, and this one is no exception. This story, however, is in the extraordinary position of having its point be its beginning sentence, as well. So, shall we zoom in to the newly green town square where, had we not just been chatting for the past few moments, we would have seen the beginning of a fight taking place?
Two young men, it would appear now (if we did, in fact, zoom in), were going at each other with no swords yet, but words. Behind each of the men were two more men, who appeared to be serving as seconds, and a small crowd was clumping around the fighters.
“I know you said something! I heard it, now what did you say?” demanded the first young man, one we will soon know familiarly as Ty. His body was angled forward tensely, and to anyone who had known him for more than a few moments, it was clear that he was very angry, for he was working his jaw, and the sound of his grinding teeth was making a few onlookers turn away, tears welling in their eyes for whomever happened to have the misfortune of being Ty’s dentist.
The second young man smirked and leaned back, his thick arms crossed over his chest. He tossed his head a little, and asked his two backups nonchalantly, “Huh. You might’ve thought a smart lad like him would know when a poor lad like me was just speakin’ to himself, wouldn’t you, lads?” Confusingly worded though this question was, the two young men behind this inquirer nodded, chuckling and flexing and cracking their knuckles menacingly. “I don’t want a fight, now, Ty. We boys were just heading home before you kindly intercepted us.”
Looking slightly bemused through his tightly wound exterior, Ty shifted on his feet. “I know I heard you. Did you insult my family, Bin?” There was a pregnant pause during which people in the general vicinity held their breath. Ty leapt forward and bared his teeth. “Well! Were you insulting my family, man?”
Carefully, the man called Bin chose his words and spoke. “I did indeed…” a collective gasp arose into the hot spring sky before Bin continued, “…insult, my dear Ty. However, I did not insult your family, in so many words. Now, excuse us.” With a small flick of his wrist, Bin summoned his two accomplices, and they began toward Ty and his accomplices, about to walk calmly past the trio and up to the mansion that was the Montescues’.
But, like so many fights that occur in public, it’s not all just quiet insults, a few verbal slaps, and then everyone goes home scot-free. There are disputes, mostly from the Montescue side, that Bin didn’t say or do a thing at all; that Ty attacked simply out of his infamous temper that was hot as his auburn hair. And there are disputes, mostly from the Capliam side, that as Bin shoved past Ty roughly, he hissed a few choice words, that were a bit like, “You wouldn’t have won a street match in any case, mongrel,” and that, in turn, was where Ty was completely justified in the swing he took at Bin’s face, and that it was therefore the Montescues’ fault that anything had come of the whole afternoon at all.
From the sidelines, cheers erupted when Ty’s fist made contact and drew blood from the noble Montescue’s nose. Also from the sidelines, there came boos and hisses from those villagers that were sympathetic with the Montescues’ cause. True it was that no one really knew what the causes were that made the Capliams and Montescues hate each other so wretchedly, but it was fun to watch, and what else was there to entertain oneself with if not a good street fight?
Bin let out a bark-like laugh and swung agilely at his opponent’s side, using his other hand to draw a short, sharp dagger from his belt. Both Bin’s and Ty’s accomplices jumped in right about here, and soon everyone was booing or cheering, depending on who had just achieved a good hit at his opponent. It is very tedious to put in writing what occurs during a fight because it all is the same thing: swinging and stabbing and blood, slime, sweat, and yelling, so you will be spared the gory details of when Bin knocked Ty down and was about to stab him through when something – a rock, most likely – bit the back of his head and gave Ty a split-second advantage, in which he used his immense strength to… well, like I said, quite tedious, isn’t it?
So, skipping to the interesting parts, it was not long into the fight when a terrible yell broke through the rioting noise. Two horses, each with a royal butt and therefore a royal person on them, stepped lightly through the crowd and came to a standstill before the place where Ty and Bin were still spitting mad, glaring at each other. “What in God’s name is going on here?” shouted the prince, a muscled man in tights, his pale hair pulled back at the nape of his neck into a ponytail. “It had better not be another spat between the Capliams and Montescues!”
For those of you in the dark, the word ‘spat’ here is referring to the outright brawl that Bin Montescue and Ty Capliam had been participating in just seconds ago. (It can also refer to the past tense of the word ‘spit,’ as in 'He spat mucus onto the ground,' but thankfully, we’re not using it that way.) It is, of course, ridiculous to use such a petty term as ‘spat’ for a brawl of this magnitude, but such were the prince’s ways.
No one spoke. It looked like the prince was going to get even angrier, as his face was turning a lovely shade of puce, but suddenly a figure shot out from the center of the part of the crowd with its back to the olive orchard. The figure was slight but muscular-looking, and his beautiful features and innocent cherub-like curls suggested that he was just barely nearing manhood. “What’s happening!” shrieked the figure, colliding with Bin and righting himself without much coordination when he tripped on a rock in the path. Trying but failing to hide the fact that he was rolling his eyes, Bin stepped forward.
“Sire,” he began, sinking into a low bow, “forgive us. This was nothing more than a meager fracas brought on by the afternoon heat and the pesky bugs zipping about.”
An important note about Prince Aster: he might be daft as a two-stringed balloon when it comes to determining the difference between a spat and a brawl, but he was by no means born yesterday. So he looked suspiciously at Bin, who was bowing before him, and sniffed contemptuously when he heard the reason for the spat on the street.
“Do you think that I am dafter than a two-stringed balloon?” he asked in his deep, important voice. Rather than wait for an answer (I told you he wasn’t born yesterday), he continued quickly, “I know the feud between the Capliams and Montescues has been going on for some centuries…”
Someone in the crowd murmured, “Damn straight; now might be the time for you teh do summat about it, you great horse’s a–” but then his wife elbowed him quite hard in the gut, and all he could choke out to finish his sentence was the word “antler.”
“…but that gives us all the more reason for trying to stop the feud now! I’m giving you a choice, Capliams and Montescues! You can either stop this ridiculous fighting at once, or, the next time I see it happening, you can join me in the castle, and I will put you somewhere safe where you can collect dust and NOT spill blood. Is that clear?”
No one spoke.
“I said, IS THAT CLEAR?” roared the prince. Universal murmurs and nods of agreement rippled through the crowd. Clearing his throat with a gentle ahem, Aster sat a bit straighter on his mount and smoothed the front of his billowy shirt. “Well then. I’m sure we all have other places to be. Keep in mind my warning, Montescues, Capliams. Good day, all.” The prince turned his horse, and together, the two royal horses trotted away.
Perhaps you are wondering, and rightly so, who it was that the second horse carried on its back. Why, then, I shall tell you, for it is no secret, nor is it mysterious at all, now that I think about it. The person on the second horse was exactly like Prince Aster, though – as we just saw – rather quieter. The person on the second horse was Prince Aster’s younger brother, Poplar. (Clever tree names run in the royal family: the king’s name is Durian.) Young Poplar had simply been riding about the county, observing how his dear brother ran things in the kingdom, and on this morning’s trek, the pair were lucky enough to run into Bin and Ty’s fight.
But honestly, Poplar is not an important part of this story. I could make him an important part, but the naked truth is that the boy is so dull I don’t think I could ever live with myself if I bored you so. We are just coming up on the important parts, with more important characters than young Poplar.
If we rewound to the part of the story where Prince Aster had just appeared in the newly green town square, and then zoomed out and up from this scene, all the way over pale green fields and blooming peach orchards to the southwest corner of the town, where sat a beautiful mansion made of white marble, and then zoomed in and down from the white-blue sky to the gentle garden in the courtyard of this mansion, we’d see a young girl, almost a woman, kneeling among the budding plants, black soil under her fingernails. Perhaps you’d guessed it, as this story might remind you of one you’ve read a few times before, but this young woman was called Julienne, known to her friends as Jewel or, more often, Gem because her blue-violet eyes shone like gems in the fountain’s water of her famous garden. She truly hated the reasoning behind her nickname, but nevertheless allowed them to call her Gem because she hated her full name just as much.
Today, in her lovely garden, Gem was babying her new flowers, called Lucifer’s Hearts. They were supposed to grow in pure black soil, and if denied the right amount of water, they would grow into beautifully shriveled versions of purply-black wild roses. Proudly, Gem bent her head close to the tiny purple-green shoots that were refusing to come out toward the sunlight, and she smiled smugly when she straightened up, patting the soil around the flowerbed and brushing what remained from her fingers.
“It certainly looks gorgeous here today, Julie,” came a voice from the arched doorway. With a sigh, she turned around and waved an irritated hand at her father’s closest friend’s son, Pearce. He cocked his head and shoved his thumbs further under his belt, which was quite an accomplishment, seeing as the belt was only a rope. Licking his lips, he shuffled into the courtyard. It was vexing that the man always came to her when she was sweaty and dirty from working in her garden, but at least the flowers kept her from going berserk on the loser.
After coughing a little and staring as hard as she could at his left shoulder (though there was truly nothing of interest anywhere on his person), Gem grumbled, “G’morrow, Pearce.” He smirked and sat on a bench near where she was working.
“W-what are you working on?” asked he, scraping around for something to interest her enough that she’d say more than the usual two-and-a-half words to him.
He found it. There was nothing that interested Gem more than flowers and plants. Grimacing, Gem answered, “Well, I was checking on my new flowers called Lucifer’s Hearts. They’ll be beautiful when autumn comes around, but until then, they’ll try as hard as they can to not leave the underground. Strange little things, they are.”
Pearce had just opened his mouth to say something like, “Hmm, that’s so interesting,” when a loud crash came from the corridor beyond the arched doorway where Pearce had first appeared. Gem didn’t wait for an explanation, or for Pearce to get up, but ran as fast as she could to the source of the noise.
An ornate vase appeared to have toppled from its pedestal, bounced, and then shattered all over the tile floor. A fair woman in a black and white maid’s dress was making loud sobbing noises as she knelt over the mess, muttering things like, “Oh, dear me, dear me, God save him!” Gem uttered a barely suppressed sigh and rolled her eyes.
“What is it, Nonni?” The woman may have been fair, but she was also about forty years old, and forty-year-old women don’t – under normal circumstances – just burst out crying over a broken vase. Gem knew that the sobs were entirely and in every other way fake, so she ran a dirty hand over her forehead before kneeling down to help pick up the pieces.
Pearce decided to breeze in now, and, looking importantly down at the two women, asked in a pompous voice, “What is it, ladies? What has happened?”
Nonni let loose a particularly dramatic wail, and slapped the back of her hand to her forehead. “It’s Ty! He’s been attacked, dearest Pearce! Our lovely and good Ty has been assaulted by those dirty, filthy cur, the Montescues!”
Turning a bit pink with confusion and embarrassment, Pearce muttered, “Now, now, lady, I’m sure Ty is fine. We shouldn’t use those kinds of words just because we are at war with the Montescues…”
“But Ty! Oh, he was always my favorite little boy. So handsome and polite!” Gem had long stopped picking up pieces of broken vase and sat, stone-faced, watching her nurse’s theatrics with the phrase ‘Really? Is this a joke?’ running through her head. Standing during Nonni’s next bout of sobs, in which she’d added an especially believable hiccup sequence, Gem nodded to Pearce and continued down the corridor to her own room.
“He was always my fay-vorite little boy,” mimicked Gem under her breath when she reached the door to her chamber and opened it. “Please.” She pumped some water into the basin in the corner of the room, and used it to rinse her face and hands. Toweling off quickly, Gem went to the latticed doors on the opposite side of the room and threw them open, tangling the billowing white curtains simultaneously. The view from the balcony was wonderful, looking out over the whole of Vinera’s gorgeous orchards and wheat fields. The gardens below her balcony weren’t her own, but she loved the smell of the creeping jasmine and lilacs that were just blossoming as they wafted on the hot air up to her room.
Wondering aloud, Gem mentioned to no one, “I wonder what Ty is up to now, the scoundrel. If he didn’t have such devilish ways, maybe he wouldn’t get into so much trouble. But of course, the doofus always wants to be the center of everyone’s attention.” She knew this from personal experience. Ty was her cousin, but he hated her, because she couldn’t stand him and therefore wouldn’t give him the time of day. “The Capliams attacked him, my foot. If there’s anyone in the whole of Vinera that would attack anyone without provocation, it’s Ty, the idiot.”
Pulling her dark hair back from her face and tying it with a strip of ribbon, Gem could think about what she wanted to do next in her garden. She’d pruned the orange and lemon trees just last autumn, so they were good to go… She’d always wanted a goldfish or two for her fountain, but had never gotten around to asking for them. She thought she'd do that now, glad that she had something to do.
Sorry to interrupt again, but Gem’s part of the story is interlocked with many others’ parts, and it is now time to check in with a few other main characters. If we zoomed away from the balcony just as Gem was turning to visit her father’s study and ask him for a few little golden fish, then turned in midair and zipped to the northeast, our backs to the noon sun, and skidded to a halt at the back doorway of a little chapel, we’d meet two more important people in this story you’ve probably heard told in a million different ways before. Little Rosy, a pretty young girl with a resolute aspiration to become a nun, was scrubbing the stones of the walkway into the church with the greatest ferocity that she could muster, her face red as her name and quite a bit wetter.
“Stupid boy,” she muttered angrily, as a blister formed on her palm. “Who’d have thought he’d been stalking a NUN this whole time. Don’t he know the rules?” Sudsy, dirty water splashed onto her nose and dripped back onto the mossy stones she was scrubbing. With a growl, she scoured harder.
“My dear fair child,” came a misty voice from the doorway. “Whatever is the problem?”
“I ain’t got no problem, Friar. Leemee alone,” she added. The friar smiled gently and leaned his muscular form against the doorway, looking holy as a prostitute in his tight black garb.
Again, in the saintly voice that didn’t match his body, Friar Lance said, “Why don’t you take a break from that and come in for some tea, dear girl?”
Again, in the stern voice uncharacteristic of that of an aspiring young nun, Rosy said, “Tea my rear end. Alls you got in there’s your fermentin’ mead. Besides, I said, get outta here, Friar. I ain’t got time for you.”
Friar Lance smiled and pushed off from the door to hunker down beside the girl, who only gritted her teeth and scrubbed. With priest-like generosity, he offered her a handkerchief as white as snow and didn’t mind that she wiped her dirty face and nose, leaving a great brown mark on it. As if he were comforting her, he lifted his hand and ran his index finger down her backbone faintly. “There now, little one. Send your anger away and open yourself up to… God.” His smile grew when she looked up at him, a disgusted look on her face.
“Get out, Friar Lance! I’m tryin’ to ’come a nun! I don’t even like you, dirty man!” With a huff, she stood and kicked over the bucket of water so it ran over the friar’s sandaled toes.
“Tut, tut. You won’t become a nun with that attitude, Little Rosy!” he called after her, his eyes half-open as they followed her little form until she disappeared around the corner of the chapel.
I realize that you are probably making a face that looks something like Little Rosy’s disgusted look, and so now I am saving you from the lusty friar and the backyard of the church by informing you that it’s time once again to meet another character. This character is another very big part, so if we went back to the part of Rosy’s story where Friar Lance was just shouting those last words to her, and zoomed up and out to the northwest, until we came to a large mansion with a wonderful tree house in the backyard, we’d see a young man that was slight but muscular-looking, and had beautiful features and innocent cherub-like golden curls suggesting that he was just barely nearing manhood, as he climbed a rope ladder up to the crow’s nest at the top of the tree house tree.
This young man, whom we’d met earlier during the scuffle between Bin and Ty but never really got around to properly greeting, was called Roman, though his nickname was something a bit less flattering, as people called him Roman the Romantic because of his incessant need for some type of love in his life at all times, even if it wasn’t a human that he loved. At this moment, he was climbing to the crow’s nest in search of his binoculars so he could turn them to the town in the middle of Vinera and search for something else to love. A pretty girl called Rosy had just turned down his offer of marriage under the pretense that she was going to become a nun, so he needed a new obsession.
Before Rome could put the glasses to his eyes, though, a voice called to him from the ground. “Roman! Get your lazy arse down here! We’re hatching a plan for our next attack!”
Rolling his eyes, Rome dropped the binoculars and shimmied agilely down the rope, dropping to the ground before a grinning Bin, who cuffed Rome on the shoulder and steered him toward the beautiful mansion. “You don’t plan those attacks, Bin, they all just happen upon you. Even if they didn’t happen upon you, you still wouldn’t plan them. You love the Capliam ladies too much.”
“It’s true,” Bin sighed as if sorely disappointed in himself. “But there’s nothing I can do. It’s like an illness. My only flaw is that I love my enemies’ wives and daughters. So hard to live with myself sometimes.”
Rome snorted as they rounded a corner into the kitchen of the Montescue mansion. “Only flaw. Right.” The two friends picked up a few sandwiches each and started walking again, munching until they came to the gate that led from town into the Montescue mansion’s grounds.
“Oh, yeah, thanks for busting in and making us look like a bunch of idiots today. That really made me seem intimidating and important when you screamed ‘Whashappening!’ like a woman,” Bin chided, shoving Roman into a stone wall.
“Ah, Bin. I don’t scream like a woman… it’s more of a warning signal that I can turn off or on at will. I don’t scream like that under regular circumstances.”
It was Bin’s turn to snort in disbelief. But before he could make a clever retort, the pair was interrupted by a short figure dressed in blue and gold, the livery of the Capliams’. Stuttering horribly, and with such a thick accent that neither men could make out what it was saying for quite a few moments, the short person demanded, “Aye-aye-aye! Are you a-any o’ these here p-persons, or what?” He shoved a long scroll in Roman’s face and hopped from one foot to the other, looking around, but not at either of the boys.
Rome hurriedly scanned the list, with Bin reading over his shoulder.
"You are cordially invited by Lord Roberto Capliam and Lady Mariah Capliam to a Ball and Dinner that is to begin precisely at dusk and no sooner, and which will end at exactly dawn, and no later. Feel free to dress in disguise, as it is a costume ball. Thank you!"
Below was a long list of names, mostly friends of the Capliams’, but absolutely no Montescues. Roman was just about to shake his head at the jittery figure before him and say that their names weren’t on the list when Bin elbowed him hard in the kidney.
Loudly, Bin spoke, in his deepest voice, while Rome doubled over gasping. “Yes, see! Here are our names, good fellow, right there.” He waved his hand vaguely at the middle of the list and nodded certainly. “You may tell Good Lord Capliam and his sweet wife that we will of course attend their gorgeous fiesta. Be sure to tell him personally! Run along now, good sir.”
The little man scurried away.
“Are you out of your stupid head?” hissed Rome, clutching his side and dragging Bin to an alley between the quill shop and the dressmaker’s. “Sir Capliam will send all the men in his family to us and have them chop off our limbs and dance on our graves!”
Bin was chuckling as he poked his head around the corner to check if there really were any Capliams marching up the streets of town. “You’re the one with the stupid head, Roman! Didn’t you read that thing? It said we could dress in disguise!”
“And that stuttering little man didn’t know how to read, you saw the look on his face when we pointed to the list–”
“You pointed to the list,” muttered Rome.
“So this’ll be fun! Live a little, Roman! We’ll be fine. If any Capliam wants to chop off our limbs, I’ll make them do me first, how’s that sound?” And on that cheerful note, Bin strode from the alleyway and up to the Montescue mansion.
“It sounds a hell of a lot like certain death to me,” Rome grumbled.