Here is Stolen Time, the short story about lovers I wrote for The Between:
The Between: A continuation of our collaboration with the D&D community, our follow up to “Of Orphans and Adventures”: The Between presents twenty-eight new stories that look into the lives of new characters. This book covers their smaller, more personal adventures in the little moments between exploring dungeons and fighting monsters. This book is a non-profit product; the selling price is set to cover production costs.
“A very good evening to you, Captain Ryl.”
She sounded casual, acting as though it was perfectly natural to be greeting him convivially while half in and half out of a window, six floors up.
“Melirri” He stood in the doorway but made no attempt to charge across the fine bedroom and to grab for her, “Nice place you have here.”
“It’s good enough, but I find it a little chilly.” Her long fingers gestured, shaping beautiful golden lights and glyphs in the midst of the air. An invisible shape passed him, just disturbing the air, and pushed the door closed behind him. A magical hand, an old trick of hers that he remembered well. He could have drawn his sword, but instead, he looked closer at her, making a judgement. She was wearing bright yellow silk tonight, a shift with the thinnest of straps that barely covered her modesty, the lengths of it swirling over some costly leather trousers that’d stop no blade at all. She had a glittering of rings on her fingers. Her usual amber and gold beaded chain lay on her hair, with its finely crafted beryl bee resting on her forehead. No sign of her hand crossbow. No obvious daggers, but that was no certainty that she was unarmed. And with her magic, she really never was. But the colours, the jewels glinting, her loose hair… had he actually disturbed her rest? Had he really caught her off guard this time? Melirri?!
She was off-guard, but she was recovering quickly. The mage hand was an old trick and not an especially hard one. But magic always threw Ryl. Unlike her, he was a solid, practical sort, and magic was just too strange for his mind. Solid? He damned near blocked the door frame he’d suddenly appeared in! Melirri’s eyes traced over the Captain of the Guard’s shoulders and arms. Even hidden under chainmail they were impressive. He was so different now to the scrawny boy she’d known at Mother Mayla’s… she put such memories aside and concentrated on her current predicament. She could either fling herself out the window and get on with the inevitable chase across the rooftops… yet another chase with the Captain… or…
“I didn’t like the last poster.” She complained, pouting dramatically, playing a part.
“Fair enough. Our guardhouse sketcher’s not seen that many elves.” She watched his eyes as they first caught the bronze blush that spread on her cheeks before wandering to her blade-like ears. No, I don’t expect he has!
She tried to push away old angers and resentments. The other children at Mother Mayla’s hadn’t seen elves before either, and definitely not yellow skinned scruffy ones with odd golden eyes. Ryl hadn’t cared though…
“You staying in that window?” Ryl said lightly, hoping that she wasn’t about to flee. “I mean, if you’re feeling the draught tonight…”
He watched her as she gracefully returned to the room. The tiny creature in rags with its dandelion hair and ears tips dipped in sadness was long gone, replaced by a lithe young woman with a golden curtain of hair, captivating eyes, and artful flashes of flesh that drew his eye.
Another arcane gesture and he watched as a bottle and two cut glass goblets were collected from a sideboard and floated past him to be placed lightly on a highly polished walnut wood table.
“Do we need more glasses?” She asked lightly, but he could see her nerves in how her eyes kept darting back to the door behind him.
“Not tonight.” He finally made a decision. It might not have been the right one, but when Melirri was about he rarely did think clearly. And she knew it.
She knew he was watching her as she moved to the table, gesturing for him to sit as well. Taking a sip of the wine that he poured for her, she looked up at him over the glass. Was that a new scar on his near shaved head? And when had he started cropping his hair so close? The last time they’d crossed paths his hair had been longer, with a hint of grey coming in at the sides. How long ago was that? Was it after the Eye of Emeris, or after the Glimorre Pendant? She barely remembered the precious gems and jewellery after she’d had her fill of them. Her joy in their shining beauty wore off all too soon.
“A good wine. You bought well.” The sarcasm was thick in his wry human mouth.
Another dig about her thievery! Oh, Ryl could be so bloody sanctimonious! He’d grown up abandoned just like her, so if anyone should understand then he should! But he’d always been keener on listening to Mother Mayla’s droning sermons about “good”, and “right”! The old paladin had almost corrupted him enough to turn his head towards one of the blessed churches, but instead, he’d only made it as far as the city guard. All the better to bother her, no doubt!
“It’s a friend’s.” She smiled sweetly and tried to judge if her words had any effect. At the orphanage, she’d only had one friend.
“Is this room his too?” She watched Ryl’s human blue eyes look towards the sumptuous four-poster bed. Ahhh….
This game was fun. She leant forward. “The bed’s stolen too. I carried it up all those stairs in my thief’s black bag-”
“I’d likely believe you if it was covered all in gems. Which reminds me, know anything about a mage called Vierre? Claims he’s had some important jewellery taken. He said it was some part of his ‘great research into the mysteries of the universe’ or something.”
Melirri was shrugging, the all too human gesture odd on her slight elven frame. A strap on her shift slid down the top of her arm after the sudden movement, and she made no move to pull it back up, even if it made her bareness beneath the dress all the more apparent. He steeled himself, remembering how coldly he dealt with criminals in the interrogation rooms.
“He’s an elf,” Ryl said simply, “one of the new arrivals.”
“Then I’m glad he’s lost his bloody ring.”
Ryl nodded. Melirri wasn’t stupid, she wouldn’t let an incriminating detail like that slip out unless she wanted him to know that she’d taken it. It was a part of her game, drawing him closer and then escaping. Letting him know she was Vierre’s thief put him in a difficult position, and she was enjoying it. Revenge maybe for his comment about the elf that had reminded her of her origins. He’d helped her out with that once, found out about the secret trade delegation that had brought the Sun Elves of the Court of Elishane to the city some thirty odd years ago. The negotiations had failed and the elves had left, but likely not before one of their party had abandoned their daughter to a life as an outsider in a purely human city. He’d expected her to be interested, to want to track down her parents, but she’d not even thanked him. She might well be the daughter of some high titled noble elf, but frankly, she didn’t care.
“Tell me Ryl, why haven’t you called the guard on me? I know all you goody-two-shoes carry some sort of magical trinket that sends out an alarm.”
He sighed in frustration with her, the words out of his mouth before he’d even realised her was going to say them “Melirri Magpie…”
It was his old nickname for her, from when they were small and he’d have to clear out the space underneath her bed in the orphanage dormitory at least once every couple of days. Small things at first. Combs, hair clips, Mother Mayla’s copper bangle. Then there were coins, beaded necklaces from the market, a ladies’ marcasite choker. By the time she left the orphanage ‘Melirri Magpie’ had enough in gems to set herself up in a nice house in a nicer neighbourhood. But they bored her after a time, and she always took more. That kept him on her trail. That and… other things.
Melirri Magpie. Her name on his lips again. They drew her eyes. They were good lips. Soft and full, wry sometimes but never cruel.
“I prefer Melirri Honeytongue.”
Ryl laughed, drinking again as he leant back on the fragile, expensive, chair. “Whoever gave you that ridiculous name?!”
“You did. After that one time I kissed you.” She said flippantly.
He near choked on his wine. “Was I in my cups?”
A frown creased her forehead, and the magical bee familiar there that everyone mistook for a gem took flight, buzzing angrily. How dare he! How dare he… he was joking!
A crook of a finger and her invisible mage hand shoved suddenly on the Captain’s shoulder and over he went! He landed on his back on the floor and began to laugh heartily.
Her elven agility slipped her from her chair and put her quickly astride him, a dagger at his neck. Close-up she could see the fine lines of scars on his face and scalp as well as the wrinkles of age beginning at the corner of his eyes. No! Not yet! She cursed her elven blood. She would be walking the thrice-damned lands alone long after he was gone!
She kissed him.
She always kissed him first. Every single time of the hundreds that they’d kissed, she’d been the one to start it. That was a part of their dance, their game. Maybe it was the ghost of Mother Mayla talking about the purity of thought and deed that came with chastity and temperance that had always stopped him from going to her first. Maybe it was that he could never quite believe that such a glorious golden creature should want a hulk of a hairy human like him. She smelt like honey. He stank of the guards’ house and the training yard. She was poised and swift, and he was a bundle of muscle better suited to hacking with a greatsword than slicing up his foes with a rapier as she might. She had magic in her blood, and he was the unwanted bastard of the gods only knew who.
But she was kissing him, and all those other thoughts fell away.
He was reaching for her, pulling her against him, tearing away her silks, and crushing the breath from her. The smell of him made her dizzy, the richness of it. Leather and metal, steel and sweat. She’d grown up among humans and often their earthy smell offended her damned elven nose, but not Ryl. Never Ryl.
A breath. A moment. They could end it here. They had before. That one time she’d kissed him before they’d stopped… But this time she sat up, pushing at the straps of his chainmail, asking with her eyes. He nodded. Moments later they were on the bed, taking off all their armour. She left all her gems on a small table by the side of the bed, prising rings from her fingers and the headpiece she was never without. With him she wanted to be naked, her skin the only gold she wanted to touch him with. Then their love was everything she’d hoped it would be.
The sun rose and Ryl looked through half-closed eyes at the window onto the world. Seven bells were ringing out from the clocktower in sight out of the window that she’d been about to escape through last night. He looked down at the sleeping woman stretched across him. For years, before Mother Mayla had moved them from the shared dormitory to the separate ones for the girls and the boys, he’d watched her sleep. Back then her hair had been a knotted mess of yellow. Now it was a golden river lying over the dark curling hair of his chest and arm. She was such a slight thing still; with all her money she could have settled down to a privileged life and good regular meals rather than dancing across the rooftops with her Ryl in tow. But she never even kept the gems did she? Mother Mayla had contacted him the first time a purse was left at her door. The stones were ground down, recut, ripped from their settings, but they fit the description of the colour of the Heart of Moldanis, a ruby the size of his fist set in gold stolen from a fat and lascivious nobleman. Mother Mayla would never keep the rewards of crime, so he’d lied, claimed there must be a rich benefactor who simply did not want to be known for his charity. Mayla could smell a lie, but she’d let it go with no evidence for justice to be done. And the orphanage had stayed open for those who needed it.
He watched her sleeping face for a moment. She’d stolen the Heart of Moldanis. And his of course.
When had it happened? He could barely remember a time before her, and when they’d parted ways from Mother Mayla’s – him for the guardhouse as a snot-nosed trainee, and her for the rooftops as a death-seeking lunatic – it had been more like his heart ripping in two than being stolen. Following her career on the streets had been easy enough. Crossing paths with her had been a little trickier. But it’d happened often enough. There had been that kiss. And now…
She stretched and then curled herself around him again as her mind awoke to where she was and who she was lying upon. Captain Ryl. Captain. She’d followed his career of course. He’d been promoted quickly to Lieutenant for his skills, his trustworthiness, and his record of getting the right person into manacles. Of course, not all the guard were so honourable. A Captain… Finnick? Something like that… had been envious of the talented young guardsman. He’d tried to block his further advancement. But a few glistening coins in the right palms and a few soirees in ‘respectable’ human society whispering into the right ears while wearing an illusion, and the young guardsman had found himself in Finnick’s role; replacing the man who’d been transferred to that dreg-city, Hagbend.
A smile played on her lips as she remembered him at his investiture. She’d watched from a high roof some way away, her elven eyes making out his nerves as he accepted the thin chain of office. The only shiny thing that she’d never ever think of taking.
She opened her eyes as he ran strong fingers down her side, tickling her lightly. “You’re smiling… you’re feigning sleep!”
Her mouth on his again shut him up. Then she sighed and spoke. “The bells have rung. Is it time for you to don your armour and Captain me to the cells?”
He seemed stumped by her bluntness. “Melirri-” he began.
“Manacles might be tempting if they were made of silk.” She said to try and shock him, but she was carefully watching his eyes for his intentions. What would he do now?
What would he do now? Everything he’d ever been taught told him what he must do. But could he really see her locked up? What harm was she, really? She might take some small glittery things from some lords and ladies too rich to notice that they were gone… for weeks sometimes! But she never hurt a single guard, nor even terrorised the servants. Certainly, she was a distraction. He could perhaps focus on some much worse people if he wasn’t forever following her trail and trying to catch sight of her. He sighed.
“I can’t take you in.” He finally admitted to himself and to her.
“The chase is too much fun. I agree.”
“It’s not just that.” He was close to admitting how he felt, but still…
She pulled away from him and began to search out her clothing. Her bee took its place on her forehead before she’d even replaced the elegant chain of beads on her hair. Why did she never get bored of that piece, he wondered? He vaguely recalled the first time he’d seen her with it… was she showing it to him? In some tavern… he’d complimented her on it, he thought. And he’d never seen her without it since. Well, when she was dressed at least.
And now she was dressed and starting to collect her rings from the table. She paused while picking one up. It was an odd prize for her. Thick silver, no gem. In fact, it looked more like a man’s ring than one for her slender fingers.
“You can have this one if you like.” She looked at him, capturing his blue eyes with her golden ones. “It’s Vierre’s. The Chronomancer. Give it back to him. Don’t. Do as you will.”
She pressed the ring into his hand, never breaking her gaze.
“Don’t go.” He said quietly.
She smiled sadly. But, was he wrong or was there some hope there too?
She walked to the window and gracefully got to the same half in and half out position he’d first seen her in last night, about ready to climb.
But before she could go a word resounded in Ryl’s head. Chronomancer, she’d said. Chronomancer! He might be a dolt of a human compared to her, and magic was still a strange and wild beast to him, but he’d spent time in the mad wizard’s study. He’d seen all the clocks and sandglasses!
He put the ring on and hoped as hard as he could.
The room swam in front of his eyes, and he was suddenly back standing in the open doorway. In his armour. The night was framed behind her, the clock tower in the distance showing the late hour.
“A very good evening, Captain Ryl.”
Confusion for a moment as his memories of the night before departed him. All apart from the ghosts of a hundred kisses. A hundred kisses in this very room. And she always kissed him first. That was a part of this game of stolen time.
“Melirri. Nice place you have here.”