This is not one of my normal short stories. To be frank, very little happens in it, but I just had to write it. It does, though, give some indication of the relationships which exist between several of the characters IÕve written about in the past. I also felt in a musical mood at the time of writing this!
© June 1991
"I always knew Kallisti was a very pretty girl, but is it my imagination or is she even more gorgeous than before?" Hawkeye, the premier Knight of the Black Rose stood by the tall window overlooking the Temple of Carina in Zethus. For once, he was not wearing his customary black armour, but wore a pale blue tabard over his ceremonial uniform.
Deldus, standing by his side, dressed in the deep blue ceremonial robes of a Mage, laughed. "Truly old friend, she is ravishing isn't she?" he spoke with pride as they watched the object of their discussion glide across the dancefloor accompanied by the eldest son of the Bragorian ambassador to Zethus. Kallisti wore a gown of purest white - her favourite colour, and wore her hair loose to fall in soft curls about her shoulders and down her back. She danced gracefully and was obviously enjoying herself. Whenever she smiled, it seemed as though the whole room lit up. The young man she danced with was obviously smitten and could barely draw his eyes away from her to watch where he was going.
"You are a lucky man." Hawkeye slapped the slim mage's shoulder. Deldus stumbled forward as if the blow had knocked him of balance.
"Sir Knight, please remember that us poor mages so not have the strength of you mighty-thewed warriors!" he replied. Hawkeye smiled. The two of them had been friends for a long time. Deldus, although he appeared to be in his early thirties, was closer to three times that age. Hawkeye was in his mid-forties, and the shots of grey in his short dark hair were testament to that. Age had not affected either man's faculties one bit. Hawkeye was regarded as the most accomplished knight on active duty, whilst Deldus was seen as a very powerful mage as well as a diplomat and, when the need arose, an efficient spy and agent of the Order of the Black Rose.
The dance finished with all the dancers clapping the small orchestra. The party was being held in one of the enormous staterooms of the Grand Palace, which housed the council chambers and main administrative offices of the Order. The occasion was to entertain the ambassador and his retinue from Bragor, a large kingdom to the north west of Mardona. As the dancers separated, Kallisti was almost immediately surrounded by admirers, all viewing for the next dance. Kallisti laughed, but declined their invitations, making her way toward Deldus and Hawkeye instead.
"Well my love, you seem to have made a number of conquests today." Deldus greeted her with a glass of cool wine. Kallisti gratefully accepted it and kissed his cheek. She raised her eyes heavenwards.
"My feet are killing me. Do you think I could borrow some of your armour Hawkeye - these Bragorian's seem to think that they should dance on MY feet!"
"Ah my poor darling, would you, like me to kiss them better for you?" Deldus put his arm round her.
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" she winked at Hawkeye, "Grovelling at my feet - I suppose that's all you're good for!"
"Ow!" Hawkeye winced. Kallisti laughed and wriggled out of Deldus' grasp before he had the chance to retaliate.
"Just you wait young lady, just you wait!" Deldus wagged his finger. Kallisti's eyes widened.
"Oh but I can't." she whispered sexily, moving close to him again, before sticking her tongue in his ear. "Hawkeye, as the noblest man here, would you, dance with me?" she said.
"I would be honoured my lady." he bowed and offered her his arm. Lifting her chin regally, she took it, but spoiled the graceful effect by turning back to Deldus and blowing a raspberry. He burst out laughing.
After a brief consultation with the leader of the orchestra, Kallisti rejoined Hawkeye on the dancefloor. The music when it started was a slow minuet, an old tune, heavy with resonances of noble emotions held in check by the stately progression of the dance. Hawkeye bowed, cocking his eyebrow at her choice of dance, before leading Kallisti into the first steps of the dance. At first they were the only couple on the dancefloor, following the steps of a dance hundreds of years old. A few courageous couples joined them eventually, copying the famous knight and his beautiful companion. Conversations in the room hushed as many eyes in the room followed the pair who seemed so perfectly matched in the dance, moving around each other, stepping together and then apart, Hawkeye's tabard billowing as he turned, Kallisti's hair floating as she spun.
The music and dance finished with Kallisti curtseying to her knight who bowed low. There was a polite scattering of applause from the approving audience. Hawkeye offered Kallisti his hand which she accepted and smiling they returned to where Deldus stood, goggle-eyed and speechless.
"Where did you learn that dance?" he asked, hugging her. Kallisti sighed.
"I don't know - I remember hearing the tune some time ago and thought what a wonderful dance tune it was. The steps..." she frowned, "I just knew them." She turned to Hawkeye. "You knew the dance?"
"Yes, my mother taught it to my sister and myself when we were children. She had seen it when she was a girl and was taught how to do it, but never had the chance to dance it because of my father." Hawkeye's expression darkened. "It was good to have the chance to do it, and with such an exquisite partner as well!" he kissed Kallisti's hand.
"Oh my, you'll turn a girl's head, O handsome knight!" Kallisti fluttered her eyelashes at him.
"You're eyesight hasn't improved then!" Hawkeye smiled. His looks had earned him his nickname which he used in preference to his real title. His curved nose and dark eyes shadowed by thickset brows gave him a constantly brooding look, and his taciturn nature often discomforted those about him.
"I think your adoring public needs you." Deldus said, indicating the cluster of young men to one side of the dancefloor who kept glancing in her direction surreptitiously. Kallisti sighed.
"A woman's work is never done!" she sighed theatrically and left them again.
"Well my lord, I did not know you could dance like that." Hawkeye turned to the newcomer, an attractive red-headed woman wearing the formal leather armour of a knight's squire.
"Suzannah! I didn't realise Arron was here." Hawkeye replied cooly.
"We are and he was most impressed by your hidden talents. I wish I'd known, I would have asked you for a dance myself - are you by any chance free for the next one?" she asked. The armour could not hide Suzannah's trim and desirable figure.
"No, but I'm sorry that I must decline your delightful offer. I do not normally dance, this was a unique occasion - one for your diary Deldus?" The mage nodded, his eyes not leaving Suzannah. She sighed theatrically.
"Oh well, another time perhaps. If you will excuse me, I must return to my Lord." she emphasized the last word as she bowed and departed.
"Yeow, I didn't realise she had such a large chip on her shoulder." Deldus noted as she walked away.
"She gets it from Arron. You know how he feels about my refusal of the Lordship. He seemed to take it as a personal affront that I did not want the post. What he has never realised is that I would be hopeless at it - he is ideally suited to the role. He loves all that ritual and solemnity, and enjoys all the politicking that goes on. It would bore me to tears! I think I'm much better suited to what is out there," he gestured out of the window towards the misty peaks of the Kiril Mountains in the distance, "doing the job I was trained for rather than playing games with the Council and the rest."
"I know what you mean. There are times when I just have to get away from all those fawning sycophants and get some clean air into my lungs." Deldus nodded.
"I think your presence is required." Hawkeye gestured to where Kallisti was waving to him.
"Now what?" Deldus made his way to her side. "What's the matter?" he asked her.
"They want me to sing. Would you do the honours..." she nodded toward the harp by the side of the orchestra. Deldus scowled.
"Do you know haw few people know that Deldus the Mage and Delius the Sagabard are the same person? Would you want me to announce to this group that they are one and the same?" he took her arm and led her out of earshot.
"Please darling - you wouldn't be giving anything away,just showing that the wonderful Deldus has a few more talents hidden up his voluminous sleeves. Go on my love, please?" she pleaded, fluttering her eyelashes and playing up to him outrageously.
"Alright." deldus sighed resignedly. "What do you want to do?"
"How about 'Carina's Tears'?" Kallisti said after a moments thought. Deldus nodded, but pursed his lips in surprise at her choice. He sat down behind the harp and spent a few seconds testing its tuning. The noise in the room had built up since the orchestra had stopped playing, and few people in the room outside this immediate group paid much attention to what was going on. Waiters and waitresses circulated with trays of food and drinks, and there were several clusters of people involved in animated conversations.
At Deldus' nod, Kallisti cleared her throat and the performance began. Deldus started with a quiet sequence of chords, sustaining the last one so that the sound echoed and faded. Kallisti smiled - he was using magic to enhance the sounds, introducing a false echo and in certain places building up the sound with a low background of choral voices. At his cue, Kallisti began to sing. Her voice was clear and rich in vocal tone. It was one of the few things her father had done for her - singing lessons when she was young. She had always loved to sing and her association with Deldus over the past couple of years had allowed her to learn new songs and indulge her hobby.
This song was one Deldus, or rather his alter-ego Delius, had taught her. It was an old song rarely sing in recent times, concerning the goddess Carina and her search for the one perfect mortal man to become her consort. It follows her adventures in trying to find him through many long years, undergoing hardships seldom imagined by the gods before finally tracking him down in a remote village in the Vista Highlands to the south. By the time she reaches him, though, he is an old man on his deathbed, with his wife, children and grandchildren gathered about him. When he sees Carina he mistakes her for his wife, as she had looked almost exactly the same when they first married all those years before. Carina is heartbroken at the discovery, but is touched by the deep love he shares with his wife. As he dies, she promises him a special place in the afterlife to await the reunion with his beloved wife.
Carina, though, is devastated by her loss and cannot stop her tears from falling. A god's tears are magical, though, and wherever they fall up springs a rose bush. But these are no ordinary roses. The booms are black to show the sorrow Carina feels. Thus were born the black roses which symbolise Carina and are the emblem of the Order of the Black Rose.
As Kallisti's voice filled the stateroom, aided by Deldus' magical chorus, all eyes were drawn toward her and all conversations petered out. The whole room was spellbound. Kallisti did not seem to be singing about Carina, she seemed to become Carina, singing her own story. She seemed to glow with an inner light and her voice stirred all who heard it with the power it held.
Everyone thrilled with her triumph at finding the object of her quest, but were crushed when the truth was revealed. All were moved by the noble gesture and there was barely a cheek dry in the room as Carina's tears bore forth the precious black roses. Kallisti was openly weeping as she sang. Deldus hardly needed to assist her in the end, her voice alone was filled with the power to entrance the whole room.
As the song ended and the last chords of the music hung in the still air, a breathless silence filled the room. Kallisti looked to Deldus, her eyes gleaming.
"Did we do well my Mage?" her voice came to his quietly, yet it was not Kallisti's voice alone.
"Goddess!" Deldus breathed, suddenly aware of the miraculous presence. From the corner of his eye, he saw Hawkeye's expression of awe and adoration as the knight sank to his knees, also aware of the presence of his goddess.
The silence was broken by a shout of approval and applause as the spell was lifted from Kallisti's audience. Kallisti, or was it Carina, smiled at both Deldus and Hawkeye before the glow changed. Kallisti took Deldus' hands and hugged him.
"She's gone." she whispered as they embraced. Hawkeye pushed his way through the crowd that had gathered at the foot of the small stage and sank to his knee again before her. Kallisti pulled him to his feet again and kissed him. "She sends you her love Sir Camellard and reminds you that she is still by your side and in your heart."
"My Lady, I thank thee." Hawkeye gazed at her in wonder.
"Well gentleman, I think we've caused enough of a stir her for today, I suggest you might care to escort me away from the party now - otherwise I might get mobbed!" She linked arms with both men and they made their way across the room.
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