Disclaimers and Notes: This is an entirely original lesbian detective Renaissance Faire/Fayre story by Erica Friedman. All characters and situations are copyright E.Friedman, all rights reserved. But, since I write fanfic, I’ll understand it if you want to borrow a character. Just 1) email me and ask permission and; 2) credit me. That’s all I’m asking.
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Bad Fayre Day
Bret gazed at herself in the mirror, her brows drawing together in a scowl. “No. Absolutely not.”
“Bret…” Alex cajoled.
“No. And that’s final.” Bret turned away from the mirror without a backwards glance. “I will not be seen in public in this ridiculous costume.” She began to untie the laces at her side, but was forced to defend herself from Alex’s attempts to bat her hands away.
“Bret, darlin’, you look incredible…dare I say it, fabulous.” Alex’s voice imbued the word with all the camp he could muster.
Bret stepped back from him and stood, her arms firmly placed on her hips. “Alex, I know you like to play dress-up, but this,” she gestured at herself, “is preposterous!”
“Alex grabbed her hands before she could begin to unlace herself once more. “What’s preposterous about it? You look…”
“Yes, yes I know,” Bret pulled her hands free with a jerk.
“Oh! I know what’s wrong! It’s the cleavage, isn’t it?” Alex began to laugh and Bret turned away from him so he could not see the flush rise to her cheeks. Unfortunately the motion brought her face to face with herself in the mirror. There she stood, her long brown hair falling straight down her back, green eyes looking at her in distaste and…her breasts. There was no denying them. They were the focus of the outfit. It appeared as if everything from her knees up had been gathered and cinched into the bodice, bringing her not inconsiderable assets to the foreground.
She whirled away to confront her still giggling friend. “I look like a…a…” she sputtered.
“A wench?” the salesgirl offered helpfully. She was of course, dressed in exactly the same style, her bright blue eyes offering Bret no sympathy at all.
“Yes, exactly.” Bret spoke through clenched teeth.
“Oh, come on, Bret! You’ve got to lighten up every once in while!” Alex began to drag her towards the booth entrance, with a firm grip on her arm and a hand in her back. Looking over his shoulder, he mouthed a quick “Thank you” to the saleswench and hurriedly shuffled his unwilling companion out into the crowded “street.”
“Do you know what your problem is?” Alex began.
“Yes, I do. I’m a stick in the mud, a curmudgeon and a profoundly unhappy person.” Bret made no attempt at hiding her sarcasm.
“No. Well, yes, actually, you are. But your *real* problem is that you just don’t know how to have fun.” Alex stuck Bret’s arm through his own and walked her down the main avenue of the Renaissance Fayre.
“I do!” Bret protested. “Fun is sitting at home, reading a very good book, with a cup of excellent tea next to me. Hedonism is home, book, tea and homemade cookies.”
Alex did not even bother to respond. “Oh, look! Hats! I love hats. And you need one…remember the woman at the costume rental place said that women needed to cover their heads.”
“I need to have mine examined.” Bret muttered as Alex dragged her into the wooden booth, its wares hanging from the walls and the heads of the vendors themselves.
Alex spun on her, his face a study in fierceness. “Brettony Sage – if you do not behave, I am going to have to punish you.”
Bret paled at this threat. Alex’s idea of punishing her might be anything from dropping to his knees and singing a Cole Porter tune at the top of his voice, to starting an impromptu juggling routine and demanding her help as his assistant. Whatever it might be, it would certainly contain a large measure of public mortification.
“I’ll behave!” she promised, as she saw him preparing to “emote.”
“Good. Now let’s see about a hat.”
Half an hour later, Bret found herself once again walking along the Fayre’s main street, now the proud owner of both an intricate hair weave and a garland of flowers, perched somewhat askew on her head.
Alex was beside himself with joy, pulling her into one booth after another, gleefully trying on anything that could be worn, from stiff leather armor to handcrafted silver jewelry.
The indignity of her clothes forgotten, Bret began to enjoy herself, but only just a bit. It wouldn’t do to let Alex know she was thawing – not yet, at any rate.
This was the game they always played, Bret resisting all efforts to drag her from her comfortable couch, Alex becoming ever more flamboyant in his efforts to make her crack a smile.
Bret stopped in front of what looked to be a low stage…and what appeared to be a vat of mud.
“What on earth is that for?” she asked. Alex shrugged, his eyes wandering down the thoroughfare looking at the yet unvisited shops.
“That’s the mud pit.” They both whirled around as the answer came from directly behind them. Bret found herself looking into a pair of brown eyes, sparkling with humor, framed with gold-accented chestnut curls. The woman smiled at Bret and Alex, motioning at the wooden seats. “The show is going to start any minute. It’s supposed to be hysterical.”
The three took seats near the top of the bleachers and settled themselves as the crowd quieted down. Three mangy, mud-covered men dragged themselves out of a curtained alcove and with a sudden rush, hurled themselves into the mud pit, splashing the mud around, flinging it into the crowd and generally making a mess. Moments later, as they launched into their repertoire of fast paced jokes and comedy, Bret found herself less concerned with the mud on her dress, and more concerned with the filth coming out of the men’s mouths. It annoyed her no end that she actually found some of the gags and jokes amusing. The pace of the show picked up, heading towards its inevitable conclusion when once again, that voice from behind them rang out.
“Oh, just eat the mud already, you hairy lice-feeder!”
Bret cringed as every eye turned towards her, or more exactly, towards the woman who had seated herself directly behind her, and was now hurling heavily accented abuse towards the men in the mud.
What on earth was this woman thinking? Bret wondered, as the crowd and the men began to laugh at the creative cursing and heckling that came pouring from the woman. The mud men picked up the refrain and a faux-Renaissance kind of dozens game broke out spontaneously. All the while Bret remained frozen in place, trying to ignore the stares of the audience.
When at last the last insult had been hurled, the mud had been eaten and the show was over, Bret heaved a sigh of relief, before turning around to have a word with the irritating red-head behind her, but to her surprise, no one was there. Alex, still laughing at the insults, dragged Bret off the wooden bench and back to the shopping district of the “town.”
Bret swiveled her head back and forth, not at all paying attention to the hideously over-decorated candlestick Alex was offering for her inspection. He pulled the item back and stood with his hands on his hips. “What in the world are you doing? Turning into a lizard or something?”
Bret turned back to him, puzzled. “Did you say something?” Her attention immediately wandered as she turned suddenly to look at something across the street. Alex’s faced changed, a snide smile crossing his lips.
“Yes, darlin’ – your dress is on fire.”
“Mmm.” Bret said noncommittally.
Alex laughed at her. “Can I guess?”
Bret turned back to Alex, her eyes miles away. “What?”
“I said, 5’6′, red hair and brown eyes?”
Bret flushed. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Come on!” Alex said with enthusiasm, as he grabbed Bret’s arm – let’s go find her…she can’t have gotten far.”
“We’ve covered every inch of the place, but I still don’t see her,” Alex hmphed.
Bret said nothing.
“Oh, come on, Bret, you don’t have to be such a downer. She has to be around here somewhere.”
“She probably left with her husband and two kids.” Bret said miserably, as annoyed at Alex’s ability to see right through her, as she was at missing the object of her search.
“I’ll tell you what, “Alex consoled her. “I’ll buy you a completely anachronistic meal to get your mind off her.”
Bret grinned, “I can hardly turn such a gracious offer down. Let’s see, how about some Renaissance pepperoni pizza?”
“Two slices coming up!” Alex’s lithe form disappeared into the crowd. Bret saw him wave a moment later from the back of a long line. She shook her head and waved back, then turned to find them a space at one of the long tables that filled the square. When she had seated herself, she looked around at the people that filed in and out of the shops that surrounded the square. Unseasonably dressed in velvet and leather, they all looked hot to her, but what did she know. Well, she knew that she was warm in the sun and that the sweat was pooling between her absurdly prominent breasts…but maybe that was just her.
The shops that made up the “town” sold an odd variety of useless items, ranging from cast silver dragons to wool cloaks (so practical in ninety-five degree summer heat, Bret thought acerbically) to musical instruments. One booth, almost directly across from where she sat was impossibly crowded, people three deep clustering around the edges. She could see metal posts of some kind and an occasional flashing, as of something metallic catching the sunlight. There was a roar of approval and the crowd began to disperse. Bret caught one clear glimpse into the booth’s interior, realizing with a gasp that it sold swords. She saw a blade flash in the sun and was captivated. Could they even sell things like that legally? With that thought, Alex returned, awkwardly bearing several slices of pizza and two cold beers. Bret’s attention immediately wandered away from the sword booth to more pressing matters.
“Mmm – they made good pizza in the 15th century, didn’t they?” Bret joked, her constitution much improved from both food and drink.
“So we’re led to believe.” Alex agreed with a grin. “And where does my lady wish to go now?” his slight southern accent became more pronounced, making a mockery of the language of the Fayre.
Bret gestured, “I’d like to look at the swords,” she began, but Alex stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
“Swords?” He exclaimed in mild surprise, “I cannot tell you what a bad idea that would be, darlin’ – you and sharp edges just should not mix.”
Bret made a face. “I don’t want to buy one, you big goof, just look at them.” She clasped her hands and spoke in a childish voice. “They’re shiny.”
“Well then, you go look at those large shiny deadly things that coincidentally have incredible phallic symbolism. And I’ll go inform the greater lesbian community that you’ve violated their rules by buying into the patriarchal militaristic hegemony.”
“Thank you – they’ll repossess my toaster.” Bret smiled. “You don’t want to come?”
Alex shook his head. “I’m going to go shop for some new boots – they have a fine selection of men there.”
Bret grinned and patted Alex’s arm. “I’m sure you’ll find just the right set.”
“Oooh,” Alex camped, “I’d like a pair in black leather, please.”
They separated, promising to meet back at the theater in an hour, in time to see “Shakespeare in a hurry – the Bard for people with only a little free time.”
Bret strolled towards the swords casually, not really sure what drew her to the deadly objects in the first place. She wasn’t a violent person by nature, preferring to back down instead of pursuing a fight. But there was something about those swords that fascinated her.
She found herself almost alone at the booth. A few figures clumped at the corners, each handling a blade, attended by one of an extremely eclectic sales force. She watched in fascination as one saleswoman reached over the counter, slapped the prospective customer in the arm and firmly, yet carefully took the long blade from his unsteady grip.
“I told you not to wield it, and there you go, swinging it around like you know what you’re doing.” The woman, swiveled her head, “Gene – we got another loser here. Can you sell him a knife or something to make him feel better about his diminished masculinity?”
Bret covered her mouth as she snorted with laughter. A tall, extremely thin blond man behind the counter caught her eye and walked over. “And a fine, fair good morning’ to ya, my Lady. What shall it be then? Daggers or swords?” His accent was either real or seriously well done and Bret found her eyes following his grand gesture. She boggled at the rows and rows of polished metal.
“I’m not…” she shook her head. “I’m just looking.”
“Of course you are, but you should be touching. We charge if ya just look.” He smiled and spun where he stood. After a moment of inspection he lifted a light, thin sword, with amber jewels in the hilt and handed it to Bret hilt first.
“Uh, no thanks.” Bret took a step back, her hands held up in retreat, but she found her right hand gripped gently and moved forward until her arm was outstretched.
“Just take it,” a voice breathed into her ear.
Bret found herself reaching for the gleaming object despite her objections. She could see the wood of the handle was something light brown, with a color that perfectly complemented the amber. Her hand touched the wood tentatively. The blond wrapped his hand around hers and closed her hand on the handle. His other hand, covered in mail and wrapped over with a cloth held the blade gently.
“Now, my Lady, we have but three rules here. Do not, if you please, swing the sword unless ya be but lately returned from the Crusade. Do not touch the blade, no matter how it calls out to be stroked, and do not, under any circumstances, cut a limb of yours or anyone else’s off. It’s awfully awkward, ya see,” the man smiled broadly, “to keep flies away from the booth when there’s blood.”
Bret smiled back and gripped the sword more tightly. The man let the blade go and Bret could feel the weight of it in her hand for the first time. It was heavy, but not so heavy that it was uncomfortable. She had a terrible, unreasonable urge to touch the blade, then wave it around a few times, followed up by lopping off a limb. She looked up at the blonde with a sheepish grin.
“You see why we have to have the rules,” the voice at her side spoke once again. Bret started to turn towards it, but was arrested by the blond’s grip on the blade.
“I’m sorry,” Bret said quickly and handed the sword back. The man turned away to set the sword in a rack, where it slid neatly next to a blade with a dark red-mottled handle, like bloodstone. Bret quickly continued her aborted turn away from the counter. To her surprise, her companion was the woman with chestnut hair.
“Oh!” Bret cried out, surprised and pleased all at once. “It’s you.” She clamped her mouth shut, hoping to avoid making a fool of herself, but the woman didn’t seem to notice. She was smiling as if Bret was a long-lost friend.
“Good day,” the woman curtseyed prettily. “My name is Heather, welcome to L’Homme Arme’ Swords.”
“L’Homme Arme’?” As usual, Bret found herself distracted by something unimportant. “The man of arms?” French was not her strong point.
Heather smiled brightly. “Yes – the armed man. It’s from a song,” and without warning, she took a breath and began to sing in a lyrical, if unpracticed, voice.
L’homme, l’homme, l’homme arme’,
L’homme arme’ doibt on doubter, doibt on doubter.
“It’s orignally from the Middle Ages, but the tune is from a modern version that I like. The original is about how everyone fears the armed man, but this version’s about how the smith makes swords. He pulls “the iron from the earth, and forge it to its second birth, and raise the sword on high.” She sang the last few words, quieter now, but with an embarrassed pinkness to her cheeks that Bret thought quite cute.
“It’s beautiful,” Bret breathed, then to cover her own embarrassment, looked at the swords and knives that glittered in the morning sun. “I guess it fits.”
“It does.” Heather was walking towards the end of the booth, and smoothly removed a rope gate from its hook, slipped behind the booth and returned to face Bret before she could even respond.
Speaking a little louder, Heather’s “accent” became more pronounced as she said, “And what is my Lady’s pleasure today? Single or double-edged, or something decorative, but deadly?”
Bret found herself staring, not at the gleaming metal, but at the speaker. She felt herself blush. Growing angry with herself, she turned away to look at the knives. “Decorative?” she managed at last.
Heather, pretending not to notice Bret’s discomfiture, stepped behind two other salesmen; one dressed as some kind of Japanese something-or-other and the other bristling with knives on a bandolier. Renaissance ninja and Renaissance bandito, Bret sneered internally. But her attention was soon captured once again by Heather, who had returned with several objects in her hand. She laid two down; handles facing Bret, then extended her hand with a third.
“Go ahead,” Heather urged.
Tentatively, Bret extended her hand, taking the knife gingerly. When it did not break, slip or otherwise cause chaos, she closed her finger more firmly around the wooden handle. “Wow, this isn’t nearly as heavy as it looks.”
“It’s the metal – it’s hand-forged.” Heather took the knife away from Bret and substituted a second one. “This one is a little heavier – the blade is thicker.”
Bret started down at the deadly weapon in her hand. She didn’t have to be told that this was sharp. It was quite apparent. More interesting to her than the sharp edge was the fine etching in the blade and the bands of semi-precious stone separating the woods in the handle. Again, Heather took the blade from her and substituted a third. This time Bret was a little more confident as she gripped the knife. She held it over the counter, extended slightly, and Heather, a small smile upon her face, put up her palm, just in front of the tip.
Bret looked at the redhead bemused, then down at the knife again. And then, she felt it. A bolt of electricity shooting down her spine, that came…from the knife? She looked up again, and Heather pulled her hand away.
“What kind of trick is that?” Bret managed.
“No trick. It’s qi, life energy.” Heather took the other two knives and stuck them in a nearby case. “The metal is forged in accordance with ancient rules of metallurgy – with the five elements.”
“Water, wood, metal, air, earth.” Heather smiled. “The Asian elements, not the western ones.”
“Ah, those Renaissance Asians…” She immediately regretted the sarcasm, but Heather was laughing.
“You think so too? It drives me absolutely crazy, Renaissance cola, Renaissance toys that would have a person burned as a witch in the real Renaissance.” Her eyes sparkling, Heather took the knife from Bret, and laid Bret’s palm flat. Slowly she lowered the blade, and Bret, with some surprise didn’t flinch. Somehow she knew that she wasn’t in any danger. Heather moved the blade back and forth several inches above Bret’s palm and still she could feel the motion – as if Heather were stroking her hand. Bret colored again at the thought and pulled her hand away.
“It’s really beautiful,” she fell back on banalities to cover her too-obvious embarrassment. It wasn’t like her to feel this flustered around anyone. And whatever “chee” was, Bret was sure it wasn’t supposed to feel like your belly was full of electricity.
“The aventurine matches your eyes,” Heather commented, opening her palm and holding the knife out once again. “I thought it suited you somehow.”
Bret looked down at the knife again and was surprised to note that the stone in the pommel was indeed a light green-grey, the same as her eyes. The wood in the handle was a very dark reddish brown, which made the green stand out. Thin bands of brass, or maybe bronze, separated wood and metal. The etching on the blade was…
“Is that a cauldron?” Bret stooped low over the knife, trying to focus on the picture.
Heather, held it up a little, angling it towards the light. “Dagda’s Cauldron, the cauldron of plenty, over the fire.” She looked up and met Bret’s eyes. Bret couldn’t help but notice that Heather’s eyes were almost the same shade of dark brown as the wood in the knife. “Over the fire that the smith uses to forge the metal.”
Bret was speechless. All this talk of life energy and ancient metallurgy and Bronze Age Celtic gods should have had her running away, screaming. And yet, she stood here listening to this pyramidiocy, and wanting…more of it. Anything at all, in fact, to keep Heather talking.
For a long moment they shared a silent gaze, broken when Heather yelped and stood up abruptly, her face red and angry.
Standing next to her was a tall man with a bushy, unkempt moustache. His eyes were narrow and piggish and his leer was revolting. He lifted the hand that had obviously goosed Heather and laughed. “Well, what have we here? A beautiful ladybug with a deadly sting?” His accent moved in and out of his words in an excruciating manner. His gaze never left Bret’s cleavage the entire time he spoke.
“Gene,” Heather had gotten herself under control again, but spoke tightly. “The lady and I are doing fine without your help.”
“Ah, but what kind of gentleman would I be, if I passed up the opportunity to help a lady in need?” He reached for Bret’s hand, took the knife smoothly from it, turned her palm over and gave her a kiss on the back of her hand. It was all she could do to not wipe her hand off when he freed it. His gaze still stayed on her chest, and she crossed her arms over herself defensively.
She could clearly see Heather staring daggers at the back of his head, but he appeared unmoved.
“Thank you,” Bret took a step back from the booth, trying to look sympathetically at Heather while simultaneously freezing out Gene. “I think I hear my friend calling. It was nice talking with you, Heather.”
Heather gave her a disappointed look. “It was nice talking to you too, um…” she hesitated.
“Bret,” Bret said, ignoring the leer Gene was giving her. “I’ll, um, come back, later.”
“It was nice meeting you, Bret.” Heather waved a little. She didn’t look like she believed that Bret would be back.
Turning, Bret half waved and headed off in a random direction. She was positive she could feel Gene’s eyes on her ass.
“You’re such a dick, Gene!” Heather’s voice carried over the dusty ground, all traces of her accent gone. “Do that to me ever again and I’ll kill you.”
She caught up with Alex at the “Living Chess Game” in which the actors played the parts of chess pieces and “fought” to take a square. After a few minutes Bret had had enough of the poorly staged fighting and the tedious taunts.
“Where have you been?” she accused Alex as soon as there was a break in the action.
“Right here, where have you been?” Alex’s eyes never left one of the “French” soldiers. He gestured. “His name is Troy, he’s in school for engineering.” Alex smiled, “And he looks lovely in those boots, doesn’t he?”
“I was looking at knives.” Bret answered the first question.
“Knives? Like, killing people knives? For over half an hour? Are you suffering from sunstroke or something?” He put a hand up to her forehead, which she slapped away. “Where is the Bret I know and love, who thinks that people who carry weapons are compensating for inadequacies in other areas?”
“Shut up,” Bret grumped. “These were different. They had gemstones and rare woods and were etched and…” she stopped talking when she saw that Alex was grinning at her.
“Oh, ho!” He crowed. “You found her, did you?” He laughed raucously and did a little dance to show his pleasure. The people standing around them started a while at them, wondering if they were part of the show, but when nothing more of any interest occurred, they turned back to the chess game.
“What’s her name? Where’s she from? Did you get her number?” Alex was positively slavering.
Bret frowned. “Heather. I don’t know and no. Come on Alex, drop it.”
“Oh, NO, darlin’!” Alex leaned forward, taking Bret’s shoulders in his hands. “She’s straight?”
Bret wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I told you, I don’t know. Can we just watch this stupid game?” To her surprise there were the beginnings of tears in her eyes and in her voice.
Immediately, Alex relented. He knew when he had gone too far. He took one of Bret’s hands in his own and turned back to the “chess game.”
By the time the game erupted in a brawl, which could only be resolved by a joust set for later that day, Bret felt more like her usual self. She offered to buy them both something to drink (Renaissance lemonade for Alex, and Renaissance cider for herself) and on the return, added some Renaissance ice cream cones to her booty. She was entirely preoccupied with trying not to spill or drop anything, so she hardly noticed that she had made a wrong turn somewhere.
Looking around, Bret was unable to recognize any of the buildings of the “town”. After a moment, she realized with some confusion that she had somehow managed to enter the space behind and between the shops. Essentially, she found herself backstage. She looked around frantically for an exit, but stopped when she spotted two familiar figures. Leaning closely into the back of what must have been the sword-seller’s booth stood Gene and someone who was female, judging by the visible skirt. Bret could hear a female voice rise in protest, and Gene laugh nastily. He leaned forward, one hand holding a wrist tightly, and the other trapping the woman between himself and the wall.
“Get away from me!” Bret heard the woman’s voice clearly this time. “Get off!”
Gene just laughed again, thrusting his piggish face towards her.
Bret was about to drop both drinks and ice cream and help pry the disgusting man off the unknown woman, when the tall blond man who had handed her the amber-hilted sword came running up from the opposite direction. Angrily, he pulled Gene away from the woman, who gathered herself together as soon as she was free and slapped Gene hard enough to snap his head backwards. Bret could see that the woman was tall, big-boned with short, dark hair. She couldn’t remember seeing her at the booth, but then, she’d been preoccupied.
“I told you, you piece of shit, that if you touched her again I’d kill you.” The blond had one hand on a knife stuck in his belt and the other bunched into a fist. “I mean it, Gene. I don’t care if we owe you money – you even so much as look at her again and I’ll kill you with your own sword.” Without another word, the man took the dark-haired woman’s hand and started to walk away. Before they passed through a black curtain strung between two shops, the woman turned around and added. “If I don’t cut your dick off with a knife, first.”
Gene rubbed his cheek, scowling, then hurled verbal abuse at the curtain as it fell. Bret back stepped quietly, hoping not to be seen, flattening herself against a wooden scaffolding as Gene stalked by, muttering under his breath. Bret could smell alcohol as he passed. Her nose wrinkled. It may have been the most historically accurate thing at the Fayre, but she had never liked the smell of a drunk.
When Gene had passed through another black curtain at the other end of the area, Bret cautiously moved toward the one in the opposite direction. Now that she knew where she was, she was reasonably sure she knew where she’d come out.
A quick glance around, and Bret stepped out to find Alex as fast as she could. She needed that cider even more now than before…she had to do something to wipe that scene out of her head.
“Now where have you been?” Alex sounded only slightly irritated, looking Bret up and down. “You didn’t go buy anything without me, did you?”
Bret shook her head and handed over half-melted ice cream and lemonade. “No, I got lost on my way back.”
Alex grinned. “Lost as in stopped paying attention to where you put your feet, or lost as in, ooooh – she’s cute?”
Bret tried to swat him, but one hand held an ice cream cone that threatened to slide to the ground and the other a cider that sloshed precariously. She settled for an elbow to the ribs. “Stop mistaking me for you.”
“Seriously, darlin’, did something happen?”
“Why do you ask?” Bret took a deep draught of the cider to hide her face.
“Because you’re more than halfway down that already.” Alex looked pointedly at the half full plastic cup.
Bret looked down, then back up at her friend. “Nothing happened,” she said, then amended it to, “well, nothing happened to me. I just saw something unpleasant, that’s all.
“Speaking of which, there’s dwarf bowling across the pond, wanna watch?” Alex grabbed her arm and pulled her along without waiting for the answer – which they both knew would have been “no.”
The dwarf bowling was silly, a little disturbing and not nearly as offensive as Bret would have expected. The show ended with the little people ganging up and tossing the full-sized “aristocrats” into the pond, which she felt was a fitting end for them, considering.
Alex tucked her arm into the crook of his and they wandered slowly back to the main part of the fictitious town, slowing down for impromptu performances and sudden outbursts of acting. Bret had to admit, to herself at least, that it was kind of fun.
They took in the rest of the many booths, wandering in and out of the shady lanes, trying on and perusing items that she couldn’t imagine ever wearing or using, and even more items that she couldn’t figure out how to use.
“What on earth does Balinese sculpture have to do with the Renaissance?” she muttered, while waiting for Alex outside a booth. Although she did think that the one hanging sculpture of a birdwoman was cute.
“Let’s get our fortunes told!” Alex came rushing out of the interior of a booth with a package and a mission. “Demetrios says that there’s one fortune teller who’s dreamy.”
“The guy who sold me this.” Alex held up the wrapped package. “I needed new candlesticks.”
Bret didn’t bother responding. She walked behind Alex, her energy and enthusiasm sapped by the smell of incense and the wall of pentacles that directed them towards Fortune Alley.
“Do we really have to go through with this?” Bret hated fortune telling, psychics and all such idiocy. Who in their right mind would believe such utter crap?
“Come on,” Alex insisted, pulling her by the arm once again. ”It’s just for fun.” Unfortunately for Alex, there was a long line at the tent of the fortune-teller who had been recommended to him. Bret wasn’t willing to wait just so Alex could flirt with yet another thin wannabee-actor in black leather.
And so, Alex and Bret found themselves in front of a lithe, lanky and not at all graceful fortune-teller who went by the name Nostradamus. Bret forced herself not to roll her eyes, as he asked Alex a series of questions, then began setting out tarot cards.
“You’re impetuous, “Nostradamus intoned, his geeky face quite serious. “You rush in where angels,” he nodded toward Bret, “fear to tread.” He turned over another card, his brows drawing together. “But you are a lucky man – in love as well as cards.” He did not look up as the third card was laid down. Bret could see the card clearly. “The Lovers”. The young man looked up and smiled brightly at Alex. With his smile all the geekiness disappeared, and his deep eyes softened. “In fact, you may be luckier than you think.”
Alex looked happy enough at his fortune – Bret could see him pass along a business card with his money.
“And now one for the lady?” Nostradamus was already shuffling the cards. He asked Bret to cut them, and she did, three times.
Annoyed as she was by the rigmarole, Bret couldn’t help but be fascinated with the process. The first card he laid out was, again “The Lovers”.
“Interesting,” Nostradamus muttered. He looked mildly interested, but Bret saw nothing momentous in the choice. She had a 1 in 72 chance of pulling any given card. And she’d always believed that fortune telling was three parts sleight-of-hand and one part understanding of human nature. She was fairly certain that there was nothing “psychic” in the equation.
“The nine of swords,” Nostradamus intoned, his brows furrowing. “Trouble.” The third card showed a Queen on a throne, holding a sword. Bret leaned forward to look at the card more carefully. It looked suspiciously like Heather, with the same mischievous glance as she had held out a knife.
“Queen of Swords, hmmm…” Nostradamus’ voice was very serious as he spoke, almost as if he were thinking out loud rather than addressing a customer. “Is she horribly, violently intelligent?” the fortuneteller addressed Alex.
“Beyond comprehension,” was the forceful answer.
“Then this could be you…or someone you’ve met.” Nostradamus looked back at the cards. “Normally I’d say it’s you, but there’s something else here.” He muttered a few times to himself and swiftly dealt three more cards, which he scooped up and put to the side almost as fast as he’d dealt them. “Maybe someone you’ve just met.” This time his voice was more decisive. “I’m going to go out on a limb here – I don’t usually do this, but I think you’ve just met someone who might get you into some real trouble.”
Another card was dealt, but the fortuneteller remained silent for a moment. Bret could see that that card bore a picture of a robed figure with a skeleton’s face. Holding a scythe. There was no doubt what this card was.
Bret had been dealt Death.
“You heard what the man said,” Alex said for the third time. “It doesn’t mean *death* so much as change.”
Bret smiled bitterly. “You know where that meaning came from, don’t you? It came from, ‘we can’t scare the customers, we need to come up with a more palatable alternative.’”
“That’s not true,” a heavy woman in pancake makeup and an impressive corset spun around to address them. “The alternate meaning of the Death card comes from the pagan community. Many pagans believe that death is not a final state so much as a change of condition.”
“And you know this because…?” Bret had spoken before she could stop herself. She could feel both Alex and the woman stiffen.
“*I*,” the woman huffed, drawing her bosom up angrily, “am a High Priestess of the Marble Column.”
Alex was already dragging Bret off before the woman had finished. “Of course you are, dear,” he soothed, as he drew his friend away quickly. He steered them quickly around the corner and into the middle of a crowd surrounding a juggler.
An awkward silence fell between them, as they both forced themselves to watch the entertainer with false enthusiasm. Bret felt something between annoyance and regret for her behavior, but wasn’t yet prepared to admit it. On the other hand, she could tell from the way Alex had his lower lip between his teeth, that she had really upset him this time.
“I’m sorry,” she touched her friend’s arm gently, but he merely shifted away from her slightly. “Really, Alex. I’m sorry.”
He didn’t look down, but his posture relaxed just a little and his lip was released from its place in between his teeth. “It’s okay, darlin’, I shouldn’t have brought you here.” He sighed unhappily. “I just thought it would be good to get you out of that lonely apartment.”
Bret fought back the urge to argue that she wasn’t lonely. Instead she made herself nod. “And I appreciate that.” She jumped when Alex turned towards her quickly, his hands grabbing her shoulders.
“Now I know you’re lying,” he said, a small smile at the corner of his lips. “But thank you.” Alex gave Bret a small hug and released her quickly. “You know how fond I am of little white lies. They make everything so much easier.”
The matter having been put behind them, Bret turned her attention for real to the juggler. He wasn’t half bad, and the constant patter he kept up had a fair amount of good lines. She found herself laughing at a joke, almost despite herself.
“Having fun, then?” The voice came from slightly too close behind her. Bret spun around to find herself face to face with Gene, the odious sword maker. She recoiled, but found herself held in place with a strong grip on her waist.
“Maybe you and I could…”
“No.” Bret couldn’t keep her voice from shaking, so she didn’t waste any words. “Let go of me.” Her voice rose, drawing the attention of the people around her. Alex stepped closer, his hand on Bret’s shoulder possessively.
“Who are you?” he demanded, but Gene paid him no attention. The two men were of a height, but the smith clearly outmassed Alex’s slim form by a considerable amount.
“Get your disgusting hands off me.” Bret shifted, moving away quickly.
Gene’s mouth pulled back in an animal snarl, his lips wet and loose. Bret swallowed hard, trying to calm herself. The smith opened his mouth as if to say something, but with a glance around him, obviously came to the conclusion that this was not the right place or time. He turned slightly, then spun back and spit at the ground by Bret’s feet.
“If you’re a dyke, then don’t lead a man on.” Clearly feeling that he’d scored a point, the man moved away rapidly through the crowd. Just before he turned a corner, Bret could see a thin, sharp-faced woman approach him at a run, shrieking angrily at him. With a quick look around him, the smith took off at a run. The woman, still shrieking, screamed something that ended with “…running from your wife, damn you!” as she shifted her course to intercept him.
“Ex wife!” his bellow traveled across the lawn, followed by her “Give it back to me!” as he disappeared around a corner.
“Oh, god,” Bret breathed, nodding at the few people who cast her inquisitive looks. Part of the entertainment again, she sighed. Alex steered her away once more, this time along a quiet tree-lined path.
“I’m getting a little worried about you,” Alex said quite suddenly. “I’ve been here three times with other people, and no one – not even my mother – has managed to encounter as many weird, unpleasant things here as you have in a mere,’ he glanced at his wrist. “three hours.”
“It’s my magical ability,” Bret replied sourly.
Alex laughed nervously, “Well, at least we can be fairly certain that you’re running out of people to offend today. The rest of the day ought to pass quietly.”
Bret tried to smile at that, but failed miserably.