Read The Bard Speaks Online

Authors: Montgomery Mahaffey

Tags: #romance, #erotica, #fantasy, #Fairy Tales; Folk Tales; Legends & Mythology

The Bard Speaks (3 page)

BOOK: The Bard Speaks
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Three days of snow covered the village, draping the roofs and windows with blazing white. On the night for stories, flaky chunks of snow fell from the sky. Yet the children still came. The older boys helped the Bard’s grandson plow a path to the cabin. He had grown much since the previous summer. He was thin and lanky, with limbs now longer than he was accustomed.

The doors and windows of the cabin glowed from the fire built up in the hearth. The Bard was in his place, his silhouette black against the crackling tongues of flame shooting up behind him. The heat soothed the young and the room grew crowded with them sitting, lying, and leaning against each other for comfort. Eventually, the cabin became hotter than summer, and the children’s sweat glued them to each other.

But tonight, the young would bear with the heat. They were more excited than usual for this night’s tale. The week before, his own grandson challenged the Bard that Ella Bandita was not truly a seductress, but a vicious trickster. The Bard sighed and was silent for a few minutes. Then he promised to prove the seductive prowess of the Thief of Hearts the following week.

His grandson was laughing when he entered the cabin with his friends. The boys had stopped in the cold storage shed and brought with them bags of nuts, frozen berries, ground spices, dried herbs, and jars of mushrooms that had been preserved from summer and autumn.

The Bard watched the boy pull two large skillets down from the hearth, and three village girls approached him before he got to work. The Bard didn’t hear their talk, but he frowned when he saw his grandson’s eyes glint and his mouth curve in a smirking grin. The boy glanced at his grandfather and flushed. With more warmth in his smile, he told the girls he had to get supper ready. Reluctantly, they walked away. The Bard shook his head. Girls liked that boy more than was good for him and he was becoming precocious.

A few minutes later, he caught the scent of garlic and cayenne and smiled. His grandson had a nice touch when it came to cooking. The hash would be spicy tonight, perfect for winter and warming the blood.

The children rumbled, impatient to hear tonight’s story. The Bard stared into the sea of young faces and hoped tonight’s tale scared the devil out of his grandson.

“Things change when one crosses the line between countries,” he began.

“Our neighbors are different on the other side of No Man’s Land, the woods that separate us from the nation to the west. Their language is not ours, their customs aren’t the same, and their society is more intricate. Here, one is either Patron or peasant. To be Patron is to be noble; to be peasant is to be humble. But over there, the highborn are ranked according to their title, and to come from humble origins is to be less than common. Such a society is cruel, often mercenary, and always lacking in heart.”

“Such a society is a rich hunting ground for Ella Bandita.”

 

****

 

He was the most unscrupulous seducer in the capital city. She tormented him for months, toying with him the way a cat does a mouse. Of course it was the only way the Thief of Hearts could ensnare such a man. Ella Bandita flaunted his hypocrisy back to the Rogue, throwing in his face the contempt she had for him. The brutal manner in which she treated him was no different than the disdain he felt for his mistresses, only Ella Bandita’s cruelty was more honest than his.

The Rogue was gifted, and he liked to seduce in extremes. Virgin daughters and treacherous wives were the ones he set his sights on. All his mistresses were noble through birth or marriage, preferably both. All of them were sought out in society, lovely to look at, and charming to converse with. He enjoyed the sensuous life and reveled in the softness of woman. But it was knowing he had taken the honor of a highborn lady that gave him the most pleasure, for all his conquests were women who should have been beyond his reach.

The Rogue was of common birth, the son of a man who had no more schooling than any of us in this room. But his father had made a fortune through the sweat of his labor and a genius that can’t be taught. In his own way, the Rogue worked as hard as his father to cultivate the carefree elegance that gained him acceptance in society. Like most men of his kind, he was more charming than handsome. His stature was average, his hair was thinning and his features were ordinary. But his eyes twinkled like those of naughty children who got away with their mischief. He was impudent and bold, a favorite with the ladies. As his reputation became notorious, the Rogue was eagerly received in the highest social circles.

The night he met Ella Bandita, the Rogue had just brought a seduction to a satisfying consummation. His most recent mistress was the daughter of a Marquis who had made her debut at the start of the season. The courtship was long by his standards, for the girl fancied herself virtuous. As fresh as she was in society, the Debutante had already heard of his notorious reputation and rebuffed him when he approached. But the Rogue watched and waited. The young lady hadn’t gone many paces when she turned back to see if he followed her with his eyes.

In that moment, the Rogue knew the Debutante had read romantic novels with far more attention than her holy books. In her eyes, he saw she was the heroine of her own grand love story; the lady with a pure heart who inspired the devil to repent his wicked ways and yearn for a life of goodness. Her piety was vanity, a mask to cover up her longing for excitement.

The Rogue looked away abashed; his head fell a touch lower. If he could have forced himself to flush, he would have. It was all he could do to suppress his smile. This would be too easy, for she was a very silly girl. Although the Debutante was the daughter of a Marquis, her father was known to be a fool and it looked like the apple of his progeny hadn’t fallen far from the tree. But the Marquis had extensive property and a seat in government, and those enticements made his daughter an immediate favorite. The Rogue still had to court her for several weeks before she succumbed.

It was well past night and just before dawn when he left the Debutante’s rooms at her father’s country estate. He’d enjoyed his night of love with her. She surrendered easily to the ways of the flesh. He whispered tender good byes on his way down the trellis to the ground, while the Debutante leaned out the window, blowing kisses and bidding him adieu. He finished dressing in his run across the lawn to the woods where his horse was hidden. His heart pounded when he sat on the ground to don his boots. This was the part of seduction he cherished most, the sweet shiver before he truly made his escape. It always hinged on this final moment. So long as he was never caught, his dishonor would be suspected but never proven and the delicate balance needed for him to seduce again would be preserved.

Therefore the sound of a horse galloping was alarming. The Rogue jumped up and fled for his horse. The animal took off at a run when he leaped on its back. His stallion was fast, and the Rogue reassured himself he could get away without being seen. He couldn’t believe it when he heard the gait of another horse behind him. So he pushed his mount harder. The Rogue wasn’t used to running the stallion this fast. He had difficulty staying balanced in the saddle, yet his pursuer kept up. Fear made his heart pound in his chest. The Rogue couldn’t understand how he’d been discovered. The vague oblivion of the Marquis was legendary. Then he realized if an outraged father were on his heels, he would hear some proof, like irate shouting or shots fired at his back. Whoever chased him couldn’t be the Marquis.

The Rogue heard Ella Bandita before he saw her. Her chuckle was masculine in its lustiness, almost like a laugh between brothers, but the tone was feminine. Then he heard the click of a tongue, and his vision blurred when she passed. She stopped a few lengths ahead of him. The Rogue reined in his horse. He was stunned when he saw that his pursuer was not only a woman, but also a vagabond. She wore patchwork breeches and an oversized peasant shirt; her hair in tangled disarray. She was young and was riding in a saddle just like his, but she was on the most magnificent stallion he had ever seen. Her horse stood a several hands higher than his, so the girl looked down on the Rogue from her mount.

She smiled, her eyes glittering, and perused him from head to foot. His light brown hair, usually pulled taut to accentuate the contours of his round head, had fallen from the tie at the nape of his neck. His naked chest peeked from the shirt and jacket opened to his waist, and his feet were bruised and bloodied from running through the trees without his boots. She brought her gaze back to meet his eyes and curled her lip in a sneer. The girl slowly shook her head and kicked the flanks of her horse.

Then she was gone.

Instead of going down the road leading from the country to town, she disappeared back into the woods bordering the lands of the Marquis. The Rogue stared at the empty space his pursuer left behind, feeling like she’d just made a fool of him. It ruined the afterglow he often savored on his ride home.

The Rogue returned once more to the Marquis’ daughter after that night. He was distracted as he made love to her. Then the Debutante mentioned marriage, and that ran his blood cold. He wasn’t nearly so gracious and romantic when he left that night. He was indignant that these ridiculous girls couldn’t accept seduction for what it was, holding on to their dreams they would marry the man who persuaded them from their prudence, if not their virtue. Like most lotharios, he had a convenient memory. He forgot the extravagant ardor he used to weaken her resistance, promising eternal love to the Marquis’ daughter until she nodded her head, her eyes filled with tears when she told him he could come to her the following night.

The Rogue looked forward to the day he’d receive a wedding announcement months later, when the Debutante would name the date she would promise to love and honor her husband, a nobleman perfectly suited to her. As he always did, he reviewed the social circles he must avoid until he heard of such an engagement. Then he would accept invitations from friends of the Marquis with pleasure. The Rogue would be effusive to the Debutante, holding her hand with affection and wishing her health and happiness in married life. She would accept his congratulations with grace; her tight lips the only flaw in an otherwise perfect composure. That final thrill would be a precious moment for him. The Rogue anticipated the conclusion of this conquest while riding through the trees.

There was that vagabond woman again.

She seemed to be waiting for him, mounted on her giant gray stallion directly beneath the full moon. Her dress was as bedraggled as before, but she had taken the time to comb her hair. Her golden tresses shined in the nightglow, cascading over her shoulders to her breasts.

“Bored with her already?” she asked, speaking his language with a foreign accent.

Her voice was low and smooth, and the Rogue was surprised to hear the articulation of gentility. Then she threw her head back and roared with laughter. As always when he was angry, he felt the heat rise to his face. Before he could move, the girl kicked her stallion into a run, her laughter mocking him long after she was gone. The sting of humiliation lingered; the victory of conquest spoiled again.

The Rogue met the Duchess soon afterwards. He first saw her at a salon with several guests accomplished in the arts, but she commanded the most attention. The Duchess was dressed in a gown of deep green with an open neckline, and her arms were linked with a much older husband. The Rogue admired the beauty of her white shoulders and the thick roll of dark auburn hair coiled around her head. Her appearance was dramatic enough the Rogue forgot himself for a moment. He was unaware he was staring beyond the good taste of admiration until she faced him. The beauty looked him in the eye and smiled; there was a hint of promise in her gaze before she turned her back. The Rogue felt his heart stop. Then start again. His heart throbbed with an excitement he hadn’t known in long time.

“Ravishing,” he thought. “Absolutely magnificent.”

The sly glance of the gentleman nearby let him know he had spoken aloud. Fortunately, the man was his friend and confidant, and he alone heard the indiscretion. When he inquired, the Rogue was pleased to know who the Duchess was. He was gratified to learn that she and the Duke planned to live in town for the spring and summer.

“I hear her husband stays more in the country than in the city. His duties keep him busy. Poor man, he has to work, and you get to play.”

The Rogue ignored the last remark and kept the lady in sight.

“Who was she before she married?”

“Not your type at all,” his confidant said. “Born as common as you and I.”

That news was not to his satisfaction, nor did he like it that her husband was so much older. But the Duchess had an allure that was the soul of temptation. His fingers tingled as he imagined them caressing those exquisite shoulders. He was surprised she didn’t look back at him again that night. He knew she was aware of his eyes on her by the tension in her carriage.

The following week, the Rogue was introduced to the Duchess at the races, but her manner was distant. There was no sparkle in the brown eyes that looked right through him. She excused herself as soon as politeness would allow so she could greet a handsome couple nearby. Her face was radiant with affection. She embraced the wife and clasped the husband’s hand with both of her own. The friends who introduced them glanced at each other and then to the Rogue with curiosity and surprise on their faces. Although she’d been subtle, there was no doubt the Duchess had just slighted him.

The Rogue was taken aback, for he’d never suffered cold treatment from a woman in his life. Then his heart pulsed to the rhythm of a hunter’s call. The Rogue had to have her, and went to lengths he’d never gone before in his pursuit of another man’s wife. He studied her habits and interests, discovered her favorite cafes, found the Duchess loved theater more than opera. By the end of spring, there wasn’t a place the object of his passion could be where the Rogue wouldn’t be also. From the looks he received, he suspected the Duchess knew what he was up to. She seemed amused at times, but remained aloof. For the first time, the Rogue was caught in an intrigue of his own making and he was delighted. He thought about the Duchess all the time. Obsession was a new sensation for the Rogue, making him euphorically miserable.

BOOK: The Bard Speaks
8.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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