For inclusion in the new edition of, ‘Of Demons and Blue Moons’.
Place - Sky Citadel, the capital of the Sky Realm in the supernatural world. An hour before dawn.
Characters - Scott Bennett, former cab driver and Royal Marine, now in service in the dimension of the supernatural as squire to an ever young and beautiful demon hunter, the time and dimension slipping warrior princess, Aimee Adriana, although most know her simply as, ‘Fae’, since her expulsion from the faerie realm, hundreds of years before.
She laughed at his expression.
“Fidelity is not one of my requirements when I take a lover, Mr Bennett, and none whom I take to my bed are under any illusion that I will remain faithful to them. Faeries never are, even less so those with a demon in the genepool, such as I.”
He was sat beside her on the bare granite of the battlements, cleaning and oiling his Model 1911 .45. He reassembled the weapon, inserting a full magazine, cocking it and applying the safety catch before holstering it, for what use is a firearm that is unready for instant use?
The metallic sound of the action drew stares from the armed and fully armoured werewolf sentries on the nearby walls, their yellow eyes looking at the firearm, but with only passing interest. They understood edged weapons, claws and fangs, not devices from the world of humans, so the light of guttering torches and braziers showed them turning back to resuming their staring out into the black night.
“And you, Princess,” he asked of the beautiful girl beside him, naked but for jewellery and his cloak, draped across her shoulders. “Have you never remained faithful, not even when you were in love?”
“I did try once, but that is another story, and fidelity is a human expectation, one that is not always lived up to, whereas Faevolk are not so inclined, but we are not dishonest. My last love was human, and he was already married to another, so rest assured he was not faithful to either of us, but his wife loved him with a depth that equalled one’s own. When he died, quite suddenly, she immersed herself in a quest to ennoble his name, whilst I sought out the poppy, which he had introduced me to.”
“Drugs,” Scott was disapproving. “So it was he who got you hooked on opium.”
“Nobody makes me indulge in anything against my will, Mr Bennett. He was writing a study on sexuality and I was the test subject in the chapter dealing with narcotic use and coitus. Though admittedly it was all rather surreal, one’s lover, very detachedly taking notes whilst an artist sketched, and I indulged myself in orgies whilst high, as one is wont to do when an opportunity arises.”
“So where is this work, was it ever published?”
“No, his wife sought to cleanse his reputation, post mortem, and the book, all but one page, was burned, as was every scrap of his research. The surviving page bore my portrait, beautifully rendered in pen and ink, which she issued to the staff at their home. With my picture came an order that of all his admirers who may wish to enter the grounds and view his mausoleum, I alone was to be denied entry.”
He said nothing, just watching how that still hurt after more than a century.
“I did of course gain entry, and she set the dogs on me… or rather she attempted to do so, but what dog would dare molest the offspring of the hellhound, hm?” Her smile was somewhat wan, though. “Of his many lovers, it was I whom she most feared, the one he was most likely to abandon her for, or at least that was her assumption. I knew he loved me, in his own way, but I knew that she was always his true love. I therefore have but two mementos, a shirt he had left in my tent, in India, where we first met, and a soldier’s pith helmet, which was immensely more functional than one’s riding bonnet.”
Scott recalled the man’s shirt she had worn shortly after their first meeting, its fabric thin with age and use, and her statement that it afforded her comfort. The pith helmet would be the one that appeared beneath his hospital bed, along with other items and the large bag. He had never asked about the curious cap badge, depicting as it did, in silhouette, a nude young woman, with long flowing hair, astride the back of a rearing tiger, and now was not an appropriate moment.
“Who was he?”
“A soldier, an explorer, a linguist, author and translator, Mr Bennett. He was, Sir Richard Burton, although when we first met, during the mutiny, he was a humble lieutenant and, in his words, “fit for nothing but to be shot at for six pence a day". He was with Beatson’s Horse, whilst I was secretly tracking down the main culprit in starting the whole mess, a demon in human form. India was in turmoil, and quite unsafe for a young lady to travel alone and unmolested, so one rode with the colourful ‘Beatson’s Horse’ for a month, if one can describe side-saddle as riding, but I do so enjoy the smell of a campfire and sleeping under the stars. I treasure those weeks in India, indeed.” Fae sighed wistfully. “We followed different paths, and it was not until he lectured at the Royal Society, in Holborn, that they again crossed.”
As always, he was interested in her past, but the events in Ahuja still remained unexplained
“And Leon?” Scott prompted.
“I have loved six times and mourned beside the graves of five. Prince Torvelin of Estar; Bellatina, a slave girl from the Eastern kingdoms; Peridale, the first Fractured Lord, Sir Richard, and King Leon, the Luna Knight, to give him his official title.”
“And the sixth?”
She did not immediately answer; instead she ignored her glass and drank from the bottle before pausing, as if choosing her words before speaking.
Reaching behind the gold chains at her left ankle, she retrieved a small, soft leather bag that she had secreted there, but her movements were not as adroit as they had been.
The withdrawal shakes of the addict were causing her fingers to become awkward and she fumbled the simple act of undoing the thin leather strap that secured it.
Scott reached over and took it gently from her, deftly untying the strap and opening the small pouch, which contained only enough hand rolling tobacco, cannabis leaf, and opium powder, contained within a tiny twist of paper, for a single joint. The cigarette papers were older than he, judging by the art deco design on the half empty packet.
‘Abadie’ Papier à Cigarettes
Opening the cover, he saw several signatures and a dedication.
‘à Mimi, celui qui est parti’ MC.
“To Mimi, the one that got away,” translated Scott. He did not know who MC was, but after squinting at the small signatures he looked at Fae in surprise.
“Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali?”
“And Maurice Chevalier, whose pet name for me was, Mimi.”
“Didn’t he sing a song about someone called Mimi?”
Scott prepared her joint, carefully sprinkling the opium along its length before rolling it for her.
This time, he flicked open his zippo with a metallic click.
She gripped the reefer between her perfect and pursed lips, though requiring elegant fingers from both hands to quiet the tremors as she held it to the flame. That small flame illuminated her beautiful face, and it wrenched at Scott’s heart that one so lovely could be unable, or unwilling, to escape the grip of opium’s terrible addiction.
She inhaled, the trembling in her hands gradually giving way to calm as all of her troubles were lost in the poppy induced tranquility that settled upon her.
After a minute or two, she spoke.
“I spent a lovely summer in France and met Maurice at the Casino de Paris, where he was a headliner, and he thought me to be the mysterious, Princess Aimee, a refugee from the fighting in the Balkans and sole survivor of an obscure royal line.”
She smiled at the memory.
“He introduced me to the other Scott, along with the original Rat Pack, decades before, Sinatra and Co, hijacked the title.” She grinned as she spoke. “Salvadore, Henry and Ernest, who were all complete gentlemen, I must add, not at all as history has painted them.”
She closed her eyes, her upper body swaying languidly for a few moments, lost to a 1920’s tune that only she could hear.
“They defended my honour, on several occasions when one had been deliberately plied with a rather wonderful 1905 Veuve Clicquot, by a roguish silver fox of a Russian archduke.”
She took another toke from the reefer, smiling gently in recollection.
“On the last occasion, they invaded the Hotel George V and employed a bust of Napoleon as a battering ram to force the doors to the archduke’s suite. On affecting an entry, they then engaged in fisticuffs with the archduke’s retainers before rescuing me from the silver fox’s bed.”
Fae grinned, wickedly.
“One was laughing like a drain as Ernest carried me, draped over one shoulder and quite naked for all to see, down that wonderful winding staircase, with Maurice, Henry and Mr Fitzgerald, all valiantly fighting a rearguard action.”
“And Salvadore?” Scott prompted, noting that his name was not included with the rest of the retreating forces.
“Dear Sali, physical exertion was never his forte and whenever he felt the urge to exercise he would inevitably lie down until it passed… so he took the elevator to the foyer, where the Gendarmes’ were waiting in ambush.”
“They were arrested?”
“Indeed they were, and banned for life by the management, or until their next splash of fame, whichever came sooner.”
She sighed happily and brought the tale to its conclusion.
“So much wasted bravado and effort, for they lacked your impeccable timing, Mr Bennett, being too late by half, although, sadly, the contents of the archduke’s cellar were more potent than the man himself.”
Despite himself, Scott laughed aloud.
“One simply lacked the heart to reveal that their efforts on behalf of my honour were all for naught,” she continued. “That ship had sailed long before, cruised the oceans and all seven seas, visiting too many ports to number. Been reflagged, renamed, had mounted many a diverse main mast, and had her bottom scraped a time or ten.”
She watched him, with a soft smile on her lips and a little wonder in her gaze as her words reduced him to tears of laughter.
“But only you, dear Mr Bennett,” she whispered, too quietly for him to hear. “Only you could see my every new day as being that of a maiden voyage.”
Scott put his arm back around her as she rested her head on his shoulder, and sat quietly, watching the horizon turn cobalt, the vanguard of a new day.
He enjoyed the dawn, it recharged the spirit, and it was not until the sun was revealed in its entirety did he realise that Fae was asleep and he was therefore alone with her, his beautiful princess, but had she been a plain pauper in rags he would still have thought the moment to be pretty damn special.